End Games

Realisation can be slow and often it comes surprisingly wrapped neatly, with a bow, in a large package of commonsense. Mine was delivered towards the end of 2018 when I took the conscious decision to disengage from groups on social media platforms, namely on, Facebook, initially set up by people to encourage ‘free-speech’ dialogue between those with differing views and opinions. This weekend I re-engaged.

The calmness, which I had got to know over the past few months had vanished into the mist. Within hours I had been caught up in “arguments” of intolerable attitudes. One such platform on Facebook was nothing more than an echo chamber of sad, angry, dull and yes mostly white men hurling abuse at one another through manufactured meme’s. Those photos, generally of a famous person with imposed comments to ridicule. It was nothing more than finding yourself in the middle of a room with children throwing custard pies at one another. I guess this is what has become of the UK.

We no longer talk and more importantly listen to one another. We seem to shout, ridicule or seek to physically harm each another. A nation divided, at each other’s throats, a union on the brink of falling apart. An identity being fought over by extremes while the majority turned their backs ashamed and embarrassed as the rest of the world looks on bewildered. On Saturday, I disengaged from these platforms of ‘free-speech’ and said hello to a complete stranger when out walking with my dog.

Up the Avon on a Mackerel

May I introduce you to this bloke called Geoff. You may or may not know Geoff as the international jet-setting, champagne drinking geezer who rattles the gongs for the band’s Beak> and Portishead.  Aside from the occasional banter on Twitter, I’ve never met the guy, but we have five things, apart from Bristol and an appreciation of early Gary Numan stuff in common. Firstly, we are both white and male. Secondly, I understand we come from working-class ‘stubborn’ stock. Thirdly, we both like mackerel and fourthly (and I’m guessing here) we both have a sweet tooth. If you take these four elements and compound them with, an erratic lifestyle, chaotic diet and the inescapable consequences of time then the outcome will generally be, the fifth thing we have in common gout.

Gout, its something I’ve meant to write about for a while and reading Geoff’s ongoing battle has just provided that helpful nudge. Men are rubbish at this stuff, we are, acting like John Wyne while in reality during our gout despair seeking out our comfy blankie. So, I’d like to share what I’ve been doing to tackle the dreaded disease while reducing dependence on prescribed drugs.

Let me start by saying I’m no martyr to pain and would always recommend drugs to combat the painful torture gout brings when it strikes.  I’m not lecturing, because if you are like me, you’ll hobble along in excruciating discomfort for years before doing anything about it. So let’s start with family and friends. Expect little sympathy given the misconception remains that your disease is a result of rich living, grouse, red meat, game and port.

What we are suffering from is a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. In short tiny crystals shaped little pins, the kidney fails to deal with, which then float down to their lowest point and stab the shit out of us. Its impossible to explain the pain when an attack is severe, but it easily makes grown men cry.

If you seek your doctor’s advice, you will properly end up on medication for the rest of your life and some necessary guidance on changing your diet and lifestyle. The problem with this approach is not the doctor. It is you. Because of 9 times out of 10, you are going to home in on the drugs while a wall of white noise permutates your earing when it comes to the words ‘diet and lifestyle.’ That is your choice and responsibility, which is the choice I took. I was a dick.

At the moment I’m down to one maybe two severe attacks a year. I get the occasional discomfort and very rarely use prescribed medication, and this is what I did and am currently doing:

