Saturday, 19 March 2016

Small goals

Vista of forest and hills beyond the ski slope
Borovets, February 2016
It is positively ages since I came back from skiing, and it feels as though I have been tired the whole time. Obviously I have been ill which often results in tiredness, but even though I do have days off I seem to have filled them full of things that need to be done and I could do with having a day when I actually have a rest. I tried last Sunday, but still felt I had to catch up with all the email that I had neglected for the whole week.

In terms of productivity I have achieved many very small goals. Some goals are very, very small, like buying a new iron, which for most people may take an hour or so, but because I have to make things complicated I first have to research online to see how much irons cost before applying for the right value of vouchers using the points amassed but not yet redeemed from my TV-watching days (and what do points mean?) Then I wait for the vouchers to arrive through the post, wait for the day when I can go to the shop, and loiter indecisively for far too long cursing the small domestic items market for having far too much choice. I eventually choose. I am amazed by how little such small domestic items cost. I have underspent my vouchers by £10.01 and am left with a spare £10 voucher and a gift card containing the grand sum of 1p. They couldn't even donate it to charity.

The gadget I ordered to allow me to transfer photos from my camera to my laptop arrived, so you get bonus skiing pictures in this post which is entirely unrelated to skiing. I am also having an argument with Amazon over an esoteric aspect of their business that is too tedious to relate here but means I cannot cancel an order that hasn't been delivered and cannot replace the undelivered item without incurring a cost greater than the value of the item.

Other small goals - I have indulged in the luxury of a professional cleaner for a one-off blitz of the dirtiest areas of Lola Towers, which I have to admit were as filthy as anything I have ever seen. I felt much more like a normal person when, for the first time in 15 years, I brushed my teeth in the bathroom upstairs rather than the shower room downstairs. A very small goal achieved. Life is sometimes peculiar and complicated and a bit sad.

My friend J posing with fog-shrouded ski slopes behind her
A less than sunny day in Borovets
Work news. As Dietitians working in Diabetes my team and I are often called upon to advise on weight management (which usually, but not always, means weight reduction). The quirks of NHS commissioning mean that in the setting where I work the eligible population is small and relatively unchanging, so I don't have enough people to maintain a group, and I had to disband my Very Low Carb Lifestyle group when I was getting no more than 2 people to turn up for a session. The population in the neighbouring city is larger and they have access to many more potential customers. A formal education programme is available to people diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes within a year of their diagnosis, but after that they only used to get one-to-one half-hour appointments with a Nurse or Dietitian.

I have been working with my colleagues to develop a course delivered for two hours a month for three or four months that can help fill this gap. It has been a difficult and frustrating experience, because none of us has much time outside of clinic commitments, and dates were set and patients invited to attend the course before a programme was developed. My colleagues are caring, intelligent and committed practitioners, but there was no way this was going to be a success, and unfortunately I had to sit in and watch the sessions unfold, and it was messy. So despite my best efforts to stay out of it, I ended up with the job of coming up with a sensible way forward.

The first thing I did was to try and establish what the overall aim or purpose of the course was - a simple statement in one or two sentences was what I was after. I discovered that there was a divergence of views even on this fundamental matter. After we'd settled this initial issue, I spent some hours working on the nitty gritty of learning outcomes, key messages and timings of sessions as well as the proposed content. I've squeezed everything into three sessions, but then I got roped in to help out and discovered that my timings are probably hopelessly unachievable. Meanwhile everyone who needs to discuss what I've proposed and come up with some sort of consensus has been on holiday. Including me.

It has certainly been a heartsink kind of project, and I'm no longer even sure that my own ideas are feasible. We're going to talk about it some more in a meeting coming up shortly, so my faith may be restored then.

Me on the ski slopes

Sunday, 13 March 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Bees
by Laline Paull

narrated by Orlagh Cassidy
"Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen."
One review I read called this "Watership Down with bees" and I have to agree. Despite rampant anthropomorphism, I hope that there is a grain of truth in some of the behaviours described - I should ask Bee Lady to have a read and let me know. I liked Watership Down and I like this, and another thing that raised it above the average was excellent narration.

Image of the book cover

In Xanadu: A Quest
by William Dalrymple
"While waiting for the results of his college exams, William Dalrymple decides to fill in his summer break with a trip. But the vacation he plans is no light-hearted student jaunt - he decides to retrace the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruined palace of Kubla Kahn, north of Peking."
I bought this in 1991, so the flyleaf tells me, partly because the author and I were at the same university at the same time and I'd seen his tagline on various university news publications. He did the journey before he'd graduated, and took a few years to write the book, and it doesn't do to draw comparisons between his skills and maturity as a twenty-something graduate and my own. I don't remember reading this the first time round, but it is quite a wonderful first book. Certainly makes me feel like an underachiever, anyway.

Image of the book cover

Here on Earth
by Alice Hoffman
"March returns to her childhood home with her teenage daughter, Gwen, to attend the funeral of the housekeeper who brought her up. Unexpectedly, though, the visit rekindles in March a passion for an earlier unrequited love."
The story is loosely modelled on Wuthering Heights, and is similarly annoying and frustrating in that the lead characters are rather unlikeable. Catherine and Heathcliff may have been romantic soulmates, but they were pretty unattractive people, and so are the couple here. At least this one ends satisfactorily, if a bit suddenly.

Image of the book cover

The Five People You Meet In Heaven
by Mitch Albom
"On his eighty-third birthday, Eddie, a lonely war veteran, dies in a tragic accident trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden but a place where earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it."
I read the whole of this on the aeroplane journey back from Bulgaria in between bouts of coughing and about an hour's sleep, and there was only one embarrassingly tearful moment. It's a bit moralistic but nicely written, although nowhere near the miraculous work of fiction that the hype declared, and which was what prompted me to read it.

