Imagine…

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On a recent walk we came across a community garden.

The latter stages of the route, near to the shopping centre took us through a housing estate which, in the past, had a reputation for being somewhat ‘rough’, resulting in school numbers dropping and so on. The housing is mixed-blocks of flats, terraced homes, semis and detached, much ex-council and now presumably housing association. The estate is not pretty but neither is it hideous since there is a great deal of green space, trees, open areas. And in the midst of one, large, open space was an enclosure laid out with raised beds, a neat row of compost bins and a shed.

A father and small daughter were working in one of the raised beds, planting and tidying. It was all shared, the dad explained and the produce from one bed could be harvested by anyone for their needs. Fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables!

To work in a garden is one of life’s pleasures. You are outside in the air, serenaded by birdsong, creating, nurturing, coaxing, often accompanied by a cheeky robin and some industrious bumble bees. It can be frustrating when plants refuse to thrive or are consumed by pests but this is more than offset by the satisfaction of seeing flowers or vegetables flourish from your ministrations. Gardening also exercises a lot of muscles you didn’t know you had!

Walking along past the community garden I allowed my mind to wander. One day I may not be able to tend my own garden. But there are long waiting lists for allotments and in our squidgy, little country space is becoming squeezed by the need for housing-new homes’ gardens becoming smaller.

What if elderly and disabled people who wanted to stay in their own homes but were unable to garden were paired with those who wanted allotments but perhaps couldn’t afford one or didn’t want the long wait? There would be a shed-full of tools. The results of the labours could be shared-as could the expertise of the person who used to tend the garden.

The garden owner would get visits-perhaps even someone to keep an eye on their wellbeing. The gardener may get a cup of tea!

I read of a scheme in the Netherlands [where ideas to help the elderly and disabled seem to abound] where a student could receive accommodation free in the home of an elderly person who might need a little help with housework etc. Of course I can think of many students who it wouldn’t suit at all-and many elderly would be horrified at the thought of a stranger in their house-but still there must be a lot more who’d be happy to share if it meant they could stay at home.

For now, though it’s back to mulching for me-backache or not…

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Gym Tales

Last week I documented my first steps in the Land of the Dairy-free and described the differences I’d noticed in my own health after what was a very short space of time.

Since then there have been more developments, surprising and welcome, such as less joint pain and an increase in energy. So far so good. I’ve continued to become accustomed to dairy-free milk and yoghurt, [opting for unsweetened almond milk and soya yoghurt] but I admit to failure on the cheese front.

In a parallel improvement I’ve returned to the gym, partly due to less painful joints. [I am now able to bend my right foot] and partly due to winter weather [walking in a deluge is not always a pleasant activity].

In my absence of about 18 months there are changes at the gym. Julia, the previous Friday morning yoga teacher has left and in her place is Michelle, a kind, enthusiastic mentor but one whose moves and poses are beyond me, both in difficulty and in pace. After one session of attempting to keep up with the downward facing dogs and sun salutations I spend the following few days crippled and feeling advanced in years by around 20 [taking me to 85, reader-not an uplifting experience]. The second session, while no easier, rendered me less incapacitated.

Encouraged, I reserved myself a place at ‘Easy Aero’ [in other words, aerobics for the ancient, the crippled and exercise virgins]. Ten years ago I was still leaping about in the exercise studio with gay abandon. Surely ‘Easy Aero’ wasn’t about to trouble me?

How wrong can you be? In the pre-class throng of the changing room there was a crush of greying, primped, powdered and blue-rinsed ladies clad in pastel lycra, chattering animatedly in front of the lockers. I stood back to wait for a space. They continued to chit-chat as they queued for the water machine and filtered into the exercise studio and I headed for the back in a bid to lurk unnoticed. In came Carla, a wisp of a girl with a broad smile, whose classes I’ve attended in the past.

Music on [a heady mix of 70s disco classics], Carla proceeded with the warm-up, when I realised this was not to be the gentle easing back into gym activity I’d expected. Ten minutes later, having undertaken a couple of routines I was not just warm, but perspiring. Hmm…

The dance routines were followed by some step-aerobic work and some core exercises, culminating in a ‘plank’ to finish off. I felt a glimmer of hope in still being able to hold a plank position for one minute, but overall this was a hefty enough workout for now.

Here’s a thing though; aerobics, like bike-riding is an activity that lingers in the mind. With the instruction ‘grape-vine’ I went instantly into that step side, step behind step. With ‘box-step’ I knew what to do. It’s heartening that even when you’re out of condition and struggling the brain cells can cope.

And the ladies? They are amazing! All power to them…

Austrian Salvation

Last week’s instalment described Grace and Husband’s predicament worsening as their expedition was interrupted by Husband’s faulty inner plumbing…

The Austrian town of Sankt Polten is undistinguished in any historic or geographical sphere although I imagine the residents enjoy a good standard of living. It is pleasant enough, surrounded by attractive landscapes and served by excellent facilities. But for us its overriding, stand-out feature was a large, modern teaching hospital situated slap-bang in the centre and crucially offering an Accident and Emergency department.

