Thursday, 30 June 2011

Another trip to A&E

Yesterday, just after a rather large lunch, I started to get pains in my lower abdomen, which rapidly got worse.  After a while, I took my tummy up to the local Health Centre, where the duty doctor poked and prodded and did all those things you'd expect, but didn't seem to really have much idea what was wrong.  This is no criticism.  At no point throughout proceedings did anyone actually decide what was wrong.

At first she recommended standard pain killers, but as my pain got worse, while I was just sitting there, she suggested I go to A&E.  I'd already decided that was where I needed to be, but by then the pain was too much for me to safely drive to Addenbrookes, so she referred me to A&E there and called me an ambulance.  By now I was lying on the bed in her surgery, groaning.

The ambulance crew fitted me up to all the usual instruments and then, oh bliss, gave me 10ml of morphine.  I began to imagine I might survive!  They didn't treat me to blue lights and a siren, however.  Damn, twice in two months I've missed out on that!

From the ambulance I phoned Jenny to let her know what was going on.  This being Wednesday, a group of us were down to eat in a local Indian.  Obviously I wasn't going to be there, but there wasn't anything Jenny could do to help me in Addenbrookes, so no reason for her not to eat out as usual.

At A&E I got more pain killers and then a battery of tests, lots of poking and prodding, lots of questions and few answers.  As time passed, the pain got worse and I started groaning again.  At around 6.30 a nurse fitted me up with a drip.  I inferred from that and the rest of the proceedings that one possibility was a perforated bowel, which would require surgery, and I was then on nil-by-mouth, as you'd expect.

I asked this nurse if I could have more pain relief and she said she'd sort it out, but 20 minutes later, nothing had happened and I could see the end of my tether.  I spotted a red button labelled Emergency - Pull, so I pulled it.  That got me a telling off, since that button is the Cardiac Arrest Alarm button.  Still, it worked.  I got instant attention, which is what I wanted!

I was given two tiny grey and green capsules, which worked after a bit, though not as well as the morphine had.  And a nurse squirted some anti-nausea stuff into the cannula in my hand, because I kept thinking I was going to throw up.  By this time they'd done all the blood tests and everything else they could think of, apart from an X-ray, and everything was showing as completely normal, so still no idea what's actually wrong with me.

Some time around 7.30 I think, I was taken for an X-ray, then shunted back to my cubicle to die wait.  With the pain slightly ameliorated, I was able to doze, and when I awoke, to my amazement, the pain had subsided to almost nothing.

They still took me to the Clinical Decisions Unit, back of A&E, where I was given a bed to wait in, along with two other, sick-looking guys.  Nothing happened for a long time, except Jenny, Lorna and Richard turned up, having thrown together an overnight bag for me, which I thought was really good of them.  It was lovely to see them, too.

Their timing turned out to be impeccable.  Around 10, not 10 minutes after they'd arrived, my surgical team turned up, listened to my tale of how the pain had gone away, and discharged me on the spot.  So not only had my lovely wife and friends brought me stuff I might have needed, but they were on hand to run me home when I was liberated!  Perfect!

But the medics still had no idea what had caused my pain.  One of the nurses in CDU said it's like that with most abdominal pain - it goes away by itself and no-one knows why it came or went.  Terrific!

Update: as recommended by A&E I visited my doctor on Friday and he said, testing my urine, that a kidney stone will often leave a trace of blood in the urine, having scratched the inside of the ureter, but there was no trace on Friday.  When I reported this to Jenny, however, she said the nurse in CDU had seen blood in my urine sample just before I left on Wednesday, but I'd completely forgotten that.

So it seems likely that I was passing a kidney stone, and when I looked that up on the web, the symptoms do match quite well.  The way you avoid kidney stones is to drink lots of liquids, which I already do, so a repeat is not impossible.  Well, it's progress, but not necessarily of the sort I'd like to make! 

Heavenly scent

These rather unpreposessing, scruffy little plants are among our absolute favourites this time of year.  The flowers, which are nothing much to look at to start with, close during the day, only opening as dusk approaches. 

And there's the clue to why we like them.  Flowers that open only at night tend to be pollinated by moths, and to attract the moths, they produce wondrous scents, though sometimes only when it's warm enough.

These night-scented stocks have been more successful than often in the past, and we're not really sure why.  They're a bit sensitive to drought, so I suppose we must have been careless on those occasions we've failed to grow decent ones.

Anyhow, on Monday evening, Jenny and I were sitting out on the patio enjoying a glass or three, and the temperature was obviously pleasing to the plants, because the scent was just overwhelming!

It's not a sweet scent, like a rose, but much more musky and spicy, and it tends to hit you in wafts, as the air currents swirl it around.  Just glorious!

