Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Still on Babies

Alison’s Comment (on my Blog of 27th June) that she’d prefer her eggs to be fertilized while she was out to lunch (well, it has been known to happen; two bottles of bubbly and those comfortable couches at the Savoy Grill could easily promote friendship) reminded me of the difficulty I had as a first-year medical student in envisaging child-birth, a process whereby, as I understood it from the Anatomy textbooks, a thing the size and consistency of a coconut had to be gradually squeezed along a thing the size of a hosepipe, using little more than will-power and a mild laxative. As my training progressed, with the help of friends (ahem!) I gradually learnt more about the hosepipe side of things, but it was still difficult to put myself in the lady’s shoes, so to speak.
On witnessing my first delivery, things appeared to be much worse than I’d thought, judging by the imprecations of the Italian momma who was at the extruding end of things. My role as a student had been mainly to endure the screams, to regularly mop her fevered brow for 12 hours or so, and then allow my hand to be shredded by her fingernails during each contraction once things started to happen.
I was absolutely amazed when 10 minutes after the delivery, and a certain amount of mopping-up, her husband was allowed in and she greeted him with every sign of affection and happiness. If any man had put me through that I’d have killed the bastard.
Years later, when it became fashionable, even essential, to empathize with patients, instead of just looking after them, I decided that I ought to find out what it really felt like to have a baby. Its surprisingly difficult for men who’ve never been constipated for more than 5 days to really understand exactly what it must feel like down there, so I asked my wife if she could give me any inkling of the agony.
“Its fairly easy” she said “Just put each of your little fingers into the two corners of your mouth and pull gently” O.K.
“Now pull harder and harder” Ooh that hurts.
“Now pull as hard as you possibly can for an hour and when you can’t stand it any longer, use your two forefingers to peel back your upper lip from your face, and then push your entire head out through your mouth”

"When I were a lad...."

All this recent hoo-ha about the English soccer team and their impressively inflated wages and their even more impressively inflated WAGS reminds me that although I usually try, like the footballers, to impress people with talents I don't really possess (savoir faire, cool urbanity etc), my natural style nowadays tends more and more to the Northern Grumpy Old Man school of oratory, which consists of a stubby forefinger pushed into the chest of the cornered listener, accompanied by the phrase "When I were a lad, yer were right lucky to 'ave......" In my case it was football boots.
I should begin by explaining that my uncle played professional football for Nottingham Forest long before Brian Clough was born, and in those days they apparently were a very good First Division team. When I tell my grandchildren this story they cannot understand why we’re not now all millionaires, but football in the 1930s was not a licence to print money. Like most of my male relatives my uncle worked as a coal-miner and played football as a hobby at weekends. He usually worked the night shift on a Friday and came home in the early morning exhausted and coated in coal dust. He would then bathe in a tin bath in front of the coal fire, and catch a few hours sleep before getting his football kit together, having a quick sandwich and catching the public bus to Nottingham for the Saturday afternoon game.
His remuneration for his efforts was that they paid his bus-fare and provided his football kit. When he returned home he would give his dirty boots, shirt and shorts to his little sister (who eventually became my mother), and it was her job to wash the football strip and clean his boots, for which he paid her several pence. The Beckham life-style it was not.
With that family history however I felt I should at least get into my Grammar school team. As I now know, genetic inheritance is not always that reliable. I was 6 ft. 4 in. tall and bore a distinct resemblance to a bespectacled giraffe both with regard to shape, size and agility (think Peter Crouch after 6 lagers). Small persons ran rings round me and although there were odd occasions when my head got in the way of the ball, it was never a happy experience. Footballs in the 1950s were made of heavy leather and they had stiff, hard, leather laces that tended to stick out. As a defender I dreaded those long goal kicks which were heading my way, as I knew that if I shirked it I should get a verbal lambasting from the John Terry equivalent, whereas if I steeled myself to withstand the pain and leapt forehead-first into the heavy ball I knew I would probably get a headache or concussion, and most likely would lose my glasses, which would get trodden on if my header didn’t quite work and the ball didn’t bounce far enough away from me.
Nevertheless I tried hard, as I had little else to offer on my University application form. I did make it into the First team once, when we played the local Agricultural College second team in a snowstorm (hulking, great 20 year-old farmlads) and lost 15-2.
So what could I put on my University application form in the space for Other Achievements? I eventually heard that a team called Pinxton Rovers were so short of players that anybody with a pair of football boots and a bicycle to get them to Pinxton could turn out for them any week. We played on a bone-hard recreation ground,with occasional patches of grass, usually with either 9 or 10 men. Good exercise but I can’t remember us ever winning a game.
The real, and only, benefit came many years later when I was able to casually tell my grandchildren, who now live in London and support Arsenal at the new Emirates Stadium, "When I was a lad, I played for Pinxton Rovers you know". They sometimes ask if they can see my No.7 shirt. If only!
John B.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sheep- are they intelligently designed?

