Saturday, May 31, 2003

A picnic in the park....

Picture: Picnic 1
Picture: Picnic 2

....followed by a little light DIY....

Picture: Painting the Wall

It's good to be home at last.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

It’s amazing the difference a pair of artificial limbs can make.

A number of the patients I see regularly at the hospital have lost both legs well above the knee, often through diabetes. When I first started my rehab, my reaction on seeing them was one of shock, sympathy…dare I say it, revulsion – despite my own amputation. How can anyone live a purposeful life with no legs? It seemed that even having paralysed and wasted legs was preferable to having none at all.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was with these blokes. There just seemed to be something missing.

It was when I started talking to them face to face that I had the blindingly obvious yet startling revelation that personality is not dependent on limb-count. One doesn’t forfeit a trait or a characteristic for each limb that’s removed.

And I watched something incredible happen. These guys, who looked so small and fragile in their wheelchairs, strapped on a pair of prosthetic legs. And even without feet, calves or knees they rose up from their chairs and started walking; first inside parallel bars, then with sticks, then solo.

All the sympathy, all the revulsion disappeared. They became just the same as everyone else.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, May 30, 2003

There have been some remarkable Amputees of the Week so far but they've all been a bit....well.....male.

Not so this week.

Aimee Mullins was born without fibula bones in both legs. She underwent a double amputation below the knee at the age of one.

She represented the United States at the 1996 Paralympic Games, and while at Georgetown University, became the first disabled athlete to compete as part of a NCAA Division I track team. In 1996, she set world records for leg amputees in the 200m, 100m and long jump.

In 1988, she was approached by Alexander McQueen to model in his couture show and took to the catwalk in legs designed by McQueen. She has recently moved into acting.

Mullins says of her modelling debut:
"I knew absolutely nothing about fashion, but the idea of modelling really interested me. It started after a speaking engagement at a conference one day, when a man said to me: 'You're really beautiful. You don't look disabled.' I wasn't offended, but it made me think that he obviously didn't really think of me as disabled, or he wouldn't have said that to me. I obviously looked like his idea of 'one of us', rather than 'them'.

It struck me that people found me very sexy, but if you sat them down and said to them, 'There's someone over there who's missing both legs from the shin down', most people would never find that sensual. Yet when people saw me as a whole package, without realising, they felt all those things that aren't supposed to happen. Modelling seemed a sneaky way to make a point about that."
(Source: The Observer)

Aimee Mullins: Bilateral babe extraordinaire and this week's.....Amputee of the Week.

Aimee Mullins' Website

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The Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram, has blown any chance he may have had of getting a job in the BBC World Service newsroom.

Ingram says the intelligence in the government's Iraq dossier that Baghdad was able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes came from "security source information. Single sourced - it wasn't corroborated." (Source: Radio 4 Today Programme)

Single sourced?

Perhaps Mr Ingram should take a look at the BBC's guidelines on accuracy and truth. They state that: "News agency reports, especially from overseas, can vary in their reliability. It is good practice not to run a story from one agency unless it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or another agency. (Source: BBC World Service)

Sorry minister, you just wouldn't cut it at Bush House.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I'm driving back to London this afternoon to visit my flat (and London) for the first time in more than 3 months -- since February 22nd to be precise.

How weird is that going to be?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, May 29, 2003

A down day.

No particular reason; probably just the combination of fatigue and coming down from the adrenaline of last week taking their toll.

On days like these Mr Stumpy seems so much uglier, my situation so much more depressing and the future so much more uncertain.

I can deal with only having one foot on a day to day basis. But thinking about waking up every morning for 5 years, 10 years, 30 years and having to put on an artificial leg fills me with dread. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I’m still expecting my foot to miraculously reappear. I still haven’t accepted fully that it’s not going to happen. I don’t think I can accept that yet – it’s just too much to cope with.

I find myself playing the odds; it’s what the therapists call decatastrophizing. What if I’d lost my foot and my knee? Wouldn’t that be worse? Yes, of course. What if a piece of shrapnel had taken my eye out? What if I’d stumbled onto another mine while trying to get to safety? The scenarios go on and on, each one more horrific than the last.

I make myself feel better by imagining the worst.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The latest BBC News Online diary has been published on the website and can be found here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Quote of the day:
"It's becoming painfully obvious that these programmes (for the construction of weapons of mass destruction) didn't exist on the scale they (the US) said...Everyone wants to give the (Bush) administration more time, but as the weeks go by, there is a growing sense of being lied to."
- Joseph Cirincione, Weapons Proliferation Expert, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Source: The Guardian)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

This card from my good friend and colleague Jo arrived this morning from Baghdad via Jordan.

Read it if you're still under the illusion that working alongside a foreign correspondent is sums up perfectly the frustrations of life in the field. But hey -- it pays the mortgage.

Jo's card from Baghdad

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

This is really starting to bug me now.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, says Iraq may have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction before the war. Rumsfeld says that: "It is also possible that they [the Iraqis] decided that they would destroy them [weapons of mass destruction] prior to a conflict." (Source: BBC News Online)

Analysts are reading Rumsfeld's comments as the closest the Bush administration has yet come to an admission that it may never find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Now cast your mind back to the 5th February, when the US Defence Secretary Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council. Powell said that: "The facts on Iraqis' behaviour - Iraq's behaviour - demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort - no effort - to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq's behaviour show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction." (Source: BBC News Online)

Spot any contradiction? If the reason for going to war was to rid Saddam Hussein of his WMDs, but the weapons were destroyed before the war, then where's the justification for the war?

It's all getting very messy.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

In "Have I Got News For You" fashion I'm launching a new occasional headline competition.

All the headlines will be taken from the magazine Step Forward, the quarterly magazine of the Limbless Association.

