Books of choice

Books on my desk at work.

One of my friends, Kenny, always teases me that no matter where I go my desk always looks the same; in other words, it is always laid out the same way. And he’s right, but there’s a good reason for that: it works for me.

One of the parts of that system-that-works-for-me is a small collection of reference books that I always have to hand. At home they are on a shelf next to me, at work they are on my enormous desk.

At the moment these are my reference books of choice:

  • TerminalFour SiteManager userguides (TerminalFour)
  • Web design style guide (Me!)
  • Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, Meyer (O’Reilly)
  • HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, Musciano & Kennedy (O’Reilly)
  • JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, Flannagan (O’Reilly)
  • PPK on JavaScript, Koch (New Riders)
  • Pro JavaScript Techniques, Resig (Apress)
  • Practical Thinking, Edward de Bono (University library book)
  • Celebrating Common Prayer, Society of St Francis
  • CSS Pocket Reference, Meyer (O’Reilly)
  • HTML & XHTML Pocket Reference, Niederst Robbins (O’Reilly)
  • JavaScript Pocket Reference, Flanagan (O’Reilly)
  • PHP Pocket Reference, Lerdorf (O’Reilly)
  • SQL Pocket Guide, Gennick (O’Reilly)

At the moment the least used of these are the SQL and PHP Pocket Reference guides, and the most used are the Definitive Guides for XHTML and CSS, and since I’m debugging code for a website launch Celebrating Common Prayer is also getting a look in once or twice!

My close-at-hand collection of books at home is completely different:

A shelf of books at home.

Mostly Scottish Episcopal Church books — Code of Canons, liturgy, and the Red Book (contacts) — a bible (NRSV) and Revised Common Lectionary, an English dictionary and thesaurus, a copy of Getting Things Done and two copies of the Visual Quickstart Guide for WordPress 2.

So now you know! What are your close-at-hand books of choice?

No water

Tap running water

This evening our water went off. Seemingly Scottish Water are doing essential maintenance in the area and the supply will be off from 19:00 this evening until 04:00 tomorrow.

Which is a real shame as I had to cancel the first annual “Anstruther Cleanest Car and Wet T-shirt Competition” that was scheduled for this evening. You should have seen the disappointed looks on everyone’s faces.

Every other time, in every other house I’ve lived in, it’s not mattered that the water has gone off. We just have to be prudent and only use small amounts of water so that the storage tank in the attic doesn’t drain too quickly. I assumed that it would be the same here.

However, this house doesn’t have a water storage tank in the attic. Or water coming out of the taps.

Still, necessity is the mother of invention. I’m off now to have a bath in a cocktail of milk, bubble bath, squash concentrate, the water from vases and vinegar. I bet Jane is glad that she’s staying at her Mum and Dad’s (hydrated) house this evening.

Rest in peace Nana

White cross against a blue sky

At the weekend my Mum phoned to tell me that my paternal grandmother — whom we called ‘Nana’ — had died. She’d been ill for some time, and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the news of the death of a family member is always a sad time. Mum was in tears as she spoke on the telephone.

A conversation at work on Tuesday:

Gareth: My grandmother died at the weekend.

Colleague: Oh, I’m sorry.

Gareth: Thanks. Do you think I could get off for the funeral?

Colleague: I would imagine so.

Gareth: Great! It’s in Australia.

I’m not going, of course, but we have been invited to send our condolences via the magic of e-mail. My brother sent me an e-mail which began “Is there anything (appropriate) you would like said at Nana’s funeral?” It’s nice that he felt that he had to qualify it with the word “appropriate”. Actually, knowing me, I’m glad he did.

The thing is, writing something like that is hard at the best of times but I’m finding it all the harder given that I only ever met my Nana on — as far as I can recall — three occasions: once in the late-70s (1978? 1979?) when she came to visit; once at my Dad’s cousin Ruth’s wedding in the early 80s; and the last time was in the mid-80s (1985 or 1986?) not that long after Dad had initially recovered from his triple brain haemorrhage. So the last time I saw her was maybe about 22 years ago.

Nana and her new husband Arthur — my grandfather had died when my Dad was in his late teens or early twenties — moved to New Zealand in October 1971, a month before I was born. They returned to live in England for a couple of years in the early 80s, which was why we could see them at the time of Ruth’s wedding, but decided that the UK was too expensive so moved to Australia to be closer to her other siblings there.

My brother was able to visit her in 1998 when he went to his friend Phil’s wedding. I had hoped to see her in 1992 when the National Youth Choir was touring Oz, but last minute plans meant that we didn’t go near Melbourne or Victoria, which would have made such a meeting possible.

So, what to write …? She was my father’s mother, my grandmother, and as such I loved her, it’s just I wish I’d got the chance to know her a bit more. May light perpetual shine upon you Nana. I hope you and Dad are having a party!

Postcard from Tom, Orkney 1986

The front

Postcard with writing.
The back

Back in the day, I had friends who sent me postcards. These days they either e-mail, send an expensive text, or we just chat as usual via Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger). This week’s archive postcard is from Chomas, a friend of mine from school days.

Before you read the text of the postcard, you may be interested to know that Tom was the chap that I ran over on my bike somewhere between Arisaig and Mallaig. It was his fault, he’d clumsily hit a “passing place” on the single-track road while looking at his chainset. It was making a funny noise, seemingly. But not as funny a noise as him hitting a hillock at 20 mph, coming off his bike and landing on the road right in front of me.

