Happy Days!!

Well, that’s the Christmas decorations sorted then:)
Walked into Tesco this afternoon to find £40.00 worth of wonderful flowers reduced to £10.00. They lift my spirits and make me so happy at this dark time of year, I just picked up a huge arm full and bought them, such a feeling of spontaneity, fun and joy!!! And they smell lovely too. Our cottage is so cool at the moment so that I am sure they will last until Christmas Day at least: and even if they do not they will give me such pleasure for every day we have them.









Eddie update!!


Hi folks. December is upon us and I have an announcement to make.

Here in Yorkshire we have had our own Christmas Miracle. Due to a large donation made today we have now gathered together . . . . . . . . . . £6077.48       which means we have reached our crowd funding target for Eddie’s rehabilitation.   To all those who have donated, you are all unbelievable and together have totally transformed and given a new lease of life to a little dog who had known nothing but pain and cruelty.

It was the author, the awesome Milly Johnson who today gave Eddie over £500.00 from her recent fundraiser, and is henceforth to be known as Eddie’s Christmas Angel. xxxxxxxx

We still have several months of antibiotics to pay for but we can manage that: the fantastic, supercalifragilistical thing is that Yorkshire folk (and some kind friends from overseas!!) got behind a poor, suffering little soul and gave him back his life.💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓💓


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Stop Press: Milly has just donated another £325.00 from ticket sales to help with the ongoing antibiotics.  Words fail me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The vet imported artificial skin from New Zealand, grafted it over the wound, then took skin from both his cheeks and drew it up over the new skin and grafted the two together.  Incredible surgery!!  He will be on antibiotics for about another six months to make sure the grafts take and that the tissue-eating bacteria has been truly killed off.
Eddie had his stitches out a week ago. Doesn’t he look handsome? We are keeping an eye on the dark patch between his eyes as it does not look like the rest: it has some scabby stuff on it, but so far, so good!!!!!!!!! The vet is very pleased with him.
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The awful ‘before’ as the bacteria eats away at the bones of his skull:
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OK then, the garden is put to bed for the winter, Eddie is home and doing well, the Christmas present shopping is all done, I have spoken to a local newspaper giving them an update on Eddie, I have been in conversation with the British Aviation Authority about my recent experiences with airport security, have celebrated our son’s birthday and I have booked a few days away at the beginning of December to go to Gloucester to see the Cathedral.  Every year I try to visit a different British Cathedral for the first Sunday in Advent.  I am not religious but love the tradition of Cathedrals and Cathedral Choirs so Gloucester is where I am going this year and hoping to connect with a treasured and old friend at the same time.

And I have been working hard on my Chinese travel diary.  But before I begin to post again about that I had a day out today which you might enjoy sharing with me: here in Sheffield we have a society called the Dickens Fellowship which is part of the world wide Dickens Fellowship.  I have loved his books since I was a child and our mother used to read us A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve in front of our ancient inglenook fireplace by candle- and fire-light and therefore I am a member of this Fellowship.  And today was our annual day out.

This year we are visiting a local aristocratic country house/Stately Home,  Chatsworth House (a huge and famous one notably once the home of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and used as the model for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice) which has been decorated with a Dickens theme.

It was a warm, still day with a blue sky and we began in the old Stable yard


where the coaches and many horses used to live: this is now a place to sit outside and drink a coffee, or as today, a hot chocolate, visit the restaurant and the shop in the old stables.





I especially love the fact that the lavatories are modelled on the old stables!!



Suitably comforted we made our way down to the Dickens decorations: the tickets were timed so that the crowds were not too  vast.

The main theme of course was, words.  Throughout his novels Dickens wrote over 4.6 million words and invented hundreds of words and phrases that have passed into everyday usage – butterfingers, slowcoach, devil-may-care, sassigassity, trumpery etc.



Decorations made from the printed word and  whole books themselves, were everywhere.


A Christmas Tree made of books:



There were attendants in costume of the time, and several Pearly Queens, reminiscent of the London which Dickens knew so well, and whose streets he walked for miles each night.


Vignettes from various books lined the corridor to the Chapel:

Tiny Tim’s Turkey,

 The window of t he Old Curiosity Shop,

There was the front door of Scrooge and Marley,

and Bill Sykes’s dog ‘Bullseye’ seemed to have got everywhere:


The Chapel was decorated lavishly

where the Ghost of Christmas Present was the theme: a reminder to Scrooge that those who surround themselves with friends, family, love and happiness are the richest of all.

The cloth under this throne was actually a beautiful red, not the rather shocking pink that my camera seems to have picked up!!

I thought the Chapel was cleverly lit, very understated and atmospheric:

The Anteroom to the Chapel was the interior of the Old Curiosity Shop, a modern take on curios – rare, unusual or intriguing objects – which although clever did not really impress me much.

From there we moved into a story of love and sacrifice, A Tale of Two Cities: a masterpiece of paper art in tribute to paper and the written word.

Which continued in stars, snowflakes and paperchains:



And found its apotheosis in houses built out of the very books in which they appear:








We then moved into the Painted Hall


which had the theme of Dickens’ experience of walking in London and writing about all the characters he met on his night time travels.  A sound track of the Dawn Chorus was playing and a rather odd representation of Dickens was shown, musing upon his encounters:

Climbing the stairs,

we came to a small hall in which were Christmas trees for one to write a wish or message on a label, to attach to the tree.  These were situated beside a rather touching sculpture of sleeping cherubs:


and a bird’s eye view of the Hall below past an ancient baby carriage;

We then ascended a glorious staircase,

top be met by a very sinister scene at the very top:

It was Bill Sykes who warned me to watch my purse and that Fagin would have my scarf instantly if I was not careful: and then we walked into Fagin’s Den which I thought was wonderful.

Handkerchiefs adorned everything, some drying before the fire, others on the boys’ bunk beds.  Fagin himself was performing tricks with handkerchiefs in front of amazed children:

Who would have the imagination to form a Christmas tree out of bunk beds, straw and handkerchief bunting?


