Sunday, 26 October 2014

Kwells are my friends

On the ground waiting to launch
September 2014
In case you weren't aware, and why should you be, 'Kwells' is the brand name for hyoscine hydrobromide, also known as scopolamine, and a remedy for motion sickness. And what's more, from my limited experience (one dose), it appears to work. After the unexpected but debilitating nausea I experienced during my first glider flight, I crowd-sourced suggestions via Facebook and was advised of the Kwells option. I don't much like taking medicines, but rather than endure prolonged nausea or forego a free flight, I decided to give it a go.

On my first visit to the gliding club with Lola II and Mr M, we were very much the honoured guests. We weren't made to do any work, we could sit around in the clubhouse or outside, enjoying the warm day and chatting to various people who wandered past and introduced themselves. This time, I was advised that I really should turn up at the start of the day and put my name on the list to fly and attend the morning briefing. So that's what I did.

Getting there at 9.30 I was among the last to arrive - many had already been there for more than an hour. They set up the airfield layout (which depends on the wind direction), sited the winch half a mile away across the field, got the planes out and checked them over, and probably did a load more things I'm not aware of. I was wearing trainers and it was strongly suggested that I'd need more waterproof shoes, so after the briefing I nipped home and changed.

I understood about half of the briefing - the bits where people volunteered for jobs and verified that they'd done the necessary checks and visitors were introduced and specific requests were made for assistance and people were asked to pay fees they owed. The technical stuff went right over my head - weather and wind forecasts and likely thermal activity and some more information that I have no idea about.

I was looked after by Phil, who is a most congenial character, and didn't hesitate to share the most scurrilous gossip about other club members. Like why the catering we had enjoyed at my last visit had changed to basic self-service - it was because of an argument about cake (yes, really) but nobody liked the member who had made all the fuss so nobody minded that the committee had judged him to be at fault, and his wife had withdrawn her catering services in a huff.

I was the only woman there except for a lady in the office who didn't seem about to do any flying. All of the members were extremely welcoming, and told me all sorts of stories at the drop of a hat. Some of them were decidedly peculiar (the people not the stories), but I'd rather feel welcome in the midst of some peculiar people than be ignored (cf. local Diabetes UK group). I found out a great deal about the technicalities of flying, including the advantages and pitfalls of using a winch for launching, a bit about how people are taught to fly, how instructors are trained, how the cables for launch used to be steel and are now synthetic, what can happen if the cable breaks during launch, and some safety procedures. I also found out a great deal about the personal lives of some of the members, local politics on motorised gliders, and how to acquire a large amount of wood for a Guy Fawkes bonfire.

When it was my turn to fly, Phil did a quick recap of the instrument panel and reminded me how to bail out, and we were off. The launch was as quick and violent as I remembered, and my stomach lurched ominously, but once we were up I felt fine, and was able to do a lot more this time. A couple of times Phil let me have full control, only taking control back when it was clear I was having a bit of trouble coping with the many different streams of information from the attitude of the plane to the instrumentation. As I said when we were back in the clubhouse and someone asked me how I got on: "I seemed to manage OK, and nobody died."

Conditions were not brilliant. The weather was grey, the wind was gusty, and Phil said that it was a difficult day for flying. Nobody was up for very long because there was no thermal activity at all. My first flight was ten minutes - the previous time it had been thirteen - and Phil gave me a chance to have another go but we only managed eight minutes airborne, mostly because he was letting me do a lot more of the flying that time and it takes more expertise than I possess to actually stay up for very long.

After the flying, I went down the field and had a look at the winch working, and then to the control tower (actually a computer on the top deck of a stationary double decker bus) where everyone's flights are logged. Nobody that day had flown more than 15 minutes at a time, so I didn't feel too bad about my efforts.

Although they all hoped I'd be back, I won't be returning, because there's just no time in my life for the commitment. It isn't the sort of hobby you can do in less than a day at a time, because there are a lot of jobs that need to be performed in order to allow people to fly safely, and it wouldn't be polite to turn up and expect to fly and go home again. Apart from all the setting up at the start of the day, there are at least five people needed for a launch: one to signal, one to hold the glider horizontal, one in the control tower/bus, one at the winch, and in my case, an instructor too. Someone also needs to drive the truck to bring the cable back after a launch and drive out to a glider once it's landed to tow it back to the start. Then all the kit and caboodle needs to be put away nicely at the end of a day.

It was a very interesting day, learning all about the technicalities of flying and many things I hadn't even considered before - trim, air brakes, flaps and rudders, wind speed, air speed and ground speed, waves and thermals. Maybe when I retire I'll come back to it.

View of me and the instructor

Monday, 13 October 2014

She flies like a bird...

View from the cockpit
Gliding, September 2014
The last two weeks have been frankly, ridiculous. I don't know why everything had to happen all at once, but it did, and if I hadn't had a blog post about my reading in the pipeline last week you wouldn't have heard a peep out of me.

So, first, my glider flight. This was a birthday present from the lovely Mr M and Lola II, and replaced the one that had to be cancelled in Lincolnshire because of the high winds. Lola II and Mr M took me to a nearby airfield, and we were welcomed at the Clubhouse by all sorts of friendly people willing to share their stories while they addressed some sort of problem with the glider. There was another visitor ahead of me in the schedule, so we had to wait quite a while, but the weather was pleasant and warm and we could have a bit of a chat and watch the launching and landing procedures.

