30 November 2015


I had a milestone birthday this last weekend and am now officially an Old Aged Pensioner at 65, although these days the retirement age is anything between 60 and 70. I wasn't particularly looking forward to this transition and hoped I'd just wake up after the day was over. For someone who didn't want to celebrate it at all I don't know how it happened but the celebrations are stretching over 10 days. First I met up last Wednesday evening with a gang of "girls" (the youngest one was 50), whom I have known for best part of 20 years, when all our children were at  Kindergarten together. They showered me with presents and cards and even tipped the waiting staff at the Italian restaurant to sing "happy birthday" to me with candles in my tiramisu. We were the last to leave the restaurant at 11pm. What a riot.

My actual birthday yesterday was spent in a slightly more sedate manner. Kay was on-call at the hospital and couldn't get the time off to come and celebrate with me (though she sent me a beautiful arrangement of flowers), so I booked lunch at a quaint Kentish pub and celebrated with my old mum, who, after all, was responsible for me being here at all. Sitting by a real log fire with views out on the wintry Kent countryside was a real treat.

In a few days, I am off to visit my closest friend in Hertfordshire, where we shall celebrate again and on Saturday I am off to meet my sister-in-law and her daughter halfway somewhere in Buckinghamshire for a further gathering and swapping of Christmas presents. Kay is hoping to join us for that too. Even the Queen only has two birthdays!

I had been dreading this transition into old age (even though everyone says I don't look as old as 50 let alone 65), but despite that, I have enjoyed the celebrations after all. Just a few hospital investigations to brave before Christmas to identify the cause of a health scare I had a few weeks ago and then I can hopefully get on with organising Christmas.

Old Age Pensioner

16 November 2015


Why can't the world live in peace?
Why are there some evil people in the world who want to destroy things for everybody else?
Why are they so unintelligent that they behave worse than animals?

09 November 2015

My Get Up and Go has Got Up and Gone

I don't know whether it's something to do with these dark early mornings and  dark late afternoons or the cold windswept swirly-leaves landscape everytime I look out of the window, but I have lost all impetus to carry on with the house renovation.  I keep making excuses why I can't rather than enthusing on why I can. Added to that, a few recently emerging worrying health problems which need referrals are also preoccupying me, whilst I try to juggle with caring for my Mum. I wish I were a dormouse and could just wake up when it's spring again, but with only six weeks 'til Christmas, that aint ever going to happen. Too much to buy and prepare.

25 October 2015

When did that happen?

Greg's sister has been staying with me for the weekend and yesterday we had a lovely drive down from London through the beautiful autumnal Kent countryside, albeit sometimes in pouring rain, to visit Kay for the evening. I say "for the evening" as she was on shift at the hospital all day, so we could only meet in the evening. After a lunch in one of the Kent towns, we moved much further on to the town where Kay lives. I showed sister-in-law the general area and then towards the end of the afternoon we went into Kay's hospital to "sightsee" and have a coffee to kill a bit of time. After coffee, as we wandered aimlessly along the maze of hospital corridors deep in conversation,  we were nearly bowled over by this young doctor coming hurriedly out of one of the side wards.  She was rushing for the staircase to go up to the next level where we could hear a klaxon going off even from our distant vantage point . As she flew past, she threw over her shoulder " Oooh hello. Sorry, mum, I can't stop, I'm off to a cardiac arrest." She disappeared in a flash.

Sister-in-law and I left the hospital shortly thereafter and met up with her again about two hours later in an Italian restaurant. She seemed so confident. So buzzing with energy. So interesting to listen to. So grown-up. My big little baby girl.

20 October 2015

Have you noticed?

I'm not sure why, but I have noticed a definite downturn in blog production. Not production of my own blog - I've always been a once-a-week or even once-a-fortnight blogger - but the blogs of others. The most avid blog writers have stemmed their production to a trickle and some have even disappeared off the face of blogland altogether. Not quite sure what all that means. Suffice it to say, I've got bloggers' block and can't think of a darn thing to say. Maybe it's something in the air or water ..........

picture courtesy of miratelinc.com

07 October 2015

A good place to get sick?

A good friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She is not comfortable with hospitals or things medical, tending to feel faint as soon as her first footprint enters the building, so I have been accompanying her to the various appointments and scans as moral support and a distraction.

Yesterday she had to have yet another scan which took more than two hours from start to finish. During that time I had to make myself scarce, so I wandered round the hospital, its grounds and the surrounding area, taking a few photos at the same time. Not that I am recommending it, but if you are going too get sick, the view from the hospital couldn't surely get any grander......

and a 5-minute walk away got me here.......

Meanwhile,  still on the subject of hospitals and the good old National Health Service, my gorgeous daughter Kay has already completed two months in her role as a junior doctor (not at this hospital, I should add) and is thoroughly enjoying the experience. She has to do three 4-month placements in her first year as an F1 (Foundation Year 1) doctor and will need to follow this with another three 4-month placements as an F2 (Foundation Year 2) doctor next  year, after which she will be fully accepted as a registered doctor. So she is already halfway through her very first placement. 

