Friday, 25 December 2015

Another Christmas party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very Happy Christmas to one and all.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

His Last Bow
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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

Image of the book cover

The Drowned World
by J. G. Ballard

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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

Saturday, 12 December 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 December 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16.30 Mobile phone rings during massage. Ignore it.

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

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

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

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

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

22.30 Sleep. Another 'day off' is over.

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

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