Pink Champagne and tripe!

It is a freezing cold day here in London. For the first time this winter, we have to scrape ice off the car although we are told by Liza, one of our car companions, that this has happened on a previous day although we were obviously too snugly ensconced at home when the general population was going about its day. First of all, I decide not to go paddling as I don’t feel well. It’s been a busy week and I think I have just overdone it. These days, enjoyment and work equally come at a price. Mr Mason looks so sad when I tell him I am going to stay in bed for a while longer that I relent and get myself ready at the speed of light (or an equivalent land speed). Today, Dog is in the car with us and he has no idea where he is going or what he is going to do but just being with us makes him happy. We also enlarge the pack with Liza and Chesca which makes him even happier. He controls himself all the way to the London Regatta Centre and does not make any unpleasant early morning smells to remember him by. We let him out of the car for a quick run and then back in to dream away while we go paddling.

Today we are hosting our friends, Pink Champagne, who have come all the way from Bournemouth to go out with us today. As we are in the process of organising our trip to Venice, we stand about in clumps, discussing hotels, flights and funding. One of our team tells us how she thought she would book a b&b and that she had found a good one until the host, Massimo, proudly told her about his Murano glass dildo at which point she thought she might choose somewhere else.

I am not feeling great so I am allowed to sit at the back of our very full boat and paddle as and when I feel up to it. With such a full boat, we are reminded constantly to brace the boat when we stop. If we put our paddles flat out to the side, it makes us much more stable and less likely to capsize which, I think, it a jolly good thing! At half time, when most members change sides in the boat, I am let off to go and walk Dog. Not everyone likes to or can change sides. Those who have had mastectomies sometimes find it hard to paddle on their surgery side, especially if they have had lymph nodes removed, although there is a fair bit of research that shows dragon boating helps with lymphoedema as well as general fitness and a sense of well-being. Walking Dog allows me to watch our team, Wave Walkers, from the land and it’s great to see how they get a burst of speed on. The key is paddling in time with each other which is not as easy as you might think. Technique helps drive the boat along but paddling in time is so important.

After paddling, we go to the Chinese restaurant on top of the London Regatta Centre for dim sum. A huge treat after a morning out on the water. From the outside, the restaurant looks deserted but once we climb the stairs, we see it is, in fact, bursting with diners. Many of them are Chinese which is always a good sign. The waiter who is serving us seems incredibly grumpy and tells us off for trying to move the tables or re-arranging the place settings. We think he may have trained at Wong Kei’s, a legendary Chinese restaurant in Soho where the waiters are always brusque to the point of rudeness. Ciara, our coach, offers to order for us all and a couple of us look through the menu to say which dishes we would particularly like. One of our party is vegetarian and cannot tolerate wheat which poses a slight problem but dishes are found which fit the bill, especially a fish congee which looks delicious. I spy tripe on the menu. I have to confess here and now, I am very fond of tripe. I haven’t tried it with vinegar which is a very Northern way of eating it but I do like it with a parsley sauce and what I call ‘institution potatoes’. These are potatoes, preferably floury, which are just peeled and boiled as in those eaten in institutions like hospitals or basic cafes. With tripe and parsley sauce, they are a must. However, we are in a Chinese restaurant so the tripe comes with a ginger sauce. Ciara tells me her partner, Eddy, really likes tripe so she orders 2 portions. As he sits down, he confirms he really dislikes tripe and for the rest of the meal, all the other people in our party except Mr Mason and I disrespect the tripe in a most heinous way. It is a little chewy but the sauce is delicious. A few people are tempted to try it but I can tell from their faces that this is not the most delicious thing they have ever eaten. Ah well, more for Mr Mason and I. Somehow, we manage to plough our way through the amazing amount of dishes on our tables without exploding or collapsing insensible on the floor. It is a fabulous meal. The few left-overs are packed up in takeaway boxes and given to our guests for their trip home. Sadly, they do not want to take the left over tripe and we cannot take it for Dog as he would not fare well on the ginger sauce.

