Monday, 27 November 2017

A reality check...

I think it’s time for a reality check. But first:
There was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
 right in the middle of her forehead,
when she felt good she felt very, very good
and when she felt bad, she felt horrid
Good light and HRT
I have two personas, we all have at least two. There is the official one, the one where you keep calm and carry on, where there is a smile for the camera, your best foot going forward where things are positive and all is well. And then there’s the private.

In my private world, the one that admittedly I have to live in the gaze of others it’s harder to hide what’s actually going on. Take yesterday for instance, we arrived in Barcelona, had a trundle around looking at various sites before stopping for a drink and to contact the AirBnb hosts to say we were about to arrive and gain access to the apartment.

I struggled to get out of the car.

I struggled to sit down on a chair in the place we’d found and then, drink drunk, I struggled to get out of the chair. It suddenly struck my that after years of offering my mum an arm to help her out of a chair it was me on the receiving end. Don’t get me wrong, I can do it, but it’s very slow and I’m very careful.

The feeling of weakness is throughly incapacitating, it saps morale. And it’s making me very grouchy.

But not as grouchy as the lack of sleep is making me.

Last night, according to FitBit, I slept for 7 hours and 31 minutes. In fact for the first time in a while I’ve actually woken feeling moderately refreshed. I know that moving from place-to-place is probably to the ideal way to deal with sleep depravation but to be honest staying home in Limehouse would have been worse as the constant noise of the Limehouse Horn Concerto in F minor is equally bad for sleeping.

I’ve pretty much worked out what the root causes are. I’m anxious, obvs, mostly about work related things as I’m struggling to get much done owing to the constant tiredness and feeling out of sorts, then there is the physical discomfort though, for the most part, that’s all it is, discomfort rather than actual pain. Err, pain like I’ve just had which shot through my nether regions with such vigour that all I could do was grit my teeth and breathe deeply. Talking was not an option. And last but not least there is the HRT, I restarted it last week and other than my skin seeming to respond well to oestrogen after nine weeks without, it’s leading to hot flushes, tetchyness, dizziness and goodness knows what else. At least the nausea has stopped now.


On the bright side, I can feel my energy coming back too, a complete lack of hormones in my system was not just increasing the risk of osteoporosis but it was leaving me completely drained. What fun.

A window on my world.
So yes, a reality check. I’m not back yet, I’m trying and it’s incredibly frustrating that it will take a while longer. The fact remains that less than four weeks ago I had major surgery and this has had a huge impact in many ways. I suspect that in another four weeks I’ll be largely back to normality. Why do I think this? Well, each day is different, I know that on this Recovery Road-trip each day actually is different, but I’m getting my perspective back and I’m actually able to walk around and slowly my head is getting back together. On my good days I become over-optimistic and then I get a crashing reminder of the fact that it’s been four weeks. Or worse still, it’s been only a week since I was under house arrest at the behest of the surgeon and nurses. 

So the point behind this rambling mixed up post? Well, it’s simply this:

Watch this space…

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Bending the rules...

There was a rule in the hospital, if the door said engaged nobody would come in. Which is good as frankly my, ahem, thrice daily medical procedure really wouldn’t be enhanced by an unexpected audience. Yes I’d been advised to have a towel at the ready to cover up the tiny slither of my remaining dignity but seriously, not an easy task to deploy.

So with this in mind on the Monday after breakfast I set the sign to engaged, prepared the various things I needed to prepare, put in my noise cancelling earphones, selected the Lux Arumque album by Eric Whitacre and was just about to start when…

Knock, knock, knock. “It’s me Theresa”.

Door swings open and in she comes. Seriously?! I went from being moderately relaxed (essential) to very stressed and tense (not so good). Yes I realise she had literally seen it all the day before but, err, hello, you could have at least warned me that you a) would visit to make sure there are no further questions and b) would blithely ignore the engaged sign. Grrr.

Eventually I managed to relax enough to do what was needed but it took what seemed like an age. The rest of the day really rather flew by, I would make regular excursions down the corridor in search of tea, water and filching biscuits. And I had a regular stream of medical visitors.

At some point the RMO turned up to check how I was and make sure I was ready for discharge the next day. As I was sitting by the window reading he sat on the bed and chatted. He did express amazement that I didn’t look like somebody that had gone through major surgery less than a week before. To be honest I didn’t feel like it. So we talked about the view (fab) and various inconsequential things before he said my room was like an oasis of calm. This puzzled me for a moment, but that I realised what he meant, in every other room in the ward there was a television blaring away, it had been noticeable the day before when there were just four or maybe five patients but it was a full surgical diary so each room was occupied. And it was loud. 

Just not in my room.

When I first was admitted the lady that showed me round had placed the television remote control on my bedside table. As soon as she left I put it back where it belonged, out of reach. I wasn’t about to spend my days staring at a screen and watching, well, whatever there was to watch. If I really wanted moving pictures I’d brought a number of DVDs plus my tablet had a couple of films loaded and ready to go, again if the need arose. In the end the only thing I watched was the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit. Which is why my two, errr, medical instruments, are now called Big and Little Enos.

Well it amused me.

So yes, no television, just me in a decidedly Victorian long cotton nightie, a copy of London by Edward Rutherfurd and my ever present notebook with a fountain pen. A perfect recipe for serenity. Maybe.

As I was approaching the end of my stay the food passed from being medically restricted low residue stuff to actual food and I must admit I went a little wild. I even had pudding because, you know, piggy. That and I really wanted to make up for lost time! 

Monday became Tuesday and overnight I got to see Julia the nurse who had looked after me the nights before and after my surgery. Which was lovely. Especially as she sat and talked with me about various concerns and questions I had and because of this I slept quite well.

On Tuesday morning I was woken early by Julia - at my request - so I could do my morning duty before I had a number of pre leaving visitors. Oh and breakfast. As I’d requested the cooked breakfast I had to make sure I was ready to eat at 8am and this really wasn’t something I intended to miss. So, engaged sign on, room prepped, deed done and I was just out of the shower when… knock, knock, knock, door opens, someone barges in.


I called. Slightly irritated. FFS. It turns out it was the ward sister and either she didn’t read or didn’t think this applied to her. I was a little cross. She said she’d come back later, more check out stuff. But not to worry, I had breakfast to calm me…


After my final visit by the specialist nurse and a lecture from the sister it was finally time to stop wearing nighties and actually put some clothes on. For the first time in over a week I could go outside, it was very exciting. My last task before going was to fill in a customer satisfaction thingie and with the bags packed and my lovely friend Paul ready to whisk me back to Contrary Towers I was ready for the off.

Of course I was also irritated that I wasn’t allowed to lift anything, nothing bigger than a couple of bags of sugar and, also, that I would be housebound for two weeks. I did ask what the definition of housebound was as this would be relevant the next day…

It turns out that housebound is walking around your home and garden. Well, I have a really large pond in my garden. I’m sure walking around that counts…

 It’s weird being back outside after being confined. It was also a mite chilly. But I was free. Albeit in a slightly slow moving way. But not to worry as it was only 90 minutes or so to home and how hard could the journey be?

As it turned out… Very.

I’d positively bounced in to the car but by Clacket Lane services - some 52 minutes  and 40 miles later - I had to be helped from the car and lead in by the arm so I could go to the loo. I had aged about a year a minute. Or so it felt. I also had a flash of understanding of what my mum has been through over the last fifty years with arthritis. Not a pretty picture. I just hoped this wouldn’t last.

It would be another 90 minutes before I got home, admittedly there had to be a stop at Asda for - ahem - essentials. Actually the need for said essentials would become a constant back story over the coming weeks so it was nice to kick off my escape with a first embarrassing buy-every-tube-they-have session. But I digress.

It was good to be home though I was a little shell shocked and I’d also forgotten just how loud and annoying the endless horn sounding truly is. And of course after eight days of sitting in a south facing room with a view over the downs it came as quite the shock to be back in a north facing flat even if it is next to Limehouse Marina.

