I came, I saw, I had a MAGNIFICENT time!!

All week we had been watching the weather in the UK – the “Beast from the East” causing chaos, with drivers stranded, airports shut down, villages cut off…but all the time, the little north west corner of the British Isles seemed to miss the worst of the weather. Then Storm Emma started romping up the west side of the UK…but veered over to Ireland just before reaching the top of Wales.

We had to get up early, at 5.00 am to drive over to Lyon, but I’d actually woken at 2.30 and not got back to sleep. I was actually much perkier than I’d imagined I’d be. We set out to Lyon airport hoping that the plane would not be cancelled. It wasn’t even delayed!!

Wearing a double surgical mask and latex gloves, to protect from infection – as these days were the days when my white blood cell count would be at its lowest, and I would be most vulnerable to infection – I cut a slightly pathetic picture. We comandeered a wheelchair at the airport and Mr FD pushed me through. I’m very glad, as it was quite a trek to get to the correct terminal. We went through security (surprisingly there was no queue at all) – I caused some problems as I explained about the stent for chemo, and they wanted to see proof of this. It was in my handbag, which had already gone through the scanner, so people were running aroud to fetch it. Then I had to be scanned with a hand held scanner rather than go through the walk-through scanner. It all took a bit longer than usual, but we had plenty of time. As I was in a wheelchair we were allowed through passport control ahead of others (huzzah!) and soon got settled on the plane. I plugged in my earphones and listened to a podcast for the flight. At Manchester we waited until everyone had left the plane, and then climbed the steps into the terminal building. As I entered the bhuilding I slipped on some very wet rubbery matting, and fell down: luckily I went quite slowly, and nothing was hurt, but the cabin crew and pilot who were just behind were very helpful and sympathetic.  Also luckily, a wheelchair had been left at the top of the steps and we were encouraged to use it – which meant priority going through border control!! Although we’d been so slow there weren’t many people left waiting anyway. Then we took the time to organise a wheelchair for the return journey, at Manchester airport. Later on, Mr FD contacted Lyon to organise assistance at that end too.

Mum had said she’d pay for car hire, so we went andpicked up the car, then drove to mum’s, in Liverpool. We had lunch, and then my sister arrived from Leicester (not held up by snow at all), and my brother from Stokesley (near Middlesborough) Despite the fact there was still a lot of snow on the east side of the country, he had encountered no problems with the trains getting over. It was lovely seeing them all! We sat and chatted all afternoon, as I had to take it easy, while Wonderful Mr FD went on a mission to buy, and then put in place, a new toilet seat for mum. We had dinner and then, as I’d been awake so early, suddenly fatigue hit me. I was in bed and asleep byabout 9.30, I think!

On Friday evening, we had hastily arranged a meet-up for lunch with my nephew Conor (Judy’s son) and my niece Rose (Mike’s daughter), her husband and baby, over in Manchester. So after relaxing all morning, while everyone else went out shopping for a disabled friend of mum’s, or taking things to the tip, or buying supplies of logs, we all set out for lunch.

Here we are at Croma Pizza, passing Billy the Baby round the table – except not to my end, as I had to stay away from babies (hotbeds of infection, apparently. And Billy was quite snuffly).

There were some, let’s say less traditional pizzas on the menu, but I decided to have

Baked garlic mushrooms, served with (quite a lot of) rocket and a slice of olive bread

Then I chose another starter for a main course, which was a chorizo and Bury black pudding bruschetta, with a goats’ cheese and beetroot side salad. It was very nice.

and with it, I drank a delicious Manchester craft beer, called “Manchester Skyline”

For dessert I chose a “Banoffi Mess” – basically Eton Mess, but made with bananas, meringue, ginger biscuits and cream, with toffee sauce. It was a bit of a disappointment – masses of cream, big chunks of meringue, two slices of banana and one crumb of ginger biscuit. It let down what was an excellent meal, and although I did mention it to the waiter no more was said about it.

Afterwards, Judy and mum went back to Liverpool, while Mike, Mr FD and I went to spend the afternoon with Rose, David and Billy.

Billy in his bouncy chair

I spent some of the time “resting my eyes” but it was lovely just chatting with them, and watching them play with Billy. I kept my mask and gloves on for the whole time, to avoid any infection. And then Mike, Mr FD & I set off for the Bill Bailey comedy gig – this was our Christmas present for Mike. We arrived quite early, but that was fine. I sat in my seat and “powered down” – that is to say, pulled my hat and hood over my eyes and just sat quietly with my eyes closed, relaxing and conserving energy.

