Friday, 28 December 2007

On holiday soon

Here I am, last post before going on holiday to Cumbria for a week. Long ago I thought I'd like to become a writer, and made some tentative steps in that direction. One of the bits of advice I was given was to write every day - it didn't matter what, just write something. At the time, I felt on some days there simply wasn't anything to write. Now I have more rubbish to put down than there are hours in the day, and I don't think it's because my life is inherently more interesting.

Christmas passed very pleasantly - when I went to lock up for the night, I discovered the front door still locked from the previous night. The pheasant was delicious; we didn't eat the guinea fowl at the time but it's good cold too. Both taste similar to chicken but with an extra something. The state of the kitchen wasn't too disgraceful at all, but I'm still washing up.

Most interesting present was the Internet radio (Mr A's idea). We now have more radios of various types than is strictly necessary: three ordinary tuners (in my room, the living room and the garage), three digital (bedroom, Mr A's room and kitchen) and a spare with shortwave for holidays, in a drawer somewhere. The digital reception in the kitchen is so bad that we sometimes can't use that radio, so we are trying the new Internet one there. It works off the wireless router, there's a delay while the station buffers, and the sound quality is a bit tinny, but at least we can listen to Radio 4 whenever we want (as long as broadband is there). An added bonus is the ability to Listen Again whenever a radio station offers this feature. The downside is that you have to press a LOT of buttons to change to a channel that isn't preset, select 'listen again' or whatever. If it works out, I get to try the digital one in my room.

Today I need to assemble belongings for the week away, and with no pressure to revise I'll probably do more revision that I've done in the last week. It's going quite well; I've done about half and it's about halfway through the holiday. As the actual exam dates approach I expect that extra tension that should allow me to concentrate a bit better, and in Cumbria I won't have the Internet to distract me, just Mr A and Lola II. And Marcus. And Helen and Gail...

Thursday, 27 December 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book coverThe Vesuvius Club
by Mark Gatiss

"Lucifer Box is the darling of the Edwardian belle monde: portrait painter, wit, dandy and rake - the guest all hostesses must have. And do. But few of his connections or conquests know that Lucifer Box is also His Majesty's most daring secret agent, at home in both London's Imperial grandeur and the underworld of crazed vice that seethes beneath."
This has started well; I hope it proves better than my last three book reading attempts. A Christmas present from Mr A.

Image of book coverSemi-Detached
by Griff Rhys Jones

"Semi-Detached is Griff Rhys Jones's own account of his ordinary suburban childhood; of adolescent scraps and scrapes; of coming of age in the 1960s and 70s; of family and university life and of times lost or at least fuzzy around the edges."
I think I'd like to resign from the role of Lola II's book reporter, reading books she's been given so that she doesn't have to. They're mostly rubbish.

That doesn't apply to the books she's given me that she's read and thinks are good. They're mostly good.

This one was rubbish. It would be of interest only to the people who are mentioned in it, or if you were a teenager in Epping in the late 60's. There was a weak frisson when Lola II's school was mentioned, because Griff nearly went to it. The most interesting sentence was on page 295, where he mentions that in 1975, Douglas Adams (who had been at the same secondary school) was living with John Lloyd, who was going out with Griff's sister. Page 295 is a long way to go for an interesting sentence.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Blogs and Christmas take the place of revision

I should be revising. I have been revising, quite a lot really, but yesterday I accidentally stepped into the blogosphere, where a world of blogs have trapped me ever since. I'm not joking - NINE blogs have captivated me, enthralled me, wouldn't let go of me until they had revealed their stories from start to finish. So I did no revision yesterday, and I risk the same fate today unless by force of will alone I abandon my new World of Blogs in favour of the task in hand - getting to grips with the World of Dietary Reference Values. I shall return to those blogs because I need to know how the story continues, and will link to them if such presumption is allowed.

I reached them via Stephen Fry's blog, where I was idly perusing the comments that readers had left. SF has also prompted me to swap from Internet Explorer to Firefox at last, helped by a web-borne threat that AVG anti-virus picked up. One of his commenters was called Richard Madeley, whom I have a soft spot for, so I followed the link and reached a place clearly not inhabited by the real Richard Madeley (but then I didn't expect it to). I have long been looking for some interesting blogs to read as recreation and to give me ideas, and now I have too many. But they are magnificent.

Christmas preparations are still almost non-existent, although Mr A persuaded me to accompany him on his traditional pre-Christmas alcohol and snack buying frenzy. The first time I saw it was an eye-opener, all those years ago. My conservative consumption habits allow a little luxury, especially in the form of quality rather than quantity, but this was one of those times when I simply hadn't realised how it could be done. A 'lightbulb moment', we call it.

