Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Another Year (Almost) Over...

Well its almost New Year, and the chocolate fest will soon be over. Even at Easter its not really acceptable to tuck in to half a box of Ferrero Rocher at 10 am, have brownies with cream for lunch, and eat stuff thats in the fridge just because its there. Someone needs to tell Sally that, even at this time of year, shopping is optional! The Bags For Life have been discarded in favour of huge boxes. Today was a horse riding expedition, followed by a trip to the shops in Macclesfield. That probably won't last long as she has taken Zac with her, never the most patient of shoppers.

Roll on Saturday, and not just because we will be well in to 2016, it is also the day I can officially put full weight through my leg. I must admit, I have been tempted a couple of times, and it doesn't quite feel right, with some interesting swellings in places that I didn't think could swell.

Its been a busy week in the kitchen, and not always a successful one. I made a cranberry, almond and orange sponge. One of Nigella's. It looked very easy on the telly, but when I found it on the net the quantities seemed a bit off. I checked the video on Youtube and after getting distracted several times, sure enough the quantities are significantly different. For one, the eRecipe uses a mixture of ounces and cups. Never did quite get the American use of the 'cup' as a measurement. Anyway, it came out very sticky, gooey and crunchy, all at the same time, more like a crumble than a sponge, but Sally loved it, and it didn't last long. When I get the quantities right she may well be disappointed.

I've not been to the pub for ages, maybe manage a cheeky couple on New Year's Eve, but if not then I will definitely be heading out on Saturday!

There always seem to be tragedies around this time of year, and I guess the flooding is what has made headline news this week. There has also been an earthquake, a shark attack in Gran Canaria, and a terrorist bomb plot foiled. There have been some very sad deaths, too. Lemmy was arguably the biggest name, but he had a great life in rock and roll before succumbing to the big C at the age of 70. Specials drummer John Bradbury also passed away at the alarmingly young age of 62, but the most tragic was surely Pavel Srnicek who suffered a cardiac arrest aged just 47. Frank Sinatra has been on the tv, but he died years ago, whilst Elvis died almost 40 years ago, but that certainly hasn't stopped him from releasing a new record.

Of course, there are also good news stories. A German man died when he tried to blow up a condom machine, and there are reports that during the recent security lockdown in Belgium police and soldiers engaged in an orgy!

One of my favourite Christmas presents, for various reasons, is my Muddy Fox cycling shades, with 4 different coloured lenses. I look forward to getting out in the very near future, though shades may be pushing it a bit, except perhaps to stave off the glare from another present, a fluorescent lime cycling top. You will definitely see me coming.

A gift that I gave to the family was tickets to see the stage version of Goodnight Mister Tom, its about the only chance I have to get the kids to do something educational! Yesterday they took to the garden in new Real Madrid and Barcelona kits. El Classico lasted all of about 10 minutes, followed by a debate about whose football team was better at whatever ages. and that is about the only exercise that they have had since the Christmas holidays began. To be fair, Ole has walked from his bedroom to the fridge many times, whilst Zac has carried lots of heavy weights in the form of disguised chocolate from the kitchen to wherever he thinks he can eat it undetected.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and I have a beef chilli partially made in the fridge. I like chilli to be hot, I hope our guests are similar! There are always a few odd people around, and so I will be making a vegetarian sweet potato chilli too. Probably not as hot. I think festive apple puffs will come in handy, so I had better make some almond paste today. So much for the term 'holidays'. Speaking of which, Sally is hoping to head off stateside in February to ride a horse along a trail. Not sure if she thinks she is Ruben Carter (you have to know the song) or Annie Oakley. She then hopes to take in a rodeo. Its a bit ambitious, particularly as she is going with my sister Fiona. Sally rides quite frequently, and although my sister is probably used to sitting on her arse for long periods of time, I am not sure her business class airline seats ever quite mimic five hours in the saddle of a potentially bucking bronco!

I think a week in the more sedate surroundings of a Cuban beach seems a better option to me.

Today Storm Frank is battering the UK, and Whaley Bridge is getting the tail end of it. Nothing too drastic, but I guess the X-Boxes will be getting some more hammer, whilst next week the first real snows of winter are forecast. That's great with the prospect of returning to work. Now where's that box of Famous Names Liqueurs I was looking forward to?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Don't Blame Me - Its Christmas

Steadily got used to putting weight down on my left foot, but there's always a temptation to do more. I also managed to cut down on painkillers. For a few days I have been down to just 2 paracetamol at bedtime and two in the night. Now I have stopped them altogether. Not always comfortable - but at least now if I do something I shouldn't the pain will tell me about it. This morning (Boxing Day) in a Lazarusesque moment I discarded one of my crutches and attempted to put 50% weight through my left leg. It was iffy at first, but eventually I achieved it, even going so far as descending the stairs, making two cups of coffee and carrying them back up again, without spilling a drop.

So, well on the way to recovery, but still taking it in small steps. In a week's time I should be able to put full weight through it, then it is a question of getting back to regular activities such as driving and cycling. However, I still have nagging doubts as stabs of pain sneak into the outside of the knee, and remaining upright for long periods of time is still quite uncomfortable.

The run up to Christmas is always a stressful time, and with me on crutches it was even worse. 'Tidy your room, Zac,' is a constant request, and after he spent about 15 minutes shuffling things around mum inspected it. 'Tidy your room, Zac,' was repeated, but Zac had an answer.
'I have tidied it.'
'Well its not to my standards'
'Well it is to my standards. How am I supposed to know what your standards are?'
'Keep tidying, and when its to my standards I'll let you know.'

Two strange things have happened in the last week or so, and both of them in bed. In the first incident I was woken up by a crutch moving from its leaning position and hitting me across my arm. Quite disturbing in the middle of the night, but perhaps it was just a breeze that caused it to lean a bit too far.

Anyway, a few days later I again woke in the middle of the night, this time as the bedside lamp fell onto my shoulder. Its not the heaviest of bedside lamps, but I have no idea what would have made it topple. Perhaps we have a poltergeist. There have been no further incidents, but I will certainly let you know if any other paranormal activity occurs.

Two days before Christmas we went shopping. I've not been out of the house much, and I had work to do, but Sally thought it would do me good to get out of the house for a short time. Now, to me shopping is a science, that should under no circumstances be undertaken without a list, and preferably one that runs in roughly the same order as the supermarket shelves. For Sally, shopping is more of an abstract concept. She knows we need stuff, but she kind of relies on Tesco to tell us exactly what it is that we need, by way of regaling us with special offers. That probably explains why we have around 8 giant jars of coffee in the cupboard at home, with additional supplies arriving every time Tesco say BOGOF. At the time of the expedition I was still not particularly mobile, so I tended to stand by the trolley and point with my crutch. I gave her a 'request' to get some Tictacs and cranberry sauce, and off she went. She returned with grapes, which we already have enough of with more on the way from Tomson's, and a multitude of dips, most of which are still sat in the fridge, rapidly approaching their expiry date. Tictacs? Nope. Cranberry sauce? Haven't we already got some of that? That's another 'No' then! I estimated that we needed about £80 worth of shopping. I was less than surprised when Sally's adventures through the Looking Glass took the total to almost double that, and we still needed Tictacs and cranberry sauce!

Christmas Day is always an exciting one, and even when the kids aren't opening presents they are content to overindulge with a variety of chocolate. Zac started the day with a packet of chocolate buttons, followed by a chocolate filled crepe and half of a chocolate Santa. As he prepared to launch into a giant bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk we called a halt, pointing out just how much chocolate he had consumed. Zac, of course, had an answer. 'Don't blame me, its Christmas!'

Ole was very pleased with his Bear Grylls style flint, but he got a bit frustrated with it. He was sat amongst a huge pile of discarded wrapping paper, moaning that as he struck the two parts together nothing happened. At that point a huge spark flew into the wrapping paper, which fortunately did not catch fire. I guess it does work after all!

After a day of 50% weight bearing things are not going well. The discomfort is turning to pain, and I might just have to resume painkillers. Then again, I have not really had too much to drink whilst I have been on crutches. Perhaps that is the problem!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Back To The Kitchen...Mmm...

Monday saw a trip to see my consultant, ten days after the operation. He removed the dressing and showed me what a splendid job he had done with the stitches. He sent me upstairs for an x-ray (don't worry, there's a lift), and when I came back down he showed me the results of his handiwork from inside. It made me feel quite sick as I saw how much he had sawed into the bone and the size of the bracket and pins. There was another chap in the waiting room with a very similar scar (we HTO patients like to wear shorts to show our wounds as badges of honour). Anyway, it was six weeks since his operation and he was almost walking ok, though still with the occasional use of crutches. Unfortunately he had not yet been passed fit to drive. It was an uncomfortable journey home as the full extent of the 'injury' began to sink in.