The gliders at this club are launched by a winch rather than being towed up by a plane, and it is quite spectacular to watch. In just a few seconds you go up at a 40 degree angle from zero to sixty miles an hour at 1200 feet. Barry gave me the safety talk and went through the instrument panel before I strapped on the parachute and climbed into the tiny cockpit in the front. It was all dual control, and the flight was designated a 'trial lesson' so in theory I would be given some flying to do, but Barry did ask me to keep my hands away from the controls while we took off.

So far, so good. From this point onwards, however, it didn't go so well. I was rather looking forward to the take off, as I have no problem with acceleration in normal planes or on motorbikes. Unfortunately, as we were thrown up into the air, my stomach somehow didn't go with us, and within just a few seconds after being launched I started to feel very sick. As we circled on a thermal, Barry talked a bit about what he was doing and I directed the fresh air blower into my face and tried very hard to think about something other than the nausea.

The scenery was pleasant but the sensation was not. Barry let me have a go at driving for a second or two, but very soon it was time to land, and to be honest, I wasn't sorry. With nowhere to throw up except on my own lap, I was really glad to have avoided that outcome. Barry marked up my log book - we had been in the air for 13 minutes, although it felt much longer. Lola II was ready to protest at the short duration of the experience, but I reassured her that it was fine, and please don't make me go up again...

I couldn't eat anything for the rest of the day. Advice via Facebook and from friends suggests I could have a go at using the very effective motion sickness treatments available over the counter, because the package includes a second flight within two months. We'll see.

Then the two weeks of mayhem started. Within these two weeks: I went to the Diabetes Education Club at Warwick University, where my colleagues gave a talk to a group of interested health professionals (Doctors, GPs, Nurses in GP practices and Dietitians) about the very low carb diet options that we offer patients; I spent two days in London being trained as a DESMOND educator; my oldest friends from school came to visit; I participated in a public meeting organised by the local Clinical Commissioning Group and Diabetes UK to consult service users about what they want from their Diabetes Services; I went to a comedy gig to see Marcus Brigstocke at Warwick Arts Centre; I attended a branch meeting of the West Midlands British Dietetic Association all about the gastrointestinal tract and various disorders that can arise; another friend came to stay before going to a show at the NEC up the road; I have played in a badminton match (we won!); I have been to see a film and done two runs of about 30 minutes each. I have also renewed the car insurance, and been to the optician. The car has also celebrated the milestone of reaching 200,000 miles by starting to act a bit flaky if it's left without being used for a day or two.

All of these things were worthwhile, satisfying and mostly enjoyable (except for renewing the car insurance, which is one of the most painful and frustrating tasks in the whole world). The one I was looking forward to the most was the optician, and over the next week or two I shall be trying out different contact lenses, followed by receiving my new, varifocal glasses. As an indicator of advancing age this step is unwelcome, but in terms of being able to read comfortably again, I am looking forward to it immensely.

Another view from the cockpit

Sunday, 5 October 2014

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

South Riding
by Winifred Holtby

narrated by Carole Boyd
"In this rich and memorable evocation of the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire are the lives, loves and sorrows of the central characters. They are the people who work together in the council chambers and backrooms of local politics. Alongside them, however, are the people affected by their decisions."
A long book, narrated beautifully, although Ms Boyd declines to use the suggested accents for the character known as 'Geordie' and one who's clearly Scottish. This is set in the 1930's and I've been reading it at the same time as Middlemarch, which is set in the 1830's, so some nice comparisons and clear changes in social mores during the intervening century, especially around gender roles and marriage.

Image of the book cover

by George Eliot
"Named for the fictional community in which it is set, Middlemarch is a rich and teeming portrait of provincial life in Victorian England. In it, a panoply of complicated characters attempt to carry out their destinies against the various social expectations that accompany their classes and genders."
Oh my goodness this seemed to go on for ever. I think it was originally published as a series of books, and it did improve in terms of provoking interest as I progressed, but it also became a bit depressing towards the end. As a work of social history it provided much food for thought, and an interesting contrast with South Riding. I'm never going near it again, though.

Image of the book cover

The Corinthian
by Georgette Heyer

narrated by Georgina Sutton
"The accomplished Corinthian Sir Richard Wyndham is wealthy, sophisticated, handsome, and supremely bored. Tired of his aristocratic family constantly pressuring him to get married, he determines to run away after meeting the delightful, unconventional heroine Penelope Creed."
She writes such delightful heroines - ingenious and ingenuous, sparky and witty, and the heroes aren't bad either. For my taste, there isn't much leisure reading that can beat Georgette Heyer, but I'm sure my taste differs from other people's. I can relax while reading knowing that I am in safe hands, and that despite tribulations and an eventful journey, all will end as it should for the hero and heroine as well as the villains.

