How do-you-do saves the day

Sometimes, when out for a walk, Dog takes it into his head that coming back to us is not a good idea. Recall in Salukis is known to be poor but generally Dog does quite well. As long as Mr Mason is armed with a treat of some kind, Dog will succumb and allow himself to be put on the lead. There have been occasions when he has refused to come back and Mr Mason has had to resort to every trick in the book to get him back. The most memorable (and my favourite) was when Mr Mason lay on the ground, whimpering and pretending to be hurt so that Dog came close enough to be grabbed. How that didn’t make it onto YouTube is a mystery to me.

This weekend we are seeing friends and on Sunday it is our day to say farewell to our lovely Wave Walkers dragon boating team. We decide to take Dog with us as it might be a long day and he likes lounging in the boot on his 2 enormous cushions wearing the coat that makes him look like a lower league football manager. The day is very cold and, despite the wind whipping across the dock, Mr Mason accepts the invitation to get in the boat and paddle. Dog and I sit in the car keeping warm and I spend time speaking to our friend Ms Frumin about the costs of moving. She has found a lovely Polish man who seems very efficient and has given her a very good quote for her forthcoming move. She sends me the details. (He is coming tomorrow so watch this space) One the training session is finished, we walk to a floating Chinese restaurant in Docklands. It’s really good to spend time with people we have paddled with for the last 2 years, who were with me when I had my first signs of secondary cancer in Venice and who have been so bloody supportive and brilliant, I can’t begin to tell you. Mr and Mrs Lee, the coach and helm, run Wave Walkers because they love the sport and want to offer it to people who may not have thought of it. They do it without payment and with huge love and enthusiasm and I am blown away by their commitment. They are ace.

So, we have a brilliant lunch. One of the great things about going to a Chinese restaurant with Chinese friends is that they choose fabulous food, things we may not have heard of or thought of ordering. They always ask politely if there is anything we particularly like or whether we want to order for ourselves but really, when you have experts in the house it’s best to let them get on with the job. In discussing our move to the country, we were told that having pampas grass in your front garden means that swingers live within. Is there a whole floral code, we wonder? We make a mental note to remove any pampas grass and to monitor closely those in the village who grow it, just to test the theory. Whilst waiting for the food, Ms Turnbull tells us of the time she accepted a dare to put a whole Mars Bar in her mouth. You have to realise that in those days, Mars Bars were about twice the size they are now so putting a whole one in your mouth was actually quite dangerous. She couldn’t bite down, she couldn’t close her mouth so she just had to try not to panic and allow it to melt. Very kindly she demonstrated this for me.

IMG_20150201_130232795 After lunch, we reluctantly wend our way back to the car and decide that on the way home, we will let Dog have a good run in the park. This is when he decides to be naughty. After half an hour, I am called by Mr Mason who asks me to join him. We try all sorts of tricks for him. We try the “I’ve got a stick and you can’t have it” trick, we cuddle (Dog likes to get in the middle of a cuddle), I pretend I have found a treat in my handbag, we walk away from him repeatedly and I also pretend to cry. None of it works and it’s getting dark as well as it being very cold. Finally I resort to being English and polite and approach Dog with my hand out saying “How do you do?” Dog has been trained to shake hands and it is this that finally grabs his attention. He approaches, preparing to sit and shake hands and I can finally grab his collar. He doesn’t seem to mind as I suspect he’s also been getting bored and cold. As we leave the park, I spy a house opposite with pampas grass in the front garden…



Venice, part II

Saturday dawns bright and beautiful. In the restaurant, we meet many of our crew members who have arrived at various points in the evening and it seems as though Wave Walkers have taken over the whole place. Mrs Cheong, of whom you will hear more later, is on toast duty and mothering everyone. We are all a bit bleary-eyed but everyone has plans for their day. We are agreed on meeting at lunchtime for a big team lunch but before that we decide to go to the Rialto market and buy fruit for the next day and to have a mooch around. On the way to the market, we discover that flipflops are no match for marble steps as Ms Gordon falls on her backside not just once but twice, leaving Italians to make a very stereotypical “Ay!” noise as she falls down. Rialto is heaving with tourists but we find our way to the fruit and vegetable market where it becomes difficult to decide what to buy, so much of it looks delicious and under the hot sun, it all smells wonderful. In the end I buy bananas, strawberries, cherries and nectarines. Ms Marsden buys ripe green figs. We sit down at a cafe for a cold drink and look at the many maps we have to try and work out where the lunch is being held. I must admit to being a little grumpy as I don’t feel particularly well but we finally agree that due to the exorbitant cost of getting a water bus, we will walk to the restaurant with lots of stops on the way.012