It didn't get any better on Tuesday, with Zac faffing about in the morning and missing his bus. Despite her assertions to the contrary, Sally ended up giving him a lift, for which he paid with two days without his X-Box. That can be a double edged sword, and later that night, whilst Sally was giving me yet another injection into my stomach (only three more to go) Zac was allegedly doing some homework that involved a cake, grapes, and a glue gun! The kitchen was a right mess - we would have all been better off if he'd have been on his X-Box.

Tuesday was actually a busy day, as my own activity started with a visit to the physio. Alarmingly steep stairs up to her treatment room, but thanks to a lift from Clayton and some skillful crutch work I made it in one piece. She was very impressed with my progress, a good range of movement and inflexion of over 100 degrees, but she gave me some leg raises and leg straightening exercises that were excruciating. At one point she asked me if I was going to be sick.

I have to say that incapacitation is not a situation that I enjoy, but it is equally bad for Sally and the kids. So after returning from the physio I had a couple of hours before I needed to bed down into my office to do some work, and I headed for the kitchen. I laid out all of the ingredients so that I wouldn't have to move too much, and I made chilli chicken and syrup sponge pudding. Ole would be mightily relieved that he could get something good to eat (not that Sally wasn't trying her best, of course), and Zac and sponge are a match made in heaven, though he did scrape off the syruppy bits!

That is a recipe from Mmm...No1...Cookbook, and one advantage of lying horizontal day and night is it gives me a chance to spend the evenings filling in Mmm...No2...Cookbook, as well as adding to my 'The History Of Zombies' project. This is to try to get Zac off his X-Box and into books, and this week we received a reading list from Chapel School. I must admit that I wouldn't like to read many of the titles on there, and Zac was adamant that he doesn't like reading stories as they are too long and boring and don't have any pictures in. Note to self - illustrate 'The History Of Zombies'. So now, Zac is reading Harry Potter and the something or other. He got it from Ole, and when I asked how he was getting on he couldn't even remember the title. Ole, surprisingly, is showing an interest in the stock market, and he is reading 'Financial Reckoning Day' by Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggins. If you are vaguely interested  in money, stocks, shares and commodities I thoroughly recommend it. Entertaining and informative. However, its not all fun and games, and there are times when I feel quite sorry for myself. The melancholy usually hits when I look in the fridge!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, my Sky Box went on the blink. Not catastrophically, it was just that the Programme Synopsis didn't show up. Never really realised how useful that is until it wasn't there. Over the last few weeks there have also been a few other quirks, such as failing to record, taking ages to boot up, etc. The box is over five years old and therefore way beyond warranty, so when I called Sky I wasn't surprised to hear that it would cost me over £200 to replace plus £65 call out. However, they gave me the option of taking a six month warranty out on the existing box which would cost £10 per month. That would cover my current issue. Ok then, sounds like a bargain. The engineer was booked to come out on Friday.

More problems for Zac, he has been told by his tutor at school that his bag smells. I'm not really surprised, and after removing more rotting fruit and underwear it was once again consigned to the wash. Any ideas?

Better news on Wednesday, I have won 200,000,000 something from some kind of Nigerian lottery. An American lady managed to sneak it out of the country before fraudsters got their hands on it, for which I am, of course, eternally grateful. My favourite bit of the email was the last line - 'If found in spam move to inbox'.

Today was a busy day with the Sky engineer arriving right in the middle of it. Within little more than ten minutes he had diagnosed the fault and quickly replaced not only the box but also the Sky dish with brand new equipment. No real down side, as he also told us that our previous recordings will all have gone, so I no longer have to worry about the series link of 'Come Dine With Me!

I have been on calls for most of the day, all work related, and when they finally died down Sally moved in to place. Her last chance to show that she hasn't lost her nursing skills as she prepared to remove the 20 clips holding my wound together.

She was very good at it - with only one or two actually hurting. Tomorrow sees the start of partial weight bearing. 25% to begin with, though I've no idea how I am going to measure that. If you see me hobbling towards the centre of Whaley Bridge, I've probably gone too far!

Well, Saturday morning and a quiet start to the day with Sally catching up with the entire world on Facebook. My main aim today is to start putting weight through my left leg. Its not easy, with tightness in the calf, tightness in the hamstring, and a reluctance to let go. The clip free wound is holding up well, and with some self massaging (in my calf you naughty people) its getting a bit easier.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

That's Not Lies, That's Life!

Things started to settle down around the operation, and I discovered that cats are either very empathetic, or they know a captive audience when they see one. They have been taking it in turns to make my bed their bed, allowing me to stroke them with both hands for as long as I want. Very thoughtful of them. Anyway, By Monday I had established my home office on the settee in the play room, sorted out a few contracts, spreadsheets and reports, and spent hours on the phone. Productivity probably went up as I didn't have the stress of a 90 minute journey to Nottingham and at least the same coming home.

Its easy to overlook little things when you are fully fit, but when you are on non weight bearing crutches molehills quickly become mountains. An ironing board, casually left up as evidence of activity in that area stood between me and the loo, me and the kitchen, and me and virtually anywhere I wanted to go. A small pile of clothes left on the stairs was a hazard that could have catastrophic results if my crutch got tangled up in it. And drinks? Well, I managed to set up a system, helped by the ironing board, where I transferred them from one surface to another without having to use the crutches.

Monday lunchtime came, and Sally had left home made soup. Hmmm. I sent her a message asking whether she had actually put any seasoning in it at all, and unusually for me, I had to leave half a bowl. Inedible! Sally must have suspected that I was right as she threw the rest out without even trying it herself. There is a myth that she can't cook. This really is a myth - she will be cooking Christmas dinner as usual, and it will be thoroughly enjoyed. Generally, if its not cremated, its good food. The soup was definitely an exception. Like greasy vegetable water.

'I'm trying my best,' she insisted, and she is right. The problem is that there are two adults in the house, and with one man down the two 'kids' should have stepped up, and they couldn't.

I was starting to get about quite well, whilst still keeping up with calls and other work stuff, and noting my little triumphs. The act of putting shorts on is a prime example of this. My left leg is longer than my arms, and at the moment it has very little bend in it. I therefore have to engage in a game of hoopla until I can hook the left leg of the shorts over my left foot. If I can do it in less than 3 attempts I win!

Sally announced that there were three new flavours of home made soup in the fridge, which was odd as I had not seen her in the kitchen. I asked her where she had got them from and she simply replied, 'Tesco'. I have to say that if Tesco really are making home made soup - they need to change their cook. The first one was as insipid as Sally's. I didn't bother with the other two.

Tuesday saw a welcome visit from Gabi and Pixie, and I think the little one felt my pain. Either that or she had wind. My mood wasn't cheered by the postman, who brought notice of a speeding conviction, ironically for an offence on a stretch of road that never goes faster than 5mph, except for the one day that I drove along it having visited the pre op at the hospital first, and therefore the rush hour traffic was long gone! Later that night, the legend and good friend that is Clive Ashton came calling, and we spent a few memorable hours chewing the fat. We discussed beer, pubs, knees (of course), wine, homeless people, past Trips, and the prospect of working in Spain. Sometimes there is an obvious answer but the person asking the question can't see it. If you are struggling with what you are doing, and you will benefit from an easier job and a warmer climate, even if its just for a few months, the answer is right in front of you! But Clive doesn't need me to tell him that!

It had been a busy time, and it was perhaps this that triggered the agony of the final hour or so of the day. I was fine lying horizontally, but any attempt to get vertical led to severe throbbing in the area of the wound. I eventually made it up to bed, having switched off umpteen lights, including a multitude of battery operated ones all with a Christmas theme, and navigated another horrendous obstacle course on the stairs, but it was a restless night, By Wednesday morning my leg was very red and very warm.

I took the final sip of water from the glass that Sally had left for me four days earlier, trusting that my body would be strong enough to fight off any chance of dysentery, and considered what to do. For now I resolved to rest more than previous days, and hope for the best.

Sally pondered what to do with a considerable sum of money that needed to be dealt with. 'I think we should use our ISIS allowances whilst we still can,' she decided. Donald Trump will be pleased.

That evening I realised just how useless kids can be. Ole was trying to make his own tea, but it was just a barrage of questions. Where's the Loyd Grossman sauce? Where's the spaghetti? Where's the meatballs? This last one was particularly infuriating as they were in the fridge, where he had just looked, and when he looked for a second time, guess what?

