Vague ramblings

One reason why, two words that matter

Posted in Life, Personal, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 24 April, 2017

I don’t know who did it.

It is likely that she (or he) was younger than me, since Carr Saunders Hall was mainly full of undergrads and I was one of the small group of postgrads; it is probable that he (or she) was one of those who volunteered to staff the front desk out-of-hours; I suppose it is possible that it was one of my friends, but really they are the sort of people who if they have something to say about me, would pull me aside and say it to me. But I don’t know.

What “it” was, was this:

Smack in the middle of exam revision time, I wandered into Carr Saunders and the woman on the desk (a fellow student – I can still picture her: quite tall, short red hair, but for the life of me cannot recall her name. Maybe it was her.) said “Ian, Ed has said can you pop up and see him.”

Ed was Ed Kuska, former US Marine (or so the legend went) and Warden of Carr Saunders Hall. I can’t recall if I went straight up to the warden’s residence, but when I got there Ed sat me down and told me that somebody had reported concern for my welfare and, in particular, that I might be a suicide risk.

Now, you need to know that I was very aware of how eccentrically I acted at exam time. I was (and am) pathologically incapable of sitting and thinking. I need to pace. I preferred to revise in the bustle of the bar, rather than the silence of the library or solitude of my room. This restlessness drove a lot of wandering the corridors deep in thought, at all hours of the day and night, randomly stopping wherever I happened to be, to write something down or look something up. Reading that back it doesn’t seem anywhere near as bonkers as it looked in real life. Anybody from Kingston or Francis Bacon would have recognised it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people at LSE had never seen me in exam mode.

I was not – and never have been – a suicide risk, at least in part because I have seen the devastating impact of suicide. I explained to Ed that it was usual exam behaviour for me and that I would be right back to normal after the last exam (or 13 hours sleep after the last exam, as it turned out). I was somewhere on a slightly wonky spectrum between embarrassed and amused.

In the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter:

I have thought about this occasionally over the years, especially when I was in chronic clinical depression and when I was finally being treated – it was a little spark in the gloom . And I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the past couple of weeks, having watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

This is an unflinching and harrowing tale of the events that led to Hannah Baker, a high school junior, taking her own life. Katherine Langford’s stellar performance in the lead made me cry for a fictional character for the first time in a very long time. I think anyone who cares about people should watch it – not just in school but in any cohort, be it college, the workplace, the armed forces. It is not easy viewing. It goes to the very darkest of dark, dark places. But I think it might be important, because it is the first time I’ve seen these issues taken on so directly, entirely without the cloak of metaphor.

I still am somewhere on the ’embarrassed-amused’ spectrum. But there is something that has muscled in as the three or so decades since have passed: I am grateful.

And this is my one reason why: That a nameless member of my cohort saw something alarming and took action to ensure it was dealt with, took action to protect me.

How fucking cool is that? And how likely is it that my mystery benefactor has, in those three decades, done much the same for other people in real distress and in urgent need of somebody to give a damn? Pretty much odds on, I’d say.

So, in the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter: thank you.

 


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Bottoms Up, Sigmoid!

Posted in Life, Personal, Reason by Ian Cundell on 28 February, 2016
Bobby_Moore_Cancer_Fund

Bowel Cancer killed Bobby Moore at the age of just 51

I can say, with a reasonable degree of confidence, that there is no sweet relief quite like the sweet relief that arrives the exact moment an endoscope is removed from your bottom.

I know because this Saturday morning was spent with said endoscope up said bottom. This was only slightly more painful than, later, watching West Ham labour to a win over – a frankly not very good – Sunderland.

It was in the name of bowel cancer screening (the endoscope, not West Ham v Sunderland) and once your age hits the magic number you get the letter. A friend cheerfully admits that when his number comes up, the letter is going in the bin. But I have reasons of family history to figure that a quick poke and a prod, to make sure all is in order, has its merits.

Quick poke and a prod.

That’s where I went wrong.

