Friday, December 21, 2012

Dem bones, dem bones

A few weeks ago Ned and I realised that we were becoming decidedly blobby - either that or all our clothes were suddenly shrinking - so a weight-loss program was called for. The principle is straightforward; eat less and exercise more, but often a kick-start is needed. We tried the smaller-portion method for a while, but any change was glacially slow. We contemplated the high-fibre diet (referred to by the much-missed henry as the 'cardboard-and-water' diet) that Ned had used successfully before, but then I remembered watching a TV Horizon programme about the 5:2 diet and how simple and successful, not only with regsrds to weight loss but also to overall health (lower cholesterol and blood sugar, for starters), it had seemed. Basically you eat normally for 5 days of the week but for 2 days - any two, it doesn't matter, but probably best not consecutive days - you eat very little. Men can have 600 calories and women 500 calories. This way the body starts to use its stores but not think there's a famine and store harder when there's more again. The peripheral health benefits were appealing too; tests have shown that I have high cholesterol and 'sticky blood' making me at higher risk of heart attack or stroke, and this was something I wanted to change.

And it seems to work, certainly in the weight-loss claims. In 6 weeks Ned has lost 9lb and looks a lot trimmer, while I've reached my target weight and my clothes all seem to fit again. I don't know what my blood's doing but I'm optimistic!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

And you better pick yourself up from the ground, before they bring the curtain down

Back in December 2010 Piglet went lame in his left hind leg, but after several weeks of rest and painkillers (Rimadyl and tramadol) he recovered and by spring was almost as good as new; by summer you'd never have known anything had been wrong. Then last October it happened again, only this time it was his right hind leg that was the problem. We tried the rest-and-painkiller treatment and six weeks later he was mobile once more.

So when at the beginning of November it happened yet again (right hind again) we immediately started the routine treatment. This time it didn't go quite so well; his left leg's not as strong as it was and is finding it difficult to support him, so I took him to see a McTimoney chiropracter, who tweaked and twiddled and said she thought it was possibly a slipped disc. He enjoyed the outing (he loves the car) and was noticeably more cheerful for the rest of the day, if not moving any better. However a week later - four weeks after it started - there was further deterioration to the extent where struggling to get to his feet had him screaming in pain, which had never happened before. (Harry was the drama queen, Piglet the stoic who never grumbled.) It's the most indescribably awful, gut-wrenching sound - clearly something's badly amiss.

The vet came (impossible to get him into the car now, it'd be far too painful) and examined him, gently moving his leg this way and that, flexing and extending all the joints, and other than shouting at her as he always does (she takes his friends away when she visits - he can see the shadow of the Grim Reaper hanging over her) he wasn't bothered at all, but he did wince when his lower spine was felt. We got him to his feet and she too was horrified to hear the screams this produced, and agreed this is serious pain. If it can't be controlled then this is terminal because it's inhumane to allow it to carry on. She gave me some syringes of yet another medication (Vetergesic) which is used as a sedative as well as analgesic, and can be absorbed through the mouth rather than injected - I've never given an injection and don't want to experiment on my own dog. After a bad day  hopefully we'd all get some sleep.

Yesterday was bad; I tearfully became convinced that we were reaching the end, and we semi-decided to call the vet over after today's surgery, I gave him the additional meds at about 9.30 last night. I don't know whether it dulled the pain at all, but he had a bad trip with it, and was panting and shaking and drooling and howling, staring around, seeing ghosts and goblins and not recognising me at all, until he finally started to relax at 1am.

I dreaded coming downstairs this morning to more screaming, so when I looked in on him and he wagged his tail at me and got up with only a small cry and asked to go outside, my tears were of joy. He's had a good day today, no screams and using his leg a little, so there's still a little hope that he won't yet have to lose his life over something so stupid, because otherwise he's so well. It's very difficult to get out of the mindset that medication has to be given to a strict timetable, and within determined limits to avoid longterm damage. When you realise the alternative is death, the risk of 'longterm damage' is non-existent. So if he needs extra pills he'll get extra pills.

Tomorrow is another day, but tonight we're happy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

While the river-bank weeps to the old willow tree*

After a leisurely breakfast on our third day the itinerary was to go caching in mainland Europe for the first time. It was a bit drizzly so it took some time for the GPS to pick up satellites:

(Doesn't the picture make the bridge look high?)

We'd only taken the details of one cache, and it was a straightforward find, but not an easy retrieve. The office workers having a cigarette break on the overlooking balcony might have thought we were a bit strange lying down on the wet road, so we lurked around the corner till they'd gone in. Then it was a quick grab and sign (no travel bugs, unfortunately) then on to the Hermitage museum to see the Van Gogh exhibition. Sadly they didn't allow photography because there was a gorgeous version of 'Irises' which I could have stood and looked at for ages. In fact I could sit in my own sitting room for hours and gaze at it hanging on the wall and never tire of it.

