Drowning in digital dreams

Isn’t the digital camera a wonderful thing? Remember the days when you had to limit your photography to 24- or 36-shot portions? Each shot had to be carefully considered. You might run out too soon and miss vital moments. Printing the pictures was expensive, and remember the resentment when you found you’d paid for one that was obliterated by light leaking into the camera, or leaving the lens cap on?

These days you can click away to your heart’s content, capturing fleeting moments. We can create massive archives from which to select the one that’s ‘just right’.
As you sit down to sift your way the 600 plus pictures you fired off at Bob and Jean’s golden wedding bash, or the 3,000 shots you brought back from your holiday of a lifetime, do you feel a mild panic? Perhaps a little nostalgia for the self-editing nature of celluloid and print?

Once you’re selected the 50 or so images that you really want to keep, how do you store them or display them? Backing them up on CDs and DVDs seems a good idea, but how often are you going to fire up the computer to look at them? In future, will your children and grandchildren be able to look at them? You’ve backed them up on electronic storage device – say, a DVD or Flash drive – so they should be safe, shouldn’t they? Wrong. The media may well last a century, but the device for playing it may be long gone. (I must remember to move the electronic slideshow I did of my daughter’s wedding from a DVD to my hard disk before… oh, hang on, too late… my new laptop doesn’t have a DVD drive.)

What happened to those things we got off a shelf? They were interactive. You could flick through to wherever you wanted. You didn’t need electricity. Ah yes – photograph albums.

There’s one potential answer in self-publishing. Don’t be put off by it sounding rather grand. It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive way to make a book (or two) of your favourite memories. Websites ‘Lulu’ and ‘Blurb’ guide you step-by-step through the process, providing templates and making it as easy as possible to produce a good looking book. Once you press the ‘Publish’ button your book will be winging its way to you in a few days.

So, instead of all those pictures languishing in a folder on your computer somewhere, you can have a selection of beautiful books on your shelf. Books of memories.

I can’t wait to start my library. ‘My recipes’, ‘Last summer with our dog’, ‘Best hotels for long weekends’, and ‘Summer holiday with Granny and Grandpa’. That last one will have to wait until we actually HAVE grandchildren, but I’m looking forward to it!

I’m there

It’s nearly 6 months since I finished chemo.

Yesterday I felt that I’m back. I’ve arrived. This is it. My energy levels are back to normal. In fact, better than that because I’m 70lbs lighter than what I remember as ‘normal’, pre-diagnosis.

I got up at 6.00am, made the daughter’s packed lunch, did two loads of washing, got the dehydrator whizzing along with two sorts of crackers, made bread. Then, ‘speed-walked’ with the dog 4 miles round Berry Head. (I don’t mean to speed-walk – it’s just that I can’t control the dog.) Popped into the allotment and picked herbs for dinner. After a cup of tea (green, natch) I prepared a stupidly complicated dinner which required 2 hours of standing in the kitchen. A year ago I couldn’t even stand up for 10 minutes, and needed painkillers every 4 hours.

I ironed the linen and made the bed. I washed up, and FINALLY sat down in my super sleepy old person’s motorised chair at 8.00pm, and DIDN’T doze off! Amazing!

I had a slight backache off and on during the day,  but that’s going to be ongoing because the cancer is in my spine and has caused ‘instability’, but nothing worth worrying about. In fact, I haven’t taken a single painkiller in 2013. Isn’t that wonderful?

I’m never going to be in the clear waters of NED (No Evidence of Disease), but I wonder how long I can stay in this blessed space? I believe the chemo and radiation restored me to a state of health where I could be empowered to improve my own health, and I’m going to carry on with that. I’m still munching through mountains of fruit and vegetables, raw when possible. I’m increasing my exercise every day, swimming and walking further and further. I’m still keeping insanely clean with my daily ‘Dettol’ bath. I’ve also added a daily ‘core temperature raising’ sauna whenever possible. The body raises its own temperature when fighting disease, right? So perhaps raising my core temperature for a few minutes a day can help those jolly old Natural Killer Cells charge around and tackle stray cancer cells? Just an idea of mine, and very pleasant to carry out, so worth a try (and, yes, the incidence of cancer is slightly less in Scandinavian countries where saunas are popular.)

