Monday, 27 July 2015

Firsts and Personal Bests

The last year or so has been like a sabbatical from my real world. Not a pleasant sabbatical, mind you, but one nonetheless. Doors in my life that I have previously stepped through without a second thought have been closed firmly in my face and my world has been a much smaller place. I described it once before as being the pooh stick stuck under the bridge whilst the rest of the pooh sticks sail on down the stream to the sea. That is the closest analogy I can think of.

So now I am less of that pooh stick and gradually I am reopening the doors which take me back into parts of my life lost and unvisited during my illness. These new experiences (though not really new - just long missed) are so special and important. And added to that, there are genuinely new things in my world, and I love breaking new ground, trying stuff for the first time. Not all experiences have been in the 'pleasant' category and not all those doors are yet open but each day I reach out a little further towards the horizon.

I am impatient, of course, because I want to be able to do everything I could do ... and more. Anything less would be out of character for me. But I am still  having treatment and some of the stuff that I am taking will be a part of my life for a long time to come, and some for always, and all these drugs have side-effects as well as keeping me (hopefully) on an even, healthy keel.

So what's new? The properly, properly new stuff is mostly wedding-related. We now have two lots of arrangements on the go. The November bride (number 2 child) seems to have everything in sight nailed down except for the bridesmaids' shoes (don't ask...) and her father's ensemble (ditto!) and the April bride is nearly there with the marquee and about a million ideas are floating round like wedding soup and some will make it to the final day and some will not. No ideas, however bohemian or unlikely, are discounted until all interested parties have considered them. Watch this space...

I had an absolutely joyous time deciding on my wedding ensemble for the November wedding. First a trip with Lady H (my wardrobe advisor for all major occasions) to the marvellous Jillian Welch who is making my outfit. Having seen the utterly heart-stopping outfits she has made for my friends, I know it will be fab. So I explained (badly) what I was looking for and she drew fantastic sketches and produced some amazing fabric. Meanwhile Lady H bought a stunning dress... Then the following day, the November bride came with me and gave her official seal of approval. I am so excited!

Whilst we are on the subject of appearance, I also had my hair cut for the first time by the oh-so-fabulous David at The Story of O. The last time I went to see him, a year ago, it was to cut my hair short a la Robyn Wright of House-of-Cards-fame so that the dispiriting falling out of my hair wouldn't seem so bad - there being less of it, as it were. And now I'm back! As David cut my hair I kept thinking: 'don't cut much off, it's taken all year to grow it!' but he did it brilliantly and I am now a little bit blond rather than gun-metal grey and I feel more like me at last. And the transformation from cue ball in November to someone who actually looks like she has a hairstyle (though short) is nearly complete. Thank you David. It's not just about the hair, you're good for my soul.

Less pleasant however, was my first mammogram since last June. Always uncomfortable and sometimes downright brutal, I know it must be done and it's important and I have never missed my session in the caravan in the car park at Morrisons in Boroughbridge. But this one was at York Hospital and my beloved very kindly came with me in case it was a 'results on the day' event. Now it's one thing having your boobs crushed by hard plastic plates when they haven't been traumatised by surgery but it's quite another when there's loads of hard scar tissue and train tracks of stitching. After a few attempts with the radiographer asking me if I was ok and me responding through closely gritted teeth, she announced that she had enough film but would I wait in the waiting room just in case. So I waited and back she came saying she needed to do more. Cue my heart completely in my boots. "There's nothing to worry about, I just need to get further under your armpit," she said. And more boob-clamping and crushing on the damaged side took place. Am I worried? Well, my heart is somewhere mid-thigh now as I figure that, although they say you won't get your results for four weeks, if there's something wrong it will be sooner and this was nearly two weeks ago.

On to more enjoyable matters. It was miserable not being able to play any sport for nearly a year. Not hitting a tennis ball, most specifically. Not running or cycling or going to the gym or doing pilates or learning to play golf badly. Just not. And gradually I have been picking these things up again though neither pilates nor golf have yet made it back into the schedule. Yet. Running hasn't been high up on the scale of activities for a few years other than in the gym on the running machine because road running made my knees cranky and endangered the all-important tennis. Though I do have a few 10ks and a couple of Great North Runs under my belt (just saying...) But whilst we were in Portugal, Little Norm encouraged me to 'jalk' ie jog and walk, with him on several mornings and more importantly, used his very persuasive powers to get to me try the Park Run on the Stray in Harrogate. Number 2 daughter is already a regular and number 4 does the same in Edinburgh and anything where I can have fun doing sport with my children is very near the absolute top of my favourite things to do.

So numbers 2, 4 and I went off to do the Park Run early on Saturday morning. The best thing about the first week is that you are definitely doing a Personal Best. Well, we had three PBs that morning with 2 and 4 lapping me (three circuits of the Stray to make up the 5k). Week 2 and another PB because I would not be lapped! But still I had to walk four times en route to get my breath back. Then week 3 and although I only walked once (and not very far either) no pb. So I will be back with renewed determination next Saturday. No walking at all (hopefully!)

