Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Roofers

Roofer up a ladder above pub sign "Booze+steps+falling over does not = legal action. Mind Your Step
Clf 1 starting work, November 2019
Well, what do you know, the day after I wrote the last post about the roofing situation, Clf phoned to say that as long as it didn't rain he could come and do the job the very next day, which was a Friday. And he actually turned up when he said he would, accompanied by Clf 2. Their distinguishing characteristic turned out to be that between them they consumed more tea and coffee than any tradesmen I've hosted so far, and they provided not only advice about additional work that I might consider, but also useful 'feedback' about previous tradesmen.

First of all we had to effect an entrance into the pub garden, which was locked. I managed to get hold of the cleaner and she let us in, so first obstacle surmounted. During this exercise I was appraised of much that I had missed in the pub situation seeing as how I don't really drink there any more. The man that I thought was the landlord (and is still on the Warwick District Council website as licensee) left quite some time ago, and also departed was the manager who had promised me a free meal after the chef refused to serve me and three friends in September (it's a long story - the pub has been short of a chef for some time and was using agency staff, and this one was a dud). I was given two other names of the people who were now in charge, so I kept dropping in to try and talk to one of them but neither appeared, although the previous landlord was in there having a drink.

Anyway, Clfs 1 and 2 proceeded to start taking off the tiles, revealing the full horror of the situation. Throughout the morning with each cup of tea or coffee (and there were many) I was treated to all sorts of technical details of the roofing business followed by how my house demonstrated the opposite of what ought to be there. The skylight windows (already installed when I bought the house), the replacement membrane installed by Elf five years ago* and the roof itself were all wrong and I was shown many and various faults demonstrating the incompetency of the historical tradesmen. I was even required to climb their ladder at one point so I could see the pooled water, the incorrectly installed skylight, the wrongly overlapping tiles and the three-quarter inch steel nails ("STEEL NAILS!!!"). I demonstrated as much surprise and dismay as I thought were appropriate, while asking "But can you fix it?" and expressed grateful thanks when they said they could.

They managed to get half the job done that day and returned the following day (Saturday) to finish, but unfortunately it was frosty and too slippery for their ladders on the wooden decking, plus the tiles would be stuck to each other with the ice, and it was scheduled to rain (which it duly did). That day I managed to catch one of the named pub managers to negotiate an early entry to the garden for the next day, and while denying that he was in any way in charge he did let me have a key for the next morning. I shall have to make further enquiries about who is really running the show.

So the Clfs came back on Sunday and had even more trouble with the second (incorrectly installed) skylight, but managed to finish the job in a bit more than half a day. Clf was going to stick to his original estimate but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I hadn't given him a bit more. Plus, I want him to come back to replace the skylights, and Clf 2 is a plasterer, bricklayer and builder so I may have found a replacement for Olf. And the roof, even to my untrained eye, looks lovely now.

* In my report at the time I imagined that Elf might become my handyman and slave, but in fact I didn't much like working with him and this prestigious role went to the sainted Ilf, who is much less annoying and generally useful but is rubbish at wallpapering (not that he would admit it). With the hindsight provided by this job it is probably a good thing that I didn't persist with Elf.

Clfs 1 and 2

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Tales of the LTRP: Part 285

Christ on the cross 50 feet in the air in front of a huge stained glass window
Cathedral, Rio de Janeiro, April 2019
I have been trying to get a plumber to come round and advise or quote on the shower renovation. I've tried three: one didn't get back to me at all, while the second failed to arrive at the scheduled time, letting me know the following day that he'd dropped his phone in a bath of water so couldn't retrieve my address or phone number. We rescheduled, and he let me know that he was running late, and I said that was fine, and I have neither seen nor heard from him since.

Third time lucky, and the next set of plumbers I tried actually turned up. They are the same bunch that service my boiler, and have always been prompt, helpful and polite (except they were six hours late, but at least they phoned to let me know). As with any tradesman who ventures through the gates of Lola Towers, I asked them for their opinion on the blossoming damp patches on the wall adjacent to the pub, and they were kind enough to have a look, and came up with the most plausible explanation I have received so far, even if it probably isn't the right answer. I'm still waiting for the quote.

