December 31, 2017

Out with the old…

In with the new and good riddance to 2017, which to say the least hasn’t been the most auspicious of years for me. It started well enough and looked quite promising, up until May that is. Then things started to go awry and without going into more detail than necessary, my year hit the buffers in that month when I was diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkins Lymphoma to be precise.

I was prescribed a lengthy period of chemotherapy and was warned at the outset that the treatment would be worse than the disease. And that has proven to be the case, the more so as due to the disease being diagnosed at an early stage, I was experiencing no symptoms from it, as indeed I still am not.

I’m not saying that the treatment has been truly ghastly, because it hasn’t. And I say that because although everyone’s journey through cancer treatment is individual and different, there are some awful scare stories in circulation about how chemotherapy is ‘poison’ and how ‘it affects your brain’ or ‘it damages all your major organs’ and worst of all, ‘it’s terribly painful’.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky, maybe the team over here in Périgueux have been especially good at implementing and managing my treatment (they’ve been fantastic, professional and genuinely caring actually) but in my experience none of those things are true. Yes, you do have good days (at the top of the cycle) and some bad days (at the bottom) but in case, just in case, anyone reading this has been diagnosed as I was and is thinking about rejecting chemotherapy because of the scare stories they’ve heard, all I can say is please, please don’t do it.

Please don’t trust the most valuable thing you have to quack homeopathy treatments or ‘magic’ diets that you find on the internet. If fighting cancer were that easy, treatment centres all over the world would be getting people to do those things. But they’re not and huge amounts of resources and money are being spent year after year on research into finding new ways to fight the disease. And by the time you find out that the quack treatments don’t work, you might find, sadly, that it’s too late.

Chemotherapy isn’t perfect but for some forms of cancer, it’s all we have. If I’m anything to go by, immediately after four or five hours of having chemicals pumped into you, all you want to do is sleep for a few hours. Then after a day or so, you feel generally unwell for a few more days while your body recovers, but not so bad that you can’t cope. In my case, chemo also hit my white blood cells mainly, pretty hard, so I’ve had to have follow-up booster injections, but if I can do it, anyone can.

So if anyone reading this is like an Englishman over here who my doctor wanted me to talk to after being diagnosed with the same disease as me the day before, please, please do not despair. Cancer is still a killer disease in many of its forms, but not all. And when your oncologist tells you that it will not be pleasant, but that you will have a greater than 90% chance of achieving a full recovery after treatment, believe them. And go forward with a strong spirit and a positive frame of mind.

So that’s it for 2017. I’ve still got one chemo session to go in January, so I’m now much nearer the end than the beginning. I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to make my illness a big issue here on Micro-Trike and although I’ve had to refer to it a few times, I’ve tried to stick to that decision. I also said that I refused to be an invalid, that I wouldn’t allow my illness to define me and that I’d try to live my life in the meantime as normally as possible.

Without being ashamed to say so, I’ve only been partially successful in all of those things. At times I have been an invalid and needed the help of my friends and others. My illness has also defined me during the past few months, unsurprisingly so as although I had my hair all cut off before I began to lose it, which I knew I would, I haven’t had a hair on my body for months now and have wandered around looking like something out of Lord of The Rings. And I also haven’t lived anything like the normal life I would have – I haven’t flown, I haven’t been out to cafés and restaurants enjoying the company of my friends and in fact my illness has taken over my life with every week being packed with appointments and treatments.

Sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry, and I have done both in the past few months. Sometimes you need your family and friends to support you and pick you up when you’re down and I’ve been so incredibly lucky in that respect. But at the end of it all you end up learning a lot about yourself and life in general. Being forced to confront your own mortality makes you think about what your true priorities should be and this has been so with me. I think that I will come out of this experience as a different person, at least I hope so anyway.

The simple gift of life is not something that we place great value on, until it’s almost taken away from us and that’s the thought that I’d like to leave my readers with going into 2018. Let’s try to concentrate on the good things that draw us together, not the differences that break us apart. That’s not easy to do I know, but maybe if we keep on thinking it, it will become less difficult as time goes on.

A happy new year to all – may it be for you a healthy and peaceful one and a time for good to triumph in the world.

