Transplant +161: Bloody neutrophils

Bloody neutrophils. Bloody absence of neutrophils, actually.

I’ve been feeling really good for the last week or so. Gnu has emerged from hibernation and I’ve racked up a hundred or so very pleasant miles in him across Derbyshire. I’ve survived a third PT session in the gym which involved a punchbag. Very cathartic. I managed a six-mile walk around the tramway trail at Calke Abbey on Saturday without ill effects and, good Liberal Democrat that I am, I’ve been out delivering Focus leaflets. So the call I got yesterday morning from the hospital was unexpected.

Calke Abbey
Calke Abbey – a view from the old driveway.

The conversation went something like this.

“Hello Mr. Holyoake. Are you feeling well?”

“Yes, very. Thank you for asking.”

“I’m calling about your blood tests. Your neutrophil count is low, so you’re very vulnerable to infection at the moment. Are you sure you’re feeling well? If you are feeling even in the least bit unwell you need to come to the hospital immediately so we can get antibiotics into you.”

“I’m feeling fine. I feel better than I have done since the transplant. (Pauses, while making sweary noises in my head.) How low are they?”

“Well, they’re at … 0.14. We need to give you a course of GCSF injections immediately …”

Anything below 0.5 is considered severely neutropenic. No salad, blue cheese or pâté for me for the next few days! I’d hoped that I’d left such concerns behind after finishing with chemo last year, but it appears that my optimism was misplaced. The hospital (and other SCT survivors) have told me that it’s not unknown for this to happen. I know from past experience that the injections will sort the problem out, in the short-term at least. I’m slightly less panicked today than yesterday about what will hopefully be a minor setback.

However, there’s another wrinkle in this story. GCSF (Filgrastim) injections are (as far as I’m aware) the only way to get a haematology patient’s neutrophil count back up quickly, to protect us from life-threatening infections. (With a neutrophil count of 0.14, pretty much anything could be a life-threatening infection.)

Because of this, Filgrastim is on the WHO’s list of essential medicines. It should always be in stock.

The hospital pharmacy were only able to dispense three of the five injections I need. The other two will have to be collected separately on Friday afternoon. If the medicine supply chain is already struggling, it doesn’t fill me with confidence that it will work at all in the event of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.

Are you listening, Pauline Latham MP, and all of your fellow travellers in the ERG? (I know the answer to that question – it’s no.)

Cine film of grasstrack motorcycle racing, Hopwell Hall, 1951

I recently found a couple of Pathescope films shot by my father in the early 1950s. The more interesting one is of grasstrack motorcycle racing in September 1951.

Pathescope is a 9.5mm cine film format with the sprocket hole in the centre. It was introduced in 1922 and was most popular with amateur film-makers in France and the UK. Pathescope Limited was the subject of a workers’ buyout in 1959, but went bankrupt in 1960. In a precursor to the VHS/Betamax wars of the 1980s, an arguably superior format fell to the greater marketing muscle of Kodak and the far wider range of suppliers supporting the 8mm standard. The very late introduction of Pathescope colour film also didn’t help.

When I had the film digitised (+) I thought the location may have been Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. In 1951 Kirkby Hall was still standing, but only just (it was demolished in 1952), after wartime use by the military. The British Championships were held there on 2nd September, and this film was processed on the 25th. Grasstrack racing was held at Kirkby Mallory up until 1956. It ended when a tarmac circuit – Mallory Park – was laid for the princely sum of £50,000.

However, a closer examination of the film plus a glance through his 1951 diary instead confirms the location as Hopwell Hall (-), near Ockbrook. The racing took place on Sunday 23rd September. There’s a couple of seconds of my grandfather midway through the film, which was an unexpected bonus.

Grasstrack racing at Hopwell Hall 1951
Grasstrack motorcycle racing at Hopwell Hall, September 23rd 1951. The hall was damaged by fire a few years later and subsequently rebuilt.

(+) By the excellent TVV Productions in Newcastle.

(-) Hopwell Hall was a Special School run by Nottinghamshire County Council (in Derbyshire) from the 1920s up until the 1980s/90s. In the 1950s, motorcycle racing took place in the surrounding parklands. It was converted into a £6m, 10 bedroom house in the late 1990s and has been privately owned since.

