Tuesday, January 31, 2006

To sleep, perchance to dream...

In my neverending goal of trying to take as little medication as possible I decided to stop taking the sleeping tablets. The sleeping tablets may, or may not, have been helping me sleep. But they weren't stopping me from waking up in the middle of the night with coughing attacks. As it was obvious that this may result in a change in my sleeping patterns I slept in the guest room on Sunday night.

I didn't get to sleep until about 01:30 but once asleep I slept fine. I had a coughing fit at about 03:00. But it wasn't that bad and I was able to get back to sleep relatively quickly.

On Monday night I slept better as I fell asleep earlier and slept later. Again without the sleeping tablets so I feel as though I'm progressing.

I do wish the coughing fits would stop however as they're both painful and annoying...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Death and taxes

As Ben Franklin said "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes". Well I appear to have at least delayed the first so it's only fair that I should get pretty hard by the second.

As I've mentioned here before the French tax authorities decided to audit me at this rather inconvenient time in my life. I can't think of exactly when a tax audit would be convenient but this period of my life definitely qualifies as inconvenient and some may consider that a more than slight understatement.

They actually started the audit on the day of my second surgery back in September. I had sent all of my files to my accountant and she held the audit in her offices. They spent quite some time going over my accounts desperately looking for some way to make some money out of this. My accounts are actually ridiculously accurate. They laughed when they saw such things as a VAT declaration for 2 euros, along with the accompanying payment, when most companies would simply have adjusted one of their incoming cheques and applied it to the following month. They couldn't believe when I had maintained a 0.10 € balance from a client who had under paid me by that amount and never paid me since. But they still kept looking. They had to find something.

Then the international discrepancies kicked in. In France every business transaction requires an invoice. Every invoice in France must be contain a minimum of certain information (a unique number, the date, the name of the client and the name of the supplier, the business identification numbers, ...). In many other countries invoices are not obligatory. With the Internet and online business transactions this is becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception. I would say that about 80 to 85% of my business is conducted over the Internet. Most of my purchases, either for my company directly or for my clients indirectly, is carried out over the Internet. In many cases I do not ever receive an invoice or even an online version that I can print. The auditors found that for 2 of my suppliers from whom I purchase quite regularly (my Internet hosting company and my online fax supplier) I didn't have any invoices. They therefore took all of the amounts paid to those companies and declared them as personal expenses thereby reducing my company's profit and increasing my personal income. I therefore would end up paying slightly less in professional tax and quite a lot more in personal revenue taxes. Luckily when they sent the results of their audit I had a month to appeal. Luckily, again, the results came out when I was in a fit state to be able to do something about it. I contacted my suppliers and begged them to provide me with invoices. They sent me online versions for the years in question (2002 through 2004) and I printed them all out and sent them off to the auditors (about 300 pages). This greatly reduced the situation for 2002 and 2003. However there remains quite a lot of other suppliers for 2004 from whom I could not get invoices and they're hitting me with a whopping 5,600 € tax recall for just that one year by adding on the extra amount and then adding on an additional 40% in late charges. I filed late partly because I was in the hospital fighting cancer. This is apparently not taken in to consideration. Business is business.

All of this came to a head at the same time as the other tax authorities came after me for back professional taxes. I hadn't paid my 2004 professional tax partly out of laziness, partly out of a lack of funds and, only ever so slightly, partly because of my health problems which occurred way after the amounts were already overdue. The tax authorities therefore tried to get the money from my company bank account. That didn't work as it was overdrawn already. They therefore went after my personal account. That also was overdrawn (as usual). They then went to the last account that is (partially) in my name and which is never overdrawn. This last item is due to the fact that I do not manage that account and simply follow the instructions of she who does manage the account: "she who must be obeyed". They took the money out of our joint account. I therefore now was angry myself as they took the money long before actually sending out any notification. However I also therefore had to deal with a force much worse than the tax authorities... she was not pleased (and rightfully so).

