Sunday, 15 October 2017

It has started

Ulf and his henchmen

The big day has arrived: Ulf and his henchmen are labouring in the garden, taking drinks with two sugars and devouring many, many biscuits. I am very pleased that I thought of buying the biscuits. I am also going to have to buy a bag of sugar.

It started at 7.30 with a phone call - they were already outside and were wondering why I wasn't answering the door. They'd been using the knocker rather than the bell so I hadn't heard them, but at least I'd paid attention to the casual message "See you at 7.30-8.00" and was up and dressed. On my day off. At 7.30 a.m.

By 10 a.m. I was shattered. Not that I'd done much except make tea, but the early start on a Tuesday after badminton on Monday night was harder than I had anticipated. I'd worked hard to clear the kitchen but they started outside, pulling up the brick paving in preparation for digging foundations. The henchmen are doing most of the work, and I have decided to name them both Sons of Ulf - one of them is actually Ulf's son and the other might as well be because I can't tell the difference. They were introduced to me at the same time and I will probably never work out which name belongs to which, but they seem cheerful enough. There was a small cheer when I mentioned the biscuits.

I met another man who supplies the roof lantern and the external doors and windows. It turns out that it will be a 'sky pod' rather than a roof lantern (Google if you want to know the difference) which will be handy if I ever want to do any space travel. Although a sky pod is actually much less exciting than it sounds. I was even offered a choice of colours, but making any more choices may tip me over the edge into insanity. So it will be white.

Lorry delivering skip guided by Sons of Ulf

The skip has been a bit of a problem. Normally by mid-morning the road is pretty clear of parked cars as everyone goes to work. Not this morning - all the closest parking spaces are filled with cars. Where to put the skip? We decided to put it in front of my garage for the time being. The full skip was due to be replaced by an empty one the next day, so I talked to my neighbours about leaving a free space.

Ulf and Sons of Ulf left at around 4 p.m. and I went to bed and slept for an hour before going off to this new Buddhist class. Of which more later.

Day 2 (there won't be this level of commentary throughout the project) and I have realised that it is foolish to consider £25 too much to pay for an extra parking pass when the whole project is costing tens of thousands. However, when I ring the authorities it isn't so simple. Each resident can only have one £25 visitor pass. Further parking dispensations are available per day, per week and per month, but permits are associated with particular vehicles, so not transferable to the electrician or plumber or whoever. So I think we'll be stuck with having to shuffle vehicles around in the middle of the day to avoid charges.

Days 3 and 4 proceeded with me at work, punctuated by text messages in the evening clarifying various things like whether the fridge was broken when they moved it (it was actually just the bulb). Someone came to measure up for the stairs while I was out, as well as the foundations being dug, concrete poured, and foundation blocks being laid. Unfortunately a pipe was found which has turned out to be very expensive as it belongs to Severn Trent. This means that if in future it is found to be damaged the builder may be liable, so it has to be inspected during the build to certify that it is in perfect condition before and after. And this costs hundreds of pounds, due to me being in no position to decline their kind offer of inspection.

Lots of photos, then. These are the stages of the foundations so far (you can see the expensive pipe in the second and third pictures):





And the stages of the kitchen demolition:




There's an interesting lintel and bricked-up opening exposed in that last picture, which is behind what is now the fireplace in the living room. At one point this would have been the rear wall of the house which might then have been the pub, but I can't imagine what its purpose would have been.

So we're four days in and much progress has been made. Biscuit consumption: Bourbons: 90%, Hobnobs 10%, Digestives 0%. I have bought more Bourbons. Maybe I'll try them on custard creams next.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The build-up to the building

Gravestone with one climbing stem of ivy
Shipley Church, September 2017
What a week. I've been clearing out the kitchen properly because of the building work starting very soon, and I've set up the alternative kitchen in the living room to try it out. It's working OK and I'm sure I shall soon start to remember where the bin and the kettle are now located. Mugs are on the shelf with the CDs, cereal is in the cupboard with the music system, decaff teabags are in the next room and I've bought several packets of biscuits because I'm assuming builders eat biscuits and I want them to like me so they will do a really good job.

Meanwhile there have been some extra stresses at work. On Monday one nurse and the doctor were both ill, and the remaining team was led by a nurse who, let's say, is not an enthusiastic worker. So she made the receptionist cancel all the patients for the day, and the doctor was not pleased when he found out. The nurse won't care, though.

