Sunday, 24 November 2013

On the Mole Front

Things move at NHS speed as noted elsewhere. I’ve seen a consultant and to be entirely fair to him, he’s gone the extra mile and booked me in next week for a biopsy. I am however intensely irritated by the fact that they didn’t take a chunk on the day of the initial visit.
Here’s why: they (Basildon Dermatology) knew what I was coming in for, potential skin cancer (big word let’s not get too excited this is all precautionary).
Consultant looks at it says `mmmmm looks benign ... best make sure, we’ll need a sample’. I’m mentally prepared for a local anaesthetic I thinks it’s logical and efficient to do it `now’. Then he says without pause `we’ll have to get you booked in for a biopsy appointment’. I ask why, and can’t they do it now? And he explains that they need to administer a local anaesthetic and take a piece off for testing. I already knew that from my visit to the GP Surgery, and the experience of others.  If I was in A&E and needed stitches, or a bone reset, I’d be given analgesics and a local quicker than you could say `ouch’.
At what point was that not going to be a potential outcome? Fair enough, you turn up the guy says `it’s just a freckle and some blocked pores, scrubb it until it bleeds, you’ll be fine, goodbye ... or `it’s a wart with a freckle, use some Bazooka you’ll be fine, goodbye’. Job done you leave.
This is where I get cross. The referring  letter uses the C word (not the one I’m not allowed to use on the blog by the way). Why doesn’t that appointment, accommodate the few minutes it will take to poke a needle in my forehead to numb the area, scrape some cells, wipe clean and dress? Job done. If scenario Freckle/wart/blocked pores, you’ll be fine plays out in the first five minutes in the consulting room then the surgery claims back the biopsy time and moves to the next patient. If not, time has been allowed to take a sample. After all if they wanted blood, they would fill in a form and send you off to phlebotomy, this I know, my mother was Phlebotomist for seventeen years or more.
What happens next is that we explain we are supposed to be elsewhere, the consultant then spends fifteen minutes shooting off upstairs to where they make the appointments and take the samples, pushes me into the queue for next week (Saturday) and then we have to leave. Good man the doctor for doing this. However I’m still left thinking how can the system be so bloody inefficient?
I come back to point three. The letter indicates strongly that there may be a bigger issue than just a funny shaped itchy mole. The consultant, couldn’t rule out its potential to be more than a `wart with a freckle, or blocked pores’ (using the consultants high powered magnifying glass ... through which if I’m not mistaken you could reasonably expect to see the future).
All the facilities are in one building. The consultant went to the sample taking people to book us in ... he doesn’t even have to do it himself.
I appreciate the NHS, I really do. However so many times through their doors I see this kind of ridiculous inefficiency that costs you and I a fortune. I’ve also been private for a back issue ... done and dusted in two weeks, Initial consultation, MRI, and X-ray guided Nerve root injection, with private room, and tea and cake afterwards.
Now we are doing more hanging around an ever colder UK almost on top of Christmas.
Next week, we are going to head up towards Cambridgeshire then maybe a further north to Lincoln, and have a nose around. We’ve bought a robust but very low wattage fan heater to use at nights while on Hook-up (rather than running our diesel fan to heat the wagon at night). We’ve also been back to the lockup and retrieved a fluffy micro-fleece blanket ... we are in the land of proper winter motorhoming, it is an adventure in and of itself, I’d just prefer to be somewhere, where cold and wet isn’t.
I’d hoped we’d be booking a ferry to Santander for Sunday 1st December at the latest, at best we can now look at the 8th of December, or at worst the 15th of December.
On the up side, we did see `Gravity’ with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in 3D which is a spectacular watch, and we followed it a few days later with the `Day of The Doctor’ 3D at the Odeon. We are very much on the road to fully recovered and if the truth be told I’ve enjoyed our time at the Harrisons, doing odd jobs where I can. We have both confirmed to each other that we feel like fish out of water with our freedom ... that will be the best part of forty years (maybe more) of nine to fiving in one way or another, and we have both decided we would be rubbish lottery winners.

Up and Down Like a Fiddlers Elbow.

