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December 07, 2004

Hey There

Hey there, hello again. It's been a while since the massive IVF post, over 2 months in fact. It's 5:24pm on Tuesday 7th December, Rocky Mountain time, and I'm sitting in my little office passing time before my clarinet lesson at 6:30 up at the University. It's been cold all day today, -18 or so, with snow on and off. The windows of the hospital are covered in ice, which makes for a very unusual, cold, crisp quality of light - I like it! I've been in the 'OR' (operating room, or UK speak operating theatre) all day doing a big case with a friend of mine. Things are also moving ahead on the extracurricular front - skiing at the weekend (fun but sore), horse-riding and whitewater rafting last month, and I've just enrolled for skating lessons so I can get involved in ice hockey. And we're planning a Christmas party for next week - woo hoo! Also, we've just got AirTunes working with our wireless network at home, which is just great - we can now listen to over 5000 songs wirelessly on a very nice new set of speakers in our bedroom using Airport Express - Apple are just so genius! Dr Buffy has been at home all day today reviewing grant proposals, some very good, others not so good. I'll be home at 7:20 or so, and then it's Amazing Race 6 on TV tonight. Am also deep into GTA:San Andreas, still amazed by its depth and breadth. The choices of what to do next are just astonishing. Finished the S&M Catalina missions last night, now off to a race in the Badlands, or maybe I'll take a job as a trucker, or a fireman, or a pimp, or a vigilante, or an ambulance driver, or maybe just play some video games, or work as a delivery boy or break into the airport again and steal a plane, or else go on a one-man vendetta to take over the city, or to take the cops out, or something else. It's amazing. Have also ordered the NTSC version of SSX3, as I miss my snowboarding, and have also just got Beyond Good and Evil, which looks very promising indeed. Still need to play more SOCOMII, Viewtiful Joe, ESPN Hockey/Basketball/Football/Baseball 2004 and Winning Eleven Seven. Not enough hours in the day! And I'm expecting some new games for xmas too! When will I find time?

Yours in the key of C


posted by Benjamin link to this | 5:25 PM

September 20, 2004

Something New In The World

Well, it's been over 3 months since our attempt at IVF, so I guess the dust has started to settle and it's time to try to make sense of it all. Maybe writing this piece will help.

The Background.

We're both 36 now and we've been married for 8 years or so. We'd always planned on a family (she wanted 2, I wanted 4), but we put off having kids until we were 30 (careers, exams etc.), but once we came off The Pill it just didn't happen. Oh sure, a few late periods and 'near misses' but we never managed it. We always assumed it would happen 'next month'. Well, 'next month' soon turned into 'next year' and soon we were 34 with no kids to show for it. So we went to the local Assisted Conception Centre to ask for advice.

The C-O-S-T of Everything and the Value of Nothing.

We saw a very thin consultant, who told us that apparently you need 4 things for a baby, C-O-S-T (and a fifth factor, X):

Coitus (sex)
Ova (eggs)
Sperm (semen)
Tubes (Fallopian tubes, where the Semen deposited during Sex can meet the Ova and make a Baby, must be working i.e. not blocked for them to meet)

X: the X-factor - you can have all of the above (COST) and still not make a baby. How unfair is that?

What about the Tubes?

We were already doing C on a pretty regular bases, Dr Buffy was having regular periods so she was almost certainly making Os and I had done a home sperm test which suggested I was making a normal number of Ss. So the only thing left was 'T' for tubes, or else 'X' for 'mysterious reasons for failure to conceive with everything else being normal' (i.e 'dunno'). We asked did Dr Buffy need a test on her tubes, but we were told that if the tubes were OK and we failed to concieve, treatment would be IVF, while if the tubes were blocked the treatment would also be IVF, so the status of the tubes was neither here nor there. We were told to keep on trying every month (well, duh) and to lose some weight, and Dr Buffy had a hormone check done (normal).

Paying the Money.

So we went off and did as we were told, losing about 3 stones between the 2 of us, and being reviewed every 4-6 months or so 'to see how we were getting on'. After a year of this, still with no babies, we were offered and accepted a chance at IVF (in vitro fertilisation) on a self-funded basis i.e. we paid 1500 pounds for the drugs and equipment and we only had to wait 4 months for treatment rather than 18 months on the NHS. We had talked around and around it, and we decided to 'give it a go' and see what it was like, rather than never trying and never knowing if we stood a chance of being successful.

