Archive for August, 2010

Something good can work

I got 50 pages into The Beauty of the Infinite and gave up till my PhD arrives. So the following comes with a definite limit on  what has been previously said and accepted on the subject of beauty

My current stance is this:

Often I find that things are beautiful because they are functional.

Beauty is a big complex word. I claim no authority on what smarter people than me have to say on the matter.

I see beauty in lots of places (link is my favourite beach where I lived in New Zealand) were functionality has no role. But then sometimes I look at my Volvo with the seats down and I get a little teary at the beauty of it.

Now the simple answer to this is – it’s a bloody car, stop your crying you big fairy!

The slightly more complex answer is that I confuse beauty and functionality. So why do I like things that work?

[I also may be confusing good with beauty so feel free to substitute the appropriate words…]

My basic argument for functionality as beauty is the idea that God’s purpose in creation was to bring order out of chaos. I (think I) learned that from NT Wright and some people here.

Things that are functional bring order of the chaos of my life. And if creation is beautiful and creation is bringing order out of chaos then my Volvo is beautiful. Though by such reasoning if beauty is truth and beauty is in the eye of the beholder then truth is in the eye of the beholder too. Hmmm.

You can hold off on giving me the PhD in theology for now.

Talking about this with Zoomtard he pointed out the obvious problem with my argument:

Yes my Volvo may bring order out of the chaos of all the stuff that I own and need to move around but it doesn’t deal with the problem of stuff in the first place. Stuff takes over our lives and produces chaos and mere functionality does not solve the problem which comes from further back down the line.

At the time we were (or rather I was) talking about simplenote and how I loved it as a free open source way of keeping all my little important bits of text organised and how the cloud is such a wonderful concept.

In that context bringing order to my digital world is perhaps good in itself but let’s face it – my digital world is entirely superfluous to my existence as a glorious and fallen eikon of God.

So perhaps my Volvo provides a slightly better argument that f you’re going to try and bring order out of a chaos that doesn’t need to exist then you may as well use a 15 year old Swedish car that works.

The beginning stages of…

[Brief note – this is not intended as any kind of commentary or criticism about the hugely controversial and emotive issue surrounding beginning of life issues. If I seem flippant it is not my intention]

In preparation for the new job I’ve been doing a bit of reading. I’ve even covered the most feared of subjects – molecular biology. Remarkable what your brain can learn only to forget entirely, and how quickly it comes back when you read it again.

I’ve also covered some embryology which I find one of the more mind-boggingly amazing parts of our existence. Sure all kinds of mammals do embryology they just don’t grow up and study it and reflect upon it.

In work (Emergency medicine – my real work as I call it) we see lots of concerned young women who are in the really early stages of pregnancy (say 6-8 weeks) who turn up with some tummy pain and a bit of bleeding (say less than a period). They’re all concerned that they’re having a miscarriage. Which indeed many of them are. Once I’ve satisfied myself it’s not an etopic pregnancy – which is what will kill them if I miss it – they generally go home with some follow up with the gynae folk. Some of these women will go on to miscarry (though certainly not all) and I tell them this and explain that 20% of early pregnancies miscarry and 95% go on to have a normal pregnancy in the next couple of years.

But in reading about the staggeringly tiny collections of cells that go on to be embryos and foetuses and babies and toddlers and all the varied parts of our humanity – I was thinking surely lots of these pregnancies/conceptions never make it to a missed period (the usual reason people do the pregnancy test in the first place).

This study looked at just that (back when I was already 7 years past the most risky part of my life) measuring pregnancy tests daily on women who were trying to get pregnant (however you do that… I’ll ask Wylie…).

They found lots of sub-clinical pregnancies (enough to cause a big HCG rise – ie implantation – but failing before anyone missed a period) that mis-carried before anyone thought they were pregant. Overall 30% miscarried and 70% of these were before anyone thought they were pregnant.

When combined with another study it’s estimated that 50% of conceptions do not result in a live birth. This surprised me – I imagine because this is one of the things that I was told in medical school but wasn’t paying attention at the time. On reflection that was probably most of the time.

So maybe it is possible to be a little bit pregnant after all.

Old old fashioned

Some of the more wonderful people in my life bought us a wee holiday to celebrate our marriage.

This was all planned some time back before the wedding and I knew we were going somewhere but knew none of the details.

We had a little brown envelope with spending money, directions and a USB drive with details and a 2 and a half hour podcast from the gents themselves to keep us entertained on the drive. This was above and beyond the call of duty.

It was so good in fact that I didn’t want to pick up a gun and murder someone when Lady in Red came on.

Our destination was here.

The wonderful Hay-on-Wye.

Despite the misleading advertising above, the town is quite simliar to other towns and has houses made of bricks and mortar as opposed to books. You can tell I was disappointed.

And despite the sign saying welcome to Wales, this is one of the most English-feeling towns I have ever been in. It even had a Conservative Club with a portrait of Winston hanging in the hallway.

The pub we had dinner in had a portrait of someone who just may have been Maggie Thatcher but seen in a good light through beer goggles.

Maybe it’s a fair statement that all the best bits of England are in Wales.

They must get a bit pissed off being lumped in with the English all the time. Every time there’s a national report on the state of whatever it’s always for England and Wales combined and Scotland gets its own report and our esteemed leaders in the North haven’t agreed on anything long enough to even do the report.

Seems a bit of a shame for a country passionately pursuing a Welsh culture and language to be amalgamated at almost every level.

We stayed here which was absolutely bloody lovely and comes highly recommended. Incidentally its Sandy Toksvig’s favourite B&B so we’re in good company.

