Thursday, 8 December 2016

Bats and nesting birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We mostly lose badminton matches

A cluster of towers and belfries and arches
Krakow Cathedral, July 2016
Lots of badminton happening now - one or two matches a week, one or two club nights which may or may not coincide with the matches. My regular mixed doubles partner decided to change his serve this season so that he uses a different serve for men's and mixed matches. The advantage should be improved serving in both types of games; the disadvantage so far in the mixed game is that half his serves fail. My regular ladies doubles partner takes at least two ends to get going, so we've usually lost the first game by the time she's ready to play well. Of course I'm not perfect either - at the moment in the mixed I keep standing too near the net and in ladies my high serve is rubbish. So that just about evens it out - we're all as bad as one another. Which explains why we mostly lose.

Last weekend saw me and Lola II in Surrey where we were volunteer marshals for Run Forest Run. This is the 10km plus obstacle course that I actually ran last year, but this year Lola II and I were put together in the kitchen, handing out tea and coffee, bacon sandwiches and lemon drizzle cake for 150 runners. Most of the hard work had already been done - the bacon and the cakes were already cooked - and the only serious mistake I made was not putting the veggie sausages in the oven in time. Making people with alternative diets wait longer than the rest of us is something I abhor, so to be the perpetrator of this crime was particularly mortifying.

The organisers of the event are longstanding friends who accommodated us while working really hard to make the event run smoothly. Lola II and I volunteered to manage the catering for the evening beforehand, so I made a chilli for ten that ended up being not spicy at all, and Lola II made a classic trifle (my request). The main outcome of the weekend for me, apart from the satisfaction of the volunteering itself, was that a skiing trip to France is being planned, and despite my resolution not to ski this season I immediately committed to taking part. So much for resolution.



There has now been a whole week and a weekend since the Run Forest Run event, and nothing of note has taken place except that, unusually, we won a badminton match. I have completed many things on my list but they are fairly trivial. The loft is nearly empty, so I've been in touch with Ilf the Handyman to come and attend to the lights in the upstairs room that he couldn't access until the loft had been cleared. I've been foolish enough to ask him to re-decorate the bathroom too, which means I have to choose paint and a new bathroom cabinet. Choosing things is always very difficult - I think I'll be able to manage the paint, but I'm not sure about the cabinet. Oh well, it isn't on the critical path.

Tower incorporating the northern gateway to the city
Krakow City Gate, July 2016

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A good week for puddings

Large jar with yogurt, berries and ganache
Leamington Food and Drink Festival, September 2016
In the time since that lovely, warm holiday the memory of lovely, warm days has faded and I have taken to wearing socks in bed to avoid waking up in the middle of the night because my feet are cold. The drive home from the airport was dreadful. I thought that because it was around midnight, the traffic would be kind and I would be speeding back home on a deserted motorway. The Powers That Be evidently knew of this plan, because they chose to close the motorway. They also chose to close my alternative route, and it all meant I got home considerably later than planned, although on the positive side I did get to hear lots more of my audiobook. And I think I drove through Surbiton, but I can't be sure.

I am Cold! I am Itchy! but the good news is that the frozen shoulder is almost recovered, with just an odd twinge now and then to remind me. Badminton has resumed with quite a lot of matches as well as the club nights, and an abundance of work events.

The first thing I did on Monday morning after the holiday was to attend a course to introduce ten of us to a shortened version of our four-day carbohydrate counting course for people with Type 1 Diabetes. The course has been created by one of the diabetes technology companies in association with experienced Dietitians, and is designed to be delivered in 3 hours. I have some reservations about the whole thing but we may try a pilot event if we think there is demand. Lunch was available as well.

Badminton club #1 in the evening. Monday puddings = 1. I remained in control of the pudding situation.

Tuesday: day off. Man from Dampco turned up promptly at 8 a.m. just as I was coming in from photographing the car parked outside my garage. 8 a.m! This was because he actually lives 50 yards from me, and he was very helpful and didn't even require payment. Essentially the plaster is wet because it has been compromised by being wet, and although I have dealt with the cause of the wetness the plaster needs to be stripped and replaced before it will behave itself properly. Further chit-chat revealed that his father founded the company, he hopes to pass it on to his nephews, and I offered to buy him a drink if I saw him in the pub. This seems unlikely because I hardly ever go to the pub any more.

