There will be updates……..

Greetings everyone!

I know.  I’m pretty useless and should be updating this more regularly. From now on I will.  Promise.

I’m about to start a big adventure (well, big for me).  As you know I decided to study with the Open University and attempt to get the degree that I avoided at the age of 18 after a disastrous set of A-Levels.  I’ve been studying German and French part-time for just over two years and I am half way through now.  This year I’m studying the final first-year course, intermediate French, along with my first second-year course of German.  I’m finding it a little tough but am enjoying good support from my tutor, Christina and am now about to embark on the Residential School – a week at the University of Jena in the east of Germany.

Since nothing with me is ever straightforward, I’m tackling the trip by coach and leave on Thursday.  I’ll be heading from Manchester and hopefully arriving in Jena early Friday evening.

So watch this space for updates en route…..     Promise!


It’s About Time….

How doo everyone.

Time for a catch up. Gosh, it’s been three months since I promised an update and six since I actually did one. I really will try to be more assiduous. So let’s go….

Health-wise, it’s pretty much same old same old and although the kidney stones are sort of in abeyance (I have one growing but no plans to remove), but I have been stricken with cellulitis and some nasty urine infections. I managed to shake off (not literally) my catheter and that has liberated me a little though I still have to use a conveen some of the time. My weight has sort of plateaued again and I am hovering around the 19 stone mark, which is 14 stone lighter than my heaviest, but my lymphoedema is unstable and I’m carrying some nasty fluid pouches which have meant any weight loss is being pulled back.

I’m due to see my Lymphoedema nurse on Monday and hope we can make some progress on controlling this; I have started with quite painful leg cramps as well as what looks a bit like Reynaud’s Syndrome in my hands in the cold weather. I shall have to invest in more thermals.

So what else has happened? I suppose the biggest thing is that after years of dithering, I finally took the plunge and signed up for Open University, giving myself at least £20K of student debt. I decided to do the Open degree, which is a mix and match combination of sorts. I have to choose 120 credits to get my Level One, and so chose two 30 point modules. German & Introduction to Social Sciences. I studied German at school, along with two other languages and was reasonably decent at them, but had a bad set of A-Levels, so turned my back on education. It was a decision I don’t think I regretted, but now I feel the time is right for a challenge and given that I am unlikely to return to work in the near future, I bit the bullet and took the plunge.

I’ve now completed the first assignments for each course and was pleasantly surprised to get decent marks, though I’m struggling to engage and be challenged by the Social Science course. I love the German course and have a really nice tutor who is extremely supportive. My Social Sciences tutor has a different style and I had a few problems with the deadline on the first assignment as I was unwell with cellulitis. I was unable to contact her and got myself into a bit of a state worrying I was going to have problems. I tired contacting OU Learner Support and spoke to a staff tutor who was less than helpful and rather patronising. Eventually I made contact with my own tutor and we cleared the air. She gave me the extension and I delivered the assignment on time.

That really is my only negative experience with the OU, everything else has been brilliant. I was awarded a Disability Support Grant which enabled me to have new IT equipment and furniture. Some of the software, like the mind-mapping package and a voice recorder have really helped me and I receive specially formatted books and CD’s to enable me to study.

I am now starting to think about the remainder of my first level courses, and while I intend to do the next level of German, I am not sure whether to do the next level of Social Science or try to study French, though I’ll need to go in at an intermediate level, which probably should be OK, given I studied it to A-Level.

Other news: the quiz leagues have started and I enjoy writing their questions. However, I have taken a back seat in one or two activities due to time and health pressures. My crossword blogging and some of my bridge are now on sabbatical while I ensure the OU courses and my health get back on track. I have made lots of new friends through OU and find their on-line and Facebook Groups are generally very helpful. However, I am not a big fan of publicising marks and have had to defend my feelings in those groups. I worry that some people who haven’t done as well as others may feel despondent seeing other peoples’ marks in public, me included. Some friends know them, but it isn’t something I intend to boast or brag about like some. Suffice it to say I am happy with them, and feel I could have done better.

After my summer holiday week with ECC at Laurieston was rather spoiled by being unwell, I am due to shortly have a winter week away with the group at Wasdale, so am trying to be as fit as I can for that. I have become a shadowing member of the committee of ECC, something I feel very honoured about. My FA Referee Assessing is going well and I am really enjoying helping officials with their development and progress, although it does leave me rather tired on occasion. Thanks to Bill, Eddie and Steve at the LFA for all their support as well. Have had some interesting matches this year, including a manager thumping a centre forward, a couple of mass brawls and a dismissed player wrecking a hoarding and dugout. All in the name of sport!

