Saturday, 2 July 2016

The End - I promise. The final episode in my cataract saga

I have finally finished my eye saga, having, completed all the surgery, checks, eye tests, more tests and finally an eye test for glasses. Saturday I visited our optician to collect my new glasses.  I can now drive, read, watch TV and work on the computer without changing my specs.
Our optician originally had a practice in Cheltenham, but moved to Stratford Upon Avon. Having had only good results from his practice, we followed him there.  It is a bit further than Cheltenham, but being retired and not having to fit appointments in with work, it makes a nice ride and Stratford is a pleasant place to wander around, so we are happy with this arrangement.

Receiving a message that my specs were ready on the Friday, we decided to go Saturday morning and started out first thing, well 10 ish.
On arriving at Stratford Upon Avon, we discovered that this weekend was a River festival and an often quite crowded town was absolutely heaving. We were able to find a parking space, right at the end of our favourite, but rather long, car park and after a coffee break to recover from the stress of queueing for miles and fighting our way through the mobs of visitors, we went to collect my specs.
Fitted out with glasses once more we stopped for lunch at a Bella Italia. I ordered a slow cooked lamb shank and when it arrived, I was annoyed to find it was cold and not very well cooked. The staff scurried around and after some negotiation, a second one arrived. This had been cooked properly I am glad to say and we were able to finish lunch before our parking ticket expired.

We often have a wander around town after seeing the optician, but today the streets were so crowded it was not very easy to get around, so we decided to head for home straight away. Just as we got out of town, the heavens opened and it rained like the flood. However, this did not last long and soon we were driving along bone dry roads which had not seen any rain at all that day. I hope the river festival did not get rained off, a lot of people would have been disappointed.

When we came up to to my first appointment with the optician, we had noticed a patch of poppies in a field close to the side of Fosse Way, the road we take to get to Stratford. Today it is about two acres of poppies, so I decided to stop in a nearby layby and take few pictures. And here they are.

Fosse Way takes you through the Cotswolds past Bourton on the Water, through Stow on the Wold and Morton in Marsh. I often used to use this road when working for a national company and I had to get to Rugby quite regularly, so it is a familiar road. There are some interesting places along Fosse Way.
One place it passes through close by is Northleach where there is an agricultural museum and a Museum of Mechanical Music. This is a rather small museum that collects and sells ancient musical devices from musical boxes to player pianos. Once when visiting it there were some early phonograph wax cylinders on display with their original cardboard cartons and we were interested to see that the cartons had been made in my grandfather’s factory. They were clearly marked with his Cartonite brand name under the main label. His company ceased trading long ago and no longer produces cardboard tubes.
Fosse Way is one of the main Roman roads that criss cross Britain and is quite straight for much of its length, but still has bends here and there where boundaries have altered over the centuries. What it does do is go up and down and at Foss Bridge there is a deep dip that goes a long way down quite sharply with another steep hill on the other side.

Heading north you see the road dip and in the distance you can see it climbing up the other side.  At the bottom is a bend that has been the cause of many a person leaving the road.

Heading south, the road falls away suddenly and you find yourself going down hill with little warning.
This used to be a really good place for overtaking slow vehicles, but they have put a 40mph speed limit on it and you risk getting a ticket if you try to race up the hill now. Spoilsports!

One building that I have always been curious about is this rather quaint gatehouse.  It is on the boundary of what must be a huge estate, judging from the length of the wall surrounding it.  It is a typical Cotswold dry stone wall and it runs for miles alongside Fosse Way.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Yet another Reunion come and gone in a flash

Once a year, if we can make it, we go for a few days to stay in a venue selected by one of my ex colleagues, to a reunion. We were all a part of a training team that worked for the same company, many for more than two decades. When the company finally self-destructed and everyone was made redundant, we had a farewell party and it has now become something of a tradition. There are about fourteen or fifteen of us plus spouses who attend most years, but not everyone can make every year. This year it was Oxford, which is not far from where we live and was organised to run from Monday to Wednesday evening. It was arranged that we would stop the first night at one hotel, move to another closer to Oxford for the last two nights, visit Blenheim Palace on day one and then do the tourist thing in Oxford for the second day, with an optional visit to a farm shop and Falconry centre for those who would be passing close on their way home.
Once again the best laid plans…

