Wednesday 31 October 2007

Baseball and the World Series

On Sunday night the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. They swept the Colorado Rockies in four games. As a Yankees fan I was nominallly supporting the Rockies... although it must be said not terribly enthusiastically. It is somewhat of a tradition in our house... the Fall Classic. Every year we take holiday so that we can stay up all night and follow the games... although it has to be said, since the first year that I watched in 2000 the Yankees have not won the World Series, and I'm beginning to feel like their own 'curse'. The following year in 2001 the Yankees lost to the Diamondbacks (leading to my oft repeated statement when anyone mentioned Arizona "I spit on the Diamondbacks"). In 2002 the Yankees didn't make it to the World Series, and both Rich and I supported the Anaheim (as they were then) Angels... and the Angels won. In 2003 the Yankees lost to the Florida Marlins (squish the fish!) and that was the last time the Yankees made it to the World Series! In 2004 the Boston Red Sox finally broke the 'curse' and won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Rich is a Red Sox fan... so he was absolutely delighted! 2005 and 2006 were a bit of a bust as neither of us really had a team to support and we just nominally chose one of the two teams. I was quite pleased for Rich, therefore when the Red Sox won again this year... although, obviously, not as a Yankee fan!!!

There has been more than just the World Series going on in baseball though. After Joe Torre's departure as manager of the Yankees there was the search for a new manager. The choices came down to only a few... and the final choice is Joe Girardi. That isn't all for changes at the Yankees though. Alex Rodriguez (popularly known as A-Rod) with his massive contract had the option to opt out of his contract this year. Would he? Wouldn't he? He's been a pretty good addition to the Yankees line up (even though I never wanted to sign him at the time) but he's never been all popular in New York. In a coup of mis-guided publicity seeking he and his agent decided to announce his free agency during game 4 of the World Series. Not at all cool. Whether or not the search for even more money pays off for him has yet to be seen. The Yankees have stated that they will not have anything more to do with him. You need a lot of cash to take on A-Rod... and there aren't that many teams who will throw that sort of money around... so where will Alex land next year... I'm sure that will keep us entertained over the next few months. For amusement there are a couple of interesting articles from CBS here and here.

It doesn't stop there though. A-Rod is one of five Yankees to file for free agency - the most notable of the others being closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada... hopefully they will re-sign with the Yankees! First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and pitcher Jose Vizcaino are the final two players who have already filed for free agency. It doesn't stop there though as there are a whole host of others also eligible: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Ron Villone, Bobby Abreu and Jose Molina. So - we could be seeing a lot of changes down at Yankee Stadium next year... and if it means that it is 27 (World Series Titles) in '08 then it can't be all bad, I suppose.

Tuesday 30 October 2007

NFL Sunday

Despite our various afflictions Rich and I made the long, long journey up the Jubilee Line to North London on Sunday. Our destination? The new and improved Wembley stadium. Finally the much anticipated day had arrived... the first regular season NFL game to be played outside the continental Americas.

We left nice and early to ensure we could enjoy the full experience... setting out at half past two. This turned out to be very lucky as there had been some sort of 'incident' in the Blackwall Tunnel which was adversely affecting all the traffic on the Peninsula. We got to the station in the end and hopped on a train... where we were joined by lots more NFL gear-wearing fans as we went up the line. Some time later we finally arrived at Wembley Park. It was quite impressive to get the first glimpse of the stadium and the arch from the train. It was even more impressive when we got off and walked up Wembley Way. We stopped to buy a programme... £10 was a bit steep, but it had to be done!

We arrived in the stadium just in time to catch the pre-game show... or in my case buy myself a Giants baseball cap (to go with my hoodie which finally arrived from the Reebok store, only just in time). We got our beer which we were allowed to take to our seats... this is very strange for people who are accustomed to going to football matches where alcohol is not allowed in sight of the pitch! After the 'show' it was time for the national anthems... I was impressed by the Star Spangled Banner... I didn't think that God Save the Queen was quite as impressive... although there was much crowd participation in the latter. Then came the coin toss... attended by assorted celebrities... John Terry who got massively booed (?!) and Lewis Hamilton who got massively cheered.