I spent a good portion of Saturday yelling at my accountant for letting this happen. The tax papers and notification of the fact that they were going to take the money out of the accounts had been sent to her and she hadn't told me. She said that she didn't want to bother me with such matters at this time when my thoughts should be elsewhere. I then yelled back at her, to the best of my ability which is unfortunately rather embarrassingly weak, that it wasn't up to her to make that decision especially when it's costing me money. We went back and forth and finally we agreed that I would deduct all of the bank charges and tax charges from this transaction from her fees. I then went to our joint bank with a cheque from my company account and paid off the amount which had been deducted.

All of this may sound like I'm complaining about our tax system... I'm not. I am one of the rare French residents who actually quite approves of both the tax system and the social system and the ridiculous amount of money we pay in both taxes and social charges. I personally find what we get back from both of those systems is incomparable and invaluable. Although I've felt this way for almost 2 decades now I am living proof.

I'll be negotiating a payment plan to pay off my personal taxes. But belts will be worn tighter this spring, summer, fall, winter and for a while afterwards...

An interesting side remark: none of my clothes fit me any more. Everything is loose and baggy on me. I am on the last hole on all of my belts. On my "business belt" this still isn't enough and my "nice trousers" tend to actually slip down when I walk around. I didn't buy new clothes in the sales as I don't know if I'm actually going to be able to maintain this amazingly thin and light size. In many ways I would like to while in other ways I would prefer not to. For the moment I am no longer losing weight. But I'm not gaining much weight either.

Friday, January 27, 2006

All back together...

Alexandra's coach, bringing her class back from classe de neige was supposed to arrive at 18:30 in front of her school. However Desney had stopped by the school on the way home, asked the concierge if she had any news, and found out they had almost arrived. She came home and I went to the school to wait. Desney showed up about 5 minutes later and the coach arrived about 5 minutes later at 18:15. Rather than being late they were actually 15 minutes early! This was actually quite good news for us as it was freezing outside...

The kids all got off the coach and practically immediately started crying. Some were crying because they had said farewell to the counselors who had looked after them; others were crying because there parents weren't at the school waiting for them as they had arrived early; others were crying because they were so happy to be home and yet others were crying for reasons which we are not aware of.

Alexandra too was crying mostly because she was sad at leaving her counselors behind. We got her home and she went upstairs and found her birthday presents waiting for her. She actually said "thank you" for her new computer...

Jessica was out at the theatre with her class. We let Alexandra choose what she wanted to eat and it was Japanese. As it was so cold out we actually had the Japanese deliver for the first time, even though they're just around the corner, so neither Desney nor I would have to go back out.

After a few weeks of intelligent movies with a story which did not appear to please the entire family I had scoured eBay and got hold of an oldie but a goodie which I knew would appeal. Tonight we watched Tango & Cash and watched Stallone and Russell blow up most of Los Angeles while throwing out cute one-liners at each other.

Jessica got home at around 11:30 accompanied by her friend Alice who was spending the night. I think they were suprised to find that Desney was already in bed and I was suggesting they do the same. They wanted to sit up and have tea for a while. I have no idea how late they actually stayed up in Jess' bedroom but I doubt they went right to sleep... even though they have school tomorrow (10:00).

Tonsil Boy

Just a couple of days after I found Raph's tonsil cancer page I found Randy's Tonsil Boy blog. Randy is going through some very similar treatment and symptoms as myself. There are similarities and differences. But we're both fighting the same fight. I look at his blog every day hoping for news. It sometimes feels better just knowing that I'm not the only one and that the symptoms or side-effects I am feeling are also felt by someone else.

You may have noticed, around the same time that I found these sites, that I added a new Tonsil Cancer links section to my right-hand vertical bar... down at the bottom.

All my positive thoughts and best wishes go out to Randy, and his family, for his speedy and completely recovery.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Computers again...

Dell Inspiron 9400My new laptop (Dell Inspiron 9400) arrived yesterday. I opened it up and I immediately froze. I didn't move. I gently put it back in its wrapper and made sure I hadn't broken any of the packaging.

I then got on the phone and called Dell. I rather calmly explained to the person on the phone that I had ordered 3 computers. I ordered all of my computers in English (English software and English keyboards (QWERTY)). I then explained, while remaining calm, that my laptop had just been delivered, that I had opened it only discover it has a French keyboard (AZERTY) instead of the keyboard I ordered. I told them that I put it back in its packaging and had not gone any further. They said they'd call me back about the "possibility of changing the keyboard".