It's a must read for amputees everywhere. Each new issue literally flies off the shelf at rehab clinics and artificial limb centres up and down the country.

So, here's the first headline.....but what's the missing word(s)? Answers on the message board or by e-mail if you pur-lease.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

No performance related pay bonus this year, then, for George Dubya, whose "War on Terror" has made the world a more dangerous place according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty's Secretary General says that: "A combination of forces sought to roll back the human rights gains of the past five decades in the name of security and "counter-terrorism". But the restrictions on liberty have not necessarily led to increased dividends on safety. Greater emphasis on security, far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights and undermining the rule of international law; by shielding governments from scrutiny; by deepening divisions among people of different faiths and origins; and by diverting attention from festering conflicts and other sources of insecurity."

Good work, Mr President.

BBC News: Warning over war on terror

...and while we're on the subject of small-minded, inward-looking countries, congratulations to the organisers of the Urdd Eisteddfod in Port Talbot for stripping a school choir from Llanelli of their singing prize. The reason? One of the verses sung by the pupils from Ysgol Dewi Sant was in the original Xhosa -- and the Eisteddfod has a strict Welsh-only rule on stage:

BBC News: Foreign anthem in Maes row

Taking over as Welsh First Minister in February 2000, Rhodri Morgan said he wanted "to celebrate the talent and diversity of all the people of Wales." (Source: BBC News Online.)

It would seem the First Minister's wish is not shared by everyone here in Wales.

Phew...from global politics to the Eisteddfod in one posting.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I've been rather quiet lately on the subject of the Kurds. They've had their problems to deal with, I've had mine.

However, recent reports suggest all is not rosy in Iraqi Kurdistan as -- as had been expected before the war -- tensions between Arabs and Kurds turn violent:

SF Chronicle: Kurdish region to lose billions
Reuters: North Iraq Arabs long for Saddam, say US favours Kurds
IHT: Few Kurds want to be part of Iraq
AP: Ethnic Tensions Boil in Northern Iraq
BBC: Ethnic tensions mar Kirkuk poll
BBC: Row overshadows Kirkuk poll

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Keren? Nofrat? Ari? Can any of the Hebrew speakers translate this page?

I know I sure has hell can't.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Derek draws my attention to John Irving's novel, The Fourth Hand. I haven't read it but I must admit the basic premise for the book is intriguing to me for reasons that will soon become obvious.

It's about a television journalist, Patrick Wallingford, who -- while on assignment in India -- loses his hand to a circus lion when he instinctively turns to record the lion's roar and puts his hand too close to the cage (beginning to see why I like the sound of this book?)

The footage of Wallingford's tragedy is broadcast again and again to millions around the world, and Wallingford becomes famous as the "disaster man" and the "lion guy." His obsession with replacing his missing hand coincides with the obsession of Dr. Nicholas Zajac, a Massachusetts surgeon who wants to perform the first hand-replacement surgery in the U.S. Neither Wallingford nor Zajac counts on the complicating presence of Mrs. Otto Clausen, who donates her dead husband's hand to Wallingford -- and then demands the right to visit the hand.

What concerns me is not the idea of finding a surgeon who can perform a foot-replacement operation, only for someone to demand visiting rights. Chance would be a fine thing. It's the notion of Wallingford becoming labelled for the rest of his life as "the lion guy."

I'm sure that our old friend Aron Ralston is going to be known for the rest of his life as "the amputation guy" and I fear I'm destined for a far less illustrious future as "the landmine guy."

I guess I'd better get used to it. Stuart Hughes -- the guy who stepped on a landmine.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I've just completed a vicious culling of my e-mails, in a desperate attempt to get on top of my exploding inbox.

If you've e-mailed in the past couple of months asking anything that requires a specific reply please send another message because the original one may well have been deleted.


Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I need your help.

I'm thinking of organising a big party later in the year to celebrate (if celebrate's a suitable word) my recovery. It'll be my way of thanking everyone who's helped me since the accident and possibly also of raising a few quid for MAG. I need a venue capable of holding several hundred people within a hour or so's reach of London. There needs to be accommodation either on site or nearby.

So, I need suggestions for the following:
1. Venue
2. Caterers
3. Band/entertainment

If you can pull strings with a minor royal to let me borrow one of their palaces for the night or can persuade U2 to perform for free so much the better.

All suggestions gratefully received via e-mail or the message board.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Sean Sutton is a fine photographer and an extremely nice guy. He's MAG's Information Manager and has taken stunning images from mine-affected areas around the world.

A selection of photos from his recent trip to MAG programmes in Northern Iraq is below. More of his images can be viewed here.

Iraqi Children Playing With UXO
Deminer At Work
Iraqi Mine Victim (WARNING: Graphic Image)
UXO Disposal
Iraqi UXO Victim (WARNING: Graphic Image)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Vicky thinks I had a crap time on Saturday night because I didn't mention it on the blog.

Far from it; I just got carried away yesterday with Bluebirds promotion fever.

Ails and I travelled across to Portishead Marina to visit Vicky and her sister Jo, who lives on board a 100 ft tender, Bee, with her boyfriend Martin.

Aside from the tricky door thresholds the boat's just perfect for someone in my condition because there are handrails everywhere. Getting around in the wheelchair would have been difficult, though.

So rest easy, Vicky and Jo. We had a great time and want to join you when you move across to Bristol.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting examines the continuing landmine problem in Nagorny Karabakh:

IWPR.Net: Landmine Threat Haunts Karabakh

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

This picture of my friend Jamie was taken while she was west of Sydney researching a story on drought-stricken central New South Wales for the Associated Press. The little critter she's holding was just two days old.

It has nothing to do with Iraq, or amputations, or anything in particular for that matter. It's just a damned cute picture.

