WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE WIDE AWAKE AT 3AM?

The usual advice is to keep away from your phone and other bright screens when you’re trying to sleep. But suppose you’ve tried all that and more besides, and you still can’t doze off? I asked volunteer worker Andy Tudor to write about his Wide Awake at 3am Club on Twitter. He finds himself awake in the small hours for a very particular reason ~ Carol

Ever since the surgical removal of my brain tumour nearly five years ago, I typically only sleep in two-hour chunks, and am wide awake in between. I have no problem getting to sleep. I just can’t stay there for long.

A common side-effect of any brain trauma (e.g. stroke, accident, surgery) is the disruption of the neurotransmitter chemical process which regulates and encourages the brain to stay asleep. The result? Waking up a lot earlier than intended.

I often find myself wide awake around 3am, which can be a dark, lonely place if the mind isn’t occupied. I decided to start a Twitter ‘club’ whereby I post most nights around 3am to keep others who are awake – for whatever reason – company.

This has proved more and more popular as word spreads. I’ve been amazed to find so many people engaging actively.

To provide a welcome distraction to anyone awake at that hour, I try to think up topics that might be quirky. Popular examples of recent posts include:

Do you have pets who don’t care about your dignity? 😂

As there’s a heatwave, let’s see your favourite holiday picture! 😎😄

What’s the dullest photo you have?… here’s mine! 😂

My lad was in this city on the weekend – where was he? 😄

My posts have have a lot of positive feedback on my posts, a recent example being: “Just want to say your 3am club thing really makes me feel better at waking at such an ungodly hour… like it’s OK.”

Assuming my sleep patterns don’t change, I aim to continue posting, to provide support and company to anyone awake for any reason at that time. I also get interaction from around the world, which is great for providing more company for everyone awake. With luck, I then fall asleep again a bit later.

If you’re ever conscious around three in the morning or soon after, please look out for my “Wide Awake at 3am” Club posts.

You’ll find me at @AndyHTudor1 Come over and join in the fun!

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For those interested, I had a large, low grade (benign) meningioma, up to 7cm in diameter. It was completely removed in a six-hour operation at Southampton hospital six weeks after initial diagnosis in January 2017. My annual brain MRI scans have been all-clear since, and I lead a full, active life. However, I do suffer from brain fatigue and tinnitus, although I have coping mechanisms to manage their effects – but that’s a whole other blog!

I strongly recommend the excellent Brain Tumour Charity to anyone who’d like to know more about the symptoms and effects of a brain tumour. It’s also brilliant for those who’ve been diagnosed – and for their families.

Andy Tudor

WHY WORRY ABOUT SEPSIS?

If you know much about sepsis, chances are the condition has affected your family.

I’ve blogged about sepsis before, but the condition is still with us and has a high mortality. It kills about 48,000 people a year in the UK. Worldwide, someone dies of sepsis every 3 seconds. Survivors have a high chance of serious long-term effects.

Today being World Sepsis Day, I’m parking the levity once again and using this post to sum up – or update – what you need to know about sepsis. 

Understand what it is.

Sepsis is when the body responds to severe infection in such a way that it attacks its own organs and tissues. Without treatment, this quickly leads to organ failure and death.

Most people have heard of blood poisoning (septicaemia) which is much the same thing. But doctors now prefer the term sepsis because there isn’t always blood poisoning in this condition.  

Sepsis isn’t exactly a household name – yet. Personally I still think ‘sepsis’ sounds weaker than either septicaemia or blood poisoning, but we’re stuck with the term that scientists agree on.

Know the warning signs.

The symptoms depend on age, but the main point is that there isn’t any one specific sign like, say a swollen jaw with mumps. A child with sepsis can have a high fever, or an abnormally low one. The younger the child, the vaguer the symptoms.

Here are some signs to look out for in children (from the UK Sepsis Trust website):

In under-fives the symptoms can be particularly vague:

And here are some signs to watch out for in adults (again from the excellent UK Sepsis Trust):

If you just remember two things about sepsis, remember this:

You or your youngster will be more unwell than expected.

Things get rapidly worse, especially in children.

Understand who gets it.

