Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Working in teams

Given the amount of attention it gets on my course, I sometimes muse on the many and varied teams I have been part of. Three in particular came strongly to mind: the first was relatively early in my working career, when I was put forward for a European-funded project to introduce technology to blind and partially sighted young people in Northern Ireland. The other two were much more recent: a team formed to improve access to an important software product used in social services, and another which put on and managed a number of international conferences in the UK.

Our conference team became expert and well-organised, and produced splendid and enjoyable results. My role for most of the events we held was to elicit papers and sift out the ones for presentation, and then look after the speakers, and sometimes the technicians as well on the day. The real highlight for me was the year that we scheduled a 'debate' between various eminent persons on the topic of whether, thanks to technology, people with sight problems are better off than they were a generation ago, and managed to get Jeremy Paxman to agree to chair the session.

It was brilliant, he signed my conference programme (giving the impression that he thought it was one of the strangest requests he'd ever had), and then I went back into conference organiser mode, collecting one of the speakers and accompanying him to lunch. He was an educator, so I spotted one of the educators from my own organisation and asked my speaker if he'd like to join him for lunch. As we reached the table, I realised that the great Paxman was with the chap from my own organisation, so I was going to be lunching with him. I think that's my only celebrity encounter, but it was a good 'un.

In contrast, the Consortium that we formed in order to improve accessibility to a major piece of software used in UK social services departments was an eye opener, and could have been a case study for my current course. All the theoretical aspects of a serious partnership had to be covered - what exactly are we trying to achieve, who leads, what roles do team members have, how are meetings managed, who pays, and a whole lot more. The lessons I learned were that it's largely the individual characters, motivations and skills of the people on the team who determine whether the project succeeds or not. I think we were lucky, but I wonder whether that software is now accessible or not.

In university, all the options are laid out in a Powerpoint presentation: what makes a good team, why teams often fail, as if you could say to yourself "This piece of work needs a team, let me work out who can be involved and how we should manage the thing." In fact, we just came up with an idea, found someone else who was willing and able to help and even had some money, and then we just muddled through.

The fondest memories of teamwork came from that first European-funded project I was involved with. It came along when I was relatively young and inexperienced, based in Liverpool, and my remit extended over all of the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At the time Northern Ireland was a battle-scarred place of deprivation that attracted all sorts of funding, and a project was devised that was intended to help blind and partially sighted young people to become computer-literate, and therefore more employable. I think about 12 people needed to be recruited, and I was put in charge of the technology. Except that there wasn't any.

I didn't really understand how this project was being run, who was in charge or what resources there were. It gradually became clear that the first stage required an assessment of what types of technology each of the participants would need in order to use a computer. We were going to gather in some Northern Ireland location, get to know the group, and I needed to do my assessments, except that I still didn't have any computers, nor any budget. I phoned a few people, and managed to cobble together two full systems by cannibalising old machines that didn't work any more.

In terms of social contact and work-related entertainment, that project left us all with stories aplenty. I remember finding out that all the speech synthesiser hardware I'd bought (this was before computers could do sound output) had 3.5 mm audio sockets, but all the headphones had 6.3 mm plugs, and I ended up on the streets of Belfast buying a soldering iron and 3.5 mm plugs and re-soldering the lot in the office.

On another visit, I was over in Belfast with a number of colleagues, one of whom was gay. For an evening's entertainment, one of the staff took him out drinking on the Falls Road (or it could have been the Shankill Road, I really didn't know much about Irish politics in those days). He was warned what he could and couldn't drink - asking for a port and lemon was distinctly discouraged in those tough working class bars. I have never seen a man so grey as my colleague the next day, who had survived the evening's drinking but had to make a number of swift exits from the office during the following morning. I have just looked him up - he's now an eminent politician in Scotland.

