Friday, March 28, 2008

The Power To Surprise

Sorting out some photos I came across this one, taken by a friend at a reunion with some school friends last autumn.

Even now, one year on from diagnosis, stumbling across a photo of me at the peak of my baldness still shocks me. It's not like seeing me. I know it IS me, but it feels more like seeing a close friend or relative much changed after years apart. Changed by age or illness, but dramatically different in a very wrong way.

The girl on the left called me today to apologise for not having got back to me on something. Turns out she's busy dealing with cancer herself.

Her father's cancer has got worse. It's spread to his spine.

I remember him from parent's evenings - the elegantly tall, good-looking Kenyan doctor whom all the teachers giggled and flirted over like they were the schoolgirls. Of all men, this man cannot be dying, surely?

Once again, I feel the vitriol rise and I curse cancer. In all its forms.

Leo on May Hill

DSC_0170.JPG, originally uploaded by annemariew.

And this one is Leo. Leo the Lion.

I will miss them in Uganda but R has promised me we'll get a pet leopard instead. Called Dave.

Ozzy on May Hill

DSC_0159.JPG, originally uploaded by annemariew.

Sorting out Flickr I came across some shots of my parents' dogs, out on a walk on May Hill.

This one is Ozzie. Or Ozzy. I'm never quite sure how it's meant to be spelt.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How Many Call Centres Does It Take To Answer A Phone?

I call my bike insurance company to cancel the policy. Customer Services put me through to the Cancellation department (apparently cancelling a policy is not deemed a customer service). Fifteen long minutes of bad classical music later and the Customer Services gimp comes back on the line, offering me a callback service.

Distrustful of anyone who purposefully employs too few people to handle cancellations so that people are forced to delay the cancellation I stubbornly stay on the line. Ten minutes later and the same lady is back on. They apparently will call me back and are apologetic about the delay. I remain sceptical...

Next up in British Telecom. After twenty minutes I eventually get through to someone in Delhi. Twenty minutes? I thought outsourcing call centres to India meant that they could afford more labour, not less. You'd think a telephone company, of all people, would have someone free to answer the phone.

The council tax people are swifter - they take me only 4 mins to get through to a human being and then another 6 mins to sort it out.

The Electricity company is all full of weird automated sequences again but is quite painless by comparison and only takes a record 3 minutes! I'm on a roll and decide to take on British Gas immediately to try and capitalise on my current good fortune.

I'm sorry. All our operators are busy at the moment. Your call is important to us....

Aaargh! I'm getting what they call phone rage. There was a whole hour of documentary making dedicated to this new phenomenon recently and I now know how they feel. Being on hold and dealing with automated phone systems is part of modern life but it IS totally rubbish.

Whilst I listen to the British Gas choice of hold music (16 minutes into the call and being transferred to the right department at last) I am reminded of the other day, when I was on my way to catch a train that I was almost definitely going to be too late for. So I called the train timetable number to get the times of the next departure. Their automated system is one of those designed for ultimate public embarrassment where you need to shout words out in answer to their questions. What's really bad about it is that you find yourself unconsciously doing that vocal imitation thing and mimicking the voice and intonation of the automated robot on the other end. Add that to speaking just a bit too loudly and over-articulating and you sound like a robot trying to order a meal on the Costa Del Sol.

This was our so-called conversation...

(Robot Voice)


Lengthy information is read out to be peppered with rather obvious and contrived sounding attempts to 'market' the service to me. Finally we get to the 'When Doo You Want To Tra Vel?' question?


Oh Lordy. Here we go again with all the unnecessarily patronising baby talk. "What Sta Shun Are You Leaving From?

"Lon-don Bridge"

Was that Lun Dun Bridge?


Blah Blah Blah

"Eeasttt Grin-Sted"

Am I A Noy Ing You Yet?


"Five Thur-Tee"

(Normal voice, exasperated)

"Oh, shut up you stupid cow!"

At this point, to my utter surprise, the robot did actually cut short her recorded message repeating the words I'd already heard several times within the context of this so-called conversation and cut straight to the chase. It seems they teach them to recognise phone rage and speed things up accordingly.

Which means machines are really not that far off from taking over the world after all.

Puppet On A String

Puppet On Strings, originally uploaded by tacksoon.

I've been too high on good results to dwell on the boring side effects of cleaning.

