Tuesday, 28 July 2015

I am on holiday again

Crenellated walls and clock tower
Rugby School Old Quad
I sometimes wonder whether I can keep up with this blog. And then I remember that I've kept it going for 8 years, and I don't think I'll ever stop. I seem to have an almost irresistible urge to write about any mundane or irrelevant aspect of my life, and about 40 people are still reading. Shame on you, 40 people. There are more constructive ways of spending your life than reading this inconsequential stuff. But I suppose it only takes a few minutes to read each entry, and unlike when I was a student five years ago, when I thought it was entirely reasonable to produce a post every other day, nowadays I only manage one post a week if you're lucky. I am devoted to a few other people's blogs that appear far less frequently, so maybe this vanity publishing project will stagger on way beyond its natural lifespan. 40 people, I salute you for your tenacity.

Last week was pretty full on at work - I was supervising a student who wanted to do a little bit more active interaction with patients. There was nothing for her on Monday, but I picked out two patients on Tuesday that I thought would be OK. Unfortunately they were both interesting, unpredictable and challenging, and although she gave it her best shot, they proved a bit much for her. One of them was a bit much for me too. On Wednesday I had to do the ante-natal clinic, which luckily was fairly quiet. When I was advising one of the patients that she shouldn't be drinking too much milk, she told me she'd had advice from one of the doctors that she should actually drink lots of milk. One of my colleagues thinks this might be due to general iodine deficiency in the population, rather than the need for calcium.

But now I am on holiday, again! It's partly so I don't have to go to work on my birthday, and partly because I miscalculated the amount of annual leave I am entitled to, so I was a little extravagant in booking another week off so soon after the last epic holiday. Now I think I only have a week left (not counting the week already booked for New Year), so I have to choose between a) going skiing in 2016 but no days off between now and Christmas or b) a week before Christmas but no days off between New Year and the end of March. A difficult choice.

Anyway, I am in Yorkshire - Harrogate to be precise, on another Solitary Holiday. After Tunbridge Wells for two years in a row I am continuing the theme of Spa towns, and have taken an absolutely lovely apartment where I will spend time reading, writing, watching films and, with luck, sewing myself a dress. I may even go for a stroll around the town, if it ever stops raining. The forecast says that Thursday will probably be the least rainy day, which will be nice because that is my birthday.

Monday, 20 July 2015

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arther Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"We are drawn into 19th-century London - hansom cabs, train rides, and foggy nights - where Sherlock Holmes astutely solves the most complex and perplexing cases of the day."
Nothing new to say about this - more stories, great narration, and it is at this point that Conan Doyle tires of his great creation and tries to kill him off at the hands of arch-villain Moriarty. It's surprising that an author would want to put an end to a money-spinner; these days if any sort of weak sequel to a blockbuster can be squeezed out it will not only end up as a trilogy of books, but the film version will split the last book into two separate movies to attract more cash into the coffers.

Image of the book cover

The Boys from Brazil
by Ira Levin
"Alive and hiding in South America, the fiendish Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele gathers a group of former colleagues for a horrifying project - the creation of the Fourth Reich."
I've seen the film so it's difficult to review the book dispassionately, but it's good. Ira Levin has written quite a few books that I've seen in their movie version, but based on this example I'd be happy to read the books. Usually it's the other way round - I've read a book, and if it's good then I'm extremely cagey about seeing the film. Even though I knew what was going on before it was revealed in the book, there was enough suspense (but not too much) and the characters are nicely defined.

Image of the book cover

Joy in the Morning
by P. G. Wodehouse

narrated by Jonathan Cecil
"Trapped in rural Steeple Bumpleigh, a man less stalwart than Bertie Wooster would probably give way at the knees. For in his efforts to oil the wheels of commerce, promote the course of true love and avoid the consequences of a vendetta, he becomes the prey of all and sundry. In fact, only Jeeves can save him."
The usual story full of misunderstandings, unwanted engagements, ludicrous plot twists but the requisite happy ending. Good old Wodehouse.

