Oozing skin, vomiting and hundreds of tiny dragonflies for VisitEngland challenge


I’m really sorry at how rubbish I’ve been recently. Everything seems to be getting on top of me. Work has been hectic, holiday planning has taken hold of every waking moment outside the office, and I have been feeling generally, well, crap.IMG_0677

I haven’t posted any photos of my skin over the past few weeks because it would have made you all violently sick. Three weeks ago my skin was so painful I couldn’t walk – my legs were covered in puss-filled boils. At around the same time my skin blew up so did the skin around my stoma, it became bright red again, like it had been burnt. I also got itchy rashes around my eyes, and my eye condition came back.

All in all I have spent the last few weeks feeling like a scale covered snake, well, a hairy scale covered snake – if that’s at all possible. I’ve been unable to shave anything, unable to exercise and unable to look after myself. I’ve felt sick, unattractive and damn right sorry for myself – and mega stressed with my job and my holiday planning.

I went to the doctors in hope of a cure – what I got was infuriating. The doctor, who is apparently a skin specialist, was gleeful at my pain. He could not have been more pleased that I was in agony. He smiled and laughed and seemed joyful that I had such an ‘unusual’ aliment. He seemed to want it to stay put, so that he could study it and poke at it – it was so insensitive, and is something that has happened far too often in my weird and wonderful years of living with the joys of IBD.

Anyway, I eventually resorted (well was forced by my boyfriend) to go to the out of hours doctors. I have no idea why anyone bothers with their real GP after that. The woman was amazing, and really listened to me, prescribed me antibiotics, and was incredibly sympathetic. I wish I could have her all the time, and, in hindsight I should have found out her name and swapped surgeries!

The antibiotics worked but left me feeling rotten. I threw up constantly, and was even on them during Andy’s birthday party. I felt awful. The weekend after I started them me and Andy headed to Milton Keynes so he could do his Spy Day experience I bought him for his birthday last year. We went down the day before, so we headed even further afield to have a go at one of my Visit England challenges – a list of challenges which feels like a massive effort but has so far had many surprising rewards.

Wicken Fen nature reserve was stunning. It was wild and raw, with never ending stretches of long grass as far as the eye could see. I was far too excited to see a dragonfly, and started peering around, shushing Andy as I tried to spot one of the tiny insects. When I finally spotted one I was overwhelmed. I was like a little child. We must have stood for half an hour watching two MASSIVE dragonflies flit about – I guess I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d have know I would have seen dozens by the end of the day.

IMG_0702it was an amazing day. We saw some beautiful insects, and even a deer, it wasn’t the most sunny day so we didn’t see as many dragonflies as we could have , but that didn’t matter it was still a breathtaking experience, and one I would never have done if I didn’t have this bucket list.

The only problem was that we walked miles and I suddenly got very sick. The antibiotics started to churn stomach acid around and I couldn’t go anywhere. I felt dreadful. Luckily I made it back to the car, but when we got to tea I was violently sick – not pleasant for anyone.

Luckily my skin has started to clear up. Which is fantastic as we are heading to America in a week’s time, and I’m so stressed I can hardly breathe. I couldn’t be more excited for the trip, but there is still so much to sort out both for the holiday and at work. I’m also (this is one for the girls) trying to figure out what to do about my bikini line now I have my stoma – should I brave it and get a wax or try the cream?

And I won’t start about the swimsuit nightmare I’ve been having!IMG_0679

Anyway I will blog again tomorrow about my preparations for the big trip! Hope you are all well.

Do you want to join in with the Visit England Challenges and find out more about Wicken Fen visit http://www.visitengland.org

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Shakespeare’s 450th bash – not for the old or disabled – ticking off the Visit England list one hamlet at a time


Shakespeare's 450th bash - not for the old or disabled - ticking off the Visit England list one hamlet at a time

Last week me and Andy headed to Stratford-upon-Avon to explore Shakespeare’s birth place. It was a magical adventure, but one that left me exhausted. Whilst its a beautiful village/town (I’m really not sure which one it is) and a delight to wander around, it sure has a lot of steps, and most of them are rickety and old. It is not for those in need of hip replacements or in wheelchairs. In fact during the entirety of our two day mini-break I didn’t see one person in a wheelchair, or come to think about it any old people – though I’m sure they exist!!!

