Fifteen

Fifteen years ago today, 9th February 2002, was a day that has turned out to be very memorable for me. I’m hoping today isn’t.

I drove across London to go and watch Brentford beat Bournemouth at Griffin Park with my Bournemouth supporting friend, Alan from Balham. I then went home to Docklands and toyed with the idea of just staying in as a nice home win for the Bees had already made it a good day. But I’d arranged to meet another friend, Rich, to go to a house party of a mutual friend in Earlsfield and even though it was a bit of a bother to trek back over to the other side of London, I didn’t want to bail out at short notice. So after a few pints in Clapham Junction we went on to the the party. Where I got together for the first time with the future Mrs B. The rest is history.

Today, after work, I’ll be driving back from Egham to Leeds via Cambridge. I’ll be stopping off at Cambridge to see my mum in hospital. She’s been in Intensive Care for the last 10 days with flu and pneumonia, was unconscious for the first few days, and even now the Consultants are not holding out any hopes for her recovery. When I saw her last week, she was breathing through a tube and coughing silently (the tube meant that no air went past her vocal chords). Her eyes had gone blue. I think she was aware I was there, but I can’t be sure. I think I saw her try to smile when I talked about Oli, her only grandchild.

My mum has been ill for over 20 years. Her kidneys started to fail when she was in her mid 40s, about my age (the last proper conversation we had she was pleased when I told her that I’d had a kidney function test which had come out clear). She’d never liked eating vegetables much (neither do I, neither does Oli) but a few years previously she’d cut out eating beef because of the BSE scare and moved to a largely vegetarian diet which probably put a strain on the one working kidney she had at the time (it was only much later that the renal specialists said that one of her kidneys had never worked). She had a transplant about 11 years ago but the transplanted kidney started to fail about 18 months ago and after a stroke she decided to retire from work. Being somewhat unsympathetic she used to bemoan the young kidney patients she had dialysis with who had, despite being in much better general health than her, not worked when she would come into dialysis 3 evenings a week after working full time. Last year she had a heart valve operation which was difficult enough because the drugs needed to make that work were pretty much diametrically opposed in effect to the drugs needed to stop her body rejecting her transplanted kidney. They also meant that her immune system was very weak and she had two further long spells in hospital last year fighting off infections to the heart valve. She said the best treatment she’d got during those stays was while the junior doctors were on strike as she’d see the Consultants regularly and  they weren’t cack-handed in trying to find a vein to stick in one of the many needles she had pincushioning her. Until those infections were defeated there would be no question of going back on the kidney transplant list. I shudder to think what we’d have done if we’d had to pay for all this healthcare. The doctors and nurses at Addenbrokes and Papworth Hospitals have been fantastic. I doubt I’d be insurable (to my IFA’s disappointment, even taking out new life insurance now is not realistic). And the clock was ticking because she would not be allowed on that list after the age of 70.

I’ve been prepared for her death most of my adult life. Or so I thought.

Anniversaries are only arbitrary dates that we choose to put meaning on. There is no inherent quality to 9th February. Or to Valentine’s Day (which I’ll thankfully be away for, but is coincidentally the date of my first actual date with the soon to be ex Mrs B). But they are important because by tying events to memories we preserve those memories. I can barely guess what I was doing on 8th February 2002. I’m hoping 9th February 2017 is ultimately not specifically memorable other than as the fifteenth anniversary with which I started this blog.

Westward Ho!

It felt slightly strange going on holiday a week after starting work again after three months of what my zero hours contract employment euphemistically describes as being on the beach. However that doesn’t mean that our week in North Devon at Westward Ho! (the only English place to have an exclamation mark in its name) wasn’t a welcome and relaxing break.

We decided on staying in the UK for our summer holiday this year because it meant that we wouldn’t have to leave our new puppy in kennels. The wonderfully warm weather earlier in the summer was also encouraging. Although this did, predictably enough, break just before we went so that our second day saw nearly three inches of rain, the rest of the week was largely pleasantly sunny. One of the advantages of home holidays is that you go without expecting unbroken hot sunshine. Apart from the typically down at heel pleasures of the traditional seaside arcades with their 2p amusements, wet weather also makes crabbing and rock pooling appealing as they don’t compete with fighting over the sun loungers.

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We stayed in a very comfortable apartment along with a couple of friends who spent part of the week down from Bristol. The large balcony overlooking the sea meant that when the weather was less pleasant or the tide was in we could enjoy the view. Having a nicer kitchen than at home was also a plus point! Nassau Court is very well designed and spacious and I’d recommend it for anyone planning a visit to the area.

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The village itself is fairly nondescript and slightly shabby in parts although there are signs of new development to smarten it up. But for us part of the charm was that it wasn’t gentrified in the way that much of Cornwall is and so eating out was more relaxing and reasonably priced. We had a few meals at The Pier House which were of good quality and in pleasant surroundings. The raised decks looking out over the seas were particularly nice and would have fitted in nicely alongside Cafe del Mar in Ibiza.

