Monday, December 16, 2013

The official Christmas message

Dear friends and family

On the whole 2013 has been better for us than 2012, as we get used to a new way of life and Sam continues to improve slowly after his stroke in May last year.

At the end of last year Sam was walking a few steps, attending rehab at Icanho several times a week, and still needed a carer visit every day. A year later he is walking rather more, although still very slowly, and can manage several steps up or down with a handrail. He never uses a wheelchair in the house, so we have removed all the ramps and re-hung the doors, which makes life feel much more normal. Sam's Icanho treatment ended in late June, and we were able to give up carers completely as Sam can now pretty much get up, showered and dressed on his own. He can also do bits and pieces around the house, including washing up, painting (at the right height), cleaning, cooking, and we're still exploring other possibilities.

Wonky walking does make you vulnerable to other pains and injuries, and Sam has suffered a strained Achilles tendon just in the past couple of weeks which has knocked him back a bit. He also gets spectacular bruising if he falls – although his balance and trunk strength are still noticeably improving and falls are rare. And he does get tired very quickly.

Those who see Sam only occasionally notice some improvements in his speech and considerable improvement in his understanding. When we see him every day it's hard to spot the changes. His speech always varies from day to day but even on his worst days we can now usually understand something, and he is better at getting a message across. And his favourite sentence – no surprise to those who know him well – is “I can do it myself”.

Nick, Sam and Tim after scattering the ashes of Sam's brother Adrian during our trip to Guernsey
We have kept up a variety of activities to ensure our continuing sanity. In February we went to visit Ben in Nottingham, Sam's first night away from home since he came out of hospital. That went well and gave us confidence to visit Guernsey in March – a lovely trip with bad weather at the start and end, with a delay of a couple of hours on the flight out and a delay of two days on the way back, thanks to Guernsey's heaviest snowfall for 30 years, or possibly ever. Sam's older sons Tim and Nick looked after us well and we stayed at the very helpful and friendly Cobo Bay Hotel, but by the time we finally managed to land at Gatwick (not only two days late... but also at the wrong airport) we were very glad to be back on the mainland.

The sunshine - and the blizzard: views from our room in the Cobo Bay Hotel just two days apart

The long and horrible winter, followed by the cold and wet spring, were a trial for all of us, not helped by the fact that our oil-fired boiler failed in February and we had a month without central heating – thank goodness for our new and efficient log burner.

Sam in Lisbon. Our previous visit was
on Kalessin in 2006

In April we went on a P&O cruise to Portugal and the Canaries, which was a fantastic break and a wonderful opportunity for Sam not just to see interesting places but also participate in many of the onboard activities. In a mad moment Camilla has booked another cruise, around the Mediterranean in March 2014, which has a great itinerary but will undoubtedly leave us with the same feeling of having nothing like enough time in each location.

June saw our biggest adventure of the year. All four of us drove out to Denmark – travelling by ferry to the Hoek van Holland, which was much cheaper than taking the ferry to Esbjerg (and proved a good choice because the Esbjerg ferry was out of action that week), and then driving up to Augustenborg. We were reunited with Kalessin of Orwell and spent a few days getting her ready to go in the water – antifouling in the comfort of a fully insulated storage shed definitely beats our UK experiences – and then moved on board.

Kalessin in the heated shed. There was no way Sam could climb the ladder, so until the boat was launched Sam and Camilla stayed in a hotel in Sønderborg
Guy could only stay for a week or so but Sam, Ben and Camilla spent several weeks sailing very gently in the sheltered waters on the Danish/German border. We were blessed with fantastic weather, smooth seas, delightful marinas and town moorings, and really things couldn't have gone better. We worked out a routine for getting Sam on and off the boat using a climbing harness and one or more halyards – getting him over the bow was a bit of a challenge and necessary in many of the Baltic box moorings, but we worked as a team and got help from many passers-by. Once on board he could get around with only a little help and it meant a huge amount to him to be able to sail again.You can read much more about our adventures right here on this blog - use the Archive links on the right to find the 2013 posts.

We owe special thanks to Rob Pudney whom we contacted through an online sailing forum, and who generously invited us to spend a night on his Westerly Storm in Chichester in May, and gave us the knowledge and confidence to get Sam on and off our yacht.

Glorious weather and sheltered waters in Flensburg

In September Guy, his friend Dan and our friends Richard & Cathy Brown brought Kalessin home from Augustenborg to Suffolk Yacht Harbour in only a week. Again you can read more on the blog, and we were incredibly grateful for their efforts. Kalessin is still afloat in SYH and we have been using her as a holiday cottage in nice weather, with one short sail to Ipswich in September. We're having a cockpit tent made to extend the time when Sam can sit in the cockpit, and hope to do some east coast sailing next summer. We'll be looking for crew, as Camilla and Sam can't manage on their own – please let us know if you would be up for a short or long trip.

In August, both boys cared for Sam while Camilla spent her first night away from home without him – two wonderful days of walking on the Norfolk Coast Path and a luxury night away in (wait for it) the Wells-next-the-Sea Youth Hostel.

Twenty-five years ago....
And in October we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary with a lovely party for family and friends in Hoxne. We converted the space under the tree house into a rather splendid marquee, thanks to an old sail and some creative work by Guy, but in fact we were blessed with very pleasant weather during the day and we thoroughly enjoyed the celebration.

Sam is now spending one day a week at Street Forge, a workshop for disabled people a few miles away where he can do woodwork or (re)develop computer skills. He was a bit resistant to start off with, as he hates being treated as “disabled”, but it's very good therapy for him and a nice break for Camilla, so we're persevering. We also try to go swimming once a week, and the Stroke Club in Eye and Stroke Association communications group continue to offer much-valued support.

Somehow in the course of the year Camilla was recruited to the committee of Icanho Friends and a little further down the line became chairman. Icanho is the rehab centre which has done a huge amount to help Sam's mobility, confidence and understanding; it also provided counselling for Camilla which really helped her to find her balance again, so we are keen to do what we can to support it. In December we put on a concert with Rough at the Edges, the singing group Camilla has belonged to for more than 20 years, at the rather wonderful John Peel Centre in Stowmarket. Despite lots of publicity, and Camilla even being a “sofa guest” on BBC Radio Suffolk, the audience wasn't quite as big as we hoped, but it was a lovely evening and we raised almost £500 for Icanho.
Part of Rough at the Edges at the concert in December
Camilla is managing some freelance work, updating websites for Suffolk Yacht Harbour and for Redeye, the photography network run by Camilla's brother Paul. She has pitched for some bigger projects which didn't happen, but is hoping for more work next year.

Guy is still living at home and has taken up photography very seriously, doing some wonderful portraits for Rough at the Edges, among many other great shots. He's selling images online, covering events for friends and other contacts, and is way ahead of Camilla on his knowledge of pixels and Photoshop. Ben is enjoying his second year studying civil engineering at Nottingham University, living in a house with two like-minded friends and enjoying Japanese even more than engineering.

Thanks to all of you who have continued to be so supportive throughout 2013 – it really is hugely appreciated. Merry Christmas and here's to 2014 being even better.

Much love

Camilla, Sam, Guy & Ben

Fruits of our labours - it's nice to have time for some home preserving