Ms Gordon has sat nav on her phone which, although the battery is running low, promises to guide us to the restaurant. At this point, we have not had the chase to find out where we are in relation to anything else so have no idea where the restaurant is. The sat nav takes us down tiny alleyways and we seem to be turning left and right every few feet. I decide to buy a hat and so does Mr Mason. We also buy a captain’s had for Captain Deryn. The man in the hat shop is delighted. The heats gets to us a bit and by 1pm, we don’t know where we are or where the restaurant is. We stop off at the end of a wharf for another drink and to use the toilet. My phone, obviously, is not working, even though I was told categorically that it would be. Thanks, Virgin mobile. Other people are able to send texts requesting rescue. By 2pm we are truly desperate and talk of finding any old restaurant to have lunch in in a defiant kind of way. We visualise the rest of the team eating by the side of the canal sheltered by umbrellas, sipping cool drinks and not looking hot, sweaty and slightly crumpled as we look. We walk back towards the Tre Archi bridge when suddenly there is a cry and we can see Captain Deryn running towards us! It is like being rescued from a desert island. We have followed the sat nav which has apparently taken us past the restaurant on the wrong side of the canal and is basically telling us to jump into the sea. This we will not do.

We follow Captain Deryn back to the restaurant where the rest of the team has been waiting for us, sipping wine and looking cool. Several of them are drinking something in a nuclear shade of orange. We see it all the time with people of all ages and sensibilities knocking it back like there’s no tomorrow. I am suspicious. Something that colour cannot possibly be good for you. I do not indulge. It is very good to meet up with everyone and we are all a bit anxious about the 30km paddle we are doing the next day. Anxious in many ways whether we are raring to go or just unsure of our capabilities.  The next day is a huge milestone for us both as individuals and as a team. Created in early 2012, Wave Walkers have come a long way and now we are about to embark on our biggest challenge to date.

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Lifting the pea-souper

There have been alarming nocturnal activities at Mason Towers. My week, as you may know, has not been the best. Life goes badly awry and I really feel as though I am having something like a breakdown. Nothing makes sense in my head and I sleep, sleep and then sleep some more. Then I am unable to sleep. My brain ceases to function properly. I can’t speak, I can’t think, I can’t reason and I don’t know how I feel. It’s the old anniversary reaction coming back to bite me in the backside. It’s quite hard to describe. I don’t consciously think about the day of diagnosis, about having cancer, the treatment, the fear. I am aware of it and, obviously, live with the practical effects of having cancer on a daily basis but I don’t submerge myself in the pit of thick, viscous black terror which coated everything 2 years ago. It is most strange. The way the mind works is a total mystery. The feelings I might have expected to experience don’t emerge and dark, black, ultra noir (I ran out of words to say black) sensations  make themselves known instead.  I don’t feel depressed, I just am. I allow myself to slide around in a dark sea of nothingness until, quite suddenly, I feel better. Two years since I received the frightening diagnosis of a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer and the sun shines, the sky is blue and I feel lighter, fresher and can breathe again.

So, the sun shines bright and the sky is blue. Yahoo! Mr Mason gets up and makes a Worrying Discovery. He comes upstairs with the customary cup of coffee and tells me that we are lucky to still have Dog. On drawing back the sitting room curtains, he discovers the glass in the window is cracked. Dog hates foxes. This is as plain as day is day and night is night. Foxes are the bain of his life. They taunt him, they come by especially so they can give him the finger and make him gnash his impressive teeth. More specifically, they drop by so they can shit in his front garden and saunter off without so much as a by-your-leave. On this particular night, a fox came along and did exactly that – a circus-type defacation which meant the fox had to balance delicately on the edge of our plastics recycling bag in order to deliver his piece de la resistance. Was he a French fox? I hear you asking yourselves. I doubt it. I imagine Monsieur Renard is too busy driving French people demented to worry about sending reinforcements over here. An English fox on English soil (well, plastics recycling bag) and it sends Dog over the top. He hurls himself at the glass and it cracks. It is cracked so badly we dare not leave it and immediately phone a glazier to have it replaced. That will be £170 thank you.

The result is that Dog may not sleep downstairs any more. He was lucky not to have cut himself or inflicted a serious injury on his delicate flesh and we also do not wish to be shelling out £170 on a regular basis so we decide to move his bed. Dog’s bed has always been in the bay window in the sitting room at the front of the house. He is cosy there and his bed is next to his toy basket from which he can select monkey, rabbit or Phony Tony, a cheap, poundshop effort on parodying Tony Blair when he was in office. Dog doe snot have a political bone in his body but he does love Phony Tony. Dog also houses a number of cat toys in his basket and these he likes to chew thoughtfully from time to time.

