Ockbrook & Borrowash Carnival, 1977

An 8mm cine film of floats and marching bands participating in the 1977 Ockbrook & Borrowash Carnival. It was shot opposite the shops on Priorway Avenue. Corona soft drinks were still going strong (a wastebin with Corona branding appears 2s in). The Borrowash Mother and Baby club had clearly spent a lot of time and effort on their Magic Roundabout float (10s). The paddle steamer float that follows is equally impressive.

The dangers of open-sided carnival floats can be seen at 61s as the lawn tennis club lorry comes to a sudden stop. Despite this mishap, Ockbrook & Borrowash Lawn Tennis Club would seem to be celebrating their centenary next year.

But without me serving cotton wool balls into the crowd, fortunately.

Ockbrook & Borrowash LTC float, 1977

What to do if you get a scam internet service provider call

Over the last few days I’ve received a number of calls from scammers posing as my internet service provider (ISP). Which? has also noted an uptick in activity from these parasites.

If you do answer a call from them, the best advice is to hang up and block the number they called from. Whatever you do don’t be fooled into providing them with your account details or installing and running any software on your computer. The one call I did answer rather than letting go through to voicemail was amateur in the extreme, but may have easily fooled a vulnerable person.

Scam phone calls are on the riseNumbers that I’ve caught and blocked in the last three days include:

  • 0151 327 3276 and 0151 329 0986

This appears to be an Indian outfit routing calls via a Liverpool number. Their gambit was to suggest that Nigerian scammers had compromised my router. Because my router has no keyboard(!), they needed remote access to my computer to change its address.

Even if the claim was credible, changing the (external) address on a router is usually as simple as restarting it. This is because UK retail ISPs dynamically allocate your address and in some cases, the same one is shared by multiple consumers. I managed to waste 10 minutes of their time by feigning incompetence. They eventually got bored with me and hung up.

  • 020 9637 1427

This is an automated message, claiming that your router has been compromised and threatening disconnection within 12 hours if you don’t press 1 to speak to a technician. Don’t press 1 – hang up!

  • +33 883 571 187, +33 983 215 066, +33 998 826 457, +33 239 932 929, +33 537 542 458, +33 307 433 634, +33 248 324 733 and +33 913 120 655

All of these (French) numbers rang within a few hours of each other. The chances are the number is being spoofed and all the calls originate in the same scammers operation.

Remember:
  • Your ISP will never call you from an “unknown” number.
  • Your ISP will never call and randomly ask for your personal information, such as your account number, bank details, date of birth etc.
  • If you’re unsure if a call is genuine, hang up and contact your ISP on their official number.
  • If you’ve been scammed or an attempt has been made, contact Action Fraud online or on 0300 123 2040.

Raspberry Pi weather forecaster

In my ongoing struggle to overcome chemo-brain, I’ve recently created a rudimentary (*) weather forecaster. It’s based on a Raspberry Pi Zero W that came as part of a gift subscription to the MagPi. It incorporates a BME280 sensor (for reporting pressure, temperature and humidity) and a LCD display.

The current prototype

Not pretty, but functional. It requires just 3 hours of historical data before it makes a forecast! Somehow I don’t think anyone will claim that professional weather forecasters are no longer needed … unless you’re someone who still believes in unicorns. (+)

Prototype Raspberry Pi weather forecaster

Prototype Raspberry Pi weather forecaster. The Pi is hidden under the multiplexing board.

The technical stuff

The LCD display and BME280 sensor are both connected to the Pi using the I2C bus exposed by GPIO (physical) pins 3 (data) and 5 (clock). Power to the LCD is provided through a 5v pin (2 or 4) and to the BME280 through a 3.3v pin (1 or 17). The final wire to each component is the ground. Any of GPIO pins 6, 9, 14, 20, 25, 30, 34 or 39 will do.

The coding tasks (in C and FORTRAN) were greatly simplified by the use of the excellent wiringPi library.

Release 1.0 of the code is available on github should anyone want to enjoy a good laugh at my legacy coding skills.