The routine was quickly established, my thrice daily medical needs inevitably dominated proceedings as they suck so much time out of the day and they are in exactly the wrong place. But at least I was in my boudoir and it was lovely to be able to receive visitors.

But first I had something I had to do. Just before I went in to hospital I received the sad news that my friend Tim had died. He had at least made it to fifty, much to his surprise. We had intended to get together for a catchup and to raise a glass shortly around his fiftieth but it proved impossible as he was unwell and it looked likely that we would have to wait until after I left hospital.

Sadly it was not to be.

As I write this I’m being driven along the Autovía del Este towards Valencia on a recovery road-trip, Tim had told me many times that the one thing he wanted to be able to do if he ever received a new kidney would be to travel and he particularly loved the idea of a wandering road-trip but especially he wanted to be able to visit his sister near Bologna. Life can be so cruel.

If you ever get a chance for an adventure seize it with both hands. Do it for those that can’t.

So. Whilst I was in hospital I learned that his funeral was to be the day after I left hospital. As you may recall I was supposed to be housebound. Well sod that for a game, I was going to the funeral unless I couldn’t actually walk and even then arrangements would be made. Needless to say I was driven as I was definitely not moving under my own steam and dropped right outside St Mary’s in Saffron Walden.

As I stood there I felt a fraud, it was eight days since major surgery and here I was heels, ridiculous little black dress and a borrowed velvet coat from the wandering one. I felt fine. Well, fine-ish. I was sure I could make it through an hour or so of service but it was becoming apparent that after this I would be definitely heading straight home to bed. The service was hard. Seeing the coffin was harder.

If it’s alright with you I’d rather not have any more people I care about die any time soon.

As the week wore on I managed to at least get out for a walk around the garden pond. I realise that a marina might be considered a little more than the nurses had in mind but seriously I needed to do something, cabin fever was a big problem. That and I'd resorted to wearing dungaree dresses as they have pockets so I could carry things. I ended up looking like a 1980s children's television presenter. Needless to say I never went by my self and I was very careful of how I walked. I’m not totally stupid. Those twenty-five minute daily excursions became the highlight of my day.

After a week of being home I accepted the offer to escape to Yorkshire for a while. The carrot of hot water and central heating on tap was not needed but appreciated. Let’s face it my flat is cold and with electric heating it stays that way. Plus I had a new issue, hot water! Having to take at least partial showers three times a day was emptying the tank like it was going out of style. The only problem was Yorkshire is a bloody long way from London when your previous best was an hour before you are crippled from the journey…

Fortunately as for politics a week is a long time in recovery and I was much fitter. This is fitter in the sense that I could sit in a car for a few hours, with a break, without feeling dreadful and nauseous. So that’s a win.

A duvet desk.
Whilst I packed plenty of clothes, my medical needs and a second monitor I’d not brought the little over bed table I use when I’m working. But not a problem! A solution was found in the form of a long bolt, an old wine box and some rope. A stable stand that could hold my second screen whilst I worked with my legs stretched out as frankly sitting upright in a chair is, well, just a tiny bit uncomfortable.

I like understatement.

And so the next few days panned out with me mixing sleeping, medical needs, eating and working. All in the glow of central heating and good company. Quite lovely. And this is where we would have left it if not for a briefly mooted mad idea of doing something so bonkers that it would be hard to refuse…

…The recovery road-trip.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Leave your dignity at the door.

A close friend of mine made a comment during my stay in hospital, by the nurses station there should be a place to leave your dignity and umbrellas. Neither are much use here. Fortunately I had my sense of the ridiculous set to 11.

Which is good as when I last wrote I was on day four post surgery and things were about to get serious. Which is largely why it's taken me until now - back home in Contrary Towers - to write once more.

So day five. Pack removal day. If you don't know what that means then you don't want to know. Trust me. What I didn't realise was that it was pretty much public knowledge. I imagine it was the Saturday headline in The Argus, possibly even leading on the local television news. Let's face it, you expect, or hope, that your medical staff will know where you are in the recovery plan but what you don't expect is a cheery "good morning, oh you're having your pack out today" from, well, pretty much everyone that shoved their head through the door. House keeping, catering, roving reporters from The Argus, everyone. Slightly discombobulating.

That said, the day was only going to get worse. I never did like Sundays.

Where's Dignity?
As I lay in bed waiting for the specialist nurse to come and deal with me I watched my dignity scamper to the window, climb down and cavort off across the downs finally free from any inconvenient attachment to me. Sadly what my dignity had forgotten is that there were a number of Kestrels on patrol so it didn't get far.

Finally it was time. With my dignity now out of the picture this was a much easier task. Well it would have been if it hadn't been for the omnipresent windy pops which were only getting worse owing to the fact that my diet was now being supplemented by Sennakot and Fybogel. Deep joy.

Still, this was, at least in theory where things would start to become easier and, more importantly, my catheter bag would be removed meaning I could now actually move about, hurrah! It was going to be a big day.

So. First things first, catheter bag off. This seemed to be more of a retro-fit operation where my trusty bag was replaced with a wee tap (sorry, nah, not sorry) which I could use when I wanted to go to the loo, more on this later. Apparently if I was a good girl I'd get the whole thing disconnected that evening. Though the terms and conditions weren't mentioned.

Next up was pack removal. Now at this point I'm going to paint some pictures of rose covered cottages as frankly you don't want the details, but suffice to say that my surgery was major, down there and the pack had been on for a few days. Taps nose. I was then shown how to clean around the site and oh my goodness this felt like the best wash ever, for the first time in days I felt a little more like normal and sightly less self-conscious. Well, allowing for the fact that the entire population of West Sussex seemed to know what was going on.

I'll now pull down another detail veil as, again, frankly you don't want to know, but I will say it's not something I really wanted to have to do with someone watching to make sure I was doing it right.

What fun.

On the bright side, once done and having been shown how to clean things correctly after I was then free to do the important things in life, like having lunch... Actual food. I mean I'd had actual food the night before but this was Sunday Lunch actual food. Actually at lunchtime. On a Sunday. I know! It's just not something I normally manage.

One of the interesting things I've learned is how quickly one becomes institutionalised, as soon as I here the clatter of the food trolley I stop whatever I'm doing, adjust the bed, get the table in position, clear anything out of the way and sit with great anticipation waiting for the inevitable something to appear. Positively Pavlovian.

With lunch demolished faster than you can say congenital adrenal hyperplasia - incidentally my party piece at University was being able to spell, pronounce and explain this whilst many vodkas down - I had cleared the plate and was already looking forward to supper. Which I knew would be at 6pm. Because hospital.

So, what next? Well, it was obvious to me, I was no longer tethered to the bed, I was allowed and encouraged to move around, this meant only one thing.

I would leave me room.

Leave. My. Room.

My plan was simple. As I'd observed the drinks machine whilst being wheeled past en route to theatre I would head there and get a drink. And top up my water jug. All. By. Myself. Actual adulting. And it was only a couple of hundred feet away if that.

I am such an idiot.

I might as well have decided to climb the North Face of the Eiger using a defective pogo-stick and a jar of smarties for sustenance. In fact, that would probably have been easier. I had travelled barely ten steps before I became aware that time was actually dilating owing to the sheer effort involved. Keep in mind that a few days before I would have thought nothing of striding the nearly six miles home from Fitzrovia to Limehouse at an average speed way in excess of 4mph. Dear lord. It wasn't helped that whilst the catheter was now cordless it was still there and I could feel everything. But. You know. MUST. DO. IT.

By the time I reached the machine Theresa May had formulated a reasonable plan that made Brexit seem like a good idea. Okay, that's a bit far fetched, time didn't dilate that much, but you get the idea. I prepared a hot chocolate, pretty much contraband for bed bounders, filched some biscuits (ditto), topped up my water jug and then tried to work out how the hell I was going to get them all back. I'll not bore you with the details, but if you imagine someone who's had major surgery carrying a flask of particularly unstable nitroglycerin you'll get the idea. Planned and considered was in, speedy was not.

