Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Review of 2008

So, another year is just about to end. I get the impression that it is traditional (although by no means compulsory) to do a round-up of the year's events, and possibly also to express one's New Year's resolutions, should one be the sort of person who goes in for that sort of things. I tend not to; there tend to be things I am trying to improve about myself no matter what time of year it is.

As this blog does not stretch back this far, my review begins in late 2007: on 12th September 2007 I handed in my MSc dissertation, ending two years of struggle (and joyous part-time work). I got my results a while later, and they were good; exactly what I had set out to achieve and not a mark more. I applied for a job on a new project teaching statistics to social science students and came second, but the lecturers in charge of the project were interested and suggested we do a research project together. I started putting together ideas. After a while they changed their minds and suggested that I would be better doing a PhD first, so I got an application in and started to apply for funding.

Meanwhile, HWSNBN's dad was ill. It turned out that the problem was a brain tumour, rather than depression and diabetes, and he died on 21st December 2007. We don't know that medical competence would necessarily have improved matters (he might have suffered through chemotherapy and radiotherapy then died anyway, with much more knowledge of his impending demise), but, you know, it is nice to know one can trust one's doctors. His funeral was on 28th December; thus 2008 started without him alive in it at all.

The start of 2008 saw me trying to obtain PhD funding (I think the interview was in March) and failing to do so (naturally this is because the panel was biased; there can be no other reason), then looking towards the open funding competition, whose deadline was at the beginning of May.

In the meantime, I tried to become good at climbing (at times building up a reasonably convincing amount of stamina and strength) and have now got to the stage where my skill level far outstrips my physical capabilities. I got this way by doing nothing, literally. For three months. Next time I go climbing my abdominal muscles will not be my friends for several days afterwards.

I also worked on martial arts (Kiaido Ryu); the moves are starting to become more instinctive, but I am still not particularly good. This stopped in September, and will resume on 13th January, at which point I expect to get into rather a large amount of trouble for my lack of fitness.

Hmm, this is jumping about a bit. Back to March, I think. I went to France to stay with Louise in the Toulouse region. That was fun, and the food and wine were excellent. I took great care to appreciate them both fully, and upon my return my climbing harness needed some adjustment. I returned to visit her in Bordeaux in July, and took Anne with me. That was fun. Bordeaux is lovely and I recommend that you visit it (and stay somewhere central) should you get the opportunity. Louise's room had three massive French windows and a balcony overlooking the street. I liked it a lot. Again, we appreciated the food and wine, and Anne got a taste of French pub life.* She did not, however, have much to drink, what with being 12 and not into that sort of thing.

August marked the results of the PhD funding competition. I was looking forward to being a full-time student in October, but had also been wondering whether academia was right for me. I decided that I would take the funding if it was offered to me, but if it was not I would look into becoming an organ builder, as this was something I had vaguely considered for many years, but had not thought possible. Upon failing to be awarded this funding, I did nothing. The letter I had to write to the organ building firm I had selected was daunting because if I got it wrong they would not want me. Eventually, with the help of a couple of good friends, I got it written and submitted in October, I think. They told me that I should learn joinery, then get back in touch with them, so I set about finding a teacher, who shall be known hereafter as Brian. Because that is his name. Brian is a Master Craftsman of many years standing, and seems to be a good teacher. Apparently I am a good student, too, although I must back this up with some actual joinery before we next meet, next week.

Since August, I have mostly just been getting things done; it has not really been a happy time. In September I got a nasty cough and ended up with breathing difficulties which still have not been resolved; their cause has not yet been revealed, for starters. They are very annoying. I have done pretty much no exercise since September due to lack of time and inclination.

In December I played the organ for a carol service, which seemed to go well. This improved my playing, but brought to light the inadequacies of both my organ and my shoes. I am looking to buy new shoes.

I also learned how to make felt.

As 2009 starts, then, there are things that I must do. Firstly, I must get back in touch with my PhD supervisors and look into re-applying for funding. Having worked so hard, it seems a shame to turn down funding should it be available. Academia is more lucrative than organ building (which really does not say much for organ building).

I must also work on becoming good at joinery. Whatever happens, I want to give organ building a go, and I am not going to achieve that by sitting on my bottom. I also have plans to start making musical instruments, such as simple flutes. I am sure that it will be good for me, and also hope that it will be fun. I shall chart this on my other blog, I expect.

