Souther than South West: five years on

Five years ago today. Blimey! Stepping on the train at Woking station, we were never the same again. South West Trains has that effect on a lot of people, but for most, it is some other reason than their destination is Antarctica.

In these post-Fiennes days, calling our little adventure an “Antarctic Odyssey” seems rather grand for what we actually did: sailing on a research vessel to and along the Antarctic Peninsular from the southern tip of South America, not even making it to the Antarctic Circle (quite), but to quote the cornerstone of nepotism, it’s all relative.

The relatives in question being, of course, Cim and her brother Jonas. And me, I’m a relative I suppose. If our trip would be considered one small step for Fiennes-kind, it was a very large step for a kidney transplantee, Cim (and the rest of us), and the more I think about it, the more the “odyssey” didn’t end when we stepped off a different South West Train and back into our reality.

An Antarctic "odessey" begins with South West Trains

March 2008: an Antarctic “odessey” begins with South West Trains

If you have followed the blog of old, you will know this: “working” for the Transplant Trust, going to 10 Downing Street, championing the cause of the Organ Donor campaign… If you’re new, that stuff is here, right up to about August 2010, which coincides with my starting a beer, whisky and food blog,

The hiatus also coincided with the loss of my hand-written travelogue, but since that has now turned up (OK I admit: tidying up is a good idea), perhaps it’s time to fill in some blanks. There are unwritten accounts both from our trip and what has happened since. But one day I will write, “It was twenty years ago today.” So, the biggest question for me is: Now what?


Cardiac death organs now “good” for transplants

Awoken with a start at 6.55 AM by the phone. At that time of day it’s usually bad news, or somebody in Sweden not thinking. Today, it was BBC Surrey Radio.

Phone voice: “Cim, can you do an interview in 20 minutes with Nick Wallis on his breakfast show?”

Cim: “Of course”.

Cim has of course, been interviewed by Nick Wallis on BBC Surrey Radio before, so it’s a good bet that this is about transplants. It seems Cim is the go-to ‘expert’ now.  We leave it at that, and sure enough they call again at 7.15 and Cim is live on air.

Kidney transplant policy change could save hundreds

Patients are now often offered a kidney from a donor whose heart has stopped

Nick Wallis: “So Cim, what do you think this latest piece of research will mean for transplant queues?”

Cim: “Er…”

Breaking overnight news had blind-sided us. This is the story that a Cambridge University study has now found that kidneys from people who’s hearts have stopped can now be used for transplants. That may sound a little odd, but previously, only brain-death kidneys could be used. This post’s headline might sound like a death metal album title, but it means a breakthrough, and fewer people will die waiting for a kidney transplant.

As Cim gets to grip with the interview, she agrees with Nick that this is Good News.  It means there will be more kidney transplants and more people will have the chance to leave a normal life again.

The early morning phone call can mean good news, then, and for those on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, that phone call can now come sooner.

Hear the interview on BBC iPlayer until 27 August. From 17 minutes in.

Shackleton’s Antarctic whisky raided. Not by me, honest!

A quick update here, by way of test posting simultaneously to and

I wrote a while ago on the Antarctica blog, about discovery of the Antarctic explorer Shackleton’s whisky stash from the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907. Now the crate has been carefully thawed out, it seems one of the bottles is missing. It wasn’t me; we weren’t in that part of Antarctica. However, the labels are fairly well preserved, and reveal the whisky to be a Chas. Mackinlay & Co. bottling called Rare Old Highland Malt.

White and Mackay, the present owners of the Chas. Mackinlay brand, plan to take small samples from the century-old bottles and reproduce the whisky. Richard Paterson (aka The Nose), who is master blender at W&M, on his blog says, once conservation is complete and samples taken, the crate of eleven bottles will be returned to Antarctica.

I would love to get my hands on the new bottling and take it down there to sample.

They think it’s all over

As well as the World Cup, National Transplant Week is over, and it’s the first one we haven’t been involved in since we started this Antarctic Odyssey thing.