But. Eventually...

I tweeted after this that I had some tears. I can't even begin to tell you how emotional it was. I'm just not used to not being able to do things and the whole thing had come as a big shock. But this one little thing meant so much.

And if you're wondering whether I'm being a bit of a drama queen with respect to the effort involved then to the right is what my heart was doing at the time. Keep in mind I entered hospital fitter than I've been in decades after working really hard to get ready for this.

The sudden effort after bed rest was shocking.

So anyway, another trip or two was made with sleeps in between because they were simply exhausting. But not to worry, things were about to be really "fun".

A nurse explained to me that I really needed to go to the loo. Now I know my body well and I could assure her that I didn't, it just wasn't ready. So it was decided that I'd be given a couple of suppositories and if I could lay quietly on my bed whilst they worked and then pop to the loo then this would be great. Okay... My visitor was despatched of to wait elsewhere as I really didn't want anyone around for what was to come next. If only I'd kept the window closed so my dignity couldn't escape.

Suppositories in, lay there, after about 15 minutes I decided maybe this might work and... Nothing. I tried to think poopy thoughts but still nothing. Then I'd get bored, stand and SIT DOWN NOW, so my body haven spoken I'd sit and... nothing. I won't type out the whole thing but  imagine the above repeating endlessly and my stress levels going through the roof. Not only that but my temperature was climbing, I was soaked with sweat, I was in agony and, well, it really wasn't very nice. What was worse was by now I was getting tunnel vision and I knew this wasn't going to end well. In my frazzled state I contacted my visitor to ask to send the nurse, I knew shouting wouldn't work as I could barely speak and I was in an en suite inside a private room.

Fortunately, as I moved once more I felt something touch my arm and remembered the alarm cord and, for once, didn't have any qualms about calling for help because I really need it NOW.

At this juncture I'd like you to imagine your worst nightmare. If it's something like being naked, doubled in agony, soaked in sweat, unable to move and then having two strangers pull you out of the bathroom and help you to the bed before hooking you up to machines that go bing and have others joining in all the while with the alarm still sounding then we have something in common. It was such a lark. And, according to my phone, it wasn't even 5pm yet.

I wonder if you can get dignity on Amazon Prime.

I digress. The weird thing was when I had things checked everything looked normal. Yeah. Because this is normal. I slept quite a bit. My confidence was at a bit of a low ebb, I suppose this is the downside of things having gone so well so far, it was my first issue and it really was quite scary for me.

Just before 9pm I decided I needed to get moving again and made another epic journey down the corridor for water. Yes I could have called the nurses but I needed to do this for myself. Not long after the night staff appeared and my nurse for the evening, Dawn, I know right, arrived and I gave her a précis of the day's events. She explained that really I needed to have managed to go to the loo before they would finally remove the catheter which had been scheduled for that evening. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo...


You see by now another thing had become apparent, I told you we'd be back to this, when I went to spend a penny I'd sit, release the tap and in theory it would gush out of the little attachment. Except I was also getting it gushing from where nature intended. And all over my leg. I think it's fair to say by this point in what was now a very long day I'd moved past the ewwwwwwww stage and straight on to the whatevs stage. Any moment now I was just going to sleep through things and maybe raise my hand in vague acknowledgment of events.

Her plan B was simple, she'd go off in search of a doctor, get an enema prescribed and then come back to try again. This wasn't looking good.

Time passed. Quite a bit of time. I think the kestrels also hunt wandering doctors that become separated from the herd.

Finally Dawn came back clutching the magic stuff, told me to assume the position, I rolled on to my side, pulled up my nightdress (see, whatevs stage) and waited for the inevitable. And waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes - slightly beyond the minute I was asked to hold things - I thought sod this I need to spend a penny. Again...

And then it happened. Relieved in every sense of the word.

All I needed to do now was wait for her to come back, tell her the good news, lose the catheter and have an injection and voilá, we're off to the races. Or sleep in my case. Fortunately, earlier when the enema was given she did give me the antibiotics I would need and as the requisite hour had passed it meant that we could immediately take the catheter out. Hurrah!

Well almost hurrah. First some photographs needed to be taken. Why? Well other than to give the Google algorithms something to puzzle over we needed to record where my catheter had been so it could go back. Apparently. All I can say is that I never thought I'd let someone who was almost a complete stranger photograph my lady bits just because she asked. Next year's Google photo reminders are going to be interesting.

Anyway, that done, it was back to the catheter removal.

So she fiddled about, deflated the little balloon that keeps things in place, asked me to breathe deeply in and out and OHMYFUCKINGGOODNESSTHATFUCKINGHURT. Ouch, I said. I gave her that accusing look which three year olds deploy when you've told them an injection won't hurt. But I realised she hadn't actually said that, clever, because ITFUCKINGHURTSVERYMUCH. Yep. But it was transitory and almost instantly the nagging bladder awareness went. Oh yes, thank you so much.

As I hadn't bled it meant she could give me my Clexane injection (whoopee) and finally I could collapse in to a deep sleep. A sleep unhindered by packing, dressings, tubes or catheters.

Sheer luxury.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

She's so there

Last time I wrote seems like a lifetime ago.

It was Monday. It's now Saturday at 06:30 and I'm yet to have a nurse bounce through the door to subject me to morning obs and questioning. I'd hoped I'd be able to write about the experiences by either pooter or pen but it turns out that laying flat on your back and looking like an extra in The Matrix pod scenes is not exactly conducive to well considered prose. Or at least being able to physically write. Not to worry, you probably don't want to know the details.

It's a little like the other week. My flatmate asked me about what would be happening day by day so I gave a redacted précis up to day five post surgery when I glossed over things and said he didn't want to know. He pushed the subject. So I told him. He won't make that mistake again in a hurry. Mind you, it does mean I'm still giggling at the thought even at this time.

So anyway. A timeline... Sort of.

I was woken late on the Monday to be told by the lovely Julia that I would be first in theatre and she'd wake me at 4am so I could have a last drink, followed by a 6am wake for, err, procedures. You don't want to know. Now I've being going to the theatre regularly for best part of forty years and this seemed a little extreme, whatever happened to the polite five minute bell telling you to take your seat? And presumably this meant there'd me no drinks in the interval. Or that they'd be an interval.

Spoiler: being woken is a thing.

So 4am wake, have water taken away, sleep. 6am, wake, told to lay on my side whilst she [redacted] and then asked to wait for a bit before going to the loo, showering and dressing in the sexy gown that clearly hadn't been designed by Carine Gilson. No tea.

She also told me to expect a stream of visitors and why they would be there but owing to the lack of tea it was fairly unlikely I'd remember any of it. Time whizzed. I'd read a few paragraphs, there'd be a knock at the door, someone would come in, look at my notes, ask me questions I'd just been asked, say something new - which I wouldn't remember of course - and then bustle out. I had this mental image of a queue of them in the corridor drawing straws as to who would be next. I suspect they were trying to catch me out, but I never confirmed more than name, rank or serial number and nor did I let on that if they just gave me tea I would tell all.

Ooh, sun is up and the sky is both dark, brooding and depositing rain on the downs. That's nice. Did I mention how nice my view is? No, well it is, but I can't show you as the hospital blocks blogger picture uploading. And lots of other things. But I digress...

Finally the surgeon came in, and I think I signed a confession. I sent my last message at 08:02 and with that things got interesting, my bed was prepared, I was told to lay down, connected up to machines that go bing and wheeled down to anaesthesia. Do you remember the peculiar feeling I reported during the Contrary Roadtrip when I'd wake to feel the bed moving, well this was worse and I tried desperately to record every detail of the moments. Inevitable morbid thoughts aside it did also mean I knew how to direct visitors to the refreshments area - very good apparently not that I would know - which was nice.

The nice anaesthetist explained he'd give me something that would be like a glass of champagne and then something to knock me out. Ooookay... They also wired up my bionic arms ready for the intravenous drips. Which I didn't look at. And, finally, I got the "shot of champagne".

