Thursday, 22 September 2016

Food and paint

Lola and the chocolate-orange pot
Leamington Food & Drink Festival, September 2016
Another stupendous weekend in the company of Lola II and Mr M, this time at the Leamington Spa Food and Drink Festival 2016. Before they arrived I squeezed in an attendance at Parkrun, deciding not to actually run because of the time it would take out of my schedule (not so much the run but the cleaning up afterwards). My volunteer role was Finish Token Assistant, where I hand the finish tokens to someone else who hands the finish tokens to the runners. Unlike the Token Finnish Assistant who is an unnecessary Scandinavian helper. So that's clear.

Unfortunately Saturday was wet and a bit miserable, but it did mean that there weren't too many people clustered around the Food Festival stalls in the quest for samples. I think we overdid the samples, as usual, mixing sausage with cake with cheese with fancy oil and vinegar with syrup pudding with hot chilli sauce. It all ends up in the same place, but makes for a fairly odd gastric experience. I lunched on an overpriced pancake with maple syrup, which collected in the bottom of the cone and dripped down my coat sleeve. Call me Lola Sticky Hand (and that's not a hand that's like a stick).

Knowing that we would return to the Festival the following day, we had other jobs to do on Saturday. Lola II and Mr M are in the midst of renovation - not to the extent of the LTRP, but they have stolen Ilf who is spending a couple of weeks actually staying in their house while he decorates and fixes various household essentials. Luckily Ilf lives near me and does not have to stay in my house when he works on Lola Towers. Unlike Lola II and Mr M I am not good with visitors, let alone visitors whom I do not know well.

Lola II and Mr M and their possible paint choices
Anyway, there has been much discussion and negotiation about paint colours, and in order to try and resolve the impasse about their choice for their hall and stairs we each chose 2 tester colours from the local Dulux trade shop using vouchers from the Food & Drink Festival Little Book of Vouchers. Because of the difficulty in reaching a decision, I volunteered as intermediary and painted each of the colours plus a few more I had hanging around on lining paper, numbered the samples and Lola II and Mr M rated their choices. Nobody was more surprised than they were that they both chose the same colour as their top choice!

On Sunday we paid a quick visit to a friend of Ilf's to pick up some necessary paint for him, and then back to the Food & Drink Festival. This time we were a bit less enthusiastic with the samples, leaving room for some real food. I had the allium-free vegan option (salad, felafel, houmous, salsa) while Lola II tried hard to resist but went for the most delicious allium-tainted samosa and dip. Mr M met a friend and went round with her so I didn't see his choices. And I'm blaming my week-long self-imposed chocolate restriction, but I bought a huge jar of sponge, chocolate and ganache confection. In my defence I did share it, and even made it last until Tuesday.

Shop assistant surrounded by many shoes
Again we had other jobs to do, and Lola II was after some shoes. The little book of vouchers included 20% off at a local shoe shop, and both I and the shop assistant were 'entertained' for some considerable time by Lola II's attempt to buy shoes. The assistant even tried to sell me some shoes, and persisted despite my clear indication that if he brings me any to try on I may try them on but I'm not going to buy them. Lola II gave him much more to do with different socks, styles and sizes, but achieved her goal in the end. I took a photo of the scene of devastation.

Other notable events of the weekend: the cherry chocolate tart (bad news for the self-imposed chocolate restriction), the disappointing fruity buns, the charcoal cheese, the pork pie and the wood pigeon breasts which are now in the freezer. I hope that the pigeon will be less hassle to cook than the hare that I bought from the same stall two years ago.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Keep Quiet and Carry On

Close up of centre of pink lotus flower
Krakow Botanical Garden, July 2016
There have been a few posts about the insignificant minutiae of my not-very-interesting recent life, and I feel I should address more weighty matters - politics, the NHS, the state of the nation, or at least something new about diabetes. But I seem to have taken a conscious step into the stage of my life that could be described as 'The Apathy Years.' I have probably lived more than half my life and I have no children, which means that I have much less investment in the future than those who wish the world to remain viable for future generations. It's not that I want to bring on the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but I have deliberately become decidedly less vocal about how things should be. This feels very strange, and often takes quite an effort.

