Mrs Flashbang; Trendsetter

So, still just the two of us holding the fort at home with the dogs. The girls are obviously missing us though..........

They sent some balloons. That's nice. Perhaps it will catch on. Perhaps Hollywood megastars when unavoidably denied the opportunity to grace the stage at the Oscars or BAFTA's to collect their shiny awards could send a balloon instead. Julia Roberts would look very fetching on a balloon and think of the nonsense it would save with the new frock and make up thing. Anyway girls, thanks for coming...........

Hi Girls!

So my girls are storming through New York en route to Cuba on a Mother & Daughter trip, (the Foreign Office and National Debt Office have been alerted).

Just in case you are missing me and the dogs girls, here's a playlist just to remind you of home... (and MB, don't dare suggest they've gone over there to get away from my music..).

Happy Birthday To Us

I do miss the toys.... oh I really do

Tomorrow is a rather special birthday for a rather special bunch. The Royal Artillery celebrates it's 300th birthday and will be celebrating the occasion by doing what it does best, making lots of loud bangs in a firepower demonstration, in amongst other events, in front of the Queen down at Larkhill.

My own small part in celebrating the regimental birthday can't wait until tomorrow for this missive dropped into my in-box from a friend a couple of weeks ago,

'in the absence of any invitations to official champagne soirees, Royal receptions or white tie dinners, we will be engaging in our own old boys’ Gunner gathering in the typical manner in an ‘ostelry in Salisbury the evening before, Wednesday 25th; standby for more details……………'

That won't be messy then will it..........?


 

Rosie, Still Standing

A further update from friend Rosie who records the final part of her treatment for breast cancer with her usual keen observational eye, wit and self deprecating humour.

"Shattered and Battered...but still standing

I wanted to start this, the final update, with some amusingly clever quotation ("Friends, Romans, countrymen... lend me your breasts...") or embed a mechanism into the text that includes the soundtrack "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John playing relentlessly in the background to celebrate the completion of what has to be the world's most challenging medical triathlon. Unfortunately I couldn't come up with the necessary witty rejoinder and neither can I code.... but finally... (drum roll) after 10 months, I am DONE.  'Death by Microwave' finished just over 2 weeks ago.

Big cancer machine thingy

Radiotherapy - whilst being the easiest leg to endure - is probably the most relentlessly boring as it required my presence every day, Monday to Friday, for 4-and-a-half weeks.  It is also the most 'scientifically scary' in terms of equipment and noise, so basically like being on the set of "Alien" (in radiology no-one can hear you scream...) The Linear Accelerator is the most impressive piece of kit I have ever seen : it is huge - consisting of a massive, rotating laser gantry, sizeable retractable panels and a very uncomfortable narrow base unit to lie on complete with complicated arm rest to lock your arms over your head. To compliment the whole 'Sci-Fi' theme, the entire suite is bathed in an ethereal blue glow. 

Positioning is key and before I even got close to being zapped, I spent a happy morning being digitally scanned, drawn all over with felt tip again... and the most painful of all.... being tattooed. Yes - I have "tats" (as opposed to "tits") - a tiny blue freckle under each arm pit and bang slap in the middle of my sternum. All this to ensure I was lying in exactly the same position each time (accurate to within a millimetre apparently).  By comparison, the actual treatment takes but a moment... 45 seconds max.... Once 'aligned', a loud siren sounds and everybody sprints out of the room because, guess what, these rays cause cancer.....  Usually, at this point, feeling very small and vulnerable and staring down the barrel of what is essentially a huge cartoon laser gun firing photons and electrons, my imagination runs completely riot and I envisage ALF bursting forth from my boob à la Alien and sprinting out of the room after them......

