Friday, 15 February 2019

"Hot Rails To Hell"

Happy Places, Lost Friends and Rock 'n Roll

The beginning of 2019 has been quite reflective for me. Despite my own assurances that I won’t “look back” I’ve spent a fair amount of time reviewing where I was three years ago. I was in a really crappy place, getting towards the end of the Chemo / RT cycle and suffering like heck. It’s so easy to think to yourself “This time three years ago………..” that’s not a healthy place to be, life is forward, not backwards. So, to elevate the gloom we’ve booked our first holiday of the year. Three nights in Porthcothan, our “Happy Place” in March should go some way to getting me back on track. As well as the traditional evening at the Seafood Restaurant I’ve also booked in for a guided photography walk with Kate Whis Photography for the Tuesday. We’ll be walking from Rock to Daymer Bay and taking photographs as we go. I’ve been following Kate on Facebook for a while now, her photos are superb and resonate with me due to the locations. It should be a good morning, three hours of walking, talking, photos, Neville, Carol………….. what more could I ask for? The resulting photos will be published once we get back. I’m really looking forward to the experience, whilst I’ve been taking photos since I was in my early teens, I’ve never really had a lesson. 

Earlier this week I was chatting to a friend on Facebook about Badminton, and the possibility of making a comeback on the court. Back in the day, and I’m going back 40+ years ago here, I was a fairly decent player. I played County and South East England at a representative level. My parents drove me all over the country at weekends for tournaments and County matches. I made a lot of good friends over the years of playing. Two friends stick out, two friends I’ve lost contact with over the years and would love to speak to again.

The first of those friends was Robert Day. I first met Rob at the U13s Berkshire Restricted Tournament, he was an U13, I was an U12. I beat him J Ok, he’d just recovered from a broken hand, but I still won, about the only time I ever did beat him at singles. The next year we came across each other at various tournaments and matches and struck up a close friendship which would last through the next 15 years or so. He introduced me to parties, the Red Lion in Wokingham, smoking (I'll forgive him, I should have had more will power!), the B52s and photography. We made a formidable doubles partnership, based on grovelling our way out of matches with superb defence that would wear the opposition down, ok, we bored the pants off them, but it worked. Rob and I had our ups and downs, he once pinched a girlfriend of mine and married her, I eventually forgave him, it was a lucky escape on my part. When he and the said stolen girlfriend emigrated to the US of A Carol & I took on their two cats, Tiffiny and Tucker. The marriage didn’t last (Not Carol and I, we’re still together), but Rob came back to the UK on  a fairly regular basis, when we’d meet up for a pint and a chinwag. The last time we saw each other was about 10 years ago when he was over with his new wife. We played an hour of badminton, I won, that was the last time I played, and I haven’t seen Rob since. The last I knew Rob was working in IT in San Diago.

The second of those friends was Jane Willoughby. We first met whilst playing for Reading Youth BC as the age of 13. Jane went to Maiden Erlegh School, was an all-round sportswomen, drank pints, and lit her fags by using the biggest box of matches known to man. We struck up a great friendship, stretched at times by me being a prick, and we were a feared mixed double pairing in the Reading leagues. Jane was very bright, passed her A Levels and went on to get a great degree from Loughborough University before embarking on a career as a Primary School teacher. She married Anthony Wilkes a number of years ago, and again, for one reason or another we lost contact. I would dearly love to get back into contact with both Jane and Rob. Searching FB, Twitter and Linkedin have thrown up no results, maybe the power of Social Media and random blog posts will prove to be more successful.

For a sport that meant so much to me when I was growing up, I just gave up overnight. I’d been playing a match about half way through the season, got home quite late in the evening, my knees were killing me, I hadn't enjoyed it, and I never picked up a racket in anger again. Both Anna and Max went on to represent Berkshire at Junior level so perhaps sport does run in the genes.

(I suspect I'll be told off for posting this pic of Anna when she was probably about 13)

To keep with the throwback to the old days theme of this blog on 22nd February Carol and I are off to the Hammy Odeon, ok, it's now known as the Hammersmith Apollo, but will always be the Hammy Odeon to me, to see Blue Oyster Cult, a band that Rob introduced me to back in probably 1978 / 79. They’ll be best known to most people by their only UK hit, Don't Fear the Reaper The last time Carol and I saw BOC live was 24 years ago when Carol was very heavily pregnant with Anna. We travelled up to the Marquee in London, an iconic venue and the stewards found us a quiet area to watch the performance from, I think they were worried she’s go into labour during the encore. I’m slightly apprehensive about the gig, the two original members of the band must be pushing 70 years old now, but I guess good music never dies. in our numerous trips to the Odeon in years gone by it always seemed that the same support band were playing, three pints on London Pride were their name :) 

I haven’t yet had a date to see the Plastic Surgeon for the next cancer op. but I see that as a good thing as it can’t be that serious. I have had a couple of massages on my neck as the lympth nodes are a bit swollen on the right underside of my chin, as is one of the muscles effected by the surgery, so it’s likely I’ll be seeing the massage team for a while longer yet. I'm beginning to feel defined as a person by the cancer. A few years ago at a schools rugby festival I met one of my old school masters who I hadn't seen for probably 30 years. He looked at me and said, "I can't remember your name, but you were the badminton player weren't you?", that's how I was defined as a kid. Then it was probably as the bloke who was the easiest in the world to persuade to go for a pint after work. Now it's as the chap with a hole in his throat. Oh well, better than the other option I guess. 

