Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Ninth week

Team YlfUlf the Stairs
And on and on it goes. Not long now; all should be done by Christmas. And if it isn't, well, never mind. I've managed this long, I can last a few more days. Or weeks. Not months though. Definitely not months.

It isn't the lack of cooking facilities, actually. I haven't done badly for food, given that I'm also trying to eat as little as possible. Breakfast is easy - cereal most days, or scrambled egg done in the microwave when I have more time. Lunch - I've had microwaved fish with veg and rice several times, the stuffed pepper recipe is a keeper, I can do easy-cook pasta with pesto or tomato sauce, and soup from the freezer or bought. I've even had a sandwich once or twice. I'm trying not to eat much in the evening, which is easy when there's badminton or meditation or some other activity.

The main things I miss are the sink and washing machine. The bath works pretty well as a sink, and I've been to the launderette three times now, but the sink and washing machine are definitely what I miss.

Anyway, week nine brought more dust than ever, as the kitchen team got started on Tuesday. One door has been damaged and will have to be re-ordered, so that will delay final sign-off until after Christmas, but hopefully that will be the only delay. A lot of visible progress was made in the first two days, then nothing much seemed to change as Team Ylf attended to the detail - hanging doors, drawers, plinths, shaping the worktops. Having chosen all the components such a long time ago, it was nice to find that I am still pleased with my choices.

Week 8
Beginning of Week 9
End of Week 9
On Wednesday of the same week the stairs team arrived. I was at home for the destruction and removal of the old stairs, which caused much puzzlement as Ulf the Stairs tried to understand how it was constructed so that it could most easily be deconstructed. The top of the stairs was embedded between the ceiling and floor above! The bottom of the stairs was embedded in the floor! The metal strips holding the banister had to be ground off! But it was done, and then I had to go to work, and when I got back the new stairs were in place, and I am very pleased with them.

The new stairs are narrower and steeper, and will be even more beautiful when they have been varnished. I took the polystyrene packaging to the tip myself, and Ulf kindly took most of the cardboard to a rugby club bonfire, and a skip was definitely not needed.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Christmas Markets present and past

Reflections of trees and autumn leaves in water
Königsallee, Düsseldorf, November 2017
In between weeks seven and eight of the LTRP I spent the weekend in Düsseldorf with two friends. They had both previously worked there for a few years as a result of a business relocation, and in the end both had decided not to stay. However, the reason for this trip was to visit the Christmas Market as well as to revisit a few old haunts.

I am not a shopper at the best of times, and I don't get excited about Christmas either, so what was I doing there? It was partly because of my policy to say Yes to more invitations, and I like both these ladies, one of whom (A) I've known (through badminton) for nearly all the time I've spent in the Midlands. We now play for different clubs, which is a shame. A introduced me to S when we were regular quiz team members, long long ago.

Due to the complexity of budget airlines, and the fact that I was out for the day when A and S booked their flights and accommodation, I was on an earlier flight and in Airbnb accommodation rather than in their fancy hotel. On Friday I went exploring on my own, and it was delightful. I found an interesting market stall selling nothing but potatoes, and had a fantastic bowl of soup for lunch. Germans (and Austrians) really know how to make good soup. I bought a salami, and was flattered when the stallholder replied in French to my poor attempt at German. I am generally much too unkempt to be mistaken for a French woman.

I also passed a church which had a sign outside saying (in German) something along the lines of 'You don't have to believe in God, we have a really good cafe'. I was flagging at that point so I went in, and they were right, the cafe was excellent with a pot of Redbush tea for only 1 euro and very good cakes. There was also a notice advertising choral evensong later that evening, and having nothing better to do, with the encouragement that I don't have to believe in God, I went along and it was lovely.

I was up much earlier on Saturday than A and S, partly because their flight was delayed and they didn't arrive until after midnight. On Saturday morning while waiting for them to emerge I found a small botanic garden, and a shopping centre with a sleigh and reindeer that you could sit in to be photographed.

Eventually A emerged, and S followed an hour or two later. We spent the rest of Saturday together, me trailing behind them around market stalls with all manner of twinkly, sparkly, woody, fragrant, jingly, shiny and tasty goods. The tasty goods were all I was interested in buying, and I had a classic German bratwurst for lunch. Actually, I also bought a small ornament that was made of star anise and cinnamon and smelled wonderful. And of course there was Glühwein, and more soup for me. I must remember to keep saying Yes to invitations like this, because it was fun.