It was wonderful to be able to get really close (but keep your hands behind your back so it's clear you're not going to touch it or the gallery guards get touchy!). At art college we were taught that when painting watercolours you paint the foreground before the background because the paint is transparent, but that with gouache and oils and other opaque colours you do the background first then overpaint the detailed foreground. This 'Irises' is done the other way; the subject was painted first (the flowers were originally more purple, apparently, but the red has faded away just leaving the blue) then the yellow background swirled on afterwards.

When we were paintinged out  we went for lunch at the Luxembourg, where the waiter offered to take a photo of us together "as long as you're partners and it's all right being seen together!"

 (I don't remember being quite so out-of-focus at the time!)

Then we took a canal tour, first going past the multi-storey bike park (where there are spaces for about 2500 cycles)

and then the most extraordinary pink-wrapped building

before being shown the best unemployment scheme I've ever come across; the creation of the 'Amsterdam'. It would have been nice to have gone round it and see what they'd done inside.

 There were interesting views when you peeped under the bridges

When the tour finished it was time to get to the restaurant for dinner, although it was early; but there was still time to admire the scenery on the way.

This everning we'd booked to eat at the Bouchon du centre, a quirky little place we'd read about, so decided to try it. It seats a maximum of 24 people, and the whole shebang is a one-woman enterprise. She's front-of-house, cook and waitress all in one, and it all functions in the one room; she serves diners whilst cooking more meals. You need to get there early - she starts serving at 6 and likes to be done by 8 so she can have a quiet evening. There's a limited menu and just a choice of three wines, house red, white or rosé. Oh, and cash only. We had a really good meal: the welcome is warm and natural, and the food delicious. The wine was more than adequate and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable.

The stroll back afterwards gave more images of this watery city;

It's a slightly crazy place! Do I want to go back? Yes, I think so. It's offbeat and very intriguing. And why do the Dutch lishp when they shpeak English but not when they speak Dutch (which seems to involve a lot of throat-clearing)?

*And I've even provided a link to the title!

She sang every morning, "How lucky I am"

So, on our second day in Amsterdam, after a breakfast of fresh orange juice, oatmeal cookie (nearly cereal) and a coffee, we decided to visit the Rijksmuseum. We were surprised and pleased to see that they didn't mind people taking photographs. There were some terrific paintings: these two were obviously planned to be Christmas cards from the outset;

 'The Night Watch' is a huge painting; the main figures are pretty much lifesize. Though I must admit I couldn't help looking for Discworld characters in it!

 This Vermeer just took our breath away. It's stunning. It's only a little painting but the quality is superb. Just by  looking you know exactly what the fabric of her clothing felt like and you can almost hear the pouring of the milk. A real joy to see it 'in the real', and realise that even the best reproduction just doesn't do it justice.

I should really have taken a picture of the portrait of the obese young man who looked so spoilt and arrogant and sneery that I just itched to slap his fat face. He looked as though he was his parents' pride and joy and had been over-indulged in everything for his entire life. Edit: Hurrah! I've just found a copy on Google:

After a few hours in the museum we browsed in the flower market. I could have spent a fortune on some of the more exotic plants and corms and bulbs.

  The amaryllis bulbs were the biggest I've ever seen.

Gosh! I don't think Customs would be terribly happy if we tried bringing one of these back.

On the other side of the road to the flower stalls there were other shops. If you want cheese this is the place to come.

The cheese shop
"Cheeeeeeeese, Gromit!"
Green cheese. Really?
 And then we wandered some more, passing some cafés that smelt very strange. We didn't like to go in because we thought there might not be enough oxygen in there to sustain life; the smell hung like a solid curtain by the open doorways.

While making our way back to the hotel we saw the perfect bike for Tammy!

A bike for Tammy
 There are so many amazing narrow little houses; some plots are as little as 2 metres wide but the houses are four or five storeys high, but with the ground floor below street level. They all have hoists at the roof for getting furniture in and out of the windows, because the stairs are far too steep and narrow to get anything but the smallest of belongings in that way!

Sweet little house on the corner
 Very few of the houses have their floors on the same level as their neighbour.

Inconsistent floor levels!
We saw this odd little clog-boat; I doubt it's very stable!

For dinner in the evening we asked the receptionist if she knew of anywhere that did traditional Dutch food; she couldn't think of anywhere like that but said we'd get a good meal at a reasonable price at the Eetkamer in the Jordaan district. We managed to get a tram most of the way there (you NEARLY DIE when you try to catch a tram; the tram stops are in the middle of the road, so you need to get through the cavalcades of mad cyclists with no lights and the cars to get to the island in the middle), and she was right; the food was indeed very good. We decided to walk back although it was quite a long way, because houses looked like dolls' houses from across the canals, with their lights on so you could see inside.

The camera setting makes it look as though Amsterdam was on fire; it didn't look like that really!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mark well what I do say

For our anniversary this year we decided to push the boat out and have a city-break abroad, and decided on Amsterdam, because of the number of great museums and art galleries. Ned had been there many years ago but it was all new to me. After a minor heart attack at the cost of leaving the car at the airport (they cleverly only tell you the price once you're committed) an uneventful flight saw us at Schipol, trying to find the best way to get to the city.

