Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Local news

Deckchairs on snow with mountain view
La Plagne, March 2019
  • The living room, stairs and upstairs hall walls have been stripped of their paper, and a little of their plaster too, especially the ceiling. The signs of a previous door out to the garden from the living room have been revealed, which is only very slightly interesting.
  • Ulf has come to quote for the plaster skimming, and also to have a look at a couple of other issues with the kitchen build - a crack has appeared in the old brickwork adjacent to the new build, and there is a strange patch of what looks like moisture but isn't on an external wall or at ground level. A week later - not heard back from him yet.
  • With the wall all stripped down, I realised that it would be the perfect opportunity to adjust the lights, switches and sockets in the room, so I got back in touch with Bill the electrician. No response for a week, then I followed up by phone, and still nothing definite.
  • Olf lost the measurements he made a few weeks ago so had to come back again so he can quote for some outside work. A week later - still no quote.
  • I have been inoculated or boosted against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis A, typhoid and yellow fever. Not all at once. The yellow fever one was nasty - my arm still hurts nearly a week later and it cost £60, but I do get a nice certificate.
  • The bandstand in the pump room gardens is back, after a considerable time (more than a year) being renovated. It's been repainted in strange pastel colours.
  • My favourite shop in Leamington, Clarke's greengrocer, has now closed for good. There has been a longstanding pattern of my very favourite shops in town being closed - if this continues then Wofon will be next, or Kayal (but I go to Wofon much more than Kayal).
  • I registered a complaint with Santander bank, which contacted me about a potentially fraudulent transaction but didn't make it clear that it wasn't on my account but one for which I have power of attorney. This caused no end of hassle both to me and to the account holder with frozen accounts, declined payments, a bounced cheque and a very extended visit to a branch. The final outcome is positive with compensation for both of us. They said they would take notice of my suggestions for how the system could be improved - all they would have to do would be make clear that I had been contacted as the attorney rather than the main account holder. Seems simple, but everything I have ever heard about how banks manage powers of attorney suggests that nothing will change. At least I won't make that mistake again.
  • The molar that had been becoming increasingly troublesome forced me to the dentist in the face of the upcoming trip where dental issues would be highly inconvenient. After examination and X-ray the dentist came back wearing 'very sad face' (he's normally very jolly), to tell me that it was time for extraction. I told him to cheer up because at this point I couldn't be rid of it soon enough. He did a great job; it didn't hurt at the time or since, I completed my 3 days of regular salt water mouthwash (much worse than the extraction) and waited for it to heal a bit more so I could get stuck into all the chewy food I had given up on. I should have stocked up on trifle, but eggs, well-cooked pasta and soup sustained me very well. I ate a lovely crunchy apple yesterday!
  • Films watched recently:
    • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - a poor title for a great movie with Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and a very talented young actor, Thomas Horn.
    • Whitney - after I'd watched this recent documentary I found a slightly older documentary on BBC iPlayer (Can I Be Me?) so I watched that as well. Tragic story of the rise and fall of such a talented woman.
    • Three Identical Strangers - a fascinating documentary from Channel 4, some of it predictable I suppose, but each revelation on top of the previous one increased my outrage.
    • Miss Sloane - a film recommended by Landrover Man, and it was very good. So complicated that I'd probably have to watch it again to make sure I picked up on all the twists, but I find that the sign of a good film.
  • My printer is Not Very Well. It remains to be seen whether its condition is terminal, but I don't have the strength to tackle it just at the moment, and I'll have to use the work printer for critical things if necessary. However, Buddhists, badminton players, work colleagues, friends and family are all Alive as far as I'm aware.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Jolly holiday

Cloud below in the valley
Les Arcs 1800, March 2019
There has been a hiatus for the usual reason - I've been away. Skiing, as it happens, just once this year because my forward planning was slightly haphazard and also because of my other big upcoming trip, which I might have mentioned already but can't be bothered to check. If I haven't mentioned it you'll just have to wait.

