Sunday, 30 September 2007

Saturday, 29 September 2007

End of Week One

The week ended with a flourish - my desire was fulfilled and we actually had one serious teaching lecture, at the QMC Medical School in Nottingham alongside other new students who are medics, physiotherapists, midwives, nurses and pharmacists. But more about that later.

Friday was definitely the busiest day of the week, with various talks starting at 9.30 and hardly a break until 4 o'clock. Some of it wasn't that appropriate to me, but it was interesting to hear how the university has to emphasise a few things that were taken for granted years ago - not just the plagiarism stuff, but the fact that you can't re-take exams until you get the mark you want, like you can at A-level nowadays. To be fair, all this heavy stuff about Academic Offences is balanced by lots of reassurance that there's lots of support provided, and tutors seem very approachable. There's also a great deal of emphasis on the adjustments that can be made for people with disabilities, and how you should always talk to your tutor about 'Extenuating Circumstances', for which there is a standard form to complete.

We had a quick whizz around the library systems, I bought my white lab coat and goggles, and we met all the Nutritional Sciences staff in the lab, who pointed out the most important books. And then off to the QMC to hear about Basic Emergency Care, which is actually First Aid for Health Professionals. Yes, Dietitians are classed as Health Professionals, as we were reminded earlier in the day when we were given out application forms for the enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check. So if you collapse when I'm around, I'm expected to step in and do my best to help you out. My advice is to collapse somewhere else.

The illustrative videos and pictures they showed us were 'interesting' although not necessarily 100% relevant and sometimes just for effect. The snooker ball in the oesophagus and the boxer having his leg broken were particularly difficult to look at - please don't view the YouTube clip if you're squeamish. We saw defibrillation in action (on a dummy), checked each other for a carotid pulse, attempted to clear obstructions by compression of the lungs, and laughed in all the right places at the lecturer's jokes. Actually, he was pretty amusing.

So I survived Fresher's week, and the overall impression is as expected: most students are very young, while some are surprisingly mature, and I'm not the oldest in my group by a long way. Some I've met are slightly annoying, and others seem very congenial, and all female in the 1st year undergraduate Master of Nutrition group so far. I'm really looking forward to the serious stuff starting next week!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Freshers' Fayres

The Biosciences department has its own little campus out in the country at Sutton Bonington (near Kegworth for those of you that care, between J23A and J24 of the M1). The main university site is relatively close to the centre of Nottingham, so there are two Freshers' Fayres that apply to me.

I went to the University one on Tuesday, and the SB one on Wednesday. I don't know what I was hoping for, or expecting, but the barrier between me and the university in milage and time is rather high. The nice boy from the University Badminton Society was insisting that even my advanced years and dubious fitness are no barrier to a place on one of the teams, because I am a Lady, and Ladies are rare. Trials are at the weekend, however, and team training and matches will be a long way away.

Same for the film society (called Dark Celluloid for some reason), who show films on a Sunday night in a Nottingham pub. I also found the Mature Students Association, who claim to have a Facebook group, but I can't find it, and the Regional Students Association for people not living in university halls. Joining the Snowsports club costs £20 for the opportunity to have cheap lessons and go on rowdy trips with students - I thought about it, but probably won't. So I made the effort, but I don't think I'll be able to get very involved in university things.

SB campus has its own badminton society, though. I met those people on Wednesday, but the club sessions are on Tuesday night, which clashes with my current club, and Wednesday night when I only have lectures in the morning and have been going to a pub quiz in Kenilworth in the evening. A difficult choice.

Today I had to go in for a session about various aspects of IT, then a huge gap, and over an hour on Plagiarism to end the day. I filled the gap with talking to some more students on my course. Nearly everyone seems to be a mature student, with such different stories about how they got to where they are now. One woman is even older than me - she'll be 60 when she qualifies. She doesn't look like it.

The real students who are 18 and 19 years old are drinking all night and look pale and interesting in the morning; they all seem to have lost their voices too. There was an announcement from the SB Guild before the plagiarism lecture, where they announced the line-up for some awesome gig that's happening in Nottingham on Sunday. To gasps from the assembled masses (there were about 300 people in this session), they read out a list of bands and DJs: "...and can you believe it, we're gonna have The Freaks!! Wow!!" The lecturer about to give the plagiarism talk started by saying that he'd never felt so old in his life. I just found it hilarious.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book cover
The Algebraist
by Iain M Banks
"It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars ... time is one thing Fassin Taak doesn't have, with each passing day bringing the system closer to war..."
This is 'light' reading in between bouts of Biology, but it's not that light and I'm tempted to give it up for something a little less monumental.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

I Am A Student

It's official, term has started with Week One, which is essentially induction and Fresher's Week.

