Saturday, 14 December 2013

The ties that bind

I've felt like this before, when Django went to stay in Scotland with Mr H for a month or more - what is the point of life with nothing to care for?  Is it a human or a female need to care for a vulnerable person or animal? Something that relies on you totally?

It may annoy us sometimes, the ties and the inability to be 'free', but it gives us a good reason to get up in the morning.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Farewell to Spot..

11/12/13 might have been a lucky date for some, but for us yesterday evening marked both the end of a long friendship, and the end of an era. After a very difficult year for Django, and for me and Mr H, just one month off his 14th birthday we let our puppy go before he began suffering any more. No matter how right the decision, it is the hardest thing any pet owner has to do, and nothing prepares you for the hole it leaves in your heart.

Over those 14 years, but particularly since he became the lone dog in our house early in 2008, Django shared experiences with us from camping holidays in Scotland to patiently hanging around while we indulged our new motorsport hobby. He spent many weeks accompanying Mr H on his Forestry Commission work in Scotland in all weathers, and made human friends wherever he went.

As a youngster from 6 months old until he was about two, Django (aka Pebblegate Blackjack at Lightspeed) tolerated the dog-showing world with many class wins and a placing at Crufts Dog Show. However, he retired from the show ring when he remained smaller than the breed standard height (and we were getting tired of the politics anyway), so spent the rest of his life blissfully un-washed and un-fussed over, while retaining his fear of slippery wooden school hall floors! His early showing years did mean that he was comfortable with having his mouth / ears / feet investigated and examined, and he was totally trusting of people. On one occasion he let us extract a large piece of wood that had embedded itself in his pad, without a murmur.

Django's favourite place was on our laps at the end of the day, where he would relax like a ragdoll and drop into such a deep sleep that it was hard to wake him to put him to bed!  His clock was set for 9pm when he would come and give us That Look, before either being invited up or just working his way up one paw at a time. His other main interests were pheasants, cats, food and sitting down. Much fonder of people than other dogs, Django could take it or leave it when he met dogs on walks, and could not understand it if they tried imposing their dominance. Django had nothing to prove, he was just cool.

We will truly miss the company of this very special dog.   And the end of an era? Mr H has never known a house without dogs, and I only had a 5 year gap as a teenager, before getting my own puppy  almost 30 years ago.   Life is going to be very different....

Django on Forestry Commission duty in Scotland

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Me and Beyonce - making friends

I had a good couple of hours this morning - despite it raining I booked to go on a mini-Elephant ride (a short ride, not on a mini-elephant), as I never do that sort of thing and I needed to get out of the hotel. It's so different being somewhere alone rather than in a couple or group, especially in an unfamiliar country and culture, and I am much less likely to hire a car or do touristy things all on my own, it's far too scary!

I was picked up outside the hotel at 1130 along with a young Australian couple and a group of three Japanese, and was driven away to I know not where, since my Phuket geography is not very good other than Patong is north, Nai Harn is south, and that sort of thing.  I had been told that there were elephants down near Nai Harn so I'm guessing that is where we went.

I had been in two minds whether to go on this trip, wondering whether it was exploitation and how the elephants should be in the wild, but when we arrived the people seemed very nice and the elephants well looked after. And at least they are safe and not risking being killed for their tusks.

The first part of the trip was to feed the two very cute baby elephants (whose names I’ve forgotten) with little bananas which they would either take with trunks or ask for it straight into their mouths. Each of us then went in with them and got big suction kisses on our cheeks and ears which was very funny, they were so gentle and the ends of their trunks were surprisingly dry and not slobbery at all. With the (verbal) encouragement of their trainers/carers the youngsters then entertained us with a drum and a harmonica and played some Lady Gaga (apparently).



After much amusement doing this, we set off for our 30 minute ride on a wooden seat on the back of the elephant, complete with a safety lap belt, and umbrellas as it was still raining. Phuket is very green and tropical and getting wet really doesn’t matter much when the rain is so warm. My elephant was a 25 year old named Beyonce, apparently because she had a generously sized bottom! My ‘driver’ was quite chatty and half-way round he invited me to ride sitting behind Beyonce’s ears while he got down and walked and took photos with my camera. Of course I knew that the ‘don’t tell anyone that I let you do this’ was just a ruse to get an extra tip, as I’m sure it was standard policy despite the big sign saying that it was against the rules! But I didn’t mind because it was fun and this is Thailand.

