And so it carries on…

Well, the Men’s Shed project is doing well and is now finished.

At last we can get going on building our own projects and not building the workshops. The extraction system has been installed and is working well, and the tea bar is fully functional. We have been making Christmas trees out of wooden pallets for the last few weeks for the local community people to sell at their cafe. So far about a dozen have been produced, and we can start the new year on other projects.

The finished ‘clean’ room

The ‘dirty’ room

A typical ‘Christmas Tree’

It’s great that we’ve been able to do this because we have spent a year building our workshops inside a huge old warehouse from scratch. Seeing as we’re all over 70 it’s not been a bad effort. Of course there are ‘comfort’ times as well so we have built a tea bar:

The Tea Bar

So we are now fully functional and able to take on our own projects and community projects as well. I’ve been sort of thrust into the position of ‘leader’, don’t know how that happened, but in any case, I am the spokesman and abitrator of the whole Shed. We are having a Christmas lunch soon with wives and that should wind up the year, ample reward for what we have achieved in 2021. Watch this space for further developments in the Bordon Men’s Shed saga.

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The saga continues

Following on from my last brush with the medical services, it’s now gone one stage further.

Having been here for a day they decided that I needed an angiogram to see what is happening around the ticker. After a false start (someone else had higher priority) I was bumped out until today, when I had the procedure and after about half an hour they finished and the doctor told me I needed triple or even quad bypass surgery. Pretty scary, but it can’t be done in my current hospital; I’ve got to be transferred to a specialist heart hospital in London. My case will be discussed but I’m here for the duration until I can get a slot with the surgeons probably in a day or so.

To say it come as a shock would be an understatement, I was expecting a couple of stents to be put in and Robert’s your mother’s brother. Still, looking on the bright side the episode I had on Monday was definitely a warning shot across the bows, and I’m lucky: 2 out of 3 don’t walk out their front door like I did – ever again. The cause? Age, smoking even though I gave up 40 years ago, drink, diet and weight. All factors except age can be avoided. I’m getting the best care in this hospital, Covid doesn’t seem to affect it now, don’t know what it was like at the height of it. Anyway I’ll be out of action for quite a while and there ain’t nothing I can do about it. Further reports to follow.

So, further tests to be done: chest x-ray: all clear, echo cardiogram, a sort of posh ultrasound, like they use on expectant mothers! This, as explained by my radiographer, is the plumbing in the heart and the ECG looks at the electrics. Quite fascinating seeing the heart valves actually working; opening and closing. I have, and have had for a long time an enlarged atrium, on the right side and that showed up to good effect on the screen. Just think at 70 those valves have opened and closed 2,275,440,000 times! No wonder they can go wrong. Luckily mine aren’t causing a problem, but the enlarged atrium causes the heart to beat more because its got to push a larger volume of blood around the body. Now I saw the blocked arteries I’ve got and they were explained thus: ‘This is your M1, that’s nice and fat and allows the blood to flow easily. The one across the top is your M6 and it looks pinched in places. That’s one of the worse offenders. There are also others smaller roads, the A606 or whatever that are blocked at one end and the is another problem. There’s a conference tomorrow 1st July when they will discuss my case and see the best place to send me.’

I spoke to Noel, 86, this afternoon who had a triple bypass and is being discharged today, but he picked up a UTI infection of the urinary tract so is being treated for that. The regime in the ward is quite rigid as it has to be, except for mask wearing; Covid doesn’t seem to have affected life here. I’ve no idea what it was like at the height of the pandemic but it must have been chaotic. Meal times are strictly at 8.00am, 1.00pm and 6.00pm, luckily you get choice sheets for the next two days and the food is very good. It’s easy to pick healthy options so I go for that generally although it’s far too late to reverse the damage to the old ticker now. Not that I was a massive bad food eater, I know I’ve got to cut down on certain things and it’s something like this that brings your choice of diet into sharp focus. Jim my friend from the men’s shed visited on Wednesday evening and left a box of shortbread, yum. Earlier my wife and daughter visited in shifts because you’re only allowed one visitor at a time. Lovely to see them, cheered me up no end. Technology makes it much easier to talk or message them these day: don’t know how we managed before. Got chatting to a hospital volunteer called Clive! Ex Artillery man. Waited for my sword of Damacles decision on where my op is taking place: St Georges Tooting or Southampton.

