Bucket List

Thanks to Mr Facebook, I know that it has been two years since I was attached to a handsome man and jumped out of a plane.  It wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting.  I did it because I am quite lazy and couldn’t be bothered to train for anything exhausting like a marathon.  The first man who ever ran a marathon, died straight afterwards.  That’s all you need to know about my view on marathon running.

Anyway, inspired by memories of Janet Ellis on Blue Peter leaping out of planes, I thought why not?  It’ll be over quick.  Everyone I spoke to who had done a sky dive kept saying how amazing it was.  A few were envious that I had had the opportunity to do it.  The allotted hour arrived and there I was, sat between the legs of a very attractive parachute instructor in a rickety plane, that kept climbing higher and higher.  Everyone in the plane seemed very chilled.

“Right. I’m off then…” said a jolly bloke as he jumped through the open hatch, like he was popping out to Tesco’s.

Then it was our turn.  I had stupidly paid for a video of the occasion which was a huge error.  I dangled my legs out of the hatch, with a loon who had a camera fixed on his head asking me how I was feeling every five seconds.  The instructor slowly shuffled forward and soon I was dangling under the plane. Then we dropped…

When we landed, the camera loon ran up.

“So, how was it?!?”

“Interesting… I think I might be sick…”

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for.  I was quickly disentangled and made to put my head between my knees.  I felt a lot better after that.

Sky diving is often high on people’s bucket lists.  I’m a bit dubious about bucket lists.  It’s all a bit organised for me. The best fun and experiences are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. The planning aspect somehow, takes the joy away from that, for me anyway.

I was in two minds before doing my sky dive.  I had started going to a women’s cancer group and one of the women in the group, Lou, persuaded me to do it.  Lou and I got on well from the start.  We shared a similar taste in humour.  Lou had breast cancer and found out that she had the BRAC-2 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie.

“Believe you me that is the one and only thing I have in common with Angelina Jolie.  Mind you if she ever fancies trading Brad in…”

When I first mentioned the sky dive, she urged me to do it, just to ogle at the instructors at least.

“They are all gorgeous!”

A week after the sky dive, Lou took a turn for the worse and was admitted to hospital.  I went to see her.  She was in a bad way and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  Her mum asked how the sky dive went.  I told my story of it and I thought I could see Lou smile in the corner of my eye.  Lou’s mum asked who the instructor was. It turned out that Lou had done a sky dive five year previous with the same instructor.

“He was absolutely gorgeous!”

Sadly, Lou died the next week.  Myself and another woman from the group decided to go to her funeral.  Lou lived in a small village on the outskirts of Nottingham.  My Sat Nav failed big time and we were ten minutes late for the service.  As soon as we ran into the church, the vicar was finishing the eulogy.

“Lou was quite often late for things.  She would rush in apologising which made her even more endearing…”

You could almost hear Lou muttering,

“Honestly you two, what muppets!”

Glastonbury

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  The indoctrination that everyone is having a truly fantastic, awesome, lifechanging experience on a farm in Somerset.  If the wall to wall coverage is anything to go by, we at home are missing out big time.  However, all is not what is seems at Worthy Farm.

I went to Glastonbury twenty years ago.  I had graduated from university so thought why not?  Getting tickets weren’t a problem.  They were £65.  I think I got them from a record shop in Leicester.  None of this photo ID and registration malarkey.  I went with my friend Sooze who fortunately, had a tent and camping experience.  So off we set on a chartered coach from Victoria Coach Station with high hopes.

When we got there, the security was quite tight.  The previous year a lot of gate crashers had climbed over the fence.  It got so bad that Michael Eavis had said that is the same thing happened at the next festival, he would scrap the thing altogether.  We had been told so we were on our best behaviour.

Once we were in the next question was where to camp?  I had no idea.  Thankfully Sooze decided upon a location that was on top of a slope, quite close to the loos and a five minute walk from some shops and food vans.  I wasn’t too happy about being so near to the loos, but we thought we would stay put for the night and maybe move in the morning.  As we settled down for the night we were unaware of the dark clouds arriving.

