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Good Goddess! 2 – Del Hughes is bored, world-weary and stultified

31 Mar 2024 12 minute read
Lionel Stanhope’s Tribute Mural to the NHS

Del Hughes

Forty-nine years ago, when I was a somewhat bulky five-year-old infant, I well remember the afternoon that Simon Thomas, a volatile boy who we all knew took ‘naughty pills’ (with hindsight, probably an early form of Ritalin), moaned that ‘colouring is shit’, threw his crayons on the floor, and began grumbling that he was ‘bored.’ Gulp.

My classmates and I exchanged wide-eyed glances because, even at that age, we knew that Simon was treading a dangerous path between bravado and stupidity.

Our teacher, Miss Davies – elderly, snowy hair, twinkling eyes, lovely… unless riled (and that really didn’t take much doing) – had already informed us that ‘good children don’t complain’, before expounding, quite volubly, on the topic of boredom being ‘the sign of a lazy mind.’

So, it was no surprise that Simon subsequently disappeared from class for several weeks, and that Miss’s homily shaped my formative years.

Never again did I share my juvenile (or for that matter, mature), ennui in querulous whining tones, something that must have delighted my parents. Instead, I sought to fill my alone time – generally a Sunday morning when Mum and Dad tried to lie-in – with a varied programme of self-study.

I learned to recite the alphabet backwards, dipped into my Junior Pears Encyclopaedia and took on the Greek alphabet, and one week, in a bid to find a sneaky workaround, I dived into our thesaurus to find alternative words to use instead of ‘bored.’ Tee hee.

Junior Pears Encyclopedia, 1974

But right now, Miss Davies’ teachings are well out the window, and I’m sloth personified, because I’m not only bored, I’m jaded, lethargic, world-weary, and stultified. iPad, phone, telly, books, crosswords, news, or even writing, hold not a scintilla of interest for me, and I feel blue.

It’s because my stupid spine has flared up, again. And this time, not only is my left arm out of commission too, but I’ve got friction burns on my chin where my beard bristles keep snagging on my foam collar. Plus, the nerve pain’s a bitch!

Some days ago, in a bid to reboot myself, I fired up the PC and, for want of anything better to do, googled ‘Del Hughes’ (or whatever the Bing equivalent is).

Bad idea, because I ended up in an intense, hour-long tiff with their AI chatbot, Copilot, who insisted that I was a bloke, and wanted proof of my sex when I asked it to check its sources.

I became aeriated enough to use caps locks, and Copilot accused me of literal cyberbullying. Sigh.

But it made me realise two things: 1. Copilot is a smug, straight-laced simpleton – I’d asked if it could create an image of a woman draped in the Welsh flag, but it informed me that it felt  ‘uncomfortable with this criteria’, and to ‘please respect my boundaries’. Lol!

And 2. My current housebound life clearly needed some kind of revamp – and ideally before I put a fist through the monitor.

See, for three long months I’ve been wedged in bed, surrounded by hot water bottles, whilst being painfully pummelled by several TENS machines, and occasionally, Tim.

And, apart from trying out the ‘Seven Days to Release Your Inner Goddess Programme’, which had edifying effects (though none you’d class as divine), my ‘Dangerous Living’ regime has ground to a screeching, shuddering halt. Sob!


Mid-December, when my spine started snarling, I knew that the pain was caused by one of two things – a simple slipped disc/impingement, which would probably sort itself out in a few weeks, or the arachnoid cyst, which is being monitored by my neurologist.

So, my initial plan was simply to wait it out. But after six weeks, and with no improvement, it was GP time.

All I needed was a referral note sent to my neurologist (requesting an earlier appointment), and an MRI of my cervical and thoracic spine. Simples.

Nope, it’s been a bloody nightmare.

Protect the NHS Demo Placards

Equitable access

Right, before I continue, I just want to say how much I love the NHS. I love that it provides free healthcare, I love that, whether you’re a PM (with personal wealth valued at approx. £730 million), a king, princess, or pauper, treatment is based on need.

