11 November 2023


To my horror, It's been a month since I wrote anything. I've been partly busy but also partly poorly with another flare-up of acid reflux. My throat and stomach feel on fire and it's rendered me a pathetic version of my normal self. So much for the gastroscopy procedure I had done on 15 September.  My GP has increased my medication from two tablets a day (the normal maximum dose) to three a day which I have to take for no longer than a week as it can cause serious problems including liver damage.  I am desperate to get better as I am  going away soon and don't want to be ill, especially as it is a trip I have been longing to do for years. So a bland diet for me. If I never see another boiled egg again, I shall be happy!

I must confess my nerves have been on edge too. What with the stress of not knowing whether I'll be better in time, all the news about Gaza and Israel is really distressing. I know Israel felt justifiably wronged by the Hamas attack on 7 October, but two wrongs don't make a right and what Israel are doing to innocent people in Gaza is beyond belief. They have more than made their point and it's time to hand it over to an arbitrator. Mind you, it's kinda of that that got them in that mess in the first place, when Britain handed over part of Palestine to become the Israeli state in 1947. If you haven't seen it, the TV series The Promise is a good place to start.

16 October 2023

Happy Centenary again

Today, if he were still alive, my father would have been 100 years old.  I posted on 16 August here that my mother would have been 100 too. Dad always joked that he was her toyboy, but only with a two-month age gap.

He was born on 16 October 1923 in Berlin. The youngest of two boys. I suppose you could say his parents were middle-classed, both coming from professional families. His father was Christian,  had served in the First World War and received the Iron Cross for bravery. His mother descended vaguely from a Jewish background, although she had never been in a synagogue in her life and certainly did not practise the faith. Life in 1920s Germany was quite hard, even for the middle classes, and devaluation saw people bringing their weekly wages home in suitcases  as they needed them to to carry the hundreds of banknotes that were almost valueless. His father was a chemist by trade and owned a chemist shop in Berlin, but by the late 1920s they moved to southern Germany where he took up the post of a chemical dye rep for a large chemical company. 

Gradually they began to see the writing on the wall, as the Nazis rose to power. The fact that my grandmother was not a practising Jew or even remotely Jewish, did not count for anything, nor the fact that both their children had been raised as Christians. The Nazis went back six generations to prove your ethnicity and so the family started to make plans in 1938 to escape. Things came to a head when my father's brother, my uncle, was taken at the age of 17 to Buchenwald concentration camp in November 1938, probably as part of the Kristallnacht pogroms.  Fortunately my grandparents were able to "buy him" out of the camp some three months later with the promise that the family would leave and never return to Germany. So in early 1939, my father (aged 15) and uncle (17) were sent to England on the Kindertransport to work on farms. Dad couldn't speak a word of English apart from hello, goodbye and thank you. As luck would have it, he was put on a farm where the family only spoke Gaelic!! Fortunately there was a young lad in the village who was studying German at Oxford and they became friends, helping one another with their respective foreign language skills. 

The British government at that time did not welcome immigrants, even then (sounds familiar?), and the plan was that they could only stay in this country for a year and would then have to move on, but fortunately when war broke out in September 1939, Dad, his brother and their parents (who by then had also safely made it to this country) were allowed to stay.  All three men were then interned on the Isle of Man while their papers were looked into to ensure they weren't German spies. Dad always talked of the British army, who guarded them, being very kind to them. They spent about six months there, before they were given the all-clear. They then joined my grandmother who by then had been employed as a housekeeper for a very rich Quaker family who had helped them move to England. My grandfather became the gardener for the family, both doing very different things from what they had done in Germany. Dad, now a young man, meanwhile worked for Hertfordshire council, clearing land to grow food for the war effort. That is how he met my mother, who  was in the Women's Land Army. (see here). 

After they married in 1947, they lived apart for 3 years, as housing in London had been badly bombed and they each had to live with their parents, who lived on opposite sides of London.  Eventually they were able to rent somewhere together and I came along in 1950. Everything he did, he excelled in. He won prizes for ploughing fields and eventually for baking the perfect Hovis loaf - Dad had after the war learned the profession of bakery and cake confectionary and gradually rose through the ranks of small bakers until he became Manager of the Cake Department of a very famous department store in Piccadilly,London, which serves the Royal Household. Maybe the initials of the store (F&M) means something to you. One of his claims to fame was that he made the wedding cake for Princess Margaret. In order to get on the housing ladder, own his own house and get a mortgage, he also did evening work on 5 weekdays,  teaching cake-making and decoration at evening school. As a child, I barely saw him, except on Sundays, when we as a family made the weekly visit to my German grandmother on the other side of London and Dad was made to mow her lawn or paint a room on his one and only day off. 

In latter years, Dad had heart trouble and my parents decided to move to the south coast where he could then go part-time at a local bakery and take things easier. Even there he took on extra work, teaching patisserie at a local cordon bleu school.  When Kay was born, he was a doting grandfather and used to spend hours in his garage making a dolls house complete with the most amazing miniature furniture. Sadly, when Kay was a small child, it was discovered he had leukaemia.  Unfortunately he went on to get two types simultaneously (chronic lymphatic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia) and he slipped away on 1 February 2001. I shall never forget that awful day as I had just been admitted to hospital myself to undergo a necessary operation (see here).

Kay and I have been at the south coast this weekend, laying flowers at the crematorium, where he rests.  A great man, whom I still miss, even though it is now 22 years since he died.

Dad aged 70

29 September 2023

Fine line

Living alone, as I do, and now over 13 and a half years as a widow, I have increasingly tried to fill up my time, so that I am not always on my own with lonely thoughts or watching too much television. But there is a fine line between being unoccupied and having no time to fit things in. I was much reminded of this today when an old friend I was supposed to meet for coffee this morning, cried off at the last minute as she had gone down with a dreadful cold that had rendered her bedbound. She asked when we could arrange another meeting. She can only do certain days and looking at my diary, the next available date is in a month's time. 