Finally the game was on. I was worried that without commentary I would find it hard to follow... but I actually found the stadium announcer just as enlightening and without the inane chit-chat. The game was easier to follow as well being able to see the whole pitch and not just the selected camera shots. It was a bit annoying for me (as a Giants fan) that the Dolphins were the 'home' team. I got particulary fed up with the stadium announcer and the info board everytime the Dolphins got a 1st Down with the whole rigmarole "It's another Miami Dolphins..." and the crowd all joined in "1st Down". Rich joined in too, just to annoy me!

The first two quarters passed way too fast... although I was very happy that the Giants were 13-0 up at half time! The half time show was great as the Band of the Royal Engineers came on and marched around... starting out with the Rocky theme. Odd. I do like a good marching band though!

The second quarter wasn't as much excitement (well not for me) as the Giants didn't get any more points and the Dolphins got 10. Still... it wasn't enough and after much noting during the game of the fact that 35 years ago the Dolphins had the perfect season and went 16-0 they are looking in very real danger of doing the opposite and going 0-16!!! With a minute and a half left on the clock the Giants had possession and all Eli had to do was kneel 3 times... for which he got roundly booed by the crowd! Poor lad... only doing his job!

We were lucky that the location of our seats and the fact that a lot of the people around us had already left meant that we got out of the stadium quite fast... and joined the stream of people heading back to Wembley Park. About 70,000 of the 80,000 it seemed! The police were excellent though. Crowd control was impeccable... we got to the station quite fast and onto a train, and a mere hour and 40 minutes later we were home! Superb.

An excellent day out (although exhausting) let's hope they come back next year!!!

Sadly the pictures aren't as good quality as normal as my camera chose to die the other week and has returned to it's makers to get fixed. Never mind!

Friday 26 October 2007

Out and About

After another week in bed I was up and about this week for a veritable buffet of medical appointments.

On Wednesday I visited the hospital (which is usefully situated a mere half mile from my house) for an appointment with my Neurologist. As I hadn't seen him for about six months this necessitated a lengthy and thorough examination. Neurologists have a battery of seemingly random tests which I assume measure various functions of your brain... as I was already clearly having trouble with balance we dispensed with the tests which involve walking along a line on the floor and standing with your feet together and eyes closed (all good as both of these would have undoubtedly culminated in me falling down). We did however have the full set of reflex and sensation tests... these involve being poked with sharp objects and prodded to see if you can feel equally on both sides of your body. It tuns out that sensation is mostly not too bad, but reflex is not at all good. Also I embarrassingly failed the test where you put your arms out to either side of you and then bring your index fingers to the tip of your nose, I lost my nose!!!

It would fascinate me to discover what exactly it is in terms of brain and nerves that all these test measure!

My Neuro decided that my DMDs (disease modifying drugs) clearly aren't up to the task. The interferon that I take is the weakest of the available options, and that I should therefore change to a different drug. The drug I take is injected intra-muscularly once a week - chosen at the time due to my not being keen on injections. However, since I've been taking it I've got over the needle thing so now I'm changing to a drug that is administered every other day. This is subcutaneous and so should hurt less... so that at least is good. (I love that my online spell checker can spell interferon, intra-muscularly and subcutaneous!).

After seeing the Neuro I was introduced to the Physio. He is going to help me with my balance and so forth. This involved more lying on tables and being assessed. Lucky for me he had a vacancy the following day, so we arranged for an appointment straight off.

Lastly I had to see the MS Nurse so that we could arrange the details of changing my Meds. This involved more confusion because the reception staff thought that she was waiting to see the Physio and didn't realise it was me sitting in the waiting area that she wanted to see! D'oh.

