Monday, 31 October 2011

And then there were three ....

They say things go in threes don't they?

So when I read the email with the sad news that an internet friend had died of cancer, I wondered who the third one would be this year.

The young and lovely Sharon died on her birthday in April aged 37. Originally she had breast cancer, but it spread elsewhere and her death earlier this year marked the end of a very courageous and selfless fight against an unrelenting illness. I wrote about meeting Sharon and Fiona some twelve months ago here.

My partner pointed out that I had forgotten someone. Probably because I hadn't known him, but Partner had worked with a young man (let's call him T) in the construction industry who was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. Six months or so later, he too was dead in his late 30s, again from rapidly spreading secondary cancers.

So that made Claudette the third one this year after all. For those of you who read Clouds and don't know her, here is some background info.

Claudette and I came to be friends, like so many of us, because we all had blogs about our dogs. Or rather dogs with blogs, ie we write from the perspective of our dogs.

I never met her. We started our dog blogs some four years ago, she starting Lacy Lulu's blog about six months after I had started one for Pippa, and she quickly found Pippa's.

She was one of his regular commenters back then in the days when comments ran to 20 or 30!!, and often, one of the first to comment on a new post.

Unlike Sharon, but like T, Claudette had lung cancer. I don't remember reading her very early post that said she had it, but oddly, I do remember reading about her having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sent some well wishes to her for that.

A couple of years ago (where does time go in blogland??) she wrote about having a biopsy to assess how far the lung cancer had spread and the news wasn't good.

The trouble with having worked in cancer services is that you tend to look on the gloomy side. And there aren't too many bright sides to look on when it comes to lung cancer. I was saddened to read her news back then, and hoped against hope that she would still be with us for some time. And - she was.

Friends all around the world rallied round to keep her spirits up and let her know she was in our thoughts. Anne, Snowball's Jie jie in Singapore, gathered a few of us together to help make 1000 cranes. This is an eastern belief, apparently Japanese, that says making 1000 paper origami cranes grants a wish for someone, perhaps long life or recovery from illness or injury.

Not too difficult I thought, being an origami fan in my youth, until I couldn't find any origami paper to buy here in Gibraltar. But then I read that any paper would do, and with a little practice, I was happily ripping up magazines with colourful adverts to make lots of multicoloured cranes.

At the same time, Brooke from Australia, who with her partner, set up the dogs with blogs internet community, organised a rota for us all to send a small gift to Claudette, so that she received something each week. Not sure how well that worked in terms of timing given the postage from Europe to America but anyway, I packaged my gifts for Claudette in bubble wrap, a card, and sent my share of the cranes at the duly appointed week.

When I read the email telling me of her death, I thought sadly that the cranes hadn't worked after all. And then I thought, perhaps they had helped to give her some extra time. Who knows?

We mailed occasionally and we shared facebook pms too. It seems every tribute I have read to her talks about messages to so many people, so I don't know where she found the time. Perhaps that says something about her generosity and willingness to make time for everyone.

Claudette was a brave woman who shared the unpleasant details of her treatment, and the side effects, with us all. Like many other courageous people with cancer, she posted pictures of herself after chemo treatment, laughing and discussing the best choice of wig.

And, realising, there were many other people out there on our dog-related network who either had cancer, or had friends/relatives with cancer, or just needed some support, she set up a new group on facebook for people to share their experiences and knowledge.

What I will remember most about Claudette is probably her honesty and openness. Her friendliness to everyone. Her lack of judgment against others.

Most of all though, what I will miss, is her droll sense of humour. In spite of everything, and suffering lousy cancer treatment, she could still come out with some witty jokes and turns of phrase that cracked me up.

Claudette brought smiles to many peoples' faces and I guess that will be how she will be remembered. Someone who shared happiness and merriment and enjoyment of life even when she knew time was running out. Sweet dreams Claudette, and to Floyd, we send you our condolences.