I volunteer at a foodbank once a week, then at the foodbank charity shop once a week, as well as the local park information centre. I go to two choirs and try to get to the gym at least twice a week. That leaves very little time to fit other stuff like housework, shopping, gardening, medical/dental appointments and meetings with friends. Not to mention fitting in my annual flu and covid injections. I suppose I should be thankful I am fit enough to have a busy life, but it can be quite stressful sometimes, when I can't fit things in. I wish I could decide what to drop, but I enjoy all of those things equally. Well, maybe not the covid and flu injections!! 

Additionally, at the moment, Kay is busy trying to find THE wedding dress for her wedding next summer, so I am also busy visiting bridal shops with her. We've been to a few over the last month, but so far nothing has jumped out at her as being THE ONE. We've got another visit at the weekend. As I am going to be the one to give her away, I am also trying to find time to write the first draft of the "Father of the Bride" speech.  Yet another thing to fit in.

19 September 2023

Medical matters

The last few months have been spent sorting out a medical problem I have. Following an operation I had back in 2016 to have a stomach tumour removed, I now have a funny-shaped stomach which can cause me problems from time to time.

The diagram above shows the oesophagus tube at the top coming from the throat into the stomach. The tube at the bottom is the beginning of the intestines (duodenum) leading from the stomach. The little lines at top and bottom of the stomach are the valves or sphincters that keep the food inside the stomach for digestion. The red dot marks the spot where the tumour was growing into the stomach wall and the black line round that red dot is where they cut to remove the tumour. Instead of being bag-shaped my stomach is more like a crescent. I have titanium staples to close off the stomach wall where the tumour was excised.  I have as a result what they call a sliding hiatus hernia, where the top pointy bit of my stomach pokes through my diaphragm and gets stuck there. This can occasionally cause a bit of discomfort, but is bearable. 

My biggest problem is that I suffer from acid reflux, where the stomach acid rises up into the throat and can burn it. I have to watch how late I eat (usually not after 7pm) as I need the food to digest before I lay down to sleep. Also I have to avoid spicy or fried food. It is quite annoying that most restaurants these days seem to add chilli or curry to just about everything, so that it can be a nightmare what to choose when eating out. Alternatives are often deep fried too or doused in onions, which are also to be avoided, so I wish there were more options in restaurants for those requiring a blander diet. I have been on permanent medication (omeprazole) since the operation to reduce acid production, but in latter years  I often wake in the middle of the night choking on acid, as it rises up in my sleep. It is like vomiting while asleep. Usually in my half-sleepiness, I can grab a glass of water to neutralise the acid, but a few months ago, that did not seem to help and my throat and oesophagus were badly burnt and ulcerated. This resulted in a long series of tests to see if the tumour had returned but thankfully the good news was.... it hadn't. 

However the gastroscopy revealed the presence of the hiatus hernia, some polyps caused by long-term use of omeprazole and thirdly that, despite fasting 6 hours prior to the gastroscopy I still had food in my stomach. The consultant changed my medication from omeprazole to an orodispersible lansoprazole and decided to order a second gastroscopy for last Friday. The purpose of that was to stretch the pyloric sphincter - the valve  at the exit of the stomach that closes off the stomach from the duodenum. The consultant explained that when they had removed the tumour, they had cut through nerves in the stomach wall that tell that sphincter to open and release food. That was now a little compromised, which meant that food stays in my stomach longer than it should, as it takes too long to get through that sphincter. By stretching the sphincter, it would encourage it to open better. 

I was told to stop eating the night before the second gastroscopy, so my last meal was at 8pm on Thursday. I also had to refrain from drinking anything - even water - on the day of my procedure. Because I had opted for sedation during the procedure I had to have someone accompany me home afterwards in case I walked in front of a bus and was also supposed to have someone with me for 24 hours. Kay was working nightshifts at the hospital last week and weekend, so couldn't accompany me or sleep over. I got a choir friend to accompany me and a neighbour to be on high alert by phone if I needed her during the night.

My appointment was at 2pm on Friday.  I was less worried about not having eaten for 18 hours, but the journey by train and then bus into central London on a very hot sunny Friday was murder, as I was desperate to drink or even sip something. After I had been given a hefty whack of sedation, the gastroscopy was done, the pyloric sphincter was duly stretched by the consultant and I was given a written report to take home afterwards. Can you believe it, my stomach STILL had food in it, despite fasting for 18 hours! So hopefully that stretching procedure will help. I suppose having food sit around in my stomach that long means there is acid working on it too which makes me more prone to acid reflux especially when lying down in the night. I have had a gentle few days relaxing and on a bland diet, until the stomach recovers. 

Fingers crossed this will do the job. I see the consultant again in January for a catch-up.

05 September 2023

Well worth it

There have been many times over the last few years, when I have considered stopping my blog.  I started it 15 years ago in 2008, when I was going through a tough time, coping with a husband who was intent on killing himself with alcohol. I had stupidly believed keeping it quiet from everyone was the only way to deal with it and certainly the shame and embarrassment I felt about even telling my nearest and dearest, let alone a wider circle of family and friends, was not worth it. I had even made my daughter keep it from her friends at school as I just did not want anyone knowing. How wrong could I be?

Of course that belief could not be sustained and, as my crazy world got crazier and more like a nightmare, and, as my daughter's school work began to suffer, because of the chaos at home, something had to give and my blog was born. It was a mental release for me to type down my thoughts and frustrations and, then it began to morph into a diary and then later a guide for others going through similar alcohol-related problems. The comments I used to get helped me believe others were there for me, even if I didn't know them at all. At times, I'd get up to 70 comments per post and that buoyed me up. Attending Al-Anon (for families living with alcoholism) also made me aware that I was not the only one going through living with an alcoholic and somehow made me open up more and more first to those close to me and then eventually to others who might read the blog.

Nowadays, I often go back to those early posts to relive that nightmare and see how far I've come since,  in being brave enough to cope with a life without my husband. Having no siblings or even cousins, means I am alone in this world now, apart from my daughter Kay, and I have to forge a life alone, finding my own entertainment and making new friends and distractions. It had disheartened me somewhat to see the comments dwindle over the years, as people lost interest in the drama that was my life thirteen years or more ago. Rereading those posts has been an insight into the world I once lived in, but it just seemed it might be time to stop the blog, as the diary was getting less and less interesting, to me and probably to others as well.

