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The Blog - November 2008 to July 2009

Sunday, November 2, 2008

 

Welcome to our new Blog

As you may have noticed, I've been busy updating our website. I've given it a bit of a restructure as it was starting to look a bit odd, organised around a round-the-world trip that now is not going to happen.

So you can now read all about the TransAm trip I'm undertaking next year, catch up on our past trips, see some updated photos in the Galleries, and read all about what we plan to do to ensure we have "The Good Life"...

If you want to read the old blogs, you can find a link to them on the Past Trips page.

But as the last entry on the previous blog was way back on 28th September, it's about time I brought you up to date on what's been happening in the exciting life we lead...

Globebusters TransAM 2009 Trip Meeting


In my last entry I mentioned that we were about to spend the weekend in Wales with the folk that I'm due to join for the TransAm trip next year. Well, the plan was for me to ride down to Wales on my bike, whilst Tracy followed in her car. Only I came down with a rather painful infection which meant a trip to the doctor on the Friday morning and a dose of anti-biotics. As a result of the discomfort, I opted not to ride and to join Tracy in the car, but at least the anti-biotics didn't say "avoid alcohol" as they so often do. We arrived at the spectacular Manor Hotel, Crickhowell in the early evening and soon met up with some familiar faces from the advanced riding day in June. That first evening we had dinner and I introduced Tracy to my fellow travellers, and we enjoyed a few drinks and a good natter.

The Saturday was the meeting proper, when we got to hear all about what we need to do in preparation for the trip itself. This included lots of information on rider preparation - such great tips as "get out and ride" and "learn Spanish" - bike preparation, equipment (including tips on clothing required or the wide variety of conditions we're likely to experience), accident prevention (a scary section, that one, especially when mention was made of the south American truck drivers, who appear to be able to learn from the Slovakians...), freighting the bikes out and back, route and how the trip itself will pan out. Suffice to say there was a lot to take in, but we were given a useful folder full of information, which is just as well as I've probably forgotten most of it by now anyway!

Saturday evening was another opportunity to socialise with our fellow travellers, so we wasted no time in getting to know one another over a glass or two of wine and a few beers. With the next meeting not until next March, when we get to do the BMW Off Road School (the one Tracy and I did last year, so I'm very excited about doing it again!!), we thought we should try and arrange a Christmas meeting. So if you happen to be in Birmingham on Saturday 6th December, and come across a rowdy party all attempting to order Tapas in Spanish, or if you're at the bike show on the same day, then come and say "Hola!"...

The Sunday was a day set aside for any lingering questions we might have, but apart from "got a cure for a hangover?" there didn't seem to be any, so we said our goodbyes and headed for home.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is I'm now more convinced than ever that this trip is going to be fantastic. The people are great, the route looks fantastic, and I simply can't wait...

Other news...Tracy's Arm


As for other news, well, as I mentioned last time, Tracy went to see the orthopaedic consultant, Mr Muir, about her elbow and he said he could operate to try and give her a bit more movement. Since then she's been waiting for the redness to go down, which it now has, and on Friday she went for a pre-operation consultation and all is set for her to have the op this Friday, 7th.
The operation itself is a bit unusual, in that he will go in the back of her elbow and try and free up the tendons that are all tightly packed together to give them a bit more freedom to move. If all goes well, she'll be able to get more bend in her arm, and might then be able to touch her head. The current restriction in movement is such that she can't put her hand on her head, or do things like drink, eat or brush her hair with her right hand. If the op is a success, she'll be able to toast it with a glass of champagne...
One thing that we know won't improve, though, is the lack of rotation in her forearm. That's a fairly major restriction, as it's a movement we all use quite often - just notice how many times you turn your hand from facing down to facing up in a day and you'll see what I mean. It appears that the tendons and muscles that permit that movement are too badly damaged, so she will always be restricted in that regard.
But any chance of improved movement has to be worth trying for, so now all we can do is wait... oh, and hope that she gets rid of the cold she seems to have picked up somehow!

House for Sale


As you may remember, we have also put our house up for sale (for details see here). So far we've had a number of people come round to look, but things were not looking too good. Then a fortnight ago we have a chap come round who seemed to really like the house. It fits his requirements perfectly, and we spent a fair bit of time chatting. There's no doubt he's keen, but he needs to sort out some personal issues and ensure he has the finance in place before he's in a position to place an offer.
Best thing we can do now is keep our fingers crossed... you can help too, by crossing yours!

Another Grandchild


Final piece of news is that Danielle is expecting again. Despite reassurances given following the birth of Olivia, and then again after the birth of Alfie, she's decided to have a 3rd child. Whether that's to keep up with her elder sister, Katy (who has Harrison, George and Elizabeth) is anybody's guess. All I know is that both Phil (her partner) and Danielle seem genuinely chuffed, and I'm going to be a grandpa again... 6 grandkids and I'm still only 40-something...
The new one is due in May, so hopefully I'll get to see him or her before I set off on my travels...

...and finally...


I think that just about brings things up to date. Life is as hectic as ever, with work taking up a fair proportion of my time as I try to clear the decks before HBOS is taken over (when I expect there's going to be far too much work for those of us in IT as we try to fathom out how to make 2 disperate sets of systems work together). In addition to work I've enrolled for Spanish lessons - 6 weeks of introductory Spanish to start with - and am struggling to remember any of what I've learnt in the first 2 weeks. Apart from "Dos cerveza, por favor" which I already knew anyway (I never could order just one beer, in any language!).

So, that's it. You're back up to date with events. Have a look round the new site, and let me know what you think. And don't forget to keep popping back, as I'll try to ensure the blog is updated a bit more frequently than it has been of late, especially if things start to move with the house sale... because then things will get really interesting!

posted by Paul  # 4:18 AM 0 Comments

Saturday, November 8, 2008

 

Another night in hospital...

As if Tracy hasn't had enough of hospital, yesterday she went to the Oaklands hospital for the operation on her elbow. We had chosen to exploit the private medical insurance policy I have through work in order to get the operation sooner rather than wait for the NHS. As she'd have been waiting until next June for the consultation with Mr Muir, and then having to wait for x-rays and finally for the operation, getting it done in early November was a much better option...

So yesterday morning we got up early and drove to the Oaklands to arrive at 7am. Tracy had been "nil by mouth" since 9pm the night before, but I managed to grab some breakfast and a cup of tea, which turned out to be just as well... On arrival she was admitted and given her own room, and before long the anaesthetist came and explained what he was going to do (and Tracy warned him of the challenge he would be faced with when trying to find a suitable vein in her arm, after all the use they were put to over the past 15 months!). Then it was Mr Muir's turn to arrive and explain what he was going to do and what he was hoping to achieve. With the consent form signed, we sat and chatted whilst waiting for Tracy's turn in theatre. At 10.20am she was taken down, fetchingly dressed in the classic backless gown and with a pair of anti-thrombisis 'pop socks'... pity I didn't have my camera with me, as this blog is seriously lacking photos!

So I sat in the room and waited, reading my MCN and watching rubbish on daytime TV. After just over 3 hours she was back with me, looking very pale and very drowsy. She has always reacted badly to general anaestethics, and this time was no different, as she was feeling very sick. Mr Muir popped by to see how she was and he was very pleased with the way the operation went, saying that whilst she was out he'd managed to get her hand onto her face! He did say that the movement in the operating theatre was likely to reduce post-op, but it was important that she worked hard on her physio to give herself the best chance.

Shortly after Mr Muir had left, another doctor arrived to give her something for the sickness. And then some pain killers. And then something else for the sickness as it wasn't passing. Then she was sick. So she had some more painkillers and something else for the sickness. And she was sick again. Then the physio came and showed her what she needed to do, which involves bending her arm as much as possible, then some more until it hurts a lot and makes her feel sick. (ok, it was to move it until it won't move any more, but by then it hurts and she feels sick). So she started moving her arm, and I think that took her mind off the sickness. One thing had become clear during all this, though, and that was that she would need to stay in overnight so they could ensure her pain was under control. We had been expecting this, but had also been hoping she would be able to come home, but it wasn't to be. And so at 7pm, I kissed her goodbye and made my way home alone again, calling in at the Chinese just as I had so many times when she was in hope (by now I was starving, having not eaten since breakfast!).

This morning I was back at the hospital at 9am, and Tracy was much more alert, had her colour back and was dressed and keen to come home. She had eaten some breakfast and had a session with the physio, and whilst her upper arm is a bit swollen and sore, she is still working hard to keep bending it, despite the discomfort. We had to wait a little while for her to be discharged, but we soon on our way home again.

And now we're sat at home together, and every few minutes Tracy is bending her arm... the next few days will be critical in determining how successful the operation has been. She has a physio appointment on Monday to get some "day and night" splints made to help, but it's really down to her now. Knowing how hard she worked to get movement back in her right hand, I'm confident it won't be too long before we're able to toast her success, and with her right hand, of course!

posted by Paul  # 5:13 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, November 16, 2008

 

Modern-day Medieval Torture

Since coming home last weekend, Tracy has been very focused on trying to maintain the movement in her arm that the operation has given her. This is not an easy task, made worse by the swelling in her arm, and the layers of bandages covering the wound caused by the operation. As with much phsyiotherapy, she has also been supported by the "occupational therapists" who have made her a couple of splints to help. Now, I should point out that all the occupational therapists we have encountered throughout Tracy's recovery have been relatively young and female. Which is odd, considering their work, which had it been done in Germany between 1939 and 1945, would have qualified them immediately for long leather trenchcoats, small round glasses, a limp and a high rank within the SS. And I thought it was the physiotherapists that were the sadists of the health service...

Let me elucidate. Tracy has 2 splints which have been made by the occupational therapists. She has to wear one of them constantly - it was initially the more comfortable 'straight' splint, but that was obviously too easy, so now it's the much more painful 'bent' one. Every hour she has to remove the splint and either peform her physiotherapy exercises (think going through the motions of a serious binge-drinking session and you'll get the idea) or switch to the other splint for 10-15 minutes or so. Then revert back to the main 'bent' splint.

Now, the word "splint" is probably conjuring up images of a simple strap-on contraption like this:


Tracy wearing the straight splint



Which is fine, because that's what it looks like. The straight one. Only it's actually still slightly bent as Tracy's arm doesn't quite go straight. Or even as straight as the splint. The straps are there to force her arm to straighten as much as the splint is. Which is a bit like trying to bend your arm backwards. And then hold it in place against a plastic mould.

And that's the easier of the two.

The "bent" splint is actually in 2 parts. An upper part, which cups round her upper arm, and a lower part that cups round her forearm. These are then joined, when her arm is bent, by a strap that attaches to velcro on each part of the splint. The strap is slightly elastic, so the technique, demonstrated by the gestapo (sorry, occupational therapists), is to bend her arm as much as it will go, then some more, and a bit more still, before pulling on the strap (stretching the elastic) and attaching it to the splints (causing her arm to bend a bit more still). She manages to put this on herself, by pushing her arm against a wall cupboard until she's in a lot of pain, before attaching the straps. Or she'll ask me to do it, knowing that as I can't feel her pain, all she has to do is try not to scream too loudly...

Here's a picture of her wearing this fetching piece of modern-day medieval torture equipment:


Tracy wearing the bent splint



Oh, and she's expected to sleep with the above splint on as well. Which is clearly impossible. She does manage a couple of hours of wearing it, whilst I sleep, though. Last week when she went for the 1st post-operative checkup she had movement from 50-100 degrees. We're hoping she can retain that, and possibly even gain a bit more. She's certainly trying...

Other news...


Apart from the above, we've not much else in the way of news. Mr Yellow-Mini Man, who came to see the house and was so keen, has still not put an offer in (yet). Time is running out, as we're fed-up with waiting and have decided to take the house off the market if we don't get an offer by the end of the month.

posted by Paul  # 7:16 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, November 30, 2008

 

A Winter's Tale...

It's cold outside. Very cold. And in a few minutes, I'm setting off to Edinburgh, where I'm attending a course with work until Thursday. Now I could take the soft, easy option of flying. Only that would mean dealing with the airports, which lost its attraction many years ago - when you fly anywhere with work there's not the wide-eyed excitement you get when travelling somewhere exotic on a trip to help maintain your mood as the airport staff do their level best to suck the life out of you... So, no thanks. Then there's the option of taking the car. Nice and warm, radio on, comfy seats and the drudgery of endless motorway miles with no sense of being outdoors. No thanks. I'll take the bike... which basically means 5 hours of freezing to death, the same endless drudgery of the motorway, my MP3 player instead of the radio, but the sense of being outside on such a beautiful and crisp Winters day.

Just hope my electric jacket still works...