Costs

BME280 – £5.45 (I bought two for £10.90, just in case my soldering skills let me down).

LCD display – £7.99

Raspberry Pi Zero W – free as part of the current MagPi subscription offer, or around £10-£15 if you need to buy one and a 40 pin GPIO header.

Next steps

Finding a suitably sized waterproof project box with a transparent lid to house the electronics (sadly far harder than it used to be with the demise of Maplins earlier on this year).

Tidying up the wiring by using a piece of Veroboard (other brands are available) so I don’t need to use my only multiplexing board (by far the most expensive component in the current build).

Creating a better forecasting model. In FORTRAN, naturally. I acknowledge that it could take me some time to become as good as the Met Office …

 

 

(*) “Rudimentary” makes it sound better than it is. Here’s the current forecasting model it uses for those who don’t want to wade through all the code on github.

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      SUBROUTINE MFCAST(PDIFF,CIND,CFORE)
C----------------------------------------------------------------------C
C                                                                      C
C     MAKE FORECAST BASED ON 3 HOURLY PRESSURE DIFFERENCE              C
C                                                                      C
C     PDIFF - PRESSURE DIFFERENCE IN LAST THREE HOURS                  C
C     CIND  - CHANGE INDICATOR STRING                                  C
C     CFORE - FORECAST STRING                                          C
C                                                                      C
C     AUTHOR: TJH 26-07-2018                                           C
C                                                                      C
C----------------------------------------------------------------------C
      REAL PDIFF
      CHARACTER*2 CIND
      CHARACTER*20 CFORE
C
      IF (PDIFF.LE.-0.5 .AND. PDIFF.GE.-3.0) THEN
         CIND="v "
         CFORE=" Some rain possible "
      ELSE IF (PDIFF.LT.-3.0 .AND. PDIFF.GE.-6.0) THEN
         CIND="vv"
         CFORE="Wind,rain;fine later"
      ELSE IF (PDIFF.LT.-6.0) THEN
         CIND="vv"
         CFORE="    ** STORMY **    "
      ELSE IF (PDIFF.GE.0.5 .AND. PDIFF.LE.6.0) THEN
         CIND="^ "
         CFORE="Fine, becoming drier"
      ELSE IF (PDIFF.GT.6.0) THEN
         CIND="^^"
         CFORE="Becoming dry & windy"
      ELSE
         CIND="--"
         CFORE="No change in weather"
      END IF
      RETURN
      END

 

(+) For example, someone who still believes that Brexit is a really good idea. So maybe I should approach the disgraced former defence secretary, Liam Fox, to promote it for me.

Buxton was closed

Last week I paid a visit to Buxton for the first time in many years. Self-styled as “England’s leading spa town” (although I’m sure Royal Leamington Spa may have something to say about that claim) the visit was a disappointment.

The Crescent and Pump Rooms remain under renovation, with the 2018 re-opening date given on the hoardings looking optimistic. A BBC news article published in 2017 suggests that it may re-open in 2019, 12 years behind schedule.

Buxton CrescentHowever, the site was a hive of activity when I visited, unlike at the Octagon. This is also undergoing renovation, with the Pavilion Garden’s website suggesting a “late summer” reopening this year. This seems a tad optimistic.

Buxton OctagonThe miniature railway in the Pavilion Gardens, supposedly open every day during the summer holidays was, you guessed it, closed.

Buxton Miniature Train

The Opera House is lovely from the outside and had its doors open, but was inaccessible due to an extended fire drill.

Buxton Opera HouseThe main shopping area is unusual as nearly all of the major high street banks and building societies (as well as some of the lesser ones) have a presence. The rest of the shopping area is unremarkable, with the former Grove Hotel at one end in a poor state of repair.

Grove HotelThe only redeeming feature of the visit was Charlotte’s Chocolates in the Cavendish Centre, next to the Crescent. Great coffee, hot chocolate and cake. The homemade chocolates proved too tempting not to buy as well.

Buxton should have more to recommend it by 2020 – but until then it’s probably not worth a visit outside of the festival.