And the final bit of news for now? I am recording an episode of Radio 4’s Brain of Britain in ten days at the BBC Media City in Salford. It will go out in January and I’ll let you know the exact date. Unless I do badly, in which case I won’t.

As usual, I promise to try and remember to update more often. Hopefully I will but you know what happens when life gets in the way……..





Low-Fat Minestrone Soup

Low-Fat Minestrone Soup

This soup serves about six people and on average portion will contain less than 1 gram of fat and saturated fats. There is no cholesterol in this (as it’s meat-free) and the pasta and veg give you a good level of fibre from the pulses. For people who are recently by-passed, it purées well and is also good for introducing veg back into your diet after surgery.


1 onion, chopped

1 leak, sliced or diced

1 stick of celery, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic crushed

Small tin of butter beans (if you like them!)

1 pint (600ml) chicken stock

2 cans of chopped tomatoes (14oz size)

2oz peas, fresh or better, frozen

2oz very small pasta shells or small macaroni tubes

Chopped parsley

Chopped basil

Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Put prepared onion, leek, celery, garlic and carrots into a large saucepan. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes until veg is cooked to your taste.
  2. Add the tinned tomatoes, butter beans and frozen peas. (I have seen recipes that suggest using some saffron strands soaked in about a tablespoon of boiling water [add both saffron and boiling water to the soup] to add a little more piquancy to the flavour, but I haven’t tried this). Bring the soup back up to the boil and then add the small pasta shells/hoops/macaroni.
  3. Simmer the soup for a further 10 minutes until the pasta is tender.
  4. Season the soup to taste and add chopped herbs and serve.

The soup does freeze well so large batches can be made and used as and when necessary, so ideal for those of us solo patients. Next time I make a batch, I’ll include some pictures!

Here We Go…….

Hi everyone.

Yes I know, I did promise……   But things happen.  Life happens.  I really admire those lovely people who manage to keep updating almost daily, I just can’t.   However, I’m going to try and do a weekly update with odd extra bits when I feel I need to shout about something.  I feel really guilty as I know that a number of visitors were following my progress and I should have kept you all up to speed with things instead of just using Facebook or Twitter.  Sorry.

So where were we?  Well, on the weight front, I’m now down to 19.5 stone, which is just over 13 stone from my heaviest weight during 2010 pre-bypass.  It hasn’t been easy as I’m still having problems with food intake.  Although by now I thought I’d be eating a reasonably normal low-fat sensible and small diet, I have found I can’t tolerate chicken and solid meat like steak.  I also find veg like broccoli difficult, although I have to say that they weren’t really my favourite.

Things culminated in a trip to hospital a few weeks back when I had eaten some stew I had made from stewing steak.  I thought I had tenderised it and cooked it to death, but a piece of it seemed to lodge somewhere in my inner plumbing and I suffered the consequences.  I suspect that on the day I was admitted I cleared it by vomiting and a subsequence gastroscopy revealed inflammation in my pouch.

Since then I have had a fairly bland diet.  I followed advice and went right back to basics eating soups and puréed things for a few days and now managing mainly simple things using minced beef, pork or lamb.   I’m doing a food diary again and will share this in the near future, along with hopefully some comments from my Dietitian, the lovely Vanessa.

The other problem I have encountered health-wise that has caused lots of difficulties is that of kidney stones.  Around Christmas last year I started to feel quite a bit of discomfort and pain.  A subsequent admission to my third Holiday home at Huddersfield Infirmary revealed the presence of a number of renal calculi (kidney stones to you and me!).  I had one lot of surgery just before Christmas which removed four stones from my left tube; stents were placed inside to help with passing them.  I then had further surgery at the end of January which removed a few stones from my left kidney.  Two lots of lithotripsy removed some of the stones from the right tube and kidney.  However, I still have a large 2 cm stone in my right kidney that has resisted all attempts to destroy it, and I now face surgery at the end of the month to get rid of it.