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Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey
"‘Elizabeth is missing.’ Maud keeps finding notes in her pockets with this message scrawled on it, but she can’t remember writing it. That said, she can’t remember much these days: the time of day, whether she’s eaten lunch, if her daughter’s come to visit, how much toast she’s eaten."
This was very disconcerting to read. It is written from the perspective of a woman with worsening dementia, and really gives a sense of memory loss and the difficulty that arises not just for the individual concerned but also the family, friends, acquaintances and almost everyone else that we come into contact with in daily life. Recommended.

Image of the book cover

H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
"When the author's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk, but in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own."
I was hoping for much with this award-winning bestseller: perhaps I hoped for too much. It was a lovely book, it's true, but somehow didn't live up to the hype. It did remind me about T. H. White's book The Goshawk, which I read when I was much younger and I have just found on my shelves, my copy dated 1990 - 25 years ago! I wanted to be a falconer then, and I still would like to, although I doubt that I will make that particular commitment any time soon. I haven't even joined the falconry centre this year, although I do hope to sign up again next year when perhaps I will have a bit more time. I'm always wishing for more time.

Image of the book cover

The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth von Arnim

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"A notice in The Times addressed to 'Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine' advertises a 'small medieval Italian Castle to be let for the month of April'. Four very different women take up the offer: Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, both fleeing unappreciative husbands; beautiful Lady Caroline, sick of being 'grabbed' by lovesick men; and the imperious, ageing Mrs Fisher."
I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It is so evocative of the best of Italy - the spring weather, the flowers, the scenery, and the type of solitary holiday that made me want to join them there and get away from the stresses and annoyances of ordinary life. I had no expectations of this book, having never heard of the title or the author, so maybe this is why it made such an impression. I loved it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

I need to calm down

Tortoiseshell butterfly on pink flower
Peckover House, August 2014
Here is a list of things that I wanted to blog about but which happened too long ago for me to even remember what was involved or what I did:
  • Getting final accreditation as a DESMOND educator despite not meeting the assessment criteria for the session on physical activity
  • Having tennis elbow and trying to do things to fix it, including not playing badminton for a month and operating the computer mouse with the other hand
  • Going to a study day about 'Diabesity' (combination of Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity) and being impressed by just one of the speakers
  • Attending a two-day course all about insulin pumps, including the opportunity to wear one for about 18 hours (I even took pictures)
  • Camping for one night, then going to a lovely party, then staying for one night in a room in the college where I lived when I was doing university degree #1 in 1983-6
  • Writing a letter of complaint to the college about a) breakfast b) parking and c) payment methods listed on the invoice
  • Getting a plumber in who took all of 20 minutes to fix the problem at Lola Towers (so not that serious a problem really)
  • Meeting some of the Research, Development and Innovation Team at work and getting a bit enthusiastic about projects that I really haven't got time for any more (see below).
As you might have deduced from the last blog post, things have become a bit overwhelming at work and at home. The work situation is exacerbated because of three factors: 1) one of our Dietitians has moved away and it is proving difficult to recruit a replacement, 2) a new service that has been planned for what seems like an eternity has suddenly popped into existence and needs a Dietitian to cover a new clinic, and 3) we have an unusually high number of candidates for our Type 1 structured education so we've had to schedule extra courses. And it's the season for Dietetic students to spend a week in Diabetes, which just adds to the pressure and workload.

My workload fits into half-day chunks, and previously I had on average about three half days during the week for admin, thinking time, planning, projects and generally catching up with stuff. At the moment I'm lucky if I get one half day on Friday afternoon, which is not the best time for doing anything that requires concentration or stamina. Most of my bright ideas will require time and effort to make them happen, so they've all been shelved in favour of the stuff that has to be done to keep the service going, and I'm only just keeping up with that.

I have pretty terrible teeth (bear with me, this is relevant) but I have so far managed to stop any of them falling out through fairly frequent visits to the hygienist. I had one such trip yesterday, and the hygienist commented that she could tell I was under stress because of the state of my gums. She has supplied me with all sorts of desperate measures to try and prevent further deterioration, but the prospect seems bleak. I don't actually know what the next stage would be in terms of treatment, but I'm guessing that extra appointments, cost and discomfort is involved. 

