Friday, 20 November 2015

Half term and an event

In October, which is the UK school’s half term, Grandma (TBH) gets to see her granddaughter. They do not live close, so we spend most of one day going and then most of another day returning home. The distance is not a lot compared to the journeys in other larger countries. What makes travelling around the UK much slower is the amount of traffic. Take all the cars in one American state and fit them into a couple of hundred miles of roadway and you will have a similar situation. Traffic is dense and slow, so what would be considered just under two hours of driving elsewhere becomes six hours minimum over here.

Travelling North on the M6 motorway

Half term extends over Halloween and so we had pumpkins and all the trappings on that evening, with Trick or Treaters arriving at intervals scrounging goodies, whilst The Granddaughter (TG) went out scrounging for her own from other people. I assume there is a net gain somewhere…

Haloween decorations
Whilst we were there we visited Sizergh Castle, which is a stately home, set in some landscaped grounds. Most recently owned by the Strickland family, it was gifted to the National Trust in 1950.

The trees were displaying their autumn shades, and lucky to have good weather, we were able to explore the grounds thoroughly.

It seems that there have been a couple of additions to the family and they were soon at home with their visitors on the occassion of our first meeting with them.

Our journey home was complicated by some fog and we were delayed a little but not seriously, since traffic was fairly light.

As we got closer to home, we cleared the fog, but in half a mile of home it was back once more.  So this short stretch of clear skys was only temporary.

An event
Arriving back home a number of things had cropped up and took our attention. One of those was a Diabetic Workshop we had booked, where we learned all those things one needs to understand to survive type two diabetes. This was held in a local hotel.  We arrived in good time and followed the hand written signs leading us to the worshop registration desk. This had three queues divided alphabetically and we were directed to the middle one, but one of the others emptied first and we were beckoned over. There we were handed our ‘goodie bag’ containing some leaflets, a pen and a note pad and we were then given a personalised name badge. True to modern corporate culture, these were first names only, no titles allowed here. We were then directed to the coffee and tea buffet. Here we helped ourselves to coffee from the awaiting thermos flasks. On our badge was a blue bar which it turned out is the colour of our group. We had been told to go into the first meeting room once we had our coffee which is labelled with the motivational name ‘vision’ We found a pair of empty seats and nursing our coffees we waited for the beginning of the workshop, which was supposed to be at ten o’clock but this came and went and still no start. Although the subject was new to me, the setting was all very familiar. I have lived through many events organised just like this whilst working for several different nationally based organisations.
Some were seminars on team building and other managerial events, but in later years, mostly on how to cope with change or redundancy. Redundancy became a top ten favourite during the 80s and 90s and this venue seemed all too familiar. In fact I have attended business conferences at this very hotel in a previous life. On one wall, dwarfed by the size of the conference room, was a six by six foot screen on which a presentation title was projected. At least it was when we first came in, but a little later I noticed that it only showed the Microsoft Windows logo and no slide show. This turned out to be the reason for the delay. Microsoft one, presenters nil. A more computer savvy colleague was called in and after a short typing session, it becomes one all to the presenters and Microsoft and the slide show began.
The introduction went on at some length and I was able to follow most of it, but the slide show was aimed at people with perfect hearing and tweny-twenty vision. Although, as far as I know, hearing loss is not normally one of the classic symptoms of diabetes, poor vison often is. Many of the slides were illustrated with some kind of representative image which supported the message, but often these images were so large, the text was squeezed down to something I could not read. As a result, I spent so much time squinting at the slides trying to uncover their secrets that I sometimes missed the point being made. Fortunately The Better Half (TBH) had come with me and she was able to fill me in on the bits I had missed. Even she could not hear the questions that were asked by the audience, since they had no microphones for anyone but the presenters. We then had to give responses to questions about our particular experience of diabetic treatment, followed by a session where we had to come up with the fifteen points that the presentation had just gone through. This was done in the tired old method of brainstorming the crowd and writing down responses on a flip chart and then seeing how well we did by making the answers fit the fifteen official answers. This technique is so old, I expect the Mesopotamians did it with clay tablets. Of course we then had to go through the entire fifteen things all over again.
Once this introductory session was over, we were led out of the room by a person carrying a flag, like being on a tour. Our flag carrying person had a blue flag and he took us into another room with the hand written motivational name by the door, ‘Inspiration’. In there we were divided into small teams and given a set of exercise handouts. This was going to be a workshop. However, the start was delayed because they wanted everyone to introduce themselves to the other members of the group, giving when they were first diagnosed and what kind of treatment or care they had received. This took ages and it was pointless. There were well over twenty people in the room, so by the end of this laborious session, I had no recollection of anyone’s name other than the three nearest people. We then had to look at the scenario of ‘our friend’ Margery who was not looking after her diabetes very well and we had to come up with some suggestions for her. I recall doing this kind of thing for Annie the packer and Sally the tea lady, when I was on managerial courses. Poor Annie was always trouble and you had to decide if she should be sacked or not, whilst poor Sally was breaking every health and safety regulation with her tea urn you could imagine. It was exactly the same procedure, but with health risks to your friend if you did not get Margery up to speed on her treatment. We then had lunch and went to the next session in the room encouragingly named ‘Activation’. Overall, it was worth putting up with the tired old fashioned methods and false enthusiasm and I have learned a lot more about living with diabetes, so it did the job. However, mostly because of TBH’s good note taking and the big pile of literature we took away with us. All I have to do now is put it into practice for the rest of my life.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Catchup Blog