More kitchen clearing on Tuesday, then on Wednesday I went to a meeting convened by Diabetes UK and NHS England all about self-management through Structured Education. I really, really need to think more carefully about whether I should go to these meetings. It was attended by several people working for Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) from different areas in the West Midlands, and by 'service providers' like myself.

I listened to an account of a really good way of delivering self-management education to people with Type 2 Diabetes in Worcestershire, while thinking how it could never happen in my region because all the key people are all too busy picking fights with one another. But I spent a bit of time talking to one of our Senior Commissioners, but there are so many administrative layers between that level and my own that it really seems to make no difference to me what is decided at the top, and similarly there seems to be no accountability to Commissioners about what I decide to do. It just frustrates me that I don't understand how the system works and nobody seems able to explain it to me.

Evening activities added to the running about that I did, with the usual badminton (including the first match of the new season), my new Buddhism class (more about that soon), and, unusually, some social activities.

On Friday I went to a Charity Music Quiz in aid of one of my colleagues who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It's a very sad story: she and her family were devastated by the diagnosis and did what many families in their position would do - clutch at straws. Faced with their oncologist's pessimistic prognosis they found a clinic in Germany which offered a treatment costing £50,000 for the first cycle (I think three cycles were recommended) after an initial fee of £17,000 just to look at the biopsy samples.

So they embarked upon a massive fundraising effort including local newspaper and radio coverage and many events and sponsored activities. Thankfully during this period the oncologist was persuaded to do a bit of research on their behalf, and an alternative but comparable treatment has been found in this country for a lot less money. But still a lot of money.

The quiz was part of this fundraising effort, and although it was on a Friday night with colleagues from work, both of which would normally have meant I would have taken care to avoid it, I signed up for the sake of my colleague. It wasn't a bad evening, and our team did quite well - I even contributed one or two answers. There was a raffle at the end which landed me a bottle of gin, but there were ten rounds in the quiz plus the raffle and I didn't get home until midnight.

The weekend was full of preparation for the builders squeezed in alongside more social events. Astonishingly, I found someone who wanted the kitchen cupboards! So on Saturday I welcomed a man and his nephew with their not-very-capacious estate car, who proceeded to take all the cupboard doors and a couple of the shelf units. Despite seeming a little suspicious about the whole deal at the start, by the time they drove off I was invited to drop in to visit any time I happened to be in their neighbourhood.

My monthly music group was on Saturday afternoon, and then in the evening I went to a local venue because a friend was playing a gig there - another late night (but not as late as the quiz night), and a walk on Sunday with the Meetup group which was delightful. The weather was so warm that we could sit outside at the pub stop, and after the walk I visited Charlecote Mill - a working water mill which was having an open day. So another long day, then back to work on Monday, more badminton on Monday night, and then...

The Builders Arrived.

Close up of ivy on gravestone

Saturday, 7 October 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Death of the Heart
by Elizabeth Bowen

narrated by Katherine Kellgren
"Portia is sixteen and orphaned and sent to live with her half-brother and sister-in-law in 1930s London. There she encounters the attractive, carefree cad Eddie. Portia is maligned, mocked and used by her sister-in-law and her young lover."
This is a tragic and cruel book, which twisted my emotional response to the agony of a naive young girl whose wants and needs are disregarded and betrayed by the only relations and friends that she possesses. Everyone who is in a position of responsibility or guardianship entirely fails her at every stage. There was absolutely no redemption, right up to the abrupt conclusion of the book, and nothing was resolved, not a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Painful and horrible.


Image of the book cover

Cooking in a Bedsitter
by Katharine Whitehorn
"Practical, light-hearted and full of bright ideas, this classic cookbook for the inexperienced cook with limited space will lure you away from the frying pan and tin-opener towards a healthier, more varied range of delicious dishes."
It occurred to me that this might be a useful adjunct to having no kitchen, so I fished it out of retirement and read it again. It was a delight to come across recipes that I first tried 30 years ago when a student and novice cook with just two gas rings to cook on. But the blurb's claim that it will 'lure you away from the frying pan' is a little specious as it felt as though half the recipes are entirely based on frying: bacon, onion, vegetables, cutlets, whatever.


