Category Archives: George’s Blog

Day Trip To Bridgwater

Last Friday we jumped in the car to drive down to Somerset and see our daughter and grandson. It is about 90 miles and quite a pleasant journey down to Newport and then onwards to Bristol and the M5.

Well, it didn’t start very well.

Less than five miles from home we joined a short queue of traffic going very slowly. The cause was a pair of travellers’ caravans being pulled by a single horse. They were the traditional caravans, and they are really nice to see…

…but they were going very slowly….

…and the road has very few passing places.

Anyway, we crawled along, and the traffic was building up behind us, and no one ahead appeared to be making attempts to overtake. Then we realised the problem was even worse, as there was a van following the second caravan that was a part of their convoy. The two caravans and the motor van were quite close together meaning that any overtaking would have to be all three of them.

We were following a large work’s vehicle, so our view of the road ahead was almost impossible, but madness took over eventually with some drivers behind us risking their lives (and others) by overtaking not just the travellers’ vehicles, but several other cars as well. Finally the madness ended with a full blown lorry carrying trees took on the 50 to 60 metre overtake with his horn sounding.

This seemed to spur on the others in front to make some headway, and eventually we got to the front of the queue and passed them.

Now we discovered there were actually three more traveller families on pony and traps, and they were close together as well. At least it didn’t take us too long to get by and we sped up to our normal pace.

This queue had taken about twenty minutes to get past.

I have no objection to travellers, especially these people with more traditional transport, but they weren’t doing their reputation any good. We passed by a number of parking areas where they could have pulled in, and were too close together to allow safe overtaking.

Anyway, the blood pressure went back down and our journey went so much more smoothly. Sadly the M5 was very busy and the last 30 miles of our trip was again very slow.

When we did arrive at our daughter’s house we had a lovely two or three hours catching up on what has been happening. Our grandson grows so quickly and he was showing off all the things he can now do. He started at a proper school two weeks ago and seems to be enjoying every minute.

Lynsey cooked us a lovely meal, and then we watched as Oliver make his first attempts on his bicycle without stabilisers. It didn’t go too successfully that evening, but the next day we had a short video clip on Facebook showing him cycling properly.

It was time to go home and we set off again up the M5 towards Bristol. The traffic was nowhere near as bad although it was busy around the city. By the time we got home we were both tired and my legs were aching from sitting in the car for so long.

There wasn’t very long before we had our supper before getting an early night.

As I sat munching a small cheese sandwich, I noticed what I thought was a crumb of chees on the plate and popped it into my mouth. As I bit into it I realised it was not cheese, it was my statin pill.

Too late to do anything about it, I had to complete the chewing and swallowing process.

I can now warn everyone that statins are FOUL!!!

I was left with a disgusting taste in  my mouth for more than an hour.

Along with my unplanned visit to the hospital, there have been a few uncomfortable moments this week.

Oh, and the evenings are getting dark so very quick, and it is feeling much colder.

It was a superb summer though!

Big Lungs and Squirty Blood

Monday 10th September and we are up early to finish packing before we go to Cornwall for a few days. The suitcases were in the hall ready to be out in the car. Deb and I planned to leave just after 10:00 but our plans changed very quickly.

On the Sunday I had been digging in the garden and (as usual) did too much and my chest and back were a little sore. Too much digging I thought and tried to forget about it. But as we were about to pack the car, I just couldn’t forget about the pain that was making it difficult to breathe.

I was no longer sure it was a muscular reaction and rang the NHS helpline for advice.

Twenty minutes later the paramedics arrived and connected me up for an ECG.

They couldn’t find any suspicious heart issues, but they were not taking any chances, and by 10:00 I was in the A&E department of Hereford hospital.

We were not going to Cornwall.

For the next six hours the amazing NHS system took me over. I had for ECG checks, I had blood taken, and I was sent for a chest X-ray.

The X-ray was clear although the radiographer told me I had Big Lungs. The first picture he took was with the plate in portrait mode, but he had to take a second one in landscape mode to capture a complete look at my lungs.

From A&E I was moved on to the CAU (Clinical Assessment Unit) where the doctor finally confirmed there  no sign f any heart problems, and my chest was clear of any obvious issues.

