Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A paper clip in my marmite

A nasty shock at lunch-time today. Whilst spreading my daily marmite sandwich (only Monday to Friday), I noticed a paper clip on the knife! Presumably put there by me  on a previous day. A lttle folly as you might say.

Shades of the old King James Bible, Eccleasiastes 10.1
Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

Love is...

'Love is the crossbearing strength of true affection'

This quote comes from a book called, The Wondrous Passion by F.W. Drake and was written for Lent.  It was published just before the outbreak of the Great War in 1912. According to the Bishop of London in his introduction, it is meant to be read slowly.

The quote gets at the heart of true love. There is a  affection,  but also a willingness to bear pain. And there is strength. I guess any faithful parent would be able to tell you this.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


My dear dad Jack was born 89 years ago today. He died February 29th 2008. He was 85 years of age.
Mum and dad in the hospice just a week
or so before he died.

The more I think about my parents the more grateful to God I am. They were a constant source of love and support for me.  Mum died last June and it's still hard to accept that she won't be there when I call round her house, which is now up for sale.

I hope I showed my appreciation of them whilst they were still alive. There's alot to be said for the old Bible command,
'Honour your father and mother, so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth'  Ephesians 6.3

I guess this would be called part of the wisdom literature of the Bible. An absolute literal reading of this type of writing is not called for,  rather  'this is how things may well turn out to be'.  Honouring our parents is part of developing a life that 'goes well' and may even result in longevity.

Monday, 27 February 2012

First do no harm

It's amazing sometimes how much better patients are when their medication is stopped.

I guess this is something you learn the longer you practice medicine. As a qualified and registered medical doctor I can prescribe a vast array of medications. But the trick is knowing when not to prescribe, or more likely, when to stop medications. In the 70s when I was training at Westminster Hospital, Porfessor Lant taught us that any patient on 5 different medications would run into some problems as a result of interactions or some other side effects.

Just today I spoke with two patients who may be experiencing early indications of the Serotonin syndrome. Thus is an unpleasant illness which can be induced by anti-depressant medication, and particularly when a patient is being switched from one anti-depressant  another. I'm  humbled to say that apparently 85% of GPs are unaware of the syndrome (if I had a fiver for every syndrome that GPs were unaware of...). I'm a big fan of anti-depressants, but it's worth knowing about this syndrome.

Another patient today told me about some recent compulsive gambling. This is a recognised side effect of Pramipexole, which he takes for his Parkinson's disease. It is also associated with overeating and hypersexuality. Yikes, maybe there are times when I can say, 'the devil/doctor made me do it'? I guess we associate risk taking behaviour with alcohol, but who would have thought that a drug designed to help with a chronic neurological condition would do the same?

I guess the bottom line is, when a patient puzzles us, always ask what medication is being taken. And any (especially older) patient who is on multiple drugs, may well feel alot better if one or two of them are stopped-even if they have been prescribed to control other chronic diseases.

It's the old chestnut of is the cure worse than the disease?

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Longest Winter

No, not 2012. I refer to a book by Meredith Hooper in which she recounts the remarkable survival of the six men who formed the 'eastern party' group who had originally travelled with Captain Scott on his last and fateful journey to Antarctica, the Terra Nova expedition. Lieutenant Campbell, RN, and five colleagues were stranded by pack ice and had to endure the winter of 1912 in an ice cave. The book is called The Longest Winter and subtitled, Scott's other heroes.

For many years I've been captivated by the story of Captain Scott (no doubt as a boy aided and abetted by watching the film Scott of the Antarctic with the lead role played by John Mills). And then a few years ago I read the biography of Scott written by Ranulph Fiennes. I recall reading it on a lovely holiday in Croatia with my family. It was incongruous reading of the frostbite and snowblindness whilst lounging on a beautiful Adriatic beach.  I believe  I kept reading particularly moving excerpts out to my wife who had to tell me to stop because it was too depressing!

The Longest Winter fills in some of the gaps of the Terra Nova expedition and by using the contemporaneous accounts  of the six men who were stranded, tells an incredible story of survival. They were restricted to an ice cave for 6 months and with minimal rations depended upon eating penguins and seals, as well as using blubber for fuel. The detail of their physical and emotional stress is extraordinary and the writing is so good that it is as if one enters into the claustrophobia and apparent hopelessness of their situation.

