Tesco Store Access Problems…

Do you shop at Tesco, particularly the Bidston Moss, Wirral, store?

Are you disabled and have difficulty accessing the store and/or moving around within the store?

My personal view is that access for disabled customers, whether ambulant or wheelchair/powerchair/scooter users, is abysmal at Bidston Moss. That included staff parking in the disabled car park – a row with Tesco that went on for over a year – I stopped shopping there so I don’t know if it was ever resolved, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Once within the store I’ve found that the moving ramp to the upper storey is often off, especially early in the morning, rendering it inaccessible to anyone with mobility problems. On the ground floor, the wheeled cages in which new stock is brought onto the floor are not removed once empty, the result being an almost unnavigable obstacle course, keeping all but the most mobile customers from shopping unimpeded.

If you’re disabled, and have experience of these, or other problems, at Tesco, especially Bidston Moss, your views would be welcomed for a report that is currently being compiled.

Please send as much information as possible, including contact info for follow-up, by posting a comment.

All information will be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and no personal information will be used without permission.

A diet of mud in Haiiti – sounds fishy…

“Haiti: Mud cakes become staple diet as cost of food soars beyond a family’s reach…”

Or, at least, so claims today’s Guardian, but is it true? Oh, there’s no doubt that, as in many countries, times are very hard in Haiiti when it comes to the cost of food but, if people can’t afford food, would anyone in their right mind squander what money they have on buying mud which they could get for free?

The Guardian shows a photo of “mud food” production (see here), and I can’t help wondering why anyone would go to the trouble of producing what are clearly clay platters if they’re intended to be eaten – what would be the point?

The one single fact that, for me, renders this whole thing a nonsense (that, or the Haiitians are collectively deranged), is that the country (which is less than a third of the island of Hispaniola), has the North Atlantic to the North, and the Caribbean to the West and East – wouldn’t they be better fishing than eating mud? If, indeed, they are.

Check out a map – compared to its land mass, Haiiti has a huge coastline, and while the produce of whatever fishing industry it has may be pricey (is it? I don’t know…), there seems to be lots of scope for private enterprise. I find it extremely hard to believe that people would buy – and eat – mud, rather than, say, several of them pool their resources and buy some fishing tackle. Properly organised the residents of a single street could fish around the clock with a couple of rods and reels, if that’s what it takes to keep themselves fed – one decent mackerel-sized fish per person per day would help stave off starvation. Mud bloody well won’t.

Perhaps, too, famine-relief charities could organise fishing expeditions, or even teach people to fish if they don’t know how – it makes more sense than constant appeals for money to the more affluent west. Indeed, using appeal money to buy food helps alleviate the current crisis, but fishing – with a rod, nothing more high-tech – is a skill for now and for the future.

And one thing struck me when looking for a map – Haiiti is now frequently spelled Haiti. Why is this? More dumbing-down? I suspect that a common mispronunciation of the name has generated an alternate spelling now more widely used than the original, so much so that I have had to use both spellings in tags for this post.

Called to the bar…

There’s a debate in the Guardian online, today, about the ethics of tipping in American restaurants, which made me think about tipping here in the UK, and what the point of it is, especially in pubs (restaurants being way beyond my budget).

For me, a tip should be proffered for service above and beyond the basic service. In reality, it doesn’t work that way most of the time – it seems to be an insurance that we’ll actually get a service.

My friend Alan, and I, spend far more time in pubs than is probably sensible, and we tip every round (most pubs seem to set their own rates at which the staff take the proffered tip – where we live it’s 20p per round and, it has to be said, customers who tip are in the minority, as are those with good manners – it doesn’t actually hurt to say please and thank you, you know!). This is partly in recognition of prompt and efficient service (but hey, that’s what they’re paid for anyway, though the minimum wage is way too low), but mainly in the hope that, come the next round, the staff can tear themselves away from more important tasks like gossiping, arranging their social lives, or sloping off to the kitchen to filch chips (these habits are frequently combined in one person!), and serve us with reasonable alacrity. We don’t want preferential service, just that which is our due as customers, and tipping is a way to fix oneself in the mind of bar staff, especially in a busy pub, when it never hurts to tip a bit more than average. I also tip because, having worked in pubs for over 20 years, I know what a crappy job it can be at times.

