Wednesday, 30 January 2008

My blogging addiction

Computer room on campusThis is getting serious; I'm neglecting schoolwork because I've now subscribed to thirty-two blogs. Five foodie sites, one from Audible the audiobook people, a couple of 'professional' ones about food and dietetics, and twenty-four individual people's musings.

Luckily, some are more prolific than others. Quite a few hardly post more than once a month, but many have something to say at least once every day, and sometimes two or three times. With Google Reader to show me who's offering something new, it's hard to resist taking a peek when I should really be thinking about doing the assessment on the use of Access databases that is due next week.

What's frustrating me now is deciding whether to stick with the same set of blogs that I'm reading at the moment, or to seek out others, which would mean unsubscribing from some of my existing ones, because I can't take any more on without sacrificing my university career.

Speaking of my university career, I've been asked to write a 400-word piece for a Biosciences newsletter that is sent to all applicants in March, to convince them to come to study at Nottingham. I even get paid - but the deadline is tight. Another reason I shouldn't be spending time reading (or writing) blogs.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Random Badgers are the winners!

At last, after about nine months of serious attempts at winning the pub quiz in the Green Man, Kenilworth, we finally did it. We managed a second place just before Christmas but this time was the real deal - first place, and ten whole pounds in vouchers to spend behind the bar. The core Badgers were in attendance, with J (nearly a regular now) and Mr A on one of his rare visits, plus a first-timer. We'll really be splashing out on elderflower cordial next week. Not many pubs serve that particular tipple, but hooray for the Green Man looking after its driving patrons.

Apart from that, I've had a whole week of the new term, with six new modules to get to grips with. Data Transfer, Analysis & Presentation, more Biochemistry, Food Safety, Animal Physiology, Nutrition, and Food & Catering. We've even had two assignments already - we all took the test for Food Safety Certificates today, and there was an online test to make sure we all knew how to use the computer - the easiest 5% I'll ever earn.

So far it seems much more relevant than last term's modules - nothing on plants this term (except photosynthesis), and most of the time we've actually been talking about food or closely related subjects (admittedly, it's been mostly food poisoning so far). The downside is the timetable - for four weeks I'll have the grand total of one hour's lectures on a Tuesday, from 2 till 3pm. I'm hoping to see the module convenor about that, and if he can't help then Dipti's offered to record the lectures for me.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A week in the life...

This is something I wrote in 1991, while I worked for the NHS in Manchester. I actually submitted it for publication in the Health Service Journal, but they lost it twice (or said they did) and I couldn't be bothered to follow it up. I haven't changed a word. Those were the days of dot matrix printers and long before mobile phones... how did we manage?


I arrive at work on time. Doctors, admin staff and patients alike are waiting on the path in the rain because Security have neglected to disable the alarm and open the building, but we are assured they are on their way. Two trips to the telephone box round the corner and they arrive to let us in.

My weekly phone call to the department clerk who deals with ordering. I have received order acknowledgements for two orders placed a month ago! One is for ribbons for two printers - it lists the wrong printers and both quantities are incorrect. The other is for floppy disks - both quantities and type of disks are wrong and the order acknowledgement is addressed to the wrong department. I am advised to add my corrections and send them back. These will probably be the only orders which will be delivered on time, before the corrections have reached Supplies. No sign of tissues ordered five months ago.

A breakthrough - we have taken possession of a kitchen made vacant by the relocation of some staff and patients. We no longer have to fill kettles or wash up mugs in the hand basin in the toilet. We "acquire" four armchairs, and wonder how to cover up the seat cushion of the one which has been wee'd on.

Otherwise a quiet day - the switchboard does not break down today.


The switchboard breaks down today. Despite threats and physical violence it does not cease emitting an unbearable whistle. The engineer is called: he is long retired and does BT a favour by servicing our exchange, since no current telephone engineer is trained in the obsolete mechanisms of our dinosaur. The box containing the fault is behind a large bookcase - we call the porters to move it.

My bin has not been emptied and the toilets have not been cleaned for four days. The cleaning supervisor tells us that the cleaners are refusing to come and clean our building since it is some way from the main hospital site and the nights are drawing in. She says that the post will be advertised and as soon as it is filled we can expect to be cleaned straight away.

