Mary continues to work part time for the WEA, teaching English one morning a week, mainly to elderly women of Asian extraction. She has also joined the board of governors for the village primary school. Both occupations have required attendance at training courses and meetings at various times throughout the year.
Phil is still on the extended holiday he calls retirement. He spends his time writing his Crotchety Man music blog, hesitantly strumming his guitar, taking a few photos and generally slumming around. (Further details below.)
Our shared social life continues to revolve around the Trent 36 club (mostly meals and walks) and Charnwood U3A (philosophy, photography and making music groups). Diary clashes occur only occasionally but life remains hectic nevertheless.
Our older Ka was coming to the end of its life and the newer one was such a pain to drive that Mary refused to use it. So in the summer we traded in the younger Ka for a nearly new Fiesta and when the older Ka became due for an MOT we scrapped it. We still miss having a second car but we can’t honestly say we need it.
At the end of last year two lines of investigation were open on my fainting episode of the previous August. A cardiologist was arranging tests on my heart and I was waiting for an appointment for an MRI scan of my head. Accordingly, on 11th January I was wired to a heart monitor the size of a Sony Walkman for 24 hours and on 18th January my head was encased in a plastic cage, inserted into a tunnel full of electromagnets and bombarded with strong magnetic fields.
The MRI results came through first and showed no abnormalities. The heart monitor data showed “first degree heart block”, which means that a heart beat is delayed or missing occasionally; this in itself is benign and doesn’t account for the faint. So, in March, the cardiologist then arranged for an echocardiogram. This was performed in April and that, too, showed normal heart function. A follow-up appointment with the cardiologist was arranged but no further tests were scheduled at that stage.
On 13th September, over a year since my funny turn, I saw the cardiologist again. He recommended a “tilt test” and, if that failed to throw light on the problem, an implanted heart monitor.
In the tilt test you are attached to blood pressure monitors and lie strapped onto a tilting table. A doctor then massages the carotid arteries on each side of the neck for a few seconds, which lowers your blood pressure, and the table is tipped up so that the patient is standing almost upright. Sometime between 10 and 30 minutes later the patient may feel the symptoms of the condition under investigation. In my case I was a bit nervous but didn’t feel faint over the 30 minute period.
At this point, if the symptoms haven’t manifested, a drug called GTN is sprayed under the tongue. This is another way of lowering the blood pressure and after a few minutes it did cause me to feel quite faint. As soon as I reported feeling woozy the nurses tipped the table back to the horizontal position and I quickly recovered. This was exactly the response the test is intended to elicit.
The nurses were immediately able to provide reassurance and advice. The condition is not serious. The only action to be taken is to avoid the things that might trigger a faint: make sure you don’t get dehydrated, avoid hot and crowded environments, don’t get up too quickly and, interestingly, avoid large meals. The loss of consciousness is nothing to worry about; the biggest danger is in falling over.
In late November I received a copy of a letter from the consultant to my GP confirming that I am simply rather more susceptible to fainting than most (the technical term is vasodepressor syncope) and that no further tests or treatments are necessary. It took over a year to get there but I can now get on with life confident in the knowledge that there’s nothing much wrong with me.
Although it hardly seems worth mentioning after all that, Mary continues to ward off aches and pains with her regular sessions of pilates and chiropractics. And she has just signed on again at a gym as part of her campaign to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I applaud her efforts from the comfort of the sofa.
Of the 11 talks at the Charnwood U3A monthly meetings this year Mary and I attended eight. The highlight for me was the one titled The Funny Side of Funerals by Anne Halsey, an ex-funeral director, who managed to be both informative and entertaining. We were told about one woman who wanted a large heavy slab to be placed on her husband’s grave because, she said, when he was alive he kept changing his mind and she didn’t want that to happen again!
The Philosophy group that Mary goes to covered the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and discussed the ethical issues surrounding assisted dying, fertility, freedom of speech and Father Christmas. According to Mary the discussions were rambling and relatively superficial but the social side of things makes up for the lack of rigorous thinking.
The Photography group usually has one indoor and one outdoor meeting each month. This year the indoor meetings included a talk on aerial photography using drones (with demonstration flights in the meeting room) and a water drop photography workshop using home-made rigs.