Image of the book cover

The Commodore
by C. S. Forester
"Horatio Hornblower, recently knighted and settled in as squire of the village of Smallbridge, has been designated commodore of his own squadron of ships, led by the two-decker 'Nonsuch' and bound for the Baltic."
Heroic Horatio triumphs throughout this one, although it ends very surprisingly with him swooning from fever that we are supposed to infer is plague. I assume he doesn't die because there are more books in the series. So that's all right then.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Bill the locksmith

Bonsai tree in Japanese garden
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
At last something blogworthy has happened. Not only do I have an invoice and a date for the start of kitchen works (which I shall not reveal in case of further delay), but I had the pleasure of a visit from another locksmith. Remember Dennis? It wasn't him, but a similarly delightful man called Bill who fixed the main problem in seconds (the key wouldn't turn in the front door Yale lock) and also installed an unobtrusive 'keysafe' box on the wall next to the garage door.

The key not turning in the lock was fixed with the very simple treatment of lock lubricant ("Some people use WD40" said Bill). I was very glad that I'd asked for the keysafe too because a call-out fee for literally two minutes of effort would have hurt. Then he was kind enough to help me move my dining table out of the kitchen to its new location in the living room, and then phoned a colleague to check how much he should charge me, and effectively negotiated the fee down on my behalf.

On the way out Bill mentioned that my Yale lock could also function as a deadlock. He then proceeded to demonstrate, and found that actually, it couldn't. This turned out to be a professional challenge, and he spent the next few minutes taking it apart it to find out why it wasn't working, then showed me what was wrong, fixed it, and gave me some really useful advice.

It wasn't until I was writing this that I looked back at the previous post about Dennis the locksmith, and I slightly regret that I went to a different company. Never mind, Bill was another treasure.

In the subsequent days my main preoccupation was with choosing the code for the keysafe box, which could be any number of digits from 0-9 (the manual suggests between 4 and 6 digits) without repeats. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to choose this number - Bill suggested using the four corner digits of the box plus another random two. Anyway, I've done it now, and I don't have to worry any more either about locking myself out of the house or giving multiple sets of keys to different tradesmen.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Health and Wellbeing and a camping holiday

The pier
Worthing pier, September 2017
What with being away on holiday for a few days, and Thursday badminton starting up again, and also just not wanting to sit at the computer when I'm at home, I've got a bit behind with my online life. I've only watched the first episode of the Great British Bake Off, and it's the only TV programme I watch all year. LTRP update - no, just joking, nothing's happened.

There was the Leamington Food & Drink Festival, which was delightful as usual and attended by Lola II and Mr M as well as cousin Y and one of Mr M's friends from Nottingham and another of Mr M's friends from Wolverhampton. We started early on the Saturday and this turned out to be a good idea because at about noon the rain came down in torrents. It cleared up for brief periods thereafter so the event wasn't a total washout.

At work, I created a Dietetics stand for the Trust's Health and Wellbeing event for staff. It was in the dining room of the hospital along with other stands: Stop Smoking, Join UNISON, Physiotherapy, the Chaplain, the local Sports Centre, Neyber (something to do with cheap loans), and the Occupational Health team offering blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol tests. On my stand were free leaflets from CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), BHF (British Heart Foundation) and the World Cancer Research Fund, and I wheeled my scales over and brought a tape measure and stadiometer for measuring height.

The only stand that really attracted any traffic was the Occy Health one, which had queues lined up most of the time. Neyber and UNISON had free pens, and the physio offered to time you sitting and standing as many times as you could in a minute, but most people were really only interested in their blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol. Including me. My cholesterol level was even higher than it was when I went for my over 50's Health Check.at my GP.

The Occy Health team sent a few people over to me to have their weight and height measured, including one teeny tiny Asian lady whom I dutifully measured even though it was obvious that she wasn't even close to being overweight, but who seemed relieved to be told this fact. They also sent over someone with high blood glucose to have a chat, but she'd been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes some time ago, didn't really seem at all bothered and wasn't particularly interested in doing anything about it.

I spoke to no more than about ten people in the four hours I was there, not counting people on the other stands who were similarly idle - I don't think the Chaplain had any customers at all. But it was a nice change of scenery, and despite not having much to do it was a great deal more interesting than the day at the ante-natal clinic.