This prompted me to do what I should have done from the start: engage a proper roofer to come and have a look. He only defaulted on one visit (grandmother had a fall), and was black as soot when he arrived from his previous job with a fresh gash on his forehead where he'd hit himself with his van door. In his short visit I learned an awful lot about him and his life, but also that Elf (who had been the last one to tamper with the roof in question, in 2015) had used a non-permeable rubber material that is intended for flat roofs. My new roofer friend (I think we've reached Clf in the naming convention) diagnosed that condensation was accumulating underneath the rubber membrane and running down the brickwork, which is a possibility, I suppose. The quote wasn't excessive so with luck that job will be done in the next couple of months, and maybe the damp will even be cured. I'm not counting my chickens yet.

There's been plenty of other stuff going on, and I'm definitely busier now than I was when I was working four days instead of two. I think it's because I'm not putting anything off like I used to, when I needed to keep a few weekends free to avoid madness. I have had commitments every weekend since mid-August and up to the week before Christmas, and I couldn't have done that while I was working more days. For example, last Saturday I went to my music group on Saturday and down to London for mum's birthday on Sunday, with a concert on Sunday evening back home. I tried to fit in the Kenilworth fireworks display on Saturday night as well, but couldn't do it in the end.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

The Lolas in Cheltenham

Statue of Gustav Holst conducting
Gustav Holst, October 2019
Eight months after her birthday, Lola II and I celebrated the passing of the years with a weekend in Cheltenham - we couldn't find an earlier date we were both free and other things kept getting in the way. It was, as usual, a triumph. We subsisted mainly on cake, with a few other meals when cake was unavailable or inappropriate - actually, I can't think of a situation where cake would be inappropriate so it must have just been unavailable.

As we are both working less than full time now, we started a bit earlier on Friday and arrived in time to have one of the best Japanese meals we have ever had, which is saying something considering how often we have Japanese food. If you're in Cheltenham you should visit Kibou, but you'll have to book - we were lucky to get in at lunchtime.

There was a lot of rain on Friday, but we sheltered in the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, named after Dr Edward Wilson who was a doctor, naturalist and artist on two Antarctic expeditions including Scott's doomed trek to the South Pole, from which he didn't return. The museum had lots of lovely furniture along with the usual eclectic collection of artifacts that always find their way into local museums.

On Saturday the rain stopped and we joined a guided tour of the town, which is extremely similar to Leamington in its architecture. This is not surprising given that it was built at exactly the same time but with more money because George III and William IV enjoyed going there. It has wrought ironwork, a crescent smaller than Bath's but bigger than Leamington's, a Pump Room for events and drinking the spa water, public and private gardens, and a Promenade rather than a Parade.

Cheltenham is also the birthplace of Gustav Holst, so after an amazing Sri Lankan lunch we visited the museum installed in the house where he was born. They have collected some of his possessions from later in his life, and the attendant was very welcoming and let me try the piano he used to compose 'The Planets'. I think he was also quite pleased that we sat and watched the whole of a film about Holst; I got the impression that not many visitors do, but it was a welcome opportunity for us to sit down.

On Saturday night we had a choice of entertainment, and chose to see two of the male stars of Strictly Come Dancing (Ian and Vincent) who are touring with a show including two female dance partners and another chap who sang and danced. They had some scripted interludes with 'jokes' and audience participation, which were fine but not as good as the dancing and particularly the singing. Quite a lot of the banter was lost on me as I have never watched Strictly, but most others in the audience were clearly huge fans. I met one lady in the interval who had booked her tickets last December.