That’s about it for this update. I really hope that next time I write I’ll be able to say that Rams have been promoted to National 1. They currently stand 12 points clear at the top of the league with eight games to go. 

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued………………


Neville in his "Happy Place"  - Porthcothan Beach

Friday, 11 January 2019

Third Time Lucky

I felt a certain amount of Déjà vu regarding whilst writing this post.

Going back to December 2015, when I eventually built up the courage to go and see my GP regarding my inability to talk louder than a church mouse, I encouraged anyone who’d had a long term concern to put on their big boys pants and get themselves to their GP. I’ve had a small patch of dry skin on the inside of my knee for a year or so, and more recently a patch of skin above my cheek that was scabbed and dry for at least 4 months. As usual I ignored them. Eventually I’d had enough of waking to a bloody pillow case each morning and made an appointment to see my GP. I was lucky to get an appointment 90 minutes after my phone call, and didn’t have to go through any hoops with the Receptionist as to why I needed an appointment.

The Dr. examined both patches of skin (luckily I was wearing clean underpants) and decided that with my history of being really bad at getting better, he’d better refer me up the line. Hello “14 Day Pathway”, it’s been a while. If you’re referred as a potential cancer risk you should be seen within 14 days of the referral, hence the 14 Day Pathway. I was contacted by Royal Berkshire Hospital less than 24 working hours of my initial GP’s appointment and given a hospital appointment six days from the referral. Outstanding performance from our much maligned NHS.

I rocked up at the Dermatology Dept. 10 minutes early for my appointment. The sign on the wall said “Clinic Delays”, it was boiling hot and packed. Welcome back to the NHS I know and love. Eventually I was called in, it was actually 5 minutes before my appointment was due, but I’m trying to build up the tension here a bit.

The Dr. asked me to go into a cubicle, remove my shirt and drop my trousers. Who am I to refuse such a polite request? He proceeded to then examine my upper body and back with some sort of magic scope thingy, before taking a closer look at my knee and my cheek. The upshot is that my body is in good condition for my age (I think he was talking about skin type rather than muscle mass!). The area around my knee could be treated by being frozen, but the patch of skin on my cheek will need surgery as it is a Basal cell carcinoma, ie Skin Cancer L “not again” was the first thought that went through my head. The extremely good news is that BCC is the most common form of cancer, easily treatable, rarely spreads or returns and has nothing whatsoever to do with my previous two versions. This has most likely been caused by exposure to the sun over the years. I’ve been referred to a Plastic Surgeon for a consultation on how to proceed, but it’s likely that a small op, done under a local anaesthetic will be offered. As it’s a Plastic Surgeon I’m going to ask if he could possible straighten my nose out whilst he’s there. Hopefully this will all be done in the next couple of months. Whilst I was still in the “Trousers Down” position he went on to “freeze” the patch on my knee, blimey it was still stinging 24 hours later, but it should fall off in the next couple of weeks. I presume he means the patch of skin will fall off and not my leg.

So, to reiterate, if you’ve got something wrong with you, and it’s hanging around, GO AND SEE YOUR DR, do not pass Go and do not collect £200.

Finally for this brief update, watch this short video of Rams scoring the winning try in the last minute of their match last week against local rivals Henley RFC. It should take your mind away from me sitting sans trousers in a cubicle. The match was one of those “I was there” moments J - The Battle of the Thames

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued…………….


Monday, 24 December 2018

I could have been someone............ 

(click on the link) 

Three years ago this evening, Christmas Eve 2015. Carol and I had left the Royal Berkshire Hospital after meeting Dr. Fairbairn (Scary) and CNS Jo for the first of many times. We’d been given the news that we’d suspected for a week or so, I had Stage 2 Cancer of the throat, however, to quote Dr. Fairbairn, “We think you’re worth saving”. Going back home and sitting the kids down to break the news was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. “Sit down kids, we’ve something to tell you, Dad’s got cancer, Ho, Ho, Ho”.

After the annual reading of "A Night Before Christmas" it was back to normal. And thus began the changing of my life for ever. RT, Chemo, remission, the bastard coming back, laryngectomy, ho di hum.............. 

I was looking through some of the old blog posts and picked out key words and phrases that seemed to crop up and was originally going to base this post around those phrases, but after writing a thousand or so words it was the most boring update of all the ones I’ve done, and there have been some insomnia busting blogs over the last three years.

