Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Surprise Post!

Yesterday, I did not regret braving the driving rain and biting wind to meet with fellow blogger Rick, he of Palm Springs fame, in South Kensington for tea. It was a bank holiday, so he had the day off from his frenetic business trip schedule. (The weather was so bad, the streets were nearly deserted.)

Rick is a most stylish fellow - too bad you can't see the ubiquitous cravat - so I had to dig an outfit out of my suitcase for the occasion. We had a lovely time together, but time cuts short even the best conversations, so this can be continued when I finally get round to visiting everyone in Southern California. (Yes, Nikki and Roomie, this includes you!)

I should not even be blogging at this moment (quiet keystrokes!). I have a million and one things to do....but it gave a nice ending to make an American connection in London before I go "home".

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Olivia's Almost Ex-London Dispatches

As you can see from my blog's current title, we're nearing the end of an era. I'm pleased that you are all coming along with me. Though how you all still fit into my laptop is beyond me ;)

Thursday will be the day when I say goodbye to England for the second time in my life. I've started to describe it as "re-emigrating". Cuts a long story short.

I can't wait! But also, it isn't sinking in yet apart from moments of brief wowness when I realise/realize what I am doing. (Note, I will be reverting to American spellings.)

Or maybe it's just because my room looks like a bomb hit it. I mean, someone needs to send in the troops to clear up, if any can be spared just now. This to me is an immense stress, having to get rid of things in a country that doesn't know what a yard sale is, where few people own pickup trucks, and one must lug everything to some faraway charity shop.

When this is all over, I deserve a holiday.

Anyway, this address will stay the same, but I am starting afresh next week under a new title. This means hitting that big DELETE button in the settings tab...I'll grit my teeth and do it.
Don't worry, all is not lost: I'm backing up my posts from the last three years to my spare Wordpress blog. Hehe, had you going there for a minute, didn't I? So you can still go there if you want to look up old topics...as if....

I will try to do a final post later this week, and of course visit you all before I fly.

Have a happy holiday Monday, whether you're tolerating the inevitably rainy Bank Holiday in the UK or celebrating Memorial Day in the USA.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Listen to the planets

There is a great interactive solar system at Spacesounds.com where you can listen to the "music of the spheres".

You can also hear flight recordings from space missions here, including Apollo 13.
(I watched it again for the nth time on Sunday - anyone else see it? - and appreciate it even more, hence this post.)

Thanks to their years of intensive
military and mission training, the astronauts would have remained extremely calm. Lovell's famed "Houston, we have a problem" sounds surprisingly matter-of-fact, compared to the panic portrayed in the movie. (If you can hang on until 14 minutes in, out of a total of 38.) Throughout the crisis, from troubleshooting to resolution, you may perceive that the crew have snapped into a familiar military operation mode.

Those were the days of heroes...


And now to the point of this post:

Join me on a tour of our universe...!

You will hear radio and gamma waves and elecromagnetic pulses converted into frequencies audible to humans.

Turn up the volume and listen to Jupiter (and enjoy the video):

Personally, I can't get enough of it.

Now turn the volume down a bit (tis scary) and listen to Saturn - with lots of info:

More here:
NASA's SSE Galileo site

And here is the sound of our Earth:

Planetary Multi-Pack: Here are a Uranian moon (Miranda), a Jovian moon (Io), Neptune, Uranus, our melodic Earth, and a very eerie Saturn:

You've got to love the universe even more now, for you have heard it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Friends are diamonds, and diamonds are...

Friday was my last day at the office, where I had pleasant farewells, a card and gift. I left half an hour after I meant to simply because you keep finding one more thing you were working on and didn't finish, to pass on. Plus people want to hear what you'll be up to, so they stop you for a chat or come by your desk. I got hardly anything done, but they said that was alright.

Finally tore myself away, forgot to hand in my access card, and asked the front desk to let me out not knowing it was in my bag.

Once out on the street, I felt dazed. I couldn't believe I wasn't going back. Now, if this is how I feel after working there for only a few months, imagine when I leave somewhere after a few years.

Then I went off to my oldest/bestest friend's house to see Lydia, her Mum, twin brother, and Dad. Their house, let me tell you, is a little gem. It's so pretty and so cute. Every room is spotless, tastefully decorated, and the walls emanate peace and love. I even went to the loo and didn't want to leave!

After a couple of hours of chatting and giggling, we went to meet our mutual friend Angela. It was a triple celebration - Lydia's new project at the BBC, Angela's completion of her child studies course, and my farewell. Despite being old friends, Lyds and I gradually lost touch with Angela after she married and had her two kids. Last year for my birthday, Angela and I met up for the first time in a decade. Yes, it took me an entire year to manage this meetup since in the last year Lyds has been touring all over, studying a short course, and sometimes working 7 days a week, and Angela has been studying full time and bringing up her boys, one of whom was diagnosed with epilepsy earlier this year (it is thankfully under control after a trying few months).

