In which I meet the nicest man in retail and plan a trip.

Hello Readers.

Let’s ignore the countdown to Xangapocalypse and continue as though nothing is wrong.

Could our local chemist be the Nicest Man In Retail? I have already mentioned him in a blog a while ago (can’t recall when) due to his ability to remember details about what must be his thousands of customers amongst other things, but lst week he did something for me that means I think he should be awarded in some way. After work (and a little rest) I took my prescriptions round the corner to the chemists to get my new anti-depressants and some antibiotics for my infected gum. I was a bit worried about doing this because every two months they have my repeat prescription ready for me so that there’s no messing about or waiting and for the second time I was going to have to get there and explain that my GP had changed one of the pills, so that their preplanned packets were going to be redundant. But I need not have been concerned; I was too soon in the month for the stuff to be ready, and Mr. Chemist didn’t mind at all anyway. But I have yet to get to the best bit: when he brought all the packets to the counter, he jokingly said, “Are you ready to take out a second mortgage?” I laughed and said that although I was going to pay up front this time I intended to set up a pre-payment direct debit, which entitles you to a rather substantial discount. He regarded me for a moment and then said, “I think I can trust you,” and GAVE ME EVERYTHING FOR NOTHING on the proviso that I went home, set up that direct debit and then returned the next day to tell him. So that’s exactly what I have done, saving myself a £40 lump sum payment! It’s the sort of thing that almost never happens!

When I was recounting this tale to our friends, who also go there, they told us how they had once gone to collect something on prescription but he gave THEM money back because he sells that item off the shelf for much less money than it is on prescription! What a gent.

I realise that I have never given an update on my hearing problem, the result of that virus I had a few weeks back. Well, I’m pleased to say that although I am, from time to time, aware of a high pitched whistling in it the roaring sound and the weird echo effect have completely disappeared. In fact I totally forgot to mention it the last time I visited the doctors, so improved was it. I am relieved, naturally, but do have a slight concern that it may come back to haunt me in the future.

Right, this was short. I’m off to buy train tickets for another trip to London in July! Exciting!

Back soon.





Only One Week to Wales. And aural advances!

Hello once more, Dear Readers.

Ear update: I realised when I finished work yesterday evening that at some point during the afternoon my hearing had returned to almost normal levels. When Drew asked me, once I reached home, out of a hundred what percentage would I give it I replied ninety to ninety five percent. As I walked home I listened to a podcast, and the stereo effect was almost complete again! I also tried some music, and again it was pretty much normal. I still had that strange delayed, echo effect when watching television but that’s bearable. However, this morning I have woken up to find the roaring and whistling back and my hearing muffled once again… BUT I think this suggests that it is just congestion and that being on my feet all day meant the gunk drained away from my eardrum, whereas once I was in bed it leaked back to smother it again. I no longer feel so worried. Add to that my need to deal with more phlegm (sorry if you are reading this while you eat) and I really do think it’s congestion.

Let me put aside my woes for a while and return to Wales instead. This time next week we should have set off on our 7-ish hour drive. We stop several times, for our own benefit and of course so the dogs can stretch their legs and have a wee. The traffic might be heavy due to it being a ban holiday on the following Monday meaning people are going away for the weekend and hauliers want their lorries at their destinations before everywhere closes down for the Sunday and Monday. That said, last year we were pleasantly surprised by the distinct lack of traffic and the almost complete absence of lorries – maybe the drivers will reach their destinations on Friday and take the whole weekend off!

The village of Fairbourne, where we stay while we’re in Wales, is ideally placed for those who like walking. If, like us, you merely want to take your dogs for a walk, then the overall flatness of the immediate area lends itself to doing just that. Last year we took the dogs from the bungalow down to the beach and instead of just walking on the beach and then back we decided to explore a little when we reached as far as people can walk along the sea front. Our interest was piqued by a tunnel under the railway line that clings to the hillside that falls to the sea, so we left the sea front, descended the rather dodgy steps to the road at the bottom and ventured into the tunnel. The tunnel is narrow but tall. It’s impossible to tell whether there already existed a gap in the ground at that point or whether the tunnel had to be cut through the rock, nor are there any clues to that once you are through to the other side, although I lean towards the lane being at least widened by humans rather than nature. The tunnel, short though it is, immediately plunges you into pure countryside with no hint of being close to the sea at all. On your right the ground rises steeply to the road whilst on the left there are small fields, scattered with ramshackle buildings. The lane itself leads directly to a small farm before turning abruptly to the right to join with the main road. On the right of that junction is a slowly decaying toll house. It’s for sale, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone has rescued it when we return in May. I hope so, because the roof was covered in a large plastic sheet, which was itself falling apart… and once the elements get in to a building it can be almost impossible to save it.

