Monday, 30 March 2009

The Amateur Gourmet tries Marmite

This is from another blog I regularly read: The Amateur Gourmet, from New York. He had a birthday party, and everyone brought different but interesting types of food as presents. In the video clip, he and his partner Craig taste Marmite for the very first time.

The moment when they both react to the taste is priceless.

I emailed to ask if it was OK to put this on my blog, and didn't get a reply, so if this disappears over the next few days, that will be why.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

An eventful week

It has been an interesting time over the last week. Just as soon as I wrote that I was short of ideas for blog posts, several came along at once.

We had a visitor on Tuesday - Rich, who moved from Leamington to Munich via a very long world tour. He has endless friends who insist on getting married in different parts of the world - this time the wedding is in Dublin, and Leamington was a handy place to stop over on the way.

Staff outside RasoiIt was nice to see him, and an excuse to have lunch in the pub and dinner at an Indian restaurant I haven't been to before: Rasoi, at the bottom of the Parade. I really liked it, and Rasoi shall hereto be added to the long list of Things I Love About Leamington Spa. Not sure if it's better than the Paprika Club, but the taste test comparison will have to wait until we have more money to eat out.

We had dinner with some people who sang with Rich in a Warwick choir, and one of them turned out to be Nick who I already knew through badminton, and who is also one of our local Liberal Democrat Councillors. I was talking to him about the day recently when we were surveyed by both Greens and Lib Dems, and I accidentally referred to the local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate using the name of the Conservative one. They're both called Chris. It's an easy mistake to make.

After I dropped Rich off at Birmingham airport - where £1 was extorted from me simply to drop off a passenger - I carried on working. I've been spending too much time on coursework; it took the best part of three days to do one bit that's only 750 words and worth a tiny percentage of the module marks. If I don't get a move on, I won't get through it.

On Friday I drove up to Manchester with Mr A for the day. We started off by emptying the old office and moving the stuff down to the office where the staff are now based. Considering the room appeared empty except for a set of shelves before we started, we ended up completely filling the car, and it took ages. I was late for lunch with Hugh and Bernadette, who are well, but B wasn't as sparkly as she has been in the past. Maybe I had caused some inconvenience by getting there later than I'd hoped.

Lisa and PhoebeAfter that I met up with Lisa for a cup of coffee, to catch up on six months of news and to meet her lovely new daughter, who was very nearly named Lola, but not quite. I think Lisa found it amusing that I didn't want to hold Nearly-Lola - it's not just that babies don't particularly like me holding them and tend to cry, but also because she was dressed in a suit made of velvet. I really can't touch velvet, it's like fingernails down a blackboard.

Missing car windowThen this morning there was a knock on the front door, and Mr A opened it to find a nice young policeman who pointed out that our car window had been smashed. Mr A had left his phone inside, which was probably why the damage had been done. A bicycle was left leaning against our wall, which the policeman took away. The policeman was very good indeed, even though he can't have been more than 15 years old.

A neighbour had seen some dodgy characters running about where they shouldn't have been this morning, and it was him who phoned the police. He stopped by a bit later to talk to us. Despite having had our car damaged and a phone stolen, I really like this neighbourhood.

The phone was out of contract so Mr A is off to the shops to get another, and after a good deal of messing about with insurance policies it looks as though we will only have to pay £50 for the window to be fixed by an outfit that ought to be turning up any minute now.

I'm tired of having things to blog about now. I hope that the next month will have nothing in it but university coursework, sitting on the sofa watching DVDs, and going to the pub for a drink.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Internet helps to prevent a scam

I was feeling a bit short of things to share on this blog. This was made clear while I was reading the latest hit title for holiday reading, "Counselling Skills for Dietitians," which contains little exercises as well as informative text (no pictures, it's not really for reading on the beach, guys). One of the things the reader is encouraged to do is to "make a list of changes that have occurred for you in the last year," and then "reflect upon how you reacted to the changes on your list."

