Saturday, January 26, 2008

I got back from Mallorca on Tuesday after a peaceful week's stay with Chris and Lisa at the villa. We went for the Sant Antoni and San Sebastia's Firework Fiestas which are amazing and leave our own 'Guy Fawkes Night' standing in the cold. Apparently the arrival by boat of Sant Sebastia's earthly remains banished a deadly plague from the Island for good and so each year they celebrate by burning effigy's of the demons that once beset them on a huge bonfire on every street corner, and setting off fireworks in the local squares where barbeques blaze in every other doorway. The atmosphere was primitively dramatic with showers of sparks from the windswept bonfires; kettle drums; heavenly music and devils dancing in and out of streaming curtains of golden rain. Whirling dervishes on bicycles waved giant Catherine wheels into the crowd. It is fairly easy to get set on fire at this event as Chris's jacket did last year, so we watched the climax of the evening from the balcony of a friend's restaurant till nearly 2am.

The following day just a pile of dusty embers marked the place where the main fire had been. I'm ashamed to say we were all to tired to get up and see the blessing of the animals ceremony which I now regret. We also missed the rather phallic greasy pole contest in which the young boys of the village vie to be the one who gets to the top first!

Once up I went for a walk in the peaceful and deserted Cala streets and found a nearby field full of very friendly animals - goats sheep and pigs all getting on together and who seemed to have been missed by San Antoni (patron Saint - particularly of pigs!) in the casting out devils department and seemed to be doing a bit of blessing themselves!!!

A week without the telly or internet access was a blissful change. Fresh air, good food, walks, 10 hour sleeps and a good book were the order of the day and did me a power of good.

The Marsden is up and running as per usual thank goodness. On Friday I had my fourteenth Herceptin treatment there - three weeks to the day since the fire. It was practically deserted because a lot of people postponed their treatments to a few days later. I got a shot of the damaged roof from the stairs of the main building which is mercifully unscathed.

The week's holiday was preceded by two memorable events. Firstly, a trip to see the Spice Girls - a gift from Father Christmas for Mia organised by my daughter Aimi, whom, I suspect, is a secret fan herself from the look of excitement on her face as we plunged through London on the Jubilee line to the vast 02 (ex Dome) auditorium where we had a meal, and then took our places for the show. After an hour and a half of 25-30 year old girls and a few gay men screaming, flashing lights and spectacular stage effects, we staggered out to get the Jubilee line home again - my hearing, which is not that good nowadays, completely gone - not to return for about 24 hours.

Secondly, a trip to one of this country's finest restaurants - The Fat Duck at Maidenhead
This outing was a treat given by one of my oldest friends Kerry or 'kind uncle' as he is affectionately nicknamed. He took five of us. Another oldest friend, Annie, and her husband Paul de la Grange, me and Bernice - Kerry's second ex wife. We drove through the most appalling stormy weather conditions to the small and unassuming restaurant. Having needed to reserve the table at Bray five months earlier and payment in full in advance, postponing the event was not an option.

The Fat Duck holds the coverted 3 Star Michelin rating - one of only three held in the entire country, the others being Gordon Ramsay's in Royal Hospital Road, London and The Waterside Inn also in Bray.

The menu was extraordinary. Snail porridge and scallops with white chocolate with caviar were on offer as were snails in chocolate, black pudding with spiced pigeon juices and scrambled egg and bacon ice cream . I played it safe and ordered a lamb cutlet, but the others were more adventurous.

This is my starter, main course and pudding (l to r above).We had about 3 very attentive waiters per table and intercourse tasters such as soup, venison juice and a miniature ice cream cone arrived from time to time.

Kerry paid the bill cheerfully in spite of this face and I drove us home .

(I'm very useful for that Russell!)

At £200 per head, the more I look at Mia's efforts in the kitchen, the more I am definitely determined to encourage her!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Merry Christmas - 2008!!!

May I be the first to wish you a very happy Christmas 2008! No I haven't completely lost the plot! I just didn't get everything done this year. So I've decided to save the stress I go through to create my own Christmas card when others are clamouring for me to do theirs, and this will be next Christmas's offering. As usual this picture practically took itself. I was using Mia as a daylight model before a session with the triplets, and keeping it simple as I can't manage the studio lights yet, and this shot was the result! She is an absolute ace at posing for photos and never fails to come up trumps for me. She is beginning to take great photographs herself too.

Not much to report healthwise. I am still making good progress
but my arms and hands and shoulder still trouble me. The tendons have been affected by the drug treatments.

Jenny brought her new puppy along to the session. His name is D'Artagnan or D'Arty for short and he is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and was a Christmas surprise for the children.

Apart from the Marsden Hospital nearly burning to the ground, it has been a great start to the new year . Apparently the planet Pluto has left Saggitarius and us Saggi's are all feeling lighter and less burdened. I certainly feel that way and am looking forward to the year ahead with a fair amount of excitement and anticipation.

For starters, Robert Sellers' two page article in the Sunday Times
on our book The Battle For Bond has created a great deal of interest, and Bruce, the publisher at Tomahawk is handling several enquiries as to rights for documentaries and film which is most exciting.