Compared to chemo, side effects are minimal : fatigue and what can only be described as sun burn.  Perhaps this is why 'pink' features so prominently as a marketing theme for breast cancer? Pink ribbons, pink cuddly toys, pink T-shirts, pink literature, you name it.  Please don't get me wrong, I am eternally and supremely grateful for each and every organisation working tirelessly to eradicate this vile disease, but quite how breast cancer has come to have such cutesy, almost sexual connotations is completely beyond me?  It is actually a long, brutal, down-and-dirty mud wrestle of nightmarish proportions.  You don't see prostate cancer messing about with a tiny pair of pale blue fluffy pom-poms.... their advertising features a bloody great sledgehammer... Just sayin'.....

So what now? After exhaustive meetings with Supreme Being (aka surgeon) and Oncologist and acknowledging that there are scant options available medically for post Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I have agreed to go on a course of Bisphosphonates - 1 dose every 6 months for the next 3 years administered via IV. Recent extensive trials have been seriously encouraging in helping prevent relapse - specifically in 'dem bones - and has the added benefit of protection against osteoporosis.  I have also considered oral chemotherapy, but I have to confess, the idea of moving the goal posts quite so comprehensively is not appealing. Although not as ghastly as IV chemo, it would mean another 8 cycles / 6 months of feeling shit just when I am feeling bloody brilliant for the first time in living memory. The treatment is very new for this specific application, the trials thus far very small and no guarantees despite the numbers looking encouraging.  Mark and I have been in an agony of indecision, but I think on balance, probably leave it. My lovely Oncologist is of a similar opinion and even went as far as saying he is "cautiously optimistic" about my future. Fingers crossed he's right.....

And so my friends, all that remains for me to say is a massive 'thank you'. I really couldn't have done this without all your support, love and encouragement.  Writing ALF has been most cathartic..... by allowing me to recount the horror and terror and take the piss out of it, somehow makes it so much smaller and manageable .... and there is a lot to manage.  I have been blown away by your emails, letters, flowers, telephone calls, texts and visits.... as I think I mentioned in the very first ALF, when things get really bad, to be able wrap myself in this 'duvet' of support by reading all your responses is brilliant - thank you so much. 

I leave you with the good - my hair is growing at a rate of knots....
The bad - it is so curly it resembles a sheep's fleece....
But I am relieved to inform you I am looking less ugly...! 

With much love xxx"

Happy Days

Exam time again

It's exam time again and students at schools and universities up and down the country are doing their best not to go into exam meltdown but to hold it together and get themselves through to the holidays and their bright futures that lie ahead. I couldn't wait to leave school. I finished one week and the next I started recruit training at the Scottish Infantry Depot at Glencorse in Midlothian. It was the Army or Royal Marines for me and given the Army course started sooner the decision was made. My plan to go through recruit training and then have a bash at the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury seemed a good idea right up to the point that I walked through the gates at Glencorse where I was jettisoned into a world closer to 1958 than 1978. While not easy it was obviously doable if uncompromising. It was though good experience and stood me in good stead later in my Army time, not least at Sandhurst.  

Memories of happy days, (first 2 minutes)

The first two minutes of the clip above, of a pass out parade at Glencorse in 1984, which I saw on the Queens Own Highlander page on FB, hurtled me back to that time. Young, fit, proud and ready to take the world on it was the best of days. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, quite comes close to the sensory overload you feel when marching with your fellow Jocks to the Pipes & Drums and I would give anything to go back to that time. 

Uniquely, having passed out as a Queens Own Highlander, (well on paper anyway having missed the actual final parade for reasons explained here!), and which I remained for the next 3 years, because I was a potential officer I never served with them. I was sent off to the Royal Highland Fusiliers and Gordons until I eventually scrapped my way into Sandhurst and from there I was again surprised to be commissioned into the Gunners. The Army likes to surprise. Wouldn't have missed any of it it for the world though.

