Tag Archives: concussion

What connects Richard Gere, George Clooney and John Travolta?

There’s a lot of news here in Milan – if only I can remember it

I have a notoriously bad memory.

Last night, I watched some slides taken by a friend whom I met on a trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1989. We also went to Nepal and Tibet together in 1990. I could not remember most of the incidents on the slides.

Apparently, in 1990, we drove by coach from Kathmandu to the Friendship Bridge which marks the border between Nepal and Tibet. For surreal Chinese bureaucratic reasons, we then had to walk unaccompanied over the border for around six or seven miles to link up with our Chinese guides and their coach. I remember none of this. I thought we must have switched coaches at the border.

I could not remember about 75% of the people we travelled with on those trips either – including some bloke I shared a room with for about two weeks

Then there was the photo of the mind-reading parrot in Kathmandu.

I remember nothing of this creature but there it was, captured on film.

Nope. No memory at all.

My eternally-un-named friend has suggested that maybe my memory was affected by the accident I had in 1991 when I hit the back of my head. I have blogged before about how, since then, I am unable to read printed books although, oddly, I can write them on a computer screen.

Maybe that is why.

But my memory has always been bad. I tend to remember trivia but, then, I’m interested in trivia.

The title of the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera translates as The Evening Courier but it is the morning newspaper here. That’s Italy for you.

Yesterday, Corriere Della Sera carried a photo of Richard Gere kissing a woman. Today it has a photo of George Clooney kissing a woman and the caption says they have a special look in their eyes.

There is also a news report about a tunnel which has taken twenty years and 120 million Euros to build but now the authorities are unable to finish it because they can’t afford the tarmac.

And there is a report about the entertaining politician Silvio Berlusconi’s girlfriend who was unable to get to the toilet yesterday because she was surrounded by photographers. It is quite a lengthy report.

Meanwhile, in an interview today in the weekly Italian gossip magazine Oggi (Oggi, of course, means “today” not “weekly”), John Travolta admits the reason he is in “great shape” is due to yoghurt and Scientology.

Now that I might remember.

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Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves’ new movie “Man of Tai Chi” shooting in Beijing

During the night, on the long train trip back to Beijing from Pyongyang, I mention that, since an accident in 1991 in which I was hit by a truck, I have not been able to read books. I can write books, but I cannot read them.

Our English travel agent guide tells me he was recently mugged in the street in Bristol. “They hit me on the back of the head with a baseball bat,” he told me. And roughed me up a bit at the front, too. I have had difficulty reading – and slight speech problems – since then. It’s very frightening when it affects your mind.”

I develop a slight toothache.

As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Yalu River which divides North Korea from China, two smiling strangers (everyone was smiling) separately observed to me how strange it was to feel that entering China was returning to ‘freedom’.

A woman I did not know said to me, smiling: “It’s like a weight has been lifted.”

Somewhere between a station signposted Tanggu and Tianjin city, I noticed there were satellite TV dishes on some of the old, single-storey peasant homes. Not Party buildings, not notable buildings, not in any way rich homes. And occasional clusters of buildings had solar panels on their roofs; possibly communal buildings; impossible to tell.

Then, for mile after mile after mile, a gigantic new elevated road/train track was being built. Make that plural. Over mile upon mile upon continuous mile, new highways, new tower blocks were being built. It is as if the country is building a new city like Milton Keynes every week or a new London Docklands nationwide every few days.

So very different to when I was last here in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

The irony with China is that, in the Cultural Revolution – the Chinese call it the ‘Ten Year Chaos’ – of 1966-1976, the Red Guards wanted to destroy the past, to start from the ‘now’ and build a new society. That now has happened. The irony is that it is not the future they envisaged; it is the future they feared.

Would this giant leap forward have been possible in a country without the unstoppable anti-democratic will and irresistible totalitarian power to push it through? Who knows? But it is an interesting thought/dilemma.

