Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Happy Campers

We are off camping for a week this August - I'm getting really excited....

Camping - at least in the summer - is a great way to have a holiday in my opinion.  That is, provided you bear in mind these guidelines:

1/  Choose your campsite carefully.  There are websites with huge listings campsites with information on facilities and reviews by other campers.  I like camp sites with trees and hedges which break up the site into "rooms".  Not so keep on big open fields.  Nice toilet and shower blocks are a must.

2/  Tents.  I like a roomy tent that you can stand up in.  Obviously if you are backpacking or cycle touring you have to go small and light, but if you are driving to the campsite you can have something more luxurious.  Two rooms tents are good - bedroom and sitting room/storage room.  If two people get a 3 to 6 person tent.

3/ Weather.  Don't go when it is really hot or really wet.  Anything in between is ideal.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Pain out of all proportion

When cleaning the stove I managed to burn the tip of my index finger on the pilot light plate - ouch!

After many years as a first aider I knew what to do immediately - put the finger under running water.  Not wanting to leave the tap running too long, I progressed to putting my finger in a cup of water and moving it around.  I added some ice lollies to the water to cool it further - no ice cubes available.

Twenty minutes later, severe pain out of all proportion to the apparent injury if I dared take my finger out of the water.  So I kept it in. Another 20 minutes went by, and another.  Same result. After an hour and a half, I still couldn't take my finger out of the water due to the severe pain that would result. But I can't just keep my finger in a cup of water all day...

I sent hubby to Boots for some burn gel - I'd never used it before although I'd heard about it.  I took my finger out of the water and applied a generous dollop of the gel.  Painful at first from being out of the water, but the pain subsided very quickly.  Half an hour later my finger was pain-free.

I don't know how the gel works, but work it does.

Lesson learnt - burn gel is an important addition to the home first aid kit.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The garden in the ruins

I pass a beautiful garden every time I go to Barts.

In the ruins of old church - Christ Church Greyfriars.  During my 5 weeks of radiotherapy, the garden was hot, colourful and full of bumble bees, as the photos show.

When I started chemotherapy last November everything was cold and bleak, but the garden was still green and alive.

The church was originally a monastic church.  After the dissolution of the monastery it became a parish church.  It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Christopher Wren, then destroyed  again in the blitz.  The church tower still stands and the ruined nave became the garden.

It is my garden of hope.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

London Shine walk

I have signed up to do the London Shine walk for Cancer Research this September.

Anyone interested in sponsoring me see:  https://www.justgiving.com/penny2013.

You can also sponsor me by texting PENN98 £5 (or whatever amount) to 70070 (and you can add 25% at no extra cost by gift aid).  (This is a good way of putting using up credit on unwanted/old phone sims).

Entrants on the walk have to pay an entrance fee which should more than cover all the costs of the walk, so everything you raise in donations goes to the charity. 

I hate those fund raising events where some of the donations have to pay for the event itself....

Farewell to the planets

Yesterday was the last day of my 5 week radiotherapy course.  I spent most of my sessions in Mercury and Jupiter and had a couple unplanned visits to Saturn and Venus due to maintenance issues.

It feels liberating to know I no longer have to go back there each day for a quick zap.

I must say all the radiotherapy people in the Barts basement were really lovely.  The reception staff seem to  remember each and every patient, and always stay cheerful and pleasant.  The team of radiographers that treated me were a great bunch.

Thank you, folks
Another treatment ticked off the list.

Only another 6 months of Herceptin, 5 years of hormone treatment, and miscellaneous appointments to go......

Finishing Silent Saturday on Friday

I've just finished reading the latest Helen Grant YA thriller:  Silent Saturday.

A 17-year-old Flemish girl, Veerle, tries to escape a claustrophobic relationship with her neurotic mother by joining a hidden society called the Koekoeken (Cuckoos).  The Koekoeken have an unusual and highly illegal hobby - they enjoy sneaking into other people's houses for the evening leaving no trace of their visit other than a good deed.

