Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Another anniversary

This time the anniversary is my birthday. I don't take much notice of it these days, unlike when I was young and made a tremendous effort, making sure everyone was fully aware that in seven, six, five, four days (and so on) there was going to be a Very Special Day when I would expect unicorns and ponies and magic glitter.

Today I received exactly what I asked for, which was phone calls from my family, and a couple of days' holiday next week with Mr A. We're going to Whitstable. I got some extra bonus chocolate too, book tokens from Mr A's parents (yay!) and some cards. True to form, Lola II sent me the most hideous card with pop-up teddies.

The big celebration is happening on Saturday, when we have made the fundamental error of forgetting that we don't like big parties, cleaning and tidying, or welcoming people into our home. We have gone and organised a joint birthday party - Mr A's birthday is a week after mine - on the basis that we didn't celebrate our engagement (because we didn't have one) or our marriage (that's material for another blog post) or any birthdays or anything else, ever.

I've been making lots of lists and planning every detail, and I've made a cake and roasted some beef and some turkey and bought a salmon and some cheese and croissants, and still have to make another cake and some salads and cook the salmon and buy French bread. Mr A has moved all the junk that was in the garden, probably to the garage, but I haven't looked, on the basis of I Don't Need to Know. He's also in charge of Drink, which he's planning to sort out tomorrow.

Included in the party is a showing of a DVD, filmed on Mr A's charity trip from Plymouth to Banjul in an old car with Mr B and a group of other people in old cars. The trip was back in 2005/6, and Mr A took loads of video footage, and nobody else really bothered because he was doing it. The trouble is that every time he meets up with the group, they ask when they are going to see the results. Part of the tactic of having a party was that this would provide a handy deadline, by which time the video would have to be edited. It's nearly done.

This whole party thing has been a huge learning experience. We have learned not to host any more parties because it's so much work, and not to video anything ever again because the editing is tedious and takes an incredible amount of time. But you never know, the actual party might make up for the pain of preparation.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Lost Souls' Reunion
by Suzanne Power

"This is Sive Moriarty's tale, beginning with her grandmother's destructive marriage. Spanning decades, and set on the austere coastline of Ireland and in the overindulgent London of the sixties, 'The Lost Souls' Reunion' is the poignant history of the women in Sive Moriarty's family."
Another one of Lola II's: she seems to acquire books that she doesn't really want to read, and I am given them to dispose of. I can't let a book go by without at least trying to read it, so I took this one camping. It's horribly depressing to start with, and teeters on the brink of awful tragedy the whole time, but a good holiday read if you can bear it.

Image of the book cover
Devil's Cub
by Georgette Heyer

Narrated by Michael Drew
"The excesses of the young Marquis of Vidal are even wilder than his father's before him. Not for nothing is the reckless duellist and gamester called "the Devil's Cub". But when he is forced to leave the country, Mary Challoner discovers his fiendish plan to abduct her sister. Only by daring to impersonate her can Mary save her sibling from certain ruin."
Ooh, this is delicious. I love a good Regency tale, and this is full of swashbuckling heroes, swooning females, and a plucky heroine who wins her swain in the end. Great fun.

The Piano Tuner
by Daniel Mason

"On a misty London afternoon in 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake receives a strange request from the War Office: he must leave his wife, and his quiet life in London, to travel to the jungles of Burma to tune a rare Erard grand piano. The piano belongs to Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll, an enigmatic British officer, whose success at making peace in the war-torn Shan States is legendary, but whose unorthodox methods have begun to attract suspicion."
Yet another of Lola II's cast-offs! But she tells me she's actually read this one. It's very atmospheric, slow-moving, and possibly dull. I didn't know where it would end until I reached the last page, and it ended.

Friday, 25 July 2008

One year anniversary

Garden chair among roses
Today is my blog's birthday. A year ago I took up this ridiculous time-wasting hobby that keeps me in front of the computer screen when there are so many other things I should be doing. But I love it: not just writing my blog and taking pictures for it, but visiting all the others too. The list in my Feed Reader contains 54 blogs. Luckily not all are active all the time.

