Tuesday, 24 January 2017


Close up of striped leaves
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
The upstairs spare room is starting to become properly habitable. I've cleaned and polished the floor and installed a bed, and I'm using the table in front of a window for my ebay photographic activity. That, by the way, is going extraordinarily well, and I continue to laugh out loud whenever I am notified that someone has bought another bit of useless junk for £1.99. Two of my esteemed customers are even located so close that I have actually hand-delivered their purchases. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they are buying because otherwise the hours I spend on photography and online listing would be a pointless waste of effort, but really, I feel sorry for their families. At some point they will have to do what I'm doing, unless they have the grim determination to build a bonfire.

I'm also starting to repopulate the loft. I don't want to fill it right up again, but it's nice to be able to store a few things in a moderately accessible way. The next task will be to get the spare room painted, and then convert it to half office, half bedroom. With just one exterior wall and two radiators it's a lot warmer than my bedroom which has three out of four exterior walls and only one small radiator, so I may decide to move in for the winter. I've spent a comfortable night in there as an experiment, but it will need curtains before it's any use in summer.

I haven't written about patients for a while. They continue to propose marriage - another one last week. Most aren't in the marrying mood and tend to be fairly recalcitrant when it comes to making dietary changes. I enjoy the teaching most, where people turn up knowing very little except what they've read in the press or heard from a doctor or nurse with no real knowledge of diet. They usually go away knowing a lot more, whether it has been a one-to-one consultation or a Type 1 or Type 2 group education session.

I would love to give a blow by blow description of some of the consultations that I'm involved with. I think I'm getting better at working with the usual range of 'reasons' people give for not doing what they have told me they intend to do. The one the continually irks me is when we embark upon the 'weight loss' conversation, and the first response is about not being able to exercise - arthritis, or fibromyalgia, or a bad back, or anything really. Exercise is hopeless for weight loss, but the resistance to weight loss by actually eating less is immense. I have a poster on the wall which says, for example, that 178 kcal or just three custard cream biscuits is the calorie equivalent of 37 minutes brisk walking. The calories in a single pint of lager are the equivalent of 53 minutes of brisk walking.

The DESMOND programme for people with Type 2 Diabetes has a nice script for introducing the weight loss session.
- What causes our weight to change? [food and activity]
- What happens to your weight if the amount of calories you get from food is the same as the number of calories that you burn off through activity? [it stays the same]
- If our weight starts to go up, what do you think has changed? [eating more and/or doing less activity]
- What would need to happen for someone to lose weight? [eat less and/or do more activity]
- What about people who are less mobile, and whose activity may be limited? What else can they do if they want to change their weight? [ha ha, got you there, you have no choice but to say 'eat less']

I know I shouldn't, but I get a small thrill if I manage to get someone to admit that losing weight is still possible even if they cannot run a marathon or play squash. Or walk to the car. I shouldn't feel that way because while we all know in our heart of hearts that eating less will allow us to lose weight, it's incredibly difficult to achieve. It's supposed to be my job to help, and I continue to try, but I do think that those who succeed tend to do it in spite of me rather than because of my input.

Anyway, back to the LTRP - I spent a happy day in Birmingham looking for household goods, and while I didn't buy anything spectacular I did make a few decisions on what might happen next, and I've since bought lampshades. The prospective builder and the airing cupboard carpenter have visited, and the people from the kitchen shop also got back to me with details of an alternative builder. I will have to address my naming conventions soon, as I am reaching the end of the vowel supply with only Ulf and Ylf to go. I may repurpose the name Elf, because I'm not planning to use the original man any more. I'm not going to ask Olf the Builder to quote for the kitchen build either. Ilf the Handyman, however, is a permanent fixture; I intend to keep him for as long as he can wield a screwdriver.

I also went to another Barn Dance with badminton friends who are very enthusiastic about Barn Dances. I feel satisfied that I have given it a good try, but I don't really like it. We had a discussion about the next badminton social event, and reached the conclusion that it needs to be indoors, not food-based, including physical activity but not so noisy that we can't hear each other speak. It was pointed out that what we were describing sounds a lot like badminton.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Annus Dramaticus in 2014ce
by Alastair Gamble
"Luke Trevelyan was a practising architect, and a committed Buddhist for over twenty-one years. Experiencing a quite severe mental episode in the early part of 2014, this sparked a strongly held belief that his life might be in mortal danger from the authorities. Were these thoughts the delusions of someone insane, or had he in fact broken through to new levels of insight?"
I'm no professional book critic, I just know what I like. And I always try to write in this blog as though anyone at all could be reading, including anyone I write about. Alastair would like to make a living as an author, and he has put all of himself into this semi-autobiographical novel. That's partly what made it such uncomfortable reading, because knowing him has made it difficult to read about his personal life in such explicit detail. Aside from the personal, I haven't found the narrative engaging at all. I'm not sure what it's supposed to be about, with references to Buddhist writings alongside the main character's experiences of himself and the world around him coloured by paranoia presumably arising from his bi-polar disorder. None of these topics is examined or analysed in any detail, and with conclusions notably absent. What it has really made me think about is how one knows whether one's writing is good or not. Comedians always say that the only way to know whether their material is funny is to deliver it and see if anyone laughs. Perhaps it isn't possible to be self-critical in terms of quality of prose writing either?