Anyway, on Saturday we drove to Sainsburys, where we were surprised to see some chaps in the car park wearing reflective jackets labelled 'Marshal' holding signs saying 'Spaces here'. We ignored them, but it turned out that there were no parking spaces elsewhere, and rather than humble ourselves by going back, we decided that shopping within would be so very unpleasant that we would do it some other time. Mr A's since been into town on foot, which tends to curtail the frenzy somewhat, given he's got to carry it all back himself.

Having agreed to do the Christmas day cooking as well, and never one to go for tried and tested staples, he's bought two pheasants and a guinea fowl. This morning he was sifting through recipes and buying the last few essentials (no, I've never noticed juniper berries on sale anywhere). I know it will be wonderfully tasty, but my imagination shrinks from the vision of what the kitchen will look like after he's been in there for a day.

Friday, 21 December 2007

New Year is approaching

Mr A and I watched an interesting TV programme the other night, which supplied another piece of the obesity jigsaw in respect of bariatric surgery. The programme was about a 55-stone man and his quest for surgery to enable him to reach a 'normal' weight. He had a very supportive family around him, but during the film you caught glimpses of some of the challenges facing him - the food they made for him was traditional high fat fare and no vegetables; his home was a pub; his father used to beat up his mother (and probably the kids too).

He had to lose 10 stone in order to have surgery, and he did it - at which point, halfway through the programme, Mr A and I looked at one another and said "So why not carry on losing weight like that?" In fact, the lady at the slimming club he joined said just the same, but he went ahead with the operation nevertheless. At the end of the programme he'd reached 16 stone, and Mr A and I had utterly changed our minds.

No, he wasn't offered psychological help (at least, none was mentioned other than the slimming club) but we felt it was too late for that. Despite his caring and well-meaning family, he'd never managed to keep weight off in the past, which made me think that perhaps they contributed to his failure, despite their good intentions? Maybe there are cases where nothing but surgery will work? I still think that if psychological help were offered sooner - he'd been in trouble with his weight since a very early age - then perhaps surgery wouldn't have been necessary.

Anyway, I'm still recovering from this horrible cold, while trying to maintain enthusiasm for revision. Luckily I don't get distracted much by preparation for Christmas, because we don't bother doing much preparation for Christmas. We did spend an hour or two on cards, just in time for first class delivery, but too late for Europe. We don't have any decorations or a tree or anyone coming for Christmas dinner, not even The Boy this year. Mr A's agreed to do the dinner while I carry on revising, and I might not even go with him to his parents on Boxing Day (although I haven't ruled it out). So it's revision all the way, which makes it difficult to devote time to this blog. When the revision's going well I don't want to interrupt it, when it's not then I feel guilty spending time on frivolity.

It would be a shame if all four years of the course end up like this. In previous years exams have been scheduled two weeks after the start of term, and everything ends two weeks later in the summer. As it is, lecturers aren't around if you have any questions, taking time out for celebration or any sort of Christmas or New Year holiday really leaves very little available for revision, and booking a week in the Lake District now feels very risky. Next year we're already committed to going away with the usual crowd of friends, and it won't be much fun if I have exams two days after the holiday ends, as I do this time.

Mum brought this cactus over in full bloom in September. Then it shed all its flowers, but now it's produced another lot!

Christmas cactus with pink flowers

Monday, 17 December 2007

Dead, Alive, Not Very Well

Me. Not Very Well. And Mr A - he got it first. I was feeling smug about just having a bit of a sore throat until today, when my nose started dripping in earnest. And I'm sleep deprived, with Mr A waking me at 4am for the last three days running by snoring like some cross between an elephant and a walrus. Bad tempered, me? Surely not.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

End of term

Slides from the fish presentationThat's it - term has ended! The fish presentation went off very well, along with most of the other presentations in my set. Those who had never spoken from the front of a room and confessed to being paralysed with fear were absolutely fine; only the students whose first language was not English struggled badly. Julia and Alix delivered theirs without notes, about mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, and the effect of birth weight on disease later in life. They were really very good. I was a lot more informal, getting the audience involved too (shout out the name of an oily fish!)

I forgot to mention the first Open Day for prospective students and their parents, on Wednesday, when I had my first opportunity to be a Student Ambassador. Because they were short of people I wasn't able to tag along with a more experienced Ambassador on the campus tour, so I was teamed up with another newbie and off we went on our own. The campus is very 'unstructured' with no clear routes to anywhere, so our tour covered about twice as much ground as it should have, to get to all the places we were supposed to show the group. I did find I was talking more to the parents than the students, so I should really pay attention to that! One family I met were farmers from Daventry, whose daughter currently goes to a school where I sometimes play badminton.

To celebrate our survival to the end of term, a group of us older students had arranged to go out for a drink and a curry in Kegworth to celebrate surviving the first term. It was great. Next time I see them will be at the first exam!