The following day, I send Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, an email asking if he will provide us with some funds to help us get to Venice next year. As we are the only cancer survivors dragon boat team representing London in Vogalonga, we feel it would be fitting for London to help with at least some of the cost given the amount of positive publicity we could generate. The photo opportunities would be brilliant once we fit the head and tail and have matching kit. A diagnosis of cancer often goes hand in hand with very restricted income so getting to Venice next year will really stretch some of us financially but we are determined to take on this challenge. So come on Boris! With support from the London Mayor we could really shine at Vogalonga and provide a wonderful example of how London supports its citizens.

No Ben, just Jerry

Tuesday of this week is a difficult day. As I am getting dressed, a man calls about my dishwasher. It has been playing up for some time, deciding it will not wash things properly on some occasions and on others, doing a sterling job. Putting a dishwasher cleaner in, it is found out, however, and we know it is not getting up to the right temperature. Time for a new dishwasher. I do the research and then find the model I want online. I order it and get a confirmation of both purchase and delivery. Half way into my trousers, the man calls to talk to me about my dishwasher. He waxes lyrical about what a fabulous model it is and tells me about all its features, how many place settings it can accommodate and how the delivery men are built like tanks and can move anything. This leads him into a fairly lengthy reminiscence of the fact that his parents have an American style fridge-freezer but that he does not. He is saving up for one. Well done. He eventually gets round to the ‘good news’ that we can have all our repairs done AND if it cannot be repaired, they will buy me a new machine. Jolly good. But it comes at a cost. I thought it might. We already have one year’s warranty on the machine. He says that will only cover if we have a bad machine. Bad machine? He also advises me not to take a baseball bat to the machine if it doesn’t work. This is not something I was planning to do but if he will give me his address, I will take one round to him. Eventually I persuade him that really, I am not going to take out insurance to cover something I am already insured for. I feel him slump.

Once dressed, I am off hot foot to the dentist. Some time ago I broke a tooth and my new dentist is going to fit something to cover it. Today I am prepared for her to take an impression of my tooth but not for the preparation she has to do. This involves a very painful injection into the muscle at the side of my jaw followed by a lot of drilling. I am hoping this will not leave me like a drooling fool. After this I then have the impression made which is something I hate. I am always concerned they will not be able to get the impression out and I will be stuck, gagging, while it fills my mouth. But hurrah! She can remove it, leaving me with green stuff all round my mouth. Mr Mason has come to meet me at the dentist’s surgery and we then set off for our friend Jerry’s funeral. It involves catching tubes and buses and I have not a clue where we are going so have to rely on Mr Mason who is not known for his route planning.

Sitting on the bus, 2 young men get on and sit behind me. One of them has a beautiful waxed moustache which I am longing to take a photograph of but feel shy. Their conversation revolves around which bands they like (“I’m not listening to metal any more. I’m into punk now”) and who is the best tattoo artist. The waxed moustache young man has a favourite and he does appear to be covered in them. With his moustache and slim frame, there is something very dandy-ish about him. He gets off the bus and goes straight into a tattoo parlour and I wonder if he is going to get another tattoo or just have a cup of tea with his favourite artist.

Of course, having worried about being late for Jerry’s funeral, we arrive with heaps of time to spare and sit in the garden of the crematorium reading our books and watching people arrive. Jerry has survived cancer several times before but this time it gets him good and proper. Mr Mason has known Jerry since 1971 and they still used to reminisce about their fabled World Tour which involved 4 of them driving through Europe and down to Italy one summer, the driver only having passed his test the week before. I first met Jerry in 1979 so we have a good few years of friendship between us and I know he has many friends but I am not prepared for the numbers who arrive for his funeral. It looks as though a couple of coach loads have disembarked and then people just keep arriving. There are so many, someone from the crematorium has to conduct a kind of crowd control to get people moved back so there is some room for the hearse to arrive. And still people keep arriving. Image

The service is very much Jerry. Some friends get up to speak about him and tell stories and it is as though he is sitting at the back with a pint in his hand, listening with a smile on his face. How he would have liked a gathering like this. We leave the chapel to the sounds of the Radetzky March and after some milling around, we find our way out and onto another bus. We are pleased to see the service for Jerry has been in such a top class establishment.


