Wednesday, 31 August 2011

New Beginnings

Here I am, awake at my usual 4:30 in the morning, with a blog running through my head. I need to get up, go sit at the pc and write. My night has been disturbed twice already, with hunger pangs resulting in two early morning raids of my fridge. These moonlight forays will have to stop - I'm putting on weight, which I admit I needed to do, but as I'm now the heaviest I've ever been (pregnancies excepting) I'm getting to the point where I'm going to need a whole new wardrobe. Hmmmm the prospect is tempting, but having been off the dopamine agonists for about 6 months now, my spending habits have taken a surprising turn - I hate spending money. In short, I have become exceedingly thrifty! So, note to self - ask my PD support chap next time I speak to him about these annoying middle of the night hunger pangs - I eat plenty during the day, so why do I feel I need to graze all night as well?

Its the last week of the summer holidays, we're on the big countdown to the start of the new school term, and I must admit I'm feeling absolutely cream crackered. I don't want the summer holidays to end,especially as apart from anything else I absolutely loath the Autumn and Winter. But I have been seriously burning the candle at both ends this week and really do need some R and R as soon as possible, much as I love my two beautiful children. Elise starts at her new school, and she currently swings between excitement and fear. She and her friends will be going from being the big fish in a small pond, to little fish in an extremely large ocean.

The start of this week was marked by going to a 25th wedding anniversary. L and J are the parents of one of Elise's class mates. L has a successful event management company, so we knew the evening was going to be a good one. Having borrowed their neighours field, shelter from the elements, if so required, was provided in the form of a double tentipi, which not only housed the bar, but also an extremely good band. Antonia though, on it getting dark, soon found us, and finding it too dark and cold for her liking outside, also suffered in the tent. Like Tim, she was struggling to cope with the loudness of the band, and before too long I took them both home, whilst also grabbing the opportunity to bung on a few more layers. There weren't a great deal of people we knew at the party, but I was more than happy to wait until Elise was ready to go home. I eventually tracked her down at 1:00 in the morning and managed to persuade her that it really was time to go as I had left my drugs at home, I was late for my bed time dose, and really did not want to face the prospect of freezing - literally. Much to my surprise Elise was more than happy and admitted to me later that she was glad of the excuse as she was both cold and tired, even though she and her friends had been hatching plans to stay up and see the sun rise. Had I been younger and fitter I would have been happy to stay up with them, but these days I find I really do need my beauty sleep.

Also at the party were friends P and G plus their brood. They had just returned from an extended summer trip to Uppsala in Sweden, having put in train their plans to move there as soon as possible. I had given them Sara (Riggare's) contact details, but being short on time they never had the opportunity to make contact, but plan to do so when they return. Even though we've known the family since our respective eldest started school 7 years ago, P and I have only been firm friends for the last two. Having been a PD support nurse in her native Holland before she moved to England, P had long suspected that I had Parkinson's and had slowly been chipping away at the shell I had isolated myself in, eventually challenging me to consider, just before my first meeting with Dr T, that I had Parkinson's. Whilst other friends had suspected as much, she was the only one who actually mentioned the dreaded word, she said what needed to be said, and for that I am so grateful. P, bless her, had laid the foundation stones of the diagnosis, Dr T then built on that and here I am today, two years on, a fully fledged Parkie chick, making the best of my life that I can.

Its fair to say that I really don't want P and G to go..... I dread the day and know that there will be many tears - of joy as well as sadness. But I know that they have had itchy feet for a long time now. I'm not alone in dreading the day..... they have an extensive network of friends and will be sorely missed.

A week next Sunday marks a very personal anniversary for our family, as my father, Bill, would have been celebrating his 80th birthday had he still been with us. The date is also significant for a great many people across the world as it also marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings in the States. On that day in 2001, my father, like so many others, took the news extremely badly. He had not long retired from living and working in the Middle East for the previous 20 years. On that day, when he finally answered his phone, the one sentence he said which I have never forgotten was "I'm glad my life is behind me". He had planned to spend his 70th birthday celebrating with friends, but cancelled it as a mark of respect to the thousands who had died that day. He said it wasn't right that he should celebrate his life when so many had lost theirs. But to me, it also marked the day that he lost the will to live and 6 months later he suffered a massive heart attack which felled him in an instant.

