Saturday, 26 January 2008

Friendship is good

Judy Beers was the parish secretary at St. James’s, Cambridge.

When I told her that I was retiring to SRQ she said “you must meet my friends Charlotte and Ron who live there”.

I’ve done so, and I now count Ron and Charlotte as good new friends.

Judy will be visiting them in early February, and that will give us (Judy and Michael) some time for joyous reunion.

My very best friend Joe will visit me soon afterwards. He’ll fly down from Boston and visit with me over Presidents’ Day weekend. Soon after that he’ll return to his job in London, U.K.

And a week later, Susan, a parishioner from St. Stephen’s, Pittsfield will come for a long weekend with her partner Lisa.

Susan and Lisa live in Atlanta, so they will drive here.

Friends are always welcome!

Friday, 25 January 2008

This and that again

A clerk from my Doctor’s Office called this afternoon. Yesterday’s blood tests reveal that I am NOT diabetic, but that there was a “slight impairment” in my blood glucose levels. The Doctor recommends that I stick to a low carb, low sugar diet, and repeat the tests in three months.

There is a bonus. I have already lost more than 5lbs in weight since taking up a new diet two weeks ago.


Not so good from my Dentist. Last November I had a root canal. A few days later my Dentist removed the temporary filling, and replaced it with a permanent one.

I was at his office last Wednesday for some fillings on other teeth. I saw another Dentist who inexplicably removed the permanent (November) filling, and then filled the tooth again.

I asked about this. No apology. No explanation. I simply got my money back. I think that I should find a new Dentist!


Friends Lisa and Susan in Atlanta sent me a decal for my car. You can see a photo’ of it here!


Our local NPR station just announced that one of its satellite transmitters would be down for maintenance tonight.

“It will” the announcer said “be in use again tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. in the morning”.

Funny, I had never thought that we could have 5:00 a.m. in the afternoon.


I had my blood tests at “Quest Diagnostics”.

In the waiting room there was a sign which said

“For the courtesy of our patients” (what ever that means)

No smoking (understandable)

No cell ‘phones (I get that)

No eating (that’s understandable)

No public restrooms. (wait a bit!).

Does that mean that there is no place for me to pee in the office? I needed that place when I gave an urine sample a few weeks ago. I am glad that I was not required to fill the cup in the Street!

And if I have to stay in the waiting room for two hours (as was the case last Thursday), what do I do if I am taken short?

Am I, or am I not “public”?


Quest Diagnostic’s office is in a three story complex with a central courtyard. There is an elevator ( a lift), and stairways.

At the foot of the stairway is a sign which reads

“Consult your Physician before using stairs”.

These stairs? Any stairs?

Should I call my Doctor every time I encounter stairs?


That’s the way it is today!


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Homeless in Sarasota (from Sarasota Magazine)

Lost World
A haunting look at the everyday life of Sarasota's homeless.
Robert Plunket

Though names have been changed, everyone in the story is a real person who was homeless in Sarasota this spring.

I had arranged to meet Rick in front of Resurrection House, a social service agency for the homeless that's located on the picturesquely named Kumquat Court, just north of downtown. A friend who knew a number of homeless people had introduced me to him, and he had agreed to be my guide for a day and a night as I pretended to be homeless myself. I was dressed in a baggy pair of jeans, a white T-shirt, a battered green baseball cap, and a long-sleeved flannel shirt. I blended in pretty well, but I wished I'd worn a dirtier T-shirt.

Rick was late, so I spent the time watching people enter and leave the building. The men heavily outnumbered the women, and whites outnumbered blacks. There were very few Hispanics, which puzzled me until it was explained that most of the agencies require a pretty strict ID. Typically, the people had that reddened, leathery look that comes from spending too much time outdoors, and many had some sort of injury-a bandaged hand, a black eye, even a broken leg. Missing teeth were common. One woman in particular caught my eye. She had on a tight-fitting leopard-print top, and her breasts were different sizes. What might have been comic under other circumstances took on the air of an unhappy medical condition.

After half an hour, Rick had still not arrived and I was getting worried. As I debated what to do, a man rode up on his bicycle. Fiftyish, thin and beaten-looking, he sized me up and then began to ask questions about Resurrection House.

I explained what I knew. You could get food, they would wash your clothes, they gave you clothes if you needed them, you could take a shower. You could even receive phone calls.
We introduced ourselves. His name was Larry, and he had just gotten out of prison. "Where have you been sleeping?" I asked.
"Any old ditch I can find," he told me. But his luck had changed. He'd met a man who offered him a room, up on Ninth Street behind Popeyes Chicken, in exchange for mowing the grass and other chores. He hesitated a moment and then suggested that maybe we could share. There was something touching in Larry's hesitant offer, a reaching out for companionship and-even more important-an ally.

