A turn around Ally Pally

Following my second bout of pulmonary emboli two months ago it’s been a challenge to pick up and hold my Boulevardier head high.

Exercise is so important to me from a health, fitness and mental health point of view. However, I knew it would be a couple of months before I could enjoy being an Active Virgin again.

Between work and Boulevarider duties I’ve struggled to fit in any exercise, and haven’t had the energy either. However, with working days further reduced, and this time on a permanent basis, I decided to propel some energy into a power walk to Alexandra Park and Palace.

I woke with a headache, which seemed to be a theme that week. Assam tea would revive me, it always does.

So after two large mugs of Assam and a bowl of porridge with peach slices I attired in jogging pants, t shirt, hoodie and trainers and set off.

I walked along Park Road and started to get out of breath quite quickly, which is expected. I smiled at the healthier looking joggers coming toward me. I am not sure I completely understand the code of recognition between runners. Last year when I upped my running, or rather progressed from walking as I lost weight, the nods from passing runners increased. I am back to walking and the runners no longer nod at me. I keep smiling however.

There are black railings at the entrance to the park and they also seem to act as a traffic noise barrier. Park Road and the junction with Muswell Hill are so busy and one must endure the constant whoosh of cars along with the associated exhaust fumes. Once beyond the railings the concrete avenue opens up with large swaying trees either side without the vehicular sounds.

One man jogged passed with his spaniel in tow. I smiled but did not get acknowledged.

Ally Pally 2

I walked along the base of the hill and was following the route I would take when running. The trees disappear from one side to reveal the expanse of open fields, and the trees break also on the other side revealing a path directly up to the Palace. The path is steep and I took the turn. The effects of the incline are instant, and walking becomes laboured. I looked up and could see the empty arches of Alexandra Palace in the distance as a red double decker passed the front. It reminded me of an early evening run last November. It was a typical foggy London evening and as I rounded the same corner the yellow of the street lamps thickened the appearance of the fog. In the distance I could see the empty arches and two double deckers passed from different directions. With the dark and the fog vision was restricted and the lights within the buses shining through the window gave a skeletal appearance. Two moving skeletons passed across Alexandra Palace in the dark fog. I wished I had taken a photo.

I made it to the top of the hill and up the two flights of steps and rested, completely out of breath. There were a few tourists taking photos. It doesn’t matter the time of year, there are always people taking photos towards the city.

I moved on, and didn’t pause to skip where I would usually throw the rope under my feet and jump fifty times. I carried on and around the boating pond. Some silly people were feeding the pigeons, geese, ducks and moorhens. Please see one of my previous blogs to understand my feelings for our feathered enemies.

The path then sweeps down toward a wooded area where they are paddocks containing deer. I walked down the slighter slope, turned at the ‘Welcome to Alexandra Park’ sign and walked back up the hill and rounded to the front of the Palace. There was a solitary man conducting or practicing something like Tae Kwando. I am not familiar enough with the gentler martial arts come dance move practices to be certain and name it correctly.

Ally Pally 1

There are four sets of steps and usually I would run up and down three of them a fair quantity of times. This day I decided to climb two sets ten times and another twenty. On the third set there was an older lady who had paused for breath or to take in the view and we smiled at each other.

‘I should try something like that. It looks like fun!’ she said.

‘It is.’ I responded trying to smile, sound friendly and not out of breath while trying not to fall on the step. I am not the best multi-tasker.

Earlier in the year when running the same route with my friend Marina we encountered a small film crew at the first set of steps who suggested we move along quickly as they were filming. It was delivered with an air of self-importance. Marina started to move on and I gently pulled her back and announced.

‘We’re fine thank you. We only have twenty sets to do and then we’ll be out of your way.’

Marina and I smiled at each other knowingly. They were being unreasonable and we would only be a few minutes. We completed our sets nodded politely at the three strong crew and moved along. Indeed we would have made a fine addition to their film.

I walked back down the steep part of the hill and along the avenue before joining the throngs of Park Road.

I was pleased with my effort and so glad to have such a London landmark and heavenly vista within a short walk of home.

I walked into Crouch End and purchased swede, carrots, onions and beef for a winter stew which would heat in the slow cooker.

TNW

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Because Laughing Matters

Exercise is an important part of the Boulevardier’s routine, and to comply I am a regular at Virgin Active, Crouch End. A few weeks ago I went to the Saturday morning spin class, as usual. I was, however, incredibly tired and after about ten minutes started to feel dizzy. Mia, on the bike next to me, looked at me and said I didn’t look great and recommended I stop immediately. I left the class feeling a little dramatic. As I walked to Waitrose I started to feel a pain right across my chest. There was a familiarity to it. It was not as severe as it had been in January and I hoped it was muscular pain rather than more pulmonary emboli. I took to my bed for the remainder of the weekend.

I hoped Monday morning would bring a refreshing spring to my step. Once awake I took a deep breath and could still feel the pain. Eleven hours later I heard those fateful words ‘I’m sorry but there are more clots on your lungs.’

