Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Mostly philately

Paper hat printed with 'Use the Postcode'
Listed on eBay January 2017
If you're one of my thirty-or-so regular readers, you will have noticed a hiatus. Despite having a week off work, it has been a bad time for blogging. When I last wrote I was full of beans, all positive and bouncy and heavy on the anecdotes. Now I feel anti-social, tired and altogether out of sorts, which has resulted in a lot of early nights in between social and work commitments. So no writing. Never mind, the weekend improved things a little.

My week off transferred from Leamington to London, where we'd arranged to see a man in an auction house in case we could interest him in one box of dad's postal ephemera that had the greatest potential to be worth something. Our man was not optimistic about either the uniqueness of the material or the existence of any buyers. He made a couple of suggestions which I have since followed up and which took me to London again on Sunday. An old friend of dad's is still in the philately business despite being 90 years old. He seems more optimistic about our selling options, and may be able to arrange a meeting with an interested party. It feels very much like we're trying to do a drug deal, except a legal one with someone who is 90 years old.

Meanwhile, mum met a local philatelist who is mildly excited about another load of dad's boxes of envelopes. Her chap used to be a carpenter and has even taken away one of her kitchen chairs to be mended, so it's win-win for mum. Another piece of the jigsaw is a contact at the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, but nobody seems to be taking that one forward at the moment. My ebay work stalled for a while, but I managed to start listing again on Friday. Unfortunately I hadn't realised that we haven't been billed for ebay commission, so our 'nearly-a-hundred-pounds' has turned into 'just-over-eighty-pounds' and I'm taking my train fare on Sunday out of our earnings. I persevere, however.

Two plastic carrier bags with postcode slogans on them
Sold on eBay, January 2017
Not all my London holiday was stamp-related. I met some old friends, and Lola II and I visited the Hunterian Museum which is located within the Royal College of Surgeons. I would recommend it, although poor Lola II had to hang around a bit waiting for me to just look at the next case of bits of human or animal suspended in a glass jar demonstrating the effects of rickets, or faulty regrowth of a lizard tail, or a spine severely affected by scoliosis. Even I moved a bit quick past the facial reconstruction exhibit, and Lola II had a bit of trouble with the gory videos of live surgery.

We ate out a few times, we watched a couple of films, we journeyed forth to see mum and dad and I can remember nothing more; it was more than a week ago, and a week is a long time. The subsequent week contains a similar void, although I went to work as usual. Last Tuesday contained the dental hygienist and meditation and more LTRP, including a return to the kitchen design people. They have provided me with lots of ideas for the kitchen, and I have commented on their ideas and provided some of my own. The follow up visit is in a couple of weeks.

My LTRP multi-tasking is paying off with quotes from a builder and a carpenter and a possible date for Ilf to come back for another session on the spare room. However, more mundane tasks are not reaching the top of the list, so the cleaning and ironing are still waiting. The last few days have also been occupied with trying to untangle mum's email access after a change of ISP, I also have to renew buildings insurance, holiday insurance and find a new utility package - what with this blog and the ongoing ebay activity I will be tied to the PC for the rest of the day.

Publicity leaflet for Royal Mail 'Safeglide' mail handling system
Failed to sell on eBay, January 2017

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

Death in Venice
by Thomas Mann

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

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

Image of the book cover

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

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Featuring Lola Towers

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 January 2017

Several new beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

Two horses in a field with blue sky

Saturday, 31 December 2016

The year gone by

Sunny doorway with planters
Courtyard in Krakow, July 2016
It's been a good year on the whole, marked for me by my dedication to the Lola Towers Renovation Project. In the past year I have acquired a working garage, lights, door handles, front door lock, the loft cleared (almost), the garden tidied and the bathroom decorated. Planning the kitchen is well under way, and I've even been able to imagine some more decorating taking place alongside the kitchen enterprise. I've also been toying with some ideas about how the different rooms might change their identities when the decorating is done.

Work has been satisfying with new members of staff and plans for new enterprises, although the proposed expansion of the service beyond two new nurses has not been supported by any funding and therefore has not happened. There ought to be a Dietitian involved in the Transition and the Young People's clinics, and we are hoping to extend the insulin pump service to offer appointments at the other hospital, but I won't be doing it until it is agreed that I will be paid for more hours. I enjoy all the clinics I do, the doctors are good to work with, and I particularly enjoy delivering the patient education. So no problems at work at the moment.

