Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Year in 2017

So, the end of 2017. It's been an interesting year, if nothing else! After flirting with the possibility of a change, in the end I decided to stick with my normal format...

My Year in... Blogging

This year I set myself a sort-of goal of posting an average of 10 times a month on this blog, and a further five times a month on the Imaginarium - enough for both blogs to be vibrant, but not a record-beating number. And I've achieved both targets pretty much exactly. I'm happy with that.

My Year in... Work

There's not much I can say about work - all the same things I couldn't talk about last year are pretty much as un-talk-about-able as they were last year.

For the rest... in some ways this has been a great year, in others it has fallen short. There's the prospect of some of that being made good in the near future, but then I thought that this time last year (I even had a whole goal about it). So we'll have to see.

Once again, there has been no call to travel this year. Under the circumstances, my ability to travel next year is limited. So I don't know when next I'll be away.

My Year in... Health

This year has been much the same as the last few - mostly fine, with the IBS never really being too bad. I did have to have a root canal treatment on one tooth, which wasn't fun. But that's done now.

My Year in... Gaming

2017 has been a very quiet year for gaming - I enjoyed a grand total of five sessions, I think, one of which was "Star Trek" and the others "Pathfinder". My main conclusion is that Pathfinder is not for me.

I expect 2018 to be largely devoid of gaming.

My Year in... Band

2017 was a bittersweet year for band. I enjoyed my last season with Camelon & District (well, I mostly enjoyed it) and then bowed out. I've since joined Uphall Station Pipe Band, which is a local, non-competing band. The standard is much lower, which is inherent in 'non-competing', but the pressure is also much less. I've played two events with them so far, and it's a good fit.

My Year in... Resolutions

As always, the wrap-up of annual goals, and setting of goals for next year, are handled in another post.

My Year in... Travel

I made two trips in 2017, and LC made a third. During the Easter holiday, we took a short holiday in York, which was good fun. And then in October we visited Copenhagen. This latter trip was also good fun, with the highlight being seeing the polar bear (in the zoo), though it was really quite expensive (and, to be honest, I preferred Amsterdam).

I didn't take a summer holiday this year due to the house move, but LC spent a week in Croatia. Which is deeply unfair - maybe I'll take a holiday by myself next year to make up for it.

On the other hand, the big movement of the year was also a very short one - the move from Falkirk to Livingston. We finally moved out of the flat at the start of June, and into the new house at the start of July (while LC was in Croatia, no less). This was all a bit of a nightmare, so it was a huge relief to have it finally over and done with!

My Year in... Faith

Following the house move, LC and I have done a tour of the churches in and around Livingston, and settled on a new base of worship. It's very new at the moment, but looks to be a good start.

Other than that, there's not much to report.

My Year in... Sadness

Of course, the end-of-year review couldn't pass without mentioning the passing of Grandma, on the 1st of April. I wrote about this at some length at the time, so won't reiterate it here, but it's sad that this was the first Christmas in twenty years when she wasn't visiting (albeit in hospital last year).

My Year in... Great Joy

But, of course, the most significant event of the year was of course the start of Project Tadpole, which is now in the middle of its eighth month. This is actually something I've been hoping for for a very long time, and also something I'm very much looking forward to in 2018.

My Year... Overall

I know that a lot of people have found 2017 to be extremely trying, and there is certainly reason to wish it done. However, for me, 2017 was a very distinct step forward from the horrors of 2016. It was really good to finally complete the house move, developments at work have been largely positive (though not without their problems - but I can't talk about that), and so it has been a generally okay year.

2018 promises to be a year of major changes. That being the case, I'm not entirely sure what to expect. I guess we'll find out.

And with that, I bid farewell to blogging for 2017. I hope you have a good New Year, and that 2018 brings every blessing.

End of Year Update on Goals

With the year rapidly coming to an end, it's time for the end-of-year wrap-up. And so my first post on the topic is the update on my goals for the year:

  • Weight: No joy. This has been an utter failure. There's not really any more to be said there - it just hasn't worked out at all.
  • Books: This was a very narrow success - I finished book 60 on the 29th of the month. I made it through all but one of the sub-lists - I had to abandon the Pathfinder Tales when Paizo stopped publishing them, though that can't really be considered a failing in the goal. So, success!
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This was completed, finally, in August.
  • Part Five: The House: This was mostly done - we didn't get around to redecorating the two rooms, but we did get the various bits of new furniture and did do most of the other things on our list. So that's not bad.
  • Part Five: Church: Done. LC and I have decided to worship at the St Andrew's church in Livingston (which is associated with the Old Parish), at least for the foreseeable future.
  • Part Five: Band: Done. I left Camelon & District Pipe Band at the AGM, and have moved across to Uphall Station Pipe Band, a non-competing band in my local area. So that's good.
  • Part Five: Gaming: Done. I've decided to stick with the Falkirk RPG group, at least nominally. However, I expect my gaming to be sharply curtailed over the next few years - indeed I'm considering stopping gaming altogether for various reasons.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: I fairly quickly decided that this goal would be discarded. And yet, with the end of the year upon us, I find I may have to revisit it...


Of the eight goals, that's five done and one abandoned. There was one incomplete task, and one abject failure. That's pretty good, really. But the failure of the weight goal is fairly damning.

2018 will very much be a year of transition, much like 2012. And, like 2012, 2018 will be marked with an absence of formal goals. In fact, I'm only going to set one, and it will be both fairly minor and awfully specific:

  • Books: As I've mentioned before, The List is made up as a composite of two top-100 lists, one British and one American. My goal for the year is therefore to read the remaining titles in the British list. This gives me ten specific titles to read over the next year (technically eleven, but somehow "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" and "Hamlet" are both on the list. I'm not sure how that came about.)

And that really is it - just one goal for the year, and it's extremely doable. (I do hope, again, to do something about the weight issue, but I'm not setting a formal goal even on that front. I wonder if that means it will be any more effective.)

#57: "The High Druid's Blade", by Terry Brooks
#58: "Swallows and Amazons", by Arthur Ransome (a book from The List)
#59: "Moby Dick", by Herman Melville (a book from The List)
#60: "The Hydrogen Sonata", by Iain M. Banks

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi

Well... it's a film.

I don't think there are any spoilers in what follows. But if you really want to be sure, look away now!

LC and I went to see the new Star Wars film last night. Surprisingly, the cinema was largely empty. I have no idea why this was the case - did they just put on too many showings, or massively over-estimate the draw of the film? Or is it just that the Vue are so absurdly expensive that they've killed their own business? (I suppose it might also be that 3D is now a dead fad, but I didn't see a huge number of people lining up for any of the other showings either...)

My impression of the film itself was... strange. There are several things that I liked - I liked that they did something new with the film, rather than just rehash "The Empire Strikes Back", and I liked some of the new characters and new locations, I liked seeing the 1% of the galaxy, and I liked the various takes on Luke and Kylo's memory...

In addition, there's nothing I didn't like about the film. Okay, maybe one particular bit of silliness, but can live with that (it is only a few moments, after all). And, I suppose one moment left me thinking "why didn't you do that in the first place?" But those are quibbles, rather than movie-shattering flaws.

But having said that, my overall impression is, as I said above: "it's a film." I didn't hate it, I didn't love it... it was just there. Okay then, thanks for that, see you next year.

Which is weird.

I should note: I do think it's better than "The Force Awakens", but probably not as good as "Rogue One" (on any count). And it's not going to dislodge any of the original trilogy from my affections. It's also better than "Justice League" or "Wonder Woman", but I certainly enjoyed "Thor: Ragnarok" considerably more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

One More!

I forgot to post at the time, but when in Edinburgh Airport on my way to Copenhagen I discovered a truly great piece of news: there is one more Terry Pratchett book that I have not read! It's a third short story collection, "Father Christmas' Fake Beard", collecting a few more of his early writings. That, alas, really will be the end, but never mind - it's one more bit of extra time I didn't know was coming.

#54: "Pathfinder: The Flooded Cathedral", by Mikko Kallio
#55: "SS-GB", by Len Deighton
#56: "Xanathar's Guide to Everything", by Wizards of the Coast

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Ending in Fire

I'm a little hesitant to write this post. It has been my contention for some time that anyone who interprets politics through the lens of Harry Potter is equivalent to Dolores Umbridge teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts: lacking a proper understanding of the subject, they're forced to revert back to an inadequate textbook.

And yet, I'm about the note a big parallel between UK politics and "Babylon 5". But, oh well.

So, here it is: in B5, the Centauri Republic most readily match up to the UK - a proud, decadent people, that are somehow both a democracy and ruled by an emperor, long since past their prime, and busily sucking up to the Earth Alliance (that is: America).

In this arrangement, Nigle Farage is Londo Mollari, and especially in his answer to the famous "What do you want?" question: "Do you really want to know what I want? Do you really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want... I want it all back the way it was. Does that answer your question?"

(There's a really big weakness of the analogy right here - in the show Londo is deeply flawed, but he's actually a sympathetic, albeit tragic, fgure.)

Of course, things don't go well for our hero. But I'll get to that.

As the show progresses, the various species eventually find common ground in the Interstellar Alliance, of which the Centauri are somewhat uncomfortable members. So, that's the EU. Meanwhile, through a combination of mad circumstances, the Centauri find themselves ruled by a spectacularly weak Regent (May), who is being influenced or controlled by shadowy figures called the Drakh (Boris, Gove).

And following a further sequence of events, apparently caused by the Centauri, but really brought about by the secret influence of the Drakh, the Centauri Empire declare that they are leaving the Interstellar Alliance in order to stand alone. So far, so Brexit-y.

