23 November 2021

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

I've been busy the last few weeks - too busy to blog and read other's blogs. The reason? Because I have been decorating a room that hasn't seen paint or tender-loving care for over twenty-five years. One of  our smaller bedrooms is grandiosely called The Study, because that is what it is. It's a workroom with desk , filing cabinet and 6 ceiling to floor bookcases that line the room. It once boasted two his-and-hers desks, but I have long since dismantled one of them and put a sofa bed in its place which can double as a bedroom if need be.

The reason it has not been decorated in over twenty years is quite simple. In my six-storey house with only one room on each storey, it is impossible to move furniture from a room without moving it up or down a flight of stairs, which, for me on my own, is nigh on impossible. It means furniture has to stay in a room if it is being decorated, but when the room is lined with bookcases crammed with books and paraphernalia, it is virtually impossible.

Or so I thought. I had been planning to decorate the house starting with the very top and moving down. To this end, I have hired a painter to start in the New Year, as one room needs replastering and quite outside my skill set, but I knew  (and he confirmed) that painting the study would be a logistical nightmare. I sat on the idea for a while but one day I had a good hard look at the logistics and worked out a way to do it all myself. This is the reason I have been absent for so long -as it took a good while to accomplish single-handedly and I can say with some real satisfaction that I am cream-crackered.

First, I covered everything with dust sheets and painted the ceiling. That was by far the easy bit, although I hate painting ceilings with a passion, especially now I seem to have arthritis in my neck. Then came the difficult bit. I had to pack up all the books and items on two bookcases, find room to store them in another room  on another level a staircase away. I then dragged (with difficulty) the two bookcases away from the wall into the middle of the room, painted the wall and skirting behind them, dragged the bookcases back into position the following day and reloaded the shelves with the books and items. I then moved on to another two bookcases and so on over the course of a week until the wall behind all six bookcases had been painted. I then moved on to the other two walls in the corner of which is a huge L-shape desk built by Greg and which is attached to the floor. I dismantled that and painted the walls in a very vibrant peacock blue which matches some material I am going to make a roman blind out of. I ordered a large rug to cover a very sad looking carpet that cannot be replaced because of the same logistical problems of doing it with all the bookcases in the room.

Except for the blind, which I shall make in the next few weeks, I have now finally finished and am chuffed with the result. I have never known The Study looking so good and it smells so fresh too.

26 October 2021

Pin Cushion

Well, I'm well and truly punctured. I had my flu injection last week and my Covid booster yesterday, so am now feeling like a pin cushion. I've heard many reports of the Covid booster giving you quite dramatic side effects resulting in at least 24 hours if not a week in bed with a high temperature and aches and pains. So I was rather apprehensive about it. So far, so good. The only side effect is a very sore arm indeed. However, not only does it ache when I raise my arm but it aches ALL THE TIME, like I have been kicked by a horse. It kept me awake for some of the night, but at least I don't feel ill. and the main advantage is that it will give me some protection against the dreaded viruses doing the rounds.

I also had a very special appointment yesterday to discuss the possibility of having a tooth implant to fill an enormous gap where a molar tooth was extracted a few years ago. Sharp food seems to get right up inside the cavity and hurt when I eat. The prosthodontist was a lovely man and very approachable. He did not try to push the procedure on me, but took copious 3D scans and xrays of my mouth which appeared in 3D like a set of false teeth  floating on the computer screen. The procedure is complicated. First I would need to have a sinus lift as the sinus has sagged down. Once lifted, it would be stitched into place and then the stitches would need removing. My jaw bone has shrunk too, so it would need a bone graft first to increase it (they use cow bone). Then I would have to wait for that to grow in. Then the implant would be drilled in. Another few months wait and then the crown. The cost of £5000 was what I expected, but the procedure would take about 18 months in all. So not a quick fix. There is a second gap too which is less complicated and slightly less expensive but would still require a bone graft. He's asked me to go away and think about it - his suggestion, not mine.  As I say, he is not the sort to pressure me into it. 

Do I?  Don't I?  I hate making decisions. 

05 October 2021


Last night I slept badly, in fact very badly, and I knew what was worrying me.  I had very little petrol left in the car and I knew I needed to do a lot of driving about this week. I was also worrying as Kay also had little petrol in her car - only enough for 25 miles - and she said she would need to get a taxi to and from work at the hospital over the next few days or weeks, if she couldn't find any.

The recent shortage of any shape or form of petrol in London and the South-East has been diabolical. Since news of the petrol shortage at filling stations was "leaked" last week, the human race has shown its true colours in all its technicolour glory. The panickers rallied round in their thousands resulting in people filling up any receptacle imaginable to get in on the bandwagon before the pumps ran dry. It was toilet rolls at dawn all over again. The result was that the pumps literally ran dry overnight and there were no tanker drivers to replenish them again. Last week I had a quarter of a tank of petrol still in my car, so I let the idiots take their fill, hoping that by this week I could step in to fill my car once they had crawled back under their stones.

No such luck.  As soon as any random filling station managed to get a supply, the idiots were going back and back to fill and refill, even for £5-worth, lest they share it with those who really needed it and were running low. Key workers, especially NHS staff, were left in tears as they could find no petrol anywhere to get them to their vital work. Even ambulances were having to join queues not knowing if there was any petrol at the end of it.  The BBC news reported that most of the country was functioning well, but in the South-East and London there was no petrol to be had. Filling stations were either closed completely or just open to sell groceries from their shops, but the pumps were locked. When a random delivery did appear, word  spread on Facebook groups and the queues stretched literally for miles, meaning you could queue for over two hours just to get to the head of the queue as petrol ran out again. The queues were causing congestion in the roads, buses were doing U-turns in the High Street to find a detour. It was unbelievable the hostility it caused as tempers soared. 

As my quarter of a tank went down more and more towards the red line, I worried whether I would ever find a petrol station open.  There are at least  six within a mile or two of me, but every single one was closed with signs saying "No petrol". Rumours were saying you had to go away from London as far south as Sevenoaks to find some, but even that wasn't guaranteed, the irony being that to find some precious petrol, you were using up much-needed petrol in the process. Even the news that the army was being brought in to drive the  tankers as of yesterday brought no relief. The filling stations still remained closed yesterday. 

My anxiety obviously was heavy in my mind last night as I agonised how I was going to get some. I even contemplated walking a fair distance in torrential rain to get to my Pilates class this morning to save what little I had for a trip to choir tonight in the dark, when I would prefer not to walk the dark streets. By 6am I gave up any idea of more sleep and checked my local Facebook group. Someone had posted that a Tesco filling station about two miles away had petrol and (even more appealing) no queues. Forgoing any ablutions or breakfast, I hurled myself into my car and with fingers crossed, I set off for Tesco. To my utter delight the petrol station was open and I only had to queue about 5 minutes - just to wait for the driver in front to pay and return to his car.

First World problems, I know, but I cannot tell you  how relieved I am to be on the road again. Kay also managed to fill her tank up this morning too. So we both hope we needn't worry again for another few weeks or more. Hopefully by then the crisis will be over.

