Day 139 – 141

Level 2 Chi Kung.

A tough week, in which I came hard up against my inability to discipline myself to rote-learn meaningless drivel! I’m afraid that the trainer on the APM course made dull material even duller. Hours of Powerpoint, relieved only by clips from a fly-on-the-wall documentary on the Eden project. Unfortunately the Eden project stuff was all of the ‘example of what not to do’ variety, so not really much use as a study aid. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t time to incorporate some group work / how learning – we finished early (or, in the trainer’s language, ‘took an early bath’) every day.

Several of the other participants on the training are from the military. At first I assumed they were from MoD but this turned out not to be the case.

J: So you’re from MoD?

Phillip: No, I’m infantry.

J: [surprised] The infantry has project managers?

Phillip: Gosh no. This course is the first thing I’ve ever done which didn’t involve blowing things up.

We had the exam on Friday morning and I don’t think anyone was really feeling good about it. One of the military guys turned around and said to me, quite seriously, that he would prefer to be back in Iraq!

I also found the travelling – over an hour each way – a bit wearing. Because I was travelling at rush hour, I ended up having to stand all the way there and most of the way back, so pretty hard on the injured knee.

Day 138

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Another dull day of APM. One positive is that I have solved the problem of when to fit in Chi Kung. Although I am strongly motivated to do Chi Kung in the morning, I am not Richard – if I need to check in for a flight at 6am, I won’t be getting up at 3am to fit in 2 hours of Chi Kung before I leave for the airport! So I had been wondering when I would fit it in during this course. Yesterday, I had a bit of a brainwave when I saw how many of the conference rooms were empty, so, at the tea break, I went to reception and explained that I am recovering from a knee injury and would find it very helpful if I could use an empty meeting room to do some exercises at lunch time. The receptionist said that this would normally be prohibited but, as an apology for the mess-up yesterday, they would let me have access to a room. I went back at lunchtime and was shown into a lovely big sunny room where I did Chi Kung undisturbed. It was great – and made it much easier to stay awake in the afternoon. I did the same today and, again, really enjoyed the Chi Kung even more than usual, as a break from sitting still in one place.

Day 137

Level 2 Chi Kung.

APM Project Management. Arrived at Broadgate Tower slightly late (09:12 for a 9am start) jumped in a lift and pressed the … uh oh, no buttons. Peered discreetly around, trying to see if the buttons might be hidden behind one of the other passengers. Nope. Finally asked someone. Oh no, no buttons, you have to select your floor on the touch screens outside the lift well and then go to the lift that the screen tells you is going to your floor. By this time we were at the 23rd floor (I needed the 11th). I was advised to take the first lift going down and get off at the interchange floor, except no one could remember if the interchange floor was the 19th or the 17th. Got off at the 19th and was stuck there for 10 minutes waiting for a lift down. Finally had to go all the way back to the lobby and start again. Got to the 11th floor at 09:32 but 11th floor reception claimed to have no knowledge of the course and weren’t prepared to let me just cruise the meeting rooms until I found one full of people who looked like civil servants. They suggested that I phone civil service learning. CSL then insisted that the course was in the Piccadilly suite, while reception insisted that the Piccadilly suite wasn’t in use. I handed my mobile to reception in the hope that they would thrash it out between them but no joy. Finally CSL phoned the trainer and got him to look at the name on the door of the room he was teaching in. Course utterly dull and because CSL won’t pay for coffee and tea, every break has to be extra long because, if one needs caffeine (and believe me, one does) one has to brave the crazy lifts to leave the building and buy coffee down the street. Hey ho – it’s going to be a long week.

Not enough time after the course for it to be worth going home before the ROH live screening of Placido Domingo in Verdi’s I Due Foscari, so I went straight to Greenwich and stopped at the Rivington for a glass of wine and a scotch egg (nothing like you imagine – organic free range egg, yolk still soft, encased in delicately seasoned organic pork and served with a yummy salad). The couple at the next table heard me say to the waiter that I needed to get the bill so that I could get to the screening on time and told me that they had seen it live at Covent Garden last week and it was very disappointing. My heart sank a bit when I heard this – but in fact I loved it. Not disappointing at all. Domingo was great as the Doge and Maurizio Muraro was a fabulous (and seriously gorgeous) Jacopo. A lovely evening.

Day 136

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Baking day! Knowing that Daddy would be off on a long bike ride and Sunday would therefore be a mummy-morning, the children started putting in their requests several days in advance. Katie called for baking day and Dash requested gingerbread pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast. Jack, as always, wanted brownies. After the pancakes were tidied away, I got a double mixture of Hugh F-W’s brownies in the oven (it’s really not worth making a single mixture in our house!) then, while Katie licked the bowl and beaters, I started on Nigel’s Slater’s spice biscuits. These are not only yummy (containing 16 pods worth of cardamom) but fulfil the criteria of being easy for Katie to roll out and attack with cookie cutters. I really like to leave the cardamom quite chunky, so that when you bite into a piece you get a strong hit of cardamom but the children hate that, so I ground it fine to keep them happy. Once the mixture was ready, I cut off a third of it and set Katie up with her own floured board and rolling pin. She made a really good job – using the smallest snowflake-shaped cutter to make lots of tiny biscuits.

