Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Things are improving...

(Google image)
This is to report... and record... the fact that (for me) blogging is the best thing since sliced bread.  The combination of planning and writing my own posts together with reading all the blogs I follow almost as soon as they're posted has been essential in helping me get back to where I was before my trip to Argentina last October. 

The weight and bandit blogs are in all their many ways collectively teaching me to look within myself for the strength I need to continue on this daily trudge, and to remember that we're all basically the same, right down to the last weakness and embarrassed confession - everything's been done before.  And if they can all do it, why can't I? 

See the picture of Aconcagua on the right, with my comment that with the help of other bandit bloggers to push me when I flag, maybe I'll make it to the top?  I meant it when I wrote it, then I wasn't so sure, and now I'm back looking at it and thinking 'that's how they're pushing me - they're telling their stories to show me there's nothing new under the sun'.  No need to run or hide - we'll all get through this together.

My research into the Patagonia of the First World War fed my imagination for several years (as I have tried to describe it in this blog).  These days if I need to get away from reality, thanks to the internet I can hover over Patagonia like a bird on a thermal, unable to land yet looking fondly below.  There are many beautiful and poignant blogs where I can do this, and I am grateful to them for the virtual holidays they give me.

All have helped me to relax my anxieties - weight related and otherwise - and to halt the comfort eating that was the net result.  The band is working again - I'm at 10ml, and as long as I'm able to avoid temptation when it's presented to me, plus make the effort not to buy the wrong foods, then it isn't difficult, and it's coming off at a pound a week, as before.

So - thank you all my virtual friends for making the journey easier.


Photo Finish -
From Lonicera's non-digital archive:

Island of Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

The sea walls withstanding the effects of a windy day...

I can't resist bougainvillea, a reminder of childhood

It's said the island became a semi desert due to
over-pasturisation by goats in previous centuries

Nudist beach (for everyone except me!)

View from a high point in the middle of the island

A phenomenon: when sand blows west from the Sahara, in
certain circumstances it makes the evening sky go this
extraordinary colour.  I haven't altered it at all.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Numty and King Herod

I visited Taunton hospital this evening in fighting mood.  “Lead me to that thin nurse woman” I said, “I’ve got a couple of things to say to her”.

As she stood before me, skinny and trembling, I drew myself up to my full 5’4” height and barked -

“Now look here you numty person, that’s the last time you’ll use your bedside manner from hell on a patient.  I have connections, I’ll have you know, and I shall see to it that you never darken these doors again.  Never again will you tell a failing slimmer that she might as well give up.  As part of your retraining, you shall learn the right attitude from the inside.  You will be force fed until you get at least eight double chins, and then I personally will supervise your weight loss.  Get thee gone from my sight!  Men, take her away!”

As I mop my brow, I confess I may be embroidering a teensy bit.  I wrong-footed myself by arriving a week early for the appointment (so OK, I hadn’t read the letter), and didn't actually see her.  I did manage to see Margaret, my favourite person there.  I told her all about it, and she promised to bring it up with whoever, as appropriate.  She agreed that numty is to Bariatric practice what King Herod was to childcare (well, words to that effect anyway). 

I had lost 3 lbs/1.5 kg in the past 3 weeks.  Yes, it may have resulted from being treated like a failure, but it is NOT worth the state it put me in.  Margaret understood, and has assured me that from now on I needn’t be seen by numty at all.

Sorted.  Probably. 

Photo Finish -
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive:

Odds and Ends

The garden of one of many of Britain's stately homes
which is open to the public.


At my camera club we used to have a competition called
The Bucket, consisting of several categories
which varied from year to year,
but "Bucket" was the only constant category.
This was my entry one year, and was taken on the windy beach
at Weston-super-Mare.  It won me the competition
and got mentioned in the local newspaper.
John kindly acted as model, and the picture was called
"The Shy Photographer".


