Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Return of my mother's knees

My mother's knees have also returned. Well, in fact they have been with us all this time, getting worse and worse. She has been getting quite fed up with them as in addition to the knees she is feeling stiff and tired and generally not able to do too much. When she has been sitting for any length of time she has great difficulties moving and the pain seems quite unbearable. She is not normally a depressed person but this has really begun to get her down. She has decided to move to a retirement flat and has sold her house (another story for another time) but has basically spent the best part of three months back and forth to her doctor trying to find out what is wrong. It seems at last that they are thinking beyond just wear and tear in her knees and she is in the middle of a series of tests and investigations so hopefully there will be some answers soon. I did some thinking about her symptoms, some searching on the Internet and together with my professional knowledge and my own experience of a rheumatic disease and think she may have polymyalgia rheumatica. When I read out the symptoms to her she could identify with several of them. The thing she was most happy about was the bit that said that polymyalgia was treatable with corticosteroids and treatment may bring almost immediate relief! I can remember how I felt after my first infusion of intravenous steroids when I was first ill. I got up the next morning and for the first time in months could lift my arms up in the shower without it hurting. The relief was amazing and I would love for my mother to get that feeling.

Return of the ladies who don't get their hair wet

Well, not so much their return as my return to them. Life and 'getting out of the habit' has kept me away from them for a while but today I made the effort and went swimming. They were on form. I walked in to a positive revolution as they were complaining about the fact that on Wednesday mornings there is now a triathlon club from 6.45 and 'there were five people per lane'. Even more upsetting to the ladies was that 'there's all that splashing..I mean they don't just do a gentle backstroke'. I must admit when I went in it was a bit busier than usual but by 8.00am the pool was virtually empty again. I have never been able to work out why the ladies, who must be of an age now where they don't need to work, just don't come a little later after the morning rush has subsided. After swimming they took up their usual seat in the club room and drank their tea!

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The role of the marshall

We found out the other week that our role as a volunteer marshall at the Tour de France really involves a lot of standing. We arrive somewhere remote at some very early time of day and stand all day telling people how to get to the nearest toilet! If there is anything nasty to do we put up our hand and someone who is being paid comes over and does it. We get a medal, a bottle of water and some sun screen for our troubles! We mustn't take photos, talk on our mobiles, listen to iPODs etc! Mind you, we do get the chance to be part of the biggest sporting event in the world. (Yes.. true.. more spectators worldwide than the world cup!)

Cat wars

There seem to be few cat wars going on around here. Mandi, my very neurotic and slightly strange cat, got beaten up the other week and now every time he sees another cat in the garden runs in and hides down the back of the kitchen cabinets. Next door has a lively black cat called kit-cat who tries to get in and get his share of dinner when he can and on the other side there is a tabby called puss-puss who is rather put out at the arrival of a dog in his home and spends time sitting on my windowsill and staring in (much to the annoyance of Mandi and Norma who hiss and spit providing the glass separates them from him). Then, there is the black cat with the scabby skin condition, the thin black and white un-neutered tom and the big bruiser black and white tom that all appear in my garden. There are three other cats that look suspiciously like the tom cats, a very fluffy multi-coloured cat, a fluffy white one, a chocolate point cat and British blue shorthair called Oscar (although we don't see so much of him since he had his balls removed!). At least 4 of these cats see my cat-flap as the snack stop to keep them going on route and while they are at it pee up the wall so I know they have been there! There is a lot of territorial negotiating going on at the moment and most of it is in my back garden! Also in my back garden on the newly dug out flower bed is the communal cat toilet!

