Lark’s Diary X

I’ve been poorly. My mum took me to see Dr Bum and they were all very friendly and patted me and tickled me which was nice. But then SHE LEFT ME THERE! I wanted to go and jump right back in the car but Mum and Mark drove away. That surprised me and made me a bit sad. The lady took me into another room and then they stuck this sharp thing in me and I went to sleep. When I woke up, I still had my jumper on but I also had this big sticky thing on my tummy and it hurt. And I felt sooooo sleepy. Mum came and collected me and I couldn’t jump into the car because my tummy hurt so Mark had to pick me up and put me in. When we got home, Archie sniffed me all over because I smelt funny. Mark had to carry me upstairs because it hurt to climb up and then, when I wanted to go down again, I felt all funny and had to lean on Mum but she said “Slow and steady” to remind me not to hurtle, which is what I usually do. Normally I start off quite quickly at the top of the stairs and then get faster and faster until I get to the bottom. It’s very exciting but I didn’t want to do it with my poorly tummy. Every morning, Mum gave me some medicine which helped my tummy but I still don’t like running round the garden with Archie as my tummy feels tight and strange. I hope it stops soon as I’ve had to stop being in the Pigeon Catchers Club for a while in case I hurt myself. Archie keeps putting my head in his mouth to try and make me play so he’s been told off a bit for doing that. I’m still not sure what happened at Dr Bum’s but I don’t think I’d like to go there again.

But more exciting is that we’ve got more animals in the pack. We went off in the car and Mum and Mark put some wooden boxes inside that were really stinky. I looked at Archie and he looked at me but it was worse than any smell we’d ever made. Mum says they are hedgehogs and I haven’t seen them but you can smell them all over the garden. They have special food which is not really special because it’s dog food but they also have biscuits which are supposed to be for hedgehogs but they taste just like cat biscuits to me. Not that I really know what cat biscuits taste like because I’m not allowed to steal the cats’ food. Ahem. Anyway, the lady who gave Mum the hedgehogs liked dogs too and she spent ages stroking us. I didn’t get out of the car because I’m not well but she stroked my ears and scratched my head a lot which was very nice.

Then, the pack increased even more (but just for a little while)! Mark went out in the car and it was a huge surprise when he came back with Ollie and Becky! I think they must live a long way away as they don’t come here every week. Ollie is Mum and Mark’s son and Becky is his girlfriend (hee hee). Becky has pink hair. I wish I had pink hair because I would look even prettier and everyone would know I am a girl. But I got some new pyjamas with pirates on and everyone asked if it was for Halloween but I don’t think you have pirates at Halloween. I thought it was all ghosts and stuff. Anyway, I looked very smart and now Mum can wash my red jumper because she said it’s stinky.

Archie and I put new bandanas on this week. They are a burgundy red, Mum says. Mine came off twice and Mum put it back on for me and then it came off in the night and when she went to change my jumper, she let me run around nude in the garden! I didn’t have a collar on or anything and it felt all tickly and funny but then I got cold so she put my new jumper on which is very soft and Mum says it’s tartan.There are some funny things growing in our garden which Mum says I’m not to eat or I’ll go all peculiar. They just look so tasty, though.

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I am getting better with my house training. Now, when Mum takes me out in the back garden, I know what she wants me to do! Once or twice I’ve remembered to tell her I want to go outside but she says I have to tell Mark, too. If I have to run around telling everyone in the house I need a wee, I’ll have wet myself before I get outside! I think she really means ‘tell the nearest person’ because mostly when I’ve told her, she’s been upstairs and has to come all the way down to let me out. I’m still not keen on ringing the bell, though, but Mum says I have to learn. She’s been leaving me and Archie on our own a bit more, too. I don’t like it. When she goes out, I have to bark and go “Ooooo oooo oooooooooo”. I don’t know why. It just starts bubbling up in my throat and I have to let it out. And as soon as she goes out, I always need a wee. I can ring my bells all I like but there is no-one to let me out then. She never tells me off if I have an accident. She just says “Oh, Lark” in a special voice and I think I’ve disappointed her but when I get it right, she shouts “Good girl, Lark!” and waves her arms around which makes me all excited. Then she rubs my ears and gives me a treat. The very best times, though, are when we snuggle in bed or on the sofa. She strokes my head and my belly and it makes me feel all nice. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Hedgehog heaven

We go to see the oncologist who is as cheerful as ever. He tells me that my tumour markers have risen slightly but that is over a 3 month period so he doesn’t know if they’ve jumped quickly or just gradually increased. More blood tests to find out. He also orders a CT scan so we can see what’s happening inside. My biggest problem, as ever is fatigue and the idea that I can do everything I want to without consequences. It’s like I forget every time and then spend a few days in bed recovering and dealing with the pain. My sleep has been weird, too, and I’m often awake for 4 hours or more in the night. It’s a good time to do Christmas shopping but I really would rather be asleep. I finish a couple of books, that way, too.

