Category Archives: Fiends and flamily

He was watching the defectives

Extremely sad to hear about the sudden unexpected death of long-time friend, crony and partner in crime Tom Barry, of BorisWatch and @boriswatch fame.

Tom provided exactly the kind of hard-nosed, subject-expert and ruthless research and writing into London’s terrible mayor and supine general assembly that nobody in traditional local journalism has (bothered to do / had time for) in decades.

He did this while carrying on a day job as a telecoms expert and being a fully committed dad to two  adorkable boys aged under 11*, and whilst being at the very least a good enough partner to Ish that she put up with him for the whole timeframe.

And he was only 41, and this has broken me a bit. Young people get run over or end their lives or  have tragic but long-running illnesses, they don’t just die, that isn’t how it works. They don’t send pics from beer gardens the same month they die of glorious fun with the kids they love mockingly labelled “when will the torture of parenthood end?” because the fucking concept that it might is ridiculous.

This blog seems to be eulogy-focused lately. Unlike Meg Williams , as well as not being  in his 80s, Tom had a great deal of internet presence – but the two share the context of having touched shedloads of lives for the better. Also, CAN EVERYONE FUCKING STOP DYING?

Two updates.

One: Tim Fenton has written a great piece on Tom’s extremely well researched ‘blogging’ (or ‘investigative journalism’, as it used to be called when paid journalists could be bothered to do it) exploits.

Two: I wrote this at the start of day on 3 November (AEST – lat night 2 November GMT) when the news was under semi-embargo from family. Even since then, I’ve had at least one thought on naval history where I  thought “I’ll ask Tom about this one… fuck.

*I fully expect to get a write-in comment from Tom’s eldest saying “actually I am 11 so I’m not under 11”, because did I mention adorkable? Hopefully I’ll be able to ask him for naval history clarifications in due course.

Meg Williams, a woman of all importance

This is a very sentimental post.

My last surviving grandparent died today. She was born in Caerphilly (better than being born carelessly, I guess) as Peggy Jean Jenkins. Not as Margaret Jenkins, that’d be boring. And because Wales, she was never called Peggy Jean by anyone; she was Meg from birth.

Her husband, who died last year, was born in Dolygaer (I can’t think of a pun, sorry) as David Elwyn Williams. His family were more boring than Meg’s when it came to Welsh naming choices, although he was never called David by anyone; he was Elwyn from birth.

(by the way, I don’t think anyone of Welsh ancestry ever found the multiple names in the Bible weird. “Simon who is called Peter?” – “yup, I think my uncle Peter’s real name is Simon”.)

I discovered, looking up The Internets, that Meg had no online existence at all, not even dry dull database existence, whether as as Meg or Peggy Jean. This doesn’t seem right, somehow. She was far more interesting and good and excellent than most of the folk who are chronicled online.

She was a schoolteacher and a campaigner for good things and a helping-out-the-neighbours-er and a telling-people-to-stop-being-self-righteous-dicks-er and a mum and a nanna and a great-nanna.

She’s being cremated at a crematorium, by a minister of the church she’s frequented for far longer than it has existed (the 20th century was the century of left-liberal Protestant churches noticing that they were actually the same).

And she’ll be remembered more fondly (in net ratings terms), by more people, than most people who are Of Importance in the way that Society tends to measure it.

Here’s her obit in the local paper. A life in fewer words.

A woman’s not dead while her name’s still spoken.

A cock and ball story

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, and/or plough through the Twitter updates that get posted here instead of actual blogging, and/or know me in real life, you might be aware that I’ve been a bit out of sorts for the last couple of weeks.

By “a bit out of sorts”, I mean, “part of me died and started to rot inside me, and not in a poetic-metaphor kind of way, so I had to have emergency surgery to remove it after a week of unspeakably terrible pain and misery. And now I’m on copious quantities of prescription medication waiting for my stitches to heal“.

An important part in this saga is the utter rubbishness of the human male reproductive system – in itself proof either of no God or of a God who hates us. This manifests itself in many ways, but the most obvious is putting the testicles outside the body, conveniently mounted on a string that also carries their blood supply. [*].

If you wake up with a sharp pain in one testicle, there are three possible causes: cancer; epididymitis; and torsion. The first is, well, just cancer. The second is one of the most painful infections it’s possible to get, but responds well to antibiotics and time. The third involves the testicle having twisted on its blood vessel, like a knotted garden hosepipe, and means that the tissue will die of lack of blood if you don’t have surgery to unknot it within a few days.

