Monthly Archives: November 2014

So that was the NaBloPoMo that was…

So it’s the 30th November and this is the last post of this year’s National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). First – thanks to anybody who has had the stamina to follow this blog through all thirty posts; and if you haven’t quite managed to read them all (and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for that) then thanks for reading any that you did manage

This is the second year that I have completed NaBloPoMo. I have to say that I have enjoyed the experience much more this year than I did in 2013. It’s actually been quite a lot of fun (even though there have been some difficult days during the month). It appears that the blog has connected more with people this time than it did last time too. The number of views during the month has almost doubled, and I have added a number of Followers and acquired a number of Likes during the month. My prime purpose in writing the blog remains largely personal and selfish (I just enjoy the process of writing blog posts and getting some things off my chest), but there is no doubting the pleasure that comes from occasional positive feedback from you, dear Reader

Looking back over the 30 posts in November 2014, the main thing that I notice is the change in the motivation for the content when compared to last year. There have been far fewer overtly political posts this time around; and far more posts focusing on my family and the events of our everyday lives. Some of these have been recounting very happy episodes (particularly our Silver Wedding trip to Italy in September 2014); some of them have been quite ordinary; and at least one was prompted by a deeply distressing and formative episode in our son’s life that will take several months yet to fully work through. In amongst these, there’s inevitably a smattering of posts that reflect the things that take up quite a bit of my time on a weekly basis : work (out of necessity) and sport (by choice). In that sense, NaBloPoMo 2014 has been a pretty fair reflection of the priorities in my life : family (first by a distance); work; and football

I will continue to blog regularly over the coming months (although probably not daily), and I hope that you will continue to find the blog occasionally interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, or humourous. Thanks for your company during NaBloPoMo 2014!

Early morning reflections, Haiku, Sewing and Quantitative Easing!

This is the first time that I’ve posted first thing in the morning for a while. As I sit here in the “Sewing Room/Study” (C.’s sewing is taking off big time, so I’ve gladly entered into a shared occupancy arrangement for the box room!). By the way, you can see the full range of C.’s sewing products here: http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/cpearce2011/m.html?item=161485731757&hash=item25994cb7ad&pt=UK_Laundry&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2562 . Check out the Christmas bunting towards the bottom of the products list – it’s really good, even if I am biased!

Anyway, advert over! What really drew me to write the blog this morning was the recollection of some time spent messing about with Haiku (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku) a couple of years’ ago. I’m not sure why, but I woke up with an almost perfectly formed Haiku on the theme of the dawn floating around in my barely conscious mind. I tried to ignore it, but it stuck there and so in the end, I gave in, got up, and wrote it down :

Early morning light

Cleanses the day’s complexion :

A new start beckons

Now fully awake, I played around with the theme a bit more and came up with the following variation :

Dawn’s awakening :

Lights the path to a new day

Fresh with potential

I really enjoy playing around with words within the strict, 5-7-5 form imposed by Haiku. However, I also love subverting the form itself. Quantitative easing is the device used by Central Banks in Europe and the US to stimulate money supply in the economy in order to limit the danger of recession. But how would Quantitative Easing work in the context of a Haiku crisis? Maybe something like this :

Creative crisis :

Poetic QE allows

An extra syllable

Anyway, the day beckons – time to exploit that fresh potential!

A little reminder of why I love my job

In many ways, this has been a pretty tough week, work-wise. There’s a lot of change going on at our University, and far too much of it seems to be focused on my Faculty. Of course, change can be exciting – creating new opportunities and allowing the opportunity to challenge accepted wisdom and find better ways of working. Sometimes, though, when you’re right in the midst of it, it can seem like a lot of hard work, and the medium term benefits can appear to be a long way over the horizon.

That’s why I try to build in diary commitments that remind me why I love my job. This afternoon, I had the privilege of visiting a large comprehensive school on the outskirts of Cardiff to do a mock interview for a seventeen year old A level student who is the only pupil in the school to have applied to study medicine this year. She was a delight, and has already received invitations to attend for interview at two medical schools in the UK. From what I’ve seen today, they would be incredibly lucky to have her, and I am sure that she will do well.

I am always humbled and amazed at the dedication, maturity, and commitment that sixth form pupils now need to display to secure a place at university. Good GCSE and A level results on their own are rarely enough. Extra-curricular activities (sport, music, drama, volunteering etc..) and ideally some form of paid or voluntary work experience are almost essential to secure an interview (let alone an offer) for a place on a popular course at a top institution.

It’s really good to be reminded occasionally that students are the reason for the job that I do, and it’s even better to get the chance to work with them directly from time to time.

