Wednesday, 21 August 2019

More use of NHS resources

My follow-up cystoscopy was done this morning. Today three women stood round me to push and probe inside the bladder. They attempt to anaesthetise the urethra with an anaesthetic gel, but the pain of the gel is as great as the subsequent pain of the cystoscope: an intensely sharp needle being thrust deep inside. To say it is uncomfortable is an understatement, but the view on the screen is astounding - a huge magnification of the intimate passage through my penis and into the bladder. Every muscle of the bladder wall is enlarged ten-fold, and exposes vast areas of redness impregnated with raw blood vessels. All the inflammation I see is explained as the after-effects of the searing radiation I received over eight months ago from the radiotherapy, which literally burnt away at the original site to obliterate any residual rogue cells. But thankfully, no recurrence of the tumour which led to all this poking around, so the news is good. They give me a tissue to wipe myself, and I get dressed then go out to Ann to break the glad news.

However, continuing the theme of my good health and its maintainance, I still get very breathless and tired on any exertion, and tonight saw my GP to discuss the incidental findings of scar tissue and bronchiectasis in the lungs. I notice that GPs never perform physical examinations any more - no one has actually auscultated my chest for years. In the old days, I would have been tapping for resonance, looking for any glands or deviations of the trachea (in laymen's terms, changes in the lungs give difference resonances on the chest wall, or can displace the windpipe). He didn't check my BP or heart for any signs of failure, which can also lead to breathlessness; or my veins for raised venous pressure or ankles for oedema for other signs of heart failure. In fact, the whole consultation took about two minutes, but he did refer me to the respiratory clinic for investigations, so that shall be sufficient judgement on his methods. Once again, I am thankful that the NHS provide all this, for I have no private insurance and I could certainly never afford these multiple treatments.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Good health and haute cuisine

Good news on the health front today. I need not give my notice yet at work. The oncologist gave me the results of the scan which shows no recurrence, and blood tests which show no further deterioration in my anaemia or renal failure. I can consider future plans for a bit further ahead and put my will back in its envelope. I still get very tired in the evening and walk slowly and breathlessly, but he explained that by saying that my lungs have some scarring and bronchiectasis, but could not tell me how I had acquired the damage or if I can do anything about it, except to make an appointment with the GP and see if he can sort it out. Back to normal, in other words. Happily our GPs are not so unavailable as in some areas; Ann made an appointment tonight and I get to be seen on Thursday.

Edwin cooked for us tonight, a feast of stuffed marrows using the veggies that Rosie and Matthew had grown on their allotment (see Adding colour to life). He made the stuffing from rice flavoured with garlic and herbs and covered in cheese, with a special sauce he had created. They were delicious and were a full and worthy tribute to the glorious veggies. Edwin does a lot of original cooking now with his friend in Cambridge, and is considering putting together a recipe book about converting an ardent meat eater to the delights of delicate vegetarian cuisine.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Adding colour to life

Selection of veggies from Rosie and Matthew's allotment
Rosie and Matthew have a huge allotment between them, and have successfully grown a wide variety of vegetables that are just coming into fruition. They seem to specialise in rare or exotic items such as golden beetroot, or yellow cucumbers, which are amazing. Yesterday they brought round a wonderful, plump, ripe tasty selection of their produce, and Edwin is going to stuff the marrow and cook it for us. They also brought the added gift of a rare black cheese that we first sampled at their house. It is delicious, but very expensive. They are so generous, and always seem to bring something welcome but unusual.

The wonderful variety of the colours and the roundness of the veggies put me in mind of my Damien Hirst coaster mat. I found it in Clare and immediately put it to use next to my chair in the living room. Bright and cheery, I loved it and thought it added colour and modernity to the room. It didn't stay long. Ann pounced, saying it didn't match her decor and would have to go! It has now been relegated to my desk, where it sits before me and holds my tea in glorious Technicolor spots. Perhaps I should add that, when I say I found it in Clare, it had been dropped on the pavement, not in the art shop. Now Ann keeps sending me photos of other spotty things as she says I like them so much, including Damian Hirst covering a nude model in spots. I find all sorts of things on my walks, but I've yet to find one of those.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Up to the Nines

Waiting in the sun
Nines Global Buffet is an amazing all-you-can-eat diner in Cambridge serving top class food from a wide variety of cuisines, at modest prices. We visited for the first time with Matthew and Rosie, who'd come to us for the day, bringing the fruits of their allotment. Unhappily, Rosie was struck with severe nausea after her main courses and before she could start her dessert, so we had to leave for some fresh air to allow her to recover. Matthew walked her over to some bushes by the carpark, whilst Ann and I waited in the sun for her recovery. We had intended to go on to do some bowling, or perhaps to sit in the garden at Grantchester, but in the event we had to drive them at a sedate pace back home. She lay on the couch and slowly the colour came back to her cheeks, until she was well enough to face the journey back to King's Lynne.

Friday, 16 August 2019

How to make a bad impression

A few weeks ago, I lost half of an upper molar when it cracked off and I spat it out. I thought a small stone had weaselled its way into my meal until I felt the jagged edge, so today I finally got to the dentist for a crown to be fitted. This procedure is carried out in two halves, the first being the longest and hardest when he injects the gum then proceeds to drill out the cavity to prepare for the fitting. I will not describe in any detail the incredibly noisy, high-pitched whining and sensation of torture as I felt my skull being excavated, for this is well known to anyone who has had a filling, but I suffered it bravely without incident. The trouble came when he prepared the mould for me to bite into for the tooth impression. Every time I bit down, my teeth started an uncontrollable chattering, so that the jelly in the mould was pushed in all directions, and left not a single bite imprint, but a huge impression of someone chewing his last meal.

Each time the dentist tried it, the same thing happened. I wasn't nervous, and the rest of my body was calm and still - only the teeth were chattering. He asked if I was cold and offered a blanket, but I was not cold. Finally he asked about my food intake, and I admitted to having only a light breakfast of cereal (unsugared) many hours earlier. I had deliberately missed any lunch or snacks to keep my mouth clean. "Ah," he said, "I think you're hypoglycaemic!" and asked the nurse to bring me a drink of sugar water. Sure enough, this did seem to do the trick and my mouth remained its normal steady self after this. "Well done," he said, as though it was my accomplishment that had achieved success. "We'll see you in two weeks when the crown is ready. It will be much easier next time - we just glue it in."

Coming out I was greeted by Ann's smile. She had waited knowing I would be somewhat distressed, as I always am at the dentist. She took my hand and led me to a garden centre to buy me a big slice of Lemon Victoria Drizzle cake, with lashings of lemon icing on the top. My serenity and my blood sugar were soon fully restored.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

One of our sheep is missing

Caring for the sheep
Clare park has installed a number of wooden sheep as part of their revamping operation. Unfortunately, the rustlers have been at work and one has disappeared. Farmers beware – not even wooden sheep are safe anymore from predators.

I received an encouraging though unexpected email today from a Professor at Washington University in the USA, who is editing a special edition of a journal called Galaxy, and has requested a new paper. I wrote back to say I was interested and outlined a topic suggestion, and she replied saying that will be ideal and she looks forward to getting it!

The first of our bikes has sold to a man called Dan from Clare. He only moved here two weeks ago from Gran Canaria, where he worked privately in "currency exchange" whatever that is. He wants the bike to cycle to the shops, and  also brought his 14 year old daughter, Ananda, so she can take her GCSEs in England. She too wants a bike, but didn't like the look of any of our rusty wrecks.