With my heart passed  as OK, he thoughts now moved to a  possible clot in my lungs, and it was time for a CT scan. I needed a cannula put it my arm for this to allow a dye (or some sort of liquid) to be sent through my body during the scan. As the doctor inserted the cannula, I squirted a jet of blood over my arm, the pillow, and the doctor.

…whoops!

I sat and waited until the CT scanner was ready for me.

Morning coffee had been forgotten, and so was lunch, but with my CT scan was completed by mid-afternoon allowing Deb and I to finally relax a little with some biscuits and a welcomed cup of coffee.

After six and a half hours from the time the paramedics first arrived, my CT results showed me clear of any issues, and the doctor let me go home.

It was simply a muscular problem.

I felt a little bit of a fraud that I had taken up so much time and resource of the NHS, but I was still in serious pain…

… but very relieved that I was not seriously ill.

Back home I relaxed with more pain killers and quietly sulked about missing our trip to Cornwall to see my family and friends, but it was definitely the right thing to do to check out what was wrong with me.

We can go to Cornwall another day.

I intend to do very little for a couple of days to relax and let my chest muscles recover.

 

My Heart’s Age

This is aimed at people reading my blog in Britain.

Someone in the invisible world of statistics has decided that a vast percentage of adults in Britain have a heart that is older than their real age.

We have high blood pressure, we are overweight, we eat the wrong food and don’t do enough exercise.

To prove their statistics they have released a self checking survey online where you give basic information about height, weight, blood pressure if known and come up with a magical figure that is supposedly the age of your heart.

For the that vast percentage of people, the result shows that their heart age is higher, even much higher, than their actual age.

My wife used the calculator and gave truthful figures based on what she knew. The result was an age of 79 compared to her real age of 62.
This shocked her, and shocked me because I know she is quite a fit lady if a little bit over the recommended weight for her height and size. One of the reasons the heart age was so high was that she didn’t know which blood pressure figure they wanted, so said “don’t know”.

I did mine.

My heart is also 79 compared to my 67 years.

I am just two pounds overweight, so my BMI was 25.3. I have already lost seven pounds in recent weeks and still aiming to lose a little more weight, and I exercise quite regularly. The survey doesn’t ask for this sort of information. It simply says go on a diet and do more exercise.

When it asked for my blood pressure I was honest and gave it what I believe is its worst figure. Hence it decided I am a in major trouble. In reality my blood pressure is often much lower and it is regularly checked by my GP (along with my weight) and he has never exclaimed any warnings to do something about my lifestyle.

As well as the heart age figure, the survey states that with a heart of this age, I am likely to have a heart attack or a stroke before I am 81. At first glance at the way it was written, I mistook it to mean I was due to have one of these major issues in the next two years.

I know the survey is supposed to make people aware of issues in an attempt to make people react and do something about their health, but the questions have no leeway and are perhaps weighted to give startling and downright scary results.

Hence they have proved their statement about such a high number of people have serious problems.

I personally believe that this is a statistical toy that has been released into the public domain without proper checks of its accuracy.

Yes, I know Britain has serious weight and lifestyle issues, and we need to do something quickly, but this is a scary survey with little or consideration for what the person might understand from the results.

Back to the Knee Surgeon

On Wednesday I returned to Hereford hospital to see the knee surgeon who has been deciding if anything can be done to ease my pain.

I had to tell him that the pain killing injection had failed, and I was in as much, or even worse, pain now.

It was a different registrar from the one I saw six weeks ago, and he looked at the notes, and the x-ray, while listening to my tales of woe. He said it was too early to try another injection, and there was really no alternative treatment available.

As I had already been told, the knee is not yet damaged to a point that it needs replacement. I accepted his judgement, and just asked if anything else was possible to reduce the pain.

He actually went for a chat to his boss, and he brought the consultant in to see me. He said he was sorry I am in such pain, but explained that there really was nothing more that can be done.

The only suggestion made was that I cycle to increase the muscle tone of my leg, and use ice packs to reduce pain.

I thanked everyone for at least confirming the situation and I left the hospital knowing that there is nothing else to be done.

It hasn’t made me feel any happier, but at least I know that everyone is saying the same thing.

