Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Six weeks

Six weeks! and I can't remember what life was like before. There is dust everywhere - I make a token effort at cleaning at weekends, but dust-covered normality is restored almost immediately. There are lots of pictures this week, however.

First, the ceiling panels go up, followed by the walls including their extra insulation. The wall nearest the pub is far from straight - none of the walls is straight - but Ulf insists that it must be made straight otherwise the worktops won't look right. Running the best straight line means that the doorway into the rest of the house has to be moved slightly, which is fine because I have decided to replace that door with a new one. Ulf brings me a big thick catalogue for choosing doors and door handles, and I'm getting quite good at choosing things now. Practice makes perfect.

Week 1

Week 4

Week 6

Later in week 6
On Wednesday I came home in the dark (actually, most days now I came home in the dark) and the back door and French doors and windows had been installed! I had to wait until morning to get a proper look, what with there being no light in there. The partition wall acquires its plasterboard surface, and the plastering starts, in the utility room first of all.

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6
The last thing to happen is that the perimeters of the room have been cleaned up to allow for the final cement filling before the floor is levelled. When I got home on Friday, in the dark, the skip was gone! I went round to the kitchen to see what progress has been made, and found that there were two fan heaters plugged in and running. I texted Ulf to find out whether they need to run all night, and he replied that it's OK to turn them off. That text message has saved quite a few quid on my electricity bill.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Not the LTRP

White flowers against a background of greenery and branches
Krakow Botanic Gardents, July 2016
All this building activity reminds me of university time when I was learning new things every week, but the desire to blog about the building work all takes up an awful lot of time. I used to have plenty when I was a student, but nowadays not so much.

In case you hadn't noticed, I let the tenth anniversary of my blogging pass without note in the summer. I held no expectation that I'd keep going this long, although I knew that writing is something I enjoy and hoped that blogging would satisfy that urge. There's lots of room for more writing once I 'have more time' (retirement?) including some fiction, perhaps. Or there are the notes of my year of volunteering in Israel, which I planned to turn into a book thirty years ago but never got round to. And I've got a plastic bag of stuff from primary and secondary school days that is begging to be examined - I bet some of it would be blogworthy.

Anyway, the two weeks without days off and the LTRP and extra nights of badminton matches and music group and a trip to see mum and dad have worn me out, with a bonus night of disturbed sleep about a particular patient that I can't even write about, but he/she made me so troubled and disturbed and ANGRY that I couldn't sleep. I didn't even go to badminton on Monday of the second week. Delivering my courses I was getting confused about what I'd delivered to which group.

There's still quite a lot of high level activity around diabetes education following the awarding of a large pot of money to the commissioners who are trying to work out how to spend it. In examining this problem they have realised that they don't know what they are already paying for. Naturally enough they asked someone in the hospital finance or business department how their existing funding is spent, and this person addressed the issue by completely ignoring it until one of the doctors realised what was going on and called a meeting. Thankfully I didn't have to go, but my colleague reported that it went quite well and may have given us a further brief reprieve.

There is another meeting about diabetes education that I will have to attend; they have set up all sorts of 'Task and Finish' groups to try and work out how to spend this money, and have appointed a project manager, so it is possible that all the grant will be spent in finding out how bad the situation is, and no money will be left to do anything about it. In the meantime there are rumours about what will happen when NHS Commissioning is dissolved again, this time in favour of GP Alliances. Fear not, I will let you know exactly how this goes, if it ever happens.

Patient education for Type 2 diabetes has all but ceased with the departure of my Dietitian Team Leader colleague and another member of that dysfunctional team. Courses were cancelled such that there has been only one course delivered between last August and January next year, and it was delivered by me and the ex-Team Leader to only four participants. There are various conspiracy theories about why this should be - when I offered to deliver more I was told that there wasn't really a waiting list. Meanwhile the commissioners are looking at the thousands of people being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes who are eligible to attend the course and may well wonder why only four people have received any education in six months.

Then out of the blue came the bombshell that one of the people who hasn't delivered a course for about a year has won an award as Educator of the Year, which makes me laugh but everyone else is furious. Hard on the heels of this news is the further update that another member of that team is leaving, although there is a rumour that a new Dietitian Team Leader has been appointed. Nothing confirmed has reached me, though.

