Friday, 29 July 2011

birthday wishes

In the 12 months since my last birthday, we have ticked off yet another item on the wish list I wrote in 2009 when Steve was first diagnosed with mesothelioma: I sent him a card to mark his one millionth birthday in March (his 64th birthday in "normal" numbers!)  Not only has he reached this milestone, he feels good, has no pain and his condition is stable.  That is the best birthday present I could wish for!  I wish for it to continue in the coming year and beyond.

By the time I write my next birthday wish list, I hope to be able to tell you that we have reached another milestone - our ruby wedding anniversary in May 2012. But that's a long way off.  In the meantime, we have another six weeks to enjoy life before Steve's next hospital assessment in mid-September and a birthday to celebrate this weekend!  

The birthday celebrations kicked off at lunchtime with the arrival of daughter Katie from Manchester.  We are now back home after lunch out, trying to decide whether we can make room for birthday cake this afternoon and whether we will be able to keep going into this evening if we drink a birthday bottle of Prosecco with the cake.  Decisions, decisions :-))

It's been great to read the birthday greetings on Facebook, e-mails and cards - thanks to each and every one of you for helping to make it a special day!

The family celebrations will continue when son Jack arrives in Oxford on Sunday and we join friends for another meal out. In between, we have something else to look forward to - drop by in a few days to find out what we've been up to.

Re-reading this, I feel rather selfish with my birthday wishes - they have been focussed on us.  I wish that everyone with mesothelioma has good news in the coming months, especially those who need it the most.  You know who you are.  Our thoughts are also with Emily, her family and partner Nick - they will know why.  Love to you all.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

up, up and away!

It's not often that we get up at the crack of dawn, but we did yesterday for a very good reason:  Steve's first ride in a hot air balloon!

After helping the crew inflate the envelope, we climbed into the basket ready for lift off from Oxpens field, close to the city centre, our friend Ruth waving us bye-bye as we floated upwards and flew slowly south.

The sun was rising through the clouds over east Oxford, illuminating the historic buildings in the heart of the city. We could even see our own house, not too far away to the west!

We drifted slowly south, watching the sunlight glinting on the Thames, passing Boars Hill and onwards towards Abingdon.  The views were stupendous - villages, farmland with wonderful field patterns and the A34 snaking alongside our route.  

We could see people - early-risers walking their dogs and going to work; farm animals and wild animals, including the rabbits in the fields below. A red kite took off beneath us as the sounds drifted gently upwards.  The cooling towers of Didcot power station pierced the misty distance.

All too soon, it was time for the pilot to look for somewhere to land.  He chose a field on the edge of a village called Steventon and headed for a field with a large marquee where the Truck Festival had taken place the weekend before.  

Then drama!  Too late to abort the descent, the pilot realized that our landing field was strewn with metal barriers left over from the festival. The basket with passengers landed safely, albeit tipping over to one side - thankfully giving us a view of the sky, rather than the ground - but the balloon envelope started to deflate over the fences, threatening to tear it to shreds.

Once we had stopped moving, everyone got out of the basket as quickly as possible and headed to the metal fences - one person per post - to try to stop the fabric of the balloon from tearing.  And it worked, except for one rip which happened as we landed.

Envelope safely stowed, out came the champagne ready for a toast to all who sailed in her and saved the day!  Then into the minibus which had arrived while all the excitement had been going on and back into Oxford and home for another cup of coffee before resuming a normal day.  

Isn't life exciting?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Picture this.....

This week we have been mainly "doing" pictures - cataloguing, printing, collecting, sending off and viewing our own and other people's images.

Steve has been collating and printing out the thumbnails which we use to catalogue our photographs.  Between us, we have taken over 2000 shots since the end of April, including trips to Venice, Bilbao, London, Edinburgh and Manchester.  Thank goodness for digital cameras - it would have cost a small fortune, had we been buying film.

The horti-CULTURE exhibition at the O3 Gallery finished last Sunday, so we went back on Monday to collect prints minus four which had been sold, including The Allotment Watering Can which was bought by the gallery to add to its permanent collection!  

Tuesday morning I posted a print to the Association of Photographers (AOP) which will go on show in October at the AOP Open Awards 2011 exhibition and be included in the book of the exhibition.  Tuesday afternoon and evening was spent in London, enjoying other people's art at Tate Modern. 

