Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Sequal to village day

I have just heard that the villagers of Ayagaures (see post 3rd May) have been evacuated as forest fires are destroying the whole of the area in Gran Canaria where we cycled in May. All those lovely tracks and trails and all the wildlife and plants are now smouldering away. One day we cycled up to Palmitos park. The hill to the park was amongst the steepest I have ever ridden up and even in May the temperature was 35 degrees. It is now over 45 degrees and windy and a land ranger who had just been sacked admitted to starting the fire that destroyed 65% of the park. I read that they set free a lot of the rare birds before the fire hit. Above is a picture of the park in May.

Monday, 30 July 2007

More llamas

I found his picture on the internet. I thought he was rather cute and somehow he slipped into a lecture I was doing on ethics the other day and he is now on my office door. Ian and I are calling in to the llama breeders on our way back from the land in August to look at their llamas. We are hoping to find someone to build the house before then! I have decided that the first male llama to be born on the farm will be called Serge after Serge Lama. According to Wikipedia Serge Lama is a French singer who was born in Bordeau in 1943. His most famous song is je suis malade (I am ill). The first female llama will be called Eleanor after Eleanor of Aquitaine. We may spell it the French way Aliénor . She was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Europe during the High Middle Ages and was married to the Kings of France and England in turn.

Drugs 3

I have to take drugs to stay well. There is quite a rigmarole to my drug regime. In the morning I must take my steroids with food, except for on Wednesdays when I have to get up earlier and take a tablet before the others. This one is to stop the steroids from giving me osteoporosis and I must take that on an empty stomach, with a pint of water and stay upright for at least half an hour. Mid morning I need to take my immunosupressant tablets one hour before food. I also need to take them again just before I go to be (also on an empty stomach, although mostly I don't manage that!)Once a month I have to remember to get e new prescription from my GP and then collect the drugs from the pharmacy. Once every two months I have to remember to have a blood test to make sure the drugs are not doing anything too nasty to my body. Long term the drugs may make me more prone to cancer, give me thin bones and type 11 diabetes. Short term I get numb feet sometimes and an upset stomach but I am well and able to live an ordinary life. The daughter of a colleague of Ian died yesterday after a stroke caused by her lupus so my drug regime is a very small price to pay.

Drugs 2

Why do people take drugs at all? One of my neighbours (Maud) asked me the other day if I knew of any inpatient drug rehabilitation centres where her daughter Jane could go. Apparently she had a heroin problem years ago but had been clean for sometime. She then got back in contact with an ex-boyfriend who has a habit and before long was back on it again (he was encouraging her as by keeping her addicted he can get her to do whatever he wants). She doesn't really admit to having a problem but her nine year old daughter was beginning to notice what was going on at home and when Maud pried a little deeper she realised that it had become quite an addiction. Maud took the daughter in to live with her but was concerned about Jane and was trying to get her to go and get some help. I found her the names of a few places but I am not sure whether it has had any affect. I haven't seen Jane for a while but that may not be a good thing. She has already had two deep venous thrombosis (most likely from injecting into her groin) she does not have access to clean needles as she is not a registered addict and is encouraged to steal and earn money for fixes through prostitution. I would think that using condoms is the last thing she thinks about.


I can't help being a little disappointed about the drugs scandal that came to light in the later stages of the tour. I had just watched what looked like a fantastic ride by Alexandra Vinokourov, the pre-race favourite. In the earlier stages of the race he had been knocked off his bike and badly hurt but continued cycling with 55 stitches in his knees. He had struggled up the hills in the first stages in the Alps and looked all but finished but then as if by a miracle, managed to ride a fantastic time trial a day or so later and won the stage. It didn't do much for his overall chances of winning the race as he was already well behind, but seemed to restore his pride and his motivation. The first day in the Pyrenees he had seemed to be struggling again but the following day he was recovered, broke away from the main contenders (as he was no threat to them overall they let him go for a while) and won the stage again, finishing at the top of the Col de Peyresourde, an infamous haute categorie (beyond classification) Tour de France climb. I admired him at that moment for his determination, his ability to fight back, his ability to ride through the pain until a good day came and sheer bloody mindedness! I heard later that he had been sent home that night and his team withdrawn from the race because his blood test taken after the time-trial had shown that he had someone else's blood in him as well as his own! (Blood doping is the practice of illicitly boosting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the circulation in order to enhance athletic performance. Because they carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, more RBCs in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity and stamina. You can use your own blood, collected a few weeks earlier or get it from someone else. This is more risky as it is easier to detect).