My "hand-job" on the carpet as a result of my vacuum biting the dust (couldn't resist that pun) led to my arm complaining. It started off sore, in the muscles in the upper and lower arm, with pain when I extended it fully or raised it above shoulder level.

I rode down to my bike test, feeling my arm complain at the buffetting it took when just holding the steering straight whilst driving down the A3 at 50 mph.

I try and stretch it every other hour or so in a series of attention-grabbing moves which look like I'm about ten, in a classroom full of kids, and desperate to answer the teacher's question.

Later that week I realise it's getting worse, not better.

Looking down I realise it's now fully swollen. On the inside of my wrist on my (good) left arm I can see the raised profile of my veins. When I bend my hand towards me, they become even more prominent: like a pair of raised train tracks running parallel on a sloping bank.

But when I look down at my inner wrist on my painful right arm I see nothing. Just rounded flesh. Puffy and white. Crooking my hand towards me makes no difference either - it just hurts. As I look up the arm towards my elbow I can see the rising lump formed by my swollen flesh.

And if I stick my fingers in my armpit or the hollow of my elbow, it is not only agony, but I can feel a palpable string or two of hard, painful muscle. Like I am a puppet on a string, but my strings are pulled a little tight.

Yes, it seems this is cording. Proper, proper cording.

The swelling may even indicate a little bit of lymphodema. I keep checking the fingers but the puffiness seems to stop at the wrist.

I am frustrated by it but by taking a LOT of ibuprofen I am starting to see a vast improvement in the swelling. I've also made up my mind to try and stretch it a little less. I don't want to cause more inflammation by overdoing it before it's ready.

But when will it be ready? Most cases of cording are reported within weeks of the original operation but some are said to recur months afterwards. This is obviously falling into the latter camp. Websites talk of it disappearing 'of it's own accord' but patients sometimes needing physio and antibiotics to help it on it's way.

I'm about to disappear to East Africa. Starting a course of physio really isn't viable. But somehow the good results of the scans, the stuff that really matters, seems to make this latest, lingering side-effect of the cancer (that I first felt a year ago yesterday), pale into insignificance.

And do you know what, until I wrote that last sentence, I had forgotten about yesterday's cancerversary. A year to the day that I lay in bed and made R wake up to feel my right boob.

It's significant that I forgot to remember the date, I think. I'm finally losing touch with the notable dates of last year's cancer - a good thing.

From now on, we're writing a new calendar.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Icing On The Cake

Two good results in two days.

Yesterday I 'passed' my year one scans with flying colours.

Today, I am the proud owner of a pass certificate on my new bike license.

But in case you thought the universe was being particularly kind to me, rest assured balance has been restored. R has already been on the phone to pronounce our ailing old banger officially terminal.

Ah well, it was to be retired to a friend for him to take on an old banger rally soon anyway. It won't make it to Russia, but it will make it to the scrapyard and I will be £50 richer, so it's not the end of the world. At least it got me and my last possessions out of the flat last Friday night.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happiness Is A Clear Scan

This is how I feel but propriety stops me from posting a similar picture of myself.

Instead I'll let Meredith Farmer on flickr say it for me...

Out, damned flat!

I love my flat.

But god, am I glad to be rid of it.

But it was a painful goodbye what with gas oven headaches and non-stop cleaning late into the night. I was up til 3am Friday morning putting sealant around my bath and didn't get to leave the place until 10.45pm on Friday night after a back-breaking effort to make the place 'professionally' clean.

All had gone well on the cleaning front, until the last possible minute. All I had left to do was hoover the hallway. Seagrass matting attracts dust in its crevices, and the hallway had lots of it, having been hidden under boxes for the last 4 weeks, so good suction was going to be necessary. I even take the main attachment off so I'm just left with the tube, to really try and get into the nooks and crannies.

Except about a minute into combing the carpet with the hoover nozzle, I realise nothing is happening. I have been using the hoover all evening around the flat, to get into the backs of shelves and wardrobes, to whizz round skirting boards and picture rails. Turns out it's had enough. The thing is so hot the casing feels like it's melting and there is no suction. What a time to die!

I resort to using a dustpan and brush with a quick, flicking action to unearth the more stubborn bits of dust stuck in the carpet. The really tough bits to budge get the old toothbrush treatment.

An hour later and I have hand-hoovered my carpet. I am exhausted. I load up with cans of diet coke and a pack of M&Ms (my Friday night dinner) and drive the three hours to Hereford. At 2am I collapse into bed, having worked out I have been asleep for only 4 hours out of the previous 43.