However, last Thursday, we ran up against an anomaly – a situation in which the staff should, perhaps, have tipped us. I can’t speak for other areas or other pubs, but the pubs I frequent – decent, middle-market hostelries, in the main – staff training is abysmal or non-existent. On Thursday, then, we had a new, very young, barman who had no idea how to pull a proper pint (i.e. one that doesn’t go flat in 2 minutes, and with a sensibly sized head).

A few friendly words of advice later, and we were getting pints that were (almost), perfectly pulled – they were just a tiny bit short, but that can be addressed later. (Note – if your bar person appears to be an idiot, treat him/her kindly, as they may have been stuck there with little or no training!)

The question is, why do we have to do this? One afternoon, a few years ago, at The Farmer’s Arms, in Frankby, Wirral, we spent an afternoon coaching an elderly lady in the gentle art of pint-pulling because, she said, no-one had ever shown her how, only to discover, after a couple of hours, that she was the manager, fresh out of training school where, it seems, teaching how to pull a pint isn’t thought essential! And if the manager doesn’t know, who the hell trains inexperienced staff? When I got my first bar job, at 19, there was no interview, as such – I was just sent to pull a pint. If I’d cocked it up I wouldn’t have got the job… It’s an idea that could do with being reintroduced. Mind you, in these days of the ubiquitous swan-neck dispense, pulling a good pint is a lot easier than it was 45 years ago, but there’s still a technique to be mastered and it doesn’t seem to be taught.

This is how – with a swan-neck you keep the nozzle at the bottom of the glass at all times; put some muscle into the first stroke of the pump – this creates the head – after that you can fill it up more gently to avoid spillage, and don’t over-fill the glass. You can always add beer if the customer wants it, you can’t take beer out if you’ve washed the head away by overfilling. And if you do top it up, make sure the swan-neck is at the bottom of the glass again, otherwise you’ll ruin the head.

Oh, and the customer rules – if one wants a very thin head and another wants an inch and a half, like one guy I know, they’re both right – but an average head of about a centimetre is usually acceptable, and leaves scope for topping up if requested which, of course, is always done with good grace. If your manager wants 10 pints from every gallon of beer, that’s their problem, it should never be the customers’ problem.

And before I get accusations that I’m arrogant and interfering, bear in mind that beer isn’t cheap and drinking it isn’t all about getting shit-faced, it’s about, at least for me, enjoying the whole beer-drinking experience, and a badly-pulled pint ruins that entirely. It’s not acceptable.

Pride in Britain? – Not in London…

The following clunked into my Inbox this morning, with a request to forward it to as many people as possible – this seems to be the best way of accomplishing that.

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The world-famous Red Arrows have been banned from appearing at the 2012 London Olympics because they are deemed ‘too British’. Organisers of the event say that the Arrows military background might be ‘offensive’ to other countries taking part in the Games. The display team have performed at more than 4000 events worldwide, but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have deemed the display team ‘too militaristically British’. Red Arrows pilots were said to be ‘outraged’, as they had hoped to put on a truly world class display for the Games, something which had never been seen before. Being axed from a British-based event for being ‘too British’ is an insult – the Arrows are a symbol of Britain.

The Red Arrows have been excellent ambassadors for British overseas trade, as they display their British-built Hawk aircraft all over the world.
The Arrows performed a short flypast in 2005 when the winning bid was announced but their flypast at the Games was to have been truly spectacular. It is to be hoped that common sense prevails.

If you disagree with this decision, sign the petition on the link: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/RedArrows2012/?ref=redArrows2012

Antibiotics and NICE…

Well, here we go again – the bean-counters at NICE are fucking with people’s lives once more.