I arranged this adventure to coincide with Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (with is also of course St George’s Day – an occasion we Brits frankly couldn’t care less about, weird as it’s an obvious excuse to get drunk!). This meant that we got to see some awesome fireworks, including a burning, I won’t say effigy, but display of the Bard’s face on fire. Amazing. It was freezing but I loved every second, as famous sonnets and sayings from various plays were flashed up on the face of the RSC’s river side theatre. The fireworks were incredible; the sky was so filled with smoke it looked like the whole of Stratford was on fire, and at one point a black piece of ash almost fell in my eye as I craned my neck up towards the sky.

The best thing was…it was free. And because of this basic fact hundreds of people, young and old, turned up. I was over joyed for a Great British bit of freeness, after forking out a small fortune to visit various houses across the hamlet to see where Shakespeare wrote, slept, pooped and ate. It was really a rip off, and I have made it no secret that I think British tax payers should at least get a discount to cultural and historical attractions across the nation….or at least not be charged an entire days salary to enter them, and then be asked to grant them gift aid! What’s that about?

The next day I took Andy to see his first RSC play. We got the tickets for an absolute steal, £10 each, due to it being the understudy only performance. I couldn’t have cared less. The performance of King Henry IV part 1 was breathtaking. It was lovely to see Shakespeare on stage (again) and in a traditional theatre. My one qualm was that I had to sacrifice my bum to enjoy the performance; perched on a very high seat, which was like climbing in and out of a toddler’s high chair every time I wanted to go to the loo etc. Post surgery it was agony, I could hardly walk when I got down to use the loo during the interval. My leg almost gave way, and my scar on my backside felt like I’d been sitting on pins.

We will be returning to Stratford-Upon-Avon soon, mostly to see the other sites we still have valid tickets for, and if its up to me we will be going ever other weekend to get our money’s worth out of our year long tickets. The Romeo and Juliet room in the White Swan hotel was stunning too, with wooden beams and a beautiful bath (which I couldn’t use.). It is a stunning place, I could live there, but I think it would cost the council too much to get rid of all the steps.

Not so mysterious Magical Mystery Tour – Visit England Beatles challenge


Everyone around the world has an all time favourite Beatles moment. A special snapshot in time when the strumming cords of one of the Fab Four’s songs made the world seem like a perfect place, where all you need[ed] was love and a little help from your friends. Since I can remember my world has been filled with the Beatles. With former hippies for parents, I’ve grown up against a backing track of 60s music dominated by the inventions of John, Ringo, Paul and George. As with many things as a young child I was influenced without even realising it. I had no idea as a toddler we were listening to Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band on loop in my dad’s Skoda on our many trips to the seaside and forest camping holidays. My childhood is filled with brief memories of me happily bawling along to Yellow Submarine and Oh-La-Di, Oh-La-Da, shrieking along totally out-of-tune but with a massive smile on my face during our car singsongs – no wonder my parents once bought me and my sister massive gob-stoppers in a bid to shut us up.IMG_4880

The nations’ fascination with The Beatles, and my growing relationship with their music, was echoed in all parts of my life. At Guide Band Camp (what a geek!) I proudly tootled along on my cornet (and in later days my euphonium) blasting through When I’m Sixty Four in honour of our ageing guiding conductor. And in case I hadn’t had my life saturated by the Fab Four’s music at home to an adequate standard, the Beatles music seemed to have been written into the national curriculum (no doubt something Gove has stamped out in favour of children learning to speak like Bill and Ben in fear of breeding a generation of hippies). During my very early primary school years I have a vague memory of sitting on the classroom carpet surrounded by dozens of other little mites, no doubt sharing our nits, bogeys and god knows what else with hundreds of children from generations gone by, and being shown an animation where pop stars meet a very friendly octopus (well that’s how I remember it). I was captivated, and I think it was as the Beatles told me about being let in by an octopus into his garden in the shade, that I fell in love with the band. I remember coming home clutching a drawing of a big blue octopus and singing bits of the song over and over – I guess this was the start of my 60s education, that and listening to Lilly the Pink in the car with no idea I was being educated about the dangers of drinking in preparation for my life as a journalist!

