Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas and its aftermath

The Boy and his Christmas dinner
Everything went very well over Christmas - presents were opened, The Boy's dinner was superb, and Mr A and I could sit on the sofa reading while he did all the work. The fare included my turkey farm freebie, which turned out to be a Three Bird Roast - a hunk of meat as thick as your arm comprising a (boned) guinea fowl within a duck within a turkey, with stuffing down the middle. The three of us got through about a third of it, and a week later Mr A and I still have some left. Very tasty, although I wouldn't be able to distinguish the three bird flavours; it might as well have been all turkey.

Now New Year is approaching, and we had to decide where to be. Smurf was offering quite an extravaganza at Pub Next Door, with a 'Stars in your Eyes' event, dancing at The Assembly after midnight, and an inclusive price for the whole evening. This caused some difficulties for us, as there were two types of tickets: either drinking or non-drinking, and the difference between them was £30. If I were to drink 30 quids-worth of alcohol I'd probably end up in hospital, and neither of us likes champagne, but I wouldn't mind having a few half pints through the evening.

Our choices were expanded by The Boy inviting us to the gig he'd be performing at in Bristol. While intended for young people, we quite like the music he produces (Dubstep, in case you were interested) and he would put us on the guest list. So that's what we're going to do.

Meanwhile I have recovered enough from the turkey farm experience to spend another day there, helping with accounts queries and writing my 'Guide to an Insane Month' for the next gullible idiot who chooses to help out with the Christmas turkeys. Actually, if I were unemployed again in a year's time I'd consider it, although Mr A would definitely try to talk me out of it.

We've also visited Mr A's parents, and his dad and I managed to scrape our way through the slow second movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto a few times. Neither of us had practised a great deal, so there were many stoppages and "take it from bar 48 again" moments, but he really enjoyed it and expressed the view that it was a shame we live so far away. I think we'll have to work up to the first and third movements over a longer period, because those have a lot more notes to squeeze into a bar.

So the year is ending well, and it's the first in six years when I don't have exams in January to look forward to, although I do have one last interview on Tuesday. If you're still reading, thanks!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

The Colour of Magic
by Terry Pratchett

narrated by Nigel Planer
"The magical planet of Discworld is supported by four massive elephants who stand on the back of the Great A'Tuin, a giant turtle swimming slowly through the mysterious interstellar gulf. Its very existence is about to be threatened by a strange new blight: the arrival of the first tourist, upon whose survival rests the peace and prosperity of the land."
I've made many repeated attempts to read Terry Pratchett's novels, not least because they are incredibly popular, but more importantly, people I regard highly think they are great. Until now I hadn't managed to finish a single one. For me, it seems, they have to be read out loud, because this time I enjoyed the story immensely, even though it was pretty silly. And it ended on a cliffhanger - would those who are already familiar with the books tell me: will I find out what happens to Rincewind in the next book? Will it be worth it?


Image of the book cover

Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare
by Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton, Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou

"How do we know whether a particular treatment really works? How reliable is the evidence? And how do we ensure that research into medical treatments best meets the needs of patients? These are just a few of the questions addressed in a lively and informative way in this book."
This was recommended by Ben Goldacre, who wrote a Foreword and is mentioned several times through the book. It is really good, very readable, and a useful reminder that the headline 'Risk of X reduced by 50% with treatment Z" carries a different weight compared with the same fact conveyed as "Risk of X reduced from 2 in ten squillion to 1 in ten squillion with treatment Z.' And some other things too, including how not to become a patient, and sensible questions to ask your GP before s/he tries to give you any treatment. I would like to read this again after about a year when I will need reminding, but realistically, I am unlikely to.


Image of the book cover

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The stories reflect the disillusioned world of the 1920s in which they were written, and Conan Doyle can be seen to take advantage of new, more open conventions in fiction. Suicide as a murder weapon and homosexual incest are some of the psychological tragedies whose consequences are unravelled by the mind of Holmes before the eyes of Watson."
The last book of short stories, and somewhat inferior to the best of the series, I think. But it is a long while since I read any others, and maybe they are all of this kind but have gained substance in my memory. I didn't notice any story containing homosexual incest either, but I'm not going back to find it. The book is also an 'Oxford World's Classics' edition complete with asterisks in the text leading to endnotes giving explanations and definitions which are annoyingly unnecessary for this reader - the meaning of the words 'cravat' and 'spats' could be found in any half-decent dictionary.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

No more turkeys

Me and Kirsty posing with our festive antler headgear
It's just one of the facts of life that when there is lots to write about, there is no time to write. I have actually enjoyed the experience of 12 continuous days working between eight and fourteen hours a day, but I am certainly glad it is over.

I'm sitting up in bed with the laptop at the incredibly late hour of 'after nine o'clock', just because I can. I've gradually been getting through the 50-odd blog posts that have been accumulating in my reader - I came across the last one I wrote just yesterday. My online life is about to resume after its temporary suspension, because the turkeys are all sold. Or most of them, anyway.

The majority of my working time was spent creating print on paper. I got through three full reams of paper (re-using any waste sheets as scrap paper so virtually none was thrown away), filled three large arch lever files, and had to replace the inkjet printer/scanner/copier's black ink cartridge twice. It was cold for most of the time, very cold for some of the time, and both our washing machine and one of our two freezers at home broke down during this period (our TV-watching points will pay for both replacements). I also attended two dietetic interviews, both on the same day.

That was a long day, because after the two interviews I went back to work for another four hours. As usual, I didn't get either of the jobs (this blog post would have a very different tone if I had) but useful feedback again. It seems that I am getting better at producing the answers that interviewers want, and am still frustrated by the fact that this does not make me a better dietitian, just more likely to win the interview lottery. Feedback from one interview was that my presentation couldn't have been better, and from the other that my answer to the equality and diversity question was the best they had ever been given. If only both of those had been in the same interview.

Decorated Christmas tree looking a bit rubbish
And back to the turkeys. All the main trade orders and deliveries were over by 22 December, leaving a few stragglers and the main business of 23 December, which was supplying turkeys and other products (boneless/stuffed breasts, three bird roasts, smoked chicken/duck, hams, geese, capons) to private individuals who had placed single orders for collection. The unheated shed that had formerly been the production team tea-room was turned into a shop, with a slightly mangy Christmas tree, one or two limp strands of tinsel, a sales counter, a table with tea and coffee, mulled wine and mince pies, and pallets holding boxes or crates with the different product lines. I remained in this cold, dimly lit shed (not bright enough to power the solar panels on the pocket calculators) from 7.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. yesterday when Mr A came to take me away clutching our very own three bird roast and smoked duck breast for Christmas dinner.

The Boy has volunteered to cook our dinner tomorrow, and arrived on December 21st complete with broken laptop screen and sleep deprivation from a short stay with friends in Manchester. On his first night with us he slept for 17 hours, which means that Mr A's plan to decorate the house in a Christmassy manner has not taken place, combined with Mr A's realisation that Christmas trees don't half cost a lot of money and are really not worth it. Mr A has clearly been brainwashed by Family Lola.

[Note: Our front door has a big brass knocker, and a small insignificant button for the doorbell. Unfortunately the sound of the knocker is inaudible inside the house, and we have missed several calls and deliveries. Mr A recently put forward a number of solutions, including a small plaque drawing attention to the doorbell in preference to the knocker, but correctly guessed that the more practical Lola-approved solution would be to glue the knocker down to prevent it from being used. Actually, the true Lola Family answer would have been to remove the knocker altogether, but Mr A's aesthetic sensibilities and artistic nature precludes this eminently practical step.]

Today Mr A has been cleaning and tidying and I have done all the shopping and present-buying that I wasn't able to do before Christmas Eve. The fire is dancing in the fireplace, cards adorn every surface, presents are wrapped, The Boy is working in my office, Mr A is upstairs and I am sitting on the sofa with the laptop and a cup of tea. We are ready.

