Sunday, February 28, 2010

An unbirthday

Today Luke isn't 30; just like he wasn't 10, 18 or or 29. He is in fact 6 and a half. He doesn't even get to be 7 and a half as they didn't have a leap year in 2000. Luke (third son) is our prodigal son and we have often put his lostness down to his lack of real years. We have banned him from our house; cursed his very existence and carried him around with us everywhere. Today is another fatted calf occasion, we don't need much excuse! Over the last 18 months - since he met and married Aleks and got himself a whole new family taking his responsibilities wonderfully, amusingly, seriously - he has warranted many a feast and celebration and thankfully joined in all of ours; accepted back now into the family fold. He is now the favourite uncle of Harry when two years ago he didn't see him; Harry has renamed him Uncle Pickle and Luke says it's the greatest honour he could have ever had.

Of course old Sod's law is about and no sooner do we get those demons out of the way then my very own version turns up. But for now I have fashioned a 30 shaped cake and we have balloons and bunting. He will rustle up the most wonderful Malaysian beef, Aleks will do her Japanese soup and there will be my trifle too.

Tomorrow it's back to the ward and the pink needles and I have started wearing the scarves because there is definitely less not more hair on my head now. But I know the family are one, and that my son has reached 6 and a half and that is the best medicine I could possibly have.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

With friends like this...

On the way to the Biobank experience yesterday (no I am really not that fat you got your sums wrong!) we decided to go to see the Bridget Riley exhibition which is on in town at the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and to feel like real pensioners able to do exactly what we feel like doing each and every day. The Gallery has taken over a couple of old Victorian buildings that I remember going to with my Mom to pay bills (can you imagine those days, no cheque books, debit cards or anything and banks were just places that kept your money and didn't go around paying revolting people, revolting amounts of money to be more revolting still and all in the interests of destroying the economy).

The exhibition was small but beautifully formed, I loved her sketches and stuff but immediately got a raging headache as her visual tricks played out on my eyes. We were given an even bigger headache by a particularly nasty woman who was guarding a group of grey arties (nothing like ourselves of course, I am a trendy coconut after all). They were apparently the "Friends" of the gallery but this was the sort of friendship you have to pay for as we discovered as this woman shooed us away from the picture the "Friends" were being talked to about. We went back later to see her shushing two other non-Friends who had the temerity to be whispering about another couple of pictures nearby.

We left but I was very close to putting on my manager's voice and asking her to come outside for a moment while I put her right about rate payers' money and public galleries; and no thank you I would not be joining her gang.

We scuttled over the road to the proper gallery. I used to come here almost every Saturday with either my Dad (he trained around the corner at the Municipal Art School) or more frequently with my friend Lorraine Wilson. Lorraine like me had artistic pretensions, she saw hers through later and went onto Art College but in those days what we were really after were chaps. It had to be a particular sort of chap, older of course, intellectual and maybe a tad Bohemian so the Art Gallery was the obvious place; we tried the same at Dudley Zoo, I'm not quite sure what we were after there. We were all of 13 or 14 so don't let them tell you that the young girls today etc etc. We probably giggled too much or something because despite our obvious charms we never succeeded in picking up a single hairy prospect.

We did make lots of friends however and yesterday it was like going back for a reunion. It's literally years since I have walked around the pictures and sculptures and I wanted to hug each and everyone of them. There was the early Degas of the old lady; my old favourites the Epstein Lucifer, the Modigliani and the one with Jesus in the temple. Loads of Pre-Raphaelites of course but mixed in with Braques and Bellinis I immediately recognised and warmly gazed at just like old mates.

So another metaphor my patient followers, as we have found since September, real friends are always waiting for you, they will always charm and inspire you and you don't have to pay them a penny.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The singing coconut

Today is going to be a funny one. A few weeks ago we signed up for something called the Biobank research project. Apparently it's some big national project into how healthy we are and perhaps why we are not. It's looking at thousands of people and you have to go for a two hour session. My friend Elisabeth, her of the recorder advice, went last week and they had her on the torture bike and everything. I am in a quandary about whether I should claim disability and escape such horrors or bite the bullet as I will have to go through it all with Dr Rolle in Dresden again in a few months time if the chemo and the recorder do their stuff and I am back to my fighting fit status. Being all modern they have sent me a reminder by email and by text, if I twittered I am sure they would have done so too; it's nice to feel wanted.

Actually over the last few days, I have felt better than I have felt for ages, I don't look better as my hair is definitely on the way out. I am so glad I went for the coconut look last week at the hairdressers as it is now more successful than ever and I will soon be the less than proud owner of the full blown version . But as I plan next weeks chemo stay - it's on Monday to Wednesday as long as they have a bed - I can run up stairs repeatedly, as I do repeatedly as I keep forgetting things, without collapsing into a heap. Last night I bellowed out at least two whole rounds of Nymphs and Shepherds, try it if you need to improve lung function, in front of, and indeed with, friends Chris and Denise from over the road. My only worry is that this will be their abiding memory of me: a tuneless but enthusiastic coconut warbling " in this grove, in this grove lets sport and play, lets sport and play" etc etc.

I suppose it could be worse.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A tale of two lunches

On Tuesday we went to out local co-op supermarket and had the £2.99 pensioners' special, double egg and chips; the eggs were cooked freshly and perfectly and there was that wonderful moment when you pierce the yolk with your chip and then do it again and again and again.

I think if I could choose my last meal it would be egg and chips; that or the meal we had yesterday for our anniversary. It cost getting on for 40 times as much (one of the advantages of having my particularly dreadful form of cancer is that you can treat every occasion as if it will be your last and spend, spend, spend) but lasted probably 10 times longer and well it too was perfection; so much so that I said to Stewart that it was the exactly the right meal meal for an anniversary as each course was almost as good as sex. I will leave you with that thought and simply copy and paste the menu, with the sommelier's choice of wines, so that you can feel the flavours and taste the passion, or you could just pop and have some egg and chips, it's just as orgasmic and a lot cheaper!