Initially the adrenalin-rush from these evening escapades and her developing relationship with Kris, another Koekoeken member, provides Veerle with much needed excitement.  But then two Koekoeken are murdered and another goes missing.  Just a series of coincidences or could one of them be a serial killer?

Veerle and Kris have a terrible dilemma: keep quiet about their suspicions or tell the police, which would mean exposing all the Koekoeken members and their illegal activities?

Silent Saturday has a strong main plot with plenty of twists and turns as well as cleverly interwoven sub-plots, interesting well-drawn characters and evocative descriptions enhanced by the masterful use of metaphors and similes.

Despite the somewhat ambiguous ending, this book makes it into my Top 100 Children's and YA Books.

I have now added this review to Amazon as there were only 6 other reviews of this book and it deserves more!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Discovering quotes in odd places

What are your favourite quotes?

Here are a couple I found a long time ago and never forgot. 

Love life.  Be grateful to it always.  And show your gratitude by not shying away from its challenges. Always try to live a little bit beyond your capabilities.  And you will discover they are greater than you ever dreamed.

I came across it in an article about the value of "boldness" in an old Readers Digest.  Remember them from dentist's waiting rooms?  Apparently the original source is an article by Arthur Gordon in different magazine.

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night."

I first heard this in an episode of Family at War.  George VI quoted it in his 1939 Christmas Broadcast - in real life as well  as in the series.  It comes from a poem by Minnie Haskins.

Physiotherapy in a former mental hospital

Today I headed off for my first physio session kindly arranged by Benenden.

Interestingly the physio is based in a health club located in the main hall and chapel of a former mental hospital.

I can remember when the planned development was finally agreed about 15 years ago. I set off one light summer evening to explore the old site. After finding an open gate, I spent an hour wandering avenues of Victorian buildings in various stages of disrepair, communing with the ghosts of former inmates. Metaphorically speaking.

Then spent another hour trying to find a way out after the gate had mysteriously locked...

After getting off the bus this morning, I walked through the gate and asked the security/reception staff for directions to the health club.  It turned to be at the top of the hill next to the gothic water tower dominating the site.  The inside was equally ornate - all patterned bricks and high decorated ceilings. Fantastic!  And I mean that in all senses of the word.

After my appointment, I meandered around the site, marvelling at the transformation from institution to a gated community of posh (but very pleasant) houses and flats.

What would it be like to live in a former mental hospital surrounded by unhappy ghosts?

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Do you root your droid?

Sounds highly personal and deeply intrusive doesn't it?  Perhaps I should mind my own business!

Or perhaps something from Gardeners World?

Put those green fingers away, I'm talking about Android smartphones.

Rooting means giving yourself full administrative control (like you already have with your PC).

Rooting enables you to remove limitations put in by the phone company or handset manufacturer and allows you to change system settings or run specialised apps.

But the big reason for rooting a phone is to change or upgrade the operating system.  Once a phone is rooted, replacing its operating system (aka flashing a custom rom) is a doddle.

You are not then stuck with an old operating system for the life of the phone. And more importantly you get rid of all those annoying phone company apps or modifications (aka "bloatware").

Sounds too geeky?  Not really.  Remember you don't have to get involved in the development of new roms or rooting tools.  There are plenty of dedicated enthusiasts who do all this and are happy to share with the wider community.

A little bit of knowledge can save you a lot of money.You can easily get a brilliant new android smartphone for much less than £100 or a pretty decent one for less than £50.  PAYG phone are heavily subsidised by the phone companies.

Unlock, root and flash a new rom and, voila, you have a great phone at minimal cost.

My experiences

My first droid was an Orange San Francisco PAYG phone (aka ZTE Blade).  Very easy to unlock, root and upgrade.  Cost back in 2010 was around £100.  Becoming rather dated now, but I recently sold it to a friend for less than a tenner and she is finding it really useful.

