Saturday, 22 December 2012

Poor week

Well, it's been a poor week, recovery-wise. I've always been aware of a pain where the drainage tube had been sticking through me, on my left side, but it became particularly bad towards the end of last week. Saw the surgeon on Tuesday. He checked that there was no broken rib (the pain was just like that of a broken rib) and, finding none, suggested that a nerve had become trapped during the operation. Time would be the healer, but meanwhile he prescribed some morphine patches.

I put up with a patch until Thursday lunchtime, when I just had to remove it: I was falling asleep all the time, not eating, dizzy, vomiting… and the patch did little to relieve the pain!

Yesterday I had an injection of some sort of anaesthetic, which caused some temporary relief, but today the pain is back again. At least now I am feeling less tired than before, so something seems to be getting better.

I thought you'd be interested in seeing how the scars left by the incisions progress, so here's a "before and after".

The "before" pic was taken just a couple of days after the operation and the whole thing looks rather like a butcher's shop. Elise calls it Feretería David. The white patch at the top right is the dressing of the drainage incision.

The staples were removed during two visits. A machine very similar to an office staple remover is used and very little discomfort is experienced during the procedure: just a little pinprick at the removal of each staple.

The "after" image was taken last Sunday (16 December), so close to three weeks after the operation. The whole thing already looks a lot more apetizing (well, that's one way of looking at it…) and in time the marks of the staples and other dark areas should disappear, leaving behind an almost pristine me. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

What a Crazy World

Listening to Joe Brown's 1963 recording of What A Crazy World We're Living In makes me think of the crazy week we've just had.

I'm not talking about anything related to my recovery here, but about the absolute stupidity of a so-called developed world.

First, of course, is the mass killing of schoolchildren and teachers in Connecticut, USA, by Adam Lanza, a "smart but shy nerd." Well, the smart but shy nerd had little difficulty in getting hold of at least three of the several more weapons that his mother kept in the house. Once again, then, the USA is faced with what it considers to be the "problem" of gun control. So what's the problem? You legislate to control the sale and possession of guns and you operate an efficient, corrupt-free police force. Stuff the fact that some out-of-date part of an old constitution, written at other times, when other mores were in place, stipulates the right to bear arms: that was then, this is now. The USA is supposed to be a civilised nation; it is supposed to set some sort of example. Instead, it allows archaic, conservative, right-wing nonsense to guide it in so many ways: there are schools in the USA where Creationism is taught, for heaven's sake! That's nothing short of Christian fundamentalism gone bonkers. It really is time for the USA to grow up.

What a crazy world.

Then a piece of news that most will not even have noticed. The EU has agreed to recognise a unitary patent, recognised in 25 of the 27 member states (here's an article with the details). This will make the protection of inventions across the EU a far simpler and cheaper process. But, hang on, why not 27 of the 27 countries? Well, it was decided that, in order to limit costs and bureaucracy, patent requests could be made in any of the three most-used languages of the EU, namely English, French, or German. Fine, this is an EU-wide thing, not a local issue, so nonsensical national pride should have nothing to do with it. That's not how Italy and Spain see things, however. They refuse to take part in the agreement because their languages are not included in the list of approved ones. I'm Welsh and there are instances when I would like to see Welsh used (signs in Wales, education in Wales, legislative procedures in Wales…), but this is not one of them. It is time for member states to put away their petty, petty nationalism and work for an efficient, effective Europe.

What a crazy world.

And then, of course, there's the iPope. What a plonker! A couple of weeks ago he tried to get rid of the ox and the ass from the nativity stable/cave (a mother-earth symbol handily modified by Christians, so a completely false image, anyway), and then he tops even that bit of publicity-mongering by becoming a Twit—er, sorry, a Twitter—and having his own spot on Twitter. Perhaps he will now issue a Papal Ban, renaming himself Pope Benetwit. The chap couldn't even touch the button on the screen of the iPad he was using to initiate his great adventure into cyberworld, so just how much actual input he will have in "his" messages is anyone's guess. Still, the blind faithful will believe that every message is from his own shaky, yet holy hands and directed directly at them. And they will live in the certainty that when their time comes, Saint Tweeter will be waiting for them at the pearly Bill Gates.

God, I'm glad I'm an atheist.

What a crazy world.

Amen to that.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Unstapled and unplugged

We went to the hospital this morning.

The remaining staples were removed from the incisions of the operation and blood was taken for laboratory analysis. All seems to be going well with the incisions, though they remain painful and irritating. We shall have to wait until next week for the results of the analysis, of course.

I did not think that the recovery would take so long or be so uncomfortable. I remain very tired in the afternoons and evenings and still have quite a lot of pain.

While at the hospital, we took the opportunity to have our eyes checked. They should have been done over a month ago, but, of course, we had other things on our minds.

After that, we went to the cafeteria to enjoy a light breakfast (had to be without food or drink earlier for the blood to be taken): freshly pressed orange-juice, tostada de tomate rallado con aceite de oliva y queso, and coffee.