Ann meanwhile has gone to Lakeside Ikea with Mary-Anne and the grandchildren. They love going there, and always manage to persuade Ann to go with them. They then convince her that she must need whatever attracts them at the moment, so I never know what she will bring back! Last time it was two enormous circular trays, large enough to carry the dinner for a family of six. But they are always such fun to be with that it is time well spent (though strangely, I am never invited to these shopping jaunts).

Ann returned late, with the two girls helping to bring in her shopping. I told her about the bike, but her comment was "I didn't want to sell that one. Now I'm going to have to buy a new one!" Oops.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Perseid Meteors

Tonight was peak viewing time for the annual display of celestial pyrotechnics that is the Perseid Meteor Shower. Edwin is away again for a few days, so Ann and I took the dogs to the top of our local hill, which is also the highest point in East Anglia and lightless on the farm track. The moon was nearly full and there was some cloud cover, so it was far from a dark night, but still clear enough to see the brightest meteors in their final fall. Come midnight, we drove into Clare park, me still in pyjamas and slippers though Ann was diligent enough to dress first. It is a creepy place at night - a couple of camper vans sneaking a cheap night, a few cars, the old castle outlined in the moonlight, and strange noises in the creepy shadows, though not a soul was about nor another vehicle on the road at that time. Just us and the dogs, shadowed in the bright moon, but we did see some spectacular meteor trails.

£15 anyone?
We have found five old bikes in the garage and side-shed, collected over the years from the days when we were energetic enough to do such things. Now, we need to get rid of them, so I've started to place them on Gumtree. I posted Ann's old shopper at £25, but following her advice (i.e. "You should give them £25 to take it away"), I've reduced it to £15. Someone actually phoned today, so perhaps it will sell!

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Swan Lake and unexpected links

A link between Great Grandad Ted and Cousin Betty?
In one of life's strange linking loops of coincidence, I received an email from Ted, the great-grandfather of our grandson Luke, suggesting that he was genetically related to one of Ann's cousins in California. This links Luke, if somewhat remotely, to his Grannie Ann which is great - she has always been fond of him, and this coincidence seems to bring them closer. Ted is 94 and bright as anyone. He is fully computer literate, and able to produce huge, complex family histories from various programmes he uses. We are sorry never to have met him, for he wasn't at Ben's wedding, and says he is now too infirm to face up to meeting new people.

Again by coincidence, Ann and Edwin were out in Switzerland over the weekend to meet this cousin Betty and her husband, who are over doing a tour of Europe. They rapidly discovered that Switzerland well justifies its ranking of "most expensive place in the world". Just a short taxi ride cost them £60. At dinner, the wine was £100 for a bottle, so they had to make it last for the meal and go round all four of them. Betty and Don paid for the meal - it must have cost a fortune, and it was only in a 3-star hotel!

Swan Lake

violent wings,
no velvet down
but an angry battering
male aggression,
no nurturing softness
death's masculine tragedy.

Last night we went to a filmed performance of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, made famous to us in Billy Elliot. I did not know quite what to expect, being so used to the classical "Bolshoi" treatment, but we forget that swans are equally male as female, and can be very aggressive, and I was bowled over by the sheer aggressive power of these male swans. Their ferocity was deadly, and the whole updated interpretation of the cold mother and the desperate yearning for affection of her son the prince was as riveting as it was convincing, bringing to mind our own Prince Heir and his turning to nature for the affection he craved. I highly recommend seeing it to all ballet buffs.

Swans at Clare Park

Monday, 5 August 2019

A visit to the dentist

Ann very ill last night with D and V, cause unknown. We had had a lunch out, but she only had a veggie burger and chips with no bun, and the bar staff had assured her it was gluten free, but that is all we can think of, for she is very gluten-sensitive.  In the midst of it all, Edwin phoned to say he was staying over with his friend in Cambridge, and they were off to Norway the next day for a few days away. He flies straight off to Lucerne with Ann at the end of the week, and will immediately go on to another friend in Nottingham, leaving Ann to maker her own way home. We won't have seen anything of him for nearly a fortnight, and he's away intermittently throughout the summer. It will be very peaceful, but his dog misses him and sleeps on his bed, with a look of mournful sadness as though to say, "What have you done with my master?"

Last week, eating a light meal, I suddenly felt a piece of grit in my mouth. Spitting it out, I saw it was enamel-coated, so had an emergency visit to the dentist today to sort out a cracked tooth. He took two minutes to tell me it had cracked clean across, and I would need a (very expensive) crown, so I have to return for two visits. I hate the dentist, but I must admit it was painless today, apart from the hit to the pocket. On our return, a letter from the hospital makes an appointment for my next cystoscopy checkup. I still haven't heard any results from the scan, so must keep pressing them to find out if possible. It is my body, and they ought to let me know, but even the GP doesn't have a result.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Witches, Mediums and the Tarot

Last night was my second Hundon men's group meetings at the Rose and Crown. It was smaller than previously, with only four of us sitting outside in the warm evening. It grew more and more chilly as darkness fell, and someone asked if anyone wanted to go inside? But we each said no, we were fine: a bunch of old men, none wanting to admit to weakness before the others. Finally, Derek's wife Jean turned up to drive him home, they having moved to Clare a while ago. "You're still outside?" she asked, "Aren't you cold?" Waking home with a neighbour from the group, he said "it did get cold sitting out."

Derek had mentioned that Jean had been to see Ronnie Buckingham, a famous medium who had visited a packed Hundon Hall earlier in the week. This immediately drew the skepticism of the group, all engineers or practical men, who wanted to know what he said, or if he could tell anything of Jean's past that was genuinely unknown to anyone else. Jean was reluctant to say too much, but admitted she went for the entertainment value, which is fair comment. His method is to announce he has a message coming through, perhaps from someone's parent, or partner, brother or sister or a child, and ask if anyone has lost such a relation? Inevitably someone will admit to having some close loss, and he then sounds them out with a series of half-formed questions, gradually teasing the story from the emotionally vulnerable subject and making it sound as though he, Ronnie, is presenting these hidden facts from the beyond. But I kept my views to myself, for Jean was understandably abashed by the doubters and reluctant to say too much.

In my GP days, one of my patients was known as the Billingham witch. Velma had a flat hidden above the shops, reached by stairs and a common walk-way. So many people visited her, a neighbour had painted in large white letters, "The witch is at 10a, not 10", with an arrow to guide people away from his door. She looked the part with long, midnight-black hair, decks of cards and a crystal ball on the green baize table, mystic symbols pinned round the walls lit by candles, and the curtains half shut against the sun. She always offered to tell my fortune, and wanted to know  my birth sign, but I used to tease her and say she ought to be able to tell me. She also offered to put a curse on anyone who upset me. She never gave me my fortune or pronounced her curse, but she did make a good cup of tea and bacon butties and provided a welcome break in a busy day.

I know, though the Hundon men's group don't, that Ann does Tarot readings, but that is not hocus-pocus. She uses the cards to explore the hidden conscious and help people express emotions, fears or memories they may have suppressed. Ann never claims to "read the cards", but uses them to express ideas within the subject in a form of Jungian analysis. Like an analyst or a doctor, she keeps her confidences and doesn't reveal what people have told her, but all who go to her appear to be greatly helped, so – as a great believer in deep or primitive motivations in our lives – unlike a medium or simple witchcraft, this is something I do agree with.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Getting a builder and tube talk

Getting workers in Suffolk is difficult, for they can be selective in the jobs they take. For months we've been trying to get someone to repair the crack that's appeared over our window. Many didn't return our calls. Others promised to come but didn't. A few came and said they'd give a quote, but didn't and the crack continued to widen and lengthen, and now there is a crack in the internal coving above the window. Finally one came, and gave a proper quote. Today after a repeated delay for a mixture of excuses, he finally arrived to work at the brickwork and replace the window, which no longer opens. I had to go to London for meetings, so Ann dealt with him, but at least he seems to be doing the right things.