I was not aware there was a Cemetary of the Year award but there you are. This one won one. At the wake, we struggle through the crowds and I manage to find a seat where I chat to 2 lovely men from Hastings. They show me a photograph of their static caravan. There is a display of photographs of Jerry through the ages and with his many friends and there is a lot of laughter and remembering going on. As usual, pain and fatigue overwhelm me and we decide to head home, knowing that we have 3 buses to catch. On the way to the bus stop, I stop and buy some necessary restorative chocolate to see me home. Everyone on the bus behaves beautifully and we manage to synchronise ourselves so that we catch one bus seamlessly after another. I cannot claim credit for this. Standing at the bus stop, we see the most beautiful sunset.


It seems a fitting end to a difficult day. Jerry was a very good friend, a funny, intelligent man and he will be much missed by us and by hundreds of his friends. Real friends, not the Facebook kind. It was a pleasure to know you, Jerry, and we will really miss you and your dry wit. Wherever you are, I hope both the craic and the beer are good.


Talkin’ ’bout my girl

While writing my last blog post, I find the writing is not singing to me. Do you ever have that feeling when you are writing something that there is something bigger, better and more dazzling that grabs your attention even more? Something your keyboard or pen is crying out for you to attend to? Well, this is how it is for me. Mindfulness is something to be written about, enjoyed and shared but there is something way more exciting buzzing around my brain.

On the way home from our mindfulness session, sitting on the bus, cold and weary, I check my phone and see an email from my daughter. As some of you may know, she lives in Bangkok with her partner and has been there since the end of July 2013. The email is entitled ‘Surprise!’ and tells me she and her partner are now engaged. I am immediately happy and when the woman sitting next to me on the bus gets up, I am able to get Mr Mason to sit next to me and share the news. Big smiles all round. Later on, I start blogging about the mindfulness course but my heart isn’t in it. I want to sing and shout about my girl and some of the fabulous memories I have of her.

How can I begin to describe her? Born in 1984 and blessed with the most beautiful brown eyes, from the beginning Miss Mason is clearly going to be a clever and witty child. Sleep during the day? No! Aged only a few weeks she decides sleeping is for wimps and wants Mummy to entertain her. It’s quite hard to entertain a baby who has been on the planet for such a little time. We spend all our time together, however, and as soon as she can speak, she decides she will never stop. One of her first words is ‘Bird!’ which she repeats so often I feel I could strangle her. The first couple of hundred times are cute but after that, it just gets wearing. At nursery school she decides she is not a child but an adult and stands with the nursery staff, talking about ‘the children’. Climbing stairs she has a mantra which is repeated for each step – ‘still a bit early’ she says, impersonating a very old lady. She loves to ride on my back as I crawl around the sitting room and is the snuggliest and cuddliest child you can imagine, always ready with a crooked smile when you bring the camera out.

I have vivid memories of her riding her first bike, complete with stabilisers, down the hall on her 4th birthday. She does it Lady Godiva-style as it’s ferociously hot and she is happy to be photographed. This will come out at the wedding, I am sure. She makes me a book for Mother’s Day at school and it lists the things I like, complete with illustrations. ‘My mum likes going to old houses and castles’ complete with a drawing of a castle. You get the idea.  After this I can only remember what was on the last page of the book which was obviously where my dislikes were to be listed. It was the truthful but somewhat humiliating ‘My mum doesn’t like it when my dad spends too long in the toilet’. Sigh. I know teachers are used to hearing such truths but it’s a trifle embarrassing at parents’ evening to sit in front of the teacher and front that one out. And no, there was no trip to the fun fair in the teacher’s car, no matter how many times Miss Mason says there was.

High school brings new challenges, including leaving early in the morning to arrive on time. A lovely lady, both deaf and dumb, who lived nearby used to see Miss Mason on her way to school. One weekend, we are going past and she comes up to us to communicate she is worried to see Miss Mason on her own early in the morning and that something bad may happen to her. She does this by putting her hands around her own neck in a pantomime of strangulation. We understand what she says but Master Mason, on being asked if he understands says “Yes, She says if she sees her again she will kill her” in a bored voice. If Master Mason ever gets married there will be a whole blog about his shenanigans.

