A Mediaeval toppling

Through some clever manipulation, Mr Mason and I manage to arrange our week so that we can go to the Lincolnshire show. I love County shows. The week doesn’t start well with Lark coming into season. At first I think she has cut her paw (D’oh!) because she leaves a red bloody mark on my night dress but then, upon investigation and an email to her breeder, we are sure that is what has happened (coming into season not a cut paw). What do we do? We have never been in this situation before. I have a mental picture of all male dogs in East Lindsey rushing towards her and getting to our garden all at the same time. There are dire warnings on the internet and I suddenly feel very protective of my little pup who has no idea what is going on and still enjoys chasing a fluffy bunny and a screeching monkey around the garden. Should I be on one of those Channel 5 programmes as a bad mother? Probably not, I remind myself, she is a dog. Mr Mason and I trawl the charity shops in Horncastle to find suitable garments for her nether regions to keep the house reasonably clean. The first item I find is a pair of Superman shorts. It’s very difficult trying to size up an 11 month old whippet and compare it to a 3 or 4 year old child. At 99p I decide to take the risk but the woman at the counter undoes my subterfuge. “Going for a swim, are  you?” she asks. Now I can either grow the lie or just take it on the chin. “Actually they’re for my dog. She’s come into season today.” The assistant hoots with laughter and can still be heard as we go into the next charity shop two doors down. In the supermarket, I think I have cracked it. A pair of Swimmers! Nappy-type pants for kids who want to go in the water but can’t resist leaving a surprise. Again, the sizing catches me out. Helpfully, someone has opened a packet of the size I think would be right but it seems much too small to me so I buy the bigger size. Getting her into them is another job. She doesn’t mind too much but can’t resist chewing at the tapes so in the end I have to take a roll of sellotape and tape her in. Of course, when Mr Mason takes them off her later (yes, it was always going to be his job), there is a poo in it and I’m not sure who is more surprised.

On our way to the Lincolnshire Show the following day, armed with dire warnings of horrendous traffic jams, we see a rather chubby woman wearing a t-shirt with the slogan PUGS NOT DRUGS! It teams well with her tracksuit bottoms and slippers but we can’t quite get our heads around the slogan and so then make up rude and politically incorrect versions of our own as well as some equally perplexing ones to match the original. FEET NOT MEAT! PENS NOT HENS! You can take it from here. Getting into the show is a breeze. We are shown to the Disabled parking area which is very close to the entrance and then walk through with our pre-printed tickets. Lark is worried by the traction engines but both dogs enjoy the show jumping. They seem fairly relaxed although will not take food or drink from anyone except me and even then, Dog needs lots of coaxing. We find places to sit when we need them, buy some fabulous cheeses, smoked garlic salt, a hat, a wonderful walnut sourdough bread and a pair of ratcheted extendable loppers for Mr Mason who is very excited by this purchase. We go to see the pigs and sheep (PIGS NOT WIGS!) and then find out afterwards that dogs were not permitted. None of the animals seemed worried by each other and the size of both pigs and sheep was amazing. The pigs, particularly, were huge and sleepy while the sheep quietly stood guard. We left the show at around 4pm, thinking we had probably left it too late to avoid the terrible traffic but slid out of the car park easily and got home in record time. Obviously ‘terrible traffic’ in Lincolnshire means something quite different to what we are used to. I am really pleased with the way I handled the Show, managing to stumble round without falling over and being on my feet for quite some time. The weather at the Bolingbroke Mediaeval Madness a couple of days later is not so fair; in fact, it is raining. I have taken to walking Dog rather than Lark as he seems quite steady and sensible in comparison to her skipping and lurching about. Despite her size, she is quite strong, too. A sight hound is spotted at the Madness and so both dogs decide to make a break for it. Unfortunately, the new dog is downhill from us and Dog manages to pull me over completely. One minute I am upright and the next I am flat out, wondering if I have broken anything or not. Getting up is the hard and humiliating part. Complete strangers are offering to haul me to my feet and I feel disorientated and really just feel like lying there for a few moments, now that I have taken the trouble to get down there. Unfortunately this type of inactivity comes with the label of ‘slightly mad woman’ so I allow Mr Mason to haul me to my knees and then I flounder around and do the rest without looking too overwhelmed and I hurry away with Dog and apologies for my clumsiness. Being unstable does upset me, though. Sometimes I find it hard to walk in a straight line and my family is obsessed with me getting in people’s way. I often feel a firm hand in the small of my back ushering me along or being grabbed by the hand to move out of the way or cross the road. The latter move is doomed to disaster as the grabber is inevitably moving faster than me and if they persist will end up with a far more embarrassing scenario as I land flat on my face. Following the Mediaevel Madness toppling (‘toppling’ being the phrase coined by Mr Mason jnr for my many falls, including a spectacular one on the Champs Elysee for which, I suspect, i am still not forgiven), I feel exhausted and go and sit on the sofa and pretend to watch something on tv. Mr Mason goes back to see the one or two knights who have come to do battle and I don’t even realise he is gone. Apparently the knights really go at each other, dealing heavy blows as though there has been a slight disagreement over a pint of real ale earlier in the day.