Instead I thought I’d just remind myself how lucky I am to still be around and annoying anyone who reads this! The NHS never once gave up on me. The treatment I’ve received since I underwent the Laryngectomy has been brilliant, especially from an extremely stretched Speech and Language Team. One day we’ll find the valve that lasts longer than 12 weeks J

I was chatting to one of the Physio’s at Rams last week and she asked about the problems I’m having with leaking valves and the fact they need to be replaced so often. I explained that one of the problems is that there are only about 7,500 “Larys” in the UK, so it makes new investment in Research  and Development very expensive. Head and Neck Cancer isn’t sexy and that is not to deride any of the more common cancers that get massive funding. Of course something like breast cancer should get better funding than head and neck, there are far, far, far more patients who’ll benefit from the R and D and will ultimately survive. I know in the USA there’s been experiments with transplanting voice boxes, to prevent the need for a Lary, but from what I’ve read we’re a fair few years away from that process being a realistic option.  

I’m now on quarterly reviews from the Consultants, they’re more than happy with the way I’m progressing. I’m not, but that’s just me being picky I think. The original suppliers of all my “Lary” kit, Countrywide Supplies, let themselves down with appalling customer service in October of this year, they then compounded their errors, making me think that they were trying to wind me up. I actually got quite upset with the way I’d been treated, but a change of supplier seems to have solved the problem. I mentioned the problems I was having with Countrywide to the other member of the “Lary Club” and was surprised to be slapped down somewhat by a senior member about the way I’d emailed Countrywide. I decided at that point that there’s little point in me attending anymore meetings with the group. They mean well, but sitting around a table once a month and just chatting is maybe ok if you’re retired, but I still work. I know I can email a couple of the members if I’ve any real concerns. I am worried about the impact of the dog’s dinner known as Brexit as my supplier is an EU based company. I’ve been slightly over ordering for a couple of months now so that I’ve got a back stop of supplies should the worst happen.

Slowly I’m coming to terms with being a “Lary”. Cold weather and rain make it difficult for me to function properly. Warm weather is good, so long as I don’t get sand in my hole (Oh er missus!). This is my second winter as a Lary and I recall Mister Rourke, one of my Consultants, telling me last year that it takes a number of years to really come to terms with the change in my body. Social events are tough these days. With no real volume control I find it difficult to communicate if there’s a lot of background noise. I’m dipping out of invites at the moment if I think it’s likely to be noisy. I’m tending to leave Old Bath Road as soon as the matches finish this year, rather than going up to the bar afterwards for the post-match celebrations. I’m learning that I can take just as much, if not more pleasure, by taking some photos at a match, chatting to people on the side lines and then going home to spend a couple of hours editing the shots. I don’t need to be the life and arsehole of the party anymore.

On the subject of rugby Rams are currently 11 points clear at the top of the league and playing some of the best rugby I’ve ever seen at the ground in the 14 or so seasons I’ve been following the 1st XV. We’re now a very professional outfit both on and off the pitch. The 18 players wouldn’t be able to perform without the hard work, week in, week out, of the backroom staff. Anyone who’s read any of my blogs over the last three years will know how much Rams means to all of the Clark family. It really is a #Ramily.

Tonight is Christmas Eve, three years on. The tasty and simple lasagne has been made. The Beef Wellington is prepared and ready for the oven tomorrow. There’s five of us at home again this year for dinner. Carol, Anna, Max, Tom and I, plus of course Neville and Penny who no doubt will be looking to hoover up any scraps.

I’m getting there, I’m still alive.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. Especially those people I know who are still going through the horrible cancer wringer at this time. May 2019 bring loads of happy times, and walks on the beach with sand in your toes.

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued……………


Friday, 5 October 2018

Charles, the cowardly b*****d. 

It’s been a few postings since I’ve allowed someone else to write the blog. After the success of the edition written by Penny and Neville I thought it was about time someone else had a go, to give a different perspective to the writing. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Charles. Charles isn’t his real name, but he’s a coward and doesn’t want to be recognised. I first met Charles in December 2015, but he’d known me for a few months before that. Over to you Charles.

Well, hello there folks, my name is Charles and despite what Paul mentioned above I’m not a coward, I’m just a sneaky so ‘n so who doesn’t like to be seen in public. I prefer to hide in my victims, opp’s I meant hosts. Paul didn’t become aware that I was around until late summer 2015, but I’d been hanging about for a few months before that. If he’d been sensible he’d have gone to see his Dr. straight away, but like most men he just ignored it. That meant I had a much better chance to hang about and annoy him for even longer. We played a bit of footsy for a few months, I thought that he’d started to like me, get used to me. Then he saw a bloody quack who sent him to see someone with a few more brain cells than Paul. The smart arses thought they’d got me with their magic potions of chemicals and electrical zapping………… they were wrong. I’m much too clever for that sort of black magic, I just hid behind the bones, had a rather pleasant summer and decided to come back to haunt him again…………. With a vengeance and a rather quirky smile.

