take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Monday, April 30, 2007

Fragments of childhood Sundays 

The radio burbles away in the background.

One of those old, brown, Bakelite radios with tortoiseshell preset buttons on top and a cream dial on the side. Born in 1940, she would of course refer to it as the "wireless". It sits on the kitchen windowsill and as well as providing the gentle, bumbling chatter of the cricket commentary, seemingly omnipresent during the summer months, it also gives the cat an ideal vantage point from which to survey both the kitchen for human activity and the garden for avian activity - essentially, any activity which could potentially result in a tasty morsel. As a bonus, the cat can enjoy the warmth generated by the radio's aging internal mechanisms. Sometimes, when changing positions, he would inadvertently press one of the preset buttons, replacing Henry Blofeld with static. We'd long given up trying to clean off the layer of accumulated cat hair on the radio top.

Countless photos of me and my siblings taken from the garden, posing in Brownie uniforms or princess outfits on the low wall bordering the raised bed, prancing around in swimsuits, spraying each other with hosepipes. Always in the background a familiar silhouette at the kitchen window watching over us, preparing the Sunday lunch. My sister always wanted to eat the raw "stump" of the cauliflower, I always wanted more crumble than fruit, so she would bake more topping in a separate dish. We would ask for evaporated milk in a saucer and lap it up like cats.

Otherwise, she would be tending to the washing machine - an old, rumbling, free-standing tub, wheeled out of its cubby hole once a week, filled by a grey hose connected to the kitchen tap, drained via the same hose draped in the kitchen sink. After grumbling away for a while, exuding its soapy aroma, the integral mangle would be erected and clothes would drop into the plastic bowl, strategically placed on the floor beneath to catch its bounty of laundry. Then the spin dryer would appear and we children would be called upon to load it carefully, placing the circular rubber internal lid on top of the wet clothes. Sometimes, if loaded unevenly, it would fail to spin at full speed and start to bounce across the floor, spewing water liberally around the kitchen rather than in the (again) strategically placed plastic bowl.

In the afternoon, Abba on the record player would temporarily drown out the cricket commentary from the kitchen - luckily, we all liked Abba, including my brother. I was the blond one, one of my sisters had to be Björn. We used to buy ex-jukebox 7" singles with cut-out middles, replacement labels and sleeves from the newsagent opposite our grandmother's flat in West London. Much cheaper. It would be years before I ever bought a full-price 7" single from Woolworth's. Double Dutch, by Malcolm McLaren, I think it was.

Sunday tea would be a cold buffet. We would ask for a "messy plate" (essentially, a bowl) and create a mélange of chopped up ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato, cucumber, cress and salad cream.

The radio burbles away in the background.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The mystery parcel - a photo post 


*scampers excitedly to sorting office*




Thanks, Gordon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On the market 

The vocabulary of estate agents never ceases to amuse me.

Until a few days ago, I had no idea that our house "benefits from", amongst other things: a "vestibule" (got to love that word) and an "inner lobby". Our staircase, which "ascends to the first floor" (how unusual) has "balustrading and spindles". The tiled splashbacks in the kitchen are, apparently, "complimentary". Well, we weren't going to make the buyer pay extra for them. And the front lawn is similarly "complimented" by mature shrubs. I can just imagine the shrubs addressing the lawn: "Oh, lawn, you are looking lush today", the flattering so-and-sos....

This, of course, can only mean one thing: our house has just gone on the market. Having been disappointed by our potential private buyers, we have been forced to enter the murky world of estate agents with their talk of front aspects, wrought iron pedestrian gates and easy access to comprehensive leisure amenities.

Amused as I am by the flowery language they use to describe the most mundane matters, I am not looking forward to the next few months. Whilst our move to Hampshire will hopefully be a long term one, there are several hurdles to overcome before we'll finally be settled.

Due to my outright refusal to be part of a property chain, buying and selling a house at the same time (I just don't think I could handle the stress), I've built a bit of a rod for my own back.

If we take up our friend's offer to house-sit while he works away, giving us time to find somewhere suitable to buy and giving him security, we will need to put most (but not all) of our possessions in storage. This in turn means we'll have to actually think about packing rather than just shoving things in boxes in a blind panic at the last minute (or paying a removal company to do same). And storage, of course, costs money.

If that offer falls through, we will move into rented accommodation, probably unfurnished, so packing will require less thought but more panic.

Either way, we will still have another move to "look forward to" later on, when we eventually find a place to buy down there.

All of this assumes, of course, that someone will want to buy this house.

Anyone want a house? It has balustrading! It has a vestibule! Go on, you know you want it...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thirty-five today... 