Monday, 19 December 2011

News blackout

Computer and paperwork on desk with printer
Schedule:

Wake up between 6 and 7 am.
45 minutes later: set off for turkey farm.
Work in small room for between 11 and 12.5 hours, including 5 minutes for lunch if the phone doesn't ring. Try to avoid using freezing cold toilet in outbuilding lightly spattered with turkey blood unless absolutely necessary.
Arrive home between 7 and 8.30 pm.
Have supper (the wonderful Mr A is in charge of catering).
Go to bed between 9.30 and 10 pm.
Do it all again the next day.

I'll see you again when it's all over.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cold turkeys

When I left work on Thursday night, everything was under control and I was ahead of the game. With the assessment on Friday, and Saturday off, by Sunday it was mayhem again. I did about four hours that day, and since then I have worked for many, many more hours, and have no time at all for blogging. So here's a picture of some turkeys.

Hundreds of plucked turkeys hanging from their feet in racks

I miss their gentle gobbling now that they have moved from the barn and field to the fridge.

Because I'm good at tests, I scored an interview on Friday. I haven't had a moment to think about it, and rather than the usual dread I am full of the confidence that comes from doing a not-very-difficult job quite well, and mixing with real people in the working world. Perhaps that will make a difference tomorrow. I really must print the directions and familiarise myself with the job again, in the next hour, because that's the only time there is.

The change in my personal statement on application forms seems to have made a difference, too. Up to now I have desperately wanted interviews, but next week is the busiest time at the turkey farm, and Wednesday is the busiest day of all. And I have been invited for TWO more interviews, both on Wednesday. The Boss and I have agreed that the best outcome all round is for me to get a call on Monday or Tuesday offering me the job following tomorrow's interview. Otherwise, the turkeys will have to manage without me for another day.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

It's an assessment, not an interview

Palms and water in a hothouse
The Diabetes UK meeting this month was a hoot. In a VERY hot room, the talk was from an ophthalmologist and ophthalmic surgeon, and ought to have been related to diabetes because of the increased risk of cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Instead, it was highly technical (metabolism of the lens, anyone? Yes, it's anaerobic, 85% through glycolysis and 15% via the pentose monophosphate shunt), and included not only images more gory than in the lecture about diabetic foot conditions, but also a full colour movie of a cataract removal operation, close up. After one lady in the audience fainted (she claimed it was from the heat) the speaker offered to skip the rest of the video, but the rest of the assembled masochists clamoured for more. Once I'd chosen to believe that it wasn't really a human eye on the screen, I managed to watch most of the operation. I think he fleetingly mentioned diabetes a couple of times, and ended his lecture with some pictures from his holiday in Canada. What a night.

My visit to the last Coeliac UK meeting belied my cynicism, because I got a call from the senior dietitian I met there, letting me know that there would in fact be three posts advertised very shortly in the local area - two temporary but full time, one permanent but part time. Then there was the 'assessment' yesterday, and if I'd been told it was a paper test, multiple choice, I'd have looked forward to it rather than dreading it. I set out leaving extra time in case of hold-ups on the way, the traffic turned out to be dreadful, I reached the venue with about 15 minutes to spare and joined a room of about 30 hopefuls doing the test. When I was done I drove home: more dreadful traffic and a round trip of 6 hours for less than 30 minutes activity. They'll tell me on Monday whether I was good enough to deserve a proper interview, which will be on Friday and I'll have to find another route. I'm not sure how I'll broach the subject of more time off to The Boss.

What with the dentist in the morning, assessment in the afternoon, and badminton do in the evening, yesterday was a Three Outfits day. I even looked through the bedroom drawers to see if I had any make-up, but couldn't find any at all. The badminton do went well, especially after I'd ditched the Lady Shoes for some flat Dancing Shoes that I'd brought with me, but there wasn't quite enough dancey music for my liking. The band cleared the dancefloor very effectively with their medley of Christmas songs, and then there was an interlude with a skipping rope (I'm not joking). Today I have extreme cleaning, that local job application, and it's back to work tomorrow afternoon to get ready for the final turkey onslaught up to 24 December, when it will all be over.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Learning the ropes

View of a vegetable patch from my office window
The picture above is the view through the back window of the office where I've been working, onto somebody else's vegetable patch. The picture at the bottom of this blog post is the less picturesque view of the front of the office. My working hours are full to the brim, and getting longer as we approach the climax of turkey-selling season. I understand a bit more of the business every day, including the operation of the office convection heater. On Monday I couldn't feel my face by lunchtime, but I discovered on Tuesday that this was because The Boss had turned the heater down so that the office wouldn't get too hot. That's all very well, but he wasn't sitting in the office.

The turkeys are progressively moving from activity in the barn or the field to inactivity in racks in the fridge storage area. I took a quick look at the plucking operation going on at the moment, but I don't mind not seeing more or getting involved. The slaughter seems to be very quick, humane and almost noiseless, and I am getting used to skipping around red pools in the yard and hoovering pink, greasy feathers and straw from the office floor.

The main excitement on Monday revolved around a particularly important customer who needed to be impressed, so The Boss agreed to provide a sample dressed turkey in a presentation box in all its finery, along with five other birds in a similar state. This would have been just about manageable, except that he mentioned that they would come with "herbs, a sprig of rosemary or something." I spent over an hour establishing that there was no fresh rosemary to be bought in any of the local grocery emporia, and ended up bringing some in from my garden next morning.

The order management system is becoming a little more comprehensible day by day, and we have made progress towards understanding how orders will be managed between myself and The Boss on our site and the year-round staff at the other site. I have put a couple of 'safe' orders through the computer system to check how it works, although at this point it isn't possible to operate the whole thing end-to-end because the turkeys haven't yet been killed in sufficient numbers. I am quietly confident, though. The next challenge for me to understand is the transport arrangements for deliveries.

Friday is the deadline for orders to be received, although this is generally agreed to be unrealistic given that less than five orders have been received with only three days to go. The birds should all be hanging in the fridge by this time next week, when things will really start to rock. And in the meantime, I have been notified by one of the Dietetics departments that I have applied to that I should come for an 'assessment' on Friday - not an interview, an assessment. If I get through the assessment, that's when I get an interview, the following week, when it will be really hard to take time off work. Combined with the fact that a previous recruitment assessment ended up being one of the worst experiences of my life, I am pleased about the opportunity, but I am definitely not looking forward to it.

The outside of the farm office

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Work and play

Welsh hillside with blue sky
I've done a few more days at the turkey farm, and things are going well, except that I get very cold indeed. I should be seeing some of the slaughtering that starts next week, although I did downplay the idea that I take part in some plucking activity. Mostly because I am so cold all the time.

The office is a standard brick farm building heated by a single convector heater. This makes it significantly warmer than outdoors, but not so warm that I don't start to lose the feeling in my fingers after a few hours - next week I plan to take in a hot water bottle and fingerless gloves, which should help. I have a cubby hole next door with a kettle, although the nearest tap is in the nearby building where they pack the dressed turkeys. The workers' tea room is in another shed, where they will have unlimited soup and bread as well as tea and coffee. There are regular seasonal workers from Poland as well as local troops, and I should be meeting them for the first time tomorrow. All being well, the killing should have started today.

An unexplained glimpse of a giraffe through trees
Apart from that there has been an evening trip to catch up with ex-colleagues in Birmingham as well as a weekend away in Wales, which was blessed by unusually dry weather. There was even some sunshine. We met up with some of Mr A's mates, stayed in a 'camping barn' near Abergavenny, and did a bit of walking as well as communal cooking. Highlights included the enormous cooked breakfasts, and a masterpiece of dessert construction which comprised four layers of chocolate cake sandwiched with cream and cherries. Given that we had all foregone lunch because of the size of the breakfast, and had then been presented with an enormous turkey dinner, takers for a 'sliver' of this monstrosity were few and most of it had to go back with its owners.