Torsion normally happens to boys aged 14-20 who’re engaged in active sports. Epididymitis can be triggered by STDs or urinary tract infections; it’s most prevalent in men in their 20s and 30s when STD-caused and in men in their 50s and 60s when UTI-caused. And cancer happens to anyone who’s unlucky, but doesn’t usually hurt very much (unlike the treatment, which does).

I went to the doctor on Tuesday 8th December with A Massive Pain In The Balls (which, by the time I’d got through 24 hours of denial-this-was-anything-serious and 12 hours of signing-up-with-a-GP-and-getting-an-appointment, was a day and a half after onset), he examined the symptoms and decided that I almost certainly had epididymitis. Aside from the demographics, if it had been torsion, the testicle should’ve shown signs of dying after 36 hours, with the pain and swelling actually diminishing. So he prescribed me antibiotics, painkillers and bed-rest, and told me to go to the hospital urgently if things got better in the next day.

They, err, didn’t. MY GOD THEY DIDN’T.

Just thought you might want to know: my right testicle has swollen to the size of a kiwi fruit. This isn’t making me cheerful. #owowowowowow #

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in so much physical pain that, even though you’re desperate to sleep and have taken all the drowsiest painkillers you’re allowed without dying, you physically can’t? For me, that was the night of Tuesday 8th December. And the day of Wednesday 9th December. And the night of Wednesday 9th December. I managed to snatch a few hours’ sleep for 30 minutes at a time sitting on the toilet, as this was the only way of keeping the pressure off the afflicted bollock. I managed to read a couple of books, but had to change position at least once a minute. I ate some food standing up, mostly because I was aware I needed to try not to vomit up the antibiotics (partial success).

On the plus side, the doctor’s worst-case scenario of “if the pain gets better right away” hadn’t come through. So when, at about 3AM on Thursday 10th December, the pain dropped down to the extent that I managed to get to sleep in BED!!! for a few hours based solely on the maximum doses of codeine, ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin, clearly it was recovery time.

“Hooray Alexander Fleming, the wonderful antibiotics have quite literally saved my balls”.

By Friday evening, when the swelling hadn’t gone down at all, and the pain hadn’t diminished since shifting from unbearable to barely bearable, I was starting to be a little more sceptical. By Sunday evening, when the same was true but I’d also started feeling physically really nauseous and unwell, I’d moved on to becoming somewhat concerned. By the morning of Monday 14th, when the GP took one look at my swollen bollock, turned visibly pale and called the hospital for an urgent referral, the relevant emotion was closer to AAAAAAGHFECK.

A&E’s quite quiet first thing on a Monday morning. Having had my blood drained enough to feed a small vampire, and my piss taken more than an open-mic heckler, I got to see a specialist urologist, who seemed a bit less fazed than my GP. He reckoned it was probably an antibiotic-resistant infection, prescribed some SUPERTURBO antibiotics, but also sent me for an ultrasound scan to confirm what was going on. But the machine was booked up until Tuesday afternoon, so I went home with super-bug-killers and super-pain-killers to enjoy my recovery.

Yeah, haha.

Monday evening is a painkiller-y blur. I spent Tuesday morning trying not to vomit, since it’d be a waste of super-killers of both sorts, and waddled into the hospital (which, luckily, was just up the road from my house) for my scan. Unsurprisingly enough, being an ultrasound department, there were lots of happy-looking pregnant couples about the place; this didn’t help my mood.

The radiologist prodded around for a while, and then turned to me with an earnest, “I’ve just been on a people skills course” sombre expression. “Well, Mr Band, the good news is that your left testicle is perfectly normal”.

Yes. I know my left testicle is perfectly normal. Specifically, it’s not the size of a kiwi fruit and incredibly painful.

“But the bad news is that there’s no blood flow in your right testicle”.

Oh shit. That means it’s dead, right? And it’ll need chopped?

“I can’t comment on treatments, you’ll have to go directly to the urologist. Godspeed, etc”.

So, to A&E again. “Yes, I’ve just come from scanning upstairs. Yes, I know normally you send people up there… oh, look, please just let me see the nurse so she can see my notes… thanks”.

My urologist now looks a little more fazed. He’s seen the scan, he knows that the testicle is dead, he knows it’ll need chopped. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know anything about how the operation works, because he’s a junior doctor who’s only recently started urology rotation and has never actually been involved with an orchidectomy (cutting-bollock-off) before. Damn, maybe that was why he didn’t look fazed yesterday.

The operation is booked for 2AM the next day, Wednesday 16th December. My 31st birthday is on Thursday 17th December. I reschedule my party.

Then I phone my friend who’s a GP (for advice and second opinions), I phone my friend who had a testicle cut off when he was 20 (for consolation plus advice on wombling skills), and I phone the usual coterie of loved ones (minus the ones who’re sufficiently old and ill that they probably don’t need to know). And almost bang on cue, I’m escorted up to the surgical ward.