I said I would if my buddy Rick didn't show up, and then offered to watch Larry's bike as he went into Resurrection House to register. This, I was already learning, was the first rule of being homeless: Watch your stuff at all times.
Larry entered. I could see him at the desk, showing the woman his prison ID.

All of a sudden Rick came running up, almost 45 minutes late. "What happened?" I asked.
"I fell asleep behind a dumpster," he said.

What I soon learned about being homeless is that the simplest chore becomes a monumental undertaking. Today, Rick's problem was his ID. He had lent it to someone under vague circumstances-some sort of security deposit, it sounded like-and he had yet to get it back. Without it he could not get into Resurrection House ("the Res," as he called it) or the Salvation Army ("the Sally").
But he had a plan. If we went to the police department and declared it stolen, he could get another one. He had apparently used this ruse before and knew exactly how to do it. So I waved to Larry through the window. He came out and took possession of his bike, and Rick and I were off.
As we walked, he told me about himself. He was 27, from a working-class suburb of Detroit. His parents were divorced. His father, a Vietnam vet, was a factory worker nearing retirement. His stepmother was religious. He had not made contact with them lately and had no plans to do so; it would only prove what they had always thought-that he was a lazy bum.

We stopped at the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen for lunch. It seemed to be unique in that it didn't ask for ID; anybody who shows up gets a hot lunch, no questions asked. The day's menu included shepherd's pie, pasta salad, green beans, cookies for dessert and the weak orange drink that seems to be everywhere that food is offered to the homeless.
Rick was turning out to be surprisingly good company. He was gregarious and full of interesting questions. His manners were impeccable-it was "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am." He knew everyone. When he introduced me, he told people, "His old lady kicked him out when she caught him smoking crack," an explanation accepted with no further questions. Indeed, several men nodded their heads ruefully. The same thing had happened to them.
After lunch we continued on our journey. It was a long walk but not unpleasant. We passed the townspeople on Main Street and attracted no attention. Rick was clean and well dressed today. He was wearing some clothes he'd gotten from the Res-a madras shirt ("Ralph Lauren," he told me proudly) and a pair of Oakley shorts, just the kind I'd been looking for. We made a deal-he'd sell them to me, price to be determined. But there were several clues to his way of life if you studied him closely enough-the reddened skin, the arms covered with tattoos.
"How do you like it so far?" Rick asked.
"It's not so bad."
"Wait 'til tonight. That's when the freaks come out."

We arrived at the police station around 1 p.m. The policewoman at the desk knew Rick; she had stopped him several times and knew he was homeless. Rick stumbled over his story. He made the mistake of telling her the ID might be lost. That meant he would have to pay $15 for its replacement.

Rick and the policewoman argued for a while. We were sent to another office, then sent back. It seemed there was no way around paying the $15.

I sat in the lobby listening to this with a growing sense of apprehension. If Rick had no ID, we couldn't stay at the Salvation Army. We would have to sleep in a hobo camp in the woods. I didn't have a blanket or a sleeping bag. The thought of ants crawling over me was starting a panic attack.
Even though I had promised myself I would not direct or stage manage anything that might happen, I took Rick aside. "Please," I begged. "I'll pay the $15."
"No!" he hissed. "We need it for weed."

The role that drugs play in Sarasota's "homeless problem" is controversial but impossible to gauge with certainty. During that day I met many people who had become homeless for a host of reasons other than drugs. Larry, for instance, was straight out of prison with no place to go. Many owed their misfortunes to an illness or accident. Gerald had been injured in a car accident and was trying to prove he was disabled. To do this he couldn't hold down a job, of course; he was living on the streets while waiting for his legal case to proceed. Tony, who had been partially paralyzed on his left side due to a brain aneurysm, was living on a disability payment of slightly over $500 a month. Nate had also had an aneurysm; he was young and looked middle class, but his injury had left him, as Rick put it, "mental." He spent most of his days at the library, looking up things on the Internet.

I asked Rick several times his best guess of what percentage of Sarasota's homeless had drug or alcohol problems, and each time he came up with the figure of 70 percent. Of course, many of these problems were in abeyance at any given time. Several people proudly told me how long they had been sober, with periods lasting from one day to "nine months, four days and 11 hours."

Rick was clearly part of the 70 percent. His problem was crack. He could go for days without it, but sooner or later he would come across some and give in. He had been on a binge just the night before; hence the nap behind the dumpster.
Rick readily acknowledged his drug problems but seemed to be procrastinating when it came to doing anything about them. The Salvation Army offers several programs for people who are ready to quit, but Rick wasn't interested. He said he wants to quit eventually; he just doesn't want to quit yet.

