Thursday, 29 March 2012

It's all about me!

The last time I played tag was, ooh, probably about 1979 when I was intent on tagging Kelvin, my then latest playground crush. But thanks to Linda - I have been virtually tagged for the first time, I am an 'IT' and it's all about me it seems!

I have to tell you ten things about me, which presumably you won't already know, so here goes:
1. I can't stand feet (excuse the pun!) mine or anyone else's - but I do love being barefoot
2. I tend to say I'm 5ft 5" - should anyone actually ask - when really I'm 5ft 4" and a bit
3. I consider myself sociable but do enjoy a bit of solitude and am very happy in my own company
4. I have two tattoos and my bellybutton pierced
5. I hate shopping for clothes
6. Every time I go to see a play/ film/ band play I tell myself I must do this more often
7. Although I regularly still insist I'm a night owl and could stay up all night (honest!) I love going to bed - and find I quite like getting up early these days
8. I always make my To Do list far too long
9. I am forever buying more books despite having loads at home I have yet to read
10. I actually found writing this list trickier than I thought it would be!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The sun will come out...

I love variety in a day, when I get to do different things. I had a day like that last week but it also ended up exactly like the weather forecast for the day - starting off sunny, with a bit of cloud coming over, followed by more sunshine.

First thing I went to a breakfast event with ex government communications chief Alistair Campbell and ex local MP Chris Mullen. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea and croissant, but I've worked in local and national government and get inexplicably excited about politics, so it was definitely for me. The pair have both written fascinating diaries and are great storytellers. It was also the opportunity to catch up over coffee with friends I haven’t seen for a while who are equally oddly into this kind of thing!

Following that lively start it was then off to a hospital appointment. As part of the treatment for breast cancer, to help prevent a recurrence I was prescribed a tablet called Tamoxifen. I suffered very badly from side effects though so am due to have a hysterectomy – the only alternative option I was given. An empathetic, helpful, amicable gynaecologist helped me come to that decision – and this appointment was once last chance to ask him questions before the operation. This time though Mr S wasn’t available. A young female introduced herself as a member of his team, she may well have told me her name but I can’t recall it. I will call her Ms X.

I am trying to convince myself that I am making a positive choice (I am doing it of course for very good reasons) and trying not to feel as unhappy as I do about having to have another operation (though realistically it’s not the kind of thing I’m ever going to be jumping with joy about).

After Ms X apologised for my 40 minute wait (it’s why it’s called a waiting room of course) she asked me if I had any questions. I thought that I imagined that her eyebrows raised when I said yes then pulled out my notebook. Maybe not.
Here is an abridged version of our conversation.

Me: ‘Mr S said it’s keyhole surgery which I should be able to get over in a couple of weeks, so that’s fine. He did warn that occasionally, once on the operating table, it ends up not being able to be done by keyhole but turns into the old fashioned major op. I don’t want that. I don’t to wake up and find I’ve been cut from one side to the other and will take months rather than weeks to recover. If it can’t be done by keyhole then I don’t want it done.’
Ms X: ‘So if something goes wrong and you might die – and to save your life we have to cut you open, are you saying you don’t want us to do that?’
Me: ‘No what I am saying is I’m prepared and have agreed to have keyhole surgery not anything else if there’s a choice. Obviously if I’m dying on the operating table and you have to do something to save my life I expect you to do it. I would rather not die.’
(I guessed it was going to go downhill from here...)

Me: ‘I was also told I’d be in and out the same day, so again that’s what I’m expecting. Unless of course anything’s gone horribly wrong.’
(Eyebrows were definitely raised at this point, I didn’t imagine it!)
Ms X: ‘Well we do usually keep people in overnight.’
Me: ‘That is not what Mr S said. Unless there is anything wrong I want to be home the same day. Anyway, I’m a rotten patient and you'll want rid of me as soon as possible.’
(My attempt to get some humour into the conversation fell flat.)

Me: ‘I had a really awful time on Tamoxifen, and I’m dreading if I get menopausal effects after this they may make me feel as bad. I know everyone’s different and no one can tell me exactly what will happen – but is there anything I can do to help myself? Are there any supplements or things I can do to relieve or avoid symptoms? The internet is full of all sorts of information, but is there any factual, reliable information or websites you’d recommend I look at?’
(At this point there was a definite sigh that joined the raising eyebrows.)

Ms X ‘We can give you HRT’
Me ‘I had an oestrogen positive cancer, I can’t take HRT.’
(So much for my assumption she’d actually be taking any notice of what’s in my file.)

Ms X ‘Well no, then there isn’t anything. Some people might swear by this or that but there’s nothing I can recommend. You can try whatever you want, if you want to spend money and time on things that haven’t been proven to work.’

At this point I gave up.  I checked that Mr S would be the one doing the operation and signed the consent forms (after suitable warning of all the horrendous things that can happen of course).