At this point I'd like to complain. I've drunk a lot of Champagne of the years and I know the stuff pretty well and that was *not* like champers by any stretch of the imagination. Shocking stuff.

He started asking if there was anything I liked doing. Errrr. Or someplace I liked to be. Errr. What was with the smalltalk? Seriously dude, focus! Eventually something in my memory reminded me this was the distraction thing, a bit like counting backwards from ten so I said yes, the island of Šipan and before I'd even stepped off Postira...

..."Hello Victoria". Huh? Who are you? Why are you in blue? Where am I? Where was I? Okay this is weird. Must. Wake. Up. And then it came back, I saw a clock and could see it was after 11:30. Maybe that champagne was stronger than I realised. In what seemed like an eternity but could be tracked with a few ticks of the second hand I managed to say the one thing I knew I had to say first...

Were there any complications?

Which probably didn't come out as clearly as that. She confirmed there wasn't and continued to monitor me as I gazed around trying to clear the fog in my head. I was aware of two things 1) I so needed to pee and 2) there was no pain. I was assured the former wasn't needed owing to the catheter I'd forgotten I would get and as for two well, it turns out there was no pain. And another spoiler: so far there has been none. At least not from the surgical site.

Just before noon I was wheeled back to my room, wired up to a constant monitor and handed my phone so I could tell the world I was still alive. It was 12:05.

Four hours and three minutes to correct a lifelong problem. I can live with that.

Back in the present: Nurse has just turned up and told me I'm the only patient who didn't press the call bell in the night. *model patient face*

Anyway, so there I was, hooked up to a machine that every so often would take my blood pressure with a constant flow of nurses to check things were okay. I was also starting to realise just how little of my dignity would be left as pretty much everyone who came through the door would lift my bedding, have a look at the dressing and nod approvingly. Well that's alright then.

Dinner was... Interesting. You see I had to remain flat. And the dinner was mostly clear liquids - with straws - and a bowl of sorbet, with a spoon. I can't fully explain how awkward this is so I'd like you to go in to your kitchen or whatever, get a bowl of ice cream and then eat it laying flat on the floor without lifting your head.

Incredibly I managed to do this without dropping any. And oh my it was good. In fact over the next couple of days the only accident I had was with a single piece of jelly as it has what can only be described as poor adhesion qualities on the spoon.

As day became night the routine was established, I'd drift off, wake - sometimes - when a nurse came in or the blood pressure thingie squeezed my arm, I'd be compos mentis for a few minutes then I would drift off again. I slept a lot. And still no pain. Well, almost no pain, by now my back was whinging lack a very whingy thing and it felt like agony. It turned out it was trapped wind which I was aware of being an issue as whilst my insides were rearranged air would be caught and had to dissipate somehow. Once I realised this is what it was I started to drink peppermint tea through the night and became Farty McFartface in a bid to release the pressure.

I am such a catch.

I also learned to wiggle a little to at least change slightly the pressure on my back from constantly laying down. So that was nice.

Wednesday was just like Tuesday, just with no not-champagne-at-all and lots of drifting off, feeling achy and working on the William Tell Overture in Fart minor. I couldn't really get the tune right if the truth be known. Breakfast was liquids, apple juice, tea and jelly which seemed great until I managed to let a piece escape as mentioned earlier. But otherwise, all good.

It did occur to me that this would do wonders for my weight loss as I was maintaining a decent calorie deficit in spite of the lack of exercise. Talking of which, I must blog about how I managed to lose weight so quickly, there's science and everything.

Lunch was liquid. Dinner was liquid. And as well as the constant sipping of water I had a liquid drip.

I was warned that a big problem is boredom. It's difficult to talk when on your back if you have visitors. I couldn't read more than a page or two at a time and that involved four or five hand changes per page so I could read every word. I'd answer messages on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, but miss lots out as I could answer maybe half a dozen before I couldn't hold my phone any higher. I didn't watch the TV in my room as I'm frankly not interested and besides it was at the wrong angle so it would have been difficult. So I slept.

The night was better. As my dressing remained dry they allowed me, with help, to get on my side. Which was fab as it give my back a rest but also made me sooooooo aware of the leg pressure thingies which sequentially inflated around alternate calves to try to prevent DVT. I think.

Now normally I sleep on my left with my left hand under the pillow, but with the bionic hand - aka a pair of cannulas - this was difficult. Plus I had to have a pillow between my legs to keep the pressure off my lady bits. Yeah. Fun.

Still, it was better than being permanently on my back and whilst I also had to have help going through the different positions it wasn't too bad a night, especially as me needing to change place coincided with when observations needed to be done. On the bright side at some time, early in the morning, the puffa boots came off and I've not had them since.

By Thursday things were definitely better and I was in to the routine. Wake. See Nurse. Take paracetamol. Have breakfast. Have bed bath. Chat to house keeping. See various other people. I was still meant to be flat but I could now at least move my legs a little to alleviate the stiffness. And, more importantly, Thursday was Tea and Toast day. It was also a year since I heard, whilst in New York, that a close friend had died so I had tears, lots of tears. Tears to the point that I had to give my nurse a précis of what happened so she wouldn't presume it was something else and add it to my notes.

Then she took my drains out. A few fewer connections!

And so the day wore on. I was checked, I had a liquid lunch. Again. And I chatted if I wasn't sleeping. The night was definitely better and I was grateful that I hadn't had a repeat of the epic end-of-days hot flush that I'd had on the Tuesday evening, in fact nothing close to it. I also discovered how much little things matter, like being able to brush teeth or the morning bed bath. But what I really liked is that I no longer cared about just falling asleep, even with the door open, it's not like I could go and close it.

And then there was the tea and toast.

My first solid food since Monday and it was epic. I will just say that I was a little miffed about some decidedly unhelpful comments about the clear liquid diet. Different hospitals and surgeons set different rules and I appreciate others might do it differently but I really didn't need to know about this, all I wanted to do was do *exactly* as I was told and recover quickly.

Friday dawned with... Breakfast. Other things too, but this was actual breakfast, tea, toast and Rice Krispies. Oh my. But... there was more. After breakfast I was offered a choice for my lunch and my dinner! Okay so it was still low residual but the chef and kitchen in this place is really good so I was most definitely not complaining. Friday was also a big day in that I got to sit in a chair for thirty minutes. Which was... Uncomfortable. I could feel my dressings pulling and things down below are a little sensitive so I kind of perched on the chair as I exchanged messages with the boss trying to get around the hospitals block on certain types of communication so I could do some stuff. For the record, if you ever stay in the Brighton Nuffield...
  • Cellular coverage is poo, as the nursing staff confirmed. It's pretty much non-existent on Three.
  • The hospital dataz is good but...
    • WhatsApp works but only for text/image messages
    • Skype works but only for text
    • Three "In Touch" just doesn't work
    • VPN. Not a hope
    • SSH? See VPN
    • And no Google Photos, nor can I upload images to my blog posts.
We decided it's because they have a transparent proxy that won't allow any transmission of packets in the guest network to the outside world. Heigh ho, at least the staff are lovely and the food is excellent!

So anyway as I was saying I was in the chair for thirty minutes and whilst it was weird standing for the first time since 08:02 on Tuesday and me suddenly feeling a little queasy from the whole lot of gravity going on things were okay. In fact things were better than okay. It was a really good day and I had such an amazing and intense feeling of well being.

The only glitch in the day was when the bionic hand started throbbing around one of the cannula and after the sixth throb and my realising the skin around it was rising I had to press the button and call a nurse. It was removed, the throbbing went and the other was taken out late in the evening when I was woken at 11pm for a last check. In fact the night was brilliant, I moved myself from back to side a couple of times and when I woke at six I decided that... well you know what I decided to do, I wrote, after all, I finally can.

Which brings me to now. Of course as I'm now allowed to sit up I can write again, even if I do keep remembering things but can't be arsed to go back and edit the above to include them. I've had breakfast and I'm waiting for my bed bath before being allowed to sit in a chair for another thirty minutes. The nurse did pop in and ask if it was okay that she did someone else first, which of course it was as let's face it I'm not going anywhere.