Or so I thought. Until I read a comment on my blog yesterday. I had been well aware that there night be those who just read and never comment, but I had living proof of that yesterday, when someone commented out of the blue that I was the reason they had stopped drinking and that they often revisit the early years of my blog to stay sober. It made me feel incredibly humbled that I had actually helped someone. For all I know, I may have helped more than one, but if it has helped just one person re-assess their drinking and the effect on their family, it has indeed been worth it. And so, for that reason alone, I shall continue for the time being to put out the occasional post and keep the blog alive in the hopes it reaches out to someone somewhere in need of support.

For anyone who has alcohol problems or lives with an alcoholic and would like help, please refer to the USEFUL CONTACTS tab at the top of the blog page. For those who want to know what it is like to live with an alcoholic and watch them die, then read the posts between 2008 (when the blog started) and especially up to 2010 (when my husband died). You'll find these in the ARCHIVE tab.

28 August 2023

Battersea Power Station

A few weeks ago, I had a hospital appointment in central London, so Kay and I decided to make a day of it and visit the new Battersea Power station complex. I say "new" but it has been open since October 2022. I just hadn't had a chance to go along and see it before now, although I often pass it on the train.

Work began on the power station in 1929 and was designed by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. By 1935 the first turbine hall A was completed and put into operation. Work on a second turbine hall was halted because of the Second World War. RAF pilots used the smoke from the chimneys to guide them home, as did the Luftwaffe to bomb London. In 1955, the second turbine hall B was completed. In 1980 the Art Deco building was awarded Grade II listed status, but sadly in 1983 the power station ceased to generate electricity and was decommissioned. It lay idle for many years while various investors looked at it but decided against it. Finally, in 2012, Malaysian property investors bought it  to create a new community of homes, shops, cafes, restaurants, cultural venues and open space for London.

Many of the hi
gh-rise flats, which have been built around the power station, with rents of up to £5,000 per month, overlook the Thames, others overlook the adjacent railway lines and many overlook the rooftops of South London. There are offices in the complex too, but can only obviously be accessed by those who work there. The shops inside the actual power station are not the usual High Street chains, but upmarket ones like Cartier, Rolex, Apple, Chanel, Lego, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and too many many more to mention. There is even a Polestar car showroom. The shops are arranged on three levels around what was the original two turbine halls and the bit in the middle is where the boiler hall would have been. There is a food arcade on one of the levels with very many different world cuisines on offer, as well as street food outside on the riverbank.

I rather liked the juxtaposition of the old Art Deco brick building with modern steel and glass. 

The most exciting bit of all is Lift 109 which is a lift that ascends one of the tall chimneys and gives the most amazing 360 degree views of London. It is pricey at £23 per person but well worth the information display beforehand and then the views from the top. We stayed up there for 8 minutes before the lift descended giving ample opportunity to pick out landmarks and take photos.

the lift inside the chimney

the view from above

16 August 2023

Happy Centenary

My mum was born on 16 August 1923, so today she would have been 100, if she had survived. Sadly, she died in 2017 at the age of 94.

She was born in London as the middle of three children. In January 1925, when she was about 18 months old, she, her 3-year-old sister and 6-week-old sister all contracted whooping cough and double pneumonia and ended up in hospital. The two little sisters died in the same week, but my mother thankfully pulled through, although her health was always frail from then on.  

Her father had got a job as a junior in a French bank in the City of London as a teenager, but was called up soon after to fight in the 1914-18 war. He was badly injured in 1917 at Passchendaele, the most life-changing injury being to lose an eye, although other injuries to his head and leg caused shrapnel to give him life-long bad headaches. Although he was able to return to his bank job after the war, he found adding up long columns of figures a strain on his good eye.  There were no calculators, so it was an arduous task. He therefore had little choice but to resign once he could no longer see properly, just at at time when the world was going through a massive economic recession in the 1920s. Mum said they moved after that to a rented shack in the countryside and kept chickens and goats, but, although my grandfather tried to sell the eggs at market, he came up against market cartels who excluded him and it paid very little. Her memory of childhood was eating mashed potato with gravy, day after day, and her only toys being a box of buttons and playing leapfrog with the goats. People on benefits today, just don't know how lucky they are!

Mum's mother was understandably suffering from stress, having lost two children in the same week, and could not settle. Nowadays there would be counselling and it would be labelled Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but there was nothing like that then. Because she could not settle in any one home, they moved location many times between the wars,  back and forth between London and the Essex countryside, so much so that my mother's education suffered. Always having to change school and make new friends did not help her confidence. By the age of 14, she was made to leave school and get a job. She loved doing people's hair and wanted to train as a hairdresser, but her mother said that was a filthy job, handling people's nits, so put her in a factory instead, operating big Heidelberg printing presses!! My mother was very shy and hated having to walk through the gangways where the men whistled at her and made lewd comments. As soon as she could, she got out of there and applied to an advertisement in the window of a ladies' fashion shop, as they wanted a junior assistant. She very much enjoyed that, modelling clothes for customers, and after a few years was trusted to add up the takings and take them to the bank. 

In 1942, at the age of 19, she was called up for war work and she opted for the Women's Land Army. She was posted to Hertfordshire and a hostel in Barnet. Still painfully shy, she found it hard to mix with some of the more loud and experienced London girls in the hostel, who only wanted to go to dances and meet men.  The foreman would send them off to work at local farms, clearing the land or tending to the farm animals. 

Mum  as a Land Girl (centre) meeting the Duchess of Gloucester

One day, she was sent to a farm where there were a lot of men working on the land. They were conscientious objectors or refugees who could not join the forces. The men were tying chains round the trees and connecting the chains to their tractors, then dragging the trees, roots and all, to clear the land. The Land girls were cutting the twigs and branches off the trees and putting them in a pile to be taken away or burnt on a bonfire. My mum tripped over one of the tractor chains and went flying. The handsome young tractor driver, a German refugee called Kurt, climbed down from his tractor and scooped her up. He asked her out, but she was so shy she declined. Kurt was very persistent and over the weeks that followed he kept inviting her on a date until she finally relented. He loved opera, about which she knew so little, so he would take her to watch operas or dine out in London. Considering how shy and reserved she was, introducing a German into the family as her boyfriend, when her father had lost an eye from German gunfire, was quite a bold thing to do!

