So, how does she smell?

As you may know, I am the servant of a small, anarchic cat who costs me a fortune and generally attempts to add unhappiness and sleep deprivation to my life at every possible opportunity. My arms are covered with the marks of her displeasure. My bin is filled with the dinners she has refused to eat. She has spent her 19 years upon this earth firmly making a paw shaped dent in my forehead and I love her for it.

I don’t mind that she sits on the chair adjacent to mine at breakfast. Nor do I mind the insistent paw tapping me until she gets some butter to lick (but only from a finger, it doesn’t taste as good on a plate). I don’t mind her newly formed habit of sleeping on the doormat. I don’t even mind arriving home in the middle of a monsoon and spending ten minutes trying to wake her up through the glass so I can open the front door and get out of the wet. She is precious to me so I put up with these things.
It is somewhat troubling then, that over the last week she has gone from inhaling four packets of dinner a day to applying a cursory lick to whatever she is offered before wandering back to her doormat.

At first, we assumed she was being pernickety. Ever since she had her eyeball removed in the spring, she has developed a fondness for fish flavoured dinners; something she wouldn’t touch with a bargepole before. She became especially partial to the sardine Oh So Fishy meals which, being summer, we are all enormously grateful for, as you can imagine. Then, she began to refuse everything that wasn’t tuna fish, from a can, preferably covered in garlic mayonnaise even though garlic (and onions) can kill cats.
Such an all protein, fibre free diet is not good for a cat and He Who Knows Everything and I quickly became required to keep sheets of newspaper and some hygienic wipes handy every time she came in from outside. You’d have thought she would have been a little bit more grateful to have two people inspecting her rear end and making it smell of a spring meadow but there you go.
This unfortunate situation became rather more unfortunate when it became apparent that she was also suffering from impacted anal glands. While it is possible to evacuate them at home yourself, it was felt it would be best all around if she visited the Vets and had it done properly.

The Vets had a good look at her and decided that the dire-rear was not just caused by eating nothing but tuna for 24 hours but also by a bowel infection. Some antibiotics later and she was pernickety, but eating… for a short time.
A trip back to the Vets revealed nothing wrong so a steroid enlivening injection was administered and the advice to keep a close eye on her and bring her back a few days later. The injection got her eating a little more but still not much. Whenever she grew fond of a foodstuff, she would refuse to eat it the next day. I tempted her with meaty sticks, with Ocean Fish and King Prawn Flavour all of which garnered the same response; slight enthusiasm for a small moment before wandering back to her doormat.

It was when she showed no interest in butter that I began to twig what was wrong. If you showed her food, she was keen for it but between that moment and opening her mouth to eat some of it, something was going wrong. Some short experiments later revealed something intriguing; the reason she wasn’t eating was because she didn’t know there was any food there. The Cat had lost her sense of smell.
The interweb recommend waving an alcohol swab beneath a cat’s nose as a certain test but as I lack alcohol, I went for catnip instead. While not all cats respond to catnip, mine certainly does. One leaf is usually enough to make her go all soppy and vicious but at the moment, nothing.

Some research revealed that a cat can gradually lose their sense of smell as they grow older and that they may begin to prefer fish dinners due to their pungency. Hey, I thought, C’est Moi!

Eventually though, she wouldn’t eat at all and we took to feeding her through a syringe. She was not keen. She liked having the special cat milk but watered down dinner was not as popular. As it smelled identical to vomit, I couldn’t really blame her. Instead, I came up with a plan. I would make it taste better by mixing it with something tasty like Iams.
So, I soaked the Iams in water in the mistaken belief they would dissolve. When they had dissolved as much as it became apparent they were going to, I threw them into a food processor along with some of the special high energy, extra pungent Vet dinner.
This done, it quickly became apparent to me that if I managed to suck any of the, frankly delicious looking, mix into a syringe, trying to feed it to the Cat would be like attempting to feed Strider with a spud gun. Luckily, I watch a lot of TV chefs, mainly because I enjoy shouting abuse at them, so I pressed the mix through a sieve until smooth. It now looked, and smelled, like the contents of a baby’s nappy. I just knew the Cat was going to love it.