We call the porters again. They tell us that our request for the bookcase to be moved does not directly relate to patient care and as such is not a priority. Our receptionist tells them that if she throws the switchboard out of the window, patient care will be compromised as emergency calls may become hard to make or receive. Eventually we persuade them that having an operational telephone system does directly relate to patient care.

The medical secretary due to start on Monday phones to say that on second thoughts she would prefer not to take the job. We prepare to go through a third round of interviews (nobody suitable could be chosen from the first round). The post has now been vacant for four months. Lets hope cleaners are easier to employ.


Both our clerical staff are ill. One phones from home, the other is in great pain but cannot leave the office until cover has been arranged by the main department's clerical staff, otherwise there would be nobody to answer the phone or man the reception area. Grudging cover is arranged and relief arrives at midday.

I turn up early for the departmental audit meeting. Unfortunately the meeting started 1/4 hour ago so I am late. I am told that it was decided at the last meeting - this is unlikely since I am the secretary of the meeting and I wrote the minutes.

A circular has arrived instructing us to monitor the length of time that patients wait for their appointments, for each appointment for each patient for a month. There is a form with a box for the booked time and a box for the time the appointment starts. There is no box for the time the patient arrives, nor for appointments where the patient does not turn up at all.

The empty house next door has been broken into for the second time in a week. I consider taking my computer home for the weekend. At 4pm I have to vacate my room anyway - a patient is seen there weekly because there are no spare rooms anywhere else.


I arrive at work early. I am met by a security man who demands to know whether I took my computer home. I admit that, worried about the building's security, I did in fact take the main body of my computer away, but not the monitor, keyboard and printer. He informs me that there has been a break-in and the monitor, keyboard and printer have therefore been stolen. I am upset, but glad that the programs and files are not lost, and since the value of the machine is over £1000 it is insured.

I phone our departmental clerk to chase the order which I placed five weeks ago for computer security cables to secure my machine to an immobile object. I find out that it has been lost and the items must be re-ordered from scratch.

I contact the finance department about claiming for the lost equipment under our insurance. They say that because the items stolen are worth less than £1000 we can make no insurance claim. I consider leaving the main computer body outside the front door, with a sign saying "You forgot this".

The switchboard breaks down again and will not whistle or ring even if there is an incoming call. One admin person has to sit next to it and watch for the switches to light up.


I receive costings for the purchase and installation of a local area network with five outlets, to be used for compiling a database to help with patient administration. This should relieve the Service Manager of the burden of writing out the waiting list by hand once a month. I ask everybody I know how to apply for authorization to spend £7000 on such a project. Nobody has the slightest idea. I wonder whether to hold a sweepstakes on the number of weeks we would retain possession of our computers, were we able to buy them.

Three filing cabinets arrive at the front door. The delivery men bring them into the waiting room: they say they cannot take them upstairs to the room where they are needed because their job is Delivering. We phone the porters.

A patient being seen in the room next to mine becomes very agitated and breaks a window. He gradually calms down and eventually agrees to be admitted to his local hospital which is not the one where I work. We call the non-emergency ambulance (emergency vehicles can only deliver patients to the nearest hospital), and a glazier. After an hour and a half we cancel the ambulance and call a taxi. The glazier has already been and has fixed the window.

I teach the last session of a six-week word processing course, which I have organised informally within the department. "This lesson will be largely theoretical," I say, "since you no longer have a computer to practise on". I contact the group who were going to start on a new course next week.

The telephone system has broken down again.


We phone the porters since our filing cabinets are still blocking the waiting room. They tell us that our request for the filing cabinets to be moved does not directly relate to patient care and as such is not a priority.

Monday, 21 January 2008

What I'm reading at the moment

I couldn't finish the Barry Humphries book, and started to feel a bit low about all the bad books that are out there and that I seem to be encountering at the moment. It's because I'm reading other people's choices - too many presents and none of my own selection for months. Then I fired up one of my Audiobooks on the way to London.

Image of the book cover
The Uncommon Reader
by Alan Bennett

narrated by Alan Bennett
"It was the corgis' fault. When they strayed through the grounds of Buckingham Palace, the Queen discovered the City of Westminster travelling library. The Queen has never had much time for reading - pleasure's always come second place to duty - 'though now that one is here I suppose one ought to borrow a book.'"
A treat, a delight, at last something I've really enjoyed. If anything, too short - it was over by the time I'd got halfway back up the M40.

