Friday, 24 March 2017

Purchasing decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close up of purple crocus with orange stamens

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

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

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Skiing again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Way of All Flesh
by Samuel Butler

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

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

Image of the book cover

by Sir Walter Scott

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

Friday, 3 March 2017


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Random Chairs in a Darkened Room V

Two dogs sitting up in the shade looking out at the patio and pool in the sun
Spain, November 2016
Lola II and Mr M staged the fifth annual Gulloebl film festival (subtitled 'Random Chairs in a Darkened Room) last weekend. Invited guests had the opportunity to watch up to eight films over the weekend, and this time there was a theme: all of the films featured Alan Rickman, who died last year. I watched seven of the eight films, and it reaffirmed for me what a talented actor and a delight to watch he was.

Due to the number of visitors like myself travelling to attend the festival and needing accommodation, I was allocated to sleep in the annexe. This took the form of a tent in the garden, which was pretty snug with duvet, blanket, hot water bottle and socks. I like camping but this was probably the first time I have camped in February.

My favourite of the seven films I watched was Dogma (1999), the most mainstream of director Kevin Smith's films. I've seen most of this director's previous work, starting with Clerks, and enjoyed most of them. Dogma features Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as well as Alan Rickman, and the Catholic Church is the cast member referenced by the title. I was expecting this to be my favourite film of the weekend, and it didn't disappoint.

Second best was Snow Cake (2006) which starred Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss. I'd seen it before and I knew I'd liked it, although I couldn't remember any details. A man gives a lift to a young woman who is killed in a terrible road accident. The man (played by Alan Rickman) feels compelled to make his way to the young woman's mother, who turns out to have autism, and the story covers just the few days he spends with her. It's touching, poignant, thought-provoking and occasionally funny.

Galaxy Quest (1999) has appeared in a previous film festival, but I could watch it every year. At the end my cheeks hurt from grinning, and the rich source of quotations from the film is a boon in many situations (Never give up, never surrender!) Sigourney Weaver is in this one too, along with Tim Allen, (You are our laaaast hooope). And, of course, Alan Rickman (Give him a hand, he's British!)

My next favourite was Truly Madly Deeply (1990). I hadn't realised that it was written and directed by Anthony Minghella with Juliet Stevenson in mind (if IMDb is to be believed). The writing was beautiful, sad and funny in turn, even though Alan's moustache and Juliet's wardrobe were dreadful. Tissues were available at the screening, and there were plenty of muffled sniffles at the end.

I also love Sense and Sensibility (1995), not only for the wonderful Alan but also for the other quality performances from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Hugh Grant was there too, but he was just playing himself as usual. Terrific writing, which won Oscars for Emma Thompson as the writer as well as Best Actress. Hugh Laurie deserves a notable mention for his delivery of some wonderful lines. Mrs Palmer: "No, I cannot believe it is that far, for you can see the place from the top of our hill. Is it really five and a half? No. I cannot believe it." Mr Palmer: "Try."

So five of the seven films receive my full approval; the remaining two that I watched were Die Hard (1988) with Bruce Willis, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) with every British actor ever. I hadn't seen Die Hard before but it is said to be a classic - I can see that it's quite good, but it's just not my kind of thing. I've read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the films, but the books are better and this first film spends a lot of its time setting up the series. The film I didn't watch in the festival line-up was Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991) - I actually started watching it on DVD a few years ago, but stopped after about half an hour. So I wasn't keen to try again.

If it had been up to me to choose films featuring Alan Rickman I would have included A Little Chaos (2014) - Kate Winslet again, but also the incomparable Matthias Schoenaerts as well as the always reliable Stanley Tucci. Love Actually (2003) is another obvious choice with Emma and Hugh again, and I thought the recent Eye in the Sky (2015) with Helen Mirren was also very good indeed. But there are so many choices.

My ultimate plan is to be awarded the first Gulloebl Film Festival franchise and to stage my own version when my house is ready. Of course I'm already thinking of what I might include, and the selection this year has sparked many ideas - Matthias Schoenaerts leads me to Rust and Bone and Suite Francaise as well as A Little Chaos, there's Kevin Smith's Clerks, and perhaps more of Ben Affleck (maybe Argo?) and Matt Damon (maybe Invictus?) Favourite female actors who might feature include Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding and I would say Little Miss Sunshine but that's been shown at the Gulloebl Film Festival before, then there are The Sixth Sense and About A Boy which are a bit too mainstream). I love watching Melissa McCarthy as well, who was lovely in The Heat with Sandra Bullock, Spy with Jude Law and St Vincent with Bill Murray. Lastly for the women, I'd watch anything with Alison Janney (Juno and American Beauty spring to mind). There are so many wonderful films in the world. I don't know how Lola II and Mr M manage to whittle their choices down to just eight a year.

