23 October 2014

Day at The Tower

A very good friend/relation on Greg's side of the family contacted me a few weeks ago to say she was coming down to London from Scotland and could we meet up. We agreed to meet yesterday, long before my mother had her fall and broke her knee, so I was not sure whether I would be able to keep to the agreement. However, my mother is managing OK to get from her bed to to the ensuite with the help of a zimmer and urged me to have a day off for a change.  I made sure she was stocked up with a year's day's supply of sandwiches, yoghurt and drink in a coolbag and set off on my journey to The Tower! Both my friend and I wanted to see the poppy display there.

I knew it was going to be crowded before I left the tube station, as hoards of pensioners were disembarking from the train with me and surging up the stairs to the exit. Having met my friend, this was the sight that greeted us as we emerged at the Tower.

so many people

I managed to push my way to the barrier to get one half-decent photo, but had to take it quickly as thousands were waiting to swap places with me.

I managed to get a few more shots....

It takes quite a while to assemble just one poppy let alone thousands

As always when I am at The Tower, I always love to go along the river a a few steps further and wander around St Catherine's Dock.

This time, we stumbled upon Gloriana, the royal barge commissioned as a tribute to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

We had a late lunch at the Dicken's Inn (in the background of the last picture), an atmospheric old place that always summons up visions of Bill Sykes kicking Nancy out of the way as he enjoys a pint. It was beautiful weather too so a much needed recharge to my batteries.


16 October 2014

Rapunzel's Tower

Why did I never notice I had so many stairs in my house before?  Forty to be precise. Five flights of 8 stairs between my six levels. To remind those of you who can be bothered, my house looks like this in cross-section with the staircase going through the middle vertical connecting the six levels:
I try to describe my house to strangers over the phone. It has six levels - well not from the outside of course, but from the inside. I tried explaining it to the house insurance company when I had the roof leak. I've tried explaining it to the social workers who are responsible for my mother while she stays with me following her recent hospital stay. They think I live in some quirky lighthouse in the middle of the sea of London. A room on every level with a staircase up or down to somewhere else. Sometimes, I feel like Rapunzel looking down from the window at the top.

Because my elderly mum has broken her knee, because she cannot stand or walk very well, because she has a brace strapped over her leg to keep it straight, because she cannot cope yet living on her own, despite the hospital in their wisdom abruptly chucking her out after only a week in their care, she has moved in with me - on level 4.  She has sole occupation of my bedroom and my ensuite. I have been banished to the bedroom on level 5. The kitchen is on level 1. The front door on level 2. So many stairs inbetween. So many cups of tea, coffee and meals for the patient.  Delivering post, newspapers and medicine to the sickbed. Entertaining social workers and agency carers about needs and finances and long-term plans. Up, down, up, down... I'm cream-crackered and then still have to climb from the kitchen to my bedroom (32 stairs) to fall into bed at night.

Yesterday there was an appointment (the first time her knee has been addressed since the fall) at the fracture clinic. The hospital had laid on ambulance transport to take her there and back. I was not allowed on board so had to drive separately to attend the appointment with her. Afterwards, when I got home, I waited for the ambulance to return with her. Some two hours later Mum returned in an ambulance with a young girl pushing her in a wheelchair to the front door. On opening the front door (level 2), I pointed out that there were two flights of stairs to the patient's bedroom on level 4. The girl's face dropped. She was all on her own. My mum bravely suggested she try to climb the 16 stairs and so she did, albeit every step taking about 30 seconds to climb. So much for resting the knee straight, as the doctor ordered! Who sends a patient with a broken leg home from the fracture clinic in an ambulance with only one paramedic to drive and get them back into their home?

Anyone know of any bungalows for sale?

06 October 2014

A nice break in more than one sense

I spent a few days last week in Eastbourne. It was meant to be a treat for my dear 91-year-old Mum who used to live there until I wrenched her out of her lovely big house and moved her to a small retirement flat near me in London last October. We wanted to see old friends, visit old haunts and take in some sea air to see us through the winter. Mum hasn't had a holiday in ten years, so was really looking forward to it.

The first few days were lovely and on the very first morning I even managed a brisk walk along the promenade at 7am before the dogwalkers and joggers got out..............

We had a nice view from our hotel room

watched lovely sunrises

It was sad to see the poor old pier after the recent fire
but they are working on it to get it ready for next season.

At the moment it looks like the Titanic on stilts

We had a few laughs

Sat and watched the sea with loads of others
All was going so well.........

until my mother fell up some stairs at the hotel (she was sober, honestly!) and fractured her kneecap. We spent the last day of our four-day holiday here..........

Mum was transferred by ambulance up to a London hospital on Thursday evening (where she still remains) and I followed on the next day by car with all our belongings. Not quite the visit to old haunts nor the kind of break we were expecting!

25 September 2014

Yours disgusted

Every now and again, there is a situation where you feel you would like to send one of those "yours disgusted" letters to someone. I stumbled  across this one today which is classic. Thought I'd just share it with you.


There are some other gems on that website too.

14 September 2014


Well, Kay's come and gone. Thankfully on Friday she arrived in one piece from her 10-week adventure in Tanzania, but I only found out two days ago how close she came to not being here at all.

I was so relieved to see her walk through the arrival gate at the airport on Friday. Slim, tanned and looking good.  Hours later we were home chatting non-stop into the early morning next day about all her adventures in Tanzania. It was then that she dropped the bombshell.  She hadn't been entirely honest about the mugging five weeks ago. Yes, she had been mugged. Yes, she had had all the contents of her bag stolen.  Yes, it was two men on a motorbike who had driven up alongside her and then driven off again with her bag. But there was one small detail she had decided to keep from me until we met up again. One man had got off the motorbike and walked purposefully towards her. As he approached her, she could see he was holding something behind him. When he was inches from her, he produced a machete and motioned to her to hand over her bag. She said it was amazing how everything around her froze and various scenarios flashed through her brain at one and the same time until reason quickly dictated it was safer to hand over the bag and run. When she got back to her hostel, the enormity of the situation overpowered her and she burst into tears. It was because of that the hostel manager took her to the police to report the crime, although the police were pretty unconcerned about it.

