Sunday, 31 January 2010

Beginning to see the light, and a new -itis

I love the seasons, no SADS for me. Short winter days can be fun, and there's plenty of jobs to do around the house that I wouldn't want to do when the weather's better outside. But I need to get a bit fitter, and lose some weight, so the longer days are welcome. Life with Frank's diabetes is stressful, and too often I resort to comfort eating; packing food away is something I know I'm good at when I feel I'm struggling with coping. Of course there's no one but myself to blame, when it comes to how much food I put in my mouth.

I attended a NHS run Shape-Up course this time last year and successfully lost lots of weight, so I need to apply myself again. I should have enough incentive, just to be healthier for Frank, Jules and myself, and for my wider family and friends. But it helps if I have an event on the horizon where being lighter would help. And I'm currently hoping to have a few days backpacking in the west Scottish Highlands in May.

No statistics here about how much I weigh or how much I want to lose; suffice to say what I now weigh should be what I will weigh with a full backpack on. Mentally, I always find the "extra stone is the equivalent of 28 packs of butter" image both challenging and horrific. As the weather improves I should be able to get some more exercise in, walking and cycling, but I know the figures and one has to do a hell of exercise to lose a little weight, so food portion control is the real key to any weight loss I might achieve.

But there's another fly in the weight loss ointment, in addition to the greed monster. I have had elbow pain for a few weeks, which has made doing almost anything painful. At first I assumed it was the family's arthritis catching me up at last, but I thought I would contact Dr Internet, as he/she doesn't mind how many questions I ask, and will tell me whatever I want to believe. And sure enough, I have a new diagnosis, and it's Lateral Epicondylitis. It is better known as tennis elbow, but I reckon I developed it with my wood chopping escapades. As a self-obsessed person (and who isn't that has their own blog?), I'm so pleased to have a new -itis I can bore people with. Plus, with a bit of rest, it should just go away.

A good first hike of the year yesterday, and hopefully tomorrow a bike ride; and I'll be on track for the weight loss, with a trail of shed butter packs in my wake.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Bizarre gifts and a mystery sign

The Stockwell Strollers went for their last-Saturday-of-the-month walk this morning, and I joined them. The leader is my pal Alan Hardy, above photographed in May 2007, when we were separately backpacking in the Scottish Highlands, when our paths crossed near Alltbeith, Glen Affric. It was a short hike today, benefiting from the overnight frost giving a firm crust over the saturated Essex mud.

Before the start I found a raffle ticket on the ground, turned it over, and its number was 666. I wondered what the day had in store. It was a bright sunny morning, and I got a little suntan, after too many weeks indoors or under grey skies. A splendid morning's 10-mile hike. But the devil's raffle ticket was troubling me. What surprise was in store?

Arriving home I had two articles of post. For myself there was an envelope of newspaper clippings from my pal Rod. He kindly saves bits and pieces that he thinks might interest me, and this batch includes a report from the Telegraph on 28 November 2009, with the headline "Mild winter ahead", describing the Met Office's prediction for the then forthcoming winter. It's easy enough for us to laugh in retrospect isn't it?

And Frank had a parcel from friends in Germany. Their daughter had put together a parcel consisting of a tub of Haribo jelly bears, and a colouring book sponsored by Haribo, full with pictures of sweets. We whisked the colourful jelly bears out of sight, and wondered if we could think of a less appropriate gift for a little boy with diabetes? We know it wasn't intentionally wrong, but it got us thinking about other inappropriate gifts. Snickers for someone with a peanut allergy? Pork pies for Muslims? A ticket for a multi-cultural event for a Klansman?

The portent of the 666 ticket has been nagging me this evening. I've just been up to check Frank, and his blood-sugar level is (unusually) perfect. Only an hour to go today, and nothing can go wrong..... Good night all.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Zed and two noughts

No, not the Peter Greenaway film Zoo. Frank and I went to to Colchester Zoo this morning, and it's all about numbers. Last week Frank matter-of-factly informed me "I know all the numbers in the world". And numbers are something we're struggling with at the moment.