Here we are, after my powering down, waiting for the show to start.

It was a very good show – Bill Bailey is a slightly surreal comic, but we thoroughly enjoyed the show. Here is a review of the show from The GuardianOurs was a little different, set in Manchester rather than Southend, but – ad libs aside – it was basically the same. We got home at about 11.30, and we went straight to bed.

On Sunday morning, mum went to church, but I decided it wasn’t worth expending more “spoons” than necessary, considering we had the Elbow gig in the evening. ( The “spoon theory” is a disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. … A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished. from Wikipedia) So Judy, Mike & I looked at an old photo album, discussing who the various members of our family were, as Mike has spent quite a lot of time researching our family tree. Unfortunately, while we have great grandparents who were Irish, this is not enough to entitle us to an Irish passport. Mr FD played about with mum’s computer, organising our boiarding passes and assistance at Lyon airport for the journey home.

After lunch, Mr FD and I set off for the hotel in Manchester that we’d booked for Sunday night, about a mile away from Manchester Arena, where the gig was being held. For some reason, the Sat Nav didn’t want to work in Manchester city centre and we couldn’t find the hotel anywhere. We were just about to start a blazing row when Mr FD said “Look!” and there it was, in front of us. Getting to it was another kettle of fish, due to one way systems and taxi/bus lanes, so in the end we parked the car in a carpark and walked! Again, I saved my spoons, while Mr FD went to try to get the car to the hotel – another difficult time, but he finally made it.

We took the tram to Victoria Station, which is next door to the Arena, and Mr FD went to the Box Office, while I sat with a coffee in the station buffet. We grabbed a bite to eat at Greggs (I had a cheese and onion pasty.) and then headed to the Arena. You may remember the terrorist attack that took place in Manchester in May last year. I had imagined it taking place in a large plaza area outside the Arena, but when I saw how narrow the walkway and foyer area are, it is no surprise that the effects were so devastating. There was good security – only ticket holders being allowed up to the walkway, and then passing through X-ray machines at the entrance to the Arena itself.

Again, we were early, so I “powered down” until the support act, John Grant, came on. And then – huzzah! – the main event. Which was excellent! (Review from the Manchester Evening News)

Mr FD’s photo from during “Mirrorball”

 

After the show we left by a fairly quiet exit, and were lucky enough to be able to hail a taxi straight away. It was a 5/10 minute drive back to the hotel. We thought about going to the bar for a drink, buit they’d stopped serving – and really, that was a good thing, as I was dropping. Even though I was buzzing!!

The next day, we had a full Northern breakfast – sausage, bacon, fried bread, fried potatoes, mushrooms, tomato, black pudding, baked beans, fried egg (which I’m not allowed to have) – plus trimmings (toast-and-marmalade, juice, coffee) and then made our way to the airport, pausing at Asda for a few last minute purchases of the DVD of “Death of Stalin”, some magazines, Zantac indigestion tablets & Tiger Balm (cheaper in the UK!)

Mr FD wheeled me through the airport, on the pre-booked wheelchair, which gave us Fast Track through security and a designated seating area in the very crowded departure lounge. I bought some huge slabs of chocolate (CDM!)

Then we were given a heads-up to the departure gate, so we were there before everyone else, and a very nice gentleman then wheeled me to the plane, so we were in our seats and luggage stowed before the usual scrum. At Lyon, we waited until everyone had got off, then were met by a man with a wheelchair, who wheeled me swiftly through the terminal. When we reached the back of the queue for border control, a quick Excusez-moi! and we were fast tracked through Passport Control. Pausing only to pick up the hold luggage, the man insisted on wheeling me right to the car in the car park. And we headed home, arriving at 6.30 pm.

Today I’m a little fatigued, but not too bad. I slept until about 8.30, when the nurse arrived for my weekly blood test. I wonder if it will show my white blood cells are down?

It was the most amazing weekend. Mr FD was a complete star throughout, looking after me, organising everything and allowing me to just rest and to enjoy myself. Even if I have caught an infection (and I was very careful, using hand sanitiser after every bathroom visit, in between bathroom visits, after touching stuff…Etc etc. Plus my double mask protection and latex gloves in crowds & public places) it was worth it!! It did me the most enormous amount of good.

And thank you all so much for your positive messages of support – they have been very much appreciated.

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Back to the land of the living!

Hola, mes amis! (there’s a mix of languages!)

