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A World War 2 Trilogy

By FRED NATH (Novelist and Neurosurgeon)

Fred's Blog


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The Game of Thrones Petition

Posted on 29 July, 2019 at 4:34 Comments comments (0)
I watched GOT from Season 1 to the very end. I loved it. The acting was mostly brilliant, the storyline even better than the books and the characters were fleshed-out, realistic and engaging.

Many fans seem to be displeased with the ending and for my part there were elements of the ending I didn’t like. I felt Jon Snow became a whimp towards the end. The great swordsman, the driving force behind so much in the story just fizzled out as if no one in the 7 Kingdoms felt he deserved better than banishment to the far north. But for his actions, the Night King would have triumphed, and if he didn't, a cruel, mad queen would have sought vengeance on everyone, but no one seemed to give him credit. Greyworm turns out to be a nasty bitter fellow whose devotion to the despotic Mother of Dragons (who has clearly gone potty, perhaps for genetic reasons) is unreasonable. But you know, we as fans/observers don’t have control over the story. We actually don’t really want control either. This was a fiction and we suspend belief in order to escape our humdrum lives and become part of a new world.

Bottom line, if you’re reading a work of fiction or watching it, it’s no good whinging about the ending or plot. It’s fiction, made up, the child of another person’s brain. If it entertains and grabs you so that you empathise and care about the characters, then it’s achieved what the author intended, even if your view is negative – at least it did something to you.

Every time you read a book of fiction, you escape the here and now. Most books are written to try to grab the imagination of the reader and draw them in. In GOT, people found the ending unsatisfying but that’s fiction. If you didn’t like it – write your own. Can’t do it yourself? Then you have no right to criticize the people who can.

In the end, there was only one scene that I found foolish. Misasndei is standing three feet from Cersei and knows they are about to kill her. She should logically have turned fast and placing her arms around Cersei’s neck dragged her over the parapet or at least die trying. Yes, it would have ruined the rest of the story but all the same, I couldn’t understand why that scene was choregraphed so badly. She had time, opportunity and surely would have thought about that. The point is, I didn’t write it. I gained great pleasure from watching the writer’s vision of what they wanted to happen.

DB Weiss and David Benioff in my opinion did a great job but you know, nerbody’s pofect.

Harry comes up trumps!

Posted on 4 June, 2019 at 3:55 Comments comments (0)
Most people have a view of Donald Trump. I know I have mine. Meghan Markle has expressed her views during Trump’s presidential campaign. Can’t say I can identify any difference of opinion between mine and hers.
This is the first US president that I can recall who is blustering, tactless, full of himself and well, downright a president of whom the USA should be ashamed. His failure to act on climate change, his views on women and equality and human rights have all come under scrutiny in the press and it all fosters a view of a man who should never had got to power, but money speaks, I guess.
It seems clear that Prince Harry has his own views too and it must have been quite difficult for him to attend events yesterday feeling as I suppose he must. There is probably an element of protectiveness too since his wife has just given birth to a son.
I think he needn’t have worried on that score because Meghan Markle is strong and clearly resilient, functioning so well in a prejudicial society such as we have in the UK. I’m half-Asian so believe me I know.
I think Harry did his job excellently well. No confrontations or deep conversation with a man who is quite capable of being a bully in public and expressing it on video and Twitter.

Top trumps Harry. Always seen him as a great guy. Think his mum would be so proud.

