Quoted in ‘3 ideas for living well in 2021’ on 7Minutes by @ChrisGoswami

I ask people a lot to think about what the fruits of the spirit look like online, so was happy to see Chris Goswami pick up on this:

Read the full blog post.


[LIFE] Doing up the house

Cancer, generally, has been a horrific experience,  but one thing it has given a bit of breathing space for is largely completing my house makeover. I moved in Easter 2016 (and almost immediately bought the freehold!), and had just completed my own bedroom 2 weeks before my cancer diagnosis – and everything else has been done between and alongside treatments:

The House

The house has some decent curb appeal, although built in the 1970s, it has a bit of a Regency look to it … and – for me – gets a lot of light (mostly in the back in the morning, and the front for the afternoon). We have weird, slightly offset paths, so my garden is not the one with the wishing well in it… Roof has odd flat bit at the front – so got that checked/fixed when I first moved in ..

The garden (s) are the least worked part of the house, my neighbour took down the two large trees either side of the garden as they were blocking most of the evening light; I’ve planted some smaller/cheaper plants in the beds, and gradually added more and more compost, plus the lawn has been kept neat. I tried to keep hanging baskets alive, but tucked away from the weather… I have since gone for Ikea plastic plants!

The Lounge

I enjoyed the look of the lounge because it’s very light – with windows from both ends, but on moving in was quite depressed at how scrubby and dirty everything looked, and that imposing fireplace (though there were questions as to whether that was coming back into fashion) – and very dated heating (but that had to wait til whole house had new heaters in 2019):

I liked the colours in the curtains, etc. though the chandelier wasn’t to my taste – but also I knew that most of my stuff was designed for ‘red’, so the previous owners took all that with them.

I made use of the bookcase bit for a while, then gave that away on Facebook Marketplace. On having a gas check done, the gas fireplace was condemned – not my taste, and not even functional.. but I knew sorting that out was going to take a while. Fortunately I grew up in a cold farmhouse so used to layering up/blankets!

I like to keep my space warm, personalised – but not TOO cluttered. The carpet for this only went down Jan/Feb 2020 – thankful I got that done then! My very ancient TV (thank goodness for Firesticks) is surrounded by furniture that comes from end-of-line sales (including a sofa bed that no one has yet slept on!), and I LOVE my wood-burning stove – that was worth the effort of getting it installed, and the plasterboard which surrounded the 1970s brick craziness!
Very thankful for the patience of my electrician in lining things up (he’s brought the whole house up to legal requirements, and added many more plug sockets!), plumber for installing sweet looking radiators, and my cousin for sorting most of the pictures. I never thought I’d spend so much time in this space, so thankful that it’s so nice! This was a space it seemed worth getting someone else in to strip back the layers of paper on wall and ceiling, and then just paint in a clean WHITE, with the same red that I’d used as a feature wall in my Durham house.

The Kitchen/Diner

This was always the bit that I planned to do the most work to, and was very thankful that as I was undergoing my first set of chemotherapy (when I still thought that I’d have a normal lifespan), some money was left by my great-aunt, which basically enabled all these changes downstairs (including blocking up the door into the kitchen (repurposed as garage door), and installing patio doors).

So, what do we see here – a very small and cramped kitchen, with very little working space, a door taking up one wall, and a wall between that and the dining area…

So yes, here, with lovely Habitat light, and another sale find for the dining area, you’ll get a peak that the wall has gone … although may not notice that the kitchen wall has also gone back about 3/4 of a metre – not very far but makes SUCH a difference to how light and spacious it feels!

Two years after this kitchen was done, still finding it looking quite like a showroom kitchen (maybe a bit more cluttered), and highly functional… my cousin has been cooking in it for 3 weeks and says all it’s missing is a solid fish slice… otherwise have pretty much anything that’s needed in the small space (and a bit of stuff in the garage)…
And there’s all the beautiful Ikea pots – which magically fit (we didn’t pre-measure – it was just the space that was there) … I quite like having the ‘pop’ of colour on there, and a chalkboard to roughly plan what I might eat, and the spice rack for £10 from ebay which is super useful!

The Back Garden/Garage

Always useful having a garage, but it had been stuffed with ‘stuff’, so had lots of bent shelves to take out, and also had to replace the roof which was badly damaged (and the door that kept getting stuck). I still have some of the pots and the table/chairs have been repurposed as garden stands.. have now updated the back fence/gate, and added extra to the tops of these fences – with a bit of repainting – looks good as new…

The most recent addition to the house, in the hope that people can come and sit in a COVID-Risk-Managed way in the back garden (then of course the tier instructions changed) under an awning (maybe round the firepit!). Adding an alarm to the house was also one of the early jobs that I did..

