Monday, September 14, 2009


This blog was originally to be about graphic design and marketing for small businesses, but from the off its been about that and just about anything else that enters my head. One day I will set up another blog for the other stuff and this can return to its original purpose. Perhaps...

Today, I want to write about something that has for the past 12 - 13 years been a part of my life. An unwelcome part, but a component that nevertheless interlocks with all the others that make me who I am: Cluster Headaches. We call them "The Beast".

As I write today, I am drained of almost all of my energy. My right eye is half shut - indeed, the right side of my face is drooping a little. I am short of breath, exhausted. My back aches and may arms feel far too heavy to be mine. They are someone else's, surely. I have to concentrate just to pick up a glass of water. Its heavy. I am utterly, totally and completely drained. I have the shakes and am mistyping every second word. Essentially, I have been beaten up again and again since yesterday afternoon. I am badly hurt and in shock.

Every few weeks (sometimes its several months) I get a visit from the Beast. Sometimes the attacks never amount to much as I catch them early and can prevent them going out of control - either that or the Beast chooses not to torment me this time, saving its vicious bile for another day.

When the headaches strike, its as though a thick, oozing, red-black poison is slowly flowing through my brain, invading and infecting its billions of vessels, cracks and crevices. I can almost taste it - coppery, acid, yet thick and cloying. My right eye aches horribly and sharp bolts of pain start arcing and flickering through my brain, increasing in intensity and frequency until they join together in a tangled knot of deep, black, Satanic agony that totally overwhelms me.

The pain is beyond breathtaking. Its like a whole bunch of those sharp, short "ice cream" headaches at once, yet with more depth, as though you've been hit on the head with a hammer. I pant. I try to walk away from it, I try to transfer it by pinching myself, by punching things. I have deliberately smashed my head hard against the wall before (Head 0, Wall 1). I try to hold my head, but that can be difficult too - I feel as though my hands could flay the skin from my skull. And then it gets worse. You never remember the pain until you get it again. "Stay calm!" I try, but my rational thoughts are attacked and overrun by the poison and I thrash about and gasp, and moan, a 100Kg, forty seven year old man reduced to a sobbing, gasping, helpless wreck calling for my mum.

They say that Cluster Headaches are supposed to be the most painful medical condition known; that a cluster headache is more painful than childbirth. Well, I don't know about that but if that is true, last night between the hours of 5pm and 11pm I had sextuplets. Fortunately, I had the Lovely Anna who knows how to help me calm down and regain control. Control is everything when dealing with pain. The few times I have properly lost control were not pretty - and to be frank, are dangerous to me as rationale goes out the window and madness creeps in. The pain is so vicious, so emotionally destabilising that self harm and indeed suicide seem perfectly acceptable options. That's the other name for Cluster headaches: "Suicide Head".

Little is known about Cluster headaches. Many doctors never come across a sufferer and so misdiagnosis is common (I self diagnosed after scouring the internet). They are not migraines. Migraine sufferers have different symptoms and exhibit different behaviour when suffering. Clusters are thought to be precipitated by something misfiring in the brain's hypothalamus, triggering a severe reaction in the trigeminal nerve - that's the huge nerve that controls our faces. I won't go into details because there are so many theories surrounding the condition, but if you want to know more, have a look here.

So, there I am twisting and writhing as the Beast invades me. What do I do? Well, to start, if I can get in quick enough, a can of Red Bull (a taste which I truly detest!) can abort an attack, but seeing as my headaches can go from nothing to full strength in less than a minute, this doesn't often work. I also have oxygen tanks that dispense O2 at 15 litres a minute and I breathe that. Not sure if it works, but having run out last night without a resupply until tomorrow, I am feeling quite vulnerable. I also take a "beta blocker", Verapamil in, according the pharmacist, dangerous quantities. This time they appear not to be working. And, I religeously take Nurofen "Migraine Strength" every four hours. I have several times managed to terminate a bout by just sticking to the Veraps and the Nurofens for a couple of days. Not so this time. If that's not enough medication, I have Imigran injections on standby too, but I hate them and they seem to have little to no effect.

(At this point I stopped writing as another attack with peaks and troughs between strength 5 and strength 9-10 commenced, lasting from 10.30am till about midnight.)

So here I am again. Another morning feeling exhausted. I actually managed to sleep a little last night, but woke up at 4. 30 without a headache but hungry. Ate a tiny bit of chicken pie and two new potatoes. Couldn't stomach more. Had a fruit salad instead. I am addicted. The sharp, sweet-sourness seems cleansing to me. Is it a craving similar to those experienced by pregnant women? (Well, it seems only fair that as a man, if I'm allowed to experience the pain of childbirth, surely I can have cravings too? Where will it end? ) Is my body demanding something that is in fruit salad?

