Friday, June 29, 2012

Obama Care Wins!

Thank you Chief Justice Roberts, for acting like a Supreme Court Judge is supposed to, voting on the legality of a program, not the politics of it.

Obama Care is pretty much based on Romney Care - enacted in Massachusetts while Mitt Romney was governor. Ironic, isn't it.

Here's what  Obama Care - the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act -  will do for you (some of these roll out gradually by 2014).

If you are over 65 you are already receiving more preventive care for free, including free annual physicals.  Any screening recommended by the US Preventive Medicine Task force, is now free. Your prescription costs have gone down, there is much better drug coverage.

If you have uninsured children under 26, you can now include them in your family health insurance. The day the act was signed into law 3.5 million uninsured young people became insured.

No one can be turned down for insurance because of pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy.   The law also prevents insurance companies from dropping you from your existing insurance because you become ill. This covers babies and children immediately.  For adults, there is now a 6 month waiting period, but that goes away by 2014. 

Insurers cannot place dollar limits on the amount of coverage you receive during your lifetime.

The law also requires that insurers cover out of pocket costs for many proven preventive screening tests, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, and vaccinations. Some of this rolls out gradually.

There's a big increase in the range of women's health care, including pre-natal and post-partum care, as well as access to contraception.

With State's approval, Medicaid will be expanded to include more Americans - as many as 16 million Americans who are currently uninsured will be insured.  (States who opt out - shame on you)

I am currently in the UK, where the NHS is having lots of problems.  These problems are completely the result of under-funding. According to the Guardian, in 2006 the UK spent 8.2% of the GNP on health care (while covering every single person in the country for everything - with no copays or other complications) while the US spent 15.8 % - nearly twice as much.  And what does that buy?

LIfe expectancy at birth in the UK is 80 years, in the US it's 78 years. The US ranks 30th in infant mortality - behind pretty much every other developed country. One in eight births in the US is preterm, compared with 1 in 18 in Ireland and Finland. 

I won't go on.  I really do not understand why anyone with any sense at all can be against universal health care.  

Oh - and the Death Panel idiocy?  The origin of that was a provision that physicians discuss end-of-life care with the elderly.  How can anyone, of any age, not want to discuss that?  Who would not want to have the opportunity to have some say in these decisions - instead of leaving it to health care providers who don't know you or your loved ones at a vulnerable time.  


Off to hike around Devil's Dyke.  (literally - not metaphorically)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Puzzling British Signs, continued


I have no idea. None.

Life in Brighton

I filled in a questionnaire about proposed to changes to the Brighton train station.  At the end, it asked this question, with these responses.

Q) What is your gender?

1) Male
2) Female
3) Other
4) I do not wish to answer this question.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Finally, a Day Out

We have mostly been confined to the house because of the work we're having done and also by crummy weather, so yesterday we were pleased to have a day on the South Downs Way.  We were worried about weather because much of Britain was predicted to experience a big Atlantic storm with high winds and 3 months of rain in 3 days.  We read every weather report we could find and then watched the radar predictions over and over, making sure that the storm really would turn north, missing our little eastern corner of the UK.  Assuring ourselves that rain was only a possibility before about 11am and after 7pm, we went forth.

What we didn't do was plan the walk itself. The COG told me we didn't need maps or trail descriptions. It's easy, he said, you just go west from Ditchling Beacon.  I naturally trusted him implicitly. It goes without saying.  We took the bus to Ditchling Beacon, one of the highest points on the Downs. From there, we could see Brighton spread below us, in the distance, with the sea beyond.  And we turned west and began to walk.

At about 100 meters from the car park where the bus dropped us, the COG began to alarm me.  There were two paths  on the western edge of the car park. He pondered which one to take for a while and then chose the one with the most people on it.  We walked for a while.  Did I mention that the wind was 30 to 40 mph  and blowing directly in our faces all along the top of the completely unprotected ridge we walked on?  The COG told me that this was simply what the British referred to as 'bracing.'  That's like a Minnesotan telling you that 20 below zero is 'refreshing'.

I must say it was just grand. The wind adds a peculiar exhilaration and it wasn't cold, just windy. The views of the Downs descending abruptly to the north -  to the Weald -  and stretching more gently down on the south side - are glorious.  The COG kept stopping to take pictures and I waited very patiently for him. Honestly. I really did.  Complete patience.

This is a panorama of the weald side.

This is the other, more gentle, southern slope:

After a couple of miles of undulating trail always directly in the wind at the top of the ridge, we came to a full stop. The path led in two directions - left and right.  The trail markers did not mention Devils Dyke so we asked some boys from Burgess Hill school who we kept playing tag with along the trail, and they told us to go right, toward the windmills for Devils Dyke.  The COG thought that made sense.

