Monday, 10 November 2014

Tidy up

Forget the spring clean, this is the autumn tidy up. Just as we have been tidying in the garden, preparing for winter, so the inclement weather this morning has given me an opportunity to start tidying up my blogs. 

My four blogs were started at a time when my life was in transition three years ago. My mother had recently died, I no longer had a job in science, and I needed to write and create.

I learnt as I went along, from simple, honest posts, to dabbling in a couple of sponsored posts. From regular link-ups and loads of comments to where I am now - a multi-interest blogger with a local feel.

The first step is to amalgamate the four separate blogs into my main blog, here at Mad dog woman of Shackleford, which is where I feel most comfortable. Then, Living with Mom's cancer will be published as the little hand-book I always intended. My blog on grief, bereavement and dying matters will continue at Talkhealth.

My photography and art blog will eventually move to a new home with a local art society, where the work will be better displayed, and cards and prints can be purchased.

The science blog will remain at the heart of my blogging, tackling social issues, common sense in general medicine, social enterprise and showcasing local charities and societies I support.

I hope that my blog at Surrey Life magazine will continue, as this is a great way to talk all things dog in Surrey. Read my latest post Ramblers everywhere, and not a dog in sight.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Poppies on parade

In this centenary year of the start of the First World War, there is a lot of talk about the poppy, but are more people wearing poppies? Or is it only people on the telly who wear a poppy?

My own experience is that there are fewer people wearing a poppy this year. Partly because, it seems, there has been a lack of poppy 'sellers' in Guildford and Godalming, especially mid-week. I'm sure the war veterans will be at Waitrose this weekend, standing in the cold, wearing their medals with pride, and plenty of shoppers will stop and buy a paper poppy. I have seen the Poppy Appeal boxes in the bank and at the farm shop. I have seen many HGVs proudly displaying their poppies. And many High Streets have poppies on their lamp posts. But when it comes to actually wearing one, not many it seems. Oh, everyone at the Act of Remembrance on Sunday will have found a poppy for their lapel. We will stand shoulder to shoulder at the Village War Memorial, and reflect quietly. Then, each will go back to their families, warm homes, Sunday lunch, and forget about it for another year.

My earliest memory of Armistice Day is standing on parade as a schoolgirl in Durban, squinting up at the Cenotaph, in the hot summer sun. I didn't get to lay a wreath, but watched in solemnity, as old people like granny and grandpa shuffled up to the steps to lay their wreaths, step back and salute smartly. What an important lesson for me.

In fact, that simple act has stayed with me, and I have always been drawn to the Remembrance Day service, perhaps even more poignant and beautiful than the Christmas services. I think it resonates with others too, judging by the number of people who attend the service and the Act of Remembrance afterwards.

I wonder if the time has come to stop selling the paper poppy, in favour of something a bit more wearable? For a few years now, I have had a very pretty enamel poppy brooch. I bought it online from The Poppy Shop, with profits going to the Royal British Legion. Our Village has a Poppy Appeal, and we make our donation to this, proud of the Village contribution. My brooch looks lovely on the lapel, I am proud to wear it, and have had many compliments. I recently purchased a small pin (£2.99) for Dr B too. It is easier for him to pin to his suit lapel, and doesn't get in the way of his stethoscope. We both wear our poppies from 1st November for 2 weeks.

This year, we were very pleased to purchase two of the ceramic poppies from the Tower of London Remembers 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red'. Like many others, we have stood, mesmerised by the sheer scale of the installation, and been moved by the sea of red. There has been a suggestion in the village that all those who have bought one of the ceramic poppies could place them at the War Memorial. I don't know how many will come back to the village, but we would be very happy to do this. 

As for the suggestion to extend the installation a little longer and delay sending the poppies on to those of us who have bought them, I agree. I'm sure that the Historic Royal Palaces charity will make the right decision.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

High jinks in the hen house

We have two new chickens. The old girls are getting a little lazy in the laying department, and with winter coming, we want to ensure a steady supply of eggs. The old girls are over two years old, and lay 8-10 eggs a week. They used to lay every day, and as we supply Dad with eggs, this just isn't enough, especially if I bake at the weekends.

So off we went to Surrey Poultry, armed with the old cat box, to catch ourselves a couple of point-of-lay chickens, around 18 weeks old. We hadn't realised just how small they were next to the older hens. We were warned about the pecking order and monitored the introductions. The new girls seemed very happy, eating and drinking, although watching out for the old girls, with their large, fierce-looking red waffles and combs.

The days are fine, amicable. Every hen gets enough to eat and drink. The old girls are showing the young ones how it is done with respect to egg-laying. I don't think it will be long before Bluebelle lays her first egg.