Tasting menu

Portland crab meat, Severn & Wye smoked salmon,

avocado mousse, red pepper jelly, tacos

Sauvignon Blanc, Shaw and Smith, Australia 2008


Seared hand dived Ross Shire scallops, Avruga caviar,

tender stem broccoli, orzo pasta, seaweed butter sauce

Champagne Ruinart (1729) Reims, France

Home-salted cod fillet, caramelised cauliflower risotto,

coriander, cauliflower & apple salad, curry oil

Alsace Gentil, Hugel, France 2007


Seared duck liver, date purée, aromatic couscous

Cordun Cut, Reisling, Clare Valley, Australia 2008


Duo of Aberdeenshire beef: braised cheek & fillet,

parsley roots, truffle & parsley salad, red wine sauce

Le Cigare Volant, Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon Vineyard, USA 2004


Camembert aged in Calvados, almond, apple, & lambs lettuce salad

Poire Granite, Normandy, France


Carrot & walnut cake, white chocolate creamy,

salted caramel ice-cream

Tokaji Aszu, Hungary 2004

Coffee with multi-coloured macaroons and scrummy chocs were served in the lounge and we both dropped off while we waited for our taxi - I told you it was just like sex.

The answer to life the universe and everything

Just changed my profile and moved a year on to mark our anniversary and am hoping I will be doing it as a matter of course for many years in the future. Forty two years eh, so why did I marry so young and how have we made it last so long? In answer to the first question well why not? I really didn't see it as some sort of surrender of my youth and freedom; but a real leap forwards into the only thing I knew I wanted to do at that time. Also there was absolutely no chance of just moving in together in working class Birmingham in 1968, or of going on the pill until you could show them your wedding banns. So much for the swinging sixties; we had spent three years having a fantastic time avoiding anything that might get me pregnant - lessons that have served us in good stead ever since - but it was getting a bit wearing. We didn't have to save as the whole wedding only cost about £50, so why wait?

I can't say I have ever regretted that I was married when I was at university and in those heady days when life did start to swing in the 70s; I was and probably still am hopeless at saying no so I would have been in all sorts of trouble I am sure; and after all I had all that my peers were running around feeling angst about.

Next question how have we made it last? Well God knows and I have no helpful tips for others. I will list all the ways we are different and all the ways we are not and you can draw your own conclusions.


* I see the glass brimming from the top; he sees it with a few dregs in the bottom

* He worries about everything and I worry about very little

* I think money is to spend NOW and he likes to save for the future - for the rainy day of course

* He reads around the subject, reads books about physics and stuff and I skim the surface of millions of novels

* He was mostly bad cop and I was mostly good cop when bringing up the kids; boy did they notice when we reversed roles!


* Religion - none

* Politics - socialist

* We like the same art, films and telly

* We love to eat together

* We love the same places

* We have the same friends

* We adore our kids and grandkids

* We are both terrified of being without the other one

So on that note off I go with slightly less hair, yes it's starting to shed, to eat my way into more memories and to start the journey into year 43.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stars and sparkle

We were supposed to be going to Wales today as my February chemo treat and also to celebrate our anniversary. Two days in a country house hotel with good food and a spa. Very uncharacteristically I checked the weather forecast on Sunday and deep snow was predicted for the Welsh marches exactly where we were going. So we cancelled or maybe postponed is the more optimistic way to put it. That of course gave me the excuse, as we were saving so much money, to book to go to our favourite Birmingham eatery, Michelin star and all. So tomorrow tasting menu with Sommelier's choice of wine here we come and as we tuck in we will be quids in too.

This time forty two years ago I was stuffing vol-au-vents and making bunting. It was a big wedding over 120 people but done very much on the cheap; my dress was made by my nearly mother-in-law for £1.50; she and my Mom and my aunts and cousins made all the food, my brother and my mate's cousin were the band and my Dad made sure there was enough Asti Spumante and Ansells to keep us happy all night long. You could hardly notice that my Mom never spoke to my Dad, he had left five years before, or that my bridesmaid was six months pregnant.

I had read that the bride should have a long hot bath on the eve of her big day so I brought forward my weekly ablution, yes those were the days! Unfortunately someone noticed this unseasonal use of the immersion heater and turned it off so the bath was not the bath of my dreams, but tepid in the extreme; unlike my groom's ardour of course although he was on the third night of his stag week and was a bit the worse for wear too.

It was freezing cold on the day and the hairdresser got my parting crooked but the sun shone and the Asti sparkled; 42 years on we are still sparkling now and then and I get to have a bath, as hot as I like, every day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Boxing clever

It's a red letter day today in our house, not because I still have hair and feel OK although that is a lot better than expected, but because at last the enormous cardboard box full of other cardboard boxes that has been sitting, through snow and rain, in our front garden since Christmas (yes that is two months this week) has been demolished and is in the back of our car waiting for its last ride to the tip.

You will recall that we were away for Christmas having my blobs removed in Dresden but the festivities went on, for some of the family at least, in our house. Luke and Aleks (third son and his wife of only 10 months) are madly in love with Harry and Danny, so far their only nephews on our side. At Christmas this passion expressed itself in the purchase of the most enormous dinosaur seen this side of the Cretaceous period. Joe, second son, after whom the dinosaur was quickly named, was in charge of the house over the festive period. He had attempted to put the box his namesake arrived in outside on cardboard recycling day, filled on my distant instructions with all the other boxes of all the other toys Danny and Harry received. Unfortunately the recycling operatives saw through this cunning plan and either couldn't or wouldn't take it, so there it has sat ever since. It just seemed too big a challenge for us to take on but this morning out I strode with my roll of plastic bags and it was demolished and packed away in a trice.

I hadn't met Joe properly until last week because he had just sat minding his own business in the play room at Jess's house. I sat in there playing with Harry on Pancake day and do you know Joe is utterly charming just like his human counterpart. He has also given me food for thought. You see he responds to you. If you sit in the room with him and start chatting he will turn his head to you and wink his eye. If you actually address him head on he will whirl his head around, flick his tongue and utter sounds, luckily all of the time looking like the benign cuddly end of the triceratops family, if they had one.

I know this is verging on the very weird but perhaps I should contact the manufacturers to sound them out on a new business opportunity, namely Gran/Mom in the Corner. So they make a perfect facsimile of loved, but not very well, family member, programme in a few of their favourite facial expressions and responses to various conversations and off you go. As the loss gets easier or the model dustier you could just wheel it out say on birthdays or at Christmas and finally when you couldn't stand it any longer off it could go to the tip like its box before it. In big families like ours you get multiple sales you see and it would be interesting to see if each ordered a different model, saying and doing different things.