The main road slopes down towards the village and is much further on foot than it seems in the car. It was the first time we had ever had a good look around there, so it was a pleasure to take in the details. There is a smattering of ancient farm buildings, some seemingly only standing thanks to the vegetation that has grown through them, several large Victorian buildings that look as though they were built to be hotels for the Victorian holidaying masses that never came and which are operating as bed and breakfasts and dotted between them are smaller, even older looking cottages and a few modern houses and bungalows.

A little further on the road swings to the left just before you reach the junction at which you turn left to reach Fairbourne itself. On the right are a collection of houses for the elderly and next to them some ancient stone-built cottages that were in the process of being renovated. If other renovations in the area are anything to go by then these will look amazing this year. Above these buildings, high on the hillside we noticed for the first time the ruins of buildings remaining from the slate mining which dominated the area for so long. (Indeed, there remains a large operational slate mine beyond Fairbourne on the main road even now.) It was the presence of the slate mines that has given Wales the legacy of many miniature railway lines, some now lost and many now restored as tourist attractions.

Dual language sign in English and Welsh.


During the second week of our holiday we arranged to meet a long-time internet friend in Aberystwyth, a large seaside town further down the coast and about an hour’s drive away. On our first trip there, several years ago and Before Dogs, we took a ride on the funicular railway at one of the bay that the town sits and walked all the way along the promenade to the remains of Aberystwyth castle – quite a lot of it is left and it stands open to the public on a small headland which would have afforded a great view out into the bay. The photo below was taken from just below the castle along the bay and shows the funicular railway where it climbs the hillside. The photo doesn’t show how black the sand is at that point. The photo under that is part of the interior of the castle.

  On that first visit the drive back proved to be rather eventful. The main road was incredibly narrow in some places despite being the major traffic route for anything going in and out of Aberystwyth meaning that what was little wider than a normal suburban street had large lorries, coaches and farm vehicles thundering along it. On our way home we experienced a frighteningly loud and sudden bang as a lorry whizzed by in the opposite direction, causing Drew to slam on the brakes. Luckily there was no one behind us as he jumped out and ran back up the road to retrieve the wing mirror that the lorry had clipped off as it went by! Luckily nothing else was damaged and although the glass was of the mirror was broken Drew was able to re-attach the bit that had come off and we were able to drive on, albeit shaken up, for the rest of the journey (and the rest of the holiday.) Thank goodness we then had the Ford KA, a really small car, because neither we nor the lorry were out of our lanes so in a wider car the damage would have been far worse and, at that point on the road, unavoidable!

On our second trip last year we were ready to identify where that incident had occurred, but this proved to be impossible. Much of the road had been widened and straightened in the intervening years and indeed other sections were undergoing massive alterations making it unrecognisable from the road we were on before. I don’t think the changes will make the journey there any quicker, and where there were once views of fields and woods there will be concrete and tarmac, but it’ll certainly make it safer!

Aberystwyth has a sizeable and long-established university which is divided between beautiful sandstone buildings on the sea front and a much modern campus that you pass as you drive down from the hills into the town. I expect the students get used to it, but I can’t imagine a nicer place to go to university.


The above photo shows the Victorian University buildings on the left, with the hillside railway in the distance.

Another view over the bay.

Finally a some other photos from last year’s holiday.


The miniature train that runs along a line from Fairbourne village to Penryhn Point, a trip that takes about 20 minutes. At the point there are toilets and a small cafe. The railway is run by volunteers, has a selection of carriages and engines and last year was under threat of closure! Fairbourne also has a station for the normal railway which runs along the coast, so it’s possible to catch a train to Fairbourne, walk the few hundred yards to the miniature railway and ride to the Point where you can catch the little ferry (when it’s on) across that treacherous stretch of water to Barmouth (which can be seen in the distance behind the train.) Charley as been on the little train a couple of times but this was Lola’s first trip, and she wasn’t sure about it all.

