28 May 2017

Grim news and the Grim Reeper.

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When you are young, for most people anyway, thoughts of your own death tend to be far off. It seems so far away as to not be worth thinking about. You have energy and plans which are all-consuming as you work and play your way through the early years. Jobs, relationships, families, exploring new places.... so much to do and so much time stretching ahead to do them in. However, as you get towards the end of your three score years and ten, it is inevitable that those thoughts of your demise start to feature now and again. I am currently 66 going on 50, feel I have many more decades to enjoy, but unfortunately at the moment seem to be surrounded by illness and death, which makes me a little nervous about my own. Funeral invitations seem to outnumber by far any for weddings or christenings. I suppose it is to be expected as you get older and friends of your own age start to come down with things. But I am not liking it. I am certainly not ready to shake off my mortal coil any day soon. I am a spring chicken.

In the last month I have learned that:

  • my husband's best friend recently found out he has bowel cancer and three days after his successful operation to remove it, he had a stroke.  He is slowly recovering. He is 65.
  •  the husband of good friend of mine has been told he has a few days to live. He has kidney failure and associated heart problems. I am trying to buoy up both him and his wife but it is emotionally draining. Admittedly he is 94, but it is still upsetting as he is still very with-it and intelligent (ex-headmaster and WW2 bomber pilot).
  • a member of my wider family has bowel cancer and is about to undergo 6 weeks of chemo and radiotherapy followed by a colostomy. She is in her fifties.
  • an old school friend died two days ago of a muscle wasting disease (MSA).  She was 66, like me. 

I suppose we all hope to go on forever and don't really consider death until it stands up and punches us on the nose, but when it surrounds us and attacks many of those close to us in age within a short timescale, you cannot ignore it.  Of course death can come to those well before their time, as we have witnessed in Manchester recently. Does a time ever come, I wonder, when we accept our time is up and go quietly? Or do we rail against it with all our might until our very last breath?

16 May 2017

Slim chance

I've been doing a lot of knitting lately. 

I've also been trying to lose a little bit of weight. Not a lot but a little. About ten pounds to be precise.  My weight had crept up over ten stone and I didn't like being in double figures (number-wise, that is, not shape-wise!) As I have an occasion I want to lose weight for, I decided to go hell for leather for it. I'm going for a combination of an old Rosemary Conley diet which has been successful in the past plus a smidgen of common sense - high fibre, low fat, low sugar and exercise. I've got a mere three pounds to go until I get to my target of 9 stone 7 pounds, but they are proving the hardest to shift.

I manage very well during the day. I have a small breakfast, small lunch and have my main meal in the evening at around 6 or 7pm. I am usually quite occupied during the day and often out of the house all day, so I barely think about food, but, come the evening, after my main meal of the day, I could happily go on snacking until bedtime. That has always been my downfall. Particularly in the wintertime when I hunker down in front of the TV I get bored and, well, peckish. It seems like every ten minutes I am resisting the idea of getting something to nibble. Sometimes I win.  Sometimes I lose. But when you are on a diet, you cannot afford to lose (except lose weight of course).

That's where the knitting comes in. In a desperate attempt to keep busy and keep my mind on something else (and not food), I decided to knit. I can do that AND watch television without the feeling I am wasting my time. It's also difficult to put the knitting aside (especially in the middle of something complicated) to go off to get a snack.

But what to knit? I don't really have anything specific to knit for and prefer small items where I can see the results quickly. In the last few weeks I've knitted 40 beanie hats and matching socks for small babies and sent them off to four London hospitals for their neonatal wards. Stupidly I didn't take pictures of those, but here's some of the blankets I have been knitting for our local animal rescue centre. So far I've done 3 cat-sized blankets and 3 dog-sized ones. Way to go.

At this rate, by the end of the year, I'll have knitted my own furniture and hopefully be stick-thin in the process. Some hope. Mind you, my fingers do seem a lot slimmer.


10 May 2017


There's been a lot of publicity recently about alcoholism.  First the  revelation from Brad Pitt that alcohol was responsible for breaking up his marriage to Angelina Jolie.  Then a report that baby boomers are at risk of developing deadly conditions by regularly binge drinking. Then a feature in ITV's Loose Women in which Nadia Sawahla spoke of her husband's alcohol addiction.

Brad Pitt calls himself a "professional drinker" who has been sober for six months. It dangerous when people are in denial and do not truly recognise their alcoholism and use another term for it, as if "professional drinker" makes it sound more respectable. He's a recovering alcoholic plain and simple. "Professional" sounds like he could like it or leave it, switch to another "profession", if it did not agree with him. The fact is that an alcoholic has an uphill struggle to leave that profession. That Brad Pitt has been sober for six months is good - all credit to him - but it takes even harder work to keep that up. Time will tell whether he succeeds. Meanwhile, it has cost him his marriage and constant contact with his kids, as is so often the case with alcoholism. All too often, it costs you your life.