Anyone can develop sepsis from a bacterial infection (or sometimes a virus or fungus). But some are more at risk, like the very young, very old, pregnant women, diabetics, and people on long-term steroids.

The initial infection can be a serious one like meningitis, or seemingly trivial, like a horse-fly bite.

scalpel

Surgery can be linked with sepsis, especially emergency operations on those in poor health, or with peritonitis or bladder infections.

And yes, Covid-19 can sometimes lead to sepsis too.

Know what to do.

Sepsis is a medical emergency and needs urgent hospital care. Don’t waste a single moment.

Sepsis isn’t one disease, but rather a syndrome that cuts across almost every medical speciality. The first doctor you see could be a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, or your GP, and sepsis may not feature at the top of their list. That’s why it’s so important for you to mention it. When you see the doctor or nurse, or speak to 111, make sure you say, “I’m worried about sepsis.”

Thanks for bearing with me. Hope you stay healthy.

Litmann type stethoscope

The UK Sepsis Trust is a wonderful charity founded to save lives and improve outcomes for survivors of sepsis – by instigating political change, educating healthcare professionals, raising public awareness and providing support for those affected. For their general info on sepsis, click here.

WHOSE STORY IS IT ANYWAY?

Most of the time, this blog has a jovial slant. This week, I asked my friend and thriller writer JJ Marsh for a more reflective piece on aspects of control. Here’s what she has to say.

Arguments often explode on Twitter (#notnews) and some issues surface again and again. In the book world, the question of cultural appropriation sets author against author, publisher against reviewer, and generates hours of heated discussion. As I write, a debate rages about a writer’s use of clichéd terminology to refer to people of colour.

The problem comes down to an old adage: Write what you know.

The writer did indeed write what she knew, about real children, but applied her own cultural lens. This upset many people devoted to shining a light on intrinsic racism.

Write what you know.

That advice carries a whole host of issues. Do we police our imaginations and stick to our own lived experience? Or are we able to step into other worlds with ethics and empathy?

It’s a topic I brood over often.

Not ‘just’ the race or gender discussion, but the topic of mental health. I’ve written characters of various nationalities, ethnicities and sexuality, but the area I feared to broach was the characters’ inner world.

When choosing to create a protagonist with bipolar disorder, I knew I was on shaky ground. I researched, learnt about how the condition can vary and/or develop, checked chapters with psychologists and those with experience to ensure my representation was authentic. The greatest feedback was from readers who recognised and appreciated a sympathetic approach to a condition that touched their lives.

Then I embarked on Wolf Tones, a novel about coercive control from the perspective of a vulnerable male. Abusive relationships take many forms, as I know from my sister’s role as a support worker. Most victims are women, but some are men. So how to tackle such an issue without diminishing the female experience, acknowledging how it affects men and shining a light on how coercion works?

After two years of research, I came to a conclusion.

It’s all about the narrative.

Every relationship is a story, told by the players themselves. To outsiders, the reality of fraying tempers or bad behaviour might be polished, even exaggerated, for comic effect. Within the relationship, people make up their own journey as they go along – negotiating problems, harmonising habits, confronting obstacles and adjusting their own happy ending.

What about coercion? That’s when one party wrests control and becomes the director, casting a partner or family member in a role they may not want to play.

The first element of redefining roles is by eroding their confidence. Psychologists and therapists point to several techniques by which the director destabilises the victim and convinces them to give up independence. These include criticism, gas-lighting (making one believe something has/hasn’t happened) and micro-managing everything that person does.

Doubt and dependence are harder to introduce when a person has a network of friends, fulfilling job ,and supportive family. That’s why a coercive abuser begins to isolate the victim from any means of emotional outlet. Friends pushed away, families distanced or even rejected outright – the abuser paints them all as the bad guys.

This last is a common occurrence – the abuser claims the status of victim, reversing the roles in order to destabilise and gain sympathy from the person or persons they attempt to control.

Once the manipulator has command of the console, the victim is reduced to no more than an avatar; allowed no choice over money, clothes, activity, or behaviour.

This pattern of behaviour is at the heart of my psychological thriller Wolf Tones. It’s not a puppet show portraying the above because each character has a history (good and bad), ambitions, connections, a sense of loyalty and the issue of class to navigate in a professional environment.