Five students in the pub

Shelley, Lizzie, Kate, Julia, Alix

Thursday, 13 December 2007

In reflective mood

While I was toiling away on Mr A's accounts this weekend (for 8 hours!) he was outside fiddling with the car seat. And now it's fixed, for the price of one circlip, rather than £259 for a new seat base + £90 labour + VAT. If it's permanently fixed and will pass muster for the purposes of the MOT, I'm not sure how to feel about the garages that wanted to charge me £350 or the main dealer who agreed with them. My regular garage has always been very pleasant to deal with, and the other garage helped out when the window broke in the summer, but neither was able to diagnose and replace a missing circlip.

Autumn view from a computer roomTerm is coming to an end, and holidays approach, full of revision. I've finished three lots of coursework over the weekend, and the fish presentation is today, and then it's all over until the first exam in January. It's been as interesting as I'd hoped, I've met some lovely people, and learned so much science that I can't believe I ever thought that I was interested in engineering. I was talking to Mr A about that at the weekend - while he was doing his degree in Textiles and Fashion, he was spending all his spare time with cars, and now he's running a business designing websites. I wonder where we'd both be if we'd actually chosen a more appropriate path the first time round.

We were actually discussing this over a pint in the pub next door. We rarely go there any more, preferring to walk up the hill to the Star and Garter, which is much more welcoming. The Cricketers has changed since the new owners took over about two years ago (or was it three?) They introduced a jukebox and a large screen for sports, let the decoration deteriorate, and didn't keep the beer very well. Recently there were times when none of the real ales was available, and then they took one of the three pumps out altogether. The pub is now closed in the afternoons, and at 7pm on Sunday as well. There's never anyone inside when we walk past, and recently (when we were the only customers), the bar staff were having a row. We hardly ever see Fraser the landlord, and there are different bar staff there all the time, although occasionally Nobby and Sue are around. Whether it's the smoking ban or just that a sports bar isn't what's needed round here, it just doesn't look like they can be making any money. Perhaps having the bowlers over the summer means they don't need to try so hard in the winter? Whatever the cause, it's worrying to have a business looking so fragile, especially in the building next door.

Monday, 10 December 2007

What I'm reading at the moment

Image of book coverHave I Got Views for You
by Boris Johnson

"A witty anthology of pieces comprising Boris Johnson's thoughts on everything from the presidency of Tony Blair to the idiosyncrasies of modern British culture. "
This is slightly irritating, because of his arrogant self-important writing, but it's better than that French lapidiary Chinese box affair. I had to give up on that one.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Good news

Having waited so long to hear the good news this will probably be a bit of an anticlimax, but a few nice things did happen last week.

First I heard from an old friend, Mark, who used to work with me at RNIB back in the old days in Liverpool. He left RNIB to work at Mencap and seems to have done very well, and also got married quite recently to Lorna. I wasn't expecting to hear from him out of the blue, but the reason is that he's returning to RNIB, to a job vastly superior to the one he left, but based at the school in north Coventry where I worked until we moved the office to Birmingham. He wanted to know a bit more about the different areas where he could live, so after passing on the bad news about public transport, I recommended Earlsdon. I don't think he's starting for a little while, but it will be nice to have the opportunity to see him a bit more, and to meet Lorna.

On Monday night I went into Birmingham to meet up with Steve and Sally from RNIB. We wandered around the German Christmas Market and had a mug of glühwein before crossing the border to France and having dinner at Cafė Rouge. The gossip from RNIB is always very tame and there's never enough scandal, but the accessibility work we started is still going strong, so that's good. Nobody has been recruited yet to join the team so Sally is completely overwhelmed with work, but she's shown what she can do to the Chief Executive and the Committee.

At school I attended one of the presentation sessions when about 10 students did their presentations. Subjects ranged from Vitamin A in GM rice, to whether a vegetarian diet can be adequate, whether we can delay the effects of aging using nutrition, how to prevent obesity in children, and the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. The quality of delivery was variable, as you'd expect, with my older compatriots being an order of magnitude better than the youngsters. Some of them were pretty good though, and I imagine the girl who brought some real garlic to her talk about the benefits of eating garlic got some extra points for that. Several of them clearly hadn't practised saying things out loud, and one poor girl was so bad that as yet another slide came up, full of impenetrable text, you could feel the whole room sighing. The applause at the end of that one was heartfelt. My fish presentation is scheduled for the last slot in the last session on the last day of term, so I expect I shall experience a huge surge of freedom when it's over!

We actually got some marks back this week. One piece of coursework from Dietetics gained me a 2:1 (very nearly a first), and the other was the Biology multiple choice from last week where I got a tremendous 84%, making me wish it counted for more than 10% of the overall mark for that module. Some of the other students had a very bad time in that exam, especially the ones who hadn't done biology recently. Stop press: today I got another score from another titchy multiple choice test, the one about the rabbit gut, and that mark was even better!

