Food, glorious, food

Firstly I’m pleased to report that a careful week of recuperation and rest leaves me in much better fettle than just seven days ago. More treatment due in next few weeks so I’ll just enjoy it whilst it lasts. The calmer, warmer and even sunnier weather no doubt helps.

Those who know me well know how much food has featured in my life. I have always enjoyed my food and thus have been rewarded with my ample figure. Food for me has been such a source of happiness on so many levels. Firstly I have enjoyed being a cook both for dinner parties and when I was for larger gatherings catering for 50-100 at the Cricket club. Two memories stand out. Firstly the millennium year we had a party to bring in the new millennium and I catered for around 60. I asked people to pre-order to make preparation easier and everyone did. On the night one of the dishes a sumptuous Venison in Guinness casserole was proving popular and it became clear that the chicken eaters were ordering the casserole. Luckily I had always over-catered and on this occasion this proved helpful no-one was let down. Finished by 10 pm I could enjoy the evening and watch the fireworks at midnight.

The second big cook I recall was two years on preparing for 100+ people coming to my 50th and I was trying to get friends and family organised to help me prepare. It was at the cricket club again. Now people being helpful is one thing. People who want to help by making helpful but largely irritating suggestions are another matter. I knew how to cater and what I wanted doing. I was becoming frustrated by the ‘suggestions’ from everyone who knew better.

you know you wanted these tomatoes chopped this way would it not be better to do them in this way and then add onions on top rather than try and put them inbetween’

‘not sure that blue cheese, walnuts and pears go together’

‘these chicken legs need doing on a higher heat than that’

‘do you really want to do chips – why not just do potatoes easier to cook’

And so on and so on. My elder brother was observing this and noticed my rising frustration. He recognised a fuse was about to blow. He went over to my friends and whispered something to them. A few minutes later they left the small and over crowded and overheating kitchen. He shut the door.

right tell me what needs doing. Just give me a breakdown of what you want and I will do it’

Harmony was restored and I was left free to create the buffet I wanted. It was my fiftieth and I was going to do it my way. Somehow he understood and we merrily spent the next three hours, chopping, slicing, plating, arranging, heating, cooking and presenting a buffet fit for such a party. I swear that was the greatest moment of brotherly love I had ever received from my elder brother.

Small dinner parties have always been wonderful occasions too whether preparing and giving or receiving. Good food, good company, relaxed conversation is rarely beatable. Sometimes the meals are not as good as you want but most of the time your friends take it in their stride and we just enjoy the evening together. I treasure all these occasions, for me it feels like a great way to spend an evening with friends or family.

Of course as we became richer going out for meals became more than seeking a cheap curry at the end of the night and the enjoyment of eating at good restaurants is something which has become increasingly a feature of my life. Only a few weeks ago I had a celebratory meal with my two children recognising six years of survival when we always return to the same restaurant as a reminder, you cannot beat evenings like that.

Given my history with food it is frustrating to record that I now struggle both with the giving of food and, perhaps more alarming, the enjoyment of food. It has been one of the more unnoticed aspects of the last six years. I think fatigue makes the preparation of food a little daunting particularly catering for a dinner party. Planning has to be different and usually involves thinking of dishes which I can prepare in advance so I can relax in the evening when I am more likely to be tired. But the motivation to cook when someone is coming is very different than when I am on my own.

I am sure others understand this but cooking for one, particularly if you are fatigued, is a dispiriting thing to do. To cook good food involves detailed preparation and to make for one feels like you want to get it over quickly. I have had a lot of salmon, new potatoes and peas over the last few years, ok to eat but a bit repetitive. But now cooking at all in the evening has become a chore and combined with a growing disinterest in food I can end up with beans on toast on too many occasions though I do like beans!

I don’t know if it’s a solution but recently I started to order one of these ingredient delivery companies. I discovered one which will cater for one, I only have to order minimum three meals a week or can miss entirely and it is ecologically sound company and low carb food. The food comes packaged in a brown bag and contains everything you need. There is seven steps to cooking it and in average 30 minutes cooking time. The food is good quality and it ensures I get a decent meal. There is no waste which make an average £8 per meal much better than throwing away lots of unused ingredients. See pics below of some of my efforts. I use Mindful Chef.

