Life with Arfur

An irreverent look at living with arthritis

June 21, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

Website Changes

With effect from today, June 21st 2017, the offer of free downloads in exchange for email addresses is temporarily suspended.

Please accept my apologies.  The site is undergoing alterations and revisions, and the offer will be reinstated as soon as is practicable.

Thank you for your patience

June 12, 2017
by David Robinson
4 Comments

Light Diet? Thank God I’m Not On Proper Food

A discussion with my middle son, Colin, prompts this particular set of memories.

Readers of Life With Arfur will realise that I can be quite cavalier when it comes to health. With good reason. Of all the things that have gone wrong with me over the years, I found the best medicine to be a two-pronged assault of “Who cares?” and laughter. It’s also, I believe, the secret of a long life.

Last week’s UK election is a case in point. We got the wrong decision… or the right decision… or no decision… it depends on your point of view. What about it? What difference will the fingernail diet make? None. So give over fretting and get on with your life.

Back to the tale.

About thirty years ago I was in dry dock for abdominal surgery. Can’t remember what the problem was, but I know it hurt when I woke up after the op, and it carried on hurting for days, particularly when I coughed. Bad news for a heavy smoker.

When they carry out that kind of surgery, they freeze your stomach to stop it working, and it can take a few days before it’s up and running again. I’ve owned cars like that.

So for a few days, they didn’t feed me. Tell you what, you can keep all your weight loss plans. I lost half a stone over those four days.

Anyway, they came one morning and said, we’re going to start feeding you again from lunchtime. Light diet only, just go get you back into the idea of eating to stay alive.

Great, I thought. A light diet is better than none at all.

I spent all morning salivating at the thought of something other than saline solution dripping in through my arm. The seconds ticked by ever slower on the clock despite my urging them on, and it seemed like lunchtime would never come.

And then it arrived. The familiar plate with the metal cover landed on my tray. I picked up the knife and fork and prepared to enjoy a fresh salad. I lifted the lid and…

Steak and kidney pudding and chips?

I told the nurse I was supposed to be on a light diet, and she said, “You didn’t order your dinner the other day.”

“Because I wasn’t allowed to eat the other day.”

“It’s all we have. Take it or leave it.”

So I took it. And I’ve been taking it ever since. Is it any wonder I’m overweight now?”

***

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June 2, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

And All Because Of A Hen Weekend

It’s coming up to two years since the missus shot off to Benidorm on a hen weekend.  Her skills with a mobile phone are so bad that they’re legendary, as a consequence of which communication was practically non-existent over that weekend.

So, while she was away I nipped into our local supermarket (even though I know that every little helps, I won’t identify them.  They don’t plug my books) and set up a new deal.

Prior to that I’d been paying £22 a month for my contract phone and topping up her PAYG to the tune of £20 every three or four months.  Total annual bill, over £300.  Tesco supplied two smartphones, gave us umpteen minutes, 5000 texts and so many megabytes of data, all for £17.50 a month.  That saved us about £120.00 a year.

The only downside is the missus has never liked her smartphone.  She’d rather have an old fashioned clamshell.

The contracts are up for renewal, and we all know the script.  ‘For an extra fiver a month, we’ll give you saw many megabytes and gigabytes of extra data, a few fancy apps to jiggle your photographs, etc, etc, etc.’

Frankly, most of these people wouldn’t know the difference between a megabyte, gigabyte, and a trilobite, and I never fall for it.  But I do get tired of the argument.

Bearing all this in mind I approached the mobile phone desk in our local store this morning, in a determined frame of mind.

A pleasant young woman took my phone off me and accessed our contract details.

“You don’t use it that much.  Neither of you.”

This is perfectly true.  I’m strange.  I don’t use the phone to surf the web or play games.  I use it to send text messages and make telephone calls (Shock!  Horror!  How quaint).

The young assistant whizzed through a number of options on her computer and then told me, “I’ve saved you £2.50 a month and your wife can have a new phone the moment she’s ready, to come in and choose one.”

Given the wife’s propensity for not getting out of bed until mid-afternoon, that’s likely to be tomorrow.  For now, my deal is now down to £15.00 a month for both phones, a good £12 a month lower than where I was just over two years ago.

I think it’s time Her Indoors was going on another hen weekend.  You never know, I might get the gas and electric cheaper next time.

***

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May 31, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

Procrastinate? Me?

My good friend Lorraine Mace publishes a regular monthly column in Writing Magazine, and in the latest issue she details her efforts to do without the internet in order to improve productivity.

Writers are great procrastinators. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I’m a writer and there are times when I will do anything to get out of putting pen to paper… or fingers to keyboard.

