Why I’m not convinced by the swine flu stats

Hels and Tom both have colds. I’ve had a bit of a sore throat, but it hasn’t come to anything.

When they first went down with a little lethargy, sore throat, snuffliness and all the other usual symptoms, we immediately thought that our turn might have come for swine flu. If it had, we wouldn’t be too worried – we’d get our way through it and get it out of the way. Unpleasant and inconvenient, yes, but probably not life-changing. For the vast majority of people, it’s just a nasty bug.

So, given that, Hels called the doctor. We’d heeded the advice not to actually go to the surgery and it seems our local surgery is well-prepared. Our doctor was able to take Hels’s call (not just the receptionist team) and talked through the symptoms. She (our doctor) seemed a little fed up with the Government’s diagnosis-by-checklist approach. Hels described her symptoms, including her temperature of 37.8 Celsius. The doctor laughed and said that, given her symptoms and according to the checklist, Hels did not have flu but had a cold. If, however, her temperature had been 38 Celsius, that woud have been enough.

So we are carrying on life pretty much as normal. Hels has taken a little time off work (heavy colds tend to knock her down a bit anyway due to previous illnesses in her 20s). But we are not putting ourselves into quarantine.

What I wonder is this: given that our doctor is aware that this cold bug is going around at the moment, how many of the 100,000 new cases this week really are H1N1 flu and how many are just summer colds? Are we getting false information and is the Government making decisions based on that? What will happen if/when we actually get real flu later in the year?

As an aside, the Government gave advice last weekend (as reported by the BBC) that expectant mothers and mothers of under-5s should stay away from crowds. I presume they haven’t visited your average ante-natal clinic lately, because they are never crowded, obviously. And, what of fathers of under-5s? Presumably, if they stayed away from crowded places (like shops, offices, railway stations and workplaces) the economy would grind to a halt.

As Hels put it – the Government takes the nation to war but can’t seem to work out what to do about a virus.

On suffering temporary partial disablement

Apparently, I’m suffering "temporary partial disablement". Or so my insurers say (so, hopefully, they will pay up).

As a sufferer, I can report the following:

  • it hurts
  • one becomes the centre of conversation
  • going to the loo becomes a challenge
  • climbing stairs becomes even more of a challenge
  • going to the loo or climbing stairs on a cross-Channel ferry is even more of a challenge. I’d hate to be a one-legged pirate
  • the cat still wants to sit on you
  • small children (well, our small child at least) suddenly become remarkably understanding and helpful. It’ll never last
  • your bum gets numb from all the sitting around
  • it is very easy to get bored or frustrated; or bored AND frustrated
  • it hurts to carry a cast about
  • you become very reliant on people around you. Thank goodness for Hels
  • you tend to blog more frequently

Breaking a duck, err bone, duck… bone.

We have just taken the opportunity to have a little holiday. Well, that was the plan. I had to go to Angers for an exhibition and took H and T along with me, something we have done for four out of the last five years.

After staying in Angers for a couple of nights and a (very successful) day at the exhibition, we took the car to Saint Malo, via Rennes and Dinan. We got to our hotel and wandered into the Intra Muros, had a nice meal and then, to entertain Tom, clambered up onto the city wall to head back towards the hotel. So far, so good. But it was mightily dark and I decided to carry Tom as we descended the stone steps. Hels stumbled on the last step as we went down. And then I fell down on the same step, heavily. I managed to hold on to Tom and lower him gently to the step. But I had a fair idea that I’d really hurt myself. I could tell this by the tears in my eyes and nausea, not to mention the pain.

We hobbled back to the hotel and went to bed. But, in the morning, it became quite evident that I was in agony. The evidence consisted of me yelping with pain whenever I stood up, and yelping twice as much if I put any weight on my left foot.

With guidance from the hotel receptionist, Hels took me over to the hospital. After a short wait, an x-ray revealed the tiniest chip off a bone. My reward – a French plaster cast with matching crutches and painkillers. My first damaged bone. Bugger.

We changed our homeward travel arrangements and got ourselves on the next ferry from Saint Malo to Portsmouth (we originally planned to travel to Dieppe and then back to Newhaven – but if ever you take that boat, pack a lunch as the food is utter crap). I’m hoping that my insurers will pay for the change of ferry plans and the lost night of accommodation (about four hundred quid in total).

Since then, I’ve seen umpteen medical people and been the centre of much attention. I’ve got to wear the cast for at least ten days before it is swapped for a removable boot. Which means I can’t drive, can’t put weight on it and can’t walk more than a few paces. Which will make life a little difficult, to say the least.

