14 June 2018

Messing about on the River

Kay has not only been away from home, but also away from the UK for what seems like years, but in reality is only months. I miss her so much. She is my one and only child and now my one and only surviving relative, so naturally I miss her. She has only been away for 14 weeks and will back in another six weeks.

She is currently having the experience of a lifetime. She has come to a natural hiatus in her career. The time between being a junior doctor for just two years and starting the hard slog to the next major rung of Registrar. Before embroiling herself in the next two-year phase of hospitals and exams combined, she wanted to see the world. It wasn't going to be possible once she put her head down and worked the arduous schedules that a doctor has to work.  It might not also be possible once she got tied down by mortgages or children of her own.  So it was now or never at the age of 26 years old. She was going to take a year off the career ladder and have a delayed GAP year.

She had a plan.   She spent the first seven months (August to February) working as a locum in a big London teaching hospital, squirreling away the high fees locums can earn. That fund was to support her financially over the remaining five months (March to July) when she would go travelling. Her boyfriend, a dentist, did the same.  

In early March, the two of them set off.  First to Thailand, where they visited umpteen temples, lounged on golden sands in deserted coves played with elephants and learnt how to cook Thai-style.

Then on to Cambodia to learn of its horrific past of Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. Next was Vietnam with its crazy bikers in Ho Chi Minh City, its quaint sea resorts and the bustle of Hanoi. (Not to mention that monkey bite.)

Then on to South America, starting with Argentina, where they learned to tango (it does take two),  admired the haunts of Eva Peron (Evita), and took in tours of the Malbec vineyards. 

Then down to the deep Patagonian south of the continent, the "end of the world", where they climbed glaciers

and watched sea-lions and penguins, just as Charles Darwin would have done. 

On to Santiago in Chile.  The Argentinian and Chilean painters and decorators alike seem to have had a field day and gone berserk with a job-lot of paint. 

Then sand-boarding in the desert followed by crossing the salt flats in Bolivia, ending up at Lake Titicaca in Copacobana (and not the one Barry Manilow sings about). 

Next to Peru and the main part of their tour, not to mention the title of this post. They have volunteered to work with a charity that runs medical boats along the Amazon. These are floating clinics staffed by doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives  and physiotherapists. Most of the medics are Peruvian, but foreigners can volunteer to work free of charge on the boats for the experience. These boats call in at remote villages where the only access is by river. If these boats did not come, the villagers would have no access to a doctor. Kay and boyfriend are, as I write, currently on board, treating tribes who are highly suspicious of modern medicine, but resort to it when their own herbal remedies fail.

Kay is also out of internet contact, because they are in the middle of the rain forest. I shan't hear from her for another five whole days!!!   (How my parents coped when I went off to Germany for a year in 1971 with only snail mail, which took a week to get anywhere, or the very rare highly expensive phone call from a kiosk, I shall never know).

The next thing on the list, after the Amazon trip, will be a trek up to the summit of Machu Pichu. Then on to Ecuador and Colombia, before the flight back home towards the end of July. I expect they will both be very weary. Kay starts her new job back on the career ladder on 1 August.  She'll need a holiday first!

She will have experienced so many sights, sounds, smells and changes of cuisine from nine different parts of the world. Something most people never get in a lifetime. What a marvellous experience.

04 June 2018

Kew Gardens

I had to meet some American friends at their hotel in Kew on Friday, as they were in London on a whistle-stop tour doing some research at the nearby National Archives for a book they are writing.  As I wasn't meeting them until 7pm, I decided I'd get over there a bit earlier (five hours earlier to be precise) and have a look at Kew Gardens. Such a long time since I was last there.... I think I may have even been under ten years old!

The weather  was changeable. The internet forecasts kept changing from being dry and sunny to rain. It was touch and go whether I'd do it at all, until the very last minute when the forecast changed yet again and showed it would be dry.

Mind you, when I got there, you'd have been forgiven for thinking it might rain. But thankfully it didn't. There aren't many places to shelter, if it does, and most of the 326 acres is open to the elements.

The newly refurbished Temperate House was magnificent.

Inside as well as outside.

The Giant Pagoda and the Japanese Gateway installed calm in me.

At one stage I found the lake and sat down for a rest. 