Picture: Jamie's Little Lamb

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I meant to mention something....damn, what was it?......oh yes, I remember.....WE'RE GOING UP!

IC Wales: Bluebirds Promoted

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Work this one out.

Today's Guardian reports that the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, suspects Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

"I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction - and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were none" Blix is quoted as saying in a German newspaper.

Now on March 17th, George W. Bush -- giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face war -- said the following:
"(The Iraqi) regime pledged to reveal and destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Since then, the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy. We have passed more than a dozen resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. We have sent hundreds of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not been returned." (Source: BBC News Online)

So....Blix says Iraq may not have weapons of mass destruction. Bush says it definitely does. One must be right, the other wrong. Which is which?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The new car arriveth....freedom at last!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, May 23, 2003

Blame Tony Allen for this week's high-scoring Amputee of the Week.

In the 1951-52 season, Sheffield Wednesday striker Derek Dooley scored 46 goals in just 30 league appearances, a club milestone which has yet to be equalled 50 years on. His goalscoring exploits that season helped Wednesday win the old Second Division title.

But after scoring 16 goals in 24 matches in Division One, and with Dooley touted at the time as a future England centre-forward, on an icy pitch at Preston he broke a leg in a collision with North End goalkeeper George Thompson.

While recovering in hospital, gangrene set in and surgeons had to amputate the leg to save his life.

Although he had no trade to fall back on, after a spell working at a baker's, Dooley was eventually offered a role as development fund manager with Wednesday, a beloved return to the club he had supported as a boy.

In 1971, Dooley became manager, but unfortunately failed to have the same impact he had as a player and was sacked on Christmas Eve of 1973.

Soon after, Dooley then became a rep for a sportswear manufacturer in Leeds, and it was while on a visit to Sheffield United, he was given the job as commercial manager.

So began an alliance which has spanned more than 25 years, one which he has also served as managing director prior to his appointment just over a couple of years ago as football club chairman.

Dooley says of his amputation: "I thought my world had collapsed. I'd been married for just six months, I'd got no house, no money and football was my life. So when I lost my leg, I thought, 'Well, I might as well snuff it because I've not got a lot to live for'. My wife, Sylvia, and my mother and father gave me the strength to carry on."

Derek Dooley, now 73, received an MBE in the New Year's Honours List. Today he receives another gong -- he's Amputee of the Week

Daily Telegraph: Dooley a man for all seasons

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I didn't get a chance in the Simon Mayo interview to plug the Mines Advisory Group credit card donation number. It is:

0800 0723 999

You can also donate Online by the following the link below. Do it now!

MAG Online Credit Card Donations

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I'll be talking to Simon Mayo on BBC Radio Five Live between 1400 and 1430 BST this afternoon. Those outside the UK can tune in here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Media Guardian's website has teased a second story out of the conversation I had with them last week, focusing on the comments I made about the role of embedded journalists during the War In Iraq. I actually think it's a better piece than the one that ran in the paper -- plus it doesn't have the terrible picture alongside it.

Media Guardian: Don't rely on embedded journalists, urges BBC mine victim

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Sarah Goodyear has sent me an incredibly moving story from the New York Times about landmine victims in Cambodia. "We are lower than dogs," one amputee tells the paper, "people feed their dogs."

New York Times: What War Wrought, Cambodia Can't Stand To See

I'm hoping to visit Cambodia at some point with the Mines Advisory Group. You can read more about the work MAG is doing in the country here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The second weekly BBC News Online diary is now online here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Press Day.

MAG's PR Supremo, Daniel from Spin Media had done an amazing job of generating media interest in my new role as patron and, more importantly, in the fact that MAG has been short-listed for the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

I woke up at 0630 and over the next ten hours did interviews for.....(deep breath).....BBC Breakfast News, the Today programme, Radios Wales, Scotland Ulster, Cumbria, Sheffield, Stoke, Southern Counties, GMR, Key 103, North West Today, North West Tonight, Wales Today, Granada Tonight, the Big Issue, Manchester Evening News, Western Mail, South Wales Echo, the Mirror, the, I think that's it.

I am now a fully-fledged media whore.

Here's a couple of cuttings:
BBC News Online: Blast journalist fights landmines
Western Mail: Debris of war that maims and kills
Press Association: Mine-hit TV Producer Holds Weapon That Took His Leg

Photo: Taking to BBC Breakfast News

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Today I came face to face with the mine that took my foot.

In my first trip out of Cardiff since the amputation I travelled up to Manchester to meet up with the directors of the Mines Advisory Group, who have asked me to become a patron.

From a glass cabinet, MAG's executive director Lou McGrath picked out a de-activated PMN landmine, similar to the one the technical team found in the ground around Kifri. In a ten day period after my accident 5,000 of them were uncovered around Kirkuk.

It was made of bakelite and was about the size of a tin of travel sweets.

It was a chilling experience to hold the mine in my hands and I found myself becoming unexpectedly upset. Although rendered harmless, to come so close to the device which has wrought such devastation on my life was extremely unsettling.

Lou also explained that Kaveh probably wasn't killed by a Valmara 69 mine, as I'd previously thought. If he had, the mine would probably have taken the rest of us with it, so great is its lethal capacity. Instead, it's thought Kav stepped onto one PMN before falling onto a second. His body took the full force of the blast; he didn't stand a chance.

Many people have said since the accident that I'm "lucky to be alive." It can sound like a rather glib statement as I look down from my wheelchair at my amputated leg. But as I learnt more about the mine that injured me I realised just how accurate those words are. Had I stepped on the mine with my whole foot rather than just the heel the 240 grammes of explosives packed into the PMN would probably have taken my entire leg off -- or worse. The secondary injuries the pieces of bakelite shrapnel were capable of causing don't bear thinking about.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I'm venturing outside Cardiff for the first time since my accident today. I'm going to Manchester to meet the people from the Mines Advisory Group, coming back on Thursday evening.