I still like eating out and really enjoy those occasions with friends and family. I do not have the appetite I had and select less challenging food but I think the occasion helps the eating. I hope my enjoyment of eating food does come back, even if I have to eat out or let friends and family cook. It is one of life’s joys and as a social interaction is great. I can only hope my love of food returns, I am trying.

My week in photos

2/18 getting back into the groove

I have been humbled by people’s concern over my missing a few weeks blogging. It’s not easy to understand why the gap has existed, weekly blogs are habit forming and if you miss a couple of weeks there is a danger that a more vicious cycle develops rather than the virtuous cycle of last year. I aim mainly at writing on a Sunday but have had the odd weekend away or feeling unwell which hasn’t helped. In fact I have had a really bad couple of weeks. Firstly I had some severe left leg pain which I have experienced before and seems to relent over a few days with some heavy duty painkillers and complete rest. It’s frustrating but if i either sleep or sit the pain is minimal. So I thought I needed to get writing again and create a new 2018 momentum. Then more problems.

With the leg pain I had had to miss a social gathering with others who are suffering or have suffered from this unremitting disease. It is uniquely supportive as everyone just gets it! We have met in Newark for over five years now and it is unfailingly helpful. I was sorry to miss it but walking anywhere was too challenging it was simply not possible. I was looked after at home but it was a shame to miss the gathering. All being well there will be others.

So just recovering from the leg pain I started a new drug designed to strengthen my bones. It is given by infusion and followed my oncology appointment at which they decided radiotherapy on my left leg may help reduce the pain talked about above. Luckily I had read all about this new drug and it’s potential for side effects on the first 4 weekly cycle. The following morning bone pain, fever like symptoms and a general malaise hit. I felt so ill. I stayed in bed for 36 hours. Another weekend away with friends was threatened. Eventually with my son’s help I made one night away at The Boar’s Head, Draycott in the Clay, though I felt rather weak and fragile.

So the last few weeks have been challenging. The impact is to create a sense of uncertainty about the future though I remain on the same drug regime for now. It’s unsettling, painful at times, and hard to keep the optimism I have felt for so long on this journey. But as I slowly begin to get back to a level of equilibrium which enables me to function I am slowly getting used to my new normal. I thought getting back to blogging must be part of that.

Last week my travel insurance ran out and now being on new drugs the company will not offer me the deal I have had. So I have been contemplating the reality that foreign travel (long haul has felt unrealistic for a long time) may not now be possible without high insurance premiums or ridiculous risks with non-coverage. As I have not travelled abroad for over two years this may simply be a de facto recognition that my life has shrunk once again. I am not overly concerned about this. I had one or two ideas in mind but nothing arranged and a few days in Whitby offers just as much enjoyment. It is another example of the narrowing of my options but one which does not present as many problems. I have never been a seeker of sun so my few friends in Europe will just have to visit me and I hope they do.

Feeling unwell for well over two weeks leaves you feeling a bit isolated from day-to-day life, even trips to the village become challenging. Just as I was beginning to pick up the snow fell and another few days pass. I have been getting gate fever these last few days, hoping the weather will thaw, and it’s starting. So I hope as the week progresses I can get out a bit and feel engaged in my little world again. I missed my Book Club again last Thursday, partly the weather and if I am honest I had not felt well enough to read. One of the most difficult symptoms of fatigue is a muzzy headiness which makes the effort of reading and writing, indeed engaging so so challenging. At root my lack of blogging is down to this phenomenon. I can watch TV, an essentially passive activity but effortless in that sense. I think I need to clear my head, get my energy back and re-engage. So lunch out Tuesday with ex-colleagues and friends and a trip to the village to get my next Book Club Book are achievable targets. Finally this week I shall travel to the funeral and wake of an ex-university friend who sadly passed away recently. Have only seen him once since university and recent years have dealt him a difficult hand and he became something of a recluse but important to say good bye now he is at peace, R.I.P. Tony.