So thank you to all those out there who are as keen on this crazy hobby as me. Many thanks to those who leave comments, but also those who lurk - I know who some of you are, and it's flattering when you email me or we meet and you tell me that you read what I write. And thank you to the people I love who make it all possible, especially Mr A, Lola II, mum and dad.

Lolas I and II

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Pulmonary haemosiderosis

A blog that I read regularly, by Jo Beaufoix, has thrown a call out into the ether. She has a friend, Marie, with the potentially fatal lung condition pulmonary haemosiderosis. It is very rare, and Marie would very much like to find others who have the same condition:
"It would be good to know if others have received different treatment, or responded well to alternative therapies, dietary changes, exercise. It would be good to know she’s not alone."
If you have any information to pass on, please contact Jo via her blog.

Most of the time I get away with self-indulgent writing just because I like writing, with extra bonus points because it makes my parents happy. This post might actually help someone for a change.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Camping with Lola II

It's taken me ages to get round to writing about our camping trip. My first day back, Mr A asked me to do another session on the company accounts. I did that for a miserable day - he doesn't make it easy for me, even though he says he tries. He didn't have half the information I needed, so I've given him a page of 'things to do before I can do any more with the accounts.'

Then I set to on the shower again. Before going camping, I'd scraped out the grout and excised a load of mouldy sealant, then re-grouted and laid down two seams of sealant, covering myself and everything around me with sticky nasty white goo. I couldn't find any white spirit, so I tried to clean up with meths, which didn't work so well.

Since getting back from the trip I've rubbed down the aluminium frame to get rid of bubbling paint, and bought some white spirit, masking tape and a paintbrush. It's nearly ready to paint, and then if the primer looks OK I won't bother with a top coat and can finish the sealant. On target for my first shower on Thursday, all being well.

So I'm taking a break from that back-breaking work to blog our camping trip. After considering south Wales, Disneyland Paris and Jersey, we settled on Dorset, including a day in Monkey World. I picked Lola II up from Wool station on Sunday and we went straight to the campsite. There was a 'Closed' sign and nobody about in the office, but we put up the tent anyway, with a couple of false starts because there are three different length poles and I couldn't remember how it all worked.

Still nobody about at the campsite, so we headed off for Lulworth Cove to do a bit of sightseeing. It's a great cove, the water was clear and the weather fine, and the sedimentary rock layers looking very impressive indeed. We climbed up to take in the view, I took a picture of a bee on a thistle flower, and we decided to have fish and chips for supper.

A close up of a bee on a thistle flowerWe always have a good deal to discuss on the matter of food, and what and when we will eat. Standing in the queue for the fish and chips, we changed our order six or seven times before we reached the counter, accompanied by intricate bargaining and negotiation: shall we get one order of chips to share? shall we get two different types of fish? that pie looks good - if I order that do you want half? if we got some mushy peas will you want any?

Pint of milk, tin of beans with sausages, Aero (mint), Walnut Whip, Milky Bar, Bounty (plain chocolate), Frys Chocolate creamThen, because we're camping, we had to think about breakfast as well. Lola II was very keen to do the full camping experience, and that included cooking. She was already very impressed by some of the aspects of our camping gear - a 'doormat' that stops the tent filling with dirt and mud, the tent porch, the table and chairs, the water carrier (which we didn't actually need), the camping gas stove. We settled on a tin of beans with sausages for breakfast, with tea. Luckily, the shop in Wool was well stocked. Here's a picture of our provisions, laid out nicely on the bonnet of the car: only five types of chocolate turned out to be necessary.

Monkey World opened at 10 am, leaving plenty of time for breakfast. We saw plenty of capuchin monkeys, which were the most active and also played in one of the areas where we had a good view. It was often hard to see the other animals, but they included chimpanzees, stump tailed macaques, orangutans and gibbons. No gorillas, but perhaps that's because it's a rescue centre rather than a zoo, and maybe gorillas aren't caught for the pet trade or bred for experiments.

