Sunday, 25 October 2015

Two busy weeks

Skyscrapers and blue sky
View of Chicago, June 2015
Remind me - what day is it? What am I supposed to be doing? Where should I be?

I like it when my days are full and it's busy, lots to do, people to see. A long afternoon stretching out with nothing scheduled and I get a little twitchy. But I have made a rod for my own back and overdone it a bit recently.

Of course, part of the problem is the extra-curriculars. If I hadn't agreed to be part of both Ladies and Mixed badminton teams, and continued to attend two different clubs, there would be a bit less badminton in the evenings. If I hadn't volunteered to do this 10k + obstacle course run in November, I wouldn't be doing so much running (although I haven't had time or strength to run for about two weeks). I've joined the work choir again this year, and we're having weekly rehearsals again. The basics of the choir practice haven't changed - a lovely leader with much more enthusiasm than musical knowledge who has again chosen carols that are pitched a bit too high for any of us to sing comfortably. I've admitted that I can play the piano in the hope that she will let me at least pick out the notes to help those singing the harmonies, but she hasn't yet called on me for assistance so I sing along with the rest.

So that's Monday to Thursday evenings fully committed most weeks - when I'm not playing or singing I'm too tired to run or even cook. At the weekends I sometimes run (I am very excited that I've now managed to do Parkrun 5k in under 30 minutes for the first time!), and plan and prepare meals for the whole week, assisted by the fact that I don't eat much on badminton nights and we've managed to get sponsorship for our structured education so that some Thursday lunches are provided. Which brings me on to work - there's quite a lot happening there too. The main thing is that we've been Windows Sevened. Is Windows 7 a verb? Yes, it is.

Apparently a few key people were aware this was in the pipeline but I was notified by email one afternoon that it was happening that night, so the next morning the Windows 7 tech team turned up to make sure everything was running as it should. Of course it wasn't. The basics were in place so we could use email, MS Office and most of the systems used everywhere in the Trust, but the specific diabetes systems were all over the place. The Windows 7 team asserted that they hadn't been told about any of those systems, while our team claimed that everything had been fully declared in advance.

Most of it has now been sorted out, the one remaining issue being an application that is used to download the data from a certain type of blood glucose meter and insulin pump, which is needed on six computers but is only working on one - mine. So every time a download is needed, my computer has to be used - actually that's not quite true, some of the meters can be downloaded onto a laptop, but only some of them and then we can't print anything. Chasing the Windows 7 team about this has been entirely fruitless - they are refusing to fix anything until the manufacturers of the software have sorted out how to download the data to a secure networked drive. It's very frustrating.

Would you like an update on progress towards having a ceiling-mounted data projector connected to a net-enabled computer? This is something that I asked about shortly after I started working in the Centre nearly two years ago. I started to make more of a fuss about it a year ago, and those holding the reins of power finally caved in and we started to apply for funding in December last year. The funds we targeted are in a specific charitable account that is managed entirely within the Diabetes service, which contained enough money to pay for the equipment, and our application met all the necessary criteria. Despite all this, we were up against a particular 'Jobsworth' character in hospital management - during the ten months that has elapsed one episode that stands out was when this person sent all the forms back to us by post because one box had not been ticked.

We were told, finally, that the whole scheme could go ahead about a month ago, but nothing has happened yet. Up to this point I have managed to resist becoming involved, mainly because I have no status with this charitable fund so could play no part in the application, but also because I knew the whole thing would wind me up - and it certainly has done that. I could hold off no longer, so now I am phoning our IT department and the equipment supplier at least twice a week until the ruddy thing is installed. I'm aiming to get it done before the first anniversary of the application starting. I am not confident that this is possible, not least because the quote is nearly a year old and I expect prices may have changed.

Meanwhile, my weighing scales have broken. I got in touch with people in the relevant department who arrived commendably promptly but were unable to fix the problem, so the scales have gone away with them. They were incredibly pessimistic about them ever coming back, and told me not to expect anything for a number of weeks. The scales were also provided by the Friends of the Hospital's charitable funds. It is sad to think that a department in a teaching hospital uses charitable funds for weighing scales and data projectors, but there are far worse troubles in the NHS than these minor issues. The NHS is pretty much broke, as far as I can tell from media reports.

My joy at having Tuesdays off has abated, but again it's my own fault. The DESMOND education that I am now qualified to deliver is also delivered by a different team, and I have long wanted to sit in on one of their courses to see how they do it and steal any good ideas. The disadvantage to this plan is that they deliver their courses on Tuesday mornings, so my lovely free Tuesdays have disappeared for the last two weeks while I watched them perform. I did get a few good ideas, but I'm still looking forward to a lie-in on a Tuesday. This coming Tuesday I've arranged for the boiler to be serviced at 9 o'clock. I should have asked for an afternoon appointment...

