February Brings The Snow

‘February brings the snow and makes our feet and fingers glow’

February ended with a bang as the ‘Beast from the East’, as it’s now been coined, took the country in its icy grip and we experienced a week of heavy snow and freezing temperatures. I thought I’d escaped those days of snow disruption now I don’t work any more and shouldn’t need to go out in it, but no I seem to keep getting caught out with snow and hospitals lately.

Back in December I found myself caught up in heavy snow when I was blue lighted to hospital with a respiratory infection and this week I found myself asking again, ‘What is it with me and snow and hospitals?’

7am at UCLH

I had a planned hospital stay for a stomach fundoplication operation, which is a preventative operation to help stop my lungs being damaged and going into more rejection. The operation has been cancelled twice already, because I was deemed too unfit to go ahead with it during the autumn. Suddenly, though, after a quick referral recently it was all back on and happening again.

 

Waiting room view

Having serious surgery with a general anaesetic is always a stress for the healthiest of people. Although I was thoroughly committed to this all going ahead whilst I was reasonably healthy, I still had worries and concerns about all the risks that had been explained to me, especially the extra concerns with my poor functioning lungs and the fact they are transplanted together with my heart.

View outside King’s Cross Station

The surgeon and anaesthetist were all prepared though and provision had been made for me to be looked after in intensive care due to the high risks involved. I was comfortable with this – well as comfortable as I could ever be. There were extra factors to consider too: UCLH hospital is situtated in central London and has no car park. It’s a bit of a hassle with my breathing difficulties commuting in and out by train, so we decided to book an overnight stay in a hotel nearby the hospital so I could manage the process in stages with the 7am start required. We were unsure how long I’d be in hospital, but planned we’d have to get a cab to get me home, as I would be contending with not only the breathing difficulties, but the after effects of having surgery and consequences of this particular surgery.

Approaching Knebworth on the train
Back home in the garden

Then came the news of the ‘Beast from the East’ and this started to stress me more than the surgery and its risks. The forecast looked dire for the end of the week and early weekend – when I should have been  being discharged from hospital and probably in a very fragile state. Because of my lungs, I’m already labelled as one of those ‘high risk’ patients in severe weather.  All I could think of was being stranded in snow. We’d had to put Ted in kennels too and although he’s used to kennels, I wasn’t entirely happy about this with the freezing temperatures.

I still felt I needed to go ahead with it though, so because of the weather we set off into London a little earlier than planned and made it to the hotel with no problems. The following morning all went to plan and we arrived at the hospital in good time at 7am. I was ‘nil by mouth’ from midnight and it had snowed overnight again and it felt perishing cold.

Not being able to have anything warm to eat or drink, made it feel even colder and the hospital has huge glass windows everywhere, so it was freezing in the waiting room and draughty corridors too. Everyone was sat with their big coats and snow gear on. It began to blizzard with snow outside and continued all morning as we all watched from the window and waited to be called.

I saw the various medical staff that needed to see me and was all prepped ready for the operation, which was planned for midday. Early on in the morning though, my surgeon had  advised that my operation would only be able to go ahead if there was an intensive care bed available.

I knew when I’d been told this and actually sitting there watching the severe weather, that there was a strong possibility this would happen. Time went on though and all the signs seemed to indicate that things would go ahead.

Then my name was called and I stood up expectantly, all ready to go down to theatre, but soon realised from the expression on the surgeon’s face that it was all going to be cancelled. They weren’t prepared to undertake it without an intensive care bed being available and there had been too many emergencies already that morning and no bed was available.

 

In some ways I was disappointed, as it had been a big effort and expense to manage to get there in the artic conditions, but somehow inside me I felt this huge relief too, as I could just get home to safety and comfort hopefully before the worst of the weather set in for the week.

I realised how much the weather had been stressing and troubling me. Not difficult when I was probably already stressed about having an operation I didn’t particular want to have, but is a needs must and with the dire weather news and forecasts being broadcast on TV continually.

A little peek of spring with a Tete a Tete in bloom

So with some very mixed feelings after such a huge build up and still heavy snow falling, we decided to try and head back home while the traffic was still moving and trains still running. That wasn’t before warming up, after being ‘nil by mouth’ for a long time, with some hot food and drinks just in case the going got tough en route home.

Where are the bluebell shoots?

Now I’m home again, I’m just pleased to be safe and warm. I don’t feel annoyed or distressed about the operation being cancelled. These things happen and someone in greater need than me has been helped. I know that when I had my transplant operation, which went on for over 10 hours during the day time, that numerous routine operations might have been cancelled while my life was being saved.

My operation has now been rearranged already. In a way I’ve had a dry run and know more what to expect and I will be able to focus on the operation itself now, rather than worrying about issues like the weather.

One thing stood out very starkly during our London visit and that was the plight of the homeless. The weather conditions were extreme and we saw many homeless people taking refuge in the corridors and restaurant of the hospital. It made me count my blessings and humbled me.

Whatever the situation there’s always so much to be thankful for – a bit of snow and a cancelled operation when you have a home to go to and a supportive and loving family to take refuge with, isn’t anything at all compared to what the homeless face in this freezing cold weather.

