Saturday, 30 January 2016

January round up

January had been a really odd month and I won't be sad to see the back of it. It started out badly, my husband was admitted to hospital for an emergency operation on New Year's Eve and was kept in for four nights. He's still recovering, but hopefully the operation was successful. He was on hourly drops after the operation and needed to spend most of the day horizontal, so I needed to be around to hand out medicine and feed and water him.

Compression socks
Only certain people can pull off the compression socks look
As a result of that and return trips to the hospital I didn't get back to work until the second week in January. My boss was great and let me work from home whilst I needed to. Honestly, I couldn't have found anyone better to work for. I've got my head down since then and have managed to do everything I needed to this month and even a little bit of unexpected recruitment. At least it means I can stop worrying about letting work down, everything's back on track.

Things have been quiet outside work as Andrew's not been able to do too much. I've watched a lot of 'Once Upon a Time' and loved 'Making a Murderer'. We also had our first cinema trip of the year to see 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. I'd managed to avoid the Star Wars films previously and so watched the first three releases over the weekend so that the latest film would make sense. I quite enjoyed the new film, it felt like a remake in certain respects but there was enough going on to maintain my interest and not too much of C3PO's mithering! 

As we've not needed two cars for the last few months I sold mine last weekend. I thought it would be really difficult to get rid of and was steeling myself for a trip to 'We Buy Any Car' my but a quick call to the local garage and it was gone within a couple of hours. I'm off to my parents tomorrow to pick up its replacement, a family hand me down. I'm trying to be sensible at the moment and pay off the mortgage as soon as we can, so I'm trying to ignore the pull of a flashy car!   

Apart from that, I'm not doing badly against the plans I set at the start of the month for the year:

Read sixteen books
When Andrew was in hospital I was getting there at about 8am for the doctor's rounds, and leaving at around 6pm or 7pm. As he was sleeping a lot, I got a lot of reading done in the seat next to his bed. As a result, I've finished my first book of the year, 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak. It's not at all the type of book I'd normally read, if anyone mentioned historical fiction I'd probably roll my eyes, but I really enjoyed it. It's narrated by Death, which was what initially hooked me and tells the story of Liesel, a girl living in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. I've not seen the film, so can't compare it, but it gave me something of an insight into life in Nazi Germany and rattled along at a decent enough speed that I didn't get bored. I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

Find one hundred geocaches
At the start of the year we were at 488 finds and we still are. Hopefully we'll be able to make a start once Andrew's back on his feet in February.

Maintain Vitality gold status
Unless a miracle happens and I manage to hit platinum, this won't change until the scheme renewal date in May, so nothing to do on this yet.

Try three gym classes
Nope, no progress on this one. I went to the gym and had a treadmill session last weekend but sprained my ankle. I sprained it badly about nine years ago, so it's prone to injury. I've been trying to rest it this week and wearing an ankle support at night so I'm hoping to get back to the gym this week.

Meet up with an old friend
No progress on this one either. I wanted to wait until I have something other than bad news to offer as part of a catch up! I'm keeping my head down until Andrew's discharged by his consultants.

Blog once a month
I've done storming work on this one, seven blog posts this month! I don't know whether it's because I've spent more time at home, had more time on my hands with Andrew being ill, or whether I've just been inspired, but it's working!

Watch a new film once a month
Another success! I've watched six films this month that I've not seen before, one of them was even a new release. It started with 'Out of Sight' an old George Clooney film, which started well and then went downhill. Then we watched 'Mockingjay Part 1', which I enjoyed, I'm just glad we'd seen the previous film relatively recently as there was no, "previously on Hunger Games" at the start of the film. Hopefully we can see the final part in the next few months whilst this one is still fresh in our minds. I'd never wanted to watch the Star Wars films, although I love Sci-Fi, the idea of lightsabers bored me to tears, I nod off during fight scenes in films. I gave them a go though and actually really enjoyed them (well, the second one not so much, but it was only two hours of my life!)

