Monday, 29 October 2007

Loss of a cleaner, gain of a waterproof roof

We've been abandoned by our cleaner. I had the feeling that all was not well - Josie or her husband would ring, or she would just not turn up, or the time would change at short notice, or the day. It's certainly been a luxury having someone else clean the house, and we considered carefully whether to retain this expense while cutting back on everything else. We decided it was worth it, but even so, there were certain disadvantages. Josie had particular views on where things should be kept, and there was no point in fighting it - the toilet bleach lives in the cupboard under the sink, no matter how often it was moved to the bathroom. We often 'lost' things on cleaning day, only to find them 'tidied' into unexpected places. We won't be able to blame Josie if we lose things from now on. And we'll have to clean the house ourselves unless we find a replacement.

The good news is that Alf the builder turned up early this bright, cold morning, and climbed up to inspect the hall roof from the outside. Luckily it was obvious where the water was getting in, and he checked all along the join between the hall roof and the house wall and fixed the flashing properly. What a relief! We have so many little jobs that are difficult to get round to, we don't know many reliable workmen, and I feel guilty because we should be able to diagnose and fix some of these things ourselves, but it's the last thing we want to do on the one day a week that we don't work. Thankfully Alf came on personal recommendation from neighbours, and it was all done in an hour.

So now there are only a hundred and one jobs still waiting. We've already arranged for Adrian to sort out the loft insulation that was so badly done by the dreadful Mark, and fix the loft ladder that was botched by the similarly dreadful Tim, and fit us with a hatch door. There's a good reason why Mark charged so little, even if he did listen to Radio 4. He only really liked painting, so did as little preparation as he could get away with, and the mess he made was world-beating. I love the story from Richard, back when Mark was painting their living room. They were very careful to make him use a dustsheet to try and minimise the amount of mess. At the end of the day as he was packing up, he picked up the dustsheet and shook it out carefully in the living room, before folding it up and putting it away.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Rotherham? ROTHERHAM!?!!!?

We all know where Rotherham is. No? Well it's north of Sheffield, and that's in Yorkshire, nearly Scotland. And Rotherham is where they're sending me for my 4 weeks clinical placement in August, despite my preferences being for Northampton and Leicester (they aren't anywhere near Scotland). I'm a bit pissed off.

Apart from that, everything's going quite well. It was a serious Biochemistry practical this morning, where we did things that scientists do. We took bits of DNA and 'ran' them on a gel and then looked under UV light to see the distinctive 'bar code' pattern. While that was running (it takes about 2 hours) we did some other stuff to analyse a mixture of a large coloured chemical and a small colourless one - they mix them together in the prep room, we separate them out again in the lab. Such is the life of a first year student, nothing ground-breaking, just learning to use a fancy pipette to measure in microlitres.

My draft essay passed muster with just a couple of suggestions, like the inclusion of pictures. Not of fish, unfortunately, so now I've got to find or draw something that resembles an omega 3 fatty acid. I bravely offered some of my fellow students a session on how to use the referencing software for their essays, and they seemed to be pleased with how it went.

While I hope this all sounds quite interesting, I haven't dwelled on the less thrilling aspects, like the talk yesterday from a recent graduate who's been working for Northern Foods. I thought it would be fascinating and an insight into how food is designed and produced commercially, but it was more a summary of her career and the different jobs she's had and how well she's done. She seemed pleasant enough but it wasn't what I was hoping to see.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

My fellow students

I think I've mentioned that there are about 35 students doing the four year Master of Nutrition course that I'm on. Most of the time we're sharing lectures with a hundred others who are doing 'ordinary' Nutrition, Environmental Biology, Microbiology, Agricultural Science, Biochemistry, Food Science and so on. We have one session to ourselves to do Dietetic-related things, and I find that I still don't recognise about half of those present. There are a few who I hang out with, and unsurprisingly we are the older ones and people not living on campus, because we don't have rooms to hide in and we tend to hang around in the cafe and library, and get to lectures early.

These mature students have reached this course in all sorts of ways: changing from unsatisfying employment, poor choice of degree first time round, divorce, full employment, an interest in food, FE science degree access courses. One or two are married, some have children, some have actually bought local property and moved to Nottingham. After just three weeks of lectures, most of them seem to be going through a crisis of confidence at the moment.

I'm half supportive and half exasperated: you've beaten off the stiff competition for places: surely it makes sense to keep going beyond three weeks? Nottingham academics have confidence in your ability: that should count for something, shouldn't it? Is it just typically British females whose first thought is "All these other people must be cleverer than me, I just can't do it" rather than "I'm just as good as them, and age and maturity are on my side"? I wish some of them had overheard the youngster asking the lecturer today how to conduct a search for some information about her essay topic, when a draft is supposed to be handed in in two days' time. My older friends have been researching since the moment they were told their essay title.

