Sunday, 30 September 2018

Full House

Three sets of visitors make a Full House. Sam’s parents in the morning, then Ann’s friends from Up North in the afternoon. We had been going to take them to lunch, but they arrived too late, and we had no bread for sandwiches until MA came with a rescue loaf. Then  MA, Sam and the children came in the evening and brought a curry with them.

Lorna asked if Ann had her bus pass yet, so Ann checked on line. She isn't eligible until she's 68. Also, it’s only valid in Suffolk, and there aren’t many buses she could use. She would have to drive to somewhere like Haverhill to find a bus, and they probably go to Cambridge or Essex, so she couldn’t use them.

Edwin left early for his pilgrimage “Up North” visiting Chester and Liverpool, but via Manchester as it turned out, for several lines were closed for maintenance, and Northern Rail was on strike. He went to support a fellow PhD student who was presenting a paper to the Gaskell Society, and has been asked to present the key note address at their conference next year!  

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Making a splash

We went North at the weekend, to celebrate our grandson’s 16th birthday. His father had told him it was to be a surprise, then took him to the Middlesbrough match, and he thought that was the surprise. But unknown to him, we had all assembled at the house, and hid behind the door when they returned, to leap out and call “Happy Birthday!”, so he had a second surprise and was suitably thrilled by the attention he got. Everyone was there – even the Great X – but not the boy’s uncle Dan, who went to the match, but then said “If dad’s there, I’m not going!” We have never learnt the cause of his animosity – but he completely ignores Ann, Edwin and me if he meets us, and even hurts others to avoid me.

Ann was on the Embankment in London some years ago, and our young grandson was staying with his uncle and met them by happenstance, shouting "There's Grannie Annie!" The boy ran across to greet her, but Dan stayed sulking in the shadows, and would not greet her or Edwin. Now, he cannot even bear to see me, though I have a second and even more nasty cancer to deal with. Who needs such animosity in their life? People of such ilk are not worth the knowing.

Yesterday was the pre-operative assessment at West Suffolk Hospital. They had asked for an early morning MSU, and I had carefully prepared and labelled the bottle at 6am when I got up. I put it in a plastic bag, and in a folder with its forms. As we walked towards the hospital, we suddenly heard the repeating screech of a car alarm. “Is that my car?” wondered Ann. I went back, and sure enough it was! I think the low sun streaming through the window may have triggered it. Unfortunately, in my rush, the urine bottle had slipped out of the folder. I went back to pick it up to find the bag and paperwork soaking. Ann said, “the bottle has a split in it.” In fact, it was completely flattened, with urine squeezed out with great force onto everything. The only car to have followed us in must have aimed straight at it, and run it over. In the clinic, I could only apologize, and give them a mid-morning mid-stream sample in a new bottle.

Friday, 21 September 2018

On the mild side of Wilde

Stopped at a favourite watering hole for the pint that refreshes on the way back from London.  The Three Horseshoes  is conveniently placed about half way home, just after leaving the M11 to take the direct and pretty way home. After a hard day in the office, it's good to unwind and collect my thoughts before trundling back across the slow country lanes. It's a very old hostelry, no doubt a stagecoach stop long before Stansted; possibly even before stagecoaches. It's the sort of place the Romans might have used after a hard day's road building. They have a selection of ales from microbreweries, and change at least one every week. Today they had one I hadn't seen before: Oscar Wilde, a mild beer, yet brimming with a dark quality that glinted mysteriously in the low light. A most delicious ale, worth capturing, as I will probably never meet it again.

Working into retirement definitely has some purpose with stops like these, and makes a journey to London well worth the effort. The work's good too, though travelling on the tube in the rush hour grows more challenging each year, with the crush of elbows and knees on spots that are more tender, and legs that grow tireder with the standing, becomes ever more intense.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

An Irish border

Belfast is a youthful, vibrant, wonderful city, but one holding a dirty secret. When I first visited N. Ireland, some roads from the international airport were still blocked with coiled barbed wire and towering machine gun turrets. I came each month and watched the sectarianism being slowly dismantled, the small roads opened up again, and an air of peace spread across the ground. People from both North and South worked together at Almac in Craigavon for common purpose, and there was an air of pride and achievement in their joint labour.

Marking the border in Belfast

This summer, I visited Belfast itself for the first time, and found a city still divided. The peace lines are great walls of brick and iron, reaching up to 7 meters, topped with razor wire, and emblazoned with graffiti. They have proliferated since 1969, and there are now over 21 miles of them. The police stations along this border remain fortified, and each evening great gates close many of the roads, effectively imposing a night time curfew.

