Category Archive: Uncategorized

Five Years? How?

The old saying ‘Time Flies When You’re Having Fun’ isn’t really applicable to the events of the past five years.  The time really has flown, and a lot has happened, but not very much of it has been fun.  Multiple hospital visits, both by appointment and to the emergency department, and trips to the doctor, usually by appointment for tests etc., have resulted in memories of the past five years being, on the whole, traumatic.

Fun has definitely not been the word.

As a result of all of these events, it has come as a bit of a shock to realise that five years ago today (well, tomorrow really:  it all happened on a Friday but the date is the same – 7 March) I was in hospital.  At the time of typing this (12.52 pm) I had been under the knife for about two hours and I would not be fully aware of my surroundings until c.7.30 tomorrow morning.

The realisation has brought back a flood of memories, mainly bad.  The pain and discomfort of numerous cuts and the tube where no tube should be.  The misery of being trapped in the hospital for three days, although the wonder of Burnley beating Blackburn Rovers 2-1, the first ‘derby’ victory for over 30 years, helped to mitigate the pain.

Five years of repeated tests to see whether the prostate cancer had returned.  Five years of stress every time one of the tests was due.  Now that I am only being tested once every year I think it’s time to look back and see where I am now, see what lasting effect the experience has had on me.

Physically, I’m fine.  Football has given me injuries, some severe some minor, but the prostatectomy has left little mark.  The scars have faded a little, although of course they are still there.  In fact, the only physical side-effect that remains is a slight tendency towards stress incontinence, but as this is supposed to affect both men and women of my advancing years I find this more of an annoyance than an embarrassment:  after all, I have a darned good excuse that beats the more traditional cry of ‘I can’t help it, I’m getting old!’

Mentally, if I am being honest, things are not so good.  In between tests I am usually OK.  When the tests come around, I am a bag of nerves, terrified that the cancer has returned and that I will be going back into the hospital for more extensive treatment. 

But this is only when the tests are due.  At other times, as already stated, I’m usually fine.  Honest!  Well, maybe not always.  The one way that the diagnosis and operation has affected me is that when it comes to illness and feeling  in any way out of the ordinary my first instinct is to think ‘cancer’.  For the past five years this paranoia has been the bane of my life:  stomach ache?  Cancer;  bad wind?  Cancer;  pains in my muscles?  Cancer.  This lack of self-confidence may be dismissed by some as ridiculous, but to me it’s understandable.  I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink much (I’m allergic to cigarettes and alcohol) and on the whole I’ve remained relatively fit and not overly overweight.  So how is it that I can get cancer?  And if I’ve had it once, then I can get it again.

Despite the fact that everyone I know – including nurses – keep telling me that the cancer won’t return, it makes no difference.  That worry comes back, sometimes at the most ridiculous times.  (Ian, you’ve just had cabbage, brussels sprouts and baked beans:  of course you’ve got stomach ache ….)

To put it mildly, when the tests are due the nerves take hold and I become a real pain to live with. Moody, snappy, irritable: even I find it hard to live with myself sometimes.

Mind you, it gives me some new lyrics for the classic song ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath:

“Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind

People think I’m insane because whenever I get the slightest ache or pain I immediately tend to link it to the cancer and start worrying whether it has returned or not.”

OK, so it doesn’t scan, but come on Ozzy and co.  A rewrite is necessary!

Aetius Hold Up

I have just had a query in the comments pages (thanks Andrew) that ‘Aetius’ is no longer available from Pen and Sword in the US and that as a result the prices for both ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies have begun to rise. After querying the publisher, I have been informed that the book is indeed out of print for a short time. The reason is that the hardback has sold out completely and there will now be a short delay before the book comes out in paperback. Good news for me, bad news for anyne wanting the book this week!

On Anniversaries

I first wrote this blog in August 2018 – as the date included shows – but for obvious reasons felt unable to publish at that time.  Now, four months on, I feel that maybe this should be posted.

I dedicate this post to my mother, without whose help and encouragement I would still be living in Burnley and working in a factory.

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There are common dates for celebrating that everyone has, or has the chance of having:  birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, and many other special events.

