Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Festive seasoning

House with 'snow'
The holiday season is half over, and all has gone well so far. Christmas Day lunch was fine, although at the last minute Mr A proposed that he would construct a pigeon breast starter (with salad leaves to placate me and my weird fixation on vegetable matter). Maybe he decided that there just wasn't enough meat. I really think that if he were allowed, Mr A would subsist on nothing but meat, salty snacks and wine gums. Anyway, against my better judgement, I let him, but I should have made him do it on Boxing Day because he just got in the way when I was trying to coordinate the main course. It was very nice, anyway.

We were very sparing with presents. I ordered a couple of books from Amazon for Mr A. One is about the history of MI5, written by the lecturer at Bletchley Park who spoke so well, and the other is the Booker winner this year, Wolf Hall, a novel about Thomas Cromwell. What you can't tell from Amazon is the size of the books, and while I knew they were both hardbacks, they turned out to be huge: each of them about two inches thick. Very impressive in terms of quantity, and the MI5 one has got the quality thumbs up already.

Mr A gave me three DVD sets, which is a bit of a swiz given that I now have to share them with him. We've already watched quite a lot of Fry and Laurie's Jeeves and Wooster ITV series, which is tremendous. We've been very surprised that Hugh Laurie is so good - I think he's busy in America most of the time nowadays, so we don't see him as much as Stephen Fry, who's on the box every two minutes here. The other two are The Wire and the first series of The Thick Of It. Plenty of economical sofa-based entertainment to look forward to over the coming year.

We've been rather unlucky with the weather, though. Some might be pleased that in the current period of unusually arctic temperatures we have been spared the travel chaos that ensues from heavy snow. We, however, are not planning to travel anywhere, and would have loved to take the toboggan out for a spin, but we have had nothing but a light dusting of snow which has long since disappeared. A neighbour, however, was determined that a white Christmas would need to be arranged, and procured a snow machine (it was more like foam, actually). Their house is in the picture at the top of this post. Very festive.

[The revision is going quite well, although at this stage I am always very nervous and unsure whether there is enough time/concerned that I am blogging when I should be revising/keeping emergency chocolate in my desk drawer/being reminded again of how unpleasant revision is. One factor that has improved the experience was finding an old cartridge pen, and cartridges containing purple ink. Lovely!]

Monday, 28 December 2009

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer

"January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb? As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends — and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is."
Loaned and recommended by Lola II, this is a lovely book, easy to read, just what I needed in between heavy bouts of coursework.

Image of the book cover
Beware of God
by Shalom Auslander

"These stories have the mysterious punch of a dream: a pious man having a near-death experience discovers that God is actually a chicken, searches Home Depot for supplies for an ark, mistakes Holocaust Remembrance Day as emergency-preparedness training for the future."
This book's author has read one or two of his stories on This American Life podcast, and I thought it would be ideal as a present for mum and/or dad. Unfortunately, the podcast stories are edited for the radio audience, and the book is a great deal cruder in its language and choice of topics, and nowhere near as entertaining. So I'm not going to give the book to them, unless they really want to read it. Not recommended.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

I am a Winner

Medal, trophy and sparkly wine bagI have started my revision, but must take a short break to report on various mundane events that have been taking place.

I have won the White Lions badminton tournament (with my excellent partner of course). I was lucky to get a good pairing in the random draw, but I feel good nevertheless. They made us stand on one of the PE benches to receive our medals and trophies, and the sparkly bag contained a bottle of wine. I really like this club...

In other news, I have been alternately revising and finding displacement activities to put off revising. It is really cold, so sitting still at the desk requires four or five layers of clothing including thermals, even though the heating is working quite well. At some point I need to go out to the Post Office, but while I can justify making another cup of tea to put off revising, I really need to find a way to concentrate and stay put at my desk.