And, to top it all, Tom has chickenpox. Spots. Lots of them. And itchy.

Hels has got her work cut out. She’s pretty amazing.

Happy Christmas

The hyperactive child is asleep. The wife is wrapping presents. Monty is in his basket. Treacle is sitting next to me.

Me? I’ve just signed my Corporation Tax return and written a fat cheque to the Revenue.

Ho ho and, indeed, ho. Merry Christmas.

Five years

Five years ago today, I met a tall, blonde, beautiful woman with a lovely smile, gorgeous eyes and very sexy calf-length boots, outside a cookware shop in Tunbridge Wells. After apologising for being late, I kissed her on the cheek and took her hand. We went for coffee, then for a walk in the autumn leaves, a pint and then fish and chips.

Six and a half weeks later, in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, I asked her to marry me.

We still enjoy days like that. And I still fancy her like crazy.

Graybo’s Yummy Tarragon Chicken

Really, it’s yummy.

INGREDIENTS (serves two):

  • 1 small tub (200ml) of crème fraîche, reduced fat if you must.
  • 2 chicken breasts, roughly cubed. For goodness sake, get decent chicken, not cheap water-filled, factory-farmed rubbish.
  • 1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • a little butter
  • a little olive oil
  • a good handful of tarragon, roughly chopped or torn, stems removed. You’ve got this growing outside the door, right?
  • tagliatelli sufficient for two. Fresh stuff.
  • black pepper
  • a bottle of good red wine, maybe two


  • open the wine. Have a glass for yourself and one for your dining partner.
  • boil some water for doing the tag.
  • in a large pan or, better still, a wok, melt a good dollop of butter over a medium to high heat.
  • fry the leek until just beginning to soften. Remove from the pan and reserve.
  • refill your glasses.
  • add a little olive oil to the pan and get it hot.
  • throw in the chicken and scoot around the pan until lightly browned.
  • get the tag going (I assume you have decent fresh pasta, none of the dried stuff – if you have dried pasta, you should have started this a while ago).
  • add the entire pot of crème fraîche to the chicken. Stir.
  • return the leeks to the pan. Stir some more.
  • mill in some black pepper (nice if you have one of those crusher-type mills, rather than a grinding-type). Stir it.
  • throw in the tarragon. Yes, you guessed – stir.
  • stir it all up some more.
  • drain the pasta and get it on the plate.
  • pour the chicken/tarragon/leek/crème fraîche mix over the top.
  • blimey, those glasses look low. Top ’em up.
  • Eat. Drink. Relax. Candles. Good music. You know the deal.

Takes but ten minutes. Ideal for Friday night. We had it after a starter of fresh local asparagus with shaved parmesan, butter and apple balsamic vinegar. With gin. And tonic.

Time to catch up

A few things that I haven’t had/made time to remark upon here in the last week or so:

  • my gorgeous wife had a birthday. The three of us went to London for the day and ambled around Covent Garden, Regent Street, Tate Britain and the South Bank. Tom was particularly impressed with the sculpture at the Tate, remarking that The Three Graces have bottoms “just like Mummy’s”, which is possibly the best compliment a girl could wish for.
  • subsequently, my gorgeous wife went on holiday with her mum to Morocco, leaving son and husband to fend for themselves. Thanks to sitting in train stations with poorly-inked cardboard signs, we survived this ordeal and only went to the pub once.
  • Hels and I completed the 20km JustWalk on Saturday in blistering (literally) heat. We were accompanied by our brother-in-law Kevin all the way round the circuit and were able to enjoy some lovely views and some splendid wild flowers. But it was bloomin’ hot and we had to work hard to keep hydrated and to avoid heat stroke. The sections of the walk in the open were particularly hard, especially the mile or so down the south-facing slope into Charlton which was on a chalk and flint track in a bit of a dip – no breeze, bright intense sun, no shade and lots of reflected light and heat from the surface. Thanks to some remarkably generous people, we have now passed our original sponsorship target of £500, for the Parkinson’s Disease Society but we still want to raise more money. What do you mean, you haven’t sponsored us yet? Go here and give now, please and thank you.
  • Oh, and it’s my birthday today. I’m already enjoying my first present.

Hold onto your hats, it’s the End Of The Year Post

Yes, once again we come around to the annual grayblog end-of-the-year introspection. I know you’ve been looking forward to this for at least, oooo, twelve months?