Her contracted hours are 9 am -5pm, including being on-call  one weekend in four. The on-call shifts covers responsibility for "emergencies" around the whole hospital and that includes new patient intake from A&E.  That's the theory, but in practice on weekdays she usually starts on the ward at 7am to prepare for an 8am ward-round and the earliest she gets away is about 6pm, though the norm is about 9.30pm.  She gets something like 20 minutes for lunch. She's reckoned she is working around 20 hours+ overtime a week, although she does not get paid for overtime. When she works weekends, she is working 12 days in a run without a break (5 weekdays, the weekend and another 5 weekdays) and all averaging 13-hour shifts. The pay compared with other non-medical graduates' starting pay is not fanstastic, but comparable, except other graduates are not working 20 hours' overtime and get to experience a lot of spare time. By the time Kay walks home at 9.30pm and grabs a meal, it's time to fall into bed and start the process all over again the next day. By the time she's paid off six years' student loans and accommodation, it doesn't leave much in her bank account.

Now, don't get me wrong, she loves the job and is still in that phase of excitement that she is doing the job of her dreams. Her fellow junior doctors are the same. They wouldn't dream of walking out on a patient because the deadline of 5pm has come. They stay longer,  and much longer again, out of the goodness of their hearts to wait for the results of an urgent blood test, speak to a patient's family , or prescribe an urgent drug. However there is love for the job and then there is being treated like a doormat.  The Health Secretary wants to reduce their pay and extend their hours even further. He clearly thinks they are currently only working to contracted hours (which they aren't) and should work longer (which they're already doing). All for less pay.  Meanwhile some MPs are campaigning that MPs should work shorter hours so they can see more of their families and get a 10% pay-rise. What an amazing juxtaposition! No wonder then that the junior doctors are set to protest about their conditions. The point is also not that these poor young doctors should have fat wallets and (God forbid) some life outside work,  but that an exhausted doctor does not make a good doctor and could make life-threatening mistakes. Would you want your sick relative to be treated by a doctor who is barely awake?

How pertinent that the hospital my friend and I attended yesterday is already geographically in the face-off with the government.

29 September 2015

Blogging versus Al-Anon

It suddenly dawned on me the other day that it has been a whole year since I last went to an Al-Anon meeting. The  Al-Anon meeting I used to go to always seemed to coincide with appointments I needed to take my mother to, so it had to be missed and then as weeks went to months and now to a year, I have got out of the practice of going. I daresay the people I got to know there have moved on too, so, even if I did turn up, there'd be few faces I recognise.

Al-Anon works for some people and not for others. To some people Al-Anon is a drug that keeps them sane and helps them cope with living with an alcoholic. Some people swear by how it has helped them. They are often the people who have been going for years and not only that attend several meetings in different locations each week. (That's the beauty of being in London. There's always a meeting somewhere at some time of day every single day. It's probably less often in smaller towns, but you can guarantee there will be one somewhere reasonably close.) 

Personally I have mixed feelings about Al-Anon. First there is the whole ethos, which I find a bit difficult to swallow. There are slightly religious overtones although it is stressed religion does not come into it and you choose "the God of your understanding" to help you. Nevertheless, there is talk of turning to your "Higher Power" for help and guidance. It took me years to work out what my Higher Power was. Having been raised a Christian, I am no longer particularly religious and nowadays only make it to church for festive Carols every other Christmas. I sit on the fence about a lot of things to do with Christianity. I don't buy into seas parting or water turning to wine or immaculate conception. I don't care to burden my God with all my problems in prayer as I am sure He (or She) has quite enough to do without me adding to the list. It was only recently I decided if anything my Higher Power was probably Fate. Yes, I am quite a Fatalist, when it comes to it. What will be, will be. I found the mantras and advice from Al-Anon did not really fit in with the way I see things. Probably the best bit of advice I gleaned from it was "One Day at a Time" and I do still use that a lot when I get overwhelmed with things.

Another problem I have with Al-Anon is the fact that inevitably there are other people there. I am quite a shy person at heart, which comes from being an only child, I suppose.  I've got better as I have got older and  better still since Greg died and I have had to push/assert  myself to get things done. But I have never liked public-speaking. My tongue gets in a  knot if I know other people are hanging on my every word and I find it impossible to string a sentence together without feeling a complete idiot. [I once had a job as a 24-year-old which involved giving lectures to a room full of businessmen and I used to dread them. I'd often take a sickie to avoid them.] With Al-Anon, people sit around in a circle and take turns to speak on a given topic for that meeting. There is absolutely no pressure to speak at all. Once a person starts to speak, the others remain silent and listen to that person's "share" on the topic. Each share lasts about 5 minutes on average. Of course, if there is a small meeting of, say, up to ten people, it is quite normal for everyone to have taken a turn to share, so if you are then the only person who has not shared a view at that meeting, you DO feel pressured to say something. For me that was always purgatory. Instead of the meeting making me feel calm and relaxed (as it obviously did for the others), I felt nervous that I had to say something as it was blatantly obvious I was the only one in the room not to have said something. Sometimes, the silences between speakers would be embarrassing, where we all sat there in the circle waiting for someone - anyone - to speak again. If I was  the only one who hadn't spoken, all eyes seemed to be looking at me as the obvious next choice. So I would blurt something out and feel incompetent and stupid. It often came as a surprise when the meeting had wrapped up that people would come up to me and say I'd made a very useful contribution and provided food for thought. It certainly did not seem like that to me at the time.