And finally a first for number 3. Back in the winter when things were pretty bleak we (number 3, myself and Lady H) went to Kippax Bats. Peter Kippax was a fine cricketer, playing for Yorkshire and Durham. He is sadly very unwell now but before he became ill, he set up Kippax Bats which is a hand-made bat company which produces bats for the some of the finest international cricketers in the game today. Through Lady H, we arranged to visit Kippax Bats and purchase one of these amazing bats for number 3. We learnt so much that day about the craft of bat-making and the willow for number 3's bat came from willows planted in Tockwith. It was an unforgettable experience learning how the bats are made by hand and which of his cricket idols used their bats. And then this Saturday, number 3 hit his first century with his Kippax bat and was 107 not out. A great triumph for him and a really special achievement of which we are all so very proud.

Not the century last week but one innings last summer.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Jam Jar Moments in Portugal

The best thing about holidays is holding the moment when you know that it doesn't get much better than this. Every one of your senses is so perfectly attuned to the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes encapsulated in that instant that you want somehow to capture them in a jam jar. Then, in a dark dusk in chilly January, you could gently unscrew the lid and release the sound of distant wavelets edging tentatively back before joining together and crashing forwards on to the shell-sparkled beach. Or the scent of dry heat and sun cream or the taste of olive-oily and garlicked prawns. Or the tug of the damp sand as it drags your feet millimetres beneath its surface. It can't be done, of course but one day...maybe one day...

On my bucket list which consumed the blackboard wall of our downstairs loo through our very bleak winter, two sets of initials caused a number of enquiries from visitors - PDF and VDL. Both of these are special places for us and are located on the coast of Portugal. The first, Parque de Floresta is the 'half the year home' of Ebabe and Wheezy and this was our third visit to our lovely friends. The second, Val do Lobo has been a sneaky break for me for quite a few years thanks to the generosity of Lady H. From the hilarious and probably unrepeatable moments of the first two girls' tennis trips, to a fun but rather stressful family holiday to a perfect stress-busting week a couple of years ago - just Lady H and me. We have been the fortunate recipients of wonderful hospitality in Portugal and this two-centre jaunt - my first since last July - was to be no exception. 
In recent dark times, one of my sunny thoughts has been the view from the balcony at PDF, eating Special K Yoghurty and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice whilst looking across the golf course watching hapless players hack their way out of the bunker or skilful players drop the ball effortlessly into the hole. The usual fare of activity at PDF includes a lot of exercise - tennis, cycling and so on. We were stood down from the cycling on health grounds but no trip would be complete without a few sets of tennis. Day one and Maza and Caza made short work of the Bryan Brothers' incarnation of Bertie and Wheezy. But revenge was had on day two and included the traditional Bryan Brothers chest bump celebration. 

Ingrina prawns had to be done. Definitely a perfect jam jar moment. The other restaurant I wanted to go to was Agua na Boca in Salema. The last time we went there I picked up a postcard from the restaurant which has been my bookmark for at least the last four years. We showed the proprietor my bookmark which had brought us back all these years later and he shrugged "Postcard man went bust - never bought anymore." Not the romantic end to the story I had anticipated but the food was as delicious as I remembered and the company sublime.

Then all too soon it was off to Val Do Lobo but never fear, more treats awaited us. The second part of our holiday was with Little Norm and Lady H and Basil and Sybil of Low Graythwaite Hall (the finest b&b in the Lake District - Clearly there would never be a dull moment but there was a chance for me to slip off for some early morning tennis with Nuno, the Portuguese tennis coach, and some running with Little Norm. Multiple celebrations for the latter with his birthday (cue purchase of utterly tasteful t-shirt which was much admired), Father's Day and the H's wedding anniversary in quick succession. 

Lady H - always the most elegant and sober of my friends - morphed into a Bucks-Fizz-at-breakfast, pink-sangria-at-lunch and rose-at -dinner girl! Who are you and where is my friend? It's a long way from the early tennis holidays when we had to convince her that sangria was non-alcoholic fruit cup! Also some scandalously haphazard use of the factor 30 caused her to be temporarily renamed Apache Warhorse - you'll have work that one out. There was also the incident of her crashing through the insect screen between the house and the terrace. I awoke the next morning expecting to see a Lady H-shaped hole in the screen (think Tom and Jerry) but disappointingly that didn't happen and my beloved who had also morphed - this time into diy supremo - re-attached the screen with very little fuss and no long term damage. 

No trip to VDL would be complete without a visit to Maria's on the beach - scene of some of the most entertaining Portugal holiday moments including dancing with the Umpa Lumpas, the 'oh that's my favourite' saxophone player and other comedy moments. It used to have some of the most disgusting loos in the area which was surprising given how much they charged for the food but now it is super-smart but still the best view for beach dining. So a week of pancakes and pina coladas (and other cocktails), red wine, white wine, pink wine, non-alcohol beer for the grumpy golfer from Graythwaite and so much chat and laughter before we all returned to Blighty and the real world. But the jam jar is replenished and perhaps there may be another trip to Portugal this summer...?

A massive thank you to our hosts, Ebabe and Wheezy and Lady H and Little Norm - special times...

Postscript: In case you wondered, we left number 3 at home alone for the first time. He was fine and the house only looked as though we had had a dinner party in every room and half washed up so quite a result really. He did, however, have a few problems with the wildlife. Andy the painter (busy painting my office yellow - looks fab!) found a dead newt behind the skirting board, number 3 found a lot of maggots on a chicken in the oven which he had forgotten we had cooked for him before we went - you don't need any more information than that it will make your stomach turn! And finally, he texted us: "Two peacocks on the the dining table in the conservatory - scared the c**p our of me!" Strange but true. They were still hanging round the place when we got back!