And so sets in a period of extreme fatigue which is why it has taken me so long to update my blog. But the world doesn’t shut down nor does excitement and laughter which is a great part of the Mason household so I will be back before long with more tales of mayhem and destruction (and probably toppling). Enjoy a rare sighting of me in a photograh, completely unprepared and not having my photogenic body on.

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Lark’s Diary IV

Yesterday we went somewhere and Archie and I didn’t know what or where it was. It wasn’t shopping, it wasn’t the hospital, it wasn’t the woods and it wasn’t the beach but it was very good. There were some bad bits like these big engines that made a lot of noise which I didn’t like. Mark said “Lark doesn’t like the steam engines” and he was right.They smelt horrible, too. There were lots of people and some were riding on horses and jumping which was good but we weren’t allowed to join in. Mum gave me a Bonio and I pretended I didn’t want it until she went to put it away and then I ate it all up. A lady offered me some water but other dogs had been drinking from it and I thought that was a bit yucky. She said someone nearly wee’d in it but she’d stopped them but I’m not sure she was right because it smelt funny and I think someone had wee’d in it without her seeing.

Lots of people came up to us and said we were lovely but mostly they liked Archie because he is so big so I pushed my nose in to make sure I got stroked, too, otherwise it’s not fair. Mum took us to see some sheep and some pigs and when we came out of the tent she saw a sign that said “No dogs allowed” but we were very good and didn’t bark or anything and Mum just said “Oh dear”. The pigs were enormous but Archie didn’t like them much and tried to pull Mum out of the tent. Mum did some shopping and bought some food but no dog food. There was a lady giving away dog food but we didn’t like it and neither did any of the other dogs that we saw.

There were some men in red coats sitting on horses and they had hundreds of dogs with them. The man on the horse said “Wait!” and all the dogs stopped and waited and then he said “Come on!” and they all moved on. Mum said the dogs used to chase foxes but that they aren’t allowed to now which she thinks is a good thing. Archie thinks he would like to chase a fox but just on his own, not with a lot of other dogs. I think foxes are a bit scary. All the dogs stopped to have a wee on the same bit of fencing, one after the other. Mum says I am obsessed by wee but Mark never goes past a toilet without going into it so I don’t see I’m any worse. Mark says Mum is obsessed by wee at the moment, though. I didn’t like to have a wee with all those people around so I waited until we got out of the gates and were on our way to the car and then I had the biggest wee in the world; so did Archie.

I am still trying hard with this thing Mum calls ‘house training’ which means not weeing in the kitchen or utility room. Sometimes I think I want to go but then it’s raining and I don’t want to get wet so Mum puts me in my crate for a little while. I don’t mind if she’s in the room but if she’s not I like to sing to myself. I sing the Song of my People. It is a very beautiful song, very long and with many notes. Mum likes it a lot because when I sing she always comes back and says “What are you doing, Lark?” I think she would like me to teach it to her so maybe one day I will.

