The one where my hat blows off

Oh, blast karma and all its repercussions. Having been very bad last week, I make amends by Doing Good Things but it doesn’t seem to help. My good deed is to rescue someone’s phone as it lies forlornly in the middle of the road. Luckily it hasn’t been squashed and I slip it into my pocket with the intention of going through its contacts in order to locate the owner. When I get home I find that it is sensibly password protected which means I will have to take it to the police station in the morning. Sometime in the afternoon, the lost phone rings and I find I am speaking to its owner. She agrees to come to the house the following day to collect it. In the evening, we go to meet friends at a local Indian restaurant. We used to throw lavish dinners for friends on the Saturday before Christmas with every course specially sourced, from the smoked salmon at the beginning to the specialist chocolates at the end. Sometimes they were vegetarian extravaganzas, sometimes they were carnivorous feasts and sometimes it was a bit of both. After last year’s trials, we did not throw a dinner as I was just getting over my final chemotherapy treatment. This year we decide to go out with friends and very lovely it is, too. The restaurant is bustling and we receive very good service and excellent food amongst some of our most beloved friends. The waiter even gives us a Christmas card each and no-one says Bah Humbug!

On Sunday, the lady of the phone comes to the door and I hand it over with a smile while she is extremely grateful and insists on giving me chocolates to say thanks. I am just glad to reunite them as I know if I lost my phone, I would feel bereft as it contains so much information. Having done A Good Thing, I am hopeful that karmic balance will have been restored, but no. The parcel we sent to Miss Mason in Thailand has not arrived. Mr Mason calls the Post Office who are tracking it internationally and to whom he has paid an extravagant amount. I am Skyping with Miss Mason when I hear him swear loudly and slam the phone down. It appears our parcel has been sitting in Belfast for the last week, neither going to Bangkok nor coming back to London. I now have to go and get a special form. We are not sure whether we will get the parcel back or whether we have to claim insurance for its contents and start all over again. This is very bad news as we know it is already difficult to have Christmas in a hot country while the rest of the family sits by the fire opening Christmas presents. I gear myself to go to the Post Office and get the said form. To quote, the weather outside is frightful. It rains hard and the wind blows so that it whistles through the front door but I have to go out. I get soaked and the wind blows so hard it blows my hat off. Luckily I catch it before it blows away. At this point, Miss Mason will be sorry as she thinks the said rain hat makes me look mad but I am glad I caught it.

At what point will Karma be satisfied? How many more bad things will happen before things become equal again? I shall obviously have to be on my very best behaviour rather than my usual Minnie the Minx persona as my friend Ms Marsden calls it. With this in mind, here is a festive photo to warm your hearts.


Dog is rather unhappy with the placing of the tree as in order to put it in the bay, we have to move his bed a few inches to the left which is not good, according to Dog rules. It does allow him, however, to take full advantage of the fire when it is lit.


Leaving you with that image, I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas, no matter which corner of the globe you find yourselves in and I look forward to sharing more exploits with you in the new year.

The one where Karma gets me

Today I go for a meeting at the Health Research Authority to look at ethics in health research with a group of other patients/people/non-professional researchers. I am a patient, I am a person and I am a non-professional researcher in that I am a co-applicant on several research applications. I cannot remember how many but that’s chemo-brain for you. Anyway, I have agreed to sit on a panel to read papers on ethics and give my perspective. Stuff like Incidental Findings – where researchers find out more about you than they expected eg when you have a scan as part of a research trial. The detail that goes into the trial design is incredible, as it should be.

I arrive at the venue which is surprisingly swish and hi-tech behind it’s rather drab exterior and immediately think of my friend, Claire, who I know is doing something senior in the NHS so I text her to ask if she works in the building. She sends one back, confirming she does. Is she free for lunch? She’s out of the building all day. Booo. We’ve been trying to arrange a lunch for ages. Still, there is always next year. I go to the meeting room and immediately someone says “I know you!” and reminds me of a workshop I ran with colleagues that she attended. More than that, a man arrives who was also at the workshop. There are only 2 others attending and one of them knows several people I know and the other woman discovers she is sitting on a committee with the woman who recognised me when I arrived. It’s making the world very small. On the tube home, we sit and discuss this very topic when, lo and behold! A friend I haven’t seen since I was first ill gets on the train and we exclaim and hug and then spend the next few minutes catching up. It’s an extraordinary day.