I also had to explain to him how to make a cup of coffee. Instant coffee. Took him ages. Another great irony!

I stomped upstairs to the bathroom, manouevred around the most fiendish obstacle course yet, and then I went to bed. I remarked that the cats were still in and the lights were still on, even those outside. Once again Ole showed his ignorance. 'Where's the switch for the outside light? Where it's been for the last 16 years! The cats woke us in the night to be let out. I smiled to myself and pulled the covers tighter as Sally had to get out of bed!

It wasn't a good morning as the leg was now looking very angry. I booked an appointment at the docs for later that afternoon. I had visits from our groundsman, as well as my old friend Dennis, then Sally gave me a lift to see the nurse practitioner. She took my dressing off and commented on how neat the stitching was. She noted the infection and drew a line around it so that we could tell whether the inflammation had reduced, then gave me a prescription for antibiotics. I gave the prescription to Sally with £20 and she called in at the chemist. She came out immediately, with a package, and I thought she had worked miracles. I usually have to wait ages for the pharmacist to complete my order. I was mistaken. She had bought some bath cream. It was 25% off. So she had saved £1.88, but somehow I was £5.61 down. Not sure how that worked!

Sally made some more soup, this time relying on the staples of bacon and vegetables rather than a discarded chicken carcass. It was an improvement.

She disappeared to Leek and I asked her to get three A3 padded envelopes. She got some padded envelopes. Not sure about the three or the A3. She hurled them at me and they fell behind the settee. I think they are still there! She denied ever hearing the A3 part!

Its been a long week all around. Its not the pain alone - that is bearable or at least manageable. Its not even the non weight bearing aspect. That will hopefully change soon, and I will be able to get about and do stuff a lot more easily. The infection hasn't helped, but there is also the uncertainty, and as I inevitably try to do more, the prospect of overbalancing or stumbling, and inadvertently putting weight on the leg that should be up and resting, increases significantly. The biggest issue is the kitchen. It is within touching distance, but it is out of reach. To even attempt to make anything would require me being upright for far too long, and so I am at the mercy of Sally, the microwave and the children (sounds like a fantasy adventure!). Everything on tv seems to mock or tempt me. Cherry pie, chocolate muffins, chicken fried steak, corned beef hash, spam fritters, yet more burgers, all scream 'get in the kitchen and try me'. I suppose I should stop watching so many cookery shows.

So, we just about got through to the weekend with no fatalities, and a trip to my sister's for a family Christmas as she will be in Mexico when the big day comes around. The day itself was great. Meeting sisters, mum, daughter, in laws, nephews, friends, and of course granddaughter, but the journey was a nightmare. I sat in the back seat and put my bad leg through the gap between driver and passenger seat. I sat on a sleeping blanket to adjust my height, and failed to get comfortable for about two and a half hours.

My sister is a veteran of pain and drugs - and she suggested Tramadol. Even gave me a sample - she seems to treat drugs a bit like Dolly Mixtures. Not sure it made a difference but I was certainly a bit more relaxed.

Meanwhile, Zac regaled his extended family with tales of school. 'I've got three girls on the go at at the moment,' he bragged. 'You're such a liar,' Ole responded, somewhat stating the obvious, but as ever Zac had an answer. 'That's not lies Ole, that's life.' It could become his new catchphrase.

He then turned his attention to school, and in particular the desks. 'They are covered in gum. On the first day I dropped a pencil. I went down to pick it up, and when I looked up I saw the whole desk just covered in gum. Everyone chews it and then they stick it on the desk. There was white, pink, green, and even brown gum that had expired (think about that for a moment). In a few years time the desks will just be made entirely of gum.'

The journey home was quicker, though no less uncomfortable, despite me having taken one of Fiona's Tramadolly Mixtures before we set off. Something had been puzzling Ole, and it concerned his cousin Jake's friend. Dan is from Australia, but he is currently living in Woodford, near Northampton, as Fiona and Peter's lodger. I explained that he came over to play cricket, and normally he would go back in the winter to play cricket at home when it would be their summer. Ole was incredulous. 'Its their summer now?' 'Yes' 'That's weird. What about America?' 'No - they are the same as us' 'Alright then, what about Hawaii?' 'Yes, Hawaii are currently in their summer' 'So in Australia they have Christmas Day in the summer?' 'Yes' 'That's just crazy'.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Riding a Unicorn to Venezuela

Ole lost his home work this week. He was trying to install a printer and all of a sudden his rich text format document was full of gobbledegook. Some might say it was like that before, but now it was ruined. I tried several programs that claimed to be able to fix corrupt RTF files, but to no avail. Several hours later it was a lost cause - and we had to start recreating it from scratch. Computers are supposed to make things easier, but when something goes wrong time seems to lose all of its meaning. Unless, of course, its something obvious. Sally bought new cartridges for the printer. I tried to print but the printer was in an error state. I looked, and sure enough, everything that could be open was open. So I closed it all but it was still in an error state. It was then that I noticed that Sally had ONLY opened everything that could be opened, without bothering to install the cartridge.

This week was knee operation week. It started on Wednesday with a pre op assessment, in which I had yet another MRSA scan, followed by various tests, including blood. And therein lies a problem. As soon as someone gets a needle out my veins disappear. The first nurse admitted that she had only been taking blood for about 12 months, and after looking at my shrinking veins she said she wasn't even going to bother. She passed me into the hands of a more experienced practitioner, and quick as a flash the first sample was taken. Then the vein shut down. She was flummoxed. She then called in the Alexandra's version of a vampire, and she managed to get the second sample. Three nurses and two samples and I was done, except for urine which was, of course, a piece of piss.

And so on to Friday. the big day. I was a bit nervous, not helped by setting off late for my appointment. I'm not a morning person at the best of times, but Sally kept the conversation going, whilst I listened to what I thought she would want me to hear, as opposed to listening to everything. A very different experience, you should try it. I arrived at the Alexandra about half an hour late, but it was a fairly chilled out early morning.

Sally happily slurped a coffee as I got acclimatised to my room, and of course I was 'nil by mouth'. A friendly caterer came and asked me what I would like post op. That was interesting. No menu, so I guess I had a free choice. Thinly sliced cheek of a particularly jowelly rhinoceros? Russian Caviar? Sumptuously rich chocolate cake? But then she clarified. Soup or fruit juice? Soup please. And do you want a sandwich? There's cheese, chicken, tuna or egg. Egg please. White or brown? Brown please. Tea or coffee? Coffee please. What time will you be ready? No idea. Oh. Well we'll bring it when you get back from surgery. Thanks. It passed the time and was really the last thing on my mind as I waited for major surgery. Ok - it wasn't a heart transplant, but I would be out for about 3 hours.

We had some time to kill, so Sally set about remedying the tumble dryer saga. She bought one from Tesco, an Indesit model, but it didn't work. It didn't dry clothes, a fairly basic and fundamental requirement for a dryer. They sent out a repair man who replaced the pump, but it still wouldn't dry clothes, so she asked for it to be collected. It still sits uselessly in the garage, meanwhile we needed a replacement. Sally started searching on her phone, interspersed with several visits to Facebook, and after 45 minutes she was still nowhere near getting one. Somehow it was down to me, as if I didn't already have enough on my plate, but 10 minutes later it was ordered, paid for, and scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday. And not a Facebook post in sight!

Sally went on her merry way, my consultant arrived and gave me dire warnings about potential complications, but he was confident in his own ability, the downfall of many a pretentious sportsman.