The setting is a classical European orchestra, but the story could happen to any of us. It all depends on the narrator.

If any of the themes in this piece affects you, here are two places where you can find out more: Women’s Aid and ManKind.

Wolf Tones is a work of fiction. This story belongs to Rolf.

Fifteen years ago, Rolf was destined for the gutter.

His luck changed. Now a cellist with the Salzburg City Orchestra, he has his dream job and dizzying prospects. All because of her.

Smart, sexy, well-connected, and crazy about him, Leonor is his fantasy woman. She made him and he’ll never forget it.

Neither will she. 

Read the first chapter here.

A big thank you to JJ Marsh for her thought-provoking post. If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them.

Wolf Tones is out on August 19. You can pre-order it here.

DO YOU SUFFER FROM LOCKDOWN MEMORY LOSS?

What have you lost during lockdowns 1, 2 and 3? Apart from such things as evenings with friends or outings to the pub, I mean. You’ve gained the ability to bake sourdough bread but, if you’re like a lot of people, other skills may have gone AWOL.

Take driving. Now that freedom of movement is returning, many find themselves flustered behind the wheel. In a snap poll conducted by CarWow, three-fifths of Brits surveyed felt anxious about post-lockdown driving.  

FreeImages.com/Jeramey Jannene

Motorway driving seems the most challenging, along with parking especially if, like a lot of people, you never quite got the hang of it in the first place. With my living-room window giving directly onto the street, the evidence is right in front of me.

You think driving should be like proverbial bike-riding? Maybe it is. But let me tell you that, when I tried to cycle after some decades, I’d lost all sense of balance and toppled over for no reason on a perfectly smooth road.

Why does that happen? It’s that old use-it-or-lose-it. No wonder going back to normal can feel like an alien world.

Even using your own feet can seem a trial. Neither my friends nor I can tolerate heels any more. It’s as if our feet have someone got wider after slopping around in slippers for months. Who knew?

Waistlines have inexplicably spread out too. I blame jogging bottoms, especially since the only jogging I’ve done is to the kitchen.

To combat post-lockdown sluggishness and avoirdupois, David Lloyd Clubs are running a six-week programme with volunteers working towards their health goals with personal trainers, nutritionists and psychologists. It’s called Team PB. PB for Pot Belly, perhaps?

As for libido, that too seems to have gone south for many. It’s difficult to prioritise intimacy when you’re stressed and the future looks uncertain. Watching the box is far simpler.

Here’s another reason why brain function may have suffered. Research from Johns Hopkins shows that, for those between 30 and 50, every extra hour of TV time daily translates into a 0.5% reduction in the volume of grey matter in the brain – in other words, the volume of nerve cells.

The road back to normal may prove long and winding, and I won’t be making the journey in high heels, but there’s a lot to look forward to. I might even want to travel again. Now where the heck is my passport? Bet it’s expired.

What do you think will prove hardest for you in the weeks and months to come? I’d love to hear.

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

No point telling me it’s not spring yet. Not when those crocuses of hope are pushing up all over the place.

It feels like spring outside and it looks like it too. I went out to the wheelie bin and got rain and sunshine at the same time, which pretty much clinched the diagnosis.

The snowdrops have been. So too have aconites and iris reticulata.

Someone’s camellia is busy doing its thing, though its neighbour is less lush.

Looks like my cotoneaster is playing dead again, and one of hydrangeas has copped it. A couple of salvias were meant to disguise a missing chunk of the pot, but that didn’t quite work out.

On the plus side, I now know what slugs do all winter.

As a young child, I thought gardens were a place of wonder, and almost infinite in size. Snails fascinated me. So did the loofah plants that grew alongside the house in Alexandria. Snapdragons were called gueule de loup, made for opening and shutting like a wolf’s mouth. The gardener swept the path with a palm leaf, and watered when the weather was especially dry, though, as every Alexandrian will tell you, the weather is absolutely perfect in Alex.