Yet another time during the course of this project, we went off for a weekend to a hotel near the Giant's Causeway in the very north of Ireland - I can't exactly remember the reason, but there used to be European Commission money to spend on this type of trip. There's another tourist attraction very nearby, Carrick-a-Rede, consisting of a rope bridge to a rocky island. One of the totally blind participants in the scheme was also partially paralysed down one side, but was insistent that he wanted to cross the rope bridge. With one member of staff behind him and one walking backwards ahead of him, he made it, but we were all anticipating the headlines in the papers should we have lost him.

That project was one of the highlights of my working life, for the feeling that we were doing something worthwhile as well as the social aspect. We have all gone our separate ways now, and I'm not in touch with anyone from that project any more, but I'm sure we all have fond memories of that particular project.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Progress with coursework

This week has been a busy one, where I've been in to university every day except Friday, and Mr A has been hard at work on his course, but also cooking and trying to sort out our snow holiday with friends. At last it is booked; last night at 11 p.m. the last click was clicked and we are going to Austria in January, between my exams and the clinical placement.

At uni I was working on my research project at the start of the week, and my other research-based coursework at the end of the week, interspersed with a meeting with my project supervisor, presentations from other students about their ideas for a community nutrition intervention, and presentations including mine about Dietetic Support Workers and Assistant Practitioners, who are NHS employees at lower grades than dietitians. A bit like us students operating on our clinical placements, where we're not quite good enough to be dietitians, but there are still a lot of things we can do competently.

My project about food and visual impairment is plodding along at the moment. Having done the interviews and transcribed them word-for-word, I have then had to try and pick out common aspects from the transcripts, and see if they can be grouped logically in themes. For example, all of them mentioned the importance of good lighting, particularly for shopping, cooking and reading menus, and some also highlighted the difficulties they have when lighting is not good, in restaurants for example. Some of the areas that interest me most are about how they feel about living with sight loss, sometimes making light of it with jokes, but also more seriously speculating on what the future holds.

I identified some themes that I think make sense, and then was advised to use a software package called NVivo to help with coding. That took a solid day and a half non-stop at the computer. I've now been given some guidance and reading to do around the next step, which is to start to make a story out of what I find, ready for writing into a paper. There's a lot to do, and as always, not enough time.

My supervisor is also very enthusiastic about the possibility of publishing this research in various academic journals, and even submitting it for inclusion in the British Dietetic Association Conference next year. Inconveniently, the conference takes place in the week before the final exam period next May, and the submission deadline for proposed papers is two days before the submission deadline for this coursework.

But I must away, Lola II is visiting this weekend and is due any minute. And we've had snow! The first snow of the season, and in November. The temperature outside is zero (Celsius) and Lola II is a cold-blooded creature, so we've got the heating on and some emergency clothing for her.

Lola II wrapped up in front of the fire

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

So how's it going at university?

Construction of a new university building
There hasn't been any university news on here for three weeks or so, but obviously I've been beavering away at various course-related projects. I was expecting a great deal from this semester, thinking it might provide as much interest, stimulation and challenge as previous years or the clinical placement. In fact it's been rather disappointing on all counts.

We only have two taught modules, one termed 'Nutrition in the Community', and the other advertised as 'Advanced Dietetic Practice', but the latter turned out to have the qualification 'and Professional Issues'. The Professional Issues bit, it seems, are the things that are deemed useful for a basic grade dietitian to be taught before they leave university, rather than learning over time from the University of Life. Like last week's lectures: aspects of business management, coping with stress, time management, teamwork, managing change, leadership and motivation, and the role of the Human Resources department.

I got the distinct impression that the lecturer, who is also the university course manager, felt the same way about it as I did, but is forced to deliver the material because the Health Professions Council (who regulate the profession, and therefore the course) demands it. Certainly she would have picked up our reaction on being asked, yet again, to consider what might be the advantages and disadvantages of working in teams.

For me, it was an exercise in nostalgia and reflection. I don't think anyone can have reached my age without considering their response to stress, and I have had a few close calls. I have a vivid memory of the one time that I was properly affected, and how I was helped out of that particular hole. I was brought down by the end to a relationship, and what prompted me to recover was the recommendation by my boss at the time to seek help. I didn't seek help, and I managed to recover under my own steam, but I would never underestimate the illness that is depression - I have stood on the edge and looked down, and it isn't pretty.