Back home I attempted to do a bit of cleaning and thought about the next phase of the LTRP. While looking for lampshades I noticed a bar stool that looked quite good, and made a note for future reference. I also put out a Wanted notice on Freegle for bar stools, and someone offered me one, and it turned out to be the same design that I'd noticed in the shop! Quite a coincidence, and it gives me a bit of a breathing space before deciding what to buy. In return, I posted an Offer notice on Freegle for the indestructible ivy I'd tried so hard to kill with both neglect and weedkiller but which refused to die, and it was collected very promptly.

Then my friend Steve died.

I met him in the 1990's when I was working for RNIB. He was working for Marconi as a programmer, but I met him through the British Computer Association for the Blind (BCAB). I remember only a few experiences from those days, but many of the people I worked with and met through work at that time were so positive, thoughtful and generous, like Steve. When I moved from Manchester to the Midlands I arranged to meet Steve for a pub lunch because he lived here and could perhaps give me a few tips on places to live or to avoid.

Not long after this he was made redundant from what had by then become GEC, and BCAB happened to be funding a new post within RNIB. Steve got the job, so now we were working together in Coventry, before the office moved to central Birmingham. Even after we both left RNIB we kept in touch and met up every so often to see a film or have dinner or to visit the German Christmas Market in Birmingham where he bought panettone, I bought nothing, and we drank glühwein together. He survived several bouts of illness - apart from the retinoblastoma that had taken his sight as a child, he was successfully treated for bladder cancer, and then lung cancer.

But the latest diagnosis of a brain tumour was his last. Surgery was ruled out and eventually chemo and radiotherapy stopped, and in the last month or so he was just managing with pain relief. He went back to live with his mum for a time and then went to a local hospice. I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times when he sounded quite positive about being able to go home once they had got the pain relief right. I did ask whether he might be fit enough to go to the Christmas Market in Birmingham this year, and he laughed. No, that wasn't going to happen.

I had a meeting on the same site as the hospice about a week ago, and dropped in to see him. When I walked in I thought it was the wrong room, and nearly went out again before seeing his name above the bed. He wasn't alert enough to speak. I visited twice more during that week, once speaking to him on the phone beforehand, but each time he couldn't be roused when I was there, and then the news came.

I don't usually dwell on serious or sad topics, but this is the first death of a friend I have experienced. My uncles, aunts and cousins have nearly all died abroad, in the countries where they live. My grandparents were all gone before I was a teenager let alone an adult. I have hardly had to deal with death or grieving, and it is a new and sad experience.

Düsseldorf, November 2017

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Weeks seven and eight

In this picture-tastic episode we conclude the main story of Ulf and his Henchmen, although Ulf will be back to finish a few things, then sign off the whole project and make sure the building inspector is happy. I shall miss them, with their tuneless singing and their drinks with two sugars. They have consumed more than a pound of sugar in eight weeks, not counting the biscuits.

Week 1

Start of week 6

End of week 6

Week 7
The theme of the last two weeks has been nice, smooth surfaces - the floor, walls and ceilings. It is starting to look like a real room. The floor so far has involved two layers of levelling compound followed by boards, and that is how it will stay until the last phase of the project when the floor man cometh. The walls and ceilings have been prepared and skimmed, and on week 7 day 4 the roof lantern finally arrived. I wasn't at work that day but they came so early that I missed the initial hoisting into place, which was a pity. Never mind; Ulf and Doors and Windows Ulf gave me a guided tour from the roof and posed for a photo.

Electrician Ulf made a welcome return and continued work on the wall sockets and various electrical necessities. The floorboards of the upstairs hall had to be taken up to route the electrics to the fuse box by the front door, the defunct burglar alarm was removed, and there is a mini fuse box in the utility room as well. Spotlights and other light fittings started to appear, and I came home from a weekend away to find that the doorway between the kitchen and the rest of the house had finally been opened - no more traipsing through the garden, although it means there is a much more straightforward route for the dust to permeate every corner of the house. Pictures show the scene from the living room side:

Week 5

Start of week 7
End of week 7

Week 8
Doors were delivered towards the end of week 7, and they look really nice but will need finishing with paint and/or varnish. The radiators were also put in by Plumber Ulf. An extractor fan appeared in the utility room, and an outside light with motion sensor - I must remember to ask about the other outside light fixed to the garage. The days that I came home and found the radiators were warm, and the electricity supply to the new kitchen had been turned on - those were good days. I also bought the floor tiles that should be laid after the kitchen is in.