That was yesterday... today I called them again. I was told that I can now start using the computer as whether they change the keyboard or not they will not be changing the entire keyboard. They are now trying to determine (read "prove") where the error occurred. In other words they need to document who is to blame before they do anything. I sent them all of the e-mails I had sent to the sales rep to explain the problem as soon as I had the order confirmation as well as my original order and the leasing document I had signed all which showed that I had ordered a QWERTY keyboard on all of my computers. Now I just have to wait for the judgement...

In the mean time I have an absolutely beautiful, albeit slightly enormous, new laptop computer to install, configure and finally start playing with!

No news is good news...

I'm still struggling along... but no big changes...

It still hurts to swallow. But all I can say is I've gotten used to it. I cringe every now and then and make funny faces and cough like an old man. But I know it's only temporary.

I'm eating regularly and reasonably well. I'm certainly not eating as much as I used to and not everything I used to. But I am eating three meals a day when possible. It just takes me forever.

Today I actually went out to my local café (Le Madrigal) where I used to eat regularly. I stood at the bar and had a ham and cheese sandwich, as usual, along wtih a panaché (half lager half lemonade). The sandwich tasted fine. But people started staring at me a half hour later when I still hadn't finished it. The beer went down OK. It certainly doesn't taste as good as it used to (yet). The biggest negative part about the beer is the bubbles which bother my throat. They don't exactly tickle. They more scratch ever so lightly. I'm sure English ale, which is generally warmer and flatter, will go down much better. Something to look forward to. However it was just a nice feeling to be standing at my local, eating and drinking like a "normal" person.

I've now finished most of my medication. The only things left are my laxative the morning (too much information?), my sleeping tablet (half) each night and my magic mouthwash.

I am finally, slowly but surely, getting back to work. I'm working maybe 2 to 4 hours a day. It's a good feeling to be cleaning up things on my desk and getting things done. Most of what I'm working on at the moment is my backlog. Five months of accounting, bookkeeping, tax declarations and end of year accounts are not a lot of fun.

My voice still isn't back to a comfortable level yet. People lean over close to hear what I'm saying and my mouth dries up real quickly. But I can at least talk a bit and tell someone what I want or how I feel... whether they want to know or not.

Every day I wake up feeling a bit groggy and with a throat screaming at me for liquid. But like all of these symptoms: this too shall pass.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Dell Dimension 9150I spent all day Saturday locked away in my office installing my new desktop computer (Dell Dimension 9150). I came out for dinner and then went back and finished late in the evening. Jessica was out babysitting for the evening and didn't get back until 01:15 in the morning which was just when I finished...

I spent all day Sunday reformatting and reinstalling my now "old" desktop computer for Desney to use as her computer.

Desney prepared a Sunday dinner of steak with mushroom sauce and green beans. She had a red Château le Fagé which appeared to go really well... it smelled great to me.

Health and Meds

Although Dr. Girard gave me a whole barrage of new medication I haven't started taking any of them.

The morphine-based painkillers are going to knock me out for 3 days and then "just make me tired" for the rest of the time. At the moment I'm not willing to make that sort of sacrifice of my time as I finally feel as though I'm just starting to be able to do things again. I feel as though I'm able to do more and more, even if it is ever so slightly, each day. I'm not willing to take so many steps backward in my evolution. I can't say I don't feel the pain or that it doesn't bother me. But I have become accustomed to it and it is more than bearable.

The liquidifying syrup he gave me (Maxilase) does what it says it will. It turns my thick saliva in to liquid which I then spend a good 10 minutes coughing up. This irritates my throat to no end but does get rid of the saliva. However 45 to 60 minutes laters it's back sitting there as a big lump at the back of my throat. I'm almost getting used to that as well. I stopped taking this at the end of the first day.

The medecine he gave me for "reflux" doesn't appear to have any great effect on me as that doesn't appear to be part of the problem. There's nothing going up and down in my throat. There's just the thick lump of saliva constantly sitting at the top of my throat which is caused by my impaired salivary glands. I didn't taking these.