  1. Discovered my triggers. Keep a close eye on what you eat, especially when your body starts telling you an attack is imminent. You know that feeling, its the tingle before the storm. I know things like mussels, mackerel and prawns are some of my triggers. I still eat them occasionally, but you need to build resistance up to counteract the likely attack.
  2. Removed white bread from my diet. The devils’ work. Serious. With or without gout get this shit out your diet. It contains quickly digestible sugars, refined flour, excess calories and very few nutrients. Wholemeal bread contains the whole grain and provides fibre, vitamin B, and minerals.
  3. Light exercise. If like me you have/had a busy lifestyle then you need to build regular LIGHT exercise into your daily life.  I’m not talking about strenuous and demanding routines, but regular walking for example. It’s not about the burst of energy one often gets from gym-based exercise for instance. Get those joints working, blood flowing and most importantly get some primary body stretches going. I would advise finding a nearby steep hill, or bank and walking up and down it on a regular basis.
  4. I stopped eating meat. I have no evidence that meat was triggering my gout, but overall removing it from my diet helped towards losing weight, and I do feel a lot better without it in my diet. But having said that I’m not a food fascist, and this will be down to your personal choice. I don’t miss beacon sandwich but crave lamp and mint sauce occasionally.
  5. Drink water. I bought two x 1-litre water bottle, which I fill up and drink through the day. To make this a little bit more attractive, I add some sugar-free Vimto.
  6. Get breakfast right. I usually have a fruit-based breakfast each day, which consists of banana mashed on two pieces of wholemeal toast (unbuttered). A pear and 2 Medjool Dates. Occasionally, I’ll have porridge or shredded wheat. It took a week, but apart from the natural impact of the dates they also bring sweetness into your diet to helped to tackle my next craving.
  7. Sweets. By and large, I’ve managed to reduce my intake considerably. Chocolate remains a favourite, but the sugary syrup based type sweets with all kinds of colours and additives have gone. If I get a sweet urge, then I tend to search out a bag of Henry Goode’s soft liquorice (strawberry flavour). Then hide in a corner and fight off anybody who dares approaches for a share.
  8. Booze. Nothing has changed really. If you get pissed up on a regular basis, then you probably have more complex issues to tackle. Again, it’s about common sense.
  9. Stress. I can’t emphasise this enough, so I’ll say it once again stress!! Apart from being the route to a potential heart attack stress is like an invisible dark shadow, cancer, to your overall wellbeing.  We all have different abilities for managing and absorbing pressure, but constant exposure will undermine your happiness, life and may ultimately kill you. Get it under control! I can’t advise you how to do this, but for me, it involved a 3-year plan to reduce and where possible removing its causes from my life. It’s not easy, and it often takes difficult decisions, which in the short term may cause additional stress.
  10. Take your time. Do it gradually, don’t cheat yourself. You will have the setbacks, and the attacks will still hijack your life now and again, but you can take control and reduce its scourge on your life if you want too. The drugs your doctor will typically prescribe to tackle gout are:
Naproxen, which is a painkiller that is also an anti-inflammatory. Some side effects of Naproxen may include:
  • indigestion, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea;
  • a headache, dizziness, drowsiness;
  • bruising, itching, rash;
  • swelling; or.
  • A ringing noise in your ears.
Commonly Naproxen is medically prescribed with Omeprazole, which is used to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach to tackle the side effects of the Naproxen. But Omeprazole also comes with some potential side effects, which include:
  • heartburn that has lasted three months or maybe longer
  • lightheadedness, sweating, or dizziness with your heartburn.
  • chest or shoulder pain.
  • shortness of breath or wheezing

Another drug often prescribed is Colchicine. As well as gout, Colchicine treats familial Mediterranean fever, pericarditis and Behçet’s disease. Side effects from taking Colchicine may include:

  • muscle pain or weakness;
  • numbness or tingly feeling in your fingers or toes;
  • pale or grey appearance of your lips, tongue, or hands;
  • severe or ongoing vomiting or diarrhoea;
  • fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
If you decide to take the medically prescribed drug solely, then I highly recommend you do your research. I’ve listed the commonly known side effects above, but there are more. You ask need to ask your doctor about the long-term impact on you if you decide to take this route. Based on my experience I would advise you to stimulate your natural resistance (body and mind) before you start a lifelong use of prescribed drugs. Look at prescribed drugs as the complementary therapy rather than the other way round.

We need to talk about Peter

I want to share an experience I had quite recently and in doing so shine a small light on the discourse, which is happening in communities and neighbourhoods across the UK, in the US, and further afield. It’s about perception, personal accountability and the duplicity that some people choose to live. It’s about how we communicate and engage with one another as we flip between our real day to day lives and the virtual world we increasingly inhabit via social media platforms. Moreover, it’s about how a person you think you know in one world is not the person you know in another world.