Crack is common in Rick's world. It's even used as a form of currency, along with cash, cigarettes, food, joints and anything else of immediate value, including those little discs from Checkers that entitle you to a free hamburger.

We encountered drugs several times that afternoon. As we stood on the street, less than a block from the Salvation Army, someone passed around a joint. Later a guy rode up on a bicycle. People recognized him, and a small crowd of six or seven quickly gathered. He pulled out some little pellets of crack and a drug deal took place.

Once crack had been introduced, the mood of the group changed, in a way that frightened me. Smoking crack was one thing; smoking it on 10th Street in broad daylight with all the cars whizzing past was quite another. For the first time I saw the depth of the addiction and the awful risks Rick and his friends were willing to take.

Maybe it was my presence, but after a moment of near-folly Rick suddenly made a decision. He gave his piece of crack to another guy, and we moved away. "I can't believe I did that!" he kept saying. "I turned it down."

I congratulated him effusively. "See, you can do it."
My enthusiasm came from his own minor victory, of course, but it also was a major plus for me. I was exhausted, my feet had blisters, I had a sunburn, my head was starting to ache and I had fire-ant bites all over one hand. The prospect of following Rick around while he went on a crack binge was almost too awful to contemplate.

The geographical heart of Rick's world is the Salvation Army on 10th Street. Practically everywhere he goes is within walking distance: Resurrection House, the day-labor office, the Sunoco station on Tamiami Trail (for snacks and the bathroom), Centennial Park, and that area of ill-repute farther north on the Trail, where drugs can be bought and sold, and prostitutes, both male and female, walk the streets.

The end of the day found us in Centennial Park, sitting on a patch of grass and, like so many other Sarasotans, trying to figure out what to do about dinner. The Salvation Army is free, but the food is supposedly not very good except on Sunday, when they seem to make an extra effort. Then there's always the option of foraging in a dumpster behind Wendy's or the 7-Eleven. I quickly came up with a better idea: dinner in a real restaurant, my treat.

Rick's first choice was Subway, where you can get two foot-longs after 5 p.m. for $8.99. Then he remembered a pizza parlor on Main Street. It's the talk of the Salvation Army-good food, cheap and within walking distance. The decision was made.

But first we walked back to the Sally. The homeless are not allowed in between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. Whether it's to clean the place or to make everybody get out and do something I'm not sure, but it means that there is always a knot of people hanging around. There's a porch in back that's not locked, which serves as a sort of de facto daytime social area.

The "good" guard was on duty, the one who is Rick's buddy and for whom he buys cigarettes. This was a stroke of luck that solved all our problems: He would let Rick in without ID, and we wouldn't have to sleep in a place I was having grave doubts about: the alley behind the building that used to house Badcock's Furniture. A concrete slab, roofless to be sure, but just feet away from a house occupied by a Mexican family. This way, if you are attacked, you can scream and wake up the Mexicans.

Rick has been attacked many times. Robbery is usually the motive. Thieves lie in wait outside certain convenience stores at certain times, when the homeless are likely to have just cashed their paychecks for day-labor jobs, for example, or they can attack you as you sleep. But worse than the thieves are the malicious beatings by gangs of kids. They pounce on the homeless sleeping outdoors, kicking and slugging. I'd already seen several examples of their handiwork, including a spectacular black eye.

We hung out on the porch for a while. Rick and his buddies used this time to catch up, exchange information, kid around with each other. I had already met many of them; now I looked around at the others. There were some newcomers, who sat there warily, and of course the women. Of all the homeless, the women were the hardest for me to get a handle on. Some seemed to be part of a couple. One was visibly pregnant. But women were tangential to the world of Rick and the other long-termers. Theirs was a masculine world, like that of cowboys or soldiers.

Given Rick's gregarious nature, it took us forever to get out of there. There is always one more person to greet and catch up with. So it was well after dark by the time we set off for dinner.

The area directly to the south of the Salvation Army is bright and sunny during the day, with several upscale design businesses moving in. But at night it takes on a different character entirely. It reminded me of an illustration from the old Grimm's Fairy Tales books-dark shadows with threatening silhouettes, of what you couldn't quite tell. It was a place of strange silences, then footsteps on the pavement. Where were they? Who was that? Homeless men? Drug dealers? Muggers? I'm doing something stupid and foolish, I told myself, and prayed to get out of there alive.

It was only a short couple of blocks but it seemed to take forever. Then, miraculously, the upscale design stores began appearing, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
We crossed Fruitville Road.

Suddenly, we were in another world. There were lights everywhere, shiny cars driving by, the most beautiful people on the street, going to the opera, going out to dinner. The library was all lit up, gorgeous blonde women sitting in the sidewalk café at Pino's. Rick growled appreciatively as he walked past them. I had noticed several times during the day that nothing caught his eye like a beautiful blonde in a Mercedes.