In this quiet time between Christmas and New Year (I heard it called Chrimbo Limbo this morning on the radio) I've been working on a Carb Counting Short Course. At this stage I'm considering who to invite and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the course. Our main carb counting course takes four days over three weeks and is only offered to people with Type 1 Diabetes who have been diagnosed for at least a year and are on a particular insulin regime, so there are many people who aren't eligible or can't spare the time but would benefit from a carb counting update. The short course is only two sessions of two hours each, and we will invite people who are newly diagnosed, people with Type 2, busy people who can't take all that time off work, and people on different insulin regimes.

Outside work my badminton obsession continues unabated, accompanied by a little bit of running but only when there's no badminton (like the last two weeks). Obviously I enjoy writing for this blog, and I have read 47 books this year according to my profile on Goodreads, which also tells me this:
Shortest book: Utz (154 pages)
Longest book: The Magus (656 pages) but I actually listened to this one so there were no pages at all
Most popular book: Dune (read by 705,533 other Goodreads readers this year)

Holidays - some really good ones this year - skiing in Bulgaria and France, sightseeing in Krakow and Spain, and lovely weekends in London, Leicester and Bristol. The Buddhist meditation group has become another regular extra-curricular pastime, which I continue to attend and enjoy while not really doing any meditation at all at home - I haven't yet worked out how to fit it into my lifestyle.

This time last year I thought 2015 had been a bit rubbish, and so it had within my little world. 2016 has been infinitely more rubbish when you consider global events like Brexit and Trump, but personally I have had a much better year with lots to look forward to in 2017 too. You never know, this time next year I may have a new kitchen!

Orange, red and purple sunrise
Spain, November 2016

Monday, 26 December 2016

Speedy, healthy and fishy

Oysters in their half-shells

There's been too much going on for me to spend much time enjoying my new expanded electrically-lit living space, but I have dipped into the upstairs room most days to turn the lights on and off just for the enjoyment of it. As Lola II pointed out, the downstairs door that was initially so exciting to open and close must be fairly envious now it's getting no particular attention (although I do still experience a slight thrill when I use it). My delight with the upstairs light will no doubt pass into normality eventually, like the door, and the door handles, and the other lights, and the garage, and everything else. But at the moment simply turning a light on and off is a treat. Planning permission for the kitchen has now been granted, so the fact that I've been able to cope with a few other jobs at the same time makes me feel like a superhero.

In the last week at work I managed to implement a development regarding Christmas cards, whereby I let everyone in my local team know that instead of giving them cards I would make a donation to Diabetes UK. I invited them all to do the same, but only two joined me. It worked well for me, and I plan to extend it to include more colleagues next year.

Two weeks ago the evenings were full of mostly badminton - one club night, one match, one tournament and one Christmas meal, and - unusually - we won the match. The other weekday evening disappeared into the longest working day ever. I got caught up in a conversation with the doctors at the end of the day, which was interesting but not particularly important, and gave me no opportunity to extract myself gracefully within a reasonable time.

Our concert went well at the weekend given that I was sight-reading second clarinet because of a player dropping out at short notice with a broken wrist. Playing the tenor saxophone has been pretty good but I'm going back to the baritone sax next term, and looking forward to it. That weekend I also baked a gluten-free lemon drizzle cake and a dairy- and egg-free chocolate cake because Monday was the last club night before Christmas at the other badminton club, and there are players with dietary intolerances.

King prawns in the frying pan

Tuesday started with a Speed Awareness course. In November I got caught by a mobile speed camera on the way to work doing 37mph in a 30mph zone. That was actually because I was going to work later than usual; at my regular commuting time the traffic is too clogged up to go that fast.

It was an interesting morning in a large group being reminded of speed limits for various types of road and types of vehicle, and spotting hazards in a short video and still photos. Rather than dry figures for stopping distances at various speeds they used the stopping distance at 30mph as the comparator, and told us what speed we would be doing at that point if we were driving at higher speeds, because most of the speed reduction is achieved in the last few seconds of braking. I found out that there are only 35 fixed camera sites in the whole of Warwickshire and not all of them are active at any one time, while there are 60 mobile locations but only three vans (and generally only two out on the roads at a time). I also know now about gateway signs and repeater signs, which are different ways of telling you what the speed limit is.

