Friday, June 30, 2006

Cat Problems

After the best part of nine years with us, both of our cats have suddenly stopped using the cat flap to come in the house. Going out is fine, but neither appear to be able (willing?) to use it to come in. If we hold it open, they come in no problem and you can hear the magnetic lock click open.

So is it a phobia? Do they not like the cleaning fluid Alex uses when she cleans the tunnel part? Or are we being taken for fools, particularly by Lil? I ask because this morning she came and sat back on the back door step and miowed at me from the other side of the cat flap. She fixed me with her gimlet stare, then looked up pointedly at the door handle, looked again at me and again at the door handle as if to say "Well, get on with it then!"

So I did.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Strange Brew

My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer last week so today he went for a series of scans to see if it has spread. Of course, being Dad, nothing is ever straight forward, as he couldn't have an MRI due to his pace maker (Do you know, I'm almost convinced he enjoys being an awkward so and so :-) )

His first scan was at 8am this morning, but his second wasn't until 2.15. This one required him to be injected three hours before, so his bones would show up nicely.

"So what did you do then, hang around the coffee bar?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. "They said I could go into Oxford to stroll around if I wanted, but I had to stay away from pregnant women and children, so I thought it was easier to stay there."

Pregnant women and children? Turns out it wasn't a dye he was being injected with (silly me), and he had to stay way from vulnerable groups as he would be fairly radioactive for some hours before and after the scan...


Apparently, he also had to keep his fluids up during the wait to ensure the marker had circulated sufficiently into his marrow, so this makes the patients pee quite a bit. Everynight, the nurses have to sweep through the patient toilets with a Geiger counter to sure it's safe enough for the cleaners to enter them. Sometimes it's not. Perhaps that's the explosive result of having a vindaloo the night before one of these scans ... radioactive poo!

It reminded me of something that happened to me about 12 years ago, when I was still working at Sellafield (before I had my Damascene conversion to teaching). I was on a placement to the R&D labs and whilst there, I cut my finger on a cable tie inside a glovebox when I was taking samples for analysis. The lab did handle plutonium (although the glovebox I was working in at the time wasn't a plute glovebox) so I needed to report this cut and get monitored. This took the form of a full body sweep by Health Physics and then urine analysis over a period of time.

I assumed this would be once a shift for a period of time, e.g. 2 weeks, to ensure no plute had entered my system (damn near impossible, but neverthless...) I cursed the awkwardness of having to drop a sample bottle off every day.

Oh silly me.

I was presented with large plastic bottle like the ones we diluted batch samples in in the lab (now can't remember if it was 1 or 2 litres, but it was huge!). The protocol was to put my labelled bottle on the shelf in the sample toilets in the change room, and every shift, pee into it whenever I needed to go. It wasn't to go back to Health Physics for analysis until it was full...

It took me over a week to fill it. You can't imagine how nice those loos smelt, with over 50 different people's bottles on the shelves, gradually being filled...

It only occured to me some time later that, should I have been internally contaminated with plutonium, my (very radioactive) pee would have had a phenominally long half-life...

Thursday, June 22, 2006


... the total on my reports spreadsheet. I handed them in yesterday. I would cheer, if I had the energy...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Starbucks, Widnes style

At the end of a particularly fraught week, a mate from work and I decided to go for a coffee. Having been told earlier this week that Halton Borough Council had become the first council in Britain to get a Starbucks franchise, I was really pleased. I have to go out of my way for a Starbucks, or engineer a shopping trip to Manchester. I know many people hate the fact that most Starbucks stores look and feel the same, but I'm a small town girl - comfy chairs, ambient jazz and lemon zest & poppy seed muffins really do it for me. I love Starbucks. Love it.

So anyway, K and I set off for Victoria Park with glee. Grande Skinny Latte here we come!

Ah well.

It's located in a refurbished sports pavilion just behind the crown green bowls rinks, which has had the front walls replaced with plate glass. Now in cities, I guess they protect this with roller shutters, but this being Widnes, there is a metal cage on runners around all the glass. Obviously, it can only be slid back so far. If you sit at one end, the view will, I can only imagine, be similar to the one seen by the tigers in Chester Zoo when they gaze out at the visitors.


So much for outside. Surely the inside will be reassuringly familiar?

Well, yes, it is familiar - if you frequent the cafe in Widnes Library. Where are the chessboard tables? The chocolate coloured upholstery? The mind-blowing choice of beverages on the board above the tills? (You know, the one that floors K and always makes her say..."cup of tea, please...") The recommendations from your barista? Where, oh where are the lemon zest & poppy seed muffins?

