Sunday, 29 March 2015

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Heart of the Matter
by Graham Greene
"Scobie is a highly principled officer in a war-torn West African state. When he is passed over for promotion he is forced to borrow money to send his despairing wife away on a holiday. In her absence he falls hopelessly in love with Helen, a young widow, and his life is transformed by the experience."
There's no denying that Mr Greene is a very fine writer. His characters are minutely described, and so real that I can almost understand how a Catholic fears mortal sin. I can see them in my mind's eye, and a pretty unappealing lot they all are. And that's the only problem with this book.

Image of the book cover

Moon Tiger
by Penelope Lively
"The elderly Claudia Hampton, a best-selling author of popular history, lies alone in a London hospital bed. Memories of her life still glow in her fading consciousness, but she imagines writing a history of the world. Instead, Moon Tiger is her own history."
I'm puzzled at how good this book is. The narrator is dying. She has lived a full life, and describes some of it. She is not particularly likeable, she has been a poor mother and a challenging individual to friends and family, but for a very brief period during the second world war she is in love, and it is requited, and the reader understands and forgives her the rest.

Image of the book cover

Cover Her Face
by P. D. James
"On the same day as the St Cedd's church fete in the grounds of her home, Martingale, Mrs Maxie learns of her son Stephen's engagement. By the next morning, her new parlourmaid, Sally Jupp, is dead."
A proper old school detective story, with clues, suspects, motives, and opportunities to guess the murderer. I thought I had read PD James before, but I don't think I have after all. Maybe I'll try a few more.

Image of the book cover

The Lost Duke of Wyndham
by Julia Quinn
"Jack Audley has been a highwayman and a soldier. What he is not, and never wanted to be, is a peer of the realm. But when he is recognized as the long-lost son of the House of Wyndham, his carefree life is over."
Not a challenging read, but fine for the eternity of time between returning starving to the hotel after skiing and the dinner service. I'm nearly done with Julia Quinn, because although she writes quite nicely, the plots of the books I've read so far are awfully similar.

Image of the book cover

Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell
"Orwell volunteered as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War, and here he describes with bitter intensity the bright hopes and cynical betrayals of that chaotic episode: the revolutionary euphoria of Barcelona, the courage of ordinary Spanish men and women he fought alongside, the terror and confusion of the front, his near-fatal bullet wound and the vicious treachery of his supposed allies."
If there had been such things as blogs in those days, this chronicle would have been published in that format. It is of its time and very political, although he does describe very vividly what it was like to serve in this particular conflict, the vast gulf between idealism and pragmatism, and the role of journalism in misrepresenting everything that occurred. These at least are the messages that I took away; I have to admit to still being somewhat mystified about the different factions: Anarchist, Socialist, Fascist, Communist, and where the Government stood among all these parties.

Image of the book cover

A Dark-Adapted Eye
by Barbara Vine

narrated by Harriet Walter
"Like most families they had their secrets, and they hid them under a genteelly respectable veneer. No onlooker would guess that prim Vera Hillyard and her beautiful, adored younger sister, Eden, were locked in a dark and bitter combat over one of those secrets."
The second Barbara Vine book I've listened to, and another good one. It starts by declaring who has committed the murder, and then you spend the rest of the book finding out who was murdered and why. Unlike the classic crime fiction where you don't know who did it until the end, this is more of a 'whydunnit'. High quality narration as well.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


Union jack bedding, curtains and lampshade
Mamas Inn Boutique Hotel, March 2015
Last weekend was the umpteenth birthday commemorative weekend that Lola II and I have spent together, and this year's host city was Nottingham.

The journey north was fairly straightforward apart from being stopped by a police car - my mistake was turning my headlights off when dropping off Mr M and forgetting to turn them on again. Trying to navigate through the city, Lola II's phone refused to find a GPS signal and my phone insisted on directing us to go the wrong way along one-way streets at every opportunity, which left me thoroughly traumatised, especially given the police incident. Eventually we reached 'Mamas Inn Boutique Hotel', and it was AMAZING.

David and Marina and poster: People who love to eat are always the best people
The owners told us they had bought it less than a year ago and decorated each room in the style of a city - ours was 'London' but there was Venice, New York, Tokyo, Paris and more. In our room there were Union flags on every item including bedding, curtains, dressing gowns, flip-flops, bath flannels, lampshades, waste paper bins and a wardrobe made to look like a red telephone box.

