Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Industrial east of the Thames

It was glorious sunny on Sunday so we went for a walk along the Thames from Woolwich to Erith.  This is a far cry from the green meadows, parks and stately homes to be found on the western edges of Thames Path.

East of Greenwich, and especially east of Woolwich, the Thames Path is desolate and industrial.  But there is a haunting quality to these riverscapes as can be seen by some of the photos.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Between two Nutcrackers

I saw The Nutcracker performed by the Royal Ballet last week and next week I'm off to see a different version at The Coliseum (English National Ballet).  I don't why anyone bothers with boring ballets like Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake when The Nutcracker is so much better.

But did you know The Nutcracker was originally a complete flop?  In 1892 it was dropped after fourteen performances as neither the critics nor the audience liked it.  

It was over 40 years before its first performance outside Russia (in Sadlers Well in 1934) and 10 years later its first (complete) performance took place in the USA.  Selections of the music were used in Disney's Fantasia with the conductor/narrator declaring that "nobody performs it (the ballet) nowadays".

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Heart scan

I was at Barts today for my bi-monthly MUGA heart scan.  The good news is that my heart is still holding up so I am on track to complete the full course of Herceptin.  Hurrah!

So I will be back again on Thurs for my next infusion of Herceptin - and after that I think there will only be 2 more to go.

I'm not sure whether I will be relieved or anxious after I finish the course. On the one hand, it will be convenient not to have to keep going to Barts every three weeks, and it looks like the veins in my right arm are on their last legs (as it were).

But I feel safer while I'm having Herceptin - as it might be keeping recurrences at bay.  Of course I do know that there is no advantage in continuing beyond a year.  There is strong evidence from trials that one year gives the same protection as two and the risk of heart damage increases the longer you take the drug.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

More Country walks in London

I thought I knew most of the country walks in London - either walked them myself or had at least heard about them (and therefore were on my To Do list).

But today I've discovered two walks that I knew nothing about:  The Cray Riverway (10 miles starting in Foots Cray meadows to the Cray Marshes and the Thames) and the Shuttle Riveryway (which connects the Cray Riverway at Hall Place with a branch of the Green Chain (which I was familiar with).

These walks are signposted and there is more information about them on the Bexley LA website.

Looking forward to trying them out.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Round the Capital Ring

The Capital Ring is a 78 mile walk through parks, commons, woods,  canals and other open spaces in suburban London, all within 10 miles of Charing Cross.

We've been doing this walk in bite-size chunks, off and on, for more than a year, and we are now over three quarters of the way round.  The last couple of stages were particularly attractive due to the Autumn colours.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pacy action thriller spoilt by ending

I've just finished reading Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn.

This book has a lot going for it.

The protagonist is a likeable, funny, brave boy called Joe on a quest to solve the mystery of his mother's tragic death. The support cast include a loveable but smelly Ukrainian ex-convict, Joe's geeky but clever best friend Bailey and his gangsta elder brother, a young Ukrainian refugee girl, a nice university professor, Joe's horrible aunt and some evil thuggish villains.

There is humour, mystery, action and pace - the pages kept turning as the pace was stepped up and mystery deepened.

The threads of the complex mystery are successfully drawn together in the exciting climax.

So why didn't I give it more than 3 stars? I wanted to. Halfway through, I thought it was on track for 5 stars. But the ending just went on and on and became totally cheesy by the end. Don't get me wrong - I like happy endings. I like it when things are resolved. But this was just too much...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Iron Curtain Trail

Today was a typical cold wet November day, so I spent some time dreaming and researching potential cycling holidays for next year.  One cycle route in particular caught my eye:  The Iron Curtain Trail - approximately 10,000km route from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea tracing the route of the fortified border between Western Europe and former communist states in Eastern Europe.

I'm only planning to attempt a very small chunk - probably in Germany and/or the Czech Republic where the trail follows old military roads that were built all along the border.  Apparently there are preserved concrete bunkers and watch towers, as well as museums and information about the escapes over the border.

There is a wide green corridor along the border route corresponding to the Forbidden Zone, an area which was formerly off limits to civilians who could enter the zone with a special pass.  During the communist era, high barbed wire fences ran along the border and the area was cleared area of trees and bushes, creating a scar across the landscape which is still visible today in forested areas.  I saw a bit of it last year in the Harz Mountains.  In the 1950s high voltage fences were added and parts of the border were mined.