On Wednesday I was taken back in time by an e-mail from the chap who runs the Urban Photographer of the Year Competition, to say that they were producing a coffee table book of all the finalists from 2008, 2009 and 2010. He wanted a high res version of an image which had been selected for the 2008 competition and more information about it to put in the book.  The picture in question had been taken in October 2007 on a trip to Glasgow, so I had to dig deep into the archives to find it - highlighting the importance of good cataloging (and how much my photography has improved since then!)

On Thursday, Steve responded to a call for entries from the local hospital to submit applications for an Art on the Wards project.  We already have pictures on semi-permanent loan at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, but it would be good to have more at the NOC! 

Friday, we worked on prints for a photographic portrait competition organised by the National Portrait Gallery.  We rarely photograph people, but I thought I would give it a go this year just for the experience.  We were back enjoying other people's art which had selected for 5th Annual Exhibition at the 03 Gallery in the evening.

So here we are on Saturday.  I have finally got round to sending off my Art on the Wards application.  We have enjoyed looking at the catalogue for the RPS 2011 International Print Exhibition which arrived this morning and have started thinking about our entries for this year's International Projected Image Exhibition.  Steve remarked that we will have to up our game this year if we are to stand a chance of being selected, and I think he's right. But we will try anyway!

There will be more looking at pictures next week, but before then it's a big birthday weekend - many happy returns Mary, Jon and Stella who all have birthdays on Sunday.  Have a great day!

A good productive week for us has been saddened by the news that another meso warrior in Australia has lost his battle with this awful disease. For a while, things looked very promising.  Back in November last year, Farid had encouraging results as a result of taking part in a clinical trial called FAK which until then had only been used to treat other types of cancers.  Sadly the initial tumour reduction was not sustained.  Still, it bought him and his family more time together which they might not have had otherwise.  

We have also had news from my cousin that in spite of chemotherapy, her husband's cancer has continued to grow and prognosis is poor. Faced with that news, they have decided that they are going to enjoy and proceed with all the things they planned for the next couple of months.  We look forward to seeing you both in September and will be thinking of you.

Our thoughts are also with Mavis, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma around the same time as Steve.  Her latest scan showed tumour growth and, not surprisingly, she is feeling low - but still determined to fight back.  If you have ever dipped into her blog (link top right under We are not alone) you will know that her "Mr Nasty" as she calls it, will be in for a tough time. We are rooting for you Mavis. Pack him a punch from us!

Another meso friend, Jan, is also having to face the fact that her mesothelioma "friend" isn't willing to give up the fight in her left lung and has made a claim on her right lung. Whatever you decide to do Jan, stay strong and positive. The decision you make will be right one for you.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

a night of contrasts

Isn't it great to enjoy a night out with friends?  The contrast between the start of yesterday's socializing and the second part of the evening was so great, made it feel like two nights out rolled into one.

We started in the Grand Cafe in the city centre, sharing a bottle of prosecco with an Italian photographer and his wife, brought together by a mutual friend who noticed the similarity in the subject matter and treatment of our images. By strange coincidence, Marcello and Erminia were in Oxford, so it was a good chance to meet face to face. Not knowing anything about our backgrounds, the talk was about art and photography, travel and holidays...

....a bus ride and short train journey later, we were at a beer festival in Islip, meeting up with friends with a mutual history that goes back decades and (in the case of one couple) a shared experience of one partner being diagnosed with cancer and going through chemotherapy. Not surprisingly, the conversation was dominated by different matters - what had happened since we last met up, children and mutual friends, health and well being.....

All in all, a well rounded evening in good company - here's to many more!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

and today is............?

This morning I couldn't decide what to wear, so I mentioned to Steve that I would change later before we went out.  His response was, "But we aren't going anywhere today!"  It soon became apparent that I thought it was Friday and he thought it was Tuesday. By a process of elimination, we eventually worked out that today is, in fact, Thursday.  Ho hum.

There have been some recent exchanges between Facebook Meso Warriors about "chemo brain" - those moments when you loose track of time.  However, it's 18 months since Steve's last round of chemo and as far as I know it isn't catching! So I have to put this morning's lapse down to a shared "senior" moment or a side effect of no longer having a working routine......

We had a somewhat bizarre experience yesterday. Going into the city centre to take part in a walkabout quiz, we stumble upon the crew filming a new episode of "Lewis" in Ship Street.  Sadly, an empty chair labelled Lawrence Fox was the nearest we got to seeing one of the stars of the show.  But what was on TV when we returned home after the quiz ?  You guessed it.  Lewis and Hathaway (aka actors Kevin Whatley and Laurence Fox) sleuthing around Oxford, just like we had been earlier that evening, trying to get the answers to the quiz questions. The line between reality and fantasy can feel thin when you live in a city like this.

