Monday, 26 May 2008

Feed Me

I think I might have just added an RSS feed. I can't be too sure, but I've just done something through FeedBurner and now there's an icon over on the sidebar that strongly suggests that I've added an RSS feed. Or something. For those of who understand what this means, I hope this helps. For those of who don't know what I'm talking about, I think it means you can somehow subscribe to this drivel. Or something.

What you readin' for?

Bill Hicks used to talk of a time he was eating in a waffle house ("I'm not proud, I was hungry...") on his own reading a book. The waitress comes over, chewing gum, and asks "What you readin' for?". "Wow, I've never been asked that", he replies, "Goddang it, you stumped me. Not what am I reading, but what am I reading for? I guess I read for a lot of reasons but one of the main ones... is so I don't end up being a f**king waffle waitress."

I often find that I read several books at once. That's because I'm not very good at actually finishing books and so I start reading another book before I finish the first one. At the moment, I have about 4 or 5 books on the go. I think the one I started reading first (I can't be sure as it was a while back!) was Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution by Kevin Booth and Michael Bertin (hence the recent Bill Hicks references, though I've been a Hicks fan since I was a student). I then picked up, and started reading, a book called Profound Simplicity by Will Schutz from a second-hand book shop in Devon. Half way through that I borrowed The Never-Ending Days of Being Dead by Marcus Chown from my dad. This one is a library book so I'm feeling that it's this book I should aim to finish first but, as it tries to explain quantum vacuums and gravitational mass, it's taking me a while. Dad's had to renew it three times already.

The other books on my bedside table, with bookmarks indicating where I'm at, are Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness by Mihaly Czskiszentmihalyi (that's got to be a made up name, right?) and New Age Living: A Guide to Principles, Practices and Beliefs by Paul Roland (another library book). For the record, just to prove that I can actually finish a book occasionally, I've just read (to the end!) Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Everett (frontman of the Eels rock band and son of Hugh Everett III who was the quantum physicist who came up with the idea of Parallel Universes!) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, a novel written from the perspective of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome. Both highly recommended.

I'm hungry. Waffles anyone?

Friday, 23 May 2008

My Name is Freya

Who am I? I have an answer to that eternal question... it would appear that I'm Freya. Not the answer I was expecting, granted, but an answer all the same. I discovered my identity this week when I took my baby daughter (who is coincidentally also called Freya...) along to Rhythm Time. Within minutes of arriving I had a sticker stuck to my chest announcing I was Freya! So there you have it.

I was the token dad there but I did my best to join in and to not feel like a complete pillock. I think I just about managed it. I definitely enjoyed it more than Lorraine seemed to. Lorraine was the helper who passed around and collected in the drums, tambourines, shakers, etc. for the babies to play with. She was also supposed to sing along with the songs and generally keep the atmosphere on an up. Instead she sat to one side looking like her cat had just been run over (maybe it had).

It turned out that this was Lorraine's final Rhythm Time, as she was about take up a new job as a clinical research nurse at the University of Manchester (the obvious career progression). I can't see her being missed.

By the way, a word of advice. If you ever find yourself going along to something like this, remember to take your sticker off before you go to the supermarket. Otherwise you will look like a pillock.

Monday, 19 May 2008

The Second (and Last) Run

Note to self: Do NOT register for Great Manchester Run next year. Repeat, do NOT register for Great Manchester Run next year. Thank you to everyone who supported me (both this year and last year!) by donating money to BLISS. Your support really is appreciated (and you can still donate money by clicking on the widget over on the right!). But I won't be doing it next year. There has to be easier ways to raise money for charity.

I surprised myself and ran the whole 10 km. Whereas the week before I had stunned the audience with my rather unique rendition of "Walk, Don't Run", this week all I could think was "Run, Don't Walk". And I did, for 59 minutes and 38 seconds. Three minutes slower than last year, but at least I did it in less than an hour.

Today my legs are aching so much it would probably take me 59 minutes and 38 seconds to walk to the kitchen and back. So no more running.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The First (and Last) Concert

Last weekend saw my debut public performance on the guitar. It was awful. So bad that it's taken me a week to even think about writing about it. When I mentioned it to Rachel this morning, she referred to it as the "guitar fiasco". And she's supposed to be my number one supporter!

As some of you will know I took up learning to play the guitar last year and signed up for weekly lessons with the Yamaha Music School. Every so often the school organises a concert for the students as an opportunity to 'showcase' their musical skills for friends and family. I said I'd play something, and opted for playing "Walk Don't Run", an instrumental written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith (and apparently a hit for both the Ventures and the John Barry Seven). As it was the first piece in the Guitar Encounters Book 2 (yes, Book 2... be impressed!), and we'd been learning and practising it in class for what seemed like ages, it seemed the obvious choice. By the morning of the concert, last Sunday, I think I could play it pretty well, even though I do say so myself. With or without the backing track.