Just before we were ready to start thinking about getting packed, a letter arrived from the Hospital. My final post operation visit was to be on Tuesday at 9:45. Knowing how difficult it can be to get appointments changed within a useful time scale, we accepted. Also knowing how difficult it is to actually get into our overworked hospital during busy times, we did not want to have to get up before dawn in order to drive through all the rush hour traffic from the Hotel near Oxford to the Great Western Hospital. So we decide it would be more sensible to spend Monday with everyone at the hotel and then drive home that evening and return the following morning.
We cancelled our hotel booking for Monday and told this year’s organiser B that we would meet them on Tuesday at Blenheim Palace as soon as we could get back from the hospital. Because B had arranged a group booking, he had to buy our tickets and arrange for them to be ready for us to collect as soon as we arrived.
More work for him, but it worked out and we were able to find them easily enough.

Because some of our group come from as far away as Scotland, Not everyone can make it to Oxford before evening, so Monday would have people arriving at different times.  B had arranged lunch at a nearby pub where some of the more local group would be meeting and then we would all head for the nearby hotel for the evening event.   One of our group has been very ill for some time and cannot get out a great deal and he has not been able to attend many of the reunions over the last few years. Because it was coming up to his fortieth wedding anniversary and because he lives near Oxford this venue was chosen without his knowledge so that he could be surprised by us all turning up.  It worked well and he was duly astounded to find about ten of us there to take him out for lunch and that evening yet another meal at the hotel and overnight accommodation for him and his wife.
This all worked fine and we had a good meal at the Black Sheep pub and then moved on to the Manor Hotel.

This is a very grand place that can trace its history back over more than one thousand years. It was a stately home and besides being interestingly built up over a number of centuries it is full of unusual rooms, corridors, changing levels and has fabulous grounds surrounding it.

The dining room we ate in, all wood panelling and a Minstrel's gallery

The meal was… what can I say… very modern… and their bill for vegetables must be quite small, but the meat was delicious.
Some of the grounds behind the hotel

After the meal, we drove home and the next day arrived at the hospital early, expecting a long queue to get in, but were pleased to find that it was just three or four cars and there were, unusually, plenty of parking spaces.
On leaving about an hour later, the situation was very different and cars were queueing right back to the dual carriageway. A good job our appointment was earlier.
Not knowing beforehand if I could drive after the appointment, should I have had drops that widen the pupils, TBH had driven. I did not, so we went home and swapped cars. I then drove us off to Woodstock the Cotswold village where you will find Blenheim Palace.

As lunch time was nearing, we were approaching Burford where we thought it would be a good idea to stop for a light meal, since we would be arriving just after the time our group would have just finished eating. There were three choices. We could go to the garden centre where they have a reasonable restaurant, drive into Burford High Street and find a café TBH knew there, but risk not finding any parking, or go to one of the few remaining Little Chef restaurants. In the end we decided the Little Chef would be fastest. Wrong! The service was glacial.

Only two other customers were present and despite this it took forever. We were getting to the point of getting up and leaving just before we were asked to order. If the phrase ‘Two soups’ rings any bells for waitress service, then you may understand a little of what it was like. If not follow this link. Two Soups. We did not order soup however, and the meal arrived intact and when our order finally did arrive it was possibly the best club sandwich I have ever had in the UK.

We eventually arrived at Blenheim Palace and located the desk that held our tickets and were able to join up with some of the group who were still eating in the small restaurant adjacent to the ticket desk.

Joined up again with a part of our group, we wandered around and looked at the sights and marvelled at everything like true tourists until I could walk no more and so we found a seat and watched the view from one of the gardens until I was able to continue.

Now and again we would encounter some others from our group as we ambled about, but we each went our separate ways until we had seen enough and TBH and I decided to go and check in at the Hawkwell House Hotel.
This was a bit more urban than the last and in a residential area on the edge of Oxford. It was nothing quite as special as the Manor but was comfortable and served good food. More importantly in a busy town like Oxford, it was also on a bus route into town. Since we are all ancient enough to carry a bus pass, this was the best means of getting into town.

The next day we set off for town in the company of a few of the rest of the crowd and bussed ourselves into the centre of Oxford. B had purchased tickets for the Oxford Hop-on-hop-off bus tour for all of us and the weather, still holding out, meant that we could take a tour on the top of an open top bus. The forecast had been for localised rain showers, but not until afternoon.