28 September 2021


For the first half of the pandemic so far, I managed to maintain my weight at a healthy level and was well within the healthy BMI range. However, my birthday in November and Christmas in December saw a few pounds pile on as I binged on chocolates (bought as presents) and guzzled wine (to celebrate my big 7-0). I suddenly found I was half a stone heavier than I should be and doing up zips was a bit more of a challenge. More worryingly, a routine blood test revealed I was nudging the pre-diabetic range and my doctor advised me to enrol in a free set of gym sessions paid for by the good old National Health Service.

With the recent easing of lockdown, I had also been approached by my pilates teacher to see if I wanted to resume sessions with her, so since the beginning of September I now find I have two intense hour-long workouts each week - one for pilates and one on equipment in the gym. In addition to that, I have returned to volunteering at the local food bank serving food to the many customers who attend. It often involves lugging heavy crates each containing some 30 tins or more across the church hall. I reckon I'm getting more muscles than Popeye and ache in places I didn't know I had places. Still, the good news is that those extra pounds are coming off again and I can fit into my clothes again more comfortably. Just in time for my next birthday and Christmas!

13 September 2021


I've just come back from a few days away from home - my first holiday in 18 months. I think Kay was feeling sorry for me and the fact that my days of going away anywhere are limited unless I do it on my own, so she offered to take me somewhere for a change of scene. We didn't want to travel too far, as we only had four days and didn't want to spend it travelling too far. I chose Thanet in Kent, as I don't know that area at all.

Thanet was once an island separated from the mainland by a channel of water, but it is no longer an island. It sits wholly on chalk and has the large towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate on its shores. It probably gets its name from the Celtic word "teine" meaning bright or fire or bonfire and "arth" meaning height.  There may well have been bonfire or beacons were arranged along the coastline. The name "Tenet" was listed in the Domesday book of 1086.

Kay and I booked an airbnb flat in Ramsgate and made that our base. Our flat was at the top of a Georgian house in a crescent overlooking the seafront, so we had lovely views of the harbour and on a clear day (which it was for the most part) we could see France. 

There wasn't a lot to see in Ramsgate itself although two things stood out for me.  One was this building right on the harbour front

which is the Ramsgate Home for Smack boys founded in 1881. Apparently, it was built by a local vicar who saw the need for spiritual guidance and physical help for the boys, some as young as ten,  who made up the crews of the sailing smacks who fished out of Ramsgate in the nineteenth century. It was dangerous and arduous work, especially for the young apprentices who were called Smack Boys. When these boys were ashore, they were provided with rooms above the church and later in the Smack Boys Home next door.

Another Ramsgate sight worth visiting is the Ramsgate Tunnels. These were started between the two world wars, after Ramsgate was bombed in the First World War and many residents were killed. As the Second World War approached, it became clear the tunnels would need to be finished to act as an air-raid shelter for the citizens of the town.  Extensive tunnels stretching nearly three miles were dug underground through the chalk, some as deep as 80 feet, and with many entrances, so nobody was more than five minutes away from one. The tunnels were officially opened by the Duke of Kent just in time for the outbreak of war in 1939. 

When an air-raid siren was heard, up to 60,000 c
ould be given shelter down there until the all-clear siren was called. When some people found they had no home to return to, as it had been bombed, up to 300 families lived down there on a permanent basis. It was very claustrophobic even for the 90-minute tour, so goodness knows what it was like to live down there night after night during the bombing raids with so many people sharing chemical toilets! People who moan about living conditions these days have no idea.

Kay and I managed a few trips to Whitstable, Deal and Sandwich as well as a 5-mile walk to Broadstairs and back over the clifftops. Sadly the Dickens museum was temporarily closed because of Covid, but we were able to see Bleak House from the outside. 

Beach at Broadstairs

Deal Castle

Whitstable harbour

All in all, it was a very pleasant few days and a wonderful change of scene for me, having been like a hermit for the last 18 months.  The weather played its part too and the sun shone brightly and warmly for us on three out of the four days. The strong sea air did us the power of good and we returned home ready to face whatever Covid can fling at us this winter.

24 August 2021

Molto pericoloso

Reading a recent post by Yorkshire Pudding on his blog about the mishaps that occur while on holiday, I was reminded about an incident that occurred on our first trip to Italy. At the time, Greg and I were newly married and living in Cologne, where he worked as a journalist for a radio station there. We had decided to buy a two-man frame tent for a holiday and drive down through southern Germany and Switzerland to northern Italy. Greg had a basic knowledge of Italian and I'd done Latin up to A-Level, so what could go wrong?

On our way down, we stopped overnight in a swish hotel in Bern and then continued the next day through the Alps, arriving in Italy after dark.  In those days and I'm talking here about 1977, we had no satnav or mobile phones or internet, just old-fashioned map books, so we randomly picked Savona as good a place as any to head for. It was on the coast and therefore must have a beach and be beautiful. We arrived at a crowded campsite just before midnight and, much to our neighbours' annoyance, pitched our frame tent, collapsing into bed, tired after a long journey and after having to build our "home" as well.

The next morning we woke early to the sound of running water. We had pitched our tent literally right next to one of the main water taps for the whole campsite. In the dark, we had failed to see that the night before.  There was a queue of people alongside our tent waiting to top up their water supplies. Even worse, when we surveyed the panoramic view of the surrounding landscape from our hilltop campsite spot, it seemed Savona was an industrial town and we had endless views of factory chimneys, dockland cranes and a concrete jungle. Needless to say, after one more night there, we decided to cut our losses and move on again. 

I should also add at this point that Greg's boast that his Italian would be fine soon met its test when he stopped to buy two ice creams and asked for ghiaccio, which is in fact ice. Suffice to say we were handed two lumps of ice which I teased him about endlessly for months after. 

It did not help that we were driving a car with German number plates and Italians were still hostile to Germans at that time, so that we often encountered people who would mock shoot at us, as we drove along.

Eventually, we found a lovely resort with a much nicer campsite further along the coast called Levanto, near La Spezia, and set up home all over again there. We did trips to Pisa and along the coast to the Cinqueterra region such as Portofino and Rapallo. We relaxed and enjoyed the sun, the lovely food and the sparkling beauty of the region.

On our very last morning, we went down to the beach for one last swim and a sit on the beach.  We were planning to leave the campsite at about lunchtime to do the drive back to Cologne all in one go. Greg went into the sea for one last swim and, as he walked back up the beach, he noticed some seaweed caught in the elastic of his swimming trunks. He went to pull it out and it was then that he realised it was not seaweed. It was a scorpion, about two inches long. He threw it to the ground and tried to bludgeon it with a rock. An Italian woman sitting nearby showed interest at this and Greg went over to her to show her the dead scorpion. This was the point when she told him it was "molto pericoloso" (very dangerous) and drew a finger across her neck.

We didn't know whether to laugh or cry,  but we had more pressing things to deal with, as we still needed to pack up our tent and belongings to head back to Cologne. We started to put all our belongings in the car and then dismantled the tent,  so the car was absolutely full to the roof. All that was left was an old cardboard box that we had kept some tinned food in over the two weeks we were there. Having used up the food, Greg started to tear up the box to put in the rubbish bins. As he was doing so, a scorpion crawled out from a seam of the box. An identical one to the one on the beach.

