Well I Wonder

A Boulevardiers life is often fun, and filled with culture, events and fashion. But from time to time there is some slippage and I enter a phase where it’s hard to maintain.

I am still on the road to recovery following the diagnosis of pulmonary emboli, or to those less clinical, multiple blood clots across both lungs, in January. Some weeks are harder than others.

I normally just share the fun side of life here on my blog, but after a recent week I needed to share some of the shade.

The remaining and debilitating symptom is an extreme tiredness or weakness. It’s not something that my usual extra cup of assam will rectify. This will apparently be with me for up to a year, and there is no logical pathway, and much of the evidence seems to be anecdotal.

The week started rather more tired that I wanted it to, which was compounded by extreme busyness at work, and a long stressful meeting I was chairing.

I woke Thursday morning feeling weaker than I have for a while, and knew I had overdone it.

Thursday was the day I needed to go to the Whittington to check my blood levels. This at least had extended to fortnightly intervals over the preceding months, and better than the several times a week. And to be balanced, any less than fortnightly and I would probably start worrying about my blood levels.

The plan was to be up and out for 8.30, blood tested by 9, subsequent results within 45 minutes and heading home for 10.

At 9am, the third mug of assam did not contain the healing qualities I needed, and I switched on my work laptop, and dealt with a few emails.

At 9.45am I left my home and headed to the bus. The streets which are relatively flat felt like a steep incline.

The Phlebotomy sector is signed ‘Blood Tests’ and contains a waiting room, which on this occasion was packed, and 5 small treatment rooms.

I pressed the small, hard button on the ticket machine. It’s akin to the machines you get at the meat counter in supermarkets, where you are given a number dictating your position in the queue. There is also a digital clock on the wall advertising the number last called into one of the treatment rooms.

The red display said ‘89’, and my ticket ‘21’. 21 is usually a lucky number for me, but it wouldn’t be today.  I once pulled 007, but didn’t feel any of my Bond qualities flow.

So after waiting for some time as the numbers increased to 99 and then back to 1, and up again, we reached 17. The next number displayed and electronically announced was 32! There was a murmur of low voices across the road, and a lady strode across with her number 32 ticket! An older gent stood up and announced to the waiting phlebotomist that the machine had gone out of sync.

Number 32 expectantly waved her ticket and offered ‘I don’t mind going next!’

‘Well we do!’ I replied.

‘I am 18 said the standing gent, and I know I am next’.

The phlebotomists scurried into one room until the senior appeared to confirm that numbers would be called out by the mere humans until they reached 32.

Good! 32 sat back down and looked shady.

18, 19, 20 and then 22. I stood up and said ‘You missed 21!’.

I was ushered to room 3, which is one of the bigger cubicles at the back. The room was really hot and sticky despite the window being open. My phlebotomist was not one of the usual team, but they had all seemed good previously so I was not concerned.

I knew the routine, bag and jacket on the hook, sit down and extend either arm (I generally opted for the left), clench fist, and wait for the strap to be wound and tightened around bicep.

‘Name and date of birth’ were confirmed and she approached the chair strap in hand, which she applied as usual.

She was looking at my arm and asked ‘Do you usually have trouble when getting tests?’


‘Well let me look at the other arm as I can’t see your vein here. Maybe you are cold.’

This was the muggiest day of the year thus far, which I swiftly pointed out to her.

She moved to the right arm, and after much slapping found a vein, and prepared the needle. At this point as always I breathed deeply and closed my eyes. Does anyone ever really get used to needles going into their body?

It was soon over, and she was back at her station writing on the plastic tube containing my blood.

‘Are you here to check your INR for the anti coagulant clinic?’ she validated.

‘Yes. I am heading to the clinic today.’

‘I am sorry. I have done it wrong, and will need to redo.’

I am not really sure what was wrong, but she seemed to indicate it had something to do with the container. She had used the wrong container. She disappeared and spoke to her senior colleague and reappeared. I heard him say ‘Will you please pay more attention’ as she re-entered room 3. She rolled her eyes and said ‘I really need a break. That’s the problem here there are not enough breaks.’

I took a deep breath and decided to try and block out thoughts that she was obviously too tired to be poking needles in my arm.

She tried the left arm again and after inserting the needle, decided the vein was too deep as after pulling the syringe to extract it stayed empty. This was bloody painful.  Excuse the blood pun, as there was none!

She apologised and moved back to the right arm. I wasn’t going to say anything. I wanted to say ‘Why can’t you do this? I have been having regular blood tests for 5 months and never gone through this, or had problems in anyone finding veins!’

The needle went into the right arm and she exclaimed ‘Oh no, now the vein has collapsed!’

What did this mean? I had no idea but was really starting to sweat, panic and feel quite queasy.

She applied cotton wool and left the room and brought back another phlebotomist (who again I hadn’t seen before) who had two further attempts in the left arm before getting the blood.

5 needles in my arms in the space of 10 minutes. After apologies from both ladies I gratefully left their space and headed to the clinic to wait my results. They usually take about 45 minutes, and headed for a coffee and cake in the cafe. I had earned a big bakewell tart today dammit!

