Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Thursday, November 30, 2006


This month's mortgage payment was a couple of days overdue when I paid it in cash today. With four customers ahead of me in the queue, an entirely useless promo guy dressed in a kilt asked me if he could help, but was not able to shrink the queue for me despite matching beautifully with the seasonal decorations of wrapping paper in tartan and Scottie dog themes. Though I'm sure objectively handsome, his knees were insufficently hairy to give me full warm fuzzy feelings, so I reckon the campaign has failed. It failed again when their computers couldn't access my mortgage account, nor could their customer phone connect me to their allied mortgagers on a premium service number.

Lately I have been questioning continued investment in the home-owners' paradigm, not least because of a thought-provoking post from Smash. When I was earning well, paying rent would've been a waste of my income, but things are quite different when unemployed. It's only after 9 months on the dole that I recently became eligible for 'mortgage interest relief' (MIR) from benefits agencies, which will now cover 75% of my payments. All savings and redundancy have now gone to service the mortgage until MIR kicked in, but quite where the other 25% is to be found is a mystery not addressed by said agencies. The shortfall thus becomes my private business.

A helpful lady at the Benefits Advice centre explained that I could always downsize to a smaller flat in one of the peripheral estates on the edge of Edinburgh. She had no answer to the problem of an inevitable shortfall on a repayment mortgage, no matter how small, nor how the kiddos' education would be affected by a move. I love my wee flat, the first that has been all mine, and despite its deteriorating kitchen and bathroom, am happy here.

The benefits agencies would be happy to pay double my MIR in rent to a scum landlord, should I move to rented accommodation. But if I sold up, I would first have to spend up all the equity I've built up in 15 years of home-owning before being eligible for housing benefit. This is becoming an increasingly attractive option. After paying rent myself, the property equity would give at least 2 years of reasonably high living before it ran out and the welfare net clicked back in. That would be the end of the property ladder.

Why do I persist in home-owning?
1. If I get a job, it's a more economical option
2. Something for the kiddos to inherit
3. Providing continuity and continued residence in the area in which my kiddos were brought up

Arguments against
1. Home-owning requires investment in infrastructure and upgrading
2. Kiddos will eventually inherit their hard-working dad's equity, if not mine
3. Can rent in the same area and relinquish responsibility for home upkeep


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lost Chord #9

What I'm daily assaulted with by the kiddos.
REM; Shiny Happy People
REM; Man on the Moon
REM: End of the World
REM; Losing my Religion
Rogue Traders; Voodoo Child
Electric Six' Fire in the Disco
Electric Six; Gay Bar

Holohan Sisters; Cam Ye O'er Frae France
Wildebeests; Just Like Me
Brian Jonestown Massacre; Going to Hell
Who; Substitute


Monday, November 27, 2006

Favourite things

Favourite listening on R4 this week included the serialisation of the letters of 'Decca' (Jessica Mitford) and yesterday's interview with Patti Smith on Marr's Start the Week.

If you haven't read Decca's autobiographical account of her childhood, Hons and Rebels, try it out for a screamingly funny account of an aristocratic upbringing. Have fond memories of taking turns reading this book out loud around the fireplace during a stay in a cold, damp and TV-less Scottish cottage. Mum and stepdad were acquaintances of Jessica during the late 60s, when all three were involved in trade union activities in the Bay Area. I bought Decca for my dad's birthday this month, and am looking forward to my turn at reading it later.

On the obscenely large larvae colonising the area around the cat bowl; it's apparently quite normal for larvae to be larger than their adult antecedents. Supersized larvae mean more digestable energy for metamorphosis into the breeding form. I like insects as much or more than the next guy, but it's hard to be anthropomorphic when as with the babies Rosemary's Baby the young are bigger than their shiny black parents.

