Everything but the kitchen sink

6 days of hard toil on behalf of the Hemmant brigade, 4 trips to the tip, 1 enormous pile of open cardboard boxes, a similarly large mound of used tea bags, 2 chocolate cakes, 3 packets of biscuits, 1 pack of brownies, 6 cans of baked beans, 2 electrician visits and 1 plumber visit later and the Ikea kitchen is almost in situ.

The end result is looking lovely (I’ll upload some more pictures when I’m done with the grouting) but man it’s been hard work. The fun and games started when Ann and Les, Sam’s long suffering parents, arrived on Friday and we started ripping out the old kitchen. Refitting the kitchen had been something we’d been meaning to do since moving in 5 years ago, but had somehow failed to get round to it. However when the tiles started dropping off the wall in droves and the temperature gauge of our £50 2nd-hand oven parted company with the dial (reducing the oven settings to blacken, burn or nuke), the matter became more pressing. As such, destroying the old kitchen proved to be quite therapeutic – if only the same could be said of the rest of the job.

Our first stumbling block was the construction of an array of Ikea branded flat pack cabinets, christened with nice logical sounding names such as Faktum, Stat, Rationale, Perfekt. If only. The pictoral instruction booklets proved to be far from rational or indeed perfect. However, we learnt to our peril that he who fails to follow the Ikea instruction booklet to the letter and in precisely the stated order, comes thoroughly unstuck. Cue frenzied removal of misplaced twisty screws, jammed drawers and considerable swearing/ weeping with frustration. What we’d hoped to accomplish in one day spilled into three. Ann and I went to the village shop to stock up on sugar-coated goodies to fuel us through the next few days – we were going to need it!

On Sunday, Sam’s brother Tom, wife Lucy and nephew Finn entered the madhouse. Being chased by a 1 year old baby was the final straw for Bailey the cat – already traumatised by the transformation of his stomping ground into a maze of cardboard boxes, unfamiliar people and noxious pastes and putties. The cat spent the next 3 days watching balefully from under a bush in the garden. Meanwhile, Tom and Lucy were quick to earn their places alongside Ann and Les on the wall of kitchen fame.Tom took on the incredibly fiddly job of fashioning the worktops with Sam while Lucy accompanied me to the tip.

The next stumbling block emerged in the form of the kitchen sink. For some unknown reason, Ikea supply their sinks without housing for the tap which leaves you with the delightful task of either hoiking back to the store to purchase a £10 ‘tap puncher’ kit or drilling a hole in the damn thing yourself. To add insult to injury, we were unable to isolate the water supply for the kitchen sink specifically, which meant in order to disconnect the old sink we had to sacrifice the water supply to the whole house until we could get a plumber in to connect the whole lot back up. Cue a day and a half of drinking from 4 litre vats of bottled water, ‘flushing’ the toilet with jugs filled from the reservoir we’d collected in the bath, washing up at the village shop and no showers. This, coupled with our reliance on takeaway/ the microwave as a food preparation device…. and our transformation into ‘trailer trash’ was complete.

Sunday rolled into Monday into Tuesday and two new nemesis emerged – the laying of the floor and the extractor fan. Turned out it would have been much easier to lay the floor before the cabinets went down but having devoted the best part of 24 hours to building and bolting the bl**dy things together, there was no chance we were going to move them now. The so-called ‘extractor fan’ cabinet turned out to need extensive holes cut out of it to function as per its designed purpose and the wiring looked hideously complicated. We decided that, rather than waste a day faffing around with this evil bit of kit, it would be prudent to pack it back into its box and return it to Ikea. Then we ran out of tiles and possibly also the will to live.

But, against all the odds, 6 days on, the kitchen is almost complete and looking rather fine. Granted, we still have bits and bobs to take care of – attaching door knobs, grouting the newly laid tiles, straightening the doors up and so on, but we’re pretty much there. Huge thanks go out to Ann and Les who have slogged away at the beast for 6 solid days and also to Lucy and Tom for injecting fresh blood, skill and enthusiasm into the mix, and of course Sam. Who needs the transalps when you can create this level of epic challenge on your home turf eh?


Cycles and cycling

Yesterday marked the start of Chemo cycle no 6. A fun-packed day involving a picc line insertion (a tube that runs inside your vein from your forearm to your heart, used for chemo drug infusion), an x-ray to check the tube hadn’t gone awry and then a 3 hour Oxyplatin/ flush drip. I was nevertheless stoked to be awarded a bed on this occasion (usually I get stuck with an armchair).

Pretty it ain’t. Swimming and tight-fitting tops are out for a while with this lovely looking appendage hanging out my arm, whilst weekly trips to the nurse to have it flushed and cleaned are the order of the day.

Judging by the look on Sam’s face and the amount of blood on the surrounding paper towels, the insertion of this baby wasn’t particularly pretty either. However, with a vein in my right arm having also thrombosed after just one chemo session, I really don’t have an alternative option. And the good news is having the chemo administered via this means is a whole lot less painful than having the drip go through a needle in your arm.