A wet bank holiday

My mother always said that the weather in May is unpredictable. My sister was born in the middle of May in a heatwave and 2 years and 2 weeks later my brother was born into a frost! This was 45 years ago and despite global warming this May has been the same. In London on Monday the temperature didn't get higher than 7 Celsius! So, we had a 'typical' bank holiday weekend. On Saturday, the nicest and sunniest day, Ian got out the hedge cutter and shredder and we attacked my overgrown hedge. We made good progress with the trimming and then started to shred the remains to use a mulch. It turned drizzly and Ian was hungry and the shredder seemed to be playing up so he went out to do a final bit of shredding while I made lunch. I was just finishing off the sandwiches when the shredder cut out and Ian came running across the garden holding his hand. A stick had been kicked back out of the shredder and sliced into his hand and for once he wasn't wearing gloves! It looked OK at first although he turned a bit grey and felt faint. We covered it up but when I looked at it later to clean it realised it was a bit deeper than I had thought. (I felt a bit guilty as I had initially thought it was just a little cut and he had over-reacted!) Anyway, Saturday afternoon was spent waiting in accident and emergency. People were complaining about waiting but personally I felt that it was pretty fair. Ian's injury was not that serious and in fact a rest for 2 hours was probably exactly what we both needed. He saw a nurse after a while who cleaned it, stuck it back together, covered it up and gave him a tetanus booster and we got back in time for dinner! Sunday was spent shopping and in the afternoon I tried to save my pond, which I had killed by neglect. It was covered in blanket weed, sludge and full of debris from the winter. By this time it was pouring with rain but I was so pleased to see that the frog who lives in the pond had managed to survive (although he seemed rather cross at having his pond disturbed). I also saw a baby newt although the adult had not been so lucky and I fished him out dead. For the rest of the day we looked out at the pouring rain! On Monday Ian discovered that the reason that the shredder had shot him was because it was b**ggered and set about trying to mend it. After a trip to an electrical store and a new part the shredder worked again and in between rain and wind we attempted to tame the garden! So.. I guess that was my bank holiday and it was probably quite like the bank holiday of many others (judging by the other men in accident and emergency with similar looking hands!) (I will try to get a picture of the frog if I can as he is rather beautiful and I am quite proud of him for survivng despite my neglect).

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Strange dream?

I was tired last night so went to be early and soon settled down to a nice nights sleep. I was in the middle of a really nice dream when I heard a bell ringing. After a while I realised that it was my door bell and managed to leave my dream long enough to get up and see what it was. I opened the door to see a policeman there telling me that the house next door was on fire, the fire brigade were on their way and I didn't need to leave just yet but he was letting me know just in case! I remember going back upstairs and throwing on some clothes over my nightdress and then going outside as the fire brigade arrived. My neighbours were looking out the window and people were standing around. We stopped and had a conversation as it seems that the woman who lives there has been unwell lately and may have started the fire deliberately. The fire brigade left, the cat ran out of the house in a panic and after a while the dog was located somewhere in the house and rescued by the family. I decided to go back to bed and in an almost inappropriately short space of time was fast asleep again! When I woke the next morning I wasn't even sure that it had happened except for the black windows and the curtains in the upstairs bedroom next door. My neighbours were saying that it must be something to do with the house as everyone that has lived there has had mental health problems. I live in a small cul-de-sac but a lot happens! Last week the woman over the road was evicted. Her possessions were piled up into the council van and driven away!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Sand dunes and nudists

Isn't it strange how the very people that really should keep their clothes on don't! One day in Gran Canaria Ian and I had a day off and went to see the sand dunes at Maspalamos. We didn't realise that the whole area was a nudist beach! I don't really have a problem with people who want to take all their clothes off and lie in the sun, but confining it all to one area tends to make it a bit more of an exhibition. What struck me the most was that the majority of nude bathers were well past pensionable age, had obviously enjoyed a life of ample food and had skins that looked like old leather shoes. In particular, the rear end seems to take on more of a toughened, leathery look than the rest of the body. There would have been a great picture if I had had the nerve to take it, of a row of naked and leathery bottoms bobbing up and down over the waves as their owners attempted to get in the sea! Ian and I kept our shorts, shirts and hats firmly on as we were wary of getting too much sun!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Walking with LLamas

On Saturday we finally got to go for a walk with llamas! We wanted to go a couple of weeks ago but it was fully booked for all the Sundays in May! With a maximum of 10 people at £25 a time for an hours walk we we impressed with the potential! The llama I walked was called Nicholas and he was three and a half and white. He was a little taller than me when fully upright but pretty laid back. In fact I think he was a bit of a nervous llama as he didn't like to walk too near the front or too near the back (probably in case a lion came and jumped on him!). He also had sensitive skin and I think it was a bit itchy as he liked to rub his neck up and down on my arm. I learnt that llamas are all different with different personalities. Leroy in the picture was a little mad and a bit bossy! Llamas, like all animals are primarily motivated by food and really saw the walk as a way of getting to eat a different patch of grass at every opportunity! They seemed pretty easy going up to a point, providing we followed their rituals ( a compulsory toilet stop at the llama loo on the way back) and they were certainly quite intelligent in a strange llama sort of way!

