Look Into My Eyes

Any list of people I admire is, I admit, going to be an eclectic one. It will include such luminaries as Kit Williams (for be both interesting and brilliant), Kazuo Ishiguro (for being an outstanding and eminently readable writer) and Kirsty Allsopp (for making people cry). Even locally I find people upon whom to heap my admiration; Declan the Post knows the location of every house in the area and the name of the people within it. At first I assumed he had a piece of paper to remind him but if I drive past him, we’ve got into the habit of holding up the traffic so he can give me my post there and then. Mind you, I think he likes me because when I was putting the post box up, I put it so he could drive up next to it rather than having to get out of the van.

The person who heads up my personal list of “People who are that great I will offer them my kidney or firstborn child” is the immortal Derren Brown. Should you be foreign, as I know some of you insist on being, you will have no idea who I am talking about. You in particular should pay close attention as I don’t rule out asking questions later.

Derren Brown is usually described as a magician. He isn’t. He is a performer who uses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. Anybody can gain the necessary skills to do what he does although not many people would use those skills to rig a photo booth so it hypnotised an unsuspecting young man and then put him on a flight so that when he woke up he was in Morocco.
Derren Brown is an altogether marvellous bloke, a rather nifty painter and he once made me faint (although that wasn’t deliberate, I was watching his show and I’m a bit of a wuss sometimes).

His latest series, The Events, is half way through its four week run on Channel Four and has caused a veritable explosion of conspiracy theories in every corner of the interweb. For his debut show, Derren Brown correctly predicted the Wednesday night lottery draw.
Of course, the trouble is that, having predicted the lottery, Mr Brown promised to reveal his method assuring his audience that they would be able use it themselves to predict the numbers. Following his Friday night revelation on the matter, the interweb has opined that the method Mr Brown gave is a load of gubbins and doesn’t work. There is, rather perplexingly, much anger in many quarters.

One of the joys, and indeed the difficulties, of watching Derren Brown perform is that sometimes, the trick he tells you he is performing is not the trick at all. On a couple of occasions, it hasn’t even been a trick, merely accurate data presented in such a way as to play into your misconceptions; when he tossed a coin to get 10 heads in a row, for instance. It wasn’t a trick. It was the result of standing in front of a camera for nine hours tossing a coin until the required result was achieved.

So, on Wednesday night, rather than going to a marvellous party, Derren Brown broadcast himself watching the lottery draw, live, before turning his set of balls around to reveal (GASP!) the same six numbers as had just been drawn.
On Friday night, he revealed the mysterious Wisdom Of Crowds method of prediction. This was discovered, we were told, by a scientist at the turn of the century, who asked attendants at an agricultural fair to look at a cow and predict its weight. He totted up all of the answers and found that the mean average of them was the exact weight of the cow.
This, Derren Brown claimed, was how he predicted the lottery. Get 24 people, give them some team building exercises, then ask them to choose 6 numbers each and average the result.

As the interweb was quick to point out, this does not work. I’m very grateful the interweb did this. I was about to ring my 23 closest acquaintances and offer them a thrilling day in a field with some office furniture. Imagine how red my face would have been!
Personally, I have no idea if the Wisdom of Crowds is a real theory. It may well be. The most likely attendants of an agricultural fair are farmers. Farmers know how much a cow weighs. It’s not a massive discovery. If the scientist in question had repeated the trick at the Ideal Home show, then I might be impressed.

So. If the Wisdom Of Crowds isn’t real, how did Mr Brown predict the results? The simple answer is, he didn’t. You cannot predict the lottery. It is a random result with one of 14 million different combinations.

As Derren Brown is Bad, having delivered his Wisdom of Crowds spiel, he went on to tell everybody that he had certainly not rigged the result and that he certainly hadn’t done it with weighted balls, that there was nobody on the inside helping him, that he definitely hadn’t hypnotised the security guards to forget they had seen him make the switch with the real balls.

So, did he rig the draw? No. Of course not. For a start that would be an absolute legal minefield both for himself and Camelot (the company who run the lottery). It would also be a really rubbish trick.