Whilst I'm heading North for the week, Tracy's still working her arm hard. She's now got a range of movement in her arm from approx 50degrees to 100degrees (measured from a staight arm). Which is a damned sight more than she had before, and whilst she's still not quite able to drink from a cup held in her right hand, she is able to touch the back of her head (handy for washing her hair) and even suck her thumb (sometimes I think she's as much a big kid as I am!). She's due to see the consultant next week, and then she'll know for certain what she can expect in the long run - which is probably what she has now.

As for other news, well, Mr Mini Man still hasn't been in touch to say he's managed to raise the funds to allow our "Good Life" to start, so we're going to take the house off the market at the end of the week. Which means that dream will be on hold for a little while longer - probably until after I get back from the Trans Am.

But that's enough doom and gloom for now. I'm off to get wrapped up and set off to Edinburgh whilst the sun is still shining. The ride up should be fun, but the ride back on Thursday evening might be a different story... let's hope it doesn't snow!

posted by Paul  # 2:14 AM 0 Comments

Monday, December 8, 2008

 

Severe Weather Warnings, and an early appearance by Santa...

What a week...

First, the ride up to Edinburgh last Sunday... I set off shortly after posting the last blog entry and made my way up the motorways North. It was a beautiful sunny day, crisp and cold, but otherwise simply perfect. Until I got to Lancaster, when the fog decended. Freezing fog, naturally. But with my heated jacket on, and the heated grips keeping most of my hands warm, I was quite happy. I'd have been even happier had it not been for discovering my MP3 player had a flat battery just before I left. Still, I packed the charger so I'll have it for the way back! Riding through freezing fog is no worse on a bike than being in a car, with the slight exception of the concern that comes from knowing I've no rear fog light to warn dopey motorists of my presence. And there were plenty of the dopey kind of motorist between Lancaster and the border - including several who didn't seem to think that putting their lights on was necessary despite practically zero visibility. Still, I was content with straining to see and was just enjoying being out on the bike. I stopped at Gretna (no, I'm already married, this was hunger calling!) for a bite to eat and to let Tracy know how I was progressing, and then it was back on the Motorway until Moffat.

When I first discussed riding up with my colleague Neil, who is also attending the course, we had an exchange that went like this:

"Take the Moffat road"
"The Moffat road?"
"yes, the Moffat road"

Now, the first thing that sprung into my mind at that point, was an image of a one-legged gingerbread man (the one from "Shrek"). Read it again in a high-pitched voice and you'll see what I mean...

So, naturally, I had to take the Moffat road (the Moffat road?, yes, the Moffat road - sorry, I couldn't resist!). By now the fog had cleared, and I was once again dashing across the landscape under clear blue skies and surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. There was white everywhere (except on the roads, thank goodness). The trees and fields with the backdrop of the rolling hills looked like the picture from the front of a traditional Christmas card (with sheep in the fields and the odd stable dotted about). I'd have loved to have stopped to take a picture, but by now I was concerned about the dropping temperatures and the idea of getting into Edinburgh in the pitch dark - that, and the desire to press on, and the need to concentrate hard on reading the road and avoiding the slush and ice patches...

Before too long, just as it was starting to get dark, I arrived in Edinburgh. With the sat-nav already programmed with the hotel, negotiating the traffic was no problem, and I soon found myself pulling up outside. I don't think they were expecting many bikers, at least not judging by the expression of distate on the concierge's face as I walked in all dressed in my bike gear... but once I'd asked about my reservation, things improved no end, and I was told to ride my bike round the back and into the undergound car park. Normally, the concierge or another member of staff would park the guest's car, but as they're not insured to ride bikes (and I don't think the old fella liked the idea of trying to ride mine all loaded up!), I got to do it myself.

And so with the bike safely in the car park, I checked in and had a long warm shower before heading out in search of food. The rest of the week consisted of grabbing a lift to the office with Neil, and attending the course, the details of which I'll spare you, which you should be grateful for, given how tedious I found it. The main entertainment during the week was watching the weather forecasts. They started on Monday with the "it's going to get worse by Thursday" before becoming more and more like the prophecy of doom. When they started with the "Met Office Extreme Weather Warning" I started getting a bit concerned. I was due to ride home on Thursday when the course finished. By the look of the weather maps, I'd be lucky to get out of the hotel car park. Still, whilst I was in Edinburgh I took the opportunity to meet up with my sister's better half, John, and we went out for a couple of beers and an absolutely fantastic curry. All the while wondering about the weather and whether I'd be able to get home (John offered to find a garage for me to leave my bike in, but I was determined to at least try and get home!).

So finally Thursday came. And I woke up early and gingerly opened the hotel curtains to discover... nothing. No whiteout, no drifting snow, no ice-covered roads. Just a normal, cool and slightly damp morning. Perhaps it was the "Edinburgh effect" the taxi driver had told me about when going back to the hotel after the night out with John, when it was sleeting quite hard... he'd said that Edinburgh was in a micro-climate area that was always much milder than the surroundings and "oot a toon twill be whit all o'er" or something like that. Anyway, I got to the office and attended the final portion of the course before we finished early for the day just before 1pm. Dressed in all my gear I set off to see what the "extreme weather" looked like. Heading out of Edinburgh along the A702 (avoiding the Moffat road, the Moffat road?, yes, the Moffat road - which was more likely to be snow-bound) I quickly discovered that everyone else had been frightened off the roads except for the snow-ploughs and gritters who had done such a good job there was no sign of snow anywhere except in the fields and on the hills. So I made "progress" and before long got to the M74 and turned southward, stopping at Gretna (no, I'm still married) for a quick re-fuel before hitting another bank of sleet and rain around Penrith. This lasted for a good few miles before I emerged once again into clear air, arriving home around 5pm, having covered 240 miles in just 4 hours - so much for the "extreme weather"...

Saturday offered a further chance to put my winter riding skills to the test, as I headed off for the Bike show at the NEC. Tracy and I had arranged to meet up with some of the Globebusters' trans AM 2009 team for a Christmas get-together in Birmingham that night, so she would be travelling down by car later. At the show I met up with Andy, who'd also ridden down on his F800GS and then promptly lost him as soon as we entered the NEC (think he might have been avoiding me!). Richard and Karen were not so lucky, and it took them quite a while to get rid of me, during which time we'd spent some money and had moulds taken of our ears for custom-made ear plugs. Whilst they were having their moulds taken I went and got my helmet modified with a special visor insert designed to stop it fogging up (a problem I'd had on the trip to Edinburgh), and promptly lost contact with them. With time running by I went and had a chat to Kevin & Julia on the Globebusters' stand and met up with Phil. He was even less able to get rid of me, and when we left the show we rode back to the hotel together - which was just as well as my sat-nav started playing up as I was trying to find my way round Birmingham city centre...

But we found the hotel without further problem and I joined Tracy, who had arrived a couple of hours earlier and checked in. Or at least, tried to, only to discover that I'd booked a single room (I hadn't, honest!). Using her natural skills of persuasion, she convinced them to give us a double room (despite them first claiming to be full), and so when I arrived all was sorted. A quick shower later and we were in the hotel bar drinking Guinness with Phil and Richard, with the others arriving sometime later. After a few more drops of the black stuff we made our way to La Tasca and met up with the rest of the party - some 13 of us in total. With beer and red wine flowing freely, and various tapas covering the entire table, a good night was had by all.

Now, it wouldn't be a Christmas Party without Santa, would it. So here he is:


Phil, known for some obscure reason as 'Santa Phil'...


Sorry, Phil, just couldn't resist!

posted by Paul  # 11:04 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

Another week, another operation...

A couple of weeks ago I reported on Tracy's progress since she had the operation to increase the movement in her right arm. At that point she had regained movement of approx 50 - 100 degrees (measured from a straight arm being 0 degrees). That was a big improvment on the relatively fixed 70 degree position she had before, but despite her best efforts she was finding it increasingly hard to get any more movement back. Then on Wednesday, whilst I was at work, she got a call from the consultant, Mr Muir. He'd had another patient who'd had a similar operation and struggled post-op due to scarring, so he'd performed a procedure involving manipulating the joint under general anaesthetic and had good results. He wanted to know if Tracy would like the same - with a slot available on Friday 19th...

So she rang me to discuss, and naturally I was encouraging her to go ahead - "Anything that improves the movement has to be worth the effort", I said. But it's easy for me to say, I'm not the one who has to go through it, and with Tracy's history of sickness following general anaesthetics, she wasn't keen. But she decided she would give it a try.

And then on Thursday, she got another call. Would she like(!) to have the operation "tomorrow". With less time to worry about it, and with the prospect of an extra week to recover before Christmas, it seemed like a much better option. And so we got up on Friday and headed off early to the hospital. On arrival we met Mr Muir (the consultant) again, and he measured the movement in her arm as 70 degrees to 102 degrees - she'd already lost some of the straightening movement, but gained a little on flexion. Within a couple of hours of arriving she was in theatre, and I was once again pacing an empty hospital room waiting for her return (and reading my Motorcycle News, so it wasn't all bad!). She was back with me a couple of hours later, looking really well and being much more alert than she was the last time. It took a little while before she was ready to have something to eat, though, and with the hospital not prepared to discharge her until she had "eaten, drank and passed water", we had to wait a while longer before we could escape. Mr Muir popped by with encouraging news of what he'd managed to do whilst she was under the anaesthetic - without cutting her open, he'd got from 50 degrees to 130 degrees - which was a significant step forward. Now it was up to her to try and keep as much of that movement as possible, through hard work with the splints and physio...

Encouraged, we headed for home, with a sick-bowl nicked from the hospital just in case (and it was needed, she really doesn't do anaesthetics very well!). The rest of Friday was spent with Tracy feeling a bit groggy, but Saturday and Sunday have seen her moving her arm more, and asking me to help put the splints on to ensure they are really pushing the joints as much as possible. Now she's even feeding herself with her right hand - something that just last week seemed a long way off...

So, it's been another week and another operation... here's hoping it's the last for a very, very long time!

posted by Paul  # 12:15 PM 0 Comments

Monday, December 22, 2008

 

Christmas is coming...

It's getting ever closer to Christmas, and whilst we're very excited (being the big kids we are!), we're also reflecting on what was happening just a year ago...

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but just last week was the anniversary of the worst day of the whole "Slovakian incident". On 17th December 2007, Tracy woke unable to move her right leg and in excrutiating pain. We both feared that her broken spine had moved and she'd be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The whole incident is captured in my blog entry of the time (you can find it under Past Trips - Our Old Blog) so I won't recount it here, suffice to say that the date didn't pass without reflection (a pity, as it's also my brother's birthday...). It's simply amazing to look at how Tracy is now and remember that just such a relatively short time ago she was being carried downstairs on a spine board, screaming in agony and on the way to the hospital where she would remain for 3 long months...

Now she's fully mobile and taking good care of me!

And today she's been back to see Mr Muir and has active movement in her arm from 58-124 degrees which is just incredible (if you recall, before the latest operation, she had just 70-102). She's now trying to remember to use her right arm instead of her left - at least for those things she can now do. Every now and then she catches herself doing something she didn't think she could, like putting her right hand on her left shoulder!

This last week has also seen Carlie return home from Uni, and us getting ready for Christmas. We've completed our shopping now (Tracy has been very busy!) and wrapped everything up, and on Sunday we went over to see my family and exchange gifts. As I don't like being late for anything, we set off early and picked Carlie up from her sister's where she'd been helping out with the decorating(!) and headed off to Nikki's, arriving around noon. Only to discover they weren't expecting anyone until 2pm!! Suitably embarassed, when Nikki went to my mum's to pick her up and help wrap some presents, we went for a drive round, visiting the house I was born in (I was born at home) and the schools I went to as a child. When we returned to Nikki's the rest of the family weren't too far behind and we had a lovely afternoon chatting and eating the delicious Cumbrian Hot Pot Nikki & John had laid on (using my recipe, it has to be said!). As it's not quite Christmas, our rules prevent us from opening our presents, but we made an exception for my mum so she could open the present Nikki and John had bought her - a digital photo frame loaded with photographs from our childhood... I won't show any of the pictures here, but the expression on my mum's face says it all...


Mum enjoying the photos of us as kids on her new Christmas present


With the weekend over, we've only 3 more days to go until Christmas... and I can't wait! We've a hectic schedule as normal, although Christmas Day will be relatively quiet with just the 3 of us at home (Tracy, Carlie and me) - Boxing Day is the busy one with all my kids and grandkids coming, and then we're off to Tracy's mum & dad's for the weekend... If I survive, I'll post an update before the New Year!

Merry Christmas!

posted by Paul  # 11:47 AM 2 Comments

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

 

Merry Christmas!!

Ok, so it's a bit late for us to be wishing you a Merry Christmas, but we've been a tad busy over the festive period, making up for the disappointment of last year, when Christmas was postponed until Easter...

No such drama this year, as we launched ourselves headlong into a series of family-themed gatherings. I reported last week on the trip to see my relatives at Nikki's house, so this week I'll start with Christmas Eve...

"twas the night before Christmas..."