Firstly, let’s look back and get the resolutions thing out of the way. At the end of 2006 (the archives are over there, on the right), I said I’d carry on improving the things that I had starting improving in 2006. But who has time for that? The garden isn’t finished, I haven’t done enough exercise and the writings here have become ever more sparse as the year has gone on.

So, do resolutions have any value if they are so easily broken/ignored? Comments welcome on that subject. And, given my obvious feelings on the value of resolutions, you can set as much store as you feel is appropriate in the following:

  • to write here more frequently (not too hard)
  • to take more exercise (we now have bikes which spend far too much time locked away)
  • to keep my office in a more tidy condition (also not hard)

What else can be said about 2007? Well, at a professional level, things have generally improved through the year. I don’t think it’s a huge secret that I wasn’t terribly optimistic about the prospects for my business late in 2006 and was feeling pretty demoralized. Things have improved markedly since then and whilst it is still tough going, the light is clearly visible at the end of the tunnel and, if all goes to plan in 2008, I might be able to talk about my business and the “P-word”* in the same sentence without laughter. To a large degree, I’ve been carried along by the faith shown in me and my business by others around me – my backers and my clients. Even my bank has been supportive (although I’ve yet to ask them to dip their corporate hand into their corporate pockets for me, and hopefully won’t need to). The one person who keeps me from believing too much of what they say has been Hels, who frequently questions me and challenges me to test what I’m doing and show that things truly are going the right way. That is a good thing and has encouraged me to look hard at the business and the direction that it is going in. And I’m happy with it right now.

2007 has also seen us seriously (VERY seriously) looking at emigration to the Netherlands (or possibly just inside the Belgian border). Ultimately this plan has been shelved – we have decided to stay close to friends and family. We also can’t really afford it at this stage – if my business was making more money and we hadn’t been so crippled by not selling Hels’s flat for so long, then maybe it would have been different. Note that I say that the plan is shelved, not abandoned. It’s something that we will keep at the back of our minds and may return to in the future. And our love for Maastricht is undimmed, as you might have guessed from the number of Dutch-related del.icio.us links that I post.

The year has seen its usual bunch of travelling, this time including trips to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Poland. I didn’t get to a few destinations that I had in mind for lack of time and resources, but the opportunity is not lost, merely deferred. I do promise to stick some photos on here somewhen of some of the places that I/we have been to this year – feel free to nag me to keep to that promise. Highlights of this year’s travel for me included:

  • San Pellegrino in Alpe, Italy – breath-takingly beautiful and wonderfully peaceful (although I suspect it might be busier in high season)
  • Hamburg, Germany – drinking cocktails whilst standing in the rain on the morning of my birthday
  • Warnemünde, Germany – bobbing about in a launch on the Warnow river with Hels and Tom
  • Kanne, Belgium – getting the “I could live here – this just might work” feeling
  • A12, Netherlands – driving from Gouda towards Zoetermeer and marvelling at the sodium-lamp orange mist with enormous wind turbines looming darkly out of the gloaming and wishing my camera was handy
  • Tiercé, France – having possibly the best cheese board I’ve ever had or am ever likely to have in “Sarkozy’s restaurant”
  • Przydworzyce, Poland – driving through the woods and seeing locals who had gathered mushrooms offering them for sale at the roadside, often only a single punnet-full

Travel plans for 2008 are subject to change, but look likely to include Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands (no surprise there), Switzerland (2008’s first for me – 2007’s was Poland) and Italy. Maybe Spain. And maybe Ireland and Poland. Too many places to go to, for both business and pleasure, and too little time and money to do them all.

Of course, the true highlight of 2007 has been watching Tom growing up. He is fantastic, a life-changing element of existence. He continually amazes and surprises us. It’s impossible to feel down when he’s around. I’m looking forward to more in 2008. And more of married life with Hels, but I’m going to stop on the emotional family gushing now before your keyboard gets covered in vomit.

What do I think 2008 will bring? Goodness knows. If there is one thing that I’ve learnt, it is that you can never tell what the future will bring. I think politics and the economy will both be fascinating in 2008 (and might finally push crappy nonsense “entertainment” out of the headlines a little) although the ride might be a bit bumpy. My business will increase in strength and stature. Family life should continue to be splendid, particularly as we have settled on our home here for the time-being and should have fewer disturbances to routine (famous last words). And I might knock-up a decent duck à l’orange or two.

Thanks to the regular readers who keep coming back here – I know there must be at least half a dozen of you still braving the digital elements to come here. Happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all.

* profit hahahaha!!