Another strange thing happened to me this week. Mum said “Oh, Lark, I think you’re in season”. I don’t know what that means but I do know it means she put some pants on me which I didn’t like very much. They are a bit papery and I love tearing paper so even though they have pictures of fish on them which I like, I had to tear at the paper and then they came off. Mum just got some sellotape, though, and taped me into them. And then a magic thing happened! I went into the garden to have a poo and when I finished it wasn’t there! Later on when Mark took my pants off, the poo had magically appeared in my pants! It was so strange and I still can’t work it out. Mum says I’m not to talk to any boy dogs except Archie which is OK by me as I’m a bit shy.

Here is a picture of me and Archie at the steam engine animal dog/pig/sheep place. We met the real Peppa Pig but she was asleep so we didn’t get to talk to her. She looked very nice, though.


Lark’s Diary III

This week we have been doing lots of running around and chasing things. Archie still keeps putting my head in his mouth and when Mum strokes me, she says “You’re soaking” because he drools on me and makes my head wet. I don’t think he wants to eat me, though. He likes biting my knees, too, but they are tickly and make me kick him.

We went to Gibraltar Point and I saw 6 bees, 4 butterflies and hundreds of ants. There were some really good smells but we had to stay on our leads in case we ate the baby birds and that wasn’t so much fun. When we got back to the car, Archie and I pretended we didn’t want water until Mum had thrown it away and then we started panting so she had to pour out some more and then we drank it. She thought it was a great joke.

The exercise man came to see Mum again. Why she doesn’t just run around the garden and chase balls, I don’t know, but he is trying to help her keep moving. He gave her this thing that counts her steps so she can tell how much running around she does every day. I don’t know if the man knows but Mum doesn’t run anywhere so I don’t know if she’s cheating or not. I thought of a brilliant idea to help her. Every time she takes her shoes or slippers off, I take them quietly away and hide them all over the house and garden. Then when she gets up, she has to look for them so that makes her move more. I found a really good hiding place for one of her slippers, right underneath a bush in the garden but my Mum is so clever, she found it. She was very pleased because she said “Lark, you are a little so-and-so” which I think means she can’t think of enough good words to describe me.

Our garden is full of good stuff you can pick up and run around with. There is a pile of dead weeds, a wood pile, pegs and some stones but I found the bestest thing of all. It was black and like a big stone but it was very light so I could run around with it. Mum said “What have you got there, Lark?” as she is always impressed by what I find. She said it was charcoal and it’s the most brilliant thing. It makes my teeth black and I can get it on my forehead if I try. It tastes odd but I like it. I have sneaked it into the house and put in my bed upstairs. It is one of my treasures.

I am also becoming a bit of an artist. There are lots of nice things in the house and garden but some need a bit of an artist’s touch so I have decided to help Mum by giving them what I call ‘the Lark Touch’. Mostly done with my teeth, I have single-handedly made the garden hose reel a bit more modern with a twisted look to the casing and have removed the central part of the handle. It looks so much better and I am sure Mum will be very pleased when she sees it. I really am her little so-and-so.

Cutting it fine

OK, so Virgil has crashed and burned as an oncologist in my opinion. Why? Firstly there is the suggestion that he sees me only 4 times a year. Hmmm. For someone with secondary cancer, pleural effusion and a tendency to be unstable on chemotherapy, this seems an extremely bad idea. We have maybe a total of 20 minutes talking together yet he thinks this is enough to know me and my cancer. It’s not as though cancer follows one path (and, pardon me, but my cancer is the rare and aggressive Inflammatory Breast Cancer. You don’t see many of us around). Everyone is different and since the reocurrence, my condition has been complicated. So I say my bit about usually being seen every 3 weeks and he agrees to this. Except he doesn’t really. A week before I would be due to see him, I ring his secretary to say I have not had an appointment. That’s because none has been made. OK, this could be an admin error but he should be looking out for things like this. I know my previous oncologist would have. The first appointment I can have is on 12th June, a month since our last meeting. Since then there have been an echocardiogram, blood tests, including tumour markers, and a CT scan. Have I had a since result from any of these? No, of course not. I asked for the result of my echo at the time but was told it is not policy to tell patients “as they might not understand”. Surely if you ask for the ejection fraction it shows a least a smattering of knowledge? I phone my GP to see if he has the results. No. If the ejection fraction is too low, I will not be able to have chemotherapy on Tuesday. I phone Virgil’s secretary. Not only is it the usual “we don’t give results over the phone” (which I accept and would like to point out that she has been very helpful so far) but Virgil hasn’t even looked at the results so there is no report to send to my GP. Cutting it close, Virgil, cutting it close. So of course, there are no blood test results, no tumour marker results and no CT scan results.