When I think of my father now, I wonder what he would have made of my being diagnosed with Parkinson's. I know he would have been upset, but I also like to think that he would have been proud of me. Proud of the fact that I'm still standing, proud that I'm determined not to let this beat me. He, like the rest of my family, would have been amazed at the way my life has been transformed as a result of this, with opportunities coming my way which I would never have even dreamt of. So, bring it on, I may have Parkinson's, but Parkinson's will not get me, not without one heck of a fight!

This blog is dedicated to the many who lost their lives on 11th September 2001, either at the World Trade Centre, at the Pentagon, or on United Airlines Flight 03, for they are the true heroes whilst the names of those who carried such atrocities against the human race will be long forgotten in the mists of time. 

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Third Cottage

On finding herself divorced and once again living alone, a friend of mine declared she wanted to “start over” and move out of the now defunct marital home she had helped her husband build a few years previously, as it held too many memories for her. She had seen an advertisement in a local paper that three cottages which belonged to The Crown were coming on to the property market. They were set in an idyllic location, about 5 miles from where I live, in a small village nestling in the heart of an ancient forest. The agent who had been instructed to sell the properties was holding an Open Day a couple of weeks later for the general public to view at will and we decided it would be worth going, as the guide prices were very favourable.

Finally, the day dawned – it promised to be a scorcher. Having had lunch at my house, my friend and I set off, with the agents selling particulars firmly in our grasp. We were on a mission, we had an objective in mind. The objective was to purchase a house which would give my friend, who had suffered more than her fair share of tragedy over the years, a fresh start. We had high expectations and were determined not to fail.

On arriving at our destination, we parked up and immediately headed for cottages One and Two which were advertised as having the potential to be knocked in to one big family house. In our excitement we hadn’t noticed at the time was that there were very few members of the public there. Either the opportunity to grab a bargain did not appeal, or there were other attractions going on which kept the public away. It was, after all, village fete season. Factor in the hot weather and the British love of the seaside on days such as this meant that it looked highly likely we were prospecting pretty much on our own. We couldn’t even find any agents – the place almost seemed almost deserted except for a few local residents and the occasional dog or cat.

Talking nineteen to the dozen and making a beeline for Cottages One and Two, we were joined by a young man at the front door. He seemed to materialise out of nowhere. To say that he was devastatingly handsome is an understatement. He had golden hair that seemed to glow even though the occasional dark cloud in the sky obscured the sun. He had a physique that only came with putting some serious time in a gymnasium. My friend let out a long sigh punctuated with “Oh My God”. She said later that she had gone weak at the knees and that her heart had thudded in her chest. To help my friend out I casually dropped in to the conversation as we inspected the pair of cottages that I was married, happily married, and that my husband and I were very much hoping to have a baby soon, so paving the way for my friend. To say that she went in to outright flirt mode is an understatement. By the time we had viewed both cottages, they were talking, and play-arguing, as if they had known each other years, not just a few minutes. The talk turned from “If I had this house I would knock down this wall.........” to “If we buy these together we could do...........” It was, or it certainly seemed to be, love and lust at first sight. During the hour that we had spent in viewing Cottages One and Two, we had discussed the finances of buying the two together, the feasibility of ripping out bathrooms and kitchens, and the merits of DIY vs paying through the nose for qualified trades. We had mentally knocked down walls, discussed colour schemes and which bits of their furniture would look good and which wouldn't. As we stepped back out in to the brilliant sunshine and the scorching heat, we discovered that our companion was the owner of a mint condition vintage Austin Healy – colour Red. Our jaws dropped for the second time that day – this was turning out to be too good to be true. My friend and I simultaneously had the same vision – of my friend being driven off in to the setting sun with this devastatingly gorgeous young man by her side in his gleaming car. She wore a beautiful white wedding dress of ivory silk. He wore an immaculate morning suit of the gentlest grey. The car had been festooned with pink heart shaped helium-filled balloons tied to the door handles. It was towing a couple of tin cans whilst sporting a “Newly Married” sticker on its gleaming bumper.