The blood taken after the mountain stage has also tested positive for blood doping and it turned out that what I had been watching was someone so determined to get his share of glory and his win that he was prepared to cheat. On the same day a Cofidis rider (maybe one of the ones pictured below) had tested positive for testosterone and his whole team were sent home (he at least had the courtesy to admit it when caught). Finally, Michael Rasmussen, someone who I have watched and admired over the years, was sent home by his team because he lied about his whereabouts in the weeks preceding the tour and so missed four drugs tests. So as well as some of the riders I feel a bit bruised and battered with disappointment by the performance of these big names. I don't know what makes such an athlete decide to risk the credibility of his whole career by doing one stupid thing. Some of them have lots of excuses (the most bizarre one from Vinokourov was that his earlier injury had resulted in his thighs getting filled with extra blood, although that doesn't explain why he had another man's blood in his veins) but mostly they are unconvincing. It was great to see one of the youngest riders, Alberto Contador, take the yellow jersey in Paris but I couldn't help wondering whether his ability to keep speeding up going up a mountain with more that a 10% gradient was just down to youth and natural talent or fueled by something else as yet undetectable. I am sorry Alberto if I have insulted you but you can't blame me for being a bit jaded.

Monday, 16 July 2007

My mother's new house

I visited my mother in her new house over the weekend. She is a little dazed and disoriented but seems to be settling in and enjoys staring out of her window at the comings and goings in the police station next door. She can't work out how to use the intercom yet but in two minutes had worked out how to use the TV remote for her new digibox!

Curse of the mountains

The Tour arrived in the Alps on Saturday. The Tour de France is really a series of races and battles within a race. There are riders that are good at riding out on their own and competing against the clock, riders that are good at giving it everything they have over the last few metres and racing for the line and riders that can ride up mountains. Very rarely do you get a rider who is good at more than one of these disciplines; and if you do they are the ones that will most likely to go on to win the yellow jersey and the race overall. So, for the first week of the race the sprinters have it pretty much to themselves as there are no hills to speak of, but it is when The Tour hits the mountains that the action begins. For the sprinters it is a case of giving 150 percent just to stay in the race. Many don't make it and retire or are eliminated and for them the race is over. For the hill climbers it is their chance to make their mark. However, the mountains are funny places. Some days you feel great and all the hours of training pay off. Your legs feel good and as you round the corners you have just a little more strength than the others and the mountain air spurs you on to the top. On other days your legs feel like lead and you can't get over the feeling of imminent death and collapse! In the Alps you could see the agony on the faces of those in trouble (on the flatter stages you can sometimes disguise your pain but the mountains do not take any prisoners). There is something about the high alps that tests your body to its limits and if there is anything there it will find it. The first symptoms of my connective tissue disease appeared the week after returning from a week skiing in Le Grand Bornand and my mothers illness was triggered in a similar fashion two years later. This year the first stage in the Alps finished in Le Grand Bornand after a 16km climb over the Col de la Columbiere. My brother was there to watch the riders as they sped past on the descent to the finish. After he had to visit my sister-in-law in hospital. The mountains had claimed another victim and she had been admitted the day before with what turned out to be appendicitis and peritonitis.

During my first trip to the Alps 18 months after my illness I cycled up the Col de la Columbiere (from the easy side). It took me two hours and I felt like I was going to collapse at several points but when I reached the top I did feel like I had gone some way to beating my own mountain curse.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The best view in the house

This couple had camped out all night on Westminster Bridge to get a good view of the riders as they passed in front of the Houses of Parliament. They got there at 8.00pm the night before and said it was a bit cold but that they had actually slept a little. I didn't get to see them afterwards to see if they had enjoyed it or got the view that they hoped for.