I only have two subjects to revise (plus some coursework that doesn't need to be done until February). The trouble is that I don't find Health Promotion particularly interesting or easy to revise. We get extra credit for putting in references, but it feels a bit like History at school - do they want me to remember dates? I can't tell what's important, and might end up writing a lot of irrelevant stuff. There's still time to get it sorted out, but it doesn't make revising easy - not that revising is easy, but I'm more comfortable drawing diagrams of metabolic pathways than describing theoretical models of health behaviour change or World Health Organisation charters.

Oh yes, and it's Christmas soon, and I'm in charge of dinner this year. Mr A has done the last two years based on the need for me to revise for loads of exams, but having only two exams means that I feel able to volunteer this time. We even have a plan for New Year, because the Cricketers is putting on a splendid party including music, games, a quiz, and after midnight we all Conga down to the local dance venue where we have a VIP area to carry on the party.

Must get back to revision now.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Story of a few days' holiday

Prawns in curry sauce with rice and a big bowl of soup
Lola II's computer is slow slow slow. I am at Lola II's flat while she is out at work, because I am a student, and we students have holidays in between frenzied episodes of coursework deadlines and exams.

I just asked Lola II's computer to do more than one thing at a time. It didn't like it much, but had a vague stab at it, and played with an hourglass for a while until I got bored and told it to stop. I want to watch the iplayer version of the Dr Who episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks that I missed on Wednesday, but I think I will have to feed the computer special champagne-and-chocolate-flavoured electricity if I want it to oblige on that score.

So Lola II is moving house in January, and this is a good thing. I'm not supposed to write about it until it has happened because I will jinx the whole affair, but I'm not scared, and her computer being slow makes me want to throw it away and get her a new one in the new house. While she is at work today I am supposed to check out cheaper telephone and Internet packages, but instead I am going to go into town to have lunch. Lola II has only half a pack of dates and some olives in her fridge - she clearly keeps body and soul together with nothing but canapés.

It is later now, and the computer is much faster. This is suspicious - perhaps it is only slow at particular times, when Lola II is at home, and either the computer or the broadband connection is picking on her? Either way, they need to be disciplined in some electronic fashion, and replaced completely in the new house.

While I was out in town I obviously had Japanese food for lunch, and then attempted to buy clothing which I may have to take back tomorrow if it doesn't get the thumbs up from Lola II. I completely forgot about the particular present for Mr A that I might find in a department store until I looked at my list on the way home. I really don't like shopping very much.

It is now tomorrow, and I did manage to watch the Dr Who Buzzcocks episode without incident, and then a DVD of A Room With A View with Helena Bonham Carter looking about 15 years old. Today the computer is moderately fast, but at least I didn't have to watch it struggle into life because Lola II turned it on before I was awake.

During the night I dreamed that I had three assignments to do and only three days, and my tutors commented that it wasn't like me to leave it so late, and I realised that it simply wasn't going to be possible to finish the work, and then I woke up and had to spend some time concentrating on the fact that it wasn't real. I need to do some revision soon, just so I know I will be ready for the exams.

I have just phoned home to see what Mr A has been up to. He has been to a gig! Without me! He went with Smurf and some other locals to see The Stranglers, and by all accounts had a great time. I shall have to think twice about leaving him on his own in future, since the idea is that he misses me terribly and is glad to see me again when I come back.

The clothing was deemed acceptable by Lola II and does not have to be returned, and I am very proud of having found it and bought it myself. Charity shops in the Leamington Spa region will benefit to the tune of four old unflattering sweatshirts, displaced in favour of my two fancy new jumpers on a two-for-one basis as previously agreed.

Lola II and I spent the day doing some of the more difficult things involved in moving house: for example, trying to understand how to dismantle and re-assemble telecommunications systems providing telephone and broadband access to domestic properties. It's not easy at all. Because of all that hard work, it was important that we scheduled some less stressful activity as well. So we went out for Japanese food and watched two films.

The end of my holiday was spent setting up dad as an ebay tycoon. I have written before about his stamp and coin collection, and the latest idea is to try and sell some of the material through ebay. There is little demand, and most of the material on ebay that we looked at ended up unsold, but it costs nothing but time and effort to have a go.