January's films
January's films
Take two holidays
We really need a break, but I don't want to go too far from home at the moment, just in case. We're currently looking at somewhere for a break in April, perhaps around the south coast. Hopefully I'll have more to report next month.

Take six day trips
Again, no progress on this one, but hopefully February will bring drier weather and we'll be able to get out to explore some of the local sights.


Not the best start to the year, but it's not been all bad. Let's see what else 2016 has to offer!

Getting rid of argyria (silver staining to skin)

To answer your first question, argyria is a condition caused by exposure to chemical compounds of silver. At the most extreme, skin turns blue or bluish-grey.

This is probably the most random post I'll ever write but when I was looking into this issue myself there was very little information available, so it may just help someone. 

When I first had my ears pierced I had problems with them a few months after they were pierced. The scar tissue on the back of one of my ears went wild and I ended up with a keloid (a lump of scar tissue). The only option was to let my piercings heal over and wait for the keloid to disappear, which it did. 

A couple of years later I had my ears pierced again and everything went much more smoothly. It was only later that I realised I had a dark patch on my earlobes where the original piercing had been. It was such a tiny thing, but it made me reluctant to go without earrings as it made it look as if I had a dirty mark on my skin. 

A couple of years ago I decided to see if anything could be done about it. My thinking was that when my ears were pierced they'd used silver studs and the silver had been absorbed into my skin. I found out that this was a thing, a condition called argyria. I couldn't really find a cure (other than getting a section of my earlobes cut out, which strangely I didn't fancy!) but found some websites that suggested that laser treatment might work. I found a laser treatment centre at our local hospital and made an appointment for a consultation. 

The doctor was used to treating birth marks and tattoos and quite liked the idea of trying something new. She wasn't sure if it'd work but we both decided to give it a go. I had three treatments with a YAG laser, of increasing intensity. I could hear the laser clicking as it fired and if felt a little like being poked with a hot implement. I jumped when the laser was first fired but it was bearable. I had some bruising after the first two treatments, but the third treatment was the strongest and actually made my skin bleed. I had scabs on both ears afterwards and was very glad I had long hair to cover my ears as they looked fairly horrific.  

The good news is that the treatment did work for me. The staining is definitely less noticeable and I now don't think twice about wearing tiny studs or going earring-less.

As I'm sure you want to see before and after photographs, here they are:


Aren't ears odd looking things? Anyway, I hope you can see the difference and if you've got similar issues that this post is helpful in finding a solution.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Interview technique

Interview

Like most people interviews used to give me the heebie-jeebies, I used to literally shake. I'm lucky that that changed about ten years ago. In that time I've spent a lot of time on the other side of the interview table, initially working in an accountancy practice but latterly in a commercial role. I've interviewed school leavers, graduates, part-qualified and qualified accountants and operations team members. I've asked so many questions that I'm now pretty confident in preparing for interviews and so I thought I'd try to pass on some of my knowledge in case it's of help to anyone.  

My first tip would be to start your preparation nice and early. If you've applied for a role through a recruitment agency, get as much information as you can from them about the role, the company and the format of the interview. Unfortunately if you've applied direct, you're limited to the information you're given. Once you've got as much detail as you can, you can start mulling it over and digging into it in more detail. Not only is it useful in the interview to demonstrate how much you know about them, you may just find something out which makes you much keener to work from them (or not!):
  • Research the company, find out what they do, where they're based, who the leadership team are, what their main products or services are, have they won any awards, featured in the local press recently etc. 
  • If you know who will be interviewing you, research them as well. Google them or look them up on LinkedIn, it may just give you an indication of what type of person they are and what they'll be looking for.
  • Make sure you know what the job will involve. Run through the various skills required. For any which you're confident of, come up with an example of when you've demonstrated that skill before. If there are any you're inexperienced in, consider whether it's similar to something else you've done, or worst case scenario have an example up your sleeve of a time when you picked up new skills quickly. 
Once you've done all of this, it's time to consider the likely interview questions. Start with preparing for the common interview warm up question,"tell me about yourself ". I tend to just run through my CV, starting with my education, qualifications and then onto my previous jobs. I aim to describe what I did in each role and why I left, so I can present each in a positive light. Also think about what your strengths and weaknesses are (coming up with weaknesses that aren't really weaknesses is the Holy Grail), as you can often be asked about those. Finally, you need to prepare for competency based questions. If you Google the term you can find plenty of examples to prepare answers for. You're often asked to, "describe a time when you..." or, "give an example of a time when you..." There are lots of possibles but if you work through a number hopefully you'll come up with several good scenarios which you can apply to a number of questions. I love a long soak in the bath and I'm sure my husband would think me mad if he'd ever been standing outside the bathroom hearing me praticing my responses. On the upside, I've rarely been stuck for an answer!

