Tuesday, 28 April 2015

I'm not quite dead yet!

I really need to catch up on my posting and fill you in on stuff that happened last year.  The main stuff that happened was that we went on holiday twice (I know!  How lucky am I?!) and then I fell ill (which is still sort of ongoing).  In a nutshell, the illness hasn't been resolved and might well have been a cascade of things falling apart starting with a bout of surprise!mastitis in August that saw me heading off to A&E as it could have been septicaemia or cellulitis or an abcess, and it was 8pm so I had no choice.  They loaded me up with an antibiotic - Clindomyacin - and it cleared up within 3 days.  I understand now that Clindomyacin is a brutal drug, and I had to take one every six hours for 10 days straight.  That meant setting my alarm for 5am every morning, so I could take them at 5 and 11.  It made me feel a bit sick while I was taking them, and then my innards didn't feel that brilliant throughout September, but everything was okay after that.  Or so I thought.

On 21 November (so about 3 months after taking the antibiotics), I came home from art class with an absolutely wicked pain in my side, just under my left ribcage, and feeling as tired as if I'd been up all night.  I went to bed that afternoon and slept for 3 hours.

To cut a very, very long story short - I visited the doctor's and was initially diagnosed with Gastritis.  Had a blood test to check for anemia and a poo test for Helicobacter Pylori.  They both came back negative, which meant I didn't have a stomach ulcer.  I was put on Omeprazole and then Ranitidine for suppression of stomach acid in order to control my acid reflux.  Which they did but gave me really awful bowel disruption which resulted in me having to add Buscopan and Immodium into the mix.  I put myself on the BRAT diet for a couple of weeks (Banana, Rice, Apple sauce, Toast - all acid neutral foods that are easy to digest) and cut out all caffeine (no coffee, tea or chocolate) and alcohol, and then really started watching my fat intake and portion size.  I managed to lose a stone in weight (which is a good thing).

I came off the Omeprazole and Ranitidine because I couldn't face having to spend every single damn morning within running distance of the bathroom and I wasn't sure it was doing any good when the side effects were outweighing the supposed benefits.

Very, very slowly the stomach pains (which moved about, from side to side and around my belly button, and up and down my back) got less disabling which was good, because I spent the whole of November and half of December basically just sitting on the sofa, watching crappy telly, clutching a hot water bottle to my left hand side.  I didn't leave the house because I just felt too shitty.  It was awful.

Things started looking up by about February but then I had a flare-up so went back to the doctor's and asked for an endoscopy referral so we could see what was going on.  I had more blood taken to check for inflammatory markers and also Coeliac disease.  We also arranged to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound done to check there wasn't anything nasty happening with my ovaries that could be causing problems.

I had the endoscopy done on 16 March and they found no sign of Gastritis at all.  A biopsy of my stomach lining was taken to test for H Pylori (which I knew I didn't have) and that also came back negative.  What they DID find though was that I had a 5cm (which is medium-sized, apparently) hiatus hernia which, frankly, I think I've had for at least 20 years and most probably much longer than that.  So that was no help really.

The blood tests were negative (or, at least, the doctor hasn't called me back in to discuss them so I'm pretty safe to assume they found nothing), and the trans-vaginal ultrasound showed perfectly normal ovaries for an ancient crone of my age.  So I'm flummoxed really.

The discomfort is still there, even now, 5 months after it started but it changes throughout the day.  Some days it's barely there at all, others are more uncomfortable.  Fortunately it doesn't seem to bother me at night which is a blessing.  I've found that exercise helps a great deal so am walking for between 30-45 minutes every day (which is also good for keeping the weight off).  I've started doing mindfulness meditation that has definitely helped with the stress and managing the pain.  I'm drinking almost 3 pints of water a day, as well as herbal tea.  I'm taking various supplements which I think help, and Paracetamol when the discomfort gets tedious.  I'm staying away from Ibuprofen because that may have caused all this when I was taking it for its anti-inflammatory properties back when I had Mastitis, but I can't help thinking now that if it was the Ibuprofen, the fact that I've not touched any for 5 months would mean the problems would go away, and they haven't yet. 

