Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Fishing boat moored
Ionian sea, June 2014
We were on holiday and now we're back, have been back for a week or more, and where has all the blogging gone? It's gone to work, that's where, with five-day full-time working for three weeks and the realisation that I had taken my extra spare time for granted over the last five months. I'd got used to being able to play badminton on Monday and Tuesday and have a lie-in on Tuesday and Wednesday, thus allowing me to function when necessary at work for the remaining week.

Coming back from holiday on Sunday, then straight into full-time hours for a week has also reminded me how old I am. One of the very young badminton players (i.e. under 30!) was talking about where she would be going to party on her birthday after badminton finished on Tuesday at 9.30 p.m. It made me remember that I used to do that once. It was lovely being young, and the observation that youth is wasted on them is becoming a common refrain. And no young person has ever or will ever understand.

Saturday morning was the first opportunity for lie-in, and what time do you think I woke up? 6 a.m, that's what time. Birds singing, sun shining, bin lorries reversing, distant trains and nearby cars and even more nearby snoring. I finally gave in at 7 a.m.

Back to the holiday - it was in the Ionian sea off the coast of Greece, in a very large catamaran with four other friends, and we stopped off on the coast of Ithaca and Cephalonia and probably some other places. I wasn't paying attention, really - I wasn't in charge, and there was nothing much to see that was memorable or of historical note in any of the villages or towns we saw, except a couple of presentation boards in the town square of Stavros on the island of Ithaca, suggesting that Odysseus's palace had been found. We didn't go to the site, though. It wasn't that kind of holiday.

Golden sunset over the harbour

Instead we sailed, and while our friends Mr and Mrs Captain who have their sailing qualification did the driving, the rest of us sat in various shady (or sunny) corners of the boat and read books or surveyed the scenery. It was a great holiday for reading. I thought there would be more swimming, but the water was still fairly cold. I did swim twice, and was reminded how buoyant the sea is - I think the last time I swam in salt water would have been in the King Alfred baths in Brighton when I learned to swim as a child with Auntie Sylvia. You can just float if it all gets too tiring.

Mr A became a knot specialist. We were all expected to help with the mooring, which is the trickiest manoeuvre in a sailing holiday when you don't want your enormous catamaran to come into contact with any rocks, jetties or other boats. This is quite important, I came to understand, a bit like the importance on land of not coming into contact with railway bridges or other cars or, in the sky, with other aeroplanes. I'm quite confident with my half hitches and clove hitches, and I could do a bowline at a push, but by the end of the week Mr A could do a bowline upside down while suspended from the dinghy. He actually practised tying knots with his eyes closed.

Mr Captain did most of the steering and played with the sails when there was wind, Mrs Captain was in charge of the anchor, and my special skill turned out to be driving the dinghy, which is needed if you have to moor at a short distance from the shore because the mooring is too shallow for your enormous boat. I only had a couple of goes at it, but they went quite well. Our other two friends on board were in charge of swimming and smoking roll-ups if these were needed, which they mostly weren't. In fact, Mr and Mrs Captain did 90 percent of what needed to be done, Mr A did 5 percent (mostly knots) and the remaining three of us did virtually nothing. I did cook lunch twice, so that was a small contribution. The other two did quite a lot of washing up.

The other notable highlights of the holiday:
- The three male members of the party had become friends through their participation in various off road motorcycle events and rallies. They found it impossible to walk down any street without stopping at least 1000 times to look at and discuss some form of motorised transport. A seemingly ordinary conversation about, e.g. the merits of a hat could suddenly veer off into tales of foolhardiness on some desert rally in Africa.
- I found a Factor 50 suntan spray (called P20) that doesn't contain poison, doesn't smell like rotting vegetable matter, and works so well that on a day when my arms were exposed to the Ionian sun for the full eight hours I still looked as though I'd spent an overcast day walking in Scotland. I am tempted to write to the manufacturer. It was the day we rented scooters and whizzed about on the island of Ithaca: great fun. The disadvantage of the wonderful P20 is that weight for weight it costs more than gold.
- Greek salads. Every day. And lots and lots of reading.