And on the subject of the dogs:


Charley looking to see where her Dad has gone (he had nipped into one of the shops in Fairbourne village before we set off on a trip.)

Lola, worn out after another exciting day, balancing on her Uncle Drew’s knee.

The girls expectantly watching Drew getting stuff ready to go out on another trip.

The sun on the sea, Fairbourne beach.

The Lone Soldier. Drew spotted him, camouflaged against the stones on the beach. How did he get there? Does someone miss him? Has he been there for years or just days? We’ll never know.

Ear, ear.

Hello Dear and very kind Readers.

Firstly: may I thank you for your kind words and your advice; I feel quite humbled by it.

Secondly: an update.

I had the hearing test appointment with the nurse at my doctor’s practice today. I’ve met her before; she’s a lovely lady who seems skilled at putting people at their ease immediately but who has a twinkle in her eye. We had a little chat about how I came to need the test, so I explained about being ill, about the earache and the stabbing pains and then how I woke up with roaring and whistling in my right ear and so on. I also explained that it has changed a little – yesterday I heard popping sounds if I yawned (a good sign, perhaps) and today if there is music playing or loud sound from the radio or TV I get an echo as though I am hearing a second version via long-distance phone line which has a minor delay. I have regained some hearing, though – listening to music with my headphones today I could get the stereo effect, but in my right ear the sound is very reduced and tinny, with no tone to it. Still, that’s better than it was. (I also realised when I used the phone I automatically put it to my right ear and was able to hear as though normally, perhaps because the phone does just provide a “flat” sound.)

So we progressed to the hearing test. I wore a large, tight pair of headphones and she played a series of tones, first in my left ear and then in my right. Some of the tones came to me almost as quickly as the left ear… but most took ages. When she showed me the results the graph for the two were VERY different indeed.

So, in short, she sends those results back to my doctor, who I have already made an appointment to see.

Oh, and she complimented me on my long ear canals – they gave her a good view of my eardrums, which showed no damage. She, in her limited experience as she said, reckons I might have some residual blockage from the infection rather than perforation. I hope she’s right.

Right. I need to go to bed. Another long shift tomorrow.

Fears and anxiety. And Doctor Who.

Weekend Greetings, Dear Readers.

I’m afraid that my blog has become a bit of a therapy session for me. At the moment it’s the only place that I can say how I feel about stuff. I just don’t feel able to talk about my anxieties to anyone, really. In fact to be this anxious at all seems like an admission of failure to me. I haven’t resumed having panic attacks or experienced any agoraphobia like I used to, but when I think about what it will be like when I return to work, or if my hearing doesn’t recover, or what would happen if I lost my job because my health makes me too much of a liability then I feel my chest get tight and my breathing rate increase and I want nothing more than to run to bed and hide. Like I used to.

Yesterday morning I ventured out of the house for the first time in 3 days. In fact, neither of us has been out for ages since Drew isn’t well at the moment, either, so we needed supplies of bread stuff (and tea bags because I’ve been off coffee since I was ill.) So I girded my loins, dug some money out of the holiday petrol money Doctor Who tin and set for the local Co-op round the corner.

Walking out in the street with impaired hearing is a weird experience. It made me very aware that although I CAN hear, I would not be able to hear a car approaching from the right so I was very wary crossing the road, weirdly more wary than when I’m wearing earphones which means I can’t hear anything at all. I’ve always been road-crossing-wary since I was little, anyway, and I’ve always been able to judge the distance and speed of an oncoming vehicle without a problem but getting used to this new limitation on my senses is going to take a while.

Once I was in the Co-op I found it very hard to concentrate properly. With just the one ear working it’s impossible to distinguish the background noises from one another, or to judge how far away the source of that noise might be. The sound of the fridge unit motors, the chatting of the other customers, the rumble of the traffic outside and the roaring in my right ear combined into one single loud noise which was a little alarming. When I got to the counter I had to concentrate really hard on what the girl at the till was saying and then found it impossible to judge how loudly I was speaking when I replied to her. I this what it’s going to be like from now on?

