Easter week in Switzerland is drawing to a close. Tommy and his two friends – all Thomases too – depart today, and we tomorrow. Continue reading
The past 10 days have been rather depressing, waiting for things to happen. I feel like I’m in a waiting room – for death. Morbid I know but limbo land is no fun. Two weeks for radiotherapy to start and another three months until the first scan, which will indicate whether the cancer has spread. And in trying to maintain a brave and smiling outward face while struggling with inner fears, the bigger things can be put in perspective but it’s the little things that get blown out of proportion and are very upsetting. So if I ever explode at something minor, it’s not that thing that is the problem, it’s the wider challenges I am facing.
On the plus side, I have been doing some nutritious cooking (Tom Yam soup, steamed chicken, fish curry, and now about to go Japanese) and have been to the movies twice (12 Years a Slave and The Railway Man – see what I thought on http://www.vickyatthemovies.net). I also had a moment of inspiration and exchanged my lovely red-hot mini for a slightly newer, automatic mini cooper. But black and not so dashing. Today I drove to the hairdressers at the O2 centre, where I had some good therapy: thank you Joe and Eli! Mani/pedi next week!
My friend Cindy in Mumbai has sent me a book on yoga for cancer, and I am determined to learn how to meditate and do some simple poses. I think it will help. My physiotherapy – Pilates – is energising and I now have my own wobble board and special exercises to add to my sit-ups and weights. It’s quite hard work though; Tommy was most amused when he took this picture.
My mobility is improving daily and the pain is diminishing, so I have almost stopped taking the tramadol and paracetamol, only taking any when I feel pain. But for some reason this week I have been getting exhausted and energy levels are low. My weight seems to be going down and then regaining the 55kgs, whatever I eat. I find this worrying. Of course I am angsting about the impending radiotherapy, and now the little insidious niggle of the histology results and the mental picture of those nasty little cancer cells whizzing round my body. It’s all about keeping my immune system high so I continue with the healthy diet and exercise; I’m sure feeling down doesn’t help though. I am learning it takes (too much?) energy to be upbeat, cheerful and superwoman. My new resolution is not to let anything or anyone annoy me. Challenging!
Two appointments at the Marsden this week to make the cast for the radiotherapy and then to do the scan and make the aligning tattoo marks on my leg. The cast is necessary to keep the leg in place so that the rays can be directed to the exact sites for treatment. I go into the ‘mould room’ and lie on a flat operating table; I feel like a fakir on a bed of nails! Then my leg is elevated but only supported by the ankle, and they heat up a large sheet of plastic in a bain marie, which emerges like a giant gelatine leaf, and which the technicians then press round my leg until it is a snug fit. All sorts of adjustments are made and then a wait for it to harden. Meanwhile my leg is in agony as there is no support for it and of course I have no calf muscles so the quads are in overtime. They make a small spongey cushion to place just above the knee to help, but it’s not terribly effective. Sadly I am not allowed to photograph.
Back the next day for the scan. By the way all these appointments run on time. Another cheery bunch of staff. Back on the bed of nails, but with a large scanning machine and my instrument of torture is fitted. Oh dear, it needs adjusting! I am dreading they may have to re-make it but, no, they can heat it up and stretch it. It is then stuck down by Velcro to the plastic sheet with an outline of my measly leg drawn on it; more Velcro has been attached to hold the mould in place. Simple but clever. But all this fiddling around is taking its toll and my leg feels on fire, and we haven’t even begun the scan. By this time, I am wracking my memory for my yoga breathing (alternate nostrils) and counting and observing my breath to try and make the pain go away. It passes the time at least.
It’s not over yet though, as they have to make a couple of tattoo marks to align the cast. Blob of black ink followed by some scratches – not at all painful, although they have to re-do one of them. At last, it’s all over, 45 minutes later. I’m told that the treatment won’t be as long. I hope not, as I don’t think I could take that pain daily for 6 ½ weeks!
To add insult to my injuries I get ripped off by the cab home; and when I go on the C11 to my physio, no one gives me a seat! Wah!
On a positive note, to counter all this misery, I have booked myself to go to Cyprus for 5 days – air miles in business class – to stay with lovely friends Penny and Mike, who will pamper me and cheer me up. She has been through it all – surgery, radio and chemo – so knows where I’m coming from.
It’s hard to remember that only two days ago I was standing on top of Great Gable in bright sunshine admiring the Lakeland vistas from one of its highest peaks.
As I sit here on a grizzly June afternoon on the train from Durham to Kings Cross I try to recall the past two weeks of my return to the green green grass of home.
Leaving Singapore to return to England for a four-week foray has been fun – meeting old friends and family for lunches and suppers; celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary; doing the first cut on our newly laid lawn; the first balmy al fresco supper – on Midsummer’s Day, the anniversary of Louise’s memorial, so always a special day, and one of her favourites. I show off my Tom Yum Goong to Son and friends. Also doing the not so fun – deciding what to take to Singapore for the next few years, what to leave, fighting with John Lewis deliveries and directing the packing.
A little mental titivation at Cambridge University in between, with old chum Fi, to hear Professor David Spiegelhalter, speak engagingly and fascinatingly on hazard ratios (he is a statistician!) and its effect on us: encouraging that as a woman I am going to live longer than men, less so that my life chances decrease by 9% per annum between the ages of 25 and 80, but on the positive side, its only the first 20 minutes of exercise that do any good, the next 40 are a waste of time…phew!
