Monday, 29 September 2008

End of the holidays

I had a fine weekend, hacking down more of the garden on Saturday (whoever thought ivy was a good idea...) while Mr A consulted our local landscape gardener friend and then cut some large branches off the ceanothus tree. The large shrub in the border that I mentioned before turns out to be a relative of the honeysuckle and will probably survive a nuclear holocaust, so it should be possible to transplant it across the garden, but if it dies I really don't care too much. I'll do the job soon if I can find the spade - probably in the garage somewhere but sure to be horribly rusty.

Another thing that happened at the weekend was that we borrowed an old Sky satellite box from some neighbours. The previous owners of our house had left a satellite dish behind, and the man who fiddled with our equipment last week said that if we plugged a Sky box in, we'd get some extra TV and digital radio channels for free. He was right! We now have a much wider choice of channels, yet there is still nothing much that I want to see. Mr A treated himself to an episode of 'The Sweeney' while I was away yesterday, which transported him back to when he was a young man learning to drive.

On Sunday I went down to see Lola II on the spur of the moment. She was painting pottery, which she's been doing for a while now, and her work is really beautiful. We had a great lunch at a local pub, and I took a photo of myself on Lola II's phone without her knowing, when she went to the loo. After she'd finished working we went back to her flat, where she showed me her new phone, the new lampshade and blind in 'my' room, and the newly painted kitchen. Lovely!

I made her tidy up her flat and do some sewing, and eventually I relented and helped her with the sewing (tie-backs for the curtains in 'my' room). That's my role in life, as a member of the Tidy Police. And the Secret Self-Photographers, and the Chocolate Elves, who hide a single chocolate in someone's possessions for discovery later on.

Term has started now, though - when the alarm went off at 6.30 this morning it took me quite a while to work out what was going on. I was finally woken properly when someone in my dream said "That's the alarm," but on reflection, I decided it was Mr A. When I asked him just now, he said that he thought it was actually me that said it.

Today was the first lecture in the module "Nutrition, Metabolism and Disease," which will include cardiovascular disease, disorders of metabolism, effects of exercise, obesity and diabetes. There has been a timetabling change - this module was going to be on Friday morning, but has been moved to Monday instead. This is bad, because that means I have to go into school every day instead of having Monday off. On the other hand, the module about GM organisms that I wanted to attend is on Friday mornings, so I might be able to do it after all. The downside is that the GM module is taught on the main university campus, half an hour further away. I have two weeks to make up my mind, so this week I'll go to both and see how I get on.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
It just occurred to me...
by Humphrey Lyttelton

"The legendary band leader and jazz trumpeter, broadcaster and humorist looks back at his extraordinarily rich and varied life and the many colourful characters he has known and played with. During the war, he served in the Grenadier Guards and, on demobilisation, studied for two years at Camberwell Arts School. In 1949, he joined the "Daily Mail" as cartoonist, wrote the story-line for Trog's "Flook" cartoon, and also signed a recording contract with EMI. He had the first British jazz record to get into the Top Twenty in 1956 with 'Bad Penny Blues'."
Much quicker to read than weeks it took me to get through the last tome, only a couple of days for this one. Lovely. I heard that the BBC were hoping to replace him on ISIHAC - my suggestion is John Sargeant, although that was before I found out JS had lowered his standards sufficiently to take part in a popular reality TV dance programme. How the mighty have fallen.

The Thirty-Nine Steps
by John Buchan

"Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life in London. But then a murder is committed in his flat, just days after a chance encounter with an American who had told him about an assassination plot which could have dire international consequences. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland where he will need all his courage and ingenuity to stay one step ahead of his pursuers."
This is actually the first book of five featuring Richard Hannay and his adventures, brought together in a Penguin 'omnibus edition'. I had no idea that it was so short, just 100 pages - I read it in just two or three sittings, but it is perfectly formed. Interesting that it was published in 1915, so presumably written about the time of the outbreak of World War One. I'm looking forward to reading the other four.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Trip down south

Our few days' holiday in the south of England already seems a long time ago. We set off at the end of play on Wednesday, and spent the night with old friends in Surrey. We decided to visit Portsmouth the next day, and started at the Naval Dockyards where HMS Victory and the Mary Rose are on show, along with a whole lot of other sea-related artifacts.