The only medication I'm left taking is my corticoid (Solupred) of which I am at the end of the treatment. It's one of those where the treatment has to end very gradually. I'm down from 2 tablets per day to 1/4 of one tablet per day and should be finished in about 3 more days. The only other medication left is the sleeping tablet of which I take one-half every night. As I'm sleeping reasonably well I'm not willing to stop this one quite yet.

I still have difficulty swallowing and it still hurts. However I'm getting used to it. I know it's only temporary and that eventually it will heal. None of the medication previously prescribed would do anything for the actually healing process.

I still have practically no voice. That too will eventually heal and it more than likely directly related to the throat constriction itself as well as the lack of saliva. None of the medication would help with my voice either.

My taste buds are still very confused. That too will pass with time. I'm learning to be patient. But damn I really miss a good glass of wine!

I dream of the day when I can guzzle back a glass of water, swallow after swallow, without even thinking about it.

Friday, January 20, 2006


The most exciting element of the day was the partial delivery of my new computer. My new desktop computer (Dell Dimension 9150) arrived. This is part of my order as I have a new laptop which should be coming at the beginning of next week. These are both purchased on credit so this gives me another good reason to live at least another 3 years so my family doesn’t have to pay these things off.

In the evening we picked up some Japanese food from our local restaurant and we watched Girl With A Pearl Earring. This was one of the DVDs Arlene had bought for us during her last visit. It was probably one of the most beautiful films (visually) I’ve seen in quite some time. I quite enjoyed it as did Jessica. She described the tone quite well. She said it’s “peaceful”.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A very, very busy day

I knew it… I had been preparing myself mentally for today all week…

I awoke at 07:30 which is the earliest I’ve awoken in many, many weeks (except for the brief hug with Alex at 05:30). I showered, breakfasted and was out of the house by about 10:30 which is again a record.

I went to see a client in the 7th. I only had about a half an hour of work to do there but it had to physically be done at the office. I was installing the system which allows me to work on the computer remotely. The installation itself has to be done there as there are accounts and passwords to enter and configure. They also had an amazing bottle of wine waiting for me as a Christmas gift which I will now use as a sort of goal. I have to get better enough to be able to drink this. It’s a sort of mountain peak to strive towards.

I then went to see my client in the 16th where I knew I would be working for the rest of the day. They had been patiently waiting for me to come to the office and the problems had just been building up since my operations. I spent the rest of the day working on their computers and getting everything working. It felt great, albeit exhausting, at the end of the day when everything worked as it should.

One of the cool things I installed here was the new version of Skype on each of the computers. Skype itself is pretty cool for people who need to communicate internationally and want to save some money. This company communicates with offices all around the world, including some pretty far flung places, and the savings could be astronomical. However the limitation of Skype is that you have to talk through your computer. This normally requires either a microphone and the computer speakers, which mean everyone can hear your conversation, or a headset (headphone and microphone) which plugs in to the computer. But here we connected up a couple of new Skype Phones and they worked great.

At the end of the day Jessica and a friend of hers met me at my client’s and the thereof us headed off to the theatre in Boulogne-Billancourt. We had purchased tickets to see Bérénice (Racine) as it’s a play that they’re studying in school and they have a test on it tomorrow. First we found a restaurant (Chinese) and had dinner and then we went to the show. I personally found the production extremely stilted, stiff and incredibly boring. But the girls loved it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dr. Girard

As my throat is still killing me when I swallow, and I can’t start the treatment Dr. Hagege gave me which are mostly pills, I called and made an appointment with my family doctor (Dr. Girard) who I haven’t seen since all of this began.

Dr. Girard has been our family doctor for over fifteen years now and is someone I trust completely. He is always honest, extremely helpful and if he doesn’t have the answer he’ll research until he finds it. He’s one of those true old-fashioned family doctors who makes house calls in the mornings and receives patients in the afternoon until quite late in the evening. He may very well have saved my life with the speed in which he got me scanned, verified and operated on. He actually called surgeons he knew on their mobile phones while they were still on holiday to get me someone (good) as soon as possible.

