I am having a whinge.

I am feeling sorry for myself, I am going to have a whinge. Whinge, by the way, is not a word according to spellcheck, and yet I grew up with whinge, whinging, and my favourite, whinge-bucket, being widely used terms.  Armed with the rock solid belief that I AM RIGHT, I have turned to the internet for validation, and lo Merriam Webster hath confirmed: whinge is a real word. Merriam Webster has also taught me a few new fabulous words I didn’t know: sialoquent – one who spits while talking;  snotter – a person who breathes, snores or any other form of noisy inhalation and exhalation; and  groak – to stare silently and longingly whilst someone eats in the hope they will share their food. Spellcheck does not recognize any of these either. You know.. this is not the first time spellcheck has sought to undermine my confidence. I suspect it knows my struggle to remember the difference between American and and British spelling and is mocking me. Artificial Intelligence has been here for a while folks.

But back to whingeing.

There I was excited and feeling supercharged for the weekend, and then just as I was going to bed on Friday night, I felt it.. the first warning twinge of a headache. Oh hell no I thought, glugging down water, not on my weekend! But it was too late and I woke up to the irritating pain that starts somewhere on the top right side of my skull, saunters down behind the eye then runs down one side of my nose into the cheek bone and throughout the day progresses into my teeth.  The one that makes you move ultra slowly. Bending down to pick something up becomes tortuous – did you drop 10 dollars on the floor? Bid it a fond farewell and hope it has a happy life because you’re not going to make it down to the floor and back up without your head exploding.  The pills don’t work, water doesn’t work, food doesn’t work, sleep doesn’t work, exercise doesn’t work, aromatherapy doesn’t work, tenting your head over a bowl of steaming water and eucalyptus oil doesn’t work, and yet still I tried them all.

I went to bed on Saturday night hoping that for once it wouldn’t last a second day, woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night thinking, “Bugger, it still hurts.”  Morning came and it still sodding hurts. There’s part of me thinking, “It’s just a headache, it’s not a real problem, it’s not life and death, it’s just an irritant like a dickhead driver not taking turns at the stop sign. Stop being a baby!” But then there’s the other part – which clearly today is winning – that’s whining like an ambulance siren, “But it’s my weeeeeeeeeeeekennnd.  It’s not fair!”

Okay, whingeing time is over.

In other news, I passed by a witchcraft shop the other day (witchcraft in Burbank, it seems ever so slightly out of place, like rodeo riding on the lawn of the White House.  There’s space for it but it’s not what you expected to see) the sort of shop you never notice when you’re driving, but on foot you think, “Hmmmmn… that’s looks intriguing, I’ll just pop in for five minutes.”  I ended up spending an hour and a half in there because it took all of ooh, 90 seconds, for the proprietor and I to start talking politics and gun control, and then I end up hearing a substantial part of his life story which turned out to be fascinating, and I do find people very interesting.   Turns out, this chap worked in security for more than a decade, and owns several guns. He was able to explain in intricate detail how much damage can be done with a semiautomatic hand gun and an AR 15 (the same apparently, but people buy ARs because they look more menacing. I don’t have a clue about any of this, all guns look menacing to me. I’m very intimidated by police officers carrying guns in the USA, by contrast the truncheon carrying police in the UK always seemed quite approachable).

Yet he is also a cross-dressing, liberal minded, Democratic witch, Europhile, fully supportive of gun reform.

Fascinating right? Next time I shall take a flask of tea and a pack of Hobnobs with me.



Did anyone else completely miss that the 5 star Ritz Carlton in Saudi Arabia has been temporarily used as a prison in recent months? True story! The opulent rooms have been used as short term holding cells for rich people arrested for white collar crimes…. so a luxury gaol, not a prison, if we’re going to picky about it.

Apparently since November approximately 200 people (business executives, government officials, some princes) have been detained as part of an anti-corruption sweep to combat the some 100 billion dollars that have been embezzled in the last few decades. Generally those accused are released after paying a settlement, and there are some folk are saying this isn’t stamping out corruption, this is the Crown Prince consolidating his power base.

