Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We mostly lose badminton matches

A cluster of towers and belfries and arches
Krakow Cathedral, July 2016
Lots of badminton happening now - one or two matches a week, one or two club nights which may or may not coincide with the matches. My regular mixed doubles partner decided to change his serve this season so that he uses a different serve for men's and mixed matches. The advantage should be improved serving in both types of games; the disadvantage so far in the mixed game is that half his serves fail. My regular ladies doubles partner takes at least two ends to get going, so we've usually lost the first game by the time she's ready to play well. Of course I'm not perfect either - at the moment in the mixed I keep standing too near the net and in ladies my high serve is rubbish. So that just about evens it out - we're all as bad as one another. Which explains why we mostly lose.

Last weekend saw me and Lola II in Surrey where we were volunteer marshals for Run Forest Run. This is the 10km plus obstacle course that I actually ran last year, but this year Lola II and I were put together in the kitchen, handing out tea and coffee, bacon sandwiches and lemon drizzle cake for 150 runners. Most of the hard work had already been done - the bacon and the cakes were already cooked - and the only serious mistake I made was not putting the veggie sausages in the oven in time. Making people with alternative diets wait longer than the rest of us is something I abhor, so to be the perpetrator of this crime was particularly mortifying.

The organisers of the event are longstanding friends who accommodated us while working really hard to make the event run smoothly. Lola II and I volunteered to manage the catering for the evening beforehand, so I made a chilli for ten that ended up being not spicy at all, and Lola II made a classic trifle (my request). The main outcome of the weekend for me, apart from the satisfaction of the volunteering itself, was that a skiing trip to France is being planned, and despite my resolution not to ski this season I immediately committed to taking part. So much for resolution.

There has now been a whole week and a weekend since the Run Forest Run event, and nothing of note has taken place except that, unusually, we won a badminton match. I have completed many things on my list but they are fairly trivial. The loft is nearly empty, so I've been in touch with Ilf the Handyman to come and attend to the lights in the upstairs room that he couldn't access until the loft had been cleared. I've been foolish enough to ask him to re-decorate the bathroom too, which means I have to choose paint and a new bathroom cabinet. Choosing things is always very difficult - I think I'll be able to manage the paint, but I'm not sure about the cabinet. Oh well, it isn't on the critical path.

Tower incorporating the northern gateway to the city
Krakow City Gate, July 2016

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A good week for puddings

Large jar with yogurt, berries and ganache
Leamington Food and Drink Festival, September 2016
In the time since that lovely, warm holiday the memory of lovely, warm days has faded and I have taken to wearing socks in bed to avoid waking up in the middle of the night because my feet are cold. The drive home from the airport was dreadful. I thought that because it was around midnight, the traffic would be kind and I would be speeding back home on a deserted motorway. The Powers That Be evidently knew of this plan, because they chose to close the motorway. They also chose to close my alternative route, and it all meant I got home considerably later than planned, although on the positive side I did get to hear lots more of my audiobook. And I think I drove through Surbiton, but I can't be sure.

I am Cold! I am Itchy! but the good news is that the frozen shoulder is almost recovered, with just an odd twinge now and then to remind me. Badminton has resumed with quite a lot of matches as well as the club nights, and an abundance of work events.

The first thing I did on Monday morning after the holiday was to attend a course to introduce ten of us to a shortened version of our four-day carbohydrate counting course for people with Type 1 Diabetes. The course has been created by one of the diabetes technology companies in association with experienced Dietitians, and is designed to be delivered in 3 hours. I have some reservations about the whole thing but we may try a pilot event if we think there is demand. Lunch was available as well.

Badminton club #1 in the evening. Monday puddings = 1. I remained in control of the pudding situation.

Tuesday: day off. Man from Dampco turned up promptly at 8 a.m. just as I was coming in from photographing the car parked outside my garage. 8 a.m! This was because he actually lives 50 yards from me, and he was very helpful and didn't even require payment. Essentially the plaster is wet because it has been compromised by being wet, and although I have dealt with the cause of the wetness the plaster needs to be stripped and replaced before it will behave itself properly. Further chit-chat revealed that his father founded the company, he hopes to pass it on to his nephews, and I offered to buy him a drink if I saw him in the pub. This seems unlikely because I hardly ever go to the pub any more.

