Thursday, 27 August 2015

Fly Fisherman has a Brush with Art!

Saw Bernie, the specialist nurse at St Christopher's Hospice yesterday for my pain control check up. I showed her a graph of what my previous 24 hours had been like and she advised me to double the OxyContin pills.  I did from 8 pm and they worked effectively till 6 am when I awoke with extreme pain so I had to get up and move about.  Not due the next dose till 8 am so I took some paracetamols and some OxyNorm liquid as top up.  Then I needed something to distract me so I decided to blog. Here goes:-

I had an excellent art master called Kenneth Somers-Yeates at secondary school.  He caned me once for playing the fool when I was around 13 years old but later when I was a prefect we became good friends. He taught me a lot about perspective drawing so from time to time I dabble.

This is a fish picture I painted a long time ago of a fine spotted trout.




Whilst doing voluntary work at the London LDS Temple I painted this view of the Manor House as seen from my bedroom window.  This has been my most reproduced painting as practically everyone who has served on site has requested one.  In the end instead of giving them away I started charging a £5 donation to the Church's Perpetual Education Fund.  This has raised well over £300.

Recently at Center Parcs I painted the view out of the lodge window, not very exciting but the only place I could get comfortable enough to paint.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Exploring Anomalies! This could be controversial?

Maybe it's an age thing or maybe I am just over hypersensitive to what is going on around me but I am amazed and even disconcerted about what I see as anomalies. 
Take for example the vast sums of money spent by local government departments in the UK in installing traffic calming solutions. The most popular of these (popular by the local governments and shock absorber manufacturers not drivers) are speed humps (which more poetically were known as "sleeping policemen"). Why go to the trouble, cost and effort of installing these when letting a random scattering of deep potholes develop, renders the same traffic calming effect for free?
For me another anomaly occurs at dances or discos. Why do people attend dances and disco? Well certainly to dance or at least to jig about, but mainly to meet and get to know other people. Does this happen? Yes, but the efficiency of the process is severely inhibited. What inhibits the process? The "disc jockey"! How do they do it?  By playing the music so loud it is impossible to hold a conversation. This explains why at a noisy disco you see so many people in the corridors or even the car park so they can talk. Sadly it is a self defeating cycle as the DJ on seeing people moving off the dance floor turns the volume higher! Obviously DJs are not equipped to be arbiters of noise levels as the very nature of their job means they are all profoundly deaf anyway!
Years ago it came as a real shock to me when I asked my teenage children if they had enjoyed a particular event such as a friends party or church youth club meeting and they replied "Dad, it was really wicked!" Concerned as to what evil had transpired in this seemingly safe environment I would "water board" them to get to the innocent truth. This current popular use of the word wicked is another anomaly as is the use of the word "cool"! Sitting in a warm and humid chapel last Sunday I was amused by a speaker who kept telling the congregation how cool they were. On reflection maybe that was less of a concern than if he had been saying how "hot" they were!
The use of alcohol to enhance an evening's pleasure leads to the classic anomaly "it must have been a brilliant night out because my head hurts and I can't remember a thing!" I am so glad that in my autumnal years not having been fueled by alcohol I can still remember the good nights out!
Then there is the anomaly of some restaurants imposing a "service charge"! If I see that when ordering I am tempted to ask, "If we serve ourselves can we forgo the service charge?
Mention computers and anomalies and I could prattle on at infinitum. Suffice it to say that if my computerised financial transactions are so secure why is it necessary to have so many system updates and why are there daily news reports of security breaches and people's nest eggs going missing?
Now to risk getting a bit political. In the days when we were either hunters or gatherers or even multi tasking at both, everyone had to make some contribution to the survival of the tribe. Some of us are old enough to almost remember, no work, no eat. So everyone had to do their bit; kids collecting firewood, elderly people watching children and most surprisingly even teenagers working! Probably even the weak, sick or dysfunctional were expected to make some sort of contribution. No contribution, no dinner! So here today, in the so called civilised world, the anomaly is that often we actually pay people to do nothing! When we do that we deny them the satisfaction of experiencing the feeling of being needed and of a "job well done"! So what stops us helping everyone find a working role, I suggest it is mainly a lack of imagination. 
When I worked in Africa I was amazed at how some of the locals could make something to sell out of nothing.  Once I was invited to stay at the home of the architect I was working for in Lusaka, Zambia. He lived at Leopards Hill, the posh part and his estate had a swimming pool, squash court and everything else you could desire.  One of the reception rooms in the house was huge, two storeys high and was equipped like a museum. On the floor were a number of very large models, in metal, of vehicles beautifully hand crafted.  I asked the owner about them and he said that one day there was a knock on the door and a local gentleman said "Mr Andrews here is a model of your Toyota Land Cruiser I have made for you".  Andy was impressed with the size (it was at least 4 feet long) and the craftsmanship (it was all made out of recycled coke cans metal, oil drum metal etc).  Andy felt he had to buy it as it was so good.  A month later the same man appeared but this time with an equally beautiful, huge model of Andy's wife's car.  The following month it was a beautiful model of the family's tractor and so it went on until Andy pulled the plug.  I cite this because it shows an interesting use of initiative.
Well I have run out of steam now but I bet you have your own list of anomalies!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Who is the angel who tried to help?