I don’t seem to have been blogging very much recently and we have been busy, so here is some of what we have been up to.

Both The Better Half (TBH) and I had been thinking of changing our cars.  Like us, they were getting a bit old and needing more and more TLC to keep them roadworthy.
Cars have been getting better and better mileage and now the difference between diesel and petrol has been eroded significantly enough to consider petrol rather than diesel on cost grounds.  We both had diesel cars and we had been concerned that diesel cars were heading for a political crisis.  This was firstly because the government had encouraged too many people to switch to diesel, which meant that they were now outstripping the supply of fuel produced locally and this means a lot of it is being sourced from abroad.  Secondly it was becoming clear that diesel fuel whilst giving off less CO2 produces more dangerous particles than petrol, creating a health hazard.  So we had both decided that the next time we changed cars, we would get a petrol engine.  Whilst I had no immediate plans to change, I had already decided that it would be in a year or so, but not yet for a while. 
TBH had noticed that the VW garage, where she bought her present car, were holding a special  day and she wanted to go along to see what was on offer.  Like most people, we did not realise that VW had been cheating on their diesel engine tests and so were still more than happy about VW cars, which had a very good reputation (until the news broke).  So we went along to have a look.  Whilst TBH was checking out her choices, I wandered over to look at the new model Golf SV.  I was surprised to find that it ticked all the boxes I had on my mental checklist for a new car and at the insistence of one of the sales reps, took a test drive in a standard Golf model.  I was impressed. 
A few days later, we returned as TBH still had not made up her mind what she wanted.  After much agonising, she had decided to be sensible and not get the Golf R, a souped up version, and would go for economy rather than speed. She is, after all, a reformed girl racer and has calmed down a lot since I first met her.  So we were still looking at Golf models.
The SV I had seen before was still in the showroom and turned out to be a pre-registered model so considerably cheaper than a new one and after some chat I asked if I could test drive it to see how that compared to my present car.  Although a possible sale is a possible sale, they were not too excited by my request, because they had to re-arranged their entire showroom to get it outside.  Soon a host of staff were moving cars around to make an exit for the SV.  The end result was that, although I had tagged along with TBH for her to look at cars, I was the one who bought one.   I was sad to see my old Vauxhall go, but they offered a good part exchange and the SV drives like a dream.  
A few weeks later, another VW Golf (not an SV) was on our front drive alongside mine.  TBH had finally made a decision and bought herself a new car.  Not long after that, the news story broke about VW cheating the emissions tests on their diesel cars.   It seems they did not need to cheat on petrol engine cars, but there have been rumours.  Only time will tell if we have just made a mistake. 
My first question after the news was, what ever happened to honesty and integrity?  Seems to be a rare thing nowadays.

Later that month we once again went to the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford.  This year it was based around the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  This meant that there was a strong presence of Spitfires and Hurricanes, plus one or two other WWII aircraft that were still flying.
and Spitfires, part of the massed flypast.  

