More of Margate – and the hospital!

Monday morning and I was up early again and again it was on purpose but regrettably for me it was not for the Rugby World Cup which was offering Wales vs. Georgia at 1115. I could have made it back in time for kickoff easily enough but I didn’t bother as you shall find out if you care to read on a bit. Back from where you may wonder? Go on, take a guess. Yes, you’ve probably got it, I was back to the QEQM hospital for another outpatients appointment and before I even got in the door I was thinking about this blog and I reckoned you were probably all sick of looking at the same generic image of the main entrance so I took one of the helipad just to break up the monotony. Don’t say I don’t think about my small band of faithful readers, I do. Sorry I could not hang around until a helicopter turned up but I had places to go and people to see.

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Sorry, no chopper in sight.

I won’t bore you with the details of my appointment except to tell you that it was another chapter in the ongoing game of ping-pong between QEQM and Broadstairs Health Centre in which I had taken on the role of the ball. There was much talk of legal obligation, temporary patient status, in fact all the apparently incorrect information I had already been carrying around with me. As always, they seemed to feel the need to take blood which they did at the second rather uncomfortable attempt and told me to come back at 1130 (it had just gone 1000). I actually had the vaguest of plans for the day which is unlike me and I knew I could fit the first part in before my blood had been analysed.

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Where the Beano mystery is solved.

Part one of the plan involved the Beano Cafe which I have mentioned before as I knew there was one on the front, 10 Marine Crescent to be exact and not to be confused with the Best Beano Cafe in Dane Road or even the Beano Cafe in nearby Westgate. It seems a little confusing but I am going to explain it all to you now but first the breakfast. One of the set offerings was egg, bacon, beans and bubble which is what I went for as I had not had bubble for literally years and I love it.

Do you know about Bubble?

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Bubble brekkie in the Beano.

Readers from London and the Southeast and probably most of England will have an idea of what Bubble is but perhaps readers from further afield will not so here is a bit of an introduction. Bubble is a contraction of Bubble and Squeak and is the square item you can see in the image. Irish readers may recognise it as Colcannon which is near enough the same thing although served loose and not normally formed into cakes like Bubble. There are variants all over Europe like Stamppot in Netherlands (which I have had) and stoemp from Belgium.

Whatever you want to call it, this predominantly breakfast dish was a way of using up leftovers from a roast dinner, if you were rich enough to afford such a luxury. It is often viewed as a poor man’s food but it is popping up in various forms in restaurants nowadays. Traditionally it was mashed potatoes and cabbage mixed together and pan fried although any vegetables can be thrown in if you have them and I have had it made with leftover Brussels sprouts which was gorgeous although I know they are a bit of an acquired taste. If you are wondering about the odd name, apparently it refers to the noise the cabbage makes as it cooks. Now you know all about Bubble, let’s get back to the “Beano Cafe Mystery” as I named it in the last post.

I got talking to the guy behind the counter when I was paying the bill (the meal was superb incidentally) and asked him were they associated with the Broadstairs and Ramsgate Beanos as they looked very much the same with the signage etc. and served much the same menu. I did not mention that the staff all spoke with the same Eastern Mediterranean accent. The story he told me was fascinating and just goes to show what you can find out if you are prepared to talk to people.

He told me that they are sort of connected but not owned by the same person. They are something like a franchise without a central franchising body. All the Beanos Cafes in Kent are run by members of a very extended Turkish family (I was right about the accent) from one village and the closely surrounding area. I asked how many there were as I knew of three and he told me 15 or maybe 20, even he did not know for sure. He told me there was one in Sheerness, which is miles away and I have found out there is one in Canterbury as well. I think they are on a mission to take over Kent and with the food they serve, the standards of hygiene, the prices and the friendly service, good luck to them say I!

With the Beano mystery solved and a bellyful of Bubble (there must be a song lyric or title in that) I jumped back on the Loop bus. All this hopping on and off buses didn’t bother me as the good old “rover” ticket covered everything.
I set out on the second part of my little plan which took me on the Loop again through Margate centre, up the hill out of town towards Northdown and back the way the bus comes from Broadstairs.