Close up of chocolate cake layered with cream
Now there's another job application to do before going back to work again tomorrow. I must say, this 'five days a week' mode of employment is highly over-rated.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

A grand night out

A theatre with a tree in front of it
Mr A and I went out last week. Together, into town, to a comedy gig. This hasn't happened for, let's say, two years? Although perhaps in that time we might have been to Warwick Arts Centre, but I don't remember.

I saw a notice that Henning Wehn, German comedy ambassador ("not an easy job") was playing at the Spa Centre, which is within walking distance. I don't generally keep an eye on the listings, because the venue usually hosts acts such as 'Brass Band plays Mantovani' or 'Gerald Williams, Hypnotist to the Stars'. The tickets were very reasonably priced, as Herr Wehn is pretty well known on radio but has not yet made it to the big time on TV.

Friday was the big day, and I'd already decided to make it a dry run for any future occasion when I'd be called upon to dress up, like a Christmas do or an evening soiree. I now had the Lady Shoes With Heels, the ancient historical and hand-me-down dresses from Lola II's friend, and I'd bought tights. The technology of tights has come on a long way since the last time I bought any, which would easily have been 15 years ago. That's probably all I'm going to say, other than both fit and performance are vastly improved.

Most of Friday was a struggle. Mr A had a bit of difficulty at work, making him very stressed, which means that he spent quite a lot of time de-stressing by sitting on the sofa in my workroom and telling me things that I had negligible capacity to influence. So I listened carefully and offered whatever support I could muster. Lola II was also having a bad day, and she called me to unload some of the stories and ask for suggestions, which I was happy to give, even though by this time I was in town, sheltering from the rain in one of my favourite charity shops (where I successfully bought a pair of jeans that fit, for less than a fiver. Lola II will potentially benefit on the 'one in, two out' clothing exchange system that I am still running, if she wants the pairs of jeans and chinos that are now too big for me). Then mum had a bit of difficulty with an online order for printer supplies, so I helped out with that as well.

So it was nice to leave all that behind, get all dressed up and go next door for a pre-show drink before tottering across town to the gig. Mr A had decided he might as well dress up too, given that his usual scruffy attire might look odd next to my attempts at Dressed Up. The distance is about doubled with the Lady Shoes, and Mr A kept getting half a step ahead and having to wait for me to catch up, but I made it in the end. It was a very good gig, focussed mainly on contrasting aspects of German and British behaviour, interspersed with audience participation in German carols - O Tannenbaum, Kling Glรถckchen Klingelingeling, Stille Nacht, and another one I didn't know.

So I am now confident in my ability to present a well-turned out figure to society for at least half a mile on foot and three hours. Perhaps this might constitute my first step back towards the constraints of grown-up society after my detour into the very comfortable world of student life. I'd rather be wearing trainers, jeans and an old sweatshirt, though.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Talking turkey

Chicken on the lawn
It's a shame to use this blog title so early on, because I'm sure there will be much more appropriate posts later on, and I haven't even started working there full time. But I've done a couple of sessions at the turkey farm to get to know the people and processes involved in generating a third of the business turnover in just six weeks of the year. I haven't made the acquaintance of any of the turkeys, because I won't have the chance to say goodbye. They are fairly unattractive beasts, with pale skin and black beady eyes. Even the noise they make is less melodious than the chickens in the next shed - yes, the firm also raises and sells cockerels at this time of year.

The business operates from two sites, one of which runs all year round, but buys in products that it processes - separating the different parts of the birds for different purposes, cooking some of it, and just selling other parts. I now know the difference between a turkey crown, a saddle and a boneless breast. This is a premium quality operation, selling high value poultry and game products (not just turkey) to butchers, delicatessens and restaurants, with only a small proportion going to individual customers who usually come and collect their orders, although online orders can be placed.

The site where I'm based is closed down for six months of the year, and for another four it just raises the chicks. The activity leading up to Christmas becomes more and more hectic, people are stressed and sleep-deprived, but at the end of December 24 it's all over. There's a bit of follow up accounting in January and everything is thoroughly cleaned up, and that's the end of it until another load of chicks is delivered in the summer.

I've been told that the operation I'm working on is also 'traditional', which includes hanging the birds for 10 days as well as some other vague procedures that I haven't asked too much about. This means that for a Christmas order, all the slaughtering is done by 14 December at the very latest, and at that point you know what birds are available to be sold - how many, and in what weight range (from 3 to 14 kg dressed weight for the whole birds). With any luck, the dressed weights will have been correctly estimated from the freshly slaughtered birds, and the demand from customers correctly estimated to match availability at the different weights. As long as Delia doesn't tell everyone to buy a smaller turkey (which she did a couple of years ago), then we should be all right.

My job involves working back from the orders and delivery dates that customers have specified, and deciding how many birds of which weights in what order will need to go through the process of dressing and packing to fulfil those orders. There are various practical constraints that make this much more difficult than it sounds, plus the nature of customers who are vague with their orders and change their minds at the last minute. And I have to keep track of the crates that hold the delivered products - they need to be returned because they are only rented for this short period.

I have a small office with a desk, a computer, a printer and a convection heater. A gang of local lads and Polish workers do all the hard work, managed by permanent staff. It starts today, I think, and ends on 24 December, when either I shall emerge victorious or slink away defeated. I'm pretty sure it will be the former.

Friday, 25 November 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Homicide
by David Simon

"The scene is Baltimore. Twice every three days another citizen is shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned to death. At the centre of this hurricane of crime is the city's homicide unit, a small brotherhood of men confronted by the darkest of American visions. David Simon was the first reporter ever to gain unlimited access to a homicide unit, and his remarkable book is both a compelling account of casework and an investigation into our culture of violence."
David Simon went on to write 'The Wire', one of the best TV shows I have ever watched. So I bought this for Mr A, and after he'd finished reading, it was my turn. It is a very fat book, following a year in the life of the homicide police teams working in Baltimore, a world of which I have little idea other than what I'd seen on 'The Wire'. It's well written and interesting enough to keep me reading, although there are few satisfying outcomes and obviously no trace of a plot, given that it is non-fiction written by a journalist.


Image of the book cover

The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

narrated by Donna Tartt
"A misfit at an exclusive New England college, Richard finds kindred spirits in the five eccentric students of his ancient Greek class. But his new friends have a horrific secret. When blackmail and violence threaten to blow their privileged lives apart, they drag Richard into the nightmare that engulfs them."
Quite a long book, and no long car journeys means a fragmented read, but sufficiently tight narrative meant that I kept up with the plot. It's an odd book, because the murder happens right at the start, and there's no mystery involved in who played a part, but the whole book serves to describe why it happened, and what happened next. You hear a lot about the participants, and I understood a bit about them by the end, but none is particularly attractive and there's little 'relaxation' when bad things aren't happening. Well written, a good read, but somehow unsatisfying.