Image of book cover

Nature via Nurture
by Matt Ridley
"Nature via Nurture chronicles a new revolution in our understanding of genes. Ridley recounts the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. "
A previous book by this author, Genome, is one of the best books I've read, and covers the basics of genetics and inheritance clearly and concisely in a highly readable way. This one is much more difficult to read and understand. It delves into the nature/nurture debate and shows that the relationship is circular: genes both affect and are affected by both nature and nurture. For me it reinforces the influence that environment has on the expression of genes, and reminds us that it is no longer believed that genes are immutable. While the DNA code does not change through an individuals lifetime, genes are continually being switched on and off in response to environmental cues as well as the physiological environment of the cell. 'Gene encodes protein' is just the starting point of the impossibly complicated dance within every cell in our bodies.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Recent events

Deckchairs lined up in the snow with blue skies
Les Deux Alpes, March 2014
Having caught up with events from a month or two ago, it's time to return to the more recent past. A quick summary:
  • I went to the Food and Drink Festival
  • Two tradesmen have provided quotes
  • Domestic appliances continue to cause trouble
  • The hall is showing signs of water leakage at gutter level
  • My mobile phone had a fit in the night
  • The Tuesday community diabetes clinics are interesting
  • I attended a presentation given by a colleague
  • I attended a public meeting and had to do some facilitation
  • The second patient education course that I'm delivering has started
  • I had to prepare for an upcoming course
  • I had a 'trial lesson' in a glider.
The Royal Leamington Spa Food and Drink Festival was lovely, the weather was fine and warm and reports in the paper suggest there were 25,000 visitors. I can believe it; there were certainly crowds. I bought some lime pickle and chose a South African lamb curry for lunch on Saturday, and Caribbean jerk chicken with rice and peas on Sunday.

Tradesman report: The fourth carpenter I contacted actually came to see the airing cupboard, and has even followed up with a quote. I would ideally like to get a second opinion, which means finding a fifth carpenter. I am not optimistic, but I have another two phone numbers. The electrician has provided a quote for replacing the fuse box; the oven is working well on its fan setting after its repair, but the grill has now stopped working - I will do some research before calling in a repairman this time. And there is staining on the newly painted hall walls that suggest the guttering or leading might be leaking - this is a job for Alf. Lots to do in the house, as always. I won't even mention the garden, it is too distressing.

We had a disturbed night when, for no apparent reason, my mobile phone started to reboot itself over and over again at about 3 a.m. The battery is built in and can't be removed, so I took the phone downstairs and attempted to put the SIM card into a different phone. What with being half asleep I managed to lose the SIM completely, leaving me phoneless. Then there was the faff of having to find an alternative method of setting the morning alarm, and finding a way to take the phone into a shop to sort it out. It turns out that EE had made a mess of an automatic software update, so I met several other people in the shop with the same problem. It's fine now, and only cost a few hours sleep and a trip into town.

The main work news concerns the reason that I have now been employed on Tuesdays - the Clinical Commissioning Group in the area, which is responsible for making sure that all health services are available as necessary, has stumped up some money in order to try and address the backlog of patients waiting for their structured education on Type 2 Diabetes (called DESMOND). I will be trained to deliver this training next week, and have received the pack which requires me to observe a course before I do the training myself. There are none in the area to observe in the time available, so they have sent me three DVDs to watch, and some academic papers to read as well as some written homework.

My Tuesdays are now planned out until December, with community clinics to cover for a colleague who is on holiday and then to allow her to do some home visits, and then four DESMOND courses have been scheduled. The community clinics are very similar to my hospital ones, but there are a few different options around the edges for referral to local activity programmes and weight management groups. The biggest challenges were getting me physical access to the building, and electronic access to the computer systems. I still don't have a code to allow me to print, but when I do I will have access to the biggest fanciest printer/copier in the world.

My colleague's presentation was about the lower carbohydrate diets that we are facilitating for people with diabetes who want to lose weight, and she was very good. The public meeting was the first of two where Diabetes UK and the Clinical Commissioning Group have invited people with diabetes to respond to proposals for change to their services. There are various eminent personages who introduce themselves, then facilitated groups to provide the attendees' views about what they like and don't like about diabetes services, and then a panel of experts to answer specific questions. This time I was asked to facilitate the discussion on one table; next time I am on the panel of experts. It will be daunting. The first question to the panel this time was about the quality of hospital food, and there are no easy answers to that one.

The second course for people with Type 1 Diabetes has gone quite well. The team is very relaxed about my contribution, but I feel that I need a bit more rigour in my approach. This may be achieved by going on the DESMOND course - I have watched the DVDs, all six hours of them, and done my homework too. I believe that I will need to do lesson plans, and peer review, and will have to prove that I am competent before being let loose on real people. I'm hoping to follow the same process to improve my delivery of the the Type 1 education, but we'll see.

You'll have to wait for the account of my flight in the glider, and it may be a while. Next week is packed with extra-curricular events including the trip to London for the DESMOND training.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Wedding Presence - Part 2

Lolas on Trinity Bridge, Crowland, August 2014

Day 2

The first thing to happen on Day 2 was the bleep of a text message to Lola II, telling her that the glider flight had to be cancelled because of high winds. The flight couldn't be rearranged within the time available, so we had to abandon that plan, and after a breakfast of porridge we went to Kings Lynn instead.
Learning Point 5: Lynn Regis is very attractive and houses are very cheap (if you come from London). e.g. a 2 bed house for £86,000 ... and yes, by Lynn Regis I mean Kings Lynn but the old name is in my opinion much better.
Lolas I and II viewed through an archway
Learning Point 6: Shops and streets in Lynn Regis seemed to "tell it like it is". No messing about with streets imaginatively called "Saturday Market Place" and "Tuesday Market Place" and shops called "The Flower Shop", "The Tile Shop" and "High Street Hairdressers".
I think we all liked Kings Lynn, even though it wasn't very busy because of the fairly cold and windy day. The town is beautiful and has a good number of old and historic buildings, some dating back to the time when it was an important Hanseatic port, trading with Germany and Baltic states. We followed a walking trail around town, but the highlight was definitely a detour into a Polish shop where we discovered curd cheese ice creams
Learning Point 7: Frozen Cream Cheese makes a wonderful snack and can be found in Eastern European supermarkets across Lynn Regis (though not in London it appears).
Lunch was in an establishment that was quite posh, but Mr M's starter of beignets was still frozen in the middle, and no response was forthcoming from the kitchen when we mentioned it. I can't complain about my roast dinner, and Lola II's meat platter looked lovely, but they didn't get a tip. We walked about some more, and discovered that Captain Vancouver came from Kings Lynn and went on to have a bit of Canada named after him. Tea was in a converted warehouse, but more disappointment - there was no chocolate cake left, nor chocolate biscuits. Kings Lynn - you let us down. Although you partly made up for it by supplying those fantastic Polish ice creams.