The fact that my daughter was faced with such a traumatic experience and her first thought was to spare me the worry and swear her friends to secrecy too on any facebook comments, in case I read them, has made me realise what an amazing girl she is. I always knew that, of course, but that just confirms it.

The washing machine worked flat-out this weekend removing the African dust, sweat and tears from her things, though not from her mind - it has clearly shaken her.  Four washloads in all which I was able to dry in the autumn sun and fold up fresh for her to pack this morning. She left in her overloaded car at 3.30pm this afternoon with no more room for a pin for the 6-hour drive north. She'll be there by 10pm, just in time to unpack umpteen suitcases and fall into bed. Her last (sixth) year of uni starts tomorrow with a whole day of lectures at 9am. Like I said, she's bloody amazing, but I may be a little biased.

11 September 2014

Almost there

I've been counting the days - one more to go to be precise. One more day until my gorgeous 23-year-old daughter and all her luggage walks through that Arrivals Gate at the airport and I can give her the biggest hug on record. To make up for no hugs since the first week of July. To be the real thing as opposed to snatched facebook messages, poor internet or frustratingly disjointed skype conversations over the last ten weeks. 

Testing her independence, Kay has travelled alone to another country in another continent. She has climbed Africa's biggest mountain; worked 5 weeks in an ill-equipped hospital; collected £500 in donations to  provide much-needed supplies for the hospital; seen conditions the like of which we just don't see in the western world; been mugged; lived with Masai warriors for a week; shared a public bus for an hour's journey with goats and chickens; sat next to the pilot in the cockpit of a small plane over Tanzania; and dived/swam with turtles in Zanzibar.  She left London on her own and will return on her own, but has met zillions of people on her travels with enough "facebook friends" to crash the system. She's my one and only, my baby, but she's seen more in the last ten weeks than I'll probably ever see. The stories she'll be able to tell her grandchildren (and me)! I can see our throats will ache with all the catching up conversations.

Our reunion will be shortlived - she has to leave London on Sunday to drive the six hours North to unpack and unwind in time for the start of her final (sixth) year of university on Monday. But inbetween, I'm going to proverbially kill the fatted calf. My baby's coming home.
The first of three aeroplanes that will bring her home

26 August 2014

The Health of a Nation

We really are so lucky in this country to have the National Health Service. We complain about it, but seriously have nothing to moan about if you consider what other parts of the world have to put up with. In an article in the press this weekend some one had got into a lather about the meal presented to them in hospital. I admit is was not the most appetising of meals, but food should not be the criteria for judging the NHS. It should be about the level of medical care. You could, I suppose, argue that medical care includes nutrition when we are in-patients, but honestly I'd sooner have a bad meal and the right medicine, than the other way round. In fact, I think we should pay for our food whilst in hospital and then we would have the right to complain and maybe expect something more palatable.

The stories Kay has been feeding me from Tanzania have made my toes curl and changed my view on what we should expect (or not) from our poor old NHS.  The hospital she worked at is in a major town, providing care for 1.3 million people. Although partially government-subsidised, apparently under-5s go free in Tanzania, but everyone else has to pay - for everything - consultations/medicines/anaesthesia. Consequently people are loathe to seek help or cannot afford what is prescribed if they do. Women in labour will forgo the luxury of a local anaesthetic for an episiotomy (ouch), as they can't afford it. A young girl having a miscarriage in A&E (with the cord hanging out) had to wait over two hours for the clerk to come back from her lunch, so she could pay for her treatment, before they could start to treat her. Kay said there wasn't even a speculum in the entire hospital to examine her. 

Another story which made me sit up was one of an elderly man brought in with the advanced stages of TB. He was put on an oxygen mask and urinated over the bed while he was there. The nurses apparently wiped the bed down with existing water in a bucket that had been used for something else and then washed out the oxygen mask with a bar of soap before handing it to the next patient to get on the bed - a 16-year-old girl with asthma.

There were many more stories, some of them very upsetting, concerning small neo-natal babies and the lack of facilities for them. It does put our gripes about the NHS into context and make them seem petty. It is not just the under-developed world who have bad basic healthcare systems. Look at medical care in the US.  You have to have lots of money or take out vast loans to pay for what we consider as granted here.  I understand you have to pay in Australia too, including for the call-out of an ambulance, regardless of whether they take you to hospital or not.  

Kay and her fellow British students working out there decided to put a fundraising appeal on the internet a few weeks ago and managed to collect just over £500. On Thursday she was taken  to a medical wholesale supplier and bought amongst many other things the following items, some of which can be seen in this photo.....

1 blood glucose machine
200 blood glucose test strips
2 adult Blood Pressure machines
1 paediatric Blood Pressure machine

4 bottles of disinfectant hand gel
3 bottles of disinfectant spray
10L of disinfectant fluid for the sterilisation of equipment
4 digital thermometers
24 suture packs
6 pairs of scissors
500 latex gloves
50 pairs of sterile gloves
10 boxes of small dressings
5 boxes of large dressings
100 malaria testing kits
2 enormous bags of needles
1 pen torch
10 paediatric nasal oxygen masks
2 standard paediatric oxygen masks
1 set of weighing scales
500 urine dipsticks
120 umbilical cord clamps
4 bottles of ultrasound jelly
5 tubes of KY jelly
1 large roll of guaze swabs
5 pairs of episiotomy scissors
100 hydralazine (BP) tabets
12 bottles of hand wash
20m of wipe-clean polyethene material to cover surfaces

She presented it to the hospital on Friday - her last working day - and they were very pleased to say the least. It may not be much to us, but to them it can make such a difference. It really does make a moan about a gristly bit of meat on our plate or a curled up sandwich in hospital seem trivial. The NHS has only got a certain amount of money. Food or medicine? I know what I'd choose.