So, Thursday came and the consultant Dr Aachan came to see me individually and gave me the news: No bypass you’re having stents instead! Quite a turnaround. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to having my chest cracked open and my innards being mucked about with, so the stent alternative was excellent news. Soon after I was rushed down to the ‘Cath Lab’, as they call the operating theatre where at 12.00 and waited, and waited, and waited… well you get the picture. Then they told me an emergency was coming in from Royal Surry and I was being bumped. They offered me a sandwich which I gratefully accepted and then waited some more. 3 1/2 hours later the consultant came in and told me I was going in. I had a pee before I went in, but I was going to have a problem with that later. The Cath Lab is quite a place, sort of cross between and operating theatre and an x-ray suite with the largest TV screen I’ve ever seen. The lady doctor gave me an anaesthetic in the wrist and proceeded to try to get the ‘sheath’ into the which all the catheters go through. Because it was nearly the same place as the cardiogram the previous day she had a lot of trouble. So they made another hole and tried again, still no success. They decided to switch to the left wrist on which the huge screen was on the same side and after an injection had success. The sheath was inserted and the consultant started. He calls out pressures and the other doctor responds with the same which blows the balloon up at the end of the catheter and the stent at the same place expands (it’s a wire mesh tube) and pushes on the inside of the vein as a sort of scaffold for the vein to keep it open. He did two or three times successfully but had trouble with the fourth one, and worried that I may have to come back for that one. But he got it in eventually, so I’m now the proud owner of four stents! During the process however, the doctor doing the stents now had to lean across my body to get at the left wrist, and I had been dying for a pee for half an hour. I was so glad when he had finished and had to use a cardboard container right there in the Cath Lab. I was taken back to the ward to recover and I was done.

The next day on doctors rounds, the consultant cardiologist said I could leave hospital that afternoon. I had all the meds to get and be discharged with all the paperwork all of which took an age, but eventually having been picked up by my wife I arrived home in the early evening. It had been quite an experience and had lasted 5 days, but I was more or less fixed expect a return visit to see the specialist in 6-8 weeks and a whole chemist worth of meds to take. These included: anti coagulants, heart rate reducer, beta blockers x 2, blood thinner (aspirin), platelet reducer, statins, and stomach acid reducer. Quite a list but luckily they are all one a day expect one which is twice a day, and some have to be taken with food. Told I couldn’t drive or lift weights for 7 days (enforced by my wife!) and to take it easy, a difficult thing for me to do (see my other blog about the Men’s Shed). I have felt a bit tired for the first three days but get stronger all the time. The only after effects beside tiredness is bruises on the wrists. I’m so glad I was ably to get away with stents rather than bypass, because that would have taken me out for three months. I’m already feeling the benefits of enlarged heart veins, less breathlessness and more energy, which had got to be used sparingly for a while.

A big thanks to all the staff at Frimley Park Hospital and a special thanks and love to all my family especially Fran, my wife, and my daughters Charlotte and Teresa. I hope this blog can be picked up and read by many people to give assurance that all is well with the NHS, they might be vilified by certain sections of the media but ultimately when it counts they are there for you and cannot be faulted

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So it happens to me…

A normal morning, not hurrying, leisurely breakfast (I am retired!) and started pottering in the garage and around the house, when a slight, and I mean slight pain started in the solar plexis area of my chest, accompanied shortly afterwards by profuse sweating all over and my wife saying ‘you look pale’.

Now that’s quite a thing to say of me because ordinarily I’m quite, how shall I put this; swarthy. My dad was as well, I pick up the sun very easily and tan quickly using factor 20 of course. So for me to be pale was unusual to say the least. I sat down for a minute or two then suddenly I was feeling very poorly and rushed to the loo, where I vomitted profusely. Another first, I haven’t done that since my early twenties when I drank too much whisky. I felt absolutely awful, and the pain was still there. My wife suggested that I lay down, so I went upstairs and immediately started feeling sick again, which I duely did. My wife dialled 999 and an ambulance was there within 10 minutes. They did cardio tests on me in the house then invited me to the ambulance where they connected me to heart monitor and I started trying to vomit again but only spit came up. They took me to the hospital of my choice and I was taken into the ED. More tests, blood and cardio, moved to another room where I spent the next 3 hours.

They then moved me to ward G9 where my dinner order turned up. Various doctors spoke to me and indicated I might have had a mild heart attack because a blood component showed slight damage to the heart. The cardiologist will be seeing me and I may be given an angiogram/heart monitor or possibly a stent. But the upshot is I’m in overnight at the very least. I haven’t been in hospital since 2004 and that was for a parathyroidarectomy, removal of two enlarged parathyroids which control calcium levels. Then, I was in for 10 days, it was awful. Hopefully I won’t be in that long this time. More updates later.

Anyway several things happened today. I had another ‘turn’ but nowhere near as bad as the first one. I had 5 doctors and nurses around me sorting me out with IV drips and injections and tablets… Recovered from that and booked my wife and daughter in for a visit at 2.00pm. They had only been here 15 minutes, and the staff rushed in and said they were taking me down for an angiogram NOW! So I was rushed down to the cardiac lab area on my bed, and lay for an hour and a half, looking at the wall and eventually the nurse came and said sorry an A&E patient has taken priority so I was bumped out. Oh well there’s always tomorrow. Hospital isn’t bad it’s the staff that make it and some of the less noisy patients. There’s a bloke 4 beds down who hasn’t stopped talking since I got on the ward 36 hours ago. The trouble is the old boy in the next bed is answering him occasionally but mostly it’s this bloke beating his gums about not much really.

