Surrogate Motherhood

We collected our new puppy yesterday. We have known she was coming since roughly the time she was conceived and have been in regular contact with the (very) extended family member whose dog this is. Indeed, we have been to see her a couple of times in the 9 weeks since she arrived.

Despite the sleepless nights we have to look forward to and the “accidents” that we all need to learn from, this is a good time for us and the right time to get a new puppy after we lost Pippa just before Christmas. But it struck me as we were driving to Yorkshire yesterday that this is a two-edged sword – our gain is someone else’s loss. Sort of.

I had a strange feeling that the wife of the couple who had done so much to love and care for this little white, black and brown bundle on our behalf, since she’d been born and ante-natally too, was like a surrogate mother, handing over her baby. Given that she is not a dog breeder and this is the first litter that her own bitch has had, she hasn’t experienced the emotions associated with giving her baby away before. Our puppy is one of six and she is keeping one herself, but three of the other four are actually staying in the same street, with other family members. To see these puppies go is just a case of handing one over the fence to a mother or brother next door. The litter siblings here will continue to enjoy a pack life and wider family life together for years. Ours is going to be a hundred miles away.

As anticipated, it was quite difficult. We called in on a niece and her partner first – Rocky’s new mum and dad – and had a cup of tea. Rocky joined them last weekend, so has started to settle down nicely two doors along from his mum and remaining brother and sister. One of his other siblings lives in the house in between – no doubt they all talk to each other across the gardens.

We went to collect her. There was a full puppy-pack for us with a lovely birth certificate, various puppy-pads for those little spills, literature and a quantity of the food that the puppy is used to, so that we know what it is and continue with it, or slowly wean her off onto something of our choice (which we will do, if only because the food is only available at one outlet locally, which is about 25 minutes drive away and not in one of our usual shopping places).

We sat a while and talked and played with the pup.

A bit too long.

I hurried Ann up and we we left to bring her to her new home, but I know that we left a lot of tears behind.

It must be very difficult. The wife had delivered this little dog, helped it and looked after it at a fundamental time in its life. And then let someone she doesn’t really know take it away. And all she has left is a very modest fee. It’s not something I could do, and I’m sure has dissuaded other family members from any idea that breeding dogs would be a fun thing to do. How women become successful surrogates is completely beyond me. I hope that they get paid a huge amount of money for their services – after all, their commitment makes breeding dogs pale into insignificance – but the emotions experienced in that house in Yorkshire yesterday are on the same scale as those felt in a surrogate’s house. Not something I’d ever though of before and we are very grateful that there are ordinary people who are prepared to put themselves through this.

Anyway. Welcome to the family, Betsy 🙂

British Airways BA238 Virus

Yes, the second half of the holiday was great too… 🙂

The flight back from Boston was on a Boeing 777, which I reckon is actually a nicer plane to fly on than the 747 we went out on. I think that the seats were just a little wider than before, but that may just be my mind playing tricks. I’m sure BA don’t give their economy passengers any more than they absolutely need to. In fact I am sure of it.

Despite the plane being better, the food most certainly was not. In fact, it was almost completely inedible.

On a roughly 7 hour flight, were were given a tray with a “full English breakfast”, of which only the inch-long sausage was anything like edible. Some passengers received yoghurt and fruit juice, while other lucky ones received two fruit juices. There was an apple turnover thing, which was just a mushy sticky mess that even McDonalds would have rejected, and a bread roll that I swear was so old, the wrapper had the BOAC logo on it. I kid you not. The plastic knife bent as I tried to cut into it. So I stopped.

That was breakfast. A few hours later they came round with lunch. A lemon and orange muffin. Which I rejected on my previous experience of all baked goods on their flights. It really is shameful. If they can’t afford to offer proper, edible food for the prices they feel they need to charge for the cattle class at the back, then just stop offering food at all. Allow people to bring on their own food, bought at the airport. Stop pretending that they are offering a full service and be honest with the passenger.

When I left the flight I was feeling not a little bit cheated and quite a lot hungry. One inch of sausage in 12 hours, isn’t great, to be honest.

