Goodbye to the log burner

Last night we burnt the final logs on our stove.

This morning, while Deb was volunteering at the Cat’s Protection shelter, I cleaned out the ashes, and then disconnected the flue.

Our real fire has been a delightful centre point on cold evenings, but the constant need to feed it with logs, keeping it clean, and chopping the logs is not good for my arthritic legs.

It took me almost two hours to pull the stove out, load it on my trolley, and move it to the garage. We are not sure what we will do with it yet, as even just three years old, it will be difficult to sell.

I took another hour putting a temporary seal to the end of the flue and restored the metal plate in the chimney space.

Then it was cleaning time, and Deb gave me a break while she used the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the soot from the hearth and fireplace.

I had filthy hands and much to Deb’s amusement there was sooty marks all over my face. It was time for me to clean up as well.

To complete the job, I put the new electric stove in its new home. It looks similar to the log burning stove but has a fan heater when  required to back up our central heating. This new electric stove looks great and even produces false smoke to make it rather realistic.

We will try it out properly this evening.


Some more news about my knee.

I have had the appointment for my MRI scan. It will be this Saturday at 7:00 in the evening.

Unusual time, but I am pleased it will mean getting the results before we go away next week to meet up with our friends from the World Cruise.

I also hope to be able to tell them that the new book about the cruise has been finally completed in draft format.

Speak to you all again soon.

Saga of my Knee

It is nearly the end of November 2017 and I have been back to my GP to talk about my knee again. It hurts, and it has been hurting for more than 23 years.

The first mention of my left knee problems in my medical record are for 1994 when I had an Arthroscopy in Stafford Hospital. It was performed by a Mr Travlos. I never did know what he did while he poked around inside my knee, but it was the beginning of a story that has continued to the present day.

This arthroscopy, a quite minor surgical procedure, must have been preceded by a visit to my GP to complain of stiffness and pain in my knee, and I no longer remember when the problem actually began. I ivaguely recall having physiotherapy in Witney where I lived before moving to Staffordshire in 1993, so that might be closer to the beginning of the saga.

Anyway, the 1994 arthroscopy was a success and I was happy with my knee for some time, but it was just the first of the warning signs about being affected by osteoarthritis.

Over the next two decades the knee issue returned and increased in severity, but by now I had been officially told of my arthritic tendencies and suffered various joint pains around my body. Neck, elbow, wrists, thumbs and both knees were now making my life difficult, and I was using painkillers on a regular basis. It was mainly Paracetamol but sometimes I used Ibrufen, but this anti-inflammatory pill affected a stomach condition I have.

Anyway, the next landmark was in 2012 when our GP decided I should see a consultant about a possible hernia. Although they did find a small hernia in my groin, the medical guru was less than impressed. My pain was suspected to be more of an orthopaedic nature and after a few more weeks of waiting I arrived in the consultation room of a Mr Collier in Cannock Hospital. Over the coming nine months I had multiple x-rays, an MRI scan, another arthroscopy, and various pain killing injections in my knee and also my hip. The outcome was that little could be done about the knee, but there was a twist to the story, as I needed a hip replacement.

Before Mr Collier had a chance to warm up his scalpel, Deb and I moved to new home in Herefordshire.

I had no idea that the medical authorities don’t believe, or trust the findings of their peers in other authorities. The findings of Mr Collier in Staffordshire were totally ignored, and my new consultant in Herefordshire (Mr Oakley) began the diagnosis from scratch.

I had more x-rays, and the knee and hip were declared to be perfectly healthy. Only after much pleading, I was given a further pain killing injection, which led to a hip replacement over a year later.

The knee was forgotten by the medical profession, and even I pushed it to the back of my mind while I dealt with the after effects of the hip replacement.

With my hip issues fixed, I began to be aware of my knee pain again, but also that original pain in my groin. I returned to my GP at the end of 2014 to talk about my issues again.

In terms of my knee, I came up against a wall of doubt based on Mr Oakley’s conclusions from the x-ray. It didn’t show any obvious issues, so my pain killers were notched up to full strength does of co-codamol.

…they were not really touching the pain.

The groin on the other hand did get some interest, and after several months I saw a surgeon who suspected I had an abdominal wall which needed a bit of extra support. In early January 2016 He inserted a quite large area of mesh over the affected area.