Alongside all of this bureaucratic mayhem I am still seeing patients, and our group education continues. Some of the patients on the very low carb diet are doing really well, everyone else is struggling as people will struggle when they try to changes habits of a lifetime. I'm getting a bit more proficient with insulin pumps, and was edged out of my comfort zone when I was asked to stand in for a nurse with one patient - this means advising on changing insulin dosage based on results of blood glucose monitoring, and is a bit scary. Luckily a nurse was around - in fact she was in the room using the software that only works on my PC - and helpfully chipped in now and again to agree with the advice I was giving, so that helped my confidence a lot.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Vroom beep beep

The car-buying ordeal is over. I have a car. It is a SEAT Ibiza, and it is white. At this point, I should include a stylish photo of me and the car, but for some reason I have not been taking many photos lately and I keep forgetting to do it during the daytime. So instead, I bring you a scarecrow dressed as a chef with a sheep under one arm.

A scarecrow dressed as a chef with a sheep under one arm
Harrogate, July 2015
It only took about six weeks to buy the car, and a lot of that was waiting because the most suitable was one being returned by a customer who replaces their car every year. I cannot believe that some people go through this every year, but maybe it's easier if all you have to do is choose the colour and accessories and hand over the cash on a monthly basis.

I got through three different salesmen in the week before taking delivery of my white car. I liked the first chap best, but he suddenly disappeared without trace (they weren't telling me where he went) and I got his manager next. He then delegated to a third salesman, who actually warned me in advance that he was leaving - he said it wasn't my fault when I asked. He told me that before this job he'd played rugby to a pretty high level, so he was moving to a job where he'd only have to work normal hours 5 days a week. Car salesmen work ridiculously long hours.

Cars, then. I'm not really interested in cars, I just want them to start up reliably when I turn the key, drive where I want to go without breaking down, and play my ipod through their speakers. So my total requirements included 5 doors, petrol engine, ipod connection. One reaches a compromise on age, mileage and cost. Fact: new SEAT Ibiza cars come in red unless you pay extra for another colour. Whoever first bought mine paid a premium for it to be white, and added mudflaps. I think the rest is standard.

Despite being standard specification, this car is more technologically advanced than anything I have in my house, including the laptop computer I'm typing on. I needed help to set it up and a lesson in how to use it before I drove it away. I will have to practise using the various features, especially the satnav thingy that also controls the music system and even lets me use my phone handsfree. There is a manual for the car, a manual for the satnav and a manual for the radio. I will be doing some more reading this weekend, except it is a bit boring so it may take a few weeks before I am competent to Bluetooth successfully. Whatever that entails.

The particular surprises I discovered when eventually I was shown 'my' car were not only the fancy shmancy satnav (which I'd been told about), but it also has parking proximity beeping sensors, and cruise control! This is a basic small car - cruise control used to be the domain of the travelling salesman doing 50,000 miles a year on motorways, not commuting up the road or the odd trip to Sainsburys. I have a proper long motorway journey coming up soon, so I'll give it a try then.

Update a few days later: I have now used the satnav thingy in earnest to find the location of my most recent badminton match, and it was rather good, unlike the match which we lost fairly comprehensively. Another good thing is that I have discovered one of the numbers on the fascia display tells me how many miles it will be before my fuel runs out (I don't yet know how accurate it is). More good news: the rear windscreen wiper works and all the interior controls light up with the headlights - these things are good because they are things that the previous car had stopped doing. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a beep if I open the door before I've turned the headlights off - I haven't tried it yet, but the Golf stopped doing that years ago.

A slightly less good thing is that as soon as the car is put in reverse the audio is muted in favour of the beepy parking proximity sensors. This is fine when you're listening to music or the radio, but I don't want to miss bits of my latest audio book just because I'm going backwards, so now I have to stop the ipod before putting the car in reverse gear. But maybe it will stop me hitting things when going backwards. I have never hit anything going backwards before, but you never know.

I very much doubt that in just under a week I have discovered all the things that this miracle of modern engineering can do. In future posts I may be moved to add footnotes of this variety: "You know my new car, well you'll never guess what it did yesterday..."

Friday, 9 October 2015

Getting things done

Close up of pink flower with yellow stamens
Peckover House, August 2014
The garden has been in need of attention for months now. It's not work that I particularly enjoy, although after everything has been cut back to within an inch of its life I take satisfaction in the brief period of orderliness before everything gets out of control again or the weather turns nasty and I don't go into the back garden for six months. It's a blessing that I don't have a front garden. Anyway, this was the weekend when I made a start, and managed about a quarter of the work needed. I could imagine making a resolution to do just an hour a day to keep things ticking over, but it's the sort of resolution that I know is worthless.

