Friday, 27 May 2011

If I spot David Cameron on the beach, what do I do?

OK - so we're off tomorrow on our annual camping holiday in not so sunny Cornwall. It is going to be a welcome break for the Collinge's at the close of an eventful week  - some of which we could have really done without, but I won't go there. This year we've decided to try May instead of the last week of August as usual with the vain hope that the weather will be kind to us, and the rain will hold off. It's our seventh year running at the same destination with one of my dearest friends, Judith, and her husband and kiddies. Also we're without friends Jane and Chris - they're off to sunnier climes with other old friends of ours - hmmmm looking at the forecast I'm beginning to wonder if they're the sensible ones.

To say that our holidays in Polzeath are uneventful would be a blatant lie. Every year one of our party, normally from the Collinge family, end up in hospital somewhere along the way. The first year it was Caroline - with a serious break to her ankle. Caroline and Andy haven't been camping since, but at least they are still talking to us - just about!!! The second year it was Antonia, with a double fracture in her arm........ and so on....... If we don't end up in hospital, its because our tent has sunk in the quagmire instead and we have returned home with a good dose of trench foot, as happened in our third, or was it our fourth, year?

I missed out altogether on the annual pilgrimage to Polzeath last year and Tim gallantly braved the elements and looking after our troublesome two on his own. On their return home I was informed it had been a piece of cake - or so he would have me believe. I had reluctantly elected to stay at home as I was recovering from one major operation, closely followed by another major emergency operation plus numerous pints of blood back in. To say that the second op was a tad too close to coming to terms with the fact that I am not immortal is an understatement and I had actually resigned myself to meeting my maker somewhat sooner than planned. I was so low before the second op as I was haemorrhaging like fury, I even rang Judith to say good-bye and ask that she keep a close eye on Tim and be there for our girls at a time when teenage girls really need their Mum around. She is the one person in my life whom I trust implicitly - besides my husband of course! Caroline (of the broken ankle) and Andy, bless them, paid me a visit a day later. I still have the puzzle book they bought - not quite finished!

So, what is it about Polzeath that makes us trek back there every year, in spite of what the Gods throw at us? I really don't know, except that this holiday is a special time when our girls get to spend a week with their god-mother in a part of the UK that we all absolutely love. In spite of what the elements throw at us, we come home revived, refreshed and spiritually cleansed by the sea air. And on top of that, Polzeath is a really funky place with a magic of its own.

But that said, I did have a fabulous time at home totally alone last year, in spite of being somewhat miffed that I couldn't go to Polzeath. I had received several offers for company and turned them all down. Yes, its true that I missed Tim and our girls very much, but I also relished the peace and quiet. I totally disregarded the clock and went to bed when I wanted and ate what I liked when I liked - fabulous! That was, until Elise informed me on one of her evening phone calls home that she had been surfing next to David Cameron! Flippin' heck - that was it - I nearly packed my bag ready to catch the next train to Cornwall. But I didn't. Even politicians, including the Prime Minister, need their privacy and time out to relax and enjoy family life, new born babes notwithstanding. I did try to persuade one of our party to speak to Mr. Cameron or rather one of his party and politely request a meeting when life was back to business as usual, so that I could raise concerns I have regarding the long term care of PwP's (People with Parkinson's) in the UK. Needless to say, my family and friends, without exception, refused. Can't say I blame them really - my concerns are mine, not theirs.

So, we're off tomorrow at the not quite so crack of dawn, this time only for 5 days, which we may prolong if the weather is kind to us. I hate to say it, I'm not holding my breath! Summer was during the Easter break which I spent trekking from one end of the Kennet and Avon canal to the other. I have so little faith this year I've even packed our thermals that we bought for our Sweden adventure back in February. Also, every year we plan to get up at the crack of dawn to get to Polzeath early, but knowing my tribe, there'll be delays after delays. My prediction is that whilst we plan to leave at 7:00 am, we eventually get going about 9:30.... Judith and her crew, meanwhile, will be on the beach about the time we're just waking up....

But the big question is, if I spot David Cameron on Polzeath beach this year, what do I do? Answers on a postcard please!

