A red letter day in more than one sense. Most important of all I picked up the third prototype of my feeding frame. My larger elastic waistband trousers arrived and so did my kilt. I collected the feeding frame late afternoon and therefore I’ve had no time to examine in it detail.
The larger elasticated waistband trousers are a great success. With a bit of a struggle I can get them up out over my shirt and vest and now easy to push down. Each as they are basically to wear in my head office in the summer when I shall just wear a loose shirt and no vest these trousers will make life easier for me. The kilt I shall try on tomorrow.
The other important event which took place today was that I crystallized my SIPP, or in plain language I decided not to risk any further collapse in the stock exchange and sent my forms off to the pension provider to freeze my SIPP so that I can take my 25% tax-free lump sum. Much less than it would have been 12 months ago but nevertheless still worth having.
Reverting, for the moment, to my feeding frame, I have been horrified by the cost of specialized equipment for the disabled. For example, an adjustable table — not so very different from the one that I bought for Â£120 is offered from a different source for around Â£900. Similarly, which a device to catch cigarette ash can cost over Â£300, when, with a little ingenuity, it’s possible to make something that does the same job for a few pounds. Viz, touch my hands-free cigar holder made from toilet roll holder.
Ever since I was diagnosed with MND and started to require specialized equipment I have searched the net for some central source of second-hand gadgets and equipment at reasonable prices. No such place appears to exist. If it did I would very much like to hear about it. If it doesn’t, why don’t several of the big organizations get together and jointly fund a central distribution depot. The Disability Association together with other associations for MND, Stroke victims, MS and ME sufferers, and the like, could spearhead this initiative.
All of these associations are uniquely placed to know when one of their own dies and could discreetly approach the surviving partner offering to remove all the specialized equipment that has been purchased to make the life of the patient more comfortable. Most surviving partners would be only too pleased if this were done swiftly so as to remove daily reminders of their loss. I’m not suggesting that this equipment should not be paid for, although I’m sure, that in some instances, the surviving partner would be only too happy to donate it to a good cause. If a non-profit-making body, such as I suggest, was set up, this equipment could be sold on, at a modest profit, to another deserving patient, who might well not be able to afford new equipment at the exorbitant prices being charged by some of these so-called specialist equipment bodies.
Al. and I were in fits of giggles this morning trying on my â€˜skirtâ€™ (kilt). It looked very weird until we to took the tacking out of the pleats. Unfortunately the 38 inch waist may prove to be too big certainly if I lose any weight, which is my intention.
Kilts are not easy to take in, so I’m not quite sure what we will do. Anyway, I shall risk the ribald comments and amusement from my fellow golf club members and wear it the next time I go to the club, which will be on Tuesday 26th May, as I’m in London for the next two geriatric golf days.
My good friend Dr. Michael Long, arrives today, from Melbourne Australia. He’s spending the bank holiday with us and leaves for Dublin on Tuesday. I think I will get him to give me a hand with the feeding frame which needs adjusting for height.
We have a nice itinerary planned out for him. Dinner at home tonight with friends; lunch out to the pub in tomorrow with some other friends and possibly a street market and Morris dancers at Thaxsted on Bank Holiday Monday depending on the weather.
Whilst waiting for Michael to ring from the airport I spent a couple of hours in the first warm sunshine we’ve had this year. Happily dozing in a deck chair listening to classical music on my iPod.
I should perhaps explain what I alluded to about me being a sickly youth. An obvious target for the school bully. My saving grace was that I was brighter than most of the thugs who set about me, to my further detriment, as their fists rained down, I never let them forget it! The problem stemmed from the fact that I suffered from almost permanent septic throats, inflamed tonsils and adenoids. During this period there was a field of medical opinion which was against the removal of either tonsils or adenoids and, as a result my mother was so advised. With my system being poisoned year after year my growth was stunted and I was painfully thin â€“ something like 6 Â½ stone at 13 years old (dubbed with the nickname name Belsen). At which time it was obvious that the infected tonsils could not be allowed to remain and I went into Paddington hospital to have both tonsils and adenoids removed. This was quite a serious operation in one so old, normally being carried out in babyhood. I seem to recall that I had to spend something like three weeks in hospital, much of the time only being able to eat jelly and trifle. The outcome was that over the next three to four years I put on quite a lot of body weight and grew 10 Â½ inches.
