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Connecting the unfortunate dots of chance
In a slightly overdue blog, a wincing Slarek looks back on a week of spectacular back luck and injury, notes how it has affected site productivity, and applies a bit of chaos theory to explore how the arrival of the UHD format ultimately led to him clutching his face in pain.
15 November 2022

Have you ever had one of those weeks? One that you look back on and wonder how everything came together the way it did and the role that chance played in making it happen? One that you wish you could go back and make small changes to in order to give it a more positive outcome? Two weeks ago I had one of those. Boy, did I have one, one that has affected productive on Cine Outsider of late. It's the impact on the site that has prompted me to bash out a blog detailing just what occurred, but also how a series of loosely connected events that started with the launch of the UHD disc format and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has ultimately led to me clutching my face in pain.

First, I need to set the scene. The catastrophic week at the heart of this story began at the tail end of a two month period of enforced inactivity following an operation to fix a hernia. Since cycling is my only mode of transport, I was forced to work from home for eight weeks, which revived unwelcome memories of the lockdown and the long period of isolation that followed. Due to years of government cutbacks and NHS staff shortages created by a spiteful and short-sighted immigration policy, I had to wait 15 months for the operation, but now it was done, and after two months of physically taking it easy I was finally able to safely cycle again. Unfortunately, this particular Monday morning was swallowed up by a 90-minute dental appointment in which a complex repair of a broken tooth saved me a small fortune on the crown that would have been the alternative. As I was expecting to be dealing with some pain once the anaesthetic wore off, I cleared it with my line manager to continue working from home for one more day.

On the Tuesday, I was able to get back on my bike and cycle to my workplace, and it was a wonderful feeling after being out of the saddle for so long. Before heading to work, however, I had an appointment at a vaccination centre to have my autumn Covid booster. It was all very regimented and efficient, but on being asked if I had driven to the centre and revealing that I'd come by bike, I was told in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't have. I wasn't concerned. This was my fourth Covid vaccine shot and I'd cycled home after the other three without incident. Can you see where this is leading? Not where you might think, as it happens.

I cycled to work without incident (ha!) and it felt great to be back in my office again, if only for the change of scenery, the warmth of the heating and the comforting knowledge that I wasn't forking out for the electricity to run the computer and peripherals that I need to do my day job. When it came time to head home, I groaned at the sight of the long queue of cars waiting to go through the traffic lights that that had been erected for road works that no-one appeared to be working on. I thus took an alternative route, one that led me down a steep back street hill and under a small railway bridge. It was only as I turned the corner towards the bridge that I spotted the car heading directly towards me, forcing me to stop sharply and let the vehicle pass. At least, that's how it theoretically should have played out…

Time for quick flashback. Cycles are so much cheaper to run than cars or motorbikes, but every now and again the various parts that require maintenance or replacement all seem to foul up at the same time, and when this last happened to me, I elected to take the bike in to my friendly local cycle shop for a full service. This was a couple of weeks before my hernia operation, and as I was forbidden from cycling during my recovery period, I did not collect the bike until I was on my way home from the dentist on the Monday of my fateful week. The lovely thing about a full service is that it makes a four-year-old cycle with thousands of miles on its clock run like new, but the thing I always seem to forget is that the worn down brake blocks that were on the machine when I took it in have been replaced and calibrated to exert a vice-like grip on the wheel. When you slam on the brakes with worn-down blocks, the bike slowly grinds to a halt. When you do so with new and calibrated blocks, it stops dead. The problem is that when it does so, the machine and its rider both still have considerable forward momentum, which is fine if you're on dry road when it happens – you might skid a little, but otherwise you should be fine – but not if you do so on a large patch of mud…

I don't know how many of you this has happened to, but when I completely lose control of a bike, there's this brief moment as I skid and thrash about trying to regain control where I become convinced, just for a microsecond, that I'll be fine and will recover my balance. That's just what happened here, but a mere two seconds later I lost it completely and thundered to the ground, cracking my right knee on the bike frame as I did so. The driver of the oncoming car stopped to check I was okay, but while my knee and leg were screaming at me in pain, I was able to stand so assumed that nothing was broken. I limped my way home pushing a bike that rather smugly hadn't sustained a single scratch, and by the evening my knee had swollen up to the size of a melon. The next morning I was advised by a doctor at my local surgery to make my way up to A&E, as swelling like this could indicate a fracture, but a long wait and an x-ray later confirmed that the bones were fine, but that ligaments had been torn. I was thus back to working from home for a few days until the swelling receded. I should note that the hospital staff were all excellent, and the advice and exercises they gave me really did accelerate the healing process. By this point we've only reached Wednesday of this memorable week, and the best – or rather worst – is yet to come.

It's about now that I started getting this weird tingling on my forehead, one that made the skin really sensitive to touch. There were no visible signs, and I initially dismissed it as either a small graze sustained in the accident or an odd side-effect of Monday's Covid booster jab. The tingling didn't ease and began to spread down the left side of face and around the eye. It's then that the blisters started to appear. By the Saturday morning it had spread to my mouth and gums and I was getting just a little bit concerned. A call to 111 got me a doctor who made me an appointment at the hospital, which ultimately counted for little as I still had to go through A&E and wait a couple of hours. As soon as the attending doctor got a look at my face he knew what it was. I had shingles. On my face. Believe it or not, although I'd heard of shingles and met people who have had it, I've never really known what it is. I soon found out. Seriously, I've never known anything like it, and despite being dosed up on heavy pain killers each day, the pain was so great and so bloody unrelenting that there were times that I genuinely wanted to rip my face from my head.