Having told our handsome companion that we were going to view the Third Cottage which was but a short walk to the other side of the village, he replied saying he would take his leave, and bidding us farewell, got in to his car and drove off. Still reeling from our experience, we somehow made our way to the Third Cottage which was set a little apart from the village as if trying to disassociate itself, detached and standing in a reasonable sized plot. Just as we were about to walk in, we were met at the door, he of the golden hair and immaculate body. He said he had decided to change his mind and that he would look at the Third Cottage with us after all. He said he wanted to keep us company. As before, he seemed to materialise out of thin air.

On entering the house, I started to feel uneasy, and detected a distinct chill in the air, but didn’t think anything of it. I told myself it was, after all, a thatched cottage, unlike the other two which had slate roofs. Having grown up in a thatch, I knew they were built to be cool in the summer and warm and cozy in the winter, so momentarily shrugged off my unease. Having looked around the ground floor, we ascended up the stairs to the first floor to view the two bedrooms and bathroom, and that was when I noticed a strong smell of horses. I mentioned this to my friend and our companion, but they didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. They laughed and told me I was cracking up. They said I had imagined it. I had no choice but to agree. But in my private thoughts I knew that there was something missing. I knew that things were not as they were meant to be. I was becoming increasingly ill at ease and desperate to go back outside to the warm sunshine. We left quickly, having decided there was nothing else to see and that we should explore the garden instead.

On walking around the perimeter of the cottage, we found a door which we hadn't noticed before. Being curious I opened it and went in. The sudden drop in temperature was dramatic. I found myself in a part of the cottage which hadn't been mentioned in the sales particulars. I was in what seemed to be a windowless room which was only accessible from the door through which I had entered. I knew I was on the other side of the living room wall and chimney stack. The room was small in terms of square feet, and it had no ceiling. On looking up I could see the underside of the thatched roof, the floor was earth and well tamped down. As I looked around I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed. I felt as if I had been hit with a sledge hammer. The smell of horses was overpowering. I was filled with sadness. I was filled with fear. I started to hyperventilate. In a blind panic, I pushed past my friend and our companion who had stopped at the doorway, obscuring the brilliant sun-drenched garden outside. I had to get out. I had to escape the confines. I needed to get back to the warmth of the sun. I wanted to sit down. I felt giddy. I thought I was going to throw up. In spite of the heat, I was shaking from head to foot. I had come out in a cold sweat.

My friend asked me what the matter was. She said in spite of my tan gained whilst on holiday abroad recently that all the colour had drained from my face. She thought I looked as if I had seen a ghost. I could tell she was worried about me.

All I could say in response was “Don’t buy this house. Something terrible has happened here. A child died here a long time ago. She was only 5 years old. She died in this room. She was murdered. Her soul is lost. She isn't at rest. She should be, its not right.” I was adamant I hadn’t seen her ghost, but I had certainly felt it. I had felt it the moment I had set foot in the Third Cottage, but at first I couldn’t diagnose what was bugging me. It was something I had never ever experienced, and hope I never do ever again. I wanted to go home. I wanted to leave this place and never ever come back. I wanted to pray. I wanted to cry. I said that the Third Cottage would bring my friend nothing but unhappiness if she bought it. I said if she did decide to buy the Third Cottage she should have it exorcised before she moved in. I said I knew a priest who would do the exorcism for her.

My friend, somewhat alarmed, said we should go. Reluctantly we turned to our companion to take our leave. He asked if I was OK. He said he was worried about me. I assured him that I was shaken but not stirred. I assured him I would be OK. He replied saying his work was done. He said he had been passing through, and that he had heard about the cottages being put up for sale. His car was parked on the track outside the cottage – I hadn't noticed it there when we had wandered over earlier. As he got into his car, we wished him a safe journey, thanked him for his company, and bade a reluctant farewell. As he drove off in to the distance, my friend said, somewhat wistfully “I never found out his name”. I said, quite simply “Simon, his name is Simon”. Not daring to take our eyes off the Austin Healy and its golden-haired occupant, we watched as it vanished in to thin air in the shimmering heat, never to be seen again.