After getting a good result I headed home, even more exhausted, and tried my utmost to carry on with my working day.

Sometimes it is so difficult to muster the energy to go on as normal…

Both arms were bruised and had needle marks, the number of which indicating I was a serious drug user!

After a restful Friday and a great session at college I felt restored. The Boulevardier is back. He may shrink away at times, but never may he shrink and not reappear.


Celebrity Hair

Strange number displayed on my phone a few weeks ago led to the news that I had won a session at a celebrity hairdressers in Chelsea!

The lady on the other end of the phone congratulated me, and then checked the date. It was unfortunately the following week and I already had meetings booked in. The call ended.

She rang back two days later to offer another date. Are they desperate for winners or really want me? I later found out I was one of 10.5K applicants so lucky to be chosen!

I couldn’t remember all the details. It was a competition in the Waitrose magazine, and involved some new hair products they are promoting. The products emanated from a famous hairdresser in Chelsea. His name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember why.

The new date was a few weeks ahead and I could book in! I would need to be at the salon for 9am where I would get coffee and pastries. The session would start with a talk on blow drying and then an actual professional blow dry! Wow this could be good!

She said the details would be emailed to me. I thanked him, clicked the phone, and got on with my day.

The promised email arrived promptly and I set about investigating the notoriety of Richard Ward. The list of clients is vast and contains everyone from Pippa Middleton via Jonathan Rhys-Myers to Rowan Atkinson!

My expectation and excitement grew!

So after a weekend in the Cotswolds, and a fantastic pop up literary salon, Monday morning I needed to head to Chelsea. Due to needing to be there for 9am, foresight dictated that outfit would need choosing in advance. Leatherette, denim jeans, Bowie T, and polka dot creepers were selected.

Should I style my quiff or not? I decided to style it, so they could see how I usually styled my hair and make any recommendations!

It wasn’t sunny but I felt that sunglasses were required and donned appropriately. This decision was also advantageous from a practical point of view, as I was tired, and the neon lights of the tube were bright.

I was met by the friendly reception staff and escorted upstairs to meet with the other lucky competition winners (we were 3 in total) and our Waitrose host Julie. As a civilised affair, tea and pastries were provided, and then we headed for a quick tour of the salon and spa, which was breathtaking! 80 plus people are employed, and it was so much more than a salon. It was a brand, but interestingly enough it was clear that it also retained the charm and intimacy of regular sized salons.

We were ushered into one of the salon sections and met Richard Ward and one of the senior members of his team, Matt Hawes. Within minutes it was obvious how the intimacy and friendliness is retained. Richard and Matt were charming, engaging and real. Do not let the client lists fool you into thinking they were all show, as their passion for hair glistened through, and would be shared irrespective of your status.  And they were really enthusiastic that a male had accepted and come as part of the joint experience with Waitrose.

Richard asked me how I styled my hair and after explaining he commended my efforts and said he didn’t know how they would improve upon it! What a great compliment! I have pretty much taken care of my hair since a teenager, and had a multitude of styles, and so would hopefully have some ability, but to get an affirmation of this magnitude was fantastic. Mondays need not always be bad!

Richard and Matt demonstrated on a willing assistant (one of the staff ) how to create the perfect Chelsea Blow Dry. The young lady with long flowing locks looked magnificent and ready for a night at the opera rather than a day in the salon.

Now it was our turn, and our hair was washed, and then blow dried! Matt undertook the task of re-quiffing me, and gave great advice on how to maintain the volume across the entire do and not just at the front! I will be entering the world of spritzing!

A great morning followed by a lovely lunch with one of my fellow competition winners, and now, a new friend!

With promises of free products in the post we left sated. (Only half the products arrived, and despite asking am still waiting for feedback, and to see whether I get the full quote of promised gear).

However, despite that, I was one of 20 chosen (and only man) from applications in excess of 10,000! And you know if the salon was a little nearer to home, I would definitely head there to have Matt cut and style my hair even with the £72 price tag!






The Tallet in Lesbos

As I am still recovering from my pulmonary emboli I get tired quite easily, so spent half of Friday resting, knowing that the latter part of the day would be college and then a drive to the Cotswolds to visit my friend Alison and her girlfriend Hannah.

Packing was difficult with the changeable weather and no firm plans. I did check with Alison whether they had hairdryers (which would free up space in my overnight bag).  Her text response ‘Of course!!!!!!! We might be lesbians but we still have hair =)) ha ha ha ha’ was amazing. I didn’t want to assume or embrace any clichés!

College is turning out to be pretty great, and it’s a massive positive step for me as I fight to get my life back on course, and then beyond its course.

Ways into Creative Writing – An Introduction is conducted at City Lit, which is between Holborn and Covent Garden. I drove in from Crouch End so as to be able to head straight out of town once the two hour lesson was complete.

