28 July 2014

That'll teach me

Well, I obviously spoke too soon.

Things to be thankful for - yada yada. 

I am so grateful - etc etc.   

Glad I am safe - de-dum de-dum.

Then a big foot comes out of the sky (literally) and squashes me.

Last Friday morning had been yet another hot, oppressive, humid one with temperatures well into the high 20s if not nudging early 30s. I had rather foolishly been vacuuming the bottom half of my house, as I had not done it in weeks and was fed up with accumulation of dead spiders and cat fur. I had probably lost half a stone in perspiration whilst doing it. Afterwards I had decided to go up to my laptop upstairs with a long cool drink and clicked on to the Internet to relax for a while, reading emails/facebook comments etc. 

I had just received a lovely set of photos via facebook of Kay enjoying herself  at a club with her new friends in Tanzania, as well as another photo of her in her scrubs taken on the hospital ward. I was just thinking how happy Kay looked and was so proud of her. Then suddenly the skies got darker, menacing clouds started to scud by and I heard the all-to-familiar sound these last few weeks of thunder accompanied by flashes of lightning. At the same time, the trees started to toss to and fro as well as swirl some of their leaves to the ground, as if they were about to uproot themselves. The lightning and thunder also continued remorselessly and the rain, at first a light drizzle, became a pounding deluge. The humidity seemed even worse.  Although I have never been to the Tropics, the whole spectacle had the feel about it of a tropical storm, monsoon even. Not the kind of one you ever ever see in England as a rule. The rain was not just coming down in buckets, it was coming down in dustbins. Within minutes the road outside was like a river, the drains couldn't cope with the force of it.

When I had finished looking at what I needed to on the computer and was sufficiently refreshed  to continue with more housework, I suddenly noticed water running down the walls of my study. The carpet was soaked and there were bubbles forming between the wall and the wallpaper. A little trickle of water was also heading for the light switch. To my horror, the water was then soaking through the carpet, through the floorboards and running down the walls into the lounge downstairs, soaking the wallpaper, sofa and the carpet down there too. More water was causing a crack in the lounge ceiling and running out of that across the room. In the stairwell damp patches were appearing on the walls there. I rushed upstairs to the bathroom at the very top and looked out of the window onto the flat roof outside it. Water was pooling on the roof I had replaced two years ago and was also overfilling a small gully. Somehow the water was entering my house and had seeped through two levels of the house.

With pounding heart and dry mouth, I rang the dreaded roofing company. Dreaded, because you may recall the problem I had had with them when the roof was totally renewed two years ago (see here). I was promised they would send a team out to inspect the problem. While I waited for them, I also rang my insurance company and initiated a claim with them, as it was more than evident that I was going to have to redecorate at least two rooms and part of the stairwell. The landline phones had stopped working, no doubt the cables doing the breast-stroke somewhere underneath the flooded ground. Instead of a dialling tone, I got nothing but a sloshing sound. Grabbing my mobile instead, I was able to make contact with the insurance company. The questions were endless. You would think I was applying to spy for the KGB. The insurance company told me to get the leak fixed immediately to prevent further water damage and they would send a surveyor along sometime this week to see for himself what the damage was.
two rooms with wallpaper like this

stairwell ceiling

water coming through lounge ceiling
stairwell wall

study carpet and water underneath bookcase

The roofers duly turned up and inspected the inside of the house and then headed for the roof. The man in charge said he could see the problem - the roofing felt had blisters. I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about, although of course I hadn't the foggiest. He seemed to suggest it was unusual for felt to blister like that, so I assumed I had got some faulty felt up there. I felt reassured that if that were the case, the 12-year guarantee I had been given two years ago would cover it. I rang the roofing boss back to ask i) whether any repair to the roof would be covered by the guarantee and ii) whether it would also cover redecoration of the rooms or whether I would need to get that from the insurance company instead. 