Three other tributes to Claudette here: Maryann, Greg and Brooke, Bren

Monday, 10 October 2011


Some millions of years ago I did an MBA with the Open University. It suited me at the time, work paid for the fees, and I was hungry and career motivated enough to fit it in at weekends and evenings.
There was one summer school that really stood out for me. It was near Peterborough at a hotel, and pretty reasonable accommodation. That always helps. So did the fact that on the last night I gaily flitted around the place being bought drinks by people I hadn't even met all week. Oops. I staggered back to my room, and I mean, really, really staggered.
We had an interesting group, ie during the week you all get assigned to a working group of eight or so people. We got on well, and one of the instructors said they were pretty amazed by how well we gelled together. As a group, we ate together, drank together, worked after hours together, and happily chatted away.
They were nice people in the group, easy to get on with, and no, I'm not in touch with any of them. Future contacts never even came up. Just as well, as I'm not a believer in the 'we'll meet up in 20 years time in Trafalgar Square' sort of syndrome.
One of my colleagues, Robert or whatever he was called, was talking about stress to me one evening before dinner. We did this whole thing well, you see. Drinks before dinner with our colleagues for casual chat. We were probably quite exclusive, in retrospect, with our own little corner and our select group.
'Why don't you try transcendental meditation?' he suggested. I respected whatever his name was, and liked him, so I didn't dismiss the idea although I knew fuck all about it and thought it was sort of hippy beatleish stuff.
Much later, I tried to get my boss to fork out for the TM course but he wouldn't have it. Stress, I said. Worth a try though. So I paid myself.
For my first appointment, I had to provide a piece of fresh fruit and a white handkerchief, maybe something else. Well, money obviously.
I sat on a plain chair in someone's room, closed my eyes, and was given a meditational word. I still use it. Or near enough, as it is the sound that matters, it was given verbally.
I practised on the metro. I practised in bed (or rather, on the futon at the time) and invariably fell back to sleep. I practised when I was going to sleep, that was an easy one.
I went for individual tuition and later for group sessions. To be honest it was not expensive. Partly because the tutor I used was independent from official TM stuff as he thought they were too expensive for most people.
One evening we were sitting in a somewhat tawdry hotel for a group med. Whacky huh? Eight or ten people sitting around a table together meditating.
The next minute, or rather five minutes or so, I floated on air. OK, I didn't do that. I have only ever done that many years ago when I got nice painkillers in hospital that blasted the shit out of me.
But I did experience a huge release of tension as everything suddenly lifted off my shoulders. Hard to describe. I shifted slightly in the plain chair and something went somewhere into the depths of Whitley Bay. And, well, I really did feel I was floating upwards.
Group meditation is meant to be more powerful because there are more people and more vibes. I went to some more group meetings. Never happened again. Maybe it was the seedy venue that made it work.
I still meditate and it still sends me to sleep. Thanks whatever your name was on the MBA summer school back near Peterborough.
And for those of you who want the nitty gritty. I think my group had all gone to bed that last night and I was in party mode. I've also always easily flitted, and fitted, into and out of, other groups. As it was an MBA course, back in the 80s there were an awful lot of men and not a lot of women. I had to pass so many people to get through the drinking areas. Nightmare, I tell you!
I fell into bed at something like 3am and promptly picked up the 'phone to report back to base to inform my partner I was pissed. He took a hell of a long time to answer. And then I went happily off to sleep.
The next morning I even turned up for breakfast. Uff, it was hard, but I was there. Didn't bother to go for the ghastly course wind-up stuff, just packed up and went home.
A great week, and the TM recommendation was so appreciated. Doesn't really matter what type of meditation you choose to try. As they say, don't knock it until you have tried it. TM works for me. Has done for nearly 20 years.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fire alarms and wholemeal bread

Never a dull moment at the supermarket is there?

So the other day I tripped off as usual to see if there was anything new on the shelves, stock up with paracetamol products (joke), and give myself some exercise with the forty minute walk round trip. The walk is the best bit, I could cheerfully walk there and back without going inside, but needs must.

No sooner had I picked up a pack of chestnut mushrooms (we get through a lot of those) than there is a strange whooping noise.

I looked around puzzled. Was it an alarm? Fire? Bomb scare alert? (days of going to school near a high security prison and working in London kicking in here) or just some miserable electrical failure?

Staff started walking purposefully for the door but there was no screaming and yelling. Eventually customers followed them.

I was still near the door. I sadly put down my basket which had the last remaining punnet of chestnut mushrooms and hoped to hell no-one would nick it.

As I walked out I was fascinated to see people walking out with their trollies. With goods in, unpaid for. They didn't go anywhere but stood by the entrance. Eventually the penny dropped. Or rather the pound. Perhaps they didn't want anyone to nab their trolley and take it to the trolley park and retrieve their pound deposit. How sad. And I tell you if that was a real fire, my one pound coin would be the last thing on my mind. That's assuming I had a trolley which is most unlikely given that I never buy that much.

The staff trooped across to the far side of the car park. Two staff stood in each side of the entrance doorways to block any naughty customers sneaking back in (and nicking stuff no doubt).

One bright spark had the smart idea of asking if it was a real alarm or just a drill. It seemed it was a drill. Odd, I always associated Wednesday mornings with school fire drills. Things must have moved forward in life to Tuesdays. Just as well it was a drill really because the staff gaily marching off and leaving all the customers outside the entrance about to be engulfed by a conflagration wasn't very clever. I do hope in the event of a real alarm they will tell us all to move our arses, and fast.