There was a wall showing video of Dickens’ London with smoke pouring from chimneys and snow falling over the roof tops, all in all a superb room.

On next to cabinets of memorabilia: Dickens knew the 6th Duke of Devonshire and stayed at the house and put on plays there, but was not a familiar ‘friend’ as such.  However, there were playbills, letters from Dickens, the Duke’s personal copy of Martin Chuzzlewit and other objects of interest such as his signature in the Guest Book :

I love these paper chains: a friend of mine said that her daughter found an old copy of A Christmas Carol which was falling to pieces, so she took the pages and made them into paper chains to give to her mother for Christmas.  Lovely, although I do not like the idea of ever destroying the written word!

We passed on into Scrooge’s bedroom, which had boxes of cash stored by the bed, a bath ready before the fire, and a figure of himself sitting in bed, shaking and shivering with fear

at a mirror in the corner of the room on which a ghostly presence came and went.

Passing through a hall at the top of some stairs we found a wall of oil portraits with moving spirits gliding across them, rather like in Harry Potter.

Then we saw the House Library decorated for Christmas and I would LOVE a library like this: it is so inviting and cosy.

Down a flight of stairs to be met by a bower of Cherry Blossom, some boots and other lucky Wedding paraphernalia and a poignant carving on a tree trunk:



It was very clear where we were going next, into Great Expectations.  And indeed, there was the defunct Wedding Breakfast

and poor Miss Haversham greeting us all and asking plaintively whether we were happily married.

Leaving her to her querulous questioning of other ‘guests’ we passed under a magnificent gold stags’ head chandelier in celebratory decoration:

and into the Statuary Gallery which was lit a strange blue colour, with yet another magnificent, albeit rather heavy, Eagle chandelier,


with the final message from Dickens:

And so to the ubiquitous Gift Shop where I found a sweet little star made from manuscript paper, and some gorgeous leather handbags, which were quite out of my price range, with appliqued book spines on them.Image result for yoshi bookworm bag

It took nearly two hours to go round and examine everything in detail and I felt it was worth the admission fee.  Next week it will cost much more and the crowds will be huge because the Christmas Fair will be in the grounds then too.  Today was quiet and peaceful and unhurried: a delightful way to spend our yearly outing, but actually quite tiring.

So, we felt we needed a quick bite to eat, a drink, and home.

Where actually, I fell into bed and slept for the rest of the day.  Mind you, I had been up since 4.45 a.m. settling in a new goldfinch, about more another time.  Perhaps!

I hope you enjoyed this tour with us.


Eddie Day 3

Latest email from the supervet;  “Just wanted to send you this so you can see Eddie living it up with the nurses:)”


Breaking news

Nothing to do with China, but we have have just had a photo of Eddie after his operation: he is still at the other end of the country staying at the supervet while they check that no complications arise.

I’ve just had the following email from one of his nurses:


As promised the photo of Eddie is attached he’s looking soooo handsome after his “nose job”

He was a bit worried about me taking the picture in the kennel so I did a picture outside and after had a lovely cuddle with him and rubbed his scar.

He likes sidle up very close to me for a chest rub and I think this helps him feel reassured and that we are all lovely and wanting to help him.

We will continue treating your boy like a little Prince and will make sure he feels very loved.

Kind Regards.”

This is him one day after his operation with his brand new nose:



And this was him before with his ghastly hole:



They imported some artificial skin from New Zealand and covered the hole with it: then drew up some of his own skin from each cheek and sewed it together over the top of the artificial skin.  Barring infections this should do the job.  Fantastic news!!!!


And we are Boarding.  For a flight to Shanghai, China!!  After so much effort.

Oh, the excitement.

All that history   –  The Boxer Rebellion and The Opium Wars,

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The memories of books I heard about in my youth very much from my parents’ generation –   Fu Manchu and The Triads.

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Murder Mysteries on the Home Service Radio Station about Chinese men with long pigtails in Opium Dens and Paul Temple investigating

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and bamboo hats shaped like shallow wigwams.

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and people fishing with tame cormorants

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Finally, we’re boarding a British Airways flight direct to Shanghai.  Just stepping over the threshold onto the plane had my heart thumping with excitement.

We were met at the door by the delightful Chief Steward called Jamie and I introduced myself as the, hopefully not, ‘difficult’ passenger who just might need oxygen.  He was very kind and immediately introduced me to the Stewardess who was in charge of my area of the plane and she took me to my seat to discuss the situation.  J. zoomed on down to her seat, which she had managed to change to an aisle seat, which is her preference so she said she was very happy.  My seat was super, a bulkhead seat with more legroom than I could use beside a window!!!

When I had explained that I would only need oxygen if someone used some chemical in the cabin to which I was allergic or when they fumigated the plane,  she brought me a cannister of oxygen and face mask and showed me how to use them and said that if the portable cannister did not deliver enough oxygen then they would use the cabin supply on the plane: then the situation become very embarrassing for me as she asked the young man sitting next to me to please call her if I collapsed and to help me with the oxygen if I needed it. I never wanted to bother unwitting strangers going about their daily lives.  Anyway, he was very decent about it and made nothing of it, and then up popped another man sitting behind me who said he was a First-Aider and would be very happy to help if necessary.  I was mortified.  It was very kind of them.

Then just as we settled into our climb out of Heathrow she asked over the tannoi for people in my area of the plane to please not use hand sanitizer, creams or sprays because they had a passenger who was allergic.  Very sensible and helpful, but more mortification.