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The Bordon Men’s Shed

About 4 years ago I saw a flyer advertising the local Men’s Shed, which to those who have never heard of them are places where men (and women) can meet for comradeship and friendship under the guise of working on wooden projects, either your own or for the community. As I was retired and new to the area I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to meet new people and get involved with community projects. As the National Association of Men’s Sheds says:

Why are they needed?

For a long time research has shown the negative impact of loneliness and isolation on a person’s health and wellbeing, especially during the current pandemic. Recently we have seen more evidence come to light that shows loneliness and isolation can be as hazardous to our health as obesity and excessive smoking. Surveys from mental health charities are finding that millions of people report feeling lonely on a daily basis.

Men typically find it more difficult to build social connections than women, and unlike women of a similar age, less older men have networks of friends and rarely share personal concerns about health and personal worries. It is not the case for all men, but for some, when retirement comes, it can feel like personal identity and purpose is lost. Men’s Sheds can change all of that. As a by-product of all of that they reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness, they allow men to deal with mental health challenges more easily and remain independent, they rebuild communities and in many cases, they save men’s lives. The Men’s Shed is part of a Nationwide, indeed worldwide movement whose main aim: Men’s Sheds (or Sheds) are similar to garden sheds – a place to pursue practical interests at leisure, to practice skills and enjoy making and mending. The difference is that garden sheds and their activities are often solitary in nature while Men’s Sheds are the opposite. They’re about social connections and friendship building, sharing skills and knowledge, and of course a lot of laughter.

The Bordon Men’s Shed was located in the old Military Police HQ in the military town, since vacated by the army a couple of years before.

It was a useable building of which we only occupied a small part. It was successful in refurbishing furniture and creating the members own projects. We exhibited at the Men’s Shed stall at a craft fair at the Wield and Downland Museum (where the Repair Shop is filmed) and were able to see some of our creations and show them off.

Wield and Downland Men’s Shed Craft Fair 2018

All was going well, until last year when the building we were in (Hampshire House) was to be torn down to build houses on the site. We are co-located with the Furniture Helpline (FHL) who are our governing body and bank. They collect and distribute furniture and white goods to needy families and is very successful. The managed to secure a building on what was Prince Philip Park in the town, now to be called Bordon Enterprise Park. They were allocated a large hangar type building (64) which we were given a small part of:

As a blank canvas was presented and we wanted the Mens Shed to carry on, we needed to build our own workshops internally. These were to be of wooden construction. I requested the opportunity to apply for a grant from Whitehill and Bordon Town town council and went on a Zoom call to put forward my pitch for a grant of £3000, the maximum I could apply for. The committee were unanimous and we were granted the money. We started spending it straight away on materials for the build. About the same time we were given the opportunity for a huge amount of hoarding put up by a building company around a new estate in the town who were getting rid of it. It included long lengths of 6×2 and 4×4 posts which would come in very useful:

Some of the posts we rescued

Also included was many 8×4 sheets of OSB (oriented strand board), which we were going to use as walls on the new structure but instead decided with the grant to buy new sheets of 8×4 ply for that purpose and use the OSB as flooring over the existing concrete floor. We have got on fairly well with building partitions and walls of our new workshops, considering all the build party are over 70 (one of us is over 80) and not being in the first flush of youth makes everything take much longer. Luckily the hangar had metal stanchions which form part of the structure and which we were able to fix our walls to. So we started the build in January, all of our equipment and tools were moved from Hampshire House first by us and with some help from the FHL staff. The whole place looks a bit of a mess at the moment, but a lot of the stuff that FHL have bought in is to be moved to the dump. This is the area we are working in before the partitions were erected with a lot of our stuff.

We started by building an end wall out of 6×2 posts which were 20 feet long and we loads of them so cut them down to make frameworks. Then we attached ply sheets to create walls:

Finally the walls were erected and secured to the hangar walls with rawl plugs and battens and in some cases metal plates and nuts and bolts.

and so on until we have created two workshops, a ‘clean’ one and a ‘dirty’ one. The clean one will be for quiet assembly and non machinery work and the dirty will be for lathes, sliding saw, drilling and the like. When we get some more materials the ceiling will be compressed hardboard called Tentest and this provides insulation and keeps the dust in. We will have to put in multiple sockets on trailing leads as the landlords won’t let us put in anything permanent. There is a plan to completely revamp the whole of the Bordon Enterprise Park which has many other businesses on it, in about 4 years time and our building will be one of the ones got rid of, so we may have to find another home again.

Of course while all this rebuild has been going on, the Men’s shed as was has been unable to meet, which we used to do on Tuesday and Fridays because we haven’t got a workshop. When it’s all finished and we can meet again, we hope to recruit more (younger) members to be able to enjoy the marvellous facilities we will have. There is also a plan to involve improvers who have finished their apprenticeship but haven’t got anywhere to practice their skills, and our workshops might be the ideal place. Watch this space though and we hope to have all singing all dancing wood workshop open sometime this year.

