Sunday, 27 January 2013

iSoup (mas o menos)

Belgians are famous for the amount of beer they drink.

They should also be famous for the amount of soup they consume.

They'll eat soup until it comes out of their ears. All kinds of soup, on a daily basis. The eating habits of the Belgians seems to be based on the evaluation of something edible as gezond or niet gezond (good for you or not good for you). It's all nonsense, for Belgians also devour huge amounts of red meat in the form of steak, accompanied by piles of chips (they make the best in the world), though they are careful to accompany these elements by lettuce, thereby making the whole gezond (ignoring the mayonnaise, of course).

Anyway SWMBO is Belgian, of course, and subscribes to the theory that there's nothing quite so gezond as a good old bowl of soup. Well, to be more accurate, a good freshly prepared bowl of soup.

None of your tinned or packet soups for Belgians: soup is only soup when it is made with fresh ingredients.

You can imagine SWMBO's excitement, then, when she read about a relatively new piece of kitchen robotery, called Soup&CO (yes, all one word), made by Moulinex (sold in some countries under the Tefal label), and promising to make piping hot, but above all healthy soup in just about half an hour, using fresh ingredients.

Muggins had to do the research, of course, looking for and checking reviews on hte Web, before the inevitable decision was reached that life simply wasn't worth continuing without a Soup&Co.

Well, it's quite an impressive machine, seemingly strongly built, with plenty of brushed stainless steel, interspcaed with white plastic. The goblet to hold the ingredients is large, and can prepare almost 2 litres (1.8 litres, in fact) of soup at a go. The machine can be used for other things other than soup, including almost anything than requires blending, so it is more versatile than might at first seem.

SWMBO's first attempt was a courgette velouté soup, prepared just as described in the handbook and coming out perfectly.

Left-overs of courgette velouté, saved for later

I am not the world's greatest soup-eater, despite my thirty-five years of exposure to that particular activity in Belgium. For me, soup comes in three basic more or less edible flavours, green, red, and brown, and one inedible, fishy. Nevertheless, the velouté was quite impressive, though I dare not say so out loud for fear of having soup served up even more often than it has been up to now…

A Bad Case of Wind

Yes, indeed, a very bad case of wind, and a whole week long, too.

It all started last Saturday. We were visiting a house just outside the urbanisation, when the wind stated blowing ever more strongly, becoming almost frighteningly strong. Then, during perhaps ten minutes, the sky turned a most peculiar shase of grey and we had a heavy downpour of rain. Well "down"pour is hardly an appropriate term, as the wind blew the rain almost horizontally.

That was it as far as rain was concerned, though it did rain a little more a few days later, but we were in Elche at the time, so missed the event.

The wind, on the other hand, remained, and only today has really stopped. During hte whole week it has varied from almost gale force to a strong breeze, sometines with an intense cooling effect, at other times quite bearable.

This contrasts well with most other parts of Spain, where equally strong, if not stronger, winds have caused quite a lot of damage—trees and palms down, walls and other structures collapsed, a few people killed. In those parts, too, there has been flooding, caused by heavy rain- and snowfalls, landslides, huge waves battering the coast. Galicia and the rest of northern Spain has been particularly badly hit, though even down in Andalucía there have been severe conditions.

Today allis calm and we are looking forward to a good week ahead.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Under Pressure

So there. 24 hours with a SpaceLabs Model 90207 Ambulatory Blood Pressure (ABP) Monitor: a glorified blood-pressure metre, in other words, with the pressure being measured every 30 minutes during the day, and every hour during the night.


Especially as the batteries failed after the first two measurements and the error code (EC08) gave a lot of information as to why the machine was beeping, but not pumping. Not even finding a handbook, complete with error codes on the Web was of any help, as no mention at all was made of low batteries. Phoning the hospital didn't help, as the nurse who knows everything was no longer there and the specialist, a pleasant enough chap and undoubtedly an expert in his field, only proved the old story of the blind men and the elephant. Anyway, sorted the problem out and let the machine get on with its measurements. Each time it was about to start a measurememt, it would beep three times, then the pressure cuff would tighten around my upper arm, and after a while the pressure would be released and the machine would then give one long beep to indicate a good reading, or three short beeps to indicate a poor reading, in which case the procedure would be repeated after a few minutes.

Can you imagine that going on each hour during the night? No, I didn't sleep, either.

Well, I went to see the nephrologist with the results yesterday afternoon and he was satisfied that my average blood pressure is at an acceptable, if slightly high level. He also checked the results of the blood and urine analyses he had requested me to have prepared.

No problem with the urine. The blood, on the other hand, might point to a new problem.

The thing is, when the blood was first tested, the bicarbonate level was found to be very high, so high, indeed, that it was thought that an error had been made in the laboratory. I had more blood taken a couple of days before visiting the nephrologist and the results were emailed to me as I was talking to him. I received them on my iPad: the bicarbonate level was even higher! The nephrologist simply refused to believe that I could walk around with such a high level and dismissed the figure as a laboratory error. As a result, I must have more blood taken on Monday for the test to be repeated at a different laboratory.

In the meantime, my arms are beginning to look like those of a drug addict and I am beginning to feel like a close relation to a pin-cushion.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Ups and downs

 I honestly didn't think that the recovery from the operation I had at the end of November to remove my left kidney would take so long and be so difficult.

I've had just a few good days, but plenty of bad ones: the ups are short-lived, the downs seem to go on forever.