Mining in Margate?

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Let’s go underground.

On my various trips to the QEQM hospital in particular and Margate in general I had noticed something that I could not remember seeing before and that was the rather smart building you can see in the image above. I had heard about the Margate Shell Grotto and was wondering if I was getting confused and this was it with a fancy frontage but then I had seen signs elsewhere for it so that could not be the case. For once my old mind was not playing tricks on me and it transpired that this building had only been opened about a month. As I have mentioned, there is not too much to do here so I thought I would go and pay a visit.

I went in to what was a very pleasant coffee bar type of space which I believe also doubles as a community facility. I spoke to a charming lady who told me a bit about the caves, sold me my entrance ticket and readily agreed to look after my rather heavy daysack for me as it was becoming a bit of a burden in my slightly weakened state. I really must get something lighter than my laptop to write up my blog for you good people.

The first room was on the ground floor adjacent to the ticket desk and obligatory gift shop and gave a general overview of the caves. I got the impression that it was mainly aimed at children as there were a lot of “hands on” exhibits, mostly at small person height near the floor. It was nicely mixed up though and there was enough information to keep not so small persons like me interested. With my brief overview finished I made my way to the stairs where there were a couple exiting accompanied by the volunteer guide who asked me to wait a moment whilst she changed over with her colleague. No problem, I was in no rush. Barring the guide, these two visitors were the only other people I saw which made for a pleasant experience.

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Mind your step- sensible shoes essential.

Despite the introductory room, I still was not entirely sure what to expect as I descended the stairs and followed the new guide along a narrow walkway which was a little uneven underfoot into the caves. I should mention here that because of the nature of this attraction it is entirely unsuitable for those with mobility problems or baby buggies etc.

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It is quite cathedral like, I thought.

As I entered the main chamber I was immediately struck with the thought, which persisted throughout my stay, that it was like a cathedral with it’s vaulted roof, quiet from the outside world and so on. It is not huge and the artworks are hardly going to rival the Sistine Chapel but that was my over-riding impression.

In contrast to the Margate Museum which I have mentioned elsewhere in these posts and where photography is banned, it is positively encouraged here with signs exhorting you to go image mad and post everything on anti-social media as I call it. Whilst I do not subscribe to any of those sites, I am happy to do so here albeit that it will not generate anything like the traffic the others would but every little helps as they say.

The caves were originally dug out as a small chalk mine in the late 17th and early 18th centuries although not much is known about them then as they were an illegal venture and nothing was recorded officially. They then fell into disuse and were more or less forgotten about until a chap called Francis Foster “rediscovered” them. He was the man who built nearby Northdown House, a listed building which survives today as a wedding and conference venue.

There are various stories told about how he located them ranging from a family pet disappearing down a hole in the grounds of the house to ground subsidence to observations of rabbits but nobody really knows. Foster re-opened the caves and used them as a wine cellar and ice house both of which were guaranteed to impress his visitors. There are stories that the caves were used as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars with prisoners manacled to the walls but the flaw in this tale is instantly apparent. Chalk is one of the softest types of stone in existence, why do you think we use it on blackboards? The thought of anchoring manacles to it is laughable as they would just fall out!

Eventually the caves metamorphosed into a tourist attraction in the 19th century with the advent of the tourist trade here and this continued on and off for many years with a secondary use as a shelter from German aerial attack in both world wars. In 2004 the hated “health and safety police” closed the caves down but the local people banded together and after a serious amount of fundraising they got the caves fully compliant with the multitude of regulations placed in their way and the wonderful new visitor centre / community facility. It is a credit to them.

During the time they were originally a tourist draw various paintings were added to the bare walls and they range in quality from, shall we say, of the naive school to the frankly appallingly amateur but they do have a certain charm.  I should add that they had all been professionally restored in the original style prior to the re-opening.  I have reproduced a selection here so you can make up your own mind.

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King Vortigern? Probably not.