Ok, it was really the day before Christmas and not a bit like the traditional Christmas tale. Firstly, Tracy got busy in the kitchen making sausage rolls and mince pies ready for Boxing Day. To see her rolling out pastry in the kitchen, looking for all the world like a younger, more attractive, Delia Smith, was quite a sight. She doesn't like this photo, but I think she looks great...


Tracy making sausage rolls on Christmas Eve


As soon as she'd finished in the kitchen it was my turn, as I needed to make some Thai Spicy Sausage to take to Tracy's folks' house at the weekend, and some spring rolls and "gold bags" for Boxing Day. These are traditional Thai snacks and always go down well whenever we have people round. That kept me out of mischeif for a good few hours, and by the time we'd finished we were both knackered and in need of a relaxing evening. Only with it being Christmas Eve, we had to cook the now traditional "steak and chips" dinner - and with Katie and Brian joining us there was a fair amount of potato peeling to be done. Tracy and I have got the cooking of this particular meal down to a fine art now, as I cook the chips and Tracy does the steak, and with the meat coming from our local butcher - the same one that kept our turkey in his freezer for 3 months last year - it was a real treat. Suitably satiated we finally collapsed onto the couches in the front room and watched mindless drivel on the telly until it was time to play Santa. As we no longer have any children (by the literal definition, not as in "child-like", obviously) at home, this was a more muted affair than in the past, but we laid out the sacks and filled them with the "stocking filler" presents, leaving the main presents under the tree for after Christmas Dinner, and then retired to bed.

Christmas Day started with a very non-traditional lie-in. Up until Laura left home, Christmas Day always started about 3 hours earlier than it should. Now she's gone, we finally get up around 8am. Didn't stop Laura phoning me at about 8.15 to wish us Merry Christmas, though! Before breakfast we opened our stocking presents and then it was on with the chores of preparing Christmas Dinner. This is one meal that I insist on cooking, not because I think I can do it best, but because I enjoy cooking a big meal. I'm sure Tracy would like to have cooked it too, but I got my bid in first and so I was responsible for getting the turkey in the oven and peeling and cooking all the veg - roast and mashed potatoes, carrots and brussel sprouts served with panceta and roast chestnuts. Tracy still did the stuffing and the gravy, though, as she wouldn't let me loose on them (quite rightly, her versions are delicious!). With Christmas Dinner prepared and ready for the final cooking, Katie and Brian came round again so we could give them their presents. Now Tracy has been working on making scrapbooks for Katie and Carlie in secret for the past few months - not the scrapbooks I used to make as a kid, but beautiful artistic scrapbooks that will serve as long-term reminders of their childhood. Each page painstakingly designed and constructed into real works of art. She had been fretting greatly about how these would be received - she'd put so much effort into them - and whilst they had been great therapy (both physically and mentally) if they were not fully appreciated she'd be very upset... Needless to say that both Katie and Carlie were chuffed to bits when they opened them...


Katie and Carlie open the scrapbooks Tracy made for them


After Katie and Brian left to go to his family's for Christmas Dinner, we got on with cooking and eating ours. Naturally the first thing was to open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate - and we had the last of the good stuff we'd bought for our wedding. One of the things I've mentioned before was that Tracy had the goal of toasting Christmas with a glass of champagne held in her right hand, and here's the photo to prove she's achieved that goal - not just holding the champers, but drinking it!


Tracy toasing Christmas with her right hand!


The rest of Christmas Day was spent giving and receiving presents - and I think we all got some excellent things (I got some great stuff for my trip, and Tracy got a new camera ready for hers!).

Boxing Day is traditionally the day when the Beattie children go to visit their grandparents. I used to go visit my Nana & Grandad when I was little, then my kids went to see my Mum and Dad, and now my grandchildren come and see me. This year we also wanted to make it extra special, so we not only had made some food treats, but we'd also planned a bit of extra fun. When everyone had arrived we had a house full. There was Katy with her 3 offspring - Harry, George & Elizabeth, Laura and Chris, Danielle and Phil and their 2 offspring (the 3rd won't be here until May...) - Olivia and Alfie, Katie and Brian (with their dog, Bella) and Carlie. Oh, and Tracy and me, of course! Once we'd got past the chaos of giving out the presents, and cleared up the mass of wrapping paper, we prepared and served the buffet lunch. After lunch had settled we got out the 2 surprise "Gingerbread Kits" that we'd bought and engaged the 2 eldest - Olivia and Harry - in helping us make up a Gingerbread house and a Gingerbread Christmas Tree. The remaining grandchildren didn't seem interested in this, preferring to run about and play with their toys. It wasn't long before Laura, Katy, Tracy and I were also up to our elbows in icing, trying to get bits of Gingerbread to resemble the artistic pictures on the boxes (but failing miserably). One problem was that the tree had a piece of gingerbread that was broken into two - and Harry thought that the others should look the same, so he broke them too. This gave the tree a rather "interesting" lean, that eventually became its downfall... But the children loved it and particularly enjoyed the bit where they got to stick the sweets onto the gingerbread - or into their mouths, whichever they preferred! The end results were quite impressive, I'm sure you'll agree...


The gingerbread Christmas Tree - any more decorations would have brought it crashing down!


Olivia proudly shows off her gingerbread house


Just before the children left we played the game that had become something of a tradition when my kids were little. This involves the adults hiding a large quantity of chocolate coins around the house and a rather frantic "Treasure Hunt". Now when this was played at my mum's, my brother used to place the coins in the most ridiculous places (a particular favourite being inside light fittings... the coins would be 'discovered' some months later when the light stopped working due to melted chocolate...). As my grandchildren are still quite young, Tracy ensured the coins were placed within easy reach, but that didn't stop their enthusiastic parents, remembering how the game used to be played when they were little, from running about the house ahead of their offspring trying desperately to outdo each other...

When they'd all gone home the house seemed eerily quiet... and I have to say that it was one of the best Boxing Days I've every had...

But that wasn't the end of the festivities, as on Saturday we headed South to stay at Tracy's mum & dad's for the weekend. Saturday was similar to Boxing Day, in that the house was full of people - Tracy's sister Kerry and daughther Stephanie (her husband Mark arrived later when he'd finished work), her brother Craig, wife Caz and their 2 kids Shannon and Aidan (and their dog Harvey), Katie & Brian (and Bella), Carlie, Tracy and me and of course Tracy's mum & dad (and their dog Bracken). But this time we weren't the hosts, which meant we got to relax, enjoy the great spread laid on and drink large quantities of beer (well, I had to be sociable, and Craig seemed to be in the mood too!). The entertainment this time was provided by the resident singer... Aidan on his new karaoke microphone!


Aidan belts out another song...


After another excellent day we finally turned in exhausted around 11pm, before heading back home the following day...

What a superb Christmas!

And now we're preparing for New Years Eve, when we have a little something different planned...

posted by Paul  # 6:00 PM 0 Comments

Monday, January 12, 2009

 

Happy New Year!

As is by now traditional, I'll start this blog entry with an apology... it's late... as usual!

But there is an excuse. For the first time in around 5 years, we held a New Year's Eve party at our house - something that used to be an annual event until my kids left home. Now the party's not the only excuse, as it hasn't taken me over a week to recover (honest!) - I've also been away with work, but that's not really interesting enough to make the blog (and besides, I'm under a "non disclosure agreement" as far as the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB is concerned, so couldn't talk about it even if I wanted to...). Anyway, back to the party...

We decided that it would be entertaining to have a fancy-dress theme, and to make it a bit more challenging (and avoid the usual cowboys and James Bond characters), we chose "crap superheroes". Now the way this works is that party-goers had to arrive dressed as a super-hero who had powers that would be of no use in a real crisis... and then during the evening we put them to the test, rewarding the winners the chance to choose shots for the rest of us... it did get a little messy, but not too much, as we're all a lot older than we used to be, and common-sense seems to have increased along with the senility...

Here's a few pictures from early in the evening. I have some from later, but due to ongoing blackmail cases, I can't post them here...


Balloon man - a cross between a Ninja and a balloon-blowing clown


Medusa (turning people to stone doesn't help with evacuating potential victims) and super-chav (always interupts rescues to go shopping)


Christmas Leftovers Man and Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Cleaner


Captain Credit Crunch and Eco-Warrier Recycle Woman


Needless to say that New Year's Day was something of a 'restful day', but over the course of the weekend I managed to find some time to fit the Christmas presents Tracy had bought me to the bike (including some fantastic new footpegs - I'm really spoilt!). I also managed to get out for a brief ride, but with the temperature dropping to -10C it was very brief...

Since then, it's been back to work for me (and the aforementioned trip to London), and back to the gym for Tracy. She's doing really well and losing so much weight that I'm starting to consider trying to get some exercise myself!

Now we're looking forward to our trip to Vietnam, as we depart in just under 4 weeks...

posted by Paul  # 12:34 PM 0 Comments

Monday, January 19, 2009

 

Smile, we're off Round the World!

Well, we're not, but Laura and Chris are!

We took them to the airport on Saturday as they set off on their adventure, which will see them going via the Far East (Thailand to start with), Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and then via Canada back home... 4 months of travelling... to say we're envious would be fair - although it's only a couple of weeks until we head off to Thailand and Vietnam ourselves (we won't get to meet up with them, though, as by then they should be in Cambodia or Laos...).

No wonder their smiles were so wide...


Laura and Chris outside Manchester Airport at the start of their Round-the-World adventure


Other news is pretty scarce this week. I've been working and Tracy's been continuing with her gym work. I've been riding my bike to work most days, including today which was "interesting" to say the least, as it snowed quite heavily this afternoon and I had to ride home in strong winds and sleet... some would say that it was good practice for Alaska, although I'm hoping for better weather when I get there in July!

posted by Paul  # 11:41 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, February 1, 2009

 

Just when you thought it was safe...

... to start looking forward to our next holiday...

On Tuesday Tracy woke in some discomfort with a pain in her right shoulder-blade and shoulder. We put it down to a twisted muscle, a result of her gym perhaps, and she took some painkillers and tried to get comfortable. Thinking nothing untoward was going on, I got up on Wednesday and went to work as normal. Shortly after arriving, I got a phone call from a very distraught Tracy. She was unable to get out of bed, the pain in her back being so severe. Needless to say, I bid my colleagues goodbye and headed straight home...

When I got there it was clear that the problem was not, as I'd understandably feared, spinal, as she had full sensation in her legs and was able to stand and walk. But there was no denying she was in considerable pain, and naturally extremely upset - when I mentioned the need to get her to A&E she got even more upset, and insisted I call our GP instead. I managed to get her to calm down, and gave her some painkillers and tried to get her to relax whilst I called the doctor. His receptionist took a message and within a couple of minutes he was on the phone, and I explained what was going on. He said to make sure she had pain relief and that he'd come and see her as soon as his surgery was over, around lunchtime. He was true to his word and came around 12.30, and examined Tracy. He said he thought it was a pulled muscle that was trapping a nerve that runs up the back and into the shoulder, and that the pain in her arm - which was by now getting worse than the pain in her back - was most likely a 'displaced pain', common with trapped nerves.

After he left I tried my best to make Tracy comfortable, and she stayed in bed for the rest of the day, and all day Thursday, and Friday. She was able to get up to go to the loo, but the only time she could get remotely comfortable was when she was flat on her back. Saturday saw her in slightly less pain, and she was able to get up and come downstairs, where she could sit and watch TV. By now we were starting to think she was over the worst, and would be fine for our trip to Vietnam on Wednesday...

Only Sunday morning she woke in even more pain. She was complaining of a really bad pain in her right arm - "inside, like it's in my bones" - and was once again reduced to tears. She wanted to see the doctor - a sure sign things were bad - so I told her I'd take her to A&E where they would be able to do some proper tests. She wasn't keen on the idea, but I was not taking "no" for an answer. So at 10am we arrived at Oldham Royal Hospital and were seen fairly quickly by the triage nurse and shown into a cubicle. Where we waited for over an hour. Then we were shown to a different area of A&E where there was a "GP" who saw us fairly quickly. He questioned Tracy and examined her, listening to her chest and back, before saying that he was concerned it wasn't muscular, but could be a "pulmonary embolism" - a blood clot on her lung. Now that wasn't what we expected, and was certainly not what we wanted to hear. If it was true, then our trip to Vietnam was certainly off, and Tracy's trip to Ecuador in August was probably off, too... to say nothing of her being on blood thinners and at risk of stroke etc...

He ushered us back to A&E proper, where she was immediately seen by another doctor, who repeated the questioning and examination, before explaining that he wanted to rule out the PE - and that she'd need a blood test and chest x-ray. These were duly performed, and the good news was that she didn't have a PE - we could breathe again. He explained that the most likely cause of the pain was a pulled muscle and a trapped nerve, although it is possible that the nerve pain originates where her spine has been fused, which would explain its ferocity.