Church and graveyard
Shipley Church, September 2017
The main event recently was an epic camping trip with Lola II to a beautiful campsite in West Sussex. It was one of the best campsites I've ever been to, mainly because of the facilities. These include covered areas for sitting, eating and washing up (and for cooking if you'd hired one of their tents), delightful composting toilets, open air showers and baths (we didn't try these) but also properly plumbed indoor toilets and showers and a wood stove and sofas in a communal area which was very welcome when the cold and rain arrived one evening.

We were the only campers on Thursday night, although there were a few inhabitants of the fixed cabins and tents. When a single chap arrived on Friday we went over to offer help him put up his tent, and found out that it was his wedding anniversary and he was going to surprise his wife with a couple of nights away from their three-year-old. When we were sitting on the sofa in front of the wood stove we got chatting to another couple of campers who were a nurse and a carpenter, and then another couple wandered in and they had just got engaged. They had put up two tents, and it seems that there are still people in the world who do not share a tent until they are married.

Knepp Wildlife, September 2017
This was a great deal more interaction than is usual at a campsite, and enhanced the experience no end. But it wasn't all chat - we went for a long walk and saw a herd of deer, we ate a really good meal at the local pub, had a couple of similarly good meals in the tent, and went to Worthing Food Festival which is about a quarter of the size of Leamington's. But there were some good pastries and pies and we made the most of the opportunity. They also had some activities, and while we were there an American guy was overseeing children constructing structures out of wine gums and cocktail sticks, which were then tested to see how many bags of sugar they could support. His commentary was highly amusing, including a section where he forced his audience to pronounce various words as Americans do: To-MAY-to! YOH-gurt! Say it! YOH-gurt!

Lola II was due to blow the ram's horn ('shofar') at mum's synagogue where she has a regular annual booking, and following a bit of a disaster one year when she didn't practise in advance, she had brought the shofar with her. Back in the tent I took a photo of her in mis-matched pyjamas with a tea towel for a prayer shawl and a sock on her head and put it on Facebook for a laugh, expecting it to attract no attention whatever, as is usual for my posts. Over the next few days I had more Facebook 'Likes' for this appalling spectacle than for anything I've posted before. Lola's horror was most entertaining (for me) as she writhed in embarrassment at each new visitor.

On the way home we stopped at Watts Gallery and Artists' Village in Surrey, where George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary set up home and did their art - painting and sculpture (him) and pottery (her). I'm not great with art galleries, but I really liked this one. We also went up the road to the chapel that they built and saw his grave as well as that of the Huxley family - one of the gallery staff told us that the actor Patricia Hayes was also buried there.

The weather was very variable - clear skies full of stars the first night, pouring rain, hot sunshine, just what you'd expect of September in England. That was the last camping trip of the year, I think.

Single storey building housing Watts Gallery
Watts Gallery, September 2017

Thursday, 21 September 2017

LTRP update

Colourful vegetable market stall
Borough Market, May 2016
Displacement activity is my friend. My BFF, as the yoof would have it. I am SO on top of the LTRP, with only a week/a fortnight/a month (stick a pin in the timescale you prefer) before the first brick of the kitchen wall is dislodged by the wrecking ball, and all my ducks in a row, waiting for the off. Except that Ulf the builder has hurt his knee and has not so far responded to my query about how it's going, and Ylf the kitchen guy has asked if I want him to get the paperwork over to me for signing (I don't know, do I?) and the latest flooring guy (so far unnamed) constructed his quote on the back of an envelope (literally not metaphorically) and seemingly will lay the floor for a very reasonable price but I have to buy the tiles myself. Although he got quite confused about which wall of the kitchen was going to be knocked down. Oh yes, it's all going swimmingly and the only tricky job on my list for today was my tax return. So I'm blogging in between watching the new Great British Bake Off on Channel 4 catch up.

One day I'll look back on this and think "What was I thinking? The kitchen was perfectly good before, all it needed was to change the cupboard doors, although yes the tap wasn't really very good, and the tiles had started to fall off the walls, and the paint colour was too dark except where there was bare plaster because of the damp, and Ilf did warn me that the wiring was going to kill me if I didn't get an electrician in, and the oven grill wasn't working any more, and I didn't need two fridges and two freezers or the 30-bottle wine rack, and the stopcock was completely jammed, and it was really dark most of the time especially in winter, and the outside tap didn't work. But apart from that..."

