Explained …

Attached is a word document containing not a blog but a short story.  It is a bit longer than your average blog but I hope that the reasons for this become apparent within the story!

Explained V3

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Princess Diana

It’s the 18th anniversary of her death today and everyone’s going all soppy and sappy about her on social media of course. I’ve even seen ‘Where were you/what were you doing when you heard the news …?’ posts and tweets, intentionally echoing the question that has become intrinsically linked to the assassination of JFK.  God knows what’ll happen in 2017 when it will be a whole 20 years since the accident that killed her.

She wasn’t ‘Princess’ Diana of course.  She was never Princess Diana because she was not born a Princess. She was Diana, the ex-Princess of Wales.  She had even relinquished her HRH title when she and Prince Charles divorced.  I admit I have never been a royalist, but what I remember is that at the time of her death, she was not revered.  It was true that she had begun to pick herself up from the petulant young woman she had been and we all felt  a little bit sorry for her (just a little bit) because she obviously couldn’t cut it as a ‘royal’.  Whatever that means.  She was easy to criticise but somehow, when she put on ‘that look’ (you know the one, looking at you from underneath her eyebrows) and played ‘poor little old me’ the media and consequently, the people, couldn’t quite bring themselves to be horrible to her.

We all knew by 1995 that her marriage to Charles had been an almighty mis-match, but, rightly I think, we did not hold her responsible for this.  The rumours about affairs, the squidgy-gate tapes and the physical resemblance of little Harry to James Hewitt still didn’t turn the world’s press against her.  God knows why. That ghastly interview she did with Martin Bashir didn’t in fact do her any favours.  I cringed all the way through it and just thought she needed a hair cut.  What was all that guff about wanting to be the Princess of Hearts? More like Princess of bleeding-Hearts I thought, a tad unkindly I know.

Because despite her flailing around trying to find something to do, taking up with Imran and Jemima Khan and wearing Eastern gear, falling for an eminent surgeon and stuff like that, she did seem to possess something that made her accessible to ordinary folk.  She did, she bloody did, shake that bloke’s hand at a time when the whole world thought you could catch AIDS by doing so.  She did bend down and cuddle little kids and she did seem to care, especially about those who were old, sick or vulnerable. I for one had never seen a member of the royal family get this ‘down with the people’.

She also had a fantastic way with clothes.  Not a classically beautiful woman, she knew how to wear stuff and we could all see how much she had grown out of the gauche, Harvey Nics and Coutts-account ‘it’ girl, who had received the best education money could buy but still ended up nannying, she had been.  With her see-through skirt and her Laura Ashley blouses.  But with those years behind her she blossomed.  Great hair (a marked contrast to the awful, awful 1980s), great choice of outfits and silhouettes, and great shoes.  I am only a year younger than she was and I was relying on her to help me navigate middle age gracefully and with style, in the same way she had helped me grow into my 30s.

Her attempts at being taken seriously were brave and I did feel that she was trying hard and that she deserved to be given credit for that.  The pictures of her walking through areas potentially ridden with land mines and her eagerness to meet Mother Teresa helped me to accept her continuing maturity.  She was trying and I applauded that.

Two weeks before her death, when she had been on holiday with Dodi Fayed (some say unwisely), I too had been on holiday with my husband and small son.  We had begun to laugh, along with others at the hotel, about the almost 100% front cover press she and Dodi were receiving daily.  Especially one day when an excited fellow guest at the hotel (she was German I remember and had been very interested in Diana and what she would do next) ran onto the terrace with an English language newspaper that boasted as its front-page headline a  ‘Diana free front page’.  That was it. Just copy.  No pictures.  We all laughed because of course it wasn’t a Diana free front page at all.  The press were never going to leave her alone – that was always going to be her problem, I thought.

So that’s why, when I found out that she had died in a road accident in a tunnel in Paris, being chased by the paparazzi late the night before, I cried.  I cried for her loss.  For the person she was becoming, slowly and not without making mistakes, but was becoming. For the fact that she was only 36 and had 2 young boys.