PS

Just came back to add an extra note. After typing the above post I went into my kitchen to do a little bit of washing up before getting ready for bed. I came across some water in front of the sink and thought that maybe I’d spilt some onto the floor. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

When looked more closely it seemed to be coming from under the washing machine but when I pulled it out and mopped up the water underneath it, it was obviously coming from even further down the line. To cut a long story short, it looks as though the stop-cock where the main enters the kitchen has failed. The trouble is, it’s behind the principal floor corner unit.

I’ve turned it off for now but it still seems to be dripping. The bad news is that if it isn’t just the valve stem packing that’s leaking, which I can just about get at, it’ll mean ripping all of the floor units out of my kitchen. Not exactly the start to the new year that I was hoping for 😐

December 22, 2017

Ready to rock ‘n roll

In every way after yesterday’s news! And as well as receiving that, the new battery that I’d ordered for my new e-bike arrived, so despite rather dismal weather and as I’d given it an initial charge yesterday, I was determined to go out on my bike today.

So despite a rather clammy, cold, misty morning, that’s what I did. I wrapped up well with a woolly scarf and my faithful beanie hat (appearance is not my main concern at the moment as you might guess) because not having any hair, I feel the draught around my head and neck, and initially made my way up the road to beyond le Bos de Plazac.

And it was just as I’d hoped it would be – some effort required to pump the knees and turn the pedals but most of the power, especially on the up-slopes, coming from the electric motor. In no time I’d turned round and was back outside my house again, so I continued down the road to the top of the hill where the road starts to descend more sharply and again it was everything that I wanted – more fun than effort but enough effort to make it worthwhile.

On my way back I dropped into my neighbour, Chantal’s, house and gave her a blast of my bike’s mini-klaxon. When she came out and had given me a big hug to congratulate me on my good news (she’s been such an angel in all sorts of ways) she said that when she heard the noise, she couldn’t think what it might be – until she looked out of her window and saw me grinning back at her.

So I count that as a success. I think that it was a good idea getting an e-bike and I’m sure that it will be a massive help in recovering the strength I’ve lost over the months of my chemo during which I’ve exercised very little. And especially so when the weather begins to improve in the Spring. Here are a few shots that I took after I’d returned home again.

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From now on it’s onwards and upwards and no stopping me 😀

December 21, 2017

Best Christmas present ever

I just received a call from my oncologist at Périgueux hospital a few minutes ago. She wanted to phone me before Christmas to tell me that the niggling complication that showed up on my two PETscans is now known not to be a problem at all but merely an internal scar from the original operation that I had to remove my gallbladder that is in the process of healing.

This means that although I still have a chemo planned for Tuesday and three more after that taking me into February, my health problems are effectively at an end. I feel that I have been given the best Christmas present ever, not something new but something that I might have lost for ever – the gift of my life back.

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I tried never to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel but I don’t feel at all the way that I thought I would if and when I was given the news that I’ve just received.

To be honest, I feel humbled by and grateful to the amazing people who have brought me through what has been the toughest time of my life. The team at Périgueux have been so caring and professional and things would have been so much more difficult, if not impossible, without the love and support of my friends and family both in the UK and here in France who have picked me up when I’ve been down and helped me through.

All I can say is ‘Thank You’ and ‘Bless You All’ to everyone.

December 19, 2017

Slippy-slidey

We had a bright, cold and frosty morning today with a little bit of ice on the roads. This was the sight that greeted me as I drove up to Rouffignac for one of my early morning appointments, but coming from the other direction as I took the shot on my way back home again.

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Luckily I saw the driver putting up his warning triangle so he was OK, so I was able to allow myself a wry smile. I skidded a bit on exactly the same bend two or three days ago but was able to maintain control despite crossing over into the incoming traffic lane. It looks as though maybe this driver was travelling a little bit faster than I was and was unable to do the same 😉

December 13, 2017

Here we go again!

The home phone went off taking the internet with it last night and when I got up shortly after 8.00 am it was still off. When I went to the bathroom this morning I found that the pumps that send the water to our homes had also failed and water was being delivered at just a trickle.

When I lose the internet on my home phone line I always just turn on my mobile phone hotspot to log on which is not ideal as it’s much slower, but it’s better than nothing. That was also down and just came up again a few minutes ago at 10.20. But I still have no home phone and internet and no proper water supply.

