Friday, 31 March 2017

An awful lot to do

Striped seed pod with spiky outer coat
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
It's a familiar complaint, and we hear it all the time from friends, family and colleagues. Not enough time, they say, not enough hours in the day. I silently think very uncharitable thoughts, usually along the lines of "well if you watched less television..." which I have no doubt are utterly unfair. Because although I often comment on how much I have to do, this week I have experienced the perfect storm. Of course it is of my own making so I am not encouraging expressions of sympathy; I just need to get a grip.

Badminton - my regular two nights a week is augmented to three this week with a match on Friday.

eBay - this is the one that is hoovering up all the hours in the day, even though I am now only putting things up for auction three days a week. It's taking all the pictures, weighing things for postage pricing and concocting the item description that take so much time, and I would chuck it all in but people continue to buy this junk. It's strangely enjoyable when a bid appears.

Routine commitments - dentist, car service, a meeting with the finance man, blood donation, laundry, ironing, meditation, food shopping, cooking, eating, washing up.

LTRP - looking good and progressing well, but requires me to do research and think about what I want and make decisions. What is looming over me at the moment is that I have an invoice to pay and I just want to check it against the original estimate, and I know where all the documents are but just haven't got round to it. A Round Tuit is what I need to get. I haven't even started thinking about the curtain that I need.

Tent - this has been a major preoccupation because some camping is definitely going to take place in July and September and for goodness sake it's time I had my own tent. My original research uncovered two tents at vastly different prices, and it took a while to decide I would have the more expensive one, at which point I found that I'd been looking at a very out of date website. I found another supplier but they told me the tent I wanted was last year's model and no longer available, but pointed me in the direction of a different one. Meanwhile I found the original tent on ebay and dithered for some time about putting my faith in an unknown ebay supplier. I decided not to and I think I know which one I will buy, just as soon as I can phone the supplier to check that there is not some fatal flaw with this choice as well.

Media - being away for a week skiing meant a total break from podcasts and radio programmes, although I managed a bit of book reading. Coming back I wasn't prepared to skip any of my regular listens, and it has taken me a month to catch up; a month in which I have read nothing in print except a copy of 'Dietetics Today'. I've just managed to start a new audio book, but it's the strange American narrator reading Pride and Prejudice. An hour in, and actually he's not doing a bad job.

Whisky Tasting With Food - I haven't got time for a full account of this wondrous event. Mr M and Lola II brought a selection from Mr M's range of whiskies on tour to Leamington, and three new candidates experienced the joy. I'm lucky enough to have attended two before this one, and from a standing start at my first event when I took the position of not really liking whisky, I have come to love it. Lola II and Mr M have hosted more than ten of these events, and Lola II said this one was the best so far.

Music group - these happen once a month. I went to the first one of the new year, which was in February, then missed one because of skiing. The next is coming up and I couldn't bear to go without having played a note in two months, so I'm trying to put in a bit of practice every day. The main problem with this is that one of the saxophone pieces is 'Copacabana' by Barry Manilow, and it has an extremely catchy bass line which has lodged in my brain and refuses to leave. Now I've planted it in your brain too (I'm talking to you, Lola II).

Alongside all of this stuff is the paid job, and I found out today that our Senior Diabetes Specialist Dietitian Team Leader is leaving, which is a great shame. I was aware that she was considering this move and she even asked me if I'd be interested in her role, but aside from the higher pay band there's nothing in the team leader position that is the least bit attractive. And I'd have to work harder and care more, and I'm very reluctant to do those things, and there's all this other stuff that is sucking up all my time...

I'm not sure what I will do about having too much to do and not enough time, because even if I gave up some of the optional things that I enjoy I doubt that I'd do more of the necessary things that I don't enjoy. So I suppose I've let off a bit of steam here, and everything will continue as before.

Close up of spiny cactus with red flower
More from Krakow, July 2016

Friday, 24 March 2017

Purchasing decisions

Bright red flowers
Quince flowers, March 2017
As you can see from the floral photos the garden has started to bloom, with the crocuses as the main deliberate addition. There are some other leaves emerging that may turn out to be something I planted, but I can't remember at the moment. Also, for the first time in 15 years I have succeeded in pruning the forsythia to the extent that it has produced a decent display of yellow flowers. So far I have found no flower or shrub in the garden that has not responded to brutal treatment. The lawn, however, is in a terrible state following my attack on the moss.

