Journey to the Centre of the Colon-a gastric Odyssey [with apologies to Jules Verne]

I made a promise when I began this blog-the ramblings of an ageing female-that health issues would not be at the forefront of every post. Every now and then, however there is bound to be some blot on the fitness horizon and this particular blot appears to have eclipsed normal life like a blackout curtain.

In an ironic curve the disease I have eventually been diagnosed with is not at all age related, more an unfortunate plague of a far younger demographic. What is it? It is ulcerative colitis; nasty and incurable, yes, life threatening-well no, supposedly not, except that the odds of more sinister complaints are increased.

Whilst Fiction Month was running its [highly satisfactory] course the writer was undergoing many weeks of initial terror followed by exhaustion and desperation as the slow wheels of our UK health service ground along; well-meaning and efficient but over-stretched and ponderous.

During the past two months life has shrunk back within the walls of the house, where access to bathroom facilities provides a secure reassurance-for now, the only factor that matters. This disease, as all inflammatory bowel diseases [Crohn’s is another] is neither romantic nor noble, reducing us, the sufferers to the most basic of needs- a toilet and means of cleaning up. A walk, shopping trip or evening out becomes an activity to be undertaken with trepidation and vast amounts of planning, but mostly not at all.

With Christmas rearing up I fall eagerly on the reassuring presence of the internet while fantasising about strolling around Christmas markets, choosing ‘real’ items, stopping for coffees, enjoying the ambience of the ‘Alpine Bar’ that popped up in our local town [according to Facebook].

Between sojourns enclosed within the shiny, tiled cell of the lavatory I have enjoyed the luxury of unlimited research time, during which I have discovered the unfathomable ocean of misery that is undergone by those who suffer chronic illness. I am castigated by the small but dedicated carers that are my immediate family for doing this, but to me, ignorance can never be a pleasure. The more I know, the better I am prepared.

The GP [local doctor] who was my first port of call has kindly followed up with inquiries regarding diagnosis and progress but clearly is at a loss to know how to provide cheer amid the gloom. ‘You are on a journey’, she tells me and I refrain from advising her that my travel plans have reduced down to the few steps it takes to achieve the safety of the loo. She does mean well.

In all I have not failed to recognise that I am extremely lucky to have Husband-supporting without false cheer, and Offspring-resilient in her newly acquired nurse’s knowledge. Messages, however brief, from some of those who I’ve plucked up the courage to inform are more appreciated than they can know.

So far treatment cannot be described as an unmitigated success, although I recognise it is still ‘early days’ and that there are further options along what the doctor calls the ‘journey’.

I am learning to appreciate home comforts and I am catching up [via the wonder that is ‘Blinkbox’] on TV and film I missed when I was engaged in more worthy activities.

One tragic casualty has been my writing, the pursuit of which has escaped me. This may change-who knows? What a blessing we none of us know what lies ahead!

