Sunday, 30 June 2013

Smoke, steam and the oldest wooden church in the world

A weekend of live steam interspersed with a visit to a Saxon church.

As part of the 150th anniversary of London Underground, heritage rolling stock ran on the Epping Ongar Railway this weekend.  Yesterday we did a walk in the countryside around Ongar, taking in 3 places which intersected with the railway.  Armed with our timetable, we waited and watched until we heard a whistle and then with much puffing and panting and a flourish of smoke and steam, Metropolitan Locomotive No 1 came into view.  After taking photos and waving at the train - yes I always wave at steam trains - we moved onto the next crossing.

In our walk also took in Greensted Church, the oldest wooden church in the world.  Its wooden timbers date from the 11th century, but excavations have revealed two earlier timber churches dating from the 6th and 7th century.  The church has a lepers squint and there is a grave of a 12th century crusader by the entrance.  Well worth a visit.

We decided to splash out and get tickets for the trains on Sunday.  We got the tube to Epping and were picked up by a heritage London bus - an ancient green routemaster - which took us to North Weald, a restored period underground station.  We travelled up and down the line several times in restored wooden carriages including one journey in the first class - the beautifully restored Jubilee coach 353 (built in 1892) - revelling in the steam, smoke and cinders.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The glass ceiling

I gazed up at the glass ceiling and watched the rain droplets form and reform. Hardly mesmerising, but it kept me occupied.  I was in a waiting area with a huge glass skylight of a ceiling waiting for a scan.

The new building at the Royal London is amazing.  In fact the whole site is a fascinating place to visit. I was early so I went for a wander.  The hospital site spans many streets with buildings of different ages, shapes and purposes.  Part of it is still functioning and part is a construction site. A large old-fashioned looking hospital is morphing into a large modern hospital.

I can see the need - newer building are more efficient to heat and maintain, and spreading the hospital over a large site probably never really made sense.  But I hope at least some of the iconic hospital buildings survive even as facades.

I was very impressed with the look and feel of the new buildings - my appointment was took place in  a ziggurat of blue glass.

And I did like that glass ceiling.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Glass offices, construction sites and quiet spaces

Another visit to Jupiter today - Mercury is still malfunctioning.

Then spent a couple of hours exploring more backstreets, alleys, churches, buildings new and old, and enclosed green spaces.

I visited the following city churches today

St Olave Jewry (only part of the church building survives and appears private)
St Margaret Lothbury (open)
Dutch church at Austin Friars (closed at time of visit)
All Hallows on the Wall (closed at time of visit)
St Mary Moorfields (service on - lots of incense!)
St Ethelburga (closed at time of visit)
St Botolph Bishopsgate (open despite normally closing at 5:30pm.  There seemed to be a meeting in the  church office.  Unlike many city churches, this one survived both the great fire and the blitz.  It was an oasis of calm after the noise and rush outside.

My walk today took me to the big construction site at Broadgate and also near the Crossrail project.  This part of the city has more modern buildings, some iconic like the Gerkin, but far too many were glass boxes devoid of architectural merit.  Roads full of people scurrying to get somewhere, or standing around in animated conversation with their phones, or else puffing on cigarettes.  This part of the city seemed very male dominated.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Country walking in north London

It was a lovely light evening yesterday.  I went with a few others on a walk through the north London countryside.  The north London countryside?  Yes really.

If you know where to go there are some brilliant country walks in suburban London. The most well known of these are the Capital Ring, London Loop and Green Chain, but there are many lesser-known walks, perhaps nicer because they are not so well-trodden.

We did a circuit from Hendon Central tube, about 6-7 miles.  Across a park with a rose garden, through narrow alleys between houses, past a 13th century church, and then through the old churchyard ablaze with flowers, along a lane to Sunny Hill with magnificent views.  Then across Copthall Fields, allotments, along a green "tunnel" by a hedge,up an ancient winding lane, picking up a sunken footpath beside back gardens, then taking the meandering path by the river Brent and though Brent Park.

We finished the walk with some drinks, crisps and conversation in a pub garden in Hendon before taking the tube home.

These long summer evenings are wonderful opportunities for country walks wherever you live and work.

