Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Mr Thorndike, I presume.....

At Large Mansions, Concretia, despite her status as Ace Of Spades in our own house of cards, still stands resolute. Battered, but resolute. I attend Friday morning's Introduction to Social Anthropology Lecture with the abomination that is Concretia very much on my mind. Pretty soon, the anticipation of basking in the rays of knowledge cast by my Lecturer cast thoughts of Concretia from my mind, and I arrive at the lecture, five minutes early, sit in my accustomed seat (the furthest away from the furtive sounds of texting), and assemble, in good order, my pens, highlighters, notes, textbook, writing pad and lecture notes. All is going well, and it is a good early (by University standards - I have been to Large Mansions to meet my tradesmen, sent a few e-mails and had breakfast) start.

The lecturer fires up Powerpoint and the first slide hits the screen. I halt in the middle of note taking, because the topic of the lecture is "Dirt, Pollution, Taboo and Abomination". The blasted slab jumps immediately back into the forefront of what passes for 'mind' in the Old Noggin, and I have to regain a little composure before fully attending today's topic. As it happens, the topic does not actually refer to Concretia, although the definition provided for 'pollution' by Mary Douglas, the anthropologist of "matter out of place" certainly applies. Without, at this time describing the topic in detail, I find it spooky (perhaps because it is HAlloween) how many anthropologists have come close to the findings of the masterpiece "Civilization- Why???", and if it were not for the fact that some of these people stumbled upon their research some time ago, I would have justifiable grounds for crying "Plagiarists! They're all out to copy me". At the end of the lecture, I decide to introduce the lecturer, gently, to the concepts of "Civilization- Why?" by asking her if she can point me in the general direction of some cross-cultural studies on taboo "as I've been doing a bit of work in the area myself".

She looks at me closely,

"...Well....yess and no. Have you been talking to Richard?"

The glint in her eye, and the tone of her voice are a dead giveaway that she is a victim of a phenomenon I have very recently learnt about, namely "Classic Conditioning". Not only that, but her attitude demonstrates another phenomenon that I have very recently been lectured on, and that is the phenomenon of "priming".

Further evidence, as if it was needed, is provided when she stats hastily (Flight or Fright Theory, MicGuiness, 1465) gathering up her laptop and lecture notes. Richard, it seems, her research assistant, has obviously "primed" her to my advances, and in a clear case of classic conditioning if I ever saw one, she has reacted, not with free-will (or ID, as Freud has it), but as a typical Structuralist, and with a mien suggestive of the whole "Frustration-Aggression Complex" (Tyler-Hammick, 1902) has started salivating (probably because she recognises an opportunity to nick me whole theory) which, if you ask me, is as Operant as it gets.

I come round, and realize that the whole thing has been a horrible dream, and that I'm so tired that I have fallen asleep during 'Onka's Big Mokka' , a film about recirocity in Papua, New Guinea. Later that day, back at Large Mansions, I do demomstrate some real aggression towards the scaffolder who still has not removed the scaffold (that we had erected so that the place could be roofed) and who is now holding up all our work on the new extension. Later that afternoon the scaffold gets removed, which makes me happy, but what does not make me happy is that dealing with tradesmen (yes, unfortunately they are all MEN) is just same-old, same-old pointless macho bullshit, and the reason that the scaffolder has been dragging his feet is because I shouted at him weeks ago and he's been sulking/proving-a-point ever since. I did'nt realize, and just thought he was an idiot, which is why I shouted at him in the first place.

I've done this construction politics/ shit in various guises for twenty years, and it is just so old. Uni could not have come at a better time and despite the fact that I'm as genuinely confused about the facts I am learning in Uni as my dream would suggest, it is new. And not just new-therefore-novel-therefore-good, because with our Gypsy-esque lifestyle, we have 'done' new to Death, and 'new' for it's own sake lost it's appeal about three moves ago (Ontario-Nova Scotia-Birmingham), but new as in interesting, challenging, fun, thought-provoking.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Wake up and smell the Nobels