Huge thanks to all who have been involved so far, including David G, Peter, John, Jim, Ted, Miles and Fran. Onwards and upwards!

April 2021

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April, come she will…

It has come to my attention that spring was supposed to have arrived by now, what’s all this cold stuff falling out of the sky? On March 16th we had temperatures of 23°, yesterday we had -2! Just shows the fickle nature of British weather.

So, the lunatics have been let out of the asylum? Yesterday restrictions were lifted in England for visiting the pub and going to the fitness centre, and non-essential shops. Were people so desperate to have a drink that they wanted to potentially spread Covid around even more by hooting and roaring and getting drunk in freezing temperatures? Have they never heard of buying cans and bottles and staying home to stop the spread? Or did they think it’s all over now and no restrictions were required any more? I despair. There will be another wave sooner or later and I for one won’t be one of those infected, and that’s not because I’ve had the jab and due the other one soon, it’s because I’m not going out and drinking outside a pub with loads of people I don’t know and don’t want to be near.

It’s all looking good thought with 2nd jabs being given and the age range coming down. I’m no scientist but I believe they know what they’re talking about when they say that vaccinations are the key to reducing the incidence of Covid-19. I’m not in a hurry to go on holiday either, although we have one booked for later in the year, in the UK of course. Anyway it’s getting boring now, the restrictions, the lockdowns and the tiers, so can’t wait for the all clear to be given.

Work is gathering pace on the workshops myself and my friends are building inside a hangar in the middle of Bordon for the Men’s Shed of Bordon. We were evicted from our old premises because they want to build houses on the site. We are now in an enterprise park and occupy a third of building. These are some of the progress pictures:

Why are they needed?

For a long time research has shown the negative impact of loneliness and isolation on a person’s health and wellbeing, especially during the current pandemic. Recently we have seen more evidence come to light that shows loneliness and isolation can be as hazardous to our health as obesity and excessive smoking. Surveys from mental health charities are finding that millions of people report feeling lonely on a daily basis.

Men typically find it more difficult to build social connections than women, and unlike women of a similar age, less older men have networks of friends and rarely share personal concerns about health and personal worries. It is not the case for all men, but for some, when retirement comes, it can feel like personal identity and purpose is lost. Men’s Sheds can change all of that. As a by-product of all of that they reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness, they allow men to deal with mental health challenges more easily and remain independent, they rebuild communities and in many cases, they save men’s lives. We are hoping to recruit more members later when we’ve finished building the workshops. We’re all over 70 so it takes a bit of effort! This is keeping us going; we’re all in a bubble and had our jabs so we’re safe: we’ve been working together all this year.

A year ago I signed for a cricket umpires course of which I did the basic Part 1. The lockdown kicked in and the rest of the course was cancelled. I’m going to do my first match on the 24th under the supervision of an experienced umpire. I’m looking forward to it, it’s not something I’ve done before, so it’ll be quite exciting. I’ll report on it later.

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My Birthday

Yes, it’s today. I’m 70 (my birthday was in March but hey)! I’ll get rid of all the old clichés right now, didn’t expect that; wow 70 already; where does the time go, etc etc.

It’s all the more surprising to me because I didn’t think I’d get to this age, but I’m still quite fit and although I have a few issues with health, they’re not life-threatening and I’m in pretty good shape for a big lump like me. But enough of that, what is happening in the world today? Well, besides Harry and Meghan, Covid, Brexit, Europe and China, not a lot or so the MSM (main stream media) would have you believe. These main topics seem to occupy the whole of their time and effort. All very worthy of course and they are dominant in that one way or another they affect all our lives, but is that all there there is, really? Personally I can’t wait for the restrictions to lift so I can do normal things every day without having to think about them, lockdown has interrupted everyone’s lives I know.

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Happy New (hopefully) Year?

Here we are on the cusp of ‘getting rid’ of 2020, as if there is something about the old year that can be banished by the introduction of a new one. The date is arbitrary anyway decided long ago by past civilisations who wanted to split the passing of time into years, based on various calendars created by Caesar and the Romans who found that it had drifted by 10 days at one stage. Anyway if you want to look it up, search Wikipedia. The point is the term New Year is a movable feast around the world because of the time zones and the way peoples of the world perceive it. It’s as good a celebration as any I suppose to mark the end of one era and the start of another.

Having said all that, 2021 will probably be just as disruptive and contagious as 2020, but at least we’ve got (now) two vaccines to administer, one that has to be kept at -70°C until the point of use and the other is kept at a more useful temperature. Both are purported to be up to 90% effective given two doses which is better than the flu jab which is only about 55% effective. It remains to be seen whether we will all need a booster inoculation every year like the flu jab. Hopefully I’ll get mine sometime this year, but it’s not going to make me footloose and fancy free until the whole country is done. Not much chance that we will all be back to normal any time soon though, because of the covidiots who say there is no virus and don’t believe in all the precautions, are the ones that have spreading it most, while the rest of us good citizens have stayed in and done as we are told. Basically 90% of the population have been doing that, and the others are doing what the hell they like and spreading it around.