Waiting for the Death Panels to decide whether I should have a testicle cut off tonight #
Death Panels vote “yes”, partial castration in 1 hour and counting. Hurrah! #
My friend Nic has very kindly brought me a bag of plums and a sack of nuts to take my mind off the op #

Assorted nurses put me on a drip in a bed, with a big Nil By Mouth sign up. Visiting Time, and sister and Nic unexpectedly but awesomely appear. Nic brings a bag of plums and a sack of nuts, which amuses me. Sister brings collection of Alan Coren’s writings, which amuses me after they’ve gone, as well as fetching clothes [**], toothpaste, etc from my flat because she is excellent. Nurse chases sister and Nic away, because it’s the end of Visiting Time and this is a 1960s Ealing comedy.

At this point, through pain, tiredness lack of food and surfeit of drugs, things start to go a bit sketchy (this is also the point where the doctors meticulously explained to me what was going to happen, and where I signed the consent forms – hurrah). It became clear that the plan was to open up my scrotum, see what they could do about the right testicle, remove it if the answer was “not much”, and then pin the left one properly into place so it couldn’t twist and leave me in really serious trouble in future.

The Filipino porter chatted to me about his kids on the way down to theatre. “You’re 30 and you don’t have kids? You don’t know what you’re missing. What’re you coming down to surgery for anyway… oh, sorry”.

A friendly anaesthetist offered me a gin and tonic. “Do you like gin and tonic?” Yes, yes I do. “Well this is almost exactly like a gin and tonic, but intravenously. It’ll tend to make you feel a bit drunk”. Excellent, this will probably be the least miserable thing to have happened in a week. Blimey, it’s working. Ooh, this is fun. “Just noticed your date of birth – should we sing Happy Birthday?” No, it’s not til tomorrow “But it is tomorrow – it’s 3AM” No, it’s still the 16th “Ooops, sorry. Now, in a minute we’ll give you the main anaesthetic…”

“Wake up, we need to check your dressing” Ow, what’s going on? It’s light. Did the op get cancelled… oh, no, it really didn’t. “Hang on”. Ooh, why’s she putting a syringe in my mouth… ah, it’s oral morphine. This is probably OK…”

And, barring a drain-removal, massive pile of drugs to take home, and rapid same-day discharge from the hospital, that’s pretty much where I am a week later.

The ball was properly dead, almost certainly from an undetected torsion. The GP wasn’t incompetent, either – it just managed to stay alive for far longer than it should’ve done (thanks for trying, I guess). Its companion works properly (and yes, if you really must know, I’ve tested); scrotal stitches are bloody uncomfortable and take an age to heal and the discomfort gets worse as the hair grows back; and I still can’t really do very much [***] – but on aggregate I no longer trawl through life in misery and suffering feeling like death would be a merciful relief.

That’s the reality of physical suffering, and I’m not sure – despite various broken bones, bad flus and food poisonings – I’ve come anywhere close to it before. When the doctor told me he was going to cut off my testicle I was actually delighted, because at least that might, just about, MAKE IT STOP. The pain that I felt when my testicle was DYING INSIDE OF ME is more than the average man will undergo ever [****]. It’s humbling to reflect that whatever one’s brain might be able to achieve, the meat around it definitely has the right of veto over anything it proposes…

So, that’s about it for the story. Happy Christmas. If you’re a chap and your balls hurt, go to the doctor right now. And yes, I did still manage to raise a glass of champagne for my birthday – otherwise the gangrenous body parts Would Have Already Won.

Oh, finally: thanks, separately, to Stewart Lee and Richard Herring for sending autographed testicular memorabilia to cheer me up (I missed Stu’s gig because of the bollockage, but he very kindly autographed a DVD in memory of my loss; when I cheekily emailed Rich to ask him to rise to his former partner’s challenge, he even more kindly rose to the challenge and posted me [something which was excellent – I’ll update this with more detail when the Post Office actually brings it round]).

[*]The potential for short-term physical harm created by this arrangement is at least useful in evening up the fighting odds between men and women.
[**] she fetched clothes. They weren’t fetching clothes; in all honesty I wasn’t looking my best at the time so this was OK.
[***] insert “so what’s new” gag here
[****] the average woman apparently has it slightly worse a couple of times in her life, although usually it’s a jollier and more adrenalin-packed occasion. Even so, this has given me a whole new take on that process…

Meme meme meme

Freemania has done tagged me with a meme: 7 things I love. Not in order, and probably not accurate.

1) intelligent girl-pop. c.f.

2) Chris Morris. Explanation required? Go elsewhere.

