samedi 28 juin 2014

On the mysterious disappearance of *Dr* Douglas Carnall

   Between 1994 to 2007, if you'd asked me, "What do you do?" I suppose I'd have replied, "I'm a GP." Certainly that was how I mostly earned money, even if I rejected much of the ideology of the discipline. This was a delicate matter. My chief concern was to keep my workload within reasonable limits, which I did by working as a locum and billing by the hour.  Such an attitude was a certainly an affront to the notions of vocation claimed by the betweeded denizens of the British Journal of General Practice. I had no desire to confront this ideology: it seemed in many ways humane, certainly in comparison with other parts of the profession. And anyway, I didn't really have the intellectual tools to do so, and wasn't particularly interestedat that timein acquiring them.
   Still, I was flattered, in 2003, to be called by one of the editors of the Br J Gen Pract, and asked to write about blogging for the back pages of the journal, presumably on the strength of the columns I'd been writing about the internet for the BMJ for several years.
   I remember finding the BJGP article hard to write: I'm not sure that I shared the vision of the commissioning editor, and I was certainly more interested in maintaining my own blog and making music at the time. But I wrote something, and delivered it, probably on time, and in due course, it appeared.
  Usually I enjoy rereading my old stuff, but not that one. By that time I'd developed significant disillusion with the dis-ease of use of the free software of the epoch. I was ambivalent about proposing that all doctors should blog, though I'd taken it up myself. Doing it on free software seemed almost insurmountably difficult; yet handing over all comms and memory to predatory capitalists and intrusive state agencies using proprietary platforms was as much an evident danger back then as it is now. I didn't pose the issue explicitly in the article, but my nagging doubts that I was merely a fashion victim do seep through, I think, and it's hardly a comfortable position as an author.
  A decade later, happily retired from general practice, I suppose I was right that blogging would catch on: both Twitter and Facebook are effectively blogging platforms; but wrong that this would greatly affect general practitioners, who seem largely absent from them. I guess taking up blogging would be something to be done on the eighth day of the week. And the duty of confidentiality makes any discussion of individual cases online so fraught as to be best avoided entirely. Neither has the publishing world's snail-like progress towards open access aided trade among doctors in professional articles. Progress towards the noble goal of making the world's scientific literature open to anyone who cares to read it, has, to my mind, been disappointingly slow, though things are going in the right direction.
  Anyway, when I moved to France in August 2007 "for six months off" I stopped paying all of my medical subscriptions, including to the Royal College of General Practitioners, and felt that it was only right that I should saw the MRCGP off my name (the M stands for member). And as holders of a bachelor's degree in medicine are addressed as doctor only as a courtesy for clinical settings, I have converted, for all purposes, to being a simple monsieur, et toute ma vie y est améliorée.

samedi 14 juin 2014

Jam not telly

Well, the general consensus on the internets is that Croatia was robbed. Brazil's double goal scorer shouldn't have been on the pitch after his forearm smash to an opponent's throat, it was never a penalty, Croatia's goal should have stood, etc etc. Still, they've spent so much on the stadiums, they can't have the home side being knocked out early. This tweet summed it up nicely:
And though we enjoyed a pleasant little soirée round at Djamel's watching this opening match, I realise I can't summon that adolescent fervour any more. It was a great buzz while it lasted, but I won't be going out of my way to watch any more FIFA World Cup matches. Instead I'm going to be making jam and chutney and maybe posting some illustrations here.
I like pictures of stuff in the kitchen sink on the way to being transformed to some delightful conserved product that will last out the year:

A list of the steps

0) First pick your strawberries. These were from Muzon, near Trellières, about 15k from Nantes. The women and children drove in cars; I naturally found it a pleasant occasion for a bike ride. Picnic in a field. When the farmer returned from lunch we got started. I picked about 3 kilos as fast as I could. On the ride home I bought 3kg of sugar from SuperU.
1) Wash and trim strawberries. This took a while, listened to some podcasts online. In the end there was 2.2kg of fruit.
2) As well as a field of berries to pick, the farmer also kindly supplied an A5 flyer with a jam recipe on it, which I followed slavishly in the absence of any other counsel. This suggested adding 600g of sugar plus the juice of 1 lemon for each 1kg of fruit.
3) As soon as you add the sugar and lemon to the fruit the osmotic process of maceration begins. The lid on the pan not being 100% close fitting, I also put the pan in a plastic bag, to avoid contamination with any other odours from the fridge.
4) In the morning you have a cauldron of shrunken wibbly strawbs in a dark red syrup. This you boil for one minute, then cool it and put it back in the fridge.
5) On the third day, comes the definitive cooking. This obviously involves jar preparation (see video below for technique). The cooking is the most fraught part of the process. Boiling the fruit, sugar, and acid should liberate pectin from cell walls in the fruit and cause the mixture to gel. You test the propensity of your solution to gel by the 'cold plate test': putting a teaspoonful of the solution on a cold plate and looking for signs of jellification. If you boil it too much, you can zap all the pectin chains, and it will never set, or you boil off too much water and it crystallizes into a solid lump of fruity sugar.
So when I had exceeded the recommended cooking times of both the farmer (7-12 min) and Harold McGee* (10-20 min) I was nervous. The red juice ran down the face of the plate as freely as at the beginning. Also, it was time to go fetch the boy from school for lunch. So once more I cooled the mixture in a sink of cold water, and held off doing anything about it till later.
6) Happily I ran into Isabel, picnicking at the park, who suggested the addition of some agar-agar and pointed me to the La Vie Claire to get it.
7) That evening, I mixed four 2g-sachets of the grey, seaweed-derived product with about 30mls of water in a cup, then added some of my reheating jam solution to the cup, mixed it well, and lobbed the whole lot back into the pan. Another couple of minutes of boiling, and, for the first time, the cold plate test started to develop a ripple of viscosity, and into the jars it went.
8) Cooled over night, the jam is a nice consistency, doesn't run off the toast and has a good flavour. It's very sweet.

*Heston Blumenthal's favourite cookbook: McGee H. On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. NY: Scribner, 1984.