Arriving back at the car, Elise tried to start it and got nothing at all: flat battery. In her hurry to get to me after having dropped me at the hospital entrance some three hours earlier, she'd forgotten to turn off the headlights after having parked the car. Fortunately, this sort of thing is covered by our car insurance, so a quick call to Mapfre had the problem sorted out within half an hour. An excellent service, if you ask me.

Friday, 7 December 2012

That's a relief

Just back from the hospital.

Most of the staples have been removed, as has the catheter.

Big relief!

Have to go back on Tuesday to have the rest of the staples taken out.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The return of Bagman

Initial analysis results being very good (no more malignant cells found, remaining kidney already taking over much of the function of the missing one, etc.) and a CAT scan showing all present and correct, I was allowed to return home on Tuesday. No chemo- or radiation therapy treatment is scheduled, so that must be a positive sign.

There's a lot to going home: speak with the surgeon, get instructions from nurses, get dressed… The getting dressed part was harder than it sounds, as some way had to be found to do carry the catheter, together with its tubes and bag: this was achieved by taping the tubing to my thigh and leading it down to my calf (with a couple of loops) to where the bag was taped. Not a long-term solution, perhaps, but it sufficed for the short journey home.

That short journey felt a lot longer than normal and, by the time we arrived home at about lunchtime, I was quite exhausted and things were getting very painful. Some painkillers and a bed more or less solved both problems, however, and I knew little more of the world for the rest of the day.

Wednesday (yesterday) started off quite well. After breakfast I even made some bread. That's not as much work as it used to be in the days when I made bread in a more artisanal manner: nowadays I just put the required ingredients in a machine, select the required program, and your mother's brother's name is Robert. Half an hour tops, but it was enough to tire me out. I imagine the tiredness is as much a result of the pain-killers and other medication that I have to take. Anyway, I went to lie down on the bed for a while and the next thing I knew, Elise had returned from her weekly visit to Guardamar and it was some two hours later!

After lunch, numerous visitors came to see how I was getting along. Very nice, but again very tiring.

Today has begun very well. I've had breakfast and am now fully dressed and ready to go for a little walk. This time the catheter tube will be carefully led out of the traditional opening of the front of the trousers, hidden by a longish cardigan, and going further into the collecting bag which is cunningly concealed in a Gerry Weber carrier bag.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A room with a view

I am fortunate enough to have been allocated a large and pleasant room in the hospital and even more fortunate that the view from the room is so good.

Hospital San Jaime is situated just to the north of the town of Torrevieja. Looking through the window and to the left, the town can be seen almost completely. Looking straight out, however, is more interesting. In the far distance is a range of low mountains is visible, the slopes of which lead down to the pink-coloured salt lagoon of Torrevieja. The pink is not any form of pollution, but rather is caused by the millions of tiny crustaceans, called Artemia salina, that thrive in the waters of the lagoon (and are thoroughly enjoyed by the flamingoes). If you click on the small image to the left, you will see a larger image and you can just see some long piles of salt over to the left of the picture, at the height of the white roof of the round building.

On this side of the lagoon, there are quite a number of buildings to be seen before arriving at the centre of the photo. Here, the large round building and the smaller complex to its right stand out. They certainly look smart, but are, unfortunately, just another example of PP (Partido Popular) corruption. The buildings are empty and serve no purpose whatsoever. The round building is a fully-equipped theatre, once used for a meeting of the PP faithful; the complex was intended for musicians to practice in. Like other prestige projects of the PP (other include the Aeropuerto de Castellón and the Ciudad de La Luz), the whole thing was based on corruption, with no forward planning, costing, budgeting, or any other -ing, other than profiteering.

The green area is an uncultivated natural area, which leads into the as yet unmetalled parking area of the hospital. This is used when the available parking places prove inadequate, which is just about every day. The road which runs around the hospital and some of its parking spaces can be seen in the foreground.

As the light changes during the day, the scene can alter greatly. In the evening, the sunsets can be quite lovely.

And as for me, I feel a lot better today. Had a CAT scan this morning.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Half the man I was

It is now six days since the operation. Apparently, all went well, though I feel as bad now as at any time. In addition to the pain still caused by the internal disruptions, the staples that have been used to close the incisions are highly uncomfortable. I have bedsores on my back, caused by lying in basically the same position for several days, my left foot swells up when I walk, and I have to put up with a penile catheter, which, believe me, is not the most pleasant thing in the world.

Analysis results will be in tomorrow and the decision to discharge me will be based on those.

Can't complain about the hospital: the nurses have been excellent and the food abundant and very good, given that it's hospital food, of course.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 26 November 2012

Last post

Just waiting to be "processed" by the admittance service. In fact, I've just been called in by Annika to get the necessary papers, for the "warder" to be called, and for me to be taken to the room.

See you when I get back!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Hospital San Jaime

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

All systems "Go"

I had a chat with the anaesthetist yesterday and all is set to have the operation to remove the left kidney and ureter next Monday morning, 26 November.

I have to be at the hospital at seven-fifteen in the morning (07:15!)—it's enough to make you ill.