My next phone was a T-Mobile Vivacity (aka ZTE Crescent) which I bought a year ago for £50. The process of unlocking was a little complicated, but very doable once I'd found a good set of instructions.  Ditto for rooting.  Alas I've managed to break the screen and it is currently held together by cellotape.

I have just ordered a Huawei Y300 for £60, due to arrive on Monday.

My favourite apps

I have a strong preference for practical apps that save time and money. My top two are:

WEQ4U  Converts expensive 08 numbers into inclusive geographical numbers. It can also can also take your place in those annoying queues without using up minutes.

London Travel  Has a journey planner like the TFL one and live train and bus times.  The latter is particularly useful as you can time your departure from home/work/pub/restaurant just in time to catch the bus.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Who should I bump into in the newsagent?

I decided to pop into my local newsagent after returning from radiotherapy and guess who I met there?

No, not the prime minister or a famous actress or pop star.  It was my lovely hairdresser who I've not been to for about 9 months.  For obvious reasons...

She asked me how I was and complimented me on my new hairstyle and colour.  I told her about my cancer and she suggested that pop over for a free trim.  She only trimmed the slightly shaggy bits around my ears, but it was great being at the hairdressers again.  Unimaginable 6 months ago.

She told me about all the people she knew who had cancer and it just put the whole thing in perspective.

I felt so normal.

Hurrah for hairdressers!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

TB society helps with physio and cancer costs

My GP has put me on the waiting list for NHS physio for my back, but she said the waiting list could be up to 12 weeks, but I might get in sooner if there was a cancellation.

My back is really bothering me so I didn't really want to wait that long, so I contacted Benenden.  You may be wondering what I'm talking about. Let me tell you about Benenden.  It is an unusual organisation - it isn't health insurance and it isn't a cashplan.  Benenden is a members (mutual organisation) organisation that provides healthcare assistance to members on a discretionary basis.  The subs are only £7.80 per month and it doesn't go up with age.

It started off as a sanatorium society for post office workers in 1905 when TB was a big killer of young adults.  Twenty years later Civil Servants joined the scheme and it became the Post Office and Civil Servants Sanatorium Society - it was still called that when I joined about 20 years ago.  Nowadays it helps members with many other health conditions not just TB.

Anyway after a telephone consultation, they agreed to arrange a physio package for me. When I mentioned in passing that I was being treated for cancer, they told me that Benenden also helps with out of pocket expenses associated with cancer eg travel costs, home help, mastectomy bras etc and a recuperative break at the end.

This sort of thing makes you realise that friendly societies are still important in this day and age.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Rusting safe in city building

Monday afternoon and back to my interplanetary journeying - Mercury today.  See this post if you don't know what I'm talking about.

After radiotherapy, I spend another hour wandering the streets and alleys of the city, and managed to tick a few more churches off my list.

I visited:

 St Stephen Walbrook.  (Open at the time of my visit.  The former rector of this church, Chad Varah founded The Samaritans, and the original phone is there in a glass case in the church.)

St Mary Woolnorth (Open at the time of my visit.  There seemed to be a small meeting going on)

St Mary Abchurch (Closed at the time of my visit)

St Clement East Cheap (Closed at the time of my visit)

St Edmund King and Martyr (Closed at the time of my visit)

I tried unsuccessfully to find the tower of St Martin Orgar.  I tried several different streets and quite a few alleys, but where was it?

In the course of all this purposeful aimless wandering, in a narrow alley near Cannon St, I came across an old building with a rusting metal structure on the outside.  Upon closer inspection it seemed to be an ancient safe with the back rusted away.  Weird!

Shine and Credit Card Blocked

A rather frustrating morning.

I had seen adverts on the tube for Cancer Research Shine walk.  It sounded rather fun and some people on one of the cancer forums were also planning to do it.

I checked my diary and found it is a few days after my Herceptin treatment, so I wouldn't be constraining my holiday plans by committing to it.

