Saturday, 22 October 2011

Georgia On My Mind

This is my brother, and I'm very proud of him.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Directions by Joseph Stroud

"How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world

Take a plane to London.
From King’s Cross take the direct train to York.
Rent a car and drive across the vale to Ripon,
then into the dales toward the valley of Nidd,
a narrow road with high stone walls on each side,
and soon you’ll be on the moors. There’s a pub,
The Drovers, where it’s warm inside, a tiny room,
you can stand at the counter and drink a pint of Old Peculiar.
For a moment everything will be all right. You’re back
at a beginning. Soon you’ll walk into Yorkshire country,
into dells, farms, into blackberry and cloud country.
You’ll walk for hours. You’ll walk the freshness
back into your life. This is true. You can do this.
Even now, sitting at your desk, worrying, troubled,
you can gaze across Middlesmoor to Ramsgill,
the copses, the abbeys of slanting light, the fells,
you can look down on that figure walking toward Scar House,
cheeks flushed, curlews rising in front of him, walking,
making his way, working his life, step by step, into grace."

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Pre-Post-Post-Pre-Christmas Post

Yeah, that's right; this is the post that's going to come before the follow-up to the pre-Christmas post that I posted in July.

Yesterday Jo and I decided to forgo the indoor gym and instead went to the old Brontë village of Haworth, west of Leeds, to celebrate the Return of the Rainless Sunday. Started out in Haworth town, walked around the Brontë's old churchyard, and then out across the moors to - originally enough - Brontë Waterfall.

Very pretty, five and a bit miles all told, and only a little sunburn and sore legs today as a result.

Apothecary in Haworth. In sepia.

Jo on the moors
Looking down at the valley.

Brontë Waterfall
I have a gamboling problem.

Pre-sunburn and sore legs.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

It's Beginning To Look Too Much Like Christmas

Hey everyone!

I decided to try and jump-start this blog again. So how am I going to jump-start it? By posting a post I last updated on November 11th 2010 and never finished! In all its incomplete glory! But there are photos though, and those are fun.

So leave me comments and make me feel bad for neglecting this blog for so long!


--Thom Abroad-->

Greetings all,

This post started out about a month and a half ago, and I got distracted and came back to it and added to it, and then more distracted and didn't write anything, and now it's almost Christmas and if I don't put it out soon I'll lose the will to live.

It's winter now. Snow has come and gone and come back again, and the flat is reaching a nice shade of "frosty" every morning. There are Christmas decorations in shop windows, carols are being played through loudspeakers, crap boy-bands are "officiating" the turning-on of Christmas lights. It can only mean one thing: Halloween is over.

Well, no. I don't mean to sound like some green Seussian setting up a how-to holiday home invasion blog; I just don't like hearing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving. Oh, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to family and friends in the lower half of North America! I hope your gatherings were warm, full of laughter, and the basis of happy memories you can hold in your hearts for years to come. And and if you wanted to post pictures, that'd be cool too. (The same applies for friends and family in the top half of North America as well. C'mon Canada, stop being difficult; Thanksgiving and November go together like maple syrup and touks.) Over here, Jo left work an hour early to create a beautiful Thanksgiving spread of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roast vegetables, beans, corn and rolls, before having to go to band practice and try to trombone through the tryptophan. I showed my appreciation by washing up and then calling my family for two hours.

All this holiday nostalgia/end-of-year reflection has led me to two conclusions and subsequent feelings:
  1. This year has been pretty good, but has gone really fast; which makes me feel kind of sad that it's almost gone. And also old.
  2. I haven't updated this blog nearly enough; which makes me feel lazy and guilty. And feeling lazy makes me feel guiltier.

So how to summarize the past 2-3 months... It was summer, and I did things and saw people and had fun and didn't write much about it, and then it was September and students came back and made me have to work. And autumn arrived, and I did some more things and more fun was had - like music and books and the such - and the leaves turned pretty and fell off the trees and the clocks went back and daylight went on holiday. And now it's almost winter and the decline in the amount of daylight is matching the decline in my amount of motivation to do just about anything. A couple of weeks ago I fell asleep on the sofa about 10pm, having caught most of (but not all of) an episode of Time Team where they didn't dig up much of anything. This is a bad analogy for my current life, but it's early, and I'm out of practice. Today is sunny and I'm writing. Coincidence? I think not. (I've also had two cups of tea already, which may have some beneficial effect.)