... and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Trolley dolly 

He rolls his eyes at the mere mention of it. He is torn between his appreciation of the good intentions and underlying principle behind it and his horror of the actual idea of it in a real-life situation.

"But it's trendy now - I saw a guy with one at Borough Market, so it must be!"

He raises a cynical eyebrow.

"It's okay, you don't have to use it, but I will," I reassure him.

"Him" being Big. "It" being one of my Christmas presents - my Rolser folding shopping trolley.

The idea behind the trolley was closely related to my new job. Since I was able to walk to work in town and that walk brought me right past a supermarket and in the vicinity of a weekly farmers' market and a plethora of local shops, the idea was that I could combine my pedestrian commute with shopping, filling up my trolley at lunchtime or on the way home and thereby fulfilling a number of my principles, being:
Admittedly, I didn't get much opportunity to use it while I was at work - simply because I wasn't actually at work that much (ahem, yes, sorry about that, Mr Employer) - but now I'm a lady of leisure, these principles still apply and I am free to shop all day, every day if I wish. By shunning my car (still unsold), I get the added bonus of a bit of (much needed considering that I'm not running and still eating like a horse) exercise too.

Okay, so I may not have chosen that colour myself, but all in all, the trolley is proving to be a little marvel.

I just wish it didn't make poor Big curl up with embarrassment...

Monday, April 16, 2007

You get what you pay for 

If anyone wants advice on where *not* to stay if you need Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Bristol, I'm your ... er... man.

Location-wise, it was perfect - a few minutes stroll from Big's friend's house which, though envy-enducingly huge compared to our humble abode, was still unable to accommodate the gathering of many friends and appendages for the annual birthday celebration which has become a regular feature in our social calendar.

To be fair, the party hosts had not recommended this place, merely mentioning it as being nearby when the recommended option had been fully booked, so we and another couple reserved our rooms at our own risk.

As we approached, overnight bags in hand, the first thing we noticed was a skip on the front drive. My friend then remarked "Hmmm, an external staircase which appears to be made of Meccano!" The front door, actually located at the side of the house, was surrounded by general detritus. A couple was visible in the back garden, enjoying the sunshine. Overall, first impressions were that the place, whilst a grand, sandstone house probably worth an absolute fortune, had been a little neglected over the years.

We rang the doorbell. Slowly, so slowly at first that we weren't sure that the movement was related to our ringing the doorbell, the lady in the garden began to move, hobbling slowly toward the house in a style reminiscent of Julie Walters' "two soups" waitress, except she was dressed somewhat more flamboyantly in leopard print leggings and sported visible sunscreen on her lips. Also, she did not have bowls of soup in her hand, but that's just being picky.

She disappeared for a while and let us in the front/side door and we passed through to the foyer, where we got our first glimpse of what was in store. A dark, gloomy reception area, musty smelling with an old and garish carpet. The preliminaries over with, she showed us upstairs to our rooms where we noted the stairlift on our way up. She considered us two couples and said to our friends: "I think Room 3 might suit you," showed them the door and handed over the keys.

She then led us through a door, up another staircase, through another door, along a dark corridor to a room right in the top of the house. At 6ft3, Big was already having to stoop in the corridor and sure enough, when we reached the room we were greeted to the sight of a sloping ceiling. I was a little bemused that, faced with a choice of rooms, she deliberately chose to put the clearly taller couple (I'm 5ft10) into the room with the least headroom (the other room having plenty of ceiling height, the other couple being of normal size).

This would be the first of many bemusements, however, others being:

Our friends' room was no better: a broken door handle, a skylight which could not be reached to open or close, a curiously modern and stylish bowl basin located in the bedroom itself, a television with no reception, a velour headboard, an en-suite shower room in the space the size of a broom cupboard.

Okay, it was reasonably priced, it provided a roof over our heads and was extremely conveniently located for our needs. What it lacked in style, sophistication and good taste, I guess it made up for in comedy value, providing several minutes of conversation and a blog post.

And the muesli was nice.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ugly head reared 

It was always there, lurking in the background, just popping its head around the corner from time to time. Not often enough to put me off my primary task of being ill and getting better, but just enough to prod me every now and again, saying "Remember me? You're going to have to think about me sooner or later, you know...". Yes, I know. Not just yet.

Work, you see. That thing I normally do nine to five, Monday to Friday, two hundred and thirty odd days per year, give or take.

I must say, as strange as this may seem, my current arrangement of spending my days at home with Big (by happy coincidence, on Easter holiday since my discharge from hospital), indulging my artistic side, eating in, eating out, just general eating (yep, the steroids are still at it), walking, talking, having little days out, reading and relaxing is rather more appealing. Funny that.

