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

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.