Thursday, 30 May 2013


Well the title of today's post is a bit of a giveaway...but if you haven't guessed already where we've been for our most recent adventure, the answer is Italy!

It's been a wonderful sandwich of historic cities - Lucca and Siena at the start and Pisa at the finish - with a filling in the middle of smaller hill towns nestled in the most wonderful countryside of southern Tuscany.  

Steve was in his element, driving a small Lancia car around the hairpin bends and "white roads" of the Val D'Orca and Crete Senesi, stopping every so often so that we could leap out and take photos of the awe inspiring views.

Val D'Orcia

It wasn't all driving...we did a fair amount of walking too, most of it up and down - they are called hill towns for a good reason.....but with a few stops to admire the views, Steve made it up and down slopes, ramps and steps.  I think we are now both a little fitter than before we started out, in spite of treating ourselves to a bottle of wine with our meal every night, after a long day out in the fresh air.

Although our plane landed at Pisa, we saved that city until the end of the trip.  Having picked up the car at Pisa airport, we drove first to Lucca, an ancient walled city which was the birthplace of Puccini (composer of Madame Butterfly and La Boheme).  These days it calls itself City of Art.  We noticed that it's also a place where many of the locals ride bicycles, just like Oxford where we live.

Lucca cycles

Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca

Later that day we headed off for Siena, our base for the night. After booking into the hotel, we walked up into the historic centre and found the Piazza del Campo, a wonderful shell-shaped open space which twice a year becomes a horse racing track for the Palio, which must be quite a sight!  

Siena Piazza del Campo

We returned there the next morning and also took the opportunity to visit the museum which has panoramic views from the roof terrace.

Siena skyline

Steve on high in Siena

After lunch in Siena, we traveled south to Il Casalone, an "agriturismo" (farm- stay) near the hill town of Montepulciano, our base for the rest of the week.  Great views across the surrounding countryside from the area around the apartment complex, but sadly most of the time it was too cold and windy to use the sitting out areas, picnic tables, BBQ and pool.  

Il Casalone

After stocking up on food (and wine - Montepulciano is noted for its "vino nobile") we hunkered down for the night and watched the Italian Job on the ipad.  We'd intended to watch the movie on the plane over, but had dropped off to sleep instead because of the very early start! 

The next day we set out to explore the local area, stopping first to view the zig zag line of cypress trees leading up to a farm house on the La Foce estate 

La Foce Estate

(interesting back story to La Foce - google if you want to know more!) then on to Pienza and San Quirico, two more hill villages towering over the surrounding countryside with splendid views out from the town walls over the surrounding contryside, 


Pienza's setting

Flags at San Quirico

before returning "home" via San Bagio, a huge church on the outskirts of Montepulciano.

San Biagio

Rather than spend another night huddled together under a blanket to keep warm, we asked our host Paolo to turn the heating on - unheard of at this time of year.  However, Italy has been experiencing the same sort of weird weather as the UK.  That same day the Italian cycle race Giro d'Italia was abandoned due to snow in the north of the country, which will give you some idea of how cold it was!  

We awoke to blue skies the following morning, so grabbed the opportunity to do some landscape photography on the way to and from Montalcino, another hill village further east also famous for its Brunello wine and quirky wine labels 

Brunello wine label plaques on a wall in Montalcino

before heading back to base, stopping often on the way to try to capture more of the stunning landscape, dotted with cypress trees, 
poplars and hill farms as well as fields of spring flowers. 

Cypress tree avenue

Poppy fields

We explored the local town Montepulciano the next day, arriving in the main piazza to find a wedding taking place in the cathedral.  

Montepulciano wedding

However, our meanderings were cut short by the onset of some very heavy rain, so we headed back to base for lunch. A good call as it happened.  Not long after, hailstones as large as marbles were falling out of the sky.  Time to watch another movie - The Grumpies (Les Miserables  to you....) which kept us entertained until bed time!

The storm clouds passed in the night and we woke to blue skies for our last full day at Il Casalone.  A perfect opportunity to get out and about again for more photography, sharing the road with a posse of Ducati bikers enjoying the Tuscany experience!  

Ducati "Tuscany Experience"

The day was filled with a visit to Bangno Vignoni - a tiny village with a thermal pool right at the centre which Ducati had already colonized! 

Bango Vignoni - complete with a Ducati bike in the thermal pool

The water would have been warm enough to bath in comfortably, had it been allowed.  

On from there to the Rocca D'Orcia, a rocky outcrop with a castle that dominates the skyline for miles around, 

Rocca D'Orcia

then on to the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, arriving just in time to shelter from a short thunderstorm. 


From there we headed to another abbey, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, perched on a remote ridge in a stunning location.  It was too late to look inside (and we were probably too tired to appreciate it anyway), but the setting alone was worth the visit. 

Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey

Then it was back to Il Casalone for our last evening meal at the farm stay.

We spent the last day traveling to Pisa via other memorable locations - the tiny fortress of Monteriggioni and the walled city of San Gimignano, its skyline dominated by 14 tall towers.  

The distant towers of San Gimignano

A great place to stop for lunch and a walkabout before heading on to Pisa, where we dropped the car off at the airport and took the bus back to the city centre for our last night in Italy.

Most people have heard of the leaning Tower of Pisa. You might not be aware that it is just one of a group of stunning buildings comprising the Duomo (cathedral); the Bapistry; the Campanile or Bell Tower aka the Leaning Tower, and the Camposanto or cemetery all set in a huge space called the Plazza de Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles.  And it really is amazing!  

Plazza de Miracoli by day

Our hotel for the night was right next door, so as well as visiting the square in the daylight when it was full of tourists, after our meal out we walked back through it at night when there was hardly anyone about. It was wonderful!

Plaza de Miracoli by night

The grey skies had returned when we woke up the following morning, making it easier to catch the bus back to the airport (a small, chaotic place - I dread to think what it's like in the high summer) to catch the plane home.

So here we are, back in the UK, another adventure under our belts.  One of the tour groups we encountered while we were in Italy was called "Tuscany in a Day".  We barely scratched the surface of just small part of Tuscany in our week away, so I feel a bit sorry for those people who think they have seen it all in just one day.  Much nicer to think there is more to explore on another visit.  I do hope we go back one day.  Perhaps the visit to the Square of Miracles will ensure our return.....

Having turned our back on "normal" life for 8 days, we have lost track of what's been happening in the big wide world in general and to the meso warriors in particular.  Hope to catch up with your news soon, but we might be having another small adventure before then....just to keep our minds off Steve's hospital assessment next Thursday. Who would have thought three months could go so quickly?

But for now, it's down to business for me with a work related visit to Guernsey later today.  Perhaps summer will have arrived by the time I return tomorrow evening....

Sunday, 19 May 2013

winding down and winding up

Like many meso warriors and their families, we live our lives three months at a time - from hospital assessment to hospital assessment, which in Steve's case happens in March, June, September and December.  

As we move into the second half of May, I am very much aware that the next assessment is due in just over two weeks time and that the outcome of that appointment will determine what happens to us over the summer.

This is the period in the quarterly cycle of our lives when, in the past, I have become increasingly stressed, although Steve somehow manages to adopt a more sanguine attitude. In my case, the answer to managing this stress is to have lots of distractions, the more pleasurable the better! So....instead of winding down and getting worried, we are winding up to our next adventure.  More of that soon!

By strange coincidence, some other areas of our lives have been winding down in the sense that some of the things that one or both of us have been involved in over recent months have come to a successful conclusion.  

The sale of Steve's mum's house in Bristol has been completed at long last and the Lasting Power of Attorney has now been registered. That's a big load off the family's minds, although the finish of these processes marks the start of new responsibilities for Steve and his brother.

The Best Shots photography competition, which I've been involved in as a first round judge since last November, closed earlier this month.  All the images had been assessed by last week, and the next round of judging to select the 100 best shots is in progress.  I hope very much that we will be able to see those that made the final cut when the exhibition launches in July at The Station gallery in Richmond, Yorkshire.  However, that is a couple of months away so we shall have to wait and see...

Since June last year, I have been one of three gallery admins on Fotoblur, a photographic website where I have posted images more or less since Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009. That role too has now come to an end, so it will interesting to see how the new way of doing things develops.

In other respects, life this last week has been very "normal".  I have been working for the States of Guernsey. Steve has been working in the house; outside, the hedge which sprang into life recently has had its first cut of the season and the inside the cobwebs have been removed.  

But "normal" is about to change into adventure time. There will now be a short intermission as they say :-) 

But I am finishing today's post by sending lots of love and hugs to the all the meso warriors and their carers, especially those who are having a tough time with pain (Jan in particular); those who are going through, or shortly to be starting, chemo (Tess whose treatment is in progress; Debbie and Mavis who have been waiting a while to get back into the battle, and Steve in Australia whose has been forced to put his dreams on hold by the unexpected news that his cancer is growing again) and the other warriors on Facebook who don't blog but do share their news from time to time.  We'll be thinking of you all, even if you don't hear from us for a little while...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

gypsies, horses, friends and artwork

Having ticked the spring cleaning box on Wednesday, I didn't feel guilty about taking a day out on Thursday to visit Stow-on-the-Wold's Gypsy Horse Fair for a photo shoot with Oxford Photographic Society.  Although waking up at 5 am for an early start wasn't easy! 