My groin now felt far more comfortable, but during 2016 my knee gradually became worse. My GP did eventually give me a pain killing injection, but this only gave a short period of relief.

The pain meant I had to give up dancing. Working in the garden was reduced to short spells to avoid long periods of near agony. Walking was still possible but not very far, before I required hours of rest to make the pain subside to acceptable.

So what symptoms was my knee giving me?

  • The left knee was swollen compared to the right one. This was not obvious but indicated that something was not quite right.
  • I had stiffness in the joint that made me want to rub it, but I couldn’t find the spot to rub.
  • The knee joint ached all the time. I had become tolerant of this over the years, but if I relaxed, or kept my knee in the same position for a period, the ache would get worse, or at least more noticeable.
  • There was pain at the top of the knee virtually all the time.
  • When I knelt there was excruciating pain at the front, and the joint was very stiff.
  • I tended to groan every time I sat down or stood up. Each time I rolled over, or simply moved in bed made the knee hurt, and this meant sleeping became very difficult.
  • The same pain made going up or down stairs very painful.

In May 2017 my GP relented and sent me for an x-ray. Once again the results didn’t give him any sign of a problem.

He decided I needed a course of physiotherapy.

The physiotherapist checked out my stiffness, movement, and flexibility. She suggested I go on a programme run by the local NHS alongside the local Leisure Centre. It is designed to give support to arthritic knee and hip sufferers to learn about their condition, as well as some physical exercises to strength the muscles in the leg and encourage greater movement.

So for eight weeks I was supposed to have an hour’s theoretical discussion session from trained physiotherapists, plus a separate hour in the gym. The theory was a little useful, but to be honest I had been hearing the information for longer than the instructor had been out of short trousers. But I am competitive and love a challenge so when it came to the gym exercises I took it very seriously.

I spoke earlier that I had become tolerant of my basic knee pain. Medical people often ask a patient to say how bad a pain is on the scale of 1 to 10. Well that basic pain is probably level 2 or 3, and if I am not thinking about it, I can almost ignore it. The true problems are when something triggers short, sharp, moments of pain that can literally be banging on the level 8 or 9 levels. These moments may last a few seconds or a few minutes, but will probably fade away after a moment or two. Also after periods of working hard or over exercise, the resulting ache or pain can be again quite high, maybe 5 or 6, and that will often continue for several hours, or even days, before it subsides to the forgettable level again.

So in the gym I walked or cycled with a smile on my face. I got my heart rate up to near the maximum figure and set myself goals of the distance I achieved or the speed I did it in. This was sport to me and my body created sufficient of whatever chemical we can produce to mask pain during competition. It didn’t really cause me any pain….at that moment.

Turning to the muscle strengthening; I thoroughly enjoyed the weight work as I curled, pushed and pressed quite reasonable amounts of weight. Again I switched into competitive mode and did as I was told without any pain…at that moment.

When I had finished the sessions I got home and quickly dropped into pain mode.

After week two I struggled for several hours to  calm down the pain, but by week five it took two or three days.

I had to give up before week six as it was obvious that this exercise regime was making things worse.

It was time to stop any more of this as we were going on holiday, and I wanted to enjoy it.

When we got back I went to see my doctor again. After discussing the lack of relief he once more said that my x-ray was not giving sufficient signs that I needed a replacement joint. Instead he said I should have an MRI scan to check out soft tissue damage.

Realising I had to go down every possible avenue before I get to the consultant, I agreed.

The MRI scan would take about 4 weeks to organise, so perhaps by mid-December, and the results just before the Christmas period.

I understand the need to filter out anyone who definitely doesn’t need to see a consultant, and I also understand all the various stages of x-rays, scans, pain killing injections, and physiotherapy…

….but it is frustratingly, painfully slow.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame anyone.

The NHS has been overloaded for decades, and the situation gets worse year by year. My parents’ generation saw the beginning of free health care for everyone, and it is creaking at the seams now.

Too many mistakes have been made in an effort to save money. The worst thing is certainly shutting down smaller hospitals that could be used to look after those people who are currently bed blocking the major specialised hospitals. Hence many operations cannot go ahead, and waiting lists get longer and longer.

Sadly for people like me possibly heading for a new joint, it has resulted in a combination of delaying tactics, and long waiting times between and actions.