Having said all that, it was kind of her to arrange things like she did because an hour or two into the flight, I collapsed.  A man two seats away from me used a sinus spray containing eucalyptus and I was gone.  I managed to let my seating companion know and he helped me get the face mask in place and turn on the oxygen and called the stewardess.  Unfortunately the smell was so strong that the amount of oxygen available could not bring me round, so the air stewardess fixed up the cabin supply for me.  This necessitated going onto the flight deck to ask the Captain to turn it on: then a pipe had to be inserted into the nozzle above my seat and the mask given to me.  This was heavenly and after about 15 minutes or so I was myself again.  Meanwhile she had asked the poor unsuspecting man with the sinus spray to please not use it again: he did not need asking twice, he was so alarmed and immediately went to the loo to wash himself down.  The man beside me said the smell was very strong and on the other man’s clothes.  The poor passenger suffered badly from congestion and said he used this spray all the time on all his flights as the only thing which could keep him comfortable.  I felt terrible for him and especially as it was an eleven hour flight: indeed he was sneezing and blowing his nose for the whole time.  While arranging the cabin supply and mask for me I could vaguely hear the man next to me saying what a terrible disability to be so sensitive to such everyday things, as I was.  Once I was myself again I was given a driving lesson for my oxygen: it could not just be turned on and off, it was always something that had to be done from the cockpit.  I was to be sure not to accidentally pull on the pipe or dislodge it or the cabin would de-pressurize and everyone else’s mask would descend.  Golly!!

While all this was being set up Jamie came back from First Class to assess the situation and then and there emailed the flight staff on the plane on which I would be returning to give them his assessment and explain my needs.  How very kind and how efficient.

Then meals were distributed.  Oh dear, the message about gluten free had not been transferred from the original flight to this one.  She looked in Business Class and First Class but nowhere could she find a special gluten free meal.  She could offer me a plate of lettuce but that was it.  Then the young man beside me said that really was not good enough on a flight of over eleven hours: I produced some corned beef which had been left over from my vouchers from the night before, she produced the lettuce and we found a salad dressing.  That was lunch.  Later on she came back and said she had found two dishes in First Class, one was chicken with salad, the other was salmon and potatoes, “were they all right for me?” I leapt at them and said absolutely so she kept these two for me for later on.   I have to say they were absolutely delicious and I had no idea airplane food could taste like that.

Later in the flight the young man beside me became talkative for a while, about his Grandfather.  About how had just died a week before and how he did not know how to grieve as it was his first death.  We had a rather serious conversation which he later said he had found helpful and then we both reverted to our previous occupations: he catching up on films, me following maps, reading, writing my diary, going to speak to J and look out of the window.


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After leaving London our journey took a shallow arc across Europe and Russia to turn SE from Novosibirsk down across Mongolia to Shanghai. Basically flying across Denmark, Southern Sweden, Moscow, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Ulaan Baatar (Ulan Bator), and down to Shanghai.

Five hours in to the flight and we hit darkening skies: I managed an hour’s doze but as we flew on I became far too excited to sleep more, following the route and getting up frequently to have a drink and look out of the rear door window as mine was over a wing.  I always like a plane when it is dark and most people are asleep: the staff are quiet, there are plentiful drinks available at the rear of Coach and usually some interesting people to go and talk to about their travels.  I have never been further East than the Urals and as we passed over the Ural mountains  and then onto the Western Siberian Lowlands, past Chelyabinsk and on towards Omsk and Novosibirsk I found it hard to contain myself.  I noted that we were passing north of Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent – all names of Romance and Mystery – names to conjure with. From Novosibirsk, as we flew SE into Mongolia across the Altai Mountain range to Ulan Bator (which gave very noticeable turbulence) I noted that we flew south of my beloved Lake Baikal (on which I wrote a Research Paper some years ago).  From Ulan Bator the plane made a decided turn SSE and flew down to Shanghai.  When you are on a plane which takes hours and hours to fly across a country, you realise quite how vast that country is.

And then, we landed, early. Saturday morning, 7.30 a.m.

I was half way round the world and in China.  Unbelievable.

The usual pouring of people from the plane ensued, retrieving luggage etc etc but I did not rush and stopped to thank all those who had helped me and said I would write to BA to comment on how well I had been looked after.  I had felt safe and cared for, which had been so relaxing, and I was truly grateful.   The First-Aider behind me said that he was very rusty and most relieved not to have been needed!!

J and I followed the herd and went to Passport control where we were kept very firmly in control by a man in a suit who choreographed our placement behind a yellow line as we waited for an Officer to check our papers: no way could we decide which queue was the shortest or which desk seemed the obvious next one to go to.  He was whipping those Westerners into shape.

We began to get rather apprehensive.  Passport control was serious, no smiling or talking. Then on to Customs: as we charged in a gaggle across a large hall we were fascinated to see a crocodile of beautifully smart and disciplined members of staff marching, yes Marching, to work, under the eye of a senior officer.  All smiling and looking very happy, but definitely marching military style. Gosh.  Golly gosh.

The Green Channel was closed to us, although open to returning Chinese.  Seemed strange to me.  We were herded through the Red Channel where every single piece of luggage was sent through the scanner.  As we queued I saw our BA flight staff sailing through a special channel just for them, and feeling very anxious about my medical case in particular, I envied them.  As my luggage went through the scanner I had to go through a scanner too: and not an eyebrow was raised, not a question asked, only a minor pat down.  And we were through. I was speechless, everything seemed topsy turvy and illogical.  But no matter, keep on walking.

As we exited into the arrivals concourse there was a young woman waiting with a broad smile and a sign with our names on it: this was Ci Ci, our guide for the day who had been drafted in on her day off to look after us since we were on a different, later flight.  And the first thing she said, “The Tour to Shangzhou has waited for you so that you do not miss it, you can leave your luggage with me and go straight off:)”


And D-day is here.  Thursday – Departure Day!!!

And here is the map of my proposed travels with my friend J.  We have organised it this way round so that we have the long river trip up the Yangtze on which to rest just in case we have a real problem with jet-lag, before the really gruelling days in Beijing.

