Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Doggy tales

I have been a volunteer for the Cinnamon Trust on and off for the last few years. The Cinnamon Trust is a group that help people who are elderly or infirm manage their pets.


When I signed up I had dreams of walking lively collies for jolly owners who couldn't quite manage the longer walks. In reality I soon discovered that dogs like these had plenty of offers for walks and what I got was elderly disabled dogs living with elderly and mostly lonely owners. The dogs become the most important thing in their lives and negotiating the terms and conditions for the walk is a trecherous business! Never-the-less I have had some good experiences including walking a small blind dog with heart failure that sniffed its way around the block and snorted loudly when it got out of breath! The owner would pick at a yoghurt and a glass of sherry for lunch and send me out with £10 to buy some prime steak for the dog. On another occasion I walked a very lively terrier for a very elderly lady who lived around the corner. She sadly died and I was involved in re-homing the dog to new (younger) owners in Kent. Her family suddenly appeared after she died and made a lot of fuss about how they didn't want the dog so I went to the florists and ordered a big bunch of the brightest sunflowers to send to her funeral and signed the card from the dog! I haven't done much for the Trust for a while but happened to be in when they called the other day. A local lady was temporarily incapacitated and unable to walk her hearing dog, Bambi (hearing dogs are trained to alert deaf people to sounds such as the door bell and the phone, although mostly they provide company and contact with the outside world). After a visit it soon became clear that the lady was having plenty of visits and the dog was getting plenty of walks (it had even lost weight because it was getting more exercise) but assistance was needed to take the dog to its weekly agility class as the regular helper was unable to make it every week. So, I went to my first ever dog agility class, sadly without a dog of my own. However, it was good to watch! Bambi is sadly not a young as she used to be and has poor eyesight. She can just about manage a few rounds of the low course, leaving out some of the more difficult items. Bambi will soon have to retire as a hearing dog but this will be a very difficult decision for her owner to make!

Post-holiday blues

Coming back home and getting back into work has been very strange this time. It is always difficult but somehow this year the irritations have been more irritating than usual, the tiredness set in almost as soon as I got back and I seem to be very much aware of the pointlessness of some of the things that I am required to do as part of life and work. The first major annoyance at work concerned the newly identified smoking areas. Over the summer it seems that a few people in the University were given the job of identifying suitable outdoor areas where it was permissible to smoke. It seems that suitable areas are supposed to be pleasant for the smokers and those taking on this role took this to heart, with little consideration of the effect of these decisions on the non-smokers in the vicinity. The 'therapy garden' which has been carefully created by students for the benefit of all, was chosen as one such site and without any consultation an enormous sign and a tiny ash tray was erected in the middle of it! Now, we use this area as a teaching space and I have to say we all took this decision very personally. There followed a barrage of emails (excerpts below) but as yet we have not had a response, not even a 'thank you for your comments but bugger off' type! You will notice from the emails that another smoking site is 'Leaf Hospital - area of rear lawn (hospice side)! Now, I know the hospice residents are not going to notice any long term effects from the smoke but I did think it was rather cruel to encourage smoking in front of the very people who may now be regretting the day they smoked their first fag!

"From: Bridge Kevin
Sent: 13 September 2007 10:16
To: uni info
Subject:Designated smoking areas
Dear colleague

Further to recent changes to the smoking law, the university has provided a designated smoking area close to most buildings. Smokers are politely asked to use these areas with immediate effect. Smoking is no longer permitted elsewhere on the university's premises.

The location of each designated smoking area is as follows:
Hillbrow and Sports Centre - grass triangle adjacent to Gaudick, Denton and Carlisle crossroad
Trevin Towers - Rose garden at rear of building
Welkin and Bishopsbourne - Bishopsbourne barbecue lawn
Aldro - Aldro therapy garden
Robert Dodd and Greynore - H block garden
Leaf Hospital - area of rear lawn (hospice side)
Queenwood - area of Ward Hall lawn

University Centre Hastings - not possible

As you can see, it has not been possible to provide a designated smoking area near to some buildings and where this is the case, smokers are able to access the public street easily.

Thank you for your co-operation.


From: Jim Jones (Health Professions)
Sent: 14 September 2007 12:19
To: h health professions staff;
Subject: FW: Designated smoking areas
Ironic that the Aldro smoking area is the Therapy garden! Does this have to be the case?