For some time, Ann has asked me to try and get a bottle of Orange Wine to try. I asked in many varied shops, some with Luke when he came to stay and we saw parts of London advertising wine shops, but to no avail. Today I found somewhere in High Hoborn, down a dark alley close to the office block where my meetings were. The store was filled with tasting bottles and glasses, and the manager, a young Portuguese man, recommended Doc Alentejo, a special Portuguese Vinho De Talha white whose grapes were trod in the traditional manner, and left to ferment in open vats with all the bits still in, and a layer of olive oil to keep the dirt and flies out. The grapes are grown in the hottest region of Portugal, Cape Bojador, and have to be picked a full two weeks before other regions. It was a lovely dark wine with a subtle taste of fruits and very little acidity, wonderful with salads in the sun. It was pricey, but I splashed out for Ann - she's worth it.

Returning from Holborn, the tube was packed and I had to fight a pack of pressed bodies to force my way into a carriage. At Liverpool, enough people left for me to get a seat, and someone else let a woman from further up through to the adjacent seat. It was hot, and she wore a heavy coat which she struggled to pull off, so I offered to help by pulling the sleeve down. She was unusually grateful, and went into a long monologue about why she wore the coat which she had chosen specially from Marks and Spencer's. It had cost £80, and had multiple pockets. She lives in East Ham, and complained that it was crime ridden, with gangs of bag-snatchers roaming to seize any bag they could, her own bag being snatched several times, so now she kept her money dispersed round the pockets and only carried cheap carrier bags, of which a fair number were displayed at her feet. By the time I reached Stratford, we were chatting like old neighbours - a rare event on trains and tubes, where standard behaviour is to bury one's head in a book or protect against the possibility of conversation with headphones firmly plugged in, carefully ignoring everyone even when pressed together.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Lost on the A14

Ann has gone to Birmingham with MA and the girls to visit the world's biggest Primark and do some girlie shopping. It did not get off to a good start though when the phone went at 09:00 and MA said "We're outside. Where's mum?" Mum had thought they'd arranged for 10:00 and was still getting ready. Hopefully they will meander the horrific queues of the A14 and have a good day, when finally they arrive.
Update at 10:00pm: Ann has just texted to say the A14 is closed and she's following a diversion through country roads, and likely to be another hour away.

I have just finished the new book by Rod Liddle, The Great British Betrayal. At last I've found a writer who seems to sum up everything we have thought about project fear and the Remainers' anti-leave disinformation war. BBC bias against Brexit is so blatant that we routinely joke about it as we point out the latest piece of propaganda. The latest tonight is the report of Johnson's visit to Wales, which has promoted the new Fear-Smear that there will be civil unrest and tractors blocking the roads if we leave. 

However, Liddle did stop the book at the point of May's ignominious exit, so I have written to complement him on the book, and sent the hope that he might eventually be able to write a sequel, The Great British Comeback, if the new Prime Minister can actually succeed at this Herculean task.

Monday, 29 July 2019

The frustrations of Kent

On Dungeness Point
Our away-weekend was a mix of relaxation and frustration. The journey to London was swift and uneventful, sailing through to Stratford and parking with ease in their underground carpark by the hotel. The journey to Dover next day found every approach road blocked by tailbacks for the docks. It took nearly two hours to move a mile, and we finally escaped to have lunch outside Folkestone before making the most of our spontaneous freedom to revisit Dungeness Point, the home of a huge nature reserve, Britain's tallest lighthouse and two Nuclear Power Stations. 

In London on Friday, we stayed at the Staybridge Suites hotel in Stratford, with a superbly equipped room and full breakfast for a modest price. In contrast, the old Churchill Hotel on Dover front, now a Best Western, which used to be the grandest hotel in a grand town, and is one of the few buildings to have survived the intense bombing of the war, should now be renamed the Worst Western. The room is tiny, badly laid out, with tired decor and no breakfast, for a fee that is higher than the smart London suite.  The window is an ill-fitting pre-war sash with peeling paint and an inclination to slam shut when we don't expect it. But we can't leave it open, because a pigeon landed on the sill, began cooing loudly, the stepped through into the room. Ann shooed it out, and we had to wedge the window open just a crack using a folded towel.

Ann at Margate
Next day we returned home determined to have a traditional whirly ice-cream. Our first stop was Broadstairs, where we had veggie pies in the wonderful Chapel Bookstore cum Restaurant cum pub, leaving us too full for our standard visit to the luxurious Italian Morelles, Moving on to Whitstable, the town was packed with revellers enjoying the famous annual Oyster Fair (not famous to us, who hadn't known about it till this moment), so we were unable to stop. Again to Herne Bay, home of many of Ann's ancestors, but again bursting with London holiday makers. Finally to Margate where we could park on the pier, but where there was a dearth of ices. We consequently enjoyed drinks instead, before having one last try on Sheerness at Queenborough, and Minster-on-Sea before giving up our search, defeated.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The perpetual dichotomy between promises and whoopsies

Robot cleaner before its death

Edwin's friend in Cambridge has a £500 robot vacuum cleaner, and for some time Edwin has been pressurising us to buy one, not appreciating that – in contrast to us – has friend has a small bachelor pad with no stairs. Our arguments were backed up today by the Chemist's assistant in Claire, who bought one and set it to clean her rooms at midnight each day. Until one evening, their dog did a whoopsie which the cleaner duly processed and cleaned up, clogging its innards beyond repair. She had to throw out the whole thing.

Never ask a Cambridge student for directions. They are trained to never acknowledge ignorance of any question, and will always willingly provide an answer, even if the truth lies 180 degrees away from the direction they suggest. I first came upon this phenomenon when I was a teenager, listening to Radio Three (or The Third Programme as it was then called). A Cambridge graduate was being interviewed for his favourite piece of music. "When I first went up to Cambridge," he confessed, "I was asked in someone's rooms which was my favourite Brandenburg. I knew little about music, and took a blind guess, 'Number 3'", which they then played. By coincidence, I had recently jointed World Record Club to learn a little about classical music myself, and they had sent the Third Brandenburg as a complementary E.P. to thank me for joining. I have enjoyed it ever since, but now all six Brandenburgs can be fitted on one CD.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when Boris took to the podium to outline our future. As a breed, politicians generally attended Oxford, but I suspect that this institution ‒ steeped in history and classics degrees as it is – is even more rigorous in never admitting ignorance than Cambridge, which should have a more scientific attitude to ignorance and inquiry. We are promised the earth; nothing is impossible; we are moving to the golden uplands of prosperity and delight, with good housing for all. "Oh good," I think, "bring it on!" No politician ever admits to doubt or uncertainty, nor do we the public expect them to. We look for reassurance and hope, for bright skies ahead. We live in expectation of a miracle worker, but are always doomed to disappointment. Still, I must admit it is good to see the glowing rays of optimism shine for a few hours at least, before they are greyed over by the gloomy clouds of reality that beset Theresa May. Perhaps, just for once, we really will have a saviour who can solve the dichotomy between promises and achievements. That would be a saviour worthy of the name. Or perhaps - like the robo-cleaner - Boris will plough his merry path, promising to clean up everything before him, until he too hits the shit.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

