This is not going well

At last, I thought. I have found someone in the organisation who understands my frustration, empathises and is willing to actually do something about it.

I had a good chat on Wednesday with the manager who explained that there were three options open to us (him).

  1. They would take my car back and write off the finance package
  2. They would take my car in part-exchange against a new one, for which they would do the very best deal open to them
  3. I can keep the car until I can hand it back next summer and they would pay me some compensation for my aggravation and the fact that they have broken it.

By Friday afternoon, only two options remained. MB refuse to consider me handing back the car now with no penalty – this I am not surprised at. The difference between the outstanding finance and the trade in value is too great. But, disappointing.

Saturday morning see us sitting with one of their top salesmen – for about two minutes – before he went to deal with other customers. This meeting was pre-arranged with the manager, and the salesman knew most of my history with my car. We were left with a very nice lady who knew the spec of the cars inside and out and we went for a decent test-drive in a saloon version of mine (I no longer need an estate), in a car that had the better spec sat-nav. There was a huge difference in its functionality, display and added benefits. The car also had stiffer suspension, which was an added bonus.

However, when we got back, she went off to the salesman who “ran some numbers” for me. Without leaving me with a quote to examine, their solution to my problem was for me to leave a deposit 3x the size of the one I used to buy my car 18 months ago, rent it for half the number of miles I do at the moment (a mileage which is just about right) and then for me to pay an extra £100 per month in PCP rental. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the actual salesman again as he was “very busy with other customers”. Jeez.

So, it looks like I am stuck with an unfixable faulty car for the next nine months, unless I can speak with the manager and convey my incredulity at what was offered. HE was the one who suggested the spec of the car that I drove. HE was the one who suggested that a deal was possible.

Today, I am going to head Liverpool, to a different MB dealer not in the same group as the first, armed with the spec of the car that was quoted for me yesterday and see what a new PCP would be, if MB were not sorting out my current contract. Somewhere in there, there must have been a hidden charge to deal with the finance shortfall, but without a print of the quote, I cannot tell where. We will see.

Will also pay the BMW dealer next door a call, to get a PCP quote on a similarly spec’d 3-Series saloon.

To add to what has been a highly frustrating weekend, I was texted on Friday to let me know that the flights I have booked for our trip to Milos next month, to take photographs for a friend, had been cancelled. I have had to re-arrange the flights for the following day out and the previous day back, so we have about a day and a half less time on the island. We also have to spend two nights at Athens airport – which does allow us time to visit the city itself, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise – and I have had to re-arrange the flight back to London for a day earlier than planned.

Fortunately, the travel insurance with the bank will cover most if not all of the cost, but this airline has just cost someone about £500. They must have known at the time that we booked that they would be changing their timetable on the weekend before we were to fly.

Just sheer incompetence.

Mercedes – the story continues

This time last year, and in December, I had a mighty whinge about my car and how disappointed I was with it. Twelve months on, it’s still with me – I can’t get rid of it until June 2017 – but the nonsense just keeps on coming.

One of my principle gripes was the performance of the satnav. Now, in the context of most things in the world, this is a trivial matter and there are many who might consider that I should just put up with it. I am after all, driving round in a Mercedes. That is a perfectly valid argument, of course, but somewhat misses the point.

Yes, I am driving round in a Mercedes, but one which is faulty and neither Mercedes nor my dealer can do anything about it. I have a car that does not do what I was promised when I paid for it and I am getting pretty short shrift from those that are supposed to be helping.

The car went to the dealer for its 46,000 mile service two weeks ago. As usual, in addition to the service itself, the dealer always asks whether there is anything else that I would like sorting. I advised that I would like the satnav voice turned off properly, but that I knew that there would be nothing that they could do about the traffic data arriving at the satnav in anything like a useful time frame.

On one of the previous occasions that they had reinstalled the software into the dashboard (getting close to double figures now) they had managed to introduce a bug whereby the woman’s voice that tells you to “Turn left in 300m” could not be turned off permanently. Each and every time the car was started, the voice would come back on, leading to the convoluted procedure via the stupid trackpad thing where the hand brake lever would be, just to silence her for that journey. Stop and buy some diesel, and she’s back. By removing the sound files from the SD card that drives the satnav, they seem to have cured the problem. Hoorah!

Or so I thought.

On putting in my home destination from the dealer, I was stuck in slow M6 southbound traffic. I looked to see whether Herr Benz had managed to let me know what was going on, and there was no traffic there at all. The dealer had, in his infinite wisdom, disabled the whole of the traffic function completely. I returned the car the next day, to an apology and a promise that it would only be a 30 minute fix. 45 minutes later, I was told that they had broken the computer that controls these things and that they would need to order a new one.

They fitted the computer last Monday. When I went to collect the car, I was told that it hadn’t fixed the problem and that they would need yet more software written for my car (unique – one of a million C-Classes sold, yet mine needs unique software apparently). By Friday, they still hadn’t got any fix from Germany, so I now have the car back with me, but still not functioning properly.

This has been the most expensive car I have ever owned. This has also been one of the worst cars I have ever owned, if frustration, annoyance, aggravation and irritation are taken as judging criteria. It’s just one below a Fiat Panda that used to require a can of WD40 per journey squirting on the electrics on the engine to keep it going. But that only cost me about £1500.

I have written to the CEO of Mercedes Benz UK. Not unexpectedly, but very disappointingly, he has just passed the buck back to the dealer, but at least I am now making arrangements to see the Dealer Principal and hope to see him on Tuesday.

Apparently, they want to do everything that they can to “keep me in the Mercedes family“. Really? Why should I give them a second chance, when I have had the car 18 months, driven 46,000 miles, had a dozen or more dealer visits, but they still can’t fix a problem that’s been there from day 1, and have now broken my car, potentially irrevocably?

