Monday, 21 May 2012

The flag stayed home

Today the Olympic torch left Exeter at 7.25 this morning to continue it's journey round the UK before this years Olympic games in London.  Although I had previously planned to pop along before work to cast an eye over the proceedings (incidentally it's very hard to maintain the pre-requisite level of world wearied jaundiced coolness whilst simultaneously waving a flag, jumping up and down and going 'squee') my ongoing illness prevented this so, as mentioned, the flag and myself stayed home. 
I am attempting to work from home today which would normally be totally do-able.  Unfortunately sitting at my pc at home is not comfortable at the moment so I am struggling somewhat.  Also; having notified my boss this morning I wouldn't be in she started discussing what she wanted me to do today 45 minutes before my normal work start time!  I had hoped to inform her that I would work from home as well as I could and then be able to get a little sleep in after taking this mornings painkillers, before then starting work as I spent nearly all of last night trying to find a comfortable position in which to snatch a few moments of rest.  Tsk...
Anyway - the bit of positive news is that apparently it isn't pleurisy, which can be pretty nasty.  It appears that I have instead damaged my intercostal muscles that are between and around the ribs whilst having at the same time pulled the muscles in my back.  Apparently this can take some time to heal as well as being pretty painful and awkward with your breathing (I can certainly attest to that!) so I have to keep taking the painkillers and rest it to let it heal itself.  We know this as I went to the walk-in centre in town yesterday being sick of still being in pain without knowing what was wrong with me.  The nurse there listened to my chest and sent me to the hospital.  After being seen by the doctor there she called through to check on my x-ray and they reported that it was clear so we finally knew that it wasn't pleurisy.  About time!  She prescribed me codeine to be taken in conjunction with paracetamol and the Voltarol (diclofenac) I've been buying over the counter.  Apparently these 3 in conjunction should give me some relief.  Hmmm - not totally convinced yet I must say.  Hey ho - at least we know what we're dealing with.  I'll just have to wait for the next Olympics to get the flag out again...

Friday, 18 May 2012

Health - it's a worry isn't it?

Recently it came up during a routine check that I had slightly high blood pressure. It had apparently been this way often enough over the preceding 12 months to flag up as needful of further investigation. Whilst it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to those who know me that my blood pressure should be high it caused me some worry – exactly what you don’t really want if your blood pressure is already high! Anyway – they tasked me with keeping track of it (I borrowed a monitor from my boss of all people) and getting it checked again in 1-2 weeks, then another 2 weeks after that if it was high again, then a referral to my doctor if it should still be reading high then. I went and researched food and drinks that can help lower blood pressure and found celery, broccoli (calabrese), low fat dairy, pomegranate juice, cold water fish, beetroot juice and oats amongst others have all been shown to help in various ways.
Well to cut a long story short all my efforts seemed to do little to affect my blood pressure at the clinic although at least some of my home readings were well within the ideal range. There is something called ‘white coat syndrome’ – because you’re stressing about having your bp taken at the docs this very stress causes it to go higher. Whatever the cause may be I ended up in the position this Wednesday of having to see my actual doctor for my bp to be checked as a result of this process. Now I’d managed by this point to get myself in a wee bit of a tizzy over this so as I crossed through the park on the way to the clinic I felt more like I was going to have judgment pronounced upon me for some nameless heinous crime rather than see what she said about that days bp reading. (I know – seems silly and totally out of proportion but as someone who has never been seriously ill, nor broken any bones nor even stayed overnight in a hospital except for when I entered the world I have a vast untapped lake of drama to draw upon in such matters.)  I went through the park and in the morning sun decided to cut across the grass in my flip flops. The grass was wet and as I felt the dewy blades swoop over my feet a smile inched onto my face. It probably helped that this was what seemed like the first sunny not-raining morning we’ve had in what feels like at least 2 months! In fact cutting over the grass made me slightly late as I lost a flip flop 4 different times due to my feet getting so wet but this small thing calmed me immeasurably and made me feel alive in a way that the coldest/wettest April and May on record here in the UK hasn’t done so far this year.
Anyway – the doc seemed a lot less concerned about my bp than the nurses I’d seen for the previous checkups had been and I left feeling much buoyed up. Whilst there I had also mentioned the evil cough I’ve been suffering from for 4 weeks now which has caused me to pull a muscle in my back the previous week then once that had healed something in my ribs was hurting rather. She listened to my lungs and said she thought this could be ‘a small bit of pleurisy’ which I have to admit to being ignorant of at that point. Anyway – back I came through the park snatching a few moments to admire these fresh faced flowers and off I went to work.

