Christmas hacking

Not being an online gamer, I wasn’t affected by the problems that beset Sony and Microsoft on Christmas day. I can see how it would be very frustrating, unwrapping the latest console or game and then being unable to blow the online world to pieces because somebody had hacked into the network. The solution was simple, at least if you were a millionaire who knew a thing or two about programming. Apparently, Kim Dotcom simply bought off the hackers with credits on his latest website. The culprits turned out to be teenagers who admitted that they had done it just because they could. Sounds strange as most teenagers are more likely to have not done it because they couldn’t be arsed.

According to The Times, one of the hackers was traced to a school in Kent. They tried to contact his mum for a response but got nowhere. However, this opened up a line of thought for me. Why can’t all master criminals be dealt with via their mums?

“Ah, Mrs Moriarty, do sit down. It’s about young James, turns out he has been up to his old tricks again.”

“Sorry, he’s been a right little bugger since his dad ran off with that barmaid from the Duck and Blowtorch. What’s he done this time?”

“We’ve had another complaint from Mrs. Holmes.”

“That old bat? What’s he meant to have done now?”

“Something to do with a waterfall. Apparently there was a bit of a scuffle that got out of hand.”


“Don’t tell me, he’s done it again hasn’t he? Wait till I get hands on him I’ll wring his bloody neck.”

“Thanks Mrs Cowell, we’ll leave it with you.”



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The view from the back of the ambulance

Perspective makes all the difference to a story – here’s an alternative view of our adventures on Sunday night.

Bruce (of Bruce’s Taxis) brought us home from the hospital, sun shining, radio playing, all well with the world.  Turns out my Grandma was right – things always look less scary in the daylight.

Doctor Dave (a very suntanned version of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets) had prodded me, held my hand reassuringly and told me that these things happen to middle aged women, not to worry unless I fainted again, Happy Holidays…… off he wandered spreading good cheer throughout A&E.

The two hours before that are a bit foggy – machines that went beep waking me up each time I dozed off.  The nurses were great – lots of admiration for my accent and my frilly cotton nightie.  I think we all decided I was going to be ok when they offered me the alternative of removing my nightie myself or having it cut off me so they could put me in a puce-coloured hospital gown.

On balance I suspect ambulances are more fun riding up front than in the back.  Roy was playing with sirens, I was in the back being hooked up to yet more machines and watching the road disappear behind me.

Man and bike
The hero!

My husband is my hero.  He sat calmly while alarming machines beeped, heart monitors flashed, needles were inserted and removed, blood pressure rose and fell then rose again.  He gathered together clothes so that I didn’t have to come home in my nightie.  He remembered that it’s 911 in the US instead of 999.  He chatted with the Sheriff about college football / baseball (we realised afterwards that the Law were there in case he was a wife-beater).  He even found me some clean underwear so that I was carried out to the ambulance with some modesty intact.

Sandbar sunset
A great place to recuperate

The medics were fantastic – only in Florida would they describe the ride on the trolley / chair as being better than Disney because there was no queue.

All in all, my advice would be: when you get up in the middle of the night, do it slowly; when you feel dizzy, sit down before you fall down; if you do fall down, do not under any circumstances stand up again by yourself – it is the second fall that does the damage.  If you decide to ignore all of the above then make sure you are in paradise, where your recuperation can include sunset walks on the beach, time by the pool and gentle bike rides.


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A memorable birthday

Beach Bistro
Trying to eat the pattern from the plate as well

I had a memorable birthday on Sunday. I got to read the Sunday Times from cover to cover,  a ten mile bike ride, a trip in an ambulance and dinner at the best restaurant in Anna Maria. Oh yes, the ambulance bit. Everything is OK now but we did have a bit of a drama.

Reading the paper always makes me feel like I should be doing something else but it was my birthday. The advent of the iPad edition means that, wherever you are in the world, you have the latest copy (internet permitting).

The bike ride was a pleasure. Compared to the mountain bike last summer that tried to kill me, this one is much friendlier. Built in the northern shipyards with a seat that is kinder to the ‘gentleman’s area’. We looped around the northern tip of Anna Maria Island then headed south before a left turn took us on Key Royale. I suspect this is where the majority of the million dollar plus houses are but not a shop or a bar for miles. The car definitely rules in the US.