I wonder how the Saudi people feel about this, the average Joes who aren’t in the economic strata of those who have access to billions to embezzle. Are they pleased that this corruption is being publicly exposed?  Or are they irritated by the double standards? Saudi Arabia has an extremely low crime rate compared to other wealthy countries because the punishments meted out are severe, last year approximately 150 people were executed and beheading is not uncommon for those convicted of theft. Yet here are 200 people who get to stay in a five star hotel for a few weeks (the same one incidentally that Trump stayed in last May), pay a fine, and then go back to their insanely wealthy lives. Might the Saudi Arabians feel that their judicial system is being mocked and manipulated by those in power?

If they do, they are certainly not alone. Take a look at the world throughout history, shock horror, the rich receiving preferential treatment in the judicial system is nothing new. It does feel a teensy bit though that as the crimes of the world’s wealthiest 1% are in the megawatt spotlight that the internet has provided, the 1% is moving on from not only brazenly denying its crimes, to audaciously flaunting them. From dumb coquettish mug shots of starlets, to rich boys getting ridiculously lenient rape sentences, Wall Street bankers getting away with bringing financial ruin to millions, to world leaders unashamedly lying in the face of hard evidence, the elite are rubbing it in our faces all the time that some animals are more equal than others.

From Cupid to, “Oh dear, that was stupid”.

I fell for a social security scam last week. Basically handed over all my details in a gift box with a nice bow. I was trying to find a short-term sublet and got so excited about one in particular that I didn’t even notice the elf in the background jumping up and down waving red flags in both hands.

Should you ever find yourself in that position where you’re slamming your face into your palm, “Oh hell – really? Did I really?  Oh I did, didn’t I?  Yes, yes I did. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhh….”  Here’s what you do next.

  • Don’t beat yourself up. Tell yourself that optimistic, trusting nature of yours has some perks too.
  • Check your credit report – this is not the same as your credit score, this tells you who has applied for credit in your name – with one of the three major credit report people. Then check it again at the four and eight month mark with the other two credit report firms.
  • Put a temporary 3 month fraud alert on your social security number.
  • Call the FTC and tell them what happened (even if you only suspect that you’ve fallen for a scam).
  • Make a social security online account so you can check activity whenever you want.
  • Have a drink and something nice to eat, hang out with some friends, see a movie. Rinse and repeat. It helps.


I am Cupid.

Sunday morning I decide to go for a nice bike ride to the park, have a jog round there, play on some of the exercise thingies that LA parks have.  How pleasant, how energetic, how much pain am I in right now!

Anyhoo, I do the scary cycle of potential fatality along the main roads, and when I get to the park I hop up onto the pavement/ sidewalk whatever you want to call it in these days of transatlantic travel, that runs alongside the grass at the park. Two tiny dogs come sprinting across the lawn towards me, noisily attempting to  challenge my bike wheels to a fight. The bike is a pacifist but it is also 30 times the size of these little yappy scraps so I come to a stop. The owner, does that thing where she says, “Oh stop now,” to the dogs, but in a soothing baby voice that I suspects she also uses for, “Gosh aren’t you the cutest, let me get you a treat for what you’re doing right now.” But .. whatever, there’s a million different ways to be a parent. My heart gets a little jittery because, well, I don’t want to kill someone’s dog, I share the bike’s ethics.

Five seconds later, the same thing happens again but this time with a smallish medium dog that’s on a leash, standing on the grass with its two owners. The dog does the jumping-whilst-frenziedly-barking thing that makes me think dogs must have inherently tough necks to strain and lurch against a leash like that. I was startled so I said, “Geez” which is impressively PG rated for me. Normally anything that alarms me is accompanied by an automatic, “Agh fuck!” Anyway this owner, is not that bothered about the dog, but does take umbrage at my geezing, and yells at me that I shouldn’t be on the sidewalk. I can see why she was bristly about it. It probably sounded like a criticism, and she is not to know that I have had multiple experiences with being attacked/chased by dogs that want to remove my jugular with their teeth, and as a consequence I am fucking terrified of all things canine.

With all that in mind, I cycle on my way, calling out to her, “I only said ‘Geez’ because I was scared by your dog, and you’re right I shouldn’t be on the sidewalk, I’m sorry,” She started yelling at me again, when I got to about the word ‘scared’, which is a pet peeve of mine, people not listening, so I added a snarky little “You’re right. Hope that makes you feel good.” At which point her husband joins in yelling at me, and calling me some names as well.