I am not sure about proposing the same thing for husbands and wives as that is bordering on the pornographic and I don't think the manufacturers would be up to the subtleties and psycho drama required in the average relationship. But who knows what the next few years might bring in model technology and if it does happen remember I thought of it first, so there, and why did it take two months to move that ******* box and no thank you I don't want another cup of ******* tea.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Apparently we have won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Although when I hear that it is for something called the skeleton at a place called whistles, or is it whistler, I wonder if I have slipped into an alternative reality. Perfectly nice young woman on the news last night and it seems all she had to do was lie down and try and hang on while a very slippy world rushed by and do it faster than everyone else. I think I may have been training for that all my life; certainly the last 18 months or so have felt very close to zooming down the slippery slope; with lots of apres ski and mulled wine thrown in of course.

Strangely I didn't get the usual gripping lump in my throat when they showed her Mom cheering her on and eventually giving her the celebratory hug. I think it may have been because said Mom was decked out like a tea cosy and as warm and wonderful as they are I have never had much empathy with them.

Morphing from sports news into fashion comment then as it is London fashion week and I have to keep up with the trends. Off the catwalks I have noticed a sad decline in winter wear this year; although as I never pay much regard to what is in or out probably it has been going on for decades. We have had a lot of snow this year and we were in very cold Dresden in December and surprisingly cold Dordogne in January. In all these places freezing temperatures are sadly no longer a trigger to get out beautiful long coats and furry (fake of course) hats. Instead there is the universal, unisex duvet look, sometimes declining to the tea cosy of our skeleton champion's proud Mom in Whistler (yes of course Whistler's Mom!). I call it sad, now we have some decent snow and icicles and stuff, I want to see women in astrakhan, in camel, in alpaca; in magnificent sweeping dress coats, bearing muffs and men in greatcoats or capes, sporting earmuffs and frozen moustaches. OK I fell in love with Omar Sharif in Dr Zhivago forty years ago and I have never been the same since.

Anyway I look like the Michelin man without recourse to a puffed up jacket so as it's snowed again overnight, today I am dragging out my very old, very long camel coat. I will make my own fashion statement and like Amy Williams on her luge I will do a death defying lunge into the whiteness; even if for me that only means walking round the corner for the paper. As for the skeletons the only ones I have thus far are securely locked away in cupboards, along with a few tea cosies and of course, my candle, still burning brightly for Dr Z.

PS I have not been able to get into any emails since yesterday morning, maybe its the weather! so if you have been, thanks for emailing and I will answer when the thaw sets in.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Last rites

A year ago today it was Fred's funeral. Fred was my step dad, he married my Mom when she was my age and gave her 30 years of lovely ordinary, very loving life. He was funny, absolutely honourable and mildly disrespectful of authority. He missed being 92 by 13 days and we all loved him to bits. He looked after my Mom for five long years when she became ill and did it wondrously. He thought I was OK in his last days and so did I.

We did the usual things at the funeral, well they are all a bit unusual really but usual for our funerals. We don't give the vicar much to do, or in the case of my Dad, the humanist chappie. I manage to get through something I have written, Sam recites a specially composed poem and then plays his whistle as the curtains close (not the Swannie whistle mentioned yesterday, this is his more refined penny whistle!). We sing a hymn or two, or in the case of my Dad, the "Red Flag", and play some music that they liked; for Fred it was Maria Callas and then Richard Tauber singing "We are in love with you, my heart and I". We have flowers because we love them and Jess takes them away afterwards. Then it's back to ours for champers and sister-in-law Andree's magnificent Tarte Provencale.

The trouble is I am an event organiser and once an event organiser always an anal retentive scheduler. So getting round to the inevitable what about the next one? It was odds on going to be mine or Stewart's anyway. Stewart has for years been telling the kids what he wants which includes Sam and Joe playing "Lonesome Road Blues". We hardly ever get through a family gathering without that request being repeated and in more compliant times they even had to practice it! I am fully intending to keep the funeral directors waiting, although the chap at the Co-op in Hall Green has become almost like a member of the family and he's getting on a bit.

No I haven't planned anything because the story isn't over yet but I think my kids will know to scour the hard drive for my last event folder and there will be sitting budgets, stage schedules, speaker briefs and maybe even an evaluation form. But for a long time before that I will be downing the champers and the Tarte on a pretty regular basis because I wouldn't want to miss a good do now would I?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The hills are alive

My friend Elisabeth popped in yesterday; she is older than me but celebrated her 60th birthday a few years ago by cycling all over Viet Nam; to top that she has just come back from 3 months skiing in the Alps. It makes me tired just to think about it. We discussed all of my medical adventures including having loads of my right lung burnt away and the subsequent need for some pulmonary rehab.

I was dipping my head ready to be bowed down by get on your bike type suggestions when she came up with a brilliant idea: play the recorder. I am not sure anyone from my old school reads this blog; the friends I kept are all a bit IT resistant but if they were reading they would by now have booked tickets to far flung places. I was not a natural musician and didn't get much further than "My dame hath a lame tame crane" on my standard school instrument. It is strange as my kids were, or in Joe's case still are, performing musicians and Sam can still get a passable tune out of the Swannie whistle we drag out at Christmas; his piece de resistance is the theme from Ski Sunday; try it just try it!

So on the way to the hairdressers this afternoon, still no clump falls, I am going to track down a music shop and buy a recorder and a song book. Our next door neighbours are moving on Friday which is probably a good thing for them under the circumstances but Elisabeth did initially suggest singing so to my new neighbours,I will say, things could definitely be a lot worse.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stocking up

One of the good things about living in Birmingham (apart from the family and friends over the road and just around the corner, the Balti Restaurants, when I can shake myself the best symphony hall in the country, and the fact that the place is in my blood and bones) is that you can get out of it very quickly into some of the loveliest bits of the country. From where we live it's only half an hour to the Cotswolds on a good day and you can't get much lovelier than that.

So off we went yesterday lunchtime; the sun was shining and Stewart had only scored a 6 on his I am edging into diabetes and have to go and have blood tests scores. Lunch was on the agenda. Our pub guides etc are all out of date and anyway I can't find them so we just pointed the car south and hoped for inspiration. You have to trundle through some boring bits but then South Warwickshire emerges and things look very much brighter.

