Reasons to be cheerful (thanks to Ian Dury)

No, I’m not going to write 1,2,3 as per the song, but it would make an ideal format for a nice long list. 

Laughter is important. I’m naturally drawn to things that make me laugh. They’ve changed over the years, as have I. No, I’m not a perfect size 10 anymore and my hair isn’t exactly the same colour as it was at birth.

So, here’s what’s making life a whole lot better right now; 1, 2, 3. (I lied).

Radio comedy. We don’t have tv right now. We did have television beamed down from a nice satellite that showed us red button stuff and snooker and one breathtaking night, Strictly Come Dancing and then the BBC turned the satellite off. No more Radio 4 (gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes), no Radio 3, but there was an upside to this. No more girls with telephones in their hands, fondling themselves, thanks (not) to Richard Desmond.

So, this week’s laugh was from Kim Fuller’s wonderful comedy ‘The Castle’. If you haven’t heard this gem of a programme, then please do go and find it somewhere. 

Lord John of Woodstock (widower and sexually inactive) is asking his neighbour Sir William de Warenne (knight errant, scourge of the Levant) about seduction. 

De Warrene is telling Sir John about a recipe that will have any woman gasping for ‘it’. The dialogue fades, ending with something like ‘a jus of rosemary’. Sir John, baffled says, ‘but I don’t have any of those ingredients, what if I just have a knob of butter?’

Sir John “Wait 10 minutes and tell her it’s never happened before!’ 

Oh joy. There are so many great comedy moments – especially Sir John’s idiot son Henry (favourite expressions ‘innit, bangin’ and furshizzle). Go, listen and laugh.

I also love ‘Cabin Pressure’ written by John Finnemore.  It may have a cast change due to the fact that one of the characters is played by Benedict Cumberbatch….yes, he is now GLOBAL. Alas, his character Martin, may have to marry his princess and leave MJN air. (My Jet Now). This isn’t so bad. There’ll be a new young captain for Roger Alam’s character torment. Great. 

Times they are a changin’. The new musical term is about to start at the Monforte Conservatorio and I shall resume my violin lessons, with my friend and great teacher, Miguel Alvarez and try to find an accompanist who is sympatico and willing to work towards a recital. Ooooh, scary. That’s me. Brave. Resolute and needing to do some serious practise. 

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In my defence, I have had to handle the crushing blow of losing my iTunes.
This had been a dire state of affairs that looked terminal for my ageing MacMini. Oh, the grief. No more wonderful cds to put on my iPod, how was I going to managed?
However, I have a daughter who is a genius and she restored my world of music.
It’s curious, that of all the gigabytes of music and some speech, that I am very set in my ways. I like to listen to certain things at certain times.
For example; I’m about to walk up the lane to see if there are any mushrooms and I always walk to JS Bach’s arrangement for harpsichord and orchestra 1052 (D minor). The first movement has just the right tempo to set a good pace.
By the time I reach the Very Large Eucalyptus Tree, I’m slightly out of breath – or not, depending on how much I’ve been exercising.
Last time I walked up the lane, my thighs weren’t telling me that they’d changed into jelly and would I please stop doing this, until the second small chestnut tree. Result! I’m fit!
Well, yes and no, as we’d spent the previous five nights in a tiny hotel in Porto de Bares. This is a perfect small fishing village. The sort you’d dream about finding in Cornwall, but with only 50 tourists sharing your beaches and 3 fish restaurants.
Bares is on a hill. Not all of it, but the hotel is quite definitely up and up and up (stop for resuscitation) and then up some more to the room.
The down bit is tricky as well, but also good for the legs. So with lots of Up and Down, my legs are strong and toned.
Bares is heaven, the water is perfectly clear, clean and safe for swimming. The restaurants are excellent and the smallest one has a mojito machine. What more could any one want? And no, I’m not listing phone number. It’s too good to share.

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Multiple Sclerosis – can a diet help with symptoms?