Addendum - I'm now beginning to blame our misfortunes when it comes to Polzeath on my Oirish Grandmother..... the luck of that is. It's now 11:00 am and we're still at home as the car has broken down, dead, just won't go. I've tried to contact our friends who have texted to say they are on the beach and where are we, but as usual the signal in Polzeath is non-existent and I can't get hold of them.

What next!!!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Three on the Tow Path

Over the past few weeks I have reflected on 5 days which were, for me, totally out of the ordinary, once I had got over the eurphoria of finishing what was to become a very personal challenge, not only for myself but also for one of my book club buddies, Wendy and her 15 year old son Spencer. During these 5 days I stepped away from the routine of wake up, take meds, get up, get dressed, get breakfast, get kiddies to school, wash up, tidy up, take meds, get kiddies from school, take kiddies to after-school activity (swimming/gymnastics/brownies etc), get home, take meds, feed, water, wash up (again), tidy up (again), bathe, take meds and sleep – day in, day out.

We, as in Wendy, Spencer and myself, were to walk all 86 miles (or thereabouts) of the Kennet and Avon canal over 5 days, finishing on Easter Day. It would be an easy route to follow, being pretty much on level ground without the risk of getting lost (or so we thought) as we follow the canal as it wends its way from Bristol Temple Meads where it parts company with the River Avon, to Reading where it merges with the River Thames. Keeping it company along the way is the railway line which was responsible for the decline of the canal network, until they were reinvented and rejuvinated to become not only a place of recreation, but also a place to live and work for a great many people. I had spent many happy hours wandering up and down the stretch of the K and A between Wilcot and Burbage in my teens, but did not appreciate just how much in decline the K and A was at the time. But I'm glad to say that this is not the case any more, and I was astonished to find the K and A a thriving bustling hub of activity, especially at Bath, Bradford on Avon and Reading. The K and A, as well as many canals in the UK, is definitely not a place where life can be hurried. That said, the exception to this were the cyclists in Bath who whizzed along at breakneck speed threatening to scatter any poor smuck who got in their way. I found it difficult at times to hear them coming – as a typical human I don't possess eyes in the back of my head, and that whilst I love Bath, I was pleased to leave the cyclists to it.

When my father was alive, he often used to say “When I'm Prime Minister, I'm going to pass a law where........” and then he would trot out his plans for a better world. One of his favourite subject areas was smoking – he had a plan to ban it. Having been a chain smoker, he successfully managed to give up either before I was born, or very soon after and was the typical ex-smoker who frowned upon others addiction to the cancer sticks. So, picking up on this, I have decided that when I'm Prime Minister I'm going to make it mandatory for every man, woman and child to spend at least one week a year living on the canal and enjoying a much more relaxed and stress-free way of life. Certainly those 5 days did me the world of good and I returned home feeling much more relaxed.

So, why did Wendy, Spencer and I decide to take on such a challenge to walk 86 miles? We each had our own very good reason for doing this walk, of which mine was to raise as much money as I could for The Cure Parkinson's Trust, as well as raising awareness of Young Onset Parkinson's. Wendy's and Spencer's were to do likewise for Diabetes UK, as Husband/Dad (Paul) and younger son/sibling (Ryan) are both insulin dependent. The awareness raising was very much given a boost when Wendy, who hails from Reading, gave two radio interviews on Day 2 for local Reading stations. I got my chance on day 3, when I spoke to BBC Radio Wiltshire.

I had never ever in my life undertaken such a challenge before, and it was something that I very much wanted to do whilst my cocktail of anti-Parkinson drugs are still working in my favour. I am all too well aware that had I undertaken such an expedition 2 years ago I would not have made it out of Bristol. I am also well aware that time is not on my side, and at an indeterminate point in the future, I may not have the mobility I am enjoying now, thanks to my mate Parkie. This was an adventure I not only wanted to tell my kids about, but grandkids as well – assuming my two gorgeous monsters decide to have kiddies of their own once they have grown up and fled the nest to build nests of their own.

The trouble is, often finding words so often easy when I sit and write these blogs, for some bizarre reason when I think back to those 5 days, the whole thing seems to have passed by in a bit of a blur. Short bursts of those 5 days come to the forefront of my mind, but its like watching random bits of an old worn out movie, pieced together from the cutting room floor. Nothing seems to hang together, try as I might to document it. In short – I have stumbled across Writers Block – of all things! Why now? This is my third draft! Aaagghhhhhhh!