Friday, 16 April 2010

The treatment of patients and "Patience"

Advice to bariatric nurses

The weight loss hasn’t been going too well lately, as you know – since surgery in December 2008 I was just managing to eat and exercise enough to ensure a modest but regular loss, and the first 3 stone/42lbs/20 kg came off relatively easily.  But it must have been borderline, because after I got it back together and settled down (…ish) to what I was doing before - no diet but reasonably careful, moderate exercise – I’m keeping level, but can’t manage to lose very much. 

The reason has been emotional, and I have tried to document this as honestly as possible in my blog.  My head tells me that comfort eating is no consolation in the long term, but if you feel sad, then feeling hungry as well is adding insult to injury.  And when low, it’s harder to get organised so that there are low calorie solutions to your hunger.  This isn’t a whinge, I’m perfectly aware that losing, however slowly, will make me feel better.
I asked the bariatric team at Taunton if as part of the deal I could visit them more often than once a month for a while, to help myself get back on track, and they were very encouraging.  I have 10ml in my band, with reasonable restriction, so the purpose was not to have any more fills for the moment.  The people with whom I have appointments at the hospital are women who themselves have had bariatric surgery, and they understand the way the minds work of people such as me.  I have been going every two weeks, they weigh me, have a chat, and on one occasion I’ve seen a nutritionist as well.  They encourage me to be patient, take my time and recognise that keeping level is an achievement in itself.
That is until about a month ago, when my favourite morale booster on the bariatric team, a lovely lady called Margaret who is a bandit herself, was not available, and ever since I have been seen by a bariatric nurse with many years experience.  Fills by her really hurt, so she was never flavour of the month anyway, and she had told me on my return from Argentina (before which holiday I had an unfill for special reasons) that “it’s not a designer band you know”. 
The time before last I had lost a kilo, which she remarked was “very modest but at least it’s a downward trend”.  I would have liked to reply that at my age losing a kilo in two weeks wasn’t going to break the sound barrier, but was more than FINE with me.  However I kept my counsel. 
Last visit 2 weeks ago I had put the kilo back on.  She then said something like “I think you’re going to have to accept that the band doesn’t work for everyone, and it may not be right for you.  Obviously we can’t look over your shoulder and police what you’re eating, but you’re going to have to think about what you really want from this band, and how much you’re depending on it to do everything for you.  Here’s a diet sheet to recommend what you should and shouldn’t eat.”
I don’t expect her to be a mind reader, but merely to assess with all her experience whether or not I’m an airhead who will give any old excuse for not losing weight (of the honestly-I-hardly-eat-a-thing and I’m-ever-so-constipated variety), or whether there's an underlying reason. 

I’ve had the band for 16 months and have been becalmed for the last 4… I think it’s way to soon to suggest the band is not for me.  I always used to give up in the past (we all do) – but if to imply that I’m destined to be obese the rest of my life is her way of using jump leads, then she needs a bit of re-training.  In addition, to say this to a person who is obviously very subdued and down is so crass. 
But I didn’t see it like that at the time, and her words had the desired effect.   I wept most of the way home because for the enth time I was being told I might as well give up, and it was simply too much to bear.  I rallied later and felt angry, and since then I feel that I simply can’t be counselled by someone who may well have her own jaded issues – i.e. bored to death and heard-it-all-before. 
How many times have I observed on the blogs I read that when bloggers actually care what happens to you (on whatever subject) it really does help you to carry on?  I can’t understand why professionals fail at what amateurs like us know instinctively.  We may not do it for a living, but then they shouldn’t either.
I’ve tried to change the next appointment to be seen by someone else, but haven’t been able to, nor do I want to cancel my appointment next Wednesday – I’m no coward.  The best thing may well be to just face her and find a way to get across to her, with dignity, that her attitude has had a very negative effect on me.  I need to do it in my own style – which is (to paraphrase a quote well known to baby boomers) to speak my truth quietly and clearly.  Any advice or ideas on thoughts or phrases which might help would be very much appreciated.
On to more cheerful things.  The Bristol Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Society has been staging its annual production this week, Patience, and yours truly took the dress rehearsal pictures.  Using a digital camera is lethal for someone like me.  No longer restricted by the cost of film, I snapped till my finger hurt, and came away with about 750 pictures.  Much burnt midnight oil later I had whittled it down to 400, and thanks to Picasa and Photoshop removed the strong orange-red cast you get when photographing a heavily lit stage. 
Here are a few examples, but first I thought you might find it interesting to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’ to show what can be achieved with digital photography – by anyone, because I’m certainly no professional.

