Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Long weekend

Pink flower
Krakow Botanic Garden, July 2016
Since the brief flurry of activity my social life has dwindled to its usual state, although I made an exception for Lola II and Mr M's garden party, which was lovely as always.

The long Bank Holiday weekend was extended even further for me given that I don't work on Tuesdays. I started on Friday night by shopping for the week, then making one of the Polish soups that Mr M gave me - chłodnik. It needed Google Translate to work out the extra ingredients needed and the cooking method. I finally finished watching Schindler's List, which took three sittings because of both its length and its intensity. There were a few locations that were recognisable as Krakow.

I had made a bit of progress on the patio weeds before the long weekend, but managed to strain the muscles in my legs and crippled myself for two days. The rest of the weekend contained much, much more work on the patio, which is now fully weeded without further damage to my legs, and the ivy is gone. I wouldn't bet on it being gone for good; it's been astonishingly resilient to everything I've thrown at it. Now I need to return to the wisteria.

I did some more Polish cooking (gołabki since you ask) and watched about three quarters of the opening ceremony from the London 2012 Olympics, only four years late. The only reason I've watched three quarters of it is because it doesn't all fit on one DVD - it goes as far as all the performances about British history and then all the teams coming into the arena, but not as far as the lighting of the Olympic flame. No wonder the Queen didn't look very amused; that will have been about five hours of her life she won't get back even if everyone did love that she agreed to be in the James Bond mini-movie.

There's been a lot of other stuff to do which isn't worth reporting, mostly online research about one financial commitment or another - a joint account, the best mobile phone contract, best buy ISA, hard wheeled case and stand for my baritone saxophone, how best to sell on ebay, and more. Mr M would be proud of me - I've started making use of different offers on various current accounts, but it's making my head hurt a bit.

At work I've presented the website I've created for the Very Low Carb Lifestyle to the relevant Dietitians. They have all been very complimentary about it, which is very pleasing. It can pretty much do without much attention now, except that I hope to put up a new recipe every week or so. This won't be sustainable, so it might have to be once a month to avoid raising expectations. Next will be to introduce it to the new Dietetic Manager and a few potential customers, to see what they think.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Blast from the past

Performers wearing masks in the town square
Krakow street theatre, July 2016
I recently mentioned that Lola II brought me a pile of letters that I'd written in the early 1990's, and I was finding it difficult to read. Most of the content was fairly mundane and I was a bit disappointed to find very little that would be of interest today. In fact, one of the most interesting lines was from a letter of Lola II's that had found its way into the pile. In June 1991 she wrote (about me):
"She's really the official Lola since she was 'my assistant Lola' when we were cleaning the carpet."
So that's definitive evidence of the birth of the Lola, more than 25 years ago.

Another extract from the same period, again from Lola II rather than me, concerns a time when she volunteered for Hospital Radio in Manchester.
"Since I was there last (Hospital Radio) they've perfected a new system. Instead of asking for people to call in and then saying that no-one has called, they now ask people to call in and announce that we've had zillions of calls but no-one has got all 3 questions quite right. Occasionally I would shout out "Oh! the phone, Jenny" to give the impression we were inundated with calls."
The letters I wrote were tinged with anger and depression because of the job I was doing, although I seemed to have a pretty good social life at the same time. One extract that interests me reminds me that I've been an avid reader for a very long time.
"I've been reading a biography of Theodor Herzl, and boy! was he wacky. All those memorials to him in Israel and the general consensus that he was a visionary founding father of the modern state, and in truth he was a completely assimilated Hungarian-born "German" Jew living in Vienna and Paris, whose idea of a Jewish State was formulated as the answer to the problem of Jews not fitting in properly wherever they lived: all fair and good so far. Until you read that the first solution that he came up with was to have them all compulsorily baptized, because then there would be no Jewish religion and therefore no Jewish problem. The Jews would accept it gratefully because they would no longer be persecuted in the places where they were living. And then his negotiations with the Sultan of Turkey, offering to provide him with a nation of accountants in exchange for a tenancy agreement on a bit of land that he owned. Brings one down to earth a bit."
Of great interest to me is a throwaway comment about the terrible trouble I was having with eczema on my hands. This started at school and I had red, raw, itchy patches on my hands for many years. I went to the doctor about it in 1992:
"...he looked things up in his book and found that the steroid cream I'd been using before was based on 'parabens' which is in a special list of Things Which Are Likely To Irritate Sensitive Skin."
I now know that varieties of parabens are one of the two chemical types which definitely cause my problem, but I don't think I picked up on it at this point, or perhaps products didn't have their ingredients listed like they do now. I suffered several more years of painful itchy hands before the penny finally dropped.