Is it lunchtime yet?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Eighth day and other rambling.

I've had Hazel O'Connor's Eighth Day in my head today. Also, for balance, Hotel California by the Eagles. Needless to say I changed the lyrics in my head to match what was about to happen.

So it's been a while since I've written. Why? Well, stuff, life has happened, a lot of life and lots of things to deal with and that had been dwelling in the darker recesses of my foetid mind. One thing has been clear, an incredible amount has happened in the last twelve months. I've lost two close friends, one at the beginning of the twelve months, the other at the end. I didn't get to the former's funeral as I was excluded and this was a difficult ball of emotions to deal with, the other though will be the day after my eighth day here... I will probably not be able to make it and this is in itself causing a new ball of emotions. In a similar vein I lost both my father and mother-in-law, the former before I disappeared off to New York a year ago tomorrow, the latter some time later. In both cases it was clear I would not be welcome at the funerals.

I can't begin to tell you how much this has hurt.

But it's also been a positive year. A year to meet new friends, a year of new experiences. A year when I turned fifty and didn't mind. Even a year where I met up with the travelling one for an extended stay on the Island of Šipan. Most importantly a year where I met somebody so special that it's scary. In a good way.

Yet at the end of this year is now. This moment. I'm sitting in a hospital bed having been prodded and checked and measured wondering whether I will get to sleep this evening and if they will mind that I'm about to throw the ticking clock out of the window.

Incredibly I'm very calm. Last night when I arrived in Brighton I lay on a bed, pulled myself in to a foetal position and literally didn't move for best part of three hours. I tried to explain it after and the only point of reference I had was it reminded me of the hours after I came fairly close the end many years ago in a boating incident. I was, quite simply, in shock. After years if waiting I was finally almost there. And yet now I'm actually in my hospital room I'm, well, fine actually.

I really don't know what will happen next, what adventures, what new experiences. When asked all I can do is shrug and explain that I'm having difficulty imaging anything beyond Halloween 2017.

But you know what? When I emerge from here on the eighth day... Bring. It. On.

But in the meantime, in the words of T. S. Eliot...
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Thermals, options...and friends

Don't get me wrong, I love it here in Split. Every summer weekend is a joy of friends, beautiful weather, lunch by the sea and living a good life. In the winter, cosy homes and glorious food warms the body and soul. And people. The amazing inhabitants I meet and admire most here are young people building lives, facing the challenging process of settling with their families.

And those people on the other end of the spectrum, the mature retired singles and couples are also entering into a new life. They have their own reasons for being here and they are happy in this overwhelmingly friendly community.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sixty one and a half weeks

They say a week is a long time in politics, but frankly that’s nothing compared to a year on shifting sands. To be honest it’s more than a year as it all depends on what I decide to use as the baseline. Do we pick the moment of departure from Contrary Towers? The moment we arrived in Split. When I left? When I returned home? When I moved? When I finished moving? Or even when I turned 49? 

Impossible. Each and every one of the above is steeped with meaning and more than a few tears.

But here I am, four weeks off when I turn *50, but 61 and a half weeks since we scampered in posh frocks to Sky Lounge to avoid packing and depart on the now legendary road-trip.

431 days.

A rubbish name for a film. Though if would be great if Sandra Bullock would play me, I’m not sure about who should play the other contrary one. Suggestions needed.

They have been a traumatic 431 days. Admittedly there have been good days to counter the bad but I find myself somewhat adrift. Not in the literal sense as the boat I’m on seems to have the full use of both its rudder and engines. But rather in the honestly-everything-else-sense.

The first part of the year went reasonably okay and it looked like I was finally going to get various things resolved but now the sea is providing a perfect metaphor for how things are as we rock and lurch sickeningly over the disgruntled Adriatic. Circumstances changed which meant my funds and reserves all disappeared in a puff of being needed to be used elsewhere.

So much so that when I return from this current trip on Saturday there will be no more for a very long time. Unless things change.

The truly exasperating thing is that I have glimpses of where I would like to be. As I wrote in July I’ve found the one place I feel at peace and want to make my home. Unfortunately the depletion of funds and the retarded decision to leave the EU means that my hopes of living quite literally on an island are largely in tatters.

It’s been a year of upset too. A number of people have died, the most recent being my mother-in-law, all of which have left me feeling decidedly unsettled. Especially as in the case of two I was unable to see them for best part of five years. Not my decision but one that I pay for daily. Similarly I was unable to attend their funerals thus depriving me of an opportunity to say goodbye. It’s not something I wish to dwell on as I really don’t want to sit and cry in the coffee salon of the **Premuda.

Isolation is becoming a problem. Given that I usually live in London with its estimated 8.63million population it might come as some surprise to learn that I feel less alone on an island with a population of ***436. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on why this is and I’ve realised it’s in the little interactions. This morning I had brief exchanges with six different people as I crossed from Clare’s apartment to the Premuda. Six. That’s 1.3% of the population given the number above. Most days in London I am lucky to manage one or two people.

Yes one can go out and meet people - though that is somewhat limited now owing to lack of funds -  but that’s not the same. It is the feeling, fleeting in my case, of being part of a community. Oh. And the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Old Contrary Towers wasn’t just about me and missy, it was about the neighbours we would occasionally natter with, something I’ve simply never had since moving. It matters and it takes away the feeling of near total isolation. Don’t get me wrong, my current flatmate is lovely but that’s not quite the same, he has to talk to me whereas others choose.

I’m probably not making much sense.

Ignoring the fact that it’s fairly unlikely I’m going to have a relationship anytime soon - which I’d probably run away from - the other big problem is work. Work has always been the one thing that could make me feel valued on some level. Trouble is recently it’s gone from being something that enriches my life to a harness that defines it. And I’m really not enjoying things. It’s not what I do per se, it’s how I feel about things. It doesn’t help that there are a number of prosaic issues that are gnawing away at this on a constant basis.

I guess it doesn’t particularly help by the fact that I also know that as a fifty year old woman in technology things are going to be even more difficult than when I was 45. Rest assured dear reader this has the positive effect of me not having a hissy fit and stropping off in to the sunset - which given my lack of a formal contract was always a possibility. I’ve only been there four and a half years, no need to be hasty about these things. The reality is I need to be paid to pay the bills. Unfortunately in the time I’ve been there my costs have risen to the point where it’s unsustainable. That and no longer having any reserves.

So what now?

I have no idea. I’ve lost a lot of sleep worrying about how achieve something approaching if not happiness then at least to lower the sadness and frustration. I feel I know what my ideal is but I also have no idea how I can achieve this without a massive change in circumstance.

And I’m scared that the next change in circumstance will make things worse.

For now I think my best choice is to quietly rebuild my sense of purpose as only I can fix this and I am keenly aware of the fact that fix this I must.

Watch this space.

* And I have no idea what I shall do as what I'd planned is no longer possible.

** Postira was conspicuous by her absence

*** According to Wikipedia

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Happy New Year!

New Year!!
All things considered, my travel to London from Split the went as smoothly as my recent Serbia / Bosnia border crossing. I began this blog post on the long road back west; at least I could understand signs without peering at them as if I'm an illiterate, mumbling letters under my breath. This bus is foregoing the logical main road route and instead we are heading into the green bit of google maps. Green means bumpy squiggly roads, and black ravines. On the bright side after 4 hours high-volume non-stop Spanish, plummeting to my death would be a relief frankly. How can ten people make so much noise...we need a some kind of sound barrier in here.


Anyway back to the 28 December. As if to remind me what a spectacular day Ives and I had previously, the tiny Split plane circled over Brač as the sun rose. I felt a wrench as always when I leave this place. Or it could have been the punč. Unsurprisingly given the state of my head and stomach I was asleep before we reached altitude. I awoke on landing in the pink haze of an icy snowy Zagreb. With a mild panic I wondered how my bag knew to change aircraft. It was probably more knowledgeable than me. Transfers were directed through to passport control and we all went off to our different gates. Efficiency followed for Amsterdam, Zurich and Munich. London flights were delayed because of fog. All normal then.