In that case, how did he do it? A quick perusal of the ever so reliable interweb gives dozens of weary bloggers explaining that it was all down to a split screen. One enterprising young man has created a Youtube video, complete with fake camera shake for added authenticity. Somebody else insists that if you squint really hard, the ball furthest on the left appears to grow by a millimeter where the assistant didn’t replace it properly after writing the numbers on the balls.
In my opinion, this is not the answer either. Sure, it’s certainly possible to do it this way but really, why would you? As the enterprising young man has shown, anybody can do it that way. Name me one trick, by anybody at all, which rests on the edit suite.
That odd program with the misogynistic voice over claims there are some tricks which are done with a crafty camera angle (the Bentley into a Porsche trick) but many of the methods shown on that program are not the methods used by the big name performers. Paul Daniels never used a camera angle in his life. The lovely Debbie McGee would never have stood for it. David Copperfield could easily have used the edit suite to vanish Lady Liberty or escape from Alcatraz but he didn’t. At least I hope he didn’t. My childhood memories will be ruined if I ever find out he lied to me on this matter.

So, if it wasn’t rigged, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, or a split screen edit, what was it? Well, I don’t know. I’m not Derren Brown.
What I do know is that Derren Brown is a great challenger of wooly thinking. He made people think it was possible to predict the lottery, this is why there are so many angry and disappointed bloggers and commentators at work. What he illustrated is that even when we know something to be fundamentally true, we are genuinely prepared to believe the system can be beaten.
Personally speaking, I wonder if the trick isn’t anything to do with the lottery. The theme of the first show was, after all, predictability in human behavior. The theme of the second show (in which he promised to stick us all to our sofas, bless him) was suggestibility and perception. Both were structured around what we believe, how we can be made to believe it and the effect it then has.

I’m certain Derren Brown did not predict the lottery in advance. This is not possible to do, even by somebody as debonair as him.
I’m fairly certain it wasn’t done with a split screen. While it could be done that way, I don’t give much credence to the “growing ball”, I feel it would be a very risky way of doing it (one wrong move from the camera man and the trick is exposed). Also, how do you ensure that the pictures overlap correctly when you fade out the split screen? Certainly possible to do but sounds rather complicated to me.
I am totally certain the draw wasn’t rigged. As I said above, aside from anything else, it would be a legal minefield for everybody involved.
Sleight of hand to replace the balls? I don’t see an opportunity for that to happen. Laser pens? Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility?
There is talk on the interweb of a film shown to the audience which discounts the split screen theory. It didn’t make it onto the show. Maybe it is being preserved for a later edition and for that reason, I shall say no more about it here.

I have no idea how Derren Brown appeared to predict the lottery but nevertheless, it was a great trick.

Theo Gets On After Depressing Events

As might have been expected, since the death of my cat, I have been rather depressed. There is a hole in my life. As she was a rather demanding creature, that hole is quite large.
Even now, almost two weeks later, odd things make me well up. When I had a piece of steak for dinner, there was too much meat because I didn’t have to slice the end off and give it to the cat. The same thing happened with the roast chicken. All of a sudden I can have chicken sandwiches for lunch because there is no mobile grey shadow standing ready to hoover up the dark meat. I’ve never wept over a surplus of meat before.

I no longer have to drug her before I go to bed. When I come down in the morning, I can immediately make a cup of tea because I don’t have to feed and let her out for her morning ablutions. I can sit on the sofa to eat mackerel pate because there won’t be a sneaky paw attempting to steal toast from my plate. If I have a newspaper on the table before me, I no longer have to try and read around the sprawling mass of fur which has decided that is the only place in the entire house it wants to sit. To be honest, I feel like a bad breakup song.

It does get easier though. For the first couple of days it was hard. The Sunday she died especially. It was always going to feel like a long day and that we were up at six didn’t help. Neither did the unending rain which confined us indoors and instilled claustrophobia.
Monday was much the same. More rain. More claustrophobia. This time, though, there was the added pressure of practical concerns - How do you dig a grave in the rain swollen swamp that is my lawn? Although cold for the time of year, the time of year was nevertheless August and we were keen to get on for realistic motives as well as psychological.
As it turned out, although my lawn is a rain swollen swamp, an inch below the surface and it is no wetter than the clay you use to make pots with so that was good.

He Who Knows Everything built her a coffin. I’d already wrapped her in a shroud - an old bath towel - and we put in all of the collars we’d bought from Accessorize over the years, along with her comb just in case when the resurrection happens there happens to be a door code.
I anticipate that she is going to cause a heck of a lot of confusion for the archaeologists of the future. Somebody, somewhere, will one day earn a doctorate writing about the cult of Bast prevalent in County Wexford after the turn of the millennium. I am certain of it.