I still live 5 miles from the village that used to be owned by The Crown, the village that is nestled in the heart of the forest. During that time we were blessed with two children, both girls. Following the death of my father, I threw myself whole heartedly in to my career as an analyst specialising in periodic payments in the banking world. I enjoyed being successful at what I did, and had started to plan to apply for jobs which would take me up the career path. But in time I began to struggle with the demands of working long hours and travelling extensively, and eventually retired early following diagnosis of an incurable and degenerative illness. I often drive past the Third Cottage, on my way to local towns and destinations further afield. I never ever stop, but I do occasionally glance over. For a few years it remained derelict, an unhappy home which held an unhappy secret. In time though, it was bought and lovingly restored. I can't tell you when this happened precisely, and I don’t know what happened to the lost soul, but I would like to think she has been laid to rest. I haven't got the courage to go find out who she had been. I should do, but I can't bring myself to search the church records where there would almost certainly be a record of her birth, as well as her death. I know that if I search the local graveyard, I would surely find her tombstone.

And as for my friend? She decided to stay in the house she had built with her first husband. For a while we kept in touch, but eventually we drifted apart. We never mentioned what happened that day. At some point I heard on the grapevine that she remarried. We weren't invited to the wedding. I got the feeling her new husband didn't approve of us or her other friends from her past. I got a Christmas card from her a few years later saying that they had had two children, that they had moved to a house about two miles from where she had been living when we were friends. She told me that she was happy for the first time in her life. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The importance of "Get it on Time"

I was frankly absolutely appalled when I read the article yesterday afternoon in the latest edition of "The Parkinson" about the treatment that was experienced by David Hutchings whilst in hospital in 2008. In fact, I am so appalled that my customary ability to adequately type at the moment is littered with mistakes and my fingers have gone on strike. The resting tremor in my right arm is as bad as it has been in a long time! I was wide awake at 4 o'clock this morning thinking about this, and as a result here I am, an hour and a half later, at my PC, blogging.

I'm not going to repeat the story here, there is no point. But, if you haven't read it, you should - its on page 20 and is titled "This shouldn't happen to anyone else". On recounting the tale to my husband and my mother, they were as appalled as I was. The treatment David and his wife received was unbelievable and the consequences were frankly catastrophic. Not only that, but the costs which would have undoubtedly been incurred to the NHS were costs that could have so easily been avoided had David received the right meds at the right time. In short, David and his wife were robbed of what should have been a well-earned and happy retirement together.

Unfortunately the older generation, instead of receiving the respect and due care and attention that is rightfully theirs when in hospital, can be at risk of being victims instead. (I would like to point out here that I'm not saying this happens in every case, and I would hope that at best these instances are a rarity.) Last August I found myself in the unfortunate position of witnessing such treatment to a lady in her 90's, when I found myself back in hospital following post-op complications. [I hasten to add the hospital I was in wasn't my usual hospital as we were away at the time with friends.] Had I not been confined to bed having a blood transfusion at the time I would have done something about it. There was a young girl opposite me, who at 20 was young enough to be my daughter, who also heard what was happening. She was as concerned about the way the patient had been treated as I had been. I don't know whether she took the matter up with the Ward Sister before she left or not, but the following day whilst waiting for my husband to come and pick me up, I made sure I did. It was the least I could do.

When I mentioned the article in The Parkinson to my mother, she immediately said to me "Don't worry, I'll make sure you don't get treated like that next time you're in hospital. I'll be on your case straight away". My mother, bless her, is a formidable lady when on the warpath and I am extremely grateful to her for her support over the last 2 years and long may that continue. But, I also have no plans or desire to be in hospital for a very long time.............