Sometimes Rick looks homeless and sometimes he doesn't. Tonight he had changed his clothes; he planned to work tomorrow, and his new outfit was more or less appropriate for construction work: a blue T-shirt, emblazoned on the back with a "thank you" message for donating blood, and a pair of brown uniform pants, several sizes too big and rather badly stained. The elastic waistband was shot, and he was forced to keep yanking his pants up, sometimes clutching them so they wouldn't fall down. So tonight he looked very homeless indeed.

We walked past Patrick's, and Rick peeked in the window. He asked me if I had ever been there. I said, sure, and told him what good burgers they had. I immediately realized my mistake. What if he wanted to go there? The thought of us seeking admittance and then sitting through a meal with everybody staring at us-it would have been so incredibly embarrassing for everybody concerned.

But then, wasn't that the whole point of the article?

I think Rick sensed my unease and didn't press the point. We moved on to the pizza joint, a much more informal place, rather like a storefront.

There were already some people from the Sally there, a man and woman surrounded by grocery bags from Whole Foods that contained not expensive groceries but rather all their worldly belongings. I could see the eyes of the proprietor as we walked in. There were only a handful of other customers; we were tipping the balance in a way that had him worried.

Also worried was the middle-class family having dinner. The parents became strangely quiet; the kids gaped openly.

Rick loves calzone, so we each ordered one. The proprietor was skittish but polite. He charged me for a soda refill, the first time that's happened in 20 years.

I was scared about the walk back. Fortunately we bumped into Cochise, who walked with us, giving us strength in numbers. Cochise was a tough, wiry guy with a backpack, long black hair and a thick pair of glasses. He was in a sour mood. He had a court date in the morning. The charge? "Illegal lodging." They caught him living in his car.
It began to rain. That's when I realized I'd left my long-sleeved flannel shirt at the pizza place.

From about a block away we reconnoitered the Sally, like a group of scouts spying on a fort. The "good" guard was there. But also, inexplicably, was the "bad" guard. What should we do now? The problem was complicated because Rick had three or four cans of beer he had been planning to smuggle in, for both drinking and bartering. He insisted there was a way, and he experimented with various concealment techniques, while I steeled myself for a night spent behind Badcock's Furniture store.

Strangely enough, we made it. Rick's little plan worked like a charm. The guards waved us right in and didn't ask-or rather demand-to see anything.

The idea of a night at the Salvation Army was so hard to imagine that I didn't even try. But still, I was determined to take everything in stride, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult it might be.
Checking in was easy enough. I had to show my driver's license and fill out a one-page form. I told two lies: I checked the boxes for "homeless" and "unemployed." Then I was given a black mat. The man ahead of me got the last pair of sheets. Rick, who was already checked in, demanded that the sheet lady find some for me. He claimed he got a skin fungus from the mats. I suppose I should have done this myself, but I was so distracted by the sight in front of me that I was temporarily rendered speechless.

You really do sleep on the floor. You claim a mat-sized portion of the blue linoleum floor in the brightly lit men's locker room, and that's it. They did have dorm rooms if you got there real early or if you were on something called "pre-pay," but for the rest of us run-of-the-mill clients, it was strictly the floor.

The place was filling up fast, and all the good spots were already taken. I finally found a place on the far side of the room, next to two Mexican guys who apparently had IDs good enough to pass the scrutiny of the Salvation Army computers. The etiquette of the place worried me. How far should your mat be from anybody else's? How loudly could you talk? Where on earth were the bathrooms?

The doors locked at 9 p.m. At 9:15 many of the men had already called it a night. They were on their mats with the sheets pulled up and T-shirts or towels over their faces to block out the fluorescent lights. But many were still up. There was no television, but the men talked, rearranged their belongings or read. I snuck a peak at one book. It was the Bible, open to Ecclesiastes.

There was a small screened-in smoking porch off the locker room. I found a seat and spent the next two hours listening to the conversation. At first most of the discussion was about jobs. I was surprised at how many of the men worked. Maybe not every day, but it seemed that more often than not, the men on the smoking porch headed over to the day-labor place every morning at 6. It's located virtually across the street, in that building most of us have been driving past for years that used to house Pedro's Ornamental Iron Works.

One young man wanted as much employment information as possible. He struck me as the Salvation Army's ideal client: 19 years old, new in town, an articulate and ambitious black man who was eager to get out of the Sally and on his own two feet. He grilled the other men about job leads. The jobs are there, but there are many problems-you have to take a drug test, the employers don't pay you when they say they will, you get in fights at the job site, the work is dangerous. One guy, a redheaded kid named Jason, had just lucked into what sounded like a terrific job: moving furniture for $11 a hour, off the books. I kept staring at Jason's left hand, wondering how he could possibly pick up anything; it was scarred and mangled so badly it was almost unrecognizable as a hand. "What happened?" I asked him. "I shot myself," he told me.