Then the staff started moving back inside - and - what happens next? Desperate customers can't wait to get back to their shopping and start trying to push in front of them. Dear me!! As someone politely said, 'these people need to go back to their station' or something similar. What is it with people that they have to push back into the store?

Top tip. Always give yourself plenty of time when going to a supermarket on Tuesday in case they have a fire drill.

I found my mushrooms. Someone had moved my basket to stock up the table I had plonked it on, but it had been put tidily on the floor. I had put it on a table as I didn't want anyone to fall over it in the rush to get away from the fire.

Totally separately, I always used to take fire drills seriously. There is no point treating it like a joke because fire is no joke. I know. We had one in our house when I was a kid.

First things first. Shut the doors, preferably checking there is no-one in that room. It drove me up the wall when we had our fire drills at work and people wandered out of their offices without shutting their door. The whole point of a drill is to get it right if you ever need to do it for real, not treating it like 'just another fire drill so it doesn't matter.'

Yesterday it was Partner's turn to go to the super. As he was picking up some bread, he started listening to a customer sounding off to a bakery assistant about the fact that there was no organic wholemeal bread. Clearly if there isn't any bread out that means they don't have that dough mix in the store.

Bakery assistant patiently explained this. Ranty woman kept whingeing. BA suggested that she do what 'This gentleman had done, and buy organic white instead.' Ranty woman said it wasn't the same and her husband only liked wholemeal.

Partner helpfully said 'At least it's organic. Looks like another cranky day in Morrisons (ouch!!). Have a nice day.'

As he left, RW turned away and BA stuck her thumb up at Partner. I wouldn't have their job for worlds. What can they do if they have used all the dough and new supplies haven't come in? RW should bake her own I say.

And, it has to be said I did screw my nose up when he came in and said he had bought white because there wasn't any wholemeal ........

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Paracetamol anyone?

I was idly standing in the supermarket checkout, as you do. It was fairly early in the morning, and most of the checkouts only had one person going through so I hit the nearest one that seemed to be nearly finished.

The woman was chatting to the cashier about I have no idea what. Then the cashier picked up the box of Lemsip and some other cold thingy.

'I can only sell you two of these because they contain paracetamol,' she explained.

We then all listened entranced to the customer's heart-rending tale of how her husband had a cold last week ['you know what men are like', she added] and she needed to stock up the store cupboard right that minute.

Really? Now having a cold is bad news but it isn't exactly the plague or ebola.

Then there was a problem. Not only did she have a pack of Lemsip and whatever else, she also had one of those bottles of something for a cold. You can tell I don't do cold remedies.

'Does this one contain paracetamol?' asked the cashier.

'Probably,' said Ms Cold Medicine Addict.

The cashier looked at the bottle and again explained that the store policy was to only sell two paracetamol products and that she couldn't go against that.

Ms CMA started to get upset and explained how utterly vital it was that morning to buy a load of cold medicines just in case somebody in the household caught a cold in the next few weeks.

Then she pointed out that only a week or a few days ago, she had bought not only two packets of Lemsip but two packets of ibuprofen as well, which was much stronger.

Now, I am no painkiller expert, having never bought one in my 50+ years of life, but as far as I know, paracetamol and ibuprofen are not the same thing. They may well both be analgesic (pain-relieving) active ingredients that are found in other medicines, but their chemical make-up is different. Apart from anything else, ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and paracetamol is not. So, unless the store had a policy on not selling more than two packs of ibuprofen in combination with paracetamol purchases, Ms CMA's comment was irrelevant.

When I got home I decided to look up this strange rationing of paracetamol-based products.

Apparently back in the last century (ha!) new regulations came into force in the UK in 1998 that limited the number of painkillers that could be sold in one packet to 16. This was to prevent the 200 or so accidental deaths and suicides that happen every year due to overdoses. It seemed the government hoped to reduce the number of deaths by 10% - that works out at 20 by my reckoning.

Now while I don't advocate overdosing for one minute, faffing around with tablet packaging, virtually doubling the price, and supposedly limiting the sales to potentially save 20 lives wouldn't be a priority on my government list of new laws.

Especially when anyone with half a brain would just visit endless shops if they really wanted to buy lots of paracetamol-based tablets.

And this thought occurred to me while I was listening to this amazing drama unfolding in front of me. Why is Ms CMA not just shutting up and going to another pharmacy for another few boxes or bottles of whatever?

Because she didn't have any cash. She only had her American Express card. And she didn't think a pharmacy would like her buying a couple of cold remedies on her card. Even the cashier had suggested she go over to the pharmacy branch of the store and buy a couple of extras.

Meanwhile, the till next to me had seen at least three customers through in the time I had been avidly listening to the pill opera. I contemplated moving my half dozen items across for speedy service. But no, I was too gripped to find out what happened next.