Man and bike
Man and machine in harmony

My only regret is that I passed on the best photo op of the day. One house had supplemented its normal garden display with some Christmas figures. We saw Mary and Joseph (presumably carrying an infant) but standing next to a three foot long cannon. Well, you could’t be too careful, it was the Middle East after all. I am very tempted to cycle back later in the week for a furtive pic.

With a Florida thunder storm brewing, we almost regretted our decision to do without a car for this holiday. We needn’t have worried. The rain held off and the driver of the brilliant free shuttle bus dropped us off almost by the door. The Beach Bistro is quite formal for this part of the world but the food is amazing. The waiter managed to up-sell us a couple of times (even though I was ready for him). I suspect we were meant to recognise the couple next to us who were something in TV but, sadly for them, we didn’t.  Just when we would normally settle in with a second bottle, we realised we had to set off for the last bus! The gods were with us again as the rain had stopped.

Now then, the ambulance! We commented on the fact that we were in bed by 11 and relatively sober for a birthday. Previous birthday celebrations have been known to enter a third day but we won’t talk about that. All went well until about 3am when I woke up and realised Ruth was no longer beside me. I did what most blokes would do at this point, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. At this point I heard a muffled shout followed a second later by a series of loud crashes. Like a cross between Mr Blobby and Hong Kong Fuey out of the filing cabinet, I was across the bedroom and found Ruth sprawled on the floor just outside the bathroom. She was shaking violently and I can honestly say I have never been so scared in my life. I managed to get her turned on her side and grabbed a pillow from the bedroom to support her head. Two strides and I had the phone, somehow remembering it was 911 not 999.  By the second ring, Ruth was calling that she was OK and still capable of giving orders! I hung up and went back to her. At this point the phone rang, the emergency operator following up the suspicious hang up. Anyway, we quickly decided she wasn’t OK and could we have an ambulance please. Less than 5 minutes later, huge ambulance, flashing lights and the sheriff (or at least one of his boys). The paramedics were brilliant and quickly established that the likely scenario was that something had caused Ruth’s blood pressure to drop sharply, she fainted and cracked her head and knee on the way down. It was only later we realised the sheriff was probably there in case it was a domestic. After half an hour they decided she needed a trip to hospital. I wasn’t allowed in the ambulance so would have to follow by car. What car? I am sure they thought we were a bit weird for not having a car in Florida. The upshot was, Ruth refused to go without me so rules were bent and I got to ride up front. I resisted the urge to turn on one of the three sirens (called cycle, yelp and fek off out of the way, interestingly).

The next few hours was mainly sitting around listening to machines that go beep, waiting for blood pressure to stabilise.  The doctor decided that there was nothing serious and we could go home. Wheelchairs were wheeled and a short taxi ride later we were home and preparing to go back to bed for most of the day.

Ruth is feeling better today, sore head and ankle with a massive bruise on her knee. Obviously, the stairs to the basement are out of the question so I get to keep laundry duties. Certainly a birthday I won’t forget in a hurry.

Please leave comments if you have ridden with emergency services!


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Fifty Four – the annual audit

I knew it was coming but, here we are, I am now fifty four. This is not earth shattering or newsworthy in itself but, given the title of this blog, fairly significant for me. After a week of unbroken sunshine at our rented holiday home in Florida, the clouds have gathered so a good time to sit and do some navel gazing, a kind of audit of where I am and where I am going.

The most obvious thing at the start of my fifty fifth year is that I have no job. A couple of weeks ago, after one too many sleepless nights, I finally took my wife’s advice and quit. While I am still officially on the payroll until the end of the year, the long-planned holiday means that my last day in the office was last week. This situation unlocks a couple of powerful emotions. Firstly, quite frankly it scares the shit out of me. Secondly, and the one I want to embrace, it is quite liberating. I could put into practice any of those “one glass too many” ideas that we all get. Over thirty years ago, I decided to move to Spain and start a rental business for those new fangled VHS video things. Nobody else was doing it. Instead, we had another pint and the rest is history. Actually Blockbusters – the laugh is on you cos it didn’t last forever did it!