Well, I admit that naval history leaves me cold, while Mr A laps up every book ever published on the subject, so a day in the dockyards wouldn't have been my first choice. But in fact, it was wonderful. HMS Victory has been restored and laid out almost as it would have been at Trafalgar in 1805, and a dapper uniformed naval chappie conducted the tour and delivered the script very efficiently, complete with amusing jokes.

Stern of HMS Victory
One of the most interesting bits of the tour was the arrangement of lighting in the hold that contained all the gunpowder, which clearly couldn't be allowed anywhere near a candle or other naked flame, which was the only way of providing light in those days. The lanterns are in a room accessed entirely separately from the gunpowder, then there are two sets of walls containing windows between the Light Room and the Filling Room. There, the charges were filled with gunpowder from barrels, separated from one another with leather sheets to prevent any chance of them rubbing together and producing a spark. The whole of this area was lined with copper, which is resistant to rust, sparks, and rats.

There was lots more to the Victory, and I can highly recommend a visit. We also saw the Mary Rose (which is still undergoing conservation) and some of the treasures they retrieved from that site. We'd been persuaded to buy a ticket for all the Historic Dockyard attractions that is valid for a year, so we came back on Friday to see more. The package includes a harbour tour around the current moorings for Royal Navy ships, most of which made little impression on me, just a succession of grey boats. Then there was the Royal Naval Museum, and more that we simply couldn't fit into two days.

Grey ship
We booked into a B&B for a couple of nights, and after all the exertions of sightseeing for the previous two days we had a lazy morning on Saturday, went out for a walk in the New Forest, visited Mr A's parents, and had dinner with friends in Christchurch. But none of that is very interesting to hear about if you weren't there. By a stroke of luck the weather was wonderful: the last vestige of summer, because now we're home it's turned quite chilly in the evenings.

Plants in the New Forest

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

An award!

You'll see a change in my blog today - a new feature called 'Followers' in the sidebar, provided by Google. Be the first to follow my blog!! Lola II, that means you! If I don't get more than 2 followers, then it will indicate for all to see that people don't follow my blog, in which case it will be embarrassing and I'll take it down. I might take it down anyway. We'll see.

Another change you might see at some point is an award, from Brett. Thanks, Brett! Brett has pledged to post a photograph onto his blog every day for a year. I'm hoping he'll carry on after that, because his photos are always striking and sometimes amazing. Awards fly around the blogosphere like confetti, and until I received one I wasn't sure whether I wanted one, but it feels good. So I might display it, or I might not. I'm definitely feeling equivocal today. Or am I?

We had a nice holiday last week, for a few days in Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset with friends. I might write some more about it, but then again, maybe I won't. That will depend on having time available, although I ought to have enough time because the new semester doesn't start until next week - I thought we would start lectures at the end of this week, but apparently not. I've chosen Food Commodities as my optional module, by the way. It doesn't look very thrilling, but the other options were worse.

Today, along with the long list of fairly trivial jobs I must do (like tying the head of Dennis the Menace back onto the pull cord in the downstairs loo and replacing the car headlight), we have a Man In. Derek is sitting cross-legged on the rug by the TV fiddling with cables and computers and stuff. This is because we have been selected at random to be one of those people who contribute to TV audience figures.

A long time ago a leaflet came through the door saying that if we wanted, we could join the UK's BARB Television Panel; BARB being the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. I thought that might be interesting, so we agreed to a short interview with a nice lady who explained what was involved. There's a gadget they hook up to the TV, and an extra remote control with a load of buttons to indicate who's watching the box at any particular time. And as a small reward for our efforts on behalf of BARB there are points to be acquired, and we all know that Points Mean Prizes. Luckily, points aren't awarded on the strength of time spent watching TV, because BARB are going to get very little data of that sort from our particular household.