Unfortunately, what happens next is "The Fall of Centauri Prime", and a generation of misery for the people of that Republic.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Passing of Irn Bru

Today I finally saw news that I'd been expecting, and dreading, for a year: Barrs have decided to reduce the sugar content in Irn Bru, replacing it with artificial sweeteners. Come January next year, barring a miraculous reversal of this nonsense, I will have to give it up.

And there I was thinking that 2017 hadn't been as bad as 2016.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Captain Ric: To Infinity and Beyond

Terrible news, folks: RiCiCles are being withdrawn from sale. The age old battle between tiger and spaceman has ended in the only way that it could, with the demise of our beloved mascot Captain Ric.

Fortunately, Coco Pops and Frosties remain safe.

For now.

Justice League

LC and I finally made it out to the "Justice League" film last night, one of four (I think) we're still hoping to see before the end of the year (the others being "The Man Who Invented Christmas", possibly "Coco", and of course "The Last Jedi").

But before that, a word about Vue cinemas: I can't say I'm impressed. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the price, which is significantly higher than Cineworld (which was already getting out of hand). A second is that they're still stuck in the dark ages of charging a booking fee for ordering online (it should be the opposite - if we're booking online, not only are we paying in advance, and for tickets we might end up not even using, but we're also saving you staffing costs). The third is the absence of any sort of Unlimited card - given the above, that would be a major boon.

But my biggest issue is the concessions stand. Now, my understanding is that these days cinemas, even grotesquely overpriced cinemas, actually barely break even on the films, and instead make their money on the drinks, popcorn, etc. So I do generally take the view that if you want those things you should get them (and, in particular, not sneak in your own, reasonably-priced, drinks and snacks). However, the flip side of that is that the cinemas really need their staff to be on the ball - it's no good if you get to the cinema, find there's virtually no queue, and then still have to wait to be served, wait while the staff mess around with something else (in this case, "no milk!"), then have to repeat your order several times, and then eventually get it.

On the plus side, that disappointment prepared me nicely for the film.

"Justice League" is fine. It's far, far better than "Batman v Superman", though not as 'good' as "Wonder Woman" (though that film is also vastly overrated - probably due to a combination of being a DC film that doesn't suck, and also being a female-led superhero film that actually made money). There's nothing much wrong with it: there's a coherent story, with a beginning, middle, and end; the actors do their jobs well enough; there's at least some little hint of levity and humour. Basically, it doesn't suck.

But... there's also not really anything in the film that really demands a viewing, and certainly not at £30 for two tickets plus popcorn.

To be honest, I think the only thing in the film that really made any impression was the music, and in particular the reuse of the old Danny Elfman "Batman" theme and the John Williams "Superman" theme. On the one hand, this was a great move, since those are great themes (and since the latest DC versions don't have good themes for those characters). On the other hand, the biggest effect of this was to remind me of other, older versions of the characters that, frankly, I liked more - it's not that Cavill is doing a bad job as Superman, but he's just not Christopher Reeve; and it's not like Affleck's Batman is bad, as such, but both Bale and Keaton did it better.

So, yeah. "Justice League" is okay. But I have no burning desire to see it again, and frankly I'd recommend going to see "Thor: Ragnarok" a second time instead. Or just watching the "Infinity War" trailer, which packs more greatness in two minutes.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

So... Christmas

One of the issues caused by the adverts starting Christmas in July is that it means that as we get towards the end of November I invariably find myself starting to worry because I've barely started yet. Indeed, as a matter of principle I won't be starting my 'real' preparations for Christmas until next Sunday, with the ceremonial decorating of the tree. (Though I have purchased a gift - the office are doing "Secret Santa" this year, and so the deadline for that one is rather earlier than the rest.)

That said, my plans are somewhat advanced for this year, notably in that I have an actual plan.

This year represents the start of me getting properly organised for Christmas, per my guide of last year. That being the case, I've set up my Christmas folder, established the three documents I'll need, and thus got the paperwork ready to record the steps. I've also discussed with LC what we'll be doing in general terms - so I know that in addition to the tree we'll be adding some new decorations for the rest of the house; I know I'll be doing a little, but not much, Christmas cooking; and I know that we'll be heading to the Christmas market in the near future.

Of course, the main thing that I have not done, is come up with much of a list of potential Christmas gifts for other people to get me. The big problem is that there's very little I want or need, and of those things that I do need (mostly, replacements for things that have worn out), my needs are very specific - it's all well and good saying I could do with some band kit, but the reality is that I'll need to pick that out for myself to ensure I get the right size/colour/etc.

But that's not a bad starting point for still being a week short of December.

The Alex Salmond Show

Thanks to the vociferous outrage of the Scottish media, I recently became aware that Alex Salmond has a new show on RT (formerly "Russia Today"). Furthermore, given just how angry the subject made them, I felt I just had to check it out. I'm sure Alex is absolutely gutted at the coverage.

Anyway... it's not great. From the opening credits, which look and feel much like a low-budget equivalent of the Andrew Marr show (lots of Alex walking around, all dramatically shot, but a bit pompous for my taste) through to Alex's presenting style (which I would categorise as "reasonably-good amateur"... which is probably about right), through to their almost determined need to prove they're not Kremlin stooges by calling out Russia/Putin at just about every opportunity.


On the other hand, in the first week the show had an in-depth interview with Carles Puigdemont. Given how poor the media's coverage of the situation in Catalonia, that was most welcome. (And, it should be noted, my opinion on Catalan independence matches that of Alex: I don't have an opinion on whether Catalonia should or should not become independent, but I'm very much of the opinion that that's a matter for the Catalan people to decide.) In the second week, it had a detailed interview with Jackie Stewart that I didn't think would be interesting but which, in the event very much was - his thoughts on both dyslexia and dementia were definitely worth hearing. And despite my distaste for Alastair Campbell, it was worth hearing him stating his case on Brexit (or, rather, the need to call it off).

So, given that, I'm inclined to keep viewing. The presentation of the show isn't great, but hopefully that will improve with time. But the content, which really is the main thing, seems to be well worth seeing.

I guess I should thank the outrage machine of the UK media - if they hadn't spent so much time and effort telling me why I shouldn't watch, I probably wouldn't have known there was something to see.

(One other thing: one of the things I appreciate about the show is that I don't agree with everything that is said. As I said, Alastair Campbell in particular is not my favourite person in the political sphere. The thing is, being exposed to arguments you don't agree with is a good thing - it forces you to justify why you don't agree with them, which helps to refine your thinking.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Experimental Cookery 2017: Sausage and Chestnut Pasta Bake

This one comes from the "Bake-off Winter Kitchen" cookbook which, it's fair to say, is not one of my most-used tomes. Indeed, it mostly gets used for the tomato sauce for pizzas, which isn't exactly challenging! So this week's experimental cookery was welcome, if for no other reason than that it gave some slight justification for keeping that book - there may need to be another clear-out soon, and a few of the lesser lights will no doubt go at that time.

Being a pasta bake, this meal wasn't exactly hard - there were a few minutes of prep, a few minutes of pre-cooking some of the ingredients, then it all got mixed together and put in a dish, and it went into the oven. Easy.

The resulting meal was also quite enjoyable - it's something I'll probably do again, though it doesn't exactly threaten any of my "nominated nine". My only slight criticism was that the recipe as given resulted in way too much food - even cutting the quantities in half (from 4 servings to 2) left a huge amount over. Still, this wasn't too terrible, as it saved LC from making lunch for the next day.

All in all, I think that was a winner.

#52: "Beren and Luthien", by J.R.R. Tolkien
#53: "Witch Wraith", by Terry Brooks

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Pining for the Golden Age

Just after the Brexit referendum there was a brief spell between David Cameron tendering his resignation to the Queen and Theresa being asked to form a new government. During that time, we technically didn't have a government, and the highest-ranking figure in Downing Street was Larry the Cat.

Any chance we could go back to those halcyon days? Because, frankly, no government is better than a bad government.

#50: "Pathfinder: Into the Shattered Continent", by Robert Brookes
#51: "Bloodfire Quest", by Terry Brooks

Monday, October 30, 2017


As I noted in my previous post, at the weekend I finished the 49th book of this year, "Germinal" by Zola, which is a book from the list. After some consideration, I have decided that it is not the book of the year, but it is very good.

Like "The Grapes of Wrath", I found that it depressed and angered me in equal measure. Angered because of the manifest injustice depicted in the novel (although, it should be noted, it was decidedly, and deliberately, one-sided). Depressed because the novel, despite being more than a hundred years old, could very easily have been written about Thatcher's Britain... and removed from the context of a miners' strike specifically it could have been written about in-work poverty today.

(It also didn't help that it was clear, pretty much from the outset, that those who thought of themselves as the saviours of the strikers were manifestly not suited to the job, whether due to self-interest or simple naivety. Indeed, the person with the clearest vision of how genuine change might come about turned out to be an utter, utter bastard... which, yes, is about right.)

Even the supposedly upbeat ending is pretty depressing - the protagonist walks away hopeful that change is coming, and change did indeed come. Unfortunately, the name for that change was "the Russian Revolution", which didn't go so well.

So, can I recommend it? Well, um... maybe. If you're in the mood for a French novel about a doomed miners' strike, and all the poverty and despair that goes with it, I guess so. But if you like happy books, not so much.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Lemon Chicken

Somewhere in all the excitement of last week, I forgot to write up the latest Experimental Cookery. This was another entry from the Hairy Dieters' third book "Good Eating" (the green cover). By my count, this is the weakest of the books to date, possibly excluding their "Go Veggie" book (which I haven't tried), but it's still not bad - it's just that the one with the Yellow cover takes some beating.

Anyway, this meal was quick and easy to produce - just chop some ingredients, mix them in the right order, stir-fry a bit, and serve. All in all, it took about 30 minutes end to end.

And it tasted fine - this was another one that I'm sure we'll do again, though perhaps not right away. It's a good one to have in the repertoire, but not an everyday staple.