I'm back home now, and revision should start very soon - I did read half a book on Health Promotion on the train, but blogging must obviously come first. Mr A is pleased to see me, despite having had such a good time without me. We are going to the pub later, where I will give Smurf a good ticking off for leading my husband astray while I am out of town. He will ignore me, we will have a nice beer and then come home and perhaps watch Frost/Nixon.

I will start revising properly tomorrow. Definitely.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Birmingham, quiz, builders and plumbers

It has been pointed out that the frequency of my blogging has decreased somewhat. Well, you know what? my life isn't all that interesting when I'm not learning wild and crazy stuff about dietary assessment, obscure enzymes and epidemiology. If you'd like to know that I did some laundry, went to the Post Office and made two batches of mince pies, then you have a very low boredom threshold.

Birmingham statue, carousel and Town HallIn fact I have been out of the house on more interesting ventures: I went to Birmingham to meet two lovely ex-work colleagues. I went a bit early because the train is cheaper if you don't travel at commuter times. Normally I would have gone to the cinema, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to see, so I went for a wander around the shops. I actually need a new school bag, a cardigan or V-neck jumper, and a particular present for Mr A that I might find in a department store. Shopping isn't among my preferred activities, especially in the run-up to Christmas, so I spent about three hours in shops and bought three pens for myself. They are very nice pens, so that's good.

After I'd met lovely ex-work colleagues, we went for a stroll around the German Market that's an annual fixture around Christmas time in Birmingham city centre, and treated ourselves to a mug of glühwein. Catching up with everything that's been going on brought it home to me that I've been out of work for more than two years - and I don't regret it one bit. Starting a whole new career was a great idea, and I'm continually thanking my lucky stars (and mum and dad) that I'm able to afford it.

Quiz teamMr A and I both attended another quiz with the (old, fat) ex-badminton players and my favourite Bee Lady. They are in line for some mild abuse because a) they like it, and b) they are the ones giving me stick for not blogging. Latest bee fact: the name of the old type of beehive (shaped like a beehive rather than a square box) is a skep. Being winter, there isn't a lot of other bee-related activity to report. As usual, we rated our own quiz abilities a great deal higher than the final score would suggest - we came fourth.

Are you interested in our building/plumbing situation? No, I thought not. Well, I've put in a claim form to the insurance company over the hole in the ceiling and lifted parquet, which means we need two quotes for the work. Alf has been in touch - he's very busy (any decent builder is always very busy) and can't do anything for us until January at the earliest, but he did promise to send a quote. Nothing has arrived so far. I have details for another recommended builder (but he's very busy), and I must now try him too. Meanwhile, the polystyrene balls continue to block the bath tap, and we still have a lovely hole in the living room ceiling, a damp wall, no door to the loft, a towel radiator in its box in the hall, paint, tiles and an unfinished bathroom. It could be a lot worse - the house is warm and we live very well. I cooked braised pheasant at the weekend.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Table setting at the badminton party
Term has ended now, and Mr A can definitely tell by my mood. No longer preoccupied with whatever coursework is hanging over me, I smile at him when he asks what plans I have for the day. I managed to hand all the coursework in early, so I even spent an afternoon on the sofa watching a film, and an evening at the badminton club's Christmas party.

For someone who doesn't like parties, this was quite a step. I made the decision quite late, and only when it became clear that a) I would already have finished all my coursework, and b) partners were not invited. This makes things much easier - I wouldn't have a load of strangers to talk to, and I wouldn't have to worry about Mr A having a load of strangers to talk to either. So my next problem was what to wear.

The men had decided to dress up to the extent of black tie, so my usual level of attire wasn't going to be sufficient - the women would definitely be wearing sparkly tops and make-up, and I would stand out in a polo shirt and clean trousers. Mr A gave me a hand with choosing a jacket, and I cleaned up some silver earrings that had gone black.

It was a lovely evening, with unusually good food for a large hotel-catered Christmas event. We occupied two tables out of about 40, there was a band and a disco, and it all went on until after 1 a.m. I made the mistake of dancing too soon after dinner, and suffered from horrendous indigestion all evening. But apart from that, it was great.