By the Sunday night, I was feeling a lot less enamoured with “The World’s Favourite Airline”. (Do they still call themselves that? Was it ever true?)

I woke a couple of times during the night with severe rigors. I wasn’t sweating this time, but it was just like when I had the swine flu. I had a high temperature, but returned to the office and took some paracetamol through the day. By the time I returned home on Monday night, I went straight back to bed for another, similar night. This time the sweats returned and my temperature was 39.1C on Tuesday morning. Obviously I called in sick, and made an appointment to see the G.P. that afternoon. Unfortunately, all I could get was the chocolate teapot one who, as soon as he realised I was under the care of a haematologist, decided this was all far too complicated for him and that I should just get to see my main man ASAP. I will bear this in mind next time need my ears syringed.

Managed to get to see my man at Wednesday lunchtime. My temp was still 39C and they took some blood cultures, plus the usual blood samples. The cultures take a couple of days to grow, but the samples get done in the hour. By the time they had come back, and I had been told that I’d been drinking too much beer as my Gamma GT level was higher than “normal” (not true btw!) and my haemoglobin levels were not as they normally are, I was sent away with some anti-biotics and and appointment for the Friday. I was also asked to try to keep off the paracetamol, in case that would mask any benefit of the anti-biotics.

By the time I returned on Friday, my temp had begun to come down and the result of the blood culture was negative. The consultant advised me to continue the course of anti-biotics, and take whatever painkillers I need for the headache which remained.

So, all in all, I am not very impressed with British Airways, I’m afraid. Not only do they care so little about their economy passengers that they are prepared to feed them any old rubbish, edible or not, but they also provide a wonderful parting gift – a week in bed with a massive temperature.

Now, my circumstances are different from virtually everyone else on the plane, in all probability. The Rituximab maintenance does dampen down the immune system and I had received my latest round 10 days before we flew out, so the levels in my system would be at their highest, meaning that the immune system is at the lowest. I knew this before travelling. But, while over the 9 months that I have been receiving this I had experienced more colds than I would normally have expected to have in a season (entirely normal for Rituximab maintenance beneficiaries), I hadn’t expected to be hit so hard by one of the viruses that get you when you fly. After almost any flight, I would expect to get a sore throat a few days later, but this was in a different league altogether.

So a lesson learned. BA Economy long-haul really is terrible and being on Rituximab maintenance isn’t necessarily the easy-ride that I thought it was. Two lessons.

Now, to find some half decent shots from a very poor, thin stock…

The weather breaks

Day 8 Thursday 9 June

Were going to have a “day at the tent” today, but we ended up having a drive to Orleans, the next town along the Cape and one we’d always by-passed before. Nice town and yet another fantastic beach. All the beaches on the Atlantic side are wonderful – they are actually the same one. On the way, we dropped down to First Encounter beach, the where the Plymouth settlers first came across the natives. Due to the proximity of the marsh on the bay side, there were lots of midges which were suspiciously similar to our old friends from west Highland in Scotland. We didn’t stay long…

Drove into Chatham on a quieter road and passed the location of the cottage we would have rented had the owner been bothered. Not as good a location as the one we ended up with, so that’s good.

We did manage to find a great house to buy over here though. Just the small matter of finding the $2.4m now…

Had a walk around a wildlife reserve out into the Sound from Chatham and watched sone seals a few hundred yards off shore. Heard on the news later that some nutter is shooting seals from the shore – not those ones, but elsewhere on the Cape. I hope they catch him soon.

Returned to Brewster as the weather started to look ominous.

Thunderstorm came at around 7pm and lasted about an hour, including knocking the power out for about 10 minutes, but the air was much fresher afterwards, as usual. Rained a lot during the night.

America and the killing of the butterfly.

I have been reminded this week about a Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder” in which a hunter goes back in time to kill a T-Rex and inadvertently changes both the course of history and the way that some words are spelled. By the seemingly innocent act of accidentally killing a butterfly 60 millions years ago, the present day is subtly different, and yet the same. After a few days on Cape Cod, this is how I am beginning to see America, more particularly a small part of New England, when compared the “Old England” which is home. New England is like England might be in a parallel, but close, universe.