Chemo on Monday is a little different as Mr Mason is away at a  meeting in London. I have booked transport to the hospital which turns out to be a man in a car with casual racism and a dislike of anyone moving into the area. We find things to talk about on the journey although it does feel strange to be without Mr Mason, even though he is not allowed in the chemo suite. I am called in quite quickly which is a novelty and am soon plugged into my portacath. The woman next to me starts to feel unwell and goes red in the face. Her heart is hammering away, she says, so we call a nurse over. She is having a new treatment which I guess is Herceptin as it can have those effects, but I’m wrong. We fall into conversation and I tell her we have only recently moved to the area. She says she lived in London until 13 years ago. “Aren’t you glad to get away from all those ethnics?” she asks. I’m a bit taken back and explain that I think that’s the one thing Lincolnshire lacks. She says angrily that she was mugged and burgled before she moved away but she didn’t say the kind of people who did it. I agree that’s a horrible thing to happen to anyone but my experience had been quite different. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses but how we loved the diversity of food shops, being able to buy ingredients for pretty much any nationality and the great international community. Then I drop the bomb. “My son in law is Iranian” I say, “and here it’s more difficult to find ingredients to cook Iranian food whereas that wasn’t a problem in London”. She goes a funny colour and ends the conversation. I just like saying “My son in law” anyway.

There is a bit of kerfuffle about giving me Domperidone, the anti-sickness drug. It’s not been prescribed but I am used to asking for more when I need it and here, things are obviously done differently. The staff scurry around and come back from the pharmacy with the medication but unfortunately it’s been made out in a name similar to mine but not mine, therefore I cannot have it. I wait outside for the car driver who tells me he can’t leave until 2 other patients are ready. Eventually we depart at 3.15 and I sit in the back with a lady who, the driver tells me, “don’t speak any English”. Luckily I get dropped off first as the dogs have been on their own since 9am and will be going ballistic. They are mightily excited when I get in, jumping up as if they haven’t seen me for years and Lark has disgraced herself on the kitchen floor whilst Archie has held on. He does have an amazing bladder capacity, similar to that of Austin Powers.

The following day we take Lark to be spayed. She is wearing her new red jumper to keep her warm and walks into the vet’s surgery without a care in the world. They make a big fuss of her but when we leave her, she’s confused that she’s not coming with us and I spend the day worrying if she’ll be all right. Anaesthetising a sight hound is a different game to other types of dog due to their large chests (or so I’ve been told). We ring at 2pm and she is fine, lying on her back asking for her belly to be tickled and ready to come home. We go to collect her and she is clearly spaced out. Mr Mason has to pick her up to put her in the car and to get her out again. She goes straight to her crate and sleeps and sleeps, just waking to have tepid scrambled egg spooned into her little mouth. What a princess! Archie spends the day fretting over where his little sister is and gives her a good sniff when she comes home. It’s difficult for him because she can’t run around or wrestle with him and the first time she goes down stairs on her own she is hesitant and gives a little “Oooh” when she gets to the bottom, gravity getting the better of her. For the first couple of days she is clearly in pain but she soon starts to heal up. She doesn’t show much inclination to race around the garden yet. I suspect it feels tight where her stitches are but they come out this week so that should feel better and then they can have a celebratory race around the garden.

My new appointment with the speech therapist comes around and we head off to Lincoln County Hospital. When we get there, we just can’t find the right place so ask at reception. They point out that my appointment is at Louth Hospital. Sigh. I cannot be trusted these days to get anything right. I phone Louth and they say they will tell the therapist so we hit the road again and arrive at a hospital which is clearly old (for anyone in Ealing, think the original St Bernard’s) and therefore confusing in its layout. We ask a random woman at a clinic reception desk and she says “It’s by the entrance” which is rather unhelpful as there are lots of buildings clustered around the entrance. We rush off and eventually find the place which I am sure is in the same building as a clinic entitled Sexual Diseases. Luckily our therapist is in reception at the same time as us and ushers us into her office, even though we are 40 minutes late. She is brilliant, taking notes and giving me tips on how not to choke when I am eating and drinking. We make another appointment for a couple of weeks’ time in Horncastle which is much nearer to us. She thinks I should be seeing an ENT specialist, too, so she asks my GP to refer me to one and will be working on my voice, my swallowing and eating.