Real bandstand and three drawings
Bandstand in The Walks park, Kings Lynn, August 2014
We did find a lovely park to walk through in the afternoon, with a bandstand and a band playing. The weather was just warm enough for us to sit down to listen, and Mr M distributed cards and pens, requiring each of us to draw a picture of the bandstand. The results are here, and I have blurred the respective authors' signatures. What do you think? Can you guess the respective artists?

Last noteworthy event of the day was the toast. Mr M had discovered a contraption designed to allow toast to be made on a camp stove, and was determined to try it. On the first day we had no bread, but now it received its maiden flight, and was a dismal failure. The bread warmed, and the toasting contraption went a lovely colour as hot metal things do, but we couldn't call it toast. Ever resourceful, Mr M 'adapted' it to remove much of the heat protection, and it operated much more successfully. My personal view is that camping is a time when we are relieved of the duties of toasting and frying, in the same way as we are unable to watch TV or sit in an armchair. Raw food and boiling will do for me. But respect for the effort.

Mr M also has quite a passion for wild food. He returned from a short walk with plums and blackberries that he had foraged.

Day 3

After having spent a couple of days in towns, we thought to make a change we would either do a walk or visit a garden. Walking was problematic - we hadn't brought maps, and anyway you may remember that the terrain was incredibly flat. Not a hummock in sight, let alone a hill or a cliff or even a slope. Walking would be easy, but views would be mainly sky, and the coastline was not reported to be very interesting. We could see lots of sky from wherever we happened to go, so we settled on a garden, and chose Peckover House, which turned out to be in Wisbech.

The house and garden do not open in the morning, so we stopped off in the town to buy provisions for a picnic lunch, and happened to come across an old-fashioned butcher's shop, with classic tiling and glass-fronted cabinets, selling all manner of cooked meat products as well as the raw stuff. Haslet, faggots, pies and cooked joints were on display and the butchers were most helpful in cutting each choice into three so it could be shared later. It was all delicious. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
Learning Point 8: There is a wonderful butchers in Wisbech on the Market Square (G W Frank) and we thoroughly recommend their local dishes (which I have forgotten the name of already).
The garden was beautiful, and the house interesting - from the Regency period with lots of relevant information inside as well as artefacts. It had been used as a bank when the owner's business extended into banking before reverting back to a family home. There was a very chatty attendant in one of the main rooms who showed us how one of the four curved doors in each (rounded) corner of the room was purely for decorative purposes, as the house had squared-off corners and behind the door was a small space between the square, brick, exterior shell and the curved interior wall.

The house and garden had been donated to the National Trust when its last occupant died, but the entire house contents had been auctioned off at the time, so it has been re-furnished with some original period items and some replica pieces. They had done quite a good job, but seeing an item and knowing it wasn't the one that had originally stood there was a bit of a shame.

Close up of centre of pink flower

After the obligatory tea and cake, we stopped off in a local pub for a drink before letting Mr M out of the car - his eagle eyes had spotted some more roadside blackberries, so he was up for some more foraging. He returned to the campsite in time for a pasta dinner followed by jelly and custard.
Learning Point 9: While picking blackberries, a lot of people seem to pull off the A17 at the road to Gedney Broadgate and wait for other people to pull in and then hand things over to them before driving off.
Our breakfasts included porridge & prunes, baked beans & meatballs (different breakfasts) and a dodgy attempt to make toast that resulted in, as far as I’m concerned, dry bread and a wasted gas canister. Our other dinner was pasta, tomato and cheese with obligatory olives, since I forgot to put them in the Moroccan chicken. Dessert that night was sugar-free jelly and custard, Lola I’s contribution to the gourmet adventure. She is clearly a classy camper with creative choices.
The campsite was fairly empty, but there was still a small party of three women, who had noticed that my tent was festooned with labels indicating that it had been at Cambridge Folk Festival several times. They invited us over to their spot for social singing, and they had even requisitioned wood and a fire pit to sit around. There was very little singing, but they were congenial company - two Scots and one originally Dutch but resident in Scotland. I heard the full story about Lola II's music group and the original composition they commissioned from a real life composer. It's worth a blog post of its own, you'll have to ask her.

Day 4

Last day, and we treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast at a cafe, then set off for Spalding to see whether there are any bulk flower outlets - there weren't. We wandered about a bit, found some more Polish cheese ice creams, eventually reaching the river and walking through some local gardens that had an sign warning of restrictions on anti-social behaviour in three languages. We thought about taking a trip on the river boat or watching a film, but the timings didn't work out.