That done, and the hotel found successfully after our initiation with the trams, we set out to explore. One of the first things we learned is that not only are there more bicycles in Amsterdam than in the whole of the rest of the universe, they seem to obey no rules of the road that we could see. This gave sightseeing an added frisson of fear because you never knew when you were likely to be run down. Like the outsiders we were we thought that staying on the pavement would be sensible, but when that's blocked with parked bikes you have no option but to risk almost certain death. They're generally very sturdy old-fashioned 'sit-up-and-beg' type contraptions, but we did see some wooden ones for hire!

Eventually we decided that a little 'Dutch courage' (d'you see what I did there?) was called for, and found a very nice old-fashioned bar, with leather curtains at the doorway and sand on the floor. And no, it wasn't one of those 'perfumed' bars for which the city is famed, either!

They have an odd way of pouring a beer; sloosh it into the glass, and when the head gets too high they slice it off with a knife and hand it over.Apparently there's an official measure but it still looked awfully random. However it girded our loins nicely for the next foray into the streets.

As it was latish afternoon by this time we didn't have a lot of time in the Amsterdam Museum but it gave us a broad overview of the history of the city. There was a strange area where they'd set up the front half of a suit of armour, with a ruff above it, so that you could stand behind it and have your photo taken 'dressed up', with the photos published on Flickr. We thought this rather jolly so dutifully stood there ... but the camera seems to be set too high and the only image is of your face and the ruff, and none of the armour at all, so that's a bit disappointing. However on the way out there was a strange corridor of mirrors which called for a photograph/

For dinner that night we went to an Indonesian restaurant (not as strange as it might seem when you realise that Indonesia was a Dutch colony for 300 years) near our hotel and had a very pleasant meal, then were thrilled to discover, back in our hotel room, that the BBC channels are shown on Dutch TV and with the hour time difference it meant we could watch the final of the Great British Bake Off; a very satisfactory end to the first day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Life is a minestrone

That was a very strange 24 hours. First of all there was the horrible drive in the dark through lightning and heavy rain and negotiating the M25 to my brother's house, then the good news that my niece had safely delivered her 9lb 1oz daughter, so bestest congratulations to Charlotte and Michael, and welcome to baby Sofia Lily. A poor night's sleep followed then we were all up bright and early to drive to my aunt A's funeral. These events are never fun, but it went as well as could be expected, and a small bird sang loudly from the silver birch at the foot of the grave as we laid her to rest, which was nice. After her wake I drove the short distance to check that my Dad's grave wasn't overgrown as it's been some time since anyone has been down in that area; I was very happy to see that it was very tidy and not at all neglected. It's hard to think it's been 25 years since he left us.

I drove very slowly past my parents' old house as I left their village, and was pleased to see that the visible changes were appropriate to a house that was appreciated; but it was difficult to drive past and not go in. When I was last there it was still Mother's home, although the sale had all been arranged and we were helping her to sort out her belongings for the move. It was a very strange feeling - not very nice.

The journey back up the A21, M25 and M40 were pretty uneventful, and just as I was heaving a sigh of relief as I approached the village a hen pheasant ran into the road. I slowed for it, but she slowed too, and then took off ... straight into the front of the car. There was a thump and a puff of feathers, but no corpse visible in the rearview mirror and an odd rhythmic flappy noise from the front. I groaned, stopped the car and got out to view the damage. I wish I'd had my camera. The car was thankfully undamaged, but the pheasant had managed to wedge her head under the dead (pun unintended) centre of the bonnet lid and was dangling directly under the KIA (how appropriate!) badge, still twitching slightly.  I knew I couldn't possibly drive all through the village like that - people would stare and point, so I had to carefully remove the corpse before I could get home and, waste not want not, prepare her for cooking.

So a very strange, stressful, tiring, emotional 24 hours. Birth, funeral and death, and memories, memories, memories.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Older but no wiser

Gosh, it's been nearly a year. How did that happen? Blogger seems to have totally redesigned itself in the interim so this might not work.

Anyway, this is Daisy winding Piglet up. It was making Gardeners World very difficult to watch, especially when she nearly landed on my plate.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bell's going to ring Hear the alarms

They tell us that the economy's in a state, that jobs are at risk and that we should all do all we can to help avoid a double-dip recession. That's all well and good, but what can you do when tradesmen can't be bothered to accept a large job?

Our house needs rewiring; that's quite a big job, and will earn an electrician several thousand pounds, so you'd think people would be keen to take it on. We're always told to get at least three quotes, so we asked our friends for recommendations and also looked in the phone book. We generally prefer to use local independent businesses rather than franchises, and five out of the six companies I called were just that.

We were very surprised that three of them never returned my calls (I rang several times over the course of a month in case they were on holiday), and of the three that came to survey the job only one has submitted an estimate, despite the other two both saying they'd "put it in the post on Monday" when we chased them after waiting a week to hear from them. The only one who seems to want the work is the electrician from the franchise, so the job's his.

The electricians who lied to us and wasted our time are N.J.P. Electrics and M.G.F. Electrical. Don't offer them work - they're not interested.