I need to get fit again; martial arts demands it, and climbing helps to engender it, as does yoga. These will be my focus in all of the free time that I have lying around.

I have to improve my organ playing, and shall make efforts to do so, probably in the two hour gap I have free between work and Postgrad group on Monday evenings. I am also looking in to buying an electric organ for home, but have so far found them to be too expensive and too far away. Roll on the recession, and all that. That shrinks the country.

Most importantly, I should be a better friend. I am apt to see my lack of free time as an excuse (to be fair, a lack of free time does make it difficult to take on extra things), and not be there for people except for by prior arrangement. I need to do more things to make people feel good about themselves.

I want to make a success of my vegetable garden this year. Realistically, I am not going to do this unless the weather is good. The last two years have been damp and crap, and I have failed miserably (although there are now more paths, and I have materials to make sure there are paths throughout). If the weather is good this year, I may be able to salvage the project and grow something worth mentioning. Of course, if the weather is good I will need to water it (it resides about 7 (or is it 3 1/2?) miles away), but that can only improve how well I look after it.

I want to blog more regularly and more impressively. I speak mostly of suitable use of English, and of not mangling sentences, but decent subject matter is not to be sneezed at.

OK; there are rather a lot of imperatives there. I suppose that none of them is important if I am happy to stagnate. I am not happy to stagnate; I want to do more, see more and experience more. And yes, they are a tall order; they involve keeping going at things and not giving up. I can do that. I shall review this post this time next year and marvel about how much has changed, hopefully. I hope that the changes are good.

So any New Year's resolutions, anyone?

*What sort of a phrase is this? How embarrassing.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Another Post

Today I have been taking my car to be fixed, shopping and tidying. Apparently I am good at making a mess. You will no doubt be pleased to hear, however, that two of my cupboards are looking much better. As is a large corner of the living room. Alas, the main bit of the living room is still horrid, but the heavy tidying has been accomplished.

I have discovered that I need a new bookcase for the books I have borrowed from people and from the library. Something really accessible would be useful, as the ones I borrow are the ones in which I am the most interested at the time. I also need a place to put it. Perhaps I should clear the crap off the top shelf of my big bookcase - I could then use that shelf: a novel solution to a pressing problem.

I am also re-distributing my silicone and ice cube moulds (sorry to mix classification systems there) and storing them on top of my kitchen cupboards, rather than in the nasty damp cupboard in the corner; they tend to be hard to clean completely and have a thin film of fat left on them, which then goes mouldy. Lovely. Mind you, the rice doesn't smell too good. If I don't blog again after this happens, place bets on bad rice!

Dinner today will be king prawn curry (king prawns on offer; curry paste re-discovered in cupboard; rice already discovered but apparently needs using quickly), and should be quite hot. Alas, I am without yoghurt to cool it down. We will just have to deal with it, I suppose. HWSNBN will have to demonstrate his manliness.

I still have no New Year plans; no invitations and I'm certainly not having people round here again. Last time, it took weeks to get the carpets clean. Actually, no; it was quite the opposite: they started complaining of tiredness at about 9pm. I have never attended such a non-wild party before, nor since. I did it a second year with similar results (although with fewer people - only one was complaining at 9pm this time), but shall not do it again. Apparently my party powers are limited and can only be revived by Vlad, our non-Russian who doesn't live round here any more, but can drink most effectively. I believe he will be around again tomorrow, and that we will go out drinking. Must wrap his vodka...

Enough stream-of-consciousness blogging; must add prawns to curry! Later!

Friday, 26 December 2008

And so this is Christmas

It has been a very busy few weeks, and I have not had much free time. However, today (well, yesterday now) was Christmas and the stress should be over soon. Louise and I will be preparing dinner for the family (13) tomorrow evening, and then I may not have all that much to do before returning to work on 5th January. What will I do with myself? Tidy the house, then prepare nice drinks and read interesting books? Make things out of wood? Sleep? Watch TV while lying on the sofa with HWSNBN lying behind me? Nothing? Climbing? The possibilities are endless.*

Tomorrow I must get up, prepare casseroles, then go shopping. I am not entirely sure from whence this shopping expectation came, nor am I convinced that Liverpool will be a good place to go at lunchtime on Boxing day (why are the shops even open? Shouldn't people who work in shops get a well-deserved second day off?), nor are there many things that I need, but I am sure that it will be a rewarding experience. Anne is coming with us; she doesn't need anything, either. Blogging about this is making me feel very sheep-like (for good reason). Ooh - I have come up with an advantage! Exercise! It will, at the very least, be a medium-length walk which I would not otherwise have had (I do not go for walks voluntarily, due to a series of unpleasant walking experiences, combined with not liking it that much anyway).