Transplant +75: Carsington Water

Carsington Water is a pleasant 30 minute drive from home. It’s somewhere I enjoy going to think, especially when it’s quiet. It was very quiet this morning, as well as being cold and rather eerie in the winter sunlight. It’s a good job the 7 has a heater – however inefficient. At least it keeps my legs warm while the top half of me is wrapped in a fleece, scarf, snood, woolly hat, driving gloves and a big coat.

Andrew Frost's wizard sculpture on Stones Island, Carsington Water
Stones Island, Carsington Water

This was probably the last excursion for Gnu this year as the weather for the rest of this week looks poor. He’ll be safely stored away and SORNed by 1st December for a couple of months.

Carsington Water from Stones Island, looking towards the dam. The water is as low as I’ve seen it for many years

I spent some time walking around Stones Island and reflecting on the last year. It’s one I don’t want to repeat in a hurry. Chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant is no fun at all. Worse than the treatment was missing out on too many social occasions – including work. But I hope that I’m now through the worst of it and that any relapse is many years away. Maybe something else will get me first after all!

Andrew Frost’s sinister wizard sculpture on Stones Island, Carsington Water

Having made appreciative noises at the sculpture, my twenty-minute walk became too cold to bear. So I did what any sensible person would do and headed to the Mainsail restaurant. My sausage cob (breakfast is served until 2.30pm – very decadent) and pot of tea were a bargain at £5.25.

I’m cautiously optimistic about 2019 from a personal perspective. Maybe even my head hair will grow back soon. I hope this optimism is better-founded than my Old Timmy’s Almanac predictions were at the start of this year.

Spondon Home Guard

A conversation I had earlier on today reminded me that I have a photograph of the Spondon Home Guard. It was taken during World War II, outside the gatehouse lodge at Locko Park. I don’t have a key to the people in the picture, although my assumption is that there must be at least one Holyoake present. I can see a couple of possible candidates.

If anyone does recognise any of the volunteers, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Spondon Home Guard during WWII
Spondon Home Guard during WWII

Transplant +45: Gentle exercise

Since I last wrote on T+30 I’ve continued to make progress. I’m still tired much of the time and if sleeping was an Olympic sport I’d be a certainty for the gold medal. However, it feels as if some kind of normality might not be that far away.

Physical exercise

This is the easiest to measure. Since T+30:

  • I no longer need my walking stick.
  • I’ve managed to drive both the Alfa and the 7 a couple of times, although not very far.
  • I spent a couple of hours at the Donington museum.
  • I’ve walked around the woods on Oakwood (several times), Kedleston Hall and yesterday spent some time walking around the gardens at Chatsworth (when I wasn’t eating cake, naturally). My daily step count has gone up from around 1,500 to averaging 5,000 or so. Yesterday I exceeded 8,000 for the first time in two months. My resting pulse has continued to come down (73 today), although it’s still a little above my mid-sixties norm.
Chatsworth - the view from the grotto
Chatsworth – the view from the grotto

Mental exercise

This is a little harder to measure, but since T+30:

  • I’ve built a surveillance camera for the driveway. This was motivated by the possibly paranoid belief I hold that an intruder tried to get into the house the first night I was home from hospital. It consists of a Raspberry Pi 3B+ inside a custom case, running MotionEye on Raspbian. (I originally tried MotionEyeOS, but it proved to be unstable). So far the only intruder its spotted is a spider.

A final lap of the Donington Grand Prix collection

Last Friday afternoon I paid a farewell visit with some friends to the Donington Grand Prix collection. Although the museum doesn’t close until 5th November, the contents of the display cabinets were already being packed away. The café was shuttered and empty. The number of cars also seems to have declined since I last visited in mid-2017. There are now spaces between many of the exhibits. If you’re thinking of going, sooner rather than later is probably a good idea. The cost of entry is £12 per adult, £5 per child. We spent around 90 minutes in the museum, discussing (amongst other things) the evolution of F1 aerodynamics.

Skipping quickly through the first two halls that are dedicated to a collection of military vehicles, the real stars are the racing cars from McLaren, Williams, Force India and Vanwall.

