Monday, 31 January 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
It's Only a Movie
by Mark Kermode

"Join the author as he embarks on a journey through the former Soviet Union on the trail of a low budget horror flick, cringe as he's handbagged by Helen Mirren at the Bafta awards ceremony, cheer as he gets thrown out of the Cannes film festival for heckling in very bad French, and gasp as he's shot at while interviewing Werner Herzog in the Hollywood hills."
I enjoyed this, but Lola II has possession of it now so I can't refer to it for detail. I gave it to Mr A as a Christmas present, the main reason being Mr Kermode's collaboration with Simon Mayo doing film reviews on BBC Five. What comes across strongly in that podcast is a) Kermodian enthusiasm and passion, and b) Mayo's extraordinary broadcasting talent. I used to listen to Simon Mayo when I was a teenager - he was good then, and he's just as good now. Anyway, the book: it was good, and I laughed quite a lot while reading it.

Image of the book cover
Lucky Jim
by Kingsley Amis

narrated by Paul Shelley
"Jim Dixon has accidentally fallen into a job at one of Britain's new redbrick universities. A moderately successful future in the History Department beckons if he can survive the probationary year. Not the least of his problems is the necessity to keep in with his eccentric Professor Welch, who although detested and despised by Jim, has sufficient influence in the faculty to affect the continuation of his appointment."
This is one of those 'classic' books that one is told is worth reading, so raising an expectation that it will at least be engrossing. I suppose it was all right, but I didn't much like any of the characters, who were all fairly self-obsessed and/or repressed, but it did feel like a real reflection of life in a provincial university in the 1950's. The only thing that chimed with my own experience is the pleasure and emotional release of making faces at annoying people behind their backs.

Image of the book cover
My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell

narrated by Nigel Davenport
"This book is soaked in the sunshine of Corfu where the author lived as a boy. The family is vividly portrayed moving between the the strawberry pink, the daffodil yellow and the snow white villas. The 'other animals' are equally carefully drawn: Roger the dog, toads, tortoises, bats and butterflies, scorpions and geckos, ladybirds, glow-worms, rose-beetles, Quasimodo the pigeon, the puppies Widdle and Puke, and the magpies."
I first read this at school, it might even have been a book we 'did' in English, but I know I really liked it. I even recognised some of the phrases this time round, and remembered that I'd had to look up quite a lot of words, this being the first time I'd come across the words 'diaphanous' and 'translucent'. It's still a classic, but in an accessible way that Lucky Jim isn't. Even though Gerald's brother Larry is almost as annoying as the eponymous Jim, I had some sympathy for Larry, yet cared not a whit about whether Jim kept his job or not.

Image of the book cover
Clinical Biochemistry
by Nessar Ahmed (ed)

"Modern medicine is dependent on laboratory investigation of disease in order to confirm diagnosis, monitor treatment, and for screening and prognostic purposes. This book is concerned with the biochemical basis of disease processes and their laboratory investigation."
I reviewed this for OUP, and it's the most useful book they've sent me so far. Interpreting clinical results has been very hit and miss so far; I only feel relatively secure with high phosphate and potassium being a bad thing in renal disease, and generally high levels of white cells indicating infection. This has chapters on some extremely relevant conditions: lipid abnormalities, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and specific nutritional biochemistry. It's really well explained, nicely laid out, seems comprehensive to the level that I need at this stage, and I'm anticipating it will get used quite a bit on my placement.

Image of the book cover
Taking the Medicine
by Druin Burch

"From Revolutionary America to Nazi Germany and modern big-pharmaceuticals, this is the unexpected story of just how bad medicine has been, and of its remarkably recent effort to improve. It is the history of well-meaning doctors misled by hopeful intuition, of the startling human cost of their mistakes, and of the exceptional individuals who have helped make things better."
This is another book that recounts a history of medicine, reinforcing the message that basing treatments on evidence gleaned from reliable trials rather than the doctor's best guess is incredibly recent. It has an interesting section on how thalidomide is being used today - obviously not by pregnant women - but its ability to disrupt orderly growth and cell division may turn out to be a boon for one type of leprosy as well as cancer.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

I am a Lodger

Two-storey portico and shadow, with columns and wrought iron
I am homeless in GNT no longer. Wonderful landlady (with social skills) must have decided that my unique selling points outranked Roger's, and I have an offer of a room in her house, five minutes walk from the hospital and 20 minutes walk (or a bus ride) from the centre of town. I celebrated with a triumphal walk to the vegetable shop, via the fishmonger and various charity shops. Lola II will be devastated to learn that I have attempted to buy second-hand clothes without her support, but I haven't tried them on at home yet, so they may in fact be utterly unsuitable.*