Feeling slightly shell-shocked I was over London fairly soon. I forgave them the delay because I've never seen anything like it. Not even the merest tip of Canada Tower was visible, and that is how I know I'm nearly back. The only building signposting the Thames was the Shard. It cleared a little as we went up-river but remained heavy even as the sun tried to burn it off. We landed lightly and happily my bag had found its way to the same plane as me. I hoped the foggy one had been able to find a tube in this weather. Knowing her she'd end up in Cockfosters instead.

No, all was well and it was lovely being met. We rattled home, both conversationally and undergroundly. And given everyone was in a post Christmas haze, the tube was quite chatty with shoppers and holiday makers making merry. There is always a strange atmosphere of pre-New Year expectation in this twilight December time. My huge rucksacks caused as much havoc as Lou's wayward big pink and blue cases would. But unlike her cases, mine didn't bite anyone. We hopped off at bank and made the change to the DLR and headed to Contrary Towers. And it was just like I'd never been away. 

I had plans to go to Wiltshire to see family, and there was probably going to be some champagne-fuelled dancing. But apart from that I was relaxed about stuff which is pretty standard. All I wanted to do was spend time with the Contrary one. I was supposed to be doing some work so when she suggested a stroll into the office, I was a willing squatter there for a couple of days. Glossing over certain technical hitches (ooops) I spent a relatively productive time there and it was lovely to work in silence with someone you know.

We spent a giggly few hours trying to find sherry glasses for the office mid-Christmas party. But having failed on our mission and being classy types we opted to sup our Harvey's Bristol Cream from champagne glasses. This co-incided with a mildly scruffy feeling and given I had an evening out planned with a very precise young gentleman, I decided a haircut was in order. For some reason I'd not managed to fit in a cut and colour in Split, but I found an excellent and cheap substitute in Mortimer Street. He was extremely disapproving of the asymetry but acquiesed in silent protest. And the gentleman and I had a lovely evening with Andy Saltzman at the Soho Theatre. We  also had a wonderful exchange with a tipsy Irish lady who wanted to run off with my haircut. Well worth it then.

One outcome of this catchup was a plan for New Years Eve. For reasons which aren't mine to go into, the gentleman arranged for the flirty one and I to take his booking at a local Wapping establishment. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute. Still, we got dressed up and not having a clue what to expect, we opted glamour max. So designer purple lingerie as outerwear was perfect for beardy, tweedy, doggy Wapping. I'm actually now convinced that there are country pubs which are more dressy than central London hipster joints. We drank champagne, ate miniature chicken burgers and danced to 50s tunes. We giggled at people jogging past in fairy lights. Tweedy man followed us around like a lost puppy...or maybe it was his puppy, I can't remember. We left and departed into the strange new world of 2017.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Every snowy cloud

But so warm inside...
The past few weeks has seen me in full traveller mode. As I've been telling people, 'I'm not chasing rainbows, but heating!'. Given that it was so cold at the start of the year on the island, I was happy to accept an invitation from my lovely friend Lou to go to Zagreb. The apartment there promised wall-to-wall central heating with the added bonus of access to snow. We had a perfect week with various diversions which I will write about as-and-when, so I considered hot options in other capital cities. As Lou sadly flew back to London, I caught the 1950's inspired Niš-Ekspres to Belgrade. After a wonderful week there in a snug modern flat, I needed to head back to Split. So naturally Sarajevo was a convenient half-way stopping point. After another entertaining 7 hour bus trip, here I am.

And this week has been warm and comfortable, physically. I'm back in the flat which I stayed in last year and finally met my host and his family. When travelling is going to plan, it is pleasant and unremarkable. So inevitably for February - my most hated month - there have been some difficult times. For instance, mentally and financially this week has been a perfect trial. I’m ‘stuck’ in Sarajevo waiting for a new pair of glasses. Then last weekend my computer broke, my accommodation became uncertain, I was worried about my friend in Split, suffering heartsickness from the idiot I fell for over the summer – and worst of all the anniversary of my dad’s final illness. Feb and March are usually spent in a melancholy haze when in London. So I’m exploring how I feel in this uncertain time, against a backdrop of worldwide uncertainty. Damn reading the news on a daily basis!

The heart of this blog post was taken from an email exchange with Katy of the Bittersweet Life. I had been talking about my worries. She wisely pointed out, 'and when it comes to your life -- where you are -- the in-between-- feels lonely or confusing perhaps, but you know - that is where we all are. In the in-between ...'. I had been pondering why I was in this most 'in-between' capital, even discussing it with my Split friend. Anyway my laptop drama went some way to illustrate why negatives become positives, when looked at from a different point of view.

So after a computer shop recommendation I went exploring the new part of town which, like everywhere in Sarajevo still exhibits war damage and bullet holes in tall residential buildings. Ladies sit begging for food and pennies, and everyone looks at you with open curiosity. Maybe it’s because I walk with London confidence but perhaps I don’t look as local as I feel in Split or Dubrovnik. As the streets got rougher and the graffiti more disturbing, I only felt more curious about this shop.

As an aside I find that if you have a knowledge of the language, the graffiti becomes meaningful and gives an insight into the local politics and atmosphere. This piece said ‘smrt fegotima’ – as I worked it out, knowing smrt is ‘death’, and the -ima means ‘to the’ (pl), I cringed. Death to faggots. Perhaps some parts of Europe have something in common with Trump and the far right. How can hate of difference form such bonds across continents? 

This shop looked like no shiny computer superstore I’d ever been in. Bearing in mind I hate shopping and think that all transactions should be carried out as quickly and communication-free as possible. Add to the fact that I’m woman buying a computer in a totally male dominated part of the world. I was expecting horror! As I went in there was a row going on but I just looked at the shelves, wanting to see something perfect and go.

The lady sat behind the desk caught my eye and said izvolite? What could she do to help me? Leave me alone and cry... I went over and in English asked if they had any more laptops. She told me to take a seat and being English and given an order, I sat. She carried on arguing with the lady and there was a final door slam as the woman left. She turned and smiled at me, saying apparently this lady wanted a refund on a phone she had had for a year and parts of it had clearly been damaged negligently. She explained that the woman wanted to pick an argument because her husband was being difficult.


Whilst debating laptop options with her, we discussed politics, religion, family, prices, new technology and VR and facebook, their new shop, and why I was travelling, and currently stuck in Sarajevo. We talked London, history, places, music... Her view of Trump was ‘many people here in Bosnia are Muslim, why didn’t he ban us too?’ She said her god taught us not to kill, but to love, be peaceful, and care for others. And given that it was the same as Trump’s god, what was the problem with him and Muslims?! My host incidentally has given up joking about Trump and is extremely worried about international business relations. He was also stunned by Brexit and wonders why that when he asks people about it, they are all pro-European! He wonders who voted. One hesitates to comment.

When we finally got round to sales she asked to see my old laptop. I promised to bring it in and they would see if my data was accessible. I left after a couple of hours and I walked back home along the river and through the market. I made an English chicken and mushroom pie for lunch and waited for the call from the shop. When I headed back with the dead computer, I was quite looking forward to seeing them all again. They had fixed me up with windows, an English keyboard, and took my old one apart to rescue the hard drive. Unbelievable service from three people! I finally left the shop at 6.15pm with everything I needed. And the guys thinking I was nuts because I didn’t have any games.

I walked home again thinking that if I hadn’t had this catastrophe I wouldn’t have had so much contact with people. My most interesting parts of being abroad have always been the interactions with others. Even if it is terrifying to step out of comfort zones. People value the exchange of information and views, and it's been great to use apps like Tinder and Facebook to arrange beers and cevapi. I had a wonderful couple of post-work drinks swapping thoughts last night.

