Category Archives: health


Hard on the heels of my blog post on the subject of the new lurgy, I find myself succumbed to a lurgy.  Only a mild one, but I’ve removed myself from this evening’s concert and meal out and will check NHS advice before resuming social life.

Or rather, I removed myself from the meal out with my friends, that Jen had arranged for after the concert.  ‘Cos the concert itself was one of many cultural events to be cancelled by its organisers.  This evening I’d’ve been in the audience, but three concerts I am (or was) due to perform in this spring have also been cancelled or are at risk.

Yet our government, unlike many others, hasn’t actually banned events like these.  They’re leaving it to event organisers.  I suspect there’s an important beneficiary of that: insurers of all kinds of events could be on the hook for financial losses if the government forced them to close down, but can escape that if the decision comes from event organisers.  Perhaps they’ll legislate but are leaving time for events near enough to have incurred substantial costs to be cancelled beforehand?

I also heard on t’wireless a discussion programme on coronavirus that included a number of callers.  A couple of interesting nuggets emerged from that: quite a few callers described symptoms very similar to mine (evidently it’s a lurgy “doing the rounds”), and many callers complained that they wanted to get tested for coronavirus but couldn’t.  Even those with very good reasons (for example a GP keen to know whether he would be personally safe to treat virus sufferers once he’s recovered) had faced an impenetrable wall of bureaucracy.

So we’ve moved from attempting to refusing to count cases, thus perhaps paving the way to fudge relevant statistics.  They’re talking about “herd immunity”, which would imply a large majority of the entire population going down with the virus.  At a 2% death rate, that could be a million deaths!

Quite a contrast to the draconian and stupid measures we had to rid ourselves of Foot&Mouth (against which a vaccine is available) back in 2001.  Have Brits really changed so much in less than a generation that we’ll no longer obey rules?  Particularly when the threat this time is to humans, and the rules (if well-considered) have a purpose other than to support the economic interests of a small number of very big and very rich farmers!


(title inspired by treatment of lepers in the distant past)

We’ve passed from futile quarantine to self-isolation.  From evacuation to lockdown in varying degrees.  From headless chickens in charge to … well, headless chickens.  The new lurgy, that’s apparently sufficiently different from regular lurgies that there’s no herd resistance in the population.

Government moves in under a week from reserving the right to close the stable door (but definitely not until after the horse has firmly bolted[1]) to explaining how closing the door would be counterproductive.  People wonder if closing their own doors can help, and what are the implications.

Latest advice is to self-isolate if you show even mild symptoms of a lurgy, and government moves to help avoid penalising people for doing the right thing.  Splendid: it seems they can at least do something right!  Now, how about urging people similarly to self-isolate when suffering a regular lurgy?  It’ll surely benefit the population in general if those are spread rather less.  Even for employers, paying sick leave for an employee or two to stay home is surely better than having another dozen or many more getting ill and at best losing productivity.

Coronavirus could leave a really good legacy if knowingly spreading germs could become as socially unacceptable as smoking.  But I wonder if yesterday’s budget might prejudice the chances of that, by associating sick leave for a lurgy with Stuttley and his new yes-man’s fairy castles?

Meanwhile there’s a more immediate concern: how will attitudes be towards a regular cough, sneeze, or sniffle?  Will sufferers from chronic symptoms – the cough or sniffle that’s been with them for years – suddenly face ostracisism?  And the hay-fever season is approaching!

And the personal decisions.   I think my lifestyle is fairly low-risk: I don’t travel much, and such big gatherings as I participate in tend to be the same groups, such as my choirs.  I tend to the view that it would probably be futile to make changes.  If I do go down with a lurgy, I’ll be happy to self-isolate in a basic sense of keeping my distance from people, but there’s no way I could sit at home and not go out for at least my daily walkies – even if that gets curtailed if I get too ill to go far!  And if I perish of it, they’ll apply the convenient label of existing health condition to avoid panic.

[1] Not least the horses at Cheltenham, in a big event for people far too posh to inconvenience.

Obese, but not fat

Those who know me, or have known me since nineteenninetysomething, will be familiar with the ample middle-age paunch, promising a Falstaffian (can I say that?) profile in my later years.  Well, erm, I happen to like the Buddha a whole lot better than other religious figures, so I’m following a good role model 😛

On Tuesday I went to Exeter, for an extensive medical checkup.  It’s a perk of the job: I’m entitled to this every two years.  They measured me and confirmed that I should lose several inches from the waistline which is, in modern terminology, obese.  But they also performed a body fat measurement, and found 17%, which is bang in the middle of the healthy range (14-20%) for a man of my age.

So it’s official.  I’m obese but not fat.  Not even a little bit fat!