Imperial Jewels of China Map

Tonight we have a flight from Manchester to London, then London direct to Shanghai. We arrive Shanghai at 5.0 pm local time tomorrow, Friday, which we feel will give us time to unpack, have something to eat, take a walk and get a good night’s sleep:

We have bought two extra days pre-trip excursion package before the official Tour begins, to get over any jet-lag and have some time to ourselves and I have booked a place on a special day tour with our same travel company as it is not included in the main trip: this tour goes on Saturday morning, to a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Suzhou – a Classical Garden called the ‘Master of Nets Garden’ known as one of the finest classical gardens in China.

The trip also includes a full-day guided tour to the city of Suzhou itself and a canal trip:  the brochure picture suggests to me that we will be on a part of a canal which gives us some insight into peoples’ back gardens and riverside use which I will find fascinating.

Built in 514 BC, the ancient city of Suzhou —42% of which is covered by water—is, I understand,  renowned for its canals, bridges and classical gardens, earning it the name “Venice of the East,” as well as its unique double-chessboard layout of canals and streets and I am really looking forward to this.

Then we have Sunday all to ourselves as the main body of our fellow travellers arrive during the day, in dribs and drabs, from various parts of the world.  The official Tour begins on Monday morning.

Our hour-long shuttle flight to London leaves Manchester at 19.35 and then our flight to Shanghai leaves London Heathrow at 22.35: these timings were booked by the tour company and should give us plenty of time to transfer since we will have completed all our security checks at Manchester.

My friend, who is going with me, lives south of Sheffield and is making her way by Taxi to the Airport.  My husband is kindly coming with me to help with all my luggage: my main suitcase which I shall check, my medical supplies suitcase, my gas mask and filter bag and my handbag.  I feel as if I should have a Sherpa with me.

I have upgraded my ticket one class to World Traveller Plus since I am tall and there are fewer seats in that area: hopefully this will also be useful if I do come into contact with anything that should prove to be problematic chemical-wise.

To begin with all went well.  Taxi to station in Sheffield, direct train to Manchester airport, text from J. to say she had also arrived safely but had already gone through Passport and Security

Since I had so much medical stuff with me my husband decided to remain at the Airport just in case of any hitches, until I rang him to say I was through security.  Well, in the event, he had to wait an hour: not because there were queues, but because I was detained for detailed examination.  I showed all my paperwork to the first man who stopped me, which he read, but they still wished to check the contents of the medical supplies case, which is quite understandable.  First of all I was asked to open and unpack the case in the open on the conveyor belt.  I refused and said that since everything in the case was, if not sterile, then very clean, I needed to unpack somewhere clean. They had no problem with that and the suitcase was taken by another young man who waited with it while I went through the X-Ray machine after which I was given the usual pat down.  We all moved off to a side room, not sterile, nor particularly clean, but at least private.  Both young men were very pleasant and when I asked them to at least change their gloves before handling all the suitcase contents there was no problem at all and they obliged at once.  It was embarrassing for me to have all the appliance stuff looked at in detail but since it did not seem to bother them, I tried to laugh it off as normal and understood that they needed to make sure that the paperwork matched the suitcase contents.  But then they said that I had to have an examination of my person:  two women arrived and the men left.  One woman stood by the door looking grim and never made eye contact with me, but the other talked pleasantly enough.  When she asked why I wore the appliance bag I said that I had had surgery.  She said she had never heard of such surgery, was very suspicious and said she  required to look at my scars at which she proceeded to get a wand of wadding, and actually rub it on my scars and then on the appliance bag.  At this I was outraged: as far as I was concerned we were trespassing into areas of my personal privacy to which she was not entitled.   So what if they had not heard of a particular type of surgery?  What about personal dignity?  So many people travel after surgery, some with life threatening diseases or terminal diseases, were they all subjected to this treatment?

I managed to hold myself together and concentrate on thinking that this would soon be over and was just an insensitive procedure by an ignorant official that it was necessary for me to endure so that I could make the trip I wished to.  But keeping calm was touch and go and psychologically very hard: disfiguring surgery is not something you get over, one always remains sensitive and private.  Well at least, most people of my generation do.

Finally, all was cleared, I zipped up my clothes, re-packed the suitcase, and finally left security.  But I was severely shaken and trying not to cry.  One woman walking past me said that she was furious at her treatment, and she had only been shouted at for being too slow.  When I rang my husband to say I was through he said he had been really worried at the time it took and J. had wondered what was happening too.  The interesting point is, that I am a white, well-educated, middle-class lady of 70: presumably not in the high risk category for terrorism activity.  If I had to undergo that, what happens to other groups of people?  And, having seen all the paperwork, checked my passport and checked the contents of the suitcase, why did they not believe my Doctor and my Pharmacist who would only prescribe such things for someone who had a bona fide medical issue.  I see no reason at all for them to examine my surgical scars.  I am very angry about that.

Anyway, I pulled myself together, and went to the Lounge which was lovely.  Free wine, water, fruit juices, soup, sandwiches, crisps, health food bars, fruit, magazines etc.  My friend J. was shopping and wanted to visit Costa for coffee: we kept in touch by phone and waited.

However, just before we were due to board we were informed of a delay in our shuttle flight of one and half hours.  At this point J, came and joined me in the Lounge and we continued to wait.

Without boring you with a blow by blow account, we took off at last, only to be told at Heathrow that we were being put into a holding pattern and would miss our connections.  For some people this meant their whole holidays had to be cancelled.  Since our suitcases were in transit we were given a hotel room at Heathrow, a night pack containing T-shirt, tooth brush and paste, deodorant, vouchers for food, vouchers for shuttle buses etc.

But this all entailed standing in different queues for hours.  Then they had to try to find us flights which could accommodate us. They found me a seat on a plane leaving the next lunch time (Friday) but had nothing for J. until Saturday. I refused to fly without her, and since I had requested oxygen they finally relented and found her a seat too.  Gosh, it was hard work and we had to make out that J. was my carer.  Something I would normally die before suggesting.

So, off we went to find our shuttle bus, our hotel and then stand in another queue while the hotel found rooms for us all.  We finally fell into bed at 1.0 a.m. in London, instead of being en route for Shanghai.