And yet I remember halfway through my degree first time round I went to my personal tutor and suggested that Engineering wasn't such a good idea for me. I wonder now what would have happened if he'd considered the idea seriously rather then pouring cold water on the idea of changing to another course.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

New Biochemistry textbook

Image of book cover
by Berg, Tymoczko and Stryer
"The IF2-GTP-initiator-tRNA complex binds with mRNA (correctly positioned by the Shine-Dalgarno sequence interaction with the 16S rRNA) and the 30S subunit to form the 30S initiation complex."
This is the book I collected from Waterstones yesterday. At least there are plenty of 'pictures' (if you can call a diagram of the ribosomal nucleotide sequence a picture). I can't believe I'm trying to understand this stuff. But I am.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

End of another week

I'm really surprised about how little time I have during the week for 'leisure pursuits' such as updating this blog. I thought that being a student would be a bit of a doss for the first year at least, and perhaps it is for the kids who are busy having fun away from home for the first time. It would take up all my time if I let it, probably because I want to squeeze all the juice out of every subject.

In theory, I have all of Monday and two afternoons free, as well as the weekend. I've been playing squash one afternoon, and all the other free time plus some at the weekend has been full of homework. The fish essay is coming on nicely, although I'm finding it difficult to write the thing and stop following up leads to new information. In case you're interested, fish intake plays a part in neural development, but there's no effect on IQ as adults except to impair brain function if you regularly consume fish that contains methylmercury.

One lecture this week was about genetic modification of plants: herbicide-resistant soya, golden rice and so on. The GM businesses' big mistake was to withhold information from the public about which soya was GM and which wasn't, which just made everyone suspicious. In fact, while there are risks of cross-fertilisation with wild plants, and possible effects on wildlife, these would probably be accepted by consumers if they trusted the suppliers to tell the truth.

The plant biology practical on Tuesday was not great, with five simultaneous experiments to do within two hours. I'm still not sure what I was supposed to learn from it, and will have to spend time reviewing what it was all about.

The highlight this week was the second (and final) part of the Basic Emergency Care course, where we revised the main points of last time's assessment of an unconscious patient and CPR, and moved forward into dealing with choking, and systematic evaluation where the patient is conscious. We had some splendid fake wounds to stick on - the burn was particularly disturbing - and I dealt with lacerations caused by an arm going through a window, putting a lovely bandage and sling on my patient.

The Biochemistry textbook I ordered has arrived, and it's two inches thick with tiny writing. Daunting.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Car rant

I'm not feeling very rich at the moment, what with giving up work and everything, and the car seems intent on sucking up every spare penny. The insurance came up in October, and Mr A's extra speeding points meant lots more on the premium, although I did manage to negotiate it down a bit. [Good news today though: Dorset police are offering him a driving course instead of three points and a fine, which is great.] Replacing the window mechanism in the summer was £200, then it needed new wishbone bushes and axle bushes along with a main service (more than £500), and this week it had to have new brakes and a tyre (more than £300). The seat mechanism has broken, which I thought would be a small job, and it turns out that it needs a whole new seat base for about £300 and it's an MOT requirement. I had a huge rant at the poor man at the garage, which I have to say he dealt with very well, but there's no getting round it. I just hope nothing else goes wrong in the motoring department, because my budget is creaking around the edges.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Highlights and lowlights

The time is flying by: with lectures and travelling time and my ongoing fitness push I hardly have any spare time during the week. It's mostly been fun, although I had a dull lecture this week for the first time. The lecturer was using too much technology, breaking up the flow of the information by changing the colour of the pen through the software and using the eraser tools and so on. A lot of the time I was willing him just to get a move on.

I had my first practical, and they eased us in gently with sex-linked genes in Drosophila melanogaster, including a bit of talking from the front and then inspection through the microscope for the phenotypic characteristics. Not taxing at all. I also have an essay to write: "Fish intake and IQ". I have to produce a draft within a fortnight, then the final version, and then deliver a 10 minute presentation to a few of the students and tutors. Considering I've done presentations lasting an hour to rooms containing several hundred people, I'm not too nervous about it.

As well as continuing with my hour in the gym each day, I've joined the campus squash club. This isn't the university one, just a few people informally on a Wednesday afternoon. I last played squash competitively at university the first time round, where Squalid and I used to play before lectures in the morning - that was in 1986 or so. I took my nephew David to a local club once when he was visiting a year or two ago, but apart from that I haven't played at all. Well, this time round, my incredibly competitive nature meant that I managed to beat some of the others, who weren't even born in 1986, but my age and dubious fitness meant that they could probably have played on while I had to stop and remember how to breathe.

Mr A was away in Italy playing on motorbikes this week, and returned in the early hours on Friday morning. He had a great time, and didn't break anything on the bike or himself, so that was good news. The weather has turned so cold and autumnal that it's definitely time to put the trampoline away for the winter; we've taken a delivery of logs and the open fire is back in use.

Friday, 12 October 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book cover
Changing Eating and Exercise Behaviour: A Handbook for Professionals
by Paula Hunt and Melvyn Hillsdon

"Helping clients to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle involves not only the ability to give accurate and up to date advice but also the skills to motivate clients to act upon such advice."
This is from the Dietetics reading list and is pretty readable, although written in 1996 and apparently not updated since then. Perhaps the messages remain the same, although it would be nice to know if the theories proposed are actually effective. Maybe I'll have time to look into it further.

