Wednesday, 30 January 2008

On the post-heart attack lifestyle...

I've mentioned to a fair few people, including those on a couple of web-based forums, that I had a ticker attack; not for the sympathy vote, but either in passing, or to point out why I wouldn't be around at various places/events for a while. This has prompted the usual round of "get well soon" "it's God's way of telling you to ditch the fags" "if you couldn't take a joke, maybe you ought to have eaten better" etc from both friends and... erm... others... but what had me laughing this morning was a rather accurate and truthful observation by Natasha, a member of one of those forums:

BUT....I having just done over 200 steps on the machine (6:20am, I should still be in bed!!) and then spent 5 minutes laying on the sofa wondering why I am torturing myself like this but strangely, I think I am enjoying it, exercise is one of those things I have never enjoyed, changing my diet (no problem) but exercise....ewwww, moving was my exercise!

It is strange how quickly your body starts to accept things though. You'll be fine and you will probably wonder how on earth you could ever have lived that way before.

The frightening thing is: She's right!

So, what's changed for me thus far?

Following my Stent installation that shocking night, and having ditched the fags (a heart attack is a pretty good warning that something ought to be done!), I've had to change my diet at well. Out have gone the burgers and greasy spoon food; in has come low-saturated fat foods (and you note from a blant below that this has not been easy to do!); in has come Doctor-Ordered exercise, rising from five minutes walking per day on my discharge from hospital, to the current 15-30 minutes per day, (including the two flights of stairs to my flat); this will increase as time goes by, as I fully intend to get fit again, and lose the spare Pirelli around my waist (Hell, I'm apparently three or four STONE overweight! NOT GOOD!)

So, what's the main thing I'm getting used to?

Not coughing my guts up every morning as I get up.

Amazing how you take things for granted before they HAVE to change, innit?

Monday, 28 January 2008

Time for a job-related blant, I think.

I want to highlight some of the completely brainless things that other road users - both private and commercial - perform. With this in mind, here's something that both bus and truck drivers have in common:

* First, our licences are what are called "Vocational Licences". There is no absolute right to have them (unlike the ordinary car driving licences). There is only a privilege to possess such a licence. In order to obtain one, we have to take very stringent tests, involving both the theory component (including, now, extensive technical aspects relating to the mechanics of buses) and the practical component of actually driving the buses - and remember, it's not like a car. The front wheels are normally BEHIND the driver, not in front, as in most cars, and the 'swing area', where the front and rear of the bus swing out to a large area, MUST be taken into account when driving the things! These tests are overseen by the Driver Standards Agency (DSA). They judge us far more harshly than the more 'ordinary' car and bike licence takers, for obvious reasons.

* Secondly, we have regular driving assessments, both overtly, by our own Bus Operating Companies, and covertly, by DSA examiners (who travel as regular passengers on buses). These covert examiners have the power to revoke our licences, on the spot, if they feel that any given bus driver is driving dangerously.

* Lastly, we have to take and maintain a certain level of fitness - I know that this sounds mad, given that a fair few of my colleagues have shapes resembling beach balls, but the medical clearance is called a "group two" clearance. You have the medical when you apply for the licence, then at age 45, and every five years thereafter to age 60, when it's annually, if I recall correctly. You also have to have a re-medical test if you have a serious medical complain, such as, in my case, a heart attack. I'm having mine (the medical fitness test, I mean, not the heart attack, I've already had one of those and I don't intend having another!) in about ten weeks or so, I think. They've yet to tell me, of course.

So, with that out of the way, why am I blathering away about my job?

Simple. Since my heart attack, I've been a passenger on more than my normal share of buses, rather than driving them, and I've had the time to actually pay attention to a lot more road users than I would normally have to in the course of driving - I know this sounds mad, but it's true - driving, you're very concious of the vehicles around you, most especially the ones in front and to the forward side of you, but you're not always paying attention to what the cars you've completely passed are doing; Your main concern is to drive safely, and not hit anything, so anything that doesn't concern you, you don't pay attention to!

So, why this blant? I'm in a strop about a number of you car, cab, and LGV drivers. Allow me to remind you of certain sections of the Highway Code:

Bus Lanes: Rule 120

Bus and tram lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or stop in a tram lane or in a bus lane during its period of operation unless the signs indicate you may do so. If there are NO times shown (as in the illustration to the left), then it's in operation 24/7!