Still, I should be first in the queue and therefore also be served first. Like being at the butcher's in so many ways! (300gr. of kidney, please…)

Actually, I used to quite like steak and kidney pie (though not so much the pudding). Well, I liked the steak bit; I used to leave any kidney I found on the plate. Faggots and peas, lovely.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Through the Keyhole

All the results are now in from the procedure that was carried out at the beginning of last week. The cytology report of tests carried out on samples taken from the inside of the left kidney speak of abundant malignant neoplasia cells, with the one-word conclusion, "Carcinoma" (cancer).

Yesterday and today I spoke to the doctors invloved and the decision has been taken to remove the left kidney and ureter. This will be done through means of what is politely referred to as keyhole surgery, though the keyholes are still quite large, as can be seen in this video (not for the squeamish) of a similar operation, though on the right side.

If you like long words, the operation is called a nephroureterectomy, a word which would probably win any Scrabble match.

The date of the operation must still be fixed, depending on approval from the insurance company.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Good news, bad news

We had to be up early on Monday morning in order to be in time for my appointment at the hospital at 07:15. Yes, that's a quarter past seven in the morning!

We arrived on the dot and were surprised to find that the admitting staff were there, too (last time we had to wait about twenty minutes for them to arrive), and that all was ready and waiting, so that withing about ten minutes we were on or way up to the room.

Shortly after entering the room the nurses were there with their razors, ready to shave me in all sorts of places: I was still in my ordinary clothes! So, out of the street clothes, into the operating gown, lie on the bed, scrape, scrape, scrape, ready to go down to the theatre area, here comes the orderly and off we are. Things have never moved so fast in Spain, I can assure you.

And it didn't stop there, for I had hardly arrived at the waiting area, when a nurse was already trying to find a vein in my hand (always difficult) and the anesthetist was asking questions. I don't know much of what happened after that, as I was given sedation: I vaguely remember being lifted up in order to have the epidural injection in my back, but that's about it. Next I know, I was in the recovery area and shortly after that I was back in my room with full plumbing (both the room and myself).

The procedure that had been carried out was a ureterorenosopy: looking up the ureter and into the kidney. The kidney couldn't be reached about a month ago, so a ureteric stent had been in place since then. This time, presumably thanks to the stent, the kidney could be reached and examined.

What was found is both good and bad news.

Good because nothing was found.

Bad because nothing was found.

The doctors had expected to find the tumour in the kidney. Had they done so, there was a chance it could have been removed there and then. Even if it were too large to remove immediately, knowing its location would have meant that an operation to remove it could have been planned. Now, hoever, things are rather more problematic. As I understand it at the moment, either the tumour is a flat one, which is more difficult to locate, or the tumour is elsewhere.

In any case, the doctors involved are having a meeting about the case this week and I shall know more about the possible courses of action next week.

I feel a lot better after this procedure than after the previous one. The stent has been removed, so I am much more comfortable. There is already no more blood in the urine (last time it took a full week for visible traces of blood to disappear) and I have far less pain when going to the toilet.

So it's not all bad news after all.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Date to Remember and Sand

Sand brushed from just a few tiles
We went to the hospital this morning to see if we could get any news about the next procedure. Of course, all was in hand and they would call me back this afternoon to let me know when it would take place.

To be fair, they have just called back and I must first go in next Tuesday for a blood coagulation test and to speak to the anaesthetist, in preparation for the actual procedure, which is then planned to take place on 29 October.

A day to remember! Not especially because I shall be yet again in an operating theatre, but because it will be our 41st wedding anniversary!

Meanwhile, the rest of Spain seems to be having plenty of rain, but here only a few drops have fallen from what is admittedly an overcast sky. The drops fell as we were driving back from the hospital, but there were insufficient to even give one swipe with the windscreen wipers.

Last night it rained in a different way, with lots of very fine almost red sand having fallen whilst we were sleeping, so that we were met this morning with a light dusting of sand over the tiles, the car, the windowsills… heck, everywhere where it could possibly land. Apparently there have been some very nice sunsets in the north of Europe because of the amount of sand of Saharan origin that is flying around in the atmosphere. Well, there's less of it now, as a lot fell in Guardamar.

Sand from around the car

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Still waiting

Haven't heard anyhting from the hospital yet, so I still do not know when the next procedure will take place.
It's not an ideal situation, not knowing when you will have to go back into the hospital. Not that I am especially looking forward to going in again: the procedure itself isn't a problem, as I shall be anaesthesised, but the recovery is initially painful and continues to be unpleasant to say the least.
At least I shall (I hope!) be rid of the stent that was put in last time. It is uncomfortable at the best of times and I am constantly aware of it.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A failure

As reported previously, I had to go to the hospital on Tuesday for a procedure known as a uretroscopy. It was hoped to be able to pass through the left ureter into the left kidney and thereby perhaps find the tumour that is producing the malignant cells.

Things, however, did not go as planned.

The camera was able to enter the ureter easily enough and could be moved about half way along that tube. But then the ureter was for some reason constricted and the camera could not be moved any further, so that the kidney could not be reached. Several attempts were made, but all with no success. It was therefore decided to place a stent in the ureter. Hopefully, this will expand sufficiently to allow the camera to pass freely to the kidney at a later stage.

As a result, I shall have to return to the hospital in two to three weeks time in order to undergo the uretroscopy procedure again.