Skiing was with a group of friends I hadn't been with before - they all knew each other while I knew just three from badminton club #2. The group has expanded and contracted - from what I can gather it started with a group of GPs, most of whom have now stopped coming, but grew with the addition of badminton players, relatives, neighbours, friends, and two people who happened to be staying in the same chalet one year and subsequently latched onto the group. This year we were thirteen, and took over a whole chalet in the resort of Les Arcs 1800.

The standard of skiing was variable, but we generally split into three groups - the fast group, the improvers and people who have got too old for the fast group, and the beginners. I started in the improvers group for the first day, where two of the three people I already knew were skiing. After that I joined the fast group and was by no means the slowest.

We were on a regime of half board at the chalet although the two chalet staff had two days off out of the six we stayed. They were not the best cooks, and the company policy seemed to call for an ambition for meals that they were really not capable of. They would have been better off producing vats of bolognaise or chilli rather than the gritty pea and spinach risotto or the dry fish in filo parcels. They did manage a splendid pea and bacon soup though, and their puddings weren't bad, although in the interest of weight management I declined the pudding most days, but not the cake that awaited us at four o'clock (on the days that the staff were there).

Joining the large group was rather overwhelming for me at first, but it improved once I got to know who was who, and I'd be happy to join them again next year. If they ask me.

Graham, me and Phil posing on the slopes


Tuesday, 26 February 2019

All of a sudden I'm in charge

Buddha in my hall next to the coats
February 2019
I first went along to the village hall where the Buddhists meet nearly three years ago. I had a couple of aims - I wanted to find out why my very good friend had immersed himself in this movement, but I also went because my close friends and family don't live very near to me, and I knew that I would soon be living alone, and I wanted to establish some meaningful social contact that didn't revolve around meeting in a pub and drinking, and I thought if I needed help for some reason the Buddhists would probably show up if I asked.

The people I have met through this group have matched my expectations, and I have achieved my aims. Throughout the time I've been in contact with the group I have stretched myself gradually, first with meditation, then dipping a toe into the experience of the Retreat - first a day, then a weekend - but always reminding myself why I'm there - to learn, to make friends, to be a friend, to talk about meaningful issues, to add value to my life. Not to take on responsibility or volunteer, just to turn up each week.

Then, of course, it happened. I had a conversation with one of the organisers that made it clear that they could do with help, and despite my resolution I stepped forward. And in a trice I was on the Committee, and proposing future activities, and agreeing to do things like manage the email list at some point in the future, and come up with the social stuff that I am particularly looking for. And this week, I found myself In Charge Of The Whole Shebang.

Our usual leader was away on holiday and a substitute had volunteered to stand in. He wasn't a complete stranger because he was the original leader who had been there for my first two years, but he hadn't led us for a while. He doesn't have a car so he would be coming by train, and it would be much more convenient if he could stay over after the meeting, so he would be staying with me (the first overnight occupant of the newly decorated and carpeted Auditorium). As we arrived at the hall after picking up the key and opening up (another first for me), the other organiser turned up to drop off all the stuff - tea bags, biscuits, the Buddha statue, the cash tin - but couldn't stay, as her partner was ill and she was needed back home. Not a problem, I said, I'm happy to take all the stuff home and bring it back next week.

So stand-in leader and I were on our own, but surely some of the regulars would be attending who know the ropes? Well, two turned up, but one of those was newer than me, and both of them bolted before for the tea break and discussion, so suddenly there I was with ten newbies as the Voice of Buddhist Experience in the group. Quite a responsibility, really, because my usual role in the discussions is to interrupt to say I don't understand and could you just repeat what you just said about the Impermanence of Everything and Achieving Enlightenment through the Eightfold Path? I had to actually pretend to know a few things, and I do know a few things, but nearly all the regulars know much more than me so it was all most peculiar.

And now the Buddha statue and the tea bags and the cash tin and the biscuits are in my hall waiting for next time, when I hope I can retreat back into the shadows with my familiar bafflement and comfortable incomprehension.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad

narrated by David Horovitch
"Mr Verloc, the secret agent, keeps a shop in London's Soho where he lives with his wife Winnie, her infirm mother, and her idiot brother, Stevie. When Verloc is reluctantly involved in an anarchist plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory things go disastrously wrong."
Another from my list of 'classics', this was very evocative of the period - horses, gas lamps and the like. And anarchists, whom I've never understood but seem to crop up so often in these stories. Atmospheric, as I've said, but rather dispiriting as the three main characters all die, and all the other people are rather unpleasant.


Image of the book cover

The Rotters' Club
by Jonathan Coe

narrated by Colin Buchanan
"Birmingham, England, 1973: industrial strikes, bad pop music, corrosive class warfare, adolescent angst, IRA bombings. Four friends: a class clown who stoops very low for a laugh; a confused artist enthralled by guitar rock; an earnest radical with socialist leanings; and a quiet dreamer obsessed with poetry, God, and the prettiest girl in school."
The book mainly follows four schoolboys and is set just a couple of years before I was their age, and I was in suburban London rather than urban Birmingham. And I definitely didn't follow the politics of the age and was blissfully unaware of any industrial action going on. My political awareness was born with the election of Mrs Thatcher, but didn't grow and mature very fast. This book was recommended by a male friend who I think related much more closely to the narrative than I did.


Image of the book cover

The Dark Forest
by Cixin Liu
"Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion - four centuries in the future. The aliens' human collaborators have been defeated but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth's defense plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret."
This is the second of a Chinese science fiction trilogy lent to me by a friend (the same one who recommended The Rotters' Club), and if it were not for that and the fact that I struggle to leave a book unfinished I would have stopped after the first book and definitely halfway through the second. It has really held up my reading progress - my 'waiting to be read' shelf is growing faster than ever. Then it suddenly became interesting for the last hundred pages, and now I'm not sure what to do about the third book, which is even longer than the first two. If only the author had combined all the interesting bits into just one book, it would have been a really good one.


Image of the book cover

The Third Policeman
by Flann O'Brien

narrated by Jim Norton
"Told by a narrator who has committed a botched robbery and brutal murder, the novel follows him and his adventures where he is introduced to 'Atomic Theory' and its relation to bicycles, the existence of eternity (which turns out to be just down the road), and de Selby's view that the earth is not round but 'sausage-shaped.'"
It cannot be denied that this is a very strange book. The narration was pitch perfect and the whole was enlivened no end by the Irish accent - I particularly enjoyed the pronunciation of 'bicycle', and there were plenty of instances of that word cropping up. I would never have read this had it not been for the list of 'classic books' I'm working through, and on the whole I'm glad I did. I still don't have a clue how to describe it, though. A man with one leg looking for a money box ends up condemned to death in a police station and is saved by a bicycle.


Image of the book cover

Eat Up! Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want
by Ruby Tandoh
"Filled with straight-talking, sympathetic advice on everything from mental health to recipe ideas and shopping tips, this is a book that clears away the fog, to help you fall back in love with food."
A foodie book about how we eat today that is refreshingly free from preaching or agendas, and even contains a few interesting recipes that I'll probably try. Easy to read too. The author was a contestant on the Great British Bake Off a few years back, has a girlfriend and a tendency towards disordered eating, and draws on all these experiences to make her points about food in the UK in this era. And I tend to agree with her, which is always a bonus.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Week off

Bean bag chair, television and new carpet
Auditorium, February 2019
I often joke that I work harder on my day off than I do at work. This has been the literal truth this week, when I have knuckled down to do jobs that have been waiting some time for my attention, and it occupied so much of the week that I only managed to see three films. Here are a selection of the 'highlights'.

LTRP

The carpet fitters were due on Monday, so on Sunday I moved all the furniture out that hadn't already been moved and took up the remaining remnants of carpet and underlay, cutting them up to make it easier to shift them. This was much harder work and took much longer than I was expecting.

Monday: carpet time! for the Auditorium and upstairs hall. The two fitters arrived as scheduled and the work went without a hitch, although as anticipated they had to take the door off because it needs shaving a little off the bottom to go over the carpet. We had a useful discussion about how to manage the join at the top of the stairs and access to the cellar trapdoor in the Auditorium, they cleaned up after themselves and I made some brownies for them.

I'd been wondering for a while how difficult it was to make vegan cake, so I got a brownie recipe off the Vegan Society website and had a go. I had to make several substitutions - golden caster sugar for brown sugar, black treacle for golden syrup and ground almonds for desiccated coconut, but it was dead easy, quick, and tasted fine.

The carpet fitters also helped me move the enormous TV back into the Auditorium - I could do the rest myself, except for the piano. The carpet looks and feels absolutely wonderful, but no time to admire it on Monday night - straight out to badminton.

Upstairs hall from the bathroom, before and after carpeting

No time to admire the carpet on Tuesday either because I'd got in touch with Olf the builder - he who took on the garage, the first job of the LTRP, so long ago. He came round first thing to talk about various outside jobs - paving, pointing, rendering, brickwork and the 'verandah' - the sloping roof attached to the garden side of the house, which has started to disintegrate. We spent an hour going round assessing what's needed and I'm now waiting for his estimate.

Badminton

Apart from the usual club night and a match, there was a badminton Chinese meal social event. I love a Chinese meal as a group because you simply can't have a decent selection of dishes when there's just one of you. The match: we lost, and it included a game that my partner and I agreed was the worst we'd ever played.

Shopping

I planned on doing a load of 'shopping in person' (as opposed to online) on Thursday, and I succeeded in buying a suitcase (my first!), ski socks, casters for the sofabad (now that it's standing on carpet), a protective cover for my tablet, and the binding of two carpet offcuts so they can be used as mats to cover the trapdoor to the cellar in the Auditorium. While I was out in town, as usual I found a reason to visit the greengrocer, only to discover that he was planning to close the shop in only a few weeks' time. This is indeed tragic news.

Friday was for online jobs. I made some progress towards buying a widget that will connect my hosepipe to the external tap, hoover bags and pull rings for the trapdoor. I still have to attack the holiday insurance and the energy supplier, but the biggest job of all that has been hanging over me since last July is my big trip to Brazil. If I'd known how much work it would entail I might have thought twice.

I've spent hours on this, and so has the travel agent, but it is now settled. I made a quick dash to the doctor's surgery to fill in the form about travel health and vaccinations which acquired a sense of urgency when I realised there are only seven weeks to go, along with a realisation that I have to put in my request for leave for work because they can get very shirty if lead times are less than six weeks, especially if patients' appointments have to be moved.

Buddhists

Tuesday was the usual meditation group. In my absence the introductory course had attracted twelve newcomers, of whom five returned this week - almost as many as the old timers. They benefited from the brownies that the carpet fitters left.

Earlier that day I had visited the school where I play badminton on Mondays to look at hiring one of their rooms for the Buddhist group, and here is where I admit that I have been co-opted onto the Committee, despite my resolution not to get too involved in the organisation. The trouble is that the group was dwindling - although many people are associated with it, attendance at Tuesday meetings was down to an average of six, which isn't enough to meet the cost of the hall if everyone gave the suggested donation. Anyway, all involved in the Committee are very glad to have fresh blood, and I am drawing upon my advanced skills acquired in organising social events for the badminton club in order to organise social events for the Buddhists, as well as offering my house as an alternative meditation location.

The first social event was tea and cake in a cafe on Saturday afternoon. Despite my advanced organising skills the event attracted only myself, the other social organiser with whom I'm sharing the job, his wife (who isn't part of the practising group), and another couple of committee members and their four year old son. Not a huge success, and it seems likely that there are far fewer people than I hoped who are interested in the social aspect of the group. Our second social event is going to be a walk, so we'll see how we get on with that.