Coloured chairs
A good place to sit and think

I think it is fitting that I am using this time in the land of the free (unless you were born somewhere else) to do a kind of mental detox. I am opening up to new possibilities and ways of looking at things. Just today I tried a new tooth brush. I have been a committed electric brush user for a number of years but, since it switched itself on inside a suitcase once (airport security not known for a sense of humour) it has stayed at home, replaced by a good old manual. However, this time, I accidentally chose a completely new animal – the vibrating brush! The cynical Yorkshireman doubted that I would work but, having parted with a couple of quid, I wasn’t going to throw it away. In the spirit of openness, I have to report it worked well. Teeth feel zingy but now a bit worried I will develop vibrating white finger.

The new experiences are coming thick and fast. Just an hour ago I was despatched to the basement to put the wet washing into the tumble drier. This is something I can do quite confidently at home – simple. The thing in the basement was a whole different beast. It has more knobs and dials than were used in the Apollo mission control room. Feel the fear and do it anyway. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot apparently. We had a hasty refresher course on the instructions and I found myself back in the basement.

I digress. The biggest plus of the job situation i.e. not having one, should be that I have more time to do all of those things that I have always wanted to do. I am a world class procrastinator (thank heavens for spell checkers).  I have just spent the last five minutes stopping myself going to make a second cup of tea since I started this. Now, if I went onto App Store, I am sure there would be a dictation app. That way I could make a cup of tea and continue writing. Damn, just looked at App Store and there are eight updates waiting for me to install them. Resist, resist.

Actually, this cup of tea is probably better than the first one.

So, next year is a blank sheet of paper with so many possibilities. Most people seem to be expecting me to go straight back into IT but I would rather keep this as a longer term option (unless a prospective employer is reading this in a few months time, in which case, I have always dreamed of being a project / software development manager with Asda / Morrisons / Yorkshire Building Society *delete as applicable). I already have a number of options starting to formulate, a couple of them are even quite grown up and responsible. I would start the business cases now but it is  getting dark and the Beach Bistro awaits. Well, it is my birthday (assuming the tumble drier hasn’t shrunk all of my clothes).


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Christmas gift ideas

There are many advantages to flying off to Florida for some winter sunshine. One of the least expected was discovering the Sky Mall magazine. Basically, it is the catalogue for I must admit that I started out smirking at some of the stuff but, every now and then, thought – hang on a minute, that would be very useful. So, in no particular order of usefulness, smirk-ability or cost, here are a few suggestions for last minute gift buying. All prices in dollars.

Christmas tree
Christmas tree

Get festive with the towering, inflatable Christmas tree. It is over ten feet tall and comes with a remote control to change colours. Just 199.99.

Horse and unicorn
Horse and unicorn





Faced with a dull Christmas afternoon falling asleep in front of the Queen’s speech? Not any more. Half a dozen of these little beauties and you have your own Grand National in the making. Basically a space hopper dressed as a horse. The party will be descending into a fight in no time. Includes pump (well, there are sprouts on the menu). 79.99 each. You could even go mad and buy some for the kids at half the price (or you could just send them to wash up while you get on with the action!).



A life size talking Yoda. Come on, what more do you want? It will even do the end of year performance reviews at work and fill in your dreaded balanced scorecard for you. ‘Do or do not, there is no try”  119.95


Portable hot tub
Portable hot tub



How about a portable hot tub? No more turning up at Glastonbury and not showering for a week. Fill this beauty up and get the party started! It has even got a drinks holder. It may take a while to fill but – it has a drinks holder!!! Just 3999.95.

Serenity pods
Serenity pods

Don’t get me wrong, I would love my own Serenity Pod so I could float away, on a cloud-like bed into a blissful state, with calming, colour changing light, relaxing music and soothing vibration – who wouldn’t? It’s just that I can’t help but think the cat looks a bit traumatised and not there of its own free will. Having said that, when does a cat do what its told anyway? 10,000 dollars for yours and a grand each for the pets. Go for it.

I know, like me, you fancy all of these. If it came to the crunch, which would you put at the top of the must have list this year?


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If Your Partner Is Diagnosed With Cancer

My wife, let’s call her R, and I are both project managers at heart. So when in the summer of 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, we both went into project mode. When starting any project we need information – what, how,  when, why, where etc. Whilst there was lots of information for the patient, there appeared to be very little for the partner. I wanted a project plan that I could follow and know that I was doing the right things. Guess what – it didn’t exist. Every cancer and patient is different so such a list would be impractical. Instead, based on my experience, here are a few practical tips.