I attended a very useful talk about Eating Disorders and Diabetes delivered by the psychiatrist who leads the service for this area. It was an evening meeting in a posh hotel with dinner, and the audience was a mix of doctors, nurses and dietitians but I was the only Diabetes Specialist Dietitian and there were no dietitians or nurses from the main hospital or from the community diabetes service. The other dietitians were from the weight management service, and they told me that a) their psychologist screens patients who have been referred onto the pathway to bariatric surgery but does not treat any eating disorders that are uncovered, and b) while this Eating Disorders service exists for people with diabetes, there is a much lower level of service for people who don't have diabetes. At least they have access to a psychologist - we don't in the adult diabetes service.

I learned about the three main types of eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, and these are even more prevalent in the population of people with diabetes. Damaging behaviours include purging, laxative abuse and excessive exercise, but with diabetes comes the additional option of insulin restriction, combined with the increased need to focus attention on food and blood glucose that is not necessary for people who don't have diabetes. The existence of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) which is one effect of insulin restriction also hugely increases the risk of mortality in the diabetic population with an eating disorder.

The service consists of a psychiatrist, a nurse and a dietitian. I'm quite keen to see more of what they do, so will try to set up a visit. Maybe they will come and talk to the diabetes dietitians once we have some again.

Enough of work. The music group is still a lot of fun, but I really need to do some saxophone practice. And having managed by borrowing in previous years I feel obliged to get myself a Christmas jumper for the concert, not least because the church is freezing. Sounds like a hardship, but it's the sort of clothing I'd enjoy wearing at any time of year so not a problem.

The trip to dad and mum, while tiring, was a delight because dad is so much better. The stent that drains excess fluid from his brain was opened to its fullest extent at the last appointment, which could have had adverse side effects but in fact has restored him to nearly his previous state of health. He's still deaf and wobbly on his feet but at least he's talking and showing an interest in what's going on around him. He even asked me how the building work was going. I told him that in future if he's naughty we now have an on/off switch.

Otherwise there's a distinct lack of reading going on except audio books and podcasts in the car.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Week the fifth

Lots of building action this week, although most of it isn't very photogenic. Taking pictures of pipes and cables running along walls and ceilings doesn't result in anything I want to share here. There was quite a lot of rain this week as well, which slowed down progress above the roof but there was much activity below.

The boards on the sides of the roof are in place, and they have constructed the skeleton of the internal wall dividing the kitchen from the proposed utility room. The corner of  the wall due to receive the boiler was prepared and Plumber Ulf made a start. They took down a bit of the living room ceiling so that pipes and cables could run from the boiler to the heating controller and tank upstairs, and the dust from this operation has reached every nook and cranny of the whole house. Ulf told me that they had done the best they could to seal off the area with plastic sheeting. It didn't entirely work, but I imagine it could have been a lot worse. I emailed a marked up plan of exactly where I want all of the electric sockets and light fittings.

No day off for me again, but I did manage to get home in time to talk to Plumber Ulf about options, including choice of radiators - another occasion where I narrowly averted the choice being made for me. He also told me about a steel pipe that runs outside the house between the meter point in the pavement outside and my stopcock inside - if anything should happen to this pipe the water would have to be turned off at the meter point. Today was also the day for the boiler move, and while Plumber Ulf managed to restore the water supply I didn't have any heating that night. The outside tap was plumbed in, but not in a position I would have chosen had I been asked. Ulf made a good case for where it was, but still.

Heating restored, the boiler is resplendent in its new situation. There are lots of pipes and cables passing above the boarded up door into the house, allowing winter wind to whistle through into the living room bringing a seasoning of dirt with it. Ylf the Kitchen came to measure up at this point to make sure everything would fit. What with the near miss on the radiator, I emailed Ulf the list of things that are pending, and this is where the discussion about stairs continued in earnest. Ulf gave me a price, which was pretty steep, and offered to bring round samples of wood. I made the point that for that price I'd want to see more than samples of wood, and sent him a link to the sort of stairs I wanted, to which Ulf the Stairs simply replied "Sorry Ulf but I don't keep any photos. The stairs will look exactly the same as the link the lady has sent."