We have gone way, way beyond that.

What I want is to leave the paperwork and the keys on his desk and walk away with my finance agreement cancelled, but I know that’s not going to happen. Maybe I should seek legal advice?

I should never have left the BMW family. I never had any of this kind of crap from them.

Oh, and the brakes needed doing again. 23,000 miles is obviously the standard life of pads these days. In Mercedes World.

<And relax>

And paint the fence at the bottom of the garden…


I should mention of course, that this fence is only in a position to be painted because Ann previously cleared out the border of all the weeds and bushes so that the dog could see the rabbit.

It’s been a long time

Well. It must be about 7 weeks since I last posted an update here. That hasn’t happened in the last 7 years, so I must be getting into a much more relaxed frame of mind about things.

The Orkney holiday is a dim and distant memory now, but there is a large canvas on the wall in the spare bedroom of the Ring of Brodgar as a reminder of a very good holiday. It is a long way there, though, but we made it back in one piece in two days, so that’s not too bad. Now, in August, everyone in the world seems to be on their holidays and those of us who are able to take one outside of the school holidays feel a bit left out. So, a couple of nights away in a country house hotel in south west Wales have been booked, so that’s something to look forward to. Will try to get to Tenby for the first time ever – it looks really nice – provided we can avoid the crowds.

A birthday has come and gone since my last update too. It’s a bit upsetting when you have received a letter from a pension company saying that you have to decide what to do with your pension fund at your birthday. Nothing makes you feel quite as old as when you have to deal with a pension. Still, it wasn’t a very large pot, so I took the tax free lump sum of 25% and we will have the bathroom refurbished with that money (if we can ever find someone to do the work for us…). It’s also been my Dad’s 80’th birthday this month, so I went to visit him and my Mum and take them for lunch a couple of Sundays ago, which was nice.

Health-wise, things are fine. I am pleased that I decided not to have the CT scan this Christmas coming. It’s one less stress-inducing event that I can probably do without. I attended a meeting of the National Cancer Research Institute consumer forum last month and it will be good to get into that more deeply as the autumn comes along. I have a two-day training session to look forward to in September, which will help a great deal. Unfortunately, I found that the other lymphoma consumer on the panel, a man with whom I have exchanged a couple of emails and met for the first time at that recent meeting, died unexpectedly this week. That’s a bit of a shock as he seemed perfectly well when I met him and he was good company in the workshop sessions. I know that he will be missed by the NCRI. Let’s hope that I can take up the baton he has left behind.

I have also attended two fundraising events on behalf of Bloodwise. Firstly I shook a bucket (without shaking it) at Aldi in Neston and raised £35 in two hours. Takings are down over the year without a doubt. Last weekend I helped out at the Strawberry Tea, organised in a house and garden also on the Wirral. Again, takings on a like for like basis were down again here too. All a bit disappointing, but it was a good afternoon and lots of people enjoyed their scones and strawberries. And lots of tea.

This weekend coming will mark the first anniversary of us moving to this bungalow. Blog posts previously have charted our progress in doing the place up and we are definitely coming to the end of the interior now. I mentioned a while back that we had ordered a new front door. This was delivered and installed a few days before we went to Orkney and has made a huge difference to the look of the bungie from outside and brought loads more light inside.

Once the bathroom is done, I think I will gather a collection of before and after photographs into an album, to remind us of the hard work and time that has been put into transforming that old lady’s bungalow into our home.

So, as the summer, which really only lasted two days in July this year starts to turn to autumn (14C on the way home this afternoon), thoughts turn to Goodwood Revival in September and the Leica One Challenge in Lisbon in October. These things come around so quickly…

 

 

 

Orkney – come here if you can

For years we have been talking about coming to Orkney. I have posted here about other Scottish islands that have been our holiday destinations in the past, but this year we finally made the effort to drive up here. It’s a long way and took us the best part of three days, but the effort is rewarded by staying for a week on a beautiful and fascinating island.

It’s an hour and a half ferry ride from a small village of Scrabster, next to the larger town of Thurso on the north eastern coast of the Scottish mainland. The cottage that we are renting is in the west of the “Mainland” as the largest of the Orkney islands is known. It’s about 2 miles from the 5,000 year old Neolithic village of Skara Brae, of which, more later.

We have not been disappointed here. The cottage itself is a little bit stripped pine and flowery curtains, but it’s comfortable enough. Inevitably, we tend to spend far too much time exploring the island when we are on holiday so the accommodation itself is not a primary concern, provided it’s clean and comfortable enough. It’s the island and its attractions that drew us here.

Wherever you go, there is evidence of previous occupation by long lost tribes. A quick look on any part of the map will reveal burial chambers, ancient settlements, brochs and so on. There must have been thousands of people living here thousands of years ago and they have left behind a fabulous legacy.

Skara Brae is it the most famous of them. Having been warned not to go on Monday when I enquired about opening times on Sunday afternoon (Kirkwall, the city on Orkney, is the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK, apparently – and incredibly – and two large ships were in on Monday), we arrived later in the day on Tuesday and had the place almost to ourselves. Below is a photo of the biggest and most famous of the dozen buildings preserved by the sands. You can see box beds either side of a central fire, and a shelving arrangement adjacent where food would have been stored and prepared. The only part of the property missing is the roof, which would have been made of timber or whalebones, skins and turf, all long since rotten away.

The adjacent house has a vast collection of the artifacts found within the buildings. This place is almost like Pompeii, only without the bodies, and for somewhere that is older than the pyramids, and older than Stonehenge, it’s a must-see when up here.