I walked to the theatre where I was greeted by Makhoun. I think that was his name - I met so many people including Joe, Heather, Donna and Cherry. Anyway, Makhoun was of middle eastern appearance and he was very friendly. My anaesthetist said that there was a slight delay whilst they checked all of the equipment. High Tibial Osteotomies are not an every day operation, and they involve a saw. I imagined a Heath Robinson contraption being brought out from beneath a dusty cover with a rusting saw that needed plenty of oil and grease. Fortunately, I would not have to view what was beyond the theatre door as I would be out by then. In the meantime, Makhoun asked me all manner of nice questions to relax me. Where are you from? Have you had any snow yet? Who is waiting for you? This may be wrong, but my questions in return would have been 'Have you been back to the Middle East recently? Have you been radicalised? Does that make me slightly racist. Probably not. In fact I'm sure Daesh don't recruit only those of Middle Eastern appearance - that would make them racist. In fact it would be better for them to recruit those of a Western European visage, or maybe Slavs or Scandinavians. And what about Americanss? I suppose it would be difficult to get a suicide belt in XXXL. There's me being racist again! Before you all write in - its a joke. Makhoun was friendly, courteous and professional, and then it was time. The anaesthetist started his work. He said the first bit was to make me relax, like I'd had a couple of glasses of wine. Then it got quite heavy, kind of bringing home that this was not a trivial operation and it needed a lot of anaesthetic. It was quite painful, and then I prepared to meet my maker. Come to the light, come to the light, but rather than the gentle tones of a friendly angel these words were spoken in a broad northern accent, and I realised it was Sam Allardyce beckoning me to the Stadium Of Light. He wanted to sign me as an impact player off the bench. I told him I would get back to him, but at that point my Unicorn was waiting to take me to Venezuela. Although it spoke in a gruff voice its name was Judy. Turns out it is a transgender Unicorn, just waiting for the final part of its operation. It was a quick journey, but then at security the Venezuelan mafia asked Judy, sporting a 5 feet long sharp pole sprouting from her nose, 'Do you have anything that can be used as a weapon or looks like a weapon?' She just shook her head, disturbing a couple of light fittings with her horn as she did so, and we continued on our way. We ended up in a large room where I was to test my new leg. My old one came off rather easily, like those on Action Man dolls, and I replaced it with one that had been realigned similar to the operation I was about to have. Twisting By The Pool by Dire Straits started, and I ran around in ever decreasing circles. On the wall a clock counted up from zero, and when it reached 42 seconds everyone disappeared. My original leg was back in place and I was ready for dinner. I didn't realise before, but Venezuelans are quite partial to fresh unicorn meat, and Judy was served up in a piquante peppercorn sauce. Back in Cheadle the Alexandra laid on some fabulous entertainment, with Elvis Presley and Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies performing a duet of Onward Christian soldiers, followed by Duncan Bannatyne bringing to life Emu, the infamous bird of Rod Hull fame. This faded from view as I opened my eyes, and I was wheeled back to my room. After all that excitement I was glad to get back to normality and egg sandwiches. Sally came to see me, but she disappeared, complaining that I was drowsy and not making much sense. This augurs well for the years of fading memory and infirmity!

But, it was only around 5pm - surely there would be a steady stream of visitors later? Sally coming back, err, apparently not. Gabi with her new found ability to drive without Pixie? Perhaps not. My good friend Clive, probably out on the pop in Cheadle anyway?. Hmm, not quite near the teetotal Alex! So I got some rest, made a couple of calls and settled down for the worst night's sleep ever. My right leg (the good one) had a pump on it for circulation. And every 42 seconds it induced a muscle spasm akin to someone pinching the calf very hard. So I got several batches of sleep, all around 42 seconds each, before I finally overcame it having had another dose of codeine and a blood pressure check.

The morning came and I was able to get to the loo aided by my crutches. I had breakfast - I could have murdered a bacon sandwich but the previous day, for some reason, I had ordered Weetabix, yoghurt and prunes, so that's what I got. The consultant came and said he noticed the difference straight away, The physio came and was impressed by my range of movement. I negotiated a couple of hundred yards on crutches to the pharmacy, got my drugs and was on my way. But wait, what are those needles for? Stomach injections, to prevent clotting. No one mentioned that, and I have a well documented case of trypanophobia. Its alright, Sally would be able to do it. Great! We got home and I delayed the injections for as long as possible. The first one went in and blood spurted out. Ok, maybe not spurted, but there was definitely a drop. And I have two weeks of these. I dozed through several football matches, and at around 11pm went to bed. Wow! At some point in the previous six hours the remnants of the morphine must have said farewell, and I was in agony. So much so that I thought I would be sick. I somehow made my way to bed, downed more codeine and settled down for a surprisingly good night's sleep. Today I have no intention of getting out of bed - though attempts to procure a bottle have so far been beyond me so I guess the loo will have to be visited.

My consultant said  that I would regret having this done for the first six weeks, and yesterday I laughed at him. Today I am not laughing! Except at Zac.

Yesterday he wanted to go to the Taxal School Fair, but with a very precise aim.

'Mum, will you take me to the Christmas Fair?'
'Yes, of course'
'Right, but I only want to be 20 minutes, so don't get sat down and comfortable in that chatting room'.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Lamborghinis and Lesbians

There were a series of ups and downs in the kitchen this week, with Ole turning his hand to making brownies. Unfortunately, we had no eggs, so he decided that bananas and milk would be a good substitute. They weren’t. The resulting mess was quickly binned, and I offered to show him how to make them properly the following night. He declined, so I made them anyway. Ole has a brazil nut allergy, and possibly because of this the only nuts he really likes can be found in a jar of Nutella. To replace the substance that the nuts would have provided I opted for white chocolate chips. The result was a tray of brownies that were cakey around the outside and gooey in the middle. Interestingly, Felicity Cloake, one of my kitchen heroines, would not like this result, whereas Nigella, another of my kitchen heroines, definitely would! Research is a wonderful thing, something that Ms Cloake is noted for in search of culinary perfection, and there was certainly a hint of the green eyed monster as she first praised and then dismissed Nigella’s sumptuously gooey brown pleasures.

(Nigel) Slater reckons his is the "crumbliest, gooiest brownie recipe ever" but, of course, it's not – Nigella's is. With six eggs and 375g butter, what lies beneath the surprisingly crisp crust is something more akin to a baked fudge than anything which could be politely eaten with one's hands, which is probably the whole point – I expect she eats it messily, and in a crumpled silk dressing gown.
Aside from the richness of the ingredients, the lack of a raising agent is telling: no baking powder is allowed to lighten the load here – this is pure, unadulterated, chocolatey goo. It's got many fans, but, although I court the contempt of brownie lovers everywhere with this admission, for me it's too much.
Unlike Nigel's recipe, which seeks to trap air in the mixture before baking, Nigella's method melts the chocolate and butter together, and then quickly stirs in the eggs and dry ingredients to give a smooth, glossy batter. This technique obviously helps keep things nice and dense – if you like that kind of thing.

To be honest, the silk dressing gown bit is generally how I picture Nigella too! Now, where was I? Ah yes, my brownies. The ones with white chocolate chips in. Twenty four hours later they were still relatively untouched, except of course for Sally dipping the cakey parts into the gooey parts to make a nice, somewhat guiltily pleasurable mouthful. So I asked Ole and he admitted that he didn’t like brownies with nuts in. After a brief debate in which I explained that the nuts were actually white chocolate chips, he set about them intent on making up for lost time.

Zac had a much simpler explanation for not eating them. ‘I thought Ole made them.’ And once again, when the truth was revealed he was quickly up to his eyes in them.

I was going to take a picture of them, but when I got around to it they had all gone. I guess I will just have to make some more.

Sausage rolls are usually a winner with a hungry teenager, and when you can get a pack of pastry in a roll, and a pack of sausage meat from Sainsbury’s, 20 minutes later they are ready to eat. Not forgetting the egg wash! A picture would again have been nice, but Ole ensured that this was not possible.

I went to a funeral last week. It was my dad’s mum’s sister’s son’s wife, so clearly not a close relative, but respects still have to be paid. I accompanied my mum, and as we milled around outside we did not recognise many people. This is perhaps understandable, as they were mainly Brian’s (my late father’s) relatives. The hearse had still not arrived as the undertaker mingled with the mourners, asking people to fill in attendance cards so that the family of the deceased would know who attended. A bit of a strange tradition if you ask me, but my mum was happy to oblige. I watched her fill in the card and hand it to the undertaker, really before I realised what she was doing. Anyway, when the family of the departed read the attendees they may be a little surprised to find ‘Mary and Brian’ were there, though I am sure he was watching over the whole thing and chuckling away!

Back to the kitchen, and there have been many changes in that area recently, almost obsessive, some might say. Anyway, I have run out of Balti Paste, and although it is on my ‘To Do’ list, I have not yet got around to making some more. So, I decided that chicken jalfrezi would have to be created from scratch, and that is where my problems began. The cinnamon, that had been on the same shelf for months, if not years, was no longer there. I searched high and low, but not low enough as I eventually found it in amongst a bag of new spices, those that will form the basis of the next batch of Balti paste, on the floor behind the kitchen door. ‘Grind the ajwain seeds’ the recipe said, so I went to get the pestle and mortar from the kitchen dresser where it had resided ever since the huge piece of period carpentry arrived seemingly years before. But wait, it has disappeared. Again, a thorough search revealed that it must have fallen out of favour, as where once it sat proudly amongst quaint preserves, ornate crockery and often distraught gingerbread houses, it was now banished to the dark depths within the dresser, with only muscovado sugar, a mountain of coffee and the functional but rather clinical kitchen scales. Fifteen minutes in to the recipe I was still trying to find the utensils and ingredients. After locating the jar of cloves I was finally able to get on with it, and even though I say so myself it was well worth the wait.