They were well spread out, probaly for safety reasons
A modern Typhoon flew with a Spitfire celebrating 75 years of RAF fighter planes
 Amonmgst the flying displays was the Osprey, a strange mixture of conventional aircraft and helicopter.  It is able to swivel its engines for vertical flight, hovering or horizontal flight.

The typhoon gave a display of sheer power.  Ear defenders necessary for this part of the show.

A summer visitor

Early that month we cleared out our garden shed.  It was almost impossible to get inside and when we piled everything on the back lawn, we could not believe that we had gotten all that inside such a small shed. We had over the years acquired more garden tools than was reasonable, from each having had our own set when we married and then clearing out, TBH’s mother's house, my mother in law’s house and my brother in law’s house we ended up with about five sets of spades, forks, trowels, shears and so on.  Much of the rest was just junk we had not bothered to get rid of and hundreds of flower pots. Unfortunately I did not think to get a picture of the contents when they were all over the lawn.  It was quite a sight, but not very pretty as gardens go.
The surplus tools and some of the better flower pots went to a local charity where they allow people to work in individual garden spaces as a form of therapy.  The rest went down the tip.

The next event was a trip to Ipswich to visit my sister and her number one son’s family.  Her son lives on an island in Essex which has a causeway connecting it to the mainland.  At certain times of the year this is covered by the sea and it is not recommended that one tries to drive across when the spring tides have covered it.  Many cars have tried over the years and many cars have had to be towed to a nearby garage when the tide has returned to normal.  Seawater in the air intakes does not do a car’s performance much good.
Because of an impending extra high tide, we could not spend as long as we had intended with my nephew and his family because we had to get back to Ipswich in a reasonable time.

My sister's computer speakers and her spectacle stand form a curious face
One of the days we spent with my sister, we went to Woodbridge, somewhere we have been quite often, but it is always worth a visit.

 My sister's cat helping herself to a drink of water

The river Deben at Woodbridge

Some curious buildings in Woodbridge

My ancient amarylis bloomed once again

The Goddaughter C came on a visit, with K her newest significant other, and we took them out for a meal.  We then went for a stroll in a local park.   We had not met K before and he seems a nice guy.
 The local park

The next weekend was my number one son’s birthday and that following Friday he came for a visit and we all went to the Cotswold Wild Life Park.

 The zoo has managed to breed two white rhinos and the two babies, John, the slightly larger one and Ian the youngest can be seen with their parents.

 These Mara look like rabbits but are deer from Patagonia

 Some beutiful wolves, intently watching the birds in the next compound

 This shy creature is a Pallas Cat and did not appreciate his photo being taken

The following day the number two son and his wife came for a visit and we took them all out to lunch as has become the routine for birthdays.

Around Town

In the local shopping centre, a chalk artist had been at work and produced this remarkable picture.  Seen from one side it looks very odd, but viewed from the right position, it beomes 3D

 The artist is seen being drawn by the Monalisa as he draws her.

 In another part of town, a pair of WWII aircraft mockups were celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Bttle of Britain.

 Our optician, who once practiced in Cheltenham, close to where TBH lived has moved to Straftord upon Avon and TBH, has followed them there, bringing me with her..  As a result, we visit Stratford fairly regularly.  It is not a long trip from our home and makes a pleasent morning or afternoon outing.

Finally, this year has been the year of the roadworks around our way.  I cannot recall ever having seen so many 'diversion' and 'road ahead closed' signs before.  One after another, roads have been closed and traffic diverted all around our area and we are heartily sick of seeing these yellow signs.

The dreaded yellow sign
In some instances, the signs are totally misleading because there were so many closed roads in the area, the diversion signs were in the same road for different routes, and in several cases they pointed in opposite directions, without any  information as to which particular diversion they were for.  Unless your local geography was up to scratch, you could easily find yourself diverted entierly away from where you wanted to go.  It must have been particularly difficult for strangers to the area.  Another annoying feature of these multiple roadworks has been the use of a notice that simply says 'Road Ahead Closed', without saying if it is the road directly ahead or a turning off the road you are trying to use. A simple arrow would be helpful, but no, you have to keep on driving to find out if you need to turn around or can get through.  This situation has repeated itself for miles around and caused more than a little confusion.
So ending on a moan, that is it for now.