The key things are that by attending the course I have avoided getting three points on my licence, and I have to avoid getting caught again for three years because in that case prosecution (i.e. points) is unavoidable. Certainly at the moment I'm being much more attentive to speed limits, especially in the spot where I was caught.

That wasn't the only appointment on Tuesday. I followed up with the routine NHS Check that's offered when you're my age in order to estimate your risk of cardiovascular disease. They measure height, weight, BMI, activity, alcohol, smoking, blood pressure and take a blood sample for on-the-spot cholesterol. My results were as I would have expected - very good level of activity, great blood pressure, BMI not bad (borderline overweight, doh! I can't seem to shift this), very little alcohol, no significant family history. My total cholesterol is higher than is desirable but includes a high level of HDL (good cholesterol), so that the ratio of total cholesterol:HDL is well within the ideal range. Overall my risk of having a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) over the next 10 years is 2.7%. The average for my age and sex is 2.6%. I am considering doing something about my cholesterol level. I could certainly cut back a bit on the saturated fat and I haven't been eating much oats, fish, soya or pulses recently - but making up for it over Christmas with fish at least.

There was more to come on Task-based Tuesday - kitchen shops. Now that I have planning permission and an agreed outline plan of the new kitchen, I thought it would be easy to get some help from people whose job it is to design kitchens. How wrong I was. The two shops I visited (one large chain, one small independent) absolutely refuse to do anything for me without detailed architectural plans that define every measurement of the new layout, including location of utilities such as gas and water. They agreed that it was a Catch-22 situation - in order to get help in designing my kitchen I need to give them a detailed design of my kitchen. I have investigated briefly, and there appear to be a number of online tools that may help me.

Shelled king prawns on ciabatta with garlic butter and herbs

From Wednesday onwards there were no more appointments and commitments outside work, my evenings were free, and then four days off for Christmas. I planned menus and put in an order at the fishmonger. I actually went for a run on Thursday! and it wasn't bad at all. Work was very quiet as nobody really wants an appointment on the last working day before Christmas, and it gives me a chance to catch up on clearing out the pile of stuff that I've accumulated over the year. Some interesting items in there!

I followed up my Thursday run with Parkrun on Saturday, picked up my order of fishy treats from the fishmonger, then a few jobs in town and then Christmas arrived. The oysters were surprisingly enormous and almost defeated me - they definitely defeated my oyster knife. I was planning to eat half a dozen in each of two meals, but they were so huge that I went with just four at a time and it was plenty.

Now Christmas is almost over and I have to motivate myself into greater activity. I was going to prune the Wisteria but the online gurus seem to be saying February not December, so I'd better wait. I need to get rid of the compost bin and carry on tidying away the various items like flower pots, buckets, planters and such which have seemingly found a permanent home in the garden. There's always something to do, although sitting and reading or watching films has certainly been significant in this household over the last few days.

Enormous oyster surrounded by broken oyster knife and screwdrivers

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Don't Tell Alfred
by Nancy Mitford

narrated by Emilia Fox
"Fanny, who is married to the bumbling, absent-minded Oxford don Alfred, is content with her role as a plain, tweedy housewife. But her life changes overnight when Alfred is appointed English Ambassador to Paris."
The third of the trilogy of which the first (The Pursuit of Love) is the best, but they're all great. Who would have thought that I would like Nancy Mitford, of the notorious Mitford Sisters and their association with fascism and Hitler and all that? Given that all the sisters will be distinct from each other I should perhaps find out more about the family. Anyway, this book sets out exactly how your offspring can disappoint you despite all your efforts at avoiding the mistakes that you have observed in your parents and others.

Image of the book cover

The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

narrated by David Horovitch
"In the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870's, Newland Archer, a young lawyer, prepares to marry the docile May Welland. Before their engagement is announced, he meets May's cousin, the mysterious, nonconformist Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned to New York after a long absence."
My classical literary education continues with this book, which isn't bad at all. Not exactly gripping, but I was happy to carry on reading, and the ending was particularly fine. I haven't been happy with many endings recently, so this was refreshing.