After a few bends, we decided to do a very risky thing, go back to a pub that we knew had changed hands and that we used to love. It's in a village called Paxford, which oozes charm and no doubt wealth and it used to be run by the only black woman chef who was making it big in those days. She ran the Marsh Goose in Moreton as well. Being black and female and living in the Cotswolds, trying to make a go of things, can't have been easy but the food certainly helped. Most notable were the chips, she was double frying best Maris Piper before Heston was out of short trousers; we have since had double fried chips cooked in duck fat, which leave all contenders standing, in a market town close to our place in France, looks very similar to a Cotswolds town too; but the Paxford chips were nearly as good and certainly something to gladden the heart.

It always takes ages to find it but we did and there was a Michelin Pub Guide 2010 rosette in the window so that looked promising and apart from a change of pictures the place looked the same. The woman in charge now looks like the person who used to take your order in the old days, just older and taller; she was the same woman we discovered later so responsibility has clearly worked on her height. The staff and the other clientele were, as before a bit Cotswold posh, but at least there was no royalty, nor Kate Moss nor any Brummies in green wellies, so we should be thankful for small mercies.

Anyway the food was superb still and so were the chips; Stewart ordered the posh fish and chips (you know - beer batter and crushed peas) for his main along with a pint of Hook Norton (the good diabetes news was clearly going to his head) so, as he does not subscribe to the school of husbands that will part with a single chip if you have turned down the opportunity of ordering some, I had to order a dish of chips to go with my healthy butternut squash, leeks and goats cheese lasagne option. It was lovely and went beautifully with the chips, as did the two glasses of grassy Sauvignon I washed it all down with; and just the thing for a Shrove Tuesday when you might be soon be facing at least 40 days in the chemo wilderness.

We had a quick jaunt around Stow on the Wold and then back home to really stock up round at Jess and Tom's on lashings of traditional Shrove Tuesday pancakes oozing lemon and sugar. Harry told me to take my headband off my head as I wasn't bald yet and said he loved me and was glad I hadn't died in hospital. That I took to be the best Shrove Tuesday padding anyone could possibly wish for and I am sure it will keep me in good stead in a couple of weeks time when I head back to hospital and the next time and the next time, when the wilderness demons will be abroad and the chips will be well and truly down!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bad hair day

No it's not falling out. I keep giving it a tug and nothing comes away and now and then I shake my head and just get the odd strand floating off with all of the dust motes showing up in this lovely winter sunshine we are having. Nonetheless it's a bad hair day, mainly because I haven't had it cut since before I went to Dresden and that was last year! For decades now I have been going for the gamine look, well on my head anyway the rest of me hardly falls into the elfin category. If I leave it longer than six or seven weeks, it turns into the gammon not the gamine look, flat, flabby and in need of a pineapple to perk it up. I know I have time on my hands these days and I could try blowdriers and crimpers, but I learnt long ago that I had no skill and was perhaps put off by the grips and rollers and, if I recall, something called a razor cut that my Mom tried to bring into force to persuade a bit of style into my hair when I was a girl. These days, if it can't be sorted by a quick run through with the fingers after a nice soaky bath it's no good to me. I don't even own a comb.

So I have just booked a cut for Thursday and it will be a race to see who gets there first the chemo or the hairdresser. I will get Stuart, hairdresser not husband, to cut it as short as he dares and not worry that it will cost me half of our day's being on a pension allowance and it might be a waste. If I dare I may even go blond or bright pink because after all it won't last for ever.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Credit where it's due

They didn't print my letter in the Times - see 8 Feb. I got edged out by the present Chair of the BMA and the past Chief Executive of the NHS, wouldn't be the first time and why would anyone want to listen to what a patient had to say anyway? At least I get to keep a few friends now and am bundling up NHS commenting blogs to send to said friends and readers who from time to time have included the present Secretary of State for Health so put that in your pipe and smoke it Mr Editor of the Times.

Many of you will know that over the past year or so I have spent three weeks in a French hospital, another three in a German one and now three days in a UK one. That three days is the latest of many experiences of UK health institutions with kids, parents, partner and yours truly. France has included my stay and two, week long stays for spouse. So I am going to do a league table with comments and then send it to those that might listen.

Marks out of 10 as I can count that far still

Access: Getting seen in the first place

France - 9.5 although I am told it's hard to get an eye-test
Germany - 9.5
UK - 2. The present government have done loads to get waiting times down and pushed money at the problem but it is just not acceptable that 26 miles over the Channel you get an appointment for a secondary referral in a day or two but here we congratulate ourselves on getting it down to 18 weeks

Seeing the right person

France and Germany - 9.5 - sorry just can't bring myself to give the perfect 10, I would be no good as a Winter Olympics judge. You get to see the person you and/or your GP have decided you should see, the organ-grinder not the monkey

UK - 2. Even after 18 weeks wait, you rarely see a consultant, most often a registrar, but even just an SHO sometimes; this in my very direct experience leads to poor diagnosis

Waiting for things to happen

France and Germany- 9.5 again, very little waiting in corridors or waiting rooms
UK - 2 again - oh my God those corridors and depressing rooms

The buildings, furniture and fittings

France and Germany - 9. I did go on a tour of France, Germany and the Netherlands once, looking at hospital buildings, so have seen a few more than those me and mine have stayed in.

UK - 3. A bit generous that but I know we are getting a super new hospital in Birmingham (the reason for that trip) which I fully accept will be an 8 at least. Let's face the facts in France and Germany I had my own room with en-suite bathroom, all nicely decorated and bright; the most I would have had to put up with was a two-bed room with en-suite bathroom. Last week in the UK, I was in a six bed bay with no door; there were three toilets down a corridor for 28 people of mixed gender; no shower and not very easy to use sinks. We had to leave cardboard containers with our pee in it to be tested and there it was sitting next to Jim's and Elsie's; named up of course so we all knew what each others pee looked like.


France and Germany - 9. As above you see the top person and then she/he keeps popping in every day to make you feel loved. The real question is their skill of course. I can't fault the ones I saw, or Stewart saw but can't give a national judgement; I don't think anyone doubts that docs in France and Germany are well trained.

UK - a difficult one for me; the doctors I saw originally score nil points; the ones in the cancer centre I would put on an equal footing to France and Germany, so 9 for them but a few more visits to patients on the wards might not go amiss.

NB: we pay our doctors loads more than they do in Germany and France.