Shamima Begum

Posted on 23 February, 2019 at 23:57 Comments comments (655)
This girl has been castigated and disenfranchised because she left the UK to go to the IS. At the time she was 15 years of age. When she entered the refugee camp in Syria, she was heavily pregnant, and she now has a baby boy.
Much controversy surrounds the mother and child. Many seem to think that she is a Muslim Jihadist and allowing her to return to the UK poses a threat to our security.
My initial reaction was that it serves her right because the faction she left the UK to join is without doubt, by western standards, evil. There are not may people who would disagree with this and international efforts to erase IS seem to be successful. It would be described in Horrible History (a humorous book looking at British History) as a GOOD THING and I think few could argue otherwise.
The Home Office Minister, Mr Javid, has revoked her British citizenship and she is now stateless. Serves her right, did I hear you say? The regime to which she clung since 2015 was evil. How could she have been convinced otherwise?
Well folks, the simple fact is that there are many older and wiser British people who have been ‘radicalised’ and convinced to fight for Islamic extremism. I agree they are mostly unemployed morons who have abused our benefits system and have no gratitude for the country which has raised them in safety in an unsafe world. Hence my first reaction was to think precisely that - yes, make her stateless – we don’t need such people in our country.
Thinking deeper though, one has to realise that a 15-year-old is a child; on the cusp of adulthood, but a child nonetheless. Children make mistakes. I’ve had 4 children in my time, and I can recall many times when they got it wrong and needed help to make good decisions. Ms Begum may not be a child any longer but her life-changing stupid mistake was made when she was. It strikes me that leaving her stateless is an injustice because although her child can enter the country she cannot. She would be separated from her child for life and end up somewhere like Kazakstan on her own with inadequate means to support herself.
All I’m saying is that I think we have to question what we have become – are we really ruthless, unforgiving and unkind? That is not the British way. It never has been. A little more understanding and kindness is needed here in my opinion although she has to be watched very closely, we should allow her back here to show that we are better than the radical fanatics and terrorists and that our country stands for more than plain law-keeping. I think we need to show the world our quality.

Bet loads of people disagree, but a child who makes a stupid mistake deserves forgiveness, understanding and guidance, not disenfranchisement.

Innocent beliefs

Posted on 22 February, 2019 at 15:25 Comments comments (10)
When I lived in Glasgow, many years ago, my two elder sons aged 5 and 7 learned a song at school:
Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle burning in the night,
In this world of darkness, Jesus bids us shine,
You in your small corner and me in mine.
Maybe you’ll think I’m stupid, but it always moved me. Why? Because it’s about the purity of a child, about kindness and above all the right of a child to believe.
Believe in what? I hear you say.
It doesn’t matter whether you substitute Mohammed, Buddha or Jupiter Optimus Maximus for Jesus, it’s what we should bring our children up to believe in – about a culture of kindness. The hidden meaning of pure, clear light is innocence and kindness. This is the same in any religion It’s about that pure, clear light that emanates from the eyes of a child of any hue or culture.
Children are our hope and investment for the future. We have a duty to protect them where and whenever we can. Every time a child is abused sexually, mentally or physically it happens because they trust their abuser. It is our duty to ourselves and out morality to ensure their safety, and not allow abuse of the trust any child should be able to bestow upon any adult.
And what of the reality? Children the world over are right now being abused by the people who they should have been able to trust, by wars, local violence, by systems which deny them a decent life.
But I reflect on what I’m doing about it myself. Talk is cheap but gin costs money. The truth is it isn’t enough to just donate to UNICEF. Once I finally retire (about 18 months) I think I have to find a way to do something although I must say I’m still trying to work out just what I should do.

I guess I’ll be judged by whether I actually put my money where my mouth is over the next few years, or not – you have the right to ask

Stress Interviews

Posted on 1 February, 2019 at 4:28 Comments comments (3)
There is much talk on MSN about stress interviews in industry. Young people with appropriate skills and CV’s are bullied and demeaned to see how resilient they are under stressful conditions. Personal remarks about their appearance, posture, tastes and previous performance are made to make the candidate as uncomfortable as possible, hoping to elicit a reaction. The ‘successful’ candidate would be unruffled throughout.
As a Royal College representative on interview committees for about 20 years and having a lot of practical experience as an examiner, I think I may be allowed a comment.

I don’t think you get the best out of a candidate or reveal how they react if you over-stress them. As the examiner/interviewer you know as soon as they walk in whether they are nervous. They will be anxious if they want the job – it’s common sense. With experience and concentration, you can tell how nervous they are. You don’t need to stress them because applying for a job and being interviewed is a stressful process.
If one of the criteria for the job is to see how they handle stress this can be demonstrated from situations in which they have found themselves previously and how they responded. Ask them. If the interviewer has a little imagination and is sharp enough, they can glean the answer from the question/response without increasing the adrenaline levels and Dopamine release in the interviewee’s head. Let’s face it, the candidate who vomits on the desk as soon as you ask a question is an extreme example, but so is the unemotional, unresponsive candidate, whose body language indicates a complete lack of interest. It’s the one in between these two extremes who are interesting and require some effort on the part of the interviewer.