From: Lovely
Sent: 14 September 2007 12:35
To: h health professions staff; Bridge Kevin
Subject: RE: Designated smoking areas
no... I feel quite strongly that the Therapy garden should not be a smoking area! Whilst you might be able to make a perfectly good fertilizer from cigarette butts I don't think it is fair that those studying horticulture in the therapy garden should have to pick them out of the flower beds!

From: Bridge Kevin
Sent: 14 September 2007 12:51
To: h health professions staff
Subject: RE: Designated smoking areas
Dear all

The Therapy garden is the closest place to Aldro that provides a pleasant space for socialising (as specified by the university), whilst keeping smoke away from buildings.

An ashtray has been provided for cigarette ends.


From: Jim Jones (Health Professions)
Sent: 14 September 2007 13.02
To: h health professions staff;
Subject: FW: Designated smoking areas
But surely as a teaching area there should not be smoking in it? - Is smoking allowed on sports fields which are also pleasant areas away from buildings?
Could this be reviewed?


From: Patsy Mcbride (Health Professions)
Sent: 21 September 2007 13.29
To: h health professions staff;
Subject: FW: Designated smoking areas
Dear Viviene and Kevin

Last week you informed us of the university's designated areas for smoking. On the same day, it was surprising to find an extremely conspicuous sign for the smoking area firmly in place in the 'Therapy Garden'. It would have been good to have some prior notice of this intention and an opportunity for discussion.

I would like to add to my colleagues' comments that this is an environment where students are taught and therefore not one where smoking should be sanctioned. Also on a practical level, I think it unrealistic to expect people to walk in wet weather across a lawn where there's no path, in order to use an ash tray. I believe it is far more likely that they will remain on the tarmac near the students' greenhouse.

Finally, while I would not condemn people to smoke around bins or in car parks, I see no reason why they should be encouraged into an area that has been painstakingly made into an amenity for all.

I hope there can be accommodation on this matter although I note the concrete fixing!

Best wishes



Thursday, 6 September 2007

Strange how cycling weaves itself throughout my life

I suppose that it is just because I look out for other cyclists that I notice them but they do seem to appear everywhere I go! One day in the campsite in France a camper-van appeared and an older English couple got out. They saw Ian changing the tyres on my bike and immediately offered to lend us a track pump. As we cycled off Ian commented that they must know what they were doing with regard to bikes as they had pretty decent touring bikes with them. We thought they might be in their 60s and enjoying their retirement. Later that day we chatted to them, initially about cycling in general and then about bikes, then about where they cycled, racing and then about the Tour de France...I told them that Ian and I had been Marshals at which point they told us that they had been invited as V.I.P. guests to the opening ceremony but had declined as they had been on holiday! They were invited because he had ridden the Tour de France in 1961, when there were national teams. They had both raced with all the big names of that era and were personal friends of the Boardman's, in fact their son had been one of his mechanics. Turned out they were more like 70+ than 60! On a couple of days they road their bikes as far as we did in much less time! When they were talking about the Tour de France I lamented that they must have been riding in the days when the sport was not tainted by drugs. I was soon put right on that one. "Don't you believe it! The sport was full of drugs, everyone was taking it! We (the British riders) were all given something to take if we thought that we were in with a chance of winning although none of us got anywhere near!"

We met other cyclists as well. One of the builders had a trophy on his desk and when we asked him about it he said he had been the road race champion of Aquitane when he was 25, although he had to give it up when he started his business. Ian also spoke with someone who made iron frames (for the barn) who told him that he had been the French champion in the Madison (a strange track race where cyclists race round in pairs and propel each other forward at various stages!)

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The wolf strikes again

Lupus gets its name from the butterfly rash that typically appears over the face and people used to think looked rather wolf-like. I mentioned in an earlier post that over the summer the daughter of a colleague of Ian's was taken ill, eventually diagnosed with lupus and died very suddenly at the age of 26.


This link gives all the details better than I ever could. Ian sent it to me as he thought it might mean something to me. It certainly did and I could identify with a lot of the things they went through, especially her refusal to let anyone go with her to hospital (I certainly did that!) and the strange and insidious presentation of the disease with its sudden serious climax. I feel incredibly thankful and also a little guilty that my outcome was more positive. I think when the coin was thrown up in the air mine landed one way and hers landed the other as when I asked my consultant if I would still be here if I had waited until my appointment time before getting seen he didn't answer.