On top of the Hop-on-hop-off tour bus

Oxford is of course, famous for all its colleges which form the Oxford University and many famous names can be found on blue plaques all around the place. There are two tours, the City Tour, which takes you throughout the central parts of town and the Meadows Tour that goes a bit further afield. We took the City Tour with two of our friends, J&A, from the crowd. On the tour busses you are given a set of headphones and you can plug them into a socket by your seat and listen to a recorded soundtrack that tells you about the places of interest and some of the history of Oxford as you drive and bounce past each point of interest. Yes, bounce. I think that the bus lane passes over the most ancient of gutters that could be found in any urban area in England. We were jolted and thrown all over the place as the bus found every pot hole and broken cobble that ordinary drivers are free to avoid. Apart from that the tour was informative and showed me things I did not know about Oxford.

 In the summer months, Oxford is always packed out by coachloads of tourists from other parts of the globe who walk around in great mobs all speaking in foreign*. In an attempt to keep together and so not get lost, these groups of people have a tendency to move in a phalanx, similar to an charging Roman legion, taking all the room on the narrow pavements and you are well advised to keep away and so avoid being run into or sideswiped by their rucksacks.
 *Foreign being the language all other people speak who come from foreign lands. 

When we were close to the Bodleian Library, the bus stopped and we decided to hop-off and have a look around. Since TBH and I know the centre of Oxford fairly well, the others were happy to follow us and we managed to escape from the great hordes of coach trippers and found the area around the
Bodleian remarkably free of tourists, for a while, and we were able to wander around into the Library grounds without being pushed and shoved about by the invading hordes.

One of the curious heads outside the Bodleian Library
Not a tourist in sight

After looking around the library book shop, J&A wanted to go for a stroll along Rose Cottage Walk and we set off across some more open areas to find the footpath, but when we arrived, the access gate was locked, so we wandered back into the busier parts of Oxford.

Examinations in progress, so no entry
After a short discussion, it was decided that instead of hopping back on the tour bus, we could visit the Ashmolean Museum, which was not too far away and so, we fought our way through the invaders and headed for the museum. After a while, I suggested that it may be wise to eat lunch before hitting the museum, since I felt by then that I would probably just sit out the tour around the museum because I was already thoroughly pooped.
I had not been doing quite so much walking recently, having been convalescing from my two eye operations for a total of about ten weeks and was somewhat out of condition. The others agreed and then we started looking for a suitable eatery. In the end we ended up in one of the major stores that had a restaurant which we all knew would provide something familiar and reasonable for a lunch time snack. J was a bit disgruntled, having come to look at the fabled Oxford only to end up in a mundane place he could visit any time back home, but we were not the only ones to have gravitated to this store’s restaurant because we found D&B eating there too.
Rested, fed and watered, we went on to the Museum and wandered around the parts of it that particularly interested us until I once again threw in the towel.

In the entrance there was a light source in the ceiling creating moving patterns on the floor

TBH and I decided to resume the bus tour and armed with our headphones hopped-on the next bus and went all around the rest of the tour. Before long, sitting in the top deck, we felt a few spots of wet on our arms and decided that the top deck was not so attractive after all, despite the great view you got from there, so went below. We were soon followed by the other slightly damper passengers who had been slower in recognising the need to retreat. This was followed by a small waterfall down the stairs.
The rain came down like doom for a while and when we returned to the part of town where our bus had brought us from the hotel, we hopped-off and stood in the slightly lesser rain waiting for a number 3 to take us back to the hotel. The rain eased off a lot while we waited so we did not get too wet and looking around I realised there was not a single invading horde to be seen anywhere, the streets were deserted. The big mystery was, where had they all gone?
The shops had already been quite crowded before it started to rain and there seemed to be no room before the rain started, but suddenly there were no people on the street at all. Did they all go back to their coaches? Or did they have a secret bolt hole? You would expect to see archways and doorways crammed with faces looking out to see if the rain had stopped, but nothing looked overcrowded and I found their sudden disappearance uncanny.
Ironically, once our number 3 bus got out of the centre of Oxford, the pavements were completely dry. A rotten trick of the weather to only rain where the tourists wanted to be.
Back at the hotel, I collapsed onto the bed and dozed, whilst TBH went downstairs to the lobby and read a magazine in a comfortable armchair. Soon she was joined by other adventurers who had returned from Oxford in various states of dampness and eventually I went downstairs to join them and we all chatted until it was time to go to the Greyhound pub where B had booked a meal.

