First normal day

Today is the first normal day I’ve had since September last year. J. went off to work, taking Jimjams to school, and abandoning me to my quiet and bizarre world of toy soldiers.

She was cleared fit to work starting from Monday, and went off to see personnel that day to find out what was left of her job after almost 12 months’ absence. It’s not quite over: J. still needs check-ups every couple of months.

Throughout the past year, family, friends and even strangers have helped keep J., Jimjams and I going. It’s been an undeniably dark and stressful time, made worse by knowing that J.’s father died from leukaemia when she was very young (the condition, however, is not hereditary). Medical treatment has advanced hugely in that time, and the leukaemia team at Southampton have been something special.

It may, of course, take a little while for us all to get completely back on the rails.

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Cracking up

Bournemouth pier
Bournemouth pier

Now that Janet is on the mend, I’m beginning to take more care of myself. The result is that I’m currently off to Bournemouth once every 10 days or so to get my wretchedly stiff back and neck sorted out, something I should have done years ago. Jimjams has been seeing a chiropractor to sort out her skating injuries, with impressive results, and every six weeks or so she goes to get herself “cracked” back into alignment. Last time we went I decided to sign myself up for the same treatment, and I’m currently on the introductory programme where the various wrong bits of me get wrenched back into place.

In effect I’m paying a woman to have me strip to my underpants, lie on a bench, and push me about. Hmmm. All I can say is that my neck works properly again, and my back has stopped feeling like it has been stabbed. Even though the neck work feels more like I’m a poor rabbit about to have my neck wrung for the pot.

Ferry and train conspired to make me arrive horribly early, so I wandered off to Bournemouth’s seafront for a walk – and to have sand blown into my face by the wind. I’ve grown up with faded Regency or Victorian seafronts, decaying beach huts and the tungsten-lit warmth of amusement arcades, from Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Deal, in Kent, to Ryde and Shanklin on the Island. And in the scale of things, Bournemouth appears like a second-rate Brighton. Not entirely horrible, but a pretty desolate seafront with some grimly priced chain-eateries such as Harry Ramsden’s, which manages to charge almost nine quid for fish and chips.

I am reminded that very long ago in Deal I got thrown out of the sole amusement arcade for playing one game too enthusiastically: I had one warning and then the owner shoved me in the chest and told me to get out. And there passes my moment of teenage notoriety: the moment when as a nine-stone weakling I evidently presented some dark and dangerous menace. After that, dear reader, I regret that I turned to beer and pubs…

True Friendship

My sister in law Frances has polycystic kidneys. Her best friend Hilary, who lives in Australia, last week flew the 10,000 or so miles to the UK to donate one of her kidneys. Both are currently in hospital recovering from the operation, which took place during National Transplant Week.

The story made the front page of the Western Daily Press (www.thisisbristol.co.uk – link updated 20 July), and you can read it in full online. It is a truly heart-warming story and, unless you are a steel-hearted monster, may have you reaching for a box of tissues.

I was struck by Hilary’s unselfish nobility of action, and by the strength of support of her own family, who I met at the weekend. It’s a tale, I’m sure, that gives us all cause to reflect on the value of true friendship, and on what we would do for our own friends.

Eyes Right…

Way back in 1999, I started my business, Fighting 15s, as a wargames figures painting service, painting to commission. It did quite well and actually earned me a reasonable amount of money that supplemented my income as a freelance sub-editor, largely working on trade magazines. About four years ago, however, my eyes went, for want of a better word, poot!, and my working world fell about me in tatters. First, I couldn’t see computer screens well enough to edit, and I largely blamed it on the fact that the freelance almost always gets the ropiest computer monitor. And then I stopped being able to focus and to concentrate on the toy soldiers I enjoyed painting.

Fate had been cruel enough to strip me of reliable use of the one sense that allowed me to work and that permitted me to enjoy my work. I carried on, though. My sub-editing got worse and worse because I stopped being able to see spelling mistakes or even notice missing words; my figure painting just stopped. I was lucky in that a non-reading production job cropped up with the late Games International magazine, and that a financial group of magazines clearly still thought that I was better than other freelance sub-editors. But the rest of my editing work dried up.

I spent two years going for tests at the children’s section of the eye department at St Mary’s Hospital in Newport – the bit that tends to look after children with lazy eyes. It didn’t help me get better, but told me what I knew: that my eyesight was variable and unpredictable in how much it changed from test to test. Eventually I was told my sight had stabilized enough to warrant a prescription for new glasses with stronger prisms: prisms in essence kick your line of sight inwards or outwards so that both eyes focus on the same spot.

The new glasses were great for general use, but I still couldn’t concentrate at reading distances. And that meant no reading, no editing and worse no painting.

About two months ago, I started changing the way I work. Rather than work till everything is done, I set myself a financial target. If I pack orders equal in value to that target, which is based on my annual average for a day, I stop work and go and do something in the house or garden. After a few weeks I decided I felt like painting toy soldiers again, and resolved to paint for an hour or so if I felt like it in the evening. I actually managed to complete some units and finish a commission that I had stopped two years earlier. In short, I stopped working myself all hours of the day and began to relax more.

Last week I felt so great I tried using my old, weaker glasses. They appear to be sufficient, and the newer glasses seem too strong all of a sudden. For the Isle of Wight Festival I even managed to wear only non-prescription sunglasses for the event, with none of the headaches I usually suffer. This week, optically I feel great, and almost hopeful that everything has returned to normal.

I’m not going to push it. Painting when I feel like it is very much the order of the day. I doubt if I can ever again manage to paint for longer than two hours. But it’s absolutely great to be able to do something that I love again.