Photographing the car outside was because I'm thinking of contacting the Council about the white line demarcating the entrance to my garage, which doesn't quite extend to the full width. A car parked legally can obstruct my access to quite a large degree, although so far I've managed to get around it. A car parked only slightly illegally would properly stop me driving in or out, so I have to make the decision whether to start the process of trying to get it rectified, or just to live with it.

I was also expecting my first HelloFresh delivery on Tuesday, courtesy of Mr M and Lola II. This comprises three boxed meals in the form of measured ingredients and recipes. I had been putting it off for a month because of holidays and not being at home, and I probably should have put it off for longer because last week was particularly full of other people giving me lunch and badminton in the evening (so no evening meal). But when the doorbell rang it was actually Man from the Planning Department making a site visit following the request for planning permission for the kitchen extension. They pay a bit more attention because it is a Conservation Area, but all of the the proposed alterations are at the back and not visible from the street so there shouldn't be a problem. Apparently my neighbours have already been contacted in case they want to object and there's even one of those notices attached to the lamp post with cable ties. I was astonished when someone at badminton mentioned that they'd seen the notice in the local paper too. I had no idea that anyone ever read those notices.

Badminton match in the evening (lost 7-2). Tuesday puddings = 0. I do not keep puddings in the house.

Wednesday was an ordinary day at work without any badminton or puddings. But Thursday was another study day, this time at the Diabetes Education Network conference. I had high hopes but it was most disappointing. There were presentations from the people who created various programmes (DAFNE, DESMOND and X-PERT) about how they had audited their education to prove that it is effective and meets NICE guidelines, but this is neither interesting, novel nor enlightening. One presentation even showed us all the teams around the country who had won awards for delivering the most courses, or getting the best results for their patients, which was simply a waste of my time. The team that developed the course that we deliver to our Type 1 customers spent most of their session finding out from all those present how we had improved upon their course, and didn't give us anything useful in return.

The only worthwhile session was one from a most controversial Dietitian who believes that saturated fat is good for you. She avoided that particular topic but still irritated me by, for example, focussing on how many grammes of glucose are in the whole of the bloodstream of a non-diabetic person as if that were important. The only reason the session was worthwhile is because I may be able to find a ready-made comparison of the pros and cons of various diets in Type 2 Diabetes without having to construct it myself. However, despite the disappointing content of the conference, the puddings at this particular venue were something else.

Badminton club #2 in the evening. Thursday puddings = 4. They were amazing.

On Friday I had an unusual morning in that every slot in my clinic was full, and all but one of them turned up. This was the day that the lunch for our ex-colleague was scheduled, and luckily she was collected to make sure she came, and many people made the effort to turn up. Speeches were delivered, flowers and a card and presents were handed over and it all seemed to go very well. The only thing that made me laugh was when a colleague told me that during the event the departing nurse whispered that she felt "a bit of a fraud accepting all these presents, because I'm coming back to work soon."

Friday puddings = 0 although there were chocolate biscuits. And cheese. Lots of cheese.

Despite having a number of Very Important Tasks to complete, on Saturday I managed to stay in bed for a considerable proportion of the day before I dragged myself into the garden to pay a bit of attention to the lawn and the shelves in the garage. On Sunday I didn't even wake up until 10 a.m. and was similarly unproductive for most of the day. I did manage to make the second of the HelloFresh meals - I divide the portions for two into three and it's still plenty. But because I try to have only breakfast and lunch on badminton days, the ingredients have to hang around for quite a long time unless I cook it all and freeze the portions. All the meals so far have been tasty, but I don't think I can manage a regular delivery.

Close up of pink-tinged mushrooms
Borough Market, May 2016

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

No One Writes to the Colonel
by Gabriel García Márquez
"The Colonel and his wife live in destitution in a small village in war-torn Colombia. Every Friday the Colonel waits to receive his pension in the post. However, he's never received his pension. Not once in fifteen years."
A small book comprising the eponymous novella and some other dismal short stories. I think I liked 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and 'Love in the Time of Cholera' although I must have read them decades ago, so I thought I'd be on to a winner, but not so. The blurb on the back of the book says "...one of the richest pieces of writing this exceptional author has produced...." which doesn't actually say it's good. Avoid.