Finger Lickin’ Deadly

So, in a shock announcement that has left UK consumers reeling, it transpires that if you don’t keep raw poultry in the fridge, and if you don’t cook it properly before you eat it, then it might make you ill. It’s very hard to believe that there’s anybody above the age of 8 years old who didn’t already know this, but apparently it’s a huge surprise to the Food Standards Agency, the major supermarkets, and most mainstream media outlets (at least if the coverage of the story today is anything to go by: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30227342 ; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2851740/Warning-contaminated-chickens-70-fresh-supermarket-birds-tainted-campylobacter-food-poisoning-bug.html ; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/campylobacter-bacteria-affects-70-of-supermarket-chickens-9887701.html ).

Of course, it’s useful to be reminded that simple precautions need to be taken to ensure that your Sunday roast, chicken goujons, or breaded drumsticks don’t become your last meal. But the fuss that’s being made over something that is fixed by making sure you put it in the oven and leave it there until it’s cooked seems totally over the top.

However, just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s a few extra life-saving tips to help make sure that you make it safely through Friday :

1. don’t get out of your car until it’s stopped moving – tuck and roll may be ok for Bruce Willis but it won’t end well for you

2. don’t go searching for gas leaks using a cigarette lighter to illuminate the way – you’ll find the leak all right, but you probably won’t have enough skin on your hands to hold the ‘phone to tell anyone

3. don’t check whether the electricity is on by sticking your finger in the socket – this may come as a shock to you, but it’s not nearly as big as the shock you’ll get if you try it

4. if the sign on the door says “Danger! Do not enter”, that’s an instruction not a challenge

5. if you see Andrew Mitchell coming towards you on his bike, just open the ******* gate!

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/plebgate-former-chief-whip-andrew-mitchell-loses-high-court-libel-action-9887920.html

Stay safe everybody!

Italian Odyssey 3 : The Vatican Museums and St Peter’s

Continuing the account of our Italian Odyssey, this post details our visit to the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica. I’ll start with a confession : we’d actually stumbled across St Peter’s the day before our ‘planned’ visit, without realising what it was until we were pretty much standing in the square! We’d been heading for the Castel Sant’Angelo having spent the morning looking at the Pantheon (absolutely amazing) and the Piazza Navona (beautiful fountains, and even more gorgeous minestrone soup and prosecco!). Being Monday, we arrived at the Castel to find it closed (tourist tip 1 : check for opening days/times before you plan your day). Nevertheless, we managed to get some good photos of the imposing building from across the river.

Castel Sant'Angelo looking across the Ponte Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo looking across the Ponte Sant’Angelo

The fact that we didn’t actually make it into the Castle on this trip is one more very good reason for us to return to Rome in the not-to-distant future, so missing out this time is really something of a blessing in disguise!

Anyway, being at something of a loose end at this stage, we began strolling along the river bank away from the Castle and noticed up ahead the dome of (what we thought) was just another of the seemingly hundreds of imposing churches dotted across the city. So we started walking towards it.

The city skyline is peppered with impressive domes - it was an easy mistake to make!

The city skyline is peppered with impressive domes – it was an easy mistake to make!

As we approached St Peter’s Square, we quickly realised the mistake we’d made; but at least we knew exactly where we were headed when we returned deliberately, the following morning to visit the Vatican Museums. Tourist tip 2 : don’t assume that the entrance to the Vatican Museums is anywhere near St Peter’s Square – it’s not! Consequently, it was too rather hot Welsh tourists who presented themselves at the ticket office at the appointed entry time (we’d booked our tickets over the internet the evening before and printed them off in the ever-helpful Reception area at the Trilussa Palace Hotel).

You need to allow plenty of time to do justice to a visit to the Museums. The collections are vast, and it’s as well to do your own thing (with the help of one of the audio-guides), as this allows you to time your entry into some of the more popular galleries in between the larger groups who will inevitably be going around while you’re there. The main ticket hall and reception area was opened in 2000 to coincide with the Millennium and is a fantastic space in its own right, with a spiral, sloping walkway linking the three levels that take you from the entrance, through the ticket hall, and up to the entrance to the museums themselves. I haven’t been able to find the name of the architect for the entrance, but it has a very similar feel to the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris.

The piazza at the heart of the Vatican Museums

The piazza at the heart of the Vatican Museums

The main galleries of the museums are organised around a large piazza that is itself full of ancient and modern statuary and sculpture. There is no doubt that the ‘main attraction’ for many visitors to the museums (me included) is the Sistine Chapel, and the way that the museums are laid out tends to encourage this by leading you through pretty much the whole collection before the ‘grand reveal’ into the Chapel at the end. I have to say that I was personally a little bit disappointed with the Chapel, though. This very probably marks me out as a Philistine and utterly without redemption in the eyes of those who enthuse and marvel at the frescos that decorate it. For me, though, the real highlight was the time that we spent in the Raphael rooms. There was an intimacy in these rooms that was simply not present in the packed (but strangely soulless) hollowness of the Sistine Chapel.