Speaking of Ilf, he has been on loan to the Lola II/Mr M household and has been painting. From the sound of it, and knowing what he's like, he's painted everything they've asked him to and then painted a bit more, because he likes to do a good job and a good job is when everything is completely painted. I don't have any imminent trips to see the results but the photos look good. [Update: I did have an imminent trip after all and the results are beautiful.] Anyway, Ilf came round to my house on Sunday partly because I'd asked him if he wouldn't mind being a second pair of eyes when it came to the building work. I think he expected it to have started by now, but we looked at the plans and he made a couple of very useful suggestions, the main ones being to keep a detailed daily record of who comes round and does what, and to ask lots of questions about materials and what's going on.

After the visit from the flooring guy, it is looking more and more like I'm going to have to be the project manager that I didn't want to be, and it will all take a very long time because of tradesmen needing at least six weeks notice all over the place. Ulf will knock down and rebuild the wall and the roof, installing the roof lantern, stud partition, doors, windows, radiator and lighting, and arranging plumbing, gas and electrical supplies and plastering, and replacing the stairs. I think that will be all for him, because next is the kitchen units. worktops, appliances, sinks and taps from Ylf, and the flooring after that. Then at some point I'll have to consider painting and tiling the walls, but I'm not thinking about that because if the Apocalypse happens first I'll have saved myself some effort. After the work starts I'm not expecting to have a working kitchen for three or four months, perhaps longer.

But that's OK, there's a splendid pub next door, I know how to make soup and sandwiches, and I know of two launderettes in Leamington. I'll have a microwave and possibly the loan of a steamer. I can anticipate that there will be a staged improvement when I have running water and a sink. The wine rack was collected (thank you eBay - the buyers came all the way from Yorkshire!) but I still haven't got rid of the built-in fridge and the cupboard doors and I don't really think I will. There's a chance someone will want the gas hob but I don't want to lose that until the very last minute.

I haven't come close to completing the tax return. But the kitchen is going to be great.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Festival

Three musicians: fiddle, banjo and guitar
The East Pointers, August 2017
I had plenty to do during the Bank Holiday weekend what with the Shrewsbury Folk Festival, another dental appointment, a trip north and trying to grapple further with the LTRP. I disposed of the debris from the garden before getting packed and ready to go to Shrewsbury. I arrived there around noon, thinking I would be among the early birds, but the steward at the festival campsite said "We've already been open for five hours - you'll probably have to camp over there."

'Over there' was a little bit further from the action, but still very close by. In the past my preferred festival has been in Cambridge, which I first attended more than 30 years ago. Cambridge Folk Festival has grown and grown, from a couple of stages and a bit of camping to a huge event sponsored by Radio 2 where tickets are sold out within days (or sometimes hours). The last time I was there was for my 50th birthday, and it was crowded and difficult to navigate about the site, and overflow camping (which is where I would normally go) is a bus ride or a very long walk away.

Compared with that experience, Shrewsbury was amazing. The overflow camping being very close was a bonus, so I pitched the tent and wandered over to the main site to get my wristband and a programme and check out the layout. The stages are inside marquees which weren't yet open, but I caught a glimpse and was surprised and slightly disappointed to see it laid out with seating! Although I don't like sitting on the ground, I do like dancing. How would this work?

Anyway, there was enough time to wander into Shrewsbury town centre (again, much closer than Cambridge) before coming back to the start of the music at about 5pm. Despite my scepticism, the seating was the perfect arrangement - I didn't have to sit on the ground, but there was a section at the front in the main tent specifically for those who wanted to get closer to the bands and dance. So there I was, for my favourite Oysterband, right at the front in the middle when the lead singer came out into the crowd. I happened to meet him later in the weekend, carrying a pint. I didn't realise it until the close of the festival, but he is a local resident and a patron and supporter of the event.

So it was altogether a great improvement on the Cambridge experience, the weather was fine, and the bands were (mostly) wonderful too. I saw a few Canadian and French bands as well as home-grown talent, nearly all unfamiliar but I'd go and see them again if they happened to be touring. Particular highlights were La Machine, The East Pointers, Le Vent du Nord and Daphne's Flight. And, of course, Oysterband. I'll definitely be going back next year.