At 8pm roads should be clear(er), but I had to fight to get out of Covent Garden, up to the Euston Road, and then battle along the A40. I was tired and wondered whether I should have set off early on Saturday morning rather than battle late, furious traffic . I had not driven for 2 hours this year and rationalised that if it exhausted me, I could relax at their home. We had no absolute commitments for the weekend.

As the M4 took me further away from London, it also took me further away from the heavy and urgent volume of vehicles, all with somewhere very important to be. Once I veered off the motorway heading passed Swindon and towards Cirencester the pace slowed even more.

I had arranged to meet Alison at her local pub, and we pulled into the carpark at the same time. It was lovely to see her, and we embraced a welcome before heading straight to the bar for a much needed glass of wine. I would have ordered sherry but didn’t think they would have it. Rather foolish conclusion on my part as the next day they confirmed they had several varieties, including my beloved Fino. The Malbec wetting my lips was a fair substitute.

Hannah came to meet us and got straight into gossip with some of the locals, before we drove the short journey to their Tallet hidden behind grand automatic wooden gates.

We chatted until the early hours over a bottle of Bordeaux and headed for slumber. I did notice a lack of dungarees and was offered cheese and celery rather than humus! Hmmm they were not embracing clichés of their lifestyle choices, and in doing so dispelling the need for my funny asides!

The next morning I was greeted by the most stunning views across the Cotswolds rolling countryside in the sun .


Breakfast was being debated in the kitchen. Alison wanted to cook a full hearty breakfast but needed more eggs and sausages. This was not Crouch End and the shops were a drive away. Hannah wanted to makes pancakes with blueberries and bacon (all ingredients available). Two women in the kitchen discussing matters of such magnitude, and both making fair points, so I switched my attention to my iPad. The conversation stopped and they looked at me and asked me which I preferred…

The ramifications are sufficiently severe if you get with choice wrong with one female but two! My knowledge dictated to not make the decision. I suggested that either sounded fine! But did smugly think to myself that they needed a man to make the decision!  I thought better than to say this out loud .

Pancakes won though, so Hannah was head chef, with Alison’s promise of local sausage to follow the next morning.  Stop the press I spotted stiletto shoes! (and they weren’t mine)

Delicious! Following, showers and debate as to what to wear on a country walk (my debate, not theirs! Walking boots selected over prada trainers, with leatherette trousers, and cool T) we set off in the glorious early afternoon sun across beautiful fields, with tales of watching lambs being born, and seeing sights and signposts in every season.

We paused on a grassy knoll and set out an afternoon picnic of quiche (made by Alison after breakfast), and salad followed by strawberries and cream moistened by a crisp, chilled white wine.

As I lay back in the afternoon sun, I mused that a Boulevardier could get used to this, and then a horn sounded. Hannah and Alison announced it was the hunt! After brief discussion of the merits or not of hunting the horn sounded again! As we were below a hill I was slightly concerned that the horses might head this way and crush us. I suggested that we keep an eager eye for the fox!

The horn again! Followed by laughter from Hannah, who had suddenly realised this was in fact text messages arriving on her phone! Her alert being that of a convincing horn!

Now Alison and I are tainted by the smoky city, and could easily make this ‘mistake’ but Hannah! And it was her own phone to boot! Oh how we laughed!

We efficiently rolled the picnic gear back into the rucksack and carried on the walk to the pub (more sustenance or rather booze needed!). We walked through meadows with blankets of buttercups, and it was a sumptuous visual feast! Image

Pub garden with a Tanqueray and slimline tonic and two pints of beer. Guess who had the gin!

We sat at the wooden pub bench, chatting, musing, and watching the world go by…

Hannah returned from the bar with more supplies, and announced that we had been invited to a BBQ. How hospitable the locals were. We decided to eat at the pub and turn up at the BBQ later for a drink!

We left the comfort of our corner table, and our vista of the lovely mixture of farmers, gamekeepers, butlers, and under game keepers, and headed a few roads away to the Cotswold stone cottage belonging to Zoe and Adam. They were hosting some other locals too who were all very friendly albeit rather quirky. I am not sure why I am surprised at the quirkiness in the country! I grew up with it after all!

Another glass of red as we sat on the picnic blanketed grass exchanging anecdotes with Zoe, whilst Adam built a fire in the brazier to keep the nip of the air at bay.

‘Did you get your lamp in Jordan?’ Alison asked Zoe.

‘Sorry?’ Zoe asked quizzically.

‘Your beautiful oil lamp. The last time I saw one like it was in Jordan, the country…’ Alison added.

‘No I got it in the charity shop.’ Zoe advised ‘And it says ‘Made in England’ on the bottom’!

So glad that despite several years in the wilderness of ‘outside London’, Alison still maintained her cultural reference.

The Tallet seemed to be requesting our company, from afar, and we answered its call, headed back, and proceeded to fall asleep on the comfortable leather sofas as Miles Davis tickled our ears.

Full beautiful breakfast or rather brunch the following day, and I boarded my hybrid Lexus back to London.

This Boulevardier is a city man through and through, but how wonderful to spend such magnificent weekends in the country with lovely friends, old and new. (Even if they dispel my beliefs that all lesbians own and display all clichés).