And the food. The food was also wonderful - the best B&B breakfast I've ever had. A bowl of fruit followed by perfectly cooked eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, hash browns and toast, and a tiny little choc chip muffin to finish. We tried the continental breakfast and pancakes next day. I can highly recommend Mamas Inn, and would go to Nottingham again just for the opportunity to stay there.

On Saturday we decided to go to Wollaton Hall and Deer Park. Although this was my first visit, the Hall seemed to me to be one of those places that you get taken to as a child and then becomes part of your childhood lore, drawing you back as an adult to revisit the wonders that made such an impression in those early days. My place of childhood wonders was the Natural History Museum in London, with its dodo and the reconstructed dinosaurs and the blue whale skeleton. Wollaton Hall's wonders, however, were much more eccentric and strange - the wall of animal heads, George the Gorilla, the tiger in the stairwell (or was it a lion? I forget). It seemed to exist in a time warp, slightly scruffy and reminiscent of the 70's.

Although there is no charge for entry to the Hall or Park, we decided to pay for a tour, and what a tour it was. The guide was astonishingly bad - Lola II struggled to actually understand what was being said, and I struggled to keep from laughing most of the time. She would talk about an aspect of the furniture or paintings or stonework or household staff, and we had no idea at all what she was talking about - she would wave in a general direction and we would look desperately around trying to locate the 'bushes', or the 'lions in the style of Venice' or whatever. The two best comments for me were firstly in the kitchen, where she encouraged us to pick up and handle the pies and meat - which were models made of plastic. The other was down in the cellar where she showed us the fresh water spring. "You can drink the water," she told us, "although I wouldn't. There was two girls on the tour the other day, and they drank some, but they was all right afterwards."

Dome and staircase
Council House
The weather was wintry, but we spent an hour or so walking around the Park and its environs before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. I lived in Nottingham for a year and deliberately avoided going to a highly-rated Japanese restaurant just so that Lola II and I could go together. It was very good, and worth the wait.

After that we went to the cinema. I had looked in vain for anything more cultural, but there wasn't a single theatre performance or concert in the whole city on Saturday night, except at Rock City. So we went to the pictures.

On Sunday we decided to visit the city itself, and after visiting the best public toilets I've ever been to we had a tour of the Council House. This time the guide announced herself to be an accredited Blue Badge guide, but there was still a touch of the insane about her - Lola II thought she might be a frustrated actor. We met Mr M and other friends in the Galleries of Justice museum where we declined to take the tour but looked around the free galleries showing stuff about World War I and an confusing account of the detection and trial of a serial murderer. Then we had lunch, and cake, and it was time to go home.

Lola II and union jack picture, cushions and dressing gown

Thursday, 19 March 2015

PDR, VLC group and DUK PC

Tortoiseshell butterfly on pink flower head
Peckover House, August 2014
I haven't written much about work for a while, so here goes.

I had my annual Personal Development Review (PDR), I hosted our monthly Very Low Carbohydrate group, I went to the Diabetes UK Professional Conference in London, and of course there were the usual clinics.

It's going quite well, although I'm having rather too many good ideas. When I have good ideas I tend to get a bit obsessive, the ideas blossom and grow, they expand beyond the available space and instead of a tidy achievable project designed to meet defined goals I end up imagining the biggest, best, most complete and perfect solution to put an end to all conflict in the world. Then I realise it's totally unachievable and start to doubt whether I can do anything at all. I have a good deal of respect for people who can come up with a sensible and successful idea, put together a plan and then see it through into practice.

I'll give a small example - Carbs and Cals. This is a book, and much more. The author is a Diabetes Dietitian who got together with a photographer friend and took photographs of different portion sizes of various foods, then put them in a book with labels showing the amount of carbohydrate in grammes and the calories in each portion. It was the perfect solution to a problem faced by every person with Type 1 Diabetes and a lot of those with Type 2 - how much carbohydrate is in that portion? Carbs and Cals will show you.