Table and chairs on the sea front

Thursday, 19 June 2014

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

One Day
by David Nicholls

narrated by Anna Bentinck
"She peered up at him through her fringe as he leant against the cheap buttoned headboard and even without her spectacles on it was clear why he might want to stay exactly this way. Eyes closed, the cigarette glued languidly to his lower lip, the dawn light warming the side of his face through the red filter of the curtains, he had the knack of looking perpetually posed for a photograph."
Unusually, it's been a while since finishing this book before writing my review - but there's been a lot going on. It was interesting enough, and I enjoyed the concept of relating the events of one day over a period of years - a lot can be implied and you don't have to hear the detail, it certainly maintains the pace of the story. But in the end the characters weren't drawn sympathetically enough, and I didn't much like either of them, so it felt a bit shallow. Not bad though, and much better than my choices over the previous month.

Image of the book cover

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls
by David Sedaris

narrated by the Author
"A guy walks into a bar. From here, the story could take many turns. A guy walks into a bar and meets the love of his life. A guy walks into a bar and finds no one else is there. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will delight you with twists of humour and intelligence."
I like David Sedaris, and that's all that's needed for this collection of readings, some live to an audience, others narrated in the studio. There isn't much diabetes in it - in fact I don't remember any - but I do remember the owls, which are stuffed. He appeared live in Leamington Spa in March, and I would have gone to the show, but I was away skiing.

Image of the book cover

The Mask of Dimitrios
by Eric Ambler

narrated by Tony Gardener
"English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki. It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios - an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus."
A title from my list of 'Classics' but from an author I hadn't heard of before. It's a historical thriller in the mould of John Le Carre, but written earlier last century, and includes historical detail about the politics of Eastern Europe between the wars that was wasted on me. A quality read, though, and worth the time spent.

Image of the book cover

The Alchemist
by Paul Coelho

narrated by Jeremy Irons
"Here is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers into the Egyptian desert where a fateful encounter with the Alchemist awaits him."
Another book that appears on the 'Classic' list, quite short and poetically written, although that might be down to the translation. I think there is a sub-text in the story, but I'm too dense to pick it up - parables are not my thing. On the surface, a straightforward tale with a likeable hero and a happy ending.

Image of the book cover

Counselling People with Diabetes
by Richard Shillitoe
"This book takes you through the steps in the helping process; forming a relationship with the patient, agreeing goals for care, giving advice and information, supporting patients and families and helping them through difficult times."
This is a library book from work, not all that recent, but reiterating messages that are only refined and improved in newer textbooks. I'm attending the level 2 Behaviour Change course next week, so this has helped to remind me of the areas that I'm aware need more attention.

Image of the book cover

Relics of the Dead
by Ariana Franklin
"Medieval Glastonbury - human remains have been uncovered. Are these the bones of King Arthur and Guinevere? On hearing of this momentous discovery, King Henry II demands evidence that the legendary Arthur is dead. So he calls upon his Mistress of the Art of Death, anatomist Adelia Aguilar, to examine the bones."
I like the way this writer puts her mysteries together, making for a book that I end up reading at a wild gallop, reaching the end, and thinking, "I should have read that more slowly, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more." But when there's a plot to untangle I can't slow down - one reason that audio books are so satisfying for me: they make me read at a pace that forces me to absorb every word without skipping through.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Shopping and running

Two croquet players and a garden urn with flowers
Just a nice picture from 2004

Good news

The gastroparesis article is finished, the editor seems to like it, and has sent a pro-forma invoice for me to submit. They are going to pay me! Given the amount of time it took, the hourly rate probably works out at less than the minimum wage, and I ought to declare it for tax, but on the whole I think this qualifies as good news. Finishing the writing has freed up my Tuesdays for more interesting things.

I have been on a shopping spree. Nearly all online, of course, but still, it felt like going into the street and throwing money at things that I've wanted to get for a very long time but it was just too much effort to go into shops. Quite ordinary things mostly: a dish drainer tray, oven gloves, electronic kitchen scales, a new kitchen bin. The bin is not ordinary because it is a luxury touch-top item from Brabantia and cost more than all the other purchases put together, but it is a thing of beauty while being utterly functional.

I also bought a new mobile phone, or more accurately, a phone contract that comes with a new mobile phone. It had taken me two years to bump up against the limitations of my first smartphone, but eventually I realised that I should be able to download more than two apps and use the camera without it seizing up. It took a few long sessions on the Internet and a fairly extended discussion in a shop, but my new mobile has changed my views on smartphones, and has excelled in an entirely unexpected field - my running.