Monday, 22 September 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
by Neal Stephenson

"Cryptonomicon moves conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods - World War II and the present. Our 1940s characters are mathematician and cryptanalyst Lawrence Waterhouse, and US marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. In the present-day, their grandchildren team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers."
This was recommended by a fellow blogger (Thanks, Aims!) It has been quite an effort to read - very thick, small print, and lots of detail, so it's taken an age to get through, but worth it in the end. I'd need to read it again to get the full story straight, but I don't think that's going to happen. The WWII sections are more interesting than the modern day plot about information and communication in the 21st century, although the theme through both periods is the need for cryptography to ensure that messages are secure and accurate. There's even a little factual appendix about how to create an unbreakable cipher.

Image of the book cover
Alias Grace
by Margaret Atwood

Narrated by Shelley Thompson
"In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and Marks spent the next 30 years in an assortment of jails and asylums, where she was often exhibited as a star attraction. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form."
This started slowly, but has become more gripping as the story progresses. It's slightly spoiled by the audio editing - gaps between sections are not long enough, so it's hard to tell the difference between a quotation at the head of a chapter and the text of the chapter itself. I don't think I've read Margaret Atwood before, but I'll try some more on the basis of this one. I've got 'The Handmaid's Tale' in my enormous pile of books that are waiting to be read.

Monday, 15 September 2008

In the garden

We had a pleasant Sunday at Lola Towers, in the manner traditional of country gentlefolk through the ages: Mr A mowed the lawn and I launched a frenzied attack on the shrubs.

I remember when we first moved in to the Towers; it was the first garden I'd been wholly responsible for, and luckily a manageable size. I thought the plants had grown quite a lot by the first autumn and needed some careful pruning, but I was aware of my previous experience indoors, where plants keel over and die if you don't tend them with the love usually reserved for newborn offspring. So I pruned gently, trying not to give these outdoor cousins any excuse for telling me later that they didn't have enough greenery to photosynthesise.

Obviously, the next year we could hardly see out of the windows for overgrown shrubbery. Ever since then, I have attacked the garden every autumn with barely suppressed mania.Yesterday I filled three bags with just the ivy that has grown since last year when I cut everything green off the plant in the hope it would die. It's been growing for ten years in a very small pot - it has to run out of nutrients eventually, doesn't it?

After the ivy came two of the plants at the garage end of the garden: forsythia and choisya. I'm attempting the strategy of sawing off a third of these each year in the hope that the remaining stumps will offer flowers in profusion on a small bush rather than encroaching ten feet into the lawn. In searching the web for the proper names for these plants, I discover that I should have pruned them after flowering in May, but it is possible to chop them both down to stumps.

Mr A kindly assisted with stuffing all the prunings into bags, which I'll take off to the dump today. We have tried many ways of disposing of the garden cuttings, but taking rubble sacks to the dump is the only practical answer. When I tried burning clippings, all the neighbours telephoned to make sure the house wasn't on fire. We haven't got enough space to compost all the unwanted garden greenery along with lawn clippings and excess kitchen waste.

That was only the first day of the garden campaign: there's much more to do. Ceanothus, berberis, clematis, the other choisya (which is flowering again), bay, more ivy, and aucuba. It will take quite some time, and we're hoping to go away at the end of this week, and then the new term starts. Oh well.

Unwanted shrub in borderI do have one query - there's a large shrub right in the front of the border that I don't want there any more. I also have two mint plants doing quite well in pots (as long as I remember to water them). I wouldn't mind digging the shrub out and putting the mint there instead - is this a good time of year to do it? I'm quite aware of the tendency of mint to take over, but it would have quite a lot of opposition from the other plants there - you can see the rosemary and the sage peeking around the unwanted shrub. To tell the truth, we wouldn't mind if the mint did spread wildly, because we love it. Would the displaced shrub survive if I planted it in the shade where I've cut the choisya and forsythia right back?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Next semester

All the hospital workplace excitement is forgotten, and I'm back to the home workplace excitement. Mr A's feeling stressed about the business again, although he's sure we'll be able to take a few days off next week. I'm hoping it will stop raining by then. I've been doing routine home-based tasks that have been waiting a while. The cleaning continues, there's no way I can do it in one day, it's too boring. I have to spread it over the week.