I wasn't so sure, because I could see a portion of the trail twisting up a steep hill far to our left.  So I asked a man who was coming up the left side trail.  He told us to go left, past the golf course and descend into Pyecombe, then ascend the hill on the other side of the road. We did as he said, and it was very hard on the COG's poor knees.  The village of Pyecombe is in a lovely little hidden valley just off the main highway to London. There's an old Norman church,  which is so old that the church yard is much higher than the building and you have to descend steps to get into the door.  The church also has a great name:

Leaving Pyecombe we had to cross a big bridge over the motorway and then struggled a bit to find the continuation of the trail, but we continued climbing up and up and up to the top, with the high winds at our faces, making the climb even more of an effort.

I believe it was at this point when I asked the COG - what's Devils Dyke, anyway.  He said he had no idea.  Then he asked if we were halfway yet - we must be half way by now - were his actual words.  I was a bit shaken. We had gone about 2 of the 7 or 8 mile hike.  The only map we had was the one on my iphone, which has roads but no walking trails, but it was clear that we were only 1/3 of the way.  And it was pretty clear that the COG had no special knowledge stored away about the walk.  His trail knowledge was apparently limited to -  from Ditchling Beacon, you turn west until you get to Devil's Dyke. Whatever that is.

We had a couple more bad moments, one in which the trail seemed to end and the arrow pointed back in the direction we had just come. Another when we chose the wrong path leading to the top of Devils Dyke and had to back track, probably adding an extra mile to the walk. And, then, when we chose, well,  not the 'wrong' path to the top but, maybe, not the best path (as in quickest and most direct) to the top.

We persevered, because 1) we knew there was a pub with food at Devil's Dyke and; 2) the bus stop  to get us home was at Devil's Dyke.  And, of course, we were heading west, so we took it on faith that we would eventually, one way or another, get there. Even if we didn't actually know what it was.

And we did. There was food and drink, warmth, shelter from the wind. And a bus home.

It was a great day.  The view from the top of Devil's Dyke is one that the great English painter, John Constable, called 'the grandest view in the world'.  This isn't the view from the top, but it's a view of the Dyke, itself.

The Dyke?  Turns out it's the widest, deepest, longest dry valley in the UK, formed by melting ice 10,000 years ago at the end of an ice age.

Or, on the other hand,  it could be a ditch toward the sea dug by the Devil, himself, in an aborted attempt to drown the faithful Christians of the weald.

You choose.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sorta Kinda Partly Done

The Good News - they've finished putting the waterproofing on the walls. The stuff they put on is really goopy and we need it in our basement at home, too. Apparently it's the same stuff they used on the Channel Tunnel.

The guy doing the work finished up with an Om Symbol which will be hidden under the plaster (which will be done next week, after the Goop cures enough.)

The Bad News is that the deck above the ceiling is rotting - it's visible (though you can't see it) in the little corner cut out of the ceiling in the first picture) and it will all need to be replaced.  We don't yet know how/when etc that will happen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

After, plus another day

Today, they applied.... I don't know what it is, some kind of concrete mix to the walls, covering the bricks. Also, they pulled some more plaster board off the opposite wall and around the sliding door and then applied the same stuff.

It turns out that the area around the sliding door was completely filled with a hydroscopic filler that was totally inappropriate and that may have been a big part of our damp problem.  They dug it all out and refilled it all today.

Tomorrow they'll do the ceiling and install a vent in the wall, and do the first coat of the damp-course.
The stuff they use for the damp course, I'm told, is the same as they use in the Channel Tunnel. So, if there's a tsunami or floods, we should run into that room and we'll stay dry.

Flooding is on our minds because there's flooding all over Sussex today, and more to come, say the weather reports.   Rain and floods, a perfect way to spend a vacation.

Time Out for a Recipe

Actually, more of an idea, but there is a recipe.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writing in the Guardian had a fantastic idea, which he calls 'Fruit Fumble'.  The basic idea is that you cook separately the crispy topping you usually put on a fruit crisp or fruit crumble.  Then you assemble the actual dessert at the last minute - some kind of fruit, yogurt or cream or other creamy layer and then sprinkle some of the fumble over the whole.  We made a large amount of the crumble and stored it in an air-tight tin, so we can use it for several meals. It's a little like Granola, but buttery-er.

We've done this the last couple of days, first with strawberries and greek yogurt, then with rhubarb and greek yogurt with honey.  Yummy and fast.

I just made the crumble part. If you don't have a scale, either use your own Apple Crisp recipe or just estimate quantities - roughly 1 cup of flour/ 2 sticks of butter/ 1/2 cup oats/ 3/4 cup sugar. I also added a cup of walnuts.  This is not health food.

Strawberry Fumble

400g strawberries - hulled and cut into smallish-pieces
1 tbsp caster sugar
1        vanilla pod
200ml double cream
100ml plain yoghurt
2 tbsp icing sugar

For the 'independent' crumble
225g plain flour (or try ground almonds)
A pinch fine sea salt
200g chilled - unsalted butter, cut into cubes
150g granulated or demerara sugar
100g medium oatmeal

To make the crumble, which you can do well ahead of time, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl. Rub together with your fingertips until you have a crumbly dough. Squeeze the mix in your hands to form clumps, then crumble these on to a large baking tray that has an edge. Evenly spread out the lumpy crumble and bake for 25 minutes, giving it a good stir halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool, then transfer to an airtight container. You'll have more than you need for this recipe, but it stores well for a couple of weeks and can be used to top all sorts of fruity and/or creamy puds.