However, the harsh reality of mesothelioma was brought home yesterday with news that another meso warrior has lost his battle with this deadly disease.  Peter lived in Australia with his family wife and two young sons.  He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2009, four months after Steve, and died on Tuesday.  He was only 54 years old.  According to his facebook page, Peter's favourite quote was one of his mum's "Life may not be the party we'd hoped for, but while we are here, we may as well dance"

We will keep dancing, Peter. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

pigeons and rabbits

After living out of a suitcase for periods of time in May and June, we have decided that July is the month to be sociable, have days out and enjoy new experiences.  

While Steve watched cricket on Saturday, I met up with former colleagues from my time at the City Council for a drink or two in Oxford.  Very pleasant and enjoyable it was too, picking up where I last left off with some of them, nearly a decade ago.  

There's more socializing on the agenda this weekend, including a face-to-face meeting with people we have only communicated with electronically up to now.  More of that in a future blog!

Today was the day for a new experience.  Well, nearly new. The last time either of us had picked up anything resembling a gun was back in our Lazer Quest days, when we used to run around a stage set in the dark as "Scarecrow" and "LA", surrounded by the electronic beep beep beep of someone (or ourselves) being hit by a shaft of green light. Prior to that, Steve had tried his hand at the fairground rifle range and played with an air rifle as a boy, and I used to play with Jack's pop gun, which made a great sound as the cork popped out of the barrel attached to a bit of string.  All great fun, but nothing to prepare us for today when we had our first shooting lesson, a birthday present for Steve courtesy of Jon and Sally.

It has taken us a while to get round to booking it.  In truth, I think we were both scared of looking like complete idiots in public (no hiding in the dark behind the props like I used to do in Lazer Quest....) I admit I did not feel comfortable about shooting with a real gun - too many nasty associations. However, we finally plucked up courage and went this afternoon.

Steve was more at ease than me as we were taken to the gun room, given our rifles - a 12 bore for me and a 20 bore for Steve - shown how to stand, hold the gun and instructions on how to hit a moving target, in particular staying focussed on the clay rather than squinting at the end of the barrel. Then, kitted out with caps, protective glasses and earplugs, we headed off to the shooting ground to see what happened when we tried to put what we had learnt into practice. 

At the first stand, the clay simulated a bird emerging from the trees in the middle distance and flying towards us in an arc, going over our heads. To our delight, after much practice and a bit of luck we both managed to hit two clays.  

At the next stand, the clay simulated a rabbit running across the ground left to right, before disappearing into the bushes. I thought this might be a bit easier as you could see the hole from which the clay would emerge, but the uneven ground made it bounce unpredictably. Not so easy after all....But good fun nevertheless!  I even managed to do better than Steve on this stand.

The hour seemed to fly by. The patience, advice and support of the instructor was second to none.  However, it's surprising how tiring it can be to hold up a rifle against your cheek repeatedly for long periods of time when you are not used to it!  Not to mention staying focussed on the trajectory of a small orange object as it crosses your field of vision.  

Neither of us feel the need to practice on real pigeons and rabbits, but it was a great feeling to hit a clay one!  

So, another new experience under the belt and more to look forward to in the next few weeks in between more socializing and days out. Life is good!

Friday, 8 July 2011

What a relief...

And the good news is that six days after she broke the bones in her right hand, our daughter Katie has now had an operation to wire them back together and should be out of hospital later today or tomorrow. What a relief!  A friend pointed out to me that young people heal more quickly than people of our advancing years, so let's hope the wiring is successful and that she will have full use of her hand in six weeks time, if not sooner.

We are looking forward to seeing her here in Oxford for a few days at the end of the month, to help me celebrate my birthday. Between then and now we have some first time experiences lined up for ourselves. If you want to know what new tricks we've been up to, drop by later next week ......:-)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

our friends (and family) in the north

In the last week or so, we've been traveling round the compass: south to Bilbao, west to Bristol and most recently north to Manchester, where we visited our daughter Katie and partner George who recently moved into a flat near the city centre.  

Traveling north gave us the perfect excuse (not that we needed one) to visit friends Andy and Dave in New Mills and enjoy the Peak District scenery en route.  The plan had been to arrive in time for a walk before dinner.  However, we were distracted by our first meeting with grandson Louie, followed by a wonderful meal on the terrace then a taster of the photos Andy and Dave had taken on a recent trip to the far east....and - you guessed it - we didn't get further than the sofa in the sitting room, where we enjoyed catching up with each others' news from the last 11 months. A good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast set us up for the short drive on to Manchester the next day.  Thanks so much Andy and Dave!