What Mr Cameron Should Say

We're all pretty uninspired with being constantly berated with warnings of gloom and despondency should we have the temerity to vote to leave the EU. It goes against the national character to just give up and meekly toe the line. David Cameron and the Remain camp have so far failed to articulate a positive path forward which will not only be good for the UK but also kick start the process of drawing the rest of the EU together which is anyway, decaying from within, something that few are keen to draw any attention to. 

How then, should David Cameron tackle this deficit in vision and positive thinking?

It is a basic truism in politics that what you see on the surface does not in any way reflect what lies beneath. When all the rhetoric is over and the votes counted, many in the remain camp will be keen to restore business as usual. That would be the world where we tolerate the meddlesome excesses of Brussels and where the government of the day can park troublesome ministers or ex ministers who have been turfed out by the electorate into enhanced pension positions in Brussels. David Cameron should rip up the status quo and make it clear that this referendum is a game changer. If we vote to stay, we'll be fielding our A team from here on in, not the wheezy boys with coughs and notes from their Mum on the bench.

 A civil service office in Madras, India during the British Raj

In another age 1,000 British civil servants ran the Indian Civil Service. That was on average of one civil servant for every 300,000 Indians, (although the total number had fallen to 688 by the time of partition). It is broadly acknowledged that they did a pretty good job. All of them however, were the very best candidates for the job on offer, having studied either at Oxbridge, the School of Oriental studies or Trinity College, Dublin. Similarly, British officers in the Indian Army had to pass out in the top half of their course at Sandhurst to have a chance of being selected for the Indian Army and when serving in India promotion was subject to passing examinations in Urdu.

1975 was a more positive campaign by 10 miles of good road

David Cameron should take inspiration from this experience and  make it clear that mediocrity will no longer be accepted, that we are going to engage with Europe by deploying our brightest and best minds at the political and administrative level and no individual can expect advancement to the highest reaches of their government career paths without serious time spent in Europe. He should emphasise that his administrations new mission to 'inform and influence,' policy and decision making in Brussels has the highest priority and the British government will henceforth take a long term view of its involvement at every level. The education system, honours system, diplomatic corp and government HR policies will be directed to reflect this new positive stance. "If we are going to do it, we are going to do it better than before and better than anyone else." Europeans will immediately adopt the look of stunned mullets, such will be the hanging air of disbelief but it would sway many voters currently sitting on the fence.

The Prime Minister won't do any of this of course. He is following the advice of his advisors to, 'scare the bejeesus out of them.' Personally, I think that tactic is past it's point of what usefulness it may have had and is now producing negative drag on the Remain campaign. I happen to hold that very positive mental attitude on the prospect of leaving but can see it can swing both ways for here is the thing, optimism and enthusiasm are infectious.

The Baby Thing

After six years of writing my little blog it came as no surprise at all to discover that a small piece about the new puppy would elicit a spike in readership and comments, especially on FB. Dogs, babies and saying anything nice about Mrs Flashbang seems to animate people. Those and the two year old piece on Anne Lundon, which for some reason continues to throw up occasional big rallies in hits. Google obviously likes Anne Lundon. Meanwhile, although my shouty rants from the cheap seats, political commentary and analysis, social observations and military history pieces mostly fall on stony ground I nonetheless get a cathartic pleasure in writing them and they're not going to stop. Anyway, knock yourselves out with the clip above..

Incidentally, anyone looking back on Baby Time with nostalgic rose tinted glasses may wish to take a reality check..... I can help with that too with this Mayday text conversation from a Dad in distress,

Meet Arthur

Twelve months after we lost Gurkha we welcome young Arthur to the Crumble household, joining the venerable Gunner and the combustible but wholehearted Diesel. The name Arthur follows some enthusiastic family debate by email over the last three days. I wanted Brexit but the undecided's in the family vetoed it. I quite liked Timba, Kipling, Caber and also Magic and Midnight, ('they sound like strippers Dad'). Kobi, Tosca and Satchmo were others which failed to raise a flicker of passion. I liked the concept of Mrs F wandering through the woods shouting, 'Romeo, where are you?' for the next ten years but that also got short shrift. Some of the suggestions coming back the other way weren't worth a candle. Doggy MacDogface was a non starter along with Dogtor Who, Sent From My Iphone, Basil, Bharji, Blazer and Rudolf amongst a long list of others. Anyway, the judging panel, (me), has sat and unanimously voted in favour of Arthur, (after the Duke), thus blowing out the flickering light of nascent family democracy. Welcome Arthur!

