Sunday, 30 October 2011

They want pictures?

Here I am, back from a week's contemplation of all the finer things in life and full of things I need to get off my chest by posting here, and what do I find? Comments asking for pictures! I used to want pictures with my stories when I was a small child but now I'm grown up and I am quite happy to read books with no pictures in them. Of course, when I was growing up the old wireless was our general form of entertainment and, just as with books sans illustrations, our imaginations came into play. We formed our own pictures back then in the days before television. And don't you find that when a book you have read is adapted for television, the screen version is nothing like what you had pictured?

I suppose I really ought to confess... no, not confess: that indicates I have done something wrong. Well, I will tell you that all those posts about our French retreat are re-posts. The originals are all on my original blog about Les Lavandes - as are pictures. However, to save you trawling through myriads of holiday snaps taken in other parts of France on our travels through that lovely country. I will, just from time to time, post an occasional picture here.

This was 'Les Lavandes' as we first saw it on a grey morning in October.

The two-storey part on the right was the original house, built in 1840, while the single-storey part on the left would have been cattle sheds or similar, with a hay barn over. The gas tank can be seen at the right-hand edge of the picture. On the left, the shutters are to the kitchen window. Then there is a door into the living room and the living room window. The main front door into the hall is in the two-storey part and the windows in this part are to the bedrooms.

How we were expected to get a car through that door into the 'garage' is still a mystery.

This picture shows the sheds which run down one side of the courtyard between the kitchen wall and the well. Just look at that ugly breeze block wall!

The shutters at the front door were held closed by a breeze block and the drain pipe discharged just in front of the door. The cover of the septic tank is pretty close as well.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Yippee! Terra cotta tiles

As I had expected, Mrs S was over the moon when I told her about the tiles beneath the carpet, although I did try to warn her that clearing the screeding might be an impossible job. This was confirmed by a builder friend who, true to form, sucked air in through his teeth when I explained the problem. I had asked him what was the best substance to use to remove the screeding, to which he responded by telling me that it would prove impossible. The latex used in the self-levelling screeding would cling to the tiles tighter than a barnacle to a bilge and nothing, but nothing, could remove it. When I relayed this conversation to Mrs S she was, not surprisingly, disappointed to say the least – so much so that I promised to see what could be done. I should have listened to Bill the Builder.

On my next trip to France I took with me a wallpaper steamer, cement remover and hydrochloric acid – along with flat-packs containing three 1000mm kitchen base units, two 1000mm kitchen wall units, a sink top, all the relevant doors and drawers and the work top. The poor old car was beginning to learn what was in store for it. Along with all the tools etc I took a camp bed and sleeping bag having decided that our budget wouldn't stretch to a hotel. I think Mrs S also had the idea this would mean I could work longer hours. I did, however, draw he line at self-catering, apart from breakfast and lunch, which gave me an opportunity to check out some of the local restaurants.

Neither the wallpaper steamer, the cement remover nor the hydrochloric acid had any effect whatsoever on the screeding. As a result, I spent one day putting together the kitchen units, removing the wainscotting in the kitchen and stripping most of the wallpaper in the living room. The other three and a half days were spent on my knees with a wallpaper scraper removing the screeding in the downstairs bedroom. With one four-inch-square tile sometimes taking an hour to clear, I had uncovered perhaps two-thirds of the tiles by the time I left Les Lavandes for the drive to Cherbourg and the Portsmouth ferry.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Please excuse the mess

Rolling the carpet up was not too difficult a job, but by this time my brain must have become more addled than it usually is. It was an impossible struggle to manouevre the carpet out of the bedroom door and immediately through a right-angle turn to go out of the front door. After three attempts I gave up, dropped the carpet back on the floor and stood by the window while I caught my breath. Why had I not thought of it immediately? It was a simple job to push the roll of carpet out of the window and then carry it into the so-called garage to be taken to the tip when I eventually found out if such a facility existed in France and, if so, where it was.

The plaster screed was thin, paper thin over much of the floor. Just kicking at it separated much of it from the tiles beneath and I was confident that clearing it would not present much of a challenge. I changed my mind when I realised that where the screed was a little thicker, it clung tighter to the tiles. This might not be such an easy job after all. I decided to leave it until my next visit, and wandered into the living room. Some of the wallpaper was peeling away from the wall so I gave it a little help. Very soon I was standing ankle deep in a sea of overblown yellow roses and the better part of one wall was back to bare plaster. I realised I had not thought to bring any rubbish sacks with me, so the mess would just have to wait until my next visit.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The body in the attic

It was only after Monsieur Ebert had left that it occurred to me I had not climbed up into the attic. The door from the upstairs bedroom to the attic stairs was locked but I did finally find the key on the bunch and opened the door. There on the bottom stair lay a mouse, a dead mouse. Indeed, a very dead mouse. I couldn't remember having seen it when we had inspected the house the previous October, but it did look as though it had dropped dead almost as soon as my back had been turned.

Call me squeamish if you like, but I cannot bring myself to pick up putrefying mice with my bare hands. Actually, I can't do it with gloved hands either. What was needed was a quick trip to the local supermarket and the purchase of a trowel. I just hoped, as I flung the corpse into the field next door, that this was not the first of many.

After all this excitement I still had some time in hand so I decided to lift the grubby carpet in the ground floor bedroom. As I pulled back one corner, I realised that there was no underlay. What was breaking up underneath the carpet was a thin screed of plaster laid on top of the original terra cotta tiles. I dropped the carpet and went for the mobile phone to call Mrs S with the news which I knew would cause her great excitement. I was about to press the ‘ring' button when I changed my mind. Better just check, I thought.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Water, yes. Hot water, no.

So now I had water. To be slightly more accurate, I had cold water. I turned my attention to the boiler, which was of a design I had never seen before. Luckily, there was a thick instruction manual tucked behind one of the pipes. I scanned the pages in search of the English version of what I hoped was the idiot's guide. There were pages in French and German, pages in Spanish and Danish, in Italian and what could have been Serbo-Croat. But nothing in English. I turned to the French section and found the page dealing with lighting the boiler. At least, I thought that was what the page was about. An hour or so and three cigarettes later, and after much thumbing of a large dictionary, I had what I believed was a reasonable translation. Sure, there were words missing, but I was able to guess these. But I was no wiser about how to light up the boiler.