We made our annual family visit to Somerset House Ice Rink the day after Boxing day, and this year I watched from the wings again. Not strong enough to skate yet but hopefully I will be next year. It was wonderful to watching Aimi & Co whirl round in a maze of coloured lights which glowed under and over the ice in time to beautiful music. This time we went at dusk and flaming torches added to the romantic atmosphere. I caught this picture of reflections in the ice and thought how very lucky I am to have my girls and a wonderful son in law in Massimo and what beauty can be found all around us if one can just "still the anxious mind" and live in the moment.

'A single moment can flood your whole life with meaning' wrote J P Satre. A single decision taken 34 years ago with the help of a very precious friend has brought meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging to my life in the shape of my daughter Aimi and my darling grandaughter Mia and I count my blessings for them every single day.

The day after Boxing Day Mia and I drove to Kenilworth to stay with Christopher and Lisa for a couple of days. They are happily settled in their cosy barn and it was their first Christmas together since they got married. I took Chris a "beware of the Goat" plaque (private joke!) and a tool kit that you keep in a book on a shelf and a pair of heated slippers for Lisa, and they gave me a wonderful new Owl for the garden and a beautiful necklace and matching ring.

The first night Mia woke up with night fears and it took me till 2.30am to calm her down. I finally got her to sleep by pretending that the two trees outside the skylight were her Mummy and Daddy watching over her and waving. The long dark journey and news of flooding had filled her head with worrying thoughts of being cut off and unable to get home. She was perfectly ok the next day and we all had a happy time doing nothing much but enjoying each other's company and some good food and walks.

See pix below of Chris taking Lisa's boots off and his new Christmas helicopter shortly before it crashed!

"Residents of picturesque Kenilworth in Warwickshire are breathing huge sighs of relief now that the “S” has been restored to the digital speed warning sign that stands on approach to the town. It now reads TOO FAST instead of TOO FA T. “Not the sort of thing one really wants to be reminded of just after Christmas!”, said local resident Christopher Blomfield of Red Lane Burton Green"

(copyright sylvan mason)

When we got back, Mia spent several days of her holiday with me and has taken up cooking - big time. Here are some of her latest creations which she concocts without the conventional use of a recipe (!) and for which I have the somewhat dubious and potentially dangerous honour of being the principal taster!

Here are some samples A. Penne Surprise (french beans inserted in pasta tubes)

B. Banana and yoghurt pudding with sultanas.

C. Sultana and dark brown sugar cake.

I can recommend the Banana pudding! However, I should pass on the cake - you could probably knock a man off a horse with it!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Disaster strikes

I sat with Christopher, my daughter and granddaughter yesterday afternoon in front of the tv screen, in silence, and close to tears, as we watched the horrendous fire attempting to engulf the Royal Marsden in flames and threatening to burn it to the ground. Little Mia put her arm round me and her head close to mine as we watched the heroics of the amazing staff and teams of firefighters who were surely risking their lives to save this precious, precious place where anyone fighting cancer will feel loved, supported, special and safe and for the majority of us, it is free.

Miraculously, all six of the patients in intensive care were carefully and safely transported to a neighboring hospital safely. Amazingly two operations in progress were halted midstream (doesn't bear contemplating for too long) and the patients stabilised and moved to a place of safety.

Everyone else who was fairly mobile or in for day patient treatment carried on, it seems, cheerfully in the way we all do with our cups of tea, until it was time to move to the local church. The nurses who I have always referred to as ‘Angels from Heaven’ didn’t even stop to put their own coats on in the 3 degree freezing weather. The firemen could be seen on precarious and crumbling ledges taking their chances to strenuously beat back the flames. There was no panic, no screaming. Everyone in this amazing building was saved quietly; courageously and with dignity, and not a single complaint or winge voiced.

Thank God this morning, though too early to say for sure, it seems that the main part of the building will be operational in a day or two. The biggest problem will be for anyone facing surgery but, knowing the care that is always given to the patients, with their very best interests (and nothing to do with money) at heart, I feel confident that this problem will be tackled swiftly, and operating theaters found elsewhere very soon, so that patients can be given the same care with the same surgeons and anesthetists but in a different operating theater to the Marsden perhaps.

But why oh why is it not front page news on every paper? Why do salacious articles about Macca’s divorce or the latest gossip on newly sprung “celebrities” dominate over this tale of triumph over disaster? Why do tales of human bravery, human courage, human kindness, human spirit, and the wisdom and immaculate organisation of the super-professional staff at the Marsden, (not to mention the fire brigade) and the fighting spirit of the British at their best, NOT dominate the headlines?

We don't yet know how the fire started but the usual 'work going on on the roof' as it was at Windsor Castle a few years ago may give a clue!

Hopefully the sheer excellence, altruism, professionalism and genuine care of the management and staff and of all others concerned in the management of the Royal Marsden will be brought more into focus now and funds quickly accumulated to make it the even more magnificent "jewel in our crown" than ever before.