Lately, the wee wan and her best friend have been pulled out of classes for special sessions with the assistant head. I now understand that they've been inducted into a program called 'Fast-track' for pupils more able in maths and logic. It took me till I was in my twenties to embrace statistics, so am delighted wee wan and her musical best friend might get an early leg up. On that note, please acknowledge the incredible offensiveness of Sky TV's Brainiacs, amply decorated with 'girlies' who are never scientists themselves. This series is making me puke.

I leave you with green wellies, with one pair wearing the Simone specs.


Sunday, November 26, 2006


A lovely weekend. Don't remember the end of Friday after the interview, but H. and I sunk a few glasses of wine, and sometime later I underwent an in-depth interview debriefing and analysis session by phone with R. Hope she enjoyed it- retrograde amnesia means it's a mystery to me. A quick wash and scrub-up had me uptown in the morning, picking up and accommodating to the new Simone specs. Snatched reflections in a mirror or shop window leave me wondering who the stranger is. I was so de Beauvoir that I bought four soft cheeses for a fiver at the open-air French market. The poivre went in one session since I like spicy, but the others are still stinking out my fridge. How is it that something smelling and looking like a bad nappy from a breastfed baby can taste like nectar?

Saturday also included a visit to H.'s stall at a church fair, where she took £65 for her handmade pottery, cards, jam and chutney. Some of it was our red cabbage and peach chutney, laid down in October. Later enjoyed a lunch of mussels with R. and recently-wedded Alex, and yet later a cup of ginger tea with the big wan, who was conveniently traced by that latter-day evil, the mobile phone, to the Forest Cafe just as I was passing.

Sunday had the luxury of an evening of my favourite TV- Antiques Roadshow , archaeology and natural history programmes. Wild Thing involved a tree mallow clearing exercise on Craigleith, an island in the Firth of Forth, in order to promote access by puffins to their breeding burrows. Later it was Attenborough's Blue Planet versus his Planet Earth on channel-flipping, which is as close to TV heaven as I can imagine.

But Mondays are always a drag, and today I learned I was unsuccessful in my job interview. This is not the worst of outcomes, for I had an interview. Have also a standing engagement with an H. of my acquaintance and her dug Reekie for a Braidburn walk tomorrow, in green wellies.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Interview II

I survived, and rather enjoyed the experience. Got a laugh from the two interviewers when I explained that I was interested in whole-patient research, and not just fragments of patients as organs. Also managed to inject a plug for previous experience of CBT interventions, meta-analyses of RCTs and systematic reviews. My interview was in a high-rise academic dept. where I worked in 20 years ago, and the same tearoom and audiovisual staff are still there. Joyce from the tearoom says she'll put in a good word for me, as will Gary and Raymond from AV tech services. Shan't hear anything more till Weds next week, so for now work business is on the back burner.



Ratty of Flying Rodent tagged me.

10 Things I Will Never Do:

1. Sign up for the Armed Forces
Too old now, and never wish to hold a gun
2. Join the BNP
I'm an immigrant myself
3. Shag Tommy Sheridan
Not if he was the last man on earth
4. Wear stiletto heels
Uncomfortable, dangerous and akin to Chinese footbinding
5. Cook coq-au-vin
Life's too short
6. Go back to ironing clothes
If you buy clothes wisely, you can ditch the habit too
7. Sniff solvents for recreation
Few enough neurons left
8. Become 'born again'
Abdicate responsibility for free thought? No thanks
9. Have another baby
I can borrow others'
10. Undergo breast augmentation
They're not going to look good at 65

I in turn nominate Hotboy, Robmcj and Gerbil01.


Thursday, November 23, 2006


The interview's tomorrow, so am mugging up on the book R. lent me- "Brilliant Answers to Tough Interview Questions". It's 15 years since I had an interview. The worst, most delicate question will be why I left my last job. The interviewers phoned me yesterday to ask for a PDF of my Lancet article. This threw me into a minor panic and necessitated my blagging my way into Edinburgh Uni's Main Library with an outdated staff card this morning to access the journal stacks, photocopy and fax the paper. But maybe its a positive sign.

