This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

A Wake Up Call

As many of you will already know I’ve missed work a lot. Since the school closed early in March I’ve been longing for the day when I could get back driving, see my colleagues and the kids and return to the structure that working life brings. You’ll know that I found lockdown tough at times - as did many many others - and at times didn’t handle it well at all. Whilst the chance to finally get away in the caravan again was welcome it was the start of the new school term in September that I was focussing on - back to a routine and a sense of self worth in the knowledge that I would be earning money again rather than sitting on my backside and getting paid for it - although I should say now that I was extremely grateful for the furlough scheme - it did at least remove financial worries.

The first step in prior to the new term was a medical - not specifically because of the pandemic - as drivers we have one every two years anyway. That came on Tuesday 25th August - just a over a week before the start of term. 

And I failed.

My blood pressure - specifically the lower diastolic reading was consistently too high. I managed one reading within the lower limits specified by the DVLA for bus drivers but needed at least two to pass. Declared unfit to drive, I was gutted, having pinned my hopes on returning to work in September. I came away understandably distraught and upset.

My first call was too my GP to arrange an appointment, I hoped quickly, however nothing was available until the 8th meaning that there was no way I’d be returning to work at the start of term.

Whilst I was obviously upset the unpalatable truth was, it was my fault. I have not looked after myself during lockdown, initially at least treating everyday as a weekend.  Too many suppers of cheese, biscuits and salty meats, chocolate with the inevitable liquid accompaniment many nights of the week and a lack of motivation to get any sort of regular exercise, combined with regular mugs of tea and strong coffee have taken it’s toll. Sure I knew I’d gained a little weight but had no idea what was going on inside. Whilst I’d survived lockdown mentally, physically I had clearly suffered. Doing a jigsaw maybe good for the brain but not for the waistline, particularly when accompanied by excessive amounts or sugar, salt, fat, caffeine and alcohol.

I went to bed that night with a headache which was to persist for most of the next day. The Occupational Health practitioner had said that If I could produce three official readings within the prescribed limits then she would reconsider. I tried all the local pharmacies that normally offer blood pressure testing but none were doing so because of Covid. My manager was also exploring all avenues to see if there was any way of moving things forward more quickly in the hope of minimising the delay before my return to work.

Then a friend sent me a link to a pharmacy that offered private consultations with a GP over a video link in a cubicle equipped with various medical devices, including a blood pressure monitor. I booked and paid for an appointment and presented myself there the following afternoon. I explained the circumstances and did the blood pressure checks, the GP monitoring the results over the video link. I was just in the prescribed limits - although still higher than ideal - and came away a little happier knowing that, for now, I’d done what I could at least, forwarding the report to the OH practitioner as soon as it arrived by email.

With the headache still persisting I settled down on the sofa in the hope of a nap and was just drifting off when the phone rang - it was the OH practitioner. She had reviewed my case, along with the new set of results, with a colleague and was calling to advise that they would pass me fit to drive, subject to a review in three months. I can’t begin to describe to you the relief that I would finally be returning to work as planned. After a horrible 30 hours or so where I had mentally beaten myself up for being so foolish, I was back on track.

I’d ‘got away with it’ - just - but now it is down to me to get myself fitter. The routine of being back at work will help - the early morning walks will resume, my alcohol consumption will drop dramatically as I rarely drink during the week for obvious reasons - and partially as a result - the sugary, salty and fatty snacks will lessen considerably too. I’ll make changes to my diet - less caffeine, plenty of water, more fruit and vegetables. My appointment with the GP remains and if the changes I make are not enough and I have to go on medication so be it, but that will be a last resort. I’ve been extremely foolish but shouldn’t dwell on that - the best thing I can do is try to put it right. A wake up call indeed.

Cheers

Rich.


Friday, 27 March 2020

When will I see you again | The diary of a school minibus driver

With plenty of time on my hands for the foreseeable future - as have many - I thought I’d fire up the laptop and recall some of the events of the last few days from my perspective. This may be the first of many, or just the one, we will see how it goes.

Day 0 - Monday 16th March 2020

It had been a long weekend, with a rapidly scheduled INSET day on the previous Friday, to implement remote learning systems and the like and many of us wondered whether they’d call a halt to the school term a week early. There were no updates over the weekend so it was all systems go this morning, bringing the kids in as per usual, nipping home for breakfast then gathering with fellow drivers outside the Prep school, for the short drive down to the sports ground for the younger kids’ games session at 10am.