For example, meetings. I mentioned a recent meeting which was part of a bigger project that is being 'managed' in a way that I think is very inefficient and likely to be ineffective. But it's not my job to manage the project, and nobody asked me anyway, and I don't understand half of what they're talking about most of the time. In the past I would have been bothered by my lack of knowledge and the inefficiency and poor management and therefore the potentially sub-optimal outcome, now I sit quietly and think 'Oh, well.'  Let it go, let someone else worry about it. If it turns out bad, I'll deal with it. I don't understand it anyway.

Partly this is because of the EU Brexit vote. I voted to Remain and was devastated and astonished and despairing and thunderstruck and furious and disbelieving when I woke up to find that Leave had won. It was like the feeling of reaching for where your wallet should be, and finding it gone, and realising that it isn't that you just put it somewhere else, it really has gone, and now there's all the card cancelling and re-applying for your driving licence and sadness that the lovely photo you kept there has gone and you'll never see it again.

But I've got over it. Yes, I'm still really angry about the result, but here we are and what will be, will be. The UK and the EU and their population may be better off or worse off, and there will probably be a bit of both, and I think we've all learned something about how divisive a referendum can be and how our 'leaders' behave. And the sun will come up tomorrow and there will be another day and we're going to have to get on with it.

This somewhat lackadaisical approach is seeping into all sorts of other places where once I would have stormed and ranted and raised my voice in protest and tried to make a difference to achieve what I thought was 'right', or 'better'. Or at least I might have spoken up to query something that didn't make sense. But now I keep quiet, and it is an effort, but I do it because it makes for a much easier life, and I am older now and I realise that I wasn't particularly successful in changing the world when I was in a job designed specifically to do that, so perhaps I should just take it easy.

Here's another example. People who are unable to take any nourishment by mouth are fed through a tube into the stomach or jejunum, and generally the feed is manufactured to be 'nutritionally complete'. It has become clear that this completeness isn't quite complete, particularly for electrolytes such as sodium and chloride. When this was described in a recent meeting I had to make an effort to refrain from suggesting it might make a lot of sense to add a little salt to the water that is being put down the tube. Let it go.

Another colleague was commenting on the parlous state of the NHS which is now perpetually on the brink of failure and sell-off and privatisation. For example, the retinal screening service in our Trust is now provided by an external company. She suggested that if we are auctioned off we ought to do some sort of management buy-out and take over the shop. Again I kept quiet, thinking that if we are auctioned off it might be a good opportunity for me to retire. I'm getting much better at this 'keeping quiet' business. This must be what it's like to get old.

On the other hand, in the very small zone of 'where I work 90% of the time and the people I work with': the nurse who has been absent for a year has now retired and we are hoping to recruit two new nurses within the next six months. The nurse who has been covering three jobs has done a magnificent job to keep things going, but we are looking forward to being able to do new things with more staff, although it pays to keep a lid on expectations because until contracts are signed there are no guarantees that the nurses we have been promised will actually materialise. But there is the prospect of some new initiatives, and I am looking forward to that.

And then there's the Very Low Carb Lifestyle website. I didn't have to do it and nobody was pressing me for it, although I did include it in my last Personal Development Review (normally you don't get permission to do things unless they're in your PDR). So there is still a little bit of 'wanting to change the world' left inside me. And when a rep from industry came to see us to talk about various projects they are planning, I came over all enthusiastic and suggested that I might contribute to one of them (this is the least likely thing to actually come about). So I haven't yet quite internalised the 'Keep Quiet' approach. Old habits die hard.

P.S. I apologise for invoking the tired phrase 'Keep Calm and Whatever' in the title of this post, but it does reflect what's in the blog post better than most of the blog titles I come up with.