I've had another look at all the modules available for next semester now that the timetables have been published. The GMO one that I wanted to sign up to clashes with a compulsory module, so I can't do it after all. I worked out a tortuous way of comparing the gaps in my timetable with Biosciences modules on offer, and there turned out to be remarkably few to choose from. Reproductive Physiology, Virology, Environmental IT, Plant Pathology, Food Commodities, Soil Science and Management Science (Food).

Reproductive Physiology sounded interesting until I realised that it was all about getting cows to produce calves and milk, and hens to lay eggs. Virology is a possibility, although I really don't like the lecturer who runs the module, and there's an element of group work that I'd like to avoid. Environmental IT: I thought the IT might be interesting, but the module description makes it sound very technical. Plant Pathology and Soil Science, well, I'm not that interested in the cellular and microbiological aspects of plant diseases or soil.

Food Commodities is the most likely choice at the moment, although the module actually has a bad reputation among the students from previous years, although I don't think the problem was the quality of lecturing (unlike our Food Safety module last semester). Management Science is the 'recommended' choice for dietitians, but it is based on a hypothetical new food product and covers market research, product design, budgeting and marketing, which all makes me want to hide under a rock. Lots of group work as well.

So it looks as though I'll choose Food Commodities, which covers cereals, oilseeds, fruit and veg, herbs and spices, eggs and milk; their chemical composition, storage and preparation for manufacturing, quality control and maintenance, and a little bit about trading. Best of all, there's no lab work, no group work, a multiple choice exam, and coursework involving a summary of papers, all of which suit me very well. I think I've talked myself into it. After all, while most students disliked the module in the past, I'm not a typical student (I like to think so, anyway).

I'm Ambassadoring at another two University Open Days tomorrow and Saturday, so I'll have a chance to run the idea past people who know a bit more about the options. And I'll find out what they've done to the gym membership this year - on the website it looks as though the cheapest annual membership has gone up from £65 to £90 with an additional fee to use the fitness suite. If that's the case, I'll have to find another way to meet the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise.

I'm in two minds about writing about the fitness/weight loss ideas I've had after watching some qualified dietetic advice being given in weight reduction clinics. Suffice to say that it's based around very small daily changes that are easy to achieve, and writing down the things that work. Last years efforts resulted in absolutely no change whatever, so we'll see if this turns out any better.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Final stretch

Zimmer frame sculpture of two figures
Since I've been home I've been gearing up for the new term by cleaning the house. Four weeks away makes our usually grubby dwelling look much worse, especially as the mess doesn't seem to affect Mr A so he ignores it, or more accurately, contributes to it.

I'm ready now to end the story of the placement experience. The final days in Rotherham were OK, I didn't have much to do because I'd got all the workbook done already, and there was just the final review and feedback to receive before being allowed to go home. Both of us 'A' placement students were asked to come to the office at 10 am. This gave me the chance to get my second Hepatitis B jab and hand the keys of my room back to the warders before turning up.

I was at the office well in time, but nothing whatever happened until 11 o'clock, when the other student was asked to go in. When she emerged at 11.30, it turned out that the manager had another appointment, so would I wait? Only for 15 minutes, as it turned out, and it was my turn.

Unexpectedly, I was asked first what I thought my strengths and weaknesses were. I was expecting feedback from them rather than input from me, and made up something feeble as a strength and then couldn't think of anything at all to say in the weakness department. We moved on.

After some relevant and constructive criticism about my communication style, I started to smile when told that perhaps I should improve my cooking skills. At this point I was very keen to get out of there and go home, so I wasn't about to argue. The point was repeated a bit later in the interview, and again, I just smiled politely.

The manager said "Would you mind if I asked you something personal?"

I said I didn't mind. She asked me if I normally cooked for myself at home.

This was all because of the buffet I made. The requirement was to produce a lunch costing no more than £1.50 a head, based on the principles of healthy eating and the Eatwell plate. It should have a fat-reduced savoury option and a sugar-reduced sweet option, and these should be labelled with energy, fat, carbohydrate and protein content.