Like I said last time, there are people whose problems make mine seem utterly trivial - on the whole my health is good, I have a good job and an income and a home and really have nothing to complain about. What I really need to do is relax, do what I can do, and stop worrying. And go to bed earlier.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Seize the moment to blog

Huge climbing white rose
Garden rose, June 2015
It's no use trying to compose careful prose and produce a well-crafted blog post about some aspect of my work or leisure that has made me think of something clever or interesting. There's no time. I have a mountain of paperwork, a backlog from my holiday - I knew there was a reason that I only go away for a week at a time. Then I was away for another two days on a course (that I want to write about) and then my week was stupidly busy and I was away for another weekend. So I'll just bang out some words about anything that occurs to me and have done with it.

We have a problem with our plumbing at Lola Towers. Mr A told me last week that the hot water had stopped running, but then it started again. We put it down to polystyrene balls - a very long time ago, one set of incompetent plumbers allowed polystyrene balls to get into the water system. On reflection, we haven't had any trouble for quite a while, so when the hot water failed again when I got back from my weekend away, I sought the advice of a friend who had that very weekend suffered something similar. Following his advice we ventured up into the loft, where the header tank for the hot water turned out to be empty. That was Sunday night, and I wasn't about to call for an emergency plumber seeing as the cold water was running fine and it was an intermittent fault - by Monday morning the tank had filled again.

I am an organised person, and I have many lists that remind me of things that need to be done. I find it impossible, however, to manage to simultaneously do the things on the list that I find difficult; I can just about manage them one at a time - partly because of the difficulty, but also because I have very little time to myself at work due to multiple patients and full clinics and delivering training off-site, and because there is no mobile phone signal in my office. To make a mobile phone call I have to leave the building and stand outside the door, and then it's difficult to write things down, and I can't refer to my online diary because the computer's inside, and if there's no answer I can't leave my number for them to call back because there's no signal when I go back into my office...

So I try to achieve one difficult task a day, and there are many tasks waiting. On Monday it was a call to a solicitor, and today I managed to call the plumber. (There is also the problem of when to arrange for him to visit, as Mr A and I are both working full time at the moment). Tomorrow I need to call the accommodation we have booked for New Year, on Thursday I need to send a letter of mild complaint to the accommodation I stayed in on Saturday night (Lola II is helping to draft it), and you would not believe how dirty the shower is. And there's that huge pile of paperwork that needs sorting out or else my car will not have a parking permit in August, among other slightly less urgent issues.

Then on Thursday there's the second week of our current carb counting course, so I have to cook some carbs for them to count. That means baking a potato and cooking measured amounts of pasta and rice on Wednesday evening to take to work on Thursday. This is a) to demonstrate the change in weight of raw vs cooked food (rice and pasta increase in weight, baked potato decreases in weight but carbs are unchanged for both) and b) to encourage the participants to weigh/measure these hard-to-estimate starchy carbohydrate foods, so that they will know for example how many carbs are in a standard tray of takeaway rice.

And of course I want to keep up the running, and my elbow is pretty much better so I'd like to go back to badminton, and there's the clarinet choir which is staging a concert in a couple of weeks. And I need to buy a new car, and new trainers, and waste paper baskets, and a bedside lamp, and put the charcoal picture that I drew at Mr M's birthday event into a frame, and re-pot and rejuvenate my house plants, and now the 15-foot rose bush and the enormous wisteria need pruning. I've used weedkiller on the patio weeds, but they need to be cleared, and all the rubbish littering the garden taken to the dump. My email inbox is bulging with messages that aren't important enough to be dealt with straight away but not unimportant enough to be deleted, and I am well behind on reading my blog subscriptions.