Not far away from Skara Brae is the Ring of Brodgar, another stone circle that is older than Stonehenge. Again, we were fortunate, or careful, to miss the time when seven coach loads of cruise ship tourists all turn up at once and we were able to enjoy this fabulous place pretty much on our own.

Even when we were there for the actual summer solstice on Monday evening, there were no more than a dozen people there. Compare that to the scenes at the younger upstart on Salisbury plain…

It’s a beautiful spot.

Nearby, is an active archaeological site called the Ness of Brodgar, which is similar to Skara Brae, but larger. This isn’t open to the public yet as it’s an active dig during the summer, but it will be good to return some time and see how it differs.

The ring is beautiful during the daytime too.


At the north end of the island, is the Broch of Gurness, a slightly later farmstead in a fabulous coastal location. 


The whole place is full of amazing sights such as these. And we have been very lucky with the weather, too, only getting wet for the first time this afternoon. Which is pretty good for the north of Scotland, even at mid-summer.

Tomorrow, we have booked to see Maeshowe, which is  burial chamber near to the Ring. So, maybe I can share some of that later in the week. There isn’t much later though, as we have to set off home on Saturday morning. Back to work on Monday. I’m sure I have posted before about the benefits / disadvantages of taking more than a week off at a time, but if my work emails are anything to go by, more than a week this year would be a week too long. Oh well…

Friday, have decided to go to Hoy, a smaller of the islands, just south from here. I can see the mountains from this window. There are sea eagles nesting there for the first time since goodness only knows when. Hopefully, we will get to see them. Our success at seeing the bird life here is somewhat mixed, it has to be said. Puffins = 0. Hen harriers = 2

Oh, and we have had to light the fire tonight. It’s a bit chilly.

Some good news today

I saw my consultant this morning for my six monthly check-up. When I say “check-up”, I really mean 10 minute chat followed by him giving my nodes a grope and sending me on my way via the phlebotomist, who now recognises me and knows me by name without checking my notes.

Being recognised, while good, isn’t the good news.

The good news is that he gave me the choice of having or not having a CT scan at Christmas, as opposed to just telling me that’s what we would be doing on previous occasions. I chose not to, and he said that was a wise choice. In the US, I would be given a CT scan every visit, but that’s just so that they can spend the insurance money. Over here, even when it is done privately, consultants are a little more patient-centric rather than bank-balance focused. 2016 is therefore a significant year in my post-diagnosis world.

For the first time in eight years, I will not be having a CT scan this year.

The last year that I didn’t have one was 2008, which feels like a lifetime away. So much has happened (as evidenced by this blog…), but so much that is positive has come out of this whole experience. I explained to him that while I would never have chosen this to have happen, obviously, I am glad that it has. I have done things I wouldn’t have done, met people I wouldn’t have met and become a better person that I might have been had it just been a hernia all those years ago.

Here’s to this being the first of many years of not having to have CT scans. I give it two or three. (There’s me, not being able to quite take the good news at face value…)

Oh, and on other matters, I have decided to spend the “reward” funds for being with my company for 10 years on a dry stone walling course. If I can only get the blasted website there to work…

Wasdale. On a Bank Holiday Weekend

So, yesterday, we went to Cumbria to collect the slate threshold for the doors. More of that later.

While up there, we decided to drive round from Honister and have lunch in The Boot Inn, near Eskdale. We stayed there a few years ago and the food is good pub food and the place is welcoming even when it’s busy. We had a sandwich and some juice in the garden and it was a nice lunch.

Afterwards, we went round to Wastwater in Wasdale, fairly remote but very famous and the Lake District’s deepest lake. It’s a lovely spot, most of the time. Yesterday, the bubble burst, for me at least. It was “crowded”. There aren’t many parking spots there, as it’s a long way round to get there and it takes a bit of an effort. But, they were all full yesterday. People were parked on the side of the road and on the grass verges.

People were sunbathing on the lakeside, and there were several inflatable boats on the water. My heart sank. It was such a depressing sight.

As much as they can be, there are some things that should be “sacred”. Just because you can drive your Mercedes 4×4 SUV onto the grass verge, doesn’t mean that you should. Just because you can park 100m from the water and drag your inflatable boat into it, doesn’t mean that you should.

Call me a miserable old git if you like, but there are dozens of waters and lakes in the Lake District where you can paddle your inflatable canoe. Wastwater, beneath England’s highest mountain and on the “difficult” side of the Lake District, shouldn’t be one of them. Yes, I know that it’s a free country. I know that people can go where they want, when they want and do what they want (within reason). And I know that if there is any time that this place is going to be full of people, a sunny Sunday afternoon on the second May Bank Holiday is going to be right up there with the worst of them. More fool me.

I had thought at one time that I would like my ashes scattered on the little island that gets cut off when the lake is full, but is easily reached by a causeway when the lake is low, as it is this weekend. I am so glad that I have changed my mind.

Here is the Wastwater that I know

Wasdale

and here’s the scene yesterday, early afternoon.

Wasdale 160529

I don’t think that I’ve been there completely on my own, although I have been close, but there would normally be just two or three cars there.

I blame that ITV programme a couple of years ago which showed “The Best Views in Britain”. This was one of them, if not the best. Well, it certainly wasn’t the best yesterday.

Anyway…

As promised, here’s the slate threshold in its rightful place. I reckon it looks pretty good, with only a little bit of making good decoration to be done when the cement has dried properly.

IMG_6818

IMG_6820

After the 9 months, this has suddenly felt like the icing on the cake.

Blitz. And a place called Hope

Well, more of a war of attrition really, but after some extremely hard work on behalf of Ann, double digging this plot and removing at least three wheelie bin loads of roots and weeds, the Lost Garden of Comberbach is finally looking pretty good.