We're gathering lots of diabetes data under Frank's new testing and administering regime, and trying to make sense of it all. We're now weighing his food, calculating the carbohydrate content, and working out insulin doses. Plus we've got data from fingerprick blood testing to measure where his blood-sugar levels are at that instant. Calculating insulin doses based on what he's going to eat, and factoring in a bit more to correct for the (most likely) over-high blood sugar levels.

Meanwhile Frank's doing his own calculations. We're looking at the lions, and one has died since our last visit. "There used to be two, but now there's one", Frank tells me. In the next cage is a swarm of Persian mice. There's usually around a dozen in there, but today there's heaps all over the floor of the cage, on the rocks, and up at the high level platforms and ropes. A quick estimate and I'd clocked around two hundred meeces, suggesting they'd been busy amusing themselves over Christmas, or the snakes had lost their appetites. I asked Frank how many mice were in the cage, and he had a good look round, muttered a string of numbers under his breath, and pronounced after his deliberations "there are eight mice".

A quick scoot round the apes and tortoises, and it's back home for lunch, where we discover he has a high of 24 (when we should be between 4 and 8), so it's another big injection of insulin, to correct his high and to allow for his soon-to-be-eaten lunch, but he isn't that hungry which leaves him potentially overdosed on insulin. And sure enough, two hours later he crashes into a hypo episode at 2.8.

We know what to do, but it's back to Peter Greenaway films again, and this time it's Drowning by Numbers.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Big Swifty ignores person in wheelchair

I was sitting in the Bull on Tuesday (note: I was not Chief Sitting Bull) after work, to meet some friends before the single showing of the "No distance left to run" film at the Odeon. This was a local performance that had been secured by a Facebook group, the cinema previously having decided not to show it here despite Blur coming from Colchester.

In the Bull was a woman in a wheelchair who looked familiar, and I soon worked out that it was someone I had met recently in connection with my work and the Walk Colchester project. I would have liked to pop over and say hello, but I was only 95% certain it was her. With these odds I would usually take a chance and say "hi", but I had this fear that it wasn't her, and this stranger would say "so you think us people in wheelchairs all look the same do you?". I enjoy Ricky Gervais' comedy challenging our attitudes, and his wheelchair and disability themes in "The Office" and "Extras", I find very thought provoking. But the net result of my shyness and sensibilities was that I treated this person differently because they were in a wheelchair, though I don't suppose they were robbed of anything by me lacking the confidence to say hello. Ah the modern dilemma.

Anyway, I looked her up on Facebook, and said hi that way, and she confirmed it was indeed her in the pub, and apologised for blanking me!

What about the film? I had expectations that it would be an arty film, but it had a linear narrative, covering their recent reunion tour, interspersed with interviews and a potted history from Damon's appearance in The Stanway School play, through the britpop years, the arguments, and the getting back together. Maybe too many close-ups of their faces, some good old slo-mo film effects, and all one big love-in for the band and their fans. Very enjoyable it was too.
Earlier that evening the press had caught on to the idea that Blur fans were going to meet at the Bull before their hero-worship at the cinema. The camera man got all of us in the Bull to pose as excited Blur fans, and the following morning our picture was in the paper. In the front row a woman in a wheelchair, and in the back row a baldy middle aged man wondering if he should say hi. All the drama and angst captured on page 12 of The Colchester Gazette.

Monday, 18 January 2010

"over the top" award winner!