My anthropology lecturer's research assistant is very impressed with the gist of my "Civilization- WHY?" theories, so much so that he today encouraged me, after this morning's seminar to "go away and do some intensive research, and you might want to visit some sites - get some real fieldwork done - possibly India". I have already sworn him to secrecy, and offered him unpaid work as my research assistant, althoughI promised to buy him a few pints and a share of the millions that the Nobel will bring, but generously, he does'nt want 'in' on my idea, saying that "It was all yours" (ie mine). After further conversation, he seems more enthusiastic than ever that I travel, widely, as sson as possible and does offer to help in possibly securing me an extended fieldwork assignment away from Hull "If you go for two years, that would probably be ideal - time to gather data, and write up your observations". I express my gratitude and suggest that I could work with him when I get back. He expresses regret, and says that he'll have left Hull by the time I would get back, if I were to actually go this spring.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Cat mysteries - a double bill

We present two mysteries for your reading pleasure. The first solved, but remains an open case in the C-files. Read on, dear sleuths, and see if you can make heads or tails of the cat mysteries.
Our first tale takes place during a visit of two couch surfers from Australia. They had been with us for a day and a half already, so they knew our routine with the cats, and to watch for them as you entered and left the house. Toulouse is both sneaky and fast, however, and we weren't surprised to find him missing when we went to bed. We searched the inside of the house, top to bottom, with no luck. Despite our guests claims that they were careful, we assumed that Toulouse had bested yet another human in his never ending game. Where the mystery begins, is when we tried to get him back in. These days, when Toulouse does escape, he usually wonders for 45 minutes, and then comes back when we shake the treats and scratch him while he eats some grass outside of the house. This night was different. 3 hours of combing the streets and a cramp in my hand from shaking the treats gave no results. We ended up opening the old cat door and restricting Chupa to the top floor, hoping Toulouse would come back when he was ready.
Now I am a sound sleeper, but I was woken in the middle of the night by Anna who was convinced she heard scratching near the fireplace. Our bedroom is in the basement next to the fireplace, and Toulouse has seen us letting trapped birds out of the fireplace before, so we thought he may have climbed up looking for another. No luck. It was empty, and the sounds had stopped. Early the next morning, I wake up again, to the sounds of Anna meowing at our bedroom wall. My curiosity exceeded my desire for sleep so I watched until I too heard a meow in response. It took about 15 more minutes to solve the mystery. We double checked the fireplace, and searched the openings to the air vents, before we realized that you could access a crawl space between ours and our neighbors house from the furnace room. This crawl space is very narrow and is a maze of pipes, so any cat that managed to work there way in there, would be out of luck if the lights were turned out in mid adventure. (cats cn see in very low light, but pitch black - I assume). So a few minutes of shining a flash light at the escape route, and gentle coaxing brought the escapade to a close.
Our second mystery, is stranger still. Toulouse has not only mastered the at of escape (front door, and back yard fence), but he has also mastered pulling the heart strings. Anna is convinced that keeping him inside is slightly short of torture, so we will occasionally take him for a walk on leash (he has mixed feelings on this one), or Anna will let him out for a quick stroll once it is late enough and there are no cars or people around. He has learned to accept this compromise, and comes back within 30-40 minutes. Last night we did the same, and kept to our routine of letting Chupa in the back yard, while propping the front door open for Toulouse. No surprises, as Anna brought Toulouse back in and brought Chupa from the back yard. On my way to bed, even I remember seeing Chupa playing with a cord. The mystery begins the next morning, when I wake up and see the front door propped open. I wake up Anna, who confirms what I remember - the cats had been brought back in. So how did they escape? was the door not closed properly? had someone cam into the house during the night? (we don't always lock the door - this is Canada after all) :) I get dressed to go searching for Toulouse, when see him walking past my feet. All right, one cat found, he must have come back in when he got bored, but Chupa is not used to wondering, and expected he would be tougher to catch. Now here is where it gets really strange. I look in the back yard, and see Chupa sitting here waiting to get in. Now the back yard is enclosed, which is why we let him roam there when the front door is open. Toulouse can scale the back fence, but not Chupa. We didn't forget to let him back in, but did we sleep-walk and let them back out again? It so closely fits our pattern of letting the cats out, that we can't think of any other explanation? any thoughts from our sleuthy friends?