This last extract is from a crazy time when PCs were in their infancy and I worked for the NHS in an old and dilapidated building that was regularly burgled. It was demolished not long after my time there. I've written about it before but this is from the letter I wrote home at the time.
"K started work about three weeks ago and is used to a word processor, but the equipment provided for her consisted of one typewriter which didn't work. There were all sorts of high-level and low-level negotiations: F talking to the "Care Group Manager" (whatever that is), D the other secretary talking to the admin manager and so on, all pestering them to supply us with something, if not a permanent machine then at least something on loan. K was going bonkers, and brought in her own personal typerwriter every day (obviously not leaving it on the premises overnight). Eventually I asked if I could join in and I was lucky enough to be the one to whom a computer was entrusted! So I had to go and pick it up (from the main psychiatry site) as a matter of honour, and made all sorts of promises about how of course it was only on loan, and yes we would eventually have to give it back, and yes we could lock it up at night, and other sorts of grovelling. And sure enough, when I passed on how very temporary this was to all the dudes back at Gaskell they smiled knowingly, and winked, and said of course we would give it back; just as soon as we have something to replace it.

"Work is looking decidedly good now that things are moving on my project, and there's nothing proper left to steal that will affect my project (except the computer in my room, which may conceivably disappear one day). The actual conditions of work have been utterly chaotic for as long as I can remember, though. At last we've had the BT men in to remove the system of plastic cups and string that called itself a switchboard and put in something less antique. I wrote about when the video camera was taken and nothing else, and that they cut some wires at the same time: well, one whole corridor had no electricity for over a week. They were conducting their patient appointments by candlelight.

"On another day, there were BT men swarming over the place as usual, including one little red-faced man called A who's worked for BT for 30 years. S the receptionist lost her voice through stress or laryngitis, so we had a temp in to answer the phones. The first thing was when the temp told S about a funny phone call she'd just taken, from the main psychiatry department over the road asking us if we were on fire. Then two fire engines arrived, complete with oxygen gear and the works, and swarms of interested busybodies from psychiatry who'd heard we were on fire and had come over to watch us burn, and security men, and workmen, and all sorts. We told them that as far as we knew we weren't on fire at all, though they were very welcome to check. Meanwhile, little BT A was getting redder and redder, and had to admit that he had a suspicion that he'd caused a short and triggered the alarm. Amid all the confusion and excitement, poor A was on the phone to his boss, saying "Norman? Norman, I'm having a bit of a day..."

"Then last Monday we actually had a working phone system, so there were all the usual BT men (including poor A, who's become almost one of the family now), and two extra sales support ladies here to train us how to use the new system, and of course the glaziers and the maintenance men and the security men and some new unfamiliar faces - some cleaners. This time, the burglars had worked out that unless they broke into the corridor the alarms don't go off, since most of the downstairs rooms don't have movement sensors in them, only the corridors. So they broke three windows, and had a good time in Dr S's room rifling through papers and notes and throwing pot plants about, and a special bonus: loads of blood everywhere because they'd cut themselves getting in. The alarm wasn't triggered at all, so it was discovered late on Sunday when the cleaning supervisor came over to look at the state of the cleaning because of a separate long-running feud with the cleaning department over the way we aren't cleaned. We had a fingerprint man in later too: such interesting visitors."
This is certainly wilder than the situation in the NHS today, but in other letters from the bundle I described meetings that were no different from the one I had this week - no agenda, no minutes, nobody leading, many talking and few listening, and virtually no progress in two hours of directionless discussion full of pointless digression. The main difference is that now I sit quietly and care a lot less about the frustration and futility of it all. In between piping up with "and Dietitians!" every time we aren't mentioned in the context of service delivery, I try and work out how I can write about it here without breaching confidentiality or getting myself into trouble.

Krakow Botanic Gardens, July 2016

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

I have a social life

Yellow flower close up
Paris, April 2016
The trouble with socialising is that it makes me tired. That's pretty much the only disadvantage, so I'm trying to do it a bit more. Matters beyond my control meant that last week I had three evening events on three consecutive days, which was more than I would have liked, but I have survived.

First there was a delayed birthday party for two of us at work, held at the house of the other birthday girl which contains a fully equipped games room with pinball, pool, space invaders, a boxing machine and goodness knows what else. It isn't actually her house; it belongs to her daughter and son-in-law and their three children, but she and her husband live in the annexe. The rest of the family was away on holiday, so we used the games room, ate takeaway curry, and I even had a tour of the house. I can't begin to describe the contents - bling, glamour, expense, and Things Everywhere You Look. Artifacts. Pictures. Murals. It was enormous, extravagant, over-the-top. I can barely manage to maintain Lola Towers; thinking of all the work that would have to go into keeping this mansion in good condition made me slightly faint. It was extraordinary.

The second event was the badminton club BBQ which had been planned for about six months, but on the scheduled day everyone was on holiday or busy and only four players plus one partner were available. So we ditched the BBQ idea and the five of us played pool instead, which was actually great fun. I haven't played pool for many years, but I wasn't too bad at it. All but one of the games I played ended with a foul shot, so I wouldn't say any of us was particularly skillful.

Last was a birthday party held by old friends whom I hadn't seen for some time, with a pirate theme. For a change I put in a bit of effort to create a pirate costume. It was a good do, although I think they suffered from everyone being on holiday in the same way as we did for the BBQ. The live band was tremendous - as the third evening out in a row I would have left well before the end if it hadn't been for the music.

