Saturday, 31 October 2009

Life in the short lane, with diabetes

Sometimes I blog about my adventures, or spin a yarn about something that amused me. But most of the time I'm just getting on with day-to-day life, and my regular existence doesn't usually involve climbing mountains, pontificating on the BNP, or harvesting unusual vegetables. So how did today go? Today was a typical day, centred round Frank, this picture showing how I look from his height!

Frank woke us fairly early, and I elected to take the early shift with him. His diabetes means we cannot just relax and have a lie-in. We have to test him to check he hasn't sunk into a hypo overnight. The fingerprick testing didn't go well, and Frank had a lengthy painful process before we got a reading (and he was normal). He said he was hungry, but is he really, or is it another diabetes thing? Making breakfast, I talked up the possibility of porridge as that's always a good option for a person with diabetes, but Special K called him, and he had several small portions, before I said "enough". My attempts to charm him with fresh fruit were scorned, and I couldn't persuade him to have peanut butter on toast, which would be a source of protein. I was feeling bad about the unbalanced diet he was taking on ship.

He was most averse to the whole idea of having his usual insulin injection, and it took me ages before I could get it done, causing my self-esteem to sink even lower as I was aware I was unable to care for him as well as should be done. It's just the practicalities that any parent is aware of, dealing with a three-year old with their own will. But the problem we have is that it's bad for his health in the short, medium and long term if we don't do what is best for him. It is physically and mentally exhausting dealing with this condition. By the time I had got him round to the idea that he really will need an injection, even though he was one every morning, he had probably gone hyper, which is cumulatively damaging his health, and makes me even more anxious.

Our outing for the day was planned to be the Exhibition of the Ipswich Model Railway Club, which I knew we would both enjoy. It took us ages to get out of the house, as Frank was unco-operative, possibly linked with high blood sugar, or possibly just typical three-year old stuff. I packed our travel bag for the day, making sure I had his day-to-day blood testing and insulin kit, as well as supplies in the event of an emergency hypo. Before I went Julie surfaced, and we discussed what Frank had eaten, knowing that Frank's diet could have been better, which made me feel bad as I am doing my best, and we already know our best is sometimes not good enough.
We headed off to Ipswich, and Frank fell asleep in the van on the way, so we parked up near the exhibition hall, and he had a doze. For most parents a sleeping child is a welcome respite, but for us it's another worry, as some of the visual signs and clues that he is hypo- or hyper- are then unavailable to us. I thought about doing another blood test, but decided that on balance it was better to give his poor tiny fingers a rest from all the stabbing. But it's such a worry, wondering if he's slipping into a coma, and my head ran through the fuel in/ energy out calculations a dozen times before I had the confidence to just let him rest.

It's a constant and continuous process, looking after a toddler with diabetes. Most people assume that once a child is diagnosed, and "they, the medical profession" get the insulin dose right, our family life carries on as normal. And of course that is what we aim for. But the reality is very different. It's not just about the blood testing and injection events, it's the literally hundreds of other checks we do all through the day, and often through the night. We are ALWAYS looking at his behaviour, for physical and mental signs that his glucose levels are too high or too low. It's a very inexact science, with so many unknowns about how much he will actually eat despite our best planning, how much he will exercise, and hidden factors such as growth spurts or his body dealing with mild illness. We manage quite well, all things considered, but we are are painfully aware that his readings could be much better, and that bad figures make complications and side-effects more likely.

As Frank had a sleep, I read more of my Raymond Chandler novel, which I had picked up at an American Literature evening class. And I played Joni Mitchell's "Hejira", a bit of Rory Gallagher's "Irish Tour", and Love's "Forever Changes". Frank awoke, and I checked him over, deciding to give him only a small ginger biscuit low-sugar snack, as he had woofed a fairly high carb breakfast. After a wee stop, a frequent occurrence for a person with diabetes who drinks a lot, we made for the show. It was a small exhibition, and one of the less impressive shows, but they are always good fun, and Frank hugely enjoyed it. One friendly modeller had made a Sodor layout with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. This was a good contrast to the "Upper Snoring station, exactly how it looked on 24 April 1921" type layout, which, to be authentic, would have no trains actually running, and everything brown or grey.The refreshments on sale were totally unsuitable for a diabetic, (or indeed anyone else interested in healthier eating), principally being white flour fairy cakes with 120% sugar icing. We went to the local cornershop, and found a tasty chicken and bacon wrap, which was just right for Frank once I'd taken out the green salad items. Pah, heaven forbid he might ingest a scrap of lettuce! We ate in the van, and headed home.

Back home, Julie and Severine had been baking, sorting the house, and preparing for Halloween supper. It was such fun to celebrate this evening meal as a family. The bedtime routine went as normal, though we had the worry of a high blood-glucose reading before eating. We just don't know if the reading is a true indication of his current blood mix, or if he really is too high, or has been too low and rebounded as his liver kicks in.