The book was so successful that it has expanded to show Carbs, Cals, Protein, Fat and Fibre; there is a website, a phone app, flash cards, teaching resources and much more. One manufacturer in the diabetes world includes a copy of Carbs and Cals in the box with one of its blood glucose meters. Diabetes UK has lent its logo to the cover and sells the book via its online shop. I met the author at the conference last week. He is the nearest thing to an A-List celebrity in the diabetes world - every single person of the thousands in that conference centre would have heard of him and his book, but he seemed pretty modest and unassuming.

The point is, he came up with an idea and saw it through. He probably spent an immense amount of time and money on it, presumably found his own publisher, designer, editor, set up sales channels - and I can't tell you how much I admire and envy the talent and commitment he shows, because I think it is unlikely that he was given much time to do it at work - I don't know for certain, but I'm guessing he did it all in his spare time.

I want to create an online resource to support our patients who have taken on the very low carb lifestyle, and I am in the wild imagining stage. My idea has exploded to include more than a website: I am imagining a discussion forum, recipes, pictures, an app, published research papers, a blog, a secure section where people can record their blood results, live interaction with Dietitians, links to SMS text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, anything and everything. I need to scale back my ambition and make it achievable. At the moment I cannot access any of these elements from work, due to restrictions imposed by the IT department. Almost everything is blocked and my browser is so old that many ordinary websites can't be used properly.

This project is one of my PDR objectives, so at least I should be supported to do it in work time, although I expect I will have to put in a bit of extra effort if I want it to succeed. My other main PDR objective is to get more involved in pump clinics. Up to now I've concentrated on acquiring the basic knowledge that applies to the majority, but for a number of reasons, this is a good time to focus down on the minority who use CSII - continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion, or insulin pumps.

The number of pump users is increasing as more adults acquire them, and as those who were started on pumps as children transfer into the adult service. Every adult on a pump should be equipped with the skills to use the pump effectively, but it is not so clear cut with children. Anyway, because the general level of diabetes knowledge and skill in the adult population with pumps, I have rather left them alone and concentrated on less able people coming to clinics. But our pump service is set to expand, and there is quite a lot I could be doing to help and support pump users. More on this at a later date, I expect.

The conference. It turned out to be pretty difficult getting funding to attend the conference. I approached the dietetic and diabetes departments and every industry manufacturer and rep that came within two feet of me, which was bordering on humiliating and completely fruitless. In the end, a colleague managed to get a company to pay our attendance fee, but nobody would stump up for accommodation. We eventually had to apply for funding to the hospital's charitable funds, and I got an email 15 minutes before the end of my last working day before the conference letting me know the accommodation cost had been approved. I won't get any reimbursement for travel.

Apart from this, the conference experience was excellent. Being fairly new to diabetes I hadn't been to this event before, but in my old life I had staged a conference with my team and have been to many in this country and in the USA. This one had a lot more money spent on it by the Pharma companies exhibiting and sponsoring the talks than in the world of disability and visual impairment, which shouldn't really have been a surprise.

I saw too much to write about here, but the highlights included:
  • a heated 'debate' between one maverick Dietitian who is promoting a diet high in saturated fat, and the rest of the dietetic community who don't believe that the evidence is strong enough to support this approach
  • a session on exercise and Type 1 Diabetes (this is one of the most complicated areas I've encountered yet)
  • a very useful summary of pump usage given that I'm going to be focusing on this area, and 
  • links with various people who talked to me about whether and how their NHS employer allows them to use state of the art technologies.
So lastly, my low carbers. I started to worry that the group would fizzle out - a few people have left, either because they are successful or because they can't manage it any longer, which is why I'm so keen to create something online to help them. For this month's meeting I bought a cookbook of Low Carb Gluten Free Vegetarian recipes which source their protein mainly from eggs, cheese and tofu, and I reckoned the group probably hadn't cooked with tofu before. So I cooked one of the recipes (teriyaki tofu with broccoli), bought a few different types of tofu (firm, silken, marinated) for the group to taste, and printed a selection of tofu recipes. It was one of the most successful meetings so far. And they are all doing well, still losing weight and maintaining great blood glucose control.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


Serrated leaves
Peckover House, August 2014
It took me a week to publish the last blog post; the whole week after my holiday was a bit too busy with badminton and work and other stuff, and the state of Lola Towers had deteriorated to the extent that when a friend dropped round briefly on Wednesday night (by the way, this NEVER happens) I was very glad indeed that she didn't need to visit the bathroom.

