Sunday, 31 January 2010

Negatives First

I am conscious that I haven't posted an entry for a few days, despite my best intentions, one of which was that I thought that blogging would be a great diversion while I was going through radiotherapy treatment, and I suppose that in a way it is.  When you see or hear things that might be interesting to others you make a mental or physical note.

The problem that I  am having at the moment is lack of energy - I really can't be bothered to do ANYTHING.  I am getting regular (morning and late afternoon) headaches which aren't that bad but do need some co-codamol to shift.  I get tired - you know - Grandpa Simpson nodding off mid sentence.  And as I write this there is hair on my keyboard falling from my two, ever-thinning bald patches caused by the treatment as well as hairs all over my pillows.  So it looks like the follicles aren't up to the bashing they're getting from the radiation.  Never mind.

Also I live in one of nine apartments in a beautiful old house (below)

Historical note:  this house belonged to Thomas Backhouse who was not only a family member of a local banking empire but also a keen and accomplished astronomer.  The remnants of his observatory can be seen to the left of the tree although it now has a pointed roof.

That, in itself is a positive! But as you can imagine, a building of this age needs a substantial investment in maintenance.  The owners who have lived here for years are also the freeholders and formed their own (mis) management company and have, over the years contributed too little funds as well as mis-managing what they did have. They talked about it and recorded their discussions in minuted meetings, but didn't DO anything about it.  They ignored it and just hoped that either they would move house, or the problem would magically go away.  But that particularly plumscious chicken has now come home to roost, quite rightly.

Those  of us who bought here quite recently, and whose solicitors were  informed by the 'management company' that all was well have tried to sort out the backlog maintenance on an equitable basis, offering equal contributions.  The backlog is the type of shared items  you would not expect a mortgage surveyor to deal with e.g. shared roof, masonry, grounds etc.

But over the months the whole discussion has descended into an ungodly row,  with those that have lived here the longest and presided over the whole mess, either trying to remain ostrich-like about it, or becoming really quite nasty on a personal basis about having to part with any money (even though us newbies offered to put our hands in our pockets on an equal basis as opposed to number of year residence, which would actually be fairer).

One of the crew has become a self-appointed spokesman for a 'majority' who will not stand up and be counted and has fired off letters to some of us saying we are acting illegally, threatening consequences, etc etc.  In fact his letter was inaccurate and deeply offensive and may well result in action being taken against him.

I think the technical term for this particular individual is 'tosser', although he also owns a flat in a neighbouring block of flats where he is known as 'The Aggravator'. One of the recipients of his letter is a psychiatrist at a local hospital and says he would love to have him on the ward for assessment.

So I have had to devote precious time and energy to responding to this load of old tosh, really out of common courtesy (that's the sort of chap I am).  He writes lots of letters though, so if he writes to me again,  I think I'll just hand-write "fuck off" and post it back to him.

To add to the burden,  I've been messing around with Apple Mail and Entourage, loading and deleting the thousands of gmail messages just to see how it all works.  Presumably as a result of all that bandwidth, and general arsing about, the computers at Google won't let me access my Gmail account other than through the web interface.  In the general scheme of things it really isn't important - it's just an irritation

So, even though it doesn't really matter,  for the record,  if anyone actually starts reading these outpourings, that is why I have been feeling uninspired and unproductive.

There are some positives though, so I'll save those for a later post!

I don't feel bad about this, however - I've had lots of other things to do.

Erm...this was going to be an explanation of why I'm not posting, but it's a post!  There's a name for that - now what is it?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Smaller and Smaller

Oh, how I am starting to feel pissed off.  My little world is getting smaller and smaller.

Despite earlier hopes my hair has indeed started to fall out to reveal a bald and sensitive patch.

I just don't have enough energy and concentration to take a real interest in anything, so I have the mounting feeling of things being left undone, time being wasted and not being able to do anything about it.

My social life is zilch, with Gladys being my only real company. Don't misunderstand, her company is (usually) great and we are best mates and partners but I have no real contact with anyone else in the outside world.

Since she twisted and damaged her knee in the stupid quad bike accident in June last year, my life has consisted of going to work in a demanding job and then running around after her (moving cups of coffee from room to room etc).  Now I am off sick we spend nearly all of our time together.