Last Friday I got a call that was quite unbelievable. It started by a familiar pause followed by an automated announcement. ‘Are you fed up of getting unwanted calls?’ You mean like this one? I thought. I continued to listen and it turned out that the automated call was selling a phone that claimed to block 100%, thats right, 100% of ALL automated calls. So, no more automated calls? They might have to change their sales pitch. Another thing that concerned me about this approach is that I am registered with the TPS. That is also supposed to block unwanted call, though of course unscrupulous firms still cold call by ignoring this legal obligation. So not only are you trying to sell me a phone to block calls like the one you are making, the manner of your sales pitch is illegal! If they call me back I might just point that out, and then buy one!

Another bugbear, I used to carry bags of shopping in to the house and store the bags to use for all sorts of things. Vegetable peelings, kids lunches, errr, not much else, which probably explains why I ended up with a huge wad of them. In October the government introduced a bag charge, and the supermarkets swapped out their ever flimsier bags for the 5 or 10p much sturdier replacements. However, I can count the number of times I have remembered to take one of these all purpose bags to the supermarket on one finger. I have remembered to put them in the car, but then, that’s where they stay. So now my cupboard is filling with 'Bags For Life', and they are so sturdy, and deserve so much respect, that it seems such a waste to put vegetable peelings in. I guess they will just grow and grow, and I will get poorer and poorer. One thing that I do take pleasure in, on the one occasion that I have remembered to do it, is to never go into the supermarket with the right bag. If you are in Tesco, use a Sainsbury’s bag. In Sainsbury’s use a Morrison’s bag. In Waitrose, use an Aldi bag. In Aldi, well just don’t go in to Aldi.

Saturday saw Zac's long awaited driving experience. It was a bitterly cold day, and the 90 minute drive to deepest, darkest Staffordshire saw Zac fall asleep. When we got there it seemed somewhat disorganised, but he registered for his drive and we went outside to watch the action. There was a ten minute briefing session, actually it was just a video that proved to be out of date, and then we were ready. After about 20 minutes of standing around in the icy wind Zac's name was called and he marched across to a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo. No lessons, just sit in the drive's seat with an instructor to your left and off you go. It wasn't even dual control.

The driver had to tug the steering wheel to prevent Zac hitting several girls with clipboards and the barrier that separated the spectators from the track, but then they got going. Zac managed to steer onto the oval circuit that had a twisty bit at one end. He got overtaken by a Porsche and a Subaru, but after a couple of laps he seemed to have mastered the controls and he got some speed up. Now, he only managed about 50 miles per hour, (I am sure this increases depending upon who is listening), but he did manage to negotiate about six miles in a car that retails at around £150,000.

It was cold on Monday. Very cold. And my white car showed just how cold by illuminating not one but two warning lights. The first one was now familiar, telling me that the outside temperature had dropped to below five degrees. The second was quite different, a squiggly line below an exclamation mark enclosed by two brackets, all in bright yellow. I looked it up in the book, thinking that I was missing a snow handbrake or something equally important, but it actually meant that the tyre pressure system had detected reduced pressure in one of my tyres. It suggested that the display would tell me which one, but it didn’t. I had a look around, a quick kick, and they all seemed ok, so I carried on. Its having a service tomorrow – I’ll let the professionals deal with it.

D-Day is getting nearer. I saw my consultant on Monday, and we discussed the options for my knee. He said I could try a brace, but that would just be a temporary thing. He did some more straight leg x-rays, and told me that my left leg needed to be realigned by seven degrees. In my mind, the decision was made. The High Tibial Osteotomy (HTO) has a very good success rate, often halting the onset of osteoarthritis and giving ten plus years to the life of the knee. The prospect of wearing a brace that realigned the knee by that much was not one that I considered. The thought of moving it seven degrees, and having it revert by the same seven degrees every time I put the brace on or took it off, seemed more like a destabilising exercise. Anyway, those who are a bit squeamish should look away now, as these are the images from inside my knee, taken during my arthroscopy, that gave my surgeon the information he required.


The operation itself is now scheduled for 4th December. Originally he told me it was weight bearing as much as could be tolerated from day one. Now he is kind of backtracking. Crutches for a couple of weeks, maybe. Maybe longer. Everyone’s different. Certainly no driving. Then he explained why. ‘We actually break your leg and then take a saw to it so that we can insert a titanium plate.’

And the dangers…'well the arteries are very close to the bone so there is a chance we could slice into them with the saw. We know when this happens because your foot quickly goes white.' (Presumably there is also a lot of blood pissing out from the incision!) 'Then we would have to get the vascular surgeons involved. Touch wood I haven’t done this so far!'

Touch wood?! I’d rather have something a bit more certain than that! He then mentioned the very slight possibility of something called compartmentalisation. As someone who can’t even watch Casualty I turned off at this point. Friday 4th December – can’t wait!

Amazing what you can get on the internet these days. First Christmas present for Pixie sorted. She will be pleased!

With The Apprentice, I'm A Celebrity, and various other high profile tv shows on at the moment, its no surprise that the televisual event of the year (if not longer) has somewhat gone under the radar. Fortunately you can still see it on Sky One Catch Up TV. It is episode 4 of After Hours, starring Ardal O'Hanlon. I say 'starring Ardal O'Hanlon', but really its all about the stunning extra work of Lady M. Of course, Ole and Ethan can be seen in the distance, but the allegedly reluctant Lady came to the fore in three separate shots. Steering the trolley in a manner reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton circumnavigating the streets of Monte Carlo, she kept Mr O'Hanlon on his toes as she rounded the juice aisle and headed for the milk. If she had been Elvis, no doubt her shopping trolley would have been on eBay by now, but she is far too shy and retiring to let that happen. Actually, has anyone checked the auction site listings recently?

Just waiting for the inscription...

I don't really put football in the blog, but I have to say that the Man United performance at home to PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday was truly awful. It made David Moyes seem positively adventurous, and Dave Sexton was sacked for playing football that was less dull than this game. The club should move for Pep Guardiola before its too late.

Thanksgiving came and went yesterday, but was marked in a special way by Zac. 'I made the tea for me and Alex,' he proudly announced. 'What did you make?' 'Sausages in the microwave and oven chips. We didn't have any micro chips so I got frozen ones and made them in the oven.' He went on to explain how he managed this gastronomic feat. 'I looked at the instructions and preheated the oven for about 2 minutes. I used the oven gloves and took them out after about 15 minutes. A few were not properly cooked but most were ok. I had a couple that were still cold. So its now official. I can make my own tea.' I suspect the consumption of oven chips is about to go through the roof!

The disturbing sight of a couple of young girls kissing on the street caused Zac some concern this week, and of course he had an opinion on it. 'They are only lesbians because they can't get a man.' I blame the sex education at Chapel School.

We drove past Memories Of India, and you may have noticed extensive work going on next door, in what used to be the taxi base. Zac was curious.
Zac: 'What are they actually building there?'
Me: 'A wine bar.'
Zac: 'I guess mum will be spending a lot of time in there. Will it be posh?'
Me: 'Well it will be ok I suppose. It will be a wine bar. In Whaley Bridge. So I guess it won't be too fancy.'
Zac: 'I reckon mum will be having a lot of nights out in there, with Jan and Helen.'

Ole's gone out tonight. Round to his friend's house, and then they are going for a Chinese. And somehow he expects me to pay for it! I've made tomato soup, barbeque pork and flapjacks today, There is plenty to eat, but he still expects me to pay for any food that he wants to eat at any time of the day. He's got a lot to learn that boy!

And speaking of a lot to learn, here's an exchange between Zac (12) and Ole (16) playing 20 questions. Ole had thought of an animal - Zac had to guess what it was.
Zac, 'Is it an amphibian?'
Ole, 'What's an amphibian?'

