Monday, February 29, 2016

Playing at a Funeral

As a rule, I don't like playing the bagpipes for money. I take the view that I have a job and that I'd therefore rather keep my hobbies as hobbies, without the expectations that come with making money from them. (Plus, it's worth noting that playing for money has tax implications, and it's really not worth adding a second, very small, income stream as doing so is more hassle than benefit.) So, for the most part, if someone asks me to play at an event, it will be a friend or a family member, and I'll donate my time rather than charge for it.

That said, every so often I do get asked to play at an event by someone I don't really know. In which case, my first impulse is to pass it on to someone else - there are people in the band who do play for money, and for whom it represents a decent portion of their income, and so are glad of the extra work. But if that's not possible, then I'll do the event is possible. Because if someone asks, presumably it's because they'd rather like to have a piper.

There are three types of events where a person will typically ask a piper to play. Two of these are 'happy' events - weddings and Burns' Nights. In both cases, people are celebrating some event, they're generally happy events, and if the piper can add something to the event then that's all to the good.

But the third of these is the one I really don't like playing at: funerals.

I actually don't mind funerals in general, because every funeral is different - most of the admittedly few I have attended have been markers of the end of a long life well lived. They've been quiet affairs that served to bring a conclusion, and to celebrate a life.

But the concern when playing the bagpipes at a funeral is that you just don't know how things are going to play out. You're inevitably playing for people who are hurting, even in the best of circumstances, and in both of the cases where I've played at a funeral it has been for people I didn't know well. And you can't know how people will react if you play the wrong, or perhaps right, piece of music. It's just difficult.

(And the worst thing of all is dealing with the money. Which really sucks, because the last thing you want to do is ask someone who is in the midst of grieving for the payment that's been arranged, but given that it has been arranged... A useful note for anyone in that position: when confirming the booking, ask the client to give the payment in an envelope to the funeral director. They're used to handling such things, and are good for maintaining a professional distance.)

So it's fair to say that playing at funerals isn't exactly my favourite thing in the world.

(There's an obvious reason I'm mentioning this now: on Friday I played at my second funeral. The lady involved was actually the last of the three daughters of the founder of my pipe band, who I had first met during our centenary celebrations - her father had composed three tunes, one for each of his daughters, but she'd never actually heard them played. So I learned the tunes and played them for her. And so, with her passing, we were asked again if a piper from the band could go and play at the funeral. Naturally, we made sure that someone, specifically me, did just that.)

#12: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Clone Army Attacketh", by Ian Doescher

Friday, February 26, 2016

Experimental Cookery 2016 #1: Indonesian Chicken Curry

Yes, it's true - tonight I did my first Experimental Cookery of 2016. For Christmas, LC's parents got me a box containing three curry pastes - an Indonesian paste, a Balti paste, and a Thai Green curry paste. As the one of the three that I'd never tried before, the Indonesian paste was selected for tonight's meal.

Not being entirely sure what to do with this paste, I adapted Jamie's Korma recipe - the chickpeas and dessicated coconut came out, and lime leaves went in instead, but the base was the standard onions, ginger and chilli. It was a quick and easy meal to make, about an hour from end to end, and served with rice (and haggis pakora, since we're Scots).

I'm sure it wasn't even remotely authentic, but I'm largely unconcerned with such things - what was important was that the curry tasted very nice. And, as an added bonus, we now have three additional portions tucked away in the freezer for later use. Huzzah!

The one thing I think was perhaps a mistake was that I attempted to use half of the jar but misjudged it and ended up using closer to three quarters. This leaves us with a little left over - maybe just enough to do a meal for two at some later point. In hindsight, I should have added a little more chicken, used the whole jar, and gone for eight portions instead of five. Oh well, I'll know for next time.

And that, pretty much, is that.

#10: "Pathfinder: Breaking the Bones of Hell", by Amber E. Scott
#11: "Pirate's Prophecy", by Chris A. Jackson

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

LC and I went to see this on Saturday. We were a little surprised to find that it was already reduced to only one showing a night, and in pretty much the smallest screen the cinema had available. Still, I guess with both "Deadpool" and "Zoolander 2" starting, they probably needed the screens.

Anyway, it's a pretty enjoyable film, though not necessarily what I'd describe as a "good" film - it's a light-hearted romp that does what it sets out to do but doesn't exactly stretch itself. Which, if I'm being honest, probably sums up Jane Austen's oeuvre, so I guess that fits.