I was one of the oldest men there and doubted whether the labor pool would have any jobs for me, but a man named Tom, also well over 50, assured me this was not the case. "They give the old guys the easy stuff," he said. "Sweeping construction sites and picking up pieces of wood."

Around 11 the conversation on the smoking porch became more and more sporadic as, one by one, the men turned in. One young man kept sitting there smoking cigarette after cigarette (he rolled them all himself). He looked more like a senior at Pine View than a homeless man, and though I wanted to learn his story (he had been among the little group of crack smokers), he radiated a "leave-me-alone" attitude. A counselor/staff member came out to talk to him; apparently he had a court date in the morning and needed a pep talk. It wasn't very peppy. The staff person told him that things would get worse before they got better and that the only good thing was that he wasn't in jail-yet. The young man stared straight ahead, not saying a word. His eyes seethed with contempt for everybody and everything.

I went back inside to my mat. Getting ready for bed was easy enough; you didn't even have to take off your clothes. I found the bathroom, across the darkened dorm room, which was heavy with body heat and snoring. Fortunately it wasn't as bad as Rick had led me to believe.

Rick, meanwhile, was turning into the party animal of the Sally. As long as there was one more person still up, one more beer to drink in the shadows, one more joint to sneak, he was available. His frat-boy streak was becoming more pronounced. The calzone (he sold the leftover portion for $4) was giving him gas, and he began to break wind at astonishing volume. He found this hilarious, but many of the men did not. They yelled out that he was "disrespecting" them, which only caused him to do it more until I had to beg him to stop, fearing a fistfight.

Finally he settled down on his mat, next to mine. I was relatively comfortable but had nothing to use as a pillow. Rick showed me how to use my shoes. You put them together and scrunch them down, then put a rolled-up T-shirt over them.

I looked at my watch. People had been asking me the time all evening, as I was one of the few guys who had a watch. It was 11:30.

"When do they turn the lights out?" I asked.
"They don't."

As we lay there waiting to drift off to sleep, Rick began to confide in me. He had a scheme he was excited about. He would buy a boat and live on Sarasota Bay. There was a guy who had figured out a way to acquire salvaged boats quite cheaply and would sell them for $600. "Just think," he said. "We can fish and drink beer." I was flattered to be included and didn't have the heart to point out the obvious: that Rick knew nothing about maintaining a boat, that a salvaged boat would have many problems and might very well sink, that the rich waterfront property owners hated this, and there were all sorts of laws underfoot to eliminate this practice.

He had something else on his mind, it turned out. He had a little trouble getting it out, but finally he did: What was I going to write about him? "I don't know," I answered truthfully. "What do you want me to write?"
He thought about this. He was worried that by letting me glimpse his world it would rile people up about the homeless, particularly the drug use.
"But it's there. It's part of it," I reminded him.
"I know," he said. "But I'm a good person. Will you write that?"
"Of course."

He told me about his mother. She was an unhappy woman, a drug addict also, who would often threaten to kill him. Her meanest trick was to put him in the bathtub and then tell him she was going to throw a plugged-in hair dryer into the water.
He started to cry.
"Let's go to sleep," I told him as gently as I could.

The first alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. Amazingly, I had actually slept. For the next two hours Rick and I dozed as the other men rose and got ready for work. Then, at 5:30, another set of lights came on, even stronger, and we got up and made our way to the dining room for breakfast-pastries, doughnuts, coffee, oatmeal with yogurt and strawberries.

We left the Sally to walk over to the labor pool. We had barely gotten out of the gate when we heard the news: There had been a murder. Last night, when we had been walking back from Main Street, a homeless Mexican guy had been stabbed to death during a robbery about a block and a half up 10th Street. From the corner we could see the police cars and the yellow tape.

We stared with morbid fascination, but only for a moment or so. Time was short-it was almost full daylight by now, and the good jobs would go quickly. Inside the building were at least a hundred people, some from the Sally, some not, all ages and ethnicities, men and women, all looking for day work. Rick found the sign-up sheet. In the office I could see row after row of red hard hats and shovels. Vans were in the parking lot already, taking people off to the work sites.

I said good-bye and shook Rick's hand. Then I went up the street to the TV station, where I had left my car. I hated the way I smelled-a combination of rancid sweat and cigarette smoke. I wanted very badly to take a shower. The police still had the intersection blocked off where the murder took place, and it took me a while to figure out how to get around it and head on home.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

This and that

It’s rained in South West Florida quite a bit recently. We are not in the “rainy season”, but we are more than 20” short of normal rainfall. Some say that we are in a drought, and certainly the streams and ponds have been very low. So this January rain has been most welcome.