Next day was yesterday, the last day of term. Two thirds of the 9.30 a.m. lecture class was still working on the coursework that had to be handed in by 3 p.m., so the audience was small, but I stayed awake somehow. I had to have a sleep in a layby on the way home, though, and another couple of hours extra sleep later in the afternoon.

Fully recovered this morning, I'm going to enjoy about a week without homework or revision, then get stuck in again for the two exams I've got in January.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Over the last few months, Mr A and I have treated ourselves to a number of comedy gigs at Warwick Arts Centre. We have seen Reginald D Hunter (and support), Milton Jones (and support), Adam Hills, Rob Brydon (and support) and Marcus Brigstocke. It has been quite the most concentrated set of visits to one theatrical venue that I can ever remember.

Warwick Arts Centre is on the campus of Warwick University, which is technically located in Coventry rather than Warwick. This gives comics a little trouble, because traditionally a performer will start off with some 'local' jokes, picked up through reading a local paper or asking a local resident about local issues. This would work for a venue in a town centre, where the majority of the audience will have experience of that place. But I think the WAC audience consists of mostly middle class professional people from Warwick, Leamington, Kenilworth, and Warwickshire villages. Coventry residents and Warwick uni students are in the minority. Mr A and I never visit Coventry - the nearest I get is the ring road on the way to some badminton venue.

[One comedian we saw a few years ago misjudged the audience spectacularly, because presumably he thought a campus gig would be full of students. He made some 'hilarious' comments at the expense of taxpayers, which were met with unsmiling silence since the 99% taxpaying audience didn't find the idea of ripping off taxpayers very funny.]

Anyway, here's how it went:

Reg D Hunter was very good, despite our seat location in the front row (the tickets were returns, I had no choice). Proper funny. His support act was unpleasant though - a shouty, opinionated, hairy Australian delivered a ranty set including diatribes against 'political correctness' and 'health and safety', both of which are NOT utterly pointless.

Reg D Hunter: 8/10. Support act: 1/10.

I love Milton Jones for his very dry one-liners - he reminded me of Tommy Cooper's way of throwing out a line that you realise a second or two later is hilarious once you've worked it out. His support act seemed quite young and inexperienced, which put me on edge in case he bombed, but he just about got through.

Milton Jones: 7/10. Support act: 5/10.

Next came Adam Hills, who did the whole gig himself, no support, and was pretty good. It was a shame, though, because although it's traditional to pick on people in the front row of comedy gigs, he chose to pick on a 17 year-old lad who really didn't want the attention. He should have let it go and moved on, but he persisted, even into the second half, and Mr A said he just stopped enjoying it because this lad was having such a bad time.

Adam Hills: 6/10, but would have been higher if he'd left the boy alone.

Then Rob Brydon, who's actually famous. Nobody's heard of Milton Jones, but once you mention the Welsh one in Gavin and Stacey, people know Rob Brydon. He had a very funny and expert support act, whose best line was at the start when some latecomers arrived: "Rob's not here so we're all having a go - I'm from Row G." Rob himself did about 90 minutes after the interval - in fact, it ended so late that we couldn't even get a pint in the pub when we got home. He was the most actorly and rehearsed, even though there was a fair amount of audience interaction - again, interacting with the middle classes isn't very funny without a lot of rowdy students.

Rob Brydon: 8/10. Support act: 7/10.

Now we come on to Marcus Brigstocke. I've had tickets to see Marcus before at WAC, but forgot to go, which was one of the most furiously annoying things that has ever happened to me. I have seen him before, at Ealing Comedy Festival with Lola II and nephew 1, but that was just a short set and he wasn't even headlining. I loved it. The interesting thing is that he was probably just as shouty and opinionated as Reg D Hunter's support act, but this time I agreed with him, so that made it OK.

Marcus Brigstocke: 9/10.

