The Ticking Clock

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The coffee and company has been fun. It’s Thursday and I’m  pedalling up the final hill of the ride with the guys. But there is a niggling problem in that the pain is has returned. It was fine during the ride, an easy short one because I haven’t been on the bike for three weeks, having spent a fortnight travelling around the Flinders Ranges. I’m not sure whether it’s a sore throat, chest or whatever. All I know it’s a burning sensation in my chest or lungs, which gets worse as I finally puff my way to the top. Then it subsides along the level track and I slowly pedal home.

I’m thinking it’s a good thing I am seeing my doctor tomorrow. The realisation is finally sinking in that something is wrong, but I don’t know exactly what.

Two months ago I had contacted a severe cold and bronchitis, which left me with massive coughing fits and croaky vocal cords. At that time, I got the chest pains on hilly rides, but I put that down to my sore throat. I also started to get the pain and started having breathing problems each fortnight walking up from Joliment Station to the top of the city to attend a meeting, again putting this down to my throat.

I thought that a fortnight in the dry air of the Flinders Ranges would clear up my throat and I would be back to normal. But walking one day up a lookout the symptoms appear and that’s when I get nervous, because my throat is getting better, I should be cleared out by now, but I’m not.

After we return home I make the appointment, trusting that Dr Cameron will prescribe some magic potion. He listens to my story, checks my chest and blood pressure which are normal. Then he starts writing pathology scripts and prescriptions.

“I’m not quite sure, it could still be your throat, chest or maybe a virus.”

He pauses, “It could be even something to do with your heart, don’t forget you have had Type I diabetes for thirty five years.”

I quickly protest. “But Cameron, I control it really well, look at my results, my blood tests, my chlorestoral tests, my blood pressure, all within normal ranges.”

The foreboding response comes back. “Often it doesn’t matter, even well controlled diabetics are prone to heart conditions, it unfortunately comes with the territory. But don’t worry overmuch, get all the tests done, we will discuss it next week.”

I am worrying a bit thought, especially as one script he gives me is for nitroglycerine spray for under my tongue if I get a sudden chest pain. This is the sort of thing I see in movies where people suddenly reach for their pill for under the tongue before falling to the floor with a heart attack. This is maybe my ‘oh,oh, moment.’

At home I start phoning, needing to make appointments for blood tests, an ECG, a chest Xray, an MRI for my lungs, and a heart stress test. The clinic is helpful over the next couple of days, ringing through the results which are all clear, which is kind of reassuring.

The big test is on Tuesday, when I do the heart stress test on the treadmill. As I step on the machine I’m confident that this will be an easy one, after all I regularly walk the dog, go cycling and do much heavy gardening, achieving my 15,000 steps daily. I’m super fit, aren’t I?

As the treadmill picks up speed I’m not so sure. The first minute is all right, a  peaceful stroll. Then the speed picks up and I start puffing and panting, and after the five minutes is up, I am totally stuffed and collapse onto the table while the doctors take final blood pressure and heartrate readings. I suspect what they will say, because I have been looking sideways at them as they point to the screen and mutter seriously between themselves. ‘Look at his rising blood pressure, check out the curve of the graph.’

The doctor ushers me into his room, I suspect that this is when my life will change.

The verdict is pronounced. “You have a heart problem. We don’t know exactly what until we do an angiogram. An artery may just need widening, it may need a stent, if it’s bad it will need bypass surgery. I’m booking you in to Epworth in the morning.”

In a daze I wander out of the centre and adopt my usual behaviour in stressful times. Finding a coffee shop to mull over my suddenly altered situation over a mug of strong hot coffee. I urgently need to mentally process this unexpected and unwanted deluge of information, I need to think it through, I feel like an ancient computer trying to sort out this bucket of data into some sort of logical format. I’m in the middle of busy Box Hill Central, people shopping and socialising, but I’m alone with my thoughts.