Well, must dash. I’ve got to have a juice (carrot, apple and ginger) before I dash off to the spa for a swim and a sauna, then dog-walking around the beautiful Devon Coast this afternoon. Life couldn’t be sweeter!

My brows and lashes are getting ready to jump ship…

…the bastards. I was really hoping to hang on to those.

They’re not going quietly, either. They are mutinously rearing up and sticking out all over the place.

Eyebrows and lashes affected by chemo

I noticed it a couple of days ago when I was out for a walk. I had a bizarre vertical line in the vision in my left eye. The world for me was as if viewed from the window of a VW split screen campervan. It was still there the next day. First thoughts, was it a scratch on my contact lens? Naaah! Wouldn’t be in the same place both days. Worse still, had my age-related eye floaters finally got so bad that they were all holding hands in a stalactite/stalagmite arrangement? Grim thought. But not as grim as thought number three. Perhaps I had now got a brain tumour as well as all my other problems, and my sight was going to geometrically fragment so I ended up with the vision of a housefly.

Woman, get a grip! Eyelashes were the likely answer, and on close inspection there was the offending lash, breaking ranks with its colleagues and sticking down like a pig’s bristle. No matter how much I wet it, warmed it and bent it, it would not get back into line, so eventually I tugged it out.

This morning I noticed that my eyebrows had started to behave in the same way. I’d brushed aside a couple of ‘Dennis Healey’* comments without much thought, but, indeed, they have become as irrepressible as my lashes.

I don’t mind the bald head, but I’m really going to miss my lashes. So much, in fact, that I may have to try false ones. This is going to be one big learning curve for me, useless as I am at all feminine arts. They’ll be all over the place, especially now with my old people’s eyesight.

I’ll keep you posted.

*for non UK readers, Dennis Healey was a British politician with notoriously bushy eyebrows

Twenty-twenty foresight

I’ve been doing far too many recipes recently, and not enough musing on life, and getting older. So, here’s something non-food-related…

Twenty-twenty foresight

When I was young I looked forward to being older, and gaining wisdom. I imagined myself in the future, side-stepping problems and overcoming all obstacles with a serene calm. I would know how things went wrong, so I could engineer ways to avoid catastrophe and disappointment. Life would be a smooth voyage of satisfaction and success.

Decades later I find myself suffering as many glitches as ever. Knowing what causes things to go wrong, and how they go wrong, doesn’t stop them from going wrong. You simply have longer to agonise over them. At your leisure you can watch situations slip into the same abysses for which they were always bound.

We moved into our first modern house in the November. With superb insulation, double-glazing throughout and modern gas central heating, we looked forward to our first Christmas. We were going to be so warm and toasty throughout the festivities.

All that glowing anticipation evaporated a couple of weeks before Christmas when our boiler broke down. After a few cold days, our system was expensively fixed and we were back in the warm glow of our first exciting Christmas in our new home. We took out a maintenance contract so that we wouldn’t be at risk of a ruined Christmas again.

The next year, as winter began to bite, the gas engineer turned up at our door and we welcomed him in. Just a quick check, we thought, and he’ll be on his way, leaving us with a nice warm home for our second Christmas there.

We led him to the boiler in the kitchen and left him to it.

First there was an urgent banging as he tried to remove the front of the boiler.

Bang, bang! BANG! BANG!

Then silence, as he worked out that the cover needed delicately removing and then gently twisting out through the housing.

Work commenced in earnest, and several minutes later, pop! The main fuse blew and we were plunged into darkness.

‘It weren’t me!’ claimed the gasman.

‘Trouble is,’ he said, a few minutes later ‘it’s an electrical fault, and I don’t know anything about electrics. I can’t get the boiler going again. I’ll have to get the supervisor to come. It’ll be a few days…’

We saw him out. Several very cold days later we welcomed the supervisor. He was a tall, cheerful, capable fellow with dark, curly hair. He had the system up and running in a short time, and was on his way.