The next day we woke up to a quagmire.  It had rained all night and there was mud everywhere.  I had bought no boots as I had optimistically, packed sandals and factor 15.  My first mission was to acquire some wellies.  This was done at a premium and then we could survey the damage.  As we were at the top of the slope, our tent was still secure.  As we made our way down the slope towards the Pyramid stage, the worse the situation became.  Tents had been washed away.  There were people who only had the clothes that they had slept in and nothing else.  It was like a disaster zone.

This was a time before mobile phones so there was no way of letting loved ones know that we were fine.  Our parents had to rely on really startling news reports that were showing mud of biblical proportions and not much else. That first day was pretty grim.  We trudged to the Pyramid Stage.  The Other Stage had sunk, so all performances on that, were cancelled.  On the Pyramid Stage were The Levellers.  For a band who were named after a band of revolting peasants, they weren’t really showing much comradery with their common man.  They had Hawaiian shirts on and seemed to be taunting the crowd.  Mud was chucked at them.  The atmosphere changed to something quite dark.

“I think we should go…” said Sooze.

The Levellers finished their set.  Beck was on next.  I knew a bit about Beck but not much.  But he was a revelation.  As soon as he came on, the darkness lifted.  Beck is more than a musician, but an artist.  His performance include dance, DJing and music from every genre imaginable.  More crucially it reminded us why we were all there in the first place.

After that, the rest of the festival was amazing.  Radiohead were magical.  I’ll always remember watching No Surprises while fireworks were going off.  Not huge New Year Eve type fireworks, but little bursts of colour that matched the music perfectly.  We tried to go shopping for wet weather gear and ended up raving in a clothes shop, which can only happen at Glastonbury.  The decision to be near the loos was genius.  You could hear them being cleaned each morning so we could time our morning ablutions to perfection.  On the Saturday, we worked out we had stood for more than eleven hours solid. There was nowhere to sit because of the mud but we didn’t notice at all.

I nearly went again in 2011.  However, I was still suffering from the trauma of radiotherapy to be fit enough to go.  Although I regretted not going, nothing could ever better that awesome Glastonbury of 1997.

Never Forget

We’ve come so far and we’ve reached so high.  And we’ve looked each day and night in the eye. And we’re still so young and we hope for more.  Yes, it was Take That time again.  Roughly every year since Take That have reformed, my sister and I have seen them in some form or other. At their maximum, there was five.  Now two have jumped ship and they are down to three.  As we’ve seen them so often, I’m now on the pre-order ticket list.  For pre-ordering their album, I get to access the tour tickets a couple of days before the hoy polloi get them.  Sweet.

For some reason, they seem to announce their tour dates for the upcoming year during the October half term.  They know that their main client base must be teachers both practising and retired.  Every year my sister and I have the same argument.  I want to stand and she wants to sit.  Every year my sister always wins out. Oh well maybe next year…

So, there we were last Saturday, in the O2, up in the Gods, sweltering away.

“Hello London! You’re looking fabulous on a Saturday night!” announced Gary Barlow in the way that Gary Barlow only can.  The opening chords for Greatest Day rang out and up we stood.  Half way through a woman whose head were in front of my feet, started shouting at me.

“What?!?”

“You’re spilling your beer on my head!”

“Oppss! Sorry!” I said and put the mouthful of beer I had left in my plastic pint glass into the drinks holder on my seat.  I stopped singing.  I knew it was far worse.  It wasn’t beer that had gone on that woman’s head.  It was drool.

My drooling has reached epic proportions.  I am drooling everywhere.  On student’s work, random women’s’ heads, on the dog, on nurses’ iPads, you name, I’ve probably drooled on it.  The reason for the drooling is my mouth.  As I have no facial nerve on the left side of my face, the left side of my mouth is drooping quite badly.  It’s happened quickly.  Only last year in photos, I’m grinning away celebrating my 40th birthday.  Now it’s all lopsided.

People are noticing.  When I went to the local tip to get rid of some gardening stuff, the old bloke who works there asked if I had had a stroke.  I told him a condensed version and he looked horrified.  You can forget how bonkers it all is to civilians. So, it was a bit of a blessing that after Take That, I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon.

I decided to take some moral support so my husband came with me.  We managed to squeeze in a trip to Costa to discuss tactics beforehand.  I had decided to go with the bog standard hoik up.  I wanted to stop drooling asap and to-ing and fro-ing to Birmingham wasn’t going to help that.  We arrived bang on time and an hour later we were called in.