At the end of the day I had yet another coughing fit and suddenly felt the pain in my chest worsen sharply and at the same time I felt the muscle in my back go again. Ow ow ow!!!! After an intensely uncomfortable night which garnered a bare 2 hours of sleep and that with the help of varied pain killers, I steeled myself and went into work. This was a very bad idea as even though I was sparing my right side – where both the chest and back pains were sited opposite to each other on my body, it was getting jolted with every step I took. By the time I attained my office I really was in a lot of pain and was instructed by my boss after one look at me to call the docs and NHS direct for advice. I ended up talking to nhs direct first having filled out their on line diagnosis tool. After a lot of questions designed to allow them to rule things in or out she advised me to see my docs or a walk in centre again even though I’d seen my doctor only the previous morning. Her opinion was that it was either pleurisy or the inter-costal muscles (that are inbetween your ribs) and that I could have pulled these in tandem with the muscle in my back. ‘Ace’ think I in an unnecessarily sarcastic manner probably, but I was a bit grouchy and thoroughly regretting going into work by this point.
I called my doctors to be told there were no appointments but that the emergency doctor would call me as he always preferred to triage people over the phone before booking them in. He duly called and did a very good job of appearing pretty disinterested and dismissive. He scoffed at the idea of me having developed pleurisy 'overnight' though I did try and point out that this was what my own doctor had mentioned to me the previous morning. End result was – I was sent to the local hospital for a chest x-ray. Feeling somewhat shunted about now I caught the bus up there, stumbled painfully along the endless warren of corridors and eventually got x-rayed in a truly fetching gown thing. Pah. I was then told ‘that’s it – your doctor will get the results in 5 days.’ Oh – thinks I – so the point of me coming here today was what precisely??? What a waste of time, expense and resources. The dismissive doctor called me back later to see what they had said and I didn’t bother hiding the unimpressed-ness in my voice when I told him they had said nothing to me other than that the results would be with my doctor in 5 days. ‘Ah’ – he reassures me – ‘if there had been anything serious to worry about they’d have had a conflab then talked to you.’ So the upshot is A) I still don’t know whether I have pleurisy – an infection that could be treated with antibiotics and save me all this pain and as of today; time off work or just damage to my muscles in which case keep taking the painkillers and B) I have had a totally unnecessary x-ray at needless cost and rendered useless by dint of the timescale involved needed to get any results. Also C) I am still in considerable pain – even when not moving it hurts constantly and it hurts to breathe and I am unable to determine the best course of action as I don’t bloody know what’s wrong with me! Considering the nhs direct woman told me they could tell if it was pleurisy or the muscles just by listening to my chest and lungs I’m pretty peeved off with the dismissive doctor for not taking this course of action. So – I now have to wait and see. Although the weather has once again gone grey I will continue trying to find some small joy in the little things like these spotted at the hospital and in the park.

 I am also well aware that there’s a massive proportion of the population of the planet that is worse off than me in all sorts of ways and that this post is essentially one long whinge. Sorry – but hey, don’t forget –it’s my blog eh?! Lol. Just bear with me and hopefully normal breathing service will resume shortly. :-)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Baking for Insomniacs - Easy honey buns

Having woken up just past the 3am mark on Monday morning and having very quickly recognised it as one of those times that the possibility of getting back to sleep was most definitely negligible (and this on a bank holiday.  Truly I must have done something awful in a previous life!) , my thoughts turned to baking.  As they do at 3am eh?!  I had been meaning to make a batch of buns / muffins whatever for some time for one of the Chaps work colleagues in return for a box of unopened store cupboard type things he gifted us when he moved including a full sealed bottle of EVOO, various herbs, a similarly full and sealed jar of curry sauce, some tins of chopped tomatoes, some cake cases and a sealed bottle of white wine vinegar accompanied by the immortal words - "You have it - I won't drink it"!!!  Part of the deal was that I filled the cake cases and returned them to him.  Not being someone who does an awful lot of baking I do have to be in the right mood for it.  As it seemed I was this morning I finally hauled my weary self out of bed around the 4am mark to embark on a spot of 'Baking for Insomniacs'.  (I think we need a catchy little tune there - if possible played on one of those tiny electronic keyboards you used to be able to get in various pastel shades back in the mid-late 80's.)
So - firstly a quick trawl of the recipe books as I really wanted a simple recipe without lots of faffing about.  Well - I say firstly - actually firstly was more like- trot downstairs and casually flick on the light switch without thinking about it then spend the next 30 seconds clutching your tear stained face whimpering 'my eyes, my eyes' quietly so as not to wake the Chap up.  Durrr!
Having recovered sufficiently from that to read the sodding recipe books I pulled 'Easy Cooking - Baking' off the shelf and had a quick leaf through the cake section.  Although I tend to make small individual buns/cakes rather than 1 big one there's nothing to stop you using a big cake recipe for little buns - just remember they will take less time to cook.  I adapted their recipe for honey cake; their's was topped with almonds which I didn't have plus I tweaked the spice amount; and I used this to make small buns on the basis that the recipe sounded like it would be nice plus it was an easy one to do and therefore should be fairly quick as well.

