Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Another post about coursework

Statue of boy on elephant in the park
It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm just taking a break from the latest coursework, which is all about eating out with coeliac disease. I have to plan a session with some newly diagnosed adults, and justify why that session should be held, and put together resources, and submit the rationale, plan and resources for marking. At the end of term, I actually have to deliver my planned session to other students who are standing in for adults with coeliac disease, and get assessed for that too.

Last week's tally, not counting the hours at home spent on coursework, came to:
  • one badminton match (lost 7-2, but GG and I won the 2)
  • about 16 hours of lectures
  • one short discussion with tutor
  • one piece of coursework handed in
  • about 10 hours driving (snow on the M1)
  • one trip to the vegetable shop and walk about town
  • one film (The Damned United), one episode of Jeeves and Wooster, one episode of The West Wing and one episode of our newly started Christmas present: The Wire
  • two visits to the pub.
I have had several off-line comments to the effect that Mr A's cooking sounds wonderful - it is, it certainly is, but I still want more vegetables and less fat and salt! Today he's planning to use the rest of the crab in a dish with lemon and spaghetti. I'm having some extra veg on the side.

It's Wednesday, the weekday when I don't have to go to school. I was going to be taking the filthy car for its service and MOT, but the garage phoned to postpone because their MOT man has put his back out. Mr A is away today and tomorrow delivering a Flash course, and soon I will be starting to look into the background for my research proposal, which is 'The food choices of visually impaired people'.

The data analysis coursework is finished, barring a final read-through, and the coeliac disease rationale, aims and learning outcomes are in the bag. I was disappointed to find out yesterday that one bit of coursework I had planned to start on 20 March needs to be started a great deal sooner, because I am supposed to cook part of it during a practical next Thursday.

Onwards and upwards.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

All work and very little play

Rows of books in the library
At risk of tempting fate, the coursework is going quite well. I have a timetable that stretches out to the end of March, and one week in I seem to be just about ahead of the game.

The iron deficiency anaemia coursework had to be handed in yesterday, so I read through it on Wednesday and found a huge error in my calculations. I would never have noticed it if I hadn't come back to it after a break, so thank goodness for finishing early.

I also thought I'd finished the research data coursework, but when I talked to the lecturer who set it to clarify a couple of points, I realised I hadn't. Part of the worry was that I managed to stay well within the word limits even for the first draft, which made me suspect that I had missed something crucial.

While I'm doing all this coursework before, between and after lectures, Mr A has taken over many of the household chores. He is now in charge of cooking, and is mostly planning ahead, although he could improve his timing by reading the recipes better. Earlier in the week, supper was delayed by 90 minutes because he hadn't realised the potato dish needed an hour in the oven. But it's all very good, even if provision of any vegetables other than tomato is fairly scanty. This week we have had braised pheasant, baked mackerel, cabbage with bacon, asparagus risotto, a potato stew with cheese and tomato, and last night, tomatoes stuffed with crab.

What we aren't dealing with are any surfaces within the house other than the kitchen worktops. They are all covered in dust and/or filth. Mr A does a bit of hoovering every now and then, but dusting, cleaning hard floors and bathroom surfaces is not where his talents lie. He is working hard though, getting on very well with the Open University modules, and finding it very satisfying. He also has a couple of days paid work next week.

News just in: Lola II is finally connected to the Interwebnet. Let's hope for some contributions before long, even if it's just to help me out.

Monday, 15 February 2010

I interrogate Mr A

Close up pink rose
This morning's lecture was relatively short, so I'm sneaking some time with my dearest blog, before ploughing on with a data analysis exercise for the Research Skills module.

I finished some more coursework this week, which involved interviewing a friend or family member who has supposedly been diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia. In the process of investigating their diet, we must judge whether or not their food and drink intake is likely to be contributing to the anaemia.

I used Mr A as my subject, and the analysis showed that while he was probably getting plenty of iron through his diet, he was also taking in a great deal of salt and saturated fat. We actually talked about what we might do, and checked some of the labels on foods we have. He tends to have a can of Heinz soup for lunch - it's quick and easy - but it contains 2.6 g of salt, which is more than 40% of the 6 g limit we are encouraged not to exceed. [In fact, the recommended intake is actually only around 4 g, but the government rightly decided that this would be dismissed by most people as unrealistic and unachievable.] So he might be looking for a different lunch option. Perhaps we'll work on the saturated fat issue at a later date...