There may not be many who every year remember the day when they received their exam results with such bitter-sweet memories as I do.  Thursday 16th August was the day when students around the UK received their A-level results (for those readers not from the UK, the quality of a student’s ‘A-levels’ are crucial in determining which university they will – or will not – attend for their degrees).

There are a few reasons for this.  The fact that it is now 25 years since I passed my A-levels is actually quite frightening.  Where has the time gone?  It only seems like two minutes since I rang the college to find out whether my gamble had paid off.  (I had quit working in the factory in order to take the A-levels:  if I had failed ….)

But the main reason has to be my other memory of that day.  I wasn’t immediately aware at the time, but my mum had left the room when I made the call.  I found her stood in the hall crying.  Relief?   Pride?  She could never fully explain it, although she said that pride was the major factor.  It was only at that point that the enormity of my risk sank in.  Where would I be if I had failed?

As it is, the difference between my life prior to those results and my life following them cannot be over-estimated.  Before, I was working in a factory making kitchen units for fitted kitchens.  I rarely left Burnley, and anywhere further than Manchester was the ‘Great Beyond’.  After, I was having a ‘second childhood’ (second?  Probably more accurate to say third or fourth!) at University, far from the town of my birth and meeting people from all over the world.  Prior, my greatest achievement was to build and fit kitchen units in other peoples’ houses.  After, I had the pleasure of becoming a teacher before turning my hand to writing books on ancient history.  The difference is night and day.  There is no way that I could have foreseen the change in my life that those results would have.

So why ‘bitter-sweet’?  It’s because of the positive effect that day had on my relationship with my mother, which also cannot be over-estimated.  I went from being a ‘failure’ who had ‘unfulfilled potential’ to a man who she was able to boast about to her friends and neighbours.  I would add that when she attended my Masters Degree graduation it was the proudest day we had together.  The second was my becoming a teacher.

Yet these would have been eclipsed by me becoming a published author.  Sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease took her away from us before ‘Belisarius’ was published.  She was never able to fully appreciate either that the book had been published or that she was commemorated in the dedication under her maiden name.  If she cried on results day, how would she have reacted to seeing her name in print in my book?  I’ll never know.

This explains why ‘results day’ will always have mixed associations.

Thankfully, events since have helped to ameliorate the sadness of “Results’ day”.  Twice in the last two decades I had the pleasure of attending results days at schools where I either was or had been a ‘Head of Year’ in that school.  On both days results exceeded expectations and I was able to walk away with pride in my students.  On one of these occasions I was actually interviewed by the Press – my first ever printed words!

It is this mixture of pride and sadness which always recurs every August since I passed my A-Levels.  It is also a reminder that without my mother and her support I wouldn’t be where I am today. So the question, then, is how many people have not fulfilled their potential because they didn’t have their family and friends pushing them?

The moral must be: don’t give up: hold to that dream and do your best to achieve it. Don’t just give up when it becomes difficult. Which reminds me: got to plough on with ‘Constantine’. Not that it’s difficult or anything ….

At Last It’s Done!

I must admit I like writing.  The research is interesting, especially as it is usually in areas which have not been covered in the same detail very often, if at all;  the finding of things new to me is exciting, especially as this is a fairly common event;  putting all of this information together and making a viable story is exhilarating.  But then the book is finished and the manuscript is handed to the publisher.  Now the grim work lies ahead ….

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Latest Prostate Test

As some readers may be aware, I have my own page on Facebook (search ‘Ian Hughes MA’) where I post titbits of information from time to time.  I’ve just realised (I’m not the brightest!) that I posted the result of my last PSA test there but have made no mention of it here.  I apologise.

As many regular visitors may know, at Christmas 2013 I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. In mid-September I received the result of the latest test. Great news: another all clear!! To make this even better news: I now only need to be tested once per year! Happy Days!!

To say that I am happy and relieved is to miss the point.  It is now four-and-a-half years since I underwent surgery.  Despite the fact that as time goes by a patient may be supposed to feel more confident in the test outcome, in my case at least that has not been the case.  I still become extremely nervous every time I have a test.  Maybe it is because of my own pessimism that I half expect bad news every time I ring for the result.