In fact, I made a start last week with a practice run up the motorway to get the route straight, see how long it took, and to try and sort out the parking permit in advance. It wasn't actually necessary - parking is fairly anarchic for the first week, it seems, but I'm glad I went, because it just gave me a bit of orientation, and the unexpected bonus of my official student ID card. So I could go off to the council offices (for the third time) to apply for my Council Tax discount.

The first real day yesterday was a mixture of paperwork, more paperwork, and people standing up at the front of various rooms saying "Welcome" and very little else. I don't deny that the admin needs to be done, but the substantive content of the day was probably about two hours' worth, and I was there from 9.30am to 5.10pm. The compulsory 'Safety lecture' turned out to be about preventing fires in student accommodation, and wholly irrelevant to many of us who'd been told not to miss it. The most annoying part was that it was timetabled for the very end of the day, so it would have been fine to go home at 3pm when all the other meetings had finished.

The good part was meeting my tutor, and the special session for mature students. There are quite a few - a roomful out of 283 new entrants this year, but some of them are hardly mature at all! My timetable until January is better than I'd expected, with no lectures at all on Mondays, saving 20% of travel time and cost, and allowing for late returns from weekends away. Tuesdays and Thursdays run from 9 until 6, although we've been told that it's rare to actually end that late.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Parents' weekend

There's been a lot going on over the weekend - Mr A's parents arrived in Leamington on Friday. They mostly entertained themselves, but we had a great dinner together at Eleven, one of my favourite restaurants in the town.

Lunch on Sunday was the big affair - we hosted the elder Cadneys, elder Loebls, and The Boy and his girlfriend, so that the parents could meet each other for the first time. I'd planned the food so there was nothing to do on the day, which helped me deal with the whole thing. The guests contributed too - The Boy and girlfriend both had a go on the trampoline, and Mr A's dad wanted to see how the remote controlled helicopter performed, so we went to the park. My parents brought cake and strudel. We took photographs.

It went off very well indeed, but I'm so glad it's over.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The weekend continues

Monday became part of the weekend when Lola II took the day off. It was curtain pole time, a simple job involving nothing harder than measuring carefully and drilling two holes for each bracket. Only four holes, what could possibly go wrong?

The measuring was fine, nothing wrong with the measuring at all. Dad had lent us a drill, and said he'd taken out anything that wasn't a masonry bit. There weren't any rawl plugs the right size, but we made a quick trip to the hardware shop to buy some.

To cut a long story short, we ended up with one melted drill bit, one screw head stripped, one bracket securely attached and the other one hopelessly loose, at which point we decided to have lunch and then go out.

After we'd been to the pictures, Lola II and I wandered on to the arranged meeting point in Covent Garden. Much entertainment was provided by the bar staff trying to find, and then charge us, for Stone's Ginger Wine. I don't think it's that well known in Poland.

Andy and I then spent the evening finding out what had happened to each other in the 20 years since we'd last met. There's been a lot. I'm sure we will meet again, but it may be a little while, and in the meantime I really hope that everything goes well for him.

Andy and Lola

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Weekend with Lola II

As usual, Lola II and I managed to have a splendid weekend, full of laughter and silliness and incorporating many of the glorious and mysterious catchphrases that we utilise on these occasions. The purpose of the weekend was just to make the most of my last chance to spend a bit of time down in London before I'm embedded in the library, and also to meet up with Andy, a very old friend that I haven't seen for about 20 years. Of which more later.

We started with a very late lunch, where special guests were Briony and Daphne. Briony's job was then to help us buy some classical music, and in return she received a cake I'd made with the further condition that we were all allowed to try some after lunch.

Today we started by making a very long list of all the things that Lola II needs to do, ranging from re-potting the house plants to facilitating world peace. We started with acquiring a curtain pole and curtain for the spare room, which is where I have to sleep and it's time my room had a curtain rather than a ladder and a sofa cover. The trip to IKEA resulted in a curtain pole but no curtains (out of stock), and a lamp for the spare room. Luckily one of our favourite Japanese restaurants was still open for lunch, so we gorged ourselves on ramen and sushi and other delights before heading back to where the hard work was supposed to begin, via a shop where we hoped to get a large plant pot, but actually bought a shoe rack. This is the sort of fun we like to have.