The following day we go off to collect our hedgehogs. I didn’t think we’d be able to home any this year as we left it rather late to offer but the hedgehog lady called and has a mum and 3 babies for us. When we get there, she also has a lone hedgehog called Linda who tried to hibernate in a pub cellar. The rescue centre is a warren of buildings with washing lines full of towels drying. And it smells! We once had a hedgehog who came into the conservatory back in Ealing. It hid away and every time we went into the conservatory, it defecated in fear. We had forgotten the smell! The woman who helps us is clearly devoted to hedgehogs and dogs. She brings the mum and babies out first, telling us the mum was savaged by a badger. She was with them for 3 weeks and when they went to clean her out one morning, found she had 3 baby hedgehogs with her. Clearly uninhibited, she would lie on her back suckling her babies and didn’t mind who came to have a look. I suddenly think, stupidly, that we haven’t brought anything to put the hedgehogs in but we are given a little wooden house with 2 rooms, one with mum and babies snuggled into a towel and the other with a messy white towel where the entrance is. We are told the hedgehogs like the smell so they don’t get cleaned out, as such, but poo is removed and that’s that. Mr Mason will clearly be on poo duty yet again. We are also given Linda in a separate house and told she will likely leave us quickly. The babies might also go as they have been born in captivity and don’t know what the world is like but will probably be very curious. We put them into the car, hoping they won’t prove curious as we are driving home and the dogs look aghast as the smell hits them. They look at each other, silently blaming the other. Back at home we put them in the hedgehog hotel we have built and provide food and water and leave them to it, not before taking a quick peek, though.


So these are the latest members of the Mason household; Linda, Hilde, Athelstan, Wulfrun and Ethelfrida, all good Viking names (apart from Linda, obviously), in honour of the Viking heritage here.

Finally, if you have spare time on your hands, you might like to make this delightful mobile I saw in a magazine at the Hospital. It will amaze your friends and make them green with envy. All you need is a plastic basket lid and the lids from air fresheners, apparently. It is truly unique.


Bitter-sweet symphony

The last few days are a real mixture of emotion – contentment, excitment, fear and sadness, all rolled into one big knotted ball of wool. I think I have finally settled into this house. It’s not that I haven’t been loving it from the beginning but it’s taken a while to feel like my house rather than a nice house we’ve borrowed. As it’s our first year, there are so many things to find out about it. What grows in the garden, what to do with all the apples, where is the best wood supplier and why has our boiler gone on the blink the second we think we might want to light it? We discover we can have either constant hot water and no heating or a small amount of hot water and heating. The shower in our en-suite is electric so that’s OK but it’s a bit mean for guests who shower in the bathroom with its enormous shower, dependent on the boiler for hot water. We opt for the hot water and start using the log burner which is immediately captivating and soothing. We do runs to the local woods to pick up kindling and wait for our plumber to find a little piece of metal which will fix the boiler (we hope).

In the meantime, my speech therapy appointment rolls round and Mr Mason and I get up extra early so we can be in Lincoln at 9am. Alas, at 8.45 I get a call saying the therapist is not well so has cancelled my appointment. I really hate having very little voice and certainly little power to project it. Not being heard makes me feel diminished in some way. We go to the village hall for the Macmillan Coffee morning and sit with neighbours we don’t know very well. The noise in the hall is quite loud and clearly they are finding it hard to hear me which is frustrating and a tad boring. At the end of our conversation, the neighbour says to her husband that I have lost my voice. There is that split second choice – do I or don’t I? I’ve been so frustrated by the conversation that I do. I say “I have cancer and it presses on my vocal chords which is why I can’t speak properly”. There is the usual moment of silence with eyebrows raised and mouth turned into a perfect O before she finds her own voice and commiserates with me. That is the end of the conversation, though. I’m hard work sometimes.

We have Mr and Mrs Palmer to stay overnight. Mrs Palmer and I were at school together so we go back a fair way. She is something of a superhero as she singlehandedly steered a speeding RV, driven by Mr Palmer who was having an absence at the time, safely to the side of the road in Canada, not hitting any other vehicles and preserving life and limb all round. They bring us a beautiful handmade sign for the house, amongst a treasure trove of other things, loving made and we take them to see the tiger who lays eggs. Then into Horncastle where we attempt, for the umpteenth time, to see the church but it is locked. From memory, I believe there are farming implements from the Peasant’s Revolt hanging in the church but the vicar clearly doesn’t want his flock wandering in at all and sundry hours. We have a pleasant evening, or so I think, ending with a takeaway of epic proportions. Once we have eaten, I feel desperate to get to bed and am graciously allowed to do so. When I look at my watch on my way upstairs, it says 8.15. Despite my love of them, I don’t think I can be called a night owl.