Whether other ‘survivors’ go through the same feelings or whether they become ‘complacent’ or ‘trusting’ very quickly I don’t know.  All I know is that every time I get the result I have felt a huge relief when it has come back ‘all clear’.  That is one of the reasons why this result is special:  I now only have to go through the stress of the blood test and the waiting once a year, rather then every three or six months.  My next target is to get to the point where it is once every three years.  Wish me luck!!

I Am Not A Stereotype!

People have begun calling me an ‘Historian’.  That’s fine, and is in most ways a compliment.  For someone who came to Ancient History late in the day, and has not yet reached the heights of a PhD, I can accept that with a degree of magnanimity and pride.  However there are a couple of down sides to the label.  Possibly the main one is that I don’t fulfil people’s expectations when they meet me.  Apparently I don’t fulfil the stereotype of how an Ancient Historian should behave.

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Me? A Film Buff?

First, let me apologise for my lack of posts in the last 6 months.  For those not in the know, just before Christmas I had a major football injury:  a broken shoulder, two broken ribs, and a collapsed lung.  I did say it was “major”!   The result was that for quite some time I was unable to work at full speed.  A second factor was that Jo has changed jobs.  She’s on less money now, but is far happier.  The result this time is that I have been working to bring some money into the household.   The net result has been a lack of time/inspiration to write new posts.  Thankfully, work is now almost back on track and a recent question from a friend has set my mind working …

I have many interests.  Too many.  I like Football.  And I like Guitars.  And I like Wargaming.  And I like Guitars. And I like football.  And I like “Aussie Rules Football”:  I ‘support’ Port Adelaide – for no other reason than when I first started watching they played really exciting passing football rather than the hoof-ball some played. Click here to read more »

Adopt an Orca?

When I first started writing these blogs my main aim was to put down my thoughts on writing and my personal experiences of the publishing industry.  The vast majority of these were lost when the website was hacked, with my prostatectomy experience being the only page I desperately attempted to recover.  However, as more time has passed my patience has worn thin and finally disappeared down the plughole of life.  This is because I ‘work from home’.  More importantly, my ‘deadlines’ are not day-to-day or week-to week, but year-to-year.  This gives me a certain level of flexibility with my writing, especially as I now have seven and a half hours to work every weekday. Click here to read more »

Why do I play football?

In the weeks before Christmas I was hoping to finish at least one chapter of the new book. In that way I would be ahead of myself and be able to take things easy over Christmas and the New Year.
 
No such luck. Two weeks before sitting here and typing this I went out in the evening to play football as usual. Sadly for me, a heavy challenge saw me hit the floor with some force, resulting in a broken clavicle, two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Painful, but I’m slowly recovering.  Sadly, however, this was all on my right-hand side and, as I’m almost totally right-handed, it is only now that I’m beginning to type faster than one word a minute. Not good for a writer!
 
The only upside is that I’m now feeling frustrated and want to get back on with the writing. So after the New Year I’m planning on really getting to grips with the military reforms of Diocletian and Constantine I. How far into January depends on health and the results of further, follow-up hospital visits. Wish me luck!

At last it’s done.

I am pleased and grateful to announce that I have finally sent the script of ‘Attila’ to the publisher. Must admit that I really dislike the final jobs prior to the manuscript being delivered – for example:  checking that the manuscript has the chapters in the right order;  that the maps have been included and that the coding for the placement of the maps is in place;  and that the plates are included, along with the correct captions and the coding for the order of the plates.  I also assemble the index prior to the manuscript going, as in that way when the draft of the printed version arrives I’m good to go with the indexing.  All little jobs which get in the way of the book being a finished project.

Now I’ve taken a day off before starting on the next project.  And I think I’m now allowed to mention it at last.  This is because the concept behind the publisher’s idea is that I’ve still got a head start on any other publishers who may be trying to pinch the idea.  The next book is going to be – at least if I stick to the plan! – an assessment of Constantine I as a general.  Included will an analysis of his battles, as well as an attempt to disentangle the information concerning the major military reforms that took place under either Diocletian or Constantine – or both.   Not an easy task, but I’m game for a laugh!

The information is scattered and open to different interpretations, so no doubt within a month or two the laughter will have stopped and the stress levels will have rocketed!  If I don’t post on here for quite a while you know why!  Who’d be a writer?