Image of the book cover

Death in Venice
by Thomas Mann

narrated by Peter Batchelor
"A stunningly beautiful youth and the city of Venice set the stage for Thomas Mann’s introspective examination of erotic love and philosophical wisdom."
I listen to most audio books in the car, and this one engaged me so little that after 5 minutes I realised I wasn't even listening, and had to start it again. When I had to start again for a second time later in the journey, it was clear that the writing style is not for me. I had absolutely no idea what this book was about when I picked it as my next 'classic' book. I now know it is short, originally written in German, set in 1913, its topic is homosexual love between the old narrator and a young boy he encounters in Venice, and the title gives away the ending. The most striking thing is the coincidence of reading this at the same time as the book above - they both throw armfuls of adjectives at any noun, sentence structure is Germanic and long, virtually no narrative arc, tedious philosophising and uncomfortable content. Mann was awarded a Nobel prize in 1929, so maybe I'm being too harsh on Alastair.

Image of the book cover

H.M.S. Surprise
by Patrick O'Brian
"Amid sights and smells of the Indian subcontinent explore ships of the East India Company. Aubrey is on the defensive, pitting wits and seamanship against an enemy enjoying overwhelming local superiority."
I'm not sure why I keep reading these, because I have no idea what he's going on about most of the time, and not only in the bits where he's talking about sailing the ship. I'm sure it's very authentically nineteenth century and accurate in its maritime detail, but I wouldn't really know one way or the other. I think I'll skip the rest of books that I have in the series. Just admitting to this is a bit of a relief.

Image of the book cover

The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

narrated by Jeff Cummings
"It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war - and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan."
Another in a string of titles that hasn't engaged my interest at all, and this one had such a promising premise as well. What if the Axis powers had won WWII? There were a number of strands to the story but none of them made much sense or provided any coherence to the story. I would struggle to recall much at all, and I only finished it yesterday.

Image of the book cover

Introducing Buddhism
by Chris Pauling
"Images of the Buddha are everywhere: selling tea bags, mobile phones, holidays. But what is the true attraction of Buddhism? This best-selling book explains the essential teachings and practices that underlie most forms of Buddhism."
A slim volume containing just the basics, which has confirmed what I suspected - my weekly group is teaching me two meditation practices but not much about Buddhism. Which is fine; I'm not desperate to become a 'proper' Buddhist and I quite enjoy the meditation. There's a lot of 'threefold' this and 'eightfold' that, but there were also a few useful paragraphs that resonated with my experience so far. And did I mention how short the book is? I could skip through it again any time.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Featuring Lola Towers

Ink drawing of Lola Towers imagined as a pub
M. Jeffs, January 2017
A badminton-playing friend's husband is interested in Leamington's history. I met him at the club's Christmas do, and remember only that since retiring he seems to have had a go at a million different things - joining the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, sketching and writing - he was asked to write a history of an organisation (can't remember which but it was one I'd heard of). As a member of the local History Group he was interested to find out that Lola Towers is a house with an history, having been the original home of the pub which is now next door.

He was very keen to come and see the house, so I invited him at the weekend and in return he gave me a wonderful drawing that he'd made of the house as it might have been when it was a pub. I showed him the bits and pieces that I've amassed - a couple of extracts from Ordnance Survey maps, the Indenture of 1867, and he even braved a trip down to the cellar to see where the barrels were rolled down. Subsequently he wrote me a note saying that there was an urban myth of a tunnel between the old and the new pubs - but there's no sign of any such thing, and I can't imagine why one would exist.