I'm hoping that today I will not be subjected to another bout like yesterday which was particularly nasty but already the signs are not that hopeful - I have shadows - low-grade headaches that twitch and swirl through my brain - they are more a sensation than pain, but they can be the overture to the main event. They can (and lets all hold thumbs at this point) be the worst that can happen as the Verapamil gains the upper hand and the Beast is wrestled to the ground, rendered pretty much ineffective.

The other bit of good news is that at some point today I get replacement oxygen tanks and this neatly brings me to the most important part of this blog post: The pure, shining, glowing beauty of the NHS.

Right now, there are many, many people in the United States who also suffer from Cluster headaches. And they simply cannot afford to have them treated. I on the other hand, here in Britain have access to all the treatment I need. I don't pay for doctor's appointments. I don't pay for prescription renewals. Out of O2? I simply call the oxygen people and they deliver. For FREE! I pay just £7.60 for a month's supply of Verapamil. And I pay the same amount for Imigran Injections. Peanuts! If I had to pay for the Imigran, well, I wouldn't be able to - or I'd be too scared to use it in case I 'wasted' it when a greater need was lurking round the corner.

I do accept that in the States its not going to be simple to introduce a system similar to the NHS, and that there are many large and powerful organisations that make a killing (literally?) from selling health insurance, but come on America, you are not the Third World. Provide healthcare to your many, many people who have not benefited from your capitalist land of dreams. Use your imaginations. Your people have to use theirs - there are some sufferers who buy welding oxygen to help themselves. Sort it!

I count myself fortunate - beyond fortunate that I live in the UK. Back home in my beloved Zimbabwe I'd have to grin and bear it. In the States, I'd have to hand over all my earnings for relief. Most of all though, I am extremely lucky that my headaches are episodic. There are people who live day-in and day-out without a break for years with this awful condition. Even worse, there are a few children who have this mainly adult disease. How on earth does a child cope with these vicious, evil attacks? God protect them!

If you've read this far, well done. I'm unsure of whether I'm seeking pity or whether I'm just wanting to spread awareness of this disease. Lets go for spreading awareness. Its more gallant. Sure, I could always use a little sympathy, but then so could just about anybody - and if you have any, save it for the children and the chronic sufferers.

Have a look at this.

Copyright © 2009 Paul R Davey. All photographs, text and artworks in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Paul R Davey unless otherwise stated. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jumping through hoops

Okay, I'm now getting grumpy. A lot grumpy.

After having my bank card stopped by my bank because some cretin nicked the details and went on a spending spree in the Philippines, I am expecting after ten days to get my new card sometime today. This means I will be able to spend money again – and make up for a weekend lost to being cashless.

My plan is to invite myself out for dinner. I am not sure where I will go yet, but it will be good. I like to treat myself well occasionally and I have narrowed my choices down to a few places, each of which I am sure will provide me with an excellent meal in a fine atmosphere. Wine will be drunk and I'll have a truly fascinating conversation with myself. Who knows, I might even take myself home and ask me in for a cup of coffee...

When I get to my chosen restaurant, it is my plan to have a look at the menu, select a dish and ask (via the maitre'd) for the chef to cook it for me to see if its what I would like to order. If it is not what I want, I will ask him to cook something else instead and I will, when it arrives, see if its a better option. I might, being an Olympic-level procrastinator, then ask for dish number one to be brought back so I can compare the two side by side. Hell, you know what? I think I'll take both dishes home so that the Lovely Anna can give me her opinion.

Then, because I want a really good dining experience, I will take both dishes back and summon the chef. We'll sit around the table and I'll tell the chef where the Lovely Anna thinks he went wrong. I'll also make some suggestions on how he can improve the dish. The chef, at this stage, should become quite tetchy. Lets christen him, "Tetchy Chef". I will ask him to humour me and once he has altered the two dishes as per the Lovely Anna's suggestions, I'll take them home again and ask her opinion.

Fresh from receiving the Lovely Anna's opinion, I will return to the restaurant and will summon the Tetchy Chef and the Maitre'd and suggest that perhaps the original version of the dish is after all, the better option. The Tetchy Chef will disappear into the kitchen and will reappear after some time carrying the dish that I and the Lovely Anna have so helpfully perfected for him. As he and the maitre'd prepare to unveil the dish, I will beckon a recently arrived young gentleman over and ask him to reveal the contents of his satchel: A Domino's pizza.