Photographing the car outside was because I'm thinking of contacting the Council about the white line demarcating the entrance to my garage, which doesn't quite extend to the full width. A car parked legally can obstruct my access to quite a large degree, although so far I've managed to get around it. A car parked only slightly illegally would properly stop me driving in or out, so I have to make the decision whether to start the process of trying to get it rectified, or just to live with it.

I was also expecting my first HelloFresh delivery on Tuesday, courtesy of Mr M and Lola II. This comprises three boxed meals in the form of measured ingredients and recipes. I had been putting it off for a month because of holidays and not being at home, and I probably should have put it off for longer because last week was particularly full of other people giving me lunch and badminton in the evening (so no evening meal). But when the doorbell rang it was actually Man from the Planning Department making a site visit following the request for planning permission for the kitchen extension. They pay a bit more attention because it is a Conservation Area, but all of the the proposed alterations are at the back and not visible from the street so there shouldn't be a problem. Apparently my neighbours have already been contacted in case they want to object and there's even one of those notices attached to the lamp post with cable ties. I was astonished when someone at badminton mentioned that they'd seen the notice in the local paper too. I had no idea that anyone ever read those notices.

Badminton match in the evening (lost 7-2). Tuesday puddings = 0. I do not keep puddings in the house.

Wednesday was an ordinary day at work without any badminton or puddings. But Thursday was another study day, this time at the Diabetes Education Network conference. I had high hopes but it was most disappointing. There were presentations from the people who created various programmes (DAFNE, DESMOND and X-PERT) about how they had audited their education to prove that it is effective and meets NICE guidelines, but this is neither interesting, novel nor enlightening. One presentation even showed us all the teams around the country who had won awards for delivering the most courses, or getting the best results for their patients, which was simply a waste of my time. The team that developed the course that we deliver to our Type 1 customers spent most of their session finding out from all those present how we had improved upon their course, and didn't give us anything useful in return.

The only worthwhile session was one from a most controversial Dietitian who believes that saturated fat is good for you. She avoided that particular topic but still irritated me by, for example, focussing on how many grammes of glucose are in the whole of the bloodstream of a non-diabetic person as if that were important. The only reason the session was worthwhile is because I may be able to find a ready-made comparison of the pros and cons of various diets in Type 2 Diabetes without having to construct it myself. However, despite the disappointing content of the conference, the puddings at this particular venue were something else.

Badminton club #2 in the evening. Thursday puddings = 4. They were amazing.

On Friday I had an unusual morning in that every slot in my clinic was full, and all but one of them turned up. This was the day that the lunch for our ex-colleague was scheduled, and luckily she was collected to make sure she came, and many people made the effort to turn up. Speeches were delivered, flowers and a card and presents were handed over and it all seemed to go very well. The only thing that made me laugh was when a colleague told me that during the event the departing nurse whispered that she felt "a bit of a fraud accepting all these presents, because I'm coming back to work soon."

Friday puddings = 0 although there were chocolate biscuits. And cheese. Lots of cheese.

Despite having a number of Very Important Tasks to complete, on Saturday I managed to stay in bed for a considerable proportion of the day before I dragged myself into the garden to pay a bit of attention to the lawn and the shelves in the garage. On Sunday I didn't even wake up until 10 a.m. and was similarly unproductive for most of the day. I did manage to make the second of the HelloFresh meals - I divide the portions for two into three and it's still plenty. But because I try to have only breakfast and lunch on badminton days, the ingredients have to hang around for quite a long time unless I cook it all and freeze the portions. All the meals so far have been tasty, but I don't think I can manage a regular delivery.