When it comes to the interview itself, being on time is vital. Check how long it'll take you to get there and leave plenty of time, check in advance where you'll park, or where public transport arrives, don't leave anything to chance. Unless you've specifically been told not to, wear a suit, first impressions count and I've been in interviews where untidy dress has really created a bad impression. If you arrive early, take the opportunity to nip to the loo, you don't know how long you'll be in there. Make sure your hands aren't clammy and when you go into the interview room, greet your interviewer(s) with a big smile and a firm handshake. If offered, ask for a glass of water, you can take a sip if you need thinking time, and it'll stop you from getting a dry mouth from all the talking. When responding don't gabble, take a deep breath and think before answering questions. Although it's a nerve-wracking situation try your best to be confident in yourself, remember, you want to find out about them to see if they're right for you, as well as vice versa. At the end, you'll probably be asked if you have any questions. You can prepare a couple of these in advance, some may have come out of your research, it's good to have two or three as it shows you're interested in the role and company.  If they ask you whether you're interested on the spot, say yes, even if you're not sure. It at least leaves your options open for later. Collect your thoughts afterwards so you can pass on your feedback. Hopefully they'll like you and you'll like the role too.  

I hope this has been useful and good luck with your future interviews. If you have any questions or I've overlooked anything, please let me know.                

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Photo an Hour - January 2016

January 16th was the date set for this month's Photo an Hour project. It's organised by Jane and Louisa, you'll see their versions on their blogs, together with details of how to sign up for reminders if you'd like to take part. 

We had a quiet day, so this is what a lazy Saturday looks like in our house.
 
9am
9am, looks like a cold but beautiful day outside
10am
10am, my husband had surgery over New Year, I get his drugs ready each morning    
11am
11am, catching up on 'Once Upon a Time' on Netflix whilst my husband was in the shower    
Midday
Midday, chicken soup for an early lunch    
1pm
1pm, feeding the fish who don't seem to be feeling the cold as much as me   
2pm
2pm, getting the laundry done  
3pm
3pm, I love a trip to the car wash
4pm
4pm, a stop for coffee and cake
5pm
5pm, we're in and the fire is lit
6pm
6pm, doing a quick bit of work in my role of Treasurer for the local Parish magazine
7pm
7pm, a quick trip out to collect pizza
8pm
8pm, home and watching 'Hunger Games: Mockingbird Part 1'
9pm
9pm, a nice cup of tea

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Making a Murderer


Making a Murderer
Courtesy of Netflix

Around the middle of last week my brain slowly picked up that more and more people were talking about 'Making a Murderer' and that it was compulsive viewing. By the weekend I couldn't ignore the pull to see it any longer, and after watching it over three nights, I'm glad I've seen it.

If you've not heard about it, 'Making a Murderer' is a ten-part documentary series released by Netflix in December. It was filmed over the course of ten years and covers the story of Steven Avery who served 18 years in prison for sexual assault and attempted murder before being exonerated of the crime. Two years after his release he was arrested for murder. The series also covers the arrest and prosecution of his nephew, Brendan Dassey, for the same crime.