By now the sun was at its height of midday and searing. We still had a very long drive home ahead, but we could not know if, having found two scorpions that day, there were more amongst our belongings in the car. To take it all out and examine every bit of it would take hours. It was far too hot and we didn't have the time to spare.  We started the drive back, but with every tickle on the back of our necks, we feared the worst. We arrived back in Cologne at 2 am, exhausted, hungry and nervous wrecks

Rather than unpack the car there and then, we left everything in it. Slowly and meticulously over the next few days, we took everything out of the car and examined it with a fine tooth comb to ensure it was scorpion-free. We never did find another one, but every tickle on our skin had us checking for weeks on end afterwards. 

07 August 2021

Sad news

When I had a dog and cat, I used to visit a local vet called Brien - an Australian who had a very no-nonsense approach to life. If he thought a particular form of treatment was unnecessary he would say so.  For example, he would not always shave the animal pre-surgery as he said the antiseptic would sterilise the fur just as well and avoid hair having to grow back irritatingly stubbly. I trusted him implicitly and he treated me more like a friend than the more formal vet/pet owner relationship.  He even once did a house visit on a Sunday when my dog was taken so poorly and I couldn't lift it down several flights of stairs into my car for an emergency consultation.  Brien was there sympathising when eventually I had to have both my cat and dog put down in their old age. 

To my horror I recently learned that a couple of years ago, just as he was on the verge of retiring, he was bitten by a feisty cat which set off an infection and sepsis.  He was hospitalised for over 6 months, could barely move, wasn't able to swallow and therefore unable to eat. His wife was forced to sell the veterinary practice and, although Brien came home again, he was a shadow of his former self and was wheelchair-bound and feeding through a tube.  I also gather that the vet who had taken over the practice was given strict instructions not to say why Brien had left, other than that he was very ill so as not to reach the ears of (and upset) the lady whose cat had attacked him.  In this day and age where people are encouraged to sue for every little thing that goes wrong, it struck me how noble it was of Brien not to blame the cat and seek compensation. But what a way to end a career and start retirement. 

Sadly I found out today from a friend of his family that Brien died earlier this week. Such a sad story and a sad end to a whole life dedicated to animals. 

21 July 2021

Chinese Take-away

A couple of months ago, I stupidly reacted to an advert that popped up on my smartphone feed. It was for some sandals that looked rather snazzy and I clicked BUY in an instant. The price including postage was $47.88. I did wonder if the retailer was in the USA, because the price was in dollars, but thought no more about it. 

Weeks went by with no sign of the delivery but finally my fears of a no-show were allayed some four weeks later when the postman delivered the parcel.... covered in Chinese stickers and customs labels. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I opened the parcel and eagerly tried on the sandals. They didn't fit. Feeling like one of the ugly sisters when the Prince turns up with the glass slipper, I tried and tried to get my foot into the sandal, but my toes hung out the end by several inches.  I had ordered a UK 6 or European 39. Then I looked at a label stuck to the sole. They had sent me European size 36 or a UK size 3. No wonder they didn't fit.

I dug out the order confirmation email and contacted the company explaining that they had sent the wrong size. I offered to send the shoes back and requested a refund or replacement.  The next day a girl called Allina replied. She was sorry for any inconvenience and suggested I keep the shoes and they give me a 10% refund. Alternatively, I could reorder and get a  20% discount. She clearly did not understand they had sent the wrong shoes and that I did not want to either suffer a 90% financial loss or reorder paying a further 80% more for their mistake. 

When I went back onto their website this message filled me with confidence!

I messaged Alina back, saying I could not accept her offer. Dutifully she replied the next day raising the refund offer to 30%, meaning I would still pay 70% of the cost for shoes I could not wear because of THEIR mistake.

Again, I messaged Allina and said I could not accept her offer. It was THEIR mistake not mine and I wanted a full refund or a replacement with the correct size.

The next day Allina replied. The best they could offer was a 50% refund but I would need to return the shoes and she suggested the postage, which I would have to cover,  would be high, making it an even worse financial loss for me. I reminded Allina that it meant I was still paying for her company's mistake. It fell on deaf ears. 

In frustration I approached Paypal. After a week or so in their resolution centre, they sided with me. However they said that I would have to return the shoes to China, pay the tracked postage, get proof of postage to upload onto the Paypal website and then I would be refunded the 100% cost of the shoes. 

When it came to post them, I was rather shocked that the cost of the postage and tracking would be £16.60, almost half of the refund I expected to get. I decided I would have to accept that as the best I could hope for and chalk it up to experience. For a split second, I did wonder whether it was worth even going through the return process, but my anger over Chinese customer relations got the better of me. For me, it was now not so much about recovering my losses, but more a war against unfair consumer practice.  I decided I would sooner lose 50% of my costs to Royal Mail to send the shoes back than give a penny to the Chinese company whose customer service is non-existent.  This morning, Paypal inform me, having seen my proof of postage I uploaded to their website, that they have refunded my account with the total cost of the shoes and charged the Chinese company. I feel somewhat relieved and slightly smug. Is that bad of me?

Needless to say, I shall steer clear of adverts in the future which involve trade with China. It just ain't worth the hassle. 

14 July 2021

Thirty years ago

I can remember exactly what I was doing thirty years ago today on 14 July 1991. I was in labour at our local hospital. Just after lunch I had the very beginnings of labour pains and by 10:54 pm our darling daughter Kay was born. She was very much wanted and our one and only. I had conceived naturally at the age of 40 after a decade of disappointment, just when we had given up all hope. Given I was a geriatric mother, it all went swimmingly well - the pregnancy and the birth itself. Greg took her in his arms and sang La Marseillaise as she was born on the French Bastille Day!

Kay did not and has never disappointed us. Apart from not sleeping through the night until she was eight years old, she has been a delight and wonder. Even when her father died in her first year at university, she pulled all her strength together to carry on with medical school and has become the successful career woman she is today.

Last week we celebrated an early 30th (and my belated 70th) with afternoon tea at the Savoy. We got all dolled up and took the train to central London - for me the first journey in a year. We were treated by the Savoy staff like royalty. Afterwards we strolled over the bridge to the Southbank and basked in sunlight watching the evening crowds strolling along. The following day we were joined by her boyfriend and had another grand celebration at home.

Kay has now taken a much-needed break from her strenuous 16 months in Intensive Care and has two weeks relaxing in Cornwall with her boyfriend. She deserves it so much, as she is physically and emotionally spent after what she has dealt with at work. She'll be celebrating again today.

Happy Birthday, Darling. Enjoy your big day.

My own cake-making effort

06 July 2021

Social butterfly

Having lived in almost total isolation for the last 16 months because of Covid  (not going out for anything including not for groceries) and having only seen Kay on a handful of occasions since last August, with the occasional distanced chat with a neighbour if out walking round the block for exercise, I think I have coped quite well. It is true I have watched far too much television and almost worn out the remote control. I have probably watched about 4 or 5 hours a day.  I  don't think people who have isolated in couples have quite understood the sheer loneliness of living alone. But as I am an only child, I am used to occupying my time constructively. I have also done lots of knitting for charity, joined a zoom choir and  started to learn Italian. As well as gardening and sorting through my late mother's stuff, the months have passed with my mental health reasonably intact. 

However the last few weeks and the last week in particular has seen a drastic contrast in my lifestyle. My first foray into the outside world came when the foodbank I volunteer at asked if I would consider returning to use the sewing machine for guests with clothes that need repairing. As the food side of foodbank has been done during the pandemic outside the church and I would be inside the empty church to use the electricity for the machine, I considered it a reasonable first step to make.  I've been doing that for the last few weeks. But gradually friends, who have been equally as cautious as me, have been suggesting get-togethers. Last week my diary was so full  I was out every day either visiting the hairdresser, getting plants at a garden centre, meeting three  different sets of friends and of course foodbank. I even went into a few shops!!