Close up of pink-tinged mushrooms
Borough Market, May 2016

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

No One Writes to the Colonel
by Gabriel García Márquez
"The Colonel and his wife live in destitution in a small village in war-torn Colombia. Every Friday the Colonel waits to receive his pension in the post. However, he's never received his pension. Not once in fifteen years."
A small book comprising the eponymous novella and some other dismal short stories. I think I liked 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and 'Love in the Time of Cholera' although I must have read them decades ago, so I thought I'd be on to a winner, but not so. The blurb on the back of the book says " of the richest pieces of writing this exceptional author has produced...." which doesn't actually say it's good. Avoid.

Image of the book cover

Count on the Saint
by Leslie Charteris

narrated by John Telfer
"In 'The Pastor’s Problem' Simon tries to help his penniless friend Father Bernardo by stealing an invaluable silver chalice, only to discover some real crooks. And in 'The Unsaintly Santa' even Cambridge University professors have to call on the Saint when a series of cold-blooded murders reveal a vicious campus plot."
A two for the price of one deal on Audible, and this one is a workmanlike pair of mysteries for the Saint, who is a comparable figure to James Bond. I think Ian Fleming is the better writer, although I haven't read any of the original Bond books since I was a teenager. I really don't know why I took up the two for one offer either, because I have a shelf of books waiting to be read.

Image of the book cover

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
by Laurie Lee
"With just a blanket to sleep under and his trusty violin, Laurie Lee spends a year crossing Spain, from Vigo in the north to the southern coast. Only the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War puts an end to his extraordinary peregrinations."
Beautifully written and a pleasure to read, this has been a delightful prelude to my holiday walking in Spain, and I picked it up because of the library's inspired inclusion of travel writing interspersed with their guide books. Obviously Laurie Lee's journey was very different from my holiday - a different time, season, route and purpose, but so evocative of the people and places he encountered. I used to read a lot of travel books - Eric Newby, Dervla Murphy, Paul Theroux and many others less well known - and this book reminds me why I used to enjoy them so much.

Image of the book cover

Salvage for the Saint
by Leslie Charteris

narrated by John Telfer
"The Saint takes part in a powerboat race only for his main competitor's boat to blow up midrace. As Simon comforts the man's widow, he discovers some rather unusual behaviour, which leads to a rather unusual bunch of crooks."
The second Saint book just confirms that Charteris is not Fleming - the writing and the plot are quite inferior and the author doesn't even create a likeable character. Surprising that Fleming managed to make us root for an assassin, even if he is on the 'right' side. This guy also works for himself rather than the Forces for Good, which removes any remaining sympathy I had for his predicament.

Image of the book cover

The Tomb in Seville
by Norman Lewis
"Commissioned by his Sicilian father-in-law to locate the tomb of the last Spanish Corvaja in the cathedral of Seville, when public transport came to a standstill the author and his brother-in-law walked more than a hundred miles to Madrid, and were then forced via Portugal to Seville."
A travel writer I hadn't come across before, but I was reading his account of Seville as I was sitting in the cathedral square looking at the tower he was describing. Set at the same time as the Laurie Lee book, the majority of the book details the frustration of more than a week spent trying to get to Seville frustrated by armed uprising and cancelled trains, but once there he telephones his father-in-law who arrives in two days.  Apart from this jarring note, it's fine.

Image of the book cover

Computing with Quantum Cats: From Colossus to Qubits
by John Gribbin
"The quantum computer is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Pioneering physicists are on the brink of unlocking a new quantum universe which provides a better representation of reality than our everyday experiences and common sense ever could."
This book started with Turing and ended in cutting edge technologies - the different possibilities for the emerging science of quantum computing, including my favourite subject, teleportation (but only of subatomic particles). So I managed the first chapters fine, and then it gradually slipped away from my comprehension, and I can't claim to have understood much towards the end, not helped by my inability to retain the specific meaning of words like 'decoherence' and 'entanglement'. I thought I would go back and re-read some of Gribbin's earlier books that I found so readable, until he mentioned that actually he has changed his mind about the multiple universe material he wrote about in 'In Search of Schrodinger's Cat'. So I'll probably just put this on the shelf and move on.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Holiday in Spain

View from Cortijo Rosario, November 2016
Another successful and enjoyable holiday this time with Exodus, which offers a multitude of mostly activity-based holidays - walking, cycling and 'culture' for example. This one included five days of guided walks in southern Spain. one day in Seville, and a bonus day in Ronda because our flight home wasn't until late evening on the last day.