Update:  I've added a separate page on books on country walks in London, here

Unexpected diversion to Jupiter

To my surprise, instead of going to Mercury today I was diverted to Jupiter.  It seems that Mercury was down for servicing.

Jupiter has a different view on the ceiling panels, but the biggest difference was no music!

When I commented on this, I was asked if I had any special requests or would I like to bring in my own CD?  An interesting idea, but what if I mentally associate that CD with radiotherapy whenever I play it afterwards?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The bed at the end of the universe

About a week ago, I concluded that our 35 year old bed was knackered.  The mattress had broken springs and a large tear.  The bed was frayed and bits were falling off.

So off we went to choose our new bed.  We spent a lovely hour or so trying out different beds and finally made our choice.

Early yesterday (Friday) morning the John Lewis van pulled up at our house with our new bed. I had to dash off to Mars while it was being assembled, but when I returned home there it was.

I am now typing this blog into my laptop while lying on the new arrival.  It has currently got the outer-space-themed duvet cover, sheets and pillow cases,  and the new mattress is making me feel almost weightless. Mmmm....

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Mercury, Yggdrasil and blue plaques

Finished my daily visit to Mecury early, so there was plenty of time to continue my exploration of city churches.

I managed to tick the following churches/towers off my list:

St Vedast alias Foster (open)
St Augustine Watling St (appears permanently closed, just a church tower)
St Andrew by the Wardrobe (closed when I visited - a name to conjure with!)
St Benet Welsh church (closed when I visited)
St Mary Somerset (appears permanently closed, just a church tower)
St Nicholas Cole Abbey (closed when I visited)
St James Garlickhythe (open)
St Michael Pasternoster Royal (closed when I visited)
St Stephen Walbrook (closed when I visited)

 Near St Andrew by the Wardrobe - I love that name - was a sign giving directions to Wardrobe Place, which I couldn't help following.  In doing so I also found "The Site of the Kings Wardrobe.  Destroyed in the Great Fire 1666" - a blue plaque marks the spot. 

Not far away is the site of the Great Dominican Friary at Blackfriars (dissolved in 1538).  Part of this is an old burial ground, now a small garden square completely enclosed by tall buildings.  In its centre is a tall, tall tree, which I've decided must represent Yggdrasil (the tree of life in Norse mythology).  It is a lovely quiet meditative place. 

Nearby is St Annes, Vestry Hall, home of the "friends of friendless churches".

Other blue plaques encountered on my travels include:  "Site of St Thomas the Apostle Church Destroyed in the Great Fire", the site of "The House of Richard Whittington" 1423.

I ended up at Bank at the height of rush hour, so I found a quiet spot and read my book for half an hour until I could travel home off-peak in a less crowded tube.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Cancer patient travels in outer space

Another visit to Mercury today.  No I've not gone mad - it is the name of my radiotherapy machine (as explained here).

After travelling to Mercury, I spent some time exploring some of the medieval streets of the City of London and dropping in at a few city churches. 

Did you know there are 48 churches and 10 church towers (sans church) in the square mile?  

Today I explored St Mary le Bow in Cheapside, St Lawrence Jewry in Gresham St (where I picked up a handy leaflet on the city churches), and St Annes and St Agnes further along Gresham St.  I saw outside of the remaining tower of St Alban in Wood St - not possible to go in as it is "private".  It was rather surreal to see this isolated tower in the middle of a road....

Then off to meet up with friend for dinner.

I've decided to visit all of the remaining city churches and towers during my 5 weeks of radiotherapy in the city.  Only another 45 churches and 9 towers to go!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Radiotherapy - Day 1

The first radiotherapy treatment took place today.  I've been told the main side effect to expect is soreness and I've got to be careful to use aqueous cream regularly and be careful when washing and drying.  No swimming during the treatments or for a couple of weeks afterwards.  So there goes my plan to combine radiotherapy and swims at Ironmonger row baths.

For the first week I will treated with a machine called Mercury, but later on it will be Jupiter.  They name all the machines after planets.   They have all the planets there except Pluto - not really a planet anyway - and Uranus - might have been apt for certain types of cancer....

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Colouring hair after chemotherapy

I had 6 cycles of FEC-T.  My chemo hair is mainly white with some black bands starting to come through.  I love getting my hair back, but no so keen on the colour.