Long way around

Just started watching this on DVD. Absolutely brilliant. If anyone wants an insight into the mind of motorcycle road trip, check it out. (or at least as much as you can call a corporate sponsored adventure with Obi-Wan a 'road trip') :) at least it captured the comraderie of the open road, and proves there are roads in the world slightly worse off than back roads to Kedgie...

Friday, 24 October 2008

a lil bi o' larnin.... a dangerous thing. Less than that is a bit more dangerous. The first few weeks at University are revealing not only the truth of the cliche about learning, but a few additional insights into the process. My favourite course is my 'Free Elective' - Introduction to Social Anthropology. The course is fact filled and full of new ideas and concepts already, as well as showing me perspectives on topics I thought I had already grasped. Naturally, this makes a re-write of "Civilization - WHY??" necessary, as I have discoverd that the Earth was not seeded by aliens from Alpha Centauri after all, a fact that I had garnered from the web, and used freely throughout the aforementioned thesis to try and explain some of the stranger elements in human behaviour, such as the wearing of cardigans, serious poetry and warfare.

Anthropology though, has confirmed a position that has been unfolding throughout "Civilization - WHY??", a position that started as wild speculation, and one that I am now actually taking seriously. This position, and the ill-effects of a little learning were illustrated this week when Large had a blazing row with a colleague.

The colleague's position (lets call him Manu) ran parallel with Churchill's position, namely that our current system of government (and by implication economic organization) 'is the worst system of Government possible - apart from any other'. This view, broadly reflects the almost Darwinian view of Western Society that it (Western Society) is the 'natural' pinnacle of the evolution of societies, and that every other society in the World would eventually end up 'here' already if 'we' had not got 'here' first. Support for this view points to our 'freedoms' and proclaims that if people are left to be free, this (current Western Society) is where we end up. This view is further supported by pointing to the supposedly mercantile 'instincts' of people from Asian societies, a view which implies that if Asians been just a bit better at inventing things, it would be them now, not us, who effectively rule the world. Capitalism, the free market, commodity trading, it is said, are actually all just human nature. This does lead us to the curious proposition that Asians and a tiny minority of Westerners have specific 'money' genes. But as Manu and friends have already hijacked some of the thesis "The Selfish Gene"as even more support for their case, I will not pursue this particular misreading of Scientific works any further. I am, after all, not a satirist.

Largey's point was the opposite, specifically, that capitalism is not working, that humans have, still do and will in the future, choose to organize themselves along different lines than our current system, and that her brother Will is almost entirely responsible for the lack of movement on the societal level because he studies Love. Will, you see, is a philosopher, and in days of yore, his main job would be to grow a great big beard and sit in his exclusive Gentlemen's club (before retiring to his extremely rich friend's house) theorizing about how the workers of the world, oppressed as they were, had nothing to lose but a couple of old shackles, so it was way past time to start shooting anyone who was priveliged. In truth, far from fermenting revolution, what Will, and his friends actually do is philophisize, well nigh unforgiveable.

I tend to disagree that Will is entirely responsible for the current state of the World, although he has, from time to time, been responsible for my feeling that the World is just about to end, but that is mainly because he went through a period of using Prozac as a salad dressing, and as we all know, even Ranch is preferable. I do however, agree with Large about the rest. Even in Hull, as I have mentionewd before, we have a large number of direct acquaintances who have lost jobs, savings, pensions, business as a direct result of the current 'downturn'. In a world of plenty, this is unacceptable. In the months and years ahead, people in this marvellous 'here' will not be put into hardship because of drought, famine, disease or warfare, but because a system which exists purely to make very rich people even richer has failed as a direct result of the misjudgements of those very rich people. When I write that sentence, and realize just how absurd is the system that we have chosen to use to organize ourselves , I am tempted to re-visit the Alpha Centauri theory.

I was going to neatly conclude this post by citing some of the (still current) societies I have learned about in Anthropology, and thereby showing off my new found knowledge. These societies engage in barter, mercantile networks, hunter-gathering, nomadism. They span history and geography, ecologies and complexity and all are based on different paradigms than the current Western one. Would they be sustainable? Do I want to go back to living in caves? Do I believe in the 'noble (ecological) savage' ?. Absolutely not, but our laws, constitutions and economies are all choices we have made, and maybe, just maybe, if I read a little more I might discover that I can learn about some of these societies, not just so I can pass examinations, but so I can give Will a few tips when he finally decides to write the great Philosopher's book showing mankind the direction that it has to go in order that the next Great Leap Forward is a leap, and not a stumble.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

... The very next day................

