A Pain in the Abdomen and a Pain in the Bum

This time 45 years ago, I was in the middle of my A-level exams. I took Pure Maths, Physics and Chemistry. In the middle of one of the papers, I had to be accompanied to the toilets as I felt sick. I was sick. I couldn’t continue and went home in agony. I’d been to the GP a couple of times already and he’d diagnosed my abdomenal pains as ‘exam nerves’.

Later on this Wednesday afternoon, I returned to the GP, saw a different one who, after a more thorough, intimate examination, diagnosed appendicitis and told me I had to get into hospital straightaway.

This was my first ride in an ambulance but I was in too much pain to really appreciate it. Mum was with me but I have no idea who was looking after my sister Pauline. Dad was at the Epsom Derby and didn’t get back until much later.

In hospital, I don’t remember the anaesthetic but I do remember the dreams of a golden staircase that went on and on. I woke up without an appendix, which someone described as a blackened gherkin, and I’m sure they asked if I wanted to keep it. Nope.

While in hospital, I missed one paper but took a Chemistry exam in the presence of one of my teachers, Jenny Nelson.

That was the end of school for me, and I missed out on all the end-of-term activities.

Even while I was at school and at university, I never had anxiety dreams about exams. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning from an exam-related dream. Weird.

I was due to take a Chemistry exam but I couldn’t be bothered. I’d had enough. So I went to a coffee bar instead and ordered my default, latte and carrot cake. After a few minutes, I had a pang of guilt. Mum and Dad and teachers and everyone had such high expectations of me. I knew that if I ran fast, I would make it in time to take the exam: I knew they let people in up to half an hour late and I also knew that until now, I’d finished all my exams well before time was up. This also wasn’t an anxiety dream, just an alternative train of events that never really happened. In 1973, I’d never even heard of latte or carrot cake.

Appendicitis was my medical complaint from a long time ago. Liesel is currently suffering from a painful piriformis muscle which is literally a pain in the arse that sometimes radiates down her leg. Yesterday, in the torrential rain, we visited a physiotherapist in Earlsfield who examined Liesel, poked and prodded a bit and suggested some exercises that will hopefully alleviate the problem.

Did I say it was torrential? We’ve had thunderstorms on and off for a few days now, and thank goodness, we’ve mostly been able to sleep through them. There have been some pretty spectacular photos of the storms on Twitter.

Dublin again

Two days in Dublin’s fair city and yes, the girls are pretty. The city itself though will look a lot prettier once the referendum is over and the big ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ posters are taken down. At Heuston Station, we apologised for not being able to vote as we were just visiting, but we assured the ‘Yes’ campaigners that we were on their side, for what it’s worth.

When we first went to buy tickets for Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the only timeslot available was for 5pm, so we decided to buy tickets for the next day instead. Managing the queues to get inside to join the queue to buy tickets was a tough job. Dave coped quite well, though, even turning a group of six away who would not get in this day.

It would be easier to get into this gaol by committing a criminal offence, I thought.

No? Dave the queue handler wasn’t too impressed by this throwaway line either.

Today we retuned and after a quick coffee (but no cake) in the café, we joined a group of about 40 in the holding cells. Pat was the guide’s name. He showed us around the old gaol, telling us about its history and indeed the struggle for Irish independence. There was a lot of history here that I certainly didn’t learn at school. Sometime it’s hard to be English when you learn how we treated peoples from pretty much everywhere else on the planet. Plenty of tragic stories to be told, here.

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The museum, as is often the case, had too much to digest in one visit. Lots of documents and photos.

Just down the road and through the park is the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Its design is based on Les Invalides in Paris. I noticed a sundial and the following dialogue took place:

Mick: Looking at the sundial, I reckon it’s about ten past twelve.

Liesel: But the Sun’s not even out.

Mick: So? Not bad, though, my Fitbit says is 12:02.

Sundial at IMMA

Temple Bar is a famous name and we spent some time in this pub two days running. On the first occasion, there was a small band playing Irish folk songs and other songs. Today, there was a solo performer, also singing Irish folk songs as well as songs by Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash and George Harrison. On both occasions, we heard about Molly Malone and about The Belle of Belfast City.

Cornucopia was a good find, a veggie restaurant on Wicklow Street. So good, we went there twice, too. The weather was OK both days, not a lot of sunshine, not much of the predicted rain either, but today was very close, very humid, and we were flagging by mid-afternoon.

