Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Locked-in Syndrome - One man's record recovery

       "It's hard to explain what it's like being in a coma. A coma is a weird place, like a dream but all messed up. I remember being sat in a chair in a big open room with a needle stuck in my arm and being starved of oxygen, feeling very weak and hearing my heart beating very loudly. People were walking past and ignoring me; I felt like I was slipping away and I was so afraid." 
       Fear did not come naturally to Peter Coghlan, brown belt karate, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing enthusiast. At just 33 years old, this former soldier had already faced dangers few of us could imagine; mob violence in Northern Ireland, two attempted bombings and a serious battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
      Yet, having just moved to Perth, Australia with Jade, the love of his life, there was no time to dwell on the past as Peter enjoyed a pre-dinner drink on the patio with friends and family. The future on that hot, sunny evening seemed as bright as the weather until, suddenly, he felt tired and decided to lie down for a nap.
      "About four hours later, I awoke feeling confused and agitated. I walked out to my patio where my friends and family were sitting around my bar. I remember feeling very strange and said, 'I feel like I have had a stroke.' The others noticed I was slurring my words and they asked me to walk in a straight line up and down the patio. Shortly after this I apparently began vomiting in the garden, but I don’t remember this, nor do I remember taking a shower to make me feel better." 
      The journey to hospital was just a blur. The next thing Peter knew was being totally helpless, unable to move and very, very scared. After suffering a massive brain stem stroke, Peter was now imprisoned by his own body; totally paralysed by Locked-in Syndrome (LIS). 
      Sometimes known as "disease of the walled living" this neurological condition is difficult to diagnose as, owing to their lack of response to stimuli, patients are often assumed to be comatose or in a vegetative state. Main causes are stroke of the basilar artery, brain haemorrhage or injury, damage to the pons area of the brain, and diseases that destroy the myelin sheath which protects nerve cells. Effects are devastating. Unable to move, sufferers retain their cognitive and intellectual powers but can only communicate through vertical eye movements - the only voluntary muscles still functioning. Even this ability may go undetected for some time, usually being spotted by regular carers or close family and friends.
      LIS is mercifully rare. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment to date, the only help available being assistive technology to improve communication. Despite this - just six months and one day after his stroke - Peter Coghlan left Royal Perth Hospital in Shenton Park, Perth and walked back into the sunshine. (See You Tube Link below).
      Peter is now well on his way to a full recovery, has been actively involved with charity events and is planning to marry Jade. He is also writing a book based on his experiences which he hopes will encourage other sufferers of LIS.

                                                            Peter and Jade


Thursday, 12 April 2012


       Whether  it fills you with trepidation, or inspires you with the promise of exciting new challenges,   reaching your teens means having to cope with a seismic change in attitudes – both your own and those of your parents.
       Suddenly, from your former role of cherished cherub you seem to be re-cast as a potential threat to international peace and security. Hormones, a spurt in brain growth and the inevitable acne combine to make life one big drama in which you’re the star and everybody else serves as an extra.  Trouble is, most parents fail to follow the script, causing plenty of hiccups along the way and even the occasional re-write.
       Such lack of co-operation from your significant grown ups may prove frustrating but, while it may not be possible to control them completely, you can certainly enjoy a measure of influence by employing these highly effective strategies.