I can report that just like the German pocket battleships of the War, although Concretia still stands, her end is in sight. Today, after six hours mighty labour, I chipped a small 6" x 6" piece from her side. I can sense that the battle is truly commenced.

In future years I will look back on this day and cry with a mighty voice " I have slain the serpent". Having just completed some calculations though, it would appear that at my present rate of progress, this day will not be until after July 17th, 2009.

I can sense another plan coming on.......

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Give me a solid spot to stand on and I will fail completely

That bastard Archimedes and his stupid theories. As previously detailed, the base to the previous carbuncle, or former extension, at the rear of Large Villas has proven problematic to the point where the Greek's rather flippant remark about levers is demonstrated to be total bunkem. Cheap Steve tried and failed. Next in was Mazzer and JJ, my co-mature student. We came equipped with a diamond tipped gas-powered saw, gauranteed by the rental store owner to make mincemeat of any Concretion within minutes. We also, on the advice of our philosopher friend, had the most sizeable lever we coud find - a 2inch think iron pole, six foot long. Fuelled by our new found friendship, several cups of tea and a few Digestive biscuits, we, unlike Cheap Steve and the boys, came up with a plan, as besuited our new found status as interlectals.

In short, it failed.

The photographs below may help indicate why:

Concreatia, as Joey Mac has unhelpfully dubbed the thing(thus making my act of removal a vengeful thing(by anthromorphizing the monstrosity) and thereby doomed to failure) is constructed as follows, from bottom to top:

One layer of concrete 4" thick, brick and stone mix - Pre-1940's laid on bed of rubble
One layer of concrete 6" thick, smal stone and ballst reinforced laid ontop of aforementioned layer
ONe layer of concrete 6-9" thick, reinforced with rebar and strengthened with granite ballast (small stone between 1/2 to 1" diameter).

THe project is a night mare and caused JJ and myself to declare last Friday at around 6.00pm that it "was about time. Time to start drinking heavily.." The following session had us plot many wild schemes, none of which came to pass and the thing is still there.

Tomorrow I have another crack at it, having surpassed myself in reading for Uni.THe image below shows how it has not progressed since last time.

THe rest of the new pictures in the Ella Street renovation album have been added, some of which show the bathroom mosaics completed, but not grouted. I have not yet ordered this album so it is not dirctly included in this post, but for anyone who is impatient to see the completed mosiac without the benefit of my witty titles, you can simply click on the album form the last renovation updates and the images will be in that album (as it is the same album, only with new images added).

THis weekend Charlayan is coming to visit us, and her and Nel are going to complete work on the bathroom tiling. I look forward to Charlayan's visit, but a little bit of me wishes she was a six foot six man mountain with a need to blow off some steam.

Concretia awaits.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Newfangledisms: A Terminological Challenge

A few years ago RHB and I received a card from a friend which said something like:

I'm confused. I have met someone and I do'nt know how to describe him to my friends. Should I say:

A). boyfriend? no, too cutesy.


B). partner ? no, too PC


C). significant other? no, too pompous


D). person I want to regularly ***** the living daylights out of ? yes , that'll do.

I have to admit that after two scant weeks of being edercated, that I stand similarly terminologically confused.

This confusion first arises when I discover that as I progress through my course, I will have multiple 'partners'. I should not continue without describing where I stand on the issue of describing one's current paramour. In our daily life, RHB and self refer to the other variously as 'partner', 'husband', 'wife', boyfriend', 'girlfriend', 'She Who Must Be Obeyed', 'Idiot', 'Largey', 'Darling', 'the UberleutnantReichfuhrer' or simply 'me bessie' (this is Liverpool slang for 'my best mate'). All these terms are interchangeable, and I would like to think, humourous and non-judgemental. Despite a degree of variation in the labels, we tend to err on the side of choosing words that imply a degree of intimacy, either via the language used or via the tone of voice and I have to admit that there is not an awful lot of thought injected into these expressions- they come out as they come out.