My Simone de Beauvoir specs are ready for collection, but I'll do the interview in my old ones. Accomodation to varifocals takes days and not hours, and apparently stairs can be particularly difficult. I shall be wearing my grey flannel embroidered skirt and a grey tweed jacket.

And this what I would miss- my dogwalks with h. down the Braidburn. The autumn trees are quite magnificent at present.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Engerland II

Engerland proved to be most hospitable but more violent than locally, with a screaming row outside the pub opposite at 2 or 3 am. While my Embra flat is over one pub and opposite another, I don't get this bother; just the roar that follows a goal for Scotland or against Engerland. It helps me keep track of the score while I'm multi-tasking on something else.

In 'Ackney, I watched reality while smoking a morning roll-up and sipping a cup of tea on D.'s backyard step. At 10 am a blonde woman threw open her door on the 3rd floor of the council block opposite, brandished a kitchen knife and beat the railing with it while screaming, "I'll kill 'er, I'll kill the facking bitch!". Her friend calmed her and ushered her indoors. Just afterwards an elderly lady on the floor above hobbled outside to pick up her free newspaper, looking around suspiciously.

Here's D. with Aaron.
This little lad is quite the best-tempered, most attentive and responsive babby ever. I got holds and cheesy grins from him. I've never seen D. and her partner so happy, relaxed and involved- coming to parenthood late (at 41 and 37 yrs respectively) has advantages. The health visitor advises delaying introduction of solids till 6 months, but I doubt they'll be able to hold off. Over dinner, 4.5 month Aaron was bouncing in his chair and salivating profusely while watching us eat, making unmistakeable chewing motions and trying to grab for his Dad's fork.


Monday, November 13, 2006


I'm away to the southern wastes of Engerland this week to enjoy my godson, Aaron. It's always a surprise to be confronted with the accent and idiom down there. "Awight?", they ask and I make the mistake of taking this literally, replying in kind, "Yes, I am quite well, thank you very much for enquiring. And how is your health and that of your family?". But the proper response is, "Awight, mite? Gimme a triple bacon cheeseburger", back.

They really talk like that, Engerlish folk, except my old friend D.. A migrant to Hackney of 20 years standing and still broad Embra, since she continues to roll an R and enunciate vowels no one in Landan can understand a word. I will get to meet her chubby 5-month old Aaron, attend bottles, baths and nappies, bury my nose in baby hair smell and hopefully get a wee hold again of a sleeping babby. You can't buy that stuff; it can only be earned.


Saturday, November 11, 2006


Today I am not just any-old dolie, but a dolie with an job interview. The post is local and in an appropriate clinical field and departmental setting. I can do that! Gissa job! I'm a 'team player' but 'able to work independently'! I can stand on my head and perform backflips, smiling broadly the whole time!

The new Simone specs unfortunately won't be ready in time, whose bluestocking air could represent the critical edge at interview. The panel make their decision in the first minute, mostly on hunches and subtextual impressions. Good advice is to avoid using the job interview methods of Spud (Trainspotting) or Hotboy.

On the other hand I'm prepared for disappointment mixed with relief. There's probably an internal candidate, and when would I fit work into a busy dog-walking schedule?


Friday, November 10, 2006


14 hours of solid bumpy slow-wave and spikey REM sleeps, all with Her Catness in close attendance. 8 hours on the sofa, 6 hours in bed, with juniper pickled herring and a meltingly ripe persimmon in between. These foods are a match made in heaven. For some obscure reason the kiddos won't kiss me after pickled herring.

The giant bumper bag of Cat crunchies has had to go in the cupboard to dissuade feline attention. We've had problems before. When I wake, She's up patting my legs, gazing wistfully in my eyes while mewling piteously; the only time She stoops so low. I don't like to overfill Her bowl because spills attract the dreaded black beetles and their disturbingly oversized larvae. Luckily, She is satisfied by a shake of the still-closed Cat Fud container over the bowl. Thus She and I are locked in a Pavlovian behaviour where I am trained to supply Her with noise at regular intervals. After a snack at the full bowl, She'll resume bird surveillance stakeout at the windowsill.