As I sat pondering the problem, I found that I had picked up the bundle of papers that I had been given by the notaire along with the keys. Amongst them was the invoice for installing the boiler some four years previously. Light dawned, and salvation was at hand! I telephoned the man who had undertaken the installation and interrupted his lunch. Within the hour a van pulled up outside the house and a gnome appeared on the doorstep. Monsieur Ebert was about four feet six tall, four feet wide, and, unusually for a Frenchman, had a big, bushy beard. It was not long before he had sorted the problem, but I had been quite unable to follow his explanation as he spoke with a very thick, local accent. All the same, I was more than happy to hand him a couple of 20 euro notes and to cross my fingers that nothing would go wrong.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


The first thing I had to do on arrival at Les Lavandes the next morning was find that darned stopcock. Thinking that daylight might help, I went through the same routine as I done the previous day – kitchen, outhouse number one, outhouse number two, outhouse number three, well – but to no avail. Then I started at the well and worked back into the kitchen again. Still nothing. Dammit, I needed that water. I was going to end up filthy and would have to wash before I dared face the receptionist at the hotel to ask for my room key.

The gasman arrived to defer if not vanquish my frustration. I signed the contract to rent the gas tank and for the supply of gas, hoping against hope that I had understood all the small print. I apologised for not offering my first visitor so much as a cup of coffee and told him my problem with the water supply and the elusive stopcock. The gasman explained that these are usually in one of the outhouses and set off to seek it out, quite happy to abandon whatever he was supposed to be doing next to help a client (which I was by then, having handed over a cheque large enough to buy a North Sea gas rig but just for twelve months' rental of the gas tank) out of a hole.

Just as I had done, he banged his head painfully coming out of the first outhouse and thereafter remembered to duck. Just as I had done, he followed the pipe through outhouses one, two and three and into the well. Just as I had done, he spotted the pump in the well with the pipe leading further down. Just as I had done, he found no trace of the stopcock. He scratched his head and reversed the routine, following my steps exactly. Still nothing.

He went out of the gates and looked up and down the road as if hoping to see a stopcock suddenly drive up. What he was really looking for, I finally deduced, was a sign of where the water main might be. His eyes lit up and, like a bloodhound following a scent, he went into the field beside the house. There, under a green manhole-size cover and three kapok-filled plastic sacks, was both the water meter and the stopcock with three or four lizards hibernating contentedly beside them. A minute later the kitchen tap was gushing merrily, but I still couldn't offer the gasman a cup of coffee as I had no cups! Nonetheless, he seemed quite unperturbed that he had wasted an hour of his company's time and drove away waving happily. As for me, I was just mightily relieved that I now had water.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Water, water

I walked round again taking photographs of the rooms in more detail so that Mrs S and I could discuss just what we wanted to do with each. In the kitchen I idly turned on the tap. Nothing happened, the sink remaining as dry as a camel's throat. I stood there for a minute or two, puzzling. Then it dawned on me. The water supply had been reconnected, but the stopcock was still turned off. Finding no sign of such a beast anywhere in the kitchen, I went outside and turned my attention to the three outhouses that stood in a row, just like joined-up writing, between the kitchen and the well.

In the first outhouse I quickly found the pipe taking water into the kitchen and was thankful to see that it had been lagged to a reasonable standard. The pipe ran along the back wall and through into the next outhouse, but there was no stopcock. I forgot to duck as I came out of that shed and received a nasty blow to the head, but I plunged resolutely into the next outhouse. Once again I found the lagged supply pipe, but no stopcock. Back out, remembering to duck just in time, and into the third outhouse. I peered into the gloom and decided that the torch from my car might be helpful, even if the batteries were about to give up on me. Once again I remembered to duck. With the near-defunct torch it was quite easy to find the pipe again – I did have a pretty good idea of where it should be – but no stopcock. There was a tap from which to fill a watering-can, in fact there were two of them, neither producing any water, but no stopcock. Stumbling into the darkest corner, I saw that the pipe went through the wall into the well, which was right in the corner of the courtyard and therefore at the edge of our land.

Sure enough, the pipe came into the side wall of the well several feet below the top. It then appeared to plunge straight down. Sticking my head down as far as I dared, I could just distinguish what looked like a pump, with the supply pipe going further down from the bottom of this machinery. It occurred to me that the pump might be stuck and just needed a knock with a broom handle, but I had neither broom nor handle and even if I had, it wouldn't have reached.

By now it was nigh-on dark so I decided to abandon the search for the day and start again next morning. I would have an early breakfast – I was pretty certain that the hotel started serving at seven o'clock. To be strictly accurate, they didn't actually serve at all: it was self-service. Anyway, I would have an early breakfast and be back at Les Lavandes before eight o'clock with suitable clothes for dirty work. The gasman was due at ten and I hoped to get a good start before he arrived.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A quick look round

Passing back through the living room and hall, I went into the downstairs bedroom. It was difficult to decide what had been done to the walls there. They appeared to be painted plaster, but surely nobody could have lived with walls that bright shade of blue? To make matters worse, the radiators and pipes, all of which were surface mounted, were a particularly sickly pink. Perhaps Monsieur Erlanger's ancient mother who had previously lived here had been driven mad by the colour scheme and ended her days in the local asylum. The door was painted almost the same shade of grey as the carpet, although I was certain that this latter had at one time been a little more colourful (I had horrible visions of emerald green to clash with the walls and radiators). Quite why the radiators had been wrapped in sheets of clear plastic was something I just couldn't fathom.

I couldn't recall the stairs seeming quite as questionable as they now were, but as I climbed them I decided they were safe enough and just needed a little touching up here and there. The floor of the enormous upstairs bedroom, all sixteen feet by twenty feet of it, was covered in vinyl flooring and showed a pale neutral colour through the dust. The walls had been painted a mid-green, with the radiator and pipework slightly darker. Although the wooden surround to the fireplace was still there, the hearth itself had been blocked up by more tongue-and-groove timber.

Downstairs again, I checked the shower room. Small but basically functional, I thought. Then I noticed a slight oddity. There was no bolt on the inside, but there was one on the outside of the door. Yes, really! "Oh, dear! What can the matter be, Mrs S is locked in the lavatory." Perhaps this was where the song originated?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

So this is what we bought

I turned out of the hall into the living room and gingerly felt for the light switch. Monsieur Detroit, bless him, had already arranged for the electricity and water supplies to be restored, but I had noticed on our first quick - indeed, our only - inspection that the electrical wiring was perhaps not quite up to the standard normally expected in the 21st century. The fluorescent strip light in the centre of the ceiling flickered hesitantly, died away, and then burst into glorious light, giving me the opportunity to open the shutters and allow daylight into the room. I almost wished I hadn't bothered.