You may recall from that previous encounter with him (see here again) that he is not the nicest of people to do business with. He shouts (more like explodes) when challenged and can threaten to involve his solicitor when in a tight corner. This time was no different. He refused to accept liability, said his men had given me false information and that the problem had been caused by a blockage in the downpipe. He must be extremely clever, I thought, being able to make this judgement from the comfort of his office some 4 miles away without having seen the roof for himself. I was then able to hear both sides of the conversation with the workmen ( he phoned them while still on the phone to me so I heard his side of the conversation and I deliberately went outside and stood next to the workmen , unbeknown to him, so I heard their replies.) He basically convinced them that they had seen a blockage to the downpipe and that the blisters on the felt were not causing the problem. I challenged him and said he had told them to say that and then he exploded on me. By this point I couldn't have cared less any more, as I had lost the will to live and did not want to provoke the boss any more than I had already done.  I felt I should leave it to the surveyor to contest it.  It still didn't explain why, if the water couldn't get down a downpipe, it would not just eventually pour off the flat roof. Why would it find a way in to my rooms below, if the roof was watertight and not at fault? Furthermore, once the men had gone and I was able to look out of my bathroom window again, I noticed the men had painted some white stuff along all the joins of felt. Why do that, if the roof was not to blame?
Why paint stuff on the joins of the gully?
Why? again

I now await the insurance company surveyor and will see what his view is. But whatever the reason or whoever is at fault, I am not feeling so thankful today. That'll teach me to speak too soon and be self-righteous in the process. Right now, I could murder someone or something!

Mind you, I am still thankful for these lovely flowers from my garden

and for lovely neighbours who brought me these to cheer me up when they heard what had happened.

24 July 2014

Things to be thankful for

I am known to have the occasional moan or rant about some things and I suppose it is only human nature that we do. However, there are times when things pull you up short and make you realise there is so much to be thankful for. We can often think we are hard done by but compared to the past or other parts of the world today, we dont know we are born.

I am lucky to live in a civilised country where there are rules and a code of acceptable conduct. We live in relative harmony with one another and our neighbouring countries, we have more than adequate amounts of money (even though some will argue they don't) to afford the basics in life and we have a health system that cares for us into old age. 

Looking around the world as it is now, with vile people shooting down planeloads of innocent people or lobbing bombs over borders out of greed or malice or religion, it makes me so thankful that I am physically safe and not cowering in a corner waiting for harm to come to me. I can go about my business without fear of being outspoken,  I cannot be arrested for thinking  things I am not told to think, or I shall not be imprisoned for my views or bombed out of my home because of my religion. There are so many places in this world (Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, just to name a handful) where that cannot be said.

I am not rich but I am not poor. I do get so annoyed at headlines that say the young can't get on the housing ladder or someone can't survive on £90 a week. My parents were married for over 8 years before they got their first house. Greg and I took out our first mortgage on a flat in 1980 and were being charged 16% (I repeat 16%) interest on repayments. Things were far far worse in the past, but now everyone EXPECTS things given to them on a plate. They want the latest this or that without saving up for things. Sometimes saving up brings more pleasure when you can afford luxuries. They want their own space as a right with TVs the size of the entire wall, a completely kitted-out kitchen and a new car. I have never owned a new car in my life (in any case I consider brand new cars a waste of money - drive them out of the showroom and you have already lost £2,000). I regard TVs or washing machines or cars as luxuries, by the way and don't get me started on people who spend all day playing with their electronic toys and yet claim they have no money. I always maintain I could live quite happily with a weekly shopping bill of £10 and still have change at the end of the week. An egg or tin of beans on toast or a jam sandwich every day would keep me going well for even less than £10, if I had to manage on that. In any case, I don't crave lobster or steak or champagne. I am not one to buy expensive goods, massive wall-mounted TVs, leather sofas, latest this or that and the like. My tastes and needs are quite simple. I don't travel hardly at all and I am happy with my own company.  It sounds like I live the life of a hermit or a scrooge. Far from it, I enjoy life and don't need to spend a lot to get it. I know we are all different, but I sometimes think we all want more and more and don't stop to think about what we really want. Personally, I am happy as long as I know my loved ones are safe, happy and healthy. Anything else is quite frankly extra, a bonus, superfluous even.
I am grateful (and aware of the hypocrisy) for the small amount of technology I have in my house. It has meant I can keep in touch with Kay on a different continent and learn that she is well and happy pursuing her dreams of helping other people less fortunate than us. (More so than my poor parents who waved me off to Germany for a year in the early 1970s, not expecting to hear another peep from me except by snail mail. How they managed to keep their sanity in the absence of any mobiles and internet, I shall never know. I was cut-off from Kay last weekend for about 24 hours and was in bits in case she had been mugged, raped or buried in a ditch somewhere in the middle of Tanzania.) Today we had an hour's facebook conversation where she was able to tell me how she is, about friends she is making, the work she is doing in Tanzania and how happy she is. Following her successful climb to the top of Kilimanjaro last week, she is now safely ensconced in a hostel with other medics and working on a children's ward.