The next day my right arm starts to complain. I've overdone it by my flicky dustpan action on the carpet and my lymphs can't cope. I still can't raise my right arm in a classic Nazi salute. Not that there's much call for that, but I like to be ready for any eventuality...

But I'm out. And the tenants are in.

And noone's rung up yet to say they've found a dustball in the corner, or the boiler's blown up, or the new cooker doesn't work, or they've simply changed their mind.

Now all that remains is my scans (Tuesday) and my postponed bike test (Wednesday) and a whole heap of paperwork for the Inland Revenue.

Apologies for tardy posting

Sorry the last post is almost a week late. I'd written it and let it sit in my drafts for ages for Reasons Of Landlord-Related Preoccupation with Cleaning.

I got the oven in the end. Found it by 10am Thursday morning and it was delivered at 3pm later that day. And, despite manufacturers no longer making cookers without ignition system, it was a non-ignition system model. But I did have to buy it from a Delboy-a-like on Brixton Hill so whether the 12 mth guarantee is worth the paper it's written on is anyone's guess...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Double Headache

Woke up with a dirty great migraine. Now that I know that's what they are I can officially languish in bed feeling sorry for myself. So I did. Mostly.

By lunchtime the head was clearing so I stirred and decided to get some of the remaining cleaning chores done prior to awaiting my third gas safety engineer who was due at 4pm (the first one was due last Tuesday, never turned up; the second was due last night but rang 30 mins after he should have been here to say he wasn't going to make it after all - what is it with this bunch?).

As the gas man was coming I thought I'd take the chance to pull the oven out and clean behind it, clean the hob and all it's parts, clean the oven shelves and the grill tray and finally, Mr Muscle the whole damn grill and oven. The Mr Muscle did not help my lingering headache, but eventually, the thing was done and looked better than ever. It had taken me three hours.

Thirty minutes later and the oven has failed it's gas safety certificate. It appears that the ignition button, should your cooker have one, should work. Mine has never worked. Admittedly, it's an inherited cooker, but it has always been spark-less, so I simply use one of those ignitor gadgety things.

Apparently that's not good enough. Apparently, if you're blind you could mistake the ignition switch for a working button and think that you had lit the gas when all you had done was set the scene for a Sylvia Plath-like end.

(Never mind the fact that the couple I'm renting the flat to have their sight...)

Apparently, rather than try and fix the ignition switch which is terribly complicated and will probably only break again by the time it comes round to the next gas safety cert due this time next year, I should instead spend £180 on a new cooker which does not have a built in ignition system as it seems they only ever go wrong.

A new cooker which has to be bought, delivered and installed by Friday evening.

Double headache, straight between the eyes.

Oh ho ho, ho ho. This landlording business is such fun.

Postponed, Again

This time last year I was due to sit my bike test. Then I had to have a lumpectomy and riding the bike in test conditions with one arm that I couldn't yet lift of it's own accord did not really feel like a good idea.

So I cancelled the test.

I rebooked it recently when I knew we were leaving again. (Sometimes I think I would never actually do anything if I didn't have a deadline).

I was due to sit it on Monday morning at 9.07am.

Since last Friday, the media have been hyping the Big Storm Of The Winter, due to hit the South East of Britain on, you guessed it, Monday morning.

I got ready on Monday morning for the 40 min journey down there, listening all the while to the rain lashing the window and the wind whistling around the flat. All my gear was on, I'd even packed a spare pair of gloves for when I got to the test centre and had to wring the first pair out. As the clock hit 8am and the test centre opened I dialled their number.

Of course, they had taken the decision to postpone all the bike tests that day, just as I knew they would. This is the satellite image from 7am Monday morning...

I was secretly relieved. After the whirlwind of the last few weeks, I felt like I'd barely had time to prepare myself mentally. And the weather really had put me off - driving rain, winds of up to 85mph - you try doing a controlled U turn in that and not putting your foot down!

I got a letter through yesterday from them saying my new test is now next Wednesday morning at 8.10. Lets hope the weather picks up for this one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Barking Mad

Currently, we are this (squeezes thumb and forefinger together tightly) close to starting to work with a lovely pet food company.

So in the name of research and relationship building, I went up to the NEC at the end of last week to watch hundreds of dogs and dog people do their Crufts thing. I used to go every year when I worked with a certain big corporate brand that top breeders recommend (or as the Dutch put it, "Top Vokkers"*) and back then it was a microcosm of doggie madness.