I believe that the image above is supposed to represent King Vortigern and this is the name given to the caves by an enterprising entrepreneur in the mid 19th century in a bid to attract customers.  There is much myth surrounding Vortigern (or any one of the myriad alternate spellings of his name) but he is believed to have invited the Saxons Hengist and Herta to Britain effectively as mercenaries to defeat the Picts but they turned on him and founded what is now Kent.  Or so the story goes.  Whilst it may have impressed the Victorian daytripper, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support Vortigern’s presence here.

 

The caves were supposed to open in time for the summer season 2019 but due to them being let down by various contractors they did not manage to unlock the doors until mid August thereby missing a good proportion of the “season”. This is a shame and I hope it does not damage them too much financially.

I had a long chat with the guide who was delightful and who I would have said was in her late teens or early 20’s and I asked her if she enjoyed being down here. In an answer that surprised and heartened me in about equal measure coming form one of her age she said she loved it especially as her mobile (cell) ‘phone didn’t work down there. I would not have believed that possible (her mindset not the lack of signal as I struggle at ground level in Thanet).

As you have probably guessed from the tone of my writing I enjoyed the caves and would recommend a visit. No, it is not a full day activity and I would suggest an hour would easily cover it but I am so impressed with the ethos behind it that I believe it deserves all the support it can get.

Lest we forget not once but four times.

With the caves ticked off my list I decided to walk back into town as it is not too far and all downhill, plus which I had spotted a war memorial en route and wished to visit. regular readers of my submissions here and elsewhere will know that I like to visit war memorials for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe it right to pay my respects to those who died in former conflicts and, regrettably and occasionally current ones, and secondly I contribute to the excellent War Memorials website which is under the overall supervision of the Imperial War Museum. The linked website gives much fuller details but it is basically a website and resource dedicated to recording every war memorial in the UK. Whilst it does include the traditional war memorials you see in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, it also includes numerous items you would not expect and it is a fascinating site to visit or even contribute to if you feel so inclined.

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War Memorial, Margate.

The war memorial is a traditional obelisk set in what looks like a park although I worked out later that the park is in fact the site of the Holy Trinity Church which was destroyed in a German air raid in 1943 which I suppose makes it a somewhat appropriate site.

I walked in through the “uphill” gate to a well-tended green space regrettably bearing the signs of misuse by the locals as it appears it is used as some sort of drinking den.

Before I even made it to the main memorial I had to pause at not one but two other memorials to the fallen. The first I chanced upon was in memory of those killed in the Korean War of 1950 – 1953 and which has been slightly forgotten by history, overshadowed I suppose by the Second World War which had preceeded it a mere five years earlier.


The second memorial was to a theatre of operations in that global conflict which has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” and that is the war in the Far East, particularly Burma and a conflict that has particular resonance for me. I have visited Burma (before the new regime) and loved the country and the people. That trip will form the basis of another series of posts here if I ever get time but that is not the main reason for my connection to the fighting there. My uncle Tommy was serving with the RAF regiment in the Far East campaign, was captured and died due to maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese in the infamous Changi prison camp in Singapore. He is commemorated on the memorial there. I was a little dismayed at the slightly rundown appearance of some of the lettering on the memorial as you can see in the images but I shall report it to the appropriate body through the memorials website (another of it’s functions) and hopefully something can be done about it.

I deliberately left the rum bottle and polythene bag in situ as I took the image to shw the complete lack of respect some people have for places like this and which I mentioned above. I did remove and bin them but no doubt there were more deposited that evening. Sad really.

I didn’t even bother replacing my headgear as it was only a few steps to the largest memorial, the one I had seen from the bus so often. It is of a fairly typical design of such structures erected after the First World War and was apparently erected in 1922 by public subscription as they all were.

TTo the rear of the obelisk is the series of tablets you can see in the images which are dedicated “In memory of those of this town who lost their lives in the 1939 – 1945 war…..” and this leads me to believe that both service personnel and civilians are commemorated here. Certainly there is a Master Bernard Evans, a Councillor W.R.P. Avery and, most tragically, a Baby J. Denton noted but in the absence of a separate memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving I can only surmise that they are noted here without rank.