And so to continue on my very English odyssey by way of several days in the Lake District. Dear friends John and Hilary Pooler have pretty cottage in Grasmere (Glen View can be booked via http://www.lakelovers.co.uk/) and are local experts. We had two great days walking in fine weather – a Great Gable circuit, starting at Honister Pass and ending at Seatoller; and then the Helm Crag circuit, descending via Far Easedale; and two more normal Lakeland days, meandering about at lower levels in the on/off drizzle.
In another life, when I worked for Heinemann Educational Books (1979 -1993), our founder and my mentor, the old man of Lakes Alan Hill, used to organise an annual, what would now be called ‘teambuilding’, trip to Borrowdale, where Heinemann owned a share in Seatoller House, a charming B&B. The Lake District Trip, as it was known, was a great leveller, with 30 plus of us at all stages of fitness and fatness chugging up and down dale and hill in the day, and repairing to hostelries of an evening (always the same rotation: the Bridge at the Scafell Hotel, the Fishes in Buttermere, and the final night party at Alan’s Rossthwaite house); finishing by playing charades and parlour games – squeak piggy squeak and wink murder were favourites.
Great Gable from Honister Pass brought so many memories flooding back: Alan and I leading the slow group – re-named on two occasions as the ’pregnant cripples’ to reflect our respective statuses; banana and honey sandwiches, crisps and Just Juice forming the perfect picnic; baking hot days and stripping off to undies to swim in the tarns and pools – such as Sour Milk Gill; the time our new and reviled MD dropped a pack of condoms out of his wallet (he never recovered form the ignominy); sharing a double bed in the ‘family room’ at Seatoller House with female colleagues. These were indeed the times of our lives.
Thinking of Alan, long since dead, reminded me of the times I used to take him round Africa to help decide on company strategy. So eccentric was he that he packed two identical suitcases – lest one got lost! He was renowned for always wanting to change his room, wherever he stayed and for being professorially absent-minded. On every departure I had to check to see what he had forgotten – shirts, underpants and his medications – always at least one – and scoop them up! He loved to regale people of our adventures (and we had many) – always embroidering the tale to make it funnier.
The Lakes also reminded me of family holidays with our son, then aged three, rampaging up the fells and our beloved Louise, in a back pack. And later, with the Pooler family again, the children in their teens, girls rock climbing, boys desperately trying to follow the World Cup in Japan, even resorting to taking a portable TV up the fells.
Happy memories of happy times. Tinged with sadness.
In an earlier post you will have seen my new wok; well, I realised that this was not good enough so went and bought a ceramic one with a lid. Thus prepared and armed with a local cookery book and the internet, I unleashed my inventiveness.
Meat is very expensive here, so I have concentrated on seafood and chicken dishes. Most Thai and Malaysian dishes have a curry paste as a base, and I ALWAYS make my own. Even local websites say ‘3 tbsp of red/green/chill paste’ and sometimes even ‘3 tbsp of tomato ketchup’. Such recipes are rejected.
5 star dishes
Beef rendang – cooked lovingly for over 4 hours after several hours of marinating the meat. Melt-in-your-mouth or what! Here with Chinese broccoli.
Tom yam soup – it’s critical to make your own fish broth, out of the prawn shells and heads in this case. I also used oyster and shitake mushrooms, and local fish balls.
Thai red chicken curry; I used turmeric root as well as galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, tamarind,cumin, coriander, paprika, black pepper and, of course, coriander root; a little Thai basil and fresh coriander at the end. I like to add veg to a curry to create a one-pot meal. Yum! This is in fact adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe – the local ones were some of the worst offenders in off-the-shelf ingredients.
Four star dishes
Isaan stye grilled chicken and Nyonya-style bean curd salad, with bean sprouts and snow peas. The salad has a delicious roasted cashew nut and tamarind dressing, while the chicken is marinated in lemon grass, ginger and fish sauce. The bean curd is fried to a golden crisp on the outside and melts when you bite it. Marks lost for presentation, not taste: should have had the dressing on the side and then it wouldn’t have looked so brown!
Sri Owen Khmer grilled chicken with baby pak choi: I also used the other half of the marinade to bbq some pork fillet which was delicious too. Marks lost for too much soy sauce on the garlic stir fry pak choi
Blackened local white fish, with confit lentils and green salad. Decided we wanted to be less Oriental one night – so much lemon grass and fish sauce otherwise. The fish was delicious and one of the cheapest on sale.
Other efforts – unclassified, usually taste excellent but dont look as good as they might! Masterchef, help!
My first attempt at Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Couldn’t get the rolling-up knack, but later found a video which told me how it should be done…a la prochaine! They tasted as they should, however.
Stir fried squid Malay style, with lots of blachan (fermented prawn/anchovy paste). Too much garnish and too much sauce, it all looks a bit monochrome. but it was sure tasty! I adore squid…
Have struggled with local heroine chef Sylvia Tan, where nothing seems to taste of much; anyway I made her mushrooms and white fungus (couldn’t get black) with seared flank steak and it was Ok; other dishes such as Peranakhan favourite ayam (chicken) tempura have been underwhelming.
Some memorable delicacies eaten out…
First the top dim sum place, Din Tai Fung, popular for Saturday brunch. We are going to Taiwan in May so will check out its alma mater…
You can also get other stuff – Ross has spaghetti-like noodles with a spicy pork sauce; I had hot and sour soup, and we shared the broccoli
Next week’s blog will come from BALI; I am taking a quick break while husband is travelling; an unaccompanied spouse in fact! I shall be visiting one of Louise’s friends and then going to a dive centre in the north and do some scuba. Good opportunity to see the island.