Last Thursday having been told they were giving me a break from the chemo I had a good day on Friday and even managed to visit Ann and Bill our favourite neighbours. I was feeling so much better I started thinking about Rosalind and I going away for a break. On Saturday having failed to get a new batch of 12 hour pain killer tablets ordered off the surgery website I took the empty OxyContin packet to the surgery, fortunately only 200 metres away and a lady in the office said she would order it for me.

So I had to switch to the short term OxyNorm liquid pain relief. Things started to go downhill from there on. I felt unwell during Saturday night but on Sunday morning I decided to go to Church as Rosalind was giving the closing 20 minute talk in Sacrament meeting and I wanted to support her. Also Ann and Bill were coming. Rosalind's talk was excellent but as I was poorly Ann and Bill took me home afterwards.

We had invited Alejandro and his daughter Camila to lunch on Sunday so we could get to know them better and also to help them on the job development front. After lunch we invited them to do the Church's "Career Choices Questionnaire" which they managed well with some help from Google Translate! Their mother tongue is Spanish. After Rosalind and I had analysed their results we helped them with the career selection process. By this time I was feeling grim so I left Ros to finish off and I retired to bed.

To cut a long story short over the next days I developed diarrhoea and vomiting which coupled with the pain from the cancer has made life pretty miserable. The surgery managed to prescribe more liquid pain relief by mistake but a couple of telephone calls sorted that and eventually I got the OxyContin pills.

Our church Stake President Chris Turner, and his wife Sue visited us on Tuesday evening and Ros had invited them to dinner. I joined them, unshaven and in my PJ's and managed a bit of dinner. We had a lovely chat but then I had to bail out feeling really unwell.

I then had more vomiting and severe "Ghandi's Revenge" so Wednesday was lousy but with two highlights. The first was that my daughter-in-law Debbie emailed out the link to the family photos the professional photographer had taken at Center Parcs and they were brilliant!

The second highlight was an anonymous parcel from Amazon containing an electronic pain suppression device called a Tens!  Having read the instructions and experiencing some shoulder pain, I decided to try it out.  I think I must have put the electrodes in the wrong place because it amplified rather than inhibited the pain.  Still I will experiment because it obviously has an effect.  Sadly about 20 minutes after the experiment I was throwing up the tomato soup and banana I had eaten earlier.  I don't think the device caused that. 

The question remains "who is the nice angel who sent me the Tens device"? I would like to thank them for thinking of me and trying to help in a practical way. If it was you please let me know so I can thank you?

Monday, 17 August 2015

Pain and more pain!