I was awarded an "Over the Top" award from Colleen at and Jules at So here are my responses to their questions. I have to respond in one word answers only and then forward it to three other bloggers. However, I know so few bloggers so I've put it on here, and award the "Over the Top" award to anyone who wants to run with it.
1. Where is your cell phone? bagpuss
2. Your hair? gone
3. Your mother? window-monitor
4. Your father? English
5. Your favourite food? custard
6. Your dream last night? x-cert?
7. Your favourite drink? tea
8. Your dream/goal? coping
9. What room are you in? vacant
10. Your hobby? generalist
11. Your fear? loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? family
13. Where were you last night? reading (a book, not the town in Berkshire)
14. Something you aren't? dancer
15. Muffins? custard tarts!
16. Wish list item? cure.
17. Where did you grow up? not there yet
18. Last thing you did? wood-chopping
19. What are you wearing? old check shirt
20. Your TV? argumental
21. Your pet(s)? no way
22. Your friends? thanks guys
23. Your life? fortunate
24. Your mood? questioning
25. Missing someone? Tom
26. Vehicle? bikes
27. Something you're not wearing? cowboy boots
28. Your favourite store? Stanford's (map shop in London)
29. Your favourite colour? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? suppertime
31. Last time you cried? diabetes, diabetes, diabetes
32. Your best friend? Jules
33. One place that I go over and over? scottish highlands
34. One person that e.mails me regularly? facebookers
35. Favourite place to eat? Cafe Vague, Benodet, Brittany (how can you answer that in one word?)

the worst album ever?

If anyone says "music was so much better in the 60s" they must have faulty or selective memory. Sure, there's been some classics - Hendrix's Are you Experienced?, Beatles' Revolver, Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Love's Forever Changes, Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat, insert your favourite here. But what about this one? Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments LP "A meal you can shake hands with in the dark". My vinyl collection has been slimmed down several times over the last thirty years, but I've never managed to clear this one out. I've always saved it, just in case I ever slip into a nostalgic coma, and witter on about some imaginary golden age of music that was the sixties. With a flower in my (almost non-existant) hair. Play this album to me if I ever utter the phrase "modern music is rubbish".

This album features Pete Brown, the self-styled fourth member of Cream, but I don't think Jack, Ginger or Eric would say that. His band The Battered Ornaments are game enough, but Brown's singing and Bongos are terrible. On the eve of a big gig at Hyde Park to support the Rolling Stones, Brown got sacked by his own band. Unpeturbed, he came back in the early seventies with another band, Pete Brown and Piblokto. A few years after they broke up I saw Pete at my college in London, playing in a three-piece. I couldn't believe that my hero Pete Brown, who had written the lyrics for some of my favourite Cream tracks, had come to play at my SU. About fifty people turned up, and Pete was still trying to sing and beat the bongos, spiced up with interludes of his poetry. The boozy audience appeared to be ignorant of Brown's rock status, and heckled him mercilessly, and, let's be honest, he was an easy target.

This album was Frank's random selection for today, and very enjoyable it was too, for J, S and F, who had never before heard anything like it, and never want to hear it again, not even his version of "Politician". So, what are your favourite worst albums of all time?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

first bike ride of the year - Big Swifty seen in peloton

The first bike ride of the year, as always an uplifting experience. The combination of grey/ icy/ rainy weather, and lots of other things to do, had delayed my first fun ride until 17 January - the bike commute to work doesn't really count. From the back of the garage I pulled out my Peccary, a mongrel bike I assembled years ago from scrap bikes, including the frame that I found lying next to the road. It's the nearest bike I have to a mountain bike; I once did a 500 mile ride through the Scottish Highlands on it, including the Corrieyairick Pass, and a route across country from Glen Feshie to Braemar. But this time it was a short ride with Severine to Friday Woods, along the new and old cycle paths in south Colchester. It was a warm sunny day, with a very light wind, and mainly dry enough paths. The landscape was fresh and green after the snow melt, and the lack of spring growth better revealed the contours of the land, including my favourite stretch where we ride along the top of the 2000-year old Berechurch Dyke.