My husband has a weird theory about medical professions.  He thinks you can tell a lot by looking in their eyes.  They either have sharp, focused eyes or dull, lazy eyes.  Thankfully Mr Q’s eyes are firmly the former.  I told him of my preferred option and the reason why.  He nodded and didn’t try and change my mind.  In fact, I think he agreed with it.  Now came the tricky part.  We arranged for him to come to my appointment at the eye clinic in August.  There both he and the eye surgeon would discuss further what to do.  Then, hopefully, I would have one operation where both my eye and my mouth would be hoiked up.  The stitches would finally come out of my eye and the drooling would stop.  It all sounded good.  We shook hands and arrangements were made to meet at the end of August.  My drooling days were numbered.

Arise Sir Liam

While I was working in the Czech Republic, a film came out over there about two Czech pilots who fled to Britain flew and fought in the Battle of Britain.  When the younger of the two came over for training, he couldn’t believe the calm attitude of not only the British pilots but also the civilians.  It was a very close thing, the Battle of Britain. Churchill ordered inventories of all the weaponry in museums.  That’s how close it was.  So why was everyone so calm?

“They’re not fanatical.  That’s what’s going to win this war.” The older Czech pilot told his colleague.  It’s this attitude that is finally shining through the darkness of the last few weeks.  It was also seen in the brilliant One Love Manchester concert.

I missed the first half hour of the concert as we were trying to get our heads around House of Cards again.  We decided to take a breather and I flicked it on.  A chap called Scooter was giving a long introduction for someone.  It was a bit rambling.

“I’m off to the garage.” announced my husband.

The long introduction was for Adriana Grande of whom I know absolutely zilch about.  She came on and the song was OK.  What was amazing was the response of the audience.  The look on the faces of the youngsters who were so proud that this megastar had chosen to return to Manchester, make a stand and promote love and unity.

After a couple of songs, a school choir came on stage.  When Ariana came over to join them, many in the choir broke down.  It turned out that some of the choir were at the previous Ariana concert but the kindness, sympathy and hugs from Ariana shone through.

As the concert went on, some performances were good, some amazing but Ariana was the link that held it all together.  I shuddered when Will.I.Am strolled onto the stage with the Black Eye Peas and said, “Here’s to you London!”  Had he not got the memo?  However, he quickly addressed this by quickly referring to the events that had happened at London Bridge the night before. Phew!

My husband emerged from the garage just in time for Katy Perry.  She was quite good he admitted.  Then Sarah Cox announced that Justin Bieber was next.

“Right I’m off again.” And back to the garage he slunked.

Bieber was very emotional.  The only Bieber song I know is Baby, Baby and judging by the acoustic guitar, he wasn’t going to sing that.  Again, it was the response of the audience that was so incredible.  He hit just the right note and I hope someone gave him a big hug afterwards.

After Bieber was Coldplay.  They always crop up at events like this.  Although I think I would probably get on quite well with Chris Martin down the pub, I find his music and performing extremely annoying.  Out he came skipping in his glittery yoga pants, hopping up and down like normal.  Ariana came on to join him for Don’t Look Back in Anger.  Not too sure what Noel made of that.  Coldplay finished with glitter cannons.  I’m always suspect of bands that use pyrotechnics, glitter canons and other gimmicks.  It should be about the music, man.

Off skipped Chris Martin so who was next?  We didn’t have to wait long.  There was a loud guitar riff and in swaggered Liam Gallagher.  The glittery yoga pants were swiftly replaced by a bright orange anorak.  Nobody embodies a city as much as Liam Gallagher.  There’s a Liam Gallagher swaggering down every other street in Manchester, not giving a fook about anything thing.  He didn’t say much.  He didn’t need to. His arrogance was enough to show that we don’t put up with this kind of shite.  Just get on with it and have a good time people.

It was a shame there was no Noel.  Whatever happened in that airport lounge still must be worth brooding on.  Yet I’d like to imagine that Noel, sitting on his throne in Supernova Heights would have approved.  Yes our kid did good.