For anyone who has to have regular tests, the waiting around afterwards for the results can be excrutiating. It highlights here the dissonance between Virgil and I and his apparent lack of understanding of what it is like to be a patient. Especially a patient with a terminal illness who is really, really keen on keeping everything on track so she can hang on as long as possible. It makes me very angry and upset. Yes, he’s probably studied hard somewhere and it may have been a struggle but what use is that without a rapport with your patient? The patient/doctor relationship is so important and perhaps what’s worse than his lack of empathy with me is that I don’t have any faith in him. I don’t have any faith that he would go all out to find a new treatment, research options or really look after me. I feel like something on a conveyor belt, being churned out and if I’m not the same as the person before or after then that’s my hard luck. For God’s sake, this is my life we are talking about, not a minor illness. Having optimism, faith and a positive outlook is crucial in making my time as good as it can be. It’s all about quality of life.With a lot of pain, fatigue and just the reality that secondary cancer brings, it’s normal for me to be beating off depression or just general low mood. I feel I’ve done my bit with changing work and moving home. What I really need is a specialist I can rely on, who can understand this and see me as a complicated but interesting puzzle which he or she wants to solve or at least outwit the dreaded disease for as long as possible. I just don’t have that feeling with Virgil.

So, the second opinion is on the horizon and I am really hoping this doctor will have a better attitude. If it seems he is constrained by his Health Authority (which may also be a reason for Virgil’s apparent failures), then I will be looking further afield. I have my sights set on Addenbrooke’s or Sheffield and I’d be really happy to hear any recommendations from anyone who is/has been treated at either hospital.

Increasing pack size

Each week seems to get busier and busier. Instead of lounging in the garden, we have appointments, workmen and all sorts of admin to catch up with as well as continuing to unpack boxes. We have some new bookcases arrive which means emptying of more boxes which is good but also rather tiresome. It’s a job Mr Mason has taken on and is doing it well. The roof is finally finished. Alex and Dale come over to put the chimney pots on with the reknowned lime mortar. The weather is fickle and goes from sunny to windy with a hint of rain and they are concerned about the lime mortar setting well. They sit in the van for a while to see what the weather will do and then announce it will be OK, they have actually finished. There is a lot of chat as we thank them and they thank us for the work. Off they go in the van and half an hour later a huge storm crashes overhead with thunder, lightning and hale – the whole works. Suddenly their little white van re-appears and they rush up ladders with a tarpaulin while the rain lashes down. They were a few miles away and were worried that the storm would damage the lime mortar so, even though they had finished, back they came. They come down the ladders wet but smiling. The lime mortar has set sufficiently so the rain will not be a problem but I am rather blown away by their attitude. Having finished a job, they worry about the storm sufficiently to come back and make sure everything is OK. It’s an excellent service and not one I can imagine happening in many places. Another tick for Lincolnshire attitude.