Into the Unknown Region.

We entered into the process with some trepidation, as we're both young and healthy and we didn't want to jeopardise that just because we selfishly wanted a child. Being a medical person myself, I have seen a few IVF disasters at the hands of cack-handed gynaecologists, and I was very nervous about putting Dr Buffy in harm's way in this fashion just for the chance of a child. We had both put off the idea of IVF for a long time, assuming things would just "happen on their own" but finally we both realised that we had to "do something", rather than just accepting our childless state forever.

The Big Why?

It's hard to be sure why we wanted to have a child. Sure, everyone else we know has had one, and my siblings are no exception, but we've got this far without having any and no one seems to mind us being "different" with regard to having a family. Even if we never have a child, it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world - life would just go on pretty much as before. We already have a good marriage, and this is not dependent on the presence or absence of a child. And we're already pretty well off, and have nephews and nieces, so it's not really an issue of "someone to look after us when we're old"! No, I guess we just want to reproduce. We want to get together and make a child which we can love and raise and send off into the world. We were given the gift of life and at some basic level was just want to pass it along to the next generation. I'm curious as to what any child of mine would turn out like. And I think we'd be good parents, like our parents before. So why not us?

One of the many annoying things about childlessness is the assumption of 'childed' people around you that you don't have children by choice - i.e. you had the chance to have a child but declined it. They never seem to realise that a child is something you really do want, and it's not a matter to be taken lightly.

So why not adopt? I don't know - it's an issue I've wrestled with, but have yet to come to any firm conclusion about. Having our own child would be the best option, but if it came to a choice between no child and an adopted child, which way would we jump? As time goes on, adoption might be the better option...

Starting the Ball Rolling...

So anyway, we enrolled on the IVF program, paid our money (1500 pounds all in for one go) and went on the waiting list. It took us 4 months to get a date. And we collected our nasal sprays ('sniffers') and our injections and stuck them in the fridge. Dr Buffy's mother comes to our house once a week or so to do the ironing, and she's been known to have a cup of tea at the time, so we had to tell her about the IVF before she came across our fridge full of drugs. And now we were telling her, we had to tell everyone else in the family too, as we'd kept all of this quiet from all of them up to now. It was strangely relieving to 'get it off our chests' and everyone was very supportive when we told them. It was made a little easier by the fact that my brother and sister-in-law had also had some problems conceiving and had been about to go on IVF when they managed to get pregnant by themselves. Everyone was very nice, but the one who took it the best and reacted in the most natural way was my twin brother who enquired how much it was all going to cost. When I told him the total, he laughed and said for that much money he'd be happy to sell us his two kids! It was good to laugh at that. It turned out that the whole family had been expecting us to go for IVF for a long time, but were too discreet to ever bring the subject up. We gave everyone our dates, asked for their prayers and best wishes and moved ahead.

Sniffers and Injections.

The sniffers weren't a big problem (apart from remembering to take them) but the injections weren't much fun. Especially as we had to start them while we were on holiday in Canada, and we had to smuggle them through airport security, sure that they'd be detected and confiscated as 'deadly weapons' at any moment! If they were confiscated, our IVF effort would be up in smoke, as our dates and timing were pretty tight. The only dates our fertility centre could offer us meant starting on injection treatments during our holidays, going for egg collection and fertilisation at the end of May and (in the event of success) leaving for Canada for 2 years just before our first scan-to-confirm-you're-pregnant. Not ideal at all.

The Big Plan.

Regarding the whole process, for anyone not intimately familiar with the whole IVF hamster-wheel:

1. Start on sniffer hormones for 3 weeks.
2. Keep on with the sniffers and add in hormones injected into your tummy for about 3 weeks, varying the doses upwards as you go. Beware hyper-stimulation (loads of egg follicles developing, ovaries the size of footballs, very sick with a sore tummy + might die, not a good idea)
3. Go for a scan a few days before the end of the injections to see how many eggs you have made (if any).
4. Assuming you have got some eggs, take one last injection of 'egg-ripening' hormones.
5. Come in 36 hours later for your 'egg collection' (needle passed thru the vagina wall to suck eggs out of the ovaries - ow!)
6. Mix egg and sperm sample right away (assuming sperm OK)
7. Check in am for fertilisation (i.e. did the egg and sperm make an embryo(s)?)
8. Allow embryo(s) to mature for 2-3 days in 'test-tube'.
9. Embryo transfer day - place embyro(s) into uterus.
10. Start messy vegetable oil pessaries to maintian womb lining.
11. 2 weeks after embryo transfer, check pregnancy test. (+) / (-) Delete as appropriate.
12. Repeat as many times as your wallet/wife/mind will allow.