Image of the book cover

Count on the Saint
by Leslie Charteris

narrated by John Telfer
"In 'The Pastor’s Problem' Simon tries to help his penniless friend Father Bernardo by stealing an invaluable silver chalice, only to discover some real crooks. And in 'The Unsaintly Santa' even Cambridge University professors have to call on the Saint when a series of cold-blooded murders reveal a vicious campus plot."
A two for the price of one deal on Audible, and this one is a workmanlike pair of mysteries for the Saint, who is a comparable figure to James Bond. I think Ian Fleming is the better writer, although I haven't read any of the original Bond books since I was a teenager. I really don't know why I took up the two for one offer either, because I have a shelf of books waiting to be read.


Image of the book cover

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
by Laurie Lee
"With just a blanket to sleep under and his trusty violin, Laurie Lee spends a year crossing Spain, from Vigo in the north to the southern coast. Only the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War puts an end to his extraordinary peregrinations."
Beautifully written and a pleasure to read, this has been a delightful prelude to my holiday walking in Spain, and I picked it up because of the library's inspired inclusion of travel writing interspersed with their guide books. Obviously Laurie Lee's journey was very different from my holiday - a different time, season, route and purpose, but so evocative of the people and places he encountered. I used to read a lot of travel books - Eric Newby, Dervla Murphy, Paul Theroux and many others less well known - and this book reminds me why I used to enjoy them so much.


Image of the book cover

Salvage for the Saint
by Leslie Charteris

narrated by John Telfer
"The Saint takes part in a powerboat race only for his main competitor's boat to blow up midrace. As Simon comforts the man's widow, he discovers some rather unusual behaviour, which leads to a rather unusual bunch of crooks."
The second Saint book just confirms that Charteris is not Fleming - the writing and the plot are quite inferior and the author doesn't even create a likeable character. Surprising that Fleming managed to make us root for an assassin, even if he is on the 'right' side. This guy also works for himself rather than the Forces for Good, which removes any remaining sympathy I had for his predicament.


Image of the book cover

The Tomb in Seville
by Norman Lewis
"Commissioned by his Sicilian father-in-law to locate the tomb of the last Spanish Corvaja in the cathedral of Seville, when public transport came to a standstill the author and his brother-in-law walked more than a hundred miles to Madrid, and were then forced via Portugal to Seville."
A travel writer I hadn't come across before, but I was reading his account of Seville as I was sitting in the cathedral square looking at the tower he was describing. Set at the same time as the Laurie Lee book, the majority of the book details the frustration of more than a week spent trying to get to Seville frustrated by armed uprising and cancelled trains, but once there he telephones his father-in-law who arrives in two days.  Apart from this jarring note, it's fine.


Image of the book cover

Computing with Quantum Cats: From Colossus to Qubits
by John Gribbin
"The quantum computer is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Pioneering physicists are on the brink of unlocking a new quantum universe which provides a better representation of reality than our everyday experiences and common sense ever could."
This book started with Turing and ended in cutting edge technologies - the different possibilities for the emerging science of quantum computing, including my favourite subject, teleportation (but only of subatomic particles). So I managed the first chapters fine, and then it gradually slipped away from my comprehension, and I can't claim to have understood much towards the end, not helped by my inability to retain the specific meaning of words like 'decoherence' and 'entanglement'. I thought I would go back and re-read some of Gribbin's earlier books that I found so readable, until he mentioned that actually he has changed his mind about the multiple universe material he wrote about in 'In Search of Schrodinger's Cat'. So I'll probably just put this on the shelf and move on.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Holiday in Spain

View from Cortijo Rosario, November 2016
Another successful and enjoyable holiday this time with Exodus, which offers a multitude of mostly activity-based holidays - walking, cycling and 'culture' for example. This one included five days of guided walks in southern Spain. one day in Seville, and a bonus day in Ronda because our flight home wasn't until late evening on the last day.

We were 14 in all, mostly women, based in a rural farmhouse (Cortijo). The weather was perfect for me, mid-20's Celsius with a breeze and no rain until the last day. The only fly in the ointment was the collection of bites that I brought home and have been scratching ever since. I shared a room with a Scottish woman who snored, but earplugs soon sorted that out. Our guide was an enthusiastic woman called Tina who has previously worked on cruise ships, and she was excellent - organised, helpful, cheerful, and so enthusiastic that every walk was her favourite.