The tale of Punxsutawney Neutrophil and his friend, Punxsutawney Stemcell

Monday 9th July

Early start from Derby to arrive at Nottingham City Hospital for around 0800. The haematology day case unit opens at 0815 and I join the queue to report my presence. Name, date of birth, first line of address ritual completed, I’m shown quickly into the stem cell unit and introduced to Pooh, the centrifuge. However, they need to check my blood first for red and white cells and if they’re at an acceptable level, for the CD34 glycosylated transmembrane protein – it indicates if there are any stem cells to harvest.

Minutes later the initial blood test results come back. They’re not pretty and explain the general lack of energy, breathlessness and grumpiness I’ve felt over the weekend. Almost zero platelets, precious few neutrophils and very low haemoglobin.

Blood test resultsThey don’t bother with the CD34 test and instead I’m given my first ever blood transfusion – two units of the finest irradiated A+ from Sheffield plus a bag of platelets. This is then followed by a double dose of Lenograstim.

I’ve packed an overnight bag ‘just in case’, so I decide to stop in the Hospital Hotel. A good choice – I manage to get a decent amount of sleep, even if it’s impossible to get more than beans on toast or a very well done jacket potato anywhere on the hospital campus after 6pm.

Tuesday 10th July – Groundhog day

After breakfast in the hotel (cornflakes, orange juice, toast and marmalade, tea) I walk the 10 minutes back to the haematology unit. Name, date of birth, first line of address ritual. Bloods taken.

This time the results are better – Punxsutawney Neutrophil(*) sees his shadow as the count is above 2.0, I have platelets but I’m still too anaemic to be put onto a centrifuge. They send off for the CD34 score anyway – it comes back as 2. 10 is the minimum required for the harvest.

Time for another two units of blood and another double dose of Lenograstim and home.

Wednesday 11th July – Groundhog day

The light traffic on Nottingham’s roads after the England World Cup defeat to Croatia means that I get to the unit more than half an hour before it opens. At 0815 the name, date of birth and first line of address ritual plays out again. This time my blood test results are very good (and I can’t believe how well I now feel compared to Monday), but the CD34 indicator is only 5.9.

Home early with another double dose of Lenograstim.

Thursday 12th July – Groundhog day

0815. Name, date of birth, address. Blood tests. Everything excellent – but the CD34 count is 9.66 – 0.34 below the level required for me to go on the centrifuge. The big guns are called out in the shape of a Plerixafor injection (cost to the NHS – a snip at £4,900) that has to be given at 5pm. Oh, and another double dose of Lenograstim injections for good measure.

Jane and I head off into Nottingham for lunch. It’s the first time I’ve been in a big crowd of people for weeks and it feels slightly disorienting. Lunch at Bistrot Pierre is a novelty – I enjoy my Boeuf Bourguignon followed by crème brûlée (I am a child of the 70s) but Jane’s salad is pronounced disappointing. Back to the hospital for the Plerixafor, with a side dish of double Lenograstim.

Punxsutawney Stemcell will definitely see his shadow tomorrow. Or today. Time has ceased to have very much meaning this week.

Friday 13th July – Groundhog day

0815. You know the first bit by now. The CD34 count comes back above 25 so we’re good to go. Punxsutawney Stemcell has now also seen his shadow and the wait is over. I’m plumbed into a centrifuge called Jessie (much to my youngest daughter’s delight) via my Hickman line. Around 5 hours later there’s a bag of plasma and stem cells. It’s not quite over as they need to count them – 2 million will make for a successful harvest.

I’m called at home just before 5pm. 2.86 million stem cells have been collected. Groundhog day is finally over.

Plasma and Stem Cells

The 2.86 million stem cells are in the pinky-red liquid.

Now, as they say, comes the difficult bit. But September will take care of itself. For now, I have a few weeks to get some strength back and prepare for the final challenge.

 

(*) With thanks to Gail for coming up with this pun!

End of treatment phase 1

The fitting of my Hickman line and 6th cycle of chemotherapy went well last week. I’m now rapidly approaching the end of the first phase of treatment. It’s been successful! All that’s left is a day unit appointment tomorrow for my last Rituximab infusion (held over from the first cycle of chemotherapy).