I asked lots of the dietitians if they had any advice or suggestions for what I should do, or could tell me what other students had done before. The main advice I received was "don't knock yourself out", "keep it simple", "the easier it is for you the better". So I'd decided I'd go for the quiche, salads and jelly that I wrote about before. Up until the last minute I was going to make quiches, but there was a '2 for £3' offer in the shop, so I bought them instead.

I told the manager that not only did I cook for myself at home, but I would never in a million years have served the buffet at home, but since I met all the set criteria I took the advice I'd been given, and made it easy on myself by buying ready made food rather than spending the weekend cooking.

"Who gave you that advice?" she asked.

"Several different members of the department," I said.

"Could you give me their names?"

I was slightly taken aback. I felt that if I gave any names, they would probably be targeted in some way, probably unpleasant. So I said no, I wouldn't give her any names.

She then asked if I would tell the dietetic assistant, who was also in the meeting with us. Of course I refused, and then she asked again.

"I'd like to know who gave you that information," she said.

By this time, I was quite enjoying myself. We'd touched on the uniform issue earlier in the meeting, when she'd told me that if I returned for one of the longer placements then there would be no compromise with the dress. So I thought she probably wasn't used to being contradicted or not getting her own way, and it was quite fun to carry on doing it.

"I'm not going to tell you who I talked to," I said. She looked fierce, but could do nothing more.

So that was it, they eventually let me go and I drove away with a song in my heart and a spring in my step, so to speak. Coming home was great, we treated ourselves to a glass of wine in Wilde's, dinner in Sushi Ya for the first time (it was good but pricey), then had a drink in the Cricketers (I haven't raved about the pub for a while, perhaps I'll do that again soon). Came back, watched QI then went to bed. A perfect evening.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Not much longer now

Only one day to go, my internment is nearly over. That feels great. Today I don't have anything to do except turn up for another student's buffet at lunchtime, and then go out in the afternoon to see something about an infant feeding programme. Tomorrow morning my workbook is reviewed, and I'm free!

My buffet on Monday went very well. I provided shop-bought quiche, made potato salads with standard and low fat mayonnaise, and a lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad. For the required standard and low sugar desserts, I bought ready made jellies in standard and 'no sugar' versions, and put a dollop of creme fraiche and a couple of segments of mandarin from a tin on top. They were horrible, but that wasn't the point.

Four of the dietitians reviewed what I'd done, and pointed out that my analysis of 1385 calories per 144g portion of potato salad was likely to be a mistake - true enough. We were fine on the rest of the review, although we agreed that the lunch overall was a bit high in fat. The budget came in at less than my allocated £1.50 per person, and there was food left over.

Apart from kicking myself for getting the figures wrong, my other buffet-related faux pas was to notice that one of the dietitians hadn't signed up for the buffet but was in his office, so I went to ask him if he'd like to have some anyway, seeing as there was plenty left. What I hadn't realised was that it was the first day of Ramadan.

The workbook was pretty much finished by Monday, so I wandered from person to person trying to get them to sign off the different sections. One section about the British Dietetic Association Code of Conduct ended up with the manager of the department, who'd given me such a hard time over the stupid uniform. She grilled me for half an hour on three pages of the workbook. She is actually a very good manager, and the department is run extremely well, but that business of the dress cast rather a shadow, particularly over the first two weeks of my time here.

This week I've sat in on a paediatric clinic, done a home visit, spent some time with one of the Dietetic Assistants, seen patients on a couple more wards, and attended the departmental service meeting. No new inspiration, although the meeting was very well managed and the time with the Dietetic Assistant was interesting. Her job covers two completely opposing topics: she runs weight management groups for people who want help losing weight, and advises on ways to lower calorie content of meals and control overeating behaviour. At the same time she's advising on nutritional support, usually for older people in nursing homes who are losing weight, including ways to boost the calorie content of every mouthful they manage to eat.

The referrals for the weight management groups come from GPs, and the rate of response is very low, maybe one in fifty. I read the letter sent to a new patient. It was like a slap in the face, a real piece of hospital-speak, including the phrases "If you do not respond to this letter within 4 weeks then we will assume you do not wish to change your lifestyle," and "We will inform your doctor of the outcome of this referral." I asked if it would be OK for me to draft an alternative, more sympathetic letter, which I did. I hope they consider using it.