Ms X waved me off with a ‘we’ll see you on 4th May then’. My response of ‘Yes but I can’t say I’m looking forward to it,’ made me sound like a negative old bag, which is probably exactly what she thought I was. I left disappointed and dissatisfied.

That sunshine had definitely disappeared behind a big grey cloud.

I am a huge supporter of the NHS. I have worked in it and I have been a patient in it. There are many wonderful things about it and I will always be eternally glad and grateful that it’s there (for the moment… but I won’t get side-tracked into politics!) – but so often it’s down to individuals and who you see, talk to, are treated by has a huge impact on whether you have a good or bad experience. I had just had a consultation with a professional who contradicted the consultant, obviously hadn’t read my file, recommended something not just inappropriate but dangerous, and didn’t seem willing, able or interested in helping me help myself.

But thankfully the day wasn’t over yet. After this I headed to one of my favourite local towns to a talk Stephanie Butland was giving at the library. Steph, who has a book published named after her blog Bah to Cancer, is one of those people who just oozes loveliness and positivity. I perked up as soon as she gave me a welcoming smile. After a good chat, and a cup of tea and biscuit, on my way home I then called into my favourite deli and the day was rounded off with a delicious dinner

So, after the grey middle bit, the day ended bright, light and sunny, as it had started. No matter how cloudy and grey it gets – the sun does always come out again!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

On turning into my mother...

My mother and I are agreed on one thing - we are very different. She says this with eyes rolled and a bit of a sigh, I say it with a tone of slightly defensive relief.
But it seems to be true that no matter how different I am, or like to feel I am, from my mum I do catch myself with increasing regularity thinking I may actually be getting more like her.

The most obvious sign really, as my son loves to point out, is when I 'sound just like grandma'. I have for several years now found myself repeating familiar phrases and realising where they've come from.

Some of them are in this list of phrases - and some of them do in fact have long term effects - to this day I really do have to make sure my underwear is clean and acceptable 'just in case'...

Happy Mother's Day to all you mums, people with mums, and those remembering their mums. And make sure you're wearing clean pants before you go out, ok?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Buns, runs and fun!

A year after I first signed up and kicked off full of excitement, trepidation and slight terror I have finally reached my fundraising target for my charity challenge. In just over four weeks time I'm heading off to trek the Inca trail up Machu Picchu - but I'd committed to first raise at least £3,000 for Breast Cancer Care.

Thanks to a last blast I've actually raised over £3,500 - and have the promise of a bit more coming in so hopefully the final total will be nearer to £4,000. The more the better as every penny counts and the demand for BCC's services is, sadly, increasing.

I feel rather chuffed and more than a bit relieved to get the money in, it's the first time I've been involved in fund raising like this and there have been peaks and troughs - good practice for trekking up a mountain! I have learned lots, like how much I hate asking people for money (even for a good cause). Instead I felt I should 'earn' it - my parents really did drum a working ethos into me - which has led to me needing to 'do' things to get the money in rather than just rely on begging emails to friends and family.
My fundraising fun has included lots and lots of buns - or cupcakes, I think that means you can charge more for them - I have become quite the bun baking queen. As well as cake stalls galore it has also involved a comedy night, clothes swishing parties, raffles, sponsored runs and collection boxes perched in kindly local shops.

So, though no expert, here are my top tips for anyone embarking on, or just thinking about, a similar charity venture:
  • Expected the unexpected - I have found that the things I thought may bring in lots didn't, but other things surprised me with the amount raised. People are also full of surprises, I have had help from unexpected quarters and donations from complete strangers - and absolutely none from some others I expected to be supportive.
  • Estimate how much time it all might take - then triple it. It all takes time - lots of, even with others helping out. Baking, organising events, begging raffle prizes, sorting tickets, even just counting out and banking the pennies from collection boxes. It is all very very time consuming.
  • It's nice to be nice - I have met some lovely people and had some fab support and fun, people have been generous whether donating prizes for raffles or giving up their own time. I have kept in touch with regular emails and updates to everyone who's helped, and sent thank you gifts and cards to those who really have been super supporters.
  • Beware fundraising fatigue - there were the low times when I lost my mojo and, quite frankly, had enough on my plate with other things going on in my life. Other people also get fundraising fatigue, just a look at twitter or among your own social circles will show you how many people are doing sterling things for charity and asking for support. Given the current climate it's not an easy task!
  • You'll get there in the end! At times I did wonder - but thanks to a last big push, and the perfect timing of a friend getting a job managing a coffee shop where she sold a load of cupcakes for me - I more than met my target. And I didn't ever have to resort to my last resort - which was doing the dreaded car boot sale!

I always thought the fundraising was going to be a hard part of this challenge - now that's done I can look forward to focusing on the trek. This is the part I thought would be the fun though challenging bit - but the reality is just creeping in... sleeping in a tent in freezing temperatures, getting altitude sickness, no toilets or showers for several days... Hmm maybe the fundraising was the easy bit after all!

