Saturday, 26 March 2016

From Marple To Cuba - The Road To Recovery

I suppose my big news centres around two visits to medical professionals. First up was my physio and she is very pleased with my progress. However, in rolling over on her table I got a very strange sensation in my groin / pelvic area. Not in a sniggering way! This has happened before and its very odd, as when I lie face down my pelvis just doesn't like it. Its not painful - its just very uncomfortable. A quick and slight shift in position and its gone. Anyway, she went through my medical history, including a torn groin from a gardening incident, another tear after an slip in the rain on a cricket field in Romiley, at which point the only available sub was a cider filled Andrew Atkins, and of course a double hernia operation. 'Aha!' she said. Its probably your psoas muscle. Well that was news to me. Never even heard of it. I certainly couldn't put my finger on it, fortunately she could! Exercising the psoas is all a part of core stability, and its very difficult to isolate. Ended up being sorry I ever mentioned it. Still, at least the knee is holding up.

My second session was with my consultant who has effectively signed me off until December. He took some more x-rays and showed where the bone is healing. Quite impressive, though he did remind me that it is still early days. He then again explained that after 12-18 months he would take out the plate, so that if I need a knee replacement in 15-20 years time it would be much better fitted to a fully healed bone, and they would have to take the plate out anyway. He also showed me another remarkable phenomenon. The realignment of the knee has seen the pressure on one side relieved, and this has led to the growth of new cartilage, which is a very positive sign. Before I had the high tibial osteotomy he told me that for six weeks after the operation it would be very frustrating and more than a little uncomfortable, but after that I would see genuine improvement. He was absolutely right. So there you have it. I had the operation done in the hope of 10 extra years of active life in the joint, and now he suggests its 15-20 years! Happy days.

So I celebrated by cycling to Marple and that could have been a mistake. I was ok physically, but it was very, very muddy. The bit past Swizzels is muddy in the height of summer, so that wasn't a surprise but some bits around Strines were a real bog. Still, the coffee at Costa made it all worthwhile.

Got my laptop back, and as feared they had wiped it. I got the data back on without too much trouble but feared the rigmarole of resurrecting licences from Microsoft etc. Actually it was surprisingly easy Maybe this licensing is just a pretence, and anyone can download anything as long as they have a key!

There haven't been many blockbuster movies recently, in fact since the days of Armageddon and Independence Day there haven't really been any 'America saving the earth' pieces of sheer escapism. So I watched San Andreas hoping that it would fit the bill. I was sadly disappointed. Absolute utter garbage. I would rather believe that Will Smith could fight aliens than this far fetched nonsense. If you get chance to watch it - just don't.

I went to the Plaza in Stockport last weekend, to watch Frankie Boyle. Its a long time since I've seen him, and he didn't disappoint, though he finished rather early. At around 9.15 he said 'thanks and goodnight', and it was so early that many of us stayed in our seats expecting, at the very least, an encore. But it wasn't to be, and I suppose the art of a performer is to leave the audience wanting more, which he duly achieved. Much better to do that than to suffer at the hands of Jason Manford at the Buxton Opera House. Jason is a funny guy, but he just went on and on and on! Anyway, the Plaza is a really good venue for comedy. Hoping to see more there soon.

Had another cycling trip to Marple, and this time it was much easier. Hardly any mud (except around Swizzels of course), and although its still tiring I managed to get there in around 45 minutes. I think the next step is to actually do some running, possibly emulating a cricket match, but that's not likely to happen any time soon!

This week the highlight of the kitchen was Zac's cereal bars as a part of his food tech homework. It was quite easy, and actually he did most of it. Oats, honey, syrup, butter, raisins, nuts and pumpkin seeds were all mixed together then baked. The result was quite tasty, so he cut them up, wrapped them, and stuck labels on them ready to take to school the next morning. I know what you're thinking, and no he didn't forget them. Unfortunately the mixture set into a rather hard bar, and although he found a softish bit to give to his teacher he actually threw a whole bar at the wall and it didn't break! Ah well, back to the drawing board.

I also managed to make the topping for the Creole cake. Marzipan decorated with gingerbread stars looked quite good, though at that point the stars were a bit firm, and I hoped they would soften in storage. A week or so later the great unveiling happened at my mum's and we had a piece each. To be honest I'm not sure that I should have driven home afterwards as the brandy, port, rum. bacardi, cherry brandy and angostura bitters kicked in. It was very moist and flavourful, and has proven to be very popular. Definitely nicer than the traditional Christmas cake, and the stars had indeed softened to give a nice gingery touch. If you want a piece you had better be quick - it will be gone by Monday! I guess I'll just have to make another one, and I think I might experiment with an orange theme as we have a rather full bottle of Cointreau in the dining room!