Other highlights of the last week:
  • I attended lots of lectures
  • played a badminton match (we lost, but it was close)
  • went to see a lecturer about Diet Therapy last semester
  • had an appointment with the dentist
  • met my project supervisor about my forthcoming research project, of which more later, no doubt
  • went to the pub just the once
  • watched an episode of Jeeves and Wooster and two films: Moon (with Sam Rockwell), and A Night To Remember (with Kenneth More).
Valentine's day was unmarked by any unusual demonstration of affection in Lola Towers (although the usual level was maintained). A mystery card did arrive for me, which as ever was from lovely Lola II. We haven't heard much from her lately, have we? Of course she has been busy, and moving house has deprived her of most telecommunications options, including Internet access. And of course I haven't had time to meet up for any Lola II-related adventures. Even so, I can reveal that she also received some Valentine communication, and not from me. I wonder if this might be contributing to the lack of blog attention we have been seeing...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Weekend on Dartmoor

On a Buckfast bridge
I picked up my two exam results on Friday, and despite my reservations, I did fine (again). So that's good, and set me up nicely for the weekend ahead.

You may remember that Friday afternoon finds me further from home than usual, at the main university campus, for lectures on Clinical Pharmacology - it was antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease on this occasion. Then it was into the car and head for home (1h 20m), a swift loading of chattels (20 mins) and back in the car for the journey to Dartmoor (another 4 hours). As we approached our destination, it started to rain quite heavily, then very heavily, and then we were up on the narrow unlit moor roads hitting patches of fog as well. We arrived at around 10pm.

This trip had been planned for some time - Mr A had volunteered to book a 'camping barn', which was essentially an old cowshed cleaned out so that folks can roll out sleeping bags and cook indoors. The toilet/shower area was very basic too: unheated and with concrete floors. But it was cheap and convivial and eight of us planned to spend two nights there.

Only seven made it on Friday night. We assumed that Mr B had looked at the weather and decided to travel on Saturday morning - but no, when he did arrive on Saturday morning he told us that he hadn't printed any maps and had tried to rely on his Satnav, which had brought him close, but not close enough. He simply couldn't find us, and with no mobile phone reception and too late to make enquiries in pubs, he was quite unable to do anything but sleep in his car. Dartmoor is a barren and inhospitable place at the best of times, let alone late at night in a storm.

Saturday was a beautiful day, no sign of the torrential rain of the night before. We decided to visit Dartmoor Prison Museum, built in 1806-1809 to house French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. It was empty for some time after 1815, then re-purposed in 1850 to house convicts - these days it holds Category C and D prisoners. The museum attendant provided a lot of information (but so quietly that most of us couldn't hear him). It seems that prisoners are not categorised according to what they have done, but on how likely they are to escape. Category A means that not only are they keen to escape but they are likely to have outside help; B are keen but lack the outside support; C aren't actively trying to get out but would take the opportunity if it presented itself, and D are either institutionalised or pretty much rehabilitated and working towards their release date.

Any old rubbish connected with the prison seems to have been deposited in the 'museum'. Some of it was very interesting - the glass case full of makeshift tattooing gear, weapons and keys confiscated from prisoners, for example. Some of it was disturbing - the blueprints for a whipping frame and the frame itself, religious scenes painted by a prisoner, and an assortment of oddly painted garden ornaments produced in the prison workshops and available for purchase. Some was just odd - intricate models made of matchsticks, collar studs from one ex-prison officer, a letter written by a prisoner about how good the dog handlers were to his old mother when she visited him.

We moved on to Buckfast Abbey, which is a modern abbey completed in 1937, but built on the site of a medieval monastery. It's OK if you like abbeys, and I thought the modern stained glass was effective. After stocking up with a few provisions in Buckfast village we headed back towards the barn, stopping only at the 3rd highest pub in England, the Warren House Inn. This pub boasts a fire in one fireplace that is said to have been burning continuously since 1845, and was cut off for some time when it snowed recently.