I thought my January episode was a one-off, and with clots dissipated by the anti-coagulant medication, my only reminder was a degree of tiredness, which had been a feature of the year.

This chapter means anti-coagulants for life, a lot more tests and the return of the debilitating weakness and tiredness. I was determined not to let it affect me the way it had previously and tried to press on.

After seeing a preview of Laughing Matters starring Celia Imrie with Fidelis Morgan’s direction, I purchased tickets as soon as they were available. I had been looking forward to the show and wasn’t about to let the blood clots ruin my enjoyment. They would limit but not destroy it. The only challenge was that the performance was five days after diagnosis.

Saturday evening soon came around. I felt tired and weak and needed to ensure I used my depleted energy reserves sensibly. I made quick decisions regarding my outfit and settled upon Ralph Lauren painter’s jeans, All Saints T, and H&M jean and jersey jacket.

The Revue was held downstairs at Brasserie Zedel, which is just behind Piccadilly Circus.

zedel

The Brasserie looks quite modest from the exterior. However, the downward sweeping staircase leads to a lovely restaurant, retro American bar, and an intimate and unique venue called The Crazy Coqs.

Crazy Coq’s oozes Art Deco with rich banquette seating along two sides, the stage and a Great Gatsby era bar occupying the others. The walls were lined with pictures from France in the 1930s. Chandeliers are draped richly from the ceiling. The room was filled with clusters of bistro style tables with red atmosphere lamps. 1930s Paris surrounded us.

Zedel - Crazy Coqs4

It was all very civilised, and while it was not possible to reserve seating, the  Maître d’ had our names and escorted us to our table. On stage were a set of drums, a coat stand and an ebony and sleek grand piano. The pianist enticed us to get into the spirit of the show with lots of Noel Coward numbers. I wanted to immerse and enjoy cocktails, served by blackuniformed waiting staff, but decided against it due to the state of my health.

I started to feel too tired already, but I was determined to ignore it. Stomach cramps were setting in too which added nicely to the way I was feeling. I was lucky to be surrounded by Michael, Alkan, Michael and Ange who looked after me.

Celia burst from the back of the room imprisoned by a straitjacket and launched into her version of Twisted made famous by Annie Ross which parodies the psychoanalysis of the protagonist’s insanity.

We were off and early signs were great!

The Revue combined music, dance and sketches perfectly and seamlessly. We were transported back to its golden years, the first part of the twentieth century.

This was going to be good and I wasn’t about to let my clots spoil the evening and popped a couple of paracetamol to lessen the pain.

The marketing for the show told us that Celia really believes that… laughing matters. It was true, she was clearly enjoying herself and we were too. Her classic training, pedigree and star quality shone through. However, she was not aloof. Celia was right there with us; yes on a stage, but if we were around a piano having a sing-song she would have been there too. And yes these evenings still occur. Only recently, after a few glasses of Prosecco at my friend Marina’s birthday, we retired to the home of her friends Patrick and Neil. They have a white, baby grand in the sitting-room of their terraced Islington Villa and we gathered around and sung show and popular tunes to our hearts’ content. Needless to say, we accompanied our singing with a few more refreshments.

One outstanding sketch for me was Common Talk by Alan Melville. It told the tale of a woman who had recently left the safety of central London and decamped to Wimbledon. Her vista allowed her to observe all the untoward (and mostly nocturnal) activity on the Common. It really is a common Common, or so she tells us a number of times.

I also really enjoyed ‘Smut’ where a rather well-to-do campaigner against double entendres tried to persuade us to reconsider hobbies to take our mind off of sex. She asked us to consider gardening and innocently delivered her own double entendres about her impressive melons and the like. I heard this piece, performed by Celia, earlier in the year at a Literary Salon where it was equally successful in having the audience guffawing out loud

There was a mass of nostalgia, of times lost, throughout the show and I for one would welcome back the Revue. We live in an age of auto tune and technical wizardry but none of that supplants the enjoyment received from raw and intimate performance.

I wish I had had the energy to laugh outwardly as loudly as I was inside. The show was all too soon over, but by this time I was really weak and needed to jump in a cab and straight home to bed.

The reviews of the Revue have been mixed, and perhaps I am not a professional, and therefore overlooked missing elements required to make the show a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mix, and refreshingly new retro elements.

Laughing Matters

I can do no better in summary than to quote The Telegraph:

The evening is tinged with palest blue, but the allure is definitely more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic – saucy rather than sophisticated, more Marie Lloyd than Mistinguett, with overtones that are sexy, but also strangely comforting – as though your favourite auntie had dressed up in something sparkly and started twirling her knickers around her head.

We need more shows like this, and who knows, I might just be brave enough one day to put one on.

TNW

Writing and Living

2011 and 2012 were incredibly busy years in work, and I was happy to set a lot aside to focus on my day job. However, mid way through 2012 the pressure was starting to take its toll, and I knew I was and remain my own worst enemy in just pushing on and pushing out my stiff upper lip. I knew change was necessary.