As with many other viewers, I found the series incredible. The series seemed to make such a good job of suggesting the innocence of both Steven and Brendan, that I wanted to find out what had been omitted from the documentary, to see if I could follow the thinking of the juries.

There is no shortage of information in the public domain, some of it seems reliable, some of it less so. I've summarised what I've found out, and how this affects my thoughts concerning the guilt of the two parties below.

You may want to stop reading at the this point if you've not seen the series and intend to.


Steven Avery

As mentioned above, the series is clearly edited to suggest Steven's innocence. The defence suggests that various pieces of evidence which should demonstrate his guilt may have been planted. From the evidence and facts presented in the series it seems unlikely that any jury could have found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. However, the trial lasted much longer than the series and therefore there must be swathes of information which has been omitted.

The first piece of information I found is that the prosecution had identified a motive for the crime, although it wasn't presented at the trial, as the information was unclear. Steven Avery had apparently greeted Teresa Halbach, the victim, on a previous visit wearing just a towel. She mentioned the incident to a colleague, advising them that she was 'creeped out' and wouldn't work with Avery again. When Avery arranged for her to come out to take photographs of the vehicle they were selling on the day of her murder, he gave his sister's name, the registered owner of the car. The suggestion is clearly that Avery lured Teresa to his home, she rejected Avery's advances and he attacked and killed her as a result.

No evidence of Teresa's presence was found inside Avery's trailer. Blood smears containing Avery's DNA had been found in her vehicle, but the defence clearly suggested that these had been planted. Avert's DNA (not blood this time) was also found on the bonnet latch in her car, a fact not presented in the series. However, this doesn't seem to add anything to the case.

A bullet fragment was found in Avery's garage (albeit after some time) which contained Teresa's DNA. What wasn't mentioned in the series was that the bullet was forensically tied to Steven's rifle. In addition, some of Halbach's belongings (including her camera) were found in the burn barrel outside Avery's trailer. Bone and tooth fragments were found in the burn pit outside Avery's home, but knowing that even cremators don't fully destroy bodies, I'm surprised that an outside fire could.

In recent days, Avery's ex-fiancĂ©e Jodi has commented that she believes he murdered Halbach and that he was violent towards her. Again, the series made little reference to Avery's previous violence. As such, the murder almost seemed to be out of character. If Avery really was a violent character and was generally known to be so, this could well have influenced the jury drawn from the population of a relatively small town.

In summary, given the above, I think Avery could have committed the murder, but I still don't think that there is sufficient evidence to convict him beyond reasonable doubt. There is talk that members of the jury were related to the Sherriff's department (possibly unavoidable in a small town) and that they were swayed by Brendan's withdrawn confession which implicated Avery, despite being told that they should not consider this as part of the evidence. It may simply be that the jury had to reach a unanimous verdict and more vocal members of the jury swayed the less vocal, perhaps simply because they were going round in circles and wanted the trial to be over so that they could return home.


Brendan Dassey

Brendan's case appeared much more clear cut on the documentary. There wasn't a shred of physical evidence and his confession was clearly as a result of coercion, if true there would have been blood evidence all over the bedroom in the trailer.

I struggle to see how the appeals have failed to be successful. His defence, Len Kachinsky, acted despicably, at no point did he seem to be acting in the interests of his client and I'm surprised he's not been struck off. Similarly, scenes of the investigator, Michael O'Kelly, coaching Brendan to draw pictures which supported the statement which he had just denied were incredible.
 
I certainly would have been unable to find Dassey guilty beyond reasonable doubt despite his confession, and I struggle to see how anyone else could. There doesn't seem to be any additional evidence coming to light since the series was shown to explain how this happened.


The alternative

The key question is probably, if Avery and Dassey didn't murder Halbach, then who did?
The programme makers seemed to suggest Halbach's family or her ex-boyfriend should have been investigated more thoroughly, Avery himself suggests that it could have been his brothers. The less palatable suggestion is that the Sherriff's department may be to blame. Much as I'm sure there was a degree of planting of evidence (the RAV4 key being the most obvious example), I'm reluctant to consider that the police would intentionally kill a member of the general public, just to frame Avery. As Ken Kratz admitted (ill advisedly), if they wanted to get rid of Avery, it would have been easier to kill him than frame him. Equally, if there was to be blood on their hands, surely they would target Avery rather than someone else.