She didn’t. With a lot of effort we got her to eat 5ml and a further 7.5ml of Cat milk. It is not enough. The Vets did a blood test which reveal her to have liver and kidney problems. Tomorrow she is being taken for a last ditch anabolic steroid injection. If this doesn’t get her going then this will be the end of the road.

A little further interweb research reveals that we have been, inadvertently, doing the right things. Apart from letting her eat garlic mayonnaise that is.
A cat that doesn’t eat can quickly develop liver toxicity. It’s complex and as this is already falling into the realms of Too Long I won’t go into it here. Basically, if this happens, You Must Make Your Cat Eat Something. It’s nice to know my arsing around with the sieve and sticking the entire kitchen out wasn’t entirely in vain even if we didn’t manage to get much into her. Loss of smell can also be associated with this and with renal failure.

She seems bright and responsive so one would hope she will respond but on the other hand she is 19. With the best will in the world, this is going to be weeks, not months.

That, really, is all there is to say.

Keep safe people.

A Trivial Blog For Serious People - Now in Animated Form!

Some time ago, I wrote a blog named "Conversation" in which I repeated verbatim a conversation I had with Mammy. Now, thanks to the power of a website called xtranormal, the blog exists in animated form! Now even people too lazy to read can experience the magic.

It should be noted that this is slightly less surreal than real life but other than that the accuracy is uncanny. Please feel free to share with everybody you know.

Everybody comfortable?


Something to be proud of

For reasons I’ve never quite managed to understand, the Government occasionally gets it into its collective hive mind that it is not enough for us all to merely be British, but that we should also be immensely proud of that small fact. To help us achieve this, they like to try and work out what traits make us British so that we can all direct our pride towards displaying these characteristics.
Of course, it is incredibly difficult to define the British national character. For a start, there is no such country as Britain. Britain is more a designation. It’s something to write on the international documents to help the rest of the world who are not entirely au fait with the ins and outs of the home nations. With so many Brits confused about how Britain functions, it seems a little unfair to expect Johnny Foreigner to be aware of our slightly odd way of doing things. As an example, hands up everybody south of Carlisle who fully understands the differences between English and Scottish bank notes. You see?

Sometimes these differences can be inadvertently helpful. The only reason there isn’t a diplomatic incident happening about the possible release of the Lockerbie bomber (on compassionate grounds) is because the decision lies in the hands of the Scots and America has no idea where Scotland is. Even as you read this there is a room of sweating foreign policy advisors frantically checking Wikipedia to find out.

Eventually, it is concluded by some wag that not being proud of being British is, in fact, our sole uniting characteristic. Flags are waved, orchestras launch into Pomp and Circumstance and Parliament comes back into session so we can all get back to occupying ourselves with proper news.

I’ve said before that the only time a Brit will consider themselves to be British is when the English, Scots and Welsh unite against a common irritant. Happily, last week we were given such an irritant and I have never seen a country so united. Thanks are due to the American Right.
As I don’t follow American home affairs as closely as some, my time being otherwise occupied by British politics, Irish politics, EU politics and Coronation Street, you shall have to go elsewhere for an explanation of what Mr Obama has planned for the American healthcare system. All I know is that, for some reason, the people who are not Mr Obama are rather unhappy about it and have been spouting forth lies about the NHS and implying we are all communists.

In the UK, when you are ill, you phone the doctor. If you are lucky you will get an appointment within the next three weeks. Your doctor will see you, sigh, imply you are wasting his time and tell you that if you stay at home and drink plenty of fluids your Ebola will clear up by itself. Grudgingly he will write you a prescription which you will take to the chemist where you will have to stand in line behind 19 OAPs who all want to tell the Pharmacist about their corns in a very loud voice. At the moment you feel most nauseous, one of them will hitch up their skirt to show the Pharmacist their varicose veins and dripping leg ulcer. If it is pension day and there are more than 19 of them in there, somebody else will step forwards with their hands on the hemline and the words “call that dripping…?” If you accidentally make eye contact with any of men at this point, they will offer to show you their shrapnel wounds from the war.
You may, by this point, be thinking that the American right has a point. It sounds terrible. Actually, it isn’t.