19 August 2014

Happy Again

I worry when Kay's out of physical reach, so I cannot scoop her up and comfort her in trouble. When she was mugged a couple of weeks ago in Tanzania, I could hear it in her skyped voice and written online comments that she was rattled and a bit nervous of going out. I have been counting the days to her return - sadly still another month away from now. But two little words and the following photo on a networking site have calmed my fears a little. She's happy again.

zebra crossing

11 August 2014

Who do I think I am?

I've always been a big fan of the programme Who do you think you are? I find it fascinating to delve back into the pasts of celebrities and learn that their forebears were criminals or rich landowners or destitute and living in a workhouse.  I have always been interested in my own ancestors, although I have lacked time to go into my ancestry in any sort of systematised way. I have mentioned that I had an English grandfather and a German one, and from the little I know, their lives are worth documenting, but I have never had the time to go into it in more depth.

Other relations in my English family have done some of the foot-slogging work for me, so I have quite a bit of information about them, but I would love to go back further when I  have the time to research it.  My mother was one of three children, but the other two died in their infancy, so I have no cousins or aunts on that side. As an only child and a widow, I am aware that in time I shall have very few relations, if any,  to count on and at times feel a little saddened by that.

On my German side of the family, I have very paltry information, particularly as my father's only brother deliberately broke off from the family and did not stay in touch. We later learned that he had died and nobody had thought to tell us. He did not have any children though and so I grew up with not a single cousin to call my own on either side of the family. I also imagined researching the German side would be difficult, both because I do not know the system for tracing relatives in Germany, but also because somewhere way back in the past, there were some Jewish connections, so I imagined many had perished in the holocaust, not to mention a lot of records had gone missing or been burnt.

Some years ago I joined Genes Reunited and started to put a bare skeleton of a family tree on there. Occasionally I would get approached by someone asking me if my Joe Bloggs or John Smith was the same as theirs and, when the dates or place of birth or siblings were not in common, that was the end of that. I had in fact in the intervening years forgotten all about Genes Reunited.

On Thursday I received an email  from a man called Ed via Genes Reunited.  He was trying to trace a family member who had my German ancestor's name in common. It's a very rare name, even by German standards, so the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He sent me his tree and I sent him mine. Turns out we are second cousins twice removed or whatever the terminology. We share a great-grandfather and his wife. He even sent me photos of their gravestones in Berlin. Well, blow me down with a feather!

He is the direct descendant of my grandmother's brother. My German grandmother was one of eight children - three girls, who all stayed in touch, and five boys, whom we lost track of, presumed dead in the holocaust. However, the line of two of the boys did survive. One (Louis) eventually died in a Polish ghetto but his children survived and moved to the North of England; the other (Richard) was shot in Berlin but his son was taken to a concentration camp in Holland, liberated in 1945 and emigrated to the USA.  Ed was Richard's grandson who contacted me from the USA on Thursday!  He was delighted to have found me, as I was able to fill him in on the fate/history of the three girls, one being my grandmother, whom they knew very little about. He meanwhile has filled me in on the fate/history of the 5 boys, especially the two whose families survived. I  am suddenly awash with relatives I didn't know existed.

Changing the subject,  Kay contacted me over the weekend to say she was mugged in Tanzania on Friday. She and nine of her new friends had been out for the afternoon sunbathing at a hotel pool and were returning along a quiet road in a group about a minute away from their hostel, when a motorbike with two men roared up to her, the passenger grabbed her bag strap which was across her body, cut it off and they rode off into the distance with it. Fortunately not a lot of money was in it, no bank cards, but a brand new Kindle I had given her for her birthday a few weeks ago, a cracked crappy camera and her university-issue i-phone with all medical apps and contacts on it. She was shaken, but, as I said to her, at least alive and well, given the fate of those two poor boys in Borneo. She went to the police station to report it and apparently they don't work at weekends. I'm guessing the robbers knew that, as the theft took place at 18:45 on Friday. They could be anywhere from Alaska to New Zealand by the time the cop shop opens again on Monday. That's Africa for you.

07 August 2014

There but for the grace of God

I was shocked to the core to learn that two young medical students had been stabbed to death in Kuching (Borneo) yesterday. Kay was there last year (see here) with her older friends who were doing the very same thing in the very same Sarawak hospital as these boys and Kay herself is now in Tanzania doing the same. I imagine two sets of parents much like myself who now have the awful prospect of bringing their dead children home for burial. It makes me shudder.

Of course the lads were up and about in the wee small hours of the morning and it would seem drink was involved. As anyone with teenagers or twenty-somethings know, there is always a lot of alcohol involved in their socialising. Maybe the noise levels got stoked up a bit in the process. If you are in a Muslim country, as they were, then maybe the locals were offended by this. Who knows what really happened until the details emerge. Whatever the case, two young hopeful doctors did not deserve to die. It goes without saying I shall not breathe freely until Kay returns safely.

04 August 2014

One hundred years ago

I have written about this before, but today, the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, seems more pertinent to mention it again. Both my grandfathers were in the First World War but on opposite sides.

My mother's father William was on the side of the English. Born in Bermondsey  as the oldest of ten, he enlisted at the age of 19 at the very start of the war and fought at the battles of Ypres, the Somme and Paschendale - the latter where he was badly wounded. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a horse called Smiler that used to pull the gun carriages. The horse was also badly injured and had to be put down. My grandfather luckily was brought back to England with injuries to his leg, head and eye. He lost his eye and from then on had a glass one. He was plagued by bad headaches for the rest of his life too, whenever the schrapnel moved around.

My paternal grandfather Erisch was on the side of the Germans. Born in Berlin, he also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. He went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (my grandmother) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.

 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.
When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on oppposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson - it still goes on all over the world......Ukraine/Russia/Gaza/Israel/Afghanistan. The futile killing of fellow human beings.

28 July 2014

That'll teach me

Well, I obviously spoke too soon.

Things to be thankful for - yada yada. 