To the bottom right of the WWII memorial, presumably where there was space, is the single name Alistair Leighton, again with no rank indicated, a victim of the Falklands War. A quick internet search shows him to be a MEM(M)2 [Marine Engineer Mechanical (Mechanical) Class 2 ] in the Royal Navy whose body was lost at sea following the sinking of HMS Ardent in 1982. He had joined the Navy at 16, served three years and was 19 when he perished which made him younger than me and certainly gave me pause for thought when I just discovered that.

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How did I miss this for over 30 years?

With all three memorials duly recorded and respects paid, I continued my walk back into town and was confronted with a most lovely sight and something I cannot believe I had never seen before as I like to think of myself as being pretty observant but apparently this is not the case. I shall let the image above show you how it seems incredible I had not noticed it. I checked it out but it appeared it was only open at very limited timesand this was not one of them. Still, another one for the “to do” list.

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Is Turner stalking me from beyond the grave?

The day was not yet done though and I chanced upon the blue plaque you can see above which was attached to a rather nondescript modern block of flats and which made me smile somewhat as to the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams once wrote. There are some famous people who seem to follow me around or perhaps I follow them around although I do not do it consciously and the noted painter J.M.W. Turner after whom both the prestigious Turner Prize and the Turner Contemporary (the large art gallery in Margate) are named. Some years ago I lived in an area of the East End called Wapping and my local pub was named “Turner’s Old Star” where Turner once lived under an assumed name with his mistresses Sophia Booth and which still stands. Interestingly, she was a widowed landlady from Margate. Then I come to Thanet and the good Mr. Turner has followed me. Another such historical “stalker” is Karl Marx but that is a story for another time.

My next “find” was a building which proved to be of great interest. What first drew my attention to the gable wall of what was to prove to be rather a large building I saw two rather dilapidated plaques, one on either side of a door which bore the legends, “The Ruby” and “Buvette” respectively. I know that buvette means bar in French and a bit of research on the excellent Lost Pubs website, to which I also contribute, shows a Ruby Bar here which closed c. 2014. It was subsequently renamed and went for another few years but is once again closed.

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Where are the men on the hill now?

Looking up, as I tend to do when exploring, I saw the blue plaque you can see in the image which showed that Prince Frederick aka “The Grand Old Duke of York” of nursery rhyme fame, or infamy if you prefer, lived here and I must say that he had a very decent view. If you are wondering about the nursery rhyme it refers to the abortive Anglo – Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 where the indecisiveness of his actions were due more to political influence than incompetence on his part as he was generally regarded as a very good career officer.

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Royal York Mansions.

Frederick’s residence here gives rise to the naming of the street I was on as Duke Street and, when I walked round to the front of the rather grand building I discovered that it was named Royal York Mansions, presumably for the same reason. It has actually been mansions for some time as the hotel closed in 1909 and whilst researching the building I found out that a dwelling there will cost you a pretty penny indeed. Perhaps you still need to be a Prince to afford to live on the Parade at Margate.

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Three bars in a row and not one open. Shocking.

Taking a walk back along the front I was confronted by yet more bars, three to be precise and none of which was open for various reasons but which tell a story about the state of the licensed trade in East Kent. To the extreme left of the image is the Imperial Lounge and I do not know if it is permanently closed or not although it was when I went past at just after 1300 on a Monday in September. I do know there are recent plans to turn it into a boutique hotel. Next to that is XYLO’s, another of the crop of micropubs that are proliferating like Japanese Knotweed in the area and directly adjacent to it is, you’ve guessed it, yet another micropub called Halves. Micropubs generally do not open at lunchtime as they do not make enough profit so they only open in the evenings and weekends.  I do not know where it is all gong to end but I do not see it being a happy ending for the independently run traditional freehouse.

 

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Dave is feeding me up again.

Heading back to Broadstairs, it was back into the George where Dave once again took it upon himself to feed me up with a good dose of leftover chilli which, as always, he had “livened up” especially for me. He is such a nice guy and he and Bev really do run a great pub. I know I go on about it but he does not even ask any more, he just produces food as he thinks I need feeding up and it is much appreciated.