The two leads, Lily James and Sam Riley, were both fine in the roles of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, though they were upstaged rather by Tywin and Cersei... I mean Charles Dance and Lena Headey (as Mr Bennet and Lady Catherine respectively). And the highlight was Matt Smith as Mr Collins (Parson Collins) who was amusing throughout. (That said, I was struck once again by just how much of Lily James' acting technique boils down to breathing in and out. I'm not sure that's a recommendation.)

And that's pretty much all there is to say about that, really. Except to note that I really should read the book. Oh, and indeed that I find the notion of a Regency + Zombies RPG quite intriguing...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Mid-season Break

A few weeks ago, the family were drafted in to help one of my brothers move home. It was a fairly miserable day, especially due to fairly heavy snow. As is my wont, I listened to the coverage of football that afternoon, which saw a lot of games cancelled due to the weather, and some games start only to be abandoned. And, as always happens when that occurs, the major debate of the day was about whether Scottish football should have a mid-season break in January to prevent matches being called off.

The problem with that strategy, though, and the one that always gets brought up when this is debated, is that the weather in Scotland is fairly unpredictable - there may be heavy snow in January and matches may be called off... or January may be fine and February be marked with terrible weather. We just don't know from one year to the next. So scheduling a mid-season break is problematic.

But I would have thought something can be done. Specifically:

  1. Look into starting the season a couple of weeks earlier and/or ending a couple of weeks later, as if the season were being structured for a mid-season break.
  2. Don't schedule a formal mid-season break. However, when the weather is poor in December, January, and February, be quicker to call off a match. Where now the default approach is that a match will be on unless the pitch is truly unplayable, the approach should instead be that if the weather is notably bad then the game should be called off by default. (And, basically, almost no game should ever be abandoned - if the weather is bad enough that that was a meaningful risk, the game should have been called off long before.)
  3. If we get though December, January, and February with no, or very few, games called off, the fixtures later in the season can be spread out a little more, allowing the players more time to recover between matches. Whereas it's currently not at all uncommon for teams to have three matches in eight days near the end of the season, that would simply not happen if the three worst months were playable.

It's crazy, but it just might work!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 50: Update on Goals

Somehow, we're already 50 days into 2016. I'm rather shocked at this, but simultaneously quite glad that we're coming out of the worst of winter. It's been grim. Anyway, it's time for an update on goals for the year:

  • Weight: Actually, there's nothing to say here - I haven't stepped onto the scales in several days. But I've been hovering about the same weight for ages, and doubt that that's changed significantly.
  • Books: This one is going extremely well - I'm currently reading my tenth book of the year, and am up to date on all the sub-lists.
  • Games: A mixed bag here - the first session of "Firefly: The Lost Episodes" went spectacularly well, but it also looks like this may be the last session of the campaign for quite some time. (Ironic since I'd just started to make some plans for that campaign!) "Eberron: Dust to Dust" has now had two sessions this year and is also going well. I suspect it is this campaign that will survive the move intact, though how long it runs before the end, and whether it is indeed my last D&D 5e campaign, remains to be seen. All in all, I've had three game sessions this year, which is good going, especially so early in the year.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: Oh, so stressful. I'll provide a fuller update once this is all done, but it's not exactly fun right now. It's also my #1 priority right at the moment, which is difficult since it's also the one thing I don't have control over.
  • Band: Not a goal, but still important, things with the band are going well. We're well advanced in our preparations for the upcoming season, and I'm involved in teaching three students, one of whom looks set to play in Gala Days this year (and competition next year), one of whom is just a couple of months behind her (and so liable to just miss out on the Gala Days, but will perhaps compete next year), and one who has just started. I've informed the committee of our pending house move, but I've also committed to seeing out this upcoming season if it is at all possible - come September the band will probably have to find a new chairperson/webmaster/tutor/trustee, but that's a problem for another day.
  • Church: Another not-a-goal but also relevant, LC and I have begun the process of disentangling ourselves from our commitments in the church, again in preparation for the move. We're scheduled to do the tea and coffee duty at one evening service next month, and then that's it. Likewise, we'll be dropping out of "Small Groups" either as soon as we move or at the end of the current session (not sure which - might be whichever comes first, might just be when we move).
  • Lent: There was an incident with some ice cream a couple of days ago (where said ice cream came complete with a chocolate that I couldn't eat), but desite that - and subject to the Valentine exemption - the Lenten aversion to Irn Bru, alcohol, and chocolate remains intact. But, again, the end of the season in 37 days remains something to which I can look forward.