View of the Cortijo nestling among olive plantations
The scenery for most walks comprised endless vistas of olive trees with occasional holm oaks whose acorns fed the Iberian pigs. Three huge pigs were kept in a pen down the road from the Cortijo, which was at the top of a steep hill, so we often found it helpful to stop and view the pigs to catch our breath. The nearest village was Algamitas at the bottom of the hill, but we didn't stroll around there, just walked or drove through on our way to another location. The soundtrack in our heads during many of these drives was 'Never Gonna Give You Up', as we were assured that the minibus driver had once had Rick Astley as a passenger.

Puerto de las Palomas




As well as the olives we caught sight of quite a few fruit trees including pomegranates, figs and citrus of all kinds. Animal sightings included the aforementioned pigs, horses, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, turkeys (not free range), deer and many vultures which we were informed are Griffin vultures, known locally as Leonardos. We spent a few minutes watching in fascination as a dung beetle manipulated a ball of dung significantly bigger than itself.


Most days we saw nobody else throughout the day's walking. On the next-to-last day, however, we walked the 'Camanito del Rey', which for most of its length is a boardwalk attached to the side of a gorge. Tickets for this tourist attraction are timed, and walkers are required to wear helmets to prevent accidental head injuries on overhanging rocks. Like the days in Seville and Ronda this was a day when we had to compete with other tourists. It was an impressive gorge, only recently re-opened following renovation of the walkway. Rickety remains of the previous path were present for some of the way, and I discovered that I have gained a good deal of nervousness with heights. I used to be fearless, but no more.


The catering was excellent and local; one of the advertised attractions of the week was the opportunity to view the construction of an authentic paella by the Cortijo's chef, Maria. Tina the guide was also fond of surprises, and we were given an unexpected picnic on one of the days walking. There were far too many opportunities to eat too much, so I felt lucky to have gained only half a kilo during the week.

Las Setas

We were left to our own devices in Seville, and I climbed up inside a construction known as 'Las Setas' (The Mushrooms) to have a look over the city from above. I went on to a local market where I plucked up courage to buy some chorizo, then walked back to see the Real Alcazar palace.
Baths at the Real Alcazar palace
Both palace and gardens were beautiful. I've never been to Cordoba or Granada, but I believe the Moorish style is very similar.

The group gathered at the end of the day in Seville for an hour's professional flamenco show with a male and female dancer, a singer and a guitar player. Back at the Cortijo on the final evening we were entertained by a private flamenco show from two local girls with a CD, which I actually enjoyed more.

Flamenco in Seville

The impressive gorge in Ronda
In comparison with Seville, Ronda was smaller, more crowded, and it rained. I still managed to avoid the downpours, once by being inside a museum and the second time inside a cafe. The museum was fairly typical of a local museum with the obligatory pot fragments from Roman times and displays of local geology.

The other holidaymakers on the trip included three Irish, three Scottish and a whole clinic of health professionals. As well as myself there was a retired Diabetes Specialist Nurse, a Pharmacist, a Physiotherapist, a Pathologist and an Orthotist specialising in shoes. I was assured by a regular Exodus holidaymaking friend that there's always one difficult person every time, but we all got on very well. Most of us were planning our next trip before this one was over.

Puerto de las Palomas

Friday, 28 October 2016

Work, play, the usual

Peculiar red flower
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016 
Last week was exhausting but I don't quite know why, because I did less than the usual amount - not going to badminton one Thursday for example, spending the whole evening reading and listening to the radio instead. I did go into Birmingham on one of my days off, because I'd gone and bashed the baritone sax somehow and bent one of the lower keys out of place, so I took it to the menders. This also gave me the opportunity to have a lovely day in Birmingham, where I went to the cinema and to my favourite Cafe Soya.

I also spent one day of one weekend at a Buddhist 'retreat', which was actually just four hours in the village hall where we go on regular Tuesday nights. The person who was due to lead wasn't even able to come so it was shorter than planned, mostly meditation, with a bit of help from an online recorded talk. I discovered it's much better to meditate when not falling asleep at the end of a day tramping round Birmingham or chopping down shrubbery in the garden. There wasn't a lot of overt Buddhism, just a bit of a discussion about how we are responsible for our own feelings. To be honest I haven't disagreed with much that Buddhism has to say, it all seems very sensible and I've reached many of the same conclusions through my own reflections. And I still enjoy sitting quietly trying to rest my mind in a room full of like-minded individuals.