You see, many moons ago, for entirely cancer-unrelated reasons I’d had another medical device – the name of which is bleached from my brain – stuck where the sun doesn’t shine and, although it was a tad uncomfortable, I didn’t feel too humiliated in front of the two winsome medical students who observed that procedure. Lucky women.

With that initial misconception outlined, let me get this out of the way: the staff at the Endoscopy Unit at Milton Keynes General Hospital are absolutely fucking fabulous. Every bit as fabulous as the A&E staff who looked after me a month or so back. That cannot be said often enough.

The thing with a sigmoidoscopy (which is the name of the procedure used for screening) is that it relies rather a lot on the area being scoped having nothing to block the view. Now, we’re all grown ups and we know what the bowel is used for, so you can figure out what might block the view.

Enema below

There are far too many puns on the word ‘enema’ for me to be bothered, but the thing I didn’t know was that, these days, they are supposed to be self-inflicted. If this is what hippy-dippy types do as ‘colonic irrigation’, then they are utter, utter morons.

Here is where my problem started. The flushy-out kit is a squeeze-bag of some magical liquid, with a tube. I am sure you can work out where the tube goes prior to squeezing the bag. The instructions were clear and easy to follow, but unfortunately it turned out that the tube was a lot more flexible than me. I did the best I could, but the results did not seem to be consistent with those predicted in the instructions (I mean, technically yes, but not – um, how can I put this?  – as Amazonian in quantity). I suspect the problem is that my daily rhythms weren’t quite in the best sync with  the timings for my appointment.

Also, I doubt my cat will ever look at me the same way again.

the staff at the Endoscopy Unit at Milton Keynes General Hospital are absolutely fucking fabulous. Every bit as fabulous as the A&E staff who looked after me a month or so back. That cannot be said often enough.

So, one perturbed cat and an unsatisfactory-feeling cleanse, and off I toddle to MK General. I reported my cleanse concerns to the lovely young lady at reception (I really should have paid more attention to names because, as I said, these people are fabulous and deserve recognition). She said it shouldn’t be a problem.

Technically she was quite right.

After a few minutes I was called in to do the paper work and a few minutes after that was sent to a cubicle to don medical gown and the fabulously named ‘modesty pants’. They are like normal chap’s pants only the other way round (think about it). After a few minutes – which seemed a lot longer – I was called into the procedure room.

Now, from my previous experience with backdoor medical equipment, the only bit of diagnostic information I could recall was “clear to 9 centimetres”. I guess that was the standard back then and was considered an all clear. Remember that.

And so the professionals attempted to begin and, it turned out, my cleansing concerns were well founded. Before I knew what was happening I was having all sorts of liquids poured into my wrong end; as this was happening I was told that I would want to go to the loo very soon. This was true.

The problem is that the distance from the procedure room to the nearest toilet was approximately 15 miles. Coming back it was only 15 feet – space-time is funny like that when you have a colon full of effluvia generators. The Amazon flowed, as if fed by a storm of apocalyptic proportions. It was strangely unsatisfying, but this may have stemmed from the knowledge that everybody nearby knew exactly was was happening. At one point the charge nurse (I think that’s the title) tapped the door and called “Are you still alive in there?” which was very funny at the time. Nobody does gallows humour like nurses.

So, suitably effluved I now had to wait my turn, since it was busy and someone whose self-cleanse had gone to plan, rather than to pot, was dealt with first.

That’s nearly an ar… no, wait. What?!

Then the short trip back to the procedure room. Remember that 9 centimetres?

I am pretty sure I heard the consultant say “80 centimetres” at peak discomfort. You can, should you be so minded, watch the progress of the camera up your fundament, and I fully intended to until the first puff of air used to make a little room for manoeuvre. If you will excuse the expression, bugger me that smarted. That is when I remembered the gas-and-air. Whoever invented Entonox should be given a Nobel Prize for Making People Not Give A Damn.