I am so grateful - etc etc.   

Glad I am safe - de-dum de-dum.

Then a big foot comes out of the sky (literally) and squashes me.

Last Friday morning had been yet another hot, oppressive, humid one with temperatures well into the high 20s if not nudging early 30s. I had rather foolishly been vacuuming the bottom half of my house, as I had not done it in weeks and was fed up with accumulation of dead spiders and cat fur. I had probably lost half a stone in perspiration whilst doing it. Afterwards I had decided to go up to my laptop upstairs with a long cool drink and clicked on to the Internet to relax for a while, reading emails/facebook comments etc. 

I had just received a lovely set of photos via facebook of Kay enjoying herself  at a club with her new friends in Tanzania, as well as another photo of her in her scrubs taken on the hospital ward. I was just thinking how happy Kay looked and was so proud of her. Then suddenly the skies got darker, menacing clouds started to scud by and I heard the all-to-familiar sound these last few weeks of thunder accompanied by flashes of lightning. At the same time, the trees started to toss to and fro as well as swirl some of their leaves to the ground, as if they were about to uproot themselves. The lightning and thunder also continued remorselessly and the rain, at first a light drizzle, became a pounding deluge. The humidity seemed even worse.  Although I have never been to the Tropics, the whole spectacle had the feel about it of a tropical storm, monsoon even. Not the kind of one you ever ever see in England as a rule. The rain was not just coming down in buckets, it was coming down in dustbins. Within minutes the road outside was like a river, the drains couldn't cope with the force of it.

When I had finished looking at what I needed to on the computer and was sufficiently refreshed  to continue with more housework, I suddenly noticed water running down the walls of my study. The carpet was soaked and there were bubbles forming between the wall and the wallpaper. A little trickle of water was also heading for the light switch. To my horror, the water was then soaking through the carpet, through the floorboards and running down the walls into the lounge downstairs, soaking the wallpaper, sofa and the carpet down there too. More water was causing a crack in the lounge ceiling and running out of that across the room. In the stairwell damp patches were appearing on the walls there. I rushed upstairs to the bathroom at the very top and looked out of the window onto the flat roof outside it. Water was pooling on the roof I had replaced two years ago and was also overfilling a small gully. Somehow the water was entering my house and had seeped through two levels of the house.

With pounding heart and dry mouth, I rang the dreaded roofing company. Dreaded, because you may recall the problem I had had with them when the roof was totally renewed two years ago (see here). I was promised they would send a team out to inspect the problem. While I waited for them, I also rang my insurance company and initiated a claim with them, as it was more than evident that I was going to have to redecorate at least two rooms and part of the stairwell. The landline phones had stopped working, no doubt the cables doing the breast-stroke somewhere underneath the flooded ground. Instead of a dialling tone, I got nothing but a sloshing sound. Grabbing my mobile instead, I was able to make contact with the insurance company. The questions were endless. You would think I was applying to spy for the KGB. The insurance company told me to get the leak fixed immediately to prevent further water damage and they would send a surveyor along sometime this week to see for himself what the damage was.
two rooms with wallpaper like this

stairwell ceiling

water coming through lounge ceiling
stairwell wall

study carpet and water underneath bookcase

The roofers duly turned up and inspected the inside of the house and then headed for the roof. The man in charge said he could see the problem - the roofing felt had blisters. I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about, although of course I hadn't the foggiest. He seemed to suggest it was unusual for felt to blister like that, so I assumed I had got some faulty felt up there. I felt reassured that if that were the case, the 12-year guarantee I had been given two years ago would cover it. I rang the roofing boss back to ask i) whether any repair to the roof would be covered by the guarantee and ii) whether it would also cover redecoration of the rooms or whether I would need to get that from the insurance company instead. 

You may recall from that previous encounter with him (see here again) that he is not the nicest of people to do business with. He shouts (more like explodes) when challenged and can threaten to involve his solicitor when in a tight corner. This time was no different. He refused to accept liability, said his men had given me false information and that the problem had been caused by a blockage in the downpipe. He must be extremely clever, I thought, being able to make this judgement from the comfort of his office some 4 miles away without having seen the roof for himself. I was then able to hear both sides of the conversation with the workmen ( he phoned them while still on the phone to me so I heard his side of the conversation and I deliberately went outside and stood next to the workmen , unbeknown to him, so I heard their replies.) He basically convinced them that they had seen a blockage to the downpipe and that the blisters on the felt were not causing the problem. I challenged him and said he had told them to say that and then he exploded on me. By this point I couldn't have cared less any more, as I had lost the will to live and did not want to provoke the boss any more than I had already done.  I felt I should leave it to the surveyor to contest it.  It still didn't explain why, if the water couldn't get down a downpipe, it would not just eventually pour off the flat roof. Why would it find a way in to my rooms below, if the roof was watertight and not at fault? Furthermore, once the men had gone and I was able to look out of my bathroom window again, I noticed the men had painted some white stuff along all the joins of felt. Why do that, if the roof was not to blame?
Why paint stuff on the joins of the gully?
Why? again

I now await the insurance company surveyor and will see what his view is. But whatever the reason or whoever is at fault, I am not feeling so thankful today. That'll teach me to speak too soon and be self-righteous in the process. Right now, I could murder someone or something!

Mind you, I am still thankful for these lovely flowers from my garden

and for lovely neighbours who brought me these to cheer me up when they heard what had happened.

24 July 2014

Things to be thankful for

I am known to have the occasional moan or rant about some things and I suppose it is only human nature that we do. However, there are times when things pull you up short and make you realise there is so much to be thankful for. We can often think we are hard done by but compared to the past or other parts of the world today, we dont know we are born.

I am lucky to live in a civilised country where there are rules and a code of acceptable conduct. We live in relative harmony with one another and our neighbouring countries, we have more than adequate amounts of money (even though some will argue they don't) to afford the basics in life and we have a health system that cares for us into old age. 

