December 1st is the first official day of summer here in New Zealand. The above photograph of a Jacaranda, one of hundreds in bloom here at this time of the year, is perhaps inappropriate as the tree is not a New Zealand native species but the Pohutakawa which is and commonly known as the Kiwi Christmas Tree, has yet to put on its finest display.
This first week in December was a milestone in my treatment for myeloma as it was the last chemotherapy of the cycle. It has been eight long months of treatment having to suffer the many side effects in addition to the grief of losing my wife so an end to the chemo is something of a relief. Those side effects can take as long, if not longer, to dissipate after treatment stops as the chemo itself so I am not expecting any sudden relief.
With the myeloma now under control the next question is how long will that be before a relapse occurs which is inevitable. The prognosis is almost impossible to predict and could be measured in months or years. After a relapse you go back to chemo again which is never so effective the second time around. So far there is no cure for myeloma but new drugs are continually being trialled and life expectancy extended.
After my wife Sue died of secondary bone cancer in May 2020, the combination of my treatment for myeloma and the Covid 19 virus epidemic kept me trapped here in New Zealand. The recent discovery of vaccines to protect against the virus plus an end to my chemo treatment should mean I can now return home to the UK, however, I would be foolish to do so in the middle of a UK winter with the virus still a threat and my immune system currently in a much weakened state. I am therefore planning a return mid April 2021 when the UK might be a safer place.
More Humour from Uncle MurdoPam Ayres is a funny poet from Berkshire although some of you, particularly the younger generation or those who live outside the UK, may not have heard of her. Here she talks about retirement and how married couples get on with it, in particular if you live with a husband who knows it all.
English Premiership Rugby, Tri Nations & Autumn Cup.
Round 3 of the 2020/21 season began on Friday 4th December with Northampton Saints, who so far have not won a game, visiting Bristol. This will be the final round of premiership rugby before the first European Cup games get going next weekend. You can expand this page to see the English Premiership Rugby reports and current standings by clicking here.
The Mendip Cave Registry and Archive (MCRA)
I was contacted recently by Maurice Hewins of the Wessex Cave Club who sent me the words of a caving song I had forgotten and which I have now added to the collection on this web site. The song collection has been archived by the MCRA on their web site for posterity but Maurice would like to make a recording of a bunch of cavers singing the songs and when I return to the UK next year I will organise a singing session on Mendip to do just that.
In the meantime Maurice has made the above video of some of the songs which is a sort of documentary of their origin. These songs are possibly one of the most recent examples of genuine folk songs and are a history of Mendip caving in the 50's and 60's. You can now subscribe to the YouTube MCRA channel here where you will find a collection of videos about Mendip Caving.
These never ending talks that keep being extended look as though they might be coming to an end finally although I anticipate we will still be talking to the EU about a Free Trade Deal for the next 10 years. I appreciate that many of you have no interest in this subject but if you wish to read more then you can expand the page by clicking here.
12th December 2020
Quite an important day for me as I reached the grand old age of 80 years old.
I decided that the occasion should also coincide with consigning my late wife Sue's ashes to the Pacific Ocean. Sue and I discussed this when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and agreed that I should do it at Orokawa Bay. Sue had never visited this beautiful place but had seen my photographs and liked the idea. At the same time she also approved my proposal to walk the Macmillan Way in the UK in aid of the Macmillan Cancer Support Charity in her memory as we had walked large sections of this long distance footpath together.
I invited some friends and relations to meet at Waihi Beach on the morning of the 12th at the Southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula and where the 2.5km walk to Orokawa Bay begins. The plan was to have a picnic on Orokawa beach and all were invited to 'bring a plate'. This is a Kiwi expression and the idea is to bring food, not an empty plate which has happened before! I would provide the liquid refreshment.
I purchased a few bottles of Freixenet Cava which is a Spanish sparkling wine and one that Sue and I with our witnesses Jill and John Manchip had over indulged in at our wedding breakfast in Edinburgh which was at a little Spanish restaurant in Rose Street way back in 1975. Kelly and Dave agreed to organise chill bags and to carry them to the beach and I carried the champagne flutes and Sue's ashes. Then Sue's sister Maryanne kindly invited everyone round to her house near Katikati for a BBQ to finish off the day in some style.