Germany - 9
France - 9
UK - 9.5

At last we come first! The UK nurses do have the advantage of speaking my language which helps but they were brilliant last week. They worked their socks off, they did seem to be under more pressure than their continental counterparts and that wasn't because there were less of them but more because of the layout and the kit. I had to keep calling them to sort my pump out as the infusions kept stopping and that meant more hours in the hospital, not good for me or them. Never had a pump fail in Perigueux or Coswig. What was really good was that however busy they were they never failed to respond to a question or to give a helpful word; in the middle of a busy medicines round they would stop and have a chat and put your mind at ease. Didn't get that abroad but that was because of the language barrier really, if you can't get get passed ca va; oui ca va bien you are in a bit of trouble communications wise. The German "do you have any vishes" was slightly more challenging.


France pre-op - 9.5 - Five courses twice a day, included duck and lovely fish and the lady who shared my room one day said that in Bergerac hospital they have a wine list! Post-op - 2; it suddenly changed, I don't know if this was because I was a fatty or maybe it was something about protein not being good as it builds up scar tissue but it changed to a strange diet of mashed potato and bland pasta

Germany - 2 wurst and wurst and lots of it at funny times

UK - 9. It wasn't bad at all and I liked the system they had for bringing all the options round on a trolley so you could go and have a look and a sniff at what was on offer. They always had nice things like baked potatoes and salad if you didn't fancy the full works; the full works when I had them were tasty and warm.


France and Germany - 9

UK - 9.5 - how about that then, I would leave aside the toilets and only give them a 5 as that mouldering pee was not attractive or I suspect hygienic. The level of cleaning on the wards in the UK was the best.


France and Germany 9.5
UK - 2

Sorry but you just cant sleep or recover as well when you are in a room with six people and there is only a thin curtain between you and the others - if you are lucky. In Birmingham the lights are too bright, there isn't a door to the corridor and however much the staff creep about, and they do, trying to keep quiet if they have to tend to one of your neighbours you hear and see them. Sleep almost nil


France and Germany - 8 - not plentiful but free

UK - 1 - reasonably plentiful but more expensive than big commercial sites, we parked in the centre of Dresden in an underground commercial carpark to go sight-seeing; it was run by the same company who run the local hospital one here; we paid 0.75 euros there for an hour and £2.20 here .. in a hospital, because I am sick. Sort it out!


France - 9
Germany 8.5 - only the wurst let it down
UK - 4 and my early experience C minus, minus , minus as one of my old teachers used to mark the stuff she was really depressed about.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One day or everyday

I suppose we can't ignore the fact that it is St Valentine's Day. Red packaging and hearts and flowers galore. The glossy mag stuffed into my Sunday paper features the 20 most romantic places to visit and even the cash pages tell you the right decisions to make financially if you are romantically involved with someone. Funny phrase that romantically involved and funny old day St Valentines. I wouldn't say that me and Stewart were romantically involved anymore, biologically involved organically, gut wrenchingly, more like two mountains pushed up in folds together involved but romantically sounds too light, too fluffy. Romance to me means a story not the real thing and so does all the stuff that fills our shops, someone else doing romance for you.

We have visited a few of these romantic places and no doubt gazed into each other's eyes maybe once or twice without bursting out into peals of laughter. But if that red deep hearty stuff is worth having, for me it has to happen in Victoria on a cold wet morning rather than in Venice on a gondola, under the chemo drip these days rather than under the stars. Of course I'd rather be under the stars and in Venice than Victoria but not because it's romantic but because it's a darned sight nicer.

The closest we ever got to marking the day was in our first year of marriage when on 14 February I made him stuffed hearts for tea. His Nan used to make them and so I got the recipe off her. She guffawed somewhat at my plan but she was a good cook and a good teacher of how to do it (I still make her rice pudding to the very letter). Offal wasn't my big thing in those days but Stewart scoffed them down and I have no doubt all of that blood content did a lot for his circulation which as time goes by you realise is far more important in terms of performance in the love field than romance.

Kathleen Flett writing in the self same glossy magazine this morning says: " just last night my youngest son, lying in bed after his story and cuddling his blue bear, held up his arms to me and said: "Mummy, my heart needs to tell you how much it loves you…" and I thought mine would just explode, right there, messily, all over blue bear and Iggle Piggle and the blanket-called-Boo, and everything. Yeah, why would I want the kind of "love" you can buy in the shops? "

Right on Ms Flett and a prize for you for the person who made me cry this morning - doesn't take much these days just mention kids and their Moms and I am off. On that note our St Valentine's miracle of the day is that I am feeling OK and am rustling up a proper Sunday lunch for my two Iggle Piggle lovers and their Mom and Dad and their Grandad who assures me he loves me every day. We will have all the trimmings, we will finish off with rhubarb crumble and custard, I will keep it all down and there won't be a heart in sight. Why would there be I learnt 41 years ago that they are just a pile of gristle and tubes, which take all day to turn into anything worth putting in your mouth. I have never cooked them since.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


My blog has 30 followers, Ok I know one of them is me because I did something funny when I tried to comment about a comment, but I think that is quite impressive and I want to say thank you to you all, if you have been, for reading my blatherings. Some of you of course are old friends and family, some are new and some are complete strangers.It's so nice to meet you. There is quite an international spread, apart from good (?) old Blighty, I have readers in France, Germany, America and recently Australia. I apologise for all of my very culturally and age specific references - have you any idea who Cathy McGowan was for example? Well happy googling.

I know for the 30 brave souls who have actually attempted the sign up instructions there are as many, if not more, out there reading anonymously and so I am wondering if I can make a few bob out of this. You are quite a a market and I could raise something for cancer research or just my own restaurant trying fund. I am not a capitalist at heart but it's fun to think about which advertisers may be interested. Quite a few cancer sufferers so maybe wigs or funny hats; lot of you of a certain age so maybe the little blue pills. I could do a regular book review and get Amazon flashing up with " if you enjoyed this one why not try etc etc ". There are lots of food references so maybe Waitrose or Gordon Ramsey's food chain.

There would be that question of trust of course, did this scruff bag really own a Chanel suit or has she just had a backhander from whoever is now running Coco's empire? Did she really slather over that fish or is she getting a cutback on the next family outing? And anyway I am too lazy so no ads.

I do feel a responsibilty to you all, however, and wonder if I need to vary my input. It could be like the Saturday and Sunday supplements. I have made a start on a restaurant review, if I started something immediately after finishing the latest book and I could still remember the odd thing about it, I could write a review. I would try a sports page but don't feel my heart would be in it. Last few weeks would have been " John Terry - who?"; "Andy Murray - thank God and why is he speaking with that Mid-Atlantic accent"; Winter Olympics - "brr". Six Nations Rugby - " Suppose Jeremy is still worth a sidelong glance and maybe I can bother to drag up that fantasy about the tackle to the ground by a 16 stone mass of muscle at full speed, mmm.. with me making sure he stays just where he is?"