This was a place outside Oxford on the A420 near Abingdon that I had driven past often, but only visited once before when on a business trip to Austin Rover, many years ago when it was still a British owned manufacturer.
The meal was excellent but I made the mistake of ordering the cheese board for afters without reading the small print. Owing to having lived with a condition which prevented me sleeping if I ate anything sweet late at night, and lately having been diagnosed with type II diabetes, I do not eat anything with sugar in it anymore, so decided the cheese board would do to top up on, or as Tolkien’s Hobbits say, fill in the corners.
What I had failed to notice on my hasty perusal of the menu was that in the small print, it said suitable for sharing. So when a huge wooden board piled with all manner of cheeses and fruit was placed in front of me, there was something of a reaction from the rest of the group. Anyway, the pub staff were kind enough to provide a large doggy bag and my next three lunches were sorted.

The next morning was general going home for most of the crowd and for some of us, there was the option of visiting Millets Farm on the way home. Only J&A and ourselves decided to give it a try and we wended our way there. Millets Farm is a large area with a garden centre that sells all those things gardens need, mostly plants, but also scented candles, books, clothes, all manner of gizmos, bird food, bird feeders and statues of young nubile ladies intended to stand around in your garden, looking far too scantily clad for British weather. Maybe that is why there are usually clothes concessions in amongst all the other odds and ends that garden centres sell.
There is also a ‘Farm Shop’. This does not, as suggested by the title, sell farms, but a small range of farm produce, such as eggs, fresh meat and vegetables. But most of the stock will be top of the range, and therefore high priced, food, such as cakes, allegedly ‘homemade’, crisps, wine, beer and all kinds of pickles and preserves, which individually cost about twice what I was paid per week when I first started work.
At the far end of this complex is Millets Farm Falconry where they give exhibitions with various carefully trained birds. They have a surprisingly wide range of different birds, including, eagles, owls, vultures and a range of other smaller birds of prey and you can visit all their enclosures, like a miniature zoo. 

We decided, along with J&A, to go to the falconry flying exhibition scheduled for late morning. We were the only four people there but the show went ahead and the guy was entertaining and informative and produced a great display. One bird was of a species I have never seen before, a Striated Caracara from the Falklands that was highly intelligent. It was given a series of tasks to find its food and it went about it with precision, turning over flower pots and even opening a dustbin to get to the food the trainer had hidden for it.
The Striated Caracara carrying out its tricks

It only flew when food was in the offing, and walked back to its enclosure with its handler

A Gyr hybrid Falcon
 After that we went our separate ways and it was all over for another year.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Chim Chimminey

Staying at The Daughter (TD) and Son In Law’s (TSIL) house whilst he recovers enough from his broken hip to be able to be left to fend for himself, we are sleeping upstairs at the top of their three storey house, up amongst the chimney pots.

Looking inland

In one direction the view from the top floor is of the nearby rooftops and in the other you are looking across  Morecombe Bay, with Piel Island in the distance, and the Blackpool shoreline on the horizon. Blackpool is more obvious at night, as a string of lights but in daytime is just visible.

Looking across Morecambe Bay
Piel Island is interesting, being an ancient habitation since the Vikings were coming here for their holidays. Since then Monks inhabited it for a couple of centuries or more and built what is now referred to as Piel Castle, which was a necessary fortification against pirates during the monk's occupation of the island. Over time it fell into disuse, but now is a National Trust property. There are four residents on the island today, one of whom is the landlord of the of the Ship Inn and who is known as ‘The King of Piel’ a title dating from the fifteenth century and an abortive attempt by Edward VI of Ireland to claim the English throne, using Piel Island as a forward base.

Photo by Simon Ledingham
Looking inland from our part of the house, on the chimney of the house over the road, there is a seagull’s nest with the parent seagull sitting on some eggs.