The day dawned a bright and sunny 20 degrees which was ideal weather for the event which you can see from the above slide show we all enjoyed. Terri and Byron Bentley came down from Auckland as did Sue's brother Phil. I waded into the surf where Sue's ashes were duly consigned to the Pacific Ocean and one or two tears were shed.
Back at Maryanne and Fred's house we continued my birthday celebrations until Fred fired the Weber up and proceeded to cook the eye filet steaks which he had ordered specially from the local butcher from the firm he used to work for in Auckland. Maryanne laid on all the salads but Fred's steaks were the pièce de résistance, cooked à point and melt in the mouth delicious. Terri baked me a birthday cake to which Maryanne added a huge plate of fresh strawberries to complete a meal fit for a king.
A big thank you must go to everyone who contributed to making my 80th birthday one to remember.
My latest health developments.
After finishing chemo I experienced a marked reduction in pain levels and on my 'Barfday' was mostly pain free after walking 5k. I was therefore optimistic for the future but I still had the pain in my ribs which had started about a month ago. The cancer clinic told me to see my GP about it which I did and she arranged an X-ray and an ultrasound scan. The result show I have a bone fracture in one of the vertebrae and lesions elsewhere so I have been referred back to the cancer centre urgently.
This ridiculous Kiwi health system is so fragmented that you often have no idea who is supposed to be responsible for your care. To my mind the cancer centre should have investigated the rib pain which would have saved time and money. My money!
Even though the drug regime I was on was prescribed jointly by Tauranga hospital renal and haematology departments, when I finished chemo it was back to the GP for a hypertension prescription although antibiotic and antiviral drugs continued to be prescribed by the hospital. The GP actually asked me if I still wanted some of the other drugs I was on. I said I thought the other drugs were to combat the chemo side effects but that I was not a doctor! Unbelievable!
Now that the GP has referred me back to the hospital I suppose the drug regime could change yet again? Fortunately I have an understanding pharmacist who will re-do blister packs of pills if things do change again.
This latest development is a setback but is one to be expected as the Myeloma progresses and I will know more once I see the specialist again. Unfortunately that said specialist has gone away on holiday for two weeks so I spoke to cancer nurse Moira who checked the latest x-ray against the one I had back in May and told me there was very little difference that she could see. Once again it would seem I am the victim of the NZ health ministry system fragmentation as it would seem the GP has seen fractures and lesions that were evident 6 months ago.
Moira also informed me that she can see on her computer record that the GP has now requested a MRI scan. It would be nice for the patient to be told what was happening to them.
More Humour from Uncle MurdoMurder seems to have been carried away with seasonal goodwill of late and has now sent me a link to the video of Fascinating Aida singing a song in Edinburgh apologising to the Scots on behalf of the English for voting for Brexit.
Fans of this satirical trio might seek out their Christmas song as which is even ruder.
Jacob and Christine, my landlords, dropped round to wash the roof and presented me with a Christmas basket of goodies. After they had finished I plied them with Harvey Wallbangers. Two of the nicest landlords a tenant could wish for.
Boris gets Brexit done at last
Boris and EU boss Ursula von der Leyen seemed to have clinched the deal during a phone conversation on Monday. Ursula insisted that the UK would have to accept that if we were to change access for fishing vessels in British waters that the EU could then impose tariffs on all British goods, not just fish, but Boris was having none of it.
"Viel Hummer, kein Hammer" said Boris meaning "Lots of lobster, no hammer" and after consulting with EU leaders the "hammer" clause was removed.
Boris had said he wanted 50% of fish quota's returned to the UK on January 1st 2021. The EU had offered 25% with a transition period of 8 years until Britain became in full control of its own territory. Boris eventually accepted 25% but with a 5.5 year transition period. The current British fleet could not catch that many fish so they needed time to invest in new vessels to have the catching capacity. After June 2026, 10 years after we voted to leave the EU, we will finally have full control over our own territory and fishing quotas will be negotiated annually.