As for the baby boomers, they are in their sixties. They probably have reasonable pensions, considerable savings stashed away and a lot of time on their hands. Either living it up on the Costa del Something or housebound in grey Blighty, the time on their hands gives them carte blanche to drink, because they can and they're bored. No need to get up for work the next day. If they drink too much they can sleep it off. Nobody is going to rebuke them for being late or not turning up. Sitting in front of the TV with a bottle of wine each evening probably doesn't count either - in their eyes - so they too are in denial. Apparently a quarter of men over 65 and 13% of women drink FIVE days a week. This increases their risk of common cancers (bowel and breast), liver and heart disease. (My hairdresser is one of these... she recently confessed she cannot wait for seven o'clock to come round each evening when she can crack open a bottle of wine to remove the stresses of the day, but sometimes she cannot wait and opens it at five o'clock.  She finds it hard to have an alcohol-free day let alone alcohol-free week.) Figures published last week reveal an estimated 339,000 alcohol-related admissions in 2015/16, up 22 per cent from 2005/6.   Of course these figures will not all be attributable to baby-boomers, as the young too are on a car-crash course with their drinking habits. Thanks to the Labour government who relaxed drinking laws in 2005 because they thought the British public could handle 24-hour drinking. What were they thinking?  Maybe we DID need a Nanny state to stop us all becoming a nation of zombies with medical problems. Governments can be in denial too, although cynically the increased tax revenue they stood to gain on alcohol probably had something to do with their decision.

My heart went out to Nadia Sawahla on Loose Women when she revealed that her husband is a recovering alcoholic. It had nearly cost them their marriage too. Often partners of alcoholics are in denial too and hope it is just a passing phase that their partner will grow out of. However,  Nadia gave him an ultimatum and thankfully he responded by becoming sober - something that has to date lasted 13 years. He is one of the lucky ones. Statistics show that only one in ten manage to pull themselves out of their addiction and of course staying that way takes a lifetime of immense will power. Just one little drink can lead to addiction again.

04 May 2017

When is enough enough?

About fifteen years ago, when Kay was about ten years old, we took a camping trip to France. We used to go camping a lot in those days, as we had our lovely dog Snoopy then and putting him in kennels while we went away was out of the question, as he was terrible at being left. It was no great hardship. We loved camping and could still explore abroad, as we got him fixed up with his own pet passport. We did trips to France frequently and found a good vet in Calais who would do all the necessary checks and paperwork to get us safely back through Dover again. We went to Germany, Denmark and Ireland too and have many memorable photos of us all crouched inside the tent in pouring rain! Seriously, we had some truly fantastic times.

On this particular trip fifteen years ago, when Kay was ten, we had been returning to the UK from a trip to the Loire. After a long motorway drive, we pulled over to a very small parking area on the side of the motorway somewhere in France for a bit of leg-stretching. It was shielded from the motorway by trees, so it was only when we had parked in one of the twenty or so parking bays that we noticed the very small bungalow building was derelict and the "cafe" was most definitely closed and looked as if it had been for some some years. There was only one other car there apart from ours, but nobody in evidence, so goodness knows where they had gone.  No problem for us, though, as we virtually had the kitchen sink and kettle in the back of the car, so we set about boiling some water on a small camping stove on the ground at the back of the car. Kay had got out with the dog on a lead and stood near us.  Engrossed in finding the jar of coffee and the teabags among the huge heap of luggage, dog bed,  tent and camping paraphernalia, I suddenly turned round to find Kay and the dog were not by the car. They weren't in the car. They weren't in front of the car. They weren't even in view. I called her name. There was silence. Greg and I called and called. Nothing but silence.

Sheer panic set in. My heart was beating two thousand to the minute and it seemed as if it would burst through my throat. Where was she and why wasn't she replying? Before Madeleine McCann there had always been threats of child abduction, the most famous one at the time being the James Bulger case. Did the owners of that other car have something to do with it? I felt sick with fear. We were flailing around searching bushes, trees and about to go towards the derelict building, when Kay and the dog emerged from behind the building. I cannot tell you how relieved I was at that sight and when we ran towards her half-angry, half-relieved demanding to know where she had been, she looked totally surprised at our concern, saying she had just decided to take the dog for a walk to stretch his legs. It was all of about ten minutes, but it seemed like ten years.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day Madeleine McCann went missing. I cannot begin to imagine what Kate and Gerry McCann went through and are still going through. How do you cope with something like that for ten minutes let alone ten years? I admire their tenacity, but they must be putting their life on hold until she is found. At what point do you give up and think enough is enough? 

Image result for madeleine mccann now and then
Madeleine in 2007 and how she might look now