I am writing this in an effort to distract myself from the pain I am not enjoying. I used to think that when it came to pain I was "Mr Tough Guy"!  Sometimes when asked at the dentist, prior to a drill session, if I wanted an injection I would say "No, just get on with it"!  Then I felt I had coped OK with pain after my large hernia op and when I had the TURP procedure.  My shoulder rotator cuff operation was a whole new ball game, that really hurt!  Once the pain blocker injection wore off it was hell, but as the days slipped by things improved and 3 months later I was glad I had the op.

Currently I am suffering three types of physical pain (please don't feel obliged to read on). The cancer in my right lung means that it hurts a bit like I have broken several ribs. This pain is always there but if I keep still and don't try to breath deeply it becomes bearable and I can get to sleep. 

The "killer diller" pain (I have no idea where that expression came from) is one that has developed in intensity over the months I have been ill. It started as an irritating pain over my right shoulder and down my arm. Sometimes it would go away for a few days, hurrah! Sadly recently it has increased in intensity and as well as affecting my shoulder has moved down into high level in my back. 

So what have I done in order to fight back? Well I rigorously follow the recommended pain control regime suggested by Bernie the nurse at St Christopher's Hospice. This involves 2 paracetamol tablets 4 times a day at 4 hourly intervals, plus a 10 mg OxyContin tablet twice a day (8am and 8pm) this is the 12 hour dose. Then as top up I have 5 ml of OxyNorm in liquid form if the other stuff is not coping. They are both oxycodone hydrochlorides.  Sadly at the moment I am not coping!  I have also tried lying, sitting and standing in every conceivable position (except on my head, although that has been tempting) to relieve the pain.  Hot shower water directed at my back helps for a while.  A heated bean bag filled with wheat (I think) masks some pain if it is hot enough.

The third type of pain I experience is from the urinary catheter I still have fitted. This was fitted some months ago as the morphine I was on for pain relief was inhibiting my water works from functioning. The catheter does its job but it does painfully irritate my penis forcing me to wriggle or walk about to release the pain.

Last night after I had vomited twice (not sure why but was I glad I had really chewed up the bacon sandwich I had for supper) I managed to get to sleep before midnight. Sadly I woke in a lot of pain around 3am.  I put my bean bag in the microwave and heated it up and returning to bed decided to check out a couple of blogs recommended by one of nurses at the Marsden. So now I have visited Mavis Nye's blog and also looked at Mesothelioma Warriors web site. This led me on to find out about the Medical Innovations Bill that Lord Saatchi is trying to get through Parliament.

24 Jun 2015 - Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill passes first hurdle. A bill which will offer legal protection to doctors who try out innovative new techniques or drugs on patients when all else has failed is a step closer to becoming law.

I think this is a move in the right direction, it won't help me but I would not mind being a guinea pig if it helped other souls. In the meantime I battle on supported by my loving wife.

I got a bit of a surprise at my meeting with the doctor at the Marsden last Thursday.  She told me that the consultants had reviewed my case and decided to give me a break from chemo for a month. Then I would have a CT scan to see if the chemo was working and based on the findings they would decide the future course of action. So there was no chemo on the Friday and I had a goodish day.  Then on the Saturday the pain really kicked in!

A big thank you to all the people thinking of me, praying for me and contacting me, it does help. Watch this space!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The old fisherman delves into the positive side of dying!