Law: Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 sects 5 & 8

Single-track roads: Rule 133

These are only wide enough for one vehicle. They may have special passing places. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right. Give way to vehicles coming uphill whenever you can. If necessary, reverse until you reach a passing place to let the other vehicle pass.

Now, I've added the italics to this one. remember that like any large vehicle, buses take a while, especially going uphill, to get moving. Once they're moving, it's easy enough to keep going. However, there are many of you out there that, when you see a bloody great vehicle coming, seem to think that you're a bull, and the vehicle is a red flag. WRONG. Be nice. It doesn't take much to slow down, and let us up that narrow road. You'll be helping others (the passenger of the bus, many of whom may be elderly and trying to get to the post office before it closes for the day) as well. Do a good deed for the day - let the bus up that damned hill!

Box Junctions: Rule 150

Box junctions. These have criss-cross yellow lines painted on the road (see Other road markings section). You MUST NOT enter the box until your exit road or lane is clear. However, you may enter the box and wait when you want to turn right, and are only stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right.

Law: Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 1994 reg 10(1)

Bus Stops: Rule 198

Buses, coaches and trams. Give priority to these vehicles when you can do so safely, especially when they signal to pull away from stops. Look out for people getting off a bus or tram and crossing the road.

HINT: The thick yellow line against the kerb is a reminder as well - don't even THINK about parking on a bus stop.

Here's the carrot: You won't get fined if you do not park on a bus stop.
Here's the stick: Buses carry enforcement cameras in London. You even STOP on a bus stop, and a bus comes along, there's a better than even chance that you'll get a fixed penalty notice in the post for stopping there. That's £100 and several points, ladies!

Bus Lanes: Rule 217

DO NOT park your vehicle or trailer on the road where it would endanger, inconvenience or obstruct pedestrians or other road users. For example, do not stop:

* at or near a bus stop or taxi rank

HINT: The thick yellow line against the kerb is a reminder as well - don't even THINK about parking on a bus stop.

Here's the carrot: You won't get fined if you do not park on a bus stop.
Here's the stick: Buses carry enforcement cameras in London. You even STOP on a bus stop, and a bus comes along, there's a better than even chance that you'll get a fixed penalty notice in the post for stopping there. That's £100 and several points, ladies!

Now, why am I telling you all of the above? Easy. Bus operating Companies get fined for being late. Most often, this is due to traffic, like someone parking in a bus stop, right on the edge of a bus stop, or in bus lanes. Think about the size and the position of the wheels of a bus. Yeah, it's a bloody great big thing, and carries a lot of people. However, in order to get close to the kerb at a stop, and parallel to it to allow wheel-chair users off (we have ramps for this, by the way), we NEED to get within six INCHES (15cm) of the kerb. If you're parked right up against the bus stop, the chances are better than even that we won't be ABLE to get near enough to the kerb. Result: More delays. Other results: We block the road at bus stops, because you were inconsiderate enough to block the bloody bus stop.

So, a little care and attention, and a little bleedin' consideration for buses, if you please!

It'll be nice, after all, when I return to work as a driver, to see you all giving bus drivers the consideration we deserve!

Thank you!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

It appears a "Blant" is, in fact, something completely different!

Due to completely idle curiosity, I just did a Google search for "Blant", and found a shedload of Welsh come up. Oh, nuts. Time to find a translation tool.

Altavista (bablefish to you!) couldn't do it, nor could the official Welsh-English translation tool sponsored by the Welsh Assembly and the EU (find it yerself, I'm not about to embarrass them more than this - I've had enough grief off Gaelic types to last me a lifetime - oh sod it, it's the University of Wales at Lampeter!), but eventually found one that could translate "Blant": Here's the translation:

Query Results for "blant"
The legend with the abbreviations and conventions can be found in another file.

plentyn [plant, m.]
(n.) child, infant, kid
(kid) Plentyn is the kid who is a young child.
athro plant
(n.) pedagogue
gwely plentyn
(n.) crib
Gwely plentyn is the crib a baby sleeps in.
plant dan anfantais
(n.) handicapped children
plentyn bach
(n.) babe
plentyn gordderch
(n.) bastard
plentyn hwyrgynnydd
(n.) late developer
ysgol i blant bach
(n.) kindergarten

And here's the linkage, in case you're curious...

So there you have it.

My blog/rant is, in fact, a bastard kindergarten plant (plentyn gordderch ysgol i blant bach)!