It was a good meeting and we started with all of the normal niceties, Happy New Year, how’s the family? And such…

A lot of what he had to say was the same as most of the other doctors have said which is a phrase I have come to hate: “You’ll just have to be strong and get through it. Only time and rest will heal. It will take time but we do not know how long. It’s different for each person as each person is different, each cancer is different and each treatment is different.” Personally I’m sick and tired of being strong.

He gave me some new medication for the coughing, all in liquid form, and he has given me some very strong painkillers which are morphine-based. They had to be ordered special so I’ll be picking them up tonight.

He answered all of my questions with long detailed answers and called other experts for answers before responding to me. It was a very “feel good” meeting as I came out of there feeling better even though there weren’t any real answers or solutions.

One of the important things he said was that I am still sick, no matter how good I feel at certain moments, and that I should sleep when I feel tired and eat when I’m hungry and not worry about daytime, nighttime and mealtimes.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Alex' 11th

It's quite strange at home... strangely peaceful and quiet.

This is the first time Alex or us have celebrated her birthday without being together. I hope she's having a great time...

I unfortunately have been having a pretty bad few days... swallowing has become very painful again and I get more tired more often...

I sometimes feel like I'm on a rollercoaster... I've had enough and I want to get off!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I am not alone

I’ve been having one of those bad days… my throat is just absolutely killing me today… every swallow is the kind of pain where I want to punch a wall…

Out of minor depression I started looking around the net… My cancer is referred to as throat cancer because it started in the throat. The name of one’s cancer is determined by where the primary tumour is/was. In my case that was my left tonsil so technically I have tonsil cancer.

While browsing around I found Raph’s Tonsil Cancer site. The similarities are amazing. What was the best for me was to read some of the positive outcomes and how he is living a relatively normal life now…

Friday, January 13, 2006

Now we are three

Poor Desney had to get up at 5:00 this morning to get Alex ready. Alexandra’s class is going away for 2 weeks of “classe de neige” (class in the snow) down in the French alps. She had to be ready and at school for 6:00 this morning. I highly doubt she got any sleep last night as she’s been pretty excited about this for weeks now. I got up at 5:30, gave her a hug, and went back to sleep until about 9:00.

In the evening Jess went out and picked up pizza and we watched The Recruit which I had rented. I thought it was quite good and relatively unpredictable as a thriller. Not enough action in it for the remaining members of the family. However apparently Colin Farrell is sexy enough to keep the younger's interest throughout... After seeing 2 Pacino films in 2 weeks however I’ve had enough Pacino for the year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Power Cuts

Power Cuts

Back in November, when Arlen was here, we started having electricity cuts. We’d be in the middle of living our normal lives and all of a sudden the electricity would go off. Most of the houses on our street were in the same situation. It would last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. One night it went off, and back on, and back off, and back on again several times which was even more frustrating. This culminated in one evening where the power stayed off all night and came back on early in the morning. Most of the time the power would cut off relatively late in the evening and we’d all end up going to bed a bit early. This happened about 6 times throughout the following months and hasn’t happened for a while.

Wednesday night the TV cable cut off. No television. Instead we sat around watching a couple of episodes of Cheers from my DVD. I realised that I was the only one who found it funny. Another case of American humour, especially from the early 80s, which just didn’t travel well. However I do recall the show being extremely popular when I first arrived in England in 1983. Anyway the cable must have been repaired in the night as it was working fine again in the morning. Then, last night, it cut off again. This time we put on another one of my Christmas presents: Only Fools and Horses: Season One. Although this is from the same period as Cheers, Desney and Jessica seemed to find this funnier. However right in the middle of the second episode the electricity cut. At 22:30 there was no electricity in the house.

This was quite frustrating, as usual, and eventually everyone went to bed. Unfortunately the electricity wasn’t working again in the morning and I assume everyone blindly went around getting ready. No hot water must not have made things any easier either. I personally slept in. At around 10:30, just about exactly 12 hours after it went off, the electricity came back on.

With the TV cutting off and the electricity cutting off I’m starting to feel like I’m living in some tiny village in remote Scotland with an infrastructure from the 19th century!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's magic!

Thanks to the sleeping pills Dr. Hagege gave me I slept all night last night, from midnight to 07:00, for the first time since October! It was a wonderful feeling to wake up feeling as though I'd actualy slept.