We did manage to plant the trees last week and today, I laid the turf. It looks good already, but will obviously need time to settle down and fill in the joints.

So, in nine months, along with all the other things that we have done, we have gone from this

IMG_6811

to this

L1006041

Now, that is what I call “progress”.

Tomorrow, the slate threshold for the French doors will be collected and I will fit that on Monday. I will also be able to finish the final pieces of skirting to the living room and the painting can completed.

The new front door will be installed on 13th June, which will make a huge difference to the look of the place.

Not sure what we are going to do with ourselves now that this is coming to an end. Move on to the back garden, probably.

And all of a sudden it’s June next week. Again.

Time to think about the summer holiday. Orkney this year, in a cottage that is walking distance from Skara Brae, so that should be good in the long, long evenings up there in late June. It’s a long drive just for a week, but we do get to stay at The George in Inveraray on the way home, so that’s good. However, our stop on the way up is north of Inverness, so that will be a bit of a trek one Friday in a few week’s time.

June is also the time to see my consultant for 10 minutes. I am sure that it will be business as usual when I see him. To be honest, I don’t think that six-monthly check-ups are even worth it any more, but seeing as BUPA pay him about £250 every time he sees me, I am sure that we will carry on like this over the next few years. I am pretty sure that if this were an NHS clinic, I’d be on 12 monthlies by now. What these appointments do, though, is get me thinking about “things” again, despite the fact that I’m feeling very well. I AM very well. But the upcoming clinics just get you to think about what might be to come a bit more often than during the rest of the year.

One interesting thing that seems to be emerging from studies of people who have had stem cell transplants ( a real possible treatment for me some time in the future ) is that they seem to be presenting with heart disease much more often than the general population. Given that the process involves harvesting your stem cells, growing them in the lab, while simultaneously killing off your entire immune system, such that you have to spend three weeks in complete isolation in hospital as they reintroduce your stem cells and you grow yourself a new immune system, is it any wonder that other parts of the body decide to rebel? Heart problems could be a price worth paying to avoid the consequences of not having a transplant, though. I don’t know. If ever that were to be a possibility, that’s a long way off, so I shall file that under “not yet pending” and not worry about it.

What I have also learned over the past weeks, having attended the Lymphoma Association’s Annual Conference in Nottingham at the beginning of the month (and elsewhere) is that it is a good idea to volunteer for clinical trials if one is available when you next need treatment. There is a lady who attends the support group in Manchester for example, who was on a trial for a new antibody therapy and her disease has been all but wiped out completely. To be fair, so has mine at present, having had the best standard treatment available at the time when I needed it. I have said this before, and I will no doubt say it again, but I am a very lucky man. I know it. And I am very grateful.

A question was asked at the Conference as to whether there was a link between pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture and lymphoma. The expert consultant on the panel (who also happens to be on the NCRI Committee that I joined recently) suggested that there was a definite link, when the population as a whole is considered. It is impossible to say whether an individual’s lymphoma can be attributed to these chemicals, but the growth in incidents of lymphoma over recent years mirrors, but lags behind, the growth in the use of agrochemicals. Never was there a better time to eat organically and stay away from farms than in the 1960s and 70s.

Oh well… If only we had known then, what we know now.

It doesn’t really matter what the cause is, or was. I have this and while it’s dormant now, it’s not going away permanently and I’m fine with that. What does matter, and I believe and hope that things are improving, is that we as a society, continue to reduce the use of agrochemicals and give our children and grandchildren a chance of avoiding lymphomas, or any other disease for that matter.

If the link with farming is proven, (can you prove that?) wouldn’t it be nice to live long enough to see that the incidence of new lymphoma falls year on year as the use of agrochemicals reduces too?

Bill Clinton once said “I still believe in a place called Hope”.

So do I.

(Blimey, I’m sounding like a tree hugger)

(Blimey 2, I have actually written something about lymphoma in this blog about lymphoma. What is the world coming to?)

 

 

So here we are, seven years on

Time flies when you’re having fun

Exactly seven years and over 300 blog posts later, I am pleased to say that I am still here (obviously) and as fit as I will ever be. My next appointment with the consultant isn’t until next month, but I know that there will be nothing for him to find and I will be good to go for another six months. So, that’s all good.

It’s been a very interesting period, as all those posts will testify. I defy anyone to read back from the beginning – that way madness and a very dull morning will lie – but I am glad I started this blog and I am glad I keep it up. One day it will revert to its original purpose, but I am pretty confident that day will be a long way off. So much for only five years to live! Pah!

A lot has happened in that time of course, but I know that in so many ways, my life has changed for the better. I wouldn’t change a single day and truly appreciate everything that this part of my life has brought to me.

Once again, sincere thanks to everyone who has and continues to support me, even though, at the moment, I am in a quiet patch as far as needing support goes. I will let you know when I need a shoulder!

In other, more important, news, I am also pleased to say that the living room is now 99% completed. I need to order the slate threshold to the patio doors, which will allow me to complete the last of the skirtings, but everything else is just about finished. I have to say that the room looks 100% better than it did a month ago and it is now possible to foresee a time when there isn’t anything to do inside the bungie. It’s been bloody hard work (not just by me!), as previous posts have described, but it’s been worth it.

IMG_6634

IMG_6639

L1005869

The outside is a different matter…

A new front door has been ordered and should be fitted by the end of June. Steps are being taken to order a new bathroom and it looks like a rotovator will be hired for a weekend soon. May Bank Holiday as a blitz on the garden?

It will be good to get some turf down there, plant the fruit trees that are still in their pots, and generally tidy the front garden up.