Image of the book cover
Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park
edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp

"Bletchley Park was arguably the most successful intelligence operation in world history, the top scecret workplace of the remarkable people who cracked Germany's vaunted Enigma Code. Only now, nearly half a century since the end of the Second World War, have any of the men and women in this group come forward to tell this remarkable story in their own words - a story that an oath of secrecy long prevented them from revealing."
Mr A and I are going on a guided visit to Bletchley Park in May, and he left this lying around the house so I thought it would be useful background. Hard going, since I'm not particularly au fait with military protocol or terminology, even with the help of the glossary.

Image of the book cover
Leave it to Psmith
by P.G. Wodehouse

narrated by Jonathan Cecil
"The idyll of Blandings Castle is about to be disturbed, for the Hon. Freddie Threepwood is poised to make his debut as a jewel thief. Freddie, however, is not alone: Blandings is simply brimming with criminals and impostors all intent on stealing Aunt Constance's £20,000 diamond necklace."
Now that term has started, and it looks like I'll have to drive to Nottingham and back five times a week, I should be getting through audiobooks at quite a rate.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

An enjoyable excursion

I thought I would get a lot done once the exams were over and I had a few days of freedom, but when it came to it I didn't do very much at all. During the day I revelled in catching up with bloggy, podcasty and computery things, and in the evenings I played badminton, returned to the pub quiz (only 7th, mainly due to a poor choice of joker round), and went out to dinner with Mr A to celebrate the end of exams (not that we really need an excuse). I also attempted the Truly Magnificent Chicken Curry, but mine only came out OK.

I've spent the last few days doing Good Deeds. Good Deed #1 was donating blood. Cleaning the kitchen and the hall floor might not count towards the official tally of Good Deeds, but it felt good afterwards. Then off to London to visit mum and dad, and to perform a wide variety of Good Deeds, mostly computer-related. I visited each computer in turn, and both received an installation of AVG anti-virus software to replace Norton, and Mozilla Firefox browser to complement IE. We went through mum's list of queries, and dad now has a blog of his own. When he asked Lola II why she doesn't join the exalted ranks of the blogorati, she quite rightly said, "I have a life."

On Saturday I hit Lola II with AVG and Firefox, and marvelled anew at how incredibly slow her PC and broadband connection are. It's lucky she has a fast-paced life that makes up for it. Our supper trayAs usual we ate a load of Japanese food, then she bought me a nice massage, I 'helped' her with the washing up, we watched a couple of episodes of 'Sex and the City', and then the film 'Armageddon'. For supper, we had another feast: peas, M&S lemon cheesecake, a glass of wine and a mug of Redbush tea. We really know how to have a good time. Really.

Now I'm back home, vaguely contemplating the jobs I didn't get round to, but actually returning to the computer instead, to blog and to read blogs. I'm looking forward to going back to school tomorrow, starting with the relatively uninteresting new topic of 'Data Transfer, Analysis and Presentation' and more Biochemistry, before getting into Food Safety, Nutrition, Physiology, and Food and Catering towards the end of the week. It will be nice to see my fellow student friends again, too.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Blog etiquette

Since my displacement activity took me way out into the blogosphere, I have been rewarded by one or two return visits from other bloggers. This is quite the most amazing thing that the blog has done - my self-indulgent choice to write down stuff that I'm doing for other people to read has led to just that, other people reading it. Who'd have thought?

And I bask in the gratitude of my parents, who must have spent years wondering what I get up to and why I don't talk to them about anything I do. I don't talk to anyone about anything I do. Either it's embarrassing, or not their business, or unimportant, or just not interesting. Nothing I've written in this blog is particularly important, I just try to make it as interesting to read as possible, and sometimes I find a nice turn of phrase that adds some spice.

[Actually, I do talk to Lola II about stuff, but she has an incredibly high boredom threshold and doesn't seem to mind hearing about unimportant uninteresting stuff. And she's very good at asking questions.]