Several of the outdoor meetings were notable for last minute changes of plan. The March and April trips were cancelled due to inclement weather. In June too many people were away to make the outing worthwhile but the cancellation email never reached me. A contingent went to Crich Tramway Museum in July but before we had finished our morning coffee in the café a member of staff informed us that the site was being closed for safety reasons. A runaway tram had careered down the track and crashed into an embankment. So we diverted to Hardwick Hall instead. Further details of outings that did take place are in the Short Breaks and Day Trips section below.
For various reasons the Making Music group, first proposed in October of last year, took a while to get started. Our first meeting was on 9th March, round at the organiser’s house for introductions and refreshments. Our leader, Maggie, had been a music teacher in schools and the leader of her own jazz band. She had to give up playing the piano because of arthritis but her unquenchable enthusiasm is an inspiration to us all.
Before we moved to Wymeswold I sold all my musical instruments except for an electric piano that I’ve never been able to play, so it wasn’t at all clear how I would be able to contribute to the group. At our first rehearsal we had one flautist, four recorder players, a clarinetist, a trombone player, a pianist, a guy with an African drum and myself. (I have probably forgotten one or two aspiring musicians.) Rummaging around in Maggie’s collection of odd instruments brought for us to try I settled on an old acoustic guitar and, delving deep into the memory banks for chord shapes, strummed along as best I could.
Almost all of us had learned an instrument in the past but not played for years. At that first rehearsal we stuttered and stumbled through a few simple tunes and the best you could say about the performance was that it was bound to improve. Maggie, however, was really pleased with how it went and we went away full of enthusiasm and determined to be better next time.
Over the next six months the group gradually built up a repertoire of a dozen or so tunes ranging from classical (Ode to Joy, St. Anthony Chorale) through to songs from musicals (Summertime, Somewhere Over the Rainbow) and more recently a few Christmas carols. I bought an electro-acoustic guitar in the Spring and started to practice it. Every now and then my efforts even sound moderately competent. But we’re not taking concert bookings yet.
Apart from the usual walks and coffee evenings the Trent 36 programme this year included: one of Michael’s famous slide shows (Looks Like Japan), a music quiz, a Hallowe’en Ghost quiz, a Christmas meal (at Ashmore’s Restaurant for the third year running) and the traditional mince pies & mulled wine evening hosted once again by Richard and Sarah.
For the music quiz your correspondent demonstrated his mastery of modern technology and curious taste by streaming snippets of songs to our home cinema system (see last year’s Retrospective) and asking obscure (i.e. impossible) questions about them. Sample question: [after playing some eery organ and theremin music] This is called “Kucelli woke up in the _____”. Fill in the blank. I gave half a point for ‘cathedral’. The correct answer is ‘graveyard’.
Mary put together the Hallowe’en Ghost quiz. A large proportion of the questions were about ghosts in well-known films. The question master was surprised how difficult this turned out to be for the participants. Her comment was “They obviously don’t watch the same films as me.”
Mary and I also organised a heritage walk around the Nottinghamshire town of Southwell taking in the Minster, the original Bramley Apple tree, the Workhouse and some leafy paths.
13 Apr, Tony’s Funeral
After a protracted illness Mary’s ex-husband, Tony, died in March and his funeral was held on 13th April. Tony had a career in the computer industry, writing software for various clients. His hobby was building and flying model aircraft. The funeral was organised by his daughter, Rachel, who wanted something a little out of the ordinary as a tribute to her dad and an occasion to remember. As you can see from the photos, the coffin was carried on a motorcycle sidecar, the mourners were transported in a red double decker bus and one of Tony’s beloved aircraft accompanied the coffin. It was, indeed, a memorable day.
18 Oct, Trevor’s Funeral
When we lived in York Mary had made friends with Jane, one of her work colleagues. Jane’s husband, Trevor, died in late September and his funeral was scheduled for Wednesday, 18th October, when Mary, her sister and two friends would be in Devon on their annual health spa trip. As Mary was the driver for the Devon trip she reluctantly told Jane that she would not be able to come to Trevor’s funeral.