She grew up here and so has a network of old friends.  I didn't, so have no real friends here and I have never really liked this town or thought of it as 'home'. In fact to call it a 'city' is almost a joke - it's a small town full of pawnbrokers and pound shops.  Thankfully I work in and identify more with a real city half an hour away on the metro.

I'm not allowed to drive now due to my condition so Gladys has to ferry me about or I take the bus or metro.  So I stand on a train full of smelly, foul-mouthed, snot-faced kids, swearing, shouting and taking pictures of each other on their expensive mobiles (how do they afford them?) and cling on for dear life while being whacked by the rucksacks that they seem oblivious are hanging off  their backs.  It is a fucking strain when you have just come off a linear accelerator.

We weren't able to have a holiday last year due to her accident so I/ we haven't been able to get away anywhere for a whole year so I feel stuck here.

I am 2/3 of the way through my daily treatments (although  I am sick and tired of going to the hospital for treatment every day) and I did get paid today.  So really, I shouldn't grumble.

But I feel like I am imploding.  My head is an untidy mess. I feel like shit and just wanted to get it out of my system.  So there.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Half Way Through

Today was my 14th radiotherapy treatment which means I am now half way through the programme of 28 treatments.  Hurrah!

The side-effects are catching up with me slightly.  I have developed a sore(ish) patch on the right side of my head.  The radiographers have told me this is the area that will be affected by hair loss from where the beams are being directed in my treatment.  "On the other hand", they have said "You might be one of the 'lucky ones' whose hair doesn't fall out".  Apparently it's all to do with the strength of your follicles.  My father (see below) had a shock of hair and never lost any as he got older - it just went grey and then white but remained as thick as ever.

So, who knows, I might have inherited his strong follicles?

Either way I have been given some hydrocortisone cream to rub in to ease the discomfort, which feels a bit like mild sunburn at this stage.  No hair on the pillow yet other than Gladys's (who has a magnificent crop which she refers to as 'big') and the occasional cat hair (how does that happen?).

Also I am starting to 'micro-sleep' which can mean me drifting off in the middle of conversations and then 'coming to' and continuing where I left off.  These little 'excursions' are actually quite pleasant and varied - I have, so, far tucked into a summer pudding, had a conversation with Jimmy Savile (how's about that then?), solved many seemingly intractable personal, social and international problems, and on it goes, all without the aid of drugs, legal or otherwise.  Or perhaps I am just, finally going bonkers.

The unnerving thing for Gladys is that she sees me sleeping but I always seem to re-enter the conversation at the moment I left it.  It could, of course be something to do with many of her 'conversations' actually being soliloquies...Nuf sed.

Anyway, half way through and then on we go for the remaining 14 treatments.  We had a minor celebration by treating ourselves to a pleasant lunch at Chinese Buffet in the Metro Centre.

And so to bed (yawns).

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Big Sale Now On!

We are both so knackered after our recent experiences, we have decided we'll need a holiday to look forward to when this lot is all over  We deserve it don't we?

There are some conditions for this as follows:
  1. I stop wandering around glassy-eyed, dropping and breaking things and have an attention span greater than a gnat.
  2. Gladys isn't hopping about one one leg shouting "ouch!" and looking like a lost pirate.
  3. We have enough money.
Items 1 & 2 have largely been taken care of.  All that can be done either has been done, or is happening.  Time is all that's needed.

For item 3, as luck would have it, Gladys has copped for a bunch of air-miles (27,000) from a previous holiday which need using up fairly soon.  To make up the balance some hard cash is needed, so Gladys has organised a BIG SALE on eBay.

She has a huge obsession for collecting bags, shoes and a few other things..  Now, I'm not saying that's bad, or even unusual.

It's just that our relatively modest apartment is now full what I call 'clutter' and Gladys calls 'art' - hanging on door handles, tumbling out of wardrobes.  You find it, she'll fill it.

So to kill two birds with one stone - raising holiday dosh and helping Gladys overcome her addiction, get yourself over to her BIG SALE on eBay.  There are still plenty of bargains to be had!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

iPhoto '09

I have now reached the end of my second week of radiotherapy. Going into the hospital every day is getting to be  bit wearisome,  but I used to do it anyway when I was working.  I suspect the weariness has a lot to do with the effects of the daily radiotherapy treatment starting to catch up with me.  The last couple of days I have begun to feel tired and 'woolly' during the day.  Everything is becoming much more of an effort and my concentration is more limited.