Not much else that is blog-worthy has happened. I have continued to do too much in the way of exercise, but have curbed my worst excesses and even left badminton much earlier than usual on Thursday. It occurred to me that I have been playing competitive badminton for about 25 years, first in Manchester and then here, and it isn't until now that I have regularly been picked for the 1st team. And it isn't because I have improved compared with my peers, it's more a reflection of the decline in popularity of badminton, and perhaps also my choice of club which contains rather a lot of 'veteran' players. Anyway, we won our first match despite my partner and I having met only a week ago.

At last I have returned to four-day working, and I have a long list of things that are awaiting my attention because I can't get round to them at the weekend. For my first day I took the garden waste to the tip, spent a long time continuing the process of buying a car (at least one further instalment will be forthcoming in this saga), spent an age on the hideous process of sorting out car insurance, did some cooking, some paperwork and that's all there was time for. Not many things get crossed off a long list in a single day, but it felt good.

On the list of other things going on: an update on the clarinet group. We had a bit of a hiatus after the hugely successful open air summer concert we put on in the rectory garden together with the flute and the saxophone group. First week back, and some new music (including top Christmas hits), with some parts specially written for me! It was lovely to play something a little bit challenging, and I may even try to fit in some practice, which I didn't need for any of the previous pieces. It's such good fun that I even imagined one day I might find time to source a new mouthpiece for my mothballed saxophone and join that group as well. Maybe one day.

Friday, 2 October 2015

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Book of You
by Claire Kendal
"Being selected for jury service is a relief. The courtroom is a safe haven, a place where Rafe can’t be. But as a violent tale of kidnap and abuse unfolds, Clarissa begins to see parallels between her own situation and that of the young woman on the witness stand."
Absolutely not a book I would have chosen, but at the place where I worked one day a week they get through a lot of books so they offered a few to me. I gave this one a try and got away with it, but I don't enjoy reading about cruelty and abuse and feeling really tense, and the story isn't that good anyway - I didn't like any of the characters, not even the 'good' guy or the heroine. I avoid horror films for the same reason - some people must like feeling scared, but it would just give me nightmares. I won't be trying this experiment again.

Image of the book cover

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"The great Sherlock Holmes is back from the dead and devoting his life once more to examining the criminal complexities of the capital."
Poor old Conan Doyle wasn't allowed to kill off his hero, and here he is writing another lot of short stories to the same formula. Holmes: crime-solving genius, Watson: well-meaning duffer, with a side order of wily criminals and desperate clients and bumbling policemen. I love it.

Image of the book cover

Ten Things I Love About You
by Julia Quinn
"Annabel Winslow is in a pickle. Having newly arrived in London for her first season and being in possession of a voluptuous figure, is being openly courted the the Earl of Newbury, who is at least 75 and a nasty brute to boot."
Another ridiculous mock-Regency romance. Half way through I was determined to give up this author because all her books are fundamentally the same, and I may still pack it in. But I did enjoy it in the end. It's just that there are much more worthy and thoughtful books on my shelf waiting to be read, and spending time on this insubstantial fluff feels like a wasted evening.

Image of the book cover

Rabbit, Run
by John Updike

narrated by William Hope
"At twenty-six Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom is trapped in a second-rate existence, stuck with a fragile, alcoholic wife, a house full of overflowing ashtrays and discarded glasses, a young son and a futile job."
What an excellent writer, and what a shame he has written such a horrible book. I was transported by the imagery he uses and his skill with words - wonderful, brilliant writing - but the people he has created and imbued with life are so mean, selfish and ignorant. Nobody is given any generosity of spirit and the lives they lead are bleak. Maybe this was the reality of life in 1959, and maybe I'm limiting my horizons by not wanting to read about it but I do want just a little bit of joy in my reading matter, and this has close to none.

Image of the book cover

Tom Brown's Schooldays
by Thomas Hughes
"The book is semi-autobiographical and is based on Hughes’ own experiences at Rugby school, including his respect for his schoolmaster Dr Thomas Arnold, who is portrayed as the perfect teacher in Hughes’ novel."
When I started this book it felt very much like reading a set text for English at school: a worthy book with plenty of material for O level essays. Despite the language and attitudes to class and religion typical of a book written in 1857, it improved no end as I went along. I enjoyed setting the scenes of school life into the same Rugby School I visited earlier this year, and relished the detailed descriptions of the life of public schoolboys so different from my schooldays forty years ago, and even more different from what I imagine schools are like today. It is a historical document as much as anything else, and that is the most fascinating part - how our values and attitudes have changed, and how much our present has derived from its past! I am almost ready to write that O level essay...

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