The correct way to delve deep into someone’s head in an interview is maybe not something one is born with – it is a learned skill, it is analogous to writing strong dialogue in a book. If you have to qualify your speech line with -ly adverbs then you’ve failed to make the reader understand the content of the speech (like, ‘he said angrily’- if you don’t know the speaker is angry then the dialogue isn’t strong enough – you don’t need to tell your reader that it is so). In an interview for a stressful job you don’t need to make the candidate uncomfortable or stressed – if you do then you need to go learn how to read people properly.

In neurosurgery consultant interviews, I usually use a question of the type: ‘I’ve been a neurosurgeon for over 30 years, and I’ve made every mistake possible. What is your worst clinical mistake and tell us how you dealt with it?’

I stole that question from Professor John Pickard from Cambridge – a man much brighter than I am.

This question starts by saying – ‘You’re among friends, whatever mistake you tell us about won’t be seen as horrendous.’

This lets the candidate know that the interviewer understands that mistakes can happen. This of course is a trap. The quality of the mistake described could indicate a complete idiot depending on circumstance.
The next part of the question examines honesty. One candidate replied with, ‘I’ve never made a serious mistake but one of my colleagues…’ Believe me, if he had got to that stage of his career never making a serious mistake then he must be a God not a neurosurgeon. He didn’t get the job – either he was dishonest or lacked insight.

The best answers are honest and demonstrate what the candidates did to correct their mistake and how learned from them. The latter is probably the most important part of the answer – can this candidate learn from the mistake?

My point and bottom line, is that one does not need to make people feel uncomfortable – it doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t show you their best ability. You need to ask skilful questions which reveal who the candidate really is. Making them angry or sad isn’t the answer and it certainly doesn’t show that the interviewer is powerful – quite the contrary. Weak people lacking confidence thrive on other peoples discomfort and for them interviews are a way of bolstering their grandiosity and feeling of power.

Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.

Zero Tolerance

Posted on 30 January, 2019 at 5:14 Comments comments (71)
Deeply saddened by the death of a young man in Yarm on Sunday early morning. My sincere sympathies go out to his grieving family and friends. Attacked and chased by a gang of 6 or more louts, his body was found in the river 2 days later. Despicable.
I live in an area where Cleveland Police have zero tolerance for exceeding the speed limit (you can get 3 points on your license for doing 33 mph), but they seem to have enormous tolerance for violence and drugs. About time they cleaned up Yarm which used to be a lovely, North Yorkshire town where one could go out in the evening without a likelihood of assault, or seeing druggies and fights on the High Street.
Personally I would like to see a hard clampdown on drug use and distribution because the type of people now visiting Yarm at weekends has deteriorated beyond control. Why do they call it 'Black-eye Friday' in Yarm? You might well wonder.
I do understand that they are poorly resourced and under-manned but they should get their priorities right IMHO. One should use sparse resources wisely. Inadvertent traffic violations are not the same as violent assaults and drug abuse and there should be a lot more convictions for the latter than the former.
I grew up in Bermondsey which was a pretty rough area of London in the 50s and 60s and often went 'up town' to night clubs like 'Tiles' on Oxford Street. I met a wide variety of thugs, some escaped from Borstal and some carried knives or guns. Such weapons were seldom used though. I have seen a lot of violence in my time. As a Neurosurgeon I have worked in places like Liverpool and Glasgow and treated people after horrendous injuries but those thing were not all that common 30 years ago. Things have now changed (especially in London) and sadly violence, knife crime and drug abuse is spreading. I accept it may be a reflection of Home Office cut-backs and the abuse of our police by successive governments who have frankly lost the plot.
I should say I am not in the least anti-police, quite the opposite. I think they should have more resources and more personnel so they can do their job, but for heaven's sake, prioritize, before society really does take a nose dive.