So, that's another win. I'm not sure when the next Experimental Cookery will be - I'm running a little low on inspiration right now. But hopefully not too long...

#49: "Germinal", by Émile Zola (a book from The List)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Day 300: Update on Goals

And so we come to the penultimate update on goals for the year (the final one coming in the end-of-year wash-up):

  • Weight: Nothing to report here.
  • Books: By day 300 I should have read 49.3 books. I'm currently at 48.8 books, so I'm very slightly behind here. However, I'm more or less up-to-date on all the sublists, so that's okay.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This was completed on the 4th of August. Hurrah!
  • Part Five: The House: We're now rapidly getting through the to-do list associated with the house. The redecoration of the two rooms is on hold, but the other tasks are proceeding apace, with new furniture gradually arriving, cables being cut and tidied (ish), and so on. So while there's still a lot to do, this is looking good.
  • Part Five: Church: We have now tried three of the local churches, and are planning to try two more, then try one of the existing ones again, and then make a decision. Right now, we're leaning towards going back to the very first church we tried, but that remains to be confirmed.
  • Part Five: Band: I have now joined the non-competing band that I mentioned at the last update, which should serve to keep me practicing.
  • Part Five: Gaming: I recently took part in my first game session of 2018, and have a couple more planned. My intention is to retain my ties to the game group in Falkirk, but keep my schedule relatively light, and it may be a very long time before I run a game again. Whether I continue to play after Tadpole arrives remains very much uncertain.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: N/A

The latter half of this year has all be a bit of a mess because of everything that has been going on, but I think the news is mostly positive. My expectation is that at the end of the year I will have completed two of the 'main' goals (and discarded a third), while of the "Part Five" goals two are now dealt with and another will be completed in the next month or so.

That leaves two: once again the "weight" goal will fail abysmally, while the work on the house will be advanced but probably not complete by the end of the year.

All in all, I think I can live with that.

#46: "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", by George R.R. Martin
#47: "The View From the Cheap Seats", by Neil Gaiman
#48: "Wards of Faerie", by Terry Brooks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The ReBoot Conundrum - solved

About a year ago, I posted that I had decided that it was time to get rid of my Region One DVDs, but that there was an issue with some few discs that couldn't be replaced with Region Two equivalents, most notably the series "ReBoot".

Well, the good news is that I have been handed a solution that works out great, and will allow me to keep access to those few discs that can't be replaced. Huzzah!

It's still my plan to replace those discs I had selected for that fate, and also to get rid of the number of discs entirely - although this same solution would work for all the Region One discs, I'm preferring to use it only as necessary, rather than default.

24 Legacy

I'm fairly late to the party, but I finally got around to watching the 'new' series of "24" over the weekend. It was interesting, but very flawed.

The big problem, I think, is that "24" basically became its own genre of TV. By which I mean that there are a number of things that have to be in a series of "24", without which the viewer would feel cheated, and the plot largely exists to move the story from one of these things to the next. So, there has to be a mole somewhere in CTU, there has to be at least one section where the main character goes off-book, there have to be political shenanigans. And so on and so forth.

What that means is that "24 Legacy" was pretty much just "24 by numbers" - do the one thing, then the next thing, then the next, and we're done. Add to that the pressure of having to introduce an all-new cast of characters and a reduction from 24 episodes to 12, and you've got problems.

But it's probably also worth noting that what made "24" so compelling, especially in the early years, was that it gave us something genuinely new, at least in TV terms - it was the show that would go to places that other shows just wouldn't. As the series progressed, and it became more and more self-referential, it also lost that edge. And a remake that does "24 by numbers" lacks the edge and, I'm almost shocked to say, becomes actually quite boring in places - you know that this has happened and we're at that part of the story, so what happens next must be...

Anyway, if you're a fan of "24" and liked "Live Another Day", you'll probably like "24 Legacy". If you're a fan of "24" who didn't like "Live Another Day", you probably won't. If you didn't like "24", you probably won't like this. And if you haven't seen "24" but like action series, you probably would like this... but would be better seeking out the original instead.

Given that "24 Legacy" has been cancelled, of course, much of this is moot. But since they're apparently working on a new form for the show, some further thoughts:

  • I don't agree with the argument that "24" needs Jack Bauer. Jack was a great character, but other great characters are possible, and there's no reason the format needs him.
  • However, "24" does need two core elements in order to work: it absolutely must keep the real-time aspect (and, for goodness sake, don't cheat - if it takes 20 minutes to drive from A to B in the real world, it should take 20 minutes in the show, no matter how inconvenient that is); it is absolutely must have the full 24 episodes. If you can't commit to both of those, don't bother.
  • If you're doing a reboot, do a reboot. Name-checking Edgar and having Tony re-appear was quite cool, but it also meant that "24 Legacy" was inviting comparison with a vastly-superior original.
  • When constructing any new series, the first thing to do is throw away the playbook. As I noted above, the great joy of "24" was that it showed us something we hadn't seen before, so do that... and that means showing us things that "24" hasn't shown us before as well. So subvert those expectations.
  • Everyone should be expendable. And by 'everyone', I mean everyone. By series six or so of the old show, Jack and Chloe had achieved plot immunity, which meant that the peril they faced in the course of their adventures was inherently lessened. The moment that happens, and a character's life becomes safe, that character absolutely must be killed off. Then deal with the fallout.

That's what I think, anyway.

A Matter of Genetics

I should probably apologise for another post about Scottish football so soon, but something has really been bugging me since Sunday's match - specifically, Gordon Strachan's comment that part of the issue is genetic, in that Scottish players are on average smaller than most other Europeans. (Well, except those minnows of the footballing world, Spain, of course. But since they never win a match I guess we can discount them as being irrelevant...)

Bluntly, Scotland's problem isn't a matter of genetics; it's mostly a matter of mindset.

Scotland seems to delight in "glorious failure" - we consistently do almost well enough. And when the inevitable failure comes, it gets chalked up as another glorious failure, a mark of progress. Or, of course, we point to some singular bit of ridiculous bad luck, or a woeful refereeing decision, or something, and blame everything on that.

This applies to football, to rugby... and to most other areas as well. Even our history is littered with glorious failure, even such as William Wallace or the Darien Scheme. (And that's a ridiculously high-level summary.)

(Incidentally, Andy Murray is the exception that proves the rule. I'll get back to that.)

The problem with glorious failure is that it is, ultimately, still failure. And since winning and losing are both habit forming, that's a big problem.

But the genetic argument is nonsense, as evidenced by, yes, Spain. And the argument that we're making progress is likewise nonsense - by that metric, we've made more progress than just about any other country on the planet. Odd that we still keep falling short.

But back to Andy Murray. For years, he was yet another Scot who displayed all the traits associated with glorious failure - he'd keep doing quite well, but then he'd come up against Federer or one of the other big guns, and then he'd lose. Only he wouldn't lose every time. In fact, he was quite capable of beating Federer except when it 'mattered'. But on those occasions... glorious failure.

And then he hired Ivan Landl as his coach, and within a very short time he was Wimbledon champion, and things went from there. Lendl's main impact on Andy Murray's game? It was about the mindset of a champion - Andy Murray already had all the tools he needed to win, he just needed a few tweaks to his game... and a shift to his expectations from "I'll try" to "I will".

(Incidentally, that's why Murray was right that Mauresmo was a perfectly fine choice of coach. No, there wasn't really much she could teach him about the game, but then that was true of just about anyone he could have chosen. But she undoubtedly knew what it took to be champion, and it was that mindset, more than anything else, he needed. Alas, it didn't work out, but that doesn't mean the selection process was wrong.)

So, as I said once before, a long time ago, the problem with Scottish football is that we expect to lose in the big matches. And we grind out draws in the must-win matches, or we otherwise fall short.

Sunday's score against Slovenia was a good result - 2-2 against tough opponents, away from home, where the opposition hadn't conceded a goal on their home soil? Yeah, that's a good result.

The problem was that we needed to win, not draw, and we should never have been in that position to start with - the damage was done much earlier in the competition when we scraped a 1-1 draw against Lithuania at home. That was the must-win match, and we blew it.

For us to make real progress, the mindset has to change. We should treat every match as a must-win match, and when we're playing the supposedly 'lesser' teams, especially at home, we need to deliver that win. Get in the habit of winning, and success will follow. And stop talking about 'progress' when you mean 'failure'.

Incidentally, that's why my threshold for us achieving qualification is independence - not because independence has anything directly to do with football, but because of the question of mindset. A country that does not have the confidence to believe it can run itself is not a country likely to have the confidence to compete on the world stage. And while a lot of people voted against independence for a lot of reasons, the bottom line is that an awful lot of people accepted that we were just too poor to give it a go. There is a positive argument for the union, but that wasn't the argument that won it - "what currency will we use?" was the refrain.

Of course, it's possible for the football team to adopt the winning mentality without the country following suit, but I just don't see it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear BT Sport...

Look, I understand that you would like feedback, and don't mind you contacting me with the occasional survey.


When I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes and the status bar says I'm only 22% of the way through, then you're taking the piss. Frankly, if I've been working on your survey for 10 minutes, that's already too long. A survey should be five minutes or less.

Experimental Cookery 2017: Beef Stroganoff

In theory, I really like beef stroganoff. But I say "in theory" because all of my attempts to make it have met with abject failure - indeed, to the point of leaving me quite ill at times. Plus, it's not something I get to try very often; being a mushroom-based meal, it's not something LC will even try.

However, LC was late home last night, which meant I was left to fend for myself. And I had recently found yet another take on it, this one from the second "Hairy Dieters" book, so...

As always, the meal was quick and easy to put together, rendered only slightly more awkward because I forgot to put the rice on until late in the process. But that was okay - the sauce also took longer to thicken than I'd expected, which allowed me to bring it all together.