I am much more comfortable with this reflection thing than I was when I started the course. It's a skill for dietitians (and presumably other health professionals) that's constantly emphasised, and is intended to prevent complacency and maintain the best standard of care possible. Rather than plough on without a backward glance, we are forced to stop and think about what we have done and how we did it, and consider what went right, what needs improvement, and whether we need help with that.

I started to make a mental list of changes that have occurred for me in the last year. I couldn't think of any. I tried again - surely something must have changed? But nothing has - for the last year I've been doing the same things, with the same frequency, in the same places, with the same people. Mr A, Lola II, badminton, university, blogging, reading blogs, listening to music and podcasts on my iPod, sitting on the sofa, going to the pub, the odd few days in London or Bournemouth or Manchester. I'm not complaining, I have a nice life and I enjoy all of this very much. But it doesn't make for an exciting or interesting blog.

I asked Lola II for some ideas last night, and she came up with a few that will probably make their way into future posts, but today one of my favourite bloggers asked for a favour. Actually, it was one of my favorite bloggers and he asked for a favor, but who cares about transatlantic spelling differences?

This is what he suggests I should write:
A friend of mine created a blog to talk about his experiences getting ripped off by a company called Lifestyle Pets, who claim to sell a hypoallergic cat called Allerca, but really just seem to charge thousands of dollars for the honor of being put on an endless waiting list.
And I'm happy to write it, even though he spells honour wrong, and in no sense can we be called friends, as we have never met or even corresponded except through my comments on his blog. I think I would like to be his friend, because he has a sense of humour (humor) that I find very amusing. He lives in San Francisco with a wife who is not called Hank and a daughter not called Daisy that he sometimes writes about, and a job where he has to work in an office and he has to share toilet facilities, which he often writes about. I'm sure if we met we would have nothing to say to each other and would find the whole experience acutely embarrassing, so perhaps it's best that we don't meet.

Anyway, the fact that I'm putting a link to this website here will help direct traffic there and may prevent a few people getting scammed in the same way. It's amazing to think that even an Internet-savvy man of the modern day can get fooled. I do hope he gets his money back.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Latest keywords

I'm not too concerned about my statistics. I've got two blog analysers: Statcounter and Google Analytics, but I don't look at them much. Every now and then I marvel at how many different countries show up in the stats, and I've set up Statcounter to send me a weekly report of page views and visitor numbers, which has stayed pretty static since I started blogging.

The bit that's most fun is seeing the keywords that have brought people to the site. It's not surprising that most visitors browse my blog for exactly no time at all.
  1. A few people have arrived using search terms 'lola life' or 'newlolablog' - there are no laughs to be had there. I wonder if the recent search for 'lola, oxford 2009' is from someone who knows me, and if not, what were they looking for?

  2. People in India, Pakistan, Luxembourg and Australia as well as in the UK have been looking into edible Hepatitis B vaccine and Molecular Pharming (31 searches). Again, not funny or blogworthy, but nice to think I might have helped. Another school topic has been the post about blood groups (4 searches).

  3. Another popular page is the one about the Patagonia Lola Life Jacket. Unsurprisingly, visitors who searched for 'patagonia life jacket' or even 'pategonia lola' didn't hang around long. I particularly like the visitor from Virginia, USA who searched for 'pantagonia lolita life jacket'. Visit length: 0 seconds.

  4. Lots of Leamington Spa action. 17 searches, for sushi, Clarke's greengrocer, the Thai Twig restaurant, the temperate house, the 'Images from the Past' book, the asian supermarket, the elephant seat in Jephson Gardens, and 'what's it like living in leamington spa'. Answer: it's fantastic. I love it.

  5. What is it about Dennis the Locksmith? People seem to want him on a regular basis. Actually, 2 people were looking for him, while one wanted 'Denis the locksmith', and another was after his glamorous cousin, 'Denise the locksmith'.

  6. Some more members of the Lola family:
    • lola hallal
    • lola 500 motorway
    • lola ab work out
    • lola certificate
    • lola bad leg.

  7. And the remainder: a random selection of faintly amusing queries.
    • you're the one that i want are they multiplying
    • rubbish presents from on holiday
    • cambridge moley claire
    • tiffin results for the 11 exam.
So welcome to each and every visitor, and if you're looking for a life jacket, well, I'm sorry about that.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Will this coursework never end?

