Monday, August 24, 2009

It wasn't all bad in Menorca...

I realise from my last post I probably gave the impression that the whole of our holiday was a total disaster. It wasn't actually. The first week, it's true I did spend a lot of time feeling intermittently anxious, and the full blown panic attack in the restaurant didn't help, but...

... Cala Blanca where we stayed was really pretty. When we arrived I had a raging temperature which I couldn't get down till the evening, when a helpful wind blew up and my last dose of paracetomol finally did the trick. So we went for a walk and discovered we were five minutes from the beach, where the sea lapped the shore gently, the reflected light from the beachside cafes and restaurants glittered in the water, and we encountered two riders, which seemed impossibly romantic. It was the first moment of the holiday when I relaxed and was glad to have made the effort to come.

It took me several days to dare to swim though, which was a shame as the water was fantastically clear, and when I did get in, I realised brilliant for snorkelling. Given that I am quite a strong swimmer, and the sea was dead calm, it was frustrating not to do it, but I was so spooked by the whole you may have a heart murmur thing, I was just a tad terrified of getting too far out and then having a problem swimming back. Luckily I realised after a bit, that even where we could swim beyond the buoys, it was a relative steal to get to the rocks, if I did have a problem, so I got over that one in the end, and thank goodness I did, as I think it was some of the best sea swimming I've ever done. The great thing is now that, finally, the years and years I've put in poolside dragging the sprogs to swimming lessons have paid off. No 1 can swim as far as Spouse and I now, and no 2 nearly as far. No 3 was a bit spooked by pre holiday reports of jellyfish, but when we did persuade her in, she rewarded both herself and us by swimming further then she imagined. No 4, though, was the relevation. This time last year she could barely swim at all. And then she was put in the next swimming class which involved going in the deep end and I had a term stressing about her possible drowning in front of me, but suddenly she was swimming like a fish. And she too swam further in the sea then she thought she could. We took a pedalo out one day and all of them being wusses apart from no 1 meant she and Spouse went on on their own, leaving the rest of us to swim for shore. I was certain no 4 would need to hold onto me most of the way, but to our mutual amazement she swam all the way back. Result. It may have cost me a fortune, but swimming lessons may well have been the best investment I've made in my children...

The other great thing about this holiday was, that this time around in Menorca, we had a car. When we went two years ago we didn't, and as a result Spouse and I ended up a bit stir crazy from spending our time between the pool and the beach. This time around we got to explore the island a bit more, and realised just what a lovely and unspoilt place it is.

Our first trip was to La Mola, a massive fort at the entrance of Mahon harbour, which we'd wanted to go to last time but couldn't manage without a car. This is the sort of trip that eventually has the kids moaning about their boring parents' obsession with castles, which is what happened this time too (my suggestion to no 2 that having visited so many castles would stand her in good stead when she met a castle loving boy was met with a withering, what if he doesn't like castles? response), but I think they enjoyed exploring the myriad of tunnels underneath.

Other then La Mola, we also visited Ciutadella which is Menorca's second town, and very pretty. The children were less then impressed to be taken to a bronze age museum though. As it happens, so were we. Despite the ridiculous security arrangements (we had to divest ourselves of all hats, bags, moneybelts, cameras etc), there was very little to see, and all of it was in glass cases anyway. I had been most excited about seeing some trepanned skulls (about a million years ago, when I was studying history O Level we did a course on the history of medicine and I've always been fascinated by trepanning since), but they turned out to be a damp squib as the holes had all healed up and could have easily just been dents and nothing to do with trepanning, I mean, how does anyone actually know, huh? Aside from the skulls, a few Roman coins, jewellery and a stone sarcophagus, there wasn't er, anything else to see, so we swiftly departed to find somewhere for four very grumpy children to eat, before heading back home to the villa and pool.

The villa this time around was fantastic. Spouse and I had a balcony off our bedroom - mind you we tried sunbathing one day and it was far too hot, so we didn'tg et as much use out of it as we might, the kitchen was actually a decent size to cook in (not that I did much of that for the first week), and the pool was lovely. The only downside was that the fabric of the buiding seemed to house the biggest ant's nest in the world. They started off in the kids' bathroom and no 4's bed. After dispatching them with the local Fuckoff Scary Creatures spray called Zum, they then pitched up marching through the big one's room. Spouse sprayed some Zum outside the room, which had the effect of thousands of the little buggers pouring through the plug sockets. Having despatched with them there, the little buggers set off on an herculean climbing exhibition and managed to make it all the way to our balcony, across it, and into our bedroom before Spouse went to war with them there too. By the end of the holiday (remarkably) they'd discovered the kitchen, where they seemed to take a peculiarly masochistic pleasure in finding refuge in the kettle.