I am still investigating the support network for cancer patients in the area. In London, it was pretty straightforward. There was the wonderful Maggie Centre at Charing Cross and I had a dedicated Macmillan secondary cancer nurse. There was also the Mulberry Centre at the West Middlesex Hospital where I could have massages or reflexology. The Mulberry Centre was a bit strange. The treatments were fine but it wasn’t the sort of place you could go in and just relax. The volunteers who staffed it were very eager and wanted to know why you were there and to engage you in conversation. I never found it a good place to go for anything except reflexology or massage. One member of staff got rather obsessed with Dog and would insist on coming to see him if he was in the car. He had to be brought out so she could shriek over him. What is it with people who shriek at dogs? They don’t like it. Here, there isn’t an obvious place to go so I reluctantly get in touch with the local Macmillan nurse who, as you will know, turns out to be marvellous. She is really intent on getting me hooked up with everyone so when I need something, I will know who to go to. I get a call from the local hospice who make me an appointment so I can go and be assessed. They provide all kinds of complementary therapies including breathing classes (which I think might be really useful), a choir and Reiki. I sit down to fill in the form I am sent and immediately it sends me into a dark place. So many questions I don’t want to answer about how I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually. Half way through it, I give up and go and help Mr Mason with the books, so depressing does it feel.

In fact, while I think of it, there has been a very black streak running through the whole week. I have decided to do lots of admin which means I can be productive whilst sitting down. Some of this is just letting people know of our new address and some of it is looking at finances and pensions. It’s the pension bit that I find hard. I have to make sure Mr Mason is nominated to receive my pension in the event of my death but then there are the new rules which came in last year meaning I can take some or all of my pension early. This means there are lots of conversations and emails discussing my health and forthcoming death, whenever that might be. I am desperate that Mr Mason is left in a good position financially and that there is nothing messy or complicated for him to be dealing with when the time comes. I hate thinking about it and there are quite a few tears. Luckily there are boxes of tissues in just about every room in the house so I am well prepared. I decide to engage a financial adviser who has been recommended by Mrs Hurley and think I will hand the whole kit and caboodle over to her (the adviser, not Mrs Hurley) and she can help me find my way through what feels like a mine field. I eventually get back to the hospice form and complete it, shoving it back in the envelope and deciding not to look at it again. I also get a call from a nice man called Aaron who runs fitness classes and regimes for people with cancer. He even sounds fit (in the literal sense) over the phone and he will come and see me, assess me and then become my personal trainer,  helping me to do excercise which will benefit me, taking into account my health and maybe link me up with some groups. It sounds good. The community nurse also calls and asks if she can come over to introduce herself and explain what she does and what she can offer. Another strand in my support network. Very different to London but I am starting to feel more secure.

On Friday we go to see Virgil and he is still rather stressed. Maybe this is his style in which case I will have to hypnotise him to make him more laid back. He has had more information but still not really enough and the date I was given for an echo was not one I could make. He sighs quite a lot and then says aloud everything he is entering into the computer system. We drag out of him that I can have chemo at Pilgrim Hospital instead of going to Charing Cross which is actually quite a relief. I love seeing the people at Charing Cross and at Maggie’s but it’s so tiring going there and back in one day. He says he will see me in 3 months at which I raise my eyebrows and explain at Charing Cross I am seen by the oncologist every 3 weeks. He thinks again and then agrees he will also do this. I also query with Virgil why the stickers on my appointment slips still have my old address on. He waves it away, saying it’s fine. When I get home I find a letter redirected from our old address asking me to attend the appointment I have just been to. I also have a letter from Charing Cross addressed to me at our new address with a copy of my oncologist’s letter.I start to wonder how much experience he actually has but know I have the safety net of my previous oncologist to fall back on. He can’t get through to the chemotherapy suite on the phone so walks us round there – Mr Mason later says how impressed he was by my turn of speed – to find out what time my appointment will be. Apparently, although there was a slot on Wednesday available earlier, it has now gone. They can give me an appointment on Tuesday. I know my previous oncologist would have waited until the following week but I feel I have said enough about what my previous oncologist would have done so say it’s fine. The lady on the desk already knows who I am because she has just prepared a file for me and a pharmacist arrives and says “Oh, is this the lady on Kadcyla?” I am the only person in the hospital to be treated with this drug so I cause a bit of a stir. The staff are incredibly friendly and give us a card to put on our windscreen so we will not have to pay any parking charges when we visit the hospital. I just have to make an appointment at the GP’s to have my blood taken and we are all set.