Both their lives have settled down now, and ironically just when I leave Lydia gets a job a couple of stops from where I was working, and on the same 10am - 6pm schedule as I was on! What can you do...???

Anyway, we three girls ate yummy Thai food, were the last out of the restaurant, and when we left they gave us each a carnation wrapped in cellophane and finished with a curly ribbon. At one point I tuned out of the conversation, watching Lyds and Ange chatting away, and I felt sad that we hadn't been able to do this more often. But once again, what can you do???

Tomorrow I am going to Lydia's house again for some of her Mum's gorgeous Greek food. I've known this lovely family for nearly as long as my own. I don't even remember meeting Lydia, but it was at nursery so we may have been 2 or 3. I'm just as close with her brother Anthony. They call me "the other sibling". And so I call their mum Aunty, or Thia in Greek. Whenever my Mum went to hospital (she nearly died in the mid-80s), Thia would come and pack a bag and take me away, and the twins, being artistic, would create lovely hand drawn get well cards. Lyds and I would be afraid of the dark together, and we both remember the one night we imagined we saw a pair of red eyes in the halway. (Brrrr, just thinking of it gives me goosebumps.) Then Dad would pick me up when Mum was discharged, but I never wanted to go back home. I would sulk for the rest of the day. I now realise this wasn't fair on my poor Mumsy.

After nursery, Angela joined our school. Lydia and Angela and I were close. Other girls came and went, but it was always us. But Lyds and I were the core, inseperable. The teachers usually muddled our names up in class, and we even started ballet together. Still, undergoing the usual social development, we three would "break up and make up" in various combinations. Then we would pass "love notes" in class: "Are you still my freind?" (Angela always switched the i and e.) Lydia swears I came up with the idea of Yes and No boxes. Of course they always ticked the Yes box.

Here are the twins at my birthday celebration last year:

Alors, je suis finis. Would you believe I started this post with nothing to say?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Treat

Although I had a long day (we were short one secretary), there was a lovely bright spot.

When I went to buy my sandwich the barista noticed it was the same as yesterday's (new artisan baguette with prosciutto ham, tomato, basil, cheese, mayo, and I like it). So I told her I was taking advantage of it because tomorrow is my last day at the office. All of them are so used to me now, so she offered me a free coffee, any type, but I don't drink coffee so I got a free hot chocolate :)

The staff are really friendly there so I told the manager that I think Pret has the best behind the counter service in London.

Really made my day!


Now, read this small article I found in the Metro (free newspaper) yesterday:

Texting costs are 'out of this world'

Text messaging costs four times as much as receiving information from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It cost £85 to obtain a megabyte of data from Hubble, 595 km (370 miles) from Earth, as opposed to sending a 5p text, which works out at about £375 per megabyte. Scientist Nigel Bannister, of Leicester University, said: 'Hubble is by no means a cheap mission - but the mobile phone text costs were pretty astronomical'.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bits n Bobs

At this very moment I am watching on BBC Four a documentary about the Crooners (Sinatra, Deano, Nat King Cole et al) and they've got to Tony Bennett.

The narrator said, "Tony was born in 1926, at the height of the Great Depression..."

Tell me what is amiss with this line. And somebody fire that researcher. And the narrator for not spotting it. And the producers


I thought of so many things to share with you today.

I was the last person out of the office at 6.30pm. Don't worry, I left at 7pm last week, as two consultants were quibbling over whose work I got to do first, but I was only the second to last then.

Well, if someone gives you meeting papers to copy, assemble, and bind for the last post at 5pm, and it's 3pm, then they're not going to bind themselves and they are just going to have to go on Monday.

What's more the master copy was out of order and I spent half an hour unmuddling myself and reshuffling the papers. I
think I got it right. I've only just got the hang of assembling these things, and am now just about familiar enough with administration reports, Trustee reports and accounts, quarterly reports, business plans, and so on, to be able to look at them and understand what they are.


Last night I had a dream. I was seeing all manner of 20s/30s jazz and dance being performed onstage. It was like a mishmash of "Anything Goes", "Thoroughly Modern Millie", the Charleston, Fred Astaire, and the Radio City Rockettes.

I started crying and wailed, "See? I told you I was born in the wrong decade!"

Oh to live in the 20s

When "sex appeal" was invented. At this early level I think I'd be in with a chance!

How to dance the Black Bottom

How to dance the Charleston

My Dad taught Vanessa and me the Charleston one day at the dorms. (He had been a dancer in his youth and was a champion at the Twist.)

The flappers were pretty wild 80 years ago, considering that Queen Victoria was still alive when some of them were born. But despite their so-called wildness, if we went back in time would we find them surprisingly naive? Or would we be scandalised at just how louche they really were?

What do you think?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Mini Med School

That was a long-ish hiatus, and I never even warned you!

