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.