This is especially true when I’m bogged down in a story and I don’t know where it goes next. I’ve been known to wash the car rather than carry on working, and I NEVER wash the car. Why should I? It goes just as fast with the muck on it.

Unlike Lorraine, I don’t have friends with farms in the wilderness outside Dublin: farms that don’t have internet access. My sister in law has a farm/riding school, but it’s in a residential area on the outskirts of Manchester, and she has full internet access, so it’s hardly the same thing.

Just lately, however, I found my own anti-procrastination device: speech recognition software.

If you are a regular follower of this blog (if not, why not?) you’ll be aware of my recent trials with this program. I’m using it more and more, and right now I’m working on a STAC Mystery which, when it’s finished, will have been 99% produced using speech recognition.

So how does this help with the problem of procrastination?

The simple answer is, it drives me nuts. Even my dog (RIP, Joe) could understand basic words like ‘sit’. He would never have assumed that I was giving him a command to select all the text on the screen.

The software’s capacity for misunderstanding outshines even my wife’s ability to jump to the wrong conclusion, and she is a master (or mistress) of the art.

The upshot of all this is (or ‘these years’ according to the program) I’m plodding along, churning out the words, and constantly pausing to go back and correct errors the machine has made, and this is the equivalent of going out to wash the car when I don’t know which way the plot’s going.

For a crumbling, arthritic old git like me, speech recognition is a theoretical godsend but in practical terms it’s more like the fastest route to insanity.

And it’s not as if I wasn’t heading in that direction before speech recognition…

***

Lorraine Mace writes children’s books and nonfiction under her real name. Learn more at www.lorrainemace.com

She also produces the hard-boiled, DI Paolo Storey, crime fiction. More information at: http://francesdiplinoreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

***

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May 27, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

Achey-Achey Bones

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been griping about the arthritis, recently. The fact is, we’ve had a bit of a heatwave in Great Britain, and the old bones give me less gyp in warm, dry weather than they do in our usual, chilly, damp, or downright sodding climate.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy our continental holidays so much… normally.

Majorca was an anomaly. The weather was hot and sunny. That goes without saying. (Question: if it goes without saying, why am I saying it?) Why else would you bother going to Majorca, if not for the weather… cheap beer… cheap fags… cheap women… er, scratch that last remark.

Throughout the entire week in Palmanova, I was in something approaching screaming agony. I didn’t scream. The missus wouldn’t let me. She would have found it embarrassing, and even in your death throes you must avoid embarrassing the memsahib. According to her, it’s written into the marriage vows, although I have to say I don’t recall uttering those precise words. Course, our wedding day was almost forty years ago, and while my memory is pretty good, it’s not eidetic. Anyway, I was drunk at the time.

I digress. I’m good at digressing. If there were some kind of digressionary award, I’d be a dead cert for it.

Dragging the article back to where it should be, I tolerated intolerable pain throughout the seven days we were in the Balearics. Why, you may ask. No need to ask, I was gonna tell you anyway.

It started on the plane. It was a Boeing 767, a theoretically wide-bodied aircraft. The term wide-bodied should be taken with a pinch of salt. The fuselage might be wide but seats aren’t. When it comes to them, I’m the one who’s wide-bodied. So there I am, crammed into an aisle seat for three hours and my legs are beginning to ache and my right knee is jerking, so much so that it aroused the suspicions of a young woman across the aisle that I may be trying to join the Mile-High Club.

At my time of life? Dream on.

So I was already in some considerable discomfort by the time we got to Palma. Then came the hotel.

When we first booked, I knew the place was at the top of the hill. What I didn’t know was that this hill was a mini-Annapurna. It was so steep that I had trouble going down, and as for getting up… well, let’s just say I could have done with a skateboard, a long length of rope and a large mob of people to pull me up.

The problems are reflected in the first of two videos I recording while we were there.

 

The problems were exacerbated by the actual building which, it seemed to me, had been designed by an architectural zoon. There were staircases here, there and everywhere, some of them hidden. Obviously, there were lifts, some of which serviced only the upper floors, while others took you only to the lower levels, and no matter where you were going you had to share the lifts with the maintenance staff, who frequently, commandeered them for long periods while they were moving laundry from the bowels of the building to the various floors.

I’m not saying you had to wait a long time for the lift, but I did notice that according to the graffiti Kilroy had been there.

The next culprit was the bed. It was rock solid. I know a firm mattress is good for posture and supports the spine. But there is a considerable difference between a firm mattress and a slab of concrete. The bunks in our local nick are more comfortable than that bloody bed… or so I’m told. Obviously, I don’t speak from experience. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The final item on this catalogue of modern torture tools were the sun loungers. They were bog-standard, which was only to be expected. But after spending six hours on one when Her Indoors was in one of her super-idle frames of mind, my hip, shoulders and back were screaming in upper-class English, a language which sets my teeth on edge just as badly as the language of pain.