We thought about taking a bus trip on Sunday, but instead went for a walk through lovely parks to the Pump Room which was supposed to be closed but which was open, and then to a street market which was supposed to be open but which was closed, but there happened to be a handy cake shop there. After the fourth lot of cake in three days we were ready to go home.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh
"With compassion and candour, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets, and the moments of black humour that characterise a brain surgeon's life."
This is an account of various neurosurgical operations, but much more than that. It builds a picture around the surgery of the people who have the ultimate responsibility for cutting into - damaging - a person's body in order to repair it, and the risks and pressure of that responsibility. While an operation on paper might have a 5% risk of a negative outcome, that 5% is the doctor's risk - for the patient it's a 100% disaster if they happen to be the one in 20 that it happens to, or 100% success if it works. And, he certainly highlighted some of the frustration of NHS bureaucracy that I experience, as well as the thankless task of the medicine regulatory and advisory bodies, weighing hope against cost and percentages. A beautiful, savage, frustrating, uplifting, truthful book.


Image of the book cover

Spies
by Michael Frayn

narrated by Martin Jarvis
"It is wartime and Stephen's friend Keith makes the momentous announcement that his mother is a German spy. The two boys begin to spy on the supposed spy, following her on her trips to the shops and to the post, and reading her diary."
I suppose it was OK. Because it is read by Martin Jarvis the main protagonist (Stephen) sounded much like a more serious wartime version of Just William or Jennings and Derbyshire (especially as there was also an Elizabeth Bott character), but aside from that it wasn't bad. Slow going, though, when read out loud. If I'd had a print copy I'd have skimmed a lot of it.


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Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving
by Julia Samuel
"This is a compassionate guide that will inform and engage anyone who is grieving, from the 'expected' death of a parent to the sudden unexpected death of a small child, and provide clear advice for those seeking to comfort the bereaved."
Lola II lent me this book, and it's pretty good - obviously true to life, so there are no stories neatly tied with a clear message, just the messy episodes that life (and death) brings. She ends with a couple of chapters of suggestions for dealing with both your own troubles and those of others. We don't have much difficulty talking about death in our family, what with dad's preoccupation with the subject, but I imagine it will be a different story when it actually comes a bit closer to me.


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Breaking Free: Glimpses of a Buddhist Life
by Srimala
"In 1975 Srimala (formerly Jane Goody) was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order by Sangharakshita whilst pregnant with her second child, and in this book she recounts the challenges of combining motherhood with the spiritual path."
I picked this up while I was at the Buddhist retreat and read it in a day. Just because everyone has a story in them doesn't mean they should publish it. Write it down for yourself if you want to, yes, of course, but a bad book about an interesting story is disappointing. Hard to pin down what was wrong, but I never really understood what she was up to at any point, and it skipped from here to there all over the place. I suppose that's what is meant by the 'Glimpses' in the title.


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The Science of Meditation: How to Change Your Brain, Mind and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson
"Remarkable findings that show how meditation - without drugs or high expense - can cultivate qualities such as selflessness, equanimity, love and compassion, and redesign our neural circuitry."
Another book that I read while on the Buddhist retreat, but this time it's my own book that I took with me. It describes the research carried out by the authors and others looking at the positive health benefits of meditation, trying to separate the evidence from the myth and conjecture. They discuss the dose-response effect - more hours of meditation bring more benefit, by way of slower ageing and reduced levels of inflammation. The 'Olympic' meditators they studied (yogis from Tibet) even demonstrated a totally new brainwave pattern.


Image of the book cover

The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner

narrated by Grover Gardner
"This book relates the tragedy of the Compson family, set in the US South at the start of the 20th century - the days of segregation and prejudice."
If you have read this book you will understand the situation when I say I had no idea whatsoever what I was getting myself into. I thought this was just another of the classic books from my list, but how wrong I was. It relates some of the events within a family with four children whom we follow from childhood to adulthood. The first part is narrated from the point of view of one of the children who is 'deaf and dumb' - has a learning disability in today's parlance. The narrative in that section jumps between several points in time without warning; apparently in the print book there is some indication, but not in the audio version.

