Sunday, 21 December 2014

For example

Last week I was invited to attend a medical health check on behalf of my local GP surgery, a facility I hold in great respect partly because of  the fact that 2 of the doctors are older than me and seem to have no intention to retire.They are also sufficiently caring without being over intrusive. Since they thought the medical  was a good idea, I went along to the village hall of nearby Hixon to face the inquisition.

I arrived at a deserted hall, with few direction signs and even fewer signs of life, so a rather anxious search of the building began. Having applied my "just in time " approach to the appointment there were only a couple of minutes to spare. A white coated young enthusiast suddenly appeared and ushered me into the end room where I was invited to multi-task. This involved answering his verbal questions for computer input whilst completing  a complicated little form  by hand "for the medical record".

Having used his first 2 minutes productively he announced he was going to take my blood pressure.

I had the usual sinking feeling. He was going to get a high reading - then I was going to be told about the problems caused by high blood pressure; he wasn't going to be interested in my "take" on the reading and I would be referred to my GP.

So having applied the elasticated tourniquet to my left arm, without rolling up my sleeve, he announced the result.

"Always happens like that" I said," especially when I haven't had chance to sit still and relax for 5 minutes. It's just 1 sample. If you tried again in 5 minutes I bet it would be lower." So he tried again, immediately, then again within a minute of the second, despite my comments and maintained that the reading was still high and that I should seek guidance from my GP. I didn't bother to explain that I regularly monitor my blood pressure at the surgery.

Then we moved on to the Body Mass Index - another statistic that doesn't suit my short heavy boned, heavy muscled body. Another terse lesson, this time on the dangers of obesity and a deaf ear to my diet which includes five portions of vegetables or fruit a day, a frequent consumption of oily fish on my multi-grained bread for the lunch time sandwich (as an alternative to my home-made, home grown vegetable soup) and no take-aways.

Exercise questions came next - how much exercise the previous day (a cold, rainy, dark winter's day)? The walk wasn't long enough and wasn't there some other exercise I could take?

Dark winter days are for brain exercise - suduko puzzles; codeword puzzles; kindle reading; keeping the village hall accounts up to date or practising my choral part with the help of the excellent John Fletcher web-site. I think I would rather keep my brain active in winter than risk a physical accident caused by digging frozen ground or falling over whilst jogging. Jogging!! The very thought fills me with horror.  The only alternative to a brisk power walk would be a bike ride and I'm not sure I wish to be associated with what has become a rather aggressive 2 wheeled tribe.

If only the Wellness Foundation had chosen to take their sample in summer. I was working 4 to 6 hours a day in the garden. My diet was extremely healthy and I had plenty of time to get to appointments. Why, I could even have cycled to Hixon.

Just to illustrate the point here is a photo I took this afternoon on the shortest day of the year whilst out for a power walk.
Sheep and a canal. Not just any sheep, these happen to be Jacob sheep and they are not typical of the area. The canal in the background is not just any canal - it's the equivalent of the M6/M5 motorway junction. The Trent and Mersey canal runs across the picture and it is joined by the Staffordshire and Worcester canal under the bridge. So from here - most parts of England and Wales that lie near canals and navigable rivers can be reached. A picture of this scene 250 years ago may well have had the same breed of sheep but there would have been a lot more traffic on the water.

When I took a picture of the same canal in January 2013 - this is how it looked :

Snow, obviously, and a layer of ice upon the surface. So when I took the picture is critical to any conclusions I can draw from this sample of the Trent and Mersey canal.

I try hard to remember this "sampling " point whenever I hear about UKIP (based on one or two results); or football manager performance (often based on the latest results only) or women bishops; Alternative energy, or views of Mars. Samples are exactly what they are.

I am however persuaded that the Greenland Ice cap is melting and that the earth's climate is changing because enough samples have been taken in enough places at enough times to make a convincing argument.

I'm thinking about where olive trees might grow........for example.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

What day is it?

One of the minor irritations of older age is the inability to remember simple items. We have a daily game of "hunt the glasses" or "hunt the wallet" for example.

