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……..






New Update

There’ll be a new update in the next day or so…..

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


Christmas Picture Link Quiz Answers


Carole King


Vanilla Ice


Carol Vorderman


Lesley Joseph


Seven of Nine


Carol Smillie


David Frost




The Roly Polys


Little Plum


William Rees Mogg


Joseph Wiseman


Mary Nightingale


David Shepherd


Carol Anne Duffy


Jack Black


Jon Snow


Carol Thatcher


Anneka Rice


Queen Noor



Group A






Group B





From the Nativity Scene

Group C






Group D






Group E





Winter Weather





2012 – The Year of the Updates!

Hi everyone


I have been rather neglectful and not keeping this updated, but from January 1st, I promise to do so.  I’ll do a catch up over the next ten days and will post a couple more quizzes and things as well.

Thanks to everyone for supporting me this year.  I am now just under 20 stone which means I have lost 12 stones in a little over a year.



Coming Soon….

Shamefully I haven’t updated the blog for ages.

Promise I will do over the weekend……

There’s a new picture quiz up in the Picture Quiz section!  Enjoy!

Birmingham Sloggers and Betters Meet – Saturday 25th June

After a traumatic day on Friday, I went to Birmingham yesterday for a gathering of crossword bloggers and setters, organised by Dean Mayer (Anax of the Independent).  These meets are really worthwhile and provide a way for crossword aficionados to meet their tormentors and heroes, and for setters it is an excellent way to get feedback on their work.

I rather foolishly decided to try travelling down by coach, mainly because of the cost compared to all other methods of getting there.  I had to drive to Rochdale to catch the 05:00 coach with a change in Manchester.  At the moment the centre of Rochdale is a mess while work on the new Manchester Metro extension is put in and trying to find a parking space at 4:30am was not easy.  There were an awful lot of people around at that time as one of the nightclubs was just emptying.  Eventually I found a space in the Mecca Bingo Hall.  They have enterprisingly used a nice line in income generation by doubling it up as a car park during the day.  Not knowing whether my disabled badge would suffice, I bought a ticket and then struggled the 200 yards to the bus station.

When I got on the coach, I went to sit on the front seat for disabled people and was refused by the driver.  He told me the front few seats were reserved and despite my protest that I was only travelling to Manchester, rather than for the full journey, I had to go and sit half way down the coach with the other six (yes SIX) people travelling.  The driver also refused to help me with my bags and I almost fell when my crutch caught a stray seat-belt.  Likewise, there was no help from the driver getting off.  Luckily National Express have an SMS feedback scheme, so I made use of that as the coach sped into Manchester.  Once we got into Manchester, a 90 minute wait and then down to Brum with a decent seat and a much more affable driver.  Once I got into Digbeth coach station, I caught a cab over to the Early Birds venue which was not far away:  a Wetherspoons pub on Bennetts Hill.  There I met up with John Henderson (Nimrod, Elgar, Enigmatist), Jane Teather and Dave Morton (Big Dave).  Dean and Jayne, his girlfriend joined us and after coffee and a natter, we went over to the Old Contemptibles pub for the meet.

As the meet swung into life we were joined by a number of the famous faces from the Crossword World, including Roger Squires (aka Rufus, Dante and the Monday Telegraph puzzle setter), Peter Biddlecombe (Sunday Times Crossword Editor),  Jim Toal (Lato and Tyrus),  Michael Curl (Orlando and Cincinnus), Niall McSweeney (Raich and Gurney), Arachne, Peter Chamberlain (Saturday Telegraph and Cephas) and someone I have wanted to meet for a long while, Eric Westbrook.  Eric is the driving force behind a project which aims to make the world of crosswords accessible to blind and visually handicapped people.  A software genius in Australia called Ian Humphries has devised a program which takes the daily crossword from a national newspaper and turn it into a speech based puzzle.  As I am partially-sighted and can’t see beyond the end of my nose without glasses, I am really interested in this and was allowed to play on the program on Eric’s computer.  I found it really easy to pick up how to use it, and can see its potential in other area, like quizzes.