If asked, I could not imagine how it could have got any more ridiculous but it has. It's anthropomorphism gone mad.

Check this out.

A display in a teashop somewhere in the Lake District frequented by blue rinses and families on a day out? Or the Canine Cookie Company, who make brownies out of liver and popcorn for dogs.

They also make doggie wedding cakes. For, natch, when your dog ties the knot with that bitch from down the road.

Or Happy Barkday cakes? Tell me, if you're a dog, do you get 7 birthdays a year to keep up with your dog years? How does that work?

You can dismiss this as a cottage industry company catering for a very twee niche of dog owner. But then we'd turn a corner and be faced with much more corporate or retail savvy brands like these.

Mineral water for dogs? At £1.99 a litre?

Give me a break. I drink Eau de Thames, albeit filtered through my Brita water filter, but nevertheless it remains tap water. Apparently dogs prefer the mineral water to tap water because they can smell that the former has no chemicals in. Yup. That also works when you compare tap water to dirty, algae filled ditch water. My parents dogs will plump for the latter to sup from every time. It doesn't mean they would pay £1.99 for the privilege though.

*Even funnier when you know that the 'v' is pronounced as an 'f'.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Vive La France!

A French Couple rented my flat! Vive la France!

After my little hissy fit last week, I instructed a further four agents on Thursday morning and within 24 hrs had received two offers through one of them.

I just wish I had appointed them a month ago!

So, we moved me out yesterday. Always the plan anyway, so I already had a van booked. The new tenant came to inspect whilst we were in the middle of packing. The house looked such a mess that it was if we had been burgled - all the cupboard doors and drawers were flung open with all the contents strewn everywhere. But despite all this she still didn't change her mind.

Now all I have to do is to sit my bike test tomorrow morning (in predicted 80mph winds... fishermen are being called back in to port... methinks the DSA might cancel), avoid the flue (it has been rampant and now my adrenalin and mania is wearing off I suddenly have painfully swollen glands) and, of course, not get cancer.


On the health front, I've a Berocca in one hand, an orange juice in the other, some Echinacea in the cupboard and a hot bath awaits.

As for the bike? I just have to keep reminding myself to check over my shoulder every time I so much as fart and I should be fine. I've been riding scooters and bikes in London for nine years now. If I screw this up I'll be really, really annoyed with myself.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Nearly... but not quite

In the space of around 30 minutes yesterday I had almost managed to rent my flat.

Then, this morning, it seems like the guy's views had changed and suddenly where there might have been an offer, there was one no more.

Damn and blast them all. I have since called more agents and now have five working on it. I'm about to call a sixth.

I'm going to get the bastard rented if it kills me.

But right now I need an agent to manage all my agents....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sense of Humour Failure

It started so well but has gone badly wrong.

I feel worn out by wrangling and chasing and cajoling. Everyone around me is creating a massive shitty pile of stress built out of sheer professional inadequacy. Gas men, agents, tenants, even some work contacts are getting in on the act. And they're usually the more reliable ones.

Would the gas men please turn up, or at least return my calls?

And it would be nice to think their estimates are actually based on genuine equations of measurable service and parts rather than random figures plucked from the air because Londoners are gullible enough to swallow most prices. I've had estimates that range from £120 to over £300 for the same job. Incidentally, a job that R conducted last year in Hereford and cost him a whole £75.

Isn't that ridiculous?

And when you book them in at such vastly inflated prices, at least they could have the decency to turn up?

Would the agents return my calls, do their jobs and find me a tenant?

I thought paying an agent handsomely for them to let your flat was supposed to take the headache out of it? I've had to appoint a second agent, because the first one was no good. I'm now on the verge of appointing a third. There must be a better way. But there isn't. So the agents all get to earn money for talking nonsense and driving funky cars around town, badly.

At least in advertising we don't do the funky cars thing...

And would the would-be tenants please turn up for their fucking appointments?

Do you know the effort we put into 'hidying' the house every single time one of you is due round?

Clothes fresh from the wash but not yet put away get shoved in the bedlinen trunk. Papers and books get shoved in desk drawers and slid under the bed. Stuff gets piled into cupboards, cushions get plumped, hallways get hoovered, and I even have gone so far as to make fresh coffee and spray the bathroom and bedroom with a subtle bergamot room scent which I picked up in Paris for some ridiculous reason.