So here's what I did.  In March or April I got some 3 inch pots and filled them with JI No1 Seed and Cutting compost.  Scattered seeds thinly across the surface and covered with a couple of millimetres of compost.  Watered gently and stuck them in the greenhouse (unheated) with a sheet of glass over to maintain humidity.  As soon as the seedlings emerged, I removed the glass.

Once the seedlings were about 5cm tall, I lifted the whole lot out of each pot and teased it into 3 or 4 chunks before planting again in 6 inch pots, this time using JI No 3.  By now there was little chance of severe frost, so I moved them outside, but in any case, the plants are not that vulnerable to frost.

Then, when those pots started looking crowded, I just potted up into 8 inch pots, without splitting.  In fact, these are now tending to wilt before I get around to watering them, so I'll pot them up one more time, and will add some water-retaining granules, which might help.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Pork loin recipe

Jenny is at a conference in Switzerland, so tonight I invented a stir-fried pork loin recipe, which worked well enough that I thought I'd share it with you.  It's not an oriental-style recipe at all, but part of the cooking is done in a wok.

To feed one person, you will need:
  • A pork loin chop, diced.  If you like a lot of meat, get a big one.  I had rather a small one, so there wasn't a huge amount of meat in my dinner.
  • 4 or 5 spring onions, chopped.
  • A clove of garlic, finely chopped, or crushed if you prefer.
  • As much courgette as you feel like putting in, chopped the way you like.
  • A handful of mange tous, chopped to match the courgette.
  • Basmati rice - I use half a cup; adjust to suit yourself.
  • A generous sprig of fresh Greek or French tarragon, leaves stripped from the stems and roughly chopped.
Set the rice to boil, then, when it's about half done, stick some oil in the wok and brown the meat.  When it's taken on some colour, add the spring onions and stir for a few minutes, followed by the garlic, courgettes and mange tous.  Keep stirring every now and then to turn the food and stop it sticking.

By now the rice should be more or less done, so throw the tarragon and rice into the mixture in the wok and give it a generous grind of black pepper.  Stir it all up to coat the rice with oil and distribute the tarragon.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

One reason why children should be vaccinated

In May, the Guardian reported a 10-fold increase in the number of measles cases in the UK, a total of 330 so far.  The trouble is, many people seem to think measles is not a serious illness.  They should watch this video clip.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Oceanic deceiver

Tip o' the hat to PZ Myers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Jackdaw update

In cleaning up the jackdaw poo, I couldn't help noticing the large amount of dust and cobwebs all over the place, not to mention the spider poo on the windows! I'm not convinced we've given the attic a decent clean since it was converted into a room, erm, some years ago.  Sunday, being rainy, was the perfect day for us to rectify this.

I cleaned the windows inside and out, though not as thoroughly on the outside as I'd have liked, it being kind of wet out there. With two vacuum cleaners going, we got the room done in about an hour and a half, which was not bad.  Gave away an old TV, freeview box and VCR on Freecycle, and took another old TV and VCR to the recycling centre.

With a tiny amount of time available, we visited Focus DIY in Letchworth.  We knew Focus were in administration, but hadn't realised how far the closure had progressed.  There was very little on the shelves, and we were unable to find the bookcase we were after.  We did find a bentwood chair, which was also on our list, so bought that.

As we drove home, we realised that in our rush, we'd not investigated the colour of the chair, so didn't know what colour the wood or fabric were.  We just hoped for the best.  Turned out both were what you might call 'blonde', ie the pale creamy colour of the natural, which suits the room rather well.  Quite comfy, too.

There was less good news on the jackdaw front.  Although he showed some improvement initially, after a couple of days the poor mite died.  Caroline told me that sometimes severe dehydration can do all sorts of invisible damage, like kidney, for instance, after which it's only a matter of time.  Oh well, we did our best.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Little Owl Soup

This morning I are mostly been poking around in a bowl of little owl soup!

Last summer, the warden of the bird reserve found himself with three dead little owl chicks.  They were soaking wet and he inferred they'd died of hypothermia.  Knowing Jenny works in the Museum of Zoology, he wondered whether the museum would be interested in mounting the skeletons.  They were interested in having one, but did not have the resources to deflesh the carcase, so Jenny and I did that.

Doug had already left them hanging up somewhere for the flesh itself to rot, so we got three dessicated, largely defleshed bodies, which we put into individual zip-up bags of the sort you use when you put small, delicate items into the washing machine, before burying them in the compost heap.

In the winter, when we turned the heap, we removed the bags and tipped the contents into three old saucepans which were lying around the garden, and left them exposed to the elements in the hope the weather would clean them up a bit.  No such luck!  Although the flesh had gone, the feathers had not, and with a whole body's-worth of feathers, the bones were all glued together in a lump, and we'd have risked breaking many of them if we'd simply tried to pull the mess apart.