Apologies in advance if I don't update until I get back.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Quick off the mark with the latest breaking news I am not. Maybe I should consider a new career as I've only just stumbled across a piece by Wendell Steavenson, written a few days after my accident.

It captures the rising fear and sense of dread that seemed to pervade Northern Iraq around that time. The last sentence touches on that inexplicable but all-important quality that underpins all war correspondents -- bottle. Sometimes you feel invulnerable, as though nothing can touch you. At other times, though, courage seems to shrivel to nothing and you're scared to leave the hotel. Thankfully Steavenson listened to the bad vibes when his bottle deserted her. She writes:

"I felt a fool, but somehow, insidiously, the events of the past weeks had hit me in the pit of my stomach, and my courage was gone."

When that feeling hits you it's time to get the hell out. Unfortunately in my case my bottle didn't dry up quickly enough, although it sure has now. Whether it'll ever come back again I still don't know.

Slate: Getting Scared in Kurdistan

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Monday, May 19, 2003

Got quite a shock this morning when I opened up the Media Guardian. Of all the pictures they took to accompany an article about this blog they must have printed the worst one. Or maybe I really am that miserable in real life and just don't realise it. Anyway, the article (thankfully minus pic) is online, although stupidly they forgot to include a link. They did knock two years off my real age, though, so I'll forgive them:

Media Guardian: A Sympathetic Modem

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Sunday, May 18, 2003

Two days later than usual, it's high time I introduced another disability-beating Amputee of the Week.

Many of us are guilty of getting legless and singing out of tune from time to time. Well, this week's AOTW is both legless and tuneful.

Irishman Ronan Tynan was born in Johnstown, County Kilkenny. He was born with deformities in both legs but nevertheless became a champion rider and high jumper in his teens.

He later developed severe scoliosis and underwent a bilateral amputation at the age of 20. After the operation he took part in two Paralympic Games, winning a haul of gold medals. In 1984 he was named "the most outstanding disabled athlete in the world."

Tynan spent six years studying medicine in Dublin and at the age of 33 began taking singing lessons. One year later, he won an International Operatic Singing Competition in France before being accepted by the Royal Opera. He established a medical practice -- only to be asked to join the trio of singers known as the "Irish Tenors" in 1998.

Tynan says: "I want people to realize that regardless of what infirmity or disability, it should never stop you doing what you want to do. You can make your mind strong enough to overcome any obstacle that comes your way."

I say slainte Ronan -- you're Amputee of the Week!

Ronan Tynan's Homepage

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Out with the old and in with the new today as I prepared for the arrival of my new car -- a year-old Ford Focus automatic. The silver-tongued Iraqi salesman finally won me over and we shook hands on the deal on Friday.

It'll take a week or so to get the modifications done so I can drive it with my left foot and then I'll be back on the road and a little bit closer to independence.

My trusty Citroen has served me well but with a stick shift and three pedals to contend with it's not suitable for life with one foot.

News that the old motor was up for sale spread by word of mouth and someone agreed to buy it this afternoon.

I said goodbye to the old girl by giving her a damn good scrubbing -- which isn't easy in a wheelchair:

Picture: Car Wash

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Saturday, May 17, 2003

A day which bordered on the surreal.

It started with a visit by BBC Director General Greg Dyke, who sat on my sofa drinking coffee:

...followed by an afternoon at the FA Cup Final:

...I'm speechless!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

BBC News Online have added a backgrounder to my first weekly diary. It can be found here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, May 16, 2003

Her Ladyship is down for the weekend, so the latest entry into the Amputee of the Week hall of fame is just going to have to wait.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, May 15, 2003

It's official.

I am not mad and a highly qualified psychiatrist has told me so.

This afternoon I went to see the post-traumatic stress shrink to discuss how I was dealing with everything that has happened.

He interviewed me for an hour and asked me all the obvious questions -- Was I sleeping properly? Was I still taking an interest in life? Was I having flashbacks or nightmares? Was I suffering from what I think we can call "men's problems"? I explained that although the accident won't go down in history as one of the happiest episodes in my life I thought I was dealing with it fairly well. Some days I'm fine and forward looking, other days I'm angry and frustrated at what has happened.

He asked whether I thought I was suffering from PTSD. I said I didn't but I wanted to talk to an expert in case there's something lurking in the background that could rise up and shatter my well-being. He thought it unlikely and sent me on my non-traumatised way.

Actually, it was an extremely useful thing to do. Not having been in this situation before I don't really know how I should be behaving, what's a "normal" reaction to an accident and amputation. Just having someone saying that I'm coping well is therapeutic in itself -- and it means that if I suddenly turn into an axe-wielding serial killer my family can sue the hospital for negligence.

You can read more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I've been commissioned to write a weekly diary for BBC News Online about my recovery.

The first installment can be found here.

Regular readers may recognise some of the material but I prefer to think of it as environmentally-friendly journalism -- caring for the planet by recycling my copy!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Following on from Claire H's comments on the message board regarding truth and accuracy in war reporting, the Guardian sheds disturbing light on the half-truths and outright falsehoods behind the Private Jessica Lynch story.

It would seem to confirm many peoples' worst fears about Pentagon news management during the War In Iraq.

The Guardian -- The Truth About Jessica

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So. Bugs Bunny is taking time out from running away from Elmer Fudd to educate Cambodians about the dangers of landmines, according to this CNN report.

The State Department says Bugs Bunny was chosen because "the rabbit is considered a kind and intelligent creature in Cambodian culture." Presumably, then, the Mines Advisory Group has chosen me to speak on their behalf because I'm considered a kind and intelligent creature in British culture. Surely that can't be right?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Everyone had warned me it would happen and today it did. I came crashing down to earth -- physically and emotionally.