Doctors are now instructed, when patients present with respiratory infections, sore throats or colds, not to prescribe antibiotics but to tell the patient to go home, take pain killers, and only come back if the problem doesn’t go away or gets worse. Getting worse may well be inevitable as, of course, pain-killers don’t actually have any curative properties whatsoever. If I have a respiratory infection, the last thing in the world that I need is bloody Paracetamol!!

Nice, for once, are honest about this being a money-saving exercise, though they do mumble something about it reducing the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Bollocks – it will result in a rise, as people with zero medical knowledge start buying, and misusing, their own antibiotics.

OK, anyone who actually has any functioning brain cells knows that antibiotics don’t work for colds, flu or other virus infections, but they can militate against secondary bacterial infections in these cases.

I have COPD and I’m extremely prone to respiratory bacterial infections, yet for may years I have only been able to get antibiotics after submitting a sputum sample for a lab test (it doesn’t need a test – you can tell by the stink that it’s infected!). Then I have to wait for a week – getting worse – until I get the results. It seems that now this delay is being extended to all patients, but without the benefits of a sputum test. This, of course, means that a great many of them will  get worse before anyone decides to investigate. If, then, they have to wait for a sputum test for a further week, the infection will have become so severe and so  deeply entrenched it will take more antibiotics to get rid of it than it would have if they’d been prescribed at the outset, as I know only too well from personal experience.

There is no way that this latest interference from NICE will do anything to improve the health of the patient, especially if, like me, antibiotics are an essential resource. But, hey, when did NICE ever give a shit for the patient? As long as they can save money, they’re happy…

For four years, as I’ve said here elsewhere, I’ve bought my own antibiotics, which are taken in accordance with the GOLD guidleines, because it has been impossible to get antibiotics prescribed in adequate amounts, and promptly, since about 2003, but I didn’t know I could legally import my own until 2004, since when I’ve never looked back.

The thing is, I have almost a lifetime’s experience of antibiotics, plus an in-depth knowledge of my COPD (I suspect I know more than my doctor on this subject), and I know very well what I’m doing, but thanks to NICE many thousands of people are likely to buy antibiotics online, with no real idea what to do with them, which can be very dangerous – these things are potent drugs, not Smarties.

However, as there are many dodgy retailers online, selling substandard drugs and/or at absurdly high prices, I thought I’d tell you where I get mine. The first two are, essentially, the same organisation, though stock levels and prices can vary.

Freedom Pharmacy

USA Discreet Meds

Inhouse Pharmacy

The latter’s prices include shipping charges, the others are extra. Delivery is about 10 days, though can take up to 28 days. I have been using all three for 4 years, and have had no problems. Be aware that shipments over £18 in value will attract VAT, and the Post Office will screw you for a further £8 for collecting this which, to my mind is a colossal rip-off – almost all UK traders collect VAT on behalf of the government, but only the Post Office is allowed to charge through the nose for the privilege!

I would strongly recommend that, if you have no medical knowledge, you do NOT buy your own drugs. If, though, like me, you’ve taken the trouble to ensure that you are well-informed about your illness and its treatment, then you should be fine. I’ve certainly never been healthier, as far as my COPD is concerned. After a lifetime blighted by repeated respiratory infections I have had only 2 in 4 years that needed medical intervention. Every other infection I have been able to nip in the bud before it became established.

Note: Always take a full course of antibiotics (three times a day for a week at least, in the case of my Amoxyl), and, if you buy in bulk, keep them in the fridge. With drugs, three times a day – or whatever – means three times in 24 hours, not in the waking day. This may mean you have to set the alarm to wake you in the middle of the night, or at least early in the morning. Tough!

Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility for anyone doing anything dumb as a result of this information! You’re on your own…

It’s not just Terry Pratchett…

I have feared for some time now that I am developing some form of dementia, and the following check-list seems to confirm it:-

Ten early symptoms of dementia:

  1. Memory loss ****
  2. Difficulty in performing everyday tasks ****
  3. Problems with language ****
  4. Disorientation in time and place ***
  5. Poor or decreased judgment ***
  6. Problems with keeping track of things ****
  7. Misplacing things *****
  8. Changes in mood or behaviour ***
  9. Changes in personality (not aware of any – but would I be?)
  10. Loss of initiative ****

The asterisks indicate how badly I am affected * = only slightly, ***** = train wreck.