Our main mode of transport has been the Luas Tram network. The signs and announcements are all in two languages, and after a while, you get a feel for the Irish words. Some are similar to English, some are similar to French and other langauges, but nearly always, by English standards, there are far too many letters in Irish Gaelic words! It’s easy to love the Luas Tram Rad Line with colourful station/stop names such as Blackhorse, Goldenbridge, Bluebell and Red Cow.

It’s usually taken us to and from our b&b in Tallaght, to the south of Dublin, but I don’t know if we would have chosen to stay here if we’d known its etymology: plague pit.

But today, after our meal at Cornucopia, we caught a 49 bus, knowing it would cross a tram line at some point, where we could change. But, fortuitously, it took us all the way to Tallaght, and a ten-minute walk later found us back in our room, preparing for our early departure tomorrow, listening to the radio and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Emerald from the bus
Emerald from the bus

Ring of Kerry and Gap of Dunloe

Two very different days in terms of our experience, but equally rewarding in terms of natural beauty. Yesterday we drove a long way and walked a bit, and today we drove a much shorter distance and walked a lot further.

The Ring of Kerry is a circular route to the west of Killarney. The book says we should spend four days or more exploring the area, and the author, our friend Fionn, is right. We should have spent a lot more time here. At Ross Behy, there’s a small beach by the jetty, and some very brave little girls were swimming in the sea.

We drove through Kells but somehow missed the Priory: proof that we should have taken our time. But some of the roads, off the main road, were very narrow. Narrow and steep. Narrow, steep and right on the edge of a precipitous drop. I was driving and when Liesel advised me to change gear, I told her there was no way I was going to let go of the steering wheel just to change gear. That was a scary experience, palm-sweatingly so.

We took a ferry over to Valentia Island and visited the lighthouse at Cromwell Point. Cromwell Point as a place name intrigued me since Oliver Cromwell wasn’t much of a hero around these parts, I thought. Again, the views over the water were stunning: too many islands to visit, including one they named after me, Skellig Michael, even though I’m not much of a hero around here either.

We stopped at several viewpoints, but photos can’t do the view justice. Liesel suggested that painting a picture might be a better way of capturing the awesomeness of the landscape. Sadly, neither of us had the skills, time nor paints with us.

Too much about food here, I know but I’ll say just a couple of things. When you ask for a slice of cake in a café or restaurant, you’re offered or just given some cream to go with it, squirty cream from a can, mostly. And when you order a meal, the response is ‘perfect’. Like you’ve chosen the best possible meal on this occasion.

I remember hearing the name MacGillycuddy’s Reeks when I was very small, maybe my Mum mentioned it, or it was a lyric in a folk song. But how exciting to find that it’s a real place, a group of mountains within the Ring of Kerry.

We drove to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, parked up and then walked a further four miles through the Gap of Dunloe. We were offered a ride several times by drivers of ponies and traps, but we persevered by foot. There was one falter when it rained quite hard for a few minutes, but after that eased off, we continued our hike along the narrow road, mainly upwards.

MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are composed of 60% rocks, 25% water, 10% horse manure and the rest is sheep, people, grass and gorse. The waterfalls were too numerous to count, and if we’d tried to count the sheep, we would have been fast asleep at the top.

The wind was cold but when it stopped, the heat of the Sun on our backs was very welcome. Visitors are advised not to drive along this narrow road, but quite a few people thought they knew better.

The water in the streams was brown, possibly peat, possibly very dilute Guinness. The sound of rushing water meant that it was very hard to hear vehicles approaching from behind. The clip-clop of ponies’ hooves was much easier to hear.

Note: the photos need to be edited, yes, but that’ll need more practice on the phone. Also, I will upload many more pictures to Flickr (maybe) but I can’t now as I don’t have the password with me. All things to bear in mind when we go travelling much further afield.

Lead, Foam and Ice Cream

On Saturday, before returning home, we had breakfast with our family in Chorlton. The drive from our Airbnb took a long time as we’d been advised to avoid the M60 motorway.

But slowly, slowly, all these little places, towns, villages, suburbs around Manchester and Stockport are coming together in our mental map. I think today for the first time, I learnt for sure that Chorlton is the same place as Chorlton-cum-Hardy. And we realised that we weren’t all that far from Northenden where we will soon be living.

We’d planned to meet up at The Lead Station for a late breakfast, or brunch, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the food. We’ll definitely be back! It was a warm day and I regretted listening to my wife and not bringing my shorts: she’d said it was supposed to be cold all weekend. On the contrary, we might be having the warmest May Bank Holiday weekend, ever!