Even within the house things have changed. Not only could I not hear Drew calling to me from the front room when I was in the kitchen with the kettle on but later when the television was on and I was concentrating on reading something online I wasn’t aware that he, only a foot or so away from me, had been talking to me. I found myself doing that thing of pretending I had heard which used to do annoy me when my Grandad did it to me, but I was caught out in this because my reply made no sense as a response to what Drew had said.

This morning I have done some washing and am now drying it in the tumble dryer, which means those machines have been the soundtrack to everything I’ve done almost since I got up. Alarmingly the roar of the washing machine made me feel dizzy as I climbed the stairs; the sound of it in the enclosed space of the stairwell is rather loud and obviously bounces from the walls to enclose you as you move through that narrow space but the lack of that sound in one ear had a similar effect within my head to having a bannister removed suddenly from my right hand side and I lurched in that direction as I moved up the steps. (Actually, we don’t have bannisters, but I’m sure you know what I mean.) And now I’m playing classical music, as I like to do on a Sunday morning, from iTunes on my laptop through the speakers in the front room but the clatter and low-level whirr of the dryer is dominating everything else despite being two rooms away and I can barely discern the music at all other than stabs of high-pitched strings. Admittedly I don’t have it on very loudly as I am a considerate neighbour, but normally I would have been able to hear it properly. It seems that rather than getting used to it I am finding that everyday is throwing at me yet another thing that my impairment has spoiled. Plus the sensation of there being pressure in my ear seems to have increased a little – I feel as though if it were to “pop” when I yawn or swallow, something would come pouring out just as if I had been swimming or in the shower.

Frankly, it makes me want to weep. But am I being melodramatic? People suffer worse things than I have when they become ill, indeed I could have been affected in both ears which I rather think would have got me some more urgent treatment and may well have meant the cancellation of the already-paid-for and necessary-for-my-sanity holiday to Wales. (And even now I’m worried that I will be told that postponing treatment would be a bad idea, which would affect the trip adversely.) Yet in the space of 5 or 6 days I have learned how detrimental this loss has been to my enjoyment of things that are important in my life.

Anyway, on a more positive note the sun has been shining all day, in contradiction of the weather forecast that was for sunny spells but mostly cloud and later we are going over to Mum and Dad’s for a meal. The Girls haven’t had a walk for FOUR days, so they will go mad at being in Mum and Dad’s garden where they love to play and just run and run and can do so without supervision, which is lovely for them. And us.

We’re having a therapeutic watch of an old Doctor Who story, “Pyramids of Mars,” with Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor and the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith first broadcast in 1975. It’s like covering yourself in a comfortable old blanket. On the subject of Doctor Who, last night’s new episode on BBC1 was the best of this new run so far. Very creepy in parts, with some nice in-jokes about the 1970s, a great performance from Matt Smith and a very funny scene with new companion Clara and the TARDIS not getting on very well at all. Oh, and a nice pay-off at the end. Well constructed from start to finish. I should imagine quite a few children had to have the light on when they went to bed.

Okay. Enough of this maudlin self-indulgence. More soon.





A visit to the doctor and sudden deafness. Oh, and Thatcher’s dead.

Hello Readers.

In British News: the death of Margaret Thatcher has divided the nation down the middle like no other subject recently. From the good or ill she did the country to the £10 million cost of her funeral the last ten days have been bicker, bicker, bicker in the media, the press and the streets. In the end the feared demonstrations didn’t disrupt the funeral, although there were some and the arguments will continue for the foreseeable future. Until someone else famous dies, probably.

Personally I loathed the woman. I was living in the north-east of the country when she was at the height of her power where the local industries were ground into the ground and thousands lost their livelihoods. Some of the time I was there I worked for a welfare rights organisation, albeit a rather amateur one, so I met some of the people badly effected by Thatcher’s actions. They lost their jobs, their homes and in some cases their families. There were a few amongst them who preferred life on the dole but I visited a home where the front room only had one armchair in the living room (and an ancient television) and met people who were living from one emergency payout to the next. A town close to the coast had streets of empty, boarded up houses where the entire community had left after the local industry closed down. Coming from my protected southern background I found all this shocking. There was a visit by Thatcher to the area during which she was filmed walking through the wastelands next to the Tees river where once there had been factories and thousands of people working. It was intended to be an opportunity to illustrate the plans for the future of the area, and indeed it is now the site of the University of Teesside, but it looked awfully like she was a vengeful deity surveying her dreadful works.