With the examination over, he gave her some stronger painkillers, and told her to take them for 24hrs before seeing the GP on Tuesday morning. If they work, then she should get a prescription for them from him. If not, then she will need a different type of painkillers (the ones he's given her are for muscular pain, but she may need some specialist nerve painkillers).

So now we have to wait and see how she gets on. At the moment she's still in pain, but finding it bearable, especially when she uses a hot "wheaty bag" on her back. We'll know more in the morning, but won't be sure about what's happening with our holiday until Tuesday at the earliest... keep your fingers crossed, I think we both need a holiday right now...

posted by Paul  # 1:06 PM 0 Comments

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

 

So Long, Ha Long...

Just a short post to share the latest news. Tracy is still not feeling great, the pain in her back not really letting her get out of bed. Since I last posted she's had to come off the painkillers supplied by the hospital as they were making her ill and not really tackling the pain. Her GP has suggested she take Oxycodone (a form of morphine), and this has helped a little, but we've been pushing to get in touch with the spinal consultant to get his advice - and hitting a brick wall as despite several calls we've yet to get to speak to him or his team...

So today we've had to cancel our much-needed holiday to Vietnam. To say we're disappointed would be an understatement, but I'm sure we'll get away just as soon as Tracy's fit enough to travel.

I'll post again when we know anything more...

posted by Paul  # 11:42 AM 0 Comments

Friday, February 6, 2009

 

Another day, another hospital...

As mentioned in my last post, we've been trying to get to see Tracy's spinal consultant, Mr Ross. Well, we got a call yesterday to say we could see him this morning at 9.15am. So once again we set off for Hope Hospital, Salford, and battled with the early morning rush hour traffic, which wasn't as bad as expected, meaning we were in the waiting room before 9am...

Having pestered Mr Ross' secretary so much this week, Tracy had been given the 1st appointment, so we were ushered into his little consulting room just after 9.20. He listened to Tracy describe her symptoms and then wrote out a card for some x-rays of her spine, and off we trotted to the x-ray department, where we waited for a little while before Tracy got changed into a fetching hospital gown and was whisked into the x-ray room. Not long after, she emerged, got redressed and we went back to Mr Ross' clinic and waited to see him again. He examined the x-rays and proclaimed that all looked normal - in fact, pretty good. He was especially pleased with the natural-looking curvature of Tracy's spine above and below the fusion, which looks entirely "normal". All of this didn't explain the pain she was in, though, so he declared she'd need an MR scan of her neck and spine, and without further ado we were chasing him down the corridors to the MR department to see when they could fit her in. He came back from his consultation with the MR team and said we were to go grab a coffee and come back in half an hour and sign in at reception. This we duly did, although whilst I had a coffee, Tracy had a glass of water and some painkillers...

Back at the MR department we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually Tracy was told to get changed into a different, but equally fetching, hospital gown and shown into the scanning room. And then I waited alone. And waited alone some more... After a further half hour of waiting, Tracy re-appeared, got re-dressed again, and we set off to try and find our way back to Mr Ross' clinic. Where we sat down and waited...

Finally, we were shown back in to see Mr Ross again, and he opened up Tracy's MR scan images and started studying them. First, the area around her spinal fusion, which he proclaimed was "fine". Then up to her neck, where he spotted something. Now, I don't know how Tracy felt when he went "aha!" but it shocked me. What he spotted was a "prolapsed disc" in her neck, which was pressing on the nerve root and likely to be responsible for the pain she was feeling, especially in her arm. He explained that this was not likely to have been caused by the accident, but was probably hereditary and could have happened at any time...

And so on to what can be done about it. He quickly determined that she should have a "root block" put in, which is an operation involving an injection of local anaesthetic and steriod around the nerve root, which numbs the nerve immediately, whilst the steriod helps with long-term pain relief. And then he sorted out an appointment for her on Monday, so she can have it done quickly and hopefully be pain-free again...

In the meantime, we're back home, and Tracy's taking painkillers and trying to get reasonably comfortable. It's going to be a long weekend for her, but knowing the cause of the pain, and having something planned that should help rid her of it, has lifted her spirits...

posted by Paul  # 7:40 AM 0 Comments

Monday, February 9, 2009

 

One step forwards, Two steps back...

This morning started early, following a restless night. It's always the way when I know I've got to get up early for something, as I wake an hour or so before the chosen time, and then spend the remainder of the night snoozing and waking seemingly every 5 minutes, before I finally give in and get up before the alarm shatters the peace...

So it was this morning, when I emerged bleary-eyed and headed for the warmth of the shower at half past five. Tracy had also had a relatively sleepless night, no doubt the operation ahead playing on her mind. After a quick breakfast (for me, Tracy was simply "fasted") we defrosted the car and set off once again in the direction of Hope Hospital, a place that by now surely has lost the right to call itself that...

We arrived at the allocated time of 7.30am, and wandered the corridors looking for the "Day Case Reception", only to get lost and have to ask for directions (embarrassing when you consider how much time we've spent here over the past 18 months). When we finally arrived at the reception it was in like walking into a furnace - either the heating was broken in the full "on" position, or the nurses think their patients are Swedish and try to make them feel at home (the wooden decor helped with this theory, although due to the absence of towels and a charcoal fire on which to pour water, we remained fully clothed). Once checked in we sat down on the by-now familiar special hospital waiting-room seats. These chairs must be designed by decendants of the SS, as they seem to exist solely to impose extreme discomfort on those unfortunate enough to have to spend any time sitting on them. And we had to spend "some time" sitting on them. Until 9am, when Tracy's name was called and she was shown into a little side-room, which I wasn't allowed to enter (apparently the Day Case ward is too small for visitors). And so I was forced to leave Tracy in the hands of the medics and go in search of a coffee.

Knowing that the treatment would take at least an hour, I bought a paper and read it before returning to the reception area to wait for Tracy to contact me. Now I'm becoming something of an expert at sitting waiting in hospitals, and so am well practiced in the noble arts of "staring into space" and "trying to avoid looking at other people waiting". But there were two interesting characters in the waiting room who put this latter skill to the test. The first was probably a couple of years older than me (which would make him "late forties"). He was resplendant in maroon Doc Martin boots, jeans with little neat turn-ups, bomber jacket, tattoos and bald head (it would have been a skin-head if he'd not gone bald naturally). Second, was a younger man with tattoos on his neck, mohican hair giving way to pink dreadlocks, tartan kilt over ripped jeans, and piercings in his nose, eyebrows and several in his ears, including... yes, a SAFETY PIN! By now I was convinced I'd somehow been waiting in the reception area so long that I had, in fact, gone back in time to the mid seventies...

But no, I hadn't. I'd been there for just 3 hours when Tracy rang to say she would be coming out soon... "Just in "recovery" and they need to check I'm alright as I've been sedated" - "Yeah, me too" I thought (but didn't say, as she didn't sound too happy, and my sense of humour doesn't work its best at times like this). When I asked how it had gone she said "Tell you when I get out". Which didn't bode well...

And so it turned out to be. The procedure was going fine, well, apart from the anaesthetist not being able to find a vein and having to resort to her foot (an unfortunate side-effect of the large number of operations she's had recently) until Mr Ross inserted the needle into her spine and watched the x-ray, when he discovered that the prolapsed disc was worse than he expected. So bad, in fact, that he doubts whether the root block will have any effect, and thinks that Tracy will have to have another operation - a "Laminectomy" - in order to fix the problem. Nonetheless, he finished the root block procedure and told Tracy that if it was still painful on Wednesday to call his secretary and she'll arrange for the follow-on surgery.

This is not what we wanted to hear, especially as a the Laminectomy will mean Tracy will have to be admitted back onto the Spinal Unit for 5-7 days.

So now we once again wait. Since getting home this afternoon, Tracy's not been pain-free, but is unable to tell whether the pain she's experiencing is due to the needles she's had put in her back or the original condition. If it's the latter, then there's no doubt she'll be going back to Hope Hospital soon for another operation. Despite my usually boundless optimism, even I find it hard to believe this is not the inevitable outcome.

Looks like our holiday is going to be postponed for a little while longer...

posted by Paul  # 7:31 AM 0 Comments

Saturday, February 14, 2009

 

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

It's one of my mum's favourite sayings, but not one of ours. We're getting rather fed-up of waiting...

Well, Wednesday came and Tracy was still in as much pain as before the root-block operation, so she duly phoned Mr Ross' secretary as instructed. And was told that Mr Ross had said that sometimes the root block takes up to 72hrs to have any effect, and she was to continue with her pain relief (such as it is) and call back on Friday. Well, Friday came and Tracy was still in as much pain as before, so she duly phoned Mr Ross' secretary as instructed. And was told that Mr Ross was not in the hospital on Friday and that she would pass a message on and get him to phone Tracy on Monday... until then, she was to continue with her pain relief (such as it is)... Sense of deja vu? Quite.

Tracy has got some new pain relief in the form of fentenyl patches, which she tried yesterday (Friday) and they seemed to work, with the pain in her arm subsiding at last. Until this morning, when she's woken with a blinding headache and nausea. Which are known side effects of the patches and the instructions are to remove them immediately (and therefore lose the pain relief benefit). So she's back to square one, and still waiting for an intervention that will work. We'll just have to wait and see what Mr Ross says on Monday. And hope it's not "call back later". Because if it is, I won't be held responsible for her actions...

It was also my turn to visit the doctor yesterday, as I wanted to see about the pain in my knee. This started a couple of weeks ago, when the weather got really cold and was a sharp pain right in my knee joint. It prevented me from running on my treadmill, something I'd only just started to do again in a desperate (and vain) attempt to stop myself turning into a blob. I also wanted to discuss my complete lack of energy, general lethargy and rapidly decreasing sense of humour. He examined my knee and proclaimed it was hurting "due to the exercise", and I should take a pain killer when it hurt. We then discussed my other symptoms and he said I was "worried" (no shit, Sherlock!). And that was that.

So we're still waiting for Tracy to be mended, and I'm just going to focus on trying to lift her spirits and looking forward to when she's able to travel and we can get away for our much-needed holiday. And I'm going to cook us a special meal tonight to celebrate Valentine's Day, and will just have to hope that Tracy's feeling well enough to join me at the dining table to enjoy it...

posted by Paul  # 3:58 AM 0 Comments

Monday, March 2, 2009

 

Still waiting...

It's now 6.15pm on Monday 2nd March and we still haven't heard from Mr Ross. But that doesn't really matter too much because Tracy's pain has subsided at last, and she's feeling significantly better. She's even stopped taking the painkillers now, so things must be better. She does have a cold, though, and that meant we had to cancel plans to attend a friend's “we can't go skiing party” at the weekend...

We've also agreed that as every time I wrote the blog outlining what we were planning to do something happened to prevent us doing it, I'd not update the blog until we were already either doing it, or had done it. If you see what I mean. So, here we are, doing it. I'm sat typing this on my new mini laptop at Paris' Charles-de-Gaulle airport whilst we wait for the connecting flight to Bangkok...

Having had to cancel our holiday, we decided that as soon as Tracy was able, we'd try and grab some time away. However, with our busy social calendars in March, the only time we could squeeze in some sun was going to be between 2nd March and 13th March, and so that's what we're doing.

This morning we had our appointments with another consultant, this time an orthopaedic consultant arranged by the insurance company, to assess the extent of our injuries in support of the compensation claim. When we arrived we had to recount the story of the accident, something that I'd not been expecting, and which, to be honest, freaked me out. I've recounted this story many, many, times now, and so to find it upset me anew was quite a shock. Perhaps it was because I was unprepared, and telling a complete stranger, but I suspect it was because I had to recount the horrific details with Tracy sat alongside me. With that trauma over we went through the details of our injuries. My broken knee and Tracy's somewhat more significant collection of broken bones. He then examined my legs (dropping my trousers in front of my wife and this stranger causing me to blush rather badly!), but didn't pass comment. Then he examined Tracy's arm, and back. He made a few comments about the lack of movement in her wrist, the reduced grip strength that the wrist position and lack of forearm muscles caused, her lack of general movement in her arm and shoulder and then asked her to stand up and lean forwards, then back. At which she nearly fell over backwards. I'd have laughed, but she shot me a glance, so I bit my tongue. He then had her rock from side to side as he assessed the range of movement in her spine. When he was finished, he wrote down lots of details, before proclaiming that she would also need to be assessed by a plastics expert (not the kind that deals with explosives, but the surgery kind) and also by a psychiatrist specialising in PTSD. And that he'd write up and send his notes in “in the next couple of weeks”. So that means we must wait a bit longer before the claim is finalised and the money paid. But at least things are progressing again.

When we left the hospital we headed straight for the airport, arriving well in advance of our flight to Paris, but with ample time to check in and grab some lunch. Manchester Terminal 2 doesn't have a great selection of restaurants, so we settled for a chicken burger from Burger King (the only choice) before grabbing a beer and waiting, waiting, waiting...