The following weekend I went to High Wycombe to see the English National Badminton competition. Unfortunately none of the big name players was there, perhaps because the World Championships had taken place just the previous week, but there was enough to see to keep me occupied for the day. I saw the quarter- and semi-finals on Saturday, but didn't go back for the finals on Sunday.

At work I covered the ante-natal clinic for a colleague who was on holiday. I think there were twelve appointments altogether (one DNA), up to 30 minutes each, for women who have been diagnosed in the past week. This was their first appointment about the diagnosis of gestational diabetes, so they each saw the nurse first. She explained the diagnosis and its consequences and gave them a blood glucose meter and lots of paperwork, then passed them on to me where I said pretty much the same thing eleven times. By the end I had completely lost track of what I had said to whom, but I think it went OK. I don't quite know how my colleague copes with this every week - once was enough for me.

The only other item of note is that my iron count was too low to donate blood this week - oh dear, but also, hooray! All the virtuous smugness of doing a good deed without actually having to go through with it, and my haemoglobin level was low but still within the normal range so I'm not anaemic. I was also given a leaflet giving me all the advice that I am used to giving out to patients...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
"What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?"
I found this book fascinating once I'd worked out what was going on. It is about a particular individual who is reborn at the same instant, in a snowstorm, every time she dies. So the same period of time is revisited a number of times with different outcomes, and it seems that in later iterations she has flashes of remembrance of a previous life which often propel her to make different choices. As time went on I became more interested in how the book would end, what point might be made, what conclusions drawn, and to be honest I was a bit disappointed when it fizzled out. I'd love to create my own version and see what I could do. I'll have to add it to the 'Things To Do When I Retire' list.


Image of the book cover

Peter Pan
by J. M. Barrie

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland - the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook."
Always interesting to revisit classic stories that you believe you know, because there's usually something you've forgotten, like Dorothy having white shoes in the book of the Wizard of Oz. In this book it was the degree of brutality including the children actually killing the pirates, Mr Darling living in the dog's kennel until the children come home, and then the finale when Wendy is grown up with her own daughter.


Image of the book cover

Barchester Towers
by Anthony Trollope

narrated by Timothy West
"The rather incompetent new Bishop, Dr. Proudie, led by his formidable wife, and ambitious chaplain, Mr. Slope, begin to create turmoil with their desire to shake up the church establishment in Barchester with new policies and practices. However, the established clergy of Barchester led by Archdeacon Grantly are equally determined to keep things just as they've always been."
This was a good book and an excellent reading by Timothy West, although I would say that Trollope doesn't write love affairs very well. I was glad that the right people got married in the end but I never felt the attraction, and it made an interesting contrast with Galsworthy who makes me root for his lovers from the first. Then I wanted to know whether the authors were contemporaries, and they aren't because Galsworthy started his Forsyte saga 50 years after Trollope wrote this, but then I discovered that Daniel Deronda and Uncle Tom's Cabin were written in the same era as Barchester. Such utterly different books - Eliot's set in the towns and cities featuring squires and Jews, Trollope focusing on provincial clergy, and of course they have nothing in common with the situation of slaves in North America. It almost makes me want to study a bit of history, and that has never happened before.


Image of the book cover

Under the Net
by Iris Murdoch
"Jake, hack writer and sponger, now penniless flat-hunter, seeks out an old girlfriend, Anna Quentin, and her glamorous actress sister, Sadie. He resumes acquaintance with the formidable Hugo, whose ‘philosophy’ he once presumptuously dared to interpret."
What a peculiar reading experience this was. No doubt that it was well written - I didn't experience any heartsink moments and let's face it, it's Iris Murdoch and she's supposed to be good. But I couldn't follow what was going on - or rather, I understood what was happening, but not why. And the number of times people happened to bump into one another made it feel as if it were set in a village rather than London (or at one point, Paris). You don't go to a Bastille Day firework display and happen to catch sight of the person you're looking for, follow her into a wood, pick up the shoes she leaves at the base of a tree - and then lose her, never to meet her again? Well written yes, but it makes no sense. I enjoyed reading the scene about the four drunk friends swimming in the Thames at midnight, or releasing a large dog from a cage, or escaping from a police raid on a Socialist rally in a film studio (really?) but none of these fitted together or helped the plot to progress. It was my first Iris Murdoch, and her first novel too. I'll read some more on the assumption that she gets better.