It’s so authentic as an 18th century house that the floors and the ceilings aren’t entirely level. There’s even a tiny door in the wall that opens into the greenhouse for ventilation which has a little figurine inside it.

The bedroom felt a little like the inn in The fellowship of the ring when the Nazgul come in and stab the pillows in the beds.

Hay-on-Wye is famous for its book festival. So famous in fact that i had no idea till someone told me.

There are 30 second-hand bookshops in a fairly tiny space.

There were even “honesty” book shops which were just shelves under tarpaulins where you could just leave 50p and walk off with such a high quality book such as:

But when you’ve got one you may as well get the sequel:

Second-hand bookshops are wonderful places but you have to realise the sheer staggering amount of trash and nonsense you have to browse through to find a gem like the obsucre Vonnegut you were looking (Goddamnit you gotta be kind…) or the third copy of Gilead that you really need (it was only £1.50…).

The shops themselves are fairly intriguing with lots of old broken down sofas, often with a cat asleep on them.

There were of course other attractions like this:

and this:

But I was mainly excited about getting a go on this:

Which I duly did:

All in all a cracking wee holiday. Cheers muchly lads.

Life in technicolour

Worth viewing if only because I believe that people were actually black and white before 1950.

The impossible dream

I have this dream that I get sometimes.

Dad is alive after his surgery, back in the good period when he could cut the lawn and paddle a bit in the canoe.

And it’s all great.

And then I realise in the dream that it’s about 3 or 4 years from his diagnosis and he’s still alive and he’s doing great and you know what – he’s going to be alright, he’s cured.

Then I remember it in the morning and I know it’s not true.



I was back in work on Saturday for another shift and some time on-call.

It was lovely actually, which always surprises me. Good bunch of new docs and it wasn’t as crazy as it often was. I came away having made a lot less of the compromises that I normally have to make that make me hate the job.

Our esteemed leadership had put this up in the tea room:

Many of you will be aware from this blog and general knowledge that we have a target of 4 hours from when the patient arrives at the ED until they are disposed of (an appropriate term for a target that dehumanises patients that much) at either admission to a ward or discharge.

We have lots of patients who breach on a marginal basis eg they get admitted at 4hrs 2mins or something like that.

So in their wisdom and cunning the powers that be have decided that telling us the target has changed to 3 hrs 30 mins will help cut out these marginal breaches.

The target of course has not changed (for now). Surely they must know that we know that. Though perhaps the fact this poster exists at all is a testament to how stupid they must think we are.

Incidentally i think it’s a great thing that patients should wait less than 4 hours in the ED but not because of a target, simply because it’s the right thing to do. I bust my ass in work to see patients in less than 4 hours, not because of a target but because it is the right thing to do.

And yes I am a better person than you.

Wishful thinking

I used to be really good at introspection. I could spend a long time with my head up my arse thinking my life through. This had its disadvantages but you definitely learn a lot about yourself.

I was reading some of this today for the first time in months.

I cried. I suppose that’s understandable.

[Incidentally you’re right Ann – i did used to write much better]

Reading it seems like reading someone elses words. It’s like “aw remember when I used to be that person…”

Not in the sense that I reject that person or feel I have “moved on”, just that it feels different.

Back then I wrote this:

I’m not sure I’m entirely well. All this thinking has done me no favours, the perpetual worry has changed nothing. I always find myself thinking is it worse or better to know what I know. Tonight it’s worse.

Is this what an “anxiety disorder” feels like? Is this what “not coping” feels like? I am too used to being invincible, I am too used to taking responsibility and bearing burdens and looking out for people. I know how to do that. I think.

My fear, or maybe resigned acceptance, is that maybe this is just life, maybe this is just what loving someone means. That this is just the way it works when you love someone.

and even this:

I don’t plan too far ahead. I say no to every request for appointment, commitment or meeting. Thinking I’m too fed up of letting people down at the last minute. I’ve applied for a job I’m not sure I want any longer and living in a house I’m not sure I’m gonna want to keep and going on trips I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to go on.

I’ve committed myself to a life of bitterness and sadness and holding onto all my grief and resentment as I neglect every opportunity and gift that GOD leads me too.

I’m OK alone. It’s just everyone else I worry about.

And as I read it I remember what it was like to feel doubt and to feel out of control of something.

I haven’t felt that for a long time. I have become certain of my beliefs, and even certain of my doubts.

I have filled my life with opinion and reading and work and easy answers to difficult questions so that I at least have a sense, or project a sense of control.

Everything I set myself to do I approach with the opinion that I am well able to do it. I do not doubt what I have been gifted with and I have a clear insight into how other people respond to me (or how I can influence them to respond) but this is mere illusion.

We structure our lives to give us the impression that we are in control to deceive ourselves from the terrifying reality that our lives are fragile and our relationships and the things that bring joy are even more fragile.

I trust that my heart will keep on beating at 50 times a minute for the next so many years. I trust that my wife will keep on loving me. I trust that my friends will still want to be with me.

I am in control of none of these things. And they terrify me.

Sometimes life is just desperately hard and oh so painful. There is beauty, so much beauty and joy and truth and warmth but oh can it be difficult sometimes.

Loving people is difficult. They either hurt you (or you them) or sometime they’ll just not be there.

Being alive is just the most precious gift that we have and how casually we treat it and how easy we take it for granted.

I am not who I once was, even though I am and always will be who I am in my very being. We change but in the same way a child becomes an adult as opposed to the way a frog turns into a prince.

I never thought I would say this but I have neglected my “introspection” in the sense that I have not spent enough time in quiet gardens on sunday mornings enjoying the beauty of existence.


August 2010