Monday, 31 August 2009

Food and Drink Festival

I'm getting over the pain of the lost ipod. As I type this, I'm watching several different auctions on ebay, which is the most affordable replacement method. Mr A is fully appraised of the situation and my appropriation of his ipod, and apart from one misjudged attempt at humour, he has been very supportive of my plight.

One thing that always cheers me up is the lovely town I live in. Another thing is food. The past weekend has brought those together in the shape of the Leamington Spa Food & Drink Festival.

Round flat loaves speckled with herbs and with an olive embedded in the centreFrenchman with classic moustache selling cheeseMan in apron tending vegetables and meat in a huge flat pan

The regulars at the monthly Warwickshire farmers' market have been joined in the Pump Room Gardens by a whole load of other stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. They are also running something called the 'Taste Trail' which involves visiting restaurants around town, eating free food, and rating the experience. Not too difficult, then. Mr A was busy first thing Saturday morning, so I visited my first two establishments without him.

The first (Mumbai Bluu) supplied a little taster of pasta with salmon, which was quite nice, if a little dry. It's a lovely airy place to sit - I had thought that it was an Indian restaurant, simply by the name, but actually it isn't.

Small portion of pasta, flower in vaseTasting plate with eight bite-size nibbles

I thought that a little taster of a single dish would be the norm, but it wasn't at all. The second place (Seasons Restaurant) was very busy, but I sat outside, and I was presented with a tasting plate with all sorts of tasty bites. I imagine that normally the plate was for sharing in a group, but hey! I wasn't in a group, so I had it all to myself. The duck paté was particularly nice.

When I came home and related my tales to Mr A, he said that he thought I was just going to visit the market, and felt hard done by to have missed the tasters. So we walked out together to the Restaurant in the Park, which is in a wonderful location overlooking the river and weir and adjoining the Temperate House. There they served us two courses: a savoury and a sweet, which made up for having to share one plate between two.

It was just around the corner, and almost on the way home, so we dropped in at the Newbold as well. It would have been rude not to. This is a gastropub, so we even treated ourselves to some beer while we waiting. The format was different again - this time, waiting staff brought round big platters with either roast beef and horseradish on yorkshire pudding, or salmon on toasted baguette. The beef was done to perfection, the Spitfire beer was very fine, and we sat in the 'garden' (more like a yard, but never mind) and mused on how much we like our town.

Raspberry tarts dusted with icing sugar
To be continued...

Friday, 28 August 2009

Ode to an ipod, by Lola II

Oh ipod, why did you take your leave without even a small farewell?
She says it's been like losing a limb, though an arm that small must be hell.

The truth is, I really must take some blame - if it wasn't for me calling,
she wouldn't have been rummaging in the bag from which, it seems, you came falling.

She’s wearing black and has random wires trailing from her ears.
And each time she hears a podcast title it’s reducing her to tears.

Wherever you are oh please come home, I'm not sure she'll survive.
Mind you, if things are really so bad, to me she just may drive.

On second thoughts, yes please stay lost and this advantage I will seize.
It won’t be long ‘til she pulls up outside and demands we eat Japanese!

I have lost my ipod

It feels as though I have lost a limb.

I have stolen Mr A's ipod. He does not know this yet.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

My work experience ends

A thin layer chromatography plateMy time in the lab at Warwick uni is over. It's been an interesting and challenging experience, where I've learned a lot. I can now use one or two laboratory techniques with an intermediate level of skill. I have had a glimpse at one type of research, where a hypothesis is tested against practical results, with interesting outcomes that lead to new hypotheses and also shed light on what might actually be happening at the microscopic level of a single cell.

My participation in the research was brought to an end when a consignment of one of the radioactive substrates that we were feeding to the cells was delayed and couldn't be delivered in time. I thought it would be a good way to complete my work with them if I came to the department meeting and had a cup of tea and some cake with H and my supervisor afterwards, by way of saying goodbye.