The frog spawn doesn’t seem to have come to much. The cold spell must have done for them, which is a pity.

I bought an orchard today

The builders did turn up – all six of them. At first it was a bit like the Chuckle Brothers meet Carry On Building, but with some guidance, they managed to get a long way yesterday.

We went from this:

JPEG image-A474D9EA75E5-1

to this:

IMG_6464

in a day. Pretty good work I think.

Plenty of making good to do, but the amazing amount of extra light that the doors bring to what is actually quite a dark sitting/dining room is really welcome.

Some of them will be back on Monday, to continue to make good, plaster etc. And they will start the repointing of the external walls – the existing pointing is really bad, so it will be good to have that sorted.

Maybe next weekend, I can start the flooring in here…

So, where does the orchard come in?

Here:

IMG_6368

IMG_6445

They say that every man (and woman, of course) should plant a tree during their lifetime. Well, there are four lifetime’s worth coming soon.

The two coal bunkers with the metal lids are in the skip and the weeds have been treated with weedkiller. In a couple of weeks, I should be able to rotovate this area, pull up the worst of the roots and turf the whole lot. Again, in “The Plan”, there are some fruit trees in here, and these will be the ones that are now in their containers in the back garden. Have decided that an eating apple (Braeburn), a cooker (Bramley) and a pear (Comice) will all sit happily in this space and provide a nice place to sit out in the summer.

I also bought a damson, to replace the one that had to be taken out of the hedge last autumn. The fruit from that one did make a very nice damson gin…

So, another couple of steps forward…

Once again, the end is near… A different end, this time.

Soon, it will be the beginning of this end.

On Friday, 9 months after moving into the “new” bungalow, the builders will be starting to install the new French doors in the wall of the dining area. As soon as they have completed these works, we will be able to take up the hideous stained carpet left by the previous owner, I will be able to finish the laying of the oak floors (together with the skirtings, coving and architraves) and the room can finally be decorated. The carpet is the last thing in the place that was the old lady’s and it will be good to finally put it in the skip. Replacing it with the floor will make a huge difference, as will the extra light that the French doors will bring.

The builders should have started on Monday, but, well, we know what builders are like…

We have done pretty well with the refurbishment works. The hard work tends to come in fits and starts, with a lot of work being done over a couple of weekends, then nothing for a month or so while we wait for someone else to do something. Despite enjoying doing the work, it will be good when it’s finished and we can get back to doing whatever it was we did before moving.

The only thing that will remain will be the bathroom – we have a fitter that can do the work, so it’s “only” a question of finding the right suite and tiles.

Oh, there’s the garden to do too, although a start has been made on that recently. The area at the front, cleared before Christmas, has now had a serious weed killer treatment, ready for a good rotovation later in the spring. The two old concrete coal bunkers have been broken up and placed in the skip, and things are looking a bit tidier out there already. I think that turfing the area will be the way forward in the first instance, with some fruit trees to be planted in the autumn. Two apples, one cooker and one eater, and a pear, will probably do the trick, although it would be good to replace the damson tree that had to be taken down in the back garden.

The loosely described patio area to the side of the new French doors and kitchen will need lifting and replacing with something more suitable. At the other side of this paved area, there is the hedge to the adjacent field and I am thinking of building a slate wall along that inner boundary to more rigidly define the edge. I have been researching dry-stone walling courses and have found one in the Peak District that might just do the job. We don’t want or need a real dry-stone wall, but learning some of the techniques required will no doubt be useful if I do proceed with the slate wall idea.

The other fairly major thing to worry about in the garden is the pond. A few weeks ago, we were treated to a couple of dozen frogs all getting frisky in this little pond, croaking like it was going out of fashion.

25127106604_b4d678b54f_z

Two days later they had gone, but the frog-spawn evidence that they have left behind is now developing nicely. We will have to make sure that the water level is topped up for when the tadpoles emerge, as it’s all a bit overgrown at the moment and then decide what to do about it later in the year when they have either hopped off, or been eaten by whatever eats tadpoles. It’s only a small pond, but if it’s to be removed, it ought to be done properly.

So, I have given myself a target of the end of April to have the inside of the place finished (achievable) and maybe my birthday in July for the garden to have been moved forward (also achievable).

When it gets to the first anniversary of the move, in August, I think that we will have to get the fizz out.

Any excuse.

The aurora borealis then.

Yes, it really is all it’s cracked up to be. At least it was when we were lucky enough to see it.

As I said earlier in the week, we were incredibly lucky on Wednesday night when we stayed out until the early hours of Thursday, watching the aurora do its stuff. As I promised, here are some photographs from that experience.Twighlight
Stage-1

Stage-2

Starting off with an incredibly clear night, and a very subtle blue hour after sunset, the aurora began to show itself in the second photograph. Depending upon your eyesight and quality of the screen, you may be able to see the faint green mistiness in the middle of the photo.

Within about 10 minutes or so, it had grown in strength, so that it started to get brighter and more intense.

Campfire

Bear-right

Reflection

Eventually, as the night wore on, the show became even more amazing, as can be seen from the second three photographs.

Now, these were taken using a sensitive sensor setting on the camera and with 8 second exposures, so the camera can record a lot more than can be seen with the naked eye. In fact, it’s almost impossible to record on a camera, what you can see when you are there. The first two of the second batch are pretty close, though. The third one there has been fiddled with a bit, but it seems that the amount of light produced by the aurora can be huge. It was easy to see one’s way, after midnight, just by the light from the sky.

It is interesting to see, on some of the shots, just how far a satellite can travel in 8 seconds – several shots have bright lines, traced by the satellite, as the shot was taken.