Social psychologists, on the other hand, as I have discovered this week, devote an awful lot of time to what people are called. So much time in fact, that one can spend weeks devoted to arguing over the correct nomenclature to be used in research, while completely ignoring the results thereof. It is while being lectured on this issue that I discover that the term 'partner' is now the correct term to use for people whom I would have previoulsly called 'subjects'. In fact, I discover that I am way behind the times, because 'subjects' was superceded years ago by 'participants' , which was then itself superceded by the term 'partner'. I struggle to see the relevance of the discourse, and I disagree with the appropriateness of the term. Naturally, in private life, I can understand how in a relationship where one straps someone to a table, pours oil over them and then subjects them to some experimental processes, the term 'partner' would apply. It carries the correct implications of intimacy for such operations. But in Science, even if the same actions are conducted during the course of experimentation, it is, when the term is introduced for the first time, misleading to call the person one is doing these things to 'partner'. The proposed outcome, and circumstances, are entirely different, and essentially, are totally dissimilar in intimacy than the previously described activity. even the clothes are different. In my opinion, adoption of the word 'partner' for 'experimental subject' sends completely the wrong signal. Admittedly, the actions sound similar, but unlike in one's personal life, there is an entirely different agenda in play here.

It is a tricky subject to introduce to one's tutor, so I approach the topic bluntly.

"Is'nt it rather anal, getting all twisted out of shape over a few stupid words?" I ask my tutor, whom I later discover is auther of a tome entitled 'The Semantics of Science: Gender and Sex Issues in Language" (Or something). Forty five minutes later, I cave in to the inevitable and resolve to cross 'partner' off my list of names for RHB. She can still call me 'subject' though.

Next up is Anthropology. Here, I think, I'll get to some meat. No messing around with terminology or semantics. Our first lecture however is about the ethnography of anthropology and whether peoples we previoulsy knew as 'hunter-gatherers' should still remain so, or whether, as a reflection of the larger role played by women in providing nutrition for these societies, they should be referred to as 'gatherer-hunters'.

University, I can see, will not simply be about learning stuff. It will also be about whether the stuff I am learning is correct, and also about speaking an entirely new language. Already as a tenderfoot, I am asked to take sides in this war of words. Franky, I have a foot in both camps. I am disturbed that anthropological arguments about terminology got in the way of actually stdying the people we are supposed to be studying. But I will not dismiss the alternate view. That, marvellously, is what I am here for. Even if it does mean having multiple partners.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hull Fair 08

Hull Fair is the largest, and oldest traditional fair in Europe. By largest, I mean that it covers a huge area of the city, and by oldest, I mean that it is much older than Canada. Older by at least seven hundred years. Which is about how long the "Escalator", a ride that self and RHB decided to attend, lasted, at least subjectively.

The Fair proper - ie the bit where travelling carnies take money from punters - feels a bit like Coney Island in it's heyday, or at least it feels how I think Coney Island would have felt. It is noisy, brash, extremely colourful, loud and a thing that you go to just because other people go there. But there is another side to Hull Fair, in that it co-incides with 'traveller' Parliaments. Outside town, the four 'traveller' sites expand massively, and spontaneous sites arise wherever possible. I would use the word 'Gypsy' to describe 'traveller' but political correctness has told me that I am not allowed to describe these people as such. This is despite the fact that real Gypsies, or Romanies, do refer to themselves as Gypsies. Adding to the confusion is that the Gypsy culture has been added to by a bunch of New Age hippies, drop outs and people seeking an alternative lifestyle.

The Gypsy Parliaments sound fascinating: there is horse trading (literally), dispute resolution, weddings, divorces and social gatherings, all of which outsiders are excluded from. These events occur not in the Funfair but in the camps that spring up outside and around Hull during the Fair. It is a mysterious and unconnected world, dramatically removed from the Ivory Tower of academia that we can now both claim to inhabit, and while I am thinking "Vive La Difference!", I am also thinking that I would not want to share this world for all the tea in China, even the Fairtrade stuff. Caravans are just too cold.