In 2005/6 I was ill. I’d had a relapse in the summer of 2005 and it wasn’t getting any better.
We’d decided to go to Venice for Christmas and we had found a nice flat to stay in on the Lido. Things were fine to start with, but as the days went on, I was finding walking to be very difficult. First of all, I was moving more slowly and then I had to sit and rest every ten metres or so.
This wasn’t a great state of affairs and so in the New Year, I realised that things were going to have to change – I was going to have to try something to halt the decline.
I’d been watching a lot of television – it was easier than trying to walk around, as I felt completely drunk within ten minutes of home.
My eyes couldn’t cope with the enormous number of people and cars passing by and I’d feel nausea, vertigo and have problems with equilibrium.
One of the shows on the many channels was ‘The Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses’ and this run of six shows focussed on raw food and the health benefits.
Somehow, this seemed to appeal to me, I thought ‘what if I try this?’
I bought some books – ‘Raw Food Real World’ and a few others and started to delve into the world of raw fooding and found it to be a thoroughly confusing experience.
Many people seemed to be grabbing onto this diet as a lifeline – a replacement for something they’d lost – such as drugs and quite a few were very anxious people indeed.
Rawfooding had become their whole focus – to live as Essenes or to only live on fruit and if they ‘cheated’ by eating some scrambled egg or some other type of cooked food, then they felt great guilt and even damnation.
This wasn’t for me. I had enough stresses in my life already thank you very much, so I backed away from the internet as a support mechanism with this way of eating.
I went back to the books and realised that I’d need the kit. At that time, money wasn’t a problem, but I was not going to pay the £400+ for each bit of kit and so I imported a Waring blender from the US at $100 and bought a step-up transformer for it to work. I found a second-hand Champion Juicer on eBay and and bought a dehydrator (not an essential bit of kit really).
I was ready to make green smoothies and transform my life.
Oh dear me, a ‘proper’ green smoothie is cabbage and celery and apple and it is absolutely awful. Cabbage is not nice as a juice. It is truly horrible.
In the end, I made my smoothies with spinach leaves and celery and apple and added carrot and ginger juice (juiced through the Champion).
Now, carrot and ginger (and apple) juice is energy heaven for me. I love it even now. The jolt you get from this mixture is quite delightful. It’s even better than Spanish coffee.
Mr P and I would make a salad for lunch, with seeds (sunflower) and nuts and chopped apple, with avocado and salmon – raw or smoked. This salad would take about 30 minutes to chomp through, but we felt really good afterwards.
I think the benefit for me, was that I regarded food in a completely different way.
Breakfast could be an avocado with a bit of Tabasco sauce and lemon and that would be enough until lunchtime. Food became a pleasure but also a fuel. I love avocados and they became my staple food.
I ate no bread, pasta or rice or sugar and felt great. No, I felt absolutely wonderful – as though someone was pouring cold water into my head, clarifying my thoughts and filling me with energy.
My neurologist was very surprised at my turn-around in health- he’d been about to prescribe Modafinal. I’d tried Amantadine for fatigue, but it hadn’t helped much.

The rawfooding lasted for about 5 months, until I couldn’t bear to eat another salad and then I moved onto a Paleolithic type of diet. I still don’t eat bread or pasta and foods containing gluten make me feel sluggish and increase my nerve pain (neuropathic pain).
I did try an experiment in the summer of 2007 – I ate wonderful Spanish bread for five days. At the end of the experiment, I couldn’t get out of bed, as my feet were on fire. I had no energy and dreadful constipation.
Even now, if I am tempted, which does happen, I pay a price. A friend came to lunch last week, bringing a jar of delicious home-made marmalade. Mr P bought a beautiful loaf of bread and I have been nibbling at it.
I should learn. I ate a piece of bread and a large blister formed on the side of my tongue – these were common when I was younger and they are filled with blood. You have to burst them and then gargle with salt water or bicarbonate of soda to help them heal.
This morning, I ate a small piece of toast with marmalade and had to deal with two more blood-filled blisters. No more.

So, back to the raw-food experiment. I would do this again if I felt as ill as I did in 2006. I still have the juicer, but the blender needs a new goblet, which I can’t afford to replace. Oh dear, no green smoothies!
The other last thought on this, is to prepare. If you are going to try this, you will need to change your shopping habits. Packets of spinach, celery, sunflower seeds and mixed nuts along with apples, avocados, oranges and of course, dark greens will be the most important part of your diet.
Good luck. It may change your life.

