Friday, 24 July 2009

A Tale Of The Unexpected

Last Thursday was a normal sort of day - a little trip to Reading to have a simple (I'm told) colonoscopy at the Berkshire Independent Hospital in the morning, then a spot of painting in the afternoon, before going out to dinner in the evening.

But fate was hovering about - intent on messing things up a bit.

Having donned a dressing gown over the unbelievable dark blue outsize 'Bridget Jones' pants I waited my turn, idly chatting to a woman who'd just returned from having had her colonoscopy. It didn't sound too bad - in fact quite interesting, as she said you could watch the entire procedure on a video screen. As I'd never seen the inside of my body I thought I'd take advantage of the situation. Someone had told me that a colon is the length of a double-decker bus, so I prepared myself for a Disney-style adventure.

But it wasn't to be! The surgeon had just received the results of the CT scan I'd had the previous weekend. His words didn't exactly fill me with joy as he calmly, kindly and soberly announced that it showed a large blockage in my colon indicating bowel cancer! A bit of a blow - to say the least. "However I can operate on you this afternoon, if you'd like!" said the surgeon. So at 4 o'clock I was wheeled away for a major three-hour operation and my day ended in a high dependency unit at the hospital. They removed about twelve inches of the cancerous growth, and here I am - just over a week later - reclining on my hospital bed, a good bit lighter.

A friend is kindly typing this into my blog for me, as I'm as weak as a kitten and can't manage much at the moment.

Even though I won't be able to drive for a couple of months and am not expected to be back to normal health and strength for about 6 months, I do have three pieces of good news:
1. Due to the nature of the operation I promise I won't post any photographs.
2. I'm going home tomorrow to stay with my sister-in-law, Val.
3. Best of all - the lab results have just come in. All the cancerous growth has been successfully removed, with no 'spread' whatsoever.

Thanks to everyone who has expressed their concern about my health on my blog.

Till next time - bye for now.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Henley Festival

For over a quarter of a century the Henley Festival of Music and The Arts has been a permanent fixture of the summer social calendar here in Henley. I’ve been to every single one of them, and with its unique riverside setting the five-day festival offers an incredible variety of artistic performances both visual and musical.

The scene on the river at Festival time

This year the organisers really surpassed themselves. I went on Wednesday evening with Felicity, Josephine and cousin Paul. The main attraction and star of the show was the fabulous young singer - Katherine Jenkins. What a n extraordinary repertoire she has!

Katherine Jenkins
She was performing on the floating stage. This enormous stage is set right on the river, facing back towards the Regatta stands. As you watch the show boats of every description silently glide past, forming a unique moving backdrop. Before the show we wandered around the many tented art galleries dotted around the grounds. Certainly the best ever art exhibits they’ve staged, in my opinion. Here are a few examples:

At the end of the evening we were treated to a spectacular ‘aerialist’ artistically cavorting to music high in the air encased in a semi-transparent orchid-shaped bubble called ‘The Diamond’ which slowly inflated to a height of over 30 feet. (During a phone-in last Sunday morning to BBC Radio Berkshire, in my excitement when describing the Festival, I irreverently described the Diamond as a giant sparkly transparent condom! Oh dear).

The Diamond
Adjacent to the Diamond a lone violinist played a melody as he carefully transversed a tightrope high above our heads.

The evening ended with a firework spectacular, set to music.

Sunday was the last day of the Festival. I‘d been invited there, with a companion (Kerry), by the Chairman. We met at Paul and Debbie’s home and were all at the Festival grounds by 6pm, which gave us time - before joining our hosts for dinner - to see more of the art exhibits. As we went in a pair of enormous ‘flies’ towered over us accompanied by an equally tall ‘Devil’.

A big 'Fly'
Kerry, me, Debbie and Paul

An exclusive exhibition of Salvadore Dali’s work was on display. This bronze sculpture is of a ballerina dancing on a piano.