I made a friend. It came out of the water and started pecking the ground near my feet. It had very big feet. Almost as big as mine!

After a short stay I wandered over to the Palm House.

It was very hot and humid in there.

Then on to the Bee Hive, commissioned by the UK for the Milan EXPO 2015, which gives an insight into a bee colony.

Then another rest by another lake,


  before it was time to meet my American friends nearby.

18 May 2018

The Internet: the worst and the best

It's been three weeks since I last posted. A combination of being elsewhere and being in a bad place, if you see what I mean.

The elsewhere was in Brighton, where I took up role of Nurse Addy to help a good friend who had broken her leg. She lives in a tall Victorian house, with her bedroom right up in the attic -  rather like Rapunzel's Tower - and the kitchen way down two flights on the ground. Not very good when you have a broken leg (note to self, as I have six half levels broken by five flights of stairs).  It kept me fit doing up and down with things for her or helping her slowly and painfully down to get some fresh air in her garden.  

Whilst I was away I was victim to an Internet troll. I won't go into details, but it upset me greatly and, as always when I have stress, it went straight to my stomach. I have spent the last two weeks nursing a sore tummy.  These trolls think they can hide behind their computers and say what the hell they like. That is the down side of the internet.  Fortunately,  now I can say I am nearly over that and in full fighting fit mode (and probably full fighting mode with regard to the troll, whereas the last two weeks felt like the end of the World).

Kay meanwhile has literally been at the end of the World in Patagonia and is now in Santiago slowly making her way north along the west coast of South America. Thanks to the internet I have been able to keep in daily touch with her, so the internet certainly does have its good side as well as its bad.

27 April 2018

A tale of teeth and more teeth

It's been a strange few weeks since I last wrote and I've had little time to even think about blogging or reading yours.

Image result for tooth extraction
courtesy of medhalt.com
First there was my tooth. Or rather lack of it. I'd been on a hospital waiting list since last June to have an upper molar removed. My dentist was not keen to do it as the root went through a sinus cavity, so had referred me to the local hospital. However, as with all things non-emergency these days, I'd been waiting all this time to have it removed. The day finally came in mid March. It was not an easy extraction and the tooth crumbled as it was being pulled, so the young doctor (not actually sure he shouldn't still have been at secondary school by the look of him) had a job digging it out. They have to warn you about the worst case scenario and I was not a little disconcerted that I might get "communication" which is apparently when a hole appears between the nose and mouth and your cup of tea or coffee comes down your nose as you drink it!  I was almost out of the door at that point before I signed on the dotted line, but slightly reassured that it only happens in 1% of cases. Hoping to be among the other 99%, I was to avoid nose blowing or sneezing for a good two weeks. It's amazing, when told this, how you suddenly have a strong urge to sneeze every five minutes. That urge was constant for at least the first three weeks.