At work I have a similar number of issues. I was determined with this change of career that I would try and avoid the frustration of being unable to change the world by keeping my head down and letting the world sort itself out. It turns out that I can't seem to do that. Before I went away to America, I wrote a very apologetic note to my manager, detailing three pages of projects that I have taken on but are being thwarted by various barriers: procedural, technical and human.

I want to have a Internet-enabled data projector in our education room. I want to create a website to support our very low carb lifestyle group. I want to be able to show web content to our patients that is blocked by the Trust, including social media and videos. I want to support a new 'transition' clinic for young people moving from the paediatric to the adult diabetes service. I want to be able to offer patients the option of very low calorie 'diabetes reversal' diets that include meal replacement products. All of these need someone else to do something or agree to something, but instead of getting these things that I want, I have been asked to cover an extra clinic in the community on a Tuesday afternoon, and - the horror! - three half-days of ante-natal clinic over the summer (one of my colleagues has left and there is a gap before her replacement starts). And I have stupidly followed up a very good idea from one of my colleagues which needs me to do even more organising and coordinating.

I appreciate that these are problems that some people would be happy to have in place of the real and serious problems that they are having to deal with, but we all would like an easy life, wouldn't we?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Boston and Chicago

Foreground flowers, background skyscrapers
Chicago skyline
I have three simultaneous blog posts brewing at the moment, not including the usual collection of books I've been reading, and I need to knuckle down. As ever, there's a lot going on that I don't or can't write about, which means I often choose to do nothing at all in the times when there is nothing I must do. Writing and blogging has to take its turn among all the other pressures. But I always seem to come back to it eventually.

The hiatus was caused in part by a big trip to America - the furthest distance and longest duration that I can remember. I can usually manage a week away; this one was just over ten days.

Golden domed building on the Common
Massachusetts State House
First half: Boston, where I stayed with my favourite cousin and his wife (E+L) and three teenage children, all of whom appear to lead a life without a minute's pause except for sleeping, and without direct observation I'm not sure there was much of that. They get home from work and drive up to three children plus friends to many different places, feed and walk the dog, select any number of different dinner options, argue, settle arguments, find lost possessions, buy new ones, plan for the following day/week/month, pack bags for up to three different camp/summer holidays, and even socialise.

Path and flowerbeds on a sunny day
Boston Greenway
Without children my life is comparatively sedate, with the provisos I have mentioned at the start of this post. I get home from work, have something to eat, then read or blog or listen to the radio or podcasts, and very occasionally half-heartedly clean or tidy something. I haven't even been to badminton for a while because I'm trying to fix my tennis elbow. I have been running, but I try to do that in the morning if I can. I could probably fit a lot more in if I had to, but luckily I don't have to.

It's easy to walk around Boston despite my terrible sense of direction, and I wandered about quite aimlessly for much of the time, just enjoying the vibe of a foreign city, On various days I followed the Harborwalk, ate in the North End (alone and with E+L) and at Quincy Market, visited the Museum of Science and the Museum of Natural History (which is in Cambridge on the Harvard University campus), and joined a tour of the Massachusetts State House.

A sculpture of a boat with the harbor and skyscrapers in the background
Boston Harbor
The Museum of Science was no better than OK, and this impression is reinforced by the fact that five days later I couldn't remember a thing that I saw without looking at the website. The best bit was called 'The Photography of Modernist Cuisine' which had interesting pictures of food that were highly magnified or cutaway sections e.g. of food in a pressure cooker or blender. Another interesting bit was all about mathematics, and there were live demonstrations of lightning and a snapping turtle. The Imax film about humpback whales was OK, but the Clam Chowder in a bread bowl and the Boston Cream Pie from Quincy Market were better, and more memorable.

The Museum of Natural History in Cambridge features perfect scientific models of plants and their components made entirely out of glass. They were amazing, and the exhibition was only enhanced by a hugely enthusiastic staff member who provided short talks to the crowds of visiting schoolchildren, and when he wasn't talking to schoolchildren he wandered about murmuring "Glass, it's all made of glass." There was much more to the museum than glass flowers and plants, and their stuffed animals in and out of glass cases were presented very attractively.