No chance of any fancy use of magic this time, if they wanted shot of me they were going to have to use good an old fashioned iron monger. And they did………… 12 hours of digging, scraping, cutting, filleting and reshaping and I was discarded in a bin with no second thought of my future. How rude!

I may have been exorcised from Paul, but I’m still around, ready to strike again without any notice. You people think that you’re safe, but you’re not! Your Doctors are clever and getting better, but I’m the worst nightmare and will strike you down even if you’ve been a good person all your life, which let’s face it, is a pretty rare thing. Remember, I can see what you’re up to.

Anyway, let me tell you about the future. I’m going to…..

At this point I managed to get control back on my blog. “Charlie” has been told he’s no longer welcome around here. He was never welcome, but sometimes you can deny the uninvited guest. He’s on borrowed time.

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued…………….


Friday, 7 September 2018

The Coward of the County (And other insults to throw at Cancer)

Long term readers of this blog will no doubt remember Lisa Magill, AKA “Terminally Fabulous”. Lisa wrote a superb blog about her cancer struggle which was followed by thousands of people all over the world. Lisa died in March 2017. She was the first cancer sufferer I started following after I was diagnosed, there have been a few others in the time since, but none had the impact that Lisa had. That was until I came across a blog / podcast called “You, Me and the Big C” written by Deborah James, Lauren Mahon and Rachel Bland, the podcasts brought the day to day of living with cancer into the homes of millions of listeners. They are funny, they are sad, they are truthful. You’ll laugh, cry and think if you download the podcasts, which I really encourage you to do.

Rachel is probably best known as a BBC Radio presenter and news reader. She worked closely with Richard Bacon and Tony Livesey on late night shows, before gravitating to slightly more sociable hours.

The three podcast presenters all have one thing in common, they all have cancer in one form or another.

I started to follow Rachel on Twitter back in 2017 and made a right fool of myself by getting confused as to who was Rachel Hodges and who was Rachel Bland. She straightened me out by explaining Hodges was her maiden name. What an idiot I felt. We had a few Twitter exchanges over the next 18 months or so, and Rachel made some very kind comments about my blog.
Rachel knew that her cancer was terminal. In August she started writing about her life so that her young son would have something to remember her by.
On Tuesday of this week she released a statement on social media that her time was nearly up. On Wednesday at 11am Radio 5Live announced that she’d died peacefully with her family around her that morning. Rachel was very much part of the Radio 5Live family, I’ve no idea how the presenters managed to keep it together. Tony Livesey presented the Drive Time show that afternoon, he had the listeners in tears of laughter and sadness with the stories he regaled about his time presenting with Rachel. 

Rachel didn’t talking about passing away, or being taken, she talked openly about dying. She talked about the total bastard that cancer is. She put the can into cancer.

The two remaining members of the podcast have vowed to continue to spread the word and to continue the great work they’ve been doing with Rachel.

I hadn’t planned to blog this week. Rachel died and I reckon conservatively another 3,400 people will have also died this week from cancer in the UK. They won’t have received the publicity (that’s the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one), but they’ll all have families grieving over a loved one who’s died.

Cancer will be beaten, probably not in my life time, but it will be beaten. Cowards never prosper in the end.

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued……………


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A day in the Life of a Lary

“Is everything back to normal now?” – The question I’m asked on almost a daily basis by folk I’m interacting with. I usually answer with something along the lines of it’s as normal as it’ll ever be. But, it got me thinking as to what my “normal” day now consists of and how much it’s changed over the 14 months since Lary’s appearance. Take Tuesday, the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday weekend. It should have been a day like any other, but due to Lary it became a tad different.

I’ve been getting very breathless of late if I’ve been doing any form of exercise or even just walking up a slight incline. I noticed last Saturday when I was walking Neville back from the park that I had to stop twice on the steep hill home to recover my breath. Then, last night at about 2am I woke with a tight chest and only really able to take short, sharp breaths in. I resolved, after a fairly sleepless few hours that it was about time I called the Dr’s. So at 8am, after doing an hours worth of work related emails I called the number, got through straight away and had an appointment for 9am the same day. Crisis, what crisis? J The Dr. I saw was very thorough in her examination, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, pulse and then the cold stethoscope to my chest and back. The only slight problem was when she asked me to take deep breaths through my mouth, oh how I wish I still could. She could find no overly obvious causes of the breathlessness (Which luckily made a guest appearance during the examination) but prescribed yet another course of antibiotics and sent me off to the hospital for a chest x-ray. I was lucky in that there was no one else waiting in the Radiology Dept. when I arrived so I was in an out in 10 minutes flat. A quick drive home via the Chemists to pick up the Antibiotics (note to pharmacy assistant, I can’t speak very clearly, I’m not deaf!) and within two hours I was done and dusted, sitting back at my desk……………………..