Pink lotus flower

Saturday, 10 September 2016

In which very little indeed happens

Very long dresser with drawers below and jars on shelves above
Pharmacy museum, Krakow
A bonus early blog post today, because I know the weekend's going to be full of stuff so I'd better do this now. However, there is nothing of any particular note to report, just the usual saxophone and clarinet choir on the first Saturday of the month, more slogging in the garden to tame the wisteria, meditation on Tuesdays, Thursday night badminton starting again after the summer, and what is turning into a near-regular Wednesday night pub quiz. And the Great British Bake Off for a few more weeks.

There's been a bit of excitement with postal services - I've agreed to make Lola II another dress and the fabric failed to arrive for ages despite much chasing. I ordered a hard case and a stand for the new baritone saxophone, and there were some difficulties with delivering both of those as well. Luckily I've got helpful neighbours who will accept stupidly large packages, although I had to haul one of the neighbours out in his slippers to move his car from in front of my garage - yes, the car is still going into the garage and I haven't stopped being just a little bit excited every time.

Slightly more interesting were the visit from the architect to draw up plans for the house preparatory to designing the new kitchen, and a Barn Dance. I can't remember having been to a Barn Dance before, but I was almost too tired to enjoy it. It was in a marquee in a field with a fish and chip supper included, and six of us Stripped the Willow and Gay Gordoned along with the natives of Old Milverton until a very late hour.

I've finally started the big Ebay project, which is intended to monetise dad's eclectic collection of postal mechanisation ephemera. Contrarily, I have started with some other random items from the loft so that I get the hang of how it all works and get into the groove of putting things up for auction on a pretty regular basis. It's a project that will probably run for a year at least, so you can expect occasional updates.

At work I have had a slight disagreement with a colleague about what exactly my priorities should be - I was asked to cover a clinic for a colleague at very short notice, which meant I wasn't available for the regular clinic also taking place. The benefit of this contretemps is that there's a chance that my priorities will be assigned formally at last, rather than me having to make my own choices based on nothing more than what I think is the right thing to do.

It's not entirely surprising that my blog audience is not growing given this poor quality of content, although strangely the day after I wrote this my blog audience did indeed increase by one individual - welcome to medusarog! And today there may be another - Parkrun Simon! I like to name check each known reader - I think everyone's had a mention now. If you're reading and I don't know about you (or have forgotten), I'd be delighted to say hello. Welcome to the place where, really, nothing much happens at all, and join the few regular readers in my small circle of family and friends.

Bright corner, dresser and wooden scales
Pharmacy museum, Krakow

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

by Bruce Chatwin
"Kaspar Utz lives in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. He is a collector of Meissen porcelain and finds ways to travel outside the eastern bloc to acquire new pieces. Whilst in the West Utz often considers defecting but he would be unable to take his collection with him and so, a prisoner of his collection, he is unable to leave."
I don't mind saying that I'm not sure what to make of this book. It was perfectly pleasant to read and I thought the story (mostly) made sense, but I finished with the distinct impression that I have utterly missed the point and there was a completely different story being told that I'm simply not bright enough to understand.

Image of the book cover

The Return of Tarzan
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
"Tarzan had renounced his right to the woman he loved, and civilisation held no pleasure for him. After a brief and harrowing period among men, he turned back to the African jungle where he had grown to manhood. It was there he first heard of Opar, the city of gold, left over from fabled Atlantis."
There are a lot of story threads to follow here - Tarzan is associated with all of them, in France and Africa and on a boat and in the jungle and there's Jane and her fiance and her friend and her father... It wasn't bad, I suppose I felt it just went on a bit when you know that he's going to survive and end up with Jane. It took its time but we got there in the end.

Image of the book cover

by Frank Herbert

narrated by Simon Vance and others
"Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud'dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream."
This was a performance as much as a narration but it worked so well. The majority of the text was read by one individual, but on occasion the dialogue was voiced by actors, and sometimes there was some underlying 'noise' - not exactly music, more like the sound of a sandstorm outside, or rumbling of something sinister. I think I would have liked the writing anyway, but it was a wonderful way to enhance the words without being distracting or annoying, and I loved it. There are many more books in the 'Dune' family, but I'm not sure I need to read any more than this one.