Except of course by homeless people. They came to “Res House” in droves on Monday morning: wet, bedraggled and cold.


The candidates, Democratic and Republican drone on. We are in a deep fiscal crisis, and our standing in the world is at an all time low. We need both a vision and a plan.

Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have engaged in some petty sniping at each other, sounding much like third graders in the school yard. And John Edwards is like the boy on the sidelines of a school-yard spat, saying “nah, nah, ne, nah, nah” to both of you.

“Mr One-liner” 9/11 Rudy Guliani has little more to offer than that he was a good Mayor of New York City ( sez who?)

Mike Huckabee wants to take us back to the Bible, ignoring some of the awful and dubious morality in its pages. We need a President not a preacher.

Mitt Romney comes across like a perpetually slick car salesman. And he is no more believable than the guy who sold you your last auto.

John McCain does have a vision, and is articulating a plan. I disagree with it. But he alone soars above the other six. He’s the man to watch.


The Georgia Legislature is debating a bill which would define the beginning of human life as “at the moment the sperm fertilises the egg”. All this has to do of course with abortion.

I do not wish politicians to make judgments as to when “human life” begins. They simply do not know.

Doubtless the next step in Georgia will be to ban masturbation and menstruation.


Mary Caulfield is down from Cambridge, MA to visit her parents in North Redington Beach, FL. She and I met this morning at the lovely Fort DeSoto County Park over in Pinellas County.

We rented bikes, and pedaled around in this beauteous place. I reckon that we biked for six miles. Then Mary and I had a good sandwich in a local restaurant. Whoopee! I retired to be able to enjoy this sort of day.


My Doctor is a bit worried about my blood sugar levels. She thinks that I could be on the cusp of diabetes. So I have been on a regime of daily exercise and healthy eating these past two weeks. Tomorrow (Thursday 24th) I’ll have three blood test in the space of two hours - a more accurate way to test for diabetes.

Which ever way it goes it’s clear that I’ll have to forgo those wonderful carb-laden snacks for the rest of my days!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Plop, plop

I heard that sound this afternoon. “Plop, plop”. It brought back many memories.

The first was a bit off. I could have sworn that the first commercial on ITV in England was for Alka-Seltzer “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh what a relief it is”.

You each remember that one, and can probably sing the ditty!

I was wrong.

So perhaps was it a commercial for Pepsodent?

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”

Sing that along with me too!

NO, the first commercial on Independent Television in England was for “Gibbs SR”

Here is the script.

It's tingling fresh.
It’s fresh as ice.
It's Gibbs SR Toothpaste, the tingling fresh toothpaste that does your gums good too.
The tingle you get when you brush with SR is much more than a nice taste - it's a tingle of health. It tells you something very important, that you're doing your gums good and toughening them to resist infection.
And as this chart shows, gum infection is the cause of more tooth losses than decay itself.
The tingle in SR comes from sodium ricinoleate - a substance which both dental research and years of use in dental practice have shown to be good for the gums.
So to keep your teeth white as snow, your gums really healthy, and your breath really fresh, see your dentist regularly and brush with SR - the tingling fresh toothpaste for teeth and gums.
Gibbs SR.

Voice-over spoke by Alex Macintosh over a block of SR in ice surrounded by 400 gallons of water syphoned from the gents toilet in the Pathe Studios in Wardour Street, and Meg Smith brushing her teeth.

Other advertisers on day one: Guinness, Batchelor's peas, Brillo, Cadburys, Crosse and Blackwell, Dunlop Rubber, Esso, Ford, Remington Rand, Shredded Wheat, Surf, Watney's, National Benzole, Kraft cheese, Woman, Coty Brown and Polson, Express Dairy, Crompton Lamps, Summer County margarine, Ecko radio/TV sets, Oxo.

The price of a peak time ad on Associated Rediffusion was £975 for one minute, with half a minute costing £650. ATV were a bit cheaper at £950 and £633 respectively. The advertisers on the first day had to pay a premium of £500, which they thought was to go to charity, which in the end it did.

Boo Hoo. It was not “plop plop”. That was the sound I heard today. I had over watered one of the hanging plants in the Lanai, and I heard the “plop plop” of water dripping on the rug. Soon I had a container there to catch the overflow, and to increase the volume of sound.

I’d heard that sound, much to my chagrin, at St. James’s, Cambridge. The roof was leaky, and in heavy, wind-driven rain the old plastic buckets lines the aisles.