I am thankful for our National Health Service. We moan a lot about it but without it, what would life be like? Kay has been regaling me with stories of 4-month old babies weighing only 3lbs who have HIV or rickets or TB or diarrhoea or malaria and one died last night. Children are brought to that hospital far too late because of the distance from the hospital or lack of money to pay for medicine. They do not have the vaccinations or health care to support young life and so their conditions are advanced and beyond saving. It is unthinkable in this day and age that this can still be happening. I am pleased to say that when the call came at the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last night to text 70333 and donate money to UNICEF to help dying or uneducated children, I was more than happy to donate what I could spare (and more) to save that baby and others, although sadly I discovered this morning it was too late for that little mite in Tanzania. I do hope though that many more will benefit from the UNICEF funds collected and the more wealthy will continue to support the cause. If we think life is hard, just think how much harder it is for them. 

I am thankful that my scar on my face is healing and that I am able to have medical help at my fingertips when I need it. My daughter is happy, my mother is well. What more can you really ask? For those in the world that are less fortunate, I hope and pray that soon you too can be thankful like me. For that to happen, we who have a decent living should stop and think more of others less fortunate and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  What if the roles were reversed? Wouldn't you want someone to do something about it?

15 July 2014


Germany 1 - Argentina 0.  Fantastic result!

Hospital 1 - Addy 0.  Not so fantastic result!

Removal of one basal cell carcinoma.  Seven stitches.  I'm feeling sorry for myself.

14 July 2014

Happy Birthday

To Kay ( if you are reading this)

Have a lovely 23rd birthday, somewhere up Kilimanjaro. Hope the view from up there is fantastic. Come back safely.

With all my love

Mum xxxxxx

09 July 2014

Kay goes on a Big Adventure (or how her Mum nearly has a nervous breakdown)

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. The last few days and the last 24 hours in particular have been the stuff of a Mr Bean movie crossed with an edge-of-seat thriller. You didn't know whether to laugh, cry, vomit or shoot yourself. I've just been checking flight departures and a few hours ago my daughter Kay's flight took off on the first leg of her journey. She's got three flights in all and is going on a Big Adventure, but it almost didn't happen at all.

Her last of four end-of-fourth-year-medicine exams was a week ago on Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, she and her housemates moved house.  You can imagine the weeks of swotting had paid a heavy toll on the state of her room with books, clothes and other items strewn all over the place. The return home with the euphoria of the last exam was quickly replaced with having to pack up everything for the move, particularly as the new incumbents were already moving in at the same time. It was manic. She stayed another day to put her new digs into some kind of shape and work out what to leave behind and what to take with her, before driving the five hours down to London, arriving home shortly after 1 am on Tuesday into Wednesday morning last week. From then on, it has been crazy. Our front door has been an eternal revolving door with comings and goings of all sorts to sort out her trip.

It has been planned for months.  Called "an elective" , it is part of her medical studies and involves working for six weeks in another hospital of her choice, particularly in a department of her choice. The medical students tend to choose somewhere abroad for their electives to make it more exciting, as the elective dates fall within the summer vacation. Kay has always wanted to go to Africa and Tanzania in particular, since reading Michael Morpurgo's "The Wreck of Zanzibar" at the age of eight. She looked up where Zanzibar was and has always had a yen to go there. Thus it was that she has arranged to work for six weeks in a hospital in the north of Tanzania and then add on 4 weeks (two either side of the hospital placement) for touristy things. Although it has been planned for months (in theory) she has had little time to get down to the nitty gritty, as there was just so much to revise over months for the exams, and it all fell to this week to finalise things. To say we were up against the wall right up to the last minute is an understatement.