Dinner was in a pub recommended by the campsite owner, who had turned up on Monday morning. Next day we visited Wareham, which looked very pretty in the sunshine. We had decided to forgo breakfast in favour of a very good lunch at a place I'd been to with Mr A and some friends that overlooked Corfe Castle, the Scott Arms. After lunch we just sat in the pub garden reading for an hour or so in the sunshine. It was lovely. Then we went to Swanage, which had all the classic seaside scenes of people enjoying themselves on the beach on a sunny day. And a lampshade shop. I bought a new lampshade. You can never have too many lampshades.

Always taking care to consider mealtimes, we bought ingredients for a feast, although we'd had so much for lunch that it was unlikely we'd be hungry in the evening. But it worked very well for breakfast: mozzarella, tomato and basil for the starter, then instant noodles with courgette and prawns for the main course.

We had decided to visit National Trust property Kingston Lacy before going home.

View of the house from the lawnsThere were no guided tours or audio guides, just a leaflet, but while we were admiring some carved stonework in the entrance hall, a man appeared from nowhere who started to tell us all sorts of interesting things. He was in charge of the collection or the building or something, but he seemed to like nothing more than wandering about the house interacting with visitors. Whenever we saw him, we loitered within earshot. He improved the visit no end, but it's quite an interesting house anyway. Nothing 'special', no royal connections, just a large family house with some interesting recorded history, and wonderful carved stonework. One amazing stone piece included a fishing net, all carved out of stone.

Wandering round the grounds ended the visit, and the camping trip. I dropped Lola II at Brockenhurst station (traffic in that part of the New Forest is awful) and drove on home.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
Mary Anne
by Daphne du Maurier

narrated by Carole Boyd
"Mary Anne knew the grinding heel of poverty, and determined it would never grind her again. With beauty, brains, ambition, and the glittering decadence of Regency London to sustain her, she chose the only route that could take a cockney girl to the top, as mistress to the Royal Duke of York. But soon she provoked a scandal that rocked the country, placed the Duke on trial before Parliament, and risked losing everything."
I love the way Daphne du Maurier writes, but don't all run out and read her, it may be a girl thing. If I'd been an Edwardian lady in corsets when I read 'Frenchman's Creek', I'd have been swooning all over the drawing room. Except that 'Frenchman's Creek' wasn't written in time for Edwardian ladies to read it. And perhaps Edwardian ladies didn't wear corsets, I'm no historian. 'Mary Anne' isn't as romantic, but it's wonderful nevertheless, and all the more interesting because it's based on the life of the author's great great grandmother.

Carole Boyd is a fantastic audio book reader. The listening experience could be affected because her voice is extremely familiar: she plays Lynda Snell in The Archers (long-running UK radio soap). It is testament to her supreme skill that you don't even think of Lynda when she's narrating with another voice. I've listened to Carole Boyd reading 'The God of Small Things' and she was outstanding with that one too, to the extent that if Audible offered that book I'd listen to it again. That's really something special.

Image of the book cover
Death of a Red Heroine
by Qiu Xiaolong

"Shanghai in 1990. When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chief Inspector Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead, and keep the young woman's murder out of the papers at all costs. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area. Chen has a choice: bend to the party's wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party."
Mr A recommended this one after he borrowed it from the library (I mooched it). It's very interesting, reading a book from such a different culture, and the story is good enough to carry the strangeness of the surroundings. Mr A told me that it frequently describes food, but actually the food is overshadowed by the poetry, given that the author is also a poet. Funny choice, for a poet to choose to write a detective novel, especially as it gets quite nasty towards the end.

I'm off for a few days camping with Lola II. There may be adventures to report when I return.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Blogging meme thingy

For the first time, I've been tagged for a meme, by Belle at Diary of a Housewife. Belle just celebrated one year of blogging, and I was at the party, and even received a party bag. The bag contained a festive hat, a medal, a lolly and two fizzy sweets, but most usefully some little sticky notes and a yellow highlighter. And it was a jolly good party too. My blogging anniversary is fast approaching, but I don't think I could put half as much effort into celebrating as Belle did.