After posting the previous entry I did do a little bit more research into kitchen lighting, but spent the rest of Sunday looking for a tent to buy. Despite my enthusiasm for camping I've never owned my own tent. For ten years (thirty years ago) I borrowed Lola II's because despite possessing a tent she wasn't particularly interested in camping at that time. Then I was indoctrinated into Mr A's philosophy of camping, which was much more comfortable and included luxuries such as chairs and a table, so I used his selection of tents for the next twenty years. Meanwhile Lola II took her own tent back and then she and Mr M replaced it with a more up to date version, which I have also borrowed. Now it is time to become a tent-owner in my own right. I have reached a shortlist of two but am finding it rather difficult to decide which to buy.

I have had another meeting with the architect, and despite my minimal research I think we have now reached a conclusion for the kitchen layout and lighting that I'm happy with. I should receive some plans with more detail on that I can tout around for alternative quotes (if I'm brave enough). Buoyed by this success I turned my attention to the upstairs bedroom/office situation, and ventured forth in search of curtaining options. When I returned home after intrepidly buying curtain poles, I realised that a) poles that I already own are perfectly adequate for the windows, and b) it may not be possible to attach the other pole to the wall using the brackets provided. So one pole was returned the next day, and I have contacted the ever-reliable Ilf who I hope will be able to put forward a solution.

A selection of pink and white flowers, could be primulas?

With my miserable cold (which still lingers on) I went with a colleague last week to deliver a presentation at the request of one of our diabetologist colleagues. It would have been nice to duck out of this given my health status, but I felt bad about letting my colleague down, and it was in a fancy hotel and I had high hopes for the buffet (which turned out to be only averagely good - the pudding choices were fruit salad or fruit crumble - where was the chocolate??!!?). The slight difficulty with our talk was that we had been given very little information about what our topic was supposed to be, and who exactly was in the audience. It turned out to be quite a small group, and we recognized a good few doctors, although we discovered afterwards that two of them were Dietitians and not doctors at all. I don't think we performed too badly, given that the topic of the expected talk was rather different from the one we had prepared.

The most surprising aspect of the evening for me was these doctors' attitude to our talk. Before we started they were discussing the most technical intricacies of endocrinology (which I think is one of the most technical and baffling specialties anyway). Then when we got stuck into our presentation they behaved like the least informed of my patients, speculating on what they'd read last week in the press about diet for diabetes. If we'd presumed to comment on diseases of the adrenal gland based on what we'd read in the Sunday Times we'd have been given short shrift, but they seemingly had no compunction about making similar presumptions in our specialist field. As usual I developed the most cogent and persuasive arguments and refutations of their assertions within 30 minutes of driving away after the meeting.

I have learned one other thing this week at work, thanks to one of the doctors. Occasionally we see a prisoner from the local jail, who usually comes with two prison officers and is handcuffed to one of them. The issues around having diabetes or other chronic conditions in prison are perhaps material for another blog post, but on this occasion the doctor mentioned that the patient was due for a scan on a particular date. "You shouldn't have told him that," said the prison officers. So if there had been any news of an escaped convict on that date, we would have known who to blame.

Close up of purple crocus with orange stamens

Tent update - I managed to make a decision between the shortlist of two tents, then discovered that the one I wanted is not available. This should have made the choice easier, but then I found a third option so I'm still stuck in decision-making limbo.

Curtain pole update - Ilf had to buy special drill bits but solved the problem by attaching the pole to the I-beam across the room rather than the too-small bit of wall above the I-beam. Now I need a curtain.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Skiing again

Not much of a view, March 2017
I've been on holiday and had the most wonderful time skiing in France. Each year I seem to enjoy skiing more, and this year I felt as though my technique had improved as well, which made it even more satisfying.

I wasn't going to ski this year what with the expense of the LTRP and all, but I booked a week off work anyway because annual leave must be taken or it's lost. Then the friends I went skiing with last year told me that they were going again and it happened to be the same week that I'd already booked as leave. So I didn't take much persuading.

Five of us travelled by train, one flew in. Four of the five who travelled by train did the travelling by day and staying in hotels overnight, but I thought I'd save the extra day of annual leave and took the overnight Eurostar both ways. Eurostar no longer run the proper sleeper trains, so it was ten hours sitting up in a chair, but a minute before departure I still had an empty seat next to me.