As we arrived at Beijing railway station, someone told me they had seen on BBC World TV that the North Korean satellite launched last week had exploded shortly after launch. Back in North Korea, of course, they will ‘know’ that Satellite 3 was a glorious success and will ‘know’ the giant leaps which their country makes continue to be the envy of the world.

If you live in a self-contained village isolated from all outside knowledge – or, indeed, in The Village in The Prisoner TV series – you know only what you know. There are no known unknowns, only unknown unknowns.

Living standards and social/technological advances are comparative. The North Koreans can see for themselves – they ‘know’ – that their society has advanced in leaps and bounds – from the electricity pylons of the 1980s to – now – mobile telephones and three satellites in space. And they have seen the tributes brought to their leaders by the admiring leaders of other countries.

China – with 7.5% growth per year – is living the advance a stagnant North Korea falsely believes it is making.

In the afternoon, in Beijing, I go into a Bank of China branch. It is in a suburb of the city. The door guard and staff look shocked that a Westerner has wandered into their branch.

I get a ticket to go to the cashier. A recorded message on the loudspeaker tells me when my number – Number 46 – is ready to be dealt with and which cashier to go to. The recorded message is in Chinese… then in English. Like the road signs, the metro signs and many shop signs. It is not just for my benefit. Each customer announcement is made in Chinese… then English.

At the cashier’s desk, facing me, is a little electronic device with three buttons marked in Chinese and in English. By pressing the appropriate button, unseen by the cashier, I can say if her service has been Satisfactory or Average or Dissatisfied.

Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

About half an hour later, near the Novotel and the New World Centre shopping complex, I pass a woman with one eye, begging. Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

Close to a nearby metro entrance, an old grey-haired woman is lying flat on her back, immobile, on the pavement. Beside her, by her head, a middle-aged man, possibly her son, kneels, rocking backwards and forwards, bobbing his head on the pavement, as if in silent Buddhist prayer. A large sheet of paper with Chinese lettering explains their situation. Passers-by drop Yuan notes into a box.

Welcome to China 2012.

At dusk, walking back to my own hotel from a metro station on one of Beijing’s busy, modern ring roads – a 45 minute walk – I see some movie trucks belonging to the China Film Group – dressing rooms, a director’s trailer, equipment vans.

Further along, down a side street, they are shooting second unit photography for a movie called Man of Tai Chi – actor Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut – in an area of grey, old-style, single-storey streets just a 15 second walk off the busy ring road.

In Pyongyang, the North Korean film studios had clearly been doing nothing. But they wanted – they liked – to pretend they have a thriving film industry.

In China, they do.

But they also block Facebook, Twitter and, indeed, this very blog you are reading.

Welcome to China 2012.

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I got virtually no sleep last night

Beware! If you cannot bear hearing medical moans from people, read no further.

I got virtually no sleep last night.

I tried sleeping on the floor; I tried sleeping on the bed.

In a blog earlier this year, I explained why I have been unable to read a book since I got hit by a truck in 1991 when I was standing on a pavement in Borehamwood.

One result of the accident which did not become clear until well after it happened – and, alas, well after compensation was agreed with the insurance company – was that there has been some damage to the base of my spine.

The hospital had X-rayed by shoulder because my collar bone had been broken in two places – ‘pulverised’ was the rather alarming medical word used – but they had not X-rayed my spine.

What seems to have happened is that I was thrown back by the impact of the truck and I fell backwards with my spine fairly straight, then the back of my head hit the edge of a low brick wall maybe six inches off the ground. This meant my head stopped but my spine continued downwards for another six inches before the base of my back hit the pavement, putting some small bones at the bottom of my spine slightly out of alignment.

At least, that is what I understand people now tell me happened.

My osteopath cannot fully rectify the problem as I do not fully relax – I suspect because I am just not used to lying semi-naked, face-down on a bench while a large man leans over me, interlinks his arms with mine and jerks me sharply backwards – I have obviously led too sheltered a life.