We have been to the United States only once before, about 9 years ago, when we visited Florida for what was to be our last two week holiday as a family. Florida never struck me as being a “genuine” place and I was convinced that we were never offered, let alone saw, any of the real America, not even on the Gulf Coast. Whilst Cape Cod is hardly bereft of tourists and every thing that goes with them (us), I do get a sense of some real life going on here too and it’s in this real life interaction with people that it quickly becomes obvious that there is more to our differences than Churchill’s “common language”, or more than 200 years of post-colonial separation. Now, my lack of experience over here is bound to lead to some things being more obvious than they might be to those more familiar with the country, and many of the observations might appear naive on my part. For that, I apologise in advance.

However, it’s the little things that really do make a difference and that you do notice. The big things, like driving on the right are obvious, but familiar to most Britons abroad, of course. Subtly, though, Americans are worlds apart from the British.

The language is an obvious one and I’m not talking about the obvious and, if I’m honest, often more logical spellings adopted over here. We passed a private drive this morning where a sign said “Private. No Exit”. No exit? What about entry? Do they allow anyone to drive onto the property, but not leave? Or how about a sign as you approach a built up area which says “Thickly settled”? Quite charming, but a little archaic, I’d have said.

Road use and signage is a huge differentiator. I have no idea why 6.7 litre, V8 off road vehicles are so popular here. Everyone seems to drive at 40 mph, or less. Even on the highways, where the speed limit might be 60 mph, no one drives any faster than that. This might be fear of getting a speeding ticket, I suppose, but there are relatively few police cars watching and waiting. No cameras, of course. An American driving in the UK must be scared witless by the speed at which we drive on dual carriage-ways and motorways. And everyone is extremely courteous. People let you out onto main roads, even when they don’t have to. They have odd “all flashing red” cross-roads, where people actually just take it in turns to cross the junction. This kind of thing is unimaginable at home.

The road signs themselves need a serious overhaul. Basically, if you don’t know where you’re going, tough luck, the signage won’t help you. You might get a green sign actually on a junction, telling you to turn left or right, but there will be no pre-warning, and seemingly no centralised plan as to how to describe a route or hierarchy of destinations. Maybe this is one of the reasons why they drive so slowly. I wonder what the accident levels are like, when compared on a per driver mile basics?

Then we have the money. What a great idea to have every note to at least $20 the same size. And the same colour, with only very subtle hints of a difference. I’m not colour-blind, but someone who was would find it pretty much impossible to tell the difference, without reading every note for its denomination. It means that every note has to be individually checked before being handed over to the assistant. I suppose that’s not a bad thing, per se, but it does make it much more difficult to know at a glance how much cash you have in your pocket at any one time.

We have found it impossible to eat a light lunch since we have been here. There is no such thing as “just a sandwich”. A sandwich has to consist of about half a pound of meat on a massive bun and come with a portion of fried potato of some description, a pickle, coleslaw and some salad. And it has to cost you about $12. The simple two slices of bread with a couple of slices of ham inside for three quid is completely unknown. Yesterday, we asked for a coke to go with our meal and the waitress brought at least a pint, and then came along and plonked a second one (each) on the table, without being asked. I don’t actually want to drink two pints of diet coke at any time of the day, thanks. I have no problem with the concept of “free refills”, but I would prefer to be asked, rather than it be assumed. One can have too much of a good thing and that second pint was just wasted.

The Americans we have met have in general, been very courteous people and not just on the roads. The “Have a nice day” thing and “You’re welcome!” every time you say “Thank you” seems to be genuinely meant, most of the time. This is very much not like at home, where many people in the service industry think that they are doing you a favour just by being there to take your money. And it’s the British who were supposed to be polite…

They are a friendly bunch too, happy to strike up a conversation in a shop, restaurant or on the ferry. Much more so than at home, where the British reserve is very much to the fore. I quite like that. I am convinced that it’s the accent that makes people ask about you, though, not that they have any real, genuine interest. But I may be wrong about that. Twice, now, we have been asked whether we went to “The Wedding” recently. That strikes me as being a bit odd, and somewhat naive on their part, as if everyone in the UK went to the wedding. Maybe they were just referring to going to London to stand on the street and wave a flag, but I’m not sure they were.

