Lent Sacrifice

I’m not a spiritual person – I don’t give up things for lent as a religious observance. However this year I’ve joined my wife in giving up Twitter and Facebook for lent.

FB is easy. I don’t use it much anyway, there’s only so much bullshit “pass this on” rubbish one can take. “Friends are wonderful, if you have a friend share this to show how much you love them”, “Parents are great, share this if you’re a parent”. You know, that kind of shite.

However I love the discourse of Twitter and already on day one I’m missing it. I’ve had to remove the Tweetdeck icon from my taskbar and from my browser just so I don’t automatically open the program by mistake.

I will likely still post on Twitter/FB without visiting and reading the sites purely because my blog can auto post, I can share links via my browser and I will share links from my Flickr photostream. But the traffic will be one way, it’s just auto stuff, not me getting properly involved in the streams.

I live a long way from my family and have no local friends. I maintain existing friendships via social media – mostly Twitter. So it will be interesting to see how I cope over the next few weeks. It’s an interesting experiment – watch as Harry is shorn of his social contact and slowly goes insane.

Front Element Dust – One Man’s Quest

Maybe others have done this before, but I want to relate a little story of how I solved an issue with my Fujinon 18-55mm and a persistent blob of dust on the inside of the front element.

I had this big piece of dust on the inside front element of the lenses. This didn’t adversely affect the image in any way but was annoying me. I believe it was a dust mite, it even seemed to move around a little and would come towards the edge of the lens when I shone a torch there. But I could not shift it completely, it kept returning to the front element.

I read some advice about killing mites in lenses by freezing. So I sealed the lens in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer for a few hours. I didn’t release the lens from the bag until it had returned to room temperature. Whatever the dust blob was it didn’t move again after this. But it was still sat there in the middle of the front element. I had killed the beast but not shifted it.

Now I’ve seen all the pictures of smashed front elements still taking pictures. This wasn’t really about image quality, but about something of mine not being how I wanted it. I get that. This was a slightly obsessional thing. And while I have no plans to ever part with this excellent lens I could hardly sell it with a corpse of an invading entity sat their bang in the middle of the front element.

So just now I was looking at this blob of dust and my thoughts went in the direction of the ultrasonic vibration some cameras use to remove dust from the sensor. Many modern cameras shake the sensor at start up and shut down to remove particles of dust. What if made the front element of the lens vibrate? Would that help? What should I use to vibrate the lens?1

I tried my Phillips rotary shaver first. But the damn thing was too smooth. It didn’t vibrate much. I held the body of the shaver against the edge of the lens’ filter ring. No luck. Then I remembered that my beard trimmer vibrated much more as it used reciprocal motion rather than a rotary movement. I fetched that, held the side against the filter ring and fired it up.

Within seconds that pesky blob of dust fell away harmlessly into the corrugations of the inside of the lens barrel. It had been smote by my silly idea. I’m not sure If I’m trying to pass on advice here. Warn you not to be so silly with your gear. Or just sharing something that made me laugh. But there you go, an ad hoc method of removing persistent front element lens dust.2

1No sniggering at the back there.
2I accept no blame for you damaging equipment, or for your significant other asking what exactly are you doing with their vibrating device.

A Response to Mumsnet, On Grief

I read a lot of rubbish on the internet. That’s part of my job. I’ve also developed something of a thick skin, I can even read YouTube comments without eating my own knees off.

But sometimes you come across something so idiotic, so fueled by stupidity and hate you have to comment. And in this case it was a Mumsnet thread about someone moving on and finding love again after being bereaved. I don’t know if my response in the thread will remain, so I post it below.

I’ve read some nasty, vindictive, unloving rubbish in my time, but some of the stuff in this thread is unbelievable.

“Men often do this, they are selfish and weak” and the like. How men don’t grieve for long How they can’t possibly look after children for themselves and need someone else to help them. How they need to get someone on the rebound.

Perhaps I am lucky. Lucky that my late wife didn’t have a single friend like some of you. Lucky that her friends were so full of love for her and her children (the twins who were born the day before she died) that they were delighted when I met someone else. Delighted that we are about to celebrate five years of happy marriage with our own gorgeous three year old along with our older twins. Lucky that my late wife’s family also gave their blessing.

Lucky that people understood these things happen. That you can love again. Truly love. Not just get someone on the rebound. Not just cynically find someone to look after your children because men are pathetic weak creatures, so pathetic and weak we need a whole website section about what useless wretches we are.

Perhaps in some of the deepest dungeons of this world there is physical and emotional pain deeper, more savage and destructive than having your beloved torn from you the day after they make your dreams come true. I doubt it. I doubt there is any pain in this universe that I could feel that would ever be worse. I doubt I will ever be free of the echoes of that pain. It will be with me forever.

But for heaven’s sake some of you. You selfish posters who would rather talk about how weak men are than appreciate the love within them.

Pardon me if I met someone when I wasn’t even looking. Pardon me if we genuinely fell in love for the two people were were and not the storm of pain going on around me. Perhaps I should have ran away from that love when it came because the happiness of shallow, selfish, idiotic, no nothing, fake friends who think they are more important that the matters of one’s own heart.