My first thought is how to tell my wife, I know she has been worried. The same with my son and daughter. I will have to  ring my sisters, they both have blood pressure problems, there is a family history of heart problems, they should be warned about me increasing their risk factor. I remember the last cycling group coffee break, where in the context of our friend Nick dying we agreed that we just don’t know what is around the corner, and hence the need to make the most of every day. This conversation was somewhat theoretical at that time, now it’s uncomfortably making sense. I make a mental note to get back to Buddhist meditation classes, this always helps me to think clearly. I need to talk to my GP, to make sure that the heart surgeon I am being referred to is competent.

That afternoon I see my GP , Dr Cam, who reassures me that Dr Chris the surgeon has indeed a competent pair of hands, and he would have referred me to him. We make an appointment for next week to sort out the vast array of paperwork, he also repeats the news that at age 70 I am one of the few few fortunate long suffering diabetics who only now has developed a heart issue. I don’t know if this makes me feel happier or not.

It’s the next morning and I’m walking into the Epworth admission area to undergo the angiogram to see exactly how my arteries are pumping. I’m worried because of the uncertainty, not knowing what will be found, how long I will be there. I’m somewhat rusty at this hospital stuff, my last admission being thirty five years ago at the old Diamond Valley Hospital when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Normally I’m the one visiting friends, standing by the bed not in it. I’m hungry, not being allowed food, hoping that the long acting insulin from the previous night will keep my sugar levels stable, not wanting a hypo on the operating table. I feel vulnerable being naked under the hospital gown, not looking forward to having my groin shaved.

Dr Chris comes in, a cheerful young guy. He explains the procedure, again stating we won’t know the next step until he sees the artery blood flow. Then I’m wheeled to the operating theatre, down long corridors, marvelling at how smoothly the trolley castors roll. The operating theatre is fascinating, I’m surprised at the number of staff there,  I idly trace the power cords and connections, I marvel at the multi jointed framework holding the massive X’ray machine, trusting that the bolts are high tensile steel, I don’t fancy the thing coming down on me. I guess this is just to distract myself. Being a writer, and viewing life through a pen, I even start mentally drafting this story. The it’s game on and Dr Chris starts pumping dye into my veins, and I watch my arteries pumping away on the big screen next to the table.

Four hours later and I’m being driven home, feeling a lot happier. Dr Chris has discovered that my Left Anterior Descending artery , the one supplying most of the blood to the heart and cheerfully described by surgeons as the “widow maker” is 90% blocked. But it can be repaired with a stent, requiring only one overnight hospital stay. He will do this two days later on Saturday. I’m feeling happier now, because at least I know what is wrong and that it can be fixed. I’m keen to get home and fire up my coffee machine.

I spend the next two days taking it easy as directed, doing a lot a thinking about my new lifestyle, glad that I went to the doctor when I did, not leaving it until maybe too late. There is not a massive lifestyle change to make, I already exercise, eat healthily and control my weight. The inbuilt diabetes risk factor is an unwelcome fact of life, but one I just have to accept. I tell myself to make the most of every day, but not just think this principle, actually put it into practice.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m back at the hospital, actually looking forward to the operation as it will clear the way to get on with my life.

It all goes as planned. I’m prepped, wheeled on the smooth castors to the same operating theatre, even the same staff are attending me. Dr Chris inserts the cable containing the stent into my wrist and I watch on the screen as this wire gets poked up my arm artery, over my heart and down into the blocked part, a somewhat curious experience. But Dr Chris seems to know the way, deftly pushing the wire through my body, until he finally pops the stent in to place, withdraws the wire, and I am the dubiously proud owner of a 35 mm           . I idly consider asking him could I keep the wire as a spare brake cable, it’s most likely high quality stainless steel, but I’m not sure if this request would be complied with.

Then it’s back to my room and I spend the time reading and late into the night I start to scribble my story, thinking again how all through this time, with all the procedures, I have been planning how this bit and that would fit.

But I also realise at the end, that I have no profound words of wisdom to pass on, no shattering revelations about how my life has changed, it’s just something that happened.

Maybe it’s best summed up by a piece of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago.