The regular department meeting takes place on a Wednesday afternoon. One member of the team describes their research each time, and the others have the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions. At the meetings I went to, I understood almost nothing. The researchers were presenting to colleagues rather than lecturing to an audience, so went at enormous speed and used abbreviations and jargon throughout. Some others in the team asked questions, but I barely understood what they were asking, let alone the answers.

At our 'goodbye' tea and cake event, I was given a card and a box of chocolates, which was very nice indeed. I realised that I would have to return briefly at some point because I'd forgotten to bring back the key to my locker, so when I found out that H was due to present her work at the next department meeting, I suggested that I could come along to that. That was when it was proposed that I should present what I'd been doing.

Normally I don't have a problem with presentations, but normally I know what I'm talking about. In the lab I've been working from a written protocol, with instructions to take this amount of substance A and add it to that amount of substance B. I've learned a lot about how to calculate concentrations and make up solutions, how to keep cells alive in culture, how to work safely with radioactivity, how to pipette accurately without contaminating anything, how to count cells and how to run a thin layer chromatography plate. These are all potentially useful and valuable skills, and I'd be happy to talk about them. But that isn't what's needed at a departmental meeting. I hadn't been paying any attention to exactly why I was doing whatever it was, or what the results actually meant.

So I have had to do a bit of hard work for a few days, reading academic papers and trying to understand the cellular and metabolic paths that we've been interfering with. We've been tinkering with various steps in the pathways that liver cells use to make fat.

Fat comprises a collection of triglyceride molecules: a 'backbone' made of glycerol and three 'legs' made of fatty acids: long chains of carbon and hydrogen linked together. When we digest fat from food we eat, we usually separate the glycerol backbone from at least two of the fatty acids, and absorb the glycerol, monoglyceride and fatty acids as separate molecules. In the cells of the gut and in the liver the triglyceride is assembled again, packed up together with cholesterol and protein and exported into the blood as lipoprotein particles of various densities. The triglyceride payload of lipoproteins is delivered to muscle for energy, or to adipose tissue to be stored as fat.

If you eat no fat at all, triglycerides are released from your stored reserves. If you have no stored fat either, the body can still manufacture triglycerides from molecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. So the formulation of a drug that regulates the amount of adipose tissue (hence how fat we are) needs to address all the different pathways that result in triglyceride synthesis, without having any nasty side effects. The results of my experiments highlight a couple of the different paths that exist, and shed light on which enzymes act at each stage.

The research I've been part of is funded by a large pharmaceutical company, and is extremely commercially sensitive. The PhD student I was working with is not even allowed to discuss her progress or results with other colleagues, which I think is a huge handicap. An even greater disadvantage for her in the long term is that it is very difficult for her to publish any results, given that the number of publications under your name is a universally accepted measure of your academic quality and importance.

Lab box full of tubes and bottlesThe presentation went fine. H did most of the work, and I contributed about 5 minutes when I told them what I thought I'd been doing. By the end of the presentation I understood a lot more about the metabolic pathways in liver cells and the experiments that I'd done than I did at the start. I doubt that this knowledge will be useful in my future career, and I also doubt that I'll remember it beyond a week or so, but I'm very glad I did the work experience. I'm also glad it has stopped now.

I shall enjoy the last few weeks of the last long holiday I may have: next summer I should be on a clinical placement, and the following summer I'm hoping I'll have a job.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Weekend: Lola II, shopping and picnic

Lola II has been here for the weekend. So I haven't had time to do much writing for the blog, seeing as how we've been so busy creating material to go in it.

On Friday, her mission (and she chose to accept it) was to help me buy clothes. I think I've mentioned before that I find clothes shopping rather difficult and unpleasant. This is why the majority of the clothes I possess date back to prehistoric times, and aren't particularly flattering. I've used Debenhams' Personal Shopper service before, but the nearest Debenhams is in Birmingham. So my latest bright idea is to try the charity shops - Leamington has a good number of these, being a fairly well-off middle-class town.