It’s worth pointing out that not all dementia is Alzheimer’s – though most forms other than Alzheimer’s are unknown to the general public. There is a wealth of information, not just about Alzheimer’s, on the Alzheimer’s Society’s website. It’s also possible that what I’m experiencing is a worsening of my ME. That’s certainly true of the physical aspects, but I’m not convinced that it’s the case mentally.

Aphasia (can’t find the words I need), can be a big problem, and, at its worst, it makes it almost impossible to hold a conversation. This has been a speech problem for as long as I’ve had ME, yet it has worsened substantially over the past year, and has now spread to my typing, which was previously unaffected. Similarly, my spelling has gone to hell and my vocabulary, normally quite a lot better than average, seems to be diminishing (only a little, so far, but it’s not a good sign). My overall intelligence seems little affected; if it was, I suspect I’d be unlikely to be so aware of other changes, or so distressed by them.

Last week, things took a turn for the worse when, on two occasions I picked up the TV remote and just sat looking at it, wondering how the hell it worked. In addition, returning from a shopping trip in horrible weather, I sat in the car with the engine running, wipers front and rear going, lights and radio on – and for a few minutes I had not the slightest idea how to turn it all off. This is getting scary – what would happen if, even for only a few seconds, I forget which controls do what in heavy traffic?

However, were I to present to my GP I would be subjected to what must be the most banal and mildly insulting test yet devised – The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). Click on the link, below, to see it.

mini-mental-state-examination

This test is, to me at least, staggeringly simplistic, and one would have to be quite severely compromised to “fail” it, yet if I don’t, I may not get the investigations I believe I need. I estimate that I’d score about 32 points on this test, normal score being 25-30. I would have to score 24 or lower to be taken seriously, and that’s not going to happen. As this test is usually applied by the patient’s GP and, presumably, a high score would militate against any further investigations, I find myself wondering how much early-onset, as yet relatively mild, dementia goes undiagnosed until such time as the patient’s brain is mush?

On the other side of the coin, one of the tests in the MMSE is the drawing of two slightly overlapping pentagons, the overlap forming a diamond shape. Now I’m someone who can’t even draw a straight line without a ruler, so this is going to be a shambles, and give a false positive for dementia (all else being equal).

In addition, the MMSE is quite substantially affected by the intelligence and education of the patient, or the lack thereof. Among the caveats listed is this gem:-

  • People from different cultural groups or low intelligence or education may score poorly on this examination in the absence of cognitive impairment and well educated people may score well despite having cognitive impairment.

In my case, I missed a great deal of schooling through illness (as much as 20-30% in an average year), so I have no formal educational qualifications. I don’t consider myself badly educated, though (but a doctor might wrongly perceive me as such, based on the lack of academic quals), as in the 47 years since I left school I’ve more than made up for any shortfall in my education. I have a fairly high IQ, too (though perhaps that should be had – I shudder to think what effect 23 years of ME has had on it, but it can’t be good). My IQ was tested by a psychologist who did his best to prove that what turned out to be ME was in fact a psychological problem. Fuckwit!

The MMSE has, it says “…been validated in a number of populations.” What, exactly, does that mean? How many is “a number”? Three? 10? 300? What? It’s an utterly meaningless statement. “A number” is a phrase I hate, incidentally, because not only is it meaningless, it’s also lazy.

The test starts by asking the following:-

  • What is the year, season, date, day and month (1 point for each; maximum total 5 points).
  • Where are we: town, county, country, which hospital, surgery or house, and which floor (1 point for each; maximum total 5 points).

You’d have to be severely impaired not to know any of that, though I usually have to check what day it is, and can never remember the date. Is that a sign of dementia, or is it just that my days are all the bloody same, with little to distinguish today from yesterday or tomorrow? I honestly don’t know.