We were 14 in all, mostly women, based in a rural farmhouse (Cortijo). The weather was perfect for me, mid-20's Celsius with a breeze and no rain until the last day. The only fly in the ointment was the collection of bites that I brought home and have been scratching ever since. I shared a room with a Scottish woman who snored, but earplugs soon sorted that out. Our guide was an enthusiastic woman called Tina who has previously worked on cruise ships, and she was excellent - organised, helpful, cheerful, and so enthusiastic that every walk was her favourite.

View of the Cortijo nestling among olive plantations
The scenery for most walks comprised endless vistas of olive trees with occasional holm oaks whose acorns fed the Iberian pigs. Three huge pigs were kept in a pen down the road from the Cortijo, which was at the top of a steep hill, so we often found it helpful to stop and view the pigs to catch our breath. The nearest village was Algamitas at the bottom of the hill, but we didn't stroll around there, just walked or drove through on our way to another location. The soundtrack in our heads during many of these drives was 'Never Gonna Give You Up', as we were assured that the minibus driver had once had Rick Astley as a passenger.

Puerto de las Palomas

As well as the olives we caught sight of quite a few fruit trees including pomegranates, figs and citrus of all kinds. Animal sightings included the aforementioned pigs, horses, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, turkeys (not free range), deer and many vultures which we were informed are Griffin vultures, known locally as Leonardos. We spent a few minutes watching in fascination as a dung beetle manipulated a ball of dung significantly bigger than itself.

Most days we saw nobody else throughout the day's walking. On the next-to-last day, however, we walked the 'Camanito del Rey', which for most of its length is a boardwalk attached to the side of a gorge. Tickets for this tourist attraction are timed, and walkers are required to wear helmets to prevent accidental head injuries on overhanging rocks. Like the days in Seville and Ronda this was a day when we had to compete with other tourists. It was an impressive gorge, only recently re-opened following renovation of the walkway. Rickety remains of the previous path were present for some of the way, and I discovered that I have gained a good deal of nervousness with heights. I used to be fearless, but no more.

The catering was excellent and local; one of the advertised attractions of the week was the opportunity to view the construction of an authentic paella by the Cortijo's chef, Maria. Tina the guide was also fond of surprises, and we were given an unexpected picnic on one of the days walking. There were far too many opportunities to eat too much, so I felt lucky to have gained only half a kilo during the week.

Las Setas

We were left to our own devices in Seville, and I climbed up inside a construction known as 'Las Setas' (The Mushrooms) to have a look over the city from above. I went on to a local market where I plucked up courage to buy some chorizo, then walked back to see the Real Alcazar palace.
Baths at the Real Alcazar palace
Both palace and gardens were beautiful. I've never been to Cordoba or Granada, but I believe the Moorish style is very similar.

The group gathered at the end of the day in Seville for an hour's professional flamenco show with a male and female dancer, a singer and a guitar player. Back at the Cortijo on the final evening we were entertained by a private flamenco show from two local girls with a CD, which I actually enjoyed more.

Flamenco in Seville

The impressive gorge in Ronda
In comparison with Seville, Ronda was smaller, more crowded, and it rained. I still managed to avoid the downpours, once by being inside a museum and the second time inside a cafe. The museum was fairly typical of a local museum with the obligatory pot fragments from Roman times and displays of local geology.

The other holidaymakers on the trip included three Irish, three Scottish and a whole clinic of health professionals. As well as myself there was a retired Diabetes Specialist Nurse, a Pharmacist, a Physiotherapist, a Pathologist and an Orthotist specialising in shoes. I was assured by a regular Exodus holidaymaking friend that there's always one difficult person every time, but we all got on very well. Most of us were planning our next trip before this one was over.

Puerto de las Palomas
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