Follow one crying eye on

Seize the day (but mind my knees)

I’ve just read a letter written by my father in 2008, two years before he died. He was writing to his NHS consultant to apologise for opting out of a medical trial. His reasoning was that, although he knew there was no cure for his condition (Myelodysplastic syndrome), he was still able to achieve a decent quality of life and if he joined the trial he would need to travel several times each month (and possibly more, depending on which trial straw he drew) to a hospital 50 miles away, endure injections and unknown after-effects with no guarantee of improvement or reversal of his symptoms. 

What I also know now is that my mother was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s at that time, and Dad was increasingly supporting her. He must have been weighing up the odds – was it worth the inconveniences of the trial and the resulting absences from home for the chance of a stay of execution? I can see from his copious notes and press clippings (he wasn’t an Internet guy!) that he was fascinated by the science of his illness and would have relished the involvement in a trial, at least from an intellectual perspective. But it just wasn’t convenient enough so he chose a different route – to enjoy the life remaining to him (and to help my mother manage and enjoy hers) while he still could. With the benefit of hindsight on his behalf, I think he was right. He lived two more years and postponed my mother’s deterioration for at least 18 months of that.

I am fortunately not in such a difficult position myself right now, but frequently entertain those ‘seize the day’ thoughts. Particularly after the recent sudden and rather shocking deaths of singing and rowing acquaintances, my resolve to ‘do stuff’ has rarely been stronger. Book more holidays! See more friends. Broaden my horizons and don’t just sit in a same-old same-old comfort zone, however comfortable it may be. Book more theatre visits (yes, even more!) – ok, in and out of comfort zone perhaps.

So why have I just spent the weekend sitting around?

Because of my knees. My stupid knees, which are doggedly refusing to (a) stop hurting (right knee); (b) allow me to kneel with them (left knee); or return to their former pre-Madeira shape (both knees). I was never particularly fond of my knees, nor proud of them – but they were fine and I have rarely had occasion to think about them at all in the past.

In the spirit of my positive ‘doing stuff’ drive, I have two walking holidays booked, one of which begins before the end of this very month. And whilst if my life depended on them, I’m fairly sure the knees would go those 50-plus miles up and down cliff paths tomorrow, I’m not sure that would be entirely sensible in their current state. So, also in the spirit of taking positive action, I forced myself last week to pay a visit to the walk-in small injuries clinic at Teddington Hospital, an adventure on which this hospital-phobe does not embark lightly. 

On arrival, by bus and a bit of a walk (which I can still do without a noticeable limp –  slightly annoying), my first concern is the rebranding of this facility as an Urgent Treatment Centre. I already feel a bit of a fraud and endeavour to develop a last-minute hobble. In all the palaver of donning a mask at the door and navigating the queue for Reception, I’m not 100% sure my limpy-leggedness is consistent, but no-one is paying any attention anyway. 

My second concern is the 3-hour wait warning, but I have prepared for this and brought a new paperback with me. I give the briefest of explanations to the receptionist as to why I am here, and supply a few personal details which seem to allow him to access all sorts of additional pieces of information about me (sadly not sufficient to allow the visit to appear subsequently in my GP medical history online, it seems, although perhaps it takes a few months to replicate there). I choose a seat from the few vacant ones dotted around the room and am pleased to say that despite the end-stage emphysema behind me (diagnosed by me to ensure it is nothing transmissible) and the acute ‘terrible twos’ on display to my left (unfortunately more contagious than I have previously thought), I manage to avoid ending up in a fainting fit on the floor this time and remain marvellously aloof throughout.

It is eventually my turn. I don’t need to feign a limp, as my whole body has pretty much set in its ‘patient seated’, or should that be ‘seated patient’, position. My gait is consequently some kind of wooden lollop which loosens up only marginally as we reach the consulting room.

Health professional (addressing his umpty umth sorry specimen of the day): “What can we do for you?”

Scruffy middle-aged lolloper: “Well, I fell on volcanic rock on holiday about three weeks ago and hurt both my knees, and although they were very bad, I could still walk (eventually) and thought they would get better, but they haven’t really and now I’m worried that when I’m even older than I am now, I won’t be able to walk properly at all, so I thought maybe someone should have a look at them…”

Health man, with his clipboard: “And have you seen your GP?”

Limper: “Er no. It’s so difficult to get appointments these days.”

Clip-board Man: “Did you try?” (Bit combative…)

Scruff: “No.” (Looks downcast, nay crestfallen and hopefully mightily apologetic.)

Man: “Hmm, ok, let’s take a look.” (Phew, crestfallen is clearly a more successful look than the alternative curmudgeonly old bag face I keep up my sleeve for awkward customers. Fortunate choice.)