They were truly remarkable and resilient men and without sounding too soppy, it makes me proud to be British. Our modern heroes are athletes, movie stars and TV presenters. Ok ok I wont go on... But there truly were, 'giants in the land in those days'.

Of slippery slopes, homophobia and tolerance

It's very sad to read in the Telegraph that some abortions are being performed because of the gender of the unborn baby. Whilst the supporters of the 1967 Abortion Act would not have had such a situation in mind, there are always those who oppose liberalising of the law, who fear the slippery slope. That is
the tendency for practice to gradually become ever more liberal with subsequent unintended and generally unacceptable consequences.

Those who support liberalising of the law are generally quick to deny that such a slippery slope exists. Here is a typically abrasive put-down from  Amol Rajan in yesterday's i newspaper,

Writing in the Daily Mail earlier this week, Lord Carey sang the praises of the Coalition for Marriage. “Don't play politics with marriage”, this organisation declares on its website. “One man + one woman.”

It advances three main arguments: first, "the evidence shows children do best with a married mother and father"; second, "if marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?"; and third, "it's not discriminatory to support traditional marriage". My dear friend Dave Sampson, a lawyer now relocated to San Francisco and scoring victories for the heroic National Center [sic] for Lesbian Rights, has been in touch to explain the stupidity and abhorrence of all three.
The first is a lie. As Dave writes: "Hours of witness testimony in the Prop 8 trial in California showed that same-sex parenting is just as effective as that provided by straight couples." The second is slippery-slope reasoning – which is to say, sloppy reasoning. (my emphasis).
The use of the slippery slope in an argument my indeed be sloppy reasoning if used thoughtlessly and as a knee-jerk. But wait a minute, doesn't history tell us that liberalising the law with reference to morality often starts a ball rolling down a hill which no-one can stop? Provision for divorce has gradually eased, although remains very stressful for many, and adultery has gradually lost its social stigma, even if the associated  personal  pain persists.  Nicky Campbell begins his autobiography in a way which presumably he thinks clever,
"I was committing adultery in Room 634 of the Holiday Inn in Birmingham when my wife rang to say they'd found my mother."
 Like Lord Carey I think that marriage should be between one man and one woman. I am not homophobic and have treated many patients over the years with a same sex orientation. As a doctor I am called to treat all patients equally irrespective of their morality, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. I hope I have done that throughout my career and that my patients would back me up. I fear that anyone who supports the traditional view of marriage is very easily written off as homophobic. That I would argue is true sloppy reasoning.

It seems that modern day tolerance only extends in one direction Thus if I support abortion on demand, same-sex marriage or the legalising of euthanasia, I am tolerant. But the same person who holds those views regards me and my views with intolerance. I think that is sloppy reasoning.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

I'm not big on ceremony in my Christian life. I became a Christian as a teenager in a Pentecostal church where spontaneity and informality was prized. As I have got older I've begun to appreciate certain aspects of the more formal approach to Christian life and worship.

This evening I went along to New College in Oxford for their choral evensong. I wasn't expecting it to last so long. This was a problem since I had been visiting my wife Liz at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital where she was recovering  after hip surgery and I told her I would be back to see her soon. As soon as I saw the programme I tried to work out the best time time leave without causing too much disruption. This proved to be the time immediately after the application of ash to my forehead!

I was conveniently seated nearest to the 'official' who applied the ash to my forehead and headed for the door straight after. His words were sobering, 'Receive the mark of the ashes, for from dust you have come and to dust you shall return'.  At that I walked quickly back to my car through the busy Oxford streets. It was only when I looked in my car mirror that I realised how obtrusive the mark was!

Although I'm a non-conformist I do appreciate the opportunity that special times and seasons bring to me to reflect more meaningfully on what it means to be a Christian. The period of Lent can be used helpfully to reassess my life with Christ, and perhaps to slow down and do a spiritual stock-take. This evening's ahses were a reminder to me that my life is indeed just a breath, and I can place so much emphasis upon my physical life and well-being that my soul can be starved. I can live so much for time, that the realities of eternity are squeezed out.

Teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart to wisdom Psalm 90.12.