It was everything you might expect - the gypsy community enjoying itself at one of the major events in the gypsy calender.  Mainly men doing the horse trading and young women indulging in a bit of retail therapy.  

Lots of horses, a few shetland ponies, even a couple of alpacas thrown in for good measure, as well as people riding bareback and driving carriages at what felt like breakneck speed!  Everyone was very friendly, happy to chat and have their photos taken for the most part.  

Walking round for hours on end in the open air with a brisk wind and occasional squally showers - not to mention the crack of dawn start - was exciting but very tiring, so perhaps it wasn't surprising that I didn't have the energy for much else by the time I returned home.  

However, energy levels were back up again the next day and we had made up the sofa beds and started some food preparation by the time our friends Chris and Prue arrived for lunch on Friday. Both remarked how well Steve was looking.  It's been a while since they last saw him, so that was reassuring!  

The visit coincided with the last weekend of the city's week of Oxfordshire Artweeks, when local artists of all sorts open their homes and studios for visitors to exhibit and sell their work.  

As a result, its been a very arty few days - looking at paintings, prints, illustrations, ceramics, textiles, photography, jewelry, fancy hats....All in all, we walked about five miles between venues, stopping once for coffee and a comfort break. The rest of the weekend has been taken up with food, drink and talking (and sleeping of course!). Thank you Prue and Chris for being such excellent company!

It will be different again next week.  I have preparation to do for work in Guernsey, followed by site visits on the island, decisions to write and a briefing note to prepare on my return, ready for a hearing at the end of the month.  In the meantime, Steve will be doing the last minute preparation for our next adventure...but more of that another time!  

It's now a little over three weeks until Steve's next assessment, so we are packing things in to make the most of this time and keep ourselves distracted from getting stressed about what the next X-ray will show.  With so much going on, I'm afraid that it's been difficult to keep up with and reply to e-mails and other people's news. But we are thinking of you, even if you haven't heard from us recently.   

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

changing plans

After the high of ascending The Shard in London on May Day, we were looking forward to going up again at the weekend, but this time in Bristol, in a hot air balloon.  

Although there was wall-to-wall blue sky and sunshine, sadly the wind was too strong to take off, so the flight was cancelled yet again.  I've lost track now of how many times this has happened since our first failed attempt to drift over Bristol in a hot air balloon as part of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta mass ascent in 2011.  No matter.  We have re-booked for a date in early June, so we still have another something special to look forward to before Steve's next hospital assessment...

At least being in Bristol, changing plans meant that we could spend some time with son Jack and visit Steve's mum in her care home.  We also crossed paths with Steve's brother and his wife who were at the care home when we arrived, so enjoyed an unexpected opportunity to swap news with them too.

However, things have gone to plan for us over the last two days - Wride and Company's accounts have been finished and the paperwork sorted out ready for a session with the accountant yesterday afternoon, so she can file our returns to HMRC and Companies House in time to meet the deadline.  First year of trading over, not quite as planned as we cleared the work diary for six months while Steve was having chemo. But we are still in business and getting back (very modestly) into the swing of things now, taking care to keep the life-work balance weighted very firmly on the side of life.

Another change of plan today. We had tickets to go to Grand Designs Live at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London, with the idea that it might kick start us into some action on the house and garden front. In truth however, it was just another excuse to put off doing some of the jobs that need doing, especially now spring is here and the sun is showing up all the dust and cobwebs!  So rather than head off to London, we have worked up a bit of a sweat spring cleaning instead, spurred on by the thoughts of people staying this weekend.  

Unless plans change in the meantime, it's a very early start for me tomorrow as I head off to Stowe on the Wold with some other photographers from Oxford Photographic Society for a photo shoot at the Gypsy Horse Fair. Must go and get everything ready now, so that I'm not late tomorrow morning.  Steve on the other hand will be enjoying a well earned rest after his hard work today!

Last but least, it's a special day for another member of the family - daughter Katie's birthday.  Happy birthday Katie - enjoy your cake and the meal out tonight!  Sending lots of love from us xxxx  

Also sending love to the meso warriors, especially Debbie who has been in hospital again with aspiration pneumonia and Janelle who is fighting for her life in hospital, in the states. Thinking of you and your family x

Thursday, 2 May 2013

an anniversary outing!

Like most people, we mark the passage of time by special events - family things like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, as well as regular seasonal celebrations and major pubic occasions.  However, since Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009, we have had to to face up to the horrible reality that he might not be here in twelve months to celebrate the next time a special occasion comes around. 

As most people in our situation will tell you, this knowledge focusses the mind wonderfully and you really do try to make the most of these special times!  

Yesterday, Mayday, was one such occasion - our wedding anniversary. We set off for London under blue skies and it stayed that way all day, just like the day we were married.  