There are, admittedly, many areas in which the NHS must try harder. Breast cancer survival rates for instance (The figures the American Right has been spouting are amusingly wrong, the accurate figures are worse.). Mental health care and drug rehabilitation are others.

However. What the NHS does brilliantly is emergency care. If I get run over on a visit to Cardiff, when I get taken to the hospital I know I am going to receive the best care available. Nobody is going to be checking my credit history or insurance details to decide my treatment, I will receive what is necessary to save my life.
Some years ago I carelessly managed to break my spine in three places. My legs still work fine. Score one to the NHS.
When Mammy had unstable angina and was rushed to hospital, she was immediately referred to one of the country’s top surgeons. She was given the necessary operation at the soonest opportunity in the Royal Cromwell in London. It was a complex procedure and the consultant felt it would be better done there as the teams and equipment were ready if necessary. He now uses her as a teaching case for his students. Score two to the NHS.
When He Who Knows Everything split his head open on a chair last October, he shuffled into Wexford A&E, bleeding profusely, only to be met with a demand for €60 before he could be treated. Score 5 billion to the NHS for being free.

This, really, is the key. Free healthcare for everybody means I don’t need to be afraid of becoming ill. With NHS direct, I don’t even need to be afraid of wasting my GPs time. Sure, if I have something trivial, I will sit on a waiting list for months waiting to be seen. It’s irritating but I always have the option of paying for it myself if I am desperate to have it looked at sooner.
Here in Ireland, a private appointment can take 6 months to come through and, very often, you will still get treated in the public hospitals. Even when you have insurance, any medical procedure will cost you money because the hospital puts anything it thinks it can get away with onto the bill. When Mammy saw a specialist eye doctor, she was rather surprised to receive a bill from the insurance company requesting she pay the surplus for the cost of her hospital room, particularly as she hadn’t had a room. On enquiry, the result came back that one is charged for a room whether or not one actually physically has a room because it is assumed a room is had, otherwise, how would one get treated, eh? And anyway, if you don’t have a room, the room charge is put towards our cost of keeping the broken vending machines extra shiny.

The NHS is the best thing Britain has produced and I would say that even if it wasn’t created by a Welsh man. The idea that we have Death Panels or that “if Stephen Hawking had been born in the UK he would have been left to die” (which is my favourite lie of all of them, it’s untrue in so many ways), are ridiculous. Can you really take the word of people who are so ignorant they only refer to England and the English NHS (And not because they are aware of NHS Wales’s natural superiority)?
Yes, whenever a new drug is developed it will be subjected to a cost efficiency analysis before it is made available. Yes, there is a postcode lottery and not all treatment is available nationwide. Yes, discretion is applied in cases where the doctors judge there to be little potential improvement in quality of life, such as in the very old or the very premature. The NHS has limited funds. These decisions have to be made to ensure that when you are brought in from your road traffic accident, the funds were there to buy the emergency treatment you need.
When you look at the American system the right are so keen to defend, is it really that great? Would you still think so if you were one of the sick people who had their policies cancelled by the insurance company who was having a bad financial year?

Be proud of the NHS. It isn’t perfect, but it is ours and it is a site better than any alternative I’ve experienced.

The State of the Job Market

If you have been paying attention to the front pages of the broadsheet newspapers, and I have no reason to suspect that you haven’t, you may have noticed that gainful employment is becoming increasingly difficult to come by. Headline after headline reports the scaling back of graduate recruitment schemes and rising unemployment figures. What jobs there are have a lot of people after them.