After checking into the hotel at Salford Quays, I phoned Katie to talk about meeting up, only to hear the rather alarming news that she had tripped up at home and was in hospital waiting to have her broken hand put in a temporary plaster, pending an operation to wire the bones back together together. However, she was confident that she would be OK later, so we arranged meet up that evening at the flat, before going out for a meal.  

Trying hard not to worry, we set out to explore Salford Quays - starting with lunch at the Lowry arts venue, a strange but exciting building where the steel clad exterior conceals vibrant colours inside.

In the afternoon, we crossed the bridge to the Imperial War Museum North - another eye catching building with fascinating displays about how war shapes lives.  We left it too late to take the lift to the top of the "air shard" to look over the quays, so that went on the to do list for later!

A quick turn around at the hotel, then a taxi to Katie and George's flat and a walk to the restaurant introduced us to other parts of Manchester.  In spite of the trauma and the pain killers beginning to wear off, Katie was in good spirits and managed to eat her meal mainly left-handed!  The downside is that with her right hand in plaster, she has problems writing and typing so it looks like the job interviews lined up will have to be cancelled.  

We arranged to meet up again on Sunday afternoon, which left us the morning free to explore the Quays further.  So it was back to the War Museum and up the air shaft for a bird's eye view of the area, then over the bridge to Media City where the BBC is in the process of setting up its new HQ. 

As we pressed our noses up against the window to see what was going on inside, a chap came out and invited us in - it was an open day.  So that's how Steve got to hang around the CBBC set

and I had a close encounter with a dalek who had last acted with David Tennant's incarnation of Dr Who!

Back into the city centre in the afternoon, and a trip on the big wheel with Katie and George, followed by drinks in the Manchester International Festival pavilion and a walk round the Spinningfields area, where the crowds were out watching the mens' singles final at Wimbledon on the big screen on the green.

After a hectic day, it was time for us to recoup with a quiet meal together back at Saford Quays in the evening, where we sat outside watching the comings and goings at the Lowry, glowing gently (well, I didn't think to take sunscreen to Manchester......)

Before leaving on Tuesday morning, we went back to Katie's and helped her get some heavy shopping in - not easy to do when you are literally single-handed.  Still no news from the hospital about when she will be operated on.  Soon we hope. We are on call, should she need extra support.  

We traveled back to Oxford via Shugborough Hall, the ancestral home of the Lichfields and had lunch in the company of the royal family photos taken by Patrick Lichfield.  

And so ended our trip to visit family and friends in the north.  No doubt we will be back again soon.  Good news awaited us at home.  Son Jack has been offered and accepted a new job at the Infrastructure Planning Commission which ought to be much more satisfying than the role he's in at the moment.  And one of my images has been bought by the 03 Gallery to add to their permanent collection.  Nice one! 

Friday, 1 July 2011

Thinking of Heather on Action Mesothelioma Day

Having gone south to Bilbao last weekend, we went west yesterday to Bristol to visit Steve's mum on her birthday and say a quick hello to our son Jack and other members of the family who were just leaving as we arrivedl!  On the way home, we dropped into the private view of the Coast exhibition at the Cornerstone Gallery, Didcot, where we both have work on, a busy day all round!

Before heading off in a different direction, I wanted to write briefly about Action Day Mesothelioma, which is today. There are events happening all over the UK to raise awareness of the disease and the dangers of asbestos, and to remember those victims lost to the disease.  Sadly my attempt to get something into the local press seems to have fallen on deaf ears.  No one has been in touch in response to my e-mail about the Action Day, so I assume nothing will appear in the local papers.  Shame on you Oxford Mail and Times, if that's the case! Next year, I think I'll have to stage an event to capture attention......If nothing else, please watch the Asbestos in Schools video made for Action Mesothelioma Day (link under Watch, on the right)

The upbeat mood since Steve's last hospital assessment two weeks ago took a bit of a knock yesterday evening, when I learned that another meso warrior has died.   We didn't know Alan, but his wife Heather was the first person to respond to me online when I poured out my feelings on the Macmillan Cancer Support website, shortly after Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  She was also the first face to emerge from a crowd of strangers to greet us at the Mesothelioma Conference in London last October.  You have been so ready to support others, Heather. If you are reading this, please let us know if there's anything we can do to support you now, other than sending you our love and heartfelt condolences for your loss.