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Yowls in the night

Last week was a turbulent, sex-charged and noisy experience. The tom cats were prowling, singing their songs of love to the quivering females.
Our indoor cats have all been neutered. They are safe from attack or rape, but the tom cats came a-calling for the outside cats.
We have two females who choose to live within the boundaries of our house and garden. Both are feral and won’t ever be house cats. The smaller cat, the last survivor of her mother’s litter from the year before won’t allow us to touch her, yet calls out at breakfast time, waking us up. She will answer to her name, Georgie, but is well and truly feral.
She may be well and truly pregnant by now as well. We thought that due to her size – she is only two-thirds grown, that she wouldn’t be excreting hormones to attract the males.
She was quite nervous, preferring to stay in tight corners, in niches and crept around the courtyard, diving for cover whenever she saw a male cat.
Her mother was enthusiastically joining with the males, even the largest ginger tomcat in the area and we thought that Georgie would be safe.
She was lucky in some ways. She must have been broadcasting hormones to the males, but her first was another young tomcat, a relative of a large gang who live at the crossroads down the lane.
The largest males, who come from all over the parish arrived then and poor Georgie was part of the feline orgy.
I hope she doesn’t get pregnant. We’ll find out in 60 days or so, when she and her mother will disappear into a nice safe barn to give birth.
Let’s hope that we won’t be feeding six outside cats. I’m not sure our small income can stretch to that.

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London; it’s changed a bit!

We went to the UK to watch our daughter receive her Masters in Health Economics at the University of York. This meant a trip for both of us – something we haven’t done together, for five years.
We stayed with friends, which was delightful and then at two Travelodges. We hadn’t stayed at the York Travelodge for some time, but it had been renovated and was very comfortable.
On the day of the graduation ceremony, we discovered that it had been snowing most of the night. We aren’t used to snow – yes, it snows in Galicia, but it doesn’t last long and only settles on the mountains.
The ceremony itself was lovely and thanks to my walking stick, we were offered special seats. This was much appreciated.
The ceremony started a little late and dragged on and we were in danger of losing our lunch reservation.
My mother and our son and I, ran (sort of) to the bus stop and our son phoned the restaurant and all was saved.
I have to praise the restaurant, ‘El Paradiso del Chibo’. The proprietor Gianni was wonderful, welcoming us, providing a bottle of Prosecco for us to toast our daughter and the food was divine. I’d go back there again any time – it was the finest Italian food that I’ve ever eaten.
We didn’t manage dessert, due to a family member becoming ill, but we made up for it later with cocktails at The Evil Eye, a family favourite.
Later, we returned to London and stayed at another Travelodge, near Kings Cross, which was also warm and comfortable, with excellent security and plenty of good restaurants and cafes close by.
We had a wonderful trip. The airline (Vueling was on time and very efficient). It took two days to come down from the happy high and we loved seeing our family again.
The biggest surprise was London itself. The people smiled, offered seats and were so welcoming – this is not the London that I remember and I hope this new charm offensive lasts for ever. We’ll be back…

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How to prepare for normal life…(level of difficulty 10)

If you’ve read any of my blog entries, you’ll see the words Multiple Sclerosis a lot. Yes, I have this damn annoying and horrible disease.
You can’t tell – I’m one of those people with invisible symptoms. It’s ripped my knees to shreds (quite literally) as the ligaments have pulled my bones out of alignment and played havoc with my meniscal cartilage.
I have a stick. That’s because I now have one leg that is shorter than the other thanks to contracted/shortened lateral ligaments. I wear weights on my right ankle to pull my heel down to the floor and keep the bones apart.
I get tired easily, so I have to improve my stamina and that’s a very tiring process.
We’re about to go to the UK to see our daughter being presented with a Masters in Health Economics. She’s done us proud – she has worked hard and taught herself a lot of advanced mathematics.
We (her parents) barely scraped O levels (well I didn’t even bother to take mathematics at that level).
In many ways it’s thanks to her teacher at Chatsworth International School in Singapore, Mr Peters and also Mr Monday her maths teacher at the British International School in Jakarta.
They taught her to see the patterns and not to be scared of mathematics, that it wasn’t any more difficult than English and so she flew. She soared away from us and we are proud of her.