Me, RHB and Chris descend on the Fair just at the right time: it is shutting down for the night and there is an air of disreputableness about everyone and the rides which are still open. We wander the aisles, and I win a Light Sabre by hooking little duckies with a magnet. Chris and Nel disappear into a house that advertises "Get lost in the maze" for so long that I think they're kidnapped, and later we all have a go on the Dodgem cars. Among all of this, RHB and self inexplicably decide to go for a ride on some thing that looks like an eighty foot long pendulum. As we discover, about a minute after getting on the ride, this is becuse it IS an eighty foot pendulum. After about three minutes of G forces and stomach churning action, I am getting a little bored, while RHB just wants it to stop, so we are both grateful as it settles into the dismount position. Unfortunately, the roustabouts decide that as we are the last ride of the night (or something) they will give us a bit longer, so the ride takes off again, flinging us into the air with gay abandon. By this time, my jocular comments to Red are becoming a little forced, because I've suddenly become mindful that Hull is an epicentre of subsidence, and as each swing reaches it's apogee, the ride gives a little lurch, and I'm picturing two little orphan cats. Red just wants it to stop. Eventually it does, and we get off. Surpassed only by buying Large Villas, it is a significant 'What were we thinking?' moment.

We have missed the previous Fair (last year) and unless someone like Chris comes again at the same time next year (she is a great observer of nuance in crowds, and sees stuff we just do not notice) this may well be our last HullFair. It is definitely interesting, full of sulky teenagers, wandering families and a whole strata of human society who just look lost, and would do no matter what environemnt they find themselves in. AT the same time, we have great fun, as we are all avid people watchers. The people that attend Hull Fair are divided into a few categories. These are:

1). Teenagers on dates
2). Teenagers who wish they were on dates
3). Teenagers who try to give the appearance that they could have been on a date if they had wanted to but are having fun anyway
4). Amateur photographers trying to get gritty photos of the 'real people'
5). Bloggers
6). Families pushing pushchairs. This is the strangest category, mainly because if the intention is to give the child a sensory experience, they could have saved themselves a long bus ride (or difficult park) by just strapping their bambino to the back of a friendly neighbourhood dog and driven it (and said child) into their local pub during Karoake night. For the child the experience would have been the same.

Nevertheless, I would have to say that Hull Fair is one of those brilliant social anomalies that should continue forever, unadvertised, un-branded and MacDonald's free.
Hull Fair 08

Next day, on the local news, a report tells of how the ride we had been on got stuck when a couple of guide cables snapped. Minds are made up - Hull Fair 08 may well be the only time the event appears in this infrequent report.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ireland Vacation Photo Album

The full photo album from Ireland is today's post.

Cork, Ireland

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

House reno update

A rather boring, but functional title, I'm afraid, and less exciting than the other post I was going to post which I've decided to postpone. This other post, based on my degree studies is provisionally entitled "Freud was an Idiot", but as I believe that education is a learning process and I might, just maybe, discover that Freud was NOT an idiot, I will postpone writing this possibly slanderous assertion.

We have had friends over at Large Villas for the past two weekends helping with the renovations. CCP came in order to get some hands on experience in tiling and drywalling. Then Christine came up from London to work with Nel on the mosaics for the bathrooms. In terms of excitement, the tiling was quite high up on the list because it represents the beginning of the realization of the design "vision" we have for the place. It was a highly experimental process, one in which yours truly (even though I am posting as Nel, it's actually RHB's partner writing this) did not get involved. The concept was developed by Nel and then refined over a weekend by her and Chris. The results are great, and as soon as possible I will add to this album some photos of the finished work.

House renos updates

We also get the roof retiled this week - does not sound exciting but as the leaky roof had been delaying any progress on the two upper bedrooms, it was agreat leap forward. The roofers were great - professional, thorough and great company. Most of them had a limp in one leg or the other and one day when I was out on the scaffold with them sharing a cup of tea, I asked why. The answer came as I was leaning against the guard rail some thirty feet in the air, as the senior guy explained that it was because at some time or other scaffolds fail, and most roofers have fallen off. I beat a hasty retreat inside to the safety of my solid floors, but as I was the contracted carpenter to replace a few rotten joists I still had to go out on the thing to complete my work. As I was doing this mostly at night, after School, and as it is now dark fairly early each evening, I had a few scary moments, as it is not until you are on a scaffold of this height on your own that you realize the scaffolding moves and sways and creaks alarmingly. Pictures of the completed roof will follow.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A noisy Introduction