I have to say that I didn’t feel very secure sitting there, especially with Beyonce lumbering on along the twisting path and over uneven ground following the instruction of the walking ‘driver’, but I know I would have regretted it if I hadn’t taken the opportunity. BeyoncĂ© had very tough skin and hard black hairs on her head, but even wearing shorts it didn't irritate the skin at all sitting astride her. However, I was quite relieved when could sit back in the seat again! And then we were back and it was time to climb off and feed Beyonce some bananas before the drive back to the hotel for a shower, especially to wash the elephant kisses off my neck...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Letter from Phuket 2

There was a little cock-roach-y thing in my bathroom this morning. And if I leave an open bag of sugar on the tea tray (because I don't use a whole one) then a group of little bugs take up residence - always check before using it again!  But to be honest this being the 6th time I've been here I'm used to it and it doesn't phase me any more. Just so long as the friends of the now deceased cockroach thing don't come into my bed. There have been more mozzies about than usual, probably because it's been quite thundery with heavy showers, and is forecast to be the same for the rest of the week I think.

I got a bit of a lie-in this morning, having gone back to sleep and woken up at what I thought was 8.30am - what!? - but turned out to be 7.30 as my watch had clicked forward to HKG time. I had my customary breakfast of fruit salad and yoghurt, fried egg or omelette, and toast. I'm afraid I cannot stomach pate or spicy potatoes for breakfast. Lunch is usually either a rice or noodles dish with varying levels of spicy-ness and you have to watch out for the red and green bits....

So, it's Monday and I'm enjoying some time off although I do need to get on with some of my normal work. The wifi connection here is pretty dire though so there is much swearing, clenching of fists and hair-tearing going on. They are also doing some electricity works outside the hotel apparently so we keep having powercuts too. Those words 'your connection has been lost, trying to re-connect, attempt 3 of 20' are enough to turn the air blue especially when there is an owner waiting by the table for information.


Everything got pretty much sorted by the briefing at 4.30pm yesterday.  Last year we extended the measurement to 3 days from 2, and it has made a huge difference;  a lot of boats were done and dusted on Friday which meant that blood-pressure on Saturday and Sunday was a bit lower for everyone.

The opening party was last night, I was late to it because I had a sporadic Skype conversation with Mr H, which involved me having to sit on the floor just inside my bedroom door to pick up good enough connection, which then kept dropping. Still we managed a bit of a conversation and then agreed that email letters were going to be a lot less stressful. Anyway, I did get to the party in time to get some pasta and rice and red wine, and chat to a few people before heading off to bed (refusing an invitation to go out to a local bar since I'd already had my quota for the night!).

The political demonstrations up in Bangkok has meant that I am not really looking forward to my trip home on Sunday, since I change at Bangkok airport (although I am feeling quite homesick for my dusty little house, elderly dog and lovely husband). There is nothing I can do about it, but I am one of those people who imagines the worst in such scenarios - and I know where I get that from! Yesterday the race director here said that when he'd driven from home to Kata the road was blocked by police, and another road was blocked by a truck on its side, so it had taken 1.5 hours instead of 20 minutes. (He is the opposite to me and just takes everything in his stride from stroppy yachties to Thai political tensions, "Oh yes, they're off again, just the same as normal"). Anyway, Oh my god I thought, what is this, rioting on the Phuket streets? But no, the road was closed because of a triathlon that was on, and the truck was just someone not able to drive properly!

So, I shall try not to worry about it or let it spoil my week. Right, time for lunch then on with some work.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Letter from Phuket 1

I am writing this at 5am, I am sitting in bed awake, wishing it wasn’t dark outside so I could go for a swim. I’m back in Phuket (Thailand) for the 6th time for the King’s Cup yachting regatta. It feels very familiar although a few vital things have changed, such as the colour of the pool towels and sunbeds…

I still get the little butterflies of ‘will it all go ok? Will I cope?’ when I think about the manic two days of regatta registration coming up. Silly though because it always goes OK and on Sunday night it all comes together, and I finally close my laptop satisfied that everyone has a legal certificate and they can go racing on Monday morning.

Heathrow terminal 3 never seems to change. I shopped in Boots and had tea in Costa, and got invited by a man to have my photo taken next to a cardboard cutout of the Queen as I was idly inspecting the Royal Wedding gift shelves. I said ‘no thank you, I’m English’ which made it sound as though I could have my photo taken with the Queen any day of the week.

My flight out was uneventful and I had two seats to myself, in fact the plane was very empty. Clearly Wednesday is not a popular travelling day! I spent most of the 11.5 hr flight to Bangkok not sleeping. I read an entire Dick Francis novel which I then left on the plane to be recycled, and watched a couple of episodes of an American drama called ‘Nashville’, about a country singer and her family, and of course an up-and-coming rival singer. There was then a couple of hours at Bangkok before a 90 minute flight down to Phuket and an hour’s taxi ride to the hotel.