So, I’ve done my 2020 year and what happened, how about predictions for the coming year and what the effect will be? I think there will be a mass inoculation programme which will get everyone vaccinated (or at least those who want it) by the end of the year, but there will probably be more strains of the Coronavirus that will manifest themselves over the year. We are assured that science is on this and with minor tweaking, any inoculation will cover the different strains. We’ll see, in the meantime the economy will recover, despite the best efforts of the EU to drag us down to their level and bleed us dry. I reckon that other countries in the EU will start to consider their position. Angela Merkel has entered her last year in office and it depends on September 2021s election whether she stays in power, I think she will hold on, but there will be factions within the Bundestag who will want to see her gone, despite her increase in popularity during the pandemic. If she falls, some of the EU will also fall, although the two strongest countries in it, France and Germany don’t seem to be in any hurry that they should leave as well. Belgium is the country to watch, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers is in Brussels and Strasbourg so the country has a big sway in the way the EU is run, and of course they were one of the first countries to start the EU after the war, so they are obviously keen to keep it going. Belgium exports 300 billion Euros fo products, mainly to Germany and France so they have a vested interest in securing the EU’s economy. With the UK leaving the EU in a few days time, it’s too early to see what impact it will have on the UK, I don’t take any notice of the scare tactics used by the red tops and even the ‘broadsheets’ (yes I know they’re not ‘broad’ any more, but their views remain), any more, I’m sure they would like to run the country and if course they could do it better, not.

Hopefully sport will come back into the picture. I miss being able to go and see my local rugby club Farnham play in the London SW Div 2. They won the tier 5 Challenge cup at Twickenham 4 years ago. It was where Jonny Wilkinson started his career and it is a fantastic club. Watching the premier clubs on Channel 5 doesn’t quite cut it for me, although watching the Autumn Nations Cup was great. Cricket will also hopefully be back at the Ageas Rose Bowl in Southampton in the summer, I was there in 2019 for the Cricket World Cup and had a great time. I’ve been very lucky, I did the 2012 Olympics as a volunteer, the Rugby World Cup in 2015 as a volunteer as well as the cricket. I’ll be looking for the next world event to take place in the UK and hopefully get a place in that as well. I was once an active participant in sport but now due to increasing age and aches I find that it’s not so easy. Still, I’ll have a go at O2 Touch Rugby again when we’re able. I’m not (as my reader will know) a fan of football although I was in my youth, when players wore proper leather boots and had centre partings and were paid 3/6d a week. Football nowadays is all about the money and wasn’t the game found wanting when the chips were down this year? You notice not many players offered to drop their salaries even though the clubs weren’t getting any gate receipts and were playing in empty stadia? Yes I know the rugby professionals were playing in front of empty crowds as well, but they are paid a fraction of what your average pro football gets. Golf was back and will continue, the Australian Tennis Grand Slam has been pushed back and I suspect that a lot of other sports will delay their starting dates as well.

One of the things I miss is going to the cinema. We has a lovely little ‘flea pit’ cinema near us which was a) reasonably cheap) and b) comfortable. I’m hoping that will open soon and I can go and see the latest Bond movie which I always do at the cinema first. Pubs!! I have only been in a pub once this year during the period between lockdowns in our local and had a meal there. Haven’t got round to again since but we will. Our local town Bordon was an army garrison and they have now gone elsewhere so there is major redevelopment going on, with 3300 houses being built, along with a new town centre and new sports facilities and eventually a new hospital. It will take time but in a few years I reckon it will be a great little town, and all the naysayers and critics will have to eat their words. The authorities in charge of the new build have done a good job this year considering the pandemic and a lot of the project were finished in this year including a secondary school, a leisure centre, and future skills centre, an ‘inclosure’ which is a wooded area close to the town with an education centre and a cafe. A bypass was finished in 2019 so altogether the town is getting its act together and will thrive this year.

On a personal level, as I mentioned before, I pass a milestone age in March, and as the old saying goes you’re as young as you feel. Some days I feel like I’m 35 again and others like I’m 105, so it all depends on outlook. I don’t tend to think of death these days, my parents both died in their mid 60s, my brother before he was 60 so I’ve overtaken all them and besides some minor conditions I’m not in bad nick (although the pandemic has made me put on weight). So 2021 is a year when I’m definitely going to lose weight. My wife has just ordered a spin bike which we can set up and use every day whatever the weather. I have missed going out on my bike which I’ve only managed half a dozen times, but I can supplement the spin bike for lost outside bike rides. I DO need to lose weight, when I was 15 I was only two stone lighter than I was a year ago, so I reckon I need to lose 1½ stone, but that may only be a dream. How to do it? Well all the best diet books say cut out carbs, eat less, don’t drink alcohol etc etc. What I want to know is how can those people in the TV programmes (I know) say they’ve stopped eating McDonalds and drinking copious amounts of Coke and lose 6 stone? I have never eaten junk food (takeaways yes but only occasionally), eat wholesome food cooked mainly from scratch, and try not to drink wine every day, and nothing happens. The biggest thing that changes my weight is exercise. It’s very noticable, that when I eat normally and then do exercise (go for a walk, do some weights) my weight drops off dramatically. So, and this is not a New Years resolution, never could keep them anyway, I WILL lose weight this year, promise.