Image of the book cover

Mr Midshipman Hornblower
by C. S. Forester
"As a seventeen-year-old with a touch of seasickness, young Horatio Hornblower hardly cuts a dash in His Majesty's Navy. Yet from the moment he is ordered to board a French merchant ship in the Bay of Biscay and take command of crew and cargo, he proves his seafaring mettle on the waves."
Comparing this with the first Patrick O'Brian book covering the same historical period, I have to say that this contains far less seafaring detail, more story, but less personality. Both books are great to read, though. I've got a few more in each series, and am looking forward to reading them all.

Image of the book cover

by J. M. Coetzee

narrated by Jack Klaff
"After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding."
What makes a good book? This is the question I was pondering as my iPod counted down the hours and minutes to the end of the book and no hint of a resolution seemed to appear. Yes, there was a story, and a very interesting and sometimes gripping one too. There were well-defined characters (mostly unhappy and unpleasant), and there were definitely ideas to stimulate thought. I was baffled by some of it. The narrator was excellent. But what it lacked, and I feel this is true for many 'serious' books I have read recently, is any sort of satisfactory conclusion. Maybe the last chapter is supposed to be taken metaphorically, or perhaps it reflects some greater truth about the events related in the book, which are mostly depressing and grim: the professor's use of prostitutes, his affair with his student and his subsequent dismissal; the attack on his daughter and the theft of belongings and his car, the burglary and ransacking of his house, and so it goes on. I don't need a happy ending with all the plot threads tied up neatly and satisfactorily, but I dislike reaching the last sentence without any idea of what it was all about, what it meant, some hint of a reason why it was written and what difference it makes to anyone, and why it ended there, at that point, in the middle of something, not at the end. The words are not enough; there has to be meaning to it, and I couldn't see any.

Image of the book cover

by Simon Garfield
"In 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce colour. This experimental mishap that produced an odd shade of purple revolutionised fashion, as well as industrial applications of chemistry research."
This could have gone either way. A book on a single subject that I hadn't considered before - previously there have been triumphs (Cod, Gut) but this, despite its potential, didn't pass muster. I think there just wasn't enough interesting material - a guy invented mauve by accident, lots of industrial history follows - who capitalises on the colour, where it led in terms of manufacture and use of dyestuffs, and that's about it. A single issue book, but the issue is industrial chemistry rather than human interest. But if you like industrial chemistry it's probably a real treat.

Image of the book cover

Think Like a Pancreas
by Gary Scheiner
"The book provides the tools to "“think like a pancreas" and successfully master the art and science of matching insulin to the body’s ever-changing needs."
As an book aimed at Type 1's and Type 2's on insulin in the USA, there are some interesting differences between their approach and ours. One is their treatment of fibre - it is subtracted from the total carbohydrate when matching insulin against carbs. Another is the routine use of a drug called 'Symlin' to replace a hormone called amylin which apparently is secreted by pancreatic beta cells, and is therefore missing in people with Type 1 Diabetes. I asked one of our consultants about this, and he'd never heard either of amylin or Symlin, which simply isn't used in this country. Interesting. Lastly, and most importantly, the book is written with the underlying assumption that you're going to be paying for your consultations and your medications and any other equipment such as blood glucose meters and testing strips and ketone sticks or strips and insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). On the down side this means there may be basic management tools that you can't afford, but on the other hand if you understand how it all works you might get better control by having a wider choice of insulins and having the option to pick the right one for the job in a specific situation. And if you have good insurance you would probably have access to more kit, because for example routine CGM isn't available through the NHS in this country. Overall I think it can't be denied that the existence of the NHS makes the life of a person with diabetes in this country significantly easier, and probably longer.

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