So it came about that in my entire school career I was excused all forms of physical exertion. Indeed, I have, to this day, a certificate from the school doctor to that effect. When my system recovered from the operation and my health improved significantly I began to feel strong enough to take some physical exercise and by the age of 17/18 I positively yearned to do so. Believe it or not I decided that in order to raise my profile with my peers I would play rugby!
Of course I had never played a game, or indeed, to the best of my memory, had never even made contact with a rugby ball. However, I had seen a number of games played and the physicality of it appealed to me as being a manly pursuit and I was desperate to be accepted as one of the lads.
I bought myself a book entitled something like â€™How to Play Rugby Footballâ€™ and, after reading it a couple of times, decided that it was not too difficult a game. The next move was too find a club to join. In discussing this with a rugby playing friend and he discovering that I had a Scottish father, said the obvious choice was the London Scottish Rugby Club. This was one of the leading London clubs and I was given to understand that they had several teams and therefore varying standards of players would be welcome. I found the Secretaryâ€™s telephone number and rang him. He was very welcoming and suggested that I turned up the following Tuesday at Richmond for a trial. So the die was cast
My next move was to go to Lillywhites in Piccadilly to kit myself out. When I tried on my new boots, shorts, shirt and socks, I look like one of the dummies in the shop window. This clearly would not do so I took the whole lot into the garden, scuffed the boots and rubbed the rest of the new gear into the mud. So equipped I presented myself, the following Tuesday, as requested, at Richmond rugby ground, which London Scottish shared with that club.
When I arrived there must have been 50 or 60 other players all changing for the evening practice. It was not therefore difficult to get lost in this crowd and changing to my, now not so obviously brand new, kit following the crowd. I ran out on to the pitch for the very first time. I felt really great. I had arrived at last! I was one of the lads like everyone else.
It was not difficult to blend into such a large crowd and follow what everybody else was doing. Sprinting from one end of field to the other, then twisting and turning and running past would-be tacklers. Finally, and most exciting of all for me, receiving and passing the rugby ball â€“ the very first time I had even touched one. This ball was gathered by me and passed on as sweetly as anyone else on that field , or so I thought at the time.
After half an hour or so of this strenuous training under the floodlights a halt was called and the coach asked if there were any new members. I raised my hand with half a dozen other hopefuls. When it came to my turn he asked what position I played. Having re-read â€™How to play rugby footballâ€™ shortly prior to this training session, I decided that the only sensible position from me would be as far away from the forwards as possible i.e. on the wing. â€œI am a winger, Sirâ€, I said, â€œbut I must warn you I have not played since I left school and Iâ€™m very rustyâ€ I lied. â€œNever fearâ€ he said, â€œyou will certainly not be aloneâ€.
Having isolated the half a dozen or so new players, the coach then picked the balance of two teams from the regular players who had been training with us. We were told that we would be playing 10 minutes each way under the floodlights. I lined up, as I recalled I should from the book, and, apart from keeping my position, I had little to do other than one throw-in during the first half. After 10 minutes we had a three-minute break and then changed ends. Halfway through the second 10 minute period the ball came right down the line into my arms. I was so startled that I ran like a hare for the try line. On the way I spotted one burly obstacle but such was my terror and adrenalin level that I sidestepped, shot past this man and touched down. That was, in effect, all I did in this practice game. The whistle blew and we all took off. I was a very happy lad.
I stripped off and joined 20 or 30 other young men in a huge steaming bath. I really did feel that I had arrived particularly once I had a small glass of beer in my hands (despite hating the stuff).
Imagine my pride when I discovered that the burly obstacle who I had managed to negotiate was none other than Ken Scotland, the Scottish international fullback. My joy was heightened even further when the coach sought me out after the bath and told me that he was impressed with my performance and asked if I was prepared to playing for the extra A team the following Saturday. I had no idea that the extra Aâ€™s were the second or third team in a string of 14. All I knew was that I had arrived, the whole thing was really not as frightening as I had at first thought, in fact, I could see no impediment at all to play and enjoying this game. What a rude awakening I was in for!
The following Saturday, having read the book yet again, I presented myself at the Richmond ground, it being a home game against London Irish. It was a brilliant winterâ€™s day with a startling blue sky and frozen ground like concrete. I changed with some slight trepidation at the thought of playing my first game. Positioning myself in the back line there seemed little to do during the first 20 minutes or so, the ball rarely reaching the extremity of the wing. Then it happened.