With a bit of careful weather watching, re-engineering of the awning brackets and with thanks to the Essex Harrisons for garage and workbench facilities drills and drill bits (and a roof over our head when I left the van looking like I’d thrown a grenade in and closed the door behind me). We can finally say the awning and bike rack are fitted, sealed tight and secure (the bike rack was relatively easy ... we just needed weather and health).

The awning was a faff and a half. Fiamma either have the wrong panel profiles on record, or there are lots of variations to the actual panels on the vans, or the height and type of rain-seal on the top seam has changed.  Whichever it is; packing pieces, replacing the kits screws, and using oodles of SikaFlex is mandatory, or it will bend/deflect, or allow the roof to leak ... quite frankly for the kind of money you pay for the awning and the bracket kit, I would expect `more’. All these issues could be partially mitigated if one had full height workshop facilities, platform stairs and a warm environment ... or half the cost again to get them fitted in such an environment.
We ended up breaking the job down into four distinct blocks.
For nerds they were:
Day 1 Exposing the inside of the pre-cut and grommeted holes in the roof (cutting lining and internal ply ... should have fitted the awning before the conversion ... 20/20 hindsight and all that). Cleaning and abrading internal and external surfaces to allow Sikaflex adhesion. Laying out the parts, and testing for size, and then finding the inconsistencies ... and realising that the two hour job will be no such thing, giving up and going indoors, and then standing before mirror giving oneself a slap for thinking the instructions and apparent simplicity were a given.
Day 2 building up the awning to roof bracket external profile using an industrial lino (usually found on train floors) and Sikaflex 512, because the brackets were two thirds cantilevered over the side of the van, with only 6mm neoprene and self tapers to secure them. The self tapers  were short of the mark by 1mm, because the rain seal is so high relative to the groove in the bracket it’s supposed to live in (however I’ve looked at a lot of these vans, and those panels and seals are the same `by eye’ on all I’ve seen). If further proof that the brackets are the weak link was needed; none of the brackets fully extend inwards across the full width of the accessory attachment points on the van (that’s towards the centre of the van). That equates to a strip of aluminium missing 10mm x 290mm x 3mm (by design), which as noted above is fuck all material for a lot of money in real terms.
Day 3 fitting the packed and pre-drilled brackets, bedding them to the roof with Sikaflex as prescribed in the supplied instructions (effectively you're making up the missing width in the brackets with super mastic). Lets just say right now that Sikaflex is an amazing adhesive, and you have to use it all the way through the awning install, it just irks me that to allow full cover of the brackets margin and accessory attachment points you have to allow an additional bead at least 5mm wide. Nipping up all the securing screws and plates with the awning in place to align the brackets (which in my humble opinion should be a full length bracket rail, wider than the accessory holes running the length of the roof, this would require an additional 300ml of Sikaflax to bed, but to be fair that’s peanuts for the additional ease of fix). Leaving the Sikaflex to cure over night with the brackets now aligned.
Finally on the fourth day. Remove the awning from the now set brackets, drill the van panels through the packed side of the bracket (the cantilevered bit that’s carrying 2/3rds of the 25kilo weight) sealing and sticking with more Sikaflax, refitting the awning, security plates and final drilling and fitting of security retaining screws (back of the awning case).
All that’s left to be done now is nip up the nuts after a few hundred miles.
As above, in a workshop this is a half day job for two blokes (it’s heavy to lift on and off), and if they can’t expose the pre-cut roof holes they use retained bolts through the accessory attachment points and oodles of Sikaflex. However it’s never as solid as fitting the internal brackets which are made of steel and cantilever the opposite way to the external brackets.
I’ll drop in the profile drawing, so you can see what Fiamma says it should look like in an ideal situation.
Mole update to follow.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Going Nowhere Fast

We've been delayed again, minor engineering issues with spare wheel and bike rack, and fitting the awning. However the plan is still to get across to Santander (should have been Calais) and then head across northern Spain to the North East coast and then head South down the East coast of Spain, and up through Portugal and France as the sun moves North next year. This is just a dive further South to start because of the weather through Northern France. We could drive over night from Calais, however its 900ish Kilometres overland and it’s 800ish kilometres across the Bay of Biscay and a relatively straight run across Northern Spain 400ish Kilometres (and the boat takes the strain ... what’s not to like?).