On a more positive note, the right ureter seems to be perfectly clear. Samples were again taken from that area to check for the presence of malignant cells, but that is more precautionary than anything else. Also the opening to the left ureter and the first half of that tube are clear of tumours.

In case you are wondering, the uretroscopy procedure was carried out under epidural anaesthetic. The procedure itself was therefore quite painless, though afterwards, once the anaesthetic wears off, there is a level of discomfort, as a catheter remains in place all during the night. After removal of the catheter, the pain when urinating is quite significant, though can be controlled to a certain extent with pain-killers. I also feel some discomfort in my left side, though if this is a result of the work carried out during the procedure, or because of the presence of the stent, I do not know.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Quick update

Just back from the hospital and a chat with the urologist.

The uretroscopy will take place next Tuesday evening. What exactly will happen will depend on what he sees during his visual exploration of the ureter and the kidney calyxes.

Whatever there is, as far as a tumour is concerned, it must be extremely small and in a very early stage: although malignant cells have been found in the urine on two different occasions, nothing can be seen in any of the imaging results. If nothing can be found this time, with the visual exploration, then we shall have to wait a few months, allowing the tumour to develop somewhat, and then start the process again. Perhaps then the tumour will show up on images and so can be more easily located.

Anyway, that's all speculation at the moment, and we have to see what happens on Tuesday. Should be interesting, in any case, and I have already received instructions to try to stay awake during the whole procedure, in order to be able to follow it on the sceen kindly provided for that purpose. Must remember to take a camera, too…

Friday, 31 August 2012

Back to hospital

Went to see the urologist yesterday.

He had met with others involved in my case on Monday, so now it was time to learn what they had decided the next step should be.

I shall soon be back in hospital for another exploratory operation. This time it will be for a uretroscopy, so that's another scopy to add to the collection.

The cancer cells seem to be found mostly in the urine that is at the mouth of the ureter that comes from the left kidney. As a result, those in the know want to look up that ureter and into the renal calyxes to see if a tumour can be located somewhere there.

If a tumour is found, what happens next will then depend on the size of the tumour, its exact location, etc.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Scan after scan

In the previous entry, I wrote that I was to have an MRI scan and a CAT scan.


It turned out that it was an MRI scan and an intravenous pyelogram (and how's about that, then? as Jimmy Savile used to say). Be honest, it sounds a lot more impressive than a CAT scan.

Well, the MRI scan took place last Thursday and the urograph (that's another fancy name for the even fancier intravenous pyelogram) was done on Tuesday. Here's just one of the several images taken.

Big deal. Nothing suspicious was found.

Problem is, where do those nasty cells (indicating neoplasm and carcinoma) come from?

Well, whatever is causing them is probably in a very early stage and simply cannot yet be easily detected. Who am I to worry? I know nothing about all this medical stuff, so instead, those that do are going to have a meeting on 27 August to decide what to do next. I think there are two possibilities:

  1. Explorative surgery;
  2. Wait and see.
Again, we shall see…

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Carry on, nurse

Just before being taken to operation
Some time ago a tiny amount of blood was found in a sample of my urine.

A few months later, a new sample was analysed and, once again, a tiny amount of blood was discovered in it.

Dr. A. decided I should see a uroligist, so off I popped within a few days to see Dr. P.

Dr. P. ordered urine analyses at brief but regular intervals during the coming weeks.

Each analysis showed that the urine contained a tiny amount of blood.

Dr. P. decided I should have a cystoscopy. This was a simple cystoscopy, a brief day-visit to the hospital, a local anaesthetic and a flexible tube. The procedure itself was painless. The days after the procedure were not: urinating was extremely painful for several days. Anyway, no immediate cause for the presence of blood was found, but further analysis showed that there were also abnormal cells floating about in my urine.

Dr. P. decided that I should have a second cystoscopy, this time with a day-and-a-half in the hospital, full anaesthetic, and a rigid tube, in order to have a more thorough look and to take samples, including biopsies. The procedure itself was painless (I was well out of it, after all). I was taken to the operating theatre at about nine in the morning and was back in my room at about two. The 24 hours after that, however, were distinctly uncomfortable, with a rigid tube entering my bladder through my penis, and some 18 litres of chlorine solution being dripped in and drained out, providing a constant feeling of wanting to go to the toilet, with the absolute knowledge that this was impossible. I didn't sleep. The next day in the afternoon, the rigid tube was removed, a painful experience that involved some bleeding. I spent the next few days zonked out on painkillers, which helped make urinating less of a torture.

The results of the analyses were received earlier this week: no sign of a bladder tumour, no sign of tumours in the urethra, but more abnormal cells and blood found.

It seems possible that there is something wrong with one of my kidneys. Yesterday I had an MRI-scan with contrast and on Tuesday I am to have a CAT-scan, also with contrast.

After that?

We shall see…

Friday, 10 August 2012

Olympic pains

In case you hadn't noticed, the 2012 Olympic Games are currently taking place in the UK, predominently in London.

The Games used to be a highly enjoyable get-together of amateur athletes, but now they have turned into an overblown media circus, with herds of overpaid, tattoo-covered druggies trying to avoid capture whilst making as much money as possible by overacting, screaming, gesticulating strangely before the cameras, and generally drawing attention to themselves.

