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Monty, My Part in His Rescue…

It’s been a hell of a year.

When I celebrated the impending arrival of the incoming year on December 31st 2019, I, like, everyone else had no idea how 2020 would develop, plunging us into the darkness of the deepest crisis in 300 years. 

Early in the year, the media was focused primarily on the passage of the Brexit withdrawal bill through parliament, and the news that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be withdrawing from their roles as Major members of Royal Family UK PLC.

How the Daily Telegraph reported The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s withdrawal from Royal Life.

Flybe, the British regional air carrier, the largest in Europe, was in meltdown, and looked likely to go into receivership.

The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn was sailing turbulent, if not stormy waters in the Labour Party leadership contest, and British Airways had recently suspended all flights to and from mainland China.  

News of Coronavirus was just starting to penetrate the public consciousness with the first two confirmed cases in the UK happening on the 31st January.

This news was, to some extent, overwhelmed with the reporting of the UK formally leaving the EU.

Storm Dennis had ravaged the UK, but we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and started all over again.

On the 5th March, news of the first UK death from CV19 elevated public awareness to a greater extent. People were now hearing more and more about the virus, and there was an almost surreal atmosphere across the entire country.

Flybe finally went bust, and panic buying swept the UK, with supermarket shelves being stripped bare.

Flybe – A great regional carrier. Photo Courtesy Aero Pixels

One of strangest things, was that toilet rolls seemed to be high on the panic buyers’ list of essentials, despite the fact that CV19 was widely publicised as an upper respiratory tract infection, rather than a gastric condition.

It seems there really is nothing more eccentric than a Brit in a pandemic.

Furlough, a word unfamiliar to many of us was now being bandied about, and the country moved into full lockdown.

I am fortunate. I live in a lovely country district and was able to use my legally approved one hour of exercise to explore the local area, which includes several nature reserves, a National Park

South Downs National Park, Near Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

and the Shipwrights Way, which is a bridleway connecting the Alice Holt forest near Farnham, with the ancient island city of Portsmouth.

The Shipwrights Way, not far from Petersfield in Hampshire UK

It was around about this time that SWMBO1 started talking about doing something for other less fortunate individuals. She has always been a gentle, caring person, and after a few conversations, I finally agreed to offer a home to an immigrant.

Over the next few weeks, we prepared, and made sure that we had bought a new bed, and some bedding, and laid in some stocks of extra food. We had been told that the young guys early childhood had been one of deprivation and sadness.

Abandoned to try and survive on the middle eastern streets as best he could, he was used to fighting for every scrap and morsel in order to sustain himself, frequently sleeping under an old car for protection.

A vicious street fight resulted in a serious jaw injury, and the subsequent infection led to the loss of over half his teeth. Luckily, he was taken in by some kind benefactors, who paid for him to see a medic, and after some dental extractions, a massive dose of antibiotics, and some inoculations, he was sent back to the kind family that he had put him up.

Eventually, it was arranged for him to come to the UK, and the paperwork was finally completed and he was granted the right to residency, and was cleared to travel.

So, on a bleak November morning, SWMBO departed for Heathrow Airport in order to pick him up from the reception centre.

I was enjoying a coffee (what’s new?) about three hours later, when I heard the car pull into the drive.

I was a little apprehensive about my first meeting. Would we get on all right? Would he fit in, or would he end up treating the place like a rubbish dump?

Well, when he walked in, I was taken aback. He was slim – maybe even a bit underweight, and wearing a smart coat. He started speaking to me, loudly, and none of it made any sense.

He was clearly hungry, so I set a loaded plate in front of him, and he laid into it as if he had never eaten before.

He was clearly tired, and so after eating he slumped on the sofa, and fell deeply asleep.

He has now been living with us for about five weeks, and he has settled in nicely. He now treats the place as his own, and is putting on weight nicely.

He and I have spent a lot of quality time with each other. He doesn’t speak any English, and I certainly don’t speak his lingo but body language is truly international and we have developed a really good relationship.

He often snugs up next to me on the sofa, watching TV with me. I don’t really object. Quite a bromance in fact. He has got into the habit of staring deeply into my eyes, and often pushes against me, maybe a little harder than he should.

Oh. Maybe I should add at this point, that our legal immigrant is a street cat – rescued from his sad and lonely life under the desert sun.