Of course as people get older, their recovery times after surgery possibly get longer before they can go home, meaning further bed-blocking.

In other words, the system is inevitably spiralling down into longer and longer delays.

And, what about those highly specialised, and expensive, consultants and surgeons?

What are they doing while they are unable to perform their life improving operations?

Well possibly they are doing lots of less specialised operations, or more likely they are spending more time at their private clinics. Of course that means many people are turning to those same surgeons at their private hospitals for the same operations that are delayed via the NHS.

The costs of such operations are ridiculous, and simply line the pockets of share-holders in the private medical arena.

Anyway I have no intention of spending the small saving pot that I hope will maintain my darling wife into her old age. I will wait for the NHS to run out of delaying tactics and hopefully get to see a specialist in the near future.

This story will be continued very soon…I hope!


Ten nights on ‘Oceana’ – final part

Monday 6 November
The sea was really lumpy in the night as we sailed up the coast of Portugal. We both took ages to drop off to sleep, but were okay after that.
There was another talk from Diane Janes in the morning, this time about arsenic! Good job we had coffee before we heard her talk! And in the afternoon we listened to another talk, this time by the comedian from last night. Though his subject was anything but comedic – it was about Operation Anthropoid, the plot to kill Reinhold Heydrich in WW2. Very interesting.
I had another round of the Battle. The men won today, but only just, so the ladies are still well in the lead.
We gave the syndicate quiz a miss as we wanted to see both the evening shows. The comedian was back, being funny this time, and there was also the final Headliners offering: a new show based around West End musicals. Both very good.

Tuesday 7 November
Much calmer night sea-wise, though the swell increased a lot as we headed for Ushant Point. Okay though.
Our final day on this lovely ship, and we just relaxed – with the packing attacked at intervals through the day! Our cases were outside the cabin door by the time we went to the individual quiz with just the final one for last thing at night.
We listened to the final presentation from Diane Janes, which was just as good as the previous ones. Starlights was packed for her talk: lots of sun-worshippers who didn’t want to brave the rain on the open decks! But her talks have been really interesting, and I’ll probably look up her book list when I get back to decent internet at home.
This afternoon saw the final round of Battle of the Sexes. Pretty even scores today, which meant that the ladies won comfortably overall. And in the evening we watched the Bluejays again – and again Starlights was packed out. Excellent performance from them, and we agreed that the general standard of the professional entertainment throughout the cruise has been very high. Not many vocalists (“doing the Divas” – please, no), and even some new Headliners’ shows.
Our cruise ended with our quizzing friends in the syndicate quiz, which we won again. None of us particularly wanted the wine this time! I think one of the other couples took it in the end.

Wednesday 8 November – Southampton
And so ends another cruise. It’s been a nice, relaxing break and a chance to re-acquaint ourselves with Oceana. The weather’s been lovely, and for most of the time the sea was millpond-flat: can’t ask for more!
Our cabin was perfectly adequate for us, and outside on F-deck, just forward of the reception atrium area. It was actually a four-berth cabin, so the beds were fixed singles, and there was plenty of storage room. Our only gripe was the tiny shower room: apart from its size, we initially only had hot water (think the ‘cold’ tap was hotter than its twin!), though that was quickly sorted for us. There was also a nasty smell occasionally that I think might’ve been coming up from the shower drain.
The ship itself goes in for a re-fit in a week or so, though it looked okay to us. Yes, some of the carpets are wearing thin and need replacing, but eveything else seemed fine. We’ve certainly seen worse! Presumably there’s behind-the-scenes stuff that’s been renewed.
We missed having a Crow’s Nest, as there are only limited places to sit and have a quiet read, especially when the weather’s not good enouh to sit outside. And having dancing and dance classes in the atrium is VERY off-putting, knowing people are watching you from all upper decks.
On the whole the food has been almost back up to the P&O standards from The Good Old Days! The menus in the MDR were no different from our last three or four cruises, but this time the meals actually had some flavour. The one exception to this was in the buffet, where the choices are limited, and mostly overcooked. And although there are plenty of tables, the actual serveries are too cramped for the number of people wanting to use them.
Would we sail on Oceana again? Yes, of course we would! But would she be our first choice ship? Only if (in order of preference) Aurora, Oriana and Arcadia weren’t available.