And that, basically, is that. Two goals well in hand, one that's ongoing but very stressful, and one that has no report. Things otherwise are proceeding apace. All in all, that's not too bad.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dear "Remain"...

As we near the end of David Cameron's farcical 'renegotiation' process and it becomes apparent that he's not going to come away with any new powers, and may well come away with nothing at all, it's been interesting watching the Guardian and the BBC gradually filling with stories about how Britain will be bit with disaster if we decide to leave the EU. Which leaves me despairing at the idiocy on show.

Here's the thing: if and when the referendum comes, I fully intend to vote "Remain", because I think that's the best way forward for the UK. Actually, I'd go further than that, and advocate that even our current position of being in the club, but only just, is a mistake and that actually we should be getting right in there. But never mind.

But when I read stories about how the UK won't survive leaving the EU, we'll never be able to trade with anyone ever again, or we're going to lose all our maternity/paternity leave or right to paid holidays, I find myself reminded of the oh-so-successful "Project Fear" (their name, not mine) that the UK-OK campaign used in the Scottish Independence referendum. Where, again, we had such delights as being told that Scotland, uniquely of all nations in the world, could never survive independence, that we'd never be able to trade with anyone ever again, and even that we'd find ourselves vulnerable to attacks from space (no, really).

The problem is that the powers-that-be seem to have mistaken the victory for the "No" vote in that referendum for a sign that "Project Fear" was a successful campaign. But it wasn't - Project Fear managed to turn a 70/30 lead two years before the referendum into a nail-biting 55/45 result. What's more, by failing to win hearts and minds, it has left independence very much a live issue in Scotland. We voted "No"... but only with very strong reservations.

"Project Fear" was a terrible campaign. To see it being repeated already in the EU campaign leaves me extremely worried - it's a losing proposition even if you start with an overwhelming majority (which "Remain" don't) and if you have the media overwhelmingly on your side (which "Remain" don't).

And the more extreme the claims, the more outlandish the nonsense, the more counter-productive they are. See, when we were told that an independent Scotland would be vulnerable to attack from space (no, really), the reaction was not "oh well, better vote "no" then", it was to immediately discard that as abject nonsense and also to disregard anything else that person had to say in future. And so all the big names in the "no" camp were gradually discredited - Theresa May when she said England may have to bomb our airports, Ed Miliband when he talked about putting up a big wall along the border, Jim Murphy every time he said anything... and the BBC as they uncritically reported every bit of nonsense. The "no" camp were very, very lucky that Gordon Brown had kept his powder dry and had just enough of a reputation left that he was able to sell the Vow... and that now wouldn't work again.

So, to the "Remain" campaign, I say this: please, please don't take anything from the "Project Fear" playbook unless it is to use it as an example of how things should not be done. There's still time to end this madness... but not much time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Valentine/Lent Exception

For Lent I have given up Irn Bru (and all related fizzy drinks), chocolate, and alcohol. For the most part it's no big deal, except when eating out (because it's surprisingly difficult to get a drink that isn't either alcoholic or carbonated), and indeed barely worth mentioning. Though I'll be glad once Lent is over and normal service can resume.

It turned out that there was one more problem with this plan, though, in that because Easter is so early this year, Valentine's Day fell within the period of Lent. Which meant that the plan to produce a three-course meal and to consume it with a nice bottle of wine was endangered.

Fortunately, there's a loophole...

One of the key origins of Lent is tied up with the forty days Christ spent in the wilderness (see Luke 4), and so for a similar time before Easter Christians will symbolically fast, typically giving something up that they otherwise enjoy. (Ideally, it actually shouldn't be a bad habit or vice - if something is a bad habit or vice one should really just give that up permanently!)

But Lent runs from Ash Wednesday (Feb 10th this year) through to Easter Sunday (March 27th this year) - a period of 46 days. The reason for this discrepancy is that Lent is a period of 40 days that are symbolically set aside. But since Sundays are already symbolically set aside (being Sundays), they don't count towards the total. And so the six Sundays (Feb 14, 21, and 28; and March 6, 13, and 20 this year) aren't part of the 40 days of Lent.

Which was rather lucky - this year Valentine's Day just happened to fall on a Sunday, allowing the exception to trigger just as it was needed. Huzzah!