So I’m afraid my return to blogging has not shed much joy in the world but it is a sign of returning health that I am writing this and facing the coming week with more vigour and optimism. I have some challenging weeks ahead including radiotherapy on my left leg, a second infusion and the continued uncertainty of my drug regime. The oncologist is working hard to keep me on the current regime and if I get to feel better and more importantly my blood markers show that the drugs are still working, I can begin to look forward to another spring and summer and a bit of travel to cricket, to Whitby and to my other favourite haunts.

Anyway I have achieved one goal in writing the blog so hopefully I am back in that groove.

Selected photos of the last few weeks.

1/18 Looking back, glancing forward

So it’s that time of year again. Time to have a look at my aspirations for 2017 and see how I got on. But first some of my best moments.

It’s been a mixed year in so many ways but I am so glad to be celebrating the New Year. So let’s hope i can look forward to an even better 2018.

Below, reflecting the collage above, my six key moments:

1. Our last ever trip to The Heaves Hotel in Kendal. Closing its doors. We have gone there as cricketers and retired cricketers since the early 1980s. A great weekend in January.

2. Every February we go to Elios, Italian Restaurant in Barton-upon-Humber because we went there a day after I was diagnosed. It marks each year and I am so happy to be still celebrating. Visit 7, celebrating 6 years in February 2018.

3. March saw a wonderful fund raising evening for Joe and Mark’s bike ride to Amsterdam. But the real memory of seeing the band Rain featuring Sam, Damian and Hannah with their wonderful lead, Kevin in what was to prove to be his last performance. I still miss the great man so much. RIP Kevin.

4. This was taken in Pembrokeshire another annual event since 2012 when my wonderful children, Hannah and Joe take me away for a long weekend. This year we returned to a holiday haunt of their childhood, Little Haven.

5. This cake, signifies not just my 65 birthday but the forthcoming birthday of so many of my uni friends as we gathered for another BBQ. This year we were joined for the first time by Hanne From Norway and another great day was had.

6. In June Joe and Mark completed their 145 mile bike ride to Amsterdam. I was so proud of them raising over £3400 for Prostate Cancer UK. A wonderful weekend.

So many other good times too, so many good memories. I want to make more in 2018.

But what did I specify as my aspirations a year ago? They were:

1. Strive for a ‘reasonably healthy’ year

2. Complete first draft of my novel by May 18th

3. Undertake the photography course #AYearWithMyCamera2017 and improve my skills

4. Connected to 3) my project will be ‘My Yorkshire’

5. Continue creating and building memories

I can’t pretend it’s been an easy year health wise dominated by ancillary problems which I have documented during the year. But it’s about still being here and entering yet another year reasonably healthy. And, despite having to start a new drug, I am still here and hoping I can get another good year. My walking is now problematic but my car with my scooter gives me potential freedom to get out and explore so I am hoping I stay well enough to do just that as the weather gets warmer.

My second aspiration was achieved in part. I managed about 37000 words for review in May. It was an instructive session and gave me plenty of food for thought. 7 months on however no further progress has been made. I think the realisation that I need to put many hours into improvements has proved daunting. I am not convinced I can find the kind of ‘clear head’ time needed to take this project forward. Despite having lots of words done I am facing the thought that this project will not get completed. At the moment it lies in stasis awaiting resuscitation, this year will determine whether I can breathe life into it.

Oddly 3 and 4 never really got going. I have continued to take photos through the commitment to the daily Blipfoto and have loved that. I got a new big lens which improved my bird shots but found systematic commitment to a training course too challenging. I dipped into it and got the accompanying books but psychologically I have resisted learning systematically about photography. I think it’s too late so I’ve taking a more pragmatic approach, looking up particular issues when I have needed them. I am happy with that and enjoying the photography so it’s working for me.

Good memories have been achieved throughout the year as I highlighted at the start of the blog. I love spending time with family and friends and it’s been good to have visitors who just muck in and we can enjoy great weekends. Enjoyed lots of lunches out with old friends and always up for a meet. So what next?