Happy to say most of their tests showed good health.  But to share detail of everything would be TMI.

It gets worse

I’ve complained before about noise from the works outside the window.  Now they’re filling my flat with diesel fumes:

An exhaust pointing upwards is presumably designed to protect the workers from being poisoned by the thick clouds of diesel.  But it doesn’t help when you’re looking down from two floors up (and yes, believe it or not, that’s not steam in that plume – just diesel fumes).  Perhaps we should require the exhaust to point downwards, so that the workers’ interests (health and safety) are aligned with the neighbours.

I suspect that’s also why the wires on the far side of the road have got that orange cladding on to protect them (it was put up last week).  The powers that be don’t want to risk the infrastructure, but I guess their responsibility ends at the door or window to private property.  Hmmm, no, that still doesn’t explain why the owner of the wires was warned while we weren’t.

The machine is noisy too, though not quite as bad as some of what they’ve had.  I suppose I should be grateful none of them are inflicting a ghetto-blaster on us.


Heard an interesting program on back pain on the beeb[1], featuring some apparently-novel clinic whose mission is to help sufferers cope and alleviate their pain.  Most of what they were doing sounds very familiar from my own experience.  But what they didn’t say was how ignorance amongst non-sufferers can lead to decisions that make things cripplingly much worse than they need be.

I’m interested in this because I have a history of back pain going back to my teens, and the long daily journey on a ghastly school bus.  Maybe it’s because it came upon me so young that I’ve learned to manage it, so that nowadays I rarely suffer anything more than mild discomfort (though I am at risk when my posture is constrained, for example in a theatre seat, or anywhere my legroom is too badly blocked).

But dealing with back pain does have an impact on my lifestyle.  Most importantly, it’s a (maybe even the) major reason why I work from home, having suffered badly in office environments at various times in the past.  It also affects what I can wear (clothes and shoes cannot have tightness or pressure in certain places, and definitely no wristwatch), how and where I can sit or lie, etc.

On the plus side, some things I enjoy doing are positively helpful.  Cycling is great, probably because of the muscles that get exercised.  Carrying the right backpack helps, probably because it holds me to a good posture.  When I worked in an office and suffered serious pain, these were sometimes the only reliefs that kept me going, though at worst even cycling was difficult.

There is a critically important point that the program did not make.  We should have more public information, not just for sufferers themselves, but for people who hold power over them.  The worst possible thing in an office is a bad chair, but almost as bad are most office desks, and above all those marketed as computer desks/workstations.  That’s because they force the legs into unsuitable positions which cause rapid onset of serious pain.  Best is to sit not at a desk but at a table with ample legroom under.

An office manager who insists on furniture conforming to institutional norms can basically drive a back pain sufferer out of a job.  It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone!

A lesser gripe is with those supermarkets whose trolleys have a coin-operated lock on the handle.  I can’t push a Morrisons trolley, because the lock forces the right hand into a totally unsuitable place and buggers up my posture.  Since Morrisons[2] is now my only local big shop, this is a real inconvenience.  I’ve tried complaining, but all to no avail: presumably there’s simply no appreciation that it might matter.

In other health news, my tennis elbow has mended to the point where it’s no longer a significant problem, just something I need to be aware of and avoid setting it off again.  But I’m still using a mouse left-handed!

[1] Tuesday, but I fell asleep before blogging it.

[2] When I moved here, it was a Safeways, and the trolleys were not encumbered with those infernal locks.

River Therapy

For a few weeks I’ve been suffering nasty twinges in my right elbow.  What brings them on can be a bit unpredictable: on the one hand I can carry weight, but against that a simple shrug can cause agony.  I suspect use of a computer mouse doesn’t help, so I’m using the laptop rather more than before, and contemplating trying a mouse left-handed at the desktop.

This afternoon I went for my first swim since the elbow deteriorated last week.  For the first couple of minutes swimming it was agony, but I stayed in and moved carefully.  Soon it was much-improved, and it remained rather better than it has been when I got out.  Now – six hours on – it’s a dull ache, but no major pain.

I shall have to try making the swim a daily dose of therapy 🙂

Off the critical list

For the first time since last Wednesday, I’m sitting at the computer and feeling comfortable with it, as opposed to desperately wishing to be in bed, or at least in a hot bath. I hope that means I’m on the road to recovery.

I’m not sure how to describe this bout of the lurgy. It started last Thursday as a seemingly-mild cold, which I tried to sleep off. It worsened over the weekend, and by Sunday afternoon I was feeling seriously ill. But it’s been different from classic bad-lurgy symptoms: in particular, none of the crippling headaches that would preclude any kind of computing. What’s been uniquely alarming this time is the feeling of half-drowning, and a need for excessive and violent coughing to clear the lungs/airways, mostly at night. Sunday night was scary, and Monday was better only because the other symptoms had improved (no longer shivering).