Mother seagull sitting on her eggs
 The Better Half (TBH), as explained in the previous post has been up with TSIL for a week before she came to fetch me and since then has been looking after two invalids, TSIL and myself, since I had orders not to move anything heavy, bend down or get my eye wet after my cataract removal. This ruling has been rigorously applied by TBH and after two weeks I will be able to do most of these things without incurring her wrath.
During the two weeks that I have been here, the seagull’s chicks have hatched and so there are now two more poop dropping creatures soon to be flying around covering people’s cars in their unpleasant mess, but just at the moment, they look cute as they explore their small home.

The chicks exploring their new world

Father gull stands guard

Seeing an intruder, he warns them off

Despite the warning, the intruder gets too close and is chased off

Lunch is served

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A second interesting experience

Recently, a critical situation occurred in the family, when The Son In Law (TSIL) managed to fall and break his hip, The Better Half (TBH) was asked to go to help out The Daughter (TD) by looking after him whilst she was at work.  I did not accompany her immediately, since I had some commitments that had to be sorted and so it was planned that I would follow in a few days’ time. 
Because they live about six hours drive away from us (on a good day) TBH would be staying there until TSIL got to a state where he did not need her and I would be coming up to help her after I was finished with my commitments down south.

The best laid plans and all that…

Two days into this plan, I got a phone call from the Great Western Hospital asking if I could take an appointment to have my second cataract removed on the Saturday.  We were rather hoping we could get that sorted in time for the summer holidays, so after a consultation with TBH, who in turn consulted with TD, who thus prepared, was able to do without TBH over the weekend.  With everyone in agreement, I accepted the option to take the appointment for day surgery. 
Since, despite my protestations, TBH did not trust me to live with the after-care sensibly, she then drove back through all six hours of British Friday traffic and we set off for the hospital together on the Saturday morning at 7:20AM and my fun day started.
The pre op procedures all went smoothly, receiving the drops and eye check-ups, until the six patients to be processed that Saturday were ushered one by one into a waiting room where we all sat with our cabalistic looking marks on the forehead indicating which eye was to be done that day.  As I mentioned in my earlier post-op post, it is rather like being in some kind of exclusive club and so we were soon all chatting amiably and quite enjoying the camaraderie in the face of a shared peril, when the fire alarm went off.    We all left our seats, sure that we were about to be ejected from our exclusive club room to stand in the cold outside and not have an operation that day, but none of the staff seemed inclined to herd us out, so we all stood around uncertainly wondering what would happen.
 After some running around by a couple of the nurses, we were informed that we did not need to leave because it was just some toast that had been intended for a patient’s breakfast, left in the toaster too long.  So we continued to sit in our waiting room with the most excruciatingly loud alarm pulsing right away at 95db or more.  I was seated right underneath the alarm and it was hurting my ears, so I got up and stood on the furthest point in the room away from the intrusive sound.  Since sounds diminish rapidly as you move away from the source, the sound level dropped to merely unpleasant, but my action triggered a response in the nurses, who produced some cotton wool for us to stuff in our ears.
Now we were all sitting around with our marks on our foreheads and cotton wool sticking out of our ears, unable to converse, all hoping the alarm would be shut off soon.  None of the hospital staff are allowed to shut it down themselves, in case some careless person shuts it off a when there is a real fire, so we had to wait until a fire appliance arrived and it was shut off by a qualified alarm-switcher-offer.
Eventually the fire brigade arrived and once more silence descended.  Withdrawing our cotton wool, we started chatting once more and after the subject of fire alarms was worked through, the conversation turned to mobile phones and how we oldies all managed without such things back in the year dot. 
I do not recall exactly how the conversation got to using phone boxes but I told them, that at about age ten, I had been shown by my mates how to make free phone calls by tapping the phone cradle in a sequence of numbers.  Several of the group were intrigued and one other guy laughed and admitted he had done that too.   We then explained between us how you could do it by counting the individual numbers as you tapped them out, pausing just enough between each digit for the exchange to accept it.  For some reason doing it this way, you did not need to put in any coins.
After STD dialling came along, sometime during the 1960s, you could no longer tap the rest fast enough to make calls that way so it became impossible to do it .  Inevitably, one of the ladies present wanted to use the loo and smiling to show she was joking, I think, expressed her doubts about leaving her handbag in the room because of the two dodgy characters who fiddled the phone companies out of their phone charges.
As the morning wore on, one by one each of our group took their turn in the operating theatre. They were wheeled back a short time later in a wheelchair, to see that they were OK and to be given their post op tea and biscuits before letting them go home.
I was number five, so it was a while before my turn came and I was led into the preparation room and laid on a gurney.  Whilst the anaesthetist went about her anaesthetistic duties, numbing my eye and getting me ready for the surgeon, we chatted about computers and when she found out I used to teach IT, she wondered if I knew how she could reduce the size of a document she was preparing, so that it could all fit all on one page. 