Finally, Zac, concerned about the potential loss of limbs from terrorist bombings, decided that he would create some robotic arms. A noble cause but then it went a bit awry.
Zac: 'I could win the Nobel peace prize.'
Me: 'Don't you mean the Nobel prize for science, or medicine?'
Zac: 'Maybe, but then I could use the robotic arms to hold guns and other weapons. I could actually make a whole robot to go to war for me so none of my army ever get killed.' A Bond plot perhaps?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Poinsettia & Pumpkins

When Zac went to Taxal School the question of lunch was always a straightforward one. He would take a lunchbox filled with a sandwich (with nothing on it), crisps, either grapes or an apple (peeled and sliced), and a drink of water. More often than not the lunchbox got left at school, but after a week or so we had a rounding up exercise, gathering as many as five of Zac's lunchboxes complete with uneaten fruit and bread in various stages of decay. At Chapel it is not so simple. The schoolbag stays with the child all day, so Zac does not really have a lunchbox any more. I have tried to put a smaller version in his rucksack, but the result is inevitably the same. Last weekend I emptied the lot. It was not a pretty sight. There was a schoolbook that had to be put on a radiator to dry. That will hopefully alleviate the smell. There were four bags of grapes, well they used to be grapes, now they were rotting and fermenting, probably not far off being wine. A number of bags of apples oozed a brown liquid, and then there were the socks. The socks were damp, though I am not sure whether this was with regular rainwater, or some of the grape and apple liquid. Either way they stank of rancid fermentation. The odd thing was that they were odd socks. One football and one school. No idea where the other halves of the pairs are. Once emptied the bag went into the washing machine, and I await the next inspection in a week or so.

Done a lot of cooking this week. Chocolate Pie that was a little more difficult than I thought it would be, and then there were pumpkins! As mentioned previously there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin chilli, and now I embarked on a variety of pumpkin muffins. These had less fat than normal and the pumpkin puree gave them a very sticky texture. I flavoured some with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, some with coffee, and of course, some with chocolate. Zac loved these, though he has meticulously avoided the coffee ones. Today is a cold, wet, blustery one, perfect for experimenting with Mexican lentil soup, adapting a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. Grated cheese on top of a steaming, spicy bowl...Mmmm! Later today its another one of Ina's meals with home made fish & chips, and tomorrow its slow cooked brisket - got to do the dry rub in the next few minutes.

Not too long until Christmas, which has started with Sally doing a mass rearrangement of various cupboards (she also got around to throwing away all of those orphaned pan lids - though at one point she considered putting them on eBay!). Anyway, in one cupboard there was a shortbread tin, and whatever was inside the tin rattled. I opened it, and lo and behold, five of the jars of spices that I believed were lost forever stood side by side. There will be an infusion of ground cloves, sesame seeds, mixed spice etc over the coming weeks!

Monday sees a historic televisual event as Sally stars in the Sky One show After Hours. Some of you may know the circumstances, as Sally took Ole to be an extra in the show, which was being filmed in Tesco at Handforth Dean. Anyway, they were a few extras short, so they asked Sally, 'Oh no, I couldn't possibly, that's not why I'm here....oh go on then, just this once' and she found herself picking orange juice off the shelf as Ardal O'Hanlon looked on, bemused. The show has not had good reviews to date, but I fully expect this to change on Monday. Helen made the mistake of saying, 'Its not all about you, Lady M,' but I think she will soon discover that Lady M is exactly what it is all about. By the way, I'm not sure whether Ole makes an appearance this week too, his part seems to have been overlooked! If you are interested I think its Monday at 9.30pm on Sky One.

There should be some good pictures in the next edition of the blog, with Zac heading to deepest darkest Staffordshire for his Lamborghini driving experience next Saturday. I have taken out excess insurance just in case.

I was holed up in the very lovely Colwick Hall on Monday night, and I spent the time doing more voiceovers for IT courses. Strange how certain words trip you up when you are trying to record something. In this case it was 'tasks'. Its an easy enough word to say, but when I had to do it clearly, on a recording, it suddenly became a real tongue twister.

Sometimes it is good to know that you are heard, and an ex colleague of mine followed up on my recommendation for the best kebab shop in the world - Al Aqsa in Longsight. Good to also know that it is still as good as ever!

Here's an interesting one. Have you ever gone in to a supermarket, bought a load of stuff, then got home and realised you have lost something? Maybe a tin of beans, maybe a lemon, or in this case a Poinsettia. In my view, it is my fault, and the loss of a £1.50 plant is not worth a return trip. Or was it a £2.50 plant? Hold that thought. If it was me, and I really wanted the plant, I would buy another one. So what would you do? I know someone who not only returned to the shop, she also persuaded the assistant that she had forgotten to take her Poinsettia home two days earlier, and she was now going to collect a replacement at no extra charge. As Rolf would say, 'Can you guess who it is yet?' Not content with that, she also decided that the £2.50 version was definitely the one that she had left behind, and not the slightly smaller £1.50 one. I will let you know if and when the original turns up! I doubt whether it will be returned.

Finally, we went to see Phoneix yesterday. Mother and baby are doing really well, unfortunately we did not take any more pictures. Just so you don't feel left out, here's a picture of Bagpuss!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Lady Is Not For Downgrading

Adverts in America are very different to those in the UK. The first difference is that they appear anywhere in a tv program, without warning. The second difference is that they are still able to blatantly lie. So, one particular advert showed a group of joggers, followed by a group of rowers, and finally a group of all terrain runners. What could these three healthy groups possibly be advertising? Michelob Ultra Lite Beer. It wasn't even a funny advert. The third difference is more about the American attitude to healthcare.

So, if you've got a headache, take Tylenol, followed by a rather stern warning about possible side effects. Nothing wrong with that, but there was one product designed to alleviate gut pain (stomach ache on this side of the pond). However, there were side effects, including constipation. No problem, just order the next medication, specifically designed to cater for the side effects of the original tincture. And of course, this came with side effects too. But much more severe! Diarrhoea, gas, depression, etc. If you suffer from any of these, or if you get suicidal thoughts (I kid you not), tell your doctor immediately. Bloody hell, I only went in with a headache!

Halloween is still far bigger over there than it is over here, and this year we went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. Its like the scarefest at Alton Towers, but much bigger and much scarier. There were 9 haunted houses with themes such as Insidious, Freddy versus Jason, Walking Dead etc. There were also 5 scare zones where zombies with chainsaws, clowns, yes lots of clowns, and werewolves would leap out at unsuspecting guests.

The event was well staged. The park emptied of day visitors around 5pm, as the Halloween crowd queued at the gates. We had checked online, and the advice was DO NOT GO ON A SATURDAY, and DO NOT GO ON HALLOWEEN due to the size of the crowds. This year Halloween fell on a Saturday, and that's the day we chose to go! We had Express passes bought for us, and actually the queues were not as big as the internet horror stories would have us believe. So, we queued at the gate as the time drew near for the grand opening. Zombies started to appear inside the park, and the tension mounted. Zac spotted several discarded Express passes from those leaving the park, and although these single use passes were now worthless, the lanyards were on sale for $9 each! So he picked up a load and then he did something quite inexplicable. He picked out an unsuspecting young lady, maybe late teens or early twenties, and he dropped an expired pass right in front of her to see what she did. She picked it up, and rather than tell Zac he had dropped his pass (that cost $130 each), she pocketed it. Zac came back to where we were stood to tell us what had happened, and he also explained that he was going to try to follow the lady to see her reaction when her pass got rejected!

Anyway, the gates opened, the younger guests cried in genuine fear, and we walked through two scare zones to get to Insidious on the far side of the park (another internet tip). Zac put on a determined face throughout, but Ole was vulnerable, especially when someone disguised as a tree jumped out from behind, well, a tree. Not sure how you are supposed to see that one coming.

Over the next three or four hours we went on several rides - including the deserted Harry Potter Gringotts ride, and all 9 haunted houses. It was a lot of fun, particularly watching Ole categorically state that he was not going first into the Walking Dead house.

And then came Zac's big moment. He went o the Rock-It rollercoaster. The biggest one he'd ever been on, and I must admit - it was a bit scary. He loved it, so maybe his fear of these beasts, dating back many years to Journey To Atlantis, has finally been overcome!

Whilst all of this was going on Whaley Bridge became a national sensation with the story that the Co-Op is haunted. Just before Halloween. I bet that boosted sales! It gave me an idea, as there have been spooky goings on at Henlay House recently, I will give more details in the next few editions!

Anyway, the following day we returned home, but not before several relaxing hours around the pools of the Ritz Carlton. We headed for the airport, and the most remarkable thing happened. I had been trying to check in online but it wouldn't let me, coming up with a ridiculous error message indicating that Ole's date of birth had changed. When we got to the airport we found that there was a note against the booking, As Sally looked on the check in girl wen to her supervisor, came back, and without a smirk or a smile asked a bemused Lady M if she would like to DOWNGRADE the flight to economy. At first she thought that she had misheard, but no, they really did want Lady M to downgrade to an economy flight, albeit with extra leg room. The answer was a short, sharp, 'No', but the girl had an offer and she had to explain it. 'You will be upstairs on an exit row.' Lady M did not even bother to reply. 'You will get £250 towards your next flight.' Actually, this last statement annoyed me because not only was it not a cash offer, the difference in cost of the respective seats was more than £250! Anyway, Lady M made a counter offer. 'I know you have to make the offer but my answer is absolutely NO. But I am quite happy to UPgrade.' We checked in without further drama!