As an adult, I’m a fairly lazy gardener and anyway the patio isn’t infinitely large. At the moment it’s not so much a riot of colour as someplace to go to between Zoom meetings. But you’ve got to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

The roses aren’t out yet, the honeysuckle is barely visible, and I’ve no idea who ‘they’ are, but even so I did that smelling thing today. And yes, I’ve now figured out what the neighbour’s cat has been doing all winter.

How is your garden doing this month? Is it bursting into life, or haven’t you got around to checking?

A FACE FOR RADIO

“An author should always make an effort to look good,” a novelist once told me. Her name was Sally and she was a tutor on a writing course. I’ve forgotten her surname as well as everything else she said, but I do remember her advice to put on your best face, even just for a radio interview.

With this in mind, I slipped into the habit of putting on lipstick even if I was only popping down to the cash machine. My three boys hooted with laughter because it was the kind of thing their grandmother did. Not their mother.

Of course, it’s impossible to look your best all the time. On the school run, mascara inevitably takes second place to lost gym kit, and, in my other life as a GP, I was often bedraggled from visiting patient after patient in the rain.

To be fair, I reckon few people expect their doctor to step out of the pages of a fashion mag. Tidy and clean are usually enough. The occasional patient, however, has a keen eye. “Bed 3 wants to see you,” said the nurse on the ward.

‘Bed 3’ – who happened to be from Tunbridge Wells – didn’t just tell me about her cystitis symptoms. She also pointed out that the hem of my dress was uneven.

I prescribed some treatment, and, when I next checked in on her, she said she was better. Then she asked when I was going to fix that dress.

I didn’t exactly follow author Sally’s advice for my first ever radio interview. It was at the end of a busy week and it was down the line so, come 6pm, I was lying in bed on the phone to the presenter. I took the precaution of using an extra pillow, though. It’s best not to sound completely dead even if you look it.

The following interview was in the radio studio. Sally what’s-her-name would have been so proud to see me arrive with full makeup and shiny hair. The listeners might not be able to see me, but the team at the station would.

As it turned out, the presenter and I never met. I was taken to sit on my own in a separate little studio.

What about the producer? Well, his guide dog thought I looked OK.

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You may also like My Fabulous Life on TV.

THE TRUTH ABOUT BOOK CLUBS

Without serious preparation, a book club meeting is nothing. Which explains why, for the previous half hour, I had been fashioning little flags out of sticky labels and toothpicks to poke into various cheeses. Of course, an elaborate cheeseboard was not the only fare that evening. There was plenty of wine as well. This particular club, like so many other suburban book gatherings, could be described as a drinking club with a reading problem.

The venue may be a local pub, a bookshop, someone’s front room, or, especially this year, a room on Zoom. While the surroundings may vary, I have discovered some universal truths about book clubs.

#1 Like books themselves, book clubs come in all shapes, sizes, and genres. Some are highbrow, others less so. Before setting off with a tome tucked under your arm, it’s as well to know which sort you’re heading for. Get it wrong, and it’s like turning up at a funeral dressed for a tarts ‘n vicars party.

#2 There’s always a troublemaker, and the reason for the trouble is ostensibly to do with the book. The end is too rushed or too vague, there are too many foreign words or too little sex, and since when did dove get to be the past tense of dive?

“Since about 1855, that’s when,” a smart-arse will pipe up, citing the OED or an obscure poem by Longfellow.

#3 Someone will try to restore the peace. It’s either an amateur referee, a retired librarian with world-class shushing skills, or the home-owner who fears waking the kids.

#4 That’s why it’s a relief to move on to the choice for next meeting, though a consensus may be elusive. The chosen book is most often a novel, but could it be a biography for a change? The next book has to be well-thought of, or else controversial. Must triggers be avoided? Discuss. And they do.

Recent or topical is good, as long as the book is affordable. If not, some will only study the free sample on Amazon.

The book can’t be too long, because some of us work, you know. Here someone may bring up past choices. “Remember the time we chose English Passengers? I couldn’t be doing with nearly 500 pages.”

“Why not? English Passengers was hilarious.” Which may have been true, in parts. But then this came from the same person who thought of Titanic as a rom-com.