…………….. feeling like crap! A quick call to my boss and we decided that a duvet day was probably the best course of action. I was coughing heavily, having to clear out my stoma every 10 minutes or so. Not really fit for purpose. A few hours in bed helped to settle my chest down a bit, but I still spent most of the remainder of the day coughing whilst struggling to get my breath comfortably. One of many advantages to being married to a nurse, especially one who works in Respiratory Medicine is that Carol had a quite word with the Radiology Dept. and confirmed there are no underlying signs of infection on my chest showing up on the x-ray. Good news in some ways, but it doesn’t explain why I’m struggling so much at the moment, especially if there is no infection. Carol is going to be undertaking some “home” tests on me to see if she can find out what’s up, it’s been a while since I was her patient, I wonder if she’ll wear her uniform?........ J  So a day that started off as being a normal one ended up with me feeling frustrated and pissed off with myself. An early night beckoned as I was missing sleep, sleep is good.

As Tuesday wasn’t a “Normal” day I thought I’d give you an idea as to what is:
6.30am – Carol’s alarm goes off, I try and grab another five minutes sleep as I’ve probably been tossing and turning since 4am. Eventually at 7am I drag myself out of the bed and start the “looking after Lary” process. Depending on how I’ve felt the previous day I’ll have to either change the base plate I’m wearing from the overnight soothing one to a more heavy duty beast, or perhaps I’ll have had a good day and will still be wearing the same plate. Either way the valve will need cleaning out with an implement that looks a bit like a pipe cleaner and acts in the same way. Stick it into the hole, twist it a couple of times, pull the gunk out, cough into a tissue, replace the filter and we’re ready to face the day.

7.30am - Breakfast will usually be a bowl of cereal sat at my desk in my office at the back of the house. I like to be online early in the morning so that I can deal with any emails that have come through. I’ll also look at my online diary to ensure I’m up to date with all my cases. If Max is not at home or is working early I’ll take Neville out for his early morning walk. Our preferred destination is Sulham Woods where Nev can have a good run around without being bothered about the “Oldies” who walk their dogs in a pack at the local park. He’s fine on a one to one basis with other dogs, but gets a bit spooked with packs. 

9.00am - The working day continues with customer contacts, emailing, phone calls, spreadsheet filling and copious amounts of coffee being necked. Along with nudges from Nev that he’d quite like it if I threw a ball from him in the garden. This is all of course interspersed with me clearing out my stoma, sticking the pipe cleaner up to ensure I can speak and apologising to anyone that I speak to as I sound like Darth Vader’s camp brother still.

Midday – I tend to stop for lunch and watch the TV for half an hour or so. Jacket spud with tuna and cheese. Pie from Waitrose. Cheese on toast…….. and I wonder why the heck I’m now pushing 90kg and have had to buy a new suit. My physio came out with a cracking comment the last time I saw her. “Paul, your weight is about right for your height, we just need to redistribute it to the right areas!” – oh how I laughed.

Afternoon – I’ll admit, my energy levels disappear after lunch. I’ll invariably need to have a short nap at some point in the afternoon. I was a bit worried about this initially, but having read up on the after effects of Chemo and RT it would appear that being zapped to Hell and back and poisoned with heavy duty rubbish has a lasting impact on your body. There will be many more cases of clearing out the stoma, trying to time phone calls when I’ve a vaguely strong voice and frustration until I logoff for the day.

5pm(ish) – Nev has his second walk (after tearing around the garden for as long as he want’s, or more likely sleeping peacefully in my office!). The second walk tends to be a lead walk for half an hour. We try and balance out walks between lead and free running.

Evening – I do the cooking in the house as Carol doesn’t get home much before 6.30pm. Chilli, Lasagne, Pork Belly, Streak, Salmon will be the staple diet from Monday through until Friday. May not be exciting, but it’s a pretty healthy offering. I really enjoy the couple of hours I spend in the kitchen prep’ing and cooking, probably the most relaxing part of the day. By the early evening time my chest will normally have settled down, so there will be less coughing and less clearing the stoma.
I tend to disappear upstairs for a soak in the bath between 9pm and 10pm. The key to having a soak is to not lean back too far, otherwise the bathwater disappears down my stoma. This happened for the first time in an age last week. I was in a state of panic when Carol came up to find me having coughed what looked like blood all other the place, but was in fact red wine. After my bath is when I decide how I’m going to dress for the night. Will I leave the base plate intact? Slide it off and replace it with the soothing gel one? Or maybe, if I’m feeling daring, go au natural for the night and wear just a smile? It’ll then be reading in bed whilst listening to Radio 4Extra on sleep mode, drifting off by 11pm, and then starting it all off again at 4am the next morning.

My god, what a bloody boring life I lead.