Kicking aside some of the dust, I found that the floor was made up of orange and green tiles laid chequer-board style, the walls were covered with paper which bore a faded, 1930s pattern of large, overblown roses, the ceiling was painted a dingy white, and the woodwork was a muddy brown. But perhaps that makes things sound a great deal worse than they actually were. It was a good sized room, almost square, and after a thorough cleaning, with new wallpaper and fresh paint, it would be quite pleasant. It was certainly large enough to take a dining table and chairs together with a settee and a couple of armchairs.

The kitchen was more of an empty room than a kitchen. A sink unit stood guard just beside the window and a combination boiler hung on the wall, but otherwise the room was empty. "In need of some modernisation", as an estate agent might have put it. The floor consisted of the same orange and green tiles as in the living room, equally dusty and grubby. Most of the walls had greasy, metre-high, tongue-and-groove wainscotting fixed to them somewhat haphazardly. The only part of the lower wall to have missed out on the wainscotting was covered with a large sheet of plywood. An unshaded, low wattage light bulb dangled from the tongue-and-groove ceiling. As in the living room, the ceiling had at one time been painted white. At least, it looked as though it might have been white. Those parts of the walls not covered in timber were emulsion-painted plaster, although the exact colour of the emulsion would have kept the United Nations debating for several weeks. I eventually decided that it had started life as a ghastly muddy brown. Or had the walls been pink?

Friday, 21 October 2011

Les Lavandes at last

Continuing the story of buying and renovating our house in France. We left off here where I had just completed the purchase and had expected all involved to join me in a celebratory drink.

I sat alone, nursing a small black coffee and wondering if, in my ignorance, I had said something to offend everybody. If I had, I had no idea what it might have been.

I had plumped for coffee rather than beer or wine because (a) I don't feel quite right sitting in a bar and drinking alone, and (b) the last time I had done that somebody had sold me something I really didn't want. Mrs S had not been a happy bunny when I got it home. I can't recall now what it was, but it ended up at the municipal tip very quickly once I had sobered up. Sitting there on my own I cheered myself up with the thought that at least Mrs S and I were now the owners of a small part of a foreign country, albeit a part of a foreign country that had once been ruled by English kings. And it was to that small part of a foreign country, to be known as Les Lavandes, that I drove as soon as I had finished celebrating. We had already decided to name our house Les Lavandes despite the fact that there was not a lavender bush in the courtyard or even, as far as I knew, in the whole village. We just liked the idea of the French equivalent of Lavender Cottage.

As I sorted through the myriad keys to find the one which would unlock the gates I glanced surreptitiously left and right, half expecting to find myself surrounded by curious villagers. Or, worse, curious anti-British villagers. But, as usual, nothing stirred, not even a cat. Heaving aside the breeze-block shutter retainer, I made a mental note to do something about replacing that. After all, it only needed a hook and eye.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The call of the wild

The frantic rush over the last couple of days has been somewhat less frantic than I had expected. In fact, I got on so well on Tuesday that I almost met myself coming back before I had even set out!

I was awake early this morning. It was caused by a call of nature - of a sort. It must have been only just about getting light when the dog woke me by barking after she had been disturbed by a vixen. Fern soon gave up and I lay there for a little while listening to nature in the raw. For those who don't know it, the call of the vixen is a truly weird noise. It sounds remarkably as though there is a human being, probably a child, howling in agony. I suppose we all know - or imagine we know - the sound of a dog baying at the moon or a wolf howling in the snow. Since the dog, the wolf and the fox are all canines, one might expect their calls to be vaguely similar. Indeed, the howls of the dog and wolf are. But not the howl of the vixen. That really is an unearthly noise that cannot be satisfactorily described. It can only be heard.

Now to write up the minutes of yesterday's Lions meeting, then finish off (as far as I can) November's Jungle Jottings. After that, walk the dog and take her to kennels, pack the case and car, babysit my granddaughter for half an hour, then a Chinese take-away. And first thing tomorrow, off for a semi-relaxing week. I do have jobs to do over in France - but maybe more of that another time. Meanwhile, I have scheduled a few posts for while I am away.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Still dragging on

I did one of those things I should have learned not to do. I looked back over past blogs. I didn't read them - well, just a few - but what I did see was one I wrote seven months ago. What I wrote was:
I have now set myself something of a challenge. It's all very well having this magnificent database full of names and dates, even other information like addresses and occupations where I have managed to trace them, but it is a trifle cumbersome and difficult to follow when trying to see how the different strands link up. It also needs rather more meat on the bones. So I have decided to write it out in narrative format together with explanations of how people lived and worked at various points along the time-line. This, of course, means doing a lot of research. I hope the internet will prove up to it - and that I will not get half-way through and decide to junk it all.
That, if you haven't guessed, referred to my family history. I made a start. In fact, I finished the first draft of chapter one. I even started on chapter two. But then I realised I needed to confirm the date on which my two x times great-grandparents William and Phoebe married. I ordered a copy of their marriage certificate - and found that Phoebe's parents were not who I thought. That meant I had quite a large number of names of people who were actually not related to me (at least, as far as I knew) and I had to set to to trace others. Chapter two is still on hold.

I'm quite pleased with the start of chapter one:
To somebody with a vivid imagination, the outline of Suffolk might suggest a clenched fist with a raised index finger. That index finger is a spit of land in the north-east corner of the county with the North Sea to the east and, across the River Yar, Norfolk to the west. In that spit of land, that admonishing finger, lies the village of Blundeston. Not a great deal has ever happened in Blundeston, unless one discounts the possible visit of Charles Dickens. He used the village as the birthplace of David Copperfield having seen the name on a signpost during a visit to Great Yarmouth.

It is in Blundeston that the story of the my family begins with William, my 3 x great-grandfather. It was here, in St Mary's church, that he married Rebecca Raven on 22 April 1788. Rebecca was a Suffolk girl and was aged about 20 when she married, by then eight months pregnant with the couple's first son, named William after his father, who was born on 22 May.
One day I'll get back to chapter two. Who knows? I may even get onto chapter three.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

One step forward...

...two backwards. That's how my life feels this week. We are off to France on Friday and there is just so much to be done before we go. It seems that I no sooner manage to get one job completed before another two are added to the list. It doesn't help that there are no fewer than four Lions meetings this week: one this morning, one this evening and two tomorrow evening (consecutive meetings at the same venue which helps) and there were posters for the fireworks to be dealt with yesterday, a delivery of message in a bottle bottles (I might explain that one day when I have time) and stroke patient transport today - and out to lunch tomorrow. Help!