Anyway, the damage to my spine rarely shows itself unless I twist my torso in an odd way to stoop down or lift something. I then put the bones slightly out of place and get shooting pains, usually in my left hip, sometimes in my right hip, which make it difficult for me to walk. But this can usually be cured by sleeping on the floor for three nights.

I have no idea why.

If it really bad, it can take a fortnight of sleeping on the floor.

But – with luck – this only happens once every nine months or so.

As the problem mends, the point of pain moves from the inside of my hip (which actually has nothing wrong with it) to the base of my spine (which is where the actual pain problem is).

The last time it happened – maybe six or nine months ago – it was slightly different.

I felt pain shooting along my waist in a line from the base of my spine, then down my left leg to the ankle or, sometimes, to the knee.

People I know who have had sciatica told me:

“That is sciatica.”

I went to my osteopath. He said:

“It is very strange. Every time someone has come to me with sciatica, I have manipulated the feet and it has gone away. I have absolutely no idea why. I am thinking of writing a paper about it.”

He manipulated my feet.

The pain went away.

This time, my lower back has been aching very slightly for a couple of days – it happens if I slouch on a soft sofa seat and is usually cured by sleeping on the floor – and there has been some slight pain along my waist and at the top of my right leg under the buttock (I know – too much information) and in my right hip… and a shooting pain down the side of my right leg which moves around depending on my position.

So, last night – the floor, but no sleep.

On the floor; on the bed; on the floor; on the bed; on the floor.

I could not get a position where there was not a shooting pain. Not horrendous pain; just slight pain. Not an ache; a slight shooting pain. But enough to stop me getting to sleep.

Eight hours.

There is no moral to this blog. No insight into anything.

I just did not have anything to blog about this morning and eight hours of moving your legs and hips about, trying to be comfortable, does not, I found, concentrate the mind.

In some future blog, I may witter on about how I have more confidence in Chinese medicine than in Western medicine – because Western medicine aims to stop or to mask the symptoms quickly whereas Chinese medicine aims to cure the cause of the symptoms.

But, frankly, a quick masking of the symptoms would not go amiss this morning.

Look – it is your own fault – I warned you at the start.

If you cannot bear hearing medical moans from people, read no further.

Tomorrow, normal blogging should be resumed…

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How an Apple iPad could finally cure my concussion and help me forget the embarrassing toilet incidents

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about Jason Cook, who is dyslexic but has written three gangster novels and I mentioned that, since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book – not since I got hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in Borehamwood.

I have written books since 1991, but I am physically unable to read them. Always best not to mention this to a publisher.

In 1981, ten years before the accident, I contributed three chapters to the anthology Anatomy of the Movies (which I have just now looked up on Amazon and copies appear, astonishingly, to be selling for £57.60 upwards; sadly I get none of this).

But, since 1991, I have been unable to read any book, though I have written several.

I have no actual memory of getting hit except I was standing on the pavement at a junction. What I have reconstructed in my mind is that I was rushing down to the post office on Saturday morning to send a friend her birthday card before the final midday collection. At a junction, I stood on the pavement and turned round to see if any traffic was coming. The driver’s cab of a large truck passed me by but the front corner edge of the wider, protruding container behind it hit me on my turned-round shoulder, breaking my collar bone in two places.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I didn’t know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall.

I don’t remember any of that. But, from what I do know, that’s what must have happened.

I do have flashes of memory after that. I remember lying on the ground looking up at a group of people looking down at me; some were kneeling. I remember being in an ambulance and being asked my name and address.

“Ah, you need to write down my details,” I remember saying to an ambulance man.

“No,” he replied. “I’m just checking you know who you are.”

I remember looking at the ceiling while being wheeled along a corridor in Barnet Hospital.