A couple of days before leaving for the spa Mary decided she could go to Devon and still be at the funeral to pay her respects. On the Tuesday night Mary drove back to Wymeswold and Wednesday morning I drove her up to York. To Jane’s great surprise we turned up at the funeral and stayed a little while afterwards for afternoon tea at Middlethorpe Hall. Then I drove us back to Wymeswold and Mary continued on to Devon. It was a long and tiring day but Mary was able to enjoy her week away without feeling she had let down a good friend when she most needed sympathy and support.
Sometimes, it seems, you can be in two places at once.
Short Breaks & Day Trips
In the following sub-sections the link in the title is to the corresponding photo album on my flickr site. In most cases the photos say more about the occasion than I have put into words here.
30 Jan – 1 Feb, Liverpool
For my birthday Mary had booked us on a Magical Mystery Tour in Liverpool, taking in the places where the Beatles grew up and started to play. I had never been to Liverpool before so we visited a few of the usual tourist places: the modern R.C. cathedral, the Liver Building, the docks and the art museum.
The highlight of the trip, though, was (of course) the Magical Mystery Tour itself. As the minibus travelled through the streets we were shown the houses where John, Paul and Ringo lived as children, the hall where the Beatles first played together, Penny Lane (where a pretty nurse was selling poppies from a tray) and Strawberry Field (nothing to get hung about). The tour ended at the Cavern Club where we had a drink, bought a Cavern Club harmonica and soaked up the atmosphere.
17 Feb, Bradgate Park Reconstructed
The first photography group outing this year was to Bradgate Park where the brief was to take a number of individual pictures of the park and combine them into a collage that shows the many different aspects of the rugged scenery. As I had taken the tripod and a telephoto lens I was determined to get a good shot of the deer. As you can see, that objective was realised rather well. Follow the link above to see my other photos and the final composite picture of the park in all its glory.
16 May, Big Cats at Woburn Safari Park
Continuing with the theme of photography, Mary booked my Dad and I on a photography session at Woburn Safari Park. Unfortunately, Dad had damaged his back a few weeks before and wasn’t mobile enough to make the journey so Mary took his place instead. The booking included Land Rover rides into parts of the park not normally open to the public enabling us to get up close to some of the animals. We saw rhinos, deer, bears, wolves, lions, tigers and giraffes. Once again, the pictures tell the story.
21 & 22 May, Cheddar Gorge
For Mary’s birthday we spent a weekend in and around Cheddar Gorge. We stayed at a pub/restaurant/B&B that was already known for its good food but had only recently been opened for overnight stays. The rooms were very comfortable and the food was excellent. The only drawback was that you had to go out into the car park to get any phone reception. Although, on second thoughts, that might be considered an advantage!
From our base in that out of the way hamlet we explored Cheddar village, the gorge and the hills around it, Wells cathedral, Burnham on Sea and Tyntesfield House.
4 – 7 Jun, Cardiff
In the summer seven Trent 36 members ventured across the Welsh border to Cardiff. It was supposed to have been a long weekend but we made the mistake of choosing the Saturday of the UEFA cup final when every hotel within miles of the city was fully booked. Some slight rescheduling meant that we could go on the Sunday and return on the Wednesday although we had to settle for one of the less attractive hotels.
Our first visit was to the castle. The walls and the keep are well preserved and the living quarters are extensive and ornate. It provided some splendid photo opportunities although the cordoned off marquee and entertainment area set aside for the previous week’s football fans detracted somewhat from the views.
On the Tuesday some of us slipped through a time vortex at the Doctor Who exhibition a few months before it closed. Mary and I would not have missed that for the world – not for Gallifrey, not for Earth, nor any other world. Strangely we only seem to have acquired a Doctor Who coaster by way of souvenirs – and some photos, of course.
24 & 25 Jun, Wymeswold Open Gardens
Mary and I sold programmes and directed traffic arriving at the Hall Field car park once again for this year’s Wymeswold Open Gardens event. There seemed to be fewer gardens open this year but I believe the takings were slightly up on last year. Needless to say the photos describe the occasion much better than my words.
18 Aug, Higger Tor
The August outing of the photography group took us to Higger Tor in Derbyshire. For some reason I needed to take rather more bits and pieces than usual and that morning I hastily threw them all into the car. Well, as it turned out, not quite all. The item I left behind was the camera! Still, all was not lost as I had my mobile phone with me.