Until now I’d been getting around pretty well in the wheelchair and, increasingly, on crutches.

This morning I was making my way around on crutches, my mind miles away. I think I must have forgotten momentarily that my limb was missing because the last thing I remember is putting my right foot forward and immediately thinking “oh shit, this is going to really hurt.”

It did.

I came crashing down on the floor, my injured leg taking the full force of the fall.

The pain took my breath away. Every nerve ending in my leg screamed and my knee swelled up like a balloon. I must have spent 10 or 15 minutes rolling on the floor in agony. It was, without doubt, the most painful thing I’ve ever felt – far worse than the original accident or anything before it.

While I was still in hospital the physio warned me of the dangers of falling, telling me that a number of patients had undergone a second amputation above the knee because they’d damaged their legs while they were still healing. In order to be safe I went to the hospital for checks and an x-ray:

Mercifully, there was no permanent damage, just bruising.

I had a string of appointments lined up but I was forced to cancel them all and spend the afternoon resting. Mr Stumpy is not a happy man today. He’s twice the size he was yesterday and is seething angrily underneath my right trouser leg.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

So -- another opportunity to test out the facilities for the disabled at the Millennium Stadium now Cardiff City are through to the play-off final. It's all for research purposes, you understand.

BBC Sport Online -- Cardiff Deny Robins

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"


It's something a few people have e-mailed me about but a link from Lynn G has prompted me to write about it.

It means an attraction to the idea of being an amputee -- and can be distinguished from "acrotomophilia" -- a sexual attraction to amputees (which is something I've touched on but am still making my mind up about and will return to in future.)

Perversion? Body image disorder? I don't know. I'm not a psychiatrist and so I'm in no position to judge. Nevertheless, from where I'm sitting, anyone who can calmly come out with quotes like "I will never feel truly whole with legs" is disturbed at the very least. Even so, the case of the doctor in Falkirk who cut off the healthy legs of two patients who wanted to be amputated is a fascinating one -- especially as both have declared how much happier they are post-amputation.

I'd imagine I'm as repulsed and yet intrigued as anyone else by the idea of someone freely choosing to undergo an amputation -- especially as I now know at first hand what it entails and what the consequences are. I simply can't imagine anyone asking to undergo a form of surgery that I had no option over. Ultimately, though, in a free society people should be free to do to themselves whatever they choose; drink heavily, smoke themselves to death or have their legs cut off. Who am I to tell them otherwise?

Anyway, follow the link and make your own mind up -- then post your thoughts on the message board.

Atlantic Monthly -- A New Way To Be Mad

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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

A great morale boosting day.

A BBC colleague who underwent the same amputation as me 3 years ago in a motorbike accident came up from London.

We immediately got down to talking about stumps, prosthetics and phantom pains in the same way that most people would discuss holiday plans or the weather. He laid out his artificial legs in a row and showed me the pros and cons of each – from the bog standard NHS model to a top of the range Madame Tussauds style prosthetic that looks almost identitical to the real thing, down to the leg hairs, veins and freckles (it's second left in the picture):

It’s the first time I’ve been able to talk at length with someone who has been through the process – from accident, through rehab to life after amputation. I saw the light shining brightly at the end of the tunnel – someone who’s able to live a life as full and active with one foot as he did with two. I was looking carefully and I swear I couldn’t detect a limp.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Judith draws attention to this article from the British Medical Journal, published in 1995, on the social cost of landmines in developing countries.

Although a little dated now, the key findings are depressing:

* One household in 20 reported a land mine victim, a third of them dying in the blast; one in 10 of the 2100 victims was a child
* The incidence of land mine accidents has more than doubled between 1980-3 and 1990-3
* Without mines, agricultural production could increase by 88-200% in Afghanistan and 135% in Cambodia
* Households with a land mine victim were 40% more likely to have difficulty providing food for the family
* Family relationships were affected for one in every four victims

The citations at the bottom of the article are also well worth pursuing.

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Monday, May 12, 2003

I'm sure many people will be saying this week that they'd give their right arm to go to Saturday's FA Cup Final.

Well I've given my right leg -- and I've been rewarded by The Football Association with a ticket for the game....and I'm not even English!

An apt sporting cliche would be to say that I'm "Over the Moon."

I'm told the wheelchair enclosure is right next to the touchline!

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My brother Steve nominates the racing driver Alex Zanardi for the Amputee of the Week award. He is the perfect candidate but his story is so compelling that I didn't want to wait until Friday (when I name the new AOTW) to tell it.

Zanardi lost both his legs above the knee in September 2001 when he was involved in a horrendous accident during a race. 18 months on he has just finished the 13 laps he failed to complete on that fateful day. He completed them in a racing car modified by friends and supporters. Zanardi describes his rehabilitation as "the longest pit stop in the history of motor sport." Now that's determination.

Zanardi was the subject of the double-page spread in yesterday's Sunday Times, which is reproduced below. There's another piece on him here. Never mind Amputee of the Week. He should be Amputee of the Year -- at least.

Sunday Times: Alex Zanardi

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Sunday, May 11, 2003

Further proof, as if it were needed, that my nephews and niece prefer their uncle with a foot missing.

Aio’s been putting his mind to constructing an artificial limb out of K-Nex, complete with moveable toes. Nice job. His younger sibling’s Ben and Elin, meanwhile, have discovered that being pushed around the street at speed in my wheelchair constitutes Really Good Fun. Ben has trouble comprehending the fact that my prosthetic foot will be made out of metal and plastic. Then again, he is only five.