From what I have seen on the cable television in this cottage, it amazes me that the US produces any quality programmes at all. The system that brought us The Sopranos and The Wire, seems, for the most part, to rely on religious programmes shot on a $400 video camera, local news, which rolls every 10 minutes into another 10 minute weather forecast, and game shows which might have been innovative in the 1960s, but are looking somewhat past their best now. And there are hundreds of channels to choose from. The most amazing thing is that one can choose to watch The Sopranos at 7:30 in the morning. Clearly no watershed, which surprises me for a nation which appears to retain a moral background, but also some people must watch it, otherwise the tv station wouldn’t broadcast it at that hour.

Then there is the flag. You are never more than 100 yards away from another stars and stripes. If you look around you and can’t see at least four flags, then you are either on a yacht or somewhere in the forest. I knew from the Florida experience that this was the case, but that was in 2002, when 9/11 was still much more raw than it is today. And I understand fully that a nation fighting two wars a long way away needs to keep it’s home fires burning. But, I have been surprised at the prevalence of the flag. It was Memorial Day here a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think that made much of a difference. At home, even for royal weddings, we just don’t do this sort of thing. Guilt, probably.

That really sums up quite a lot of the differences between our two countries. Or, my country and the American Nation. I have noticed that there is a difference there too, but that’s one that I still haven’t quite worked out yet. In Kennedy’s time, it was still a “country”, but now, it’s a “nation”. I wonder when it changed?

We have been in this small part of New England for nearly a week now and whilst I could imagine myself living here (as one often can while on holiday), I could never call it “home”. I haven’t said anything new or original here, and I will hold up my hand to any charges of cynicism on my part, but these kinds of differences between us are immediately noticeable, especially to those of us who rarely come here. There are, no doubt, dozens of other examples of such things. We have much in common, but much that divides us and makes us two very distinct peoples.

One of the Plymouth Brethren must have killed a butterfly.

Martha’s Vineyard

Day 7 Wednesday 8 June

With the weather forecast looking worse for the end of e week, we decided to take the trip to Martha’s Vineyard today and drove down to Hyannis for the fast ferry. This takes about 55 minutes and is a good service. It’s expensive, though, at about $140 return for the two of us. Still, you don’t fly so far and then not go to somewhere that you’ve wanted to go to since you first heard of it.

Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe it was the heat (mid-90s) but I was a little disappointed.

We arrived at Oak Bluffs at about 10:25 and started to walk to Vineyard Haven, about 3 miles away. Soon reminded ourselves that US roads aren’t made for walking, so turned to the town and found the bus stop to take us there for $2 each way. Quickly found The Black Dog Tavern (and shops…) as recommended by Nigel at home and had an early lunch at a table overlooking the harbour. Once again, a sandwich is not a sandwich… A bought a hat to keep the sun off her neck and A bought a t-shirt.

Vineyard Haven is quite a charming little town, especially along Main Street, but as with most of the places here on the Cape, it’s very geared towards tourists and feels false. Waited for the bus to bring us back to Oak Bluffs in the full heat, with little shelter offered, and then spent a nice hour in the shade near the camping ground tabernacle. An interesting place, with an interesting history. Paid a visit to the little museum and met a couple of chaps relaxing on a porch, who enquired after A’s hat and whether we had attended the wedding. That’s the second time someone has asked us that. It’s clear that Americans were much more interested than most British people I know.

Returned on the 16:15 ferry to an asparagus supper.

Will write about my impressions of this “slightly more real than Florida” America later.

Heat-wave coming…

Day 6 Tuesday 7 June

Supposedly an easy day, mid-week. Dropped down to Chatham in the morning. A proper gentile town, with nice lawns and fancy shops all along Main Street. Had a very good cup of coffee to gird the loins, then shopping for some lightweight trousers for A. She couldn’t find anything she liked ( no surprises there… ), but there was plenty on offer. The place has the feel of a town just waking up for the season. Good job we weren’t able to rent a place there – it’s an expensive town to eat in by the looks of it.