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Our new flight left at lunchtime the next day, Friday, and arrived in Shanghai at about 7.55 am local time on Saturday.  After disembarking and going through Chinese Customs and Security followed by over an hour’s drive to Shanghai, there was no way we would be in time for the Garden Trip and we suspected we would be absolutely shattered anyway. A guide was meeting us for my booked trip to Suzhou, so, first thing the next day we would have to ring the Tour Company to advise them to cancel the Guide and the Garden visit as we would not be there.  So much for our pre-trip excursion and jet-lag rest.  A really disappointing end to an extremely upsetting day.

However, there was nothing for it but to just roll with the punches or we would end up nervous wrecks.

A short and somewhat disturbed night followed but we were sooo grateful to have a room and a bed to rest in, rather than be sitting for hours on plastic chairs in the airport.  We had a very good breakfast and then girded our loins for the next hurdle, Heathrow Security, to see if we could actually begin our holiday: initially, as we were checked straight through to Shanghai from Manchester, we would only have to go through Security the one time, but having left the airport we had to go through the process again.  My son texted that Heathrow had a bad reputation for the severity of its Security, for reasons I quite understand, but I was not looking forward to a repeat performance of Manchester.

Now, I freely admit that I was tired, worn out and feeling ground down by so many months of preparations only to feel that my efforts were not working properly, and I was  rattled and extremely distressed by Security at Manchester: but I thought I was prepared for Heathrow.  Not.

It began in a similar fashion: they wanted to look inside the suitcase and kept it on one side while I went through the X Ray machine thingy.  Then they did the usual body wand search just past the machine, and then a pat down.  But during the pat down they discovered the appliance and tried to look at it there and then in the middle of the hall of people.  Now, I realise that they did not understand what they were doing, but I explained what it was and again they said they had no idea what I was talking about and I had to physically restrain them from opening my trousers and pulling down my knickers to expose my stomach in the middle of the hall.   At the time it felt terrible.  But it passed.  Two women then came up and asked me to unpack my suitcase.  I said of course, but asked for a clean room.  They became most antagonistic and said that nowhere was cleaner than the conveyor belt and the public hall and I must do it there, in full gaze of everyone.  I showed them my paperwork.  They then said that if I did not like it I should not have packed my medical equipment in my carry-on case.  I explained that this was the medical and airways advice that I was following. They replied that whatever British Airways or the NHS permitted or said was of no interest to them, that they were UK Government Security and outranked all others.  I replied that I had spent seven months and some large some of money arranging this holiday, getting the necessary advice and permits and that my medical supplies were clean and needed to be kept that way. They repeated that they had no such facilities it was unpack there or not travel.  But of course, “It is your choice Madam.”  It was at this point that, overwrought and exhausted, I broke down and began to cry – in despair and frustration that no matter my preparation or planning it was not working.  I said that they left me no choice.  They replied that of course I had a choice  –   their way or no way.  I seriously decided that this had to stop, that I could not take any more, and that I must just call the whole trip off.  There was no point in taking a suitcase of dirty medication all the way to China.  At this realisation I became distraught.

I was inconsolable.  I could no longer speak, answer questions, or even move, and just stood in the line holding everyone up, with my face covered, shaking and with tears streaming down my face. 

I really felt that I could not deal with anything further.  I needed help and support and there was none.  People were stopping and staring but I was past caring.  The Security women tried to make me make some decision or move away but I could not speak to them or physically move. I do not know why but suddenly they relented and suggested that we go to a private room, although that had apparently been unavailable before, although they said that it was no cleaner than the rest of the baggage hall.  I allowed myself to be led there, and tried to unpack my case onto the clean towelthat I had packed in the top of the case to hold everything together.  Then my legs gave out completely and I had to sit down and ask for water. Since I was now physically unable to stand and the women were stuck with me in the room, they relented; one went back to work and the other got me some water. Both women looked intensely fed up and irritated.

Both Security processes left me feeling frustrated, violated, humiliated and with no provision made for personal privacy.  What was the point of all that paperwork if it meant nothing?  Cross-checked with my Passport it all gave assurance that I was who I said I was, and that my situation was genuine and the supplies guaranteed.  If Border Security wishes to physically check the medical condition of passengers then it should educate its staff to understand the conditions they may encounter.

Finally I was allowed through.   And after all that, to add insult to injury the woman who had brought me the water, patted my arm, smiled at me, and suggested I go and get a mug of sweet tea and have a piece of cake to get over the shock of the procedures.  WHAT? Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?

Even allowing for all of us perhaps being tired and for a possible lack of communication I find these two security situations to be illogical and a senseless use of time and manpower, let alone not what one expects from one’s own government.  I shall be approaching our Border Control and Security Offices to find out what was correct, and how to avoid similar experiences in the future.

At least I must be grateful for small mercies: a middle aged German friend of J who is married to a German Senator, was made to submit to an internal body cavity search when she tried to come into the country.  The world has gone stark, staring mad.  And this is terribly, terribly wrong – no-one should be treated like this.

However, enough of all that.

A very worried J. and a tottering I finally met up at Starbucks, had a drink –  a very large, very hot, very sweet hot chocolate in my case – and went to our Gate and Boarded our plane.  And, finally, our holiday was beginning.

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Let’s get one thing clear from the start.

I am an adventurous, free-spirit who travels light on this Earth and can pick up a rucksack at the drop of a hat and set off to explore pastures new.

At least, that is who I was when I was born and who I remain inside.

However, accidents and misfortunes have rendered my poor old frame injured, surgically altered, immune constrained, chemically sensitive with food allergies, and recently diagnosed with cancer.

So, that poses a teensy problem when travelling to somewhere like China.

It took me seven months to make the necessary preparations which was frustrating in the extreme, but proved wise in the event.