So picture the scene.  There I was on the gurney staring at the ceiling with one numb eye, whilst I was giving her lessons on how to format a page in Word 2010.  She had pulled the document up on a PC in the room and although I could not see what she was doing, I talked her through the menus until she could make the changes she needed. By the time the surgeon was ready for me we had managed to get her up to speed on what she wanted to know.  I did mention that it was rather difficult not being able to see what she was doing, but she assured me it was working out and she was finding the menus she needed.  So I left a happy anaesthetist as I went in for my op.  Inside the operating theatre, I was given my squeaky toy to hold as before.  This slightly unorthodox signalling device could be used to warn the surgeon that I needed to sneeze or whatever without actually moving my head to speak.
Twenty minutes later after watching the strange light show produced by the surgeon poking things into my unfeeling  eye as he carried out the operation, I was sat up and wheeled out in a wheelchair and re-joined the dwindling crowd in the waiting room.
TBH was called in and we were shown the contents of my goody bag and instructed on what to do with the contents before being sent on our way.
So here I am wandering around; an invalid in the home of another invalid, not allowed to bend over, lift anything heavy or get my eye wet for two weeks.  Of course, TBH makes quite sure I obey orders at all times and behave as a proper invalid. 
I have to admit that being unable to pick up something I have dropped and having to perform a kind of cross between tai chi and yoga in the shower to wash my feet, whilst avoiding getting my eye wet for a couple of weeks is going to be worth it.  The effect on my eyesight is quite amazing and I am seeing things that I have not been able to see for years.  On the way to (TD) and TSIL’s home, we stopped at a motorway services for lunch, and an eye drop session, and whilst looking out of the restaurant window I could see cattle grazing about a mile away in a field and identify they were cows and not bushes.   The only problem is that I now have two pairs of temporary glasses bought from a local supermarket, one pair for working on the computer and the second slightly stronger pair for reading.  I will be able to get a set of varifocals eventually but in the meantime I have to carry two sets around and I am constantly losing them.  There is one other ray of light, I could get myself some really cool shades because when you wear glasses all the time, you either have to go to the expense of getting a prescription pair made up, or wear clip-ons, so having long vision in both eyes allows me to wear shades when we are out and about.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


Why does it always happen at one o’clock in the morning?

Last night, our upstairs smoke alarm went off and we were woken from a deep sleep. 
In the absence of an obvious raging inferno and still three quarters asleep, I was soon stood on a chair on the landing, my groggy mind set on replacing the battery. The stupid thing would not come apart. ‘Insert screwdriver and slide forwards,’ The instruction label tells me. Fumbling desperately I finally managed to separate the battery compartment without actually ripping the whole thing off its mounting, something that was becoming more attractive as a solution.
New battery from the battery drawer inserted and after a few sullen beeps it settled down again. Just about enough time to get back to sleep and it was complaining once more BEEP BLOODY BEEP!

I know that all sorts of different things besides a fire can cause these things to go off, a few molecules of perfume, hairspray or butane gas will do it, so we searched the house for gas taps left on, smells of burning, spills of perfume or anything else, but nothing was amiss.
Thinking I would try the scientific approach, before resorting to a large hammer, I got my test meter and compared the old battery against another new one. The old one read 9.07V, not that low. The brand new one read 9.6V but both were off load.   I then, slightly more proficiently this time, removed the battery compartment without resorting to violence and checked the battery I had optimistically put in it.  On load, it showed 8.4V! Not what I expected from a new battery, so I put the good one I had just tested in and It read 9.2V on load.
The unit complained a little more feebly, but then remained silent. Confident I had cured the problem I replaced it and went back to bed once more. 