...and after...

After correcting the colour I realised that the principals were too bright, not looking their best and Patience herself is hidden behind the hero – and the Dragoons on the right were OK but there were an awful lot of other pictures of them.  So I cropped the picture as an experiment, and realised that the ladies were well positioned for a good composition.
Here are some others - corrected to remove the rather violent orange cast -
Patience - a milkmaid

John on the right, fighting a heavy cold, and not
aware till he saw this picture just how full of
pancake makeup his white gloves were!
The Dragoons seem forever to be on the stage, prompting
the performance to be called "The Dra-goon Show"...

I like the way the differential focus seems
to tell a story...

The finale


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

From other shows

I thought it might be interesting if in this section I show you for comparison scans of old slides which were taken at dress rehearsals.  Gilbert & Sullivan productions, being lighthearted, tend to be brightly lit, but in past years I've taken pictures at amateur productions of grand opera, where moody lighting meant I got a lot of duds, but occasionally a good one that was more interesting than the brightly coloured ones.

La Traviata (Verdi), 1998 Wedmore Opera

A Masked Ball (Verdi), 1995, Bristol Opera Company


Macbeth (Verdi), 1988, Bristol Opera Company

Aida (Verdi), 1998, Bristol Opera Company
Samson & Delilah (Saint Saens), 1987, Bristol Opera Company


Saturday, 10 April 2010

How I earn my crust... (Part Two)