The LTRP has paused briefly, although I'm still trying to make the garden look a bit better. I ordered some perennials (6 random plants of 4 different types for £5) which turned out to be foxglove, lavender, aquilegia and echinacea. They came as tiny plugs and before they all died I've managed to pot them up, They're on the windowsill to see which survive, then they're going into the garden and if they die, they die. It's survival of the fittest out there. [Subsequent note - all the lavender plants seem to have died already.]

The other project I've embarked on is to try and manage the amount of food I'm eating, which has drifted into 'out of control' territory. I spend all day helping other people to manage their intake, coming up with all sorts of plans and ideas, but I can't seem to implement anything sensible for myself. I may or may not write more about this, but it will depend on how successful I am.

That reminds me - I've been working on a website to support people who want to cut their carbohydrate intake to almost nothing (less than 40g carb a day), and it's going really well so far. I've been lucky to have had a bit of time recently to spend on it (because everyone is away on holiday) but I've still got a few more ideas. A few people at work have seen it and they haven't ordered me to take it down, so that's good. There was talk of incorporating it into the main hospital website, but when I initially asked the IT department if they would help they said 'no' so I'm reluctant to relinquish control now that I've done all the work.

Brief car update - since the main dealer pronounced the air conditioning unit to be a terminal case due to stone chip damage, it has been working perfectly. I took it to my usual garage anyway as arranged, and they agreed with me. We concluded that the affair made no sense, commented in a British fashion on the relative uselessness of air conditioning with only one or two warm days a year (although that day happened to be one of them) and I took myself and the car off home.

Moûtiers town square, April 2016

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

I am absurdly delighted about a car in a garage

View of mansion across lake
Compton Verney, July 2016
A few events stand out over the past couple of weeks - my birthday has been and gone without too much fuss, although the presents I was given by Lola II and Mr M are outstanding. I received six different packets of Polish soup, four different nut butters, decaffeinated Darjeeling tea, the piano music for the song 'Let It Go' from the film 'Frozen', and a pack of letters that I wrote to my family in the early 1990's. I've read about half of them, and it's been quite a tense experience. I'm hoping that there might be some suitable material to reproduce in a blog post, but not so far.

Lola II came to visit (and to deliver my presents) and we wandered around Leamington and tried a new lunch venue - a pub called The Drawing Board recently taken over by the same manager who used to run the Red Lion at Hunningham. I'd go again. Lola II went to the optician and we browsed in various shops and ate large slabs of cake before coming back and watching a DVD.

On Sunday we visited Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park and enjoyed most of the collection. We were guided through the Folk Objects and Folk Art, which I think I liked the most - objects and art created by ordinary people rather than professional artists. I am most scornful of a 'sculpture' on the lawn entitled 'Untitled Boulder' which is... a boulder. It isn't even a very interesting-looking boulder. The most that the 'artist' contributed to this 'art' was to decide which way up it should go; he couldn't even be bothered to give it a name. But the rest of the visit was fine.

Room with collection of folk objects
Compton Verney Folk Objects collection
After Lola departed I mowed the lawn and chopped down even more of the garden, and managed to take some of the debris to the tip on Tuesday. And Olf (the garage man) finally completed the work on the garage! The door to the street now has a working lock, and I can now use it as a practical garage. In fact, I have now put the car in it! This is seriously exciting. There is a yellow sign that suggests the road is going to be dug up and resurfaced next week, so parking is likely to be disrupted and having a working garage may be handy.

Car in garage
I cannot begin to explain how exciting this is
Since that happened I've had a bit of a busy spell, not least when I forgot about some patient education I was supposed to be delivering and received a phone call asking where I was. Very embarrassing, and not an experience that I care to repeat. Entirely my fault, too, because it was clearly in my diary. I was only a quarter of an hour late, but still.

And then I went to Carlisle via Manchester where I visited H+B who are as well as can be expected (and thank you very much for lunch and hospitality). I was hosted in Carlisle by H+G whose converted barn is being re-thatched, so I have learned a bit about what that entails (4 weeks, 4 Polish workers, a LOT of money).

Thankfully the weekend weather was glorious, and we walked dogs and went into town to eat at a new Italian restaurant which had been recommended as 'authentic' by a number of people. It was not what we were expecting - in the basement of a converted church, it was a surprise to find it carpeted, with waitresses in smart black outfits and white gloves to deliver the food, which was very tasty. But still, white gloves? Then we danced the night away to Alabama 3 at the most sweaty gig I can remember - Carlisle not being known for its sultry summer weather, the venue really had no way of making things any cooler.

Me and Bill the dachshund asleep on a chair
We'd both walked quite a long way
Then back home via Tebay motorway services (the best in the country) where I bought far too much artisanal goods (meat pie, cheese, crackers, sausage, brownie) and then to Ikea to have a look at their kitchens. And finally on Tuesday a trip to the car dealership so they could diagnose the problem with the air conditioning in my car, which they declared to be terminal. I have made an appointment to get a second opinion from my local garage, but it's not looking good. Thank goodness we only get one or two hot days a year in this country.

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