We plan to be able to flick back and forth across Southern France and maybe Northern Italy once we're across Northern Spain, that little meeting point around the central axis of the South of France (in my fevered imagination) speaks of all sorts of cosmopolitan delightfulness.
It’s tough right now, we are homeless, unemployed, it’s been wet and cold ... I think I said this before. Almost inevitably we are now both down with Autumn Lergy. And right now, bedded down with The Essex Harrions, trying to recover, and waiting for a weather window to do the engineering tweaks mentioned above.
Amanda's Driver licence name change has finally been sorted out after three attempts (part DVLA pedantry, part badly laid out form, part dizzy blonde).
There is one other minor bugbear that needs to be looked at. I have a mole that sometimes gets irritated in sunshine, and the weekend before last, it did exactly that. So Amanda has pushed me to see the quack, which I have deferred for maybe three years; her reasoning being that if I intend to spend several months in sunshine then I should be sure that I'm not actually giving myself skin cancer. However there is no denying that the dermatologists will be looking for exactly that on the 22nd of November ... that wasn’t easy to type.
I have an idea why. Once upon a time, there was a film called Philadelphia with Tom Hanks, about a man who gets HIV and subsequently succumbs to AIDS, and there was a memorable line used by a character when trying to help Tom Hank’s character reconcile the fact of his rejection by his once friends and his imminent demise, that I shall paraphrase “it’s a disease not a disgrace’. It just feels a bit embarrassing that you get this far and then as an afterthought nonchalantly mention that you have a mole that exhibits the base signs of being a melanoma. I feel if anything, a bit stupid that I’ve buried my head in the sand with regard to it for so long, and that it announced itself so spectacularly after we’d been fishing in the Autumn sunshine a week and a bit ago. It is still `active’ if that is the right word, now.
Why the sense of shame at going to the doctors with a mole I’ll never fully understand. It's possibly a disease, not a disgrace.
The thing is, I know of melanoma. Who in the western world who has a TV doesn’t? And even though from what I’ve briefly read about it ... and what I have is:
A. an as yet unknown quantity.
B. likely to be nothing.
I find myself in a bit of a stir. Not because the of the thought of malignancy, spread to other areas, imminent death, removal of half my face blah blah blah all of which are the very very very worst outcomes ... but because it’s now. And now it’s a delay on NHS timescales, 14 days for an appointment; tick, 14 days for the results; tick, followed by all clear, or treatment, time unspecified.
It’s been an inconvenient mole for a long time, now it’s a positive pain in the arse. And it's at time like this you wonder how on earth any project ever runs to time if at all? It's 21 degrees in our target area of Spain today, it's 16 degrees in the Toledo region on the plateau, Perpignan is 20 degrees, and all of these places have sunshine forecast for the next three days at least. To shuck off the autumn snot and sore throat lergy, a dose of sunshine would not go amiss. Yet paradoxically, I now have to go and have a mole poked prodded and likely be removed (local excision) before we can get to the sun. The sun that excited the mole again in the first place, and may be the worst course of action that I could take Mole outcome dependent.
I have been chided for turning a desire to see a lump of Europe and all England into a task rather than just an extended holiday (sabbatical), however the whole business, the highs the lows have made it so in some ways.
We could have bailed out in January when the previous Moho got written off, we could have bailed at any-time since, but we haven’t ... it’s become personal in a way that maybe isn’t in the spirit of the original aim. Some days recently it’s just been a matter of surviving the weather and each other. In the absence of TV or anything else to do you have only each other to watch, and unfortunately the audience is want to heckle the current performer (Guilty as charged, there may be more than one way to do the same thing).
Somewhere recently we both read that living full-time in a Caravan/Motorhome is mentally and physically demanding. This is true. Fatigue has become our shadow, cold has kept us from sleep, snoring has kept us individually awake, Pied Wagtails (not the worst way to be woken up) using the roof vents to sound the dawn chorus have woken us up, fireworks, heavy rain ... lots of that, have all contributed. Muscles ache from walking, both leg and spine, the bed we make and unmake everyday is a little workout on its own, our `Tango’ around each other in the confines of the galley sometimes means that hurts are aggravated or revisited. My earlier near broken wrist has a nasty habit of leaving my forefingers and thumb entirely numb after a nights sleep, and Amanda’s constant banging of her head on just about every protruding surface in the moho (while amusing for me), means the her BVVP has no chance whatsoever of getting right and she has pain every time she brushes her hair.
We hope, or we live in hope that once we are away from the elements of an English Autumn Winter, that we can worry less about the vicissitudes of the weather. The cold and the wet are only comfortable in this day and age, when looked at from behind double glazing sat in front of a wood burning stove, with several other rooms to escape to. My hat is off to all those families that already manage to live this lifestyle all year round as part of their culture (Pikies, Gypos and Tinkers in common parlance ... Romany’s in days of yore).
We'll get there before Christmas, it just seems a bit insane that we finished work in August and we're still here in November. But as everyone keeps on saying, these things happen for a reason.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wild Nights