For those of you that might care about these things, the camera was a Leica M240 and the lens was a Leica 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH. So, now you know.

If you ever get the chance to travel north during the winter months, I do hope that the gods are with you as they were, north of Tromsø, last Wednesday.

1200+ photos later… Time to reflect on a terrific experience

It’s time to sit and wait for the first of our flights today. Another week’s holiday is over and it’s back to work next week. But, I do have to go to Blackpool on Monday afternoon, so it’s not all bad 🙂

On Wednesday, we did the Chasing the Lights tour. We were picked up at around 6pm and headed about an hour or so north of Tromsø, by coincidence to roughly the place we ended up with the hire car the day before. At first, things were not looking promising. The guide was no doubt deliberately talking down the possibility of seeing the lights – obviously nothing is guaranteed – but we headed off to a small cove, at the north end of an island. Grunnfjord, if you want to have a look on Google Maps.

After about 15 minutes, one of our party spotted a pale, green smudge in the north east. Slowly this grew until the lights revealed themselves in all their glory. For a couple of hours, there was an arch stretching across the sky, from horizon to horizon. The intensity grew, and faded. The curtains effect revealed itself really strongly, and the lights went in waves along the line of the arc. Even with the naked eye, some of us could see a pink tinge to the edge of the lights, beyond the strong and dominant green. Even if you are colourblind, the visual experience would be amazing.

We stayed out beyond midnight and, as we were thinking about packing up, as if in the finale of a concert, the aurora really showed us what it was made of. The whole sky, from edge to edge, in all directions was green. Patches were darker, some lighter. Whichever way you looked, there were moving streams through a paler green background.

It really was incredible. We stayed there for over 6 hours – a really fabulous experience. This really is a stunningly beautiful part of the world and is worthy of anyone’s time ( and deep, deep pockets ) to visit. I think that this time of year might be perfect, as the snow is still on the hills and skies are a beautiful blue.

So, now, as I sit here waiting, I have >1200 photographs to look forward to viewing and editing. I am hoping that pushing the camera to 2500 ISO hasn’t affected them too much. We will see, but I have never taken so many photographs on a week’s holiday before. Or any week, probably. Not all taken on Wednesday evening, some on the day when we had hired the car.

I will share some here later in the weekend to encourage you to make the effort to come here. You really should.

On seeing the Northern Lights for the first time

I am a lucky man. I’ve said this before, but as my life wends its way along its chosen path, it becomes more true day by day. 

I have a loving family, good friends, an interesting and worthwhile job. And, the evening we arrived in Tromsø, I saw the Northern Lights. 

Early evening, they were a faint but distinct vertical line. They stayed for around 10 minutes, then faded away, but Ann needed a lot of convincing that what we had seen really were the lights. I would have been happy with what we saw. 

A little later, another faint green line across the sky appeared. Again, she was not convinced. But I had taken some photographs and the green line was clear to see. For a second time, they faded and stopped, so we decided to return to the hotel for a cheeky glass of red. On the way, we met a German lady who was so excited at seeing them and, as we chatted with her, they came back. And how…

  
They swirled. They danced. The “curtains” were there. They stretched across the sky, from the hills to the East, to the horizon on the west. The only things missing, were colours other than green. Maybe tomorrow…

I lay on the ground on a snowy concrete groyne, using my small table top tripod (should have borrowed the carbon fibre Gitso!) and the lights put on a great show. I took some photos (will share later) and then just lay on the snowy ground watching. And laughing out loud. 

It was just fantastic. 

I know that millions of people have seen them. And millions more will see them tomorrow, or next week. But, this is definitely one of those “remember the first time” moments that I will never forget. 

Today, we hired a car from the airport and drove around some fjords. The car was supposed to be a Skoda Yeti, but, incredibly, the car hire company didn’t have one. Has anyone, ever, actually driven off in the actual hire car that they have reserved? I certainly haven’t… Anyway…

The small sample of fjords today certainly lived up to the anticipation. The weather improved during the morning and the scenery was just stunning. Later, at dusk, it turned foggy then snowy, but for the main part of the day it became clear and sunny. We drove quite a long way today, to make the best of the car hire but it was definitely worth it to see scenery like Scotland on steroids. 

   
  

  

  

  


As an aside, the car was a 4×4 Skoda Octavia, with studded winter tyres. It was a really good car for the conditions, which basically saw 1″ of sheet ice covered in powdered snow on 300km of roads. In fact, it was a really good car. Could never buy one, of course, because it’s not a BMW, but…
  
Oh, yes… Nine quid for a small glass of wine from a wine box, is really not on. Norway really is cripplingly expensive. Not sure if I can ever afford to return. 

Which will be a great shame as it has so much to offer. 

A fabulous weekend in Oslo and the aurora has been visible

It was a privilege to spend the weekend with our friends and their two boys in Oslo. 

They were very kind and generous hosts and we had a great couple of days seeing the sights of the city and discovering that we could count a Masterchef amongst our friends. We were treated to some fabulous Norwegian specialities, including dried and salted cod and moose as a main course last night. That’s not something that we eat every day! (And neither do they, to be fair 🙂 ) His cooking really is exceptional.

  
We had a great walk around the city, its parks and the castle on Saturday, with a lunch in a very nice cafe in the centre, before buying some oven gloves on the way home. Living the dream!

We also went past a Persian rug shop that is unfortunately closing down due to the rent being tripled at the end of the year. Having almost bought a rug at 50% off, plus tax free savings too on export, common sense prevailed and we will wait until we get home to measure up the space that the rug will need to occupy. I have the business card of the store manager in my wallet, so I can email them to see whether the rug we would have bought is still in the shop. I am sure we can work something out when we get back.