Pardon me if I fulfilled the promise my late wife made me swore, that if anything happened to her I shouldn’t avoid falling in love again. That I should embrace love again if it found me.

Much of this thread is an insult. An insult to my late wife, to me, my wife and to the many of us who have suffered so greatly but found happiness again. I’m sorry we can’t fulfil your wish to be miserable in our pain forever. How very thoughtless of us.

And thank you to many of you kind people in this thread, those who see that people can love again. They can form meaningful and happy relationships even under the strangest and hardest of circumstances. You give me hope for the human race.

I think perhaps my days as a Mumsnet blogger may be numbered.

My Sex Is On Fire

I wrote recently about how I wasn’t well at the moment and some of the rather unpleasant procedures I’ve undergone to get to the bottom1 of whatever is wrong with me.

If you remember I had two tests lined up. I’ve been very nervous about these tests, more because I’ve been scared of what they might find. Partly because I tend to worry about such things anyway and also because a stupid GP scared the Bejaysus2 out of me.

Well the experience of the first test was fine. As fine as being fed feet first into a giant radioactive doughnut can be anyway. We can save on electricity bills now as I’ll glow in the dark for a year or so. In the week since the CT scan I’d not heard from my GP or consultant and took that to mean “no news is good news”. After all if they’d found anything in there they’d have called me, right?3.

Today was much more scary. Not because of what they might find, but because of the procedure I was to undergo. Unusually for me I’m not going to go into detail. If you want to know what they were going to do to me then Google for Flexible Cystoscopy. Had a look? Not fun eh?

So anyway4 I had that thing done to me. All I can say is ouch. It really wasn’t a pleasant procedure. However I suppose I’d still rather have undergone that than had to listen to Coldplay.

The cystoscopy and the CT scan results show there’s nothing serious wrong with me. I’m fine. They found nothing. Whatever aches and pains I still have are just because I’m an ageing old rocker who doesn’t exercise enough5.

So they let me get dressed, get my stuff together and gave me a leaflet on how I might be feeling for a few days6. And that was it, I have been discharged. They did say I may have had a kidney stone, but if I had, it has gone now. So I’m fine. Panic over.

The leaflet also said that in some cases patients get a urinary infection following a cystoscopy. Why was I undergoing all these tests? Because in July I’d had a urinary infection. I feel like I’ve just been part of an NHS M.C. Escher painting.

Well there we go. End of the story that’s been running for months and making me feel very nervous. And while one GP may really have done a poor job I have to say that all the folks I’ve met at Dorchester Hospital have been fantastic – professional and caring.

And hopefully that’s the last time we talk about my bits, okay?


1Badum Tish! I’m here all week folks
2I have a license to use that word, I’m Irish, sort of
3Give me a break, I know I’m an idiot
4Yes I really am skipping over the details
5That’s changing. We’ve just got a treadmill so we can keep fit whatever the winter weather
6Short version – “ouch”

What’s the matter with Harry?

I’ve not enjoyed the latter half of 2011 thanks to a lingering illness. What’s wrong with me? My guess is something as simple as kidney stones, but it has been a tough few months that has seen me at times feeling a-okay and other times in pain and having to take to my bed.

The months have been frustrating and scary too thanks to the inability of various general practitioners to prescribe a coherent treatment regime. I’ve seen four different GPs over the last few months and this has not been entirely satisfactory – from one locum who felt she’d tell me it could be cancer (but then did nothing at all to help in this regard) to another who told me my symptoms couldn’t be kidney stones (the whole internet and a consultant urologist say he’s wrong).

The truth is I’m fed up with the whole thing. Fed up with being unwell for months on end and fed up of dealing with an organisation – the NHS – I don’t have great faith in. And as we’ll come to later – I’m coming to some embarrassing conclusions about my general health and my own culpability.

Sounds too dry? Don’t feel like reading on? Go on, there’s a good bit about a doctor sticking his finger up my bum. Well good for you reader, less good for me and my bum and for that matter dignity.

This sorry tale began in July. I was alone late one evening as wifey had gone away on retreat1. The children had been asleep for hours and I was about to go to bed myself. I felt the sudden onset of an unpleasant tingle in my nether regions. And for the next couple of hours before I went to sleep I was getting up constantly to urinate. The night didn’t progress well because our two year old wasn’t feeling great and he woke up a lot – requiring my attention. The next day I felt dreadful, so exhausted, still needing to urinate frequently and with a painful sensation. But because I’d had a disturbed night with the children I put it all down to tiredness.

By the time my wife arrived home that evening I was almost delirious, running a high temperature and completely floored by whatever the problem was. I went to bed and suffered through the night with a fever. The next day was a Sunday so I had to go see the out-of-hours doctor at the hospital. He diagnosed a urinary infection and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.

The next few weeks were rather frustrating. Initially the drugs worked. The tingle went away, the urinating slowed and I was mainly left with fatigue and an ache around the area of my right kidney. Alas some days after the course of drugs ended the symptoms came back. I saw a GP who gave me more drugs. I got better, then the drugs ended, the infection came back. Over this period I must have visited my GP surgery four or five times but only saw the same doctor twice. Each seemed to wonder why I kept getting new infections when if any of them listened to me they’d know it was the same infection that hadn’t been beaten yet – I never got better because I obviously needed a longer course of antibiotics.