This ought to be baffling and annoying, and by rights I should have been unable to get through the book, but somehow it completely won me over. Full disclosure - I had to look on the interwebs to find out what on earth was going on, and I doubt that I would have understood several parts without the help of that research. To be fair, the author makes it all the more confusing by having two characters named Jason, two named Maury - one of whom is also called Benjy - and two characters named Quentin, one of whom is a girl. It's as if he isn't even giving the reader a chance to work things out the first time round, which is why I started reading from the beginning again as soon as I reached the end. Totally worth it.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Genuine Lady Gardeners

Shrubs, bare earth and cropped lawn in a corner of the garden
The Garden, October 2019
There's so much filling my days and weekends, but I'm trying to avoid making this blog into an online diary. What has been notable?

The gardeners. They comprise an older and a younger lady, whose leaflet advertising their services is headed 'Genuine Lady Gardeners'. Whether that indicates that they are genuine gardeners or genuine ladies is not clear at all, but anyway I had booked them to deal with my lady garden on Wednesday. They had expressed concern several times that they might not be able to park their van and trailer outside the house. So on the designated morning I kept watch on parked cars, went out to talk to my neighbours, borrowed a cone associated with the skip that has been in front of my house for many weeks and reserved a suitable spot.

The skip is there because the alley that runs behind the houses on the adjacent road is accessed directly opposite my house. Within one of those houses lives K, who very politely knocked on my door some time ago to let me know that his significant building project would require a skip, and was altogether very nice about the fact that it would need to be outside my house. Since then I have had several conversations with the builders and even loaned them my parking pass when I overheard their discussions about the parking enforcement, and K has offered to pay for me plus one to have a very fancy dinner (which I declined with thanks). Anyway, what has this to do with my lady garden?

The GLGs did not arrive as early as they had indicated, and K's builders were fussing about because they were due to have a delivery of screed, and I was constantly nipping out to see what was going on and to defend my reserved space. On one such occasion I discovered that a van had taken the spot, so I went to talk to the driver who was still sitting in the van, talking on the phone. He made no attempt to cut his conversation short, and at first denied having moved the cone before making it clear that he didn't care that I was reserving a space - at which point I went to get my phone to give K a call. Before I could do it, one of the builders stepped in and told the driver in no uncertain terms to move his van, saying that I'd been very helpful and they were happy to return the favour. That's how we do things round here.

Before
After
My garden is now transformed. The GLGs removed everything that was not anchored into the soil except for the mint that I told them I definitely wanted to keep. There's nothing but shrubs and bare earth left, some stalks where the fuchsia used to be, and no sign of the decorative grasses, aquilegia, foxgloves and cornflowers that I quite liked, or the bluebells that I didn't. They found a wasp's nest, a large number of screws and building litter, and cleared much of the paving but didn't apply weedkiller, which they seemed to think was not part of this job. That's what you get for having no written quote, or invoice either as it turns out. These genuine ladies are all very much cash in hand. They assured me that it would all grow back and look less barren in the spring, and I could get in touch again and they'd come back to do the weedkilling. I think I'll look elsewhere.

The other LTRP project that I have just started is the downstairs shower, and possibly the whole of the wall that side which is showing signs of water damage. So far one company didn't phone me back and I had to phone them again two days later, and a different tradesman didn't turn up as arranged - he has since texted to apologise that he dropped his phone in a bath of water and it has only just dried out. It can't be denied that this is an inauspicious start to the project.

Genuine Ladies

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Retreat

Buddha statue surrounded by candles, flowers, symbols and pictures
Shrine to Shakyamuni and Vajrapani, Taraloka, September 2019
Last week I slept in my tent in the grounds of a women's retreat centre on the Welsh border. It wasn't easy to find, mainly because I forgot how untrustworthy my satnav is - it took me to the general location, but I had to resort to Google maps for the last couple of miles. It wasn't raining as I put up the tent, but after that it rained solidly, persistently, pitilessly for very nearly all the time I was there (although it wasn't actively raining when I took the tent down at the end). On one day it was sunny in the afternoon, and then the night was cloudless and the temperature plummeted, but I had borrowed two extra duvets from the centre as well as a hot water bottle so I was actually too hot.