It has been suggested that Big Swifty is not a real person, and merely a figment of the imagination of some old bloke with no friends, who spends too long on the internet. How wrong can you be? Here's a picture of me and my mates out cycling this morning in Friday Woods. And finally, just because I get very few comments on my blogs, it doesn't mean people don't read them. Real life friends say to my face and by e-mail, how they "enjoy" my postings, hearing what I get up to, and grateful they don't have to suffer my "humour" too often. Indeed, following yesterday's posting about our new toilet seat, I've had requests that can be counted on the fingers of, well one finger, about what it now looks like. So here it is. And if Frank starts sticking coloured squares on it, we won't even notice will we?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Post-woodenists throne away

For ten years we've been woodenists, generally choosing real wooden items to use or furnish our home, in preference to MDF or plastic. Butt we've had enough with real wood (and useless) toilet seats. So yesterday we went to Next home furnishings and chose the first bog seat that we liked, following our purchasing policy of kitsch and random, combined with "it's only a toilet seat so we should select one within five minutes". The new seat is now installed, and Frank can practice his newly acquired skill of weeing into a toilet bowl, without the danger of a heavy wooden seat falling down on his ... It's just too awful to even think about. And the old seat? It's throne on the fire, and we're warming out tootsies. Now that's something you can't do with a plastic toilet seat.

And talking about Frank, today we invited him to choose the music, and he randomly picked out some vinyl from my collection. It makes a change from my usual selection of a familiar favourite, and gives an opportunity to re-discover a forgotten treasure. And by chance Frank chose Saint Saens' "Carnival of the Animals", one of only two or three records of music written for children, out of a four feet wide shelf of 12" vinyl. Many familiar tunes, first heard by me as a schoolboy, yet not known at all by our cultured French lodger.

It was enjoyed by all, which is more than can be said for the second random selection, where I pulled out "Grateful Dead" (the skull and roses album for any Deadheads reading this) and randomly played side two, with its single eighteen minute track "The Other One". The opening drum solo was tolerated for about five minutes, before it was turned down as it was curdling the wine and causing the peas to roll across the table. If we lived in a democratic household, the Grateful Dead would have joined the toilet seat on the fire, but I'm a benign dictator and I discretely slipped it back on the shelf. If they had listened to the "Wharf Rat/ Not Fade Away/ Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad" medley on side four they would have shown it more mercy. Given the five-year slumber of my vinyl records, I can hardly wait to discover what Frank plucks out of obscurity tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

More about prick tests, needles and insulin - and hearts

Very mixed feelings today. Outside the snow is melting, and indoors the log fire is burning, but what's happening in our hearts? I make no apologies for this being yet another diabetes blog; it dominates our lives, and never goes away. A week ago we had Frank's quarterly check up, and a new testing and injections regime was introduced. Our first year working with Frank and his health support team went reasonable well, but over the last few months his readings have deteriorated, and we must intervene to head off chronic problems with his eyes, kidneys, circulatory system, brain and heart. Yes, it sounds dramatic, but this is what we face.

Last week's interventions, as we attempt to do the work of his pancreas, have been rather unsuccessful, giving worse results than we had before. Despite much more testing, more frequent injections and lots of fretting to try and make the diet/ exercise/ insulin balance somewhere near right, we have slipped back a bit. But we have excellent support and access to all the information you could ever want. Today the diabetes specialist nurse visited us, with the goodies needed to try an entirely different approach to insulin injection timing, and choosing different products to better match the release to the time when it's demanded by the body. And the diabetes experts advise that it's not just about insulin, diet and exercise; it's more about insulin, love and care.

Today's readings have been poor, and Frank's behaviour sometimes tricky (directly linked with his high blood sugar, ie it's not his fault!). Starting tomorrow, after testing he has a new 24-hour basal insulin as first course before breakfast, with a shot of quick-acting to work on his breakfast porage (I prefer the Scottish spelling!) and fruit. Then before lunch another test and a shot of fairly quick acting insulin, then testing before tea-time, where he may need another shot of quick-acting to deal with his supper (a balanced meal with all the food groups, which is a good excuse to eat a bit of beef). With this series of events we hope that his average blood sugar is within the range that those of us with a working pancreas would enjoy.

Despite these difficulties, we have good hearts for the big task in hand. There has been some discussion about whether the treatment of diabetes is an art or a science. My conclusion is it's a labour of love.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Book clearance, and a message from the past turns up

He's only a little boy, but he sure takes up a lot of space. And our house was full of stuff before he was born. If we don't do something about it, the floors will be covered by our possessions, as well as the full cupboards and shelves.