Yesterday started well. I saved a life before breakfast.
I looked out of my bedroom window at 7 am. and in the paddock beyond our garden I saw what looked like a sheep. Nothing unusual there, but this sheep appeared to be lying flat on its back with all four of its legs sticking up vertically in the air. Further observation through binoculars showed it was not one sheep but two, one of which seemed like an adolescent lamb sleeping near its unconscious upside down mother.
I knew from our local shepherd that the ambition of every sheep is to try to die before it can be sold in good condition at a market, and this sheep looked to me to be about to achieve its ambition.
I dressed hurriedly and approached the inverted sheep which was comatose,wheezing softly and intermittently discharging copious quantities of what commonly steams out of Cowes backwards other than the Isle of Wight Ferry.
The lamb skipped off, happy as Larry, and I knelt carefully in a dry bit beside the mother.
I knew that this sheep was a Texel, a breed known for its large size and its broad back, and when it turns turtle, just like a turtle it cannot turn over again. The weight of its own body then compresses its lungs and gradually suffocates it, and this was clearly what was happening here .
Heaving manfully on its woolly flank I just managed to roll it over, whereupon it behaved like a newborn zebra, i.e. it lay still for a few seconds, opened its eyes, coughed a bit, tried to stand, wobbled and promptly fell over again. It repeated the standing, wobbling and falling sequence several times, then gradually got it strength together and wandered off to graze as though nothing had happened.
The lamb, which was an adolescent ram, then returned to mother, and although it was almost the same size as its mother, it tried to suckle, and when she would have none of it, it tried to mount her.
What does this ovine adventure teach us? One might venture to suggest that sheep are not intelligently designed, as the Creationists would suggest, but I suppose one might equally argue that Texel sheep are designed by Man by selective breeding to have broad meaty backs, so we can't blame God if they die whenever they roll over.
And what about the behaviour of the teenage ram? It just confirms my view that propogation of the species is a very strong instinct, and humans shouldn't be surprised when cuddly toys behave like animals.
Anyway I went off to breakfast quite pleased with myself and ewe and son are both doing well.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Organs: a modest suggestion