I'm off to Cuba next week, which of course means that when I get back I won't have any holidays booked, and that just won't do. So, I booked a week in a villa in Malta in August. Flights are still quite cheap from Manchester and the villa has a pool and all mod cons. Should be nice, but I am leaving it to the villa owner to book our hotel transfers as the journey from the airport to the villa involves about 40km and a ferry. Past experience of driving abroad tells me that without this assistance I would probably end up throwing Sally off the ferry, or vice versa, assuming that we could find the ferry in the first place.

Anyway, a week in Malta will clearly not be enough, so the following week we are off to Killarney races, flying to Cork and staying at a very nice spa hotel for a couple of nights. No kids - woohoo!

My third trip to Marple followed the road as far as Disley, avoiding the muddiest parts of the canal. and I made the discovery that Whaley Bridge to New Mills along the A6 is actually uphill. Not dramatically uphill, but enough to make a difference on a bike. Anyway, I got as far as Redhouse Lane and joined the canal just short of Disley. From there it was an easy ride into Marple, and the traditional Cortado at Costa. For the return trip I decided to try Strines Road, and for the first couple of miles it was great. Occasional slight downhill slopes followed by a steeper fall when I could get up quite a bit of speed. Then I reached the outskirts of New Mills. I didn't realise that hill was quite so steep. It took some climbing, but I made it, and then headed for Swizzels and the comfort of the towpath, It took a bit longer than the usual 45 minutes, but after 3 challenging cycles in quick succession there were no adverse effects on my knee. The spectre of running is starting to loom large. Maybe in Cuba!

And speaking of Cuba, Zac asked if it would be full of posh people. I asked him what he meant, and although he didn't fully explain he did admit, 'I don't like posh people. They are too serious.' He then asked about where we are staying.

Zac: 'Is it a resort?'
Me: 'Yes'
Zac: 'Will we have to go to the supermarket as soon as we get there?'
Me: 'No - its all inclusive.'
Zac: 'All inclusive? Does that mean I can go to the bar and order chips whenever I want'
Me: 'Yes'

Zac is now really looking forward to Cuba!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Mosh Pits & Muslims & No More Heroes

Been a few weeks since an update so there's quite a bit to fill in.

I went over to Dordrecht to see my friends at Cornerstone, which was eventful. The night before I wanted to check that my phone would work and to get a data add on. Text EUDATA it said on the website, so I did. Apparently its not available for my package. So I rang EE (don't get me started on EE). Yes it will work - but it takes 24 hours to activate. I tried again on the day of departure - still wouldn't work. The chap told me that it only works once you are in the EU. Aren't we in the EU? At least for now? Yes - but its the European bit. So I tried it again over there. It didn't work. Then I got a text message from EE saying I would need to buy a roaming add on. I said don't get me started on EE! Now, whenever you say you are flying to Amsterdam there is a lot of 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink', but in this case it was just a flight to Schiphol and then a train well away from the Metropolis to Dordrecht. Sadly, I got a virus that wiped me out. I got to the hotel around 6.15, hoping for a smooth check-in, but Hotels.Com had not informed the hotel of my reservation. Fortunately a room was available, so I went to bed at around 6.30 for 12 hours. Rested? Not at all. Helpfully there was a digital clock on the tv that told me I was awake approximately every 20 minutes. I managed to get a load of paracetamol down me and that got me through Friday, but it was a long journey home. On the plus side, Schiphol have finally got rid of the concept of having security at the departure gate, so now you can get your bags checked and leave yourself plenty of leisure time in the airport.

A week later we went to see Goodnight Mr Tom at the Opera House in Manchester. I knew it was about the war, and evacuees, but when I go to be entertained I want some thing a bit cheerful, This involved child abuse, several deaths, bullying and more, and its on the school curriculum. Give me The Cat In The Hat any day of the week. We took my mum to see the show, and she quite enjoyed it, but I suspect she enjoyed the conversation with Zac a bit more! He wanted to know if he has any other race apart from English in his family tree. His great grandmother on my mum's side is from Galway, so he figured out that he was one eighth Irish. If he married an Irishwoman their children would be nine sixteenths Irish. All good so far.

Sally, 'Do you think you will ever marry an Irish girl?'
Zac, 'No' (he was quite adamant on this one)
Sally, 'Why not?'
Zac, 'Aren't they all ginger?'