If you are interested I explain here what is recommended and what precautions I took: if you are not interested, please just skip:)

Now a lot of advice is geared towards people who are independent travellers and/or who are up-country: for my own safety and for the security of an established umbrella organisation I had decided that I needed to be sensible and go with a well-known travel company.  This I did and although it meant that the trip was rather too organised and over-sanitized for my liking, and most of the other people, although very pleasant were not my type, it was a good choice and also meant that our visits to many sites were stream lined, trouble- and queue-free.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following vaccinations for travellers to China:

Adult diphtheria and tetanus (ADT) : Hepatitis A : Hepatitis BMeasles, mumps and rubella (MMR):  TyphoidVaricella If you haven’t had chickenpox.

The following immunisations are recommended for travellers spending more than one month in the country or those at special risk:

Influenza : Japanese B encephalitis : Pneumonia: Rabies : Tuberculosis 

In China there are day flying mosquitoes and night time flying mosquitoes: both carry diseases. – Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis.

First of all my doctor was adamant that I should have most of these immunisations:   as I have severe chemical allergies to 40% of modern pharmaceutical drugs this necessitated arranging a session in hospital while I was ‘challenged’ with minute amounts to see whether my system could cope with them.  This took months to arrange, and when it did take place I collapsed, so no immunisations for me.

Although water quality in many of China’s major cities is now much safer, the delivery system is not, so non-Chinese are not advised to drink the water, although washing and brushing one’s teeth is OK.  However, since I need to change surgical dressings on a regular basis my doctor wished me to use only bottled water both for drinking, teeth brushing and wound cleansing: after washing my hands I was also to use hand sanitizer and follow the recommendation to wear long-sleeved tops, trousers, and socks to avoid mosquito bites.  Also to use mosquito nets and apply insect repellents.

Now I am fairly sensible so I chose dates for this holiday that fell as nearly as possible into times when mosquitoes would be least abundant.  However, since we are visiting both warm southerly places as well as chiller northern ones this was slightly problematic.  Being on a river for six days in warm areas was also thought provoking!  Unfortunately, I cannot be around most sanitizers without collapsing and the same effect happens with anti-mosquito preparations.  So I had to spend some time trying to track down things that I could take that would not affect me. The Cruise ship sprayed the cabins each day but I had to ask them not to do this in my cabin and also asked them if it would be possible for them to provide a mosquito net.  Look for the photo of my cabin later in this diary to see how they responded to this request.

Finally, I found anti-bacterial wipes that I could tolerate and took long, light-coloured, loose cotton clothing to help prevent disease-carrying insect bites (none of which I have in my wardrobe living in the north of England, of course!!).  My holiday was to be constant hand washing followed by hand wipes, and brushing my teeth in bottled water.  Also, no salads, peeled fruit, or cold dishes: in some parts of China human waste is still a standard agricultural fertiliser!  If I get any kind of stomach upset it can be extremely serious within a few hours leading to extreme dehydration and collapse.

So far, so good. Although my doctor was not overjoyed at the prospect of this trip, or me going unprotected.

Lonely Planet Medical Checklist

Recommended items for a personal medical kit:

  • Antibacterial cream, eg mucipirocin
  • Antibiotics for diarrhoea, including norfloxacin, ciprofloxacin or azithromycin for bacterial diarrhoea; or tinidazole for giardia or amoebic dysentery
  • Antibiotics for skin infections, eg amoxicillin/clavulanate or cephalexin
  • Antifungal cream, eg clotrimazole
  • Antihistamine, eg cetrizine for daytime and promethazine for night-time
  • Anti-inflammatory, eg ibuprofen
  • Antiseptic, eg Betadine
  • Antispasmodic for stomach cramps, eg Buscopan
  • Decongestant, eg pseudoephedrine
  • Diamox if going to high altitudes
  • Elastoplasts, bandages, gauze, thermometer (but not mercury), sterile needles and syringes, safety pins and tweezers
  • Indigestion tablets, such as Quick-Eze or Mylanta
  • Insect repellent containing DEET
  • Iodine tablets to purify water (unless you’re pregnant or have a thyroid problem)
  • Laxative, eg coloxyl
  • Oral-rehydration solution (eg Gastrolyte) for diarrhoea, diarrhoea ‘stopper’ (eg loperamide) and antinausea medication (eg prochlorperazine)
  • Paracetamol
  • Permethrin to impregnate clothing and mosquito nets
  • Steroid cream for rashes, eg 1% to 2% hydrocortisone
  • Sunscreen
  • Thrush (vaginal yeast infection) treatment, eg clotrimazole pessaries or Diflucan tablet
  • Urinary infection treatment, eg Ural

I did not take all of this but I did take the few items I knew that were safe for me and also covered most common conditions: clove oil, T-tree oil, homeopathic kit, soluble ibruprofen, dioralyte, codeine phosphate, buccastem, anti allergy tape, cough tablets, and my regular prescription items.

Tips for Packing

  • Pack medications in their original, clearly labelled containers.
  • If you take any regular medication, bring double your needs in case of loss or theft.
  • Take a signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medications (using generic names).
  • If carrying syringes or needles, ensure you have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.If you have a heart condition, bring a copy of your ECG taken just prior to travelling.
  • Get your teeth checked before you travel.
  • If you wear glasses, take a spare pair and your prescription.

In China you can buy some medications over the counter without a doctor’s prescription, but not all, and in general it is not advisable to buy medications locally without a doctor’s advice. Fake medications and poorly stored or out-of-date drugs are also common, so try to bring your own.

So, I heeded this advice, followed it, and for good measure had my prescriptions printed out, dated and signed by both my Doctor and Pharmacist: I was anticipating problems with Chinese officials: as it turned out this did not happen, it was the English officials who behaved like little Hitlers.  (More on this next time.)

I also discovered that the flights to and from the UK to China were fumigated with an insect killer which I could not tolerate.  It took all seven months to track down a face mask and filter combination that I could wear on the plane for 40 minutes while this took place.  The company also recommended that I took charcoal masks to cope with the common problem of air pollution in many Chinese cities, and other chemical events that I might encounter.  Very helpful of them.