If we add to the mix – another of those gormless aphorisms I’ve picked up from unimaginative sports commentators – the wife’s habit of walking me all over the island on her marathon shopping expeditions, turned the week’s holiday, which was planned as a much-needed rest from the recent physical, mental and emotional stress we’ve been through, into an agonising test of endurance.

And I failed the test.

***

I hope you’re enjoying the blog.  Comments are open and welcome.

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***

Like to know more about the comical aspects of Life With Arfur?

Available now as an ebook or paperback from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071QZVXYW

 

May 24, 2017
by David Robinson
6 Comments

Grim Times

We arrived home from Majorca yesterday afternoon, after a week-long holiday with its share of ups and downs (literally, in this case, since the hotel stood at the top of the steep hill).

There’s plenty of humour to come from the week, but because we don’t follow the news while we’re away, we knew nothing of the atrocity in Central Manchester on Monday evening.

Like most people I’m very angry at this brutal act. But I don’t do serious, and I certainly don’t do politics, religion, or any kind of philosophical debate online. I’m a big believer in live and let live. People like this murderer (there’s no other word to describe him) obviously don’t feel the same, but they lack the simple courage to face the consequences of their savagery, preferring instead to go to glory, lauded by a tiny minority of similarly disposed barbarians.

That’s all I have to say on the matter, other than to express my sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

Feelings are obviously still raw, and I don’t think the country or even the world is ready for my inane, self-deprecating humour.  I have a couple of videos to process, exaggerating the more comical aspects of our holiday, but in respect of events in Manchester, I’ll leave it until the weekend before putting them online.

 

May 9, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

Starving

It’s just about half past four in the morning, and here I am sat in front of the monitor. I can’t sleep. Fasting for a diabetic check at quarter past eight. Gasping for a cuppa, but all I’m allowed is water.

Frankly, it doesn’t do me any harm. The stresses and strains of the last few weeks have taken their toll on my discipline. Already overweight, I’ve gained a few pounds in the last month and I really need to make an effort to shed them… and a good few more to boot.

I’ve been consistently overweight for a good few years now, and we all know it doesn’t do you any favours. I really need to get rid of 20 to 30 pounds. Shock! Horror! Yes, you read that right: twenty… to… thirty… pounds.

The weight is concentrated around my middle, but it’s not like I eat to excess. That’s the wife’s department. Mine is a simple lack of exercise: professional bone idle-ism.

Anyone who’s arthritic will tell you that exercise is not a case of no gain without pain but plenty of pain with pain and extra helpings of pain, with a side serving of pain and more pain for dessert. It’s no fun walking when your knees creak like rotting timbers in a hurricane and send lances of pain through your hips with every step you take. Admittedly, having Joe helped. He wanted and needed his walks and my infirmities never figured in his equations.

As for other forms of exercise… well, take a look at the video below.

 

Going for a swim twice a week had been suggested, and it’s not a bad idea, but breathing difficulties then kick in. Even in an indoor, heated pool, the water temperature is considerably lower than the normal body temperature, which is why it always feels cold when you first jump in. That chill affects my breathing. So too does the pressure on my chest when it’s immersed in even shallow water.

It’s a problem. Years ago, hospitalised for a minor abdominal operation, they found the perfect solution to weight loss: they didn’t feed me for four days, and I lost half a stone.

But I’m having enough trouble fasting for this morning’s blood test. And that’s only for eight hours.

***

Life With Arfur is launched on an unsuspecting world tomorrow, and there’s a launch event on Facebook to which everyone, including you, is invited.

Simply go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1872466696358984/ and invite yourself and I’ll probably catch up with you sometime during the day.

 

May 7, 2017
by David Robinson
2 Comments

Adjusting

It’s five days now since the passing of our best friend, Joe, and although it will be some time yet before we get over him, life is adjusting here at Robinson Towers.

Joe’s presence is still very much a reality to us, and there’s a large gap with nothing to fill it. It’s most noticeable at those times when he was due for walkies, usually after meals, and when I come back from the supermarket. I can now come back into the house and theoretically lock the door. I have no need to go out again. And on the days when I don’t go to the supermarket, I have no real need to unlock the doors at all.

Life has to go on. I have work in progress, projects demanding my attention, deadlines to meet, and in case you’ve all forgotten, I have a new book launch on Wednesday. I’m sure that if he were still with us, Joe’s need for attention would be overridden by his need for food, which in the final analysis, was facilitated by my work.

