Monday, 30 November 2009

Dark weekends in November

The weather has continued to be exceptionally wet and windy for the past three weeks with only the occasional short lived respite when the sun has poked through for a matter of minutes. The rain is heavy; bordering on the torrential and the winds here blow it against the side of the house. Now to make it worse it is getting cold! This time of year has got to be the most depressing, with the days getting shorter and shorter up until Christmas. At least once January arrives, although it is often cold, you get a sense of spring coming as the days get slowly longer. Ian cycles 11 miles to work every day and after a week of battling the wind and rain he was tired and I am still recovering from the inevitable winter cold so we had another quiet weekend.

I am now the proud owner of a very nice camcorder! Ian bought it for me for birthday/Christmas and so I spent a while playing with it. Watch this space for my first attempts at movie making! I am also now working on a new computer made from the left- overs of Ian’s computers and a few new parts! We are now planning our IT system for France and as we both may need computer access for any work we do we decided that we need one each! It is a bit of an extravagance but then these things will be more difficult to justify when we don’t have a regular salary!

News from France is that despite our array of drains the cellar has flooded again. We are not sure why but it seems that the pump had become disconnected. A spare pump and generator seem to be essential. There have been a few sunny days by the land and the builders finally returned to finish moving the downpipes. The next stage (hopefully) will be the rendering although that will require a few dry and mild days. Unfortunately Warren has not reappeared to finish the septic tank!

Talking of my birthday, I made myself a birthday cake as I really can’t expect Ian to make me one! This was a dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate ganache topping. It took me two goes to get the topping right and even then I wasn’t that pleased with it. Note to self for next time; it needs very good quality chocolate and careful handling and tastes much better if paired with cherries of some sort!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Allowing myself to see the end

There are some days when the thought of giving up my secure job and going to live in France with no guaranteed income fills me with fear. To a risk adverse person such as me this is a big step. There are also some days when I think I will miss the intellectual stimulation that my working life has to offer. However, today was not one of those days and I am writing about it now so that I can look back and remind myself (on the good days) as to why I think it is time to go!

Arriving this morning another colleague was off sick. Not their fault but that left me and one other staff member out of the five tutors who had originally been assigned to teach this module. First thing was spent running around trying to see who was available to cover teaching and looking for misplaced teaching files. The rest of the morning was spent teaching between two groups; half an hour with one and then switching to the next one and then back and so on. After that it was straight into a meeting for an hour and a half (grabbing my sandwich on the way but no time to get a drink or go to the toilet). From there I left the meeting before the end to cover another teaching session for the sick colleague. The session was fun and the students were good to be with (I know that they are not the reason that I am keen to go) but it finished with just time to quickly check my emails and go home. The other urgent jobs that I had to do today were pushed on to some day in the future.

The other thing that brightened my day was the email from my manager announcing that she would be away at a conference/holiday from next week. Now I have no problems with this as we all need holidays and she has other important demands on her time. What I do have a problem with is not being informed about it until 48 hours before it happens at a time when her agreed deputy is off sick and as far as I can tell nothing has been organised in the way of deputising. As my job as module leader is to deal with all the sh*t that happens in relation to the day to day running of the module you can guess who will be left with the can! It would have at least been polite for me to have been given some warning, rather than an email sent from Europe!

Still..the end is in sight and when I allow myself to picture it, along with the sense of terror, I feel the beginning of a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Depressingly un-sexy

Every morning I set my radio alarm to wake me up with the Radio 4 Today Programme. I know I have become like all those bitter and twisted 50 somethings I remember working with, who are counting off the days until retirement, but the news today was depressing. A survey by the Alzheimer's disease society found that people with dementia get a poor deal when they are admitted to medical wards. They often spend longer in hospital than people with similar conditions without dementia and when they are finally discharged their dementia is often worse. This "news" was met with instant condmenation from all political parties (rightly so, but then there is an election approaching) and plans for action.