"Mmmgnafghh" is admittedly a curious noise. And it is no wonder that a noise such as "Mmmgnafghh" would attract the attention of practically anyone who hears it. Much to the distress of the most recent undergraduate of your collective experiences. "Mmmgnafghh" might be emitted in a variety of circumstances, to whit:

#1. When falling off a climbing wall at an altitude of less than nine inches.
#2. When getting attacked by a hungry black bear
#3. When riding one's Hog, or other two wheeled vehicular transport over a particularly bumpy road in the direction of Kejimakujic National Park

I can think of several other examples, but I am too kind to include them, even though "When getting run over by a lawnmower" does sound extremely funny.

All of which should not distract from the plain fact that shortly after sitting down in my tutor's office for a seminar on Reflective Learning, among a group of complete strangers whose presence, age and, admittedly, sex, made me quite apprehensive, "Mmmgnafghh" did, once again, erupt from the old mouth, involuntarily and completely unwelcomed.

The circumstances are to do with how we(ie RHB and self) are currently (dis)-organised, as we adapt to the change in circumstances which has accompanied my undergraduateness. It has become very, very obvious very, very, very quickly that if I have a seminar/workshop at 12.15 at the University, I may possibly have to rethink my scheduling. Specifically, this would refer to organising meetings with tradesmen ( at Large Villas) that are timed so that I just about have enough time to get to the University thing after the meeting, provided I can sprint (in my dirty site clothes) from the house renovation (Large VIllas) to Nickson Mansions (our apartment), shower, get changed into my Uni-togs, jump on the trusty Crosstowner, and ride like the very divil hisself to the Wilberforce Building.

This scheme, which for the moment I will refer to as my 'plan', is, as I discovered, full of potential. There is the potential that the shower in our attractive-on-the-surface-but-so-badly-done-in-practice apartment will not be working. There is also the potential that the trusty Crosstowner has suffered a slow puncture, likewise that the cat will choose to escape, and double likewise that the only clean top I have is creased like tissue paper. On this day, all of these potentials are realised, as I sprint to make my seminar after a meeting which went on too long. I pull my jeans from the dryer, which has malfunctioned, and nearly cooked all my clothes instead of drying them, float some of RHB's deodorant under each arm and liberally across the chest, and nurse my valiant steed Universitywards.

Miraculously, I arrive at my tutor's office with five minutes to spare, enter at the appointed time, and then wait for the rest of my seminar group to turn up. As I am rapidly learning, undergraduates are late for F****ing everything, and are completely unapologetic about it. Eventually, the rest of the seminar group arrive, with an attitude that seems to say that the tutor is lucky they decided to show up. A big part of me wants them to get a job in Leeds. Nevertheless, the lecturer starts the session.

I am very uncomfortable with the topic we are about to discuss. This is because we are about to discuss a Chapter of our assigned text titled "Issues Around Reflective Learning". I do not have to read further than this Chapter title to realize that me and this topic are going to have issues of our own, and that if I do reflect at all about the topic, it is with an accompanying sense of nausea. Nevertheless, I have independently researched the topic and have written three pages of foolscap notes, littered with phrases I intend to use in the seminar, phrases such as 'Bullshit', 'Twaddle' and the familiar stand-by 'Post Modern, Freudian pseudo-scientific clap-trap'. Naturally, I have referenced research papers to back up my opinions.

Unfortunately, as the rest of my colleagues take their seats, my uncomfortability with the topic is matched only by the uncomfortability rendered by my jeans, which, having been cooked in our malfunctioning dryer are now tighter thanI am used to. As an expectant silence settles on the Prof's office, I lean back in my chair, and attempt a re-jig. This involves crossing my legs. It is at this moment that the "Mmmgnafghh" is emitted. Apparently, the seam betwixt my legs has issues around the contents of my physiology that occupy the same space and exerts a sudden, inexorable, intense and focused pressure on the now totally-redundant-for-at-least-the-next-five-hours aforementioned objects. Experience (I was after all a Goth and used to wear VERY tight jeans) has taught that relief can be obtained by instant, gentle massage, but that is probably a questionable route, given the circumstances, so I opt for a massive cough and banging my notebook around as if I am arranging it.