Ten nights on ‘Oceana’ – part 5

Sunday 5 November – Lisbon
We were about an hour later than expected arriving in Lisbon, partly due to leaving Gib a bit late yesterday and partly because of heavy seas, which hadn’t been expected. But we were sailing under That Bridge just after 9.00, which left plenty of time for wandering.
And wandering was really all we did, as we were after for coffee and nata cakes! Found what we were looking for (not difficult, this is Lisbon after all!) and pigged out with two of the cakes each. Greedy or what?
We burped our way back towards Oceana, browsing in the shops along the way. Not too much to look at, though as today’s Sunday as a lot of places were closed.
For lunch we had soup and salad in Cafe Jardin, then spent the afternoon reading and relaxing, though it was a bit too chilly to sit out on sun deck.
Tonight was a themed evening, what they’re calling “decades”. And although we had our 60s/70s stuff with us we didn’t bother as we only spotted four passengers dressed up.
And mentioning passengers, why are we now referred to as ‘guests’? Guests aren’t expected to pay when they stay somewhere: I shall keep a look-out for our cruise payment refund. Or pigs might fly…
We watched a rock-and-roll show in Starlights after dinner. Four guys who call themselves the Bluejays. We think we’ve seen them before, but they were really good, well worth a second look! Then another bash at the syndicate quiz, and another win for Table 2!

Ten nights on ‘Oceana’ – part 4

Tuesday 1 November
Our second day at sea, and again the motion of the ocean is negligible.
We finally ran into our travel agent, Judith, and her husband this morning. Not sure where they’ve been hiding since Sunday!
For breakfast we ventured up to the Plaza buffet as we didn’t want much to eat. Not sure we’ll be repeating the experience too often: it really was every man for himself. What a scrum.
We walked a mile around the Prom Deck and then went to Starlights to listen to the second talk from Diane Janes: another very interesting presentation, focussing on a murder from 1921.
After the talk we made our way straight to the Adriatic restaurant for our Baltic/Ligurian tier loyalty lunch. There was one other couple and a single gentleman with us the table, and our host was the Senior Staff Engineer. Looking around the room, I counted just six tables being used, so it was pretty exclusive! And as usual there was far too much food and drink for the middle of day! But we had a good time, which is the main thing.
We left the restaurant at about 1.45. George went straight back to our cabin to sleep it off, but I had Round Two of the “Battle of the Sexes”, which the ladies won again, so we’ve increased our lead over the men.
It was the second of the three formal nights, so we joined our table-mates for dinner (very light in our case) before heading to Starlights for the second show from Fogwell Flax. A good job we got there reasonably early as all the seats were taken well before the show started. There were even a couple of ladies perched on the piano stool by the stage! But it was worth going – he gave us another very funny show.
We ended our evening at the syndicate quiz where our team managed to win the bottle of P&O vinegar – sorry, wine! We’ll share that tomorrow night.

Thursday 2 November – Cadiz
We did battle in the buffet for breakfast as we only wanted some toast. I’m afraid to say that the Plaza really isn’t doing it for us, buffet-wise, but at least it wasn’t overly busy this morning. And before returning to the cabin we had the added treat of watching the beautiful ‘Aurora’ (our favourite ship in the fleet, in case you hadn’t guessed!) dock just behind us.
The weather was bright and pretty warm and a stroll through Cadiz beckoned. Plenty of others obviously felt the same way as there were an awful lot of passengers waiting on the quayside for the walking tours!
But we just did our own thing as we’ve very familiar with the sights of Cadiz. For once, I actually had a small list of bits to look out for in the shops, so we weren’t just randomly browsing as we normally do.
We spent about two hours in the city (both of us mindful of how much George’s dodgy knee can take), including a stop for one of the most delicious cups of coffee I’ve had in years. Definitely worth more than €4 a cup!
We returned to the ship after walking right across to the other side of the Cadiz peninsular, and after lunch in Cafe Jardin we crashed out on sun deck for an hour or so. Certainly didn’t expect to be sunbathing in November!
We watched another Headliners show, this one called “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”. It was a sort of re-hash of the old “Destination Dance” show, and to be honest was a bit disappointing: we preferred the old version.
Then it was up to the syndicate quiz where we shared last night’s prize bottle of red – and managed to win another one for tomorrow! Can’t be bad.