Personally speaking, I would have preferred not to bury her. I’m not used to it. Every family member I know who has died has been cremated. When Mammy and HWKE go, they are getting the same treatment (although I believe my actual words on the subject were “If you think I’m wasting my inheritance on a plot, coffin and headstone let alone visiting it every year with a big wreath, you’ve got another thing coming!”).
Having her buried makes it feel… permanent. When I leave this house, I’ll be leaving her behind and I won’t be able to come back. On the Wednesday, I was driving to Wexford in even more rain and weeping slightly at the thought of leaving my precious beastie in the cold earth in that kind of weather even though logically, I know better than to think like that because it isn’t true. Anyway, she had a nice warm towel to snuggle up in.

The trouble with bereavement is you run into it unexpectedly. So much of it gets you in the first few days as you try and get on with a normal routine. It’s the first time you do something you would have included your lost one in. The first time I went to bed and didn’t have a cat to drug was a punch. The first vacuum was hard because I got the clothes brush out to clean the sofas properly free of cat hair so now they look properly clean. I’d forgotten they were beige. When Strider was here and we played scrabble, the box was full of fur where she used to sit in it (on top of the pieces, naturally).
Getting used to the silence was a big one. I spent a long time listening for the click, click of her claws across the hardwood floors but it never came. Tragic, isn’t it?

Like most things, you think you are getting there and something comes out of left field to hit you. There will be other moments I’m sure but yesterday, when I got in from being out all day and she wasn’t there to meet me, demanding to know where I’d been and why I’d been off having a good time without her, that was the moment I missed more than anything. She would always be at the door wanting a hug if I had left her alone all day. The dribble would be everywhere and she would be purring like, well, like a cat who has cruelly abandoned and left alone all day.

Like anything else, it has been one day at a time. One day it will all be a long time ago. I’ve just been trying to stick to a routine and get things done in my own time. It’s the only thing I know how to do.
Yes, it does hurt, but it gets better all the time.

The Cat

When I left you last time it was with the news that the Cat was to be taken to see Four Under Nine, the Vet, for a last ditch steroid injection in the hope that the end stage renal failure she was in could be delayed. As a family we were particularly keen that this should work as Strider was coming over at the end of the week and she dotes on the Cat as much as I do, albeit in a wusy “That Cat Food Smells Disgusting and I’m Not Coming Back Into This Kitchen Until The Back Door Has Been Open Half An Hour” kind of way.
Sadly, the cat did not respond to the treatment and died at home on Sunday morning.

One of the most difficult things from our perspective was knowing when the time had arrived to take her up to Four Under Nine for euthanasia. Right up until Saturday night it seemed as though it could have gone either way, she was responsive and interested in everything. She hadn’t gone to hide in a cupboard or behind the curtains; instead she remained on her doormat chirruping at anybody who gave her a stroke on their way past. We went to bed on Saturday night eighty percent sure we would be calling on Brian the Vet the following day, but in the end it wasn’t needed.

On Friday night when I was seeking out information about her condition, I came across an excellent website called Tanya’s Feline CRF Centre (www.felinecrf.org) which I would recommend without hesitation to anybody with an elderly cat. My cat was diagnosed with renal failure 5 years ago but apart from prising her from the ceiling to administer drugs on a nightly basis, she showed few effects up until the last few weeks. The CRF Centre website contains a wealth of information about diet and care in addition to detailed symptoms and their causes.
The page detailing the effects of the end stages of Chronic Renal Failure was incredibly helpful and the advice and personal stories regarding the time for euthanasia invaluable. It is because of this that I am now going to tell our story so that if you have stumbled here from a Google search for “Renal Failure in Cats”, you will have a clearer picture of what happens. We were supremely fortunate but if you are easily upset (or you are having a bad day), you might want to pause here and come back next time.

As I mentioned last time, we were aware something was seriously wrong when the cat stopped eating properly. We were encouraged that she was enormously keen on being fed Whiskers Cat Milk from a syringe on her Mammy’s lap and rather puzzled that she appeared to want food, she just didn’t want to eat it. The last thing she ate properly was teabag sized amount of turkey on Thursday night.
On Friday, He Who Knows Everything took her to the Vet who took a sample of blood for testing. On Friday evening he called us to let us know that her levels were off the chart.
On Saturday morning he gave her fluids and an anabolic steroid in the hope it would give her a boost but unfortunately, she did not respond to the treatment.