Posted on 19 January, 2019 at 23:57 Comments comments (80)
I think sometimes that our problem in Britain is that the voting population is not so bright. Any nation who could vote in three successive Socialist governments in the face of a predictable economic decline cannot be MENSA material. We now seem to lurch from political crisis to political crisis and although we have plenty of politicians (who look forward 5 or less years) we have no statesmen who look ahead generations. There is an Aesop fable which seems to me to demonstrate where we are with our democratically voted Brexit.

 There was once a pond. A family of frogs lived there, happily and with plenty of food. Naturally, frogs from other ponds migrated to their pond – it was a comfortable, if not opulent environment. 

Soon, the pond seemed overcrowded to the original family of frogs and they began to complain. The frogs split into factions, squabbling over resources and their conditions.

Eventually, they realised they needed a leader who could represent them but the squabbles continued and no progress ensued. They prayed every day to Zeus, greatest God of all. They prayed so fervently that Zeus looked down on the troublesome frogs and said, ‘I’ll give you a king. Someone who you can follow, but please stop pestering me with your prayers. You irritate me.’
So saying, Zeus threw down a log into the pond. A big green log that floated on the verdant algae-infested water. To start with the frogs loved their new King. They called him Old King Log. They frolicked jumping from the log into the water and more frogs came from far and wide to see this Great King.

Soon, the frogs began to bicker for nothing had changed in a material, palpable way. The various factions began squabbling again. Eventually they began to pray to Zeus saying, ‘We don’t like this Old King Log any more. He doesn’t do anything, and he just floats on the pond.’

Zeus said, ‘You asked for a king. I gave you one. Now stop disturbing me with your prayers.’

But the frogs continued. They despised Old King Log. They shunned him and even when the sun shone they would no longer sit upon his broad, green reliable back. They kept praying and pestering Zeus for a new king who would move and do things. They prayed to all the Gods, they argued, pestered and they complained. Their prayers became a running sore on Mount Olympus until the Gods begged Zeus to do something with these troublesome frogs.

Zeus heard their prayers. He threw them a snake. The snake, to the dismay of the frogs, gobbled them all up.

The moral: Brexit - be careful what you wish for – your prayers and votes may be answered.

Pain. Empathy and Doctors

Posted on 30 December, 2018 at 5:22 Comments comments (19)

I once recall a conversation (a little heated) with one of my nieces when I said I understood how bad a labour pain was. She had started by saying that female obstetricians must be better than male obstetricians. My claim to understand labour pains provoked a rather more volatile response than I think it merited along the lines of, ‘You’re a man. You can’t understand.’

I felt at the time that although I don’t have a uterus, I have delivered 22 babies and witnessed many more deliveries when I trained and since then seen pain in many forms. I do understand. It’s the empathy all doctors strive to have. One never becomes inured.

So, four days ago, I hurt my back (don’t laugh). Initially (I was shifting a mattress) the pain was so bad I just collapsed on the bed and lay there until the worst acute pain died down enough to allow me to get up.

It persisted, but I was able to walk and finish what I was doing. Not surprisingly, the pain gradually escalated throughout that day. By the evening I was unable to walk because every time I put my foot to the floor excruciating pain shot down my leg and it just gave way beneath me.

Day 2 was no better. Day 3 (yesterday) I could weight bear for about five minutes before the pain became too bad and I had to sit down. Today I’m comfortable sitting and can last out upright long enough to make a cup of coffee.

I’ve operated on maybe a thousand lumbar spines in my time and always tried to expedite treatment in patients who seemed to be in a lot of pain, even though a lot of surgeons would wait longer and see if it resolved with pain-killers and rest.

Reflecting on my discomfort, I realise now there is a big gap between empathising and experiencing. My niece may have been right. I don’t have a uterus but I do have a sore back .