Image of the book cover

Gormenghast
by Mervyn Peake

"Titus, 77th Lord Groan of Gormenghast, is restless in his cobwebbed kingdom of crumbling towers and ivied quadrangles, dank passages and battlements elbow-deep in moss. The castle is instinct with spreading evil: Titus's father, his twin sisters and several castle officials have met terrible and secret ends and Titus feels that, if he isn't destined for a similar fate, his life can only ever be an endless round of pre-ordained ritual. Somehow he must cut off the evil at source - or escape into the unknown world beyond Gormenghast."
This is the second book of the trilogy, and much like the first, uses language like a bludgeon to beat you into submission. New word from this book: 'marcid', which means 'Lean, withered, characterized by emaciation.' This book is much the same as the first, quite a lot happens but very, very slowly until quite near the end, incorporating lots and lots of words, but evoking an inordinately vivid image of the action and the location. I have the third book ready to go, but I'll need to read something a bit lighter after these three hefty books.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Paid employment

Goose standing in the water on the steps of a weir
I didn't get the short term part time job, but they gave great feedback. There were 59 applicants of whom they shortlisted 9, and I was the second in line for the job, which, given the circumstances, is ideal. I felt I did a better interview, and the feedback on my responses was fair, and reflected my strengths and weaknesses very well.

I have the next interview to look forward to, for which I have to prepare a presentation, and for which I have also bought a pair of lady shoes. With heels. The sort you have to wear with tights rather than socks. I haven't worn a pair of these for at least ten years, and I don't think I'll be wearing these very often - granted they are elegant, but so uncomfortable! They aren't only for interviews, but to go with the dresses/skirts that I fit into now, on the slight chance that there will be an event for which they are suitable. The badminton Christmas event might be the time, but if there's any walking about or dancing I'll have to take a spare pair without heels.

I've been playing badminton three times a week for the last few weeks, and I came home at 10.30 on Friday thinking that it was all getting a bit much. I never thought I'd reach the point where I would be happy not to play, but there it was. But badminton has brought a surprising benefit alongside the playing - through one of the members of the club, I have a job until the New Year, working on a local turkey farm. Sorting out Christmas orders and deliveries, starting this week.

I know absolutely nothing about retail, or poultry, and have never worked in any business even slightly like this one, but I'm confident that I can do the job so I'll give it a go. If nothing else, it should provide blog fodder alongside a bit of money. And, the first person has signed up to go on one of my Coeliac UK Store Tours!



It's Tuesday morning, I was about to publish this, just had a chat with Lola II, and looked at my mobile phone, where there was a message.

The dilemma I wrote about a few posts ago (where I had two interviews but the second job was more attractive than the first) has resolved itself, in more ways than one. Obviously I didn't get the first job, and was gearing up for the interview for the second. I contacted the department to find out if I could visit ahead of the interviews, and find out more about what they did. During that phone call, the manager said that unfortunately the job had to be changed from permanent to a 12-month fixed term contract. At the same time, another job I had applied for with the same NHS Trust had also notified applicants of a similar change.

Yesterday I started on the presentation that was required for the interview, by reading one of the key reference documents and making notes. It was quite interesting, and related well to my previous employment in the disability field.

The message this morning stated that "due to recent Divisional re-organisational changes, this post has been withdrawn ... please do not attend the interview you have booked."

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Movember

Bruce wearing a chicken head mask
We are two-thirds of the way through the month of Movember. Not a spelling mistake, but a name reflecting the increasingly popular initiative to raise awareness of and funding for prostate and testicular cancers, by growing a moustache through the month of November. I like this cause.

Although I am female, I feel little solidarity for the pervasive ladies-only attitude that delights in the discussion of shoes, clothes, bags and Strictly Come Dancing. I don't feel part of the sisterhood that elevates women into a 'special' category and excludes men as somehow of lesser importance. I thoroughly endorse the Pink Ribbon campaign in support of breast cancer, and I will always support the pink-themed women-only 5k and 10k runs, but I really like the fact that for a change, men are doing something that women can't - growing moustaches - and sticking them in our faces. Figuratively and literally.

At the pub there are many unlikely moustaches on display, and at least three of my Facebook friends are taking part. I'm writing about one of these in particular. Let's call him Bruce, for that is his name.

I have known Bruce for more than a quarter of a century. We first met at university (my first time round), did the same degree, and became friends at some point in that first year. It could even have been the first week, but it's too long ago to remember. I don't think I will ever find better friends than those people whom I first met through those wonderful, heady three years at uni. We still see each other, sometimes at New Year, and occasionally at other times, and I have written about several of these occasions on this blog. CERNoise even wrote a post for the blog not that long ago.

Back to Bruce. Some random facts:
  • His origins are proudly Australian.
  • He owned a corkscrew known as the 'wiggle and twist'.
  • He was a skilled playing member of the university tiddlywinks club (I was an unskilled drinking member). 
  • He learned to unicycle with me.
  • He used to be a diver (from diving boards, not sub-aqua) until he hurt his back. Now he cycles a lot and competes in triathlons.
  • He bought me a toaster 25 years ago, and it is still the one I use every day.
  • He is one of the best human beings in the whole world.
Here is a short statement from the man himself:
"This year, I am growing a fine moustache for Movember, which is a charity dedicated to men's health. On average men live less long than women - there is a theory that part of the reason is because men are fundamentally more stupid and fail to go get themselves checked out for diseases like testicular cancer and prostate cancer.

"Having talked to people about this, I reckon this is a pretty good theory backed up by evidence. I propose the following test - if you have to put your reading glasses on to read your iPhone and you stand up to pee, then go see a doctor once a year for a checkup. Works for me!

"Please donate to http://mobro.co/brucedevlin if you think the tash warrants a small donation to save lives."

Bruce wearing the Mexican-style moustache
And here is his moustache, proudly displayed, and calling out for your contribution to the cause. Go and donate now!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Meeting and interview

Platter of mixed seafood
Ooh, I'm very late with this post. No excuses, except that my life isn't jam-packed full of things to share out in public. Two events only: a meeting and an interview.

The meeting was the local branch of Coeliac UK, held in a church hall and very well attended. This may have been because there was a food demonstration by Juvela, which always means a) free food and b) other giveaways from this major player in gluten-free retail. I arrived only just in time and took a chair at the back, which unfortunately meant that I was far too close to the horrible children who were at the back because they wouldn't shut up. I felt alternately desperately sorry for their mother and close to battering them to death with a chair. If I hadn't wanted to talk to the dietitian who was there, I really don't think I would have stayed, even for the free food, which I didn't actually get.

The cookery demo took place at the front, obviously, but on the same level as the chairs, so anyone more than three rows back (and there were about 15 rows altogether) couldn't see anything except the top of the presenter's head. Because of the kids, we had trouble hearing anything either, and I imagine some of the older folks with less acute hearing wouldn't have heard much even without the kids. But I stayed, through the long, tedious 90 minutes of demo, catching glimpses of stollen, pizza, cake and pastry. At the end, while everyone else mobbed the table at the front, I went to talk to the dietitian, who at the start had briefly spoken to the room about the gluten-free situation in the hospital where she works.

The regulations for gluten-free labelling are changing at the end of this year, when products labelled 'gluten-free' must have a verified gluten content of less than 20 parts per million (ppm), and 'very low gluten' will mean 21-100 ppm. A third classification of 'no gluten-containing ingredients' will indicate products that are likely to be safe but will not have been tested to establish the definitive gluten content. This has caused some upheaval in the food industry, and the dietitian was there to talk about the food service in the hospital, and to reassure members that there would be gluten-free food if they were admitted. There isn't a great variety, though, and if I needed to eat gluten-free I definitely wouldn't want to be there more than a week.

In terms of job opportunities, the dietitian (who is the Dietetic Manager in the region) confirmed that there aren't any. We had quite a long chat about this and that, but that was the end result. She's given me her email address and I shall send my CV, but I don't expect anything to come of it, at least in the short term. In the long term, what I've achieved is to have a chat with someone who's a senior dietitian and who may remember me as that graduate who bought her a cup of tea at that Coeliac UK meeting.