Ants weren't our only holiday persecutors. The people in the villa next door were Menorcan and therefore kept erratic hours. Their social life seemed to consist of coming home at midnight, then starting to eat, swim and do the sorts of things we boring English people do at around 8pm, particularly when we have small babies in tow. They never seemed to move until 5pm. I swear they were vampires.

What with our noisy neighbours and my ridiculously heightened sense of anxiety, I didn't sleep terribly well, so I am immensely grateful for Boris Johnson's Have I Got Views For You and Bremner, Bird and Fortune's You Are Here for cheering me up in the middle of the night. Insomniacs worldwide, I'd recommend both books, and also Dawn French's fantastic autobiography, Dear Fatty, for much cheering of the spirits in the stilly watches of the night.

The lack of sleep and noisy neighbours didn't really cause that much problem though, as the joy of holidays of course is that you can have forty winks on the beach. And the joy of Menorca with a car, is that you can enjoy forty winks, and sunbathing and swimming on such a plethora of gorgeous beaches you start taking them all for granted after a bit. The beach all the holiday reps tell you about is Cala Galdatana which featured in the Bounty advert. And it is very pretty. But rather full of sunbeds. We preferred the beach we were able to stroll to from there (it was a hot thirsty walk mind), but our absolute favourite was one called Cala Turqueta. As it's name suggests it had the most beautiful turquoise sea, I've ever seen. But it was also really unspoilt, as you have to walk to it from a car park, and there isn't even a cafe when you get there. It did get frantically busy as we arrived, as three boatloads of tourists were despatched to have their lunch, but once they'd gone it felt quite empty again, and the swimming was absolutely fabulous.

All in all, I'd recommend Menorca, particularly for anyone with children. Had I been well, we'd have had our best holiday in thirteen years. As it was, considering everything it wasn't half bad. If I can only get my head round my stupid flying phobia, I'd even be prepared to go again. Bring on the pethadine...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Over the last few weeks of the summer term, in between all the usual mayhem, a schoolmum chum and I were on a mission. We both felt in need of a little bit of weight adjustment. Not massive, just a few pounds here and there, but we were both finding it difficult to shed any weight at all. Presumably now we are middleaged we've lost that youthful springiness that allows your body to lose weight as and when you feel like it. Anyway. In the middle of a conversation about weightloss frustrations among the middleaged, I said, do you know, sometimes I wish I could just have a tummy bug or something, just to kick start it. Oh dear, dear reader. If ever there was a lesson in being careful what you wish for, this is it...

As I possibly mentioned in the blog post I wrote before I went silent for a fortnight, the end of term was just a tad manic, with two children leaving two schools, which seemed to involve me going into said schools on a near daily basis for yet another Leaver's Event (it got the point where we were all saying, What, haven't they left, yet?). All of which left me rather wrung out emotionally as well as having the detrimental stress factor of making sure I didn't progress at all with any work that I am actually meant to be doing.

Eventually though, term ended, the horror was over, I was finally (tearfully) done with infant school forever, no 2 was finally (tearfully) done with junior school forever and I suddenly realised I had two days to prepare for our holiday. Oh shit.

I can't quite think now what made me plan our summer holidays straight after term broke up, as I know from bitter experience this is about the most stressful way possible of doing it, but I think it was something to do with the prices being a bit cheaper the last week in July (shakes her fist at greedy holiday companies who screw responsible parents who don't take their kids out of school). Anyway. I wouldn't recommend it, frankly. I needed at least a week to come down from the end of term shenanigans, and I didn't get it, which was probably a hugely contributory factor in what followed...

We were going to Menorca, where we had a fabulous holiday a couple of years ago, and I was hoping for a repeat to make up for the many many disastrous family holidays we've had which usually involve rain (every time we go on holiday in England)/children being ill (pretty much every holiday till no2 was about 7)/crap accommodation (last year) etc etc.

The downside of going to Menorca means of course, that I have to fly. I may or may not have mentioned I am a) in general a big wuss and b) specifically a huge wuss about flights. Two years ago I ended up in hysterics on the flight back, and have since been prescribed diazepan to get me through it.