This little episode irks me, I offered up an explanation, and an apology, and I got yelled at and called names. There seem to be quite a few folks around who care more about letting everybody know they are in the right, than they do about not being a dick. So I’m angry, and shaking because I’m angry, which by the way is a really stupid response to extreme emotion, don’t you think?  Trembling is a crappy survival skill. Bursting into flame might be more useful.  But if you’ve got some anthropology knowledge that explains it, I’d love to hear it please, because it does irk me that my body lets me down in this way – crying when I’m frustrated too, why does that happen? I’m not in pain, I’m pissed off, tears aren’t helpful in that moment!

Anyway, I trundle round the park to get rid of the shaking.  And I have stern conversations with my amygdala about perspective and empathy, but some imaginary quarrels with this couple keep creeping in as well – bad brain, behave! But, by the time I ride home I’ve convinced myself that they are going through a really rough time in their lives, either someone’s very ill, or they actually just hate each other and are unhappy. I share this idea with a friend of mine later who says, “Not only are they unhappy, but the only joy they find in each other is when they unite to hate someone else. Why gosh, yelling at you was probably foreplay for them, and they went home and had angry we-hate-someone-together sex. With the dog barking insanely in the background.  You did that! You made that happen!”

Which made me feel pretty good! Check me out, I am Cupid for the bitter people in the world who got to sleep every night fantasizing about how to get away with domestic murder.

But I did wonder what it sound like if the couple were retelling the story from their point of view. I’m sure I would cut a much more aggressive and dangerous figure in their story, maybe one who swerved deliberately towards them with fire in her eyes and little swords whirling from her bicycle spokes. Certainly my snarky, “Hope you feel good” would be made much of.. although they may not have heard it because they both had marvelously operatic voices. But if they were retelling it faithfully with the exact words would any one of their audience say, or think, “So hold on, she said she was scared, then she said you were right, and she said sorry… and you called her names after that? I think you may have missed the shortlist for the Nobel Peace prize this year.”


Rambling thoughts on shootings.. so, you know, happy Friday.

There was a school shooting in Los Angeles yesterday. These have become so common in the USA that it didn’t make big headlines. The shooter was a 12 year old girl who shot a couple of classmates, and a teacher with a semi-automatic. No-one died, even though one boy got shot in the temple. The reports from the hospital say he hasn’t suffered serious damage which is incredible, and has left me feeling very appreciative of my skull. The opinion at the moment was that this was accidental, that the girl had brought the gun into school to show people, not to go on a premeditated shooting spree.

We’ve gotten so used to hearing about kids getting hold of guns with tragic consequences that it’s not shocking anymore and therefore not the biggest story in the news. We’ve actually accepted it as part of our culture. One of the students at the school said that they [the school authorities] used to do pat-downs and bag checks, and that they need to do more of them. That there is a scary statement.  Random weapons checks in schools were introduced in LA in 1993, school shootings are by no means a new problem. Children have been shooting each other for decades, and yet the only solutions that have been put in place are the equivalent of putting band aids on an amputated leg: metal detectors; random searches; harsher laws about securing your gun within the home; armed security. We have become so used to children using guns, and we have become so acclimatized to unnecessary tragedy, that we’ve given up on the most obvious solution – stop letting everyone own a gun – and decided that it’s too difficult, accepting mass shootings as par for the course.

In social media feeds you’ll find mention of UK and Australia where mass shootings or schools shootings led to an immediate criminalization of the majority of gun ownership, and tada! Less people shot dead. One of the reasons this has worked well in those countries is that the law was changed quickly. Shocking tragedy promotes swift united action, and the united bit is especially important because in these circumstances, despite the global tendency of politicians to use matters of national importance as their personal game of tiddly winks, opposing parties united and voted overwhelmingly to get rid of  guns.

That’s not going to happen in the USA. Republicans have a win-at-all-costs-screw-the-country mentality, and the Democrats can’t figure out how to unite either the parties or the people. That debilitating breakdown in cooperation combined with the fact that there have been so, SO many fatalities from shootings, means that we’ve come to view a gun-less, shooting-less society as a futile dream akin to living in a California without earthquakes and wildfires, or a Florida without hurricanes. That’s just dumb isn’t it? The number of gun fatalities is a human engineered problem, it is not an integral planetary occurrence. There is a solution available and we’re failing miserably to implement it.

The conversation between people who want to own guns, and people who don’t want to own guns – now that is futile.  You don’t get resolution between two parties who are saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong. We’re going to do things my way.” But it’s also not a situation where there’s a huge amount of compromise. You can restrict to certain careers; you can limit gun access to the general public to a firing range; you can restrict the type of weapons available… but you can’t possess half a firearm, that’s just a pipe.