Back off to what I was now considering as home in my lovely little room in the Wrotham and it was yet again a very contented Fergy that drifted off to sleep.
The next post will be another composite where we can whizz through a few days before getting back to the touristy stuff so stay tuned and spread the word.

Time to go home (as Andy Pandy used to say so long ago).

The big day finally arrived, Sunday 15th September and I waited until everyone else had used the bathroom, went and had a shower, which I could do by then (I couldn’t until the PICC line was removed), changed my own dressing and headed back to my bedspace. Why on Earth I did not take my street clothes with me I shall never know, I suppose I just was not used to wearing them by now so I pulled my curtains and got changed. It seemed a bit odd after all this time. I binned my pyjamas in the laundry basket and then stripped my bed and binned the used bedlinen, I thought it was the least I could do. I donated the books I had read to the ward “library” which at that point consisted of two old Readers Digest books of four abridged titles each, not one of which I had heard of!

After that, it was a slightly odd sensation. I was sitting doing my normal things but in my “civvies”. I had ordered my lunch, which you do immediately after breakfast, although I had told the lady I wasn’t sure if I would be there for it or not. She told me to order it anyway on the principle that it was better she prepare it than me possibly go hungry. It turned out she was right and this was the rogan ghosh I spoke of in my previous post plus spotted dick and custard – lovely stuff! I am publishing the images again here as I could look at them all day as easily as I could eat that dinner all day.

I knew I would be going nowhere until I had been given drugs to take with me as I had been told that not only would I be taking some of the medications for a while including 12 weeks of the injections which I was not looking forward to, but that I would be on one of the tablets for the rest of my life. Every day as long as I live which, whilst not a major problem as taking tablets doesn’t worry me, will undoubtedly lead to all sorts of bloody hassles when I travel overseas for months on end. I really have no idea how it works but it must as I am sure others do it. A right pain but something I suppose I am going to have to get used to. Without being over-dramatic, this whole episode had been life-changing one way and another.

All the drugs duly arrived and it was time to take my leave. Cheerio to David in the next bed who had been in for a long time and looked set to be in for a long time to come, I wish him well.  Then it was farewell to Kyle in the corner bed (you shall meet him again), and a generic cheerio to the three other guys on the other side of the ward who were all recent arrivals I had not really got to know.

I was well aware that the next bit was going to be the most difficult part and that was saying goodbye to the wonderful staff who had been so good to me over quite a long period. Obviously, the normal business of the ward was going on and people were busy but I cornered as many of them as I could for a brief farewell and heartfelt thanks to the point that it was getting a bit emotional. All of them wished me well, gave me various words of advice about my lifestyle, making sure I took my meds etc. etc. There was still one final little piece of nonsensical hospital procedure to be followed and Sister deputed one of the male nurses to escort me to the front door which is standard practice it appears. Apparently it did not matter that I had been wandering about the hospital alone in the dead of night for weeks. I joked with the nurse that they were just making sure I didn’t steal anything on the way out but it seems they were responsible for me until I was off the premises. Something to do with damned lawyers and spurious lawsuits, I believe.

I know I say a lot of strange things in my posts here and this will undoubtedly rank as one of the strangest to date but I was actually a little sad to leave the place. Obviously nobody wants to be ill and in pain and few people would choose to be in hospital but apart from the obvious physical discomforts (especially that damned NG tube up my nose and the extended starvation diet) I had as good a time there as could be expected under the circumstances. I was made as comfortable as was possible, I was treated with every consideration by staff of all disciplines that obviously believed in what they were doing, I had all day to do nothing but relax, read and potter about on the net. I have really no excuse for how long it has taken to post this admittedly lengthy post with the time I had at my disposal on the ward. When I was eventually allowed to eat, the grub was spot on and I was pretty much left alone to do what I wanted within the confines of my treatment.