British Red Cross and Cancer Research UK came up with the goods - three shirts, one pair of trousers and a pair of shoes in a couple of hours for less than £25. In exchange I have discarded six shirts, two pairs of trousers and a pair of shoes on a 'two for one' basis, which was Lola II's quite brutal clause in the mission statement. There is still a huge pile of my clothes that still need replacing, and at least five other charity shops in town, so I may have to be brave enough to visit them on my own.

In Lola II's honour, I prepared a full roast dinner with all the trimmings for Friday night. We then watched 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day', a not-very-well-known film starring Frances MacDormand and Amy Adams that's rather fun. And so endeth Friday.

On Saturday I'd invited quite a lot of people to join us for a picnic in the park at the end of the road, followed by a visit to the pub. My expectations were low, but should perhaps have been lower, because hardly anyone turned up at all. It was fine, though - we were never sitting on our own, and we were particularly entertained by P's Cosmic Rocket. My thanks to the eight people (count them: eight!) who shared our special afternoon and evening.

After brunch and a short walk Lola II has now set off for home, and I'm thinking about doing a bit more work in the garden. But I'm only thinking about it, I doubt whether I'll go out and do anything...

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Natural effect of a cactus appearing as a heart
I hate weddings.

I suppose I could say more truthfully that I hate traditional weddings. The sort with meringue dresses, unfamiliar churches, top hats and tails, bridesmaids wearing matching dresses that really don't suit those who aren't shaped like a fashion model, ushers in kilts, guests in uncomfortable clothes, hats and new shoes, ungainly halting speeches, earsplitting discos run by strange DJs, and a fair bit of drunken incoherence by the end of the evening.

Most of my close friends who are married did the deed in the late 80's and early 90's. At that point, I thought it was the actual marriage service that I was finding particularly objectionable, so I negotiated for an exemption at the next wedding I was invited to, so I could just come to the party afterwards.

It was interesting to find out what the bride and groom's perception was when I proposed this alteration. I had thought that as in other party situations, an apology would be accepted with good grace, and perhaps some relief. In fact, it prompted an unexpectedly serious and in-depth discussion about the roles of hosts and guests in the wedding situation. It appears that non-attendance, especially when voluntary and not due to some other pressing engagement, can actually be taken as a mild insult.

But I found that it wasn't just the ceremony that was upsetting me. The amount of money spent on that perfect day seemed disproportionate to the amount of fun that I was having, or contributing. So, to try to avoid giving offence in future, I spread the word among friends and colleagues and anyone who seemed likely to want me at their wedding that I wouldn't be going to any more weddings, or receptions, or parties afterwards.

With the passing of years I have come to believe that my wedding phobia consists of three separate and independent parts: a) I consider that the emotional content of two-person relationships should remain private, b) I hate seeing (and contributing to) unnecessary extravagance, and c) I don't like parties. The first two reasons keep me away from most wedding-type ceremonies (and had a very large influence on my own wedding arrangements), and the last has been a revelation! I don't like parties!

Everyone is supposed to like parties - the very word implies enjoyment, fun, having a great time. I look back at the number of parties I went to when younger, when I was thinking "Is this what having fun is like? Why, then, am I not enjoying myself?" So now I go to very few parties, host even fewer, and that's fine by me.

Having said all that, last weekend Mr A and I found ourselves at a wedding party. But it was OK, for a number of very good reasons:
  • we weren't invited to the ceremony
  • it was very low key - in a Sea Scout hall, no hats, no meringue dresses, and a homemade buffet and BBQ
  • I was confident that there would be a group of guests that I knew - the couple getting married had also been on the Plymouth-Dakar charity trip that Mr A did, and several others from that trip were there, including Biker Couple whom we had visited earlier in the summer
  • we were camping.
There was a good deal of live music, including the groom and his ukulele-playing friends, a couple of guitarists, and a ceilidh band with a lead saxophonist/flautist instead of a fiddle player. The food was exceptionally good, and while none of our group was particularly interested in the dancing, we had a nice time.