These walls seemed to put the immigrant control lines of Hungary and Macedonia into context, and make the current disagreements over a customs border with Ireland laughable. In a major European city within the UK, this is shaming.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Country Interlude

Walked with the dogs at the weekend round the fields I see from my study, before resting half way, sitting quietly on a stile. Suddenly something breathed into my ear and pressed my shoulder. I jumped up to find a horse with its head in my face. It had been the other side of the meadow when I sat down, and I hadn’t thought more about it. 
Horsey in his field

He lives in the seven acre meadows beyond my window. The people who own it break horses, and I watch them leading their young mounts in circles on halter training. Later they graduate to the bridle and saddle, and are led past our house for their road work, ready for their new owners. The grey is one of two older horses, used perhaps to lead the young ones. The land is prime building land, and NIMBY-like I hope it is not sold for development, or instead of looking out on a meadow with spring hares dancing, and deer upon the hill, I will look out on a field of small cramped brick housing and smell the fumes of commuters.

Then, turning round, a bunch of blackberries thrust themselves into my face. Almost an inch across, dripping with juice and honey sweet, they fell into my mouth at the lightest touch. Sometimes country living has good rewards.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Backing Labour

Have rejoined the Labour Party, to support  care and fairness rather than to support the eccentricities of the present leader. I was last a member in Middlesbrough, a town strongly labour with a massive and vocal support base that ended up so vitriolic against any disagreement that it drove me out for 40 years. But I have taken the risk, and returned to the fold.

My first meeting this morning. This meeting was gentle, caring, well led, and thoughtful calmness. One person came late - the representative for women's issues - appologising that her child was playing up this morning. He'd had his first day at school this week, and for a dare had opened a drain and jumped in with both feet. His shoes were black with oozing slimey mud, so she'd put them in the washing machine. "Luckily they were Clarkes," she said, "they came out again quite OK".

Someone raised the looming problems of Brexit and the possibility of shortages of food and drugs, and wondered what should be done. The chairperson (I am becoming conscientiously PC these days, so I won't specify chairwoman) immediately pulled the meeting back to the local issues.

"No one knows what will happen, and I can't get a position from the Central Party about the attitude we should take towards a second referendum. The important things for this branch are to build support for the struggling food banks, to publicise the increasing number of impoverished children, when the prime-minister promised to eliminated child poverty by 2010, and to pressurise for more support for the school bus service, because the poorest children are forced to use schools they can walk to rather than schools of their choice, as the parents can't afford the bus fares." All, I thought, very worthy issues. I must go again.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Anticipating Finality

Each day, Ann posts a new poem on "No Coward Soul is Mine", her poetry site on WordPress. Each poem is deeply personal or introspective, usually reflecting the mournful reaction to a soul of unease. Many reflect the people closest to her - the strained relationships or deep injustice or betrayal.

She has a unique voice: beautifully crafted simple themes, minimally rhymed, punching home a message of truth. They invariably move me deeply: to tears, or to make the hairs on my neck bristle. If challenged for their source or meaning, she cheerfully proclaims "Why does everyone think my poetry is about them? It about everywoman or man!" Today's is:


He died
now it is as if he never lived,
never drew breath
or held another's hand,
he is gone
and given up to death
never more
will he taste the joy that was his home,
his garden now is but a field of weeds
all he held most dear has moved on,
the man he was is forgotten,
buried deep
now his life is lost
those he left will grieve
and then move on
It could be about the great loss suffered by all who grieve, or - with two cancers with potentially fatal endings - could it be interpreted as a life beyond my own? I will not ask. Ann would always reply, "Why must everything be about you?"

E. spent yesterday in Cambridge, removing the pain of memory by revisiting shared places. He phoned to say he would take dinner there, and be late back. Clearly there were a lot of memories for so brief a time together - let's hope they are assuaged.

Ann's cousin Allan is visiting, and over the weekend will come Ben, Lucy and their families. Last weekend it was Matthew, who wanted a picture of "me and dad". Is everyone mourning before I'm gone? Do they all share secrets unknown to me? To have a deep and hidden cancer is mentally wearing. I am tired and feel weak, and I don't know if it is physical or psychological. But I'm not on the death bed yet - I dread to think how they will behave with that finality in the air.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

A (very) short break

After walking the dogs in Clare at lunchtime, I drove back onto the drive to take Edwin's place as he was to be away for a few days. Ann came running out, phone to her ear. "You'll have to park back on the road," she said. "Edwin's coming back."