If that's not bad enough, there's the host nation trying to put on a more spectacular opening and closing show than the previous host nation, simply to show that they can, and at the same time milking their tax payers (over £9 billion in the UK so far).

Did you see the opening ceremony of this latest Olympics? It was a grey and dreary affair, so perhaps in that respect it did reflect well on the host nation. But what about the outfits that the medal bearers and their associates in crime have to wear? Apparenty, these uniforms were designed by students of the Royal College of Art. Well, they've failed their exams, I'm sure! The girls are decked out in a vile purple dresses (it's called "royal purple," but that comes to the same thing, of course), which are festooned with large zips, sometimes open, sometimes not, and decorated with a large flap of material in any colour that doesn't match the purple (so far I've seen yellow, blue, red, turquoise…). What the zips hide is anyone's guess and one can only speculate on the purpose of the flap: I first saw the canary yellow ones during the swimming events and assumed they were to dry the tears of the losers (or winners, for they cry, too), or to wipe splashes of pool water from the walkways to prevent slippage, or to offer a drying cloth to eager photographers whose lenses had become misted, or… well, who knows, perhaps they're simply to polish up the medals before passing them over to their winners? Whatever the purpose of the flaps, they certainly have no sartorial value. And each group of medal bods seems to be accompanied by a behatted individual. I wonder if the millinery is a nod to Carroll's Mad Hatter character, for surely only someone of questionable mentality could have come up with this throwback to the attire of the air hostesses of years gone by. Talking of years gone by, what about the suits and shirts worn by the male of the species Medal Bearer? Honestly, I thought that the Dave Clark Five had been reincarnated, for a more mid-1960s' outfit is hard to imagine?

Somebody actually sat down in a college to design these things?

Sadly, it doesn't end there. Along with the medals, the winners are given a bunch of flowers. Well, let's be honest, "bunch" is too strong a word. I have seen the offering described as a bouquet, but even that is stretching things. Posy. Yes, a small posy is perhaps an adequate description. This, too, was designed by someone, a London-based florist by the name of Jane Packer, in fact. It seems she died during the design process and, by the looks of things, the design process had not proceded very far by the time this unfortunate event took plac. Apparently, nobody bothered to continue it to its conclusion.

Also part of the medal ceremony is the victory ceremony podium on which the medal winners have to stand. It looks more like the cheap base of an overly decorated, ostentatious, middle-class wedding cake than a victory podium. This, again, was designed by students of the Royal College of Art. Another exam failure.

The least said about the official London Olympics mascots (yes, there are two of them, named Wenlock and Mandeville), the better. They look like a pair of mutated Tellytubbies… Anyway, here's a picture that speaks a lot more than a thousand words.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shard up!

With all the fuss and nonsense in the UK media about the opening of the Shard Tower in London, you'd think it was something really special.

The highest building in Europe, my foot.

All depends on your definition of a building, I suppose. Yes, it is the highest habitable building, but there are numerous other building constructions that are much higher in the EU.

To start with, there's the Eiffel Tower, and that was built in 1889 and measures 320 metres. Then there's the UK's own Belmont Transmitting Tower, recently shortened to 351 metres (and a tad). And, of course, who could forget La Torreta in Guardamar Del Segura, standing at a far more impressive 370 metres. That's 60 metres higher than the Shard.

And if you want something other than towers, how about the Millau Viaduct, perhaps the loveliest bridge in the world, and certainly one of the most impressive, with one mast at 343 metres.

As far as being an English achievement is concerned, the Shard was designed by an Italian and funded by Qatar royalty and banks.

The Shard project developer was, at least, English (I believe): Irvine Sellar.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

21 (again)

It's that time of the year again.

Well, actually, it was that time of the year yesterday.

Elise's birthday.

Of course, I am not in a position to reveal exactly how many years of life she has successfully completed, but let's just say that she celebrated her twenty-first birthday for the third time (hint, hint).

We had already been to a dinner and flamenco show last Friday evening and as if that were not enough to celebrate such an auspicious occasion, we went to El Corte Inglés in Elche yesterday to have slap-up meal in the "chique" restaurant there.

Penblwydd hapus i ti, De Leeuw!

(The photo dates from February.)

Friday, 11 May 2012

More jealousy…

About this time two years ago, I posted an entry about the planting of some new climbing plants to replace a line of Adelfas. The entry was called Jealousy because… well, perhaps you should just read the original post for the explanation.

Anyway, in the intervening two years, the Trachelospermum jasminoides, otherwise known as Chinese ivy, Chinese jasmine, Star jasmine, Jasmin rhynchospermum, and Jasmin rhyncospermum (and, I suspect several other names, as well), have done quite well, especially given the extremes of temperature and lack of rainfall that we experience in this part of Spain.

This week the plants have opened their flowers, so that we now have a sort of scented flowerfall. She Who Must Be Obeyed assures me that the perfume is gentle and pleasant (I have no sense of smell, so, as in all other matters, I must take her word for this and nod obediently); whatever aroma the flowers might have, the plants look very good.