OK - rant over. I shall get off my soap box now. xx

Friday, 19 August 2011

Drama Queen Reigns Supreme

Its been a bit of a long road, as can so often be the case with Parkinson's, but at long last I'm starting to feel that I'm back in the driving seat, in control of my movements, enjoying life, not feeling like I'm having to explain my mumbling stumbling self to strangers, whilst trotting out my standard phrase "I have Parkinson's" and wanting to add on "I am not an alcoholic!". Its getting to the point where I feel tempted to have these words tattoed on my forehead. Joking aside, I'm even happier when close friends say that if they hadn't have known I had Parkinson's they would never have guessed. Wonderful - their words are truly like music to my ears.

For the first time in a very long time I am confident, look well, and am enjoying the summer (OK, well not today when it has rained cats and dogs from dawn til dusk....). I try and get to the gym 3 times a week (more like once or twice at the moment). Its a form of exercise I'm really getting in to, and having started off saying that I was only interested in doing cardio-vascular work, I'm now getting more in to the weights training. My shoulder no longer gives me grief, and I can even manage to hop out of bed in the mornings with a twinkle in my eye, a spring in my step and feeling almost as fresh as a daisy, rather than go through 15 minutes of agony whilst I coax my muscles back in to life. Stress is no longer an issue and I feel strong enough mentally to not having to worry as much about the future.

And why this turn-around? Its not because I have been miraculously cured - for Parkinson's there isn't one - yet. Its because I feel satisfied that the drugs combo that I am on is giving me the best quality of life I can get at this moment in time in terms of the Life/Parkie levodopa balance. I saw my consultant just before we went to Dorset and he is happy - he doesn't need to see me now for a whole year. A whole year - again, music to my ears - I'm a free woman! That is, until last week when my ever constant companion tapped me on the shoulder, whispered "Boo" in my ear and gave me the fright of my life.

We were back at the Dorset coast, same set of friends, different campsite - Durdle Door this time. Tim had a name change and became Tom for the week - same husband, but that's what this particular set of friends call him. We had had a wonderful week and my children looked more like ferral children for having been living in the great out doors. It was Elise's second week of camping with the exception of 24 hours home, as she had been away at a Guides camp in south Wales. We had with us for the week a friend of Elise's from school, she was a wonderful guest and can come camping with us any time. All nine children had got on very well, we had hardly seen them as they only returned from their day's roaming the camp site for food, drink and sleep. We were coming to the end of our stay - with our friends plus their kiddies having packed up and gone home, back to their respective lives, leaving us on our own until the Sunday. Tim had decided to go in to Dorchester for a change of scene as the weather wasn't really conducive for the long trek down to the beach. On the way back in to the camp site, Tim parked so that I could nip in to the camp shop to get a bag of ice, as our nice new three way fridge had given up before we even had a chance to use it in anger. And that was when it happened. One second, I was walking towards the shop, the next I saw the ground coming up at me, almost in a dream like sequence. I heard someone screaming - and then realised that the screaming was coming from me..... And I would like to add at this point that I am not a screamer - except in my sleep that is! I had fallen over on the road outside the shop, in full view of a lot of people, almost as if I had been a pin in a bowling alley. The inbuilt motor reflex of putting my arms out to break my fall had failed, and I had landed smack on to my face. There was blood pouring from my nose and on to my white top..... I was panicking that I had lost my two front teeth, and couldn't see where I was for the tears. In short, I was being a total Drama Queen about the whole thing. It seemed to me ages before Tim got out of the car and bundled me back in - everything was in slow motion. His first reaction was to go back to Dorchester, back to the hospital where I had spent 5 days exactly a year ago, but I managed to persuade him I was OK. We are both well aware of what to look out for with head injuries - we had been there when Antonia was ko'd at her 5th birthday party a couple of years ago.