I am rambling and should go to bed. I hope that you have had a good Christmas!

*Actually, that is almost undoubtedly not true; I expect that the possibilities are somewhat finite.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Woo hoo!

Work is finished for the year, and I am therefore very happy. It is amazing what knowing I have done enough work to cover me for the next two weeks can do for my state of mind. Also what sitting down doing nothing for a morning can do. You know, I haven't felt this happy and relaxed for weeks - even the fact that I am likely to leave everything to the last minute today and thus be very late for a variety of things is not worrying me right now. Yay!

I did achieve some things, though. I invited a school friend round for lunch tomorrow, I arranged a doctor's appointment to try to work out why I still can't breathe properly (1 month of using a steroid inhaler has not helped, although the reliever inhaler is definitely my friend!), and have arranged for my car to go in to the garage for a few days to see whether or not the problem can be fixed under the guarantee, and to fix it. They reckon that it probably can, but they will find out when they open it up. Oh, and I have worked my way through the truffles I got out of the freezer yesterday to take to work (I think that I observed four chocolate orgasms, which is something that I have not seen before) - they really needed eating as they do not keep well, and I now only have one left. I shall sort that out this afternoon.

Now please excuse me for a little while as I go to the Post Office to collect a parcel. Patience, please!



Sorry - that took longer than expected - had to take some stuff to the tip, too. Went to HWSNBN's mum's house and took some photos of my joinery, though, so should be able to get those into some sort of document soon, as an indication of how far I have progressed (turns out it's not very far yet). Now it is time to wrap presents, take a shower (and rinse the bleach off the wall tiles - if I come out blond you'll know what happened!) and get a move on with my day.

I shall be visiting the parents shortly (I should leave the house in 40 minutes...) and stuff. Crap. 40 minutes. Must not continue to do this when there is selecting and wrapping of presents to be achieved. I shall be very busy indeed on Tuesday, which will probably be the next time I get the opportunity to get the house tidy. Time to call HWSNBN and let him know I shall be a bit late...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Six years

As of today, HWSNBN and I have been together for six years. I gather that we will be going out for a celebratory meal; this pleases me a lot as I am very hungry and did not enjoy my lunchtime soup at all.

HWSNBN has changed quite a bit since we became an item - he's much more mature and helpful now, and appears to have outgrown that extended moody phase (please, God!). I much prefer this version to the original. I think that I have become much less demanding (I have accepted that he hardly talks at all and, erm, has to do lots of important stuff on his computer most evenings) and more fat, but also more capable, with the knowledge that I can actually see stuff through to the end and achieve things. He is still kind and generous, and still has this misguided notion that he is innately better at all things computer than I am.* He is, of course, better, but I maintain that this is due to his education and current job. I am, of course, still insufferably self-assured, and annoying in a wide variety of ways. And also convinced that I will never do anything well enough (as I said, the varieties of annoying I can be boggle the mind). Ah, we make a great couple!

He has just called me from a shop - I shall be getting a 1l pyrex jug for Christmas! Unless, of course, he decides that he can't be bothered wrapping it (he doesn't like wrapping things, and this will be an awkward shape**), in which case I may just find myself getting an anniversary present! Then I will feel bad, as I haven't got him anything nearly so nice - just my presence.***

Hey - I could fill an entire blog entry with the extremely unexciting story of how we met! How easy! And how exciting-sounding and yet secretly very dull! I think I might get away with that. Did I just type that out loud? How unfunny am I?

*Witness my love of danger! It's a good job he doesn't ever read this blog.

**Top wrapping tip - for wrapping awkwardly-shaped objects, buy some wallpaper which has been reduced in a wallpaper shop - preferably pretty stuff. As it is so much stronger than wrapping paper, you should find that pointy bits do not poke through it quite so readily as they do through wrapping paper...