Is there a purpose, any rhyme or reason?

Who cares, all end at the final portal

None can escape, like it or not

The snuff man is nigh, gently beckoning

Patiently waiting, waiting, waiting

So start the race, begin the journey

It’s the only one that counts

Life’s a bitch and don’t we know it

Way too short and way too hard

The bad is bad, but the good is good

You gotta get in to get out

 

OM:NI Big Promotional Day.

Hi everybody,

This is a reminder to all our local OM: NI groups that our opportunity to publicize who we are by way of a free sausage sizzle and chat is to be held adjacent to the Diamond Creek Netball Rooms next Tuesday 18th December.

We are being greatly supported by the Diamond Creek Men’s Shed and would like to see as many OM: NI men in attendance to help out in the promotion and setting up of our marque and equipment.

We are to commence setting up at 10 am in preparation for an 11 am start.

Hope to see as many our our Diamond Creek members there to help promote our cause and give support to Sir Daryl’s efforts in pulling this event together

Ride The Dream (For Nick)

On 27 June the Diamond Creek OM:NI Group and Eltham  Mens Shed lost an old and valued friend. Nick Grange sadly passed away after a battle with cancer. Nick was a long standing member of both groups. With OM:NI he was one of the early members, and with Mens Shed he joined later on, and here he was one of the driving forces in operating the bike repair group. Nick started this blog for OM:NI which has been an invaluable record of the history and activities of the group. He was a keen member of the cycling group, who encouraged members to ride further astray, and who we loved to share a coffee and talk with. All who knew Nick were influenced by his dreams – for the blog, the bike repair group, and the cycling peloton. He will be sadly missed by all, but his memory will live on via this story below, which is my personal feeling towards my friend.

  My Friend Nick.

I have a friend named Nick, who I met eight years ago when I joined the Diamond Creek OM:NI – Men’s Discussion Group.

As in any group bound together by a commonality, we tend to focus on some individuals within the group, those we have common interests with, who we enjoy talking and listening to and those who for some reason we simply like from the start.

Nick was one of these people to me. We shared a few passions and dreams, mainly a love of cycling and cooking, in particular coffee brewing, as well as the same type of whimsical and quirky sense of humour, plus a keen appreciation for the sense of the ridiculous.

The group started a weekly cycling ride, which over the years grew into a small peloton. No Middle Aged Men in Lycra, on sleek shiny machines, simply a bunch of older blokes on a motley collection of bikes, wearing comfortable clothing. A bunch of guys having a leisurely friendly ride, the main concern finding a decent coffee shop to stop for a chat.

Nick became an enthusiastic member of the group. He progressed from riding an ancient touring bike to a proper road bike, a birthday present from his wife. I enjoyed riding alongside him, chatting about food, bikes, trips and life in general, and at morning tea comparing the taste of our home made muesli bars. He was a trained cook and had spent all of his life in the food industry, and this was one of his passions. I gleaned much about cooking as we rode, for example the difference between cottage and shepherd’s pie. I occasionally got a kick when I taught him something about cooking that he didn’t know.

About four years ago, the Eltham Men’s Shed formed a bike rescue service, where donated old bikes were done up and donated to local needy kids. Nick joined this group and quickly became the dominant force, progressing from a limited knowledge of bike repairs to a formidable amateur skill in restoring bikes of all ages and types. In the beginning, I taught him things about bike repairs, but he soon out skilled me.

He persuaded the committee to fund a full set of modern tools and equipment, so the group could repair modern bikes requiring specialist tools. Under his tutelage a steady supply of bikes were gifted to young kids. His only partial failure was in renovating an old electric bike, he made it roadworthy, but the battery could only last about ten kilometres, requiring the new owner to be extremely careful how far he travelled. He would impatiently sit through the weekly meeting, then hurry around to the bike workshop and start work.