Regardless of how low I feel, which admittedly isn't entirely rational at the moment, there are silver linings to every cloud. As I've written about before, it’s so full of colour and detail here, with a raw edge of reality. It’s a good place to be melancholy because you realise how little your problems are, in comparison to the suffering here. After all, the shop assistant’s father was killed in the war. It doesn’t lessen the grief concerning mine, just it comforts me that we are all in this in-between together and we all survive. And live to ponder another day. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Let's aim for the 8pm ferry then?

Magical nature
Another week, another European capital city. London. Zagreb. Belgrade. Sarajevo. I feel like a fashion carrier bag. As I write I'm heading towards Sarajevo but unlike last time, I'm approaching it from the north through Serbia. A return is making me feel nostalgic for those early summer halcyon days.
 It was May when I made one of my first inter-Balkan forays to the exotic East. Having reviewed what I wrote I was pensive about this city. That was clearly a difficult month. I was unused to being alone, suffering hours of bus travel, was still apprehensive about who and what I'd find waiting for me. This time I'm immured to miles, and confident of a warm welcome. Last weekend I spent a happy family weekend with my old Sarajevo host in Belgrade, and him and his youngest son will be joining me there on Saturday. I'm also excited to catch up with another old friend, and may even catch a rendition of Cabaret in the national theatre. It seems I even have a coffee date courtesy of this bus journey.
Still, although I've a lot to look forward to, it's what I've been doing which is more important. In my last post I got as far as Christmas in Split and was looking forward to the long journey north. My friend was determined to make my last full day there as memorable as possible with an island excursion. Who doesn't love a ferry trip in the fresh, bright sunshine? It was useful to go because at that time I was pondering a move to one of them for January-April. As I've now got into February without a move, it seems less likely. No information is ever wasted though and at least I could consider and discuss options.
I've been to Brač a couple of times but never to its other more beautiful side. It takes a meandering 90 minutes through the most varied landscapes to reach Bol. Given it was still technically Christmas and calories don't count at this time, I scoffed most of a gloriously greasy burek on the way, stuffing remnants into my handbag pocket. We laughed the entire journey as if there was no tomorrow. I got hugely excited as we went through Postira, the village after which my favourite ferry is named. We arrived in Bol and headed towards the famous zlatni rat beach just along the coast. The silent path with its sculpture and views of emerald sea was stunning. Only feral cats seemed to guard the road, though it was clear from the diving schools, clubs and restaurants that summer is a different story.
There were vague plans to meet up with a gentleman to whom my friend had been talking. I had no idea it was to be on the beach which is why I did the logical thing. Apart from us two there was no one around so I stripped. The sea had been serenading me with her blue loveliness and the biting wind had dropped, leaving her glassy and inviting. Left in only my black pants I danced into the sea. I think they heard me in Italy as I immediately ran out again shrieking with laughter. Realising the worst was now over, I went back in and the water took on a calm cool, and paddling around was bliss.
Me on the beach in December
Then I saw a gentleman in shades walking along the beach...great. It was him. I hoped he appreciated the real life birth of Venus as I emerged from the sea. Because Zephrus was blowing a bit, and Flora was being tardy with the cape. Hauling on clothes and stuffing wet knickers into the burek pocket of handbag doom*, I casually strolled up to my friends as if it was perfectly normal to be found in the sea in December.
Accepting things as they happen, we jumped into this stranger's car and headed for a tour of the island. This time to the highest point. I can't tell you how cold it was at the top. In the space of 30 minutes I went from being naked and wet, to cold and shivery with 3 thick layers. Even the sheep looked a bit miserable.
But we stayed to watch the sun set over Vis and Lastovo. One of those truly unexpected magical moments. The cold finally drove us off the mountain and he gave us a lift back to Supertar, given we'd missed the bus. We found a warm bar and I believe there was hot punč. Puno punča. There may also have been banter as only fireman can get away with. And then the free beers from the barman arrived because he knew someone in London. And inevitably we missed the 6pm ferry. 'Let's aim for the 8pm one then?'
Never mind I only had my packing and flat cleaning to do. Did I mention my London-via-Zagreb flight meant a 04.30 start?

*I've since consigned this handbag to the toxic waste bin in the sky

Monday, 23 January 2017

Advent and Events in December

Home Sweet Home
They say that Advent is a time of planning, preparation and waiting. In my case I don't think I've ever done so much of all three. Much of early December was spent working. Yes I know. This is something that I've been plotting for some time and finally reached fruition this month. More of that anon. However having some extra cash coming in meant that I could be a better friend and aunty, and get to the UK over the festive period. So my trip to Split expanded to include London and Wiltshire.

Despite my earlier decision to spend longer on Šipan, the plan was never to stay on the island over Christmas and New Year. I think that would have been an isolation too far. If circumstances had been different...still, there is no use crying over broken hearts. And my lovely friend in Split would have been rightly cross with me. As it happened another friend there was going to be away so I could happily and warmly take my laptop and work in her cosy apartment.

I was excited to reach Split because as usual I had no idea what to expect. An early start on a cold, dark ferry meant that my hugely heavy rucksack and I arrived there in bright early afternoon sunshine. The winter market on the Riva was alive to the sound of music and excited conversation. Festive aromas of frying fritule and kuhano vino filled the fresh air...I felt drunk just on the atmosphere. Wanting to dump my bags, I headed up to Maria's first but soon realised I had the wrong keys. Or the right keys for the wrong lock. Resisting an eye roll at my uselessness, I went to see my redoubtable friend to get help. Once in I was happy to relax into the swing of Split life.

I went back to hers picking up ham, cheese and wine on the way. Situation normal. And took my homemade sloe vodka with me. As we sat in the kitchen chatting about everything and nothing, it was like I'd never been away. The children were doing homework, the dog was trying to get on my lap, and we made no plans at all. There was loads of Christmas things to be done; cakes, decorations, food shopping, some exciting exam (not mine!) paperwork... so no planning really needed. Ahem.

I arrived on 16 December and that first week was spent industriously writing several January blogs so I could relax into the new year. The weather continued to be sunny so I did lots of running around Marjan park. And discovered punč - fruit tea enhanced with golden rum. There had been an announcement that our favourite bar was closing on 25th December. This place had contributed so many memories earlier in the year, so it seemed fitting to celebrate their end with the last karaoke session. Catching up with familiar faces was fabulous. It did mean that as of 23rd of December I was officially on holiday! After a working interlude, Split was back to the whirl of singing, dancing, lung and liver bashing, and general hedonism. And an Elvis impersonator, not to mention a Bulgarian clown who is also a sushi chef.

I'm not a big one for Christmas but this year's was the most perfect I've had. We baked Christmas tree cakes, decorated the actual tree, lit advent candles...and drank plenty of kuhano vino. Our shopping was completed on Christmas Eve. We had plenty of coffee breaks to enjoy the sun whilst shopping. If I had been in the UK I would probably have had a nervous breakdown. But the shopping centres were quiet and relaxed, so she and I only had to contend with my general dislike of shops. Fortunately we have very little money so apart from presents for her children, there was nothing we could buy anyway. Food is a different matter... Our trip to the butchers was characteristically unorthodox.

On 23rd Dec it was karaoke night with a Christmas hat competition. I placed faith in my good friend that something would present itself regarding headwear. Given I'd totally failed to get my hair done as is usual when I'm here, I wasn't looking my best. Still, it was glorious sunshine and we shone with the usual contrary glow of happy friends. We were heading to the afternoon Hvar catamaran to deliver a chocolate cake*, when I saw the perfect hat.

Only the images can do this justice. These conical Christmas trees were tarted up with white fur and fairy lights and turned heads everywhere. Strolling up Marmontova later on where polite Split goes to show off, we styled it out. It's fair to say our arrival was NOT low key. We dived into the hot smoky melee and sang and laughed the night away. Under Chatham House rules, I can reveal nothing about my friend. However at 3 my feet decided they fancied a dance and so I found myself in Klub Central. Though my hat chose to stay at To Je To. Apparently this club is where all the cool kids go; there were dancers in cages, fire jugglers and hot half naked ladies on stage. Perhaps I just dreamt it.

