Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dragon's Den

Last Thursday we (Daphne et moi) returned to Wales to see a play and take in a bit of the city. I'd never been to the Welsh capital before and when looking at the location of our bed & breakfast in relation to the theatre, I noticed that it was only a short walk away and better still, that walk would take us past both Cardiff Castle and The Millennium Stadium.

Now for those who have never heard of the stadium, it was built in 1999 at a cost of £121m which was pretty reasonable considering the £798m that it cost to build Wembley Stadium in London 8 years later. It has a capacity of 74,500 and is the 2nd largest stadium in the world with a fully retractable roof. Ok enough stats already !

Definitely worth a tour, I felt, and Daphne agreed. More about that later.

So at 10am on Thursday, I picked her up from her place and off we went......on a 241 mile road trip !! I'd picked a route that was 95% on motorways so, despite Daphne talking to me all the way, it wasn't the most exciting drive ever. But when we approached the Welsh border, I encountered a first for me.

Daphne stopped talking !!

No seriously, we had to cross the River Severn and this involved taking the Severn Bridge. This 3.2 mile long toll bridge was opened in 1996, although it's a one way toll and you only pay to enter Wales. Cheek.

Despite driving, I managed a few photos going over the bridge and even kept the horizon straight.....straighter than my driving I have to admit !

Half way across we entered Wales (the clue was that suddenly all the road signs became bi-lingual and sheep outnumbered people) and a few miles further on, we came to the toll booths and paid the £5.50 to enter "the land of our fathers". Well not mine....and certainly not Daphne's.

So really that was a silly statement to make !

30 miles later and my GPS (Sheila) took us right to the b&b car park in the centre of Cardiff and after throwing our overnight items onto our respective beds (in our respective rooms !!), we set off down Cathedral Road towards the theatre.

It was almost sunset and we both took the opportunity to take some photos of the stadium as we passed.....just in case the weather wasn't good the next day. I love the light at sunset.

We then met up with our friend and excellent actress, Sonia Beck, who was the lead in the play (Barkin') we were going to see at The New Theatre. She was ready to eat but we weren't and so we popped into a nearby restaurant, Truffles, and we had coffee while Sonia had fish and chips.

After that, Sonia headed off to the theatre and we explored a bit more of Cardiff's large and impressive pedestrian area. My phone app had shown there was a Hard Rock Cafe nearby but we spent quite a while tracking it down only to find it had closed 9 days earlier ! By then it was 6:50pm and the play started at 7:30pm and we had yet to eat.

This narrowed our options but as I knew there was a Pizza Hut on the way, we called there and thanks to an understanding server, we got our pizzas delivered in record time and were out by 7:20pm. A few minutes walk took us to the theatre and we'd only just settled into our seats when the lights went down and the curtain went up. Phew.

The play and performances were excellent and although I took photos of the cast during their bows and afterwards in the bar, I can't post them here as I've not asked permission.

Then it was back to the b&b for a good night's sleep.

Next morning dawned overcast and damp. We had intended leaving my car in the b&b car park while on the stadium tour at 11am but given the weather, we drove to a car park next to the stadium. We had a bit of time to spare so went up into the Cardiff Arms store and cafe which was the sole souvenir location for the stadium.

Now I have to say at this point that the Millennium Stadium these days is primarily used for rugby union games (as well as special events like boxing, speedway and concerts) and I don't follow this sport at all. So I was very disappointed that there were no specific stadium souvenirs on sale in the store at all.......just rugby ones.

I think they're missing out big time on a source of extra income.

Anyway at 11am, Tom, the young tour guide, met up with the twelve of us in the cafe and led us off to start the tour. We visited the press room and the home dressing room before finally getting out to see the pitch and stands. Having been to many NFL grounds in America and the Skydome in Toronto, I wasn't overly impressed with this one.

Things improved somewhat when we rode the lift to the top tier. We were shown into one of the private boxes which, to rent for a year, cost half as much as a semi in Yorkshire !

Then we went 'outside' again to see the pitch from this lofty perspective. We were shown to the VIP seats and Daphne immediately plonked herself down in the middle padded seat which Tom then said was where The Queen sat when she visited the stadium. Typical !

In this photo, you can see "Queeny" looking back at the camera, getting ready to practice her wave.

I didn't think to take a panorama at this point but as it happens, I've been able to stitch 3 photos together to give some sort of impression of the view. Enlarge it by all means......just don't examine it too closely !

As usual on tours, there was a cup on the presentation plinth for us to hold up and pretend we were the winners of some game or other. Given that I was dressed for the weather conditions, my attempt to recreate the event was sadly lacking in authenticity.

There were still several steps to get up to the very top and as we had time, and I still had some air left in my lungs, we did just that. At the top, I passed my camera to Daphne and she took this photo of me and I took the next photo as I wanted to show the size of the unmarked pitch by isolating the lone groundsman.

This was about the end of the tour and once back outside, we headed off into the city centre to explore a bit more and get some lunch before the drive back to Leeds. We went into a market and spotted some food items which might raise a few eyebrows for foreign readers of this blog.

From the top...faggots. No, I'm not even going there.

Next, dragon sausages. Well we were in Wales.

Finally, chitterlings. You've never heard of chitterlings ? Here is the wikipedia description and I think it says it all.

Chitterlings (sometimes spelled chitlins or chittlins in vernacular) are the viscera intestines of a pig that have been prepared as food. In various countries across the world, such food is prepared and eaten either as part of a daily diet, or at special events, holidays or religious festivities. It is often criticized for its flavor and odor that are reminiscent of feces.

