"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

('The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Going to the vet

Today was Toby's 'check up and injections' visit to the vet. It should have been in November, but his record card has mysteriously disappeared and we didn't get a reminder from the vet.
"Ah, we installed a new computer system then," the receptionist declared with the air of winning the lottery, "So it will have got lost in the system."
Oh goody, goody, I was tempted to reply, because now, instead of a booster, he has to start with a new course of injections. No apology, of course. Is it part of the training for people dealing with the public these days that they must on no account apologise for anything? 
So, we got in to see the vet, a young lady from County Cork, and Toby was, amazingly, as good as gold during the whole visit. So good, in fact, that I'm wondering if someone has quietly done a swap and I've got the wrong dog!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A good ending

I bumped into a dog walking friend this morning. She has two little terriers which happen to be the only two dogs in the universe (apart from Paddy) that Toby will socialise with without barking and growling first. In fact, it is quite touching to see the three of them run towards each other. It puts me in mind of those old films where lovers run towards each other in slow motion before disappearing into the sunset, except in this case, there is a lot of sniffing of nether regions by way of greeting.
Anyway, talk soon turned to the funeral of a neighbour yesterday, which my friend had attended. I had only met J twice before she became ill and very soon, I was hearing about her being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which progressed quite rapidly, leading her to be bedridden within about a year. At the time I had first met her, she was travelling to Cambridge regularly as her husband, S, had been operated on for a brain tumour. This was followed by kidney failure and an unsuccessful kidney transplant, which means that he is now undergoing dialysis three times a week so for J also be seriously ill was definitely more than they needed.
J was nursed at home by a team of carers, including Macmillan nurses, and then nine months ago, she was given a place in our excellent local hospice, where she continued to receive wonderful care until her death on February 5th.
My friend told me a little about the funeral, how the church was packed with family and friends, including staff from the hospice, and about the bravery of J's daughter, who spoke at length about what a wonderful person her mother was. It seems that J had not had the easiest of lives, having been adopted at the age of eight, whilst her brother had been adopted elsewhere, so they had lost contact until she managed to find him only very recently.
So it was a sad conversation, but not entirely. During J's illness, her friends had constantly made sure that they visited regularly, using technology and sign language to communicate when she was no longer able to speak. They organised trips out for her and 'girls' nights in' and makeovers, which continued even when she moved into the hospice so, as well as the inevitable suffering with the progression of the disease,  the last couple of years of her life were also filled with laughter, friendship and love and that has to be a good ending.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The garden - again!

It’s February again, which means that I am once more on a trawl through the internet in search of that particular superman who will swoop in and transform our garden into a place of splendour and delight. Actually, just reasonably tidy and garden-like would do; in other words, the absence of green mould coating the paved areas (patio is too grand a term in this garden’s case) and a grassed area which actually sports some grass instead of compacted mud and slime.
When we first moved here, thirteen years ago, I assumed that everyone on this estate had the same sort of problem, but actually, they don’t. We had the overhanging trees cut back to improve the light, increased the paved areas, took up some grass and put down gravel and spent a small fortune on plants, shrubs etc. which, instead of burgeoning into sturdy, mature bushes, as they do in all the other gardens, have consistently withered and died. The end result is that when I look at it, especially at this time of year when, granted, no garden looks its best, I can best describe my feeling as one of hopeless despair.
Keith, of course, has no such feelings. For him, a garden is merely a suitable place for a shed or, failing that, should be concreted over and painted green – his idea of a lawn without the need for mowing.
So this year, I decided that I was faced with a number of possible solutions:
1.                    Get someone in to take up the lawn, put in some decent soil and lay a new  lawn
2.                    Also redo the gravelled area
3.                    Leave it as it is because the dogs will probably wreak their usual havoc anyway
4.                    Wait for Keith to fill up the remainder of the garden with more sheds.
The last option, I couldn’t bear the thought of and I wasn’t too keen on the third either, which leaves options one and two.
The first problem I always encounter on my search for gardeners, is a complete absence of anyone in the area willing to actually answer their phone or, having done that, commit to and honour the commitment to do the job required, hence this year, having decided in desperation to use the Freeindex service, which offers to find up to five people to contact you and quote for the job, I have ended up with quotes from people about fifteen miles away. I was even contacted by someone with a Scottish accent who gave me a quote by email, followed up half an hour later by a phone call. When I asked if he wouldn’t need to come and see the garden first, he said no and when I looked again at his email, I realised why. He was based in Bishop Auckland, 122 miles away. Now that’s what I call keen!
The first man I spoke to, other than the Scottish man, was one of those who makes frequent use of the old ‘sharp intake of breath.’ On learning about the heavy soil and poor drainage, he painted a worrying picture of excavators digging up tons of earth, installation of an extremely expensive drainage system, which probably wouldn’t work anyway, until I was tempted to check with him whether he thought he was on the line to one of the premier football clubs.
Number two came this morning, laughed at the job I had done of the gravelled area under the kitchen window, but otherwise, seemed to have a reasonable idea of what needed doing. Hopefully, his quote, when it arrives, will be equally reasonable.
Number three, who sounded laid back to the point of horizontal, said that, as he was out at present, he would ring ‘some time next week’ and arrange to come and look at the job.
Number four, a local whom I had tried unsuccessfully to contact during the week proved, once again, uncontactable.
Ah well, if I don’t get someone this time, I may just have to concrete the lot and let Keith build more sheds after all!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Bodwyn Biffers