More about my charity challenge here

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Portrait of Northumberland

I love mooching through secondhand shops for books. Despite the groaning book shelves and towering 'to read' pile already at home I can't resist bringing more back. I recently found a real gem, a copy of Portrait of Northumberland by Nancy Ridley, first published in 1965, in excellent condition. The Ridleys are one of the oldest families from the great county I now call home. Nancy was passionate about this area, she was born, lived most of her life and died here.

I can't wait to get into the book, written by such an enthusiastic, knowledgeable local lady. It'll be intriguing to see what's changed (first thing I notice is the county map looking a little bigger in those days than it is today!) but also to read about things that haven't changed.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

When cooking up a treat is a treat

I’ve been a bit of a domestic goddess lately, if I do say so myself! I have been delivering veggie delights, making cake creations and even baking my own bread. Some of you may not share my excitement about my kitchen capers, indeed a few years ago I may not have been excited about it.

A few years ago a stressful job working long hours combined with single parenthood left precious little free time and I wasn’t prepared to spend it in the kitchen. The one thing I have always done is sure make my son had meals that were healthy and wholesome (even if some days I seemed to survive on coffee, biscuits and wine). When he was a baby my Sunday evenings were spent armed with my Annabel Karmel book, preparing and freezing pureed fresh meals – probably partly to assuage my guilt at working full time, thinking at least he got healthy homemade food. Over the years, cooking was practical and functional rather than enjoyable and even fun.

These days, thankfully, I have a much better work-life balance, and – who’d have thought it – actually enjoy spending time in my kitchen. Rather than sticking to the one pot veggie meals I have pretty much perfected over the years, I like finding new recipes to try and have added desserts, cakes and bread to my repertoire. I’m intrigued by the scientific aspect of mixing ingredients that react and interact differently, take pleasure in really creating something from scratch, and like the possibility that anything can happen as, even if I follow the recipe to the letter (which is rare), the same dish or cake can turn out a bit different every time. And I love the satisfaction of turning out something terrific, evidenced by clear plates, requests for more or just noises of appreciation.

My recent discovery of the joys of the kitchen has also brought back some happy memories. I inherited my aunty’s bowls (who needs money or jewellery?!) – a set of big ceramic ‘proper’ bowls. I don’t know if they have a particular name but I call them ‘ones like my granny used to have’. When I think of granny I picture her always wearing a pinny, her hands are covered in flour and the house is full of mouth watering warm delicious smells (or she is sitting in her rocking chair, enjoying a bottle of Guinness and shouting at the wrestling match on TV!) Her enormous caramel coloured bowl would be covered with a tea towel and sitting in front of the fire so the dough would rise.

My very own bowl-tea towel combo!
 When we were little and my brother and I stayed at granny’s house we’d come downstairs to a breakfast of freshly made bread toasted, spread thick with butter and then liberally sprinkled with sugar – I can still taste the glorious crunch of it. Later she’d bake a cake and we’d fight over who got to lick the bowl out - the loser got just the spoon. Even into a ripe old age she baked all of her own bread, cooked all of her own meals, and everything was made from scratch.  

With eight children and a husband to feed during her life, cooking was about making hearty nourishing food, coming up with ways to make limited ingredients go a long way, and keeping everyone healthy as possible because, in the old days, you wouldn’t always be able to afford a doctor’s visit or medicines. Oddly enough, none of our family have ever been fussy eaters or ever refuse seconds…

There will always be times I don’t want or have time to make things and there will always be the occasional take away or frozen meal, but I am enjoying discovering the joys of cooking and baking. And using my big ‘proper’ bowls. Granny would be proud!

Cakes have been fab for fund raising!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Best laid plans

At the beginning of February I was rather pleased with myself! I wrote about being on track with 100K words in 100 days, learning lots as I was going along, and looking forward to carrying this good work on in February. Well that'll teach me to make rash declarations! February has now been and gone and I am a mere 8,402 words further on.

But I've decided to look at it as 38,528 words that I may well have not written if I hadn't been taking part in the challenge - so at least I am making some progress.
And February's been a stark reminder of no matter how well organised you try to be sometimes life just throws a curve ball.  I had a week planned in February when I was going to be away and knew I'd be unlikely to get any writing done then. I also then had unplanned health issues which led to unexpected hospital visits and a mind which was on other matters (although I did actually write about it I've also learned that some things I like to reflect on and give more thought to before sharing with anyone).

I've decided I'm not going to feel that I have failed in any way not keeping up with my planned word count because, quite frankly, life happens and sometimes you just have to put some plans on hold. They can always be picked up again. And there's still 40 days to go...

I have though made progress on my other aim of getting my scribbles out there! I've had articles published on other people's websites, blogs and magazines. I've made progress (that's a good thing), more lessons have been learned (that's a positive thing) and it's now the start of springtime (that's an excellent thing).

So here we go marching on!