Back to the preparations. Thirty minutes of aerobics each day (or other day) with weights is part of this. My body is used to the movements, having done aerobics for over 25 years. It’s all low-impact – no more jumping for me.
The fatigue that follows later in the day is pretty dire. I have to keep exercising to strengthen my leg muscles and improve my stamina, but it’s really, really tiring.
There will come a time when I will gain enough stamina to get through a normal day in the UK. This had better happen in the next ten days, or I’m screwed.
I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to the sheer numbers of people, my eyes can’t process a lot of information and they get tired and my balance suffers. I feel very drunk within minutes, so I guess that it’s going to take some time to recover from this trip.
It will be wonderful to see my family again and worth the effort and expense. I hope they don’t expect too much from me. I don’t want to let them down.

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Fun times in Jakarta, Indonesia

We lived in Jakarta from 1997-2002 and we had some rough times, some dangerous times and some really great times.
The money was nice – and the free phone calls back to the UK and the free electricity to run all those air-conditioners..ah bliss.
We lived in Jakarta at the time of the fall of President Soeharto and that was a nasty and dangerous time.
Most of the expats left, repatriated, or temporarily domiciled in Singapore. Not us though, no, Pricewaterhouse expats were sent to Bali.
You’d think that a whole country would be changed overnight by a coup, but not Bali. Nothing gets in the way of making money.
Bali was open for business. The people may have suddenly gained a new president and in north Jakarta, hundreds of Chinese Indonesians slaughtered, their houses burned and businesses destroyed, but not Bali.
However, I am moving off topic here.

The good things about living in Jakarta, especially after the expat exodus, was cheap housing.
We moved to an enormous house on a lovely road. It had a long drive, with a tamarind tree by the gate. The lounge took your breath away – it was large enough to entertain 500 people. I had to buy a grand piano (yes, we had the money) and on one memorable occasion, I helped out Indonesian friends by holding a rehearsal – a full orchestra and choir, in the lounge.
The best things were the shopping, the massages and the food, not necessarily in that order.
Massage, oh the bliss. The very best one was a Creme Bath. I’d call my favourite masseur, Tumbar and she’d arrive by taxi, with her coconut butter and I’d go and wash my hair.
I’d lie across the bed and Tumbar would kneel on a cushion and massage my scalp, face and shoulders for 90 minutes. After, I’d feel as though every bone had turned to rubber.
Another favourite was gentle massage. Our senior driver’s cousin, Ibu Ida would arrive and gently do a whole body massage. No deep tissue work, just a nice gentle motion that left me feeling invigorated, yet relaxed.
There was another type of Javanese massage that we didn’t particularly enjoy – an eighty year old Ibu (mother, or lady of a certain age) would arrive, with fingers of steel and work on all those nasty little stiff muscles and spasms.
We decided that we couldn’t take the pain and hid behind the sofa!

Reflexology was very popular – hard or soft, both worked, although soft reflexology was more enjoyable – no, bearable, is a more accurate description.
After I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, I used to visit a ‘jamu man’ – a herbalist, who also practised reflexology – but with pointed stones.
I’d lie on his massage couch and he’d push cone-shaped pieces of stone into my feet whilst I tried not to scream.
After, when I was convinced that I wouldn’t ever be able to walk, I’d gingerly put my foot on the ground and to my amazement, there was no pain.
I liked shopping. Pasa Raya, an enormous department store was our Saturday treat. Our son would head off to the basement to play LAN games and we’d wander around the kilometres of floor space, eventually meeting for lunch. Mr P would always eat Sop Buntut Goreng. This was stewed ox tail, dried and then floured and fried and served in a rich broth, with rice. Heart attack on a plate.
I can’t really remember what I ate – it varied. I just remembered Mr P’s indulgent Saturday treat.
The cosmetic department was extremely enticing. Pasa Raya had the full range of luxury Western cosmetics – including Prescriptives. I loved that counter and bought Magic Powder and other exciting products.
I tried all the skin creams, lotions and serums. They seemed okay, not life-changing.
One year, for my birthday, Mr P went to the La Prairie boutique, somewhere in central Jakarta and bought me a very expensive and delightful range of their products. Now, that was luxury. Can’t say that it made me gorgeous, but oh, it was nice to try the creams. I even had a couple of facials there, in lieu of payment for singing lessons. Bliss.
One of our happiest and most enduring memories, was the night that Mr P returned from a business trip, with Champagne, (Dom Perignon 1985) and Vodka and a large tin of Caviar. We made chopped egg, blinis and chopped onion as garnishes and had one of the most wonderful evenings of our marriage. Never again, but it was worth it. Happy days.

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