I’m a bit puzzled about the number of stones now removed (around 12-15) and still to shift; my last x-ray/scan revealed that I have the beginnings of new ones in the left kidney as well.   After my bypass surgery I have to take a number of daily meds which include iron and calcium supplements as my body no longer produces adequate quantities.  I also take vitamin supplements and eat Brazil nuts to maintain selenium levels.   Hopefully the surgery at the end of the month will reveal more.

After the second kidney op, I found that some bladder problems that had been around for a while intensified and I now have to wear a catheter, which is a real inconvenience, and has depressed me somewhat.   A few weeks back when I was in with kidney pain, we tried to remove it, but the problems without it outweighed the ones  I have with it.  So for now, it’s back in and making me a bit miserable.

Another thing that happened late last year was that I suffered a couple of minor blackouts; nothing major, but I was referred to a neurologist as a precaution.  I saw the neurologist back in February and he advised me to stop driving.  Despite my protests, I agreed and advised the relevant authorities.  This also meant sending back my Motability car.  This probably affected me more than the illness issues and I struggled with public transport.  Luckily, many of my friends and family rallied round so I was able to go to play bridge and so on.  I am so grateful for everyone who helped me.  After undergoing a couple of scans that the neurologist requested, he cleared me, but wanted me to see a cardiologist.  I did this last week and he cleared me, identifying that some medication I was on to reduce my blood pressure at night and help my kidneys, was actually already on my meds list.  Consequently I was zonked out a lot of the time.  No that we have stopped this, I feel much better and am trying to enjoy life a little more positively.

My lymphoedema seems to be reasonably stable at the moment although th fluid pouches at the top of my legs are still quite large.  The stat dose of antibotics I have been taking seems to have kept the cellulitis I used to frequently get at bay.  I’m still having my legs bandaged with some gentle compression and hope to see my Lymphoedema Specialist Nurse, Tracy, in the near future.

Still awake?  On with a bit more.  As most of you already know, I had to give up work around six years ago and manage on Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowances.   Our wonderful Government decided to move people on IB over to a new allowance called ESA.  However this is being carried out by a private company, ATOS.  There have been many stories in the newspapers about most claimants being turned down and then being forced to appeal.   Because the company is paid on results, like the odious and seriously useless A4e, who are supposed to care for my ‘employment wellness’ they fail most people in the hope that they don’t appeal further.  I have heard stories of people with serious and terminal conditions being told they are fit to work and losing their allowances.  During February I received the form and summons that I was being moved off IB.  I filled in my forms with the help of the Welfare Rights Advisor from Pennine Housing and sent the form off, along with letters from my GP and counsellor detailing my exact state of health.  After almost three months, I was
surprised to hear that my application had been processed and I was being placed in the Support Group, which means I receive the new ESA allowance, a combination of IB and Income Support.  I have to attend regular meetings once or twice a year to maintain my ‘work focus’ (rest assured, Mr Cameron, the moment I can go back to work, I will do so!).   I also used an excellent website called Benefits and Work ( ).  If you are in a similar position I’d strongly recommend you subscribe to the site, and seek help from one of the support services such as Citizens’ Advice or Welfare Rights to ensure your application is fully checked and supported.  Gather and include as much evidence as possible, and I know it’s easy to say, but don’t go over the top with your claims, but tell it the way it is.  That seems to have worked for me.  Feel free to contact me if you are in the same boat and I’ll try and offer a little advice.  Likewise I am always happy to talk to you if you are thinking of weight loss surgery.

Apart from all that, anything else?  Well, I’m still single although I haven’t really made any attempts at trying to date or meet people because of everything else going on.  I’m still friends with Paul whom I saw for a while last year, and although he is still special to me, we’re just friends.  I’m enjoying my bridge, the football referee assessing hasn’t really happened this year because of the illnesses.  Quiz setting has been enjoyable with close contests in both Todmorden and Bacup Leagues.  I have been doing a little crossword setting with a puzzle that is 50% mine on Big Dave’s Crossword Blog ( as the Prize Puzzle for June (you have till Saturday to enter!).  I’m also in the Independent this Saturday with the General Knowledge Crossword.  I’ll post more about the social life over the next few days.

Right, I think that’s me up to date for now.  I’ll try and post things more regularly and let you know how things are going.  I’ll try and get some new pictures of life around here over the next couple of weeks.

Oh, I’m pleased to say that the cardiologist I saw last week cleared me for driving and after talking to Motability and the DVLA, I was able to order my new car today, so I’ll be mobile again soon.  Thanks to the two organisations for being so helpful as well.

Take care