Odds of success: average 20-30%
Less with fewer embryos.
Chances of a single embryo 'making it' = 10-15%
Max no. of embryos allowed to be implanted in the UK at present = 2

Not great odds, but worth a try, we thought. Maybe we'll be 'the ones' (someone has to be, right?) And if we got loads of eggs and loads of embryos we'd be able to store some of them and use them for more attempts later on. Although as we were going to Canada, we'd have to come back to the UK to get them out of their wee embryo freezer...

So we stuck to the schedule, took the sniffers, abstained from sex (more difficult than we thought...) and I did the injections into the tummy. Dr Buffy got a bit emotional from time to time, but she was almost never irrational and never bonkers, as we had been warned to expect!

Egg Scan.

The egg collection was scheduled for a Monday morning, so we attended the Friday before for the final scan. Dr Buffy left me in the waiting room and went in alone to face a very rude gynaecologist, who never introduced himself, did the transvaginal scan quite roughly and sniffed and stated there was only one egg follicle. He said it was probably a waste of time to go ahead with egg collection, but to come back for a scan on the Sunday. Then he whisked off, out of the room with no further instructions and nothing to say to the partner (me). Dr Buffy left the hospital in tears, wondering if we should even bother going back again.

It was a tough weekend, as we were both disappointed that our attempt at IVF was seemingly about to fall at the first hurdle, although it was a tempting thought that the sooner we stopped our attempt, the sooner we could get back to having normal sex again, and the sooner our non-IVF normal lives could resume. We were sick of injections, sick of sniffers, sick of wondering if, when and how things would develop.

Egg Scan II (In Your Shoes)

We went back on the Sunday with very mixed emotions, convinced that we would be going home again in failure. We saw a very nice lady consultant, who let me stay with my wife and who introduced herself and did a gentle scan to show that there was one good-sized egg sac and 3 or 4 smaller ones. She thought that it was touch-and-go whether we should bother going ahead with egg collection at all, but when we told her we were leaving the UK shortly for 2 years in Canada, she stopped for a moment and said "now, what would I do in your shoes?" ... "I'd give it a whirl - sure, you've nothing to lose!". So we were sent home encouraged again, our hopes rekindled with our final hormone injections ready to go and an appointment to come back for egg collection ('harvest') on the Tuesday.

I had planned to be off on the Monday and Thursday for egg-harvest and possible-embryo-transfer, so I had to make alternative arrangements very quickly to be off on the Tuesday and Friday instead. Luckily I had made arrangements to not be working any of the nights of the week in question so I could put Dr Buffy first.

Egg Harvest.

Monday passed like an age, and Tuesday dawned. We were up early to make sure we were on time and got a space in the car park OK. We went in, and after a while were ushered into a small room where we met our embryologist and gynaecologist who were going to take the egg(s). From my point of view, this was the only real dangerous step of the procedure, as it involved a sharp object being wiggled about near the ovaries/bowel/blood vessels, and I had seen some bad complications from it before. Dr Buffy was given a light painkiller (and some antibiotics, at my suggestion) and then the gynaecologist expertly passed a needle into each side of the vagina to extract all the fluid from the follicles in the ovaries. The fluid was passed to the embryologist in the next room, who examined it for eggs. After a few seconds we heard a shout - "we've got an egg!". More fluid was taken and examined, but there were no more eggs. Dr Buffy was crying, partly because we had an egg after all, but partly because there was only _one_ egg. "I'm so useless", she sobbed. "No, you're not, you're wonderful - you made an egg!"