And the rest

Off up the horrible M6 I went on Wednesday to visit lovely H+B, where I was royally treated to lunch and cake as well as reading some of H's recent forays into creative writing, which were all very good, rather entertaining, and as his group has commented, 'clever'. A bit too clever for me; H had to accompany me on one particular piece to explain all the jokes (I think I got about two thirds of them on my own). Would anyone else know that Prior Art is a reason not to award a patent? Or recognise a line from the poem 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'?

Films: due to the large amount of admin and other activities I hardly had time for the film-fest that a whole week off work at home should have produced. I did manage to get to the cinema to watch the Oscar-nominated film Green Book about a black pianist touring the Deep South of America in the 1950s, and I watched The Commune on iPlayer - a Danish film set in the 1970s about a bunch of people who decide to cohabit in a large house one of them has inherited. The last film was from my DVD subscription: Journey's End - a first world war story that was originally a play, ending as most first world war stories do.

And to complete the account of almost everything I did for a week, there was also the first music group of the year, which was a little disappointing as I'm not that keen on the choice of music this time, or the arrangement. My fellow baritone sax player, however, is very pleased at the simpler arrangement - he is an improviser and struggled with all the notes in previous arrangements.

Upstairs hall from the bedroom

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Life is good

Tea, wine, water and pudding with Lola II
Oxford, January 2019
In life outside diabetes, nothing much of note is going on. I play badminton a lot; we win matches and lose matches. I have been hosting the Buddhist group while the usual hall is running an introductory course for newcomers. I had four guests altogether, so not an overwhelming number, but it was very lovely and it is clear that Lola Towers is finally open to visitors.

Speaking of visitors, I welcomed Bee Lady and Landrover Man for an overnight stay. Very unusual to see them outside their normal habitat, but they seemed to manage admirably. There was lots of cake, because I felt that in order not to be outdone I ought to make a cake, and Bee Lady also brought a cake presumably assuming that there wasn't a chance that I would make one. So we had two. Lola II and Mr M also came along, and I took Mr M out to the wine merchant shop where there were some whiskies to be tasted. We tried three at about 2pm, which made me much less stressed about the whole course of the evening. The final guests were my two friends (A and S) with whom I have been to the Christmas markets in Germany for the past two years.

The doorbell rang while I was waiting for all these guests, but it was a stranger who looked very puzzled when I answered, clearly expecting to see someone else. As usual I pointed out the same numbered house in the adjacent Road rather than in my Street, an error made every now and then by all manner of tradesmen and delivery drivers. He apologised and introduced himself as my Member of Parliament (Labour). Which gave me the chance to let off some steam about the state of the nation as well as local politics. I still despair at the lack of any party which will allow me to support an anti-Brexit ticket, if (god help us) there should be an election. Her Majesty's Opposition shows little sign of opposing the biggest and most divisive issue I have faced in my lifetime.

Anyway, the evening's entertainment was enjoyed by all with food being eaten, drink being drunk and games being played. And then it was midnight and time for bed, but I managed to get up next day ready for a morning walk and a pub lunch with BL and LRM and other old friends from early Midlands badminton days and it was lovely. And one evening after work I met another old friend from RNIB times who is doing very well in almost every aspect of her life, which is also lovely. And another day I met Lola II in Oxford and in between the lunch and the puddings we managed to squeeze in a couple of exhibits in the Boddleian Library, one showing boxes that books were kept in (some of them from the 15th century) and the other all about the achievements of women, coinciding with the anniversary of women's suffrage. And this day, too, was lovely.

So that's it, another diary entry style of blog which I may read again one day and remember the odd snippet, but is otherwise of little or no interest. Sorry about that, but it does highlight that there's much less to say when life is good.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

New approaches to diabetes management

Close up of orange lily
Lily, June 2018
There is much in the diabetes news about developments for people with Type 1 diabetes (Flash Glucose Monitoring using the Libre device) and Type 2 diabetes (Very Low Calorie diets leading to diabetes remission). The Trust where I work, however, is not forward thinking, innovative or dynamic, so we still haven't done much to make either of these available to our patients.