I had to replace my computer earlier this year and with a sudden rush of blood to the head,  I bought an iMac.  To pass the time I have been concentrating on getting all my old photos into iPhoto 09.  Many of them are old family snaps and the EXIF data, shows the scan date.  As a lifelong Windows user, trusting a piece of software to manage my files initially made me feel very uncomfortable as I am used to 'playing around under the hood' which has always seemed to be a requirement of Windows, any version.  So all my media items have been organised by me, in folders, by year and managed using Picasa.

You don't have to import photos into iPhoto 09 as it can manage them 'in situ'.  I thought long and hard about it, read all the shades of opinion on the newsgroups, some of it quite vitriolic, pedantic with an almost religious fervour.

Importing does take up more disk space but memory is a LOT cheaper than it used to be, and I have plenty (except inside my head at present), so I decided in the end to let iPhoto take over on the basis expressed in David Pogue's 'Missing Manual' that when iPhoto copies photos into its own library, they're safer and at least then I can back up my iPhoto library content in the knowledge that I really have backed up all my photos rather than leaving some behind because they are not actually in the library.  And provided the iPhoto library is backed up, I can delete the source folders as well as the hundreds of picasa.ini that are irritatingly littered over my machine and seemed to bugger everything up when I tried Picasa for Mac.  (I do have the data files from my old machine backed up on an external drive anyway, so I always have them if it goes 'tits up')

So it has been a lot of work the last few days, and I have also been re-uploading to Flickr as I have been sorting out comments and tags.  There is now the added option of geo-tagging which I'm afraid I haven't been able to resist. 

But I think it will all be worth it, and I should end up with a better-managed (and more manageable) photo collection.  But it still feels like something of an act of faith.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

To Be or Not to Do

Well, I'm now into the second week of radiotherapy treatment with no ill-effects as yet.  I've been in semi-hibernation with Gladys (who can't get out because of her gammy leg) and Millie (who won't go out because she IS a cat, after all, and it's not up to us to dictate to her what to do, and where to go).   She is currently specialising in having her daily bowel movement in her litter tray when we are eating dinner, and scratting away at furniture legs instead of her scratching post.

So I think that this period of 'togetherness', enforced by injury, lack of mobility, stress and crap weather is making us all a bit 'stir-crazy'.  It's a bit of a pressure-cooker in here but we are holding up remarkably well in the circumstances - just stewing gently.

I find myself with loads of time on my hands which under normal circumstances I would have relished.  I could do so much!

I have always been something of a GTD fan and follower - personal productivity and all that stuff.  The books are good and seemed to make perfect sense to me in the way I organised my life. The blogosphere is full of good advice, tips and tricks etc.  Theoretically the same principles could also be applied to my current situation, with the added luxury of having plenty of spare time. But ( and it's a big BUT) I have made a sudden shift from a 20,000ft view to a 50,000 ft view in GTD terms. My thinking has shifted from GTD to WTF.  I mean, for the next few weeks, does it really matter anymore?

I have spent so much time doing things for other people, for money, for gratification, for whatever.  I have an enquiring mind and like to accumulate knowledge for its own sake and I am always setting myself objectives.  All those books to read, all that geeky stuff to get to grips with, sorting out to do, but quite frankly, I really don't think I can be arsed.

Neither can I just loll about doing nothing - that is not 'rest' to me, although everyone is telling me that is what I should be doing.

I feel well now and am not suffering any effects of treatment so I have been using the time to reorganize my photo collection which has been a major task (more on that in a later post).  I have been told that in a couple of weeks time I'll probably start to feel very tired and I will have reduced concentration. That means that I probably won't be able to cope with the complexity and challenge of the books that I am normally interested in reading and I doubt that I'll have the capacity to write the novel that's supposed to be within each one of us, or some memorable poetry.  I'll be a blob!

I did some thinking today about what I could actually cope with.  Firstly I want to maintain the impetus of this blog as it keeps me occupied and thinking (whether anyone is reading it or not).

Repetitive things will probably be quite good too.  As I spend much of my personal and professional life communicating by keyboard I think it is finally time to get to grips with Mavis Beacon as the skill of touch-typing will hep me considerably.