Big and Bubbly

While my darling was recovering, I had to go off to a small room and produce my sample. The staff had kindly provided material of a lascivious nature, although some of it was quite dodgy and whoever had provided it seemed to have a penchant for the ladies of a fuller figure, if you see what I mean (think 'Big & Busty'). After my sample was in hand, I delivered it to the embryologist who, after a few minutes inspection, declared it 'up to snuff'. So now we had an egg and some good-quality sperm, it was all systems go! The two would meet up later in the afternoon, and then we would have to phone in in the morning to find out if fertilisation had occurred. Our one wee egg, in a sea of eager sperm, waiting to be fertilised by the one, lucky fastest swimmer. And if the tubes were blocked, perhaps this was the first ever possible 'fertilisation event' we had ever had in our 8 years together. We went home in an excited mood, eager to find out if 'the magic moment' would happen in the night. Our chances of one egg fertilising were not all that good - perhaps 20 or 30%, but we still had a chance. Both of us remarked on the fact that it was a relief to have at least one stage of the process happening independently of us, outside of our bodies for a few days, giving us a 'time-out' from the constant pressure of doing the injections, the sniffers, etc.

Something New in the World.

We both went to work the next day 'as usual', but both tense about the phone call to the embryologist which I was to make at 10am. I was doing an outpatient clinic and kept on having to make excuses to pop out to make a call on my mobile. The first time I called the embryologist had stepped out for a minute and I had to call back again. I called back again and got the man I was looking for. He took all my details, made sure I was who I said I was, and then asked me to hold on for a minute. Standing outside the hospital in the early summer sunshine, I felt my heart was about to explode with the tension. This was one of those big YES/NO decision moments where your life comes to a big fork in the road ('will you marry me?', 'did I get the job?', 'did I pass the exam?') which only comes along once in a while. After a moment, he came back on the line. "You have an embryo" he said. (YES!) "Congratulations!" He explained that fertilisation had taken place and the embryo had gone on the divide into 2 and now 4 cells. He said it was looking good and had been graded as a 'B', where 'A' is the best quality possible and 'E' the worst. An appointment for embryo transfer had been arranged for 2 days later, on the Friday. I called Dr Buffy to tell her the wonderful news - we were both overjoyed, and a little scared at what was coming next. We'd never believed we would get this far, to produce a single egg and go against the odds to make our own wee embryo. Something new was in the world, an embryo we had both made. As far as we knew, this was the first one we had ever produced. Maybe it was the first time our eggs and sperm had ever met, and they made an embryo. Having convinced ourselves that we were a total failure, we now had a chance of success. The sun was shining more brightly than normal that day, there was a spring in our steps, and we had hope. It never thought I'd feel paternal about 4 cells in a dish in a lab, but I did. I was proud that we had managed to make it - that was our embryo and no-one was going to take it away from us. We told our families that we were in with a chance and we would be going on to the next stage.


Thursday faded into Friday and it was time for the embryo transfer. In the waiting room we met an older couple who were on their third and final try of IVF and who had also been up in Tuesday for the egg collection. They had had a successful second cycle which ended with a miscarriage at 12 weeks. We shared our experiences (good and bad) of the IVF process before they went in for their own embryo transfer. Now, we often wonder if they were successful.

There was also a selection of women's magazines the waiting room, most of which focused on TV stars and 'Hello'-type articles, but one of which was entitled 'IVF Killed my Wife', about the dangers of IVF and the high failure rate. Not very appropriate reading when you're waiting to go in for a procedure. There were various stories about deaths from bowel injuries and deaths from hyper-stimulation. There were also stories from women who had got 10 or 15 eggs retrieved, but the eggs all died in the night during attempted fertilisation, so there were no embryos left to implant. We had told the other couple that we had had only 1 egg which had gone on to fertilise, and they told us that we were very lucky indeed to have achieved this.

When we were called in, it was over in about 2 minutes - the embryologist showed us the embryo, a tiny ball of cells suspended in a single drop of fluid in a long plastic cannula which was then advanced into the womb (no needles) so that the embryo was transferred from 'them' to 'us' again. The outcome was now in our hands again, we were 'back in the game'. Dr Buffy had to use some sloppy pessaries to thicken the womb's lining for the next two weeks. 14 days after the embryo transfer we would do a pregnancy test which would be the final thing to tell us whether it had all worked or not. We stopped in at a big shopping centre on the way home and wondered how many other women in the place were carrying embryos around and how many of them knew about it. We went home to see our parents to update them on the embryo transfer - I remember telling my parents-in-law that our embryo, which we had talked so much about, was actually in the room with us as we were discussing it. It's weird to think about, but we'd had an embryo for 3 or 4 days and now it was where it belonged. The three of us were together for a time, and it felt right. It felt like we were a tiny family.

2 Weeks of Waiting.

The next 2 weeks were really weird, trying to get back to 'normal' while knowing that something really unique was going on in Dr Buffy which might change our lives forever. I had a real spring in my step and a smile on my face for the whole time - we'd made it this far, only the final hurdle of the pregnancy test to go... maybe this was'our time' after all, with all the difficulties we had overcome to get here. On paper, with one egg, we should never have got this far anyway, but here we were, still keeping on.

We had agreed at the start of the whole process that we would always work from the premise that IVF would fail all along, to avoid the crushing disappointment that would come if we allowed ourselves to think we might succeed and then proceeded to fail in the end. That was an attitude which was fairly easy to maintain at the start of the process, but now that there was an actual embryo involved, a little pre-person as it were, it as hard not to let a glimmer of hope in at the edges. What if, just maybe, we were going to be successful?.... What if we were 'the ones'? The failure rate is only (only!) 85-90%, after all, with a single embryo. Someone has to be the 10-15% success... Maybe it's our lucky day... All of these thoughts rush around in your head, no matter how much you try to stop them, when you actually have a physical embryo (not just an idea any more, but an actual living organism) in the room (and in Dr Buffy's case, in the womb) with you, right here, right now. We've got this far, mow just a little further, right?

The 2 weeks after transfer was made more difficult however by the fact that Dr Buffy's grandfather had passed away on hospital on the same night as the fertilisation occurred, and as it takes a long time to get buried in England, the funeral was scheduled for the middle of our second week post-embryo transfer. It seemed odd that on the night we he was leaving life, our wee embryo was just starting out. We discussed it, and decided that she should fly over for the funeral and fly back on the same day. We had been given various advice about how Dr Buffy should behave during this 2-week period when the embyro was 'in place'. Some people said she should just take the whole 2 weeks off and go to bed, obeying the 'nesting' instinct. Some people said she should lie with her legs up for long periods, just to get gravity to help. The official advice, which is apparently based in a study comparing 2 weeks bed rest to 2 weeks normal activity (showing no difference at all) was to behave as normal, take it easy, nothing strenuous. We decided to behave pretty much as normal, reasoning that most women carrying an embryo don't know about it at this stage anyway.

The Moment of Truth

And so the 2 weeks passed without incident and drew to an close. We had been told to watch out for bleeding or discharge, but there had been none. No sign of a period. Watching every day for one, but none came. Afraid to ask: are you OK? Any sign of bleeding? Somehow the time passed and it was the Thursday night before the Friday when we should be doing our pregnancy test. We decided to do the test after tea on the Thursday, assuming that the result would be the same as on the Friday morning (we couldn't wait any longer). Also, we figured that it would be a bad idea to do the test 'on the way out the door to work' at 7am on Friday morning and then just go on and leave the house no matter what the results. Too traumatic by half. So we went ahead. Dr Buffy went in to bathroom, peed on a stick and we waited. I stood outside the door and had another one of those 'YES/NO' big life moments. I actually felt all the events we had been through in the past few months leading up to this one moment. The IVF roller-coaster, all the ups and downs. Leading to right now. I thought I could hear a roaring sound in my ears. This is where everything changes or nothing changes. This is the singularity, and we're passing through it now... The door opened and Dr Buffy came out with the bad news. 'Negative'. I went in to take a look too. Definitely only one line. Oh well, never mind. We always knew it was likely to end like this. We had a brief cry and then went downstairs. I went up again after a few minutes to look in the bathroom bin, just in case we hadn't waited long enough. Still only one line. Funny the things you do when you're desperate. We went to bed early, without much crying.