In our little team we were hoping that the doctors and/or the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) would feel the pressure from patients and organisations like Diabetes UK with all the media announcements that FGM (an unfortunately acronym) technology is now available on NHS prescriptions. Not in our area, it isn't. It has made it onto the local 'Formulary', which is a list of things that can be prescribed, but no protocol or procedure was forthcoming which would make it actually possible to prescribe it. In the end we gave up on the idea that the doctors would do anything at all, so the nurses and I have tried to come up with our own local protocol to put forward for approval Trust-wide.

It is quite an interesting process, because the device is so different from what you normally get when you hand over a prescription to your pharmacist. The Libre consists of a handset as a one-off device at the start, and disposable sensors that last two weeks at a time. At the moment we also believe that users should have some initial training (or at least guidance) about how to make best use of the device. The CCG has defined the criteria that have to be met before the device can be prescribed at all, and other criteria that have to be met if it is not to be withdrawn after six months. A bit different from a prescription for a 10-day course of antibiotics or a tube of ointment.

The criteria for prescription are quite restrictive - Type 1 only, appropriate blood glucose monitoring 8 or more times daily, and one of the following: where success with the Libre would avoid the need for an insulin pump; impaired awareness of low blood glucose; more than 2 admissions a year; or where a third party is needed (e.g. learning or physical disability). And the prescription has to be for a six-month trial period, during which we have to collect data on eight different indicators, and if fewer than two indicators have improved then the trial is discontinued and no more sensors on the NHS.

The Pharmacists have said that they don't want to have anything to do with it, thank you very much, which is fine for the first prescription - we would be happy to handle that, given that we want to have a role in starting people off with some training. After that, though, we aren't in a position to be dispensing sensors every month, so we've got to try to persuade the pharmacists to take that job on. And the Procurement people will have to decide how exactly the handset and sensors will be ordered and recorded, and the Finance people will need to define how the budgets will work and how we will charge the cost to the CCG (because although it's prescribable, it comes from a different budget than for 'normal' prescriptions). And the Doctors are clinically responsible for the prescription so they have to fulfil the criteria set by the CCG. So all of these people have to approve our proposal.

Can you imagine trying to arrange a meeting with people from five different professional groups, at least three of whom are not in the least interested in the extra work that this might entail?

We have started by finding a date convenient to ourselves and our paediatric colleagues (at least the paediatric nurses; I doubt whether there will be a dietitian involved). None of the doctors has replied to the invitation, and we know and work with them (update - one doctor thinks he can probably be there). The Head of Procurement has said that he will find someone to attend; Pharmacist representation is still unconfirmed - we don't have any routine contact with these guys, so I'm not expecting much -  and I have no idea about Finance. I'll let you know.

The other issue all over the news is the effect of rapid weight loss on Type 2 diabetes, which in some cases can induce diabetes 'remission' - a return of blood glucose to non-diabetic levels. The research trial that has generated all the stories is not yet finished, but many people seem to want to try the diet. There's also Michael Mosley who keeps making TV programmes, and the family behind 'Fixing Dad' which also led to a TV programme and more, and every two minutes there's something else in the Daily Mail or on ITV about how you can live forever if you adopt some version of a simplistic and entirely unrealistic lifestyle.

The trouble is that the Calorie* restricted diet used in the (unfinished) research trial was not the sole intervention that led to remission - there was a whole team approach within GP practices, supported by the research team, including dietitians. And not everyone who tried it achieved remission. But the main concern for me is that we know weight loss is difficult to sustain, and the research has not yet uncovered what happens to people who lose the weight but then regain it again. If they experience more serious consequences than if they had done nothing then that changes the complexion of the outcome considerably. We just don't know.

It's still worth losing weight, though, and not eating (or drinking) excessive carbohydrate if you're at risk of Type 2 diabetes, or if you already have it. Even if you do it in a more measured way than by cutting down to 600 or 800 Calories* per day.