***Obviously, a 1l pyrex jug is better than this. My presence does not take kindly to the addition of 1l of boiling water, nor to that of caustic soda (which, incidentally, do not mix; caustic soda only likes cold water. Mix them and you may live to regret it...). Oh yes, and of course he gets my presence most days; it is quite ordinary. And I am, as previously mentioned, insufferably self-assured.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Bimbling along

I have been very busy recently. Christmas preparations always take a long time (and this year's preparations are far from over - haven't even finished the washing up from the last lot yet), and there has been a lot of rushing around, as I tend to do. Joinery is proceeding slowly but surely (I must take photos of what I have done so far, though).

I have had quite a good weekend. I had Friday off and was able finally to take the car to be serviced. It only needs £600 (?!?!?) of repairs; I am hoping that the guarantee I bought with the car less than a year ago will cover this. If it does not, I shall be a little bit upset.

On Friday afternoon we went shopping and bought our Christmas wine; we should not go thirsty this year. The supermarket had rather a lot of offers, and most of what we bought was half-price, which was useful. We had takeaway with HWSNBN's mum for tea, and as half of mine was left uneaten I had a very tasty lunch the next day.

Yesterday was mostly spent making stuff for Christmas; we then went out to a gathering to see one of my university friends who got married to an American woman and moved over there; he came back for his PhD graduation. It was lovely to see him again, and I got to clear up a couple of points with his wife. She has been a little disturbed by his habit of wondering round after a bath with a towel round his shoulders, like a cape, rather than round his waist, as is usual for a man. Although it did cover up everything which had to be covered, it was a close thing. He used to do this when he was a student (which disturbed one housemate rather a lot, but which we were used to); she had thought that maybe it was something he picked up since marriage. I can't be sure that she was reassured by this information, though...

HWSNBN accompanied me to the gathering, which he does not normally do. This group was made up of people with whom I meet on Monday evenings; HWSNBN does not go to that group. However, I think that he enjoyed himself, which pleased me a lot.

The gathering had plenty of wine, and plenty of people to whom I had not spoken for a while, and a bottle of whisky at the end. I have come to the conclusion that this is not a scenario which ends well for me; I should try to avoid getting into such situations. This morning, at about 3am, I was not feeling particularly well, which was definitely because I was too hot; I can think of no other possible explanation. I went to sleep downstairs on the settee, underneath two blankets and my sheepskin coat, and it all got better after that. HWSNBN came down to get me at 7.30, when he realised that I was missing, worried that he had upset me. Which he had not. He left to go to the farm very early - I was surprised by his enthusiasm, especially considering our late return home last night.

Right now I am sort of watching Poirot, and thinking about decorating the Christmas tree - it is sitting in the appropriate place, and will look better with baubles and lights on. That will hopefully be done before HWSNBN returns home. I then have much tidying and cooking to do, and some more making to accomplish.

I think the standard of writing here may have slipped again (certainly the frequency of updates has done so); I am trying not to get out of the habit of blogging. Perhaps things will get better after I finish work for the year on Thursday. Yay! Can't wait for that, although I have a massive list of things which must be accomplished before that point. It will be very satisfying indeed when they are done - it will be a productive 3 1/2 days!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The carol service

Today was the day of the Christmas carol service. As you may be aware, I was feeling a little apprehensive about it, on account of being unable to play several last verses reliably without a congregation attached, let alone with one. Some of my other pieces were also decidedly dodgy. I was rather worried that I would play a wrong note at some point which would set a domino effect in motion and mean that I was unable to find any more right notes for the remainder of the verse.*

With this in mind, I was quite relaxed when I went to church this morning, except for the tension caused by my being late because I was tired and did not get out of bed on time. Again.** This morning's service seemed to go well - the vicar was a visiting one and she was lovely. She also sang very loudly, which gave the congregation a boost - it's not an overly enthusiastic congregation, singing-wise. My playing was fairly bad in terms of percentage of correct notes (the voluntary on the way out was so bad I gave up trying and made sure that I at least approximated one note out of every six in the last few bars - this did not make me feel hopeful about my playing in the evening), but the vicar said that it sounded good despite the woeful lack of tuning displayed by the organ (which is getting so much worse - the notes in the middle are out of tune now, too, not just the ones at the top of the keyboard). When I become an organ builder, that organ will see some changes. Except that I won't be in the area. But I digress.