On that note I bid you farewell and see you in 2021.


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What the 2020 has changed?

Over the last 10 months of the Covid crisis, all our lives have changed in one way or another. I thought I would get my thoughts down about what has happened to me over this period. Hopefully it won’t be too boring.

Just before the 23rd March lockdown announcement by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, it was my birthday and I happen to share the date with a very good friend of mine. We agreed to meet up on the day with our wives at a local pub which serves very good food for lunch. That was the last time we went out with anybody for a meal, something we ordinarily do on a regular basis. So that has been missed so much, it’s all very worthy to cook at home all the time but sometimes it gets a bit of a chore. The night after that dinner I went out as usual to my touch rugby session with Farnham Rugby Club and I took along my brand new studded trainers; in ordinary trainers I was sliding all over the place. Anyway I got stuck in the mud during play, fell over and cracked a couple of ribs. I still feel the pain at the site of the fall today, but there was no other damage thank goodness.

From then I couldn’t do much in the way of physical work because of my injury so I certainly wasn’t able to go to rugby any more, but since that sort of activity was banned anyway it didn’t make much difference. During April, May and June the weather was nice so I spent a lot of time in the garden reading. The past year I think I’ve read 25 novels, more than the previous 10 probably. As an aspiring writer (well trying to be) they say read a lot of fiction and it spurs to write some yourself. I don’t know about that; my writing goes in fits and spurts. At the moment I’m a member of a (virtual) writing group and we used to meet in the local library once a month, but now we’re restricted to Zoom meetings, although we did manage some outdoor meetings in the summer. But even with the encouragement of other members of the group, I still have trouble getting motivated. It’s almost the same with one of my other Zoom groups called Folk0Clock, which is as the name suggests a virtual folk club; whereas we used to meet once a month to sing and play in front of our peers. Strangely though doing it in front of a PC screen with 20 or so other faces peering at you can be a bit off-putting; I prefer my audience to be live. Still, I have written a couple of songs, one about writing a song and the other about different sorts of music and instruments. I do love playing the guitar and singing and it’s nice when you get positive feedback, but to be honest all the feedback is normally positive, it’s the nature of the folk scene. Back to the writing though and I’m in the middle of writing several stories: a crime novel, an autobiography and a wartime story. Plus several other short stories; I started writing when I was about 10 I think.

The rest of the summer was spent variously sitting in the garden, not going out and trying to keep occupied and I must say that I think we achieved those goals pretty much. When we were able to go out, even to do a shop, we did, but back in those days (only 6 months ago!) it wasn’t so frowned upon as now when there is definitely a stigma about not going out, staying in, wash your hands, cover your face etc. But there is a small section of the population who don’t believe in any of that and that the virus is a hoax and won’t wear a mask or do all the other things that should keep the virus at bay. So while they’re gallivanting around having a good time and meeting up with all their friends and family, we who are doing the right thing have to sit back and suffer not being able to do such things. I miss simple things, like going to the pub. We did manage it once at our local for a meal, and to be fair to the staff, the layout was conducive to having a safe meal, but we didn’t have a chance to do it again before lockdown II, just when you thought it was safe… Other things I miss is going out to a restaurant. The only one we had was at where we were told it was a ‘fabulous’ steak house where the food was ‘fantastic’ for our wedding anniversary, again within the rules at the time, but it was awful and even after we complained that the steaks we were given were tough, and they agreed, the 2nd steaks weren’t much better. Oh well, we’ll try again when we’re able.

Then of course we come to the autumn, earlier sunsets and longer nights leading up to the usual trimphirate of Halloween, Bonfire night and then Christmas, which all seem to come and go rather quickly. In between all this, we kept in touch we our daughter who lives in Australia via Messenger and Whatsapp and because we are in a ‘bubble’ with our other daughter who lives not far away, she was able to come here for Christmas and we can go to her house. It’s kept us close and that is very important. It would be nice to hug them all at some stage and that will happen later. To be honest the year has gone quickly as usual, despite long periods of not doing a great deal, but luckily all has been peaceful and quiet in the house. I’ve baked bread all year, about once a week, and it has turned out pretty well, at least I haven’t had to throw any away. So here we are post Brexit, post Trump, post vaccination available (haven’t had mine yet though) and the rest of the year is undetermined to say the least. Who could have predicted that in January last we’d be in the state we are in now? I’m not talking about Brexit, that is a whole subject matter on it’s own; but I don’t think the full effect of it will be felt for a little while yet. No it’s the accusured Covid-19. Now Wuhan Province are saying ‘wasn’t us gov, you lot gave it to us’, meaning Italy, the States, the UK, rather than them spreading it around the world from there. I don’t know how they got the nerve to say that, when it clearly started in their fish and pangolin markets. Of course that area is now ‘free’ of Covid and they are ‘practically’ back to normal! Well thanks a bunch for giving this horrible virus and spreading it far and wide, now we have to deal with the consequences. Well, let’s hope the Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca vaccines do their job and kill all strains of the virus, including the Brazil and South Africa varieties. I won’t get mine for a little while: I’m not 70 until March.