Overall, a splendid day, but as always, dominated by diabetes. We would love to be more relaxed about it, but it's an invasive matter, and it is our job to do our best for him. It would be bad for his health for us to be laid-back about it all; the monitoring he needs is constant. We try hard to be positive about our situation, but sometimes it is difficult. Believe me, rainy autumn backpacking in the Cairngorms is much easier than having a toddler with diabetes for the day. But I can truly say TODAY WAS FUN. Hoping for a good night tonight, and another FUN day tomorrow with my brilliant little family.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Loo with a view

It's not every day one gets the chance to use a public loo and leave the door open, but this is no ordinary loo. We're at Corrour bothy, nine miles from the nearest road, and 565 metres above sea level, in the heart of the Cairngorms.

A long weekend backpacking with my pal Rod was on the menu, with an ambitious plan to scale Ben Macdhui (1309m), and camp out overnight. But then there's the weather, and they have lots of it up here. Given that we're not Munro baggers we didn't feel compelled to slog ourselves to the top, through rain and cloud, and admire the view stretching to the end of our nose. The cloudbase was around 1000m, and we were damp to the point of soaking, from the falling rain, the boggy ground, and our sweat, as we dragged our portly bodies and backpacks up the glen from Linn of Dee.

The bothy at Corrour called us, and with its recent refurbishment, it made a splendid home for us overnight. OK, it has no electricity, gas, phone (land or mobile), but it has endless running fresh water, and full-on fresh air. And a wood burning stove, if you bring your own fuel.

This tiny refuge has been around since 1877, and since 2007 has had a toilet. Improvisation has been good enough for 130 years, but times have changed and they now have a "composting toilet". "What's that?" you may ask. For the user it has a conventional flap seat, but there's no water trap, so the smell discourages lingering. The toilet is being run as an experiment, with no precedent for a composting toilet in such a remote spot, and many days a year of sub-zero temperatures.

So what happens to the ordure? One is asked to wee elsewhere, and only drop poo and paper into the toilet. A bag collects the waste, and it is left hanging below the seat until it is full. It is expected that it will take three years for it all to breakdown into something that is safe to spread on the ground. The bag needs changing when it's full, with capacity in the toilet building's lower chamber for twelve bags of decomposing excrement.

Every stage has been thought through, but they didn't allow for the M25 effect. Four sacks of shit a year, taking three years to rot down, suggests that storage for twelve sacks is about right. But we're talking "Field of Dreams" here. Build it and they will come. The loo is fine for the past established usage patterns for the bothy, but when you build a proper bog, bothy dwellers and passers-by will gravitate towards it. It's like the M25 motorway; it won't just take traffic off the adjacent road network, it will make new journeys possible. New roads generate new traffic, and new toilets promote extra visits.

So what are they going to do about the backlog? Maybe once every two years they will send an all-terrain vehicle to take away some of the full sacks. Nice work if you can get it. And not too bad a price to pay, to save the landscape disappearing under a mound of turds, as Cairngorm visitor numbers increase year on year.

But let's be clear, it's never going to be too busy on a wet afternoon in October. So enjoy the view through the door. The crowds won't be arriving anytime soon.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Quiet please, there's someone from the BNP who has something to say

I don't usually bother with Question Time. I find David Dimbleby very annoying as a Chairman, as he too often adopts the role of judge and jury. And the politicians seem too eager to react against the other parties, without saying what they would do themselves.

But the draw of Nick Griffin's appearance was too powerful for me to ignore. Although I intensely dislike what the BNP stands for, I was pleased they were invited on the show, to explain what they are about, and to answer questions from the audience. But what did we get? A panel and chairman taking the opportunity to interrogate the man as if he was in the courtroom dock. Griffin didn't respond well to this treatment, but I felt that he wasn't given a chance to answer many questions, or to challenge the liberal/media establishment that were pillorying him. If I was a BNP supporter (or potential member) this bullying by the panel would have made me more more sympathetic to his cause.

I wish the panel had given Griffin more chance to speak, because that's when he revealed where he comes from. Responding to comments on his meeting with a Ku Klux Klan leader, he explained that the guy he met "wasn't one of the violent ones". And when he started talking about the British indiginous people he was on very soft ground and sinking fast.

Whether we like them or not we have to acknowledge that a sizeable minority voted for the BNP at the recent EU elections. Rather than criticise the voters for being gullible for succumbing to the charms of the far right, the mainstream parties should look at why they are so unattractive to a large part of the population, most of whom do not vote at all, or use it to support the BNP. The best book I've read recently about why the BNP is doing fairly well in some parts of the country is Billy Bragg's "The Progressive Patriot".