Who is this man? Read on!
We are all dying, but when you have been told you are on the fast track measurable in months or if you are lucky a few years it does focus the mind. In some ways this is helpful because it allows you to start putting your affairs in order. There are the practical things like making sure your wife knows the cost of running the house and what needs to be paid when and how. Then there are the things that worry your conscience, people you might have upset or offended years ago to whom you would like to apologize. So far I have apologized to two people and both have been very magnanimous in their response and have helped me feel better and I can mentally tick them off the list (it's a short list).
Being religious I do believe in miracles but I also believe in a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for all of us and sometimes either because we don't have enough faith or because it's not part of our plan a miracle is not an option.  However, I do believe it is possible to have a miracle especially with people all over the world mentioning me in their prayers and my medical team trying their hardest.
I find the discomfort and pain can wear one down a bit so it is important to regularly top up the attitude batteries. Receiving support and encouragement from family and friends is a great help. One of the great blessings in my life is the support I get from my church and religious beliefs. When at the age of 16 I moved on from the Church of England and was baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I had no idea of the positive impact it would have on my life. Not only has it helped me "stay on the straight and narrow" but it has given me a wonderful life, wonderful wife and a wonderful family. I have also had some amazing experiences and adventures such as running a Scout Group, managing a Church farm, starting a branch of the Church in Gibraltar, taking sixty young adults from London and Paris camping on the beach in Normandy (lots of marriages came about from that). Also being a lay minister in the Church and also a school governor for twenty three years kept me out of mischief! My former employers will be asking "How did he ever find time to go to work?"
When I feel a bit low because of the pain and the inability to do things, I visit one of the Church's web sites and listen to or read a talk given by one of the Church leaders. The video link below is to a talk given by Jeffrey R Holland one of our Church leaders (pictured above) who I have met and talked to and who is an interesting and inspirational speaker. I recommend the talk to you. Please try the link and share your thoughts with me it certainly gave me a boost..
http://media2.ldscdn.org/assets/general-conference/april-2013-general-conference/2013-04-5010-elder-jeffrey-r-holland-720p-eng.mp4?download=true
If you have trouble with the video link you could always try https://www.lds.org/?lang=eng and have a look at the Church's main web site. For information on what we believe try www.mormon.org


Monday, 10 August 2015

I'm dying to have a good time, and I did at Center Parcs!

When things are a bit bleak on the health front it is good to have something to look forward to. I had already planned to take all the UK based family members away to Center Parcs in August.  When we had to cancel our holiday in Seattle, because of my cancer challenge, our U.S.A-based family (Dan, Holly, Erin, Harrison, Rose and Kate) decided to come to see us and join the Family Reunion Holiday at Center Parcs in Woburn Forrest, UK.
There were 37 of us in 5 large well-appointed and equipped lodges. The weather was good and the range of activities amazing. We have, over the years, stayed at most of the Center Parcs in the UK, but with the newest at Woburn, Center Parcs have really upped their game.
Booking was easy, arriving and getting settled no problem and all the staff were most helpful. I really appreciated the comfortable beds and the ladies liked the well-equipped kitchens and the general cleanliness.
 In terms of activities there was so much to do. Let the pictures tell the story.
 Yours truly outside the glazed side to the indoor pools.
 The 4 person floats give you a terrific ride!
 The main pool with a spectacular wave machine that can knock you over.
 Rosalind and yours truly enjoying the lazy river.
 Beach and boats.
 The amazing treetop action challenge, well run and good value.
 Massive zip line across the lake!
 Twenty mums and dads at dinner.
 Little people ten pin bowling.
 Disco crazy mums!
Alan and Rosalind with all 23 grandchildren!
Yes it did cost quite a lot of money, but the relationships and memories are priceless!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

My experiences flying, you might learn from my mistakes?

Some weeks ago I caught a couple of partial chapters of a book being read on BBC Radio 4. The book was called Skyfaring (think of seafaring applied to flying) by Mark Vanhoenacker a 747 pilot. I was so impressed with the bits I heard, in terms of language and ideas, I got the book. I am enjoying reading it and it has prompted me to remember my experiences involving flying so here goes!