The following day I meet up for a coffee with my lovely Italian friend who tells me that her recent brain scan had an incidental finding of lesions in her brain. Bloody cancer. Never happy with what it’s taking it always wants more. Her lesions can hopefully be zapped with a cyber knife but it’s still a terrible blow. And another bit of synchronicity given I was talking about incidental findings just the day before.

Yesterday I have an accident. I am not sure how to describe it without causing dreadful offence to anyone who reads the blog but feel it should be told. Bear in mind that Mr Mason and I are liberals with marked socialist leanings but that we occasionally like to break out and do really silly things. So. We are making gingerbread and biscotti to give to our friends on Saturday night. I leave Mr Mason to continue the baking while I go to have a shower. When I come down, Mr Mason says something along the lines that he has been trying to create a gingerbread Hitler but it didn’t go well. He was struggling with shaping the holocaust author. Mr Mason then has to go to the supermarket to buy things and, while he is gone, I think I will surprise him by adding gel colouring to the gingerbread men, making them look like the Fuhrer so it will amuse him and we can have fun biting his head off. I busy myself with creating tiny toothbrush moustaches and giving the gingerbread men big smiles. I then have to put the biscotti and the non-Nazi gingerbread men into cellophane bags so I can add ribbon to them. I add ribbon to 2 packs and curl it beautifully. I think I will use a different colour ribbon to the other packs and reach down to pick up the ribbon which is on the floor. At this point, I should explain we have chairs in our house which are over 100 years old and, it is at this point, despite many remarks to Mr Mason about glueing the joints of the chairs, that my chair decides it has had enough and there is a loud cracking sound as I am tipped back swiftly, my head banging hard on the edge of a wooden CD rack behind me and leaving me stunned and thoroughly roughed-up on the floor.

After I pick myself up, somewhat carefully as a lot of me hurts, including my left lymphoedema arm, I phone Mr Mason to advise that he should come home early but his phone goes straight to answerphone. I then have a choice of offspring – Master Mason who is only a few miles away, or Miss Mason who is many thousands of miles away. It’s an obvious choice. I call Miss Mason and tell her I have had an accident and although it one of her most favourite kinds – someone falling over or being deposited on the floor – she does not laugh but is concerned and kindly. I have a huge lump on the back of my head which hurts – a lot. Master Mason would just have told me off for being so foolish and toppling myself onto the floor.

I feel it is probably karma. Obviously making gingerbread men resembling Hitler is a bad thing and in incredibly bad taste so Life intervened and threw me to the floor in protest. In my defence, I would like to say it was Mr Mason who started it. OK, I took it further but honest, guv, I didn’t mean it. And he should have glued the joints on the chair AGES ago. And now I’ll stop digging. Sorry.

MPs surgery

As you know, I live a wild and exciting life here in suburban West London. Are we truly in the suburbs? At 7 miles from the very central point of London, I suppose so although on a good day, one might walk into the centre. Anyway, I am invited to a conference called  Britain Against Cancer, as though there were a pro cancer rally we might go and protest at. I also think this is a bunfight I might invite some of my chums to and several of them accept. The venue is the Central Westminster Hall, just a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament. I arrive and start a perambulation of the exhibition, watching for my nemesis. I grill each exhibitor about their use of patient and public in their work and receive fairly satisfactory responses from each although some people are clearly slightly alarmed by my questioning. I am joined by 2 lovely friends, Ms de Roeck and Ms Marsden as a rather damp young man is showing me how I can find out how good my hospital is according to patients.

After a while, we take our seats and have chatted for so long, the only seats left are on a table at the front of the auditorium. We duly sit and listen to John Baron MP tell us how well the cross-party group has done. We have a speech from Andy Burnham MP and then, towards the end, Jeremy Hunt MP honours us with his presence. I cannot like the man who seems over-caffeinated and slightly manic in his attempts to smile and speak at the same time. It is an interesting day but does not inspire confidence in that there is no further money for cancer services and the Government still seems to be hell bent on dismantling the NHS without admitting it. During the speeches I sneak some shots of our political speakers and luckily am not thrown out for doing so although I have a bit of a record in that department. I also cunningly take a photo of the inside of my bag, so anxious am I not to be discovered this time.