Most of the rest of the medication he gave me however is practically useless. It's mostly tablets and I can't swallow them. One would have thought that a throat specialist who just spent a harrowing hour looking down my throat would have known that. I now have to see if I can get something different...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Back to the doctor's

After my experience last night I called my specialist (Dr. Hagege) in the morning to move my appointment from next Monday (16/01) to as soon as possible. I was very lucky to get an appointment for this afternoon.

I tried to get a bit of work done in the morning as I now knew my afternoon was blocked.

I received one of my Christmas presents in the post today. I had received an Amazon gift certificate from my in-laws and I ordered the DVD of one of my all-time favourite series from my youth: Cheers: The Complete First Season. For lunch I ran out and got myself a Greek sandwich and sat at home watching 3 episodes. I had a great time!

Although I arrived just in front of Dr. Hagege’s office about 25 minutes early I arrived in his office on time. It took me that long to park… even illegally! The appointment was nightmarish. If I knew it was going to be that bad I might have waited another week. I explained to him my symptoms and problems. He explained that it’s still too soon after the end of the treatments (one month today) to start work on the surveillance aspect of treatment and that it’s normal that all of my throat and nasal passages are currently severely damaged. However he did a full examination.

He shpritzed the back of my throat with an anaesthesia and then put the cotton up my nostrils with anaesthesia as well. Already I was gagging and almost throwing up. Then came the actual examination which started to remind me of the dentist scene with Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. He performed a full fiberscope (camera up the nostril and down the throat). I could have killed him… if I had the strength. It ended with my throwing up, slightly, and collapsing in to a ball of tears on his chair. He said that next time I should take a Xanax (relaxant) about an hour before coming to see him as I was obviously quite “tense”. Talk about an understatement.

Going through the full exam at least allowed him to answer my questions. Although I still can’t speak it’s temporary. My vocal chords were not damaged and my voice should come back to normal… eventually. Like every other doctor however he does not provide any idea as to time. It could be weeks or it could be months. He believes my coughing is due to a problem of “reflux” whereby acid is coming up from my stomach through my oesophagus. He’s given me medication for that which should help over the next week. I’m praying it does as this is one of the biggest problems I have. As regards the pain in the throat there’s practically nothing to be done. Pain killers, apart from Morphine, are useless. This explains why the Efferalgan/Codeine had so little effect… if any. I just have to keep the throat as lubricated as possible as often as possible. He did give me a new mouth wash which includes a bit of anaesthesia in it which may help. He was also kind enough to give me some pills to help me sleep. Here too I pray that works as I can’t remember the last time I had a full night’s sleep. According to him the next time I should see him is in 3 months at which time we will do our first post-treatment scan.

I got home feeling pretty awful as the exam was quite painful. As the anaesthesia wore off my nostrils started really killing me.

Desney had made some Bolognese sauce yesterday, along with all the other cooking she had done, and we had pasta Bolognese for dinner… delicious. An hour and a half after the exam I was able to eat and I did so voraciously.

She's Gone!

We all got up in time to see Arlene off. She left for the airport at 7:30. She’s got a very, very long trip home (Paris – Dublin, Dublin – New York).

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday @ Home

After a pretty bad night on Friday I was back on the couch last night. It turned out to be one of the worst nights I’ve had. I was up and coughing until 4:30 in the morning. I finally got to sleep, sitting upright, until about 7:30 and then I was half-asleep until about 9:00. My throat is killing me after all the coughing…

After a long and slow Sunday morning breakfast we spent most of the day sitting around. Arlene, Jessica and I played The Da Vinci Quest game for a while as Alexandra was reading and studying. Then all four of us played pool in the cellar for some time while Desney was cooking up wonderful things in the kitchen. We had a great time...

Sunday dinner was wonderful and delicious as usual: roast duck, carrots with parsley, courgette with garlic; bread and cheese afterwards… and I was able to eat all of it. It all tasted great and I was just happy to be able to eat with everyone.