1. I don't like touching velvet.
This is accurate, and quite important, and I don't like touching corduroy either. It evokes a sensation a bit like when someone scrapes their nails down a blackboard. Usually not a problem; the only time it's been a bit difficult is when I was suddenly given a child to hold who was wearing corduroy dungarees. I did a sort of little dance, saying "no no no take it back aargh!"

2. I'm a good cook.
This is very nice to hear, and I do enjoy cooking most of the time. I did three parts of the Cordon Vert vegetarian cooking diploma at the Vegetarian Society, for fun, and was fascinated to see how much better than me it was possible to be, especially when it came to presentation ideas. Some of the other students were really brilliant.

3. I like Stephen Fry.
He is good, isn't he? He's one of the people invited to my imaginary dinner party, along with Johnny Depp and a few others. He has constantly remained on the invitation list while others like Michael Palin and Tom Cruise have fallen by the wayside. And I live in hope that I might meet him in the flesh, as he went to the same college as I did, albeit a few years before me, and you never know who'll be at alumni events. Not that I go to alumni events much, except the Bletchley Park one of course.

Apparently this isn't a meme, it's a youyou (UU) because it's what someone else thinks about me rather than something I think about myself. This is blogging at it's most esoteric, but I thought I'd have a go. Mr A's away at the moment, and would probably not cooperate with this trivial exercise even if he were here, so I asked Lola II.

Here are the rules:

The UU must list the three things their husband (or wife) (or significant other) knows about them.

The rules of this UU are posted at the ENDING of the post.

At the end of the post, the player then tags a randomly chosen number of people and posts their blog names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged. The comment must end with the word 'pthththth'.

[Although it's probably illegal, I have edited the rules for capital letters and readability. They originally came from Holly, whose blog doesn't use capitals, but does use clauses and parentheses like nobody's business.]

Tagging other people: I think Richard Madeley would find that Judy has a few choice things to say, and Magicchick might like to have a go, and including Moley-Bloke would be interesting because they'd have to do each other, even though he hasn't blogged for ages. But no pressure, if you don't want to, you don't have to.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Monkey puzzle

A close up of araucariaWe are living in difficult times. Every news bulletin emphasises the precarious nature of the world's economy, impending recession, the biosphere and climate change, food and fuel supply. Even the excited anticipation of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing became a story of doom and gloom yesterday because of the air pollution levels.

In our house, Mr A is struggling with his demons, and the future of his business. The company is solvent, but not providing the income he expects or deserves. A number of factors have reached critical points, and it is decision time. I still don't know what that decision will be, nor how it will be made, or when. This is unsettling. Marriage is hard work. I have been helping by reading a proposal for a large job that Mr A is putting together. It's like the worst kind of homework, where you're not sure what's required and you know you're not very good at the subject either.

My self-imposed task of dealing with the shower has started. It is horrible. Some of the grouting has cracked and some is mouldy - scraping it out with a grout scraping tool makes a sound that is almost unbearable. I thought that excising mouldy sealant with a Stanley knife blade would be quite satisfying - it is not, and is much more difficult than I expected. I haven't even started rubbing down the flaking paint on the shower frame, but I doubt that will be any fun either. I didn't think this job would be enjoyable, but I didn't expect to hate it all so completely.

To temper this unpleasantness, we watched the Wimbledon final on Sunday, I had a lovely time playing badminton on Monday, and last night I spent the evening with Sally and Steve in Birmingham, where I used to work. A pint in the Shakespeare pub for old times, then wonderful food at Cafe Soya. It was lovely to catch up with them again.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Another London trip

If I had to choose one type of food to live on for the rest of my life to the exclusion of everything else, it would be sushi. Of course I should have taken the photo before we ate all the sushi, but I didn't think of it at the time. This was the end of another few days in London with Lola II.