I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised; things have become a little strange this year, with the Transplant Trust, and we’ve been wondering what we should do; what we can do.

Time for some re-evaluation – not least with what this blog is for.

The Hjärta is delivered

The Hjärta has landed! Anders Jonasson of the Box Whisky, the Swedish malt whisky company hands over the bottle of Highland Park “Hjärta” to Cim in Östersund. This special bottle of whisky is a gift from Cim and me to Cim’s brother Jonas, to ceebrate the five years since Jonas donated a kidney to Cim.

The Highland Park Hjärta arrives in Östersun

Anders Jonasson hands over the Hjärta to Cim

The Hjärta, which means “heart” in Swedish, is a limited edition bottling for the Nordic market and seemed like the perfect choice for Jonas. You’d think, being made for Swedes it would be easy to get hold of in Sweden. Oh no…

In fact, this bottle was imported to Norway by the drinks company Maxxium, and bought for us by Jonathan di Blasi of Leikanger, Norway. Jonathan’s colleague Thomas drove it to Stockholm, handed it over to Angela d’Orazio of Mackmyra Whisky. She gave it to Tore Forsgren, who was driving north for Christmas, however, not to Östersund.

Luckily, through Angela’s whisky connections, she contacted Anders Jonasson who’s mum lives in the same street as Jonas, and he was driving up from Kramfors to Östersund, just at the point where he could make the pick-up from Tore. So, finally on 29 December, the prized, and much-driven bottle eventually finds its way to Jonas, who promptly declared it was too precious to drink. Of course, I was not going to listen to that!

See the beginning of the story:

5 Years since my last dialysis – Thank you Jonas

Today Jerry and I are celebrating the 5th anniversary of my kidney transplant! Today exactly at this time I and my brother were under the hands of two separate transplant surgeons and their teams getting my brothers kidney out and then walking the corridor with his kidney in a bowl, to then transplant his kidney into my bo…dy…it completely changed my life…and Jerry’s as well.

I remember a few hours before the transplant, I was doing my very last dialysis and my brother was with me, he had never seen me doing my dialysis before. We didn’t say very much, but I felt the urge to say something, I wanted to thank him for what he was going to do within a couple of hours, but I knew that no words in the world could express what I felt. But I started to say something along the line of thanking him…he looked deep into my eyes and touched my hands and said “I know”, you don’t need to say anything”, I know.

I love you Jonas with all my heart.

Celebrating Jonas: 5 Years since Cim’s Transplant

December 8 is a happy anniversary for Cim and me. Five years ago today, Cim received a kidney from her brother Jonas, in St George’s Hospital, Tooting, South London. To say that this event – this extraordinary act of brotherly generosity – transformed our lives is about as understated as you can get.

I had my hair cut. When I got back to the hospital, Jonas had just come round from the operation, and it made me very happy that he was well enough to compliment me. I knew then, that everything would be fine. And so it has turned out to be. Tack Jonas!

Highland Park Hjärta

Skål Jonas! Thanks from me.

I will be acknowledging Jonas this year by sending him some malt whisky, this time a special bottling from the Highland Park distillery on the Scandinavian-influenced Orkney Islands. The bottling is called “Hjärta” which is the Swedish for “heart”. I could think of only one name that might be more appropriate, but somehow Njure* doesn’t sound as appetising.

Cim and her brother continue to be well. Cim was even described as “super-normal” by one renal doctor. We will spend new year with Jonas, his partner Maria and their one-year-old daughter Stella. I hope he saves me a dram!

As well as the gratitude I feel – we  feel, I am also glad. As one of my friends put it, progress often gets a bad press, but I’m glad that such a serious condition as renal failure can be treated so successfully. Grateful, because Cim is one of the lucky ones never having to sit on a waiting list waiting for an organ,

It would make us even more glad if you register for the organ donor register. Thanks to all of you who have already done so.

*Njure = Kidney, if you hadn’t guessed