Instead, we tipped one into a shallow dish and left it soaking in water with a bit of detergent added, and this morning I spent a couple of happy hours picking through the resulting soup, extracting the bones.  We now have most of the bones of a little owl skeleton, laid out on a piece of paper, drying, and in a day or two, Jen can take it in to the museum.  I know it's incomplete, because I only have 6 talons, where I should have 8.  No idea what else is missing. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Juvenile jackdaw

I know you're not supposed to pick up juvenile birds on the ground as generally the parents will be in close attendance, but on Sunday we kept our eye on this baby jackdaw for 5 or 6 hours, during which time no adult bird went near it, so we concluded it was probably abandoned.

And when it tried to fly, we had the impression one of its wings was damaged.

Finally, the cat spotted it, so we figured it was doomed whatever happened, so caught it and put it in a cardboard box in the attic, gave it a bowl of water and another of mixed wild bird feed, and left it for the night.

In the morning I opened its box at about 5 and went back to bed.  When I checked it later, it was looking very sorry for itself, but in the meantime I'd found a website which talked about what to feed it (catfood is good!) and what other needs it might have.  Armed with my newfound knowledge, I realised immediately that the bird was cold, so put heaters on to warm the room, and after a couple of hours, the it did start to perk up.

I couldn't persuade it to eat anything, but it did at least sip some water, and seemed quite alert, if not very active.  When it did move about it seemed clumsy, and it kept failing to fly.  It really hadn't got the idea and didn't really flap hard enough, so quickly crashed each time, but I think it was just young and incompetent.

So this morning, having failed once more to get any food into it, I started looking for a wildlife rescue centre nearby, and what a task that proved to be!  Springwatch directs you to the RSPCA but their website search engine, given my postcode, said "Nothing within 50 miles" which I know is simply not true.  The RSPCA phone menuing system sends you down a blind alley and then hangs up on you.  It was useless.

Veggies Animal Contacts Directory was not much better.  Several of the phone numbers are simply wrong - all UK numbers these days consist of a 5-digit area code, followed by a 6-digit personal phone number - so just by looking at 5-digits followed by 5-digits I could see they were never going to work.  And references to those centres are replicated several times across the net, always with the wrong phone number.  The centres with good phone numbers never answered the phone.

Safewings near Kettering was very helpful, but simply too far away.  Bedford and Cambridge Wildlife Trust was full, but did suggest I contact my local vet to see if they had contacts.  They did, but by then, parallel enquiries on the Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue site yielded Caroline Huxtable in Stevenage, who kindly agreed to take the bird.  I boxed it up and shipped it over pronto!

Caroline examined it and declared it pathetically undernourished and dehydrated.  She weighed it and calculated the amount of fluids she was going to have to administer per 24 hours, then warned me that it was absolutely touch and go.  If it survives the next day or two, it will probably be OK, but right now it's in deep trouble.  Poor little thing.

She did reassure me that we had not done the wrong thing by rescuing it.  They're getting lots of corvids right now, as the ground has been so hard for so long, the parent birds have been having real trouble finding enough food for their chicks, so this one probably really was abandoned.  The wing did show signs of injury, but I'm not sure it was actually broken or deformed.  And in any case, the cat would have had it, if we'd left it.

So having found someone who knows what she's doing to look after it, all I have to do now is clean up the poo liberally scattered across the attic!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Choir 18 in St Edmundsbury Cathedral

On Saturday, we sang with Choir 18 in St Edmunsbury Cathedral, and once more, acquitted ourselves well.  We did a short, lunchtime recital, then had the afternoon off, before singing Choral Evensong at 5.30.  It was a lovely day and everyone seemed very pleased.

Sadly, I was timed by a policeman at 96mph on the way home.  He was very civilised about it, and didn't actually seem to take it at all seriously, but even so, I have the fixed penalty notice which is going to cost me £60 and my licence will be returned with 3 points added, which is a bit of a bugger, actually.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Getting back into the swing

It being a month since my crash, it was getting time to get back in the saddle.  Tradition has it that when you crash a motorbike, you should ride again as soon as you can.  The longer you put it off, the less likely you are to return, so I knew I needed to do something about it.

Jenny was in London yesterday afternoon, but I was pretty tired by the time I finished at the bird reserve, so didn't make the effort.  There was a slight, but detectable, note of derision in Jenny's response when I mentioned this.

Today Jenny had to go to work by train, so I had another opportunity to ride her bike.  I had to take a defective power tool back to the shop in Cambridge, but Jenny's kit (mine was ruined in the crash, of course) doesn't fit all that well, which was all the excuse I needed to go by car.  But as I drove in, I was berating myself for my cowardice!

So after lunch I got kitted up, wearing Jenny's jacket, trousers and crash helmet, my own, damaged boots and my summer gloves, which I was not wearing on that fateful day.  I didn't have anywhere in particular to go, so thought I'd ride up the A1198 for a bit, then turn east onto the A603, down the M11 to Duxford and home along the A505 past the crash site.