They married in 1947 and I came along in 1950. They were married nearly 54 years and remained madly in love as ever until the day my father died on 1 February 2001. Because of health problems, she never really had a career, but was a housewife all the time I was growing up, but did have an office job in later years, which she thoroughly enjoyed. They retired to the South coast, but, after Dad died, her arthritis got worse and worse, so she couldn't cope on her own and I moved her closer to me in 2013 to a retirement flat in London, so I could visit her daily and help her.

Enjoying life on the South coast

She died in November 2017 and I miss her so much. It therefore seems right to spend today visiting the South coast resort, where her ashes remain with my Dad's, to spend the day with her.

Happy 100th, Mum. No birthday card from the Queen (or King, as we now have to say, although Mum would have something to say about that, I am sure), but at least I'll be with you in spirit.

26 July 2023

Little things please little minds

Every day I try to do the Wordle puzzle on my phone. I kid myself it keeps my mind sharp and hopefully stops me falling into old age with dementia. I am also rather fond of cryptic crosswords for the same reason. If I can I usually do Wordle while having breakfast, but if busy, I sometimes do it later in the day.  On difficult words, it has sometimes stretched me to six attempts and on a rare occasion I have failed altogether, but my average is about three or four attempts. 

Today I did it first time! Look away, if you don't want to know the answer below.

18 July 2023

This and that

The days seem to fly by these days and suddenly I see it is 15 days since I last posted. I have been busy since my return from Salisbury, partly in my own house and partly in Kay's, partly at the charity shop and partly at choirs, but also with hospital appointments.

To get to the bottom of why my acid reflux is so bad, I have had various hospital tests lined up. First a CT scan which thankfully revealed no major problems and certainly no regrowth of the tumour they removed in 2016. Then an endoscopy ten days ago, which revealed a hiatus hernia (a by-product of the operation which has made my stomach a crescent shape which now pokes through my diaphragm). I also have polyps caused by over-use of omeprazole (I have been on that for 7 years continuously since the operation) and the pyloric sphincter, which allows food to pass from the stomach into the intestines, is very narrow. Despite fasting for 7 hours before the procedure, I still had food in my stomach, so the consultant concluded that my stomach was not evacuating food fast enough. (It would therefore explain why, even when I eat as late as 7 pm, I may still have food in my stomach at 2am, which, when I am horizontal in bed,  is when I wake up choking with acid in my throat.) The plan is to do a second endoscopy in a few weeks' time and stretch the pyloric sphincter to allow food to evacuate faster. I also have an ultrasound planned to rule out gall stones. So it's all happening.

Meanwhile the weeds in Kay's garden have been a challenge. I removed them about 6 weeks ago and already they are the height of triffids. Kay had some friends coming to stay last weekend, see the house for the first time and celebrate her 32nd birthday, so I went over to de-weed yet again. Bindweed had also taken up residence and was wrapping itself around every bush and plant, growing in some cases up to about 4 feet. Trying to disentangle that lot was like doing brain surgery, trying to remove the problem but keeping the plant intact. While I was working in her garden close to the enormous pond there, I was aware of eyes watching me and saw two little frogs with their heads above water watching my every move intensely. 

I have become obsessed with helping out at the foodbank charity shop and think I have missed my vocation as a shop girl! I have enjoyed sorting clothes, pricing them and hanging them up in colour and then size order, as the manager likes, and pottering around to ensure they stay like that, when customers have mixed them all up!

I've got a quieter week this week, so time to devote to other things and my own garden. And blogs. 

03 July 2023

Away days

Last week I had a much-awaited break away from London.  I rarely get the chance to go on holiday these days as I don't have anyone to go with. Kay understandably wants to spend holidays with her fiance and most of my friends go away with their husbands or are too poorly to travel, so I decided, if I wanted a holiday at all, I would need to try to travel alone.  If I could manage that, then I might venture further afield, I thought to myself. 

The first attempt about 7 weeks ago was aborted, because the hotel I was booked into had a massive power cut which rendered them closed for business for a whole week, starting with the date of my departure.  I was thwarted with an attempt to book alternative accommodation and had to abandon the idea. Then I got sick with a flare-up of my old acid reflux trouble and was only able to resume the Salisbury trip last week, but this time I chose a different hotel. 

Why Salisbury? Because V, an old schoolfriend of mine, lives on the outskirts there and as I haven't seen her in over 40+ years, I decided it was high time to correct that. We kept threatening in Christmas cards to visit one another, but life just got in the way and then in 2020 Covid did, putting paid to any visits anywhere because of lockdowns. Finally this year, I decided it was now or never.

G, the husband of another schoolfriend, who sadly passed away 6 years ago,  has also kept in touch and agreed to meet up too, so it was lovely to see them both. The day flew by as we caught up on those missing 40+ years. There were no awkward silences and it was as if we had met regularly. 

While in Salisbury I covered a lot of ground sightseeing. I stayed in a lovely 800-year-old hotel (although it was fortunate enough to have running water, WiFi and TV facilities!) I was also lucky to be the only person on a walking tour of the town so had my own one-to-one guide. A tour of the Cathedral was also a must and the three days just zoomed past. 

The beautiful cathedral built 1220-1258

The 800-year-old hotel

The contraption in the hotel reception used for steaming the ruffs used by choristers

19 June 2023

Food for thought

I regularly volunteer at our local foodbank and have been doing so since 2018. Our local foodbank hands out food on a Tuesday, Friday and Saturday as well as providing a sit-down cooked meal to over a hundred people on Fridays. It also offers a cafe, sewing repairs, advice on benefits and help with reading and writing. The numbers of users have swelled over the years but more so in the last year - probably a lot to do with Ukrainian immigrants and the cost of living crisis. My role has been mainly to bag up a selection of food and hand it out but have also sat many times at the sewing machine and done all sorts of repairs to unravelling seams, torn material, missing buttons and changing the size to fit better where people have lost weight.