Accommodation aside, there were 21 of us including 5 who were helping to run the activities, and a couple of other staff who did the cooking for us. The food was vegan, delicious and plentiful. We all had about an hour's work to do every day - chopping veg, washing up, cleaning - and for the rest of the day there were scheduled activities, plenty of free time, and a proper break from routine. No TV, radio, phones, email, Internet. For all we knew the outside world could be going through an apocalypse but if it was out of earshot and didn't show up in the sky we would have been blissfully unaware.

It was blissful, actually. The second worst thing that happened to me all week was that I swapped places to be in a different chair in the shrine room without knowing that they were rearranging the shrine room so the change of seating was completely ineffective. The worst thing that happened to me all week was that I was forced to go first when we were talking in pairs - doesn't sound very bad, but I really didn't like it at the time.

The daily routine was an early start for meditating before breakfast, including gentle exercises that I didn't want to join in with on the first day but looked forward to by the end of the week. After breakfast there was free time, then a session before lunch, another break, a session before the evening meal and then some sort of ritual before bed, which for me was about 9.30 p.m. given that I needed to get up at 6 a.m. I'd prepared for the ritual stuff by getting my local group to focus on ritual for the previous four weeks, and I gave it a try, but it's not really my thing.

We spent about three days in silence. This seems like an odd thing to do, and it is, but it seemed to serve two purposes. First, it really frees up thinking space. You don't get sucked into conversations, or have to seek out somewhere quiet to do some reading. The second effect is that it removes the social pressure to make conversation, to think of things to say over meals, to fill silences with trivia, complaint or just small talk. The downside is that during that silent time you don't get to know much about the people you are with, or make meaningful connections beyond passing the peanut butter. But silence isn't so much a rule as a guideline. Rather than protracted miming it was perfectly acceptable to ask quietly "Where are the spare duvets kept?", and if you wanted to have a conversation it was fine to go for a walk along the canal.

As for what I learnt, it wasn't very much about Buddhism. The theme of the week was 'Mindfully Alive', and as usual much of the talk was about existential concepts that I can't easily grasp (which is why I wanted to go second when we were working in pairs). But I got to grips with Buddhist ritual, met some lovely people, did a lot of reading and thinking, some walking and writing, slept happily in my rain-sodden tent, slowed right down and enjoyed the silence. A calm, positive effect persisted through the weekend, and of course was dispelled almost immediately at work on Monday by my colleagues.

Goddess face, Adhisthana, July 2019

Friday, 20 September 2019

Marmalade does not count as a portion of fruit

Avenue lined by tall palm trees
Botanic Garden, Rio de Janeiro, April 2019
I suffered for 10 days with a cold I caught from a Doctor; that's the last time I help him out with a challenging patient. Not really, he's the Doctor I chose to keep when I reduced my working hours. But he could have kept his cold to himself.

Luckily illness didn't stop me from accompanying mum and dad to the last wedding I'm likely to be invited to - both nephews now done and the niece declaring she's not getting married. All involved seem to have escaped without catching anything from me. As weddings go it was a good one - a Humanist ceremony in a field out in the open, so a good thing the weather was fine. Afterwards there was a tent for food and dancing, but as the sun went down it got really cold, and obviously the main players were a generation younger than me so the music wasn't from my era. They had laid on a whole lot of attractions though - props for photographs, pick and mix sweets, a bar making burgers and bacon sandwiches, a fire pit with marshmallows to toast, the wedding cake, a mountain of cheese, more doughnuts than you can imagine and probably more that I've forgotten. It was nice. Mum and dad stayed for the ceremony and some nibbles afterwards but headed off in a taxi before the partying started.

The tax return is done! Also Eurostar booked for ski trip #2 after a whole lot of hassle with logging in and passwords. I'm not convinced the Eurostar website will ever work for me again so I've printed tickets and emailed them to myself just to be sure. Ski trip #1 is all arranged by someone else so I don't need to do anything much. Next job will be booking the bus to the resort from the train station and then it's ski hire and I'll be ready.