Having finally stepped outside and smelt fresh air for the first time in what seemed like forever I relented on the matter of the bus and called a taxi. I was perfectly able to get the bus but I was conscious of time and I knew that my friends Sally and Brian were playing a gig in the Wrotham at 1600 and I really wanted to catch it as I had missed them completely during Folk Week. It turned up promptly and delivered me at my temporary home just in time to catch the start of the set and be accosted by any number of friends, many of whom did not even know I had been ill so my sorry tale was somewhat abridged and related several times. Sally and Brian were superb as they always are, I have known them for more years than any of us would care to remember and I have never seen them do a duff show yet. They do some old-style folk and some numbers which are fairly “socially aware” but they are possibly best known for their humourous numbers some of which are literally rib-hurtingly funny. It was a great welcome back to the “real world”.

Drink, Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
I had waited a ling time for this.

Naturally, I had to order a pint which you can see pictured above. I had been lectured ad nauseum about my drinking and smoking in hospital and I had a plan for the smoking which seems to be holding up fairly well as I write this a couple of weeks later but I had told the Doctors that there was no way I was giving up drinking completely, that was just not an option. Before anyone gets in touch, no, I am not an alcoholic, that was proven in hospital when I did not have a drink for a month or so and suffered no ill-effects. When I was first admitted they used to offer me medication if I was getting withdrawal symptoms but they were completely unnecessary.  I was very disciplined and limited myself to two pints all night.

The fact of the matter is that I enjoy drinking, as much for the social aspect of it as anything else. I absolutely refuse to sit and drink soda water and lime all night and if you remove pubs from the equation then I may as well put down a deposit on a small cave on a remote island as I shall instantly become a hermit. I shall have nowhere to go socially which I explained to the medical staff and told them I would cut down as far as I could. Again, a couple of weeks in, this strategy seems to be holding up well although it is very early days. We shall see how it goes.

One other thing of note is represented by the rather lovely image above and it is the fact that my spell in hospital had seen the seasons change from Summer to Autumn. Yes, I know it is not officially Autumn on the 15th of September but I always associate the coming of Autumn with the first hanging of the hops in the same way as many people associate the coming of Spring with hearing the first cuckoo.

Kent is known as the “Garden of England” and rightly so because of the variety and quality of it’s produce. It is famous for it’s apples and also it’s hops with the first English hop garden believed to have been created near Canterbury in 1520 and this is the reason for the excellent quality of both the cider and the beer in the County. Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham is reputedly the oldest in the UK and cider has been made in the UK since the time of the Norman Conquest which was very influential in Kent. Can it be merely coincidence that I spend so much time in this fine county?

Hanging hop display, Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
It’s Autumn on the Fergy calender.

When the hops are picked at this time of the year, it is the tradition all over Kent to hang garlands of them, if that is the correct term, in pubs. Not only do they look rather pretty but if you rub them gently between your thumb and forefinger, the smell is divine. In the Wrotham, Jackie has gone the extra mile as she tends to do and put up fairy lights amongst the display. I think it looks rather wonderful although it did take me a few attempts to get a decent image. I hope you like it.

After Sally and Brian had finished, the pub pretty much cleared out with only a couple of guys playing pool and I had another quiet night chatting to Jackie at the bar. I could not help but think about what had happened the last time I had done this and all that had happened in what had seemed like half a lifetime. It had been quite a ride. Although I felt OK apart from a little tenderness around my wound site, I did feel tired quite quickly and retired pretty early to my room to stick a needle in my belly, take a handful of pills, a cupful of a solution and then crash into a bed that did not have an air mattress and a remote control. I turned out all the lights and listened to the silence which was punctuated only by the occasional passing car on the Ramsgate Road and it was not long until I was fast asleep.

If you have read this far in my hospital saga then I am unsure whether to applaud your perseverance or wonder at your masochism but whichever it is, I thank you. Yes, I know I have gone on a bit but it was a fairly long period of time to write about and one that was, and still is, literally life-changing. There will undoubtedly be further references to my health and connected matters in the next few posts but I shall try to keep them relevant and to a minimum.

If you want to know more about my rehabilitation into the “real world” then stay tuned and spread the word.