The day of the week is a particular case in point. Dates? No chance - unless there is a special event which has been entered on the large print large calendar hanging in the kitchen. But days? - there ought to be a fighting chance to get this right (well 1 in 7 anyway).

This summer the July sheet was absolutely stuffed with events - some of which stretched over several days and involved an arrow to mark start and end. Our arrival at the first stop of our West Country holiday proved to be a day premature - much to the amusement of the holiday camp owners who, being at work, had no problem at all in knowing which day it was. They didn't seem convinced about my story concerning overlapping arrows on a busy calendar. Their turn will come, I just know it. Thankfully they extended the start of our stay at no great extra cost. And the owners of the second campsite, in Somerset, were very helpful by allowing us to arrive one day earlier at their site as a consequence.

Actually we are no strangers to the Somerset caravan site. They have become used to our curious ways. Spring visits see the ritual washing away of winter grime - an activity helped by having use of the campsite adjustable ladder. Officially they can't lend me the ladder for "health and safety" reasons. So I have to walk past the owner, carrying the ladder, waiting to be challenged about theft. It never happens. Other guests on the site appear to use the mobile caravan washing service, which I am sort of expected to use on account of my age. Where's the fun in that? And it costs..

Speaking of unwanted help, we were returning from a late season (cheap) holiday last week and  had reached the stage of boarding the train from the bus station link to the airport. This was after a kind lady from the station buffet had run after us with my wife's handbag. I narrowly missed the overhead luggage rack with my first attempt to swing up a heavy piece of hand-luggage . Almost immediately a "helpful" guy offered to lift the luggage for me with the comment "Not implying you are too old or anything." I hope my grumpy old man expression was sufficient reprimand for his cheek. 

So, after a relatively safe return home with limbs and luggage intact we decamped into the spare bedroom. I went to check the mansion and estate grounds whilst my wife got the plum job of sorting the clothing items for the washing machine. It didn't take her too long because, as usual, we only used about a quarter of what we had taken. I was delighted to find that even in early November I still had ripe tomatoes on the vine in the green house. Nothing had been blown over; the grass was not overlong and apart from leaf accumulations all seemed well.

Upstairs however I began to sense that all was not well. A damp patch could be seen on the wall adjoining the downstairs bedroom of the bungalow and the upstairs wall of the bathroom in the roof extension.

In the bathroom I discovered the joys of "capillary rise". That's the one that allows water to defy gravity. It seems that my wife's dislike of spiders had caused her to leave the plug in the bath.Now if you add a faintly dripping tap to a towel draped over the side of the bath I can tell you that water will be absorbed by the towel before it starts to spill through the overflow. Water will rise through the absorbent towel, creep over the side of the bath then migrate freely with all the enthusiasm of toddlers in a play barn, rushing around the bathroom floor looking for new places to saturate (so to speak).

We had just spent over three weeks with absolutely no need to acknowledge which day it was. Kindle reading; strolls on the beach; sunbathing (with a hat, and factor 95 sun tan lotion of course) and people watching make for a very relaxing time. The only mild stress came when we forgot to put our watches back an hour and we turned up early for lunch. 

Suddenly we were back and the name of the day mattered! A Sunday is not a good day for emergency call outs. Monday is a cold calling day when someone with an unusual way of speaking English wants to conduct a survey. Tuesday is catch-up on TV missed whilst on holiday day. Wednesday is a day to play bridge and sing. The week-end starts on Friday morning with a visit to see grandchildren. That only leaves Thursday to sort out the damp spots. 

Now if only I could remember where to find the hair drier...

Friday, 28 February 2014

Happy Valentine's Day my mind I had planned the perfect Valentine's Day meal to celebrate my wife's return home. I had even got as far as laying out the single red rose in a  vase as centre piece on the dining table and stored all the ingredients for a fine meal in the fridge.

Sometimes events just conspire against the best laid plans. February rain and floods played a major role in the conspiracy. The weather forecast promised the worst weather yet for the day my wife was preparing to return from rain swept soggy Hereford. 

So why had the visit been made in the first place? 

