Saturday, 31 December 2016

The year gone by

Sunny doorway with planters
Courtyard in Krakow, July 2016
It's been a good year on the whole, marked for me by my dedication to the Lola Towers Renovation Project. In the past year I have acquired a working garage, lights, door handles, front door lock, the loft cleared (almost), the garden tidied and the bathroom decorated. Planning the kitchen is well under way, and I've even been able to imagine some more decorating taking place alongside the kitchen enterprise. I've also been toying with some ideas about how the different rooms might change their identities when the decorating is done.

Work has been satisfying with new members of staff and plans for new enterprises, although the proposed expansion of the service beyond two new nurses has not been supported by any funding and therefore has not happened. There ought to be a Dietitian involved in the Transition and the Young People's clinics, and we are hoping to extend the insulin pump service to offer appointments at the other hospital, but I won't be doing it until it is agreed that I will be paid for more hours. I enjoy all the clinics I do, the doctors are good to work with, and I particularly enjoy delivering the patient education. So no problems at work at the moment.

In this quiet time between Christmas and New Year (I heard it called Chrimbo Limbo this morning on the radio) I've been working on a Carb Counting Short Course. At this stage I'm considering who to invite and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the course. Our main carb counting course takes four days over three weeks and is only offered to people with Type 1 Diabetes who have been diagnosed for at least a year and are on a particular insulin regime, so there are many people who aren't eligible or can't spare the time but would benefit from a carb counting update. The short course is only two sessions of two hours each, and we will invite people who are newly diagnosed, people with Type 2, busy people who can't take all that time off work, and people on different insulin regimes.

Outside work my badminton obsession continues unabated, accompanied by a little bit of running but only when there's no badminton (like the last two weeks). Obviously I enjoy writing for this blog, and I have read 47 books this year according to my profile on Goodreads, which also tells me this:
Shortest book: Utz (154 pages)
Longest book: The Magus (656 pages) but I actually listened to this one so there were no pages at all
Most popular book: Dune (read by 705,533 other Goodreads readers this year)

Holidays - some really good ones this year - skiing in Bulgaria and France, sightseeing in Krakow and Spain, and lovely weekends in London, Leicester and Bristol. The Buddhist meditation group has become another regular extra-curricular pastime, which I continue to attend and enjoy while not really doing any meditation at all at home - I haven't yet worked out how to fit it into my lifestyle.

This time last year I thought 2015 had been a bit rubbish, and so it had within my little world. 2016 has been infinitely more rubbish when you consider global events like Brexit and Trump, but personally I have had a much better year with lots to look forward to in 2017 too. You never know, this time next year I may have a new kitchen!

Orange, red and purple sunrise
Spain, November 2016

Monday, 26 December 2016

Speedy, healthy and fishy

Oysters in their half-shells

There's been too much going on for me to spend much time enjoying my new expanded electrically-lit living space, but I have dipped into the upstairs room most days to turn the lights on and off just for the enjoyment of it. As Lola II pointed out, the downstairs door that was initially so exciting to open and close must be fairly envious now it's getting no particular attention (although I do still experience a slight thrill when I use it). My delight with the upstairs light will no doubt pass into normality eventually, like the door, and the door handles, and the other lights, and the garage, and everything else. But at the moment simply turning a light on and off is a treat. Planning permission for the kitchen has now been granted, so the fact that I've been able to cope with a few other jobs at the same time makes me feel like a superhero.

In the last week at work I managed to implement a development regarding Christmas cards, whereby I let everyone in my local team know that instead of giving them cards I would make a donation to Diabetes UK. I invited them all to do the same, but only two joined me. It worked well for me, and I plan to extend it to include more colleagues next year.

Two weeks ago the evenings were full of mostly badminton - one club night, one match, one tournament and one Christmas meal, and - unusually - we won the match. The other weekday evening disappeared into the longest working day ever. I got caught up in a conversation with the doctors at the end of the day, which was interesting but not particularly important, and gave me no opportunity to extract myself gracefully within a reasonable time.

Our concert went well at the weekend given that I was sight-reading second clarinet because of a player dropping out at short notice with a broken wrist. Playing the tenor saxophone has been pretty good but I'm going back to the baritone sax next term, and looking forward to it. That weekend I also baked a gluten-free lemon drizzle cake and a dairy- and egg-free chocolate cake because Monday was the last club night before Christmas at the other badminton club, and there are players with dietary intolerances.