Le Grand Départ

Yesterday we fulfilled our duties as volunteer marshals on stage one of the Tour de France. Luckily, after weeks of rain, the sun decided to shine all day and although at 5.30 a.m. when we arrived at our meeting point, it was pretty chilly by the time the peleton passed through it had warmed up nicely. We managed to get a good spot near the start of the race on Westminster Bridge. From where I was standing I could see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament directly in front of me and it wasn’t long before the tourists, visitors and photographers realised that this was a prime location. That said everything was very orderly and people were very well behaved. Our job was to make up the numbers (we had to wear bright day-glo orange tabards) and the only thing we really got involved in was asking people not to sit, step, and put their feet or any other part of their body into the road. (The reason being that with close to 200 riders and narrow roads they use up every bit of space going including the gutter and can easily hit anything that protrudes into their path; as happened later on in the race when a pedestrian got in the way of a British rider, knocked him off and ruined any chance he had of getting back into the sprint finish). We weren’t really needed as such but I suppose might have been if anything untoward had happened. At about 7.30 a.m. we could hear police sirens and looked up to see a convoy of British motorcycle police coming over the bridge, providing a formal ceremonial escort to their equivalent in the French Gendarme who had come over with ‘le tour’. The publicity caravan passed through rather noisily at 8.30 but at that point there weren’t many people around to see it; mostly people returning from their night out! After that various team cars and vehicles came through; almost all the passengers turned to look at Big Ben and took a photo and some drivers and motor bike riders stopped, got out of their cars and took pictures of themselves with Big Ben in the background (to cheers and applause from the gathering crowd). In the crowd we discussed the fact that the ‘carbon footprint’ of ‘le tour’ with all its associated support vehicles, publicity, team cars, buses, vans etc (the size of small town that gets up and moves everyday) was considerable! Finally, after much excitement and build up the riders came through. They weren’t actually racing at this point but gently riding (at 25miles and hour) around the sights of London. I think if the riders could have got off their bikes and taken a photo they would of and I caught this picture of two from the Cofidis team glancing over their shoulders to get a glimpse of the view. Our job was done by 11.00 and we headed off to watch the rest of the race in the sun, on the big screen in St James’s Park. Later that day Ian and I followed the route the riders took out of London, through Deptford, Woolwich, Erith and Dartford and they certainly got to see some of the very best and very worst sights although at that point I expect they were going so fast they didn't notice!

Monday, 2 July 2007

My mother's bowels

Not a very nice title I know but every bit of my mother seems to be bothering her! The good news is that she is out of hospital and staying with my sister and seems to be quite relieved that she missed out on the trauma of packing up her house. The further good news is that the tests she had did not turn up anything more sinister than an under-active thyroid and with some treatment her swollen feet are reducing and her ability to move around is getting better. This is just as well as the stay in hospital caused her to become very constipated and on her discharge she was given a very large dose of laxatives. These did not start to work until she arrived on my sister's doorstep and from that moment forth they have not stopped working! My poor sister has been running a 24 hour laundry and cleaning service and my mother has been getting lots of exercise!

My mother's house-finale

Well, we survived the ordeal of packing up my mother's house. It took the best part of three days, a skip, a house clearance man, two trips in a white van, a lot of bleach and the combined efforts of four people. In the end it wasn't that difficult as there truly was a lot of rubbish and a lot of mess and there was really no alternative but to put most of it in the bin. We did uncover a few surprises! My brother found a letter that my mother had written to a Daily Mail journalist complaining about his treatment of Ian Botham. (If you are reading this from overseas Ian Botham was a well known English cricket player in the late 1980s). My mother thought Ian Botham was great; she admired his cricket but mostly she admired his 'don't give a damn' attitude and was livid when this journalist criticised him in his weekly column. We found the letter (and his reply) amongst her papers. She concluded the letter by saying 'when I read your column I felt like landing one on you' which made us all laugh as we could never imagine her doing or saying any such thing. We also found a letter that she had written to Ian Botham congratulating him on his career and on what he had contributed to English cricket. We did comment that although it was a horrible job to clear out her house at least we weren't doing it after she had died and we could go back and share what we had found with her. My sister took a large, very old and faded picture of what we think was of her as a child to get it framed for her new house. Later in the afternoon, when all was cleared, I saw my brother pulling up the carpet in the front bedroom to show Ian the shrapnel hole in the bedroom floor. Unfortunately the carpet disintegrated as they went and they didn't find it! I left the house to its new owners without too much regret in the end as what was there was just an empty faded shell that I once thought contained all my memories.