A scan and hot weather

Yesterday I had my first CT-scan since the diagnosis of cancer last year. The two technicians had beautiful smiles, which I knew would disappear when they tried to cannulate my arm, for the veins are very poor now. Sure enough they missed the vein and I ended with an extravasation of contrast dye, but they did succeed in finding a suitable landing site on my wrist. I had to wear a hospital nightgown and lie uncomfortably on my tummy with arms outstretched while the machine pushed and pulled me through the X-ray device. Every few minutes, an anonymous voice boomed out orders in rapid succession like an American Drill Sargent on the parade ground: "BREATH IN! BREATH OUT! STOP BREATHING!!!" It was so loud Ann and the other patients waiting outside could hear it shouting, leading a few of them to wonder if they could face the voice. Finally it was done and I staggered out in flapping nightgown, a cannula strapped to my wrist and a large icepack wedged at my elbow over a swollen bruise. Those other patients not already discouraged by the voice now wondered what they were in for. Now I must wait for the result when I see the oncologist again in two weeks.

Later I walked the dogs in Clare Park. The heat was intense even in the early evening, and by the river we met a fellow dog-walker who recognised our two from the kennels, where they had played with her dog. This was a golden retreiver called Ellie, that enjoyed diving in the river for a swim. Five girls had stripped down to their bras and panties and began to jump into the water too, leaving their clothes heaped on the footpath. It all took me back to my own boyhood, when in the heat of summer dad would drive us to a large torpid river where we'd strip and dive in from the bank, feeling the mud with our toes and thankful to cool in the shade of the trees over the water, while mum prepared a picnic. 

The front of our house has developed a large crack in the brickwork over a large window which, lacking a lintel, has sagged under the weight of the bricks. We were expecting a builder on Monday to replace the window, fit a lintel, and repair the brickwork. On Sunday he phoned to say the window wouldn't be ready till Tuesday. On Tuesday he phoned to let us know the window makers had suffered a fire in their warehouse, so now it would be Thursday. Tonight he phoned again to say they won't get the new glass till Friday and could he come then? No he couldn't, we said, as we would be away Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately next week is already fully booked for him with other jobs, so God knows when he will eventually arrive.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Remembering the Moon Landing

Yesterday, the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. Along with most people who were: a) old enough to be aware of the event, and b) Still young enough to be alive and have ones marbles - I remember where I was at the time: on Isle of Wight ferry out of Portsmouth for Fishbourne. The ferry captain was relaying it through the Tannoy system, so we could hear live broadcasts streaming from Apollo 11. Most summers, I went there to stay with Colin and his family, friends from my first days at University. I used to dream of flying rockets, and was an avid reader of all the children's space adventures, especially Journey to the Moon, serialised on radio each week. My boyhood pastime was to build mock control panels from sheets of paper, covered in dials with movable pointers held by split pin brass paper fasteners. We had no television in London, and I don't remember them having a television on the IoW, so the Captain's relay was all I heard of it.

Looming closer is my first follow-up scan since I was first diagnosed with cancer last summer. I confess to some apprehension, wondering what might be found, or if I'll be given the all clear till the next one. I shall update this bulletin on Tuesday.

Yesterday, we had lunch in the Red Lion, Suffolk's only veggie pub. The grub is good, with a big and varied menu, but the portions were far to large for we two oldies. We both left a good half of the main dish, which besides being such a waste of food, looks as though we're insulting the chef by not eating up. Why oh why can these places not offer smaller portions? We would gladly pay the full price for the joy of finishing a meal without being bloated, or looking wasteful.

Then on to Ipswich Marina, well known to us from our boating days, and still a lovely place to sit in the sun and sup wine. We did notice a disproportionate number of old people on the boats, some quite infirm with sticks. One old couple with a few bags of shopping made a valiant effort to scale the ladder of their huge power boat. It must have been over 40' long, and looked new, costing probably over £250,000. They clearly had spent their savings on it, but could hardly get aboard. The old lady struggled for a while trying to undo the zip of the canvas awning, but had to give way to her husband who finally managed to get into the cabin and help her in. There was a stiff breeze blowing, and the huge freeboard of the boat would be difficult to handle at low speed in the confines of the marina and the Ipswich lock. I would like to have seen them moving the boat, but I can't imagine the woman jumping ashore with the lines, so I guess they just use it as a floating picnic table most of the time.

Friday, 19 July 2019

A Hundon Summer

It was a week for nature study. At the weekend, a fledgling Blackbird left its nest in the tree behind us, and flew into the patio window. It was so small and light and uncertain in its flight that it struck without much force (unlike the unfortunate Woodpecker of an earlier blog), and landed on its feet where it was hopping about, clearly wondering what it was supposed to do next. The mother flew down and chivied it into the bushes, and was seen over the next few days continuing to fly behind the bushes with a variety of food in its bill. Finally, we were rewarded by seeing the new fledgling take to the air; a short flight onto the gate and the table outside our window, a victory for maternal strength and patience. Though still without its tail feathers, it is now mobile enough to fend for itself, and hopefully evade the many vicious cats that lie in wait for these beautiful creatures.

Here in Hundon we have a surfeit of wildlife, with hares in the field, swallows darting above, and then at dusk a colony of bats swooping low for their insect feast over the gardens front and back. I look across the fields, laid out with ripening corn, and imagine how they have not changed much in a hundred years. In 1919, they would have had steam-powered threshers and harvest power, and perhaps Suffolk Punches to pull the ploughs; and a hundred years before that, in 1819, still the same fields and hedgerows, but harvested by hand by huge gangs of men who lived in the tithed cottages now developed for wealthy London commuters.  Yet despite all this wealth of nature, I feel that it is slowly being depleted. It is just an impression that there are fewer insects now spattering the windscreen of the car; fewer swallows and bats; hedgehogs are scarcer, and the bird song more muted, apart from the populous pigeons that fill every tree and mess every surface. But we all remember more favourable older times, when the world was less populous, and nature more abundant. It is felt by every age, and its sadness and sense of loss grows more intense each year.

On Sunday, we were invited to Rae and Malcolm's for a take-away Chinese. They live an an idyllic bungalow off the High Street of Haverhill, and just a short walk to all the fascilities of that town. Despite the convenience of their location, the house is silent, and sitting in the large conservatory in the warm evening, with its open door, we were in a secluded walled garden, once part of the estate of Anne of Cleves house,  which was built for her in 1540 by Henry the VIII, but is now the town's only remaining ancient building after the great fire of Haverhill in the 17th Century. They often see an urban fox slinking along the wall in the twilight, but tonight we looked in vain.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Buried thoughts

Buried thoughts

It’s a memory best forgotten
It is dead and buried deep,
It’s the dream that's lost on waking,
By a girl who cannot weep.

It’s a sound that calls to silence,
It’s the beauty fading fast,
It’s the hope that now lies broken
Through a time that cannot last.

It’s the moon through clouds of shadow,
It’s the raindrop in the sea,
It’s a cause of wars and battles
Lost to myth and history.

It’s the poem never spoken,
It’s the story never told.
In the darkness, in the twilight,
It’s the rope you cannot hold.

