Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Springing surprises

At some point in the last 12 hours we've passed through the vernal equinox, so by my reckoning we're in spring. The plants in the garden have already jumped the gun and are visibly growing day by day. The mild weather we've had in the last few weeks means that several species are already flowering. Not only are the daffodils and primroses flowering, but the ornamental blackcurrant, the forsythia, the magnolia, the grape hyacinth and the camellia are all bursting into bloom.

I haven't had much time to potter in the garden. For the last 6 weeks I've been switching my working hours from evenings to days for a project at work, and for the last month I've ramped up my hours to over 40 a week. I'm looking forward to the lovely juicy overtime, but I am feeling drained.

The turning of the seasons has been working its magic on my lodger Sam. It must be the time of year for springing surprises. Last year around this time he announced he was in a relationship, and last night came the anticipated news that they've put a deposit down on a place and Emma and Sam will soon be moving in together. Their new house just needs a little spring clean and some fresh paint to turn it into a home. I'm very excited for them.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Hang on to your hats

Today Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States of America. I'm British, so this should not be of any relevance to me, but of course the influence of the US is felt across the world.

Many outside the US watched the elections and were quite confident that Mr Trump would not be elected, as in much the same way most thought we in the UK would vote against Brexit.

No one quite knows what to expect now. Brexit & Mr Trump are paradigm shifting moments of the 21st century. I find it hard to summon the confidence I once had in the democratic process. Can elections be a good way to make decisions if these are the are the choices the public makes?

I have this forlorn hope that, through some bizarre accident in the physics laboratories where I work, I have been transported to a parallel universe temporarily and it is just a matter of time until a rubber band effect yanks me back to my own reality.

Meanwhile I wonder whether the ordinary people of the late 1930's felt this sense of disbelieving dread as events sucked them into WWII.

If the potential consequences weren't so apocalyptically terrifying, "Trump in the White House" has all the ingredients for a great slapstick comedy. It would be so pleasant to sit back with popcorn and be entertained by his outrageous antics for the next 4 years - if only it weren't so damn real.

Hang on to your hats, people of planet earth, the ride is going to be bumpy.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Return of the luddites

Luddites were English workers in the 1800's who destroyed the machinery that was making their jobs redundant.

Fast forward to 2017. Self service tills at supermarkets have decimated the workforce in our large stores. Self-driving cars are being developed and companies like Uber are looking to use them instead of human taxi drivers. Amazon are developing drones to deliver parcels, so delivery vans and their drivers will be going the way of the checkout assistant. Chatbots are seen as being the future solution for customer service, so call centre jobs are also threatened with redundancy.

Companies are doing this to reduce overheads, remain competitive, and increase profit to their shareholders. Understandable, but short sighted. If there are no jobs, who will have the money to buy anything? Companies might be driving their cost base down, but they're also destroying their customer base.

It would be nice to think we're heading towards a cashless post-scarcity society like that of the Star Trek universe, but I suspect we're a long long way from developing the kind of replicator technology that such a society requires.

So while the corporates unwittingly destroy the very foundation of capitalism that the paradigm relies on (paying customers), I'm predicting the return of the luddites.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Changes are afoot

Days like today are described as "changeable" by weather forecasters. Blustery winds and scudding clouds one minute, then blue skies and piercing sun the next, rapidly followed by drizzle and so it goes on all day.

I've been feeling "changeable" recently. Overwhelmingly I feel distracted.
There is something that I was going to consider, google, or do.
I just can't quite put my finger on what it was.
It is preventing me from getting anything done.
Nor can I relax.

So, here we are. It is time to sit down, sift through my thoughts, and get a grip...

A month ago I had an operation to remove my ovaries.
  • The purpose of the surgery was cancer risk reduction, and I feel great that I've finally taken that step. Phew
  • On the other hand I'm still waiting to find out whether there were any signs of cancer in the removed tissue. En garde.

I've been waiting for the menopausal symptoms to kick in. As yet I haven't had anything obvious like a hot flush.
  • I spoke with my GP a couple of days ago, and he was of the opinion that surgical menopause symptoms hit fast, so if they haven't arrived yet then I may not get get any. Whoopee
  • Though I wonder whether perhaps hormone changes are causing my unsettled mind? Pooh.