What was most distressing for us was her difficulty in walking. Her back legs didn’t want to work properly (which can be due to a number of different factors) and she had difficulty in lying down and became dependent on gravity to do the work for her. Despite this she was determined to go where she wanted to, including a final jaunt outside for a wee on Friday, even though she was so weak and wobbly the wind shunted her sideways on her way back into the house. What can I say? The cat wanted what she wanted.
In her final week, she was also drinking a fairly large amount. It was only in the last 6 months that she began to drink water from her bowl, prior to that she would have the occasional drink from a fresh puddle or, when we still lived in the UK, the stream in the back garden. On one occasion she managed to fall in and became slightly less keen on it after that.

Anyway, on Saturday, she was perky and tried to escape from the Hateful Box Of Horridness before we could put her in it. Then she tried to bite Four Under Nine when he gave her the injections. Then she tried to make a break for it from the examination table. When she got home, she returned to her doormat and had a nap, no doubt exhausted by all of the excitement of trying to bite people.
Throughout the day she frequently got up and sat down again, unable to find a fully comfortable position. This is common in CRF cats. She also felt the cold and began to make her way to the sunroom for a sunbathe. I lifted her most of the way as soon as I realised that was where she wanted to go and she spent an hour alternating between the rug in there and the patches of intermittent sunshine.

I was able to give her three more syringes of the cat milk which she enjoyed but by two o’clock, she no longer wanted any.
At five, having moved back into the main hall, she stood up and forcibly vomited a large amount of watery liquid which was followed immediately by a significant urination. She was able to stand up for this and I was on hand to lift her away from it as soon as she was done. Many CRF cats become unable to stand up and may urinate where they lie. This was the moment I knew that she would not get any better. Even so, she remained as perky as ever and was able to move more easily without a belly full of liquid.
At some point during the day her sight had deteriorated significantly. She was still able to see to some degree as she responded to movement and knew which of us was which, but her pupil was no longer contracting in light.

We put her to bed on her doormat that night knowing we would probably have to take her to see the Vet the following day. Sometime between midnight and six, she fell into a coma.
She had either vomited or urinated on the floor, moved away from it and lay down. While in the coma, she would defacate (although there was not much in her to come out) and drool copiously. We had cloths on hand to wipe as much of it up as we could, but she was damper than an ideal world would permit. That said, she was a very, very long way from what most CRF cats go through.
Although this sounds as though this would be awful, it wasn’t. She didn’t smell any more abominable than she had the day before (this is due to the toxins in the blood stream) and she was, in a very real sense, already dead. She just hadn’t bothered to stop breathing yet.

I know that she was in no pain and I am so thankful for that. A cat in pain will purr. Odd, but true. When she had her eye out, you had only to poke her and she would erupt like a lawnmower. My cat did not purr in her last days.

I had read about the fits and twitching CRF cats experience and I was concerned about what would happen if she had a fit. I’ve seen grand mal epileptic seizures first hand and they are enormously distressing things to watch. She did twitch during her coma but it was only slightly more violent than the movements she would make while dreaming.

When she died, her breathing slowed and stopped completely. Her body convulsed violently half a dozen times; the best way I can describe it is that it was the same as a retching motion. Her body then went into cardiac arrest. All of her muscles became tense so her back legs were stretched out behind her and her front legs in front of her and her body trembled very slightly.
I could see her heart beating highly rapidly for perhaps ten seconds before it stopped completely. I stroked her head with one finger as she died the way I did when she was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb her with a proper head squadge.

Even after the heart and lungs have stopped, the body still moves. The muscles relax and any waste products are expelled (in less delicate terms, more defecation if there is anything left in there). This was something I found hard. As I have said above, I knew she was dead when I saw her in the coma. She didn’t look like my cat looked, if that makes sense. Heaven knows my cat could not be roused when she was deeply asleep – I could pick her head up and she wouldn’t wake up, she’d just start licking my hand in her sleep – but the coma was different.
What was difficult was knowing when it was “okay” to wrap her up and get on with the cleaning up. As it happens, getting up, getting a towel and coming back was how long it took. Not long at all.

I am so grateful for all of the care she received from our Veterinary Surgery. It made a huge difference knowing we could totally trust Brian with her welfare and knowing that he would not have allowed us to let her suffer just so that we could have a few more days. I always had total faith in him to make the right decisions for her, indeed total faith in every single member of the Veterinary Centre in Wexford. Brian, Richard (the rugby physiqued vet), Dan et al, I salute you now. Thank you for everything you did for her.

Although I am sad that she is gone, I’m also happy that she was able to go more easily than some do. She had a good life. She began as the runt in a dumped litter, rescued by the Cats Protection League and she ended surrounded by people who loved her. She is done now.
I miss her, but I’m glad I knew her.