Clarinet playing at school comes easily after long and repeated playing of the recorder at school. I still cannot listen to the Radetzky March without thinking of Miss Mason. Clarinet playing ceases after Miss Mason leaves the clarinet at a bus stop. She takes martial arts classes and graduates with a black belt and a fracture to her arm. Ouch. Apparently there is an audible noise as it breaks. Some horrid girls try to mug her one evening and she leaves the worst of them on the pavement having taken her legs out from under her. The mean girl cries and Miss Mason is left unharmed. Her teenage years are stormy as she is possessed of a strong will which outstrips her young years. She is a kind girl, a strong and loyal friend and has tremendous compassion accompanied by a good grasp of business and a ‘no shit’ attitude. Managing a bar in the City, (after she has left school, obviously) she works all the hours there are to improve the business. After a rowdy Friday session, one patron decides to leave without paying the bill which has run into several hundred pounds. Miss Mason tracks him down to his place of work and encourages him over the telephone to come in and pay it off in instalments. Faced with an iron-willed ‘you don’t want to see me when I’m angry’ Miss Mason, his belligerence disappears. Wisely. Other joys are the weekend Nigerian evenings put on by an events organiser who always fails to provide sufficient security. Miss Mason has to step up and provide some herself – all 5′ 4″ of her. It’s scary work but she does it and never has to use the black belt skills.

Since spending her 16th birthday in the Taman Negara park in Malaysia, Miss Mason has the travel bug good and proper. She takes 9 months out and travels from Beijing down through China, travelling through Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore before going to Australia. Her travels sound brilliant and she later goes to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and, I believe, the United States but the times and duration are jumbled in my chemo-addled brain. The main thing is she loves travelling and seeing new places. Before going to Beijing she learns enough Mandarin to phone and book hotel rooms. A friend checking her booking says the only thing the hotel doesn’t know is what time she is going to arrive. The bar management is getting to be a pain. She is not supported well by the company directors so she decides to leave and go to Thailand to train as a scuba instructor. Did I mention Miss Mason is brave? She trains and is then asked to teach at the school she trained at. She does this for a while and then moves to a different island, teaching and not drowning her pupils, even though some do not swim and will not even try. Her hair is bleached blonde and she looks fabulous and fit.

After 18 months, she comes back to England and, never one to turn down a challenge, takes on the ailing pizza business owned by her partner’s parents in the North East. Again, she works very long hours alongside her partner and, six months into this project, I am diagnosed with cancer. Telling her was very difficult. On a rare weekend away, she comes to the house with her partner on the way to a party and I have to burst her bubble by telling her about my diagnosis. A week later, we are getting ready to go to the hospital for my formal diagnosis and the doorbell rings. Miss Mason is standing there having flown down from Newcastle to come to the hospital with us. My heart still swells with love as I remember that moment and her overwhelming love and kindness. During my treatment she frequently comes to visit, to cheer me up, accompany me on many trips to hospital and just be with me. A few months into my treatment, she returns home after a visit to find her partner’s mother has been taken seriously ill. Eventual diagnosis reveals she has an extremely rare illness called Bickerstaff’s encephalitis. She is in a coma for weeks and comes perilously close to death. Miss Mason now has 2 sick parents to deal with but puts in the hours at work, dealing with cheeky suppliers, a man claiming to be Alan Shearer‘s brother, uppity staff and a pair of young lads who run into the pizza shop shouting “Dick! Dick! Dick!” and exposing themselves. When ousted, they press their penises up against the glass of the shop in an attempt to do something but what, we are not sure.

Happily, Mrs Safaie, she of the Bickerstaff’s encephalitis, recovers as do I. Time for a move to Thailand, then, thinks Miss Mason and off she goes with her partner, deciding to undertake an intensive Thai language course while she is there. We are full circle. Her partner decides he will put a ring on it, as the popular Beyonce song said, which leads to the email read on the bus in Fulham.

I cannot give her any greater testimonial than she is full of love and is so deserving of love. This I think she has found and I am so very happy for her. Miss Mason – I love you lots.