A very random selection of plants and pots – probably mostly from Poundstretcher, B&M, etc – though hoping my B&Q cherry tree might do some interesting things this year – it’s already budding…

I try and keep the garage tidy enough to pop my car in as needed … with a bit of Brexit food supplies – and my old fridge/freezer giving me many options for bulk cooking 🙂

The Hallway

The hallway was fine, if a little bland for my tastes (family pics had been taken down for estate agents!) … also there was no ladder into the attic, so that was one of the first things I changed (along with boarding half the attic, so that a new boiler could be installed)… when we got round to the hall I had a few friends round peeling off the bobbled wallpaper – with ladders borrowed from neighbours!

The lighting was badly placed, so got that moved – at one point had a beautiful collection of baubles, but 3 of them smashed and I couldn’t get replacements, so gone back to a simple light frame… and many pictures! And after debating a custom-built bookcase, I found a cheaper option with these small Argos cases – and painted the backs white for the benefit of the stairs..

The final job, thankfully done shortly before lockdown, was new carpets for stairs/hallway and lounge… very happy with colour and bounciness!

The Master Bedroom

The previous owners did say that this was the room that they’d never really got to.. I’m not sure who needs that many wardrobes but .. it took around a year to get round to this room:

After my cousin and I smashed the wardrobes out, I stripped what seems like about 6 layers of wallpaper off, and some very plasticy paper from the ceiling  (where I can still see wardrobe lines, but anyway), then at least 3 layers of paint, my old spare room curtains – room feels loads bigger, very functional – and again, furniture largely from end of line places and Ikea!

Oh yes,that stonking great big adjustable bed .. from Recliner Factory (currently awaiting fixing). Very thankful that this room, including TV at end of bed, was completed a couple of weeks before my cancer diagnosis (also added built in bookshelves/shoe cupboard).

The Spare Bedroom

I slept in this room pretty much as is for the first year, whilst sorting out the master bedroom. Inbuilt wardrobe very useful – nice spare room – but sun comes up this side, so am happier on the other side of the building!

And now it is hopefully a welcoming space …

… although are competing somewhat with some bits of storage, photographs, and ironing board/washing stands etc are all used in here when no-one else is in! Dries well with that sun streaming in in the morning 🙂

The Office

This was part of the appeal of this house … my last house was 2 rooms, and as I work from home quite a bit (isn’t everyone these days), love having a space I can shut the door on at the end of the day…

And there it is, very neatly set up – and every academic’s dream – whiteboard and built in bookshelves … don’t know if whoever comes after will want them but… and yes, that’s my bookcovers nicely framed!

The Bathroom

The bathroom was fine, although nothing was exactly my taste, but it was pretty functional. I’d done the bathroom at my previous house, so still had some ideas from there that I was happy with…

I really like the half-tile, half-paint look, and the white means can play with accessory colours. What with all the cancer meds, it’s maybe a little more cluttered than I’d like, but it’s a good space.. and my toilet is twinned of course!

And this shower is awesome (makes a difference every day) … and managed to turn an empty old airing cupboard into a set of shelves which removed wheeled trollies full of stuff  (I mean, I still overflow into the spare room, but it’s a good use of space)

Still to do:

So EVERYTHING has been freshly painted, boiler/heating updated, electricity made safe/updated… amazing what you can do on a tight budget! There’s always a few small bits and bobs to keep on top of, as well as general maintenance (especially of the lawn/garden, and paint touch-ups). I abandoned the idea of applying for Garden Rescue or one of those kind of programmes, as need to put money forward for these. However very small list still to do:

  • Remove brass ‘door furniture’ and replace with Chrome
  • Strip back outside pillar to base layer, and repaint white (I’ve already repainted the walls and pillar once, but guess it may be a recurring job)
  • Drill water hose brackets to wall (back garden)
  • Drill planters, clock, temp bracket, etc up in back garden.
  • Lounge – curtain hook – swap middle hook for right shape
  • Lounge – skirting boards left exposed old paint
  • Kitchen – get filler to stay on kitchen surface
  • Consider new blinds (current ones quite grubby)
  • Bathroom – fix slidey toilet seat
  • Master bedroom – remove gloss paint spot from curtains (or replace curtains?)
  • Doors – some need a bit shaving off as carpets catch on them
  • Boiler – have lost access to my gas fitter, and overdue it’s annual service

Everything else is about decluttering, tidying, keeping eye on the guttering, roof, and front could be repointed but that’s a cosmetic thing.