Liesel and I parked the car and as we were a bit early, we stopped off for a coffee just down the road at the Foam Coffee House. The coffee was lovely and I’m sure we’ll go back for cake or toast or something one day. We might even go along and play the board games. They had one that I’d never seen before: Subbuteo Table Rugby. I’m intrigued, how does that handle throwing the ball, drop-kicks, scrummages?

There’s a nice little park just down the road too. Very small, is Beech Road Park. Bijou.

Beech Road Park, Chorlton
Beech Road Park, Chorlton

The previous day, we’d taken the children to The Ice Cream Farm, a bit further afield, towards Chester. Martha had a whale of a time in the indoor water play area, Europe’s biggest, apparently.

And I had a whale of a time too, playing with my new Samsung phone, learning how to use the super slow-mo feature, which requires some dexterity with the aged fingers. It was a gorgeous day, and I wish I’d been wearing my shorts… have I said that already?

Here’s the first go:

It’s been edited for duration but the picture is too big for this page. Things can only get better.

Salisbury and Ireland

Salisbury has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. A Russian migrant, his daughter and a police officer were affected by Novochok, a nerve agent that can only be made in Russsia. They’re still cleaning up the town, but not everyone wears a biological protection suit. So when Liesel and I went to meet a friend there, we chose to wear ordinary clothes.

A lot of ordinary clothes, as it happens, because it was one of the coldest days of the month. None of us walked as far as we would have liked, from the car park to a coffee bar to the Boston Tea Party for lunch, a quick visit to the bookshop and then back to the car park.

The car park was free of charge for up to three hours, in an effort to attract visitors to the town again.

Today, we drove to Reddish to see Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. We’re staying in an Airbnb place because their house is in a state of flux right now, and probably will be until they can move to their new house.

In a first for Liesel, she asked our Airbnb host to sign her book. Our host happens to be Fionn Davenport, a travel writer who wrote the Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland that Liesel was reading on the drive today, as we’re off to Ireland next week.

Small world, innit?

RHS Wisley

Another hot, sunny day invited us out. We drove to Clandon Park but we didn’t go in because we’d left the National Trust cards at home. There’s nothing like great planning. And this was nothing like great planning.

So we continued on to the horticultural gardens at Wisley, just by the A3. There, we had a lovely, long walk, a coffee and carrot cake.

The beds were of course very pretty, and the grass was mostly in top condition. One area of lawn was being cut by a robot, a little mower that was moving autonomously or had been programmed to follow a certain route.

Other areas were a bit more wild. Lots of dandelions in some places. Dandelions, named after the French for lion’s teeth, dents de lion. Because as we all know, lions have bright yellow teeth. Here’s a great work of art:Dandelion sculpture

And here’s today’s rubbish selfie. Trying to get the waterfall in the background. We discussed getting a selfie stick but decided against it: it’s just more rubbish to leave at home when we go out because it’s too cumbersome.

Rubbsih selfie

If you’re taking notes, we walked about six miles today.

I went to the GP this morning (never mind why). While sitting in the waiting room, I saw a sign saying “Are you having problems with your memory? If so, discuss it with your doctor.” I thought I might as well, since I do sometimes forget names and words.

I forgot.

 

#thehottestdayoftheyear

Yes, it was the hottest day of the year so far. This usually occurs in April of course, only to be surpassed later on in the year. But the main topic of conversation on a few of the radio stations we briefly tuned into on the way home was the fact that the top trending hashtag today on Twitter is #thehottestdayoftheyear. Other hashtags are available too, such as #hottestdayoftheyear and #warmestdayoftheyear. And capitalised versions. But after such a long Winter that didn’t really want to finish, it’s fabulous to see blue skies, see the Sun and feel its heat.

We went for a walk in Richmond Park, the biggest and our favourite royal park in London. We saw a couple of single deer, several dogs, some even on leads, loads of birds and many, many muddy puddles. One day, we’ll take our grandchildren there to jump in them.

We enjoyed a picnic under a tree, listening to the birdsong. The occasional aeroplane was seen and heard as it flew towrads Heathrow Airport. A group of young men  were listening to music on their ‘device’: radio, ghetto blaster, phone? We’ll never know.

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Mick and Liesel

I am no good at taking selfies. At least we’re both in this one, but I usually miss. And of course, the horizon is horizontal in real life.

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A tree

This is the dead tree that we didn’t climb, despite the temptation.