And frankly, this commitment to equitable access makes it a cornerstone of British society, and something we should all fight to protect.

Yes, we all know that it’s under immense, and constantly increasing pressure, and yes, I could probably list many of the reasons why (I won’t, because this isn’t an opinion piece, and I don’t want to descend into sweary rant territory, but I personally feel that the current Westminster government have a lot to answer for. Grr!).

Moving on… though I’m totally empathetic and understanding of the current state of our nation’s health service, that doesn’t mean I don’t find navigating its numerous obstacles dreadfully frustrating. And, with that in mind, let me tell you about my most recent experiences.

Secure an appointment

First job, speak to a GP. Easy-peasy you might think, but nope. Because chatting with the big cheese is waaay up the road. The actual starting point is attempting to secure an appointment.

Our doctor’s surgery opens at quarter past eight each morning, so that Monday, I was prepped and ready for action. 8:14am, I was on the sofa, large mug of tea beside me, number keyed in, anxious eyes glued to the BBC clock, thumb hovering just millimetres above the call button, waiting. 8.14… still 8.14… still 8.14… 8.15! Go, Go, GO!

And within seconds, I was chatting with a friendly receptionist. Lol! As if.

After thirty-nine minutes of relentless redialling, I finally managed to get something other than an engaged tone, only to be told by a polite electronic chap, that ‘Today’s queue is full. Please try tomorrow. Thank you.’ Hard eye-roll!

And try I did. Across a week’s worth of tomorrows, I rang, rang… and rang some more, but by Friday, I was full-on channelling Macbeth, with my tomorrows creeping by in a seriously petty pace; and when I heard that robotic apologist, I experienced a similar sense of existential despair. (Okay, I’m being overly dramatic, but still… I was miffed.)

With Tim badgering me to ‘just get to bloody A&E’– something I genuinely couldn’t face, due to an average wait time of 8+ hours – I searched for another avenue, because short of Tim donning his balaclava and snatching a GP from the surgery carpark (not recommended, especially when you see his balaclava), there had to be another way?

Tim’s undercover Balaclava

Telephonic blockades

There was. Phew! Stepdad, who’d lately had dealings with our docs (grinding knee, high blood pressure), suggested trying their new Ask My GP service. It’s not something that all practices use, but ours had registered.

Apparently, it’s a delight – you log in, type your issues, and then chillax and wait for a doctor to get in touch. Epic. Stepdad said it opened from 7:00 –11:00am, but to ‘get in early.’ Okey dokey, I’m on it.

The following Monday, I logged in, only to see a message explaining that this service was very busy – guess I wasn’t the only one trying to bypass the telephonic blockades.

However, the site helpfully provided the new ‘opening hours’ (with not a whit of irony), and these were… prepare yourself… 8:00 ‘til 8:05! WTH?  Five measly minutes?

First attempt, and I hadn’t finished typing in my ailments before the generous three-hundred-second window of opportunity closed – remember, I’m presently one hand down. Sigh.

Tuesday was the same, despite an abridged version, but by Wednesday, I’d got it sussed. I’d typed up my symptoms the night before, so when the 7:59 alarm chimed, I was in.

A quick copy and paste and… not even 8:01. Boom!

Later, a random doctor rang – you can’t pick and choose – and we had a brief chat, where I managed to fit seven years of spinal issues into an eight-minute call, and I was assured that a letter would be winging its way to my specialist, posthaste. Sorted.

But no, because when I checked, the absolute earliest I could see my spine guy was November! Heavy sigh.

Literal sobs

However, as the weeks rolled by, my pain turned to agony, and I had to log into Ask My GP once again. And this time, a different doctor wanted to see me. Bollocks! Currently, moving isn’t easy, and even a car trip buggers me up. But needs must.

Stepdad collected me, drove the two minutes to the surgery, where I sat and waited, leaking tears, literal sobs, and squeaky whimpers, ‘til the doc called me in.

I imagine that the stress of the job was partially the reason for her conduct, but that doesn’t excuse it. I mean, when a crying, disabled woman limps into your treatment room, you probably shouldn’t kick things off by repeatedly telling her to ‘Shush!’