Concerned about the stairs quote, I got in touch with the manufacturer of the stairs whose picture I sent as an example of what I wanted, in order to clarify the cost involved. Although the French doors and windows and the outside back door have already been ordered, Ulf sent me a picture that doesn't look too bad, and I managed to intercept the order for internal doors and agreed a price for the radiator I want. I'm also home in time to catch Electrician Ulf and talk about the location of sockets, light switches, pendant lights and also the style of sockets I want. Ulf has left me a catalogue to allow me to choose doors and door handles. Today the rubberised roof membrane was stuck down, and they got to work on the lead flashing between the roof and the adjacent wall. I went to sleep for two hours before the evening's badminton match (we lost).

Spot the difference...
Where's the boiler?
I'm up early because I didn't manage to photograph the site before it got dark yesterday, and Ulf arrives early too, so we have the chance to work things out with the stairs. Ulf has personally guaranteed the quality and appearance, so I'm going with his contractor. He's agreed to help me out with some removals - if I clear the upstairs and downstairs desks, then he and the Henchmen will take my downstairs desk upstairs and get rid of the other one. The building inspector is booked to visit to sign off the roof construction, and by the end of the day the mount for the roof light is in place, the last bit of internal wall is gone, and the plumbing and electrics appear to be ready for boarding up and plastering.

Although it is all going extremely well I'm really getting tired of the whole project now, especially because of the two weeks with no days off, too much badminton, and a busy weekend in the middle. On the other hand, biscuit consumption has been restored thanks to visits from Electrician Ulf and Plumber Ulf.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The fourth week

Temporary kitchen
This week and next I have so badly mismanaged my work schedule that I have to work all five days. This is because of a) the unexpected and extraordinary demand for our course for people with Type 1 diabetes, b) the lack of trained staff to deliver our course for people with Type 2 diabetes, and c) not knowing ahead of time exactly when the building work would happen. So on Tuesday I started delivering a Type 1 course that lasts 4 weeks, on Wednesday I started delivering a Type 2 course that lasts 2 weeks, and on Thursday I continued delivering a Type 1 course that started 2 weeks ago. Monday was a long clinic day and on Friday as well as my usual clinic I had to deliver some more training to Healthcare Assistants and Student Nurses who work on the hospital wards. I also agreed to play in two badminton matches (won one, lost one) as well as usual club night on Monday. What doesn't kill you makes you very, very tired.

Meanwhile on the building site yet again I avert disaster by the skin of my teeth as Ulf continues to nearly make various decisions without sufficient consultation.

Chimney breast, no roof
Some chimney breast, roof joists
No chimney breast, roof on
On Monday more walls came down, ceiling joists appeared and the remaining kitchen radiator was removed. Aware that I wouldn't be around, I emailed Ulf with questions about stairs, damp repairs, doors and windows, radiators, the boiler, the kitchen fitter, electrics and plumbing. We arranged to meet early on Tuesday before work.

I set the alarm for early but was woken late on Tuesday by the skip lorry, because I had forgotten that my alarm doesn't ring on Tuesdays. I managed to get ready in time and had a long chat over the skip with Ulf (and took breakfast to work). Apparently both Skypod Doors and Windows Ulf and Plumber Ulf visited on Monday to measure up, and in his inimitable style Ulf made sweeping assumptions about fittings and installations. So far I have been very lucky in intervening at just the right moment, but it is most disconcerting.

The perpendicular joists appeared on Tuesday so I can now see where the roof light will go in, then the gaps between joists were filled with insulating material, and finally the roof was topped with marine ply. The rubberised membrane was laid on top to keep the wood dry but will be stuck down properly next week. The mount for the skypod was constructed, although Ulf now says it is a roof lantern again. Stages of roof construction in week 4:

Ilf dropped by on Thursday to have a look at progress and seemed to think it looked pretty good. The only other incident of note was unfortunate: some boards had been propped against the side of the skip, and on Saturday morning one of the boards was caught by a gust of wind and broke the tail light of one of my neighbours' cars.

I replaced the slightly soggy biscuits with fresh ones on Friday (bourbons, Maryland choc chip, custard creams) but they weren't touched. What is going on?.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Before and after

By popular request, here's a quick review of the current kitchen works.