 I say "news" because to me this is sadly not news. Fifteen years ago when I was last working as a clinician this was the situation and in fact it was the topic of my colleague's PhD thesis. The reasons cited at the time were the same as the reasons now; lack of training and skills from staff in knowing how to manage people with dementia, unsuitable environments, lack of resources. There were outcries, plans, policies (I can remember going to a few meetings and consultations in various organisations) and, as I'm sure there was an election then, there were statements that this would change and a lot of guidelines produced. Obviously they were effective!

As I see it, there are several problems:
Training is rationed in the NHS and expensive. Over the last years training budgets have been cut. Training for unqualified staff is carried out on the job (a good thing)  by senior staff who also have little basic knowledge about care (not a good thing).
There is a high staff turnover on these wards due to the unrelenting pressure of the job (and poor pay and conditions, especially for the lowest paid who have the most patient contact). Even if staff have training they usually leave before they can put anything into practice.
Medical wards are usually under-staffed.
Dementia is still not 'sexy'. The majority of people with dementia are frail and elderly and Terry Hatchet, Ronald Regan and Iris Murdoch are the exceptions (and can or could afford proper care).
Solving these problems is not difficult but does require money and as there are an awful lot of people with Alzheimers it requires an awful lot of money.

So instead, governments prefer to spend money on cheaper but higher profile things that seem more trendy. Also on my local news this morning was the story that our local NHS  Trust is opening an walk-in health centre at the railway station where people can "see a GP or nurse from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week".
 A statement from the chairman of the local trust said

" the centre will also be able to look after anyone else who needs to see a GP or nurse, whether they live locally or are simply visiting Eastbourne or working in the town. It is all about making it easier for people to get the care they need at a time and place convenient to them."

I can't help wondering why we need such a place. Do you get off the train in Eastbourne and say "Ahh. on my way to the seafront I'll just pop in and ask this nice doctor (who knows nothing about me and my medical history) about the stomach ache I've got this morning" 

Given the population profile of Eastbourne the money would have been better spent on the former problem but a GP and a nurse in an office at the train station is cheaper than the cost of ensuring that your basic services are up to scratch and a lot more trendy (just like on Street Doctor).

Monday, 16 November 2009

Moving forward

I have been having a new central heating boiler and a few new radiators installed today. My old one was still working in between services but becoming less reliable all the time. Now we have decided that we will definitely go to France next year it's amazing how your heart changes. Even last year I was still thinking of the house as something that I would live in and enjoy and then rent later, whereas now it is a short term abode and I am beginning to loose any sentimental attachments that I may have towards it. Decisions are becoming practical rather than ideal. So, I have gone for a reliable boiler with a 5 year guarantee. I will put in a new kitchen but it will be clean and functional and not 5 star; I will finish the decorating in a neutral tone and I will put down laminate floors upstairs (horror) to avoid having to buy new carpets with each new tenant!


The weekend lived up to expectations in that it poured with rain and blew a gale from Friday evening until this morning. I made my Christmas Cake as promised. Christmas cakes always take twice as long as you think to make, partly because there is just so much mixture. The batter is really there just to hold together the fruit, which filled my smallish plastic mixing bowl. Stirring the mixture was hard work and I just about managed to get it all mixed and in the oven!

Norma's escape from the weather involved sleep and she spent all weekend like this!

We lit a fire and some candles to distract from the dark and grey of the outside! In Demark they have a special word for it called Hygge (pronounced whoo-guh). It sort of means cosiness or snug but is a bit more than that. I can understand why they have it as when the cold and dark seems to take up most of the day you need to make yourself feel better somehow and what better than a hygge!

Hygge ['hoo-ga']: a deep sense of place & well-being; a feeling of friendship, warmth, contentment and peace with your immediate surroundings.

Friday, 13 November 2009

What to do on a wet and windy weekend in November

I'm making a Christmas cake this weekend. Last year I followed the Waitrose recipe for Christmas cake soaked in Drambuie and I have to say it was very good. I think mostly it is the fact that it is full of soft fruits like apricots and prunes and that the Waitrose vine fruit mix is good quality. I repeat the recipe below in case you want to try it.

