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

Scores

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
www.earthtimes.org

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

BLOGLAND


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?

22 May 2014

Six years and counting............

My blog is six years old today.

It is six years since I first plucked up courage to write a blog about my husband's alcoholism and here I still am - 330 posts later.  I never dreamed I would be going this long when I first falteringly put hand to keyboard.

I had got into blogging purely by accident, looking up online a well-publicised blog at the time, just to see what all the fuss was about. Through that, I commented and came across other bloggers who either interested me because of their location or the subject matter of their blog. One man in particular whose blog I commented on asked why I didn't blog myself and I genuinely wondered what on earth I could come up with to blog about that would remotely be of interest to anyone other than myself. Surely I was not gifted enough to write anything and, furthermore, what in my boring old life could possibly be of interest to anyone else? For quite some time, I hung back in the shadows, just commenting here and there on other people's blogs, when I felt the urge to say something.

Then one day, it kind of just happened. I'd had a bad week with Greg, was frustrated with the medical profession and alcoholism counsellors who seemed to be doing nothing to help us. In addition to that I had plucked up all my courage to go to Kay' sixth-form coordinator at her school and air our dirty washing - namely that Greg was an alcoholic and Kay was having to cope with this whilst trying to study for her A-Levels and submit applications for university. Permanently near to tears the whole time, I felt as if my mental engine would blow a gasket and I needed to relieve some pressure. I sat down and wrote my first post to get things off my chest. I hovered over the publish button and cautiously decided to save it as a draft for some days afterwards. Did I really want to betray Greg or wash dirty linen in public? But living with an end-stage alcoholic is a crazy world and the tension in me was mounting. I needed to write to tell someone, anyone, faceless as they were, because I could not speak to anyone close to me.... I was still trying to keep it a secret from them or deny its very existence at all.

On 22 May 2008, I finally pushed the publish button and my blog was born. So much has happened in the time since. Greg grew worse, went in and out of hospital, got better, got worse, went back to hospital, got better, got worse and ultimately died. I've gone through the ringer of so many emotions too.  Relief (he'd gone); anger (that he chose to); sadness (what he was missing); longing (if only he were still here); frustration (why could someone have not helped him); and acceptance (it was an illness he could not avoid).  Quite a lot in six short years.

The blog has continued to be an air vent for me to cope with adjusting to life on my own as a single-parent to my daughter and carer for my elderly mum. It's been a friend when my feelings took twists and turns.  I am pleased to say it has also been a help to others in a similar situation to me, or even alcoholics themselves. If I have helped just one person, I feel honoured to have touched their life and helped. From that point of view the blog has been worthwhile and at least Greg's death has not been in vain.

Whether I have it in me to carry on with blogging for another year let alone six years is a big question mark. I do find it useful to look back and read it as a diary. To relive those moments and feelings. To revisit the past. We'll see. But for now, I raise a glass (not necessarily an alcoholic one) to Alcoholic Daze and thank it for helping me through a very difficult time.
Taken in my garden yesterday -
things to be thankful for

15 May 2014

Inspiring

Two stories in the press today caught my eye. 

One was the death of 19-year-old Stephen Sutton who although very ill with bowel cancer himself managed to raise £3.2 million for the charity Teenage Cancer Trust. The other was James Redgate who lived frugally all his life and on his death left a million pounds to local hospital charities so that others could benefit from new equipment. Even his sister (who was left nothing) supported his decision.

How refreshing in this day and age, where all we seem to read about is benefit fraud, large organisations making huge profits, footballers (who get paid extortionate amounts and still fail to kick the ball in the net) and all the other me-me-me celebrities strutting their stuff, to see two ordinary folk putting others first, even before their own very real needs.

06 May 2014

Exam Fever

I think I'm going to emigrate. Somewhere. Anywhere. Far away. With no phone signals. No broadband. No postman. Not even trees for resting carrier pigeons.

Kay's got exams coming up. Every year is the same. She's going to revise as she goes along, not leave it till the last minute. Make notes as she goes along. Learn it all off by heart and backwards. The trouble is life has a habit of getting in the way..... the important must-go-to party here, the obligatory meet-up in the pub there, tidying up a room for the hundredth time in a month. Then there's the lure of finding a late-night shop open for an addictive chocolate bar fix or actually finding doing the laundry an attractive option. Anything but revise. And here we are at the other end of the academic year with something like four weeks until exams and PANIC. The results of these exams next month are arguably more important than her finals will be next year, because the hospitals base their choice of what doctors they would like to hire on this year's exam results, as they start selecting in the autumn of 2014 well before the finals are taken in the summer of 2015. Therefore her whole career will depend on them. No pressure then.

She needs to know just about everything under the sun. She's mentally and physically tired, still on ward placements, also doing a long-term project and trying to fix up her summer placement abroad too. Too much all at once.

I don't know what is worse - being the one panicking or the one being panicked to (or whatever the verb is). All I know is I failed to pack my suitcase in time and emigrate. The phone calls have started already.