But this lady did – and not in a compassionate, soothing way either. Nope, these were sharp ‘shut up’ kinda shushes. And things went downhill from there.

I’ll gloss over the rest of the appointment. But, given my acute state of discomfort, it was clear that it wasn’t the best day for her to instigate a lengthy conversation about changing my HRT.

(Side note: Last year, I wrote about how altering hormones can seriously rock a menopausal woman, physically and mentally. I can only hope that my supremely unsympathetic doctor might, one day, stumble upon it, and read the bloody thing because she’d certainly learn a thing or two. Humph!)

Anyway, with her portentous warnings of ‘fatal blood clots’ and ‘breast cancer’ ringing in my ears, and fresh tears on my cheeks, I staggered out and Stepdad drove me home.

Menopause, image by Del Hughes

Root of the problem

And since? Well… and this is something I’m truly ashamed to admit, but… I’ve basically sold out. I’ve shelved my socialist principles and taken full advantage of Stepdad’s ‘Benenden Family Membership Deal’ (think BUPA, but extra, extra lite – and yes, he could have mentioned it sooner).

I honestly feel dreadful about it, but I needed help, and sooner than sodding November (again, if this was an op-ed I’d wonder if pushing us into private healthcare was their plan all along…).

Within two weeks I’d been scanned, seen an orthopaedic surgeon, and had spinal blocks in my neck (which sadly haven’t helped). And when I had my follow-up, the root of the problem was exposed in the form of an arachnoid web, and thoracic slipped disc. Buggeration.  

The surgeon contacted my neurologist and I’ll be seeing him in the next few weeks, and there’s a team of specialists exploring the most suitable surgical pathway for me.

Of course, none of this has helped with the pain, or my current enforced inactivity, but I know what’s causing the trouble, and can console myself with the knowledge that things are, finally, moving towards a resolution.


Feeling slightly more upbeat, I decided that while I’m waiting to get fixed, I’m going to follow my late father’s example re: sedentary, housebound activities.

He suffered from Syringomyelia, a bastard of a disorder, where cysts form in the spinal cord, leaving an individual unable to walk, and with a body devoid of all sensation.

Back in the 90’s, when Dad’s illness reached maximum misery – and holidays were nothing but a pipedream – he still had a wanderlust for foreign climes. So together, we’d keep busy, preparing for trips we knew he’d never take.

Dad would choose the location, I’d pick up appropriate travel guides and, along with our old faithfuls (AA Book of the Road, Road Atlas of Europe, Michelin Guide), we’d spend weeks, plotting a comprehensive, day by day itinerary.

All was planned; the roads we’d take, the sights we’d see, the hotels where we’d stay, even the restaurants or bistros where we’d eat.

We mapped, scheduled, and costed it all, until our <insert destination here> diary was bursting with details and particulars. And once we’d finished, we’d start anew with the next country on his list.

Reading that back, it suddenly strikes me as really rather sad, and I guess it was. But Dad thrived on these fantasy journeys, and given the life he endured in his final years, that was all that mattered.

But those memories have given me the reboot I desperately needed, because I’m going to use Dad’s last notebook to organise a real touring holiday around France.

Okay, after thirty years, it’s likely that some of his original accommodation might have disappeared, and I’ll probably need to research different eateries, but it’ll keep me busy, which is actually the point. (Plus, Miss Davies would certainly applaud such industry.)

My Kind of Pain

And, once this shitty time has passed, Tim and I will load up Geoff, get a Charles Aznavour tape blasting – Geoff’s vintage in car years, and I’m pretty vintage in musical tastes – and enjoy three weeks of vacances en France.

It’ll be a holiday fit for mon père, and with wine, cheese, coffee, pavement cafés, and lush weather, will be a holiday fit for us too.

Oh, and not forgetting their freshly baked goods – because that’s the kind of pain I definitely don’t mind enduring. Santé!

Del’s book A Year of Living Dangerously is published by Cambria Books and available here and from good bookshops

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