Then the short flight to Paris, where we're now waiting, waiting, waiting for the long flight to Bangkok. We arrive at lunchtime tomorrow (Tuesday) local time, but at last, at long last, we're on our way to another adventure... 9 days in the Far East, where we intend to grab some time on a beach on Koh Chang, and then hop into Cambodia to revisit the amazing temples at Angkor... now I just hope that me typing that hasn't put the jinx on it!

So with the trip to the Far East finally underway, it was time to write a trip story, which you can read all about here.


posted by Paul  # 7:23 PM 0 Comments

Friday, March 27, 2009

 

2 Weekends on 2 Wheels...

It's been a fairly hectic time since my last post way back when... actually it was only just 2 weeks ago, but it seems an awful lot longer!

First, was my weekend escape to BMW Rider Training in South Wales. After the saga with the boiler I was looking forward to getting away and so when Tracy came home from picking up Carlie from Manchester railway station at 3pm, I donned my bike gear and went to get the bike out of the garage. That's when things started to go a little awry - the bike was running terribly and a warning light was shining brightly on the dash. And there were no brakes, as the ABS was not working. Just what I needed with a long ride ahead! Investigations revealed that the warning light was on because the rear stop/tail light had failed, and although it still went brighter when the brakes were applied (the tail light filament glowing hotter) it wasn't right. The engine roughness abated when the engine was warm, and the ABS started working fine when the bike was rolling again (the diagnostic check initially performed on start-up had failed the first time, perhaps a consequence of the other problems). So, delayed by over 1.5 hours I finally set off, via the petrol station for a new rear bulb, just after 5pm. The ride down to Wales was brilliant, though, once I'd cleared the motorway section to Chester and got on the A483 proper. This road is a great biking road, even in the dark, and twists and turns its way almost all the way to Brecon. With the Sat-Nav programmed with the postcode of the B&B I'd be staying at it wasn't difficult to find my way to the gravel drive leading to the house. And what a house. Set in 18 acres of farmland, the B&B is run by a lovely couple called Steve and Mari - and they're both bikers (although she's not yet passed her test). They made me feel instantly at home and showed me to my room at the back of the house, and very comfortable it was too. Tired from the journey down, which had taken just over 4.5 hours including a stop at the chippy for tea, I said goodnight and grabbed a quick shower before hitting the sack.

In the morning I met the rest of the guests over breakfast - Dave, Paul and Gary who were all doing the same Level 3 Road Skills and RoSPA training course as me, and Sherry who was taking her Direct Access and bike test the same week. Breakfast was excellent - naturally a full-cooked affair (Welsh by location, English by chef!) - and when we'd eaten our fill we mounted up and headed to the Industrial Estate where BMW Road Skills are based (in the same unit as Globebusters, as it's also run by Kevin Sanders, opposite adventure bike bling shop Touratech and next door to the BMW Off Road School). Once there we met up with Kevin and Emmett, who would be our main instructors for the 3-days of training and Jenny & Paul who would be also instructing us. As Kevin is also the guy running the Trans-Am trip I'm on later this year, I was pleased when he said he'd be instructing Paul and me, with Emmett instructing Dave and Gary.

I won't recount the whole 3 days training as it would take far too long and probably not make rivetting reading (does this stuff ever do?!), suffice to say that there were many highs (the roads round the Brecon Beacons are a great place to ride bikes, the instruction given was really interesting, my riding improved immensely, seeing Paul follow me down a narrow track whilst I was leading on a BMW R1200RT which is hardly an ideal bike for the conditions, etc) and lows (dropping my bike 3 times whilst performing tight full-lock u-turns and losing my confidence, being brake-tested by a prat in a car who signalled to turn right just as I was lining up an overtake then pulled left and did an emergency stop). But overall, the highs far outweighed the lows, and the perfect weather, great accommodation, superb instruction and entertaining company (Dave was hilarious, Paul 'the knowledge' seemed to have explanations for everything, most of which were on the far side of geeky!) made for a fantastic 3 days.

Then came the 4th day. The day of the RoSPA test...

To put this into some context, 12 years ago I did my 1st advanced training with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) and passed my test. The IAM test is not graded, and has no re-testing requirement, so once passed, you're an advanced rider for life (unless you get a lot of points on your licence and they kick you out). The RoSPA test, by comparison, is a lot tougher. Both are assessed by serving or former Police Class 1 motorcyclists and are based on the system from Roadcraft (the Police Riders/Drivers manual), but the RoSPA test is graded, Bronze, Silver and Gold, with Gold being the highest level of civilian riding qualification available. It also has a 3-year re-test requirement. An IAM pass is widely considered to be equivalent of a RoSPA Bronze pass, reflecting the tougher nature of the test. Now I don't normally get nervous before a test (never have), but this time I was sh*tting myself (not literally, that would have been an instant fail!). I've always taken pride in my riding, but this was putting it on the line to be assessed against the highest standard I can (I'm too old to re-train in the Police and besides, I don't like the uniform...). And I'd already dropped my bike 3 times in the previous 2 days. Not exactly the frame of mind that's conducive to a quality ride!

We had a road ride prior to the test, whilst Dave and Gary went out for their tests, and that helped settle my nerves. Dave was first on, and passed with a Silver. He looked drained. I got more worried (I'd only ridden a few miles with him, but knew he could ride well). Gary got a Gold - an excellent result, especially as he was the least experienced of the 4 of us. And then it was my turn. I met Tilly, the examiner and introduced myself. He introduced himself, which was hardly necessary as Kevin had told us about him already - he used to instruct for them after he'd retired from the force. Where he was the chief instructor and examiner for all the Police riders in South Wales. Chances of getting away with anything - zilch!

The test itself started well, and I was feeling good until we left a national speed limit road and entered an industrial estate, with a 30mph limit. No problem, I'm used to keeping to the limit and was OK. Until we stopped and he made some notes, then asked me to u-turn. My stomach dropped into my boots. Normally, u-turns don't bother me at all, I've always had good slow-speed control, but the past couple of days had robbed me of my confidence. Dropping the bike or hitting a curb would be an instant fail (an advanced rider should not have a problem with something that's part of the standard driving test!). Heart in mouth I performed the u-turn like a novice, but successfully. And breathed again. Off we set, leaving the industrial estate and re-joining the main road heading in the opposite direction to the way we'd entered. Despite looking frantically I could not see any speed limit signs signalling that we'd left the 30mph limit and so stuck to that. Wrong. I'd missed the signs. I corrected my error at the next roundabout (spotting 30moph limits off each exit gave the game away). Later in the test I also mis-judged my entry to a right turn and cut the corner, entering on the wrong side of the road (which was clear, but it's still not acceptable). So I didn't get the Gold I'd been aiming for - but I did get a Silver, which is a step up from my IAM pass. After the past couple of days I was relieved to have got it all over with, and there's no doubt my riding has been freshened up and improved as a result. Well worth the money. I'll try for Gold next time!

After the test I headed for home, enjoying the ride back in the daylight, finally getting home early evening to join Tracy in our freezing home. Whilst I'd been enjoying the delights of the roads round the Brecon Beacons, the heating engineer had come to fix the boiler, only to discover it needed a part that would not be available until Wednesday (the day after my test). As I couldn't even have a shower before going in to work, I decided to work from home on Wednesday, and as I'd been away for over 2 weeks it allowed me to catch up on the emails and organisation changes that had happened whilst I'd been away. Then the boiler man came and declared he'd been given the wrong part... we gave him a severe ear-bashing and he said he'd be back the following day with the right part. Damn.

On Thursday I had to go into work for an all-day workshop, so I got up early and went in, making use of the gym's showers to rid myself of helmet-hair and a day and night's smelly sweat. I'm sure my colleagues appreciated the effort. I did.

After work, I drove home and got changed into my bike gear again ready for the return to South Wales. The bike still sounded rough on start-up, but I managed to get away around 4.30pm, and this time sticking rigidly to the Sat-Nav instructions took the alternative route to the M56 to Chester, via the M62. Which was a car park. When I finally got to the roundabout leading on to it, and saw the extent of the gridlock, I turned round and headed back the way I know, stopping to fix the rear light again because the new bulb had come loose, resulting in the warning light reappearing. Then I got stuck in more traffic on the way to the motorway, finally getting onto the M60 just afer 5.20pm - a journey that would normally take 15mins had already taken 50 - which didn't bode well for my arrival at the pub I'd be staying at for the weekend...

Once cleared of the traffic, the journey was once again very enjoyable, chasing my headlight down the twisty A483, riding according to the system and making what the police would call "good progress" (with a road that twisty and a 60mph speed limit, it's not illegal...). I finally arrived at the Abercrave Inn just before 9.30pm, having only stopped for fuel once. The rest of the Trans-Am team were all there, looking like they'd been there a while, so I grabbed a couple of pints to help close the gap... Then it was off to bed.

The following 2 days were spent riding BMW's bikes in the forest, being taught basic off-road skills by an expert. The course was a repeat of the one Tracy and I both did in 2007, and comprised learning skills such as how to pick a bike up (I'd already practiced that enough the weekend before!), riding very tight circles stood up (no more u-turn fear for me!), locking the back brake, locking and releasing the front brake (the release being very important as if it's not released quickly, you crash), steep hill descents, hill recovery, steep ascents and riding through mud, water, ruts, deep gravel and other exciting surfaces. The course usually has a few casualties (as Tracy found when she broke her foot) and this one was no exception. Rich had a tumble which resulted in him turning the colour of fresh snow and spending most of day 1 in A&E; then on the 2nd day Greg (who's doing the Patagonia trip rather than the full Trans-Am) had a bad fall which was made worse when his bike slam-dunked onto his foot, breaking it in 3 places (fortunately his trip doesn't start until November, so he has plenty of time to recover). Despite the carnage, the course was excellent and we all had a laugh. I was very relieved to have survived it intact, my cautious approach paying dividends as I didn't fall or drop the bike once - quite a contrast to the previous weekend!

Whilst I was doing the course on Saturday, Bernie, the engineer who works out of the Globebuster's unit had a look at my bike (he'd had a quick look prior to my RoSPA test and got it running a bit better, so I'd arranged for him to have a proper look). The news is not good, as he suspects it is losing compression on one cylinder causing the rough running and the cut-outs (which I now blame for the issues with my u-turns...). Unable to diagnose it further, he did his best and refused any payment. So it'll need to go to the dealer for a full investigation as soon as possible.

Sunday was an altogether different sort of day, as we went through all the paperwork we need to complete before the trip. With my new passport having arrived with lots of blank pages, and an appointment at the US embassy for my visa, I'm starting to get prepared, but still have to sort out an International Driving Permit, bike insurance for the US&Canada and Central/South America, check my vaccinations, and then get my bike to the frieght depot on 4th July for its flight to Anchorage. The meeting got us all very excited, to say the least...

Once more I got to ride home along the A483, this time with a little more caution in case the bike failed (it didn't), getting home at a reasonable hour to a warm house and hot shower... the boiler was fixed on Thursday just before I'd set off south.

On Monday I arranged for the bike to go into Allan Jeffries in Shipley on 1st April, the earliest they could take it, and so have been confined to using the car to get to work and back. The past week has been very hectic, and I'd covered nearly 1,500miles on my bike (not to mention the miles covered on the BMW Off Road School bikes in the forest). I just hope that I can get the bike fixed quickly (and it doesn't cost too much), as using the car is just horrible!

posted by Paul  # 1:38 PM 0 Comments

Friday, April 17, 2009

 

A European Escape, and other news...

I've been trying to post the story of my recent escape to Europe over Easter, but without any success, so I've added it to the "Past Trips" section here. I've also taken the opportunity to capture the blogs from our Far Eastern trip in March and put them on the Past Trips page as well, so if you haven't previously read all about that little adventure, grab a long drink (or several, it does go on a bit!) and enjoy!

There's also a fair bit of other news since the last blog entry, so I'll try and bring you back up to date...

First, the house. As you will recall, we put the house on the market in August last year, just as the market crashed. My timing always was very suspect. But we'd decided we wanted to buy a Smallholding (see "The Good Life"), and it took us until then to get the house into a fit state for sale. Anyway, we only had until Easter to sell, as unless we'd sold by then, Tracy would be faced with the prospect of finding a smallholding and moving whilst I was away on the Trans Am, and I didn't like the prospect of not being able to find her when I got back. So the week before Easter I went into the estate agents to take the house off the market. "You need to give us 14days written notice" I was told. No problem, I'll send an email just as soon as I get home. "Oh, and we've someone who wants to come and see the house". Ah. "And they've just sold with us, so are in a position to buy". Ah. As Tracy and I were going away for the weekend, I arranged for the estate agent to show them round and went home to break the news. And once again, despite our best efforts, we got all excited about the prospect of moving, and all worried about how the hell we would find time to move with everything else that was going on. As it turned out, we needn't have worried. There was an "incident" at the estate agent/bank on Friday and they couldn't get into the office to get the key on Saturday, and so cancelled the visit. And never bothered to re-arrange it. And now the house is officially off the market and not for sale. Until I get back from the Trans Am, by which time we hope the market will pick up, we'll have the compensation money through, and we can move on to the next adventure...