The kids were at my parents’ house when I returned from an afternoon’s car shopping. It was great for morale to be making moves towards renewed independence – and independence with a new set of wheels at that. Coincidentally, one of the salesmen who tried to flog me a car was an Assyrian Christian from Kirkuk! He left Iraq when he was 19 and was a master in the Middle Eastern art of salesmanship. We chatted about Sulaymaniyah, the Kurds and the war in between discussing part exchange deals, 8 valve engines and twin airbags. Sadly, though, in the world of car sales stepping on a landmine near one’s hometown doesn’t seem to warrant a discount.

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Surfing the Mines Advisory Group I came across this picture of the site in Kifri where the accident happened:

It's the first time since I was injured that I've seen a picture of the spot. Jim went back there a couple of weeks ago and took some photos but they haven't arrived yet. Just this one photo stirs up a whole hornet's nest of emotions for me. Near this spot my life changed irrevocably in an instant. Near this spot my friend Kaveh was cut to pieces and killed by a landmine. As I lay beneath our jeep seconds after the blast that blew part of my foot off, I thought this scene could be the last thing I ever saw. I was lucky to leave there alive, let alone conscious and lucid.

It's still hard for me to look at this picture for any length of time. I know it looks bland and unexciting but that's just the point. On April 2nd, at this unremarkable place, an accident happened that I will remember every day of my life.

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Saturday, May 10, 2003

From time to time I try to fool myself into thinking I haven't lost my foot. It's a grown up version of Let's Pretend.

There's a mirror directly opposite my bed. If i press my knees up below the duvet I look just the same as I did before the accident -- two knees leading to two feet hidden underneath the bedding. When the phantom pains are coming on strong the illusion is complete; I can feel my toes, my heel and my ankle even if I can't see them.

If I try hard enough I can almost convince myself that my foot's still there. It's like immersing yourself in an engrossing thriller. It's only when I cast the duvet aside that the spell's broken.

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Friday, May 09, 2003

A touching tribute to director and cameraman James Miller, who was shot dead in Gaza on 2 May 2003. It's claimed he was killed by a bullet fired from an Israeli armoured personnel carrier. He was the fifth freelancer to die this year.

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Sorry Lynn G. I know what you’re saying but Aron Ralston is enjoying too much attention to make it as this Friday’s Amputee of the Week. It’s the lesser-known leg-less and arm-less heroes who make into this Hall of Fame.

Instead we look towards Canada – home of ice hockey, maple syrup …and this week’s Amputee of the Week.

In the province of Quebec in the mid-1990s, the cause for independence from the rest of Canada was re-energised by one man -- Lucien Bouchard, the charismatic leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in the Canadian parliament.

In 1994, Bouchard became infected with the deadly strain of Group A streptococcus known as necrotizing fasciitis or “the flesh-eating disease." His leg was subsequently amputated.

Bouchard was a fiery orator who had long been Quebec's most popular politician. Nevertheless, the amputation further elevated him to near-hero status. Quebeckers flocked to hear him speak, chanted his name and struggled to shake his hand.

In the Globe and Mail newspaper, Ottawa bureaucrats were quoted as complaining that Bouchard's "suffering will make him a more formidable opponent, almost a mythic, tragic hero for the sovereignist side, impervious to partisan attacks."

For using amputation as a political weapon and for beating the flesh-eating bug: Lucien Bouchard -- nous vous saluons!!

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Jakob Whitfield e-mails with another worthy entry for Stuart's Encyclopaedia of Strange Amputations, concerning the 19th century surgeon, Robert Liston. I was actually told about Liston by my own orthopaedic surgeon, which naturally filled me with confidence in his abilities.

Apparently Liston was regarded as the fastest saw in the west. During one operation he -- in under two and a half minutes -- amputated the leg of his patient (who later died from gangrene), sliced off the fingers of his assistant (who later died from gangrene) and slashed through the coat-tails of a spectator (who dropped dead from fright). Liston thus performed the only operation in surgical history to have a 300 per cent mortality rate.

Good going Dr Liston.

Also on the e-mail, fellow blogger Kitty Bukkake sends a picture of herself doing a hand-stand, in which it looks as if both her legs have been amputated at the knee.

Kitty Bukkake -- crazy name, crazy gal!

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Thursday, May 08, 2003

Those self-amputation stories just keep on comin'

Bill Jeracki from Colorado lopped his leg off ten years ago while out hiking.

There'll be a new Amputee of the Week tomorrow....and no, it's not going to be Aron Ralston (he deserves it, but it's just too obvious.)

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The BBC's Newsnight team based in Northern Iraq for the duration of the conflict had their fair share of problems getting home again via Iran. BBC Correspondent Robin Denselow has been writing about the ordeal -- there's a transcript here.

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Back behind the wheel for the first time since the accident.

Went for a driving assessment this morning to find out how I’m going to drive now my right foot’s no longer able to do the, er, leg work for me.

In theory the solution’s simple enough; an automatic transmission with the accelerator pedal switched so I can drive with my left foot rather than my left. In practice it means overcoming years of motoring habit. If I want to speed up or brake my right leg instinctively reaches for the pedals -- but now the leg just dangles in mid air. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time. Went for a spin around the block in a modified car. It felt exactly like taking my driving test all over again, especially since my test run followed almost the exact same roads I took my original test on. Deja vu.

This afternoon I had a chance to re-tell some war stories with In Charge Oggy and Studio Manager Steve, two colleagues from Northern Iraq. Over lunch we shared tales from the frontline. As I flicked through their photos taken in Kirkuk, Tikrit and Baghdad I felt a deep pang -- as though I’d read an 800 page thriller only to find the final chapter missing.