But much earlier, I’d heard that “plop plop” at our home in Bristol, where we had a most leaky roof. Out would come the pots, the buckets and the chamber pots to catch the drips in our bedrooms.

In “my time”, without central heating, the primary indoors winter sensation in England was of dampness, and a leaky roof did not help at our home.

One winter we had heavy wind-blown snow which found its way into the eaves. Dad got up there with a bucket (pail) which he filled with snow, and then handed to me to throw out of a bedroom window.

I was sullen, angry, sulking, and did not want to help. Damn it was cold. “Why”, I grumbled, “couldn’t we wait for the snow to melt?” (What a dafty idea!).

I was not a good son that day.

But as all those memories flooded back as I heard the “plop plop” today, I wished that Dad could be here, and that I could have been a much more grateful and loving son.

Monday, 21 January 2008

From a friend in Vermont - re the N.H. primary and the election campaign

Meanwhile, as you luxuriate amid palms, snowy egrets and the occasional sandhill crane, are you withstanding the campaign onslaught in good fettle? I really don't know what fettle is, but I hope it's good since that's the way our culture seems to want it. People we know in New Hampshire are evidently getting back to rationality, but many are still snarling about the barrage of phone calls from 'pollsters,' campaign volunteers, pranksters and weirdos who laid siege to the electorate up until the primary. One man said he hit on a response that seemed to give callers pause. This was a demand that the caller pay for any answers he gave. But, alas, we innocents have no idea. Callers seemed initially to be taken aback but the more aggressive got over the hurdle promptly by saying absolutely. This would be followed by the question, and then the answer that the money would have to be paid first, and then further negotiations and then, sometimes, the caller's exasperated statement that he or she would just put the man's choice down as McCain or Ron Paul or Buster Keaton or whomever. And so on.

The fact that the pollsters and the media got it wrong was food for post-election media commentary anyway. It didn't slow any of them down. Au contraire, it seems to me the media have simply racheted up the volume of words while showing themselves to be good sports who can admit their mistakes gracefully. So, I guess we've officially entered the era of the endless campaign. This chapter will end Nov. 4 and the new one will start Nov. 5. The President will be just another college president, a fund raiser. Executive decisions will be made by deans in the form of department secretaries whipped into line by successors to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. Our government will have become the perfect marriage of democracy and totalitarianism, and almost no one will be the wiser.

Yea. Rah, rah.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Hurrah for germs!

What’s all this nonsense about hand sanitisers, anti-bacterial soaps, and anti-bacterial wipes? Thanks to the advertisers we are becoming a nation of germaphobes, (or is it germophobes?).

I have visited many hospital patients whose immune systems are compromised. I have carefully followed hospital instructions about hand-washing, and wearing a mask, latex gloves, and a gown. That’s sensible enough.

But now outside many of our supermarkets there are “wipes” to “cleanse” the handle of the shopping cart; and sanitiser dispensers to “cleanse” the hands.

How come we never used to get sick from shopping? Who is kidding who?
And why do we not “sanitise” our hands every time we handle coins and bills - filthy lucre indeed!

Well, I’ve ignored this enforced germaphobia (and been sensible about hand-washing) until today. Then I was given no choice.

The Rector of the parish where I “help out” decided, all un-announced until during the Eucharist this morning, that the members of the “Altar Party” should “sanitise” their hands before the Great Thanksgiving (Prayer of Consecration).

If that’s not bad enough, there will now be a little ceremony in which the acolyte comes to each of us with a “sanitiser” dispenser, to squirt a bit on our hands. Omigod!

Of course, after the ceremony, and before we minister communion, we shall each have handled “germ-ridden” prayer books, chalices and patens. And this is a parish in which some worshippers want us to place the host on their tongue!

On occasion, when I’ve had a heavy cold, I’ve declined to shake any hand, and have not touched the wafers, asking some other person to do so. But this new procedure seems ridiculous!

Hurrah for germs I say!

And this 2000 New York Times article is on my side!

June 20, 2000
PERSONAL HEALTH; How Germ-Phobia Can Lead to Illness


To listen to the manufacturers of an ever-growing list of germ-fighting products -- including antibacterial soaps and sprays, toothbrushes and toothpastes, pyjamas and slippers, sheets and mattresses, potty chairs, high chairs, toys, sponges, cutting boards and even chopsticks and paper towels -- my family and I should have been riddled with disease all these many years.

My husband is allergic to antibacterial soaps, so we abandoned them 34 years ago. I do not have a dishwasher, so our dishes, glasses and utensils are not ''sterilized'' at high temperatures. I had no clothes dryer for 20 years and still don't use one for drying and ''sterilizing'' our clothes. We use sponges to wipe the kitchen counters and cloth towels to dry our hands. We ride the subways, often holding the poles that the ads tell us are crawling with billions of germs. And we do not use instant ''hand sanitizer.''