Should you wish to get an interview for one of these rare and elusive jobs, it is essential to make yourself stand out from the hundreds of others who are vying for the same position. Now that Facebook and Google enable employers to unravel your Submitted Tissue of Lies (or as it used to be known, your CV), it has become somewhat necessary to make yourself seem like a more employable person through a gap year or, should you have opted not to spend a year taking drugs in Goa, charitable work.

It seems like sensible enough advice. Rather than sitting at home, collecting your dole, why not get out there and give back to society? It shows employers what a well rounded individual you are. It also has the added bonus of everybody else look slightly worse for neglecting to spend their spare time reading Chekhov to blind puppies as you have.
Like all pieces of advice glibly given by somebody who gets a regular wage paid into their bank account, it has a rather large flaw which remains unnoticed by the media and which renders it quite useless to anybody who is filling out job application forms.
In the UK, to be eligible for the dole, you must be actively seeking and available for work. Should you be performing any kind of charity or volunteer work, you will no longer be considered to be actively available for work and your benefits will be stopped.

A second piece of news you may or may not have paid any attention to is the report that the people in the more middle class jobs (journalists, lawyers, advertising executives etc) come from much more affluent backgrounds than they did some years ago.
It stands to reason. The graduates who manage to break into these areas are the ones who have a CV boasting stints digging wells in Africa and who spent their summer holidays showing inner city chavs which end of a cow milk comes from. The people who spent their summers as a checkout monkey to earn their tuition fees and who left university with a five figure debt cannot hope to compete.
They also cannot hope to get a foot in the door through internship. Unless you are part of the old boys’ network, your hopes of getting a place are slim to non-existent. If you do find somewhere which will give you the work experience, unless you have the (rather obnoxiously named) Bank of Mum and Dad to call upon, you will have to find a paid job to fit in around your unpaid 40 hour week.

Only yesterday I read a defence of unpaid internships which claimed it was a fair system because a graduate should look upon it as an investment against their future earnings. It was argued that at 16, a shop worker is earning the same amount as they will at 40 whereas a graduate’s wages increase year on year. Sadly, how one is supposed to pay the gas bill with future earnings wasn’t explained.
As it happens, a graduate does not earn more over a lifetime than a non-graduate. A teacher can expect to earn (according to the graduate careers service Prospects) up to thirty thousand pounds a year. A recruitment consultant earns an average of almost twenty four thousand pounds a year. It is only after 10 to 15 years experience that it becomes possible to earn the higher wages of forty to a hundred thousand a year. If you start on the checkouts at Tesco, you can work your way up to that wage in ten to fifteen years without a degree behind you.
The statistics produced showing that graduates will earn more over a lifetime get skewed by the 1% who earn the top wages. A degree is only as good as the career path it opens up to you. There is no point in doing a psychology degree unless you plan to do the other three years and become a qualified psychologist.

The upshot of all of this is a system which alienates itself from the population. There is no point in having an office full of boys from Eton or Winchester College. How are they going to come up with an effective campaign to sell fruit juice to single mothers on council estates in Birmingham? Why would I want to read a newspaper whose supplements are exclusively written by people who have au pairs and Le Creuset cookware? I bought my saucepans from BHS (they had a 20% day). What use is an MP who only knows what poverty looks like because they visited it once with a camera crew in tow?

I think the first step is to overhaul the Job Centre. It was rubbish when I graduated six years ago and my UK based unemployed friends assure me it is rubbish now. I’m told it has little to offer anybody who has already perfected the skills of reading and writing. Is a graduate careers advisor too much to ask for?
Then, allow claimants to perform voluntary work without jeopardising their benefits. When you’ve done that, enable people to claim a means tested allowance while on work experience. It will give more people the chance to develop the skills employers want and the contacts to be successful while opening up internships to those graduates are not in a position to work without pay.
The final step is to write to every single university in the land and tell them to specify the job (or self employed career) that each degree they offer qualifies a graduate to do. If it doesn’t directly qualify you for work, it really shouldn’t be a degree.
I’m looking at you, Women’s Studies.