       As a teenager, you’re expected and even encouraged to form your own opinions on every aspect of life. Religion, history, politics, social issues of all kinds and, of course, ecology can all be touched upon, according to your level of knowledge. Otherwise, you can quite safely rely on common causes of argument and unreasoned debate such as bedtime, over-revealing outfits, various piercings, entertainment and choice of friends.  Experts in the art have been known to reduce their parents to gibbering wrecks, simply by remaining annoyingly and defiantly calm. Unless you’re a natural, however, this feat will take months of practice to achieve and until you maintain the requisite skill you may occasionally find yourself on the defensive. A good tip: Always have some grievance in reserve so, if your parents prove to be holding their corner, you can simply change the issue.
       Any family outing provides a great opportunity to disconcert and irritate your parents – but shopping has to be top of the list. Wherever you are, remember to walk at least three paces in front.  This achieves two objectives:  (a) you can avoid a lot of embarrassment by pretending not to be with the offending grown ups and (b) most importantly,  it keeps parents in their rightful place – following in your footsteps while dutifully carrying all the money you’ll need for those wildly unsuitable clothes. Should one of them dare to address you in public, tell him/her to ‘stop shouting’ and look around in horror to make sure nobody has heard them.  If Mum gets tired of holding up ‘nice’ outfits for you to consider only to meet with scornful rejections, watch out that she doesn’t rebel by looking out for ‘something for herself’. She must realise that the whole purpose of shopping is for your benefit, not hers.
       Here’s a brilliant way to demonstrate your intellectual superiority and ensure Mum/Dad will never be able to hack into your laptop/mobile/iPad.  If either parent asks you to help them with their new computer, wait until he/she isn’t looking before clicking the relevant links or using the appropriate keys. He or she will doubtless urge you to show them what you did, in which case you’d be quite justified in ‘Tutting’ loudly and stomping off in supposed frustration, muttering “I’ve just shown you!” As a result, the parent will be reluctant to ask you again and it may be some time before they can use their computer without your oversight and/or expressed permission. Any kind of new appliance, in fact, is an excellent tool in your quest for supremacy - and, by withholding information, you can maintain possession of remote controls for some time to come.
       It helps to know exactly how quickly you can rise, wash and dress yourself in the morning. That way, you can stay in bed until the last possible nanosecond, while Mum or Dad works themselves into a frenzy to get you off to school/college in time. Once ready, make sure Mum or Dad are temporary distracted – e.g. looking for car keys, applying lipstick, washing a few pots – when you actually appear. Now you can reverse the process by yelling “Hurry up! I’m late!” which, when delivered with a note of hysteria, will induce satisfactory levels of exasperation from parents.
       Naturally, you’re far too busy playing on your computer or watching your favourite TV programme to rush into the kitchen just because Mum announces tea is ready.  The fact that she’s slaved over a cooker for ages is no reason to stop doing the things you enjoy. If it’s a fry up, you are perfectly justified in refusing to eat it once it’s gone cold, forcing Mum to create something more palatable for her now desperately starving child. Such a strategy guarantees five-star service and is excellent for when you didn’t really fancy the dish of the day in the first place.  
Playing Deaf
       Most Mums will insist they never nag. What they do do is repeat themselves many times over, usually with phrases starting with “Will you.....?” which are automatically blocked by the average teenager’s defence shield. If by any chance such requests manage to break through and you find yourself in danger of extreme action such as vacuuming, cleaning the car, washing up or tidying your bedroom, the only protection is to pretend you haven’t heard. Earphones are one way to block out irritating sounds, no matter how loud they eventually become. Ignore them for long enough and it’s a safe bet Mum or Dad will have done the job themselves. In this case, their impatience is a virtue!
       No matter how many times your parents mention homework, a canny teen will wait until the last minute of the last night before it's due to be handed in. By this time, of course, you will be in a complete panic, forcing your parents to abandon plans of an early bedtime in order to help you. This is an ideal method of (a) getting attention and (b) getting your parents to do your essay or algebra for you!
NB. If all else fails, never underestimate the power of the Incredible Sulk! Screaming, “It’s not fair!” and “Nobody cares!” and stomping off to your bedroom will, at worst, get you out of a sticky situation and, at best, earn you a few extra cuddles and treats – just as long as no one you know is watching!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


 From Balenciaga......

Balenciaga c.19502

          .....to Onesies!
Disney Stitch Adult Onesie Tigurumi*
                 If you can’t afford next season’s ‘Must Have’,  be grateful. You’ve possibly avoided the next most embarrassing fashion catastrophe. Alice, my teenaged fashionista from The Runaway Children, may one day cringe at the thought of her specially designed, impossibly OTT, rainbow-coloured ball gown but at least she avoids the Crocs – unlike little brother Joe and his friend Odi, but that’s another story.........