Happy Christmas 2020, and here’s to 2021

What do you write for Christmas 2020 – it’s been a strange year hasn’t it … all those plans I (and many others) blogged about in expectation of 2020, COVID19 has knocked many people off their feet … and then cancer truly came back in summer 2020 to knock me further off my feet!

I don’t know how many people have had conversations like this (we haven’t thankfully):

When I was in New Zealand, Lesley introduced me to an amazing multi-layered Pentatonix track, and I’m also enjoying their Christmas track:

And I quite enjoyed skipping my way through this COVID-Nativity version (I think a church youth group, and a few laughs about the UK COVID situation, alongside a pretty ‘true to the Bible’ story):

Oh, and don’t forget, that at 5.30pm Sunday 20th December, you can join Carols On the Doorstep!

Added later – this from Jimmy Fallon:

I don’t like to wish time away, especially now, but I wish you all a pleasurable Christmas, and a much better 2021 (vaccine’s a-coming!).. as a historian, I’m not big on random dates meaning huge changes (e.g. years, decades, etc), but, I guess it is a time to reflect back AND look forward:

Cancer Updates

If you’re interested in the cancer updates, they can all be found on my blog.


Christmas ‘featured image’: Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash; New Year: Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash


[LIFE] A week back in the UK … after that rather aborted ‘trip of a lifetime’ to New Zealand

Today is the day that I should have been landing back in the UK in the early hours of the morning, having spent 2 months on a writing scholarship in New Zealand, and then a week in Melbourne doing some public speaking (and had treated myself to tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). This year had felt like there was a chance after 2.5 years of treatment, whilst NEAD, to seize the opportunity for a bit of travel – so I’m glad I made it to Germany earlier this year, as the New Zealand trip has been all over the place (I feel like I spent most of my time talking to insurance, travel companies, and medics, as well as dealing with the mental trauma that most of us are feeling from COVID19), and my trip to Paris in June is obviously dead in the water, as is Greenbelt Festival … (but there have been other things)…

The Final Week in New Zealand

I last wrote in my final week in New Zealand, when I had made the decision that it was time to come home, that I was awaiting blood tests, and an X-Ray. It’s interesting to know how much these kind of things are valued in real ‘cash terms’, as we’re very used to getting it all funded on the NHS (well, standard treatments anyway) – I’ve got quite a big bill to claim back from insurance. Blood tests came back with ‘neutrophils’ fine, so cleared to fly on that basis. I got my X-ray and was sent away with the images on a CD (I don’t have a CD player or any idea how to interpret the images, but anyway) .. I still have no interpretation of what the results mean from UK or NZ, which is quite frustrating (but you become very used to waiting for results, doesn’t necessarily make it easier) – especially as still a lot of (we hope) muscular pain.

There was plenty to be getting on with, including a webinar on digital discipleship with Melbourne, and this short interview with The Bible Society:

and some recording with Stephen (to be seen later) and Sapati (the first of which can be seen here):


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Short interview #1 in #lockdown #gettingtoknowBex #vaughanpark #scholar #nevergiveup #keepthefaith #keepgoing

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I made sure I got out and about for some of that beautiful New Zealand scenery, and capture some of those sounds of the beach for future locked-in days:


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Keep on walking #NewZealand

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including in the evening:


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Well I guess I’ve not been to the beach this late before … #Newzealand

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And when New Zealand went down to Level 3 (looking like it will announce Level 2 later today) *and yes, I think NZ have dealt with this much better than the UK, we may be different countries, but there’s something about how you communicate with your people which really changes people’s thinking/behaviour* – we were allowed back into the sea:

Our lockdown bubble enjoyed a last Sunday meal:


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Had lovely lunch with @dre.t26 and family .. now it really is zzzz time!

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and a takeaway (once they reopened at Level 3), as well as an online chat with the other staff from Vaughan Park):

I’m going to miss my lockdown family (thanks for my quick car tour of Auckland too), the rest of the team, some of the new friends that I’ve made (and should be able to remain connected with), Vaughan Park, and the beach (and hopefully will stay well enough to get back there!):


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With @dre.t26 and my ‘lockdown bubble family’ in #NewZealand … and on the beach.