Our manager appeared, called us all together and informed us that the school would likely be closing today - nothing had been confirmed officially yet - and that it may well be that two ‘Home’ runs were required, taking the Prep kids separately from the those in the Senior school. This of course aroused talk that there was an suspected virus outbreak there.

Rather than head home for lunch I hung around, like many, in case we were needed early. There were no further updates and the older Prep kids were despatched to the sports ground as per normal, although their session was much shorter than is usual.

About 4pm the message came that the school was closing and that the Home run would proceed as normal. Shortly before the 5pm departure time the kids boarded as per usual, noticeably excited. I missed the start of the 5pm briefing but caught most of it as we made our way along the coast to Eastbourne, dropping the kids off on the way. There was no need to take the minibus back to school that night, so I was home a little earlier than is usual for an end of term, catching up with the news and starting to absorb the full implications of the contents of the briefing.

Am email from the college confirmed what we’d suspected - one kid had fallen ill and four further boys in the same house were showing symptoms, along with one of the tutors. This virus, so far confined, in our minds anyway to other places, had moved much, much closer to home. It was getting real.

Day 1 - Tuesday 17th March

There was no rush to take the minibus back - after all it wouldn’t be needed - but thanks to my body clock, not to mention the silly o’clock alarm I’d failed to switch off, I was still awake early, thoughts tumbling around in my head.

Shortly after 9am I departed, the minibus for once being parked close to the flat, for the short trip not to the college but to the sports ground in East Brighton park, near the Caravan & Motorhome club site. Roughly half the fleet was already there, some drivers choosing to bring back their chariots last night or first thing. I reversed in, killed the engine and had a check in the back for rubbish, Thankfully ‘my’ kids - for that’s how I think of them - are pretty tidy. I retracted the mirrors, recorded the closing mileage in the log, locked her up and made my way to the exit, looking wistfully back over the gates. The government announcement about national closure of schools had not yet come but I wondered when I’d be called upon to spin up the engine of the mostly faithful No.2 minibus again.

I could have got a bus along Eastern road to the college to hand in the ‘tin’ - the box containing the keys, fuel card, vehicle log and breakdown and insurance certificates - but there wasn’t one due so instead walked, waving to another driver on the way who was just returning his vehicle.

Tin deposited at the Lodge, I said goodbye to the staff there and made the short walk to the seafront. The No. 27 bus appeared after a short while and I hopped on, doubling the number of passengers to two.

There was a shift change a few stops along and I heard the departing driver comment that it had been a waste of time. Shortly after my fellow passenger departed leaving the bus to myself. It was weird - Brighton & Hoves’ buses are well used - the second most in the country after London - and I’d never known it this quiet. The mind was wandering again and I decided to do a social media update, posting the picture I took of the minibuses all lined up behind locked gates. It was then, I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few quiet tears. Suddenly a major part of my life ceased to exist - I’ve said before how important work was me in the weeks and months following Trev’s death. It gave me focus, some grounding and a reminder that life goes on. In Transport we’re a pretty close knit bunch, always looking out for one another and pitching in to help each other out when need be. I had no idea when I would get to see them again. The kids too - and their parents. Having done the same run for so long I know a lot of them pretty well and enjoy the responsibility of them being in my care for up to two hours a day, bringing them in and getting them home safely. It was probably the wider implications personally too - my upcoming trip away in Patsy was now very much in the balance - and all this weighed very heavily indeed. It was the loneliest I’ve felt for a long long while.


Saturday, 1 February 2020

18 Months

It seems incredible that 18 months have passed since Trev left us and, whilst I still miss him greatly, the fact that he was so cruelly robbed of his retirement hurts the most. 

Looking back at the last year and half though, alongside the inevitably emotional troughs and dark days, I've been getting on with it, enjoying some great trips away in Patsy, seeing new places, making new friends and enjoying the company of existing ones. Work is going well and I've enjoyed doing new things too, things that perhaps we wouldn't necessarily have done together.

My thoughts on the afterlife mirror Trev's - but, if he was up there looking down, or down there looking up (!) I'd like to think he'd be pleased with how I'm doing. He would have plenty to say on the recent political shenanigans too. He would roll his eyes at some of my outfits and probably tell me to keep an eye on the booze. But overall I reckon he'd say "you're doing alright Rich'. That means a lot.