This photo was taken today from much the same spot as the photo that accompanied the original post:

(You will notice that the area in front of the trellis has been tiled in the meantime.)

And, in case you don't remember what that photo looked like two years ago, and/or can't be bothered to go to the original post to see it, here it is:

Quite a difference!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Day of the Astrophytum

It all started yesterday afternoon, when I noticed that a brief reconnaissance sortie was being carried out by a flower of the cactus Astrophytum myriostigma nudum. It was already fairly late in the afternoon and the flower only opened briefly. Still, it was a sign of things to come.

This morning, a number of the Astrophytums were showing swollen buds and were clearly ready to flower. It didn't take long, once the sun hit them, for the flowers to start coming: first the Astrophytum myriostigma nudum showed the same flower that had so carefully taken a look yesterday, then the Astrophytum ornatum (two of them) and finally the Astrophytum myriostigma.

The A. myriostigma was very special. It showed nine flower buds. This is how it looked at twenty-past-eleven, shortly after the sun had reached around the shade:

By an hour and a half later, at ten to one, the buds had swollen considerably and were showing signs of opening:

And this photo was taken at five minutes to two, by which all nine flowers were being proudly displayed in the glorious sunshine.

The opening of the buds is a fascinating process to follow: sit and watch and it is as if nothing happens, but dare to go away for a few minutes and, when you return, the change is obvious. Perhaps even more fascinating is that, when the sun passes behind the house and the shade falls again on the cacti, the flowers close up into their neat little packages. Here's that same A. myriostigma at almost five-thirty. There is still plenty of light, of course, but the plant has been in the shade for half an hour or so, and its flowers have somehow packed themselves away, ready for tomorrow's display.

You can see more flowers from this year's cacti in my Cactus flowers 2012 album, which will be updated as the flowers come along. (And there are plenty of other albums there for you to enjoy, too.)

Friday, 6 April 2012

Where did March go?

Nope, I don't understand it, either, but we are now already a fair way into April. So, where did March go?

Well, SWMBO and I went back to Belgium for a couple of weeks in March, so that, together with the preparation and recuperation (you can't believe how tiring it can be, visiting different people each day) took care of a good deal of the month in question. Miracle of miracles, in the two weeks that we were actually in Belgium, it didn't rain once! That's some sort of record, I'm sure, and I am also sure that the boeren (farmers) were on the point of complaining about major drought conditions when we left to return home to Spain, though their wailing was pre-empted by a sudden return to more normal meteorological conditions (dull, cold and wet, in other words). It was quite warm during our stay, too, but it was that unpleasant, clammy sort of warmth that one gets in the north of Europe whenever the temperature dares to exceed about 20ºC.

Anyway, March was also glorious for the success of the Welsh rugby team in the Six Nations Championship. Not only did Wales beat England, a feat frequently accomplished, but always relished, but the fine young team also won the Triple Crown (beating all the national teams of the British Isles), the Championship itself, and (are you listening muvver?) the achievement of achievements, the Grand Slam (beating all five other teams in the Chapionship). Total and utter winners. All together now: "We are the champions," no, no, better a verse or two of Calon Lân.

We left for Belgium on the day of the coach accident in Switzerland, in which over twenty Belgian children were killed. Very sad, of course, but sadder still, perhaps, was the exaggerated attention paid to the event in the Belgian media and the way that the tragedy was exploited by politicians and clergy. Probably just as many children died that same day and every other day from illness and disease in Belgium, yet these were ignored and the hype that was instead built up and maintained over several days was, in many ways, an insult to all the unfortunate children and their parents, relatives, and friends.

Back in Spain now and Semana Santa is all the go at the moment. Yesterday, one of the time-wasters on the news was an item about the pope person washing some feet in Rome. Well, big of him. I wonder if he will also wash the feet of the Spanish nun who has been charged with stealing a just-born baby from its mother thirty-odd years ago to give (give? For how much?) to someone else. Numerous such charges have been attempted, but this is the first to be accepted by a judge. It is thought that thousands of babies were estranged from their birth parents in this way and only now is anything being done about it. And will he also be washing the feet of his minions who abuse the children in their care? Probably not. Semana Santa, my foot!

Oh, and did I mention that Wales won the Six Nations Championship, including the Grand Slam?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Anyone for rugby?

Sorry about the quality of the photo, but it's one taken of the television image, showing Scott Williams scoring the winning try for Wales against England in Twickenham (that's England HQ).

Final score: Lloegr (England) 12, Cymru (Wales) 19 (the try in the photo was converted, adding two points to the total). Music to the ears.

There's nothing more need be said, is there? (Well, perhaps we could give the English a "Poor dabs," but chwarae teg, Wales deserved the win, so we won't bother.)

Two more matches left for Wales, who are now in with a very good chance for the Championship and, France permitting, of the Grand Slam, too.

César's triumph

One of the best quiz programmes on Spanish television is Pasapalabra. It used to be transmitted by Antena 3 and was then better than its current incarnation on Telecinco: like most things nowadays, it has been dummed down to be more "entertaining" in the earlier part of the programme.