With the cycling group, Nick took on the role of unofficial leader, sending out the weekly group email advising of the ride. He was the most adventurous of the group, suggesting different and wider ranging rides, rather than the Yarra or Mullum Mullum trails, where most of us were generally content to ride. We started exploring other rides, one beneficial side effect being giving us the chance to visit a wider range of cafes, where we would leisurely taste the coffee, comparing it to that from other venues, and enjoying this task over a good chat, along with the rest of the group.

A few years ago, Nick came up with the idea of a blog for the OM:NI Group. When he first mentioned this it was met with mostly blank stares. Most of the guys had no idea of social media, did not know what a blog was, some had Face book so they could see grandchildren photos, and a quarter did not have email.

Nick took up the blog with a passion. He thought the history of the group was worthy of being formally recorded. He persevered with the blokes, explaining what a blog was, and slowly encouraging them to upload stories and photos, mostly their local caravan trips and overseas travels. He managed to find local sponsors to fund the upgrade to a formal web site. Today the site is a fairly professional looking publication, containing eight years history – Xmas parties, special events, stories and poems by members, numerous group cycling shots. All this from a guy who only owned an ancient analogue Nokia mobile, is a tribute to his persistence, dedication and willingness to take on a challenge.  Not a bad achievement.

Sadly, I now only have the memory of my friend Nick. Twelve months ago he developed lymphoma. The specialists were initially confident that plan A would work, but as they progressed through the alphabet, there were no more letters left, it was incurable and there was nothing but palliative care. My friend died on 27th June, 2018, two weeks short of his 71st birthday. After attending his 70th birthday one year earlier, where he was healthily and happily celebrating life, this was a sad sudden shock to us all.

As the disease crept forward, Nick continued to follow his dreams. He still attended the OM:NI group, still worked on the old bikes, and continued to come riding with us, although these became shorter and shorter, slower and slower. He still continued to develop his blog, maybe this passion helped him cope with the increasing pain.

There was no formal funeral, simply an open day at his home, where friends came to pay their respects to his family, while consuming much tasty food, which I think he would have liked. His ashes were gently scattered by his family in a peaceful bend of the Diamond Creek, next to the bike path where he rode each week, and where he and his wife would take the dog for a walk, and sit and talk on a nearby bench. We realised then how much the cycling outings meant to him. On our first ride after he died, we stopped at one of his favourite coffee spots and gave our friend a coffee salute.

Will Nick’s dreams live on?

We will certainly try to make this happen. A few weeks before his death he asked me to take over as the web administrator. This task I readily accepted as a tribute to Nick and to the effort he put into this passion. So the blog will continue, not as grandiose as Nick would have liked I suspect, but I will do the best I can. My first post will be this story.

The cycling group has decided to conduct an annual Nick’s Tribute Ride on the anniversary of his death. This will follow the route of his last group ride, a short one in the Eltham/Diamond Creek area, and we will stop at that gentle bend and reflect for a while on our friend, then the blokes from the groups who can’t cycle will join us for morning tea at a Diamond Creek cafe to quietly celebrate Nick’s life and passions.

My Musings on Life.

Throughout my past 70 years, I have never been able to understand why mankind, (especially me) never seems to have the ability to gain enduring happiness and satisfaction.

There have been numerous occasions when I have experienced total engagement with life and had a complete belief in the fact, that, all the events of my past experiences have been favorable to me, and, for a short while that satisfaction of being completely fulfilled has been deep and at times even joyous, and possibly the closest to what I imagine to be complete satisfaction with life.

Conversely, however, those good feelings are continually interrupted with unforeseen and unexpected  occurrences that have at times led me down the path to the deepest, darkest, caverns of my mind, where I have endured lengthy episodes of being incapable of dealing with the current circumstances of what life has served up to me, and, that pain causes me to ponder, will this period of  unhappiness ever leave me.

Given the above description is universal and simplistic and can be deemed as “generic thinking” in written form for so many of us, the actuality of it remains comprehensively vast, and, at times insurmountable. These events are not unique to me alone, but in varying degrees and magnitude are shared by us all as an inherent aspect of the human condition.