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There are plenty of places to visit nearby but we restricted ourselves to a day out in Appledore, a couple of miles away, where they were having their summer festival. That was on the day of the heaviest rain so it was perhaps fortunate that the procession was not a long one! The last time we came to Appledore, a few years ago while staying in Bideford, the rain meant that we sat in our car in the car park while OMB slept (we discovered later that one of the other couples staying with us were similarly sat in their car in the same car park that afternoon!). This time we braved the elements and OMB was excited about his haul of 17 crabs. Fluffy, the puppy, was rather less pleased by getting drenched. The highlight of the visit was the unexpected gem of a local pub we were directed to by a passerby when we couldn’t find a table inside a waterfront cafe for lunch. Although it doesn’t look like much and is hidden down a side street, I recommend a visit to The Coach and Horses.

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The food and welcome were great, even though initially I had the sensation of entering the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. I couldn’t resist the temptingly named Cardiac Arrest burger which was worthy of Man vs Food.

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While waiting to eat, one of the regulars told us that on Sundays the pub had live music as locals came along and took turns to play. If you like folky music played unselfconsciously for the sheer joy of it, it is well worth making a trip for. Thankfully for all they couldn’t persuade any of us to do a turn but unfortunately Mrs B has spent the last week and a half singing the Cornish sea shanties she heard there.

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The other trip out we did was to Broomhill Sculpture Gardens . I’ll write about that separately but it is a must see if you like modern sculpture. Not quite Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but a nice place to spend a couple of hours and the food in the attached hotel is also good.

But, in the end, you go to the seaside to enjoy the sea so if you visit Westward Ho! you don’t have to do anything else to have a great time.

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Denmark

This year our summer holiday was a fortnight in Denmark. It was a surprise arranged for me by Mrs B and OMB to have an unusual holiday to mark my 40th birthday as Denmark is not the most obvious or common of destinations. It wasn’t a complete surprise as in their excitement after booking everything I had to play a guessing game a couple of days before my birthday and somehow guessed Legoland, but this showed how well chosen a surprise it was!

I had said beforehand that I fancied a driving holiday rather than flying so we took the overnight ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg. The DFDS ferry was very comfortable and civilised – a far cry from the atmosphere on some cross-channel ferries or the ferry we took from Portsmouth to Bilbao the summer before OMB was born.

Bye bye Harwich! Hello holiday!

The only hitch was that, of course, I had absolutely no idea how to switch off the car alarm so that it wouldn’t go off on the voyage! So, half an hour after setting sail, I and a number of other drivers was called over the tannoy to go to my car. Thankfully I was far from being the only one to find myself standing by my car looking inside a car trying to find an off switch and then randomly pressing buttons on the key fob in the hope of disabling the alarm while keeping the car locked! The crossing was uneventful and very smooth apart from OMB’s disappointment at not getting past the first round of the limbo dancing contest (he was pleased to get to the last four on the return trip!). Arriving at Esbjerg dead on time we drove to Billund where we would be staying at the Lalandia holiday park for three nights. The countryside was dead flat and reminiscent of the miles we had driven through eastern England on the way to Harwich, sharing its grey skies. However, even if the setting was dull we enjoyed the large indoor waterpark at Lalandia and even more, Legoland in Lego’s hometown. You can see and read more about Lalandia and Legoland here.

We then had a long drive of 150 miles for five nights camping on the north coast of Jutland at Klim Strand near Fjerritslev. Apart from one lovely sunny day which fortunately happened to have been the day we chose to go to Legoland, the weather had taken a turn for the worse with some rain. As we drove up, things didn’t improve with strong winds. After the challenge of putting up a large tent in high winds and realising that it wasn’t very weatherproof any more since one of the door flaps could no longer be zipped up we feared that we might have been a little too adventurous. But, following a blustery first night the rest of our time there was in calm and warm sunshine. More about our time in northern Jutland can be found here. Despite an inauspicious start to the camping part of our trip we hadn’t expected to be sad to leave for the final leg of our journey taking us 300 miles back down the length of Jutland then across the island of Funen to Zeeland and Copenhagen.

Up to this point we had barely encountered any traffic at all while driving round Denmark. The population density of the parts we had visited was very low, unsurprisingly for a country with only 5.5 million inhabitants, but as we crossed over the bridge we hit a large traffic jam caused by a road accident which reminded us that we were heading towards a large city at the end of a weekend.

Copenhagen is a great city to spend time in, although we were blessed by having lovely warm weather for the four days we were there rather than the dour greyness of the city as you might have seen it in The Killing! Read all about it here.

Finally it was time to drive back across the country to Esbjerg and the ferry home. The small towns of Denmark had been very sleepy and unexciting. Copenhagen had been lively. So nowhere on the way back looked sufficiently enticing to organise a final excursion. However, running low on fuel and needing lunch we stopped at Kolding, a small industrial town that looked utterly miserable in sheeting rain as we ate a picnic in our car. With four hours to kill before our ferry and low expectations that Esbjerg in the rain would provide any diversion our holiday looked to be petering out. We remembered that our guidbook had a photo of a statue of four giant men looking out to sea in Esbjerg and decided that we should go and look at it, perhaps going to the fishing museum next door if needing some shelter, but with low expectations. Then, as we reached the statues the clouds blew away and were replaced by clear blue skies. So, we had a few hours lying on a lovely sandy beach by the sea. Denmark couldn’t let us leave on a low after a fantastic fortnight!