Easy honey buns
2oz butter
1oz sugar
4oz honey - they specify clear - I tend to use the S'bury basics runny stuff for baking which does happen to be clear but I can't imagine it matters that much.  Incidentally I found the easiest way to measure this out was to put the small pan I'd use to melt it in on the scales, zero them then weigh it straight in.  Just don't go too fast so you don't get too much in.  As you can see mine was somewhat crystallised but don't worry - the melting will fix that.
6oz plain flour
0.5tsp Bicarbonate of Soda (I upped this as I realised on getting the bicarb out of the cupboard that it was in fact out of date and I know this impairs it's efficacy.  I also know that too much can give a nasty taste so I added another scant 0.5tsp and it was fine.)
1tsp+ mixed spice
1 egg (They said medium, I had large)
2tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 150c.
Melt butter, sugar and honey together.  You don't need to get the sugar totally melted but the butter should be so it all mixes together well.
Sift the dry ingredients together.
Crack the egg into a cup or similar and add the milk and beat together to mix well.
Make a 'well' (if you're new to baking pretend you're making a volcano shape complete with crater) in the flour in the bowl and pour the butter mix in.
Gradually stir in the flour pulling it in from the edges.  As with many other recipes this one specified using a wooden spoon for this.  Now - having done a minimal amount of googling on the matter I see that there are circumstances where a wooden spoon would be necessary as opposed to a metal one.  (Hot sauces, acidic ingredients &c.  More info here amongst many other places.)  I can however see no need for it here other than the somewhat hazy notion that the rounded edges are gentler on the ingredients than a metal spoon's edges would be.  Whatever the pseudo science / old wives tale behind it I did make use of a wooden spoon and mixed the stuff together.
Next beat in the egg mix so it's all well mixed together.  You end up with a fairly liquid mixture which I then glopped into individual bun cases; fill each one about 2/3 and check at the end they're all more or less equal.  This recipe makes 12 regular size buns.  IE not the massively oversized muffin style cases that seem to have taken over these shores in recent years.  When I was a kid it was a fairy cake or for special a butterfly/angel cake where you took a circle off the top of the cooked bun and cut it in half and stuck it back in on opposed sides like wings with the aid of a little butter icing.  That was for special occasions only though.  We didn't have a head sized wodge of undercooked chocolatey sugar rush available at the drop of a hat then.  I'd imagine as a country we were also rather lower on the world index of obesity as well.  Make of that what you will.  [Clambers down off high horse.]
Bang them in the oven and sit back for 12-15 mins.  Test with a skewer once they're a nice golden colour and leave in the bun sheet to cool for a few mins before removing and popping them on a wire rack to cool fully.
Verdict - well I had to try one didn't I.  I liked these as a simple little light bun.  The honey wan't the most obvious taste - perhaps as I'd upped the spices but I didn't feel they were too overpowering either.  Just a nicely deep taste to them from the combination of honey and spices.  They were also nice and quick to make without the creaming step that's in a lot of recipes so if you're in a rush these are suitably time-frugal.
Verdict from the recipient was received via text: "Thank you for my cakes.  They're well yummy!"  I'd say that's a win.  :-D
Oh - and this is what you get when trying to photograph the finished product so therefore not paying nearly enough attention to your resident furry Zeke.  Think he's checking out the cool retro *plate too?
* These are bona fide old plates we used to use as a family.  I rescued the last 2 of them from the parents garage a year or so back where they were retired and had been relegated to plaster mixing and plant drainage duties.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Hob nobbing with the royals...

The queen visited my work place today!  I am one of the many people working on the University of Exeter Streatham campus in Exeter itself.  (They also have one in Falmouth in Cornwall and another in Exeter called St Lukes.)
For the last 2ish years they have been redeveloping the centre of the campus with what is called the Forum project – an all singing all dancing space with lecture spaces, study spaces, shops, food, banks etc etc etc.  Oh and lots of glass, some trees and a rather spiffy copper roof we saw in this post.  I work in a building pretty much slap bang opposite so we were right in the middle of the action with snipers on the roof and a massive (and loud) sound stage positioned immediately outside our front door!
The visit meant the day consisted of bouts of work interspersed with rumour of her arrival time, routes she’ll use and much standing around waiting; flag in one hand and camera in the other.
I’m not really much of a royalist although as I’m told it they bring a fair few tourist dollars.  However it was a nice thing to have been there and in the thick of it today.  ‘Nice’ in that peculiarly indefinable British way of being proud of someone but too embarrassed to show it and won over by what is in essence any one of us but for an accident of birth and a damn big car.  

There was also Prince Philip who is so far beyond politically correct I have to admit to finding him hilarious.  Anyway – it was a far more fun way to spend the day than my normal working 9-5.30 is plus the sun came out and I got a free ice-cream from one of the new Forum shops.  So all good.  J