JHM 7 July 2019

Friday, 5 July 2019

Pragmatism is the one true faith

Lying on my chair for three days in a nest of cushions, hobbling about with a stick, and dosing myself up with various pain-killers, reminds me of how vulnerable we are even to relatively minor ailments. A pulled back is nothing on the scheme of ill-health, but is sufficient to immobilise and cripple. So too is society vulnerable to small shocks. The frenzy of the social media, the intolerance of varied opinions, the prejudice against those who dare to be different, brings home just how rapidly civilisation can collapse if we do not constantly work to maintain its good health.

Recent politics presents a reversion to simian behaviour - screaming and throwing sticks, or in this case an equivalent nearest object, milkshakes. Intolerance of others is endemic in the system and the beliefs of modern politics as much as it is in so much of religion. Trump represents support for Israel. Corbyn's secret agenda to not prosecute anti-Semitic behaviour courts the Muslim vote, which is much stronger than the Jewish vote. Hence Khan's response to Trump, and the strong anti-Trump campaign in the Labour movement, and Corbyn's refusal to attend a state banquet in the presence of Trump. He can afford to lose the votes of the Jewish community, and fend off the critisism of the Chief Rabbi: it gains him a huge undercurrent of unvoiced support, enough even to overcome the strong Brexit support in Peterborough.

No one person can always be right; no single belief system is infallible; no one political system has the sole answer to all the world's woes. So must we be vigilant to oppose strident -isms that always insist they alone are right. If we are to adopt any -ism, let it be pragmatism, and try to pick the best from each person's ideas, for we each have something to contribute, if only a tiny part of the whole.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Nostalgia and gulls

Watching "Yesterday", the new film reflecting the life of the Beatles, it seemed a nostalgic view of the Fab Four seen from a distance, but without any of the original music or film tracks; just a single singer who beat out the songs as though recalling the moments in a world that has forgotten them. It was a nostalgic trip, without grit or unexpected twists, lacking the violent death or even the inspirational Ono of the originals. It seemed somehow to be a cheap, cut down version of the past, as though made to attract the fans without the meat of reality. It was, however, good to recollect how much brilliant and original music they gave us, and reflect on how much loss there must be in our own world from genius that never flowered, like the sound of a single hand clapping, or the death of an unripe flower through lack of water. Also, much was filmed in Suffolk, so it's always good to see the county and coastline represented.

At the car park in Haverhill, a solitary gull was feasting on discarded chips. It flapped past silently without its usual raucous call. Gulls are my favourite bird, for their versatility and power of survival. They are the most human of all animals, for they hunt fresh fish, or scavenge dead ones; they survive off flesh or bread; they can walk, swim, dive, fly or glide; they can nest on wild cliffs or roof tops, and live in great colonies or in solitary isolation, and their communication is a great squawking. I miss the call of the gulls and the sound of the sea.

Last night, Edwin returned to us from the monastery in Kathmandu. He was unusually quiet after his enforced silence and abstinences, but the lateness of the plane and the hour meant it was already past 2a.m. on his clock, before we picked him up. We will perhaps hear more of his journeys when he awakens, probably late, today.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Ladders hats and benches

We narrowly escape crashing into the Moon
Our grandson Luke came to stay for a few days, and following a longstanding promise, we took him to a new escape room in Haverhill. This involved solving many logical puzzles to restart the systems of a rocket about to crash-land on the Moon..We survived this ordeal with a little help from the mission controllers, and managed to escape for a group picture.

Up the ladder in my new hat
Following the announcement about my lost hat, Lucy generously sent a new soft floppy hat, ideal for working in the few hot summer days England enjoys. I seized the opportunity to do some gardening and basic repairs, including repainting the Dragoon Saloon, now converted to an office for Edwin.

The hat protects my scalp well enough, but leaves the brain inside to stew in its own devices, and as absent minded as ever. After walking the dogs in the park at Clare, I returned home to  find my glasses missing. They had been on my nose when I left, so I worked backwards to conclude they had been left on the bench I'd sat on. This bench is dedicated to  Harriet Loram who died two years ago. I knew her well as a fellow dog walker of a greedy Labrador called Victor, after Hugo. She was a history scholar who helped set up reading groups in the library, and in 2015 helped organise the 800th-year commemorations for Clare's role in signing Magna Carta in 1215. She died alone and was undiscovered for several days. Her dog was then highly disturbed and would settle with no one else, and had to be put down. Returning to Clare as soon as possible, I retraced my steps to the bench. Someone had picked up the glasses and perched them on the side arm of the bench, which seemed to be wearing them so they were staring emptily to the blue sky, like a miniature Easter Island effigy.
Harriet Loram memorial bench in Clare
On my wrist that evening was a tiny black spot - could it be some minute insect or parasite? From experience of living in unsavoury places, I have a high respect for the malevolent benefits of small insects, and try to avoid intimate contact. It seemed to move as I watched, but it was probably the movement of my own uncertain arm that gave it the semblance of a jerking life form. Once recently, I discovered such a visitor while sitting on the toilet, and – panicking that it was the harbinger of an infestation of lice – I collected it in a small jar and took it to my local doctor for analysis. Though he confessed he had never been faced with this type of request, he duly looked up what form he needed and sent it off. A few days later the report came back that it was a harmless garden insect. This time, after watching for a while, I finally flicked it off, and any potential life was extinguished.

Friday, 21 June 2019

On retreat

Edwin has retreated to Kathmandu to a Buddhist monastery, for ten days of contemplative silence. We also contemplate ten days of silence, but in the peace of our own home in Suffolk. The water supply in Kathmandu is reputed to be lacking any official certificate of  hygiene, and Ann cautioned him to be careful where he eats and drinks. Ann was telling MA about this general lack of hygiene in the East over lunch in Bury, when a blackbird walked in through the open door and hopped down the steps to peck a few crumbs from the floor beneath their feet. It then pooed on the floor, hopped back up and walked back into the street. "You were talking about the general lack of hygiene in the East?" asked MA. No one else in the cafe seemed to have noticed the bird, and Edwin said it was his spiritual self come to visit them.

I used to have a lovely soft Australian hat, but I have a poor habit of leaving things in restaurants, and I lost it some time ago. At the hospital today for my three monthly check up for myeloma, the dermatologist asked how long I'd had the other mark on my ear. He diagnosed actinic keratosis, a pre-cancerous skin condition also caused by too much sun. He prescribed a powerful anti-cancer cream which should reduce it; if not, they might be slicing off the top of my ear to match the bottom slice, leaving just a strange little flap in the middle.  I really must get a new large brimmed floppy hat to keep the sun off.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Father's Day

Double Rainbow over Bury
With Edwin away for the night, it has been a peaceful Father's Day. So yesterday Ann arranged a meal in Bury St Edmunds, and a film, "Sometimes Always Never", a poignant film about an older man (Bill Nighy, though really a "younger" man as he's only in his 60's) whose wife has died, following which one of his sons runs away, and for whom he spends the rest of his life searching, to the neglect of the remaining son. There is an element of The Prodigal Son here, but it certainly drives home the deep sense of loss of a child and how it affects everyone else.

On the way home was a wonderful double rainbow, which Ann insisted on chasing and photographing. I must admit the picture turned out quite good though. It put me in mind of the film we had seen, where the missing son was portrayed as a pale reflection of the strong father, now fading now strengthening, but always in the far distance no matter how hard one ran to catch it.

Today, Ann and I went to the Globe in Clare, one of my favourite watering holes. They generally have a group playing on Sunday afternoon, and today was heavy metal/rock with a lively beat from a good singer. A perfect Father's Day present.