There were a few more conversations and things to sort out but on Wednesday evening Ursula asked Boris "Do we have a deal?" "Ja" said Boris and bar a few last minute changes to the fish quota's the deal was indeed done. And about time too!
My admiration in all this must go to the negotiating teams and especially the chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier who showed extreme patience while the political shenanigans of Napoleon Macron in shutting the French border to trucks on the pretext he was protecting his country from the virus might have made lesser men walk. The exhausted British negotiating team were flown back to Britain in a RAF transport on Christmas Eve.
English Premiership Rugby Union
Round 4 was hit by the dreaded Covid virus with two games cancelled. London Irish reported several covid infections so this meant their fixture against Bath at the rec was cancelled. Premiership Rugby awarded 4 points to Bath and 2 points to Irish.
Similarly Leicester reported infections so their game against Newcastle at Kingston Park was cancelled and premiership Rugby awarded 4 points to Newcastle and 2 to Leicester.
You can expand this page to see the English Premiership Rugby reports and current standings by clicking here.
Chris Hockey's New Year Message
Not to be outdone by Uncle Murdo, Chris Hockey sent me the video below saying 'Music often shows us the way':
The video is by an American called Daniel Emmet who was a finalist on NBC's America's Got Talent TV show. It is Nessun Dorma from Puccini's opera Turandot but entitled "No Corona" with the words in English hoping the virus will leave us in 2021. Amen to that.
The America's Cup
Yachting has never really interested me until I began to watch the America's Cup here in New Zealand. Prior to then I thought that yacht racing was equivalent to watching paint dry but not since they decided to convert yachts to hydrofoils.
The America's Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy and dates back to 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) organised a yacht race around the Isle of Wight which was won by the schooner "America". The trophy was subsequently given to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) and any yacht club in the world, provided it meets the conditions, can challenge the holders to compete for it. Up until 1983 the NYYC held the trophy when it was finally won by the Australian Royal Perth Yacht Club with "Australia II". Since then it has been won three times by the New Zealanders and twice by the Swiss as well as clubs from San Francisco and San Diego.
The yachts that compete today bear no resemblance to the original conventional displacement hull yacht designs. Since 2017 they have been catamaran hulls fitted with hydrofoils and today they are monohulls that travel at speeds of over 50 knots (58 mph) making it a spectator sport. The latest designs are called the AC75 class and incorporate folding hydrofoils actuated by hydraulics, controlled by electronics and software provided by the New Zealand Team. The yachts are 75 feet long, have a beam of 16 feet, have no keel and displace about 7 tonnes.
All the hydraulics, electrics and electronic controls are powered from batteries which are charged by several alternators hand cranked by a team of athletes who are called grinders. Then there are helmsmen, flight controllers and sail rig handlers so it is very much a team effort to keep the yacht up on the foils and sailing apart from having enough wind.
There are four teams involved this year. The holders of the trophy the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) with their yacht "Te Rehutai" and challengers Circolo della Vela Sicilia (CVS) from Italy with their yacht "Luna Rossa", NYYC with their yacht "Patriot", finally the RYS with their yacht "Britannia" skippered by Sir Ben Ainslie who have never won the America's Cup since its inception.
The three challengers compete in a series of 'Round Robin' races to decide who will compete in the final series with New Zealand for the trophy. A regatta was held towards the end of 2020 between all four boats which NZ won and the Brits failed to win a race. They worked non stop over Christmas to modify their boat to improve it's performance and succeeded in winning all four of their races in the first weekend of the challenge series.
Luna Rossa won one against Patriot but in the last race after establishing a big lead rounding the last marker prior to the final leg of the race, Patriot was caught by a squall which lifted her out of the water and she capsized. She was also holed beneath the water line and almost sank but now they have a huge task to repair their boat for the next weekends sailing apart from having null point!
The following weekend Britannia beat Luna Rossa by 20 odd seconds after a gripping race where the lead changed about nine times. The better yachtsmen won meaning that they do not have to race again until whoever won between Luna Rossa and Patriot the following weekend would meet Britannia in the final regatta.
Luna Rossa defeated Patriot in all of the first four races so go into the final and the Americans are eliminated. The winner of the final series will meet the New Zealand holders to contest the America's Cup.