How do I convey the excitement as I got up every morning, barely able to eat my breakfast as I was keen to get on the tow path, setting off with the knowledge that I would be punishing both my feet for committing no crime apart from being the ugliest pair of feet in the whole western hemisphere. We were to be walking for up to 5 hours at a stretch interspersed with brief rests in cool shade until we reached either our lunch destination, or our evening rendevouz. Having prayed for cool dry conditions, we ended up walking in what transpired to be blistering heat – unusual for this country at any time of the year. To keep our spirits up, we often laughed, seldom cried if ever, and even spent many hours in isolation from each other. Not that we weren't talking to each other – we were, but we also needed time alone just to ensure we achieved what we had set out to achieve. This was especially true of our final day. I was a woman on a mission, and even when faced with a gang of about 15 adolescents blocking our path as we neared Reading, I put my head down, increased my pace whilst ignoring the pain in my feet, and just kept going. I must admit at that point I was wishing that my Big Bro Ant (all 6'4” of him) had been with us as originally planned, rather than the day before. But hey – as I said, I was a woman on a mission and I was not going to let a gang of 15 adolescents slow my pace down – Parkinson's notwithstanding!

As I said we had many laughs along the way, very few wobbles and definitely no squabbles, even when we were at our lowest. I think the low point was actually on the first day, when our pace had slowed to a sedate 2 miles if that. We had actually managed to wander off course – I know I know, how can you get lost on a canal? Well, we managed it. I hold my hand up to share the majority of the blame, even though Wendy had ownership of the map on Day 1. We were nattering so much, or rather I was nattering so much, we hadn't noticed that the tow path had forked in the middle of some god-forsaken shadeless stretch. We were supposed to have taken the right hand fork to carry on following the canal, and instead turned left. We didn't realise our mistake until about 2 miles later when we reached a village and wondered where the canal had gone. Ho hum!!!

Rather than turn back, we took a detour on the advice of a local, and eventually made it back to the canal about half an hour later. That cost us dearly on the first day in terms of time as well as our mental state of mind. At one point Wendy started to go in to melt-down, and on Spencer's advice I kept on walking, whilst he got his Mum back on her feet and walking again! I don't know what he said or did, but she was soon back on track and about an hour or so later we reached our lunch destination where we sat in the shade and relaxed for an hour whilst our feet enjoyed the freedom and fresh air, before they were confined once again in walking boots. That, I can tell you, was a much needed break. Boy oh boy was it hot and I had downed every last drop of water I had set out from Bristol with. Replenished by a hearty lunch (or in my case an All Day Breakfast which I couldn't quite finish – eyes too big for my tummy!) and fresh water in our backpacks we set out again. It wasn't to be until 7:30 that evening that we finally reached Batheaston where we were to meet with Paul's uncle – 2 hours late!

The following morning Wendy informed me there had been a bloodless coup first thing, as 15 year old Spencer had siezed control of the map. He was to remain our team leader for the rest of the walk, and in the process made a huge impression on our various friends and relatives who joined us – specially Q from Cure Parkinson's and Ant.

There were many high points, but for me I think the funniest was my one and only encounter with a “She-Pee”, and no, I'm not talking about the 4-legged woolly variety who wander around our green and pleasant land oblivious to the fact that their off-spring are destined to be turned in to lamb chops. I'm talking about a late-on addition to my backpack which would enable me to “Do it like a man” instead of crouching in amongst the stinging nettles (an art I've never ever been able to master, even when in rural France or Oman where public facilities tend to be the lovely traps). About 3 weeks before our epic adventure we had a “dry run” where the three of us walked a 12 mile stretch of the K and A between Pewsey and Froxfield. About an hour after we had set out I got caught short, and having held it in for about the next hour, I blagged my way on to a chartered Narrowboat going through one of the many locks, to avail myself of their modern convenience – much to Wendy and Spencer's amusement. Lets just say that I wasn't just spending one penny, but about five – during which time the Narrowboat Captain had forgotten I was still on board and had set off in the direction from whence we had come! Needless to say I staggered back on deck whilst hastily pulling up my drawers, and managed to not quite so elegantly get back on dry land without landing up in the drink!