I’m also part way through mobilising my stem cells for collection next week using Lenograstim injections. These stimulate the body into making large numbers of new stem cells. My consultant tells me that they need to collect around two million per kilogramme – significantly more than are present naturally.

Lenograstim

Lenograstim – Manufactured by Sanofi in France. I’m glad that I’m taking this now rather than waiting for lorries to clear endless customs lines next April.

These injections are fiddlier than the earlier ones I’ve had to administer to bring my white cell counts back up. Each consists of two syringes, but you have to mix the Lenograstim yourself rather than it coming pre-made. It’s not difficult to do this – just time-consuming. As the syringes don’t have a self-retracting needle, you need a steady hand. After four days of mixing and injecting I now consider myself to be an expert 🙂

There’s a chance that I may be lucky and the stem cell harvest will work first time. Mechanically, a stem cell harvest is straightforward – provided I can manage to sit still for five or six hours while plugged into their machine. The haematology unit in Nottingham said they’d had a 25% first time success rate last week. However, they will keep trying all week if not – they guarantee(*) to sort me out by Friday at the latest.

I’ve been totting up what this whole exercise is costing. I suspect by the time that I’ve had my transplant, the NHS will have spent a few hundred thousand pounds on making me well. I’m so grateful not to need to go through the endless fights with insurers that so many have to in other countries. It means I can concentrate on getting well and returning to being a productive member of society.

Today, on the 70th anniversary of the start of the NHS, I shall be raising a glass or two in thanks to the great Liberal, William Beveridge. His 1942 report made all of this possible.

 

(*) I’m guessing that this guarantee may come with terms and conditions …

Brilliant Mistake

Elvis Costello

I’m listening to King of America, Elvis Costello’s 1986 album, while receiving my fourth and final dose of Cytarabine for this chemo cycle. Unlike the over-produced and rather directionless ‘Goodbye Cruel World’,  this album still works for me 32 years on as the songs and production remain coherent for the whole hour.

The first track is ‘Brilliant Mistake’, and the first verse seems to resonate when listened to against the backdrop of Trump and Brexit. I hope fervently that in a couple of years these brilliant mistakes will have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But if not, well, a few listens to ‘Suit of Lights’, also on this album, will probably make me feel a little better.

Brilliant Mistake – Declan MacManus

He thought he was the King of America

Where they pour coca-cola just like vintage wine

Now I try hard not to become hysterical

But I’m not sure if I’m laughing or crying

I wish that I could push a button

And talk in the past and not the present tense

And watch this hurting feeling disappear

Like it was common sense

It was a fine idea at the time (*)

Now it’s a brilliant mistake

 

(*) I was obviously never convinced that Trump or Brexit were fine ideas, but understand why many people thought they were. Hopefully change is coming …

 

A complete response

I had the results of my most recent (last week’s) PET/CT scan today. The good news – no, excellent news – is that it shows I’ve made a complete response to treatment for MCL. So I’m officially in remission.

The plan from here is that I will have a Hickman line fitted tomorrow, followed by my 6th cycle of chemotherapy. I should be out of hospital again on Saturday. There’s still some concern about me being slightly anaemic and neutropenic, so it may still be delayed by a week if my counts haven’t recovered by tomorrow lunchtime.

Packed and ready to go for cycle 6

Packed and ready to go for cycle 6

The tricky bit comes next – the stem cell harvest and transplant. Stem cell harvest should be straightforward. I will have a series of mobilising injections during the first few days of July. I’ll then be hooked up to a machine for a few hours that will filter the stem cells from my blood. These will be frozen until I’m ready for the transplant.

Transplant consists of an ultra-strong dose of chemotherapy given over 5 days, followed by what should be a relatively fast (minutes) return of my stem cells. Initial recovery should take a couple of weeks before discharge. I hope to make a full recovery over the following 2-6 months.

I’m still concerned about the transplant. It’s the most daunting part of the process and carries the most risk. Hopefully my reaction to treatment so far will minimise any likelihood of severe problems.

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