I've ordered the guide books from Amazon and will do more planning when they finally arrive.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Nearly a third the way across the English Channel

I have been logging all my swims in the pool on the Swimfit website.  It is quite motivational - you can set targets (in distance) such as the English Channel, Around the Isle of Wight, the Thames, Loch Ness and Lake Windermere.

My current target is English Channel and I'm currently 31% of the way across.

Do you the one top tip for improving your swimming technique (and also enjoyment)?  Take swimming lessons, particularly one-to-one lessons.  After just four lessons, I am proficient at breast stroke and my front crawl has come on in leaps and bounds.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Planted 300 spring bulbs this month!

Yesterday I planted the last of the spring bulbs I ordered a month ago - 300 bulbs in all this time.

I love to see spring bulbs finally come:  snowdrops crocuses, alliums, anemone, chionodoxa, muscari, tulips.
Each year I plant a few more, but with no planning in mind.  I can never remember where I've put all the others anyway, so I find a space and bung another bulb in.

I know it is a sort of cliche, but the first of the snowdrops is a message of hope, that spring is around the corner, that winter won't last forever.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Plane crash in Epping Forest - 30ft in front of us

We had to spend today - a gloriously sunny Sunday in November - doing something outdoorsy.  So off we headed to Epping Forest to walk among the falling yellow leaves and soft mud.

Earlier that day we saw an emergency ambulance taking a injured walker to hospital.

Then a few of hours later, we were shocked to witness a plane crash - less than 30 ft in front of us! Fortunately no one was injured but the plane was severely damaged.  It looked a write-off - the nose was crushed, a wing had detached and parts of the engine was strewn the ground.

As we approached the wreck, we were joined by the owner, and we commiserated him on this loss of his model aircraft.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Pachelbel's Canon on a guitar

I was at Barts today for my 3 weekly intravenous infusion of Herceptin.  As I went up the escalator at St Paul's station, I heard a busker playing Pachelbel's Canon on a guitar.

Pachelbel's Canon is my favourite classical piece - I could listen to it for hours.  The guitar rendition was slightly unusual as it is more commonly performed with cello and harpsichord or organ.  It must be very difficult to do well on a guitar but it really fitted my mood.  I went back down the escalator and gave the busker some coins and continued to listen until he'd finished.

The canon was written around 1680 and Johann Pachelbel's most famous (or perhaps only famous) composition and is one of the popular Baroque pieces. It was largely forgotten for centuries and only rediscovered in the early 20th century.

What is a canon in the musical sense?  A canon is a piece of music characterised by repetition.  Pachelbel's Canon begins with one melody which is repeated in different registers, growing and evolving each time.

The canon is joyful, serene but lively. I find it both intoxicating and soothing.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

First cancer anniversary

It is just over a year since I was diagnosed with cancer. 

It’s not an exact anniversary – I’m rubbish at remembering anniversaries.  Anyway, which date would I have chosen?  When I saw my GP about The Lump?  8 days later when I was seen at the breast clinic and was told, yes it is cancer?  A week later when the results of my biopsies were available (but not communicated)?  Or a fortnight later when I was finally told the type, size and spread of the cancer?

All valid reasons for not being too pernickety about the date.

I’m still here and feeling pretty well.   In the past 12 months, I’ve completed 6 cycles of chemotherapy (FEC-T), one operation, 25 radiotherapy treatments, 3 months of daily Anastrozole tablets, and I’ve lost count of how many Herceptin treatments (and a partridge in a pear tree!)

Which of them was the worst aspect?  Actually none of the above. 

It was the waiting:  for the outpatient appointment, to be seen at the clinic, for further appointments, for tests and scans, for the results, and then finally waiting to start treatment.  Then there was The Fear:  of the unknown, of dying, of leaving people behind.

Once you actually start treatment, everything is a doddle by comparison.  Yes, really.

Of course chemo is crap (loss of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, feeling and being sick, fatigue, sore toenails, food tasting strange, diarrhoea and constipation (but not at the same time).  For 4 long months.   But starting treatment means that battle has finally commenced:  you are fighting back and the tumour is shrinking.