The explosion cut my assignment short, just before the final act. I never got to see the presidential palaces, people celebrating the fall of Saddam or the oil fields of Kirkuk. By the time Baghdad fell I was in hospital in Cardiff, mourning the loss of my foot and wondering what the future held. The photos made the accident, the amputation and everything that’s happened since melt away. I just wanted to be back in the field; chasing stories, watching history unfold, doing what I do.

Photo: Lunch with Oggy and Steve

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For some reason I decided to revisit Jennicam today for the first time in months and months. I remember it was one of the first websites I ever visited in 1998 or sometime like that. Back then, I thought the idea of someone having webcams around their house streaming 24/7 and writing online about their life was really cool.

What was I thinking?

I don't mean to be rude and I'm sure she's a lovely woman and all but man is she boring. Typical entries in her diary:

"Just yesterday we installed the first circuit of our drip watering system."


"Dex borrowed a friend's rototiller, so the back yard garden has been growing steadily."

Are people interested in this stuff? Do they pay good money to read it?

I blame the Reality TV phenomenon. People going about their daily business isn't interesting enough any more. We need excitement, drama, conflict. I'm not saying I'm as gripping as a Danielle Steele novel but at least I had my leg blown off. That's kind of interesting, isn't it? ISN'T IT?

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Following on from the Five Live interview, Mike Jefferies asks whether I know what mines hit me and Kaveh -- and where they were produced. It's something I'm keen to know myself but I've already got a pretty good idea.

The Mines Advisory Group believes I was injured by a PMN anti-personnel mine, which looks like this:

This mine has probably killed and maimed more people than any other. Originally manufactured in the former Soviet Union, it has also been produced in other countries and has also been found in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran, Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique and many other countries. It's nicknamed the "Black Widow," is 56mm tall, 112mm across, weighs 600g and contains 240g of TNT. It's usually buried by hand beneath the surface of the ground and can be set off by as little as 8kg of pressure. Delightfully, it's designed to drive plastic, dirt and bone into the upper regions of the body, so the fact that I escaped with my right knee intact could be regarded as "lucky."

The mine that killed Kaveh was much larger and more lethal. It was probably a Valmara 69 like the one below:

The Valmara 69 is made in Italy and Singapore, although the Iraqis manufactured their own copy. It's a bounding fragmentation mine, sometimes referred to as a "Bouncing Betty." It's 205mm high, 130mm across and contains 597g of explosives. The main charge is surrounded by 2000 metal fragments and the mine is designed to pop out the ground and explode at waist level, spraying red hot shrapnel out in a lethal radius of 27 metres.

What's happened to me has happened. I don't really blame the guys that laid the mines that killed Kaveh and maimed me. They were probably frightened, poorly educated soldiers following orders. What sickens me is that although half of all landmine victims are children -- and approximately 8,000 to 10,000 kids are injured or killed by mines every year -- there are still 14 countries thought to be producing anti-personnel mines. (Sources War Child Canada and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines)

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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Lynn G has spotted a great update on Aron Ralston, the climber who cut off his own arm with a Swiss Army Knife.

Fans of the The Onion will no doubt treasure the following real-life quotes from the Aspen Times:

'A doctor from the Moab hospital told reporters, “There’s no way it didn’t hurt a great deal.”'


'Upon arrival at the Moab hospital Thursday afternoon, Ralston walked off the helicopter, still bleeding, and into the emergency room. He requested pain medication immediately, according to a story in The Denver Post.' REALLY? I thought he'd request a Whopper and Fries....and why not Go Large while you're at it.

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I've republished the archives because a few people have said they've had difficulties accessing them.

Drop me an e-mail or put a message on the discussion board if you're still having problems reading them.

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...Waiting to be interviewed by BBC Radio Five Live.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Reading this jolly tome about lower limb amputation I learn that "amputation has traditionally been viewed as a technically simple operation and might previously have been left to be carried out by a junior member of the team at the end of the operating list." WHAT??? Let me read that again.....So I get the work experience surgeon who couldn't get onto the "Become a Butcher in Just Three Weeks" course at Sheepshagger Polytechnic. Marvelous. I feel so much better.

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This article's an interesting insight into how landmine victims in Thailand are getting back on their feet:

Niagara Foot: Boon to Landmine Survivors

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If there was a European hopping competition I'd win it. No question.

While I wait, my right leg dangling in mid-air, for Mr Stumpy to heal sufficiently for a prosthetic foot to be fitted my hopping abilities go from strength to strength. I'm becoming a human kangaroo, although my physio keeps insisting that hopping around the place is a Very Bad Thing and should be avoided at all costs.

I've developed a variety of hops for every occasion, ranging from the high-impact, long distance propulsion hop to the low-impact hop-shuffle, specially designed for use when carrying a cup of hot tea from the kitchen. I barely spill a drop.

So far I've managed to avoid the mistake made by many new amputees. Apparently it's very common to wake up in the middle of the night, forget the limb's gone, try to plant both feet on the ground and go crashing to the floor in a crumpled heap.

In my case my missing leg is the first thing I think about when I wake up. There's no chance of forgetting it.

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Welcome to new readers who've linked from The Guardian weblog. The Guardian's named this site a "top blog." They flatteringly say I write "honestly and unflinchingly about coming to terms with the loss of a limb," discreetly forgetting to mention that I also write "aimlessly and incomprehensibly about anything that takes my fancy." Thank you Guardian.

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I'll be doing an interview with BBC Radio Five Live this evening between 2330 and midnight BST.

People outside the UK can listen in here.

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I've been reading a report on how to safeguard foreign journalists by Beth Howe, a researcher at the Kennedy School of Government, prepared for the Newspaper Association of America.