On Sunday, we went to various museums in the city, including the Viking ship museum where they have a beautiful ceremonial longboat from around 850AD on display, together with the queen’s funeral possessions that would have been on the ship. Absolutely superb carving both on the ship and in particular the funeral byre and other artefacts.

  
A trip to see KonTiki followed, bringing back memories of Blue Peter in the 1960s. Why they were telling the story then, I don’t know, but you have to say that Thor Heyerdahl did lead an amazing life, proving that it is possible to travel around the world on ancient craft made out of balsa wood or reeds and string.

Next door, is the Fram, the ship that Amundsen used to get to the South Pole before Scott, who obviously should have got there first! The ship is beautifuly preserved and well worth a visit.

Finally, we went to the Munch Museum, where there is an exhibition of Munch and Mapplethorpe self-portraits (plus some of Mapplethorpe’s other work). Some readers may know Mapplethorpe, and others not, but the exhibition didn’t hold back on some of his more “challenging” work, not suitable for children. The really interesting aspect, and entirely down to the skill of the curator, was the remarkable similarity between some of the work of the two artists. Whether Mapplethorpe, a photographer from the late 20C had studied Munch’s work from the early part of the century I will have to find out, but the arrangement of the paintings and photographs was extremely well done. It was enjoyable visit and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Oslo in the next month or so.

Munch’s most famous work, “The Scream” is in the National Gallery in the city centre, so that will have to wait until another visit to this interesting city.

So now, at 35,000 feet above the clouds and the snowy landscape, we are off to Tromso. There was a solar storm last night, with the aurora being visible in the UK as far south as Oxfordshire, apparently, which is just typical! However, the forecast is pretty good for where we are going, so let’s hope that our luck holds out over the next few days.

  

NCRI Consumer Group and more good news.

At Christmas, the Lymphoma Association asked whether any of their consumer group members would also be willing to volunteer to become lay members of the National Cancer Research Institute Consumer Group. With the DIY works to the bungalow coming to an end in a few weeks time, I decided that I could afford the time to volunteer my services, if they would have me. Organisations like to have non-medical members to read and evaluate papers and reports and contribute to the process from a the viewpoint of someone who consumes cancer services, rather than provides them. Obviously I am rather hoping that I never have to be a consumer again, but I am happy to share my experiences and thoughts on whatever comes along.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an interview in London, and I am very pleased to say that I am one of the new recruits. Unfortunately, they are having a training session while we are in Norway, but I will attend the next one when they run it again in September and I am looking forward to the first meeting proper just before Easter.

In a strange way, it is a really exciting time to be a cancer sufferer if you are lucky enough to be in remission from lymphoma. I know that my experience is not necessarily typical and that the picture is not rosy for everyone with cancer – far from it. But there is yet another article on the news today about how immunotherapy can be used to make the body deal with cancerous cells itself. I posted a few months ago about how chemotherapy may become a tending of the past in only a few years and today’s news appears to be a big step along that way. There was also news about switching on T-cells ( part of the lymph system and similar to but different from the B-cells where my cancer sits ) earlier this week. These cells can be tricked into fighting cancer cells elsewhere in the body, potentially avoiding the need for chemo or radiotherapy. 

It really does feel like we might be getting somewhere with this and I am hoping that my membership of the NCRI panel can help in a small way to moving this forward. 

Maybe it’s time to think about another cancer research charity book? Because, one day, we will get there. 

To the frozen north. 

Friday morning, I’m sitting in seat 12B on flight BA 174 to Oslo, and, with a bit of luck and literally a fair wind, I am in the process of ticking off another Bucket List entry.

We are spending the weekend with our good friends who live in the city and then, on Monday, heading above the Arctic Circle to Tromso. Having checked the weather forecast at least twice daily for the past week, we have a reasonable chance of seeing the Northern Lights on our overnight excursion on Wednesday, if not before. Provided that the solar activity is sufficient, too, of course. I have several fingers and toes crossed – you need a bit of luck if you are just visiting the north for only a few days. We will see.

Preparation for this trip has been somewhat different from previous March weeks. Regular readers over the last nearly seven years will have seen that we try to take a week off in March. We have been lucky enough to be able to go to Venice, New York and San Francisco, to name a few, all of which have been interesting and great experiences. But all of them have a been to fairly temperate climes. In San Francisco last year we were in shirt sleeves and in Venice a few years ago, all we needed were a jacket or light jumper. This year will be different. 

I tried to liken it to a trip to the moon this morning over breakfast, but was told not to be ridiculous. Ok, perhaps that is putting it a bit strongly, but we have had to prepare somewhat differently this time. Whereas it would usually just be a case of taking normal clothes and coats,etc, this time, we have had to buy very flattering thermal underwear, merino wool fleeces and socks and padded jackets. We haven’t gone overboard on the jackets, but they’re not something that we would normally have bought. Really cold weather gear can be hired in the town itself quite reasonably, but even in Oslo, it is likely to be below freezing and snowing when we get there.

As well as the overnight minibus dash across Scandinavia, I have also hired a car for a day, so that we can explore some of the coastline and fjords and, with a bit more luck, find some photographs. I am looking for a couple to hang in the living room when it’s finished, so a fjord and an aurora one could make for a nice pair.

So, this year’s March break is going to be a bit of an adventure into the unknown. I will post some iPhone pics along the way if there’s anything to share.

Oh, and not to look forward to the end of the holiday before it’s even started, on the Saturday we get back, we can fire up our new wood burning stove for the first time and feel like proper Scaninavians 🙂 

My plan to compete all the works to the bungalow by Easter will not be possible, as the new French doors won’t be installed until the week after, and I will then need to lay the new floor, but we won’t be far off. Will need to sort out the bathroom afterwards, but that was always to be the last thing to do. It will be good to have the place done and know that we can move on to doing work in the garden over the spring and summer.