Monty, My Faithful Wingman. Even More Faithful If It Looks Like I am Going to get Him Food!

We have named him Monty, after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery 1st Viscount of  Alamein who commanded the Eight Army during the North Africa campaign in WW2. His troops were known as the Desert Rats.

It seemed appropriate, as he is an Arabian Mau. The colour of molten caramel, sleek, well-groomed and very placid.

Plus, he has no underfur, so he doesn’t moult, and he used a litter tray from day one. How lucky am I?

He now greets me when I open the bedroom door with VERY loud cries. Not mewing like a normal domestic cat. Almost a wail. I wonder if he learned it from the early morning calls from the minarets?

This talking goes on until I can place his food in front of him, which he eats very tidily – virtually no spillage – unlike other cats that I have known who seem to throw it everywhere.

Anyway, the little chap has fit in nicely, to the point that he now shares my office with me, and has discovered every location in the house where the hot pipes run under the floor.

All I have to do now is teach him English.

I may be some time…

Monty, in his previous street life – Un-Loved and Un-Cared for. Luckily, he was discovered by one of his guardian angels, Emma, who rescued him, and with Matt and Janis as his foster carers, looked after his welfare whilst he was being nursed back to health, so that he could enjoy a better life. Thank you also to the great team of volunteers and fund raisers who ensured that Monty would be cared for. Well done to you all, too many to name, but Aysa, Emma, Matt and Janis. deserve a special mention. You should be very proud of what you have achieved. We will love our new addition.
Monty, Doing What He Does Best

Note 1 SWMBO – She Who Must Be Obeyed

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My Loss is My Gain…

I woke up on the 1st of January with mixed feelings. It was the start of a brand new flying year, and I could look forward to lots of aerial fun with the Super Cub, always assuming that the lousy weather would improve. 

However, there was a cloud of a different type on my personal horizon; the dreaded CAA biannual medical that assures the residents of Aviation House at Gatwick that I won’t suddenly collapse at the controls, incapacitated and crash land, demolishing a primary school or even a whole suburb.

I, like many of you, do not enjoy undergoing medicals. I’m not a screaming hypochondriac, neither am I so decrepit that I would automatically fail. It’s just that – well, I don’t like medicals. 

I also suffer from White Coat Syndrome and this has a tendency to elevate my blood pressure to stratospheric levels. In an effort to control my incipient hypertension, I gave up caffeine and reduced my salt intake years ago. 

But, as my long-suffering partner frequently points out (her being an ex-nurse and all), it is a complete waste of effort if I continue to eat the wrong things, and dare I say it – drink beer.

Beer – It’s not just for breakfast…

So, there I lay on New Years morning, considering that ominous red ring on the calendar, the date three months away, upon which I would have to say “Ah” and cough whilst staring skywards.

I had been making some half-hearted attempts at weight control since October when I first accepted that 95kg (209 pounds) was a little too much weight to be carrying around.

So, I came to the conclusion that drastic action was needed. Damn it, I needed to exercise. Back in the day, I had swum competitively. played rugby, and did a lot of cycling. However, these days, my exercise routine seemed to have slipped, and my work out was to play chess by an open window and glug beer.

This wasn’t a particularly constructive programme, so I had to do something more constructive. I decided to pull my old bicycle out of the garage.

Better across the South Downs than the A30 to Heathrow…

It wasn’t looking very well. It, like me, needed some serious attention.

I put it up into the bike stand, and inspected it. It needed new brake pads, a new chain, a new chainring, and a new cassette on the rear wheel.

The next day, all the parts arrived from Amazon, and I spent a happy morning removing the worn components and fitting and adjusting the new ones.

Now I was ready to rock!

My initial effort included a fairly regular cycle ride into work, a distance of some eight miles, coupled with eating salad at lunchtime.  So it was that I coasted into the month of January and for the first week was able to stick to my plan. 

However, the festive season brings forth its temptations, and I had “enjoyed” a few Christmas binges with various corporate departments, friends and eaten shed-loads of inappropriate foods. That, coupled with gorging on one of my Mother’s gargantuan Christmas lunches, a lot of work was needed if I was to get my weight down to the sub 90Kg mark!

Hastily scribbling the figures, I worked out my BMI, and was aghast to realise that it was sitting at 31.5! 

Running the calculation in reverse, I would have to be a shade over six feet to put my weight back into proportion with my height.