Got a Vocational Driving Licence? Then don't have a heart attack.

Now, while I was very much aware that my family has a problem with cholesterol and hereditary heart problems, I wasn't expecting my ticker attack to come much before I was fifty or so. So much for that theory, as you already know (if you don't, try reading from the first blant entry, eh?!).

So. I've had to notify DVLA(DMG) (that's the Driver Vehicle Licencing Centre (Driver Medical Group) at Swansea in Wales), who sent me a massive questionnaire, the only question missing appearing to be relating to inside leg measurements. Now my employer, a national-level bus operating company, has got in on the act. I got hauled in (on my sick leave) to see the depot governor yesterday; they're sending me to see the company doctor, some thirteen miles away from where I live.

This takes the wotsit a bit: I have to drive or take public transport PAST my depot, and then go the same distance again on top of this to get to the surgery where this company doctor operates out of, making it two hours by public transport, or an hour if I drive (which I shouldn't - DVLA say you must leave it a month before driving your car after a heart attack). So, I'm stuck with public transport.

Now normally, this isn't a huge problem, since as a London Bus Driver, I get free travel on the Buses, Tubes, Trams, and 'London Overground' brand trains. However, where they're sending me, there's very little in the way of public transport going past the surgery in question, and according to the TfL journey planner, a ten minute or so walk from the nearest bus stop - presumably at commuter pace, or "QUICK MARCH!" rate; that means I better double the walking time required, to be safe. Wonderful. What are they trying to do, give me another heart attack?!

Add to this, I have to bring all the paperwork I've accrued since my heart attack, including copy letters from the heart specialists at Kings, prescription notes, all my medication, Uncle Tom Cobbly and All.

Am I impressed? Not one bleedin' bit. I wouldn't mind so much if they'd asked me to go to the depot for the company quack to be able to poke and prod me on Monday, but no, they want me to naff off over to south west bleedin' London for said poking and prodding. They really are taking the bodily fluids here, lemme tell you.

What is it about Company Doctors? Are they like Ship's Doctors, one cruise away from a malpractice Suite, or what? Do they not make house (er... Company Premises) calls?

Oh yeah... almost forgot... they want me to fill in yet another bloody medical questionnaire!

Talk about adding insult to injury!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Size Zero Coppers?

This news item caught my attention today... Students show Met uniform designs

Hmm... now this is probably just my completely warped and twisted funny bone speaking (and lets face it, my sense of humour of somewhat round the 'U' bend at best), but a college of fashion designing a coppers' uniform? heh. I can see it now... the next job adverts for the met will note: "Only applications from Size Zero persons who can mince down a catwalk will be entertained"!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

First Blant!

Hi folks :)

OK, for the record, this is a combination online diary and rant, or "blant". Yep, I just made the word up :)

For those of you who don't know me, last week, at the ripe old age of 43, at 01:00 or so on Tuesday 15th January, I had a heart attack. The ambulance crews arrived in 5 mins flat (thanks, guys: You were: Paramedic SE48,
Martin, from Forest Hill Ambulance Station, and Ambulance Crew M401, Sam and Eileen, from Beckenham Ambulance Station - hopefully you've received your thank-you cards through the post by now), and took me to King's College Hospital, where it was ascertained that my Right Coronary Artery (RCA) was blocked. As a result, and following the angiagram that discovered this, I've had an angioplasty, which installed a stent in the affected artery; I'm far from being well, I'll be off work for a while, but I'm alive, if kicking a little feebly right now. I'd also take this opportunity to thank all the Doctors and Staff at King's College Hospital for the effective care and kind treatment they showed not only myself, but all the other patients in the Cath Lab, Cardiac Care Unit and Sam Oram Ward; I've sent you all Thank-you cards, but here's another thanks: Thanks for saving my life, all of you!

The current state of play and ranting is as follows:

I've been signed off work for a month by my doctor; Chances are I'll be climbing the walls with boredom by the time a fortnight is up, let alone a month!

I'm finding out rapidly that eating healthily and a 'want food now' lifestyle do not go hand-in-hand - and the supermarkets tend to push the 'want food now' message with all manner of tasty yet completely unhealthy ready meals; and why is it that the meats we like, such as bacon, ham, and beef, to name but three, are all high in saturated fats?

I HAVE found that none of the supermarkets appear to be really interested in healthy eating - they have a handful of low-fat / diet products in store, compared to the thousands (yes, thousands) of higher fat content lines they stock.