I have only hazy memories. I think I had about ten or twelve stitches in the back of my head, but I can’t remember. I was theoretically in the care of whichever doctor(s) looked after concussion and brain damage; but I was in an orthopedic ward for people who had broken bones because of my collar bone. So the brain doctor upstairs who had responsibility for me didn’t visit that downstairs orthopedic ward because it wasn’t his area and the nurses in the ward I was in were only observing me for the specialist who didn’t come.

I had enough trouble trying to remember if you put the plastic toilet seat up or down when you sat on it. Sitting on the white ceramic of the bowl didn’t seem to quite work and was distractingly cold on the buttocks. And I can tell you the curved edges dig into your bum. I spent a week there. In the hospital, not in the toilet. I was eventually released from the hospital when a very weary and over-worked junior-looking doctor from the ‘mind’ ward came down to the ‘bone’ ward and said I seemed to be OK. He was very kindly but was just about to go home for some much-needed sleep and appeared to me to be in much worse condition than I was. But what did I know?

It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder – but only after I went to a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine not the NHS).

It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion.

I kept thinking I was better but my mind kept draining away for periods. I would come home, sit on the sofa and look at the wall, blankly, unable to think.

To formulate thoughts in my mind, I needed words and the words would not come to my mind nor come together. I could not hold thoughts together. It was like I could feel my nerve-endings or brain strands like little hands reaching out and trying to connect with one another but not quite being able to reach each other. I could almost put the thought together but could not quite reach. My brain was like thin vegetable soup with separate strands of spaghetti floating about like living worms trying but not quite able to touch each other.

When I tried to read a newspaper, I could only read about three lines of the first paragraph before I lost concentration. It was like looking at an object but then your eyes de-focus. I could see the words in newspapers and magazines OK but, after two or three lines, I could not hold their meaning together in my brain.

It was a flash forward to my own inevitable senility.

After a couple of weeks being OK, I would think I was better, but then my mind would go into vegetable soup mode again for two or three days. Then I would think I was better again. Then it would go soupy again. There was no NHS aftercare, of course, because I had been no-one’s specific responsibility. This went on for nine or ten months.

Since then, I can read newspapers and magazines with no problems, but I cannot read printed books.

Too much print. Too much density of words.

Whether it’s a psychological or physical problem I don’t know.

But I CAN write (and read) books on my computer. I think it’s because the amount of text you see at any given time is much less. Somehow this doesn’t flummox my mind the way holding a 300-page book in my hand does.

Since 1991, I have written comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (published 1996)…

I edited the anthology Sit-Down Comedy (2003) which involved commissioning original work from 19 comedians and then badgering them to deliver the stuff; some just delivered perfect manuscripts; some needed suggestions and help; some needed careful editing; it was a bit like juggling meerkats.

I then edited comedian Janey Godley’s utterly amazing autobiography Handstands in the Dark (I can say that because I did not write it and it was justly a top ten bestseller in 2005 and 2006)…

And, in early 2010, I wrote the first 55,000 words of a 70,000 novelisation of the by-anyone’s-standards controversial movie Killer Bitch. The publisher pulled that one two weeks before I finished the manuscript because all the supermarkets and WH Smiths refused to handle the book (despite the fact they had not read any of it). I might still revive/finish that one, though I’m useless without deadlines.

Anyway, I have written and/or edited/proof-read/shepherded all of the above, but I have not read any of the published printed books.

However, I have an Apple iPad with its gob-smackingly beautiful iBook application.

You can make the pages sepia, change the font and size of the text and turn a page with your finger just like a real book. The corner or edge of the page curls over as you move your finger and you see on the back of the previous page the reversed text and illustrations which were on it.

I adore it.

It is a thing of beauty.

And I think I could read a book on it, just as I can read a manuscript on my normal computer.

I have not yet tried a whole book, but I feel the urge coming on.

The Apple iPad could yet save me from illiteracy.

Oh and – yes – I do have trouble reading printed TV and film scripts too.

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