Conversely, I did find the other people at the meetings the main reason I went. When you are living with a huge problem like alcoholism in the family, it helps to know there are others out there who have gone/are going through what you are. Before Al-Anon, I felt I must be the only person in the world encountering the problems I faced. That my alcoholic was in some way peculiar to any other. Meeting other people in the same situation was a huge relief and it was interesting to compare or seek advice or comfort from them. They were all lovely people from all walks of life and by large from well-to-do backgrounds. Not your typical prejudicial  stereotype of what constitutes an alcoholic's family. We all got on well and at the beginning when my alcoholic was still alive and causing me all sorts of upset,  I found the hourly meeting once a week a huge escape among "normal" people. However, I much preferred the informal chats at the end of the meeting as we stacked chairs back up and put away the literature into the boxes for the next time. On the rare occasion we would even move on to a nearby cafe and just chat, which I also found more useful than the meetings themselves.

Having started my blog before I even discovered Al-Anon existed was, I suppose, the main reason why Al-Anon did not help me personally. I was able to pour out my frustrations and to reason with the whole situation on the blogosphere. It didn't matter at first whether I received comments or not, but when I did, particularly from those going through similar situations, it reassured me the blog was a good idea. (I had felt uncomfortable at first about washing dirty laundry in public.) If I was having a particularly bad day or night, I could just go to my computer at any time and hammer out my thoughts. It immediately helped rid me of tension to deal with the situation and to cope with the management of the alcoholic, the home and raising Kay, not to mention care of the animals and my aged mother (at that time some 60 miles away).

As I said at the start, Al-Anon works for some and not for others. Al-Anon recognises this and suggests people give it six sessions before they decide whether it helps. I gave it 5 years. It helped in some ways, not in others -  "Take what you want and leave the rest" is one of their slogans after all. I think I have moved on now. If I have not missed the meetings in a whole year, I am not likely to need it any more. I'm still in touch with one or two of the people I got to know and we meet up every few months for a chat - as friends. 

If you are living with an alcoholic and feel Al-Anon might help you, click here for your nearest meeting in the UK. (Al-Anon operates all over the world so just google your nearest meeting place for you.) There are blogs a-plenty and organisations which offer advice- whatever you find helps, but do not  suffer the burden on your own. There are definitely others out there going through the same as you.

10 September 2015

End of an Era

The last of the Alcoholic Daze menagerie has sadly met her maker. 

In the summer of 1999, we took on two kittens and a puppy. We must have been mad to take them all on in one go. Initially we had hoped to cure Kay of her fear of dogs, brought on when she was attacked at the age of 3 by a farm collie, when we were camping on a Yorkshire farm holiday. However, trying to find a suitable dog that would not intimidate her proved difficult and we had all but given up, settling for two kittens from a rescue centre instead, as at least they had a leg at each corner and would give her something to care for and love.  The kittens (Tabitha and Velvet) were still being weaned off their mother, so we had to wait a while before we could collect them from the rescue centre and near the end of that wait we were shown a batch of abandoned puppies that had just come in. We fell hook, line and sinker for Snoopy and ended up bringing the kittens and Snoopy home all on the same day in June 1999.

The kittens, Tabitha and Velvet, on their first day with us

Snoopy as a puppy

After much toilet training on their part and a big learning curve on our part, we all settled down together happily ever after. Except after two years, Tabitha (the tabby) got run over by a car, leaving just Velvet and Snoopy.

As regular readers will know, Snoopy had to be put down two years ago aged 14½ following ill-health  and yesterday Velvet had to be put down too aged 16½ , as she too had become very ill and the treatment was not working. The vet said he could feel a tumour. It was unthinkable to put her through tests and operations at her age, so a decision had to be made. I didn't like doing it, but it had to be done for her sake. It's the end of an era. I don't fancy replacing any of them right now and do think a pet-free environment suits me for the moment, but I don't rule out changing my mind in the future. Meanwhile, Rest in Peace, dear Velvet.

04 September 2015

Rain, rain, go away!

Well, September's here, the kids are back at school and the shops are getting ready for the usual Christmas retail madness. So that was summer! Did I blink and miss it? It's been a strange one this year. For nigh on 20 years, I have been conditioned to the usual six-week school summer holidays (starting late July and ending beginning of September) and then latterly uni summer holidays, but this year was so different.  Kay's final days at uni were in early June, she then went on an inter-rail tour of Europe and started work at the end of July, just as schools were breaking up, so the summer was already over by then for us. The last 6 weeks since seem to me to have gone slowly.  It would have helped if the weather had been more, well, summery. It seems to me that  August has been cold, wet, wet, cold and wet with a lot more wet thrown in for good measure. And here we are at the start of autumn with more wet and cold stretching into the distance.

I live in a small private cul-de-sac development where we pay in so much every month to a communal kitty used for issues such as the communal garden or road and this includes having our houses painted externally every five years or so. This year was the year to have it done. The committee made up of volunteers in our road appointed a painting firm to start at the end of July. When the painters first approached me in late July, I was unable to let them start on my house, as I was away a lot at that time, so there would have been no way to leave windows and doors open for the paint to dry.  Instead they started on my house in mid-August. Every time they painted the top-coat (with dark grey clouds swirling overhead), it not only rained a few hours later but really bucketed down. The paint bubbled up. They had to sand down the next day and start again.... and again.... and again. I have no control over the painters really as I do not pay them and I do not employ them, but any pleas to leave it to a drier day fell on deaf ears.They were back again yesterday to do yet another remedial repair on the mess that now looks like my front door! Two hours later the heavens opened and stayed open.  That was not the only thing open........my front door had to remain open for at least 6 hours for the paint to dry. I closed it finally at 10pm last night. The snails climbing up the doorpost were most annoyed, as I think even they were fed up with the rain and wanted to come in to say hello. This morning I needed a ten-ton truck to pull open the front door - it had swelled and stuck to the frame. 