      Just for fun (and heaven knows, there’s little enough of that around these days) I started musing about clothes, especially those sad rags that have now (hopefully) been thoroughly recycled.  “What’s brought this on?” thinks I who can usually brush aside such frivolous thoughts.  Perhaps they were triggered by memories of a special 1950s couture exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, which I took in some time ago.  Apart from the fact that none of the skirt hems or seams were pressed (good news for me, this being the only ‘couture’ feature of my own humble wardrobe), the suits and gowns on display were truly exquisite. Women certainly knew how to dress in those days. Elegant lines, clinched in waists, skirts either full and feminine or beautifully tailored into leg-stretching pencil shapes....oh joy!
      But I’m not here to bewail the past. Let’s just say that if humans have evolved over the last 60 years, it’s hard to see how when you look at the saggy, baggy, skinny, crinkly, wrinkly and wildly chaotic styles we’re been foisted with ever since.  Eclectic some call it. Downright messy I’d say - were I in any position to judge.
      Take leggings for instance - or rather don’t if you know what’s good for you! These have to be top of the list. Comfy?  If all you want is comfort, stay in bed all day, but, Girls! Please, PLEASE – unless you’re an Olympic gold medallist with the thighs of a whippet – make sure you take a long, long look at yourself in a full-length, rear-view mirror before venturing out in these unforgiving and unflattering garments. Trust me - buttocks are not best displayed when battling each other for space like two flaccid or overinflated balloons. Ditto Lycra shorts. Double ditto those thin, footless tights that everyone can see through!
      Shell suits and track suits of ANY description. The incidence of sporty outfits seems to be in inverse proportion to the wearer’s lack of exercise. Originally designed to slip on over shorts and tennis skirts after an artery pumping session in the gym, on court or running track, these items are now regarded as de rigueur by people whose greatest feat is managing to reach the Pringles single-handedly. Ditto jiggly jogging bottoms.
      Puffa jackets. Okay, they’re nice and warm and ideal for temperatures 40° below freezing, like in the arctic for instance. Yet, for some years, the commonest sightings of such heat-preserving windbreakers were on hip-hop concerts and rap videos. How the artists managed under fierce studio lights without fainting is beyond me. Looking cool should never induce perspiration. 
      Platforms.  Actually, I have a confession to make. I honestly think platform shoes with stilettos can be real head-turners. Unfortunately, they tend to turn ankles as well!  In fact, there have been so many breaks and sprains from wearing them it’s a wonder they don’t come with health warnings. If you must show off your pins in these excruciating instruments of torture, be sure to avoid high places such as kerbs! And be sure to carry pills for altitude sickness!
      Crocs. The antithesis of stilettos. Far from flattering your legs, these cumbersome clodhoppers reduce your extremities to unappetising stumps as you clump across the street, soles sweating from the polyurethane or whatever passes for rubber these days. You may look like a Hobbit, but at least Bilbo and his ilk went in for natural fibres with their hairy uppers. Okay, so all those holes were specially designed to ventilate the feet and were not, as I once thought, created by rodents attracted by the irresistible smell of cheese! Ditto trainers, unless they’ve never been worn before.
      Beany hats. Gross! They remind me of sweaty, dandruff-ridden nightcaps worn by Scrooge and other seedy characters from Dickensian dramas; the sort of thing to ‘pull on’ when your hair’s a mess, leaving everyone to wonder whether you ever get round to actually washing it. Some youths I see regularly never appear without one of these monstrosities glued to their heads – which maybe they are after several weeks of natural grease has accumulated.
      Crop tops. Model girls with nicely toned abs may just about get away with this look, as long as it’s summer and they’re cavorting on a beach. Unfortunately, when it comes to the sins of the flesh, it’s not so much survival of the fittest as flaunting of the flabbiest! Cellulite dimples are not cute, so anyone older than....ooh...fifteen should really leave the little girly tank tops where they belong. On the shelf.
      Low-slung jeans. This droopy-drawers trend is hard to describe – or fathom. When boys go flashing their Calvins you wonder whether their Mums ever taught them to get dressed properly. Can they tie shoe-laces or is that why they wear Velcro-fastened trainers? Personally, I blame Dick Van Dyke. His penguin dance in Mary Poppins has inspired a generation!
      Cropped trousers. Fine on women but on MEN! Sorry guys, but this is not a good look for Mr Macho. Half-mast is only forgivable when normal-length strides have been rolled up whilst you wade heroically into a raging river to rescue your beloved’s dog! Failing that, a gentle paddle by the seaside will do. The same goes for shirts; short sleeves are definite no-nos. Long-sleeves only please (rolled up for action) or, if you really must, a well-cut T may be acceptable – minus logo!  
      Overlong flairs. Considering the price of a good pair of Levis, it seems a criminal waste to let them dangle through mud, tar, and other unmentionable substances. If you’ve ever had cigarette butts and doggy doings wafting across your carpet, courtesy of teenage children, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Hosts who insist that visitors remove their shoes should also measure trouser-lengths to avoid contamination. Ditto overlong sleeves, especially those that bell out at the knuckles. Useless for storing paper tissues, they should NEVER be worn on dinner dates as they tend to fall in the gravy.

     This list seems destined to grow longer as increasingly grotesque garments proliferate! Spotted today, flowery 'Rompers' - i.e. all in one 'sawn-off Andy Pandy' suit with baggy short shorts held up by straps. On a beach in Jamaica over a deep tan, the wearer might just get away with it, but not in the middle of a city street, and definitely not worn with black tights and shocking pink baseball boots! (Be warned teens! You may think such apparel is cool but one day you'll look at photos of yourself and groan while your grandchildren howl with glee. Worse, far worse than bell-bottomed loons and platform clogs!) And let's not, of course, forget the Onesie, set to cool passions as fast as it warms up our toes!
       As I write yet another horror is predicted to reappear during 2013 - Harem Pants! Yuck! Like nappies due for changing! 