Christmas Cake with Drambuie-Soaked Vine Fruits


750g Waitrose Wholesome Vine Fruit Mix

250g soft apricots, quartered

200g tub cut mixed peel

200g tub glacé cherries, halved

100g pitted soft prunes, quartered

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

100ml Drambuie

250g unsalted butter, softened

200g dark muscovado sugar

5 medium eggs, beaten

300g plain flour, sieved

200g walnut pieces


Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl then stir in the grated orange zest and juice, and the Drambuie. Cover and leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 2. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm-round or 20cm-square cake tin with baking parchment so it stands 5cm above the top. Use string to tie a double thickness of baking parchment around the outside of the tin. This will help prevent the cake drying out during cooking.

In a large bowl, use a hand-held electric whisk to beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg, a little at a time. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of flour with the last few additions of egg.

Add the soaked fruit and walnuts, with any remaining liquid, then mix well. Fold in the rest of the flour. Spoon into the cake tin, then use a round-bladed knife to level the top of the mixture. Stand the tin on a tray and bake for 3-4 hours until cooked through, covering the top of the cake with foil if it starts to over-brown. To check that the cake is cooked, insert a skewer into its centre – if the skewer comes out clean the cake is cooked. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Remove the cake from the tin and store in its lining paper, wrapped tightly in foil. Keep in a cool place. Feed the cake every few weeks by unwrapping it, making small holes in its top, then drizzling with a couple of tablespoons of Drambuie. This will help to keep the cake moist and add extra flavour. If the cake has domed in the centre during baking, neatly slice off the top before covering with marzipan. To ensure a completely flat surface for decorating, turn the cake upside down before covering with marzipan and icing.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

About time

I now live 100 metres away from the boundaries of the new South Downs National Park. When I moved down here 6 years ago it was the subject of a public enquiry and now it has finally happened. Hurrah!

Blot on the landscape?

Yesterday I was teaching at the Falmer site. Next to the campus they are building the new stadium for Brighton football club. The building was controversial since it is in the middle of the South Downs. However after ministerial intervention permission was granted and work started last year with roads being widened and ground being cleared and moved around. This year they have started erecting the stadium itself and the campus is overshadowed by an enormous crane. I overheard the lady who works in the coffee bar saying that the crane has its own Facebook site and sure enough, it does!

Facts about the crane are:
The crane is 200 tons (The same weight as a Blue Whale)
It can lift 600 tons.
There are only 4 cranes in the whole of England that weight.

It's amazing what you can find on the Internet!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Over exageration?

Overheard in the gym yesterday and nearly made me wet myself with laughter!

Mother, with two children, one about six and the other about two, puts the brakes on the pram and takes the six year old to one side. Loudly and sternly (and with a very well spoken accent) she says the following:

" Now Harry, I want you to stop what you keep doing to Marcus because it is very naughty. You know, when you keep grabbing him by the chest and bouncing up and down on him. .. Because he's just a baby and you're a big boy..and it's very dangerous..and you could break his ribs.. and rupture his windpipe or puncture his lungs, or damage his heart, or make him stop breathing.. you musn't do it ever again! Now, I know he says he likes it ..but just because he likes it darling it doesn't mean it is safe.. and you are a big boy and should know better..okay?"

I don't really know why I found it so amusing since it is a serious topic, but I just thought the graphic detail was probably too much information and I found myself thinking that if I was Harry with all those ambivalent feelings towards my baby brother I might just be tempted to try a bit harder!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Writers block

Where has the week gone! Work has been busy and by the time I have got home, done the chores, cooked and eaten supper and prepared for the following morning, I have been too tired to blog. All of my creative energy has been used up during the day! At various moments during the day I have had the odd idea and thought 'I must write about that on my blog tonight', but by  the time the evening arrives it has been absorbed into the mush and fuzz of my brain.