I am unsure what 2018 will bring. I am more cautious about my health prospects with uncertainties over how long the current drug will work and less options left. I remain positive and given six years survival already I ought to and I can only hope for more time. I will continue to keep going as best I can and enjoy the many services which the wonderful NHS gives me, despite the best efforts of the tories to undermine it.

I really hope we can see another election this year, surely the moribund Government with its hapless leader and lack of decent policies will implode. Came so close to seeing a Corbyn Government I will keep the dream ‘for the many not the few’.

The third uncertainty is how long I can remain active in the work of the Probation Institute. I think it’s important and most of the time I enjoy the engagement it gives me with my old world. But physically it’s tiring to go to London and some days I fear I cannot keep going. In any event I will have been chair three years by September so if I last that long, maybe that would be the time to go.

Otherwise I shall endeavour to do more of the same, health permitting. Scarborough is already booked for the Cricket and, with my scooter, trips to Headingley might be easier. So more Cricket, more photography and I hope more ‘scooting’ through the lovely countryside of the Dales. Simple aspirations, simple pleasures. So to summarise my aspirations for 2018 are:

1. To resist whatever my illness throws at me and stay reasonably healthy

2. Continue to build memories with family and friends

3. Make a final decision on the novel

4. Decide how long to remain active in the work of the Probation Institute

5. Be hedonistic – watch sport, go ‘scooting’, enjoy my family and good friends, take photographs.

So my review of the year is complete. A mixed year but with many good interludes. Thanks to my readers for reading (whoever you are!) and hopefully I will be able to blog as frequently as the year unfolds.

My week in photos:

Maintaining a moral compass

I was talking to friends about ordering from Amazon and Tesco’s and they responded saying, in principle, they would never use either. I understand their reasons. It led me to think about how passive I had become in some of my ethical pathways in the last few years. I am sure there is a relationship between convenience, an important commodity when unwell, and willingness to stand up and act on your principles. Your steadfastness can be weakened by just finding ways to get through the day. I shall return below to ask how far has this occurred as I first try to reflect on the origins of my moral compass and where it came from?

As a pre-teen I attended church, Church of England by parental choice, and I went through the ‘confirmation’ process. School also taught religious studies through Christianity, as the norm, also Church of England, so I guess my initial moral code came from Church and family. Simple principles of morality, right v wrong, but it felt very laissez-faire and I do not recall any conversations which challenged my thinking. I internalised the prejudices of the day, it was the 50s and 60s, (though would not realise that until much later). For example I remember eating bread and jam often for tea, featuring the ‘golliwog’ logo and not reacting at all, nor did anyone around me tell me to react either. My parents pushed education as a route out of a lower middle/working class background and for that I am really grateful. Real awakening started for me in the sixth form with an English teacher, who introduced ideas through reading literature and poetry, the delights of DH Lawrence, Auden, Brian Patten, Philip Larkin, and Wilfred Owen particularly remain in the memory. It was to be education, specifically, higher education, which challenged my ethical thinking in a fundamental way, helping me to develop a moral code through continuous reflection, a process which goes on to the present day, in fact that is a key part of my moral compass always analysing, reflecting and reacting to new situations.

University at York brought so many questions as an undergraduate. I studied history and education. I loved what was known then as ‘intellectual’ history, the study of ideas. I was bombarded with a smorgasbord of different philosophies, from Karl Marx to Antonio Gramsci via Illich, Freire and many others. I took positions in dorm room discussions on a whole host of topics just to test out my thinking. What I had seen in the real world I could begin to relate to these ideas. But to be honest my early life now appeared relatively sheltered and reading and learning about class, privilege, poverty and discrimination opened my eyes and made me really think about the world around me for the first time. It was uncomfortable and wonderfully challenging in equal measure. I joined some marches including one against Bloody Sunday and a sit-in but the most practical outcome was focused around the rejection of teaching as a career. Influenced by the ‘de-schooling’ movement, seeing Illich speak at York being so transformative and memorable, studying ASNeill, Paulo Frieire, Montessori and others I had decided teaching was about indoctrination and I did not want to do it. This was a life-changing decision based on principles I could not ignore.