I was clearly thinking about it alot, as two nights before I sat up drinking far too late with a very good friend and was apparently wittering on about flying rather a bit. I got up the next morning feeling pretty hungover. More fool me. A self inflicted wound, as my fil used to say. I then proceeded to race around the house, packing, tidying etc and (to the children's disbelief) forgot to eat anything. It was quite late when I took a break from housetidying and decided I needed to pay some bills and do some last minute shopping. As it was late, I took the car, and decided we'd have a Macdonald's before attempting chores. Big big mistake.

Now I am not really all that partial to Macdonald's (can I say that without being sued?), which are always better in anticipation then in reality, but I was hungry, and so I had a big Mac. Within ten minutes of eating it, I was feeling very very peculiar. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I thought it was going to explode, I felt a strange bubbling feeling in my central thorax, and I felt so dizzy I was sure I was going to pass out. Needless to say I didn't really wish the children to see this, so for ten minutes tried to pretend all was well. After which it was clear that all was not at all well, and no 2 asked if I was feeling allright. Feeling a bit of a div, and thinking, well I am surely being punished for my overindulgence with the mother of all hangovers, I asked her to get me some water. I clearly wasn't going anywhere for a bit, so sent no 1 off to buy some shoes, while I waited to feel better. Another fifteen minutes elapsed and I really felt no better. Shall I call Dad? suggested no 2. Now, given my husband's profession, this is always a hard call to make. Is this situation serious enough to warrant yanking him away from his patients (who won't be grateful) on the day before he goes on holiday? Deciding it wasn't, and also deciding that calling an ambulance wasn't the best of ideas with four kids in tow and a car stuck in the car park, I settled on calling the aforementioned good friend, who arrived twenty minutes later with her brother, who not only nobly drove the car for me, but also took the kids home and looked after them, while we went to casualty.

By now my lips had gone numb, my face was weirdly flushed and I was getting a strange prickling sensation in my arms along with feeling sick as a parrot and dizzy. I felt so awful I'd convinced myself I was having a heart attack. Never mind that I'm only 44, fortunately suffer rude health the majority of the time, and am pretty fit, my stupid overactive imagination decided that Heart Attack was what was happening so my body mimicked what I thought were the symptoms. Wiser readers then me will have probably spotted that actually I was suffering from a panic attack brought about by acute stress.

Unfortunately, this was not what was diagnosed at the hospital, where they took one look at my wildly high blood pressure (I've never had high blood pressure before, but hey, there's always a first time) and racing pulse, and got me through the triage bit to the A&E nurse quicker then you can say waiting time. I have to admit, the NHS for all its faults is admirably swift when they're worried about you, but when you are in the grip of a panic attack this is not terribly reassuring. Luckily the casualty nurse was fantastic, and was brilliant at calming me down, suggesting an ECG when he realised I had a ridiculously overanxious preoccupation with my heart (amazing thing the mind, up until three weeks ago I'd have said that the fact my dad died of heart failure had no effect on me whatsoever (-:), and telling me that yes, I would be going on my holidays the next day.

The ECG was fine, and by now they'd hooked me up to a saline drip as they'd decided I was dehydrated, so I started to feel a bit better. My friend had been popping in and out to give home situation updates, so I also knew Spouse was on his way home and the kids were all having a nice time. I could feel my pulse rate starting to slow down, and the sickness was abating. Until...

Oh dear god. The casualty doctor, I'm sure he meant very well. I'm also sure he was covering all angles and I'm grateful to him for checking me out to the nth decree. But what I didn't need to hear the day before I was due to fly off on holiday, when my blood pressure was way too high and I was feeling the most neurotic I've ever felt in my life was that he could apparently detect a heart murmur, which needs investigation and quite possibly might need an operation. He also helpfully gave me this information at a point when I was on my own, and was clearly unprepared for my hysterical reaction. Well, wouldn't you have been? But bless him, Dr Death's bedside manner wasn't the best. He actually said to me, Do you want the good news or the bad news? He actually said that. Then told me that the bad news was that I had poorly painted toe nails (-:

Apparently having a dodgy heartbeat isn't anything to worry about though, no really. It's probably been there forever, you are free to go on your holidays and fly in a plane which will render any previous panic attack a mere blip as your blood pressure will probably lift you through the roof...

By the time Spouse came to pick us up, I was a gibbering wreck, and remained so for most of the night before we went, when I lay in bed panicking about going on holiday, then panicking about not going and ruining it for everyone else.