The interview was almost as unsatisfying, but I won't go into detail, except that it was for a part-time post that only lasts until March 2012, which has both benefits and drawbacks. And obviously I don't know if I will be offered it, and if I am, whether I will accept. I am looking forward to the other interview in a couple of weeks, and still have three 'live' applications and another suitable vacancy to apply for today. So I'd better get on with that.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A glimmer of hope

Blue boat waiting on the beach
The last few days have been quite a roller-coaster ride; I've been up and down like a yo-yo. I've been making much more coherent attempts to put together a plan towards employment rather than waiting for my job applications to bear fruit. This was partly prompted by the opportunity from Coeliac UK to run store tours, and then assisted by sister D who made it her business to help me find, or create, work opportunities.

I finally persuaded two well-known supermarkets in a not-very-nearby town to let me escort people with coeliac disease and family members around their stores. I had no idea this would be so difficult, given that absolutely no input is required from the supermarkets except 'permission'. If I was thinking of working with them in some way that required them to actually DO anything, then based on this experience I would think again.

To start with, neither of the supermarket employees I spoke to had work-based email addresses that I could use. So I sent one letter by post, which the employee claimed had not arrived after a week. The other said I could use his personal email but he couldn't access it from work, so an evening had to pass between me sending him messages and him being able to discuss the contents. And he said he didn't receive the first message that I sent.

No work-based email? Two of the Big Four supermarkets in the UK? It seems unbelievable that they can be expected to do their jobs in this way. Anyway, the dates and times for my tours are set, and now I have to recruit participants.

The contact that sister D found for me has also borne fruit, in the form of an offer of three days of 'work experience' in a hospital not too far away. I've asked what this might consist of, but as yet have no idea. I've been given a very long form to complete and post back, which will enable an 'honorary contract' to be created after they've done a full Criminal Records Bureau check. All for three days, which may or may not be related to dietetics. We'll see what comes of this effort.

I've kept in touch via Facebook with a very few students, all of whom have now got jobs and started work. On Monday I was so despondent about this, and about the number of job applications I've made (23) in comparison with interviews awarded (three, and only one since July) that I appealed to my course tutors and referees - who are dietetic managers - for help. My plaintive email was rewarded by wonderfully helpful responses, going to the length of reading and commenting on an example of one of my 'personal statements'. The consensus is that it is much too long, so I followed their advice with the application I submitted yesterday, and brutally shortened it down to just over 2 pages, making sure to include the bits that they suggested were the most interesting.

Immediately following this, but clearly not in any way consequential, messages came through offering me two (count 'em, TWO) interviews for jobs where the closing date for applications was long, long ago, and in one case we had passed the stated date for interviews to have taken place. So either that information was wrong, or they held interviews and failed to appoint on the first round, which seems extremely unlikely, but you never know.

While this is very welcome news, it leaves me with a potential dilemma. The first interview is on Monday, for a job that is only part time (19 hours per week), temporary (until the end of March 2012) but too far away for commuting so I'd have to stay overnight for at least two nights a week, and possibly three. Costs would be almost as high as for a full time job, but for only half the money. The second interview is a much more desirable job, full time, permanent and well within commuting distance, but the trouble is that this interview is not for another three weeks.

If (and it's a big if) they offer me the job after the first interview, what should I do? Ask them to wait until I know about the other job, which will be up to a month for a contract that would only be four months anyway? Or accept the job but still go for the other interview and break the bad news only if I get that job? Or can you think of another option?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

New treatments for Type 2 Diabetes

Fresh pomegranate
I went to my second local meeting of Diabetes UK last week, and it was well worth the trip. It's an odd group - the majority of members are well over retirement age, and the primary function of the group is definitely fundraising, with regular raffles, tombolas and fundraising events. Once a month at these meetings, though, they also have a lecture - I wrote about the last one, which was all about feet. This time, we had the local diabetes consultant talking about the newest developments in treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM).

Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike type 1, where insulin is lacking, the primary symptom in T2DM is insulin resistance. When food is consumed the carbohydrate is broken down into glucose, which circulates in the blood before being used for energy or stored. As blood glucose levels rise, insulin is secreted by beta cells in the pancreas, and insulin is what facilitates the exit of glucose from the bloodstream. (I've written a post about this before). Because people with T2DM are resistant to the action of insulin, the levels of glucose in the blood remain higher for longer, and more insulin is secreted to try and deal with it, so levels of insulin are also high.

The disease is progressive, and over time the ability of the pancreas to secrete these large amounts of insulin decreases - it actually seems to 'wear out' - and eventually insulin replacement therapy may be needed, by injection, as for a person with type 1. At that point, the main difference between type 1 and type 2 is the insulin resistance; in T2DM the amount of insulin that has to be injected is very much greater.

Historical treatments

The main pharmacological treatments historically for T2DM have been aimed at overcoming insulin resistance (metformin), and stimulating insulin production while the pancreas is still able to produce any (sulphonylureas, pioglitazone). Another treatment that can be prescribed is a glucosidase inhibitor (acarbose), which inhibits the digestion of carbohydrate in the gut so that it does not enter the bloodstream, but often produces severe flatulence.

Alongside these medicines, exercise removes glucose from the blood independently of insulin, diet can help moderate high levels of blood sugar, and both diet and exercise can produce weight loss, which independently reduces insulin resistance. The recent news report of recovery of normal blood sugar levels after eight weeks on a 600 kcal/day diet (and similar remission following gastric surgery) may be attributable to this weight loss effect. And it's clear that obesity is one of the major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, so losing weight reduces risk, incidence, and severity.

Incretins

The new treatments are based on another finding - that the gut produces hormones, called incretins, which stimulate insulin secretion when carbohydrate is digested. This 'amplification' of the effect of glucose stimulating insulin secretion is smaller in people with T2DM, so injectable forms of one of these incretins (Glucagon-like peptide 1 or GLP-1) have been developed. Because the effect only happens when carbohydrate is digested, these GLP-1 agonists don't provoke hypoglycaemia (when blood glucose falls dangerously low). The two drugs currently available are exenatide (Byetta) and liraglutide (Victoza).

As well as increasing insulin production, incretins keep blood sugar levels low by suppressing glucagon secretion - glucagon stimulates the liver to release stored glucose into the blood, when fasting, for example. They slow gastric emptying so people feel fuller for longer, and they also seem to act on the brain to reduce appetite - these factors contribute to the treatment by facilitating weight loss. Animal studies have also demonstrated that incretins halt the degeneration of the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas, which would be an added bonus if it is true for humans.

Side effects are nausea, an unpleasant feeling of fullness, and possibly an increased risk of pancreatitis. Because the drugs are not exact replicas of human GLP-1 there is also the possibility of the body's immune system generating antibodies which reduce its effectiveness. Future development work is taking place around reducing the number of injections by producing a longer-acting version, and slow release via an implantable device.

Other new treatments

Natural incretins are very short-lived, which is why the GLP-1 agonist drugs are not quite the same as the human versions - they have been designed to hang around a bit longer. GLP-1 is broken down in the body by an enzyme called DPP-4, and a class of drugs called gliptins inhibit the activity of DPP-4, thus preventing the breakdown of GLP-1 and increasing its availability in the body. Gliptins can be taken as tablets, which gives them an advantage over injectable incretins.

Another class of drugs being investigated are glucose re-uptake inhibitors. At all times our blood is being filtered through the kidneys, with unwanted components passing through to the bladder for excretion in urine, while the majority of the blood and its contents are re-absorbed back into the bloodstream. Glucose goes through this process, with nearly 100% being re-absorbed as long as blood levels are not too high. Glucose in the urine is one of the diagnostic criteria for diabetes, when there is so much glucose in the blood that it 'overflows' into the urine.