On my last day in Boston I headed for the Massachusetts State House. As I approached, it appeared to have a whole lot of police and uniformed troopers around, and then I heard someone's voice thanking us all for attending, and some clapping from the crowd. I'd arrived exactly as a ceremony ended.

It turns out that in late 2014 water works in the building led to the unexpected discovery of a time capsule hidden in the cornerstone. It had been buried in 1795 by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and its contents cleaned and re-buried in 1855, but since then it had evidently been forgotten. It was opened and found to contain newspapers, coins, a state seal, a page of the record from when the state was a colony and an engraved silver plate. The contents were temporarily put on display in Boston, and the ceremony I had stumbled on (and missed) was to re-bury the box. As the crowds dispersed I did manage to go inside and see the Boston House of Representatives and the Senate as well as hearing a bit about the history of the colony pre- and post-revolution.

I volunteered to do the cooking on my last night, but when L came home she invited me to go out to a film festival, at which point I abandoned the cooking (it was very nearly done) and went out to watch 15 short films and an awards ceremony. L had actually been part of a team that created and submitted a film, but they didn't win anything. She showed me her film, and I thought it was at least as good as any of the winners.

Mirror polished bean-shaped sculpture
Shell Gate sculpture, Millennium Park, Chicago
Second half: Chicago. This was my first experience of Airbnb, where ordinary people offer their houses as accommodation for travellers. It worked really well for me - much cheaper and less formal than a hotel or guesthouse, with the option of using a real kitchen. I chose a place that was a little way out of town, but it wasn't a problem.

As in Boston, my leisure preferences in Chicago included wandering about aimlessly, visiting museums, and food. There also happened to be a four-day festival celebrating all things Puerto Rican in the neighbourhood near to where I was staying, including a parade. I'm not sure what I expected, but after the various floats the parade ended with motorcycles and cars parading past for what seemed like an eternity, revving their engines and spinning their wheels and generally being noisy and unpleasant.

The best museum of the trip was in Chicago - the Field Museum of Natural History, where they have stuffed animals, dinosaurs, and more stuffed animals as well as whole collections that I didn't see, and I spent the whole day there: from 5 minutes after the doors opened to the announcement that everyone should please leave. The explanations and interactive exhibits were well thought out, and there didn't seem to be any school groups, which was a relief. I also confirmed the identities of two animals I'd spotted earlier in the trip - a chipmunk (like a squirrel but smaller with light stripes down its body), and an American Robin (different shape and darker back but with an orange breast).

The worst museum of the trip was also in Chicago - the Museum of Science and Industry, which was very disconnected and too interactive. To get any decent information you had to hang about and watch the videos. The highlights were a hall of mirrors in the form of a maze, and the hatchery where I watched a chick hatch from an egg. Not the highlights I was anticipating from a museum of science and industry. I didn't find the physiology exhibit until it was too late, but I don't think I would have liked it any better than the rest of the collection. It seemed to be designed for people with a very short attention span - I suppose they know their audience.

On my last day I chose local activities - lunch followed by a movie. Not your usual tourist fare, but it's what I like. Throughout the trip the weather was extremely varied, with days of cold rain, as well as humid and overcast but dry, and hot and sunny. As I left for the airport, it was hot, and raining.

Man on motorcycle
In the Puerto Rican parade
I liked Boston more, but that was partly because of my lovely cousin and his family, and partly because the weather, while not perfect, was more comfortable than Chicago. Now it's back to work, and the holiday feeling has already faded away...

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Three notable things last week

Garden border
Back garden, May 2015
Two people I know featured in the news last week. The first was Emma Percy, who hit the headlines by asserting that the Church should feel free to refer to God as a woman. We were at secondary school together, and I met her again a few years ago when she led the memorial service for another schoolfriend's mother.