Unfortunately as we pulled out of St Pancras two mothers turned up, each with a child aged about three or four, and we all moved around to accommodate them. One child was drearily moaning (apparently she had a tummy ache) and the other was literally screaming (no idea why). I hoped that each would be tired out due to these exertions, and they did both sleep, but one of them woke up much too early and conversed with her mother in piercing tones which her mother did nothing to suppress. I didn't sleep much on that journey. I didn't sleep much on the way back either, and that time there were no children and I had nobody next to me, so I have to conclude that I'm just not particularly good at sleeping on trains.

Model of a deer with a foot of snow on its head
No idea
Despite the sleep deprivation I managed nearly a full day of skiing on arrival, went to bed relatively early and was none the worse for it. The weather was quite sunny for a day and a half, and then it started to snow. Friends at a nearby resort fared worse when an avalanche closed all lifts and pistes for a whole day, but we skied on through heavy snow, low cloud and on one occasion wind stronger than I have ever experienced. One of the party commented very accurately that when we were inside the cloud it was like skiing inside a ping pong ball. I found it quite amusing to be unable to tell where the slope in front of me went; others were not so entertained. We headed back to the apartment a bit earlier that day. The last couple of days were rather hot and sunny, so we finished with long days of good skiing.

The apartment was in the same complex as last year but a bit smaller, so we were all sharing rooms. In the evenings we went out to eat a couple of times, or stayed in and watched a film. Lunches were either in piste restaurants or late lunch back at the apartment on the days when we came back early. I did a lot of lovely reading, and even lovelier lot of skiing. It was a great holiday which put me in quite a tetchy mood going back to work on Monday, and then through the course of Tuesday I developed a cold, perhaps derived from someone on the train or at work.

So now while snuffling and coughing and generally feeling full of cold I'm pondering how to do even more skiing next year. In the meantime I've restarted the ebay campaign with the next batch of historical postal ephemera, but this will never raise enough to fund snow-related activity! Also I've tried and failed to consider suitable lighting in the new kitchen, and played badminton and meditated as usual, albeit accompanied by much coughing and nose-blowing (not so much during the meditation). What I ought to do today is to research kitchen lighting, but it's not an attractive option.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Way of All Flesh
by Samuel Butler

narrated by Frederick Davidson
"The story of a young man who survives the baleful influence of a hateful, hypocritical father, a doting mother, and a debauched wife, to emerge as a decent, happy human being. It is also a stinging satire of Victorian gentry, their pomposity, sentimentality, pseudo-respectability, and refined cruelty, a satire still capable of delivering death-blows to the same traits that exist in our present world."
I'm not sure I'd describe this as satire. It's a family saga with a bit of philosophising on the side, and the main character really only finds happiness when he inherits a fortune from his aunt, although he gets a bit happier when he discovers that his alcoholic wife is a bigamist and can separate from her with a clear conscience.  I thought the narration was OK to begin with, but decided by the end that the narrator was getting in the way of the story somehow. Strangely, I got the impression that the narrator actually didn't much like doing the reading, and was influencing how I felt about the characters - I've never thought this for a moment about any of the readers before, even when I thought they weren't much good. But hey, my classical literary education continues to grow.

Image of the book cover

Collected Short Stories
by Patrick O'Brian
"Collected here is a definitive selection of all the stories O’Brian wishes to preserve. They exhibit an effortless variety of mood and tone: some stories are enchantingly funny, others exciting, terrifying or passionate."
I think the key phrase in the description is that these are the stories that the author 'wishes to preserve.' They aren't very good, at least, I didn't like them at all. I'm sure they are very 'literary' or 'clever' but some of them were more vignettes than stories, and even the ones that had a beginning, middle and end weren't very pleasant subjects.

Image of the book cover

Margaret the First
by Danielle Dutton
"Exiled to Paris at the start of the English Civil War, Margaret meets and marries William Cavendish and, with his encouragement, begins publishing volumes of poetry and philosophy, which soon become the talk of London. After the Restoration, upon their return to England, Margaret’s infamy grows. She causes controversy wherever she goes, once attending the theatre with breasts bared, and earns herself the nickname ‘Mad Madge’."
This is a fictionalised biography of a real person, and for me it didn't work at all. The blurb suggests that Margaret Cavendish was a revolutionary character: the first woman to publish a book of poetry, the first woman to be invited to a meeting of the Royal Society, and clearly shocking in her public persona. The account in the book makes her sound much less interesting and doesn't connect these episodes with any coherence. Despite having read a whole book about her, I don't really understand her at all.