So, what's been going on chez moi?

Not much apart from work.

I ended up working until 7pm yesterday to tie up loose ends, as it will be a long weekend with Bank Holiday Monday coming up. I took today off to go to the hospital for my long awaited echocardiogram which was recommended after my electrocardiogram last month. Damn, but the ultrasound thing
really hurts - in searching for the best image of my heart they keep kneading the probe into all that sensitive tissue upholstering my female ribs. Go on, have you ever heard it described that way before?

It was a lovely sunny morning in the upper 50s to low 60s (avg 15C) so I wore a nice Ralph Lauren t-shirt and my cotton safari jacket. I preferred to briskly walk the 45 minutes (including getting slightly lost) rather than take the Tube or bus, both horrific roundabout journeys lasting an hour. Got hot and removed the jacket, and when I arrived I was sweating - for the first time in MONTHS! It felt great!

Anyway, I walked unscathed through Harlesden, appropriately comparable to Harlem, or more likely the South Bronx. I did receive a number of stares for looking distinctly out of place.

I arrived the alloted 15 minutes early but ended up waiting an hour even though there were only a handful of people in the waiting room (unusual for the NHS).

The reason I was given this test is because on my visits to the doctor after the shingles, the nurse was unhappy with my blood pressure and heart rate. When I was a teenager, a doctor said she thought I had a heart murmur and should get it checked out before I have children. A few years later another said he could hear a distinct click and whoosh and thought I had mitral valve prolapse (MVP), which is when the mitral valve doesn't close properly, flaps about a bit, and allows blood to seep back into the chamber (mitral regurgitation). This results in a higher risk of infection, so for instance, before going to the dentist I'd take a prophylactic course of antibiotic tablets the morning of the procedure, and then again afterwards. Bleurgh. This is to protect against any bacteria that might get into the bloodstream through the gums. More recently this treatment has been found to be unnecessary.

There are also frequent flutters, skipped or extra beats, and tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
MVP and tachycardia are often symptomatic of a condition called dysautonomia. It is a fickle and varied state, an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the glands and unconscious functions such as breathing and digestion. I have little control over my adrenal glands, for instance, and so it takes very little anticipation to have me awash in adrenaline but because I don't need to run anywhere, I must endure a half hour of weak knees, shaky hands, and some breathlessness due to the hammering heart until it wears off. What's more, sometimes just a half thought can cause my heart to leap. Finally, I sigh a lot and I'm really really easily startled - even if I know someone's coming I can hit the ceiling. Other symptoms of dysautonomia are easy bruising, forgetfulness, frequent headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, joint discomfort, fainting, orthostatic hypotension (dizziness when standing up) aaand so on. For me, personally, the unwanted "fight or flight" state ties for worst with the 2-hour periods of tachycardia when I can sit there feeling as though I've just stepped off the treadmill, only without the sweat.

Then there's the fatigue. Days when you wake up feeling drugged after a long struggle to wake up, somehow glued to the bed because your limbs are deadweight. You drag yourself to work, fighting for every step, then sit glued to the chair, holding your head up with an effort. Lifting your hand to the desk is almost out of the question. You just want to fall face forward into the soup, so to speak. For me, such episodes usually last until mid morning or early afternoon, when it seeps away and then suddenly I bounce up ready to start another day just when everyone else is winding down.

But we very often present as normal people since the symptoms are not always simultaneous, so on good days I doubt whatever happened on bad days. In this way you can go for years without treatment or acknowledgement. You also don't want to walk into a doctor's surgery sounding like a hypochondriac. My current GP is a classic product of the NHS in that the last time I was there and tried to bring up a few of my long-term complaints she clinically shot them down, making me feel rather foolish, and then sat there looking defiance - I think they train them as I've seen it on other British docs' faces before - and probably thinking, "I dare you to come up with another one." This is so that she can get me out of her office in the allotted 10 minutes.

It is 180 degrees from my doc in Houston, who told me that no question was ever a stupid question, so one day I brought up everything that had been troubling me, and in this way he was both kind doctor and reassuring therapist. I left the office that day with a bloody cauterised sinus but all aglow with confidence inside, rather than the mumbling booby I was at my GP last month.

It's ironic since because, let's see, in the US I may have gone to the doctor about 6 times in 14 years. Here, thanks to all the stress and malaise I've been about 6 times in 5 months.

On the other hand, there I went to the dentist every six months. Here, I've been unable to find one so haven't seen one since I visited my old one last time I stopped in Texas (2004).

What's more, I've been to a hospital twice this year (for the ECG and Echo). The last time I saw the inside of one, apart from visiting people, was when I was a few months old and had aspirated some milk which led to an infection and high fever. (Preemies have lazy swallowing reflexes).

Hm. This post became so much longer than I had intended. I always do this when I think I have nothing to blog about. Therefore I ought to blog more often.