As infants, our sons crawled around the streets and parks of New York, putting whatever they happened to find into their mouths, which is how babies test their interest in all manner of objects.

Yet, to my knowledge, none of us has ever acquired an ''environmental'' infection or even spread microorganisms from one person to another. In fact, we have been remarkably healthy for more than three decades, despite what the manufacturers tell us: that everything from our hands to our counters to our supposedly clean laundry is crawling with potentially pathogenic bacteria that their products can wipe out.

But can they? And if they can, at what price does this super hygienic environment come? People frightened by a microbial world that harbours super bugs they believe are out to get them may be adopting an approach that actually fosters rather than suppresses serious infections.

Earlier this month at a conference sponsored by the American Medical Association, Dr. Stuart B. Levy, director of the Centre for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University in Boston, voiced serious concerns about the more than 700 antibacterial products now crowding the marketplace. They do not, he said, kill all bacteria, only those that are most susceptible. They upset the natural balance of micro-organisms and they leave behind the bacteria that are strong enough to survive and multiply. Furthermore, these surviving bacteria may evolve resistance to both antimicrobials and antibiotics that could be transferred to dangerous pathogens.

Last week, because of the growing concern about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant germs, the American Medical Association urged the government to step up regulation of antibacterial soaps, lotions and other household products.

Explaining the process two years ago in Scientific American, Dr. Levy wrote: ''Bacteria are a natural, and needed, part of life. Most live blamelessly. In fact, they often protect us from disease because they compete with, and thus limit the proliferation of, pathogenic bacteria. The benign competitors can be important allies in the fight against antibiotic-resistant pathogens.''

In making a case against products spiked with antibacterials, he explained: ''Like antibiotics, antibacterials can alter the mix of bacteria; they simultaneously kill susceptible bacteria and promote the growth of resistant strains. These resistant microbes may include bacteria that were present from the start. But they can also include ones that were unable to gain a foothold previously and are now able to thrive thanks to the destruction of competing microbes.''

Given the chance to proliferate, some of these emergent organisms ''may become new agents of disease,'' Dr. Levy said.

The most frequently used antibacterial agent in consumer products is triclosan. Laura McMurry and colleagues in Dr. Levy's laboratory have shown that while triclosan wipes out the most sensitive bacteria, it also gives rise to bacteria that resist its action by pumping the chemical out of their cells.

''Residues are the potential problem,'' Dr. Levy said. ''We're talking about chemicals that can stick around in the home and continue to select for resistance when the levels of these chemicals drop. Then even high levels of the chemicals won't work.''

Another potential problem of creating a super hygienic environment is mis-development of the immune system in children that persists throughout life. The developing immune system may need to be primed to function properly.

During their first year of life, babies need to be exposed to germs to foster the production of T-helper 1 cells, which make antibodies to dangerous micro organisms. If the baby's environment is too clean, the production of T-helper 1 cells is not adequately stimulated and the immune system instead overproduces T-helper 2 cells, which create antibodies to allergens and could result in lifelong allergies or asthma, a recent study in Italy showed.

Practicing Proper Hygiene

There is no need for an ordinary healthy person to be a fanatic about cleanliness, Dr. Levy said. Among the hygienic habits that make sense are these:

*Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, before preparing or eating food, after working in the garden or changing a dirty diaper.

*Thoroughly rinse under running water all fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them, including foods like melons and grapefruit. Skins can harbour disease-causing micro-organisms that contaminate the edible part of the food, especially if it sits around un-refrigerated for a while.

*Always thaw foods in the refrigerator. Do not leave cooked foods un-refrigerated for more than two hours, or for more than one hour when the temperature reaches 90.

*Use separate cutting boards for uncooked meat, poultry or fish, and for vegetables, fruits and bread. Always wash surfaces, including the sink, and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs with hot soapy water as soon as you are through using them.

*Plastic cutting boards, sponges and dishcloths can be sanitized in the dishwasher.

*To sanitize a surface or object, use bleach, denatured alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. These do their work and disappear, leaving no residue to foster microbial resistance. Laundry detergent with bleach is fine.

*Infant clothing, bedding, etc. might be washed separately from adult laundry, but no special detergent is needed. If you use cloth diapers, they should always be washed separately in hot water with bleach.

*Close the lid on the toilet before you flush it to keep tiny droplets containing micro-organisms from spewing into the air.

The rules change if someone in the household is seriously ill or has a compromised immune system. ''Products containing antibacterial agents are best reserved for use when someone is very sick,'' Dr. Levy said. ''When caring for a sick person, hand washing should take more than one minute.''