The whole morning was very positive. I arrived feeling quite bleak as I'd walked to the hospital after missing the bus and realised that whilst I had thought at home I was getting better this was just because at home I wasn't actually doing much except staying in bed, and once I got up and about I wasn't feeling so better at all. Positive input from the Dr and Nurse and Physio though meant that I left in a much more optimistic frame of mind than when I arrived.

Yesterday saw me take a trip to the Physio. I found the Health Centre behind the old Hospital site in East Greenwich... which is still sitting vacant. This was an absolutely fascinating session... as I learned a great deal about how bits of the body work (or in my case don't work) together. By the end of the session I could actually stand up quite efficiently without falling over! It's not so much exercise as therapy... learning to listen and adjust to your body, and improving awarness of yourself and your surrounding. I do however have a daily exercise program - which seems to largely centre around the kitchen sink!!!

After all of that exercise and being out and about I'm quite glad to be tucked up back in bed again today!

Thursday 25 October 2007

World Series is upon us...

Suddenly before we know where we are it's October... and the post season is upon us. I managed to stay awake for the whole of game 1 (it doesn't always happen). It helps when I keep the scorecard... which was pretty much a nightmare tonight with the Red Sox totally beating up the Rockies - 13 runs to the 1 scored by the Rockies. Not looking good for my adopted team this year.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Big finish in Interlagos

Well. He almost did it. It just wasn't Lewis's afternoon. He started from a great position, but right at the start of the race the two Ferarris and his own team mate managed to get in front of him... Lewis ran wide which dropped him a few paces, and then even worse Lewis had trouble with his car (we think) and ended up pretty much at the back of the pack. To his credit he drove a great race, passing up through the pack - but at the end of the day it just wasn't enough. Another page from the book of strange McLaren pit-stop/tyre decisions meant that Lewis had to make another pit-stop he really could have done without which meant he just couldn't get enough points to beat his rivals in the World Championship.

Ah well. If Lewis couldn't be the winner then it did really need to be Kimi. Most people would rather not see Alonso as the Champion after the season he has run this year. His general attitude towards his team mate and his own team has been a bit lamentable this year to say the least.

Other notable moments this afternoon? Well... four cars are under investigation by the Stewards after the race for various 'incidents'... not least Fisichella driving across the track back at the start of the race and taking out one of the Spykers... Jensen Button admitting that the Honda had issues with 'speed and reliability' (!)... the unfortunate Nakajima in his Williams mowing down two of his own mechanics, we are assured that the two gentlemen aren't seriously hurt, kudos to them both for doing their part of the pit-stop before hobbling away!

There was some spectacular passing this afternoon... hats off to Lewis and to Kubica for some great moves.

Slow news... no news

The problem with being stuck in bed is that it severely limits your life experience! My interaction with the world has been limited to Rich, my nearly-mother-in-law and the cat... oh and of course my mobile phone and the internet... what would I do without technology?!

I was alarmed to find out whilst watching BBC's "Have I Got News For You" last night that there is a plague of 'killer' ladybirds infesting the country... and even more alarmed after doing a bit of reading on the internet to discover that some of the bugs recently spotted in our garden are in fact these interlopers! What I thought was a young ladybug with not fully developed colours in unusual black with red spots is in fact an invader from the Far East!

