Star Wars, Aliens, Zombies. Cinema firsts.

I’m not much of a film buff. I am occasionally persuaded to go to the cinema by my better half and even though I tend to gripe somewhat a lot beforehand, I usually enjoy the experience. However, I can only remember one time where I’ve visited a cinema alone – which was to see The Damned United. I even own a copy on DVD, but I don’t tend to watch it that often as it makes me cry. This is because I don’t expect to see Derby County win anything again in my lifetime, let alone The Premiership.

Anyway, the latest and 107th suggestion from Post40Bloggers is to write about your first cinema experience. As always, I’m going to bend the rules (what rules?) slightly and talk about my first three cinematic firsts instead.

My first ever trip to the cinema was with my brother to see Star Wars in 1977. My mother took us, under protest, to the long-demolished Ladbroke Film Centre in Chaddesden. Even as a mere thirteen year old I could tell that the place had seen better days. What had once been a glorious single screen Art Deco cinema had been turned into a failing bingo hall with two small upstairs screens where the balcony had once been. I remember the carpet being sticky with popcorn and something that was too orangey for crows. Star Wars seemed exciting enough at the time, but you have to remember that I didn’t have anything to compare it with. I haven’t watched Star Wars, or any of the many sequels / prequels since and I don’t feel as if I’ve missed out on life.

The second experience I’ve decided to recall is the first X certificate film I saw. I can date this precisely, to the Saturday afternoon of 24th November 1979. This was the day that the then European Cup holders lost to the mighty Rams 4-1. I know this to be the case as when I was traveling home on the 102 bus there were several people reading “the green ‘un” football special which had the glorious news splashed all over it. The joy was short-lived – Derby were relegated at the end of the season.

The film I saw? Alien. I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver, but not with the film. I’ve tried to watch it again a number of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through to the end.

My third cinematic first is from the summer of 1980. This was the first time I took a girl on a date to the cinema. To watch Zombies – Dawn of the dead. The one set in a shopping mall. With lots of gore and violence. Not exactly romantic. With hindsight, it perhaps wasn’t the best choice of film. Somewhere towards the end, there’s a particularly gruesome scene involving a helicopter. It certainly disturbed my companion, as she drove her very sharp nails deeply into the back of my hand. I still carry some tiny white scars from that evening today. The relationship didn’t last.

As I wrote at the start, I’m not a film buff. At all. But given my early experiences of the cinema, is it any real wonder?

Lovely, lovely grudges

I hold many grudges. Truly, I do. There’s the grudge that I hold from way back in infant school, where a teacher falsely accused me of the crime of walking on the newly planted flower beds. She moved to South Africa a few weeks after the incident. (The incident that didn’t happen, except in her mind, I hasten to add). I still held onto that grudge even as she was weeping her goodbyes at a school assembly. And guess what? I started to hold a grudge against South Africa – just because they were letting her move there. I haven’t revisited that particular grudge recently, but I suspect that it’s still there, fueled by their many recent cricketing victories over England.

I hold grudges against people who I’ve never met and don’t know. For example, there’s the one that I hold against the English O level examiner who had the temerity to ‘only’ award me a grade B. The aftermath caused me immense pain, both at school and at home. The confidence I lost in my academic abilities on that fateful winter morning as I was handed the results slip has taken me the best part of a lifetime to recover from. Well, not really, but I’m not going to let a nebulous concept like “truth” get in the way of me and my grudges.

However important these issues may have seemed to me at the time, neither could be said to have had any lasting impact on my objective well-being. Yet the hair still stands up on my neck when I think about them and the blood courses furiously in my veins.

So just imagine for a moment the strength of the grudge I hold for the dissembling politicians who lied and conned the country into supporting a vote to leave the EU. It’s almost as strong as the one that I now hold for the politicians who half-heartedly supported remaining, but who are now doing everything in their power to make sure that we leave on any terms – good or bad. However, I definitely don’t hold a grudge towards the growing number of leave voters who feel (rightly) that they were duped by these folk. I’m looking forward to seeing them punish this “elite” at the ballot box for many years to come as their lies are exposed.

But perhaps these feelings about the liars for leave aren’t really grudges. For me, a grudge that I can brood over and milk for years has to be completely irrational and relate to circumstances that I can do nothing about. A bit like the feud in Romeo and Juliet between the Montague and Capulet families perhaps. That’s a proper, irrational grudge that none of the protagonists understand the origins of or can fix unilaterally. But, I am, at last, starting to do something positive in politics again, to try to change things. It’s been a few leaflets here and there in 2016, but now the MSc is out-of-the-way and provided my health holds out, I hereby resolve to become rather more active in 2017.


This rant was brought to you courtesy of the 105th Post 40 Bloggers writing prompt. Please don’t hold it against them.

Let’s talk phobias

I’d be a useless Borg. And there’s a scene in Spectre that had me running for the exits.

I suspect that my phobia is reasonably common. I find anything that involves the piercing of my skin terrifying and would go to any lengths to avoid it happening – if it were possible. This phobia clearly rules me out of most (all?) forms of body modification – earrings and the like. I can hear several members of my family and friendship circles breathing a huge sigh of relief about that … it would be soooo uncool.