Placing the pizza next to the Tetchy Chef's dish, I will then invite all the other diners to "tell me what they think". I am of course, deeply aware of the value of market research. When the Tetchy Chef's dish is declared the better, I will then agree to have that dish served to me. (Me allow personal preferences to override market consensus? Heaven forbid!)


I want it for the same price as the pizza! And I'd like to have the sauce from Tetchy Chef's first offering. And the chips too. Also, would the Tetchy Chef mind awfully if he used the same pepperoni's from the Domino's pizza? You see, I want Duck a la'orange with chips, cheese sauce and pepperoni. And can it all be organic please. Organic's very "in" these days.

When my meal eventually arrives at my table, I will begin the long, laborious and not altogether pleasant task of chewing my way through the hideous concoction of clashing, lukewarm flavours. My witty and erudite conversation with myself will dry up as I try to look like I'm enjoying the results of my intervention in the Tetchy Chef's efforts. With the ingredients of the meal curdling in the boiling cauldron of my stomach I'd order more wine to try and soothe the heartburn. I'd glug down a huge draft, failing to notice the little raft of saliva floating on its surface...

Eventually, like most nightmares, the meal will come to an end. The Maitre'd will present the bill along with a mint. Of course, I will then take great umbrage. "What??? Twelve pounds??? Are you bloody mad? Hell, I've never had such a disgusting meal in my life! I have heartburn, a belly ache, and the wine to be quite honest, was bloody awful. Tasted like a smoker's spittle! Lets make things quite clear", I'd continue, "I have had to help you here. I have had to get my Lovely Anna to help. And I had to get all the other customers in the restaurant to help. You are supposed to be professionals! And you wanted to charge me two times as much as the cost of the pizza? I am not prepared to pay for this."

Now, I'm sure there are only a very few people on the earth who would torment a Maitre'd and a Tetchy Chef in such a way, but let me tell you, that if the Maitre'd and the Tetchy Chef worked in marketing, such mistreatment is rather more common. Common enough for me to feel bound to blog about it.

It is truly staggering the amount of "free meals" that are cooked in various creative studios around the world. Clients expect their agencies to offer a range of options and to be fair, agencies have gone along with this. Hell, I know I do. We have to jump through the most ridiculous number of hoops to satisfy clients that they are getting their money's worth. We have to endure "spouse input" ("she's done a course in interior design and is quite arty") and we have to be good natured about shoehorning the ideas of the client's "niece at art college" into our work.

I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain to an incredulous client that because he wanted this, this and this added to his job he has to pay more. ("But you quoted me!") I have also been told so many times that "I could get it done cheaper in India" that I now wholeheartedly recommend the client takes his brief and fucks off to India.

Clients demand cleverness. They demand clarity. The need ideas that are crystalline and pure yet so many insist on amateurishly mixing awkward, ugly cocktails of ideas and influences. They work against, not with their agency and they make us try stuff we know will fail ("oh please just humour me...")

As agencies or lone "guns for hire" we have portfolios of work. Most of us have websites where the work can be seen. Clients or potential clients should be able to see quite clearly whether we meet their expectations. They don't need us to re-prove ourselves by doing expensive (to us, free for them) pitches for their business. Go by reputation. Go by track record. And then when you've selected us, don't try and change the way we work. Don't interfere unnecessarily, you'll usually end up muddying the water.

Copyright © 2009 Paul R Davey. All photographs, text and artworks in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Paul R Davey unless otherwise stated. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paving: I'm no expert, should have used one.

Because it was a long weekend I intended to have a well deserved, long lie-in followed by a leisurely listing of the relaxing, cool activities in which I'd indulge myself for the next three days.

I had little movies playing, as they so often do in my head, where I the Star, would be attending some sexy food market somewhere, purchasing the makings of a rather elegant (but casual) dinner. Another movie had me entertaining good friends with wine, and a braai (that's a 'barbecue' to those who are unfortunate enough not to be southern African).

Well what actually happened was this: I gave up trying to sleep at about 6.30am (thirst, backache, headaches, heartburn - all the usual stuff) and blurted out to the lovely Anna (my supervisor-cum-girlfriend) that I would like to build a patio for the braai.

Please read this story carefully because it will reveal an important moral.

Yes, we'd been humming and hawing about this project and I considered myself equal to the task. Just dig out a hole, make it level, toss in some sand and lay the paving stones on top. Doddle. I'd be done and dusted by lunchtime.

So after a "discussion" revolving around the layout of tiles, the repositioning of the composter, my alleged lack of spatial awareness, the fact that Anna is always right, the fact that she isn't etc. we headed off to Homebase, our chosen source of blue slate paving stones. After looking at all the things we don't need, we went out to where the paving stones were and proceeded to discuss (rather too bloody thoroughly) the merits of each individual stone and to pile them onto the trolley. Ow! They pinched my delicate, baby-smooth office-worker's fingers.