Here I am, generally feeling OK. And so I thought I should sign in to let you know how things are going. I’ll do an update on 40 Acts another time; today is just me. (How< self centred!!)

So on Tuesday I went to see a magnetiseur – the nearest translation I could find was hypnotherapist. But he didn’t really hypnotise me. He placed his hand on my stomach, my intestines, my throat: the idea being that these are the areas that would be worse affected by chemo, with nausea, stomach upsets etc. He then asked which side my “front door” was being fitted. I didn’t know but assumed it was the opposite side to the scars (I was in fact wrong) and he “drew” shapes on my upper chest with his fingers and blew on me. Bizarre. Well, I don’t know if what he did had any effect, but I have suffered from hardly any side effects. The “front door” has been a bit of a nuisance, as it is uncomfortable in bed, so maybe it would have been better if he’d blown on that side!!

Wednesday was the fitting of the “front door” (this is the permanent chamber fitted so that the chemo can be easily pumped into my blood stream) My appointment was at 7.00 so we had to get up at 5.30 (Yawn) Mr FD came with me, then, when I was being operated on, went & did the shopping. It was done under local so there was no waiting around afterwards and I was home by lunchtime. I dozed in the afternoon, mostly because I’d been up so early!!

On Thursday it was C-day. The day for my first chemo. I’d slept reasonably well the night before, & the taxi-ambulance picked me up at 8.00.There was a nerve wracking wait, as Dr Vincent (chemotherapist) was behind. But once he’d checked my ECG, my blood test and everything else I was cleared for commencement. Everybody – nurses, ancillary staff, other patients – were lovely and the day went quite quickly. I had a lunch of salad and meat, and chatted to a lovely lady who is an English/French/maths teacher called Charlotte. I was given a “soins des mains” – not exactly a manicure, but a gentle hand massage and dead skin removal. Mr FD popped in and we had a cup of tea together before he went for his interview…then at 4.00 my ambulance-taxi took me home. Whereupon I was like a zombie!!

I should have gone straight to bed, but I stayed up, lolling and sleeping on the sofa. Next time will be different! Then on Friday & Saturday I stayed in bed all day, mostly sleeping and listening to the radio, because my eyes didn’t want to be open! Mr FD looked after me beautifully, with just enough tempting morsels for me to eat. I felt no nausea, very slight stomach pains and that’s all! I got up on Saturday evening for a while. My biggest problem has been a bad back from staying in bed too long!!

Sunday I was out of bed and awake for most of the day – just lolling in a chair, listening to music, flicking through a magazine, watching TV – and then yesterday I got dressed too! We went across the road to see friends for about an hour – I wore a mask and gloves to avoid infection, especially as Monique has a cold. I’m still snoozing in the afternoon & actually, today, (at 11.10 CET) I feel very sleepy. But generally, this session of chemo has only affected me with tiredness. I know that others may be different, but I thank God (and the Magnetiseur!) for the relative ease of this. Mr FD has been a real star, keeping everywhere clean, clearing up after cats, encouraging me to eat, helping me do stuff I can’t manage alone.

The good news is that both my oncoloist and mt chemotherapist were perfectly positive about me going to Manchester next weekend AS LONG AS I take sensible precautions

  • wear a mask in crowds at all times
  • take my temperature regularly & if I have a fever go to A&E immediately (hmmm, with the NHS in crisis that could be tricky)
  • do not kiss or shake hands with anyone
  • wear gloves at all times
  • keep scrupulously clean – wash hands regularly (even when wearing gloves)
  • rest, rest, rest
  • listen to what my body is saying & don’t push it.

SO, hopefully, I will be going to the UK after all! Mr FD has booked us into the nearest carpark to the airport terminal, has investigated wheelchairs at the airport (as budget airlines are always furthest away!), reserveda car, and booked a hotel room less than a kilometre from the venue for Elbow. Fingers crossed that I can manage…and that I will be sensible enough to say “I can’t manage” if that is indeed the case.

Thank you to everyone for their prayers, good wishes, comments and gifts. They have been truly appreciated.

Christmas Hygge

Thank you everyone for your good wishes. Still waiting.

In the meantime, here is a lovely Christmas song for you – especially if you are a prog rock fan (but if you’re not, don’t let that put you off. It’s beautiful…)-

Hygge by Tiger Moth Tales.

Sit by the fire, don’t be hungry or tired,

Come inside now, and out of the cold,

We’ve all been waiting to welcome you in,

Won’t you please come back home?