#5 Sometimes the club invites an author as guest speaker. Authors are only too glad to talk about their book and quaff wine, until such time as they are allowed to leave with the gift of a potted plant and the remains of the Roquefort. Just don’t say, “I’ve written a novel. Could you have a look at my manuscript?”

#6 Virtual meetings, being easier to attend and free of location restraints, often increase the number of participants, but Zoom and the like can decrease interaction. That doesn’t necessarily make the club run more harmoniously, though. See #2 above.

#7 It’s easy to dip into a book club and there’s no need to commit to every meeting, especially online. Just Google and you’re bound to find clubs for every possible genre, whether you enjoy sci-fi, feminist literature, translated books, historical fiction, or zombie apocalypse novels. Since the advent of Covid-19, escapism is the order of the day.

Do you go to a book club? I’d love to hear about yours, so please let me know its highs and its lows.

Next week, you can join award-winning author Jane Davis for a lockdown book club meeting via Zoom. On 12 Dec at 6.00pm, she’ll be answering questions about her latest release, At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock, a gripping novel set in the 1950s. The event is free but you need to register. Zoom meeting ID: 848 7601 7328 https://buff.ly/3miipHf

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You may also enjoy What Not to Say to an Author.

Sure-Fire Ways to Prolong Your Summer

Bet you’d like to hang onto the feelgood vibes of a summer holiday, especially if you didn’t have one this year.

Now this isn’t going to be a dumb piece about keeping your fresh-from-the-beach locks by spritzing on some expensive concoction. Oh, no.  Not when you can get the same effect far more cheaply.

First off, wear sunglasses as long as you can. Or maybe, to avoid stumbling about, just wear your ordinary glasses while tilting your head and admiring your surroundings as if seeing it all for the first time.

There’s nothing like holiday togs to bring back memories. Don’t you have an I SANTORINI T-shirt hiding somewhere? 

A straw hat will complete the look, though admittedly the rain won’t do it much good.

Keep shaving your legs and painting your toenails. Guys, stop shaving. It doesn’t matter what you do with your toenails because you’re probably wearing socks with your sandals.

Now for a more palatable suggestion: listen to music with a seasonal vibe, like The Boys of Summer, Summertime Blues, and Gershwin’s classic Summertime. My all-time favourite is still Under the Boardwalk

You may not be lounging by the pool, but you could still make time to read novels rather than newspapers and the daily misery of reality.

Ditto, watching the TV news can only worsen the feeling of impending doom. Isn’t Hawaii 5-0 on repeat somewhere?

Go for a walk to boost your endorphins and savour the last rays of sunshine. If you’ve already been on a walk, go for another one.  It’s even more like a holiday if one of your flip-flops breaks while you’re out. 

There’s nothing like a day out to give you a holiday buzz. You’ll need to plan well ahead to visit somewhere special like Kentish Town City Farm, but it’s well worth the effort.

If refreshments are on offer, why not get a cream tea or an ice cream? Where you can, drink sangria, Pimms, or anything with a paper parasol in it. You can always pop it into a hot chocolate later.

Dig out old photos and immerse yourself in happy memories. I’ve recently been writing about growing up in Egypt, and studying ancient albums full of grainy pictures from the beach have given me a lot of fun.

Finally, here’s the crucial thing for keeping autumn at bay: don’t mention Christmas. Sorry. Just did.

I’m off to put some overpriced brine on my hair. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. Do you see off summer happily, or try to hang on as long as possible?  And what tunes would you put on your summer playlist?

 

What I Did on My Staycation – a Day Out in Norfolk

Never mind how newspapers and magazines use the word. In line with the real meaning of staycation (staying at home and making day trips), we set out with a full tank and a vague sense that we might end up in North Norfolk. I’m married to a Norfolk boy, and I hasten to add that I am not his sister.

“Think bike,” I said as we left home. I was only repeating what I’d read on a road safety sign but, with my OH, it triggers dreams of his beloved Bonneville and Suzuki V-twin, along with reminiscences of his speedway days. I woke him from his reverie before we hit a hapless pedestrian.

How I’d missed the sights and sounds of rural Britain during lockdown – and the smells. First stop Lakenheath where USAF fighter jets were about to take off. We’re merely opportunistic spotters, but lined up against the chain link fence were all kinds of spotters and their cars, plus a mobile snack bar to sustain life during a long wait.