The second media appearance was by a regular visitor to this blog, known as CERNoise. As the name suggests, she works at CERN and has contributed a guest post to this blog in the past. The Large Hadron Collider was fired up again this week, and is now ready to operate at higher energies than ever before. CERNoise appeared on the BBC Today programme this week (segment starting at 2 hours 24 minutes). Her explanation of the slightly strained nature of her contribution was that it was incredibly noisy in the control room and she could hardly hear herself speak.

The third notable thing was to do with my running. [It occurred to me this week that we used to call it 'jogging' - when did we make that change?] I have an app on my phone that monitors my location, speed and elevation. It is very complimentary about my performance, and tries to find anything to congratulate me for - as well as fastest and furthest in many distance categories it has also commended me on the most outings I have made in a month, number of calories burned, meters climbed and so on.

Anyway, this app - called RunKeeper - also contains a few different training programmes. As I'm planning to Run Forest Run in November, I thought I'd try the plan that offers to help you achieve 10k in under 65 minutes. It is a set of 61 'workouts' over about 4 months at a rate of 4 runs a week. As there isn't a chance that I'll be going out 4 times a week, I have started it already as it will probably take me more like 6 months to get through that many runs.

It starts with shorter, slower runs, but mixes things in an interesting way, giving a bit of variety. The longest run scheduled so far coincided with this week's Parkrun - the regular Saturday morning run that is held every week for all comers. But RunKeeper wanted me to run 8 km, while Parkrun is only 5 km. My solution was to run 3 km from home to the start of the Parkrun - I usually go by bicycle.

8 km is definitely the longest run I have ever done, and it went surprisingly well given that I misjudged the timing/distance a bit and ran for 8.4 km. I was only 40 seconds slower than my best ever Parkrun time!

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to marshal for Parkrun instead of running, and it was quite entertaining. I went for a lonesome run afterwards, and this is when I realised that after a year, I have actually come to enjoy running - probably because I can do it without constantly feeling like my lungs will burst any minute. So, it takes a year. Definitely worth it.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
"On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home."
This started well - it has been a while since I read a book that felt so much like a novel, set in an unfamiliar place and time with proper characterisation. In fact until I found the summary above I hadn't realised it was in the 17th century; it felt more like the 19th (but that's a small point). Anyway, on the whole it was a good read, my only criticism being that the mystery of the cabinet and the miniaturist was never resolved to my satisfaction; other readers may find the lack of resolution perfectly fine.

Image of the book cover

Paradise Postponed
by John Mortimer

narrated by Paul Shelley
"When Simeon Simcox, a socialist clergyman, leaves his entire fortune not to his family but to the ruthless, social-climbing Tory MP Leslie Titmuss, the Rector's two sons react in very different ways."
I wasn't sure I liked this book when I was half way through, mostly because of the way that he writes the character of the aspiring, calculating and cynical Leslie Titmuss. A perfect politician, Leslie is quite open about how he manipulates the family of the chair of the local Conservative association - for example, he marries their daughter by the ruse of pretending that she is pregnant. The Rector's family is equally well described but slightly more attractive, and the mystery of the will was just enough to keep my interest alive in the face of the unattractive characters portrayed.

Image of the book cover

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"A colonel receives five seeds in the mail, and dies within weeks. A young bride disappears immediately after her wedding. An old hat and a Christmas goose are the only clues to a stolen jewel. These mysteries - and many more - are brought to the house on Baker Street where detective Sherlock Holmes resides."
A nice set of short stories, some well-remembered (the speckled band, the copper beeches) and others I'd forgotten. Have I mentioned that the narrator is rather good? I've listened to only 18 hours of the massive 58-hour set of books; plenty left to enjoy!

Image of the book cover

The Return of the Soldier
by Rebecca West

narrated by Nadia May
"Captain Chris Baldry, a World War I soldier, is sent home with a severe case of shellshock amnesia. Recoiling from the horrors of war and disillusioned with years of superficial married life, his mind has regressed 15 years into the past."
This is a short book, but beautifully and poetically written, The soldier in question has returned from war with shell shock in the form of amnesia, and remembers nothing of the past 15 years in which he lost the love of his life, married a different woman, and had a son who died. His wife is appalled at his wish to be reunited with the woman he had loved before her, not least because she is dowdy and ugly. But it isn't the story that drew me in, it's the gorgeous quality of the writing; words to conjure sunlight, shade, beauty, love and war.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Happy 82nd birthday

Table loaded with birthday feast

We'd been planning for ages, covering all eventualities and managing food, drink, venue, helpers, invitations, music and slide show. At last the day came, dad in his finery (suit) and ready for all comers.