He also lent me a book on the Pubs of Royal Leamington Spa. It is most illuminating about the early history of Lola Towers:
"The first reference point that we have for the Cricketers Arms is in 1854 when the licensing justices issued a new licence to Joshua Fardon (thus suggesting that its history predates 1854) ... the first directory listing we have is in 1860 ... the site of the original Cricketers Arms was actually at the rear of the current pub ... In June 1889, Mr Humphries from Messrs Field and Son applied for the temporary transfer of the licence ... from Mrs. Eliza Mills to Mr. Whitacre ... He stated that Mrs. Mills had not been successful in carrying on the business and that it was proposed to close the present house and to adapt some adjacent and larger premises ... In September 1889 Mr. Humphries applied on behalf of Samuel Whitacre to transfer the six-day licence of the Cricketers Arms in Victoria Street, to new premises, adjacent to the old, and situated on the corner of Victoria Street and Archery Road. In reply to Alderman Wackrill, Mr Humphries said that the old premises would be demolished. The application was granted."
Clearly no demolition took place, and Lola Towers continues to flourish, especially as I have engaged Ilf once more for the ongoing LTRP. He has put my bathroom cabinets back up (straighter than they were before, hooray!), reconstructed the floor of the loft and plugged the gaps in the insulation, taken down all extraneous fitments in the spare room (old lights, blinds, screws etc.) and has started painting it white. It's taking several coats to cover the strong colours of the walls. But even the great Ilf is struggling to find a replacement toilet seat because it seems to be a completely non-standard variety.

I have also been to see the kitchen shop belonging to the lady I met on my first Meetup walking event, and spent an hour and a half with her son who is the main salesman, and previously was a chef. [See how confident I have become - two projects running simultaneously!] I got exactly what I needed - a full explanation and comparison between different types of cupboards, worktops and appliances, and recommendations for suitable places to go for other stuff like lighting and flooring. At last it feels like I have taken a step forward, even though I still need a builder. I'll be going back to the kitchen showroom in a couple of weeks to see what he comes up with based on my preliminary preferences.

I even had the audacity to consider a third simultaneous project, and contacted a carpenter about the reconstruction of the airing cupboard. He replied saying he was on holiday, and I've heard nothing more since then. I hardly dare to chase this one up, especially as I am still immersed in the ebay path to immense wealth - another buyer has emerged to snap up some more obscure post-office-related ephemera. I think we've made more than a tenner now; not long before we can all retire on the proceeds.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Several new beginnings

Pond, sunshinre, long shadows
Walking in the Cotswolds, January 2017
The New Year has started in the most terrific way, at least after the noise from the pub died down so I could get to sleep. Incidental news - Smurf has announced on Facebook that he's stepped down from running the pub, so I need to get over there and find out who my neighbour is now, and what's going on.

Anyway, I started the year proper with a parkrun, but forgot my barcode. This means that my run isn't logged against my name in the big parkrun database and I have to do an extra run to get to my Big Numbers (you can have a special T-shirt when you've done 50). I thought I would be a bit peeved, but it didn't matter. I just felt happy to be out there. Even though it was pouring with rain all the way round.

Starting the day with a parkrun generally means I don't do much for the rest of the day, and this was certainly true for New Years Day. However, I had finally joined Meetup, which is a website that allows people to create groups around particular interests and activities and then recruit others to join them. I joined the 'Out and About in Warwickshire' group and signed up to a long walk in the Cotswolds that took place on Monday. It was bright and sunny and even a little bit warm out of the wind, and the walk was wonderful and all the other people I talked to were lovely. Really lovely. Someone saw me just grinning with pleasure, and commented that the endorphins were very evident.

The highly unexpected bonus of all this unusual socialising was that one of the people I met turned out to own a kitchen design business. This kitchen project has been weighing me down a bit, being a lot more difficult than I was expecting, so the prospect of actually finding someone prepared to help was such a relief. I need to get along to her shop.

During the Christmas/New Year lull (Twixtmas) I finally got to grips with starting to list dad's collection of ephemera on ebay. It's very time-consuming - each listing has to have at least one photo, I need to check for similar items previously listed and/or sold so I can get an idea of how much to charge (I've mostly been putting on fixed price listings) and then work out postage. Even the description is tricky when I don't really know why anyone would want a manufacturer's leaflet about a Third Generation Coding Desk or a Philatelic Presentation Pack Assembler in the first place, let alone a poster exhorting you to use the postcode or celebrating 350 years of the Royal Mail in 1985. So I took a load of photos and got a load of listings ready in draft, all the while thinking "what's the point", and who'd have thought it, someone went and bought one. And now another two (same buyer)! So I'm carrying on and watching the pence flood in (we have made just over a fiver so far).

Two horses in a field with blue sky

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