Many years ago, some psychologists did an experiment in which they took a Scottie-dog puppy and brought it up in a padded environment, designed so that it was isolated from other dogs and any objects that might stimulate any kind of discomfort. They then prodded the poor creature with pins. It did not react in a normal fashion and seemed unable to avoid those things causing pain. The conclusion was that they had raised a creature that felt pain but did not recognise it was noxious. They thought it meant that most of pain is subjective and without the psychological expectation, pain is not necessarily too bad. There is a grain of truth in that – only a grain.

I think that once one takes away the fear provoked by pain and it is replaced by knowledge and experience, acute discomfort can have much less effect on us than otherwise.

Mindfulness training can help patients with chronic pain because it teaches one to accept the pain, and in their terms (not mine) befriend it. See it for what it is.

Easy to say maybe – it’s just a temporary discomfort and I know it will get better in time, but for those who do not understand their anatomy and do not realise that most pain is temporary it is a fearsome and terrible thing.

I guess I’ve metamorphosised (not like the guy in Franz Kafka’s tale).

 Experiencing pain does make you a bit more empathic. For once, I can tell a patient – ‘I understand the pain you have and its severity.’ It sounds daft, but I would recommend a severe back pain to any Orthopaedic or Spinal Surgeon because it makes you appreciate what your patents are feeling. Not just by extrapolating what you have seen, but by knowing.

My patients will tell you if it’s going to make me a better doctor. One hopes that it will, but you know, memory of pain fades. If it didn’t ,no one would ever have a second labour, would they?

So, we come back to the argument where we started. Do female obstetricians make better labour-carers than men?

Swedish Christmas Ham

Posted on 20 December, 2018 at 3:29 Comments comments (310)
My sons asked me for this recipe so I thought I'd put it here for ease of reference and to share with anyone who wishes to try something new.

Swedish Christmas Ham

The main problem when you buy a smoked or ‘green’ ham is that when you roast it, commonly, it is very salty. This ‘recipe’ if that’s what you’d call it, allows you to get the salt out of the ham and roast it in what in my family, has always been the traditional manner.

Start by removing the rind or skin so you have a layer of fat remaining.

Put a few string ties around to keep the shape.

Place in a big saucepan in cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Discard the water and start again. This time once it reaches boiling point, discard the water and replace with cold water so the ham is covered.

Leave in a cool place for 24 hours or overnight at least.

Next day, dry it off and coat in Coleman’s brown French mustard (lots of it).

Roll the beast in a mixture of demerara sugar and breadcrumbs.

Roast in a hot oven, basting often. The outside is often rather carbonised, but it makes no difference to the taste. At least 2 hrs.

If the ham has little or no fat, basting is a problem. I have on occasion after half-an-hour drizzled olive oil over the oven and that eventually percolates through and you can baste with it.

Leave to stand for min ½ hr before carving.

Swedish Meatballs
Definitely not for Vegetarians.   
[You have to have a food processor for this with sharp blades that can grind meat to a fine texture] 
Ingredients: 1 onion 1 egg 1 pound of minced steak 1 pound of minced lean pork. 1 large cup of wholemeal dried breadcrumbs 2 teaspoons of ground ginger 1 chicken stock-cube. Two tablespoons of salt Pepper to taste.   
Procedure: Chop the onions (easy in the food processor) Mix the breadcrumbs, ginger, salt, pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion and the meat. Mix with a wooden spoon. Add the egg.   The texture will be rough so you probably need to add a small glass of water or milk. 
When it is all mixed well, grind it thoroughly in the food processor. Thoroughly I said. Read my lips ‘thoroughly’. You may need to do that in several lots. The texture should be roughly like a firm dough and very fine after the thorough mixing. Get it?   Pick up maybe a dessertspoon sized bit of mixture and using clean wet hands roll it into a ball. 
When you’ve rolled the lot, you need to fry them really hot so the outside goes a deep brown. If it gets carbonised it’s no big deal, it just tastes better!   So, each frying-pan of meatballs is placed into a large pan containing about ¼ of a pint of water containing the stock cube. 
Empty the frying pan into the stock and quench the pan with about half a cup of water and add that water to the stock.   You should end up with enough liquid to cover the meatballs. 
Simmer for twenty minutes or so. Add cream to taste.   
If you’re a purist, you could drain the meatballs before adding cream and make a roux and use the stock to make a thicker sauce and then add cream and put the meatballs back into the sauce, but I like a thin sauce with meatballs. Serve with potatoes and peas.   
If you intend to freeze them, don’t add cream, do it when you warm them up.   The only unusual thing about this recipe is the fine texture, without which, it is just a round hamburger burger. I suppose adding ginger seems a bit odd but it really is a fantastic taste!   Merry Christmas, hope you enjoy them.   If you have a comment or you get into difficulties, email me on >[email protected]<

Superheroes - Who Needs Them?