Today, Edwin should have been in Denmark. He left Cambridge and the train to London. Only after boarding the Heathrow express did we learn he had had a disagreement with the friend he was flying out to stay with. He got off at the first terminal and caught the next train back.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Someone doesn't like the music of MRI

A call from the hospital to go to MRI came the next day, as there was a cancellation. Edwin took me in as Ann can't drive with her plastered arm. Three hours later I was in a theatre gown under the great magnetic tunnel, ear plugged and headphones on listening to Abba at full volume, to drown the clicks thumps and strange buzzing of the pulsing power sweeping my bladder. It took about 35 minutes, but they wouldn’t share the results.

In the second scanner was a lady who went in with me. I know she was 84, because she had to give her date of birth. She was in a wheel chair, and very deaf – her daughter kept shouting the questions and instructions to her, before helping her from the chair to the MRI bed. She has scarcely laid down, when she started screaming and refused to continue, so they had to wheel her out again. Edwin said her daughter was furious because she’d wasted her time – not to mention the lost MRI time for another needy patient.

They gave me the appointment for a CAT scan while I was there, so two days later Mary-Anne drove me in again for that. Again, they refused to show me the pictures or discuss it. And I thought they were trying to become more transparent and share patient details with we “customers” – I horrid name for a secretive service.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

A Dismal Day

It was not the best of days. Edwin took me to hospital, Ann being unable to drive. The unit on the urology ward is new: the Johanna Finn Diagnostic Unit. The wall plaque tells us it was opened by the one Johanna Finn, just a week or two ago. Ms Finn must be well thought of – usually these units are named after former great surgeons. LinkedIn describes her as a CX at West Suffolk, but don’t explain the term, which seemingly can mean “Customer Experience” or “Chief Executive”. Perhaps she sat on the name selection committee, and someone put her name forward to save any arguments.

The waiting room was filled with rows of elderly men, all looking solemn and concerned and uncomfortable. One, clearly more tense than the others, rose to speak “in confidence” to the receptionist. “Can I be allowed to go to pee?” he pleaded. “I’m bursting and I can’t wait.”
“No,” she replied. “You have to have a full bladder. You’ll have to cross your legs”.

I said, “I think that’s good advice for all of us,” and certainly there was a lot of wriggling and a number of looks of grim determination. But she did agree to go through and see where he was on the list, and managed to get him in next. He came out grinning like a school boy, and went behind the counter to touch her shoulder and thank her. I thought he had come alone as he walked to the door, but then an even older man, stooping over a stick, got up and went out with him.

“He’s a funny escort,” I mused, “he doesn’t look fit to care for anyone.”

“They’re a gay couple,” Edwin explained. “It’s sweet.”

Gradually men were called in, and left, generally looking relieved and smiling. Then my turn came. The radiologist was white-coated, brisk and efficient. “Lie on your right side,” she commanded as the cold jelly slid across, looking for one kidney, then the other. She turned me to the screen. “Those are the kidneys,” she pointed out. They both have cortical cysts, but that’s normal at your age. No masses.” Then she lay me on my back and scanned the bladder. Her silence was an ominous portend. “Right that’s all done,” she said. “You can go back to the waiting room.”

The surgeon was a turbaned Sikh, and clearly both knowledgeable and confident. “Do you know what’s involved?” he asked.

“Well, I did six months' house surgery on a GU ward,” I said guardedly, “so I did a lot of catheterisations, but I always hoped I would never have to go through one.”

He did the necessary, but I can’t pretend it wasn’t painful – like having a knitting needle pushed up, with sharp pains all the way. Then when it was over, he turned me to face the screen, “There’s a growth,” he explained. “You will need to come in to have it removed. Do you have a relative here you would like present?”

I said, “Yes, my son, Edwin. You’ll spot him. He’s the only young one, with a beard.” The nurse went out to call him.

Edwin later told me he knew it was bad news when she put her head round the door and called his name. “I thought, ‘I’m not on their list!’”, and looked round hoping there was another Edwin. But there wasn’t one. When we came out, I was the only one told to sat down, and given a pad to fill out all my details. Everyone in the room looked sympathetic, but relieved that it wasn’t them.

We went for a meal in the evening, to the Red Lion at Horseheath. There was nothing on the menu for Ann or Edwin that was both gluten-free and vegetarian, so we retired to the bar to finish our drinks before moving on to the local Indian. Then the waitress came through with a hand-written list the chef had drawn up, of dishes he could put together for them, so we all trooped back in. 

