Saturday, 9 March 2013

Stockings up

Stockings up

Would anyone care to relieve me of a myriad quantity of socks, some in absolutely new unworn condition, available in a range of bright or dull colours, patterned or plain?  The bulk of them are paired but I have preserved a few odd ones for winter wear in the house, where fashion is not a sartorial issue.  A few have been darned but are offered as outstanding examples of the craft workers’ art, seldom practised in our modern throw away society.  Having survived the rigours and penury of the last great war I have a lifelong reluctance to discard anything that might be of the slightest use.  My National Service army woollen socks, which shrunk on their very first trip to the Royal Norfolk’s laundry, have not been preserved, although I still have the boots.  I have short socks for utility wear, long ones for climbing Alpine slopes and even some with keeping toes separated.   The greatest tragedy will be to part with the sporty white cycling socks that cock a snoot at the black fashion introduced by Lance Armstrong, and look what’s happened to him.
The reason for this sorry day in my otherwise largely carefree life has arisen from a small blemish on my right lower leg.  As already described in an earlier account a South African doctor  at Kettering hospital diagnosed poor circulation and prescribed stockings.  About a week ago I went to the hospital for a fitting.  I bet not too many people know of the NHS sock fitting service.   Just as well, it could bankrupt the organisation.  I turned up as requested at lunch time between official appointments and was the only person still waiting when the nurse checked. 
“Oh, it’s a man,” she said, surprised that this should be so and causing me to think that maybe other men with leg skin problems keep the knowledge to themselves.  Ironically it was only last year that I was threatened with these compression stockings when I developed an ulcer on the same leg.  I then thought I had evaded this drastic life-changing situation.  It does make things seem rather more bearable in that the manufacturers do now describe this leg-wear as unisex socks.  The fitting session went reasonably smoothly and, satisfied that I could manage them on my own, the nurse released me with my lower legs encased in tight knee length black socks.  It was a relief to be told that I needn’t wear them in bed.  I could have had a shade of brown, presumably to simulate a tan, but that struck me as being far too old-lady and last of the summer winish.
I now have another delaying ritual to add to my morning ablutions.  Already there’s the ointment for back irritation, easing of, which I apply back-handed with contortional difficulty.  With a skin covering of moles, warts and other features akin to a relief map there’s no surprise that I often experience an itching.  There is something undignified about a man in select company scratching his back on a door jamb, rather like an old ram with scrapey.  Although a ram would end up as scrag-end or dog food once his usefulness as a procreator had expired this does not fortunately apply to humans.   I would have been down the abattoir twenty years ago. Then there’s the foot ointment to prevent dry cracked heels, probably developed in Australia  to ease the problems of kangaroos jumping over jagged rocks.  Now I have the double base moisturiser to apply to the legs before squeezing into the special socks.  An hour in the bathroom is not unusual.  Indeed, if one introduces after-shave, deodorants and whatever, that room is steadily taking on the air of a courtesan’s boudoir.
There are other pleasures I must give up for ever it seems.  I shall no longer be able to clench my bare toes around a pair of comfortable flip-flops for summer wear.  Despite their potential for causing serious trip-ups in the garden these economical items of casual footwear have given me a romantic feeling of the bronzed athletic poolside lifeguard I might have become, on Bondi Beach perhaps, going Australian again.  I shall probably have to discard other stuff too, but the thought is just too depressing.  Cue for violin backing.....   

Max by Bus 2

Max by Bus 2

Another instalment springs onto the screen,
Recounting the places our Leader has been;
Adventures – the faces encountered in shops;
The long lonely waits at abandoned bus stops;
A night at the Opera in faraway Thrapp;
Or scattering bikes on a Gretton death trap.

Travel pictures can pall, yet some tales entertain,
Although mostly the medium’s cycle, or train.
But who would have imagined; would any of us
Be delighted by tidings of Travel by Bus?