Fortunately, however, the significant last part of the quiz has remained just as interesting and exciting as it was: two contestants have each to provide one-word answers to as many as possible of 25 questions in a very limited time (usually about two and a half minutes, the total time being determined by success or failure in word games in the earlier part of the programme). The questions can relate to anything and everything: language, geography, history, physics, natural history, cinema, mythology, literature… In fact, an enormous general knowledge is required to complete the task and this rarely happens. However, if all 25 questions can be answered correctly in the limited time allotted, then the successful contestant is rewarded with the jackpot, a monetary amount that is increased by 6,000 euro each day.

Last night, César Garrido, a 34 year-old bachelor from Cuenca, raced through his questions and answered everything correctly with plenty of time to spare. As a result, he won 1,524,000 euro, the second largest jackpot in the history of Pasapalabra and the biggest jackpot ever won on Telecinco (in 2006, when Pasapalabra was still on Antena 3, the contestant Jaime Cantizano won no less than 2,190,000 euro).

Most contestants struggle to approach 15 correctly answered questions. César had already appeared on 29 consecutive editions of the programme (the better of the two contestans of one day wins 1,200 euro and returns the following day to fight again) and on no less than 20 occasions he was able to answer 20 or more correctly.

A more worthy winner than César is difficult to imagine: he lost both his father and his brother early in his life and suffers from a bone marrow disease that has meant he has had to undergo numerous operations. Nevertheless, he is a qualified teacher of English, a task he exercised during ten years, before becoming the correspondent for culture and sports for a daily digital newspaper in Cuenca. César intends to donate part of his winnings to the investigation of bone marrow diseases and also hopes to be able to do some travelling. As a lover of the cinema, he particularly wants to visit Hollywood.

Well done César!

All the Ones

We were driving into Guardamar yesterday and had taken some paper and cardboard with us to put into the appropriate container on the way (you do sort your rubbish, don't you?). There are containers for different types of rubbish just near the exit of El Raso, so I parked the car next to them. As I was switching off the ignition, I noticed the kilometre counter.

A bingo caller would have shouted, "All the ones, onety-onety-onety-one," or words to that effect. However, I understand that there are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't.

Well, you might not understand the binary numbering system, but you use it in some way every day, I'll bet. Just about everything is digitised nowadays, from the mobile phone (oh bane of my life), the lowly weather station, the kitchen scales (assuming their not a decent set of analogue ones), the mp3 player, the iPad, iPod, iWhatever, to the now common-or-garden home desktop computer, and even the CERN supercollider.

Yup, they're all based on just two numbers, zero and one.

All computer technology relies on what are basically no more than switches that can have one of two states: on and off, or, one and zero (and sometimes even "yes" and "no"). And with these two digits, any other number can be formed. Okay, you're used to using ten digits to form numbers, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. This is the decimal system, but there are other numbering systems out there, the best-known being octal, hexadecimal, and binary.

So, how does binary work? Simple!

First, a quick look at our normal decimal system to understand how we count. We start at 0, meaning nothing, then we go 1,2,3… up to 9, but when we want to go further, we have no free digits, so we say something like, "Right, I now have one lot of ten, so I'll put down a 1, and nothing else, so I'll put down a 0," giving us 10. We then continue up to our next change from 9 to the next number and have to say, "Now I have 2 lots of ten and nothing else,"which gives us 20.

And when we run out of digits for the "tens position" all we have to do is start a new position for the hundreds and so on.

Binary works just like that, but new positions have to be created much more frequently, every time the count reaches 2, in fact. So we go 0, 1… er end of available digits, so 10, 11… er end of available digits, so 100, 101, 110, 111… er end of available digits… and so on.

Now, if we look at a decimal number, say 563, then it can be broken down as follows:

3 = 10 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 3, giving 3
6 = 10 to the power 1 (which is 10) x 6, giving 60
5 = 10 to the power 2 (which is 100) x 5, giving 500

Add them up and you get the full number. In fact, the position of the digit, counting from right to left, indicates the "power" of the "base number" of the system. The base number of the decimal system is ten. This is how all number systems work.

Applying this to the binary system (whose base number is 2), then the decimal equivalent of 101 binary is:

1 = 2 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 1, giving 1
0 = 2 to the power 1 (which is 2) x 0, giving 0
1 = 2 to the power 2 (which is 4) x 1, giving 4

Add them up and you get 5. So binary 101 is the same as decimal 5.

What about binary 111111?

1 = 2 to the power 0 (which is 1) x 1, giving 1
1 = 2 to the power 1 (which is 2) x 1, giving 2
1 = 2 to the power 2 (which is 4) x 1, giving 4
1 = 2 to the power 3 (which is 8) x 1, giving 8
1 = 2 to the power 4 (which is 16) x 1, giving 16
1 = 2 to the power 5 (which is 32) x 1, giving 32

Add them up and you get decimal 63.

(Sadly my car counts in decimal, not binary, so I must accept that it has been driven 111,111 kilometres and not just 63.)

To explain exactly how these ones and zeroes become transformed, not just into decimal numbers, but also into letters, symbols, colours, sound, and everything else digital, would take a whole book, even though it is really quite simple. Believe me, it might look impressive, but its all just ones and zeroes.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Winter and summer

It being Wednesday (SWMBO's hairdresser day, remember), and given the good weather, we were in the Parque Reina Sofía in Guardamar again this morning.