I downloaded an app that used the GPS signal to track my location and speed. This was hopeless on the old mobile, but the new one coped very well. I turned the app on at the start of the run and then examined it at the end and it told me all about my route and speed and it was great. Then it emailed me a link to create a Spotify playlist, so I thought that would be fun. I no longer need or want the plinky-plonky music that came with the Couch to 5k podcast, but it's much less boring to run when listening to music.

The revelation came when I managed to put all these things together for my second Parkrun. The phone was robust enough to access and play the music, and I started up the running app alongside it and they both worked together, and I plugged in the earphones and I could listen as I ran. It wasn't even raining. All of a sudden, a few minutes into the run, the music was interrupted for a second and the running app gave me an update on how I was doing - how far and how fast I had run. I'm no newcomer to the power of the Interwebnets, but this was a combination of utility and ease of use that I found astounding.

So my running career has culminated in a time of 35-and-a-bit minutes for 5 km, which I am very pleased with. A friend was also there on Saturday, and speaking to him afterwards I was sure that I wasn't going to do any more runs, because all the way through I'd been thinking how tedious it all was, and how much more fun it is playing badminton. Subsequently, however, I looked back on the event with some pleasure, and now I'm not so sure that I won't do it again. I think our holiday will get in the way, but we'll see.

Lastly in the good news category, I spent the best part of a whole day cleaning the oven. Not good news in itself, but it doesn't half look nice when it's clean. That should last about a week.

Bad news

I mentioned that my ipod died and was revived - well, it has died again. Rather than ending my life, Mr A has generously lent me his, which is so far performing as it should, unlike my laptop. The poor laptop has been groaning and shuddering for a while, taking about 20 minutes to boot up and generally being more sluggish than a snail without a home. Mr A bought me a new hard disk and operating system, and once the gastroparesis article was finished I started installing it. Unfortunately, the new and powerful hard disk seems to overtax the geriatric laptop (born in 2009) so that after about 10 minutes of usage the fan fires up noisily and within a minute or two it shuts down without further ado. That's as far as we've got with the laptop. Mr A is experimenting with my ipod to see if he can keep it alive for a bit longer.

Meanwhile at work, there is bad news masquerading as good news. The Dietetic Manager is juggling her many fecund female staff who seem to come back from maternity leave for all of three minutes before admitting to being pregnant again, and that's not counting the ones whose family members require their immediate attention or are themselves needing some time away from the office. Not to make light of a distressing situation, one of the two hospital Dietitians where I work is unavoidably absent, and the Manager is taking none of my excuses or suggestions, and requires me to spend some time On The Wards.

I have tried to keep this to the minimum that is ethically possible, but I notice that I seem to think patients need a lot less attention than the Dietetic Manager does. I am going to have to see people in hospital beds who need nutrition support, and it is not the area of dietetic practice that interests or attracts me, which strongly suggests I am not going to be very good at it. Let's hope my attitude and out-of-date skill set doesn't land me in trouble. I really don't like ward work.

As a carrot dangling before my eyes, however, the same Dietetic Manager has suggested that more paid work may be available in Diabetes. This has been mentioned before, and timescales are vague, as are the actual content and location of the extra work required. I'm not holding my breath. I've started to enjoy my Tuesdays and I'm not quite so keen as I used to be to rejoin the world of full time work.

Ten foot thistle among the roses with me for scale
Also in the bad news category is the garden. I have done absolutely no work in the garden this year, which has left us with an attractive meadow instead of a lawn, an enormous amount of foliage covering every inch of soil, most of the walls, and causing the 'paved' area to resemble, well, more garden. We are about to go away for a week, and it keeps raining, so the plants may well have staged their bid to take over the house as well by the time we get back. If you look closely, the picture shows the dominance of the ten-foot thistle over the puny efforts of the human race. Although its two colleagues were broken by wind/rain, it has latched itself on to the rose bush and shows no signs of halting its assault on humanity. Luckily, its legs have not yet formed so we may yet be able to conquer it when the time comes.

Lastly in the bad news category, you may have noticed a lack of book reviews (good news for some, I believe). I have picked on the book 'Middlemarch' for leisure reading, and it is proving to be hard going. I've found a few good audio books though, and shall take some less heavy duty reading on holiday next week. I wonder how many I should pack?

Oh yes, our doorbell has stopped working too.

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