The upshot is that one knee has a bruised meniscus and the other a sprained ligament. As such, no X-ray is given (a little disappointing perhaps but that would undoubtedly be another 3-hour wait) and I am speedily dismissed. I walk carefully back to the bus-stop trying to lollop a little less and clutching my diagnosis (notes on my phone), a couple of pages of hastily printed knee exercises thrust at me on departure and my two-thirds finished novel, and resolve to rest for the next two weeks (once I’ve walked the half mile home from the bus-stop of course.)

I’m not very good at resting. Better when it’s chucking it down with rain outside, and there has been plenty of that, but as soon as the sun comes out I am restless rather than resting. Desperate to do a bit of day-seizing.

However, like a dutiful patient I determined to sit indoors and write up a blog piece this weekend. Plagued with one of those headaches which was bad enough to annoy but not so awful as to justify medication, I soldiered through Sunday writing and revising and editing a veritable masterpiece on the carpe diem theme. Explanations and comparisons, justifications of taking care of myself to preserve for the future versus just bloody doing what I want right now. Etc etc. No doubt it was very edifying and elucidating and marvellous crafted. 

You will never know.

I’ve spent most of this sunny Monday trying to rejuvenate my broken website (actually quite easy once I’d engaged the scary IONOS lady) and retrieve the Word doc I most definitely saved before my laptop crashed – this latter proving impossible, despite discovering all sorts of hidey-Mac-holes and pathways. So the above is a much more succinct version (believe it or not – haha).

And I’m pleased to say that although the knees may still be giving me gyp, there’s nothing wrong with my theatre booking finger and I’ve seized some bargain tickets for The Lehman Trilogy tomorrow evening to challenge the old brain cells.

I promise to walk carefully and slowly across Waterloo Bridge.







A tunnel too far

Mad excitement! I’ve finally been on a plane, after very nearly three full years of abstinence. 

I was fortunate to have been on holiday just before the first Covid lockdown was ordered, so for several months I accepted being grounded. There were other things to think about in 2020. 

2021 rolled in and again there was acceptance of the next wave of lockdown. I am generally a law-abiding person and not by nature a rebellious soul (although I am perhaps getting there with this, on my own terms at least), so I shrugged and grumpily accepted my lot. We were at least able to travel around the UK and I managed to knock off a few more miles on the Coast Path in Cornwall.

2022 – I would normally have expected to be back in the skies seeking exotic climes, but a combination of unreliable airlines (loads of cancellations) and my Greta-Thunberg sympathies meant that I still didn’t have the gumption to book anything. My British Airways Gold Card (that divisive old thing) lay tarnished in the drawer, apparently never to be resurrected. Towards the end of the year I began feverishly investigating trains, in the hope that an Interrailing adventure might materialise. And it still might.

But by the end of January 2023, I was almost beside myself with itchy wings. Friends still working were back on the overseas meetings circus, fellow retirees seemed to have notched up at least one trip each since lockdown and some of them were fully back on schedule with their four hols a year. And my house was mostly cold, dark and still in need of serious refurbishment; the old avoidance reflex finally kicked in and in early February I found myself back on the annoying platform that is the BA website.

It is now March 2023, and I can tick off a new place – although sadly not an actual new country because, although it is miles from the mainland, Madeira is an outpost of Portugal and I’ve been to the capital, Lisbon, already. This time I have the passport stamp to prove it – one small Brexit benefit for an ‘evidence and statistics’ travel enthusiast such as myself. I can sometimes sadly be found fondly reading through my passport – one of those with extra pages which my employer paid for me to have because I needed regular Indian or Russian visas which use up the pages of a standard passport too quickly.

So, Madeira. I travelled with British Airways from Heathrow. I have written a full account on my ‘holiday’ blog site – which you can find here if you’re interested. It was a much-needed and much-appreciated trip and I have now joined the ranks of enthusiasts for this beautiful place.

However, right now the most enduring effect of the holiday is my unfortunate and continuing inability to kneel. 

Now, this may not be a particularly dreadful handicap for a non-church-goer and, as accidents go, mine was pretty trivial – but the annoyance factor is huge.

As part of my trip planning, I had booked myself on a Levada* walk for my final full day. I was confident I would be able to complete the advertised 12.5 km and that I would not be troubled by the steep drops, the narrow slippery paths and the occasional bursts of uphill trudging.

My fellow walkers, six in all, were younger than me by at least 9 years. I know this because the guide, who I suspect was in fact older than me, very chivalrously sat me in the front passenger seat of the minibus (the most comfortable seat with the best view) and ensured I was the last person to complete the registration list requiring us to write our names and birth dates so I was the only one to see all the ages and no-one saw mine. No doubt this was, in fact, part of some clever “I absolve your company from all liability in relation to the stupid things I am about to do” legal waiver which of course didn’t seem important at the time other than to remind me of my great age. And of course, this chivalry also allowed my fellow walkers to assume I was much OLDER than I actually am. Ah well.

