Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Catching up

D with daffs and foliage in the kitchen
February 2020
Since my last post I've been off skiing for a week in France, and then come back to a punishing schedule of having to go to work for three days, two evenings of Buddhist activity, meeting up with Lola II for a day trip to Oxford, a replacement filling in a back tooth, and a weekend with sister D.

The skiing was with lovely friends and we all had a good time even though we lost out on one day because of bad weather. I travelled over on the Eurostar overnight ski train which means I had two nights of no sleep but a full eight days of skiing. The return trip coincided with Storm Ciara and trains back home from London were terribly disrupted. Instead of a straightforward 2 hours to Leamington it took more than 4 hours and the last leg was from Coventry on a bus, which I had to direct to the station because there was a closed road and a diversion, presumably due to fallen debris.

A recent casualty of the rain has been my front door, which has been performing its annual trick of swelling in the wet weather. It had got so bad before I went away that in order to secure the house I had to force it shut from the inside and then leave the house through the garage. I had a go at shaving it down when I got back but in the end gave in and called the trusty Ilf, who came round the same day and sorted it out. I'm seriously considering getting an alternative and less temperamental front door.

At work I'm finding it quite difficult to fit in everything that I'm required to do in under two days a week, and going away for a week makes it even more difficult. However, I have discovered that one of my Diabetes Dietitian colleagues has been asked to stand in for our Team Leader, which is a welcome development as she is pretty much doing that job anyway and is very competent and nice to work with. Advertising and appointing officially to the post has been delayed because the factors that led to the resignation of the previous two incumbents are still in place, but this may be changing over the next six months as three key members of staff are leaving. The other Diabetes Dietitian who has been off sick for about seven months shows no sign of returning to work, so we are still short of two people.

One of the extra jobs that we are all supposed to do is to supervise student Dietitians on their placements with us. Being part time and not based on the main site I have got away with not doing as much supervising as some others, but I found my name on a list of such people who were being asked to do a bit more. So I stepped up and volunteered to supervise a Peer Assisted Learning activity about biochemistry, i.e. the results of blood tests and how they impact on a Dietitian's role.

I had to go over to the main hospital where the four students were waiting. Their task was to find out all the reference ranges for lots of different factors - electrolytes, liver enzymes, blood components and much more - and then consider two ward-based case studies. The difficulty for me was that I hardly ever have to review biochemistry results except for those connected with diabetes, and the case studies were nothing to do with diabetes. So I'd already had to spend some time with one of the other Dietitians to go through the case studies and make sure I knew the answers myself. But it was fine, I'm one step ahead of them and they believe I know more than they do so that's all it takes.

What else? A big meeting at work that went quite well. A lovely day in Oxford with Lola II, even though the restaurant we wanted to have lunch at was closed and the film we wanted to see was sold out. The weekend with Sister D was good too, even though the weather was not. A proposed walk with the Buddhists coincided with Storm Dennis so nobody turned up except the regular team, and we swiftly retreated to a cafe out of the rain and wind. We held an impromptu team meeting and got quite a bit done in the hour we spent in the cafe.

I still don't feel like I've quite caught up with everything that needs to be done since being away for a week, but I need to remember that catching up with everything that needs to be done isn't always necessary. A surprising number of things can actually wait until I get round to them. All aboard the next week's rollercoaster!

Friday, 31 January 2020


Building with colonnade and dome viewed through trees and reflected in a lake
Cheltenham Pump Rooms, October 2019
I think I'm pretty much back in control again after that brief chaotic interlude. The tooth is OK, antibiotics finished, pictures, music and documents transferred to the new laptop and a start made on the podcasts and books, all the Buddhists are still happy as far as I know, and the house is behaving itself. I've even spent more time in the garden digging a trench and putting bricks in it between the 'beds' and the 'lawn'. I seem to have successfully employed a different Lady Gardener to help me maintain it - we'll see how that turns out. And there are daffodils coming up, and some snowdrops! It must be nearly Spring.