Sunday afternoon in The Globe

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Gatecrashing Shaw's House

Stayed the night in London at Stratford Moxy following meetings. Next morning, as Ann was sipping her first coffee, the fire alarm sounded. Ann insisted she would not go down in her night attire, so I told her we would leave or die together and waited while she got dressed and found her handbag. Finally, as we were ready to join the fleeing throng, the bell stopped ringing. Later, a maid told me it was someone burning the ironing had set it off!

Outside Shaw's writing hut
On the way home today, we stopped off at Shaw's Corner, always a favourite spot. We arrived at 11:00, and noticed the sign saying "Open from 1pm-4pm", but a woman was already opening the doors and told us she was nearly ready to let us in.

"Why does the sign say "1-4pm?" I asked.

"That's when we're open to the public, but we open early for groups," she explained. We showed our cards and waited in the shop area, and three more people joined us. "Right, we'll just wait for the last one," the guide said, but looked surprised when another three people came. "Oh," she said, "they must have made a mistake with the booking. Never mind, we can manage eight as well as six," and she led us off to view the house. We said nothing, and followed as though we were part of the group. This had the big advantage that all the rooms had the safety ropes drawn back and we were allowed to tread the hallowed carpets (albeit in overshoes) and get up close to the original artefacts, in addition to a personalized running commentary.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The death of a woodpecker

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker
Cars were parked all along the road into Clare this afternoon, and twitchers were out in the fields with binoculars and telescopic cameras boasting huge lenses, trying to spot some rarity. Back home, I heard an almighty bang as a bird flew into my window. On the patio, I picked up a colourful bird, but it seemed already dead. I am not knowledgeable about ornithology, but the RSPB site seems to identify it as a juvenile great spotted woodpecker, due to its prominent red cap.

Birds often seem to fly into our windows. I believe the reflection must appear to them similar to the sky, but sometimes they revive after a period of recuperation in a straw-lined box. We've had pigeons galore, a thrush, a blackbird, a coal tit, and even a kingfisher which we ferried to the river at Clare once it had revived, where it shot off as a speck of iridescent blue. Woodpeckers are reputed to have tough skulls to withstand the pounding from their drumming. Alas, this one's skull was not tough enough when it crashed into my window this morning. I just hope it wasn't the bird the twitchers were waiting for, but the RSPB site says these are common birds so I guess they can continue looking in hope.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Back in the Netherlands

Here in Leiden, two hotels have a similar name: "The Golden Tulip" and "The Tulip Inn". Both share the same access, reception and bar, and booking site. Usually we book the superior Golden Tulip, but this time ended up in the lesser Inn, with only single beds and no fridge or mini-bar.

I was awoken at 6 a.m. by a great thump and the bedside light going on. Ann was lying on the floor, he legs kicking in the air and the mattress at 45 degrees under her, the other side waving high off the bed. Somehow it had slipped sideways in the night with Ann on it, until it finally tipped her out and the sliding mattress had flicked on the light switch.

Back into Astellas yesterday for a 'short' contract, collecting the computer and seeing old faces again. Not much has changed since I was here a year ago. I signed in at the desk, and was presented with the same photographed pass I had used when I worked here before, so I could pass through the security barrier without being met, unlike another man sitting with a large "Visitor" badge hanging from his suit. However, walking down the corridor to the lift, I was greeted by a woman I'd never seen before, who said she'd take me up. I asked how long she'd been here. "Oh, since 2007," she said. "I work with Regulatory". We entered the lift and she pressed the button for the 2nd floor. I said I needed the 3rd floor for Safety. "Oh!" she said, "aren't you Dr. Suzzi? I must have met the wrong person!"  and hurried back down.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

An obvious interference

Scruff keeps the chair blocked off
His illness has left Edwin to sleep a lot, for which he prefers my chair, as it is more comfortable than his own, and has an electrically operated footrest to turn it into a semi-bed. Whilst he was very ill, I had no problem with this. But now he is showing some signs of improving, he sometimes leaves the chair to do other things. Last week I came down to find his Scruff sitting in my chair, like the proverbial German blocking the sunbed with his towel. This Scruff is a well-travelled animal that has seen the world with Edwin. In his luggage coming back from Asia once, Edwin found he'd been slit open and searched for drugs!

Listening to the news from the Netherlands today, it was interesting to hear that President Trump is supporting Johnson for PM, that Britain should get on with a clean break Brexit, and proposes that Farage should be in charge of the negotiations. Ann says, never mind about Russian interference in our politics - we have enough to put up with from American interference. But at least it is overt interference - Trump does not do subtle.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

A Happy Day

Ann and Grandad-John at The Mill
Yesterday we should have been in France. We had booked the hotel in Dover for Thursday and Friday nights, and the ferry for a day trip, but our plans were sent cock-eyed by the unexpected illness of Edwin. On Tuesday, he had high fever, swollen tonsils and tender glands the size of marbles, and couldn't swallow. He was started on antibiotics, but on Thursday was worse, with soaring temperature and his glands the size of golf balls. We had to take him back to the doctor, this time with a diagnosis of severe glandular fever. He will be highly infectious for some time and has had to cancel his appointments at university - though he is so ill, he has been confined to bed anyway.

So yesterday, with his temperature down a little and able to sip milk, we went to the Mill at Sudbury. It turned out to be a perfect day, although unexpectedly in England. The sun was warm, we had cream tea with G-and-T on the balcony (though just Coke in my case, as I cannot take spirits now), and walked leisurely in the meadow by the river.

A new otter at Clare
In the morning, I took the dogs for their regular walk in Clare Country Park, where they have installed a number of new visitor notices, including a huge carved wooden sculpture of an otter, much admired by the curious dogs.

Relaxing in the garden today over a bowl of soup and a refreshing Crabbies after cutting the lawn, I was reminded of a story my mother used to tell when we were little. The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle relates how she wished fervently for a slightly better place to live, but on being granted her wish, kept wishing for someplace even better. Finally she wished for a whole palace, but the granter of the wish was so fed up by this time, that they put her back in the vinegar bottle! I think my mother used the story to discourage over-ambition, but lying in the sun listening to the birds I am reminded of how I sometimes wish for elsewhere, and forget how much I already have.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Team work

My son Ben and his family stayed yesterday, and we subjected them to an entertaining evening of Eurovision. We went to the Flying Shuttle for lunch, to leave them conveniently on the road back to Shropshire, but in the carpark Ben noticed he had a completely flat tyre, in a car with no spare. It was already past two o'clock, and to the surprise of all of us, there is no mobile tyre service in the UK! He phoned the AA, and they too are unable to repair tyres, though they offered to send a breakdown truck to provide a lift back to Telford. Edwin found which tyre services were open on Sunday; grandson Luke confirmed the Newmarket Quickfit was closest, just 11 miles away; Matthew phoned to check they had a tyre of that size and offered to bring one down from Kings Lynne; and Ben  pumped up the tyre with a hand-pump and some goo to try to block the hole, while his partner Kaz phoned the AA back to cancel the breakdown truck. We then went to eat while he drove to Newmarket, stopping every so often to re-inflate the tyre. Finally he phoned to say he was on his way back, and we ordered his meal to be ready for him.


I am tired of morbidity
and endless pessimism,
Life was meant to be lived
not in some dark vacuum,
but in the hope and optimism
that there are better days ahead,
and, should that seem a false dream,
well, there is an easy way - DEATH,
an ending, a finality
succumb then with final breath—
or smile at strange life,
welcome it with open door,
see it through to acid end.