The hole in the kitchen ceiling is filled, and Alf has continued with the extension of our airing cupboard. We have had several deep and incomprehensible conversations about door hinges, but I think the matter is now settled. We have also had to carry out complex manoeuvres around parking, because of my incompetence at a) losing and b) failing to replace the visitor's parking permit in time. Without a permit, Alf's van is allowed 2 hours outside our house, then 4 hours on the next street, and then another 2 hours outside our house. What he can't do is 4 hours on the next street, 2 hours outside our house and then back to the next street, because of the '...and no return within x hours' condition.

After foolishly imagining that local residents might be in the pub at 2.30 pm on a Tuesday, rather than non-driving alcoholics, I tried the house across the road instead. The lovely lady there was happy to lend us a pass until Friday, and the only hitch is that although she has told me at least twice, I can't remember her name at all. Mr A was going to ask our friends who live next door to her, but forgot. I'm going to have to write it down when I find out.

Then I went into Birmingham for a social evening with friends I used to work with. It was a lovely evening, although I think I did most of the talking, about my course, the placement, GNT, and my research. I have completed a summary of the research rationale and findings for those organisations who helped and volunteers who took part, and an even shorter version that is for attracting the 'media'. When I'll have time for that sort of game, I'm not sure.

So far today I've been glued to the Interwebnet trying to find and book accommodation for the Lola II Birthday Extravaganza weekend, which this year we hope will be in Sheffield. It has not been easy, but I still have time today and tomorrow afternoon, and if I am unsuccessful I shall just have to pass the baton back to Lola II to see if she can achieve a result.

I took the photo at the top of this post when I was out in Leamington the other day. Apparently, this 'double decker' column arrangement is very unusual, because the upper columns are made of wrought iron in an interesting perforated style.

* I have tried the clothes on now, and they are fine. Don't tell Lola II.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Viewing rooms

Bronze sheep on decorative column in town centreThe rollercoaster ride continues, and I am feeling queasy and ready to get off. Luckily it is not a real rollercoaster, but despite this I am longing for a time when life is boring again. All this excitement and uncertainty makes me unsettled, tired and tetchy.

Or perhaps that is because of the requirement to travel to GNT again and deal with another load of potential landlords who do not have sufficient social skills and intelligence to a) tell the truth, b) shake my hand and look me in the eye and c) successfully answer a mobile telephone. Even when the mobile telephone is the one that rings when the number they themselves have put on their own advert is dialled. Yes, it's your mobile phone, why is it that when I ring it you do not answer, and then you phone me and make unintelligible noises that I cannot understand, or send me a text saying "Did u call me today".

Except for one, wonderful, potential landlady for whom I would willingly lay down my life. She has social skills, knows how to make and answer telephone calls, offered me coffee, has a house that is clean and not damp, and will let me know on Tuesday. She is seeing another potential tenant today, who may wish to stay longer than my three months. She did muse that having a fixed term tenant for only three months might be useful because she hasn't shared her house before and it would be a good way to find out if she likes it. I wholeheartedly supported this idea.

As we were finishing up, she said that of course, the competing tenant had another advantage. On tenterhooks, I asked what that was. "His name's Roger," she said, and as I looked baffled, continued "and that would make him Roger the Lodger." "You can call me Roger," I said.

So I have been to visit just four properties, and failed to visit two more because of landlords unable to handle the concept of a mobile telephone. The last place I saw was bought speculatively and converted to 'deluxe student rooms with shared facilities' by the owner when GNT looked like it might be awarded city status, in which case he anticipated that a university or college might be built and student digs might be needed.

It didn't happen, so there are no students there, and he told me that mostly he gets men whose marriages have broken down and who need somewhere to stay temporarily. The two residents that I saw certainly appeared to fit that description, one in his vest and saggy tracksuit bottoms and the other having the look of the gaunt, haunted alcoholic. I think that as soon as the landlord saw me he knew I wasn't going to want a room, just as I knew I didn't want one once I had seen the rooms. The whole tour and discussion took 15 minutes.