Lola and the shoe rackWe both needed a rest after such exertions, and it seemed too late to start on putting up the curtain pole, so instead Lola II embarked on a big tidy up. I did plant watering and washing up; there were serious attempts by Lola II to neglect the tidying up in favour of some long story or other, but I reminded her of the need for Focus and Discipline, and worked her until she begged for mercy. Inspiration struck - why not move the microwave to the big hole in the cupboards where the old oven was? Put handbags in the cupboard near the door? Have a basket for keys, phone, travel card? The shoe rack was constructed and shoes ceremonially placed upon it. Decisions were made about disposal of all sorts of rubbish. I mended the shredder. I even let Lola II do all the crossing off the list.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Coffee and lunch with friends

What a splendid day I had yesterday. First of all, Liz Jennings came for morning coffee. Of course she's Elizabeth Smith now, but it felt as if hardly any time had gone by since we were at school together. There wasn't enough time to do more than skim over a few of the highlights of the years since we last met at Andrea's Form I-6 reunion, when we were all approaching 30. We were so lucky to have Mrs Taylor, she was a great teacher and a wonderful lady. She'd told Lizzie that she'd do well to become a teacher, and Liz is just about to embark on the final year of a BA in Early Childhood Studies full-time at Warwick. We talked about my change of career, our families, health and illness - and then all too soon it was time for me to catch the train to Birmingham.

Sally and Steve in front of Cafe SoyaLunch was at Cafe Soya of course, with Sal and Steve. A bit of gossip, catching up on who's done what to whom and how Techshare is shaping up. Carol still struggling to split her time between two full time jobs, and still no recruitment to replace me. We talked about family stuff, anticipating uni - and then the hour was up.

The question of how to occupy myself in Birmingham for an afternoon is an interesting one. The first time I came in for lunch, in July, I went off and saw The Simpsons Movie afterwards, together with rather a lot of children. That was good. The second time, in August, I thought I would check out some light fittings then go to the Birmingham Art Museum, but instead I spent a happy hour at the Blood Donor Centre. This time I considered going to the pictures again, but instead I went shopping. This evil chore was pleasantly interrupted by a very long conversation with Lola (hooray for Orange Magic Numbers), and this must have been a good omen. For the first time in about three years, I found some clothes that fitted me, and I bought the lot. I have a suit, at last!! And it's not because I've changed shape, because I tried two different suits that purported to be the same size, but they weren't at all. Lucky I found the suit that fitted first, because had I tried the other one first I'm sure I would have given up at that point.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Getting ready for uni

The Biology book has been very interesting, and is a bit more detailed than A level after all. There's a whole chapter on plasma membranes which covers some stuff we did (composition, fluid mosaic model, integral and peripheral proteins) but also describes how the two sides of the phosopholipid bilayer have different composition. The technique of freeze-fracture followed by scanning electron microscopy actually allows the two layers to be separated and the surfaces photographed! It also describes the different 'joints' and interfaces you get between cells, which I hadn't thought about before. Some are sealed so that, for example, gut contents can't get round the epithelial layer of cells but has to go through, and others (plasmodesmata) allow cells to exchange contents, particularly in plants.

The suggested reading also mentioned A level Maths, Physics and Chemistry textbooks, and I've borrowed those from Leamington library. I've only looked at the chemistry one so far, and it's very interesting to see what has changed since my A level, 25 years ago. The book describes the probabilistic theory of atomic electrons as well as the old 'shell' theory, and there seems much more emphasis on the shape of molecules - the Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (VSEPR) theory apparently predicts the shapes of simple covalent molecules.

I've been trying to wade through the admin stuff that has arrived from Nottingham University as well as planning for the start of the course. I finally filled in my ePAR about 'What I Did In My Holidays' and all the rest of it, and went through the online registration. Now I have an Intranet login, and an email account that doesn't seem to work yet, and access to all sorts of student-related information. Including classified ads - perhaps someone will want those curtains and the saxophone?

I've been following up the university parking permit, because without it I'll have to pay £5 a day to park on the campus. The online registration didn't feed through to Saturn, which is what the Estate people use to issue parking permits. The IT Helpdesk helped me to get a bit more registered yesterday, but the message still hasn't reached Saturn. They've suggested that I wait a bit longer. After all, we are talking about a distance of quite a few light years.

I've been busy today in a way that hasn't happened for a while. The rate of getting things done has tailed off significantly since the easier things were finished and rather less attractive jobs remain. I think I'll give up on the light fittings for the time being, and it's unlikely that I'll get on to the serious paint issues in the hallway. I did mend the toilet cistern workings when a plastic thingy snapped in the flush mechanism, and chopped more stuff out of the garden - it just keeps growing.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book cover
by Linda R. Berg, Eldra Pearl Solomon, Diana Martin
"Biology is an exciting and dynamic science that affects every aspect of our lives from our health and behavior to the challenging environmental issues that confront us."
...and the book's on the "Suggested Reading" list from Nottingham Uni. I managed to get it second hand without the CD. I'm surprised that it doesn't seem much more advanced than A level so far (but I'm only up to chapter 4 of 55.) I'll probably skip the plant chapters.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Human Biology reunion

Only three of us managed to meet up with Mike, our evening class teacher of the last two years for AS and A level Human Biology. Five photographs were taken: Jo looked good in four of them, Joy was great in two, Mike managed two without his eyes closed, but I didn't come out well at all. So I've had to construct a montage.