Looking round, it's easy to focus on the wooden and plastic playthings under our feet, but blending in the background and overlooked are the things from BC (before child). Why should we cuss about the toys Frank currently plays with (especially when we tread on them in the night), when we have heaps of dead stock filling our house? So we're in a clear-out frenzy, reviewing our belongings, and asking ourselves if we need to keep them. And one bulky set is our books, collected over the last thirty-five years. Are we ever going to get round to reading our shelves of unread books? Do we still need the non-fiction now we have the internet? Much as we love some of the titles, are we ever going to re-read many of our old favourites? Have we opened these books in the last five or ten years? Are they now out of date? How many years do we have left to read or re-read all our books, and what will we choose to do with our remaining time? And finally, if we regret letting a book go, we can always pick up another copy.

All very fine in principle, but what about the practice? It's a painful process, and about a hundred titles have gone so far, giving us two metres of shelf space to move various objects off the floor. Today I took a batch of books to the office, offering colleagues the opportunity to pick them over, before I lug the bulk of them up the hill to the Oxfam Bookshop. So goodbye Bronte's Jane Eyre, auf wiedersehen Hesse's Steppenwolf, and au revoir Andre Gide's The Immoralist.

The latter was picked up by a workmate, who found a handwritten letter inside. I immediately recognised my grandmother's handwriting, and I had used it as a bookmark when I read it. The letter was undated, but it referred to the forthcoming event that was the birth of their great grandchild. Yes, these book pages and letter hadn't been opened since 1982. I can't remember the book at all, but I have very fond memories of my Nan (who died ten years ago), and a 27-year old daughter who's very much alive.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Bleeding-heart liberal-men round on Big Swifty

This man must be censured, for laughing with women. A hanging judge and jury of bleeding heart liberal men have decided that Big Swifty's facebook status posting today is inappropriate and offensive to women.
In response to the sisterhood's suggestion that women respond to a simple Facebook post, "What color is your bra?", millions of women have let their followers know, apparently to help raise awareness for breast cancer. The message was simple: "Just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. Then copy & send this to the girls on your friend list, absolutely no men .... It will be fun to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness." Spread it did. It's still unclear who started the Facebook bra meme, but it's really clear what color bra women wore on Thursday. The Susan G. Komen Foundation likes the idea. At the start of Friday, the group had exactly 135 fans on its Facebook page. By 5:30 p.m., it had 135,000.
Big Swifty pleads guilty to posting the following message to his facebook page, copied from another friend:

"URGENT FACEBOOK VIRUS ALERT. An email recently went out to women asking them to post the colour of their bra. THIS IS A VIRUS. To fix it, you must remove your bra, then go to settings>Enable Webcam>Record Movie. Please re post this to your status."
Immediately I posted this note (tongue in cheek), to add fuel to the fire: "I would like to apologise for that last posting. I thought I was carrying out a useful public duty, and have now had it explained to me that it's some kind of joke."
A gang of politically-correct virtual-police friends of mine ambushed me, suggesting I was a dirty old man, and that I should be ashamed of myself. Some wimmin friends thought my posting a good laugh. My defence was that my message was submitted with post-feminist irony, but this concept was lost on the humourless male guardians of women's feelings.
"You have just made me really laugh when I feel rubbish." "Andrew - this is what facebook is all about - having a laugh." "Oh, Andrew! Your post is a hoot!" "Can't find the webcam settings, but my husband is enjoying the spectacle!! " said some of my women friends. I like a laugh with the girls.