At home, Alf has arrived to turn our lives upside down (in a positive, constructive way) as he repairs the hole in the kitchen ceiling and makes our airing cupboard slightly larger and a whole lot nicer. Because I lost our visitor's parking permit by foolishly leaving it in the recent hire car when I gave it back, he is having to move his van twice in order to avoid parking fines, but at least it has prompted me to apply for a replacement permit. The only disappointment is that applying for a permit wasn't on my huge list of jobs, so I can't now cross it off.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Blue sky through two arched windows
It has been a rollercoaster ride over the last few days, which have been crammed full to the brim with activities, leading to this post being a day late.

At the end of Wednesday, I was in rather a splendid mood. The unpleasantness of insurance and cleaning and the evil dental hygienist had faded, and Mr A and I went snowboarding again, this time using vouchers that gave us three hours on the slope plus a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit, for just £5 each. The fuel to get us there and back probably cost more.

I did fall over a lot, though, until I asked for tips from one of the staff (who are available for informal advice on this super discount session) and then I fell over less. I think we will go again next Wednesday morning, even if we do have to pay a bit more than £5. I am REALLY looking forward to our holiday, when the slopes will be wider and longer and the snow deeper and more comfortable to land on.

We came back from the Snowdome just in time for my routine blood donation appointment. More crossing-off the To Do List. I accumulated viewings of accommodation in GNT (godforsaken northern town) ready for my excursion there at the weekend, and then it was time for the last part of my coursework, when my supervisor and another lecturer quizzed me about my research project.

It went very well, and afterwards I had a meeting with my supervisor, who is also my tutor for the clinical placement in GNT. She told me that the university is putting pressure on departments to earn research income, and because there seems to be nothing going on in the area of my research, perhaps this would be a good one to follow up, and that I would clearly be in a good position to carry out any projects that might arise.

I would love to carry on with this research, but at the moment I think that after I graduate I need to get some clinical experience under my belt. Having said that, I would also be very keen to follow up on the research that I've done, so doing each of them part time might be feasible. Nothing is certain, though, and although that conversation was only two days ago, it seems very distant. At this point, I felt great.

One of the potential landlords contacted me to ask if I could see his room sooner than the weekend. With a little creative thinking on the part of Mr A, it became clear that I could go north after the Thursday meeting, so I arranged two room viewings. The one that I thought was most promising turned out to be nothing of the sort, and the backup plan that I thought wasn't going to be any good turned out very well indeed, to the point where I thought that the accommodation situation was sorted.

I stayed over in GNT, working on an OUP book review in the evening, and then arranged to drop some forms off at the dietetic department next day, so now at least I know where it is. Despite the freezing cold, and the smart clothes that offer less protection from the elements than my normal casual wear, I decided to explore the town centre, and visited the Tourist Information office, the Travel Information office, and the markets. I like a market, and there were splendid food stalls as well as grand architecture. The pictured fish stall is fairly standard, but of the offal stall, I only recognised the tripe. Cow heel, chitterling pipes, pressed chitterlings, pig bag and brawn are not items that I have ever dealt with. These GNT residents are clearly folk with traditional tastes and hardy stomachs.

Still feeling good, I came back to a night out with the (old, fat) ex-badminton crew and associated hangers-on. We went to the Cricketers, they looked after us beautifully, and in return we cleaned our plates - the chef there is really very good. We even hosted a sleepover, although after my exertions over the past few days I wasn't up to much late night conversation, and Mr A retired even earlier than I did. New bee fact from my favourite Bee Lady: you should label your honey according to where the pollen came from, so that allergy sufferers can buy honey that is unlikely to cause them problems. And a supplementary fact: you can transport your bees from one place to another inside their hives in a domestic car.

The low point came on Saturday morning, when I finally received a message from the GNT landlord I had expected to be renting from, informing me that he was going to rent the house to someone else. So it was back to square one again, and after an interlude of badminton which served to raise my spirits, it was back to the rent-a-room websites for another soul-destroying search. I now have another couple of options, one of which looks promising, but I'm not holding my breath. There and back tomorrow, and if nothing comes of it I'll settle for the hospital accommodation and look for something better while I'm there.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Leisure days

Bronze elephant, part of a stone seat in Jephson Gardens
Finding accommodation in GNT (godforsaken northern town) for my 12-week clinical placement has been a big task on my list. I have used various websites, but options are not plentiful, especially as I have been applying fairly strict criteria about how far away I'm prepared to live, and the non-negotiable internet availability.

Of course I could use the student accommodation provided on the hospital site, but even the information that I've been given by the dietetic department suggests that living there can be isolated and lonely, and there's no internet. I'm pursuing two options at the moment, one described as a 'deluxe student dorm' for professionals, with individual rooms but shared kitchen and other facilities. The other is the more usual room in someone else's house. I think I might try contacting some of the ones I initially thought less suitable, because just two alternatives doesn't seem very many.