I wrote this yesterday.

Studying with book and computer
I've been in the library all morning, using the nutritional analysis software to work out how much energy, fat, carbohydrate and protein are in the 24-hour menus I've arranged for my three fictional subjects - the Diabetic, the Coeliac and the Undernourished. I also have to work out these figures for the single dish I've cooked in its original and adapted form (Corned Beef Hash, Chicken Pie and Macaroni Cheese), and how much they cost.

This is complicated by the way the assignment has been set up. I have recipes with amounts for 4 people, I have to cook for 2 people but the analysis is for the one individual. Nutritional information is based on weight so portion sizes have to be estimated - how much do you think the milk in your coffee weighs? Or a quarter of an average carrot? I have set up a spreadsheet to work out the weights and the costs for the three single dishes, and I'm using the online package to work out the whole day's intake. I can double check between the two to highlight errors.

There's more than this, but that's probably enough to convey the worst of it. Thankfully, I've now finished the bulk of the nutritional analysis and printed the comparison with Daily Reference Values, so all that's left is to cook the macaroni cheese (tomorrow) and finish the write-up (over the holidays). That will take another few hours.

I hardly left the house at the weekend, which was a shame, because the weather was lovely. Mr A and I walked up to the greengrocer and back via Tesco, Mr A threaded the rose through his newly strengthened trellis, and we both looked at the newly rendered wall that is meant to stop the damp penetrating the wall of the shower room. It looks very nice; I hope it works. Other than that, I finished my computing coursework and set up the nutritional analysis so I could finish it today.

Only one more week until the end of term, and I'm looking forward to a bit of a break.

Friday, 13 March 2009

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Caves of Steel
by Isaac Asimov

narrated by William Dufris
"When a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Elijah Bayley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. Then he learns that he has been assigned a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worse, the R stands for "robot" - and his positronic partner is made in the image and likeness of the murder victim."
Apparently written in the 1950's, this is as good as any modern-day science fiction, and a lot nearer my taste - no species with strange physiology, for example, and no lengthy descriptions of outer space battles or politics. It's also one of the 'Robot' series, including what I consider to be the genius of the Three Laws of Robotics. If only it were true.

Image of the book cover
How to read a paper
by Trisha Greenhalgh

"This book on evidence-based medicine is used by health care professionals and medical students worldwide. 'How to Read a Paper' explains the meaning of critical appraisal and terms such as numbers needed to treat, how to search the literature, evaluate the different types of papers and put the conclusions to clinical use."
This is a library book I'm reading for university, but it's very readable and extremely interesting. Using real examples that make sense, it points out a huge number of ways that real researchers are misled into thinking they have valid results. Or, alternatively, how to avoid the myriad pitfalls of research. Or even, how to make your inconclusive results mean something conclusive by manipulating the statistical tests. There seem to be so many different ways to get it wrong, and I'm tempted to buy this book just to reinforce my natural cynicism. I have started refusing to believe anything I read or hear without seeing the raw data, which is unhelpful since I mostly don't understand the raw data. It can be quite awkward in casual conversations... "And where is the data to support the assertion that blue Smarties make you sexy?"

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Deadlines this week

Group of plants from Oxford Botanic Gardens
Thank goodness for Lola II, I simply haven't got the time for blogging. I've been working hard on five more bits of coursework.

The first was a group presentation last week on childhood anaemia from a case study we were given. It went pretty well - we were the first group on, so it was a bit of a gamble as to how much detail to put in. It wasn't assessed this time, but we've all now been given a new case study about a burns patient, and that presentation is going to be assessed next term.

The second was a comparison between two research studies, both of which concerned a supplement of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) fed to pigs in one study, and humans in the other. The idea was to see if it reduced body fat, which it did in the pigs but didn't in the humans. We had to come up with as many differences between the studies as we could to explain the different results. That was due in on Monday.

The third was all about coffee and Parkinson's disease: I had to write a magazine article about the findings of a proper research paper, complete with pictures and magazine layout and everything. Then I had to analyse it for readability, and write about how I analysed it for readability. I handed that in this morning.