Image of the book cover

The Soldier's Wife
by Joanna Trollope
"When Dan Riley returns to his adored wife, Alexa, and their children, his army life still comes first. Alexa thought she was prepared to help him, and the whole family, to make the transition to normal life again - but no one had told her how lonely and near impossible the task would be."
Easy reading in a tent in a field. I liked it even though it was fairly shallow. Probably because it was fairly shallow.


Image of the book cover

The Metamorphosis
by Franz Kafka

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into a large, monstrous insect-like creature. Gregor attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repelled by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become."
An interesting short story - very famous of course, and as peculiar as can be. There is no explanation of why the metamorphosis had happened, and nobody in the story questions the transformation, they just react and respond to it. If I could be bothered I would research what the author might have intended to convey, or the meaning that scholars have suggested subsequently. But I probably won't.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

I work a bit harder for a change

Computer generated view of the proposed kitchen

My life recently is contained neatly in just five categories: LTRP, Badminton, Garden, Buddhism, and Work. I don't think there's much else gone on in the past week except eating and sleeping. Note that Music and Running do not feature - Music starts again in September, but Running may never make a further appearance. Holidays, Camping and Travel are imminent though - I'm looking forward to several trips coming up soon.

LTRP


I met the kitchen man Ylf again, hopefully for the last time. I have selected and specified everything I can think of - plinths (I do love that word), units, doors, handles, worktops, 'upstand' (where the worktop extends a little way up the wall), 1 hob, 2 ovens, 2 sinks, 2 taps, 2 draining board arrangements, 1 dishwasher. I'm keeping my current fridge/freezer and washing machine. Ylf has provided a floor plan, a final quotation, and some computer-generated pictures of how it might look.

Meanwhile I have approved Ulf's chosen LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile) supplier and he has partly broken down his quotation for me. We will have to talk more because (a) his quote for the flooring was supposed to be cheaper than the alternative Karndean but it isn't, (b) Ylf not Ulf needs to be responsible for the whole kitchen installation because Ulf doesn't have a fitter for my preferred worktop, and (c) I still don't have an overall comprehensive picture of what Ulf will be doing and how much it will cost. However, at this stage I can probably construct this for him, which is what I may do to save time.

As you can imagine, every other aspect of the LTRP is on hold until the kitchen project is done, except for trying to sell various unwanted white goods and the terracotta wine rack with capacity for thirty bottles that has never held more than about five. I'm not even thinking about what could be done next, although when the stairs are replaced (part of Ulf's quote) perhaps it will be time to consider the upstairs hall... so maybe I am thinking about what could be done next.

Badminton


Always evolving, my Monday club now only has three female members. I'm there for the full two hours every week without fail, and another lady regularly comes but for only one hour because she has childcare issues. The third lady turns up once in a while and swears that this time she will keep coming every week, then we don't see her again for months. So I spend a lot of time playing with the boys, which is fine, but it would be nice to have more women.

I tried to arrange a summer barbeque for the club. When will I learn? They all encourage me by saying what a good idea it is and won't it be fun, so I set a date and time and place and construct a welcoming and enthusiastic email, and just three people respond to say they can come, one of whom is bringing a child. So we abandon the BBQ and I book an Indian restaurant which turns out to be unsuitable for the mother/child combo and has to be un-booked, and we go to Pizza Express. At the last minute we did get three more, so there were eight of us in the end. It lashed down with rain throughout, so a good thing we didn't stick with the BBQ idea. And I so rarely get to eat pizza.

Garden


Nasty, thorny, back-breaking, stupid garden. I don't even spend much time sitting in it, not even back when the weather was good. Day 1: I hacked it back by at least a third and left all the debris on the lawn and paving. Day 2: I filled ten bags with non-thorny stuff (wisteria, forsythia, sage, spotted leaf plant whose name escapes me, other one with the scented white flowers), left the rest where it was. Day 3: took ten bags to the tip, returned and filled them again with the remaining thorny stuff (rose, berberis, pyracantha, holly, hawthorn) and more non-thorny stuff, took another ten bags to the tip. Another couple of bags still waiting, and the lawn needs mowing.