At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it! (I won't be making an exception for the other five Sundays, though, so it's fair to note that I'm not entirely convinced it's a good excuse.)

Anyway, Valentine's dinner this year was started with "Truly Tomato" soup (essentially, a homemade cream of tomato) with rolls (store bought), followed by Chicken Balmoral with mashed potato and whisky sauce (all homemade), and with strawberry ice cream (homemade) and shortbread (bought) for dessert. To drink we had champagne, and later we had a few Valentine's chocolates while watching "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

All in all, it was rather a success... though rather a lot to eat!

#8: "The SHepherd's Crown", by Terry Pratchett
#9: "Doctor Who: Shada", by Gareth Roberts

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Recurrence of PC Woes

As always seems to be the case, my PC has chosen to act up just as I'm facing up to an already-busy weekend. It's going to have to wait - there are things I simply must do this weekend, so annoying as the PC fault is I can't deal with it right now.

But the fact that this has happened is really annoying for two reasons:

  1. This PC doesn't get particularly heavy use - web surfing and some light clerical work. It doesn't get used for gaming or coding or video editing, or anything remotely intensive, nor does the software load change except at the whim of Microsith.
  2. This failure is really the latest in a cascade of failures that has now engulfed every single bit of software on the machine - first it was Office that needed removed and reinstalled, then that broke the anti-virus software, and now the OS has developed a fault. Which suggests there's something in there underlying it all. Time for a reinstall, I guess.

So much for Windows 10 being a good one. Sigh.

#7: "Pathfinder: The Kintargo Contract", by Jim Groves

Monday, February 01, 2016

BBC Radio Travel?

Some time ago, I half heard a snippet from some radio commentator of football, the gist of which was that when someone tuned in to the show, most likely part-way through the match, that person would actively resent every word that the commentator said until he got around to repeating the score. Which makes sense - it's the single most important factlet regarding the match, and so it's the one that you most want to know when you tune in.

Of course, the big problem with this is that a person who has been listening to the show throughout won't need a constant reminder of the score, and would be quickly annoyed if it were repeated every sentence or so. And so the solution must be to repeat the score reasonably often, but not necessarily all the time, and also to try to repeat it in a 'natural' way - "the attack dies out, and so the match remains poised at 1-1", or whatever.

When travelling to and from work in the last few days, I've been suffering a similar phenomenon with regard to the travel report. It's been fairly important for the last couple of weeks, and so I've felt compelled to listen out for it. And yet, the radio stations that have the traffic reports I need also don't have the music I want to listen to. (I could listen to a CD, but the stations in question are decidedly unreliable in their use of the "Travel Advisory" capability - usually, by the time they've activated it, they've already dealt with the bit of the travel I'm actually interested in. So that doesn't work.)

And so, I've been getting in the car, tuning to Forth One, and then resenting every single thing that is on the radio until a traffic report comes on. After which I change channel, since by then I know what I need to know.

Driving in to work this morning, then, I thought to myself, "I wonder why nobody has started a Traffic Channel, that plays nothing but repeated traffic reports?" At which point I quickly answered myself - there's no money in it since people would only ever tune in for five minutes, hear the report, and then tune out, so there's no value for advertisers, and so no funding.

So, really, whoever did such a thing would have to do so as a public service, with no intention of ever making any money from it. And where, in the whole of the UK, could we possibly find a public service broadcaster?

It really would be very helpful - a channel (actually, lots of regional channels) that broadcasts nothing but traffic reports, and maybe news and weather, on a permanent loop. They don't even need presenters as such; just use pre-recorded reports that change when the situation changes. Ideally, these channels would run in parallel to the existing programming on other stations, but if need be I'd be happy to sacrifice "Good Morning Scotland" on BBC Scotland for (a) something actually useful and (b) something that doesn't actively make me angry.

Just a thought...

(Oh, and another thought: Could someone at Classic FM please consider that having a single traffic report for the whole of the UK is completely useless? It's just not possible to cover the whole of the country in both a reasonable time and in enough detail to be useful - it really needs to be a local report to be useful. And, actually, that shouldn't be impossible, since I'm reasonably sure you already have regional advertising, so the technology needed already exists.)

#5: "Bloodbound", by F. Wesley Schneider
#6: "The Five People You Meet in Heaven", by Mitch Albom (a book from The List, and the first real candidate for Book of the Year for 2016 - it's going to take some beating!)