I keep looking for the positive side of things which, trust me, is pretty hard to do when a medical condition turns out to be chronic and the doctors can't seem to find anything wrong.  At least I'm better than I was back in November and can now pretty much eat normally.  At least my bowels have finally settled back to normal (although the Buscopan still comes in handy every now and then).  At least I never once vomited (or even vomited blood, or pooed blood, which would have been terrifying).  I can now go out and socialise again, within reason (I had to miss several events in December that we'd had booked because I just didn't feel up to leaving the house), and I can probably start thinking about going on holiday somewhere (we had to cancel a week's holiday in Marrakech in December).

The fact that all these tests are negative are both a good and bad thing - good because if it was something as awful as cancer, then something would have been found by now, and I probably wouldn't be improving like I am, albeit glacially slowly - but bad because I still don't know what's going on.  At the moment all I can do is just trust that improvements will continue, possibly with occasional flare-ups or setbacks.  I can say I have been to some very dark places in the middle of the night, that have all ended up with a wooden box in a hole in the ground - it's been extremely stressful.

But I'm still here, I still wake up every morning if not with a song in my heart then with gratitude that I am still buggering on and with hope that I can do so for at least another 30 years or so.

And that's where I am at the moment.  I'm still painting and need to catch you up with that, and I will do a couple of posts about the holidays we had last year, before I fell ill, as they were brilliant.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Swifts arrive!

Long term readers of this frankly sporadic blog will know that I keep an eye out throughout the latter half of every April for the return of the Swifts, and they finally arrived this morning.  I saw two, very high up.  It made my heart soar!

I love these birds with a passion, their sheer exuberance as they chase each other across the sky, squealing with delight is something I look forward to every year without fail.

Although I didn't do a blog post about it (sorry), The Lovely Husband and I went to Florence for a week last summer and the whole place completely blew me away (I burst into tears the first time I saw the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral it was so overwhelming) but the thing I was absolutely not expecting and made my jaw hit the floor was the sheer number of Swifts tearing around the sky.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them - in the distance over the rooftops there was so many it was almost like watching a swirling tornado forming!  There were literally too many to count, and up until then, I thought the 50 or so we get here where I live was a lot!

I took video from our hotel window - they're tricky buggers to film but hopefully you get an idea of what it sounded like (check out the atmospheric Sunday morning bell-tolling) as well as seeing the gorgeous terracotta roofs and the blue, blue sky (sorry the quality's not that great!) -


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

End of an era. Probably.

So - I think the time has come.  It's time to put Venerable Bead to bed.

For those who don't know, I've been making jewellery for the last 12 years under the name of 'Venerable Bead' (yes, there's a website and everything...) and for the first five or so years things were going pretty well.  I was never really going to make enough money to make an actual living from it but it was encouraging to pull in a few grand every year.  People seemed to like my stuff and were willing to pay me a reasonable amount.  I enjoyed designing things, and resourcing interesting stones.  I learned how to fuse glass to make my own dichroic glass bits and pieces - it was fun.

Then the economy collapsed, and people reined in their spending.  My sales started nose-diving.  As my mother said (she also sells handicrafts and also suffered) 'we're not selling sausages', and you can't deny that she's right.  Sausages, we were definitely not selling.

What she meant was that jewellery (mine) and decoupaged items (hers) are not essential household items like food, mortgage payments, utilities, etc. and given the choice of being able to feed your kids or hang some trinket from your ear'oles, the sausages are going to win.

Things have slowly gone from bad to worse.  Last year I experienced my first ever craft fair where I sold nothing.  Not a single sausage (see what I did there?)  My mother tried to gee me along, saying motivating things like 'don't worry, the economy will pick up, it'll come back...'

But it hasn't.  And the reptilian Cameron pronouncing last week that we're heading for a second market crash hasn't exactly helped.  Thanks, Dave.