IMG_4882Anyway where am I going with this? On bank holiday Monday me and Andy (my partner in crime and love) headed to one of my favourite cities in the world, Liverpool to complete one of my challenges. The challenge is part of the now unrealistic (unaffordable) sounding Visit England list of places to visit before you die – which wouldn’t be so unreasonable if I didn’t have until I’m 30 (that’s not when I plan to die btw) to visit my chosen 30 places, they weren’t all extortionate money traps and they weren’t sporadically scattered all over the UK. Anyway I tried to complete this Visit England challenge before, while visiting Anthony Gormley’s 100 nude statues on Crosby Beach, but fallen down when the Magical Mystery Tour was fully booked. This time we booked in advance just to be on the safe side, but be warned the cost, for what it actually is, which is essentially a tour of some very run down parts of Liverpool and a lot of empty and often derelict childhood homes belonging to people related to Beatles band members, is staggering – while it was interesting I wouldn’t pay to go on it again!

While the rest of the world seems to love The Beatles, I’m not sure that Liverpool City Council does. I IMG_4896love Liverpool; it’s a city buzzing with art, music and alive with culture, and often a breath of fresh air just a short ride away from Chester, which at times can be something of a cultural desert (boo hiss – I will probably get chased with pitchforks out of the city now). But the Magical Mystery Tour is like a back door tour of the city, where visitors from all over the world are shown a city filled with row upon row of boarded up council houses, derelict pubs, and graffiti strewn areas. It really was eye-opening and a massive shame for such a vibrant city.

The tour guide proudly showed us the boarded up childhood home of Ringo Star, one of around 400 homes which had been due for demolition (for a regeneration project) before it was finally realised demolishing the birthplace of one of the worlds most well-known music legends could possibly be a mistake! I was tickled but shocked by this part of the tour, but even more so as the trend continued as we were shown Penny Lane’s famous landmark, the ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout’. I don’t know what I was expecting from this iconic area, where, according to the Beatles a pretty nurse sold poppies from a tray, but I was not expecting a run down, derelict mess. I just couldn’t understand it. Frankly I was appalled. Why hadn’t this been turned into a tourist trap, why was this being allowed to happen. I mean surely some Beatles fanatic would pay good money to do this up into a bar, record shop, live music venue, or even just have it as a bus shelter again? Even just a lick of paint would help…anything but this mess. I think if the Beatles saw this today Penny Lane would be in their ears and eyes for a whole different reason.

Things went from bad to worse as we visited Strawberry Fields. I was devastated. Something about the song had always made me picture luscious grass, children playing, families picnicking and the sounds of laughter and youngsters gathered under trees with guitars. Ok, I hadn’t been so silly to think there would actually be strawberries growing in patches, but I didn’t expect an overgrown field, with weeds, litter and two massive iron gates covered with graffiti where visitors had etched their names. It might have been iconic and very cultural in a strange way, but it was a shame. Despite this I still had my picture taken outside these landmarks and tried to picture how they would have been back in the day, how the musicians had seen these sites and influenced them into some of my favourite songs – it was hard to overlook the weeds though!

IMG_4891As a strange contrast the bus stopped outside the adolescent home of the McCartney’swhich has been well maintained and adopted by the National Trust. But shock horror was not open for us to look around, instead we just had to hear about it. Another missed opportunity. In fact the only place we went in was the Cavern Club – nothing to complain about there, I enjoyed it as much as any other underground drinking hole, but couldn’t help giggle at the story about the Council closing it down for a project that never went ahead – typical!