Luvvie Who?

Next up in joining the unseemly rush to join the list marked, "Next Honours List," we have 300  narcissistic and self obsessed luvvies, (I've never heard of 290 of them), signing a letter preaching what is good for the rest of us. Sorry to disappoint all these precious princesses but who exactly cares what they think?

Back of the Net

Mrs T puts the ball squarely in the back of the net in her Bruges speech made in 1988. The historic speech, spawning The Bruges Group, was delivered at Bruges in September 1988. Famously rejecting the centralised, unaccountable, federal Europe of Delors, Margaret Thatcher proposed instead a wider, decentralised, outward-looking democratic Europe of independent, freely- trading and cooperating nation states.

The Michelin Diet

Pork dish @ JSW in Petersfield

My determined assault over 3 months on my personnel weight, while successful, was always going to end badly. I think we all knew that. The last two weeks though have led to something of a dieting car crash of epic proportions. I really shouldn't be proud of my actions yet I am left with a sneaking regard for myself, happy in the knowledge that there is still gas in the tank.

A friend cheerfully emailed an article from the New York Times, from the charmingly named 'Science of Fat,' section titled "After 'The Biggest Loser,' Their Bodies Fought To Regain Weight." The piece alludes to how contestants in a television weight loss competition lost vast amounts of weight but then put much of it back on in the following months and years. Rather than suggesting that the contestants sprinted, or wobbled, straight to the nearest fast food outlet after the competition it suggests that during weight loss the body's metabolism drops but does not pick up the pace again when more calories are subsequently consumed. This means the body is trying it's level best to do what it thinks is mean reverting to pile the pounds back on. What the article tells me is how much we have to learn about the complex issues surrounding obesity in the context of the modern world and that tackling it is a far greater problem for society than anyone will yet admit to. 

I though didn't need a dicky metabolisim to help me put on weight; I just went to the Army & Navy match.  

The summary of the demise of my waif like self in fact started with lunch with a friend at the Farmers Club. I like the Farmers Club. It's charm is in inverse proportion to it's size. With paintings of cattle adorning the walls you would expect lunch to be robust and the main course was although the pudding was surprisingly delicate, following a fashion in recent years in London clubs in upgrading the menu's. To eat the nursery food that characterised club eating for generations you now have to seek out an invitation to places like White's or Pratts, places so smart they aren't going to give an inch to modern predilections for food fashions given they are only just coming round to electric lighting and women having the vote.

ok lads, you win.

The very next day I found myself at the Army & Navy match along with 82,000 other thirsty ex and serving soldiers and sailors, all of whom attempt to be 21 again for a day. The next morning most are reminded by their creaking joints and blinding headaches that they are in fact deep in middle age and past their younger athletic best. They say the Twickenham pubs sell up to four times as much beer on the day of the Army & Navy game than for internationals. I wanted no part of that statistic but like to think I contributed to the red wine consumption being way higher than four times the normal consumption. My solution to creaking joints and blinding headaches the next morning was to keep going... all the way to Portmouth where a terrific Sunday lunch saw off the inevitable until Monday morning. It was incidentally, the best A&N match I've seen at Twickenham, a deserved and hard fought 29-29 draw made for a really good game.

Imodium, shark repellent, Diorylyte & Skin-So-Soft for a 21st? Must have another expedition coming up.

Not a bad effort, knocking out 16 of these... and on a student budget.