Early McLaren racing cars
Some early McLaren cars
A 1997 McLaren F1 car
A McLaren F1 car from 1997. Somewhere I have a picture of me with either this or the 1998 car at an Ingres user group meeting. The company I used to work for, Computer Associates, was one of McLaren’s sponsors during the David Coulthard / Mika Häkkinen era. We were provided with a car (minus the engine) as part of the deal. The cars always generated far more interest than the software we were selling, so I’m not sure that it was necessarily a good investment.
Force India F1 cars
A gaggle of Force India F1 cars, from the days before the striking pink livery in use this season. These represent the last significant addition to the collection, dating from 2016, and are presumably on loan from the team.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss. There is a memorial plaque in the museum to his team-mate, Stuart Lewis-Evans. He died after his Vanwall engine caught fire at the Moroccan Grand Prix 60 years ago this week.
Helmets - Jock Taylor, Benga Johannson and Niki Lauda
There are no racing motorcycles in the collection, but they do have Jock Taylor and Benga Johansson‘s rather battered sidecar helmets on display, next to one of Niki Lauda’s. The Jackie Stewart collection had already been packed away, unless it consisted solely of a tartan scarf.
The end
The end. Outside of individual manufacturer’s premises, I can’t think of another location that had such a diverse collection of racing cars on display.

World Sidecar Trophy, Donington Park, 18th May 1980

One problem with having chemo fatigue is that I watch far too much television. This weekend I’ve managed to see some of the British Superbikes from Brands Hatch. I was delighted to see Leon Haslam clinch the championship. Back in the late 70s I remember watching his father, Ron, duel with the likes of Randy Mamola at Donington Park.

These fond memories set me wading through some reels of old 8mm cine film this afternoon. While I didn’t manage to find any of Ron and Randy in their prime, I did find a couple of minutes from the World Sidecar Trophy, shot from our favourite vantage point at McLeans. This featured Jock Taylor and his ‘passenger’, Benga Johansson. Normal motorcycle racing is daring enough, sidecar racing is terrifying. Much as the exploits of Ron Haslam appealed to me as a teenager, the real hard men were the sidecar racers. What’s noticeable in this clip is the fairly low-level of protection offered to riders, marshalls and spectators. These days McLeans has a much larger run-off area and catch fencing.

World Sidecar Trophy programme, Donington Park, Sunday May 18th 1980.
World Sidecar Trophy programme, Donington Park, Sunday May 18th 1980.

I can’t find the result of this particular race, but it would seem that Jock and Benga were leading in the number 7 Fowler Yamaha outfit at some point in the race. (See around 1m 16s into the clip). They certainly won the world sidecar championship together in 1980. Sadly, Jock Taylor was killed in a racing accident in 1982 at the age of 28.

The Donington Grand Prix Museum is to close in November

Sad news being reported in the Derby Telegraph tonight. The last time I visited the Donington Collection was during the Lotus 7 60th anniversary celebrations in 2017. The grand prix cars and other racing memorabilia held at Donington is unmatched elsewhere. The crammed-in nature of the exhibits somehow added to the charm of the place, even if it meant that viewing conditions weren’t always ideal.

Historic McLarens
Historic McLaren F1 cars displayed at the Donington Grand Prix Collection, 2015.

 

Own a piece of bygone Spondon

Since I started publishing my father’s photographs of bygone Spondon, I’ve been delighted by the interest that they’ve attracted. I was recently contacted by Kaff at Cherrytree Picture Framers in Spondon who asked if she could create display prints from four of them.

Yesterday I saw the results of her efforts – and they’re truly stunning.

The blemishes which scarred the original slides and negatives have been skillfully removed. High resolution scans (rather than scaled-down images from this blog) were used, producing great quality prints.

The photographs are currently on display at 3 Moor Street, Spondon. Prints can be purchased in different sizes and frames.

Bygone Spondon at Cherrytree Picture FramersThe best way to appreciate the pictures is to go in person. However, if you’re unable to visit and want to take a closer look, the colour photographs are blemish-free versions of the first two in this post. The black and white photographs are featured here.