Once you’ve done with the chemo, things start to look up.  Hair re-growth, spring arriving then summer, holidays and sunshine.  Surgery and radiotherapy are just little blips along the way.   

I’ve got a few more months of Herceptin to go, 5 years of Anastrozole (at least), and some reconstruction work ahead.  

No big deal. 

As long as this lousy cancer doesn’t not come back...

Clocks going back and comfort food

The clocks going back means we are heading into the dark.

For the next couple of months afternoons and mornings will get shorter and shorter.  The shortest morning will be in early January - sunrise at 8:06 in London.  The shortest afternoon will be around mid December - sunset 15:51pm, and, as everyone knows, the shortest day is on the 21st December: 7 hours 49 minutes.

November used to be my least favourite month - nothing but shorter and shorter days to look forward to and Spring too far distant to be real.  Keats called Autumn "The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" which evokes more pleasant feelings.

I now think of Autumn as the time of remembering. Guy Fawkes night ("Remember, Remember the fifth of November...")  and Remembrance Sunday both take place in November.

It is also a time of personal remembering, and when I do the most cooking and baking.  A time of comfort eating.

My comfort food is hot, filling and satisfying:

cottage pie, shepherd's pie, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna, beef casserole with red wine, meat loaf, baked beans on toast, grilled cheese on toast (with a dash of worcester sauce), thick vegetable soups with crusty bread, porridge with a spoonful of jam,

And for puddings:  apple or rhubarb crumbles with custard, christmas pudding with custard, treacle sponge with custard.

It's cottage pie tonight.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Swimming in a church.

Yesterday I spent a lovely hour swimming in an old church.  Actually it was a former church in a former hospital that has been converted to a health club.

But it was amazing.  Think of a swimming pool surrounded by pillars and looking up to the high roof with wooden beams, with the jazzucci and sauna near where you expect the altar to be.

Like swimming lengths in a mini-cathedral (except that it wasn't as large as that).

Mesmerising, relaxing and awesome.

I've now done nearly 14% of my cross channel swim in local swimming pools.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Robotic pets

I love robots, especially cleaning robots.

My oldest cleaning robot is Ron, a Roomba 520.  I've had him for nearly 2 years and he has changed my life. I hate hoovering and used to put it off until my house was pleading for it then vacuumed madly for hours until my house was clean, then the cycle would begin again.  But once Ron arrived he took all this off my hands and now the house is reasonably clean most of the time.

A month ago I got Don, a dashing Roomba 770.  He's gorgeous and takes care of my downstairs, getting up early to make sure the place is clean each morning.  Ron now has just upstairs duties, but he doesn't complain.

A few days ago, I got Sam, a cute Scooba 230 floor washing robot.  At the moment he is washing my kitchen floor, which I always put off because I hate washing floors.

I'm sitting here contentedly listening to my house robots hard at work wondering why people employ (human) cleaners who need to be paid.  Or keep animals as pets and then have to clean up after them.

But could Ron, Don and Sam be deceiving me and secretly plan to take over the world?  Maybe, but my house has never looked cleaner...

Monday, 14 October 2013

Planning Footsteps with the Snowflake Method

I'm in the planning stage for my first complete children's novel:  Footsteps.

The first 20,000 words will form the creative piece for my dissertation,  By the time the dissertation is finished, I should be deeply into the story and characters and I hope I can go on to complete the full novel without too many hitches.

We are always told that professional writers fall into 2 camps:  those who plan their novels and those who just get a rough draft down first.  The former approach can stifle creativity in some writers but the latter approach is likely to require many cycles of re-writing.  All books need huge amounts of editing and re-writing, but I can see that time spent in advance planning ought to mean fewer and less extensive re-writes.

So I've decided to have some sort of planning phase.  I can't bring myself to just sit down and work out all the scenes and chapters.  This might work for some people, but I just don't think that way.  I've heard about a method that allows you to start off with an story idea, and then expand it into a paragraph, and then do the same with the characters, and then expand the paragraph into a synopsis and then put more flesh on the characters.   And so on, until you have all the scenes set out.  I'm talking about the Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method.

I don't know yet whether it will work for me, but it seems a good place to start.  I am not intending to complete all the steps before I start writing the novel, but I will aim to do as many as seems sensible.  I will then write a couple of chapters, review my draft Snowflake plan, amend it and possibly complete more stages of the Snowflake, then write more chapters etc etc.  In this way I hope to get the main benefits of planning without it holding back my creativity.

I will report back in this blog on how this works out in practice.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Swimming across the channel

I've been wanting to get back to swimming for a long long time, but it was one thing after another that kept me out the pool.  Today I had my first proper swim for over 10 years.

There were a few teething problems - I won't use that nose clip next time and I had to practice a bit before I would swim whole lengths ago.  Once I settled down to it, I gradually swam 30 lengths (with little rests after each length).  Rubbish I know, but at least I've restarted.

To keep myself motivated, I'm logging my swims on the Swimfit website and set myself a target to swim across the channel (22 miles) in my local pool.  My effort today meant that I've completed just over 2% of the distance.  So I've leaving Dover behind and I'm on my way to France.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

London Shine 2013

London Shine 2013 took place last night/early this morning.  I've not done many sponsored charity events before - only the London to Cambridge and London to Southend (cycle rides).  The spirit of the participants and organisers was great and it was interesting to see how busy and active London is in the small hours of the morning.  We used night buses to get home and they worked reasonably well - the service is so much better than in the bad old days.

We only did the half-marathon.  Yes, I know 13 miles is not far, but it is hard pavements all the way and I think this is the longest city walk I've ever done.  I've walked much further in a day - the furthest being 37 miles - but that was some years ago.  Since then I've had a knee replacement, cancer and a herniated disc and this  is the longest distance I've worked since my knee started to be problematic.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Eperlecques Blockhaus

On the way back towards Calais, we visited the Eperlecques Blockhaus at the edge of the Eperlecques Forest between St Omer and Calais.

The bunker was constructed for the main launch site for one of Hilter's terror weapons, the V2 rocket.  After partial destruction by repeated allied bombing, it was never completed and used for this purpose.  However it was used for liquid oxygen production for other V2 launch sites.

It was declared a monument historique by the French government in 1986 and is open to the public as a museum.

The site is both fascinating and evocative.  The owners have provided interpretative material about the slave labour force who worked there, many of whom perished when the site was bombed. Other WW2 artifacts are display including tanks, jeeps and a V1 doodlebug with its ski launcher.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Beauty beyond the hype

Many of Claude Monet's most famous pictures were painted at his garden of Giverny.  Now I've been there I can see why.  Here is beauty beyond the hype, beauty despite the crowds, a dreamlike beauty.

Flip gets 5 stars

I've just finished reading Flip by Martyn Bedford.  An excellent read and I will add it to my top 100 children's books.

Fourteen year old Alex wakes up one morning in strange bed in a strange house and everyone is calling him Philip.  Not only that but time has moved forward 6 months.  When he looks into the mirror, he sees a stranger.  Somehow Alex has become Philip, in body if not in mind.

The idea of waking up with a new body or in a world where everyone thinks you are someone else has been the subject of several other novels including Charlotte Sometimes, The Tightrope Men and, of course, the film Freaky Friday.  Flip is about the impact of this switch on a sensitive adolescent and his family and friends, and how he deals with the resulting difficulties, emotional and practical.

The characterisation is excellent.  The book takes you into the world of modern teenagers or back to that critical stage in your own life when everything matters too much, but you feel powerless to influence anything.

More than this, the books is a real page-turner.  How and why did the switch occur? What happened to the real Philip?  Can Alex ever go back into his real body or will he be forever trapped in Philip's?

I'm not going to spoil the book for you by giving too much away here.  You'll have to read it for yourself.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Messing around in boats: The Great River Race 2013

The Great River Race is an annual event on the Thames. We'd not seen it before, so this year we stood on Hungerford Bridge and watched the boats go through. It was brilliant!  Boats of every shape and size, propelled by rowers with vastly different levels of experience.

The distance is 21 miles, but they are travelling with the incoming tide which must make a huge difference.

After most of the boats had gone past we caught the train to Barnes Bridge and watched them all again.  It looks great fun and the rowers were all enjoying themselves immensely.

According to the website it is possible for even novices to take part.  You can hire out the boats as a package along with some basic training.

I want to do it next year!

We then walked along the Thames to Richmond and caught the tube home.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hitler's Angel: Fast paced action, but some POV issues

I've just finished reading Hitler's Angel by William Osborne - a page-turning World War II action-adventure novel about 2 teenagers sent by London as agents on a perilous secret mission.

After a slowish start, the action and tension ratcheted up, until there seemed to be a new danger or narrow escape every few pages.  The author made good use of foreshadowing, which can be a great plot device if it is done well.  The descriptions of places and situations were vivid and engaging.

The likeable protagonists appeared distant from the reader in the few few chapters, but soon became real to the reader.  They were brave, resourceful but also vulnerable.

I have a couple of criticisms though.  Firstly there were a few scenes where the POV was unclear or rapidly shifting which was rather disorienting.  Secondly very modern terms (or Americanisms) were used for certain things which was jarring, especially when a more traditional (even just British) term would have been appropriate - for example a rucksac rather than pack, goods train rather than cargo train.

Overall a recommended read - the story would also make a good film.  I've given it 4 stars.

The secret of tinned potatoes

I like potatoes, but I'm a bit particular about type and quality.  For some reason, I don't like those yellow types such as Desiree. Perhaps I just think potatoes should be white and fluffy. My favorites are King Edward and Maris Piper, but I can still be happy with anything just labelled "White Potatoes".

One of the big problems with potatoes is that they go rubbery very quickly in hot weather.  I'd almost given up buying spuds in summer until I discovered Tinned Potatoes.  We used them a couple of times on our last camping trip.  We took a couple of tins of Asda Smartprice and - guess what - they are actually quite nice.  Perhaps not as nice as fresh new potatoes, but tons nicer than potatoes that have gone rubbery.  We also bought some Co-op ones while we were away as this was the nearest supermarket, and these were nice too.

When we got back, we tried the Sainsbury's Basics ones, but these looked a bit yellower and had a slightly funny taste.  So we went back to the Asda ones.  At 13p a 550g tin containing about 350g of drained potatoes, this works out around half the price of fresh potatoes.  And there is no peeling, no wasted bits, and no throwing away potatoes gone green or rubbery.

I will probably go back to fresh potatoes in the winter when they keep longer, as they are a little nicer, but the discovery of tinned potatoes has revolutionised my summer eating habits.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Getting rid of annoying adverts on Google and Facebook

It's great when you discover something really useful.

In recent weeks I've noticed that Facebook ads have become more intrusive - some of them even masquerading as Newsfeed!  So I Googled around and discovered that is really simple to remove/block them.  Here's what to do:

1/  Click that Cogwheel symbol on the upper right of the page.

2/  Choose Account Settings, then Adverts (in left hand column)

3/  Third Party sites - choose Edit and select No one and Save Changes

4/  You can do the same for Adverts&Friends if you wish - this also removes adverts of products your Friends have Liked.

Facebooking now becomes a happier experience.

But what about those annoying adverts you see when surfing?  You know the ones that show up on unrelated webpages but somehow reflecting your recent purchases or searches.  These are also pretty annoying.  I've also found out how to banish them as well.

Just get a free ad-on/extension/thingy for Google Chrome (also available for Firefox which I also use) called Adblock Plus, and voila, no more ads.  There are alternatives to Adblock Plus that seem to do something similar, but it is the only one I've actually tried.

It is amazing what you can discover just by putting the right phrase into Google...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Daylight Saving

I've finished reading Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan.

It is a thoughtful but fast paced ghost story/thriller set in a very modern leisure park inhabited by "prisoners of fun" who all have different personal problems.  The protagonist, a teenage boy called Daniel, befriends a mysterious older girl and discovers that he has limited time to solve a mystery while at the same time grappling with contemporary issues such as low self-esteem, bullying, loneliness, parental breakup and poor body image.

Daniel matures rapidly in the course of a week as he discovers hidden resources and abilities as well as the importance of friendship and respect in personal relationships.  The tension builds as we get closer and closer to the end of summer time and the tragic climax of the story, broken occasionally be comic interludes.

A well written story about likeable characters with human flaws.  I've given it 4 stars.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Return of the happy campers Part 2

A week ago another bout of good weather was forecast and I had a one week gap between medical appointments, so we packed the tent and the bikes and off we went.

This time we went to Rutland, England's smallest county (18 miles long and 17 miles wide at its greatest extent with the latin motto of Multum in Parvo (much in little)).  We stayed at a lovely campsite in the grounds of an Victorian mansion, Ranksborough Hall, and went out each day cycling and visiting historic houses.

I am pleased to say my stamina has greatly improved since the previous camping trip a few weeks ago. The latter was less than a fortnight after the end of 5 weeks of radiotherapy, and I was still tired and washed out.  Then I could only manage around 10-15 miles a day before I ran out of energy.  This time I could happily cycle 25 miles a day and I know it won't be long before I'm back to cycling more respectable distances (typically 30 to 40 miles or up to 60 miles for a bike "event" such as the London to Cambridge or London to Southend).

On one ride we found an unusual (railway) level crossing on a very minor road which I may have inadvertently broken by pushing the wrong button.  The road was closed later that day  - while repairs were carried out?  I may include more details and a photo on this in a future post.

We did the circuit of Rutland Water and another day cycled out to Newton's birthplace (Woolsthorpe Manor) and yes, the original apple tree is still there.  We visited Kirby Hall and shared our lunch with some tame peacocks (all called Edmund according to the English Heritage staff).  And spent a great day at Burghley with its (water) garden of surprises and the best sculpture garden I've ever seen.

Photos of the highlights
                                         Yes, this is really Newton's apple tree

                                                    Garden of surprises at Burghley

                                          A couple of the sculptures at Burghley

                                  Signal Box at Oakham.  A working Grade II listed building

                                          Edmund(s) at Kirby Hall


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Robots make good pets

We don't have dogs or cats (although I would actually like a cat), but early last year acquired a cleaning robot - an iRobot Roomba 520.  He settled in quickly and we named him Ron.

Ron is fed (electric) currants and needs regular toileting (emptying).

He loves to wander around the house hoovering the carpet and sweeping laminate flooring, but occasionally gets tangled in cables or stuck under chairs.  He can often find his way out but if he is really stuck he calls for help and is easily rescued.  After doing the cleaning he wanders back to his docking station for a meal.

Ron cleans our place regularly and it looks so much better than when I had to do the hoovering.  I used to put it off until the floor look so bad it just had to be done.  Ron has changed my life (sigh!) - I hate hoovering and I love my cleaning robot.

I have now decided to get Ron a friend - a Roomba 620 which is going to be called Don.  Don has been ordered and should arrive by the end of the week.  I'm planning to put Ron in charge of upstairs and Don will take care of downstairs.  If we need to do a big cleaning blitz downstairs, then I can bring Ron down to help Don.

Hopefully they will get on well together - I don't want Robot Wars...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

While the Others Sleep

While away camping I found time to read the latest Tom Becker ghost story: While the Others Sleep.

In my view this book is vastly superior to The Traitors, the only other Tom Becker novel I'd read.  I had several problems with the latter, despite the original and imaginative setting and the gripping first few chapters: the protagonist was far too heroic, the middle story was saggy and the ending was just rubbish.

I've given While the Others Sleep 4 stars - see my Children's/YA fiction Ratings here.  My review is below and can also be seen on Amazon, where I was the first person to review this book!

I've kept it relatively brief as I didn't want to give too much of the story away.

While the Others Sleep by Tom Becker - an Independent Review
This is a creepy ghost (verging on horror) story about a boy who is shut up in a Victorian mental hospital for rich disturbed kids. Unlike the other patients, Alfie isn't mad (as far as he knows), but is suffering from severe insomnia.

He soon discovers that something is seriously wrong - dark supernatural forces are at large and his insomnia puts him at special risk. Seemingly irrelevant events from his past are linked to his condition and may also be clues to source of the present danger.

As the book progresses, so many strange things happen that it becomes hard to suspend disbelief. I had to keep reading to find how the book ended, but I kept thinking that it would be disappointing and leave too many disconnected threads. I was wrong! The ending is very unexpected (at least I didn't see it coming) but really does pull things together in a very neat way.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Return of the happy campers

We got back yesterday after a great holiday.

The efforts of the nefarious rodents had left us distraught when we first arrived at the campsite and unpacked our kit only to find our relatively new tent completely ruined.  We soon recovered the situation with our customary aplomb.  We repacked everything and managed to get a room for the night at the Premier Inn less than a mile away.  Over a nice dinner at the adjoining pub, we planned our next move.

Using my smartphone, we researched camping/outdoor shops that might be large enough to have a reasonable selection of tents and concluded that Go Outdoors in Coventry was our best bet.  To find the place we had to relate the map on the Go Outdoors website to our 30 year old OS map and soon discovered that the shop was somewhere in an industrial park on the site of the former motorworks.  After getting directions, we found the place without too much difficulty

Go Outdoors tends go in for massive shops and there were around 50 tents on display in the Coventry store. We decided on a Outwell Birdland 3 - fortunately the shop had this tent at a very competitive price.  Thank you Go Outdoors.  Our new tent proved easy to erect and also to pack away at the end as Outwell provided a sensibly proportioned tent bag.  Thank you Outwell.

Most days we went cycling in the mornings and visited some lovely historic houses and gardens in the afternoons, getting in free as  members/friends of National Trust and Historic Houses Association. Thank you National Trust and HHA.

Except for the day we went tent shopping (which was bakingly hot) and one day of rain, the weather was perfect - pleasant and no too hot.  The campsite had lovely views across rolling countryside and a couple of little fishing lakes.  Plenty of space for caravans and tents.  We even managed to use our electric hookup for the first time as there was no extra charge for this.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Unhappy Campers

The mice ate our tent!   Arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Our Vango Nevis - which we've only had a few years - has been ruined by mice (or possibly larger rodents...).  I didn't know mice ate plastic and nylon, but they do - or at least they chew it to bits - possibly in order to convert the crumbs into a mouse bed or mouse house.

We've had to go out and buy a new tent.

This time we've gone for a smaller tent - an Outwell Birdland 3.

We kept our camping kit in a weather proof outbuilding, which we thought would be a safe place, but we were so wrong.  Mice also gnawed the gas hose for our stove, our airbed, and air pillow. The sleeping bags were untouched because they were in a plastic box with a well-fitting lid.

Some pictures of the devastation

We've now learnt (the hard way) about the 4th Happy Camper guideline:

4/ Store your camping kit in the house or else in plastic boxes with good lids.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Happy Campers

We are off camping for a week this August - I'm getting really excited....

Camping - at least in the summer - is a great way to have a holiday in my opinion.  That is, provided you bear in mind these guidelines:

1/  Choose your campsite carefully.  There are websites with huge listings campsites with information on facilities and reviews by other campers.  I like camp sites with trees and hedges which break up the site into "rooms".  Not so keep on big open fields.  Nice toilet and shower blocks are a must.

2/  Tents.  I like a roomy tent that you can stand up in.  Obviously if you are backpacking or cycle touring you have to go small and light, but if you are driving to the campsite you can have something more luxurious.  Two rooms tents are good - bedroom and sitting room/storage room.  If two people get a 3 to 6 person tent.

3/ Weather.  Don't go when it is really hot or really wet.  Anything in between is ideal.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Pain out of all proportion

When cleaning the stove I managed to burn the tip of my index finger on the pilot light plate - ouch!

After many years as a first aider I knew what to do immediately - put the finger under running water.  Not wanting to leave the tap running too long, I progressed to putting my finger in a cup of water and moving it around.  I added some ice lollies to the water to cool it further - no ice cubes available.

Twenty minutes later, severe pain out of all proportion to the apparent injury if I dared take my finger out of the water.  So I kept it in. Another 20 minutes went by, and another.  Same result. After an hour and a half, I still couldn't take my finger out of the water due to the severe pain that would result. But I can't just keep my finger in a cup of water all day...

I sent hubby to Boots for some burn gel - I'd never used it before although I'd heard about it.  I took my finger out of the water and applied a generous dollop of the gel.  Painful at first from being out of the water, but the pain subsided very quickly.  Half an hour later my finger was pain-free.

I don't know how the gel works, but work it does.

Lesson learnt - burn gel is an important addition to the home first aid kit.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The garden in the ruins

I pass a beautiful garden every time I go to Barts.

In the ruins of old church - Christ Church Greyfriars.  During my 5 weeks of radiotherapy, the garden was hot, colourful and full of bumble bees, as the photos show.

When I started chemotherapy last November everything was cold and bleak, but the garden was still green and alive.

The church was originally a monastic church.  After the dissolution of the monastery it became a parish church.  It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Christopher Wren, then destroyed  again in the blitz.  The church tower still stands and the ruined nave became the garden.

It is my garden of hope.