29 April 2014

Old Age Pensioner

Greg would have been 65 today. He would have been officially retired today (although he took early retirement ten years ago on health grounds). It was a retirement we both looked forward to, although he always had a premonition he would not make it to sixty. Well, his dad died aged 57 of a massive heart attack whilst in a swimming pool so Greg always assumed all his life that he'd go in a similar way. It's true, Greg did have heart trouble for the last five years of his life with all the factors against him (heredity, smoking, diet and stressful job), but ironically enough his heart was the strongest part of him in the end. It was the alcoholism that killed him. Every other major organ failed, but that heart just kept on ticking to the very last of his sixtieth year.

At the height of that crazy roller-coaster of alcoholism (detox and short periods of sobriety followed by even longer ones of alcoholism), I could not wait for a time to come when I would be free from him and the alcohol and have peace back in my life. Yet, four years on, I miss him. I know now, it was not HIM I wanted gone but the alcoholism. But I also understand now that he had no control over it. It controlled him. He was depressed and I was too wrapped up in dealing with the alcoholism on a daily basis (throwing out pails of water from a sinking boat) to talk to him kindly and get him to see what he was doing to himself. I would either snap at him or ignore him as I tried to keep up with the practicalities of our life - running the household, dealing with financial matters and the care of our daughter, while he just drank and drank into oblivion. In the end stage of his alcoholism, he either shouted or passed out. I hoovered round him, talked over him and went out without him. Physically and mentally, he was a broken shell of the man I had married. Time is a great leveller. It has put things in perspective and made me see things now from a different angle. Sadly he's not here to see his official retirement or to enjoy the years ahead with me. His choice in a way, but I also know he tried to change, but simply didn't have the willpower to do it.

I often wonder what he would have done in his retirement, if he had not chosen to drink himself to death. Maybe a little freelance work, visits abroad to widen his horizons or catch up with colleagues. Long walks. Lazy pub lunches in the countryside. Visiting friends and relatives. Writing one of the many ideas he had for a book. The thing is, I don't actually know. I'll never know now. Nor will he. That's what I find sad.

21 April 2014

Teenage binge-drinking

You might have been forgiven for missing this programme  (https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/tonight/series-19/episode-11-britain-s-young-drinkers-tonightwhich ) which was quietly slipped into the TV schedules just before Easter on Maundy Thursday.  It was not exactly well advertised and not exactly fun-viewing on the evening leading up to the long Easter weekend. But definitely well worth seeing.

For me, its contents were nothing new. I know enough from Kay and her friends about the format teenage nights out after school or at uni take. The pre-drinks at home where vast quantities of alcohol are drunk to get you well in the mood before you go out, including drinking games with forfeits and dares. Then afterwards the actual night out in clubs and bars, where the drinks are on ridiculously low offers (particularly midweek to draw the punters in). A pound a shot or 12 for £10. It doesn't take much maths to work out they're going to be well over their recommended daily intake of units within the first couple of hours, let alone by 4am when they start to roll home.

When you are young, nothing touches you, nothing fazes you. You can't imagine being old, infirm, riddled with cancer or affected by liver disease. That's for oldies or someone else. Smoking/taking drugs/drinking alcohol can look cool and win brownie points with your mates. Which is why this programme helped to confront some of the youngsters about the dangers of excess drinking. How one evening's drinking can definitely impair the liver.  Whether they'll actually learn from it is another thing, but while the drinks are easily available and as cheap as chips, you can't blame them for experimenting. The liver is a marvellous organ which has the ability like no other human organ to recover from damage. But there comes a time after repeated damage when it can no longer recover and will go into serious decline and failure.

The government are not keen to raise alcohol prices or limit availability because they rely on the taxes it brings in. Others will recite freedom of choice as a reason to keep the status quo. It's down to us as adults to guide our kids, explain the dangers and just hope they wont be another statistic. Liver damage has increased 40% in the last decade and more so in the younger generation, whereas it was always regarded as an older person's disease. Concerns over your fluffy four-year-old grazing their knee are swapped for concerns your equally fluffy 14-year-old will be drinking cider behind the bike-shed or your adult 24-year-old might be drinking 28 shots of Jaegermeister bombs or vodka in one night. Fortunately Kay is reasonably sensible and has watched her father die of alcoholic liver disease. Not a pretty sight. But even she is under peer-pressure and has admitted that being the only sober or semi-sober one in a whole group of zombies on a night out is not that much fun, so on rare occasions she sometimes pushes the limits.

Meanwhile, it's been lovely having Kay home for Easter, although it hasn't been long enough by far. Because she is still on hospital placements, it has meant she could only get a week off for Easter. With a day at either end taken up with her driving down each way, we have effectively only had from Good Friday until tomorrow, but it has been lovely. Girlie shopping trips to Bluewater, lazy evenings chewing the cud, good wholesome home cooking, catching up with London friends. Absolute bliss.