I was made redundant from my job in the agricultural trade in late 2007, and 18 months ago after ten months of looking for employment I got the one I’m in now, as projects administrator in the urology department of a hospital.  There have been a lot of adjustments to make, but the easy part has been the relationships with new working colleagues. 
The National Health Service is a friendly and welcoming place for people like me, and you’re immediately swept up in the atmosphere where the object of your working day – whether directly, or in my case indirectly, is to help sick people have a better quality of life.  I love the fact that when I go home at night, the lights and the sounds continue - life in the hospital carries on.
Bladders and prostate disease, incontinence and catheters are not a subject you ever want to think about, are they?  And yet we’re always being told we’re in an ageing population, and these issues will become more and more discussed in the future.  It’s got to happen – there will be too many of us needing help, and we’ll have to drop our embarrassment and self-consciousness about it and learn that incontinence (for example) is very common, is caused by different factors – such as overweight - and that there are different types of solutions; you don’t have to Google in private about it. 
The institute where I work is dedicated to educating people on urological subjects – courses for doctors and specialist nurses for example, and through healthworkers also to teach the sufferers how they can help themselves.  In addition they search for new devices which men and women can use effectively.   I do the day to day admin on these projects, a large part of which are on investigations into urological cancers.  
It’s also a teaching hospital so there are plenty of doctors of all levels around; meetings take place every week to discuss these issues, or multidisciplinary gatherings where clinicians of all fields discuss complex cases and how best to deal with them. 
Where 20 or 30 senior clinicians are gathered together it is inevitable that their bleeps will be going constantly, as concerned nurses from the wards seek further instructions on sick patients.  So out they march to find a phone, and into the first populated office – ours.  ‘Can I use your phone’ they say, lunging across your desk and helping themselves, without waiting for a reply. 
They are used to speaking authoritatively, and a high volume clearly helps this along, because for the next few minutes you’re subjected to one side of a detailed discussion on someone’s catheter, urination pattern or incontinence.  Put it this way, during this peroration I can’t even communicate with my colleague who sits across from me because he wouldn’t hear me.  Don’t get me wrong, these clinicians always speak of the patients with respect, they refer to them as “the lady” or “the gentleman”, it’s just the level of detail and decibel which I can’t cope with. 
There was one time when the too-much-information was so appalling that I stuck my index fingers in my ears and chanted “la la la la la”, hoping the worthy would take the hint, but he ignored me completely.  And we’re not talking about my being fussy over one person’s phonecall, this is one every 10 minutes or so.  All ages, all sexes, all ranks, from nurse to consultant.  Like hearing someone use their mobile on a train when you’re a captive audience, only with definitely too much information…
The consultant surgeons and professors (the senior ranks in hospitals in the UK) are, as bosses, a mixture.  I reckon these days we’re positioned in the middle of the technological evolution – on the one hand with the older senior men being computer semi-illiterate and needing everything done for them, and on the other the younger men coming up through the ranks who do quite a lot of their own admin and carry pen drives round their necks and Blackberrys in their pockets.  They also tend to be less status minded, which is a relief, although the old guard seem better at commanding respect from junior doctors and having no qualms about calling a spade a spade (such as telling a patient that they will not operate on them unless they give up smoking permanently, for example – and standing firm). 
The only other factor worth mentioning in my job is ludicrous: the parking.  There’s a new hospital being built in Bristol – on the same site and around the old one where I work….along with several thousand other people. 
I’m now ready to impart advice to construction companies wishing to perform a similar feat of engineering:
-     Prepare to dig up a section of hospital staff car park by cutting down anything growing without first having asked car drivers not to park underneath, thus providing hours of free entertainment for other parking drivers as they observe you (from a safe distance) gingerly trying to remove branches and chip them using a machine that sprays wood chippings in all directions;
-     Dig up the section of car park;
-     Install a temporary structure on it;
-     Create walkways around it for pedestrians, with fluorescent orange plastic barriers and ramps, and a forest of signs telling them to be careful, (to cover your ass);
-     Move non-clinical staff into the temporary structure;
-     Demolish where they were;
-     Use part of the land thus freed to install generators, massive oxygen cylinders and water heaters, and what’s left into a smaller car park for use by construction workermen’s large vans/small vans/staff cars.  If there aren’t enough spaces for said vehicles, just block the road;
-     Introduce the regular circulation of juggernauts on the perimeter road, the size, shape and dimensions of which would not look out of place in a horror film;
-     To cope with the disruption caused by these phases to various sections of the perimeter road at various times, put up one-way traffic lights at three way junctions which don’t reflect the actual flow of traffic, and change location every few days.  Sometimes for variety remove and replace with construction workmen bearing lollipop signs - red for stop, green for go, and ensure they look puzzled at all times and spin them round too far in each direction;
-     Get more “No Entry” and “Road Closed” signs painted up to keep staff on their toes; order a couple of thousand more fluorescent orange barriers;
-     Ensure all metal screens which stop employees from looking at what’s going on, have signs on every panel saying how you apologise for the disruption and thank them for their patience;
-     Dig up a lane; create walkways as above;
-     Lay mysterious large pipes all the way down it;
-     Put everything back the way you found it;
-     Dig up a corner again for pipes going in a different direction;
-     Put everything back the way you found it;
-     Dig up the lane again, crosswise this time, ditto;
-     During these lane procedures, allow a few days here and there to give the car drivers a false sense of security.  Then one morning, when they’re happily parked as usual, wham, dig everything up, making as much noise as possible, so that hospital staff substitute working for worrying whether they will be able to get their car out at the end of the day;
-     Dig up the first bit of lane again when you find that the work you did earlier stopped half the building from getting its electricity and the other half from making phonecalls;
-     Help yourself to another bit of the main car park and begin step 1 again.
We have had a year so far of disruption, with four more years to go.  Have you seen documentaries about animals in the Okavango Delta as a blazing summer progresses, when the river starts to dry up and all that’s left are small pools where the four footed animals, the crocodiles and the fish compete for food, water and oxygen?  And gradually they start to die off, the tails of the fish flapping more and more slowly, submerged in what is by the end of the summer just gooey mud?  Well, that’s what’s happening to the thousands of drivers who live further than a walking or cycling distance from the hospital. 
We’re being squeezed out, having to get into work earlier and earlier to ensure we can park – yesterday I had a chiropodist appointment and arrived at 9.15 instead of 8.40 a.m., and there were no spaces.  Feeling increasingly panicky I cruised around for ten minutes, and eventually I had a stroke of luck:  I found a traffic island… so I took my chances of being given a ticket (I was lucky) and of not harming my car while bouncing onto the high island in my tiny car (I wasn’t, I heard the scrape as I hit the kerb).  I daren’t have offsite medical appointments till the end of the day, when I won’t have to come back into work.
A bloke with a bad leg who works in the canteen was telling me the other day that the only way he can park at his end of the hospital is to arrive at 7.30 a.m. and sit in the car reading a newspaper for half an hour, just to bag his parking space...
So that's my working life folks - and forgive me for being so long-winded.  I tried to think how I could introduce pictures to make it visually more interesting, but short of talking photos of the permanent building site which is my workplace (yawn) I have nothing to show you.  So instead I'm (self-indulgently) putting a few extra in my Photo Finish section.
Would other bloggers like to describe how they earn their crust? 
If you've read this far, thank you!
Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive
Visit to Buenos Aires & north west Argentina, 1994