At home the LTRP continues with plans for the kitchen upgrade being completed and submitted for planning permission, since there will be extra glass and a wall is being moved. This won't progress any further for a number of weeks, so my next indoor project has to be emptying the loft so that the lighting in the room below can be fixed. I've also been in touch with a damp investigation company because of a couple of patches that need looking into.

My ongoing garden project has taken so, so much time. The lawn is still looking ropey but I've planted a million small bulbs and some baby plants that I enthusiastically bought thinking that the garden could do with some spring and summer colour. The effort of weeding the beds and planting everything was probably worth it, but I'm really tired of having to spend so much time keeping it under control. Astroturf and concrete has never seemed so attractive.

At work a new 'junior' nurse has started, and interviews have taken place to replace the other nurse who is now retired. When we are fully staffed there may be scope to move forward after the long hiatus, and improve services rather than just keeping up with what we can manage. The newly recruited nurse will have to work three months notice, and that will start only after all the formalities of the criminal records check and the formal job offer, so we won't be seeing her actually working with us until well into next year.

Now I have to go and pack because I am having a Holiday. Pip pip!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A sad and difficult retirement

Cuboid salt crystals
Wieliczka salt mine, July 2016
About two years ago at work, my colleagues started to notice that one of our number was behaving strangely. I hadn't been working there for long enough to see any change - I just thought she had always been a bit forgetful. It became clear that this memory problem was chronic, deteriorating, and worst of all, she flatly denied that anything was wrong. Aggressively, sometimes. If errors were pointed out, she would pass blame to someone else (she hadn't received the message), or insist that the error didn't exist (she had in fact processed the invoices that hadn't been processed), or just shout at the colleague that they were wrong.

This was incredibly difficult to address. It's no good going to a more senior manager saying that something is wrong when the individual involved insists that it isn't. Everyone makes mistakes, and without listing every minor error that supported the issue it couldn't be proved to be anything other than a nurse being a bit inefficient. Her skills were intact - she would have no trouble starting someone on insulin, or analysing a blood glucose diary to suggest how medications might be adjusted. She just wouldn't remember being asked to do it, and would then deny all knowledge of the matter.

The technology started to become important - everything had to be emailed in order to prove that an issue had been communicated. She wasn't very good with technology though, and emails just languished in an expanding inbox. But emails and text messages started to form evidence of the problem - emails answered twice or not at all, repeated text messages about the same issue. I was protected from the worst impact because I do a different job, but the main nurse in a similar role was doing her own job plus part of her colleague's and simultaneously unable to challenge the situation while being abused for encroaching on her territory or for pointing out errors that needed to be addressed. It was an awful situation.

If only the patients had complained. Some of them could see that something was wrong, but "didn't want to get anyone into trouble." Without backup from service users our hands were tied - there simply wasn't strong enough evidence of the right sort, and every day we feared that someone would actually be harmed - not so much from the wrong action, but from inaction when action was needed. It seems that patients will put up with almost anything without complaining. Similarly the doctors - they must be used to asking people to do things that aren't done, because they made no formal complaint either, even though they could see that all was not well.

It didn't help that she had a strong and long-standing connection with a very senior and very influential member of the team, who took her word for it that she was absolutely fine. A whistle-blower would be in big trouble if the case wasn't watertight and beyond doubt. And the case wasn't strong enough to withstand this level of scrutiny.

Eventually, at long last, a bit more than a year ago, she had some leave booked and we all breathed a sigh of relief - we wouldn't have to deal with the daily stress of it for a whole week. On the Monday, however, in she walked as if it was a normal working day. This was too much for us, and finally she was persuaded that she was on annual leave and it wasn't appropriate for her to be in work - obviously all her clinics had been cancelled and she didn't have patients to see. We were all incredibly thankful that she didn't return after the week off - the reason was reported as 'stress'.

It took a while before we regrouped - there had been a distinct split in the team between those who were convinced by her and thought that actually there wasn't anything that a bit of a break from work wouldn't sort out, and those who could see it was more serious than this. But we all had a period of thinking "Maybe it is just stress, and she will come back, and it will start all over again," and this made our hearts sink.