When would I ever use something like that?

Now, it seems...

Or, if they love the flat so much they almost put in an offer but retract on the basis that they have asthma and the property is on a fairly busy road, then why, please, did you bother coming to see it in the first place?

Everyone just seems to be getting in my way, not doing what they're supposed to be doing, or being deliberately antagonistic and unhelpful.

When these people are strangers and have no value from knowing me I understand. It's a London Thing. Abhorrent but true. But when they are people that I am paying a lot of money too, or people I have bent over backwards for on so many occasions myself, I really, really resent it.

So, no, spotting fashion designers and watching archaic military rituals at buckingham palace on your way into work does not necessarily guarantee a good day.

But I'm moving to Uganda so they can all fuck off.

A good start to the day

This morning, on my bike ride to work, I passed Vivienne Westwood hunched over her handlebars with her flame orange hair escaping a winter beret, cycling through the winter sunshine in Battersea, near where she lives.

She then whizzed past me a moment later as she ran the red lights. In front of a police car.

But this is a woman who wore no knickers to collect her OBE from the Queen and twirled for the court photographers to reveal all outside the palace...

Five minutes later into my journey and I am too outside the palace, in a queue of traffic being held back by police as they go through the tourist spectacle of changing the guard.

It's a sunny morning, I've already spotted my local bonkers fashion designer out for a cycle ride, and there are soldiers wearing bearskin marching past me in quicktime, and others carrying swords and wearing extravagant plumed helmets riding by on shiny clip clopping horses.

When a day starts like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Old Ones Are The Most Offensive...

...but also the funniest....

This is based on an old Benny Hill gag and features a certain ex-Uganda dictator called Idi Amin.

R wants to make a sign like this to hang up outside my office in Uganda. A sign to tell people whether I'm in or out. Or in this case, whether 'Amin' or 'Amout'....

And The Dreamer Dreams His Dream

I've had trouble sleeping over the last few nights. I've been blaming it on having just too much to think about. I lie there, wide awake, counting the chores I need to yet complete, the walls still un-painted, the boxes still un-packed, the flat still un-rented.

There seem to be a million and one things running through my head during the darker hours of the night.

And then there is always this nagging fear, in the back of my head, successfully subdued over recent weeks, of recurrence and what my scan results will bring. I'd sort of almost forgotten about it, given I had so much else to sort in the meantime, but it reared it's head again last night in the form of a bizarre dream.

I was making repeat visits to a building, in a town which was full of regency architecture and sloping hills, reminiscent of Bristol or parts of Brighton. The building played a weird schizo role of being something between a set of student halls where parties would be happening down occasional corridors, and a medical institute where I was going to meet my doctors for my scans and check ups.

I was with my friend S. She seems significant. I'm sure she would hate knowing this but for a subtle twist of fate she is intrinsically linked, in my head, to my diagnosis. We enjoyed dinner together the night before my diagnosis back in March last year. For a while it felt, looking back, like some last evening of pleasure and fun unmarred by the knowledge of cancer. I even had a massive juicy steak - something I have not touched since because of the link between red meat and breast cancer.

Poor S. Recently I even avoided scheduling lunch with her because I had a physical exam booked with the Professor for the day after. That's how superstitious I am about repeating the pattern of events (we had lunch in the end - just the week after).

Back in the dream, I seem to be making repeat visits to this strange building, to go and have my check ups. It feels like it might be several years down the line and this is a return trip from Africa to come and have the scans done. On this occasion, I get bundled from office to office in a process that feels too fast to be under my control. I see the Professor, the Breast Care Nurse, and my Oncologist. I am then told that things are 'clear' (the news ex cancer patients long to hear) and sent on my way again.

It is only when I am walking back up the long hill with S, the building some way behind us, that I realise that I never got scanned at all so I wonder whether or not their diagnosis of 'clear' was based on anything real at all.

So, there I was, feeling stressed about all sorts of flat renting / decorating / moving house things, when all along this sort of cheesy narrative forms the undercurrent of my subconscious.

I am a psychological cliche and it's getting tiresome. I can't wait for the next two weeks to pass. By then I should be out of the flat, it should have been rented, I shall be into the last two weeks of work, and I will hopefully have received the news I want to hear on my scans. And with all of that, my neuroses should hopefully take a back seat and I get busy with the prospect of moving to Africa.

And getting a proper night's sleep would be nice too.