The weather was beautiful, which was lucky because it really helped to use the garden as well as the house. Sister D brought wine and all the food from the caterer, we had a helper who offered drinks round and did lots of washing up, Lola II brought chairs, laptop, and created the slides for the presentation, I brought soft drinks and we all brought glasses, cutlery, dishes and tablecloths. Tablecloths were a good idea - we ended up having to disguise the ironing board because we didn't have enough tables.

This was dad's 82nd birthday party, which took place on Sunday. I came down to London ahead of the event and spent Friday night and Saturday with Lola II and Mr M - as usual, the food was among the highlights of the trip. My first meal with them was some of the best ramen I have ever had, Lola II took me to her new fitness club where we did an 'Aquafit' session in the pool then jacuzzi and sauna. After a coffee we went to Richmond on the bus (note to self - never go to Richmond on the bus at midday on Saturday because it will take an hour instead of 20 minutes) and ate at an open air Bavarian restaurant facing the river - luckily the weather was perfect. Two excellent meals - and then the party.

All the guests arrived, lunch was delicious, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves, dad gave an illustrated talk mostly about his early life, we all had tea and went home. There was enough food left over for us all to take away lunches for the rest of the week. I think it went better than any of us had hoped.

Happy birthday dad!

The birthday boy

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Royal Mail apologises

This arrived on Thursday:

Torn envelope and letter headed 'Our Sincere Apologies'
Click on the images to enlarge them

The envelope was inside the plastic bag, and its flap was torn as shown in the picture. It was postmarked June 2014, and was a lovely thank-you card from Hugh (thank you, Hugh!) with an appliqué flower. There was also another letter:

It must have felt a bit like something was enclosed with the card because of the flower. You read about this sort of thing, but it's interesting to see the actual evidence of the crime.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Weekend in Rugby

So I went to Rugby for a weekend to mooch about and get to know the town. I had a surprisingly good time - I wasn't expecting to enjoy myself quite as much as I did. I put some of the enjoyment down to the fact that I planned in advance more than usual, checking out places of interest, food emporia and even booked a ticket to the theatre. The weather was cold but mostly sunny, and even when it wasn't sunny it didn't rain much.

Pub interior
The Merchant's Inn
On Friday night I started with some basic orientation and wandered about the town centre for a bit. There were a few places I was looking for, and I ended up eating chilli with a half pint of Doom Bar in The Bank. I wasn't intending to do much more, but on the way back I passed The Merchants Inn, which is renowned for its beer, and it was early so I went in for a cheeky one. They have a vast range of beers, including more than one type of mild! So I had a half of Moorhen Mild, which was very tasty. That's a very fine pub indeed.

I went into a supermarket that a patient had mentioned - it is amazing. It stocks all manner of Eastern European food, mainly from Poland but also from Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, and seemingly no UK brands at all unless they are sourced from these countries (so for example I think I saw a Polish version of a Kitkat). There was half a wall of different sausages in the self-service chilled cabinets down one side, and then another half a wall of more sausages on the other side ready to get sliced for you. There were many, many unfamiliar products and several that I couldn't identify at all.

Best of all, for the first time since our trip to Lincolnshire, I found the frozen curd cheese desserts we first tasted there. Lola II and Mr M have been into every Polish shop and supermarket in London and failed to find any; we have now found our source. What's more, I found the same desserts in a second, similar shop in town, and I reckon if I'd bothered to go into any others they'd have been there too.