It appeared that my target weight would ultimately be 79kg. I wasn’t sure about this. Being so lean may make me look ill, so I decided that I would make 81 kg my target weight.

I mulled this over. There was no way that I could lose almost two stones in three months. As I considered it, I could almost feel my blood pressure ratchet up another notch or two. I decided that I would have to do this in stages.

I would continue with an expanded “self-help” programme before going to see my GP. I know he is a very busy man… and I am also a craven coward, so I embarked upon a tough regime based on a simple formula. 

I would have to eat and drink less, and exercise more. This is an anathema to me, as I love food, and hate most forms of exercise. I exclude playing chess in front of an open window, as this has the benefit of a complete mental workout in the fresh air!

So, on January 2nd I started my revised plan.

I decided that as I liked cycling, I would continue to use my mountain bike for the commute to work – but now on a more regular basis. The first few rides had been quite difficult  – an eight-mile slog to be in work for 0630 in winter conditions are less than fully motivating. 

I stuck with it though, and I am now able to complete the ride in just over 40 minutes. 

Having mastered the psychological barriers to doing anything that actually involves a modicum of physical effort, I decided that I would go one step further – literally. I decided that I would try commuting to work by foot.

This was definitely not one of my better ideas.

The first day I did this was a beautiful, crisp January morning. It was still dark when I left the house at 0515, but with a yellowing moon sneaking along just above the horizon, it was quite pleasant. I cracked along at a reasonable pace and managed to cover the 8 miles in just over two hours, ready for a 0730 start. I felt quite exhilarated as I walked into the office, still damp from the shower, still puffing from the effort.

Exhilarated wasn’t quite how I would summarise my feelings when I left the office at 1530, for the walk home. It took forever, (well, two hours and twenty-five minutes to be exact!) and by the time I got home, my left foot was on fire, and my lower back felt like it had been run over by a 747 freighter. 

The blisters took about a week to heal, during which time I cycled very gently back and forth. 

The scales testified to the efficiency of this programme, and I had got my weight down to about 88kg

However, I came to realise that my faithful Marin Alpine Trail full suspension mountain bike was not the ideal machine to cycle to work on – knobbly tyres, and lower gearing made it better suited to the wilds of the South Downs National Park, not the A30 Great South West Road.

I decided to buy a newer bike on the Government’s Cycle to Work Scheme, so I ended up with a flagship state of the art hybrid, with built in lighting, and better wheels and tyres. It was also considerably lighter, and shaved about seven minutes off my commute.

The Cube Delhi Hybrid Commuter. A lovely cycle…

I had now completed stages one and two; my New Year resolution was to moderate my alcohol consumption by two thirds, until my birthday in May. I now enjoy a couple of pints a day at the weekend.

Stage three would be to bring my blood pressure down, which was currently averaging at about 159/100, against the ideal of  140/90.

By mid January, I decided that I had now lost enough weight to show the doctor that I was doing my best to manage my health, so I made an appointment, and sat down in his surgery.

I explained that I was worried about my blood pressure, and told him of my forthcoming medical at Gatwick. I also advised him of my white coat hypertension. I also showed him my blood pressure diary, and after studying it for a few minutes, he scurried to the other side of the office, then advanced rapidly towards me with a tape measure in his hand.

I shrank back in alarm – had my doctor suddenly been overwhelmed with the urge to do a quick bit of DIY whilst I was sitting in the consulting room? Was he about to measure me up for my coffin?

My fears were misguided, and he proceeded to measure the circumference of my upper arm. He squinted at the measure, and pronounced that I was a 34cm – so needed a large cuff.  

He went on to explain that most home blood pressure monitors (or sphygmonometers) come with a standard sized cuff, and that I was on the borderline of needing the next size up. He expanded on this, saying that using a cuff that was too small could result in erroneously high readings. 

My blood pressure fell dramatically – not by diet, but by using a larger cuff. I now have a six foot cuff on order…

He checked my pressure with the larger cuff, and the result was much lower than I was expecting – a mere 132/110!

After a discussion about my weight loss programme, and other factors, we agreed on a further course of action – I would be fitted with an Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitor for a 24 hour period.

Having been told this, I rang my Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) or Flight Surgeon and explained the situation to him in full. He seemed quite relaxed about it, and told me not to worry, and come and see him for the dreaded class two medical in three weeks time.