A Night at the Opera

A night at the Opera

Not quite the stuff of the Marx Brothers but a few Groucho wisecracks would probably help.   I was in for quite a full day of strict appointments, the first being at Kettering General’s dermatology department.  My doctor had referred me with a mystery place on my right leg, something like a growth trying to escape from within, hopefully not as horrific as in the Alien films.  It was a case of on the bus again to arrive for my appointment 20 minutes early at 13.10.  The area was deserted so I sat down to wait.  
At about 13.25 an elderly couple arrived, the man grim faced at the prospect of having some dreadful disease diagnosed.  “Where is everybody?” he asked me.   “I assume they’re at lunch,” I replied, “when is your appointment?”  “Two o’clock,” he said.   The receptionist appeared at 13.35 and, almost before she could sit down, he was up at the desk.  I looked at the wife and she said, “He’s impatient.”   “Patience is a virtue I do have,” I replied before taking my turn at the desk.
It wasn’t too surprising that I was the first to be ushered into a treatment room.   “We want you on the bed,” the specialist nurse announced, “with both shoes and socks off and your trousers rolled up over your knees”.
“It’s just me leg,” I protested lamely.  “We know,” she said, “we still want you on the bed”.
Doctor Vorster, from South Africa unsurprisingly, gave me a very quick examination and swiftly diagnosed that the problem was poor circulation and that my mystery pain was caused by blood vessels becoming restricted.   He left me with the nurse who told me, “I recognise you, I used to be at Rothwell Medical Centre”.   Shades of the previous day when recognition provided me with a free scone.  Now the purpose of the bed became clear.  Blood pressure readings were taken from both arms and both ankles with a device that made squishing sounds like a washing machine in torment.  There was noticeably less squishing from my ankles than  from my arms.   The next stage was to measure my feet, which turned out to be different sizes, for compression stockings.  Altogether out of kilter since my lower leg diameter doesn’t suit the size of either foot so, if I shortly appear looking like Max Batty I challenge you not to laugh.  I managed to avoid the dreaded stockings when I had my leg ulcer last year but the chickens are coming home to roost after all.  I’m also to use double base moisturiser so the vision of rubbing my legs up and down a large musical instrument is material for a cartoon.
I left the hospital in a snowstorm, having been there for two hours and had just missed a bus, so another 20 minutes to wait.  Arriving home at 16.00 I had time only for a pot of tea and a bowl of soup before rushing out again for my evening appointment.  Before leaving, with snow beginning to lie, I phoned Thrapston Plaza to ask if they could fit me in for another night, but I was persuaded to chance it and go.   The female driver of the bus back into Kettering was the same one from my earlier ride home.  I could visualise the recognition bubble appearing over her head as she must have wondered about my very brief visit to Rothwell.  The snow had tempered to sleet as I boarded the last Raunds bus of the day at 17.20 thinking that anyone from points east of Kettering must either have other transport or just work part time.  I felt sympathy for a young woman who alighted on the approach to Woodford.  Her dainty ballet type slippers hardly seemed up to the puddles that she stepped out into.  Another passenger received a phone call and shouted so loudly at the instrument that I feared it might explode.  He stepped off with me at Thrapston and disappeared into the night.
There’s not a great deal to do in Thrapston at 5.50 pm on a Wednesday evening but I had been informed that the Plaza would be open, although the opera was not due to start until 7.00 (It’s 24 hour clock for buses and 12 hour for opera, in case you’re wondering).   It was raining by now and, dodging the puddles, I entered the hall with one immediate objective.  Well over an hour on buses on a cold night is not too good for an ageing bladder and, relief, there just inside was the sign “Toilets” at the base of some stairs.  I rushed half way up before I was brought to a halt by a lady demanding to know where I was going.  “I’m desperate for the loo,” I managed to gasp through the motions of the dance I was performing on the stairs.  “Alright,” she said, “we didn’t want you to go into the dressing rooms up there”. 
“You must be the gentleman from Rothwell,” she said when I entered the main hall, as though the expectation of anyone coming from Rothwell was a novelty.  I was offered a cup of tea, not available for other patrons and my seat turned out to be one of the few padded ones at the rear of the hall.  I was in Row L and it soon became clear that it would be a full house, with the exception of the two seats to my left and one to my right.  The gentleman from Rothwell had achieved another distinction.  I was in the last but one row and each row was comprised of 13 seats so an audience of well over 100 people (I’m no mathematician, work it out).  There had already been a performance the previous night and the remaining two were already fully booked, so work that one out too.   I caused a small commotion when I offered a £20 note for a programme and some raffle tickets but my change came eventually from different boxes after at first being owed £5.
The opera?   Verdi’s Aida, which is a pretty big opera, with triumphal marches and, in principal opera houses, a huge chorus and even live animals, would appear to be rather ambitious for Thrapston.  In fact the scaled down production was very well done and the 22 piece orchestra made quite enough noise.  It was sung in English, which is what I should have expected, and the principal singers were professional or semi-so.   I had not realised that Thrapston could produce so many ladies with long dark hair for the chorus of Egyptian priestesses.  There is no back-stage at the Plaza so the cast had to pass to and fro through the audience to access the stage which could only accommodate them by having tiers of steps which ladies and men in long gowns managed to ascend and descend with unexpected grace.  I feared that a trip by one might cause an avalanche of screaming singers but this did not happen.  I was impressed by the whole thing and regretted missing their previous two productions.
The interval came, during which those who fancied an alcoholic drink were expected to scamper along to the Bridge Hotel and return within 25 minutes.  One of the organising ladies tapped me on the shoulder to ask if they owed me a fiver, but I decided to uphold the honour of Rothwell by remaining honest.  When it came to home time I produced my mobile phone to ring for motor assistance and discovered, to my alarm, that it had died, like the opera principals.  What to do now?   I went back into the hall and approached the lady of the fiver to explain my predicament.  She handed me an all singing and dancing instrument which flummoxed me completely until she manipulated a keyboard onto the screen and I was able to call my much appreciated benefactor.
The Marx Brothers could have created far greater chaos.   