In my early teens we had a holiday in a chalet on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. I spotted a sign advertising flights from a nearby field and got parental permission to spend my pocket money. The plane was a single engine Auster and I got to sit next to the pilot as I was bigger than the other passengers. It was real flying by the seat of your pants stuff but it didn't last for long. Having bumped across the field and got into the air the pilot climbed quite steeply, then he cut the engine and the plane stalled and we dropped like the proverbial stone leaving my stomach 30 feet above my head. Fortunately as the nose dropped he restarted the engine and we landed safely. 
My next experience of flying was on my honeymoon to Austria. We flew from an old World War Two airfield at Manston in Kent in a Dakota or similar old banger. The seats were so close together that my knees were up by my ears! When the pilot ran the engines up the noise and vibration were so bad I was convinced the plane would fall apart and I would die before I had the chance to enjoy my honeymoon! Fortunately my guardian angels (or someone else's were working overtime) and I survived the flights. I also survived and enjoyed the honeymoon!
When I volunteered for three years service with the British Government as a design draughtsman in Gibraltar I was flown out in an RAF Britannia aircraft to Gib from the RAF base at Brize Norton. Because it was a military flight the plane was not allowed to cross Spain so we flew the long way round, out into the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean through the straits between Africa and Europe. As the wind was blowing from the east we had to do the hairy approach from the west which involved frightening aerobatics to avoid going into Spanish airspace whilst trying to line up with the end of the Gib runway which stuck out in the sea.
One Christmas, whilst I was stationed in Gib, my mother flew out but because the winds were too turbulent around the rock, her plane was diverted to Tangiers, where it overshot the runway! The next day she was flown into Gib but the uneven runway (built on the old race course) had lots of pools of water on it causing the planes wheels to lock up and aquaplane and then the tyres burst when they hit normal Tarmac. All the emergency vehicles chased it down the runway!
The hairy runway at Gib sticking out into the sea!
There was never a dull moment in Gib when it came to flying. When we lived near the RAF Air Sea Rescue base the rescue boat was scrambled as a Hawker Hunter returning from a sortie down the Med was informed by the tower that one undercarriage leg had failed to deploy. The pilot was instructed to bail out over the sea but he decided to try and save the aircraft by landing on one wheel and ejecting before the plane toppled over. Sadly the air speed was not enough to clear the cockpit canopy and the pilot was killed being ejected through it.

When I worked in Zambia on a project for the Bank of Zambia I was asked to go to Ndola in the copper belt to look at another building. I drove up with the architect along a long smooth straight road built by the Italians. This road had one sharp bend in it. As we approached the bend there were lots of signs saying anyone putting oil on the road would be shot!  Apparently the locals had developed skills at oiling the road so a lorry's wheels slipped on the surface and it rolled over taking the bend. Then they would help themselves to its cargo. It reminded me a bit of the Cornish wreckers so I didn't pass judgement.
Flying back from the copper belt, into Lusaka airport I was staring out of the window when I saw three black Hawker Hunters converging on my flight at high speed. Just as they were about to pass right in front of our plane our pilot must have seen them as he immediately did an evasive turn to port (left) as though he were flying a single seater Pitt Special and barn storming.  After he and I had recovered our breath the pilot came on the PA system and apologised for the aerobatics explaining that the Zambian airforce were doing a fly past for a visiting head of state and regretting the fact that the civil and military air authorities do not share traffic information.

After a week or ten days in Lusaka I use to get a bit jaded by the heat and constantly feeling you had to be on your guard so I always looked forward to flying home.  I always made sure I was at the airport on time and queued up for my boarding card. I remember seeing the man in front of me get his and then when I got mine I had a vague feeling that something was not quite right but I wasn't sure what! Anyway he went to the bar and I went to the departure lounge. I got on the plane and took my seat, a few minutes later the man who had been in front of me turned up with a boarding card with the same seat number as mine. I showed him mine and suggested he speak to the stewards.  He did and several of them asked to look at my boarding card. They wanted it but I held on. Eventually a senior stewardess arrived and was a bit too officious so I made it clear that I was staying in the seat and as soon as the plane was in the air I wanted to talk to the senior member of the cabin crew so I could make an official complaint.  Normally I would have been conciliatory but I knew the flight was busy and I needed to get home. Eventually the senior man turned up and he found us two seats at the back of the plane where I was able to share my experience with him. I told him I had been made to feel like a stowaway and I was not impressed.
So on my next trip I decided to fly Air Zimbabwe instead of BA and that led to another adventure. Going out was OK but the return flight had a longish layover at Harare, Zimbabwe and I was unsure as to how safe Harare was for a white chap on his own so I made friends with the Zambian chap sitting next to me and asked him it he would like to travel into Harare by taxi with me and have lunch if it was my treat. He said he would, but then he came up with a classic African ruse!  He said my friend is also on the flight and he is a policeman, could he come too! When I saw the size of the policeman chap I readily agreed and the three of us had a great time in the city. In the markets the locals could not quite understand why this white man was friendly with these two black guys. I made them laugh by explaining that I was their bodyguard.
My two Zambian minders in Harare.
When we got back to the airport we got a bit of a shock! All our luggage from our flight was piled up in one big heap in the middle of a public area waiting for us to pick it up and take it to the departure desk. But at least I got a seat without any hassle.