I also have a very exciting appointment to attend. Before we got Dog, I had decided I would like a whippet. Then we saw Dog and were smitten so took him. He is a sighthound, like whippets, but distinctly bigger with his Saluki parentage. We decide before we move that we will get another dog. Mr Mason jnr always says to Dog “We’re going to get a better dog” which is a mean thing to say. We would normally get a dog from a rescue but with the way things are, we decide to buy one from a breeder. I research breeders carefully through the Kennel Club and find one in Louth who has been recently inspected and breeds whippets and deerhounds. I email to see if she has any whippet pups available and get a response saying they are expecting a litter later in the summer but have 2 9-month old puppies if we are interested in a slightly older dog. To me, this sounds perfect. The dogs will have been house-trained and have basic training so we make an appointment and go over to see them. First we catch sight of the deerhounds who are magnificent and have won prizes at Crufts etc. They are huge and simply stunning. Both the whippets are gorgeous and have different temperaments. One is cheeky and ready to jump into trouble at the first opportunity whilst the other is quieter and more shy. Dog pretends to ignore them while we walk about in their run. He wees on everything we can see and the cheeky one, Leia, is desperate to smell his bottom, so much so that I fear she will get a wet head. The other dog, Lark, is more reticent and sticks with her sister for a bit. After a while, they all calm down and do a bit of chasing around, a bit of woofing and a lot more sniffing. Dog seems quite happy with them and we then have a difficult decision to make. One dog is a brindle and the other is white with brown spots on. The breeder points out which is better from a showing point of view although she knows we are not going to show the dog. It is very tricky to decide. But I’m all blogged out so I’ll let you decide which one you would take with a sneak preview. Photos courtesy of their breeder, Sue.


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Everything you wanted to know about lime mortar but were afraid to ask

OK, so it’s a subject you may never have discussed at a dinner party or over the post office counter but I really feel more informed now on the topic of lime mortar than I ever have before. We need minor repairs done to the roof of the house so I invite a number of tradesmen to come and have a look and give us a quote for the work they think needs doing. We had a survey done before we bought the house but felt the surveyor lacked a little in imagination and possibly experience. He assessed the age of the house as being built in 1900. This we know immediately is wrong but let it go and concentrate on the meat of the survey, part of which is that there is a small amount of damp coming into the house.

When we move into the house, we see small patches of damp but the house doesn’t smell of damp and considering it hasn’t been lived in for two years, it is in remarkably good condition. So, with Mr Mason pulling faces that say “Do we really have to do this NOW?” I contact several roofers to come and do their worst. Within minutes, we have responses and have the first roofer coming over that very day. He has been a builder for several years but has had an accident at work and is only now just getting back into building work again. We find people in Lincolnshire like to stop and have a chat and this includes tradesmen, the postman (Tim) and just about everyone else. So, Seve, the first roofer, suggests a few solutions and then is on his way having given us a day rate and an assessment that the work will take up to one and a half days to complete.

Tradesman 2 is Ambrose. He’s very ruddy faced, as a proper roofer ought to be, but also shocks us by saying he is getting old and that he will be 50 this year. Mr Mason and I had been mentally assessing him as in his 60s but mentally he is definitely older than the age of his teeth. Speaking of teeth, Ambrose and Seve both seem to have relatively full sets but the next roofers seem remarkably lacking. Next we have Lee who is amiable but I like less. His quote is cheaper than Ambrose’s, has no front teeth and suggests at one point spraying a weatherproof coating over the roof. Mr Mason’s face must have told him he was on the wrong tack as he shut that option down quickly.