The Sound of Silence

I realise I was so tired when I last blogged that I didn’t even think of a title. Sigh. But today is all about being mindful. A whole day of it. I cannot think what a whole day will be like but Mr Mason and I duly set off, allowing just over an hour to get to the venue. Alas, the tube station is closed and myriad underground lines are not running, meaning getting to our mindfulness class is a lot more bother than we have anticipated. After 3 buses, we arrive at the aptly named Haven and stumble through the doors to find 30 or so people lying all over the floor, all in various stages of mindful relaxation. We pick our way nimbly (ha ha) through the assorted masses, trying not to step on anyone’s tail, and find ourselves a couple of chairs to begin our practice. Once the initial session is over, we are able to find ourselves a small space each on the floor where we lie cheek by jowl with our fellow students, some of whom find it easier than others to heave themselves vertical. We are told our day is to be spent in silence as far as possible which is something I had not expected. I quite like the idea although I also like the idea of chatting with my co-conspirators.

We practise being mindful whilst lying down, sitting in chairs, sitting on the floor, standing, stretching and, finally, walking. At first, we walk slowly, measuring each step carefully and concentrating on every small movement whilst simultaneously trying not to crash into each other. Gradually, we are to increase our pace whilst trying to maintain our mindfulness. The faster I go, the less mindful I feel I am as I become more and more aware of my environment. It is also quite difficult to walk with any speed as there are so many of us. After quite a bit of walking about, we break for our silent lunch. We have been asked not to read, text or look anyone in the eye during the day, all of which is really quite demanding. Once I have mindfully eaten my lunch, I feel like a fractious teenager forbidden to go to see the latest popular music combo. I wriggle around on the sofa, sighing and resting my chin on my hand. Being silent for any length of time is so difficult. Without access to books or other stimulation, I feel so bored so I attempt sleep but it does not really work. Thinking back to interesting conference stories – an injection given by the light of the patient’s mobile phone – helps a little.

After lunch – well, perhaps we should run a competition to get the answer but I think you and I both know that we do more mindfulness practice. We finish our day just before 4pm and Mr Mason and I hare out of there attempting to make our bus journeys home as swift as possible in order to let Dog out who will be positively crossing his legs by this point.

And there this blog post will end. I have something much more exciting to write about… Keep watching!

I am spending a few days at the NCRI conference in Liverpool which is fascinating but also exhausting. So many new faces, new ideas, new inventions and new research to absorb. Charities I have never heard of, information sources I did not know existed. It’s all exciting stuff. We are situated in the BT Convention Centre near Albert Dock which is right next to the Liverpool big wheel and my hotel. The weather has been less than clement so the proximity of the venue to the hotel is particularly pleasing. It also allows nipping back for things forgotten and a little nap.

My nemesis from the un-nameable charity is here and I speak to a few people about the negative response I had when I offered my services. I ponder whether there was an evidence base in existence which said people should not be involved in cancer research less than 2 years from diagnosis. One person chokes on his drink and says “You can ask – I’m not going to” which implies he finds her fearsome and perhaps a tad unwelcoming, too. But the event is glorious in the amount of high-quality research being delivered and the stunning array of experts giving talks. There are posters to view and I spend some time talking with one of the authors of a poster about anticipatory medicine in end of life care. As this was certainly delivered when my mother died, I am interested in how the health professionals deal with this question and ask what kind of language they use, knowing very well the issue we are discussing. I am told there is not a single language and they all talk about things differently which leads to many opportunities for confusion and misunderstanding. At this stage of life, I would want the language to be clear and concise. The study has also looked at the feelings of the staff who are having to make these kinds of decisions and what worries them. Mostly, it is about getting it right.

People at the conference are varied, too. There is a definite group of younger people which is great. So many are, and I phrase this carefully, well past retirement age and enjoying the comforts of crimplene and stretch waistbands. I see a couple of Scouse brows between the hotel and the conference centre but on Monday night, there is a proliferation of them as Jessie J is playing in the other half of the conference centre. From about 5pm, a straggle of girls arrive and queue for entry. It rains and gets darker and they are joined by more girls, mostly early teens and some with parents, heads down, shuffling along with hands in pockets, unwilling to be plunged into an evening of teen adulation. Besides which, there is a double episode of Coronation Street on tv and possibly a new drama.