We set off from near the top of one of the volcanic mountains and ticked off all the promised features of the walk: beautiful views; many stunning waterfalls; perilously narrow sections with steep drops to one side and sheer rock water channels on the other; uneven and slippery rock steps; occasional bird-life and plenty of different trees and plants identified for us. Finally, the last feature was an 800m tunnel through which the Levada flowed and which we were required to navigate in the pitch black. We were each given a stylish, and slightly damp-smelling head-torch to supplement our personal phone torches, and we marched single file to the end. As my night vision is generally poor and in this type of condition I normally lean heavily on Mr J (who, of course, was back in London so of no use at all on this occasion), I was more nervous of this part than any of the other obstacles – but I was pleased to reach the far end unscathed and not even the slightest bit traumatised.

I congratulated myself on how well I had been able to keep up with everyone and enjoy the whole experience and turned round to take one last photograph of the tunnel we had just traversed – and the next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees on the wet volcanic rock path, in excruciating pain. I don’t remember what words I may have exclaimed – quite possibly not Portuguese – but my fellow travellers turned as one to view my embarrassment as I paused to consider whether I could summon a modicum of composure or indeed rise to my feet before the mud and damp soaked in too much. 

I was helped to a standing position. I remember at this point rejoicing that I had not immediately dissolved in tears and was, in fact, to be heard bravely claiming that there was no real harm done. My knees and left hand were quietly but insistently telling me this was a great big lie, but there’s nothing like middle-aged British stiff-upper-lippery to paper over emotional cracks and overcome mere physical adversity. I was persuaded to roll up my walking-trouser leg on the more agonising of the two lower limbs. This revealed actual blood, despite the material of the trouser apparently being unharmed – a feature I have unfortunately experienced before. A kind American proferred a small sanitiser pack and I wiped my knee boldly. “I’ll be absolutely fine. No worries.” 

The guide was solicitous but not overly so and after a few further moments of mutual reassurance, and a pained rolling-down of the trouser leg, we proceeded on the last 0.5km to the mini-bus which had magically relocated itself to our finish point. At a small cafe shortly afterwards I thanked the guide and the kind American as we sipped our caffeinated rewards and looked back towards the mountain. 

I was dropped back at my hotel. Rather than go to my room to (metaphorically) lick my wounds, I decided I should first buy some more essentials (biscuits) from the little supermarket down the road. Having done that, I realised I had yet to purchase a fridge magnet – a necessary trinket from every trip to the big overseas. This involved quite a protracted walk along a previously unexplored road, and it was more than half an hour before I finally returned to my hotel room. I had been planning to take a quick dip in one of the selection of pools, or even risk the sea, but on inspecting my knees I judged that no-one would want such open wounds polluting the swimming pools and the sea option involved clambering down a metal ladder with potential for adding further grazes against the many rock faces. I therefore retreated to a sun lounger, although even this was quite brave given that in order to reach my preferred location I had to parade my bloodied knees down 8 flights of hotel stairs, into a shared lift and past several other occupied loungers before I could settle myself.

By this stage I was tired and still mildly annoyed at myself, but otherwise sufficiently chirpy to send Mr J a photograph of my wretched limbs. I later enjoyed a warm bath and the legs looked decidedly better. It was only late on in the evening, after resting and catching up on my reading, that I realised I had lost the ability to bend my left leg. This was more than mildly alarming, but deciding there was nothing much I could do about it and that perhaps if I took a couple of Ibuprofen it might be better in the morning, I retired to bed.

And I was right. I was able to shuffle down the four flights of stairs to the breakfast room, and then clamber onto the airport transfer bus. Later still, and when more awake, I managed to drag my over-sized luggage onto two buses from Heathrow to Kingston and then the 20 minute walk home from the town centre with only the occasional wince. Sadly, my camera – which took the full clattering force of my fall onto volcanic rock – has not bounced back so easily.

One week after my return, now rather enjoying the spectacular colour changes of the bruising, I made the stupid mistake of kneeling on my office carpet to sort out my music folder. The ensuing screaming and swearing (of which I am not proud) revealed that there is still something quite unpleasantly wrong. We are currently working on the assumption that this is a bruised bone and that it will go away with the passing of time.

I am quite determined that this will not stop me from future expeditions. I resolve to take more care, never relax and always be wary of looking forward to that light at the end of the tunnel! It may not be as good as it seems.


*Levada = irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to Madeira.



Follow one crying eye on