The church that runs it has acquired two huge shipping containers in its grounds to fill with donated tins and packets. We regularly collect from the supermarkets that donate food close to use-by dates and of course passers-by drop off bags of food. We also get a lot donated by schools at harvest festival time. However, with more users and less donors because of the cost of living crisis (and the fact that our foodbank has become well-known for being generous), the stocks have dwindled and the church has had to dig deep into its pockets to buy food to supplement the supply.

As a result, it was decided to open a local charity shop to augment the foodbank purse. We secured a shop in one of the neighbouring High Streets and have been kitting it out for the last two weeks - the usual charity shop type of thing selling clothes, shoes, toys, ornaments, books, CDs and DVDs. I have dipped in on several occasions to sort clothes, make sure they were suitable for sale, and sort them into colour and size order in the shop. On Friday, I was busy pricing a lot of items up with tags.   The shop was officially opened on Saturday by the local MP, who has always taken an interest in the foodbank. I shall help out in the future on an ad hoc basis to work in the shop and that will give me something else to do that is worthwhile, whilst still helping at the foodbank itself. On the opening day last Saturday, we took over £1600, so that will help the foodbank, although with over 250 users that will provide no more than £6 per person and of course, rent and services have to be paid on the shop. 

Hopefully the initial euphoria of a new shop on the High Street will not wane and we will keep up this kind of sale on a regular basis. If not, the service we hope to provide to our users will fall into question of its future.

Opening day of the new shop

12 June 2023

I can't stomach this

Well the run of bad luck continues.

Following an operation in 2016 to remove a stomach tumour, I am prone to episodes of acid reflux. This is where acid comes up from the stomach into the throat and, I can tell you, it burns! It is most distressing as it usually happens at night when I am in a deep sleep and I rear up choking. I can best describe it as vomiting in my sleep. I always try to grab a glass of water to neutralise the acid and usually any damage soon passes within a few days.

However, this time, I have been suffering for about 5 weeks. My throat and oesophagus are very sore and ulcerated, which makes talking and swallowing difficult. My stomach behind my breast bone feels as if it has been punched and aches. I generally feel one degree under and listless. No amount of my usual medication or bland diet has soothed it. The good news is I have lost 6 pounds in the last few weeks, but I don't want to lose much more. 

I finally managed to get a telephone consultation with my GP about 2 weeks ago and he fast-tracked me to my old consultant (from 2016) at St Thomas' Hospital whom I saw last week. She is organising an endoscopy (not looking forward to that), a CT scan and an ultrasound scan in the next few weeks to see what is going on. 

20 May 2023

Bad luck

My run of bad luck (sprained ankle in November, Covid in December, washing machine flood in January, ongoing continuing saga of bed delivery) has now been increased by another incident. This week I was due to go on holiday for a few days, but the trip was unexpectedly cancelled at the very last minute.

As I am a widow, an only child with no cousins or wider family and, as my two best friends live at least 60 miles away from me with busy lives of their own, I have nobody really to go away on holiday with. (Sound of violins in the distance.) Before the pandemic I had therefore decided the only way to get a holiday was to go away on my own, but the pandemic soon put a stop to any thoughts on that. 

Over the past few months however, I had decided to resume my courage to go away solo and had decided to start with Salisbury. Not only was that a reasonable train distance from London, but I have an old schoolfriend, with whom I still keep in touch, who lives in an outlying village to Salisbury. We still write to one another at Christmas and usually threaten to visit one another, but life and the years have passed so quickly and suddenly forty-seven years on, we have not seen one another since 1976. We agreed to meet for lunch last Wednesday. I meanwhile had booked into a Wetherspoons hotel for two nights in Salisbury - I thought it fitted the bill as it was closest to the station and the town centre -so that I could travel down by train and sightsee on the Tuesday and Thursday either side of seeing my friend on Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, I was all packed and had just finished my breakfast. My first train connection within London was due to leave within the hour. I was just thinking of checking all the things you check before you leave home, when an email pinged in on my phone. "Reservation Cancellation". In horror I read that my reservation at the hotel had been cancelled. The email was not even from the hotel I had booked but from one in Henley. At first I thought it was a joke but when I tried to ring the hotel, I was getting unobtainable and the Henley hotel was not answering either. In frantic desperation with only half an hour to go before my train, I tried online to find an alternative hotel in Salisbury, but none had availability at such short notice. I had no choice but to abandon the trip altogether. I was so disappointed. To add insult to injury, when I went down to the station to get a refund on my train ticket (which I had bought weeks ago) I was told it was non-refundable.

I have been trying all week to get in touch with the hotel for an explanation but still get the unobtainable tone. Then I found this online. It helps to explain why, but still hasn't sadly pacified my disappointment. What were the chances of that happening on the day I was due to get there?

11 May 2023

Goodnight, sleep tight

You would think buying a bed would be simple. You go into a shop, try out a few, find the one you want, pay for it, have it delivered and "goodnight, sleep tight". That's the theory. In practice I have had the most awful experience.

Back in November, when Kay and her fiance bought a house, I decided to give them my bed to put in their guest bedroom. My bed was nudging 30 years old and I decided maybe it was time for a new one. They say that you should change your bed every 8-10 years. I don't know whether that is just the bed manufacturers' way of getting you to buy new, otherwise they would never make a sale once everybody had one, or whether there is some science in the need to change it that often, but I had deliberately ignored it until now. I had donated my bed on the spur of the moment while Kay had the removal van handy and intended to go looking for a replacement the very next day, except I sprained my ankle (see here) and was virtually housebound for three months, so couldn't go looking until late January. 

Come January, I decided to go to a small shop not far away that I had used in the past for Kay's bed and wanted to give the small shopkeeper some business. These days, there are so many options - single, queen, double, king and super king, not to mention natural fibres, memory foam, latex foam, gel-top, as well as firm/medium/soft tensions. After careful deliberation, I chose a lovely oak frame bed with headboard and footboard and bounced up and down on a few beds until I found the mattress I liked. Easy peasy. Or so I thought. 