I could be marooned for some time!

24 August 2015


I guess we are all addicted to something. My poison is chocolate. I can't be in the same room as chocolate and not eat it. It worries me until I've eaten it up. I have to hide a box of chocolates somebody has bought me or I would probably eat the whole box in one sitting. But I can go months without it, so it's under control (unless I'm in an exceedingly long queue at the supermarket and it winks at me from the checkout display!) Alcohol - I can take or leave. I love a glass of wine or a cocktail like the next person, but can count on one hand the number of glasses I consume in every two months. I used to smoke cigarettes a long time ago as a student but stopped 35 years ago. I have never taken drugs.

When you are really and truly addicted to a substance, it is hard to ignore. No matter how much people tell you you are going to die from it, you cannot see that. You can only see that your body is crying out for more and craves it so much that dying is far less of a problem than the craving. You need it and you need it NOW. (Greg wanted nothing more than to stop drinking but try as he might, he could not, even with professional help. )You know you are hurting the loved ones around you and you gladly want to stop for their sake if not your own, but the craving pushes you on to your next fix.... and the next..... and the next. You lose your family, your friends, your job, your money, your home and you eventually hit rock bottom, where you either claw your way back to recovery or surrender to the grim reaper.

The following  is a song written by Rick Hale who has lost a brother to addiction. I think the song and video beautifully encapture what it is like to be an addict or live with an addict. The video contrasts the present with the addict as a child in a family setting. The words are below.....

The muffled sound of old regrets
Burning out like cigarettes
Halfway gone and half to go

Fill the air with darkened haze
And all my empty yesterdays
Have brought me down a deeper low

And I can hardly breath it in

What if there’s no end at all?
How much further can I fall?
Getting higher as my life’s descending

Something’s taken over me
I’m not the man I used to be
And I can’t take it if it’s never-ending

I know it’s hard to understand
You’ve only breathed it second-hand
But never walked inside these shoes

You hope someday I turn around
When I’ve crashed against the ground
And I have nothing left to lose


Trace the marks across my skin
Laying draped around my frame
They tell the story of my sin
But you turn your back and wash your hands of all my shame


17 August 2015

Two weeks on

Kay finally got through the first twelve-days of her new job and came up to see me yesterday to celebrate my mum's 92nd birthday. It was lovely to see her again. When she was up north at university, I probably saw her once every few months. Now she is only about 30 miles away, we shall be able to see one another more often - I shall be able to pop over to see her for a few hours or vice versa. Lovely jubbly, as Del Boy would say.

As reported in my last post, her initiation in her first job was horrendous. The first five days on the ward with 28 patients, some of them very ill with no senior doctors (or junior for that matter). Just her and the nurses. She did 5 days of 13-hour shifts with no (or no more than 5-minute) lunch breaks. Everything changed at the weekend. She was on-call which meant she was floating round the whole hospital, dealing with newly admitted patients, but she did have a Registrar senior doctor to advise her. Then on the second Monday, she was back to the old ward again firefighting single-handedly. One patient had died over the weekend, meaning her first Monday morning job was to perform an examination of the corpse in the Mortuary to issue to the undertaker. The Registrar was back from his holiday but spent little time with her. It was Wednesday before he realised the extent of her work and arranged for two locums to come in swelling the ranks from one doctor (Kay) the previous week to five doctors (Kay, two locums, Registrar and the F2 who had also just started)  at the end of the second week. It was bliss. Kay only had 6 patients to deal with  for the last 3 days of last week , was able to finish at 5pm and even had a whole lunch break, sitting down! Her consultant returns from his holiday today so maybe she'll even get some recognition for what she did. Miracles can happen. Meanwhile she's made a heck of a lot of friends in just the space of two weeks and her fellow junior doctors all around the hospital have elected her to be president of the doctor's mess, organising their socials. She's not quite sure how this has happened, but is looking forward to taking the role on in her spare time!

I waved her off last night in her car filled to the roof with home comforts to make her digs more home-like. She says she's very happy. And that frankly makes me even happier.

05 August 2015

Working Girl

Two days ago Kay started her first ever real job (not counting Saturday jobs as a teenager or the hospital placements as a medical student). This is her first ever paid "proper" job and her first as a doctor. After two days handover with the outgoing junior doctor, she is on her own from today.  Apparently her Consultant and Registrar are both on two weeks' annual leave, which means she is effectively on her own with any of the problems that could arise (God help her). She's already signed her first prescription. She's doing 12 days on the run before she gets her next break (she's on-call over the coming weekend). Welcome to the World of the Workplace!

(Added 24 hours later. On her first day, with no senior staff or peers, she single-handedly looked after 28 patients. She did a 13-hour shift with a 7-minute lunch break. That's what I call a baptism of fire and very bad rota planning.)

28 July 2015

Too much excitement

I don't get out much. I'm a very stay-at-home kind of girl usually. I like my home comforts, my own four walls and am easy to please - a chocolate biscuit in front of the telly and I'm anybody's (well almost). But this last month has been busy with a capital B.  First of all a few days in York with Kay, then almost a full week in Rome and then a few days up in North England for Kay's graduation as a doctor. The poor cat thinks I've left home permanently and superglues herself to me when I return to show her undying love in case her lack of emotion is the reason I have left.