And the result was fine. Not the greatest thing ever, but a massive improvement on previous efforts, and no signs of food poisoning. So that's a win... sort of. That said, I'm not sure I'm really keen to try this again. It was fine, but not exactly the greatest thing ever.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Wish I Could Say I Was Surprised

The worst thing about supporting Scotland is the hope. After a very poor start to our qualifying campaign, the team somehow managed to turn it around and get themselves into a position where two wins in the last two games would win them a play-off spot, and then they managed a jammy last-minute winner in the first of those two matches. (Well, I say 'somehow'. But the answer is actually fairly simple: Scott Brown came out of retirement.)

Of course, I've predicted before that we weren't going to the World Cup, and indeed that we won't be going to any major tournament for the foreseeable future. (Well, unless they change the rules and just let everyone in.) But I did kind of expect the team to manage a win - and then get drawn against Italy, pull off a remarkable 0-0 draw in the first (away) leg, and so know that they only needed one heroic performance, at home, to get through... and then be denied at the last gasp in truly outrageous style. Because Scotland specialise in failing in the most painful way possible, and the was about as bad as I could come up with.

But even that was not to be. About a week ago, Scott Brown got injured and had to pull out. Faced with that, and faced with two very tough games, the manager decided to revert to "tried and tested" players - relying on experienced heads to keep it together to see him through.

Just one problem with that: those players had indeed been tried and tested. Unfortunately, in that testing they had been found wanting. If the definition of madness is trying the same things over and over and expecting different results... well. (Of course, he could have gone with young new, in-form players, and we still wouldn't have qualified. See above.)

So, what now?

Well, we try again next time. After all, you have to, don't you? And we'll need a new manager - Strachan did a mostly decent job, and it's hard to see who would do any better, but he's had two attempts and two failures, so we need to try something different.

Mostly, though, the answer is "nothing". I'm sticking with my prediction: unless they change the rules to massively expand the number of teams that qualify, or unless we amalgamate the leagues and the national teams to compete as Team GB (or UK), Scotland won't make it to either a World Cup or a European Championships this side of independence (and if we never become independent, that means never).

#45: "Pathfinder: The Lost Outpost", by Jim Groves

Friday, October 06, 2017

Experimental Cookery 2017: Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons

The first Experimental Cookery of the new house is another entry from the second Hairy Dieters book (the one with the yellow cover). As I've noted before, I'm inclined to think this is the best of their diet books, although in fairness I haven't tried their fifth one since the notion of going veggie doesn't really appeal.

The meal itself was quick and easy to prepare, though it does take a while to cook - basically, you gather the ingredients, add them to a pan in several stages, and then simmer for 45 minutes or so. It's not difficult, and you can go do something else during that simmer step, but it's a good idea to start long before you actually want to eat - as we found to our cost.

It's also very tasty, with the preserved lemons making a big difference to the whole. LC also approved, though she doesn't like olives (which is an issue, since I suspect they're actually pretty integral to this meal - I don't think it would work without). I expect we'll have this again.

Monday, October 02, 2017


A decade ago, I had a bit of an issue with Scottish Gas, who messed up my gas bill and gave me a massive runaround trying to get it sorted. I was not best pleased and promptly decided never to give them my custom again. And so, when I bought the flat, it was with no small pleasure that I contacted one of their rivals to set up my account.

But a decade has passed since then, and in particular it was a decade where I had had occasion to make use of some of Scottish Gas' other services, notably their one-off boiler repair. And, having been pleased with that service, I removed them from my "never deal with these people" list.

Guess where this is going!

After signing up to receive gas and electricity from Scottish Gas, I was encouraged to sign up to have a Smart Meter installed. Which was a nice reminder and generally a good thing. And so I promptly did exactly that. That appointment was booked for today.

Being at work, I arranged for my father to house-sit today. Which isn't ideal, of course, since it's a big hassle for him, but it's a necessary consequence of having to work full-time. And so I came to work and waited for some indication that they were on their way...

After lunch, I decided to check the status of the appointment online, only to be met with a note that our boiler isn't suitable for a Smart Meter - they'd be in touch. Uh-oh...

So, I spent several minutes hunting down a way to actually contact them (which wasn't easy), and made the call.

And it turned out that their automated system can't accept bookings to install a Smart Meter within a month of a change of supplier. So it automatically cancelled the appointment and didn't deign to inform me.

I find myself at something of a loss as to how exactly to categorise this new level of incompetence. Is it where the system encourages you to book an appointment before they're able to accept the appointment? Is it that the system cancels the appointment without telling you? Or perhaps it lies in hiding the customer support numbers that you need in order to get any actual, usable information about this?

Incidentally, the automated switchboard informed me that Scottish Gas might call me back to get feedback on my experience today. If that does indeed happen, it will make for a very interesting conversation...

(It's worth noting, of course, that I'm not at all convinced the competition are any better. As far as I can tell, they're all pretty much equivalently shit. Something to do with them all providing the same gas/electricity via the same pipes/wires, and so meaningful competition being essentially impossible.)

#44: "Anne of Green Gables", by L. M. Montgomery (a book from The List)

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Impossible Dream

This morning, for a brief and shining moment, I thought I had achieved the impossible - that I had managed to completely use up a bar of soap!

But, alas, my triumph was punctured almost immediately, when I discovered that I had in fact just dropped the final tiny square. The bar had therefore defeated my efforts to use it up entirely.

Hopefully, that won't prove to be a metaphor for the rest of my day.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Labour: What the Hell?

A year ago, Jeremy Corbyn was widely hated by the powers-that-be in the Labour party. This year, at conference, those same powers-that-be have been lauding him as the second coming, with their chants of "Oh Jeremy Corbyn", the bearing of the portrait of the sainted one, and other such nonsense. It's turned into a really bizarre cult of personality.

And let's not kid ourselves: this isn't due to some mass conversion to Corbyn's policies. Rather, it's due to one thing only: Labour's election success.


Labour lost the election. Worse than that, Labour ran the most energised and successful campaign of the last 20 years, were up against the most pathetic Tory campaign for a similar length of time (though, in fairness, it's a toss-up whether Major in '97 or Hague in '01 was worse), and still couldn't win.

Sure, it's a kind of success, but only relative to the utter pounding that they (and I) thought they were going to get. It wasn't an actual success, as indicated by the current inhabitant of No. 10.

So all this business of being on the "threshold of power" is a nonsense. Firstly because there is unlikely to be another election for four years, and it's damn-near certain the Tories won't make the same mistakes again (which isn't to say that they won't make all-new mistakes, of course). Frankly, though, all of this triumphalism feels awfully like the exact same mistake the Tories made earlier this year - that of taking the voters for granted.

So, really, I'm wondering what the Labour party are currently thinking? Is it just sheer relief that they're still in jobs? Or is it perhaps that the country is so screwed that they figure they might as well party before the apocalypse comes?

(And, also, I'm wondering just how to deal with all of this. Within the UK, the only choices are a Tory-led government or a Labour-led one. The thought that this represents our only hope is pretty galling.)

#41: "Pathfinder: Vault of the Onyx Citadel", by Larry Wilhelm
#42: "Go Set a Watchman", by Harper Lee
#43: "Surface Detail", by Iain M. Banks

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Isn't the BBC Reporting on Catalonia?

There's trouble brewing in Spain. The Catalan government has decided to hold a binding referendum on independence, in defiance of the Spanish government and the constitution. The Spanish government have responded by laying charges against Catalan government officials, by shutting down pro-independence websites, sending armed police to seize referendum materials, ordering newspapers not to publish any information about the referendum... and even by sending in tanks.

And on the BBC... nothing. There's nothing on their news homepage, there's nothing on the European news page, and nothing on the TV news. Basically, as far as the BBC is concerned, it's not happening.

Now, I've written before that I consider the question of Catalan independence to be a matter for the Catalan people, and I consider that the Madrid government is making a bad mistake in their handling of the whole matter. But I'll readily acknowledge that other interpretations are entirely valid - and in particular, the argument that the constitution needs to be respected is a strong one.

But regardless of your views on the specific issue, what surely can't be denied is that Barcelona is a popular travel destination for Brits going abroad (even this late in the season), and it's the focal point of this whole great mess. That being the case, surely the BBC have the duty to report the facts of the situation, so that people can make an informed choice if nothing else?

So, BBC: what the hell are you playing at? Why isn't this being properly reported?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Competition Season 2017 Wash-up

And so, we get to the end of another competition season. A year ago, I didn't expect to be doing another one of these - I thought we would have been moved long ago, and would probably have left the band at that point. But as it happened, the move wasn't until quite late in the season, by which point I'd committed to seeing out the year.

The season was very much a major/minor split - we had very disappointing results at all four of the majors we attended, but actually had quite a lot of success at the minor competitions. That's very much a step forward from last year (barring one very good result at Forres in 2016), but it's still quite hard to take. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any prospect of the band being moved up for next year, so my hopes of seeing that done before I leave have come to nothing.

There's actually not much more to say than that. We had some poor behaviour at Forres, and some drunkenness at some other events, but nothing like the disasters of previous years. Which is good, but still not really good enough. But I'm filing that under "someone else's problem".

The other big thing, though, is that the season is just too damn long - far too many events in June, and too many events after the World Championships bring an end to the 'real' season. On the other hand, it does make the decision to leave a no-brainer, as I simply cannot commit to being involved in the band (or indeed any competing band) for the whole of the summer.

Moving forward, my next step is to find a non-competing band to join, so that I retain the motivation to keep practicing, and to do their few events. But I'm done with competition, probably forever.

Innerleithen Highland Games 2017

And now, the end is near.

The last competition of the season was at Innerleithen yesterday. It was a good day, mostly, though the competition itself didn't go as well as might be hoped.