Instead, I was taken to the ladies loo's so that I could get myself cleaned up and to calm down. I was in a state of complete and utter shock, it was my worst fear come true. I was always falling over as a child, constantly sporting scabby knees but on reaching my teens had grown out of it. It was the first time in all those years that I had fallen over - OK I've had a few stumbles now and then, but nothing like this. At this point I would like to say a huge thank you to the very kind lady who was in the loos with her grandchildren, and who came to my rescue. Elise was rather at a loss what to do with her hysterical mother and was probably somewhat shocked herself, whilst Elise's friend started ministering to my cuts and grazes. Antonia, bless her, was doing her very best to cheer me up by patting and stroking my back. I was terrified I had lost some teeth, but on close inspection they had survived intact! A relief, as I really wasn't relishing the prospect of my dear husband seranading me with "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth...." My nose, on the other hand, didn't seem to be broken but did have a rather nasty graze on it, as did my chin and both knees. My hands, meanwhile, got off lightly - the traitors - along with my brain, what there is left of it. The following day I went back to the scene of the accident and looked for evidence of anything that might have tripped me up, but didn't find anything. To say I am feeling somewhat of a fool is an understatement. And to cap it all my favourite pair of sunglasses were ruined beyond repair!

So, its now a week on. I had originally planned to stay a second week at Durdle Door on my own with Elise and Antonia whilst Tim went back to work, but decided against it. I have lost my confidence a bit since the fall, and having looked at the weather that the Dorset coast has had yesterday, I think we could have possibly lost the tent in to the bargain! Added to that, Elise was keen to get home, she had had enough of camping and wanted to sleep in her own bed for a change. I know precisely where she was coming from. After my rather spectacular fall, I had been struggling to get moving in the mornings. My scars and scabs have healed and almost disappeared apart from one scab on my chin, and a rather nasty infection on my right knee which so far has resisted antibiotics. I went back to the doctors today and am now on a different course of penicillin. I really do hope these ones do the trick, as I know that Tim is concerned about MRSA. (At this point I need to add that on my first trip to the Doctors at the start of the week, I saw a locum who remarked on my rather interesting combination of drugs - he said he would never have realised I had Parkinson's - yay!)

So, having always been rather irritated by Drama Queens, I can now say that this Drama Queen is off back to bed, hopefully for some sleep which has been elusive since we got back home.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Jim'll Fix It" (Part II)

For the third time this year, I find myself dedicating a blog, this time to someone I barely knew but for whom I had tremendous respect - known on PD Junction as "Pauli", of which he was a much loved and well-respected member. Even though I never had the opportunity to meet Paul in person, we had chatted a few times on-line and he very generously sponsored the 86 walk I did along the Kennet & Avon Canal during the Easter Holidays as well as providing me with some extremely sound advice. His wit and wisdom are missed by all on PDJ and our thoughts are with his family.

On reflection, I think the title of this post should be "Dawn Fixed It for us" - for reasons which will become obvious.

At last, the day had finally arrived when the Collinge family were going on an adventure which had been postponed from last September. Not only that I was to realise a dream that I had been harbouring since I was a child. It came about as a result of being in the right place at the right time last July - something which doesn't usually happen to me. Normally I'm either in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time. (Elise will be more than happy to testify when I tried my best to drop her off at a birthday party 24 hours too early a couple of years ago!)

It had all come about when I had the good fortune to meet Dawn, who at the time was visiting her relatives who lived in my village. She had taken her children to the village hall playing field to run off steam before they went home. During our conversation I told her about living with Parkinson's Disease, and how my husband in particular and our children had struggled at times to come to terms with the "life" sentence that had been handed down to our family unit through no fault of our own. At this point she mentioned that she works for a charity called "Fly2Help" where she and her colleague arrange a day to remember for children and their parents/carers who had similar experiences to ours, for a multitude of reasons. The aim of the charity is to provide a day like no other so as to promote a sense of well being and confidence whilst encouraging children to think outside the box. Its done by arranging with private owners of light aircraft or helicopters who are willing to volunteer to take the family out on a trip where they, quite literally, reach for the skies and see a world which they know from a totally different angle so leaving their troubles, quite literally, behind.