Detail from one of the Raphael Rooms

Detail from one of the Raphael Rooms

We spent a fascinating (and lightening fast) three and a half hours in the museums, and even then there were sections that we barely glanced at. Being absolutely famished by this time, we made the only culinary mistake of the entire trip – we ate in the museums’ cafe. Tourist tip 3 : DON’T – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – EAT IN THE VATICAN MUSEUMS’ CAFE! It’s not that the food was that bad (although it wasn’t great), it’s simply that the service was abysmal. Anyway – moving on…

After lunch, we joined the queue of people waiting to enter St Peter’s Basilica. Initially, the length of the queue and the heat of the afternoon had led us to question whether it was worth the wait. But actually, the queue moved quickly and the wait was definitely worth it. The Basilica is a truly astonishing space – huge, and providing space for the most amazing collection of statues, carvings and other art works.

St Peter's Basilica - it's very large!

St Peter’s Basilica – it’s very large!

I have to say that even I – brought up as a non-conformist, South Wales chapel-goer – was impressed by the size, scale and grandeur of the Basilica. All in all, this was a truly memorable day.

Road rage, personal space and a poetic response

I travel 37 miles to work in Bristol from Cardiff each morning, and 37 miles back each evening. It’s mostly an uneventful and – occasionally – quite a pleasant journey, involving views at various points in the year of sunrises over the River Severn, and sunsets along the estuary.

Every now and then, though, another road user decides that my relaxed and casual driving demeanour needs to be shaken up by an act of negligence or deliberate stupidity that puts me and my car in danger. My trip home this evening was one of those occasions. A loser in a small, souped-up hatchback decided that he was going to drive into the precise space on the road that I was occupying whether I was there or not (and I am not joking – this muppet was coming out regardless).

Road rage is the motorist’s response to the invasion of personal space that leaves all of us feeling uncomfortable when it happens. W H Auden’s poem “I have no gun but I can spit” is the literary equivalent of one or two of the gestures that I was making towards the hatchback driver this evening (although done much more elegantly!).

Some thirty inches from my nose

The frontier of my Person goes,

And all the untilled air between

Is private pagus or demesne.

Stranger, unless with bedroom eyes

I beckon you to fraternize,

Beware of rudely crossing it:

I have no gun, but I can spit.

Three stories that suggest it’s been a quiet news day!

You have to feel for the editors of online, print and broadcast news on days like today. Faced with a seemingly insatiable demand for ever-more unique content, it must be a nightmare when there’s just not enough news to fill the available space. It seems that today was one of those days, at least if these three stories are anything to go by.

Venice ‘bans’ wheeled suitcases

This is a fantastic (literally, it subsequently transpires) story that has been quietly gaining traction on a number of internet news outlets, and was finally picked up by the BBC over the weekend (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30151781). It appears that sleep-deprived Venetians are being kept awake at all hours of the day and night by tourists wheeling noisy suitcases over the city’s

Sshh! We're trying to sleep...

Sshh! We’re trying to sleep…

historic pavements. Not only are these insomniac tourists keeping residents awake, however, but they’re also doing irreparable damage to the ancient paving stones with the constant wheeling of their suitcases. The report suggests that the city authorities were proposing a Eu500 (£390) on-the-spot fine for any tourist found wheeling a suitcase around the city following the introduction of new laws that would come into effect in May 2015. The most intriguing aspect of some of the reports was the suggestion that suitcases with liquid-filled wheels would be allowed under the new regulations, as they would be quieter and less disruptive to the delicate sleep patterns of local people. The only problem is, such wheels haven’t been invented yet (and would presumably only be allowed if the liquid was less than the 100ml allowed to be taken onto a flight in the first place)!

The Politically Correct Christmas Jumper

The Christmas Jumper has become a phenomenon in its own right over recent years, with all the main high street chains (and many independent retailers too) seeking to outdo one another in the gaudiness and gaucheness of their seasonal creations. Now though, one company has taken the Christmas jumper into hitherto uncharted territory by seeking to create something that is both uttely tacky AND religiously, politically and spiritually fully-inclusive! (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/oh-come-all-ye-multifaithful-the-christmas-jumper-is-in-fashion-but-should-you-wear-your-religion-on-your-sleeve-9877873.html)

Unisex and wholly inclusive...

Unisex and wholly inclusive…

Truly, the only thing that is offensive about this jumper is the colour scheme! (Don’t forget to wear your favourite, awful Christmas jumper with pride on National Christmas Sweater Day, 12th December 2014, and raise some money for a deserving cause even while causing migraines in your fellow-workers!)

Text Neck

Finally in this round up of the wild and wacky news of the day, the Guardian reports on research from the US that should be a warning to us all (especially you – yes, you – reading this on your iPhone!). Apparently, the added burden that we place on our neck and upper spine through spending large parts of the day staring at smartphones and other similar devices risks leaving us all in terrible danger of causing permanent damage to the bone structure and muscles in those areas. (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2014/nov/24/text-neck-how-smartphones-damaging-our-spines)

On the plus side, though, there’s a good chance that the cancer that we contract from the radiation exposure from the devices will kill us before our necks snap*.

*I may have made this last bit up…