Another test is counting backwards from 100 in blocks of 7. Simple on the face of it, probably less so under stress, and it’s something I’ve always been crap at (it’s one reason I don’t play darts – the other reason is that I’m rubbish!). The alternative to this test is to spell “world” backwards. Give me a break! There is no comparison between the two tests; none whatsoever.

And this language test is amazingly inept:-

  • Ask the individual to write a sentence of their choice on a blank piece of paper. The sentence must contain a subject and a verb, and must make sense. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are not important (1 point).

Spelling, grammar and punctuation aren’t important? Of course they bloody are – they’re essential to the structure and understanding of language – a simple comma, misplaced, can completely change the meaning of a sentence. One of the earliest signs that all was not well was that my punctuation and spelling deteriorated (even the simplest email has to be rigorously edited for errors before it’s sent, as do my blog posts), yet these people think it’s not important! Were I to post an item uncorrected for spelling and punctuation, it would be unreadable, and I’d hate for people to think I don’t know any better, because I damned well do (before ME struck I was an adult literacy tutor, and a good one, too), and it does matter.

Anyway, it’s clear that I need to get myself investigated, and soon, but this idiot test fills doesn’t fill me with confidence. And, of course, anyone in my position, with Internet access, will already be familiar with it if they’ve done any research at all, which pretty well negates its value. Not that I think it had much value in the first place – a test that doesn’t work on the intelligent and/or well-educated is utterly useless. It seems, though, that the test’s writers believe that it will work for most people (otherwise, why bother?), so are they saying that they believe that the majority of people are unintelligent and badly educated? It certainly looks that way. Doesn’t exactly give you a warm glow, does it?

Dead computer…

Just a thought, but my laptop died recently, taking with it maybe a week’s worth of emails, the more recent ones unanswered. If, then, you’ve emailed me and not had a reply, this is why, so please resend. Thanks.

Antibiotics and alcohol…

Responding to a search item in my blog stats, I thought I’d address the question of antibiotics and alcohol. With over 50 years experience of the former, and over 40 years experience of the latter, plus what I’ve learned from my doctors, I think I’m qualified. I’ve taken almost every antibiotic available (my standby is Amoxyl, which I buy in bulk), and only one has ever harmed me (Distaclor MR – see below).

There is, on the whole, no problem with drinking while you’re taking antibiotics, though a great many ill-informed people believe that there is. You often see them in pubs, slurping soft drinks and bemoaning the “fact” that they can’t drink because they’re on antibiotics (and if they have a respiratory infection, they may be sharing it with everyone around them!). In the past, one or two types of antibiotic would make you sick if you drank while taking them, but they’re old drugs and have fallen out of use.

Some antibiotics affect your sense of taste – Erythromycin, for example, makes beer taste excessively bitter. Others may cause diarrhoea (most antibiotics can do that, but it doesn’t mean they will), which would be exacerbated by drinking beer, but overall there are few problems. Amoxyl (Amoxycillin), which I take daily, has zero ill-effects.

I suspect, though I have no supporting evidence, that drinking beer in quantity may flush antibiotics from your system too quickly, delaying recovery somewhat. Physiologically, that makes sense, but I can’t prove it happens.

The original question related to Distaclor. The sustained-release version, Distaclor MR, is the only antibiotic that disagrees with me, and it does so extremely seriously – it’s put me in hospital in the past. My advice would be NOT to drink with this drug, no matter how desperate you might feel. It’s potentially dangerous on its own; who knows what havoc it might wreak when combined with alcohol?

Depending on what you’re being treated for, though, you may want to consider not drinking anyway. You are, after all, sick, and alcohol, in anything more than small amounts, is an insult to the body. As you’re being treated with powerful drugs, your body is already under considerable stress – why make things worse? And you may, as I said above, be contagious, so going to the pub is a bad idea anyway.

As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that if an antibiotic doesn’t make you feel ill (and many people react badly to them anyway, even without booze), then drinking in moderation should be OK, as long as you have the sense to stop if it makes you feel worse. And wear bicycle clips!**

** Old joke:

Doctor: Tell me, when did you first realise you had diarrhoea?