Things that have happened: I delivered the presentation to the Dietitians, which seemed to go down well although only four people attended apart from the two other Diabetes Dietitians. And I got paid for the session I did in November. Then there has been lots of hot Buddhist action. In the local group we have been delivering an introductory course for newcomers which has attracted more than 20 people, filling our small village hall to bursting. We had a team meeting in which I progressed with my plan for world domination by proposing to invite a lot of senior people from the movement to come to lead a session for our little group. And I went to the second meeting of the study group in Birmingham, via a different route which took 90 minutes during rush hour, so I'm not going that way again.

The most demanding task I have had to tackle this week has been the extraordinary bureaucracy involved in applying for a Blue Badge online on behalf of mum and dad. It was the longest and most complicated form I have ever had to tackle; way more difficult than applying for a divorce online. Each application took about an hour and required scanning and uploading documents and digital photographs, and when we had finished and successfully applied, the acknowledgement email required details that had not been requested within the application and threatened denial of the application if they weren't supplied. This is what the state demands of someone who has a condition requiring a Blue Badge.

See the bricks between the 'beds' and the 'lawn'? January 2020

Saturday, 25 January 2020

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Lark Rise to Candleford
by Flora Thompson
"Combining three books in one anthology, this story of three closely related Oxfordshire communities - a hamlet. the nearby village and a small market town - is based on the author's experiences during childhood and youth."
When I was still at school, one of the teachers mentioned a book by two authors called Opie which was all about the games, songs and activities of children. It sounded so interesting that I kept an eye out for it, and later I must have found it in the library. It was as dry as dust - a scholarly, anthropological study written up in the style of academia, and I was thoroughly disappointed. This is the book that I was hoping for. A fictionalised version of the author's life in Oxfordshire in the late nineteenth century with all the colour and detail that was missing in that Opie book. A delight.

Image of the book cover

Psychopathology of Everyday Life
by Sigmund Freud
"Through a series of case histories, some no longer than a few lines long, Freud explores how it is that normal people make slips of speech, writing, reading and remembering in their everyday life, and reveals what it is that they betray about the existence of a sub-text or subliminal motive to our conscious actions."
The seminal work, translated from the original German in the days when it was assumed the reader would understand French so didn't bother to translate those paragraphs. It does make sense that sometimes words are transposed in speech or writing, and in my case it's usually because my mind has skipped ahead to whatever's next and incorporates a word or part of word too early, or because my typing fingers run away with themselves and type something they prefer instead of the word I want. Freud seems unwilling to accept that there is any such thing as a random mistake; it is all explicable as long as you apply the psychoanalysis. Not that he's perfect; he catalogues instances where his treatment fails, but I find it all so smug, and I don't think it would stand up for a moment against modern science's evidence-based requirements.

Image of the book cover

The Murder on the Links
by Agatha Christie

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"Poirot has been frantically summoned to France by Monsieur Paul Renauld. Unfortunately, upon arrival, Hastings and Poirot are informed they have arrived too late and Renauld is dead."
My main complaint about classic detective novels is when they are serialised for radio and I simply can't keep up with all the different characters and how they are related to one another and to the murdered individual(s). So I was pleased to be able to follow this one all the way through, possibly because it was a straight narration of the book rather than a radio play. Even if the narrator's French/Belgian accents are hopeless and his English accent is almost as bad.

Image of the book cover

Hons and Rebels
by Jessica Mitford
"The Mitford family is one of the century's most enigmatic, made notorious by Nancy's novels, Diana's marriage to Sir Oswald Mosley, Unity's infatuation with Hitler, Debo's marriage to a duke and Jessica's passionate commitment to communism."
I don't know what makes this family's stories so riveting. It started with reading Nancy's novels, and I've got a biography of all the family waiting to be read, but Sister D was giving books away and this was one of them. Jessica (Decca) Mitford is the one who eloped with her cousin to the Spanish Civil War, then went to America. When they were briefly living in London she writes that she didn't realise that electricity and gas had to be paid for; she thought it came with the house. The book relates her life mainly in the 1930's, and is frighteningly reminiscent of the times we are living through now, in as much as there's a right wing government which doesn't seem to care much about the populace in the lead up to a world war.