Actually, it's worth noting here that there's a classic mistake that the band always makes. We know that if we play too long in the preparation, our drones get wet and start to go wrong. And so every time we say to ourselves that we're not going to play too much before going on. And then, every single time, we play too much before going on, our drones get wet, and that wrecks the sound.

Oh well.

The day itself was pretty good - it looked like rain, and yet we managed to avoid it. We tuned up, we went on, and we played. The performance was... okay. Not great, and the other band that were up for Champion-of-Champions were markedly better, but it was okay. Then, a bit later, we tuned up and played in the grade above, which was also okay. (That said, both times our Pipe Major, who wasn't playing for health reasons, had a real go at the pipers after the competition. Which I thought was both a little unfair and also wasn't terribly helpful. But it's not my problem any longer.)

And then we came to the march past, the prize-giving, and the street parade. And for all of these, in honour of it being my last competition, our Pipe Sergeant asked me to take the lead, which was very nice of him I thought.

In the event, I had to go collect three prizes - we won the Marching & Discipline prize (not sure how, really), came second in Grade 4B (2nd for piping, 5th for drumming, out of 5), and fourth in the Grade 4A (4th for piping, 3rd for drumming, out of 5). We missed out on Champion-of-Champions, which was not unexpected - it went to Davidson Mains & District, who also won the Grade 4B contest. The truth is that the result wasn't particularly close - although we were second to their first, we were a very distinct second to their clear first.

And that was that - a decent day to end a hard season, and a fitting end to my competition career. And now there is just the AGM, and I'm out. Which is quite a thing.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Peebles Highland Games 2017

The penultimate competition of the season was last weekend at Peebles. The most intriguing aspect of the day was that our pipe major was absent for health reasons, meaning that we were led out by our pipe sergeant. As has been standard for the last month or so, I didn't use the bus but instead took the car across, allowing me to play and then leave.

We played twice, in the Grade 4B competition and then again playing up in Grade 4A. Both performances were okay, if not the very best of the season.

In Grade 4B we came 6th out of 13, being 6th in piping and 3rd in drumming. In Grade 4A, we were 4th out of 7, 5th for piping and 2nd for drumming. So a respectable result, but not a stellar one.

The final competition of the season, and my final competition with the band, will be tomorrow at Innerleithen. I'm looking forward to it... and looking forward to it being done, and another long, long season being over.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Day 250: Update on Goals

We've now reached Day 250 of the year, so it's time for another update on goals. Given the completion of the house move, we have a rather bigger update this time!

  • Weight: The scales came out of storage, and didn't make for pleasant reading. Basically, I'm back to where I started. Sigh.
  • Books: By day 250 I should have read 41.1 books. At the time of writing, I have completed 40 books, so I'm slightly behind here. Additionally, I'm behind on one of the sub-lists, that being the "Culture" novels by Iain M. Banks. Still, none of that is too troubling - I expect to be able to recover any loss before too long, and should end the year at or just over the total of 60 books.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This was completed on the 4th of August. Hurrah!
  • Part Five: The House: Having assessed the house with a more critical eye, I think we've concluded that two rooms need redecorated fairly promptly. (There are one or two others we'll probably change eventually, but on no fixed timescale - basically, next time we decide to refresh the paintwork, etc, we'll probably go for a different colour, but we won't touch them until then.) In addition, there are several bits of furniture to source or replace, appliances to change over, and a few other sundry things. In short, there's a lot to do!
  • Part Five: Church: LC and I have been recommended to a church in the area. We certainly intend to check that and a few others out with a view to restarting regular worship somewhere.
  • Part Five: Band: The competition season concludes this weekend, and then the band have their AGM next week. Additionally, I have identified a local, non-competing band that looks like my best candidate for a new 'home', in order to keep me motivated to actually practice.
  • Part Five: Gaming: This remains on hold. However, I do hope to get a little gaming in some time this year - I kind of have to, since next year is unlikely to allow for much!
  • Super Secret Goal #5: N/A

So that's one huge goal completed, and another that was abandoned. The rest are in reasonably good shape, all apart from the weight goal, which is just a disaster. So, a fairly positive update all told.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Speaking of Which...

I think I've now reached the conclusion that if you're going to support a football team, it should be the (professional) team closest to at least one of the homes you have lived in. So, for me, the choice would be between Clyde, (Yeovil), Falkirk, or Livingston. (I could probably also get away with Airdrie, on the grounds that they were the closest until Clyde moved their stadium. However, given that they liquidated and then came back...)

An exception would, of course, make sense if there was a personal link to some other club - if, for instance, a family member had played for a given club some time in the past. Which doesn't apply in my case.

In the event that Tadpole decides that he or she wants to support a team, then I'll troop along to the games as required. Though the fact that it would have to be to Almondvale to support Livingston might prove a useful disincentive...

The Transfer Window

Money has pretty much destroyed professional football. The big problem is that the reward for success is large amounts of money, and the route to success is to spend large amounts of money. So, almost inevitably, leagues are rapidly becoming divided into the 'haves' and 'have nots' - where the 'haves' are those with regular access to the Champions' (sic) League.

(It's most notably in countries where only one club has such access, of course - it's not Celtic's problem that they are so far ahead of everyone else in Scottish Football, but it's a big problem for our domestic game and is only going to get worse.)

But probably what bemuses me most about the professional football these days are the absurdly inflated transfer fees... not for the top players, who of course will always attract a massive premium, but rather the absurd fees that are now paid for fairly mediocre players.


I would like to suggest three small(-ish) changes that I'd like to see, and that I think would make a fairly significant contribution to improving the game overall:

  1. The Transfer Window should shut at midnight on the night before the first league match of the season, and there should be no second window in January - the squad of players that you have when the season starts should be the squad you have when you end the season (barring players who are out of contract, that is).
  2. There should be a fairly tight limit to the number of players a club can have registered in their squad for the season - I would advocate that a club should be allowed no more than 30 players in their first team squad. Sure, they can sign more players if they want... but they're consigning some of them to spending the entire season on the sidelines before a ball is kicked.
  3. There should likewise be strict limits on the use of loan players: a club can have no more than 2 loan players in their squad for the year, all loans are for a season exactly, you can't loan a player to another club in the same division, and you can't loan out a player two seasons in succession.

The net effect of all of this will be that the market for the very top players (Ronaldo, Neymar, etc) will go crazy (well, crazier), but that the market for everyone in the second tier will suddenly lose a lot of heat - no longer will the biggest clubs seek to just sign up any and all players of quality (and then loan most of them out), but instead they'll fight tooth and claw for the few players right at the apex. And clubs that currently rely on players loaned from those biggest global clubs will now (a) not be able to rely on those loans, but also (b) will be able to actually sign some of those players (since they're of less use to Man City, Real Madrid, and the like, so the 'value' will be less, and the fee will then be manageable.)

Oh, and is also means that smaller clubs won't be descended on in January by richer-but-underperforming clubs and have their top players ripped away.

Or we could just carry on as we are, with transfer fees nudging £200M for the best (how long until that is £1B? 2030?), the game becoming skewed entirely in favour of the biggest clubs, and the whole thing rapidly becoming unaffordable for the fans.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Sort of Things That Vex Me

When shelving our many DVDs, I of course sorted these into alphabetical order. Or, rather, a semi-alphabetical order where some films are grouped together by a series name (the James Bond films are under 'B', for example). Oh, and "The..." and "A..." don't count, of course!

That worked fine, as far as it went, but it left the question of what to do about films where the title either is or starts with a number. What to do about "300"?

My solution was simple enough: I filed such films according to how the film title would appear if written out long-hand: "300" became "Three Hundred", and filed next to "The Three Musketeers".

Alas, my carefully worked out scheme fell into utter ruin when I found myself faced with an irreconcilable dilemma: how to file "27 Dresses" and "28 Days Later"?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Slowdown

Thus far, my reading in 2017 has been fairly metronomic - five books per month almost exactly, with April and July sneaking in a sixth. However, August hit a bit of a snag, with a meagre three books being finished - "The Power" (which I'd actually started in the last few days of July), "The Secret Garden", and now "Measure of the Magic". Which means that I've gone from being two books ahead to being right on target for the year. (It also means that I'll be entering September behind in one of the sub-lists, albeit ahead in another one.)

The reason for this is superficially simple: with the house move being completed, I've been spending a lot of time sorting things out and so not spending a lot of time reading.

But it's actually a little more complex than that, as it's actually not the case that I've been short on time to read. Or, at least, it's not like I couldn't have found time if I'd wanted.

No, the truth is that I got rather bogged down in "The Secret Garden", and then got really bogged down in "The Measure of the Magic" (which, in fairness, just wasn't very good).

And now I turn to the penultimate book in Iain M. Banks' 'Culture' series, "Surface Detail", and I again find myself uninspired to tackle it. The slowdown looks set to continue a little longer.

I think my plan for the next few weeks will be to set aside "Surface Detail", and instead tackle some of the books in the 'Other' sub-list - I have a few of these in stock, and they'll give me a bit of a break from my sequence. Which isn't ideal, since it means storing up two big 'Culture' books for later in the year, but if it kickstarts the reading again then it will have served a good purpose. I guess we'll see.

(Of course, it's worth noting that some of this is just the general malaise that seems to have started to infect me over the last few weeks - now that the big challenge of the house move is done, and the list of things to do is both annoyingly long and filled with annoying tasks, it's hard to stay motivated. Mostly, I need a holiday.)

#40: "Measure of the Magic", by Terry Brooks

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Tyranny of the To-Do List

Since the World Championships the pipe band season has been on another break (which comes to an end this weekend). As a consequence of this, the big theme of August has, of course, been the unpacking of our possessions in the new house. It's been going very well, but there's a lot of it to do!