I had to wait 4 weeks for the mattress to come over from Ireland (apparently) before the bed and frame were delivered, so by the end of February, having slept on a camping bed since November, I was getting very excited. The day of the bed delivery arrived, two men carried the mattress up to the bedroom and it was then that I noticed...... a dent in the headboard and fingerprint-like stains on the mattress. I rang the shop and took photos and they agreed without any fuss on receipt of photos that they would replace everything. 

some of the stains on the mattress

In the meantime, I had noticed that the mattress I had chosen had no handles (I had mistakenly thought they all did) and, given that I live on my own, turning it periodically (as is advised) would not have been easy, so I took the opportunity to change my order for a more expensive mattress (double the price) with handles. 

I waited another 4 weeks for the replacements to arrive, but finally in  early April mattress number 2 and headboard number 2 arrived. That bedhead was also damaged and I was promised yet another replacement in due course. After several nights it became clear to me that the mattress was far too soft and causing lower backache. It's one thing to try it out in the shop for 30 seconds and quite another to spend a whole night on it. I asked if they could swap it back for the original model but obviously one without stains! I would just have to cope without mattress handles. I also asked if they could get their warehouse to check the wooden headboard for damages before putting it on the delivery van to save a wasted visit. This was promised. The shop had gone to great pains to tell me that they can return a damaged mattress to the manufacturer, but as mattress number 2 was not damaged and merely uncomfortable, they would charge me £290 extra as "scrappage" in other words the only way they could make some money out of my return as they do not have a licence to sell second-hand beds and they would literally have to destroy it.

Another long wait began until the mattress number 3 could be delivered from the manufacturer, but finally this week I was promised it would be delivered. The headboards had however all been checked in the warehouse and none were damage-free, so they were going to speak to the manufacturer with whom they were having some problems anyway. The wait for that would continue. 

Mattress number 3 arrived yesterday. As the delivery men unwrapped it from its packaging and laid it on the bed I noticed the same familiar fingerprint stains on it and pointed them out to the men. They had delivered the very mattress (number 1) that I had returned in February. I rang the shop, but had to leave a detailed message as there is only ever one salesperson in the shop and they cannot answer the phone if dealing with a customer. Shortly thereafter, I got a phone call from the shop's customer service manager located in deepest Surrey somewhere. He was  overflowing with apologies, saying there had been a monumental mix-up. First of all mattress number 1 with stains should never have gone back to be stored in the warehouse as it would cause "contamination" with the rest of their new stock, but somehow or other it had been returned to the warehouse as "stock". Secondly, the message that I wanted the original choice of model  back had somehow been relayed that I wanted the original complete with stains (as if) and that is why it had been delivered yesterday. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I rarely lose my rag with people, but I let fly and said this was disgraceful service. Not only that but I had paid the £290 scrappage fee because I was told they would never resell a used mattress and yet, here I was getting a used mattress (I know, as I had used it previously!) The customer service man assured me this was a very unusual mix-up and should not have happened and there was going to be an Inquiry.  He could not have grovelled more if he had tried. Meanwhile he told me I have another 4-week wait to get mattress number 4.

So here I sit 4 months on still waiting for the perfect mattress and bedhead to materialise.  The customer service man said I was a one-in-a-million for this to happen to. Just my luck!

20 April 2023

Blooming lovely

Just a few yards down the road from where I live is a guerrilla garden - a local resident has taken it upon himself to plant a flower and herb bed on the common grass verge that lines the road. There are little signs up inviting passers by to help themselves to herbs. I have blogged about it here before, as recent strong winds had played havoc with the tree that stood in the middle of the patch and council workers had shown scant regard for the plants, when felling the tree. The colourful plants always cheer me up when I walk past. This is how it looks this week. It's amazing what a few cheerful plants and the goodwill of one person can do for a neighbourhood.

10 April 2023


Following my recent post (see here), I am getting more and more cross at the way the media is presenting the junior doctors' strike. As we go into the next round of strikes this week, it is being portrayed, as if the junior doctors are greedy wanting a 35% pay rise. All I keep hearing is "pay rise" and the "havoc" they will create by going on strike, but nowhere is the real situation being reported.

It is NOT a pay rise. Their pay has been falling over the last fifteen years and has certainly not kept up with inflation. As a result they are earning less in real terms than they were 15 years ago. They are seeking pay restoration not a pay rise. As my daughter put it, imagine you have £4 and over the years that £4 is worth £3. In order to get back to that £4 you need £1. But that £1 is a third of the £3 you now have, so you need 33% to get it up to what you originally had. Add on a bit more for current inflation (which is more than that 2% but let's not be greedy) and there you have your 35%.

Forget the unsociable hours and long shifts they work. They're not sat behind a till in a shop, (although they earn just as little), but making stressful life or death decisions, often so understaffed that the patients are seriously at risk. The Covid pandemic has exhausted them and they feel, justifiably, undervalued and overlooked. Kay has worked all over the Easter weekend and is exhausted. She didn't have time to sit down once during her 12-hour shifts. 

If the media won't explain that, then please pass this on to whoever moans about the strike being a pain in the wotsit. It needs to be told.

26 March 2023


I sing in two different choirs on two separate evenings every week.  I have been lucky that the concerts they produce each term are never on the same day, but this term was different. Not only were they on the same evening but at the same venue at a festival of music! I was worried how logistically it was going to work, as one choir wears white tops and black bottoms and the other is all in black. I had heard we were going to be on stage together and I was having sleepless nights working out how I was going to carry this out without doing a striptease in front of a full audience and darting across the stage like a mad thing from one choir to another. We were also to be joined by a third choir and there were four songs the three choirs were also going to sing together in the finale.

Last night was THE NIGHT.  It was made easier by the fact that each choir took the stage by themselves while the others watched from the wings, so it made a dress-change possible, as I darted round backstage. I was actually on stage for over an hour (with each of the two individual choirs and with all three for the common songs). I was hoarse by the end but I'm still buzzing with excitement as everyone in the audience said one of the choirs I'm in was THE BEST. Here are two extracts of us singing from the musical Wicked - all sung off by heart with no music in front of us.