Image of the book cover

Plague: Black Death and Pestilence in Europe
by William Naphy & Andrew Spicer
"The Black Death first hit Europe in 1347, ripping through towns, villages, and families. Subsequent attacks of the disease, coming almost every decade, so limited the population that it was not until the 18th century that it managed to surpass the levels of the 1340s. In the end, this mysterious disease that had terrorized, terrified, and killed millions, disappeared as inexplicably as it had appeared."
Another of dad's books, and very readable but ultimately unmemorable. I thought I'd be more interested than I was - it turns out, surprisingly, that I'm just not particularly interested in plague.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Out of control

Pink frilly orchids
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens, April 2019
Everything is briefly but totally out of control. My email Inbox, which I try to keep below about 40 items maximum, is at 73 and counting. I haven't sat at my desk for nearly a week, and when I have it's been to try and set up the new laptop with everything I need in the configuration that I need it. And now that I have most of a day to address the situation I have developed toothache that has kept me awake most of the night, and, separately, a possible lost filling (it's hard to tell, it's at the back and I can't see it very well, or even know what I'm looking for).

Those are my current home-based woes, then. In addition, at work I rashly volunteered to deliver a development session to the department of my fellow Dietitians all about technologies for Type 1 diabetes, and because I was going to base it on the talk I gave recently to the students I didn't think it would take that long to write. And it hasn't taken that long, but what I didn't consider is that my reduction in hours has left me with almost no time outside clinics, and three weeks time is actually only a few hours of available working hours. So I've had to do a bit of that at home too.

[The payment for the session I delivered in November has still not come through, although at last I have completed the relevant forms, and not been required to attend for an interview to determine whether I am legally able to work in the UK. Then they queried the forms because I hadn't completed the 'emergency contact' section for a session that has already been delivered. I should be paid by the end of this month.]

And now I've started writing this blog I realise that it is actually much more important to address the accumulation in my Inbox - I've already phoned the dentist for an emergency appointment, and the new laptop is doing all the email and browsing nicely. Transferring the pictures has been problematic and I haven't started on any of the other files or programmes yet, although I have dipped a toe in Microsoft's free cloud-based Office Suite and OpenDrive in order to try and do the presentation for work. It all takes so much time.

I should have a bit more free time on Saturday when I'm not at the dentist or cleaning the toilet or making vegan brownies because some Buddhists are coming over for a team meeting. I still haven't finished the presentation for the Dietitians and I'm supposed to be delivering it on Tuesday, and Sunday is reserved for another Buddhist event where the brownies will be finished. There's been lots of Buddhism this week - on Monday evening I went to the first meeting of my Study Group, which is displacing my Monday badminton for the next three months.

And it's now Saturday and the dentist has given me some antibiotics and booked me in for the filling in a month and the toilet is cleaned and the Buddhists loved the brownies and I'm about to get stuck in and finish the presentation for the Dietitians and deal with some more of the email and then a bit of ironing and housework. But first, I'll just publish this.

So, a little bit out of control. But in a very good way.

Yellow and pink orchid close up

Sunday, 12 January 2020

New year, new laptop

Intersecting palm fronds against the sky
Paraty, Brazil, April 2019
At last I have been able to expend the small amount of brain power that it takes to buy a new laptop for myself. It really came about as dad has become more active and started emailing again, using mum's identity. Apart from being confusing for the recipient it was a welcome development, and I managed to set up a different login for dad but they are still competing for the same PC. It occurred to me that dad could use my old laptop, even though it's a bit slow for multi-tasking and the operating system is no longer supported.

The new laptop is working well so far, although I haven't transferred everything across yet, and I am encountering the usual transition issues with the location of the Ctrl, Delete, End, Home and cursor keys. Finding and setting up software for picture and video editing, Skype, iTunes (or equivalent), TeamViewer for remote control, transferring from my camera and the choice of word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package is going to take place quite slowly mainly because it is excruciatingly boring. I tried copying 14,073 pictures to a memory stick, but it didn't go well, so I'm transferring them a bit at a time.