That said I was not expecting change to be forced upon me. On 7th January 2013 after feeling under the weather I was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli. So spending less time working came instantly true but not for the right reasons. I was too ill to work for several weeks, and have been gradually building back up ever since. In May I decided to go part time for a year, with the full support of my company, and work 4 days a week. This in essence gives me the opportunity to catch up on rest and life.

The silver lining of my illness is that my creative side started to assert itself, usually suppressed behind the all consuming cerebral life of a Client Development Director. I couldn’t go out too much and when I tried it was pretty unsuccessful. I had a dreadful appearance at a friend’s 50th, and lasted all of about 40 minutes before admitting defeat and heading for a black cab. But I didn’t want to just fester, so I started writing. There were no time pressures, and I have always wanted to write more. Whenever I have been on holiday and the grip of work lessens novel and story ideas start to flood my mind, and even when I had promised myself I would carry on, this invariably lasted a couple of weeks maximum, as the weeds of work choked and suffocated my creativity.

So when I was able and up to it I wrote. This might only have been 20 minutes a day, but I felt like I was achieving something, and my brain loved the freedom to think creatively. After a while I had a few short pieces, and got some feedback from a fantastic author I discovered and befriended this year. She said that I had a voice but lacked structure and recommended I went on a creative writing course. I love constructive feedback, and thought this was really positive. Years of writing corporate reports would change the way I style and structure pieces, and I needed to transport myself back to youth when I could write creatively and to the classroom.

The words of Raymond Carver which were kindly shared with me ringing in my ears…

‘It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and
unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.’

I was off to Ways into Creative Writing – An Introduction at City Lit, an adult learning centre squashed between Holborn and Covent Garden. The class was 2 hours a week for 6 weeks, and I thought this an achievable commitment. It was also on a Friday, i.e. a non working day, so I could rest in the day and then head to college.

The six weeks have passed really quickly and I want more! I of course had big decisions each week as to what to wear, especially after the second week when the teacher commented on my having great taste in T shirts! I had to perform! Hair was also always quiffed to perfection! However, for once I am not going to indulge too many words focussed on hair and outfit!

I was absolutely transported back to school, and was nervous about making friends, which of course I shouldn’t have been, and met some lovely people at various stages in the evolution of their writing. I connected with one student and we have linked on social media, and we text before each class to make sure we are saving seats for each other!

I relish the homework which has consisted of pieces of prose varying between 300 and 1000 words, and two pieces of reading each week, generally a poem and a short story or part thereof.

I also bumped into the tutor at a literary salon event which was not only great, but enabled me to indulge my need to impress the teacher! I often used to wonder why I was accused at school and college (of yesteryear) of sucking up to the teachers, but it flowed so easily this year I have to accept it! I would like to rebrand it as great networking!

We have developed new characters, written short stories, monologues, and learned lots of new tools to add structure and widen ability to create imagery.

Teachers comments on my monologue homework ‘Lovely, Wayne – really poignant. Terrific voice – consistent throughout, entirely believable and natural. Good flow and balance of longer and shorter lines. Nice rhythm through the whole piece, and a truly sympathetic character. Completely engaging’  (Monologue at the bottom of this entry if you are interested in reading it)

A successful Boulevardier should feel confident in his ability with the arts!

The advent of my writing, and attending the course have shown me:

1)      I want to learn more about the creative writing process

And

2)      The fragility of life is sometimes thrust in your face, and I would implore any reader with aspirations, dreams or longings to pursue them without delay!

We can not predict what is coming next or hidden in the shadows of life!

Love living life, and live to maximum capacity!

TNW

Monologue

Dotty visits Maurice’s grave for the first time

Hello love.

I never in a million years thought I would be visiting you here, and in fact once you were gone I didn’t think I would be able to come, but here we are three days after we said our goodbyes and I managed to come. I really don’t know what to say. I thought of so many things since the funeral but they escape me now.

Jackie Webber has been really good, and comes to see me every day since, you know.

I brought you some fresh flowers, as these have already wilted in the Spanish sun. I am not sure what they are, but they are small, yellow and beautiful. You know I always looked at colour rather than type. I got myself a bunch for home too.

Brian and Lisa set back off to England yesterday, and to be honest it’s a relief. I miss them love, but I need some space. I need to get back to work, but it’s hard enough getting up without you here, let alone thinking of anything else.

The Foundations came on the radio yesterday, and I wanted to dance and laugh as we always used to, but I couldn’t. Maybe one day, but it’s too soon.

Maurice, how can I do this alone? Spain was our plan. What on earth were you doing walking on the beach road in the dark? I can’t do this now.

Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to do now? How am I meant to go on living?

This afternoon I am supposed to meet Mrs Barker for tea, but I don’t think I will go.

I am going to try and come back tomorrow, God willing, and if I can bear to.

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?’

‘No’

‘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.

TNW