When the indoor LTRP is done I'm coming for you, garden. You'd better watch out.

During Day 3 a head popped up over the wall from my neighbour's garden. It is a gardener, who reports that he visits twice a year to hack back my neighbour's plants in much the same way as I hack back my own, except she has a much smaller space with much less in the way of thorns. I invited him to come and attack her overhanging shrubs from my side of the wall, which he did, and I now have his contact details. If this flirtation proceeds to full engagement then he may join the ranks of my named tradesmen, and I may never again have forearms that look as though I have been fighting with cats.

Computer generated view of the proposed kitchen


Buddhism


My Thursday badminton club doesn't play over the summer, and the Buddhist Centre in Birmingham has a Thursday night event. So at the beginning of the summer I thought I'd go there on Thursdays, except that I kept finding lots of good reasons not to. My local Tuesday Buddhist group doesn't happen in August either, but eventually I made it to Birmingham last Thursday. Conveniently, they were holding a Bake Off activity so there was a lot of cake, followed by a talk about how baking might complement Buddhist practice which didn't do much for me. But I enjoyed the cake a lot, and met some more new people who were also very pleasant and welcoming. I might even go again on another Thursday.

Work


There is a Health and Well-Being event scheduled for mid-September and aimed at staff at my hospital site, and the Dietitian who used to work in Public Health and 'cardiac prevention' has moved on to Weight Management. So I've been called upon to create the Healthy Eating stand, together with the two part-time ward Dietitians. (Almost immediately, and for reasons that are not connected with the Health and Well-Being event, one of them resigned.) I have made a few phone calls to a couple of organisations and with luck I'll receive a poster or two and some leaflets about fat, fibre, salt etc. in time for the event. It will not be an impressive display, and hopefully someone more competent will be appointed soon so I won't have to do it again.

I've also agreed to do an ante-natal clinic which is my least favourite clinic in the world, and I'm covering another clinic to help out the team because our Team Leader has gone, and I nearly covered another two clinics because of staff unavailability but I wasn't needed in the end. Look at me, volunteering for extra stuff. Maybe I am starting to work a bit harder than before. And my very least favourite patient of all time has decided that I can help him if he sees me on a regular basis, which is sufficient punishment for all my previous sins.

Computer generated view of the proposed kitchen

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Names

Pitcher plant
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
There are going to have to be some naming conventions for all the LTRP tradesmen yet to come, and this is one aspect (the only one?) of the building project that I'm quite looking forward to. Of course, my first builder is called Alf (which is his true name), then there was Elf who fixed the leaking roof of the hallway, and Ilf the handyman who continues to be a delight to work with, and finally Olf who sorted out the garage. The architect is escaping without official nomenclature, but the latest builder is going to be Ulf and the kitchen guy Ylf. If I have any more work done we're going to have to start on consonants, which will be only marginally less satisfying. I'm slightly sorry that Electrician Bill somehow ended up outside this scheme.

I think I'll give subcontractors numbers or prefixes according to their branch of the tree. There will be a worktop man, maybe he will be Worktop sub-Ylf or Ylf 2, and there may be Plumber sub-Ulf, or Ulf the Wrench. Or Firstborn Son of Ulf the King. If the plumber has a mate, he might be Plumber sub-Ulf (a). I will probably need to keep a reference table somewhere. We'll see who turns up and how I feel.

I've managed to get hold of Ulf since he came back from holiday, and the start of the job has been put back by a month. Rather than being annoyed I am slightly relieved, because there have been several issues that rely on having enough notice to arrange, and it was starting to look as though things were moving too fast. If a swift decision were ever needed from me in order to avoid certain death, I think I would have to ring a few people to say goodbye. Anyway, I have some more answers from Ulf and I have spoken to Ylf and I am almost back on track. Maybe I'll be able to get a proper night's sleep soon, if it weren't for the pesky patients.

In between worrying about patients and building works and gradually moving out more of the kitchen contents, I have ferried dad and mum to one of dad's hospital appointments where he seemed to enjoy meeting a Clinical Psychologist while mum and I ate egg sandwiches and chatted in the waiting room. There has been a family gathering for Sister D's birthday, and I have watched the Oscar-winning film 'Moonlight', which was very moving. Other than that, nothing to report.

Close up of the striated rim of the pitcher plant
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