Category Archives: 1 – Writing & translation

Includes posts from “Disjointed ramblings”. Literature committed by myself and others, plus translation work.

Two lovely black eyes…

There’s nothing more irritating than listening to Auntie May rambling on about her operation for varicose veins or Uncle George loudly regaling everyone in the pub with the details of his hemorrhoid removal.


Intubating lachrymal ducts. This one’s a bit on the obscure side, so I thought some of you lot might find it of interest. It contains no gruesome or salacious details. Sorry.

About 20 years ago, when I was in my late 30s, I started to get a bit weepy. We originally put it down to depression, with one doc pointing out that “we all get more emotional with age”. Age? By the time that remark was made I was in my mid-to-late 40s and the teariness was occasionally embarrassing me at moments entirely devoid of emotion. By the time I hit 54, I dreaded going out in cold weather or strong winds and this winter I frequently found myself literally blinded by tears while walking in the street: bloody dangerous, especially at night.

Finally, when I realised that even bending over to pick up the cat was bringing on floods of tears, a great cry of “Fuck this, I’m going to see the doctor” was heard in the land.

My GP, who’s a good bloke, if occasionally sadistic, burst out laughing. “Sounds like a blocked tear duct. You need to see an ophthalmologist. They put a little tube in to open it up again.” Sounds delightful.

The ophthalmologist shone lights in my eyes, put coloured drops in them and went “Hmm” a lot, in between telling me about her endocrine problems and how she’d always been terrible at endocrinology. Yes, yes, it’s a funny life innit. What happens now? Well, first of all: lots and lots of different eye drops. Yay. And have the op. Bugger.

I need to see this specialist surgeon who’ll insert the little tubes. Oh, great. I bet he’s in the centre of town where parking costs a fortune, if you can find a spot. He is. He pokes and squirts things into my tear ducts. I object to inhaling saline solution. I object even more to his trying to squirt it into the right eye duct: it’s completely blocked, worse than the Paris ring roads during the rush hour (this is any time other than 3 a.m. as far as I can tell). He tells me about the tubes: nunchaku stents, he calls them. I am not encouraged. This is going to happen, he says, but the good news is that it’s an outpatient job, fully covered by my State health insurance,  and there will be local anaesthetic. The secretary will fix it all up.

The next step is the obligatory pre-op meeting with an anaesthetist, a funny wee man who explains that a very brief part of the intervention will be under general anaesthetic: not enough to expect blood pressure problems afterwards, but enough to require someone to accompany me home. This comes as a relief, since I’d been wondering how the hell you can suppress the reflex to remove your face from the immediate proximity of someone trying to force a very fine piece of tubing into a refractory eyelid. I am much happier.

The great day dawns, and with it comes a bus strike. Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. On Twitter one of my mates, self-employed and carless – because who needs a car in a city with a modern public transport system? – is raging that it’s costing him money. Me, I’m going to have to leave the car at a Metro Park & Ride and just hope I can pick it up again in a day or two, before the MoT runs out and I get done for it. For this reason I arrive sweaty, sweary and a little late at the clinic.

Ah, cool sheets, hospital jimjams and pretty nurses bearing Xanax. Gimmee. I get wheeled down to the operating theatre. Bereft of my specs, I can nevertheless deduce that the stretcher bearers, though lovely lads, are nothing like as shapely as the nurse. The profession has clearly gone downhill since last I watched House MD. The duty anaesthetist is waiting to insert the catheter in my arm. He forces a bit against a valve in the vein. I say a word.

“Steady on,” he objects. I explain I need to vocalise. “Hmf”

I am wheeled into the tiny operating theatre, where we all look complete nanas with our standard-issue surgical hairnets. The surgeon checks the file, announces he’s doing both eyes (oh shit) and does a quick recap. The only thing I’ll feel will be the local anaesthetic, he assures me. The gas doc, fearing for his eardrums, takes this as his cue to slam the pentothal into the catheter and down I go.

I come to while still in the operating theatre and the big rectangular light over us somehow prompts my groggy brain to dream I’m live-tweeting all this. I’m not sure in which language I told the surgeon about it, but he laughs and shrugs anyway. After the obligatory post-op surveillance period, I’m sent back up to my room and I text for Teacup 1 to come and fetch me. She’s already on her way.