  • Get the facts. Don’t be afraid to question your consultant. He or she will not guarantee a cure. Instead, they will talk about statistics and survival rates. Each treatment will increase the chances of survival but by how much?
  • Take a notebook to all appointments. Write questions beforehand and take notes during. The chances are, for early appointments at least you will be in a state of shock. Much safer to write things down.
    Supplement your knowledge with reliable sources. The MacMillan website has tons of information, as does Breast Cancer For Dummies (I kid you not!). The latter is written by an American so has chapters about the healthcare system that you don’t need but lots of stuff you do.
  • Take the time to talk things through and decide together a communications plan (Told you we were project managers!). Who will you tell? Family, close friends, boss – almost certainly. The world via Facebook or nosey neighbours – maybe not. Better to agree up front. We consciously decided not to go public on Facebook. This effectively meant keeping the news from some friends for several months but we thought that was better than contacting people we see intermittently, just to pass on the news. Again, everybody is different.
  • There will be tears for both of you. They are natural and part of the process. Don’t promise that everything will be OK – you can’t control that. But, if you have asked the right questions and written down the answers you will understand the odds that it will be OK! Julia Fordham wrote “Don’t tell me to stop crying please, just hold me while I do”. That’s your job – get on with it.
  • Think about the practicalities and discuss the situation with your boss. Mine was great, giving me the flexibility to attend appointments etc. but I was careful not to abuse it too much.
    Talk about the support she will need throughout the treatment. Try to find a balance between independence and smothering! I attended all of the consultations so we could both get information. For the surgery phase I was practical support – driving, carrying bags, visiting etc. However, I didn’t attend the Chemo sessions as she wanted to focus on getting through the day (headphones and iPad were essential). The most stressful part of the whole treatment was when a partner of another patient spent the day in the treatment room working on a laptop and constantly taking phone calls. As I said before, everybody is different and this worked for us. I did the driving, dropping off at the door and picking up when she was ready.
  • Pay attention to what the nurses tell you! You may be called upon to change dressings, empty drains etc. It will be a lot less stressful if you watched the demonstrations and don’t appear too cack handed.
  • Cancer treatment - Hats are a great alternative to wigs
    Hats are a great alternative to wigs

    Hair loss is a real possibility with Chemotherapy. Discuss your feelings and offer support. When it started to go, R decided she wanted it to go quickly. On the Sunday morning before her second cycle, I cut it very short for her and used my beard trimmer to get it even. Although upsetting, we both found it therapeutic (taking control) and even ended up having a laugh (probably best to avoid the term slap head if you want things to go well)

  • R tried a wig but only wore it once, finding it uncomfortable and itchy. Instead she ended up with a large collection of soft hats and turbans ( that looked great, were comfortable and, over the winter, kept her head warm. She wore a particularly soft, pale blue number in bed which, unfortunately, picked up any stray light, giving a slightly ghostlike appearance in the early hours!
  • Remember, when she asks if she looks OK in the wig, hat or whatever, she is actually saying ‘tell I look fabulous”.
  • Talk about the treatment and agree that you will be resolute. We discussed how difficult the treatments could be but that, come what may, it was the right thing to do. So, when she had a difficult reaction to cycle 4 and wanted to quit, I was ready with the statistics and the reminder of the conversations. She continued the treatment and was relatively OK with the other cycles.
  • R took advantage of professional massages and found them a great help with the discomfort during Chemo. The Haven have several centres in the UK and other services will be available in your area. They also offer counselling for patients and partners.
  • Try to keep physically active. The fitter you both are, the better you will deal with the regime. Once recovered from the worst effects of the Chemo, she decided to walk to and from the hospital for the daily Radiotherapy. The exercise seemed to help, both physically and psychologically. For yourself, never underestimate the number of times you will be making cups of tea etc. Fitness is important!
  • Treatment can be a long slog. Promise yourselves weekends away, nights out etc. between cycles. Set some goals. R entered the Jane Tomlinson 10k and completed it around 16 weeks after completing treatment.
  • Radiotherapy will leave her very tired, probably for several months after completion. Make sure she phases a return to work (and still keep making the cups of tea)

If you are just at the early stages and looking around for help, don’t be afraid to talk. Don’t feel you have to ‘man up’ and hide everything. Counsellors can be recommended by the hospital or your GP and can be very useful. Eighteen months on, life is good. Not the same as it was but definitely good. Stick with it, you will get through it.
Please feel free to leave comments, did you find this useful, do you have other tips etc.


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