After the service I had a quick practice session, and established that the pedal board on my organ is in bad shape, which did not come as a surprise. I have obviously been practising in great luxury on the chapel organ, which does not have wobbly pedals; I have been quite spoiled. The adversity is good for me, though - teach me to thrive in difficult circumstances. Eventually. I only played for about forty minutes to an hour, which went past surprisingly quickly (that is apparently what panic will do to me), as I needed to get lunch and my wrist was hurting.

I then went to Marks & Spencer and got a tasty risotto for lunch, which Heather and I heated up in her two microwaves (I know - such luxury!). It was very satisfactory, and much cheaper than eating out. Having checked my bank balance, I was in the mood for cheap.

After lunch I went to the chapel for the final rehearsal. I actually arrived 30 minutes early, which was very pleasing; I knew that the time of the rehearsal had a 3 in it, and sincerely hoped that it was 3.30 (it was) , but couldn't swear that it wasn't quarter to three. I arrived at 3, and got to hang around aimlessly for a bit.

We also rigged up a special system to hold the pages of my book open. I have no idea how familiar you are with the anatomy of a music stand on an organ, so I shall try to describe it to you. In most cases, the stand itself has a ledge on which one puts one's music, and there are four twirly bits of metal that stick up at the front (or lie down flat when not required) to stop the music books from closing, and also to reduce the probability of them sliding off the front of the music stand. The left middle twirly prong on this organ had been snapped off a while ago; as there was still a bit left in place, a new prong could not be inserted. The system we rigged up was very sophisticated - we tied bits of string round, and the music book could be slid underneath it - the string went from top to bottom, and sat on the outside edges of the left and right sides of the music book, so that they did not obscure any music. Genius! (Mis-spelled that on my first attempt...) When I am an organ builder I would very much like to incorporate a similar design feature (possibly optional) into my organs, as it works so much better than the twiddly knobs - it holds the whole height of the music where is it supposed to be, rather than just the bottom, and doesn't obscure any notes or footing marks. I think that those pieces of string will be staying there for a long time!

The rehearsal went quite well. O come, all ye faithful's last verse was rather a large amount of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I think that I ought to point out that I really love playing the organ sometimes - the feeling that I get when I am playing something loud and beautiful well is in my top three situations which make me feel good (one of the others is riding a horse in a field in summer when everything is going well...). I feel that I have complained about the organ and my lack of playing prowess rather too much, which may have led people to wonder why I bother.

The service itself did not start well; I did not play the first note at all, but started on the second note. This confused me, but I got the impression that nobody else noticed. Perhaps they are not very observant. There were a few other mistakes int he first carol, but nothing major.

After that I lose track of where it went wrong. There were at least two other introductions that I messed up (which is embarrassing as they are the easy bit - for the first introduction there was only one line, which was all played with my right hand), but people still didn't seem to notice. The last verse I was the most worried about went a bit wrong, but I picked it up and got to the end in style (very much enjoyed the second half of that last verse), and O come, all ye faithful's last verse had its moments (although not as good as in the rehearsal). All in all, my playing was mostly very good, with a liberal sprinkling of dodgy notes. I am glad that my teacher, Dave the Organist, was not there; he would have had many words to say about the quality of my playing, and they would certainly not all have been good. Now he can have the second-hand report, in which many of the dodgy notes never appeared.

Everyone I spoke to seemed to think that it went very well, so I think that I can conclude that I did not embarrass myself, and that none of the mistakes I made actually mattered. You know, it has just occurred to me that I achieved something**** - I successfully prepared a whole load of pieces in under five weeks (mostly in under three weeks), with pedals in many cases, and played them with lots of people to distract me. One piece had pedals throughout. I did lots of organist things, such as changing stops and opening and closing the swell box. Yay! I think that it will have done me a lot of good.