At 09.30 on the morning of the 3rd of November 2013 Amanda woke me up and presented me with tea and currant buns in bed. I had had a rough night, I may be coming down with something.

Addendum: I developed a sore throat, and am bunged up and half deaf.
When I awoke I was befuddled and confused, I didn’t know what I was looking at or where I was, and my wits and memory from the evening  before coalesced relatively slowly. My brain wouldn’t process the view for a few moments. Then I remembered the late evening stop, cooking leftover chicken with a fresh Basil sauce and pasta, and the fact that we were wild camping. The drive across the big sweeping bridge to the isle of Sheppy and the strange landscape beyond, treeless, undulating in places , lots of marshland, some big lumps of industry and exposed small estates of houses and trailer parks or holiday parks, mostly closed for the winter. And the faffing about we had done when we got to Leysdown, and making the decision to stay for the night ... frankly it looked like the sort of place Doggers gathered and that may have been an issue. However we decided that once we were locked up, fed and bedded down with the lights off, that the only people likely to get a reaction were the type with pointy hats and blue lights on the roof of their car.
I was, we were,  at the end of the road at Leysdown, before it turned into Shellness (another residential holiday home Park (gated with uppity unofficial laminated signs cable-tide to lampposts telling motorists not to turn their vehicles using the three intersecting lanes outside there).
The view I was trying to get my head around was of Brent Geese, Oyster Catchers, Herring Gulls, and Turnstones foraging on the foreshore.  I wasn’t expecting mid tide. When we’d arrived it was mid tide ... but on the way out, not that I’d noted it or checked, or if I had checked, I hadn’t remembered. It was confusing.
I looked dumbly out the nearside windows across the seawall three or four feet from me. Amanda had left the blinds down my side, so I had no frame of reference to clue me in. Amanda had asked if I was alright ... see paragraph one (I think the period when you’re coming down with a cold is the worst, once you’re fully in it you can rum with the symptoms, when it’s building up, it’s just an odd lot of aches and some mental disconnect).
The tide was low but on its way in according to the tide feature on my watch (It’s a Protrek triple sensor, an evolution of the original G-Shocks, one of which I had as my dive watch more than two decades ago ... I think I read somewhere that this is another of those modern items that has more processing power than the Apollo 11 Lunar mission module ... it’s a watch). That one glance at the tide graph on my watch, the date, the day, the time, the lack of moon, and suddenly I had perspective. I sipped some tea and my brain fully caught up with reality, I was looking at that familiar Thames estuary but from the opposite side, direct out toward the southern end of the London Array Wind Farm. I need to say I resent the cost of subsidising wind-farms that will not provide nearly enough electricity over their lifetimes as originally estimated. However every little helps, and as an aside they are natural no- take zones/marine reserves, and initial reports show that sea life around them benefits from the protection afforded by not allowing trawling beneath them, that is a good thing.
The birds in front of us were inured to the sight of the half dozen or so motorhomes, vans and cars parked by the wall. I grabbed my binoculars and opened a side window, and with the bed still made up we watched the birds go about their business. It was both odd and exciting. I suppose we watched for twenty minutes or so, the water was between forty and fifty meters from the wall and slowly creeping in. Far to the north and south huge anvil headed Cumulous clouds banked the sky, between the banks of cloud we sat in a horseshoe shaped pool of blue, dotted here and there with puffs of cotton wool cloud that rolled and roiled and then evaporated some way off shore, or were spun from fluff to strands before disappearing.