Image of book cover
How to Talk to a Widower
by Jonathan Tropper

"When Doug Parker married Hailey - beautiful, smart and ten years older - he left his carefree Manhattan life behind to live with her and her teenage son, Russ, in the suburbs. Three years later, Hailey has been dead for a year, and Doug, a widower at 29, just wants to drown himself in self-pity and Jack Daniels."
This was a very quick read, but emotionally draining. Novels that contain difficult themes will usually have a couple of moments where the reader will be reaching for a hankie. It's pitifully easy to make me cry; just thinking about something a little bit sad will do it, and I had the kitchen roll to hand all the way through for this one. I felt rather resentful by the end; it seemed a bit unnecessary to lay it on quite so thick.

Image of book cover
The Moonstone
by Wilkie Collins

narrated by Walter Covell et al
"When Rachel Verinder inherits the Moonstone, a huge and priceless diamond, her delight turns to dismay when the gem disappears. But this is no ordinary theft. Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard is called in and immediately suspects an intricate plot."
Just started this, my second audio book. What with the course books, audio downloads and ordinary books I've got four or five on the go at the moment, not to mention about 20 podcasts lined up. Bliss!

The Algebraist
I mentioned this book in an earlier post. Mr A bought it when he was stranded and bookless somewhere, and he didn't get beyond the first chapter. I finished it, despite the weight, and the last 50 pages out of 500 were quite exciting. My niece has written a rather good Dr Who story that involves a large number of characters with interesting names and physical characteristics. She might enjoy the complexity of the plot, so I will offer it to her. Not my cup of tea at all.

Friday, 5 October 2007

One week of Dietetics

It's been a long week, with introductions to and lectures within the five modules that comprise the first semester's work. "Introduction to Dietetics" is a double module worth twice the marks of the others, then there's Biochemistry, "Food Manufacturing, Nutrition and Health", Genetics and Cell Biology, and Whole Organism Biology. The various lecturers have been very different in their style and speed of presentation, although everything's pretty well supported with online resources and copies of presentations, mostly available in advance so far.

[By the way, for those who query the use of the word 'semester': there are two semesters in the academic year, but three terms.]

The Intro to Dietetics module is the only one where the 35 or so first-year MNutr students are on our own. All the rest are in large lecture theatres holding the 250 people who are doing one or other of the Biosciences courses - Food Science, Microbiology, Nutrition, Environmental Biology and so on. They don't half cough a lot. That's probably the worst thing, plus the worry that I might catch something because it definitely won't be much fun being ill, and there's little scope to stay in bed and miss a few days.

We've already been asked to express a preference for the Clinical Placement that lasts for four weeks in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, because I've chosen a university that is some distance from my home, so are all the placement options. The three nearest are in Northampton, Kettering and Leicester, so I've asked for one of those, but there are no guarantees. I might be sent to Barnsley or Doncaster - if not this time, then potentially on one of the other two placements, which last 12 weeks. No chance of commuting to those locations.

I'm also having to battle with the authorities around funding - not for the tuition fees, which the NHS has confirmed it will pay, but for additional bits and pieces that would just make life easier. Other students in similar circumstances on my course have been offered some of the Maintenance Loan options and some additional dosh beyond the tuition fees, but it looks like I'll have to start writing some letters to the relevant offices, because phone calls have not been effective so far.

On the leisure side, joining the badminton club is hopeless because they meet late in the evening on days that I don't have afternoon lectures. I've toyed with the idea of staying on and working, but when lectures are over by noon and the club doesn't start until 8pm, that's an awful lot of time to spend in the library. So instead, I've been going to the gym, just to work up a sweat and perhaps lose a few pounds, setting a good example to those I may one day advise on health-related matters. It's nowhere near as much fun as badminton, but my trusty ipod makes it bearable. They're building a new sports hall at the moment that should be ready after Christmas, which I hope will improve the shower facilities...

For the weekend, I've got some books out of the library from the recommended reading list, just to show willing. There's one assignment I could make a start on, and I need to go over the notes of one lecture where the lecturer spoke so concisely and went so fast that if you blinked (or someone coughed) then you missed something. Have I mentioned how annoying all the coughing is? But I'm mostly going to relax a bit over the weekend, because I'm quite tired now.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book cover
The Deeds of the Disturber
by Elizabeth Peters

Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
"When a night watchman mysteriously dies in front of the mummy Lady Henutmehit in the Egyptian room of the British Museum, Victorian Egyptologist Amelia Peabody Emerson is on the scene with her trusty parasol, ready to do battle with the malignant mummy."
My first audio e-book of my monthly Audible subscription, bought with some of my birthday money from Lola. Now I can listen to unabridged books on the ipod during journeys to and from Nottingham, as well as all my podcasts, music and the occasional burst of Radio 4. I used to love talking books when I commuted between Manchester and Liverpool, and I'm really enjoying the experience again.