Today (Friday) I bought an exercise bike and a bag of frozen peas. The bike took an hour to construct. After spending an hour and a half in the garden, making the most of the dry weather to cut the lawns and tidy up a bit, I tried out the bike.

Well, that certainly made me sweat, so I know I will have to build up my sessions with it. After that I used the frozen peas as an ice-pack.

So that is now the regime for the knee, and I am also continuing the exercise for my shoulder. I go back to see the physio-therapist on Thursday, and I will be able to cheer her up, as the exercises do appear to be working. I am still having pain from my shoulder, but nowhere near as much.

Maybe cricket could be back on the list of things to do on the cruises.

Don’t tell Deb though!

Unexpected Tax Rebate

Because I write books and receive royalties, I have to complete a self assessment tax  form each year.

Now before you think I am getting rich on the sales of my books, let’s just clarify the situation. I receive around £300 per year from my books. My writing is about keeping my mind active and perhaps passing on information that someone, one day in the future, might look at and say, “Oh so that was what it was like”!

And yes, I do get some money from the hobby as well.

Anyway, back to the tax form. I complete the assessment online and it is not a five minute job. There are numerous sections that I have to fill in to describe my working status, what income comes in from various pensions, saving’s interest, and share dividends, as well as the book royalties.

Then there is the bits where I attempt to show expenses associated with my writing. That is really repairs or updates to my laptop, so not really very much.

After several hours of plodding through the electronic form with most bits marked as ‘not applicable’, I eventually get to the end and it lets me know what tax I have to pay.

Well, actually there is no tax to pay on my book royalties because you can earn £1000 tax free in my situation and I don’t have to contribute National Insurance payments because I am a pensioner. So I wonder why on earth I have to keep doing this each year until I see a little note that says I am due a tax rebate.

The assessment is about my situation for the previous financial year so the tax I paid last year, was based on what I declared 12 months ago. Last year I also offset some of my income against Deb’s tax allowance.

So because some of the assumptions from the tax office for last year were incorrect, I have received a tax rebate.

The rebate was actually for two years because I was also due a refund last year as well, and gave the tax office the wrong account number.

To summarise, I received two lumps of money within three days of completing the form, and it is just about as much as I earn from the book sales.

I call that a result, and I have been honest throughout, so I assume it is not a mistake.

Tine to write some more books I think

 

Where has the warmth gone?

We are still officially in summer, but the weather has turned towards autumn with some determination. It has rained on several days since I last spoke to you, and the temperature has dropped from around 25 degrees centigrade to below 12 degrees. The wind is blowing from a cold direction and we have settled down to an ‘inside’ day.

This morning I prepared the electric stove in the lounge for use if we need it, but I hope we can keep it switched off until at least the end of the month.

In the meantime Deb and I had our Yellow Fever jabs on Tuesday in preparation for our cruise to the Amazon in January. I am pleased to announce that we had so nasty side effects except for sore arms. It did put a dent in the bank account as they cost us £70 each.

In a week from now we also have to pay the balance for the cruise, and that is significantly more.

The days and weeks are passing and before we know it we will be panicking over getting currency and deciding on what clothes need to be packed.

I also seriously began my project to replace the remaining old style central heating radiators. On Wednesday morning I drained down the heating system and removed the first redundant radiator.

Things were going very well, with no floods as the pipework was opened up, and by lunchtime the new radiator was in place and the new pipework  just about finished.

That was when my blowtorch broke!

After a short period of sulking, we had lunch and then I was away to the DIY store to get a new blowtorch.

By 3:00 Deb was helping me as we refilled the system. Sadly there was one leak which required another drain down and five minutes of reseating a valve.

Success!

Deb began her major part of the job and repainted the area where I had exposed different bits of wall, and I turned to replacing the flooring that had been lifted to expose and run a new (much tidier) pipe run.

Moving forward a couple of days, and on Saturday we drained down the system again to allow me to take out two further radiators. This time I capped the pipe ends so that the system could be refilled. Stupidly we cannot have hot water unless the heating system is pressurised.

Sunday morning we collected the two new radiators which I will begin fitting tomorrow. In the meantime Deb has already put two coats of pain on the exposed wall areas again.