A date was set for a few months later for a helicopter ride and lunch courtesy of Fly2Help, shortly after the start of the new term in September. However, on hearing that I had been ill during the summer holidays, where I had walked the precarious tightrope between this world and the next, Dawn decided  to postpone the outing to Spring/Summer 2011. The illness had quite literally knocked the stuffing out of me, my weight had gone down to just below 8st, and it took me 5 to 6 months to properly recouperate.  To say I was disappointed at having to postpone the day is an understatement, but thankfully Tim and the girls weren't, as they were blissfully unaware of the surprise that had been organised for them.

So, at last, the day arrived - a year late, but very definitely well worth the wait. Dawn had phoned me the previous evening to confirm that the weather reports looked favourable, and that she also arranged for us to be taken out for a spin in a vintage Austin Healy. Having told Tim a few weeks before about the surprise (so that he could take a day off) I finally spilt the beans to the girls after Dawn's phone call, during a conversation where I asked Elise and Antonia what they would like to do the next day. Back came the usual responses - swimming, a walk in the woods, picnic lunch at the village hall playing field and so on. I started to suggest more "outlandish" ideas, and eventually told them what was in store. They were surprisingly subdued, but I think they thought I was joking to start with. Antonia, bless her, on being asked where she would like to go to in the helicopter, suggested Stockholm!

On our arrival at the airfield where the charity has its base (we were late - as usual) we met Dawn and her colleague Jonathan. Whilst filling out the required paperwork and listening to a safety briefing about the "Do's and Dont's", the owner of the Austin Healy arrived - and without further ado Dawn, Jonathan, Ian (the photographer) and I waved Tim and the girls off. Before too long though disaster struck as the car had got, quite literally, stuck on a speed ramp, with the result that the exhaust had come off bringing that part of the day to an abrupt end!

The helicopter arrived shortly after this, piloted by John and David. In a whirlwind of activity, we were soon strapped in, headphones on and take off cleared by the control tower. Up, up and away we went, waving frantically to Dawn, Jonathan, Ian and John who were left earthbound, and before too long the fields and lakes of the surrounding area looked more like pieces of patchwork, interspersed with villages looking like toy towns. Antonia, true to form, was busy chattering and giggling at how strange it all looked, whilst Elise and Tim took some really fantastic pictures for us to remember our flight. Travelling at 120 mhp (how fast) David flew us to familiar territory and pretty soon we were hovering over our house, where my poor ancient and battered car (aka "Harry") looked more like a forgotten remnant from Antonia's toy car collection, abandoned and left outside rather than put back in the box with the others. Over Antonia's school we flew, and onwards to the secondary school that Elise will be starting at in a few weeks time. It all looked so familiar, yet so strange, as we looked out at tiny people going about their daily lives whilst we flew over without a care in the world.

Back over the lakes and fields we flew, looking down at the marquees and staging erected, ready to receive the thousands due that weekend at the Womad festival (World of Music and Dance). Back to the airfield and before too long we were landing - back to reality, where the tiny world we had glimpsed at from the skies returned to normal, and we were back on terra firma, full of smiles and excitement, with a tinge of sorrow that the hour we had in the skies above had come to an end.

The day wasn't over though, and after a hearty lunch we were taken up to the control tower, from where we waved a sad farewell to John and David, whilst Antonia donned earphones ready to talk to other pilots who were calling in (and yes, given half a chance, she would have as well!). All too soon the day was coming to an end after we visited the airfield fire station and we were reluctantly saying goodbye to Dawn, Jonathan and Ian, whilst the girls were given one last surprise - a goody bag full of treats. Reluctantly we made our way back home, not wanting such a wonderful day to end whilst armed with stories to tell and photographs to show. It was, truly, a day that will live on forever in our memories.

The Collinge family would like to take this opportunity to thank Fly 2 Help and in particular Dawn, Jonathan and Ian, for arranging such a magical day for us. A huge thank you goes to the owner of the Austin Healy - with an apology from me as I have forgotten your name, sorry! We hope you got home in one piece.

And last, but by no means least, a tremendous thank you to John and David - without whom the day would not have happened! It was and will always be, a day like no other.