(* I tried to write 'calories' because that's how we generally refer to kilocalories, but I couldn't, because it's not accurate and I am a pedant. It's either kcal or Calories with a capital C.)

Three out of five of my team of adult diabetes dietitians are new, and with fresh eyes they have pointed out that we don't really provide much support to people who want to lose weight. We obviously can't compete with successful and rigorous programmes like Slimming World or WeightWatchers (now stupidly rebranded to be just WW), but we don't even have any leaflets that could help people think about losing weight, let alone provide the intensive and expert dietetic input to a rapid weight loss programme for diabetes remission. So we're going to have a couple of new leaflets, and we'll follow the course of the research and maybe work out how to apply the results within our practice. At some point. Maybe.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Square eyes

Jewish memorial
Jewish memorial, Dachau, December 2018
Many, many movies have been watched. On the weekend before Christmas Lola II and Mr M have a screening of a Christmas-themed movie, and this year it was Love Actually and I went all that way to see it. Then mostly on my wonderful huge TV screen at home: Leave No Trace, Bros: When the Screaming Stops, Swimming With Men, Phantom Thread, Bohemian Rhapsody (at the cinema), A Quiet Place, Hell or High Water and 20 Feet from Stardom. And some David Attenborough nature documentaries, both current and from long ago.

I've also worked out how to stream video from my mobile phone to the TV, so I watched the first episode of the American series Breaking Bad which Landrover Man loaded onto my phone, but when I tried to watch the second episode I couldn't take the unpleasantness of the content so I'm back looking for a quality episodic drama. All this screen time means I haven't done very much reading lately.

Something that has kept me hooked up to the computer is that I decided it was time to change all my passwords. While a specific app that encrypts and saves passwords would be the ideal solution, it's unlikely that I'd be able to use it at work, so I decided to do the job manually and it turns out that a) I have an awful lot of passwords, and b) it takes quite a lot of time to change them all. And it turns out that, annoyingly, some sites require you to have certain characters in your password, and some specifically forbid those characters. One site wouldn't even let me have a sequence of two numbers or two letters the same (e.g. 'gg' or '22'). I think I've very nearly finished them all, but this is a job that has to be 100% finished or I won't remember which ones I've changed and which I haven't.

Christmas and New Year came and went. I worked most of the time but also went to London because my cousin from Seattle was visiting with her son and other friends. I've been moving furniture around upstairs, but also in the Auditorium because of the carpet fitting. The carpet estimator came and was very helpful, so I have that to look forward to.

Actually there's quite a lot to look forward to - January and February are chock full of assignments, meetings, trips, visits as well as the usual badminton club nights and matches. The Buddhist group is running a four-week introductory course, and while they do that in the usual venue it was proposed that the regular members might meet somewhere else - so I offered my house. We've done this twice, and it has been rather lovely. I have also volunteered to join the committee that runs the group. I want to generate more social activity within this group, and hopefully promote its growth.

And a man came to service the boiler. The only reason I mention this is that he offered to check and bleed the radiators, and we discovered that the bedroom radiator essentially contained air rather than water, which neatly explains why it has been so cold in there. Very timely for the arrival of visitors this weekend, but reminds me how very obvious the solution to some problems are.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Lola II to the rescue

Excess goods in the kitchen awaiting disposal
Stuff, December 2018
I only took one day off work apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, and spent three out of those four days away from home so I'm still very behind on reporting my pre-Christmas activity, and it's 2019 already! Happy New Year!

Lola II paid me a mercy visit for a day in December because I had (and still have) so many niggling jobs to be done and was finding it almost impossible to concentrate on making a start on them. She was very effective - not by doing anything much more than making it more interesting for me to do all these jobs, although she did come up with a few really useful suggestions.