In the event, my hands started to hurt quite badly within about 5 miles, and when I realised that the further end of the A603 had just been top-dressed with loose chippings, making skidding a real possibility, I turned off right and rode quietly though some villages to the A10, then came back home that way.

By the time I arrived, my hands were really sore, and in fact, have still not fully recovered as I type this.  I also found Jenny's bike a real handful to ride.  I don't think I've ridden it since she was knocked off last July, and I found it hard to steer accurately at low speed, with excessive dive on the front forks when you hit the brakes, and an irritating buzz from the faring at around 2500 revs, where the workshop clearly hasn't fitted it correctly.  Jenny did complain when she had it serviced, but they didn't fix it.

We've used this bike shop since we first came down to Cambridg in the early 80's, but practically everyone we know has now left, so we no longer feel the loyalty to them that we used to.  I don't think we'll be going back.

In my garden this week

We're growing mange tous this year for the first time.  These are a golden variety which grow to 7 feet, and they seem to be most of the way there already!  I suspect the rather flimsy cane support will need to be reinforced when the July and August rains lash down!  They also come with rather dinky little two-tone purple flowers, which you can see if you click the picture to enlarge it, and which are an unexpected bonus.

And yes, they are leaning over to the left, as a result of being so close to the bramley apple tree.  Too bad!

Common lizard

I don't remember when I last saw a lizard in the UK, so you can imagine my pleasure yesterday at the bird reserve, when I spotted three common lizards sunning themselves on the boardwalk, not far from where we were trimming back reeds, brambles and hawthorn. 

It was a beautiful day, and we got a lot done.  I also saw a grasshopper warbler, which was buzzing away in a nearby willow, so I was a happy bunny!

On the down side, the mozzies were out in force, and by the time I got home I could tell I was in for an itchy night, as there were several visible bites on my left forearm, and I could feel a new swelling on my left shoulder.

After struggling not to scratch whenever I was awake, I arose this morning to find a 5 cm diameter bump on my left forearm and the outside of my left hand significantly swollen.  Most of the other bites seem to have caused a much more normal reaction.  I hope I'm not developing a sensitivity to mozzie bites.  Generally I don't do allergies, so this would go strongly against my public persona.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


When we heard that this spring's Choir 18 European trip would be in Strasbourg, I was less than enthused, but signed up anyway, and I'm really glad I did!  Although it rained on us when we arrived on Friday afternoon, the weather was much kinder for the rest of the trip, and we had a simply brilliant time.  On Friday morning we took Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris, one stop on the Metro from Gare du Nord to Gare de l'Est, and the TGV thence to Strasbourg.  Easy, comfortable and fast.  Total journey time, door to door, about 8 hours.

This shot just gives you a flavour of the place.  The cathedral, in the background, is surrounded by buildings so close I couldn't get a decent photograph, but it is a magnificent building and worth the visit on its own.  The carved stonework is wonderful, and the stained glass (12th, 13th and 14th century) fabulous.

The acoustics are pretty good, too!  On the Saturday afternoon we gave a concert in the church of St Pierre le Jeune (site in French, sorry), which was good fun and we thought we did pretty well, but then we got to the cathedral on Sunday.

In the morning we sang in the Mass at 11, where we discovered the acoustic decay was over 8 seconds.  That means, when you stop singing, you hear the sound continuing to bounce around the building for at least 8 seconds!  Wonderful.

We sang  Victoria Mass Missa O Magnum Mysterium, Stanford Justorum Animae, then during communion, Harris Faire is the Heaven (lots of not very good recordings on YouTube!  Even this one I'm not really sure about.).  The first two went well, but the Harris was simply electric!  We were just on fire!  The assistant organist, who was giving directions to make sure we sang the right stuff at the right moment (service in French and German, so none of us could understand much of what was going on) gave us silent applause at the end, so he liked it!

We stayed in the Hotel Mercure in the centre of Strasbourg, which was fine, although it had no bar.  They share the next-door Hotel Sofitel's bar, and when we went through, we found this fabulous bronze greyhound sculpture in the Sofitel reception.  It's by Chiqui Diaz and is way beyond our budget, no surprise!  This gallery web page is really irritating, but at least you get to see a good selection of the works.

After busking in front of the cathedral (stuff like Kings Singers settings of the Beatles Blackbird, for instance) we were taken by coach to the Abby at Marmoutier where we sang the same concert as on Saturday, only this time even better!

At one point, walking around the city, we crossed a bridge which had pots of flowers hanging over the handrails, and spotted this most obliging hummingbird hawkmoth, which continued sipping nectar for several minutes, while I took some video footage.

Finally, as we were walking back to the train station on Monday morning, we spotted this entertaining item.  No idea of its significance, but we liked the man striding purposefully up the pole!