Other things that have stuck in my mind this week include school children getting the results of their GCSE exams. This year they have introduced  theoretical exams rather than a mixture of course work and theory exams. It means the students have to rely on that written test. The television news was full of shrieks of delight as an even higher percentage of students achieved superb results, but then whinged that the exams have been so stressful, and shouldn’t have to be so intense.

I would like to point out that 50 years ago we all had to take theoretical exams, as the idea of coursework had not been even thought of. We didn’t complain about stress, it was how it had always been, and we survived without students accusing the authorities of creating PTSD.

It is absolutely pouring with rain this morning (Sunday) and it is affecting most of the country. It is also the same in Ireland where the Pope is giving an open air mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Obviously his boss is not very happy with the people of Ireland.

Well, it is lunchtime, so that is enough typing for now.

I think the afternoon will be a quiet one, and perhaps I can complete a few more pages of my latest book.

 

 

The Hedge is completed

On Friday morning I finally completed cutting the hedge. It had taken me three weeks of an hour here and an hour there, and it has exhausted me.

It certainly looks a lot better, and I have taken nearly half a metre off the height as I worked my way along the garden, so that will make the cut next year much easier. There are no long branches poking up any more, and there will be much younger growth from now on.

With that completed, Deb asked what I was going to do to keep me busy now.

After some thought, I gave up trying to come up with anything to do, and simply looked at the post. We have an unbelievable amount of adverts from cruise companies, and usually after a quick glance it goes into the recycling bin, but today something caught my eye.

I  suggested to Deb that we booked another cruise for the end of the year.

On Saturday morning we were back into Thomas Cook to see Judith (our travel agent) and half an hour later we walked out with a lower bank balance. We are going to try out Saga cruises with a short break up to Hamburg and Bremen in early December.

We have been thinking about the Saga option for some time, and this was a good price, with additional discount because we have their monthly magazine. It is more expensive than a similar P&O cruise, but it comes with free travel to the port, inclusive of tips, free wine with meals, and free WiFi.

The reviews suggest the cabins are large, the service is exceptional and the food is good.

If it is as good as suggested, Saga could be an alternative as we begin to notice too many examples of P&O’s cost cutting regime.

Oh, and I decided on a new project to keep me busy.

I am going to change out as many of the old central heating radiators as I can before the temperatures begin to drop. There are four original ones left in the house and after 25 years they are not as efficient a modern units.

This will not be a speedy project, and made worse because I will have to drain the system each time I change a radiator, and then refill to keep hot water available.

With a cruise booked, and my spare time allocated, the rest of Saturday was mainly rest, before a bottle of Cava in the evening.

Time to look at the prices of radiators and plan the work.

 

Day out in Blaenavon

Yesterday (Tuesday 14th August) Deb and I took a day off from the garden.

We had promised ourselves that this summer we would get out sometimes, but have failed miserably until now.

We set off towards the Heritage Town of Blaenavon just over the border into Wales. Unfortunately our drive was delayed a little because of a nasty incident on a roundabout near Abergavenny where a lorry carrying a load of straw bales had overturned.

Hopefully the driver was OK.

Our drive was far badly slowed down by our SAT NAV.

Firstly it tried to take us a down a road that was closed off, and had been for several months I think. It decided upon another route but that took us onto a lane which was extremely narrow and instead of white lines, it had grass.

Undeterred we continued, but the route became even narrower and the only good thing about it was that there was no other vehicle using it. I was dreading having to find a way of letting something pass.

Eventually we found civilisation again after some wonderful views from the top of the Brecon Beacons that SAT NAV decided we should experience.

The town of Blaenavon is a small sleepy place with a lack of road signs. With SAT NAV forgiven we were using it again to find our first point of interest, but after telling us several times to turn into a lane with a perfectly acceptable name,  we discovered no sign to guide us.

Eventually after two laps of the town centre we gave in and stopped in a car park that we had passed twice already. Fortunately it was free. Consulting the pathetic map, that the town offers online, we set off on foot for the Heritage Centre.

We went in the direction that looked the likely way, and soon a friendly man saw our looks of confusion and pointed out our target.

Our first urgent requirement were the toilets, followed by a cup of coffee after the expedition into deepest Wales. We discussed a possible place to dump the SAT NAV but decided it was probably doing its best in a foreign country.