I moved to Hull University to study for social work though sponsored by the Home Office. This forced more focussed examinations of my moral compass and I began to identify my moral standpoints ironically as much by what I rejected as what I stood for. Around a broad base of socialism I began to look at ideas, mainly operationised in the criminal justice system, to identify structural disadvantage by class, race, gender, age, mental health and sexuality. Criminals, or clients as we were taught to call them then, seemed to be at the cutting edge of discrimination, disadvantage and poverty. Probation became my spiritual home. Politics felt then too Centre-right from both political spectrums and with the coming of Thatcher then Blair a place not to be. I found myself disappointed/disillusioned with the political process and so my moral compass was exercised through my work. This had its own challenges as changes in the political agenda had a negative impact on progressive practices in Probation.

I would describe my moral education as continuous, one step forward and two steps back. It involves unlearning as well as new learning. Taking ideas which were an unquestioned part of my upbringing then subjecting those ideas to interrogation and if necessary change. In this process you rarely get it right but the journey remains relevant. This has been reinforced through direct practise with clients, through work as a trainer where you seek to challenge others, in my trade union work, in my writings and then as an academic. In a long career ideas which seemed worked out at 25 were questioned and questioned again for over forty years. Class had been the dominant feature of my early thoughts but increasingly mediated through the lens of diversity, difference and discrimination.

So fast forward to today. Retired, ailing and tired, it is not always easy to retain that self-reflective lens on the world plus there is always the possibility of disillusion setting in after one too many setbacks. I have seen too many lost opportunities in the world of criminal justice as well as the political scene. How many moral challenges can you stomach when you are not feeling 100 %. I have seen some compromise evident in my personal life around ecological and environmental issues. I must confess that every new bin which arrives for the rubbish feels like a bin too far.

The exception to this passive trend is, surprisingly, politics. Disappointed across my lifetime by the failure of Labour to maintain the kind of social democratic politics which gave us the NHS, the welfare state and social housing I have stayed a little aloof from it. This was transformed by the last election campaign and the politics of Corbyn and the progressive momentum of the labour manifesto. I became excited, engaged and felt there was (is) real hope in this agenda reflected in the slogan of ‘for the many, not the few’. Facebook friends were sometimes concerned with the amount of material I shared during the election but this was the first election in which social media had a real impact and exposed the inadequacies of the mainstream media. I could not get out on the streets so I did my bit. Ideas which have driven my work, my life, were there to be fought for. I felt that my moral compass was ignited in ways which encouraged me to stay up most if election night feeling I would see the kind of government I had not dreamt was possible in my lifetime. Though falling marginally short I really hope I can see that Government happen. Have re-joined Labour and feel optimistic about real seismic political shifts.

I am still a little lazy/passive to protect my energy and will still use amazon and Tesco delivery. But the moral compass I found in the election still burns in my soul and I still get so angry at the injustice of the world around me. Sometimes my health feels like its put me on the margins but I will never soften my beliefs.

Have a lovely holiday and new year, thanks for reading and commenting. This is Blog 43. I promised a blog a week at the beginning of 2017 and fell only a bit short. In January six years since diagnosis I can’t celebrate that enough. Enjoy every day you can. Life is short but wonderful.

Recent photos

So what’s your take on Christmas?

If your first reaction to my blog title this week is a groan I guess you immediately fall into the category of people who celebrate the statutory minimum of days, perhaps in a grudging way, tut-tutting at the increasing commercialisation, and wishing it over before it starts. You may want to stop reading as I love Christmas though not everything about it as I will make clear.