I find some time to meet 2 friends at the Tate Gallery on Tuesday afternoon. It is good to get out of the conference atmosphere for a while and really therapeutic to see them.

By Wednesday, I am truly exhausted. I go to a brilliant talk about depression and cancer, given by truly top international names in the field. One speaker is introduced as American and he quickly corrects this to Canadian. Ouch. Then I am out and back to the hotel to collect my bags. The young lad who is trying to find mind from the deluge of bags in his back office (his words, not mine) is a little spotty around the neck, looks slightly damp and has an amazingly creased suit jacket. But, after asking what they look like (one is black, one is red – does that help?), he eventually finds them and I am off to find my taxi has not arrived but in time to purloin one dropping someone off. At the station, waiting to be allowed onto the platform, I see Cherie Booth/Blair walking along, chatting to another woman. I think for a moment whether I should whip my camera out and take a snap but decide not to. She is wearing slingbacks and I see she does not have good ankles. Miaow.

On the train, a young lady gets on with the now obligatory Scouse brows and large plastic rollers in her hair. I wonder where she is going. I am now going to settle back and look out of the window, peering into people’s back gardens which, as we all know, is one of the bonuses of travelling by train.

You never know who is listening in

I do like this time of year. I like the cold, the days getting shorter, blustery winds and leaves falling. Oh yes, and the nights drawing in. One of the benefits of this is being able to look into other people’s houses as they are lit from within. I know, I am incurably nosy. Telling one of my friends about this little hobby (or perhaps hobby is too strong a word and makes me sound really weird), he asks what sort of things I see. It’s all very mundane, really. The interior, so I can see what sort of furniture and decor people have.  It’s just interesting to see people going about their daily lives. And before I sound like a serial killer in the making, I only indulge in this pastime as and when the opportunity presents itself – from a car, a bus or train.

Today is a good day for spying. I am off to Liverpool for a 3 day conference and people watching a-plenty. I travel First Class on the train because otherwise it means taking a bus service part way through my journey which sounds hellish. I am looking forward to breakfast on the train with plenty of piping hot coffee. Alas, not today. They can only manage a rather sulky young woman who hands out breakfast boxes which consist of a squashed and overly-sweet chelsea bun, a biscuit and a miniscule packet of dried fruit. Oh, and we get coffee in a paper cup. And no topping up of the said coffee. Given that the weather is cold, coffee or any other hot beverage of your choice, is essential. I am miffed and a bit grumpy by the time I arrive at Stockport. It is freezing and there is a 20 minute wait for the train to Liverpool. A young man sitting next to me is re-joined by his friend who is immediately asked if he has been to have a shit. In case you are on the edge of your seat wondering, no, he hasn’t. He has been doing something else I couldn’t catch.

I do love other people’s conversations, as well. One of my favourites was a man at an airport, talking to someone, presumably his wife/girlfriend/partner, on the phone. It may have been in Amsterdam, for those of you who like to hear every detail. He was having a full-on shouting match with someone and it didn’t just last a minute or two. No, he shouts obscenities into the phone for about 10 minutes and Mr Mason and I are so intrigued by his behaviour, we follow him, like the ninjas we are. Alas, our flight is called and he is not on it so we don’t get to properly make sense of his argument which we were hoping to do. I am always slightly intrigued by people who have loud conversations and/or full-on arguments with people on a mobile phone. I quite understand how valuable the mobile phone is and indeed, make use of one myself, but I cannot imagine Mr Mason would conduct himself in such a way that I think the only recourse is to yell at him whilst on my mobile in a public place. I am not short of incidents or people I find irritating but it’s the public display I am both interested in and repelled by.

I was once told by a friend that she was in a queue at a supermarket and the man behind her was holding a long and very loud conversation on his mobile. She turned round to ask him if he would speak more quietly to see he was, in fact, talking to a can of orange Fanta. She turned around again and let him get on with it.

My colleagues at the conference are plentiful and I am not hampered by knowing many so I will have sufficient time to scrutinise them and do a bit of eavesdropping. Do be careful if you are planning to have a major row on your mobile in the Liverpool area. You never know who may be listening.