A year later…

Bang, bang! BANG! BANG!

A few minutes work, then Pop! The main fuse blew and we were plunged into darkness.

‘It weren’t me!’ claimed the gasman.

‘Trouble is,’ he said, a few minutes later ‘it’s an electrical fault, and I don’t know anything about electrics. I can’t get the boiler going again. I’ll have to get the supervisor to come. It’ll be a few days…’

Again, the curly-haired supervisor came to our rescue, and restored heating for the big Christmas break.

Moving on a further year, we were telephoned by the Gas company to make our annual maintenance appointment.

‘Look’ I snipped, ‘instead of sending the first man who always breaks the system, can you send the supervisor first off? Cut out the middleman, so to speak?’

‘I’m sorry,’ crooned the administrator, ‘we have to follow procedure.’

Our welcome was somewhat jaded for the gasman this particular year. We directed him to the boiler and left him to it.

Bang, bang! BANG! BANG!

We eyed each other dolefully, and, with a deep sigh of exasperation, hubby wearily walked across the room, knelt down and zipped his head into his sports bag.

Hubby with his head zipped into sports bag, in exasperation

A picture of exasperation.

Pop! The main fuse blew.

The gasman popped his head round the door and cheerily stated ‘It weren’t me!’

‘Trouble is, I don’t know anything about electrics…’ His voice tailed off as he absorbed the strange tableau before him. There was a man kneeling on the floor with his head zipped into a sports bag, and the lady of the house looking like Whistler’s mother.

‘Erm… I’ll get the supervisor to come round. I’ll see myself out…’ he said, reversing out of the room. He quietly gathered his tools and slipped out of the house.

Another year passed and the boiler maintenance appointment was duly made. We had resigned ourselves to the usual fiasco.

At the knock, I wearily opened the door. My face broke into a smile as I saw a cheery face, topped with a head full of dark curly hair.

‘Hello! I don’t think our engineer has been round yet, has he? Must have been some mistake. Never mind, I’ll check your system while I’m here…’

That’s what makes life worth living, isn’t it? Twenty-twenty foresight isn’t always correct. Only most of the time.

Coffin dodging

There’s a pivot point in life when it dawns on you that nature is no longer on your side.

The vital, benevolent presence that allowed you to party all night and not feel too bad in the morning has mutated into the grim reaper. When did that happen?

I remember working all night to get a job done, or being kept awake by a teething child, and really not suffering too badly the next day. Now the reverse is true; stay up until midnight one night and I’m non-functional for two days.

All the little injuries and any surgery you’ve had come back to pain you afresh. It’s a concerted effort to grind you down and stamp you out.

It seems that all the favours mother nature gives in youth now have to be repaid in full, with interest.

As far as nature (and the government) is concerned, we are now surplus to requirements. You can almost hear nature (and the government) saying ‘Could you hurry up and die, please? You’ve had your kids/done your work, now you’re just taking up too many resources, so just piss off”.

I’m not going to warmly ramble on about the vast wisdom and patience of the ‘third agers’, a band of society to which I’m a new recruit. My argument is that we’re pretty useful just in hard, economic terms. We’re putting money into the economy (especially pubs and hostelries). We’re buying services and products, sometimes at an even greater rate than before. For example, I’ve just had my first new kitchen fitted.

Now I’ve spotted this vendetta by nature (and the government), I’m going to rear up in revolution. They’re not getting me out of here until I’ve sucked the goodness out of my pension fund. I believe you have to be 85 to get back what you put in, so, 90 years of age, here I come!

As for nature, I’ll get fit and start running…

Suddenly, I’ve come over all tired. Must be that late night I had last Thursday.

The frugal spa

To tell the truth, I’ve been feeling a bit clapped out. A month of ‘flu and lung infection has taken its toll, and the daughter’s wedding is now only two weeks away.

A friend of mine told me about the magical effects of a week in a spa, over the bay in Torquay. She went there every time she felt flaky, and swore by it. I pored over the website, and it did look very attractive. Apart from the price, of course. £200 for a couple of days!