So what’s not to like. Firstly I do not particularly engage with Christmas as a religious event. As a child I experienced the thrill of singing in the choir at midnight mass as a precursor to Christmas but that was as much about church going as religion. What remains strongly for me from my childhood in the 1950s is the sense of family which was the centrepiece of the day. Sitting down with my siblings, my mum and dad, my grandparents, after having opened up the presents which were meagre but no less exciting. My pillow at the end of the bed was filled with such things as an orange, a jumper, some sweets, an annual, home made toys and sundry other small presents. No iPhones, computers, or other exotic presents. This was post-war austerity when getting a turkey on the table was a major expense. It was no less exciting than receiving much more expensive presents as I went into adulthood. In fact it set the yardstick for how I have enjoyed it since. It was the ritual which was important and has always helped me look forward to it nearly every year since. I love giving presents and to see the joy on my children’s faces when they got what they had asked for and sometimes more, these are the memories which never fade.

As a piece of social engineering about the shaping of Christmas the memories of childhood, if they are good ones, are hard to let go. I know that this was not everyone’s experience but for me Christmas was without exception a great family-led time. For me the roast dinner which is often based around turkey, sprouts, roasties, loads of veg, rich sumptuous gravy followed by Christmas pudding (though I cannot stomach it) are still in one form or another the centrepiece. As many family gathered around the table as possible though the big gatherings when my children were little no longer occur but it always includes my two children as a minimum. After far too much food, in my house the Queen’s speech is ritually avoided but at some point the traditional Senior family games are played – notably ‘brains’ and when I was a child ‘consequences’ though that has disappeared in more recent times. When it has been a big family gathering everyone does their best to relax and feel the mood. There have been tense moments over the years and arguments over the games, my grandpa consulting the Junior Pears Encyclopaedia to settle the argument about tomatoes and whether it is a fruit or a vegetable. In the end the occasion kept such disputed matters to a minimum. Whether time has dulled the arguments I can only remember the sense of fun and renewal of these days in the 50s and 60s.

Christmas can also been defined by those years where normal activity are interrupted by an unexpected event. Memorable for me was the Christmas 1973 when my Dad had a heart attack I think on Christmas Eve but as well as hospital visiting we eat and opened presents and played the games. Or when I was in hospital in Christmas 82 having treatment for testicular cancer but ‘released’ for Christmas and saw the usual going on around me as I tried to eat a turkey sandwich. More recently when my daughter was in Australia for Christmas the only time we have not celebrated together but with modern technology she rang and had some contact though it wasn’t the same. And finally in 2010 when I was away from England in Hong Kong and my daughter and me celebrated in very different style, away from family including my son though a Skype conversation was had. But these are isolated years helping to define the norm.

I suppose this is about tradition though not just that imposed by external authority. It is our unique traditions which grow and change and refine over the years but at its heart, centres family, celebration and giving as well as the inevitable eating, the drinking (though I don’t now drink at all), and the silly games! I know my vision is a secular affair but I make no apologies for that. That is true to our lives and our philosophies and it would be hypocritical to pretend Christmas has the Christian connotations which it has for others. My beliefs centre around family and it starts for me around now, whatever the adverts and displays tell us.

I love the sending of cards and over the last few years have designed by own and sent through TouchNote as their production are so good. I buy less presents than the often frantic buying when my children were young but enjoy thinking about it just as much. I recall the year I was in a frantic search for Rainbow Brite doll (you know it if you are of that age). My daughter was set on it but all the stores had run out. I had given up cross that I did not start buying earlier. Working on Christmas Eve I went towards the city centre to get some lunch. In a disused department store there was a temporary shop selling Christmas goods and sat in the centre of their displays was the biggest, grandest Rainbow Brite you could imagine. I bought it making one girl very happy. That summed up the mystery, the joy of it all.

So I know the commercialisation has taken over our own thinking about Christmas and that is regrettable. But there is no right way to celebrate the day. We will do it our way again when the time comes, adapting to the changing circumstances of all our family, no matter what the commercials tell us to do. Now I must design that card.

My week in photos.

When the stress line twangs

It’s not always clear to me why I cry sometimes. It seems that it is simply an emotional outlet triggered by a range of events. It is a mixture of the good and the less good, and the trigger can come way after the event. It suggests to me that the struggle of living over the past nearly six years feels like you exist on a taut line. Most of the time I am not conscious of this tautness and just get through each day as it comes. But I become conscious of this at certain key moments which eventually trigger a necessary response.