Life With Arfur is launched on an unsuspecting public this coming Wednesday, and there’s still time to preorder your copy before the official release. The link is pasted in below.

Beyond that, we’re jetting off to Majorca a week on Tuesday, which means there are cases to be packed. My wife’s capacity for throwing three or four times the amount of clothing we need for warmer climes means that packing is a logistical exercise on the par with major war games, and it rarely goes to plan.

I’ve still not forgotten arriving at our hotel in Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria a few years ago only to find that all my carefully arranged underwear was still in Manchester, 2000 miles behind us. I would have managed with the pair that I was wearing but the missus said no. Leaving them in place for a full week would have meant declaring an environmental disaster area.

And before anyone accuses me of typical, male laziness, I had offered to pack, but apparently you’re supposed to fold clothing neatly into the case, not just chuck it in and close the lid.

***

Life With Arfur, a tongue-in-cheek account of my early trials with osteoarthritis, is published by Crooked Cat Books on10th May, 2017, and available as an ebook and paperback.

Ebook

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Paperback

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

There is a launch event taking place on Facebook from 0900 (BST) on Wednesday. Everyone is welcome. Just invite yourself and coma along on the day.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1872466696358984/

***

I hope you’re enjoying this blog. If so, why not subscribe to by clicking on the Networked Blogs icon in the Sidebar. That way, you’ll never miss a post.

As always, comments are open. Spammers, don’t waste your time, you’ll never get through.

You can also subscribe to my occasional newsletter by clicking HERE where you’ll also find a FREE E-BOOK waiting for you.

May 4, 2017
by David Robinson
4 Comments

Goodbye Old Friend

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. Joe, our crazy, crackpot, lunatic Jack Russell terrier, passed away two days ago.

He was suffering from pulmonary edema. We have no idea what caused it, we have no idea why, despite the very best of treatment, he went downhill so rapidly. All we really know is, we went shopping about six weeks ago and as we left home that morning, Joe was fit and healthy. When we got home, three hours later, we found him cowering under the radiator by the front windows. A visit to the vet revealed the first signs of fluid on his lungs. He was prescribed the standard range of medicines; a diuretic to drain the fluid, a bronchodilator to open up his airways, and an antibiotic to combat any potential infection that might have crept in.

From that point on, Joe began to deteriorate, and the medicines had little effect. Four weeks ago, two weeks after the initial incident, the vet took him in for chest X rays. Joe had pneumonia when we first picked him up from the rescue centre, as a result of which his left lung had always been a bit tricky. The X rays showed that lung almost completely white, indicating that the amount of fluid was rising.

The medication was increased, but still it was to no effect, and Joe was getting weaker and weaker. Over the last two weeks we’ve had several crises, and emergency dashes to the vet. Over the bank holiday weekend his muscles were getting so little oxygen that he struggled to get from his bed to his food and water just a few yards away. On occasion, he would rally, and we would manage a short, slow walk, but we often had to carry him back.

This was a dog with boundless reserves of energy, an absolute nutter whole lived his life at ultra-high speed. In Joe’s view, all that mattered was walkies, food, play, chasing pigeons in the garden, and barking at other dogs, the postman, etc., all of which he did with absolute gusto; a tremendous joie de vivre, which helped keep us young, too. He was now reduced to staggering a few steps at a time before his muscles gave way and he had to sit down. He was so weak that in the last few days we were having to hand-feed him.

On Tuesday morning, he was due back at the vet’s for further X rays. My wife got in the car and I lifted him onto her knee, whereupon he collapsed into a dead faint. At the same time, he moved his bowels and urinated all over her. It took several minutes to get cleaned up, throughout which time, Joe was unconscious. During the 15-minute journey to the surgery, his head came up now and then to see where we were and what we were up to.

Once at the vet’s, his breathing was so shallow that they rushed him into an oxygen tent. We signed the consent forms for them to carry out investigations and we left him with them while we did a little shopping in town. Less than half an hour later, Patrick, the senior vet, rang me to ask about Joe’s quality of life. I knew what was coming. Frankly, I had been expecting it for two weeks. But my wife and I couldn’t allow our personal feelings to compromise Joe’s well-being. He was suffering, and it would have been cruel to allow that to continue. I told Patrick the truth, and with my wife’s agreement, when Patrick recommended euthanasia, I gave permission. Joe was still under anaesthetic, and he would simply never wake up.

