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Below Bill Ayling shares with you some of the things that come to mind as he walks his dog Fudge around Purley on Thames

June 2017

Breathing fresh air!

Walking twenty, sometimes only ten paces then stopping and trying to get my breath back has curtailed my walks with Fudge along the river bank for the past few months. Even a quick walk around the garden was proving too much. I knew there was something wrong, but I was refusing to admit it, even to myself. There was no actual pain. Just continuous breathlessness, that and falling asleep at odd moments. Giddiness and a sense of nearly fainting, made me at last go to see the doctor.

The doctor gave me a blood test, and sent me for an x-ray and a couple of EGCs. That is when the medical authorities discovered that one half of my heart was not “speaking” to the other half. This malfunction caused a build-up of fluid in my lungs, which was the reason for all the breathlessness.

I thought it was old age and lack of exercise, so I decided to get to work in the garden and put in some really intensive digging, but I regret to say that things got worse.

Eventually after one particularly bad attack, I was taken into the A&E at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, I spent the first twenty-four hours in five different wards then finished up in the cardiac Unit. Thank goodness, I did! The treatment there was inconceivable, the kindness, friendlessness and care shown by the nursing staff had to be experienced to be believed.

A series of test and examinations showed that my heartbeat was too slow. This was diagnosed as a result of taking beta blockers which meant that all trace of the drug had to be drained from my system. This took four solid days, I don’t think I have ever drunk so much water in such a short time. The little cardboard receptacles they give you…but I won’t go into that.

Eventually I was discharged, but had to go back recently to have a pacemaker fitted. This involved going into the hospital for a 7.30am appointment, not eating and only drinking water for six hours before the operation.

The staff in the Jim Shashi ward were incredible. They were kind, helpful and put me completely at my ease. The operation was conducted by a friendly doctor named Dr Fan. He put me entirely at my ease. The actual operation itself was done under a local anaesthetic, and I was conscious all the time. To take my mind off what was happening, my head was covered over by a blue tent like cloth, I recited to myself as many of my poems as I could remember.

I was taken into the theatre a few minutes after nine and came out at about a quarter past eleven. A pace make fitted inside me, just under the left shoulder blade. Two hours were spent lying on the bed, with a very welcome cup of coffee and a sandwich. Then a charming lady came around with what a first looked like a large, mobile ice-cream trolley. This was an electrical machine which adjusted the pace maker to the rhythm of my heart beat. With a broad smile the nurse declared, after about ten minutes that everything was fine, my hearty and the pacemaker were working perfectly together.

Now breathlessness is a thing of the past. Walkies can begin again. Already I have managed to walk as far as the second island, but my legs are getting tired! The nurse did warn me not to” overdo it” or to raise my left arm above shoulder height. I have taken her advice aboard about not over doing it, and I only raise my right arm when there is a pint glass in it.

The Swan’s Nest

On most years the local swans nest on the strip of land where the mill race enters the river Thames, but this year, for some reason, the swans have decided to build a nest right on the bank as the river enters the  Lock. Catherine, from the “Snapdragon”, pointed the nest out to us recently. It is just below the footpath on the bank where you leave Mapledurham Lock on the way towards Pangbourne. When we first saw the female on her nest, she looked very comfortable, her beak was securely tucked under the wing, but you could see one black eye looking suspiciously up towards us. As you can imagine it was a great disappointment to us that when we passed by the nest last Sunday it appeared to be deserted.

It might be that the nest was too near where the footpath, and possibly some inquisitive person might have wandered too close for comfort. The swans are able to look after themselves, ask Fudge who had a quarrel a few weeks ago with a large in the lock basin over a crust of bread – the swan won!

I think Bertie Wooster would confirm you don’t go near a swan when it is on its nest, but, whatever the reason for its disappearance, the swan has gone. The nest is still there, this consists of a large circle of yellowing reeds all pressed down, with a few feathers lying on them.

It would be very nice if I’m wrong, and that the swans have not deserted their nest, but I feel in my bones that they have gone. Fortunately, there weren’t any eggs in it, as far as I know.

The swans will probably go back to their old nesting ground where the mill race enters the Thames, at least nobody can get the spot where that is located, not even Fudge.

Geese on the river

The geese are prolific this year. I saw them first on my initial walk after my operation. We had just left the lock and were crossing over the first meadow. I was walking with Eileen when she grabbed my arm and pointed out towards the middle of the river. There we saw a family of Canada geese swimming serenely in midstream. In the front was the mother, bringing up the rear, was a proud father goose, and between them were five or six goslings. They must have been quite recently hatched, for they were very tiny, but seemed oblivious to the cold north wind which blew down the river.

On the far side of the river there were a lot of parked cars, with many people wandering about. It was the Bank Holiday weekend and the visitors, on the other side of the river, were flocking to an event in the grounds of Mapledurham House.

That was about a fortnight ago. When we went out with Fudge yesterday, now it is the middle of May, there were three families of the grey lagged geese. They were swimming in a “school” by the first island. Each family seemed to be in charge of their own brood, but the goslings were in some way intermingled. A Canada goose tried to interfere, but he was driven off with a flurry of wings squawks and a loud splashing of water.

It was difficult to count with any accuracy how many there were of the little, grey feathery blobs, skittering between their parents. I made it eighteen goslings, Eileen said sixteen, but as Fudge took it upon herself at this moment to have a wade in the water, this caused the geese to usher their charges away into one cluster thus making it impossible to count with any certainty.

Bill Ayling