It's full of revealing and shocking statistics such as:
* The fatality rate suggests that the job of foreign journalist is one of the most dangerous professions in America -- more dangerous than timber cutter, fisherman, pilot or coal miner.
* The fatality rate for freelancers is nearly three times higher than for staff journalists. Howe says there's anecdotal evidence that freelancers are often required to take risks that staff journalists cannot and will not take.
* 71% of the deaths recorded of foreign journalists were homicides, 27% were accidents -- just 2% were caused by illness.

Howe notes that "as the costs of communication and transportation continue to drop, it is likely that the number of foreign journalists reporting from war zones will rise." Unfortunately, more journalists is likely to equal more fatalities. It's a sobering thought.

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Monday, May 05, 2003

Aileen returns to London and I’m reminded of all the things that are worst about the current situation.

The fact that she’s living in London and I’m living in Cardiff while I recuperate.

The fact that we seem to spend most of our time saying goodbye to one another at train stations at the moment.

The fact that my London flat – my home -- is out of bounds until I get my artificial leg because it has too many steps and narrow doorways and is unsuitable for wheelchairs and crutches.

The fact that I can’t just jump into a car and go where I want, when I want.

People keep reminding me that I’ll be “up in no time,” that “this is only temporary,” that I’ll be “back on my feet before I know it.” That may be the case, but right now it doesn’t feel that way. I feel stuck, frustrated, going nowhere.

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Examining Mr Stumpy this evening it occurs to me that he looks like nothing so much as a butternut squash. Could they perhaps be related? I think we should be told.

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Sunday, May 04, 2003

A university reunion....College flat mates Noel and Petra come down to visit, along with spouses Anne and Chris. It's just like old times.

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An e-mail from Sarah Goodyear, recounting a story from a newspaper in Portland, Maine, arrives just in time to be selected as the first entry in my new occasional feature Stuart's Encyclopaedia of Strange Amputations.

It's particularly enchanting because it's written in a wonderful breathless yet understated local newspaper style. Two quotes in particular stand out:

"His arm was so mangled and stretched it hung down to his ankle."


"'What this boils down to is it's another setback,'' Goodale said. ''It's like going down to your boat and your motor gave out. Or like the pump doesn't work. Or the bait man didn't come. ''Only this time, the setback will take more time.''

I can relate to this. When the surgeon told me I was going to lose my foot, my first thought was "yeah...this is just like one of those days when the bait man didn't come."

Maine Fisherman Story (.txt file)

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Saturday, May 03, 2003

Thanks to Jason Goldman and the guys at Blogger for the T-shirt, which Aileen brought across from London.

I'm wearing it as I blog!!

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Friday, May 02, 2003

It's Friday and that means it's time for another....Amputee of the Week.

In 1797, in an unsuccessful attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Britain's greatest naval hero -- Admiral Lord Nelson -- was struck in the right arm by a grape-shot or musket ball just above the elbow. It shattered the bone so badly that amputation (without an anaesthetic) was essential. Nelson's surgeon wrote that "Nelson bore the pain without complaint but was given opium afterwards." I'd say he damn well deserved it. For the rest of his life, Lord Nelson experienced compelling phanton limb pains, including the sensation of fingers digging into his phanton palm. The sensations led the Salty Sea Dog to claim that he now had "direct proof" of the existence of a soul. If an arm can survive physical destruction, his argument went, why not the whole person?

For enduring amputation without analgesia and for single-handedly (geddit...single? hand? amputation?....oh, forget it) winning the Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Nelson is the new Amp of the Week.

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Another new word for the Dictionary of Amputee-Speak.....Juzo.

At the hospital this morning I was issued with a Juzo -- a trade name that's slightly more attractive than the term "stump shrinker." Juzo's company motto: We want our customer to feel so well served that upon leaving the store they have already forgotten that they are wearing compression stockings." Catchy, eh?

The Juzo is possibly the ugliest piece of hosiery I've ever seen -- a thick biege coloured sock that makes me look like I'm wearing old lady wrinkled stockings. It's designed to squeeze the swelling out of my injured leg and is not to be confused with Juzo Itami. He is a Japanese film director who committed suicide in 1997. He has nothing to do with compression hosiery.

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For those who haven't checked the message board, you've got to read this amazing story posted by Mark in Bangkok. It's quite unbelievable:

Climber amputates his arm, hikes to safety

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As requested on the message board by a Mac User, here's the article I posted up yesterday as a .txt file rather than a Word document.

Coracle Article.TXT

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This article's killer bee. A pigeon-chested woman from California (where else?) set up a website in November, asking readers to contribute to a fund she'd set up to turn her 34A funbags into something more substantial. Six months on, she's raised the $4500 she needs to, as the slogan on her website goes, "help a girl fill out her sweater."

Cyber-begging seems to be all the rage just now. As many will already know, one journalist -- Chris Allbritton -- raised nearly $14,000 dollars from online supporters to pay for a trip to Iraq where he reported independently on his website Back To Iraq. A nice idea....rather like the old Victorian idea of paying for public monuments through subscription.

I'm definitely missing a trick here. I need to start up a cyber-begging fund to pay for the cost of my new prosthetic legs. Or maybe a nice big pair of tits.

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Thursday, May 01, 2003

Attending a meeting tomorrow morning to discuss a proposal for BBC Wales to make a documentary about my recovery. The perfect opportunity to pitch my ideas for adapting a number of popular TV programmes especially for people injured by landmines...such as:

10. The X-Ray Files
9. Casualty
8. Changing Wounds
7. Saturday Night Live Explosives
6. Ready, Steady, Blow
5. The Weakest Limp
4. Trinny and Susannah's What Not To Step On
3. Mine-der
2. Cold Prosthetic Feet
1. I'm an Amputee....Get Me Out of Here!

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Finished an article this evening for the magazine of the Iona Community, where I worked as a volunteer for six months in 1994 before joining the BBC. You can get a sneaky peek at the unedited version below:

Article for The Coracle

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