The street is at the top of the plan with the front door, hallway, shower and downstairs toilet on the right, my old office with the sofabed at the top left, living room in the middle with the French doors on the left opening into the garden and the fireplace at the bottom and stairs rising on the right. None of that is changing except the stairs will be replaced. The old kitchen is at the bottom with the door on the left into the garden. It also used to contain the dining table, and cupboards and worktops are not shown along the 'bottom' wall. The radiator was under the high level window on the right.


The kitchen is being extended 'downwards', i.e. towards the back wall of the garden. New French doors will open from a seating area on the left where the sink and the kitchen door were, and a new kitchen door will open into a small utility room at the bottom left which will hold the washing machine, a sink and a tall cupboard. The roof light is shown in the middle and towards the 'top' of the kitchen. The main working area of the kitchen will be along the right-hand wall where the radiator was and also opposite for half the length of the wall, along the side wall of the utility room. The boiler isn't shown on the 'before' plan, but it is going to be moved from the bottom wall to the side wall, probably during the coming week. There's also going to be a worktop/seating area right in the middle.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Week three

The garden strewn with panels, joints, cement mixer, insulation and rubbish

Summary of third week: walls go up, roof comes off. That's about it.

Bricklaying Ulf continued to build the exterior walls, and there was some careful discussion of how the new wall facing the garden needs to be vertical and square otherwise the doors and windows won't fit or close properly, but the old wall which abuts it is quite significantly not vertical. The final decision was to make it match exactly at the top so it would be more straightforward to put the roof on, but it would have to be bodged somehow at ground level.

Son of Ulf was allowed to build the interior wall, which is made of breeze blocks rather than lovely bricks. Blocks of insulating material are slotted in the cavity for the new walls away from the garden, and the garden wall has almost no cavity but will have insulating material on the inside. There was another round of consideration when it came to the lintels above the new doors and windows, but when I got home on Thursday these were in place. I hate missing the exciting bits. Nothing much happened building-wise on Tuesday, although I did go for a nice walk with a friend and discovered a new tearoom in Leamington which I must visit again. It is most important to keep abreast of the lunch opportunities in town.

Congratulating myself on organising sufficient underwear for nearly three weeks without a washing machine, I visited the launderette this week, having prepared by finding out what coins were required and building up a stock of change. Considering that home washing machines can take several hours to do a wash I was prepared for a long wait, but these commercial machines were finished in less than half an hour. I don't really approve of tumble dryers but I made a special exception for the current circumstances, which was a good investment as there really was quite a lot of washing and I don't have the space for drying it all round the house. I had thought about taking laundry round to friends or colleagues or even to mum and dad, but it only took an hour altogether and I can easily last for another three weeks now. In six weeks time I should have a working washing machine again. If all goes well, anyway.

On Friday they took the remainder of the roof off, leaving the boiler covered with some strong plastic sheeting held down with bricks. I was away all weekend but the boiler still works, so that's nice.

The Maryland choc chip cookies were very well-received, and I may have to dispose of the remaining digestives and Hobnobs as they are going a bit soggy. Biscuit consumption plummeted last week and I don't know why, because bourbons are still available.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The second week

Rubble, bricks, cement mixer, skip on the road outside the house

Summary of week 2: the foundations are completed, a new wall rises and old walls disappear. A stair disaster is averted, my pipes and the site are inspected, then it rains a lot.

I was sorry not to be around on Monday because there were further developments around the expensive pipe. Someone came round to put a camera down it, and I would have been most interested to see how that was done. Anyway, the verdict is that the pipe is intact, it serves only my property so that means Severn Trent don't have to be involved and it will cost slightly less money. They have added an extra rodding point, so that's nice.

The door between the kitchen and the rest of the house is now blocked off, with access to the building site now through the French doors in the living room or the garden gate. Son of Ulf started to demolish some walls, and although many bricks were damaged they have retrieved some that survived intact, including some that are stamped 'Leamington Brick Co'. These are being re-used in the new walls. Two pallets of new bricks were delivered, and a small cement mixer appeared. I have covered my living room with dustsheets.