By now I was back in the UK and, like most of us who were in the UK that weekend, was probably asleep as the news broke over the world.  I had been woken that Sunday morning by a phone call from my husband, who was working away, to tell me about it.  I didn’t believe him. Thought he’d had too many pints of Guinness the night before.  Never very good with names he had referred to her as ‘Diane’ and my mind had started to race through all the women I knew called Diane. When I realized who he was talking about I rushed downstairs to put the tv on (no on-hand devices in those days) and gasped to see that it was true.  And I cried. My son ran in at this point and I remember the look of concern but confusion on his face to see his Mummy crying at something on the tele.  I really felt a loss.  Spent much of the day in front of the television, just taking it all in.  I don’t think my son ever really did understand why his Mummy was so upset that day, but for a 7 year old he was very kind, and even offered to stay in with me rather than go out with his mates to play.  I assured him I was ok and off he went.  But I stayed in front of the news and cried.

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Cleaning ovens, chemotherapy and James Joyce

Yesterday morning I cleaned my oven.  If you’ve never cleaned a grubby oven, if you’ve never had to, or if the idea of doing so has never occurred to you, then lucky you but you won’t know how satisfying it can be when it’s done. I have long believed that if you live in a mess you will be in a bit of a mental-funk.  Well, that’s what it feels like for me. Tidy environment equals tidy mind and enjoyment for me.  I have not always been able to keep this achieved at home of course, but you should see me at work – tidy, tidy desk. If not in the middle of the day, definitely by the end of it. When I have been a hard-working woman and time constrained, hardly in the house, I have relied on a cleaner. It’s not about not wanting to do it myself, more about choosing not to spend my precious free time doing it. I used to really enjoy going home the day Ellie had been and didn’t mind in the least that she was better at cleaning my house than I was! At the moment I do my own cleaning. Why wouldn’t I. It’s very satisfying and quite therapeutic in its own way – see mental-funk above.  My dear old Dad used to say that about mowing his lawn.

Whilst I was cleaning said oven I was in conversational correspondence with my friend AB.  Social media is so good for this and I do consider some contact (usually via facebook, gawd bless it) part of my Sunday morning routine now. We messaged away at length about old friends and good times and AB’s recent blog which had been very honest and not full of the usual ‘I’m coping really well and here’s how I’m doing it’ shit prose that I always try to produce. She has been brave enough to write about the times when you are scared, bored (yes, bored), feel like an alien and just wish your body wasn’t doing this to you and you didn’t have to go through this.  Much, much more brave than I was and am even now.  She is able to write honestly about the crap that goes with having to go through chemotherapy and how that can bring you right down. She’s much, much more brave than I was about being bald too.  I couldn’t bear the thought of going out without my bare head being covered – even when my hair was growing back and was looking quite strong I still insisted on wearing a hat. There are NO pictures of me with a bald head. None. Nada. And I couldn’t bear the thought of writing about chemotherapy – mainly because I couldn’t be sure I would be able to keep it positive. Don’t know why that was so important, but it was. I purposely started these blogs on the third anniversary of my last chemo session and have pretty much only talked about what happened once chemo had finished. Anyway, back to yesterday morning, we talked about bone scans too – mine was the following day and AB gets the results of hers this week.  Both of us are nervous but philosophical. Here’s to results …

After lots of messages about life, the universe, chemotherapy and scans (god knows, if you told us when we first met that we would be having these conversations now…), we agreed to lighten up and start talking about  more mundane things. AB suggested washing powder so I told her that, though I would hardly call it a frenzy of domestic activity, I had just cleaned my oven.  We even discussed which product to use.  That’s where you, dear reader, came in …