BEEP BLOODY BEEP again just as we were drifting off.   A stray bit of inspiration filtered into my tired brain. Perhaps just stuffing a new battery into it wasn’t enough for the thrice damned designers of this particular device, maybe having the right voltage again was not enough and you need to tell the system it has a new battery. The only way to do this, in the absence of any other control buttons, is to press the test button. Any thought in a storm and so I did and ears ringing after standing directly under the 90 decibel BEEPs this produced, for the remainder of the night we were able to sleep undisturbed. Well, I was. Unfortunately The Better Half was now so wide awake she could not get off again for another hour. But here we are now on a bright new sunny morning and not a peep from the smoke alarm. At least, not until some unspecified date in the future, when no doubt, it will wake us up again and like a tiny baby demanding to be fed with a cry you cannot ignore, it will demand another battery, no doubt, at some future ungodly hour.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A work of art

I love this photo of Robert Glen's Mustangs, you can almost see them running. 
Mustangs at Las Colinas is a bronze sculpture by Robert Glen

I have never seen it in the bronze, so to speak, never having visited Irving, but I think Robert Glen’s sculpture is one of the best pieces of artwork I have seen. I am not a fan of abstract sculptures, there seems little skill in bending something into, admittedly on occasions, an interesting shape, but I see real skill in making metal look like something realistic.
In contrast, hidden away in one of Swindon's back streets is this large LED studded thing.

Spot the sculpture.
It is supposed to buitify the town.  Not sure how and as you may have guessed, it is not one of my favourites.

Not only does Glen’s sculpture give a sense of realism, it is the largest equestrian sculpture in the USA, but not because it is over sized like Andy Scot’s the Kelpies, which is incidentally another sculpture I rather like. Glen’s horses are twice normal size, but it is the largest sculpture because it covers a lot of space, just like real herd of wild mustangs. The effect of the fountains giving the appearance their feet are kicking up spray is a touch of genius. Robert Glen has won a number of awards and quite rightly because it is amazing.

 He is just an ordinary looking guy, but his work is extraordinary and I wish he had done something for my local town over here.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Quite an interesting experience

I was woken by the alarm on my phone at a quarter to six and knew The day had finally arrived. It had taken months of trips to the opticians, the ophthalmic department in our local hospital and a bunch of letters to get this far.  For some time my optician had told me that I had cataracts forming in both eyes and sometime soon I would need something done about them. Whilst I know the procedure is straightforward and routine nowadays, I was still a little anxious.