Actually, that wasn’t why I didn’t look much. Very early on I saw something that looked polyp-y to my eye and at the same time I heard the consultant say “3 millimetres” as she excised it. After that I didn’t really want to know ‘as live’. With the Entonox in full flow, I was now very much in the realm of not giving a shit (not that I could have). The only other thing of note was hearing the word ‘diverticula’ and thinking “Oh, Mum had them”. Genetics, eh?

And then came the sweet, sweet relief, which is – so to speak – where we came in. My own ineptitude at not being able to use a squeezy bottle, combined with being too slow to hit the Entonox made for an amusing yarn at my expense (I hope you will agree) and all is good (pending biopsy). One 3mm polyp removed and three diverticula noted.

But here’s the thing.

The Endoscopy Unit was pretty damned busy this Saturday (that’ll be the 7-day NHS) and it was not just people like me getting their spot checks. There were samples handed over and people asked to wait at one end, and at the other end of the line…. Well, there was more than one ashen face, and the look of stoical grimness that only those in the midst of a really bad situation present.

In early 2001 Mum had a raft of procedures including a colonoscopy which removed a “rather large polyp”, as she said to me when I phoned to check. But over the following weeks she experienced more and more pain and finally, in early March I called the surgery in frustration to see what the hold up was with the results. Dr Khan had – literally – just opened them. Mum never knew that I knew she was dying before she did. Dr Khan thought months rather than years, but it turned out to be weeks rather than months. This kind, gentle doctor was visibly shocked at how fast the cancer progressed in this kind, gentle woman.

Don’t throw the letter away.

And if things don’t seem right down there, get it checked anyway. There is no dignified way to have an endoscope stuck up your arse. But half a day of no dignity and half and hour of sucking on the Entonox might just save your life.

Just make sure you have plenty of soft fibre in your diet.

 

 


All my bags are packed…

Posted in Life, Personal, St Albans by Ian Cundell on 1 March, 2015

…and when I say ‘all’ I mean all, from my venerable Karrimor Jaguar rucksack to my dad’s suitcase from when he was a commercial driver and on to a tartan thing that really shouldn’t be seen in public and which, save for some unexpected extra stuff, would have been quietly shuffled off to a charity shop.

I have sold my house and, thanks to a vendor being a right dickhead at the worst possible time of year, am temporarily of no fixed abode while I wait for a house I want to become available. And that means that a person who prefers to travel light, can’t. But still, an important and overdue life change is at last under way, even if I still don’t know where it will end up.

Here is some stuff I’ve discovered:

*Having a good buyer is like gold dust. Craig didn’t dick around for one moment, although he was mightily dicked around himself and I’m fairly sure he has had to promise the soul of his first-born to Nationwide;

* The new recycling arrangements in St Albans are an abomination and whoever came up with them should be fired and never allowed to work in public service again. They are a positive inducement to fly-tip;

* That you have much, much more stuff than you think you do;

* That the thing – you know that thing – that might come in handy one day, won’t – so take it to the sodding dump or a charity shop;

* That putting your cats, who have hung out with you for more than a decade, into a cattery is really distressing, but that the people at Cayton’s get that;

* That family, friends and neighbours – Alan, Sian, Daz and Will, Miah and Silvia, Jes, really step up;

* That, when having a last look round before the house ceases to be legally mine and spotting an envelope, picking it up and realising it is the words I wrote for Dad’s funeral causes all the “I’m really not that sentimental about this” nonsense to unspool in an instant.

Just over 60 years ago, Doreen and Ken moved into a council house of the kind they don’t let working class people have any more. Two days ago, that era ended and Craig has big dreams to make a wonderful home for him and his partner. I am quite certain that Mum and Dad would have liked them.

Time to go.

The Lost Princess

Posted in Fiction, Musing, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 27 January, 2015

I wrote this a while back. I’m not quite sure why I feel it appropriate to post it today, save a line a few paragraphs in. But it feels right, so here it is.

 

The Lost Princess

by

Ian Cundell

She was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old.