I just don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not an obsessive Beatles fan, but just someone who loves the story of their rise to fame, their songs and the cultural revolution. I mean I even did a 60s module at uni studying some Beatles songs, alongside fiction including Clockwork Orange. The tour was interesting but weird, and I was frankly flabbergasted that Liverpool City Council allowed millions of tourists to see such run down places every single day. Sure, there are always regeneration projects going on, but the shelter on Penny Lane could be a real tourist trap, just sprucing it up or making it into something to raise money etc would just improve the whole experience. I’m sure they have their reasons (planning restrictions etc) but I’m just surprised someone hasn’t snapped it up. No doubt about it The Beatles as a brand are a massive money-maker for Liverpool – and why shouldn’t they be – and Liverpudlians appear to be very proud of their lads! But apart from overpriced tourist traps and the Cavern Club I really don’t get it; I think the council should spend a little money on these famous landmarks and make a bit more of them even if its just to improve the appearance of the city and the impression people get.

Perhaps they could do some more of those Super Lamb Bananas with Beatles clothing on at each of the street names. Either way I don’t regret experiencing it, I’ve done it now – would I pay £16.95 to sit on a packed coach with some hyperactive scottish women singing along to Help! for two hours again? No but I’m glad my ostomy bag allowed me to get through the epic coach journey – nothing like a little help from your friends, eh?

 

Climbing 275 steps – one giant leap on my road to recovery


I’m in a fair bit of pain as I write this. I can’t quite described what’s going on, or

A giant leap for Winnie

A giant leap for Winnie

comprehend what the problem is, all I know is that it is something to do with my fistula and that it is nothing like I have ever felt before. I’m not quite sure why it’s happening, or what’s happening, but I’m not feeling great. I’ll talk more about it tomorrow, but I thought I would mention it now as I’m drugged up to my eyeballs, so please forgive me if this post reads a bit like a druggie’s random train of thoughts…that would be the tramadol talking!

Ok, so it’s no Mount Everest but on Saturday I climbed 275 very steep and winding steps to the top of York Minster tower. Why? Because it is part of the 101 Visit England places to visit before you die…and because I have never done it. Over the years I have had the pleasure and honour of playing in the Minster a handful of times with a brass band I was a member of (have I failed to mention I am a band geek 🙂 yes I play the euphonium..an instrument which is about ten times to big for me and makes me look like a small child playing a giant’s trumpet), during an annual charity carol concert. Playing in the Minster was always an overwhelming and truly awe-inspiring moment; the music swells up into the rafters, filling every nook and cranny of the enormous building, rising up into the heaven’s, creating an ambience that seems to vibrate around your very soul. Something about hearing a brass band perform in a church is so humbling, and the sound, the pure, stripped-back sound of a single note echoing through the pews would send shivers through the soul’s of even the most cold-hearted person in the world. It’s times like these that I feel the most alive.

At the start, before I ran out of puff!

At the start, before I ran out of puff!

Anyway, despite having performed in the Minster I have never walked up the Tower. So after weeks of umming and ahhing about making the trip to York me and Andy finally jumped in the car and braved the trip on Saturday. It wasn’t the nicest day, drizzly and overcast to say the least, but that wasn’t going to stop us. I have to admit that this is one of the things I love about this blog and my 101 challenges, that I can’t just say ‘oh I can’t be bothered’ anymore, or ‘I feel to ill’..if we’d sacked the trip off on Saturday just because of a little bit of rain I would have felt that I’d not only let myself down but I would have let down you guys, and the rest of the IBD and ostomy community…ok, that might be a bit over the top but that’s how I feel, and it drives me to keep going even when I just feel like poo!

And that is the reason why me and Andy paid £15 each to get into the Minster and climb the tower. I know £15 EACH!! If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had to do it for my challenges I would have down right refused to go in, I would have turned around and walked out just for the shear principle that I will not pay that much to go into a place of worship. I mean I have travelled to some incredible places and seen some incredible churches including Notre Dame and the Sistine Chapel and I honestly don’t think I have ever paid that much to go into a church before…I know that it costs a lot to upkeep a church of that size, but seriously that is a disgusting amount of money to just walk around a building and climb a tower, which, I hasten to add was covered in graffiti the whole way up (how people have time to etch their names into stone while being herded up those steps really boggles my mind, they must take chisels and hammers!)