The four images above were taken on the road to Cachi, Salta.  The foothills of the Andes are in the background

Two above:  descending, on the road to Tucumán

A house in La Boca, Buenos Aires
This blog makes me homesick sometimes.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

How I earn my crust... (Part One)

Sandy Lee wrote a post recently about her job, and I agree with her comment that we’re so busy blogging about our weight-related issues that a lot of us haven’t taken the time to mention what we do for most of our waking hours (apart from think of food and sex of course – reverse the order if male).

My working life started off down the secretarial route, probably because I had taken a quick course in shorthand and typing before I went to university in Bristol UK, and it seemed natural to apply the skills I had learned – and I wouldn’t be blogging to you now if I hadn’t.  Between one job and another I made the transition to administrator, then to office manager and finally admin manager at a wholesale seed merchants. 

I held this job for 19 years and enjoyed being involved in agriculture; there were farmers to talk to about whether it had rained; knowledge to be learned about cereal  and root crops, the best forage grasses for milking herds and the best sward for a golf course, lawns and wildflowers...
I took this picture on a golf course in Surrey,
to show how the 'roughs' can look attractive
with wildflora.
…and about how to import cargoes of seed from New Zealand or to export them to Chile.   One stormy winter’s day a container ship went down in the Bay of Biscay, a notorious area of choppy seas off the northern coast of Spain, and most of the containers were lost, including some of ours which were full of turnip seed.  The repercussions of the insurance claim were a paperwork nightmare and continued for several years afterwards, but I always wondered what the fish made of the massive food drop from heaven, and whether it turned any of them vegetarian.