I’m sure I can do the same for less than a fiver…

Firstly, I’ve got the same seaside venue, just there, outside the door. Free!

I started to look at some of the treatments:

Elemis Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow £37…

I can do that. I’ve got sea salt, lime and ginger in my pantry.

Then I considered what I would need a spa to do for me. Fresh air, exercise, great ‘cleansing’ grub and a few fancy treatments.

I can do all of those.

I planned my ‘spa day’:

  1. ‘Energising’ breakfast of grapes, banana and bio yoghourt.
  2. Walk by the sea (to the allotment). Commune with tomato plants.
  3. Return via Breakwater Beach. Wriggle toes in sand and waves, and try to persuade passing mackerel shoal to administer ‘fish pedicure’.
  4. ‘Cleansing’ carrot and herb soup for lunch.
  5. Retreat to spa (bathroom) and apply rosemary and olive oil hair treatment, honey and oatmeal face masque, and ‘Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow’ my body.
  6. Meditate in spa bath while all treatments do their magic.
  7. Spicy beanburgers and salad for supper, washed down with loads of green tea.


I took my inspiration from a couple of web sites – ‘Spa index’ and ‘Lifescript’ – and assembled the ingredients.

Spa ingredients

All I need, from the local store

I hadn’t got ‘essential oil of rosemary’ for the hair treatment, so I hacked some clumps of rosemary from the back yard and steeped them in microwave-warmed olive oil and honey. It seemed to work OK.

Rosemary infusing in olive oil

Rosemary infusing in olive oil

I whizzed up some oatmeal with some dried orange peel, added honey and yoghourt. It was delicious. I stopped myself eating it.

I wanted something for my eyes, but there was no way I was buying cucumbers, due to their current notoriety. ‘Deadly cucumbers claim more lives’. I decided on slices of lime. I’m not letting deadly cucumbers anywhere near my eyes.

Homemade spa treatments

Left: Rosemary infused oil and honey, for hair. Top: lime and ginger body glow (rosemary sprig added for glamour, to disguise used takeaway carton receptacle). Front: yummy oat face masque.

Looking back, the day went fairly well.

The walk was good. Unfortunately, due to it being a Bank holiday weekend, when I got to my ‘fish pedicure’ venue there were just too many people around. Brixham’s Breakwater Beach is made up of the most gorgeous, flat, skimmable stones. The end result is that visitors spend most of their time throwing the beach into the sea. Nature seems to be on our side, because the winter storms usually deposit all the stones back on the beach, ready for the next spring.

If I’d tried to sit in a contemplative position at the water’s edge I would have been pulverised by thrown stones.

The carrot soup was great. I made a bit of a pig of myself (can you eat too many carrots? Go orange, or something? I will be finding out shortly.)

I took to the bathroom and applied all my stuff:

The masque applied

Hair oil on, kept in check by free shower cap from Portmeirion Hotel. The masque is lumpier than I expected, especially the orange peel bits. (Why have I got one eye bigger than the other? Why haven't I been told about this eye discrepancy?)

The bath wasn’t the relaxing, meditational experience I’d hoped. The oaty face masque was constantly marching down my face and dripping into the bath. The lime slices on my eyes – well, eyes don’t like acid lime juice running into them.. My stomach didn’t find the bath’s massage jets as relaxing as usual, due to trying to simultaneously deal with digesting several pints of carrot soup.

I only managed about ten minutes before I stumbled out of the bath, eyes streaming and shedding little oaty, salty bits all over the room.

I’d rate it a partial success. Right now, I feel myself glowing. My hair feels smooth, heavy, kind of different, like someone else’s hair, but not unpleasant. My skin’s smooth and kind of gooey, due to the almond oil in my ‘salt scrub’.

Ultimately, I conclude that the whole spa ‘thing’ actually needs you to spend a lot of money. That’s part of it.

I probably haven’t even saved that much when I have to pay DynoRod £200 to clear my drains of all that oatmeal and oil.