One major concern for me is the gathering together of the sad times that visit me when trying to sleep,and, those thoughts keep me awake for much of the night, but, only to find in the light of day, whilst the nights mind games cannot be ignored due to their reality in my waking hours, they occasionally are not always as bad as the night portrays them to be and at times as bad as they can be.

As I am writing this, it is 7 am on a Sunday morning in early winter of June 2018, and one of those sleepless nights have again paid me a visit. I have just made myself a cup of tea and moved into my office, and, from where my desk is positioned, I’m able to see my front garden bathing in the early morning dew and sunlight that causes the leaves on my Maple and Silver Birch trees to exhibit the beautiful colors of late autumn in all their splendor.

The contradiction of all this beauty is that this magnificence is coming from a phase of the tree’s dying off period for their winter hibernation.

Farther past the two tree’s can be seen the pinkish/red clouds of a new day against a deep  blue sky, all further enhancing the varying shades of red and yellow colors of the leaves to gift me a potential joyous welcome to a new day. This can provide me the opportunity to once again reset my thinking and strive to find the courage to enjoy the numerous non material blessings bestowed, but, to also reflect on ongoing reciprocal problems and occasional misfortunes.

This daily review of circumstances is my constant companion that takes me to the heights of joy and almost to the abyss of despair when some events are such they appear unresolvable.

I suppose that on both speaking and listening to many others life stories , I must somehow strive to reach an acceptance and conclusion, that, my emotional roller coaster is, in fact, an inherent aspect of being human, and peace will not find me until “maybe” I can accept the good and bad as being somewhat equal and in balance.

Life’ events could be described as “If that’s the way it is that’s the way it is“!

If only it could be as cut and dried as mentioned, for then, life may be more tolerable, however, our free will does offer us some opportunity to maybe lessen our lot in life. If we keep thinking and doing the same thing over and over again we will always get the same outcome, therefore,  its not until we seriously stop, and take stock of our life and maybe reconsider, and, act upon other options we have previously never tried or said no to, we might just be able to bring change and more happiness and positivity into our life.

  • So how do we do this, well, for me it has meant becoming more involved with other people, joining a Men’s Discussion Group and Probus, where I now meet with others of similar age and realize behind the laughter and smiles of others, there always is lurking circumstances or events that effect us all at one time or another.
  • Ensuring that I am physical active most days of the week and expose myself to natural light and go to the gym as both generate more positive brain hormones to be released and lift my mood.
  • Eating only healthy food (most of the time).
  • and continue learning through study and striving to never give up, even when all hope seems to have faded.

My final conclusions are that every one of us, at some time or another, are confronted with either physical, mental, emotional or financial anxieties, and in order, where possible conquer them, we must have the courage and endeavor to continually reach out of our present situation and make the necessary modifications to our life, otherwise nothing changes and life can pass us by!

Apart from that, it is still very good to be alive!

Finish.

 

The Lost Recipe

There comes a time when we all actually get serious about cleaning out our “stuff”, items we no longer need, but still retain for various obscure reasons.

We recently helped my daughter and partner move house and I was amazed at the amount of “stuff” they had accumulated after only eight years together. This prompted me to get serious about getting my own house in order, sorting out my historical detritus.

It’s a complex, difficult process, more emotional than physical. Particularly with sorting through old items of one’s parents. It’s as though your childhood is finally slipping away into the darkness, it’s a type of guilt about disposing of items which once meant something to them. But there is little stuff that I would personally use, and I know my children would not be interested in these superfluous snapshots of family history.

With Dad, I have many memories and reminders. The piles of his writing, the boxes of slides, and a few treasured old tools. With mum, it’s not so easy, she was mainly involved in the garden club. But thinking about her life, if there was one particular remnant I would choose to mentally retain it would be her cooking. It was her role in the family. The Sunday roasts, the apple pies, but particularly her famous tasty Christmas pudding.