Then we thought it would be nice to find a country pub for lunch, but because of the big breakfasts and the morning snacks we weren't that hungry. While we were discussing the situation by the river, one of the river boats arrived to let off its passengers, and I thought I'd ask the captain for a recommendation, and he gave us some directions out of town. He also argued (incorrectly) that jam and marmalade do constitute one portion of our 5-a-day, so I have lost all faith in Captains' knowledge of healthy eating. As I write this, I wonder why I ever thought they had any?
Learning Point 10: The river trip boat captain in Spalding is very knowledgeable and confirmed to Lola I that marmalade does count as a portion of fruit and veg. On the basis of this sound advice, we took his recommendation on where to eat. And got lost.
Yellow roses in front of the Abbey tower
Crowland Abbey, August 2014
We headed off in the vague direction indicated by the idiot Captain, found no country pub but ended up in a village called Crowland, which happens to have the remains of a very large abbey. We were welcomed inside by Arthur, who introduced himself as a volunteer guide, and showed us around both inside and outside the abbey. 
Learning Point 11: It can be quite good getting lost as this meant we discovered the wonderful village of Crowland which has an Abbey (part in ruins), a lovely tea shop and, best of all, the remains of a bridge with three walkways which meet in the middle. This bridge was over the junction of two rivers which have now dried up or now run underground. Strangely, they have a small alley/street called "Thames Tunnel" and it is very cheap (2 bed flat £78,000).
Crowland (or Croyland) Abbey was founded in 701 in memory of St Guthlac, a monk who became a hermit - in those days the Fens were more watery, and Crowland was an island. Although much water was drained from the Fens, in the 14th century there were still rivers through the town where now there are none. For this reason, the marvellous three-way Trinity Bridge now stands on dry land near the main road junction in the middle of town. It was one of the best features of the town, on a par with the lovely tea shop where we eventually had lunch before heading off in different directions to go home.

The last word goes to Lola II:
I love camping.
Mr M and Lola II sitting with their stove outside their tent

Friday, 12 September 2014

Wedding Presence - Part 1

Field of cabbages in very flat landscape
South Lincolnshire, August 2014 (Photo credit: Mr M)
Two Lolas and a Mr M have each produced a contribution towards the record of the Wedding Presence Camping Event that took place a few weeks ago. The majority is my account (in black), Lola II (in red) has contributed mostly food-related items, and Mr M (in blue) has given me his insightful observations and learning points, and all the photos in this blog post.

Introduction (by Lola II)

I love camping. I asked Lola I why she loves camping and she says it's waking up in the morning and looking out of the tent at ground level, smelling the grass and the dew and the outdoors. I love all that and I also love cooking and eating outdoors. On this trip, I took it upon myself to be Head Chef. Rather than have a Sous Chef, I had Washeruper and RemindMeHowToUseTheGasStove glamorous assistants, both of whom did a very good job of eating everything I produced.

Mr M and I have been building up our camping equipment to the point where this was going to be our first opportunity to put it all into use. So we insisted that, apart from Lola's tent and bedding, we would bring everything with us. We were also trying out our NEW TENT, a wedding gift from a Seattle uncle and aunt. The advantages over our other ones are a) it's waterproof and our bedding doesn't touch the side and get wet, b) we have a vestibule that allows us to store all manner of things so we don’t have to get clothes out of the car in the morning and, c) our vestibule gives us comfortable shelter in times of rain when it's too early to go to bed, too late to go anywhere and too uncomfortable to sit in the car.

My, what a wonderful time we had. Mind you, I've never yet been disappointed on a trip with Lola I, so I had no fear that this would be anything but a four night trip of mucking about and excitement.

Observations and Learning Points from a weekend in Lincolnshire (with trips into Norfolk and Cambridgeshire) (by Mr M)

Firstly ... and this has to be said .. Lincolnshire is incredibly flat ... and by flat I mean so mind numbingly flat that you would be able to see the curvature of the earth if there was anywhere higher than a hedge to view it from.

Secondly, and sorry to repeat myself, but Norfolk and north Cambridgeshire are also spirit level and spirit crushingly flat.

Having said all that, I should now probably mention all the things we did to distract us from the lack of hills and vantage points. However, as this is an educational blog, I've decided to focus on things learnt from the weekend and one piece of commentary.

Introduction (Lola I)

I reached the campsite pretty early, because I finish work early on a Friday. It was among fields, in the pancake-flat landscape of south Lincolnshire where the fields stretch away to the horizon and it seems as though 90% of the world is sky. The site was surrounded on all sides by 50-foot Leylandii hedges, providing shelter from the strong winds that blew almost continuously. The hedges also provided housing for flocks of pigeons, whose cu-coo-cu calling seemed very loud, along with a lot of flapping. This aside, the only fault with the campsite was the lack of a pub within walking distance. The ground was flat and soft, the shower was hot, the owners friendly and helpful and there was a fridge/freezer. They even sell blackberry jam - I await Mr M's verdict.

Having erected my tent with its back to the hedge, I realised that it would make more sense if my tent and Lola II and Mr M's tent faced one another, side on to the hedge, so I took the tent down and put it up again. By this time there had been a squall of rain, and I was tired, so instead of foraging for supper I sat in the car reading. It was dark by the time Lola II and Mr M arrived with their brand new tent, and they coped pretty well putting it up for the first time, although it needed minor adjustments later.
Learning Point 1: Don't rely on satnav and mobile data or even phone service when visiting the Wash area as there are no hills to put antennas on.

Learning Point 2: it was probably naive to expect a tent called "2 second" to be put up in 2 seconds. Fortunately, the tent only took about 15 minutes albeit in the dark and for the first time.
Oh, and I mustn’t forget dinner on the night we arrived. Mr M and I got to the campsite quite late and so dinner was a pot noodle each and a couple of bags of crisps, purchased from the campsite shop. A real success, since two out of three were reduced to £1 because they were out of date.