Almost alone among the countless images that must have passed before me back then, hers would return often and unexpected in the following years. The waif-like girl standing outside a lighthouse, framed by a gloomy sky and infused with an overpowering sense of loss,

I could never quite grasp why this image kept flashing back to me, could see no pattern. It reached the stage where I doubted that it was real, assuming my memory was playing tricks. As I learned that not everybody will remember things in the same way as me, I began to think that the waif-like girl and the lighthouse may have been constructed out of bits of other memories.

Also, of course, other images before and since have stuck around: the opening credits of World At War still chill my blood. They can flash me back directly to a living room and Dad telling me and my brother to stop talking and hope that it never happens again as an episode starts titled, simply enough, ‘Genocide’.

In its own way, so way does the poppy-soaked final frame of Blackadder Goes Forth. Nigel Lawson had resigned, we realised the news would over-run, so left early from the pub because the video timer would be out. How will they get out of that? Come on how? How will they…

Oh.

There are moments that will always stop the heart when you see them again: During Band Aid the Cars song Drive is played over a montage of African poverty, bizarre and a little inappropriate until “who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?”. The baby screams and the room full of garrulous students falls silent.

And drunken revellers, finally home and watching the late election results come in, marking the end of a generation and a look on Michael Portillo’s face that remains a study in the pain of defeat.

These are images that keep their power when you see them again.

But the waif-like girl by the lighthouse was never seen again. I didn’t know that. It never occurred to me that the flash of memory felt unreal because it was getting more distant and that this was because it had been locked away.

Then came the Internet Movie Database and a lazy, rainy afternoon poking around, following random links. A half a dozen or so posters asking about the waif-like girl, about the lighthouse, why she can’t be seen. But more. Where is the bearded hunchback, where are the soldiers, where is the story that left us dumbstruck and then haunted?

But it can’t be found: the author, it is said, will not permit its release or perhaps the rights holders and the broadcasters can’t or won’t sort out the details. Nobody is quite certain. If you make a special appointment at the British Film Institute they might let you watch it, but the lost gem will remain, essentially, lost. Concealed.

And then there is a link. A download, most definitely not official, passed around like a secret message. The quality is awful, a digital conversion of a conversion of another conversion from one tape to another. One scene is missing, probably cut by a foreign broadcaster.

But not that scene. Not the scene.

It was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old and had popped up unbidden many times since.

I know now that it stuck with me because it was the best piece of story-telling I had ever seen, that it had become, in its quiet persistence, the standard against which all other stories are measured. If it can’t stay with me for a lifetime, it is an also-ran.

When the shaky and washed-out video plays, it is like a restored Great Master; details lost to time are revealed. The waif-like girl walking from the lighthouse, tears flowing, clutching a portrait of herself, as The Snow Goose circles over head before flying away.

It carries with it the soul of the lost hero, the lost love, the lost artist.

 

(c) Ian Cundell, 2014. All rights reserved

Cloud Atlas: book, film and the art of zooming

Posted in Ace Writers, Fiction by Ian Cundell on 23 January, 2014

In 1977 Charles and Ray Eames created a short film called The Power of Ten, surely the most viewed short film in history. We start with a couple picnicking in a park, zoom out to the very edges of the universe and then back to the building blocks of matter. It was shown at schools all over the world and as a staple BBC test transmission in the days before all-day TV. Watch it – it is all kinds of wonderful.

I would be moderately surprised if, somewhere in the back of his mind, David Mitchell was not influenced by this icon of the short film art when crafting Cloud Atlas(1). Here be spoilers. (more…)

Some things don’t discriminate

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 15 May, 2013

Nothing to add to what Katherine Welby, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, says here, yet there are still people who will say “She’s attractive, intelligent and well connected – how can she be depressed?”:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22536768

(apologies for the slight frustration that you don’t seem to be able to embed these videos)

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The Parapet

Posted in Fiction by Ian Cundell on 11 November, 2012

Poppies

The Parapet

by

Ian Cundell

I didn’t see it coming. Didn’t have a chance to avoid it.