The fourth is a HUGE bit of coursework that has run alongside our cooking all term, where we describe and justify our choices of meal alterations for a diabetic, coeliac and undernourished person. We also have to put the day's menu and the altered dish through horrible nutritional analysis software that only barely works. That shows up protein, fat, carbohydrate and energy content of the food. The software's only available on the uni computers, so I'll have to spend a bit of time in the computer rooms next week. I had to send in my food order for next week by Tuesday. Macaroni cheese - yum.

Then there's the computing homework, which isn't too bad but I have to do that on the uni computers as well, because of security settings: we're messing with scripts on their servers.

We get two more lots of coursework still to be set, one on nutritional energetics that isn't due in until the start of next term, and another computing one with a deadline of only a week. There are another five lots of coursework due next term, and then a short break before the exams start. At the moment, I'm just looking forward to the Easter holidays, when I can pause for breath.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Oxford #2

The final instalment of our Birthday Weekend in Oxford.

Off we trotted to the Botanical Gardens on Sunday morning with a lovely walk in the beautiful sunshine to get there. Lola and D are big fans of Botanical Gardens. This time I was a little more reluctant but I had a lovely time, starting in the small hothouse with an ENORMOUS jasmine. The smell was over-powering but absolutely beautiful and hard to leave. Plus there was a little display with free little chocolates that Lola and I felt would be rude to refuse.

D can name plants like you wouldn’t believe and we spent some time happily wandering around the sparse plants. That was the moment when we had the annual “WHY DID YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY IN FEBRUARY!!!” And my customary reply was repeated for the hundredth time; “I’m afraid you will have to take that up with my parents”.

Tolkien's TreeJRR Tolkien (1892-1973) and CS Lewis (1898-1963) were both professors at Oxford University, and friends too. The Botanical Gardens have ‘Tolkien’s favourite tree’ and it was truly spectacular.

The Natural History museum was beautiful. Very well-spaced exhibits and perfectly presented cabinets with just the right amount of information. Lots of natural light and, best of all, an exhibit showing the relative hardness of natural substances.

Beneath each mineral was an everyday item, comparable in hardness - a penny, a steel knife and, our favourite, a plaster cast finger. We think it was probably the nail of the finger that was being used for comparison of hardness, but it was fun nonetheless to watch a little girl passing by, exclaiming “a finger, how strange”.

A café visit before hometime and a wise decision by Lola not to make a repeat order of the large hot milk with vanilla syrup, requested the previous day. It was presented in the largest cup imaginable, more like a goblet. For some reason she objected to the sensation of something equitable to the Atlantic sea slopping around her insides afterwards. She wisely went for the mint tea and then home we all went.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Oxford #1

Hello, Lola II here again.

Our birthday weekends always have the same format. Carefully refined over the last twelve years there is almost no discussion on the process, just on content. Lola and I always start our weekends on the Friday night, and D joins us on the Saturday morning.

We choose our B&B on location and price, but there used to be a time when we would question the presence of a trouser press. Though we never had any intention of using the trouser press, its existence somehow lent an air of glamour to our accommodation. “And it has a trouser press!” would be the deciding factor.

Sometimes the triumph of Lola and my arrival is accompanied by a surprise. I mentioned the sushi surprise in my previous entry, but the other I remember is when Lola met me at the station with icing sandwiches.

When cakes were made in our younger days, leftover icing was used to make icing sandwiches. Why wouldn't you? One birthday weekend, Lola surprised me with an icing sandwich in the station car park. The flavour certainly took us back to Childhood Land. Sadly, it also took us to My-Goodness-I’m-Not-Sure-I’ve-Ever-Eaten-Anything-So-Sweet-And-Now-It’s-Stuck-to-The-Roof-Of-My-Mouth Land.

This year we met at Oxford station and I brought the surprise; straight hair!! I thought I’d give it a go during my Birthday Eve haircut, and delighted in Lola’s expression when I appeared from the crowds looking “grown up”, so she said. So I won’t be doing that again.