I must say it felt very strange, almost like being on holiday in a foreign country. What are the rules and local customs? Do shops take cards or cash? Should I wear a mask on the station platform or just in the train? Should I stand 1 metre or 2 metres apart in the queue? What do the locals do? It was however lovely to spend time not watching television  or trying to fill my time, but instead to catch up with friends and their news. (One of my friends for example told me that her daughter is friends with the up-and-coming tennis star Emma Raducanu who lives in our locality and had even played tennis with her.  Even more exciting to watch her now. There's name- dropping for you.)  I laughed and giggled so much with my friends I nearly cried. Something I haven't done in months. Laugh, that is. It has been a glimpse of how things might be in the not too distant future. Now I, and most people, have been double-vaccinated, I am hopeful we can start to return to some kind of normal in a few weeks when restrictions allow.  The vaccines are keeping hospital admissions down even though cases may still be on the rise. Kay confirms this is the case in her hospital. Yes, covid is here to stay, but we have to learn to live with it with sensible precautions.  I feel more than ready to leave my cage.

20 June 2021

Michelin man is still alive and kicking

Well, two weeks on from my last post and I'm accumulating more plasters and making Michelin man look positively naked! The broken toe continues to be bound up with the adjacent one, but is not too much of an inconvenience. I have mastered the art of going up and down my five flights of stairs to even get a cup of tea without putting too much pressure on it. Thankfully I can still drive too. I have not been out walking to get fresh air, as I don't think I could manage too far a distance without it telling me it's there, but, all in all, I am managing well.


the cyst on my back has not been so compliant. It started to erupt more and more and become so painful that I could not comfortably lean back on a chair, bed or car seat. The 7-day course of extra-strong antibiotics I had been prescribed at my local urgent-care walk-in centre had done nothing to deflate it.  In desperation, I went back to the urgent-care centre last weekend to get some more antibiotics. The doctor I saw decided surgical removal of the cyst was the only option, as cysts can build impenetrable walls around them, making it difficult for antibiotics to penetrate, as was obviously the case here. He rang the surgical team at the parent hospital to warn them he was sending me. However, as it was late on Saturday evening, they told him I would only be waiting around all night, as they were extremely busy and likely to be on Sunday too, so advised I best turn up nice and early on Monday morning.

A neighbour kindly agreed to take me, as parking can be a nightmare at the hospital and I did not have a timed appointment nor know how long I would be. On arrival at the Surgical Assessment Unit I seemed to be the only one there and was seen very quickly by the consultant surgeon. He was very odd and proceeded to deal with me in gesticulations and grunts. His English was not brilliant when he did speak and by the look of him, he should have been long retired. He was not very forthcoming on explaining things or giving me a management plan, so I had to drag information out of him which tended to be monosyllabic. To cut a long story short, a much younger man did the procedure of cutting out the cyst, on occasion advised by grunts from the consultant. Despite six needles of local anaesthetic circling the cyst, the whole procedure was extremely painful and I ended up digging my fingernails into my palms to get through it. (My daughter later explained that the cyst walls again can prevent anaesthetic reaching the area to numb it). For ten minutes or so, although it felt like ten hours, the young surgeon snipped round  perimeter of the cyst to remove it. 

They packed the open wound with gauze and asked me to return the next day. I spent the most excruciating 24 hours not able to get comfortable. The pain was 15/10 Not even codeine could suppress the pain and I was not a happy bunny. However, on Tuesday when I went back, they removed the packing and the relief was instantaneous. The pain immediately plummeted to 0/10. They did not stitch the wound but instead Manuka honey cream was put into the open wound to help it heal from the inside outwards. I was advised to have the dressing changed every other day at my GP surgery. That in itself has been problematic as my GP surgery could not do that for over a week. There is no way I can do it myself as it is on my back below my shoulder blade and so difficult to reach. However, I have been able to bully to get appointments (not easy in these covid-restricted times) at the urgent care centre and also the hospital again to get the dressings changed. I am pleased to say that it looks as if it is on the mend. 

Now I just need to sort out the broken toe....

Before - swelling to the size of a walnut
Picture taken by Kay

During - showing the packing

After - wound healing nicely.
Picture taken by consultant

09 June 2021

Michelin man

Back in April, I mentioned that I had hurt my right foot whilst sitting at my desk. To this day I still don't know what I did to it. I recall resting it on the pedestal of my desk chair and curling my toes slightly and then came the pain in the ball of my foot spreading down into my second toe. Seven weeks on it is still not right. Then last week I did an injury to my left foot. 

Kay had come over to see me for a few days to help me sort through some things in her room with a view to clearing it. There are some major cracks appearing at ceiling level on her walls and I need to get someone in to look at them and advise me if there is a problem. Since she moved out last August, her room has been in a semi-state of devastation, waiting for her to come back and sort through it. But, of course, the poor girl has been up to her eyes in saving lives in Intensive Care and the clearance job took a back seat. Finally last week she was able to devote some time to it.

While she was with me, I decided to dig out a very old Karchner power cleaner that had been hiding in the garage. The patio hasn't been deep-cleaned in about 15 years - the last time was when Greg used it and he's been dead 11 years. I have never used it and, given its age, was a bit worried about electrocuting myself, so waited for Kay to be on hand to administer CPR if I needed it! It worked of sorts though was painfully slow (I think I had the wrong attachment, but, with no other to hand, I persevered.) Kay joined in too as she found it therapeutic watching the stone tiles change colour from a grimy grey to a light pinky terracotta. I think the machine needed a new washer as there was water spraying out from the side of it. As we had to keep it close to the house to reach the power switch inside, it meant some water did get inside the kitchen, as we had to keep the door slightly ajar to allow the electricity flex through.

All was going well until the very last when I went inside to turn off the water supply. I slipped on the wet kitchen floor, both my feet went up in front of me and I landed on my back. Kay rushed in to help me up slowly, fearful I had broken my back or hip. Thankfully I was fine, apart from a painful toe on my left foot. I can only think I must have thwacked it on something as I landed. After two days hobbling around on both painful feet, I took myself to our local walk-in urgent care centre (or in my case hobble-in). After a delightful two-hour wait surrounded by limping, bleeding adults and a toddler throwing up in a sick bowl, I finally got to see a doctor who announced that I had broken my toe.  It is now bandaged up with its neighbouring toe. I am gradually beginning to look like Michelin man.

What with a very painful recurring cyst on my back for which I am now taking antibiotics, I look a sorry sight and am chair-bound. Just in time for the lovely weather we are at last having and all the gardening I intended to do!

21 May 2021

Unlucky for some

Thirteen. Unlucky for some, but what's in a number? Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of my blog started in May 2008. Thirteen years have passed since I felt the need to spill my churning guts out into a blog. Sometimes, it seems like yesterday. Sometimes, it seems like a lifetime ago. The topsy turvy existence I led thirteen years ago now seems like a bad nightmare, from which I have thankfully awoken. Life is so different now, quieter, more peaceful, less stressed. The Kafkaesque feeling of being powerless in a crazy world, stuck in quicksand with nobody hearing my call for help, has passed. My only problems now are what to choose for supper today. 