The first week was excruciating. I had to gargle with salt water washes four times daily and eat mushy baby food. After a week, I could gradually go on to harder food and stop the mouth washes.   However, after a week, my mouth was still very painful and I could feel sharp lumps on the ridge of my gum which I thought might be ulcers. I suffered for a second week before approaching the hospital again to ask if they could possibly have a look. I was a bit nervous to appear a right wimp, but I couldn't go back to my usual dentist as he had in the meantime retired since I last saw him in June, so technically I no longer had a dentist. It turns out I'd got something called "dry socket". It's where a blood clot, that should have formed immediately after the extraction to fill the hole, comes away leaving the bones and nerves exposed. They were surprised I'd held on so long. It usually happens to smokers or women on the pill. I'm not guilty of either, so goodness knows why it happened to me. They dressed the wound and said I was about two weeks behind in the healing process. The sharp lump I could feel was bone poking through the gum where the jaw had fractured with the force of the extraction. Not to worry, I was told it would heal in a few months and go back to normal eventually. After five weeks of mushy food, I am gradually returning to adult food again and pain-wise where I should have been three weeks ago. The human body is certainly a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile Kay and her boyfriend were sending me daily photos and updates about their holiday and keeping me happy that they were safe and well. It almost felt like I was on holiday with them. They had spent a few weeks in Thailand, a week in Cambodia and two weeks in Vietnam. In Vietnam they had started down in the south in Ho Chi Minh City. As they were flying out of Hanoi back to London, they needed to gradually work their way north to Hanoi. About four days before the end of their holiday they were about 80 miles from Hanoi staying on Monkey Island. The clue is in the name. The place has a colony of monkeys that tourists come far and wide to see. Tourist boats call in, tourists jump off, photograph monkeys and leave by boat. The monkeys must get sick of it unless of course they get thrown bananas. There is one hotel on the island and Kay and boyfriend booked in for three nights. On their first day, they went off in search of monkeys. Clambering over a rocky promontory complete with fallen trees and ditches, they came down onto another beach and saw some monkeys playing in the trees. Kay was filming them from a good distance. One monkey was on the beach playing with an old discarded shirt, wrapping it round its head and having a whale of a time. Kay still kept her distance, taking the occasional photo. Just as they were about to leave, a second monkey came out of the forest behind the beach and started attacking the first monkey. They wrestled for the shirt and the fight got very nasty indeed. As Kay and friend were walking away back to the promontory, the two monkeys abandoned their fight with one another and decided it was better to join up and fight the humans instead. Kay said it was difficult to gain a distance because the terrain was rough and not easy for them to hurry whereas the monkeys were able to bound over obstacles and gain on them.  The next thing was that one leapt onto Kay's back and sunk its teeth into her upper arm. Kay managed to get down to the sea edge and bathe her arm in salt water. Once over the promontory again,  a nearby cafe just happened to have some iodine under the counter (funny that!)
and she was able to bathe the wound in iodine. However unable to get definitive confirmation whether the monkeys were rabid, the pair had to cut short their idyllic stay on the island and head for Hanoi earlier than planned to get rabies boosters. Thank God for travel insurance as those shots cost over 200 US$.  

Kay came home for all of five days last week, as planned, to dump thin hot-weather clothes, grab some cold-weather  trekking clothes and head off to South America, where the next three-month leg of her adventure continues.  As an anxious mum, I'd factored all sorts of disasters into her trip - theft, murder, shark attack, falling off a cliff whilst trying to get a good photo and maybe a car accident, but getting bitten by a rabid monkey was well off my radar. I sincerely hope that's the last of the disasters.

09 April 2018

My Imaginary journey

Kay's almost at the end of the first leg of her travels. I can't believe there's only another eight days before she's home again . When she set off on 7 March, it seemed a long way away, but, thanks to Whatsapp, Internet and Skype,  she has kept in touch almost on a daily basis. She knows what a worrier I am. As a widow and an only child with no other close family such as cousins, she's my one and only in the world now, so I think I can be allowed to worry when she's on the other side of the world. I've been able to follow her flights on Flight Radar and literally take-off and land with her. I've been able to look up on the internet the hotels or hostels she has stayed in, or google the towns to see what they look like. She tells me what she has done that day or what she is planning for the next. It's been nice to hear from her regularly, as I feel I am experiencing the holiday through her.

She spent almost three weeks in Thailand, playing with elephants,
learning how to cook Thai style, visiting zillions of temples, luxuriating on a paradise island and "slumming" it in backpacker hostels. "Slumming" is the wrong word as I would have happily stayed in any of the ones she stayed at - they're not the same basic places we called hostels in the 1970s or 1980s. A couple even had their own pool. She moved on to Cambodia for about ten days visiting more temples and the Killing Fields (or the Cambodian equivalent of Auschwitz). The latter obviously had a great effect on her, because we had a 45-minute skype conversation about it the following day. 

She's now in Vietnam. Having experienced the crazy bike world of Ho Chi Minh City (it's always going to be Saigon to me) or exploring the VietCong tunnels.  She's now in a coastal resort in a quaint little town (a sort of Vietnamese Lyme Regis) where there are hundreds of tailors who will whip up a suit or a dress or even a handbag overnight to your specification and choice of cloth or leather. Kay is in seventh heaven and has bought several dresses and bags. How on earth she is going to cram them into an already bursting rucksack remains to be seen, unless she jettisons a lot of toiletries overboard first. 

Eight more days in Vietnam and then she is on her way home. I can't wait to see her. Although, if I blink, she will be gone again. She's home for a few days and then she's off on the next leg of her travels. I'd better start researching that on the internet for my next imaginary journey.