What could I do? I hit him, of course!

To cut a long story short, his brother delivered a replacement bike that evening and took me home, with big holes in my hands, knees and hips. It was like stigmata but in the wrong places and less holy.

I’ve a feeling that this was a holiday he took shortly after that dramatic tour; I may be completely wrong.

Dear Gareth,

Having a wonderful wet holiday here in Orkney. We’ve visited quite a few of the ancient neolithic sites, gone around some of the other islands, done some cycling (with difficulty ‘cos I bent the crank on my 4-day-old chainset in a slight accident) played some golf in the rain, and gone for some cliff walks in the rain.

I’ve also done some fishing. I managed to hook and land myself a terrible 4 day cold (ever heard of it) which is just starting to subside now thanks to the help of a few (hundred) tissues.


What I think he meant was: wish you were here!

Like flossing with barbed wire

Barbed wire

Certificate 15This blog post contains the words “penis”, “urine”, “urethra”, and the phrase “Get that ****ing tube out of my **** you ****ing ***** of Satan!”

Author’s note: Please feel free to laugh at any or all of the following post. I wouldn’t have shared it with you if I didn’t think that you would have a good laugh at my expense!

Getting there

Well, today was the day that my parcel of doom warned me about. This morning I had my flexible cystoscopy.

Despite the lack of signage (apart from one tiny sign, in 18pt text sellotaped to a wall) I got to the Diagnostic Centre with about five minutes to spare … just as the nurses were all disappearing into a side room for their 09:00 hobbit-like second breakfast. The diagnostic centre turned out to be four chairs in a corridor.

At 09:15 I was invited into a dressing room and instructed to strip off and when ready enter the next room wearing only a hospital gown, my dressing gown (Debenham’s finest … about 10 years ago), and my shoes. My blood pressure was taken and sky high (121/101).

I may have been a little anxious.

Corrections to the leaflet

It occurred to me fairly early on in the procedure that whoever wrote that cheery little leaflet Having a Flexible Cystoscopy — a guide to the test that was sent to me, had never in fact ever had a flexible cystoscopy themselves.

In the paragraph “Why Flexible Cystoscopy?” it reads

The flexible cystoscope adjusts itself to fit the curving male urethra. This allows it to pass painlessly, avoiding the need for a general anaesthetic. The examination can be done with the patient lying flat, in a comfortable position.

Let me get the easy bit out of the way first. It’s clear that the last sentence wasn’t describing someone who is 6′ 4″, as my feet hung off the end of the table making for somewhat of a less comfortable position. At least that helped me take my mind off the “painless” insertion of the cystoscope.

Painless … apparently

Painless?! PAINLESS??! Who are they kidding?!! It felt like they were flossing my urethra with barbed wire. That had first been seasoned with salt. And vinegar.

Oh my word! I’ve never felt such pain, and I have quite a high pain-threshold. I honestly thought that I was going to pass out. Not that the nurse supposedly attending to me would have noticed, she was too busy gossiping with her friend, whose job it appeared was to hang onto a drip stand.

Why such pain? Surely they were going to administer a local anaesthetic. Doesn’t it say so in The Magic Leaflet of Spurious Facts? Indeed it does:

Although you do not need a general anaesthetic for flexible cystoscopy, the urethra needs to be prepared with anaesthetic jelly, this being squeezed gently into it from a tube or syringe. The jelly numbs the urethra and lubricates it. It may also contain an antiseptic.

It may also contain acid! A special type of freezing acid developed for the military. And hospitals.

“Hmm, that’s an unpleasant sensation I’ve never experienced before,” I said when asked by the nurse doing the procedure how I was doing.


I like jelly … but not this sort!

The local anaesthetic jelly takes at least five minutes to work — men may be asked to stop the jelly escaping after it goes in by gently squeezing the tip of the penis for a minute or so.

When the jelly has had time to work, it is time for the flexible cystoscopy.

If I may offer a few corrections to that paragraph, from my experience today.

The local anaesthetic jelly takes at least five minutes to work … but the nursing staff will likely wait about 5 seconds before getting stuck in with their instruments of torture. Nurses may be asked to stop the patient escaping after it goes in by gently squeezing the tip of his penis for a minute or so.

Long before the jelly has had time to work, it is time for the flexible cystoscopy. Mwahahahaha!

Momentary stinging

Men may be asked by the doctor to try and pass urine when the instrument reaches the sphincter below the prostate gland. In trying to pass urine the sphincter naturally relaxes and the cystoscope can pass through more easily … There may be a momentary stinging as the sphincter opens.

Yeah, there was a momentary stinging sensation. That moment lasted for … ooh, about three hours!

What are the after-effects?

Most patients have no trouble after a flexible cystoscopy. A mild burning on passing urine usually gets better after a day or so …

A day or so?! What a pisser!


It turns out that there was nothing wrong with my bladder. Other than, of course, that it had more of an audience than usual, and a dirty great camera poking into it through a tube! I’ve to have a scan in a month or so — something nice and non-invasive — otherwise I’ll just have to keep taking the drugs.

My BP afterwards was a more healthy 134/90. I got dressed and waddled back to the car thanking God that National Genital Mutilation Tuesday was over for another year and that I can get back to normal life, and normal blog posts about weird websites and geeky tips.