Joy and Jo on either side of Mike, the teacherJoy got an A, and Jo got a B, and they deserve a great deal more credit than me with all the difficult family circumstances they had to deal with. Joy's staying at work for the time being and reconsidering whether she'd like to change to radiography after all. Jo would like to do A level psychology, but is having trouble finding a course because so many have been withdrawn, so she may do Maths or Chemistry. Good luck to them, and to the others who finished the two years: Sam, Alison and Donna.

But the star of the show is definitely Michael, whose inspired teaching helped us all enormously. Highlights include:
  • The very first lesson and the deconstruction of the word 'polymorphonucleocyte' - I knew this was a teacher I would get on with;
  • The practical exercises like the comparison of mitosis and meiosis using our hands and fingers as chromosomes, paper chains of nucleotide bases on the lab floor, and unzipping his flies to demonstrate DNA replication;
  • Anecdotes - too many to list! But I won't forget the shaving incident associated with the varicose veins, the suggestion that the cricket team should give their shirts to their wives to distinguish by smell, and the timing of conception of his first child according to biological principles;
  • Mnemonics, even if we suspected that the last word of 'Kindly Please Come Out For Good Sport' was not exactly as reported.

  • Funding for adult part time education is being cut back, and this year Mike's is the only A level course that is being run part time in the evening at Solihull College. It will probably be the last AS intake. He keeps threatening to retire, so this might be his opportunity, although it will be a huge loss to the college and its students. I was very lucky to have started the course when I did, and even more fortunate to have Mike as the teacher!

    Tuesday, 4 September 2007

    Curtains and other trading activity

    I haven't done a great deal that's constructive for a week or so. My trip into the loft to get the saxophone down revealed a whole pile of curtains that we'd presumably put there 'just in case'. As well as getting the saxophone valued - £250 in case anyone would like to buy it - I've been tidying up the curtains, washing and ironing them to assess whether there's any value there. Four pairs might net me £100 altogether through local paper small ads if I'm lucky; one pair from Mr A's old flat in Burnage is in no fit condition to sell but so far I've had no takers from Freecycle.

    I also found a vintage 1985 squash racquet (wooden) that I thought might produce takers on ebay, but other similar artifacts don't seem to be attracting any offers. I'm not sure where else to dispose of it, other than to a theatrical company as a prop. Other loft-based treasures included the manuscript of the 'book' about my time in Israel I wrote in 1988 - I haven't got round to reading any of it yet - and a pair of high heeled boots. I can't imagine why they would be in the loft. I tried them on for a laugh - 'mutton dressed as lamb' was the phrase that sprang to mind as I looked in the mirror. I must have loved them dearly once, to have kept them for so long and even repaired the heels with electrical insulating tape.

    The other fruitless task that has kept me busy is the search for new light fittings for my room. I suppose that half the problem is that I begrudge spending money on any non-essentials at the moment, but I really can't find anything that I like much anyway. I actually suppressed my thriftiness for long enough to splash out on a new camera, although the old one will still work intermittently if I smack it on the side when it won't recognise the memory card. And the bumph from Nottingham Uni finally arrived, with a list of suggested books, and I managed to get the main one second hand. Pity I can't sell the curtains, the old squash racquet and the saxophone through good old Amazon.

    So I'm eagerly anticipating learning how to use the new camera. I need to read through the Nottingham stuff a few more times too, to understand all the things I'm supposed to do in the new world of e-university. It mentions filling in something called an ePAR, getting an ID card, registering online, buying sports club membership and a parking permit... At least I don't have to decide on optional courses, everything's compulsory for dietetics in the first year (or Master of Nutrition, as they call it). Only three weeks away now - my holiday is nearly over!

    Monday, 3 September 2007

    Bernadette and Hugh

    Hugh and BernadetteI had another lovely visit to Hugh and Bernadette - no fresh orange juice this time, but a pub lunch near Dunham Massey. We had a quick round of whist after lunch, too. Bernadette looked somehow better this time, although I think she was seriously tired after lunch. We did the trip in the brand new adapted Kangoo, but both this and the previous vehicle seem to have the major flaw that there's no assistance or winch arrangement to help the pusher get the wheelchair inside. I keep trying to find ways to help out, but there seems to be nothing for me to do! They'll just have to suffer repeated visits, although I don't know what the new term will bring in the way of spare time for travel.