The latest vaccine news on 27th Jan 2021
At the time of writing the UK has vaccinated 10.79% of the population. The EU on the other hand lags behind the UK by a considerable margin and is also experiencing supply shortfalls from the vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Astrazenica which has resulted in a caustic reaction with all sorts of unsubstantiated accusations being made by EU officials, diplomats and the media.
Rugby Union Premiership and Six Nations.
It is round 7 of the premiership on the last weekend of January and the first weekend in February is the start of the Six Nations. Italy will host France in the opening game, England, the current champions, will welcome Scotland to Twickers and Wales will face Ireland in Cardiff.
Update on my health on 4th Feb 2021.
I had to go into the cancer clinic to have another dose of the bone strengthener and finally got to see the results of my MRI scan and blood tests from three weeks ago.
The MRI concludes "Considerable interval improvement with no residual lesions identified. Central vertebral compression fractures at T12 and L4 noted without canal stenosis. No thecal sac or nerve root compression."
Although I understand very little of what the foregoing really means the nurse did assure me that this report shows an improvement in the state of my bones from the previous MRI. Whereas the initial x-ray indicated there may have been further fractures the MRI showed there were none.
The blood tests show that my kidneys are now performing better than ever with the creatinine level down from 127umol/L to 110 which is the best it has been since I was diagnosed with myeloma. My White blood cell count is also better, up from 5.1 to 7.4 which is more normal and Haemoglobin is up from 108 to 121 as is the platelet count, up from 174 to 219.
Finally my paraprotein level is down from 0.3g/L the previous month to 0.1. Paraproteins are useless cells created by the myeloma and are a good indication of the progress of the disease so are used to monitor it. The level has slowly reduced during the chemo from 1.8 g/l back in August 2020.
My chest pain has all but disappeared and my hip and back pain is much reduced so it would seem the disease is now in remission or certainly under control. For how long is anyones guess. I have now put my return to the UK back to early May with the current ongoing restrictions in the UK but will not book flights until I am reasonably sure I can return when the lockdown is lifted and without the risk of further restrictions being imposed.
The first Covid vaccines from Pfizer are expected to arrive here in NZ next month but only enough to vaccinate 250,000 people. Vaccination is expected to begin 3 to 4 weeks after the vaccines arrival with front line border workers and healthcare staff the first to be vaccinated followed by the public sector and emergency services. Maori, Pacific Islanders and care home residents will be next followed by those over 65 so it is unlikely I will be able to get a jab before I leave.
England Test Cricket
As an England and Bath Rugby Union supporter their recent results have been so disappointing that it was nice to be able to watch some positive test cricket from the England touring side. First they whitewashed Sri Lanka 2 nil and then they travelled to Chenai to meet India who were fresh from their trouncing of Australia which is always a pleasure!!
The Indian side must have found it a gentlemanly experience to meet England at the Madras Cricket Club after their treatment by those corse, foul mouthed Orstralian persons but after giving they Ozzies a lesson by beating them at the Gabba and taking the series they, and I, would have expected playing England on their home ground to be comparatively easy meat.
The pitch looked as though it would not last long so England were fortunate to win the toss and batted. Root continued his sparkling Sri Lankan form to post an innings of 218, ably supported by Dom Sibley's 87 and Ben Stokes 82 for a first innings score of 578.
Our bowlers then got to work and the Indian top order were soon dismissed apart from Pant and Pujara.
Pant punished Jack Leach, continually hitting him for six until he failed to connect properly with a ball from fellow spinner Dom Bess and was caught by Jack in the outfield for 91 in the outfield so had his revenge!
Rahane was caught by Root for 1 run at silly mid off with a spectacular diving left handed catch from a ball that was really travelling fast from Bess.
Apart from Pujara's patient 73 and Sundar's 83 the rest failed to last with even Kohli gloving a catch to Pope at short leg for a meagre 11 runs.
India were all out for 337 by the 4th day and England did not force the follow-on. In their 2nd innings England were bowled out for 178 to give them a lead of 418. India's 2nd innings began badly when Jack Leach bowled Sharma's off stump with a ball he expected to come back to him but it straightened instead and he departed for 12. The day ended with Gill on 15 and Pujara on 12 with India 39 for 1.