After a scrum down one of the opposing forwards hiked a high Garry Owen, up and under. The ball rose high against the ultramarine sky. I can see even now. Rising high above the ground and then plummeting towards me in a gentle arc. It hit the ground about 10 feet in front me shooting first to the left and then violently to the right, first one way then the other. By the time I reached the ball, suddenly my mind went blank. I simply could not remember whether I had to play the ball first with my foot or was I allowed to pick it up and run.
This notion, some 50 or so years later, of having to play the ball with my foot before running with it seems so absurd that I can scarcely believe it myself but that was what I thought in the split second I had before opposition reached me. But then you must remember I totally unfamiliar with the rules.
In this state of indecision I could see a hoard of giants descending upon me with grim determination on their fearsome faces. Their arms pumping hard as they drew closer. Just me and the full back between them and the try line. I now know, of course, that what I should have done was to have fallen on the ball with my back to the oncoming horde and been fallen upon and trampled on whilst my own team retrieved the ball on our side. Not, at that time being in possession of such intelligence, I panicked and tried to kick the ball. To what end I know not. Sheer funk I think. I executed, what many a ballerina would have been proud of, a perfect pirouette and then fell flat on my face. By which time the opposing team had reached me and I was trampled heavily under a score of studded boots into the frozen mud as they swept over and past me. This performance, and the battered and bedraggled being which was me, after that assault was worthy of Norman Wisdom! Whether the London Irish actually scored from my transgression I was too shocked to register. I do know that the captain of our team was so angry he yelled that I was not to touch the ball again for the rest of that game.
As a result I thought that my rugby career was to have been very short-lived. Instead I received a card the following Tuesday requesting me to turn out on the following Saturday for the extra Gâ€™s â€“ 14 teams lower than the team I had played for the previous Saturday!!
Nevertheless I was thrilled. I really had made it this time. I had been accepted as a rugby player, albeit that the smell of beer from the overweight, elderly pack could be comfortably picked up on the wing by even the least sensitive nose. Never mind, I had started. Over the next three seasons I rose slowly up the pecking order and ended the last season playing in the Bâ€™s and extra Câ€™s.
Sadly my rugby playing career came to an end when I went to Australia. Melbourne being in an Aussie rules state rather than rugby union, I hung up my boots for ever in favour of other out door activities. However, I still wear my London Scottish tie with great pride. I earned it! (Sadly, London Scottish disappeared altogether in 2001 when they amalgamated with, of all teams, the London Irish, and the name was dropped altogether shortly after.)
My last contact with the London Scottish occurred on a year or so ago, 40 years after my fateful first game, when I returned, with an apology, a framed cartoon, with I had â€˜liftedâ€™ as a dare from behind the bar of the London Irish. I know they would have killed me if I had been caught at the time and it took all of this time to pluck up courage to admit to my scurrilous deed and return the trophy. After all, I reasoned, they could hardly beat up an old aged pensioner!
I have always had a penchant for all things culinary so when I returned home from a summer holiday to find our plum trees groaning with fruit and then happened to come across our ancient horde of Kilner jars, it is not surprising that I embarked on the following adventure.
How I lost my Bottle (1992).
The lawns were overgrown when I returned alone from my summer holiday. Two and a half inches of rain had fallen over the previous fortnight and although I was under the impression that most of it had fallen in Wales there had been sufficient at home to green the previously parched lawns and swell the fruit on the trees.
The plum tree was more heavily laden than in living memory and Alice, my wife, was not due back for another week. What to do with this God sent crop. Surely it should not go to waste.
Thirty years ago, when newly wed I had rashly bid, at a house clearance sale, for three dozen fruit preserving jars in the fond hope that my young bride would fill them annually with the fruits of my labour from our country garden. Sadly this had never come to pass and the jars had gathered dust over the years at the back of the scullery cupboard. Here then was my chance to surprise Alice on her homecoming with a array of bottled plums and perhaps too some plum jam.
I located the 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping, which I had suitably inscribed at the time, with the optimism of the newly wed, that it might have been referred to a little more often than the faded dust laden cover showed, all too clearly it, like the jars, had lain undisturbed over three decades.
The recipe for bottled fruit could not have been simpler – an idiot could follow it – what could go wrong! I even found, amongst the crusted preserving jars, the sealing rings without which these jars were unusable.