Part 1

Part 2

Once I got home, I was too excited to go to sleep so sat up long past midnight, which of course meant it was past 1 am, as the clocks went forward an hour today for summertime. We have William Willett to thank for that as he came from an area not far from where I live - in fact where I grew up as a teenager - in Petts Wood. There is a memorial to him in the woods for his daylight saving measures and the local pub is called The Daylight Inn. I did not thank William Willett for the hour's sleep I subsequently lost as today I am feeling definitely sleepy.

Daylight Inn, Petts Wood

13 March 2023

Strike while the iron is hot

Kay is on strike today, tomorrow and Wednesday. For those who don't know, she is a junior NHS doctor employed at a busy London hospital. She will be striking  this week together with thousands of other doctors. From conversations I have had with people and from some coverage on the media, it is not altogether clear what the reasoning behind the strike is and why doctors should have an almost 100% walk-out for three solid days  and why they are asking for a 35% pay-rise. So I hope I can explain here. But before people worry about who will cover their work while they strike, it will done by consultants, who are fully behind their juniors striking.

First, who are the junior doctors?   A "junior doctor" is anyone from someone who has only just got their medical degree from university right up to just below Consultant level. It takes at least 11 years or more to get to consultant level so the junior doctors are typically aged from about 25 to 40 years old. Some are older if they have taken alternative routes or started later. By then most will have partners, children and mortgage commitments.  Despite being called "junior", from the moment they leave university they are thrown into the deep end and when they do on-call shifts -at weekends or at night - they can be the only doctor in the whole hospital dealing with hundreds of patients who might suddenly get worse. So although  termed "junior" they are expected to step up to the plate and work hard making stressful life-and-death decisions on their own.  

During those 11 years or so, they are told (not given a choice) where they will be posted and move around  each year from hospital to hospital and from rotation to rotation until they gain more experience in different specialities. This can mean they cannot put down roots anywhere nor take out mortgages if, say, they are expected to move every year to somewhere fifty miles or more away. Their children may have to be moved to another school, or couples live apart. It doesn't make for an easy home life.

Home life is not easy anyway. In their spare time they regularly have to study for even more exams that will qualify them to move up the career ladder. They don't get study leave - it is done in their spare time. They have to pay for these exams too, some of them averagely costing about £600 - £800 which they don't get reimbursed. If they fail the exam, they pay again. Studying on top of an often 60-hour week doesn't come easy and means less relaxation time after a stressful working week.  Not only exams, but also having to write and present papers, do the odd bit of teaching to those more junior than them - it all hacks away at less time to de-stress.

It is always expected by NHS management that the staff will shut up and put up with their conditions. A conscientious doctor cannot walk away from a patient just because their shift technically finishes at a certain time. If a patient is really sick and needs reviewing or, in the extreme, resuscitation, a doctor will stay sometimes one or two hours beyond their shift to deal with it.  If they have already done a 12-hour shift, that is a big ask.  Covid saw a demoralised workforce, mentally shattered and with no respect for what they had done. Agreed, the public clapped for them at the beginning, but now moan that there are long waiting lists. The general praise was short-lived and the government support pushed under the carpet. Many of the workforce have  left either to retrain away from medicine or emigrate to places like Australia or America, where doctors are held in higher regard and paid accordingly. This has left existing staff under even more pressure and feeling burnt out.  Not to mention undervalued. 

The money is just the last straw. The fact is that they have not had pay rises since 2008 and so with inflation have actually taken a 35% pay cut.  As one recent poster put it, they get paid less than someone who serves coffee in Pret a Manger. Why would you study at university for six years, be faced with endless stressful life-and-death decisions, have to give up free time to study even more and get paid the same as a coffee barista with shorter working hours and more free time? It's a no brainer. 

So please support the strike. The junior doctors are not being greedy, they just want to be valued for their hard work and the difficult conditions they have worked under, especially during and since Covid. 

06 March 2023


Today it is thirteen years since Greg died. I still remember those last 24 hours vividly as we sat around his Intensive Care bed and watched him fade away.  I have said before that I should stop counting the years, but it is hard to do. Like any anniversary or important date, it is hard to stop the mind from remembering and wanting to somehow mark it. If it were a wedding anniversary it would be called a Lace one. I feel as if I am looking through the gossamer fine threads to recall a time when all was well in our marriage and we were a normal couple, a normal family living in a normal household. Alcohol shot all that to pieces - to the fine gossamer thread I look through now. 

His death has in some ways left me strong enough to cope with living alone and dealing alone with everything that most couples share. Although friends sympathise, I am sure they don't realise that household chores, gardening, DIY - everything - are solely my domain now and not things that can be shared with a partner. If I don't do it, it doesn't get done. For the last week, I have been decorating one of the bedrooms, up to my eyes in paint and dustsheets, heaving furniture about, but still having to cook a dinner, wash-up, put the bins (trash) out and deal with all the minutiae of everyday life. Meanwhile the garden needs tidying and I need to get someone in to check an electrical problem. The list is never-ending, but I have no choice but to do it all alone. 

A few people have suggested I am young enough to look for another partner. For sure I spend far too many days alone and far too many a long evening watching far too much television to pass the dark evenings, but I am nervous to go down a route that might cause more problems than it solves. "Once bitten, twice shy" springs to mind.   Also, part of me now feels that after 13 years of making decisions for myself, I might find it hard to share decision making with someone else, over even the simplest of things. I'm reading a novel at the moment, where it mentions "women mourn, men replace". In other words men remarry faster than women. Whether I have mourned enough remains to be seen, but it is hard to shrug off a lifetime of memories and habits.  I also feel I would somehow be betraying Greg to move on.  

I admit freely that I miss the company and going for a spontaneous walk with someone, or sharing a thought, sharing a meal. It is not even as if I have any siblings or cousins I might spend some time with - I am the only child of an only child.  I have thrown myself into choir rehearsals and volunteering at the local foodbank to keep me busy and distracted, so as not to spend a day without talking to a soul.  Thank goodness, since November,  I have my daughter Kay, now living a fifteen-minute walk from me, although she is very busy with her career and has limited time to herself, let alone with me. I have spent the last couple of months helping her with her much-needed garden makeover, which has helped distract me and pass many an hour. I know it could be far worse, as you do hear of widowed people who are completely cut-off and don't see a soul from one end of the month to the next.