At 5pm we have our final roofer, Alex. He has a range of teeth missing and his clothing is covered in paint and what-not so he looks the part. He is also Scots which may have something to do with the lack of teeth (sorry, Scottish readers). Alex talks the hind leg off a donkey. He starts talking at 5pm and leaves, still talking all the way down the drive just after 7pm. But he is interesting. We discover he is a specialist in old buildings, especially those which are listed. Ours isn’t listed but we know it’s not originally Victorian having lived here for just a few days. He talks lovingly about different kind of bricks, building methods, pantiles and the difference between lime mortar and any other kind of brick filling. Yes, I’ve forgotten all about it already yet I know lime mortar is very important. I know we are going to use his services rather than the others’ when he suggests putting smoke bombs up the chimney. The expression on Mr Mason’s face is a picture.

We continue working on the house during the week, planning each day to go out but having something preventing us. The bed we ordered, as you know, went AWOL. By Monday I have emailed MFW with a strongly-worded missive and later I am called by a lady called Carol who is the Customer Service manager. She tells me the bed was out of stock which is why only half was delivered. In a Universe somewhere, this makes sense but I am too tired of the whole thing to question her logic, especially as she seems to have been actually doing something about it. She has found another bed which is very similar and emails a picture over to us. If we like it, she will order it and it will be with us the following day. We like it and agree. The bed arrives the following day. We dismantle our bed and move it into a spare bedroom. We unpack the new bed. It is damaged. Part of the metal is bent so I email Carol a photo and we then go and put our bed back together again so we have somewhere to sleep. The work is agony but Mr Mason can’t do it on his own so I take oramorph and continue. It’s hard to breathe when I bend over so that makes it even more difficult and I just feel cross. In the night, Dog gets up a couple of times which is unusual for him. I think it is because we are sleeping in a different room but when we get up in the morning, it becomes obvious that there is no heating and he has just been cold. We check the oil level which shows about 3/4 of a tank and although I look up the manual of the boiler online, we can’t get to the bit we need to fiddle with so start phoning around for an engineer. Someone can come the following morning at 8.30 so we know we’re in for a cold night. Dog gets his pyjamas on.

Carol asks if we can live with the defect or do we want another bed delivered? We say we will try to put it together and see if it works. The damage appears to be at the back of the bed where it will not be seen so we decide this is OK. We put the new sheet on, open the new duvet cover and then the new packs of duvets. We have chosen wool again (honestly, if you’ve never tried it, do. It’s the most comfortable thing to sleep under and really seems to regulate your temperature) and have bought a spring/autumn weight and a summer weight. We look to see how they clip together. Ah. One has button holes and the other has button holes. Hmmmm. Neither has buttons which means they will not join together. I phone the company (Soak and Sleep – what a rubbish name) and explain my problem. She knows exactly what I am talking about and can arrange for the summer duvet to be collected and a new one with buttons on delivered when they have some in stock.

The engineer arrives at 8.30 on the dot the following morning and is a cheerful man who explains to us how the boiler works. He also tells us that part of the problem is that we are out of oil. Yes, our lovely vendors omitted to tell us that the gauge on the tank does not work. We phone a local oil company and beg them to try and come out today. They promise they will try and that’s where our story ends for today. We seem to have had a range of minor disasters ever since we moved in but we have also had some lovely events and I promise they will be in the next blog. More than anything, I wanted to catalogue for myself everything that’s been happening so that when everything is running pretty smoothly, I can sit back and really appreciate it. And there will be lots more about lime mortar when Alex starts his work on the roof, I promise.