Of course the big excitement the following day was to see Phoenix Isabelle, or Nixie as her mum calls her, or Pixie as I call her. The boys, sadly, had to go to school, so they missed out on an early meeting with their niece.

All week it has been a bit of struggle getting up, and really I need another holiday.

There have been some very seasonal products in the shops, notably pumpkins. And when you don't have to scoop out the flesh to carve a face you find that there is a hell of a lot of flesh in a pumpkin. I've made pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chips and pumpkin chilli, and there's still a rather large half of pumpkin in the fridge. Any suggestions?

I also made onion rings using an unusual batter of flour and sparking water, Think I'll put that one in MMM...No2...Cookbook.

Yesterday the boys finally got to meet their niece. Zac was a bit apprehensive but Ole, as ever, was a natural.

Meanwhile, Sally met an ex MP this morning at the remembrance service. Seems like they are now best buddies, though Ole was disappointed that his mum didn't ask her about Kendra!

Last week I went to the mainframe conference in leafy Oxfordshire. Makes you realise why you are trying to modernise all of this old technology, though trying to convince the dinosaurs in attendance is a whole different matter.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Harry Potter, Phoenix and The Middle Of The Doughnut (JK Rowling's unfinished novel)

The weekend was supposed to be a chilled affair, but with the imminent arrival of Gabi's first child it was anything but. There were Messenger updates, phone calls and text messages, with very little happening despite the hive of activity that appeared to be going on. First there was the induction, then minimal dilation. Next it was an epidural and further dilation, the Manchester Derby came and went with still no movement. Matt confirmed that everything was ok, so I tried to sleep. Every time my phone buzzed I reached across to see that all was still ok, EE would only charge £1.00 per minute for calls made in the US (though why they needed to tell me that in the early hours of Monday morning is beyond me), and finally, Phoenix Isabelle was born at 3.17am on Monday 26th October, weighing in at 8lbs 3 1/2 ozs. Good to see that, together with the measurements of a cricket pitch and the weight of cricket bats, births have remained imperial. Of course, everyone is thrilled with the arrival, and I was finally able to fall asleep, exhausted after the ordeal.

The arrival proved to be confusing for Zac who was not sure just what constituted an uncle. I tried to explain it, and also that if mum had another baby boy that baby would also be Phoenix's uncle even though Phoenix would be older than him. 'Do you have to be divorced to be an uncle?' he asked, and his confusion remains.

Of course, all of this was forgotten at the prospect of a trip to the new Harry Potter train at Universal. We headed for Denny's to start the day with an American breakfast, and parked outside was a Sheriff's car. Inside, two very American looking Sheriffs were tucking in, looking like they had just taken a break from the latest Simpson's episode. Honestly, I could not imagine them chasing anyone anywhere, and if they had to get in or out of their car in a hurry it would be a struggle, Anyway, I came up with the idea that we should go to Islands of Adventure, catch the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios, and then spend the full day there. Later in the week we would do the opposite. I figured that the queue for the train first thing would be small, and I was right. Top tip if you are doing this - as later on the queues approached an hour each way. Universal have been very clever in devising this train (some might say cynical, exploitational, and many other words that indicate that they are a money grabbing conglomerate), as you need to buy a park to park pass, which is of course more expensive than just a single park day pass. So we rode the train and it was quite impressive, with windows that were actually screens depicting the true journey from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross, and various voices and shadows on the other side of the train walking up and down the corridors.

I haven't been to Universal Studios for years, and of course the latest attraction is Diagon Alley (or whatever its called) which features many Harry Potter shops and a big blue bus, as well as the latest Potter ride. As I get older I like the motion simulator rides less and less. They make me feel sick, and although the new ride did move along, it still had a lot of imagery that did the moving for you. I still have no clue what the bus is all about.

We went from the Harry Potter ride to Men In Black, which is effectively 'Duel' from Alton Towers but with a much more entertaining preamble, I guess designed to entertain the potentially much longer queues than Alton Towers generally gets. After that it would have been the Simpsons ride, but the 45 minute plus queue put us off. We opted instead for a walk through Hollywood, when Ole got accosted by a fish on roller skates (I kid you not), and Zac had a small tub of ice cream that seemed to expand to cover most of his clothes and all of his face within a few seconds. I know you didn't take that last part in, you are probably still thinking about a fish on roller skates, right? Anway, we went on the ET ride, one of two or three that remain from my earlier visit. It has to be said this is very dated, and will probably go the way of King Kong and Jaws very soon. Another that has definitely passed its Sell By date is Twister, Not so much a ride as a movie experience, with videos of Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt telling us how scary the filming was. The problem is, anyone under 30 has probably not seen the movie, and the special effects have been eclipsed by the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.

Walking through the park it was apparent that many people have just given up. I guess they should be given some kind of praise for getting their sorry asses out of the house, but honestly, I have never seen so many people whose legs have no discernible joints, who are clearly not going to fit into the special seats that most of the rides have, and for whom the All Day Dining deal is the major reason for going to the theme park.

Yes, but what about the fish on roller skates? I hear you say. Ok - here's a pic.

We sat through Shrek 4D which led Zac to ask, 'What is 1D?' which most people struggled to answer beyond Harry Styles, and next up it was Revenge Of The Mummy. This was interesting as it was an older ride with little or no queue. Again, the original movie is from several years ago, but the ride itself was quite good. Zac, not known for his love of coasters, enjoyed it probably because it was indoors and in the dark, so he did not have the reminder of how big and scary it was. It was a bit like the old 'Black Hole', a sadly missed attraction from Alton Towers.

We decided to head back to Islands Of Adventure via the mythical train, and although it was a slightly different journey my non Harry Potter self was definitely underwhelmed. I am sure Harry Potter fans will love it, Ole certainly did, but not my cup of tea. Back in IOA (hey, I'm even getting into the jargon!) Ole's favourite ride had a queue of 20 minutes. It was another motion sickness ride and Zac refused to go on it, as did Sally. I reluctantly agreed to accompany Ole, keeping my eyes closed for the whole time which seemed to work. We came out to a very disgruntled Zac. Tucked away in a corner there is a kind of stage that is hardly ever used, and which makes for a great seating area. Zac had just about sat down when he got disturbed. 'I was just sitting there when this group came on, and all they did was moan. They were doing a demonstration, and when they ended I was just about to sit down again but they asked if anyone wanted pictures. It was ridiculous. Who would want a picture of that? Anyway, when they had finished pictures they were just about to go when they asked if anyone else wanted pictures, and some people did, so we still couldn't sit down. Then finally 
they disappeared, so we sat down, then we were told that there was a choir about to arrive. Can we go now?'

The choir even came with their own singing frogs!

Applebees is a popular destination for dinner. Billed as a neighbourhood bar and grill it is relaxed and the food is good, but Zac wanted to be sure. 'Is it a nice place? he asked. 'What do you mean by "nice"?' 'I mean do I need to have a bath before we go or can I have one after?

Recently, Facebook seems full of gruesome hunters sat alongside their prey, with taglines such as 'beauty and the beast' as the poster indicates their displeasure at the kill, and rightly so.Who could forget the furore that the recent killing of a Zimbabwean lion by an American dentist caused (ironically, their names escape me)?

Anway, here's the latest trophy hunter with her prey...

It seems that Florida is awash with bears. A headline in a local paper indicated that there was a cull in progress, and almost 100 had been killed. Ole was very knowledgeable on the subject, suggesting that if they were black bears you just make yourself big and it scares them You should never run, as they can run faster than you. And if its a brown bear you should just punch it. He paused for a second, and then admitted that it could be the other way round. Probably best to make yourself big whilst advancing on the unsuspecting creature, and then giving it a left hook before it realises that you are still trying to find the right page in your Bear Grylls Survival book.

Orlando holidays aren't for everyone, in fact they can be the worst nightmare for some people, but with a peaceful villa just far enough away from the mayhem that is Disney and Universal, it can actually be quite relaxing. And with a heated pool that can be lit up like a fairy grotto at night....ahhhh!