So all in all, not a good start to the day but all part of the joys of living in rural France I suppose. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if the services credited you for all of the outages, but being state run monopolies, they never do of course 🙁

December 8, 2017

Taken the plunge

It was no good, I’m just too impatient and life’s too short. I couldn’t wait for the e-bike battery that I’ve ordered to arrive before ordering the 18650 Li-ion cells that I need to re-cell the duff unit that came with my bike and I’ve already ordered 55 of them, giving me 5 spare, so I can go ahead with the project as soon as possible.

I checked with the Chinese supplier of the bike battery and he has confirmed that it will come with a charger with a 3-pin connector so that’s all I need to know really, as I can always change the polarity, say, of the duff unit when I re-cell it. But I don’t think that it will be necessary, because as I’ve said before, these e-bike battery packs are pretty well standard 😉

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December 7, 2017

e-Bike battery

I’m far from being an expert on e-bikes and their power units but I’ve done a bit of reading and have some knowledge of lithium ion batteries as a result of all the fiddling around that I’ve done making up power units for my sport video cams and other devices (smart phone, pad etc). So I’ve been thinking about what would be involved in re-celling the duff battery that came with the e-bike that I’ve just bought.

As I had nothing better to do today (we’ve still got freezing fog outside) I thought that I’d start my investigations by taking it apart and having done so, I’ve become quite encouraged by what I’ve found.

The unit’s innards comprise ten large Li-ion batteries in two banks of five connected together with a control board on each bank, which are then wired to the bottom connector that attaches to the bike and the key operated switch on top. I’ve searched to find a source of the existing large Li-ion cells but with no luck, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t go ahead with re-celling the unit in a different way.

If you search for similar e-bike packs you find that some are powered by 40 type 18650 Li-ion batteries connected in 10 banks of 4 and some higher quality, higher capacity packs by 50 x 18650 batteries in 10 banks of 5. After assessing the construction of my duff battery pack and musing over the geometry of connecting up banks of 18650 batteries to replace the existing cells, I came up with a potential arrangement for 50 that will easily fit into the existing outer shell and should, in theory, perform better than the original power unit.

And better still, if it works, it will only cost around 65€, compared to around 165€ for a replacement new Chinese battery pack and 300€ for one sourced in France. I’m going to have to wait until the battery pack that I’ve already ordered arrives so I know that its charger will fit the duff pack and if so, I’ll then go ahead and order the 18650 cells that I’ll require. It should be an interesting little project, so watch this space!

To finish off, here are a couple of shots of the innards of the duff battery pack.

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December 6, 2017

Beautiful day and a great result!

Yesterday, not today. Today we’ve got freezing fog and although it might be better at the bottom of the hill, today’s a day for staying in and keeping warm. But back to yesterday.

I little while ago I mentioned that I was thinking about getting hold of an electrically assisted bike, or an e-bike as they seem to be called, but that after Victor and I hit the road to go and see one in the Charente, I found out that the lady who was selling it had sold it to someone else in between my arranging to come and see it and actually getting there. But I hadn’t abandoned the idea and had kept my eye on LeBonCoin for the next bargain and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

For there was just what I was looking for with its battery ‘hors service’ ie clapped out, for only 120€! I could hardly believe it so contacted the seller only a few minutes after the ad had been posted. He replied saying that he had received lots of calls but that he would be at home yesterday morning for me to come and see it. ‘Home’ was in Millau, about 150 miles to the south of where I live, where the famous Millau Viaduct is located, the tallest bridge in the world designed by Sir Norman Foster and spanning the valley at a height of just about 1000 feet.

I’ve driven over it before and looking over the side at the town of Millau below is like looking out of one of my ULM’s cabin, but that wasn’t going to be possible during this trip as I’d be ending up in the town itself and hardly likely to see the viaduct as at this time of year it was likely to be shrouded in mist, as indeed proved to be the case.

But more to the point, the journey was going to take something like 3 hours 45 minutes in each direction, and as I would be making the trip alone, I wondered if I’d be up to it? Well, that thought lasted for about 5 seconds. I refuse to allow this stupid disease to stop me doing what I want to do, so I emptied the back of my car, put the rear seats down to flat and went off to bed to make sure I’d be ready for an early start.

I was awake, as usual just before my alarm went off, at around 05.45am and was therefore able to get away by 06.30am, in the pitch black and thick mist. Luckily the latter wasn’t sufficient to slow me down too much, and there was very little traffic on the road anyway at that hour, so I was able to push on as I needed to be at the seller’s house by about 10.30am.