For example, the last three craft fairs I did I sold a grand total of £10, £16 and last Saturday saw me go home with the princely sum of £12 in my pocket.  Bearing in mind the pitch cost £16 and there was petrol costs involved, it means I'm actually paying to attend the fair.  Plus I haven't sold anything at all from the website in over a year, where I used to sell a few bits and pieces a month.

This is not good business practice.  Admittedly I don't do any advertising/marketing at all, but then I never did and always managed to sell stuff.

I was chatting to Janet, the organiser of the craft fair I attended on Saturday (which I've been doing regularly for about 7 years now) and she said that many craftspeople are giving up, and it's the first time she can remember that she doesn't have a waiting list of people waiting to get a table at her fair.

My heart has most definitely gone out of it.  If people don't buy your stuff then there's absolutely no incentive to continue adding to your stock, so you stop looking for new stones/beads/whatever and you stop designing.  No point making more if you're not selling any - it's just that much more to cart around. Plus I'm far more excited about painting and making art these days and, to be honest, selling more of that than my jewellery anyway.

So The Lovely Husband and I have come to a decision that this will be the last year for Venerable Bead.  We're committed to doing 6 more craft fairs in Alresford, Hants, which will take us up to December 2015, and then that's it.

God knows what I'm going to do with all my semi-precious beads and pearls - I'm thinking I'll probably eBay them in bulk next year.  And, of course, I have my lovely little kiln that I fuse glass in, but I think I'll hold onto that - I'd like to try and incorporate dichroic glass cabochons into my paintings somehow, and I'm quite keen to have a go at using powdered glass to make seascapes or other art pieces.

It's sad, but times change and events conspire to make you alter your plans, and the time has come to bid Venerable Bead a fond adieu....

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Welcome to our new feline overlords.....

So then, we have new cats.

We've known them for several years so they weren't strangers, but I suppose I'd better start at the beginning.

Back in, I think, about 2009, our friends J and S got three new kittens - Maggie and Prince (short-haired, black and white, brother and sister - Prince only had a stumpy tail because the mother had, weirdly, chewed it off when he was born), and Puffle (long-haired, all black except for white splodges, half-sister to Maggie and Prince).  At this time, J and S lived about half a mile away from us.  I popped down to visit and cuddle them  - I've got some photos somewhere, I'll see if I can find them....

Prince (first 3 photos)- with a black nose and no tail; Maggie (next 2), sleeping on her head; Puffle (preposterously cute) - May 2009

Adorable, non?

Anyway, in November 2011, J and S moved house with their 3 kids and 3 cats and came to live directly opposite me in our small close.  All the cats used to pop round for a visit (as, seemingly, all the cats in the close tend to do) primarily because, I think, we leave our upstairs back door open all summer long and the canny ones realise they can get in to eat our cats' food, but also because we feed the birds so there's always the opportunity of catching something feathered, and just over our back wall is woodland with all manner of enticing rodentry to hunt.  Plus we like cats and will always make a bit of a fuss if one comes to visit.

Sadly, though, not long after they moved here, Prince got into a tussle with a car and it didn't end well for him, which was very sad.  I loved his stumpy tail because he flicked it around as if he had a long tail attached and it amused me no end.  Farewell, Prince.

Moving more up to date - about May last year, one of J and S's kids decided that they wanted to get some kittens of their own, so got 2 identical stripy tabby kittens.  The idea was that the 2 remaining original cats - Maggie and Puffle - would just beat the kittens up a few times to show them who was boss, and they would all settle down to being a 4-cat household.

Maggie and Puffle had different ideas about this.

They basically flounced and made themselves voluntarily homeless, refusing to go back to J & S's apart from stopping by in the morning, eating some crunchies, hissing at the kittens, then leaving the house again.  J would occasionally ask me if we'd seen Maggie because they had not clapped eyes on her literally for days.

Eventually, Puffle started hanging round more and more and, it being summer and the back door being open, we didn't mind.  If you remember, we no longer had cats (Sylvester having departed in December 2013) so we didn't have any food.  I think she just wanted the company and somewhere warm and safe to come to during the day.  We'd kick her out at night when we went to bed, but she'd be at the back door crying to be let in as soon as we came down in the morning.