In the end, feeling a tad better when we got up, I dosed myself up on diazepan and off we set. Remarkably, apart from a flurry of nerves as we pulled up at Gatwick, I did manage to cope with the flight fine (diazepan is a wonderdrug, but I'm beginning to think I probably need pethadine which got me through all my labours fine and dandy. I'm a complete space cadet on pethadine, and could probably be happy as larry if I flew under its influence). However, when we got the other end, it suddenly dawned on me I was in a foreign country, with a possible blood pressure problem, a possible dodgy hearbeat, and no idea what the local health facilities were like. My mood was not enhanced by the rep from the holiday company looking at me and asking me nervously if I was fit to travel. It's a bit late for that now, I thought...

As it transpired, by the end of the first day I was feeling a little better, but my guts weren't, and after a few days I ended up at the chemist's convinced I had gastritis. By now I was on the detox to end all detoxes, having a diet which mainly consisted of bread and water with the occasional camomile tea for luck. Spouse had his work cut out trying to look after everyone else, cook meals and manage to relax himself, but we were sort of rubbing along fine, until the night we went out to a restaurant and I had a repeat of my McDonald's experience, except this one involved hyperventilation too. Although, I had no idea that I was hyperventilating at all till Spouse said, stop breathing so fast. Luckily for me, he is much much better then I would have been given the situation the other way round, and he talked me down by making me breathe slowly and deeply till eventually both breathing and pulse calmed down. By now, I was all for heading to the hospital, but it was pretty late, the hospital was the other side of the island, and Spouse had correctly identified that I was just stressing myself up about everything.

For the second week of the holiday, I did actually manage to feel better. So finally I dared to swim (was a bit worried about passing out in the water), did lots of snorkelling, wrote masses of my new book (by hand in a notebook, novel experience!), and generally started to relax. It all went tits up of course the day we left, when all the same old panicky feelings returned, my insides started puddling upwards, my heartbeat went mental and I was frantically stuffing diazepan down my neck as we got to the airport in a vain attempt to calm down. Eventually the diazepan did work, but I was left with a feeling of exhaustion over the weekend, a tightness in my chest, and huge acid heartburn. I can't recall ever feeling iller in my whole life. And coming back to a letter from the cardiac clinic wasn't exactly conducive to relaxation either...

Luckily for me, I have an absolutely fantastic GP. Who as soon as I saw him on Monday said, You are perfectly fine. Your pulse is racing a bit, but you are just suffering from stress. There is NOTHING wrong with your heart. Which is all I needed to hear.

I hadn't realised that acid builds up in your stomach as a result of adrenaline rushes caused by panic attacks. Neither had I realised the weird prickling I was feeling in my arms was due to an imbalance of my bodily ph as a result of hyperventilating. This is why you need to blow into a paperbag - the CO2 you lose as you hyperventilate is then breathed back in restoring the correct ph balance. I tried it last night at 3am and it works.

I'm sure I'm not quite out of the woods yet, after all stress builds up over a period of time, but I cannot tell you the relief in discovering that I am not likely to drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow which was my biggest worry.

As a result of all this, I have had a bit of a life evaluating moment, and realised to my eternal shame, that I don't really enjoy my children as much as I should. Lying in my sickbed listening to them having fun in the pool was one of the weirdest feelings I've ever had. Despite how crappy I felt, I was so pleased they were having a good time, and it was worth the stress for that alone.

The other bonus is that I have in fact kickstarted the diet my friend and I were discussing, and have proved to myself I can live without alcohol (I was beginning to worry about that one). But you know, what I said about being careful what you wish for? Despite my clothes being a bit looser, I still don't appear to have lost any weight. Not a jot. Which strikes me as really, really unfair...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Last Christmas cover

I can show you this though. Woohoo!!

As usual a fabulous effort from the fantastic Avon team, and their very long suffering but brilliant designers.

Thanks guys!


Yes, I am still alive...

I realise I have been abysmally silent on the blogging front. This is mainly because I have been both on holiday and ill. Unfortunately, for me and my poor family these two events occurred simultaneously. Therein hangs a very long tale, about which I may write more later, but as I am still feeling a bit under the weather, I don't have much energy for anything right now. That being said, Menorca was lovely, I did manage to do some swimming and I even have a fast fading tan, so it's not all bad... Also, I did manage to write a fair bit (all by hand as left the laptop at home) and the being ill abroad experience is marvellous writing material, so there's always a silver lining, eh. The annoying thing is, despite a week on bread and water I don't seem to have lost weight though. How didn't THAT happen??

PS I wouldn't recommend being ill abroad. I really, really wouldn't.