Obviously I couldn't rely on being able to do this during the 5 day hike. Having visited a major retail outdoor “supermarket” in Swindon the day before we were due to set out, I came across the “She-Pee” and decided that it was just the thing which would give me the closest experience possible to “doin' it like a man”. Trouble was, on getting home I tried it out only to find that my bladder well and truly refused to let go – nearly 50 years of sitting down was not to be so easily eradicated from my auto-reflexes, and my rather hilarious attempts were to no avail. My girls, on the other hand – had great fun and much better success! Enough said. On day 2, having received a text from Tim enquiring whether or not I had tried out my new acquisition in anger, I plucked up the courage and decided to give it a go, as I really did need to go! So, whilst Wendy and Spencer rested in some meagre shade, I “nimbly” nipped behind a hedge and after about 5 minutes of my brain sending messages to my bladder that it really was OK to “do it like a man” my bladder finally let go. Needless to say next thing I knew, whilst mid-stream, I glanced down to find my “She-Pee” being investigated by a not so helpful wasp! Being somewhat unwilling to risk wasp stings in a rather embarrassing place, operations were immediately suspended, and my “She-Pee” remained redundant at the bottom of my backpack for the remainder of the walk.

Being close to home, we only spent two nights away, and a special mention here needs to be made about the hospitality and welcome we were given by my ex-colleague, the wonderful Mina in Bristol and Paul's aunt and uncle, Angela and Mike, in Bath. We were all made to feel very welcome in both households, so much so that on being offered first use of the bathroom at Angela and Mike's, I relaxed so much in the bath that I could have stayed there for about 2 hours. But, being conscious that Angela was waiting to serve supper, I decided it would be a bit rude of me to hog the bathroom facilities and decided I really ought to get out, which was when I discovered a bit of a minor difficulty in getting moving. Trying not to panic, I had several attempts to get out of the bath, and thankfully eventually managed it without having to call for help.

When we stayed at Mina's in Bristol, having bought up two boys single handed, Mina immediately recognised that Spencer was suffering from “Hollow Legs Syndrome” and made it her goal to ensure he didn't go to bed hungry. Having known Mina for about 7 years, I knew that she would not give up until she was satisfied Spencer had had enough to eat! Naturally it was nice to return home as well, and for the duration of the walk I commandered possession of the bathroom, and soon fell in to the routine of taking a long soak in the tub on getting home, another one immediately after supper and one again about 5:00 in the morning before everyone woke up – a wonderful time of the day in which to soak and reflect on the day before, as well as prepare myself mentally for the day ahead!

I have so many people to thank for joining us on the walk, for their sponsorship, the well-wishers we encountered along the way including the Vicar of Hungerford who kindly let me use the church loo and the lady in Bath who emptied out the contents of her purse – all ten pence of it! For me, I couldn't thank Wendy's entire family enough for their kindness where I was readily made to feel welcome, and in particular Wendy's sister Sue and Dad Chris. Also a huge thank you to my husband and children for their encouragement and support, and my big brother Ant for carrying my backpack on the penultimate day. Of course, the 5 days would have been far more monotonous if we hadn't been joined at various points along the way by Q (aka Helen from Cure Parkinson's), Slice of Life (aka John Stamford) who drove all the way up from Kent to walk with us for a couple of hours, and Laura and Karen from our book club, plus their dogs, kiddies, husbands.......

And here's where I start my apologies - first and foremost to David and Chris Mullings - we had arranged to meet on the tow path at Bradford on Avon, and completely managed to miss each other.

I also feel I must apologise to those walking with me as well as innocent by-standers for inflicting my dreadful singing at the top of my voice. Having just finished Lee Silverman voice therapy the week before, it meant that my vocal chords were in fine fettle, and I would burst in to song without warning, normally towards the end of the day. My favourite was to sing the chorus from John Denver's classic “Country Roads” but unfortunately I never made it past the chorus, as I couldn't remember the rest of the song. Feeling in a bit of a mad mood towards the end of day 2, Wendy and I regaled a trio of somewhat bemused local fishermen with Christmas carols as we tackled the Caen Hill flight of locks! Needless to say, Spencer was also much amused by my LSVT vocal exercises, and I endured merciless teasing and comparisons with the Muslim calls to prayer!