Monday, 20 February 2012


Good to hear Nic, one of my fellow elders,  preach last night  from Hebrews 12. He spoke about the ways God trains us in life and how even in the sadness of bereavement,  God is at work. Weaving a story, drawing close-even if at times his presence seems distant.

Midway through his talk Nic interviewed my wife Liz about her many bereavements and how God has sustained her. It's well worth listening to. Go to the downloads page and head for 'Fathers and Sons'. Liz's interview is after 27 minutes.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow'

I look better from behind...
Biddy and Hannah
With mild temperatures of 10 degrees C today,  it's easy to forget the recent cold snap with a fairly heavy fall of snow (OK for Chicagoans it would have been a dusting of snow). Last weekend we went to Woburn and took a walk around the grounds of Woburn Abbey. With clear blue skies,  temperatures just below freezing, and lovely sunshine, it was really quite magical. How good it is get out and enjoy the beauties of creation.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Tear jerking music

Fascinating stuff in the Wall Street Journal on how and why some music moves us to tears.

The article features multi Grammy award winner Adele, but has additional observations about Mendelssohn and Mozart. Apparently it's all  about dopamine and appoggiaturas!

I guess Martin Luther was ahead of the game,

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Monday, 13 February 2012

Caring for body and soul

Yesterday at Grace we celebrated  Health Care Sunday, A time when we stop to thank God for the health care provision we have in this country and also to honour those in our church family who are involved in any way in health care.

I spoke on 'Caring for body and soul'.

Many of us lavish much attention on our bodies whilst allowing our souls to whither away. So I spoke from the apostle John's prayer in 3 John verse 1
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.
Take a listen to the talk by going to the church downloads page and searching for Health Care Sunday.

Andrew Webb

It was lovely to recently be at a thanksgiving service  for the life of dear Andrew Webb. He was a remarkable man who coped wonderfully well with his Down's syndrome. He was 60 years of age and had a lead a full life. He had been a lively part of our church family for many years.
Who can forget his flamboyant attempts to sing God is our strength and refuge (to the tune of Dambusters) or his enthusiastic stomping to any song with a go-get-it rhythm.

Always on the front row and at times only too happy to help the service leader out, with a not always perfectly timed, 'let us pray' or 'amen'. He was   member of a monthly home group for adults with learning disabilities which meet at the home of our good friends Richard and Cathy Cooper. They meet to pray, to support one-another, to study the Bible and help one-another grow in grace. My wife Liz loves  helping out and being a part of the group too.

Down's syndrome is challenging and brings much heartache and difficulties for parents. Not only dealing with behavioural challenges but also the differing physical problems that can be associated with it. On the other hand such folk often have great zest for life and a very loving demeanour.

Our current  approach to ante-natal testing in England makes the presumption that all pregnant women should be screened for Downs syndrome. Very often  the expectant young mother is not aware that she has a choice about ante-natal screening. The trajectory of testing for conditions such as Downs is towards termination of the pregnancy. I make no judgement on those who choose to test or even to terminate, I simply remind myself of how enriched my life has been by knowing Andy and  by seeing the amazing love and care shown to him by an army of carers over many years, and just how much joy Andy has known in his life.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dickens 200

Two hundred ears ago today Charles Dickens was born. Not read all his works but have enjoyed many of them,

At times he is profound although often somewhat sentimental. But this from Great Expectations as Pip leaves his home, where he had been brought up by his sister and Joe Gargrey,  touches my heart,
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before--more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.

Say anything

Good to meet Josiah Gillespie this past Sunday who was visiting our church.

Really like this song-shades of Neil Young with the clean strumming.

Diamond Queen

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the accession of our queen to the throne. Her father King George the Vl died that day at Sandringham and the young Princess Elizabeth was thrust into the public gaze. She has never been out of it since.

How wonderful to have heard her simple words this past Christmas Day when she spoke simply and eloquently of her faith in Jesus Christ

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin
And enter in
Be born in us today

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

Her faithful and consistent service is a remarkable thing. It was good to read Damien Thompson in yesterday's Telegraph,
She says little in public about her Christianity, but what she does say – usually at the end of her Christmas Day broadcast – is powerful in its directness.
Having discussed the celebrations, tragedies and anxieties of the past year, the Queen affirms, naturally but unflinchingly and with no attempt at religious relativism, her faith in Jesus Christ. 

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.