Come bedtime, we have to move Dog’s bed upstairs into our room. He occupies the same space in the bay but will not be able to go into the sitting room and throw himself at the the window as the sitting room door will be shut. He is confused. This is a normal state of affairs with Dog but Mr Mason takes Dog’s bed up to our bedroom and then tries to herd him upstairs. Dog looks bewildered. Am I to sleep upstairs? Why? Do you really mean it? Why are you moving my bed? Where is my duvet? If I go upstairs will you then tell me off? Is this a trick? Little thoughts cross his brain and he then decides he will go with it and go upstairs. Once he sees his bed is in the bay he jumps in with a silent Woo Hoo! Being allowed to sleep in the same room as the rest of the pack is Good News Indeed. The benefit from our perspective is that he does not hurl himself at the window. The downside is the flatulence. I wake in the night and enquire of Mr Mason whether it is him or Dog. He is not really sure and has also been woken by the smell so, on balance, we decide it is Dog. Once, when Dog was a mere puppy, Mr Mason gave him left-over sprouts. It was a very bad mistake and one which has never been repeated though is still talked about, so bad was the resulting aroma. Apparently, according to a Facebook group on the subject of Salukis, they are known to be terrifically flatulent. Apparently Bonio make a charcoal biscuit especially for them in an attempt to mitigate the horrendous smell.

So our week ends with sunshine, blue skies and a terrific paddling session. Last week we managed 10km. This week, with fewer crew and a paddling into a headwind we managed just over 8km which is excellent. Several people have invested in bum cushions (called something less descriptive on the website) to ward off the terrible blisters some crew members have suffered. Some people have recommended soaking our backsides in vinegar and others have suggested a specific kind of sticking plaster which some crew members seem rather keen to stick on other crew members. It is all getting out of hand so we decide on bum cushions. And I have brought the tone down yet again. I do apologise but am afraid the situation is rather outside my control.

It does put me in mind of a lovely Mervyn Peake poem which I will leave you with.

My Uncle Paul of Pimlico
Has seven cats as white as snow,
Who sit at his enormous feet
And watch him, as a special treat,
Play the piano up side-down,
In his delightful dressing-gown;
The firelight leaps, the parlour glows,
And while the music ebbs and flows
They smile (while purring the refrains)
At little thoughts that cross their brains.


In a consulting room far, far away…

Saturday 8th March dawns a little cloudy but with a promise of sunshine. The temperature is mild, even by March standards. Mr Mason and I get ready for paddling as we are off to the Royal Albert Dock to train hard; it is only a few weeks before we go to Venice for the Vogalonga. Dog makes a sad face as we leave him in charge of the house and cats.

It is an important day. 2 years ago I was sitting in hospital being prodded, scanned and biopsied (I’m not sure if that is a real word but you know what I mean) before facing the surgeon who gave me the news that I had cancer in the most cavalier way possible. In case you haven’t heard it before, this is how it went.

“I am very worried about you. The radiologist is very worried about you and I think you should prepare yourself” I ask what I should prepare myself for, thinking he is telling me I have terminal cancer. “Well, when you came in here this morning you told me you didn’t think it looked good so I thought you had prepared yourself.” A few sniffles from me. I look blankly at him. What do we do now? “Do you want to read the radiologist’s report?” I do not know. I ask if I should read it. “Well, it doesn’t make very nice reading” he says, deadpan. He looks at me as though I am a boring person at a cocktail party,not the patient he has just delivered devastating, life-changing news to. No smile, no sympathetic look. Absolutely deadpan. And before you go thinking that’s just my memory of events, Mrs Halford is with me and she is shocked by his attitude. She snatches up the report and says “We’re going”. At the desk, pausing to make another appointment, I ask the receptionist through teary eyes whether I can see another surgeon and she confirms in a way that makes me think she knows what he can be like. The man in the blue chalk-stripe suit, the silk hankie tucked into his breast pocket and looking like a man who hasn’t a care in the world.

I sometimes see him now when I’m waiting for an appointment in hospital and think – should I ask him if I can talk to him for 5 minutes and then give him a good slap tell him how his delivery felt? Would it make any crack in the hefty veneer? Possibly not. I have not found the courage/energy/will to tackle him. Maybe a letter but I would not know what the response was and that is something I would need to see.

So, Saturday, out on the water. It is glorious. We work as a team and I find I am able to paddle a few strokes more each time we perform the gruelling pyramid. We start with 10 strokes with 10 seconds rest, then paddle 20 strokes with 10 seconds rest all the way up to 100 and back down again. It is tough and I cannot pretend I paddle 100 strokes all in one go but by the end of our training session, we find out we have paddled 10km! Wave Walkers even has its own little entry in Wikipedia. OK, cough, cough. I have to admit I added it but why not?