It's also been an eventful time for Tracy. She's been back to see the arm consultant (Mr Muir) and had some electro-conductivity tests performed on her arm. Apparently, it didn't glow, so all's well. Actually, he did say that there was now nothing else he could usefully do to help, and that the movement she now has is as good as it's going to be. She seems happy with that, as it means no more operations (touch-wood), and she's got used to the movement she has and seems to be able to cope very well. Still no news from Mr Ross about her neck, though, and she is still getting some discomfort from time to time (I think that's what she means when she refers to the "pain in her neck").

We've also had some contact from the solicitor, mainly to say that she's still not received the report from the insurance-appointed consultant we went to see before heading off to the Far East at the beginning of March. She has received his report on me, which basically says I'm fine, so she's now progressing with my claim. Hopefully I'll then get back all the money I've had to fork out as a result of the bike being written off. But it's Tracy's report that matters most, and she's still waiting for that...

Finally, Tracy's also had an appointment with the occupational health folk about returning to work, and the great news is they've said she can, albeit on a phased basis over 8 weeks, with no more than 12 hours/week in the first 2 weeks. She's delighted, and all we need now is for her bosses to work the rota out and she'll be back to being a nurse again. And even better, she's had confirmation from the university that she can rejoin the course in September and complete the 2nd year, so that's great news - not least because it'll give her something to think about whilst I'm away ;-)

And so that's it, really. We've just had Tracy's sister and her daughter, Stephanie, over to stay for a couple of nights, which was great (although I think Tracy's a little tired, as Stephanie is a very lively little thing!). They even went to Cadbury World near Birmingham, which must have been quite something - Stephanie certainly seemed to have enjoyed it!

posted by Paul  # 7:58 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, April 26, 2009

 

One more week..

... not until I go on my trip, but until we reveal some really exciting news! Due to the number of times we've posted on the blog about something that was about to happen, only for us to then have to post that something has got in the way, and now it won't, we've decided to wait until it has happened, before we post about it...

So you'll have to wait another week or so to find out what I'm rambling on about!

In the meantime, this week has seen some things happen. First, I went to the US Embassy in London on Wednesday to try and get my visa sorted. Unlike when we normally travel to the US, for the Trans Am I'm unable to use the "visa waiver" programnme - the special arrangement for UK Passport holders that allows them to enter the US without first requiring a visa. This is reliant on having an entry and exit ticket, and then completing the green immigration form on the plane before arriving at US border control. However, with the Trans Am, I'm flying into the US (to San Francisco on 16th July), but not flying out again (as I'll be riding from Alaska into Canada, then back into the US, and finally into Mexico). So I'd need to either by a flight ticket out of the US in order to use the visa waiver programme (which is a bit like cheating, and knowing my luck wouldn't work), or get a visa. Unlike most countries I've visited - and the others on the Trans Am - it's not possible to get a US Visa at the border. It has to be applied for - in person - beforehand, at the US embassy, and requires an interview... So a while ago I booked my appointment and paid the extortionate asking price of $131. They gave me a date of 22nd April, which I thought would be fine, as I'd probably be able to combine it with some work meetings in London and therefore get my travel paid for... and that looked like a good plan, as I had a number of meetings in London the following day... but... I also had a ticket to go and see the Australian Pink Floyd Show in Manchester on the evening of 22nd... So much for that idea, I'd have to pay my own way, and travel down to London and back 2 days in a row...

So on Tuesday (21st), I filled in my visa forms online and printed them off, then put together a folder of evidence to support my application - containing details of the TransAm, invoice for the trip, last 3 months payslips, mortgage details (to prove I have a job and home to return to). On Wednesday, I caught the train to London, and arrived in plenty of time for my 12.30pm appointment. On arriving at Euston I had to check my bags into left luggage, so I could leave my mobile phone and iPod behind (they're not allowed anywhere near the embassy grounds), and then made my way to the Embassy. Fortunately it was a bright sunny day as the queue forms outside the embassy, where they perform a number of checks and provide a clear plastic bag for all your coins, watch and belt before checking your documents and sending you on to security. Only with me, they didn't. It turnerd out my visa application form had printed badly and the bar-code was not of sufficient quality. I was aware of this when I printed it off, but as it had been generated that way, I assumed there was nothing I could do. I was told to go to the pharmacist, where they had a cybercafe and printer - they also do lost luggage and by the number of people that were redirected there probably make more money from embassy rejects that from selling anything - and paid £5 for the privelege of filling in the form again and printing it off (this time it generated OK, so the barcode was good). Back at the queue outside the embassy I took my place again, and this time passed the document check. I then queued up outside the security lodge, and was finally admitted and put through an airport-style scanner. The guy in front of me had a USB key in his posssession and was sent to the chemist. Once past that hurdle I entered the embassy and was given a number and directed to the waiting room, which was a very large room full of people looking very bored. On the TV screens were lists of numbers being seen and the size of the queue - 38 - which didn't seem too bad. However, it quickly started to rise (hitting 92!), and it became evident there were 2 different queues - the first to get to the initial window, from which people were then directed elsewhere, only to then join the second queue which was still handling numbers well below mine... It was going to be a long wait... After about 45 minutes I was called to the first window, where I handed over my application forms, passport and supporting documents, and had my fingerprints taken. I was then given another form (for the courier service should my visa application be approved) and directed round the corner to another window. Here I had my fingerprints checked again (to verify that they had been taken properly) and then told to wait again... which I did, for about 2 hours, before being called to yet another window. This was the application interview proper, and I was asked a few questions - starting with "Mr Beattie, I note you have a British passport, why do you need a visa?" to which I explained I'd be flying in, but leaving by land and so couldn't use the visa waiver programme (which was recorded on the application form anyway). The other questions related to work and home/family (checking that I had a compelling reason to leave the US), and very soon I was given my documents back and then told to give the courier form to the courier counter, as my application had been approved. I was rather pleased about that, and so now I'm just waiting to get my passport back (it's due to be delivered tomorrow), complete with US Visa... Another step closer!!

And with that, it was back to Euston to catch the train back to Manchester ready for the Floyd concert. I tried to get an earlier train (I was booked on the 17.20 which meant I'd only just get back in time to get to the MEN Arena before the concert started), but it would have cost another £56, so didn't bother! The concert itself was very good - I'm not normally a fan of "tribute bands" as I can't help thinking that it's not the "real thing", but they were excellent - they played the entire "The Wall" show, almost note-perfect, and then for an encore played some of our favourite tracks from Wish you Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon. Whilst "The Wall" is not our favourite album, I think Tracy and Helen and Ian enjoyed it. Thanks, Neil for sorting the tickets!


The Australian Pink Floyd Show - damned good...


Getting up on Thursday early to catch the train back to London again, with ringing ears, was not exactly enjoyable... and by the time I got home again I was completely shattered. Friday was hard work, although I did make it to the gym before coming home to blow away the cobwebs!

On Saturday I took the Fireblade for its MOT, which it passed with flying colours. However, riding it to the garage was a bit of a shock - having got used to the upright riding position of the GS, the blade's riding position felt like I was holding the front wheel axle rather than the handlebars! And to think I used to ride sportsbikes all the time!

posted by Paul  # 8:42 AM 0 Comments

Monday, May 4, 2009

 

Worth the wait?

So, you're eagerly checking out the blog to find out the secret news I'd not posted last week for fear of jeopardising it?

Ok, here goes...

Well, Tracy was due to return to work tomorrow (Tuesday). I say "was" because shortly after my post last week, she discovered that she couldn't return to work as planned, because she needed an "ergonomic assessment" and the elfin-safety folk in the NHS take 6 weeks to perform one. And they hadn't even arranged it yet! So much for me jinxing things by not posting anything!

She did go into work on Friday, though, and now has a firm return-to-work date of 1st June. And as she's already posted it on Facebook, there should be no problem with me posting it here too. After all the trials and tribulations of her recovery from the accident, at long (very long) last, she's going to return to work, back to being a district nurse, and in September will be returning to complete the degree course she was doing before the accident. Whilst there will be quite a few aspects of the district nurse job she won't be able to do (no heavy lifting, for example), this is a significant sign that life is finally returning to normal for her...

To say she's excited wouldn't be telling the full truth, as she's also a bit scared, having been away from work for such a long time. She'll be returning part-time initially - just 12 hours a week for the first 3 weeks - so that should help, as will all her friends at work, who've been very supporting throughout.

Me? I'm just looking forward to seeing her in her uniform again ;-)

That, and her first pay packet in 2 years!!

As for other news, well, it's been a quiet week, at least outside of work. We took Carlie back to Keele Uni on Saturday, and are still trying to clear her room (she didn't start packing until Saturday morning and left the room in a tip... kids!). I got some new tyres for the Fireblade and took it out for a bit of a run on Sunday, and it's simply fantastic - hard to believe it's 17 years old! Then we went visiting today (Bank Holiday Monday) popping in to see my sister and mum, and then having lunch out for a change.

All in all, a quiet week. At the moment, we'll settle for that, knowing it's going to get a lot more hectic in the coming weeks...

posted by Paul  # 12:19 PM 0 Comments

Saturday, May 16, 2009

 

Grand Prix in a Car Park...

Every now and then we get chance to do something extraordinary, and last weekend was one of those occasions...

First, on Friday, we went to the pictures to see the new Star Trek film. This is part of our ongoing quest to get the most out of the time we have together before the Trans Am, and as we went to see Wolverine the week before with Carlie, we thought we'd become cinema regulars and go again. I used to love the original series of Star Trek, but would hardly call myself a Trekkie (I don't speak Klingon!), and neither would Tracy, but the new film looked good in the trailer. And it's well worth going, as it's really good - and had us laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Simon Pegg as Scotty is a particularly inspired bit of casting, as is Karl Urban who plays Bones (and looks just like a young DeForest Kelley, the original Bones). But enough of the movie buff stuff, on to the weekend...

Saturday we headed to Northwich for the first day of the Thundersprint weekend. Once a year this simple Northern market town is transformed into a "mini Isle of Man TT", but with a much more family oriented flavour. The entire town is taken over by all that's best with the biking world - classic bikes, classic bike races (more of that later), modern bikes, funfairs, face-painting stalls, trade stalls, famous old bike racers, famous modern bike racers and a real carnival atmosphere. The Saturday is much like any other Saturday in the town, except with a classic bike show in the square outside one of the council buildings and a lot more people. We went over in the car and spent a happy couple of hours milling about taking photos and looking at the bikes... here's a selection to whet you appetite...


The classic bike show attracts a large crowd


A beautiful classic MV Augusta race bike


A stunning custom bike


An immaculate Kawasaki z900 just like my brother Kevin used to have in the late 70's


Having ruined all that chrome by drooling all over it, we went for a wander round the town to try and find the "race circuit" that will be used for the main event on Sunday. Now, for those that don't know, the Thundersprint is a sprint race for motorcycles, mostly old classics from pre and post-war. A sprint race is held over a short course, in the case of the Thundersprint some 440m, with riders setting off one at a time, with fastest time winning. Only Northwich doesn't have a race circuit. And draconian UK legislation prevents the closure of public roads for racing (the Isle of Man TT is held under IOM legislation). So they use a car park at the back of Marks and Spencers instead. And on the Saturday, the car park is a car park, full of cars, parked... and it's bumpy with potholes everywhere, except on the "racing line", which starts at one end, heads along one side, through a 90-degree right and down another side before a long sweeping right-hand bend round the top end of the car park, then down the 3rd side straight, into another 90-degree left and back to the start/finish line. They'll have to move the cars first, though...

Having wandered round the town some more and eaten a large fish-and-chips lunch, we headed back home. The following morning I set off on my bike back to Northwich to catch the cavalcade and racing. The cavalcade is held just before the racing starts and is a parade of race and classic bikes down the dual-carriageway that rings the town, with the road being closed for the 15 minutes it takes (and this isn't a race, of course, it's a parade). The sight and sound of around 100 bikes burbling past is quite something and the route is lined on both sides about 5 deep - the town is literally packed full of people, with estimates of 100,000 flooding in for the day. James Toseland, britain's double world superbike champion and current MotoGP rider, lead the convoy, which contained some of the bikes from yesterday, as well as others including 2 bikes from the British Superbike championship and one rather special bike...