I have always suffered from poor eyesight which remained undiscovered until the age of fourteen when I did not recognise my mother when she came to visit the headmaster to find out why my school work was so bad. The reason it was so bad was that I could not read the blackboard and so never really knew what was going on half the time. In those days, at my school, you did not draw attention to yourself deliberately and so, not knowing what was needed of me during most lessons, I just drifted and got a reputation for being stupid and lazy. In fact I am not particularly stupid and since leaving school have got to grips with many subjects that would have totally baffled my old teachers. Nowadays I would have been classed as having learning difficulties and I do have learning difficulties. I find the calculus behind Quantum Electro Dynamics very hard to follow and I have made very little progress in that field. However, I have made some progress in Einsteinian physics, so it is not all bad.
Anyway I digress, back to my eyes.
I was not exactly looking forward to yesterday having suffered badly in hospitals in the past.  Knowing it is going to be a walk in the park was purely academic, so trying to convince my subconscious mind that this time they will not leave me in pain for eighteen very long hours, or nearly kill me with an overdose of aesthetic, was not easy. I tried not to worry and it was in the end a walk in the park and over and done with relatively quickly, arriving at 7:30 and leaving at 11:15 with about twenty minutes actually in the operating theatre.
I was prepped by a talkative nurse who seemed to be frustrated by various minor problems she was coping with. All very familiar grumbling, like being back at work. I then had to wait in the waiting room and TBH (The Better Half) stopped with me for the next hour and a half until I was called in again for a quick eye test and a felt tip pen cross was written over the eye to be operated on. I was then taken through an area of the hospital which was only accessed by what in MOD terms would be an escorted pass. In an even smaller waiting room were four other people with Xs over one eye. It was like being in some exclusive little club and soon we were chatting and speculating on who was next in line. Three more people arrived after me and then the first man was taken away to be processed. Part of the early preparation was to have a small piece of lint or gauze placed in the eye under one eyelid, which was removed just before going into the operating rooms. You then had to have some blue overshoes of the kind you see in crime dramas, when the police enter a crime scene, and a hair cover. Other than that, there was no need to wear one of those embarrassing hospital gowns that invariably do not have all the tie cords still in place so that they gape open exposing your naked backside as you walk to your treatment room. Once kitted out in blue overshoes and hair net, I was told to lie on a gurney and the anaesthetist set to work. More drops and then a brace to hold the eyelids open, since my blink reflex was too strong for their liking. This put me in mind of the latter scenes in the film A Clockwork Orange, where the anti-hero is being indoctrinated by repeated films and his eyes are held open in much the same way, so that he must keep watching. The anaesthetist’s team were very nice and had an excellent bedside manner, showing real concern for me and making sure I was comfortable. They talked me through each procedure and then wheeled me into the theatre where the surgeon took over. She was, I was told, very experienced, having been doing this operation for about twenty-five years. She was very efficient and was teaching a junior surgeon whilst working on my eye. They discussed what was taking place in terms I could not always follow, since they were talking about bits of the eye I had never heard of. In contrast to the anaesthetists, the surgeon after telling me to tuck my chin in a few degrees more than I could actually manage never spoke to me again. Whilst the electrodes had been stuck onto my wrists and a heart monitor clipped to my finger, I was given a large rubber frog to hold during the operation. I told that if I needed to sneeze or move for any reason I was to squeak the rubber frog. I am not sure why simply saying I need to sneeze would not have been as effective, but there I was clutching a frog and trying to remain as still as possible whilst someone poked things into my, by now, quite numb eye. In order to see what she was doing, the surgeon had a very bright light shining into my eye and all I could see was a blaze of white light. This kept changing as various parts of the process took place and I experienced a number of different patterns. It was all quite psychedelic, if rather monochromatic like something out of a 70s disco. Soon it was complete and a transparent plastic eye patch was taped onto my face and I was allowed to sit up and be seated in a wheelchair.
I was then wheeled out of the theatre by the smallest of the nurses present. Something I felt was rather unfair, since there were several in the room, much heftier and stronger looking than her. She had a some difficulty getting my great weight through the swing doors, so I offered to get off and walk, something I was quite capable of, but she would not let me and struggled me back into the small waiting room where I was left to be fetched by another nurse. TBH meanwhile had been reading a newspaper and drinking coffee downstairs in the café. The nurse had her mobile number and was surprised to find TBH still on the premises. It was expected that the ‘responsible adult’ that was to deliver you home would have to be called back since it was a long wait. In fact it would have been a very long wait if she had gone home, because as we left, we could see that the car parks were all full and cars and busses were queueing right down the road outside and onto the dual carriageway.

Cars queeuing on the dual carriageway
Our new hospital was hailed by the local council as a wonderful scheme when it was built a few years ago. It would specialise in day surgery as much as possible, thereby needing fewer beds. It was placed out of town close to the M4 motorway and on a bus route so that it could be easily accessed by public transport. Because, in the eyes of the planners, most people would get there by bus, the car parking space was kept to a minimum. Up until that time, our town had had three NHS hospitals and a private hospital, where all the BUPA members could go. The Princess Margaret hospital was actually larger than our new one and there was a Military hospital not too far away that was almost as large. When the number one son got appendicitis, he was admitted to the military hospital because neither of the other two were able to take him. That was over twenty five years ago and since then three major developments of over six thousand houses have been built and new building is going on all the time. For some unexpected reason, our single new hospital cannot cope. Unexpected, that is, to the short sighted planners. They have since added several new wards and extended the carpark, but the problem is still with us since all these changes to the hospital are going ahead slower than the town is expanding. The net result is that if TBH had gone home, then I would have been waiting for hours and TBH would have been sitting in a traffic jam for a similar amount of time. So she stayed put, at least she could read a paper and drink coffee.

So finally I was out with an eyepatch and a goody bag with eye drops and instructions on what to do for the next two weeks whilst my eye adapts to its new clear plastic lens and recovers from having things make holes in it. Today I am walking around with my glass on. Not glasses, glass singular because I am using a pair of spectacles with the left lens taken out. My left eye has been corrected and it is no longer short sighted. I will have a lot difficulty with this, since all my adult life I have only to remove my glasses to get good close up vision, something very useful when dealing with miniature electronic components, which I have done for most of my working life. Now I will have to wear reading glasses for close vison and I am not entirely sure I like this idea, it will take some getting used to.

Still, definitely an interesting experience and a lot better than my previous visits to hospitals.