30 November 2010

The Club

This week I joined a club. You don't have to pay membership subscriptions to become a member, in fact you are given money to join. Not everyone is eligible - you have to meet certain criteria - but most people don't really want to join in the first place. I am talking about the club of OAPs (Old Aged Pensioners). I have reached my 60th birthday (yikes, how did I get there?).

I must confess to dreading it beforehand - one foot in the grave, God's waiting room etc. "I'm too young to die", I thought. I don't feel sixty. Nearly everyone I know or meet, says I don't look sixty, more like forty. I am still energetic, have all my own teeth and marbles and am a dab hand with a mallet or a paintbrush. I don't wear furry hats which have flaps over my ears and I don't push bits of rubbish into the kerb with a walking stick. However, am I now supposed to push my decrepit way to the front of the bus queue waving my free bus-pass or hopping on a coach for a day-trip to Bournemouth? Am I destined to watching back-to-back editions of Flog it or Escape to the Country to fill up my days? The approach of my sixtieth birthday (particularly without Greg) did not fill me with enthusiasm.

My two best friends from University days came to the rescue. One couldn't be there at the beginning of my birthday, the other could not be there at the end, so between them they devised a plan. One with her husband arrived the day before, accompanied me to my favourite national heritage site here, then we spent a lovely evening together, with them staying over. She brought me breakfast in bed the next day on my birthday, then decorated the kitchen table with flowers, balloons and breakfast things. They treated me to a lovely lunch in a local Italian restaurant, then once home again, they broke open a bottle of champagne and, together with my other friend who by now had turned up, sang Happy Birthday while I cut a cake the second friend had brought. The first friend and her husband then had to leave mid-afternoon, but the second one carried on showering me with presents, her lovely company and photos of her recent holidays to Vienna and Prague. We chatted non-stop and didn't get to bed until nearly 1 am.

We woke up to the first snow this season in London. My second friend needed to get back before the snow made travelling to Brighton impossible, so I waved her off mid-morning. It went on to snow all day and we are now under a white fluffy blanket of about 6 inches. Thankfully, I am in the warm and truly thankful for wonderful friends, who not only helped me to get through my first birthday without Greg, but made my transition into OAP-dom thoroughly memorable. Is Escape to the Country on yet? No fear.... I might even start training for the next London Marathon! That is, when the snow melts.....

View from my window this morning

24 November 2010

A Right Royal Celebration

Prince William and Kate Middleton have chosen a fine day to get married next year. The 29th April 2011 would have been Greg's 62nd birthday, if he were still alive. I wonder if he'll be watching from his cloud with a raised glass of whisky to celebrate both occasions?

19 November 2010

To rongs don mak a rigt

When our desktop computer died around this time last year, Greg and I bought matching Advent Roma laptops. They were fairy cheap in price (but then we were buying two) and I liked the look and feel of it. However I quickly made a discovery which I should have known if I'd read the reviews of other customers beforehand. For some reason, whatever you type on the keyboard, the letters you read on screen don't bear any relation. It would appear that the keys do not engage with what is below to make an impact. So I end up with loads of typos and have to redo it over and over again. If there are double letters (such as letter or running) in a word only one gets typed. It is a real pain having to constantly correct what I have typed in a long paragraph. Even worse is when a password gets rejected because the wrong letters have been entered. Do that three times on some sites and you have to re-register! Arrgh! I keep Greg's one at my mother's house now, so I am never free from the problem. SoI do apologis to anyone who ets a coment from me on ther blog because I do not men to type int h wrong ting, honestly. It's this blimin keyboard.........

08 November 2010

The dangers of alcohol

You may have seen a news item earlier last week saying that alcohol was more harmful than heroin. Since then I have been scrutinising online debates in which a few medical experts give their sneering opinions on this.... more harmful than heroin - don't talk rubbish, kind of thing. In my humble experience the majority of medics completely underestimate what alcohol can do and, if they can be bothered to deal with it at all, they come up with unhelpful solutions with no real idea of the enormity of the problem. Unless it has touched their own lives, they really haven't a clue.