I attended a time management course in my 30's - it was one of the most useful courses I ever did, and I continue to use some of the techniques that were introduced to me. I also spent some considerable time even earlier in my career trying to unpick whether management is something one can learn or is born with, joined an evening class to consider the subject, and then much later on had to grapple with the reality of being a manager. I have come to the conclusion that one can learn to be a manager, but to be a good manager requires something extra. I have also determined that I don't wish to be a manager ever again. I have some warm thoughts about teamwork, which I may share in a future post.

So all of these subjects are relevant to a working life, but I don't know whether introducing them to 21-year-olds in their final year at university makes much difference. Perhaps other people learn to avoid disaster through classroom teaching - I have only ever learned anything about avoiding disaster from living through it.

More useful in this module were two practical tutorial sessions, where we were given case studies to discuss in small groups, directed by an experienced practitioner, and a mock job interview conducted by a dietetic manager. The interview was particularly valuable, giving an insight into what skills and knowledge might be demanded by an interview panel. As it happened, my interviewer recently retired from the location where I am to do my next clinical placement, and was able to answer my very real questions about that department. I don't think I would have got the job, but I can now prepare much more effectively for the real thing.

We have also had some external speakers topping up our knowledge on various random topics: I have mentioned diabetes, communication skills and obesity but there was also a lecture from a Sports and Exercise Dietitian, who also provided an introduction to dietetics in private practice. While most of these lectures were relatively interesting, they were more like seminars, and I didn't feel as though I was learning very much, either in terms of the evidence base, theory of dietetics or dietetic practice.

The other taught module has been even worse. It has been a random series of lectures on Public Health to an mutinous group of students under pressure of work who really don't want to be there but have to turn up to sign a register of attendance. It is convened rather than taught, and I don't think the group has a great deal of respect for the convener. And rather than Nutrition in the Community, it should probably be called Public Health Nutrition, and that subject is definitely not one of my favourites.

Despite this, I was almost looking forward to the talk about mental health, and the lecturer definitely had plenty of experience as a Community Psychiatric Nurse, but she wasn't that good at conveying the specifics of the job. She also confessed that she knew nothing about dietetics, and had never worked with a dietitian, so she made a number of misplaced assumptions e.g. about our knowledge of legislation relating to vulnerable adults and children. All I really learned was that if I were presented with a patient who had a mental illness, then I should go find a CPN with proper expertise to help me.

I wasn't looking forward to the talk about food service in Derbyshire schools, but it was actually very good, and surprisingly interesting to hear about what can be done for £1.85 per child per day in primary schools and £2.15 in secondary schools. That's a really rewarding role for a dietitian, and it was very clear how we might fit in and contribute our expertise.

There are only one or two lectures left, thank goodness, and for the next few weeks I have coursework to deliver and more to do on my research project, which is going quite well at the moment, and you will definitely hear more about that. This week I have to present a poster about Assistant Practitioners and Dietetic Support Workers and where they fit into the dietetic profession, and next week I must outline my thoughts about a community nutrition intervention of my choice. The main coursework this term apart from my project is to define and scope a research idea, which has given me no end of trouble, and is threatening more. My project tutor has been wonderfully helpful with that, and is substituting for the supportive group of fellow students that I lack.

And for light relief on my day off this week, I attended a local group meeting of Coeliac UK. I joined the organisation as a 'professional' member some time ago, when I had that project to do about eating out with coeliac disease. I thought it might be interesting and educational to go along to a meeting, and it was.

There was a presentation about the new EU labelling regulations for gluten content of food, then a demonstration of a gluten-free dough mix made of cassava, and then tea, gluten-free cake and chat. The biggest shock was at the beginning when everyone was welcomed to the meeting, "and we have a student dietitian here, would you raise your hand?" Not what I was expecting at all, but luckily there was also a 'real' qualified dietitian, so I was able to deflect difficult dietetic questions*, and also talk to her about the employment situation in the region where I live, rather than in the regions where I attend university or go on clinical placements. The best bit was when one of the attendees asked me for my recipe for gluten-free lemon drizzle cake. In front of the dietitian. Yes!