DSC01808 DSC01812

I did have a very wobbly photo of Andy Burnham but decided using it may look as though I were overawed in his presence which was decidedly not the case. We forget to take any selfies although I have to say we all looked indisputably gorgeous on the day.

Mid-week brings surgery for Dog. He has had a small growth in his mouth for a while and, despite anti-inflammatory medication from Dr Bum, it has not gone away so the only option is to remove it before it forces his teeth in wayward directions. I am concerned about how he will take to surgery. Having been abandoned at a young age, he is understandingly cagey about losing us and so tends to be a little anxious. He is not fond of Dr Bum at the best of times and I am really not sure how he will fare being left there alone. They are an accommodating lot at Dr Bum’s surgery and agree we can take him in 2 hours after the rest of the animals so he will not be there long before his operation. When we go to collect him, Dr Bum says Dog might be a bit sleepy and he certainly needs encouraging into the car. Once home, Dog stands in the middle of the sitting room, staring glassily into space. After a while, he descends into the sphinx-like posture he adopts when not really relaxed. In total overkill, I give him my sheepskin coat to lie on in front of the fire. Did I mention we no longer have offspring at home? He sits, sphinx-like for some time just staring into space until I scoop up his back legs and arrange them tidily to the side before taking his front half and laying him down on the floor. He makes no protest at all but continues to enjoy all the benefits of large amounts of anaesthetic and pain killers.

The following day, Dog is subdued but manages to eat a Bonio which Mr Mason gives him without thinking. He chomps it down without a thought to his tender mouth – Dog, not Mr Mason. Mr Mason may enjoy his food but draws the line at Bonio. Dog will no longer allow me to rearrange his back legs so we know he is very much on the mend. When Dog is taken back for his once-over, he is pronounced fit and discharged. We are several hundred pounds lighter and hoping the insurance company will cough up. What’s the betting there will shortly be an insurance company rant on the blog?

Talking turkey

I have a plan which is not so cunning but sound, nevertheless. Mr and Mrs Mason senior have been living on ready meals for a while as neither of them feels up to cooking. I have worried about this and tried to suggest many alternatives but none has been taken up. As we are in December, I worry about a decent meal for Christmas and then come up with a semi-cunning plan. We will cook a full-blown Christmas lunch here, package it up into foil trays and it will be transported into the Seniors’ freezer. We work out when this can be done and set off on our way to buy the necessary ingredients. We are at the traffic lights on a spur road which leads onto the A4 and, as they turn green, we start to move off. A lorry in the lane next to us suddenly brakes and there is a huge bang and we see a motorcyclist fairly flying through the air. There is a split second of apparent complete silence and then I am scrambling out of the car and running across the road to the man. There are a couple of other people there as well and the man is conscious and yelling and trying to get up. With another man, I am telling him to lie still, not to move and he shouts “I’m dyslexic!” as though this is the most important thing to get across. Understandably he is quite confused but in a lot of pain and wants to stand up and see what damage his bike has sustained.

Someone rings 999 and I crouch next to him, talking to him, trying to take his mind off the pain and to get him to breathe. He’s really too distressed to pay much attention although we do manage to keep him lying down. He wants someone to call his brother and, more poignantly, his mum but we all want to wait for the emergency services who arrive surprisingly quickly. As soon as the first paramedic arrives, I am asked to hold his head still which I do and he complies once someone in authority tells him what to do. He keeps asking why the man drove over the red light and I tell him I don’t know but that we all saw what happened and can tell the police. He is terrified someone will think it is his fault. He tells me his name is Jamil and I keep telling him how well he’s doing and that he will soon get some pain relief. An ambulance then arrives and there are sirens going off everywhere as police turn up. I can hear someone telling all pedestrians to get on the side of the road but I am still holding his head so I stay where I am. Another paramedic comes to take his head and I tell him the man’s name and then step back. The driver of the car is standing in the central reservation looking dazed and shocked. I ask him if he is OK. He can’t answer. He is just in a jumper and I ask if he has a coat in the car as it is really cold and windy but he doesn’t. I want him to get someone to come to be with him but he tells me he has a new mobile with no numbers in and can’t call anyone. I try everything I can think of but we can’t find a number he can call. I ask if he knows what has happened and he tells me he was in the outside lane and just jumped the lights without thinking. He is worried about the man on the ground. A policeman comes over and asks him to get back in his car which is a few feet on from the accident but no-one seems to mind about me. I wait for the lights to change and then cross onto the pavement to join the other witnesses and Mr Mason who has drawn up in the car and is waiting for me. A woman who was in front of us says “You were brave, staying in all the traffic” and I suddenly realise there were cars going all around us until the police came and blocked the traffic off.