Groggy-looking man peering from the partly opened door of a bright pink tentSix of us ended up camping - I love camping! - and luckily the weather was fine. In the morning I was looking forward to a cup of tea from Mr A's all-powerful camping stove (runs on anything), which this time failed due to a lack of any fuel at all. He'd emptied it out completely so that he could take it on the flight that brought him back from Europe when his bike failed. So we all went to a nearby cafe and had a proper breakfast. I feel I should record that Biker Couple made me laugh so much over the weekend that my face hurt.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
Health Behavior Change: A Guide for Practitioners
by Stephen Rollnick, Pip Mason and Chris Butler

"This book aims to provide health professionals - doctors, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, occupational therapists, counsellors, dietitians - with a method they can use to help patients make decisions about health behavior change in both hospital and community settings."
(A textbook is part of my casual reading for the holidays - draw your own conclusions.) When it comes to treatment for a broken leg, pneumonia or an ingrowing toenail, the patient's role is to draw it to the attention of the clinician, and then sit back and comply with treatment - the patient is almost entirely passive, apart from swallowing pills at suitable intervals. With a dietitian, the patient is the one who is called upon to take action, either by eating more, or less, or differently. Whether the outcome is a success or a failure depends primarily on the patient, although the dietitian can certainly affect that outcome. What's clear is that telling people what they should and shouldn't eat is a strategy that rarely succeeds.

Image of the book cover
Q & A
by Vikas Swarup

narrated by Christopher Simpson
"Eighteen-year-old Ram Mohammad Thomas has been arrested after answering twelve questions correctly on a TV quiz show to win one billion rupees. The producers have accused him of cheating his way to victory. Twelve extraordinary events in street-kid Ram's life - how he was adopted as a foundling orphan by a priest; came to have three names; fooled a professional hit man; even fell in love - give him the crucial answers."
This is the book that became Slumdog Millionaire, and while the film was good, the book is even better. It's also quite different - the life stories and questions aren't the same, and Ram's reason for going on the show isn't the same as in the film, and is revealed only at the very end. I've been utterly enthralled by the reading, and even Mr A, passing through the kitchen, stopped for a while to listen. It was brilliant.

Image of the book cover
Mr Standfast
by John Buchan

"When Richard Hannay, the hero of The Thirty-nine Steps, is recalled by the Head of British Intelligence from the Western Front at a critical moment in the battle for France, he has little idea that his contribution to the war effort will be much more crucial than the command of his Brigade in Flanders. In his strange odyssey to unravel the most sinister of conspiracies to defeat the allies in the West he travels from an idyllic manor house in the Cotswolds to a provincial Garden City where pacifism is the order of the day, through Scotland and London under attack, and thence back to the trenches, and the greatest battle of the First World War."
A bit of human interest alongside the tactical battle planning, political speeches and social commentary: there's a girl in the story for a change. She's every bit as heroic as our main man, though. The trouble is that I don't understand half the references, because I don't know enough about the First World War, or The Pilgrim's Progress, which I haven't read since I first had a go at it after reading Little Women. I loved that book, and they kept going on about The Pilgrim's Progress, so I got it out of the library and didn't understand a word. My English literary education has been rubbish. But I do like a good story.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

About me

Wild flower meadow in front of a tree on the horizon
On the whole, life is pretty good at the moment. I don't have to go to work every day, and although I'm trying to get all sorts of jobs done at home it isn't the same as having to get up and do stuff for someone else for eight hours. The weather is still terrible, but not cold, just wet, which is a shame. Mr A is doing OK most of the time.

Things I love


I love badminton. I love it so much I'm already sad to think that the day will come when some part of my body will give way and I won't be able to play any more. Anyway, in a month's time the club is moving to a brand new hall in a brand new school that has only just been built, and this means we are no longer limited to 8 people in the first hour and 12 in the second. Soon I will be able to turn up every week, instead of just filling in when other more long-standing players can't make it. I am looking forward to this immensely.


I'll read fiction, non-fiction, cookery books, newspapers, magazines, blogs. I'll read posters on the waiting room wall if I've forgotten to bring a book to an appointment. I'll read a knitting pattern if there's nothing else to read. Mr A's collection of war-related books doesn't appeal, but I could get into it. I don't much like is 'chick-lit', those books that portray women as shallow shoe-obsessed shoppers waiting for a man to make their life worthwhile, but I'll read them if necessary. I hate tabloid newspapers, but I'll read the first sentence of each paragraph before feeling repulsed and moving on to the next.