We were at that heart-breaking moment all dog-lovers dread. The moment when you have to put aside your pain and consider your best friend’s suffering. It’s not the first time we’ve had to make this decision. Twenty years ago it was our geriatric Yorkshire terrier, Sweep, who was so old, he had only a matter of days to live, and like Joe, he was suffering. There are no words to describe the agony of taking that decision. I grumble an awful lot about my general levels of arthritic pain, but those aching joints are nothing at the side of the torture of ordering the death of a wonderful friend like Joe or Sweep.

We returned to the vet’s a couple of hours later, to settle the bills, and arrange for him to be cremated so that his casket can join those of our other dogs in a display cabinet at home. While we were there, Patrick showed us the latest set of X rays. They showed a huge deterioration in Joe’s condition. Both lungs were a mass of white, full of fluid. For some reason, the drugs had been unable to combat the underlying problem, and neither we nor the vet could identify that problem. There was simply no rhyme nor reason for this healthy dog to develop such a destructive disease and succumb to it in less than two months.

Six years ago our beloved Westie, Max, died of a massive heart attack after suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease which is prevalent amongst West Highland Whites. Max never knew what hit him, but we did, and the trauma of losing him was what prompted us to seek out a rescue dog. That dog was Joe.

The dogs’ home told us he was about three years old. Our vet begged to differ. According to their estimates and Joe was closer to five or six, which means he was between eleven and twelve years old now.

We knew nothing about his previous life. He had been found wandering the streets and he was not microchipped. But when we first met him I recognised straight away the makings of a good and faithful companion, a grand dog who would bring a lot of pleasure into our lives, and all he needed in return was love, a safe, secure home, a lot of patience and understanding in the early days, and someone to take care of his feeding, grooming and health. When dogs come into the Robinson household all those requirements are arbitrarily met, and so it was with Joe.

Letting him go is one of the hardest, most painful decisions we’ve ever had to make, but we freed him from his pain. I have a range of videos of Joe, most of them taken when he was fit and healthy. For the vet’s benefit, I also took videos over the last few weeks when he was becoming a really ill. I will archive the later videos. I prefer to remember the real Joe, that cheerful lunatic who gave us so much.

Putting this lengthy post together has been traumatic, but I’m hoping it will also be cathartic. My wife and I are in the deepest throes of grief and depression. We’ve said ‘no more dogs’. We’re too old to go through it all again. We’re flying off to Majorca in less than two weeks for a much-needed break. Already, Carol is talking about another pet; another dog, maybe a cat, perhaps a budgie. It’s tempting, but I’m insisting that we make no decisions until we get back from Majorca towards the end of the month.

In the meantime, our thoughts are centred on the little pal we’ve just lost.

RlP, Joe. We love you and we miss you.

 

April 30, 2017
by David Robinson
0 comments

2017: A Nightmare

Let me apologise in advance. There is no humour in this post. It’s one of the hardest I’ve ever written.

They say 2016 was a bad year. So many celebs died last year. But for me 2017 is shaping up much worse, and everything began to go downhill on February 27th. That was the day I fell in the back garden and damaged my right ankle. But my pain and general health troubles are nothing at the side of the problems which have developed since.

Angela and her daughters, Hannah & VIctoria

First it was the news that my daughter has been struck down with Motor Neurone Disease. This terrible illness hit without warning, and all I can say is, Angela is battling with all the courage and tenacity of her father, if not more.

Soon after we got that news, we came home after a Saturday morning shopping expedition to find Joe, our lunatic Jack Russell cowering under the radiator by the front windows. We guessed he had fallen off the settee, landed on his back and hurt himself.

Joe when he was fit and well

Six weeks on, Joe is seriously ill. Hardly able to breathe, he’s suffering from non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema; fluid on the lungs, and we cannot understand where it’s come from. He is weak, and most of the time he looks as if he’s on the point of death. He’s had one set of X-rays, which reveal the extent of the problem, but not the underlying cause, as a result of which, we haven’t yet balanced his treatment.

It’s distressing to see this dog who, just a few short weeks ago was bounding around like a 2-year-old, barely able to walk fifty yards before he has to be carried back. We’re hand-feeding him because he doesn’t have the strength to bend his neck and eat, and he’s on more prescriptions than me.

In case you think we’re being cruel and ducking the real issue, let me correct you. We were at the vet’s this morning (Sunday) and I brought up the subject with Barbara. Are we looking at euthanasia? Regardless of the emotional pain it will cause us, I will not have this dog suffer one more minute than he has to.

But it’s a tough call. Aside from his breathing difficulties Joe is alert and responsive, and he’s the wonderful companion we’ve always known. Should we put him down if there is a chance of recovery?

No.

He goes back to the vet on Tuesday for more investigations. If they cannot find an answer, then we May have to confront the awful reality.

But until then, he’s still part of this family.