King prawns in the frying pan

Tuesday started with a Speed Awareness course. In November I got caught by a mobile speed camera on the way to work doing 37mph in a 30mph zone. That was actually because I was going to work later than usual; at my regular commuting time the traffic is too clogged up to go that fast.

It was an interesting morning in a large group being reminded of speed limits for various types of road and types of vehicle, and spotting hazards in a short video and still photos. Rather than dry figures for stopping distances at various speeds they used the stopping distance at 30mph as the comparator, and told us what speed we would be doing at that point if we were driving at higher speeds, because most of the speed reduction is achieved in the last few seconds of braking. I found out that there are only 35 fixed camera sites in the whole of Warwickshire and not all of them are active at any one time, while there are 60 mobile locations but only three vans (and generally only two out on the roads at a time). I also know now about gateway signs and repeater signs, which are different ways of telling you what the speed limit is.

The key things are that by attending the course I have avoided getting three points on my licence, and I have to avoid getting caught again for three years because in that case prosecution (i.e. points) is unavoidable. Certainly at the moment I'm being much more attentive to speed limits, especially in the spot where I was caught.

That wasn't the only appointment on Tuesday. I followed up with the routine NHS Check that's offered when you're my age in order to estimate your risk of cardiovascular disease. They measure height, weight, BMI, activity, alcohol, smoking, blood pressure and take a blood sample for on-the-spot cholesterol. My results were as I would have expected - very good level of activity, great blood pressure, BMI not bad (borderline overweight, doh! I can't seem to shift this), very little alcohol, no significant family history. My total cholesterol is higher than is desirable but includes a high level of HDL (good cholesterol), so that the ratio of total cholesterol:HDL is well within the ideal range. Overall my risk of having a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) over the next 10 years is 2.7%. The average for my age and sex is 2.6%. I am considering doing something about my cholesterol level. I could certainly cut back a bit on the saturated fat and I haven't been eating much oats, fish, soya or pulses recently - but making up for it over Christmas with fish at least.

There was more to come on Task-based Tuesday - kitchen shops. Now that I have planning permission and an agreed outline plan of the new kitchen, I thought it would be easy to get some help from people whose job it is to design kitchens. How wrong I was. The two shops I visited (one large chain, one small independent) absolutely refuse to do anything for me without detailed architectural plans that define every measurement of the new layout, including location of utilities such as gas and water. They agreed that it was a Catch-22 situation - in order to get help in designing my kitchen I need to give them a detailed design of my kitchen. I have investigated briefly, and there appear to be a number of online tools that may help me.

Shelled king prawns on ciabatta with garlic butter and herbs

From Wednesday onwards there were no more appointments and commitments outside work, my evenings were free, and then four days off for Christmas. I planned menus and put in an order at the fishmonger. I actually went for a run on Thursday! and it wasn't bad at all. Work was very quiet as nobody really wants an appointment on the last working day before Christmas, and it gives me a chance to catch up on clearing out the pile of stuff that I've accumulated over the year. Some interesting items in there!

I followed up my Thursday run with Parkrun on Saturday, picked up my order of fishy treats from the fishmonger, then a few jobs in town and then Christmas arrived. The oysters were surprisingly enormous and almost defeated me - they definitely defeated my oyster knife. I was planning to eat half a dozen in each of two meals, but they were so huge that I went with just four at a time and it was plenty.

Now Christmas is almost over and I have to motivate myself into greater activity. I was going to prune the Wisteria but the online gurus seem to be saying February not December, so I'd better wait. I need to get rid of the compost bin and carry on tidying away the various items like flower pots, buckets, planters and such which have seemingly found a permanent home in the garden. There's always something to do, although sitting and reading or watching films has certainly been significant in this household over the last few days.

Enormous oyster surrounded by broken oyster knife and screwdrivers

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Don't Tell Alfred
by Nancy Mitford

narrated by Emilia Fox
"Fanny, who is married to the bumbling, absent-minded Oxford don Alfred, is content with her role as a plain, tweedy housewife. But her life changes overnight when Alfred is appointed English Ambassador to Paris."
The third of the trilogy of which the first (The Pursuit of Love) is the best, but they're all great. Who would have thought that I would like Nancy Mitford, of the notorious Mitford Sisters and their association with fascism and Hitler and all that? Given that all the sisters will be distinct from each other I should perhaps find out more about the family. Anyway, this book sets out exactly how your offspring can disappoint you despite all your efforts at avoiding the mistakes that you have observed in your parents and others.