Looking around the world as it is now, with vile people shooting down planeloads of innocent people or lobbing bombs over borders out of greed or malice or religion, it makes me so thankful that I am physically safe and not cowering in a corner waiting for harm to come to me. I can go about my business without fear of being outspoken,  I cannot be arrested for thinking  things I am not told to think, or I shall not be imprisoned for my views or bombed out of my home because of my religion. There are so many places in this world (Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, just to name a handful) where that cannot be said.

I am not rich but I am not poor. I do get so annoyed at headlines that say the young can't get on the housing ladder or someone can't survive on £90 a week. My parents were married for over 8 years before they got their first house. Greg and I took out our first mortgage on a flat in 1980 and were being charged 16% (I repeat 16%) interest on repayments. Things were far far worse in the past, but now everyone EXPECTS things given to them on a plate. They want the latest this or that without saving up for things. Sometimes saving up brings more pleasure when you can afford luxuries. They want their own space as a right with TVs the size of the entire wall, a completely kitted-out kitchen and a new car. I have never owned a new car in my life (in any case I consider brand new cars a waste of money - drive them out of the showroom and you have already lost £2,000). I regard TVs or washing machines or cars as luxuries, by the way and don't get me started on people who spend all day playing with their electronic toys and yet claim they have no money. I always maintain I could live quite happily with a weekly shopping bill of £10 and still have change at the end of the week. An egg or tin of beans on toast or a jam sandwich every day would keep me going well for even less than £10, if I had to manage on that. In any case, I don't crave lobster or steak or champagne. I am not one to buy expensive goods, massive wall-mounted TVs, leather sofas, latest this or that and the like. My tastes and needs are quite simple. I don't travel hardly at all and I am happy with my own company.  It sounds like I live the life of a hermit or a scrooge. Far from it, I enjoy life and don't need to spend a lot to get it. I know we are all different, but I sometimes think we all want more and more and don't stop to think about what we really want. Personally, I am happy as long as I know my loved ones are safe, happy and healthy. Anything else is quite frankly extra, a bonus, superfluous even.
I am grateful (and aware of the hypocrisy) for the small amount of technology I have in my house. It has meant I can keep in touch with Kay on a different continent and learn that she is well and happy pursuing her dreams of helping other people less fortunate than us. (More so than my poor parents who waved me off to Germany for a year in the early 1970s, not expecting to hear another peep from me except by snail mail. How they managed to keep their sanity in the absence of any mobiles and internet, I shall never know. I was cut-off from Kay last weekend for about 24 hours and was in bits in case she had been mugged, raped or buried in a ditch somewhere in the middle of Tanzania.) Today we had an hour's facebook conversation where she was able to tell me how she is, about friends she is making, the work she is doing in Tanzania and how happy she is. Following her successful climb to the top of Kilimanjaro last week, she is now safely ensconced in a hostel with other medics and working on a children's ward.

I am thankful for our National Health Service. We moan a lot about it but without it, what would life be like? Kay has been regaling me with stories of 4-month old babies weighing only 3lbs who have HIV or rickets or TB or diarrhoea or malaria and one died last night. Children are brought to that hospital far too late because of the distance from the hospital or lack of money to pay for medicine. They do not have the vaccinations or health care to support young life and so their conditions are advanced and beyond saving. It is unthinkable in this day and age that this can still be happening. I am pleased to say that when the call came at the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last night to text 70333 and donate money to UNICEF to help dying or uneducated children, I was more than happy to donate what I could spare (and more) to save that baby and others, although sadly I discovered this morning it was too late for that little mite in Tanzania. I do hope though that many more will benefit from the UNICEF funds collected and the more wealthy will continue to support the cause. If we think life is hard, just think how much harder it is for them. 

I am thankful that my scar on my face is healing and that I am able to have medical help at my fingertips when I need it. My daughter is happy, my mother is well. What more can you really ask? For those in the world that are less fortunate, I hope and pray that soon you too can be thankful like me. For that to happen, we who have a decent living should stop and think more of others less fortunate and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  What if the roles were reversed? Wouldn't you want someone to do something about it?

15 July 2014


Germany 1 - Argentina 0.  Fantastic result!

Hospital 1 - Addy 0.  Not so fantastic result!

Removal of one basal cell carcinoma.  Seven stitches.  I'm feeling sorry for myself.

14 July 2014

Happy Birthday

To Kay ( if you are reading this)

Have a lovely 23rd birthday, somewhere up Kilimanjaro. Hope the view from up there is fantastic. Come back safely.

With all my love

Mum xxxxxx

09 July 2014

Kay goes on a Big Adventure (or how her Mum nearly has a nervous breakdown)

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. The last few days and the last 24 hours in particular have been the stuff of a Mr Bean movie crossed with an edge-of-seat thriller. You didn't know whether to laugh, cry, vomit or shoot yourself. I've just been checking flight departures and a few hours ago my daughter Kay's flight took off on the first leg of her journey. She's got three flights in all and is going on a Big Adventure, but it almost didn't happen at all.

Her last of four end-of-fourth-year-medicine exams was a week ago on Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, she and her housemates moved house.  You can imagine the weeks of swotting had paid a heavy toll on the state of her room with books, clothes and other items strewn all over the place. The return home with the euphoria of the last exam was quickly replaced with having to pack up everything for the move, particularly as the new incumbents were already moving in at the same time. It was manic. She stayed another day to put her new digs into some kind of shape and work out what to leave behind and what to take with her, before driving the five hours down to London, arriving home shortly after 1 am on Tuesday into Wednesday morning last week. From then on, it has been crazy. Our front door has been an eternal revolving door with comings and goings of all sorts to sort out her trip.