The night before it had rained and blown, and was altogether miserable and damp. Our morning was bright breezy and crisp, the suns light and warmth most welcome, in part to allow us to be outside without going through the rigmarole of keeping the damp as close to the side door as possible when we got back in, and de-jacketing. And of course to allow a bit of warmth and breeze through the van to dry out all the damp we had collected regardless of our efforts to keep damp out. Water is the enemy in the vehicle, and yet we have to carry gallons of it for washing us, washing up the dishes and to sustain life through the medium of tea. We also carry several gallons of chemically treated water to flush the loo. But it’s the water you can’t see or contain that causes you issues, moisture from breath, atmospheric moisture, condensation, it’s a chore we have to deal with but if it’s allowed to get too damp we’ll have moulds and mildew, and all the ills that go with household damp.
We watched the birds for a bit, used the pocket guide we brought with us to identify the geese, packed up the breakfast things, got dressed, folded the bed away and put the kettle on and then returned to our bird watching. But there were no birds; our jobs had distracted us long enough for all the waders and foreshore birds to go. The tide was still thirty meters off the slope of sand that constitutes the lonely stretch of beach. Unknown to us mere humans though; the water had peaked at the edge of the foreshore and spilled rapidly to the foot of the beach at a pace equal to the quick walking pace we’d seen at East Beach on the other side of the estuary, to then spend the next three hours rising around seven feet vertically. The birds must have known. How they knew, how they know I guess we’ll never know. One assumes broadly that one species gets up and leaves and all the others follow suit, but to be sure, you would have to keep eyes on the entire period and then realise in advance what you were seeing.
Addendum: I gave this some thought as you do, and it occurred to me that maybe the birds prey moves as the water pressure increases in the silt ... the birds know feeding time is over because breakfast/dinner goes off to do something else.
Soon the gulls were the only birds remaining, bobbing about in the surf and occasionally taking off in loose flocks to harass newcomers in cars who may have brought bread to throw to them while walking their dogs in the wild parkland reserve adjacent to the beach.
We decided that some prawns we allowed to thaw and re-freeze (by accident) were good enough to use as bait, and that as the tide was rising we would fish. So that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t catch anything but that’s not really the point, we used our rods and reels, tried spinning with lures and beach casting our usual double hooked rigs. We caught the sun, watched the tide rise to its peak and then ebb back three or four meters at which point we gave up, fed the crabs the last of the prawns and drove to a little Certified Site called Leo Bay behind the Isle of Grain back inside the estuary proper (photo blog to follow).
It is one of those odd realisations, more of which we have every day we are out and about, to whit: we had bait and gear and time and importantly clement weather ... lets fish ... walk the short stretch of sand between the groynes, study the brittle Razor Clam and Slipper Limpet shells, wonder at the how and why of the lives of the empty Cockle Shells in every size from pea to walnut, try and take in the millions of various coloured and shaped pebbles, odds of quartz and Jasper, flint and chalk, bits of wind dried weed, hardy salt resistant grass ... and wonder if what my dad told me as a child is actually true “that there are more stars in our galaxy than there are grains of sand on every beach all over the world”.
Today as I finish this, we are sitting in the van late morning on the 6th of November, it’s drizzling outside, we’re in Canterbury, the rain is supposed to ease latter and we’ll walk back into town, there’s an Odeon ... which unfortunately for Canterbury Cathedral is likely to be more entertaining, and less expensive to enter ... £9.50 to walk into a church and look around, historical significance or not ... bugger that ... and anyway I’m liable to catch fire if I cross hallowed ground.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Month One

Well to be fair it’s month one of odd days of camping, and lots of days of being parked on peoples drives. We spent a few days at Wallasea Island (see previous post), then we went to our friends in Trowbridge for four days, followed by four days at Homefarm in Somerset followed by four days at our friends in Somerset. Before making a headlong dash back to Essex for birthday drinks and to get an awning and bike rack fitted ... next weekend.
We have discovered a few things while we have been testing and tweaking and travelling.