We loaded the car and headed home with our precious cargo of stones. I then proceeded to move the quarter of a tonne of paving stones through the house into the garden, noting how with each load my body ached a little more. Once the car was unloaded we headed off to B&Q to buy building sand. 6 bags, 25 Kg each. And then home again. for another 6 trips to and from the car...

I was feeling the burn.

Using pegs and string, just like real builders, we laid out the outline of the patio and I started to dig. We don't have a pick so I had to make use of a fork and a small spade or "spadette". I never expected there to be so much "spoil" (Get me, with the technical jargon!!!) which I had to lug across the garden in a rubble bucket. I was busting a big old sweat and my back was in agony. Four years later, I'd dug the hole, leveled it and had stood, swaying, sweating and wheezing gazing at the very disappointingly small, shallow indentation I'd created.

Ah well, onwards and upwards! All I had to do now was toss in the sand and lay the paving stones. It was very satisfying to slit open the bellies of the sand bags, spilling their contents into the hole. By bag number six it was obvious that I needed more sand. And we'd decided to just use all 300 x 300mm stones meaning I had to replace the three 600 x 600 stones with 12 new 300 x 300mm ones. Back to Homebase.

Once again I pinched my delicate designer's fingers and felt my back crunch alarmingly as I loaded another four bags of sand and 12 paving stones onto the trolley...

Once back home I repeated the car unloading pantomime lugging the dripping wet bags of sand through the house. And the paving stones...

Again I slit the bellies of the bags. Again I realised I needed more sand...

Day Two: Aluta continua...

Barely able to stand we made our way back to Homebase to buy more sand. And a rubber mallet. Again I lugged the sand through the house. Again I nearly passed out with exhaustion. "This is supposed to be simple!" I thought to myself and to make myself feel better I blamed Anna for all the woes in the world. She said, "Yes dear." and carried on supervising the trailing lobelia and geraniums.

And so it came to pass that I began to lay the paving stones. The first one took 20 minutes. I could NOT get it to sit level and at the correct height. I was almost tweezering in individual grains of sand in an attempt to get the bloody stone to sit properly, at the right height and to not rock. Stone number two was a bit easier. It took just 10 minutes. Now please bear in mind that I have what orthopedic surgeons call sore knees. I hate kneeling. I hate even more, standing up after kneeling as this hurts my knees and my (what spinal surgeons call) achy back. Added to this I have either a beer belly or a "food baby", I'm not sure which, weighing me down. I am not built for crawling on the ground. So I moaned, groaned and cursed and swore and blamed the ever patient Anna.

After paving stone number eight was laid it became apparent that there was an issue with the levels. Yes, they were all laid in a beautifully straight line, but paving stone number 8 was aiming skywards; the Ying was correct, the Yang not so. Buggeration. I tried to re-lay stone number 8, but this then showed up the problems with stone number seven. Stone six was influencing the angle of stone seven but was also being led astray by stone five. Stone four was... Sod it! I started all over again.

To cut a long and extremely tedious story short, I eventually did finish laying my patio. It has a few moments where it comes close to being level. If I squint my eyes It almost does look level. Almost. The tiles are all pretty close to the same height as each other and only some of the rock a little. I have assured Anna that "they will settle". Now all I need to do is assure myself of the same thing.

So here I am. Mr Braai Patio. Am I proud of it? Perhaps a little - I mean it is all my own work. Am I pleased that I did it? Perhaps a little - but it is not perfect and that irritates me (although not as much as doing it again would). I have to live with it. With second best. Anna stands on individual paving stones rocking... inspecting...considering. She reminds me a of a female weaver bird inspecting the nest her mate has just built...does she like it or will she rip it to bits??? So far so good, but I think she's being kind...

But the real lesson is this: An expert paver will have created a much better patio. It would be level. The tiles wouldn't rock. He would have had enough sand and the correct tools. He would not have broken a sweat digging the hole. He would have built the whole damn thing in a morning. It took me two long days and I'm now crippled. My back's killing me and every muscle in my body aches. My knees have handed in their notice. By contrast, my patio looks amateurish. It is amateurish and I thank God I don't have to use it to attract customers to my business, because it would reflect badly on me.

So, for the few small businessmen that read this blog, next time you want to create a brochure or build your own website, think of using an expert. Think of using an expert like me - and if it just so happens you want a brochure or a website for your paving company, I have some paving that needs sorting out. We can can do a little quid pro quo...

Copyright © 2009 Paul R Davey. All photographs, text and artworks in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Paul R Davey unless otherwise stated. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.