All should be near at this time of the year

There’s no need to be out there alone,

Now, as before, we’ll throw open the door,

Come on home.

 

Birds on the Wire

We were at Friend Richard’s for apèros on Tuesday – which was lovely. He provided so many delicious nibbly things that we didn’t need dinner when we got home! We sat outside until gone nine, watching the light fade over the hills, and the bats come out. He lives at the end of a road up in the hills – beyond him is a forest track, and a lot of trees – so the views are lovely.We could see the lights of the village twinkling in the valley, as the stars started to appear above us. All this, good friends and good wine. What more could you ask for?

One topic of conversation was the signs that autumn is on the way, and Friend Alison mentioned how she has noticed the swallows are now starting to gather on the telephone wires, and twitter about whether it’s time to set off for the South.

Whenever I see this sight, I always say (or, at least think) “The birds are writing music again”!

Someone else thinks this too…Or,at least, thought about how birds can make music. Not quite as delicate as sitting on wires, there is a Liverpool artist, who left  large pieces of paper, marked with music staves, on the ground in various parks around the city ,and then waited to collect pigeons to  contribute to her music. From the position of their, um, “droppings” she collaborated with a musician to convert this into a piece of music.

If you link to this article you can hear the music that was finally created.

Hey, listen! They’re playing our tune!

Another piece of music created from birds is one I think I have linked to before. In fact, I much prefer this one to the pigeon poo music. It is made from the positions of the birds on the wire:

 

One morning while reading a newspaper, Jarbas Agnelli saw a photograph of birds on an electric wire. He cut out the photo and was inspired to make a song using the exact location of the birds as musical notes. He was curious to hear what melody the birds created. He sent the music to the photographer, Paulo Pinto, who told his editor, who told a reporter and the story ended up as an interview in the newspaper. It ended up Winner of the YouTube Play Guggenheim Biennial Festival.

I’m not at all musical, but here’s a challenge to my musical readers: can you make music with the birds?

Weep with Me

I know I’ve just posted, but …

With all the shittiness of the recent terror attacks, in Manchester, in Kabul, in Egypt, in London, and in other places around the world, I feel wordless.

Yet two different things have helped.

The first are the words of another blogger, Katy Boo,who always seems to have the right words to say. She writes forcefully about matters close to her heart. She does not mince words. She is funny, and she is emotional, she is an activist and she is a wordsmith. Her most recent post The Answer is Still Love is a heartfelt message of love in the face of terrorism. I urge you to go and read it.

The second is a new song by Rend Collective. “Weep with Me” is a lament, in the tradition of the Psalms, and is another message of love

As always, Rend Collective have managed to write a song that meets my need, and says what I fail to be able to say.

Listen.

Sing.

Weep.

Pray.

 

Telling the Bees

Recently I have been listening a lot to the band Big Big Train – Mr FD introduced me to them – in fact I have their music on continual loop in both cars! Lots of their songs are lovely, but I’m particularly taken with the one called “Telling the Bees”.

It reminds me of the production of “Lark Rise to Candleford” that I was involved in when we lived in Milton Keynes. A wonderful ensemble piece, which included some very talented young actors. Of course, you may also remember the TV series, but our live production was infinitely better!

In the play/book the character Queenie talks to her bees, following the ancient tradition of telling the bees of momentous events in the life of the family. This is especially true of the death of the “master” of the bees, as if they are not told, the bees may go away to find a new home, or alternatively the hive will not thrive. Wikipedia tells the story  of a family who bought a hive of bees at auction from a farmer who had recently died and, because the bees had not been “put into mourning for their late master” they were “sickly, and not likely to thrive.” However, when the new owners tied a “piece of crepe” to a stick and attached it to the hive, the bees soon recovered, an outcome that was “unhesitatingly attributed to their having been put into mourning.”

Charles Napier Hemy’s painting “Telling the Bees”

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Home Ballads” recounts this custom:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

The Big Big Train song is a happier song, telling of the passing of responsibility from father to son, and how the bees were told of family events. The connection between nature and humankind…”the joy is in the telling the sorrow in the soul”…It is a lovely song, and I urge you to listen (video below) You too may find a new band to play on continuous loop!