Friday, January 06, 2006


I sometimes think that Arlene comes here more for the cafés, brasseries and restaurants than anything else. She spent all morning getting ready, as usual, and finished just in time for us to go out for lunch. We took the bus and went to the same brasserie that Alexandra and I used to go to on Wednesdays: Le Cercle by the Asnières train station. We had a very good meal. As we talked I realised how much I take the food we get in restaurants for granted. Arlene told me of the mediocre, and sometimes less than that, food she spent a fortune on in Ireland. I remembered some of the restaurant meals I’ve had in other countries. We both looked down at our plates with a big smile on our face. Although what we were eating was pretty standard fare for France it was certainly superior to what we were referring to and for a hell of a lot less money.

We had spent so long at lunch that we got back home pretty late and I spent the rest of the afternoon asleep.

In the evening we ordered sushi and watched Insomnia which I had rented. Some of us liked it, some of us liked it very much and others found it boring.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

She's back!

I went to pick up Arlene from the airport this afternoon. She flew in from Ireland where she had spent New Year’s. It was a good feeling to be able to actually do something. Luckily the drive there and back was quite easy with no traffic. It was a beautifully cold and snowy day but we got back home quite quickly.

The girls were overjoyed to see her again and they all talked back and forth while I had my nap. Desney whipped up roast chicken, corn on the cob and cheese. Arlene had to buy dessert from a bakery of course. The dinner table was rather talkative which allowed me to shut up and concentrate on eating.

The rest of the evening was spent in front of the television with my trying to find things on in English. After everyone went to bed it was just the two of us and it was wonderful to get a chance to talk. It’s a nice feeling having mom around.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


As I have received so many DVDs over the Christmas holidays I had to update my movie collection database. The latest version, as always, is on our server.

Playing around with this, and my book collection database amongst others, brought back the feelings of just how much I love databases. I wish I could explain it without sounding like an accountant trying to explain why he actually enjoys fiscal opportunities (tax breaks) and successfully reconciling a bank statement. It’s like a joke… it just should never be explained. However you know I’m going to try.

I basically love the feeling of taking raw data (letters and numbers in columns and rows linked to a bunch of other letters and numbers in columns and rows) and getting out interesting or useful information which is transformed in to reports and graphs. It’s actually the programming of the query (SQL) necessary to get the information out of the database that I enjoy the most. It’s the simple pleasure of every programmer when a function works. It’s the basic knowledge that the computer has just done something which it would not have been able to do without the amazingly magical piece of programming code you have just written, debugged and executed. It’s like an artistic creation which reaches its final stages. I just plain love it when my programs work. It’s a definite feeling of pride which, embarrassingly enough, borders upon feelings of Godlike power. 25 years later and I still get that more than slight jolt of pleasure every time something I write works.

This is what computers do best. They process tons of raw information and produce more useful summarised information in a way that either would be impossible by humans or would take so much time that the end result would be so incredibly out of date so as to make it completely useless.

It’s my movie database that lets me know that Bernard Lee (“M” in the James Bond series) has appeared as an actor in more movies in our collection than any other; that George Lucas has directed the most movies in our collection; that we have more comedies than any other genre and more arguably useful information such as the fact that I bought most of my movies in 2005 and most of them from Amazon France.

A suburbanite’s dream
I ordered the damn thing on December 5th. They debited my cheque on December 12th. The product was supposed to arrive 6 days later. It didn’t arrive until today, January 4th!

When I was a kid my mother used to take my sister and I out to visit my uncle Don and aunt Shirley in New Jersey. They had a house so this was probably our healthy visit to the country. There are two things I remember most about these trips and they both involve the basement. I don’t know why I remember spending so much time in the basement. Uncle Don used to suddenly look up and say “train coming” and about 30 to 60 seconds later the train would pass. He would even be able to tell us exactly where the train was going. Don had memorised the schedules of the passing trains of course. But I always thought it was a bit magical. But the memory which remains the strongest in my mind is the pool table in the basement. This was the definition of “cool” in my mind at that age and in that era. Pool tables were the “cool” things one found in bars and pool halls. Those were the places I would read about it detective novels and see on television. But to have a pool table in your own house, be able to practice and play whenever you wanted, was just beyond “cool”. Unbeknownst to most people who know me, probably including my wife although there are definitely days when I believe she’s been reading my mind for years, I have always promised myself that I too would get a pool table if ever I got a house. Promises sometimes are kept and dreams sometimes come true.