I felt a simultaneous wave of relief [that we’d brought up-to-date EHIC cards] and anxiety [that we wouldn’t be able to park the van]. The hospital sat among the streets and offered parking-but of the underground sort. The height barrier was 3 metres. We could do it.

We stepped out of the lift into something akin to the inside of a space ship with a reception desk. At Accident and Emergency I proffered Husband’s European Health Insurance card and passport and answered a few questions-posed in perfect, classy English. ‘You will be seen in 15 minutes; take a seat back there’ smiled the nurse. ‘Back there’ was a small portion of corridor with no more than 8 waiting patients. As people came and went I realised that of course, if waiting time is 15 minutes a vast aeroplane hangar full of chairs is unnecessary.

A trio of medics took us to a room and quizzed us further then we were taken to the urology unit across a courtyard. The accompanying nurse exclaimed, ‘you’re from Christchurch-it’s a lovely place!’

Upstairs in the urology department we waited for a short time before being taken into a consulting room where Husband was quizzed, taken samples from and examined by ultrasound so I am able to say, now [having watched the screen] that I know my husband inside and out…

One prescription for antibiotics and one doctor’s letter [for home] later we were on our way. The staff at this modern, state-of-the-art hospital had been charming, fast-acting and efficient and I silently thanked fate for our having entered Austria, for having been unable to access near-to-Vienna sites and finishing up at Sankt Polten.

It only remained for us to hand the prescription into the pharmacy-of which there were none in the hospital; the chemist’s lay in a pedestrian precinct. I left Husband in the van, parked in a small lane off the precinct and dashed in for the medication; again, while I was dismayed by the throngs waiting with prescriptions those in front melted away in moments. All the medication was stored in a wall of small drawers behind the counter-so no rummaging was required.

Twenty four hours later we were in Germany [Wurzburg] and Husband was feeling much, much better. What, we wondered would have been the outcome if we’d been in Bulgaria? And what would be the outcome if this potentially dangerous health problem occurred next year, when we are no longer ‘Europeans’ in the proper sense, when we have no European Health Insurance Cards? I imagined the nurses shrugging, showing us the exit. It was a sobering thought.

 

Hungarian Calamity [Part 3]

 Last week’s episode saw Grace and Husband lodged [eventually] in the Budapest Ibis hotel, leaving their trusty home-on-wheels outside ‘Schiller Fiat’ at the mercy of the repair shop.

Szentendre is a small, arty town on the picturesque part of the Danube known as the Bend. We arrived there in our newly-repaired van late on Friday afternoon, ignorant of the fact that a big festival  of culture was scheduled for the weekend.

We’d been reprieved. After saying the repair would take one week Schiller Fiat pulled out their Hungarian finger and mended it next day. I couldn’t escape the feeling that some pressure had been applied by the insurer-after all they’d have needed to keep us in the Ibis for the week.

We happened upon the Szentendre site, spotting a sign on the roadside. But it was a welcome haven after the trials of Budapest; quiet, with only one, Dutch motorhome for neighbours.

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Husband sank down into a chair in the shade of a tree and went immediately to sleep. Two days of rising early and making his way on public transport to the garage and back [a one and a half hour journey using Metro/tram/walk] had taken a toll. Later, when dinner was ready he was still asleep. When roused he ate only a little and went back to sleep. He was hot and clammy. He was not well. We would not be attending the folksy events that the town offered.

I set about getting water and analgesics into him, judging that he’d become dehydrated. In addition to all this, his inner plumbing was working overtime. As I’ve suffered with cystitis enough times to know it needs addressing early, I set off next day to the nearest pharmacy to try and explain the problem to non-English speakers. When I returned a woman from the insurers phoned me, wanting to quiz me over a ‘customer satisfaction’ questionnaire I’d completed while in the Ibis; wanting to offer us £30. £30? At my reaction she doubled it to £60. I explained that Husband was my priority and I’d have to consider my response on our return to the UK-which, under the circumstances was, I felt a restrained response [for me].

Whilst the plumbing continued to mal-function his temperature and well-being had improved enough to travel onwards, which we did, with eyes on Vienna.

As we neared the site near Vienna it became clear that a huge, sporting event was underway and soon, as we tried to gain access to roads around the site we discovered it was a triathlon, which didn’t bode well for getting on to the camp site. ‘Had we reserved?’ asked the woman at Reception.

The next site, further away but still accessible to the city had one pitch in what looked like a garbage dump in a corner. The third, near the town of Sankt Poulten, from which a train ride to Vienna was still feasible had room.

We settled in, relaxed, cooked, ate. Later, Husband told me he’d prefer not to go into Vienna next day. He was still feeling under par. We would move on towards Germany and Vienna could wait for another occasion.