 

 

Three Girls

It’s not easy being a teenage girl.  In fact, it’s pretty horrible. Yet when I think of when I was a teenage girl to teenage girls now, it seems a bit easier.  But then again…

Life clearly has changed.  Gone are the days of teenagers hanging around street corners.  Social media and iPhone have put a stop to that. Yet despite the added pressure on appearance that such media demands, teenagers seem more confident about themselves.  They won’t be in the background.  They are proud of who they are and their position in society.

Role models play a big part in this.  In my day, it was all about the boy bands.  Now the boy bands have been relegated and replaced by strong women like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.  Women who ooze confidence and tell their fans to be exactly who they want to be.

This confidence can be misread as essentially teenagers are still children.  What is awful is when adults abuse this confidence and manipulate it to suit their own sometimes sickening ends.  This is clearly seen in Three Girls.  Authorities failed to realise that the girls were children.  No one was willing to step up and take responsibility in making the abusers accountable for their actions.  In one chilling scene, Maxine Peake who plays sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham, confronts a social worker who states that the girls had made a choice to become prostitutes.

“You can’t be a child prostitute! There’s no such thing!”

The social worker looks bemused.  The fact they are children doesn’t seem to register.  Of course, the abusers believe they are not to blame.  In court, one of them decries the girls for the clothes they wear and their parents for giving them the freedom to live their lives.  For him, such girls should be locked away until they are ready for marriage.

Teenage girls were at the heart of the awful events in Manchester.  Any concert would have been terrible but to target such a young and vulnerable group is sickening.  Mothers and daughters are vowing not to go to such venues.  These sick individuals have manipulated our sense of freedom so now we want to lock ourselves away.  We need to throw open this oppression, resist the manipulation and be free.

I had to do my fair amount of manipulation this week.  It was scan result time and I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I dialled the extension my oncologist had given me.  It was wrong.  Good start.  Then I noticed I couldn’t make my next oncology appointment in August.  Maybe if I changed the appointment, they might give me the right extension number?  I dialled and predicted a long, long wait.  It connected straight away to a voice recording saying that this number was for changing appointments only.  All hell would break loose should you wish to do otherwise.  I took a deep breath.  I was connected to a rather jolly chap who changed my appointment no probs.  Right the big one. Could I have the extension number please?

“No problem.  I’ll just connect you.”

Five seconds later I was speaking to my oncologist’s secretary who confirmed that my scan results were good.  The tumour was still the same size so the treatment was still working.  So, in a week of such darkness there was a chink of light.

Scan Results

The following week after my appointment with the plastic surgeon, I was back in Oncology to get my results from my MRI.  Oncology is a pretty grim place.  It’s usually packed so it becomes a wasteland where you seem to fade into the crowd.  However, I now know how Oncology works.  The key thing is to get in early.  So, I was feeling quite smug, sipping my Costa coffee, waiting for Oncology to open at quarter to nine in the morning.

“You’re keen.” joked the nurse as she opened up.

I checked in and carried on reading my book.  Bang on nine o’clock, I was called through.  There’s an awkward bit in every Oncology appointment.  They call you, put you in a side room and make you wait for a further five minutes.  You can sometimes hear the doctors and the nurses in the next room, talking about you or other patients.  Then the consultant will open the connecting to door to your room and the magic can happen.  One time I brought my husband along.  As we waited in the side room, we could hear the doctors and nurses laughing in the next room.  My husband was livid.  He knocked on the door and asked when, if ever, they were going to get around to seeing me.  That didn’t go down too well.

This time I didn’t have to wait long as my consultant appeared after about five minutes.  I was lucky to see her.  I’ve met people who have gone through their treatment and have never met the mastermind behind it all.  I guess being rare has its advantages.  The results hadn’t come through.  I wasn’t surprised.  The longer I have lived with cancer, the longer it takes for my scan results.  The worse happened last summer.  It took a staggering five weeks to get them.  I was beginning to know the receptionists by name which is always a bit worrying.  I mentioned about the plastic surgeon to her.  She seemed interested but didn’t offer any advice. It looked like it was something that only I could decide. Arrangements were made so that I would call the following week to get the results.  If they were bad, they would call me first.  It’s been over a week and there has been no phone call…

Bonkers Part 2

The allotted day had arrived.  Even worse it was Tuesday.  Tuesdays are rubbish for me.  Luckily, we are in exam season.  So, I left my class in the hands of a bemused admin assistant to invigilate yet another mock exam for them.  They took this quite well apart from my manager who still signs off any email I send her about my appointments with, “if you could rearrange this when you are not teaching next time.” Yeah, right.