Gradually we started to make changes in the department, and relaxed in the freedom we now enjoyed, apart from obviously the one nurse left had the workload of two nurses. Our colleague was signed off work for a long time, and we heard snippets of gossip from people still in touch with her, but nothing official. Her friends told us she was fine and looking forward to coming back to work. We were torn between hoping that she really had recovered from a bout of extreme stress, and concerned that it was the same cover-up and nothing had changed.

At Christmas she came into work for a festive lunch and brought us all Christmas cards, seeming utterly normal. As usual, she gave the impression she was looking forward to being back at work in no time. She expressed her sympathy for a colleague whose grandfather had been ill and had recently died.

Later that day, she arrived back at the department with a carrier bag. "I've brought your Christmas cards," she announced.

Next day she texted the colleague. The text said "How is your grandad?"

We heard little more for a month or so, but then we were informed that the powers that be could find no good reason for keeping her away from work. Occupational Health were satisfied that she was physically healthy and had recovered from whatever it was that was wrong. We thought otherwise, but couldn't prove it - the issues at Christmas might have been part of the problem of stress, and officially she was now better so everything would be fine. We did have a meeting where we expressed our reservations to management, and it was agreed that before coming back to the department and interacting with patients she would be located in an administrative building and would complete the mandatory training that she had missed while off work.

That first week we awaited developments with trepidation. It was to be a phased return starting with just a couple of mornings, but we anticipated some issues, and we were right. She arrived at the department and settled down in her old room. We had to call management, who persuaded her that she needed to be elsewhere. Our main concern was that patients would see her and assume she was back at work, then ask for help or advice and she would start to provide it. It was extremely uncomfortable having to call the authorities behind her back.

After several false alarms when she continued to turn up at the department, she seemed to accept that she needed to be elsewhere, but we were continually on edge in case she arrived unexpectedly. After just a couple of weeks we were told that as she seemed perfectly fine, she would be coming back to sit in with the doctors as a precursor to returning to her old job. All hell broke loose.

Luckily our insistence that this was completely unacceptable was acknowledged, and it didn't happen. Her perfectly rational outward appearance and conduct was very convincing, but eventually it became clear even to those supervising her mandatory training that we were right. The thing that we all struggled with was why she didn't acknowledge that something was wrong, and accept retirement gracefully? Had we been in her situation none of us would have minded leaving work, even if the reason was as unwelcome as incapacity. Why fight so hard to avoid an easy life of leisure and insist on coming back to the environment that had provoked the 'stress' in the first place? Especially so close to actual retirement age.

Very little information reached us throughout the next period. Officially it was not for us to know details of the negotiations taking place, but occasionally something would filter through, usually through contact with those colleagues she remained in touch with. The consistent message from her was "I'll be seeing you soon, I'm coming back to work next week." After our initial panic we learned how to react to this, generally with a good humoured "That'll be nice, see you then." Her powerful senior ally continued to imply that while she may not come back to work with us, there seemed no reason why an alternative sinecure could not be found.

After a year on sick leave, it was finally confirmed that she would not be returning to work, and for the first time in two years we could relax. A 'retirement' lunch is planned, a card and collection are circulating, and we have put measures in place to try to ensure that she doesn't miss her own lunch by forgetting about it. She popped into the department the other day, and told us that she might be coming back to work for a couple of days a week in a different role. "That'll be nice, see you then," we said.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Everyday tales of Not Much

Garlic and globe artichokes
Borough Market, May 2016
It's been a bit rough at work - not so much for me, but the main nurse has had a bad time. There have been two premature deaths, a stolen mobile phone, the start of a new Type 1 education course, conflict (there's always conflict) and we are all quite glad when the weekend arrives each week.

A couple of weeks ago I did a foolish thing - I attended a badminton training weekend at the National Badminton Centre with a group of Young People (and one other Old Person) from another club. This entailed arriving on Friday night and having a bit of a play around, then six hours coaching on Saturday followed by another six hours on Sunday. The coach was a very pleasant young man who was once in the GB squad playing men's doubles, and he did a pretty good job. I was pleased with my level of fitness and managed not to fall behind right up until the final hour, when due to a serious misjudgement I ended up having to play two games of singles against the youngest, fittest, strongest man in the group. But until then it was fun, and I learned a few things too. I don't think my badminton is going to improve much, but it's good to keep learning.

The unexpected benefit of this extreme weekend was that I was amazed to find that my frozen shoulder improved quite a bit. I have no idea why this should be - it's not my dominant arm, but badminton does put demands on the non-racquet arm for counterbalance, so perhaps this was what helped.