I also chased people for money – with different strokes for different folks:  easy does it with the farmers, discuss the weather and their crops for 15 minutes before broaching the subject of the outstanding invoices, and whether they had remembered to upturn the bucket where they shoved their paperwork in their dusty, rarely used offices, and sort through what was ours... 
Yes, this could have been a ruse, but they would also ring you to admit with embarrassment that they had just found your cheques which they had forgotten to cash from three years ago and could you please re-issue (it was a two-way relationship because they bought seed from us and also grew certain types of seed for us under contract).    The other creditors were a mixed bag – the classic excuse for not paying was to say that the seed hadn’t come up, and to the customers we knew well who came up with the same old chestnut, we would counter with ‘that’ll be because you’ve sown them upside down’. 
One customer was a wholesale merchant who dealt with farmers in south west Wales where he lived (a simply gorgeous part of the country), and he couldn’t pay us till the farmers had paid him.  He was fond of telling us that the only way to get paid was to forget the telephone – he had to trek from one farm to another, bumping along muddy country roads in his Land Rover, and sit down to chat with the farmer and his wife, have a cup of tea with them, sample a slice of her freshly made fruit cake and after the second cup of tea, gently mention about those invoices (old boy).  It was a slow business, and an afternoon of this could become pretty uncomfortable. 
Sometimes I used to get one of the reps to collect in person if it was in his area and the customer was dodgy.  The difficult ones were often the turf suppliers, who didn’t want to pay you because they had to grow the seed, shape it into turves (I know, hardly the plural of turf, but that’s how it’s known in the trade...) and sell it on, and then wait 30 days to get paid themselves.  So we often had to wait 60 or 90 days.  One of them was proving so difficult that after much pressure he agreed to bypass his bank and pay in cash, but would only hand it over in a pub, where the rep had to pretend he was a drinking pal, since his ‘business associates’ (i.e. creditors) were everywhere. 

The rep duly turned up at a pub in Yorkshire somewhere, and was alarmed to note that it was in a very seedy part of town.  The pub itself was full of broken glass in the car park, and the smell inside was beer and –er - formerly beer, empty crisp packets on the floor, cigarette butts ground into the carpet, and so on.  He got his drink and sat down nervously with the turf grower, who after a while put his hand under the table and passed our man a large wodge of cash (about £5K if I remember rightly), while they pretended to talk amicably about this and that.  The rep had an apprehensive few hours trying not to drink too much, before slipping out the door, getting into his car and driving away at top speed, and he told us later that he had slept that night with the money under his pillow and a cricket bat by his bed. 
Our holding company was an old and respected agricultural business in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland, and I was lucky enough to travel there several times over the years for training (in a tiny plane from Bristol – argh).
Returning from Banbridge one year, to find Bristol under snow.
I thought I knew where I had parked my car, but they were all
white.... it took an hour of tottering up and down
on high heels before I sank thankfully and tearfully
into my little Rover Metro!

They were unfailingly charming hosts, and nothing was ever too much trouble.  At the beginning (in the late 80’s and early 90’s) there was a high military presence in the town, you couldn’t miss it.  There were barricades on certain streets and, confusingly, many different types of uniform.  Security was tight everywhere, and reminiscent to me of the seventies in Buenos Aires, during the era of the military dictatorships when I was a schoolgirl.
They had business connections of course with the Republic of Ireland where there were many cereal farmers, but I had mixed feelings as far as credit control was concerned:  they could charm the birds of the trees, no doubt about that, and the myth about Irish people kissing the Blarney Stone is no myth – I can’t think of a more entertaining nationality to talk to over a drink.  But still I can’t bring myself to recall the admin abilities of the typical Irish farmer without wanting to bang my head repeatedly on a table.  On one occasion after yet another fruitless telephone conversation with someone when I could almost hear the sound of his head being scratched at the other end, he burst out “listen now, I’ve been through all the invoices with a fine toothbrush, and I can’t find it, so I can’t”…
From a working life point of view those were happy years, and when redundancy came in 2007 I was devastated, though not surprised, for I had seen the problems being faced by the agricultural trade.  It makes me sad now to remember all those kind, funny, earthy customers I got to know – mostly by phone – and not to be able to follow their lives.  Several of them rang me when they knew I was leaving/had left, to be reassured that ‘I had been treated right’.  

I’m still in touch with Mike, a salesman who has gone on to better things within the company, but who is like a younger brother to me, and was a natural model at our camera club.

I’ll tell you about my present job next time.  (Never let it be said I can tell a story in one go!)
Photo Finish:
From Lonicera's non-digital archive
Visit to St Ives, Cornwall

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