For your admiration, here is H.'s wedding cake for David and Alex, topped with her exquisite edible floral sculptures. The cake itself was quite delicious- something that could sustain you for days up a mountain when the weather closed in, stuffed full of cranberries, blueberries, cherries, sultanas, hazelnuts, walnuts. She also bakes a mean scone.

But tragic news re the cashmere hat left on the bus last week. Some rotter stole it, for it didn't make it to Lost Property. I was quite prepared to pay the £2 redemption fee, for not only was it light, soft and warm with a silly pompom on the crown, but also a 40th birthday present. Have had to resort to the second string hat, also with silly pompom, but of ordinary, scratchy wool. To the cashmere hat thief; I'm looking out for you, pal, and will hunt you down like the dog you are. Don't mess with my hats.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

n=1 studies

Now, how shall I entertain you after 26 hrs of total sleep deprivation with no pharmaceutical intervention save Fair Trade teabags and cheese? Perhaps to comment that one feels so much better at 26 hrs in the control condition (sleep dep alone) than after earlier administration of exogenous intoxicants (sleep dep + psychopharmacological agent). This has been tentatively validated in a 25 year longitudinal, double-crossover, unblinded n=1 study to be written up as a case report for the Lancet.

I shan't bore with the evidence linking sleep in humans to the maintenance of higher cortical function, especially pre-frontal areas' regulation of behavioural and cognitive impulse, perseveration and planning. And I'm off already in a fullblown pre-frontal manner. Luckily, I'll be cured by a recovery sleep packed full of chunky goodness, with over-representations of deep NREM sleep and REM.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Lost chord #8

Richard Thompson; I Feel So Good
The Who and Thompson; Substitute
Buffs; Medway Wheelers
MC5; American Ruse
Bowie: Queen Bitch
Jarvis; Running The World
SAHB; Boston Tea Party
Muse; Super Massive Black Hole
Placebo; Slave to the Wage
Flamin' Groovies; Slow Death
Velvet-ish; The Gift
Aphex Twin; Nannou
Unattributed; Wedding Gamelan



Have had the cold/s for about 2 weeks now. A virus, maybe an echovirus, is experiencing great glee and possibly bliss while reproducing in my respiratory tract, giving me a head full of cotton wool and mucus. We've come to a compromise where it's happy and I am not unhappy. It knows that if it makes me just sick enough to cough, splutter, sneeze and dribble while maintaining normal activities, it has a better chance of infecting some other bugger. Happy, clever virus!

The big wan had a DPT (diptheria, pertussis, ?tetanus) immunisation at school last week, and was carrying on like a jessie about his sore arm. He knows nothing. In my young day in Glasgow, a rite of passage was the BCG (tuberculosis) inoculation delivered to long lines of 14 yr old schoolkids. Within a few days, spectacular pustular, crusty scabs appeared simultaneously on the left arms of the whole cohort. Except Lisa, who hoped for a career as a model and wished to stay unscarred. The boys, and some of the tough girls, went around punching each other in the arm for kicks over the next few weeks. I learn that BCG is no longer routinely given, though TB rates in the UK are rising.

An immunisation against human papilloma virus (HPV), the infectious agent of both genital warts and cervical dysplasia, is now privately available. The NHS does not yet provide this, though it could produce significant savings in stirrup-time, speculums, cytological services, STI clinic overloads, invasive colposcopic treatments and lives lost to cervical cancer. Developed within BigPharma, once the rival product from GSK comes on the market the price will come down, boys and girls. Maybe even to a level of 'cost-effectiveness' when kiddos can line up for their jags on the NHS at school, with mine as first in the queue.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Civil union

Today, R., H. (Girl on a Motorcycle) and I (amongst a full house) had the privilege to witness Alex and David's civil union. They've been together for 21 years, and to only have the opportunity to solemnise their relationship now is ridiculous. Their relationship has already outlasted most straight marriages (inc. my own) by several multipliers.