Mr Mason takes the dogs out into the fields around the castle the following morning and is back sooner than I expect. He says there is a fox stuck in a fence and is going to call the RSPCA. I find the number and he duly calls, looking crosser by the minute. By the time he gets through to a real person, they sound no better than the automated system, asking him repeatedly where he lives, how long ago he saw the fox and whether he has clean underpants on (I made that bit up). I decide I will walk over to see for myself and find 3 women from Spilsby on a day out who have also come across the fox. They go through the same routine with the RSPCA and meanwhile the fox pants, struggles a little and looks thoroughly miserable and frightened, despite our soft and soothing words. When the RSPCA inspector arrives, she brings the tiniest pair of scissors in the world attached to a Swiss Army knife and then berates us because “no-one told us it was a wire fence”. Mr Mason arrives and duly sets off for a house where there are builders working, hoping they will have a wire cutter. Meanwhile the inspector loops a restrainer around the fox’s neck and pokes it about a bit. She clearly just wants to let the fox go whereas the gathering group want it to be seen by a vet. She tells us it hasn’t been there long as its foot is still warm (it is so hot people are mopping their faces with handkerchiefs) and that it is a big fox and quite old. With my experience of urban foxes, I would say it is a young fox, either a vixen or a small male. I have no idea how long it’s been strung up there but I would guess a few hours as it’s now 1pm and foxes generally like to skulk about when there is no-one else around. Mr Mason brings 2 hefty workmen back with him and, despite their earlier conversation during which they say they will be happy to despatch a fox, they treat it very gently and carefully cut the wire away, helping the inspector put the fox into what she calls a ‘crush cage’ but which is labelled ‘small cat box’ making me think she’s brought entirely the wrong equipment. The fox is duly hauled away, hopefully to the vet and not just half a mile down the road.

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And on a warm Thursday, Mr Mason and I get up at 5 and set out for London with Dog and Lark in the back of the car. The traffic is OK until we hit the outskirts and then we just run into the normal choked-up roadways which we miss not even a little. We head for Maggie’s, one of our favourite haunts, filled with warm memories and good friends. Ms de Roeck and Ms Marsden are there, both looking as lovely as ever and we exchange hugs, squeezes and kisses. We sit for a short while, talking and laughing and then head on out. Ms de Roeck has to go to work but Ms Marsden jumps in the car with us, the back seat filled with dog food, gifts and snacks to keep Mr Mason going. One day she will find the back seat empty and pristine. The last time she was with us she was wedged between Ms Howard and a tyre. It’s a long story. We head off to see Ms Baranska who has not been doing so well over the last weeks and who we have been desperate to see. We bring Patisserie Valerie cakes, Jelly Babies, elderflower cordial and maybe other things that I’ve forgotten. She is in great pain moving around which is distressing to see. Her mum, not speaking any English, still talks to us, smiling through her immense pain in looking after her daughter. How can I describe Ms Baranska? Physically she is just stunning to look at; perfect cheekbones in a model’s face with a smile that would light up any room. When you talk, she listens, she concentrates, she understands. She is kind, witty, funny, well-read, cheeky and beautiful inside and out. Ah yes, and she is just a year older than my daughter. I fell in love with her when I first met her. She is someone you want to be friends with because she is just lovely. She makes me laugh when she tells me she has been swearing a lot since she was diagnosed with secondary cancer of an unknown origin, choosing specific words to describe it, not just random swearing.  We talk, drink tea and Ms Marsden, Mr Mason and I eat cake. We hold hands, I cry, we talk about the important stuff, the down-to-the-wire, nitty-gritty, downright unpleasant stuff and it breaks my heart to see her so ill and uncomfortable. We are all entranced by a hanging over the stairwell which consists of 1000 origami cranes in lots of different colours and patterns, strung together in a rainbow waterfall. Ms Baranska tells us it was a project created by her family. They all made lots and lots of cranes and she would receive envelopes from family and close friends stuffed with cranes to add. She and her sister strung them together and her partner made a frame to hand them from. It really is stunning. After an hour or so, we can see she is getting tired and, despite her protestations, we get up to leave which is a hard thing to do. For some reason I cannot bring myself to take a photograph of her but I do take one of her cat who appears to have a huge smile on his face. And living with Ms Baranska, who wouldn’t have a smile on their face?