Is it an inevitable part of getting older that symptoms of a lurgy get more alarming? I guess that’s why they give ‘flu jabs to pensioners, but it begs difficult questions about the years between now and my eligibility for NHS care. Or whatever it’s become by then under the weight of demographics.

Stand up for fatties!

Was it not Martin Luther King who said we should judge a man “not by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character“? When faced with a report saying “Obese blamed for the world’s ills“, I say it’s time we invoked the great man’s rhetoric. Judge me not by the amplitude of my girth, but by the content of my character!

When I heard of the report, my first reaction was to try and seek out the original. Failing that, I thought I’d leave it: the news reports probably misrepresent it anyway. But then today out cycling up Dartmoor, I met a chap even more rotund than myself on a bike, and looking plenty fit enough for Dartmoor’s hills, and thought maybe this is at least blogworthy. This kind of report – judging people for what they are – is perilously close to the kind of prejudice Dr King’s people suffered.

I’m a fatty, so I eat 18% more calories than average?

Probably guilty as charged, though I eat a small fraction of what I did in my youth, before the middle-age spread set in. But against that, the fact I don’t eat meat must surely in itself put my dietary carbon footprint well below the developed-world average.

But more than that: I’m sure my good layer of natural organic insulation is one reason I don’t need to heat my environment in the English winter. Not the only reason: the fact that I’m fit and healthy helps, as does the legacy of my youth when the cost of heating was out of the question, meaning I got used to nature’s temperatures. But anyway, I have no doubt that my layer of fat more than pays for itself in carbon emissions saved.

And I drive an excessive amount?

Definitely not guilty: the last time I drove was a little over three years ago, when I hired a van for a day to move house. I use a combination of bicycle and public transport for all my travel. More importantly, I make efforts to avoid unnecessary travel, particularly that western-country ritual of commuting, which I have eliminated altogether from my life. To cap it all, my life’s work is dedicated to developing the infrastructure for many more people – in principle everyone in the knowledge economy – to be able to avoid much of their travel.

So I guess I’m guilty of being portly, just as Dr King was guilty of being black. I don’t see that either of us has anything to be ashamed of!

Clean air?

From today, we are smoke-free.  Yay!

Smoke is just nasty: I suffer from it at home when the neighbours smoke, in the street when it’s too crowded or narrow to get past the smoker, at the railway station when three or four smokers spaced out along the platform can leave nowhere free of it, or in the bus shelter where it only takes one to drive me out into the rain.

But wait a minute!  The smoking ban doesn’t affect any of those smokers.  They’re all in their own homes or outdoors.  It might even make it worse, if smokers who would otherwise be indoors are instead fouling the street.

Is there anywhere it will help?  Smokers have been a major blight on my life, from the misery of the school bus, to the three of my jobs that they’ve made a misery (one involved smokers in the same open-plan office, the other two involved it drifting from the smokers’ own).  A pub or restaurant meal can be ruined by them.  And I haven’t been to the cinema in a quarter century, after a very nasty experience in my teens.

But that’s really a battle that’s already won, in the UK at least.  Some pubs and restaurants are still foul, but others are smoke-free and perfectly pleasant.  The station or bus stop may still be grotty, but where it really matters, on the bus or train itself, isn’t.  Places of entertainment are free of it.  Whereas in my youth, avoiding smokers meant severely cramping the social life, nowadays there are ample choices to accommodate both smokers and decent people.

On the other hand, I really would like to get rid of some of the other pollution that afflicts our air.  It was back in the ’80s – when smoking was still a very serious problem in many places – that I first concluded that motor vehicle emissions were actually a worse problem than tobacco smoke.  In the intervening 20 years, that’s just got worse while smokers have retreated.  It seems absurd to ban the minor problem of tobacco smoke while leaving drivers free to pollute on a global scale.  And don’t get me started on bonfires and wood smoke, which in afflicted places are an order of magnitude worse than any of the other nuisances.

Now, if they’d ban it from the home, that would be much more useful.  If I could sue the neighbours every time they make my flat stink, I’d …. lead a life blighted by petty conflict.  Yeah, great.  Smokers rights are not something I’m about to make a stand for, but this ban seems to lack a sense of proportion, as well as being near-useless.

Salt and heart disease

The UK chattering classes, including reputable medical opinion, seem obsessed by the idea that we eat too much salt, and it’s a major contributor to heart disease.

So, here’s a puzzle. Italians eat vastly more salt than us: even after years in Italy, I found the saltiness of their food often quite overwhelming (just as most Italians seem to find a bit of chilli too much for them). Yet Italy has less of a problem with heart disease than we do.

How does that work?