I do know that you are all cheering me along in my battle and my blogging so the latest post-chemo news. I only had the three sickies and I am no stranger to those as you now all know. The rest has been sort of rumblings and slight flutters held in chain by the Dom Perignon I am knocking back - old chemo takers joke I suspect, the anti-emetics are called Donperidone or some such chemical nonsense. Last night I made it out to Al Frash for our regular, but not too regular to make it boring, Friday curry. I stuck to the masalla fish and a bit of curried veg and that was no hardship, and only one glass of wine and it all stayed down albeit with a few protests in the night. I wore one of my new headwraps, just as a big headband, a) because ironically my hair needs cutting and it's driving me mad and b) to get my audience used to the Edith Sitwell look that will run alongside the muted down African headress one.

There is one person who does not read my blog, husband of nearly 42 years, Stewart. He says he can't and I don't think I could read his either. He is going to have to put up with more than Edith Sitwell and Winnie Mandela, a lot more and for one he is going to get the full boiled egg bald. But of course my boiled egg look, thanks to my new mate Gok, will be wondrously smooth, warm but cooling to the touch; inside the yolk will be luscious just waiting for a hot buttery soldier to pierce its very soul. And that readers is all you are getting from the "Adult" section of this week's supplements.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Alexander McQueen hung himself yesterday possibly because he couldn't cope with his Mom dying (please my darlings, don't) and this morning Gok Wan, he of How to look good naked, entertained me on Desert Island Discs as I tucked into a crumpet (pikelet to my family, sorry my darlings, I am giving in to public pressure) with Marmite and a toasted hot cross bun spread with Mick's Marvellous Marmalade (and marvellous it really is Mick). I was in bed, it was 9.00am and this was the height of indulgence and luxury for me especially as I managed to keep aforementioned pikelet and bun well and truly down. Gok made me cry when he said he couldn't bear the thought of being away from his Mom (sorry my darlings, so sorry) and the rest of his family on his desert island even with his lip balm. He also repeated his dictum of dumping self-doubt and being the beautiful person you are.

Now I can think of a few this wouldn't work for but with Gok and Alexander (real name Lee apparently) in mind I revisited my story of yesterday. It was all true, I did sick all over Stewart that first time and I did fall off my seat in his old jalopy and after that there were peas in his lap when I couldn't cut my steak and there was me quaffing the cork dregs in a restaurant in Florence, no less, because I thought they were in my tasting glass, too uncool to know that girls never have a tasting glass, well not in the 1960s they didn't. But hey thank you Gok, let's look again. I came from one of the bought houses round by us, I went to the grammar school, that day I shimmied down the steps with my 37-24-36 stats (about the size of one of my legs now), I had long straight very Cathy McGowan, Jean Shrimpton type 1960s hair that later one of his friends described as falling over my shoulders like bra straps (oh the poetry of young men!). I was 15 going on 25 and yes Gok I was a catch and guess what Alexander (nee Lee) I was dressed in a Chanel Suit.

The story of that suit is a strange one. We were not rich, in fact at the time the suit was bought I was in a one-parent family, my Dad having run off with "the trollop", my Mom was a dinner lady at Stewart's big comp and I was soon to be in receipt of a charity grant to keep me in school after school leaving age. But my Uncle George was an insurance man and he had sold my parents endowment policies for me and my brother when we were born. Neil's had come good a couple of years earlier and he bought his first, but by no means last, reel to reel Grundig tape recorder. I don't remember being asked what I wanted when mine fell due, maybe I said something nice to wear, I was 14 at the time. I think my Mom was making one last attempt to turn me into the girl she wanted, ie ladylike, nice blond curly hair, good at sewing and a help around the house, not the girl I was, ie none of those things.

I don't think my Mom knew the full significance of the Chanel label, we were more C & A in those days; but she knew that shop up New St in town was posh and if that couldn't make a lady of me nothing could. I didn't appreciate the wonder of it either but looking back it was one of those Chanel suits, you know classic round neck, collarless, boxy jacket with two rows of silk covered pockets each side, nice shaped tapering skirt and it was in the palest bobbly most girly pink you could imagine.

I did love it but I know that by the time I went out for that lunch with Stewart the pink was blotched with 14 year old's carelessness and later when I became a Mod and then a sort of studenty scruffy type it got dyed brown in an old zinc bucket and had its skirt turned up to just below knicker level like all my other skirts. I don't know when Mom gave it to the rag and bone man but it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow when she did.

Now Jess rails at me as she is heavily into vintage and knows what a 1960s Chanel suit would fetch. Just as she rails at me for letting my Mom throw away the Woolworth's cups and saucers that keep on popping up in Homes and Antiques showing iconic 60s furniture and I rail at my brother for throwing away a piece of that iconic furniture that my arty farty Dad bought for a king's ransom much to my Mom's ire as it was unsitonable and we hadn't paid the electricity bill.

So my only chance of leaving a legacy lost over 40 years ago, along with my only chance of being "a lady". Thank God for that I say and, sorry my darlings, you will just have to put up with a few wobbly pots and the ready wit and repartee.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Its a bit sickening

I am out! Last drip of liquid went in at about 9.30 and I was home in my own bed by 10.15. Gorgeous proper sleep for eight hours, on and off of course.

The sickness hit yesterday morning, for me it wasn't the low or even high level constant nausea I was expecting but a quick unmistakable flutter and then the full monty. The last time was about 3.00pm yesterday so maybe I will be free today, keep getting the odd twinge but so far so good. Stewart was there for the 3.00pm performance and so knows the speed it comes on with etc.

He is no stranger to my vomit of course after 41 years and 352 days of marriage and in fact it probably sealed our fate about 45 years ago. It's hard to believe now but both of us were athletes, he was county champion at hurdles and I was at 100 metres. The first time he took me anywhere, and it was before we were "going out" as such. he offered to give me a lift to the athletics track for training. He wasn't a regular there but was trying to get fit after a lay off and a time of beer swilling late teens over-indulgence. I hadn't warned him about my problem. You see I could run as fast as the wind for 100 metres (well it was yards in those days) but that was my lot and I was inevitably sick after a few sprints. So on our first time out together as he loped over to me after his training stint, I was just at my lowest ebb and whoosh out it all came over his nice green spikes. Not a good start you might think but I clearly made an impression as he asked me out well and truly properly when he dropped me back home. I say well and truly properly I had up to that point been wooed by others in cinema backrows where I had probably paid for my own seat, or from time to time on park benches. This was an invitation out to lunch, proper posh and I seem to remember he brought me flowers.