Monday, 17 October 2011

What's in a name?

Will was, as so often, quite right. A rose by any name would pong the same. But somehow one wouldn't expect a flower called cowsfart to have a pleasant scent so, if the rose was called that, would it still smell the same? Perhaps it's a bit like me not wanting to eat orange peas because they wouldn't taste right. I don't actually know what orange peas would taste like as I've never had the opportunity to find out, but somehow I can't imagine them tasting like peas.

The same goes for towns. My local professional football club, Brighton & Hove Albion, played a team from Hull on Saturday. Actually, the club is Hull City Association Football Club. There is also a Rugby League (as distinct from Rugby Union) club known as Hull Kingston Rovers. But that's beside the point. (I do very easily become sidetracked.)

I have never been to Hull. I did meet somebody from that city - he taught me Rugby Union - and he said its name was really Kingston upon Hull but everybody knew it as just plain Hull. As I said, I have never been there. All I know about the city is that it is on the River Humber and is in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Or rather, it was in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The city has not mysteriously upped sticks and moved, but the county boundaries have been redrawn and Hull is now (I think) in Humberside. (I'm getting sidetracked again.)

My point is that because the name "Hull" is, to my ear, unattractive I assume that the city is as well. I don't know what it is like, but I don't have a mental picture of a city that I would be happy to wander around. I find it impossible to say what I would imagine it to be like if I knew only the full name - Kingston upon Hull - because the shortened version is so ingrained in my mind.

On the other hand, a village with the name Barton Constable (I don't know if there is one: I just made the name up) would be pictured as having thatched cottages around the village green.

The same goes for the names of people. If you were at school with an unlikeable person, anyone else with the same name must also be unlikeable. On the other hand, you can be terribly disappointed when you eventually meet another person bearing the same name as a boy or girl on whom you had a crush years ago. (I still like the name Jennifer but whereas I used to like Dawn I have since been put off the name.)

Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but sometimes the heart says that what the head tells us doesn't seem quite right.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Round or route?

I have been following with great interest the childhood reminiscences of my friend Skip. The instalment in which he mentioned his paper route prompts me to describe the experience of an English paperboy as there are significant differences between the American and the English ways of dealing with newspaper delivery. For a start, our boys (and girls these days) have paper rounds, not routes. But that difference is merely cosmetic, a matter of semantics.

It may be that I am inferring something that is incorrect but I assume that, in Skip's boyhood if not now, newspaper publishers deliver a supply of papers to the paperboy for delivery. The paperboy is therefore dealing with the publisher direct and is handling only titles published by that company - or even just one of the titles published by that company. As I read it, the American paperboy is also responsible for collecting payment from customers and handing over money to the publisher, retaining his agreed percentage. As for logistics, the American paperboy tends to cycle his route, throwing the papers on the porches of the respective houses. That is all completely different from what happens here in England.

Newspapers in England are rarely sold by subscription. Publishers take orders from wholesalers who in turn take orders from retailers. These retailers are usually small shopkeepers who are newsagents, tobacconists and confectioners. They will often sell stationery and perhaps a limited range of groceries and may well have a sub-branch of the Post Office in their shop. The newsagent takes delivery of his daily papers - Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Mail, Express, Mirror, Sun, Star, Financial Times, Racing Post etc - and marks them up for delivery as appropriate, together with any weekly or monthly magazines which have also arrived for delivery. In other words, he puts together the papers for each round, each paper being marked with the address to which it is to be delivered. The paperboys collect their papers and set off - usually on foot - soon after 7.00am so that the papers are delivered in time for the paperboy to go to school. The papers are pushed through the letter boxes, not just thrown onto porches (not many English houses have suitable porches anyway) so riding a bike is really not a good idea unless there are big gaps between houses. Some large towns and cities have an evening paper and this will also be handled by the newsagent but delivered by a different set of paperboys.

The paperboy is employed by the newsagent, not the publisher, and he does not collect money. The buyers of the papers have to call into the shop to pay the newsagent, who adds to the cover price a small delivery charge from which he pays the paperboy.

There is a difference with the free, weekly local papers. In these cases, where the paper has to be delivered to every house, the delivery boy (or girl) is employed by the publisher who arranges for a suitable supply to be dropped off every week. As these papers are free, there is no money to be collected.

This is but one of the small cultural differences between our two countries. One day I might start getting to grips with the biggie: how American elections are run. But that's for another day - maybe.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sight recycled

I mentioned the other day that Thursday was World Sight Day. In company with a couple of other Brighton Lions, I visited the workshop of Chichester Lions Club. Here they receive spectacles sent from all parts of the country. We took three black sacks full - a collection of about a month from Brighton opticians - and they had that morning received one of their twice-weekly deliveries or parcels. This filled a space some 10 feet long by four or five feet wide and three feet high. And that was half the weekly delivery and was over and above the deliveries made in person by local Lions Clubs. You can see some of the Lions sorting specs in the picture above. Just look how many specs there are on the table! They sort of one morning and two evenings a week - as well as carrying on all sorts of other activities. I take my hat off to them.

We enjoyed their hospitality (a glass of wine and a bacon butty!) before heading to a local pub for lunch. All told, an excellent outing.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The little things in life

So often those little things in life seem to bring with them disproportionate amounts of pleasure. I had a bit of a moan the other day (and yesterday's post could be considered a moan, I suppose) so let's be positive today and think of the things that bring pleasure. Here, in no particular order except that in which they come into my mind, are a dozen of the little things in life that give me enormous amounts of pleasure.
  • The cheeky smile of my 4-years-old-soon-to-be-5 grandson.
  • The song of a robin on a winter's morning as I walk the dog.
  • The tingling pain as feeling is restored to hands numb with cold when they are soaked in warm water.
  • Standing under the powerful shower in our French house, much more powerful than the English one.
  • Looking across the South Downs when I open the bedroom curtains in the morning.
  • Opening a brand new book.
  • Being at my cousin's farm when the house martins return in the spring.
  • Using my windscreen-mounted toll-paying doodah to sail past long queues of cars at French motorway toll stations.
  • Seeing the obvious enjoyment my dog gets from something as simple as chasing a tennis ball.
  • A brilliant sunset.
  • Beech trees bursting into leaf.
  • And finally for today although there are plenty of others, but perhaps this is no small thing, living in a free country.
I really do have so much to be thankful for - and that, I am sure, applies to most people who read this blog. Go on - think of your own list of twelve.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The King's speech

Well, it's not actually the King's speech I propose to discuss today. Indeed, it's not the speech of any member of the Royal Family. It's the speech of a member of my own family: my wife, otherwise known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, occasionally 'Er Indoors or the Trouble and Strife, but more usually known simply as the Old Bat. In fact, now I come to think about it, I might not be writing so much about her speech as about my hearing.