Drove round past the lighthouse and ended up an old dock, a bit like we have on the Dee estuary. A former fishing place, we had a nice chat with a fellow with a very impressive beard and a bike, who has been coming here for the last 20 years. Leaves for July, though – too busy for him. He advised about a beach a bit further along the coast. Beautiful, again, and the water was just the right temperature for a paddle. Could see that it would be massively popular during the season, though. There was a lovely house, right on the water’s edge that I wouldn’t mind making a cheeky offer on…

Carried on down the coastal road, stopping for lunch on the way to Woods Hole. Yet another RTA to hold us up on the way, during the hottest part of the day too. 86F this afternoon.

Woods Hole is a university town, specialising in oceanographic stuff. Also has a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, but we have decided to go via Hyannis tomorrow.

Back home on Route 6, much quicker, then a “fish supper” at the same place as we had the lobster rolls earlier in the week. Much better value, but a bit “diner-ish” for my liking.

Provincetown

Day 5 Monday 6 June

Decided to head north and visit Provincetown at the very end of the Cape.

Arrived at around 10 and parked next to the moment to the first New England settlers. This is the tallest granite structure in the US and looks out over the harbour from the top of a hill over the town. Climbed to the top and could just see Boston through the haze on the horizon.

The attached museum is very interesting and tells the story of how the Plymouth brethren landed here first, before heading off to the “mainland”.

Wandered into the town. What a difference from Hyannis. This is a charming place, with narrow streets and a really good atmosphere. Lots of interesting shops and people – it has a very large gay community – and everyone was friendly and helpful.

Went down to the docks to check out the whale watching tours. There was one boat which was just loading that seems very popular but others which seem more “personal”. Overhead the woman taking the tickets for the large one say that they had seen a couple this morning – they way that the trips are sold one would think that sightings of dozens is just about guaranteed…

You can hire a boat to yourself if you want. And have $700…

Had lunch of a foot long dog and a coke and then A went in search of a cap to keep the sun off. Although it’s not very hot ( yet ), the sun is strong and the Factor 30 is only just about keeping the lobsterness at bay. Found a shop selling nice caps, but a small cat logo on, but the seller advised that there is a “dog” shop further down e street. A bought a little sleep suit for the nee baby next door, due in August.

The shopkeeper also advised to go to the library opposite where some nutter had built a half scale model of a whaling boat inside the library. They wanted to put it in the museum but can’t get it out of the first floor… 12 years it took him – you’d have bought he’d have worked that out. Good model though.

Opposite the library is a house with what is alleged to be $1m worth of modern statuary in the from garden. All very odd.

Left P-Town as it’s known and drove round to Race Point, where there is another beautiful beach and then onto Truro and the lighthouse there. This one looks like it might be the best from a photographic point of view, but need to be there early in the morning, so need to get backside in gear a bit earlier than am doing at the moment.

Finally, dropped down to Wellfleet on the west coast of the lower Cape. This is a nice little town, with another working harbour, but not much else. It does have a theatre, though, right on the shore.

Supper at home.

Spoke with B via Skype. She’s very keen to leave Japan and get to Australia, as she’s fed up with being illiterate. Her flight arrives Tuesday pm our time – must be Wed am hers – so we don’t expect to hear from her for a day or so as she gets settled in.

Another postcard from the Cape

Day 4 Sunday 5 June

Woke at about 4:30, but properly at about 6:30, so clock getting back to normal.

Really must stop having eggs for breakfast, but had a poached egg and some very nice bacon picked up yesterday in a roll, plus some Tropicana juice and English Breakfast tea. Not at all like home…

Headed off to Hyannis this morning via the road which runs along the south of the Cape – further than we thought. Everywhere is further than you think.

The south of the Cape is much busier than the northern side, with pretty grotty ribbon development along the whole length. It’s almost impossible to tell where one “town” starts and another ends. Lots of small malls, restaurants and loads and loads of motels. As close to Florida as we have seen so far.