Glucose re-uptake inhibitors inhibit the channels in the kidneys that reabsorb glucose, so preventing re-uptake and forcing excretion of glucose in the urine even when blood levels are not sky-high. This will lower blood glucose levels slightly, improving blood glucose control and also leading to a small amount of weight loss (but less than with GLP-1 agonists). The down sides are potential urinary tract infections (because bacteria love sugary urine), and a dehydrating effect.

The last development that the speaker mentioned briefly were new types of insulin: ultra short acting and ultra long acting, which can help with both type 2 and type 1 diabetes.

And finally

After the lecture, I asked the consultant about his work with dietitians and any inside knowledge of whether there might be any opportunities for voluntary or unpaid work or work experience. He was moderately encouraging, and I have emailed him as we agreed, but so far have heard nothing.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

First time karaoke

Karaoke king and queens
My goodness, last night was fun. My first ever attempt at karaoke, and I was very unsure whether I would like it or not. Lola II set it up at a place she had been before, so that was a good sign, and it was in a very private establishment rather than a bar with loads of strangers or anything, and with just two other friends. Actually, there was one of Lola II's school friends (but I'd met her lots of times) and the other was one of sister D's friends whom I'd met only once, but who is Karaoke King. And it was brilliant, and for two hours we all sang and danced our hearts out, and I loved it. Very unexpectedly wonderful.

This was obviously in London, where I am having a 'holiday'. On Thursday, I travelled down and met dad and we went to an event at the Wellcome Collection, called 'A Cook's Tour', advertised as an exploration of 'the role of food, remedies and global interchange in our medical and cultural lives from the 17th century onwards'. It started with a short tour of relevant artifacts in the collection, and then a couple of lectures with some of the ancient books and manuscripts. It was no better than OK, and the final speaker wasn't very good, but some of it was interesting. The blurring of the distinction between culinary and medicinal use for many exotic spices, and the idea a few centuries back that local remedies rather than exotic imports were best for a local population.

Then I had dinner with sister D, and lunch next day with another old friend from school, who is going to join us on the planned Woodwind Orchestra day in January. I had a quick look at the Private Eye retrospective at the Victoria and Albert museum, and then on to the karaoke, followed by sushi.

The only other event of note up to this point on the trip has been the replacement of the smoke alarm battery at mum and dad's house, which, after being ignored for nine years, started to beep every 20 seconds. It hasn't bothered them too much up to now because a) they can't really hear it that well, and b) it's in the kitchen, a long way from their bedroom. I arrived on Thursday night, however, and realised within minutes that the job could not be put off until next day because a) I can hear it rather well and b) I was going to be sleeping in the room next to the kitchen. It proved to be a rather difficult job, but the alternative was unthinkable, and I managed it in the end. And I unscrambled dad's email, where somehow a filter had been applied that hid any email in his Inbox that he had read, goodness knows how.

Now I am supervising Lola II's admin, which she won't do unless extreme measures are applied (in this case a force field preventing her from leaving the room). Then we will have moderate fun in some as yet unspecified manner until we drive back over to mum and dad's with Mr M, a new computer for mum, a tent in the boot, anticipation of another family gathering tomorrow, joy in our hearts and a song in our souls. Because that appears to be the impact that karaoke has on a Lola.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Officially seeking work

Just a boat
I have at long last had to bite the bullet and become acquainted with our local Jobcentre Plus (JCP). Despite the fresh decoration and modernity of the surroundings, what a depressing, soulless place it is - I wouldn't change jobs with the people who work there for anything. Obviously they have to ensure that I am not a parasite upon the state and fulfil all the criteria for their assistance, but it is done in such a complicated and unhelpful way.

The adviser I talked to could neither type nor spell, and I had to dictate the word 'dietitian' very slowly, letter by letter. The job does not appear in their database, and so I am coded as looking for work primarily as a Healthcare Manager (Dietitian) and secondarily as an Occupational Hygienist (Dietitian Assistant), neither of which is remotely true. She had never come across the language 'Hebrew' before and I had to explain what it is, and how to spell it. I am not optimistic that I will receive any useful advice or assistance from JCP, but I might possibly get some money, which may go some way to making up for the experience of going there. Mr A says I should just talk to Smurf and work a few hours in the pub to make as much money as they will give me, but without the pain. I shall see if JCP can come up with anything useful that might help me first.

I wasted a morning on an application for a job that was withdrawn in the afternoon, but there have been another two since then, neither of them local. I have spent some meaningful and useful time exploring options for delivering 'Store Tours' at supermarkets on behalf of Coeliac UK. Patients with coeliac disease and members of their families can sign up to go round a supermarket with a dietitian, and talk about gluten-free shopping and healthy eating with coeliac disease. I can earn expenses while doing something useful, but it will no doubt play havoc with my interaction with JCP. It would probably take the entire duration of my jobseeker interview for that particular adviser to type the word 'coeliac'.

In the process of liaising with a dietetic department (in order to ensure that I have enough 'customers' for my store tours) I may be offered some unpaid work using Excel spreadsheets, which will keep me busy and give me some contact with the real world of dietetics, even if it may not increase my chances of getting an interview. Similarly, another piece of work I am doing is at the request of the university course manager, who is editing a book about choosing dietetics as a career, and I am writing the chapter about deciding where to study. My sister D has been working on my behalf as well, and I have been encouraged to take some further steps that are well outside my comfort zone of operation. It all helps if it leads to employment.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy

narrated by Judy Franklin

"Anna Karenina is beautiful, married to a successful man, and has a son whom she adores. But a chance meeting at a train station in Moscow sets her passionate heart alight, and she is defenceless in the face of Count Vronsky's adoration. Having defied the rules of 19th-century Russian society, Anna is forced to pay a heavy price. "
Tolstoy is a breeze compared with Dostoevsky, and the story is engaging and easy to follow, despite its length - a mammoth 35½ hours. Luckily I had plenty of car journeys, and it was the ideal accompaniment to painting the kitchen ceiling. While Anna, her husband and Vronsky feature quite a lot, there are plenty of other stories going on - Anna's brother and his sister-in-law have their own adventures, of equal interest. I was given a print version long, long ago as a school prize, and I'm sure I read it too, but at that age I certainly didn't gain any insight into the Russian world at that period - land economy, a shooting party, local politics, class distinctions - and I'm sure I missed some points on this reading that a Russian or historical scholar would notice. It tails off rather than ending, but apart from that it was a good read.


Image of the book cover

Shirley
by Charlotte Bronte

"Written at a time of social unrest, the book is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when economic hardship led to riots in the woollen district of Yorkshire. A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline."
This book doesn't have the passion of Jane Eyre, nor the sweeping plot, but has historical detail instead. Rather than the characters or the plot, the most interesting thing for me was the discovery that at the time of writing, 'Shirley' was a man's name, only becoming associated with women as a result of this novel. All progresses and ends as it should, of course, but for me there were too many subsidiary characters, most of them associated with the church - I don't really know the difference between a vicar, rector, curate and parish priest, but it seemed to matter. And it's stuffed full of references to biblical and Graeco-Roman characters, all of which made me feel I was missing something. Meh.


Image of the book cover

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell

"Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Aibileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child. Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is the sassiest woman in Mississippi: a wonderful cook with a gossip's tongue. Graduate Skeeter returns from college with ambitions, but her mother will not be happy until she's married. Although worlds apart, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny's lives converge over a clandestine project that will change the town of Jackson forever."
This was a freebie from the Observer newspaper, and I'm very glad it was, because it's an absolutely brilliant book. Really excellent, and worth hearing rather than reading because the deep South accents of the narration added a wonderful extra dimension and authenticity. The book ends at about the time I was born, and it's sobering to hear the degree of casual and institutional racism at that time, not all that long ago, albeit in southern USA. Well worth reading, and a great accompaniment to shower room renovation. The film of the book has just been released in this country, and is getting good reviews.