It has been planned for months.  Called "an elective" , it is part of her medical studies and involves working for six weeks in another hospital of her choice, particularly in a department of her choice. The medical students tend to choose somewhere abroad for their electives to make it more exciting, as the elective dates fall within the summer vacation. Kay has always wanted to go to Africa and Tanzania in particular, since reading Michael Morpurgo's "The Wreck of Zanzibar" at the age of eight. She looked up where Zanzibar was and has always had a yen to go there. Thus it was that she has arranged to work for six weeks in a hospital in the north of Tanzania and then add on 4 weeks (two either side of the hospital placement) for touristy things. Although it has been planned for months (in theory) she has had little time to get down to the nitty gritty, as there was just so much to revise over months for the exams, and it all fell to this week to finalise things. To say we were up against the wall right up to the last minute is an understatement.

In the two weeks before the hospital placement, she plans to climb Kilimanjaro, so there was all sorts to arrange (and pack) for that. Although Tanzania is now in their winter, the temperatures are equivalent to the best of our summers, but high up on Kili there is still ice on the peaks, so temperatures at base camps get very cold, so clothes needed to be packed or bought for that, not to mention the best walking boots money could buy!  The hospital placement itself requires her to bring her own scrubs, a white coat and a stethoscope, plus if possible any equipment or supplies to donate to the hospital (a cardiac monitoring machine was one suggested  gift item on the list, although suffice it to say, we weren't going to supply that - the adventure has cost more than a proverbial arm and a leg already!), so the rucksack was already beginning to bulge a little. The general advice is for girls to wear clothes that amply cover chest and shoulders, as well as reach below knee, so as not to attract angry insults from the local woman or ardent attention from the men, but in the medical hostel you can wear UK-acceptable clothes. Zanzibar at the end of the trip requires beachwear, as she intends to go deep-sea diving, so swimsuits and sarongs added to the list, with more cover-up stuff so as not to offend the locals. The pile of clothes alone was beginning to grow as high as Kilimanjaro itself. Not to mention 65 malaria tablets, two months' supply of shampoo, sun lotion (Kay burns at the wink of an eye), makeup, cameras, phones, guidebooks, Swahili phrasebook (including medical terms - and yes, we looked up the smutty words first!) Oh, and I almost forgot, her hospital placement also includes one week staying in a Maasai warrior village helping out at their dispensary, as well as being taught various skills by the Maasai women in Swahilli! Accommodation there is in one of their mudhuts. What to wear and take for that?
Hmmm, I hope Kay is not expected to follow this exact dress code!

There was travel insurance to fix, a professional insurance to cover her in the hospital, a safari to book, hostels to book for the touristy parts of the holiday, money to order, malaria tablets to buy (at £170 - gulp, and that was the cheapest - one chemist quoted £288),  more clothes and toiletries to buy, not to mention setting up utilities for the new house she'd just moved into up north, buying a new camera, a Kindle, celebrating her birthday a week early. The list of "to do's" got longer and longer. All within 6 days. It's been manic.

We were up till 2am last night, trying to pack a gallon into a pint pot. Kay was effectively packing for 4 different holidays (mountain, beach, hospital and leisure) and for a period of ten weeks. In despair we went to bed and then started afresh this morning. We were due to leave for the airport at 16.30, but by 16.00 it was evident that she still had a lot to pack or throw out or maybe include, music to download, set up her new camera etc. At 17.15 I was revving the car engine as she was tying up the last cords and catches of her rucksacks- an enormous one to go on her back (complete with bedding and mosquito nets for Kili)  and a smaller one as hand luggage.)

After such a fraught day and even fraughter departure from the house, we arrived at the airport, fortunately with some time to spare after check-in, so went to have a leisurely last few minutes together at a cafe, before saying a tearful goodbye. She's gone for ten weeks and neither of us wanted to be the first to say goodbye. She gets very emotional as we are very close and it was hard to walk in opposite directions. I was three quarters of the way home, when I got the first phone call to alert me all was not well.

She had gone through security, having had to extract various things from her hand luggage to be x-rayed separately (particularly as security is quite high at the moment), then had gone through the airside shopping mall and finally ended up in the boarding gate lounge. It was then (with 15 minutes left to embarking) that she realised she had not retrieved her toiletry bag (full of important stuff) from the x-ray conveyor belt. Now to menfolk it might not seem a disaster but for girls this is a major catastrophe. She begged and pleaded with an airhostess who allowed her to leg it back along corridors, shopping malls and back to the security to retrieve it, then return like a marathon runner at the last 100 metres of the race, just as the passengers were boarding her flight. The last message I got, was that she was bright red, hot, exhausted and sat right by the toilets on a 7-hour journey to Dubai. She also has a feeling she has forgotten something, but doesn't know what.

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. It's easy to see why, isn't it? Suffice to say, I'm counting the days until her return.
Elusive sleep finally catches me unawares!

30 June 2014

Under the Weather

I'm fed up of watching TV weather forecasts or looking them up online only to find the weather is in reality doing something completely different.

I'm told it's going to be wet, so I venture out with a raincoat or jacket and lug an umbrella in my already brimming handbag, only to find the sun comes out and I'm sweltering, carting around the extra layers and weight.

Hearing it's going to be sunny, I don lightweight skirts and flimsy tops which turn me into a quivering jelly as, an hour or so from home, the North wind blows from Iceland and the rain lashes down.
picture courtesy of http://www.black-forest-hill.com.au

On some days the weather man/lady must have revolving doors because one minute it's blazing hot and sunny, the next it's lashing down with rain and lightning is streaking across the sky.

I read it's going to be a scorcher of a summer this year with temperatures hotter than the Mediterranean, Brazil and probably even Hell. Sounds familiar... they said that at the beginning of last year when we had non-stop rain for months on end and they had to rescind the hosepipe bans on watering the garden. As if you'd want to water the garden when it already resembled an Amazon swamp.

With all the technology we have at our fingertips nowadays, you would think they would get the weather forecast halfway right. I reckon we were a lot better off in the Dark Ages consulting a sprig of seaweed hung on the wall. At least it was accurate. I know I could stick my nose out of the front door and sniff the air. The only thing is my nose (despite its size) doesn't reach 60 miles down the road, so it would be useful to have a bit more accuracy about what the weather is doing in another part of the country, if I need to go there. 