I was immediately put on a course of antivirals, which did help to clear up the rash, but because I failed to recognise those early signs for what they were, I began this week-long course of tablets later than would generally considered ideal. Partly as a result, I now have something called post-herpetic neuralgia, where nerves damaged by the shingles breakout continue to cause considerable pain and a range of other peculiar sensations. It's a condition, I am informed, that can last anything from three months to a year, and sometimes beyond. For the unlucky few becomes a permanent affliction. At this stage, there is no way to know how long I'm going to have this or even if I will ever be able to shift it. Even dulled a little by a combination of Pregabalin, Tramadol and ibuprofen, the pain is deeply unpleasant, like I'm receiving small but every-repeating electric shocks to my left cheek and the area of skin around the left eye. This impacts on my vision (both eyes are clear, but they no longer seem to accurately line up with each other), and has also resulted in a weird combination of numbness and sensitivity in my upper left gum that makes chewing food painful.

So how is all this remotely connected to the launch of the 4K UHD format and the pandemic outbreak? Allow me to explain. When I was young, there was a TV programme I adored called Connections. It was a documentary series written and presented by TV science boffin James Burke, who each week traced how a series of often seemingly unrelated chance events ultimately led to an important scientific discovery. Burke used these incidents to draw a timeline of cause and effect that was effectively my first introduction to what would become a key pillar of chaos theory. I found it utterly riveting, and have since been fascinated by the whole concept of the role that chance plays in shaping every aspect of our lives, and how just one small and seemingly insignificant alteration to that timeline could massively change our destiny. It's this thinking that allowed me to draw my own connections between the arrival of UHD and the pain I am now wrestling with. In that respect, all of the above, was effectively a primer for the following playful speculation. If you're old enough, picture this being told to you by the ever-enthusiastic James Burke, who was a lot better at this sort of thing than me.

Although I'm more susceptible to shingles at my age, I was informed by the doctor that diagnosed the post-herpetic neuralgia that an outbreak usually occurs when your immune response is at a low ebb, usually when you're stressed out, like you might be after an accident that shook you up and left you injured, for instance. And thus the first connection is made – had I not had the accident, I probably wouldn't have developed shingles. Consider also that the accident only happened because I took an alternative route to usual on that particular day. Had I been travelling that route for several days prior, I would probably have noticed that mud pool and made a note to slow down when I approached it in the future. Then again, had the brakes not been so finely tuned, I would likely not have skidded and fallen so violently. It's also possible that I collected the bike two months earlier and ridden it every day since, the brakes would have worn down a little by then and had a touch more give, potentially lessening the skid and avoiding the fall completely.

Now, the reason I was riding the bike for the first time with its shiny new brakes on that particular date was because I had spent two months recovering from a hernia operation. Thus, no hernia op, no delay in riding the newly reconditioned bike until that particular day. So what caused the hernia? Lifting a weighty 42" plasma screen up the stairs in my house and onto a cupboard in my bedroom, a job that should have been done by two people but that I stupidly did alone because we were in the middle of the pandemic lockdown. But why haul the TV upstairs in the first place? Because I'd bought a new 4K OLED with the money from my pandemic-cancelled holiday and the bulky HD plasma screen it replaced was taking up too much space in my living room. And my prime reason for buying the 4K screen at all at this time was because the independent labels whose releases we cover were starting to release titles on UHD. If I wanted to start reviewing them, as I did, I knew I'd need an appropriate screen, hence the purchase of the new TV.

So there it is. Through a series of chance events, the UHD format, aided by some pandemic restrictions, ultimately gave me shingles. It's a genuinely horrible condition, by the way. Seriously, if your detect event the smallest first signs, get to a doctor (not easy these days I know) and start on a course of antivirals as soon as you can, as doing so early significantly lessens the chance of the post-herpetic neuralgia I'm likely to be saddled with for some time to come. And you really don't want that. It interferes with almost every aspect of your life, including sleep when it's bad, and the ability to concentrate for long on anything during the day. If you're old enough, get the bloody shingles vaccine. I didn't even know about that until it was too late to be of any use to me, but I'll still be looking to get it soon to stave off a resurgence of what is one of the nastiest afflictions I've ever had.

Obviously, all this has had an impact on my reviewing and the site in general. Just typing the above has taken three days. Complicating matters is that I'm not the only reviewer on the site dealing with health issues at the moment, and the review I've been working on for the past week or so is one for Indicator's newly released Universal Noir #1 Blu-ray box set, which contains six films, six commentary tracks, and a robust collection of other special features. Were they six separate discs, three or four reviews would have been posted by now, and as ever it doesn't help that I have ended up writing more than originally intended on each film, and the resulting review is likely to be as weighty as the ones for Indicator's Columbia Noir releases. It'll be done soon. Yesterday I posted a film from Camus and have another from Gary that I'll be posting later, which should kickstart things a bit. I also have more already in the pipeline, including coverage of the BFI's first Ghost Stories for Christmas Blu-ray collection and Eureka's 4K UHD release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Pleasingly, we are now able to do screen grabs from UHD discs to accompany the reviews, and it seems likely we'll be covering more 4K UHD titles in the future. That doesn't mean I don't still hold a grudge for what the format ultimately did to my face, of course…