As ever, the final weeks of term leading up to deadlines is hard work, and I'll be doing 6-day weeks until mid-December, but Mr A is doing a magnificent job with meals and research into our proposed snowboarding holiday. Maybe there will be lighter and more amusing news to report next time - this post has been a bit of a rant. I don't do it often, so I hope I'm forgiven.

* "Apart from having coeliac disease, I have no salivary glands, what do you suggest?" and "Are oats contaminated with wheat gluten in the field where they are grown, or in the factory where they are processed and packaged?"

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Party food

We had a family celebration last weekend - another birthday. I find that I have very little to say about it, because all the people that I have in mind when I write this blog were there. But I can write about the food, which was, as always, very good.

Mum offered to put on a feast of Jewish food, such as we occasionally experienced either on a festival or special occasion or at a relative's house for tea. There was chopped liver, smoked salmon, fish balls, gefilte fish, beetroot salad, pickled cucumbers, egg salad, vienna sausages, and a whole lot more. Afterwards, we had a choice of lemon meringue pie and chocolate pudding (and dad very nearly poured Dr Pepper on it instead of sherry). It was all very delicious. And later on there was birthday cake.

I have volunteered to be in charge of food at a dinner party that Mr A is instigating, when we are inviting the people who hosted the recent bonfire party and our neighbours over the road. The last dinner party we put on was probably about five years ago - we aren't natural hosts, and on that occasion I overcatered to an extreme extent and was eating reheated broccoli for days afterwards. So I've been thinking about the food.

I think that there will be nibbles like olives and something small and cheesy when they arrive. The first course will be soup with homemade bread, the main course will be something that has been cooked in the oven and which isn't sensitive to timing, with roast potatoes and roast vegetables. Afterwards there will be something that has been prepared earlier and has been waiting in the fridge. Mr A is in charge of drinks.

So if you have any ideas about what sort of soup is best, what main course oven dish works for you, and which is the best dessert to prepare earlier, feel free to let me know. All comments much appreciated.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The pleasure of reading

My experience with reading that last paperback by Audrey Niffenegger reminded me of how I can get so engrossed in reading that the whole world disappears except for the words streaming directly into my brain, and I'm almost absorbing the story rather than reading it. It can be a similar experience with a really good film or play, when you forget where you are, but the difference is that there is no sound or living people involved, it's all done by the power of the written words.

I distinctly remember a moment from my childhood, in Miss Francis' class when I must have been 8or 9 years old, in one of the old Portakabin* classrooms that had that particular smell of pencils and plimsolls and polish. I had a book that I really wanted to carry on reading. Really really wanted to. But reading time was ending, and I knew we were going to have to do something else, but I really wanted to find out what happened next.

I knew for certain that if I read even one more word I would lose all consciousness of my surroundings for goodness knows how long, and then I wouldn't know what I was supposed to do, and everyone might be doing something completely different and I'd realise suddenly that I was in trouble. So with an enormous physical and mental effort I closed the book, and it was one of the most self-disciplined things that I'd ever had to do in my life up to that point.

The other slight disadvantage to my reading immersion problem is that at moments of great excitement, my reading speed accelerates to the point that all subtlety of language is lost. It's a bit like eating food too fast, where sustenance is achieved, but all the subtlety of flavour disappears as the food whizzes past the tastebuds.

That's one of the reasons that I enjoy audio books so much. Although it's possible to speed up the pace of narration slightly (using the wonder of the ipod) I don't do that, and I listen at the rate of the human voice - about five times slower than my normal print reading speed, and at least ten times slower than when my speed-reading gets out of control. The subtleties of language that speed by when I'm greedy for more story are fed to me morsel by morsel, and I have to savour each word before being allowed to move to the next.