Having arrived at Kata Beach at around midday yesterday (Thursday), I just wanted to sleep and did manage a couple of hours dozing, but was totally out of sync and it feels wrong being in bed in the middle of the day. A quick walk on the beach confirmed yet again that this is definitely not my ideal holiday destination and that Mr H would absolutely hate it. Couples and families either lying on the crowded beach, splashing about in the sea, walking around in skimpy swimwear with their bellies hanging out (male and female) or zooming around on SeaDoos. The majority of tourists here now seem to be Russian, with some Brits and other Europeans thrown in.

So, it’s warm and most of the time it’s sunny. But for holidays give me the Scottish wild lands any day. I dined alone last night, having gone for a stroll into the village (ie. stepped outside the hotel front gates) on impulse I stopped in at an outdoor restaurant and ate Pad Thai (noodles) with prawns and a bottle of Heineken, followed by banana split. It didn’t feel at all odd being in the restaurant on my own and I could watch the world walking by on their way home from the beach, or locals driving past in their pickups and tuktuks but mainly on scooters. A baby elephant went by in the back of a truck, some animal screamed in an alley across the road, and the Russians sitting at the table next to me argued with the waiter about exactly what it was they wanted.


Today we start sail measurement and it is a bit of a warm-up day before tomorrow’s mayhem. I might go back to sleep for half an hour.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mixing sails and wheels

Some of you will know that in my day job I work in the technical and measurement side of yacht racing and have done for nearly 29 years; over the years sailing has inevitably been a part of my life, which really only changed after the crash. Now that Mr H and I are involved in motorsport I have a whole new set of friends and the two areas of my life are totally separate; there is an overlap of interest between the two sports but I would never see any of my sailing friends at a hill climb, and vice versa. In conversation there are often cross-overs between the two and I'll sometimes allude to an equivalent situation in boats, levels of the sport, grand prix owners etc., but that's as far as it goes.

At one recent hill climb at Wiscombe Park, in conversation with a few of our hill climb friends about kids doing karting with pushy parents, I said something about it being the same in dinghies. Another chap on the edge of the conversation immediately picked up on this, and it transpired that he had done quite a bit of yacht racing down in Devon so we ended up talking about that a bit. After a couple of minutes it was clear that our hill climb friends were totally out of the loop, and I was thinking "Actually I really don't want to talk about boats and my work when I'm here enjoying car stuff".

The situation hadn't come up before, the closest I'd got to talking about work was a vague explanation to driving friends about what I did, mainly because the event commentary form asks for your day job! I keep changing what it says and have just about simplified it down to 'yacht racing admin' which is close enough for the purpose.

At the last event we were at, somebody mentioned boats and said that they sailed and I kept my mouth shut; Mr H commented on it later, having realised that I wanted to keep the two things completely separate he hadn't blurted out 'Oh, J works in yacht racing!'.

It's not that I don't love my job, it's just that I deal with sailors all week, day in day out, and at weekends I'd rather be discussing horse-power and the best line round the hairpin...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Feeling bereft

I am feeling bereft,
Of inspiration
And of intriguing avenues,
Down which my thoughts might
Rush with the abandon of
A puppy on a new scent.

I yearn for text books,
Pencil notes in the margin;
Question marks where my scurrying mind has
Asked "Is it really as simple as that?"

I miss the challenge of a new subject,
The fear of lacking ability;
The new-found confidence in an area
Into which I haven't ventured before.

I am feeling bereft
Without my Open University course.
It seems months since my exam,
And how I looked forward to the break.

Yet January holds the promise
Of a parcel in the post.
How I now long for those words
'Educational Material"

And provoking conversations.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Mind over matter

An interesting thing has come to my attention this week. For the last few weeks my leg has been giving me trouble, ie. pain. I have started having remedial massage therapy to try and break down the scar tissue on the muscle on the outer thigh, just two sessions so far. It hurts quite a lot while she is doing it, but feels amazing afterwards - no pain at all! But then it wears off after a couple of days.

This week, my mother has gone down with pneumonia again, and the dog has contracted gastro-enteritis, so I've had a bit to think about. Thankfully Mum has been transferred to hospital, later than she should have been. My poor father had to cope with a couple of falls and confusion caused by low oxygen levels, it's a good thing we live close by and they have other good friends who stood in while we were away at the weekend. Now at least Mum will get the treatment she needs.

Meanwhile Django became ill on Sunday while we were away and the vet thinks it is gastro-enteritis, his kidneys, liver and bloods looking generally ok. There is one more test to do for his pancreas which we have not had the results for yet. So, he has an upset tummy and right now he can't go into kennels as was planned this weekend.

So, the interesting thing I have noticed is that while I've been worrying about Mum and Django my leg has been hurting less. Even after some lawn-mowing yesterday evening, and having forgotten to take the Dihydrocodeine the last two days.

I think this goes to show how powerful a painkiller distraction can be!