The ENT department is split into two reception areas.  Normally I am in the second reception area around the corner.  I approached the first reception area, feeling nervous.  The receptionist was on the phone speaking loudly.

“Yes, it’s on the FIFTEENTH.” Pause. “Not SIXTEENTH.  ONE FIVE.” Pause “We’ll send you a letter.  A LETTER.”

She hung up and rolled her eyes.

“Yes?”

I said my name and Dr Q’s name.

“Well it looks like you are here today.” She said sounding quite surprised. “Take a seat.”

I obeyed and got my book out.  After about twenty minutes I noticed something.  Patients were being called out two at a time, going through some double doors and not returning.  Bit worrying that.

After about forty-five minutes mine and another patient’s name were called.  We were escorted by a nurse through the double doors into yet another waiting room.

“I’m sorry but it’s another hour wait from this point on.”

I was on my own but the other patient had his wife with him.  We all sighed in unison.  He reached for his phone and both his wife and I resumed our books.  We were lucky.  After about twenty minutes, the couple were called through.  This took the wife by surprise. She spent a good deal of time faffing about much to the amusement of the nurse and her husband.  I smiled and carrying on reading.

After another twenty minutes, I was called through.  Where had the couple gone?  It was my turn for a bit of awkward faffing.  The nurse led me to a room where sat Mr Q looking immaculate as ever.  I sat opposite him. The nurse took a seat in the corner of the room, facing me.  Mr Q and I exchanged pleasantries.  The nurse looked bored.  I was the last patient in the clinic so it must have been a long morning.

“So, can you remind me why you are here?” asked Mr Q.  I gave him a detailed account of the last six years.  It felt quite strange being encouraged in giving such details.  I have become so used to giving quite a watered-down version of events.  He listened and made notes.  After my history, he asked me to do various facial exercises so he could check out how much movement I had in the left side of my face.

“OK.  What for you is the most important thing to be done?”

I was flummocked by the question.  I’ve never been given a choice before.  I remembered our previous appointment.  He had said the he didn’t want to tread on the toes of the eye people.  So, I said I wanted my mouth sorted and then maybe the eye.

He looked puzzled.

“If you want my opinion, you need to get the eye sorted first.  I’ll refer you to Dr S to advise you on that…”

He outlined a possible procedure that involved cuts to my lower eyelid and weights that could be either gold or platinum, inserted in my upper eyelid to ensure my eye closed properly.  Crikey.  But this was merely the beginning.

Once I had had my eye sorted, then work could start on my mouth.  There were three options:

  1. A hoik up. This was the easiest procedure. He would cut along the smile line on the left side of my face. Hoik it up. Cut behind my ear and use a bit of my thigh to replace any facial tissue he had to get rid of.
  2. The thigh nerve. He could take a muscle from my thigh that had a nerve in it. He would attach this to my face and attach the nerve to the nerve endings near my temple. I then could have a faint smile. I think he ruled this one out as he felt that I didn’t have enough nerve endings in my left temple. Lovely.
  3. The nerve graft. The complicated one. A piece of my right facial nerve would be stretched to the left side of my face. Once it had been grafted over, a piece of muscle could be attached to it and over time, I would be able to smile. This would involve two operations. Although he had done the procedure before, he felt I would be better going to a specialist centre for this op. The centres were in Newcastle, Birmingham and…erm… East Grinstead.

It was a hell of a lot to take in.  I was used to no options.  If there was an option there was only one and I had to have that otherwise I would die.  Part of the reason why our house is in a state in disrepair is because my husband and I are rubbish at making choices.  We are both ditherers.  Now I was being asked what choice I wanted to do with my face.

Mr Q picked up on my anxiety.

“Listen.  There is no rush in any of this.  We can take our time.  Come back and see me in a months’ time and we’ll talk about it further.”

I nodded and looked to the nurse for some reassurance.  She looked blankly at me and escorted me out of the building.