Mr A reading at his desk wearing a full face crash helmet
Talking of reading, here is Mr A, hard at work on his Computing degree. In order to be certain that the crash helmet you have bought is not too tight, it is important to wear it for a significant period while keeping it relatively clean - i.e. not out on a bike ride where it can accumulate road debris and insects. So it all makes sense really.

* until I was quite old (probably teens), I thought that this word was pronounced 'Por-taka-bin'. It made a lot more sense when I realised how it ought to be said.

Monday, 15 November 2010

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
At Home: A Short History of Private Life
by Bill Bryson

"Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business - eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be."
This is a stream of factoids, loosely associated with rooms in a house, but so loosely as to be quite unconnected with any coherent thread of narrative. It's fun to read, even though I take issue with some of the 'facts', and was moved to look up the nutritional value of cornflakes and peanuts in response to one sentence (he is wrong about which contains more calories per gramme). I liked it, but there isn't much substance to it.

Image of the book cover
by Georgette Heyer

narrated by Phyllida Nash
"Young Kitty Charing stands to inherit a vast fortune from her irascible guardian - provided she marries one of his great-nephews. Kitty devises an escape route: she convinces one of these gentlemen, the honourable Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Her plan would bring her to London on a visit to Freddy's family and allow her a glimpse of society denied to her by her guardian."
I do like a bit of Georgette Heyer - Regency 'chick lit' really, about women loving clothes, wanting to look attractive and needing a husband, but somehow more acceptable than the modern stuff. When I analyse it in that way, I wonder how I can hate modern woman-oriented fiction so much, and yet find this not only inoffensive but enjoyable. Maybe it's the passage of time and the change in society - women had vastly fewer options in the 1700's, and no safety net for the poor. Nowadays when women can do pretty much what they want in this country, it seems pitiful to be so very obsessed with shoes, clothes and personal grooming.

Image of the book cover
Life On Air: A History of Radio Four
by David Hendy

"David Hendy's book tells how the favourite radio station of the British middle class has, over four decades, weathered internal faction-fighting, political intimidation, managerial bullying and the tough love of its all-too-devoted listeners. It describes a rich mix of talk-based programming, combining varied pleasures with a judicious degree of uplift, and resistant to both elitism and ratings-chasing."
This is more reminiscent of a volume of political history than an entertaining read, but interesting enough to plough through nevertheless. In more recent years I remember the fuss about 'Anderson Country', the move of 'Woman's Hour' to the morning and the ditching of 'Kaleidoscope'. It was all very dry, yet I carried on reading in the hope that it would improve. It didn't.

Image of the book cover
Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger

"When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves her beautiful flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her twin nieces, on condition that their mother is never allowed to cross the threshold. The twins hope that in London their own separate lives can finally begin. But their aunt doesn't seem quite ready to leave her flat, even after death."
This is the first fiction book I've read in print (rather than audio) for quite a long time. I bought it on the basis of her other book, 'The Time Traveler's Wife', which I like a lot - this is good, but not as good as that one. Anyway, she ramps the pace up towards the end, to the extent that I read the final third of the book in one sitting and I HAD to finish it, which you can't do with an audio book, and then I couldn't sleep, but perhaps the two weren't related. So I'm really tired today, and a little bit cross that the ending wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be, but was still OK.

Friday, 12 November 2010

A prize from a Madeley

Now this may be a little confusing. As I sit ready to write, I'm not sure exactly how much detail to go into, but here goes anyway: I have won another prize from a fellow blogger. Except he's not really a blogger nowadays, and he wasn't who he said he was when he did blog, and the prize is from him, but in another name that isn't his own either.

Soon after I first started blogging in 2007, I chanced upon the Richard Madeley Appreciation Society, which I found to be most entertaining, even if I suspected it might not have been written by the great man himself. Readers from outside the UK may not have heard of Richard Madeley, and to be honest I don't know much about him myself, not being a TV viewer. But he's a B list celebrity, and seems to be a pretty sound person, not given to racism or outlandish religious or political philosophies.