The food was wonderful, and we decided to split a bottle of wine. The waitress said the wine would be complementary, as an apology for not having a suitable menu, so the dismal day finally ended on a good and positive note, and I returned home to a good dose of my favorite medicine: Bruichladdich Islay Barley, at 50% proof and unwatered – as sweet as honey dew, and the very best amnesiac.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The cystoscope awaits.

Death is the price we pay for life. It is non-negotiable and paid in full equally, whatever the living brought. I await my scan and cystoscopy dreading  the discomfort and unknown results equally, aware that fear or hope changes nothing. The outcome is dictated by fate's throw, but gives me pause in a hectic schedule to gather morbid thoughts like these.

Ann sought to distract me by putting the TV on. It opened with an advert for the MacMillan Nursing Fund - "support someone you love through cancer". Oh oh! Then the news item came on about the wonderful life of Radio 4 presenter Rachael Bland, who has just died at the age of 40 from breast cancer. Double oh oh! With Ann's arm in plaster, and her swollen bruised eyes, she cannot drive, so Edwin will take me to the OP for the scan and cystoscopy.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

A Tsunami of Trouble

Yesterday became surreal. We took the two grandchildren to London for the day, to sample an Escape Room and a special tea on Park Lane. We arrived at St Pancras platform when Edwin got a call: “This is the Escape Room. There has been an incident. A woman has been stabbed outside the building on the Caledonian Road, and the road is cordoned off.” Sure enough, the police tape would not let us enter the scene of crime, so after a long detour we entered Caledonian Road from the other end. The police finally escorted us through the cordon to the Escape Room door with minutes to spare from our time slot. But "Revenge of the Sheep" was one of the best Escape Rooms we have done, although one of the padlocks had jammed and the controller had to come in with a massive set of bolt cutters to clip it off! and we completed it (with a little help) thanks to two very observant young girls.

Then, walking back up the Caledonian Road to the tube, Ann caught her foot and fell splayed out on the pavement. I saw her strike her head, and her glasses were scratched and very bent. But as she tried to sit, we could see her right hand swollen and distorted with the finger twisted out at an unnatural angle. I told Edwin to call us a taxi at once, and asked him to complete the day with the girls, they being instructed not to let him out of their sight, then asked the taxi driver to take us to the best A&E. He took us to UCH on Gower Street, and despite the crowd on a Saturday afternoon, they could not have given better of more prompt treatment. The Senior Nurse did the reduction and straightening under local, then plastered the whole thing with “an Edinburgh Gutter Slab”, possibly named for a technique developed to treat all the Scottish drunks who fell in gutters and fractured fingers! The repeat X-ray showed good position, and we were sent home with a referral letter for WSH. The virtual X-ray images would be sent automatically – one benefit of modern technology.

Finally, at home again, with the girls about ready for bed, Edwin came in and said my cousin Ed Marston of Paonia, Colorado, had died suddenly from complications of West Nile fever. He and his wife Betsy were wonderful people, always a joy to be with, and so full of life and vigour. Troubles certainly do come as great tsunamis, to attack and overwhelm on all fronts simultaneously.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

The Cry of Prostatic Anguish

Sex is a powerful hypnotic. Pre-coitus is tension, desire, shaking, like the symptoms of any craving. Then with achievement, the whole body relaxes, and the smile of peace and pleasure descends as of a great accomplishment, and one slips away in sleep as deep as after a day of fruitful toil. The smile would remain throughout the following day, my step a little lighter, my head a little higher. It was the narcotic to which I was addicted, and yearned to return for my next fix.

Today, all is still. Nothing stirs but the frustration of unfulfilled desire, for impotence has struck. It is the great pain of age, adding mocking anguish to the already ailing body. It is not a happy prospect, unhelped by unbidden frustration for my wife also, who bears the brunt of my pain.

Next week I go to hospital for cystoscopy and a scan, so this now is the triple blow, adding to the first of prostatism and haematuria, and to the second of having knowledge of all that may be involved. For as a post-grad medical student, I spent six months on a GU ward in my surgical house job, inserting catheters and peering through the telescope attachments of cystoscopy tubes, assisting the surgeon as he cut or fried the tissue. 

Now the only morning rise is to the toilet for a 4 a.m. pee, and watch as it dribble in the pan, and hope all is voided before I pull up the pyjama pants. The frustrations of age are endless, and seem to grow with the lengthening shadows, assuaged only by writing this in the pre-dawn of another restless night.