My laptop and I are now very well acquainted having spent so much time in each other's company... I managed a personal best of around 9 hours uninterrupted computer time yesterday!!! I had an extremely long and involved 'discussion' with the Microsoft website whilst I tried to download an add-in for Office 2007. Here's the trauma of incompatible computer systems! At work we run Windows XP and Office 2003. At home we run Windows Vista and Office 2007. For reasons best known to themselves Microsoft decided to make entire new file formats for Office 2007 and the .doc and .xls formats have been replaced with .docx and .xlsx. This is generally fine as you can choose 'save as' and use the old file formats... however there are some parts of the new improved Office which can't be 'backwards' saved!!! Here's what happened. I had a document I had done in the office. It was a Microsoft Publisher document. The only programme that can open Publisher documents is Publisher. However... most of the content came from emails and other files... and what didn't could be extracted as text from a PDF of the Publisher document. I then spent hours putting the document back together in Word. However... when I tried to save as a 2003 file type it couldn't be done as the formatting wasn't compatible. The file was therefore only available to open with Word 2007... which we don't have at work... so the file can't go back to work. I didn't have a programme to make it into ANY file type that could be opened at work... until I eventually persuaded Microsoft's website to let me download the add-in. It didn't like Firefox... it didn't want to go through the 'verify my Office' process... the first download didn't work... there were no instructions on how to use the add-in when it did download... what a rigmarole. Anyway, at last. Shiny new PDF... sent back to the office!!!

Friday 12 October 2007

Greenwich Council and the Environment

Yesterday my nearly-mother-in-law brought home Greenwich Time Magazine. The reason for this was that there was a large wrap-around feature from the Council regarding new recycling/waste collection facilities. Yep. They've been at it again... the last that I heard about their 'schemes' were various rumours about new 'red top' bins (for garden waste and so forth) and the idea that rubbish would only be collected fortnightly (as it is in a lot of other parts of the country). It was quite surprising to therefore read about their new "Green/Blue/Black" intitiative.

What I totally (and always) admire about the Council is the great lengths they go to carrying out comsulation on these really important issues that are going to affect all our lives. Wait a minute. I don't think that they did. Certainly not in this house. Read the summary and see how you would like to try and sort your rubbish like this - bearing in mind that I am coming at it from the point of view of generally supporting anything which reduces pointless rubbish to landfill exercises.

Collections will generally be made weekly from two different wheelie bins. The blue top bin will be for recyclable rubbish (as per the Council's guidelines). This is an increase from the current fortnightly collection... all well and good. The green top bin will be for food and garden waste... also weekly - with me so far? Sounds good? No! This must not be put into plastic bags. So. Food scraps etc. etc. have to be collected in a caddy in your kitchen and emptied into the wheelie bin (probably after every meal). There they will sit and rot with nothing to protect them until they are collected. GRIM! So. What is the good of my lovely kitchen bin now? I guess it will be for the recycling. I guess the recycling bin will move to somewhere else in the house and be replaced by the caddy (which the council will provide). Will they provide a decent caddy with a carbon filter to prevent smells? Probably not. It will probably just be a cheap plastic pot. The final part of this is 'black'. There is no bin for black. The bags will be collected fortnightly for all remaining rubbish. Great. No food so I'm sure that the clever, clever foxes won't bother to split the bags open to investigate? No... they'll just leave them sitting on the kerb, I'm sure.

We shall see in 2008 how this pans out... but I'm yet to be convinced.

Thursday 11 October 2007

Online Living

My enforced stay in bed these last few weeks has led me to spend even more time than normal on the internet. Let's face it... there isn't a lot else you can do when you are lying down except read, watch TV and surf the net. I'm still waiting to find a book to grab me and keep me turning the pages... and as for daytime TV... let's not even go there! So the internet it is.

Thank goodness for email and for social networking sites. Thank goodness for the BBC and thank goodness for the 100-something sites that Rich had recommended to me and I'd put in a folder to 'check out later'.

Is it possible to use up the internet? I mean... technically there are a finite number of pages out there... it just seems like an infinite number because they constantly evovle, get edited, get replaced etc. Does anyone even know how many pages there are... it is quite opressive actually... like worrying about reading every book in the British Library (or similar).

I digress. The good thing about the internet is that it seems to allow me to accomplish pretty much everything from right here in my bed. Communication? Check. Leisure activities? Check. Grocery shopping? Check.