Most of all, I'm writing things down that may be fun to remember in years to come, a combination of a photo album and a diary. But a very selective diary, given that absolutely anyone can come and have a look, and can even leave me comments. And that has taken me into the world of blog etiquette - must I comment on the comments? It seems polite to thank people for taking the trouble to leave a note, and that is what is commonly done elsewhere, but I can't bring myself to leave a comment that says "Thanks for leaving your comment, I really appreciate it" because, well, I'm not sure why I don't want to do it. It's just A Bit Much.

So if I still have readers from the blogosphere, I really am grateful for your comments but I can't bring myself to thank you in a comment, except if there's something else to say as well. I'll just visit your blogs and comment there. I'm almost ready to include a few blogs in my links list, and I hope that will stand as thanks as well.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

What I'm reading at the moment

image of the book coverWomen in the Background
by Barry Humphries

"He's risen above his unexceptional origins in Australia to become the toast of the London stage and a top-rating television performer ... Slowly at first, then with frightening speed, Derek Pettyfer's frayed life unravels, helped by sadistic dentists, fetishistic secretaries and the ugly-spirited beautiful people who infest great cities."
Another Christmas present from Mr A; all right so far but I've got a bad feeling about how the story will go, given the cover quote.

Monday, 14 January 2008


Other than for multiple choice tests, past exam papers are available. Naturally we become intimately familiar with them, noting style, format and content in order to judge what are most likely topics to appear this time.

The Biochemistry exam offers four questions of which two must be answered. For the last five years, one question has been on carbohydrates, one on lipids, one on nucleic acids and one on enzymes, except the enzyme one has always been impossible, as it was this year. Only when brushing my teeth in the evening did I realise that I'd drawn and described an ester bond instead of a glycosidic bond in the carb question.

The Whole Organism Biology exam requires ten questions to be completed in an hour, and the past four years' papers have repeated about five of the questions. I had my annotated drawing of the heart all ready, but in the event it wasn't needed. Luckily I'd practised drawing the hormone levels for the menstrual cycle, and the cross-section of the brain, but nothing this time on open and closed circulation (arthropods and molluscs have open circulation, where there is no separation between blood and lymph, in case you care).

Then Dietetics this morning, and it's all over at last! Not too bad today, although I think I might have got the Atwater factor wrong for carbohydrates (how many kcal there are in a gram). Now I'm off to make soup, clean the kitchen floor, renew the sealant in the shower, find a new string for the electric blanket, pay the builder for the kitchen roof, book a service for the car and put a whole lot of stuff on Freecycle to see if I can clear some space in my room. I might even need more shelving...

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Return via Carlisle and Altrincham

The holiday feels like a long time ago now. M and Mr A both left us on 2 January, M to visit friends, Mr A to nurture his business. He gets very twitchy if it's left without him for any time, as if it were a delicate flower. Which I suppose it is.

It snowed! I love snow. We slushed our way to Carlisle and looked for somewhere to eat. We're picky about where we eat - it's got to suit both of us, and there are no hard and fast rules, although if there's anything Japanese or soup-based then I'm inside before you can say "Café Soya".

Carlisle had nothing Japanese or soup-based. In fact it had nothing at all that suited our mood, and I think we walked around most of the main roads in the town. We nearly settled for a Chinese buffet but thought we would both eat too much, and then after joking that surely this town would have a Café Rouge or Pizza Express, we stumbled upon Pizza Express, and that was where we ended up. I tend to sneer at restaurant franchises, but at least you know what the quality will be, and clearly they're handy as a last resort.

Then we went to see the new film 'Enchanted' - the afternoon showing with loads of kids and their parents. I probably enjoyed it even more than they did. Lovely film. Onwards to food and games with Helen & Gail, and Lola II inadvertently provided entertainment for the dogs when she emerged wearing those pink fluffy slippers - the best toy they'd seen this side of Christmas.

The last leg of the journey was home via Altrincham and a visit to Hugh and Bernadette. Hugh was very excited about the new 'standing up' machine, and I agreed to be a guinea pig so he could practise (he's not yet allowed to operate it on Bernadette). It's really clever, especially when it sits you back down on a chair. We also saw the new hoist at the back door of the flat (it's huge, much bigger than I expected) and the adapted bathroom.

When I got home, we had a new kitchen roof. They'd worked on it flat out for two days, and the previous roof was in bits on the lawn because we'd economised by not hiring a skip. It's all in the back of Mr A's van now (that was an hour of backbreaking work), ready to go to the dump at some point. Richard had watched them working from his attic, he told us, and it had looked good.