The Heritage Centre was free to enter, and along with the café and toilets, it has a small exhibition describing the history of the town. Blaenavon, like much of South Wales, had an abundance of coal which was a major reason for the town being created. The ground also contained a lot of iron that was also mined making the town a very busy and successful place. The iron was extracted with the help of coal fired furnaces and the resulting metal transported by canal to its destination. As mining declined and eventually ceased, the town went into decline but fortunately it was declared as a world heritage site, and became a tourist magnet for those wanting to see a little bit of social history.

To aid the tourists who might be lost (like us) there is also an information desk with the usual plethora of handouts suggesting interesting places to visit. Armed with our trusty online map, we asked how far away the next place we wanted to go to. The helpful lady admitted that although our map was extremely artistic  it was rather useless because the scale was random to allow everything to be fitted into one page.

She pointed out directions of how to get to the iron foundry, and the coal mine site, so off we went.

The Iron Foundry was just a five minute walk away, and we were soon looking around what is left of a once busy industrial site. Unlike the vast majority of places we visit, it was free to enter.

There were two main areas to look at. Firstly was the industrial bit with the remains of at least three furnaces and associated buildings where the molten iron was turned into usable chunks of the metal known as ‘Pig Iron’. The site had a small rail system with the trucks of coal and iron ore being moved around, and it included a huge water powered lift to move stuff between the site levels and away to the nearby canal.

I was disappointed with a lack of information and description about what I was seeing. Perhaps the lack of entry fees means little investment in the site, when a bit of thought, and some money could make this a really serious reminder of social history in an industry that created so much wealth for Britain.

The second part of the site was where cottages had been built for the workers, and these were fascinating.

There were five examples of what the cottages might have looked like from the 1920s through to 1967. It brings home the basic cramped conditions the workers in an industry that was hard, dangerous, and poorly paid.

The final two cottages were from the 1950’s and 1967, and they brought back a lot of memories from my first decade and my teenage years. A lot of things were as I remembered although the 1967 one seemed to be a long way behind my own experiences in Cornwall.

We spent an enjoyable hour at the site, but with my stomach suggesting I need something to eat, we moved on towards the other place we wanted to visit. That was called the ‘Big Pit’ and was the remains of the major coal mine in that area.

It was only a 20 minute walk (so we were told) but we decided to drive there to give my legs a rest.

SAT NAV’s sense of humour, and lack of signposts struck again.

It took about 20 minutes to find the place. We had two aborted sets of directions from the little electronic box of dodgy maps, plus with a lack of street names matching any possibly useful instructions we were given.

We eventually did a bit of guesswork plus semi-correct SAT NAV instructions and finally found the ‘Big Pit’ coal mine. The car park was almost full with at least 100 cars, and although entry to the exhibition was free, there was a reasonable fee of £3 to park the car.

This now disused pit was once very busy, but now offers visitors a chance to experience what it was like to work in the coal mine with a trip down to the mine working areas 300 feet below ground.  We didn’t go down the pit itself as my knees would never have managed that on top of all the other walking I had done.

There was still plenty to look at. The remains of various mining machinery and buildings at are open to stroll around, and the site  also houses the National Coal Museum in the old shower and locker area.

We began our visit with a snack before exploring some of the older buildings as we climbed up the steep hillside to the museum. Before going in, we looked out at the Brecon Beacons that towered above us. This reminded us of where we had been on our SAT NAV’s adventure a couple of hours earlier.

The museum was dominated by the vast shower room where the miners had a chance to wash off the black coal dust and mud before putting on their clean clothes at the end of a shift. The lockers remain as well although many of them are now a tiny snapshot of some of the mine’s characters with a photo and information card plus a short spoken description of their time at work.

Beyond the shower area there is a thought provoking exhibition describing mining in general as well as the Blaenavon Pit itself. There are examples of equipment and clothing used by the miners including the rescue support teams, as well as the actual coal face workers.

Of course there is also a history of coal mining in Britain culminating in the strikes of 1984 and the eventual demise of the industry. It is obviously close to the hearts of the people of this town, and the rest of South Wales and other mining areas of Britain. The display boards and photos telling the story of that dramatic episode are thought provoking, even to those who had no sympathy for Arthur Scargill and the miners.