Bluebelle exploring her new home
Speckled Maran
Old girls, Specky and Ginger - plotting

The Boxer dogs have been intrigued by the new arrivals, perhaps a little too interested for my liking. Nevertheless, it is mostly harmless. We call it 'two new channels of Boxer dog TV'.

Roosting time is a different story, however. The roosting instinct is strong, even in domestic chickens. Come sundown, the hens form an orderly queue, up the ladder into the hen house. So far, so good. Then, the large speckled Maran starts to peck the young ones. First Bluebelle, then the Copper Black come flying back out the house. Bluebelle had a close encounter with two Boxer dogs on the first night, and now stands her ground. Blackie has taken to leaping/flying up to the roof of the house, even with clipped wings. Of course, it is safe there, but hardly warm or dry. She has also been on the receiving end of curious Boxer dog noses, but still seems to prefer to take her chances rather than sleep in the hen house with Specky. 

So we now have an evening ritual. The big dog barks to let me know that the black chicken is on the roof. I throw a towel over her, and gently put her back in the house. I reprimand Specky when she tries to peck Blacky. I close the door, making it dark. All is quiet, until first light.

I'm hoping that things will settle down, although it is almost two weeks since the new arrivals, and it is exhausting being on chicken duty at dusk and dawn. Any tips, chicken-people?

Autumn colours

Mom always enjoyed the autumn colours on her birthday. She would have been 70 today. We will be going for a walk in the woods later, to enjoy the colours and to celebrate.

Mom's cancer was aggressive. The first round of chemotherapy gave her a couple of extra months. She couldn't tolerate the second round of chemo. The cancer fought back hard against the drugs and made her extremely ill. Our wonderful consultant gently suggested that Mom should stop the treatment and enjoy her last few months without intervention.

We had excellent palliative care at home. Mom didn't want hospice care. Our community nursing team helped us throughout. Mom's choice, respected.

Mom died on her own terms, in her own time, in her own home. She had time to say goodbye. She had time to plan her funeral. We had time to love her unconditionally and talk about how we would remember her.

And we do remember her. Every day. Not just today.

Do you follow your GP on Twitter?

I did. For a day. I pretty quickly realised that I didn't want to know what he really thinks about his patients and his practice. Not that he named anyone, it was more an attitude I detected. I do know him well, so perhaps that was also a factor. His tweets made me feel uncomfortable.

Then, last week I 'twistened' in to the RCGP twitter feed from their panel discussion on GPs and their use of social media. Frankly, it made me feel ill. Some patients may be taken in by their GP's use of social media, but when the chips are down, what really counts is the face-to-face time with a caring medical professional.

I do follow other healthcare professionals on Twitter, in my capacity as social media networker for two small charities. One is a local cardiovascular support group, the other is a local older people's community centre. I follow the CCG, local GPs, specialists, hospitals, and associated support and community groups. The GPs will almost never interact, retweet or favourite, but they are always on hand to dispense politically correct health care messages.

I really do think that if GPs are on Twitter that it should be for the engaging and interacting, not for spouting those same old messages that the Government is paying for. It is boring. We know we must not smoke, drink or eat takeaways. We know we must eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, exercise regularly, check our breasts, have a smear test. 

What we want to know is that when we really need to see a doctor, the receptionist will be helpful and sympathetic, the waiting room will be clean and inviting, and the doctor will be available, and will see you on time.

Now, if you could tweet that, I'd be happy to follow you. Until then, I'll communicate at our next appointment, whenever that might be.

I'd love to know your thoughts. Do you follow your GP on Twitter? Does your GP follow you bacK?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Combretum imberbe (Leadwood)

We sat under the Leadwood tree, watching the dassies (rock rabbits) on the one side, and me, quietly trying out different ISO settings on the camera. The DSLR is very forgiving in auto mode, which is great for quick snaps. But when I have the time to explore, I try different settings - this time ISO sensitivity.

Normally, a high ISO setting would be useful in low light. The high ISO and high shutter speed in low light reduce the grainy appearance of photographs. What would happen in daylight, in the African outdoors?

In these two photographs, the ISO is set to 1600. The shutter speed in the top photo is 1/200th of a second. In the second photo, it is 1/2000th of a second. That is, there was too much exposure in the top photo, and it almost appears in black and white. But it does show off the detailed structure of the tree.

Of course, a high shutter speed would normally be useful for bird photography, for example. In the photo below, ISO 1600, shutter speed 1/1600th of a second - not a bad shot.

Lilac breasted roller in flight, Lesley Beeton, 2014