25 March 2018

This little piggy went to market

Well, my mum's retirement flat is now on the market, thanks to this little piggy, who worked her hooves off to empty the flat and part-decorate it ready for the sale. All that is now needed is for the blimmin thing to sell. According to the estate agent, this is not a good time. Is it ever? I have never found moving house anything other than stressful. Buyers or vendor change their minds and drop out like flies. Mortgages are unobtainable or surveys spread gloom and doom. I have never met anyone who didn't have problems of one sort or another. The last time Greg and I moved it was so stressful we never moved again - that was thirty years ago and I still don't feel tempted to try it again!

Fortunately with this case, I have nothing to buy, so can sit back and wait, but I'm sure I'll have some tales to tell before it sells.

Image result for for sale
courtesy of zillow.com

20 March 2018

Rollercoaster Ride

Poor old Ant's in the news again.  It's no surprise to me. Addiction is a roller-coaster. One minute you're down in the depths and the next minute you've recovered and on a high again. Being in the public eye makes it a thousand times worse, I am sure, but it is no different to the ordinary man in the street really. Every one including the addict hopes rehab will solve the problem, but it's not usually the case. Nine in ten people will succumb to the demon again. Up, down, up, down.

It does not make Ant or any other addict a bad person. They would give anything not to be like that. It's an illness, a mental illness, that they don't have a lot of control over, although many who have never been in that situation will disagree. I am sure he will be mortified that a  young child's life was put in danger. Many's the time Greg wanted to go out in the car to get more whisky, whilst ten times over the drink-drive limit. Instead I "enabled" him by doing the driving myself to get his supplies. It did not sit easily with me that I was fueling his addiction. But his addiction meant that I could not have someone's life endangered or on my conscience. 

12 March 2018

Keeping mum

I mentioned in my last post that Kay is away for six weeks. That is only half true. She's away for five months.  Five months of discovering the world and its beauty for her. Five nail-biting, grey-hair-turning months for me. When does being a mum ever involve less worrying? I bite my lips and keep mum while she enthuses about what she is going to do, offering the odd bit of helpful advice about avoiding crocodiles and sheer precipices.

Last August Kay took a year out of her career ladder. She'd done the two foundation years after university, needed to cement her training as a young doctor. The next stage was to sign up to two years' Core Medical Training - placements in hospital that would lead to her becoming a Registrar. But she's younger than the majority of her cohort and she wanted to see the world. So............ she took a  year out.

First she worked as a locum for the last seven months in hospitals in London and Kent, earning far more as a locum than she would as permanent staff, AND she moved back to live with me. Both those moves enabled her to save vast sums of money which she squirreled away to fund her travels for the remaining five months. Last Wednesday her adventure began.

She is doing what a lot of youngsters do these days - backpacking around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.  In my 1960s head these are war zones. Places to avoid. It's like a future generation getting excited about a fortnight  in Afghanistan or Syria. The world is a much smaller place, now it has cheaper flights and internet. But it doesn't stop me worrying. Thankfully Whatsapp, Messenger and Skype keep us linked. But it doesn't stop me worrying. I worry for England. She's with her boyfriend, but, even so, did I mention I worry for England?

She's home for a mere few days in April before Phase 2 of her travels - to South America.   I guess I'm going to need a shed-load of hair dye by then. Those hairs are turning grey by the second.

gray hair dying
Picture from HTV.com

09 March 2018

Slumming it

When dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a student, I stayed in youth hostels around Europe, which were pretty basic. The dorms were like prison cells with bunk beds so hard and decor limited to bed and cupboard. You shared with strangers and had gruel for breakfast. You showered communally.  They were not attractive in the slightest. It's hard to think of it now, but I used to hitch-hike too as far afield as Vienna.  I wouldn't recommend that now, but students in those days were made of strong stuff, the world was a different place, and we coped.

Kay and boyfriend departed from Heathrow two days ago for Bangkok on a two decker Airbus, every luxury at their fingertips.  They're on a six-week backpacking tour of Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam. This is the room they've got in a hostel for the next five days in Bangkok. Ok, it's a bit minimalist, but has TV and attractive lighting AND an ensuite shower. AND privacy. Oh my word, what we would have given for that in my day.