Image of the book cover
The Shakespeare Secret
by J. L. Carrell

"A deadly serial killer is on the loose, modelling his sickening murders on Shakespeare's plays. But why is he killing? And how can he be stopped?"
In contrast to that last wonderful book, this one was appalling. It's a 'Da Vinci Code' ripoff, substituting Shakespeare for Leonardo, and consisting of a Shakespeare expert chasing around the world following 'clues' to try and find a lost Shakespeare play, shadowed by a murderer who threatens her and kills off various people who help her. I wasn't in the least bit interested in any of the characters, couldn't follow the tortuous relationships either in the present day or in the flashbacks to the 17th century, and didn't care about any of it. Rather than pass this book on as soon as humanly possible, I'm tempted to throw it in the bin, and I NEVER do that.


Image of the book cover
Stephen Fry in America
by Stephen Fry

"Stephen Fry has always loved America, in fact he came very close to being born there. Here, his fascination for the country and its people sees him embarking on an epic journey across America, visiting each of its 50 states to discover how such a huge diversity of people, cultures, languages, beliefs and landscapes combine to create such a remarkable nation."
Obviously being a fan of the great Fry this went down very well. The book to accompany the TV series, it consists of short chapters covering highlights of his time in each state, mostly visits to just one or two towns or attractions. In the case of Delaware, he just drove through and didn't really see anything, and Ohio missed out too, but most of the time there was at least something that drew his attention. Very light reading.


Image of the book cover
Dawdling by the Danube: With Journeys in Bavaria and Poland
by Edward Enfield

"Edward Enfield sets off on his latest cycling trip, carrying few preconceptions but plenty of wit, along the banks of the Danube from Passau to Vienna, taking in castles, churches and good food along the way. As Edward amply reveals in this charming book, there is no place from which to see a country that is nearly as good as the saddle of a bicycle."
Acquired (at very low cost) because of a trip along the Danube planned for next year. Very short, easy to read, gently humorous and mostly interesting. It isn't terribly informative about the tourist sights, but if I ever wished to go on a long-distance cycling trip in Germany or Austria, I'd probably take his advice. But it's even lighter (and shorter) than the Stephen Fry above, so I'll be attacking something with a bit more heft next.

Friday, 28 October 2011

500th Blog Post Celebratory Quiz

Hello, Lola II here.

Lola has very kindly invited me to post her 500th blog. What an honour! And what a lovely Blog. Well done Lola I, and here's to the next 500!

So here's the quiz: What do the following items have in common:

picture of washing up sponges
and
a zimmer frame
and
chocolate mousse

The answer?? Our daddy, of course! Read on to find out why.


I regularly browse Lola I's past blog postings in a random fashion. I enjoy being faced with unexpected memories I've put aside, in anticipation of all the future fun.

Well, browsing back reminded me that this time last year I wrote all about our mummy, and it's about time our daddy got the same gift. So here's a post to right that wrong. Or if his name was Mr Rong, it would be to write that Rong...

Dad has many admirable qualities. Show him something broken and he'll fix it in a blink of an eye. Nowadays Dad single-handedly supports the old-fashioned attitude of FIX IT, DON'T THROW IT OUT. That's a value that has seeped its way down to his three daughters, on the odd occasion... He has high standards and is a thorough finisher of those many DIY projects. My personal favourite was the practical and effective repair to his headphones. The pads got thin and so he repaired it using washing-up sponges. What a vision to behold!

Give Dad a roast chicken and he'll have a lovely munch whilst performing an autopsy (a leftover from his medical training). He will happily tell you what it died from, and then proudly announce that the delicious bird "did not die in vain".

What are his loves? A good joke, Mum's chocolate mousse (impossible to recreate by anyone else), family gatherings, cheese, television, books, and the internet. He'll do anything for a rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Dad knows so much about Herod that the National Geographic channel interviewed him for a programme on what Herod probably died of.

What is our Daddy good at? Explaining things; he's very clear thinking so that his explanation hits the mark first time - the relief was enormous when I didn't understand maths at school. Dad is a good listener (if he can hear you...), he is always pleased to hear from the family, and enjoys a good laugh.

Dad is good at drawing and also made a clay silouette of Mum's head. The carvings of heads from two pieces of driftwood are beautiful. We hold particularly fond memories of all the things he made out of zimmer frames; the contraption to hold the video under the tv, the dining room table extension, all manner of things for his lecture-giving days, the list is endless...

One day, many years ago, Dad very carefully cut walnuts in half, scraped out the contents and stuck them back together in order to make a walnut mobile. Unfortunately his hard work wasn't tidied away when Great Auntie Sylvia came to babysit. Upon his return home he discovered all his hard work smashed to smitherines, with Auntie Sylvia's comment ringing in his head - "you have some funny nuts this side of London".

Dad's currently trying to eat less. We all know how difficult it is, so WELL DONE, DAD. Keep at it and we'll be skipping around the boat together next October!

XXXXX

Monday, 24 October 2011

Adventures in Norfolk

The Guildhall in Norwich Market Square
Well, we had a few small adventures, which is unusual for us. My adventures usually happen with Lola II, not Mr A. We did a fair bit of sitting and reading in nice places too.

It is a surprisingly long journey to the Norfolk coast, but we arrived at the campsite in good time, put the tent up, got in a few extra provisions (milk for both of us, beer for Mr A, chocolate for me, and crisps for Mr A but we were on holiday so I had some too). The tent pole repair stood up beautifully and Mr A found a useful rug for the porch to protect the built-in groundsheet. It was unseasonably warm in the late afternoon as we sat in the tent porch and read, but the light fades early at this time of year, and the temperature dropped like a stone. So we went to the pub.

Lola II and I had walked to this pub so I knew how far it was, but we had done it in July while there was still daylight, and Mr A and I were walking there as night fell, and it was pitch black on the way back, with minimal verges at the side of the road and a surprising number of fast-moving vehicles. Never mind, we didn't get knocked over, it was a fine pub, but there was something strange going on. The dining area was set with white cloths and glassware; there seemed to be an awful lot of people crammed into the bar area, and then small snacks on cocktail sticks started appearing on platters from the kitchen.

When almost everyone was ushered into the dining rooms, we were left with three local drinkers in the bar.  Despite our natural British reserve we struck up a conversation, and this is how we found out the details of what was going on. A special gourmet night was being hosted by a local chef, Richard Bainbridge (from Michelin-starred Morston Hall down the road). They told us he's been on the telly and normally wears a flat cap, which obviously we didn't know. More importantly, the locals managed to intercept the next dish from the kitchen, so we even tasted the spelt bread and the 'Juniper foam' starter/amuse-bouche, courtesy of our new-found friends. We left before the main courses, but the trip was a great success, and was classed as our first adventure.

Rather than using proper camping sleeping bags, what we usually do is manufacture a replacement double bed with pillows and duvet. This time, Mr A was in charge of planning and assembling all the gear, and he had brought two old-style rectangular sleeping bags, three proper mummy-style sleeping bags, but no duvet. He'd brought his skiing thermals, but I hadn't. That first night was colder than either of us expected, and our cobbled-together sleeping arrangements were wholly inadequate. The second night I had three nested sleeping bags and Mr A had two; neither of us could move any of our limbs but we were both warm as toast.

Seals lying in the water and on the sand of Blakeney Point

Breakfast on Saturday was going to be tomato sandwiches, since that's what we'd brought at random from home. After such a cold night, Mr A was keen to abandon this plan, and we had a very satisfactory hot breakfast in the local town. The next adventure was seal-watching: common seals and grey seals are to be found on Blakeney Point, and various local enterprises will take you out by boat to see them. We got a good view of a decent number of seals, but it did feel very voyeuristic with three boats full of camera-wielding tourists plying back and forth in front of the basking seals. Slightly underwhelming as an experience, but enjoyable enough. A small marine adventure.