Think slippery muddy ground, a testosterone driven cockerel determined to assert himself against a nervous daughter-in-law and a broken leg from a sudden turn. Apparently the cockerel then gave a triumphant crow and returned to his perch in the hen coup (oblivious to the fact that would make for a very easy transfer to a chopping board and a hot oven...)

The return home from Hospital had needed a good deal of preparation in the way of cleaning, furniture removal, stocking up on sundries etc and extra help had been welcomed.

On the day of the return train journey my role was to act as taxi from the local station home. Cleverly (I thought) during the journey I scanned each of the station arrival boards on the Internet looking for early signs of disruption. The main outcome of this was a decision to provide the lift from one of the connecting stations to compensate for late running and the exhaustion of lugging a  heavy case up and down staircases at stations with no lifts.

The train was due, I was about to set off from home when a visitor arrived on a mission. During the pause for breath after 10 minutes I managed to make my apologies and drove off a great speed to the station. Joy of joys - on a busy uphill stretch of the main road - with wind and rain building nicely - the camshaft drive belt chose to snap. The car ground to a halt and heavy lorries began a swerving tactic as they attacked the hill.

2 hours later a nice breakdown  man arrived and I began to thaw out a little after spending a fraught time in the car watching the battery run down (hazard warning lights) and making text messages on a mobile phone that was also running down its battery.That was when I developed the heavy cold and cough that has plagued me for a fortnight now. 

My wife arranged her own lift with friends and had the grace to thank me for the red roses decorating the table on her return. Needless to say the meal was put on hold until we had recovered, physically and mentally.

 Eventually I suppose we will see the funny side of all this - but currently it's about as funny as the moment when super glue escapes from the repair and trickles onto as many fingers as possible creating a need for instant decisions about where to place the repair and how to stop the fingers from joining together. (I could have just bought a new watch strap I suppose.)

Next year Valentine's Day really will be a celebration - oh how we will gloat as we gorge ourselves on Capon for a change..

You tek the high road and I'll tek the low road.

We spent a summer  on a coach based holiday to Scotland - a decision when I was still recovering from a DVT  and uncertain about flying.

I'd forgotten the realities of 2 previous coach holidays - one to Spain about 25 years ago and one to Austria and Switzerland about 10 years ago. Within 5  minutes of boarding the coach the memories came flooding back. We were to be at the mercy of the coach drivers and other passengers for the next 6 days.

Worse still, there was a daily seat change tradition  to share out the joy of viewing through the front window or being slightly coach sick from the motion of the rear of the coach. Good in principle except that the way it worked, everyone had to move back 2 rows. Thus there was no way on escaping the rasping cough of the elderly lady tasked with sitting behind us. Add to the cough one of those loud voices that never seemed capable of saying anything quietly, including comments on the driver, and I became rapidly resigned to clutching at straws, such as toilet breaks, lunch stops, "freedom to explore days" and any other activity that broke Cruella's stranglehold on my quality of life.

The organiser of the holiday proved to be a genuine megalomaniac .(viz my coaches, my hotels, my choice of what you eat, my treat of herding everyone into a community hall in order to experience Scottish music and Gaelic songs - without sub-titles). So on the 'free-day' we chose to take a train from Lower Tyndrum to Oban.

On the map this route looks idyllic. A single track railway meandering through glens and forest stopping occasionally at country halts to allow hikers and bikers on board. We were really looking forward to this.
Imagine our joy when the train arrived full to overflowing with London based hearties who had travelled north overnight in order to do a charity bike ride. Two hours later we stumbled off the train in search of black coffee and a quiet Oban bench overlooking the sea. Not only did we find a bench but also the best crab sandwich stall in the world!

Time passed,the DVT treatment ended and to my joy I discovered that the extra insurance premium for declaring a DVT is a mere 3 pounds. Scotland will vote later in the year about becoming independent - in  which event I will probably cancel the long term plan to have another coach trip when I am in my 80's - provided my hearing is failing; my mobility limited and my memory such that every instruction will have to be repeated at least 3 times.

Revenge will be sweet I think...