Maggie then realised that Puffle had latched on to a good thing and also started hanging out more with us.  They then realised (this would probably be about August/Sept time) that if they started pestering us while we were eating our dinner, they most likely would be left a small bit, which they would wolf down.  They were hungry.  I decided I couldn't let them go without so we relented and started putting down a small bowl of crunchies for them (not least so they'd get their noses out of our damn plates while we were trying to eat!)  We felt very guilty about this because, at this time, they were still J & S's cats, and I knew they missed them, and by feeding them we were encouraging them to stay with us rather than try and get along with the kittens and move back home.  Trouble is felines are very independent and stubborn, and once they'd made their minds up, there was just no way they were going have anything to do with those interlopers.

All the while this was happening I was keeping J updated about what was going on, not least so that he didn't worry and knew that his cats weren't far away and were being looked after, and, in the end, in October I think it was, we decided that this was all a bit daft and the cats had made their choice, so we might as well become their official minions.  J was sad about this but was grateful that we agreed to take them in rather than having them become vagrants just wandering around the close, scrounging food and getting in the bins where they could.  Also it's not as if they were being adopted a million miles away from J & S - we are only a few steps away, and can, in fact, should we so wish, wave to each other from our sitting room windows.  So very close indeed.  I was also aware that the winter was just around the corner and just couldn't deal with the thought of them being out overnight in the cold and the wet with no food, they needed taking care of properly.

So we now have 2 cats!  And although we said we weren't going to get any more cats once Sylvester had gone, I have to say the house feels SO much better and 'right' again.  They're hugely entertaining and you can tell they're sisters as they have a love/hate relationship with each other - they will groom each other frantically and, inevitably, it'll descend into a wrestle and a scrap.  And they're enormous love-bugs.  We've had 3 cats previously in this house - Suki, Sylvester and Pepper - and none of them were the lap cats that these two are, which is just lovely.

So, that's the story of how we got some new moggies, and I'll leave you a selection of photos of the two of them making themselves very much at home, thank you:

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Welcome, 2015

So, that's 2014 done and dusted.  As hinted in my last post I had a reasonably eventful year involving both the good (travel, art - both the making of and subsequent selling of, new cats) and the not-so-good (death of my youngest aunt, illness (mine) in various forms from August onwards), so a bit of a mixed bag.  But, in all honesty, a year is a pretty long time so that means there's ample opportunity for all manner of set-backs and brilliant stuff to happen.  I don't suppose my year has been all that much different to anyone else's in the scheme of things.

But what can I look forward to over the next 12 months?  Well, obviously, I can only expound on things that I know for certain are going to happen, the unknown is exactly that, unknown.  I'm seriously hoping that I can see the entire year out without any kind of major illness.  I seem to have a cycle of 7 years where nasty bodily things happen to me.  For example, in 2000 it was recovering from an operation to remove an ectopic pregnancy, and then a subsequent miscarriage; in 2007 I had a dreadful time with gallbladder removal which resulted in a very nasty infection, the investigation into which then resulted in pancreatitis - I reckon I took at least a year to recover from all that; then this year in August I had a sudden, nasty attack of Mastitis which needed some brutal antibiotics to sort out, but my insides didn't like the antibiotics and caused problems throughout September, all of which I was taking a lot of Ibuprofen for, which, I think, eventually caused the Gastritis that I'm currently very slowly recovering from which hit me on 21 November!  I mean, FFS!  Enough already!

But, as I say, I don't have a crystal ball to predict that kind of thing, except that I will be starting the walking/running again.  I gave up the running in mid-2014 as I got so disheartened that, seemingly no matter what I did, I was just not improving.  I had hoped, when I started, that I would've been taking part in races by now and perhaps doing half-marathons, but I found that, even after 18 months of taking my running relatively seriously, I STILL couldn't get a mile down the road without having to stop and walk for a bit.  I got seriously disgusted with myself and threw my running shoes into the cupboard and left them there in a fit of pique.