We started by sorting out some of the stuff in boxes that have been in my hall for about a year, waiting for me to decide whether to take them to a car boot, or auction them on eBay, or give them away through Freegle, or sell them with shpock, Facebook marketplace or NextDoor. So many choices, so much procrastination. What I actually did with Lola II's support was take them to the municipal tip, where there is an Age UK shop. They took the good stuff and I sent the rest into landfill or recycling. There is still more to do on this front, but at least some of it has disappeared from my hallway.

Then we went off to the carpet shop to confirm my preferences for the Auditorium and find out why there were no online options to book a visit for estimation purposes. The man in the huge showroom was difficult to pin down - all his colleagues were away and he was responsible for the whole warehouse on his own - and he winced when I told him my postcode. With some difficulty he found someone to come out just after Christmas, in the evening, and I handed over a deposit. Result.

Lola I gazing at carpet salesman in showroom
Carpet salesman confused at why we would want to take a photo of him
Subsequently I received a call saying that there had been a mistake and unfortunately the estimate couldn't be done that day, but they would re-arrange a visit. Which they did, scheduling it for 9.30 a.m. on New Year's Day. So I had to rearrange it again.

Coming back to Leamington from the carpet showroom I left the car with the car wash people because of an unfortunate incident with some dog poo outside my garage. Lola II and I had lunch in a new steakhouse in town, returning to the car wash via the cake shop. The beef industry has coined the term 'surf and turf' in order to pair steak with seafood; the Lola department has found a better combination in 'steak and cake'.

In a nicely cleaned car I drove Lola II to an art supplies shop so she could buy something for this year's Christmas card manufacturing effort - despite this being a day all about me, I felt it was only fair to give her just a moment for herself. Then it was back home and more of my odd jobs until it was time to stop working and have some fun. We watched a film in the Auditorium, wrapped in a duvet because without any flooring or carpet the room is seriously draughty, and ate chestnuts.

Two rather large pieces of cake


Wednesday, 2 January 2019

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

This is Going to Hurt
by Adam Kay
"Welcome to 97-hour weeks. Welcome to life and death decisions. Welcome to a constant tsunami of bodily fluids. Welcome to earning less than the hospital parking meter. Wave goodbye to your friends and relationships. Welcome to the life of a junior doctor."
I haven't done this for a long time - bought a book I haven't read in order to give it to someone as a present, and then read the whole thing very carefully trying to make it look like it hasn't been read. It's not a difficult book to read but the black humour of the subject matter is not far off what I would expect, even though my experience comes from very limited access to non-emergency inpatient care and a few years in diabetes. Why anyone intelligent and ambitious would train to be a doctor nowadays is a mystery to me - yes, after thirty years of unimaginable stress you could probably command a good income in private practice, but... thirty years??


Image of the book cover

The Circular Staircase
by Mary Roberts Rinehart

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"Wealthy spinster Rachel Innes is persuaded by her niece and nephew Gertrude and Halsey to take a house in the country for the summer. Rachel is unaware that the house holds a secret, and soon unexplained happenings and murder follow."
This was pretty good, published in 1908, and is a murder mystery novel when these were not a recognised genre. There were perhaps too many twists and interconnected plotlines for me, but I enjoyed listening.


Image of the book cover

The Angry Chef
by Anthony Warner
"Assembling a crack team of psychiatrists, behavioural economists, food scientists and dietitians, the Angry Chef unravels the mystery of why sensible, intelligent people are so easily taken in by the latest food fads, making brief detours for an expletive-laden rant."
The book by the chef whom I met in Birmingham in November when he did a talk to the Skeptics in the Pub. He was a good talker, and it's a good book too, which is a relief. And nothing in there that I disagreed with professionally either. I look forward to his next book coming out in January, which I believe will be about fat and fatness.


Image of the book cover

The Stars My Destination
by Alfred Bester

narrated by Gerard Doyle
"Imagine a future in which people "jaunte" a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men - and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive."
I think this is a good book which I spoiled by listening with long gaps between short bursts. So I didn't entirely follow the plot. I should really listen again, but there are so many other books awaiting my attention!

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