We ended up for dinner in a small Japanese restaurant Lola remembered from a past visit. Fantastic food and I highly recommended it. In fact, we returned for Saturday lunch (well, we had to introduce it to D) and Sunday lunch (quality testing for consistency).

Present swap back at the B&B – ski socks for me for everyday use because of my constantly cold feet in the British mild winters - sweeties and a fridge magnet for Lola that reads “I’m smiling because you’re my sister. I’m laughing because there’s nothing you can do about it”.

The next morning, as I finished quizzing Lola on the nutritional content of the fun-size cereals on the breakfast table, D arrived. Just because Lola is having a mini-holiday, it shouldn’t mean that she neglects her studies. Also, I’m trying to guarantee a dedication at the start of her dissertation.

Off we went to the tourist office for Weekend Itinerary Setting. No tour of the colleges for us, but yes to a tour of the Bodleian Library. Plus we always go to a classical music concert on the Saturday night. We found one playing Tchaikovsky, Bizet, Berlioz and, I found out at the concert that evening, a couple I had not heard of before called Can’t Play In Tune and Can’t Conduct Properly.

The tour of the Bodleian was very good. The guide had an intriguing hard-to-identify accent and a lovely amount of enthusiasm, only dampened slightly when no-one admitted to being a fan of Harry Potter. The Divinity School, pictured below, was built in 1483 for the teaching of theology, and used as Hogwarts’ Sanatorium. The library itself was used as Hogwarts’ library. He highlighted items of interest on the ceilings and walls using his trusty torch.

Oxford's Bodleian - Divinity SchoolThere we were, a group of about 15 sitting on the benches, when all of a sudden my dangly earring popped out and fell straight down through the heating grate, beneath our feet.

“Any questions?”, the splendid guide man asked. I waited until I was sure no-one was going to ask something related to what he was just talking about, and then put up my hand. The guide looked noticeably pleased. “My earring has fallen through the grate and you have a torch…”. The earring was saved.
“A tradition, still zealously guarded, is that no books were to be lent to readers; even King Charles I was refused permission to borrow a book in 1645. But the number of users should not be overestimated; in 1831 there was an average of three or four readers a day, and there were no readers at all in July. With no heating until 1845 and no artificial lighting until 1929, the Library only opened from 10 am to 3pm in the winter and 9am to 4 pm in the summer.”
We were told that the Bodleian was the first place to ever use the shelf. Up until then books were stored lying down, often in trunks. And the other fun fact is that an Italian book from the 1870’s was requested not so long ago, and when it was opened the pages hadn’t been cut. It hadn’t been opened since it was made over 100 years ago!

Bodleian book storage has now expanded into a big building across the road from the library, with underground pneumatic tubes and a conveyor belt linking the two. Written book requests are placed in canisters and fired over to the other building. The book is then placed on the conveyor belt and, bob’s your uncle, there’s your book! I think it takes a couple of hours, but still.

Naturally Lola felt very at home being in an academic institution, surrounded by books and lots of clever people. D and I were very happy to let everyone else in the group know this by responding to our guide’s question “Does anyone like exams?”, by vigorously pointing at her in a proud, yet apologetic, way.

What smell was over-powering?
Why is there a severed finger in Oxford's Natural History Museum?
Which of the world's oceans did Lola resemble?

Read the final Oxford instalment, coming soon.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Past Februarys

Hello, Lola II here.

Each year, on a weekend near my birthday, the three of us choose somewhere to explore in the UK. Every year comments are made by Lola and D, saying that February is a poor choice and why do we do it in February and isn't February awful and it’s so cold in February and the botanical gardens are not at their best in February, etc. Twelve years later, once again, we went away for a weekend in February…

Let's start with years gone by.

Stratford-upon-Avon: This first weekend was actually a recce before overseas family came to visit. For fun we planned it near my birthday, and that's when it's been ever since.

Birmingham: Lola prepared a fantastic platter of sushi in our hotel room as a surprise, for my arrival on the Friday night. I can remember entering our room, wondering what on earth the strange smell was, followed by the amazing spectacle of raw fish near my bed.