I cleared the decks and began. I picked my fruit, prepared my syrup, sterilised and rinsed my jars into which I packed my plums. So far so good. I prepared to place the first batch of jars in the oven only to find, to my dismay, that the sealing rings were too large. It was the Saturday of the August bank holiday weekend and I made the discovery at 4 p.m.. Undeterred I leapt into my car and scoured the shops in our nearest shopping town for the right size rings – to no avail. It seems that we were not the only household to be blessed with a bumper crop of fruit. By now it was almost 5 p.m., but there was just enough time to dash to the next nearest town, which was bigger than the first I had tried, to secure the elusive sealing rings. Alas again I drew a blank and as closing time drew near I decided that my only option lay in attempting to adapt the larger rings. Armed with a tube of super glue I sped home to be greeted , once more, with the sight of my dozen bottles of plums begging to be preserved to grace our table over the long winters evenings to come.
The cutting and gluing of the rings seemed to work better than I perhaps could have hoped; the only question was would the join be sufficiently sound to allow a vacuum seal in the lid?
The cook book recommended placing newspaper in the bottom of the oven to catch any overspill from the cooking plums. this seemed eminently sensible – after all I did not want Alice to return to a sticky oven.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees the book said. Now was this Fahrenheit or centigrade? – after all the book was written pre decimalisation. It did say a cool oven and 300 on our split level did seem to me to be rather hot but sobeit, that is what the recipe said.
I carefully lined the oven with the recommended newspaper onto which I placed the first batch of jars. Recommended cooking time was 40-55 mins; just time to have a bath as I was due to go out to dinner that evening. I had just settled comfortably for a good soak when I was alerted by the smoke alarm. I rushed to the kitchen to find the oven ablaze, fuelled, it seems by the newspaper liberally dowsed with syrup. With a bucket of water I extinguished the blaze and rescued the precious jars only slightly charred and somewhat smoky. Having cleared up as best I could I determined to try again this time without the paper, after all a few drips in the oven would be easily wiped away – or so I thought!
I resumed my bath. Half an hour or so later my nostrils were pervaded with the most delicious smell of cooking plums. Could this be right I asked myself as I lay in my watery cocoon. Somewhat apprehensively, half dressed for my dinner party, I approached the kitchen once more. On opening the door I stepped into a flood of hot syrup which was seeping at a steady stream from the closed oven door. When opened it revealed the jars bubbling and steaming merrily away like a mad alchemist test tubes, spilling their contents in varying degrees to all intents and purposes like little volcanoes. By now the flood had seeped under the refrigerator, washing machine et al besides covering a good half of the kitchen floor.
I was due out with the next 10 minutes or so but clearly could not leave things as they were until my return. There was nothing for it but to start mopping up.
The ensuing 15 minutes saw the worst of the mess cleared up but necessitated a complete change of clothes following yet another bath.
I abandoned all further efforts to rescue this first batch of plums and decided to leave, to the morrow, any further attempt at this now seemingly complex culinary feat.
I returned at midnight, mellow from a jolly evening, only to view once more the appalling mess and after a few minutes contemplation to find myself firmly stuck to the kitchen floor. I slipped out of my shoes leaving them in place amidst the wreckage of our kitchen – an exhibit worthy of the Tate; doubly so considering the original benefactor of that gallery and the nature of the substance securing my footwear to the floor.
I retired a saddened but enlightened man. Maybe my young bride had known a thing or two when she left those jars at the back of the cupboard to gather dust all those years.
Tomorrow I would try again before I start on the jam which I also intended to make – after all any fool can make jam! I did learn one thing however, plum syrup makes a most effective oven cleaner!
(Postevent footnote: Four years following this culinary disaster my lovely black Labrador â€˜Woodyâ€™, still hated crossing the kitchen floor. I believe there was still some residual stickiness which probably made the poor dog feel as though he was walking through treacle.)
All went according to plan with the good doctor and Alice put him on an early train to Stansted Airport this morning.
I went to London to the Arbitration Club lunch and committee meeting. I just managed it, but had some difficultly in filling the car with petrol. I almost had to ask somebody else to squeeze the pump handle for me. I suspect it will not be too long before I have to give up driving myself altogether.
After lunch I met with Richard Morris who has very kindly set up this blog for me and hopefully we will go live in a day or two.
Some more equipment came today from AbilityNet, including the E-Book which I’m looking forward to getting into.
I am due to spend the next four days at Lords watching the West Indies test match, I just hope I will cope okay.
I managed Lord’s quite well Alice took me to the station and the travel was okay. I now tend to keep my travel card in a plastic pocket hanging around my neck as I find it almost impossible to get my hand in my pocket to produce it. I did have a bit of a struggle carrying the bag with a bottle in it, and little else, from St. John’s Wood underground station through to the Warner stand in the Ground, a distance, I would guess, of around one mile. It was simply that the weight of the bag was almost too much for me, which is indicative of my weakening arms.