The parents and Anne came to listen - quite a long journey for a service lasting an hour, but I suppose that they don't get the opportunity to listen to me playing the organ very often. Nana wanted to come too, apparently, but Mother didn't think that she would be up to it - she walked to the village and back yesterday. There is not a problem, but back is uphill. I was impressed that she managed that, but slightly less so when I heard that Mother had gone with her - I had got the impression that she had gone to the village, then spontaneously navigated back to the house. Nonetheless that amount of walking is very good and very promising, depending on what one wants to be promised. I shall have to borrow Dave's organ and play for Nana some time over Christmas. Perhaps after a service so it isn't so deathly cold.

So that was it. Next year I shall be much better. And possibly located in a different area of the country altogether. Now I must put my newly improved skills to use and learn some of that music I bought in Oxford last weekend. It is supposed to be relatively simple, so I have high hopes.

*With the exception of the last chord - I have been confident with the last chord for a long time, and can reliably play it to an acceptable standard with acceptable timing, even when I fail to get any other notes right. It's just a talent that I have.

**Is the fact that I do not learn and modify my behaviour evidence that I am a bit thick, or just further evidence to support the theory that I am bone idle and need a kick up the backside?*** It's times like this which make me glad that I do not like my mattress much - imagine the trouble I would have if my bed were particularly comfortable!

***I realise that I did not cover every possibility here - there is not really enough information to allow you to come up with a working hypothesis. As such, there is no need for you to answer this question. Especially as I am not convinced that I want to know the answer. Ooh - another theory - I need more sleep! Then perhaps I would stop writing utter gibberish.

****I think it just occurred to me because I was so fixated on how it was probably all going to go wrong - I didn't even consider it going right as a possibility.

Friday, 5 December 2008


That last post was a while ago, wasn't it? Which is also what I said last time. Let's hope I don't make a habit of this.

On Wednesday I had my second joinery lesson, which went well. Apparently I can put down the chisel in an appropriate manner, which is considered to be a good sign. The magic I work when I pick up the chisel is, of course, overwhelmingly good. Ho hum. Nonetheless, it looks as though I may have the potential to wield it successfully and thus become an organ builder extraordinaire.

Yesterday I made three soaps. Using the same recipe helps - making in bulk is great! I only have one more soap that I absolutely must make before Christmas. Alas, I am nearly out of oils - olive, corn and hemp are getting somewhat desperate. Cocoa and shea butter are not looking good. Hazelnut oil is practically finished. Coconut, castor and palm oil are fine. Avocado is currently great, but will not be replenished when it runs out - I got this lot for free. My olive oil supplier* has stopped doing the olive oil that I need - the really cheap one which is cheap in so many ways. They now only do expensive ones, which are actually less good for soap making - a double disadvantage. Anyway, it is satisfying to be less far behind.

Sunday's carol preparations continue to go slowly. Today I practised playing with my eyes shut; I am hoping that this has reinforced the last verses enough that I will be able to play them with people singing (but with my eyes open, looking at the music - I was just trying to get the notes reinforced in my head). Apparently that can be useful in a carol service. Tomorrow I have the organ booked for three hours, but I am not convinced it will be enough. Perhaps I should ask them to postpone it for a week.

The preparations, apart from these verses, are actually going really well. Alas, adding in the pedals seems to be a bit too taxing for me. I can do it when there is nobody singing; even when there is someone singing we reach the last note at the same time (I have years of experience at reaching the last note at the same time); it's just many of the notes in between which are a problem. One of the sopranos in the choir kindly sang along with me this afternoon, to show up just how bad I am** (and to give me practice at keeping going), which was helpful. I shall have a few hours to sort this on Sunday. Mother reckons that I should just play the standard last verses, but I have plans to go out in a blaze of, erm, glory. I expect that my next update will be after the event (judging by precedent, it may be a while afterwards; please do not hold your breath).

Today I got home a little before HWSNBN. After a satisfyingly productive morning I had the afternoon off today (hooray - freedom!), and spent it singing carols at lunchtime and practising the organ afterwards. When I returned home afterwards, I was very tired. This was not at all due to staying up more than an hour after my bedtime e-mailing Elizabeth, of course. It was because I practised so effectively this afternoon. Tiring work. I went to sleep for three hours, which was nice. It is actually one of my favourite things, except for the effort involved with waking up. Now we are watching the television, and I am blogging (I know - radical!). And drinking wine. Very nice. Must get some more before Christmas, though.

*A supermarket, but a very specific branch of a specific supermarket.

**My words, not hers. Well not out loud, anyway.