It was quite blustery up on that rocky bluff and it was hard to hold the phone still while taking photos. The results, though, were surprisingly good. In fact, when we came to review our shots at the next indoor meeting, the photography group leader said he couldn’t tell that they were taken with a phone.
20 Aug, Bradgate Folk
A couple of days after the Higger Tor trip a small folk festival was held in Bradgate Park featuring local acts. The park, with its rugged natural beauty and the atmospheric ruins of the house where Lady Jane Grey grew up, provides an ideal setting for an event like this. It was billed as a picnic in the park: bring your camping chairs, some food and drink, and be entertained by bands and solo artists playing folk, country and Americana.
There were a few stalls selling arts & crafts items, a tent full of broken musical instruments for the kids to play with, a wood-fired pizza van and plenty of clean portaloos. The only thing missing was somewhere to buy a hot drink when the sun was setting and a chilly breeze began to blow in the early evening.
Mary and I borrowed a couple of chairs, placed them in a space between the deer droppings and lazed around all that summer afternoon accompanied by some surprisingly good performances. We were drawn by the headline acts of Sally Barker (finalist on The Voice a few years ago) and Govannen (an excellent local folk band) but a duo known as The Way Out particularly impressed me with their progressive folk(ish) material.
1 – 8 Sep, Devon Cottage
We took my 87 year old dad to Devon for a week at the beginning of September. The three of us stayed in a luxurious holiday cottage just outside Tiverton and toured around Devon visiting Dunster, the picturesque village of Selworthy, Lynton and Lynmouth with their funicular railway, Knightshayes House and gardens, Killerton House and Buckfast Abbey. We also took a boat ride down the Dart from Totnes to Dartmouth, returning via the Dartmouth Steam Railway and a local bus.
To finish this Short Breaks and Day Trips section here is a list of the rest of my photo albums on flickr for this year.
- Coventry, Cathedral & Transport Museum
- Great Central Railway, Quorn & Woodhouse Station
- Lyveden New Bield
- Paul’s Surprise 60th Birthday Party
- Hardwick Hall (in lieu of Crich Tramway Museum)
- Baddesley Clinton
The Coventry, Hardwick and Baddesley Clinton albums chronicle photography group outings. The Lyveden album is the photography group trip that was cancelled but I went anyway. The birthday party was for one of Mary’s in-laws who is a Humber estuary pilot. The Great Central Railway and Patchings albums were from spur-of-the-moment visits.
Theatre and Concerts
Our theatre season started in February with the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged). In this astounding script we could see the seeds of many, perhaps most, of Shakespeare’s later and better known plays. For the audience it was a game of spotting as many quotes as possible between the theatrical jokes that bounced between the three players. And great fun it was, too.
In the summer Nottingham Playhouse put on their season of murder/mystery plays: Dial M for Murder, Dangerous Corner and Marie Lloyd and the Musical Hall Murder. There are usually four plays in the series but for part of this year the theatre was going to be closed for refurbishments. The workaround was to drop one production and move the last play to the Museum of Justice. The first play was a conventional whodunnit, the second was as much an exploration of human society as a crime story and the last was a slapstick judge and jury drama, perfectly suited to the courtroom at the Museum of Justice. All three were thoroughly enjoyable.
Mary and I went to see Rick Wakeman on his Piano Portraits promotional tour in June. It was a one man show but the ex-Yes keyboardist had no trouble keeping the De Montfort Hall audience entertained with his piano playing and some very amusing anecdotes.
In November Phil and Steve (from Trent 36) spent an evening at The FlowerPot, a pub and music venue in the centre of Derby. This time last year Soft Machine played at The FlowerPot (and they were there again one year on) but this time the vote went to another band with a more than 40 year history, Wishbone Ash. I wouldn’t say the Ash were quite as exciting as they were in 1972 when their most popular album, Argus, was released but they were a tight, professional band and Andy Powell’s guitar playing is still outstanding.