Wailing and Weeping

We let our families know by email, as it was a bit easier and there was much less boo-hoing involved:

>Dear Everyone
>This is just a short email to let you know that our first cycle of IVF was
>unsuccessful. The chances of our one embryo making it were always slim (10-15%, >apparently), but it's still hard to accept that this wasn't our time.
>Sorry to let you know by e-mail, but it's a bit easier telling you this way as
>there's much less boo-hooing and we've both done enough of that the last day or
>two. We're both very disappointed of course, but we haven't given up - maybe the
>air in the Canadian rockies will make all the difference, perhaps even without the >test tubes!
>We're keeping busy getting ready for the big move on the 21st, but we're going to
>take a bit of time to ourselves over the weekend until the news sinks in.
>All our love

People knew enough to give us some space. For the next couple to weeks, both of us developed the habit of crying at odd moments, seemingly at random, big heart-racking sobs coming from nowhere for a few minutes and then going again. I did most of mine in the car on the way to and from work, but I did have one really big wailing session when I was alone in the house. Really roaring and bawling, not quite sure who was making the awful keening noise, although it was me. Where does all this emotion come from? I'm not used to it. Now, several months later, I still get upset if I think about it too much. Both of us do.

What Went Wrong?

It's hard not to feel guilty. Somehow we messed up. We made a little pre-person who was alive in a cellular (if not a legal) way. We don't know if it was male of female. It was half-her and half-me, the first one ever made, as far as we know. Something New in the World. Maybe it was doomed all along - even if it had survived, maybe we would have gone on to have a miscarriage later (like the couple we met in the waiting room). But it was OK in the lab, and they gave it back to us and we dropped it. And now it's gone. Mysteriously vanished, a small collection of cells clinging together, to small to see. Up in smoke, as it if never existed (but it did). There was no other choice - it couldn't stay in the lab, after all, it would only have died there, and so it had to come to us, to where it belonged, back to the heat and warmth and love and hope. The chances were always against it, and us, 9:1 odds. So for every 10 couples just like us (single egg, single embryo), 9 of them are still weeping at odd moments and only 1 has an actual pregnancy. Such a lot of pain and effort and hoping and suffering for such a small chance of success.

The Rest of the Story

So, what happened next? Where's the next chapter? Well, life returned to normal and then promptly turned upside down. A month to the day after our embryo transfer, we left our home behind, said goodbye to the UK and moved to Canada, where we'll be for at least the next 2 years. We're in a bigger, nicer house and Dr Buffy has a higher salary than me for the first time ever, and a much nicer office. We drive to work every day together. After IVF, the periods did eventually come back, a bit less predictable and sometimes much heavier than before. And we carry on. Some of our new friends bought us Canadian socks, which are apparently an aid to conception in the cold weather here, although we haven't tried them out. No luck on the pregnancy front yet (of course), but we're still trying. Maybe if it is a tube problem we'll never get anywhere on our own - who knows? Or maybe the Canadian mountain air will help! In a way, it was lucky that we had only one egg/embryo, as otherwise we would have had to leave any others behind in the UK and pop back across the Atlantic to use them, as I imagine it's quite difficult to import and export embryos into Canada.

What Now?

We've thought about having another go at IVF over here, but it's self-funded here too, so we'll have to save up a bit if we want to go down that road again. As well as that, we both found the whole experience a bit depressing, and quite stressful, both physically (Dr Buffy) and emotionally (both of us). We've read of people doing 8 or 12 cycles 'back-to-back' and still failing, basically building their lives around the chance of success, and having their lives fall apart when they finally give up, and we definitely don't want to go there. We've been pretty happy with our lives up to now without kids, and if we didn't ever have them it wouldn't be the end of the world - just a bit disappointing. If we did have one at some stage, it would be the 'icing on the cake', of course. Anyway, we've done the 'IVF thing' once so we know what it's like and if we do decide to pursue it again we'll be forewarned. Or maybe we'll decide to adopt. Who knows?

And so, there you go. That's us up to date. Who knows where our road will lead next? And these ramblings are a _man's_ view of IVF. I imagine if Dr Buffy ever decides to blog about these events (unlikely), she would have something different to say. So, as a man, do I regret it? No. Would I put us through it again? Maybe (but not right now). Was I surprised at how emotionally exhausting the process was? Oh yes (very). Was it worth it? Yes, if only for the wonderful, sweet, short-lasting taste of hope we had for 2 brief weeks in the summer of 2004. It was worth it.