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The Flight Home

Woke up early on the final day, for a last run down to the beach, and then we sat and waited, and waited, and waited, for the taxi booked by the insurance company (it never turned up, despite the regular texts saying it was confirmed). Thankfully Sapati popped off to refuel, and then took me to the airport, in time to join the very long socially-distanced queue! It took around an hour to get through temperature checks, check-ins with the consulate, before was able to check bags in (phew, having weighed everything on kitchen scales and then done some basic maths, I seemed to be about right). We went through a very empty airport (with all the shops boarded off), and into an area where one pharmacy, and one food stand were open (we may have been the only flight that day). After an hour or two of waiting, we were able to board (I had been offered a business class seat to enable more social-distancing to help reduce the immune-dangers):


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Nearly ready … #NewZealand .. with @UKinNZ charter flight …

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Around 12 hours for the first half of the flight (watched Little Women, 1917 (brilliant film) and Sonic the Hedgehog), around 3 hours at Hong Kong airport (where walked some pokemon to help with potential DVT), and around 11 hours for the second half of the flight (watched Just Mercy and Bohemian Rhapsody), before landing in Heathrow (with a little bit of sleep :-)), before arriving back at a very empty Heathrow:


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Luggage has arrived so just waiting for cab driver to pay for parking and we’re off …

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My bags took QUITE a long time to appear, before a 3+ hour taxi drive back home, where I tried to force myself to stay awake til 7pm, but fell asleep about 4pm, and didn’t properly wake up until around 9.30am the next morning!

Readjusting to the UK in COVID19 Times

I was due to take this coming week off in order to help deal with the jetlag, so I’ve taken the past week off (thankfully that makes this week a 4 day week, as I can carry over Friday!). It feels rather like settling in for some more chemotherapy .. and has mostly been spent trying to sort out food delivery, sleeping, finances, clearing some emails, and tidying up a bit … and although I’m ‘vulnerable’ (not ‘shielded’ apparently – though others on same drugs are) … important to get out and about for some fresh air … so the back streets of the local area it is (you do end up seeing areas differently when you spend a lot of time going round and round the same streets .. catching Pokemon!). I watched my first (and only) Downing Street briefing (wow, they go on, don’t they), received masks made by my cousin, decorated my house for VE Day (with WW2 posters focusing on working together!), and partook in first #ClapforNHS/Carers:

I’m still super-tired and I don’t know how much is cancer treatment/operation fatigue, how much is jetlag, and how much is coronavirus fatigue (and how much is the tramadol I’ve been given for chest strain). Hopefully I can find a way to settle into (yet another) ‘new normal’!

<edit: added Monday> When writing something happened with the blog, and I had to write it a second time. For those asking about treatment, this week I had expected to have treatment today, car MoT tomorrow, full body scan, haircut, and filling done this week… MoT has been done (thanks Andrew), haircut/filling obviously will have to wait, awaiting a scan date, and treatment is delayed til next week, when I’ve been back in the country for over 14 days.

Cancer Life(style)

[LIFE/CANCER] 8 Weeks in New Zealand

So, what do you say, nearly 8 weeks into a trip that you dreamed of for about 8 years … and officially coming into the last week of the planned trip – and coronavirus has completely upended everything you were trying to do! I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, when New Zealand was a couple of weeks into Level 4 lockdown. At the end of Monday, it will go to Level 3 Lockdown, which is basically the same as Level 4, but with takeaways (or any other business that can manage to run contactlessly).

Charter Flights

I still have my deadlines, and last week was making some decent progress as I’d accepted that I was likely to be in New Zealand til June/July, and then was hoping that flights would start to open up again. Last weekend, however, the UK government announced that they were putting on five charter flights for ‘the most vulnerable‘ – which in one way seemed strange to me, but on the other hand, there is a real possibility that things may lock down for months, so … I got an email saying we were being given 48 hours to decide if we wanted a flight, otherwise they’d be opened up to anyone else wishing to get home … but no other charter flights are planned.. and I’ve been watching Emirates – 3 weeks ago it was showing flights on 2nd June, then last week was 23rd June, this week is 2nd July. Everyone’s just trying to work out the best of a bad situation with lots of unknown factors… (sounds rather like the unsettling-ness of cancer, but with even more unknowns)

NZ or UK?

Long Bay Beach with a Beautiful Blue Sky
Long Bay Beach with a Beautiful Blue Sky

Over the past week, in amongst the conversations I have had with medics, the consulate, and the insurance company (plus work, who I am out here on behalf of) my brain has flip-flopped between:

NEW ZEALAND is safe, getting a flight is not risk free (and original GP letter said didn’t want me to get a commercial flight because of infection risk – medivac only), I am safe/fed, have access to wifi, it’s beautiful here, the country is one of the safest in the world, insurance are suggesting that they can support medical costs ($10k+ every 3 weeks), and I have a lovely ‘bubble’ to hang out with…. and although it’s going into winter, I have been lent some warmer layers.