Anyway, Richard (or Dick) left some comments on my posts, and I commented on his, and there was a bit of banter, and we exchanged some emails outside the blog, until it eventually became clear that Dick wasn't Richard, but that was OK with me because if I enjoy the writing I don't mind who holds the pen. Or the keyboard, or whatever.

Then Dick became a little disillusioned, because the reason he was blogging as Richard Madeley hadn't worked out (it's a little confusing, actually) and there were some other issues in his life. And then things went a bit quiet, until all of a sudden, up popped Stan Madeley. With a book: Second Class Male. And I guessed the name of Stan's favourite Norwegian fjord, and he sent me a signed copy of the book.

Front page, signed and dedicated to Lola: May your chisels fly straight and true!I haven't read it yet, but no doubt it will feature in one of my regular 'What I've been reading' posts. But I think this must be the first ever book that I've been given by the author, even if the author in real life isn't actually Stan Madeley, or Dick, or Richard, but someone else. So I'm pretty pleased with it, and thanks, Stan!

Anyway, he's got another book in the pipeline but the publisher is waiting to see how this one does, so I shall buy one to give away to someone seeing as how my copy probably hasn't contributed to sales figures. I thought about putting it up as a prize to a reader of this blog, but I don't have enough readers to avoid embarrassment if I tried a stunt like that - the response to the 200th post taught me that. If any readers wish to comment on whether they would like a free book, just go ahead. And just so you know, this is our 400th post, so happy blogaversary to me and Lola II.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Bonfire night, and diabetes revisited

For the first time in ages, we went to a friend's house for a bonfire party with fireworks. K is an interesting chap, and Mr A met him through a common interest/passion for motorbikes. He'd helped out when Mr A bought his latest bike a few weeks ago, and stayed to dinner, and invited us to this party. Although Mr A and I tend to avoid parties if we can, we were persuaded not only to attend, but to stay over. And it was great fun, although as usual I faded out long before anyone else was ready to turn in, and woke up next morning about an hour earlier than anyone else.

Fireworks have moved forward since the last time I went to a private firework event. The public displays are amazing, with a constant stream of colours and patterns and bangs and fizzes and pops and whooshes going on for some minutes. In the old days, shops would sell you tiny rockets that could be launched from milk bottles, weedy Catherine wheels that had to be nailed onto a post, Roman candles that gently threw coloured sparks into the air for a few seconds. Nowadays the rockets need heavy duty firing tubes, and you can buy a whole display in a box, where you light the fuse and it shoots up all sorts of choreographed delights for a minute or two. Amazing. Although I suspect that the cost of this type of box would make me flinch.

Bonfire and fireworks
Apart from the fireworks and the enormous bonfire and the beer and wine and the company and the home-brewed plum brandy and the enormous amount of food consumed, one of the best parts was that our mode of transport there and back was the new motorbike. It took me a while to get back into the pillion mindset, but this bike is so well-designed and comfortable - the footpegs are in the right place, the pillion is high enough for a good view but not so high that you are blasted by the wind, the grab handles are perfectly placed, the seat is wide, and there is a top box for a backrest.

Coming back in the morning was one of the most beautiful rides I've ever had, in autumnal sunshine with the golden trees, smells of woodsmoke as we rode through villages, fields in various stages of cultivation, earthy dampness riding through shady valleys. An hour with nothing to do but sit still, enjoy the scenery and the motion, thinking my own thoughts about everything and nothing. It has made me feel both deeply peaceful and also invigorated. Obviously slightly colder than a nice car with a radio and the opportunity to hold a conversation with one's significant other, but the benefits are there. In a warmer country that is less prone to rain it's a fine way to travel.

I have also done the second set of video-recorded consultations with two qualified dietitians, now that they have been on a communications skills course. I was using the same scenario as we had before, when I was acting as a patient with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, and I was expecting to have a much better experience. Surprisingly, I didn't. I do think both dietitians were communicating better, but I still didn't come out of the consultations with a better understanding of diabetes or what I should eat.