Whilst there’s scant wiggle room for compromise, there is room for grace. I think, in my not humble at all opinion, we need to acknowledge that if gun ownership was made illegal that gun owners would indeed be making a big sacrifice. We’re asking them to give up something that is feasibly integral to their identity. Imagine if you were asked to give up your …painting, playing music, drinking, your beloved car, your motorcycle collection, have your tattoos removed. You’d be pissed off and think it was unfair.  Granted you don’t hear many death-by-paintbrush stories, but that’s kind of the point – the majority of gun owners won’t kill someone, but accidents do happen, guns can fall into the wrong hands, it is easy to get hold of a gun, and guns are designed to kill. Hence with tighter gun control, gun owners would be the only ones asked to make a sacrifice… not those pesky oil painters and violinists. But gun enthusiasts love their hobby just as much as the next model railway fan, so maybe it’s time to admit that and say, “Yep, we want to take something away from you that you really like, and we’re not taking things away from other people so that must feel horribly unfair. But your sacrifice is going to save a lot of lives, and it’s the only one that can truly change things. The person giving up the home made brewing kit in the garage, or the one who declares they’ll never watch Netflix again… not having much of an impact on gun related fatalities. But you… you can make a difference.”

Caro Emerald

Ooooh, I’ve found a new musician to love.  Finding a new singer/ band/ random-bloke-with-a-harmonica,  who can fire up the part of your brain that over rides all the pressing little thoughts that normally consume you (hello tax bills, relationship issues, job gripes, financial woes, niggling health concerns), is utterly intoxicating! Like that first sip of a strong drink when you’re craving it; or the sun shining on your face when you’re cycling along a smooth empty path; or losing yourself in a perfect first kiss. Yep, the consensus is music is good.

In fact now I think about it, listening to certain types of music should be prescribed for the temporary alleviation of depression. You could cater the music to the individual, it’s free, and there’s no issue with addiction…  although it may cause some friction with the neighbours. There has actually been stacks of research done on this over many decades. Music can put our brains into a mind-wandering mode which boosts creativity or relaxes us, and we feel empathy with music so it can affect our mood.  Typically anything with 50-80 beats a minute is uplifting and puts us in a positive frame of mind for short periods of time.. I do think it should be prescribed though, depression puts us into a state of inertia and people become less and less likely to make time to do things that will improve their depression without a direct order from a medical professional. Same thing as when you’re recovering from a musculoskeletal problem and you won’t exercise unless the physiotherapist gives you a little piece of paper full of diagrams telling you what you have to do each day. “I must do it now because an official person has given me an order!”

Anyway, back to the new musician. Her name is Caro Emerald, and I’ve been listening to her album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor. It’s quite the sassy blend of jazz, blues, swing , funk all brought together with a voice that promises an evening of heady decadence. Brit friends, she’s touring the UK in Autumn and playing in Cardiff on October 24th. Enjoy! https://www.caroemerald.com/music/

There’s a place for stories in medicine.

It’s Relay for Life season again, cancer is very much a prevalent topic of conversation.  And after a boozy night a few weeks ago with someone who’d had most of the booze and felt the need to the be the voice of doom and gloom, I started thinking about survivor stories… because I tend to ignore voices of doom and gloom.

Anyhoo, this is where I ended up. A cancer diagnosis at the doctor’s office is normally followed by an internet search at home. Depending on what type of cancer it is, that internet search can be reassuring or it can necessitate a crate of Kleenex.  Here’s a thought, those pages that ruin everything for you and make you feel like there is no chance, should come with links to survivor stories. When you read the statistics for the gnarly forms of cancer, it robs you of the belief that you can survive, which only further damages you. There is much to be said for being prepared for the worst, but believing you can achieve the best is more helpful. When you read the survivor stories there is comfort to be found there, and they’re basically the antidote to the websites that give you lots of useful, objective information and thoroughly depress you with talk about rates and statistics.  The survivor stories are especially uplifting because they’re not necessarily about people who’ve got all the money in the world, but more about people who’ve had similar treatment to everyone else and there they are 5, 10, 15, 20 years later, going for their regular MRIs, and experiencing life and all the ups and downs it brings.  It makes you ask, if they could have that experience, why not you?