It was suggested that I should contact the airline for two reasons: one to ask for oxygen to be available in case of some kind of chemical exposure during the flight (oxygen is the only thing which brings me round) and secondly to explain my need for medical equipment because in that case my luggage would not be weight limited.  Given the weight of the mask and filter alone this was a tremendous help.  Apparently only one passenger per flight is allowed oxygen.  I was on four flights with British Airways: Manchester to London, London to Shanghai, Beijing to London, London to Manchester. (I could not manage to discover how to make this arrangement with the three different Chinese Airlines we also flew on.)  Gods be praised, but no other passengers on my flights had asked for this concession, so after several doctor’s letters and filling in loads of forms, my medical allowance was given the go-ahead and my oxygen request accepted by BA.

Are you bored yet? I was.  Bored and fed up and frustrated  Image result for frustration   and getting more depressed by the day as the complications of my medical situation were brought home to me.  Of course we were preparing for all the worst possible scenarios which is highly unlikely, but in the circumstances the doctors thought it necessary.

Then I got the diagnosis of cancer and my surgeon wanted to operate in July/August: I refused as the operation will make me immobile for at least three months.  Not until after China I determined.  But it was more pressure. Oh yes, and now I have very little hair.  For some reason it has been falling out at a rate of knots, either from the shock of the cancer diagnosis or the various interventions I have tried.  Very good for morale.

As a little extra soupçon a few years ago I badly re-injured a knee joint: exercise, diet and pilates have transformed the joint but it is still ‘iffy’ so that meant taking two hiking poles and a knee-brace to use on the Great Wall at least.

Did I mention that I like to travel light?         Image result for travelling light

Because of surgery I do not absorb or metabolize nutrients well, so that necessitated taking supplements that I needed.  Also the few usual drugs that I can tolerate in case they are not available where I would be – all of which have to be prescription items for me.  It was brought home to me that since some of these contain codeine the Chinese Customs might not be happy: so that entailed getting print-outs of all my prescription items, listed, dated, and signed by my dispensing Chemist and Doctor.

I was told that I MUST carry all my medical items in my hand luggage so that I could not be parted from them. Because of lots of major surgery in the past I have to wear an appliance.  That is normally no problem.  But with skin allergies there are only certain types of appliance that I can tolerate: these are not available in China.  So I had to take everything I might possibly need for the whole stay, plus extra in case of emergencies.  This involved pastes and powders.  And, you guessed it, no Security in any Airport lets you go through with large amounts of pastes, liquids and foreign looking powders.  More paperwork, this time to present to Security: this paperwork was approved, dated and signed by British Airways Medical department and also the relevant NHS departments.

You may have noticed that so far there has been no mention of guide books, normal day clothes, diaries, pens, sun hats, underwear,  – the usual things people consider when packing.  Not relevant so far.

Since I cannot eat gluten or dairy products, I had had translated and printed off, a sheet that I could give to restaurants, cafes and chefs: I also took some gluten-free crackers and a few other dried emergency items – just in case.  All triple wrapped in case of sniffer dogs at Chinese customs.  Oh yes, and a bar of 90% dark chocolate for when everything just got too much!!           Image result for emergency chocolate

By now you would imagine that all possible eventualities had been researched, discussed, and dealt with.

Oh no.

One week before I was due to set off I felt that I had crossed every T and dotted every i.  I had printed paperwork for everything I had organised, plus translations into Chinese, and had laminated some of these as well.  Then my normal monthly appliance prescription was returned  – late- with some of the most essential items missing and no explanation.  I spent three days trying to find out if anyone else had the items or knew what the problem was.  I was told eventually that the manufacturer had, with no notice and no explanation, stopped making the items and would not make them again until November.  You can perhaps imagine my feelings at this point?  I was also told that the local hospital pharmacies would not dispense them for me even with my prescription because it was a family doctor prescription not a hospital prescription, even though the surgery had obviously taken place at the hospital.

If anyone ever felt that the fates were against this journey, that was me at that moment.

But I also felt that I had worked damn hard for this trip, at the same time as negotiating other family problems, and pet crises, and that come hell or high  water I was going.

Finally, nearly crying with frustration,   Image result for frustration     I found an online dispenser who listened to my plea, knew about the manufacturer’s situation, and cut through all the red tape by suggesting that she send me the next generation appliance which would be following on from the one I was already using.  It was not yet available on prescription so I could not send her that, but like an angel, she said not to worry, she would send them to me and write them off as sales samples.  She had them despatched by courier and they arrived the day before I was due to leave.  I would have hugged and kissed her if I could.Image result for kind angel


When I was young I knew that I had cousins in Peking (as it was then) who were half Swedish and half Chinese: it seemed very exotic and I always wanted to know about their lives.  Their escape from the Red Guard was legendary in the family.

People from Burma lived in our house when I was very small and I loved it when they were on baby-sitting duties: the stories they told and the clothes they wore were different, prettier, so much lovelier than my day-to-day normality.  Sitting on their knee was to be in heaven: the ladies were loving, dark, petite, fine-boned, smelled gorgeous and wore silky and satiny clothes.  So different from my tall, bony, blond Scandinavian relatives.

One of my favourite stories was a book they gave me called Dabbitse (by Chiang Yee, see note below) about a little boy whose father was called Obstinate Ho.  The boy spent each day with his beloved Water Buffalo Dabbitse.  One day Dabbitse gets into the garden of a rich house and eats the Lotus flowers in the pond much to the distress of the owner’s daughter!!!  The illustrations are wonderful, several in delicate water colour and more in traditional Chinese ink.  It was a book which opened up magical vistas to me.

So although I knew a little about Asia I had never been.  I have also mentioned elsewhere that I have always wanted to stand on the Great Wall of China and when I was first diagnosed with this cancer my first thought was that I will not die without having stood on the Great Wall.

Therefore, I was going.  And if I fell off the Great Wall or some other dire event befell me, then so be it.  Better to try and fail, than not try.