A good number of others were enjoying a morning stroll in the park and several had brought some food for the animals there. A lot of squirrels were running around, climbing up and down the trees and grabbing the pieces of sustenance offered by the humans. The peahens were rather annoying, blocking off the squirrels' routes and pecking at them if they came too close. Still, with some careful positioning, it was quite easy to allow the squirrels to take the peanuts that we had brought for them. They seem to enjoy the peanuts, too, for some squirrels were daring enough to climb onto us in order to get to them.

We noticed several squirrels that are greyer than the majority. These are not the grey squirrels that are common on northern Europe, but red squirrels that, I believe, have not yet shed their winter coats.

Here you can see a "grey" red squirrel and one with the "normal" colouring.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Here's… Cyril!

We had to go into Guardamar today to take something to the post-office.

The weather was so pleasant that we decided to have a look in the Parque Reina Sofía, too. Before going there we popped into Mercadona to buy a bag of peanuts, in case we should come across any squirrels in the park.

It was about two o'clock, so most of the wildlife, being of a Spanish nature, was settling down to a well-deserved siesta. A few squirrles were to be seen, but there were considerably less that on the Wednesday mornings, when we usually visit the park and they seemed less curious and enthusiastic about coming to take the peanuts we were offering. Nevertheless, one little fellow was very eager to come back time and time again, so here are some photos of him: please meet Cyril.

Cyril, like all of the other squirrels we see in Guardamar, is a Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). This is the comon squirrel that is prevalent throughout Eurasia, though in the British Isles they are less commonly seen, having been largely ousted by the imported grey squirrel from North America.

The first few peanuts that he took were carried into one or other tree to be eaten there, sitting on a comfortable branch. Then old Cyril would clamber back down the trunk, and hop across the ground to take his next peanut from the hand. After a few peanuts, he had clearly eaten his fill, so he then started to bury them at different locations: sometimes he would bury the whole nut, shell and all, and on other occasions he would take the two nuts out of their shell and bury each separately.

Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


 It's Wednesday.

Wednesday is Hairdresser Day.

Not for me, you understand, as I am hirsutely challenged and haven't visited a hairdresser for twenty years or more.

No, for She Who Must Be Obeyed, who insists on visiting the hairdresser every week on Wednesday morning.

The hairdresser is in Guardamar, so the visit is not for nought and allows us to have a look at the Wednesday street market, where I occasionally come across an interesting cactus, to pop into Hotel Quino for a morning coffee and chat, and to have a walk around. The latter often involves going through the parks: while SWMBO is in the hairdresser, I walk through the Alfonso XIII park and afterwards we walk through the more formal Reina Sofía park. The latter park has numerous half-tame creatures, other than the children that frequent the play-areas out of school-term time: squirrels, peacocks, swans, and a good selection of ducks.

The first photo in this entry was taken last week and I liked it so much that I thought I'd take a few more duck shots today. The weather was fine. The peacocks tails have almost fully developed, so they will soon be displaying to their hens; the squirrels were as frisky as usual; the ducks were in fine fettle.

We were surprised to see one duck with ten little ducklings, perhaps the first of the season. They were very lively, inquisitive and chirping away.

I can't help you with the identity of the ducks, I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoy these duck portraits.

After our walk throught the park, and before our walk along the front in Guardamar, we went to have a midday meal at one of the Chinese restaurants in the town. She Who Must Be Obeyed is particularly partial to the crispy roast duck with ginger, but she passed on that dish today in favour of beef and vegetables…

Friday, 6 January 2012

Roscón de Reyes

Since before Christmas variously sized, though usually quite large, circular pastries have gradually appeared for sale in patisseries and the corresponding sections of supermarkets. These are the so-called roscón de Reyes, which is a traditional cake, baked for consumption on the afternoon of 6 January, the Day of the Three Kings.

Dough is formed into a circle and decorated with pieces of crystallised fruits of various colours, and is also often sliced and filled with cream or confectioner's custard. In addition, a bean and a porcelain figure are hidden in the cake.

As with almost all traditions related to Christmas, the origin of the roscón dates back to earlier pagan traditions and probably to the Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honour of the deity Saturn. At that time, circular cakes made with figs, dates and honey were distributed equally between both plebeians and slaves. Reports indicate that as early as the third century a bean was hidden in the cake and that the person who received the piece containing the bean was named the King of Kings for a predetermined period of time.

It is only since the twentieth century that the cake has been prepared with a filling of cream, or confectioner's custard, or even cabello de ángel (a very sweet pumpkin preserve). A porcelain figurine, usually representing some biblical character, is hidden in the cake, and the tradition of hiding a bean in the cake also remains, though its finder is less fortunate than in earlier times: now they have to pay for the cake, whereas the finder of the figurine is allowed to wear the crown (usually a paper crown is sold with the cake).

The roscón shown in the photo was bought (and eaten) by us several years ago in an artisenal bakery in Jávea. It was filled with cabello de ángel and was quite delicious.

And a feliz año to you, too.