Kay's graduation was lovely, although it nearly wasn't. We checked into a hotel in the busy part of town, mainly because I wanted to be close to shops and restaurants at times when Kay was off with her friends. However the room was noisy with the window open (which we needed to open on account of the muggy but overcast  weather). When we went to bed on the eve of the graduation, Kay donned earplugs to drown out the noise of buses, cars and passing drunks at all hours of the night.  The pillows were like bricks and we tossed and turned all night. Next morning(the day of the graduation) she shook me awake with the news that she had awoken hot and agitated from lack of sleep, tried to remove her earplugs with difficulty and had managed to get one stuck in her ear. In trying further to remove it, she had heard a pop, followed by a rushing of liquid and had gone deaf. In her own self-diagnosis - she had perforated her eardrum! We were both on our feet in an instant and by 6.15am sitting in the local hospital's Accident & Emergency department. Thankfully it was the tail end (and quiet end) of the night shift and we were seen pretty quickly. Kay's diagnosis was confirmed by the doctor. It might clear up by itself or need some help with a minor operation, he said. GREAT. He was about to conjure up the ENT specialist when we said we were from London, only up for Kay's graduation in a few hours and could we get it done back in London? He agreed and suggested we see our GP once home to get the ball rolling.

We rushed back to the hotel, got changed and met Greg's sister who had come up from Lincolnshire. We had invited her as Greg was conspicuous by his absence on such a milestone day and in the circumstances we wanted his sister there in his place. (It was bittersweet that this was yet another milestone Greg has missed out on and sad for us too not having him by our side in the family photos!) By 2pm we were sitting in the Great Hall watching the ceremony like a scene from Harry Potter. The students were called up one by one to receive their diplomas and then had to quote the Hippocratic Oath. Shortly thereafter we adjourned  for champagne and nibbles.  On getting back to the hotel at 6pm, Kay lay down for a few minutes  on her bad ear and was shortly surprised to see a small plug of blood on her pillow. She sat up and COULD HEAR CLEARLY for the first time all day. We were able to go out for a lovely celebratory meal in the evening feeling far less anxious and able to enjoy it. To cut a long story short, our GP in London was able to confirm that the eardrum seems to be healing nicely and there is probably no long-term damage or need for an operation.

Kay departs today for her first hospital job. Shortly I am off to a wedding in Hull, but I can do without all this excitement, I can tell you.  I'm looking forward to a nice chocolate biscuit in front of the telly to recover!

20 July 2015

Roamin' in Rome

Well, Kay's back from her European tour, having taken in Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Auschwitz, Budapest, Zagreb and Split. Her companion had to come back to the UK earlier than Kay, so I offered to meet Kay for the last few days she had left, particularly as it meant she would have been on her own for her 24th birthday. Where to meet? First choice for both of us was originally Prague, but then the logistics let us down, meaning we had to choose somewhere else she could easily reach from Split and me from London without arriving at midnight or leaving home at 3am. We stuck a pin in the atlas and came up with Rome. Neither of us had been there before.

I booked hotels and flights feeling very pleased with myself that I had chosen a hotel equidistant from all the sights and flights that were at reasonable times. What I had not done was check the climate.  O stupidity!  Rome in July is like walking into a furnace. Whatever possessed me to book a break in Rome in July? Even the Romans leave Rome in July!  What was I thinking?

To say it was hot was an understatement. The average midday temperature was about 37C. It only fell to about 25C at night.  For a post-menopausal lady of a certain age given to frequent tropical moments even in the middle of a snowy January, this was not good news. Even blinking brought me out in a sweat. Thank heavens for air-conditioning in the hotel. Kay threatened to disown me as I had invested in a UV-resistant parasol to dive under when shade was sparse, but I did notice she was quite happy to dive under it too at times. And, no, I did not  have a trail of tourists following me around thinking I was their tour guide. There were enough like-minded tourists doing the same.

There was one spooky moment, when we were sitting in a square and musing about Greg, when all of a sudden a street musician started to play a very old song which was one Greg used to strum on the guitar. It was a hair-raising moment.

Despite the intense heat, we packed a lot into 5 days. Here are some of the places we saw.

Colosseum outside

Colosseum inside at 8.30am (to beat the heat and the crowds)
 A lion I fought earlier

Pantheon outside

Pantheon inside

Trevi Fountain complete with scaffolding and no water!
St Peter's Basilica and Square (also at 8.30am- half an hour later, the queues were half a mile long)

San Giovanni in Laterano
Vatican - which one's the Pope's bedroom?

Il Vittoriano

Roman Forum

The Forum's bigger than you think

Presidential palace

Spanish Steps

Somewhere to recharge the batteries

A beautiful city - from the Borghese Gardens

29 June 2015

My little baby

The news still hasn't truly sunk in yet - for either of us. To think that my little baby is a doctor, all grown up and making important decisions which could literally affect someone else's life. 

It seems only yesterday I was writhing and giving birth, then looking in amazement at the beautiful little bundle I had nurtured inside me for 9 months. A much-longed-for curly-headed miracle. Some time later I had watched her playing with her grandfather, as she described with vivid imagination the major accident he had just had in which he had been hit by a lorry carrying glass. He had a broken leg and broken glass embedded in his leg.

As he lay pretending on the sofa, she painstakingly picked out the glass with huge plastic tweezers which her three-year-old hands could barely grip, her nurse's cap balanced precariously on her tight little curls. 

Later still aged 7 on a visit to my parents she had watched a real-life incident where her grandfather fainted at a craft fair and was attended by St John's Ambulance. Little did we know at the time, this was to be the onset of his leukemia and they ordered an ambulance to take him on to the local A&E for tests. This inspired her to join St John's Ambulance as a Badger - the name given to the little ones who wear

Photo courtesy of flickr.com
black and white tabards and learn  very rudimentary rules of First Aid, before they go on to become  St John's Cadets at the age of 11 and get more involved. Many's the time she attended the London Marathon at the start of the race at Blackheath, doling out plasters or safety pins.