It is even harder in some ways for Kay at the moment. As part of her work, she is now working in the very Intensive Care ward where Greg died and sees his bed with someone else now lying in it. How hard must that be? She was just starting a Medicine course at university, when he died. She could have gone off the rails, turned to drugs or drink, and slipped through the net herself. To her credit, she fought hard against her emotions, studied hard, became the excellent doctor she now is and carved a bright future with a partner and home of her own. 

Meanwhile, today sees Kay and me visiting the crematorium to place flowers and look at the Book of Remembrance where Greg's death is listed. Proof it happened. Proof he existed. Something that, in reality, looking through the lace, seems to be slipping further and further into history.  

14 February 2023

On the tiles

I have been having some work done on my guest bedroom. Having had painters in to strip some woodchip off the walls, replaster and then paint, I still have one alcove unfinished. It is a small alcove with a wash basin in it. I want it tiled round the three surrounding walls and round the basin itself.  It is not a massive job and the tiling is only 2.65 square metres.

Finding a tiler to do that work has been like looking for the Loch Ness monster. They're either too busy, or don't bother to answer my approach to them or, in one case, quote an exorbitant price in the hope I'll go away. Bear in mind, I will provide and already have the tiles, one quote just for labour was £800.  Seriously? At this rate, I may end up attempting to tile it myself. 

04 February 2023

Taming the Wilderness

My daughter Kay and her fiance Darcy (not real names obviously) have been living in their first owned home for three months now. They both have extremely busy, tiring and arduous jobs which take up most of their time and energy, so have little time for anything else. 

The house is an Edwardian terrace in a quiet road just off the  High Street. The previous owner was an elderly lady who has gone into a care home.  The house is in a bit of state, which is why Kay and Darcy were able to afford it, as London property prices are easily three times and often seven times those in other English cities and towns. Despite the high price tag, it needs a hell of a lot of work on it. Not a lot has been done to it in the last 50 years I reckon. There is only one electrical socket in each room, so badly needs rewiring. The plumbing is in a state and the antiquated central heating needs replacing. There is a downstairs bathroom and a miniscule bathroom upstairs which is little more than a toilet cubicle with a shower squashed in, so there are plans to make the upstairs bathroom bigger and move the boiler on the landing downstairs to make room for it.

So far, Kay and Darcy have painted the kitchen cupboard doors to make the kitchen brighter. Originally it had very dark hand-made mahogany cupboards, but now is a peaceful light blue which has cheered the kitchen up no end. No other major work has started yet, because they are both so busy with their careers. 

The front garden, tiny as it is, was so overgrown, that the internet provider could not get in to put his ladder up to connect them to the internet and went away, cursing that they would need to address the garden before he would return. I managed to hire a gardener to prune a tree, dig a trench of earth away from the house that was blocking vital air vents  and remove a tiny pond (yes, there was one in the front garden and the garden is only about 10 feet by five feet!!). The internet man returned and wifi was finally installed in early January.

Over three separate days, Kay and I have tackled the back garden together.  It too was badly in need of some tender loving care and looked like a wilderness.  I could picture the prince hacking his way through the forest to get to the sleeping beauty. You get the idea. Virginia Creeper had grown up the back of the house as high as the roof and spread across the upstairs windows so you could not see out. It had even spread across to the neighbour's windows upstairs. Ivy bushes lined both borders to the left and right and had grown to a height of about 12 feet, so badly needed chopping back. There were all manner of dead bushes and two fruit trees ( a pear and an apple) that were so shallowly planted, they rocked from side to side. Brambles had soared 15 feet high and tangled into trees, ivy and bushes, so it needed a brain surgeon to painstakingly pick through what branch belonged to what. We filled bag upon bag of garden waste and made many trips to the local tip. There is still a lot to do. 

There is a pond that takes up most of the back garden. There is no lawn at all but a tiny path that meanders through the wilderness and around the pond.  I almost fell in it the first time I visited, as the brambles and ivy had completely covered the pond, so i did not know it was there! But it is stagnant and full of brown rotting apples that float across its surface. That's a job for another day. We keep discovering all sorts of metal objects - two rusting cockerels, a lobster, dragonfly and a flowerpot man to name a few. I'm  sure we'll find more.

There's still a quarter of the garden to tackle, but that involves more brambles, more ivy, a dilapidated shed and what looks like a fox or badger hole that burrows diagonally down into the centre of the earth. We have seen two foxes brazenly stroll across the back fence during daytime, so we assume that is their home, but hopefully for not much longer, as we have barricaded the hole up with bramble cuttings. They'll have to use an alternative exit in future.

a corner of the garden before

A few hours later

25 January 2023


I don't know why, but this last 12 months I have been accident-prone. I think it's because I am always in a rush to do things and overtake myself on the way back, if you see what I mean. In the last 12 months I have broken two toes (one on each foot) and badly sprained my ankle. The toes were injured in two separate incidents - one when a tin can fell off a high shelf while I was volunteering at our local foodbank, the other when I slipped on a wet floor. I posted about the recent ankle injury in November.

To add to this list of accidents, I now have a bruise and a bump on my forehead. I had gone at the weekend to collect a friend who was doing a shift with me at our park information centre. Her car had broken down en route to the shift and I agreed to fetch her but was unsure where exactly she was. I parked up, got out of the car to see if I could find her on foot, but then at the last minute decided to dive back into my car to look up my exact location on a street map. The sun was in my eyes and I ended up head-butting my car roof, as I missed the doorway! Boy, did that hurt!

Fortunately the ankle is healing nicely. As one thing heals, I seem to injure another. Meanwhile I am still waiting for my new bed to be delivered.  I ordered it two weeks ago and was told delivery would be in 2-4 weeks. I am now in my 11th week of sleeping on a narrow (2-foot-wide) camp bed. I shan't know myself when the new one finally arrives. I shall sleep for a week.