*If you really MUST opt for comfort and the ubiquitous Onesie, you can find the above sample at:


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Titanic - One Survivor's Testimony

Books, films, documentaries and articles - few subjects have inspired so many writers and producers as the sinking of the Titanic.   Yet, a hundred years after this tragic event, there is nothing more poignant or vivid than true eye-witness testimony, such as this amazing account of one of the survivors:    

   On April 10th 1912, 12-year-old Louis Garrett* and his 14-year-old sister Jamila set sail from Marseilles on what would prove to be the biggest adventure of their young lives. Although their father had planned to accompany them, he’d been prevented from boarding the ship because of an eye infection, forcing the children to make their journey without him. 

   “We were saddened to leave my father behind, but were excited about being on board the R.M.S. Titanic, the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship of its time—and also said to be unsinkable!”

   For a young boy, it must have been an incredible experience. Amongst the 2,200 people on board were some of the world’s leading lights – rich and famous people who, seduced by Titanic’s magnificent interiors and glamorous image, considered joining the ship for its maiden voyage the “in” thing to do for anyone who was ‘anyone’.

   The real star of the show, of course, was the Titanic itself, which more than lived up to its promise as a floating 5-star hotel and remarkable feat of engineering. One of a trio of ships – including the Olympic and the Britannic – it was commissioned by the White Star Line from Belfast shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff. At 269 metres long and 28 metres wide, the Titanic exceeded battleships of its day by 5,000 tons and, due to the division of its hull into 16 compartments – 4 of which could be flooded without compromising the ship – seemed to justify its ‘unsinkable’ reputation.  

   Certainly, as Louis looked out across the Atlantic at the start of the voyage, the sea was calm, the ship cut through the waters at a satisfying rate of knots and New York was just 7 short days away. On Sunday April 14th the weather changed. From a seasonal chill the temperature dropped so dramatically that few passengers ventured outdoors and Louis heard talk of icebergs in the area. Such danger was not anticipated, however, so full speed was maintained despite a radio message from the captain of the Californian. His warning, that icebergs had been spotted along Titanic’s route – went unheeded by Captain E J Smith. Tragically, this experienced captain’s faith in Titanic’s invulnerability was greatly misplaced.

   At approximately 11:45 p.m. Sunday, April 14, Louis and his sister were awakened with a jolt. “Soon an elderly man, whom we had met on board and who took a fatherly interest in us, came to our cabin and said calmly: ‘Come out of your cabin and go to the upper deck. Don’t bother about taking your belongings for now. You’ll get them later.”

   Having steerage-class tickets, Louis and his sister could access the second-class deck, but a guarded gate prevented them reaching the first-class upper deck where they’d have a better chance of getting into a lifeboat.  “The only way this could be done was to climb an iron ladder from the steerage deck below up five or six decks to the lifeboats above.”  This was very difficult, especially for Louis’ sister, “But with help from others we made it.”

   To Louis’ horror, most of the lifeboats were gone. “The crew was permitting women and children only to board the lifeboats—there were not enough for everyone. We saw women crying, not wanting to leave their husbands; husbands begging their wives and children to hurry and get into the lifeboats. Amid this complete pandemonium and mass hysteria stood my sister and I, two immigrant children, unable to speak English, frightened beyond belief, crying and looking for help.

   “The last lifeboat was being loaded. A middle-aged gentleman was with his very young, pregnant wife. He helped her into the lifeboat, then looked back to the deck and saw others wanting to get aboard. He kissed his wife good-bye, and, returning to the deck, grabbed the first person in his path. Fortunately, I was there in the right place at the right time and he put me into the lifeboat. I screamed for my sister who had frozen from fright. With the help of others, she also was pushed into the lifeboat. Who was the gallant man who performed this kind act? We were told he was John Jacob Astor IV. At that time he was 45 years old and his wife, Madeleine, was 19. They were travelling to the United States because they wanted their child to be born there. Many newspaper stories were written that told how John Jacob Astor gave up his life for a young immigrant. The Astor family records indicate that, according to Mrs. Astor, Mr. Astor had words with a crewman who tried to prevent him from helping his wife into the lifeboat. He did so anyway. And, as I said, he kissed her and, returning to the deck, began helping others into the lifeboat.

   'I was happy to be in the lifeboat, but I still had a feeling of sorrow for the ones left on the Titanic. Looking back at that big, beautiful ship, I could see it from a different perspective and, with some of the lights still on, I could see the size and beauty of the ship. In the stillness of the night and with sound travelling so well over water, we could hear the band playing on deck and people singing ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’ The crew rowed away from the ship as far as they could. There were fears that a suction would develop when it made its final plunge into the ocean depths. That did not happen, nor was there an explosion as some thought there would be. The waters were unusually calm that night and it was a good thing, for most of the lifeboats were loaded down with people.