Eyes are irritated and puffy. Well, they would be. I get to the mirror and see the bruising is nothing like as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m impressed: the right-hand tear duct was completely blocked, remember. The irritation is not much worse than what you’d get when wearing contact lenses for the first time. Close inspection shows little black dots at the inner corner of each eye. So the stents go in both the upper and lower eyelids. No bloody wonder it feels like I’ve been sleeping with contact lenses in.

Teacup 1 deals with the paperwork to get me out of there, as I’m still dopey from the op. The local anaesthetic hasn’t yet worn off and my nose and upper jaw are completely frozen. Pity I hadn’t got any dental work planned, we could have done it on the same jab. One thing they forgot to warn me about: remember to take a pair of sunglasses with you as irritated eyes can’t take too much light. You’ll probably need them when going outside for the next 2 or 3 days.

Two weeks later, bruising and swelling are gone, the irritation as well. I still feel as if I’m wearing contact lens, but these are contact lenses I’m used to. Still having to take several different types of eye drop, but only for the next 3 months. The overflowing tears have stopped.

The stents come out on 8th July as part of an ordinary consultation. I have been told I’ll be allowed to “express myself, should I feel the need.” We shall see.


UPDATE: It was all painless. Sorry.


Francine Prose makes a Charlie of herself

This morning, I discovered the Grauniad was running a blog post in their Comment is free section, entitled I admire Charlie Hebdo’s courage. But it does not deserve a PEN award. It is signed by somebody rejoicing in the moniker of Francine Prose. Yeah, I thought so too, but apparently it’s her real name. As far as I can tell, her forte is writing constipated verbiage reminiscent of the more indigestible 20th century French authors… and indeed, she won a prize for translating Marguerite Duras’s L’amant in 1988. However, whatever her writing talents, we glean from this that her understanding of written French is considered to be pretty hot.

The subheader to her post is:

The award is for writers and journalists who tell us the truth about the world in which we live, not drawing rude caricatures and mocking religion.

Where to start? For somebody who is supposed to be a high-flying professional wordsmith, she shows abysmal lack of understanding of what constitutes satire. For someone who is supposed to be bilingual, she displays appalling ignorance of French culture. Needless to say, she also exhibits all the characteristics of never having read a single copy of Charlie Hebdo in her puff.

Most of her Guardian piece is taken up with a list of names that she would have preferred to win. On this subject, Ms Prose, neither Chelsea Manning nor Edward Snowden have ever been journalists. Their inclusion is a red herring, no doubt to try and give your own complaint more apparent validity. It’s also a pity that you go on and further scuttle yourself with moronic pronouncements like this:

But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government. Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live.

Yes, dear: satire is one way of presenting things that need to be said, and Charlie Hebdo is one of those rare publications – like Private Eye –  that report stories not covered by the mainstream media. Incidentally, governments can’t fight terrorism if they’re being undermined by simpering idiots who fixate on a couple of cartoons and parrot the “oh noes, we mustn’t upset the [insert religious group here]” bollocks. Fighting terrorism is a group effort. Don’t whine that it’s the government’s job and wash your hands of it.

If journalism’s job excludes denouncing terrorism, racism, or religious bullying, then what’s left? Surely, surely, this can’t be  an enormous case of snit on the part of Ms Prose simply because Charlie Hebdo often expresses itself in a far earthier manner than her own middle-class, white heroes?

I have looked upon Charlie Hebdo – I’m a subscriber – and found it amazingly well written. Prose that would not disgrace a prizewinning novel (we begin to see the origins of Francine’s sour grapery) describes the misery of a Rom camp wandering from eviction to eviction, unable even to get a decent burial for their dead. The current edition contains an extract from an essay by Charb which neatly nails Ms Prose and her ilk, making the point that those who say “islamophobia”, when the real problem is racism, are abetting the racists. It’s a 2-page spread, beautifully argued and eminently readable, whether or not you agree with the conclusions.

The final paragraph of Prose’s monumental hissy fit begins:

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists…

White Europeans like Mustapha Ourrad and Ahmed Merabet? Straight guys like Stéphane Charbonnier, aka Charb? Monuments of the patriarchy like Elsa Cayat?

White Europeans like the nice chap who picked up my dropped copy of Charlie in the Metro last week and handed it back to me with a huge, conspiratorial Senegalese wink?

Bitch puh-leeze.