The B&B Rant

A lot of people swear by B&Bs for their holiday accommodation needs. B&Bs, guest houses, chambers d’hotes-whatever you like to call them-differ from hotels in a variety of ways, but personally I would prefer to eat my own hair than stay in them.
The reasons fans of B&Bs give for loving them are varied, but rely on the principle of the ‘personal touch’. They say things like ‘such nice people’, ‘just like family’, ‘home from home’ and it is just this that provokes me to shudder at the idea of staying in one. This judgement does not come from hearsay, reportage or conversation but from real, empirical research. In other words, my experiences of said places have been entirely negative.
I don’t want to stay in someone’s home. I can manage [just about] to stay with close family members for up to two nights, perhaps but even then I find it hard to manage.
I don’t want to sleep in an overheated, tiny, stuffy room crammed with family photos, ornaments, souvenirs of Brixham, lace doilies and knick-knacks. I don’t want to be suffocated by an enormous cloud of puffy duvet.
We are not the earliest of risers. I want a lovely, exclusive en suite [for night time needs, if nothing else] and at least two cups of tea before I face anyone [Husband excluded of course]. I may want to slob about pre-ablution watching News 24.
When I do surface, I don’t really want to eat anything until at least late morning, and then I am not able to cope with ‘full English’ [in other words: cereal followed by bacon, sausage, egg, baked beans, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast and marmalade].
Most of all though I don’t wish to sit at the breakfast table and make small talk with the ‘friendly, welcoming’ host or hostess. I don’t want their life story, learn what their grandchildren are studying at university or where they have been for their holidays.
If all this makes me sound humbug I don’t care. Give me a plain, simple, anonymous hotel. It doesn’t need a stupendous view, an infinity pool, a Michelin starred restaurant or four posters [although they can be fun…]. I want to be able to use a breakfast buffet-preferably up until eleven or so. I want tea and coffee making facilities [biscuits are always a bonus]. I want a TV I can watch from the bed. I want a firm, clean, comfortable bed with options for temperature control [ie covers to put on or remove]. I want a clean, efficient en suite with a shower that doesn’t need a degree in engineering to operate. Ideally, some beautiful toiletries are provided. I’d really like a late night bar where I can grab a last glass of wine before I turn in. I’d like INTERNET [included in the price!]. I’d like pleasant, non intrusive service.
I don’t mind that it is part of a ‘chain’ and every room is the same. It needn’t have an Alpine or Namibian Desert view.
Otherwise-give me a comfortable, efficient camper van, which does have ensuite, tea & coffee making, glass of wine and TV-and I don’t need to talk to anyone [Husband excluded]…

Grace’s Christmas Crackers

                Some of my most memorable Christmases are from a time when I was single and sharing them with a similarly placed friend. They did, of course feature alcoholic consumption [which you would have thought might have obliterated the memories], but we felt we could let our hair down and break the rules.

                Christmas is time most people look forward to, for its break from work and for its fun and festivities, although it also has a reputation for wreaking havoc on marriages and family relationships in general. Large family gatherings can be a time of great joy, but can be a source of conflict as well. Fuelled by an excess of alcohol, rich food, inactivity, gift disappointment and puerile TV programmes, I suppose long held resentments boil up and burst their lids like a neglected pan of sprouts.

                My parents harboured an anxiety over Christmas-that they would be spending it on their own without a gathering of their adult children and their families around them. There would be a delicate juggling act to perform in the approach to the festive season, when in-laws would vie for their offspring’s attendance at the Yuletide table; the major prize being Christmas lunch. As in many aspects of child rearing, I learned from these occasions and vowed I would never exert pressure on my own adult children. Nevertheless, the Christmas predicament became critical once my father was left on his own. Then he needed to be supported in the warm grip of his family-the nearest geographically being favourite-in other words-us!

                I tell my children they must go to whomever they would like. They are welcome to visit at any time during the holiday [provided we are at home!] and we will kill the proverbial fatted calf whenever they arrive. Hence, this year we will be cooking roast turkey on Christmas day for one lot, and roast beef on Boxing Day for another set. Another has disappeared and will return in the New Year.

                Having said all that, this Christmas is just a bit special for a very particular reason which I will explain later.

                Thursday’s post is suspended due to the impending festivities, so the next pile of drivel will be next Sunday-

                Wishing all followers an extremely Merry Christmas without family strife, over-boiled sprouts, hand knitted sweaters, major bust-ups, indigestion or hangovers! 

Happy New Year, Brian Meadon! [part 3]

Thumping! Brian starts awake, wild eyed, dropping the wine bottle into his overnight bag, an intense, dazzling light in his face and an urgent thumping on the window. ‘Just a minute!’ he tries to shout, managing a feeble croak. He fumbles with frozen fingers to open the rear door which eventually opens with a gasping crack, having been yanked from the outside. A large, unearthly figure swathed in black is bending in to scrutinize him, playing a flashlight over the interior of the car. For a fleeting, delirious moment Brian believes he has expired; that this horrific apparition has materialized in the afterlife to exact retribution for his earthly sins.

“Good evening sir. Are you alright?”

Speechless, Brian feels an ignominious, hot welling of tears behind his eyes as he struggles to get a grip on his emotions at being found. Minutes later he is sitting in the police land rover clutching a hot cup of tea while the officer calls the AA number he has given him.