However, I made a fairly crucial mistake last week: I took the time to expand my list of "people to notify" into a more general to-do list for things for the new house.

The chief reason that this was a mistake should be obvious: having put together a list of things to do, the pressure is now on to actually do them!

Naturally, the items on the list have several intersecting qualities: some of them are quick and easy, some of them are much longer-term and harder to achieve; some of them are actually fairly enjoyable, and some much less so; and some are much higher-priority than others. (Indeed, some of them have fairly fixed deadlines, while others need to be done... whenever.)

As was inevitable, of course, the highest-priority items are of course the longest, hardest to achieve, and least enjoyable!

I've been trying to console myself with the thought that progress is being made and the list is now moving in the right direction. And also with the obvious thought that the list of tasks hasn't actually changed; it's just that it's now written down. Somehow, though, that helps less than you'd think it should!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The World Pipe Band Championships 2017

Well, it was a nice day. A long day, but a reasonably good one, especially once the sun came out. And that's about all that's the positives dealt with.

Our preparation for the competition actually went well, and our performance was excellent... except for one thing: there was one drone didn't strike up right, which meant it sounded off all the way through. And given just how tough it already was to qualify, that was enough to sink us.

Out of 19 bands in our qualifying group, we came 13th. That was 9th and 12th for piping, 11th for drumming, and 11th for ensemble. Though I should note that I don't think that comes close to reflecting our true position, either based on the competition, our performance, or the judge's sheets - which were extremely positive apart from that one thing. (That I think actually happens is that the judges sort their top eight or so quite carefully, and then pretty much just shuffle the rest - beyond the top eight you're not going through anyway, so who really cares?)

So we didn't qualify for the final, as I had expected. Oh well, I guess there's always next year, for the band if not for me.

There are now two minor competitions left in the season, being Peebles on the 2nd and Innerleithen on the 9th of September. Then the band's AGM on the 14th, and then I'm done.

#39: "The Secret Garden", by Frances Hodgson Burnett (a book from The List)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Worst Experience of My Life

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the house move, I thought I'd write up the tale of what is, now, the worst experience of my life. I should note that I've removed all of the names from this - it is my belief that the various people and companies involved did their level best to try to facilitate this, and that any mistakes and problems were genuinely one-offs. So while I'll most likely not do business with any of them again, I wouldn't want to persuade others to do the same.

Anyway, I would recommend settling in, because this is going to be a long one...

We had been planning to move for some time. Our trigger-point for doing this was always going to be when LC found herself a permanent teaching position, thus allowing us to position ourselves somewhere that suited both our commutes (and, indeed, our continuing family connections). Additionally, the existing deal on the mortgage on the flat expired in February of 2016, which made that a good time to move.

So, when LC found her current job, we were ready to move. And, unfortunately, that's when we made our first mistake - I argued that we should delay the move until a few weeks into the new job, to see how the commute was. If it was fine, we'd move within Falkirk, but if the commute was too much then we'd go elsewhere.

The reason this was a mistake is that there was a change to the law on Stamp Duty that came into effect in early 2016. This had the effect of cutting the legs out from under the buy-to-let market. And since the flat was ideal either for a buy-to-letter or a first-time-buyer (and that market was already depressed), we immediately hit problems.

Then the next disaster hit - when we had the flat valued, our estimate of its value was shattered. I had known that the flat lost a lot of value immediately after I purchased it (because of the financial crash), but I hadn't realised just how much, nor that it basically hadn't recovered at all. The estimate we received was fully £15,000 less than I had paid for the flat.

(That sucked really hard, but wasn't unrecoverable - basically, it meant that our target purchase of "about X" became an absolute ceiling of "no more than X". Plus, it helped that virtually all of that £15k was actually money I had received as a redundancy payment many years previously, and so wasn't really money I'd worked for.)

So, the flat went onto the market in April of 2016, and... nothing. There wasn't so much as a nibble for weeks. Then we had someone book in for a viewing... and a no-show.

Meanwhile, LC and I had found a house that we really liked. We'd made a note of interest, but weren't able to proceed with the purchase. About this time, the house was sold, so we'd lost out.

Around the summer of 2016, we went on holiday to Amsterdam. While there, we decided that we'd try a new approach - we'd look into the possibility of buying a new house, getting moved, and renting the flat out rather than selling.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a non-starter - those same changes to the rules on Stamp Duty meant that we just couldn't swing it. We'd have found ourselves having spent every penny we had on the new place, being mortgaged to the hilt, and basically at our absolute limits. All of which is fine... unless something goes wrong. And, sooner or later, something goes wrong. (At this time, my parents made the offer of lending us some money to make this work. That would become significant later.)

There then followed a second house that we'd liked but weren't able to buy, and a second 'viewing' that turned out to be a no-show. Also, we reduced the price on the flat even further, which hurt.

Early in October 2016, we had a third viewing. This one looked like another no-show until about two hours after the appointed time, and indeed after we'd given up, I'd done the Tesco shop, and was in the process of cooking lunch. But then our eventual buyer appeared.

Things seemed to move really quickly after that - we received an offer, with the proposed date of entry in November. We had a fairly depressing day looking at houses, and then found one we really liked, we put in an offer, it was accepted, and things looked good. There would be a gap of two weeks between the two dates of entry, but we could live with LC's parents for that period. We got the mortgage arranged, and waited.

And then the delays started. First, the date of the sale was pushed back to the first of December, which actually suited us. But then that was delayed again with no fixed deadline - possibly some time in 2016.

At this point we revisited the question of buying before completing the sale. With a fairly short timescale involved, and with the promise of funds from our parents as needed, we figured that would be okay. But it meant checking with our mortgage lender. Time passed, the deadline neared... and then they said "no".


Anyway, our seller was not best pleased by this - they had had movers booked and had to cancel, losing quite a lot of money. (Later, they would also lose the house that they had wanted, but there wasn't anything I could do about that.)

Christmas came and went, with LC and I living amongst the boxes. It's fair to say that it wasn't the best of times. (Indeed, I'm planning to make a rather bigger production of Christmas this year to compensate - we couldn't celebrate properly last year, so let's do it right this time!)

Come the new year, we had a new estimate on when the sale would happen - the end of January. But when the first of February came, so did a new estimate, again for the end of the month. And then March was the same. And then we stopped asking.

(The explanation for this was down to the complicated ownership of our buyer's previous home - there was a co-freeholder who had to sign the release and who then died during the process. This meant that there was then an heir, who lived overseas, who had to sign off on it instead. It was all a big mess. Plus, I don't think our buyer was happy with her solicitor. Oh, we also had two more viewings of the flat, but neither came to anything.)

Anyway, at the start of May our seller decided that enough was enough, and put their house back on the market. I can't say that I blame them at all - I would have long since given up myself.

Then, near the end of May we received news that our buyer had finally completed her sale, and was ready to buy the flat! Huzzah!

But, wait! There was a wrinkle: she wanted to view the place again prior to renewing her offer. Needless to say, LC and I were more than a little concerned by this: what if she now decided against? What if she offered £10,000 less?

In the event, it was fine. The revised offer was a bit less than previously, but wasn't so bad - we grabbed it with both hands. (Truth is that had the buyer pulled out, we would probably have dropped the sale price another £3,000, which was less than the drop, so it was a no-brainer.) Our buyer's new date of entry was proposed for the 23rd of June, though we were able to push that back to the 4th of July.

At this point I made my next mistake. I sent an email to our solicitor asking, hypothetically, if our seller was willing, would it be possible to pick up where we left off? Our solicitor promptly contacted the seller and told them that we had completed our sale and did want to pick up where we left off. (Note the subtle difference there.)

Anyway, our seller got in touch, we talked it through, and they were happy to go ahead. Reading between the lines, I think they'd just received another offer but for a good bit less than our offer. We settled on a revised date of entry of the 28th of July.

There were two problems with this: (1) we actually weren't as far advanced as our seller through, and (2) our mortgage offer was about to expire.

We contacted our lender to ask for an extension, and settled in to wait. Meanwhile, our seller gave us an ultimatum: conclude missives by the end of the week or they would go elsewhere.

So we scrabbled around, desperately trying to get everything in place. And failed. Our lender again said "no" - they were quite happy for us to apply for a new mortgage, but they couldn't extend the existing offer.

We reported all this to our seller, fully expecting them to go elsewhere. But the rollercoaster took another rise as it turned out their other offer had themselves gone elsewhere, leaving us as the only game in town. Our sellers were not remotely pleased with us, and understandably so, but they were willing to go ahead. (Guilt aside, and trying to be objective, I don't think I personally did anything wrong here - I think some messages got scrambled along the way. That is, a miscommunication rather than any sort of deception.)

We applied for a new mortgage, though not with the original lender - they're not getting my business again. And we settled in to wait...

We now turn our attention back to the sale of the flat. With the dates of the moves being as they are, the team of people we would normally have called on for help were largely unavailable due to holidays. Also, since we'd be living with LC's parents for a month everything needed to go into storage. So we arranged to have a team come and move us out, store everything, and then deliver it.

The very evening we arranged all this, our seller got in touch - they'd found a new house they liked, but could we put back our entry a week, to the 4th of August, to give them time to arrange their mortgage and other things. We had no big problem with this, especially given the hassle they'd already faced, so we readily agreed.

The next few weeks were then manic. We waited for our buyer to conclude her missives, which seemed to take forever. Apparently the two sets of solicitors were arguing over some wording in the offer letter, though neither we nor our buyer actually knew what was going on - some legal thing.

Eventually, we concluded on the Thursday before the move. Huzzah!

(Never mind that that was hugely nerve-wracking. The email came through while the movers were in actively packing everything up. I dread to think what would have happened had it not gone through for any reason!)