See you around,

Benjamin Fig

posted by Benjamin link to this | 9:10 PM

September 12, 2004

Louis Riel or Louis Riel?

Hey, I just called into my local Canadian comics shop to buy the new hardcover of 'Louis Riel'. They had a copy in the window but I couldn't see one on the shelf, so I asked the assistant if he could find a copy for me:

Me: Hi, do you have any copies of 'Louis Riel' by Chester Brown?
Him: Sorry, hmmm?
Me: I'm looking for a copy of 'Louis Riel'?
Him: Who?
Me: You know, Louis Riel? It's a comic biography?
Him: No.
Me: You have one in the window...
Him: Do we? Are you sure?
Me: Yeah, you know... it's by Chester Brown?
Him: Oh yeah, you mean LOO-EE REE-ELL.

All this time and I've been pronouncing it wrong. Sigh. That's Canada for ya...

Anyway, I got my copy, in its glorious hardback cover - what a handsome book! Highly recommended...

posted by Benjamin link to this | 8:20 PM

September 10, 2004


God! I laughed till I dropped!

You've gotta check out this and this

posted by Benjamin link to this | 8:40 AM

September 08, 2004

Comics Roundup

Hit the comics shops today and found some new stuff. Real cool...

The Complete Bone

Amazing 1300-page softcover of the whole thing. Very impressive looking paperback. Looking forward to getting stuck into this...

Battle Royale 8

The slaugther continues in fine fashion...

Persepolis volume 2

Came across this by accident today - read the first one and was impressed. This one is a blue hardback and is subtitled 'the Story of a Return', following on from the devastating ending of the first book...

American Elf

5 years worth of daily cartoon diaries from the estimable James Kochalka. Handsome edition with 1998-2003. Will be dipping into this a lot...

Promethea issue 31

This is the one I've been waiting for... the end of the story. What happens after the world ends? I must say Moore's vision fits very nicely with the way I've always imagined any apocalypse worth it's salt. Everything has changed, and somehow nothing has changed. And you've always been here, sitting beside the fire... Quite excellent, some of Moore's best work (still can't get into Tom Strong). And, although the story is over, there's another issue to go. Number 32 (23 backwards, 2+3=5), the end of the 32nd path. Can't wait....


Promising first issue from Morrison and Quitely. Undertones of WEAPON-X but with animals trained to be killing machines, a dog, a cat and a bunny rabbit, each enabled with basic speech. They escape their lab after their program is cancelled. Looks pretty intriguing, and not as way-out-there as THE FILTH.

Also noticed in passing:

Tony Millionaires Uncle Gabby - hardcover, hard to justify the price , but a lovely elegiac story about Sock Monkey and Ann-Louise in full colour. I might be tempted...

posted by Benjamin link to this | 9:24 PM

September 06, 2004

Back in Business

And... we're back again! Apologies for the brief (3-month) hiatus, but we've been busy moving between continents and turning our lives upside down! We've moved to the western part of Canada and will be here for the next 2 years; we've had a great first couple of months here, and the summer is now coming to a close as temperatures drop and the winter looms. The Rockies are beautiful, the food is great and the people are friendly.

With regards to the usual topics discussed here, Cerebus of course finished with issue 300 (which I have still to formally review), and THE LAST DAY has been released as the final Cerebus TPB, with annotations. I even got a letter from Dave Sim along with my copy, telling me why Sheshep-Ankh was just as poor a son as Cerebus was, even though he managed to see his father before he died. FOLLOWING CEREBUS issue 1 has also been published by Win-Mill Productions (they of Wrapped in Plastic fame) and is as good as I had been hoping for. More details to follow.

With regards to our big move, I sold off a lot of my stuff before we left to save on storage costs, and made about 3000 quid on ebay from the sale of various Runequest/Glorantha stuff, comics, toys, PS2 games and DVDs. Even so, there are still 12 huge boxes of stuff from which I couldn't bear to be parted in our attic, waiting for our return. We came out here with 2 large trunks in tow, which contained the bare essentials only. As a result, we have only 12 CDs and about the same number of DVDs, just the recent Hero Wars stuff, and only one shelf of comics. Alan Moore features heavily (Promethea, V for Vendetta) and of course I had to bring the complete Cerebus for reference, although individual issues remain in storage at home. At least we brought the iPod which has over 250 CDs worth of material on it.