Well, at least it meant no one went on and on about Justin Bieber’s naff comment in the visitors’ book at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.

In personal news I finally got to see my doctor on Thursday morning. I took with me the letter my boss had written after my last sickness period, which he read seriously, and we had a good chat. Considering that, in theory, he has 10 minutes to spend with me he was in no hurry to get our meeting over and done with. First of all he addressed my blood test, which I admitted had not been a fasting one. My cholesterol is raised again so he has prescribed me a very low dose of a statin; low because statins don’t seem to agree with me but necessary because my cholesterol is naturally on the high side and that concerns him. My blood sugars were raised, but that he decided was due to the non-fasting and the rise was so minimal he wasn’t worried about that at all. All other results were fine, in fact he said according to these results my liver function is “perfect.” But he was concerned about how I was feeling and asked me a list of questions about how I felt about myself, about my concentration, my interactions with others and so on. When he was finished and had contemplated for a moment or two he explained that in his opinion I am incredibly worn out, running well below par and while I’m not suffering from depression at the moment if I get any physically lower then my mental state will be in danger of following close behind. This comes over as being alarmist, but it really wasn’t like that. He has changed my anti-depressant to one I have never taken before and upped the dosage and wants to see me in about a month’s time. “Rest whenever you can, ” he said, so I explained that in fact that very night I was about to start another run of night shifts and how dreadful the last two had been. I could not face doing them, I said, but I was reluctant to just ring in sick without his back-up, so with no hesitation he wrote me a sick-note, initially for a week. If, he said, I didn’t feel any better by next week I was to make sure I saw him again and he would extend the note. At the time of writing I don’t feel I will need that extension.

I told him about the cold, the congestion, the cough and the awful head pains and the earache and that on Tuesday morning I woke up unable to hear much at all through my right ear. This hearing loss has effected me more than I have felt able to explain to anyone – it’s hard to convey the way it makes me feel because it is not something anyone can see. What I can hear all the time is both a roaring sound and a very high-pitched whistle; it dominates every other sound. I can, if I turn up my headphones, just make out a faint tinny, robotic version of whatever is playing and when there is music on the TV my right ear plays its own high-pitched but off-key counterpoint melody to that music. I cannot gauge the depth of a sound, for instance listening to the radio in bed this morning I could not tell whether music playing was a soundtrack to the drama that was on or coming through the open window. It proved to be the latter when I turned the radio down. I can’t hear Drew call me from another room because my right ear is closest to the door. For the first day or so the disorientation made me quite dizzy.

One of my greatest pleasures in life is listening to music. Whatever the music might be I enjoy listening through headphones, eyes closed, so that I can immerse myself in it. I hear new things in music I’m familiar with all the time, little nuances I have missed. And now I can’t do that. I would rather suffer a physical wound of some sort than lose my hearing. When one has one of those silly “would you rather go deaf or blind” conversations I always say blind because I would rather enjoy hearing my surroundings than just seeing them. And I am worried that this damage might be permanent because when the doctor examined my ears he could see no obvious blockages or swelling at all in either of them, which means of course that the problem is inside the mechanism of my ear itself. Next Thursday I have a hearing test booked back at the doctors’ practice, but with their nurse. If my hearing is no better than it is now then the test will prove there is a problem and I presume I’ll be referred to the hospital for some kind of scan for an internal examination. Even if I yawn and the ear suddenly pops back to normal I will still go for the test.

And now of course I have the pressure of returning to work and yet another meeting, perhaps more serious this time. Given the state of my morale this anxiety isn’t helping me very much. I wish I could put it out of my mind, but I’m not made that way. It’s preying on my mind, not helped by the fact that I haven’t got much to distract me. Daytime TV is the pits in the most part.

So. That’s the state of things at the moment. I’m still excited about our holiday in Wales, so I’m trying to focus on that more than ever.