On Thursday I played in a badminton match and I was unexpectedly offered two tickets to the international badminton in Birmingham on Friday night. Having had such a busy time during the week I did think twice about accepting, but couldn't resist in the end. It started at 5 p.m. and I got there at about 5.30, and it went on for ever. I left at 11.30 p.m. before the last match had even started.

The weekend was supposed to be quieter but that didn't happen either. I thought I would have a lie in, but my body clock had other ideas, and because I was awake early I decided to do a Parkrun, followed by house cleaning and a bit of necessary food shopping in town. As I came back from shopping, I glanced at the car, and my heart sank as I saw it had one completely flat tyre. Another job to do - not a difficult one, but it just added to the list of work for the weekend.

It almost turned into the stuff of nightmares. Let me tell you about locknuts. If you haven't changed a car wheel lately, you may not have come across them - one nut on each wheel (the locknut) does not have the usual hexagonal format but is a non-standard shape, and you have an adaptor that converts the special shape into a hexagon so it will fit the wheel spanner. It's intended to prevent the theft of wheels, but I hadn't ever given this much thought in all the time I've owned the car.

I went ahead with changing the flat for the spare wheel and driving up to a tyre repair place in town. As I was discussing the job with the chap there, I realised that I didn't remember storing the locknut adaptor in the car anywhere. I had driven away with it still attached to the wheel, and it had fallen off somewhere along the way.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when all joy drains out of your heart and an awful doom hovers just over the horizon? Maybe you think you have lost something valuable and essential: a handbag, or a wallet, or the only set of keys to your house or your car, or you realise as you arrive at the airport to check in for a long-haul flight that your passport is at home 3 hours away. It is something that is quite easily misplaced, but maybe you have just looked for it in the wrong place, and if you look in the right place there it will be and everything will be all right, but if you really have lost it or left it at home then you face huge expense and so, so much annoyance and recrimination and disruption to your life.

The man in the tyre place explained what would happen if I really had lost the locknut adaptor. Of course it could be replaced, it is only about £40 for a new adaptor and the four matching wheel nuts, but without the correct adaptor for my current locknuts it wouldn't be possible to take off any of the wheels. He didn't go into detail about how much that job would cost. I just said I was going home to look for it.

It was there, lying in the middle of the road, only a few yards from where I had changed the wheel. When I picked it up, I actually kissed it.

After that the puncture repair proceeded without further incident. By the time I got home and fired up the computer for the first time that day and it reminded me about the monthly clarinet choir rehearsal, it was too late and I'd missed it. Saturday was not a good day. Sunday was better.

I was going to continue with work news of my annual review, very low carb and conference news, but I've run out of time - it will have to wait.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Ski Italy

Mountain vista with blue cloudless sky
Courmayeur, February 2015
No time for much blogging, I'm still keeping busy but thought I'd just jot down a brief report for those who care what I've been up to. I've been skiing, in Courmayeur in Italy, and it was good. There were a couple of overcast days at the start when it snowed, then a couple of perfectly sunny days, and some that were in between.

Because I'm keen and showed up for the first minibus transfer before the lifts even opened, I met a group of seven Scots staying at my hotel who were happy to have me skiing with them, and equally happy when I peeled off to do my own thing. My own thing was not spending a lot of time having breaks, having small lunches, carrying on skiing for as long as I could manage, then back to the hotel for a shower before settling down for the long, long wait until dinner was served. Last year, when Mr A and I went to Austria, the hotel dished up dinner at six - perfect. This hotel didn't start the dinner service until half past seven, by which time I had been trying to find any sort of distraction for two hours or more in order to prevent me from eating my own shoes.

I got to know the guests at neighbouring tables at dinner as well as my Scottish adopted ski family. It wasn't too bad at all being a solo skier, and I had company when I wanted it, but most of the time I didn't. As well as 6 to 7 hours skiing a day I read five books while I was there... bliss. No injuries, but I don't think my technique improved, unlike the last time when I had three days of instruction included in the package. It did, however, cost half as much this time compared with that trip.

Back home - laundry, badminton, work and more. I should have a relatively quiet weekend, so maybe I'll have time to write about my annual review and the latest very low carb group meeting. Off to a badminton match now - ciao!

Selfie in ski gear with mountains

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