Empty plates except for last piece of sushiFirst I visited mum and dad, then we all went to Lola II's concert. She plays with a group of people who play flute, clarinet, violin, viola, recorder, bassoon and piano. In principle, anyone with any instrument can join, and then Helen the 'teacher' has to try and find things they can play together. She told us that someone once came along who played Hawaiian guitar, but he didn't stay. We thought we should arrange for a bagpipe player to turn up one day as a joke.

The concert was mostly very good, although the bit at the start when they found that the two pianos were out of tune with one another was unsettling. There was another bad time when a solo pianist playing a Chopin nocturne without music discovered she couldn't remember how to get to the end and kept jumping back to a bit that she knew. Those of us who also knew the piece sat terrified that we would be there for all eternity, but she found a way to the end somehow. I really liked the determined way they all attacked the last piece, which was the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream, played for all they were worth at a speed that was clearly as fast as it was possible to go without their fingers falling off. There was almost a shout of triumph when they reached the final chords together.

Audience at the Globe TheatreThe next day the whole family met again at the Globe Theatre. It's been rebuilt as the original might have been, with a thatched roof and the central area open to the sky, where some of the audience has to stand. If it rains, they get wet. We booked seats under cover, although it turned out to be quite hard to hear what was being said.

The play was 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', and I really enjoyed it. The comedy was enhanced by an announcement at the start that one of the main actors (playing Master Ford) was absent at the birth of his child, but they don't have an understudy so his part would be played by the director, reading from the script. He did a great job - the audience was 100% on his side, and the actors only teased him slightly on a couple of occasions.

Going to see the play in Shakespeare's time would have been a fantastic outing - we found plenty to laugh at 400 years after it was written, despite the difficulty of understanding the nuance of 17th century English. As we walked back along the South Bank towards the Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral, we commented on how lucky we are to have such easy access to this great and historic city, despite the crowds, the dirt and litter, and the general unpleasantness of the Tube. I'm glad I don't live there, though.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food Is Entering Our Diet
by Stephen Nottingham

"By 1997, people in many industrialized countries had consumed food produced using genetic engineering. To the surprise of the multinational corporations backing this technology, considerable resistance to GM food has developed. The public in Europe, for instance, expressed concerns about health issues and the lack of labelling on GM food. Meanwhile, environmental pressure groups and independent scientists drew attention to the range of environmental impacts of transgenic crops and the implication of awarding patents of the use of plant genes."
This is a book on the reading list for one of my modules next term. When Mr A found out, he charmingly called me a swotty swotty swot swot. That's about right.

It seems that in essence, GM technology is a more controlled and faster way to make the changes to plant and animal species that farmers and breeders have been making since farming began. Old genetic modifications were done by looking at the phenotype and guessing at the genes inside, then selectively breeding animals or plants with the desired characteristics. New genetic modification looks at the genotype directly. The other main difference is that we can now move genes between species more easily. They moved between species before, but unpredictably, randomly, and not very often.

The risk of unforeseen effects is somewhat proportional to the speed of change, so by that measure, genetic modification by direct gene manipulation has greater risks. On the other hand, the potential for improving the nutritional qualities of food is huge - making a rice plant synthesise vitamin A could prevent deficiency and blindness in some of the poorest populations on earth.

But there are definitely risks that cannot be controlled, such as the interbreeding of GM organisms with wild types, and potentially with the weeds and pests and microorganisms that they are designed to combat. The arms race between plant or animal and pest or disease is inevitable. This is the main danger - we create a plant resistant to a herbicide so the crop survives spraying while the weeds die, and perhaps the weeds will evolve a way to resist the herbicide too. Or we destroy everything but the crop, and biodiversity suffers. Or the crop itself becomes a weed.

I have no straightforward view in favour of, or against, genetic modification. Using genetic techniques to enhance production and increase the quantity of food creates economic benefits to the technologists rather than the consumers. There is more than enough food produced in the world for everyone; food poverty and hunger still exist because of war and/or politics. The arguments that convince me to support some areas of GM research are about changing the quality or properties of the food, like the golden rice containing vitamin A.

All being well, I should be taking this module next term - I'm sure there will be plenty more food for thought when I am better informed.