Rather than send Rich off to Asda to shop and then need a taxi back we decided that we would give the 'home delivery' a whirl. Now just completed the second week... it is reasonably successful. Advantages: well, you don't have to shclep around the supermarket; it is reasonably easy to find things that sometimes you can't find in store (with a few irritating exceptions); there is no 'impulse' buying so it saves at least £10-£20 and some things do seem cheaper than in store! Disadvantages: the 'alternative product' isn't very intuitive and sometimes you get something else all together than what you wanted; the dates are sometimes a bit limited compared to those I would pick if I were in store and they use WAY (way) too many carrier bags. I don't think we can begin to estimate how many each week... but for example, this week the ketchup came all by itself in a bag! At least I recycle my bags I suppose, but even so... they should use cardboard boxes or paper bags or something... I'll bet not everybody recycles their bags and any ecological gain from the delivery route rather than X number of separate trips by shoppers is being negated by this horrible waste!

Ladybug world

As mentioned the other day our bedroom had a massive (and fairly inexplicable) influx of ladybugs... possibly here for the winter, who knows?

This afternoon I ventured briefly into the garden (just to make sure that my legs still work after all that time in bed)... and there was an absolute plague of ladybugs all over the outside of the house. They were obviously enjoying the sun on the back wall of the house (which is painted white). I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that there were probably at least 20 or so crawling all over that elevation.

But where are they going, and what are they doing... I'm afraid to say that I shall probably be finding their corpses next spring.

Saturday 6 October 2007

Bug World

For reasons unkown our bedroom seems to be the destination of choice for hibernating ladybugs. At least, I assume that this is what they are all doing in here. There are currently about 3 or 4 of them crawling around on the ceiling, and another couple on the outside of the window (which is currently closed, due to it being extremely cold) waiting to come in. This happens every year, and come spring there are a few around to be let out and a good few corpses to be swept up. I can only assume that they are hibernating as there are no plants in the bedroom, so nothing to eat! I know, there should be some plants to balance all that unhealthy electro-magnetic fields and whatnot... it has been tried. There was Yale the Yukka, but he grew too large and now has to live in the garden as he approaches the size of a small tree... then there was the Bonsai, unmitigated faiure, died of some nasty bug infection (maybe it was the ladybugs?). So no plants in the bedroom and no food for the holidaying ladybugs!

Thursday 4 October 2007

MS and other things

Maybe you know and maybe you don't, I have MS. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2002. I'd had repeated incidences of Optic Neuritis (imflamation of the optic nerve) in first one eye then the other. I'd seen doctors and opthamologists and all sorts... and the general consensus was "It's just one of those things". I didn't believe that this could be the case (incidentally, you never should... always press for a concrete diagnosis). So after some more appointments with all sorts I was finally referred to a Neurologist. After an MRI scan his conclusion was 'probably' MS. This was until another few relapses... that changed it to a positive diagnosis.

My Neuro introduced me to the MS Nurse. Apparently it is a bit of a postcode lottery on whether you even get a Nurse... but mine is the greatest. She provides help, support and advice... and is much easier to get an appointment with than the Neuro.

So, things pottered along. Occaisionaly I had a relapse, but fortunately they were usually more irritating than anything else... I'd have another dose of ON or I'd lose the feeling in parts of my body. Until last year. In a space of a few months I had an unreasonable amount of symptons; losing the hearing in my left ear, another bout of ON and losing the feeling in my right foot, then my left side... settling finally to losing the feeling in my left toes (still hasn't come back). This cleared up by the summer, but was followed in the Autumn by a nasty episode of 'wobbliness'. My legs were weak and feeble and I took to using a stick to help me walk.

The outcome of all of this was that the Nurse and Neuro brought up the subject of Disease Modifying Drugs (DMDs) again. I'd always strongly resisted this, primarily because the medication is given by injection and I have a terrible fear of needles! As I'd never been bothered much by my symptons I'd never given it much thought, but the events of 2006 made me decide that it was time to think again. There are four therapies available in the UK, differing in mostly in how often they have to be taken. I chose Avonex as the injection is weekly, and therefore I'd have to have less interaction with the needles! A Nurse came to my house and showed me how to inject myself. The pride I felt after I managed this is probably equalled by the first time I managed to reverse park my car! Injections quickly became pretty routine, although the regular blood tests to monitor my progress can still make me pass out, go figure!

