Saturday 31 January 2009

Kittens of Mass Destruction

Over the last couple of days I've been plagued by a trail of Whiskas packets which have miraculously resurfaced from the kitchen bin and scattered themselves, in shredded pieces, across the kitchen floor. Given I've seen the kittens at work upstairs, on a set of IKEA instructions, it seems clear how the packets end up in such a sorry state.

As for how the contents of my bin are escaping in the first place, the culprit has finally been caught in the act...

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Singing Lessons

In the autumn of 2007 I did something I'd been thinking about for some time, and found myself a singing teacher. Having ended 2007 with the promise of continuing, life overtook me, and it's taken a new year's resolution in 2009 to get back in touch with my teacher and arrange some more lessons.

Today I had my first lesson back, and tried to remember everything I'd been taught about breathing. My teacher has all sorts of unexpected methods - this evenings was playing catch whilst singing, in an attempt to loosen up my arms, which have an unhelpful tendency to stick out from my tensed-up shoulders like sticks.

I'm planning to try and have a lesson every fortnight, in the hope of improving my technique, and also working towards the RSCM Voice for Life singing awards.

Monday 26 January 2009

SK277 Human Biology - TMA01

As a general rule, most of what arrives through my letter box is not of great excitement - junk mail, letters addressed to the previous occupants, or if I'm really lucky, a bank statement.

As it happens, there was one thing I've been expecting for the last week or so - the results from the first assignment (on Cells and Nutrition) of my Human Biology course.  In the event, I was so sidetracked when I came home this evening, wondering if Rupert was finally going to manage to keep down his dinner (he did, a great relief to all!), that it was some time before I realised that the dreaded OU envelope had arrived.

Despite the rush to finish the essay in time for the deadline, I surprised myself once again by scoring 88%.  The tutor's remarks were also very positive, although his final comment "I look forward to receiving your next assignment" certainly increases the pressure for TMA02.

(picture taken from "Cells and Nutrition", Open University 2004)

Friday 23 January 2009

Yet another cat photo

Does this really look comfortable to you?

Thursday 22 January 2009

Another cat photo

I promised myself not to publish any articles about the cats for a couple days, but I couldn't resist adding this photo.

Wednesday 21 January 2009


Being frequently frustrated by the fact that jobs for my personal todo list pop in to my mind at work, and that work items occur to me at home, I've been searching for a more convenient method of capturing them than my current solution of scraps of paper, most of which end up screwed up in the bin before I ever take action on them.

The solution, I hope, is a web-based tool called Toodledo, which, in addition to providing a nice web interface, has an iPhone app (meaning I can check and update my list from my iPod in bed!), a Firefox plugin (making it easy to quickly add tasks at work, without logging into the toodledo site) and the possibility to export to iCal and Google Calendar, amongst others.

I've bee using it for a couple weeks now, and so far I'm finding it very useful. Whilst my list of tasks is still growing, I have at least managed to complete a few as well.

(If you want to try it, using this link will indicate that I have referred you)

Table Manners

I had hoped that Rupert would be a good influence on the kittens, an older brother figure that they could look up to. Sadly, it appears that this was wishful thinking - the kittens certainly seem to regard Rupert with awe - purring frantically when he pays them any attention, and following his every move. Unfortunately, he seems only to be teaching them bad habits such as leaping onto the worktop and sitting on the kitchen table.

After a couple days of harmony, the frustrations of being kept inside are catching up Rupert, and the kittens seem to be a convenient target on which to take out some pent up frustrations. Fortunately, the kittens take every attack in the spirit of fun (indeed Rasha has no problems about being pounced on by Rupert, but is still terrified of me), and yesterday Zephyr and Rupert even curled up together during a ceasefire.

Monday 19 January 2009

Rupert the escape artist

For all my concerns about keeping the kittens under control, it appears to be Rupert I should be worrying about.

I have been keeping the three cats downstairs, until they acclimatised to their new home. This has suited the kittens fine, and they appear to have no thought that there might be something more interesting outside their space. Rupert, however, is another matter. Right from the start he has been curious about the world around him, particularly everything that lies behind the closed kitchen door.

Whilst I was upstairs earlier, I was surprised by a crash, and peering down the stairs, was surprised to find Rupert on the wrong side of the kitchen door. Berating myself for not shutting the door properly, I made sure the kittens were still contained, and then decided to let him explore a little. Before I knew it, though, he'd escaped my watchful eye, gone back down the stairs, and vanished into the meter cupboard, which apparently I'd shut, but not locked after reading the water meter yesterday.

Panicking, peering down into the darkness, there was no sign of him whatsoever. A small and distant miaow alerted me that he really was down there, but without a torch I couldn't see any sign of him. After a very long couple minutes, he finally re-emerged briefly to show me that he was safe, but before I could grab him (to my relief, the drop was not as deep as it first appeared in the dark), he vanished again. Clearly, whilst I was busy panicking that he was lost under the house for ever, he was having a jolly good explore. Finally, he emerged again, covered in dust, but none the worst for his adventure, and let me extract him from the pipework.