The Terrace Restaurant overlooks the river where we joined our hosts for dinner. As we ate we watched the tranquil ever-changing scene before us. It was a beautiful balmy night, which pleased the girls, even though they’d brought pashmina’s in case the wind blew in from the river. The main attraction on the floating stage was ‘The Bootleg Beatles’ - probably the best tribute Beatle band in the world. Kerry, being a dancer and singer, was thoroughly enjoying herself from our wonderful vantage point in the stand as she clapped away in time to the music. Me, I’m more of an Elvis Presley fan.

The 'Bootleg Beatles' on the floating stage
The evening – and the Festival – ended with Jo Brand performing at the Riverside Cabaret tent. She’s one of Britain’s best female comedians and is renowned for being a bit scatological. I find her extremely funny. Pity we had to stand – she’s very popular. Her show lasted nearly an hour, after which we wended our way home around midnight.
I haven’t done much painting this week. Been a bit under the weather, I’m afraid.
You know, I really value my friends. Very caring. On Saturday morning, for example, Felicity drove me to The Royal Berkshire Hospital for a pelvic scan. And waited the couple of hours till it was over to bring me back home. And another good friend will take me to another hospital on Thursday morning for my scheduled colonoscopy- which I’m not looking forward to.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Mad Dogs and Henley Royal Regatta

On Wednesday evening – one of the loveliest of the year – Shiplake College’s ‘Mad Dogs Theatre Company’ performed sequences from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in Sue and Tom’s garden in Woodlands road. About 60 people were invited, and I must say I was very impressed with the energy and talent of the young students. It was virtually a full dress preview for the ‘Alice’ weekend to be held at various locations all over the City of Oxford. We followed the players all over the garden as they very professionally acted out excerpts from Lewis Caroll’s classic books. I’ll add a little video at the end of this blog showing the young blades dancing ‘The Lobster Quadrille’.

The Red Queen

The 'Mad Dog Theatre Company'

Henley Regatta came to an end yesterday. On Friday morning my little party of eight graced the elegance of Phyllis Court. I picked up Paul and Debbie and as soon as we arrived – first things first – Paul bought a big jug of Pimms – a wonderful relief from the heat of the day. To see the floatey dresses and lovely hats worn by the ladies reflected the real Englishness of the occasion. All the men, of course, wore blazers and either boaters or panama hats.

A view down the course

Jane, me and Debbie at lunch

I’d arranged for the best table in the dining room for lunch, which everyone really enjoyed (still haven’t regained my own appetite however)

Debbie's pudding

Paul and Debbie
Later in the afternoon we all sat on the deckchairs - strategically arranged overlooking the river so we could watch some of the races – after all it is the premier rowing event in England in the summer – although some people think it’s a purely social event!

Our own 'Eight'

The sunshine poured down from a blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, and Bill suggested we all go for a trip up the river on his launch. Now that was just marvellous – silently we travelled up to Hambleden lock and back – sipping champagne and lemonade. The four girls in the back were having a riotous time – it reminded me of the current TV programme ‘Loose Women’. Peals of laughter reverberated around the boat. And when we got back to Henley Bridge another treat was in store for us as a lone Spitfire performed aerobatics overhead. For fully 20 minutes it ‘looped the loop’, dived and climbed high in the sky. The roar of the Merlin engines brought back nostalgic memories of dog fights going on above our childhood heads during the Second World War.
Spitfire in the sky
There’s always a tremendous variety of craft on the river during Henley week. Cruises, slipper launches, big passenger boats, punts, and rowing boats – just about everything. We even saw a genuine Venetian Gondola and a boat shaped like a shoe!

I don't think the shoe will win

The Venetian Gondola

Later in the evening, after a very nice cup of tea and a crumpet at Paul and Debbie’s, I made my way home to watch the Murray/Roddick tennis match from Wimbledon that I’d recorded earlier. Our guy didn’t win but it was a very close match.

I was reading a book about Sam Manekshaw over the weekend. (I spent the day with him a number of years ago at his home in Delhi. He was India’s highest ranking soldier – the only Field Marshall in the Indian army and certainly the most unforgettable person I’ve ever met.) A quote from the book I really like was “ If a man tells you he’s not afraid in battle he’s either a liar – or a Ghurkha.”

This little video shows the New Orleans passing by while we lazed the afternoon away at Shiplake lock last week. And the other is of the young students performing their version of the ‘Lobster Quadrille’