Ok no way in this lifetime are those things EVER becoming part of this fat boy's daily diet. In fact my idea of a meal from hell would be a plate of chitterlings covered with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Oh dear God.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I don't want to leave this post about our time in Cardiff on such a 'nasty' note. So here is a photo of the outside of an 'Irish' pub which gave us a smile.

Then it was back to the car but before we left the city, Daphne wanted to visit a couple of places which she has already mentioned on her blog.

With her finally happy and safely strapped into the passenger seat, we headed back up t'motorway to Leeds, passing freely over the Severn Bridge this time (a much better idea) and got home about 10:30pm.

It had been a tiring but very enjoyable 2 days and in true awards style, I'd like to thank a few people; Daphne for letting me go with her and helping to max out her credit card; Sonia (and her fellow actors) for providing excellent entertainment play wise; the cook in the Town House b&b for managing to serve up bacon which could've been used to resole my shoes; Tom, the Millennium Stadium tour guide, for coming back to open the self locking door of the changing room when I'd stayed behind too long taking photos; and last, but by no means least, the loud and obnoxious teenage girl with 2 kids already in The Old Library restaurant who was obviously a candidate in waiting for an upcoming Jeremy Kyle (aka Jerry Springer) show.

All in all I liked Cardiff and we never even got to see the harbour.

Hwyl fawr and maybe next time........

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Outstanding Service Meets Upstanding Needs

British pharmacies are the best in the world....offering services unknown in most other countries.

I have to say though, these services do seem a bit extreme for a supermarket pharmacy. Normally what goes on behind the closed doors, stays behind closed doors. But in this case, that kinda defeats the point, doesn't it ?!

I wonder if customers partaking in this service get double clubcard points ?

Win, win.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Bitter Pill To Swallow.

First of all, a bit of info about why going to America every year is so important to me.

In the years between 10,000 BC and 1497, many intrepid explorers "first" discovered America. They know who they were so I'll not name names. Grand lads, the lot of them.

In my case, it happened in the summer of 1989. Yes, I first discovered America 21 years ago and have been there 23 times since.

I wasn't much of an explorer back then and in fact, really only discovered Florida that first year. But over the next 10 trips, I visited all 48 continental states and a few years later visited the Hawaiian islands, leaving only Alaska to be explored by yours truly. Until global warming heats it up a few dozen degrees, it'll remain unexplored too !!

I retired in 2001 and from 2003, I've been spending 6 months a year in America and have now settled into a lovely routine - the 6 months of Spring/Summer in England and the 6 months of Autumn/Winter in Florida. Not a bad way to spend my retirement years and things looked fair for this to continue for years to come.

But although I didn't know it until this week, this routine was based on a dodgy foundation, a human foundation.

My friendly pharmacist.

You see since my 2nd heart attack in 2005, I've been on a daily regimen of 5 pills which combine to slow my heart rate, widen my arteries, thin my blood, stop clots forming and lower my cholesterol. They're kinda vital to my well being and I will be on them for the rest of my life.

My doc writes me a prescription (script) for these pills and my local pharmacist then delivers them to me. When I started going to America for 6 months I hit a serious snag as docs are only allowed to prescribe 3 months supply at a time, maximum. My pharmacist was a fellow Ulsterman and a 'good egg to boot' and he sorted things out so that he could give me 6 months supply at once. Basically because mine was a repeat prescription, he was able to simply send in my second 3 month request while I was in America ! Not strictly legal and he was risking his job by doing it.

Earlier this week he told me that he had applied for another job and was just waiting for confirmation of getting it (he was pretty sure he'd get it) and so, although I needed 7 months of pills this time as I don't leave for another month, he could only give me 6 as, even if he got this new job, he had to give 3 months notice and so would be around (only just) to put in my second prescription request as usual.

Did that all make sense to anyone ??!!!

This was a crushing blow for my future trips to America. It was also an immediate blow for this upcoming trip as 6 months supply just isn't enough. Including the days leading up to the flight to Florida on 7th November, I need pills for 212 days but have only got pills for 168 days as the NHS regard a month as having 28 days !

I contacted my doctor....he wouldn't budge on the 3 months as he said those were the rules. I rang the NHS headquarters in London and was eventually told there were no hard and fast rules, only guidelines and the guidelines said 3 months max. They suggested I contact the local NHS office as they provide docs with their guidelines. I did so and was told that docs have contracts with the BMA (British Medical Association) and they say 3 months too. I went back to the London HQ and this time a different person told me the rule WAS 3 months max.

What it comes down to is that everyone agrees it's unfair and basically bureaucracy gone mad but no one will bend the rules. What I need is.....

1) My friendly Ulsterman to NOT get that new job or
2) Find a new friendly pharmacist or
3) Change doctors and get one that realises this is all very silly or
4) Only go to America for 3 months at a time.

I know which one I'm hoping for !

Before anyone offers these as suggestions, can I answer them now.

I can't have pills posted to me as I tried that once and never got them. I assume customs in the UK or US (or both) don't let pills through.

I can't ask for double strength and crack the pills in half as for one thing the patient can't determine the pill strength and for another, I'm on the max dose of most of my pills as it is !

Although I am registered with a doc in Florida, I can't ask her for a script as at least 2 of my pills cost over $100 for 30 days supply and anyway I'm sure they wouldn't be prescribed without expensive tests...despite having my UK medical records as proof. Getting those are costly here too.

So there you have it. I'm off to Florida in 4 weeks time and right now I'm faced with the scary prospect of having to skip my pills at least one day per week.

Hopefully future blogs will return to more cheerful topics but right now I'm pretty depressed and ironically the stress of it all may make taking the pills unnecessary !

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