The only thing they don’t ask is inside leg measurement…

So, I duly drove down to Gatwick, leaving myself plenty of time for my imbecilic-driver induced hypertension to reduce to less stratospheric levels, and went in for the medical.

I have known Dr Maddison for several years, and after conducting my medical, together with the mandated 12 lead Electro-Cardio Gram (ECG) he issued me my class two but requested a copy of the results of my Ambulatory 24-hour monitoring test. He seemed quite satisfied that I was taking control, and that the meds that I had been prescribed wouldn’t cause me to auger into a shopping mall or nuclear power station, so I was good to go.

A Normal ECG readout – just what a pilot needs!

To supplement my new exercise regime, I substituted breakfast every day for a nice, healthy smoothie.

My favourite, if it can be called that, is made with cherries, chocolate protein powder, almond milk, almond paste, peaches and seeds. Once whizzed up in the Nutri-Bullet, it looks like pond sludge but tastes quite reasonable.

Looks like I’ve murdered Kermit, but it does taste OK…

It does bulk me out, so I can last easily until lunch time before I need feeding..

Now, people imagine that being a flight instructor is a somewhat sedentary occupation, like an office worker. Let me put you straight folks.

The simulator in which I conduct my training is the furthest from the offices and is a 500-metre walk to the far end of the hangar building. I normally conduct two simulator sessions per day – two kilometres walking! The journey also involves climbing and descending four flight of stairs.

The other aspect of my free workout at work, is that of coffee.

Whilst there are vending machines near my work area they are of the ingredients-in-a-cup design, and quite frankly a pair of old socks stewed in used bathwater would probably taste better.

Convenient as a last resort…

So, when the need for caffeine hits, I walk to the nest building, 200 metres away, to use the staff canteen.

The exercise benefit here, is that it sits on the ninth floor. Rather than take one of the three lifts servicing this building, I use the emergency stairs, and climb 9 stories. I unwind the spring by walking back down.

I make this trip three times a day; first coffee a standard filter coffee in a thermos jug at about 0700. Then, elevenses. Normally the excuse that Brits wheel out whenever they fancy a cuppa and either a biscuit or a slice of cake. As soon as eleven o’clock approaches, desks empty, phone calls terminated and a mini exodus heads for the canteen.

I usually opt for a “posh coffee” – either a speciality coffee from the bean-to-cup machine, or if I am feeling particularly profligate, I have a medium white Americano from the Starbucks implant in the canteen.

Lastly, I normally come here again at lunch time to be sociable – another 8 flights climbed!

24 flights climbed a day.

So, here we are, with enforced inactivity as a result of COVID 19. The results of the new laws on self-isolation and social distancing make it very difficult to remain fit.

I am legally entitled to take exercise once a day out of the house, but I am not allowed to drive to a venue to exercise. So, I walk a mile or so or cycle around the military ranges not far from my home.

My exercise area is also used as a military exercise area. Except they use tanks…

I do have activities that stop me from becoming too bored – a multitude of Honey-dos. So far, I have managed to clear my woodshed so that I can start chain-sawing wood for next winter; I have pressure cleaned the terrace, and swapped the winter tyres on the car for the standard summer ones.

I have just been furloughed, so I now have some extra time to get ahead of the chores curve and maintain physical activity.

So in the next couple of days, I will finish pressure cleaning the paths in the garden, mow the grass, and tackle the small jungle that I have called a compost heap. I must get the strimmer (Weed-Whacker/Brush Cutter) out of retirement.

I will also dig over my vegetable plots. Maybe lay out a small nature reserve, and plant it with wild flowers, and old logs as a habitat for insects and hedgehogs.

Wash the windows. Thats a pane…

The list goes on…

However, a few minutes ago, a good friend of mine WhatsApp’ed me to invite me for a virtual beer, and it would be rude to refuse.

So, I am relaxing before the call – watching two pigeons attempting to eat from a bird feeder designed to support finches and tits. It a bit like watching a C-130J Hercules attempting to land on a strip designed for Tiger Moths.

In between trying to stuff their avian faces, they are also both harassing a female pigeon (at least – I hope it is female!) for favours. She appears to be totally underwhelmed by their advances, so when they are not eating they are waddling round the garden after her.

It seems so sickeningly familiar…

So – I am hoping that I may continue to carry on being active in spite of the strictures of COVID 19.

Maybe even shed a few more kilos?

Go Well…