Day 1

We started the day with eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes courtesy of Lola II, and then off to visit Boston, Lincs. We visited the tourist information office which was in the Guildhall and included a museum - I learned that Boston was the home of the religious dissidents who became the Pilgrim Fathers - but it was lunchtime, and Mr M wanted to sample typical Lincolnshire fare in the form of sausages and plum bread. We were welcomed at the restaurant although told very clearly what we were and weren't allowed to do in the way of ordering - no sharing, we had to have a meal each. That's just the way things are done in that establishment.
Learning Point 3: Lincolnshire plum bread and Lincolnshire sausages are excellent but you have to get your own sausages and can't try your wife's, as in Boston they "don't share dishes round here."
Inside Boston Minster, August 2014 (Photo credit: Mr M)
It is not a particularly affluent area of the country, and we found prices to be very reasonable, not just for food but also household items. We did a bit of standard tourism too, visiting the main church (known as The Stump) and Mr M even climbed the tower to see if he could see any hills - he was rather disturbed by the flat landscape throughout the holiday. There was a wedding about to get under way, and we also noted that the majority of the attending ladies had made pretty poor choices when it came to dressing up. Maybe this is not typical of the local ladies in general, but it was striking in that party. We finished our visit to Boston with a short walk along the river, where we were briefly accosted by a man asking us to attest to witnessing him being assaulted by some youths, despite the fact that we had witnessed nothing at all. It was a strange sort of a day.
Commentary: Boston is famous for two things; Several of the 'Founding Fathers' aboard the Mayflower were from Boston (hence it giving its name to the American city) and, more recently if you're a Daily Hate Mail reader, Boston has a Polish population of at least 99% (Daily Express figures). While we saw some gravestone like markers of emigrants to the new world, there wasn't much else marking their escape from religious freedom (and yes I mean 'from' as they were actually escaping a fairly liberal society religion wise, and wanted to set up a strict Puritan community with no freedoms).

On the immigrant front, there does appear to be a large Eastern European population by both Mr M measures - number of people you hear speaking Polish/Latvian and Lithuanian etc, and my probably more accurate measure, how many shops there are catering to Eastern European needs. Interestingly, the latter were concentrated in a different part of town from the local shops and seemed to indicate that what the community misses from home are grocery stores selling pickled herring etc and sunbed salons.
Learning Point 4: There are excellent views of fields and, well, more fields from "the Boston stump" aka the tower of Boston Minster. Despite the brilliant views of the area and confirmation that Lincolnshire is as flat as a can of lemonade which has been open a week, I felt a bit short changed as there we're only 198 steps whereas the warning at the foot of the stairs had claimed there were 'over 200 steps'.
Boston 'Stump', August 2014 (Photo credit: Mr M)
Even though the weekend was supposed to be my present to the happy couple, I had failed to bring enough cash to pay the campsite fees and even had to borrow tent pegs from Mr M and Lola II. I had brought minimal food and not enough teabags, and done no research into local activities beyond searching for sushi restaurants (there are none). However, Day 1 finished with a gala dinner catered by Lola II and the successful camping stove. She had brought all the ingredients for chicken stew (it's probably got a posher name) followed by spiced hot chocolate, and we dined in style. Not only this, but I was also presented with a birthday present of a flight in a glider on the following day, courtesy of a local flying club. I spent the rest of the evening and next morning humming "She flies like a bird in the sky-y-y..."
Even though this trip was our Presence from Lola I, I wanted to celebrate her birthday-with-an-0-on-the-end by producing a gourmet dinner. We had an aperitif of homemade blackberry gin a la Mr M. My two camping colleagues then had a little snooze whilst I cooked Moroccan lemon chicken with couscous. This was then followed by a luxurious hot chocolate dessert.

The good thing about camping is that bowls and plates tend to be smaller than everyday ones and so portion sizes aren't excessive. Cleverly, by having Mr M with us we were able to take advantage of the fact that he didn't want his full share of hot chocolate and so us two Lolas were forced to finish it off for him. I always knew he was a good find. Also it's good practice to minimise washing up.
To be continued...

Lola II cooking a la campsite
(Photo credit: Mr M)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Not at work

Side view of a peacock displaying its tail
Groombridge Place, June 2013

See what happens when I don't have to go to work and I'm not away from home? Blogs happen, that's what. And I am told that Lola II is working towards her contribution to the Wedding Presence camping trip blog post (I think Mr M has done his, although he hasn't sent it through yet). So we are backing up a little now to report news from a week ago...

At work, I agreed to cover the ante-natal clinic, which takes place in the other Trust hospital - we don't have any maternity services where I usually work. As regular readers may remember, I am not a fan of ante-natal clinics, and this was no exception. There are too many patients and not enough time, and I felt rather exploited although the consultant and the nurse took care to thank me very appreciatively. Next time I will be more 'assertive' about time-keeping.

Back at my usual hospital I observed a patient being started with an insulin pump, which took quite a long time but wasn't very complicated really. I think that the hard work starts afterwards, to try and fine tune the background delivery of insulin to match the patient's needs from hour to hour. Being away from work this week I'm missing that part of the job, but I'll try and catch up with a different patient some time, to see the follow up.