I’m finding with each progressive session, the shopping list of weird and wonderful symptoms is starting to increase, not to mention the dormouse tendencies. The latest additions to the party are bone pain centralised in my rib cage and increasing hair loss (any products you can recommend, BASES hair team?). But on the positive side, I’m nearly there now – six chemo sessions down and just two to go. And my white blood cells appear to be actually going up rather than down. Just goes to show that a diet rich in fruit & veg (managing to get more of these back in my diet these days) and regular exercise do wonders for your immune system. Meanwhile my other blood counts are well above the critical levels so all staying well there should be no reason to delay my last two treatments on that account.

Enough of cycles and onto the cycling. Despite the rather forbidding weather prognosis, we only had one complete wash-out day in the Lakes (when Sam and his dad went down a slate mine and Ann and I took refuge in the car and read our books/ snoozed). We did however manage to fit in three lovely cycle rides to compliment our two and a half walks.

The first was to the amusingly titled ‘Cockermouth’. This ride marked the elevation of status of ‘Graham the Garmin’ from ‘hated bit of complicated of equipment’ to ‘actually quite useful if you can be bothered to put in the leg-work’. Sam and I don’t like to hold grudges, so Graham’s choice of stupidly steep path that led to Sunday’s epic up Skiddaw was forgiven and forgotten. Being both lazy and foodie snobs – Sam and I couldn’t be bothered with the thought of trekking to Keswick post-ride to pick up the remaining ‘critical’ ingredients for our evening dish of Spaghetti Bolognaise  – we left Ann and Les in our fine choice of café stop in Cockermouth to explore the Sainsburys opposite. Ten minutes later, jersey pockets stuffed with pancetta, mixed herbs and half a kilo of mushrooms (not what you’d find in the musette bag of a seasoned pro-cyclist, well not in this decade at least) we set off for home.

Taken on ride 2, this time to Grasmere

Our next trip was a gorgeous ride from Keswick to Grasmere, tracking the Thirlmere reservoir. Not only was the route extremely picturesque, it was pleasingly flat and involved a nice tailwind on the return leg. Another great café stop was complimented with a trip to the Gingerbread factory. Sadly our 6 piece bundle was exhausted thanks to enthusiastic consumption in Grasmere followed by concerted guzzling on the ascent of Cat’s Bells later in the week, so no souvenirs for friends and family I’m afraid. Ann meanwhile elected to purchase the quite frankly evil (in my opinion anyway) ‘Chilli and Ginger boiled sweets’. Les’ jersey in the picture below provides a fitting visual metaphor for what they felt like in your mouth. 🙂

Ann and Les on the return leg

The final ride of the holiday is best characterised as ‘the least flat flat route we’ve ever done’. After the week’s exertions, the advertised ‘beautiful flat route along the valley from Stavely with a fantastic cafe stop’ sounded quite fitting. It met the brief on two counts but thanks to a wrong turn up a ridiculously steep hill and a missed left turn (we can’t blame Graham on this occasion as he wasn’t turned on until later), the route turned out to be rather more strenuous than we were expecting. However, we were again blessed with a tailwind on the return leg and provided with the perfect excuse to gorge ourselves at the amazing Wilf’s café back in Stavely. Lemon & Poppy seed cake, the obligatory Sticky Toffee pudding and crumpets all round! All in all, a fantastic week with lots of happy memories to stand me in good stead for the fun and games of Tuesday. Sorry alien, you may have turned my life somewhat upside down over the last five months but you ain’t stopping me from having fun.

Unfortunately this appears to be the only photo I have of Sam from the trip. But it does at least go to show that he was an active participant in our cycling adventures and that, yes he is as wedded to his dynamo kit as ever 😉


“No more epics”

Such were the wise words of Richard Baskerville upon learning Sam and I were off to the Lake District for a week away. Clearly he knows us, and our tendency to ‘inadvertently end up doing things the very hard way’ too well.

Somehow though, a mere 24 hours later on day 1 of the holiday, we managed to end up doing just that. Waking up to glorious sunshine, we decided to seize the moment and ascend Skiddaw, the closest peak to our cottage, which was just outside of Kendal. However, the particular path we chose to take became increasingly narrow, steep and punctuated with worryingly large drops on the right-hand side. “This isn’t a walker’s path, it’s a goat’s path” exclaimed Sam’s mum Ann as we huffed and puffed, picking our way gingerly up the mountain side.

The Hemmants clad in their walking gear (minus Sam the photographer)

Sadly the worse was yet to come. To get up to the high point looming in the distance, we realised to our horror we were going to have to scramble up a stupidly steep and scarily long scree slope. Achilles burning, panting and chronically overheating (with walking being a fairly new activity in my repertoire I was woefully underequipped on the clothing front compared to the others and hence clad in ‘age 12-13 boys skiing salopettes’ rather than waterproof trousers), by the end we were virtually crawling up that godforsaken slope as it got steeper and steeper towards the top. It occurred to me, as I heaved my way up, that the experience made for a rather good metaphor for chemotherapy. It gets increasingly unpleasant as your body takes a battering from each progressive session and the temptation to run away from it grows, but then when you consider the alternative (letting the alien grow or attempting to get back down a seriously perilous path and undoing all your hard work) then it’s a no-brainer.