When my MD wanted me to go to Uganda to talk to a government minister there I needed help in finding a suitable hotel. I contacted one of my ex pat friends in Zambia and he put me in touch with a Zambian lady living in London. She recommended the Fairways Hotel and asked if I would be kind enough to take a letter for her out with me and I agreed. She turned up at my office about an hour before I was due to go to the airport. Instead of a letter she had a completely full heavy duffle bag and said would I mind taking that to her family! I was somewhat taken aback! After some thought I said I could only take it if I packed it so I knew what was in it. She agreed and we tipped the contents out on the table and I was flabbergasted. The heavy items were the pipe wrench, the bath tap, the bottle of whiskey and the sweets. The not so heavy, but bulky items were the sexy ladies underwear and other clothes. Feeling obligated to help I repack the bag and headed out for what I imagined would be an eventful trip taking the duffle bag and contents as hand luggage.
At Heathrow the chap scanning the duffle bag asked if I was taking a bath as hold luggage? The real challenge came when I changed flights at Addis Ababa, it was chaos with a real scrum to get on the next flight (which I could see was already boarding). I got held up by two officials who went through the duffle bag pulling things out with delight. Holding things up they kept saying "Is this for you?" And I would reply it is a gift for a friend. They roared with laughter at the underwear! This taking things out and holding them up became repetitive and out of the corner of my eye I could see people boarding the plane. Eventually the penny dropped and I realised they wanted me to give them something. I was reluctant to do it because it wasn't mine to give but in sheer desperation I gave them a handful of sweets each saying it was a gift for their children. Immediately the bag was zipped up and I was on my way to border control who gave me a hard time insisting I was the British Prime Minister John Major travelling on a false passport! It was all very friendly but I ended up sprinting across the hot Tarmac to get on the plane. We landed safely at Entebbe AirPort and I got a taxi to the hotel which wasn't air conditioned! Neither was the taxi and it was hot!
The meeting with the lady Minister was interesting, she was well educated but I could not help noticing the pile of books on her desk all about business ethics! I also noticed that in each corner of her office there was a modern photocopier. I remarked that they must do a lot of photocopying and she explained that none of them worked as there were no photocopy maintenance companies operating in Uganda so when they broke they just ordered a new one. I wonder if all that came out of someone's foreign aide budget?
We didn't get any business out of the Ugandan government but I did get to see Lake Victoria where the River Nile flows out. The lake changes its level during the course of the seasons. Instead of building jetties out into the lake so that people can get aboard the small ferry boats the locals have developed a "spectator sport"! This involves men carrying would be passengers for a fee, on their backs and wading out to the boats. Some of the lady passengers are enormous and some of the male porters over optimistic regarding their ability. The results can be most amusing!
Where the River Nile actually exits the lake there are a series of serious rapids. As we were walking up to take a look a twelve year old boy ran up and said if we gave him some money he would jump in and swim down the rapids! I refused point blank not wishing to be a party to a suicide!  Then some other foreigners turned up and money changed hands and I was horrified! But the little boy was no fool, he ran down to the waters edge, produce a plastic oil drum and holding onto it jumped into the foaming rapids!  The current swept him down a channel between the jagged rocks and into calmer water down stream from which he alighted grinning from ear to ear!
You can have airborne excitement in the UK as well. One windy day I flew out of Gatwick when the Captain announced that breakfast would not be served as we would be wearing it! When we landed at Manchester the plane hit the ground so hard it was taken out of service! Flying back that night the replacement plane was half empty, a lot of passengers preferring the train.

I bet you have your own flying war stories!