Funnily enough, having been at Figeac-Livernon for the first time back in September to take pictures of the airfield, I found myself driving past it again, on my way to Rodez in the Aveyron and points south. Beyond Rodez I found myself climbing, eventually to a height of 870 metres, and on top the temperature was around -3 or -4 degrees Celsius and there was quite a bit of snow and banks of think mist. However, as I descended towards Millau, the temperature rose a bit, the mist cleared and the sun began to break through the cloud onto beautiful scenery.

I got to the seller’s house just after 10.15am, so my timing was perfect. While I was searching for his house, he saw me drive past and called me on my mobile and pretty soon thereafter I ws looking at his bike. Bikes, actually, as he also had his wife’s e-bike up for sale, also for the bargain price of 130€, but although I considered making an offer for the two, I decided against it as I really don’t need the hassle of reselling the second bike at this moment in time, nice as it was.

I rode the bike that I was interested in up the road and back again and said that I would like to buy it for the advertised price. Then the ‘Frenchman’ in him began to emerge. He said that he didn’t really want to sell it for 120€ as that would be without a battery, and that with the battery that was installed when I rode it, an ‘almost new’ one, the price would be 300€.

I’ve had this stroke pulled on me once before, when I bought a rotavator not long after I arrived in France, and the seller just point-blank increased the price. I asked about the ‘almost new’ battery, and with a flourish the seller produced the purchase invoice… dated 2014! ‘Yes’, he said, ‘But he’d only done about 2 kms with it and had made sure that every couple of months he had topped it up with the charger’.

I allowed myself a wry smile because I found this to be a fairly innovative definition of ‘almost new’, but as I’d already factored in the cost of a new battery, which I’ll return to in a moment, I said that I’d actually be very happy to buy the bike without the battery, which he could advertise separately on LeBonCoin.

His face fell a bit, but that was how the deal ended up and after I’d handed over 120€ in brand new notes out of the cash machine, we loaded the bike into the back of my car with its original dead battery fitted. And without charger, which I noticed that he’d also retained, but that didn’t matter as I knew that the new replacement that I’d lined up would come with a charger in any case.

And then it was time for the drive back, which I wasn’t looking forward to much after my experiences after my visit to Figeac, when I’d paid the price of feeling quite unwell afterwards. But in fact the drive back was an enormous pleasure. By that time the sun was ready to break through out of a clear blue sky the whole way back and was actually very hot as it shone through the side window onto my arm.

The scenery en-route was obviously not as pretty as in the summer, but the upside was that the level of traffic was much lower, and I found myself back home and still feeling pretty OK by 03.00pm

So what are my plans for my new (to me) e-bike? First a few pictures of it taken this morning. It was manufactured by Hilltecks, a premium quality French brand, and is their model HC-36V Plus, that is currently listed on their web site at a price of 1390€. Mine is obviously an earlier model that looks exactly the same and still comes with disk brakes front and rear, LED lights and a proper ‘scooter klaxon’, which you have to love. And it’s also in splendid condition, as the following shots show.

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It comes with three levels of assistance – I think that the current model has more but as it has the same battery, this is pretty insignificant and is just a ‘promotional’ ploy I think, to keep up with the competition. It also has Shimano gears with a really snazzy finger-tip operating lever/button system that I’ve never seen before.

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But now to the ‘biggie’ – the battery. I’d already done a search to investigate sourcing a new battery direct from China and it appeared that I could get one for around 150€ including delivery. ‘What a result that would be’, I thought, and decided to take the chance and go for it.

Here’s a shot of the battery that I popped off to the Chinese supplier after I’d already placed an order.

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The supplier replied immediately with a big smiley saying that OK! the one I’d ordered is compatible. This was only this morning (I placed the order before going to bed last night) and it transpires after some more googling that the battery reference shown on the label in my shot (XH370-10J) is pretty much the standard e-bike battery.

My seller’s invoice shows that the ‘almost new one’ that he’d purchased back in 2014 cost him 350€ (yes, I know…). I could have got a direct replacement in silver for 158€ but instead went for a higher capacity model in black for 175€ – half the price of one bought here in France.

That means that I’ve got myself a super e-bike with a brand new battery for 295€ and that, dear reader, is what I do consider to be an excellent result 😀