If we can get the bathroom and the garden sorted by 13th August, we will be able to look back at a good year’s work.

My 2016 project(s)

Every year, around this time, I decide that I really ought to knuckle down and “do a photography project”. I am not sure why this compunction comes round every year, but I have to confess that for the most part, it’s an idea that starts, then stops fairly quickly.

One year, (2010 was it?), the project was actually putting a book of my photographs together. That was a good idea, as at the time, I rarely saw my photographs printed and to see 100 of them in a book was very pleasing (the book is still available if anyone wants a copy 🙂 ). I must get round to doing Volume 2.

Another time, after I had said that I was looking for a photography project, a colleague at work suggested that I gather a collection of Tin Tabernacles, corrugated iron chapels erected by the hundred by the Victorians, some of which still survive. That was Ok for a while, but actually, there are not that many of them left any more.

Before that, I decided that photographing every Brakspear pub would be a good idea for a collection, overlooking the fact that all of them are at probably 200 miles away.

So, these were not actually very practical. I really don’t have the time or the money to go driving to the Thames Valley every weekend.

The idea for what will be this year’s project is to shoot dead or “clinging-on for dear life” petrol stations. Yes, please contain your excitement. I know that this doesn’t sound like a Pulitzer prize winning idea, but it’s not meant to be. I first had the idea when we found this bungalow and started the process of buying it. There is a small, independent garage in this very village that still has a couple of pumps outside the timber shed. The owner sits in his little office reading the paper, only venturing out when someone stops by for a chat or a couple of gallons. It struck me that he might not be there much longer and nor would his colleagues other little places around the country. I am amazed that there are still some around at all, to be honest. So, I took a photograph. I know I should have bought some diesel too, but the shot was taken while I was walking the dog. I promise I will buy some from him, before it’s too late.

So, here are some shots that will start off the collection. Two of these places are still selling fuel; sadly, two on the isle of Skye aren’t, having closed since the last time that the Google Streetview car went by in 2011.

Rufford, Lancashire is an interesting garage in a very nice little village. It has a gun-shop adjacent, ironically accessible just to the right of the magazine rack. That’s not something that you see very often. But at least if you run out of ammo and need this month’s “Horse and Hound”, you know where to go.

Central-Garage-Rufford

 

This one is in Comberbach, which is also a very nice little village, but sadly lacking in amenities when compared to its Lancastrian cousin…

JH-&amp;-O-Percival-Comberbach

And here are two from Skye, roughly three or four miles apart, on the same road.

Struan-Garage-Skye

Dunvegan-Garage,-Skye

Over the year, as I am out and about on the highways and by-ways, I shall stop as often as necessary and expand the collection.

If I get to 100, I will put them all into a book.

Now, the observant among you, which I know is all of you, will have noticed that I hinted at a second project. Like buses, they have come along at once.

It’s actually, not dissimilar to the first one and tips a hat to the Brakspears one. With pubs closing by the hundred every month in this country, this one will unfortunately be easier to do.

This is The Lion, Burscough 

The-Lion-Ormskirk

So, if anyone has any ideas for a good title for a collection of old petrol stations, or dead pubs, I would be very happy to receive them. Answers on a postcard please.

There’s a pint in The Lion waiting for you.

 

I collected £57 for Bloodwise

I did my collection at Tesco’s largest store on the Wirral last Sunday morning. It was breezy and cool but dry and the collection location was inside the glazed, enclosed canopies that Tesco seem to like.

I have to say that when compared to my previous stint, it was not a resounding success.

Now, I was collecting on a different day, a different time of day, at a different Tesco (Bidston has a different demographic from Heswall), at a different time of the year (the end of January is always a stretched time for a lot of people), so that might have something to do with it.

I knew that collecting from 10am on a Sunday, as the store just opens was always going to be a challenge, but when I had collected precisely nothing by half ten, I was beginning to question whether it was worth the cost of my diesel to get there. I’d be better off just making a donation myself and staying at home. Things did improve over the next hour and a half, though, but I was disappointed with collecting over £100 less than I had last year at Heswall. And last year there were two of us collecting for that two hour slot, not just me on my own as I was on Sunday.

As last time, it was interesting to note who was making the donations. Once again, it was older people and those with young children. Young adults were the least generous and I did notice a lot of people seeming to deliberately use the “IN” door when leaving the store, so that they didn’t have to walk past me. Eye contact was virtually non-existent.

I also noticed that many of the people who did donate, were not at all interested in the name on the bucket. I could have been collecting for anyone, it made no difference. They just dropped a few coins in the bucket and walked off. They might have been donating to the Wirral branch of the Ku Klux Klan for all the notice they took of the banners and the bucket.

Last year, we had a lot of people stopping for a chat when they donated. “My Dad had leukaemia” or “I have lymphoma” type chats – people relating to the charity and us as collecting volunteers. This year, absolutely nothing. The name change meant nothing to the people. Only one person asked what Bloodwise meant in the whole two hours I was there. When I explained, he said “I assumed that it was about diabetes or HIV or something”.

It would be interesting and informative, I suspect, if it were possible to collect under the old name on one weekend and the new name on the following one, with the same people collecting at the same times etc. But that’s not to be.

I am grateful to the kind and generous people of Bidston who did drop a few coins in my bucket last Sunday morning and I do know that friends who collected later in the day had a bit more luck than I did. But I do have the impression that collecting money for this charity has been made a whole lot more difficult.

And, that’s a crying shame.

Andy Barton's blog as a Leica user in remission from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

%d bloggers like this: