Sunday, 23 April 2017

More progress

A one-storey stone coach house or garage and three storey half-timbered building
Tusmore Estate, April 2017
Nothing special to report for the last few weeks, although I've been having a good time. We had a family gathering on mum+dad's 60th wedding anniversary, which in true family style was celebrated by nothing special at all other than all of us being there. I have done a few of the jobs on my list that have been waiting for quite a long time, including meeting the new landlord of the Pub Next Door, buying house insurance, and putting up the last curtain in the new office/spare bedroom space which can be drawn across to separate the two 'rooms'.

The upstairs space is now structurally finished, but furniture needs to be brought upstairs which will need the help of some burly individuals who can help me move a filing cabinet, desks (one from downstairs to upstairs and the other in the opposite direction) and a bookcase. That will, I think, complete the office move, except for deciding what to do about the noticeboard.

More on the LTRP front - I now have working drawings to give the kitchen suppliers and builders, and I have sought alternative quotes. The alternative builder has so far not responded at all, and the alternative kitchen supplier was very scathing about my washing up preferences! She did however come up with the useful suggestion that my next step might be to settle on the appearance of the floor. I am going to have a vinyl option called Karndean, and I drove to the main Karndean showroom in Evesham, which was well worth the trip. I came away with three different samples large enough to make a choice at home, and the confidence that any one of them would do nicely.

Three shades of Karndean wood effect

Oh yes, I have been to see H+B in the North West along with Lola II, Mr M and Sister D, and we all made ourselves thoroughly at home over lunch. We were hoping to do a bit of walking in the afternoon, but the weather put a stop to that. I took the opportunity of visiting our Postal Mechanisation guru on the way home, since he also lives in the North West. He was very kind and welcoming even though it was Good Friday, which is just as well because we spent nearly five hours (FIVE HOURS) going through another three boxes of material that mum had unearthed. I got home at 2 a.m.

However, I had to agree with Lola II, Mr M and Sister D that I was spending too much time on this stupid ebay project. Although I find it mildly enjoyable, the time spent for meagre financial return is simply not worth it, and I have plenty of other more enjoyable occupations that I have no time for. So the plan was that I would go through the new stuff with the PM guru but would ask him to dispose of anything of value, and throw away everything else. This is what I did, so now I am only going to finish auctioning the material I already had. There is one box remaining, so it will still take a month or two.

I spent a day at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre doing meditation, listening to lectures, talking to all sorts of people and then watching a kind of ritual that is the closest buddhists seem to get to formal 'worship'. The thought most prominent in my mind was 'I can't imagine ever joining in with that', but who knows? They are a thoughtful and sincere group of people and I have a lot more in common with them than with any of my work colleagues and many of my friends.

Over the Easter break, as well as the northern excursion I did another ten mile walk with the Meetup group I joined for the New Year walk. The walk leader this time set a rather fast pace, and by the end my legs were aching and I'd also managed to acquire an impressive blister on my little toe. If I sign up for another long walk I'll have to watch out for who's leading, but in fact I'll probably stick to the five mile options in future. The picture at the head of the blog was taken on the route, but the estate is privately owned so we didn't go in and I don't exactly know what the buildings are.

Lastly, badminton news: Club #2 held an end-of-season tournament (they don't play over the summer) and I won the top lady prize. While you may think this indicates my advanced badminton skillz, you should consider the alternative explanation, which is that I have chosen to play in a club containing players who are significantly older and significantly less fit than I am. But I was runner up for the past two years, so it's still rather nice to win something.

Lone tree, green field, grey skies
North Oxfordshire, April 2017

Monday, 17 April 2017

One Census entry, 1861

Chinese pagoda sculpture and part of skyscraper on a sunny day
Birmingham, April 2017

A guest post today, written by Hugh. This is the story of an investigation sparked off by a previous blog post in which I described some of the history of Lola Towers.
It started innocently enough some years ago, tracing my wife’s family on a genealogy website (Genes Reunited). Then mine. Then the family trees of friends. None of them properly, you understand. No physically visiting out-of the way Registries or parish registers, like you see on “Heir Hunters”.

Then I found Family Search, the Mormon website which generated the standard programme for formatting and processing information. I don’t use Free BMD, or other sources, much. But it’s fascinating how much you can find out with minimal tools, and with time on your hands.

It begins

Then Lola I put some information on her blog about the history of her house in Leamington. Out of interest, I looked up the residents starting with Joshua Fardon, stated to be the licensee of the house (it used to be a beerhouse) in 1861. I should say that by now I had a Platinum membership, giving me unlimited online access to original Census returns, not just the transcribed version that gets into Web searches including Family Search.

This turned out to be just as well, because the transcribed 1861 Census entry for the Cricketers Arms pub, Archery Road, says, [with calculated birth year in square brackets]

Samuel Boid Head M 40 Knowle, Warks, Inn Keeper [1820/1]

Ann Fardon Dau M 25 Milverton [1835/6]

Marie Boid Dau Un 19 Leamington, Milliner [1841/2]

Ellen Boid Dau Un 17 Leamington [1843/4]

William Beesley nephew Un 16 Leamington gardener (apprentice) [1844/5]

Elizabeth Boid Dau 7 Leamington [1853/4]

Frederick Fardon Grandson 4 Leamington [1856/7]

William Fardon Grandson 1 Leamington [1859/60]

This is odd, because the licensee I was looking for was Joshua Fardon (from 1854), and I had already failed to find him in Leamington Censuses. I was unable to identify Samuel Boid and his daughters in either the 1851 or 1871 Censuses.

Tracking down Joshua Fardon

There is a Joshua Fardon Pork Butcher b 1811 Gloucester, in Coleshill Street, Birmingham in 1861. He has several children, one a son, Alfred, born in Leamington in 1850/1, so Joshua’s wife was there at that time. Another son, Albert, was born in 1851/2 in Stafford, so it looks as if they moved about a bit, or maybe one or both “sons” were adopted or stepsons. Maybe a family name, might conceivably be the 1854 Leamington licensee?

So I looked at the scan of the original Census form, and it suggests that Samuel and his daughter are actually named Bird, and they are (some of them) in the earlier and later censuses. It is also rather unlikely that Ann Fardon, married, is the daughter of Samuel Bird given their ages, though I guess she could be a step-daughter. So let’s find out who her husband, Mr Fardon, was.

Family Search rapidly comes up with a marriage of Ann Beasley to Emmanuel Fardon.

Ann Beasley, christened 15 May 1835, m Emanuel Fardon 19 June 1855 at All Saints, Leamington Priors. Her father Richard Beasley Dairyman, his father James Fardon Blacksmith.  (PS James Fardon, b 1793 Temple Guiting was in Leamington in 1851 as a shoeing smith.)

This may be a light-bulb moment, as one of the residents in 1861 was William Beesley, aged 16, born Leamington.  According to the 1851 Census, we have the right Richard Beasley and Ann Beasley, from their occupation and birthplace:

1851 Census Living 8 Brook Street, Leamington

Richard Beasley Head  Mar 46  Warwicks Burton Dassett, Milk Mann (sic) [1804/5]

Maria do Wife Mar 39 Warwickshire Borsell [1811/2]

Ann Do Dau 15 Milverton [1835/6]

James Do Son 13  Leamington [1837/8]

Maria Do Dau 10 Do [1840/1]

Ellen Do Dau 8 Do [1842/3]

William Do Son 6 Do [1844/5]

Elizabeth Do Dau 2 Do [1848/9]

Charlotte Do Dau 2 Do [1848/9]

Servant Thomas Spittal 18

Notes: guessing slightly, Borsell is Balsall Common near Knowle, Warwickshire; and Burton Dassett is a vanished village 11 miles South of Leamington.

Elizabeth and Charlotte were both christened on 14 Feb 1849.

So is William, born Leamington 1844/5, the same William as in the 1861 Census? If so, why is Ann Fardon described as “Daughter” and William as “nephew”?

Unravelling the mystery

One hypothesis for the 1861 Census is that Samuel Bird married the widow Beasley, if Richard Beasley had died. She would have been Maria Beasley b 1811/12 Borsell, according to the 1851 Census (by which we established that Ann Beasley 1835/6 Milverton and William Beasley 1844/5 Leamington might be sister and brother). Alternatively, maybe Maria Beasley 1811/2 Borsell was a relative of Samuel Bird, 1820/1 Knowle, near Borsell.

I have tried and tried, and cannot resolve these alternatives by any confirmatory evidence, indeed Richard Beasley had NOT died (see below). The most likely hypothesis is that the Census taker, either at the house or when transcribing his field notes, has confused two separate people, or left a line out in the transcription, so that the Bird children are indeed Samuel Bird’s children, but Ann Fardon is NOT his daughter, but the wife of absentee Emanuel Fardon and relative-in-law of absentee landlord Joshua Fardon, and the Fardon children listed as grandchildren are in fact the grandchildren of Ann or Emanuel’s father. There’s a thought: is the missing person Ann’s father Richard Beasley?

The family listed for Richard Beasley in 1851 are widely scattered by 1861 – son James in the army, Elizabeth in service in London, Maria, Charlotte and Richard not to be found on Genealogy websites. The only William Beesley 1844/5 Leamington is the one we have already as “nephew”. In 1871, the only candidate for William Beasley 1844/5 is in Leamington, married, a painter and glazier.  So maybe “nephew” is another error by the Census taker in 1861. Also, in 1871, Richard (widower) and daughters Elizabeth and Maria, and a son Thomas, but not William 1844/5, are living in Leamington at “cottage back” Archery Road, round the corner from the Cricketers Arms.

The next step

We were going to find out more about the Fardons.

On Googling “Fardon”, we find on Geni an immense labour of family love which suggests that the Fardons came originally from Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, had Joshua and Emanuel as family names, were given to calling themselves by other Christian names than their own, and had a number of publicans in the family. I have to add that the family site on Geni is not wholly consistent with other sources.

It is possible, but not certain, that Joshua (1811) and Emanuel (1822) are cousins, the sons of brothers James and Richard Fardon. Another Fardon, Henry Fardon, lived in Leamington in 1861. He was born 1803 in Temple Guiting and died Milverton 1875. Emmanuel 1822, though, was away from Leamington in 1851, in service in Reigate, not to be found in 1861, and in 1871 in Harrow with his wife Annie and three children, including Frederick and William all identified by their ages and birthplaces.

And this is just one entry in the 1861 Census!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Commissioning Structured Education

Outside view of the tent pitched in my garden
April 2017
I bought a tent! It arrived on Tuesday but I was working all five days last week, and had commitments on all five evenings so I didn't even open the box until Saturday. I had to mow the lawn before I could try it out, but it's looking good so far. The first test will come in July with a camping trip to Devon.

The extra day's work last week was a course all about advanced features of the Roche Bolus Advisor. This is the algorithm that is used in one particular blood glucose meter and insulin pump handset to try and suggest the right amount of insulin in any situation. It was a brilliant course but I don't have my notes with me at the moment, so that blog post will have to wait. In the meantime, I shall complain about a different meeting I went to on Wednesday.

The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for the area where I work is a baffling organisation. Maybe all CCGs are baffling, but I couldn't say. Its role is to decide which health services should be provided to the local population and, as the name suggests, commission those services. Obviously I am affected by the commissioning of services relating to diabetes, but I couldn't tell you the mechanism by which commissioning is done, or how we are paid as a result. I think I know the names of one or two people in the whole chain of management that administers this process but I have no understanding of the process at all. No idea whatsoever. Not at all.

Recently there has been a national campaign to promote the provision and take-up of Structured Education for people with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. Structured Education isn't just any old course, it has a definition within the national guidelines. It has to be evidence-based, have specific aims and learning objectives, have a curriculum that is written down with supporting materials, be delivered by trained educators, be quality assured by trained, competent, independent assessors who measure criteria that ensure consistency, and be audited.

Recently a pot of money was announced for Structured Education and bids encouraged from CCGs. The email from the CCG asking what we deliver in our area ended up with me, so I responded describing our courses as well as asking more about the bid in case I could provide some insight, given that I am actually delivering Structured Education to actual patients. "No thanks, we're fine" was the reply.

I heard no more, and then a colleague forwarded a message to me describing a workshop that the CCG were proposing to hold to discuss Structured Education. All sorts of people had been invited, but not me. They were happy to add my name to the list, though, and then a few days before the meeting was due to be held we received the documents that were going to form the basis of a discussion about what is delivered in our area, where the gaps might be, and how we could improve things.

That's all very admirable, but when we came to read the figures in the documents for the programmes that we were actually delivering, it became clear that they had spoken to nobody who was actually doing the job. The figures suggested that no courses at all for Type 1's were being run in one area, and that courses that were being run in the other area were completely inaccessible.

I try not to get annoyed about how the NHS is run, but this was very provoking. The CCG was convening a workshop to discuss a service that I personally deliver along with just four other people. Not only had they not spoken to any of us, but they hadn't bothered to even invite those who deliver the service that was to be discussed, and had circulated completely inaccurate data. My colleagues tend to assume conspiracy, but I generally believe it's either laziness, ignorance, or lack of time. The seeming inability to pick up the phone is particularly annoying though.

Anyway, we wrote a short rebuttal of the data and asked for this information to be circulated (it wasn't), and turned up at the meeting anyway. The person who presented the data did express doubt about its accuracy, but we weren't given an opportunity to clarify. We will be getting together with CCG representatives as a result of the meeting, but my confidence in their competence is pretty low. As for outcomes - there was a lot of the usual talk about how things could be better, but my experience is that nothing changes as a result of a meeting, especially if there is no new money. The CCG doesn't yet know the outcome of their bid.

By chance this has all coincided with a change in the administration of our course. I had long been dissatisfied with how patients were identified and notified about courses. We would set dates for courses a few months in advance, but when people were referred they were simply stuck on a waiting list. About a month before a course was to start (which might be a very long time since the referral was made) about twenty people on the waiting list were contacted in the expectation that we'd get about eight to turn up.

So the waiting list was full of people who, despite having presumably agreed to the referral, had no intention of attending. Many of those who had intended to come had forgotten what it was all about by the time they received an invitation. Although we wrote back to some referrers, most never found out whether their patient had attended or not. And we couldn't tell how long anyone might have to wait.

I got together with one of the other educators and our administrator and suggested how things might work better. I was taken aback by their resistance to any change at all, and it became clear that if I wanted improvements I was going to have to take over the admin myself, at least temporarily. So I fired up Excel and made a start, and so I had a good idea of how things stood in time for the CCG's meeting.

Last year we were struggling for staff with only two of us available to deliver the course. Now we are getting up to full strength with four (and soon five) of us, but at the same time referrals have increased dramatically. The waiting list stands at about ninety people, and there are virtually no referrals from GPs, so if this starts to happen (as it should) we will be properly overwhelmed.

So the next thing to do is to get in touch with everyone on the waiting list to weed out those who can't or won't attend - that should reduce numbers significantly. Then I'll be offering actual course dates to fill up all the courses to the end of the year, and we'll see how many people are left over and if extra capacity is needed. We can't just put more people on a course, because (due to an error of the previous administrator) we had 12 attending the last course, and it didn't work very well at all.

The full course takes four days over three weeks - so what about those who can't spare the time for this? I am putting together a much shorter version which will be piloted in May over just four hours, and if successful we can at least offer something to people who can't commit to four days. But that won't be Structured Education.

When I started this job I was determined to keep my head down and have no bright ideas that would result in extra work. Nobody thanks you for extra hours, and I don't work with the sort of people who inspire any sort of innovation - as evidenced by their reluctance to consider admin change, even though they now see how much better it will be. I have started to hope that this job will be my last, if I can get an early retirement date. But I can't seem to help wanting to change things and making extra work for myself.

Inside view of the tent with porch and 'bedroom'

Friday, 31 March 2017

An awful lot to do

Striped seed pod with spiky outer coat
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
It's a familiar complaint, and we hear it all the time from friends, family and colleagues. Not enough time, they say, not enough hours in the day. I silently think very uncharitable thoughts, usually along the lines of "well if you watched less television..." which I have no doubt are utterly unfair. Because although I often comment on how much I have to do, this week I have experienced the perfect storm. Of course it is of my own making so I am not encouraging expressions of sympathy; I just need to get a grip.

Badminton - my regular two nights a week is augmented to three this week with a match on Friday.

eBay - this is the one that is hoovering up all the hours in the day, even though I am now only putting things up for auction three days a week. It's taking all the pictures, weighing things for postage pricing and concocting the item description that take so much time, and I would chuck it all in but people continue to buy this junk. It's strangely enjoyable when a bid appears.

Routine commitments - dentist, car service, a meeting with the finance man, blood donation, laundry, ironing, meditation, food shopping, cooking, eating, washing up.

LTRP - looking good and progressing well, but requires me to do research and think about what I want and make decisions. What is looming over me at the moment is that I have an invoice to pay and I just want to check it against the original estimate, and I know where all the documents are but just haven't got round to it. A Round Tuit is what I need to get. I haven't even started thinking about the curtain that I need.

Tent - this has been a major preoccupation because some camping is definitely going to take place in July and September and for goodness sake it's time I had my own tent. My original research uncovered two tents at vastly different prices, and it took a while to decide I would have the more expensive one, at which point I found that I'd been looking at a very out of date website. I found another supplier but they told me the tent I wanted was last year's model and no longer available, but pointed me in the direction of a different one. Meanwhile I found the original tent on ebay and dithered for some time about putting my faith in an unknown ebay supplier. I decided not to and I think I know which one I will buy, just as soon as I can phone the supplier to check that there is not some fatal flaw with this choice as well.

Media - being away for a week skiing meant a total break from podcasts and radio programmes, although I managed a bit of book reading. Coming back I wasn't prepared to skip any of my regular listens, and it has taken me a month to catch up; a month in which I have read nothing in print except a copy of 'Dietetics Today'. I've just managed to start a new audio book, but it's the strange American narrator reading Pride and Prejudice. An hour in, and actually he's not doing a bad job.

Whisky Tasting With Food - I haven't got time for a full account of this wondrous event. Mr M and Lola II brought a selection from Mr M's range of whiskies on tour to Leamington, and three new candidates experienced the joy. I'm lucky enough to have attended two before this one, and from a standing start at my first event when I took the position of not really liking whisky, I have come to love it. Lola II and Mr M have hosted more than ten of these events, and Lola II said this one was the best so far.

Music group - these happen once a month. I went to the first one of the new year, which was in February, then missed one because of skiing. The next is coming up and I couldn't bear to go without having played a note in two months, so I'm trying to put in a bit of practice every day. The main problem with this is that one of the saxophone pieces is 'Copacabana' by Barry Manilow, and it has an extremely catchy bass line which has lodged in my brain and refuses to leave. Now I've planted it in your brain too (I'm talking to you, Lola II).

Alongside all of this stuff is the paid job, and I found out today that our Senior Diabetes Specialist Dietitian Team Leader is leaving, which is a great shame. I was aware that she was considering this move and she even asked me if I'd be interested in her role, but aside from the higher pay band there's nothing in the team leader position that is the least bit attractive. And I'd have to work harder and care more, and I'm very reluctant to do those things, and there's all this other stuff that is sucking up all my time...

I'm not sure what I will do about having too much to do and not enough time, because even if I gave up some of the optional things that I enjoy I doubt that I'd do more of the necessary things that I don't enjoy. So I suppose I've let off a bit of steam here, and everything will continue as before.

Close up of spiny cactus with red flower
More from Krakow, July 2016

Friday, 24 March 2017

Purchasing decisions

Bright red flowers
Quince flowers, March 2017
As you can see from the floral photos the garden has started to bloom, with the crocuses as the main deliberate addition. There are some other leaves emerging that may turn out to be something I planted, but I can't remember at the moment. Also, for the first time in 15 years I have succeeded in pruning the forsythia to the extent that it has produced a decent display of yellow flowers. So far I have found no flower or shrub in the garden that has not responded to brutal treatment. The lawn, however, is in a terrible state following my attack on the moss.

After posting the previous entry I did do a little bit more research into kitchen lighting, but spent the rest of Sunday looking for a tent to buy. Despite my enthusiasm for camping I've never owned my own tent. For ten years (thirty years ago) I borrowed Lola II's because despite possessing a tent she wasn't particularly interested in camping at that time. Then I was indoctrinated into Mr A's philosophy of camping, which was much more comfortable and included luxuries such as chairs and a table, so I used his selection of tents for the next twenty years. Meanwhile Lola II took her own tent back and then she and Mr M replaced it with a more up to date version, which I have also borrowed. Now it is time to become a tent-owner in my own right. I have reached a shortlist of two but am finding it rather difficult to decide which to buy.

I have had another meeting with the architect, and despite my minimal research I think we have now reached a conclusion for the kitchen layout and lighting that I'm happy with. I should receive some plans with more detail on that I can tout around for alternative quotes (if I'm brave enough). Buoyed by this success I turned my attention to the upstairs bedroom/office situation, and ventured forth in search of curtaining options. When I returned home after intrepidly buying curtain poles, I realised that a) poles that I already own are perfectly adequate for the windows, and b) it may not be possible to attach the other pole to the wall using the brackets provided. So one pole was returned the next day, and I have contacted the ever-reliable Ilf who I hope will be able to put forward a solution.

A selection of pink and white flowers, could be primulas?

With my miserable cold (which still lingers on) I went with a colleague last week to deliver a presentation at the request of one of our diabetologist colleagues. It would have been nice to duck out of this given my health status, but I felt bad about letting my colleague down, and it was in a fancy hotel and I had high hopes for the buffet (which turned out to be only averagely good - the pudding choices were fruit salad or fruit crumble - where was the chocolate??!!?). The slight difficulty with our talk was that we had been given very little information about what our topic was supposed to be, and who exactly was in the audience. It turned out to be quite a small group, and we recognized a good few doctors, although we discovered afterwards that two of them were Dietitians and not doctors at all. I don't think we performed too badly, given that the topic of the expected talk was rather different from the one we had prepared.

The most surprising aspect of the evening for me was these doctors' attitude to our talk. Before we started they were discussing the most technical intricacies of endocrinology (which I think is one of the most technical and baffling specialties anyway). Then when we got stuck into our presentation they behaved like the least informed of my patients, speculating on what they'd read last week in the press about diet for diabetes. If we'd presumed to comment on diseases of the adrenal gland based on what we'd read in the Sunday Times we'd have been given short shrift, but they seemingly had no compunction about making similar presumptions in our specialist field. As usual I developed the most cogent and persuasive arguments and refutations of their assertions within 30 minutes of driving away after the meeting.

I have learned one other thing this week at work, thanks to one of the doctors. Occasionally we see a prisoner from the local jail, who usually comes with two prison officers and is handcuffed to one of them. The issues around having diabetes or other chronic conditions in prison are perhaps material for another blog post, but on this occasion the doctor mentioned that the patient was due for a scan on a particular date. "You shouldn't have told him that," said the prison officers. So if there had been any news of an escaped convict on that date, we would have known who to blame.

Close up of purple crocus with orange stamens

Tent update - I managed to make a decision between the shortlist of two tents, then discovered that the one I wanted is not available. This should have made the choice easier, but then I found a third option so I'm still stuck in decision-making limbo.

Curtain pole update - Ilf had to buy special drill bits but solved the problem by attaching the pole to the I-beam across the room rather than the too-small bit of wall above the I-beam. Now I need a curtain.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Skiing again

Not much of a view, March 2017
I've been on holiday and had the most wonderful time skiing in France. Each year I seem to enjoy skiing more, and this year I felt as though my technique had improved as well, which made it even more satisfying.

I wasn't going to ski this year what with the expense of the LTRP and all, but I booked a week off work anyway because annual leave must be taken or it's lost. Then the friends I went skiing with last year told me that they were going again and it happened to be the same week that I'd already booked as leave. So I didn't take much persuading.

Five of us travelled by train, one flew in. Four of the five who travelled by train did the travelling by day and staying in hotels overnight, but I thought I'd save the extra day of annual leave and took the overnight Eurostar both ways. Eurostar no longer run the proper sleeper trains, so it was ten hours sitting up in a chair, but a minute before departure I still had an empty seat next to me.

Unfortunately as we pulled out of St Pancras two mothers turned up, each with a child aged about three or four, and we all moved around to accommodate them. One child was drearily moaning (apparently she had a tummy ache) and the other was literally screaming (no idea why). I hoped that each would be tired out due to these exertions, and they did both sleep, but one of them woke up much too early and conversed with her mother in piercing tones which her mother did nothing to suppress. I didn't sleep much on that journey. I didn't sleep much on the way back either, and that time there were no children and I had nobody next to me, so I have to conclude that I'm just not particularly good at sleeping on trains.

Model of a deer with a foot of snow on its head
No idea
Despite the sleep deprivation I managed nearly a full day of skiing on arrival, went to bed relatively early and was none the worse for it. The weather was quite sunny for a day and a half, and then it started to snow. Friends at a nearby resort fared worse when an avalanche closed all lifts and pistes for a whole day, but we skied on through heavy snow, low cloud and on one occasion wind stronger than I have ever experienced. One of the party commented very accurately that when we were inside the cloud it was like skiing inside a ping pong ball. I found it quite amusing to be unable to tell where the slope in front of me went; others were not so entertained. We headed back to the apartment a bit earlier that day. The last couple of days were rather hot and sunny, so we finished with long days of good skiing.

The apartment was in the same complex as last year but a bit smaller, so we were all sharing rooms. In the evenings we went out to eat a couple of times, or stayed in and watched a film. Lunches were either in piste restaurants or late lunch back at the apartment on the days when we came back early. I did a lot of lovely reading, and even lovelier lot of skiing. It was a great holiday which put me in quite a tetchy mood going back to work on Monday, and then through the course of Tuesday I developed a cold, perhaps derived from someone on the train or at work.

So now while snuffling and coughing and generally feeling full of cold I'm pondering how to do even more skiing next year. In the meantime I've restarted the ebay campaign with the next batch of historical postal ephemera, but this will never raise enough to fund snow-related activity! Also I've tried and failed to consider suitable lighting in the new kitchen, and played badminton and meditated as usual, albeit accompanied by much coughing and nose-blowing (not so much during the meditation). What I ought to do today is to research kitchen lighting, but it's not an attractive option.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Way of All Flesh
by Samuel Butler

narrated by Frederick Davidson
"The story of a young man who survives the baleful influence of a hateful, hypocritical father, a doting mother, and a debauched wife, to emerge as a decent, happy human being. It is also a stinging satire of Victorian gentry, their pomposity, sentimentality, pseudo-respectability, and refined cruelty, a satire still capable of delivering death-blows to the same traits that exist in our present world."
I'm not sure I'd describe this as satire. It's a family saga with a bit of philosophising on the side, and the main character really only finds happiness when he inherits a fortune from his aunt, although he gets a bit happier when he discovers that his alcoholic wife is a bigamist and can separate from her with a clear conscience.  I thought the narration was OK to begin with, but decided by the end that the narrator was getting in the way of the story somehow. Strangely, I got the impression that the narrator actually didn't much like doing the reading, and was influencing how I felt about the characters - I've never thought this for a moment about any of the readers before, even when I thought they weren't much good. But hey, my classical literary education continues to grow.

Image of the book cover

Collected Short Stories
by Patrick O'Brian
"Collected here is a definitive selection of all the stories O’Brian wishes to preserve. They exhibit an effortless variety of mood and tone: some stories are enchantingly funny, others exciting, terrifying or passionate."
I think the key phrase in the description is that these are the stories that the author 'wishes to preserve.' They aren't very good, at least, I didn't like them at all. I'm sure they are very 'literary' or 'clever' but some of them were more vignettes than stories, and even the ones that had a beginning, middle and end weren't very pleasant subjects.

Image of the book cover

Margaret the First
by Danielle Dutton
"Exiled to Paris at the start of the English Civil War, Margaret meets and marries William Cavendish and, with his encouragement, begins publishing volumes of poetry and philosophy, which soon become the talk of London. After the Restoration, upon their return to England, Margaret’s infamy grows. She causes controversy wherever she goes, once attending the theatre with breasts bared, and earns herself the nickname ‘Mad Madge’."
This is a fictionalised biography of a real person, and for me it didn't work at all. The blurb suggests that Margaret Cavendish was a revolutionary character: the first woman to publish a book of poetry, the first woman to be invited to a meeting of the Royal Society, and clearly shocking in her public persona. The account in the book makes her sound much less interesting and doesn't connect these episodes with any coherence. Despite having read a whole book about her, I don't really understand her at all.

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A Mother's Courage
by Dilly Court
"When Eloise Cribb receives the news that her husband's ship has been lost at sea she wonders how she is ever going to manage. With two young children, the rent overdue and almost nothing to live on, Eloise is faced with her worst nightmare: she must either go to the workhouse, or abandon her children at the Foundling Hospital."
An easy read for the journey home on the train overnight from France, not all that great but good enough. Interesting from a stylistic viewpoint that the writing doesn't ring true, but hard to put my finger on exactly what is wrong with it. Anyway, I finished it, so it can't have been that bad.

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Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
"A groundbreaking tour of the mind explaining the two systems that drive the way we think. Practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble."
This is a surprisingly accessible account of academic research on the boundary of psychology and economics. It describes the equivalent of optical illusions in our perceptions and behaviours around intuition, illustrating beautifully the contradictory positions that we take based on the information presented. There doesn't seem to be much we can do about it except be aware, in the same way as being aware that two lines that appear to be different lengths are not - we can't see them as the same length, we can only know them to be so. So framing a percentage risk in two ways that intuitively appear different (0.01% mortality, 1 in 10,000 will not survive) does not allow us to perceive the risk to be the same, but cognitively we must be aware that it is the same risk. It's a big fat book with absolutely loads of fascinating examples of how our minds work, and I would keep it on my shelves and refer to it now and again except that it was loaned to me and I've got to give it back, and I don't want it enough to buy a copy for myself!

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by Sir Walter Scott

narrated by Simon Prebble
"Ivanhoe, a trusted ally of Richard the Lion Hearted, returns from the Crusades to reclaim the inheritance his father denied him. Ivanhoe is captured along with his Saxon compatriots, Isaac the Jew and his daughter Rebecca, but Richard and the well-loved, famous outlaw Robin Hood team up to defeat the Normans."
When I told Cousin H I was reading this he thought it would be hard going, but it isn't that bad. I was intrigued by the author's interest in the underlying conflict between conquered Saxon and conquering Norman of the time, the position of Jews in society as the hated wealthy infidel usurers, and the contrast of chivalric honour with murder and kidnapping for ransom. By the end the good guys had triumphed, the bad guys mostly succumbed. There are only three women in the book: one dies, one is married for love and the other emigrates to Spain. All very satisfactory.

Friday, 3 March 2017


February 2017
I haven't been doing much reading recently, instead I've been listening to radio using iPlayer. And I've had another break from eBay, so I need to get started on that again. Even the LTRP hasn't moved forward that much since the spare room painting finished, although I have been slowly furnishing the room a bit more.

One thing has progressed - the kitchen architect paid a visit to talk more about the detail - plug sockets, light switches, radiators, that sort of thing. She thought my quote from the kitchen designer was a bit steep, so there may be some room for negotiation.

She gave me some homework too. I need to come up with a plan for lighting, because the building specification will need to take into account how the wiring will work, I have to talk to the builder about the type of flat roof I'll have, because she strongly recommends some sort of rubberised membrane, which is apparently the best type of roof and guaranteed for 40 years, but the builder will probably want to supply fibreglass. And she pushed back quite hard when I said I don't want a cooker hood, and I had to be rather assertive on that point.

She also encouraged me to go to the Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in Birmingham at the end of March, and gave me some free tickets. The show dates are when Lola II and Mr M are due to visit me, and I thought about asking them whether they would be interested in going too, and even started writing an email to them, before I realised that actually I didn't want to go at all. There's nothing about homebuilding and renovating that interests me at all, even though I'm having my kitchen homebuilt and renovated.

As the not-in-focus photo at the top of the post shows, the bulbs that I planted are starting to sprout. As I expected when I planted them I am delighted and surprised, having forgotten all about them. There are some crocuses too, and some daffodils (although I think I had the daffodils before). The wisteria is totally pruned - slightly over-pruned in my enthusiasm - but I think it will survive. Yet again I have a row of black bags full of prunings to take to the tip.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Random Chairs in a Darkened Room V

Two dogs sitting up in the shade looking out at the patio and pool in the sun
Spain, November 2016
Lola II and Mr M staged the fifth annual Gulloebl film festival (subtitled 'Random Chairs in a Darkened Room) last weekend. Invited guests had the opportunity to watch up to eight films over the weekend, and this time there was a theme: all of the films featured Alan Rickman, who died last year. I watched seven of the eight films, and it reaffirmed for me what a talented actor and a delight to watch he was.

Due to the number of visitors like myself travelling to attend the festival and needing accommodation, I was allocated to sleep in the annexe. This took the form of a tent in the garden, which was pretty snug with duvet, blanket, hot water bottle and socks. I like camping but this was probably the first time I have camped in February.

My favourite of the seven films I watched was Dogma (1999), the most mainstream of director Kevin Smith's films. I've seen most of this director's previous work, starting with Clerks, and enjoyed most of them. Dogma features Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as well as Alan Rickman, and the Catholic Church is the cast member referenced by the title. I was expecting this to be my favourite film of the weekend, and it didn't disappoint.

Second best was Snow Cake (2006) which starred Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss. I'd seen it before and I knew I'd liked it, although I couldn't remember any details. A man gives a lift to a young woman who is killed in a terrible road accident. The man (played by Alan Rickman) feels compelled to make his way to the young woman's mother, who turns out to have autism, and the story covers just the few days he spends with her. It's touching, poignant, thought-provoking and occasionally funny.

Galaxy Quest (1999) has appeared in a previous film festival, but I could watch it every year. At the end my cheeks hurt from grinning, and the rich source of quotations from the film is a boon in many situations (Never give up, never surrender!) Sigourney Weaver is in this one too, along with Tim Allen, (You are our laaaast hooope). And, of course, Alan Rickman (Give him a hand, he's British!)

My next favourite was Truly Madly Deeply (1990). I hadn't realised that it was written and directed by Anthony Minghella with Juliet Stevenson in mind (if IMDb is to be believed). The writing was beautiful, sad and funny in turn, even though Alan's moustache and Juliet's wardrobe were dreadful. Tissues were available at the screening, and there were plenty of muffled sniffles at the end.

I also love Sense and Sensibility (1995), not only for the wonderful Alan but also for the other quality performances from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Hugh Grant was there too, but he was just playing himself as usual. Terrific writing, which won Oscars for Emma Thompson as the writer as well as Best Actress. Hugh Laurie deserves a notable mention for his delivery of some wonderful lines. Mrs Palmer: "No, I cannot believe it is that far, for you can see the place from the top of our hill. Is it really five and a half? No. I cannot believe it." Mr Palmer: "Try."

So five of the seven films receive my full approval; the remaining two that I watched were Die Hard (1988) with Bruce Willis, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) with every British actor ever. I hadn't seen Die Hard before but it is said to be a classic - I can see that it's quite good, but it's just not my kind of thing. I've read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the films, but the books are better and this first film spends a lot of its time setting up the series. The film I didn't watch in the festival line-up was Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991) - I actually started watching it on DVD a few years ago, but stopped after about half an hour. So I wasn't keen to try again.

If it had been up to me to choose films featuring Alan Rickman I would have included A Little Chaos (2014) - Kate Winslet again, but also the incomparable Matthias Schoenaerts as well as the always reliable Stanley Tucci. Love Actually (2003) is another obvious choice with Emma and Hugh again, and I thought the recent Eye in the Sky (2015) with Helen Mirren was also very good indeed. But there are so many choices.

My ultimate plan is to be awarded the first Gulloebl Film Festival franchise and to stage my own version when my house is ready. Of course I'm already thinking of what I might include, and the selection this year has sparked many ideas - Matthias Schoenaerts leads me to Rust and Bone and Suite Francaise as well as A Little Chaos, there's Kevin Smith's Clerks, and perhaps more of Ben Affleck (maybe Argo?) and Matt Damon (maybe Invictus?) Favourite female actors who might feature include Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding and I would say Little Miss Sunshine but that's been shown at the Gulloebl Film Festival before, then there are The Sixth Sense and About A Boy which are a bit too mainstream). I love watching Melissa McCarthy as well, who was lovely in The Heat with Sandra Bullock, Spy with Jude Law and St Vincent with Bill Murray. Lastly for the women, I'd watch anything with Alison Janney (Juno and American Beauty spring to mind). There are so many wonderful films in the world. I don't know how Lola II and Mr M manage to whittle their choices down to just eight a year.

As a form of apprenticeship in preparation for the franchise, I undertook several roles backstage including making popcorn and ice cream vendor, I received full and frank feedback when I neglected the popcorn due to being distracted by guests, and I was given short shrift and sent off to buy some proper cream when I tried to substitute Elmlea on the basis that Waitrose was closed and this was all the newsagent stocked. But I think with a bit more effort I might be trusted with the valued Gulloebl brand in a year or two.

The Gulloebl Chinema management team carried out my appraisal a week later, and I received the following feedback. Luckily for me they seem to have overlooked the popcorn and cream issues.

Year One Probation Appraisal

Trainee: Lola I
Role: Canine Corpus
Employment Status: Hopeful
Supervision Date: 23 rd February 2017

Duties and Comments

Popcorn making: Corn popped as required
Dishwasher loading: Dishwasher loaded
Ice cream vending: Needed supervision at first, but threw herself (and the ice creams) into delivery. However, forgot to collect any money. Losses to be taken from her wages. We are not Robin Hood (which Lola would know if she had watched the film)
Height: Adequate but not quite up to Lola II
Dietary knowledge: Generally excellent though struggles to identify portions of fruit if they are in jars
Prospects: Lola showed real potential and in a few years’ time, we fully expect her to be allowed to sleep in the house. We also envisage her being welcomed into heaven, when her time comes.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tedious parking issues

Garden view with spiky pink flowers
Krakow Botanic Garden, July 2016
I'm still spending many spare minutes engaged in eBay trading, and my Canadian buyer is still keeping the boat afloat. Meanwhile other members of the family are busying themselves with other aspects of dad's collected material, with limited success. The past weekend contained a trip to The North West, where the weather was cold but the welcome was warm. Part of the reason behind the trip was to stay with old friends I hadn't seen for more than five years, but on the way there and back I offered to assist with the further clearing and emptying of goods currently stored in basement rooms. Just the threat of my presence was enough to prompt the requisite activity - I hardly had to do anything, and even acquired a certain proportion of said goods, some of which I have passed on to Ilf.

Yes, Ilf has paid another visit, and the upstairs spare room is looking even better with its final coat of paint. Next it will need curtains, a bedside table, the clothes rail that returned with me from The North West, and I'm thinking of sanding and painting a wooden chair that is currently in the garage looking very sad. That will complete the bedroom half of the spare room; I haven't thought too much about the office half yet. I made the follow up trip to the kitchen design shop to talk through some changes, and the plan is nearly finished. I'm still feeling good about the progress of the LTRP.

At work the talk has been of parking for a very long time, and is becoming extremely tedious. The Trust has two hospital sites; the one where I don't work (Hospital A) has insufficient parking for both staff and patients, leading to much stress. When I used to do a clinic there, patients occasionally phoned the reception desk from the car park, and more than once it was to say they were not coming to their appointment simply because there was nowhere to park. The hospital where I do work (Hospital B) has plenty of parking space.

Parking passes used to be allocated to staff at Hospital A on some arcane basis that probably had a lot to do with historical precedent and seniority. When I worked there, I used to park on a nearby housing estate that is 20 minutes' walk away from the hospital site. Since I stopped working there, the housing estate has introduced residents-only parking, so staff would park in the Tesco car park, which is 25 minutes away. Tesco is now limiting its free parking to exclude such visitors, and I really don't know what staff do any more.

It was decided that a fairer system needed to be introduced, so all staff are being invited to re-apply for parking passes which will be awarded on the basis of need, taking account of the requirements of the job role and public transport options. These are not free passes, but they cost less than the daily parking charges that patients pay. They used to be charged at different rates depending on pay grade and hours worked, so part-timers and those on low pay grades paid less. The new system is a flat rate for all from part-time cleaner to Chief Executive.

Throughout the extended period of time when details were slowly being made available to staff, it was never made clear whether these changes would apply at Hospital B, where there is no parking problem. The main grouse in my department was the unfairness of changing from proportional pricing to a flat rate, but parking raises such high emotion that barely a day went by without someone complaining afresh about the unfairness, which usually set someone else off, sometimes on an unrelated course, usually about the changes to the retirement pension entitlement. Parking, pensions, more parking - most lunchtimes descended into dissatisfied whingeing.

At last the day came when we could finally apply for a new pass under the new, 'fairer' guidelines. My goodness, the complaining escalated to unimaginable heights when it was discovered that anyone living nearer than two miles from Hospital B was going to be denied a parking pass on principle. Emails were fired off like cannonades - secure bicycle parking was going to be needed, husbands were going to set up lift sharing services, people couldn't be expected to walk all that way at their age, and what if it snowed? I felt like saying that I would love to work within walking distance of my home and not have to pay for parking or petrol at all.

Things calmed down when one member of staff was informed that there had been a mistake, and the two mile limit was supposed to apply to Hospital A only, given that parking capacity at Hospital B was adequate for all who wanted passes. But the price increase would still apply at Hospital B. And this is where we stand at present, and I hope they will all stop moaning about it soon.

Small flower and bud at base of aspidistra stalks
In other news, my aspidistra is flowering!
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