Dear God,

I’d like to make a suggestion with regard to a fairly basic (well, very basic really) design fault in the human body. I know You were probably a bit rushed by the time You’d finished designing amoebae and worms and parasites and mammoths and things, and I realize that humans are very complex compared with amoebae, and I know You didn’t have time to test out lots of different variations to see which one worked best, and I certainly don’t want to be too critical because I think you did fantastically well with lots of bits and pieces like the brain and the eyes and the hands, but I do think that when it came to designing ‘Sex Organs, Procreation and Pleasure, for the use of” You made a bit of a, er, well a bit of a balls-up really, if not a cock-up, both of which phrases confirm my contention that the male bits, at least, are not universally admired as a model of functional efficiency.
The main problem with the male organ seems to be that it doesn’t work unless its fully erect, and yet its awfully inconvenient for all sorts of reason if its erect all the time, so I can see why you had to make it less conspicuous for the ordinary working day but as You probably know (You may have had prayers on the subject) the rather complex psycho-neuro-haemodynamic mechanism required for erection is not absolutely infallible, especially in the older chaps after a few beers. The converse problem, over-sensitivity of the trigger mechanism in the younger chaps, is of course not unknown either (especially when your female colleague bends forward to file things in the bottom drawer) and the results can be most discombobulating.
I can’t help thinking that You ought to have been able to develop a simpler device (possibly manually or even womanually operated), based on the principle of a strong spring and an umbrella fastener….whoosh and you’re ready for anything. Well I don’t mean You’re ready for anything because so far as I know deities make other arrangement like Showers of Coins or Swans or even Immaculate Conceptions, so it doesn’t arise. Well it doesn’t have to, does it? In fact I wonder whether that isn’t part of the problem really. Things never seem to work properly unless they’ve been designed by somebody who has used one regularly.
This isn’t the only problem with the male organs though. The position of the testes is awfully inconvenient for little boys who want to practice tight-rope walking on a slippery metal pole, and even big strong cricketers blanch a bit if the pitch is bumpy. The foreskin doesn’t seem all that wonderful either, with modern trouser zips.
I don’t think you’ll find there’s universal owner satisfaction with the female organs either. I understand that sand in the crevices can be very uncomfy and I know from the adverts that there’s a lot of concern over ‘feminine hygiene’. Why they need those apocrine glands (modified smelly sweat glands in the armpits and groins) at all beats me when You’ve given them perfectly good long eye-lashes and come-hither glances. As for periods, well I know all about the psychological importance of initiation into womanhood at puberty, but I’ve always thought breast development was a very satisfactory arrangement without gilding the lily.
That brings me to another point. Flowers are the sexual organs of plants and they’re lovely… they even smell nice. So why did You make our organs so aesthetically unattractive? No wonder Adam and Eve felt the need for fig-leaves.
That reminds me of the Freudian bit, and the psychological problems caused by the Sex Is Dirty concept. If only you’d provided a bit more anatomical separation between the excretory and the copulatory functions we could all feel suitably anguished about germs and hand - washing without bringing sex into it at all. There’s no real reason is there, why the procreative power house should always be at the lowest level?
My modest suggestion is that if the worst comes to the worst, and you allow one of your Natural Disasters to wipe us out altogether and You get the chance to start from square one again, You might consider putting the sexual organs in the mouth. No, I don’t mean like that! I know people have tried it, and some like it and some don’t, and yes, I know it spreads herpes, but I meant more as a permanent anatomical arrangement.
Supposing small testes were to be found beneath the male tongue, nicely protected by the lower jaw, and the ovaries were in a convenient position just above the female tonsils. The elongated male tongue could then double as a fertilizing organ with a tube down the centre so that the tip of the tongue could gently deposit the sperm into a small recess in the lady’s pharynx. It could be quite delicate, rather like bees or humming-birds and flowers, and even poets don’t think they’re crude. Anyway its only a variant of the French osculatory custom and they’re terribly civilized.
“Where will the foetus develop?” I hear You ask.
There’s no reason why it shouldn’t develop in the pelvis as usual. It would just need a long Fallopian tube running down alongside the back-bone to convey the fertilized ovum from the throat to the womb.
The actual sexual act would of course be different, but kissing has always been popular and there’s no reason to think it would become less so with the new arrangement. The red lips of the female are traditionally provocative organs, and would remain so. Many ladies might wish to wear a yashmak, but those hussies intent on providing titillation could have a tiny silk one with lacy edges. Lipstick would be very naughty.
Once oral sex became the biological norm, those wishing for the frisson of the taboo would have to substitute aural sex, and give each other herpes of the ear-drum. Other medical advantages would result from the new anatomy. Honeymoon cystitis would disappear altogether and low backache in the male would become less frequent.
Another major advantage is that rape would be unheard of. Nobody is going to put his unwelcome organ into an orifice surrounded by a row of strong teeth and muscles of mastication.
So that’s it God. I’m not trying to usurp your Creative Powers, I’m simply suggesting we move the hole system into a different ball-park.

Yours with tongue in cheek,

John B.