My laptop crashed. Absolute disaster. Its only 6 weeks old and it just stopped working. At first it said 'Preparing to Repair', then nothing. I rang Knowhow, and they took me through a few (very) simple tests to prove that yes it wasn't working. I should take it into PC World and it would be back within 5 days. FIVE DAYS?! Yes, 5 days. Can't they repair it in store? No - they can't. And if you get it repaired elsewhere it invalidates the warranty. Reluctantly I took it to PC World the next day. Five days? said the repair man. They shouldn't have told you that. Oh good, I thought. A quick turnaround. No, it generally takes around 10 days to get it back to us. And really, as its so new we would generally offer a replacement, I don't want a replacement, I've put a lot of important software on there that I need. The data is backed up, and I could reinstall but that will take ages. Well let me check the replacement - that model is no longer stocked. I can give you one to the same value. Well firstly that was in the sale so you will now give me a laptop at approximately half the value of the one that broke, and secondly, I don't want a replacement. So he sent it away. It actually took around 6 days, and until I pick it up tomorrow I won't know if they've managed to fix it, or just replaced the hard drive which is effectively getting rid of all of my software. I have an old laptop that I have gone back to. Its a Sony Vaio, the hinges are knackered, and its falling apart. But it works. Something you might want to consider mister HP salesman!

My Creole Cake is well under way, with the fruit having been steeped in brandy, rum (dark and white), cherry brandy, port and angostura for ten days. It was supposed to be a week, but that took me to the day before the Amsterdam flight, and as the cooking is measured in hours rather than minutes I didn't want to be up all night. So I waited until the weekend and mixed in a ton of fruit, crystallised ginger, mixed peel and nuts, and then it went in for baking. Several hours later it came out to cool. There was evidence of someone picking at it, but it was largely intact, and then it went into storage. A week later it was uncovered to be fed with brandy, and ten days after that it again emerged, this time for a dose of port. It is very moist and I reckon one more feed will do before it gets topped with marzipan and soft gingerbread shapes. Mmm... 

Other culinary delights included my balti paste whilst Sally was away (only just got the smell out of the house for her return), then there was steak and ale pie that is currently in the fridge, half eaten and maturing nicely.

Ole is getting excited for YNot, and he was less than happy when Sally announced that she might go too. 'We go in the Mosh Pit where you get thrown around and drinks go everywhere, you wouldn't like it,' he announced, assuming that no one over the age of 20 has ever been to a gig before, but Zac was more thoughtful, and told his mum, 'No place for an old lady'.

Zac continues with his badminton on Monday evenings, so I asked him if the teacher taught him anything.

Zac, 'He shows the amateurs what to do.'
Me, 'Are you an amateur?'
Zac, 'No, I'm a professional'

Then there was the Cadbury's chocolate pudding. 'Serves 3' it said on the package. Zac looked puzzled. It would certainly need to expand in the microwave to serve 3 of Zac's portions. After just two, well actually not even two, the pot was empty. So last week I made a chocolate sponge pudding. 'Serves 8,' I told everyone. It didn't!

Sadly I was working last weekend when it snowed, but Zac wanted to build a snowman. First up though he had to get dressed.

Zac, 'Mum, where do you keep those pull up things?'
Mum, 'What pull up things?' (I suspect she knew he was referring to a snow suit)
Zac, 'They keep you warm. You know, we use them in the snow.'
Mum, 'Don't know what you're on about'
Zac, 'They are like Lederhosen'


You may have come to the conclusion that Zac likes his food. That is certainly true in the cases of chips, sausages, chocolate cake, toast and anything else related to chocolate or fried potatoes. Anything else, such as fruit, may be tolerated if accompanied by items from the previous list. So it came as a bit of a surprise when he announced that he was going to do what Muslim's do. There go the sausages we thought, but no, he was going to fast. Ole laughed. 'You won't last 2 hours,' he said. But Zac was determined, and when he puts his mind to it he generally gets what he wants. I came home from work a couple of hours later and thought I'd best have a word with him, as I really thought fasting might not be good for him. I needn't have worried.

Me, 'How's the fasting going?'
Zac, 'I've had a box of microchips' (it was actually two - but who's counting?)

Punishment for Zac is generally the removal of Xbox privileges, but mum has decided she needs confirmation that he isn't sneaking on, so she hides his remote controllers. This week its, surprise surprise, an untidy bedroom. As ever, Zac believes he has been wronged as in his eyes his bedroom is tidy, which it clearly isn't. Anyway, he took drastic action, but the game was given away by a giggling Ole who could not control himself. Things threatened to go awry, as Ole was implicated in whatever mischief had clearly occurred, so he had to come clean. 'He's hidden mum's laptop and phone and she can't have them back until he gets his controllers back'

Its going to be a long few years when he becomes a teenager.