Lola II came to visit on a school night because she had to go to an event in Birmingham. We went out to a restaurant that I've had my eye on since they had a stall at the Food Festival, but the food wasn't as good as I'd hoped (and I accidentally set fire to the menu). After our main courses we reviewed the dessert menu, but it just didn't hit the spot, so we went to Tesco and carried out a thorough assessment of all possible options before realising it was 10 minutes to Bake Off. Making our final choices at great speed I then packed them into a carrier bag with a hole in it and managed to lose one of Lola II's choices on the way home. However, we not only made it in time for Bake Off, we sneaked in an episode of The West Wing and marvelled anew at how good it is.

The only other news of note is that I decided to treat the lawn with feed including moss killer. It turns out that the lawn is about 60% moss and is now looking a bit brown and sad. I also have some seedlings and some bulbs to plant, and while preparing the ground I ended up chopping down a large pyracantha. So that's been another trip to the local amenities site with a car-load of bags of hideous thorny branches.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Over The River
by John Galsworthy
"Clare Cherrell has come home, fleeing the clutches of her violent, abusive husband. When he pursues her she vows she will never return and sets about fighting him in bitter divorce proceedings."
That's it, the last of the nine books in the Forsyte Chronicle, and I am so sad that the journey's over. I think I'd have to list John Galsworthy as one of my favourite writers of all time, which is saying something. The opening to this book was a masterclass in getting his meaning across without spelling it out to the reader - perhaps that's the key? It's what I love most about The West Wing - they don't patronise the audience, they make you work stuff out for yourself, and if it doesn't make sense you have to trust them that later it will, and it's why watching episodes again is so satisfying. I'm going to have a look for other Galsworthy titles, and if there aren't any I'm going to read all nine of these books again.


Image of the book cover
The House on the Strand
by Daphne du Maurier
"Magnus Lane, a University of London chemical researcher, asks his friend Richard Young and Young's family to stay at Kilmarth, an ancient house set in the wilds near the Cornish coast. Here, Richard drinks a potion created by Magnus and finds himself at the same spot where he was moments earlier - though it is now the fourteenth century."
A very different sort of book from Daphne du Maurier - still set in Cornwall but based on time travel. I love DdM but this one, written towards the end of her career, is not one of the best. There are many confusing characters and the location plays too much of a part; it also has one of the worst endings to a story that I can remember. I need to go back to Frenchman's Creek or Rebecca and remind myself how good she could be.


Image of the book cover

Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

narrated by Richard Allen
"Even though Arthur Shelby and his wife Emily believe that they have a benevolent relationship with their slaves, Shelby decides to raise much needed funds by selling two of them - Uncle Tom, a middle-aged man with a wife and children, and Harry, the son of Emily Shelby's maid Eliza - to a slave trader."
A classic book that I have heard of but never thought to read until now. Written in 1852, which sounds like ancient history but actually might have been when my great-grandparents lived, which perhaps isn't so long ago. How society has changed! To think that people could be bought and sold and worked and bred and killed like animals - the author is very coy about the sexual exploitation although she doesn't hold back with other aspects of slavery. Putting this alongside the examples of Homo sapiens in the the news at the moment, particularly the USA, Syria and all the English political parties, our species can exhibit some very unpleasant traits.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

I did this, then I did that

Orange lily
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
This is getting more like a diary than a blog - a succession of things that seem to fill my life sufficiently so that I am rarely bored and mostly have too much on my plate. Literally and metaphorically. The weight loss plan is not going brilliantly, despite me having completely stopped buying bars of chocolate. Bother.

Topic 1: Health - physical and metaphysical


I have had an ultrasound of my shoulder which identified some inflammation and degenerative changes typical in a person of my age. This was followed by a consultation with a specialist physiotherapist who diagnosed slow onset frozen shoulder. He offered a steroid injection to address the pain temporarily, which I declined because the pain doesn't bother me that much. I just feel resentful that my body is finally rebelling and giving me some trouble, just to remind me that I'm not as young as I was. With time, the shoulder should get better, but I doubt that I'll get any less grumpy about being as old as I am. This is as good as it gets.