We completed out move out of Falkirk on Saturday the 1st of July, then returned on the 2nd to give the flat a final, serious clean (which is much easier when there's nothing there). Then, on the 4th of July the sale concluded, and we were done. There was then a week of some unease as our buyer had a chance to find something wrong with it, but nothing came of that. We were done! And so we returned to the waiting for the mortgage to come through...

And wait...

Some weeks later, our seller got in touch again - why hadn't we concluded yet? After all, they'd managed to get their mortgage in two weeks!

So I got in touch with our agent, and finally got news back. Firstly, could we please sent up-to-the-minute bank statements to the lender for further evaluation. Secondly, the lender's estimate put the value of the house some £5,000 less than expected (due to the year between the previous estimate and the current). So we'd have to put in a greater deposit or accept a worse interest rate. (That's actually not a problem - we had the money, now, and borrowing less means paying less back... especially given the joys of compound interest.)

So we sent across the bank statements, and waited. Only to be told that one of the statements was no good - we'd sent it as a .CSV file (that can be opened by any spreadsheet tool, such as the ubiquitous Excel), and they wanted a .PDF. Sigh. So we sent the new file, and waited...

A week later, we got in touch again. Time was running out; what were they playing at?

Well, it turned out that they'd received the file, added it to their records... and forgotten to untick the "waiting for statements" box in the database. So they were waiting for a bank statement that they'd already received. Gah!

After the second call, that all got unlocked, and the verbal offer was made almost immediately. Then, on the other side of the weekend the paperwork came through. And all was fine. Surely now we could conclude?

(Another fun wrinkle: both our solicitor and the agent who applied for the mortgage for us went on holiday while all this was happening. Fortunately, we were left in good hands, though one of those was also about to get interesting...)

About this time, my parents returned from their annual holiday to France. However, my father returned desperately ill. I can't imagine why that detail might be relevant...

As part of the anti-money-laundering regulations, solicitors are required to verify the source of all funds used in purchasing a property. So ten days before the date of entry, we sent statements to our solicitor detailing that. But come the Thursday, there was still no sign of concluding the missives. What was going on?

Well... it turned out that the trainee solicitor who was dealing with our case wasn't authorised to sign off on the bank statements. So she'd left our solicitor an email asking her to do this as soon as she got back, on the Tuesday before the move. Naturally, I pushed back on this - I didn't expect any issues, but if there were any then we really needed to have some time to fix them.

So she had another one of the senior people at the firm look at the accounts, and sure enough there was an issue. Way back in November, in preparation for the buying-before-selling part of the plan, my father had transferred lots of money to my current account. At the start of April, I'd then moved it to my ISA, since it didn't make sense to leave it in a non-interest-paying account when it should be earning interest (and since that was the cut-off for the annual ISA limits).

Now that's fine - all that would be required would be for my father to go to his building society to get a statement showing the money leaving his account, and also to sign a statement indicating that it was a gift not a loan, and that my parents would own no equity in the house.

Oh, except that Dad had just come back from France desperately ill.

And that was the moment where the system broke me. The house move had already long-since reached the point of being my #1 worst experience ever, but that was the point where I concluded that it just wasn't for happening - even if we somehow got this mess sorted out, surely there would be another fuck up that would defeat us. It didn't help that I hadn't slept well in some weeks, had already had one night with no sleep at all that week, and then had another. Indeed, I'd reached the point where I could barely compose a coherent sentence - kept the words up getting jumbled.

Friday 28th July. A day so tough that I actually got sent home from work early out of fear that if I waited any longer I might fall asleep at the wheel and come to a terminal end. I phoned the trainee solicitor first thing, and we went through the details of the transactions - how the money in question wasn't being used, how we probably wouldn't even be using that account, how I could provide statements for my current account trivially, but that getting statements from Dad's accounts would be much more difficult. (Of course, if it had been absolutely necessary, I'm sure Dad would have rallied himself enough to go get the documentation we needed. I can't imagine that would have done him any good, but it would have been done. There are a couple lessons in all of this that haven't been lost on me.)

Well, she thought that would almost certainly be okay. They were really busy that morning, because of that week's moves all concluding, but she'd check with her senior colleague and get back to me, probably that afternoon. Cool.

Having not heard back by 4:45 that afternoon, I gave them another call, only to be reminded that they close early on Fridays. Aaaaargh!

Still, I managed not to worry about it over the weekend. There was just too much, so never mind. I was now past caring - if it didn't happen then it didn't happen.

Eight thirty on Sunday evening, we suddenly received two emails from our solicitor, newly returned from holiday and back on the case. The first of these was the last bit of documentation for us to sign and return (the original only, please - email wouldn't do it). And the second was authorisation to transfer the money, plus the details we needed. Huzzah!

And so, into the last stretch. LC went to her bank and transferred the money, getting the printed and signed receipts that the solicitors needed. Then she hand-delivered all the remaining documentation to their offices, thus removing even the Royal Mail from the chain. And I was able to reply to yet another deservedly-frantic enquiry from our seller with news that we were done on our end, and were expecting to conclude imminently. Four days to go...

Those final four days were very nervy, but they actually worked out okay - we finally concluded the missives with about a day to spare, we finally had word that the money had transferred, and everything finally settled.

Compared to all that, the move itself was a breeze - I got the key at mid-day, the movers arrived at one, and they were done by half two.

And... relax.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Lasagne Principle

One of the big mistakes my parents have made (especially in their old kitchen), and a mistake that LC and I had crept into in the flat, concerned the kitchen: the kitchen is probably the hardest-working room in the house, but we'd managed to fill it up with huge amounts of stuff that basically never got used. In our case, it was a huge number of mugs that we (well, I) don't want to get rid of, but which do nothing but take up a lot of space.

The kitchen in the house is actually smaller than the one in the flat. However, I'm determined that it will have more usable space, largely by adopting what I'm dubbing "The Lasagne Principle".

The principle is fairly straight-forward: anything that doesn't get used pretty frequently must be stored somewhere else. For the moment, I don't care if that's the garage, the utility room, on the dining table, or whatever else - just get it out of my kitchen.

As for "The Lasagne Principle": we have a lasagne dish that gets used somewhat infrequently - basically, every time I make a lasagne al forno, which isn't terribly often (maybe once or twice a year). That will be our cut-off point - if something is used at least as often as the lasagne dish, it can stay; if not, it needs to go.

(All that said, it looks like the Lasagne Principle is about to fail at the first hurdle - the net effect of this is that we'll have huge amounts of kitchen equipment that has been banished and a fairly large amount of unused storage space in the kitchen! So maybe the cut-off point will end up being eased a little... though "The Slow-Cooker Principle" just isn't as catchy...)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

North Berwick and Bridge of Allan Highland Games 2017

In the competition season, there always seem to be a few weekends where we have two competitions in one weekend (and, more commonly, a gala day and a competition). I always hate those weekends - it doesn't feel like you get a weekend at all. So, naturally, this year saw the one and only two-competition weekend falling on the weekend of the house move. (Of course, I didn't think I could just opt out - we have the World Championships on Saturday, so really need to be pushing things hard for the next few days.)

In both cases, I went to the event, played, and then rushed away to do other things. In both cases this was a wise decision, as the march-past was cancelled each time. On the other hand, given the performances (and results), I needn't have bothered.

At North Berwick, our preparations were broken up significantly by us constantly being moved - while mid-way through tuning up we were told we were standing where cars were going to park imminently... and then the stewards kept telling us "you can't play there". Which sucked.

Still, that wasn't the real issue. Once again, we thought we were good to go, only to get to the line and have a bad start. After that it was mostly fine, but that bad start was enough to force us out of the prize list.

Out of 17 bands in Grade 4B, we were 5th overall (5th and 6th for piping, 5th for drumming, and 3rd for ensemble). Given the size of the competition, we were not able to play up at that event.

Bridge of Allan seemed to be a much more pleasant prospect, in that our preparation was uninterrupted. Still, we found a lot of people were having problems with drones due to the moisture, while I found my hands cramped up due to the cold (which was not fun).

Unfortunately, both of these performances were just bad from start to finish. There's no one thing to point at - it was just a bad day of work.

In the Grade 4B contest we were 9th out of 16 bands (8th and 12th for piping, 2nd for drumming, and 8th for ensemble). In the Grade 4A contest we were again 9th, this time out of 12 bands (7th and 7th for piping, 8th for drumming, and 12th for ensemble).

All in all, a poor showing for our work, and perhaps the worst possible preparation for the World Championships on Saturday. And given that we were already going more in hope than expectation, that does not look too good.

Oh well. Three to go - and 32 days until the end of the season.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Best Line in a Bad Film

The 2011 version of "The Three Musketeers" (the version with the airships) is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. I found it highly entertaining, but I certainly wouldn't call it 'good'. (That said, the makers of musketeer movies are always up against it - the Reed/York version is definitive.)

Anyway, much as it's not a good film, that version does have a number of good lines. IMO, the best of these is from Cardinal Richelieu as he finds Rochefort practicing his swordsmanship:

"The wonderful thing about fighting an imaginary opponent, Captain Rochefort, is that he is always greatly skilled, yet easily defeated."

I can't think why the latest book I've finished reminds me so strongly of that particular comment...

#38: "The Power", by Naomi Alderman (dear oh dear...)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Project Tadpole is a Go!

We're still waiting for the house sale to complete, after which I will post at great length about how that all went down (the post is just about written, and it's an epic, but I'm sure there's still time for a couple more twists...)

Anyway, in the meantime there's the other big news in the world of Steph/ven and Lady Chocolat. Which, incidentally, is also why we're currently in Part Four (and a Half) and will remain so for the next few months:

We've known about this for a few weeks, but obviously couldn't share it here until we'd informed family first. Also, we wanted to have the twelve-week scan first. That scan was on Tuesday, and so now we can share the news. It's pretty exciting!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fast Food and Cheap Food

Today in the Observer, there's an article suggesting that we should rename "fast food" as "cheap food", thus better identifying why it is that people buy it. The comments on the article, predictably, note that fast food is in fact not cheap, and that instead it is cheaper to cook the same meal at home.