For many years I did overcome this phobia to donate blood. But only if I could have a local anaesthetic beforehand. Yes, I do realise that’s two piercings rather than one – who said anything about my phobia needing to be rational? Donating blood came to an end a few years ago after 34 donations, when I had an experience so horrendous at a session I attended near Ilkeston that it still occasionally bothers me now (I’m sweating just a little bit more heavily than usual as I type this).

After my diagnosis with mantle cell lymphoma last year, injections, blood tests and cannulae have all become a regular part of my life. I don’t like any of them. They feel worse than the disease. So far. I look towards the opposite corner of the room as my skin is pierced AND close my eyes too, just in case I’ve developed the superpower that enables me to see out of the back of my head. I haven’t.

The last cannula I had put in was a couple of days ago when I had a CT scan. It wasn’t in for long (maybe 30 minutes or so) but I can still feel it now. That and the metallic taste left in my mouth by the contrast dye they injected into me through it. Rationally, the effects simply can’t last for that long. But that knowledge doesn’t make the continuing experience of feeling the cannula and the dye any less real to me.

When I do get around to needing chemotherapy, the hospital has promised(*) to fit me with a Hickman Line. That’s a long, hollow tube made from rubber that will go into a vein under my neck, be capped off – and will stay in me for months. I really can’t write any more about this at the moment, as simply looking up the details is too terrifying to contemplate.

I will be Borg. And I really don’t want to be.


(*) Not the right word, I know.

Inspired by Post40Bloggers writing prompt 66 – Let’s talk phobias!

An “ah ha” moment

Gestalt psychology argues that the best way to think about solving problems is to consider the whole, rather than obsessing too much over specific details. Max Wertheimer suggested that if you are given several different pieces of information, making sense of them can only be achieved by considering them in the round.

Using the information you have, the processes of productive thinking (insight) and reproductive thinking (bringing previous experience to bear on the current situation) will have the best chance of leading to an “ah ha”moment.

Being able to perceive your true status is therefore a deliberate act of will.

Now, without wanting to become too maudlin about it, I think this year’s “ah ha” moment for me has been the realisation that, after all, I am mortal. It doesn’t seem like a huge revelation when I write it down like that, but trust me, it has been.

2014 has brought me some fantastic highs. For example, being given an award by my employers and a trip to Maui, taking a 50th birthday trip to Bruges with some of my oldest friends, going on safari in Botswana and encountering the big five, seeing my youngest daughter graduate and my eldest daughter fly the nest have all been huge highlights. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of them for anything. But the year has been tinged with sadness too – the death of my mother in August and my own mantle cell lymphoma diagnosis in September.


Death – our own death – is an inbuilt characteristic of our experience as humans. Because we’re only here for a short time, it throws the highs of life into sharp relief and makes them all the more special, all the more important to cherish. But until I’d acknowledged that for myself earlier on this year, I genuinely hadn’t realised quite how important thinking beyond the day to day pressures of life can be. I really should have paid more attention to the Gestaltists.

Fortunately, I think that I’ve realised this in time for it to make some difference!

I’m sure that 2015 will be a challenge, but I sincerely hope that having recognised my own mortality I can continue to live in the moment, rather than in the comfortable imagination of a hypothetical future.

(This post was Inspired partly by the post40blogger’s writing prompt number 22 and partly by my Christmas cold)


Autumn statement analysis: the impact of postgraduate loans

It’s interesting to see that the postgraduate loan scheme announced in the autumn statement is now starting to attract some coverage. The IFS has published some analysis today, which seems to suggest that it is reasonable to believe that the scheme will pay for itself.

In other words, unlike the current undergraduate loan scheme where around 43% of the value of loans made are not currently expected to be recovered, this scheme will be cost-neutral to the public purse. So does that mean that everyone’s a winner?

The IFS make this observation:


While the proposed postgraduate loan scheme does not link loans to fees in the same way as it does at undergraduate level, institutions with high market power might still respond to the increased availability of credit by raising prices, which would reduce the effectiveness of the policy in making the upfront costs of postgraduate study cheaper.


Earlier on this week, I made a similar warning in an article I wrote for Post40Bloggers:


… I’m certain that universities seeing a ‘guaranteed’ £10,000 loan for all students under 30 will be tempted to inflate their fees rather more than they otherwise would have been able to. If they do raise their fees in this way, it will be older postgraduates without access to these loans who will feel the biggest (negative) impact of this change.


Sadly, both sides of the coalition have been nothing but consistent in believing that only “young people” go to university, when the evidence demonstrates this naive belief to be entirely false. Surely access to loans (if it is not possible to make them available universally) should be on the basis of need, rather than on a person’s age? It is, after all, unlawful to discriminate in this way in most other spheres of life.


It’s therefore a difficult call as to whether we should cheer or worry about the impact of government-backed postgraduate loans. I want to cheer them, as they ought to have a positive effect improving social mobility and opportunity for poorer, younger students who are currently denied the chance through being unable to access funding. However, the change could well have the opposite effect on social mobility for poorer, mature students. Perhaps the fairest way of splitting the available funds for loans would have been to offer them to all poorer students first, regardless of their age.