One thing I did learn today and that was the easiest way to eat a sandwich. My weakened arms means that I have to use both hands to get it to my month. I now have the sandwich chopped up into small bite-size squares, stab it a fork and, with the assistance of my wrist splint, can manage with my right hand alone.
The cricket was great, an excellent win for England against the West Indies and particularly encouraging to see new boys Swan and Onions doing really well, not to mention Bophara. I look forward to the Ashes in June. I think we will give the Aussies a good run for their money.
I spent Friday night at daughter Chloeâ€™s in anticipation of taking son-in-law (and nephew Tom Grand) for the Saturday match, which sadly did not take place, the match being all over on the third day. So we went out to lunch in East Dulwich instead.
Up to London again today to Arbitration Club lunch. Stupidly I went to the wrong branch – Bishopsgate instead of Fetter Lane. When I discovered my mistake I grabbed a taxi and was only 10 minutes or so to late. The members are getting used to see me wearing my wrist splint and eating with my funny spoon and fork. This will prepare them for the time when one of them has to feed me.
After lunch I went to Waterstone’s, the bookshop in Piccadilly. I was curious to know if I would be able to buy E-books with my book vouchers. The answer was that I could, but first I had to have the value of these vouchers transferred to my Waterstone card. Then all I need to do is to go onto the net, give the number of my card and then download the book. It will be fun to try but I gather that the number of books available this way, at the moment, is rather limited. I forgot to ask Waterstoneâ€™s whether there was a comprehensive list, of these e-books, somewhere.
On to the Landsdowne club, off Berkeley Square, where I met my lovely for tea and a snooze before going to hear son Miles give up a talk to The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorian (the Welsh) at the British Academy, in Carlton Terrace. I was proud of him, he did well.
I had walked from Fetter Lane someway towards Piccadilly before catching a bus. Then from Waterstoneâ€™s to the Lansdowne Club, then to and from the club to Carlton Terrace. A lot of walking, probably 3/4 miles in all and to be honest I felt it in my legs. I really think they are getting weaker or maybe it is, as my dear wife suggests, what I should expect at almost 75 years old.
We ended the day back at the Landsdowne for dinner with the entire family. Karl, Chloe and Kimberley joined us after the talk. Not only a celebratory dinner for Miles, following his talk, also an early party for Chloe, whose birthday it is tomorrow.
Al and I made a dash for the train around 10 and got home at about at 11.30. I wasn’t sorry to get into bed.
I noticed yesterday, when I was tidying up before dinner, that I could only just get my right hand up to push back the hair over my ear. This is new and I just wonder how aggressive is the deterioration in my arms.
I started the day, as I have done for very many years, doing my morning exercises. These started when I’ve suffered badly from trapped nerves in the lumbar region of my spinal core (lower back pain). More recently, following the cancer operation, I added the pelvic floor exercises which have become more imperative since I knocked out the AUS. For details on these exercises, basically designed for back pain sufferers, download this file in pdf format â€“ I have not included details all the pelvic floor exercises – mainly of interest to incontinence sufferers – but will happily pass these to anyone who would like them. The reason for mentioning this now, was not to prove what a great guy I am doing exercise daily, but to point out that exercise 13 is becoming progressively more difficult. I suspect it will not be too long before I am unable to raise my arms above the floor.
My great excitement today was having my toenails cut out at the local community hospital. There is no way I could do this myself now, and my dear wife, who is 70 next week, cannot manage either. This is a free NHS service for the ancient and elderly like me.
Al and I went to stay with Chloe and family overnight in preparation for Alâ€™s 70th birthday celebrations.
On Thursday morning we boarded the river bus at Westminster pier and enjoyed a 40 minute journey, with commentary, to Kew Gardens (Al’s Choice). At lunchtime I took the whole family out for a decent lunch and then with me having a snooze in the sun, outside the Orangery Restaurant, and the rest of the family tramping about the gardens, we called it a day. I wasn’t sorry as I had really enjoyed myself but I did notice my legs were feeling rather leaden and I was not able to walk as freely, and as far, as I might have done in the past.
On Friday I took Chloe and the birthday girl (along with little Lara) to the Dulwich Art Gallery to see the Sickert Exhibition. Frankly, it was not to my taste and I much preferred the free permanent exhibition. Lunch, in the street near Chloeâ€™s home and then back to Clavering. A happy time.