Unhooked, everything stowed, waste emptied, step in; we were ready to go. Husband emerged from our tiny bathroom cubicle looking grave. ‘Bad news’ he grimaced. ‘Things just got worse’. And they had. I got out my laptop, Googled, ‘hospital Sankt Poulten’. Like I said-you don’t mess with these things…

 

 

 

The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?

What not to Eat [clue: anything]

OK. New government health advice. We eat too much [we know this]. We must restrict our intake to 1,800 calories per day. The recommendation is 400 at breakfast, 600 at lunch and 600 at dinner. Great.
I watched the ‘experts’ on a daytime news programme showing us how this looks in terms of meals. Breakfast was a child’s bowl with porridge and a few blueberries. Lunch was two miniscule ‘spinach’ muffins and some tiny, doll’s house dishes with miniature tomatoes and a strawberry. Dinner was another child’s bowl with some chicken risotto. The expert generously suggested that the risotto could be accompanied by a small side salad. There, readers. Don’t eat it all at once.
Here at Lessageing Manor we don’t actually do breakfast, which leaves us a whole 400 extra calories to have at lunch! Whoopee!
It is certainly true that Husband and I have consumed too much during the winter and have been attempting to correct the ensuing spare flesh by cutting down on carbs and so on. But I can’t help feeling that these suggestions of tiny, dolly-sized helpings are not going to convert the mountainous, British obese into svelte, MacDonald and KFC refuseniks.
In other, dangerous-food-related news there was a long, detailed item on the subject of that most lethal of breakfast staples: BACON.
Some time ago the demon bacon was heralded as the greatest poison known to man and the consumption of it foremost in the list of behaviours most likely to cause bowel cancer. Like many such revelations this is not a happy discovery for those who’ve based a lifetime of breakfast experiences upon it. This bacon scare, having frightened devotees of the ‘Full English’ enough to prompt a boycott of the sausage/ham/cured meats aisle then appeared to die away and bacon consumers resumed their perilous habit, returning to Greggs for their bacon rolls and Burger King for their additive rashers.
Now however the bacon threat is re-awakened. This is not due to bacon itself, or any other treated meats, but the mass-production technique of adding nitrates to them.                Following advice, I prowled the aisles of Waitrose in pursuit of nitrate-free bacon and ham, with limited results.
Every day, it seems another food aisle is closed off. Don’t go near biscuits! Keep away from crisps! Touch fizzy drinks at your peril! Don’t touch fruit juice with a barge pole!
It’s no to alcohol, bacon, carbohydrates [especially evil sugar], processed foods, red meat and fruit! Fruit, apparently will not only make you fat but will simultaneously rot all of your teeth. This is the single most depressing news amongst all of it.
Perhaps the simplest approach would be for our health gurus to suggest what would be acceptable for us to eat and drink. What would they say was alright? I’m guessing kale, lettuce, lentils and beans washed down with water would be the answer. Am I right?

 

Goodbye 2017…

So how was 2017 for you? Did you achieve goals, fulfil your resolutions, make a fortune and experience satisfactory or heart-warming life events? Or were you mired in failure, misery and crashes and burns?
Most years, of course are a mixture of these experiences, both in our personal lives and out in the wider world.
In our own little bubble 2017 was mostly a great year. We had adventures, travelling first to Mexico [underwhelming], later to Italy in an extensive and audacious camper-van journey involving numerous ferries and taking in a number of different countries en route; we made our familiar late summer trip to South West France.
Then our family was expanded by a new member, an event that few could consider anything but joyous.
The negative aspects of 2017 consist mainly of those health issues which come to be such a feature of ageing and which [of we are not careful] become the mainstay of discussions between ourselves and friends of a similar age. Even Husband, who, in his typical male way likes to brush ill-health under a proverbial rug has succumbed to medical intervention. Matters of corporal dysfunction must be accepted, acted upon and then shrugged off.
In 2017 events in the world arena were disquieting. Despite progress against extremists the world became a more brooding, xenophobic and intolerant planet as global threats, hatred and prejudice jostled with polluted atmospheres, floating ocean debris and catastrophic weather events.
World problems often seem too huge to contemplate. We re-post information about beach clean-ups and re-using plastic bottles. We add our digital signatures to campaigns about famines. We make contributions to crisis funds like homelessness. And yet the problems persist, reminding us of how insignificant we all are, how helpless.
But it is always best to look forward and to be optimistic. I’ve long ago given up making resolutions, although I am determined to complete a project I began two years ago and to get it out into the public domain in some respect. I’ve high hopes for a return to my gym regime once a certain foot issue has been resolved and in the meantime we are busy planning 2018’s round of expeditions, the first of which takes place next week. We’ll be without access to internet for a couple of weeks, conditions which will certainly do us a power of good!
The next two blog posts will consist of a brand new two-part story. This is my new year gift to you, readers. If you enjoy it, please let me know in the comments [and share it with others]. If you don’t, please let me know that, too-and why. After that we will have returned and hopefully with more traveller tales! Happy New Year to all my readers, old and new!