There are really two separate strands to this particular train of thought. (Can trains of thought - or any type of train for that matter - have strands? But let's not get distracted by such deeply philosophical thoughts - or trains of thought. Oh heck, let's just get out of here!)

The old love, bless her, has a habit of not finishing her sentences. She might, for example, come home from lunch with friends and say, 'I had beef and ale pie for lunch today. It was...' and expect me to know what she thought of her meal. I suppose, if I'm to be completely honest (and what else would you expect?) that example is a trifle on the extreme side. But nevertheless, there are many occasions when I am expected to know what the Old Bat means to say but doesn't. And it's not only when she is in conversation with me that she displays this trait. I've seen (or heard) her do it when she is talking to many other people. Now, either they are too polite to ask her what she has failed to say or their extra-sensory perception is more finely tuned than mine. Certainly this latter would appear to be the case as far as her older. closer friends are concerned. Indeed, I've noticed that they also display this tendency not to finish sentences when talking between themselves and they all seem to know by some form of osmosis just what each hasn't said to the others. Now I don't really want to get into any of those old arguments about women being better than men at multi-tasking or women are from Venus and men are from Pluto or wherever, but I do wonder if this is a feminine thing as I don't recall any men of my acquaintance doing the same thing. But enough!

A similar but slightly different attribute to the Old Bat's conversational manner is her ability to ask me a question or make some out of the blue comment about something without actually saying what it is that she is talking about. It would seem that she has been thinking about something and she makes a comment or asks my opinion or such almost as though she thinks we have actually been talking about the subject rather than just her thinking about it. I wouldn't mind, but she does tend to get upset when I ask what she is talking about, just as if it is my fault that I can't read her thoughts.

Earlier in this discourse I mentioned that there are two strands to my thinking. Both concern the speech of my dearly beloved and my ability, or non-ability or failure, to completely understand it. If the first strand concerns something which is general to the fairer/weaker/other sex, the second is more particularly applicable to the Old Bat. In particular, it is a result (or symptom) of her medical condition. She suffers from an unusual form of Parkinson's disease known as coticobasal degeneration (CBD) and, among other symptoms, she sometimes has difficulty in swallowing. She has had to learn to drink in a somewhat unnatural way to avoid choking. Linked to the difficulty with swallowing is a tendency to slur speech. This means that what she thinks she says is not always what hear auditors hear. The latest example occurred yesterday. Well, actually it occurred on Tuesday but it was yesterday when I became aware of it. Her car has been in the garage for more than a week and it was yesterday that I took a phone call from the mechanic (whose name I had not previously known) while the Old Bat was under the shower. Reporting the gist of the conversation to her later, I mentioned that the mechanic's name was Neil. 'I know,' she said. 'I told you that yesterday.'

Thinking back, I realised that I had heard her say, 'He said'. What she had said, or thought she had said, was, 'Neil said'.

Now, although it is not as acute as it once was, I don't think my hearing is particularly deficient, nor are my ears in need of being syringed to clear them of wax. Nor do I consider myself particularly unobservant in sight or hearing. The Old Bat swears I don't listen. And there is my dilemma.

Am I just not listening - or is her speech beginning to fail? I think it is the latter. But, although she knows that CBD is progressive, can I be so cruel as to tell her it has progressed just that bit more than she realises? Anyway, you will appreciate that conversations in the Brighton Pensioner's house can require a certain degree of mental agility.

(I've just read the NHS web pages about CBD - linked above - for the first time since very shortly after the condition was diagnosed. It now appears that this is not considered (as was once the case) a form of Parkinson's. I also see that she should inform the DVLA, but I really don't consider her ability to drive any less now than it was three years ago. Yes, in the fullness of time the Old Bat will have to give up driving but for the time being at least she should keep a vestige of independence.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Knights of the blind

It was 80 or so years ago that one Helen Keller challenged the then fairly young International Association of Lions Clubs to be Knights of the Blind. Since then, Lions Clubs have tried to do their best for blind people while not forgetting the many other worthy causes demanding our attention.

I wasn't actually going to do this, but let's do a bit of trumpet blowing.
  • You know the white stick carried by many blind people? That was introduced by Lions Clubs.
  • Since 1990, Lions Clubs across the world have raised US$415 million to spend on sight related projects. One such was the complete elimination of river blindness in Columbia and Ecuador.
  • Here in Britain, Lions Clubs have raised in excess of £100,000 to pay for two day rooms in the new St Dunstan's facility at Llandudno. St Dunstan's cares for blind ex-servicemen and was the recipient of Brighton Lions Club's first donation 60 years ago.
I could go on, but that gives at least a flavour of what Lions Clubs have done and still do for the blind.

My life this week seems to be revolving around blind people. Yesterday I was on transport duty for the three registered blind people from Brighton who attend the Tuesday Club, a monthly social meeting for blind people across East Sussex. Luckily, the arthritis which had flared up in my hands over the weekend had died down or I would have had great difficulty in driving the 30 miles or so along B roads to the venue.

(Here in England we have fours classes of roads: motorways, A roads, B roads and unclassified.)

Tomorrow is World Sight Day and I and a couple of others will be visiting the workshop of Chichester Lions. They collect unwanted spectacles and separate the lenses from the frames. Suitable lenses are than sent to a prison in the north of England or to another in France where prisoners work in laboratories grading the lenses. They are then sent to developing countries for re-use. We will take the opportunity of delivering the specs we have collected over the past few weeks.