28 February 2018

Snow joke!

I had to pop into Central London this morning for a hospital test booked weeks ago. I sure know how to pick my days. It would be the morning after the worst snowfall in London for years. Public transport up the creek and I had to be there by 10.30 am. Worse still, I  hadn't been allowed to eat since yesterday lunchtime. I was so weak and so hungry I could have eaten my head. I had to negotiate the snowy pavements in freezing cold temperatures, hang around for delayed trains and then buses. Fortunately I made the appointment on time. As I was leaving it decided to snow in blizzard proportions.  I stupidly thought I'd snap a stunning photo of Westminster in a blizzard from inside the bus,  but there was total white-out until my bus got over Lambeth Bridge and I was able to take this rather pathetic photo instead. Ironically the nurse that put a cannula into my arm was from Russia. She thought it hilarious that so little snow could bring a capital city down to a standstill. She's used to far more dramatic stuff.

20 February 2018

Where there's muck, there's brass

You might have noticed I've been a bit quiet of late. And then again, maybe you haven't. I've been busy. Very busy. And a bit stressed with it. I've just come up for air, before diving back under again.

Clearing away a person's life can be arduous, depending on the person, I suppose. I wouldn't describe my mother as a hoarder, far from it, but she knew how to fill a one-bedroom apartment with a lot of stuff which now falls to me to dispose of. To be fair, until four years ago she had a four-bedroom house with large garden and had to compress all of that into a one bedroom retirement apartment, when she moved closer to me.  She tried to hang on to as much as she could during the move, the consequence being that a lot was shoved into cupboards, wardrobes, under the bed and any space she could find to house it all. I have been painstakingly going through it all over the last six weeks or so, as I have written about before

Personal items were divided into keep, throw away or donate to charity. The same applied to furniture. With the best will in the world, I just cannot keep much of mum's furniture - my own house groans with enough as it is and, moreover,  I plan to downsize myself at some point when I get too frail to manage a 6-storey house on my own. So I approached a charity to donate most of the items to them. It's all good quality stuff but "vintage",  or antique even, as my mother was old school and hung on to things all her life and looked after them. However, herein hangs the tale - some of the soft furnishings do not have the up-to-date fire regulation labels so the charities are not able to accept them. They rejected a perfectly good double bed with four drawers underneath, an excellent two-seater sofa-bed, two plush armchairs the size of Narnia and 4 tapestry dining chairs. No fire regulation labels of any kind, you see, let alone up-to-date ones.

My headache began to form. How to get rid of it all? Bearing in mind, I am 67 years of age, widowed and with no muscly men (indeed no men at all)  in the family  to assist me, I approached the local council, as they advertise bulk refuse collections from home. For a cost of anything between £20 and £30 per item they would collect them for me. But (there's always a but) I had to put them on the kerbside for them to collect. Mum's flat is on the first floor and there's only a minuscule lift in the block. If four people stand in the lift at the same time, they get to know one another intimately. The only option is to take it down a flight of fifteen stairs. Picture how I might single-handedly get a double bed from the first floor to the kerbside. Let alone an armchair or two the size of Narnia. Everyone else in the block is elderly - it's a retirement settlement - so no help to be had there. When I put this to the man at the council, his reply was "well, we can't help you, then".

In desperation I turned to the internet and googled house clearance firms. There was a local one so I approached them. To remove five items of furniture and dispose of it on the local council dump, they quoted me £425 plus VAT. That works out at £100 an item - to throw it away! Needless to say, I told them where to go (and it wasn't exactly to the council dump). The old adage, where there's muck, there's brass springs to mind. Not that it's muck. It's all good stuff.  I've had a few sleepless nights since, chewing it over and over in my head, but have now come up with a plan. With a man. And a van. He's quoted me £200 and that includes removal of a few bits of furniture back to my house as well.  Problem sorted.

07 February 2018

Reunited at last

Last Thursday saw Kay and me carrying out my mother's wishes. She and my father were in love all their married life and joined at the hip, so, when my father died in 2001, my mother was hopelessly lost without him. Not a day went by since, when she didn't yearn for him to be still alive and with her. I promised her that, when the time came, her ashes would lie alongside his. Last week, Kay and I took my mother's ashes down to the crematorium on the south coast and did just that. It was emotional to see the very last remains of my mother go, but at the same time uplifting that she and my father were at last reunited after seventeen years to the very day since my father died.