But my time is running out. Signed off for six weeks from initial diagnosis of my condition, this means in theory that I am due to start work again on Monday, April 23rd (which also happens to be my birthday, which is "nice" (where "nice" = not very nice actually)). In theory. However, I find myself in a bit of a complicated situation.

Before falling ill, I had only been in my new job for two months. Just prior to my illness, Big accepted his new job. We will be leaving this town in the summer and making our way back to the South Coast. Those are facts.

I have to ask myself:
  1. What benefit is there to me if I return to work for, what, two months?
    Only financial

  2. What benefit is there to my employer if I return to work for, say, two months?
    Very little, if one considers that I am still learning, still a drain on resources, still not entirely productive

On the other side of the coin, there is my health and wellbeing. Whilst I am now feeling pretty much back to normal, my body and I have been through one hell of a shock and we both need time to recover properly. We have a house to sell and to move out of and new accommodation to sort out - these things suggest the potential for stress and working full time alongside dealing with these things could tip the balance away from my health and wellbeing.

I am lucky enough to be able to afford not to work for a couple of months. Things may be a little tight, but nothing we can't handle.

And so I've decided. Work can just jolly well sod right off. I am more important.

So there!
*pokes tongue out at work and blows raspberry*

My boss knows my plans and is currently digesting the information. I imagine I'm probably not flavour of the month at the moment...

Monday, April 09, 2007

... but you've lots of it 

Every time I go to the hairdresser, I get the same refrain:

"Your hair is very fine, but you've lots of it!"

Up until now, I've always wondered how this information could possibly be of any use to me. I know it's fine - I'm constantly trying to thicken it and give it some body so that it doesn't sit flat against my head. I know there's a lot of it - I'm the one who has to spend my time drying it. Reminding me of these facts is of absolutely no benefit to me, but I continue to greet their seemingly inevitable delivery with a polite smile and nod.

Now, however, the "lot of it" factor has become of some use.

Because whilst I've lost this much hair in a week (for an idea of the amount, cup your hands together and this clump would just about fit, depending on the size of your hands):

I still have this much left:

which is not so bad, really.

Okay, I can feel that it's thinner. The number of times I have to wrap my scrunchie around a rather pathetic ponytail (more of a rat's tail, really) confirms how much it is thinning - as does the evidence on my pillow and comb every morning. But it's coming out evenly and I think the outsider would be hard pushed to tell that there was anything awry. For now.

My consultant has reassured me that whilst hair thinning is a known side-effect, she has never seen anyone go completely bald from my medication. Let's hope I'm not the exception to the rule!

Friday, April 06, 2007

It had all seemed so easy 

Sunday. A conversation with a nurse, on the day of my discharge from hospital.

"I'll need help getting home. My partner doesn't drive and we live in [town about 30 miles from hospital]"
"No problem, we can arrange a car to take you home. I'll get it to come just after five to give you time to get your things together,"

Monday. A telephone conversation from home with a member of ward staff (my first port of call as I only had the ward number).

"Hi, I've been asked to come for an out-patient appointment on Wednesday but I need help with transport. My partner doesn't drive and I'm not sure I'm well enough to manage the train and bus."
"Ah yes, I'll arrange that for you. What's your name?"

Wednesday. A conversation with a member of ward staff at the hospital whilst attending out-patient appointment

"I've got to come in again on Friday for an appointment and last time someone arranged transport for me. Could you help me with this please?"
"Here's the dedicated number for the patient transport service. They will be able to help you."

Wednesday afternoon, on arrival home. Attempted telephone conversation with patient transport service.

"[Engaged tone]"
"[Engaged tone]"
"[Engaged tone]"
"This service is open from 10am until 4pm. There is no answering service. Please call again during these hours."

Thursday. Attempted telephone conversation with patient transport service.

"[Engaged tone]"
"[Engaged tone]"
"[Engaged tone]"


"Patient transport service?"
"Hello. I have an appointment tomorrow and need help with transport please,"
"Tomorrow? Right, well because it's at short notice, I need to give you another number and they'll see if they can fit you in."
"The number is [another number],"
"Thank you,"

Thursday. Telephone conversation with other, short-notice patient transport service.

"Patient transport service?"
"Hello. I have an out-patient appointment tomorrow and need help with transport, please,"
"Okay, let me just take your details and I'll see what we can do and get back to you. What's your postcode?"
"You're in [town 30 miles from hospital]?"
"Um, yes..."
"Well, I'm afraid we wouldn't be able to provide transport, it would be provided by your local Trust. Hold on, I'll get you the number..."
"But you provided transport for me before, on Wednesday. They picked me up from [town 30 miles from hospital] and brought me home"
"Well, you've phoned at short notice, so I'm afraid we can't help you"
*resists urge to say that I had tried to phone the previous day and had received a barrage of engaged tones*
"Here are a couple of numbers to try for your local hospital"
"Um, thanks..."