Image of the book cover

The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

narrated by David Horovitch
"In the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870's, Newland Archer, a young lawyer, prepares to marry the docile May Welland. Before their engagement is announced, he meets May's cousin, the mysterious, nonconformist Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned to New York after a long absence."
My classical literary education continues with this book, which isn't bad at all. Not exactly gripping, but I was happy to carry on reading, and the ending was particularly fine. I haven't been happy with many endings recently, so this was refreshing.

Image of the book cover

The Reckoning
by Patrick Bishop
"An intellectual poet and mystic, Avraham Stern believed himself destined for greatness; the Jewish liberator of British Palestine. This is the tale of a rebel who terrorized Palestine, the lawman determined to stop him and the creation of a cult of martyrdom that destroyed any hope of compromise between Arab and Jew."
This book covers the years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and describes the violence faced by the British forces administering the Mandate in Palestine. Arabs were resisting the encroachment of Jewish immigrants, and Jews switched their focus of resistance away from the Arabs towards the British police with increasingly violent acts of terrorism. Meanwhile other desperate Jewish refugees were being refused entry to Palestine as they fled from persecution and the Nazi death camps. There is a long narrative of events leading up to the death of Avraham Stern and its aftermath. It's probably well researched, but I finished it through a sense of duty rather than any interest in the particular story it told.

Image of the book cover

by George MacDonald Fraser

narrated by Colin Mace
"Harry Flashman: the unrepentant bully of Tom Brown's schooldays has three main talents - horsemanship, facility with foreign languages and fornication. A reluctant military hero, Flashman plays a key part in most of the defining military campaigns of the nineteenth century despite trying his utmost to escape them all."
Quite good but would have been better if it were a bit shorter. I don't know if the conflict in Afghanistan that makes up the majority of the action is based on real events, but if it was then I'm sure it would have been a more engrossing read if I knew more about that period of colonial history.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Fire in the hole

Sculpture of a person shaped like a cello incorporating flower pots
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016

It's always the little things. The big things loom large, and when they are resolved and fade then other big things appear. But the little things - they make me truly happy. I now have electric light in the upstairs spare room.

Electrician Bill brought a trainee sidekick which made things go a little quicker, but even so the baffling history of Lola Towers was resurrected when they found wires that didn't seem to have any purpose, and a switch that ought to have another two-way switch somewhere but no sign of its partner. No wonder Ilf couldn't get to the bottom of it. The pair travelled down a few dead ends before Bill announced 'Fire in the hole' and on came the lights. I ceremonially turned on the radiators and it became a usable room, just a week away from the shortest day of the year. One job crossed off the list, another added - lampshades.

It was a good Tuesday. I love getting things done on a Tuesday. Last Tuesday I went south to visit mum and dad. This Tuesday there was Ilf (finishing the last bit of bathroom painting), Electrician Bill, and a long walk around Leamington to sort out odds and ends and deliver a Christmas card or two, with a badminton match to end the day. Next Tuesday there are three separate appointments already booked in, but you don't get to know about the future, I only write about the past.

The past at this point contains the work Christmas party at a very posh and expensive venue. It was OK. It was the same venue as last year with the same entertainment, which was a DJ 'personality' from Rugby Free Radio breakfast show who is very popular with those of my colleagues who live in Rugby, followed by dancing. The DJ directed a number of activities including the opportunity for one person in the room to win £1000 by answering 10 questions in 1 minute. There were at least 500 people in the room, so it was quite exciting that the one person who won that opportunity was one of our team. Of course she didn't win, partly because of her prior consumption of cocktails and prosecco, and partly because she could barely hear the questions. Then there was sufficient dancing of adequate quality to keep me entertained, although I do miss the old tunes. The only man in our group was also the only doctor and had not joined us on a social event before, but stood up better to the lady-squealing than I did. I'm just not cut out for mixing with actual humans, especially in situations when copious alcohol consumption is the norm.