From the pavement we count 10 police and 4 ambulance people have attended this incident. They have the bike up and out of the way in no time and after checking Jamil over thoroughly, including cutting his leathers off, they load him into the back of an ambulance. We give our details and short statements to the police but I doubt they will be needed as the driver has admitted liability. It has taken us an hour longer than usual to get to the supermarket but once we are there, we go round in a whirlwind, collecting all the things we need. As I write, it is cooking in the oven, courtesy of Mr Mason although I peeled the vegetables for him.

The evening of the accident, I head off to Waterman’s to see Frankenstein with 3 friends. It is a filmed showing of the NT production with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch who swapped roles every other night. In the version we see, Jonny Lee Miller plays Frankenstein while Benedict Cumberbatch is the Monster (or Adam). It is stunningly brilliant and although BC spends quite a few minutes at the beginning writhing on the floor, we somehow don’t laugh and understand it’s his process of learning to use his ‘new’ body. I supply a little chocolate to my chums and we settle in for a fantastic ride. I am very much in favour of filmed plays being shown. I’ve been to the National Theatre many times but it would be great to see more productions and gain a wider audience. The filming wasn’t intrusive in any way and, in fact, enabled us to see some scenes from above which clearly wouldn’t be possible in the theatre. As it ends, Ms Marsden heads off to Kensal Rise and the Carter-Foots and I have a couple of glasses of red wine. They then walk me to the bus stop and wait for me to get on the bus which is very sweet. But where is Mr Mason? I hear you cry! He has to go to a dull business dinner and is home before me.

It has been quite a big day. I wonder how Jamil is faring and hope his injuries are not too bad. I also spare a thought for the man who knocked him flying. It has been quite a big day for him, too.

Cat and mouse

What a different week this one is turning out to be. Last week was relaxation, mooching and evenings in front of a log-burning stove in the total peace and quiet of the country. This week is hospitals and hours on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions. Over the weekend, I find a new swelling on my chest. It is not a hard lump but it wasn’t there before and so I know I need to get it investigated. After a visit to Holly, my fabulous psychologist, I trundle off to Charing Cross to see if I can find my breast care nurse. I leave a phone message on the way. They never answer the phone, in my experience, so I am never sure they receive the messages I leave. After a cup of coffee and a couple of hugs in Maggie’s, I go to the Breast Care Department. There is another department nearby which is called ‘Breast Investigations’ but I have no idea what they do. Surely all the investigations are done in the Breast Care Department? Anyway, I ask if Vanessa, my nurse, is around. No, she isn’t. She’s on ward rounds. I explain to the receptionist why I want to see her or, failing Vanessa, will risk seeing any of the other nurses, including the one I fired for total incompetence and lack of empathy. There is no-one available and she bleeps Vanessa who says she cannot see me today but I could come back tomorrow and she will see me in clinic. I cannot face the thought of adding another trek so decline as I know I will be seeing the lymphoedema nurses on Wednesday.

I go to the oncology clinic to see if I can find a lymphoedema nurse and I am in luck! I find Jeanne sitting in her office, writing notes and she kindly agrees to examine me. She looks at the swelling which, she proclaims, is in a line and very pronounced but, prodding and poking a bit, she agrees it is fluid and asks if I have been overdoing it, carrying or lifting heavy things. I don’t think I have but I tell her I have had a throat infection and she thinks that is the cause. Apparently, even if I have an infection in my big toe, it can and will still affect the lymphoedema, simply because there are fewer lymph nodes hanging around to deal with those pesky infections. It can also turn into cellulitis which I know is serious but I’m not sure what it is and don’t intend to google it. Such a relief to find out the swelling is nothing to worry about and just means more massage. It does throw into stark relief, however, that any lump, bump or something out of the ordinary means it needs investigation now and what a pain that is. And please don’t mistake this for paranoia as this is now just a sensible precaution. Life can never be the same as it was BC (before cancer).