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8
I realised that if I move quickly and find some wall lights then they'll be put up by someone more proficient than me. Unfortunately despite hours of online searching and visits in person to at least three different stores I have failed to identify wall lights that I particularly like, so I've bought the cheapest adequate option, which will be fine. I have had a look at lampshades and all I have to decide now is the colour scheme, but I'll wait for the kitchen to go in before I go any further down that route.

The extra jobs that aren't 100% kitchen-related also got some attention. Ulf reckons that the damp in the wall in the living room is caused by naked hot and cold water pipes, so he got Plumber Ulf to cut them back and then re-plaster. Sons of Ulf finished the outside drains and put back the veranda roofing that had to be taken down while the kitchen roof went on. The only casualties of the works so far are one mug and one knife missing in action, and I think the doorbell is broken.

Start of week 1

End of week 1

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8
Ulf and Sons had surprisingly many vehicular experiences during the eight weeks - after the wind blew a board into a neighbour's car, another supplier's van door dented Ulf's van, which then had to go for repair and a replacement van was temporarily supplied. Without sufficient confidence in this van's security, my hallway served as equipment store for a week. Then Son of Ulf had a nasty experience when his windscreen was broken by hitting a black-clad cyclist with no lights or high-vis or helmet in the dark. His truck was briefly confiscated and he was badly shaken, but the cyclist is OK and so is he.

I have had a brief altercation with the kitchen company (Ylf's mum) who wanted to know where the skip should be delivered. I told them that the kitchen is empty and no skip is needed, but they thought that the packing material and any offcuts were worthy of the price of a skip. I had a chat with Ulf about it and he agreed with me, and I hope that is the end of it. Ulf told me that Ylf's mum had contacted him to see if the start date was still OK or if the work had overrun. When he said that it was all ready for them to start exactly as planned, she said that was a first in her experience.

I realise that I have failed to document the progress of biscuit consumption. There is a distinct periodicity; sometimes none are eaten, sometimes whole packets, and it doesn't seem to depend on how many mouths there are to feed. We'll see how the kitchen fitters compare.

Sons of Ulf

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind

narrated by Sean Barrett
"Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: This is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets of Paris as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human's. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city."
A strange book, but I liked it. It reads as a normal novel, but has a few elements of fantasy and unreality that spice up the story. Recommended.

Image of the book cover

The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable
by Terry Pratchett

narrated by Stephen Briggs
"Cohen the Barbarian. He's been a legend in his own lifetime. He can remember the good old days of high adventure, when being a Hero meant one didn't have to worry about aching backs and lawyers and civilization. But these days, he can't always remember just where he put his teeth."
Apparently this is a picture book, and I imagine it would indeed be enhanced by drawings of the characters. I believe it is the last of the Discworld books, and despite his progressive Alzheimers Terry Pratchett manages to produce entertaining and thought-provoking ideas right up to the end.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Six weeks

Six weeks! and I can't remember what life was like before. There is dust everywhere - I make a token effort at cleaning at weekends, but dust-covered normality is restored almost immediately. There are lots of pictures this week, however.

First, the ceiling panels go up, followed by the walls including their extra insulation. The wall nearest the pub is far from straight - none of the walls is straight - but Ulf insists that it must be made straight otherwise the worktops won't look right. Running the best straight line means that the doorway into the rest of the house has to be moved slightly, which is fine because I have decided to replace that door with a new one. Ulf brings me a big thick catalogue for choosing doors and door handles, and I'm getting quite good at choosing things now. Practice makes perfect.

Week 1

Week 4

Week 6

Later in week 6
On Wednesday I came home in the dark (actually, most days now I came home in the dark) and the back door and French doors and windows had been installed! I had to wait until morning to get a proper look, what with there being no light in there. The partition wall acquires its plasterboard surface, and the plastering starts, in the utility room first of all.