Image of the book cover

Send for Paul Temple
by Francis Durbridge
"In the dead of night, a watchman is brutally attacked and with his dying breath cries out, “The Green Finger!” It is the latest in a series of robberies to take place that have left Scotland Yard mystified, and with no other choice but to call upon the expertise of Detective Paul Temple."
A very easy read which provided a little frisson of pleasure when Leamington Spa was featured (as the setting for a jewellery heist). My home town is described as 'a comparatively innocuous watering place' which 'still thinks of the day when Queen Victoria paid it a visit and it suddenly became 'Royal'.' Other than this unexpected bonus content, it's a straightforward whodunnit with a completely unbelievable plot that is far too complicated. Suspension of disbelief is definitely required.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Ski Bulgaria

Two small ponies awaiting riders
Borovets ski resort
My first ski holiday of 2016 - how lucky am I - has been in Borovets, Bulgaria. Not a destination I've visited before, in fact I had no idea where this former Eastern bloc country was located. Even after a week there I had done very little cultural tourism, and when I asked my companion J whether she could think of any significant Bulgarians, the best she could come up with was Uncle Bulgaria, the Womble. Not strictly a native Bulgarian, as we are pretty sure that a) he's from Wimbledon, and b) he isn't real.

Having looked at the map, I now know that Bulgaria's neighbours to the south are Greece and Turkey, west are Macedonia and Serbia, with Romania to the north and the Black Sea to the east. Our flights, unusually, were at the end of the day, so we were offered a short tour of Sofia on our last day, and were guided around some of the more significant churches in that city. Even the guide couldn't think of any Bulgarians we might have heard of, except a footballer who really doesn't count.

The journey to the resort was spoiled only by too much snow. The coach driver reached the resort, but then declared that he couldn't safely continue without fitting the snow chains. This took quite a long time, during which a faction in the coach comprising young lads who'd had a good deal too much to drink proceeded to offend the various parents of young children with their inappropriate language and behaviour, and were eventually asked to make their own way onwards by taxi to avoid any further scenes.

It took another hour for the coach to proceed at a snail's pace to the hotel, which would have taken about 20 minutes walk if I'd known the way. I travelled separately from my companion J who was flying from Gatwick rather than Birmingham, and there'd been quite a lengthy booking process to try and manage this non-standard arrangement. I'd been led to believe there were no twin rooms left so we might have to share a double, but on arrival we actually had a room each, which was an enormous bonus given the amount of time I spent in my room, coughing.

Day 1 - the snow from the night before had mostly melted, but there was still enough to be getting on with. The package pricing meant that after renting skis and boots and buying the lift pass, taking six days of lessons was effectively free, so despite both of us being fully able to ski competently, we were placed in a group with five others of a similar standard under the tutelage of Yav. Yav was much more interested in the progress of two young Dutch women than two middle-aged Brits, so we stuck with him for a couple of hours but then broke away to do our own thing, especially when the group settled down to have an enormous lunch. We didn't want much more than a sandwich for lunch, the ingredients of which we shamelessly stole from the hotel breakfast buffet.

The hotel was quite smart and included a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and 'relax zone'. I'm pretty sure that this was where I picked up the germ that is still bothering me, and caused me to ski really badly on day 2, and then spend the whole of day 3 in bed, alternately shivering and sweating. I know it was bad when I didn't feel like eating anything, despite that delicious hotel buffet.

Orange gondolas among the conifers

On day 4 I felt well enough to get back out on the slopes, but it was cold, windy, raining in the resort and snowing at the top of the mountain. J and I went right to the top in the gondola at the start of the day, but decided it wasn't going to be much fun and came back down again - me to return to bed, and J to do some investigation of the resort.

Days 5 and 6 were better - the weather was sunny with a very light dusting of snow on top of sheet ice. Skiing wasn't straightforward but at least we managed a few hours each day, followed by horse riding (J), shopping (me) and a pleasant forest walk (both). My shopping trip resulted in some mystery Bulgarian salami which has turned out to be absolutely delicious, several bars of Romanian chocolate, and a little ceramic tile decorated with a lizard, which makes me smile whenever I see it.

We met many different nationalities and heard some interesting stories, including from the portly English chap dressed as Superman who was part of a stag party. He told us that the groom was back in the hotel, having broken his hip falling over while out in the resort the previous night. Not to be beaten, another group who overheard this story told us that one of their number had broken his ankle falling out of his bunk bed in the hotel. This conversation all started when we were asked for some painkillers from a man who'd hurt his knee before his holiday even started when he went for some practice at a ski slope at home.

The two of us escaped unscathed apart from my ongoing cough, and my return trip was entirely uneventful, which is how I like it. Apart from not enough snow and my illness, it was a fine holiday, and on reflection I have to say the absolute highlight was the wonderful soup served in the hotel each evening (two different kinds every day), along with the menu of fifteen different flavours of hot chocolate. I only discovered the hot chocolate menu towards the end of the trip, and only managed to sample one - dark chocolate and coffee flavour - which was very fine indeed.

On a sunny terrace awaiting sustenance

Photo credits: in this post they're all J's pictures. My photos are trapped on my camera since my laptop stopped recognising the memory card. I have ordered a gadget that should allow me to transfer them, but it hasn't arrived yet. There are a couple of photos on my phone, but hey, I haven't got round to dealing with them yet. You'll probably get a random skiing photo in some future post.
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