Best of times, worst of times 2

Well, my sister's life is certainly full of highs and lows at the moment. At the weekend Ian and I went to Hamburg to support her as she competed in the Triathlon World Championships. She had really worked hard to qualify to represent Great Britain in the age-group categories and was thrilled to get there (despite the fact that she had to fund herself, including buying her GB kit and race entry fee). When we arrived she was having a few pre-race jitters and we spent the day checking her bike with her, going through the course and watching her practice getting on and off the bike quickly. She had an 8.50 a.m. start the following morning and we just about got there on time to see her start her swim. We then ran over to see her get out of the water and cheered her and all the other athletes on as loudly as we could, waving the rattles that had been given out by the organisers. We then went to see her as she got off the bike and started her run and finally dashed across to the end so that we could see her as she came through the finish line. (We were both exhausted after that!) The atmosphere throughout was great. The athletes were enjoying the competition and the spectators (including us) got into the spirit of it and cheered everyone. My voice was hoarse afterwards! She came 38th out of 78 and was pleased with her performance but I think mostly she just enjoyed the experience of being there and taking part, which is exactly what I hoped for her. As Ian and I were waiting for the plane to take us home that evening I sent her a text saying that I hoped she enjoyed herself at the party that evening at that Dad would have been really proud of her representing her country and doing so well. She told my mum that it had been the best day of her life, that the cheering was great and that she felt really proud to be representing her country. As she crossed the finish line she was really touched that people came up and shook her hand. (The picture is of my sister and her friend at the end of the race)

As we were waiting by the swim start one of the competitors, a young Canadian girl, came up and told the organisers that she was really scared. The organisers calmed her down with reassuring words and we also said some encouraging things, but what I really wanted to say was that she was so lucky, to be there, to be representing her country and to be blessed with the health, fitness and abilities that she had and she should just go out and celebrate that and not worry about anything else!

French neighbours

When Ian and I were in France we got to meet our prospective neighbours! I seem to enjoy writing about my neighbours so here goes. The land that joins Ian's is owned by Herman, a sixty something Englishman who has lived in France for the last 20 years. Herman lives by himself (and his recently acquired dog) in the run down 'Moulin'. He keeps a few sheep, grows herbs and sells them at the local market and lives a fairly basic life with little money and company. The road and bridge into the Moulin were declared impassable to traffic 20 years ago and his one functioning vehicle collapsed at the strain of driving across what remains of the bridge while we were there. As we left he was contemplating an alternative exit through a 'chemin rural' (basically a bridleway) that will definitely not be passable in the rain unless you have a tractor! After his day at the market he calls into to see some of the other neighbours and enjoys a glass of wine or two before he staggers back across the field. We had met him before but on this occasion he started off by being particularly gloomy; telling us of how cold it is in winter, how hard it is to make a living and how many English people come out and then return. However, after a while he mellowed a little and we got a glimpse of his humour and more devilish side as he told us stories about the other neighbours. I think Herman is someone for whom the glass is mostly half empty. What I learnt from that is that if you are a miserable bastard in England you will probably be a miserable bastard in France. Mind you, I think that with Herman some of it is a bit of a dramatic act put on for visitors.

The house that borders the land near the road was recently bought by an English couple and we called in and introduced ourselves. Peter and Hazel run a successful entertainment business in the UK that they plan to continue with but are in the process of moving the majority of their life over to France. With them came their cat and Peter's 84 year old father Albert. When we met Albert he was a little down as he had just returned from hospital, where they had told him to stop smoking. After 60 years of nicotine he quit cold-turkey and it turned out that some of his moods and symptoms were caused by nicotine withdrawal. We met him a second time a week later and he had really perked up after getting some nicotine patches. Albert was probably the most alert out of the lot of us. He had been into cycling as a young man and told Ian and I about the bikes he used to ride (we turned up the first time on our bikes). He had worked as a master carpenter and his hands were badly arthritic (and had been for about 40 years) but it didn't stop him from doing anything! Peter and Hazel had finally decided to make a major change in their lives after Hazel's parents died and Peter had a potentially life threatening illness that had made him seriously rethink his priorities. In their business lives Peter is a record producer and one coincidence was that they had recorded many times in the studio in London that my brother has bought (and is hoping to renovate). It was strange to think that when Ian and I stayed there last New Years Eve we slept in the control room where Peter had sat and sweated many times!