Hull the strawberries, cut them into smallish pieces, sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to macerate for at least an hour.

Just before serving, split open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the cream. Stir in the yoghurt and sift in the icing sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk or electric whisk until the cream thickens and holds very soft peaks (don't overdo it, or it becomes too hard). Add the strawberries to the cream and stir gently so you have a swirly, marbled mixture. Transfer to four dishes, top each with a generous scattering of crumble, and serve.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Before and After

We are having a Damp Problem fixed while we are here. This means taking the walls and part of the ceiling back to the brick, installing some kind of damp-proofing to the bricks, and replacing the plaster. I hope to repaint the plaster after Alec returns to the US. This is what our back room looked like this morning. A bright light room.


This is what it looks like this afternoon.

We found an old door that had been filled in when the extension at the back was put on. The problem was apparently caused by the fact that  sometime after the extension was put on, they just glued plaster board over the existing plaster walls.  Tomorrow they will remove more plaster above the door and around the perimeter of the ceiling, clean up, and install the first coat of damp-proofing.  That's the plan, anyway.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Annual Naked Bike Ride

Brighton has been celebrating the Worldwide Annual Naked Bike Ride since 2005.  In 2010 1,500 people participated. Last year and again this year, the weather was chilly with pouring rain, so only about 300 people participated.

We realized this morning that the bike ride was going down our street (though entering half a block down) and we decided to brave the elements and go see it. It was so much fun. there were very few onlookers, due to the weather, so when the riders saw us, they waved an hooted. We clapped and took pictures, so you can enjoy it, too.  It's an odd thing: one nakedness is so private, but when you see naked people on the beach or on bikes riding down the street, it's more about universal shared humanity than about privacy.

Here are some pictures:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Home (Brighton)

The COG arrived this morning the same day as the Kemptown Village Festival. I saw them setting up when I walked to the bakery this morning. It starts just around the corner from our flat and continues for many blocks. We just went for a walk to see what was happening. There's a lot of musical groups - one on every street corner and many booths selling food of all ethnicities and quite a number of tchotchke booths - homemade and imported. Kind of like the FĂȘte de Musique, but with Morris Dancers and market stalls thrown in.

 Because I am short basically the outing was pushing through crowds of people holding bottles in their hands. I couldn't see anything because everyone was taller than me. Except the children, of which there were many. It's interesting to note that people tend to give kids space - the crowd parts a bit to give them room. They do not part willingly for adults. The COG took some pictures of the crowds.

 Then we came home. The late afternoon light is filtering into our sitting room and it feels like home. The music is still very loud, but I can deal with it. It's supposed to stop at 9.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Gale Force Winds

Odd weather. There are gale force winds here in Brighton, gusting to 70mph, which I think is hurricane level, but it's partly sunny and about 60 F. The wind nearly knocks you over but it's not cold. On the way back from filming this, a complete stranger and I linked arms to cross the road. It was that difficult. The shaky picture is due to the wind.

Back in Brighton

I'm back in Brighton. I've been here for 3 days, I think. The Cranky Old Geezer arrives tomorrow. Getting through passport control was insane. I'd read about it in the papers, but I didn't realize it was true. It took nearly 2 hours of waiting in line. Bad for me after 14 hours of travel and no sleep, but much worse for the hundreds of people travelling from Australia, India and other far off places, who had been travelling for 30 hours or more. And worst of all for those with small children.

Apart from that, I arrived in Brighton uneventfully. I spent the first day in a nap, a walk, and a trip to the grocery store. I spent the second day going downtown to do some errands and get some more groceries at a bigger, better store. I was able to get a pay-as-you-go sim card for my old iphone 3GS for £10. That gives us 500mb of data and 300 UK texts (more than the sum total of both our texting lives). I also bought a nutmeg grater and nutmegs, a sifter, a shower cap, and some vanilla bean paste, which just looked intriguing.

 It's interesting what one considers to be essential enough to have in a minimal kitchen.

 Then I came back home and mounted a photo of the COGs that we had printed on canvas.

The third day, I went to Ikea. This is a long trip, not difficult, but bus to train to tramway to footpath, then the same returning heavily laden. I bought little stuff - some plastic bins, a wire rack for the vacuum hose, a wire rack for the iron, a hand towel, a bath mat, three little bud vases and three fake gerbera, another wooded stool, a bowl to replace a broken one, etc. Nothing exciting except (to me) the vacuum hose hanger thing.

During the night we had heavy rain and gale force winds, some Atlantic storm that has been travelling up the coast of America then up the coast of England from west to east. It's very windy today and the sea looks magnificent. I'll probably walk down to enjoy it a bit later. The sun has been out, but it's cloudy now. The Geezer and I say that the weather report in the UK is either 'partly cloudy with a chance of rain', or 'partly sunny with a chance of rain.' That would be today's forecast. No other pictures so far. Maybe I'll get one of the ocean today.