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A message from Frank Burns in New Zealand
Hi everyone,
I send this from the depths of S Island in NZ, after what has been a very eventful end-to-end ride. Only a few days from arriving in Bluff, I will then be going over to Australia to ride from Sydney to Melbourne......and hoping things have cooled down a bit.
The people of NZ have been magnificent, donating freely to the Children in Syria Appeal, offering me accommodation and feeding me. I've got used to the "drive-by donation" (people handing me money from their cars at 20mph!), people approaching me in cafes and at beauty spots, wanting to make a contribution.
It has been heartwarming, to say the least.
The most nerve-wracking incident happened the other day: my seat tube parted company with the bottom bracket! So glad I was riding a steel frame. Found a local welder who welded it back together, and a bike shop that sorted out all the kit. I hate to dwell on the consequences of what might have happened.......
You can follow the story at
And if you would like to make a donation:
See you up the road!
Sent from my HTC

Friday, 15 February 2013

Omnibus Postscript

Omnibus Postscript
Another Tuesday, another bus trip.  Less of an epic, more of a routine.  Things began well when the Kettering bus arrived nearly 15 minutes late in Rothwell, already bursting with Desborough pensioners eager to shop in the metropolis.  I squeezed myself on board with the Rothwell party and was almost immediately offered a seat by a young lady.   I have experienced this before and it comes as an embarrassment to we independent old codgers who, even on empty buses, walk past the front seats bearing notices that these are to be given up for the elderly or disabled.  We don’t consider ourselves to be either.   It’s intriguing that the young ladies offer their seats whilst young men sit solidly in place.
On arrival at the hospital, at least half the passengers alighted, most of them elderly, disabled or struggling with prams.   Everyone now had a seat.  I had about 5 minutes to spare in Kettering before the Raunds bus arrived and I climbed aboard, accompanied by an elderly lady.  We both naturally ignored the seats marked “please give up this seat, etc...  The ride to Cranford was short but exceedingly noisy with just about every component rattling and banging and I even feared that we might have to get out and push as pedestrians appeared to be walking equally quickly up Barton Hill.   The bus emptied at Cranford where both of us passengers staggered off and the driver was left to make his lonely way towards Thrapston with his rattle-trap of a vehicle.
Considering the weather conditions, with snow still on the ground and ice much in evidence, The Old Forge was quite full and, to my surprise and pleasure, there were at least 9 of us cyclists.  I was even more surprised when the proprietor, who also happens to be a cyclist, said to me, “Do you remember coming in here shortly after we opened?”  That would be at least three years ago and yes, I did remember and I’ve been in several times since, on my own or with others.  Indeed, on one occasion, I arrived 5 minutes before closing time and he stayed open for me to have a pot of tea.
“I over-charged you,” he said.
“I’ve been in here several times since then,” I replied, “and I wouldn’t have noticed anyway”.
“You may have your scone free”, he offered, when I ordered a cheese scone, due to arrive in 15 minutes. 
“That’s fine,” I said, “my bus doesn’t come for nearly another hour”.
It appears that I have one of the most recognisable of faces and people have even reported seeing me in places where I’ve never ever been.  What a relief that I never embarked upon a criminal career....