The air, heavy with the scent of aviation fuel, throbs when the F-15s come to life. Their roar is unlike anything outside Cape Canaveral and I defy anyone not to feel stirred as the planes gather speed.

I tried to capture the excitement with my Huawei which, I’m told, beams every image direct to China. Sorry to disappoint you, Beijing, but all I got was a high-res view of galvanised metal fencing.

To save you the trouble of going all the way to Lakenheath, this video gives you an idea, though it’s only a tiny sample of the experience. You’ll need to imagine standing a few hundred yards away with your fingers rammed in your ears.

By way of a complete contrast, the second stop of the day was a Norfolk village where ducks outnumber humans and reading seems popular, if the phone box is anything to go by.

I won’t reveal the name of the village, but this little clip might recreate the duck pond for you without using any petrol.

On to Burnham Market, a postcard-perfect town where Hunter wellies are de rigueur, which made sense as it was raining by then. Hungry by then, we stopped at Tilly’s café for lunch. With no free tables left inside, we hunkered down beneath a shrubby honeysuckle.

I can never go to Norfolk in the summer without buying samphire. It grows around tidal creeks and estuaries, but I usually get mine at a stall by the side of the road, where you can pick up a small bag of the stuff in return for a few coins left in a well rusted honesty box. The first bunch I bought this week turned out to still have its roots attached, which unfortunately means that picking it sacrificed the whole plant. The other bunch I bought came in a plastic bag full of water. Although you can sometimes buy samphire in supermarkets, freshly picked bunches taste much better and you also get the experience of salt water sloshing in your Converses as you drive home.

In the spirit of sharing my day out, here’s a recipe for hot samphire and potato salad from the Easy Cheesy Vegetarian. It even works without the potatoes.

We then stopped at one or two of our favourite beaches for a paddle in the sea. The Med it ain’t, but it’s the epitome of a British summer. This is a three-wheeler we saw in Cromer. Looked like a Morgan, but it’s more probably a kit car enjoying an outing.

We headed home for samphire and salmon after a happy day.

Ready Pour vos Holibobs? Un Holiday Guide en Franglais

Bonjour, tout le monde. Avec le lockdown, c’est no doubt un très long time since vos last holibobs. But, maintenant que easyJet et other dirt-cheap avions are restarting, vous might be thinking of un nifty getaway.

Problème: vous ne parlez pas any foreign languages, not even français qui est spoken par our nearest neighbours (je ne compte pas Scotland et Wales).

Solution: learnez le Franglais! Also, shoutez beaucoup.

Le Franglais est une langue inventée par Miles Kington, writer extraordinaire et columnist pour Punch magazine pour many years. Très sadly, Punch magazine est now deceased, et Monsieur Kington also, mais son useful invention lives on. En mon opinion, il est due un revival.

Therefore cette week dans mon blog, ici les easy steps pour master le Franglais.

Premier, important de know what vous voulez from votre holiday. Voici quelques raisons pour travel:

  • Obtenir un suntan.
  • Recharger les batteries
  • Impresser vos followers sur Instagram.
  • Acheter un tawdry souvenir or deux.
  • Avoir quelque chose à parler chez le hairdresser later.
  • Drink beaucoup de booze qui est cheap comme les frites.
  • Aller sur le pull.
  • Faire un late-night tattoo ill-advised. Marquez mes mots, après 8 pints de bière foreign, tous les tattoos sont ill-advised.

C’est tout, really. Oh, merde. Je forget soak up la culture!

Les preparations pour le voyage sont très importants surtout après le long lockdown.  Dustez off votre passeport et loadez le Kindle. Achetez un nouveau bikini et loads de sunscreen – ne forgettez pas un soap de travel pour les undies – et paquez tout ça dans une belle suitcase qui va promptly go missing à l’aéroport.

Je sais. Loads à faire. Aussi pour parler avec les natives il faut plenty de practice. Apprendre une language, c’est pas just reading un livre de phrase. Je suis right, ou je suis right? Il faut écouter et parler. Prochaine week, therefore, je launch le app.

Regardez cet espace.