The most distressing item in the 'Other News' section is that the Pub Next Door has closed, seemingly without notice to staff or suppliers. I met one of the suppliers outside the gates, and that's where I got my information from, as well as one article in the local paper about a couple who were going to have their wedding reception there. It's owned by a brewery so probably only a matter of time before a replacement landlord is found and installed, but very disconcerting to have a dark, silent building on the corner rather than the buzz of conversation, and a shame for the family who've had to give it up after about 10 years, not to mention the staff out of work. And I want to have access to the outside garden at some point, so I'll have to find out who's in charge.

On a cheerier note I had a day in Birmingham courtesy of my clarinet losing a spring before the concert in December. Luckily it was the least used key on the instrument so sticking it down with a blue plaster saved the day, but it meant a full service for the first time in its lifetime - about 40 years. I made the most of the day by giving blood, browsing bookshops, having lunch at my favourite Cafe Soya and going to see a film. I haven't tried playing the clarinet again yet, but I'm looking forward to a transformed  instrument.

It's possible I won't be playing it with the group next term though, because of all the holidays and activities I have planned, at least two of which coincide with next term's rehearsals. Some of my holidays are with the Buddhists and some with Lola II and Mr M, but there are two ski trips as well. There aren't many free weekends left in the first half of the year. It looks as though 2020 may be even better for me than 2019.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

End of year musings

Female Buddha figure
Adhisthana, July 2019
I've been spending a good deal more time with the Buddhists over the past year. My idea of finding a group of people with the same values and outlook as myself has paid dividends, because as well as finding the people I was looking for, I've found that my ability to deal with the world, friends, colleagues and family has noticeably improved. It may be a coincidence and would have happened anyway with my change in personal circumstances and solitary living, but I prefer to believe that it's the Buddhists, and a combination of the people and the meditation.

I meditate at the Tuesday meetings, but also at home most days too. I can't put my finger on how or why it helps, and I'm pretty sure it's too incremental to notice day by day, but looking back at when I started nearly four years ago, it's different. I'm different. It's better. I know for certain that I can deal more satisfactorily with difficulties in the workplace and elsewhere, I seem to be emotionally stronger, and I have already made friends that I know I can rely on for wise counsel as well as friendship. Within the Triratna Buddhist movement I have found an environment where I feel safe to be myself and where it is possible to talk about things that really matter which are almost impossible to address satisfactorily elsewhere.

So at the end of this year, which has been such a disappointment politically, but in which my personal life has improved beyond all my expectations, I look forward to leading a even better and more fulfilled life in the year to come.

Autumn creeper climbing a tombstone
Brompton cemetery, London, September 2019

Sunday, 22 December 2019

The blog is back

Striped orchids
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens, April 2019
It's nearly Christmas, and as Lola II announced when I arrived for my latest visit, "There's something wrong with the blog - I think it's broken!" It's true, but I haven't had much time to sit down and mend it until now.

Life has mostly been good, apart from the difficult patch at work, which has now been fixed enough to be getting on with. It's been difficult since my change in hours, but even before then it has been quite disappointing to work in a place where my personal qualities are not only unappreciated, but pretty much unwelcome. I don't have a great deal of respect for my colleagues either, and it probably shows. Enough about work.

Since I last wrote I am still chasing payment for the teaching session I delivered, and which I was promised would be sorted out before the event. I have also hosted house guests for a weekend, been to Munich for a weekend, performed at our end of year concert, hosted a film night for the Buddhists, played three badminton matches, organised a badminton tournament, and attended the best gig I can remember (Banco de Gaia) at my new favourite local venue, Temperance cafe. You will notice that I do not mention sending Christmas cards, which I have entirely failed to do this year. For the couple of people who read the blog and would normally expect a card from me: please assume the normal greetings, and maybe next year?