I left all the Question Time noise behind, when I made an early start by train to Scotland, on Friday morning. Sitting in a "quiet coach" I was intrigued by those inconsiderate individuals who enjoyed the peace and quiet so that they could get on with their busy lives, undisturbed by the rest of us quiet folk, while they tap away at their bleeping computers, have their (inevitably loud) phone conversations, and generally irritate those who have specially chosen to sit in a 125 mph bubble of peace.

Coming back from Scotland yesterday, the quiet coach was much quieter. One person had a phone call, an action which was condemned by the guard's announcement asking for compliance with the rule, but the message was only heard by everyone else in the carriage. Frantic arm waving had the desired effect, as the coach returned to silence, the remainder of the journey punctuated only by yours truly munching on an extremely noisy packet of crisps. Mr Griffin, they were indiginous British-day-at-the-seaside salt and vinegar crisps, and none of those fancy foreign flavours.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Big Swifty receives £19,100 cheque

Hurrah for the banking industry. Not satisfied with triggering the collapse of the economy, here they are again dishing out money to the gullible poor, and I guess I tick all their boxes on that score?

Call me an old cynic, but I'm usually a bit suspicious when someone sends me a cheque for more than I earn in a......... well, ever.

It must be so distressing to simple folk who think these sample cheques that look exactly like the real thing, are actually worth something, and they are suddenly wealthy. I almost feel like going down to the bank, acting a bit daft (should be easy enough), and trying to deposit the sum into my account. But of course my protest would make no difference whatsover, except maybe make an amusing diversion for the friendly counter staff that work there.

The deal I would like with my bank is simple. Please look after my money, don't invest it in anything illegal, immoral or too risky, pay me a fair interest rate, and let me have access to my cash after I have followed reasonable security measures. And send me a genuine cheque for £19,100 any time you like.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mangels harvest

"Volunteers wanted for the Mangolds Harvest" said the chalk board at Old Hall community. The green suburbanites had booked a couple of days at Old Hall to help out with the harvest. But was this message a trap? I had never heard of mangolds, and wondered if the novice visitors were being sent on a wild goose chase. Was this the farming equivalent of the new apprentice asking at the hardware store for a jar of elbow grease?

Arriving at the lower field, it all became clear. Mangolds is one of the ways to spell the vegetable that is usually pronounced mangles, and is more often spelt mangels. A sweet root vegetable grown as animal feed, and HUGE.

Frank's current favourite book is "The Enormous Turnip". Imagine how it must be for a three-year old to take part in an activity out of a story book. A priceless memory, as we enjoyed a peaceful couple of days in the autumn sunshine. And no one felt it necessary to sing any wurzel gummidge.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Open Top Sound, and cheerleaders

"Further" was on the front of the magic bus from the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. And today we went on a bus that displayed "Listen".

Local artist Matt Cook's project "Open Top Sound" comprised of an open top bus ride round Colchester town centre. But the twist was that we were surrounded by speakers giving us ambient recordings made earlier in the town centre, mixed with edited irregular snippets of information from Blue badge guides. And on top of this were fresh ambient sounds from traffic, the buzz of Saturday commerce, and hecklers on the street responding to our crazy bus. Looking down on the common populace below, we were intrigued by their perplexed looks, as we broadcast back to them their own sounds of the town.

Bizarre. Which was also my feeling later in the day, when I attended the Freshers' Fair at the University of Essex. Thousands of people milling around in the autumn sunshine, being courted by about a hundred different political societies, pantomime horses, food outlets, sports clubs, philosophers, people in lion and parrot suits, fitness groups, history and art societies, theatre groups, religions and CHEERLEADERS?!?!

Were these women in tight bright short clothes, waving pom-poms, being ironic? Were they feminists exerting their rights to do whatever they wanted, were they anti-feminists happy to take on a decorative role for their (mainly male) audience, or were they post-feminists where the feminist battles have been won, so we don't need to concern ourselves about this stuff any more? Or maybe I should abandon my angst, and just enjoy the show.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Facing forwards, and proud

Some people have asked me "why do you have a blog?". Should it be by and about the real me, or should I adopt a (probably more interesting) persona? What is my ethos? Am I covering all aspects of life, or should I focus on a few themes and hope to attract followers of those topics? And does any of this matter, as it's only a bit of fun.

It would be easy enough to slip into a grumpy old man, "isn't modern life rubbish" mode, roll out loads of nostalgia for a past that never really existed, and spice it with some self-effacing humour before someone else puts the boot in first.

But no, I want to be positive and upbeat, celebrate the present and look to the future. And hopefully be entertaining sometimes. So Big Swifty is facing forwards, and holding his head up proud.

Looking through some other blogspots I tried the "next blog" tab a few times to see what other people are doing. Loads of crafts people out there, and fans of computer games. Then suddenly, up popped a warning from blogger saying that the next random site I had found contained "adult content". Well I'm a modern guy, I'm not fazed by a bit of swearing, and pictures of goths in studded clothing, so I went ahead.