You can read the full text of my article considering the impact of postgraduate loans on mature students over at Post40Bloggers.


You can’t have too many …

You can’t have too many …

Television Channels. When I was growing up in the 1970s, we had three – and these didn’t start broadcasting until mid-morning, finishing around midnight with the national anthem. My YouView box reports that I have around a hundred or so available and if I felt like disfiguring the side of the house with a satellite dish I know I could view even more. Three channels certainly didn’t mean better quality – have a look at the Radio Times archive for the 1960s or 1970s if you don’t believe me. Television didn’t start to get interesting until at least the introduction of Channel 4 in November 1982. Countdown. The Comic Strip Presents. The Word (ok, maybe not The Word). And where would we be today without the Top Gear Channel Dave?

Political Parties. One is never enough – the failure of single party states is well documented. Two certainly aren’t enough – it’s why the UK got itself into the mess it did before 2010 and why, no doubt, the USA will still be in a mess after the midterm elections today. Three seems better and four, five or six, each with a distinctly different platform and a willingness to compromise sounds ideal to me. Of course, we need to introduce the single transferable vote and multi-member constituencies to make that work properly and the “willingness to compromise” part my be a bit too much for some politicians, particularly on the far left and right of the political spectrum.

Cuddly Toys. I confess – I possibly do have rather too many of these. I’m 50 – I should have outgrown them by now, surely. But they are all so … cuddly.

Apps on an iPad. Look, I know I can never find the one that I need at any particular given time, but who knows when it might be absolutely vital to have an app on hand that shows me how much income tax and national insurance I’ve paid in the last year and to which of 15 or so arbitrary categories of spending it’s been assigned too. Note to George Osborne – it’s better to know the value of what we’ve contributed to society than simply what it’s cost. Personally, I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation.

Elephants. You definitely can’t have too many of those.

Elephant Soup… and I could go on in this vein all night I think. You’re probably relieved that I’m not going to if you’ve managed to read this far.

But what I really wanted to say is that there are definitely three things that you can’t have too much of (sorry, I know that’s not strictly ‘too many’, but, my blog, my rules and all that …)

They’re faith, hope and love. I think I knew that before the lymphoma struck, but I certainly know it now. Thank you, St. Paul.


And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


1 Corinthians 13, New King James Version

Written in response to this week’s #post40bloggers writing prompt


Overcoming my fear


I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi

It’s been one heck of a week. On Monday morning I was contacted by the Derby Royal Hospital. They asked me to go in on Tuesday to see my consultant about the results of an MRI, ultrasound and needle biopsy that I’d had the week before. On Wednesday morning I had an operation to remove an enlarged lymph node from my neck so that a full biopsy could be performed. I go back again on Tuesday to have the stitches removed – and to find out what comes next.

I’m certain that talking and writing about what’s happening to me will help to defeat the fear of the unknown that I’m feeling. I shall prepare to face the worst, but carry on positively hoping for the best. It’s the changes that life brings which makes the journey worthwhile above all.

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I like a challenge. So when @post40bloggers tweeted this suggestion for something to write about earlier on this week, I started to think about what my answer might be. After all, there must be something that I’d want to change about my past? It’s a dangerous game though. Consider, for example, the views of two fictional doctors:


People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly … timey wimey … stuff.

This first quotation is probably more recognisable than the second I’ve chosen, as it comes from David Tennant’s performance in the Dr Who episode, ‘Blink’ (the one with the creepy statue things in it). It’s an interesting, if scientifically illiterate view of time, neatly side-stepping the usual paradoxes that would occur if you were able to go back in time and change something in your past. It’s the impact of those paradoxes that I’m scared of – any change I might make to my history could have all kinds of unforeseen consequences. On the whole, I’m very happy with my lot – and I’m not a gambler!


Of course, I realise that it’s nonsense to think of one’s life as a meaningless detail rapidly receding into a mass of other meaningless details. But I confess that the thought has occurred to me from time to time.

This quotation is rather more obscure. It’s from Booker-prize winning author J.G. Farrell’s hugely underrated third novel, A Girl in the Head. I’ve chosen it because I partially subscribe to Andy Warhol’s view that everyone will have 15 minutes of fame. My contention is however that for most people, those metaphorical 15 minutes won’t come in a single lump. Instead, they will be found in moments here and there, spread throughout our lives. In my view, these moments are so small and fragile, that to accept an offer of travelling back in time to change something that might damage them is unthinkable.

I bet you’re guessing that I’m going to say that I want to change nothing at all. However, the question asked doesn’t specify that the change has to be something in my life. I freely acknowledge that I’m operating using a set of double-standards, but, my blog, my rules.

So my ‘change one thing’ is simple and incredibly self-indulgent. Forty years ago yesterday, Brian Clough joined Leeds United as their manager. That move didn’t end well. In my view, he should have stayed at Derby County and won us more championships and the European Cup, rather than doing so with our East Midlands neighbours and eternal rivals Nottingham Forest a few years later on in his career. I want to go back to 1973 and stop him from writing his resignation letter.