Dad and Mum

I'll just finish up today by putting on record how lovely my parents are. Of course, they're always lovely, but I'm so grateful for their encouragement and support and compliments at the moment, and especially for their phonecall on Sunday!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Weekend in Sleaford

Ooh I'm tired, but it's been a splendid weekend. We journeyed forth to Sleaford in Lincolnshire, where Chris, one of the chaps who took part in the Plymouth-Dakar charity run a couple of years ago, was having his 50th birthday party. Since the African event there have been a couple of reunions that I haven't attended, so this was the first time I'd met any of the people, apart from John who was Mr A's partner in the adventure, and John's wife Sue. It was enormous fun, and this from someone who has a fairly serious aversion to parties of any kind.

After meeting some folks in Chris's house, including his mum and dad (a retired bishop), the main event was held in the function room of an Indian restaurant. Apart from food and drink (blessed by the ex-bishop), there was much musical entertainment, all from Chris and his friends. First up was Jack, a singer with an unfathomable accent (maybe it was Lincolnshire?) who sang a few numbers with a backing karaoke-style track, and had a great voice. The only downside was that it made it impossible to talk, and I'd only just met all these people, so I didn't find out much more about them until several hours later.

After Jack, Chris and various friends played a few songs with guitar, mandolin, violin and drums. The balance was all over the place and they couldn't really hear what they were doing so the tuning was terrible. Then a three-piece 'skiffle' band took a turn, including a guitar, a washboard and a broomstick with a piece of string attached top and bottom that played the bass line, except it didn't really because they couldn't hear themselves very well either. This was all the lead-up to the highlight - Elvis himself! Remarkably similar in physique to the first singer (and to Elvis in his later years) and with a similarly good voice (and he could sing in tune as well) he did a great job attracting people onto the dancefloor, including Mr A and me for the last number of the encore. I always enjoy people's reactions to Mr A's dancing style when they haven't encountered it before. 'Enthusiastic' was how one person put it. Of course, to me it's still unique and endearing, because I love him. And there was enough space on the dance floor for me not to worry about him accidentally hitting someone.

After Elvis had finished, anyone was invited to sing or play, and unfortunately three young lads thought they'd have a go with a song by Green Day, one on guitar and two of them reading the lyrics off a mobile phone, and everyone was much too nice to ask them to stop the terrible noise. Then Chris and his friend Jim had another go on guitars, and then at last all the music stopped so I could talk to some of the other guests, who were great fun. We saw them again at Chris's house this morning, and much friendly derision was directed at Mr A about the video he'd taken on the Plymouth-Dakar trip, and how two years have passed, and still no sign of any edited footage. We've almost agreed to have a party around Mr A's birthday time in August next year, when there might be something to show people. And pigs might fly.

When we got home, not only did I clean the kitchen, hall and shower room floors, but I even went out and washed the car! I put it down to forgetting to take any decaffeinated teabags with us, and therefore consuming as much caffeine in a morning as I'd had in the last six months. Hence my current fatigued state. I know I was going to write about last week's good news, but you'll have to wait a bit longer, and if you're really lucky, I'll still remember what I was going to say.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Bad news

The bad news about the heating came early in the week, one of a succession of events that mean increased expenditure, starting with the car. That saga still continues - the diagnosis of complete replacement of the whole seat base was repeated by the man at the VW main dealer. He also expressed the opinion that it is quite reasonable to have to replace both electric windows after just six years of very occasional use. I tend to disagree. Mr A's had another look at the seat, and we still think that all that's needed is one circlip, which I hope will be addressed this week.

On Saturday night the boiler started to make a loud noise and stopped generating any heat. We had no heating or hot water from Sunday to Thursday, which wasn't too bad for me because I was at school and could exercise and shower at the gym. Mr A had to go for his Driver Refresher Course in Dorset on Tuesday, so took the opportunity to visit friends and use their washing facilities, as well as avoiding three points on his licence. The rest of the time, he just had to live in his room with a fan heater during the day, while we sat on the sofa under a duvet with the fire going in the evening. To be honest, we do that anyway most nights. The boiler's fixed now.

The day after we had that little bit of snow last week, we came down to the kitchen to find that the roof had leaked. The roofer came this morning, and initially thought that we had the option of patching it up. Further inspection, however, revealed clues that all was not well in the layer below the felt, and it's going to need to be completely replaced. This isn't entirely unexpected - when we bought the house, the documents showed the roof had last been maintained in the 1970's, with a predicted lifetime of about 20 years at most.

It hasn't all been bad news this week, in fact there's been some very good news, but I think I'll leave it there and write about the nice things in another post.