The seven of us in the pub
Back in the barn, we cobbled together a dinner comprising leftovers from last night's supper and the morning's breakfast, and then played the Bucket Game. This consists of writing names on pieces of paper, putting them in a bucket (a saucepan in this case), drawing them out one by one and trying to convey the name to a partner against the clock. This has been introduced many times to different types of friends, but this was the most extraordinary group Mr A and I have ever had the pleasure of playing with.

Part of the problem was the age range - several years older than Mr A down to a recent graduate at less than half his age. Part of the problem was our diverse range of interests and occupations influencing our choice of names. Early 20th century painters knocked up against a TV kangaroo, a 19th century philosopher rubbed shoulders with an Irish freedom fighter, and we had more than one chat show host. But the main theme was that unlike any other group of people I've played with, none of them was satisfied until they knew who these people were and exactly what they had done. We had frequent breaks to clarify these details, and loud exclamations of disbelief that any friend of ours could possibly not know who Jimmy Somerville was until it was pointed out that Jimmy Somerville came to fame 25 years ago, before certain people were born. I wasn't sure that anyone was actually enjoying the experience, but when I suggested we might stop, they insisted that they wanted to carry on.

Our second night was warmer than the first, because Mr B had brought a new tent for Mr A, and we thought we'd erect it to see how it looked. Having done so inside the camping barn, we decided it would be fun to leave it up and sleep inside. On Friday night I'd suffered a little from the cold, and had to get up in the night to forage for additional insulation. Inside the tent was much more cosy!

We'd been very lucky with the fine weather on Saturday. Sunday was not so nice: cloudy, drizzly and overcast. The group split up, and Mr A and I went south to the Devon coast for a view of Burgh Island and then a late lunch with our friends, the Nuclear Family. They moved to a small Devon town from Leamington Spa just under a year ago, and seem very contented with the change.

The return journey was long but the weather was kinder than the outward journey. Since then, and for the foreseeable future, I have been and will be seriously short of leisure time. I have nine deadlines for coursework, and seven weeks to complete it all. Each item takes longer than a week to finish. I need either a machine that can achieve time dilation (like that whatsit that Hermione had in the Harry Potter film), or a chat with an existential philosopher if I am to work out how it will all get done.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Too much to do

No time to write, and more importantly, no time to do anything worth writing about. I've handed in one lot of coursework, although loads more keeps being set.

This is the term when I'm doing seven instead of the normal six modules. Nutrition through different stages of life, more dietetic practice (double module twice a week), community nutrition, molecular nutrition (about how nutrients interact with DNA), pharmacology, and research skills (in anticipation of our projects next semester). More work, and less time to do it. Standards will have to slip, there seems no other way to fit everything in.

Mr A and I have gone away this weekend on a trip planned long ago, and I shall be away for a weekend for Lola II's birthday at the end of the month. I don't think I'll be leaving the house for any other reasons.

So here for your enjoyment, in place of any real information, is one of my favourite segments from the wonderful comedy partnership of Armstrong and Miller.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Robots of Dawn
by Isaac Asimov

narrated by William Dufris
"A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Detective Elijah Baley is called to the Spacer world Aurora to solve a bizarre case of roboticide. The prime suspect is a gifted roboticist who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime. There's only one catch: Baley and his positronic partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, must prove the man innocent."
This futuristic murder mystery makes the fundamental error of solving the case by introducing a twist at the end that the reader couldn't possibly have anticipated - mind reading. And there's too much sexy business in it, and Isaac Asimov's fame does not arise from the subtlety and elegance of his descriptions of relations between men and women. So a little unsatisfying for that reason, but all right on the whole.

Image of the book cover
Curse of the Spellmans
by Lisa Lutz

"When private investigator Izzy Spellman is arrested for the fourth time in three months, she writes it off as an occupational hazard. She's been keeping surveillance on her new next-door neighbour (suspect's name: John Brown), convinced he's up to no good - even if Spellman Investigations management (Izzy's parents) disagree."
I mooched this, meaning that I received it free by post in exchange for Mooch points rather than money. I just wanted something easy to read, and very much chose it at random. It wasn't very good really, and written in a very quirky style with lots of annoying footnotes, except for one section towards the end where all the different plot points were brought together. Now that the exams are over, I should be able to read something a little more taxing, and therefore more satisfying than this pap.