And then I carried on revising.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The delightful company of Lola II and Marcus and the Truly Magnificent Chicken Curry

One blog-free day was enough. I revised pretty much all yesterday, although I kept getting distracted by checking to see if any new posts had arrived on any of the blogs I've subscribed to. Google Reader is the best tool I've installed for a while, but it seems to feed an addiction.

Back to the holiday - we've established I know the cottage owner, so let's see if it's a nice place. It is! Warm (very important indeed) with all the necessary facilities, and a great little conservatory and garden that would be splendid in the summer, but we didn't use at all. After something to eat, we went out to explore Alston.

The requirement that there should be a pub in walking distance was easily met - there are at least seven pubs in Alston, and it isn't a large place. We chose the Angel Inn, and what a fine choice it was. Eveyone said hello when we went in, and Lola II's choice of Ginger Wine (a test of any establishment's quality) resulted in a huge unmeasured slosh for apparently no money.

M arrived next day, then it was New Year's Eve and I took the day off from my revision so we could all go walking together. The environs of Hexham was chosen, and a shortish walk so as not to put too much strain on M's recovering knee. That was the plan; in actual fact the walk turned out to be about twice as long as the book indicated, and the knee suffered accordingly. But we found chillies! Lola II had volunteered to create NYE dinner, a chicken curry which required chillies, but Alston Co-op had failed to deliver. Hexham Waitrose was another matter.

Readers, the curry was Truly Magnificent. And she produced chocolate mousse for dessert. Best meal of any sort I have eaten in 2007 - which leaves 2008 fully open to contenders. Games were played, Jools Holland and Take That accompanied us into the new year, and M had a great time with Mr A's flight simulator, seeing if he could sink ships by crashing the plane into them instead of dropping bombs.

On re-reading, I've mentioned everyone but Mr A in this post. He too was there, and also provided delightful company, although he soooo missed out on the 'best meal of 2007' award. He deserves credit for being Truly Magnificent, though.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The amazing coincidence of the Cumbrian cottage owner

First exam is over - 90 minutes of multiple choice questions on Genetics and Cell Biology. There was only one I really had no idea about: which of these is an icosahedral non-enveloped virus? Flu, polio, rabies, HIV, Tobacco Mosaic Virus. Probable answer: polio, I've just looked it up. Thing is, I probably don't need to know that for my future dietetic career. Or for anything else.

So I'm treating myself to another short blog, about the amazing coincidence etc etc. In September we'd established that Lola II and Marcus were interested in joining us over New Year in a rented cottage somewhere, but I didn't do anything about it for ages. Lola II sent a link from the Guardian recommending a company, so I looked at their website in October or November.

They let you specify certain criteria, so after checking for New Year availability I booked a cottage at the lower price range that would hold up to four people, with an open fire, central heating and a pub within walking distance. That's how we came to find ourselves on the road to Alston (the highest market town in England), in the fog, with Lola II driving and me on the mobile to the owner to find out how to get into the cottage.

The owner's name was a fairly common one, but the accent of the voice on the phone was very distinctive. After I'd been told how to find the front door key, I tentatively asked whether the voice belonged to the Jim that I knew from my last job? Turns out that it did. What are the chances of that?

Even better, Jim and Chris invited us round to their place on New Year's Day, so the four of us drove over for wine, snacks, roaring fires, singing (Marcus), and fine conversation.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Happy New Year

To all those who have been reading this stuff, thank you very much for all the support in 2007, and the good news is I'm going to carry on! I've only been blogging for six months or so, and I didn't realise I'd miss it so much being offline for a week.

There are a few problems, though. Exams start tomorrow (TOMORROW!) and there is no way I can justify the detour away from the books, so this entry must be short. But having been away for a week there is much to write, and I will have forgotten most of it by the time I'm allowed to blog at length again, which ought to be Monday 14 January in the afternoon. I've got a list a page long of all the things I'm going to do when I'm finally free.

So look forward to an account of some or all of the following: the amazing coincidence of the Cumbrian cottage owner, the delightful company of Lola II and Marcus, the Truly Magnificent Chicken Curry, the return via Carlisle and Altrincham, and the new kitchen roof.