She was never going to be a linguist like Greg or me. He and I studied German and could also get by in French, Russian, Italian and (in my case) Latin. Kay struggled with French, was a lot better in German and Spanish, but clearly preferred the sciences. (I was certainly the opposite and struggled with Physics and Chemistry at school). Kay was clearly on her own in this family for her science studies. No scientists or doctors to help her at all, even if it were just absorbing occasional parental conversations about their jobs.

Then came GCSEs and A-levels when she had to get her head down and concentrate. At that point Greg had taken early retirement and was embarking on his excessive drinking sprees. He was never violent, as I have said in the past, but drink did make him argumentative and loud. He didn't suffer fools gladly and would shout at the silliest things. Coupled with falling over a lot and umpteen hospitalisations when his body protested severely at the amount of alcohol - this was the backdrop for Kay's serious studies. Both she and I tried to blot this out and I tried to carry on as normal (as normal can be in an alcoholic world) to give her support. Given all that, the fact she got into med school at all was a miracle, not to mention the general  fierce competition for a medicine place (one in twenty).

Six months into university, of course, Greg died. She missed a couple of months' study and an important exam, but the university agreed there were extenuating circumstances and let her take the exam in the summer holidays. Since then, she has powered on and amazed me. She may not have liked languages but medicine is a gobbledegook all of its own. So many unpronounceable conditions, drugs and treatments with never-ending syllables. With an -itis here and an -ectomy there.

My little curly-headed baby is a doctor and I still have to pinch myself that it's not all a dream. She's going to be out there practising (in the medical sense, not literally!) but this time with real instruments and on real patients. There'll be no pretend lorries or pretend glass there.

She came home earlier last week with the last six years packed tightly inside her car right up to the roof. You couldn't have fitted a matchstick in anywhere. She has officially moved out of the northern university town that was her home for the last six years and is now back in the South East about to embark on her first job. My reasonably tidy home was converted to a bombsite within minutes, as she unloaded box after case after clothes on hangers (when did she acquire more clothes than the entire stock of Oxford Street?) She was home for less than 18 hours. In a whirlwind, which I think was her, she unpacked, showered, headed off for a quick admin-interview with her new hospital some 20 miles away and flew off to Amsterdam at stupid-o-clock the next morning  with a friend to start the beginning of a four-week European tour. My life is just about to get very chaotic interesting.

18 June 2015

Is there a doctor in the house?

The answer is a big .........

picture courtesy of shutterstock.com

She's only been and gone and done it! The exam results came out yesterday and we found out that my gorgeous, kind, lovely, super-talented daughter is now a doctor of the medical variety. She passed!!! Proud mother? What, me?  Of course. Don't deny me that.

She has worked so hard over the last six years, she so deserves this. Particularly given the the bad atmosphere in the house, when she was studying for her GCSEs and A-Levels at school, with an alcoholic father shouting all the time in his permanently 24/7 drunken state. Not to mention  her alcoholic father dying on her in the first 6 months of university which would be an excuse for anyone to drop out.  Despite these uphill struggles, she ploughed on over 6 years and not only got one but TWO degrees - a MBChB for Medicine and a BSc for Human Physiology in the middle of that. To say I am proud, doesn't do it justice. I'm bursting with emotion.

Am I allowed to have a pat on the proverbial back too for having stuck through it with her? The sense of achievement I feel for having gotten through the last 5 years as a single mum-cum-pensioner and now come out the other side relatively unscathed (and still solvent) is quite tremendous. I feel a celebratory glass of wine is in order for us both and at last a time to relax a little and enjoy the fruits of that achievement. 

It's bittersweet. If Greg were alive, I know he would be as proud as Punch too. When Kay got a university place amidst fierce competition (20 applicants for every place), Greg phoned everyone in his address book - worldwide, I might add - to tell them. I can well imagine him now, sitting up there on his cloud with a glass of whisky in one hand and a telephone in the other.  (Another blimmin milestone he's missing out on!)

But meanwhile, Kay and I are doing a little celebratory dance round the room.  Cheers!

08 June 2015

Another One Bites the Dust

Poor old Charles Kennedy. Sounds like he died a horrible death, all alone. One of the most ghastly effects of alcoholism is oesophageal varices which basically are varicose veins in the throat (although they can develop anywhere along the digestive tract from the throat to the anus). When these veins rupture (which they will do unannounced) you have little time to seek medical help unless you are literally a stone's throw from the hospital when it happens. If not.........well, poor old Charles Kennedy found out..... you bleed internally to death. Even with hospital intervention, it is not always possible to avoid a fatal outcome. Whether loved ones are present or not, it is a grisly end.

It never fails to amaze me that  intelligent people can get reeled in by this awful disease, when elsewhere in their lives they are so knowledgeable and clever. Greg was a case in point and so too, it seems, was Charles Kennedy.

03 June 2015

Sussex by the sea

I tend to be very preoccupied these days with caring for my almost 92-year-old mum.  I rarely getting a lot of time for myself.  As each days goes by, my mother seems to be like one of those wobbly toys that fill babies with so much fascination. You know the kind - with a round base that won't stay still and wobble from side to side and back and forth. My poor old mum has scoliosis and arthritis, so her spine is severely curved to one side and affects her balance. Add to that two arthritic knees (one broken as well last autumn), it is not difficult to see why she is so wobbly.