However, mostly it’s about preying on ignorance to deliberately fuel hate and toxicity between people something that has seeped into our cultures, reflected and used by politicians. In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell introduced us to the concept of “doublespeak.” When Big Brother says, “Love”, he means to hate. When Big Brother says, “Peace”, he means war.

When my family and I left Salisbury after seven happy years and returned to Bristol, we left behind a network of friends whom we value to this day. People who have enriched our lives and sincerely hope will continue to do so. I must stress at this point that our neighbours and vast majority of  Salisbury people whom we came to know did nothing but show us kindness and make us feel welcome.

During our time living in Salisbury Peter would become a regular and welcome visitor to our home, he undertook paid house repairs and socialised with our families. Even Poppy, our pet dog, would dance a merry dance on hearing his voice. He was ‘just there’ when we needed a helping hand. In our interactions with him, we believed there was not a bad bone in his body, which was vital given we were new to the city with a diverse family (immediate and extended).

When we finally settled in Bristol and started to hook up with our friends back in Salisbury via Facebook a startling and unpleasant realism dawned on us. As if from nowhere hateful articles and images began to appear on our Facebook updates from extreme rightwing groups. Often this was beyond the shock-jock humour and rubbish we have sadly become accustomed too and occasionally, this would include images from groups with known violence towards people.

The source of these posts was Peter.

After a run of rather ugly posts, including Peter’s obsession with wanting to reinstate the Golliwog as a reflection of his Britishness, my wife parted ways with him by writing a considered and heartfelt message to him concerning his behaviour. Peter simply liked the message with a thumbs up, no replay and carried on regardless.

After discussing this, I decided to stay the course and challenge his behaviour. I was under no illusion I could ever change his bitter and offensive stupidity I could at least plant a seed of doubt into his followers and family who must have been watching the on-going war of attrition taking place between the both of us.

It’s was not surprising to discover that when directly and calmly challenged hateful people quickly run away, tails between their legs, but then reemerge when they believe the coast is clear to carry on with their vile, ugly and horrid behaviour. This was our experience of Peter’s behaviour.

A few weeks ago he must have started to realise the dwindling number of likes he was receiving for his posts, so he went on the offensive by starting to post his views on my page. It has been said before, and I’ll repeat here again. Not all people who voted for Brexit are racists, but an am very confident that all racists voted for Brexit. Peter is, of course, a passionate advocate of Brexit, UKIP and Trump style politics and watching him stumble, clunk and pathetically wallow around when challenged by my friends on Facebook has become one of my moments of the year.

Things took a further turn recently. Upset by the recent poor news coverage concerning Brexit we went on a somewhat bitter sad and bitter ranting episode during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony trying to score cheap and nasty political points. I merely asked him to show some respect and not use the memory and the commemoration of brave people who have paid the ultimate price to further his hatred of people.

Then shortly afterwards he returned to his old obsession with his beloved Golliwog. I rechallenged him on the Golliwog and why it’s us both offensive and ugly. In true 1970s sitcom style Peter replied that he had none white friends with children, so this proved he was not racist. To which I merely replied, “So you would have no problem in buying them a Golliwogg’s for Christmas then?” An implosion occurred. The results of which I am unable to report given Peter blocked me.

Peter is what George Orwell describes as practising doublespeak. What he says and what he does are two completely different things. The articles and images he decides to publish via Facebook are products of rightwing groups who feed them to him, and he shares them. He chooses to associate with these groups, and so they become part of him, a reflection of him and he a representation of them.

So why am I posting this? Firstly, I’m genuinely relieved that Peter is no longer a part of our lives. Secondly and far more critical. We live in dangerous times when decency and moderation seem out of fashion as some seek answers in the shadow of reactionary, nationalist and racist politics.

They are not the mainstream and never will be, but those who know better need to stick together, calmly resist these people and push them back under the rocks they have scrambled from underneath. Have the confidence to challenge those who ultimately mean you harm regardless of who they are and remember the words of Bill Hicks would say, “Love all the people all the time.”

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