I'm just off to squeeze my seaweed......

picture courtesy of

23 June 2014

Spot of bother

I mentioned a while ago that I had a basal cell carcinoma on my forehead which needed removing. Having been pushed from pillar to post in the NHS system, it has taken over a year to get from my first visit to the GP to actual surgery. 

My GP spent months from May last year trying out different potions and lotions  (all to no effect) before referring me in November to another GP practice which specialises in skin disorders. They did a biopsy which came up with the basal cell diagnosis, but then I had to be referred to the dermatologist at the hospital for the official confirmation. I saw her in January.

picture courtesy of http://library.med.utah.edu

The dermatologist however declared that as the spot was on my face, she was going to pass me on to a maxillo-facial surgeon to do the operation. I would need to have a consultation with him first and indeed  saw him at the beginning of April. He told me I was already a week over their deadline for dealing with such things, though obviously it was not his fault. He promised he would get me an operation date as quickly as possible

I was duly sent the date of 2 June (not so quickly as possible as I had imagined) and having geared myself up for the operation, I was crestfallen to receive a phone call just a few days beforehand, saying the "clinician" had to attend another hospital on that day and the operation had been postponed......... until 11am on 23 June. I was annoyed, particularly as I had put off doing a lot of things until the op was out of the way, or had scheduled other things in preparation for it (such as getting my hair cut to avoid doing it once I had stitches in my head).

More weeks of waiting and anticipation/dread passed and today was the due date. Although I was having a local anaesthetic, I was advised not to drive myself to the hospital and back, in case the wound on my forehead swelled and affected my vision. Fortunately, just as I was working out bus timetables to get there, Kay announced she'd be home for a few days anyway, so she would drive me there.

When we arrived at the hospital this morning, the receptionist looked a little strange when I checked in. She got me to repeat my surname, then my first name, then my surname again. She wanted to know my date of birth, then my surname again. Her brow furrowed. She asked me to take a seat. A few minutes passed, then she came over and broke the news gently. I was not on their list for today and they were not expecting me. Who had rang me to cancel the op on the 2nd?  Male or female? I was told to wait and a nurse would speak to me. More questions followed until I was finally seen at midday by a very sexy French Registrar. To cut a long story short, he said there was nobody else there now to provide back-up, so the op could not be done today and would have to be resheduled for 14 July. 

"Ah, Bastille Day" he mused. 

"My birthday", said Kay (although she'll be away from home then anyway).

Fingers crossed, it'll go ahead this time, but I am not raising my hopes. Mind you, maybe today's cancellation was a blessing in disguise.  I have been having trouble with my neck for the last 5 weeks and can barely move my head. I am not sure whether it is a trapped nerve or muscle spasms.  I have recently been to the local hospital's walk-in clinic, been advised to see a physiotherapist (with whom I have now had three sessions), been prescribed extra-strong painkillers, as well as a muscle-relaxant, worn a foam collar 24/7 and NOTHING has worked. Let's just say the pain is still so bad, I'd sooner give birth to a baby (and that's saying something)! So maybe trying to lie still on slab while they removed a bit of my forehead was being a tad optimistic.

Watch this space. Knowing the NHS, I might still be waiting for surgery at Christmas.

16 June 2014

√x=6y+a² (or when soon enough is not long enough)

There's been much talk recently about the speed at which Mick Jagger seemingly got over his relationship with L'Wren Scott and starting dating again. The British press has had the knives out saying he has not given enough appropriate grieving time between her suicide and the next notch on  his bedpost. Ultimately it's his affair - quite literally - so who are any of us to criticise?  But how long is enough or how soon is enough? How long is a piece of string? There are so many things to take into account.

First we are all differerent. Some people  need other people around them all the time to function. They can't pay a bill or book a holiday or even  boil an egg without the other person doing it for them or helping them with it. They may need someone at their side for confidence or on their arm for image. Others can manage very well on their own, or were the one more in charge of the partnership anyway, so that when they are on their own again, there is little change in the way they go about things. 

Then there is the amount of time the couple spent together before one of them left. I imagine you would get over a relationship of four years quicker than you would one of forty years, as there are by ratio less/more shared experiences together. If your life together far exceeded the time you had before you met, that will also play a part in how easily you can accept the parting.

Yet another factor is is the nature of the relationship and the manner in which one left it. Were they happy together? Miserable?  Chugging along in a mediocre way for the sake of childen? Was it acrimonious? Was the death a release from a life of hell together? Was it a slow agonising death, where the actual passing was a relief for both parties?  Or was it sudden with no chance to say goodbye, leaving things unsaid, unfinished and a with shedload of guilt?

Age may play a part too. You may be more ready to move on and adapt to someone new if you are younger, less so when you are getting on a bit, although, having said that, there are still stories in the papers of 90-somethings finding true love in old folks' homes and staggering down the aisle on their zimmer frames!

Any combination of these things can produce a completely different result (where √x=6y+a²) and even in  similar situations, individual people (by sheer nature) will react differently. I personally marvel that Mick Jagger can move on so quickly after 13 years with someone he claims to have loved, but then again maybe he is trying to put on one face for the public whilst grieving inwardly.  

All I can say personally, looking at my √x=6y+a²,  is that it is over four years since Greg died and I simply cannot envisage ever being ready again in my lifetime to even date someone else, let alone marry them. Forty years together (married for 36 of them) means a lot of shared memories, although admittedly a mountain of grief towards the last 5 years before he died and a tsunami of emotions ever since. You certainly don't get over that in a hurry. Even if Richard Gere, George Clooney, David Beckham and Gary Barlow were all to turn up on my doorstep. 

11 June 2014

Feather from Heaven

I remain on the fence about paranormal activity, as I really do not know much about it, but I know a lot of people believe in feathers as being messages from angels, guardian angels and loved ones.  I have mentioned before (see here) the appearance of a feather on Greg's chair, not long after his death, as possibly being some sort of message from Greg. As I say, I really don't know whether I believe in it or not, but there was no other logical explanation for it and it can be comforting to think someone is trying to contact you from the other side. 