The psychotic cat does not want me to blog. She does not want me to use my laptop or put anything on my lap which prevents it being available for her use at any time she chooses. She sits on the arm of the sofa, smugly obscuring the mouse by keeping it warm and trying to control my destiny. She may be right. On the website of the Guardian today a photograph of  me and Mr Mason is shown in an article about sex after a diagnosis of cancer but we are only shown coyly from the shoulders down. Tastefully done, my floral shirt is recognised by one of my friends who sends me a text to alert me to it. Perhaps this is the sort of bad behaviour the psychotic cat is trying to deter me from.

The tailor of Louth

We are away on a break in our favourite county, Lincolnshire. We take off early one Friday morning with Master Mason and Ms Atherton in tow. Having mastered the car’s integral sat nav, we manage to navigate ourselves to the village of Stixwould by lunchtime.  Dumping our bags off, we raid the local town for food and drink and do a splendid round of the charity shops, of which there are many. We also take Ms Atherton to a couple of the local antique shops. When I say antique shop, you may be thinking of something spacious and ordered with beautiful objects artfully displayed. In the town of Horncastle, there are many antique shops but they are all crammed with stuff including vintage clothing. One of the things we can find aplenty is fur. Oodles and oodles of fur of all hues and types, hanging lifelessly. The are amazingly cheap to buy. £28 would buy you a full-length fur coat although I couldn’t tell you the animal it came from. They also have astrakhan coats which, I have to amit, I like until I realise the pelts come from baby lambs, sometimes lamb foetus. Not very nice. But there are all kinds of other exciting vintage clothing, shoes, bags and hats to peruse and try on.

During the course of the weekend, we visit the beach, DSC01794eat fish and chips, manage to cook on an Aga and immerse ourselves in antique shops. There is one particular shop in Horncastle which challenges even the most cluttered-minded of us. The shop itself is a jumble of antiques but on the first floor, there is a room dedicated to fabrics and it is just that – a huge fabric room with rails, shelves and heaps of fabric everywhere. It is a challenge to get into as it means stepping on fabric which seems just wrong. Outside in the yard, there are tables full of porcelain and china objects, just open to the elements. I have warned Master Mason that the shop will perhaps provoke a panic attack due to the disorganisation and, on entering the main part, he says initially he is a little disappointed and that it does not live up to his expectations. He is a little more convinced when he sees the fabric room but when he goes out into the yard at the back, he is truly impressed. He has to go and fetch Ms Atherton from her exploration of the fabric room to ensure she sees the full glory of the yard.


At some point late on Saturday afternoon we find ourselves in Louth and want to show them the tailor’s shop. We push the door open and find ourselves in a cramped shop with bolts of fabric on every side and suits hanging around the shop. The tailor is pleased to see us and seems particularly taken with Ms Atherton. The tailor is 76 and three-quarters and has few teeth but is full of life and glad to still be alive. He has no time for any airs and graces but, as a Yorkshireman, prides himself on plain speaking. He cracks jokes at Master Mason’s expense (“Do you like a good joke? When you get home, look in the mirror”), no doubt to worm his way into Ms Atherton’s affections. They discuss fabric, mills and her knowledge clearly impresses him as he gives her his number so they can discuss mills and fabric at some later stage. She says she will pass it on to her employer which may be a bit of a disappointment to the tailor.

During the week, Mr Mason finally manages to enjoy a Fat Rascal at the cafe which produces the local specialty. The name inspires some jollity when it is posted on Facebook.DSC01777

We see the game butcher in Louth and ask if he is going to make any 3-bird roasts for Christmas. He says he has thought about it but they have not made them before although his colleague is currently making one and they are planning to try it later on. We agree we will call and, if the experiment is successful, they will make us one. One the agreed date, I wake to find I have no voice at all so Mr Mason has to make the call. The butchers have enjoyed their dinner and will make us one so we agree to collect it on Friday before we head back to London.

The week is fabulous and we thoroughly enjoy it. Lincolnshire is a beautiful county but please don’t tell anyone. We want to keep it a secret.