Changes are afoot at work. There's a project coming up soon that will absorb quite a bit of my time, resulting in a temporary increase in daytime hours, and reduction in evening hours. Overall my hours will go up for a month or two.
  • On the one hand I'm looking forward to a boost in my take home pay. Yum yum
  • Conversely I'll have less free time and more stress. Hum ho

Beyond the project phase there is likely to be a new role opening up which my manager would like me to take. It will mean dropping the evening & weekend role, and doing daytime hours. The total hours will be about the same. The role I'd be dropping is term-time only, whereas the new role is all year round.
  • I'll earn more with a steady year round income and it will be easier to manage. Yipee.
  • I'll miss my lazy summers. Boo.  
  • Daytime parking would be either more hassle or more expensive. Pah.
  • I'll get my evenings and weekends back. Meh.
  • I won't be able to potter in the garden during the day. Humbug.
  • Visiting dad and walking the dogs will need to be finished in time to get to work. Oh.
  • The work will be more interesting. Hmmm.
  • There may be more stress. Errr.
  • I'm not sure if I'll have more or less job & pay security. Sheesh.

Why am I surprised that I'm distracted?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The BRCA1 prize in the genetics lottery

My mother had the BRCA1 gene, and as I'd had a breast cancer diagnosis at the tender age of 28 (and a second at 35), I assumed that I'd inherited the gene.

In order to have regular MRI's or risk reduction surgery on the NHS it seems you have to get tested, so earlier this year I attended the genetics clinic and gave a blood sample. The results came through a little while ago confirming that yes I did indeed win the BRCA1 prize in the genetics lottery. Woo hoo. Go me.

As a result, when I went to hospital in early December to get a polyp removed from my womb, the lovely consultant who did the pre-op rounds offered me a bogof (buy one, get one free) deal I couldn't refuse. She could, she explained, (as they'd had a cancellation) remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes while I was under general anaesthetic in addition to the pre-arranged the polyp removal. This was an operation I'd been putting off for some years, but I knew it ought to be done, so I gracefully accepted the consultant's kind offer.

On the plus side I only had 2 hours to worry about having the op. Unfortunately this was just enough time to google "laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy" and read about the various recovery experiences of ladies who'd been through the procedure. I say "unfortunately" because what I read wasn't particularly upbeat stuff - there were ladies who'd had a rough time recovering from the op.

I'm glad to say that my own experience was pretty good. The operation went as planned, and once I returned to the ward from the recovery room I was up and pottering about within an hour. Looking back, I think being mobile made my recovery much easier. For keyhole surgery they pump gas into your abdomen to give themselves some room to manoeuvre. From what I've read it is the remaining gas that causes most of the misery associated with this op, and from my own experience I think movement was key to getting the gas to go. 
  
The other major problem with this op, if you are pre-menopausal when you have it, is that you crash immediately into the menopause. To bridge the hormone gap I started taking Tibolone, which is a kind of HRT. The jury is still undecided about HRT and BRCA1, so I wasn't planning on taking it for long - just for a couple of months to get me over the hump. 

Once again, I did plenty of reading, and discovered that HRT isn't as effective for pre-menopausal ladies who have their ovaries removed as it is for ladies who are going through the menopause naturally. The natural menopause is a drawn out process, which starts long before menstruation stops, with a gradual decline in hormone levels during what is known as the peri-menopause. HRT is calibrated to match the lower hormone levels of peri-menopausal women, so it doesn't even come close to the levels usually found in pre-menopausal ladies. From the research I looked at, it seems as though I could only expect a 30% reduction in hot flushes by taking HRT.

This didn't seem like much of a payoff given the question mark over the safety of HRT for BRCA1 carriers. So after about 18 days I stopped taking the Tibolone.

Yet here is the strange thing - four weeks on from the surgery, and a week since my last HRT tablet - I've not yet had a hot flush. In fact I haven't had a single symptom from the menopause menu. 

I suppose the key word is "yet". Who knows what joys tomorrow will bring?

Stay tuned.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The inescapable grim reaper

The 2016 tally of icons who've kicked the bucket is a sobering matter for the world's baby boomers. This massive post-war generation (born between 1946 and 1964) are being forced to acknowledge their own mortality as their generation's heroes and legends fall victim to the inescapable grim reaper.

As the boomers come to the top of their life expectancy bell curve we'll see increasing numbers of their generation pass to the other side, and largely they'll be privately mourned by their friends and families.

News headlines have always included a spattering of obituaries, but the baby boomers were the first to have the kind of disposable income sufficient to catapult thousands to global stardom.  It may feel like the superstar apocalypse (2016 was just the beginning) but what we're about to witness is a graphic demonstration of demographics.