And then there were a few things not related to work. It was a red letter day on Thursday: the first time I managed to run 5 km in under 30 minutes (all on flat tarmac). My timed runs on Saturday mornings with Parkrun are getting faster too, but despite planning to go out this week, I haven't felt up to it yet, partly because of the trip at the weekend, to see Landrover Man (LRM) and Bee Lady (BL).

This was actually me gatecrashing one of Mr M and Lola II's wedding presence, and it was lovely as usual. BL provided an extensive food preference questionnaire which also included attitudinal questions to see if she should be sticking with conventional choices or going a bit experimental. After a tour of the LRM/BL mansion and grounds, then the enormous and delicious dinner followed by games on Saturday night, we were looking forward to the usual standard of walking on Sunday. We only got a bit lost once and had to do a bit of off-piste mountaineering (Lola II was very brave and I got stung by nettles) but it was excellent, if exhausting. I had to have a sleep on the motorway on the way home, and was very glad not to be going to work on Monday. I think I felt the effects of the indulgence followed by the exertion for a few more days, but it may be the unaccustomed freedom of not being at work.

[Bee Facts: there were many, mostly about how to manage your hives - BL doesn't like killing a perfectly good queen just in order to limit the number. So she has ended up with ten hives, which is A Lot. LRM was very patient and listened to many, many Bee Facts without much complaint. Unfortunately it isn't quite so interesting to hear about his energy management spreadsheets.]

So this week I have welcomed my tradesmen about whom I have already written, and the latest carpenter says the job isn't big enough and has suggested another carpenter. I have donated blood without incident, and even managed to visit the charity shops for long enough to acquire the clothes that I was after. Yesterday I made an enormous effort and cleared out about two thirds of the clutter that was getting in my way, and then it was time for badminton. Today I had lunch with an old friend, and I am looking forward to the weekend, which holds the annual Food & Drink Festival.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Progress at Lola Towers

View with garden chess set and urn
Groombridge Place, June 2013
At last, I have taken just a few small steps forward with the lifetime's work that is the making of Lola Towers into a habitable residence that does not cause me embarrassment with every visitor. There have only been a few very small steps, but it feels as though I have created just a little bit of momentum.

We have had two callers - Bill the electrician, and Mark, who deals with household electrical appliances. Mark's job was the easier one, diagnosing and replacing a burnt out element that was preventing the fan oven from heating up while allowing us to use the oven in conventional mode. It was not such a difficult task to complete, and I would certainly be able to do the whole job myself in future. And I now have a working fan oven, and we had a lovely chat about diabetes as Mark has been diagnosed with Type 2 for about 30 years, has recently seen a Dietitian (not in the hospital where I work) and made many positive changes as a result.

Bill the electrician had a more difficult job, but successfully reconnected the doorbell, rewired a couple of light switches, replaced a fuse plate and failed to repair the dimmer switch but diagnosed the problem. He also recoiled (figuratively) in horror at the sight of our ancient fuse box with its ancient fuses made of actual wire, asking if we ran a power shower and shuddering (figuratively again) when I said we did. It's a wonder we are still alive, really. As the replacement of the fuse box is something I wanted him to quote for, his interest in the job, and his opinion that we are not safe in our beds until it is done is half encouraging, half disturbing.

We then spent a happy half hour trying to discover the hidden secrets of this Victorian house. Is the water system earthed to the main fuse? What about the gas supply? If not, the situation must be remedied, but all evidence is buried in walls, trunking or behind kitchen cabinets. Bill and I climbed down into the cellar where there are cables and pipes a-plenty, but which is which? I'm not even convinced of where the mains water enters the property. I have a feeling that the resulting quotation may be fairly expensive, but the job will include another task that I wish to be carried out: a survey of the exterior lighting and wiring, which I have long suspected of being installed by very amateur hands.

There is a third job which I had hoped to address during my week off. The airing cupboard was extended and new doors constructed by the admirable Alf, who excels at building, roofing, plastering, constructing a sturdy garden gate and painting the exterior of the house. His attempt at the finer touches of this indoor job resulted in a robust door that would keep wildlife out of a shed, but does not have the refinement required in a piece of indoor furniture. My attempt to find a carpenter, joiner or cabinet maker willing to quote for the job has so far resulted in very little, despite three possible leads - although one has just come back to me this evening pleading illness as the reason for failing to respond to earlier messages.

I hesitate to list the further jobs that I hope to achieve this week, because I invariably fail to get half as much done as I would like. Let me choose one: I would very much like to visit the wonderful Leamington charity shops for some more work tops and trousers. Let's see how I get on.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Quick catch up

Eagle sunning itself with outstretched wings
Bateleur eagle, Cotswold Falconry Centre, July 2014
Wow. Nearly a month. Some of you must have been getting impatient...

Very little has changed in the landscape at Lola Towers, although I have started to make my move on the state of the house, creeping up on it and surprising it so it doesn't have a chance to skip out of the way. I have arranged for an electrician to attend to many of the small electrical frustrations, and maybe a carpenter is going to visit to view one of the scenes of devastation. I have more plans and a week off work, when I'm hoping to plot a route through the tunnel to the light at the end, and maybe take a few tentative steps towards it.

In terms of events to report, obviously I haven't been sitting around thinking about blogging, I've been up and out there. Here's a list:
  • Cambridge Folk Festival
  • Return to Bletchley Park
  • Trip to London for Sister D's birthday, lunch with old friends, proper London theatre with Lola II and Mr M
  • Evening with the friends with whom we went sailing
  • Lots of badminton as usual, and a bit of running
  • Lola II and Mr M's Wedding Presence: a four-day camping trip
  • Meanwhile, Mr A...
  • And a little bit about work.