But this blog would not be here if it weren't for two people, Wendy and Spencer. I couldn't and wouldn't have done this without them.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lets start at the very beginning

I really don't know why, but it has taken me ages to get around to writing this blog, the tales of our epic adventure – walking the length of the Kennet and Avon – Bristol Temple Meads where the canal leaves the River Avon behind, to Reading, where it teams up with the River Thames. So, true to form, unable to sleep, I find myself sat at the computer, and maybe this time what I write I will publish! I seem to have a fit of the fidgets – unlike Tim who was asleep the second his head hit the pillow. But it wasn't his snoring which has kept me awake, I was in bed just before 10:00 tonight feeling absolutely shattered, but sleep has seemed elusive! My first draft of this blog was split in to the days – starting off a Day zero, the night before! But thinking back over those epic 5 days following the bends and curves of the K&A, one day has seemed to merge in to another, and at times Wendy and I felt like we were caught in a bit of a Groundhog Day experience! So instead, this is a work in progress blog, split more in to subject matter, and will probably end as about 5 or 6 blogs over the next few days.

The idea for the walk was all Wendy's, not mine – sadly. Wendy and I have known each other a relatively short space of time, having got to know each other through joining a local book club. Our book club meetings about every 6-7 weeks tend to focus on lots of lively chit chat, and about 15 minutes discussing the book we have read for that month! Not to do discredit to the authors of the books we're reading – its just that our particular club has some lively characters, and the ebbs and flows of the conversations going round the table can be rather entertaining and not necessarily printable! I had been talking about walking the Jurassic Coast to raise money for The Cure Parkinson's Trust, through an organised event, which was going to cost a pretty penny before we actually started to collect any sponsorship. It was about this time that we were reviewing my suggestion for 2010, Tom Isaacs book “Shake well before use”. It turned out to be an inspired choice, as not only did some of my fellow book clubbers begin to understand what life is like for a Parkie and the challenges faced each and every day, but it also totally inspired Wendy, and she suggested we walk the K&A. By so doing, we would keep our costs to a minimum and be able to return home to our own beds most nights. An inspired choice!

Having also talked about her idea at home to her husband and their two sons, Wendy's elder son Spencer registered interest in keeping us company. Wendy and Spencer were to walk to raise money for Diabetes UK, as Wendy's husband (aka Dad or Paul) and younger son (Ryan) are both diabetic. I must admit, I had my reservations about Spencer joining us – but that was before I met him. My reservations were wholly to do with the fact that he is 15 and if my experiences with my elder daughter, Elise, were anything to go by, he would be complaining and generally playing up within half an hour of setting off. Having thought about taking Elise, I am so glad I didn't. The short distances she did cover with us during the 5 days were not especially happy ones for her. Elise is not a walker, but Antonia on the other hand is, but too young to do 86 miles as she is only 6. Antonia has managed an 8 mile walk before, but I felt I would be expecting too much of her! Give her another few years, and I feel she will be more than able to do it.

Having done the walk and done it in the 5 day target we had set ourselves, in spite of an incredible heat-wave in April, I have had time to reflect on our achievements, and have come to the conclusion that Wendy and I would not have fared so well if Spencer had not been with us. He is a natural born leader, and he took on that role on the second day, like a duck takes to water. Wendy, bless her, is not the best at following directions, and believe it not not we had managed to get lost on the very first day! I know, I know, how on earth could we have got lost on a canal? The answer is, I really don't know, apart from the fact that I was probably to blame here as our ceaseless chatter had meant that we weren't concentrating and hadn't noticed that the tow path split at a railway bridge – we were supposed to go right to follow the canal, and instead turned left and only realised about a mile and a half later when we reached a village on a very busy road! Enough said. We obtained directions from a friendly native, and eventually got back on track, but the mistake had cost us and we were two hours behind schedule before we got to our first stop point at Batheaston, where we had arranged to meet up with Paul's uncle, Mike. On reaching our destination, which so happened to be at a rather nice public house, I was sorely tempted to drift in, order a pint of cider and down it in one before collapsing in a sweaty heap on the floor, but I thought that might seem a bit inhospitable to our hosts for the night so resisted.

Next up Food and Public Houses.