We walked over five miles today, not bad since it’s the first time in the park for ages. Other firsts for the year today include me wearing shorts, we both had an ice cream and it was the first application of sunblock (one of us, not me).

 

Another Museum and a Zoo

Liesel and Mick spent a lovely long weekend in the company of granddaughter Martha as she celebrated her second birthday. She, her Mummy, Daddy and baby brother William are also in the throes of moving house. No date for moving yet, but such is the uncertainty, we weren’t sure that Martha would be having her birthday at the proper time (but don’t tell her).

We grandparents took Martha to Chester Zoo one day which was good fun. No, we didn’t tick many animals off the mental list because most of them seemed to be taking shelter from the cold weather. It’s April, and it should be warming up a bit but the cold spell is going on a bit.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is probably too old for Martha, really, but there is an area where she can play with things: move magnets, turn whees, press buttons, interact with the exhibits. She can also hide in the lockers which may have been a highlight.

Back home, Martha was having fun chalking on her blackboard.

Oma, Liesel, drew this:

Oma fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s that, Martha?”

“A fishy!”

Rounds of applause.

Grandad, Mick, drew this:

Grandad fish

“What’s that, Martha?”

“Horsey!”

Howls of laughter, and a whip-round so Mick can go back to art school.

Stairs & Ramps & Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

I couldn’t find the car in the multi-storey car park. My ‘best friend’ from school, Oscar, was with me but he was still of school age. He said he knew where the car was and he set off. I tried, but I couldn’t keep up with his youthful speed.

On one level, there were no cars, just a lot of children playing and laughing and having picnics. It was wonderful. As I stepped through the door onto another level, I realised it was one huge carousel, rotating slowly, but without any horses to ride. So colourful, though.

I ran up and down stairs, up and down ramps, but I just couldn’t find the car, nor Oscar. So I went to the ground floor, to the ‘customer services’ desk to see whether they could locate my car using the CCTV system. Well, they couldn’t because they only had black and white cameras and my car is red. But they did say that just a few minutes earlier, a young man had asked the same question. Aha, I thought, so Oscar can’t find the car either.

It was at this point of course that I woke up. I was feeling quite excited about the possibilities of having shared use facilities: half car park and half children’s playground. But also feeling quite disappointed that I had a red car: that would never happen in real life.

It’s Bank Holiday Monday and  of course, it’s raining. In fact it’s rained quite a lot recently, the bottom of the garden is quite soggy. The grass is growing and probably needs its first cut of the year, but electric mowers and water-logged lawns don’t mix.

Another small contribution to Mick’s 15 minutes of fame was broadcast last night on Tom Robinson’s Now Playing show on BBC 6 Music.

Intrigued? You can listen to the whole show until May 2nd.

 

Beast from the East 2

This weekend has seen the return of the so-called Beast from the East. The Russians are sending over their coldest wind again, resulting in more snow and a drop of ten degrees in temperature between Friday and Saturday.

But that didn’t stop me from going for a walk to Victoria Park, Surbiton today, to do something just a little bit scary.

I haven’t cycled in the snow for many years, possibly not since I had to for work as a postman. And on my own bike, probably not since I commuted into Kingston.

And I have never ridden a penny farthing. A kind of bike that Liesel didn’t even think was real until a few years ago.

But that all changed today: I had a go on a penny farthing. Around a snow-covered football field. Not a full-size, genuine Victorian one, but still high enough to give me cause for concern.

There’s a small stop half-way up the main stem, and you’re supposed to swing your other leg over and start pedalling straightaway. Well, I didn’t, and promptly fell over on the first attempt. With help, I got going and probably cycled between a quarter and a half a mile, being chased, I mean, followed by the bloke ready to catch should I fall off again.

Going along was OK, but stopping and getting off again was quite hairy. So, just like flying a aeroplane, starting and stopping are the difficult periods.

The event was to celebrate Cycling in Surbiton which was home at one point to a High Wheeler Race Track. Part of the Wheels of Time celebration of cycling in the Royal Borough – for which I partook in the interview last week.

Pauline and I were in Kingston a couple of days ago, following our two days in London. She wanted to see some ‘old things’. So I showed her a mirror.

Then we saw the Coronation Stone of course. And we spent some time in Kingston Museum which has some really old stuff.

Meanwhile, Liesel is counting down the days: just eight more with her current employer. Then our big adventure can really begin. We can deal with the practicalities of moving house while planning our gap year travels for real.