I almost completed the rather long-winded online form on my 3rd attempt - something went wrong on the previous two times causing all my work to vanish.  Grrrh!

When I got to the last page and tried to pay the booking, my credit card was refused!  Huh?

Has there really been a sudden rush of fraudsters stealing credit cards in order to make donations to charity?

I looked up the credit card phone number online - one of these annoying revenue-generating 08457 numbers.  Fortunately I was able to use my trusty WEQ4U phone app to convert it into a local number, and went through various menus to pass security and finally got unblocked.  Until the next time.

This is the 2nd time this week my card has been blocked by a completely harmless transaction.  The next time it happens, I will cut up the card and take my business elsewhere.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Scans and Pains

I've had pain in my back and some weakness in one leg for some time now.  It started one weekend about 7 weeks ago.  The worst pain I've ever was running down my leg.

The pain improved within hours but I was left with a limp due to weakness.   This has improved with time, but I still have a weak foot and toes.  The pain in my back comes and goes, but might be becoming more frequent with time.

Recently I had a bone scan and an MRI of my lower spine.  I've not yet had the results of the bone scan or the official radiologist report of my MRI, but when I saw the oncologist on Friday he had a look at the MRI.

He couldn't see anything that looked like cancer.  Phew!  Such a relief.

It always looked like sciatica, but this nasty little thought kept whispering: What if it isn't sciatica?  What if...?

The doctor thought one of my discs was pressing on a nerve, so it sounds like a herniated disc.  I will make an appointment with my GP to see if physio will help.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Heroism of Ordinary People

Postman's Park is one of the largest parks in the City of London.

Contained within it is a hidden treasure:  a wall with tiles describing incidents where ordinary people died while trying to save others. Most of these are from the latter part of the 19th century to the first decades of the 20th century.  They relate incidents such as burning buildings, gas explosions, falls into rivers, and railway accidents.

Reading the basic facts of these personal tragedies is an oddly moving experience.  Some of these people were only children at the time, but they were still brave beyond measure. The wall of tiles remains a fitting monument to the courage of ordinary folk.

I first encountered this by chance over 20 years ago while visiting the park during a lunchtime stroll when I worked near St Paul's.  All the tiles were still there today when I visited the park before my appointment at Barts.

The park itself is very pleasant with grass, and borders and a fish pond. St Botolph Aldersgate adjoins the park as it was once its churchyard but it was locked at the time of my visit.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A dreadful tale of a ghostly black dog

I met up with a friend for lunch in a cafe just off Bread St.  He then took me up to the rooftop terrace and we explored the city skyline.  St Paul's dominated the foreground, and receding into the middle distance we saw  boxy modern buildings glowering over church spires, busy cranes creating yet more architectural wonders(?), the gentle tracery of the London Eye, and the Oxo tower squashed between two dull office blocks.

Then off to my radiotherapy appointment and back home.

But I haven't mentioned the ghostly black dog yet.  I had forty minutes to spare before lunch so off I went to bag another city church. Just along Newgate St is St Sepulchre's.  The door was locked so I was limited to the tiny garden containing the old churchyard, which included several crumbling tombs,  One of these had  large gaps in the stonework.  I've often wondered what is actually inside these tombs - skeletons, leaded coffins, urns?  I fumbled in my rucksack for my LED torch, and shining it through the gaps, I peered inside.  Empty.

But the ghostly dog? I'm just coming to that.

Outside the church was a sign about the infamous Newgate Prison which once stood nearby. Newgate was rife with  ghost stories, one of the most famous being the Black Dog of Newgate.  In 1596 a scholar, imprisoned for practicing sorcery, was killed and eaten by starving inmates.  A ghostly black dog appeared soon afterwards, and although the terrified prisoners managed to escape, the dog haunted them wherever they went.

Ever since then people have reported seeing a stalking black shadow accompanied by a hideous smell and the sound of dragging footsteps...