THE UK is where my home is, my friends/family, my job, and most importantly at present, where my medical treatment is (having already paid out around $1000 in medical fees in last couple of weeks, which I hope I’ll get back, very thankful for the NHS) – and will definitely be continuing. To be honest, I am scared about coming back to a country that seems to have done many things wrong around coronavirus, and whilst it’s still at the peak, but there is a window of opportunity to get home here – and it literally could be months before another opportunity (no one knows), and as New Zealand opens up again, Vaughan Park will open up again with a range of guests (and who knows if NZ will get a few more cases as restrictions loosen) – and my house I can be totally isolated in (as we know from the past 2.5 years), and I will at least be on the same time-zone as others. Super thanks to friends/family who have looked after my house/mowed my lawn…

So, for all those who think I’m racing to get home, this has been a really challenging week trying to work out what is the best out of two not-risk-free options – and I’m very thankful to Andrew and Jane who I’ve talked to every morning for the last few weeks, as he’s looked after my house, and checked in with the hospital, etc. and to other friends who have messaged, etc. as the process of decision making has been made – even if it’s just to say ‘thinking of you’.

Organising Flights

Cathay Pacific LogoOn receiving the email about flights for the vulnerable, I immediately checked with my friendly local GP. Although the commercial flight was not seen as a good option, the fact that this flight is chartered means it HAS to get to its final destination, the people on it will all have come from NZ (where coronavirus is low) and the flight won’t get mixed later, and everyone is getting a temperature check en route onto the flight. I was told to ask a few more questions, and contacted CTM, who passed me onto the consulate, as I said I needed to get medical clearance to fly. The consulate agreed to hold a business class seat til Friday 4pm, whilst I sorted this out. Insurance have me down as too much of a flight risk (infection-wise) at present, so don’t want me to fly … so I had to talk to the New Zealand oncologist ($575 thanks) who wrote a letter and said that although all the treatments I have are available in New Zealand, he thought this was a good opportunity to get home. The insurance company wanted to hear from my UK oncologist, so got a letter from him last night/yesterday, and he very much wants me to get this flight, so long as as much social distancing as possible (the consulate agreed that I can have one of the business class seats – obviously there’s no lounge/and I think a packed lunch only). £800 for a seat (whichever seat).

Over the past week I’ve had quite a lot of pain in my shoulder blade (right side), and a couple of days ago this translated into huge pains across the chest. This very much felt muscular … and the GP gave me tramadol and celecoxib to try and manage the pain – it’s definitely helping, but she also wanted me to get blood tests and an x-ray (to check that it’s not cancer bouncing back up). I’ve still not heard from the x-ray people, but went to a walk-in for the blood tests today – results should be under 24 hours, but with Anzac day tomorrow, and a public holiday monday… The insurance company wants to know that my neutrophils are high enough (aka my white blood count/infection fighters) before they will support the flight home, but I had to organise the booking today, so hopefully the bloods will come through OK – assuming they do – then the insurance will ensure I can get to the airport, and can get from Heathrow to home. The consulate said if for some reason this is a problem, then up to 36 hours before the flight (about 1.30pm on Sat 2nd May) can cancel, as they have a huge waitlist of people who still want to get a flight. But very much the expectation is that my oncologist, who I trust, says I should get home, so if insurance won’t cover it, I’ve offers of lifts to/from airports, and work would support my repatriation… <edit, Fri eve> Work are 100% behind this and will ensure that I can get back to Manchester even if insurance don’t!

Final Thoughts

So what can I say, I’m not very good at asking for help, but I’ve appreciated the help and support I’ve had, and continue to get, from the UK and from New Zealand, and – all being well, I’ll be back in my own home in a few days … and once I’ve slept off some jetlag, will need to get on with the reading/writing I wanted to do here .. as my deadlines still exist! Also need to sort out my MoT – sod’s law is mine was due 29th March (so had it booked in for day after I got back), so doesn’t get the extra 6 months from 30th March … but think my garage should do a pick up/drop off…

I feel that cancer has prepared me very well for isolation – I have got very used to working at the points at which I feel well enough, and I’m very used to working from home … to protecting myself whilst immunity is low, and to talking to people on Facetime (although love having f2f dropins), and from having most of my shopping delivered (although I love a supermarket shop, but hopefully I’ll be able to sort a delivery slot or two, but I already have a Milk delivery with extras for basics)… also sod’s law I always have too much food in the house, but had run it down to start afresh post New Zealand. It’s weird, hopefully someday coronavirus will disappear, but I’ll carry on with cancer treatments/tests until there’s no more treatments left. There’s also quite a lot of fear about the impact of this on everyone (we know people are dying), and, aside from anything else, there’s a worry about the effect on my (and other people’s) jobs.