Friday, 12 February 2016

Sports Headband with built-in speakers

Domed gazebo with roses
Harrogate, July 2015
My mobile contract is with EE, and not long ago they notified all their customers about a free offer of a 'Power Bar'. This turned out to be about the size and heft of two of those large torch batteries, with two sockets on one end and a short cable. The idea is that you charge it up by connecting the cable between a USB port (e.g. computer) and one of the Power Bar sockets, and then if your mobile phone runs out of juice when you're out and about, you turn the cable round and charge the phone from the Power Bar. The other part of the offer was that if you were in town and your Power Bar wasn't charged up, you could take it into an EE shop and simply swap it for one that was. All for free. It seemed too good to be true.

So I went and got one, and even used it once, and then it wouldn't hold its charge any more. So I popped into an EE shop and tried to swap it for a new one, but they told me that the scheme was on hold because of a problem with overheating. True, the gadget did get very hot when it was working. They expected to be able to re-start the scheme once the problem had been fixed.

It clearly wasn't fixable, because the next thing was that the Power Bars were being recalled, and what's more they were prepared to give us all a £20 credit to spend on EE accessories online if we brought our Power Bars back to the shop and handed them in. So that's what I did next, not knowing what I would do with the £20. Back home I browsed the online shop, and was thinking about getting a better cover for my phone when I saw the Sports Headband with built-in speakers for your mobile device. And then I saw a Sports Headband with wireless bluetooth capability as well as built-in speakers for your mobile device, so I could listen to music on my phone while it's in my pocket rather than trailing a wire through my clothing.

I dithered somewhat about which option to go for before deciding on the wireless bluetooth one, and only after I'd placed the order did I remember that my iPod doesn't have bluetooth, so I'd only be able to listen to media via my phone, which has only a fraction of the music and books that are on my iPod. Never mind, it's only for my running a couple of times a week, although because of all the badminton I haven't done any running for a while.

On Tuesday I spent a hour at the Snowdome to remind myself how to ski. It was the perfect opportunity to road test the headband, and it worked a treat - except for the fact that the Snowdome wireless connection wasn't reliable enough to stream music from the Internet so I had to rely on either my downloaded tracks or use some of my data package. But it was still good, and the skiing went very well too. When I got home I managed to buy travel insurance and some Bulgarian currency, so now I'm all set and looking forward to the forthcoming ski trip.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

War of the Roses

Flowering shrubs with the Chicago skyline in the background
Chicago, June 2015
I wish I'd thought of this title for that previous post, but it still applies because despite another three sessions on the roses there are still thorny remains on the lawn. It really is a monster. I have done a few other house-related chores - shown another potential builder around the garage and bought a saw to cut an Acer down to size. The front door has been a bit sticky recently so I've also bought a rasp and a chisel to try and avoid having to use the back door, which is equally difficult to lock from the outside. It's still early days in this long campaign to make my place of residence habitable, but I do dally with the idea of just living in a tent somewhere with a more temperate climate. Except I don't have a tent at the moment. In fact, despite extensive camping activity, I have never owned a tent, just exploited those around me who do.

I have been given a late 50th birthday present by Lola II and especially by Mr M. Together with four other friends, I have tasted nine different single malt whiskies. This is a small part of Mr M's collection, which he inherited from his father. I can honestly say that none of us was particularly interested in whisky, and at least four out of the five didn't really like whisky, but we gave it our best shot and I like it much more now. Mr M asked us what flavours we could pick out, and at the start it was pretty much 'whisky', but by the eighth tot I could almost tell them apart. There was lots of lovely food as well, and everyone stayed over and we went for a bit of a walk on Sunday, and it was a delightful weekend.

The following week was a bit full on with badminton - Ladies matches on Monday and on Friday, and a club night on Thursday. There are four ladies in a team, and we only have three regular players. The fourth has to be rounded up from a pool of candidates, and one of these fell over and hurt her knee quite badly in a previous match. We recruited another fairly reluctant player to join the team for the next match, and about an hour later she fell over and broke her wrist. Another lady is on a fairly lengthy holiday in some part of Africa, and by now we're running out, because another had a pre-existing tenpin bowling commitment. In desperation I approached a couple of random players I know from other clubs, one of whom had never played a Ladies match before, and they said yes and played and it was fine. So now we have another two possibilities, and maybe things won't get so desperate next time.

This week I've got two matches again - Mixed this time, and I'm not responsible for recruitment, so that's a relief. I'm having a bit of a break from the garden to get some admin done, including booking that ski holiday, which is most exciting as we are planning to go to Bulgaria and I've never been there before. I'm also getting those warnings that my cut price energy tariff is about to end at which point I'll be put on the standard suck-you-dry tariff, so there's a bit of computer-bashing required there too. The sleeves have now been attached to the dress I'm making for Sister D.

Meanwhile Lola Towers is fighting back - it has clearly detected a threat to the unchallenged entropy it has enjoyed for so many years, and detached the floorboard in the loft to which the ladder is attached. The ladder can still be used, but not retracted.

Work, then. I miss the accounts that I used to write about things I learned during my degree. I particularly enjoy the peculiar challenges that my patients present me with but I am, of course, unable to write about them because they would potentially identify the people in question, and that is something that I'm not allowed to do. What I should do is write them down privately, and then amalgamate stories in some anonymous way so the interesting aspects can be included here. I haven't got round to doing any such thing.

In general I can say that trying to support people who have diabetes in achieving their dietary aims is fascinating, given that the only tools I have at my disposal are my words. Medicines and treatments are used by Doctors and Nurses, but Dietitians have only theories of behaviour change, evidence-based approaches, experience of what has previously worked or not, and knowledge of human nature.

The most usual consultation in January starts with me asking "How are things going" and the response coming back "Not so good". Obviously Christmas is a difficult time when it comes to dietary restraint, and the next step of the consultation is to find something that has gone well. "Well done for only going off track for two days/a week/two weeks/a month" (as applicable). "So you haven't lost any weight, but at least you haven't gained any either," is another common approach, together with "In the last month/week/few days your blood glucose readings have been quite good." This one is rarely used, because most people 'forget' to bring their meter or diary even though this is what changes or suggestions are usually based on. There are so many ways of trying to move someone forward rather than endlessly rehashing past failures. The rest of your life starts today.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

What I've been reading

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King Solomon's Carpet
by Barbara Vine

narrated by Michael Pennington
"Eccentric Jarvis lives in a crumbling schoolhouse overlooking the tube line, compiling his obsessive history of the Underground. A group of misfits are also drawn towards his strange house. Damaged, dispossessed, outcasts, they are brought together in violent and unforeseen ways by London's dark and dangerous underground system."
King Solomon's Carpet is apparently another name for the London Underground, or perhaps for any tube or underground metropolitan transportation system. Not a name I'd ever heard before, and possibly invented for this book, although the author made no use at all of the figurative possibilities of the name. A group of people all come together and their stories are interwoven, but I didn't believe any of it - not the relationships between the main characters, or what became of them. They were just stick figures rather than thinking, breathing humans. Not a great read.

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The Tales of Max Carrados
by Ernest Bramah

narrated by Stephen Fry
"Max Carrados is blind, and yet he has developed his other faculties to such an amazing degree that they more than compensate for his lack of sight. Assisted by his sharp-eyed manservant, Parker, Carrados is the mystery-solver par excellence. "
A freebie download from those nice people at Audible, this was a short audio book of just a couple of stories. I hadn't come across this blind detective before, but apparently he was contemporaneous with Sherlock Holmes, which is quite a coincidence given how much Conan Doyle I've been listening to recently. It was a little unrealistic, suggesting for example that the detective could read print by feeling the paper it is written on. Apart from that, not so different from Holmes.

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by Giulia Enders
"Our gut is almost as important to us as our brain or our heart, yet we know very little about how it works. And scientists are only just discovering quite how much it has to offer; new research shows that gut bacteria can play a role in everything from obesity and allergies to Alzheimer’s."
A Christmas read courtesy of Lola II, and very interesting. I'm prepared to believe its contents on the whole, and learned a couple of things that may prove useful - best posture for Number Two's on a standard Western toilet for example. Holidaymakers over New Year were treated to quite a few gut-related 'facts', although there were some objections to the timing of delivery of my pearls of wisdom. It does get a bit less interesting in later chapters, though.

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Flowering Wilderness
by John Galsworthy

"Dinny Cherrell has been proposed to numerous times, but no one has ever come close to touching her independent spirit. That is, until she encounters Wilfred Desert. When his past actions come back to haunt him, and the disapproval of Dinny's family work against them, their love is tested to the very limit."