1.       All doctors surgeries are indeed populated by people (mostly grumpy middle aged women) who have systems and service that lean strongly towards saying no. To clarify the subject, I needed a repeat prescription of two of the most widely used anti asthma drugs available in the first world. Without getting into the deepest nitty gritty you would have thought I’d asked for a lifetime supply of Heroin, syringes and the doctors first born child. Needless to say it was easier to phone my own surgery and get them to post a repeat prescription than to go through the wringer at Amanda’s old surgery or deal with any of the local Chemists, who seemed to think the process leaflet given to me by the surgery was optional for them to take part in, despite those that I called being listed at the back of the leaflet indicating they were in on the process. This annoys me deeply, when I know I can buy whatever I like for asthma over the counter on the continent as long as I have my E111 (or equivalent ) card and a doctors slip listing my usual prescription (and to be fair that’s just because the stated does and spellings are in written form).

2.       Farmers don’t like thum thar townies on thar laaand. Understandable in a lot of cases when you see the litter dotted about here and there from those townies that have no concept of taking their litter home, not setting portable BBQ’s on the ground, or not closing gates.

3.       It’s better to run with a full water tank all the time than not.

4.       You can go a month without doing No2’s in the moho latrine if you carry a personal stash of loo paper everywhere you go. This is a good thing, because emptying what is essentially two gallons of cold wee treated with some disinfectant is far more `fun’ (I use the word loosely), than emptying two gallons of wee and solids that have been shaken and stirred with some disinfectant for four or five days. It is a sub-mission, to the primary mission of surviving two years in a tin can, that that I do not defecate in the moho loo for the duration of our trip. Do you need to know this? Probably not.

5.       If you open one jar of jam you have to use all of it before opening a second one. This makes sense if you like your jam kept in the fridge. It also means that you get to look forward to the next flavour more than you normally would ... though as a child this was a mandatory jam rule, because in the seventies `times was ard’, much like now, but without the sense of entitlement that that seems to sum up the current downturns misery for the masses.

6.       Lots of clothes will never be worn ... but; best not to put them in storage too soon you never know when you may have to eat hose words.

7.       Taking all your clothes off to have your picture taken while pointing vaguely to the horizon and captioning it on Facebook with the legend `The Vikings are coming’ is fraught with danger, but also horribly addictive fun.

8.       Wild camping where you can do (we are wild camping as this is written), is free, and by and large right off the beaten track, or as we are at Leysdown in Kent; at the very very end of the track, listening and occasionally going out to watch the distant firework displays along the Southend and Margate coasts. The sky overhead is clear, it’s blowing a gale and tonight, the unmoving cloud of stars we call the Milky Way is fooling those that don’t know what they are seeing into thinking they see a wisp of cloud. Meanwhile reminding those of that do know what we are looking at, that the nearest star to us Proxima Centuri is (if my rough sums are correct) 264902.4 Astronomical units away ... that’s 4.2 lightyears (very approximately) , or 264902.4 x 93,000,000 miles. If Voyager were heading in its direction at current speed it would take just over 70000 years to get there. We won’t be retrofitting the moho with a warp drive anytime soon. We are such a tiny speck in the cosmic scheme of things, that we really should get a long a whole lot better ... mankind that is.

9.       Water finds its way into very odd and disturbing places that are at times terror inducing, and make you hunger for warmer climes were condensation and rain are things the `English’ suffer.

10.   Not being able to leave the country makes you spend money on retro-fitting awnings and bike racks and re-engineering spare wheels so you can fit bike racks ... yes we succumbed to more gadgets as per paragraph one ... see note eleven below..

11.   Computers demand power, so a solar panel looks likely despite my misgivings. Without the ability to charge in the wild (Aires and Camperstops), blogging ... well writing anything will become a chore ... I have notepads and the phones voice recorder, but getting it down in electronic form and then sticking in it up in my bit of the electronic ether we call the cloud is vital for my sanity. That said, having worked in data centres for a bit of a while I wonder why the word `cloud’ was chosen as the name for what is cyber space. It’s a myriad directed invisible waves of electromagnetic radiation, or serial beams of bits whizzing down a fibre optic cable ... maybe it’s a cloud if you’re looking at it from a long way away with special goggles, and all the individual wakes are look mixed together.

12.   You shouldn’t try and write blogs in the wild with two Amanda strength G&T’s in your system.
I’m going to stop writing now and go and watch the stars while Amanda puts the bed together. As this is written it’s ten to nine. Night comes soon to those living a tin can far away from home.
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