Next, off to Durham for a 21st celebration with one of the Crumble kids which we kept low key given the proximity of finals. Well, that was the plan. The plan didn't outlive the outbreak of hostilities by more than a few minutes as we joined the Crumble kid and his friends for a dinner party hosted by a housemate celebrating his own birthday and who kindly included us. I remain amazed at how these guys knock up a quite superb dinner party for 16 at a whim. At their age I wouldn't have dreamed of stepping foot in a kitchen, the limit of my culinary flair being a small pot of curry powder to add to compo rations on exercise.

 

Raby Hunt; sublime

The next day we went 15 miles south of Durham to a sublime restaurant called the Raby Hunt for the family birthday lunch. Michelin class is evident from the moment you walk in and the tasting menu and wines offer exactly the interesting and challenging short journey of discovery you hope for in selecting it. If you ever find yourself within 50 miles of this place, take a diversion and treat yourself. I can't recommend it enough and don't even think of leaving without trying the unforgettable liquorice and fennel ice cream. The final item in the diary was a farewell dinner at Northumbria OTC to which parents had been invited. That was good fun and another opportunity to drink my own body weight in beer and red wine. So I did.

The taxi trip back to Durham was an eye opener. I thought I'd seen some sights but nothing prepared me for Newcastle city centre at 1am. There were people around, lots of them, mostly not standing having fallen off their 4'' heels and who evidently really had drunk their own body weight in probably not red wine but some sort of horrible sticky confectionary cocktails. Perhaps they just drank meths, who knows. It wasn't the absence of pride or dignity, the lack of grace or decency, it was sheer numbers of drunks that surprised me. Not happy go lucky drunks either, but zombified, humourless drunks who have lost all control. We definitely have a problem in our cities.

 

Gavroche; the high citadel of fine dining in Britain

Back home and a day of rest and recuperation before the show was back on the road with a trip to the high citadel of fine dining in Britain, Le Gavroche, to celebrate my father-in-laws 80th birthday. I first went to Gavroche in 1989, (the result of a winning bet with a colleague), and while I haven't been back often, each visit has been a memorable and delicious adventure. It's not just the food. The whole place is culinary theatre. The staff move with the grace and elegance of a corp de ballet, are enthused and passionate about their work and strive to demystify any challenges on the menu, (for me that would be anything in French), and the wine list where a moment of over enthusiastic exuberance will see the credit card machine spontaneously combust two hours later. The whole restaurant is immaculate and at this level, detail is everything. Napkins being refolded when you return to your seat after a break are for example, a nice touch. Michel Roux Jr popped out to wander the tables and introduce himself. He was warm and welcoming; I felt I'd just met Elvis.

JSW; where everything is aligned to keep your focus rightly on the food.

So, three Michelin stars in as many days. How spoiled and indulged was I? Only one thing to do at moments like this, go for another and make it four. So then to our local JSW in Petersfield, which is similar to the Raby Hunt with a diffident and unassuming exterior but with an appealing and energising tasting menu to luxuriate in when seated. The final diary item in this two week long binge was an epic 50th birthday party on Saturday. Now, I'm all done.

After four months of monk-like existence and getting to know juicing and my sugar counter app really well I feel I've really made up for anything I might have missed. So what was the damage report? With all that excess I've ended up adding just 4lbs which is a bit of a result really. Perhaps the lesson is if you need to eat less but better food eat Michelin standard food but the bank account couldn't absorb that for long. Although it is perhaps worth highlighting that you can eat at the highest standards for not unreasonable cost if you are prepared to stick to lunchtime or early evening and not hammer the wine list. My daughter introduced me to a website and app called bookatable.com and there are some exceptional deals on there..... one of today's is 3 courses and a glass of champagne at the Dorchester Grill for £39. Overall, I do feel a bit more physically tired and having had one bite of the forbidden fruit, (or nine), my body is screaming for more. Just got to get back to toughening up and saying no...