Thursday. Attempted telephone conversation with first number given, which appears to be the switchboard of the local hospital.

"Welcome to [local hospital]. Please say the name of the person or department you require."
*scratches head*
"Welcome to [local hospital]. Please say the name of the person or department you require."
*slams phone down*

Thursday. Attempted telephone conversation with second number.

"[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]
[ring ring]"

*bursts into tears*

From here, Big took over, starting again, phoning the same numbers as before plus a whole lot more, becoming increasingly frustrated and being shunted from pillar to post with no-one willing to accept responsibility for getting me to my appointment. Apparently, it was my fault for:
  1. Having the audacity to have been taken to a hospital 30 miles away from my home in the middle of the night in an ambulance because it was decided that they had the best facilities to diagnose and deal with my problem. (Note that these decisions were not within my control and nor would I have wanted them to be).

  2. Having the bare-faced cheek to phone the patient transport line at a time when the line was permanently engaged and thus coming into the "short notice" category

How very dare I?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

We go out for the evening!!! 

Not really postworthy in normal life, but when you consider that I probably haven't been out for an evening for over a month, incarcerated as I was either at home or in hospital, it becomes rather more of an event. We'd booked this (second one down - Rich Hall) weeks ago, before I knew that I would have a serious illness, and once I'd acquired my illness, had kind of written it off as an "ah well, there'll be other times (although actually there probably won't be in a town like this)..." type situation.

But no, I've been feeling pretty well recently and have ventured out in the daytime for breakfasts and lunches out and short walks and expeditions to the shops and even a couple of short drives (after getting Mr AA to sort out the flat battery on my sulking, neglected, still unsold and probably unlikely-now-to-be-sold car) and felt that a couple of hours sitting in a theatre would not be beyond my capabilities. So off we went.

There were two surprises in store for us. Firstly, that there was a warm-up act and secondly, that the warm-up act was actually funnier than the headliner. Not that Rich wasn't funny in his signature lugubrious, curmudgeonly way, but Campbell was consistently laugh-out-loud funny for the short time that he was on stage. He really struck a chord with the West Country audience since he now lives locally and could observe the eccentricities of the Brits in general and West Country folk in particular, whilst also being sympathetic to the place he has adopted as his home and gently ribbing his Canadian origins.

It was slightly unfortunate for Hall that they both made the same joke, albeit about different places (Campbell - Saskatoon, Hall - Montana, the joke: it's so flat, you could watch your dog run away for five days...; Campbell got the laughs, Hall barely a ripple), but I would thoroughly recommend seeing both comedians if you haven't done so already.

I really enjoyed our evening out and it represented another milestone in my recovery.

Okay, so my hair is now falling out, a blow which I hadn't expected, but there are hats and wigs and jokes and it's only hair, after all.

One thing that intrigues me, though, is why it's just my head hair making a bid for freedom. Couldn't it have been some of the *ahem* other hairs which I'd actually quite like to get rid of...? I thought these so-called chemo drugs were supposed to be indiscriminate, yet here they are, choosing only to rid me of my crowning glory, the swines!!!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

To the superficial 

My hair is one of the few features of myself that I like, though perhaps sometimes I'd like it to be thicker and more voluminous, more able to hold a shape. It is long, fine but copious, darkly dark, shiny, straight and glossy. I have had approximately the same hairstyle for about 18 years, pausing on a couple of occasions to add a splash of colour here, the odd layer there. But it is my signature - it goes with the territory, it is part of who I am physically, I am immediately recognisable by my hair. Just as my mobile number hasn't changed in ten years so that old friends who try that number by chance will always find me, so they will see the hair and know straight away that it's me.

I hide behind it, keeping it down, rarely tying it back - only when necessitated by hygiene or when the flapping around really gets too much, though sometimes, particularly by the sea, I revel in the flapping and laugh.

It is my curtain, protecting me, veiling me from the world.

It is, then, with some trauma that I notice rather more of it than I'd like to see on the comb over the past few days. A natural effect of the war which has been raging inside my body for the past few weeks, possibly. A side-effect of my medication which I haven't been told about, perhaps. One of the drugs I take to suppress my immune system is also used in chemotherapy, so they tell me, and we all know what some chemotherapy drugs can do. But no-one warned me about this. They warned me about the possible detrimental effect on my fertility, oh yes - news which would be a crushing blow to many a thirty-something, childless female (though not this one), but no-one warned me about this.

I know, I know, it's more important that I get fixed on the inside.
But my hair. I don't think I'm ready to lose my hair...

Update - it is very likely to be due to the chemotherapy-style medication. It may not all fall out. It will grow back. Better get some hats...