The planning and arrangements for all these ski trips and another visit to the Christmas Market in Munich and a week-long retreat in October have been disrupted by my changed working hours. Annual leave in the NHS is incredibly complicated: it is calculated on an hourly basis and you have to include Bank Holidays in the allowance. So if you work 10 hours on a Monday and 1 hour per day for the rest of the week, you have to book 10 hours off when a Bank Holiday falls on a Monday, but conversely if a Bank Holiday falls on a day that you don't work you can use those hours for leave on another day. Swings and roundabouts.

The hours allocated for leave are also calculated pro-rata for weekly hours worked, and the year for which leave is calculated runs from April to March. I halved my working hours at the end of July, which is only a third of the way through the year, so in the second two-thirds of the year I was given half as many leave hours compared with my allowance in the first third of the year. My problem was that I took an awful lot of my year's allowance in the first third of the year, what with the trip to Brazil and the music festivals. When the allowance was calculated for me (there was no chance of me being able to work it out for myself) in August I was presented with a remaining allowance of 1.75 hours up to the end of the year, whilst having committed to two ski holidays requiring 27 hours off. And I was fortunate that Christmas and New Year holidays are not on Monday or Tuesday this year, otherwise I would have ended up in negative balance. Luckily I've been allowed to juggle my working days and take the days off that I need by working extra days in December, January and February.

I have started to use my days off for leisure pursuits as well as all the admin and household tasks that are still needed. Last Friday I took myself off to Birmingham. One of the reasons was that I needed to exchange a defective pan at John Lewis, but then I had lunch at my favourite Cafe Soya, and afterwards I went to the Museum and Art Gallery for the first time in the nearly 20 years I've been living and working here. I didn't have time to see all that much, which leaves scope for another exciting visit, but I did see the Staffordshire Hoard, which is both more and less impressive than I was expecting. Less impressive because all the pieces on display were smaller than I expected, but more impressive due to the sheer quantity of tiny fragments that were retrieved from a ploughed field., totalling 5 kg of gold and 1.4 kg of silver. Now I have looked at the excellent website (link here) I have to say that the information provided at the exhibition itself isn't great.

Another new responsibility for me this year is to be Captain of the first mixed team for badminton club 2. The main tasks are to assemble a team for each match, collect match fees from each player, and register the score if we win. Which sounds straightforward but is usually quite a lot of hassle - I can't play in our first match, and all the men are proving remarkably unreliable so early in the season. But anyway, Mr M, I iz a Captain now, and therefore fully qualified to adjudicate on fruit portions in marmalade and other conserves.

Christ the Redeemer from behind with outstretched arms and green umbrellas
"I love you this much"

Friday, 13 September 2019

Reps

Glorious red-tinged evening sky over the ski slopes
Les Arcs, March 2019
I''m loving the new working pattern of Monday and Tuesday only, except that last Friday I went to work for a training session on the software that goes with the Flash Glucose Monitoring sensor called the Libre (which I've written about before). The training was to be delivered by one of the company reps.

We are plagued by many reps, most of them annoying and unreliable, with a couple of shining examples of how it should be done. They are very rarely allowed in at any time other than lunchtime, when they are expected to provide lunch for us, and are very much judged on the quality of the food. The rep that bought sandwiches from the hospital canteen will not be coming back; Asda and Morrisons are tolerated; Sainsburys and Tesco are welcomed; and M&S and Waitrose are very much appreciated.

Most of the time they want to discuss a new product - it could be a medicine, or a device like a glucose meter - or some research that has proved the superiority of one of their products over its competitors. The nurses show some interest because one of them is able to prescribe, although 99% of the time we have no influence over what patients are given because that is the doctor's job (and the doctors seldom have time to join us for lunch). I just eat the lunch and sometimes learn something.