So, does this make Jamie Oliver (a Sainsburys advertising icon at the moment) a hypocrite? Actually, no. he pushes preparing your own food, at the end of the day. While the big chain supermarkets do indeed stock healthier products, they just don't push them as well, as by and large, they aren't as profitable as the low-fat items: it takes more effort to produce low fat products compared to high fat products, thus low-fat is less profitable, as it's generally higher in price to the customer.

Now, I'm a regular Tescos customer; I've got the Clubcard to prove it, too (actually, I've also got a Nectar card, but don't tell Tescos!). However, when I did my first post-heart attack healthy shopping yesterday, I found it damned difficult to find healthy alternatives to my favourite comfort foods, such as chocolate. Yep, Jamie Oliver, and to a more poignant level, my doctor, is probably cringing as I write this (insert evil grin here). Chocolate? Yes, the food of the devil! High in just about everything that's bad for your arteries except salt! Come on, does NO-ONE make a low-fat chocolate bar that's either cheap, easily found on the shop shelves, or even AVAILABLE in the UK?! HILFE!


Image copyright McNeil Healthcare (UK) Limited
Sorry, chocolate withdrawal. Almost as bad as nicotine withdrawal, and ye gods, have you seen how many manufacturers, pharmacists, and so on, are jumping on THAT bandwagon? I've had to give up "the weed" as a result of my ticker attack. No choice, really, if I want to continue meandering this world. As a result, the NHS were kind enough to prescribe Nicorette Inhilators. Helps on two fronts: Gives me something to wean me off the nicotine, and gives my hands something to do with regard to the muscle memory involved in smoking - smokers, it seems, are inveterate fiddlers - that is to say, we do not, it seems, like leaving our hands idly by; we like to have them playing with something when we're bored or at rest, even if we don't realise it. hence the muscle memory thing, and the Inhilators, which are not, by the way, cheap. Nearly twenty quid for a refill pack of 42 'cartridges'. Ye gods. I'm glad I'm getting my next batch on prescription!

Speaking of which. Prescription charges. Seems the NHS like a captive market. So much for universal free healthcare. Yeah, I KNOW I'm probably jumping on a socialist bandwagon here, but bear with me, as I only just figured this out... you have a serious medical incident that requires your immediate transport to the nearest A&E (that's the ER, to our transatlantic friends who might be reading this!). They provide you excellent (well, they did in my case, anyhow!) care and attention, prescribe free meds while you're in their care, but the moment you get out of hospital, you have to 'contribute' to the cost of your meds, that you've already paid for in years and years of direct deducted from source taxation, otherwise known as PAYE (Pay As You Earn) income tax.

There ARE, I will allow, a SMALL number (like eight or so) exemptions from having to pay said prescription charges, but this does NOT include cardiac maladies. I'm now on five regular meds per day, plus the Inhilator and a GTN spray in case of future angina- and/or heart- related emergencies. The five regular meds have to be renewed every month or two - I think that's the case, I've only just been to my Doctor the other day to set up the repeat prescription order there; either way, I will have to pay £6.85 PER ITEM on that prescription; that's 34.25 per month, at worst, making it £411 EVERY YEAR, at worst, for these items that I'll likely as not have to keep taking on a daily basis for the rest of my life.

Erm... can I have a heart attack again, having just discovered the financial cost of my heart attack? Or will that REALLY break the bank?

In all fairness, someone with half a heart in Whitehall has done something at least part way to remedy this: It's called a pre-pay Prescription card. You shell out to the Ministry of Health for these, and if I recall correctly, they're ninety quid per annum; what isn't too clear is if they are per-item, per prescription, or flat-rate on everything prescription-related. Never the less, you still have to pay for the privilege of what you've already paid in income tax for: Another case, I feel, of double taxation.

I mean come ON, you muppits in Westminster: Surely Aneurin Bevan didn't want us to personally pay through the nose for the entirety of our lives when he envisioned a national healthcare service, did he? Of course not - he envisioned that the healthy - I mean wealthy - would pay for the unhealthy, as any good socialist would!

Oh, hang on, I forgot. There aren't any socialists any more. It's "New Labour" (remember to add a cheesy blairite-like gormless all-teeth-and-no-eyes-smile when saying that), isn't it.

So what if I'm a little slow on the uptake at the moment? Sue me - I just had a sodding heart attack!