On the other hand, I have started looking forward to the meditation and Buddhism group. I started with a four-session introductory course in April, then carried on attending over the summer, and now they are holding another introductory course and it feels very much like school when the new kids arrive and you're in the second year and not the youngest and littlest any more. I can very nearly remember everyone's name, although if they sling in a multi-syllable Sanskrit name I forget it in less than 2 hours. I spent one of my days off with the Buddhists I know of old, and pumped them mercilessly for information, and am still processing the results to decide whether to just stick with the meditation and mindfulness practice or to dip my toe further into the metaphorical Buddhist pond.

Topic 2: Food and drink


I have already mentioned the chocolate reduction plan, and I think I have reached the stage of acceptance in the continuum of despair-anger-denial-acceptance that I was once taught follows a trauma. Back when I was taught about this, the examples used were having your car stolen and sight loss, but it seems to apply to no end of situations including, it seems, breaking a serious chocolate habit.

I have continued my tour of Leamington Lunches on my days off - there are more restaurants than I have days off in a year, but I'm trying to pick those who charge less than £10 for lunch. There are still plenty to go. This Tuesday's was Cuban - I had a stew involving peppers, sweet potato and chickpeas and some amazing yellow bread that appeared to have been fried.

Other eating and drinking highlights in the recent past included a night out with work colleagues starting with drinks at Pub Next Door and progressing to a very fine Turkish/Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in town. It was such a success that those present immediately formed a Dining Club and set a date for the next outing. There was also my second Whisky Tasting evening with Mr M's whisky collection and matched food. I am very lucky to have been invited on two separate occasions, and there may even be a Whisky Tasting On Tour event in Leamington at some point. I discovered that I am starting to like whisky. It's always worth persisting with these things.

On the same trip to London there were two more food-related experiences. The first was the local international grocer where this time I picked two random tins of spinach-based and aubergine-based slop (I've already tried the spinach-based one topped with an egg - yum). The second was a Japanese restaurant in Notting Hill, where five of us ate until we burst for only £15 a head. Delicious and good value.

Topic 3: Housing and the LTRP


Not much progress to report on the LTRP, although the architect has now surveyed and drawn up plans of the ground floor in anticipation of our next meeting, in which we will define the alterations. These are primarily to allow more light into the kitchen and replace the stairs, but also to extend the kitchen a little to provide a utility/boot room. Olf the builder who worked on the garage finally came round to accept payment (I had to chase several times!) and he may be able to lead on the kitchen works whenever that time may come.

I'm still gradually emptying the loft (books and motorbike parts in the last fortnight) so that Ilf the handyman can sort out the electric lights in the upstairs rooms. In the meantime Mr M and Lola II stole Ilf and he decorated large parts of their house. Now that I've been to see it, the work done looks absolutely lovely. Ilf then came round and gave me a bunch of flowers to thank me for referring the job to him.

Topic 4: Financial matters

  • I researched and bought car insurance A WEEK BEFORE IT WAS DUE. I am so proud of this.
  • I bought fancy carbon fibre walking poles for my holiday A MONTH IN ADVANCE. [Can you see a theme developing?]
  • I joined a team of four Young People and we won a tenner each on the pub quiz, with a score of 76 out of 80. I probably contributed no more than 4 answers out of 76, but I like to think that without my 4 we would have come second.
  • The posh butcher in town sharpened three of my knives for free. Unfortunately they only gave me two of them back, but produced the third when I went back to enquire. Still, I now have three sharp knives, which is lovely.
  • I have listed quite a few random items on ebay, one of which has sold! I am not optimistic about any of the others. So after postage and commission I am £1.43 in profit. Now I'm ready to start on the postal mechanisation material. Hang on to your hats for literally pennies of profit.
  • With the help of Mr M I have switched my current account and opened another three accounts including transfers between them in order to maximise interest rates. Now every time I am faced with paying for something I have to think for five minutes about which card to use depending on whether I qualify for cashback or Clubcard points or a foot massage or puppies/kittens. However, not only is this a great problem to have, I am about to spend a whole load of money on my kitchen, so maybe it won't be a problem for long.

Topic 5: Work


I have had my first abysmal failure with a patient whom I will not see again (nor would the patient want to see me). Much reflection and 'what could I have done differently' but it's someone who's been within the service for years and years and nobody else has done much better. Apart from that, I have delivered three DESMOND courses for Type 2 patients in the last month and am looking forward to not delivering any more until December. I do enjoy it though, seeing how much people learn.

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