I can't believe how much I enjoy Galsworthy's writing. This book is all about a man who is forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam, and how this act is perceived by society back home. It doesn't sound like a promising basis for the book, but honestly I would enjoy reading Galsworthy's shopping list. All his characters are portrayed so exactly that I'm sure I would recognise them if I met them in the street. And as ever, it is illuminating to be presented with a snapshot of society and mores from the time, and see how attitudes have so dramatically changed since then.

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Titmuss Regained
by John Mortimer

narrated by Paul Shelley
"In Rapstone Manor, Lady Grace Fanner is dying, defiant to the last. Awaiting the event is the Right Honourable Leslie Titmuss MP, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Ecological Affairs and Planning (HEAP). He is alone now after the death of his wife, and the manor house becomes an essential weapon in his pursuit of the beautiful widow of an Oxford don."
I thought this was better than the first of the trilogy, then I thought again and I'm not sure, as it lacks the little mystery of the first book. Most of the characters reappear along with some new personalities, but as for the first book, none is particularly appealing or attractive. Which means, again, I didn't care much what happened to them.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
"No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, every time Harry dies, he always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes - until now."
Lola II recommended this book, and lent it to me. Featuring a form of time travel, it's a cross between Groundhog Day and The Time Traveler's Wife, and what impresses me most knowing that the writer is just a teenager is the maturity of the writing. I have been thinking about this quite a lot when reading recent books and imagining that I could take my writing one stage further and write something bigger than a selection of short self-centred articles. But the words! I tend to cut to the chase and tell the story; most writers of 'quality' use far more words than I would. I suppose every writer has a style, but it's interesting to note when a book doesn't quite hang together - how did the editor help? what could have been done to rescue the situation? For example, Galsworthy's women are impressive, capable, articulate and I'd certainly be flattered if any of them considered me as a friend. Mortimer's women are a little two-dimensional and often serve only to move the plot forward, but I don't much like even his most likeable male characters. Women don't play much of a part in North's book, but those that appear are portrayed as reliable and sympathetic; the men are mostly brutal and deceitful. Was this deliberate? Was the writer aware of how their characters come across? Would I be able to imbue my characters with just the right personalities, and manipulate the reader into liking or disliking them just the right amount? I'm sure that a creative writing course would be an interesting experience, but I've got enough on my plate at the moment. I might add it to my Bucket List for the future, though.

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The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett

narrated by Eric Meyer
"Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted."
As well as all those mentioned in the blurb above there are two cops, a Fat Man, a Greek, a Youth, Sam's secretary and a Tall Man - the American fictional private eye genre often has too many characters, making it hard to follow. Often the plot is too intricate and difficult to understand as well, but this one pretty much avoided all of the pitfalls, and I could follow what was going on. It was a good read, but unmemorable.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Lola vs Lola Towers

Cat in a wooden box labelled lola
Photo credit: Hugh
It's been cold - the normal cold of a normal winter, but we were deceived by the mild weather before Christmas into mis-remembering how cold the climate normally is at this time of year. So it felt quite appropriate last week when I went to Badminton Club #2's Christmas dinner, complete with turkey, Christmas pudding and crackers. I much prefer the post-holiday scheduling. So few people signed up to Badminton club #1's traditional pre-Christmas do that we are going out in February, when take-up has been much more enthusiastic.

In the garden, I have spent a protracted and painful time 'pruning' the enormous rose bush. With the bush about 15 feet high and at least 20 feet wide, this effort took up a lot of the weekend and prompted one serious outburst of loud profanity as the horrible thorny branches slashed at my legs through my trousers and threatened to immobilise me by entangling every item of my clothing from above and from below. My legs look as though I have had a violent encounter with an angry cat.

A considerable amount of the foliage landed on the other side of the wall in my neighbour's garden. She is an older woman with some health issues, so I presented myself on her doorstep last Tuesday morning and offered to clear the stuff out - luckily her cousin was staying and offered to help, because it took the two of us at least two hours to get it all into sacks, and two trips to the tip. She now has a great deal more light coming into her living room now that it's not blocked by an enormous rose bush, and she bought me a card and flowers to say thank you - even though it is my rose bush and my neglect that allowed it to get so overgrown. There's a huge pile of the ghastly thorny foliage still on my lawn, but it will have to wait to be bagged and taken to the tip.

The rose bush is just the first skirmish in what is going to be a long campaign of Lola vs The Habitation. For too long have I lived among chaos and disorder, with the garden overgrown and weed-filled, parts of the house in serious disrepair and the garage degenerating and neglected. I have Plans, Big Plans, a Great List of Plans. I hesitate to publish the full list here because I don't want to raise expectations, least of all my own, accustomed as I am to poor outcomes when I have attempted improvements in the past - the appalling airing cupboard is just one example that reminds me of this fact every day. But I am determined, even though at the first sign of some extra holiday I turn my back on the whole mess and plan to go off skiing.

So I arranged for a Man to come on Tuesday to size up the work needed on the garage, with a rival Man scheduled to come another time. The garage is likely to need some remedial brickwork and pointing, repairs to the roof (which is asbestos and therefore challenging), new window frames and windows, attention paid to electrics and lighting, the rot on the side door dealt with, guttering replaced where it has fallen off, and the main garage door either repaired or replaced.

Initially I was going to start my campaign on Lola Towers with the kitchen, because that's actually what I would most like to improve by replacing pretty much everything it contains. But the prospect is so daunting that I thought I'd start with something simpler in the hope that it would give me confidence, and perhaps introduce me to a reliable local builder since Alf has disappeared to jobs I presume are more profitable and/or convenient than mine. Thinking about it, I might even get back in touch with Elf, although I'm not sure he's the right man for the job.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Post holiday lull

Lake District stream
Wasdale, Lake District, December 2015
Since returning from the Lake District, I have been assiduously anointing my knee with miraculous liniment, which I picked up on a skiing holiday. Either it's working or the knee injury wasn't very bad (although it felt pretty bad at the time), because I'm descending stairs very successfully again, playing badminton and even running. So that's good news.

It also means that I'm back to thinking about another ski trip. I was describing my plans to one of the other Lake District holidaymakers, who commented that she had annual leave from work that she didn't know what to do with, so perhaps we could go skiing together? That sounded like a good idea, but unfortunately her knee is playing up now, so we'll see how things go. Being over 50 is no joke.

The disadvantage of the skiing plan is that the only practical week I can take off work coincides with the Fourth Annual Lola II and Mr M Film Festival. The schedule of films has been announced, so I have lined them all up in my DVD rental list and will watch them anyway.

I have been neglecting my blog duties, and although I've been doing a lot of things, absolutely none of them is interesting enough to feature here except that Lola II and Mr M visited last weekend, so there were some fun and games. We had a massage each, went out for delicious food, and on Sunday we created some new Chinema trailers for the film festival. Poor Lola II (and to a lesser extent, Mr M) suffered terribly in my cold house, but they have planted the seed of an idea that I will explore further for my planned new kitchen - underfloor heating.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Good riddance

Wastwater and Lake District fells in the distance
Wastwater, December 2015
The year end approaches, and reflection on the past year is often indulged in at this time.

2015 has mostly been a bit rubbish. But not quite all of it.

I have read 54 books (and another two on the go at the moment).

I am currently having a lovely walking holiday in the Lake District with friends. Despite all my supposed fitness achieved from running and badminton, my legs suffered a bit of a setback due to an enormous steep downhill stretch, and I had to take it easy the following day. Luckily the worst weather arrived on that day, so I didn't miss much. Unfortunately I took part in another epic walk the next day and now my left knee is officially defunct. My badminton team will be almost as cross as I am.

My family has had a mixed year, and dad is still recovering from an operation intended to relieve various unpleasant symptoms. The stairlift has provided much cause for discussion and debate in the last few months. Lola II and Mr M are well, but are in the doghouse because they abandoned me to spend New Year in Seattle with other family members.

Work has been mostly interesting and enjoyable, although there are frequently issues that demand no little amount of forbearance. The vacant Dietitian post has now been filled and we are in training mode with the new incumbent. We may be getting cover for the nurse who has been on sick leave for a few months, but again it will be an untrained replacement who will take some time to get up to speed. In terms of doctors and management, I can only observe and usually despair at the lack of any form of rational strategic thinking.

Friends: well, let's say I need to work a bit harder on this aspect of my life. I have plenty of acquaintances but few real friends, and almost none in the region where I actually live. This has to be a priority for the coming year.