Other chores are coming along - obviously the short easy ones are coming along better than the long, difficult and unpleasant ones. I have new socks and a clean kitchen floor, and I've drafted a summary for my project, bought house insurance and hoovered quite a lot. I have been out and about around town, but I haven't been taking any photographs. The ones I've been using here are taken from the archive, but the weather hasn't been inspiring and I need some more ideas!

It's quite a luxury, having all these free days between exams and starting the placement, and I am trying to fill them with useful and worthwhile activities. I don't think I could bear to sit on the sofa and watch TV, not that there's anything on during the day that interests me. We subscribe to a DVD rental service so there are always films to watch, but it seems like cheating if I watch them without Mr A. At some point we will have to decide what to do about the digital switchover later this year, when our analogue TV with its four channels will need to be enhanced or replaced.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Close up of a slate wall
Here we are, blog addicts, another post for your perusal which is probably going to tell you absolutely nothing. Because without university guiding my life, I waft from nothing much to lazing about with a serving of idleness in the middle.

Obviously that's not true. While I'm studying and revising, I do virtually nothing else of substance, so it all has to wait until exams are over, when I attack my list of Things To Do, which is a page long on this occasion.

For the last two days, I have been walking around town, and I plan to do more of that. I have been to the vegetable shop (of course) because it's my turn to do all the cooking, had my hair cut, and even done some difficult shopping in places that usually cause immense challenges without my personal fashion consultant, Lola II. At last I have bought a coat! The answer was to try an outdoor goods shop rather than a department store, and while it isn't fashionable enough for tea with the Queen, it will do for a cold wet walk to a dietetic department in a godforsaken northern town.

There have been other more trivial tasks that I have achieved - the point of lists is the mix of easy and difficult, 'takes a minute' interspersed with 'settle down for half a day'. Lots of laundry, replacing blown light bulbs, taking some clothes to the charity shop. More challenging is renewing the buildings and contents insurance for the house, designing a new airing cupboard, and some follow-on work from university.

My research project, about the effect of visual impairment on food choices, is written up and the assignment was delivered on time to the Bioscience Office for marking. There are other tasks associated with this project, however. I have completed the Ethics Committee forms saying what the outcomes were and where the data will be securely kept, but I offered each volunteer the option of receiving a summary of the results, and the organisations who gave me permission to approach volunteers also need to be given the summary. So I'd better write it.

As well as that, my supervisor thinks that the topic is original enough for the British Dietetic Association to be interested in it for their Conference. Unfortunately, the date that an abstract had to be submitted to the committee was before the university coursework deadline, which meant that I sent her a copy of my abstract, she had to tweak it to meet the Conference abstract requirements and submit it herself. All without actually having done the work or read the final version. She managed it, and did a pretty good job of making up a suitable conclusion, but in her submission she not only got my email address wrong but even spelled my name wrong. And not my surname, which is often spelled wrong, but my first name. So I've been trying to put that right.

I am also preparing for my exile to GNT (godforsaken northern town) by trying to find accommodation that is not in the hospital, and a badminton club that will have me while I'm there. Mr A is preparing for our snowboard trip by investigating lift passes and board and boot hire, while I book another practice session at the Snowdome, and sort out euros and airport parking as well. Other jobs include writing Christmas thank-you letters, reviewing a Clinical Biochemistry book for OUP, and wiring in the wall lights that I bought a very long time ago but have never got round to installing because I will need to turn off the electricity and Mr A is working on his computer all the time and never seems to go out during the day.

I also need to buy socks and clean the kitchen floor. I'm not sure that I'll manage both of those. And the house insurance is proving very tricky, to the point that we are now uninsured. That's today's main task, and I hate it.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Exam over

Friends climbing a gorse-covered hill, seen from below
By the time I publish this, the exam will be over, and I will have some time again that is not defined by what I have to learn or write. I have not been able to revise in my normal way this time, so I am writing this two hours before the exam, not sure whether there's anything better I should be doing.

I have written before that this has been an unusual and disappointing semester, and the exam continues in that spirit. Each semester we have modules worth 60 credits (although last year the two semesters were split 50/70), and my big project report is worth 30 credits. The community nutrition module is 10 credits all from coursework (no exam), 10 credits are split between coursework that I handed in before the holiday and can't even remember now and the tiny presentation and poster we each did about some aspect of dietetic practice. The remaining 10 credits is for the exam I'm about to sit.