Also I can speak Greek (and have a GCSE in it) which is rather unusual for an Englishman.  I started to learn a bit when I was working in Cyprus and carried on in dribs and drabs. But I can converse in Greek - more than just the touristy stuff.  But like many languages, the vocabulary is the key.  Greek vocabulary seems to leak from memory fairly quickly, so this might be a golden opportunity to increase my word-power.

Sunset at Oia, Santorini -by Woodlet

Repetition is the key and I am looking for repetitive things to do.  Otherwise I could sit and ponder the meaning of he life, universe and everything...and still think ... WTF!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Work/Life Balance

There is a lot of discussion about work life balance but for me it's not that simple.  This is a the corner of Waiting Area K outside Linear Accelerator (LINAC) Room 6 in the Northern Centre for Cancer Care where I am receiving my treatment.  This is a major life event for me and most people, and yet I am sitting at work!  I commissioned this facility earlier this and know it very well, almost down to the room numbers.

The rack of pamphlets behind are produced by Macmillan Cancer Support which is a UK National Charity.  I worked for Macmillan from 2005 to 2008 so I know that organization and the pamphlets well.  So for me at the moment the split between 'work' and 'life' is not that great.  I much prefer to enter a hospital as an employee rather than a patient!  The expression in Britain is 'a busman's holiday' but I am sure other countries have their own idiomatic expressions. (Btw the Christmas tree will be gone by tomorrow as it is Twelfth Night - Epiphany).

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Radiotherapy Treatment

After all the preparation, my radiotherapy treatment has now started.  I have 28 daily treatments and so will be going up to the Cancer Centre every day (except weekends) for the next six weeks.

The treatment itself was fine although it is an unusual sensation to have a bright yellow bathing cap put on your head, then encased in a  plastic mask, lying on a table with eyes eyes shut, lights going on and off, people calling out numbers as measurements are calibrated. They then have to scurry in and out of the room as the machine whirrs and buzzes into action and the table on which you are lying moves about underneath you.

I can understand why some people find it a bit freaky but I am made of sterner stuff! Harumph!  (although - I don't like fairground rides very much...)

But we're off and running now - I'm happy about that and I'll just get on with it!

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Big Freeze

It's all relative

During the traditionally quiet period between Christmas and New Year we have not ventured outside  - we are in the grip of a 'big freeze'.  Temperatures of around  -3C will not seem bad for those used to cold conditions, and we have certainly experienced much worse when visiting  Budapest, Krakow, Prague and Salzburg, for example during winter months.  When I was working in Kosovo, some days I was sliding and stumbling my way to work  in temperatures of - 20C on snow and ice-caked, rutted mud.  So this is nothing.


Nevertheless in the 'softer' climate of the UK we never seem to anticipate or deal with winter very well.  The local authorities always seem ill-prepared, and are late salting and gritting the roads, often running out.  It is rare to carry snow chains in the UK as we are not supposed to use them if they might damage the road, unlike several other European countries where it is desirable or , in some cases, mandatory.  Result?  Chaos!

Gladys is walking like a parrotless pirate on a single crutch, which is significant progress, but it would be madness for her to venture outside in this lot.  Even Millie, who normally seems to prefer an external latrine facility somewhere (we prefer not to know where - sorry, neighbours!) has not ventured out, presumably as her paws will not penetrate the permafrost.

Verification CT Scan

Today I had no choice in the matter - I had to go to the hospital for my final verification CT scan for the planning of my treatment which starts tomorrow (Tuesday).  I therefore plucked my best cold weather gear out of the cupboard, and my courage out of my psyche, and ventured forth into the freezing conditions.  I picked my way down the road to the nearest metro station and made my way to the nearest station to the hospital, about 40 minutes travelling.

I then had to navigate the track that leads towards the hospital, which although f-f-freezing was quite a pleasant experience - cold and fresh after being confined for a few days.

The Good News

I am pleased to say that all the markings and other technical details matched perfectly, so my treatment can now proceed without delay.

I know about radiotherapy but I have never experienced the effects of it first-hand, so I am a little nervous, but roll on tomorrow!  Let's get started!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Film Reviews - Avatar and Sherlock Holmes

The art of film reviewing in this household is in its infancy and is characterised by its brevity and inarticulateness.  The lowest end of the scale is "complete bollocks", ranging upwards through"pants", "not bad", "better than I expected", "quite enjoyable" etc.  The highest accolade is "I'll stick that one on the Lovefilm list".