From a young age I looked forward to Christmas day on my aunt’s farm on the Mornington Peninsular.  For lunch, the huge dining table seated a horde of assorted uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, friends and other hangers on, to consume a massive meal.  After the main Christmas course, all would keenly await the highlight of the day – the grand entrance of the pudding.  This icon would be carried into the room by my mum, the maker, and would be flaming with lashings of brandy, (in itself a fire danger in the old timber cottage.)

We would devour the pudding, hoping to get a thruppence or sixpence, which sadly we had to return for next year’s pudding.  There were second helpings, laughter and compliments to mum that this was her best pudding yet.  Then onto the second highlight of the day, giving out presents.

This ritual lasted for decades.   Faces changed, older family died, cousins brought new partners, grandchildren arrived, but mum always made the pudding.  In October, the annual process would begin.  Mum would spread the ingredients on the old timber kitchen table, and clamp on the heavy cast iron hand mincer. I played a critical role as the suet mincer, laboriously but proudly mincing up a huge pile of suet, at that young age not knowing what this tough sinewy stuff was.  Mum would start up the big Sunbeam mixmaster; we would all give the mix a stir with the old wooden spoon, throw in the money and make a wish.

Dad’s role was to maintain a steady fire to steam the pudding for eight hours. Our old house in Clifton Hill had an outside laundry with a huge copper boiler..  He would rig up a device to support the pudding by its cloth loop at the right height, and every hour would stoke the fire and top up the water.  Finally the pudding would be hung in its cloth ball in the laundry until Christmas day.

The huge family gatherings finally ended, but mum still made a smaller pudding for the immediate family.  After she died, dad continued the tradition until he died.  All this time, I never actually knew what the pudding contained, as mum refused to give away her recipe, and dad continued this secrecy.  We were simply happy to enjoy the rich sticky tasty treat.  When he died I found the recipe, scribbled on a piece of tattered paper in an old diary.

By that time I had forgotten about the suet, and was horrified to see what we had been eating all those years —  slabs of saturated fat, plantations of sugar, chocolate, gallons of alcohol, all bound together by healthier mixed fruits, but topped by a sugary creamy custard sauce.  Great for me as a diabetic.  My wife was horrified at what her mother in law had fed her. I thought it best to keep quiet about the huge tub of lard in mum’s fridge, used to baste the rich Sunday roasts, which all enjoyed.

In honour of my dear old mum, I made her pudding, only once, the first Christmas after dad died when the recipe came to light.  It was not as tasty as mum’s, as I left out the suet, and went easy on the sugar, but my family enjoyed it and I had fun telling the kids tales about their gran and pop and aunt May’s farm.  It brought back happy memories of our big family, now dispersed, and about our times on the farm a long time ago.

The recipe?  Long since gone.  I recently spent hours searching through old recipe boxes, through my parents’ papers, and I couldn’t find it.  I would not have thrown it out, and it must be somewhere in the house, and may turn up one day, maybe my kids will find it when I go. But in the process I had a beautifully poignant time, trawling through mum’s old recipes, dad’s old stories, ancient photos and the memories of my early life.

Out of curiosity, I googled “old fashioned plum pudding” and hundreds of hits came up, all with the same type of ingredients, including the suet.  This was slightly surprising as I thought mum’s recipe was unique, but clearly many mums in that era were busily boiling up puddings pre Christmas, and their little kids were busily mincing suet. But I guess the eating environment gives each pudding its own unique flavour.

In mum’s memory here is an old imperial recipe which from my early memories seems to most resemble her one. For the fun of it, I may make it one Christmas, and we would greedily and guiltily consume the sinful product, but I reluctantly think not. Maybe a synthetic suet pudding will suffice.

 

The could have been mum’s Christmas suet pudding.”

4 oz plain flour

2 oz dark chocolate grated

1 teaspoon mixed spice

6 oz fresh white breadcrumbs

10 oz suet ground

8 oz brown sugar

2 oz dried apples and apricots

2 lbs raisins, currants and chopped dates

2 oz hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds chopped

zest of one lemon and orange

2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

1 teaspoon almond essence

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon honey

qtr pint dark rum or brandy