Lola II also visited at the weekend, and the plan included a visit to the optician, making a start on the huge eBay project, and her home-made Christmas cards. Unfortunately we spent much too much time messing about and given that the upstairs room had no electric light at that point we missed the window of opportunity and it was dark before we were ready to eBay. Never mind - I'm one step nearer with the first box of stuff in the right room, and now I have electric light. What could possibly stop me now?

Lola II and I did travel north to see H+B At Home, but could barely stay for two hours, which is a shame because it was lovely to see people and catch up in person with what's going on. I have other friends in the north-west whom I haven't seen for a few years now, so perhaps next year I'll try to combine two visits and stay a little longer. I have previously offered practical help to clear H+B's basement rooms, and I'm using this public space to confirm that a) this is a serious offer, b) I'm getting quite good at house-emptying, and c) in my experience it really does make a positive difference to have a disinterested party on hand to move matters forward. I know you're reading this. Ask me for some dates.

Another garden sculpture of a woman with children and flowers

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Bats and nesting birds

Pale green cluster of buds
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
Things that are great, or at least fine
Progress on the LTRP - very slow progress, but very satisfying
Lighting the fire, sitting on the sofa and watching a film
Not gaining weight
Having one day off a week
Living on my own
Lola II volunteering to create the annual family calendar

Things I am struggling with, or are a bit rubbish
Being unable to synchronise my iPod with iTunes (OK, not that bad but VERY annoying at the moment)
Not losing weight
Thinking about the global and the UK political situation
Getting round to doing some of the difficult jobs that are lined up
The broken porch light **

Ilf has now had a go at the electric lights in the upstairs room and had to concede that he can't work out what's wrong with them. Most unusually, I have acted swiftly rather than procrastinating for weeks and contacted the electrician who most recently replaced the fuse box. Given that Ilf advertises himself as a painter and decorator I don't hold it against him that he can't manage complicated electrics, and I even let him actually do some painting and decorating. The bathroom is now looking lovely but needs a new cabinet.

I visited the Council website where planning applications are tracked. It took a while to work out how to navigate the site, but to my surprise I found that two comments had been lodged. The first exhorts the planning department to attach notes related to bats and nesting birds to any approval granted. Apparently these are protected:
"It is a criminal offence to recklessly disturb or destroy a bat 'roost', even if the roost is only occasionally used ... If evidence of bats is found during works, work should stop immediately and Natural England must be contacted on 0300 060 3900 for advice on the best way to proceed." 
I have never seen a bat in the garden, but you never know. It would clearly be a right nuisance if one is found. I need to plant some garlic and sprinkle holy water. Or is that against zombies?

Nesting birds are just as important to the ecologists.
"The main nesting season lasts approximately from March to September, so work should ideally take place outside these dates if at all possible. N.B birds can nest at any time, and the site should ideally be checked by a suitably qualified ecologist for their presence immediately before work starts, especially if during the breeding season."
The other comment is much shorter and less exciting, and appears to be the outcome of the recent site visit by the planning officer:
"No objection."
So that seems positive, although the conservation officer wants the lantern skylight to be fashioned from painted metal rather than UPVC. The architect checked that this would be OK with me, and then submitted an amended drawing within which the only change I can detect are the words "Metal Roof Lantern" next to the roof lantern on the plans. I have also had two letters through so far from building companies offering their services, who must have seen the public notice in the paper (and there's one on the lamppost).

My Buddhist friend has visited and we had a nice chat and a long walk and vegan food and even did a bit of meditation together. Another job I had lined up for him was to help me remove the larger items from the loft that I couldn't manage on my own. When it was all done I was about to climb the stepladder to close the loft hatch when he reached up and closed it without even standing on tiptoe. Tall people can be very handy sometimes.

At the meditation group, one of the attendees had responded enthusiastically when I said that one of the things I enjoy is reading. "I've written a book," he said. "Do you want to read it?" Of course I said yes. "It costs £7.99," he said. So I was suckered, but I duly handed over the money in exchange for a nicely-produced self-published book. I've started reading it and it will appear in an upcoming book review blog post. I will need to think carefully about how to word my response if he asks how I like it.

** Porch light update - I am an idiot, I forgot to check the fuse box trip switches. The porch light is not and never was broken.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...