While we were down on the south coast, Kay and I took the opportunity to have a few days' break - a much needed one for me, as the last six months had been horrendous and unrelenting. We booked into a lovely hotel on the seafront. Our room had two balconies and had views of the pier in one direction and Beachy Head in the other. 

On our second day there, Beachy Head beckoned and we walked six miles in blustery icy wind up and down the undulating chalk hills,

past the Belle Tout lighthouse which was moved 56 yards some years ago as it was too close to the edge of the cliff. It won't be long before it is too close to the eroding cliff again.

Just to the centre right of the last picture you can see a grey-roof building at Birling Gap, just before the start of the Seven Sisters,  where we stopped for a welcoming cheese scone and hot chocolate, before walking back the way we had come.  When we got back to the hotel, Kay's face was sore with windburn and I couldn't feel my hands, but I think it did us good to blow away some cobwebs.

The next day the rain was non-stop, so we dived into the shopping precinct and had a shopathon. Far too much was spent on things we didn't really need but had to have! The evenings were spent trying out the local authentic Italian and Thai restaurants. It was just what I needed. We made one last stop on the fourth day to say a wistful goodbye to my mother (and father) again, before heading back to London.

I'm now back to clearing my mother's flat again and trying to find a home for it all - be it with charity shops or in my house. I think I already need another holiday...........


24 January 2018

Clearing Out

The days of January are flying by. We're almost one twelfth of the way through 2018 already. I've had little time to stand still and contemplate my navel.  It's been a busy month.

Following the death of my mother and the Christmas season, I have been on an upward spiral of activity. There is so much paperwork to do announcing my mother's death, or the transfer of utility or financial accounts over to me, or the application for the necessary probate. Telephone calls, emails, letters, bills and forms have suffocated me on a daily basis. In addition to that, I have been clearing out a lifetime's collection of clothes, documents, ornaments and other possessions from my mother's retirement flat. You would imagine a one-bedroom, one-living room flat would be a piece of cake to empty. Not a bit! Because of the compactness of it, every available space has been filled with what once used to be in a four-bedroom house. I have already filled something like twelve bin bags of clothes, bedding and ornaments to give to charity and that's just from the bedroom!  

Kay came to help me last weekend. Sifting through every shelf or drawer or cupboard has brought gasps of amazement from both of us. One old battered suitcase tied up with a bit of string revealed many birth or death certificates dating back to 1865. There were 

Victorian death announcements rimmed in black with carved out weeping angels. Photographs of my grandfather in a huge crowd of colleagues (male only) circa 1920 taken at the bank where he worked. A letter written by my mother to my grandmother on the day I was born. Such a treasure trove of things. Too many to list here.

Every thing is assigned to  one of three piles........... to keep, to give to charity or to throw away. I have tried to limit what we keep, as my house cannot take much more. My daughter has already said she would like some bits of furniture for the day she eventually moves into her own house, so I have to find room temporarily for those items in our garage or cellar. Obviously precious things, heirlooms or  sentimental things are kept but where to put them in my house? So I spend mornings at my mother's flat sifting and then afternoons back at my house, trying to shoe-horn them into a space here. The charity pile is enormous. The twelve bin bags in the bedroom are soon to be joined by even more when we start tackling the lounge and kitchen next week.

I feel guilty that I am disposing of more than I am keeping. I can feel my mother whispering at the back of my head as I assign yet something else to the charity or rubbish pile. "Sorry, mum" I say to the empty room around me. "I just can't possibly take this." It was beginning to bug me quite a bit the other day. When I drove back onto my forecourt and lugged several bags of "keep" stuff out of the car, I looked across to the front door. There lay a six-inch long white feather on the mat. There is a theory that when a loved one dies, the sign of a feather is a message from them, reassuring you. I have written about it before here. My logical side tells me it is a load of hokum. There's a perfectly good  explanation - a white pigeon or magpie probably flew over the house and jettisoned a feather as it did so. My weaker side likes to think it was mum saying "Don't worry, I perfectly understand. You cannot keep everything."