   'The Titanic sank about 2:20 a.m. April 15, 1912, according to the records. I saw it slide down into the ocean to its horrible finish. The moment it sank left a memory of something that haunts me till this day. It was the eerie sound of the people groaning and screaming frantically for help, as they were hurtled into the icy water. Almost all died from the cold water. The sounds lasted for about 45 minutes and then faded away.

   'An SOS had been sent out about midnight. It was received by the S.S. Carpathia of the Cunard White Star Line. It was about 58 miles (93 km) away and immediately turned around from its course, which was heading for Gibraltar, and proceeded full steam ahead to the rescue. It arrived at about 4:30 a.m. Interestingly, the S.S. Californian was only 20 miles (32 km) away from the spot where the Titanic sank, but the radio operator did not pick up the SOS signal because he was off duty. Later reports showed that the Californian did see flares in the night, but thought the passengers on the Titanic were shooting fireworks in celebration of the maiden voyage.

'The Carpathia completed the rescue operations about 8:30 a.m. Our lifeboat was among the last to be rescued. After being taken aboard, bundled up, given hot tea and made comfortable, I was happy to be alive, even though I had a coat and shoes much too large.

'Later the captain of the Carpathia called all the survivors to come on deck and see the iceberg. My 12-year-old mind recorded it as being as high as a two-story house, much wider and with a huge chimney. The ship delivered us to New York before continuing its trip to Gibraltar, a very kind act on the part of the management of the Cunard White Star Line. We arrived in New York at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, April 18, and were taken to the Cunard White Star docks.

'Looking back at those long hours in the lifeboat, it now seems miraculous that we reached the safety of the Carpathia. The bitter cold was almost unbearable. We huddled together to keep warm. People were kind to one another. I remember how windy it was there on the deck of the Carpathia. The winds had picked up to several knots per hour. Fortunately the winds held off just long enough for the rescue mission. Had the waters not remained calm and smooth during that time, it is doubtful that the rescue operations would have been so successful.”

Despite the intense cold, Louis knew of only one person in his lifeboat who died of hyperthermia. "The body was wrapped in a sheet and slipped overboard.” Except for a few crew members who manned the oars, most of the occupants were women and children. According to Louis, “There was one young couple with a baby who ‘put one over’ on the crew. The wife was very shrewd; she dressed her young husband as a woman, covered his head with a shawl and gave him the baby. He was in one lifeboat and she was in ours. Both were rescued by the Carpathia.

“On our arrival in New York, we expected to be taken to Ellis Island to clear immigration procedures. However, this was waived because of the pain and suffering already endured by the survivors. We were turned over to the Red Cross to be united with our families. My older brother, Isaac, was in New York and our meeting was mixed with joy and sadness. My father was still in France. However, we concluded that had he been on the Titanic with us, he would not have survived because of the women-and-children-only rule. Maybe even our being survivors would have been affected. We would have found it hard to leave Dad on board the Titanic and be seeking our own safety. Fortunately for him, he arrived safely three months later on another ship.”

   The sinking of the Titanic continues to fascinate and appal in equal measure. 100 years on, two major exhibitions in the UK – one at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum near Belfast, the other at the Liverpool Maritime Museum – marked the sad demise of “the most famous ship in history”.  http://www.titanicbelfast.com/ http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/exhibitions/titanic/

   Unable to match the speeds of rival shipping line, Cunard, White Star aimed to attract wealthy travellers with Titanic’s magnificent interiors, unashamed luxury and impossible glamour. Even so, the company’s main target group was the huge number of European immigrants – between 1900 and 1914 almost 900,000 a year crossed the Atlantic to the United States, providing handsome profits for the industry. Tickets for the Titanic cost £79 for first class; £13 second class, and £8 for third.  Naturally, cosseted first class cruisers were discreetly insulated from the hoi polloi below!

   The horrific death toll was due to a series of errors: Several iceberg warnings from other ships were either ignored or not received; the lookouts didn’t spot the iceberg soon enough for evasive action to be taken; and there was only room in the lifeboats for 1,170 of the 2,200 passengers and crew. Of the 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsible boats on hand, many were not fully loaded and made no effort to find survivors who’d fallen into the sea. Consequently, 1,500 people perished – 700 crew and 800 passengers.

   As for Louis Garrett, he settled in Jacksonville where he lived peacefully until his death on  31st May 1981, soon after giving this interview.