Last Monday, Keith and I went to a funeral. It was at the Methodist chapel a few miles away where, as it happens, I go to my Welsh classes each week and where Keith once danced on bits of paper in a short-lived attempt to join something akin to the Cubs (Don't ask!).
The funeral was for a childhood friend of Keith's, although he was a few years older. They lived in the same road, only a couple of houses apart and at that time, back in that golden era of the fifties, there were few other houses in the neighbourhood but lots of open land, an irresistible invitation to amuse themselves without the all-seeing eyes of parents and other adults. Keith and his friends called themselves the Bodwyn Biffers, after the area in which they lived, and spent a lot of their time and energy in conflict with a rival gang, the Nursery gang, again named in honour of their local area.
And then there was the time when they decided to do a little cuisine al fresco (yes I know I've mixed up two languages there). I have no idea where they managed to get the bacon and eggs from, but I have it on Keith's very reliable authority that cooking it in a hole, with a piece of turf pulled over the top for added privacy, improved the taste and enjoyment no end. Not sure about the effect on their lungs though.
 Clifford, whose funeral it was, was the leader of this intrepid group  and went on to be a mining engineer in adulthood.  (There has to be a link there somewhere!)
But although the chapel was packed, Keith was the only Bodwyn Biffer present and probably the only person there who knew the story.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A good day

A week last Friday, I had an appointment for a mammogram. As they don't recall anyone after the age of seventy, this would have been my last, which I was quite relieved about, as the last couple have been more than a little painful. (The word 'excruciating' comes to mind!) I don't think I would have been any good at all at being one of those mediaeval martyrs, the ones who were squashed under heavy weights in particular. The thought even flitted through my mind that it wouldn't be so terrible if I cancelled. After all, there is no history of breast cancer in my family and I have never had any problems myself, but then I remembered that in recent years, I have had three friends who have had breast cancer, with varying outcomes, so I decided that maybe I should attend after all.
As it happened, the experience wasn't quite as bad as on previous occasions and I quickly forgot about it - until last Friday, when a letter arrived, asking me to come back on Tuesday, together with a sheaf of leaflets and information about the further tests which would or might be carried out. Well, that rather upset my weekend and, imagination running true to form, by Tuesday morning, having worked my way through a few possible scenarios, I had got as far as wondering what would become of the dogs if I were not able to take them out for walks. (I was also a bit annoyed that they had recalled me on a Tuesday, which is the day of my Welsh class!)
However, after further investigation, things were quickly found to be well after all  and I can relax again, as can Keith. He wasn't too happy either!
So yesterday was, in the end, a good day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This time last year ...

I have this photo of Dad as my screensaver. To me, it epitomises his second best way of spending a few hours in his latter years. His first, of course, would have been being up there on the footplate, rather than dispensing wisdom and advice from a safe distance.
Christmas last year was not great. Dad had started to go downhill with what was to be his last few weeks and Boxing Day saw him taken into hospital, where he stayed until things were in place for him to go home to receive palliative care until his death on February 4th. We have long been aware that, in Dad's family, there was a strong pattern of previous generations breathing their last in February or March and in this, Dad was true to form.
This Christmas, he has been very much in our thoughts and very much missed.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dysgu Cymraeg

Last year, and probably a bit before that, Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, and other Assembly Ministers were chatting over a cup of tea and wondering how they might fill their days during the coming months.
"I know," said one, "Why not reorganise Welsh for Adults."

"Syniad da!" (Good idea!) was the response, so they set to drawing up plans on the backs of any old envelopes they had to hand.

"Hang on," one of them said after a few minutes, "That's South Wales done, but what about North Wales?"