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6
The last thing to happen is that the perimeters of the room have been cleaned up to allow for the final cement filling before the floor is levelled. When I got home on Friday, in the dark, the skip was gone! I went round to the kitchen to see what progress has been made, and found that there were two fan heaters plugged in and running. I texted Ulf to find out whether they need to run all night, and he replied that it's OK to turn them off. That text message has saved quite a few quid on my electricity bill.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Not the LTRP

White flowers against a background of greenery and branches
Krakow Botanic Gardents, July 2016
All this building activity reminds me of university time when I was learning new things every week, but the desire to blog about the building work all takes up an awful lot of time. I used to have plenty when I was a student, but nowadays not so much.

In case you hadn't noticed, I let the tenth anniversary of my blogging pass without note in the summer. I held no expectation that I'd keep going this long, although I knew that writing is something I enjoy and hoped that blogging would satisfy that urge. There's lots of room for more writing once I 'have more time' (retirement?) including some fiction, perhaps. Or there are the notes of my year of volunteering in Israel, which I planned to turn into a book thirty years ago but never got round to. And I've got a plastic bag of stuff from primary and secondary school days that is begging to be examined - I bet some of it would be blogworthy.

Anyway, the two weeks without days off and the LTRP and extra nights of badminton matches and music group and a trip to see mum and dad have worn me out, with a bonus night of disturbed sleep about a particular patient that I can't even write about, but he/she made me so troubled and disturbed and ANGRY that I couldn't sleep. I didn't even go to badminton on Monday of the second week. Delivering my courses I was getting confused about what I'd delivered to which group.

There's still quite a lot of high level activity around diabetes education following the awarding of a large pot of money to the commissioners who are trying to work out how to spend it. In examining this problem they have realised that they don't know what they are already paying for. Naturally enough they asked someone in the hospital finance or business department how their existing funding is spent, and this person addressed the issue by completely ignoring it until one of the doctors realised what was going on and called a meeting. Thankfully I didn't have to go, but my colleague reported that it went quite well and may have given us a further brief reprieve.

There is another meeting about diabetes education that I will have to attend; they have set up all sorts of 'Task and Finish' groups to try and work out how to spend this money, and have appointed a project manager, so it is possible that all the grant will be spent in finding out how bad the situation is, and no money will be left to do anything about it. In the meantime there are rumours about what will happen when NHS Commissioning is dissolved again, this time in favour of GP Alliances. Fear not, I will let you know exactly how this goes, if it ever happens.

Patient education for Type 2 diabetes has all but ceased with the departure of my Dietitian Team Leader colleague and another member of that dysfunctional team. Courses were cancelled such that there has been only one course delivered between last August and January next year, and it was delivered by me and the ex-Team Leader to only four participants. There are various conspiracy theories about why this should be - when I offered to deliver more I was told that there wasn't really a waiting list. Meanwhile the commissioners are looking at the thousands of people being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes who are eligible to attend the course and may well wonder why only four people have received any education in six months.

Then out of the blue came the bombshell that one of the people who hasn't delivered a course for about a year has won an award as Educator of the Year, which makes me laugh but everyone else is furious. Hard on the heels of this news is the further update that another member of that team is leaving, although there is a rumour that a new Dietitian Team Leader has been appointed. Nothing confirmed has reached me, though.

I attended a very useful talk about Eating Disorders and Diabetes delivered by the psychiatrist who leads the service for this area. It was an evening meeting in a posh hotel with dinner, and the audience was a mix of doctors, nurses and dietitians but I was the only Diabetes Specialist Dietitian and there were no dietitians or nurses from the main hospital or from the community diabetes service. The other dietitians were from the weight management service, and they told me that a) their psychologist screens patients who have been referred onto the pathway to bariatric surgery but does not treat any eating disorders that are uncovered, and b) while this Eating Disorders service exists for people with diabetes, there is a much lower level of service for people who don't have diabetes. At least they have access to a psychologist - we don't in the adult diabetes service.

I learned about the three main types of eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, and these are even more prevalent in the population of people with diabetes. Damaging behaviours include purging, laxative abuse and excessive exercise, but with diabetes comes the additional option of insulin restriction, combined with the increased need to focus attention on food and blood glucose that is not necessary for people who don't have diabetes. The existence of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) which is one effect of insulin restriction also hugely increases the risk of mortality in the diabetic population with an eating disorder.

The service consists of a psychiatrist, a nurse and a dietitian. I'm quite keen to see more of what they do, so will try to set up a visit. Maybe they will come and talk to the diabetes dietitians once we have some again.