A series of negative events, taken individually I think I appear to take quite well. But if I stopped to think my internal stress wire is being twisted ever tighter until it’s tautness is palpable. In company I rarely let this show, that is the male in me I guess, though six years of hormone therapy suggests that my ‘stiff upper lip’ is not as stubborn as it once was. At some point these events come together at a trigger, sometimes unconnected at all. It can be a TV programme going over the same kind of event, it can be a casual question from someone and for once I think and hear my answer and it saddens me. Then I feel that tear forming. It sometimes is too hard not to, though it is as likely to happen when alone as when with people.

When I am with people I am engaged and both the mundane and the heavy conversations are shared, the burden is somehow shared, and that stress wire normally does not snap. Indeed the therapeutic value of talking about some of my health issues and challenges does loosen that wire, helps me make sense of the world a little more and even a casual unrelated conversation can do that. I value talking so much.

Good things happening to me also bring the same tensions. I sometimes sense the fleeting nature of these engagements and also get into weighing up whether they will happen again. The finite nature of my life can hit me in the most odd and seemingly innocuous way. I can see an article about the next Ashes Cricket in England and think that will be great and then think but I doubt if I will make it. Of course I know I’ve been here before and got to see events I never thought I would, another Christmas, my lovely annual dinner with my kids in February, my annual BBQ now heading towards its 7th year. Yet it is this paradox which pulls on the wire and if I allow it my reflections can be more tearful than I would believe.

I think it is part of the pressing nature of illnesses like mine which force introspection and reflection and so the wires become taut and must have an outlet. I have to say this does not make me feel sad, the release of crying can be a joy which acts restoratively. It does not lead me into despair, or self-pity or depression. It is a moment where the tautness snaps and a wave of emotion occurs.

I am ever more conscious of how I spend my time each day but I am trapped by how I feel. Plans to do something, anything, seem always provisional and I simply have to recognise when it’s not happening. I think these ‘cancellations’ have increased and in that very real sense I feel some regression further into my ill health. It’s not failing yet, so I don’t want readers to take that from this piece, but I am on a continuous journey which is steadily, identifyingly, on a set trajectory. It’s uneven, it has many upturns and surprises but it’s persistence belies any false sense of overblown reality as to where I am heading. Some days the stress lines are felt and I need a release and this is when some tears will come, often unbidden and some day after the more likely triggers.

Our bodies are so complex, our emotions so conditioned by social circumstance and our mental health. I am really lucky that my body copes so well day by day that I have not felt any drift into hopelessness, nihilistic thoughts or worse. My sense of self remains quite strong and when something goes twang, ever so briefly, there is a release, a sustenance in the simplicity of tears.

I am smiling, almost laughing as I write this because my latest ‘twang’ has come and gone and I feel good again. I have had a great day overall, seeing some loyal old friends but also regretting that this was accompanied with a bad day with one of my health issues. So I guess there were two twangs happening together, the joy of reciprocal friendship and the sadness of my failing body.

I was conscious it’s two or three weeks since I blogged and I was struggling for a theme. As I was reflecting on this a trigger, unbidden, arrived. I thought I’d write to try and make sense if it. You will let me know if it has any resonance for you. For me it’s a cup of tea and a bit of TV, a rich combination which ensures I remain routed in engaging.

My week in photos


A day in my media life

On the BBC Breakfast sofa

Yesterday at around 4.20 pm I was reflecting on the second cancellation of my minor dental op at the local hospital. Inconvenient but otherwise I can live quite happily with a wait for any dental procedure. I had had a quiet day, been round the local village and took some photos but nothing remarkable in the day. The following 18 hours has proved to be a bit of a diverting rollercoaster, not without its fun but also quite exhausting. I was rung by BBC Breakfast TV asking if I would do their programme on the next day. This was on the latest developments around the probation service. I had not done TV for a long time and not much radio since I retired. I had done a lot of radio at one time, as someone pointed out, I had a good face for radio! The great thing about radio is that you can do the interviews, wearing what you want, with notes in front of you and even these days from your home or the local studios. I have been to BBC Radio Sheffield many times. 