All too often in life we panic at any set-back, or make rash, unsensible decisions, or argue about the way out of a problem, with friction, bitterness, and lack of accomplishment the only outcome. It was wonderful to see how well a clear objective can be achieved with a great team working in harmony. So in life, if we can set a goal and work together to achieve it, we can achieve a good outcome, without rancour or recrimination.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Learning to socialise

Ann and Edwin have now taken possession of their new cars. Down the road, another neighbour who is the nosiest man I know, was so impressed he shouted up the street to Edwin to ask him about them. He then said "wait till I get my shoes on!" He had been in his socks, but rushed up to Edwin when shod to quiz him about the cars, adding that he had never liked Ann's old one! He will often stop his car and wind the window down to find out what we are doing, and he can spend hours in the middle of the road gossiping to another neighbour. This I can never understand, as the most I usually grunt is "good morning", if anyone greets me, and I hurry on my antisocial way. But last night I went to a "men's night" at our local pub.

This should be nothing unusual, and most writers might neglect to mention it; but for me, this was a first. This is a small group of local men, all with many years of life experiences, some widowered, some not, who meet from time to time. Another neighbour phoned unexpectedly to ask if wanted to go and I broke my usual habit of refusing to socialise and joined them.

Four were there when I entered, but as the evening progressed several more joined the group and we migrated to a larger table, pulling chairs in for each new arrival. I said when asked that I would have a bitter shandy. "Yes, but what do you want to drink?" they asked. All were drinking beer of one sort or another, bar one - a man even older than I, very rheumatic, who had been an engineer with my host and was staying with him. He was drinking Coke, explaining that he was on so many tablets he had to stay off alcohol. The evening finished with the table drinking whisky chasers, which again I had to decline. Alas, my renal failure is too severe now to risk knocking it further out of kilter; both brandy or whisky argue too fiercely with my internals to make the enjoyment of them anything more than a very short-lived business, so it is easier to decline.

I shall not bore readers with details, but it was a companionable evening, with not a word of gossip or of Brexit (or any politics at all, which was sensible). It just shows that one can change even a life-time's habits with a positive outlook, and I look forward more to living again, rather than in the gloom of anticipating death.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Byron meets his match

Resting on a log in a glade in the Nuttery whilst walking the dogs, a voice coming down called, "Oh, your dogs are loose. Mine goes for other dogs!" I called them to me and a women entered with three dogs, one on a lead – a huge black Doberman cross-breed called Roxy. Byron gave a low growl ready for a good bark, then saw Roxy and the growl died in his throat. The dog towered above Byron. She didn't bark or growl, but stood with mouth gaping, great teeth bared like a crocodile's grin, and a malevolent glint in her eye, but then trotted off in obedience to its owner.

So too, I thought, do our plans fail when the rising growl of excitement is choked off, frightened by the threat of reality.  Our early bright dreams faded in the dark reality of life in a dark world; and so many of our ideas were crushed by the first set-back. It is time to reclaim those early enthusiasms and not let the threat of difficulties overwhelm us, nor the looming teeth of adversity in living choke us off. We should strive to live the dream.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Recovery time

Susan and Brian join us from Australia
Today has been a good day, following the black days. The time has come to say "pull yourself together!", and "snap out of it!" It is too easy to wallow in self-absorbed pity, moping about on the threshold of death. Ann is cracking the whip and I must now do more each day to build up strength, and put age and infirmity behind me. The only choice in life is up or down – I intend to go up for a bit longer yet D.V.  Roll on the good times again. 

Susan and Brian, our friends from Australia, came to stay, full of vigour and determined to progress with life despite their own serious setbacks. They are currently doing a two month tour of Europe, despite the general Australian attitude by youth to oldies, which seemingly is even worse than in the UK. Ann has bought a new car full of youth and pep, and Edwin also has traded in his old car for a Peugeot GT! Let the recovery begin.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Depressions of Age

!!!This blog comes with a warning: Do Not Read If You're Depressed!!!

Mid-summer approaches, and the rising sun is now well to my left, not yet dazzling my eyes. Midsummer's day is the saddest day. Not for nothing is it called the longest day, for it is hard to get through. After midsummer, the nights draw in and cold winter looms ahead. As my steps slow, and even going up stairs grows more painful, I am growing maudlin in mind as in pace. It is good to be surrounded by young people, for the old grow old like me. But there is a dark side to seeing youth: the clear skin and bright eye, the energy and hope and optimism that one loses with age, yet yearns for yet. I remember an SF story, where a rich old man grants a poor boy all his riches, to exchange minds with him. Bernard Shaw too, for all he had achieved, looked back with nostalgia in Back to Methuselah.  I read it when young, and thought it a poor play, but now it resonates, and I look on youth with envy, not with joy, and yearn to run and play again as once we did.  How we took our youth for granted, like a spoilt child brought up in riches, never thinking that his fortune might be spent. The only consolation is platitudes: "You can't turn back the clock", or "You had a good life" or "It could be worse". But you can keep your platitudes and stick them where you will; they do not console.

If Death Should be The End

If death is the end, it is better to die
in the cradle without pain or strife;
yet on we live.
Through thought and writing,
by poetry and art,
in children and friends
we live on.
All we are and all we have been
is poured out through them.

When friends die and children die,
do we then die with them?
It is said that when someone dies,
whole worlds die with them.
We each contain a world of thoughts,
of habits learnt and feelings won,
of loves known and memories earned,
worlds awaiting death.

How little passes on;
some trick of speech,
some memory of a distant day's event,
some happy moment.
How little is the recollection now
of once dear grandparents;
yet all that exists of them may be
that tiny and fragmented memory.
Somehow you try to ingrain it
in children of your own.
But you forget, or they forget,
and though their insidious influence
creeps through your every act,
everything that was and made
that individual fades gradually away
into insignificance,
as surely as their name fades
on an old tomb stone until
one can barely read the scratched out lines.


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The BBC calls me

An article by the BBC today told of the falling numbers of GPs, to which I responded saying how I would love to work as a part-time locum again, but current regulations prevent me returning unless I go through an intense process of re-training and six months of work under supervision as a trainee. I wrote in to suggest that perhaps there should be a new level for people such as me who no longer wish to be principles or take on a management role, but just offer clinical support to our hard-working and over-loaded GPs.

I was immediately contacted by Richard Irvine-Brown, a BBC journalist, who interviewed me by phone to expand on this. If it does get some publicity, perhaps it will be the start of a new grade and  more retired GPs may be encouraged to return to part-time locum work.

Perhaps I may join them, always assuming I am well enough. I do seem to be increasingly tired, and often spend large parts of the day asleep, with little energy to do much in the garden or round the house. I continue to have diarrhoea for which I have to stuff loperamide (Lomotil) into myself, and although my urine is thankfully now free of blood, it does show large amounts of urobilinogen, a breakdown substance from the blood. None of the causes for this look particularly healthy, so I can only wait and see what develops next in this sad body!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Cuts all round

Last week I was a member of the Labour Party; this week, no longer so. Disgruntled with the two factions of parliament tearing each other apart, I sent in my letter of resignation, and am now a member of the Brexit Party, in the hope that such focus may bring matters to a head and sort out the mess one way or another. For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to be English.