Friday, 8 January 2010

There's been a lot of legs around the house today - a Frank's eye view

Ever keen to encourage Frank to take up new interests, we let him take lots of photos on holiday. It's interesting to see the world from his perspective. There's lots of photos of details of the ground, and bushes, and there are quite a few table top pictures from a viewpoint just a few centimetres above the table. And there are the portraits of his staff. As you can make out, he brings us lots of joy.
But what's it like in one-metre high land? Today we had lots of visitors. In the morning we hosted a NCT (National Childbirth Trust) Open House event, and three families trudged across the tundra, beating their own path to our snowdrifted door. Five little people as guests, all playing together very well. (Phew!) Then, in the afternoon, Anne and her two young adults, towering over their mother, and looking Jules and I in the eye. All Frank sees is a forest of legs from the six tall people towering above in his house.

Aye, it's lonesome down on the forest floor; with all the talk, action and laughter up at the canopy. No wonder he gets frustrated, and sometimes seeks attention to be more involved. But, despite the prescence of all our lovely guests, he's very much been most of our thoughts today, as we wrestle with his diabetes. Day one of the new bloodsugar management regime, and we await tomorrow morning's reading, to see how we have done. It's a trial and error, iterative process, and we hope our first (educated) guess is somewhere near the target.

The picture above was taken on or near the winter solstice, in Brittany. He was fascinated by his tall shadow, from the low sun. Right now our days are in turmoil, getting the hang of living with diabetes. But we believe we're past the darkest days, and our family life will become lighter again. Frank, you're our little hero.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Unforeseen changes, at home and down the pub.

Only a month ago I was joking with friends, at a monthly pub session, that this particular group of nine men would never again be together in that room. And earlier this week I was proved to be correct. None of us have died, but when some of us turned up for our January get together, we found that the pub had closed. So this time we drank at The Castle instead of The Foresters.
Over the last month our three year old has been through some changes too. We are in a lottery that is a growing toddler, food fads and fancies, multiple exercise options and opportunities, with the whole lot spiced up with type 1 diabetes. And it has thrown up some surprises. For some reason his total daily dosage of insulin has had to be halved in the last month. More alarmingly, his daytime bloodsugar readings have been rocketing, which, if unchecked will lead to serious problems later on. Today we had our quarterly meeting at the hospital with his specialist doctor and nurse, and we start a new insulin and testing regime tomorrow. There was nothing wrong with how we were managing him, but stuff changes.
We must make the changes, but it will be more invasive than his old regime. He will now be needing at least three insulin injections a day, and at least three blood tests too. And we have had the first signs of distress from his thyroid, a common problem for people with diabetes, so that's another layer of complication for his body and us to deal with. It is very distressing, but there's absolutely no point wasting our energy and capacity railing against it. We have practical tasks to see to, from injection schedules, food plans, and keeping him moving, to planning his home education. Until he's old enough to look after himself he needs 24 hour monitoring, care and management, and we will of course be doing that for him.
And on Planet Frank, life's going well, as he enjoys his life at home and on holiday, with his parents, friends and family. No punchline to today's blog as we're in a sober but determined mood, gearing up for the next stage of Frank's life. He's a grand lad, and we'll do our best.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Pitch inspection, and the meeting's off

An early start today, as I had a meeting at the football ground at 8:30. It's only six miles away by bike, but with a head (north) wind and snow fallen overnight, I left home at 7:40 so I could walk part of the way if necessary. Cycling very gingerly, I arrived five minutes early, and alone. A minor glacier had formed on my lights and helmet, and I needed Elton John's windscreen wiper glasses to see where I was going. Checking my mobile at the stadium I heard that the meeting had been cancelled fifteen minutes after I left home. They had contacted me, but there was no way I would hear or feel my phone through all my layers of bags, clothing and hats. Cycling back to the office, I was uplifted by the courtesy and care being exercised by all the road users, a change from the sometimes rat-race we have to suffer.

Cycling home was a different story. The morning's relatively safe fresh snow on clear road, had changed to the evening's treacherous compacted, rutted snow, slush and ice. I walked one third of the way, cycled very slowly on the cycle track for another third, and steadily rode on the main road.

Carefully I tiptoed across roads covered with "sheet" ice, so named because that is what you scream, as your wheel slips from under you. And we've another four days of sub-zero temperatures and more snow every day. Time to put the bike away, and walk, methinks.


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