Most of the blind or partially-sighted people with whom we have contact are pleasant and appreciative of what help we can give. They are also quite undemanding. Unfortunately, not all are like that. Last weekend we had a plea for help from a lady who is registered blind. She finds it difficult to maintain her garden and hoped we could help. Her husband works full-time so he can't help her. Bearing in mind that many of us are elderly and full of aches and pains and that others are working full-time (like the lady's husband) we told her that this was not an area where we could help. She responded by asking what we could do to help her. Not a lot, I suspect, as she seems to be a demanding sort with a husband who does as little as possible around the flat. Whilst one has to sympathise on account of the blindness, her "gimme, gimme" approach is unfortunate and acts as a deterrent.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Musings on a blank screen

That delightfully Anglicised American lady who blogs as ABroad (love the pun, by the way) describes how, while she has limited connection with this great Interwebby thingummy, ideas flow thick and fast but when she returns home to 24/7 connectivity, her mind goes a blank as soon as she sits in front of the monitor. I know exactly how she feels - except with me the problem is much more acute. Every morning after breakfast I walk the dog. Ten minutes or so along pavements (sidewalks if you are one of my transAtlantic cousins) brings me to our local park. This is a delightful area of rough woodland and open grass with scattered beds of lilac and other shrubs such as berberis. We always walk down through the woods were Fern (that's the dog) enjoys snuffling through the undergrowth and, at this time of the year, the fallen leaves on the path. Then it's back up the hill through the lilac enclosure. Years ago, the Council planted new lilac bushes and fenced off a large part of the park to protect the new lilacs from deprivation by rabbits. The fence has since been renewed because people from all over the city bring their puppies here to let them off the lead in safety and to socialise them. Back home some 40 or 45 minutes after I set out, I put the kettle on and have a cup of coffee. During the hour or so walking and drinking coffee I mull over all sorts of things to blog about, hone sentences to perfection, and generally produce in my mind prose to equal the best of Dickens, Thackeray, the whole library of great writers. By the time I have switched on the computer - it's all gone. Forgotten. Lost for all time.

Actually, that's probably just as well if I'm truthful.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Missed it!

I missed it the 360th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester, the final battle in the English Civil War and the one in which King Charles II was defeated by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. That battle was on 3rd September 1651. However, I am not too late to mark his subsequent escape to France on 16th October 1651 after the King had spent what he expected to be his last night in England at a tavern in Brighton.

Fast forward 310 years and we find ourselves in Hangleton, by then a suburb of Hove. Hangleton was on the route of the defunct railway from Hove to the Devil's Dyke but most of the old railway was still in use as a footpath across the Downs. In those days it was called simply the old railway. Later on, the earthen track was surfaced with asphalt to encourage cyclists and the old railway became the Dyke Railway Trail. Old timers like me still called it the old railway and, as far as I am aware, people knew what we were talking about.

Fast forward another 50 years and we are up to date. The old railway is sill officially the Dyke Railway Trail, although the sign at the start of the trail is looking, shall I say? a little weary and in need of refurbishment. But not only is it still the Dyke Railway Trail, it has now been subsumed into the 651-mile Monarch's Way, which is where the Battle of Worcester comes completely into our story. The Monarch's Way is a long-distance footpath roughly tracing the journey undertaken by the defeated King after the battle.

The logo of the Monarch's Way Association includes a ship to represent the Surprise, the vessel in which the King crossed the Channel, and an oak, to represent the tree in which the King hid after the battle.

Which leads me nicely into a short discourse on English pub names. I couldn't say what is the most common pub name: Station Inn and Railway Tavern would be two very popular names, but I think probably the King's Head or the Queen's Head would be more common. Another of the particularly popular names, especially in smaller villages, is the Royal Oak. The sign adopted by these pubs is nearly always a picture of an oak tree with a crown in it. The name recalls the oak tree in which King Charles II hid at Boscobel House.

Mine's a pint. Cheers!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Speed kills

The Minister for Transport is thinking of increasing the speed limit on Britain's motorways from the current 70 miles per hour to 80 mph. His reasoning is that most drivers are already travelling at that speed and that making it legal will cut commercial costs. While I agree with the first part of that, I have to wonder just where there are going to be any cost savings.

Let me say right now that I try to respect the speed limit. I haven't always been such a goody two-shoes and I was perhaps lucky to be caught speeding only once. One of things drummed into me while I was undergoing observed drives preparatory to taking the test for the Institute of Advanced Motorists was the requirement to observe speed limits and I have tried to do so ever since. It's not just a matter of obeying the law: it also makes economic sense. Is there a driver anywhere who is ignorant of the fact not that speed kills, but that speed costs? (Perhaps I should also make it plain that I don't agree that speed kills. Inappropriate speed kills, but not necessarily speed per se.)

Once when I was driving back to Cherbourg from our French home, a distance of about 180 miles, I tried an experiment. I maintained a speed of 90 kmh, about 56 or 57 mph, as long as I could. There were occasional bursts above that to overtake slightly slower lorries but on the whole I kept to the speed. It did mean the journey took a little longer - about 10 minutes as far as I can recall - but it also meant that my fueld consumption decreased from about 50 miles per gallon to 61 mpg. With the price of petrol currently just below £6 a gallon, that means a saving of £3 on that journey alone.

I'm unsure just how the Minister thinks commerce will save money if the speed limit is increased. If drivers are already travelling at 80, will they speed up to 90? Will that really improve the finances of any company - other than the oil companies? I sometimes check the average speed at which I have undertaken a journey as recorded by the on-board computer. A journey of about 100 miles, of which 98 are on dual carriageways with 70mph limits, is done at an average speed of about 55-60mph. And that is with me driving at 70 most of the way. Those couple of miles on town roads reduce the average speed by a tremendous amount - and that will still be the case if the journey is done at 80.

One of the arguments used by those in favour of increasing the limit is that other countries have higher limits. In France, for example, most of the motorways have a limit of 130kmh, equivalent to 80mph. But when it is raining, the limit is reduced to 110, about 68mph. Not that it seems to make much difference as most drivers still travel at speeds in excess of 130. Or so it seems to me as I pootle along at 110 regardless. I have yet to discover just when precipitation is sufficient to be classified as rain and when it is simply drizzle and I rather suspect the same applies to the majority of motorists.

Those in favour of increasing the limit also point out that when the 70 limit was first posted, cars generally and brakes, tyres and suspension in particular, were considerably less advanced than they are today.

When we were coming back from the Auvergne a couple of weeks ago we had plenty of time in hand and I tried keeping the speed down to 65mph. It really made next to no difference to when we arrived at our destination - at least, I don't think it did - but it certainly improved the fuel consumption. Whether or not the motorway speed limit is increased, here is one driver who will rarely take advantage of the higher limit.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Good morning, Colonel

One for sorrow, two for joy.
Three for a girl, four for a boy.

Both the title and the odd ode refer to that black and white member of the crow family, the magpie. Just why it was considered necessary to greet a magpie so respectfully I can't remember, always assuming I ever knew. Probably to ward off bad luck. A bit like the options available to one when seeing a white horse. Either hold your collar until you see a dog - or spit for luck. There is another legend attached to the crow family, this time the raven. There are ravens at the Tower of London and it is said that if ever they leave the Tower, some calamitous disaster is about to befall England. Or something like that. A bit like the legend of Drake's Drum. It is said that in a time of great peril for England, Drake's Drum will sound and the old sea dog will return to rescue his country.