As I age, I find I do more and more "sillies", such as going for a plate and bringing back a cup, or trying to put the milk in the cupboard rather than the fridge. Usually, the sillies are more forgetful than dangerous, but now I have done another silly, this time to myself. Going to the toilet on one of my regular excursions, I generally know my way well enough to not put on the light until I get into the bathroom. This time, I pulled the door shut ready to click on the light, but had not moved my foot far enough over the sill, and the door sliced into my toe like scissor blades. I could do nothing until I had reached the toilet and sat down, for when I need to go I need to go quickly.

Across the floor were little puddles of blood where my foot had trod. I wrapped a handful of toilet tissue round the toe, which rapidly turned red. Finally the flow was staunched, and with toilet paper wrapped round and wedged between my toes I hobbled downstairs to dress it as best I could, with a great swathe of bandage to hold it in place, and a sock over all in case it leaked through to the bed sheets.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Chronic renal failure - a textbook case study

I am going into pedagogue mode now, speaking as a medical professional to all who wish to learn about chronic renal failure (CRF) from the standpoint of the sufferer. So sit still and learn, or change channels now.

Anatomy. We all know they're somewhere towards the lower back part of the body, one on each side, and we know they must have little tubes connecting them to the bladder in some way. But when they're working and pain-free, no one knows where they are, and no-one cares. Only when they have a problem do we care - then the pain in the lower back on one or the other side points to their location in no uncertain terms.

Physiology. They do a lot of things we take for granted: they maintain fluid balance to prevent a build up of excess water; they constantly adjust the pH of the blood to be not too acidic nor too alkaline but "just right"; they maintain salt balance - not just the sodium chloride we shovel on our fish-and-chips, but all the other salts we usually ignore - potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and carbonates. They also bear some responsibility for regulating blood pressure, stimulating haemoglobin levels in the blood, and helping the immune system to cope with life's traumas and the nasties constantly trying to invade our bodies. Oh yes - on top of all this, they get rid of much of the toxic waste our bodies generate each day from burning food for energy ('good' waste), and breaking down all the rubbish we throw into our stomachs ('bad' waste) - especially from the evil meat, that palatable temptation of the devil to ingest poison in the guise of tempting steaks and succulant stews. Be not deceived - the stuff is poison as I have learnt to my cost. [Oops - I am straying from the true disinterest of the good medical text here.]

Clinical manifestations of CRF. These are the manifestations of each of the functions of the kidneys. Having many functions, it follows that there may be many manifestations. At the moment, I seem to have them all.
I have had erratic hypertension and been anaemic for some time. This leaves me tired; I would add irritable, but I think this is just my normal state, not the CRF. The toxic wastes and acidity of the urine makes it burn like crazy, and I need to keep running every hour or two (dysuria and frequency), or I won't make it in time (urgency), and there are horrid sharp pains shooting up my insides like knives. Last night I woke with bad nausea and had to sit downstairs sipping water with a bowl beside me.  The toxic products irritate the skin, and I now have red blotches everywhere, especially the back and legs, that itch like crazy and bleed easily everytime I scratch too vigorously (generalised pruritis). Additionally, a strong immune system helps prevent cancers developing, and the depressed immune system allows them to develop. I therefore blame the CRF for giving me two independent cancers (melanoma and bladder cancer), rather than the other way round.  In short - and in lay parlance - I'm a miserable wreck.

Management. I have to drink plenty and watch my diet. Basically, I must leave off all the things I like (bananas, tomatoes, oranges, olives and avacado) which have too much salt and potassium, and eat plenty of all the things I dislike (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions!). Also, I repeat, leave off the poison of red meat. If the CRF continues to deteriorate, younger men than me might be offered dialysis to rest the kidneys and remove the toxins, or ultimately renal transplant. Neither option is available for old men over the hill, so I shall have to continue on the downward slope.

The only other management options are to hope for a miracle (trip to Lourdes?), and be thankful for someone like Ann to put up with the grouchiness, and administer creams and drinks and manage my diet like an angel!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Rehabilitation and magic

On castle walls Budapest
After the tortured night I suffered following a carnivorous lapse into meat eating (see Confessions), I have resolved to give the poor old kidneys a chance for recuperation. I did not dare stray too far from the hotel with its salvation of a toilet at a time of urgent need, so I remained behind while Ann and Edwin explored the great metropolis of Budapest.

In perfect weather, I strolled the gardens below the hotel, looking back on the castle walls for which it is famous, then ended up in a little street cafe where I had a modest meal of cheese and salad, washed down with home-made lemonade. Delicious, and hopefully it will prove to be restorative. Passing water is still extremely painful and too frequent, but hopefully there will soon be improvement in the poor old pissaroo.

Yesterday, we all explored local attractions, including the Houdini Museum. This contained a potted history of his birth in Hungary and his fame in America in the early 19th Century. The highlight of the visit was a performance by a stage magician, who asked if we all believed in free will. Most of us shouted back "Yes", but Edwin insisted on shouting "No".

The conjurer asked him his name: "Edwin".
"Do you like shopping Edwin?" - "Yes".
"What shop did you go to last?" - "Tesco's."
"What did you buy?" - "Jackfruit."
"Did you have free will to buy it?" - "No. I was influenced by advertisers."
The magician shrugged and nodded as though agreeing. Then, just as the rest of the show was finishing, he said "It's strange, I had a strong urge to write a note to myself just before the show started," and he fished from his pocket his wallet, opened it and took out a tightly folded piece of paper. This he handed to Edwin and asked him to read it.

Edwin took the paper, unfolded it and read, "A man called Edwin will go into a shop called Tesco and purchase some Jackfruit." Naturally, we all applauded wildly and – having seen Edwin's face – I couldn't stop laughing all the way back.

Thursday, 25 April 2019


Grandad-John in the Flamingo Chair
I must admit a confession to my reading public, one borne with shame and one from whose admittance I must expect ridicule and condemnation in equal measure. We are in Budapest, a most beautiful city where we are taking a short break from the rigours of a peaceful village. Yesterday we indulged in quaint history at the museum of electrical inventions from the turn of the 19th century (old motors, switches, bells, telephones etcetera), followed by a visit to the Museum of Sweets and Selfies - a bizarre collection of colour and toys designed more for young adolescents than grown respectable ladies and grizzled bearded men, but heaps of fun battling through a forest of pink bananas or relaxing in a pink flamingo chair. We followed this by a sudden dive into a gluten-free bakery Edwin had spotted where we indulged in gluten-free beers and a choice of delicious cakes and pastries. But I am glossing over the confession.

Ann in Museum of Sweets and Selfies, Budapest
That evening, being late, we dined in the hotel restaurant where – although nominally vegetarian – I succumbed to a starter of Hungarian goulash. This was filled with large cubes of succulent beef, suspended in a carefully spiced stew of vegetables, and I will not pretend it was not delicious.  But then to crown my sin I selected a dish of wiener schnitzel: a large dish which covered the plate in bread-crumbed Bambi. Retribution was swift. I had forgotten how poisonous red meat is to the kidneys. Mine are already shot to pieces, filled as they are with large cysts and in the throes of advanced renal failure, and they were completely unable to cope with the added load of lethal nitrogenous waste to which I challenged them.  The unaccustomed load of heterocyclic amines and breakdown products of urea and uric acid so irritated my kidneys and bladder that I was awake every hour throughout the night having to run to for a painful wee. 

Today I am confined to my room, unable to stray far from the toilet. Believe me, if anyone suffers from kidney disease, the revenge of the animals can be swift and sure. Today, I am dining on salad leaves and drinking weak tea.