I would like to say that this has been the end of this evening's stress, however, now that he has had a taste for freedom, he is continuing his search. I realise, too, that it was not me that left the door open, but rather Rupert who opened it, as this video demonstrates. Sadly, I stopped filming seconds before he did manage to open the door. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Rather than continue to listen to his anguished howling, and door opening exercise, I have left him to explore the rest of the house. He reappears every ten minutes or so to howl outside the kitchen door (shut, to keep at least the kittens in), and look plaintively at the front door. As I suspected, Rupert is clearly an outdoor cat, and when he's been in the house a bit longer, this will definitely have to be addressed. For the short term, I hope he manages to adjust to staying indoors, for all our sakes!

Zephyr and Rasha-ba

After some deliberation, I have decided to name both kittens after named winds (not, I should point out, because either has shown particular signs of flatulence!).

The white and black kitten, originally named Rein, is Zephyr, after the Greek god of the west wind. Although the name does seem to suit him, it's not perhaps the most appropriate, as in Greek mythology, Zephyr was the most gentle of the winds.

Stogholo, I have renamed (with some relief) to Rasha-ba, or Rasha. The name is Kurdish for the "black wind" and is given to a strong wind in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Both kittens are beginning to settle in. Zephyr is now quite affectionate, although Rasha is still keeping his distance, and won't really let me get too close to him yet.

Sunday 18 January 2009

T S Eliot - The Verb (update)

Jen's interview on The Verb will be available until next Friday (23rd) on the BBC iPlayer.

T S Eliot - In Pictures

Arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as Jen is whisked away to the Green Room for sound checks, I take the opportunity to take a quick photo of the London Eye.

The shortlisted poets stand alone on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, reading to an audience of about 950, accompanied only by these banners.

After the readings, the shortlisted poets are available to sign copies of their books. Dad makes me line up to have his copy of Jen's book autographed!

The T S Eliot prize announcement is made on Monday evening. We all arrive at the Skinner's Hall early. Coming alone from evensong at St Paul's, I spend a little time admiring the entrance way before realizing that the others are already inside.

Both Mum and Jen want to ask Sister Wendy Beckett about the paintings on the walls, but are too shy.

At the beginning of the evening there is still room to see across the room. By the time the announcement is made, there is barely room to breathe.

With typical build-up, the winner (on the right of the photo) and runners up of the T S Eliot Shadowing Scheme are announced. Jen and CiarĂ¡n Carson are waiting, outwardly calm, for the announcement of the T S Eliot prize itself.

The shortlisted poets are invited to come and receive their cheques from Mrs Valerie Eliot. Suddenly Jen is on the other side of the podium from us, and we can no longer see her. By this point, Mum and I are holding hands, squeezing ever tighter as the tension builds up before the announcement.

When the announcement is made, Jen is completely hidden from us by the crowds. Mum, Dad, Aviva and I hug each other, totally unashamed of our tears. Around us, people whisper, that must be the family. A rather tearful Jen comes up to the podium to read a poem from Nigh-no-place. Despite her emotions, she reads flawlessly, pulling the audience in to the poem.

The rest of the evening passes in a blur. Jen is photographed from every angle, alone, with Mrs Eliot, with the winner of the shadowing scheme, and with the other poets. Once released by the photographers, she is swarmed by people. Friends of hers, and strangers, all wanting to congratulate her. Occasionally we manage to catch a glimpse of her, but until the evening is over and we head off to Dad's favourite London restaurant, The Great Nepalese, we don't manage to speak.

Despite only getting to bed at around 2.30, Jen and I are up at 5.30 on Tuesday morning, unable to sleep. At 7 o'clock I am busy rearranging my flight plans to stay in London until the evening, to keep Jen company. At 7.20, we are picked up by a car to bring us to the BBC in Shepherd's Bush, where Jen is going to speak live on the Today program. I'm kicking myself for not bringing my camera, especially when I see the Dalek positioned by the front door. As my phone battery dies on route, I don't even have a back up plan. At the second visit to the BBC, where Jen finds herself live on Radio Scotland with less than a minute's notice, I am better prepared.

The day becomes a whirlwind of radio and newspaper interviews, interspersed by yet more photographs. During one photo session I slip out and procure a cornish pasty from Euston Station for the starving and exhausted poet. Unfortunately, she is called for a telephone interview just as I arrive back with the pasty, and by the time she gets to eat it, it's rather cold.

Finally, around 3pm she's left in peace for a while, and we slip out to Carluccio's, a place which has become our safe haven and meeting point in London. So far in our stay, we have visited every day, for breakfast, lunch or a cup of coffee. We have half an hour to sit quietly, chat with our new friend the waiter, before I have to leave to catch my flight. I leave Jen flat out on the bed, barely awake as I head off to London City Airport.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Rupert, Rein and Stogholo (2)

So, the cats are at home, and slowly settling in. Rupert was first out of the cat basket, and had no hesitation in setting off to explore his new home. In fact, he's already of the opinion that the downstairs in under control and he'd like to see what else in on offer. I'm sitting on the sofa now, and he's curled up next to me seeming quite content.