Am a total sucker for weddings, like births. The hope and goodwill is an overwhelming feature, and I was crying buckets as soon as they played Pachabel for the entrance. That was also chosen for my Dad's marriage to my wonderful step-mum, and the progressive chords are profoundly emotional. Alex and David wrote their own vows, which were moving, personal, supportive and enduring. Both men looked splendid in their kilts and winter-flower corsages, and took their vows with appropriate emotion and dignity.

I will never marry again, but that doesn't diminish the meaningfulness of Alex and David's ceremony. They threw us a wonderful warm reception at their house, and I hope they enjoyed it at least as much as their guests.

To Alex and David!


Friday, November 03, 2006

Hitting the head

Why do it? Engage, I mean, in pointless and abstruse conversations about epidemiological methodology and scientific validity, thus repeatedly bashing head against pillow, or worse wall? Must be fucking stupid and perseverative, with frontal lobe damage.

But despite such distractions, latest job app is in. Sometime, through pure persistence (like my quadruple driving tests), success and not PFO letters will come up on the dice. Beware of what you wish for from that sinister birthday fairy! I would like to have enough money to spoil the kiddos and myself with experience, but no more of that stress monster. Goats and veg, please.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yeasty goodness

The GP poo-pooed my self-diagnosis of PF, though I tried to explain that it was improved due to the Nizoral shampoo. Instead, a new prescription for a different antibiotic was administered for the lingering plukes, but you can be sure I'll be secretly carrying on with Nizoral. The NHS is v. v. keen on lifestyle advice these days. At the last consultation my spotty back was ascribed to smoking, and this time it's alcohol. As for the black dog, paradoxically the GP said he could see the improvement. Make up your bloody mind, Patricia Spewitt.

Could he be right, in a roundabout way? Those Diet Doctors, whom I've always considered quacks, say that eating fermented foods predisposes towards fungal overgrowths. This always seemed like bollocks to me, since you're digesting the fungi, not smearing them on cutaneous areas, and your gut is designed to keep the inside separate from the outside, dummies.

But empirically, on an n=1 basis, the null hypothesis for diet and skin can't be proved. My diet is heavy on yeasts and moulds; bread, wine, cheese, pickle with some soup and yoghurt represents the perfect meal. However, I plan to carry on regardless with the fermented food diet, and KO the cutaneous yeasty buggers occasionally with the topical Nizoral. With an 'O' blood group and celtic phenotype, it could be argued that creatures like me are evolved and adapted for the cheese and beer diet, and this represents destiny.

Splendid day yesterday with Girl on a Motorcycle H. and Reekster. Reekie and I played ball on the green under chestnuts and beeches for a half hour, while H. had some stitches removed. Then they two braved the blustery sands at Portobello and then Musselburgh in sequential walks. I lasted 100 yards at Portie, then retired to the car on the grounds of unsuitable dress (summer trousers) and the loss of my cashmere hat on the bus that week. There go my plans to be a professional dogwalker. H. and Reekie are made of sterner stuff and strode on in the salt-sand blizzard, while I watched the white horses from the warmth of the car, dizzy from the wind. At Musselburgh harbour (to visit Clarkes' fish shop), the lanyards of the boats were clanging and gonging in delightful clamour with the gale. Later, our matching green wellies were admired by workmen outside the Chinese veg shop, who wanted to know where H. got them. Learning that H. had never eaten chestnuts, we roasted a few handfuls while we were cleaning, but at too high a temperature. Two of them exploded, mimicking the soundtrack to an urban shoot-out movie or an early Bonfire Night.

Musselburgh in summer

Musselburgh in autumn