I popped my head above the makeshift parapet, and searing, shocking pain exploded in my right eye. I rolled back underneath the blackboard and someone shouted “Tom! Are you OK?” I was lucky I didn’t lose the eye, I suppose. Who would have thought a catapult made of a rubber band and some folded paper could be so painful? God, it hurt like hell.

I didn’t cry of course. The boys would have done me in if I had. And my black eye didn’t get me out of the caning we all got for making the common room into a battlefield. I didn’t cry then, either.

Old Nurse Kitchen wasn’t sympathetic. “You needn’t think you’re getting out of PT, Atkins” she said. “Perhaps you’ll be more careful in future.”

How could I be more careful? I didn’t see it coming.

Still, I bragged on it for days, and got plenty of attention for my ‘war wound’, although I was pretty cross that whoever did it never owned up. But now… well, I reckon maybe he didn’t know what he’d done, was just firing blindly.

Heh. I’m used to that now.

So here I am. The Pals are back together again, the three-oh-threes are ready, bayonets fixed. Tin hats on. The boys are lined up, all pursed lips and silent prayers.

B-Company! One Step Forward!”

Time to stick my head over the parapet again. There’s nothing makeshift about this one.

Good luck, lads. And don’t look so nervous.

You won’t see it coming.

 

 

(c) Ian Cundell, 2012. All rights reserved.

 

 

Of metaphors and monsters

Posted in Musing, Personal by Ian Cundell on 6 June, 2012

My friend and colleague David Chippendale committed suicide on 7 March. Many knew he was in a bad way, but sadly none realised how close to the edge he was.

His loss prompted me to come clean about my own situation – more chronic and unrelenting than the severe bipolar that claimed David – and Estates Gazettes was kind enough to give me a platform in the magazine and online.

For all the many ways in which writers have been able to explore depression (and other mental illnesses), in the end the reality is anything but metaphorical.

Please read the article very carefully: Click here.

What kind of demon?

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 27 November, 2011

A couple of days ago footballer Stan Collymore posted a series of tweets regarding his struggle with depression – including a plea to another tweeter to see his GP, rather than suffer in silence.

Then, this morning, Wales manager Gary Speed was found dead, apparently having committed suicide.

We don’t know what demons drove Speed to this place, but I can say with some confidence that it did not come out of nowhere, and that sooner or later hindsight will give some clues. Maybe it was a big trigger, or just years of stalking by a blind and invisble monster that doesn’t care how succesful you are, or on what terms you measure yourself.

Browsing football forums, as I do, over the years I came across several people who met him and, invariably, the description was “top bloke”, or something like it.

But this morning I heard a phrase a few times that has niggled all day: “Level headed”. Some depressives cannot help but to wear their ailment as a cloak. But anyone who has looked into depression will tell you, many more don’t. I am troubled by the thought that “level headed” might be the most dangerous sign or symptom of the lot.

My lesser angel is hoping that there is a tragic but straightforward explanation – because the alternative is almost to scary to contemplate.

A little light for the blind and invisible monster

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 27 November, 2010

It was rather nice, last week, to see that Vincent and the Doctor, an episode from this year’s series of Doctor Who was short-listed for the MIND Mental Health Media Awards in the drama category. Unsurprisingly it lost out to the outstanding Karen storyline fromShameless, but I really was pleased that Vincent got noticed.

It was a wonderful (if that is the word) look at depression, with powerful performances from Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy) and Tony Curran (Vincent). It didn’t chicken out, with Gillan’s portrayal of heartache outstanding, as Amy realises that her efforts to save Vincent from despair have failed, will always fail.

I can only assume that Richard Curtis, who wrote the script, has up-close and personal experience of depression, because even the most throw-away elements of the story felt written from truth.

It wasn’t remotely maudlin, and was wholly appropriate for the young audience Doctor Who serves, and if only a few of them come to appreciate what the monster of the week represented, then the story will have served Who‘s fans well.

Because the blind and invisible monster doesn’t care how well-off you are, how brilliant you are or how great your achievements are. When it comes after you, there is nothing more terrifying or indifferent to your pain.

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