There are several others places to visit in Blaenavon along with a series of walking trails, but we decided it was time to go home. Actually it was me seriously needing to give my legs a rest.

To summarise our day, I thoroughly enjoyed the time in this sleepy town, and while the Iron Foundry was good, the Big Pit was inspirational.

We gave SAT NAV another chance, but when it tried to make us go the way we had come, we laughed and ignored it. Rather than crossing back over the Brecon Beacons, we descended several miles down the side of the mountains and went around them to Abergavenny and home. The scenery is sensational, but the driving stopped me seeing much of the glorious landscape.

Perhaps we will come back here again one day, and look at the views properly.

Well worth a visit for those looking for something to do in this area.

Catching up with old friends

Deb and I have had a lovely day. My childhood friend (Perry) and his wife (Linda) came to see us while they were nearby. I spent hours and hours with Perry as we grew up in Cornwall, and we instantly struck up conversation.

As with so many of the childhood friends that I have seen for several decades, Perry and Linda looked the same as when I last saw them.

We talked about our families, our current lives, and old friends. It appears only one of my friends has passed on to new pastures, but the rest are still going strong.

After a cup of tea and initial chatter we set off for a nearby pub (Three Horseshoes) for lunch. And as we ate we continued to catch up on the last 30 years in our lives.

Home again it was coffee and a final drawn out talk about cruising, that we both enjoy, children and grand-children and our health issues.

Then with a promise to meet up again when we are down in Cornwall in a few weeks’ time, Perry and Linda set off back to Gloucester where they are staying another night near relations, before returning to Cornwall.

It was only four hours together but it was so good to meet up again.

See you again soon.

………………………………………..

The weather continues to be hot and sunny, but the forecast is that the heatwave is coming to an end by the weekend with wind and rain.

Finally the garden will get some natural watering, and the humidity will become a little more less draining.

We had better make the most of the remaining days of course, and tomorrow I will be back on my ladder cutting the top of the conifer hedge. Hopefully over the next few days I can complete the battle with minimal bramble thorns in my fingers, or cramp in my legs.

Speak again soon.

Physio-therapy

Well, I had my session of physio on Thursday. This was the real thing and the sadistic little lady has very sharp fingers which were used to poke and then press very hard on the offending area of my shoulder.

It hurt. But the pain only lasted for a few minutes, and I really hope it does some good. I have exercises to do as well before another painful session in  a fortnight’s time.

The pre-lunch session left me feeling very weak for the afternoon but there is so much to do, and the gardening has to continue.

Over two days I managed to cut through a large area of the hedge, and if I sit in the correct spot in the garden, it now looks to have been finished.

…but I have only managed half of the hedge so far.

A lot of the work involves standing on a ladder, and as well as pushing my poorly arm outside of the comfort zone, I also find ladder work makes my legs hurt.

Any thoughts that the injection a fortnight ago was going to ease the knee pain has gone. It hurts again and my continued garden work is not giving much time to recover.

Away from my body issues, I am very annoyed at the boss of the Bank of England. Mark Carney made a statement that he is worried that our currency will suffer if we have a hard Brexit.

WHY SAY THIS!!!

It immediately made the value of sterling drop.

He is supposed to be doing the best for our currency, not join the band of knockers.

If he had altered the statement to suggest that Europe will suffer if we are forced to have a hard Brexit, and they should be considering being a little more flexible.

Put the pressure on Europe for a change. It appears that negotiations are already hard enough without the bankers, the economists,  half the government, a good deal of the press, making things even more difficult by siding with the remainers.

The remainers by the way were democratically beaten in referendum, and should by now be thinking of a positive way forward, rather than sulking and playing badly.

If Europe opened their papers each morning with consistent warnings from everyone in Britain that they will suffer if we don’t have a positive agreement, maybe, they will start to think more of a way forward, than being so negative.

Just my thoughts of course. I am one of those people that bankers, economists, politicians and the press don’t believe are educated enough to vote about our future.

I will finish my post today with something very positive.

My best friend from my childhood is coming to visit us next week. We have tried to arrange a meet up for over  a year, and finally Perry and his wife Linda will come and spend a couple of hours with us.

We have not met for 30 years, and I am really looking forward having a chat and a laugh as we remember our friendship.