Brick stamped with 'Leamington Brick Co'

Bricklaying Ulf arrived and started to build new walls once Son of Ulf had been sent to fetch the right bricks (the wrong ones were delivered). Bricklaying Ulf is not a talker, but we exchange a few comments and he is happy to share bricklaying tips and shows me how the new wall is attached to the old. He prefers strong tea, one sugar. A small cement mixer appears, and the other Son of Ulf seems to be in charge of supplying Bricklaying Ulf with mortar.

Then they started taking the old roof off, but only took half away leaving shelter for the lonely boiler still in its old place, and also for Team Ulf when the heavens opened all of Thursday. The floor in the extension bit has been filled and a damp-proof membrane laid, and apparently it has also been inspected. It's a pity I'm not around for these visits, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ulf would prefer customers and inspectors not to meet, especially customers who ask a lot of questions like I do. 

But then it was extremely lucky that I did start to ask questions about the stairs, which are also due to be replaced. Ulf the Stairs came to measure up on another day when I wasn't around, and then I had to discuss newel posts and handrails with Ulf and it suddenly became apparent that the stairs were to be made out of MDF, which is most definitely not what I want. A good thing that this came to light before the stairs had actually been made. They take pains to give me choices of irrelevant things like the colour of the skypod which can't be seen by anyone, but then make huge assumptions about stair materials. And it turns out that I can't choose the skypod colour anyway because the building inspection specified aluminium, which I did point out at the time.

Four family-sized packs of bourbons have now been devoured (one pack went in a single day), the digestives hardly touched, and the Hobnobs seem to be grudgingly acceptable. I will be supplementing the bourbons with Maryland choc chop cookies next week.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Buddhism for a beginner

Two pink waterlilies among floating green leaves
Krakow Botanic Gardens, July 2016
Since my local group was offering another series of introductory sessions for people new to meditation, I started going to Birmingham Buddhist Centre for a six-week course entitled 'Going Deeper', all about the Noble Eightfold Path (don't ask). This is aimed at those who are fairly new to meditation and Buddhism who might just have finished the introductory course. I've been meditating for a bit longer than this, but I don't consider myself to be an expert by any means, and the group in Leamington is too small to offer this type of course. The Birmingham Centre has a much greater attendance - there are three different groups running on a Tuesday alone.

To start the evening we do some meditation, and because there are quite a lot of new people there's a lot of spoken guidance which distracts me. And someone in the room breathes so loudly and deeply that I am sure they have fallen asleep. Then there's a tea break, and then there's the talking and instructional bit.

I do not enjoy it very much. The problem lies somewhere on the continuum between my desire for very concrete and practical ideas, the two leaders' teaching skills, and the course being designed and written by someone else entirely. Much of their guidance just makes no sense to me. Here's an example I've made up: "Open your emotional state to connect with something deeper." I know what all the individual words mean, and I think get the gist of what is meant, but I have no idea how to carry out the instruction. I'm prepared to believe that some people in the room do know what to do with this stuff, but a part of me just thinks it's the Emperor's New Clothes and nobody has a clue what they are talking about.

Up to now I've found Buddhist principles to be eminently sensible and applicable to improving the quality of my life, as well as being likely to make other people and the planet feel a bit better too. So I want to know a bit more than just the two main sorts of meditation, and at the moment it feels like smoke, a cloud, a shadow - there's probably something there but I can't grasp it. And words like 'transcendence', 'self-enlightenment', 'conditioned existence' don't help in the least, and nor does the fact that the words for the concepts being described come from Eastern languages with no direct English translation.

My difficulty is somewhat exemplified by the two main types of meditation. One is called 'Mindfulness of Breathing', and I understand how to do it because it's all about doing - focussing and maintaining attention on the breath, in and out. That makes sense. The other doesn't even have an English name, it's called 'Metta Bhavana' and translates into something like 'the development of lovingkindness'. Instead of focussing on something physical like breathing it's aim is to foster a feeling, or an attitude, and I simply can't work out how that's done. Either I feel, or I don't. I'm probably not consciously aware of all the attitudes I hold. How does one create a feeling or an attitude by sitting and thinking about it?