This morning found me back on the road to the hospital. I am so familiar with hospital appointments now I always go prepared – plenty of coins for parking (though you can pay with a card, of course), a book, a newspaper and my notebook. No need for a flask because, in this place, there is a passable café which is near enough to the waiting area to be able to nip to.  I didn’t know how long I was going to be there because you have to have radio-active isotope administered and then wait for it to sink into your bones (ooohhh) before you have the scan and the letter just says this can take a few hours. What I did know – thanks to AB – was that the isotope is administered via an injection and not a canula.  Thank god for that. I have a fear dread of canulas now even though I didn’t really know what one was before I got sick. They’re alright once they’re in but if there’s a problem getting it in it can be really horrid.  I remember a poor, nervous young Dr, at about 3 o’clock one morning, trying really hard to re-place mine because it had fallen out.  I hadn’t long been out of recovery after major surgery and was still a bit groggy I think.  Even so, it was awful because he failed. About 6 times. He was in a bit of a sweat and I was in huge discomfort so we agreed to wait half an hour before he tried again.  Not sure who felt worse – me or him. Then there was another time, more recently, when a well-meaning nurse decided to move my canula from my arm to my hand … she failed to find a vein so in the end it had to stay where it was.  I was nearly in tears that time and was on the point of asking her to stop.  I don’t even like having my blood taken because that’s similar, albeit much quicker.  But an injection, ach, that’s a piece of cake in comparison.  Anyway I digress – no canula, so much less dread.

And so it was, a piece of cake compared to other experiences.  The isotope was administered with a ‘butterfly’ which is half way between a straight injection and a canula.  Sort of. I was reminded of how important the skill of the practitioner is too. This was very gentle and she didn’t seem to dig into my vein very much at all. Isotope delivered off I went to wait about while it did its stuff.  I scoured the really good second-hand book section in the café and picked up a copy of James Joyce’s Dubliners for 50p.  I’ve already got it somewhere I’m sure, but 50p … It’s a collection of short stories.  And very short some of them are indeed.  Very short.  At the allotted time off I went back to X-ray 1.  There was a well spoken old woman, in her bed, thick case notes files by her feet, in the corridor waiting to go in at the same time as I was waiting.  Her name was Elizabeth Ann and she sounded just like an old 1930s English film star.  Think Anna Neagle or Celia Johnson.

The scan took 20 mins but I spent the time calculating what the word count on some of Joyce’s stories is. The shortest is only about 2,000 words long.  That’s not much more than a blog! (This one, incidentally has already tipped 1,000 which makes it one of my longest yet). The longest about 9,000.  Then I dozed whilst the gamma rays did their thang, dreaming about short stories …

So, that’s another hospital appointment over with.  Hospitals are weird places.  Not sure if I like them or not.  You certainly do see all of human life there.  Old, young, people who don’t look sick, people who look really, really sick. As I left, the very nice radiographer asked me if I had an appointment fixed with Mr Hinton and I said ‘Yes, end of September’. ‘Oh that’s good’, she said, ‘If there is anything in your pictures they will ring you before then’.  I am absolutely sure that she meant well.  But I do wish she hadn’t said that.  I don’t think I’m going to spend the next few weeks dreading the phone ringing or anything like that, but I do wish she hadn’t said that.

1,375 words.  Nearly up with Joyce J. All I’ve got to do now is actually write a story and not a journal!!

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To scan, or not to scan …

Notwithstanding the below blog (Annual Check up number 4) to the contrary, (I love that phrase, don’t use it very often!) I have  now had an invitation to undergo an NM Bone (whole body) scan next week.  The NM stands for Nuclear Medicine which sounds a bit scary doesn’t it?

This is because, despite some much required reassurance that checks for secondary cancers were not necessary in my case, I do have a little ‘bone ache’ and have had for a good while. It appears to like my left hip a lot.  This is a question I am asked at every annual check up.  I have, I am sure, sorted this out via my GP with an x-ray and a little injection.  This has helped considerably for ages but is beginning to wear off a bit now, as indeed he said it would.  It is either early stage arthritis setting in or something else which I can’t remember the name of.  Both relating to nothing more sinister than the ageing process.  Ah, well, it could be worse.  It certainly doesn’t stop me swimming – and won’t stop me riding, when I get round to that.  It does stop me sleeping on my left hand side but all things considered, I mustn’t grumble, so I’m not. ‘Let’s just rule it out completely’ said the specialist, ‘with a full body scan’.  Sounds very sensible now I have decided to tell them about it!  It means I get injected with radio-isotope – whatever that is!! I must say though I didn’t expect the appointment to come through so quickly. Mustn’t grumble about that either!