The thing is, both of these things are true, indeed are true simultaneously. It is indeed true that fast food is not all that cheap, and that it would be far cheaper to buy all the ingredients and make the meal yourself... if you're starting from a position of knowing how to do all that and having all of the requisite equipment in your kitchen. From a standing start, though, it's much cheaper to spend £5 on a McDonalds, or indeed £20 on a McDonalds for four, than it is to buy everything you need to equip a kitchen to make yourself burgers and chips.

In the long run, of course, it's far better, and cheaper, to make the investment in a reasonable set of kitchen equipment, learn to cook, and then produce most of your own meals cheaply, quickly, and healthily.

Which, of course, brings us back to the Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness - having the time, knowledge, and equipment needed to cook all your own meals at home requires an investment that the rich can make easily while the poor cannot, which means that the rich person gets to eat home-cooked meals most days. Those meals are typically better quality and tastier, meaning that the rich get to enjoy their food more and live longer, healthier lives.

And the poor get to enjoy the privilege of paying more for this lower quality of life (measured over a lifetime).

Perhaps the worst part of all that comes when you ask the reasonable question: "how do we fix this"? Because, sadly, the answer is "we can't". The sad reality is that the rich will always have the ability to make strategic investments that allow them to (a) enjoy a higher quality of life and (b) pay less in the long run.

(In the case of cooking meals, we can at least make a few inroads - we could prioritize the preparation of food as schools, thus ensure everyone leaves at least knowing how to knock up a few cheap and healthy means, and we could insist that all houses that are built and/or properties for rent must have adequate facilities. That would at least reduce the inequality a little... but it does nothing any of the other examples.)

Ultimately, those inequalities are probably just inherent in a capitalist society.

Although... it's always worth bearing in mind that even if all we can do is nibble around the edges of the problem, it's still probably a good thing to do that - the result might not be much, but at least it is something.

The Scottish Pipe Band Championships

According to our former MP, Eric Joyce, Falkirk is the constituency in Scotland that most closely resembles the country as a whole - that is, in terms of demographics and economics, we're proportionately as close to the whole of the country as anywhere. That being the case, it's probably fitting that Camelon & District, being a Falkirk-based band, so closely resemble Scotland as a whole's sporting prowess - typically oscillating between humiliating disaster and the most narrow, painful defeat, with the occasional minor success, just to keep the flame of hope painfully flickering...

Yesterday was the Scottish Pipe Band Championships, and it was another of our narrow, painful defeats. Following the Europeans, we had put in a lot of hard work to adjust our style and to tighten things up. And following our successes last week, we were confident of a success. Of course, it being a major championship there was a need for us to pass a qualifying round, but with 6 bands out of 14 going through, surely that couldn't be a problem, could it?

Well, I think we know the answer to that one!

Actually, I didn't think the performance was particularly bad - it seemed to be at a nice tempo, it seemed to start pretty well, and all in all I thought it was okay. Though many of the other people in the band didn't seem to think so - when we came off the mood was pretty depressed.

In the end, we were 7th out of 14, missing qualification by a single place. We were 9th and 7th in piping, 3rd in drumming, and 8th for ensemble. (That said, although this sounds like a narrow defeat, it's not all that narrow - that gives us 27 points, where the bands that were fifth and sixth scored 21 each. So we would have had to be significantly better to nudge one of them out.)

The one mote of good news in that was that our failure to qualify meant that I was able to head home early, and so avoided a fairly cold and unpleasant afternoon. But that's scant comfort - I would much rather have been there.

Oh well. Five competitions to go to the end of the season, including one major. Alas, there's little chance of us qualifying at the Worlds, given that only four of twenty bands go through. But that's okay - gives us a chance just to enjoy the remaining few weeks.

#37: "Matter", by Iain M. Banks

Monday, July 24, 2017

Stay on Target...

We've moved another step along the road to finally completing the epic of the house move... our mortgage offer finally arrived in the post today. (We'd received verbal notice that it had been approved on Friday, but my position through all of this is now that I won't believe something is well and truly done until I see it...) We need to check it over, just in case of any nasty surprises, and then I think we can conclude the missives, and then transfer the money, and then...

But the timescales are now becoming ever-more concerning. There are now only a few days before we pass a threshold beyond which it's not possible to finish all the paperwork in time. And, of course, there's the ever-present threat that something may yet go wrong...

Needless to say, I'm getting a bit twitchy!

Still, that's another positive step. With a lot of luck, we're now just eleven days from the end of the road. But I'll celebrate then, and not until!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Burntisland Pipe Band Contest 2017

The pipe band season restarted this weekend with a trip to Burntisland. It was cold, wet, and miserable... but also surprisingly successful.

Our day began early - following the debacle at Forres our Pipe Major decided the thing to do was to travel over early and have a very long preparation. Unfortunately, this did not go to plan as the rain meant that spending a long time tuning up would ruin the pipes (until they then dried out, at least), so we instead hid within our gazebo until the last minute.

Anyway, we played, and it was... okay. But no better than okay. We actually started really well, but the phrasing in the third tune seemed to go (classic mistake, that), and bad blowing crept in as we went on. So, many of the things we'd been being told about all season. Still, it wasn't terrible - just a shame that we know we can do better.

Then we waited for the 4A contest, in which we were first. Again, we had an extremely curtailed preparation, and then on. This was a little better, mostly, although my fingers decided to cramp up half way through the last tune, which wasn't good. Still, it wasn't terrible.

And then there was a lot of waiting. In the event, the organisers decided to scrap their planned parade through the town, and instead have a very short prize-giving at three. I can't say I was sorry about the chance to get home, and get warm, rather sooner than expected... but I did feel bad for the organisers who had clearly put in a lot of effort, and spent a lot of money, only to see it washed out.


Our drum major did exceptionally well, coming 2nd (out of five). Even better, not only was the one person who beat her the current reigning World Champion, but he's also not really in her grade at all - in the minor contests the Juniors and Juveniles are merged together, with our drum major being in the Juniors and the other being in the Juveniles. So that was good.

Then, in Grade 4B (our grade) we came first! Yep, our first outright win in a very, very long time. (And, since LC felt the need to ask, it was out of six bands.) We came 1st (!) and 2nd in piping, 1st (!) in drumming, and 1st (!) for ensemble. Oh, and we also won an award for the best bass section in the contest. Huzzah!

In Grade 4A, we came... first! This time it was out of five bands, two of which were 4B bands playing up, and three were grade 4A bands. So that was quite a result. This time, we were 1st (!) and 2nd for piping, 2nd for drumming, and 1st (!) for ensemble, making this one of very few times that the pipers have helped elevate the band's overall position - usually, it is the drummers carrying the rest of us.

So, yeah, that was a rather decent result!

Next week is the third of our four Majors of the year, being the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton. That's another one where we have to qualify before the final, with six out of sixteen bands in each qualifying group going through. That's a big ask, but if we get a good run this week, and if the band has been lifted by this result (as it should be), then maybe...

Certainly, it's all looking a lot more positive than it was after Forres.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Our Last Bit of Extra Time

It's quite a thing to think that Terry Pratchett has been gone two years. Of course, part of that is that being dead seems to have barely slowed him down - in those two years we've seen the release of the final Discworld novel, two "Long Earth" novels, and two short story collections.

But, alas, today was the end. I finished up the last of eight Pratchetts I've read since 2015, "The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner", a few minutes ago. And there is no more. It was a good book to end on... but it's still sad to think that there is no more to be had.

I did actually consider stopping just short, and perhaps refusing to turn that last page entirely. But I'm a great believer in the notion that it will be all right in the end (and if it's not all right now, that's because it's not yet the end). So I turned the last page, and came to an end. And it was, indeed, all right.

Still, as I wrote once before: Ook!

Thank you Sir Pterry. It's been fun.

#36: "The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner", by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 200: Update on Goals

And so we reach Day 200...

  • Weight: Nothing to report here. Our scales are currently packed away in storage, so there will be no news until we get to where we're going!
  • Books: By day 200 I should have read 32.9 books, so I'm in a good position here. As noted in my previous update, I've had to rejig my reading pattern somewhat to reflect the "Pathfinder Tales" line being put on hiatus, but the rest of the sublists are proceeding apace, and I've added more "New Books" to fill out the total. My expectation for this year is to be very close to the 60-book target, rather than well over it as was the case last year.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: We moved out of the flat at the start of July, and are due to move into the new house on the 4th of August (just in time for LC to be out of the country). So, by the time of the next update I expect to be able to report the completion of this goal. I'm very much looking forward to this all, finally, being done.
  • Part Five: The House: This remains on hold, though hopefully not for much longer.
  • Part Five: Church: Likewise, this remains on hold.
  • Part Five: Band: The second half of the competition season is about to start. My decision is now made - I'm going to see out the rest of the season and then leave at the AGM. I'm not inclined to go seek out a new band to join, at least for the foreseeable future - I'm inclined instead to play purely for my own enjoyment for the next little while.
  • Part Five: Gaming: This remains on hold.
  • Super Secret Goal #5: As noted earlier in the year, I decided not to pursue this goal, taking a different direction instead.

So... things are finally moving on the housing front, which is fantastic news and a huge relief. My hope is that for the next update I'll be able to report the completion of that goal, and solid progress on the four linked goals.

On the other goals, things continue to go well with the books goal, but are going badly on the weight goal. So I guess I know what my priority is for the next little while... though I've said that before.

#35: "Pathfinder: Prisoners of the Blight", by Amanda Hamon Kunz