This is almost the same as reading, but not quite. There are times when reading isn't possible: while walking, cooking, shopping, driving, and at these times, aural reading comes into the picture. I subscribe to more than 20 podcasts, I don't think I could live without Radio 4, and Lola II started me off on ebooks when I started university, based on the fact that I used to subscribe to a cassette book library when I commuted between Manchester and Liverpool. On very rare occasions when listening to words is difficult (during revision, or while blogging, for example) I'll listen to music instead.

Things I don't love

Forced inactivity

This is epitomised by running out of reading material, or possibly at work when there's legitimately nothing to do but it's not acceptable to just get out a book or read the paper. Waiting rooms, traffic jams, hours between lectures, on a train or plane - these are all danger situations. I once had to resort to playing a stupid game on my phone when I was on a train that was seriously delayed. A job where there's not enough to do but you have to keep sitting there doing nothing is my idea of hell.

Obviously there are many more things that I do and don't love, and this post was going to be a great deal longer. The remaining items are waiting, and may emerge in the future.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Lola syndrome

I haven't looked at my blog stats for ages, although I get a weekly mailing that tells me my numbers are down, from fifteen unique visitors a day six months ago to about ten unique visitors a day now. Except on 2 August, when forty people visited in one day - but I can't work out where they came from, other than somewhere on The numbers were back down again the next day, so perhaps they didn't get what they were after.

The keywords are always fascinating. Google and Statcounter disagree about the detail, but the consensus is that, apart from "lola life" and "newlolablog", people who found my blog have been looking for:
I'm so glad Dennis is still there in the top 10.

Interestingly, we have two new popular entries - well, actually, they're not that interesting, it's the keywords "latest keywords" and "this week ive". Oh well.

Worthy of note in the rest of the pack are:
  • "teacher gunged july 2009"
  • "man dressed as a tap"
  • "ive been working with someone with swine flu"
and last but not least:
  • "lola syndrome" and
  • "syndrome de lola"
I knew we had a syndrome. It's probably something to do with talking nonsense, playing ludicrous yet addictive games, and having a number of catchphrases that make us fall about laughing but are meaningless to anyone else. Here are a few:
  • "I hope my feet don't fall off"
  • "Why do they want to talk to me?"
  • "They're your friends, you look after them... but there's cottage cheese in the fridge"
  • "Do you want the short version or the long version?"
  • "So we'll do that then."

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Good luck to S

White lilies
Mr A has been peering out from the top of my blog for a few days now, so here's his replacement, a picture of lilies he bought me for my birthday. He had a very nice birthday in the end, and didn't go cycling - we had supper in the pub instead.

Otherwise, everyday life continues as normal. Mr A and I met Lola II last Sunday at a different pub, halfway between our homes, and went for a walk after lunch. We saw a fox, a pheasant, the site of an abbey where Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh lived for a while, fields of wheat and oats, and crossed a railway line where we briefly acted out the Railway Children ("Daddy! My daddy!") Lola II has been having a hard time lately, so here's hoping that things improve for her.

The RAC membership is sorted, my phone has been mended under warranty, and the change of gas and electricity suppliers is confirmed. Mr A and I had a look at different bathroom options, cat feeding continues, but I still haven't had to do any plant watering due to daily rainfall. Today, for the first time in a week, the weather looks pretty good.

I managed to go to 'work' at Warwick uni for four long days this week, and managed to complete almost two experiments. The results are coming out rather well, luckily, but it's very tiring. I can't believe I used to go to work five days a week, for months on end - it will be a proper shock to the system when I have to do that again. Yesterday I took the day off, and took the opportunity of spending the afternoon in the cinema watching the latest Harry Potter, thinking I could do a few things afterwards, without realising that the film is nearly three hours long. It's not a bad film, but I imagine it's a different experience if you haven't read the book and don't know what's about to happen next.