The final day saw danger man Pujara the first to surrender as Leach had him caught for 15 with a difficult catch by Stokes in the slips. Gill followed a few overs later having reached his 50 only for his off stump to be sent cartwheeling out of the ground by Jimmy Anderson with a ball that reverse swung. Two balls later Anderson had Rahane LBW but was given not out and on appeal was also given not out as the ball pitched off line so it was the umpires call. Anderson then delivered an identical ball which kept low and took out the off stump yet again to dismiss Rahane for a duck so who needs umpires!
This put India on the back foot on 92 for 4 with Pant and Kholi at the crease. Pant played his usual attacking game until he was caught by Root at point for 11 from another good ball from Anderson. Sundar went for a duck the next over caught behind by Josh Butler bowled by Dom Bess and the skids were under India big time.
Ashwin suffered a few blows from Archer's bowling as he did from the Oz bowling and arm guards were brought out to try and protect him. He bravely stuck around allowing Kholi to build up the runs until Leach had him caught behind for 9 with India 171 for 7 and England were in to the lower order. When Ben Stokes did an Anderson copy to Kholi's off stump that was effectively the end of India as the lower order were bowled out for 192 and England won the test by 227 runs, the sixth win abroad in a row.
In the 2nd test at the same ground the positions were reversed. India won the toss and batted on a deteriorating pitch to score 329 then bowled England out for 134. India's 2nd innings of 286 was helped by a great century from Ashwin to build a commanding lead. They then they bowled England out for 164 to win by 317 runs.
The Prada Cup:
This was a series of races between the Italian yacht Luna Rossa and the British yacht Britannia to decide who would challenge the New Zealanders for the America's Cup. Britannia had beaten Luna Rossa in the previous regatta described above then the Italians had beaten American Magic. The Prada cup would be won by the first yacht to win 7 races and after Britannia's previous performance most people expected some close racing but it was not to be. Luna Rossa romped away with 7 wins to only one Britannia win in light wind conditions which unsuited the British yacht.
The America's Cup races will begin next month and once again the first yacht to win 7 races will take the cup.
My return to the UK.
I have now booked and paid for a flight home on 4th May. This time I will be travelling business class on lie flat seats so will not stopover on the way. Boris has not made the planning this trip any easier with his strange 'red list' of countries which have Covid19 variants which are already in the UK community and throughout Europe. It seems to me like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. If you have visited or transited through one of these red list countries you must spend 10 days quarantine in an hotel at a cost of £1,750 otherwise you can quarantine at your UK home and have two Covid19 tests which you must pay for at the inflated rate of £220.
Boris says he is just doing what New Zealand has been doing for months but here we are an isolated island and have no virus in the community. If you are a Kiwi you do have to quarantine in an hotel but at the governments expense. So Kiwi's jet off for a holiday in Australia for a few months and then come back for a free fortnight in a nice Auckland hotel at the NZ government's expense!
The UK's 'red list' countries include the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which are included because Emirates and Etihad airlines have regular connections with other red list countries. This means I could not risk booking with either of those airlines as I might have to quarantine in an hotel if the UAE is still on the red list by May so I have booked with Qatar which is not. Of course there is still a risk that Boris decides to put Qatar on the red list so all fingers are crossed. I do have the option of postponing the flight should this happen and the removals company have agreed I can postpone their export packing and collection of my worldly goods!
The Qatar airline is reckoned to have the best business class service and seating. The Auckland - London route is flown by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, all of which are fitted with the Qatar airlines's Qsuite's which provide you with your own little self contained pod. So isolated are you from other passengers that the airline recently dropped the requirement to wear a mask when you are sleeping.
Cricket and Rugby.
The third test cricket match, England against India in Ahmedabad was played in the new cricket stadium that seats over 130,000 and is the biggest of its kind in the world.
Here in New Zealand the rugby season has just started with the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition while in Europe the Six Nations is at a critical stage and in England the premiership has reached the 11th round.