Of course, peace comes at a price. Nobody to share my day or future with. Socialising is very much the onus on me to make the first move. Most people rarely give thought to someone living on their own and what that really means, particularly during lockdown... talking to the wall, talking to the television. But the peace is infinitely better than tripping over empty bottles or waiting for the house to go up in flames from a dropped cigarette, as he slumbers intoxicated. My heart then was forever in a state of having run a marathon, waiting for the next crisis, the next shouting match, the next ambulance. Such a wretched disease is alcohol addiction. It doesn't just affect the addict but the whole family as well, even when the addict is long gone.

I feel most for Greg. Since his death in 2010 he has missed out on eleven years of living -  eleven years of news that made him come alive (he was an international radio journalist after all). What would he have made of Trump, of Boris, of Brexit, of Covid and the various disputes going on all over the world? I feel guilty for knowing about them, when he doesn't. He has missed out on Kay graduating and becoming a successful doctor. He has missed out on meeting her wonderful boyfriend. Sadly, he will miss out on her becoming a wife and mother with more career successes than the ones so far to date. I feel guilty he cannot experience that. It is not my fault and yet I still feel guilty.

Thirteen years and 560 posts. Not a lot compared to some, but written when I had something to say, something to get off my chest. At its peak, I had 70 comments per post including those from alcoholics and those living with or having lost an alcoholic family member. Like with anything, it helps to know somebody else is going through the same rollercoaster of emotions, to make your scary ride more bearable. I don't think I could have survived the last thirteen years, if he were still here, drinking each day into oblivion. Certainly, with lockdown, it would have been hell on earth. 

On balance, thirteen is unlucky for some, but not for me.

08 May 2021

Getting back to some kind of normal

This has been a strange old 15 months for me under Covid restrictions. Shielding for all of that time because of an underlying health condition has meant almost total isolation. In all that time shopping has been delivered to the house, courtesy of the local hypermarket, outings have been restricted to the occasional walk round the block and I have only made a handful of adventurous visits to the optician and dentist for check-ups when it was slightly safer to do so last summer. I have only seen my daughter on a handful of visits as she is effectively part of my "bubble" and I have had a rare outdoors encounter with the odd neighbour or two on my walks. 

In the last week, this has begun to change. Now that I have had both Covid vaccines and, now that things generally are beginning to come back to some kind of normal, I have been nervously testing the water to see how things go for me. I have been to visit a friend and had afternoon tea in her garden. Then yesterday I resumed duties at our local food bank. My pilates instructor has emailed to say that she is resuming classes again and I've been asked to rejoin the rota at the local park information centre where I volunteer. The shift yesterday at the foodbank seemed very strange. I met up with loads of new as well as old faces, but noticed how I had almost lost the art of small talk, having been so much on my own. It took great concentration. I am sure I shan't be the only one in this position. Just another side-effect of the pandemic to add to all the mental health problems people are suffering.

Covid is here to stay for a very long time, if not for evermore, so we all need to get used to the new kind of normal. I am gradually getting bolder about how that will look for me. I am ready to leave my cage and try it out with the right kind of precautions. 2021 here I come.....

25 April 2021

The joys of being seventy

I have been a pathetic lump these last couple of months or so. I just seemed to have lurched from one ailment to another in a sort of continuous chain reaction. I don't seem to have been normal since Christmas (no rude comments about when have I ever been normal, thank you). The first few months were taken up with the sore throat and "sliding hiatus hernia" as documented here. The sinus washes that the ENT doctor also prescribed led to me being dizzy for a few weeks, so that even walking across a room has been challenging.....like being drunk, but without the joys of getting drunk in the first place. Then yesterday I was sitting at my desk writing some emails when I felt something crunch in my foot. How on earth could that happen while I was peacefully sitting immobile? A searing pain shot into the ball of my foot and one toe making it impossible to weigh-bear on it. Several paracetamol tablets, ibuprofen and an ice pack later I was able to get some mild relief and today it is a little better. During all those catastrophes I have also had my two covid vaccines, thankfully with little worse than a sore arm, but I shall be glad to see the end of the last few months and hope that I can hobble or stagger into summer with some degree of better health. Being seventy stinks, I tell you. I hope it's not all downhill from here.

12 April 2021

Five years on

Today mark's the fifth anniversary since I had a tumour removed from my stomach. Here is the account of the where, what and when.  The tumour was at the very top of the stomach near the sphincter that shuts off the oesophagus, so my stomach is an unusual shape now, as one-eighth of my stomach was removed rather accentuating the crescent shape of it at the top.  I have been doing remarkably well since - until recently.

Shortly after Christmas, I developed a sore throat that refused to go away. Swallowing was painful and I was even aware of it in my sleep. After some weeks had passed trying to use various over-the-counter remedies, I had to seek the advice of my GP. At first, I could not get a face-to-face appointment because of Covid restrictions, but eventually, as the throat did not improve, I managed to see my GP who took a swab to see if there was an infection. The results came back negative. My GP then put me on a fast-track 2-week programme to see the ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) department at the local hospital. They in turn fast-tracked me for a CT throat scan and a barium swallow.

The results of those tests are both good and bad - good in that there is nothing seriously wrong with me; bad in that it showed I have a "sliding hiatus hernia". Following my surgery 5 years ago, my stomach is now a strange shape and very narrow at the top which means it can now slide through a small space in my diaphragm up into my chest and the stomach acid can be squeezed into my throat, causing my sore throat symptoms (oesophagitis is the medical term). I particularly have problems with reflux at night now, so cannot eat beyond 7pm in the evening or eat anything too spicy or too large a portion.

I suppose we all have something go wrong as we get older, but, given that I enjoy my food, it is a little hard to get used to. It could be worse, I know.

22 March 2021

Singing my heart out

Recent articles in the press have suggested that singing is good for you and has helped many people during lockdown to control anxiety as well as being good generally for physical health. Those with long-covid have also benefited as it has helped exercise their lungs and restore their breathing to normal. 

I joined a choir several years ago and have made some good friends in the process. However, with lockdown last March, the choir came to an abrupt stop and ultimately disbanded for good leaving me feeling quite bereft. I found a choir that did zoom sessions online and, although it takes some getting used to, singing on your own to a computer screen, I have found it whiles away a few hours a week, not to mention the earworms that pass through my mind and I keep singing at any time of the day to cheer me up.

The zoom choir has been challenging in all sorts of ways but the most difficult was the production of a virtual choir performance to collect donations for the charity MIND. A professional recording and production company was hired and we were asked to record our videos and voices against a backing track played into our ears on earphones so we could all be synched into one performance. Here is the finished result. I feature somewhere in the sea of faces that appear throughout the production. Spot me if you can - I am definitely there - and, if you can, spare a few pennies.  Mental health has been affected very much by lockdown, so a donation to this worthy charity will help.