I wasn't sure what to do with this frustration about the Birmingham course. My experienced Buddhist friend gave me a few tips, and I carried on to week 4 in case it became clear, and because despite the distracting spoken guidance and noisy breathing I still like meditating. But week 4 was about, well, I'm not sure what it was about, but we looked at some pictures and talked about archetypes, and the sun and moon as opposites, and what a halo represents, and how sitting on the ground makes you grounded, and I couldn't take it any more.

So I went back to the Leamington group and it felt like coming home. I felt welcome, and included, and best of all I understood the gist of the discussion, which was about four aspects of mindfulness (self, others, things, reality) and it seemed to make sense. I will probably try again with the Birmingham option but will take more care with my choice of group next time.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

It has started

Ulf and his henchmen

The big day has arrived: Ulf and his henchmen are labouring in the garden, taking drinks with two sugars and devouring many, many biscuits. I am very pleased that I thought of buying the biscuits. I am also going to have to buy a bag of sugar.

It started at 7.30 with a phone call - they were already outside and were wondering why I wasn't answering the door. They'd been using the knocker rather than the bell so I hadn't heard them, but at least I'd paid attention to the casual message "See you at 7.30-8.00" and was up and dressed. On my day off. At 7.30 a.m.

By 10 a.m. I was shattered. Not that I'd done much except make tea, but the early start on a Tuesday after badminton on Monday night was harder than I had anticipated. I'd worked hard to clear the kitchen but they started outside, pulling up the brick paving in preparation for digging foundations. The henchmen are doing most of the work, and I have decided to name them both Sons of Ulf - one of them is actually Ulf's son and the other might as well be because I can't tell the difference. They were introduced to me at the same time and I will probably never work out which name belongs to which, but they seem cheerful enough. There was a small cheer when I mentioned the biscuits.

I met another man who supplies the roof lantern and the external doors and windows. It turns out that it will be a 'sky pod' rather than a roof lantern (Google if you want to know the difference) which will be handy if I ever want to do any space travel. Although a sky pod is actually much less exciting than it sounds. I was even offered a choice of colours, but making any more choices may tip me over the edge into insanity. So it will be white.

Lorry delivering skip guided by Sons of Ulf

The skip has been a bit of a problem. Normally by mid-morning the road is pretty clear of parked cars as everyone goes to work. Not this morning - all the closest parking spaces are filled with cars. Where to put the skip? We decided to put it in front of my garage for the time being. The full skip was due to be replaced by an empty one the next day, so I talked to my neighbours about leaving a free space.

Ulf and Sons of Ulf left at around 4 p.m. and I went to bed and slept for an hour before going off to this new Buddhist class. Of which more later.

Day 2 (there won't be this level of commentary throughout the project) and I have realised that it is foolish to consider £25 too much to pay for an extra parking pass when the whole project is costing tens of thousands. However, when I ring the authorities it isn't so simple. Each resident can only have one £25 visitor pass. Further parking dispensations are available per day, per week and per month, but permits are associated with particular vehicles, so not transferable to the electrician or plumber or whoever. So I think we'll be stuck with having to shuffle vehicles around in the middle of the day to avoid charges.

Days 3 and 4 proceeded with me at work, punctuated by text messages in the evening clarifying various things like whether the fridge was broken when they moved it (it was actually just the bulb). Someone came to measure up for the stairs while I was out, as well as the foundations being dug, concrete poured, and foundation blocks being laid. Unfortunately a pipe was found which has turned out to be very expensive as it belongs to Severn Trent. This means that if in future it is found to be damaged the builder may be liable, so it has to be inspected during the build to certify that it is in perfect condition before and after. And this costs hundreds of pounds, due to me being in no position to decline their kind offer of inspection.

Lots of photos, then. These are the stages of the foundations so far (you can see the expensive pipe in the second and third pictures):

And the stages of the kitchen demolition:

There's an interesting lintel and bricked-up opening exposed in that last picture, which is behind what is now the fireplace in the living room. At one point this would have been the rear wall of the house which might then have been the pub, but I can't imagine what its purpose would have been.

So we're four days in and much progress has been made. Biscuit consumption: Bourbons: 90%, Hobnobs 10%, Digestives 0%. I have bought more Bourbons. Maybe I'll try them on custard creams next.

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