Back at the beginning of 2020 I wrote on this web site :- "There is much commercial drum banging between Pfizer, Moderna and Astra whose shares actually dropped on the announcement as investors were disappointed in the 70% versus 95% efficacy rates. I predict that once the price and comparative ease of distribution sinks in amongst the cloth headed investors that Astra's share price will increase as will Britain's scientific reputation." So what has happened since can be read by expanding this page here.▼
Meghan and Harry
I am in favour of the monarchy simply because while the Queen is head of state we would never have to suffer the likes of 'The Donald' in that important position. Also the royals generally do a good PR job for Britain and are relatively inexpensive to maintain!
Unfortunately we now have Prince Harry who became besotted with an American actress who he married. They had separate apartments sharing the same modest London pad called Kensington Palace with Harry's brother Prince William and his missus Kate. They also shared the servants but the two couples fell out and the servants became pissed off with Meghan as she refused to 'coddle' them! So Harry and Megan move out into Frogmore cottage in Windsor Great Park and spend millions doing it up but then they tire of whole business of having to jet round the world in private jets while lecturing us on saving the planet and decide they can have an easier life, free of the Press and make piles of dough by only being part time Royals.
So the plan is have their cake and eat it by using their priviledged Royal positions to make money but only to perform certain public service that suits them. They move to Canada and then to LA where they purchse an $11 million dollar mansion and sign a huge contract with Netflix to make films about how wonderful they both are and all the good they are going to do for the world.
The Queen is a bit pissed off with all this and decides that they can't have their cake and eat it so strips them both of their Royal patronages and Harry of his military titles so now they are both pissed off as well. We are now to be treated to a two hour TV interview of them both with Operal Winfrey [sic] where we will learn there has been 'an orchestrated smear campaign' against these two poor deprived ex-Royals. As if Queenie doesn't have anough problems what with Prince Andrew's misdemeanors and Prince Phillip on his last legs!
When they first said they wanted to step back from their Royal duties and claimed they wanted to shun publicity and preserve their privacy I understood and sympathised but they have since done a pretty good job of doing the opposite and the Press have fallen for it. Now it has surfaced that Royal household staff had complained of bullying by Meghan to which she is supposedly 'saddened by this latest attack on her character'.
Harry has said "It has been unbelievably tough for the two of us but at least we have each other". I now need to go and lie down in a dark room.
I have since watched the Operal [sic] interview and must admit I did feel sorry for Meghan and her claim to have been suicidal when she was pregnant with Archie. At the same time for the two of them to sit there and confess to to events which should have been private within their family does not ring true with their stated desire to be left alone by the Media. Once again publicity on their terms as with what Royal duties they want to undertake.
Harry complains of not being funded and being deprived of security. He should understand that if you leave the job then you lose the salary and the perks in the real world. Of course he has never lived in the real world so perhaps can be forgiven for continuing the rich lifestyle he was used to. I am afraid the UK taxpayer would not agree to that funding without a return on the investment.
As for the accusations of racism if they are going to make such claims then they should identify the person who they are accusing, otherwise the whole Royal family are under suspicion which is unforgivable.
Fund raising for Macmillan Cancer Support 4 different ways:
On my return to the UK I will be organising a sponsored walk to raise funds for the Macmillan charity along the Macmillan Way West in memory of my late wife Susan. I am also a cancer victim and undergoing treatment in New Zealand but in the meantime, depending on your location, you can donate with this widget below directly to the Macmillan charity by subscribing to the JustGiving web site:
|Douglas Macmillan 1884 - 1969:|
"Born in Castle Carey, Somerset, Macmillan was educated in Somerset prior to university in London becoming a civil servant in London. After his father died of cancer in 1911 he started a charity to help those suffering from the disease which was eventually named after him. He died of cancer himself in Castle Carey at the age of 85."
The Covid epidemic has hit charities like Macmillan very hard as most fund raising has been forced to rely on internet pages such as this one. Macmillan has lost a third of its fundraised income due to the pandemic. It is very difficult to get people to part with their hard earned cash on-line rather than appealing to their better nature's face to face. Macmillan would appreciate whatever you can afford because you might need them some day. Remember that 40% of the world population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives and nearly 10 million a year will die which pales Covid into insignificance.