Friday, 14 December 2012

A little weekend away.....

My last blog was written the day we had the press launch of Facial Palsy UK. Since then, the charity has had a very respectable amount of coverage in the press and on tv and radio as well. I have had to break the habits of a lifetime and buy some newspapers that I would normally not allow over the threshold, but I took the view that it was for a greater good.....still felt a bit soiled though, and I don't mean from newsprint rubbing off on my hands! It's interesting how long-held principles can be put to one side when something assumes a greater importance.

It has been great to see the number of people liking our pages on Facebook - raising the profile of FPUK is absolutely vital. I'm more frustrated and disappointed than ever that I haven't managed to get a place in the 2013 London Marathon, as it would have been a great opportunity to raise money and publicity for the charity. On the other hand, I do feel very aware that I approach the same pool of very generous friends to sponsor me for (undeniably) good causes and I think it's probably a good thing to take some time out from holding out the begging bowl! So, all you lovely people, you can breathe easily and know that I won't be sending out my usual begging email.

In other news, Neil and I went to Krakow for a long weekend. We'd never been to Poland before and weren't planning on going away at all (we tend to go away every other year to Austria to visit the Christmas markets and we weren't due to go away this December ), but we made a fairly spontaneous decision to go away and picked Krakow. Neil spent hours researching hotels, restaurants, museums and other attractions, as is his wont. We have different, complementary, approaches to holidays. I am happy just to know where we are going, but Neil likes to plan things and research things a lot more so that we get the most out of our time away. It always works, as we seem to pack a lot into our times away, but without feeling that we are wearing ourselves out!

One of the things we wanted to do when in Krakow was go to Auschwitz. That might sound a bit
odd, planning to visit a place of such suffering during a mini-break, but we felt it was important, almost a mark of respect, that we go. There were about 30 of us on the bus from Krakow to Auschwitz and we were totally silent all the way there. It was as if we were preparing for the sombreness and seriousness of what awaited us when we disembarked. It started snowing as we travelled, which seemed somehow appropriate to the setting.

Entry to Auschwitz is free, as stipulated by its survivors. Once through the barriers, it's a short walk to the tall iron gates with those chilling words "Arbeit macht frei" - I've seen them in so many films, but standing there, imagining how thousands of people might have felt walking under those three little words, was a different kind of reality. There's nothing sensationalist about how the museum presents itself. It doesn't need to add any Disney-esque exaggeration because the facts are dramatic enough and almost unspeakable in their scale. Everything is displayed with quiet dignity but with huge impact. Mountains of human hair, hacked from the heads of those arriving, some hanks of hair still with ribbons tied round them. Piles and piles of children's shoes, tiny sizes. Twisted metal spectacles. Pots and pans, brought in the naive belief that those rounded up and herded onto planes were really going to a labour camp, not to be executed. Row upon row upon row of black and white photos of prisoners, all in the striped uniform of the camp, with names, dates of birth, arrival in Auschwitz and death printed underneath. Occasionally, a flower tucked behind the frame of a photo, left by a relative. The sheer scale of it is hard to convey. Walking around, snow falling, feeling cold despite our 21st century warm clothing didn't even give us a fraction of an insight into how unspeakably cold and desolate it must have been for inmates. The fact that anyone survived those conditions is little short of a miracle, really.

You might think that visiting Auschwitz would throw a blanket of sadness over our whole weekend, but it didn't - a little to my surprise, I have to admit. We had already spent two days in Krakow, visiting the zoo, various churches, Christmas markets and a fabulous underground museum and had saved Auschwitz till our last full day. We didn't go to Auschwitz 2 -Birkenau; by the time we had spent several hours going round Auschwitz, we both felt we had had sufficient reminders of man's inhumanity without seeing any more.

Krakow itself is beautiful and luckily everyone speaks English, because our attempts to speak Polish were pitiful! I can't find any reference points between Polish and any other language I can speak, so it is a complete mystery to me. It took us four days to be able to say anything approximating the word for "thank you" that might be understood by a Polish speaker! Lovely hotel, right in the middle of town and close to the main town square, plenty of fabulous restaurants and everything seemed very cheap - result!!

Nothin new to report on the health front - I'm not due for a check-up with my oncologist until January, so plenty of time for the nerves and anxiety to kick in. I'm going to a Head and Neck Cancer support group meeting tomorrow in Maidstone, although I'm starting to question how helpful these are for me. I feel almost as if I don't want to be reminded of the fact that I have had cancer through actively going to groups like this. I know what's happened to me and my regular check-ups are reminder enough. Do I really need to seek out something which will remind me of my darkest days? Then again, this is a group which in itself is really positive and friendly, so perhaps there is something to be gained from spending time with others who have gone through something similar. Perhaps there is something I can give others in the group. I am not sure. I almost feel as if my emphasis has shifted to my facial palsy and my involvement with FPUK suggests that I am ready to move on to a more forward looking position. Does that make sense? I *think* it does. I shall go tomorrow and review the situation afterwards.

Starting to gear up for Christmas now - Adam comes home from university next week and I am so looking forward to having my little family complete again. Then Christmas can begin!

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