As a form of apprenticeship in preparation for the franchise, I undertook several roles backstage including making popcorn and ice cream vendor, I received full and frank feedback when I neglected the popcorn due to being distracted by guests, and I was given short shrift and sent off to buy some proper cream when I tried to substitute Elmlea on the basis that Waitrose was closed and this was all the newsagent stocked. But I think with a bit more effort I might be trusted with the valued Gulloebl brand in a year or two.

The Gulloebl Chinema management team carried out my appraisal a week later, and I received the following feedback. Luckily for me they seem to have overlooked the popcorn and cream issues.

Year One Probation Appraisal

Trainee: Lola I
Role: Canine Corpus
Employment Status: Hopeful
Supervision Date: 23 rd February 2017

Duties and Comments

Popcorn making: Corn popped as required
Dishwasher loading: Dishwasher loaded
Ice cream vending: Needed supervision at first, but threw herself (and the ice creams) into delivery. However, forgot to collect any money. Losses to be taken from her wages. We are not Robin Hood (which Lola would know if she had watched the film)
Height: Adequate but not quite up to Lola II
Dietary knowledge: Generally excellent though struggles to identify portions of fruit if they are in jars
Prospects: Lola showed real potential and in a few years’ time, we fully expect her to be allowed to sleep in the house. We also envisage her being welcomed into heaven, when her time comes.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Tedious parking issues

Garden view with spiky pink flowers
Krakow Botanic Garden, July 2016
I'm still spending many spare minutes engaged in eBay trading, and my Canadian buyer is still keeping the boat afloat. Meanwhile other members of the family are busying themselves with other aspects of dad's collected material, with limited success. The past weekend contained a trip to The North West, where the weather was cold but the welcome was warm. Part of the reason behind the trip was to stay with old friends I hadn't seen for more than five years, but on the way there and back I offered to assist with the further clearing and emptying of goods currently stored in basement rooms. Just the threat of my presence was enough to prompt the requisite activity - I hardly had to do anything, and even acquired a certain proportion of said goods, some of which I have passed on to Ilf.

Yes, Ilf has paid another visit, and the upstairs spare room is looking even better with its final coat of paint. Next it will need curtains, a bedside table, the clothes rail that returned with me from The North West, and I'm thinking of sanding and painting a wooden chair that is currently in the garage looking very sad. That will complete the bedroom half of the spare room; I haven't thought too much about the office half yet. I made the follow up trip to the kitchen design shop to talk through some changes, and the plan is nearly finished. I'm still feeling good about the progress of the LTRP.

At work the talk has been of parking for a very long time, and is becoming extremely tedious. The Trust has two hospital sites; the one where I don't work (Hospital A) has insufficient parking for both staff and patients, leading to much stress. When I used to do a clinic there, patients occasionally phoned the reception desk from the car park, and more than once it was to say they were not coming to their appointment simply because there was nowhere to park. The hospital where I do work (Hospital B) has plenty of parking space.

Parking passes used to be allocated to staff at Hospital A on some arcane basis that probably had a lot to do with historical precedent and seniority. When I worked there, I used to park on a nearby housing estate that is 20 minutes' walk away from the hospital site. Since I stopped working there, the housing estate has introduced residents-only parking, so staff would park in the Tesco car park, which is 25 minutes away. Tesco is now limiting its free parking to exclude such visitors, and I really don't know what staff do any more.

It was decided that a fairer system needed to be introduced, so all staff are being invited to re-apply for parking passes which will be awarded on the basis of need, taking account of the requirements of the job role and public transport options. These are not free passes, but they cost less than the daily parking charges that patients pay. They used to be charged at different rates depending on pay grade and hours worked, so part-timers and those on low pay grades paid less. The new system is a flat rate for all from part-time cleaner to Chief Executive.

Throughout the extended period of time when details were slowly being made available to staff, it was never made clear whether these changes would apply at Hospital B, where there is no parking problem. The main grouse in my department was the unfairness of changing from proportional pricing to a flat rate, but parking raises such high emotion that barely a day went by without someone complaining afresh about the unfairness, which usually set someone else off, sometimes on an unrelated course, usually about the changes to the retirement pension entitlement. Parking, pensions, more parking - most lunchtimes descended into dissatisfied whingeing.

At last the day came when we could finally apply for a new pass under the new, 'fairer' guidelines. My goodness, the complaining escalated to unimaginable heights when it was discovered that anyone living nearer than two miles from Hospital B was going to be denied a parking pass on principle. Emails were fired off like cannonades - secure bicycle parking was going to be needed, husbands were going to set up lift sharing services, people couldn't be expected to walk all that way at their age, and what if it snowed? I felt like saying that I would love to work within walking distance of my home and not have to pay for parking or petrol at all.

Things calmed down when one member of staff was informed that there had been a mistake, and the two mile limit was supposed to apply to Hospital A only, given that parking capacity at Hospital B was adequate for all who wanted passes. But the price increase would still apply at Hospital B. And this is where we stand at present, and I hope they will all stop moaning about it soon.

Small flower and bud at base of aspidistra stalks
In other news, my aspidistra is flowering!

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.

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