The downside was his car which didn't have much in the way of brakes and the seats weren't fitted well. As I got in trying to look up to a lunch date (I was very young!). The seat fell backwards and I was left flailing about legs akimbo. How could a man resist such elegance and composure. He used to tell me he loved me for my lack of sophistication, good job really.

Three years later, readers I married him.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pink pee

After all the bed getting was easy, half an hour in the day room (I may try to go there at night to see if it morphs into anything more exciting) and then my bed was ready. It's in a six bed ward and very different from the rooms I had in Perigueux and Dresden. Most noticeable is that there only seem to be three loos and no shower for the whole ward and that is not just my bit, there are chaps over the corridor and a row of single room sans loo. So I have nipped in quickly this morning and done my at the sink five minutes wonder wash which includes hair at the moment and put on a bit of lippy.

At the moment quite attractively my lips match my pee. It's a very fetching shade of what my friend, Julie, would call granny's pink, which is appropriate. This is as a result of a Tom and Jerry sized joke needle full of very bright pink stuff that was injected into my arm last night, it was the dox bit of the dox/ifos partnership. Ifos going in now and for rest of day and night, along with things to stop me feeling sick, things to protect my bladder as Ifos is not bladder friendly and steroids to help me in my 2012 Olympic ambitions I presume.

So far I feel OK, long way to go I know, worst thing so far is cricking my neck to write this on one of those 'let me relieve you of 10 quid so you can watch crap' media centres that hang threateningly over every bed.

Have just heard the bed manager telling two people they have a bed and three they don't. She went passed the end of the ward and I heard her say how much she hates doing that. There has got to be a better way. I was quite snug in my bed last night having pulled the curtains round me to make my own little cocoon.

So far then experience can be summed up as bedded, pink and potentially smelly, let's see what today brings!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Letter to the Editor and bed news

The Bed Co-ordinator who was of course very nice, even at 7.30 on a Monday morning, just called and I will have a bed. Not straight away, I will have to wait in the day room while they "shunt" things round but sometime today I will get to lay claim to my own piece of furniture. So the warfare begins.

On a similar note, I have dashed off a letter to The Times which I have copied below. Let battle commence!


Your leader of 6 February called on the main political parties to tackle reform in the NHS. As an erstwhile Senior Manager of an NHS organisation and chair of an NHS Trust, I couldn’t agree with you more. I now have a rare form of cancer which is terminal and have had care here in the UK, by chance in France and by choice in Germany. I now know, therefore, that what, where, when and how our European neighbours receive health services is so superior to what, where, when and how the NHS does it that it should be a shame to us all. The solutions are not simple. A former Secretary of State for Health once described it as trying to turn round a tanker, I wonder now if the tanker needs to be scrapped and a new model brought into play. Two ideas to start with, drawn from my recent experience and observations: firstly we should question very closely what we have gained since the Griffiths Report of the 1980s which introduced a tier of management into the NHS that has grown like Topsy due to more and more Government initiatives and which is unquestionably very expensive. There is no such tier across the channel and we have to ask ourselves what benefits it is delivering to patient care. Are these managers, all in my experience dedicated and hard working people, in fact getting in the way of the quality our neighbours enjoy by soaking up precious resources and spending time and energy in saving money that in fact desperately needs to be spent on front-line services? Secondly as a nation we have to stop thinking that high quality healthcare is some sort of God given right which we only have to pay peanuts for; we need to grow up and dig deeper into our own pockets just as they do in Avignon, Aachen and I presume Amsterdam. In a nutshell we need to pay more bucks and get more bangs, scans and good old fashioned patient care from every single one of them.

Jean Trainor
Deputy Chief Executive, NHS Confederation 1986 -1998
Chair, South Birmingham Mental Health Trust 1998 – 2002
Vice-Chair, South Birmingham Primary Care Trust 2002-2006

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Lot of interesting emails this morning from the American leiomyosarcoma group, who are, in my view, leading the way on getting recognition and meaningful research into this pesky disease, and they are all unpaid and fighting the b*****d thing themselves. There were lots of statistics about survival rates which don't make comfortable reading and are mighty confusing for a person like me who took three goes to get maths O Level and then only got a Grade 6; mind you my teacher was Miss Jacob and believe you me leiomyosarcoma is marginally preferable to a lesson from her.

I think the very best statistical twist I can put on things is that - with my type of leio, ie one of the worst, and the length of gap between primary discovery (even though that was at least 14 months late thanks to very poor doctoring) and secondaries emerging, not good in my case - my chances of surviving for five years are about 2%, not the best odds! I read other articles which suggest that if you have aggressive surgery, which I have, your chances, if you are vaguely like me, go up to 18% but my doctors say otherwise. The chemo I will start tomorrow, if the bed stats are in my favour, will only have about a 20% chance of working and that is not for a cure but for giving me a few more years.

You may all be getting very depressed by now and I am sorry, but Pollyanna here would like to point out that I only had about a 5 in 6.6 billion chance of getting this thing, where I got it, in the first place; aren't I the lucky one! I have a daughter who was conceived while I was on the pill and breast-feeding; and Stewart had a very bad back that month which restricted conceiving opportunities down to one in 30 if you get my drift. Miss Jacob didn't terrify enough skills into me to work out the odds there but they are teeny weeny. Finally the other day in Maumont the weather forecast said we had a 20% chance of snow and we got the worst fall in decades and were snowed in for days; down in the valley they were basking in winter sunshine.

So I know my chances of seeing 2015 and beyond are probably less than winning the lottery, a lot less in my case as I don't buy a ticket. But there are always winners and statistically I could be the one with the big grin and hopefully all my own teeth, saying it won't change my life and you can be pretty sure statistically that I will be lying through self same teeth, false or otherwise.