Once all the baking was done I used the last of the chicken stock to make broccolli soup, then new potatoes, pan fried sea bass and courgette, capsicum and tomato salad for dinner. At which point I belatedly realised that, having spent all afternoon climbing the children’s laundry mountain, I really needed to wash some of my own clothes in order to have something reasonably tidy to wear to the dreaded project management course!

Day 135

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

Dash came home from school yesterday with an insect bite on his right cheek. He had no idea what might have bitten him. He woke this morning with his cheek a bright angry red and so swollen that the right side of his face looked like it belonged to a different (and much much fatter!) person. Poor darling.

Dropped Katie at Stagecoach then home to collect Dash for guitar. I thought I would head Mr Baulch off at the pass (so to speak) so, as soon as he started to say that Dash looked somehow different, I said ‘It’s an insect bite’. But no, Mr Baulch was referring to the fact that Dash had had a haircut, and couldn’t resist suggesting that, like Samson, Dash would have lost all his strength. Given that Dash, having finally accepted that he can’t be a lion when he grows up, has decided that his back-up plan is to be a superhero, this did not go down well! Dash was clearly unhappy but confined himself to rather solemnly pointing out that Mr Baulch was incorrect, in fact Samson didn’t lose all his strength, his strength was merely reduced to that of an ordinary strong man.

Collected Katie from Stagecoach and whipped her back to the Age Exchange where, to celebrate the start of half term, they had artists waiting to provide free face painting! Unusually, there wasn’t even a queue – in fact Katie was initially the only little customer. Having carefully chosen a butterfly design which didn’t cover her lips, she felt able to tackle a ham and cheese toastie and a glass of milk without risking the artwork!

For the last week or so, Katie has been saying that she would like her and I to have a baking day once a month. Actually, I bake more than once a month anyway but I gather she has in mind a day where she chooses what we bake. As always with Katie, the baking day idea quickly began to evolve into a baking day cum party, but, she assured me, only for the family. Chatting on the way home from the Age Exchange however, it became clear that she is intending to invite a dozen of her closest friends and that one of them is bringing a disco ball! I love that she is not only a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert, but a bit of a party fiend, but I did extract a solemn promise that she won’t actually give out invitations until she and I have agreed a date.

Day 134

Level 2 Chi Kung.

With the dreaded project management course looming next week, there could be no further delay in doing the pre-reading. After starting conscientiously on Monday and discovering that it defines a whole new level of boring, there seems to have been no end of excuses for not getting back onto it during the week. It’s fortunate however that I did go back to it today, as I discovered that the incompetent prats at Civil Service Learning had (again!) failed to send joining instructions. CSL have some cheap deal where they take whatever training room is available at the last minute, with the result that, until a few days before the course, the location is just specified as London – ignoring the fact that which part of London it is held in matters a great deal in terms of travelling times. I made a formal complaint about this last year on the grounds that it makes it next to impossible for people with children to plan childcare, or those from out of town to book a convenient hotel, but got an unhelpful, broken-record-technique response. Whoever invented the broken-record-technique should probably be shot – politely, over and over again! And of course it also means that, if they send the joining instructions to the wrong address, all you know is that you should be at a course somewhere in London!

Even since I got Nigella Bites, I have wanted to try Nigella’s recipe for Elvis Presley’s favourite sandwich, but have been thwarted by the fact that it requires white bread and we mostly have wholemeal, so that when white bread does come into the house, the children devour it in short order. Anyway, the availability of all required ingredients coincided today with me feeling the need to reward myself for reading all the boring project management stuff. Here’s the King’s recipe, via Nigella, with minor tweaks of my own.

Lightly toast two slices of white bread.
Spread one with peanut butter (Nigella recommends smooth but I used crunchy), then pile sliced banana on top.
Sprinkle the sliced banana with a little lemon juice (my addition).
Place the other slice of toast on top and fry the whole thing in melted butter until crisp and golden.
Consume while listening to ‘A Little Less Conversation’.

Fabulous! It has the interesting effect of making one feel totally stuffed with food, while at the same time half inclined to immediately make and eat another one (the results of which can be seen in archive footage of Elvis’ later career). I am happy to say that I stopped at one. One sandwich that is – I consumed several more songs before I got back to the project management pre-reading!

Day 133

Level 2 Chi Kung.

On Tuesday, Sherlock didn’t get to go on the school run on account of the yoghurt incident. When I got home, he was all upset and needy, so, after giving him a bit of a cuddle, I let him play around my feet while I cleaned the kitchen. As I cleaned, I couldn’t help noticing that Sherlock himself was less than pristine – particularly about the nether parts. So, once the kitchen was sparkling, I changed into gardening clothes and gave him a bath. I gave him lots of stroking and a few little treats and he was very well behaved, standing calmly in the warm water with tail wagging throughout. Well today is Thursday and, once again, Sherlock couldn’t come on the morning school run on account of me needing to drop Katie’s phone off for film club. And once again I arrived home from the school run to a needy and rather manic wee dog. But this time, when I opened the kitchen door, instead of whipping into the children’s living room in the hope of hoovering some crumbs up off the floor, he trotted straight upstairs. I followed him up and, sure enough, there he was waiting patiently beside the bath! I seem to have ended up with the only dog in history to positively enjoy baths!