Four years ago I spent a very uncomfortable night sleeping on a concrete floor in the grounds of a private school in Reading. A local charity, Launchpad, have an annual “Big Sleep Out”

to raise funds for the homeless of Reading. One of the main men of the charity is a chap who also happens to be a member at Rams and has been a good friend for a number of years now. When he asked me if I’d take part I had no second thoughts. Through my contacts via my work I managed to raise a pretty penny, which Santander then doubled under their matched funding incentive. It was an uncomfortable night, the rain started about 2am and my home made shelter was frankly pants. It leaked, it wasn’t wind proof, but it gave me an idea how the folk who have to sleep out in all weathers and seasons must feel. Albeit we were in a safe and secure environment, unlike the folk who sleep on Friar St in Reading every night. I stoated off home around 7am, to a warm bed, a cooked breakfast and a cup of tea. This year I was pleased to receive an email from the organisers asking if I’d be free to take photos of the evening for their official fundraising page. So, come 6pm on Friday I’ll be at the school in Reading, camera at the ready, shooting the brave fundraisers as they assemble their various shelters for the evening. Listening to the inspiring speakers lined up and then going home around 10pm to my warm bed in a safe environment. If anyone has any spare cash lying around here’s the link to the fundraising page –

The Launchpad photos will closely be followed by the Rams photos as the 15th season of following rugby at Old Bath Road commences on Saturday with a home fixture against Canterbury RFC. Max was dragged shouting and screaming to the club as a 5 year old, he didn’t like it at first and it took the odd bribe of a sausage bap and can of Coke in the first few weeks. By Christmas he was hooked. Within two seasons it was him dragging me out of bed to get to rugby. This coming Saturday he’ll hopefully be playing for the Mighty Cents in a preseason friendly, probably his last match before he disappears off to Portsmouth and University. Hopefully he’ll continue to play rugby at Uni, if not I’m sure he’ll play for the Mighty Cents when he’s back. Rams will be looking to improve on their third place finish last season in National 2 South. I was down in Wales with the team a couple of weeks ago when they took on Bridgend RFC in a preseason friendly and came away with a win, not many sides do that. Luckily they weren't wearing their wrestling costumes for the match. 

The trip down to Wales was my first time on the Fun Bus for a couple of years. I was initially a bit concerned as to how I’d get on, I needn’t have been worried. No one commented when I was clearing my lungs out, no one looked when my voice was a squeak, the Ramily looked after me as I should have known they would. Saturday night in Cardiff was an interesting sight, luckily for the guilty I’d put my camera away by the time we eventually went out. The long trip back by coach on the Sunday morning was surprisingly peaceful, I guess the players had worn themselves out playing rugby the previous day, or something.

This Sunday will see the Mini’s and Junior’s returning to action at the club, there will be a lot of relieved parents to know that their offspring will be looked after and worn out between September and May. I'm looking forward to getting my weekend fixes of rugby back and I've a few ideas of how to spice up my photography of the games this season. Watch this space. 

We have finally got round to booking our late summer holiday. We’re back to the Barcelo Hotel in Gran Canaria that we visited last November. The deal offered by booking direct with the hotel and sourcing our own flights via SleazyJet was just too good to say no to. We had looked at going back to Fuerteventura, however the road to the dunes that we enjoyed cycling down has been closed until mid October, supposedly so that important ecological studies can be carried out. Strange that the closure also coincides with the filming of the new Wonder Women feature film in the dunes. The locals are up in arms about the road closure and the impact it’s having on tourism, the main staple of the island. This year our trip to GC isn’t over the same period as the Pride celebrations, I’ll still take my leather chaps with me, just in case J 

The Saturday prior to flying off to the sunshine will see us driving down to deepest, darkest Sussex for the first South East Krom-Fest. This is a gathering of, as far as I’m aware, all of Neville’s brothers and sisters from the litter he was in, plus a few stray aunties, uncles, half brothers etc. I’m not entirely sure how many Kromi’s will be there, but as there are only 50 in the country I reckon there’s a fairly good chance we’ll have a quarter of the whole UK population in one place. How long for is anyone’s guess, but it should be fun. We’re hoping that the one and only Sidney will be able to attend, but it’s a fair old drive from North Cornwall. Neville will be enjoying 5* accommodation as his luxury kennels whilst we’re away sunning himself, pretty sure he’ll make us pay for it when we get home, and we do feel slightly guilty about leaving him, but he really wouldn’t like GC, all that fine sand would get into his fur. Anyway, he can’t speak Spanish. We're hoping to make it up to Neville by taking him down to Cornwall for a long weekend now that the crowds of holiday makers will be back at their desks. 

So another unplanned update comes to an end. It ended up as a bit more of a ramble than I'd planned. At the time of publishing the blog has had just shy of 100,000 hits. I’ve no idea when the next update will be, but it certainly won’t be until we come back from Gran Canaria. This blog may sound a bit downbeat, but it isn't really, it's just the way life is, and it's much better than the other option.

As always, thanks for reading.

To be continued………….


Friday, 13 July 2018

It's Saul Goodman 

The image at the opening of this blog is the first to show the stoma without a base plate or HME, only taken 12 month to post. Max took the picture for me and I edited it on Lightroom.

Ok, I know I said I wouldn’t be posting another blog and was passing the baton over to Penny, Neville and Hendricks Pinkman to continue writing. There was a slight flaw in my cunning plan, in that Penny, Neville and Hendrick Pinkman are workshy lazy slackers who’d rather just doze in the sun than sweat away at the keyboard. I’ve also missed writing. 