Anyway the walk up was horrific. Yes, I know that it has been months since my

At the top - upset about the netting, ruined the view

At the top – upset about the netting, ruined the view

ileostomy op but I am still not as fit as I was before my surgery, and the whole situation was made worse by the fact that there were around 50 other people staggering up the steps, so there was no time to pause and catch your breath. Seeing as I have a slight fear of confined spaces – I know it’s neurotic but I’m one of those people who burst out of a lift when it opens like its been on fire – it wasn’t an ideal scenario. I spent the whole climb up clinging to the railing and listening to the family in front rabbiting on and on at each other – I got the impression that someone was in big trouble! Winnie (my ostomy) was not having the best of days, but managed to stay calm enough not to have a leak as I tried to heave my tired legs up the hundreds of steps, very much aware that if I had a dizzy spell the rest of the people behind me would fall down like dominos back into the Minster. It wasn’t my favourite experience, but when I reached the top, exhausted and with legs shaking like jelly, the views where beautiful, (if not ruined by the barbed wire netting all over the place no doubt to stop jumpers) and I felt a massive sense of achievement that I’d climbed all those steps – ok, so it’s not that big an achievement but when you take into account that months ago I couldn’t walk to the toilet and back without someone holding on to me, it really is a giant leap in the right direction.

The sense of achievement and relief was short-lived when I realised I had to walk all the way back down, which is always harder than going up, and was made worse by the fact my muscles seemed to have locked and were frozen in the walking upstairs position. But at the end of it I might have felt a little tired and dizzy and my legs might have felt like jelly, but I looked a down sight better than a lot of the people who came red-faced and sweating down the steps, puffing and panting like they’d run a marathon – and I guess they didn’t have the excuse that they’d had major surgery just a few months ago.

MMM CHOCOLATE

MMM CHOCOLATE

After completing the challenge me and Andy treated ourselves to a cup of hot chocolate at a nearby chocolate cafe. I’ve been to York a fair few times but until this weekend I had no idea that York was most famous for its chocolate heritage. It seems that York is the birthplace of KitKat and other delicious treats that I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure of eating in years BOO! I was so excited as this was the first time I had been able to have a hot chocolate in public since I was diagnosed with being lactose intolerant around four-years-ago. This cafe did dark chocolate and the option to have soya or rice milk instead of the normal dairy milk. It was an unexpected treat, and very rich and yummy…but as per usual Andy’s drink looked far tastier than mine and I have to admit that spoiled it a bit for me as the green-eyed monster raised her ugly head, and I spent the majority of the time in the cafe wishing I could have a sneaky taste of his very scrumptous looking white hot chocolate! – sometimes I despise being lactose intolerant.

We finished off the day walking through the Shambles, which despite the drizzle was a very enjoyable experience, ending up in a vegan cafe for a cake, as I wanted to have a little treat, which was an underwhelming and pricey experience. The pudding was mediocre and I didn’t like the very hippy atmosphere of the place (nothing against it, just not my cup of tea), Andy really didn’t like his coconut paradise cake…not really sure who decided paradise was the right word to describe it, more like bouncy sludge?

I really am tiny!

I really am tiny!

Anyway soon after that we were forced to give up and go home as my remaining colon started kicking off and my fistula started to cause me problems. Luckily that was at the end of a very full day, so the timing wasn’t too bad, although I obviously would rather it didn’t kick off at all.

My verdict? York is a beautiful place with stunning heritage, shops and scenery. Don’t visit the Minster unless you really have to see it, it is definitely a once in a life time experience. The views from the tower are beautiful, but they are nothing compared to other tall buildings across the world such as The Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. But, although it was a lot of money, I don’t regret it. I feel like I have really achieved something in my road to recovery and in embracing my life with a stoma, and shown that you really can do anything and that having an ostomy shouldn’t stop you doing whatever the hell you want.

At the Minster

At the Minster

Oh, if you go reward yourself with a hot chocolate. You won’t regret it!