3) London. Everything about London. Name a thing you don’t like about London and I’ll like it. Well, apart from fiver-a-mile cab fares.

4) Writing. Oh come on, duh.

5) Falling asleep with a woman I love already asleep on my chest, or failing that shoulder. Former not for a while, latter recent-er. Not particularly loving current carefree bachelor existence, in all honesty.

6) Not being poor. Which probably translates, certainly by global standards and maybe even UK standards, as ‘being fairly rich’. Knowing that if even if I get laid off in the downturn/recession/depression/apocalypse and can’t get a job, I’ve saved enough money in the bank to pay a good few years’ rent. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never spent more than gbp900 on anything at all – but do at least lead a fairly not-worrying-about-how-much-that’ll-cost life.

7) Puerile humour. ‘Fox in a box’. Viz. I suppose Chris Morris predicted that, but any bad pun or bad tastery (possibly aside from bad tastery that’s vindictively aimed at a non-loathsome group) wins my favour.

I don’t do re-tagging, but if I did, it’d probably be the best re-tagging in the world.

Top 5 Things That Have Made Me Happy Today

Still mblogging, so can’t face messing about with links. If anything intrigues and confuses you, google is your friend.

1) Stephen Frears’s High Fidelity. Best geeky boy film ever, one of best love stories ever, terrifyingly accurate insight into my past relationships ever, etc. I know Nick Hornby also relevant but I’ve boycotted praising him after the embarrassing nonsense that was How To Be Good.

2) Man skills. The power went off. I made it come back on. Woo!

3) My excellent flatmate. For being impressed by both 1 and 2, for making me move to the official Best Part Of World Ever, for general aceness, etc.

4) Getting messages from my 80something grandparents written in txtspeak. U R BTH DOIN IT RITE. I hope in 55 years time I’m equally able to use Direct Mindreading 4D Lasers as well as the average 15-year-old.

5) Being right about #amazonfail being nonsense. Come on people, corporations aren’t just evil for fun, and society has thankfully reached the point where hating t3h gayz is pretty much as mainstream-unacceptable as hating the Jews. If a big, mainstream, plc-not-fanatic-owned company appears to be banning all gay books of course it’s because they’ve been hacked/trolled/troll-hacked rather than because they’ve decided Do Be Evil is their new maxim.

(in a rare example of positivity, I’m not compiling a detailed ‘things that have made me unhappy’ list. This was made easier by the fact that #amazonfail, emailgate and the worst of my Holiday Weekend Hangover all happened yesterday.

Although grumpy new neighbour whose idea of a greeting was to say “all of this (apparently shared) terrace is mine, only the door and doorway is yours, go away” and slam terrace door is today’s main fail. What the hell need is there to be such a tool? Even if the estate agent lied and the neighbour is actually right, anyone who isn’t a ‘needs electric drill in head’ tosswit would surely go for something more like “Nice to meet you too. I’m sorry, this area is part of our flat and that’s in the deeds, but welcome to the building and would you like a cup of tea?”. Fuckmonkey.

Just as well they didn’t have t’Internet back then

As one ought, I’ve been looking up my ancestors (well, people with my not-especially-common surname) on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913 website.

There’s a disappointing lack of criminality among my lot. Only three Bands were prosecuted at the Old Bailey over the whole period, and one of them was acquitted, whereas we seem to have witnessed a whole load of stuff.

The baddest Band was Thomas Band, who nicked five kilos of brass from his boss in 1785, and got transported to Australia for seven years for his pains (which seems a bit harsh if you ask me, but then I’m a bleeding heart liberal…). But that clearly didn’t teach him much of a lesson – he was back in London by 1796 and nicked 13 wooden boards. This time he seems to have dragged his brother John into it as well, since the boards were nicked from John Band’s boss’s shop. But Tom maintained he was acting alone:

My brother has got a wife and five helpless children, he does not know any thing at all about it; for God’s sake, Gentlemen, if there is any guilt in the business let it fall upon me, and not destroy an innocent family.

The courts were unconvinced: Tom got six months; John got 12 months. Adding to the indignity, whoever wrote the sentencing report managed to get John’s last name wrong. This is annoying enough at the best of times (“did I pronounce it with an R? Did I spell it out with an R? No, I spelled it out Bee-Ay-Enn-Dee. Garrrrr”), but I imagine it’s even worse when someone’s just sent you to jail after your dodgy brother nicked your boss’s planks.

I suppose Tom was lucky that the courts’ record-keeping was poor back then: I can’t imagine the court would have been as comparatively lenient (the planks were worth three shillings, while the brass he’d been transported for first time round was only worth five) if they’d known he was a Magwitch-esque returned convict…