Let’s get the obvious “Health” issues out of the way, I’m fine. I’m nowhere near 100% but I’m 100% better than I was this time last year.

It’s the first anniversary of me getting the snip, Facebook Memories remind me each morning about just how tough it was in late June, early July 2018. There are days I wake up and feel low and in a bit of pain, then I look back at the memories and realise just how far I’ve recovered in the last 12 months. One of the simple ways that I can manage my recovery is in my monthly order to Countrywide for my medical supplies. In the early days I’d use probably four or five HME filters in a day and usually two base plates. Now an HME lasts a whole day, sometimes a day and a half, whilst base plates are going for two days without being changed. There is still the odd day of blowing a base plate or having to change the HME a couple of times in the day, but these are rare. The stoma is still looking pretty good and takes little looking after other than regular cleaning. My monthly bill to the NHS has probably halved in 12 months.

We’ve had quite a busy time of things since the last update. We dragged Nev up the M1 to see No.1 Daughter Anna in her house in Leeds. It was a good couple of days, an awfully long time since I’d been back up to my old birth county, I’m pleased to say that Electricity and WiFi seems to be widely available. Seriously, it was nice to see Anna and Tom settling in to domestic bliss and getting on with their lives. Neville enjoyed seeing them both again and took to the Yorkshire countryside really well, he struggled slightly understanding the locals though. 

Whilst the 15 a side rugby season is on the summer break, the 7s season is well underway. Max is playing for the Badger 7s again this season, and I was proud to be one of the shirt sponsors for their new kit under the S2S Photography guise.

A busy three weeks on consecutive festivals started with Milton Keynes where the Badgers probably were a bit rusty, moved on to Newquay which was sublime and finished in Abingdon, a week too far perhaps? Milton Keynes was a fun festival, played at a club I hadn’t visited before. The Badgers played well in three of their four pool matches before losing to a very well drilled side. I took my leave at that point and drove home as I was feeling a tad jaded.

Carol and I took the chance to have a long weekend down in Porthcothan to coincide with the Newquay 7s. The idea of camping in a tent didn’t really appeal so we hired a caravan at Canevas, our usual stopping point. We traveled down on the Friday morning, to arrive at Porthcothan on a truly stunning lunchtime, not a cloud in the sky, 23 degrees, total heaven. We’d arranged to meet Sidney and his assistants on the beach that evening so that he and Neville could get to know each other on neutral territory. When they’d meet previously in March it had been at Sidney’s house and he was unsurprisingly a bit territorial. This time however, after a couple of “I’m still older than you Neville m’lad” type grunts, they got on really well. Neville following Sidney all over the beach and generally learning from the master. A quick pint turned into two hours in the pub above the beach chatting away whilst the dogs played together. It was one of the nicest days we’ve had for a long time. For any new readers to the blog Sidney is Neville’s elder brother from the same father. He's the one on the right in the photo below. 

Carol dropped me off at the Newquay 7s the next morning as supposedly dogs weren’t allowed on the school grounds. One of the first things I saw were two couples walking their dogs through what in effect was public land! A mental note was made to give Carol a ring and get her to bring Neville over later in the afternoon. The Badgers had been “bumped” into the Elite group of teams which meant they had to face three invitational teams. Shredded Ducks, Wooden Spoon Marauders, and Doom Platoon are made up of players specifically invited to play for the teams and are generally of a pretty high standard. This was born out all too well on the Badgers who took stiff beatings from both the Ducks and Marauders before meeting The Doom Bar team. Doom Bar were probably the dirtiest, most undisciplined bunch of thugs that I’ve ever had the misfortune of watching play 7s. They were more interested in putting cheap shots in rather than playing rugby. It was no surprise at all when the first of their two red cards appeared in their stuffing by the Badgers, a late and uncalled for sliding tackle on a player who was already on the ground. The Badgers went on to win all their remaining fixtures on the day, meaning they ended up as the winners of the Bowl.

The Senior Badger players then nominated their Badger of the Festival, it was Max J I’ve watched him play 7s now for the past three summers, this was by far his strongest performance to date, it also happened to be his 20th birthday on the Saturday.  I’m not sure how much, or we even what he drank on the Saturday night, but when we picked him up on the Sunday morning to go to the beach and then an early lunch he didn’t look overly alive J It was a good three day break, helped by the weather being glorious. I know I’ve said it before, but if you could guarantee the weather I’d go to North Cornwall every year for my main holiday. Neville loved it too!

As a footnote, the Newquay 7s were sponsored by Doombar (The St Austell’s brewery brew), but there was no bar on site, and probably the worst burger I’ve ever tasted on sale too. The players love the festival due to its location, not sure I’d bother going as a spectator if it wasn’t so close to Porthcothan though.