“Rescue vehicle is on its way sir,” the policeman tells him. The dashboard clock is showing 10.48pm. Flooded with a surge of optimism, Brian grasps that he has not missed the entire party, because it is a New Year’s celebration, and the nature of New Year’s parties is to extend up to, and indeed well beyond midnight. He pictures himself arriving at Rob and Shelley’s, hearing raucous laughter and the thudding beat of loud music, windows all lit and pulsating figures gyrating within. He will apologize for his lateness, explain his predicament, present the remnants of the wine, be hailed as a hero, exclaimed over, pressed with drinks and nibbles, surrounded by sympathetic, admiring women.

Whilst it takes longer than Brian has anticipated for the AA man to attach the defective car to the breakdown truck he calculates that he will still get to the party in plenty of time.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go home sir? You won’t be the only person not attending, I’m sure, then there’s the car. You’ll have that to deal with. How will you get it back?”

“No! These friends of mine, they’re almost family! They’ll be disappointed if I don’t turn up, and Rob’ll help with the car tomorrow. He knows loads about electrics.”

“How about calling them, though, sir? Just to be sure?”

“I doubt if they’d hear it!” Brian chuckles. “No, let’s just carry on and get there. It’ll be fine.”

They lapse into a silence burdened with the AA man’s skepticism.

School is nearly out

“Michael Gove axes six-week summer holidays for schools

The education secretary is warned a ‘free for all’ could emerge after headteachers get the freedom to set their own term dates”

 

                Little Govey, I suspect is one of the ‘teachers’ have too easy a life’ brigade. Once upon a time, when I was a key stage one school teacher I was, along with everyone else I knew in teaching, subjected to those old chestnut phrases long beloved of non teachers:

  • Nine to three job
  • Lovely! All those long holidays
  • What, another holiday?
  • Easy life!

                In time I learned a retort which was to silence the barbed, jealous swipes people made about my job. I’d simply say-“Why aren’t you doing it, then?”

                There are still numerous myths surrounding teaching as a job. Firstly, the ‘long, six week, summer holiday’ no longer exists [in the state sector]. It just about struggles to five weeks, for children. Take another two weeks off for the teachers. That’s the minimum time it takes to clear up from one class and prepare for the next. A primary phase teacher will have to organise a [probably new to her] classroom, label everything, cover display boards [like wallpapering an enormous room], put up initial displays covering aspects of reward systems etc, organise the students into different ability groups for at least two curriculum areas and prepare curriculum long term, medium term and lesson plans for each of those groups in each curriculum area, besides preparing the accompanying resources and making individual provision for anyone with individual needs. After the first year of teaching there will also be at least one curriculum area to manage, including an ‘action plan’ and the ordering and organisation of resources.

                How, I wonder does the education secretary imagine that all this is to be done if holidays are taken at random?

                For children nowadays it is more important than ever not to miss out parts of the term. The curriculum is carefully constructed in steps, with each next step built on the progress made in the last. To miss two weeks would be like watching the first part of a TV thriller followed by the last. You would be unlikely to understand what was going on without the middle section.

                Once the term begins, a teacher will be in place long before the bell rings for registration, getting out all the resources, loading up the computer with all the pre-planned teaching aids and preparing the classroom for the morning onslaught-then the same frantic activity at ‘lunchtime’ ready for the afternoon. Once the pupils have left there is sorting out, marking, assessment, adjustment of plans, meetings, training sessions, report writing, etc-on top of a demanding day with small children. More often than not, there will be more work to take home for the evening.

                There will also be stressful observations [both internal and with the dreaded ‘OFSTED’] to undergo. Manifestations of disruptive behaviour or low ability during observations are deemed to be the fault of the teacher, always.

                So, little Mr Gove, understand that such holidays as there are exist as a lifeline for beleaguered teachers.

                Oh…and parents…your children don’t go to school to be babysat…a school holiday is an opportunity for you to share experiences and fun as a family, not a time to be carped about as a nuisance. OK?

                Here endeth the lecture!