As my mother gets more and more wobbly, she cannot cross a room without holding on to furniture and when we are out she clings to me for grim death. She uses a walking stick and I am trying to convince her to buy one of those rollator things, as she manages to get around quite well on her own with a trolley at the supermarket. However she depends on me more and more, so I find I am over at her flat quite a lot, either helping with housework or taking her out to appointments or a big food shop. 

On the rare days in between, I try to catch up with things in my house or escape from London. Yesterday was one such rare day when I could escape. I had earmarked a day-trip to Brighton to visit a very dear friend. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks. We had planned to meet at the mainline station, walk along the seafront and eat at one of the lovely fish 'n chip restaurants on the promenade (tablecloths and wine of course, not the greasy spoon type of place). So what happened? It tipped it down with rain the whole day, the wind was gale-force, a tree blew down in south London delaying or cancelling a lot of the trains going in my direction and when I arrived in Brighton, we could barely stand upright, let alone brave the seafront. We hunkered down in my friend's kitchen and chatted the hours away, managing to dash to the nearest pub for some sustenance at lunchtime.  Good job we had a lot to catch up on and could ignore the raging gale outside.  Of course today I am back caring for my mother and the weather.....?....... is sunny.  Just typical.

20 May 2015

The Long Long Wait

Well, the exams are done and it's now a waiting game until the results are out.  A long wait.  A long long wait. Four whole weeks in fact. A time to relax after weeks of hard study, but relaxation is hardly a way to describe the state of tension Kay's in for fear those results are not the ones she wants.

picture courtesy of wisegeek.com

06 May 2015

Finally the finals !!!

It's THAT time of the year. Panic season, otherwise knows as exam time. This year is the year of Kay's finals. Finally the FINALS. After six years at uni, this will be her last set of university exams, though doubtless not her last exam ever in her career. In a few weeks' time, God willing, she will be unleashed on the unsuspecting British public and coming to a hospital  near you (maybe). You have been warned!

My father was once told (whilst in hospital in August) "never go into hospital in August" - it's when the medics graduate into junior doctors and are placed knocked-kneed and pigeon-toed into the wards. One minute they are laid-back long-haired scruffy students, the next minute they are starting their working life as independent, decision-making adults wielding a scalpel or a syringe. It's not hard to see why it's better to be ill in April or July or even (God forbid) September but not in August.

Wishing you all the luck for your exams, my gorgeous daughter..............I have every faith in you.

24 April 2015

Election Fever

Picture courtesy of The Telegraph
Only another two weeks to go and hopefully the election bandwagon will eventually grind to a halt.  I'm sick of live debates, leader interviews, politicians kissing babies, women, or one another. I'm cheesed off with promises, manifestos, smear campaigns and posturing. I suppose it could be much worse -  in the USA  their election is not for another 18 months and already their politicians are taking to centre stage to start their campaigns! At least we can be thankful ours only lasts a month.

But be careful what you wish for. Vote for any of the parties other than the main three and you will end up with seven parties not having a clear majority and each having to do a deal with someone else.  It could look something like this.....

..........and we all  know how that ended!

18 April 2015

The Good and the Bad (with no Ugly)

First the Bad.....

I got an email midweek from a very distant family friend of Greg's who lives in the USA.  I met her once about 12 years ago when she was over in London but we don't even  make contact at Christmas, so my relationship with her since has been virtually non-existent. She did send me an email a few years ago to let me know her father had died, as he had been best man to Greg's father and mother at their wedding, but otherwise little else. The email last week came as a bit of a surprise and even more so when I read she had had to leave America in a hurry and rush to London where her cousin lay seriously ill in hospital with lymphoblastic leukaemia. The hospital were demanding a deposit before they would operate and as she had rushed from home, she had failed to take sufficient means of payment with her, so would I mind lending her the deposit, which she would of course pay me back, as soon as she returned home.

Alarm bells rang with me and just as I was wondering whether to take it seriously or not, Kay rang and I told her. She informed me first that lymphoblastic leukaemia affects children only and, as it is a blood disease, there is no operation involved in its treatment. In any case, I had already worked out that treatment at any NHS hospital would not demand a deposit upfront (if at all, but I'm not certain about whether tourists are expected to pay at some stage). I decided a phone call to Oklahoma would be cheaper than forking out thousands to a scam, so I telephoned the lady in question to discover my suspicions were correct.  Her mail had been hacked into and it was a scam.  What vile people there are in the world to concoct such lies and wrap it up to make it convincing.... or not so convincing in my case.

Then the Good.....

I took my mother to a  large DIY outlet the other day in search of a white washing-up bowl. Her old one was showing signs of old age and she fancied a new one, but it had to be white. The current fashion in washing-up bowls seems to be black or grey or garish red or lime green, but not white. As my aged mother had been unable to walk too far around the store looking for the correct department, I had left her leaning up against a shelf near the entrance while I hot-footed it around the store to check. I had only been gone about 3 minutes, but when I found her again, she was chatting to another customer -a very attractive young black girl, who had seen her struggling to lean against the shelf and had dragged a sun-lounger chair along the aisle over to her to sit her down. It was such a lovely kind thought and we thanked her profusely even though we were now leaving the store empty-handed. I should add that is the second time in a week, a complete stranger has approached my mother and offered to help her. There are good people in the world  and you don't always have to go looking for them.