Rein and Stogholo will take somewhat longer to adjust. Rein is currently hiding under the sofa and Stogholo in a small space between the fridge and the wall. Rein was fairly quick to venture out and explore, but Stogholo is extremely nervous and waited quite a while before leaving the travelling basket. He has taken a small tour of the room, although he walked in a crouch, flattening himself almost to the ground in the hope that no-one would see him.

So far the cats don't seem to have any problems with each other. Rein seems quite keen to play with Rupert, who is far more interested in exploring than making friends. Still there's been no fighting or growling yet. All three cats managed to come together in one small space whilst they explored the cupboard under the stairs, but Rupert (who seems to have a head for heights) put paid to that by trying to climb up on to the shelves. The result - half the contents of the shelf were flung to the floor and all three cats came flying out in shock. The kittens haven't yet emerged again!

The names, by the way, are those given to them by the animal shelter. Rupert is already so firmly fixed in my head that I won't change it. Rein and Stogholo will be renamed, although I haven't picked their new names yet.

Rupert, Rein and Stogholo (1)

However much I wanted a lie-in this morning, I had something more important to do. So at 9am, as soon as it opened, I was at the pet shop, to buy a litter tray and some cat baskets...

At 9.30, Ruben arrived, to take me to the animal sanctuary in Rijswijk, whose website I've been perusing in search for a cat or, preferably, two. After some difficulty, and help from a passing dog walker, we managed to find the sanctuary which is in the middle of a park, and not particularly obvious.

They have two rooms of cats, with both cats in cages and also running loose around the room. As soon as I walked in, I realized that trying to make any choice based on preferences I had from the website photos was useless.

Rupert leapt out at me (not literally!) as soon as I walked up to his cage. A sleek brown tabby, he came right up to the front of the cage and rubbed against my fingers. Bringing him out of the cage, he was comfortable being held and purred happily. It didn't take me long to decide that Rupert would be coming home with me. Finding a companion for him was a challenge though. Both a friendly black and white cat, and a ginger tom had to be ruled out as neither were happy with other cats.

In the second room, some younger cats caught my eye. I fell for a beautiful grey tabby, but it was quickly clear that he was going to be taken by someone else. In the cage next to him were two black and white cats... Rein and Stogholo. Rein is white and black, and was very friendly and playful, trying to catch my hand through the bars of the cage. Stogholo was more aloof, keeping to the back of the cage, watching. The more I watched, the more I felt they belonged with me.... but I hadn't planned on taking 3 cats home with me! After some consultation, we decided that the two kittens would fit together in one basket, leaving the other for Rupert.

Friday 16 January 2009

Lunch at Robbie's

Today I went with four of my colleagues to have lunch with Rob, my former director, and to deliver the last part of his retirement present - a telephoto lens for his new camera. As you can see, it didn't take long until the lens was out and in action (you can see his photos on Robbie's Blog). Clearly he has some photographic talent, as he's managed to take a photo of me that I can actually live with!

We had a very good lunch of tomato soup and nasi goreng, which I think will inspire me to have an attempt at some Indonesian cooking myself.

Biological Psychology

Despite the fact that my Human Biology course is still running, I have despite to take on a little more work, and am starting a second OU course Biological Psychology in February. I hope I'm not taking on more than I can chew, as the two courses will overlap for a couple of months, but I didn't want to wait until 2010 to continue my progress on the Diploma in Health Sciences.

Thursday 15 January 2009

T S Eliot - The Verb

Jen will be being interviewed on The Verb, 21.15 Friday night, BBC Radio 3.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

T S Eliot - Articles (updated)

Articles, in no particular order, just as Mum and I have been finding them...

And some blogs too:
Perhaps most scary of all, she's even on Wikipedia!

For those that want to practice their language skills, the news has travelled outside the English-speaking world too:

Saturday 10 January 2009

St Nicolas Chorale

After a number of years singing with the choir of St John and St Philip in The Hague, I made the difficult decision before Christmas to leave the choir and seek new challenges. My new choir, the St Nicolas Chorale, who sing at the St Nicolaaskerk in Amsterdam, is a specialist choral evensong choir, singing services alternate Saturdays.

Traveling to Amsterdam was a bit of a concern when making my decision, but so far seems to work quite efficiently, particularly as I used my time on the train to study.

Whilst it was very sad to leave my friends in The Hague, I have felt instantly welcome in the new choir, and with purple robes and a familiar repertoire from my singing days in Bowdon, I felt instantly at home... although extremely nervous when I realized that I had to lead the choir procession at the start of the service!

Today was my first evensong with the choir:

  • introit: From the rising of the Sun, Ouseley
  • responses: Ayleward
  • office hymn: Hostes Herodes impie
  • psalm 72, chant Garrett
  • canticles: Walmisley in D minor
  • anthem: Here is the little door, Howells

With the exception of January, where we are singing the 2nd, 4th and 5th Sundays, you can normally find me there on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays. Upcoming music lists are available here.