So it's boring, but really the only way I can do an update at this point is to make a list of the past couple months' happenings (Jo is laughing at me, or will be when she reads this). So here goes:

Haggis: An eye-opener.
End of July/Beginning of August was Iain and Minori's wedding/anniversary party in Aberdeen. Flew up and back with Francis and Ayaka (who are now engaged - congrats guys!), got to see good friends, wandered around Aberdeen a bit, got to see the Tartan Day parade (which is a little smaller than Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade), met up with Iain at a coffee shop (Minori and family were clearing out Primark), went to a pub, got to eat a haggis, went to another pub, went to another pub, went back to the first pub, went back to hotel and took a nap, got dressed up and went to the ceilidh. Danced more than is humanly (or humanely) necessary, and then got to share some whiskey with the boys. All in all, a very Scottish day.

Me, Ayaka and Francis, snacking on local delicacies.

Me, Iain and Francis.

The next morning we bit adieu to Iain and Minori, who were traveling to see family and then back to Japan, and then, being by the sea, we went to the seaside (after the pub). We looked at the beach while it poured it down. During a break in the rain we did a typical seaside activity and played pirate minigolf. Stayed until early afternoon, when Francis, Ayaka, Jo and I caught a taxi back to the airport and flew back to Leeds. Very fun 36 hours.
(l-r) Leslie, Chris, Dan, Francis, Ayaka and me at the beach.
Pirate mini-golf: It's harrrrd.

A week later we hopped on another plane and flew out to the "Middle Coast" of the US to see friends and family. Got to spend my 30th at Lindsey and Brian's wedding (which should make their anniversary easy to remember!), and spend many other days haphazardly meeting people

In the words of the venerable Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, "Pulled through."

The first volume of Twain's autobiography was recently published as per his wishes, one hundred years after his death. I will be following this path and posthumously publishing my memoirs one century on. When they are released they will consist of all my published blog posts, as well as unfinished posts and Myspace-era photos. You may commence hoping for huge breakthroughs in life-expanding medical technology.

I worked a lot, but I think that's been touched upon before. Onward! Onward!

October was unofficial music month, as I got to see three great gigs in Leeds, namely: Grinderman, Sam Barrett/Pine Hill Haints and Rumpfest (the peculiarly-named music "festival").

Grinderman. Oh man. Just a mini Seedling tour, or Nick Cave branching out to give us more kinds of awesome? Don't know, don't care - this was one of the best shows I've seen in a long time (discounting the fact I haven't been to many shows recently). I've been listening to Nick Cave for about ten years, but this was the first - and hopefully not only - chance I've had to see him. Cave is like some pentecostal revival preacher out of a Flannery O'Connor story, all dirt and fire and noise and showman. And I'm not entirely sure, but he may be the one person who could take Chuck Norris in a fight.

The second show was a free gig at the Duck and Drake, an old-man pub in Leeds, with Pine Hill Haints and Serious Sam Barrett. Much fun and even Jo enjoyed a crowded pub and music she'd never heard. And if you haven't yet heard Sam Barrett, you should either watch the video in the last post or check him out here.

Rumpfest at the Brudenell Social Club was less of a fest than ten bands (including personal favorite Cory Branan) for ten pounds for ten hours in a pub. Could be worse. And a veritable musical smorgasbord it was: ADHD-punk, old-metal, angry folk, countrified rock, and Cory Branan's own brand of lyrical and musical awesome. Even got to chat with Mr. Branan for a bit about music, the American South, Argentinean poetry and British beer:
Me: Hey, you want a beer?
Cory: Sure! I'll have whatever you've got.
Me: Well, I've got a double chocolate stout, but they've got a really nice banana bread beer if you'd like?
Cory: Do they have anything that's not made of candy?
Me: Pint of John Smith's it is!