My difficulty is that unlike previous exams, there is no defined syllabus or learning content this time, and as the format of the exam has changed, there are no past papers either. We went through some example questions in a lecture at the end of last term, but I didn't feel that I really understood the scope of the exam. The only thing that has reassured me was that as we all expressed our unease about what was expected of us, the lecturer said "If you took the exam today, you would all pass." So I'm hoping that anything I have done in the meantime means that my grade will be higher, and combined with the other good marks I've got up to now, I should be all right. It's unsettling though; I won't know until I see the paper whether the assumptions I've made about what might be in it are right or wrong.

Of course, there's nothing else to write about at this point, because I've hardly left the house except to play badminton last night. As usual we taunt the gods of fate and our Christmas cards still decorate the living room well beyond Twelfth Night, and although we have been in touch with both builder and plumber, we still have a slightly odd heating controller and a large hole in the kitchen ceiling. I have list a mile long of Things To Do When The Exam Is Over, including finding some accommodation for my clinical placement that starts on 7 February. And I shall get my hair cut, visit the dentist, have another practice snowboard session, do some cleaning, and relieve Mr A of some of the cooking duties he has been performing so well.

Here I am the morning after, feeling a whole lot lighter and more cheery. The exam wasn't my finest hour - I mistimed the questions and realised this morning that I should have written about refeeding syndrome - but it's over. We celebrated last night by having supper in the pub and then going to see The King's Speech, which is a very fine film indeed.

This morning I didn't get up until I realised that I was thinking back to the exam and discovering all sorts of points that I missed. I am looking forward to today, because my huge list is ready and waiting, and I intend to do a great deal of crossing off while simultaneously enjoying myself, and not doing any school work at all.

Friday, 7 January 2011

New Year in Derbyshire

Lone sheep and tree in a misty field
Now back from a wonderful week away. No internet for seven whole days! I coped by doing a serious amount of coursework, and by associating with friends from long ago university-the-first-time-round.

We were occupying an enormous mansion in the Peak District, with 14 bedrooms, a large number of bathrooms, an enormous dining room, a similarly enormous and well-furnished lounge (as well as a smaller sitting room that I appropriated for academic purposes), and a ridiculously small H-shaped kitchen. In fact, the kitchen was well-equipped and worked fine, but it really was stupidly small, about a third of the size of most of the bedrooms (and smaller than at least one of the bathrooms).

Enormous vat of soupI managed to finish the two enormous coursework assignments (which Lola II did a good job of proof-reading), made an enormous vat of soup made from leftovers, but only went out on one walk, on New Year's Eve. It was a nice walk, and we stopped at a magnificent pub for lunch, but still. We were going to squeeze in a morning walk on the last day, but woke up to pretty consistent rain and decided to make a video of the house instead.

Poor Mr M went back to bed because of having the flu pretty badly, so he only appeared in one room, but Mr A and I featured in all the other rooms, and I have to say Lola II did a good job of the filming. We rarely manage to upload video successfully to this blog, and the completed work is nearly 15 minutes long, so you'll have to take my word for it that it's a very fine effort.

This is definitely the last holiday period that I will have to spend working instead of being on holiday. It's the sixth year in a row, if you count the two years of Human Biology A level, and looking back that does seem incredibly trivial compared to the fourth year of a Masters-level degree. Unfortunately, the amount of coursework means that I haven't yet looked at my notes for the exam we have on Tuesday, and I feel incredibly unprepared, so this is all you're getting from me until that's over.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Implicit Association Test

Squirrel in a snowy tree

The book I read a few weeks ago, Blink, is about our ability of our subconscious mind to make very quick assessments, without us necessarily being aware of it. The book gives examples of where this is a good thing, for example an art expert being able to detect a fake sculpture without really knowing why, or a firefighter deciding to get out of a burning building just before the floor collapses. Some of the book is about people-watching - detecting the signals that we display fleetingly on our faces that shed light on what is really going on. Many people know about the difference between 'fake' and 'real' smiles, based on something around the eyes.

Anyway, the judgements made by the subconscious are sometimes not so positive, and sometimes even contradict the views of the conscious mind. Discrimination is one of these embedded traits, where we may profess to treat everyone as equal, strive to do so, and truly believe that we succeed. It turns out that we must never let up in our efforts, because underneath the veneer of liberty, equality and fraternity and all men being created equal, our subconscious mind is made up, and there seems very little we can do about it.