So I’m just going to go and get this Nuclear Scan done and hope nothing untoward shows up.  What else can I do? There is a programme on the TV next week (Horizon: Are Health Tests Really A Good Idea? Wednesday BBC 2 8pm) with Michael Mosley which seems to suggest screening and scanning aren’t always good for our health.   Whether knowing or not knowing about potential or (more certain) forthcoming illness or disease is best. It’s a complex conundrum and I am sure MM has some valid points.  In the synopsis I read he says ‘for most people, the more they know, the more frightened they become’.  Perhaps he makes a distinction between screening, as in those scare-monger adverts that invite you to go and get screened (presumably at your expense) in order to ‘identify the risk of potentially life threatening’ things, and screening/scanning at appropriate times, or with reason, to rule out (or in) some more serious conditions.  Maybe. I am not sure I agree with his premise though. Not sure yet whether I will watch it either.  Maybe I won’t.  What I am sure about though is that for me, knowing is best. If you don’t know how can you make an informed choice?  I think have always thought ‘it’s a bloody good job we don’t know what’s around the corner’ but I suspect if I end up watching this programme, I am going to end up altering my view and disagreeing with MM. I wonder if he will deal with the other, less emotional and more practical issues too which are prevention and cost savings.

Well, dear reader, that probably doesn’t sound particularly positive does it?  A bit heavy on medical philosophizing for a Wednesday morning perhaps? It isn’t negative though I hope you will agree. Right at this moment what seems less appealing is that I am going to have to get my wet-weather stuff and walking boots (or possibly wellies) on to take the dogs out!  On the 5th of bloody August!!!

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Valuable Drinking Time

Apropos yesterday’s cricket-based blog and because I have been messing about with editing and stuff, here’s proof positive that Valuable Drinking Time can be achieved after a full on game of cricket cricket match and a full on cricket tea for 28!

cricket VDT

That’s 24 players and 4 officials.  It was considered correct manners to offer the officials and the away team their tea (cup of) first if my memory serves me correctly!! It was a plated salad too, no truck with common-or-garden sandwiches, requiring tables laid with cutlery and condiments. Shop bought cakes were frowned upon.  The ham was purchased in a specific number of slices from a certain local butcher.  This W.I. like insistence on standards came not from the players but from the women my generation sort of took over from.  We did rebel regarding the cake (no-one had the time!) but stuck to the rules about the plates, the ham and the exact number of slices of cucumber and tomato etc etc for each cover (well, that’s what it felt like!).  But, oh, those were the days. Such fun! Bloody deserved a drink (or two) after all that work  we always said.

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Blue Sky Thinking and cricket …

Well, here we are at the end of July.  My current contract has effectively come to an end so now I’m planning my next move.  It wasn’t, it has to be said, an entirely happy experience but it was a learning experience and I met some lovely people and was introduced to lots more too.  But, dear reader it’s August (very nearly) and I’m not in a rush. So it’s a lovely thing to be able to do some Blue Sky Thinking (BST) and really relax for a week or two.  It’s great too that it’s The Ashes at the moment especially because, as I write, England are looking very strong.  I’m not much of a sports-woman.  I was good at netball at school and always enjoyed that.  I was quite good at hockey too but I hated that.  I was hopeless at lacrosse. Rounders was a cinch but you can’t make a career out of rounders.  In the sports and leisure arena horses and swimming were and I’m happy to say, still are, my bailiwick.  Luckily two things I have been able to keep up – off and on – throughout my working life.  But cricket.  Ah cricket.  I do love it.  Not sure why.  It’s not as if I have ever played it myself!