In the afternoon, we battled through a torrential downpour to the community centre where the concert was to be held. I was already feeling nervous, but as we went in to the hall, I became really nervous (possibly even more so than before the Skeptics in the Pub talk!). A quick look through the programme revealed that my slot was about half way through the proceedings, which meant about another nerve-wrangling half-hour of waiting but at least I could get a feeling of how good the other performances were before me. That didn't help. They were all really good, and what's more we're talking kids aged between about 6 and 12 years old here. (For the record, I'll be 38 next month.) They would each just get up, go to their instrument of choice (which was mainly the piano but there were a few guitar players), play their piece, and return to their proud parents in the audience. I was hoping for a few cock ups. Just one or two that made enough of a mess if it to lower the audience's expectations. No such luck. They were all pretty much note perfect. Gits.

Before each student's performance we were given a bit of background about the performer: "As well as playing the piano Sara is 8 years old and likes football and maths...", "Tommy, aged 6, is fluent in Spanish and German, and has a black belt in Aikido...", "Emily, 12, has a degree in Nuclear Physics and has built her very own particle accelerator in her back garden...". You get the idea.

My palms were sweating. Just two more to go then it would be my turn... Marc with "Minuet by Mozart" (show off), followed by Cara with "The Camel" (should be interesting), and then Matthew with "Walk, Don't Run". I felt sick. From the other side of the hall, Vernon, my guitar teacher who would introduce me, looked over and mouthed "are you okay?". He could probably sense my nervousness by the fact that my face was now almost the same colour as my green t-shirt. I looked back at him and shook my head.

Marc concluded his near perfect rendition of Mozart's Minuet. Vernon walked to the front and announced "Next we have Matthew...". Eh? What about Cara? Where's Cara? I was looking forward to hearing Cara play "The Camel"! Cara must have bottled it. Either that or she was unable to make it because her Karate lesson had ran over. Either way, it was now my turn. I took to the stage, sat down and picked up the guitar. Vernon continued, "...this is Matthew's first time playing guitar in public, ever!", "...and I'm very, very nervous!" I quickly added. As if it wasn't already obvious how nervous I was, "Oh, and I like football but I don't like maths".

After what seemed like an age, the backing track kicked in. This was it! Now the first note was fine. I think as first notes go it was faultless. I had nothing against the first note. It was the second note and the vast majority of all the notes that followed that seemed to cause the problem. (As Eric Morecambe once noted: "...I was playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!"). Once I'd missed the timing on the second note it went from bad to worse. I might have hit the occasional note after that but probably more by fluke than by design. It was indeed a guitar fiasco.

As the backing track came to an end, the very sympathetic audience gave a cheer and a round of applause. They were probably just pleased it was all over. Either that or they were being sarcastic. I went back to sit next to Rachel in the audience who, along with my mum and dad who had come along to give support, said she was very proud of me. She was probably just pleased it was all over. Either that or she was being sarcastic.

The rest of the concert I could actually enjoy now that my bit was out of the way. The guy on after me, Daryl, was perhaps even more nervous than me. But then he was even older than me. Which goes to show that it's adulthood that seems to bring out the performance anxiety in us. Still, Daryl held it together better than I did. His "Theme for Young Lovers", though a little nervey, was very good. The highlights of the concert were Charlie Powell, with is own composition (a Jean-Michel Jarre type keyboard fest) and Andrew Wignall, with a superb rendition of "Le Onde" on the piano. Both aged 16 or so, they were as confident as anything, and I mention their full names here so that when they become famous you can say you heard it here first.

All in all, a good concert apart from the contribution from the guy with the green face who liked football but not maths. It was his first concert, but I think it will also be his last.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Mud, Glorious Mud

The British summer just might save us from the Ugg. I'm not talking about the warm weather actually putting girls off wearing the fur-lined boots. No, I don't think that's possible. I'm talking about the mud. Hopefully by the end of the summer, all Ugg boots in existence will be forever ruined by the muddiness of the summer festivals. We can but hope.

Very Special K


Monday, 5 May 2008

The Last Lecture

I think my dad might be psychic. A couple of days ago he was asking me about the guy who did the book The Last Lecture. "The one you blogged about..." he said. "Er, I haven't written a blog about him... yet. I was thinking of writing a blog about him" I replied. In fact, I had been watching Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture" on YouTube that same day, and here I am writing a blog about him. So, my only conclusion is that my dad must be psychic.*

I had come across the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeff Zaslow in a book shop a couple of days before. I hadn't bought the book, nor had I even considered stealing it, but I did scan the inside front cover. It was inspired by an actual lecture given by Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007 which was part of a lecture series in which University professors are invited to give a lecture as though it was the last lecture they were to give. What would they say to their students in their last ever lecture? For Pausch this was more than a conceptual exercise. He had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and was told by doctors he had months to live. As far as he was concerned this really could be his last lecture.

My friend Simon at work the next day alerted me to the fact that the lecture was available on YouTube having heard an item about it on the radio that morning. So, having now watched the lecture, I thought I'd embed it here for you guys (note: it's about 76 minutes long... short excerpts are also available on YouTube). It's called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams":

Having been given only a few months to live, Randy Pausch is still with us. His website is here, where there is also a link to updates regarding his progress.

*It turns out my dad had confused Prof Randy Pausch with Prof Robert Solomon about whom I have blogged. I still think he might be psychic.