Busch Gardens is a favourite theme park but it does have its drawbacks. It is a bit of a drive from Orlando, and it seems to be a cross between a theme park and a zoo. Busch would have you believe that its all in the name of conservation, and to be fair they try to give many of the animals large areas to roam around in, but its hardly the Serengetti! There is the opportunity to feed and pet kangaroos, but these creatures are in a small enclosure, far removed from the outback. Many of them have sustained injuries, so it could be that they are in rehab, but that is perhaps giving Busch just a little too much credit. Lory Landing is a real photo opportunity as, armed with a cup of nectar, you enter an enclosure in which you are immediately swamped by colourful parakeet like birds. They are noisy, greedy and inquisitive, and they are not afraid to give you a sharp peck if you try to remove the nectar.

This bird was a bit of a problem, but the Lory didn't seem to mind!

After Sally and Ole went on a ride that made Oblivion seem like stepping off the kerb, we went on three water rides. And there was no 'you may get wet'. There was absolutely no doubt that you would get wet. Great fun whilst it was warm. We went on a few more coasters, and then, after seeing a very sad Orangutan and a Hippopotamus that swam back and forth in a wholly inadequate tank, the heavens opened. It got so wet that all of the rides were suspended, and we decided to head for home.

It had been a long day and we settled down for some tv. A medical experiment was in progress, trying to give some poor unsuspecting chap high blood pressure, which puzzled Zac, 'What happens if you die of high blood pressure? Do you just explode?'

Today was Universal Studios followed by IOA - the opposite of our previous Universal excursion, and the queues were considerably smaller. One exception was the Flight Of The Hippogriff, an inoffensive and quite small rollercoaster. I went on with Zac, and despite getting the front seats he still wasn't happy. The ride itself was ok, but he likes to get full value, and his complaint was, 'We waited 25 minutes for 30 seconds of that.' I fear he may have many similar disappointments in later life!

And finally, Zac's quick tongue got the better of him, as he feasted on a chocolate ring doughnut. Ole told him, 'You know that the middle of a doughnut is 100 fat free with zero calories?' to which Zac replied, 'Well why did they get rid of it then?' Doh!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Confessions Of A Blogger

Ahhhh, bliss. I write this from poolside. Its mid 70s at 10am, expected to rise to mid 80s by the afternoon. Sally has gone shopping, Ole is doing homework (also by the pool), and Zac is in the hot tub. No - I'm not going to wake up in a minute - this is really happening. And if I glance to my left I can see Chelsea just about to kick off against West Ham on a screen that would not look out of place in an IMax cinema. Is it too early for a beer? Its never too early for a beer. Miller Lite anyone?

Now, of course it didn't just happen, and we went through a lot of pain to get to this position. Yesterday was a bit of a nightmare, particularly for Lady M. I put her through the ordeal of flying economy, and even on Virgin this is not great for one born in to privilege. The man next to her had BO and spilled a bottle of water over her, but then again I told her not to sit next to Zac! (only joking). Lets just say the chap had few social graces! The airport was horrific. We were kept on the plane for an additional half hour as the airport was supposedly full. When we did get off the queues were ridiculous. 90 minutes just to get to Homeland Security as the Yanks like to call their immigration booths. And when we got there the machine was playing up. They didn't bother with Zac's finger prints, and just did one hand of mine, which saved us a few seconds. Then we headed for the car rental. At Orlando Airport there are probably 15 different car rental desks all lined up alongside each other. Hertz and Avis had no queue, but in the distance we could see a long, snaking line of people. Nooooo, I thought, and fortunately this was Alamo, refuge of many a fly drive customer. We were further down at the Dollar and Thrifty desk, with just one person in front of us. Now, we paid around £400 all in for an SUV. In this case a very spacious Chevrolet with plenty of room for bags, children and all kinds of other stuff. It included cover for an additional driver (me), a full tank of fuel, every insurance under the sun, breakdown cover, etc. At the customer service point next to us a rather large Brit was trying to persuade himself and the agent that he and his four companions could fit into an economy sized car. An economy sized car in the US is something like a Fiat Punto, and this chap looked like he could fill a Punto on his own, never mind four pals and a load of suitcases. The agent summed it up nicely. 'Economy cars are like toys over in the US.' The man was adamant, and clearly wanted to save the £100 for a week of decidedly uncomfortable motoring. We continued on our way, and then got stuck in traffic. Not great after such a tortuous journey thus far, and Zac had just about reached the end of his tether. 'I'm writing to the President,' he announced. 'Obama needs to sort this out.' I will let you see the letter once he has written it.

I always enjoy going on holiday, but I was a little rueful this time with our first granddaughter due any minute. In fact at the moment Gabi went into hospital to be induced we were flying high above somewhere called Goose Bay which is presumably in Canada. I was hopeful that there would be a gleeful text message when we landed, but not so, in fact as I lie here nothing much has happened. Maybe for the next instalment...

Sometimes, you think the difference that you make to things is like pissing on the Great Fire Of London. You are probably aware that the UK has now started charging 5p for carrier bags. No such problem in the US. We have just returned from Walmart where every item is triple bagged by the checkout lady, and often there is just one item to a bag. Given the scale of the US compared to the UK I suspect a landfill the size of Wales wouldn't cover up the number of plastic bags they get through in a year.

Ole just asked why I write a blog, so I told him it encourages creativity and its good to practice writing. Suggested he might like to write one himself. 'Its just effort,' was his typically teenage reply.

What a sporting triumph Zac's birthday was. His team won 5-0, Ole's team, won 4-3, then Zac's cricket team also triumphed. Add to that a win for the Bengals and it couldn't have gone much better! One sport that could do with improvement is 'Pie Face' This game involves people taking turns to turn a wheel. At some point a turn of the wheel triggers the mechanism to make a plastic hand filled with cream rise up and splat the cream in the person's face. Great idea, I just feel that it needs a little more violence. As it is the victim gets a blob of cream on the end of their nose. Its just not enough.

Ive got a confession to make. Remember, back in the day, when anyone who wore fancy football boots was likely to get a good kicking on the pitch? And in those days 'fancy' generally meant white, which was the only alternative to black, In fact, even the three white Adidas stripes were considered decadent. Well, at the start of the 1970/71 season Alan Ball sported a natty pair of white boots, and a national newspaper, The Sun I think it was, launched a competition to win a pair. Well, I entered, and I won. Don't really remember getting a kicking for wearing them, but if I did it would explain a lot relating to my current knee problems. Anyway, the competition was to pick your best ever England football XI. As an 8 year old boy it was a pretty good achievement to win a competition like that, but I have to confess, some 45 years later, that it was actually my dad that picked the team. Phew, I'm glad I've got that one off my chest.

And speaking of knees, it looks like my osteotomy is going ahead. I saw my consultant on Monday and he showed me some amazing pictures from inside my knee. The good side looks like a billiard ball, the bad side looks like some ancient stonework that is crumbling away. I go back on 23rd November to discuss dates (for the osteotomy, not the fruit). Having been in the US for less than a day, and suffered at the airport and carrying heavy luggage, I can safely announce that the osteotomy can't come soon enough.

Winter is coming. I know this because of the little yellow warning light on my white car. I had no idea what this meant at first. It was two yellow lines with a yellow snowflake in between, and the only time I have seen yellow snowflakes is on the way home from the pub late at night (Mike Harding fans and men in particular will understand this one). Anyway, I looked it up in the manual and it said the temperature had dropped below five degrees so I should drive more carefully. I look forward to more creative warning lights as the winter months progress.

Over the last few years I have gambled with many a ropey B & B and hotels in Nottingham, but last week I stumbled across a great place called Roomzzz. For £59 you get a spacious apartment with cooking facilities and a grab and go breakfast of coffee, juice, fruit and pastries. Beats spending a tenner at Wetherspoons, and after tucking in to home made Mexican Chicken I spent a relaxed evening writing course notes and catching up with the world. I will certainly be trying Roomzzz again, or even the slightly more expensive Saco Apartments. Highly recommended.

One of the issues with being in the US is you can't have a bet. I once did this on my Paddy Power account, but they detected my location and suspended all activities as it is outside their territories. Now, the power of Facebook is often contentious, but I think that PP can probably detect through this medium that I am once more Stateside. So why do they keep offering me special deals via email and Facebook promotions, encouraging me to breach their rules again?! Isn't this some kind of entrapment?

Finally, it was our 21st Wedding Anniversary last Thursday (the day before we flew to the US). Holiday Eve is always a stressful time, and as I had already given Sally 4 pastel shaded Caribbean style rocking chairs a few weeks earlier there was not really any great fuss. However, I gave Ole a card and gift to give to his mum and dad, which seemed to cause him an inordinate amount of teenage pain as he realised he would have to do something and remember something. 'You guys have an anniversary every five minutes,' he complained. Actually Ole, anniversaries tend to be once a year. Looks like he will be getting a dictionary for Christmas.