Image of the book cover

The Reckoning
by Patrick Bishop
"An intellectual poet and mystic, Avraham Stern believed himself destined for greatness; the Jewish liberator of British Palestine. This is the tale of a rebel who terrorized Palestine, the lawman determined to stop him and the creation of a cult of martyrdom that destroyed any hope of compromise between Arab and Jew."
This book covers the years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and describes the violence faced by the British forces administering the Mandate in Palestine. Arabs were resisting the encroachment of Jewish immigrants, and Jews switched their focus of resistance away from the Arabs towards the British police with increasingly violent acts of terrorism. Meanwhile other desperate Jewish refugees were being refused entry to Palestine as they fled from persecution and the Nazi death camps. There is a long narrative of events leading up to the death of Avraham Stern and its aftermath. It's probably well researched, but I finished it through a sense of duty rather than any interest in the particular story it told.

Image of the book cover

by George MacDonald Fraser

narrated by Colin Mace
"Harry Flashman: the unrepentant bully of Tom Brown's schooldays has three main talents - horsemanship, facility with foreign languages and fornication. A reluctant military hero, Flashman plays a key part in most of the defining military campaigns of the nineteenth century despite trying his utmost to escape them all."
Quite good but would have been better if it were a bit shorter. I don't know if the conflict in Afghanistan that makes up the majority of the action is based on real events, but if it was then I'm sure it would have been a more engrossing read if I knew more about that period of colonial history.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Fire in the hole

Sculpture of a person shaped like a cello incorporating flower pots
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016

It's always the little things. The big things loom large, and when they are resolved and fade then other big things appear. But the little things - they make me truly happy. I now have electric light in the upstairs spare room.

Electrician Bill brought a trainee sidekick which made things go a little quicker, but even so the baffling history of Lola Towers was resurrected when they found wires that didn't seem to have any purpose, and a switch that ought to have another two-way switch somewhere but no sign of its partner. No wonder Ilf couldn't get to the bottom of it. The pair travelled down a few dead ends before Bill announced 'Fire in the hole' and on came the lights. I ceremonially turned on the radiators and it became a usable room, just a week away from the shortest day of the year. One job crossed off the list, another added - lampshades.

It was a good Tuesday. I love getting things done on a Tuesday. Last Tuesday I went south to visit mum and dad. This Tuesday there was Ilf (finishing the last bit of bathroom painting), Electrician Bill, and a long walk around Leamington to sort out odds and ends and deliver a Christmas card or two, with a badminton match to end the day. Next Tuesday there are three separate appointments already booked in, but you don't get to know about the future, I only write about the past.

The past at this point contains the work Christmas party at a very posh and expensive venue. It was OK. It was the same venue as last year with the same entertainment, which was a DJ 'personality' from Rugby Free Radio breakfast show who is very popular with those of my colleagues who live in Rugby, followed by dancing. The DJ directed a number of activities including the opportunity for one person in the room to win £1000 by answering 10 questions in 1 minute. There were at least 500 people in the room, so it was quite exciting that the one person who won that opportunity was one of our team. Of course she didn't win, partly because of her prior consumption of cocktails and prosecco, and partly because she could barely hear the questions. Then there was sufficient dancing of adequate quality to keep me entertained, although I do miss the old tunes. The only man in our group was also the only doctor and had not joined us on a social event before, but stood up better to the lady-squealing than I did. I'm just not cut out for mixing with actual humans, especially in situations when copious alcohol consumption is the norm.

Lola II also visited at the weekend, and the plan included a visit to the optician, making a start on the huge eBay project, and her home-made Christmas cards. Unfortunately we spent much too much time messing about and given that the upstairs room had no electric light at that point we missed the window of opportunity and it was dark before we were ready to eBay. Never mind - I'm one step nearer with the first box of stuff in the right room, and now I have electric light. What could possibly stop me now?

Lola II and I did travel north to see H+B At Home, but could barely stay for two hours, which is a shame because it was lovely to see people and catch up in person with what's going on. I have other friends in the north-west whom I haven't seen for a few years now, so perhaps next year I'll try to combine two visits and stay a little longer. I have previously offered practical help to clear H+B's basement rooms, and I'm using this public space to confirm that a) this is a serious offer, b) I'm getting quite good at house-emptying, and c) in my experience it really does make a positive difference to have a disinterested party on hand to move matters forward. I know you're reading this. Ask me for some dates.

Another garden sculpture of a woman with children and flowers

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.

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