We also sold my UK PS2 and all its games and bought a new US PS2 (NTSC) with new NTSC games, mainly from the ESPN sports range of baseball, American football, ice hockey and baseball. All excellent, but ice hockey and baseball the most compelling of the bunch. We brought our multi-region DVD player with us, but failed to realise that it still produced a PAL signal which could not be displayed on our NTSC Canadian TV. As a result we had a get a hold of a true multi-system, region-independent DVD player which is both dual voltage and will play any DVD from anywhere on any TV. Cool!

Things on my mind at present:

The end of Cerebus, and what happens now
The upcoming end of Promethea
What to read once these 2 series have ended?

ESPN games, Syphon Filter, SOCOM2, Winning Eleven 8
Just got these for my birthday - Ape Escape 2, Red Dead Revolver, Ratchet and Clank 2, Prince of Persia

Kill Bill 2
Millennium Series 1
Oz series 1-3

Guns, Germs and Steel
The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson

So, lots to blog about now I'm back again. I'm also running a parallel blog for my family and friends to keep up to date with our adventures on this new continent, so that will take up some time too, but Under the Sycamore Trees is back in business...

posted by Benjamin link to this | 10:29 PM

June 05, 2004


Just sent out the following email:

Dear Everyone

This is just a short email to let you know that our first cycle of IVF was unsuccessful. The chances of our one embryo making it were always slim (10-15%, apparently), but it's still hard to accept that this wasn't our time.

Sorry to let you know by e-mail, but it's a bit easier telling you this way as there's much less boo-hooing and we've both done enough of that the last day or two. We're both very disappointed of course, but we haven't given up - maybe the air in the Canadian rockies will make all the difference, perhaps even without the test tubes!

We're keeping busy getting ready for the big move on the 21st, but we're going to take a bit of time to ourselves over the weekend until the news sinks in.

All our love

posted by Benjamin link to this | 3:10 AM

June 03, 2004

Down Again...

Another bump on the rocky rollercoaster that is IVF tonight. Our pregnancy condition is negative, I repeat negative. Fuck this for a game of soldiers. Let's go and get pissed.

posted by Benjamin link to this | 3:50 PM

May 29, 2004


Wow. What a long, strange couple of months it's been. It seems like our lives have been turned upside down, given a good shake and then left to settle again. And it's not over yet... We've been to Canada, sold a lot of our possessions, found a new house and have gone through one of the weirdest experiences of our lives yet - IVF. And I stll haven't written my review of Cerebus issue 300! (seriously, have to get round to that this weekend, now I've had time to digest the whole thing). Anyway, we have 23 days left in the UK before we leave for the New World, so I'd better get some serious blogging done before we go. And we have a new blog coming up, too... More details later...

posted by Benjamin link to this | 1:39 AM

April 10, 2004

Uk weblogs

Have added the site to the UK weblogs aggregator but it hasn't appeared yet.

I'm almost finished by ebay travails - nearly all of my auctions are now online, should have the last ones done today. Then it's just a case of waiting 7 days, getting the money, packing the items up and shippinh them out... Phew!

posted by Benjamin link to this | 1:49 AM

April 06, 2004

Book Crossing

Released our first book into the wild tonight in a shopping centre in N Ireland. It was JACKIE BROWN by Elmore Leonard. I wonder who will find it... And what will happen then?

Our house is a bit of a bomb site at the moment as we're getting rid of a lot of stuff in preparation for going to Canada. Most of it is making money for us on ebay - the running total is about 2500 quid so far, believe it or not.

Still need to work on my Cerebus 300 review for here... but the ebay work is taking up a lot of my free time... Must run out of stuff soon...

posted by Benjamin link to this | 3:06 PM

March 05, 2004

More on 300...

Second read through...

Issue 300 achieves what I thought was near-impossible - it provides a fitting ending to the series. It's deeply moving, puts recent events into context and features (briefly) the events and people which have made the last few years with Cerebus so memorable. And it ends on a bit of slapstick. It is reminiscent of the double issue 112/113 in terms of tone and content. Excellent. Deeply satisfying. Push the button and blow up the sun now. It's over.

posted by Benjamin link to this | 3:04 PM

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