The final of the three in a row was held at Abingdon RFC, another club I’ve not visited before, despite only being 40 minutes from home. What a lovely club it was too. Lush green pitches, despite the heatwave, friendly bar staff (It had a bar!!!!) and an edible and enjoyable burger, just what the average rugby supported wants. The Badgers were a tad short of players and an early injury to the expectant father meant they were in need of some subs. Luckily Max, who’d given this one a miss, was only up the road in Oxford with Laura looking at Uni’s. A quick phone call, a taxi journey which seemed to take in most of Oxfordshire and he’d arrived to take to the field. The Badgers played some outstanding rugby, losing a close match to the eventual winner, The Royal Navy 7s and going down to another very good invitational side in the Semi Final of the plate. I got the impression that players who’d played all three weeks on the bounce were looking forward to a break before the Fat Boy 7s at Abbey RFC. The Rams ladies side, the Sirens also took part at Abingdon, I ended up shooting between the two pitches the Badgers ans Sirens were playing on, over 800 shots taken in the day. 

One of the downsides of the three consecutive weeks of taking photos was the damage it had done to me knees. I was once told by a photographer who I really respect that you can’t be a good sports photographer if your knees are clean. I tend to kneel either on one knee, or more often than not, on both knees so that I’m shooting low to high to get the best image. By the time I’d finished at Abingdon I could hardly walk and the next few nights were agony with a burning sensation inside the knee joints. I mentioned this to Sian the Physio who’s been treating my shoulder and she’s given me some exercises to try and strengthen the joints and suggest I use Ibrofen gel to ease the pain. I think though that the years on abuse my knees have suffered are finally catching up with me.

Now to the part of the blog that I reckon most people want to read. How is the one, the only, the hairy, the Neville getting on? The simple answer is he’s having a ball. Still very much his own dog, and still a puppy, but the training and obedience are coming along pretty well and he’ll usually come back when called…………. Eventually! He’s had his first train ride, a short hop from Tilehurst to Pangbourne 

which seemed go well. His first visit to the groomers, hardly any blood spilled and his first real play with Penny the cat…………. Ok, when I say play, what I really mean is Neville, tail a wagging, trying to play with Penny and Penny, hissing for England, trying to scar Nev’s face for life, but believe me, it was progress. Regular sufferers will know that the Kromis breed is pretty rare in the UK, there’s only 50 of them in the whole Country. In September it’s likely that up to 10 of them will be meeting down in Kent, including the whole litter Neville was breed from, that’ll be 20% of the entire countries population of a breed meeting up at one point. I’d hazard a guess that no other breed is able to say that. We’ve got two months to persuade Nev not to behave like a teenage delinquent in front of his extended family, we’re doomed I tell you, doomed!

Work is trundling along. I’ve taken on a bigger case load following one the team being transferred to another Dept. This means I’m back up to the levels of cases to manage that I was at prior to December 2015, it keeps me off the streets, but I do worry about the customer interaction, especially with face to face meetings. To date I haven’t had an incident of the valve blocking or a base plate blowing whilst I’ve been with a customer, it will happen at some point, and frankly I’m dreading it. The whole interaction with the public or even my friends is beginning to hang over me.

Recently I’ve left social meetings early as if there’s lots of background noise, say music or loud talking, I have real problems in making myself heard, this in turn makes me really frustrated. It’s easier to make my excuses and go home, rather than standing around looking like a prized plumb. I can’t think of a solution to this challenge as my voice won’t get any stronger than it already is. I seem to be ok if we’re out in the open air, it’s confined spaces that cause the problems. I’m due to see the Consultant next month so will perhaps as to see the SALT Team and see if they have any ideas to help the volume.

I’ve never been the biggest football fan in the world, but I’ve really enjoyed the majority of the games I’ve watched from Russia. I started to post Instagram pics of Neville watching the matches with me, with quirky little captions, such as “Neville refuses to support Nigeria until the Prince sends him his promised £s”, you get the picture. I do have to be careful what I post though, as after Germany were knocked out I posted Aug Wiedersehen Pet……….. only to get messages from friends in Germany asking if Nev had died…….. Opp’s J  England performed well above my expectations, to make the last 4 was amazing. They perhaps could have been two or three goals up by half time against Croatia, but it was not to be. Really looking forward to the 3rd / 4th place playoff match on Saturday, said no one, ever.

For those who’ve read my blogs in the past you may remember Gill Sims and her Peter and Jane blog on Facebook. Gill published her second book yesterday, it’s called Why Mummy Swears  I’m sure it’s just as funny as the first one, but don’t know whether smoothies will make another guest appearance. 

Today is 33 years since Bob Geldof urged us all to stay in, not go to the pub and give him the f**cking money, it’s also 33 years since Carol and I were married. Max is taking his girlfriend Laura up to Leeds to visit Anna and Tom, so Carol and I are off for a romantic meal for two at Nino’s. Nev and Penny are under strict instructions to behave whilst we’re out.

No idea when I’ll blog again, but as always, thanks for reading.

Just passed 160,000 words J


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