The delivery guy arrived all on his own. He couldn’t possibly get a 150 kg palette off of the lorry by himself. I therefore had to help him as there was no way I was letting him leave with the thing after waiting so long. I’m not supposed to be lifting anything, and I’m certainly a hell of a lot lighter and weaker than I used to be, but what the doctors don’t know can’t hurt them. After a lot of lifting and tilting we got the thing in to the cellar where it will live. I then called my friend Robbie who came round to help put it together. It actually didn’t take that long to put together and was not that complicated. If Robbie could handle it, with my intellectual assistance of course, it couldn’t have been that complicated. Once we got it built we had to try it out. I lost the first game ever played on my own pool table. But we spent the rest of the evening playing pool. We stopped for dinner of course but then we were back out there going at it again after dinner and until he had to go get the métro home. It was an awful lot of fun and I look forward to the future.

Pool Table

Up to now we have 3 NetCams in the house. NetCams are like WebCams except that instead of being plugged in to a computer they are plugged directly in to the network. They are therefore accessible on the network in the house but, as our network is permanently connected to the Internet, they are also accessible from any computer on the Internet anywhere in the world. Two of these NetCams are private. You have to enter a user name and password to use them. They are just next to each of the televisions in our house. One’s in the living room (Salon) and the other’s in the kitchen. Part of their original use was for us to be able to keep track of Alexandra who would constantly watch television when she was supposed to be doing something else. But they actually have come in quite handy since I’ve been sick as they’ve allowed Desney to keep an eye on me and see how I’m doing when I’m either trying to eat in the kitchen or lying down in the living room. The other NetCam is public and anyone can connect to it. They just have to know the address. That’s the NetCam in my office. I refer to that as the Cabinet Derek Erb Cam.

Having added the pool table in the cellar, which also just happens to house our wine collection, I thought it would be a good idea to add a public camera in there. You can now watch us playing pool, whenever that may be, as well as whenever we pop down to pull out a bottle or two or three from the cellar. It’s just a matter of pure luck if you ever actually get to see any of us in there, as it will mostly be pitch black, but it works: I now refer to the Cellar as the Games Room and The Games Room Cam is now online.

All of these toys and such also help to keep my mind off of my body which is a very, very good thing. The less I think of the pain the more I don’t feel it. Keeping my mind busy is actually probably the best pain killer medical science can provide.

The only difference between a boy and a man is the price of his toys.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Day

I know I should be happy.

I should be happy to be alive. In many ways I am. I should be happy to be at home with my family rather than alone in a hospital room. In many ways I am.

However my health has gotten progressively worse over the last few days and I’m not happy about it. It’s the same old story. It hurts like hell every time I swallow. That gets really exhausting after a while. I can’t talk. My voice has gotten weaker and weaker, rather than stronger, and when I try and talk for more than a couple of minutes it hurts and I break in to a coughing fit. I cough throughout the day and night. If I cough too much I end up coughing up a rather disgusting ball of saliva that I then have to dispose of. When I cough too much I cry which makes my nose run which means I breathe entirely through my mouth which makes me cough which makes my nose run which….

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time.

As I’m in pain all the time, luckily at various degrees, I’m angry which makes me bitchy. I’ll bite your head off for asking me to repeat myself because you couldn’t hear me when I too have difficulty hearing myself speak and I’m certainly closer to the orifice performing the oration. I snap or bitch about the slightest thing. I’m sure my family would like to disown me by now.

Resolution: My goal is obviously to get better and to make the end of 2006 better than the end of 2005 which should not be all that difficult.

My resolution however is to appreciate the simple things in life. As soon as I can swallow without pain I will probably spend days sitting around just swallowing with a big smile on my face. When I can talk without pain and without coughing I will try my hardest not to waste the gift of speech by talking as much as I usually do without reason. I am going to appreciate every word which comes out of my mouth. Of course the greatest sensual pleasure of all that I eagerly await is to be able to eat normally and taste my food. I will savour every single mouthful of food and drink from now on.