Friday, 8 February 2013

A thrilling day out

A thrilling day out

7.00am Tuesday 5th February:  I awake with a tingling feeling of anticipation and prepare myself for a very special day out.  Showered and smartly dressed for the grand occasion I shovel my porridge down quickly and check that I have everything ready for the journey of a lifetime. 
9.25am:           With my documentation pocketed I set out for the first stage of my trip.  Who knows what dangers I might face and there is the daunting prospect of being left stranded if my carefully planned time table failed.  It is very cold, there is a bitter wind blowing, but the sun is shining.
9.55am:           My first carriage arrives, 10 minutes late, in the form of the No. 19 Stagecoach.  Shivering I show my boarding pass and step into its luxurious seating area.
10.20am:         Arrive in Corby after travelling through Desborough, where four passengers alight but no one boards, and Rushton, where no one does either.  The driver maintains a sedate pace in order not to cause discomfort for remaining few passengers.   I now have a 40 minute cold wait for my next conveyance so decide to enter the imposing Cube and examine their public toilet facilities.  These are adequate and clean but the hand dryer blows only intermittently.  I am not impressed by the public library which is on a gradient alongside a sort of multi-storey car park ramp.
11.10am:         My next carriage arrives, also 10 minutes late, and I become involved in a conversation with two ladies who consider the Internet to be one of the roots of much evil.  The carriage driver takes us on a tour of half of Corby, including the Asda superstore for non-Internet devotees.  Several simple country-folk board here for the remainder of a bouncing ride over humps and holes, with which Corby is plentifully endowed.  The driving technique for these is high speed and almost no braking.
11.25am approx:         Disembark at Rockingham and enter tea room to be greeted by large assembly of cyclists some of whom will endeavour to beat my next vehicle to Gretton.  Rockingham is no warmer than were Rothwell or Corby.
12.19pm approx:         Next carriage, quaintly named Centrebus, arrives and I join the existing passenger on board.  I fail to notice the sign on the rear warning me that the driver’s other vehicle is a Porsche.  It soon appears that this bus is supercharged and I’m treated to a hair-raising ten minutes as we career along the valley road to Gretton.  A lorry appears suddenly in front of us on a blind bend and both vehicles take to the bank.  We are perilously close to the ditch and I have cause to wonder why I didn’t choose a seat on the offside.  Tree branches crash and scrape along the side before we regain the tarmac. Our demonic progress continues, clods of mud flying from under the wheels and the bus vibrates alarmingly as the driver extracts every last watt from the roaring engine.  We pass a cycling companion on a bend on Gretton hill and swerve in quickly in the face of an oncoming car.  My low heart rate is probably now dangerously high at about 50.  Centrebus should issue monitors and smelling salts to fragile passengers.
12.30pm:         Quivering with fright I stagger off the bus outside the village hall and enter for some soothing soup.   Am mollified by winning a pair of ladies’ mittens and a tube of hand-cream in the raffle.   Avoid stacking tables and chairs by having to leave in time for the next bus.
1.25pm:           I join two ladies in the bus shelter and await the arrival of the 1.30 bus.  It fails to appear and I am offered a lift into Corby by a couple from the lunch.  This is fortuitous since my next bus is on time and I would have missed it.
2.06pm:           I board the Peterborough express stage and travel in comfort on the lush Italian leather seats as far as Oundle.   The experience of descending the bends between Upper and Lower Benefield is always a thrill on a double decker but I have to admit to preferring it on a trike.
2.40pm:           Arrive Oundle and walk through the churchyard and along Glapthorn Road to Abbott House Care Home.  I discover that the derelict building alongside the road is not it and that the Home lies behind out of sight.  I am taken upstairs to a lounge where Steve Blyth is asleep in an armchair in front of a TV set with the sound very low and sub-titles allowing the action to be followed.  How considerate, I think.   Steve wakes up and I spend an hour with him recalling the good old days and bringing him up to date with club affairs.  For half an hour a snow storm blows around outside and two silver birches sway wildly in the great wind.   The staff, who all appear very friendly, offer me a cup of tea and biscuits.  A female inmate enters from the adjacent lounge, treating us to her very low opinion of the armchair occupants within.  I guess she hasn’t been offered a chair.  She manages, with her Zimmer, to safely negotiate me and my jacket, which is lying on the floor, and insists I have only one biscuit.  The staff  tell me I may have as many as I like. I take only one.  Steve is very pleased to see me and seems quite comfortable, anticipating that this may be his home from now on.
4.20pm:           Leave Abbott House and walk back to the Market Place where the X4 eventually arrives and I get on to begin the two stage journey home.  Drizzle is falling and it feels even colder than before.
5.10pm:           Arrive back in Corby where I decide to alight and catch the direct bus back to Rothwell rather than continuing on X4 to Kettering.  I now have 30 minutes to wait for the No. 19.  Macdonalds beckons but I decide that the waiting queue and a too hot beaker of tea might cause me to miss the bus.  I walk across to the Cube again and pass the time in conversation with the library attendants.  It turns out that the female of the pair once lived in Mellis and cycled to work in Eye.  Now she runs and may perhaps gravitate to triathlon.  When bussing one does meet different and interesting people, it’s a whole new world.
5.40pm:           The No. 19 arrives and takes on several passengers, so not everyone drives to work.   It’s dark now but I manage to identify Rothwell when it appears.  I walk home, calling at the Co-op for something for dinner.
6.30pm:           Finally arrive home congratulating myself on completing such a long and tiring journey without the aid of a minder.   Prepare a hot drink and eventually put my meal on to cook.
12.10am:         Wake up suddenly, remembering that I had watched most of the 10.0pm news and switched the oven off.  The TV goes off automatically.  Forgot about the steamer cooking my green veg.  Remove black pan from stove, transfer complete meal to a plate and place in fridge for tomorrow.  Stagger upstairs to bed.  The end of a perfect day.   What a relief and a pleasure it will be to cycle again.