Then I came to London to go to a recording of one of my favourite podcasts, The West Wing Weekly, together with Lola II and Mr M. The West Wing was an American series depicting life in the US government, ran for seven seasons in the early 2000's and was one of the most wonderful things on TV ever. I'm not the only one to think so, because a couple of years ago there was enough enthusiasm for the series to generate a weekly podcast (The West Wing Weekly) where in each podcast the hosts reviewed and analysed one episode, inviting guests who were actors, directors, producers, writers and others who were involved at the time. The podcast is reaching the end of its run, and one of the last recordings took place in London on Wednesday. The venue was packed to capacity, and we had a great time.

While in London I also met up with old school and university friends, went to an exhibition at the British Library about Buddhism and another with Lola II at the National Gallery about Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Virgin on the Rocks', and attended the Christmas Gulloebl Film Festival showing of The Muppet Christmas Carol. London is so busy and so crowded; I like it less every time I visit, while still appreciating all the wonders it has to offer and the amazing diversity of its resident and visiting population. At the same time I have never been so unimpressed by our nation's choice of leader, and the future that faces us all with such immense national and global challenges ahead.

And on that note I will sign off for the holidays. Here's hoping for better times ahead!

Yellow orchids

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

According to Queeney
by Beryl Bainbridge
"In 1764, the great Samuel Johnson, irascible genius, unparallelled wit and the toast of all society, is plagued by ill health and has become jaded with his bickering dependents. Suffering from a bout of melancholy, he accepts an invitation to the table of Henry Thrale, a wealthy Southwark brewer, and his vivacious wife Hester."
Not bad, but suffers from the writer's 'cleverness' in introducing nobody at the start so you have to work out for yourself who everyone is and what their relationships are. In some books I can imagine this is a intriguing and interesting conundrum, but I didn't enjoy it here. And most of the characters are unpleasant, which always curtails my reading pleasure.

Image of the book cover

by Felix Salten

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"Friend Hare is brutally slaughtered as gunshots reverberate throughout the meadow and pools of blood stain the daisies. Death is everywhere - even in the trees. One of the saddest moments occurs when two lone oak leaves ponder the afterlife before tumbling to their demise from bare branches."
The above was written by a reader on the website Goodreads (which is what I use to track my reading, and also supplies the link to my current reading in my blog sidebar on the right), and it is spot on. The Disney film is what most of us know about the story of Bambi, but the book is excellent, and doesn't shy away from the more bloody aspects of life and death in the woods. In contrast to the focus on gore, Bambi reaches full maturity with no more explicit intimacy than seemingly platonic love for his cousin. But I think there's a sequel...

Image of the book cover

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
by Anita Loos

narrated by Patrice O'Neill
"Lorelei Lee and her friend Dorothy barrel across Europe, meeting everyone from the Prince of Wales to 'Doctor Froyd' - and then back home again to marry a Main Line millionaire and become a movie star."
A cracking little book which never references its title at all, nor does it provide the famous line about diamonds being a girl's best friend, but still manages to convey every nuance that those two quotations contain. A difficult book to narrate: I think I missed out on some of the spelling mistakes that couldn't be conveyed in the audio format. Short, sweet, and all ends happily.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Lecturer Lola

Distant view of Christ the Redeemer above flowerbeds
Rio de Janeiro, April 2019
My ex-colleague who was the last-but-one Diabetes Dietitian Team Leader now works for a University offering a Masters postgraduate course in Diabetes-related stuff (I think it probably has a better name than that). She asked me if I would deliver part of one of their modules, all about insulin pump therapy. My bit would obviously be about diet and pumps, and it sounded interesting and within my capabilities, so I said yes.

She had already told me that the previous person who delivered this bit of the module was far too technical and the students were completely baffled, and when she sent the materials from that session I had to agree. Part of it was the same as the course I attended a few years ago that resulted in one of my most technical blog posts ever, and I wasn't even sure I understood it all. Another part of it was the same as another course I attended which produced another fiendishly complicated blog post.  To offer that to a group who are just getting to grips with the basics of pump therapy was pretty inappropriate.