But after all these months of preparation I was emotionally frazzled and exhausted.  And, I am ashamed to admit, although not often given to self-pity, I did ruminate darkly from time to time when I heard other’s complaints about the amount of work necessary  for them to go on holiday;)

So, finally, after all these months, D-Day dawned, and miraculously, I was ready.

Related image



P.S.  I do not own any copyright to any of the images in this post.

P.P.S.  Chinese artist and writer Chiang Yee (1903-1977) came to Britain in 1933, where he lived and worked until 1955. During this time he wrote a successful series of illustrated travelogues using the pen name ‘Yaxingzhe’ or ‘Silent Traveller’. The books describe Chiang Yee’s life in London and Oxford during the turbulent years of the Second World War and record his travels to the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Edinburgh and Dublin.  Illustrated throughout, with his own unique ink and watercolour paintings, sketches and poems, they represent a significant artistic, as well as literary project.Notably among the first Chinese writers to write books in English in the first half of the 20th century, Chiang enjoyed a prolific publishing career in Britain, in which he also published two seminal texts on Chinese painting and calligraphy, memoirs of his childhood in China, and several children’s books including ‘Dabbitse’.


Well folks, I’m back home.

After what has turned out to be the most amazing, astonishing and over-stimulating trip of my life!!

Worth every second of the months of preparation (which really depressed me) and the brutal experiences of British Security (in my opinion).

I actually returned home last Saturday night but since then have been suffering from a bad viral chest infection which everyone else had either taken with them on the trip, or caught en route, but which I avoided when away, only to succumb once back here.   I think I know where and when i picked it up but that is for later in my narrative.  Add to that some jet-lag, a migraine and a mind so wildly over-excited that I cannot lie down to sleep without seeing China in my mind and dreaming about being overwhelmed by visual stimuli.

Seven air flights, over 12 Gb of photos, a notebook full of scrawled jottings which went everywhere with me, 5 hotels, a River Cruise and more coach trips than I could count.  Ancient temples, palaces, pagodas, giant Buddhas, cliffs of coffins, the largest dam in the world which necessitated our boat passing through a night of locks, pandas, carvings, costumes, social history, political history, tea ceremonies, dhows, sampans, gardens, tombs, archaeology, geology, natural history, rickshaw rides, hospitality in C15 Beijing Hutongs, the list goes on and on.

I am going to try to write my account of this trip, primarily for myself, so that I have a digital copy to treasure: however, I do hope that it will prove to be of interest to any of you who drop in to read it, but please bear with the parts which are boring to you and just skip them whilst making allowances for my personal memories.

As usual life will not stop to give me adequate time for this mammoth task: for instance I will be away for a while next week taking Eddie to see the Supervet.  But I will try my hardest to complete this diary.

When I departed I was 50% excited and 50% anxious: I nearly turned back at Heathrow security and as I stood there in public, humiliated, crying my eyes out, (not a nice look for a 70 year old woman whose hair is falling out) I was literally on the verge of giving up the attempt.

But I am so glad I went, I would not have missed this trip for anything, and I do so hope you get some pleasure from my account:)


What to believe?

Two weeks ago I had another MRI scan.

According to the measurements on the second Radiologist’s report the tumour has shrunk by nearly 1/3rd. In only four months!!!  I was thrilled to bits, assuming that some of all the measures I have been taking, have had an effect.

Then last week I was down to see my Consultant at the Royal Marsden for a follow-up appointment in which we were due to discuss dates for surgery.

Because of my various chemical allergies surgery is problematic for me.  In the euphoria following the second MRI scan I had been hoping to postpone surgery for a good while, and perhaps even change the nature of any operation depending on how much more the tumour might reduce.

His Registrar said that she thought the tumour had not grown much.  Grown? Grown?  Excuse me?

Then the Consultant himself came in and said that things were much the same as before.  WTF?

I mentioned the differences in measurements in the Radiologists’s reports but was told that it was because they assumed that different places had been measured.  But my Consultant had not seen the MRI scan, only read the report.

Surely a Radiologist would use some kind of positioning system so that all future scans could give an accurate measurement of any changes, or what is the point?  Surely a health professional would be incredibly careful since surgery could depend on his/her readings?

I am/was confused.

BUT, somehow the whole tenor of the consultation was different from my last one.  Suddenly the urgency, the drastic nature of treatment, all were changed.  I was asked if I would be happy to wait for surgery and let them monitor the situation for another four months.

Since this was exactly what I wanted, I was happy to agree:)

So, what do you think was going on?

Personally, I think that they could not believe the apparent reduction since they had not seen this before.  But have they had a patient with this type of cancer who has done the things I have?

At least this is what I need to believe.

But I am rather unhappy and confused: some validation would have really helped as the things I am doing are not easy and it is a lonely struggle swimming against accepted health opinions.

Still, onwards and upwards.  I have great excitements coming up soon as I leave for China on Thursday 5th October.  Even writing this sounds unbelievable.  And checking through all my travel documents today has thrown me into a fever of anticipation.  I am going with a friend as my husband is not interested in going to China: we begin in Shanghai for a few days, then fly to Wuhan where we get on a river boat to cruise up the Yangtze for five days passing through the Three Gorges en route.  After that we disembark at Chongqing, fly to Xian to stay, then fly on to Beijing for several days.  Amongst other things we hope to visit the Panda Breeding Station, the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall and most of the other usual tourist sites with, hopefully, some less usual sites thrown in too.  AndImage result for chinese fisherman with cormorant I so hope to see a fisherman with his tame cormorant sitting on his shoulder!!

When I was given my diagnosis in June this year, I was resolved that come what may, I shall stand on the Great Wall of China during my lifetime.  I postponed surgery from a suggested date in July until this trip was accomplished and now it looks as if it may even happen.  Gosh, I am so, so lucky:)  🙂



(Brochure picture from Viking Cruises ‘Imperial Jewels of China’ Tour.  Their copyright.)

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