Not in Widnes, that's for sure. I've just learned the difference between a Starbucks store and a Starbucks franchise. The coffee is Starbucks', as are the wrapped biscuits and the serviettes. The Eccles cakes, melting moments and rock buns are pure council catering, as are the slightly tacky homemade laminated table menus offering "Panini's" (Argh! It's Italian! It's already a plural, you don't need and "s", let alone an "s" with an apostrophe!)

The bare concrete floor is a nice touch too. I hope someone soon tells them that they'll drive away less customers if they lift the chairs when placing them back under the table. K and I weren't entirely sure if the decor was post-ironic construction chic, or it just wasn't finished. The view from the window (not the caged end) will probably be lovely too, when the landscaping is finished. Today, we had a nice view of a digger, security fencing (more cages!), Portaloos and builder's bum. Nice.

Coffee was good though.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Joy of Cat

Discovering small corpses in the house is an inevitable part of sharing your life with cats. It's not pleasant, but there it is.

One day this week, I came in to find the remains of what was probably a blue tit at the foot of the stairs. A little heart, a colon, some wheat grains and a piece of skin with feathers attached (sorry, is this too graphic for you?).

It wasn't the visual (visceral?) remains of a massacre in my hallway that upset me even though it was the first thing I saw as I opened the door. No. It was the fact that, at 7.40pm, I was the second human to come home...

"I thought you'd like to do your CSI thing on it", was the feeble excuse A offered. He'd actually gone upstairs to get changed, so must have stepped over it twice.


Blog Frustration

There have been a number of times I've wanted to blog this week and haven't been able too, due to Blogger malfunctions. They were pertinent at the time, maybe the moment is lost, but I'll tell you them anyway, I think.

By Wednesday I had completed 38.15% of my reports (hurrah!) although I haven't looked at them since... How sad am I that I've got a little spreadsheet running tracking my progress?!! It does help me deal with breaking a big job into something manageable.

It's not been easy, though. Every time I sit down at the computer to work, Lilly keeps coming to sit on the desk, usually with her weight across my mouse hand. This is what I have to put up with as she prowls back and forth before settling down:

World Cup fever continues to creep into the lives of those who surround me (although the interesting thing about working in Widnes is that the kids like football but are far more interested in Rugby League, even if the Vikings have dropped out of Super League.) I do want England to do well, but I'm not convinced about flags on cars - and what did David Cameron look like? I have this theory that the number of flags on the car is in inverse proportion to how good the driver is.

This week I was cut up by an old Rover with 4 flags. Say no more.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Home Sweet Home - part 2

Well, I made it home yesterday. Half term is now effectively over. I have caught up with a load of marking (hurrah!) I've only completed one report (uh-oh!) and I don't feel at all ready for tomorrow (yikes!)

However, there are compensations. When I should have been hightailing it up back to get on with the work, I was bird-watching in Mum and Dad's back garden. I saw a pair of birds that I'm pretty certain are Linnets (look v. similar to a sparrow) and then the Red Kites put on their acrobatic display:

It doesn't get much better than this...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Home Sweet Home - part 1

Dad's back home - hurrah!

Mum and I arrived at the hospital (me armed with my file of marking, of course) to find Dad fully dressed with his bag packed on the bed. I'm so pleased, because the other chaps who were due to go home yesterday didn't because they couldn't empty their bladders sufficiently and I thought Dad would be the same. However, as he proudly boasted to my Aunt and Uncle earlier this afternoon (to Mum's horror), "I'm going better now than I've been in ages - in fact, I could write my name in the snow!"

Do you know, I was really pleased it was sunny...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Wonderful Dad

I have been staying with my Mum this week since my Dad had an operation yesterday. She doesn't drive, so I've been playing taxi cabs. We took him in yesterday and it looks like everything's going ok. We visited again today and he's bobbing along nicely, but I think he's itching to come home. They're hoping to let him home tomorrow, so fingers crossed. Not to share too many intimate details, but his op is prostate-linked and going home will depend on his ability to empty his bladder completely.

I did smile when Dad was in pre-op yesterday, talking to the anaethetist. He was explaining how he would sedate Dad, then give a spinal anaesthetic to deaden all feeling. Dad (who has diabetes, a pacemaker medicated with beta-blockers and wicked water-retention) obviously looked a bit squeamish, since he asked Dad what the matter was.

"I was hoping I'd be having a general"
"Well sir, you do have rather a lot wrong with you, so we'd rather not..."

All the sitting around before his op and the visiting have been great for helping me clear a lot of marking - funny how the homework piles up when you start turning your mind to administering KS1 SATs! All the chaps in Dad's ward smile when they see me toddle up with my purple sparkly file full of paper. Glad to know I'm of some use...