But that's enough claptrap about romantic folk tales and traditions.

When I was at school, I and several of my fellow students (we were called "pupils" in those days, not like now when they have to be "students") became interested in ornithology. That sounds rather grand, but one of the schoolmasters was a keen bird watcher and his enthusiasm rubbed off on us to the extent that at weekends, and on summer evenings, we would take trips with him to go birding. Some of that interest has stayed with me ever since, although these days I would hesitate to call myself a bird watcher, far less a twitcher or ornithologist. But I enjoy, for example, watching a family of blue tits feeding in a tree. And this is where we get back to the magpie. Or rather, the magpie leads us to another member of the crow family. We do see magpies in the garden from time to time. Not as often as we see the jackdaw, another of the crow family, but more frequently than we see rooks.

As I went out the other morning to walk the dog, I heard a tremendous cawing. It was obvious that more than one or two rooks were involved. Looking around, I saw about two dozen or more on our roof, our neighbour's roof, the chimney and the televiion aerials, all jabbering away in rook-speak. I have heard of rook parliaments, where they gather in a large circle in a field, but I had never before seen one.

There have been a couple of other memorable avian moments this year, both occurring during the same week that we were in France. On the first occasion we had gone for a short drive through the lanes around our village, the Old Bat having been rather housebound for a few days. As we went along I saw a hoopoe fly up from the verge. That was only the second time I had seen a hoopoe, which rarely gets to England and which is a most striking bird with its pink, black and white plumage and its crest.

The other time I was driving back from doing some shopping. As I passed a small lake, a bird flew out from the trees round the lake and along the road in front of the car. There was a chestnut-coloured flash as it left the trees, then an electric blue flash as it went along the road ahead of me for a few yards. A kingfisher. Not a bird seen all that often but a sighting not quickly forgotten.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Brighton Pensioner goes red

That is not a political statement, nor is it meant to imply that I have spent too long in the sun and turned into what the French would call a "Rosbif". No, it just decsribes the colour of my face yesterday afternoon when I turned red with embarrassment.

Our electric kettle had been a bit iffy for several days and yesterday lunchtime it turned its (metaphorical) toes Heavenwards. An English home without a kettle just cannot be, it would probably contravene some law passed in the time of Oliver Cromwell that is still on the statute book, so the Old Bat and I took us to the home of electric kettles, the local branch of a catalogue shopping company named after an ancient Greek ship. There Madam purchased not quite the cheapest kettle in their range but very nearly the cheapest.

We returned home with the setting sun in our eyes. Once there (or here), I wasted no time in opening the cardboard box and removing the kettle, which was neatly wrapped in a plastic bag. I didn't actually notice, but I am sure the plastic bag bore the usual warning that it is not a toy. Anyway, the kettle looked absolutely splendid. I also removed a small paperback book which purported to contain instructions on how to use the kettle. Then I noticed something a little odd.

The packaging did describe the kettle as cordless, but I felt sure the water 'otter part should sit on a base which would be plugged into the electric main and that there should therefore be a cord of some sort. There was, however, no sign of such a base and its umbilical cord. I checked the instruction manual and that said the kettle should be removed from its base before filling with water, by which I understood that there should be a base supplied with the kettle. I looked at the illustration in the Argos catalogue. Although no cord was shown, the kettle was definitely sitting on a base.

I put the kettle and instruction manual back in the box, grabbed the receipt, and returned to the Argos store. The young lady at the customer service desk was just finishing attending to another satisfied punter as I arrived so I had no time to twiddle my thumbs. I told the young lady that we had bought the kettle only a few minutes previously and that it was only half there.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Only half there?"

"The base and power cord are missing."

She opened the box and pulled out the kettle. "They are in the kettle," she said, unwrapping it and lifting the lid to show me.

Exit a red-faced pensioner.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

More time, please

It's getting to the state where I could do with a few extra hours in each day. There just isn't enough time to check on all the blogs I like to read, read the newspaper properly (hardly worth bethering with that anyway), do the sudoku and crossword puzzles, walk the dog, fiddle with the photos I've taken - and do the garden, paint the house, and all the various bits and bobs associated with being a member of Brighton Lions Club. I suppose it would be a little easier if, like Margaret Thatcher, I could exist on 4 hours sleep a night. Now I come to think of it, I wasn't getting all that much more than that while I was working. Maybe my present need for at least 8 hours is a reaction.

Oh well, what doesn't get done today will just have to wait until tomorrow - or the day after.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Yes, well, maybe...

Seen yesterday in our local supermacaroni:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

How green was my valley

"Was" is - or soon may be - the operative word.

I try not to get involved in political debate on the blog, preferring to keep my political leanings to myself for reasons that I really am completely unable to explain. But today I a making an exception. (I made the rule so I reckon I can break it.)

The Government's draft National Planning Policy Framework proposes that local authorities should in future approve plans for development which are likely to lead to erosion of our countryside.

A few weeks ago I took a tongue in cheek pop at the country's favourite American, Bill Bryson. Well, maybe he's not the favourite, but he is quite popular. He is also an ardent Anglophile and Chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Of course, his input into this particular project of theirs may have minimal.

So if you, like me, want to protect the countryside such as in the photos above, please log on to the CPRE web site and send a letter from there to the monister responsible and another to your MP. We have just two weeks left to do so.

(The pictures above were all taken in our around Brighton. They show the Waterhall valley, the village of Fulking taken from the top of the Devil's Dyke, and the South Downs behind Patcham. More like these on my daily photo blog Stanmer and Around.)

(How Green Was My Valley is the title of a book by Richard Llewellyn published in 1939 and filmed in 1941.)

Monday, 3 October 2011


I updated the web site for Brighton Lions to sell tickets for the fireworks display. Posted a note on Facebook and got the first order in a couple of hours. Somebody who lives more than 100 miles away! Just shows what a reputation we have!

This, that and the other

Phew! I think that's the word. This weekend has seen some rather unusual weather, weather which would be fairly unusual at any time but which in October is actually unheard of. Saturday was officially the hottest day in England since records began with the mercury hitting 29.9 Celsius (that's 85.8 Fahrenheit) at Gravesend in north Kent.

(When I was a boy living in Gillingham my mother would sometimes take my brother and I by bus to Gravesend. It was not an attractive town then and, as far as I am aware, is probably no better now. I remember there was a park near the River Thames which had a pond in which were the most enormous goldfish. The only other thing of interest was the fleet of tugs which was based there - Gravesend, I mean, not on the pond in the park!)