A Cold Winter’s Tale
On the Monday two weeks before Christmas I went shopping. Returning home uninspired and largely empty-handed I developed an annoying tickling cough. By Thursday I was feeling very poorly and had to cancel the last three social events in the calendar: a music group rehearsal, a photography trip and the Trent 36 mince pies and mulled wine evening.
That Thursday morning was also the time when the central heating boiler died. While Mary took Persephone for her check-up at the vet’s I called the gas company. We have a maintenance agreement with British Gas that covers the whole of the heating system and promises to send an engineer within a “reasonable” time, which we interpreted as either the same day or the next. I got through fairly quickly and the customer service agent offered me the next available slot in their schedule: Wednesday, 20th December, six days ahead.
My seasonal bug was getting me down, the boiler failure had been even more depressing and at that moment I was in no mood to argue with anyone so I meekly accepted the date they offered. When Mary brought Persephone back from the vet’s she did the complaining and managed to bring the appointment forward by one day. We still did not regard that as ‘reasonable’.
It was cold that week and the temperature in the house soon dropped to that of a fridge. Fortunately, we have an electric fire in the living room and an electric immersion heater for hot water so we didn’t freeze. Ironically, if we had no heating or hot water at all an engineer would probably have been here within 24 hours and the chill would have been over much more quickly.
Our repair was scheduled for between 8 am and 1 pm on Tuesday, 19th December. At about 11:30 that morning British Gas phoned to say they had had a large number of emergency calls and the engineer wasn’t coming, after all. They re-booked for two days later. Mary had started to cough and my cold/flu raged on unabated.
On the morning of Thursday, 21st December I was beginning to feel a bit better and the gas engineer came, as arranged, at about 9 am. After the usual checks he replaced the boiler’s main circuit board and declared the system to be working again. We thanked him profusely and started to pick up the threads of our disrupted lives.
By this time, of course, we were way behind on our preparations for Christmas. There were still presents to buy, cards to write and decorations to put up. But, at least, the house would be cosy over the holiday period. The following day we joined the crowds in Nottingham for some last minute Christmas shopping and on Saturday we popped into Loughborough to stock up on food.
Returning at lunchtime we were puzzled to see some milky fluid on the worktop under the boiler. At first we couldn’t work out what it was or where it was coming from. Nothing seemed to be dripping from the boiler but, on closer inspection, the underside of the boiler casing was wet. Worse, some of the fluid had run down the wall where the central heating programmer was and the display was flashing crazily.
Turning off the boiler and its programmer we, once again, called British Gas, this time declaring it an emergency. To our surprise they called out an engineer for a visit the same day, sometime before 6 pm. It was rather less of a surprise when the man with the spanner failed to turn up. Another call to the company was made and they informed us that the booking was for between 6 and 10 pm and the engineer was still scheduled to come. So, again, we waited.
At 10:30 pm I called the breakdown line again. I was still hanging on some 34 minutes later when Mary took over the handset. Eventually the recorded messages and music stopped and a customer service representative came on the line. It soon transpired that this emergency visit was only to make the equipment safe, not to fix the fault. The engineer was still coming but, as there was no safety issue, he wouldn’t actually do anything. So the call was cancelled and we booked a repair visit for 8 am to 6 pm the following day, Christmas Eve (a Sunday).
The pantomime continued when this morning (Christmas Eve) British Gas called to say they have had a large number of emergency calls, they have to prioritise the elderly and the vulnerable, and they would not be coming to repair our boiler today. I told them in no uncertain terms that they are not providing the service we thought we were paying for. “Oh, yes we are”, said British Gas. “Oh, no, you’re not”, I shouted back.
The gas man cometh now on Boxing Day between 12 noon and 2 pm.
And Warm Winter Wishes
I apologise for the lateness of this year’s Retrospective. My excuses are set forth in the previous section. But I will not let my little adversities get in the way of wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Update, 26th December
Our boiler, it seems, was suffering from a severe blockage in the condensate outlet pipe (and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone). The engineer came at the appointed time, partially disassembled the boiler, cleared the sludge from the condensate trap and sump, re-assembled the thing and checked that it was all in working order. He was courteous and as cheerful as you could expect from a tradesman working on Boxing Day. Our warm (again) thanks go to him and the family he will be returning to when he finishes his shift in a few hours time.