Strolling home later, I bumped into my friend. Given there is a tradition of raiding the bakery in the early hours, we headed up the road to Varoš. The butcher was standing outside his shop taking in the morning air, and he watched with interest as we cackled noisily up the street. She decided then was the perfect time to order beef for Christmas Day pasticada. He is a sweet guy and I decided his morning could be improved by asking to kiss his cheek. He seemed keen. He blushed. With promises to pick up his meat later we continued to wobble up the hill. For hot jammy bread.

Hot jammy bread at 5am is the best.

Christmas Eve is traditionally a fishy sort of day. There is a communal lunch in Split where they make a cauldron of bakalar and serve everyone. Those that haven't been out the night before had finished every last morsel so we arrived too late. Never mind. We went on a wander around the bright sunny city taking in the sights, scents, sounds...ah the sounds. The gentlemen struck up hymns to Dalmacija just off the main square. Tearful and transported, we gathered for a moment in time. Just being. We carried on with festive meeting and greeting as people just enjoyed their holiday. We picked up our last ingredients for the following day.

So I'd be less tired for Christmas Day I decided a nap was in order. My hat was still in the bar so I called time on its shenanigans and went home via the sunset. By 8am I was back at her's where we prepared potatoes for njoki, a platter for breakfast and made sure everything was perfect. For once that week I had an early night and was back in bed for midnight. Enjoying yourself is exhausting!

Christmas Day. It had its family dramas. Don't they always? I even spoke with my mum where I arranged my trip to Warminster. I finally had a rough plan for the UK. By midday we'd eaten and were out taking in the sunshine on the Riva. The day passed by in a haze of food, good wine, and friends. The greatest gifts you can possibly get.

As this day was the final night of To Je To, the plan was to help them clear stock. 50 kunas all you could drink. They wanted nothing left by the end of the night. So letting her have a nap, I popped down there for 9 to see what was happening. It was full of the regulars and we passed a lovely evening. There was gin and lemonade, vodka and vodka, and finally vodka and red stuff. I have no idea. By 3am a cheer went up at the bar. We were dry. What to do now? The owner had a craving for Mexican food so opened the restaurant opposite to refry beans. Guys brought their guitars, and I sat and pondered the meaning of life. The sheer weird fun of it all - what a start to Boxing Day. After an impromptu party we parted, wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

*everything from oranges, suitcases, 'things' in Croatia get delivered by bus or boat. You give it to a man, they pop it on, then your friend or contact goes to pick it up when the transport arrives. Simple. Imagine National Express doing this!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Protecting people counts for everything

This follows on from my previous post. Dubrovnik's St Nicholas' Walk was the pinnacle of this perfection of collective heart. I've covered my reactions to the historic suffering of the people in this place in previous posts. But this time I got an opportunity to join in the remembrance of 6th December 1991.

As a special cultural site, Dubrovnik believed itself relatively safe from the destructive war which was raging in the region. It was not to be. On this day the people saw their beautiful city shelled continuously, with the most vulnerable in society in grave danger as they struggled to unexpectedly evacuate.

As my dear friends here have talked about their determination to fight for their land, way of life, it has encouraged me to question my passions. What would it take for me to don a uniform and fight? I have frequently asked those who fought 'why would a foreign invading force want to do this' but they can only shrug in collective anger, despair, determination and incomprehension. Pride and fierce protectiveness of their nearest and dearest drove normal people to abnormal acts. It's their city therefore they protect it and its inhabitants, just as they would their home and family.

We wound our way slowly up to the Srđ, the fortress and museum. Pausing at each of the stations of the Cross, you couldn't fail to be moved at the chanting and prayer. We followed a little behind as we were being respectful, and remembering in our own way. With entertaining conversation and exchange of thoughts. I adore this matter-of-fact spirited island woman, and miss her when I'm away.

We had coffee and hot chocolate in the cafe below the cable car. The views from have to be seen to be believed. Totally beyond the scope of words or photos. The city below eased into twilight as the sun slid into the sea. As usual the light was incredible and fireworks unnecessary; the mountains went pink and everything else gold and turquoise. Rather misty-eyed, I followed her towards the easy route down. As locals we didn't pay for the cable car and whooshed over where we'd laboured up earlier.

It was cold without being unpleasant, and we were both peckish. First we headed to the Mexican but it was shut for the season. We turned back. She explained that the fashionable little cocktail bar near there used to be a dark smoky hangout for local old guys. I guess young people drink more sweet alcoholic beverages than regulars drink cheap beer. The best pizza in town was en route to Stradun and it's merits were discussed. We agreed. Pizza!

The contrary being strong in this one, we walked straight past the pizza restaurant, and down into the main part of town. We eventually sat outside at a place called Ludo More. Its speciality is local produce served in a really simple way. Think tapas. But with Dalmatian pršut, cheeses, raw marinaded tuna, anchovies, large capers, olives washed down with fruit liqueurs. We admired the city decorations and watched the festive world go by.

We still had a date with one of the kuhano vino stalls. We'd impressed one of the vendors with our capacity for hot wine on a previous visit. So we headed off there as we had a couple of hours until our 8pm ferry departed. We didn't disappoint. It's fair to say we were a bit merry as we stumbled back to the bus stop to Gruž.

I mean, we were absolutely sober lady citizens. We carried out some essential shopping errands at the pharmacy, kiosk and supermarket. We collapsed onto Postira and decided that it was one of the most wonderful days we'd had in Dubrovnik for a long time.

Just as I think she appreciates my fresh perspective on Croatian history, I am so grateful for her view. Although the day had been about remembering what happened to friends and family, it's about making new memories. As we cautiously enter into 2017, wondering what the heck is going to happen next, we need the certainty of family and friendships. Old and new. Because I'd want to protect them with all my heart.

Seasonal rhythms

From 5th November to 28th December is an outrageous gap of time to not make any blogpost entries. I've mentioned before that time in this place plays tricks on the unwary. For the outside observer it seems everything can happen, or nothing. 

In the grand scheme of seasonal rotation, my few weeks have seen a march towards an island going into private mode. The olive oil factory was the hub of activity for many familiar  faces. With the best impromptu home produced cheese and wine parties I've ever known. But now as many olives as possible have been picked and pressed. These wonderful trees have been pruned and the resultant wood chopped and stored away for what will turn out to be one of the coldest and snowiest Januarys in many years.

The harbour sees only brief activity as the rare ferries come and go. Fishing boats continue to work and nets inevitably need mending, whilst engines get fixed. There is also swearing as the harassed boss has to dive into the water to untangle propellers and detritus. But conversations and transactions seem to happen quicker. People dash back to their closed warm homes out of the biting wind. There is always the tiny bar on the harbour, which remains resolutely open. But although the usual gathered gentlemen continue their talking, it seems quieter and more perfunctory than before.

I've spent a few evenings in that bar happily celebrating some olive picking, and taking the odd dance lesson. I remain astonished at Croatians' ability to melt into a musical rhythm and dance the night away. As long as the gentleman is stern enough to lead, and his toes nimble enough to avoid my clodhopping, it's a lovely way to pass the time. I still can't believe that the sea dances to its own tune just outside, glowing orange in the sodium light. 

This was v late at night!
If the bar palls, they obviously have the choice to head into Dubrovnik's old town. Even if it does mean spending a night in a hostel. Everyone seems keen and happy to escape the island cold and quiet. From the 1st December the winter festival in Dubrovnik is a must-visit for everyone. Festive wooden stalls offer cooked wine, local rakija, large grilled sausages and mustard. There are other advent and Christmas bits and pieces too.

Finally the people reclaim their city. They make this tiny show city feel like a living breathing place. The red lights and silvery stars jump-start the warm local heart. People who have known one another for years meet and greet, with warmth to heat the entire Stradun. Though not as flashy as Split's Christmas Riva, you get a sense of what it was like before it came a mere theatrical backdrop for thousands enjoying a cruise.