I think my best memory was a BBC Wales interview that they wanted to do around 7 am. We were going to do it on skype, though just audio. Anyway I set my alarm for 6.45 am, staggered to the bathroom to freshen my face and wake me up and then sat on the edge of the bed with very little on! At the end of the interview I was thanked by the interviewer and he commented that he hoped I could afford a less creaky chair for future interviews. I said goodbye, turned over and went back to sleep.

This was going to be much more hardcore. They wanted me in the studio in Salford and to be on air by 7.10am. I said yes as they said they would taxi me over and back and they then went off to confirm arrangements. Before they had rung back BBC Radio 5 Live had rung asking to do a similar interview, this time at 6.40 am. They could do it by FaceTime but were in the same building as the TV show so she went off to liaise. Back came the TV person suggesting they taxi me over but without realising how early this would need to be if I was on radio too. Radio came back with a 6.40 time so the taxi was getting ever earlier. TV then suggested they could get me over by train, in an hotel overnight and as their building was just round the corner arrive there by 6.15 for make up, radio then TV. So this was agreed. 9.42 pm train out of Doncaster. 

All goes quiet and you are left with some frantic activities. Pack an overnight bag with all the survival kit in it. Iron a shirt as TV can see you. Check on some facts about the issue to be prepared. Tell people I was being whisked away overnight and what I was doing. Record the TV show so you can grinch tomorrow. Check bag again. Download stuff in case no Wi-fi on train or hotel. Have some light tea. Check bag. Leave really early so you don’t miss the train. 

The train journey should have been very easy. Just a few stops and no changes, gettting to Manchester where a pre-arranged taxi would whisk me to the hotel and bed around 11 ish. It started ok, no Wi-fi but I read what I had downloaded. As we got into Sheffield it was clear we were running late. No movement for too long and then the dreaded announcement. Due to someone being caught by a train ahead the line was closed. We were now still headed for Manchester but a new and slow route was devised via Wakefield, Huddersfield, Guide Bridge and lost of small places I did not recognise in the dark. We would be late the morose announcer intoned and then said it would be midnight before getting to Manchester. I was not the worst off, we were not going to Stockport at all and those heading for the airport were going to be on a new train from Manchester. We chugged along, I became too tired to read any more and reflected on the receding sleep time I would get.

Picked up taxi and made it my bed by 12.45. Setting the alarm for 5.45 so I could shower and be at the studios by 6.15 for make up. It was good not to have to do my own make up for once. Of course strange room, strange bed, a temperature approaching tropical and I could not sleep. I got up and messed about on computer until 2.30 am. I then managed some sleep, waking in the dark to go to the bathroom and hoping I had a couple of hours more. No just five minutes, so that was it and so decided to shower.

When I got downstairs I felt awake but not ready for eating, my stomach could not deal with such an early start. So I agreed with the hotel I would return for breakfast after the shows and at 6.10 set off in the darkness for the studios. I was met by my minder who took me through screening, made me a drink, took me through make up and to 5 Live in time for 6.40 am. In a flash that interview came and went and now I was edging nearer to the Breakfast couch with Dan Walker and Louise Minchin. A welcome cup of tea sustained me as mikes were fitted and I was shown to the couch. A perfunctory hello from the presenters who when on air clicked into gear than rushed through their papers inbetween to tee up the next item. 6 minutes and it was all over. A shake of the hand from Dan and a pleasant farewell from the producer, a tweet of the sunrise in Salford Quays and all that preparation over 13 previous frantic hours was over in a flash. What a palaver for just 10 minutes media output. And who will have heard it? 

Salford Quays

A very welcome breakfast followed and a taxi to the station and a more conventional train journey back to Doncaster. Considering they must be ferrying people in all morning the costs of the show must be staggering. It was good for our organisation to get the exposure and overall I managed to last the experience and I think did ok but that is for others to judge. I slept this afternoon very deeply indeed.