So, to the future? We would like to go to Australia to visit our daughter sometime, either this year or next, we have a couple of breaks booked in for this year, suspended from last year so I hope they go to plan. We were due to see Genesis in April but that’s been delayed until October, along with a few other local events that have been pushed back to later in the year. One thing we did get to which wasn’t cancelled was the Kew Gardens night trail on 2nd January. We kept the social distances and enjoyed the show which wasn’t affected by the restrictions. It was great to be out, out; to quote Micky Flanagan. Let’s hope we can do a few more this year and really celebrate life.

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Christmas 2020 and the goose ain’t getting fat

Didn’t the year go quickly?

Only a few minutes ago we were asking what the hell this coronavirus was, now we’re only too aware of what it means to all of us. I’m trying to marshall my thoughts about the year just gone.

The New Year started quietly, as usual these days, another year another ho hum, but since they start to creep up very quickly, it gets worrying that I’m not (cliche ahead beware) getting any younger. I had started going to O2 touch rugby the previous September and as the oldest one there the youngsters treated me like an old man, which I am NOT by the way, but it was nice of them all the same. January we had the usual Burns Night at the Tongham Village Hall, always a nice occasion with my friends Jeremy and Carol and other who we know from our 34 years living in the village. Other events that month was attending the nationalisation of our German friend Pitt on the 23rd, who is married to a folk club friend Mary. That was a nice occasion and it was one of our last nights out before the first lock down. I had also had several appointments which I haven’t been to since then, including the Farnham Repair cafe and the Thursday Folk Club. But generally I find January the worst month and want to get through it quickly. February was and is just as bad, the winter doesn’t seem to let up and is probably the worst month of the winter. Oh for those lovely days in Australia when February is a lovely, warm summer month; huh, won’t doing that for some time. It’s strange about this time we really started to hear and take notice about this coronavirus later to be called Covid-19 on account that it was discovered in 2019 in China. We didn’t do much about it then, the government didn’t seem interested, so life carried on as usual. We said goodby to really old RAF friend; the wake was in the RAFA club in Aldershot, and was a good reunion for all the guys he worked with and some I didn’t know but we had the bond of being in the same service.

Now, March was a completely different kettle of fish. I started a cricket umpires course of three weeks, the last one wasn’t completely finished so it was put online and the attendees had to complete it that way. I’ve now got a certificate for the first level of umpiring, hopefully I can carry that on in 2021. On March 9th, I played O2 touch rugby at Farnham for the first time with studded trainers. No, I had never heard of them either, but before just using trainers I was slipping all over the place in the mud. During one of the 6 a side matches I was passed a ball from someone and when I tried to move off with it, my body went one way, but my trainers stayed where the were. I wasn’t used to them staying where they put in the turf, rather than moving about. The consequence was that I fell over and cracked one or two ribs on my lower left side. I stopped and went home; the pain was excruciating. The next day was my birthday and we went to our local pub, 2 minutes walk away with a couple of friends and his birthday was the same as mine, albeit some 5 years later. That was the last time we went to a pub until the late summer between lockdowns. Other events in March were somewhat over shadowed by the announcement of a national lockdown on the 23rd. April was the month I discovered Zoom and started using it to have meetings with my Men’s Shed colleagues and that has carried on since. The rest of April was a bit of a none event including Easter. May was nice and being nearly summer it was lovely to sit in the garden and enjoy long days and sunshine. We were getting deliveries made by two firms and decided after a couple of those that we would rather pick the fresh stuff ourselves and so my wife went out shopping suitable masked and gelled and did the dutiful 2 meter rule in the shops and when out and about. It seems the majority of people stuck to the guidelines and in doing so kept the infection rate in our neck of the woods to a reasonable low level. The same could not be said of the Northern areas of the country, although now that is creeping south with the lastest levels of Tier being announced. Thankfully we are still in Tier 2.