'Shall I call the supervisor?' asked the cashier wearily.

'Yes please. I'm not happy with this. AT ALL,' said Ms CMA.

To be fair, she did keep apologising to me for the delay. Hey, free entertainment. I smiled nicely.

The supervisor appeared. We all listened to the same story about the whining poorly husband, the empty store cupboard, the possibility of even yet more colds in the next few days and the essential need to buy as much as possible this very minute. Oh and guests were turning up at quarter to ten. They probably had colds as well.

In spite of all those extenuating circumstances, the supervisor backed up her member of staff and repeated the two products only rule.

Supervisors get paid more to avoid confrontation and think smart. 'Shall I take these over to the pharmacist and see if they will let you buy all three?' she asked.

Ms CMA agreed. Off trotted the supervisor. The remaining items were all checked through the till and Ms CMA was given the bill.

Another problem. The cashier had rung through two of the paracetamol products and the supervisor had walked off with them. Ms CMA wasn't happy paying for them when she didn't have them in her sticky little hands.

Luckily the supervisor came back, and said - guess what? - the pharmacist wouldn't allow the sale of more than two products. I don't know how I kept a straight face.

And I'm thinking when I have a cold, I drink weak black tea, hot water and lemon, sometimes with honey, and if I could find the energy I might consider rushing out to buy a bottle of whisky to slug into it as well. I never do, but it's always an option. This reliance on Lemsip et al was fascinating me. I began to wonder what I was missing out on.

The cashier started ringing my items through. I wondered if I would be allowed to purchase toilet cleaner without ID or a prescription in case it could be toxic even though it was Ecover, but it went through without a murmur. So did the three bottles of cider for a fiver on special offer.

Ms CMA and the supervisor were still in deep discussion. I was still listening. Ms CMA repeated her assertion that she had been sold a million painkillers the previous week at the same store by someone else.

The supervisor looked very serious. 'If we find out who that was they will be in deep trouble,' she said ominously.

I could understand Ms CMA being racked off with what appeared like a bureaucratic petty store policy. Especially if she thought she had bought the same thing a short while before.

But hectoring and bullying the cashier was unreasonable and potentially putting someone else's job on the line because she wanted to prove her point and couldn't be arsed to go to another pharmacist to stock up that empty store cupboard was downright selfish. If the store has a policy, it isn't up to a cashier to break it and risk their job, and it is beyond the pale to dob someone in who may have sold you something in error previously.

In fact reading up on it, I doubt they did. An excellent thread here on a mountain biking forum for some bizarre reason !! pretty much summarises everything about the whole issue.

Must register on that forum. Wonder if they know as much about bikes?

Back to the checkout. Ms CMA and supervisor were still deep in discussion (?) I paid. 'Have a nice day,' I said, and grinned at the cashier. She smiled back.

Seriously though, and I guess most of my readers will know this. Cold medicines do not get rid of the cold. The analgesics lessen the headache and the other stuff decongests your nose for easier breathing.

I wonder what people did before Night Nurse and Lemsip? I use pine and eucalyptus essential oils for decongestion. The hot drinks I've already mentioned. Good food helps. Carnivores can indulge in beef tea or chicken soup, I tend to go for anything curried or with chilli/cayenne in it, a miso soup, or a vegetable soup. Headaches wear off, probably in a not dissimilar time to the effect of a painkiller.

There is life out there without cold remedies. But if you do choose to indulge in them, read the active ingredients listed on the packaging so you know what you are buying, and make sure you read the information leaflet so you don't accidentally overdose. No more than eight paracetamol in 24 hours. Shovelling in potentially dangerous drugs because you haven't informed yourself isn't clever.

To summarise:

1) I don't see any circumstances where it is acceptable to bully cashiers or supervisors, even though store policies can be frustrating for customers. If you do want to have a go at someone make sure it is at least a supervisor, or better still a manager - but not a checkout operator. They are not paid to make decisons about store policy and don't deserve to be the butt of our frustration.

2) If you take a load of paracetamol or any other painkillers for colds, please try to learn about what you are taking. Read the information leaflets and learn about active ingredients so you know what the risks are and what any adverse reactions may be. This applies to any drugs you may be taking, including prescription drugs. ALWAYS read the information leaflets. If you can't read or the print is too small, ask someone to read it out to you, or ask for a large print version (well, I live in hopes they may be available).

3) Consider using alternative ways of alleviating the pain involved with the common cold - which are usually a sore throat, throbbing head, blocked nose. Your cold isn't going to go away any faster or slower regardless of how many paracetamol or other cold remedies you take. And preferably stay at home, if possible, so you don't pass it on to someone else who really doesn't want your grotty cold.