I think I am doing relatively OK, considering my husband chose to kill himself slowly with alcohol four years ago.  I manage fairly well, I reckon, between being a single-parent to my daughter and a carer for my 90-year-old Mum.  For the majority of time, I am fairly upbeat about life and on some days am known to sing as I do the chores around the house. A few days ago, however,  I was having a bit of a rare low, depressing, lonely "woe is me, I hate being on my own" sort of evening with only the TV for company, when I glanced out of the window. It had been a bit of a grey-sky sort of day with lots of rain showers, but by 8pm, the grey has turned into wall-to-wall blue sky just before it got dark. Not a cloud in the sky. As I looked out at that moment, feeling a little sorry for myself, a solitary lone cloud drifted by. But look at the shape of it - 

a feather.

Here it is in close-up...

I don't know whether it was Greg trying to cheer me up or whether, more likely, it was just a vapour trail left by an aeroplane on its ascent from Heathrow. But it did make me feel much better. Strangely.

02 June 2014


Cartoon from socialmediatoday.com
Cartoon from socialmediatoday.com

Blogland is a funny old place. The country doesn't really exist, of course, but its people certainly do. They are the people you meet through the comment they leave on your blog and the comments you leave on theirs.  I suppose they are the modern equivalent of penpals. 

I remember at the age of 12 getting a French penpal through my school.   Our French teacher had insisted on us all writing our first rather faltering letter in French which was to be forwarded on to a school on the outskirts of Paris. Our London borough was twinned with theirs.  A few weeks later I got a letter back from what was to be my penpal. Her name was Annick. At first, like with most friendships or penpals, the letters were simple, almost awkward. My name is....., my hobbies are....., I live in a...... , my mother is called...., my father works in..... etc. The letter would probably have half a dozen sentences and finish with "avec mes amities" or "best wishes". Gradually, Annick would send me a cutting from a French comic or a French coin or I would send her something with a little English on.  After a year or so of awkward letters to-ing and fro-ing between us, she sent me a music disc of her favourite singer, Johnny Hallyday. I was into the Beatles at that time and I knew then that out tastes were not remotely the same. The relationhip went downhill rapidly from there really.  I think she was angling to visit Britain, so invited me to come and  stay with her in Paris first. I'd already decided in advance it would be dire, so made my excuses and I never heard from her again. My love of German and Germany (and particularly Karl-Heinz, whom I met on a school trip to the Rhineland)  took over at the age of 14 and ever since I've never had a great desire to go anywhere near France. I do genuinely think about Annick once in a blue moon and wonder what she's doing with her life now, but that's as far as it goes.  However, I digress.

In a way, blogging can be compared to a much more civilised form of penpalship. You chose the people who interest you (rather than haphazardy having an address foisted on you by a teacher). You choose their blogs for their style of writing, their philosophies, their type of lifestyle, their topics. You tend to have something in common - they have kids your age or live in your part of the world or may be they live in a place which fascinates you or share your hobbies. What may start as a single comment on their blog, escalates over time into an acquaintance with them, until you feel you have got to know that person quite well. You almost feel like a fly on their wall or a far-flung relative. With the addition of photos you almost know what wallpaper they have in their bedroom and what they've had for supper.

When some bloggers suddenly stop blogging, you become anxious. Are they all right? Simply tired of blogging?  Fallen under a bus? Been kidnapped and held hostage? Sometimes you feel compelled to ask on their now abandoned blog, just in case they were just waiting for someone to appreciate their absence or dial 999. I know of several bloggers I used to read who have over the years disappeared into the night. It's a very strange and rather worrying feeling that they have not surfaced again since. One was a lady with a slimming blog. I wonder whether she overdid things and starved herself.  Or maybe fell down a drain? It can play on your mind.

Of the rest, I have occasionally been tempted to meet up with them, as some bloggers often do at conventions, but have often thought that the mystery was better than the reality. A bit like my husband's penpalship as a teenager. He wrote to a girl in the USA and she was absolutely stunning in the photo she sent him. He was quite besotted and they wrote back and forth avidly until he was able to meet her in person by arranging a holiday to the USA before he went to university. As he stepped off the plane and through the arrival channels, she was there waiting to meet him. It was then that he realised the one and only treasured photo of her was only from the neck up.  Head and shoulders. Passport-size. There she stood before him in reality. Five feet tall and five feet wide. The bubble was well and truly burst. I'm not saying Greg was shallow and that only beauty mattered to him (that was certainly not the case), but sometimes,with the best will in the world, reality does not match with what you imagined or what the penfriend would have you imagine. 

I am sure my elderly mother (who has absolutely no interest in learning how to use a computer) thinks I am completely bonkers spending a fair bit of time on the computer writing to what she imagines are complete strangers, but it is surely no worse than writing a letter and sending it through the post to a penfriend. After all, some people even knowingly write to axe-murderers on death row. Now I am quite sure you are all not THAT bad. But it got me thinking: "Why do we blog or comment on them?"

Twenty years ago, the Internet started to take off on a grand scale. Who could have envisaged then that the world would be as it is now, where you can sit in the comfort of your home and within seconds: 
  • click on a map of somewhere on the other side of the world and travel along its streets;
  •  get a recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake at the click of a mouse;  
  • translate a sentence into Polish; 
  • send a message to someone else in an instant rather than post it in an envelope;
  • look at images of One Direction until you find the right one to print for your bedroom wall; 
  • look up all the Presidents of the United States; 
  • watch a programme you've missed on TV;
  • talk on Skype to your uncle in Outer Mongolia; 
  • or read a blog written by a total stranger. 
All of these things are now possible and no longer weird.  They have become the window to a much wider world where facts, thoughts and ideas can be exchanged instantly and promote our own further education.  Contact with other people through their blogs is just as much part of that education.  I'm off to look up Annick on Facebook. I wonder if she's there and whether she still likes Johnny Hallyday?