Posted on 17 December, 2018 at 3:08 Comments comments (17)
I was born in 1950. It was a time when Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas, Bert Lancaster were on the rise in their careers. Human icons most young fellas looked up to. Cinema was the great cultural phenomenon at that time and the actors became huge.

At that time too, Marvel’s comic book superheroes were very popular in the pictorial cartoon books and magazines. Like any media one read them and loved them through the suspension of belief. It was escapism at its best – a kind of momentary flight, giving a short-term emotional gratification. But it was more than that.
The heroes were super – they had morals, they cared about other people; they helped others. I think they were good role models for any young person, because they created a kind of moral instruction shaping my view of good and bad. Be the magnanimous, kind victor and fight evil wherever you find it.

I can recall the first episode of Dr Who, which on the back of Quatermass and Day of the Triffids (both of which I was banned from watching) became the captor of my imagination in those days. I had learned from Superman that one can enjoy stories based on impossibilities as long as one abandoned reality and one could at times, escape into fantasy to get away from the realities of humdrum studying.

I remember reading Ian Fleming’s Dr No (mainly by torchlight late at night under the covers) when I was 13. I became James Bond in those days. Maybe it was the attraction of a secret life and the power that could bring.

The next leap forward in my fantasy psyche was Star Trek. As a young medical student, I never missed an episode on Wednesdays at 6pm. Nor did the other students in my flat or my girlfriend’s house. Star Trek is interesting because it depicts a very attractive environment – multi-cultural egalitarianism not based on money or the American dream, but on fairness and strict moral codes. None of the characters stabbed people in back streets for gang-related transgressions or stole money.

My Walter Mittie side remained fixed in those days. Little progress came cinematically but looking back now, Superman had moved from comic book to TV and then blockbuster movies. the world was gradually changing and advancing technology meant I could be lazy – relying on a producer or director’s imagination for the escape gratification I seemed to want so much.

The movie Star Wars was pivotal. Looking back now, I realise I was being suckered in, duped. Those stories – landmark epics – were written in the typical myth structure. The hero is ordinary with a hidden exceptional skill. He refuses the quest but is dragged into it by the antagonist. He then travels the dark forest with rising tension and then triumphs over the evil that almost engulfed him. Once you realise that, it all becomes a bit predictable, but what doesn’t go away is the desperate wish for good to triumph over evil and to witness that, even though you cannot participate.

And now?

Looking at upcoming films (in an article recently about forthcoming ‘films you just have to watch in 2019’) about 20% of them are Marvel comic book heroes brought to life on the big screen. The baddies are really bad, and the goodies cannot be harmed, except in an emotional way. I think that is the key. Emotional manipulation to let us feel what the hero might feel – forcing us into a kind of apathetic empathy and a desire for our hero to win. I don’t believe you can love a film like Rogue One without feeling that the spirit of good must triumph over evil in the end even if that triumph means they die but give us hope.

I think hope is what we all need in the present world. A desperate desire for things to get better for everyone – all races and colours – from pygmies in Africa to Palestinians in the Middle East.

We need these super heroes if only to teach us to admire their morals and magnanimity. Looking at the world we live in and are gradually destroying, breath by breath, where is Superman? Why can’t he be real?

Truth is we don’t need a Superman, just his image and code of life. Be there for others. Nietzsche felt we all have a superman within us (ok, not the American one, but a superman nonetheless) and we have a duty to release him - stand up for those less fortunate than ourselves and above all, be kind.

 So, have a great Christmas and enjoy being a superhero, because the world really does need you!