James Toseland heads the cavalcade through Northwich


Forge Formby and the Shuttleworth Snap


With the convoy over with I wandered over to the "circuit" and was amazed at how the area had been transformed. Where there were rows and rows of cars yesterday, now there was an empty car park, surrounded by wire fencing, with 2 large grandstands, a PA system and commentator's cabin, and the surrounding area had become a fun-fair. I had a wander through the paddock, where the racers and their steeds were relaxing in the sunshine (yes, even the weather was good), checking out the bikes and trying to recognise the riders. I saw a couple of old boys in their leathers and then realised who they were - Jim Redman the multiple world champion and TT winner from the early 60s who's now 78; and Sammy Miller, now 75 - both of whom would be racing round the car park later that afternoon...

Just before the racing started, there was a fly-past by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain memorial flight, a sight that still stirs the soul of all those present, despite very few being old enough to remember them being used for the purpose for which they were designed.

And then the racing started. I managed to find a place near the front and the sight and sound of an old race bike giving it maximum round this tiny car park was just stunning - check out the video of an old Honda below (but turn the sound up as high as it will go for maximum effect!)...



The second batch of bikes were "personalities and guests" and included James Toseland, some bloke from Coronation Street (who got a bike cheer from the women in the crowd, although I've never heard of him), a journo from Motorcycle News (who did a rolling burnout - spinning the back wheel generating a massive cloud of tyre smoke - all the way round the course). The real star of the event was Toseland, who played to the crowd and finished last with a time of well over a minute, whilst the quickest bike completed the course in just 20 seconds!


James Toseland destroys his rear tyre for the crowd


MCN journo Adam 'Chad' Child showing off...


Well worth attending, and it's all completely free!

On Monday evening we continued the excitement, heading to the MEN Arena for the 2nd time in recent weeks, this time to see the Counting Crows. We were a bit concerned that this wouldn't be as good as the last 2 times we'd seen them, as their new album is a bit weird, but we needn't have worried. When they started by saying they wanted to put on a special show, we should have guessed it was going to be just that. Unlike most bands, who try to replicate the sound of their album on stage, the Counting Crows are genuine musicians and improvise (they have to, as Adam Duritz, the lead singer, goes off on tangents all the time!), and the show they put on for us was nothing short of spectacular. They played completely different versions of our favourite songs, with a much more acoustic sound, and left us open-mouthed at their musicianship. If you ever get chance to see them, take it. They're simply spectacular.

The rest of the week didn't quite live up to that excitement, though, with work and a couple of days in London making it seem like a very long week indeed. Yesterday we made it a hat-trick of Fridays at the cinema, as we went to see "Angels and Demons", which was very enjoyable even if, having read the book, we already knew the ending so it had no surprises for us...

A pretty good end to a very enjoyable week!

posted by Paul  # 3:15 AM 0 Comments

Monday, May 18, 2009

 

The Sixth Grandchild!

Wow!

We've just got back from the hospital where Danielle and Phil, the proud parents, showed off Riley Matthew Beattie Clarke, brother to Olivia and Alfie, and our 6th grandchild!


Riley Matthew, just under 2 hours old!


Hopefully that's it for a little while, Grandpa might start getting broody!!


Grandpa and his 6th grandchild...

posted by Paul  # 7:59 AM 0 Comments

Monday, May 25, 2009

 

The Trans-Highlands...

Whoever invented Bank Holidays was clearly a biker, and probably Scottish, as they are just perfect for a short getaway to the Highlands. Last year, I went on a camping trip round Skye (see Past Trips for details). This time, I had an invitation to stay with Chris and Danielle, a couple of fellow Tran-Am riders who live just outside Fort William. And with Nick, another Trans-Am rider also heading up for the weekend, it promised to be well worth the slog up the M6...

So, on Friday I managed to get out of my conference call early and quickly stuffed my overnight gear into my panniers, jumped into my bike gear and kissed Tracy goodbye before heading off to meet Nick at Lancaster services. From there we headed up into Scotland, taking the directions Chris had given us to avoid the Loch Lomond road and go via Stirling and up to Tyndrum where Chris was waiting to escort us to his home. After a quick drink the 3 of us then rode on, via the stunning Rannoch Moor and into Glencoe. Pressing on, we hurtled into Fort William and on to Chris' house, where Danielle was waiting and the wonderful aroma of a venison stew hung in the early evening air... I was going to enjoy this!


Chris about to serve the delicious venison strew...


Needless to say the evening was spent chatting about bikes, biking, the Trans Am, and the weather for tomorrow... It's probably a good thing Tracy stayed at home!

Saturday and Sunday were then spent riding all over Scotland, enjoying some fantastic roads and beautiful sights, as the 4 of us got down to the serious business of piling on the miles. Without sitting down with a map, I'd find it very difficult to say where we've been, but suffice to say we did around 600 miles over the 2 days, in all weathers.


The road down to Gairloch, and a rare stop to take a picture!


On Sunday evening we were joined by Nigel, yet another Trans Am rider, who had not been able to get away for the full weekend, but was going out riding with Chris & Danielle on Monday, as Nick and I headed home. With 5 of the Trans Am team in one place, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist long to work out the topic of conversation, although we did take a break so Chris & Danielle could give us a guided tour of the superb self-catering holiday park (see here). Very impressive it is, situated right on the side of the Loch, and with such superb riding nearby, not to mention the mountains to go walking in, I can see us returning in the not too distant future!

Monday started with rain to accompany our trip South. Saying our goodbyes to our fantastic hosts (great food, great riding, great company) was hard, and wishing Nigel the best for his day's riding in the Highlands made us jealous, but we had to get on home, and so Nick and I headed off into the rain. We got as far as Fort William before we hit a very long convoy of people riding all sorts of bikes, trikes and weird contraptions - all wearing pink waistcoats and with pink mohicans stuck to their helmets. It took us until Glencoe to get past them all!


Nick with one of the more sane 'breast way round' riders


They were all part of a massive charity ride in aid of Breast Cancer and MacMillan Cancer Research - see www.breastwayround.com. They certainly made quite a sight,and brightened up what would otherwise have been a very wet ride!

Eventually we passed out of the rain and onto the motorways, and I bid farewell to Nick as I joined the M61 and he continued on the M6. Just an hour later I was home and boring Tracy with tales from the weekend. And now I'm sat here, typing this, and trying to stay awake!

Why can't all weekends be like this?

posted by Paul  # 10:38 AM 0 Comments

Monday, June 1, 2009

 

Back to Work!!

Normally going to work is hardly a reason to break out the champagne and celebrate, but today is different. Today, Tracy returned to work for the first time in almost 2 years! The last time she was in work she was saying "Goodbye" before we set off on our proposed 4-week motorcycle holiday to Eastern Europe, a trip that ended after just 2 weeks with Tracy spending the next 22 months recovering sufficiently to return to work. And today, she did.

In her own words:

"With the 1st of June being agreed as my return date a month ago, I had, what I thought was plenty of time to get use to the idea of ‘going back’. These last four weeks have flown by, the last week spent, finding my uniform and dusty shoes, emptying my bag of all the out of date dressings and medical equipment and really psyching myself up for the impending day...

I had already worked with this team when I first started district nursing way back In May 2006, so I was lucky in that respect - we all knew each other. Having been away from work for so long, as today approached ever nearer my nerves began to kick in and my mind was stuffed full of all the things I might not be able to do, rather than all the things I could do… me being a pessimist again!! Over the past two years, apart from recovering physically, I have had to try to recover emotionally as well and I’m not ashamed to say that it’s been the hardest and longest of all things to try and recover from. And I’m still on that path.

As Sunday the day before my return arrived, I spent it constantly thinking how the other members of staff would behave with me, whilst most knew about the accident and my road to recovery few knew of the injuries I had sustained and the disabilities I now had and none had seen me since the accident, when I was a fully paid member of the team. It’s quite bizarre really, I wanted them to treat me the same as they had done two years ago, yet I didn’t want them to just expect I could do everything...

Monday morning, and with the clock showing 3:05, then 4:17 it was a long night, and a relief when Paul got up just after 6:00 to go to work, though today I had to get up too. I had a routine before, get up just after Paul, shower, dress and then take my breakfast to work and leave about 7:00. This morning, was a bit of a shambles, as Paul now leaves early to go to the gym, I’d lost the routine completely and couldn’t remember whether I had time for a cup of tea, how long it took to get to work, and so on. After the fourth trip to the toilet, it was very apparent that I was in fact quite scared, but not actually sure of what… the work, the environment, the people or the patients?

Having taken an hour and twenty minutes to make the journey and with my stomach still flipping about like a tiddly wink, I arrived at the secure car park only to find I couldn’t get in as my pass wouldn’t work and the security guard didn’t know me! Great. I had to wait until another member of staff arrived, smile sweetly and plead to be let in. I could have actually returned home at this point, but didn’t, damn!

My old team were all very welcoming, pleased to have me back, patting my back with “oh you’re so brave”? … Actually I’m not. I’m shitting myself. That’s not brave.

Having been away for so long I’m now being supervised and shadowing others, quite a change to how it was when I was showing them how to do things. I’m happy with that, as I need to build on my skills again and there will be things that I can’t do and this is the best way to find out. As the morning progressed the nerves abated and it began to feel better, at times as though I had never been away.

Helpful reminders of challenging patients, who lived in smoke filled flats and bedrooms that reduced you to tears with the pungent aroma of ammonia, soon had me back in the good old days and once again praying for fresh air and a smile. Some things never change....

So now, I’m sat here writing this and thinking "I did it!". I fought to return, nagged them constantly and won, and proved all those doctors who said I would never return to district nursing wrong. Just how bloody stubborn am I!"

I think that just about says it all!

posted by Paul  # 12:04 PM 0 Comments

Monday, June 8, 2009

 

Spunky and Heffy come to town!

Let's get this over with straight away. Spunky and Heffy are not some distant cousins who make their money filming each other in dimly-lit hotel rooms. They're cats. Long-haired domestic cats. Their carers (cats are not like dogs, which have "owners", they are free-spirits, straight from the jungle, ready to turn back into vicious hunters just as soon as they've finished sleeping, relaxing in the sun and generally being chilled), Richard and Karen are riding the Trans Am with me later this year (next month, actually). They currently live in Jersey and have jacked everything in for this "trip of a lifetime". When we met them back in October last year, they said they'd got everything sorted, packing their jobs in, selling their furniture, leaving their rented apartment... but they hadn't found anyone to look after their cats. "I'll look after them" said a slightly inebriated Tracy. And so on Saturday, Spunky and Heffy came to town...

To get them from Jersey to Manchester, Richard and Karen avoided the ferry and long drive and opted for a private plane. Sounded grand. And it would be flying into "Manchester City airport". I volunteered to pick them up, and so headed off to the airport. Which is also known as Barton Aerodrome and is a very small place indeed, where local private pilots offer sightseeing flights in small planes and helicopters. Which take off from one of the grassy runways. All overseen by a control tower that only needed a few good old boys lounging around in flying jackets smoking pipes whilst waiting for the instruction to "SCRAMBLE!" to complete the picture. Oh, and the rain to stop, as it was hissing it down. When I arrived, I went to the control tower to check on their flight. The air traffic controller knew little about it, above having a vague recollection of a possible inbound from Jersey. The rest of the staff knew even less (but I did have a good chat with the young guy who last year went back-packing to Ushuaia, our destination on the Trans Am). But they did tell me it was likely they'd have to close the runway as the grassy field, sorry "runway", tended to get water-logged if it rained (and this is MANCHESTER, remember!!). Then the radio crackled and the air traffic contoller (or some bloke on the 2nd floor of the tower at least) said "they're overhead". Which was a downright lie, as I could see them skimming the tree-tops on the other side of the airfield. There was a quick exchange of jargon about which of the many runways to use, and then the guy in the tower told me I shouldn't watch as the approach was "most unusual". But the pilot knew what he was doing and touched down perfectly. The plane that had brought Richard and Karen and 2 cats and their luggage (Richard and Karen also had a carry-on bag, the cats having used up the entire luggage space on the plane!) all the way from Jersey was no bigger than my car...

A quick half hour later and we were home and trying to entice the cats out of their carry-cases. They quickly settled in, stealing the best spots on the couch as only cats can do...


Heffy, on the left, and Spunky, on the right, relax in their new home


The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing, chatting about cats and motorcycles, and drinking and eating. I even got the chance to subject Richard and Karen to my culinary "expertise", rustling up Thai food on the Saturday and Indian on Sunday. Spunky seemed to settle in much quicker than Heffy, who found her place under Katie's old bed and only made an appearance at feeding time. Spunky, meanwhile, showed off his tiger-like colouring is no fluke, by using Richard's legs as though they were tree-branches and falling asleep in classic tiger pose...


Spunky sleeping, dreaming of being a real tiger in a tree...


Come Monday and it was time to bid Richard and Karen farewell for a while, and I dropped them off at the real Manchester Airport for their scheduled flight home. Then off to collect Carlie from Uni. So now we have a full house again. And it's actually hard to tell Carlie from the cats. All 3 make an appearance when it's time to be fed and then disappear to relax somewhere. Well, all except Spunky, who's currently sat next to be purring and helping me write the blog...