SAfter the film, I moved on to the real reason for taking the day off work, and for the title of this post: so I could join my friend and ex-colleague S for a celebration on the occasion of him being made redundant from his job. Apart from being a shame that he's now unemployed, it's sad to think I can no longer go and meet him after work for an evening out. He has an interview on Thursday, and I do hope he's successful with that.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Three birthdays

I have failed to mention two birthdays already, and today is the third: Mr A's. We may celebrate with a spot of supper in the pub, but I'm rather hoping he will feel like going out cycling tonight. There is a cycling club in Coventry which meets on a Wednesday evening, and Mr A had quite a good time the first time he joined in. He is getting no exercise in his normal daily routine, and on many days he hardly leaves the house, and we are both starting to feel that it's important for him to a) do something not at a desk with a computer, and b) talk to someone other than me once in a while.

The other two birthdays were mine and this blog's, both of which I pretty much ignored. There is so much to do - I have many tasks still outstanding, but I am close to perfecting the art of procrastinating. One of the more difficult jobs is the choice of telephone and/or broadband, but there's also the renewal of RAC membership, sorting out my phone (it died while on holiday), changing electricity and gas suppliers, and oh yes, I'm back at work, in the lab at Warwick.

While I was away for the best part of a month, camping, working in Nottingham and on holiday in Israel, H repeated some of my experiments, and then came down with swine flu. She's back so I'm back, but just for a couple more weeks. I've learned a whole lot about how to do lab-based research, enough to decide whether it's something I might like to do, but I think I've got the hang of it now. I'll try to make sure I finish the set of experiments so that a conclusion is clear, but I'm ready to stop now.

Other than that, the bowlers are back for their English Women's National Championship on the bowling greens up the road, and it hasn't stopped pouring with rain the whole time. At times, the players appear to be quite wet - the spectators have umbrellas. I'm on cat feeding and plant watering duty for neighbours who are away on holiday, but I haven't yet needed to do any watering. Our bath has sprung a leak, finally precipitating a decision to renovate the bathroom. Mr A has effected a temporary repair with gaffer tape - I have praised gaffer tape earlier in this blog, when we were snowboarding in France. There's almost nothing that won't benefit from the application of gaffer tape.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Israel holiday

The Israel trip - well, it was hot, but I've already said something about that. Apart from the heat, the distinguishing features were that a) the Sea of Galilee was at a dangerously low level following several years of low rainfall, and b) I have an extremely large number of relatives in my extended family. All of them lovely. And it was hot. I'll try not to mention that again.

(You'll have to watch an advert before the main report in this video clip, which is from May 2009.)

Reuven and AdamWe spent a lot of time with the family, from the oldest (93 years) to the youngest (11 months).

Climbing the hillWe climbed the hill behind the kibbutz to see the archaeological dig that's going on, and which was the main reason for choosing to visit in July. Luckily it was cloudy at 6 a.m. when we set off, and the sun only came out when we'd finished at 8.30, otherwise - but I wasn't going to mention the heat again.

View of the Sea of Galilee with far shore in the background and a child jumping off a raft into the waterDespite the drought we did get to swim, although it's a long walk to get to the water. It's the only place that I ever go swimming; each time I get my swimsuit out I wonder if this time the moths have been at it while it's been in the drawer. We had a big family dinner in the restaurant, and a trip to a 'multi-sensory experience' at Beit She'an roman ruins. Otherwise we slept, ate, read, spent time with family and friends, sweated and showered.

The kibbutz is a magical place. I spent a year there as a volunteer in 1987-8, when I worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, and I've never had as much free time before or since. Outside work I had no responsibilities, except perhaps occasionally sweeping the floor of my room. Laundry, cooking, washing up and cleaning is done for you, there's no shopping to do, the lake is on your doorstep, and when I was there the lake was full - after a sweaty shift in the kitchen, we just waded into the water without bothering to take our work clothes off.

Much has changed since those days, but the welcome we receive from friends and family is just as warm, and I hope to return before too long. But not in July.

Sun setting over the water with silhouetted trees