Donations to  https://justgiving.com/fundraising/singyourmind

15 March 2021


The recent death of Sarah Everard was tragic for various reasons, but mostly because she was an ordinary woman going about her own business walking home on the streets of London after visiting a friend. Something all of us should feel comfortable doing, but it was not possible on that evening, because a man, a police officer at that, chose to abduct her, murder her, and then dispose of her body some 65 miles away in woodland. What makes it even more chilling for me, is that her killer worked for a while as a police officer in my borough of London at a time when my daughter would have been walking home through dark streets. Of course we do not yet have the facts of what happened after she disappeared off CCTV in Clapham and subsequent events.  But it is a fear nearly every women will admit to having when walking along streets in the dark. The outpouring of solidarity among women over the last few days and the conversations started amongst friends or on social media shows that this has been festering for too long. We have all had experiences where we have been grabbed or molested by strangers, carried keys in our hands as some form of protection should we be attacked, or felt a chill down our spine when we have heard quickened footsteps behind us and, turning, seen a man following far too close and far too quickly.

I hasten to add that I do not include myself in the wave of anti-men hysteria that seems to be building. It is not all men. It is not even most men. It is a random minority who for some reason think It is OK to behave like this. Most men are just as likely to be vulnerable on a dark street as a woman, but for different reasons.

We all have our own stories. I can remember at the age of 12 coming home on the bus from school. My grammar school was a good 4 miles away from home and I had to take a 40-minute bus journey to get there and back. One afternoon, on the way home, a very fat man came and sat beside me blocking me in. He half sat over me. He then proceeded to fold his arms and with the hand nearest to me started to fondle me.  Even at the age of 12, I knew this was wrong. If it were now, I would have probably yelled at him so loudly that the whole bus could hear, but then I was young and timid and very scared. I felt the best thing to do was get off the bus straight away and catch the next one.  Unfortunately, he got off the bus with me and tried to chat with me at the bus stop. I remember being petrified, but somehow I kept my wits about me and as soon as the next bus appeared (it wasn't even going where I wanted to go) I hopped on and left him standing there. I told my mum about it when I got home, but of course in those days, it was just notched up as bad luck and not reported. It was a different world then and we did not have social media or anything like that to alert us to these things or report them. There have been countless times since when I have walked home late alone and quickened my pace and heaved a sigh of relief when my key was in my door. The thought of what might happen is always there. In a supposedly civilised society, we should not need to think like that.

Kay tells of an incident at university when she was walking along the road one evening, a group of men were walking towards her and, as she passed, one of them just reached out and indecently grabbed her breast, so much so it hurt. They all thought it was funny as they went on their way. I am sure there are thousands of similar stories we women could all tell of things that have happened on the street, or even at work, which have been inappropriate. Many is the time I have sat up till 2am waiting for my daughter to come home from a night out with her friends and met her at the station or the night bus stop with my car, rather than let her walk down our road alone. I wonder if I would be less worried if I had a son? 

I am not sure what the answer is. As I say, most men are decent and aware of these issues, but how do you stop those dangerous few?  What is it that makes them like that in the first place - a loveless childhood, misogyny, looking at too much porn which debases women, a row with a partner? And how do you police every street in every town and village to make women feel more safe?  

The first thing that would help, I think, is to have more CCTV, although it is impossible to cover everywhere, but maybe in addition we should ALL be more aware of a single woman walking alone and keep a distant eye on her if we are near or looking out of our windows. The other thing is for parents to teach their sons that women are not objects of violence and to teach them to be more aware of what that single woman walking in front of them might feel if they get too close. Crossing over to the other side of the road, would indicate that they are not a threat and respect their distance.  Little things like that would help.  Women should ensure they have an SOS on their mobile to press if they feel threatened and not wearing earphones when walking alone would help them be more aware of their surroundings. 

I was upset to see that many women were arrested at the Clapham Common vigil on Saturday for staging a vigil for Sarah Everard. I can see both sides of the argument. Women just wanted to express their sadness and anger over her death. At the same time, they were breaching lockdown rules and the police were trying to break up a mass protest for their health and safety. I meanwhile lit a candle at the appointed time and stood in my window along with other neighbours both to express my sadness that another life has been snuffed out pointlessly and to thank God it wasn't my daughter.

08 March 2021

Anniversary time

It was lovely having my bubble-buddy (Kay) here for the weekend and to speak to a human being for a change and have somebody to fuss over. At her insistence, she came over immediately after her night shift ended on Saturday morning as it was the 11th anniversary of Greg's death. A year ago we visited his home town in the Midlands where his ashes reside, but of course that was not possible this year and in any case we usually just visit the local crematorium where his name is entered in a book of remembrance. We took flowers, "chatted" to him all about Covid, Kay's boyfriend/ new home and my new car - to update him since we last "spoke to him" a year ago.

Kay also insisted on celebrating Mothers' Day a week early as she is working on the actual day next week. I keep telling her that it doesn't bother me, as it is purely commercialism at its worst. Not to be moved, she bought me a wonderful bunch of multicoloured tulips, a sign that spring is on the way.

She also came to bolster my morale as I had to have a procedure done in hospital today that I was dreading. Following a sore throat that has dragged on for over the last 9 weeks and a swab that was negative for infection, my GP referred me on a fast track pathway for a nasal endoscopy to see what was going on. I was really quite nervous beforehand but needn't have worried. The scope was so thin, it passed up my nose and into my throat without any problem. The good news is that there is nothing sinister there but the bad news is they still don't know what is wrong, so I am being referred for a CT scan on my throat and a barium swallow to see what that shows up, as the problem may be related to gastric acid.  Even though it was a hospital visit, it was lovely to get out and about among people and have a goal to drive to, as opposed to driving around aimlessly just to charge the car battery. 

20 February 2021

Square Eyes

 "You'll get square eyes", mum used to say, if I sat huddled up to our black and white television set as a child. She was from an era between world wars when you listened to the radio and occupied yourself with make-do-and-mend. To her, in those early days of my childhood, the advent of television was still something you watched on high days and holidays.

She was right really. Too much looking at a TV screen was not good for you, rather more because you weren't doing anything really useful or getting any fresh air, than because it would harm your eyes. But nowadays, screens are everywhere and not just on televisions. Computer laptops, tablets, smart mobile phones vie for your attention too and screen time has increased our attention. Mothers nowadays plonk their children in front of the TV or give them a tablet to play with, while they themselves scroll down through endless social media chats. Screens have taken over our lives.

Living as I do in lockdown, in complete isolation as I shield from any passing Covid germs, and with only the rare outing round the block once a week to get a bit of fresh air, I have found I too am facing a screen for a lot of the day. Try as I might, there is only so much dusting a girl can do and the recent inclement weather has not made gardening a barrel of fun, so I have had to make distractions where I can. I try to telephone someone at least twice a week - usually someone I have not seen in a year or more - and catch up, but then again there is a limit how many times I can do that without appearing needy or racking up a huge phone bill and so screens have helped me out a lot. 

As soon as I open my eyes each day, I grab my mobile and check BBC News,  BBC weather and emails to see how I should shape my day. That can take half an hour luxuriating in my bed as something else will inevitably catch my eye on other apps.  

Mid-morning with a coffee, I have started in the last two months learning Italian on the tablet Kay bought me for my 70th birthday. I can already speak German fluently and French to A-level standard with a smattering of Russian, so another language has not been too taxing. The Duolingo course online has been amazing and I have already made some progress. I am not sure how useful "the turtle is eating the red spider" (la tartaruga mangia il ragno rosso) will come in handy for a trip to Venice, but who knows? There might be a red spider in my room and I can ask the hotel reception to provide me with a hungry turtle.

After half an hour or so of Italian animals and verb declensions, I progress to my laptop to do some admin or write emails. Then lunch beckons, so I make a snack to eat in front of the midday news on TV. 