The trouble, as I see it, is that alcohol is more readily available in society than so-called dangerous drugs. It can be obtained 24 hours round the clock at supermarkets, petrol stations, bars and pubs. It is available at ridiculously low prices and, if they are clever, even children can lay their hands on it. It is socially acceptable to have a few drinks. It is an ice-breaker, a relaxant, a prize at the end of a hard day. You don't hear the average person saying that about heroin. So, unlike heroin, alcohol is welcomed in through the front door in most homes. It weedles its way in under the pretence of being harmless and waits to pick on someone vulnerable. In safe hands, it causes no problem. The odd tipple before bedtime or after church, the birthday celebration, a fine meal - these are socially and medically acceptable. I suspect in safe hands, the same can be said of heroin. But when the use of these substances turns into an addiction and then a dependency, that is when the argument that alcohol is less dangerous comes unstuck. The alcoholic has no problems getting their fix at any hour of the day and the shopkeepers are only too happy to keep on selling it. At least the drug pushers have to go underground and are not available on every street at every time of the day.

I have learned that alcoholism is an illness, possibly even a genetic mutation, just like cancer or cystic fibrosis. Some people have absolutely no control over their alcoholism, try as they might, because the genes have preprogrammed them to be like that. If that is the case, then having alcohol available on the streets 24 hours a day is tantamount to having heroin on sale at Superdrug or Sainsburys.

I don't know what the solution is, other than to push up prices and sell it only between set hours and only in a few locations. When pubs used to shut at 11pm, people went home to their beds. Now pubs and clubs stay open till the wee small hours and stay open all day. You read about young kids clubbing till all hours and throwing up on the pavements of London, Crete and Ibiza. The young are getting so used to alcohol in large quantities on a reguar basis that I fear, as they age, it will inevitably cause untold damage for them in the future. This is going to put even more stress on an already strained medical system.

I found a sheet of paper Greg had been given in the past, outlining what damage alcohol can do:

Brain: shrinkage, causing general motor and sensory impairment; anxiety; depression; neuroses; phobias; hallucinations.

Oesophagus: oesophageal varices occur as a result of increased pressure of the portal veins, causing localised varicose veins in the throat. These may rupture, resulting in an often fatal haemorrhage.

Liver: becomes enlarged with fat deposits and may be inflamed causing alcoholic hepatitis.

Reproductive area: in men, impotence; shrinkage of the testicles, loss of male sexual characteristics and possible feminisation in the development of breast tissue.

Mouth: increase risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus.

Lungs: Reduced resistence to lung infections, colds, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Heart: Fat is deposited in the heart muscle, impairing its function and precipitating heart attack.

Stomach: chronic gastritis; ulcers; vomiting; diarhoea; malnutrition.

Intestines: inflammation of the intestine wall inhibits absorption of vitamins and iron causing vitamin deficiency and anaemia; varices (varicose veins) which can rupture causing fatal haemorrhage.

Hands: Tremeulous hands; tingling numbness; loss of sensation in the fingers.

Toes: Numbness and tingling in the toes.

Not a very happy list of symptoms, is it? I know for one thing, Greg had nearly every damn one of those symptoms and alcohol took his life. Still unsure whether it's less dangerous than heroin?

01 November 2010

Time waits for no man

I was clearing out some drawers at the weekend and came across an envelope containing Greg's personal effects. It had been given to me by the hospital a few days after he died. I was vaguely aware of its contents, having briefly opened the envelope and looked in, but I had put it in a drawer to look though another time, when I felt a bit stronger. As the months went by, I would often go to the drawer for something else, see the envelope and decide against opening it, until the right moment came along. As I say, I was clearing out drawers over the weekend and came across it again. I sat down, took a deep breath and opened it.

Amongst things like his wallet and credit cards was his watch. Still working like, pardon the pun, clockwork and on wintertime too, so it was appropriate it should be found again this weekend, as the clocks had gone back one hour to wintertime again. It made a lump form in my throat and hot tears try to force their unsolicited way from my eyes. Greg has gone, but his watch lives on. How ironic.