There have been many people and events which have helped me on the road to recovery and who have been around through some of my very darkest moments. Especially Mr Mason who found himself holed up in Boston with me on morphine trying to celebrate our wedding anniversary. That was a pretty bleak moment. He didn’t even get anything to eat that night. No fat rascals. Nothing. I cannot name everyone who has had a hand in pulling me out of the cancer mire but it feels quite emotional to get to this point. A point I was not sure I would reach at times. For those of you who read my Facebook blog – I kept most of the bad stuff out of it. It seemed cruel to tell how I was feeling when it wasn’t good. But here we are today, out on the water with fellow cancer survivors, the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces. I have a ribbon in my hair and I may look ridiculous but you know what? I don’t care.

Dragons and Dog Shows

This weekend has been the hottest so far in London so we decide an outdoor programme is required. We decide to stick with our plan to go Dragon Boating on Saturday. I feel we are somewhat extreme as the first time we went it was snowing and someone was taken off the boat with hypothermia and had to go in an ambulance. On Saturday it is boiling hot even before we start. I feel lazy and let other people get the boat out and then we’re in it and away we go. Ciara, our captain, works us very hard and we’re paddling away, doing exercises to improve our twist, working our legs and bottoms and making sure our start positions are right. Out on the water is slightly cooler with a bit of a breeze but every University rowing team also seems to be out there, sweating it out, most of them impossibly slim and tanned. After an hour, I am done. The boat goes into the pontoon and people swap sides and places in the boat. I say I will sit the next session out but Ciara asks if I want to sit in the back of the boat and just have a ride which sounds lovely so I accept. It’s great to sit back and watch people work and the planes taking off and landing at City Airport which is right beside the dock. Raging Dragons are also out on the water so it is decided we will race at the end. We are given a head start which is just as well as they are fast and pretty good but we paddle for our lives and I think we come in together. It’s fun, whatever. Walking away, my legs feel wobbly and I am tired but in a good way. Once we get home, we eat and sit down and an incredible feeling of calm and peace flows over me. I am in bed by 9pm.

Sunday morning dawns glorious again and we go to the South Bucks Pony Club dog show. The dog show is run by Greyhound Gap, a fabulous organisation who re-home greyhounds, lurchers and the like. There are so many dogs like Dog there, we are very happy. They have organised several competitions so we enter him for the Most Appealing Eyes, Handsomest Dog and Best Rescue. At the last moment we enter him in a lure race. They have a lure which is powered around the field for the dogs to chase. Although it is very hot, from a field away, Dog can see it and his attention is all on it. We go over and take him into the field. It is explained that the lure will go round once to excite Dog and then we can let him go and he will go like hell for leather around the field after it. Dog looks excited. The lure goes round once. He is let off the lead and immediately goes into clown routine, ambling around and saying hello to people and taking no interest in the lure whatsoever. It is very funny. In fact, it’s funny watching all the dogs whether they chase or not. They try to cut corners or else show no interest. It is very hot so we forgive Dog’s shortcomings in this department and realise again that this must be why he was dumped. He was bred by travellers for hare coursing, we think, and he shows not much interest for chasing rabbits although he has caught a couple. Now squirrels…that’s another matter.
After the shame of the lure, we go to the arena. Well, I say arena but it’s an area of the field roped off with a plastic gazebo to help give the dogs some shade. Dog enters his first class – Most Appealing Eyes – and gives the judge his best winsome look. We are delighted when he comes away with First place. Alas, it’s all downhill from there. Having won a first, Dog can’t be bothered to play the game and be the Handsomest Dog or Best Rescue although he scrapes Sixth place in the latter.

We wander off to find some food while the last classes are being judged and arrive back in time to see the penultimate class – Dog that looks most like its owner. There are only 2 entrants and we wish we had entered. Never have 2 people looked less like their dog but we know we would have been placed and then it would have been official. We have to be back for Best in Show which is very amusing. Dog has decided his best position is horizontal and he flops on the grass and can’t be bothered to show his best side. In 30 degrees, I don’t really blame him. He is not placed and so we wander off, proud of his small achievement and watch the show jumping for a while. Small children are racing round on ponies with such confidence and self assurance it takes my breath away. After a while we decide to leave and head home while there is still some afternoon to be snoozed away.

The weekend has been brilliant. I am tired but in a good way and hope for another good night’s sleep. I left my compression sleeve off today in a gesture of defiance (breast care nurse is still ignoring my request to see the lymphoedema nurse) and the heat has made my hand and arm swell so an evening of sitting quietly on the sofa watching a film is in order. This is probably the most active weekend I have had since my diagnosis. Maybe I am on the road to recovery after all.