It seems unlikely that anyone outside the family (with the exception of the police, who if my recollection is correct made Avery's family leave the site whilst they conducted their searches) could plant the RAV4 on the site, plus Halbach's remains in the burn pit and burn barrel without a member of the family seeing anything. This suggests that unless the police really had taken the most drastic steps to eliminate Avery, the most likely culprits are Avery or a member of his family.


I doubt we'll ever really know the true story behind what happened to Teresa Halbach, but with the amount of attention which the Netflix series is drawing, I don't think it's going to go quiet any time soon.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A week in Skye


We love Scotland, heck, we even got married there. So when we were given a holiday voucher I wasn't too surprised when we ended up browsing locations in Scotland. We spotted a renovated crofter's shed in Skye and booked it without a second thought. 

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before our holiday in October, I finally realised just how far away Skye is. I ignored my husband's protests that we'd be fine to do the journey in one day and booked a hotel near Carlisle so we could break the journey. With hindsight it was a good job we did. The motorways were a nightmare, we seemed to crawl most of the way to Carlisle. We continued our journey the next day and made much better progress. As the weather was fine, we decided to take the scenic route, the Road to the Isles, from Fort William to Mallaig. The views were spectacular and we managed to spot the Glenfinnan Viaduct (known from the Harry Potter films) in the distance. 

Glenfinnian Viaduct
The Road to the Isles

When we eventually arrived at our home for the week it was worth the trip. It was on the middle of nowhere with only sheep and rabbits passing our front door.  

The Black Shed
The view from our front door

The next day we got up and headed to Portree, the main town on Skye, partly to see the harbour but mainly to get some food in for the week. We had lunch and grabbed a couple of geocaches whilst we were there. We struck lucky that one of the geocaches gave us a great view of the harbour.

Portree

To make the most of the dry weather, we took a walk out to Neist Point on the other side of the island towards the end of the day, to see the lighthouse. It was a round walk of about a mile and a half, relatively easy going to get there, but a hard slog back up the steps on the way back. The lighthouse is less impressive close up as it's fallen to ruin, it looks much better from a distance. 

Neist Point

The next day the weather was still dry, if cloudy, so we headed out for a longer walk. We drove to the parking area near the Storr and headed up to the Old Man. Although it was only about three miles, this was a much tougher climb, the gradient was relentless, the weather deteriorated as we gained height and as we approached the Old Man itself, we were literally scrambling up on all fours. By the time we reached the top it was so windy that I just sat on a rock and took a quick panorama hoping I wouldn't be blown away! I was very glad to get back to lower ground. It was certainly an achievement though!

Old Man of Storr
View from Old Man of Storr

Our next trip, a couple of days later, was to Dunvegan Castle. I'd managed to get free tickets through work, so we felt we should go, even if it was their last open day of the year. It was clear when we got there that it was end of season, with stocktaking underway. The Castle itself was a little underwhelming but the grounds were interesting and varied, even in October. We had a good walk around and found the best views of the castle weren't necessarily from the front.

Dunvegan Castle 

After our walk around the castle and gardens, we headed up the coast for a walk out to Coral Beach. Despite its name, the beach isn't actually made of coral, but dessicated and sun bleached algae. Its sandy appearance is unusual for Skye. It was a walk of about three miles, including a climb up the hill you can see in the distance. We were there on a bit of a gloomy day, but it would be beautiful there in the summer. 

Coral Beach

On our last day we ventured back to where we'd first entered the island to see Armadale Castle Gardens. Again, we'd got free entry and so felt we should make the most of it. The castle (actually a ruined country house) was a bit of a disappointment, just the frontage remained, and the gardens were past their best given the time of year. It's a shame the castle wasn't rescued after it was abandoned by the family before it fell into such disrepair.