A few of the reps are memorable - the one who showed us pictures of the enormous house that he and his family are building from scratch, the one who always brings wonderful Indian food like samosas and chicken tikka, the one who used to be a Dietitian before she became a rep and really knows what she's talking about. Others are terrible - one company whose products we actually want to use has not managed to retain a rep for more than a couple of months at a time since the last one left in questionable circumstances three years ago.

Another rep was in a relationship with one of the doctors, which was frankly unethical and corrupt. Since the doctor stopped working with us and they are no longer a couple her sales figures must have plummeted, but she continued to call on us without invitation and try to rearrange our shelves and cupboards to favour her products, looking increasingly unkempt, and on one occasion at an evening meeting we were fairly sure she was drunk. At one lunch she started to challenge us about why our patients are on someone else's medication rather than one of hers, and eventually she was asked to go away, and we told the company that we no longer wanted her to visit us. A pity in one respect, because she was a Waitrose shopper.

The Libre rep used to be very unreliable - late, disheveled, and lunch from Asda. Before the Libre was prescribable the company offered to set some people up on a two-week trial, so we duly contacted patients and had about twenty booked in for a group session. On the morning of the session the rep told us she couldn't come, and couldn't even offer a rescheduled date. The patients, some of whom had taken time off work and couldn't be notified of the cancellation in time, still occasionally remind us of this when they are feeling grumpy, since they don't necessarily appreciate that it was not us who cancelled.

Eventually the company was told that while we were very interested in their product, we were not going to tolerate this situation any longer and we wanted a different rep. They obliged, and for some time all has gone well. The teaching session last Friday was supposed to be delivered by the new rep, except that we were notified that morning that she was unwell, and the old rep arrived. Late. Looking like she'd been dragged through a hedge backwards. She took a few items out of the bag for our lunch (Tesco), but unaccountably took most away with her again. She didn't have the right cables to do a presentation using our projector, so we had to squint at her small laptop screen. The content wasn't what we had asked for - and then she announced that she had been assigned to us and was coming back because the new rep is being moved elsewhere.

Well. After an uncomfortable silence one of our lead DSNs told her to her face that this was not acceptable, that we had asked for a different rep and we jolly well weren't prepared to have her back, and pointed out that even on this occasion she had arrived late without all the equipment she needed. It was a tremendous and brave performance.

So with luck we won't see that rep again. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Pink flower close up
June 2018

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Frederica
by Georgette Heyer

narrated by Clifford Norgate
"Rich and handsome, darling of the ton, the hope of ambitious mothers and despair of his sisters, the Marquis of Alverstoke at seven-and-thirty sees no reason to put himself out for anyone. Until a distant connection, ignorant of his selfishness, applies to him for help."
A lovely easy read as usual, although this time with a little bit too much extraneous material and not enough focus on the mismatched pair who are of course destined to be married in the end even though they don't realise it.


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The Gathering
by Anne Enright

narrated by Fiona Shaw
"The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him."
A book often feels like a journey to me - starting full of expectation, and either rewarded or disappointed by the scenery and the experience. Sometimes there are wide vistas, or amusement parks, or snow muffling the sound of footsteps, or the smell of rain on baked grass and hot pavements. I rarely abort the journey before the end (but I admit the Origin of Species beat me). This book was a comfortable medium length motorway journey ending at Gatwick airport, with a glimpse of only a couple of interesting sights out of the window on the way. The narrator's brother has died, there's a secret which is never resolved, and then another one, and that is pretty much all there is to it. Although the writing kept me on track and the narration was excellent, it was a disappointment, as are so many modern novels - and this was a Booker Prize winner as well. I really don't know what those judges are looking for.


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On the Origin of Species
by Charles Darwin
"Darwin's insistence on the immense length of the past and on the abundance of life-forms, present and extinct, dislodged man from his central position in creation and called into question the role of the Creator. He showed that new species are achieved by natural selection, and that absence of plan is an inherent part of the evolutionary process."
I had thought that I'd read this before and it was quite straightforward, but it turns out I was wrong on at least one count. It started well, but I had to give up on it in the end - he was obviously very committed to the hypothesis and supplied endless evidence and arguments to support his work, but I got tired of all the different families, species and varieties of plants and animals. I skipped to the last chapter which was titled 'Recapitulation and Conclusion' but even that was too dense. Well done to him (and Alfred Russel Wallace) for getting it right, though, and I'm going to accept the theory without managing to plough through the seminal work on the subject.