Read the full flyer
Have you heard the one about a collection of sci-fi short stories based on a web-comic that was independently published on the exact same day as Glenn Beck's new book and actually beat him to Number 1 on Amazon, which annoyed Beck so much that he labeled it part of "a culture of death"? Well, this book did just that.

Machine of Death is based on the premise that in an alternative present/near future there is a machine that can accurately predict how you will die, though not necessarily clearly: you could get 'Sky Diver' and spend the rest of your life watching the skies for malfunctioning parachutes only to be crossing the road one day and blam! get hit by a weekend parachutist who is late for work.  Probably not a book you'd find in Family Christian Bookstores, but still an interesting look at the eternal question: "If you could know how/when you were going to die, would you?" It's a very good read, and as of time of writing, there's a free copy available here! If you like it though, please pick up a "real" copy; these guys have put a lot of time, effort and money into accidentally becoming enemies of Glenn Beck and the decent, hardworking entrepreneurs of America.

Wow! What a month!

Briefly considered writing a bad novel as part of NaNoWriMo - the National Novel Writing Month - but rejected that idea when I realised I don't actually have the dedication to finish a 200-word blog post in a month, let alone some 50,000-word literary monstrosity. Instead I think I'll try to finish the blog post and work from there. I'm also wondering if I've actually got any stories inside me that are trying to get wrote. Maybe in December instead? Hmm...we'll see.

Currently reading 'Decline and Fall' by Evelyn Waugh. Surprised I haven't read anything by Waugh before now, but seeing as how my "literary journey" has included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and Graham Greene, I expect to be C of E at least by the time I finish.

Other stuff I've read recently:
  • All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy - a beautiful, harsh coming-of-age story about a young man who runs away to Mexico where he finds love, death, the law and the human condition. And horses.
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy - what we don't say when we say something.
  • The Book of Dave by Will Self - the story of how a London cabbie's life falls apart and the dystopian future religion he accidentally inspires.
Oh, old story that I forgot to tell you: we were driving home from Jo's parents house after getting back from America in August, and Jo's car died three miles from home when we stopped to pick up a pizza. This led to a few car-less months which weren't too bad (we don't live very far from the shops) but not incredibly conducive to travel beyond the immediate area. Jo's now got a new (used) car, a 2001 Toyota Yaris, which is blue and drives pretty well (as far as I can tell). It has a CD player, can tell you the temperature, your miles-per-gallon AND kilometers-per-litre and has more buckets and storage crannies than I know what to do with. And thus you have a summation of my knowledge of the automobile.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one: Two weekends ago (Does time fly? Like arrows, just like fruit flies like bananas.) we headed out to the wilds of North Yorkshire for a nice weekend away. Drove up on Saturday early, dropped our stuff off at the Eastfield Lodge Bed & Breakfast, a nice little B&B in Leyburn, and went out for a walk in the Dales near Aysgarth. Had a good walk around Aysgarth Falls (slightly smaller than Niagara), managed to walk the wrong way around four-mile trail by mistake (we were on the right path, but the directions didn't make any sense), up hill and over dale, not get stuck in the mud (despite some valiant attempts at it), took some fun photos, headed back to the B&B and went out for a pub dinner. Leyburn is a very nice little market town in the Dales, but heavens I'd get bored living there (no book shops, see).

Leyburn is also near Wensleydale which, if you're a cheese lover, means something. (If you're cheese lover and it doesn't mean something, it means Wensleydale cheese - a delicious creamy semi-soft cheese which is great on crackers, and is positively sinful with cranberries in it.) I'd send you some, but it gets all mushy in the internet.
Wallace and Gromit.

Got up relatively early on Sunday and headed out to the Thorpe Perrow Arboretum and Mammal and Raptor Centre. (I know what you're thinking: you're thinking 'How do they keep the mammals from eating the plants and the raptors from eating the mammals?' And if you're a boy you're thinking of Sam Neill battling a velociraptor.) Walked through the cold and damp (and out-of-season) gardens until we came to the Mammal and Raptor Centre, where we got to see an albino weasel, miserable-looking meerkats, wallabies, mean-spirited emus, some crazy pheasant-looking birds and one silly duck. And we took some silly pictures:
Weeping Angels.