While I've been more than delighted that The Lovely Husband has taken to running so well, I found it extremely disappointing that I was (and will be) unable to join him, as I'm just not good enough.  So I've had enough time to reassess what I want from all this, and I've decided I will start again this month but without any specific goal (like a 5k, for instance) other than exercise and fitness and fresh air.

Last year we thoroughly enjoyed our trips to see various International Orchestras come and play in our nearest big town, and we've already booked for the 2015 season, so that should be fabulous.

We saw two terrific plays as part of the 2014 Chichester Festival season - 'Amadeus' with Rupert Everett as Salieri, and 'Taken at Midnight' with Penelope Wilton.  We also had tickets for a third - 'An Ideal Husband' with Patricia Routledge but my Gastritis wasn't good on the day of the performance and, to be honest, it had had not-brilliant reviews from the critics, so we gave that one a miss.  I shall see what the 2015 season has in store.  I can highly recommend the Chichester Festival, especially if you're in the south of England - tickets are often half the price of the West End, it's easy to drive to and parking is free.

I expect we'll go to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition this year - we've been every year now for the past 7 or 8 years.  Last year's was fun as we took my brother with us - we treated him to a day out in London and did the Summer Exhibition, the Dennis Hopper photography exhibition also at the RA, the Making Colour exhibition at the National Gallery, the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery, with lunch at our favourite Mexican restaurant, Wahaca, in the middle.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day - I love my little brother a lot and really don't get to see him as much as I would like, so this was a huge treat.

I need to research to see what other art exhibitions are coming along this year - the Anselm Kiefer at the end of 2014 completely blew me away and was utterly inspirational, so it would be fantastic to see more stuff like that.

Some more travel in 2015 would be very lovely indeed.  2014 was going to be the year of three holidays - Florence in June, Copenhagen in August and Marrakech in December - but sadly, due to my fecking Gastritis and the sudden illness of the mother of one of our travelling companions, we had to cancel, which was a huge shame but really couldn't be helped.

I've signed up for next term's art classes, which have become a hugely important part of my life.  I produced quite a few paintings last year, most of which have been put up for sale on my Artfinder shop - there would have been more but, again, the Gastritis put paid to that.  In fact, the Gastritis effectively ruined the last two months of 2014 for me, as I literally couldn't do much more than sit on the sofa in my dressing gown, clutching a hot water bottle to my painful side, shove Paracetamol down my throat and eat barely anything while watching old black and white Hollywood films to take my mind off the fact that I was obviously growing a cancerous tumour and would be dead in a week.

But, as I said, I'm miraculously going to survive and am slowly improving enough to start thinking about beginning my next painting and sorting out a dedicated art website for myself, so that's obviously on my list for this year.

In April, TLH has signed up to run his first full marathon, down in Brighton, which should be tremendously exciting.  He has signed up for other races throughout the year but the Brighton Marathon is the biggie.

And I think I've chuntered on long enough on this post so I'll shut up for now.  I don't do New Year Resolutions but there are some things I'd like to achieve - have you got anything you want to do this year?

(You may notice I briefly mentioned about 'new cats' - remind me to tell you all about that...)

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

I know, I know - it's been far too long since I was here.  May, in fact.  I think I got a bit sick of the sound of my own voice blathering into the abyss about nothing in particular - I got bored with myself.

Stuff happened, as it always does - travel to foreign climes was attempted and succeeded (Florence in June, Copenhagen in August) and failed (Marrakech in December), visits to the beach accomplished, lots of paintings made and sold (hooray!), new cats acquired as well as illnesses (mine, the latest of which is ongoing and slowly improving but did manage to scupper the trip to Marrakech).

I shall try to do a bit more blogging next year but can't promise anything, but in the meantime, if there's anyone out there still accidentally getting my blog in their feed, I wish you a very happy Christmas/Yule/Channukah, etc., etc., and I'll hopefully see you all again in 2015!

Monday, 5 May 2014

SwiftWatch 2014

Every year I keep a weather eye out for the return of the Swifts and this morning spotted my first two, swiftly followed (see what I did there?) by several more over the course of the day.  By this evening there were small gangs of half a dozen screeching in delight around the houses.  I love this time of year.