I was confronted with a blog that consisted only of pictures of naked young men, clearly in a state of arousal. I thought about reporting it to blogger, not on the grounds of obscenity, but because it made me feel inadequate. Besides they had stolen my theme of facing forwards, and proud.

Anyway, each to their own. The purpose of this Big Swifty blog is to illustrate a flavour of Budd living, written mainly for ourselves, but if anyone else enjoys the ride, so much the better. That's us at the top of this posting. And I'll be keeping it U certificate in case anyone's concerned about the content.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Stacey Minshull is not my best friend

In a brief break from work yesterday, I chatted with Stacey, who works in the same building as me. Up to a few months ago she was just a friendly face I saw around the office occasionaly. Then I discovered Facebook, and we became "friends", using my own criteria, a) that I must have met the person in real life, and b) I must actually like them. (These are my criteria. I don't know what selection process Stacey has, but if she'll accept me....)

And now we've got to know each other a little, reading snippets about each other's lives, families, cooking, holidays and music. And about our passions - cake and Joni Mitchell.

There's no substitute for a real life, face to face meeting with your best friends, or a phone call, but Facebook is a fabulous way to keep in touch with our second and third division friends.

And I'm glad to have found more friends as a result of Facebook. People like Stacey, who were merely acquaintances, have moved from the wilderness of non-league outsiders, to the higher level of second and third tier friends. Does this imply a ranking of friends? Am I her Darlington, and is she my Accrington Stanley? It doesn't really matter, we've both slightly improved our lives as a result of our facebook friendship, and that's cool. And there's always the possibility of promotion for the lower teams. And cakes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

£6 below the minimum wage

Lady Scotland may have hit the headlines recently for allegedly employing an illegal immigrant and paying slightly less than the minimum wage. Well she has nothing on me. I have new staff starting in a couple of weeks, and she has no contract and no pay at all. Severine de France is pictured above at her interview, where she agreed to work for nothing, do all the cooking and cleaning, and look after Frank. She also promised not to tease Big Swifty, or make rude comments about his record collection.
Today we had lots of fun sorting out some space for her. She would go under the stairs, but Harry Potter's already there.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Black History Month in Colchester

Reggae in the park. A music festival on the lawn of Hollytrees House. Built in 1718, when the slave trade from Africa to America is into its busiest century. Nearly two hundred and thirty years later, and Bob Marley is born. And now, almost three hundred years later, and there's a marquee pumping out reggae and dub. And that's why I like Colchester.

The doom-mongers are telling us our town centres are dead or dying, an inevitable process given the economic downturn, out of town shopping centres, the internet, and sixty-three other agents of change. So how come the town centre was so packed with shoppers today, with so mant people around I couldn't get to what I wanted in the shops? The coffee-houses had big queues, and the chazzers were busy too. It all looks like commerce is alive and well to me, although I guess the landowners can't command the rents they asked a few years ago. Who are these commentators that knock our old town centres? What criteria are they using when passing judgement on the success (or failure) of our towns?

I remember attending a meeting with local businessmen a few years ago, and they were bemoaning the number of charity shops in town. That's why I like Colchester, the wide range of businesses and attractions in the town centre, the market and the churches, the local characters hanging around, the buskers and the Big Issue sellers. That's why I don't go to homogenised soulless places like Freeport, Lakeside or Bluewater, to get 20% off last year's trainers.

The town centre's been around for a couple of thousand years, and it still has plenty of signs of life. I think it will adapt to the future. What will happen to the shopping malls over the next fifty years, given where we are on peak oil?

I won't pretend to be a Bob Marley fan, but I'm a Wailer for Colchester.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Apples and diabetes

It was Frank's quarterly check up yesterday, and we're all doing OK. Frank's blood sugar levels have been reasonable, and our management about as good as we could hope for. Frank's handling the testing and injections pretty well, though we have our difficult occasions, and I can't say I blame him for not liking it too much. Our overseeing of his injections, eating, exercise and other factors out of our sight and control, is a teetering balancing act, but we haven't yet crash landed too hard.

His specialist doctor and nurse are very helpful to us, giving us the information and support we need to act as Frank's life support machinery, given that his pancreas is out to lunch, permanently.

Our lives are not defined by Frank's condition, but we simply have to think about it all the time, looking for ways to keep him healthy, as we go about as normal a life as possible. And today's normal life fun activity was dealing with 250 wild apples picked yesterday morning, then lunch in town with Mark and Lisa, a bit of shopping at the Farmers' Market, and home again for a play in the garden. I must admit I found his behaviour tricky in town today, but thankfully he has energy and gets plenty of exercise.

Yes, living with Type 1 diabetes is difficult, but we manage to enjoy a good life. No jokes in today's blog, just some happy smiling faces in the background..........


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