The bottom of the wardrobe and other stories

Before I am even dressed on Sunday I decide to clear out the bottom of the wardrobe. It has to be done in the face of our impending move but crouching and bending positions don’t sit well with breathing so I go at it like a mad thing, pulling everything out and then looking at it. Lots of things will go to the charity shop but there are some fabulous memories there among the dusty shoes and boots. There is a pair of sand coloured suede slip-ons, hand-stitched by Tsonga and which I loved. We bought them in Knysna in South Africa about 11 years ago. We had flown out there as a family of 4 and stayed with a friend in Simon’s Town, just outside Cape Town. The naval harbour had been built by the same craftsmen who built the harbour in Portsmouth so looked very familiar to us. We spent a few days in Cape Town, eating fabulous food, visiting the penguins and doing the inevitable trip to Table Mountain. Mrs Safaie was a teenager then and decided to abseil from the top of the mountain. There was not a lot of supervision and I was torn between watching out for her (she was told to ‘just make her way back to the top’ after her abseil) and looking after Mr Mason who is not good with heights. He could only stand in the middle of the plateau looking faintly green while Mr Mason jnr and I tried to look at the view. Once Mrs Safaie had made her way back to the top, hot and dehydrated, we went back to the car, looking for her watch which she had realised was missing while at the top. It was a present from her grandparents so she was keen to find it. We did find it. We found it had been splattered into the tarmac by probably a steamroller, so far down it was pressed. She was very upset and I said the immortal phrase “One day you’ll laugh about this”. Periodically I still ask her and she still says it’s not funny but I think she’s just about coming round.

I find a burgundy velvet hat, embroidered with gold thread and mirrors. This takes me back to the Alhambra Palace. The hat belongs to Mr Mason jnr who, when young, loved wearing hats. We were in Scotland once when he took a liking to a deerstalker. There was some mad Scottish reel being played in the shop and we chased him round, retrieving the hat only for him to grab another deerstalker and run off with it again. Fast forward a few years and we are in Spain and he has another hat – the burgundy and gold velvet number. It is very hot and we wander round the cool palace, taking in one amazing room after another. In each room there is a Spanish lady, usually an older woman, who can give you information if you need it. Mr Mason jnr was very blonde in his youth and no Spanish lady can resist ruffling his hair and pinching his cheek. They are also perplexed by his hat and one whispers to me, asking whether he is Jewish? No, he just likes hats. The hat I am keeping.

A pair of black, pointy suede shoes with patent tips, bought to attend an important meeting in anticipation of winning a big NHS contract sit disconsolately at the back. These shoes I wore once, for a few yards. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my contracts was with a company who wanted to provide services to the NHS. I worked with them pro bono to bid on the contracts they wanted as I had experience in this area where they did not. We were invited to a meeting where we would be questioned about our service and then told whether we had met the criteria and would be awarded a contract. It was a very big deal, across a wide area of the country, and in anticipation of the meeting, I bought new shoes. I wore them one morning when I was going to sit in court and before I got there, the back of my heels were in ribbons. I limped into a shop and bought socks and blister pads. I limped to court and phoned Mr Mason, asking him to bring me shoes without backs so I wouldn’t have to walk around court bare-foot. Actually, I don’t think that would have been allowed but there was no way I could have worn these shoes. For the big meeting I wore an ordinary pair of shoes and yes, we were awarded the contract. When I was diagnosed, I assumed I would be able to work through my treatment. After all, I mostly worked from home and only travelled up to the Midlands once a week, sometimes twice. I remember sitting in a meeting in Manchester, fiddling with my hair and watching handfuls come out. It was probably about that time I realised I was not going to be able to carry on as though nothing was happening. I agreed to do slightly less work and then, after a month, I was quietly let go. In amidst the fear and anguish of cancer, I didn’t have time to be upset or angry about work. It was something that used to matter but didn’t any more. Most of the people there I worked with slipped quietly into my peripheral vision. My illness was an inconvenience that could be dealt with and their focus turned away from me. I was fortunate in that we could manage because we had savings to fall back on but in work terms, I was quickly forgotten.

Finally, there is a flat box from Liberty which once contained a silk scarf, bought for our 10th wedding anniversary by Mr Mason. I still have the scarf but the box makes me smile because of the story behind it. Mr Mason went into Liberty’s and thought he would buy me something lovely for our anniversary. He looked at the cotton scarves and found one he liked. When he pointed it out to the assistant, she brought him the silk version which was, of course, a lot more expensive. There was that dilemma for a few seconds. Was I worth the silk scarf? Should he buy the cotton one which he had intended or the silk one which he hadn’t even considered and was a lot more than he intended paying? It was our 10th anniversary, after all. As you know, he went for the silk one and 25 years later, I still have the scarf and I still have Mr Mason.