Certainly a week of contrasts.

11 April 2015

Fit for a Queen?

I was listening to LBC on the car radio over the weekend.  Apparently in a survey 55% of people voted for Camilla not to be Queen when Charles eventually takes to the throne.  The radio presenter seemed surprised and not altogether certain that was a representative figure. Surely people have warmed to Camilla? The phone-in that followed seemed to produce a lot of people who like Camilla and thought the survey unfair.

At the time of Charles' marriage to Camilla ten years ago, the Royal Household put out some sort of compromising pacifier that she would only be referred to as the Princess Consort, when Charles eventually becomes King.  This was because at the time there was still a lot of deep feeling amongst the public about the way Diana had been treated. As Diana had said in that famous TV  interview, there were three of them in the marriage, so Camilla could not be entirely blameless in what then went on to happen to Diana. But I could not help but notice that gradually over the years, the Camilla PR machine has been pounding on to make her look like Mother Teresa. It was inevitable that eventually the Princess Consort thing would gradually morph into Queen, in the hopes that people would forget.

Many argued in the programme I listened to that the past is past, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, Camilla is a decent stick really, the Royal family are only human after all and she should take up her place as Queen, when the time comes. It made me shudder.

I was always a great fan of Diana. Yes, she was young; yes, she may have been a bit of a drama queen when she found out Charles didn't love her, but she could be surely forgiven for that, particularly because her dashing prince was already straying before the wedding ring was on her finger. Camilla was already smirking in the wedding congregation and exchanging texts and gifts to Charles on the sly.  Diana certainly did a hell of lot worldwide for GB Ltd,  for the fashion industry in particular, and for the Royal Household's hitherto rather dowdy image. Not least, she produced two very dashing heirs, whilst at the same time making sure they were fully grounded and in tune with ordinary people around them. The fact that so many people love William now is down to  what Diana made him. She herself was keen to be an ambassador, the Queen of Hearts, someone to care for the downtrodden or poor: to give out the love she never had. Her untimely death was a shock and the nation (if not the whole world) poured out its grief at her funeral. I have never by the way believed her death was an accident. I believe one day the real truth will emerge. It might take a hundred years, but it will come.

If Charles and Camilla had a thing going before Diana came on the scene, they should have taken their opportunity to marry then, before Camilla upped and married someone else.  Charles should have been man enough to stand up and chose the woman he really wanted rather than bow to the pressures of the establishment. He has shown he can stand up to things when he wants to. Talking of the establishment, I always think it's funny how the Queen's sister was not allowed to marry a divorced man, yet three of the Queen's own children ended up divorced.  The couple have now got what they wanted - each other - but it should be at a cost. They can't surely expect to have their cake AND eat it. I would even go as far as to say I would prefer that Charles should not even become King, (let alone Camilla Queen) although constitutionally there is no way round that. So stuck with Charles we are, but Camilla. No way. (In any case, if she were to be made Queen, it would mean The Royal Household had broken the promise they made ten years ago. Not exactly confidence-inspiring or a role model for us lesser mortals).

Like an elephant, there is just no way I can forget.

What do you think?

07 April 2015


What a glorious weekend on all counts. 

First because Kay was home for a few days and I could spoil her. On our first evening together we ended up in one of the many local bars to celebrate her last day of hospital placement EVER as a student. If I wasn't deaf beforehand, I certainly am now. The music they were playing was so loud, my head felt as if it had been inside a spin-dryer. Even the 20-somethings were having difficulty holding a conversation and most were engaged in shouting closely into one another's ears. Fortunately this bar was not serving the cocktails Kay fancied, so we left for another relatively quieter bar, where the only noise was from a group of young men trying to stay upright. The rest of the weekend was spent shopping till we dropped to find a special pair of shoes for an upcoming ball and we had a lovely family roast lunch on Easter Sunday. Sadly Kay had to be back in the North by Sunday evening, so the time just whizzed by.

The weather put on a glorious show and it felt warm and balmy in the sunshine. We even managed  to sit in the garden. Roll on summer.

18 March 2015

Is is just me?

I've always taken the view that a car is a metal box on four wheels designed to get me from A to B. I can't be arsed whether it's brand new, a status symbol, has a hundred gizmos and does 200 mph. I just want it to get me to my destination. My wonderful aged T-reg (16 years old, no central locking, no power steering, not even a CD player but still going like a dream) is more than enough for me. It'll be no surprise then that I have never watched a single episode of Top Gear  and so I do not have the slightest regard for Jeremy Clarkson that the rest of the nation seem to have, if all the recent fuss is anything to go on. But, aside from all that, let's look at the evidence. This is a grown man of fifty something who, after a long day, apparently threw a strop after he was served soup and a cold platter instead of the steak he fancied. The hotel chef had dared to go home after 10pm (probably after an even more exhausting day than Mr Clarkson will ever experience). Furthermore, we are told, Clarkson lashed out physically at his producer because of it. So why is everyone signing petitions to keep him in his job and treating him like the victim?  Is this the behaviour of someone you would like to know? If he were a work colleague of yours, would you be less worshipful?  If he were a child, you'd surely send him to his bed or the naughty step. Which, I think, is what the BBC should do with him. Anything else will surely give him a bigger stroppier head than it seems he already has.  As for ITV lurking in the wings for a chance to nab him for their schedules  for some astronomical sum, they should be ashamed of themselves, as they are only rewarding bad behaviour. It's tantamount to taking him to Disneyland because he's attacked his granny. Or is it just me?