Colourful fish-type creature
On Saturday I'd planned to go to the Visitor Centre, Art Gallery and Museum, which are all in the same building along with the town library. The Art Gallery wasn't bad, and along with its pictures it had quite an entertaining selection of papier mâché creatures. The Museum was just one room with stuff in cases as per any local museum, representing local industry. In Rugby this comprises engineering (various light and heavy engineering firms - Frank Whittle designed his first jet engine around here), telecommunications (including GEC), the railways, the cement works, and the game of Rugby including the manufacture of rugby balls.

Silver trophy in case
As might be expected, the game of Rugby features heavily in the tourist attractions of the town, including the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum and in the tour of Rugby School. The museum caters for the enthusiast, and I've never been particularly interested in the game, so the couple of rooms of memorabilia held little interest. I watched the film of how a rugby ball is constructed by hand - or perhaps how it used to be constructed by hand, it's probably all done by machine nowadays.

Chapel interior with pews and stained glass window
The guided tour of the school was much more interesting. Rugby School was founded much earlier than I realised (in 1567) in order to provide a free education for local boys in what was then not much more than a hamlet. It moved to its present site in 1750, which at the time was on the edge of the growing town, but is now very central as the town has expanded. The architecture is beautiful, much of its decorative brickwork designed by William Butterfield, but adorned with ivy and wisteria in a very attractive manner. I went on a tour of the main school site, although there are many other buildings belonging to the school scattered about the town. We went into the chapel, an (empty) assembly room with 19th century graffiti on the walls, a couple of courtyards, and one of the older classrooms which was a peculiar mixture of ancient books in bookcases, a blackboard, a jury-rigged data projector, a whiteboard, modern tables and a stained glass window featuring 18th and 19th century headmasters.

Statue of Webb Ellis carrying rugby ball
Obviously there is much emphasis on that cheating footballer William Webb Ellis who is supposed to have picked up the ball and run with it in 1823. In fact, he is probably unrelated to the development of the game, the attribution being made by another pupil long after both had left the school. Anyway, other notable alumni include Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown's Schooldays), Rupert Brooke, Neville Chamberlain, Lewis Carroll and Salman Rushdie. I'm thinking of reading Tom Brown's Schooldays again, although the tour guide's opinion is that the first part of the book is pretty uninteresting.

The weather was cold enough that I was now looking for a warming lunch. I'd had a cooked breakfast in a generic cafe, but a late lunch was planned at a well-regarded vegetarian restaurant called Summersault. I had a big bowl of cauliflower and fennel soup with a delicious bread roll that had a seam of real olives inside it.

I'd done a whole lot of walking around by now, so nipped back to the hotel to change before going to the theatre to see 'The Diary of Anne Frank'. I thought I'd have a nap, but realised I'd better set an alarm, which woke me in good time to get ready. The trouble was that I didn't get up straight away, so woke with a start 20 minutes before the performance was due to start. I got there just in time, and the performance was very good, especially of the young actor playing Anne, but I knew the story wasn't going to end well. If I'd delayed my visit by a week or two I could have had a less depressing experience with 'Hairspray'.

Sculpture of horn player in the park
Sunday started with an impressive vegetarian breakfast at Bacco Lounge. What I'd planned for the day was to follow the 'Path of Fame', a walking tour through the town featuring a whole lot of brass plaques set in the pavement to celebrate rugby players over the years. In the Visitor Centre they updated me with the news that all the plaques had been removed, but I could have a booklet with the route in it if I wanted. In fact this was fine, because I wasn't particularly interested in the sportsmen but the booklet had interesting information about the town. It pointed out features of buildings and I saw a few nice sculptures and public art and a couple of little parks.

I tried to do a bit of shopping over the weekend, but my poor shopping skills meant I managed only food and socks. Back at the Eastern European supermarket I treated myself to a stock of curd cheese ice creams as well as a pack of ready-made pierogi, sausage, smoked cheese and pickled herrings. I tried shopping for household goods but made little progress. So it was time to come home.

The weekend was pretty good, and certainly more fun than I had expected. I put it down to planning ahead, while acknowledging also that it was very fortunate that most of the time it didn't rain.