I did some internet research on colouring your hair after chemo.  Most articles recommend waiting 6 months or more, but I couldn't find the basis for this recommendation.  It seemed as if the same recommendation was going round and round various forums, but no one knew where it originally came from.

I also read various recommendations in forums and websites recommending the use of "natural" or "organic" hair dyes because they were "safer" for chemo hair regrowth.  On closer inspection the main ingredients in these products didn't seem very different from regular brand hair dyes in Boots or Superdrug costing a fraction of the price of the "natural" or "vegetable" dyes.

According to review of  these "natural" hair dyes in Choice (Australian equivalent of Which?), many "still contain plenty of chemicals, including the main allergy culprits".  This article concluded that "The addition of certified organic ingredients and other plant extracts doesn't mean it's any better for your health".

I have just started colouring my hair - at 3 months because I really couldn't wait any longer.

I am using a Level 1 hair colourant  (lasts 6 to 8 washes) I bought in Superdrug (NiceNEasy). Unlike longer lasting hair dyes, these temporary hair dyes typically don't contain peroxide, ammonia or chemicals such as PPDs and PTDs and their derivatives.  Given that chemo regrowth does tend to be finer and softer, I thought temporary (but mainstream) hair colour would be a reasonable choice.

Beige Blonde certainly looks much nicer than  Chemo White - I'll have to see how long it lasts though.....

The progress of my hair regrowth along with my hair colouring "experiments" are recorded in a series of photographs with descriptions here.

Chocks Away!

As this is my inaugural post on this blog, I will tell you a little about myself and why I'm "here".

Blogging is a good habit for writers - I will have to think of something interesting to say every day or so, so it will get me into a good regular writing habit.  Besides, it is harder to plead "writers block" when all I have to do is write a minimum of a para or two, but hopefully more if the muse strikes me (mixed metaphor I know).

I have found some other people's blogs useful and helpful.  Some are informative while others have resonated with me at particular times.  Some people blog about their illnesses - such as cancer or recovering from joint replacement.  When I experienced these, I found it useful to follow other's experiences, and benchmark myself against them.  You are not supposed to do this - "Everyone is different and we all recover at our rate."  Perhaps.  But I need comparisons to see how I'm really doing.

My knee replacement was two years ago - I have an Oxford partial knee replacement and I love my new knee.  Recovery wasn't that big a deal.  Not much pain and I could get around quite soon, but still took a long time to fully recover.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October last year.  I've completed the chemotherapy - 3 cycles of FEC and then 3 cycles of Taxotere - in mid March this year.  This combination is called FEC-T.

FEC is horrible stuff - a combination of 3 drugs: 5 Fluorouracil, Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide.  Two of these drugs (5 Fluorouracil and Cyclophosphamide) date back to the early days of chemotherapy (1950s) and produce the classic severe nausea and vomiting (as well as hair loss) commonly associated with chemotherapy.  Urghh!  Taxotere can produce a wider range of side effects, some of which can be long lasting, but at least you skip the nausea and vomiting!

Surgery was in April, and I start 5 weeks of radiotherapy on Monday.  I will still be on Herceptin until Feb next year.  I know this won't make much sense to you unless you've had a cancer or supported someone who has.  Don't worry - my blog will be covering a total mixture of my experiences and reflections, so just skip anything that doesn't seem interesting or relevant to you.

My hair is regrowing slowly but surely.  I love my new hair - I really missed it.  It is now three months from my last chemo session. My eyelashes and eyebrows are almost back to normal.  My head hair is uber-short and feels very silky and fine, but at least my head now has a (virtually) full covering.  I am getting my husband to photograph my hair every week or so, so I have a record of it regrowing.

Funnily enough I still have no forearm or underarm hair, but I'm sure it will come eventually (and I'm not going to tell you about hair in some other places...)

We came back from a short holiday a week ago - we were in Devon for just over a week, staying in Torquay and Paignton.  Torquay is nice, but I liked Paignton best.  There is a regular steam train from Paignton to near Dartmouth, and I liked waving to people on the train - steam trains bring out the best in people - everyone seems to be in a good mood.

Update:  A couple of our photos of the Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway