Saturday, August 02, 2014

Family Ties

For the first time I more than a year my family gathered together for a celebration meal. Besides my daughter and two sons and their spouses there was the addition of a two year old, so we were eight at table. 

Number two son and his American wife volunteered to provide enchiladas, in our kitchen, and started work around 10 am. Using two slow cooking crock pots, and other mysterious gadgets chicken was prepared as was the sauce. Care had to be exercised to cater for dietary needs and personal tastes, so that finally three versions were provided. 

Salad was prepared also in two bowls to avoid a peppers contretemps. Beer was on hand for those who wanted it as was Coke, water, and just about anything else people might need. Abigail joined us at table, although she had eaten separately, and a convivial atmosphere ensued. Short work was made of the enchiladas, beer, salads et al and we sat and chatted for a while. Abigail entertained us with her two year old prattlings until her bedtime.

Number one son and his Norwegian wife (mainly her!) provided home-made ice cream, meringues, and strawberries in a sort of do-it-yourself Eton mess kit which, being delicious, was soon devoured! We then settled to a game or two of Cards Against Humanity. Hilarious, rude, irreverent and all round good fun the evening sped by.

It was a good evening. The Wife and I certainly enjoyed the experience and it was great to see the family together. The next opportunity will be at Easter 2015 so here's hoping that the experience can be repeated successfully then.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In Defence of the NHS

In nearly 72 years I have been incredibly lucky to never have been in hospital. Negative stories about the NHS are legion, but I have long suspected that those stories are about either unfortunate individuals on the receiving end of poor decisions or care; or about the leviathan bureaucracy that accompanies the institution. In mid July I had the opportunity to experience at first hand the UK's flagship institution, second only to the monarchy.

I had an appointment for an intimate procedure which would include at least one night's stay. All of the staff I encountered, from the off-duty nurse who directed me to the right area, to the Registrar who oversaw my procedure, were friendly, helpful, approachable and professional.

The ward to which I was assigned had just 6 beds, but was only a “bay” of about 5 similar bays which made up men's surgical. The whole unit is staffed by about 20 people from staff nurses to domestics, overseen by a Sister. They work incredibly hard. Our staff nurse was busy and on her feet from 8am for 12 hours (with breaks) and I not once detected impatience, irritation or anything other than a smile and a willingness to help. Sometimes one had to wait due to a more urgent need elsewhere, but the pleasant disposition never faltered. The night staff were just as attentive and caring, even performing routine tasks by torchlight to avoid disturbing sleeping patients.

One patient required surgery and was collected, in his bed, around 10 pm, destined for theatre. Some two hours later they wheeled him back, quietly, talking in hushed tones (not quite a whisper), and shielding a light from the rest of the ward. The ward staff had tasks to perform before they could leave him to sleep, and they went about their business as quietly as possible.

The food was adequate in quantity, not a serving that one might get at home, but bearing in mind the sedentary nature of one's stay it was enough. I certainly didn't feel hungry after eating. The variety on offer for each meal was reasonably extensive without being confusing, and there was always the chance of something extra for later on offer too. 

The secret, it seems to me, was that each ward had its own housekeeper whose job it was to oversee ward organisation, meal arrangements and cleaning regimes. There seemed also to be a spare room so that at intervals each ward would be moved in rotation enabling deep cleaning to be carried out. All in all, I was almost sorry to leave after three days, so welcoming and relaxing were the staff. I have nothing but praise for the dedication, hard work, caring attitudes, and reassurance I found on this my first foray into this arcane world.

Then there was the local GP's receptionist. On being discharged from hospital I was provided with certain equipment, which I needed, and was instructed in its use. I was also advised to ring up the supplier of that equipment to arrange future supplies, which I did at the earliest opportunity.

Two or three days later I had a phone call early morning from the receptionist complaining that I had used the wrong supplier as her system didn't recognise mine and in future, if I wanted to use the surgery I had better use her designated supplier, whom she failed to identify!

I think the difference in these two episodes can best be categorised by professional versus rank amateur. I'm willing to believe that Ms receptionist is good at her job vis a vis the doctors, but she has no people skills at all. Worse, she seems to believe that but for her no one understands the NHS, which would collapse under its own inefficiency if she weren't there to save it. People like that (and I am told that many doctors' receptionists are like it) get the NHS a bad name and the service, both to the public who pay them, and the surgeries who directly employ them would vastly benefit from some retraining or dismissal. These people are effectively the shop window of the NHS, the customer service representatives, and attitudes need to, and must, change. Many surgery receptionists deal with elderly and vulnerable people, and all of them deal with the sick with conditions ranging from relatively trivial to life-threatening. Many patients get confused when unwell and some are, alas, confused due to age or infirmity. To be faced with a harridan such as I encountered (and have formally complained about) is unhelpful, rude, arrogant and unnecessary. Save the NHS, get rid of the attitudes and those who exhibit them, and let's have a truly caring, helpful and world-class service.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Paul & Cate married on the 16th October 2013. In the event, and sadly, the American contingent cried off some weeks before the event due to costs and the US government shutdown. As a result the attendees were the Hughes family large. Carl arrived looking very smart, and was superb with Abigail.

Cate looked fantastic. Her dress is by a new American designer and is spectacular. She took Paul's breath away when she arrived as he had not previously seen the dress, and he could barely take his eyes off her. She looked divine.

The chosen venue was the George & Falcon at Warnford. Paul, and Cate had spent considerable time planning and it showed. There was food aplenty, flowers in abundance, and the service was five star. The ceremony was simple, secular and friendly. Thereafter the proceedings went like clockwork. The staff knew us all by name, and nothing was any trouble, a wonderful day, immeasurably enhanced by the venue and its staff

Our family Vikings had made sterling efforts to attend, the girls taking time from school (including Camilla) and Christopher from University. Simon and Inger Anna were on leave from work, and Abigail had little choice. They all scrubbed up well, the boys looking smart and the girls very pretty. Simon officiated as best man and ring bearer and was rewarded by being an official witness on the register.

Maria had actually bought a dress for the occasion, and looked gorgeous. So seldom does she wear anything but trousers (at least when I see her) that I had almost forgotten that she has legs! She did wonderful duty as chief bridesmaid, ensuring that Cate's dress was always presented well to the cameras. She, too, was rewarded by being an official witness, thus ensuring immortality. 

Helen was resplendent in orange. From the flower in her hair, and the pashmina over a cream blouse, to the clutch bag she was a blaze of sunshine. Set off well by a full-length black skirt and shoes she certainly turned my head. Over the wedding breakfast she also performed her celebrated "I'm a Little Teapot" routine to much mirth and applause.

At the end of the evening our pre-booked taxi whisked us home, tired, happy, and slightly inebriated. It is no exaggeration to say that a good time was had by all.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It Had to Happen

Well, after very many years, and several cats, the inevitable has happened. Previous posts have related the anxiety caused by our beloved Portia first going missing for some 9 hours, then just a week later becoming so ill within half a day that we feared we should lose her. In the interval between these dramas she continued to delight us, although obviously not fit and being very elderly. Then yesterday...

We are, and always have been, reasonably early risers. By 0730 yesterday we were up and doing and Portia was anxious to go out. Since we do not appreciate having to clean the floor after one of her "accidents" (she frequently misses her box) her freedom is one of our morning priorities, and so with collar donned (to operate the cat-flap) the door was opened and out she went. That was about 0745. By 0830 she had not returned, but that in itself is not unusual. As we were ready to go out ourselves then we left food and water, and the cat-flap open. We arrived home at about 1130 to find the food untouched. So far as we knew Portia had not eaten since the night before, had certainly not had her daily drugs and was now missing. Again!

And so began again the search of neighbour's gardens, the woodland which surrounds our property, garages, outhouses, undergrowth and anywhere we could think. Nothing, but this time at least the search was in daylight. By now it was gone 2 o'clock and a little light lunch beckoned, but before we could indulge the phone rang.

A veterinary practise some 8 miles away said they'd had our cat brought in and had traced us through the microchip she sports. Portia had been found wandering in a reasonably distant and remote part of our neighbourhood (a good ¼ mile away) evidently confused and obviously old and ill. Most vets are closed at the weekends and so the very kind lady took her to a vet within the store Pets at Home who traced us. We raced to rescue Portia, forsaking lunch, and brought her home with, unusually,
not a peep of protest from her at the long car journey. She spent at least two hours re-acclimatising to the house before relaxing and settling back down. There was no attempt to go out!

Another neighbour identified for us the kind lady who had taken in Portia, and we were able to phone and thank her. Fortunately she is a cat person who also runs a sanctuary in Greece and herself has two Maine coon cats. She leaves the country in another week - we dread to consider Portia's fate had her adventure been a week later.

We are resolved to not let Portia have free reign again, she is not safe anymore. The aperture in the back gate is blocked and her forays into the garden, which is otherwise enclosed, will be supervised. She no longer jumps high enough for the top of the fence. This morning was instructive. Portia was not happy at the new restrictions on her freedom, but over time she'll get used to it. We are not happy either at the new restrictions on our freedom but it is necessary for our sanity. We shall continue to monitor her progress and her adaptability to the new arrangements, which may become easier as the weather cools. We love her, and want to keep her with us for a lot longer yet.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Why do we put ourselves through it?

Anyone reading these ramblings over time will no doubt realise that among my household, indeed at the centre of it, is a cat. Not any old moggy but Number One Cat. She is Portia, a marmalade tabby with very distinct stripes across her chest and down her tail. She had a sister, Jazz, who was honey-coloured but whose stripes exactly matched Portia's. Unfortunately Jazz died suddenly at about 8 years old.

These two cats were some 4 to 6 years old when we acquired them, and much uncertainty remains about their exact ages and indeed about the relationship between them. We took them as sisters but there are those who think mother and daughter would better fit. In temperament they were as different as chalk from cheese; Jazz lived up to her name being zany, loud, manic, greedy, adventurous and exceptionally curious. Portia on the other hand is gentle, restrained, silent and elegant. So different were they that Portia used to follow Jazz around, and we were never sure if that was to experience adventure or to keep a watchful eye on her sister. Suffice it to say that since Jazz died Portia has never again visited next door's roof to peer down their chimney!

Portia also has a very gentle, thoughtful nature. She dislikes being picked up and is not above showing displeasure by biting as a warning, but there remains something in her nature that is utterly endearing. She carries herself as a lady and is just a sweetie. She has always been free to leave the house during the day (she is kept in at night), but with rare exceptions remains within range of perhaps three or four of the houses around, or perhaps I should say their gardens. As she has got older her journeys have become fewer and closer to home, and anyone reading my last post will know the frantic activity and worry there was a week or so ago when she had not been seen for some 8 hours.

Portia is no longer a well cat. She has an over-active thyroid for which she is on daily medication. She also has an undetermined obstruction within her nasal passages which causes her breathing to be noisy and occasions a discharge, sometimes bloody. Sneezing has become a regular feature. Vets are undecided about the nature of the obstruction since determination would require surgery, and at something like 16 years old anaesthetic is an impossible contemplation. The obstruction is either benign (polyp or cyst) or malignant, but since there is no facial distortion the likelihood is the former. She receives daily steroids to reduce the inflammation.

Yesterday dawned as usual and we were pleased to see that Portia had eaten well overnight and she took her morning tablet well, went out and continued to eat. By 1030 she was listless and refusing to eat and deteriorated throughout the rest of the day, sleeping, walking in circles and being very vocal. We took her to the vet around 6 pm expecting to come home without her, so very ill had she become. Injections of steroid and a bronchial dilator were given as was oxygen, and we brought her home. Our emotions ran high and family members rallied round, hoping against hope that Portia would not leave us. As my daughter-in-law said, Portia is precious.

Around 9 pm we were able to persuade Portia to sample some freshly-cooked chicken. After three of four attempts she was beginning to eat, and soon the available chicken was gone along with the special food supplied by the vet. We went to bed a little encouraged. This morning we found that the overnight food had gone, Portia was clamouring to go out, her walking had improved and she generally was behaving and looking as well as she had at the beginning of the week. She has continued to eat well all day and has been sleeping around - in the garage, in the garden rubbish bag, on her favourite garden bench cushion, and in the house. We have no illusions. The skill and knowledge of the vets together with the efficacy of modern drugs is what keeps Portia going, and we are very grateful indeed, but cats! don't you just love 'em?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Exciting if Tumultuous Week

It began at the end of July, really , when the balloon went up. Literally this was a blue balloon tied to a pole and planted in the front garden. This simple device was so that the lorry driver delivering our new kitchen could more easily find the house. As may be imagined, The Wife and I were excited and that excitement continued throughout the two-week fitting period which started two days later. Everything went according to plan with the necessary plasterers, electricians, plumbers et al arriving on site on cue. Great. A week after the fitter had departed the flooring arrived and was also fitted on schedule. We now have a great looking kitchen and apart from having to live in a makeshift field kitchen in a corner of the conservatory with little more than the microwave and a kettle for the duration of the fit, there was little stress attached. So that was August, or so we thought.

For the past few months our beloved cat, Portia, who is anywhere between 14 and 16 years old, has had a few medical problems. She is on steroids to control inflammation within her nasal passages, and another drug to control an over-active thyroid. She is a good girl and although she doesn't enjoy the pill-taking process, she does enjoy the slices of chicken or ham which follow; indeed she looks forward to them. She is not obviously ill and enjoys food, play, food, curiosity, food, and is fairly active during the day. Oh, and did I mention food?

So when she went out at about 3 pm yesterday we thought little of it. By 5 pm Portia hadn't returned for her customary snack but it was a warm afternoon and experience has shown that she doesn't "do" heat, so apart from remarking on her absence we took little notice. When she had failed to put in an appearance by 6.30 we knew something was wrong and began a local search. Neighbours were approached and searches were made of gardens, garages and houses. We learned that on at least one occasion Portia had entered a neighbour's house during our kitchen installation and had spent the afternoon on their small daughter's bed! What an education it would be if cats could recount their daily adventures to us mere mortals!

At this point there are two things to bear in mind. First, Portia wears a collar with a bell. The collar also has an attachment to operate the cat-flap. The bell is sensitive and sounds distinctively whenever she moves. Second, we live in the middle of a wood and in some parts the undergrowth is very dense at this time of year. Knowing that Portia has never ventured far from home we began a methodical search of the wood calling all the while in hopes of either seeing her or inducing movement to activate the bell. Nothing. Our Number Two Son and his wife arrived to assist, but despite widening the search the failing light eventually defeated us and we returned home somewhat dejected.

Earlier in the search The Wife had rung the local branch of the Cats Protection League to enquire if they had perhaps received a cat fitting Portia's description, and left a message on the answerphone. We decided to do a final sweep before retiring to bed, so armed with torches we plunged again into the wood. As diligent a search as possible in the circumstances was made, hoping to find any trace, but again nothing. Most of the neighbourhood had retired by this time and we would not have been surprised if the police had received reports of strange ghostly goings-on in the woods by torchlight! Our gloom had increased by the time we again returned home determining to resume on the morrow armed with sticks with which to search the undergrowth. It was now 11.30 pm. The Wife and I sat dejectedly trying to map out a strategy for the next day, when suddenly the cat-flap operated and in bounded Portia, tail fat, yelling for food and water, and a look of recrimination in her eye that clearly blamed us for her absence!

Our joy was and is unlimited. We think Portia was probably shut in somewhere and a night-owl neighbour discovered her when returning home. We'll never know for sure, but Portia has been reluctant to go out today and has only once left the garden. Within a few days we expect her to return to normal, but it doesn't seem to have affected her eating!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Only Good Things Come in Threes?

This is a tale of woe. It is not without its humour, from a certain point of view, but mainly it struggles to be even ironic. Bear with me.

It all began, I suppose, a year or two back when The Wife broke the kitchen. The fitted units are laminated and over the years the cooker hood cover has begun to peel away from its carcass. As it became worse, it also became apparent that the kitchen would have to be replaced sooner or later, but because of the expense I wanted to delay the event for as long as possible. The Wife then had a mishap with a cupboard door, resulting in a large(ish) bubble of the laminate which burst, revealing the wood beneath and really sealing the kitchen's fate, but still I prevaricated. Then the dishwasher packed up and I found that it was cheaper to replace it than to fix it. The Wife pounced like a Cheshire cat, all smiles and ingratiating, mysterious ways, dragging me off to local kitchen designers. At this point I discovered that she had been seriously planning a new kitchen with sketches, researched appliances and everything! I capitulated and the new kitchen is to be installed during August.

In order to pay for the new kitchen I need to liquidate some investments, so made an appointment with my financial adviser for a particular Friday morning. Friday is the day when we do our weekly shop. Since the event is a bit of a chore, we try to soften the boredom by having breakfast at the supermarket beforehand, and did so on the appointment day, planning to arrive home a good 40 minutes before Mr Adviser. Within half a mile of the house there is a right-turn. Positioned in the middle of the road awaiting oncoming traffic to clear, the car's master cylinder burst its seals so that I cold no longer select gear and the car was immovable. Fortunately a very kind man in a sports car stopped and he, together with a couple of passing postmen pushed the car onto the grass verge. While I waited for the local garage to turn out, The Wife had to hotfoot it to the house to keep the appointment, arriving simultaneously with The Adviser. The situation was explained and he valiantly offered to collect me (and the weekly shopping) from the garage before getting down to the purpose of the appointment. That was 5 weeks ago.

A symptom of the master cylinder failure was the virtual disappearance of the clutch pedal (in fact it was flat to the floor but higher than I could see from the driver's seat.) So when the symptom reappeared, this time at home, I called the garage expecting to pay for the tow and to have the master cylinder replaced under warranty. I needn't have worried, the situation was a lot worse than that! Diagnosis revealed that the car manufacturer had installed in this model a rubberized flywheel assembly. Mine had begun to break up, and although it was possible to reset the mechanism by pulling the clutch pedal upwards, nothing was going to last long. Reluctantly, and after much thought I gave the OK for the work to be done. They've now had the car for three days!

On day two another disaster struck.Our aged, trusted, taken-for-granted washing machine ground to a halt. Not only that but in the process it has managed to coat everything within in tiny white flecks (as though from a tissue left inadvertently in a pocket) of some material which is clearly not paper. We now have underwear and T-shirts prettily polka-dotted. The rotating drum which is the soul of such machines now doesn't rotate, and is not even suspended within its housing. Repair is unlikely, and anyway the machine owes us nothing. So this morning, and using The Wife's ancient car, we trundled forth to buy a new washing machine. Surely to God nothing else can go wrong, Can it?