June and July followed pretty much the same pattern, we mostly stayed in the garden and made it look nice and grew vegetables, which came in a fairly steady stream. It was the month of my son-in-laws 40th birthday and his wife organised his and our world-wide family to record Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen using one their backing tracks. My daughter put it all together and synched it all, and it turned to be really good. We learnt the spread of Zoom was going ballistic, everybody was using it including our folk club which got people, including me, to perform songs in front of a camera to a screen full of faces in their screens. It was a bit bizarre but I got used to it. We even had a virtual music festival on Zoom and it worked quite well, the main reason for it was to raise money for a charity, and we did that; more than last year at the live festival. The power of the PC. July was the month my daughter and s-i-l from Australia were due to arrive for three weeks, but of course that was delayed due to flight cancellations, and then finally cancelled all together. They would have been here for s-i-l’s birthday with his UK relatives, but hey ho we’re hoping to get out there next Christmas 2021. It was also my daughters 37th birthday, but since they are in Australia it was only a virtual celebration.August was my wife’s birthday and we managed to get a booking to Wisley RHS garden for an outing, it was great to out to somewhere different. But that was in August, not to worry.

September was the end of summer effectively and we managed to get outings to Brooklands motor museum and a our previous neighbours for an outside BBQ, we returned the compliment and they came to us, all within the rules/guidelines. The first lockdown ended and we all thought we would be let out of school, but it was not to be; certain areas of the country increased the number of Covid infections, and it was a certainty that more restrictions would be imposed. October was similar in that we were still mostly stuck indoors except for walks outside and in parks and gardens. All through the lockdown our elder daughter who lives close was in our ‘bubble’ so we were able to see her regularly, and visit each others houses. Of course our neighbours were close and we could still wave and say hello to them, but every summer we have a BBQ in the close and have music, food, dancing and chatting, all great fun. This year was not to be so we just had to save it all up for next year. November was good for me because there was international rugby to TV, the Nations Cup with the 6 nations teams and a few others. England won the final, which made up for losing the world cup final a year ago.

I, along with about 100 of my fellow Harrier guys missed out on our annual march round the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day. We have doing this for the last four years and its always a great get together with my friends who all worked on the famous Harrier jump jet now sadly out of service. Of course the main reason is to remember those who fell in any war. So November came and went and we’re into December. Well the only thing you can say about this month is that it’s a precursor to Christmas, and here we are. We’re in Tier 2 so we stay pretty much the same, I feel sorry for those that have gone up to Tier 3, thats back to the old days of the first lockdown. But we have the vaccination coming along and hopefully we should all get it eventually. Not that I’m totally convinced that its going to be the final solution, especially as we’ve all got to have two jabs to make it effective. During this month I’ve been involved with getting out local Men’s Shed moving from our old location to the new one. It involves building internal walls in a large warehouse and we have received a grant from the local council to set it up. In the New Year we shall really start getting on with it. With Christmas a week away it’s going to be different for a lot of people but for us it’s pretty much as its been for the last 4 years. So we’ll celebrate Christmas with our UK daughter and wait out the end of the year. Hopefully 2021 will be a slight better than this year, but we can hope only hope. It’s a big birthday for me in March, so I hope all restrictions are lifted by then and I can celebrate properly.

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Funny ain’t it (not peculiar)

Trump gets Covid-19, three days later he’s cured. It’s the best Covid-19 anyone could have, I’ve been the best patient, I’ve gotten (horrible American slang word) over it quickly. I am invincible! The man’s an absolute horror, the trouble is so many of the red-necked, sh*t-kicking, mid-westerners love him so much they’ll vote for anyway. He appeals to them, God knows why. When the election starts in a few days time, he’ll no doubt be there crowing as usual. But we see all this from a UK perspective, what about the view of people who live there. I have two British friends who live in Houston, Tx and Pensacola, Fl and they have lived there long enough to know their a**e from their elbow. And to a man they say Trump is an idiot and appeals to lowest common denominator, that is as I describe above. So he will probably win because a great deal of the mid westerners believe what he says and loves him to death. But, if the last election is anything to go by, it will be a close run thing; in fact the USA has a history of bad election results, i.e. not called correctly. Ask D W Bush who scraped in. Anyway if Trump gets in it’s bad news for the UK, because he will try to ‘buy’ the NHS. It’s a cash cow to him and we would be the donkeys who would pay up to service his greed. The NHS as we know it will disappear and we will have a similar health system to the US: if you can afford to pay for health care, you can afford to be ill, if not you can’t, it’s a stark as that. My friend in Houston has had to pay out horrendous medical bills and he is fully covered by insurance, but it’s still not enough; his credit card has taken a hit, from which recovery will take a long time, notwithstanding his illness. But we have enough problems with the NHS here. The current ‘wave’ of Covid infections is likely to increase before it subsides, and it’s all to do with those idiots who were dancing in the streets the other night in Liverpool. That just shows how inconsiderate people are, they don’t care so long as they have their fun, everyone else can go to hell. It’s people like that probably caused the first wave and they might not have been affected then. So now we have a 2nd lockdown caused mainly by Northerners and we’ve all got to suffer. Great, and thanks The North. I’ll just carry out staying in, masking up, gelling and washing hands just like I’ve been doing for the past 8 months. I haven’t been out socialising, mixing, hugging strangers or whatever, yet I feel like I’M being punished. Fair it aint.
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