Of course, when I'm away Sally gets to take her chance in the kitchen, or rather the kids get to take a chance! I wondered what this was...

My first thoughts were that the cats had brought a dead bird into the house, or possibly ripped up one of Sally's fascinators. Both of these were wrong. In the words of the sadly disgraced Rolf Harris, 'Can you guess what it is yet?' If you guessed 'Noodles' give yourself a prize. The pan is yet to be found, but I suspect that just a few weeks after getting rid of the last lot we are now embarking on a whole new generation of orphan lids.

I visited my granddaughter last Saturday, and she got a bit over tired. Food, play, food, noises, food and music had no effect. Of course, just after I left this happened...

And so to Monday night. The Stranglers were playing at Rock City, which is about 50 yards from the hotel I normally stay at whilst in Nottingham. I got tickets and decided to meet early at Annie's Burger Shack. I've said it before and I will say it again. Highly recommended. I had the Double Boston Nibbler, and if I am being honest its probably a bit too much. Delicious, but I did leave about 5 sweet potato fries!

A couple of nice beers washed it all down and it was time for the main event. Support band were The Alarm, and I was never a big fan. They were ok, but really only served to show how packed and atmospheric Rock City could be. We nudged our way through the crowds and took up a position about 12 feet from the stage. Not quite the Mosh Pit, Ole, but near enough. The lights went down and the sounds of Waltzinblack blasted out from the sound system. The instrumental, better known for its part in The Raven, signalled the start of the show. I was a bit apprehensive about it for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is the Black & White tour, based on, in my opinion, their worst album, and secondly, Hugh Cornwell has long since departed for a solo career and Jet Black is 80+. Well, I needn't have worried. Jet was adequately replaced, and whilst Hugh wanted to charge £26 for a solo acoustic session (pretentious twat springs to mind), the Stranglers were £23 with a singer / guitarist from Sunderland who could sing just as ever so flat as Hugh once did. And really, the Stranglers were all about the music. Whilst Sid Vicious showed it was ok to be a bass player to get in a band, Jean Jacques Burnel took the art of that instrument to another level. The best track from Black & White, Nice N Sleazy, features a bass line that 'only JJ could play', and as it was second up it set the tone. Back in the day, circa 1980 at Bingley Hall, The Stranglers accompanied Nice 'N' Sleazy with several strippers. 36 years later the songs were the same, the band were the same (with noted exceptions), the audience were the same, and the strippers had thankfully been dispensed with. They stuck faithfully to the album tracks, disappointing for those that only knew Golden Brown and No More Heroes, but as the last strains of Enough Time finished, the lights went out and came back on to the energetic melodies of Grip. The shackles were off and the audience loved it. There was a mixture of old and new, some obscure album tracks, and some anthems. Always The Sun was a particular favourite, so much better live than the vinyl version. Baz Warne (Cornwell's replacement) finally got to speak, and whilst his north eastern tones were at odds with the London roots of the band, no one seemed to mind. Jet Black's drumming was once perfectly described as 'meat and potatoes, and Jim MacAuley had it off to a tee. The snare was merely for show as he bashed out the thunderous rhythms, Dave Greenfield, the keyboard master, looked like a deranged puppet in his elevated position, and his strained vocals emphasised the illusion. Then there was J.J. Listen to a live band, then listen to The Stranglers. You can actually feel the bass as it bubbles and oozes throughout the performance, offering so much more than an Aural Sculpture. He may now look like a character actor from Coronation Street, but the legend lives on, and his musicianship remains largely undiminished. Yes the band aren't as tight as they were 40 years ago, but then you could say that about a lot of people. Looking beyond the performance, the Stranglers of Greenfield and Burnel constructed these masterpieces at a time when three chords was perceived as all that was necessary, and keyboards were just an instrument too far. The power of the music transcended the individuals, but if they ever lost JJ that would be it. The Stranglers played the audience, leading to a crescendo of two encores. Peaches, Go Buddy Go (that was actually a double 'A' side - the first songs that ever got me interested in them in the first place), and of course No More Heroes. The band were old, the audience were older. It was the band's job to transport us back to our youth of the late seventies, and for a brief time they managed it. I suspected I would be stiff in the morning, but if they embark on a Rattus Norvegicus tour I will be first in line for tickets.