"Oh yeah! Forgot about that," was the reply. "Do they even speak Welsh up there? After all, they're nearly in Liverpool ... OK, well, we'll draw a line down the middle. Bangor university can provide for everything to the left and Coleg Cambria can have everything to the right. Of course they'll have to submit bids for the contracts but, well ..." (Taps side of nose and winks.)

When I started learning Welsh, five years ago, I had the choice of two providers, Coleg Cambria and Bangor university, each providing their own courses and until last year, I was able to follow both and go to three classes, which I found very useful as although each course covered much the same ground, it was presented in different ways so that each reinforced the other.

The rot set in when Coleg Cambria decided not to run the Canolradd course, which I was due to move on to, citing low numbers as the reason, which might have been acceptable had they had the grace to tell us without us having to contact them several times before they grudgingly admitted that the course wouldn't run.

Then came the reorganisation, with the result that we now have one course provider for our area, Coleg Cambria, so there will now only be one course and far fewer classes running. Instead of three,  I now only do one. Also, the classes run by Bangor were quite a bit cheaper than those provided by Coleg Cambria, which means that, even if they wanted to, some people who had previously done a couple of classes, can now no longer afford to do more than one.

How this contributes to the avowed aim of the Welsh Assembly to have one million speakers of Welsh by 2050, I am not quite sure. In the meantime, I am wondering about learning Swedish, so that I can follow all those brilliant Nordic Noir dramas on TV without the subtitles.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Out for the day

This is where we have been today.
And this was one of those North Wales traffic queues, sheep on the road.
I suppose you could call it a sheep jam.
We had lunch in Criccieth and then meandered on to the Lleyn Peninsula and down to the tip. If we'd popped across to Whistling Sands, we could have swum across to  Ireland.
Maybe next time!

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Today is a day of celebration! It is the end of a week of dental appointments, optician's appointments, Toby's doggie hairdresser appointment and the dreaded decorators. 
Not really, of course. In reality, they are a couple of very pleasant, hard-working men who turn up, do the job and leave everything nice and tidy and clean. The main problem is preparing for their visit. It all started when I got to the stage where, just looking at the carpet in the living room was resulting in raised blood pressure - it is well past its best - and the acceptance that, before getting that changed, we would need to have the room decorated and, while that was being done, it would be silly not to get the dining room done too. Then there was our bedroom - again, a cause of serious BP raising. These houses are nearly twenty years old, we have been in this one for thirteen and we have never yet decorated the bedroom. Keith's excuse is that it doesn't really matter anyway, because he goes to bed in the dark and gets up with his eyes only half open so doesn't actually see his surroundings anyway. Oh to have such a simple view of life!
The best thing though, or so I thought, was that preparing the living room for decorating would definitely necessitate Keith clearing his desk...
Or not! 
"You haven't tidied your desk," I pointed out on Sunday evening.
"Yes I have," he said, with pained expression. I looked. There in his hand was a six inch square cardboard box, containing three or four screwed up bits of paper. 
"Anyway," he continued, seeing my expression, "they can just cover it with a sheet, can't they?"

Still, when the carpet layers come, the room will have to be cleared, so he'll have to clear the desk before it can be moved - won't he?

Friday, September 16, 2016

And the opticians ... ?

This blog is beginning to seem like a series of complaints about the NHS, so apologies for that, but these are experiences I feel the need to share.
Today, I had an appointment with my optician. These days I see her every six months. I should really only see her every twelve months, but she sees me more frequently because the waiting times at the local hospital ophthalmology department are so long. At the beginning of the year, there was evidence of some optic disc haemorrhage, most likely related to my glaucoma and the fact that my current eye drops were not reducing the pressure very effectively.
"You need to be seen at the hospital within the next couple of weeks," she said, so I went home and rang the opthalomology out patients dept. In fact, I was well overdue for my next appointment anyway, but appointment were taking much longer to come through. In spite of pleading my case, the earliest appointment I could have would be in  five to six weeks, and as I wasn't prepared to take chances, I opted to see the consultant privately. This was the second time I had had to do that, the first time being just to get eye drops prescribed initially. I am lucky that I am able to pay to go privately if necessary, but it does not sit well with me that, whilst I am able to do that, other less fortunate people are not and have to take their chances.
Today's results were reassuring in that the second type of eye drops which I was given at the last hospital appointment were doing a reasonable job and my pressures were lower, although still not as low as they should be. 
So Mrs S will see me again in six months.
In the meantime, she was telling me of losing three of her opticians and having to fill in the gaps which they have left, whilst trying to find new staff and of the constant battle in trying to get her patients seen by ophalmologists within appropriate timescales. 
Mrs S is an independent optician and has three branches, two in England and one in Wales.
I am hoping that she will not at some stage decide to pull out of ours.


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