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The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory
by Julia Shaw
"Memories are our most cherished possessions. We rely on them every day of our lives. They make us who we are. And yet the truth is they are far from being the accurate record of the past we like to think they are."
The main message throughout this book is that despite what we know, believe, perceive or imagine, our memory even with the strongest sensation of integrity is unlikely to be accurate. It is ridiculously easy to plant false memories even when you're not working with a researcher who is trying to do just that. However, without memory we can't create the sensation of time passing or even know who we are, so we'd better make the best of it. Just don't insist that anything happened as you remember it, because it probably didn't. I passed this book on to dad, and he's found it so fascinating that he finished it in two days but is hanging on to it because he wants to read it again. Anyone who knows dad will join me in celebrating the fact that he's both willing and able to read a book again, even if he insists on lying in bed to do it.


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Under the Knife: Remarkable Stories from the History of Surgery
by Arnold van de Laar
"From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder, to Bob Marley's deadly toe, this book offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights into medicine and history via the operating theatre."
Easy to read and pretty interesting too - another one to give to dad after he's finished with the memory book. I can get through a lot of books when they're ones I've chosen from the 'science' section rather than the strange books I've picked up from various second hand sources. And when I'm sitting in a tent in a field rather than at home surrounded by all the things I ought to be doing.


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The New Meditation Handbook
by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
"With 21 easily accessible, step-by-step meditations, this fully revised resource provides readers with guidance on how to transform their daily lives, fulfill spiritual potential, and find lasting happiness."
This was given to me by a friend who attends meetings in a different branch of Buddhism (Kadampa) from the one that I have become attached to (Triratna). I'm sure the alternative viewpoint is equally valid for some, and he seems to be happy with what he gets out of it, but I really didn't like the approach to meditation that is advocated in this book. It starts with an exposition about rebirth, a belief in which is luckily not insisted upon within Triratna (at least among the teachers I've encountered). Then it makes a number of other controversial assertions (what we experience in the womb, what birth feels like) and false deductions ("since it is impossible to find a beginning to our mental continuum [whatever that is], it follows that we have taken countless rebirths in the past [er, no it doesn't].) As I write this I find that I am a bit cross about the whole thing, but as the friend who gave me the book is incredibly skilled at rhetoric and argument and I am not, I shall keep quiet about how I feel and make non-committal noises if I am asked what I thought of it.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Statue of St Francis
Cathedral, Rio de Janeiro, April 2019
I've been away again, another festival, this time in Shrewsbury. For once we had a proper hot August Bank Holiday so I sweltered in my tent and in the marquees - the organisers eventually took the sides away from the hottest marquee on Monday to bring the stages down to a more manageable temperature. Still hot though. The music was, as usual, tremendous - highlights were Grace Petrie, Reg Meuross, Daphne's Flight, Winter Wilson and Granny's Attic. And Umai, a wonderful Japanese restaurant in Shrewsbury.

There was lots more to do too - I'm not a fan of the ceilidh but you could dance your heart out, and there were workshops for every instrument known to folk. I don't really take full advantage of the opportunities offered, but for the first time I did get my money's worth from the First Aiders. One eye started to sting and tears flooded down one cheek due to the combination of sun tan lotion and extreme sweatiness. The nice man in the First Aid tent squirted a vial of saline into the offending eye which helped no end. Other than that, everyone survived.

Apart from the festival, I'm still coming to terms with my extra free time, although it seems to be filled with as much activity as before I gave up two days work. A trip to mum and dad, giving blood, my activities with the Buddhists and the badminton club - there must be some extra time somewhere, but I haven't quite discovered it yet. And before you ask, the tax return is still waiting. Any minute now...
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