I rather prefer comedy gigs to music, although it's hard to beat some good old-fashioned dancin'. Previous comedians wot I 'ave seen over the years have been:
  • Paul Merton - obviously a consummate professional
  • Eddie Izzard - I probably laughed the most at this one
  • Ed Byrne - pretty good even before he was very famous
  • Ross Noble - can go a bit off track, but funny nevertheless
  • Lee Mack - love him
  • Rich Hall - love him mo'
  • Steve Coogan - a long long time ago when he was doing stand up, not great
  • Jack Dee - I actually can't remember much about this one, because I was only there for the support act who was:
  • Richard Morton - hardly well-known at all, but I think he's wonderful
  • Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis - a double act really helps with stand up
  • Bill Bailey - impressed at his musical skill as well as the surreal comedy
  • Dr Phil Hammond - this is the one that my parents should see, but he doesn't seem to be touring any more
  • A recording of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: Graeme Garden, Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Tony Hawks on this occasion, with Humphrey Lyttleton - what a wonderful show that is
  • Richard Herring - a very little gig, but it was in Leamington (reviewed here)
  • Jeremy Hardy - he's a very funny man
  • Sue Perkins - I expected to laugh more than I did at this one
  • Linda Smith - I loved her, but sadly no longer with us
  • David Mitchell and Robert Webb - Their live gig didn't grab me like their TV stuff does.
There are more, but I haven't included the ones where I remember I was there but can't remember anything else about it. I'm quite surprised, not just at the number of different comedians, but also at how clearly I remember the gigs, some of which were over 15 years ago.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A short break and a presentation

Last weekend, we were supposed to go camping. I know, November isn't a traditional camping month, but we were going to have a big wood fire and sit around with a load of friends keeping warm by dint of conviviality, conversation and alcohol. But the forecast was for rain and more rain, most of the friends had forgotten that they'd agreed to come, and the ones who remembered didn't much want to sit in the rain and then sleep in a wet tent. So Mr A, Lola II and I were at a bit of a loose end.

Mr A and me eating sherbet fountainsWe decided to go to stay with Lola II, eat Japanese food, see a film (The Men Who Stare At Goats - Mr A and I liked the film; Lola II was less keen), eat a fried breakfast, go to the Science Museum and then eat more Japanese food before coming home. At the museum we split up so that Mr A could get his fill of Planes and Cars and Engines while we looked at Health, Medicine and Time. We met up at one of the cafés, where we discovered Sherbet Fountains that still had wrappers made of paper! We felt obliged to sample them, simply for the sake of nostalgia.

Returning to our dilapidated country mansion on Sunday night (no, Alf has not yet told us when/if he will finish our bathroom and mend the hole in the ceiling), I look forward to the torment of the Ethics presentation, and do one more practice before the big day.

So, our presentation about the ethics of force feeding patients with anorexia nervosa. It's a pretty serious topic, and the literature describes how terrible life can be if you're living with a condition that doesn't let you eat, and makes you vomit, exercise, or eat laxatives if you do eat. You are totally cut off from most of the activities of daily living open to the rest of us, either because of fatigue, illness, self-consciousness about your emaciated appearance, or the fear that eating will be required.

The group comprised just four people in the end - one girl assigned to our group has actually now left the course. We decided to act out a case study, to try and bring a bit more engagement and interaction to the presentation, which was mostly just Powerpoint bullet points. It was a pretty ambitious idea, and it mostly worked, except that one of our group had a fit of giggles. I was pretty cross about that.

It is fairly typical of my attitude to some of the students at the moment: I wish they would grow up. I can't be too critical out loud - after all, I was much more irresponsible at their age - but I'm losing patience now. It's nearly the end of term, which always makes me very tired, so I just have to hang on for another week and I won't have to see them again until the end of January.

Coursework is nearly done - if I can just concentrate properly, it will probably take another two days. Yesterday we were given some more, but it doesn't need to be handed in until February, so I can do it over the holidays along with my revision. And one of the modules is now exclusively taught by my favourite lecturer in the world, who also happens to be my personal tutor as well, so Friday mornings are still a haven of bliss in a sea of pain.