My mother said ‘Listen, son…
Your father’s gone
Now the time has come
You must tell the bees he gave his life
Drape black cloth over the hives.
‘Now I am the keeper
And the years passed by
Until the day that Jenny caught my eye
I walked over and I asked her for a kiss
Sweet taste of honey on her lips
Telling the bees, telling the bees
As old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul
And the bees were told
On the day we wed
Wild flower garlands
Draped our marriage bed
Now two years on, we have our son
The bees were told and we carry onTelling the bees, telling the beesAs old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul

The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness
Let them flow…

Telling the bees, telling the bees

I have just read this on  the blog The Pool, written by Emily Baker, regarding the attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert on Monday:

There’s nothing more Mancunian than a resilient spirit. Today, our northern souls are aching for those lost, but we will think too of Manchester’s symbol of a bee – a hardworking, community-driven insect with a sting in its tail. It’s no coincidence that bees communicate through dance.

Learning that the bee is the symbol of Manchester, it seems kid of fitting (but also kind of pretentious!) to dedicate this to those who lost their lives and who are injured, or who have lost loved ones.

See the bees onthe globe up at the top!

Rather belatedly, I remember another Bee song by the Manchester band, Elbow – another favourite band. Here it is: Lost Worker Bee, it is called.

I love Elbow. We are sad that we won’t get to see them this year.

“Come be the Queen to my lost worker bee”

Act N°8 (2017): Pause

I really need to be getting on with things – especially things I promised myself I would do for 40 Acts! – but bleugh. Today I can’t get myself going! I spent this morning doing teaching stuff – writing reports, preparing tomorrow’s lessons etc – but this afternoon I’ve just kindof wound down and can’t get going! I sit at my desk reading blogs and eating wine gums. Not the best way of Getting Things Done! I’m also getting “blog envy” from these people who are writing fascinating blogs about their fascinating lives in France, and scattering beautiful photos throughout their esoteric writings. Sigh.

Never mind. My focus at the moment isn’t that perfect Francophile’s life in the midst of a charming village de charactère where we meet typical, beret-bearing old chaps, who quaff red wine and regale us with tales of yesteryear. (Which is a good job, as I don’t know any of them!) My focus is 40 Acts, carried out as best I can in this small French town, where most people are busy going about their every-day life. As am I.

So, on we go…

ACT N° 8: PAUSE:

The prompt reads: It’s easy to let cutting words slip out. But the barbs can sting and the effects of our words can stay with other people a lot longer than we expect. The best way to stem the flow of put-downs is to replace them with life-giving words. These words also resonate, sometimes for entire lifetimes.

The challenges are:

GREEN:Begin your day with a decision to catch your words before blurting them out. Just five minutes of intentional decision-making can set you up for a day of generous, kind communication. 

AMBER: Think about those closest to you – the ones you’re prone to get shirty with when you’re stressed/tired/hungry. When was the last time you said something harsh to them. What was it? Are there particular words or phrases that you use repeatedly? Write them down if you can, so that you catch them before you’re tempted to use them.  

RED: Ask a friend to evaluate your speaking voice. They could use these questions with you: am I too blunt? Too sharp? Slow to listen and quick to respond? Take their answers and see if you can turn them into action points – remember this is about taking on a whole new posture, not just methods to fix a few words.

You can read the full meditation over here.

 

****

This is an interesting one – it’s not just a “now” act; it’s not a do-it-once-&-feel-good-about-yourself challenge. This one requires thought. It requires consideration. It requires commitment. Even the Green act – the one that’s supposed to be easy (easier?) – is a challenge. *

I think (think! Not sure!) that since last year’s 40 Acts I have become less critical. I try to couch my requests to Mr FD in kinder tones (although, I suspect, he might tell you that I’m not always successful!) I try not to say some of the things that spring to my lips, because, when all’s said and done, they wouldn’t achieve much, and they might cause more conflict.

It reminds me of the words from an excellent song by Divine Comedy:

Sticks and stones may break my body but words can tear me apart.
So be careful what you tell me, spare a thought for my heart.

Broken bones fuse together, bruises never last for long,
But once they’re said words stay spoken
And hearts stay broken from that moment on.

But I need to go further than not saying sharp words and think about how words can build a person up as well. I am also trying to say Thank You more – if Mr FD has made dinner, or cleaned the cat trays when it’s really my turn. Things like that which need appreciating. It’s when efforts are acknowledged that a person begins to feel validated.

* Incidentally, I have been wondering why I have been finding the Acts more challenging this year, and I think this is the reason. I think that this year, we are being asked more to think about things and to make a commitment. It’s not just something quick, and fun, and bof! It’s done! But more and more, the challenges are long term commitments. I was happier when it was something I could tick off. I think I might be better with the children’s 40 Acts – they seem to be having much more fun! They don’t have to think – they just do!!