It turns out that this can be demonstrated quite easily, as I found out a month or so ago when I volunteered to help one of the other students with the research she is doing into attitudes to obesity. Given that it is an effect demonstrated through a psychological test, you might think it would take computer analysis or clever psychologists to work out what is going on, but unusually, as described in the book, it is 'an effect you can measure with a sundial'. Even the subject of the test can see what is going on, but can do very little about it - messing with the subconscious is by definition something that is difficult to do to oneself deliberately.

The task we were given was not computerised, although if you go to this website then you can try an online version for yourself. It is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT. We were having to categorise, using ticks in two columns of boxes, words that were either 'good' or 'bad', and words that reflected people who were or weren't fat. To start with, we did the two tasks separately, but then the categories were mixed together, and we had to tick the boxes for both categories of words at the same time. The interesting part was, as you may have guessed, that it was much easier, and I mean MUCH easier, when the 'good' words were in the same column as the 'not fat' people than when obesity was associated with confidence, self-control, willpower or motivation.

The book describes the test done with race, and states that even some black people subconsciously associate blackness with badness: half the African Americans who have taken the race IAT have 'stronger associations' with white than black people (meaning that the test showed they were quicker and made fewer mistakes when the 'good' words were associated with white people). But there are things that can change the result. One student is described as taking the race IAT every day, and suddenly one day he got a positive association with blacks, and realised it was because he'd been watching the Olympics, where black people are much more positively associated with strength, stamina, and 'good' attributes.

In the research I took part in, we were shown two short videos about 'weight bias' before being asked to take the test again. I can't tell you whether my score changed at all between the first and the second time, although I was trying hard to associate positive attributes with fat people. It's a tough subject, and an astonishingly well-embedded prejudice, even when you know a lot about the reasons for fatness and the difficulties encountered by fat people.

* Did you spot the squirrel in the photo?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons

"When sensible Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years."
On Facebook, a meme turned up asking people to indicate which of 100 books they had read. It was purportedly devised by the BBC, and supposedly most people had read no more than six books. By a little gentle Googling, I found this, which tells quite a different story. In any case, Cold Comfort Farm was a book I hadn't read, and a few people said it was good, and it is! In fact, it's going to go on the shelf of books that I intend to read again after a suitable interval. Not as 'laugh out loud funny' as some reviewers would have it, but I did smile quite a bit.

Image of the book cover
by Malcolm Gladwell

"An art expert sees a ten-million dollar sculpture and instantly spots it's a fake. A fire-fighter suddenly senses he has to get out of a blazing building. This book is all about those moments when we 'know' something without knowing why. Malcolm Gladwell explores the phenomenon of 'blink', showing how a snap judgement can be far more effective than a cautious decision."
This is the book I borrowed for the tube journey a few weeks ago, and it is very interesting, not least because it describes a psychological testing technique (the Implicit Association Test) that I experienced recently when it was used by one of my fellow students in her research project. I will write about this separately, but the other chapters are almost as good, for example describing how professional orchestral players were almost exclusively male until candidates were screened from the audition panel during auditions. Recommended.

Image of the book cover
by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

"This is me e.g. nigel molesworth the curse of st custard's which is the skool i am at. It is uterly wet and weedy as I shall (i hope) make clear but of course that is the same with all skools. e.g. they are nothing but kanes, lat. french. geog. hist. algy, geom, headmasters, skool dogs, skool sossages, my bro molesworth 2 and MASTERS everywhere."
This is a compilation of the four Molesworth books: Down with Skool, How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms and Back in the Jug Agane, which I first read before I was old enough to understand half of it. I just looked at the cartoons back then, and picked up a few of the catchphrases ("Hullo clouds, hullo sky" sa fotherington-tomas who is uterly wet and a sissy chiz chiz). There was one episode (The Grate St Custard's Flood) that I virtually knew word for word. A real nostalgia trip, as any fule kno.

Image of the book cover
The Fry Chronicles
by Stephen Fry

"Shameful tales of sugar, shag and champagne jostle with insights into credit cards, classic cars and conspicuous consumption, Blackadder, Broadway and the BBC. For all its trademark wit and verbal brilliance, this is a book that is not afraid to confront the aching chasm that separates public image from private feeling."
Reading this made me sad more than anything. That such a patently brilliant mind, which has achieved all sorts of magnificent endeavours, could perpetually feel such a failure? Especially as there are few in the public eye who have such demonstrable integrity - in a world where lack of integrity seems to be the norm for politicians, popstars and 'celebrities'. He is one of my heroes, and I hope one day to meet him. A National Treasure.