At least the pain has been largely reduced to a bearable discomfort, though its almost constant presence is very annoying. Apart from that, I become tired very quickly and am still not able to eat as I used to, with far less appetite and a strange alteration in the way I taste things. Sweet things, especially, seem far sweeter now than before the operation.

A few days ago, I felt well enough to go for a walk with Elise along the paseo in Guardamar: the sea was like the proverbial millpond, the sky was a deep blue, only lightly streaked with feathery clouds, the sun was shining, the few tourists from the north were in their shorts and T-shirts (one was actually sunbathing on the beach), the Spanish were in their winter furs (one even had ear-muffs), we were somewhere in between.

Sunbather, 11 January 2013
The walk went well, so we decided to repeat the exercise the following day. This time things did not go so well. I quickly became very tired and felt extremely weak, so we had to return home. Yesterday, too, we tried to have a meal in a local restaurant, but I simply could not enjoy more than the first course, becoming ever weaker and feeling nauseous.

Today I have to have a 24-hour blood-pressure meter fitted and tomorrow I shall visit the nephrologist. The thinking is that the right kidney might not be accepting its added responsibiltiy.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

It Never Rains, But It Drips

Well, it's not entirely true to say that it never rains in this part of Spain, but rain is certainly a very infrequent experience. Since returning from Belgium last March, I imagine it has rained at most six times.

A week or so ago, I walked into our downstairs shower-room-cum-toilet and was surprised by a large amount of water covering the tiles. We are not in the habit of having water-covered floors, so something was clearly wrong.

After having removed almost all of the water, it was clear that more was arriving at a fairly steady rate from the back of the toilet.

Closer investigation revealed that, presumably in an attempt by Nature to compensate for the shortage of water previously outlined, the cistern had cracked. Exactly how and when this happened was a mystery, but a moot one.

Fortunately, we have a second toilet upstairs, so it was not going to be a question of buckets and spades. All we needed to do was to turn the water off that led to the cistern and then call Antonio to see if he could replace the cistern/toilet/bathroom/house, in that order of importance.

It turned out that the make of the toilet, Bellavista, is no longer produced and sold in Spain, so it was not possible to buy a replacement cistern, nor even a full toilet of the same model. We therefore opted for a simple model called Victoria, made by Roca, and today Antonio came to fit it. He would have come earlier, but he took some medicine that didn't agree with him and had to spend some time closely examining the inside of a toilet bowl himself, as well as a night in hospital.

Poor dab.

Hi, robot

Long before Apple and Steve Jobs gave us the iMac, the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and i-whatever-next, science fiction author Isaac Asimov gave us I, Robot, a collection of robot-based short stories. One of those stories was called Runaround and had been first published in 1942. It contained Asimov's elegant Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
All robots were (are) supposed to be have these three laws indelibly etched into their beings.

A few years ago, we visited our friends, Jan and Nicole, in Belgium. They had just bought a robotic floor-cleaner, a sort of mechanical pizza box that scampered around the house at pre-programmed times (or when commanded to do so), "vaccuuming" the floor, whilst carefully avoiding chair- and table-legs and other possible hindrances to its assigned task. Jan and Nicole were very enthusiastic about it and, needless to say, their enthusiasm rubbed of on She Who Must Be Obeyed, though less so on myself. After all, I had read all the robot stories and novels ever written by Asimov, so I knew what could go wrong…

Well, three years later, it's "Hi, robot," as SWMBO has now taken possession of her very own i-Cleaner, i-Vacuum, i-Sweeper, i-Brush, i-whatever-you-wish-to-call-the-thing.

The chosen model is an LG Hom-Bot, and it clearly does not have Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics built into it.

I swear it's got it in for me.

It runs around the living-room, into the kitchen, into the bathroom, into the bedroom (it can't climb stairs, but we have a bedroom downstairs), and also makes a beeline for me, or cunningly waits around a corner, ready to attack as I approach from the hidden angle, bumping into my foot and obviously attempting to trip me up.

This is in blatant contradiction to the First Law of Robotics.

To be fair to the creature, it seems to do its job well.

I just wish it would follow the three laws.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Tender Feeling

I am very pleased to be able to write that the strong pains that I have felt since the operation seem to have passed.

Wednesday was a terrible day. Not only painful, but I felt really down and miserable. Thursday was already much better, with a lot less pain. Since then things have remained in a positive fashion. I still get the occasional twinge, but nothing like I had before. A big improvement.

What now remains are feelings of nausea after having completed my morning ablutions and, worse, a strange tenderness in the area of the operation each evening and through the night.

This tender feeling is similar to that associated with shingles, so perhaps it has something to do with damage caused to the nerves during the operation. Apparently, it is quite normal, but I wish they had told me that before I felt it, rather than after, as it would then have been less worrying. When the feeling starts, usually at about six in the evening, I can no longer put up with anything pressing on my skin. This makes lying in bed during the nigh very awkward, of course, and I often wake up, having to rearrange the bedclothes, or myself, or both, in order to prevent anything from touching my middle.

Still, a couple more weeks and that should be over too.

Tomorrow I must go to see a nephrologist in Alicante. Now that I only have one kidney, it is supposed to take over most of the functions of the kidney that has been removed, so, basically, one kidney must do the work of two. Well, my remaining kidney seems to be not too happy with this arrangement and is reluctant to take up the added burdon. Negotiations are therefore in order, and the nephrologist must act as the mediator. More pills, no doubt…

(Incidentally, Tender Feeling is the title of a song sung by Elvis Presley in his 1964 film, Kissin' Cousins. Numerous other titles of articles in this blog are names of songs sung by Elvis: how many can you find?)