Along the way one locum scared me to death by telling me I might have cancer. She didn’t do anything about that. She just offered it as one possible scenario in her cheery list of what might be wrong with my pissing gear. Another doctor was fixated by the idea I had gonorrhoea and would only leave the topic alone once lab work showed I hadn’t. There were endless questions about personal matters.

“Harry are you sexually active?”
“No doctor I’m married.”

Ah the old ones are the best.

Anyway this whole period stretched about six weeks or so – to around the middle of August. Since then I’ve not had any signs of the infection in terms of tingles and micturition2 only the occasional recurrence of the ache/pain in my right flank. Most days I’m okay, but every couple of weeks there might be a few days where I feel tender and need some Ibuprofen. I’m tired, I’m achy and I’ve not been sleeping well because I’ve been worrying about my health. Which has the knock-on effect that I’m too tired to do anything the next day and I’m putting on weight and getting more unfit, a vicious circle.

The last time I saw a GP he wrote a referral to a consultant urologist, so we could get to the bottom, or otherwise, of this problem. I had my first appointment with the urologist a few weeks ago. He took my case history, agreed it sounded like I’d had one long infection, and seemed keen to solve the problem with whatever is making my right flank ache so much.

Finally we would have some action. Great. Let’s get on with. Surely there’s a pill I can take and it’ll fix things right? Er…no. First I would be bombarded with a couple of years’ worth of radiation by having a CT scan. That’s actually happening tomorrow night (Tuesday Nov 8th). This is to see if there are any kidney stones in there. Early in this adventure I’d had an ultrasound scan but this is only good for finding huge stones and is especially useless at finding things inside gentlemen such as myself who like a pie or two.

Fair enough I said. Then, he said, “we’ll also need to give you a cystoscopy”. What’s that, some sort of tablet? No they want to stick a camera up my nob. Great. Fantastic. You know what. I’m really not that ill. I should go home now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll take some ibuprofen.

I asked him what that involved. I really wish I hadn’t. Believe me, the next week before I have this is going to be one of trepidation and fear, well more than usual. I really don’t want a camera inserted into my gentleman’s area than you very much. I was digesting this unpleasant information as the consultant talked to me about arranging the appointments for the tests and the like. He tapped it all in the computer and said “that’s all done”.

Great. Not a happy meeting. So I could go home now. Sure I had the worry of these unpleasant tests. But at least I could go give my kids a cuddle and try to thing of something other than a HD journey through my old fella.

Right well, that’s all organised, said the consultant. I was about to get up to leave. And he added, “so we’ll just examine your prostate and then we’ll be done.”

You what?

A few minutes later there I was lying on my side on a consulting bed with a mature female nurse getting a good look at my undercarriage. The doctor approached and I could hear the clichéd snap of him putting on his marigolds. Moments later we were intimate in a way I have never been with anyone and have no wish to be so again. It was at this point he uttered the stupidest question anyone, anywhere has ever asked.

“Can you tell me if this is uncomfortable?” he asked as he rummaged around inside me.

You have just told me that you want to irradiate me like Bruce Banner, then shove a camera up my nob, then followed this with a very personal invasion of my very very personal space with what feels like a finger the size of a marrow. What part of this is supposed comfortable? What do you say? What did I say?

“To be honest doctor this is the first time anyone has stuck their fingers up my bum so I’ve nothing to compare it to.”

He didn’t laugh. Miserable bugger.

And that’s where we stand today. I’m sat here trying to make light of my CT scan tomorrow. I’m also beginning to suspect that there’s something else going on here. I may have a kidney stone, granted, but I’m not convinced it’s the entire reason I’m unwell.

I’ve been struggling lately. While relishing the role reversal that means I’m now a house husband I don’t like the feeling of being useless3, nor my lack of financial freedom. I’m still struggling from the pain of my first wife’s death in 2007. I’m increasingly fed up with my poor eyesight – the days when I’m too sore to wear the lenses feel like a spell in prison. I’m full of general aches and pains – some of which the consultant thinks might actually be my problem. And worryingly I often feel worse when I’ve been playing guitar. Could my problems actually be muscular?

The sad truth is that as I approach 40 next year I’m not doing a great job looking after myself. In all likelihood I’ve got a kidney stone4 and they will sort it out. But there are wider health issues I need to tackle. There is some good news, I haven’t smoked a cigarette since our baby Will was born over two years ago5 and I don’t drink much either. But the truth is that I’m overweight and don’t get much exercise. This really needs to change.

I know. I really need a kick up the arse.

But I’ve already had a doctor’s fingers, doesn’t that count?

1Drinking and gossiping with clergy friends.
2Should I get a pair of cats they will be named thus.
3Other than looking after our children, yes I know I’m an idiot and that’s a lot.
4Nothing worse, fingers crossed.
5Not that I smoked much anyway. A pack of ten would last me weeks.