In terms of hobbies, I expect that badminton and running will continue, as soon as the knee recovers. I don't have any particular ambitions - no plans for half-marathons or even any more 10k runs. I might go back to marshalling at Run-Forest-Run next year, but we'll see how it goes. I'm still making the dress for Sister D, and because the pattern works much better with stretchy fabric I've volunteered to make yet another one for Lola II, because the one I made for her before wasn't stretchy.

My home environment is about to undergo a great deal of change, and this is another aspect I'm planning to concentrate on over the next 12 months.

On the whole I am glad that 2015 is coming to an end, and rather looking forward to a fresh start for 2016. Happy New Year!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Another Christmas party

Tall masted boat moored in the harbour
Boston Harbour, June 2015
You may have noticed that I haven't been reading as many books as usual. This is, in part, due to two new podcasts which have taken the place of my regular audiobook listening, but also because I've been generally doing jobs that need doing or watching films on DVD instead of reading. The films I've seen in December have been rather good too: Mr Holmes (Ian McKellan as Sherlock Holmes is 93 and looking after bees), Amy (Amy Winehouse sings beautifully but is troubled and it doesn't end well), Key Largo (Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall act their socks off), London Road (a musical about the Ipswich prostitute murders, much better than it sounds), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (humans vs apes and, like Amy, it doesn't end well), And When Did You Last See Your Father? (based on a book by the poet and author Blake Morrison about the death of his father with an absolutely stellar cast).

Aside from my DVD watching it is that time of year again, holidays are approaching and overpriced Christmas celebrations abound. Despite the opportunity to attend at least six of these due to being part of the Venn diagram of intersecting Dietitians, Diabetes teams, Hospitals and Badminton Clubs, I elected this year to attend just one event, with the Diabetes team in the hospital where I work. In fact I've also signed up for the Christmas event organised by badminton club #2 but this has been postponed until January, a strategy of which I thoroughly approve.

So, posh overpriced Christmas dinner event with the Diabetes team took place in a marquee to allow the upmarket venue to rake in even more money from punters determined to celebrate Christmas in the way that seems to have become compulsory - dinner, entertainment, disco. We had a local DJ running the entertainment part, which involved an element of competitiveness in order to win various prizes that I didn't want - but I know I am not the typical attendee. As usual, I wasn't drinking, which I have to admit spoils the fun a bit because I start to tire of pissed-up young women squealing in excitement and falling off their vertiginous heels. What a spoilsport I am, not wanting to spend the evening with the aim of consuming as much alcohol as is practically possible.

My abstinence also backfired when I was nominated as the 'Leader of the table'. The DJ/host invited each table to nominate their leader for unspecified duties at a later time, and I was unanimously elected, with the justification that my sobriety would enable us to win whatever prize was on offer without effort. One competition involved answering ten questions in a minute in order to win £1000, and my protests that I was a really poor choice for this kind of quiz went unheeded. In the event I wasn't chosen to compete, thank goodness. Most of the others on the table knew 8 or 9 of the answers even though they had quaffed a good deal of strong drink; I managed about 5 due to my complete ignorance of any music or TV or 'celebrities' that may have appeared since 1990. For goodness sake, I've only watched one TV programme in the last five years. The other duty of the 'Leader of the table' was to compete in a dance-off, and the less said about that the better. We didn't win anything.

My last complaint about the event (oh, how negative I am) was that the disco included only recent tunes. My preference is obviously for an era when they knew how to write catchy songs that are great for dancing, the obvious exceptions being Come On Eileen and anything that has actions associated with it (the Macarena, and that one where you sit down and pretend to be rowing etc). Where were the 80's hits? Even Abba would have been welcome. I did my best however, and the Lady Shoes left my feet suitably bruised and painful. So that's it for this year's festive dancing.

On a more positive note - I discovered that the computer system that mysteriously calculates annual leave days has clearly uncovered more goat entrails, because although I thought I had virtually no days left until March, in fact I have a bit more than a week! I am torn between the idea of having an extra week skiing (I already have a week booked late in the season) or concentrating on getting my house into a fit state for civilised habitation. Skiing or house? House or skiing? I have a feeling that skiing will win. Seize the day and all that, who knows how long I will be able to maintain this glorious level of fitness?

The scratch choir I joined has delivered its festive message to two churches and one hospital, and the clarinet group has also contributed to a lovely concert alongside flutes and saxophones led by our enthusiastic music director. I have also consumed one festive lunch at work, and at the time of writing there's one badminton match and a couple of quiet days at work remaining before all is suspended for the holidays, although Parkrun is still happening on Boxing Day and I'm intending to be there.

A very Happy Christmas to one and all.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

What I've been reading

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His Last Bow
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"These mysteries involve the disappearance of secret plans as well as of a lady of noble standing; the curious circumstances of Wisteria Lodge and of the Devil's Foot; as well as the story His Last Bow, the last outing of Holmes and Watson on the eve of the First World War."
Conan Doyle is still trying to end the sequence of stories by bringing Holmes out of retirement to participate in a story called 'His Last Bow', but no, there's still one more book to go. These stories are still pretty good although I'm getting the hang of working out what the solution to the mysteries might be before they are revealed.

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The Drowned World
by J. G. Ballard

narrated by Julian Elfer
"Fluctuations in solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat. London is a swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows up the walls of the Ritz and primeval reptiles are sighted, swimming through the newly formed lagoons."
An interesting book and, unusually, I didn't think it worked all that well in audio form. I'm not sure why, but it didn't keep me wanting to hear more, although somehow I thought that it should. Maybe I'm giving J. G. Ballard the benefit of the doubt because I still remember how powerful the audio version of 'Empire of the Sun' was, which I listened to more than 15 years ago on cassette in the car commuting between Manchester and Liverpool. I don't remember the plot of that book, just the fact that it gripped me, so maybe I should listen to it again?

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From Here, You Can't See Paris
by Michael Sanders
"Whether uncovering the darker secrets of making foie gras, hearing a chef confess his doubts about the Michelin star system, or absorbing the lore of the land around a farmhouse kitchen table after a boar hunt, the author learned that life in Les Arques (population 159), a hilltop village in a remote corner of France untouched by the modern era, was anything but sleepy."
I do feel that this is a bit of a tired format - an individual goes to France (or Spain, or Italy) for whatever reason, discovers very interesting things particularly focussing on food, thinks it will be fascinating to other people, writes a book. Perhaps Peter Mayle was the first with his Year in Provence, and I remember finding that book captivating. Since then there have been endless repeats, and while this one isn't bad, there's nothing to lift it above the ordinary.

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The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"Includes the case of an eminent physiologist inexplicably savaged by his faithful wolfhound, of the priceless stolen Crown diamond found in the pocket of a peer, and of the mysterious figure who means to buy Mrs Maberley's house and all of its contents, whatever the cost."
So the odyssey is over, 58 hours 4 minutes of high class audio book is finished. I have to admit that this last lot of stories is the weakest, but nevertheless a worthy finale. The first of the series was published in 1887 and the last story of this last book came out in 1927 - an extended period of which I was previously unaware. It's been a blast.

Saturday, 12 December 2015


Purple wisteria and white flowered shrub
Back garden in May 2015
It's coming up to the end of the year, and I have so many treats to look forward to in the coming months. A walking holiday, a whisky tasting, the annual Lola II and Mr M Film Festival, a posh dinner that's already arranged, lots of badminton, maybe some running, the international badminton competition in Birmingham, skiing in France - and all of that in just the first three months of the new year.

The national and international news contrasts with my anticipated pleasures. The floods are terrible, but the international refugee situation and our 'interventions' are unbearable. It has reached the point where I can manage to listen to no more than half the news before I have to switch it off. I've always been somewhat of a pessimist - or a realist, as I tend to rationalise my outlook. Humanity in its individual form can be uplifting or depressing, but as a population seems to me to have little to recommend it. Looking beyond the small range of my personal contacts, towards those who wield 'power' either in politics or religion or business, reality looks bleak to me.

I may be wrong, but I think there might have been a golden age last century when integrity was a trait that was admired, if not rewarded. There was a sense of right and wrong. To be sure, people still suffered pain and poverty, but role models existed and there seemed to be something to aspire to. Now that I'm pondering the matter, it is possible that my upbringing sheltered me from some of the seedier aspects of society, but I believed that there was some depth to thought and behaviour, where now everything seems so shallow. I can't tolerate most broadcast and print media any more. The majority of politicians now seem to be overtly corrupt and self-serving, where they at least used to be ashamed when their misbehaviour was found out. The current government brings back vividly the strength of my loathing of the Thatcher government and its values of greed, rewarding of privilege, and disregard for anyone unlucky enough to be stupid or poor. You pay rich people more to get them to work harder, and you pay poor people less.