Palm tree has a whole new look!

So operation attempt number four will be happening soon; we’ll see what happens; whatever will be, will be; it will all be sorted somehow with snow or no snow.

In the meantime goodbye to a very snowy freezing February and watch this space for the ongoing hospital saga…

Beautiful Benington

We visit Benington Lordship Gardens every year during February when it opens to the public to show off its stunning array of snowdrops. It’s something I always look forward to when we’re in the middle of those cold February days.

There’s something uplifting about seeing that first flush of spring flowers and especially when they are in plentiful displays blanketing the landscape. There are over 200 varieties of snowdrops at Benington. There are also aconites, hellebores, crocuses, winter flowering shrubs as well as beautiful grounds to explore with wonderful views over the Hertfordshire countryside.

In the grounds there’a a very grand neo-norman folly and moat, a walled kitchen garden, sculptures and wildlife pond. The peaceful grounds provide a haven for wildlife. The picturesque village is interesting too, with its duck pond, St Peter’s church and many old thatched roofed buildings. The church holds a series of concerts on Sundays while the gardens are open during February.

For me, snowdrops are a welcome sight as we near the end of winter when nothing much is blooming in the garden and brightening it up. Walking through white blankets of snowdrops is such a delight at this bleak time of year. In British folklore, the snowdrop symbolises hope, which I find very apt. Snowdrops always signify the start of the gardening year beginning to unfold. After the snowdrops fade then the garden begins to bloom more and more and comes back to life and full of colour. Snowdrops are the signal that spring is nearing, the long winter nearly over and sunnier, longer and brighter days are nearly here. Something for us all to look forward to.

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Flooding Estuary

With all my health problems this winter it had meant we hadn’t been able to visit the Lake District for a good few months and we’d had to cancel some visits in autumn and over Christmas. When we visited at long last the other week, when we arrived near Milnthorpe and drove past the River Bela, as always I looked over the dry stone walls to see how high the river was.

It was extemely high, reaching the tops of the river bank and spilling over. The following morning there were actually warnings locally not to venture out on the estuary footpaths or down by the coastal path at Arnside, as tidal surges were expected to cause more high waters and flooding. Our neighbour told us, the river and estuary area had been flooded at least three times since we’d last visited.

The Rivers Bela and Kent estuaries meet and join the sea in Morecambe Bay. The last big flood in Milnthorpe was after Storm Desmond in 2015, when houses near the river and the football and cricket ground were flooded. People near the river were preparing for the worst again piling up the sand bags to protect their properties and moving furniture upstairs.

The river and estuary landscapes look so different in flood. The River Bela had lost all its boundaries as it merged with the sea and River Kent. The estuary itself looked like another huge Lake District lake, especially with the Lake District mountains in the back drop. There are usually big pools of water and stretches of sand and sand banks with flocks of interesting birds feeding: on this day just stretches of neverending and unsettled waters.

A drive further around the coast to Sandside was almost inaccessible with sea water lashing and blowing across the main road in the blustery and wild wind. Then the following day, the river had calmed down and you could distinguish it from the estuary once more. Overnight and at low tide, the water in the estuary had receded back to safer levels and there were only sand deposits on the road marking the hazards of the day before.

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A Captivating Moment

When I’m out and about in the countryside, there always seems to be something that takes me by surprise. I’ve learned from past experience and now that’s why I always try and remember to take my camera or my phone with me. There’s nothing as annoying as seeing something extra special just before your eyes and not being able to capture the moment forever.

We were out walking by the river Bela on Dallham Tower Estate in Cumbria, when we suddenly saw a pair of ears popping out above the river bank. Who was this hiding down there? Suddenly a pair of young fallow deer appeared, nimbly climbing over the steep banking and happily feeding away and munching on the grass.

We were stopped very quietly in our tracks and lucky to be so near. Rob just happened to have his camera at the ready, so was able to snap a few shots while the deer fed and wandered along by the riverside.

It was one of those captivating and special moments…

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Snowdrops, Swans and Sizergh

Early February and another gorgeous day, so we decided to take a look around Sizergh, a National Trust Estate in Cumbria. We visit here often and in all seasons. It always looks so different during each season and varying weather.

Today we were pleasantly rewarded with the sight of first snowdrops and aconites enjoying the winter sunshine and bursting into bloom. There’s always something special about seeing clusters of snowdrops when we’re still in winter time: there’s a sudden brightness after all the cold, dark and dull days. The bright yellow of the aconites look like they reflect the sun in the sky too: they almost sing out that we’re approaching warmer, longer days. That spring is nearing.

The grounds looked beautiful as we approached the castle this morning. We had a walk through the fields belonging to the estate.

On our way around we spotted the first snowdrops, basking in the sunshine, in full bloom.

Much to our delight, we came across a snowdrop walk in the woodlands… and we found aconites on the woody slopes too!

Then out of the woodlands and down by the pond, we spotted a few more things…

Beautiful views towards the castle, dark winter trees and water silhouetted against the bright blue skies.

Willows bursting into bloom: another sign that spring is near and this scene will look so much different on our next visit.