Albino weasel.

The genuine wallaby.
"Do not want to talk to you. Simples."

"I am a crazy bird."

Me and a Harris hawk (I think).
Then it was time for hot chocolate and the raptor show, where a group of seven of us got to see three birds of prey doing some aerial displays. One highlight was a Harris hawk landing on the bench about two feet away and eying up the two-year-old boy standing with his parents like, "Hmm, bet I could eat this one." The other highlight was getting to hold two of the birds. Is it sad that, as a grown man, I get excited by having the opportunity to hold what is technically a chicken with a killer instinct? I don't care either way; it was sweet and I would go back again just for that. Firstly was the Harris hawk (I think, I don't remember which hawk in particular, but I think it was a Harris), followed by Snoopy, the barn owl (I remember Snoopy, because Charles Shultz was from St. Paul), both of whom were much lighter than I expected they would be. The little boy got to hold the owl too, which just about made his life; he had to be physically restrained from running out as soon as the raptor specialist (wrangler? captor?) asked if anyone would like to hold the birds. Eyes as big as dinner plates. Excited as Christmas.
Snoopy, the barn owl.
Jo and Snoopy.

Just like Harry Potter!

Mmm, chicken.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Bumpa, my Grandpa Maurice, 87 years young today!

Thursday, 16 September 2010


This isn't the post promised. This is a filler post to keep you mildly updated/amused/annoyed until work stops trying to kill me and learns to play nice.

Work has been insanely busy as of late, and there have been more than a few days when I've arrived by just-gone eight and not left til close to six. Tonight was especially bad and didn't get out til ten of seven, having got in at twenty past eight, with a meeting from half-nine to half-twelve in between. Which, all told, are only numbers.

Two weeks ago, semi-fresh off the vacation back home, the office was down to half-staff, which sounds far too much like a Viagra advert to actually mean misplacing all female coworkers for ten days. Which is what it actually means. So, armed only with testosterone and sheer tenacity (and a LOT of tea) we three kings somehow managed to prepare for and carry out three separate exam boards, hold down the phones, answer emails and tried to make sure that all the last-minute postgrad applicants got applications and some sort of guidance.

But not undergrads; the undergrad courses have been filled up for months, like so much flotsam and jetsam in the great pipeline of knowledge, clogging it so the smart can't get out.

This week has consisted of checking, double-checking, sending-away-for-external-checking checking and triple-double-dog-dare-checking before releasing grades. Which is just before students return (or, in the case of the last-minute appliquees, start). So, yee haw, hold onto yer hats kiddies. I am most definitely not going to be staying til seven tomorrow night: I have a very important date tomorrow night. A date with beer.

This week is also "staff development week", which is pretty much synonymous with preaching to the choir, business-speak and self-glorification, but with tai chi, head massages and dubious food.

So yes, this isn't the post I wanted nor intended to write. That post, the promised post, the mythological post of homewardsness and photography, that post'll have to wait a bit longer. I'm sorry, family and friends, for being crap at this game; I hope to get to it soon.

Anyway, that's all the news from Lake Woebegon. On a completely unrelated note, here's one of Leeds' own sons playing some nice pickin' gee-tar.

Don't work too hard,


Serious Sam Barrett - Lay A White Rose from James Rhodes on Vimeo.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

And Back.

We've returned from the US. After a beautifully hot and sunny two weeks, Jo and I made it back to our flat in the UK last Wednesday. Still not sure which timezone it is, but when I figure it out I'll post some fun stories and pictures.

In the mean time, here are a couple of pictures of what I did during my summer vacation.

Me, Iain and Francis, at Iain and Minori's first anniversary ceilidh in Aberdeen, Scotland; 31 July 2010.

Matt and Dan getting stuck in at the Peterson Extended Family Barbecue; 15 August 2010.