Patient: Er, when I took my bike clips off…

Note: I’ve read that Metronidazole, used in dentistry and bowel infections, reacts very badly to alcohol and, will make you very sick. In my experience, and that of friends, dentists tend to prefer Amoxyl; dunno about bowel infections, though but, let’s face it, if you drink with a bowel infection, you deserve all you get!

Cardboard bike? Pass the matches…

Full marks to design student Phil Bridge. He has invented a cardboard bike from recycled materials with interchangeable mechanical parts…

So says today’s Observer, lauding it as a green innovation, but let’s think about this for a minute.

You can see a video of the thing here, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a grocers’ bike circa 1956 and you’ll see that at no point does anyone actually ride it – I wonder why. Even steel and alloy bikes have a very hard time on Britain’s terrible roads, so I can’t see it surviving long. And how much extremely un-green toxic adhesive has gone into its construction? I very much doubt it’s held together with Copydex!

More info here, too.

In their early days, cycles were often made of wood so, tell me, how is this progress? It’s still a wood-derived product, which seems just a tad retrograde to me.

And it has interchangeable mechanical parts! Wow! Exactly like every other bike, then…

As a project for an engineering student, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it was produced by a design student, which explains a lot, though he is a cyclist, which makes its shortcomings inexcusable. It’s being touted as a viable alternative to conventional bikes, and that strikes me as completely unrealistic. The pedals, for example, are slices of cardboard tubing mounted on metal shafts, and the cranks are cardboard – these are among the most highly-stressed of cycle components, and I suspect they’d have a very short life.

There is nothing here to justify all the media hysteria (check out Google for cardboard bike), nothing at all. I want to see someone ride this bike, say for 20 miles, and in the rain – the material is claimed to be waterproof (more potentially toxic chemicals?), but I’d like to see that demonstrated in bike form (especially with the inevitable chips and scratches that bikes collect). I was a cyclist for many years, incidentally – I know what makes a decent bike, and this ain’t it.

The designer says his “main goal was to completely devalue the bike…” so I think he can claim a success. Don’t get me wrong – building it shows considerable ingenuity and ability, but claiming it as an alternative means of transport is just a joke. Its USP, by the way, is that it’s a remedy for the problem of bike theft. Well, would you steal it? Pass the matches…

Remembrance of things lost…

Previously posted here in the early days when I was getting few hits. A favourable comment prompted me to move it up the timeline and repost it. I’ve had to change the post title – I like the original better.

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I have remembered a thing…

A time when dawn never came unbidden, or too early; when snow could never be too deep or crisp; when the jingle of harness and the clink of milk-bottles announced the coming day, in counterpoint to the dawn chorus of birds not yet decimated by chemicals and prairie farming, and the clatter-scratch of the knocker-up, as he trod his round, come balmy dew or raging storm.

A time when lust and love ran side by side in my blood, and neither were sated too often; when people were old at 50, and for ever; when summer sprang to full bloom between July and September, and the seasons ran, orderly, in their allotted spans. When autumn gales boomed through the streets, demanding combs and kites, and fish and chips came in yesterday’s newspaper, all the better for it, and scratchings were free.

A time, when small children raced in the streets, heedless of a mother’s cries to stay close – and never came to harm; when little kids really did hear sleigh-bells at Christmas, which wasn’t Xmas; when people were nice to each other, and to themselves – a lost art; when a skinned knee was a major disaster, and major disasters happened to someone else, thousands of miles away, and the world was unimaginably huge.

A time when my blood sang brightly in my ears, lying quietly abed, waiting for sleep, and my bones rode easily within my flesh; when pain was a sudden, and fleeting, thing – here, and goneforgotten in a flash; when the footfalls of midnight mice rang like thunder, in the days before thunder came to sound like the footfalls of mice, and when each new day was joyfully greeted as a friend, to be enjoyed, not cursed as an enemy, to be endured…

I have remembered – how it was not to be old…

See also here.