In the two weeks before the hospital placement, she plans to climb Kilimanjaro, so there was all sorts to arrange (and pack) for that. Although Tanzania is now in their winter, the temperatures are equivalent to the best of our summers, but high up on Kili there is still ice on the peaks, so temperatures at base camps get very cold, so clothes needed to be packed or bought for that, not to mention the best walking boots money could buy!  The hospital placement itself requires her to bring her own scrubs, a white coat and a stethoscope, plus if possible any equipment or supplies to donate to the hospital (a cardiac monitoring machine was one suggested  gift item on the list, although suffice it to say, we weren't going to supply that - the adventure has cost more than a proverbial arm and a leg already!), so the rucksack was already beginning to bulge a little. The general advice is for girls to wear clothes that amply cover chest and shoulders, as well as reach below knee, so as not to attract angry insults from the local woman or ardent attention from the men, but in the medical hostel you can wear UK-acceptable clothes. Zanzibar at the end of the trip requires beachwear, as she intends to go deep-sea diving, so swimsuits and sarongs added to the list, with more cover-up stuff so as not to offend the locals. The pile of clothes alone was beginning to grow as high as Kilimanjaro itself. Not to mention 65 malaria tablets, two months' supply of shampoo, sun lotion (Kay burns at the wink of an eye), makeup, cameras, phones, guidebooks, Swahili phrasebook (including medical terms - and yes, we looked up the smutty words first!) Oh, and I almost forgot, her hospital placement also includes one week staying in a Maasai warrior village helping out at their dispensary, as well as being taught various skills by the Maasai women in Swahilli! Accommodation there is in one of their mudhuts. What to wear and take for that?
Hmmm, I hope Kay is not expected to follow this exact dress code!

There was travel insurance to fix, a professional insurance to cover her in the hospital, a safari to book, hostels to book for the touristy parts of the holiday, money to order, malaria tablets to buy (at £170 - gulp, and that was the cheapest - one chemist quoted £288),  more clothes and toiletries to buy, not to mention setting up utilities for the new house she'd just moved into up north, buying a new camera, a Kindle, celebrating her birthday a week early. The list of "to do's" got longer and longer. All within 6 days. It's been manic.

We were up till 2am last night, trying to pack a gallon into a pint pot. Kay was effectively packing for 4 different holidays (mountain, beach, hospital and leisure) and for a period of ten weeks. In despair we went to bed and then started afresh this morning. We were due to leave for the airport at 16.30, but by 16.00 it was evident that she still had a lot to pack or throw out or maybe include, music to download, set up her new camera etc. At 17.15 I was revving the car engine as she was tying up the last cords and catches of her rucksacks- an enormous one to go on her back (complete with bedding and mosquito nets for Kili)  and a smaller one as hand luggage.)

After such a fraught day and even fraughter departure from the house, we arrived at the airport, fortunately with some time to spare after check-in, so went to have a leisurely last few minutes together at a cafe, before saying a tearful goodbye. She's gone for ten weeks and neither of us wanted to be the first to say goodbye. She gets very emotional as we are very close and it was hard to walk in opposite directions. I was three quarters of the way home, when I got the first phone call to alert me all was not well.

She had gone through security, having had to extract various things from her hand luggage to be x-rayed separately (particularly as security is quite high at the moment), then had gone through the airside shopping mall and finally ended up in the boarding gate lounge. It was then (with 15 minutes left to embarking) that she realised she had not retrieved her toiletry bag (full of important stuff) from the x-ray conveyor belt. Now to menfolk it might not seem a disaster but for girls this is a major catastrophe. She begged and pleaded with an airhostess who allowed her to leg it back along corridors, shopping malls and back to the security to retrieve it, then return like a marathon runner at the last 100 metres of the race, just as the passengers were boarding her flight. The last message I got, was that she was bright red, hot, exhausted and sat right by the toilets on a 7-hour journey to Dubai. She also has a feeling she has forgotten something, but doesn't know what.

I'm sitting here at my laptop at stupid o'clock too tired to function but too wound-up to sleep. It's easy to see why, isn't it? Suffice to say, I'm counting the days until her return.
Elusive sleep finally catches me unawares!