First stop, Tate Modern to see the Lichenstein Retrospective exhibition

followed by lunch in the Members Room watching the world enjoy the sunshine in the riverside gardens and Thames embankment.

With a few hours to spare before our next appointment, we went down to Bankside Pier, hopped on a river bus and headed off the Greenwich 

where we wandered around The Queens House, with its wonderful Tulip Staircase and Great Hall. 

Then on to the National Maritime Museum next door where we enjoyed tea and cakes on the cafe's outdoor terrace while watching the Fowlers Troop and Deptford Jack in the Green pass by with drummers and people dressed as the Green Man and the Bush to welcome the arrival of spring. Apparently they do it every May Day through the streets of South London, from pub to pub - this year via Greenwich Park where we were sitting.  How lucky is that?  

We visited the museum many years ago when son Jack was a child, but when we had a quick look inside, we were amazed by the changes since then. One to return to, I think! Likewise, the Cutty Sark, Britain's last surviving tea clipper, now fully restored after the fire that damaged it so badly in 2007 and resplendent in its new dry dock home that allows visitors to walk around the ship below "water level".

Back at Greenwich pier, we re-boarded the Thames Clipper but this time only as far as London Bridge, close by our next port of call - the Shard! I was given two tickets for the View from the Shard as a Christmas present by Steve and thought it would be a lovely way to mark our anniversary, on top of the highest building in Western Europe, looking over the city where I was born and grew up.  

Many years ago, when dithering about whether to sit on the top or bottom deck of a London bus, a friend winked and said "Up is a nice place to be".  I think he had something else in mind at the time, but he was right...I have found that being in a high place with distant views helps you put things in perspective and forget your immediate worries and concerns.  And the views from the Shard are breathtaking, especially on a fine day like yesterday.  

We could have spent hours up there, scanning the distant horizon, spotting landmarks, watching activity on the streets, the river and the maze of railway lines below.  

As it was, after about an hour our legs were aching, we needed to sit down (there are no seats in the viewing galleries, deliberately we were told, or people would never leave!) We also needed something to eat, so we zoomed back down to ground level and headed for the 17th century George Inn nearby, London's only surviving galleried coaching inn which is owned by the National Trust.  

The yard was heaving with people when we arrived, but we found a table for two in the Gallery Bar upstairs, where we were happy to stop for a drink or two and some excellent food to recharge the batteries.  

Luckily for us, the George is not only close to the Shard, it's also within stumbling distance of London Bridge station where we caught the tube back to Paddington and arrived just as the Oxford train was boarding.

I confess, it was a bit of an effort to get out of our seats at the end of the journey.  Joints had seized up and sore feet protested at having to bear weight again, but we made it home in time for a nightcap before falling into bed at the end of a very happy anniversary!  

May 1st marks the start of another very intense period of activity for us, partly to make the most of this time in the run up to Steve's next hospital assessment in early June and partly to take our minds off it.  

Oxford Artweeks is just about to launch.  Our work has already been printed and delivered to the Jam Factory gallery, where it will go on show as part of the Artweeks Open exhibition.  

We're off the the private view of the local art group tomorrow evening.  Family visits and, if we're lucky, a hot air balloon trip this weekend.  Keep your fingers crossed that the fine weather continues!

Next week, there's a couple of days tying up business loose ends and a meeting with the accountant so we can file Wride and Company's first return to Companies House; an all day photo shoot at Stow Gypsy Horse Fair; a day out at Grand Designs Live at Excel, London and friends arriving on the Friday for a weekend visit.  Work commitments the week after that and then....Oh dear, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. You will have to come back another time to find out what happens next...

In the meantime, we'll continue to follow the fortunes of other meso bloggers

  • Jan on her Mediterranean cruise, trying very hard to enjoy herself but finding it difficult due to physical pain as well as the emotional stress of living with an incurable disease; 
  • Debbie who has also been in considerable pain and will be starting chemo again soon in her ongoing battle to put her meso Theo back in his place; 
  • Mavis who will be starting her fourth chemo regime probably even before Debbie, and Ray her husband, trying to recover quickly from a heart attack so that he can be there to support her; 
  • Tess who has decided to continue chemo notwithstanding the horrible side effects, as she has had a positive response after three cycles of treatment We will be thinking of you tomorrow Tess, when cycle four begins;  
  • Lou in Australia, who has taken a trip to Tasmania while her medical team decide/agree what to do for the best - operate/chemo/radiation?
  • Amanda and Ray, who are making the most of the good weather to enjoy life before Ray's next scan in July
  • Steve in Australia who was due to see his oncologist last week to hear whether there has been any disease progression and if so, what happens next...
Sending much love and positive thoughts to you all x