Friday, 25 September 2015

Double Dose

Last Saturday T went down with a bad dose of flu. After several weeks in school with hundreds of children she wasn’t too surprised to pick up a bug. Having only just recovered from a dose myself, I was well practiced at administering soluble paracetamol, vitamins and minerals, so I sprang into action. By Sunday evening she had become so ill she begged me not to leave her alone in her house. So I packed her up in my car and took her home to Casa PJ, stopping at Tesco enroute to replenish supplies.

I installed her in the guest bedroom and brought in whatever she wanted: bowls of soup, toast, bars of chocolate and fizzing concoctions of over-the-counter medicines. The next day I noticed that my throat was getting sore. Just a coincidence, I thought, as my system must have plenty of antibodies from my own recent dose. Unfortunately, her virus proved to be different to the one I had taken and by that evening I was laid up again with a new dose of flu.

With both of us ill in bed, who was to be the nurse? As T seemed to be the worst off, it had to be me. For the next day or so I struggled to make us meals and keep up the regular medications. It was exhausting and stressful to be nursing her and myself at the same time. Then, as I began to significantly worsen, she started to improve. So the nursing duties switched.

This dose of flu was much more intensive than the last. For several days I was laid out flat with a heavy fever, headache and bad chest. Going down the corridor to the toilet was a major expedition from which I would come back to bed feeling exhausted. T presented me with porridge laced with whisky for breakfast, soup for lunch and a good evening meal. As the intensity of her dose receded, she was left with a dry cough, bouts of sneezing and waves of exhaustion. After a few days feeling that I would never get better, I began to join her on the winding road to recovery.

I suppose I could have called her Typhoid Mary. But as they so rightly say, a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Dose

For the past week I’ve been down with the ‘flu. Stuck indoors and wrapped in bedclothes or a blanket, I’ve been hitting the drink. But my glass has only been fizzing with soluble paracetamol and vitamin C; I’ve never found hot whisky to work for me. Getting up late after a feverish night, I’d plonk in an armchair, blanket around me and consume a diet high in Film 4, live cycling and assorted documentaries (from Indian wildlife to Time Team).

A bad dose is a great leveller, in more ways than one. Not only does the virus make you feel unwell in the head, nose, throat and chest but it also leaves you feeling unhappy, frustrated and depressed. Because I lead a very active life, I always find this latter part of the dis-ease the most challenging. You just have to give in to it, I’ve been told many times. But that has never been my way of living.  Like Hamlet, I would always choose to take arms against a sea of troubles. However, this is a strategy that doesn’t seem to work very well with viruses.

In times gone by I would have done my best to ignore a virus and carry on regardless with whatever had been planned in my life. But more often than not this led to the virus lasting for several more weeks and/or an episode of bronchitis which would necessitate antibiotics to clear up. So I do now try to give in to it, but that is only on the surface. Underneath I’m seething with frustration at my unwanted confinement.

It’s been a bumper week for cycling on TV, with highlights of La Vuelta de Espana every evening and the Tour of Britain live every afternoon. I’ve been watching both avidly. The Tour of Britain has gone from North Wales, through the Pennines to Scotland and back. Each day the race has passed through beautiful countryside under unseasonably warm sunshine. I’ve enjoyed this increased diet of TV cycling, but I’ve also been itching to be out on the bike myself and deeply frustrated that I am presently unable to.

I’ve always been a doer rather than a spectator. The trouble with a dose is that it seems to make you into a sort of spectator on your own life. You are just watching and life seems to be passing you by. And for me that is never a happy place to be. Although, unlike Hamlet, I have no plans at present to murder my mother and uncle.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Hannah and Davide live on a hill near Rathdrum. They have two children under five and an eco-house that was built in a day. The house came in panels on the back of a lorry and was lifted into place by a crane. It’s highly insulated, with extra cladding inside and out, and sits on layers of gravel below the concrete foundations. Heating is under-floor and there is an air-conditioning system that works on heat exchange. It’s a comfortable dormer bungalow with a spacious open-plan kitchen and living room area. There are large triple-glazed windows and the views are spectacular.

We first went for a walk at Avondale, the former home of Parnell, which is now a forest park with giant redwoods and a great trail along the Avonmore river. The air was lush, the blackberries were plentiful and fungi abounded. To celebrate recent birthdays we drank white wine and headed for a meal at a local restaurant with a menu of Thai, Sri Lankan and Mediterranean dishes. The next day Hannah and T took the children blackberry picking, Davide went surfing and I went for a bike ride.

I headed up Glenmalur on a single-track road that meandered between steep wooded hillsides with streams cascading to the valley floor. The road ended at a bridge by a youth-hostel and I retuned back along the valley to Ballinaclash. I then took the long steady climb that traversed the side of Ballinacor Mountain. This climb was very like the Yellow Water road out of Rostrevor, and though a challenge was something I knew I could do. I reached the pass at 800 feet and descended steeply to Sheenamore.

Then the road steepened again and disappeared up through the trees. I wasn’t expecting this, and muttering began to climb again, legs and lungs already tired from my earlier efforts. I glanced down at my cycle-computer, the gradient was over 10% and increasing and I still couldn’t see the top. You could always get off and walk, I thought, but why not keep going as long as you can. The road curved up further still and the gradient increased to 15%. I was panting hard. I began to zigzag the bike across the narrow road to try and give my legs and lungs a bit of a rest. Coming around a bend, I saw the road rearing up to what seemed to be the top. I pushed my aching knees and lungs into a final effort. The gradient increased to 18%, then began to reduce. I stopped at the crown of the hill and panted for a good few minutes. That was the steepest hill I had climbed on a bike since before my illness.

I had come up a very steep 250 feet or so and was now at about 900 feet with heather clad hills spreading all around me. I had a huge sense of achievement. My lungs were much better than I thought they were. I didn’t set out to test myself so forcefully; I just hadn’t read the map carefully enough. After my rest I traversed through forestry plantations to Aghavannagh and descended the long river valley to Aughrim. I stopped for apple pie across the road from the 1798 memorial, and then headed back up the main road towards Rathdrum. Overall I did 40 miles with 2300 feet of climbing, the hardest ride of the year so far.

We all met up at the house for a roast dinner and related the tales of our days. The girls had picked a load of early blackberries that Hannah would make into jam. Davide had caught some good waves. And I was delighted to learn that my lungs (and knees) were more capable than I thought they were.