And then the swans, busy feeding hungrily in the freezing cold waters, which had been coated in layers of thin ice earlier.

The pathway led us back into the lovely countryside again and then of course, we had to finish off with the obligatory hot drinks at the cafe to warm ourselves up again.

Welcome February

It’s been a fabulous start to February with the most glorious sunny weather in the Lake District. Perfect for a day visiting favourite places, walking the dog and taking photos. Perfect for enjoying nature, sunshine and healthy fresh air.

A walk with Ted in Cartmel followed by coffee in the village…

Then a drive and picnic on the west side of Coniston Water followed by another walk with Ted. The lake was as still as a mill pond, the sunshine bathing down on the lake.

Perfect for a swim – well for cocker spaniels, swans, ducks and geese anyway!

The ‘Old Man Coniston’ even had a lovely dusting of snow.

Next up, we couldn’t drive this far without a sneaky peak up to Tarn Hows. This was so still and quiet today, stunning as always and like a picture post card.

Finally, we were just in time to catch the sunset at Sandside – always so beautiful to see.

All in all a stunning Lake District day, a perfect one for me.

What’s your perfect day?

That Was January

January obviously signifies the start of a brand new year with new beginnings and new year resolutions. As January emerges we are still in depths of mid winter – the mornings are dark and the afternoons seem to be cut short as the sun goes down early. Sometimes it’s so cold, dull and dismal that it doesn’t seem to come daylight at all and things can feel a little flat after the buzz and twinkling lights of Christmas.

Now we’ve reached the end of January and after months of bare trees and the bleak colours of winter, there’s something quite magical about spotting those first signs of spring. Although we can’t usually see it at the start of January, January isn’t only the start of the new year, but the start of a nature’s new year too.

Look amongst those black, grey and brown winter palettes and you will spy the first snowdrops emerging – bright white droplets suddenly livening up the landscape. There are daffodil and bluebell shoots pushing through and colourful crocuses, hellebores and aconites emerging. Brilliant yellow stars grace the winter Jasmine as it springs to life again. Spring plants fill the shops: it’s lovely to have daffodils, hyacinths and cyclamen indoors while we wait for spring to fully appear outside.

By the end of January, it’s still winter, but spring feels around the corner now and that fills me with hope and promise. A whole year of nature before me and a whole year of plans and hopes to fulfil.

This January has been a good one for me. Healthwise, I’ve recovered really well from all those bugs and infections I seemed to pick up throughout last autumn. Since the new year started, I’ve become better and better. I’ve managed to build up my exercise capacity through doing yoga, pulmonary rehabilitation exercises and walking and I’m still working on steadily increasing how much activity I can manage each week. I’ve managed to get my lungs working better again and they’re back to the baseline I’d reached back last summer and functioning at nearly 50% again now. I’m now hoping this good spell will continue on and that I can improve my lungs even more.

Better health has meant I’ve been able to get out and about a lot more and catch up with friends and family. I’ve been enjoying walks in the park with Ted and visiting new and old places and taking up my photography and writing again. I’ve felt that life has returned to some normality this January and it’s lovely to be back in the real world once more. Most of these things are simple and ordinary, but feel so special when you’ve been out of action for a while and unable to do them.

Most of all, I’ve had so much precious time with my grandson Freddie. We’d had to keep avoiding each other because of infections, but we’ve both been clear of bugs during January, so Freddie has been able to visit and have sleepovers with us. Best of all, it was Freddie’s first birthday last week, so we had lots of birthday celebrations and it felt one of those very special family milestones, which ended January on a big high. Encouraged by this, I’m looking forward to all the rest of the year ahead of us and watching Freddie taking his first steps next and becoming a toddler.

I’ve also said goodbye to my old mini car this month. I’d had her for over eleven years, but she’d become unreliable and had broken down quite a lot last year. With both the car keep breaking down and my health being so poor last year, I’d stopped driving altogether. This month, I decided to swap my old mini for a new similar model.  Now I’m feeling much better and have a reliable car again, I’ve started driving once more.

This January, I’ve begun to regain my independence back, which feels fantastic after relying on others so much when I’ve been poorly. I’m looking forward to enjoying my car even more as the days grow lighter and warmer.

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Out with the old, time for a new car

January was also a great month for Rob too. Rob has been directing a play at our local theatre, The Barn in Welwyn Garden City. The play, ’84 Charing Cross Road’ has   just finished running this last weekend and was a big success with good reviews and on several nights tickets sold out. The play is a true story and Rob and the cast and crew had a huge surprise on Saturday afternoon when the real life daughter of  Frank, one of the main characters, turned up unexpectedly to watch the show.

Frank’s daughter, Sheila, came back stage to meet everyone and I was privileged to be there. She showed us pictures of her family and father and gave us lots of background information about her father and also about the bookshop, its staff and Helene, the other main character. So all in all, it was a great end to the show after months of hard work by all the cast and crew. A lovely finish to the month for both Rob and myself.

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The cast with Sheila, Frank’s daughter, in the centre

And that was January. I’m now looking forward to more good health and good times for February…

How was your January?