I think it's not just us that use this method.  We went to the cinema a few weeks ago to see the Daniel Craig film Defiance which is a film about the incredible true-life tale of the Bielski brothers who were Jewish working-class farmers from the remote countryside of what is now independent Belarus, but was then under Soviet control.  When the Nazis invaded and began executing Jews, the brothers, who had also lost family, led a small group to safety within the forests.

It was a pretty serious and bloody action film which dealt with some serious issues concerning human dignity, bravery, fortitude, prejudice and oppression.  We were sat behind an elderly couple and as we arose to leave at the end, the husband turned to his wife and gave his opinion that the film was "very nice", which sort of seemed on a par with Hitler's attempt to invade Russia and its consequences as 'very bad'.

So, we are not alone in this style of film reviewing, and I shall use it here to review two current films we have seen over the holiday season.

First, Avatar, the much hyped James Cameron film.  We saw it in 3D so the cinema was filled with serried rows of us with our 3D glasses on, looking like a Roy Orbison Appreciation Society Convention.  The film itself was impressive and visually spectacular in its special effects, although the initial novelty of the 3D wore off fairly quickly as you became accustomed to it.  Some have said that this film is a 'movie milestone' but personally, although the film was visually impressive, I think the bases of a really superb film are fresh ideas, a good script and great acting.  All the special effects and technical wizardry couldn't overcome the feeling for me, somehow, that I had 'seen it all before' and that it was a bit, well... boring.  Sorry, to those that really loved it.

The other film we saw, was the Guy Ritchie film, Sherlock Holmes which was, however, a pleasant surprise.  I was deeply cynical when I was cajoled into going to see it, and agreed to go on the basis that it would while away a couple of hours during the shitty weather we are experiencing at the moment.  I generally hate Hollywood interpretation of British classics.  The stories get bastardized - for example additional characters being introduced ( a gopher in 'Winnie the Pooh'?) and American accents prevail in quintessentially British characters.

American actors never seem to be able to pull off a truly authentic British accent (but of course, I am British so have a finely-tuned ear for this).  The classic worst-case for this was Dick Van Dyke trying to play a cockney chimney-sweep in the 1960's film, Mary Poppins, which is simply flesh-crawling for your average Brit.  I have never been a true Sherlock Holmes fan, although over the years I have read some of the stories and always enjoyed them.  The film portrayal that sticks in most people's minds is that of Basil Rathbone, complete with deerstalker hat, pipe and magnifying glass.

So fully-armed with all these prejudices I went to see the film.

The first thing to say is that Robert Downey Jr. can do a very passable British accent!  His intonation and accent were good and didn't grate on the nerves once during the film.  Secondly, the film didn't attempt to build on, update or 'Hollywoodize' the existing stereotypical portrayals of this infamous fictional detective.  It seemed to take the essential elements of the Sherlock Holmes character and completely re-fashion it.  The end result was an intriguing and entertaining action-packed film.  I found it hugely enjoyable and it might well end up on the Lovefilm list!

Without giving anything away, an interesting footnote (to me) is that the main plot of the film is Holmes attempting to stop the main evil adversary Lord Blackwood using 'spiritualism' to to incite fear and allow domination, by exposing it as 'hocus pocus' and pure trickery.  The author of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle was conversely, drawn to, and finally believed in spiritualism.

New Year's Resolution

Well, it's that time of year again and much is being written about New Year's Resolutions, from research that they are doomed to failure, to good advice on how to help them succeed.

Personally, in the past I have found the act of 'making resolutions' not to be particularly helpful;  I have to monitor my behaviour and lifestyle on a regular basis, introducing checks and balances as I go.

However, perhaps due to recent events, I have realised that a bad habit of mine (one of many by the way) is becoming stronger and that is negative projection into the future - the 'what if's and the 'but's.

So, apart from some sensible planning, my ONLY resolution this year is to cross my bridges only when I come to them.

That's it for me this year. and will probably be the most helpful change I can make.  Anything else will lead to over-complication and disappointment.

Keep it simple.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! We've just seen our new year in with a glass of fizzy elderflower squash, a packet of cheese and onion crisps and some pork scratchings - so romantic!