Jack finally went back to school today after a week at home. I think he had got a bit too comfortable at home with mum and it took some persuading to get him out the door. For the first few hours I kept checking my phone for messages from the school, in case he managed to convince them that he was at death’s door. Which is surprisingly easy for people with naturally pale skin – I recall when I was at high school that I only had to go near the office for them to usher me into sickbay, paranoid that I might throw up on the carpet.

In the evening we had tickets to the first of the James plays, The Key Will Keep the Lock, at the National Theatre. Bloody marvellous and unexpectedly funny in parts. Best line: Young Queen Joan is horrified to discover that her marriage is to be consummated in the presence of a large number of inebriated Scottish nobles. The king assures her that he will be slow and gentle but, looking around at the drunken yobs surrounding the royal bed, she says ‘No, be quick. Please just be quick.’

Really wishing I had managed to get tickets to the other two plays in the series.…/james-i-the-key-will-ke….

Day 132

Level 2 Chi Kung. Microcosmic orbit.

Several weeks ago, frustrated that the recovery of my injured knee seemed to have stalled, I decided I’d better make an appointment to see the GP. The appointment was yesterday afternoon. I was hoping to be referred for some physiotherapy, but the GP wants an x-ray first to find out whether the bone is chipped. She asked what I was doing for pain relief, and I told her that I had been taking nurofen – just a couple of tablets a day but that I had stopped because I was concerned that it had been two months. She agreed that it isn’t a good idea to take ibuprofen long term and gave me a prescription for an alternative. I didn’t take much notice until I collected the prescription today and discovered that she has prescribed 1 to 2 tablets, 4 times a day, of something containing 15mg of codeine. So, if I followed this advice, I could potentially be taking 120mg of codeine a day. Now, even leaving aside the fact that, if I took anywhere near this much codeine I may never go to the loo again, this puzzles me. I have always found GPs to be very reluctant to prescribe painkillers – before I had kids I suffered from appalling period pain but was repeatedly sent away empty-handed, and a few years ago St Mary’s Hospital sent me home to have a miscarriage, with a prescription for paracetamol! And yet here I was saying that I was basically getting by without any pain relief at all, and the GP prescribes this heavy duty stuff. Of course there might be a logical reason – she noticed me limping and thinks things would heal up faster if I walked normally maybe (but, if so, she really needed to explain her thinking) – or is it just that obs and gynae stuff is ‘meant to hurt’ but knees aren’t?

Day 131

Level 2 Chi Kung.

A hassly start to the day. Last week, a letter came home from Katie’s school saying that a photographer would be in school today to take class photos. To avoid last minute hassles of the ‘my favourite outfit is in the wash’ variety, I immediately initiated a discussion with Katie as to what she might want to wear. She repeatedly answered that she would like me to choose. This morning, she again said that I should choose, but that it shouldn’t be a dress, trousers or track suit pants. I genuinely wasn’t sure what that left!

J: [perplexed] What does that leave?
K: [indignant] Leggings!
J: Ok. [rummages in draw] These ones?
K: Fine.
J: And this top?
K: Great.

Then, as she had left her coat at school yesterday, we agreed that she would wear a hoodie for warmth, but that she would take it off for the photograph. We went downstairs, I made her breakfast and then left her, watching something on her iPhone, while I went up to make the bed. Downstairs in plenty of time to leave, only to discover that Katie had decided to engage in some messy play with honey and yoghurt, and the carefully selected outfit was now liberally covered in a sticky white mess. Cue frantic (and rather exasperated and sweary) sponging. Now running too late to take Sherlock, we had to go without him and take the bus. He was devastated.

Day 130

Level 2 Chi Kung.

This morning, Jack looked like the victim in an old-fashioned vampire film: deathly pale with big dark smudges under his eyes and, just as he was meant to leave for school, he announced that he felt too ill to go.

Sherlock and I dropped Katie at school then headed for home to look after Jack. Not that he is any trouble – so long as supplies of toast and marmite are maintained! The plumber arrived at 11 to quote for moving radiators, installing outside taps etc. I wasn’t hugely impressed with him – so I am hoping he won’t be the lowest quote!

Last December, the APM project management course I was booked on for work was cancelled at short notice. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I didn’t manage to get re-booked before I finished work – in fact the earliest booking I could get was the week commencing 27th of October. Next week in other words, so I have to somehow manage to muster up some motivation to focus on what must be one of the most boring topics known to man. There is about 20 hours of pre-reading, which I dutifully started today: very soporific! I will have to really discipline myself to get it done.

At six I met Vicky Angell at the cafe in St James’, Piccadilly to see Sergio Margano. I didn’t know what to expect – I was really just tagging along with Vicky – but it turned out to be about lucid dreaming. Quite interesting, though I found his accent hard to catch at times.