Armadale Castle

We did a couple of geocaches before heading to Fairy Pools. We walked the mile and a half route fairly briskly as the light was starting to fade. It was worth the walk to see the waterfalls and the sunset on the way back made me glad we left it until late in the day. 

Fairy Pools
 Sunset

Our journey home the following day took twelve hours from door to door, with a couple of stops for fuel and one for food. Luckily the traffic was much clearer on the way back. I guess Skye's not that far after all!

Friday, 8 January 2016

My plans for 2016

Relaxation 

Whenever I've come up with New Year's resolutions in the past they always seem destined to fail. I think putting pressure on yourself to change a number of things all at once is just too much. As such, this year I've not so much come up with resolutions as plans for the year. I've left out anything which I have no control over, and things that are traditional resolutions as I don't want to set myself up for a fall. That leaves me with a list of things I'd like to achieve which I can review as the year goes by, and which I'll actually enjoy.    

Read sixteen books 
This was originally going to be fifteen until a friend pointed out that 16 in '16 sounded much better. I struggle to find time to read (I think I read just one book last year), so I've just set a number rather than making it more specific, by genre or subject. I've got a number of unread books on my Kindle, so I just need to focus on picking it up and reading when I have spare time, rather than just browsing Twitter for the twentieth time that day.     

Find one hundred geocaches 
We had this as an objective last year but my husband's eye surgery in November and December scuppered us. Although the year hasn't got off to the best start, with yet more surgery, I'd still like to try to achieve it this year. I love geocaching, it's a great motivator for getting out for a walk and some fresh air, even if we do look like mentalists digging around in the undergrowth when we reach ground zero.     

Maintain Vitality gold status 
I get private medical cover through work with Vitality. Every time you do something that's good for you (whether it's exercise, going for a dental check up, getting a health check etc.) you earn a certain number of points. You start on bronze status and build up through silver and gold before reaching platinum. I've managed to reach gold each year and want to do the same again, if for no other reason than it gets me a free weekly cinema ticket, free coffee at Starbucks and an iTunes gift card.     

Try three gym classes 
As with so many things, my gym trips have been curtailed by recent medical events, but hopefully I'll be able to get everything back on track before too long. I normally hit the treadmill and then call it a day but I think it's time to try group exercise. There are lots of classes at the gym, so I'd like to aim to try three of them in the hope of finding one I'd like to attend regularly.     

Meet up with an old friend 
I've moved around a bit, I grew up in Shropshire, left for college then moved to Gloucester for work, moved to Bristol when I met my husband and then moved to Wiltshire last year for work. Every time I've moved I've lost touch with friends, however hard I've tried to keep in touch. Honestly, I'm sure Bristol is only 40 miles away, not 400! This year I'm going to put a special effort into meeting up with a friend who I've not seen for a couple of years or more. Everyone has such busy lives, especially once they have children, that it takes a bit of organisation to meet up, but it's always worth it.

Blog once a month 
Last year I found it virtually impossible to find the time to write any posts. I'm going to try harder this year, I'm hoping this list will mean I'll have something to write about, as I make progress.    

Watch a new film once a month  
I love watching films and saw quite a few at the cinema in the first half of last year. I've got quite a long list of films that I'd like to see, they may no longer be new releases, but they're new to me. I'd like to try to watch one of these a month.    

Take two holidays 
Work is pretty full on through the summer, so we normally try to take a week off either side of the traditional summer break. This year we went to Northumberland and Skye. Whether we go abroad or not will depend on whether we get a dog this year, but I'm sure we'll have a relaxing time wherever we go.    

Take six day trips 
We're both keen photographers and love a day trip to see something new and take some photographs. As we've only been in Wiltshire since last May there are plenty of places for us to explore. We just need a break in the rain to enjoy them!


Suddenly this seems like quite a long list! I've already made a start on a few of these and will post an update each month on my progress. If you're doing something similar, I'd love to hear about it.