Paul and Spunky update the blog...


I think we're going to enjoy having Spunky and Heffy stay with us...

posted by Paul  # 12:14 PM 0 Comments

Sunday, June 14, 2009

 

A tale of two kitties...

This week really has been a tale of two kitties... Spunky and Heffy have been keeping us busy, but for two very different reasons.

First, we think that Heffy's been struggling to adapt to the change of environment, as she's been very shy, hiding under the bed for most of the week, only appearing at meal times. She's also had one or two little accidents, which is very out of character. Guess she's missing Richard and Karen...

Second, though, is Spunky. He's an adorable cat (and that's from a confirmed dog person, me!), comes when shouted and has a very expressive little face, and a lovely little "meow" when he wants feeding. Only he's also not been very well. We knew before he arrived that he was ill, as Richard and Karen had taken him to the vets a couple of weeks ago when he was listless, and he's got a stack of medication to take. Which means that twice a day we have to feed him some tablets and squirt a liquid down his throat. But yesterday (Saturday) he was sick in the morning and off his food. Tracy took him to the vets where Katie works and the prognosis is not good. He was diagnosed in Jersey with a mottled liver, and it seems as though it's beginning to fail. He was given an injection of vitamins and some food to help build him up - that we had to use a syringe to feed him. He perked up a little in the evening, and today has been tired, but seems a lot more like his usual self. Richard and Karen are due to come over again next Monday as they're picking up a classic bike engine Richard's bought from Yorkshire and are dropping off some new shocks for my bike, so we're all hoping he stays well enough to greet them.

In the meantime, we're going to take very good care of them both...


Spunky and Heffy consider whether Paul's finger is edible...

posted by Paul  # 11:40 AM 0 Comments

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

 

Spunky by name, spunky by nature...

After all the worrying of last week, Spunky has lived up to his name this week, at least, in relation to his age and health... Like most cats (including his healthy sister, Heffy) he sleeps a lot. But when he's not sleeping he's just as adventurous as ever, and follows us into the kitchen on the off-chance he might get some snacks, meouwing (more mile meuuwing) and rubbing himself up against our legs as he tries (mostly successfully) to get our attention. It was a relief that he maintained this state of alertness through Richard and Karen's visit yesterday, and as a result he's going to be with us for a while longer yet...

Before Richard and Karen came, we escaped for the weekend to visit Tracy's family in Haverhill. I managed to keep myself occupied by attempting to fix Konnor's bicycle, which I eventually did on Sunday morning, in order to avoid lots of goodbyes. I was a little too successful, though, and missed saying goodbye to Kerry, Mark and Stephanie altogether, as I'd popped to the cycle shop when they had to go... So, just for them:

"Goodbye, and see you in December"...

When I finally managed to drag myself away from the bike, it started to dawn on me just how long I am going away for. When you start saying that you'll next see people at Christmas, and it's only June, you know you're about to go away on a very long trip...

Richard and Karen coming yesterday hasn't helped my rising sense of excitement, either, as naturally our conversation centres on the trip itself, even to the extent of checking out some of the route on the maps. It's starting to feel real now!

My preparations are also kicking up a gear - the bike had its final pre-trip service on Friday (a big service as it's now done 24k miles), and Richard brought 2 new shocks for me to fit, as the standard service life for them is 30k miles so they'll need replacing during the trip if I don't change them before we go. With the bike due to be shipped a week on Saturday (4th July) I've still got a few jobs to sort out, and it has to go back to the dealers again as they discovered a slight oil misting from the pillion seal (on the shaft drive) which they replaced last December, but obviously need to do again (and they will, at their cost). I managed to get home from work early-ish today and fitted the shocks, in just 4 hours, so that's one less job to do.

Time really is ticking now, though, and this weekend will be our last weekend of peace before the trip, as the last 2 weekends are set aside for parties!. It's also our 2nd wedding anniversary on Monday, so we're heading off to the Yorkshire Dales to spend some quality time together...

posted by Paul  # 11:35 AM 0 Comments

Monday, June 29, 2009

 

Returning to the scene of the crime...

Two years ago today, Tracy and I went to Blackpool and got married, in the company of 2 old friends. And without telling another living soul (apart from the registrar and her assistant). It was a perfectly executed plan, that avoided all the hassle of trying to organise a wedding and the associated complicated seating plan, whilst achieving the main objective of sealing our commitment to one another. The plan was first hatched back in the February of that year, when Tracy and I were away in the Yorkshire Dales. So to celebrate our 2nd anniversary, we went back, and stayed at the same pub we'd stayed at that fateful weekend, the Tennant Arms at Kilnsey.


The Tennant Arms, Kilnsey


However, it was a case of "you can never go back", as the pub had changed significantly in the 2 years since our last visit. The bar had been opened up, the rooms completely refurbished, the staff changed, etc. Only the location was the same, and the beer, of course. Black sheep on draught, always a good sign. Unfortunately the food had failed to maintain the high standards from our last visit, although it did remain edible...

On Saturday we went out to re-walk the walk we'd taken back in February 2007, only to discover we'd both forgotten which of the walks in our guidebook it was. We remembered a walk that started in Grassington and thought it was the right one, only to realise as we headed into the woods about the village that it wasn't. Still, it was a lovely day, and if it hadn't been for the midges, it would have been a lovely walk. It seems that the Yorkshire Dales are starting to suffer from the same plague that affects Scotland so badly, with the little bastards feasting on both of us with a vengeance. Disappointed that the walk wasn't the one we were seeking, we looked again at the book and found the original walk - it wasn't difficult as there was a picture of the church in the book that we both remembered from the walk. The church is in Arncliffe, just north of Kilnsey. So when we'd finished our walk we headed up to Arncliffe and went in search of a special place... the "kissing gate" where I'd asked Tracy to marry me... and there it was, so naturally we went through it again for old time's sake...


At the kissing gate where I'd proposed 2 years previously


With the trip down memory lane over, we drove around the Dales for a while before heading back to the pub for a well earned beer, and to study the books again to choose a walk for the Sunday...


Black Sheep Best Bitter, Yorkshire Dales


Sunday dawned slightly overcast, cool and perfect for walking. We drove up to Kettlewell and set off on the walk to "Cam Head". Initially this also felt like a walk we'd done before, but soon we realised it was different, as we recalled the walk we did from Kettlewell in February 2007, which took in the hills opposite before dropping down to the church in... Arncliffe!

This new walk started with a fairly steep ascent with spectacular views back to Kettlewell, before topping out and then winding down into the village of Starbotton (and no, that's not a spelling mistake!). Here we popped into the local pub for a quick pint before continuing up the valley and back to the car. It had been a much harder walk than the previous day, but much more rewarding, and with far fewer midges. And the sun had come out at the right moment too, just as we arrived at the pub. Perfect.


Looking back to Kettlewell


After a much better evening meal (the steak Tracy had on Saturday had more salt on it than the dead sea), we went for a quick stroll before turning in. Monday morning we had breakfast before checking out and heading over to the Black Sheep Brewery's depot to collect the cask of best bitter we've bought for the party at the weekend. before heading home. It had been a great weekend, and so nice to spend some time together before I set off in just over 2 weeks...

posted by Paul  # 1:06 PM 0 Comments

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

 

R.I.P. Spunky

Today is a sad day. Spunky, Richard and Karen's beautiful cat, who over the past few weeks has become an integral member of our family, has had to be put to sleep.

Over the last couple of days his condition had deteriorated significantly, to the point where it was obvious that he was starting to suffer from the liver disease. Richard and Karen made the long journey up north from the Hayling Island near Southampton, and Tracy took them to the vets where Katie works, and where they were able to say goodbye.

Spunky was born in April 1995 and has undoubtedly lived a full and happy life, from when he was rescued from a cat shelter in Eastbourne, by their first foster parents before Richard and Karen volunteered to adopt him and his sister in 1997. They both moved house several times over the last 12 years, before coming to live with us on 6th June in preparation for Richard and Karen doing the Trams Am with Paul. He is survived by his sister, Heffy, who is still living with us.


R.I.P. Spunky - April 1995 - June 2009

posted by Paul  # 11:27 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, July 5, 2009

 

Independence Day Celebrations...

Yesterday was 4th July, American Independence Day, and also the day when I dropped my bike off at James Cargo, the freight company that is trusted with getting it to Anchorage and the start of the Trans Am expedition... Seemed like a good day to celebrate!

Firstly, Richard and Karen came up to stay with us on Friday, so they could see Heffy and also so that Richard could accompany me as I dropped my bike off. Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, and there was one last job to do on the bike before riding it to James Cargo's warehouse in Wythenshawe, Manchester. I'd been deliberately delaying applying the expedition stickers to my panniers as I'm a little superstitious and didn't want to jinx the whole thing by applying them too early. So with the bike all ready to go, I went and got the stickers, and carefully applied them in pride of place in the centre of the panniers...


Paul applies the final touches to the bike...


The expedition stickers... all ready to go...


With the stickers on, it was time to set off, and so Richard and I rode to the depot, having to do battle with traffic around Manchester City Centre as the motorway was closed. Upon arrival, we checked in and pushed the bike into the warehouse where it will be crated up and then transported by road on Wednesday night to Heathrow, where it will join all the others on the flight out to Anchorage.


Paul's bike all lonely in the warehouse...


With the bike safe I climbed on the back of Richard's ZX12R and for the first time in years rode pillion. With my knees up by my ears, it was quite an experience, but there was no drama and we popped into the local supermarket for the final party supplies before getting home around noon. With the party not due to start until 3pm, we had plenty of time to do our chores, Richard helping me erect the gazebo to protect us from the elements, and then doing the vacuuming whilst we sorted out the food. We even had time to relax with a beer before the party guests arrived.

Now many of you will know that I have quite a thirst when it comes to beer, and a love of real ale. Which is why we bought a cask of Black Sheep Best Bitter from the brewery last weekend. With Katy's partner Stuart sorting us out with a hand pump neatly fastened to the dining-room table, we were all set. And it was delicious. And with 72 pints we were unlikely to run out...Tracy had also bought a lot of American themed decorations for the house, so we had lots of bunting, a big Uncle Sam on the door, American themed tablecloth and with the big map of the Americas showing the Trans Am route on the wall, we were all set.

The first of the guests arrived dead on 3pm, Colin and Helen joining Ian and Helen, arriving ready for Colin to do his chores and take control of the barbeque - a task which he is very qualified to do! Soon the rest of the guests arrived - Andy & Wendy, Mick & Sue, Nikki and John, Debbie and Chris and Sam. With the beer flowing, the music blaring and the delicious food from the barbie, all was very well with the world. Even a short heavy downpour couldn't spoil things.

And then we had the icing on the cake. Literally. Tracy had once again surpassed herself and arranged a very special cake to commemorate my imminent departure...


Richard, Karen and Paul pose with the cake...


And what a cake it was. An almost perfect replica of my bike, resplendent with panniers and top-box, marked with "Just One More Mile"...


My going-away cake...

posted by Paul  # 9:37 AM 0 Comments

Sunday, July 12, 2009

 

Goodbyes and Grandkids...

This week has been very odd. Following on from last weekend, when I dropped my bike off and had a great party to say goodbye to all my friends, it was very strange to go back into work mode on Monday. It got even stranger, as I was in London on Tuesday for a team meeting and an evening meal, with an overnight stop and more meetings on Wednesday. I'm still to get confirmation of exactly what the future holds in terms of the re-organisation and any jobs that I can apply for, so I've been making arrangements for work to be able to email me details whilst I'm away - I'll need to re-apply for a job, and then wait and see what happens.

Back in work on Thursday and Friday, finally saying goodbye to all by colleagues before going for my final gym assessment. Only to find the gym instructors had brought someone else in to look after things, and she knew nothing about the assessment and wasn't in a position to do it. So I'll just have to guess - I've lost lots of weight, gained great fitness and increased strength. Or perhaps none of those, but with time now running out, I'm as physically ready as I'll ever be!

I also received and email this week from Chris, who saw my bike in its crate when he dropped his and Danielle's bikes off at James Cargo. It's all ready for its flight to Anchorage now...


Paul's bike in the crate ready for final transportation to Anchorage


Having bid farewell to work on Friday, we spent Saturday with all my daughters and grandchildren... a house full of laughter and happy children, just a perfect way to spend a Saturday. The peace and quiet when they'd all gone home (as Carlie was away in London for the night) was also welcome, as it gave us some much-needed quality time to sit and chat. But the highlight of the weekend was getting all my offspring together again...


From left to right: Danielle holding Riley, Laura holding Elizabeth and George, Paul with Harrison and Olivia, Katy with Alfie...

posted by Paul  # 4:42 AM 0 Comments

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