Dean provided a competition puzzle to solve with some prizes donated by Rufus and another blogger Sil van den Hoek provided one of his Dalibor puzzles to tackle too.  Roger Squires (Rufus) is also a member of the Magic Circle and older readers may remember him from TV appearances in the 1960’s on show such as The Black and White Minstrel Show, a TV programme that almost certainly wouldn’t be made nowadays.  Roger brought the afternoon to a close by performing some clever magic tricks using the assembled audience as props!

After a convivial afternoon I left for home at 6pm and landed in my living room just after 11pm, a little tired but otherwise happy after a grand day out.  A much nice coach driver on the way home also made the journey more bearable.  Eric will be sending me an article on the software in the near future and I’ll add it to the site.

Onwards and Upwards 6

OK.  I know.  I’ve been a klutz.  I haven’t been updating – the nice ladies at Brierfield Bridge Club have been telling me off a bit, so I’ll take their castigation as being from you too.

So where were we?  Well it’s now just over six months since my bypass surgery and the good news is that I’ve lost nine stone and 11 pounds (62.1 kilos).  The not-so-good news is that I am still finding it difficult to tolerate certain foods, although there have been some recent breakthroughs.  I went to a crossword gathering in London a few weeks back and went with everyone there for a Chinese meal.  I confess (sorry Jane!) that I wasn’t too pleased about this as I knew there probably wouldn’t be much I could eat.  Meat and “solid” vegetables were still causing my new tummy some distress and being allergic to most seafood ruled out that part of menu.  Unlike other Asian restaurants, there were no dishes featuring minced meat, which I was able to tolerate.  Eventually, rather grumpily I settled on diced pork with cashew nuts.  Couldn’t have rice or noodles and though I would have incurred the wrath of Vanessa my dietitian, no chips were served (I would have  had no more than half a dozen anyway as I hadn’t experienced them since the op either).

The dish duly arrived and I was dismayed to find the definition of “diced” pork should probably have been “sliced” pork.  However, the prudent use of a knife meant that it was in tiny pieces.  I ate a couple of forkfuls, following the mantra of “chew everything 25 times” and was delighted to notice no ill feeling.  A few weeks earlier a small amount of scrambled egg had induced projectile vomiting all over myself and Big Sister, so i was prepared and bothered as I was in company.   I managed a few more forkfuls and actually enjoyed some Chinese vegetables like water chestnuts, that I previously would not have bothered with.

My success with this led me to try some Quorn sausage a couple of days later  with a little mashed potato and all went well.  A poached egg on toast (Warburton’s Milk Roll) also stayed down, as did beans on toast.  So the diet has become a little more varied now.

The worst thing I think is not the food intake, but the fact that I can’t drink with my meals.  I invariably had a glass of fruit juice or a coffee with my meal, but another of the mantras is to eat and allow your pouch to digest food before moving onto fluid.  I find this really hard, but something I try to follow assiduously.

The really good news on top of the weight-loss is that I have managed to keep out of hospital.  Last year I had fourteen admissions, mainly with cellulitis linked to my lymphoedema.  This year I have been in once.   Sad to report, I still have problems with cellulitis and indeed am nursing an infected leg at the moment, but we are trying to manage it with regular dressing changes and antibiotics (liquid form, including one that tastes of banana – yukkk!).  I have also resumed treatment under the lymphoedema specialist nurse and now have tasteful full-length stockings to wear.  these are designed to induce gentle compression to try and squeeze the pockets of fluid that have gathered in my leg.

Other news.  You’ll be able to have a laugh at me on TV later in the year when I appear on the BBC4 quiz show Only Connect as part of a team called The Listeners.  I am bound by a superinjunction from Victoria Coren herself which means I cannot tell you how we did, but we had an amazing time and a special thanks to all the production team who were just brilliant, as was Madame VC herself.  I’ll post details of the date or dates nearer the time.

There are other updates to the website going live over the next few days and I’d appreciate your comments as to whether you enjoy them or not.

That’s all for now and I promise to return in a day or so with more news.  I am off to do 50 lines “I must be more conscientious….”.  Ah the days when doing 50 lines involved writing rather than using a drinking straw….


It’s coming…… Honest!

This week is the last week of my quiz league setting for this season.  After this has finished I’ll carry out a big update on here and bring in lots of new features.


I promise!


See you in a few days.