When I took Fern for a walk in Stanmer woods I parked the car in the shade. Even so, the in-car thermometer recorded an easy 27 when I got back to it so it is quite possible that it was almost as hot here as in Gravesend.

Yesterday seemed even hotter. I didn't use the car so saw no temperature reading.

I mentioned, in the comments following my Day 117 post, that I had used a computer programme to calculate that it was indeed Day 117 and Skip responded, with or without His Tongue Planted Firmly in His Cheek, that his cellphone has an app to do that. "An app," I very nearly replied. "What's that?" No, I do know what an app is but my mobile phone is so old that apps hadn't been invented when I bought it.

Time was when I found it relatively easy to calculate the number of days between two dates. I was doing that every working day. In those days, interest charged on loans and overdrafts and paid on deposit accounts by banks was calculated almost entirely manually. We would work out how many days the balance had been £x and multiply the number of days by x to arrive at a number which was noted as "points". The points were totted up when necessary (at the end of the charging period or when the bank rate changed) and the interest charged or paid was then read off a table in a large book. "Laurie's", it was called: "Laurie's Tables" or some such.

Talking of dates, today marks 47 years since I last suffered an asthma attack. I has asthma all my childhood but the last attack was in 1964. This one lasted six weeks and I was wheezing like on old goat when I walked into church. When I walked out again with my new bride on my arm the asthma had gone and it has never returned. Oddly enough, this year I developed a condition which is normally seen only in asthmatics or cystic fibrosis sufferers. That it had appeared so long after I had been cured/grown out of asthma was a cause of great puzzlement to the specialist consultant who was responsible for my treatment.

I have no recollection of the hopes and plans that my child bride and I might have had on that blustery but bright October Saturday all those years ago. Maybe we didn't have any and were content to take each day as it came, happy in each others love and companionship. That's not to say I wouldn't make changes if I were to walk that way again, but on the whole the years have been good to us.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

It will end in tears.

I wonder if it happens in other Lions Clubs? Or Rotary or Round Table or other such organisations? Our Lions Club has what we call a Service Committee whose brief is to oversee hands-on service activities such as providing transport for a club for the blind and also to consider applications for financial assistance and make recommendations to the Club. The actuality is that one person investigates all applications, many of which he declines without further reference. Only those which he thinks suitable are put forward for further consideration. This has been the case pretty well all the time I have belonged to the Lions, which is very nearly 25 years. It hasn't been the same person doing the vetting but I don't think there have been more than two.

While I - and most other members of the Club - agree with the majority of the decisions made by the vetting member, some of us have long suspected that there are applications which the majority of the club members would support but which are not being put forward. I have been considering how to overcome this problem when I take office as President, but that will not be until July 2014 and it would be good to solve the problem before then. Our present vetting officer does do a first class job on the whole. He has weeded out a number of cases that could have been a complete waste of money. (In one case he uncovered a discrepancy of over £20,000 in the accounts of a small charity and nobody was able (or willing) to tell us where the money had gone. The charity has since folded.) But he is very quick to take offence or to see an insult so I have been looking for a solution that will not cause any loss of face. The only thing I have come up with so far is so transparent that it is unlikely to be effective.

But matters have now come to a head. Or they will very soon. While customers were browsing the tables at our book fair yesterday morning, there were a good few Lions sitting over coffee. (We tend to treat book fair mornings as social occasions.) Not surprisingly, talk turned to Lions' business and we learned the fate of a project we had first heard of some months back. This was to establish a social club in Brighton for blind and partially-sighted persons under the auspices of the East Sussex Association for Blind and Partially Sighted People, with whom we already have a good relationship. We had been told that there would probably be an application to made to us for financial assistance to get the Brighton club up and running. The club agreed (at a business meeting) that this is just the sort of project we would wish to support and we looked forward to learning how much would be needed.

What we learned yesterday was that the lady setting up the blind club - already known to a couple of us as a hard-working and energetic person - had sent in an application but had subsequently somehow offended our vetting officer. He had therefore declined the application without any further reference. Those of us talking (quite unofficially) agreed that the application must be resurrected and considered properly. Indeed, we said, if all they want is £1,000 we need do nothing more but write the cheque.

I would hate to see him leave the club, but that's what is likely to happen as we just can't see a way of reintroducing this without upsetting him. But the club is bigger than any one member and this will be an important matter of principle.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Day 117

It was in the early evening 124 days ago that I received an urgent phone call. I had visited my doctor that morning and he had sent me for an x-ray. He called to say that although he had not seen the x-rays, the results had been phoned through to him. My heart was fine, my left lung was fine, but there was a shadow on the right lung. He would be referring me to a chest specialist at the hospital. A week later I was introduced to me MacMillan cancer nurse. The cigarette I smoked after breakfast that day was my last.

It was a great relief when I was told that the shadow on my lung was not a cancerous tumour but merely a plug of mucus, that I did not have cancer but had merely developed a hyper-sensitivity to a form of fungus, one which we all have in our lungs. This is quite easily controlled and doesn't affect my life in any way. Nevertheless, I have not smoked another cigarette, and this is day 117.

On the whole, I have found it much easier than I would have expected to resist lighting up - despite having not long before stocked up with my favourite brand at duty-free prices! At first, I took as my inspiration all those health workers - doctors, nurses, technicians, clerks - who had spent time with me. Not only that, they had treated me as an urgent case, as though they really appreciated (as they must have done) that every day saved before treatment gave me a better chance of survival. If, after all their efforts, my will-power had not been up to the job, I would have felt that I had let them all down.

Of course there were times when the thought crept into my head that just one cigarette wouldn't hurt... But I knew full-well from previous experience that "just one" fairly quickly becomes "just one more" - and I would very soon be back where I had started. Whenever the thought entered my head i tried to find something else to do with my hands, something that also required me to think. The longing soon disappeared.

There are still times when I almost reach for the cigarettes and lighter: "habit" times like after dinner. But I have surprised myself. One of the times I thought would be most difficult was when driving along those almost deserted French motorways. Or to be more specific, those times when my wife was driving and I was a passenger. During my life as a smoker I could quite easily get through three cigarettes during the Old Bat's spell of an hour and a half at the wheel. Surprisingly, it didn't bother me.

I still regard myself as a smoker, albeit a recovering smoker, and although I no longer take it one day at a time, I still set myself little targets. My present target is to get to six months. I don't think so much these days about the health workers, but I do sometimes think to myself, 'If he managed to give up, I'm darn sure I can!'

Here's to Day 118!