One thing I didn't understand at that time, the mid 1980's, was how society has to be political in order to function, The truth has little value; the end justifies the means. If your business is precariously balanced so that you might succeed or you might fail, the last thing to do is be truthful with your customers, suppliers and employees. Tell them about your predicament and suppliers and employees will fear they may not be paid; customers that they may not receive the goods. All will desert you and you will most definitely go under. No, you have to pretend to be successful, and then you stand a chance, but if you then fail you are blamed for not being honest with those people who would have made certain that you would have failed if you had been honest. This applies not only to businesses, but to societies, economies and markets.

The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, seems to me to be a man of principles. I agree with many of his views, and if his own party and the media supported him he could be Prime Minister. But they will not, his truths would be shouted down, his every move would be sabotaged by his own party as well as the opposition. And this certainty makes me sad: that human nature requires politicians to mislead and distort and 'spin' in order to prevent us destroying them. I do not like the human race very much as a population, although there are individuals that I like very much.

Sometimes I am glad that my life is time-limited, while at the same time wondering what will happen in a hundred, two hundred, a thousand, ten thousand years. Will we find a way to harness nuclear fusion to power our future? Will we self-destruct in a cataclysm of nuclear armaments? Will the population exceed the capacity of the Earth? What would the first Homo Sapiens have thought of how we live today? Or the people living at the time of the Roman Empire? Did they wonder how people would live in a thousand years?

So much for my existential musings. On Tuesday I went out to buy things from Halfords because I had been given a voucher for 25% off, and I managed to buy the things I wanted, which is very unusual. On the way I noticed that Clarks were having a sale and I found and bought a pair of shoes that were exceptionally comfortable (E width fitting) for a bargain price. Then I had a very sad telephone conversation sitting in the car in the carpark before going into Sainsburys for a few things and knocking a bottle of red wine off an end-of-aisle display where it spectacularly shattered on the floor. A very nice member of staff was on the scene in an instant, allowing me to apologise before making my getaway towards the bakery section where I bought myself a gratuitous cream cake as consolation. All this in the space of 60 minutes.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


Spiky pink flowers
Harrogate, July 2015
Tuesday is my 'day off'. Except some Tuesdays it doesn't feel like a day off at all.

08.30 Wake up nice and late - it is my day off after all. Leisurely breakfast - almost too leisurely because I nearly didn't leave myself enough to time to get to my first appointment of the day.

09.40 Dentist. Two weeks ago the hygienist and dentist recommended longer sessions three times a year for the hygienist, and because they are so convincing and because I don't want all my teeth to fall out I agreed. This brief appointment was because the dentist found a suspicious patch on my tongue and wanted to check it out two weeks later. All is well.

09.50 My favourite greengrocer's shop. Buy fruit: satsumas, russet apples (you don't see them very often nowadays) and ridiculously large sharon fruits that are slightly past their best.

10.10 Bank #1. Mum and dad have now registered their Lasting Power of Attorney for financial affairs, and I have to try and set myself up as their attorney within the banking system. There is nobody at the desk where staff loiter near the door so I take the opportunity to get the cashier to update my bank book from a little-used account and ask her for help with the LPoA business. She is useless, so I decide not to talk to her about updating the little-used account to a more modern one that pays a modicum of interest. I phone mum to get more details about what she was told we should do in the bank to get this sorted.

10.30 I go home again because I realise that I might do better with the official documents about my status as attorney. Pick up official documents and go back to town.

10.45 Bank #2. I don't have an account at this bank, but I am lucky because I find someone who a) knows what a LPoA actually is and b) is happy to refer me to the person who knows how to deal with the bank systems. She photocopies merrily for about 10 minutes before asking which branch the LPoA will be registered at. I phone mum for a second time. The bank lady carries on photocopying and says she can't fax the documents because of confidentiality, but she will post them to the branch. We hope for the best.

11.15 Back to Bank #1. This time, someone is staffing the desk near the door and has heard of a LPoA, but the person I need to speak to is busy. She seems to have a clue, so we agree which modern account paying a modicum of interest will replace my little-used account. Then I am handed over and my new friend types and clicks for about 20 minutes without stopping (I kid you not). I am asked periodically for various items of personal data (mum's date of birth, postcode etc.) and then it's over, and I am an attorney with Bank #1. I phone mum again to let her know of my outstanding performance and incredible success, but she wisely has gone out.

11.40 I go home because I realise that I have left my glasses there. Pick up glasses and go back to town.

12.00 Optician. I am here for a contact lens and sight test. We agree that it's better wearing contact lenses than glasses when running, especially in the rain. After the usual tests I am reassured that my distance and near sight are fine with both contact lenses and glasses, but then she makes me read the super small letters anyway, seemingly for fun. I humour her and get them all right, so that's good. No changes to prescription. I pick up a new batch of contact lenses.

12.40 On my lovely Tuesdays not at work I am treating myself to lunch at various different Leamington cafes and restaurants. Today I have chosen Elma, which is an establishment serving broadly East Mediterranean food in a location which has changed hands more than the average number of times recently, suggesting one of those spots that is a little bit doomed from the start. I choose the Express Lunch which is a delicious chicken stew with rice and a mint tea. I am alone in the restaurant from start to finish. Not a good sign.

14.00 I have been planning meals for the rest of the week and realise that I really need some ingredients from the supermarket rather than just the greengrocer, so it's a trip to Sainsburys.

15.00 Get back, put everything away and make an enormous batch of minestrone soup, inspired by the rind of Parmesan that was lurking in the fridge along with an elderly salami. Consider going out to town again to post passport that needs renewing (unable to do this sooner because passport is needed for identity checks relating to LPoA) but decide I've been into town enough today.

16.00 Lady arrives to give me a proper sports massage in the comfort of my own home. During massage discuss classical music and early 80's rock music, whether I can be bothered to run any other 10k races, how boring it must be to train for a marathon, where to buy running shoes and what sort to get, express surprise at extent of knotted muscles in shoulders, agree that it's better wearing contact lenses than glasses when running especially in the rain, suggest she comes to Monday night badminton to give massage tasters in order to rustle up business.

16.30 Mobile phone rings during massage. Ignore it.

17.00 Shower to remove massage oil. Feel about 2 inches taller for approx 30 minutes before normal slumped posture kicks in again. Decant minestrone into pots for the freezer and do the washing up. Turn on the computer for the first time today and delete all the spam. Write encouraging email to other joint attorneys (Lola II and Sister D) about how dealing with the banks went. Browse blogs and Facebook.

17.45 Remember to listen to the message on my phone, which is from the optician pointing out that while I paid for my contact lens check (I get my sight test for free) I neglected to pay for the contact lenses and can I please give them a call. Too late, they're closed now.

18.30 Jump into car and head off to local university for buffet followed by Diabetes Education Club. I am cornered by one of the team who asks if I am interested in teaching Healthcare Assistants and Practice Nurses on a new one-day course they are developing to help prevent diabetes. I say yes even though I don't really understand what I'm supposed to talk about and my job doesn't currently cover diabetes prevention. I can always sort it out later when she sends more details.

19.15 Diabetes Education Club is all about the paediatric service delivered within the Trust. I was in two minds about attending because I don't do paediatric diabetes, but I thought it would be interesting and I was right. The secondary care paediatric service has about 200 patients, of whom 97.5% have Type 1 diabetes, and 25% use insulin pumps. Among various other statistics and guidelines I picked out the fact that there is no robust evidence in favour of structured education, although it is not clear whether evidence exists that does not support such education or whether there is an absence of evidence either way. It was similarly stated that there is no robust evidence for weight loss and dietary advice for paediatric Type 2's. We can be fairly certain that this indicates an absence of trials, probably because numbers are still so few. I wanted to hear a bit about guidelines for transition between paediatric and adult services, but guidelines covering Transition issues are apparently going to be published separately and cover all chronic health conditions, which I suppose makes sense.

21.00 Home again. Think about doing a couple of the jobs on my enormous list of things that could be done on Tuesdays while I'm not at work. Have a half-hearted bash at a couple of them before going to bed to read, and then listen to some of the amazing podcasts that are out there on the BBC iPlayer - John Finnemore's Double Acts stands out at the moment, along with the whole back catalogue of Soul Music and The Infinite Monkey Cage, plus I've just discovered Adam Buxton is podcasting again, and there's a 'companion' podcast to This American Life called Israel Story.

22.30 Sleep. Another 'day off' is over.

I'm aware that certain readers are in awe of the amount I can get done in a day. Just to reassure you: on other Tuesdays I do absolutely bugger all.

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