Tour de France 2

Ian and I have volunteered to marshall for a day when the Tour de France comes to London. This means attending a briefing session next week when I guess we will find out what our job entails. I suspect it will mean standing around all day in some God-forsaken part of town trying to stop angry motorists from driving down a closed street or trying to persuade pedestrians not to cross the road in front of the peleton! Whatever it is I know it will not be glamorous and the best that will happen is that we will get a glimpse of the peleton as it speeds by! In France I think they treat the race with a bit more respect and the role of marshall is handed down from generation to generation! Mind you, in France they even have a church dedicated to the riders of 'Le Tour' called Notre-Dame-des-Cyclistes. It's about midway between Bordeaux and Lourdes and I visited it about 13 years ago when I did a bike ride from Bordeaux to Barcelona. It's a small country church with iron gates with bicycles in them. Inside, amongst other cycling related things, are the worn jerseys of most of the Tour de France Cyclists. Many of the peleton are quite religious. You often see them kissing the crosses they wear around their necks as they win a stage. Apparently many stop into the church if the race is passing by and say a prayer. I have just read up a little on the church to jog my memories and found details of the inscription at the feet of Notre-Dame:

Mary, Queen of the world, we humbly ask you to bless and protect the cyclists of the world and help them to finish happily the main and final stage, which leads to heaven.

You have to understand the Tour de France to understand the true meaning of this! (And to have cycled up a good few hills in your time!)

For more details

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Village day

On the last day of our holiday (Sunday) we cycled up to the village of Ayagaures. It was a very long as steep road climb and as it was the end of the week we were pretty tired when we got there. The village is next to a large dam. Water is a problem in Gran Canaria as in the South it is very hot and dry and in the mountains it is wet. Consequently the countryside is covered with various contraptions from old plastic pipes hung up with string to sophisticated dams and aqueducts designed to bring the water from the North to the South. When we got to the village they were preparing for some sort of celebration. A big barbecue was being started and people were sitting in the small village square or in the church. We stopped a while and then headed up the valley a mile or so, where we found a quiet spot to have lunch. After a sit down we decided that we were a bit too tired to do too much hard riding and so headed back to do a nice gentle downhill back to the hotel. On the way back to the village we heard fireworks going off and as we got to the dam a procession was starting up. The village people were on the dam wall and began walking back towards the square accompanied by musicians and singers, clapping out a steady beat. The procession came towards us and at the centre the priest lead four of the strongest village men carrying a statue of Jesus. They passed us and we followed behind them to the village square where they continued with their festival and we carried on back down the hill! I asked later in the hotel what the event was and the hotel staff said it was the local 'village day'. All the villages have them this time of the year one after the other. I suppose it may be a bit like our May fairs except the Canaria version are quite serious religious occasions. I mentioned it to Petra when she took us to the airport the following morning and she told us that the people in Gran Canaria are quite deeply religious people. They all attend church regularly, even the younger people, and they practice their religion sincerely.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Gran Canaria

Ian and I have just spent a week in Gran Canaria. We organised it through a contact we found on the Internet. Petra is an Austrian woman who has lived with her family in Gran Canaria for 15 years and seems to have a role in organising and promoting cycling events and holidays. We took our bikes and she arranged a very nice hotel where they didn't mind us carrying the dirty bikes through the lobby after a days riding. We had a good time and rode on five out of the six days. We left the hotel around about 10.30 and usually had a 6 kilometre ride to get to the start of the mountains. From there it was uphill and there were certainly some hills! The Island goes from sea level to 1900 metres in about 20 miles so the hills are steep! Mind you, coming back is always downhill. The picture is of me riding up one of many hills on the first day. The track on the right of the picture is where we have just come from.
We did about 40 kms on average most days with a fair bit off road. It was also unusually hot for Gran Canaria (which usually has a perpetual spring like climate)and in the sun the temperature was 35-40c with no shade. On our first ride we almost ran out of water! Most evenings we got back to the hotel, showered, went to dinner early, managed to drink one beer and then couldn't stay awake past 9.00pm. We usually slept through until 8.30 the following morning. It felt quite natural to be so tired and to sleep for so long and to wake up feeling mentally refreshed (even if my legs still ached some mornings. Once back here I was soon back to later nights and a less peaceful sleep!