Don't know if I will have a bed tomorrow and don't know if the bed will have wifi. in fact don't know anything except that I will post news when I can.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cooking up a storm

I have threatened to write a regular restaurant review marked on opportunities to forget cancer amongst other things and so far have only done one. I could have waxed lyrical about the meal we had on the way back from France because unexpectedly (the hotel doesn't appear in any good food guides) it was fantastic. It was in a posh manor house built by an antiques dealer for his mistress, very acceptable wages of sin in my opinion, as long as he wasn't as antique as his wares. I had scrummy ris de veau (veal sweetbreads)and lovely flaky turbot served with risotto and winter veg all in a champagne sauce, well why not?. I didn't turn down the cheese and ended up with a grand marnier soaked pud as that is the local home brew. We splashed out on a good bottle of red and there were enough other tables occupied to give us plenty of opportunities to speculate and, dare I say it, bitch about our fellow diners, our favourite occupation.

Nothing like the meal we had last night, although fish did feature in it, but I can truthfully say our fellow diners were a scream and I didn't have time to think about chemo or cancer for a second. We had Harry and Danny overnight and Harry was "very exciting" about it. I had promised him his favourite tea so could be observed frying fish fingers, boiling spuds for mash and microwaving peas; oh and mixing Bisto, aah Bisto, for gravy because Harry likes gravy on his fish fingers and Danny couldn't care less what he eats as long as there is lots of it. I had clearly forgotten what it is like to cook for kids who are spreading toys at your feet and demanding to "help" because I was also cooking our slightly superior version of the menu, hake, mash, peas and parsley sauce and I almost lost control of the whole thing. I used to do this every night for us and four kids.. or was that Stewart? He does claim to have done all the cooking. In the middle of it all Jess called to make sure Danny hadn't maimed himself again and there were two calls from recorded voices congratulating me on being chosen for I don't know what as I threw the phone across the kitchen.

Harry loved every mouthful and kept showing me the gravy on his fish fingers with great relish; so it was all worthwhile and I managed to retain enough post-op, pre-chemo energy to build his train set, give him an illegal bath and read the next chapter of Alice in Wonderland before getting him into bed, having in between, straightjacketed Danny into his sleeping suit and tapped his back till he went to sleep.

Of course I could not help but reflect that next weekend I am not likely to be able to be such a proactive Nan and Harry did bring it all back to mind when he asked me why my hair was going to fall out - his Mom is preparing him and anyway he had been giving me marks out of 10 for my headwrapping skills; we voted the purple one best, so expect to see that on parade very shortly. Harry clearly thinks I am clueless when it comes to medicines as he has had lots of medicine and he has a lovely head of hair. I said mine was very, very special and anyway what does he know - he like gravy with fish fingers!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bedtime or not?

OK I know I am beginning to be boring about the health service and its failings. Let me just say that in my house, when I was being brought up, devotion to the NHS was the only religion we had. If I count back I think I was probably conceived the day it came into being as I was born about 40 weeks after. My Dad probably felt like celebrating although I am not sure Mom was so keen to put the new service to to the test. I brought my kids up to worship the NHS too and let's face it apart from giving them free care whenever they were ill, free hearing and eye tests etc, it also gave me a good living and helped them through University, first houses, weddings etc.

But, and there is always bound to be a but, I have already written about how I think that the NHS has failed me in terms of diagnosing my cancer, how I am saddened and ashamed of how it treats vulnerable people eg keeping them waiting for four and a half hours to get a bed; but now the letter I have come home to gives me further cause for shame and frustration. It is the letter telling me that I have a provisional date for chemotherapy treatment, 8 February. It tells me shortly that I will be telephoned before 8.00am that morning to say whether a bed is available for me. It goes on to say that there are times when beds are not available on the day planned but that I should be assured that every effort will be made to admit me on the next suitable day. However for some types of treatment they have a very high demand for beds so it may not be the following day. I am asked very particularly to be near a phone that morning (from when they do not say, 7.00 maybe or earlier?).

There is nothing in the letter that tells me what to expect from chemotherapy, where to go if I am lucky enough to have a bed and what to bring with me. It does tell me that on the day my treatment is completed I should wait in the patient day room to be collected, ie get out of my provisional bed as quickly as possible.

So why am I upset by this? Well it just seems insensitive in the extreme, it shows no recognition of the trauma and uncertainty of being in my position and readying myself for some very unpleasant treatment; it makes me feel like an inconvenience, a bed user not a person. It gives me no information and offers me no help. It is also appallingly badly written it tells me that I will be admitted it she is able to confirm a bed is available not if one is. It also says you not your telephone number is ... and fails to cross out the option which says they don't have my telephone number so ends up being confusing.

It is sent from someone called a bed/patient co-ordinator and I wonder how much she is paid and wouldn't the money be better spent on more beds. And yes I know enough about the NHS to understand it's not a question of a piece of furniture and a pillow and some sheets but all the staff and infrastructure that goes with it but still I wonder and I am certain that even if this person is worth what we pay her, she should be trained in how to write to terminally ill people in a more sensitive and caring way and to proof read.

It will be interesting to see, if I am allowed a bed, if it will be ready for me when I get there; if not expect more ire.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Going back

We are preparing to go back to the UK again, packing up the clothes we never wore but leaving the books that we have read (Me- The Children's Book by A S Byatt: interesting idea, very literary, started slowly, got very gripping in the middle and then slowed down again towards the end, generally I enjoyed it; A change in altitude by Anita Shreve: enjoyable, ripped through it and was absorbed, but I know I will forget what it was about very quickly; Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler; bit the same really, love both Shreve and Tyler and always read their new books but would struggle to tell you what any were about after about 6 weeks; that's probably more down to my psyche than their skill however. We are now filling this house with books and running out of space just as we have in home no 1.

I always hate to leave, it's something about the peace here that we can't reproduce in Birmingham, even if we leave the telly locked away upstairs and sally forth into the countryside as often as we can. Of course this time, as we did last time, we are packing our elephant to travel with us and wondering when next we will return.

I plan to attempt a return between chemo refills but am not sure if I will feel up to the journey. In Spring the wild flowers come out including the orchids, that we now know how to identify as an orchid expert came to stay in the hamlet a couple of years ago, so we will definitely try to make it over in April if not before.

But taking each day at a time, yesterday we had wild boar with notre famille francais, hunted on their own land but not by them, fantastic it was, as was the gooey cheese and the melt-in-the mouth lemon tart (two slices!). Tomorrow night we stop off just south of Paris in a chateau and have our last pre-chemo treat. It's a good life and one I am anxious not to leave before I am good and ready.