Enough of work. The music group is still a lot of fun, but I really need to do some saxophone practice. And having managed by borrowing in previous years I feel obliged to get myself a Christmas jumper for the concert, not least because the church is freezing. Sounds like a hardship, but it's the sort of clothing I'd enjoy wearing at any time of year so not a problem.

The trip to dad and mum, while tiring, was a delight because dad is so much better. The stent that drains excess fluid from his brain was opened to its fullest extent at the last appointment, which could have had adverse side effects but in fact has restored him to nearly his previous state of health. He's still deaf and wobbly on his feet but at least he's talking and showing an interest in what's going on around him. He even asked me how the building work was going. I told him that in future if he's naughty we now have an on/off switch.

Otherwise there's a distinct lack of reading going on except audio books and podcasts in the car.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Week the fifth

Lots of building action this week, although most of it isn't very photogenic. Taking pictures of pipes and cables running along walls and ceilings doesn't result in anything I want to share here. There was quite a lot of rain this week as well, which slowed down progress above the roof but there was much activity below.

The boards on the sides of the roof are in place, and they have constructed the skeleton of the internal wall dividing the kitchen from the proposed utility room. The corner of  the wall due to receive the boiler was prepared and Plumber Ulf made a start. They took down a bit of the living room ceiling so that pipes and cables could run from the boiler to the heating controller and tank upstairs, and the dust from this operation has reached every nook and cranny of the whole house. Ulf told me that they had done the best they could to seal off the area with plastic sheeting. It didn't entirely work, but I imagine it could have been a lot worse. I emailed a marked up plan of exactly where I want all of the electric sockets and light fittings.

No day off for me again, but I did manage to get home in time to talk to Plumber Ulf about options, including choice of radiators - another occasion where I narrowly averted the choice being made for me. He also told me about a steel pipe that runs outside the house between the meter point in the pavement outside and my stopcock inside - if anything should happen to this pipe the water would have to be turned off at the meter point. Today was also the day for the boiler move, and while Plumber Ulf managed to restore the water supply I didn't have any heating that night. The outside tap was plumbed in, but not in a position I would have chosen had I been asked. Ulf made a good case for where it was, but still.

Heating restored, the boiler is resplendent in its new situation. There are lots of pipes and cables passing above the boarded up door into the house, allowing winter wind to whistle through into the living room bringing a seasoning of dirt with it. Ylf the Kitchen came to measure up at this point to make sure everything would fit. What with the near miss on the radiator, I emailed Ulf the list of things that are pending, and this is where the discussion about stairs continued in earnest. Ulf gave me a price, which was pretty steep, and offered to bring round samples of wood. I made the point that for that price I'd want to see more than samples of wood, and sent him a link to the sort of stairs I wanted, to which Ulf the Stairs simply replied "Sorry Ulf but I don't keep any photos. The stairs will look exactly the same as the link the lady has sent."

Concerned about the stairs quote, I got in touch with the manufacturer of the stairs whose picture I sent as an example of what I wanted, in order to clarify the cost involved. Although the French doors and windows and the outside back door have already been ordered, Ulf sent me a picture that doesn't look too bad, and I managed to intercept the order for internal doors and agreed a price for the radiator I want. I'm also home in time to catch Electrician Ulf and talk about the location of sockets, light switches, pendant lights and also the style of sockets I want. Ulf has left me a catalogue to allow me to choose doors and door handles. Today the rubberised roof membrane was stuck down, and they got to work on the lead flashing between the roof and the adjacent wall. I went to sleep for two hours before the evening's badminton match (we lost).

Spot the difference...
Where's the boiler?
I'm up early because I didn't manage to photograph the site before it got dark yesterday, and Ulf arrives early too, so we have the chance to work things out with the stairs. Ulf has personally guaranteed the quality and appearance, so I'm going with his contractor. He's agreed to help me out with some removals - if I clear the upstairs and downstairs desks, then he and the Henchmen will take my downstairs desk upstairs and get rid of the other one. The building inspector is booked to visit to sign off the roof construction, and by the end of the day the mount for the roof light is in place, the last bit of internal wall is gone, and the plumbing and electrics appear to be ready for boarding up and plastering.

Although it is all going extremely well I'm really getting tired of the whole project now, especially because of the two weeks with no days off, too much badminton, and a busy weekend in the middle. On the other hand, biscuit consumption has been restored thanks to visits from Electrician Ulf and Plumber Ulf.

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