Friday 3 November – Malaga
We didn’t rush into the city first thing as we knew what we wanted to do once we got there. So a leisurely breakfast in Cafe Jardin again was followed by a stroll to the shuttle buses and a 20-minute ride into the heart of the city.
Gosh it was busy! There were four other cruise ships in, one the same size as Oceana and one much bigger, so an awful lot of passengers wanting to explore Malaga.
We headed straight for the Alcazaba at the foot of the castle. We’d been here once before but remembered very little of it as my camera battery died early in our first visit, so we have no photos to jog our memories.
It was lovely. For just €2.20 each we had a good walk around, and spent, I guess, nearly two hours there. And this time we have plenty of photos!
An ice cream each was followed by a walk through the city , browsing in the shops as we headed back to the shuttle buses. Lunch was pretty late (by our standards, anyhow), just a snack from the Horizon Grill, meaning we managed to fit in another hour soaking up the sun on Sky Deck.
Our evening meal today was a blow-out in the Beach House. We’ve never had a poor meal in this venue on any of the ships and tonight’s was no exception. But we were surprised by how few people were in there: very few tables occupied, even after the 8.00pm ‘peak’. Strange.
Neither of the show interested us tonight so to kill time we joined in with a quiz in Winners Bar about reality TV. All I can say is that we obviously don’t watch enough rubbish telly! And our efforts in the syndicate quiz weren’t enough, though we did have a two-point handicap to start with.

Saturday 4 November – Gibraltar
It was still dark when Oceana docked this morning, and it was raining quite heavily. In all the many visits we’ve made to Gibraltar, we’ve never seen rain before! Quite a shock!
After a quick breakfast in the Plaza buffet we went ashore, dodging the worst of the showers. Most of the shops began opening their shutters as we strolled along Main Street, and I managed to find a present for Oliver and a pair of earrings along the way.
But as we headed back towards Casemate Square the heavens really opened. And they stayed open. There was no point sheltering and waiting for it to ease off, as that just wasn’t happening. So we bit the bullet and began walking back to the ship. Drowned rats doesn’t describe us as we stepped on board: when we’d changed into dry things I put everything (including underwear, my trainers and George’s rucksack) in one of the dryers in the laundry room. At least it got stuff dry!
Such a shame about the weather, as it would’ve been nice to wander around more, taking our time. But it is what it is, and a local told us they’ve had a very dry autumn and welcomed some rain, so good on ’em.
After lunch (a pizza in Cafe Jardin) we went to the third talk from Diane Janes. Then before dinner we ventured into Le Club for the Peninsular drinks. As always, we didn’t win the raffle – some hings never change! Then later we enjoyed a show from a comedian and had another go at the synicate quiz, which we lost in the tie-break.

Ten nights on ‘Oceana’ – part 3

Tuesday 31 October – La Corunna
George’s shoulder is really bad again. That’ll be the end of the cricket, then. Unless he learns to bowl with his right arm….
We breakfasted in Cafe Jardin again, and by the time we’d finished the ship was docked and we were “free to go ashore”.
We’ve been to La Corunna a few times before, and there was nothing in particular we wanted to see on this occasion. So we just went for a wander, which was really pleasant as the weather was lovely: it’s hard to believe tomorrow will be November! We did buy a ‘seasonal’ souvenir in the city, though, as I found a wooden Christmas wall-hanging that I liked the look of. That was the sum total of our on-shore spend and at under €5 we’re not exactly stretching our bank accounts!
The weather was so nice that after lunch (in the Plaza today, not so busy as yesterday) we crashed out on deck for an hour, both of us in shorts and t-shirts.
We had dinner in Cafe Jardin, which as usual with these things was lovely but just far too much! Our table overlooked the atrium, so we had a good view of the idiots who’d dressed up for Halloween. Sorry, but I don’t DO Halloween – it’s just an imported American commercial con. At least November 5th is relevant to British history.
There were two evening shows to hold our attention. The first was a comedy magician, the first female magician we’ve ever seen, Mandy Mudan. She was pretty good, kept us laughing for an hour. We followed that by watching the Headliners in their second show, “Stage Door”, which was superb, especially the Rogers and Hammerstein medley the five singers performed part the way through.
So ended a really nice day, although there was a letter waiting for us when we went to bed: our “Wanderlust” tour in Cadiz has been cancelled. A shame, but not the end of the world.