So I started from scratch and created three hours of material at a basic level to cover three areas: what happens to your blood glucose when you eat and drink, how best to use the features of an insulin pump to deal with that, and what the pump can do for you when you exercise. It has taken up pretty much all of my free time in the last two weeks, but I was pleased with what I came up with, which included interaction and activities that I hoped would keep everyone awake and interested.

While I was doing that there was the distraction of having to go to work for two days each week, which also entailed supervising two different dietetic students on their final placements for their degree course. I had a pretty poor experience in two out of three of my placements, which makes me a terrible supervisor because there's no way I would put anyone through that. But I had to do extra hours and I had less time to do my own work. And there was quite a serious incident with a colleague that has led to me having to refer a complaint up to the Dietetic Manager (seeing as we don't have a replacement Diabetes Dietitian Team Leader since the last one left). So work isn't my favourite place at the moment.

As well as Monday and Thursday badminton and the regular Tuesday Buddhism and a film accompanied by live music on Wednesday (in a Leamington venue called Temperance that is rapidly becoming a favourite) and a trip to see mum and dad, I went away for another weekend retreat where I met lots of lovely Buddhists who restored my faith in humanity. One of the people leading the retreat was the man who played a part in setting up many of the small local groups, including ours in Leamington (known for historical reasons as the Warwick group). He was happy to spend some time with me so I could pick his brains for ideas about nourishing and sustaining our group, attracting more members and generating both enthusiasm and funding. I have come back with ideas spilling out everywhere and nowhere to put them. My pleas for a Warwick group team meeting have so far come to nothing.

So yesterday I finally delivered the material I'd created to a group of nine students, including three from the Middle and Far East and two podiatrists as well as local doctors and nurses. I actually thought it was the most successful teaching session I've ever done. The activities I planned went really well, several times people asked questions which were answered in the very next section, and the timing was perfect. Unfortunately, back when I was asked to do it I was told that this was the last time the module would be delivered as they are updating and changing the course, but when the new course is ready maybe there will be something similar, and maybe they will think of me.

Distant view of Christ the Redeemer from the Botanical Gardens
Rio de Janeiro, April 2019

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Water and mud

Mr M and Lola II with a cute dog
November 2019
Last week we endured lashing rain, which caused flooding in more unfortunate parts of the country. Here it only caused my Thursday badminton to be cancelled because the roads around the school were impassable. But on Wednesday it started to rain inside the kitchen again.

This has happened before. The dripping came from around the roof light, so when I phoned Ulf the builder the first time he sent Doors and Windows Ulf round, who couldn't find anything obvious but added some sealant. It happened a second time, and even though Doors and Windows Ulf came round again, he declared it wasn't his problem and it stopped raining so the dripping had stopped. At that time I hadn't worked out how to connect my hosepipe to the outside tap (don't ask) so I just left it. One can only worry about a certain number of things at a time.

This rainstorm was different. The dripping came from the edge of the roof light again, but this time the flow was faster and it was clear from staining on the ceiling that the roof light wasn't the problem. I contacted Ulf and he sent Son of Ulf and his mate to see what was going on. They arrived looking as though they had been swimming - they had been working outside - and finally agreed that the problem must be their responsibility. Those poor boys spent another hour on the roof. I offered them refuge inside and a hot drink, but they refused despite their teeth actually chattering as they spoke. They have added some more sealant - I must get up there and have a look some time - and I must also get back in touch to see where we go from here. Wait for another rainstorm, or play a hose on it and see what happens? (I have very recently worked out how to connect my hosepipe to the outside tap - still don't ask.)

Random Run Forest Runner
In other (slightly) weather-related news, I went along with Lola II and Mr M to support Run Forest Run, the 10k run + obstacle course event that is staged by our friends in Surrey. Highlights included the family friend (with the lovely photogenic dog pictured above) who I would like to adopt as my son (the friend not the dog - although I wouldn't rule out the option of the dog not the friend), Lola II being given a flashing yellow light to put on the top of her car (her life is now complete), and the returning runners who told me (as I supervised the kitchen activities producing hot drinks, cake and bacon butties) that it was the most fun event they had ever participated in.

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