Because of the early nightfall, and also because there were some fairly noisy family parties at the campsite, we decided to spend Saturday evening at the cinema, and went to see 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' at the Cromer Mulitplex. A good night out and a good night's sleep thanks to our amended sleeping arrangements, then the postponed tomato sandwiches for breakfast and a trip to Norwich before heading home.

Norwich on Sunday morning was disappointing. It seemed to have nothing but the usual mainstream shops; the market was deserted and the only activity was in the big malls - even the 'cultural' attractions like the castle and museums were only open in the afternoon. Looking for a suitable spot for lunch was also a challenge, as there didn't even seem to be any suitable cafes or pubs other than the standard fast food emporia. We managed to find a newly-opened noodle bar in the end, but I'm not sure if it will survive - Norwich doesn't seem ready for a noodle bar.

The advertised attraction of the Colman's Mustard Museum did not live up to its billing either, as it turned out to be a mustard shop with a few artifacts and informational posters on the wall. The arcade where it was located was lovely - actually, the architecture of Norwich is rather wonderful, even if its contents had little to offer these two fussy tourists. The journey home was uneventful, and I've spent an enjoyable morning looking through the photos and writing this. Now I need to get on.

The columns and lion sculpture of Norwich City Hall

Friday, 21 October 2011

The morning after

Tendril over stones approaching water
Some of you whom I know in the real world will already be aware that my interview was unsuccessful; I didn't get either of the jobs on offer. I am feeling rather sorry for myself, and am tempted to write what I really feel about how recruitment is carried out, but in the hope that I will feel more positive soon, I shall resist that temptation.

This morning I submitted another application, and I have accepted some unpaid work that will bulk out my CV (not that it really needs any more bulk). Mr A and I also have cooked up a tentative plan that may result in some relevant work experience. So all is not doom and gloom, although I have to say that my mood has been a bit low for the last couple of days.

Never mind; Mr A did his last exam for the time being on Wednesday, fixed the dodgy tent pole yesterday, and we are just about to head off for a well-deserved weekend camping in Norfolk, probably at the same site that Lola II and I went to in July. The forecast is for moderate temperatures and no rain, which is all we could wish for at this time of year. Maybe there will be adventures, but more likely we will spend the weekend doing very little except finding nice places to sit and read books.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Not doing it myself for a bit

Image of round cacti viewed from above
I thought I'd take a short break from the shower project, so I cleaned everything up nicely so the room was usable again. Then I thought I'd celebrate by actually having a shower, but when I pressed 'go', absolutely nothing happened. Drat.

I hadn't turned off the mains power except when unscrewing and screwing back the base plates from the shower and the light pull-cords, and the light still worked. Mr A was working upstairs using his computer so I couldn't turn the power off to investigate. Later on when Mr A had finished for the day, we contemplated the situation. We knew it had to be electrical, probably a fuse, because the motor wasn't even trying to pump water. Suddenly I realised that there was another isolation switch, although I don't remember ever touching it. It was off. Turn it on - problem solved. First thought: 'thank goodness'. Closely followed by: 'what an idiot'.

Instead of decorating I have re-entered my comfort zone for a couple of days, and am focussing on normal household tasks for a day or two, including trying to work out which plan to choose when our gas and electricity contract ends. I booked train tickets for the next trip to London and contacted various people I'd like to see when I'm there. There was badminton, where it turned out that there was a men's match against the club I used to play for, so I could catch up with two of the nicest chaps from the olden days. I've been out looking for a mirror, and this one caught my eye - for the name, not the price, which is over £100. Ikea mirrors are a tenth of the price, and my reflection in them is pretty much the same.

I also got my clarinet out of its case for the first time in ages. Lola II and I have enrolled in a Woodwind Playday, so I have to become semi-proficient by January - there should be enough time. And finally, I was called upon for 'childcare' yesterday, picking up our friends' two children from after-school club and walking them home. I impressed upon them at the start that I wasn't a proper parent so they would have to take responsibility for not getting killed on the way, given that we were walking directly through town with rush hour traffic. They kept their side of the bargain perfectly. I would have been in terrible trouble if I'd let them get run over.

I should get the call about the interview today. Or tomorrow. They promised definitely by Friday. Gulp.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Done It Myself

The interview went well, I think. Or possibly, it didn't; I really have no way of knowing until they offer me the job (or not). As usual in the car on the way home and throughout the afternoon and evening I had many ideas about what I might have said or how I might have done better. I shall find out next week. It is unsettling.

Far wall of shower room
Otherwise, the tortuously slow pace of decorating continues, with purchase and application of paint, consideration (but not acquisition) of light fitting, mirror, towel rail, loo roll holder and toilet brush. The paint colour is Auburn Falls 2, a dark orange-red, and looks wonderful - even Mr A thinks so. There are only two small orange smudges on the white ceiling, although a bit of white ceiling paint came off with the masking tape, and I shall consider whether to address this fault or not.

After my interview we went for supper in the pub as a treat. It has become quite difficult to eat there, because the menu lacks anything at all that might be considered healthy, except for jacket potatoes. For example: three sausages in a Yorkshire pudding with gravy and potatoes. No vegetables at all. The vegetarian options apart from jacket potatoes are hardly better: bean burger with chips, or vegetable fajitas, which arrive swimming in oil. The largest vegetable accompaniment with some dishes is a small pot of peas, or a minuscule salad garnish. Even the sandwiches come with crisps.

Freshly painted walls and ceiling
On this occasion Mr A chose a pie (with chips) and I asked him to get me a lamburger (with chips). Unfortunately a combination of his diction and the barmaid's hearing resulted in us receiving a pie (with chips) and a 'Combo' platter, which contained battered fish, pie, sausage, chips, onion rings and fried chicken (and minuscule salad garnish). We took most of it home and had another meal out of it, where we could add vegetables to balance the protein, carbohydrate and fat. So I think we may choose other venues for impromptu and inexpensive dinners, unless we can wield some influence on Smurf's catering department.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A trip north

Decorative shot of a group of cacti
I took a whole day off decorating duties yesterday to travel north to visit H and B, which was a great trip (apart from the M6 around Birmingham). They were kind enough to allow me to sit in on B's appointment with a dietitian, which made me think "Yes, I really can do that, and maybe I can even do it better." Good timing, what with tomorrow's interview. Then we took off to the Italian restaurant round the corner for lunch. I helped H to move a desk, and even assisted him in emptying the apartment in a small way by relieving him of one litre of Damp Seal paint, a lint-removing roller, a can of polish and several bedsheets. It all helps, he says.

On the way back I detoured to Ikea, ostensibly to look at their bathroom lighting and mirrors, but ended up buying a pepper grinder and two light bulbs. It's been a long time since I've been to Ikea, and I was impressed all over again at the great ideas that can be found there. Mostly in the kitchenware department, since that's what I'm most interested in - I would like to rip out my entire kitchen and replace everything using some of the ideas that Ikea comes up with. Even the storage jars, graters and chopping boards are lovely, and often have some feature that makes them so much more usable and useful.

The shower room decorating activity is therefore progressing slowly (especially as today's priority is interview preparation). Two coats of primer and a coat of matt white on the ceiling took a few days, interrupted not only by the trip north but also by the visit from Lola II and another job application. I have made a decision about the main colour, but I have yet to buy the paint or start applying it to the walls. Mr A has had his first exam, which he reported as 'OK', with the second one in a week's time. Revision continues.

Today is heavy duty interview preparation, and I have also learned a bit about the history of the destination town, its hospital and a little about the county's population demographic. And whether there are any badminton clubs there. All essential information prior to showing immense enthusiasm for the job, the department, the location and everything associated with it.