Brighton: our Grandfather and Great Aunt lived in Brighton. My sisters used to go and visit them when they were teeny-tiny. Our weekend was full of comments from them about how much smaller everything seemed.

A highlight was the amazing cake shop we stumbled upon called Choccywoccydoodah (Look at the cakes! Look at the cakes!). It was also that weekend that saw Lola promoted to Beer Monitor. D has great respect for Lola's beer recommendations.

Lincoln: That weekend was fun and included a road system that meant we were continuously turning left...

Isle of Wight: Ah now, one of my favourites. I understand that the ferry crossing from the mainland to the Isle of Wight is the most expensive £/mile sea crossing in the world. Apart from that, it was a great weekend wandering around, lovely pub lunches packed full of fresh seafood and a great evening in a pub with live music.

The main highlight was the rather splendid heated discussion between Lola and D. One thought the bush was lavender, the other rosemary. I displayed a surprising amount of common sense by not getting involved at all. I just stood quietly on the sidelines, wondering who was going to get custody of me in the event of a permanent split.

It just so happened that we were on the way to the Botanical Gardens, so I was promptly ignored whilst the two warring siblings fought out the discussion over reference books. Sadly, neither could find a definitive answer. Naughtily, whilst this was going on, I happened to chance upon a plant stick with the word 'lavender' on it. What are the chances! Quietly I tucked it away in my pocket until we were on our way back past the BUSH OF DISPUTE. Slyly I managed to slip the label onto the bush and seconds later, D declared excitedly “LOOK, IT IS LAVENDER!!!!!!”.

Unfortunately, Lola knows me too well and immediately guessed that it was me who put it there. I would have got away with it if it wasn't for that pesky Lola.

The BuskerSt Albans: This was one of my two least favourite weekends. It is the only one of our weekends I can remember when it has rained. We ended up inside, painting pottery and making three lovely wall tiles for our parents that are on proud display in their kitchen as I type. Otherwise I have absolutely no recollection of what we did.

Bath: Here we enjoyed a near-naked busker standing on his hands with a sparkler cleverly clenched between the cheeks of his bootocks. Also the amaaaazing Roman Baths – the lead lining the main pool is the original from Roman times!

Lola II & Lola in 3D glassesBristol: This is my other least favourite. It really did feel to me that there was NOTHING TO DO in Bristol, although I'm sure anyone from Bristol will be able to easily prove me wrong. We had a nice walk one of the days. Other than that, it was just the 3D glasses that live on in my memory.

Ealing: My home town. There was lots of Life happening that February, and so we decided to take it easy and do something local. I think we went to the cinema together but, other than that, my only recollection is of D putting together a DIY wine rack kit that seemed to be manufactured so that no human would be able to DIY it. She struggled with it for quite some time, finally getting all the little rods to sit in the little holes. Sadly the whole thing collapsed soon after she left and so, some time later, our Dad tackled the project with glue. It has been happily whole ever since.

No weekend: We had planned to go to Winchester but naughty Lola broke her foot not skiing, so that was the end of that.

Winchester: Another of my favourites. It's a beautiful place with lots and lots to see, lovely pubs and tours and history and and and. Best of all, not only had Lola wrapped my presents (very out of character) but she had done so such a long time ago that she couldn’t remember what she’d got me. Both of us had a lovely surprise.

Lastly, Oxford! For that description you'll have to tune in later.

Sparkler Bootocked Busker

Monday, 2 March 2009

Birthday weekend in Oxford

Bench in garden with stone urnNo time to blog. Absolutely no time at all. I've played badminton tonight, I've got at least five lots of coursework waiting, preparation for a presentation about anaemia tomorrow, lectures every day, Student Ambassador duty for a couple of hours on Wednesday and a badminton match on Thursday. There's really no time. Except you won't get an account of Lola II's birthday weekend in Oxford if I don't blog it soon, because I'll forget it all. Perhaps Lola II could write about it?

Meanwhile, here's a picture of a particularly attractive bench in Oxford Botanic Gardens (click to enlarge). That will have to keep you going for the time being.