I've been back to review what I wrote after the first recording, and I still think that it's better than what either of the qualified dietitians told me. I'm not saying that in the pressurised situation of a 30-minute consultation with a real person, I could convey those messages perfectly, but I hope I could do a better job than these two. I'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Car damage

Rear impact zone marked up
There has been some progress with the car incident. I was instructed to take the vehicle to an insurance-approved garage where they would assess the damage and produce an estimate for repair for the insurer.

Now this is a vehicle that has more than 140,000 miles on the clock, and although we have maintained the mechanical workings in top condition, the bodywork has not received the same level of care and attention. If I were not comprehensively insured, then I might rub down and touch up a tiny area of damage over the wheel arch, but otherwise it's perfectly fine to drive for another 140,000. The worst case scenario would have been if the damage had been sufficient to make it undriveable and uneconomic to repair, because its value to me as a truly reliable runner would not be reflected in the insurer's book value.

Grid highlighting dents and creases in bodyworkAnyway, I had a most enjoyable time at the garage, watching the process of estimating the damage. First of all, the assessor showed off his encyclopedic knowledge of cars, as might be expected from one who has chosen this particular career path. He pointed out creases and dents that I hadn't even seen, and then marked the side of the car where all the damage was and took lots of photos, while I took photos of him. Then he got out a plain grid that showed any distortion when reflected by the car panel. Seeing my interest, he asked if I'd like a copy of the report which would contain all of the best pictures - well, I jumped at the chance. After it was all done, he cleaned off all the markings, and politely declined my invitation to clean the rest of the car.

The emailed report makes interesting reading too. It lists and estimates the time required to address around 40 separate operations, and estimates the whole job at just under £1500. I won't pay any of it, because the insurance company has accepted that I wasn't at fault and will claim it all back from the other driver's insurance. Still, this seems to me to be an enormous amount for a car that isn't new, and quite frankly doesn't really need all this attention, given that it's perfectly sound mechanically. The trouble is that once you're in the system, it's difficult to dictate what does and doesn't get fixed. It's this type of job that must raise all our insurance premiums.

Anyway, I always like to see how things work, whether it's painting a house or dealing with insured car repairs or servicing the boiler. I like to see inside other people's lives, which is one reason why I enjoyed some of my previous jobs, and why I look forward to poking about in patient's diets when I eventually qualify as a dietitian.

Cleaning the markings off the car

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Special Day

Hello, Lola II here.

Today is our mummy's birthday! There's really nothing that she wants or needs and she is always adamant that she doesn't want any old rubbish, just for the sake of giving her a present. Lola and myself wholeheartedly agree with this view of birthday presents. However, this blog is one of the things Mum loves most in the world, so it is fitting, therefore, to celebrate her 29 (again) years by posting something especially for her.

For interest, the other things Mum loves most in the world are her family (I'm assuming), her garden, mushroom vol au vents, finishing off biros, helping others, the colour of horse chestnuts fresh off the tree, the look on Dad's face when she makes chocolate mousse, the annual photo calendar from our sister D, people who speak clearly, times when her daughters don't look like they've been dragged through a hedge backwards, good quality jokes that she's not heard before, and a little taste of chocolate at the start of a journey home.

Mum's love for this blog is so great, that if ever I make the mistake during a telephone call of mentioning that Lola has posted a new entry, she will bring the conversation to a rapid close and race to her computer to view the latest. Lola II vs Blog? Lola II loses every time. I don't mind, though. I love Lola and her blog too.

So you've heard all about our mummy and now you'll have to hang on until May to hear the same about our lovely daddy.

I have a film to show you how truly magical our mum is, with her trick of a mouse made from a handkerchief. Unfortunately, Mr M has been working all evening to try and upload it onto Lola's Blog and it's not working.

In the meantime until we get it sorted, take it from me, she's wonderful. Happy Birthday Mum xxx