Finally, arriving at the top, my ‘ascent fantasy’ of collapsing on my back and catching my breath were quickly put paid to by the marshy ground underfoot and the vicious circling wind. On the right-hand side the peak of Skiddaw loomed, but the remaining path looked disturbingly similar to the one we’d just come up. Good reason prevailed over the drive to ‘mountain bag’ (my sado-masochistic tendencies have clearly been dulled by the chemo!) and we decided to head back down.

Unfortunately the descent proved as stupidly steep as the ascent. (I’d forgotten how walking down a mountain can be just as strenuous as walking up one.) The final kilometre however was a lovely smooth, albeit steep, grassy slope and Ann introduced us to a novel ‘knee-saving’ technique: bottom-sledging. This innovative technique, soon to be patented by Ann Hemmant, involves sitting down on the ground and using the combination of slippery waterproof trousers and arms to propel yourself down the slope, ski-pole style. Classy it ain’t but when your knees are threatening to implode it’s a life-saver! Several hours later and thoroughly battered, the Hemmant clan made it back to the ranch and the day’s achievements were celebrated with tea and cake. And then a very long nap.

After Sunday’s epic, I was too crippled to be able to face walking again in the near future so we went for some nice gentle spins on our bikes – to be featured, no doubt, in a future post. By Friday, equipped with rested legs and a shiny new pair of waterproof trousers, I was however ready to don the walking boots again. This time we went for a route that couldn’t fail to be flat – a circumnavigation of Derwent water. Despite the showers amid the sunshine, it was a lovely walk. Resisting the temptation to join Sam and his dad Les on a deviation via an ascent of Cat’s Bells halfway round, Ann and I continued to amble around the lake-side on the flatter terrain. “No more epics” 😉

Les striding up Cat’s Bell’s peak. At this point, Ann and I were probably sitting in a cosy tea shop knocking back cake.



Eat, sleep & be merry

Observing Bailey the cat making himself at home on our bed after tucking into his breakfast this morning, I realised that our lives are starting to converge. Five chemo cycles in and my life is increasingly revolving around the three pillars of eating, sleeping and cycling (the last one obviously doesn’t apply to the cat, who reserves his energy for the most critical tasks, namely the twice daily ‘when are you going to feed me?’ dance).

On the eating front, I’ve been excelling myself lately. With the bowel tumour battered into submission, these days I seem to be able to eat much more both in terms of quantity and quality (no more tinned fruit and vegetables, hurrah!). Last night we were treated to a veritable banquet at David and Raewyn Hill’s. Spending my idle hours watching the Good Food channel and contemplating how nice it would be to concoct some of the impressive creations, it was a real treat to be presented with food of that calibre – twice baked souffles, asparagus, homemade bread, an amazing apple & avocado salad and Nigella’s quadruple chocolate cake, yum! (Sadly our oven is in such a state of disrepair that the temperature gauge has parted company with the dial, such that everything I put in there gets nuked. That’s my excuse anyway, the truth will out when the Hemmant brigade help us put the new kitchen in at the end of May!)

I probably deserve a gold star on the sleeping front too. I’d been advised that chemo no 5 onwards would be tough and certainly my energy levels are starting to take a hit. An hour nap and falling asleep on the sofa at 9 in the evening seems to be order of the day at the moment. Whilst it’s frustrating to have lost my ‘duracell bunny’ get-up-and-go, I have to keep reminding myself that I am after all electing to poison myself every 3 weeks and that the little body needs to have some time to take stock and attempt to replenish those red and white blood cells getting blasted along with the aliens. So off the bed, Bailey, it’s my turn!

And then there’s the cycling. My rides these days are shorter, flatter and a whole lot slower than they used to be (and tend to involve more cake than climbs) but when the weather is behaving itself, I’m still managing to get out and about on my bike a fair bit. It feels good to get the circulation going and to enjoy the breeze and the views (and sometimes even the sunshine!) as I pootle along. According to the Macmillan website (which incidentally is the most amazing information source for all things C-related) there are a whole host of positive benefits to staying active during cancer treatment and I certainly feel like I’m reaping them. http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Physicalactivity/Physicalactivityandcancer/Benefits.aspx

I like this photo because if you look at the shadows, you can see the hidden photographer, Sam, and myself silhouetted

This weekend we’re off to the Lake District for a week of biking, hiking and gorging on gingerbread and sticky toffee pudding. The waterproofs will no doubt be making an appearance as well.

Another cycle down, three more to go. Like me on my bike these days, I’m getting there, slowly but surely.