It brings back lovely memories of Saturday league stuff when my son was a small boy and I was a full-time working Mum. Saturday afternoons were a pleasure because it was so sociable and generally sunny even if I was on ‘teas’! In fact being ‘on teas’ was fun.  Busy but fun.  I do like feeding people and the players were always so kind and well mannered. Charles loved being ‘out’ all afternoon, and evening, playing with the other kids. Even the post-game match-game-match scramble to tidy up the pavilion or travel back from an away game match game match in order to not waste Valuable Drinking Time was always great fun,  though my participation in this was limited until the small boy was bigger. Obviously!  I learned a lot about cricket of course, possibly by osmosis and I think that’s where I gained an understanding of how intricate and strategic tactical the game is. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much.  I think that is it. I also had a crush on Mike Brearley who was the England captain at the time, mainly because he had written a fascinating book on the art of Captaincy. For Captaincy read Leadership. That’s pretty much what Brearley meant.  Forget Myers/Briggs – read Brearley! This was also the era of Brian ‘Jonners’ Johnston and the fantastically funny TMS commentary including Botham not quite getting his leg over. All in all cricket is a class act.  In my humble opinion.

But back to some BST.  I chose the academic route – check your privilege – and sports became terrifically unimportant in my academic world and subsequently in the real world of work.  Me and my fellow under-grads were quite superior about it. I think we even referred to it as ‘spawt’ in a derogatory, pejorative way.  Then dear reader, I married a spawts sportsman and began to realize I was wrong to denigrate sport to a lower level of achievement just because it wasn’t scholarly.  I don’t mind admitting to the downside of being married to a sportsman.  Despite what I said above about the lovely cricket afternoons I truly was a cricket/rugby/motorbike/golf widow and it wasn’t much fun sometimes. But I learned to see the value in the challenge of the activity, in the thinking it through (especially in cricket) and the sense of belonging that comes when you agree to be a part of a team, or even when you agree to – actually put yourself forward – represent your side or even yourself as a solo competitor.  It’s scary, it’s risky and you have to be brave.

Most of us, even if we have some skill, not to mention the opportunity – again, check your privilege – can’t even contemplate making a living from sport.  Those who do are exceptionally talented, and lucky.  I guess my equivalent was all the am dram I did.  At one point, cringe, cringe, I did want to be an actress. Most of us though also need to get real at some point and earn a living.  A proper living.  But the human condition is not just about making money, or being number one all the time.  It’s about growing in strength and ability.  Progression and adaptation.  Achievement and performance. It’s about improving and trying harder next time. It’s also about being able to live with failure and defeat.  It’s about learning and concentrating.  Having patience and determination.  Skills which are not out-of-place in the work place, or indeed in the wider arena that is life.

So, I have climbed down from my moral high ground over the years and developed a more altruistic view.  Altruism trumps selfishness in groups according to an eminent socio-biologist. Not sure exactly what a socio-biologist is, though I could make a shrewd guess, and his name is E O Wilson, but I like his explanation of altruism. That’s some food for thought or for BST. So here’s some actual blue sky, taken earlier this morning.  I’m late for the cricket …..

Blue Sky July 2015

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Woops, sorry, wrong breast …!

Here’s a little funny by way of a post script to yesterday’s blog when I was at my 4th annual check up at the Breast Cancer clinic.  It’s not just a ‘how are you’ chat and/or your opportunity to ask about things you’re not sure of (which, dear reader, you know I did) you do get a physical examination too.  There I am, on the examination bed, stripped to the waist, arms above my head.  Specialist comes along and starts examining my right breast.  Now, this is the ‘new’ one, reconstructed with enormous micro-surgical skill in May 2014 following a full mastectomy which was performed in December 2011.  I was just about to ask if there was really any possibility of any presence of cancer in it – after all, it did pretty much used to be my tummy! – when she realised what she was doing and said ‘My goodness, don’t know why I’m examining this one, but isn’t it amazing!?’

How’s that for a positive outcome? #luckyme

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