That was last October... and apart from a few moments here and there I'd been pretty much OK. Relapses that did happen hardly impacted on my life and came and went before I had much chance to take notice. Until last week.

Suddenly I started feeling dizzy. No worry I thought. I'd had a bit of that a few weeks previously and it had gone away pretty fast. Work was beyond busy and pretty much every day was a twelve hour day, so I was a bit stressed... which can impact on MS symptons. However, after a few days there had been no improvement and if anything it was getting worse. My trusty stick came out again to stop me falling over. I went to see my GP who gave me a thorough MOT and could find nothing other than MS that could be causing it. He wanted to sign me off work... but I explained to him that I had a pretty major deadline looming and it just wouldn't be very covenient. We agreed that I'd see one of the GPs the following week if nothing improved.

Fastforward to Tuesday. Deadline successfully passed. Back to the GP. The GP insists that I am signed off work and that I make an appointment to see the MS Nurse, which I duly do. She gets the Neuro in and I am prescribed steroids. Steroids can speed up the course of a relapse... so it gets better faster.

So this where you find me now. Stuck in bed until next week with six tablets a day to swallow... and my, they taste bad! This is the first time that a relapse has really impacted on my life in such a major manner. It upsets me a little, as I was doing a pretty good job of ignoring my MS most of the time!!! Still, I am still lucky - there are many, many people who have a far worse time of it than I do.

Nobody knows what causes MS... and there is no cure. Keep an eye out, there maybe some fundraising messages on this page in months to come.

Technology changes the world

I have been thinking how technology has changed our lives over the last few years.

1. Mobile phones (or cell phones if you prefer). The technology in these has increased pretty much exponentially. I had my first mobil around 8 years ago. It didn't do much except send and receive calls. These of course weren't the very first mobiles - my dad had one of those in the Eighties, size of a brick! They were the firt explosion of popular mobiles though. I was wondering the other day, what it must be like living in Halls of Residence now that technology is so rampant and affordable. Everyone must have mobiles. When I lived in halls there were four phone phones in the building covering 5 floors and about 125 rooms! If you wanted to talk to someone you used the payphone. If they wanted to talk to you they called the payphone and whoever answered it came to find you, and if you weren't there wrote a message on the sheet of paper tacked to your door. Its quite sad to think that this doesn't happen any more!

Don't you wonder, as well, sometimes how anyone ever made arrangements for anything before the popular use of mobile phones. How did we arrange to meet friends, and then tell them we were running late, or find out we should be somewhere else where something exciting was happening... we managed for years, but it is hard to remember how!

2. Computers. When I first had a computer I knew what every file on the computer did. Actually that isn't quite true, when I first had a computer it didn't even have a hard drive... or a disc drive... it used a tape and you saved any programmes you wrote (back in Basic). The next computers got slightly more sophistacted (but never less expensive). No internet back then... and the size of their hard drives... well I have files bigger than that these days!!! When I was at Uni nobody had their own computer (well only the very lucky) we all used the computer labs... and had special 24 hour access cards. When I first started work we didn't really have PCs we had screens connected to a PICK system... and two PCs which you had to book time on! Can you imagine!

3. The internet. I first met the internet when I was at University. I took to it like a duck to water and spent obscene amounts of time in the Computer Lab surfing the net, reading email and talking to people via Telnet. When I first started work we only had one computer with email and it was dialled up twice a day to check for mail. Oh, the excitement when we first got email at our desks... which sent and received once an hour! I cannot imagine now how on earth we ever worked without computers and email!

So now, I sit here with my laptop which is miraculously connecting to the internet via our very own wireless network. My laptop and our desktop downstairs put together still cost about half the price of the first computer that Rich and I bought! It is quite amazing to imagine what might come next!!!