Hyannis isn’t much to write home about, but A did pick up a couple of pairs of shorts and another short sleeved shirt. He wouldn’t want to look like an English man out of his comfort zone, now, would he? 😉

Walked down to the harbour and persuaded a girl in a small restaurant to sell us two cups of coffee so that we could use the restrooms. On leaving, walked past the public restrooms about 50 yards away and found information about the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Lady in the shorts shop recommended the former over the latter, as there is more to do and lunch won’t cost you $90. After visiting another JFK memorial on the beach, we returned back to the cottage via a small town called Harwich, where we bought a sandwich for lunch. We won’t need any dinner tonight – proving very difficult to eat “light”…

On our return, our landlord was next door and he offered to set up the wifi for us, which he has done. So, now, we can leave Skype running so that we can speak with Rebecca when she goes on line. Japan is about 13 hours ahead of here. It’s 15:40 here now, 04:40 tomorrow in Tokyo, so maybe she might call later this evening.

Postcards written. Stamps cost 29c, even to the UK. Ridiculous.

Might go for a walk along the old abandoned railway later. It’s so much like being at home.

Pause….

Well, we did walk to the beach, having bought a beach bag on the way. The first access road we found turned out to be private, but the lady in the bag shop told us of a road which gives full public access. Very nice beach with good clean sand. The tide was just starting to go out and more nice sand is obviously out there. One can see right along the inner forearm of the Cape to Provincetown at the end, about 30 miles away. Will go back when the tide is out.

Drove up the Cape for a few miles to see a lighthouse ( will be better dawn, or in a storm ) and then onto the spot where Marconi set up his masts to make the first broadcast across the Atlantic. Not much left there now, but again, the beaches along the east coast of the Cape are beautiful.

Downloaded “Scrabble” and played a couple of hands of cards. Must be on holiday.

Hardly taken any photographs. The light is very harsh here. Not sure why I’m surprised, it is June and we are on the same latitude as Barcelona. I need to get out more in the evening and early morning. The sun rises later and sets earlier than at home, so it shouldn’t be too difficult…

New England

Day 1 Thursday 2 June

Having got back from a day at work, we left home to drive to Heathrow. The M56 was busy until about Runcorn, but cleared after that. The M40 was a different matter, and we were delayed by over an hour behind a lorry fire at Warwick. Arrived at the first Holiday Inn at about 10pm and the correct one at about 10:20. After getting a non-smoking room rather than a smoker, we had a club sandwich at about 11:15.

Typical Holiday Inn room, but very quiet considering it’s location on the main A4

Day 2 Friday 3 June

The shuttle bus took us round several other hotels on the airport and eventually to T5. Surprised at the lack of lifts to get to departures, we arrived at exactly the right time to check-in. Unfortunately, the auto machine let us go through the whole process and then claimed that that there was an error. Still, the woman at the desk sorted things out and took the bags.

T5 isn’t a bad place to hang around. Found that Dixons really do sell cheap M9s but not as cheap as before.

Had to wait an extra hour for the plane to leave after smoke was found in the hold. Zara Phillips and her fiancé were on the flight.

Economy seats really are pretty tight on a BA 747. The woman in front of me reclined her seat back so that her seat was about 10″ from my face. The guy behind me got up several times and was a “lean on the back of the seat in front” kind of guy, so that wasn’t great either.

Food poor.

Got through immigration without too much hassle (Ann was frisked twice on the way out) and found car hire place. As expected, what you thought you were going to pay is about half what you actually pay, but we did get a Jetta as opposed to a Yaris, with no power steering or windows…

Boston traffic is terrible. They should tell you that the first thing you will come across is a toll booth, and the signage is rubbish. We ended up heading out west before getting on the ring road and eventually heading south. Arrived at Plymouth at around 5 pm

Radisson Hotel isn’t that bad – definitely not as bad as TripAdvisor would have you believe. Big bed. Comfortable. Quiet. A bit hot, but then again, it IS a hotel.

Walked around town for half an hour and then got the last table at Patrizia’s Restaurant, an Italian place that is very popular with locals and with good reason. A cichetti to share, pasta and canollis, with a bottle of $30 wine was less than $100, excl tip. Total cost was about £70, and one of the nicest meals we have had for years. Recommended.

Room quiet and bed at about 9pm local time.