Mid-afternoon, I'm back on the laptop as there might be a zoom meeting I have joined. I have taken part in various Covid studies and there have been quite a few zoom meetings on their findings. The foodbank where I used to volunteer pre-Covid often has zoom meetings too. In addition to all that I have joined a choir online and they regularly send backing tracks and lyrics for you to practice the song before the next zoom session, all done (you've guessed it) on my laptop. Sometimes, those zoom meetings are the only human contact I have had all week, so they are a godsend. Thank goodness for technology!

By suppertime, I am winding down for the day and will cook a meal and eat alone whilst watching TV. Before I know it, four hours have passed in front of back-to-back TV and the evening is long gone. It's often just a noise in the background to drown the silence in the room.

I do feel rather embarrassed that I have spent so much of my day in front of a screen, although to be fair I was more out and about before Covid came along but obviously cannot do that again yet. Screen time has kept me connected with the outside world during the pandemic and distracted me from my isolation. It's educated me too. So I justify it to myself.

Soon it is bedtime. Time for me to turn off the light and rest those square eyes. Sorry, Mum!

06 February 2021

Alcohol in a pandemic and a soap story

Growing up as a child in the 1950s and a teenager in the 1960s, alcohol wasn't even a word in my vocabulary. I came from a fairly working-class background - I was the first in the family ever to go to university - and alcohol was only something we had at Christmas as a special treat. My father had two jobs to afford the mortgage of our modest terrace house - by day as a patissier manager at Fortnum and Mason and then five evenings a week teaching patisserie to bored housewives at evening school. At Christmas we would splash out and buy a bottle of sherry, some advocaat (egg flip) and maybe a few cans of beer or my Dad's favourite tipple of Guinness. I cannot ever recall us buying wine or ordering it on the very very rare occasions we went out for a meal to celebrate a major birthday. Supermarkets, such as there were in those days, did not sell alcohol and the only place to buy it was in pubs or off- licences that had strict opening times. Things have changed a lot in the following decades. Alcohol is available everywhere and most hours of the day and night - in supermarkets, corner shops and petrol stations, as well as pubs, online deliveries and specialised wine and beer shops. Little wonder that alcoholism is on the increase.

The covid pandemic has made things worse. With people shut indoors and poor mental health on the increase, it seems people have grabbed for a bottle to still their anxiety or boredom. Financial worries, juggling work with homeschooling, relationship issues, anxiety about Covid-19, boredom, and devastating isolation for many of the over 60s, have left people 'self-medicating' with alcohol to a significant degree. According to the Office for National Statistics,  there were 5,460 alcohol-related deaths between January and September 2020, a 16.4% increase on 2019. For many, instead of a starting time of 6pm for opening a bottle of wine, it had become 5pm, then 4pm, 3pm and then lunchtime, with people drinking throughout the afternoon and evening on a regular basis.

As if that were not bad enough, Amazon has been adding to the problem. Apparently, they have been offering customer discounts if they subscribe to regular deliveries as much as 10% off for fortnightly deliveries. People may be tempted by the benefit of the discount but then having bottles delivered at regular intervals effectively sets a target to finish the previous order. That "pressure" may then encourage people to drink faster and more than they usually would leading to an addictive behaviour or exacerbating an exiting one.

I'm always annoyed when I see alcoholics depicted in dramas. The usual outcome is that they see the error of their ways and they make a miraculous recovery never to have a single drop of alcohol again. They go riding off into the sunset with a happy ever after. The reality is far different of course as the statistics say that only one in ten alcoholics ever kicks the habit and sadly nine out of ten revert to drinking heavily and even die from it. I saw it in Greg - as much as he wanted to stop, he simply couldn't. After every hospitalisation and supervised detox, he was back on the whisky within days of coming home again and so the merry-go-round continued until his death. He never wanted to do rehab as he didn't want to be away from home for too long.  (Note to the uninitiated- detox is just the process of removing alcohol from your system - best done for a few days in hospital under medical supervision to monitor side effects of withdrawal - but rehab goes into why you drink and ways of looking for the triggers - often a lengthy soul-searching stay of some months in an institution away from temptation.) That temptation never truly goes away for the rest of your life and it takes a strong constitution to keep on the straight and narrow forever. Just one drink is all it takes to set you off again.

I was therefore pleased to see the latest storyline in the long-running soap Coronation Street in which Peter Barlow, a recovering alcoholic,  falls off the wagon yet again and is told both that his liver is now beyond repair and that he will need a transplant. (When was it ever that easy? Medics are not keen to do transplants until the alcoholic can live a good six months without alcohol, but we'll skip lightly over that.) At first he decides against the transplant as he knows it is his own fault he is that ill and also because his life is no longer fun. In his attempt to drink himself into complete oblivion again, he ends up in hospital and has a major rethink. Meanwhile he and his family are absolutely surprised to hear from the doctors that he must carry on drinking for the time being.

The times I heard that said too from my visits to A&E with Greg after one of his drunken downfalls. It may seem crazy that doctors would suggest that but there is a good reason. For an alcoholic to go cold turkey is more dangerous, as it will more than likely cause hallucinations or seizures which can be very serious indeed. Alcohol withdrawal is always best done in hospital under medical supervision and then followed up immediately by rehab, but particularly now with beds full of Covid patients supervision is not possible and there have always been long waiting lists for rehabilitation centres (particularly free ones), so reducing alcohol content slowly by as much as one glass or an inch less of a bottle a day, will still achieve withdrawal in the end, but not so drastically that the body reacts in a dramatic way. The onus of course is on the alcoholic to maintain that slow reduction without being lured back into increasing alcohol consumption.  It will be interesting to see how this soap story pans out, but my money is on him sailing off into the sunset and never drinking a drop. Sadly the reality is far from that.

28 January 2021

I've been microchipped!

Today I got my Covid vaccine and I must say I was really impressed from start to finish. 

I first received a text message on my phone a few days ago to make an appointment and with one click on a link it was made for today at our local mini-hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital entrance there were about ten people ahead of me, all made to self-distance, stewards every ten yards affirming you were in the right queue,  directing me to shuffle along to the next steward, and so on until I went inside and was handed a pre-printed sheet of paper with my name and medical details already on it.  More stewards directed me along corridors until I finally reached my designated room with two nurses inside. After questions about my medical background, allergies etc, the deed was done (didn't feel a thing) and leaflets about what to expect were handed over. Then more stewards directed me in a one-way system out of the hospital to a marquee where about 30 chairs were distantly spaced for us to sit out the 15-minute wait for any anaphylactic shock.  Before I knew it, I was on my way home in my car again.  It was fantastically streamlined and I could not fault it. The next injection is in 12 weeks, I am told.

So far, so good and I don't have any side effects, although I expect a sore arm and maybe slight temperature in the next 24 hours, if reports from others are accurate. If anything, I felt a distinct fall in my anxiety levels that at last I have some protection against this Godforsaken virus. 