Image of the book cover

A Mother's Courage
by Dilly Court
"When Eloise Cribb receives the news that her husband's ship has been lost at sea she wonders how she is ever going to manage. With two young children, the rent overdue and almost nothing to live on, Eloise is faced with her worst nightmare: she must either go to the workhouse, or abandon her children at the Foundling Hospital."
An easy read for the journey home on the train overnight from France, not all that great but good enough. Interesting from a stylistic viewpoint that the writing doesn't ring true, but hard to put my finger on exactly what is wrong with it. Anyway, I finished it, so it can't have been that bad.

Image of the book cover

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
"A groundbreaking tour of the mind explaining the two systems that drive the way we think. Practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble."
This is a surprisingly accessible account of academic research on the boundary of psychology and economics. It describes the equivalent of optical illusions in our perceptions and behaviours around intuition, illustrating beautifully the contradictory positions that we take based on the information presented. There doesn't seem to be much we can do about it except be aware, in the same way as being aware that two lines that appear to be different lengths are not - we can't see them as the same length, we can only know them to be so. So framing a percentage risk in two ways that intuitively appear different (0.01% mortality, 1 in 10,000 will not survive) does not allow us to perceive the risk to be the same, but cognitively we must be aware that it is the same risk. It's a big fat book with absolutely loads of fascinating examples of how our minds work, and I would keep it on my shelves and refer to it now and again except that it was loaned to me and I've got to give it back, and I don't want it enough to buy a copy for myself!

Image of the book cover

by Sir Walter Scott

narrated by Simon Prebble
"Ivanhoe, a trusted ally of Richard the Lion Hearted, returns from the Crusades to reclaim the inheritance his father denied him. Ivanhoe is captured along with his Saxon compatriots, Isaac the Jew and his daughter Rebecca, but Richard and the well-loved, famous outlaw Robin Hood team up to defeat the Normans."
When I told Cousin H I was reading this he thought it would be hard going, but it isn't that bad. I was intrigued by the author's interest in the underlying conflict between conquered Saxon and conquering Norman of the time, the position of Jews in society as the hated wealthy infidel usurers, and the contrast of chivalric honour with murder and kidnapping for ransom. By the end the good guys had triumphed, the bad guys mostly succumbed. There are only three women in the book: one dies, one is married for love and the other emigrates to Spain. All very satisfactory.

Friday, 3 March 2017


February 2017
I haven't been doing much reading recently, instead I've been listening to radio using iPlayer. And I've had another break from eBay, so I need to get started on that again. Even the LTRP hasn't moved forward that much since the spare room painting finished, although I have been slowly furnishing the room a bit more.

One thing has progressed - the kitchen architect paid a visit to talk more about the detail - plug sockets, light switches, radiators, that sort of thing. She thought my quote from the kitchen designer was a bit steep, so there may be some room for negotiation.

She gave me some homework too. I need to come up with a plan for lighting, because the building specification will need to take into account how the wiring will work, I have to talk to the builder about the type of flat roof I'll have, because she strongly recommends some sort of rubberised membrane, which is apparently the best type of roof and guaranteed for 40 years, but the builder will probably want to supply fibreglass. And she pushed back quite hard when I said I don't want a cooker hood, and I had to be rather assertive on that point.

She also encouraged me to go to the Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in Birmingham at the end of March, and gave me some free tickets. The show dates are when Lola II and Mr M are due to visit me, and I thought about asking them whether they would be interested in going too, and even started writing an email to them, before I realised that actually I didn't want to go at all. There's nothing about homebuilding and renovating that interests me at all, even though I'm having my kitchen homebuilt and renovated.

As the not-in-focus photo at the top of the post shows, the bulbs that I planted are starting to sprout. As I expected when I planted them I am delighted and surprised, having forgotten all about them. There are some crocuses too, and some daffodils (although I think I had the daffodils before). The wisteria is totally pruned - slightly over-pruned in my enthusiasm - but I think it will survive. Yet again I have a row of black bags full of prunings to take to the tip.

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