Oysterband frontman
Cambridge Folk Festival

It was lovely. Mr A didn't go due to the pressure and deadlines of his first contract job, but I managed to sell his ticket and I knew four friends would be there so I wasn't going to feel too lonely. Highlights, just in case anyone wants to look them up: Oysterband (well-established UK band, I'm a big fan but not as crazy obsessive as the other fans I met in front of the stage), Pokey LaFarge (American swing/blues band), Habadekuk (fantastic Danish high octane folk), Hazmat Modine (New York band worth hearing for the a sousaphone alone), and Loudon Wainwright III (I had no idea he was so funny - he made us laugh at a song about the situations in Gaza, Syria, Ukraine etc). I'd go again, except the tickets are almost impossible to buy, and the site is too crowded now that everybody brings chairs.

Return to Bletchley Park

This time with mum, and although we again spent many hours there, I still haven't seen everything. Another visit will be needed! Maybe with dad next time.

Trip to London

This included the opportunity to take part in a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous, which was very interesting though I felt very tense. I have since recommended the organisation to one of my patients. Also, the theatre - I haven't been to a real on-stage live play for many years, and had become so used to the conventions of cinema and DVD movies that I was surprised for a second when the applause came at the end.

Underwater fish Sailing reunion

This was mostly an opportunity to share photographs, but it was actually very nice to meet up again.


I am very thankful for my continued good state of health, and intend to do all I can to keep it this way! I have not only continued running, but my pace is increasing very gradually, and I even did a Parkrun in Cambridge while I was there. Here's a little clip of Eddie Izzard promoting Parkrun, which actually includes footage of the Leamington run (you'll have to take my word for it).

Lola and Mr M in front of octagonal brick building
Kings Lynn


When we were on the camping trip, we discussed each of us writing about the trip and combining these into an entertaining format for the blog. So I'm willing to postpone the report about camping for a few days in case something appears. It was a really good trip, though.

Mr A

Mr A continues to work on his OU course while looking for employment, and as I write he is engaged in open warfare with the meadow that is the 'garden'. He has been on a successful camping trip with The Boy who is temporarily back from his travels, and a less successful motorcycle trip where, true to form, his bike broke and he came back after just one day.


After much protracted discussion about extending my hours, where I was somewhat sceptical about the likelihood of any change quicker than in geological time, the boss phoned on Thursday and said that I could move to full time working from September (i.e. next week) until March. I am booked onto a training course at the start of October which will allow me to facilitate structured education for people with Type 2 Diabetes, but as ever there are as many questions as answers. For example, I don't know where I will be based or how many courses there will be or what I will do in the time that is not occupied with these courses. I am also filling in for colleagues on holiday - unfortunately, one session is an ante-natal clinic, but the other is a community clinic, which may be very interesting. On the whole, I am very pleased with the main permanent job I have been doing - pleasant colleagues and a small team in a friendly location - and maybe I'll go back to the part time option after March.

Composite flower with pink and yellow florets and buds

Sunday, 24 August 2014

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The History of Mr Polly
by H. G. Wells

narrated by Paul Shelley
"Mr Polly is an ordinary middle-aged man who is tired of his wife's nagging and his dreary job as a gentleman's outfitter in a small town. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, he concludes that the only way to escape his frustrating existence is by burning his shop to the ground and killing himself."
It took a while to get going - about half of the book, actually, but then things moved forward a bit quicker. Quite different from Wells' science fiction (e.g. The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and War of the Worlds), this is just a simple history of an ordinary chap living a dull life until he burns his house down. It doesn't get a whole lot more exciting after his act of arson, but it's a pleasant read nonetheless.

Image of the book cover

Mike and Psmith
by P. G. Wodehouse

narrated by Graham Seed
"Mike is a seriously good cricketer who forms an unlikely alliance with old Etonian Psmith after they both find themselves fish out of water at a new school, Sedleigh. They eventually overcome the hostility of others and their own prejudices to become stars."
Apparently this is one of Wodehouse's earlier works, and it shows. Not as refined, not as funny, not such whimsical use of language as the later books, and the greatest sin from my point of view is that a whole chunk of plot towards the end of the book is re-used in a later Blandings book that I've read quite recently. The reviews also point out that if you're not too familiar with the laws and rituals of cricket, then a lot of it won't make much sense.

Image of the book cover

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
"Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that."
Although the author is pretty fair minded about setting out opposing arguments for the moral point (avoiding plot spoilers here but you can probably guess what it's about), I have pretty much made up my mind which side I'm on, so the alternative view seemed unconvincing. Quite a few people have recommended this book, and it was a good choice for audio because in print I would have skipped ahead just to find out what happens more quickly. I suppose that means it was a bit long-winded, but I didn't really mind, I was just a bit impatient to see if it ended satisfactorily.

Image of the book cover

Portuguese Irregular Verbs
by Alexander McCall Smith

narrated by Hugh Laurie
"In the unnaturally tall form of Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, we are invited to meet a memorable character whose sublime insouciance is a blend of the cultivated pomposity of Frasier Crane and of Inspecteur Clouseau's hapless gaucherie."
There was nothing wrong with this book at all, it was perfectly all right. But there was nothing outstanding about it either, and because of the Germanic background of the main characters, the narrator rightly used a German accent for their dialogue, which felt a bit like mockery. I'm not inclined to seek out the subsequent books in the series, but if you felt like reading this I wouldn't stop you.