18 January 2021


In my last post, I alluded to the NHS drowning under the current pandemic. I wrote about the social media morons who believe that Covid is a hoax and that the whole world has been duped into believing the falsehood to keep the populace under the government's thumb and to pour money into pharmaceutical companies' coffers. Fortunately, these idiots represent a small percentage of the population and most of us have our heads tightly screwed on so that we would rather take advice from the scientific experts than Tracy on Facebook. To those who refuse to wear a mask or stay at home, I have a few words. Yes, it may not seem to do a great deal in preventing the spread of the virus, but then maybe, if we ALL wore the masks and ALL stayed at home, we might see a difference pretty quickly.  If I thought standing on one leg and singing the national anthem twenty times in Latin would work, I'd give it a go, rather than moan about losing my civil liberties. Jeez, how would these people survive in a war?

I get my information on the current state of the NHS from my daughter who works as a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a large hospital. She is facing Covid down a barrel on a daily basis, so frankly I would rather believe what she tells me in exhausted phone calls after her shift. So here are some answers to questions some people may have.

The hospitals and ICUs in particular don't look busy, so why say they are?

Unlike other wards, the ICU units are not designed to take many patients as under normal circumstances they care only for the sickest patients in the hospital who need 1:1 monitoring. They have specialised equipment and doctors (often anaesthetist-trained ones) who in many cases take over the patient's breathing. Currently, they have TWICE the usual number of ICU patients with FOUR times the usual number of ventilated ones, so ICU units are full to the rafters with Covid patients and the overspill patients are placed in cordoned-off hot-Covid bays elsewhere in the hospital, often requiring the installation of a whole second ICU unit,  but with only the same amount of staff to run the whole lot. Lots of hospitals at the moment are not running their clinics and instead are doing appointments on-line or over the telephone to keep people away from the hospitals. A lot of operations have been postponed to give beds over to Covid patients and staff are off sick too. Additionally,  you don't want lots of visitors or sick patients wandering around corridors infecting one another, so it can look like the hospitals are quiet, but they are not.

The media shows lots of staff around a patient, how can you say they are short-staffed?

ICU has the sickest patients in the hospital and this is even more true with Covid cases who struggle to breathe and need intubation. As I said above, ICU has double the number of usual patients and four times those requiring ventilation, so they have had to open additional ICU units on other wards, with only the same amount of staff to spread thinly. The patients need turning (proning) onto their fronts to help improve their lung function. This is not as simple as it sounds. It can take up to half an hour for eight staff to turn one patient. They have to prepare them first to ensure for example that their skin doesn't get sores, then they encase them and roll them slowly in sheets, making sure at every stage that all the thousands of tubes and lines attached to them don't get kinks. Each member of staff has their particular job to do in the turning. If a patient is obese (as some of the patients are) this just adds more to the time taken. Multiply that by the number of patients to be proned (say 32) and you can see where the time goes. Meanwhile, a crisis can suddenly kick off in another bed and it's all hands to the pump. These really are sick patients where anything and everything can deteriorate in a second. 

Why are they not using the Nightingale Hospitals?

Although the Nightingale hospitals have plenty of beds and equipment, they do not have the staff to run them. If they transferred doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers to the Nightingales, then there would be even more pressure on the normal hospitals in terms of staff shortage. Appeals for retired medical staff to come back into the workplace to help out did not get much take-up ...... understandable, if one is retired, not to want to go into the lion's den!

It is no worse than flu

Oh yes, it is. Flu can kill, but it usually only happens to the extremely vulnerable and we have vaccines to make this such a rare thing these days. Covid is worse to start with.  Oddly, some people have mild or no symptoms, but when you do get symptoms, it is more deadly. It is not just old or vulnerable people who are dying. Kay has seen otherwise healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s dying.  She has seen young colleagues die. Covid is on a level never hitherto seen with "just flu". This is why getting the Covid vaccine has never been so important to stop the infection rate.

The NHS has been struggling for years in winter, so why is this any different?

The NHS has always had more of an uphill battle in winter as more people become sick then (think of waiting times in A&E alone), but this time it is different because they have Covid patients to add to their normal pressures.  Covid hit us out of the blue and we still don't know a lot about how it behaves, mutates etc, so it has been a learning curve whilst trying to get on top of it at the same time. The different strategies used by our government to deal with it (tiers, lockdowns, closing down the economy) may seem haphazard and inefficient but it is because it is so unprecedented. Trying to implement a solution when the unfathomable thing you are dealing with is new, mutating and running amok is not easy. Countries all over the world have had the same problems. Nowhere can truly say they have solved the problem yet. 

What is a day in the life of an ICU doctor like?

I can only go on what Kay tells me but it seems to tie in with what you see on the news. She works 12-hour shifts (often as much as 13 and sometimes even 14 hours if they are short-staffed or an emergency arises that she just cannot turn her back on.) Let's say she starts at 8am.  After three hours of ward round and dealing with urgent problems,  the PPE she wears makes her feel faint. The best thing to do would be to sit down and have a drink, but that would result in more visits to the loo, something that is not a good idea, as taking all the PPE off and on again is such a pfaff, so best to keep going. Only another 9 or 10 hours to go to the end of shift and maybe a 15-minute lunch break if she is lucky. 

Proning patients and dealing with countless crises take up the bulk of the time, as well as phoning relatives with bad news. It is hard to break bad news over the phone. Not being able to see the recipient's reaction and to give a sufficient pause for them to take that news in can be a tricky thing and is emotionally taxing. The patients are not all in the ICU ward so crises can develop all over the hospital, often involving running from one place to another. The less sick ones are shipped out to hospitals further afield, some as far as 300 miles away. As fast as the patients are being shipped out,  ambulances are bringing more in - on occasions as many as six all requiring instant intubation. During all this, case notes must be kept up to date to document all changes in medications or procedures. The hands of the dying are held out of respect, as relatives cannot always be present. Death is very much the norm as opposed to a rarity. The individual stories can play on the mind, long after the shift is over.

Handover to the next shift might come at 8pm, but case updates often take time to explain or an emergency will inevitably happen which you cannot turn your back on, unlike in any other job. So with a bit of luck you get away by 9pm or even 10pm. Once home there is a meal to cook or washing to do and then fall into bed ready to start the shift all over again next morning with a forced smile. Colleagues are in tears and you feel physically spent before you've even got going. Your face is scarred with eczema and pressure sores caused by wearing masks all day. (If masks can fog up those who wear glasses, it fogs up your face too). Night shifts are pretty much the same, but the only difference is, it is dark outside and your body is screaming for sleep.

Silly things will make you cry. A nice word, a nasty word. Anything. Emotionally and physically it is relentless. No 29-year-old should have to have seen the number of deaths she has witnessed since last March. Kay has had ten days' leave since last March. A week in August to go to Yorkshire and a week with me in my "bubble" at Christmas. She was lucky to even get that Christmas week. But a few weeks back at work and she is exhausted again. I can hear the wobble in her voice over the phone.

I am sorry to have gone on so long, but it makes me seethe when I hear of those who deny Covid or say they can't possibly wear a mask in a shop for ten minutes. My reaction is to say a mask is far better than a ventilation tube. If a mask is not possible for medical reasons, then you should not be out and about anyway. I know that Covid is real and so tough for the frontline staff who put their whole lives at risk for everyone who comes through their doors. It is so demoralising for them to hear that people doubt it even exists or selfishly can't be bothered to do the right thing. 

Spread the word and make other people see sense. Wear a mask, stay at home and literally save lives. Only by doing that can we get on top of this dreadful pandemic and give my daughter (and her ICU colleagues) back the life she yearns for and deserves right now.