The professor, still with a look of mild surprise on her face, invites us to reflect on what we have learned since our course began.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Fresher's Ball

"Do you fancy a pint", except in JJ's rough Dublin brogue it sounds like "Djy fancy oh poyint?".

Twenty minutes later, sitting in Sleepers, nursing a poyint of Worthington's Cream Flow, we agree that we'll just "have the one". It's Monday after all, about five thirty pm and our first day of proper lectures has just finished. Naturally, midnight comes and goes and the good stuff is still flowing, except now we've moved to JJ's kitchen and its two stiff fingers of Bushmills each. The acid test comes, inevitably, as JJ is pouring the juice. He glances casually at me and asks

"Yer want some ice in that or something?"

I look at him like he's from Mars, and nothing further needs to be said. We sit there and sip, neatly. Perhaps us getting along (as we have been doing), is not just because we're the only men in the class, but I do sense that although my new found comrade in arms and I have hit it off immediately, I shall be missing out on an important facet of University life if I dont also attempt to mix a little more broadly.

The question of how to do so without being either creepy, or well, creepy, is one I am considering the next day when I pass our Departmental noticeboard and discover to my horror that I have been placed in a small seminar group that, self excepted, consists entirely of young female students. I realize quickly that it is not the 'female' that particularly bothers me, it is the 'young'. Young people can be scary and tend to notice all sorts of things that us old'uns do not - things like the make of one's trainers, nose hair, ear hair, lack of hair and excess hair in the form of sloppy, unshaved chins, and if my trendy English nieces are any guide, they also notice very quickly when an old person is trying too hard to be young. Immediately, I decide that my safest bet is to adopt an air of studied nonchalance, perhaps with a suggestion of wisdom, while steering clear of being patronising, but above all, to appear genuine.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Few Raised Eyebrows

The first week of university ends as it has begun - with total confusion, exclusively mine. It has been a massively enjoyable week, made inspirational by my first visit to the Library, but it has become clear that Universities, in common with every large organization in the world, are minute simulacrum of the world as a whole - overly complex organisms to which the streamlining power of computers has recently added another layer of complexity. The only difference between the University of Hull, and the malevolent Government Departments that I first encountered on being re-cast upon British shores, is that the University of Hull is not malevolent. Far from it in fact, it is a welcoming, friendly place. The casual racism, sexism and just bullshit macho rudeness that was my work environment in Leeds, is replaced by the Polar opposite - an atmosphere, at least in my Department, of good humour, open-ness and positivity. Quite frankly, the week has been brilliant.

The 'but' that you are quite correctly waiting for, is twofold. Firstly, I have always considered my self as somewhat of a dab hand with maps, and orientation in general. A strange effect of being a First Year Student in the first week of their first year, is that I, in common with every other First Year, have completely lost the ability to navigate, and in common with Christopher Columbus, have gained the ability to delude ourselves completely as to our exact location, even going as far as sitting in a lecture that is quite clearly about Particle Physics, for a full twenty minutes before meekly raising the hand and admitting the "I think I'm in the wrong place".

THe other 'but' is that necessarily, the first week lectures have been light on stone hard facts. Very little, if any, nitty-gritty has been gotten down to. Instead, the lectures have been gentle inductions into various matters - money, ethics, plagiarism - and I was getting a bit restless until I sat through the "What to do if you find yourself in a Particle Physics Lecture by mistake" segment of our Induction into Professional Behaviour, and discovered that apart from being slightly more prompt in admitting their error, the friend who found themselves in the wrong lecture had actually behaved correctly. I therefore awarded this friend 10/10 for their first week.

Next week, nitty and gritty are apparently going to coincide, so I'll have to buy some books and a pen.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Juggling cats

Those of you with long memories may remember a photo illustrating the rear of Large Villas. I t looked like this :

The white monstrosity to the rear is a badly built, damp, leaking extension. The image showing the washing machine is the interior of said carbuncle, but fortunately, 'Smellorama' has not yet been devised for the web, so the image does not do full justice to the unmistakeable aroma of damp that oozed from the thing. Two and a half months on, and the rear of the property now looks like this;

On a first glance, I can hear the cries of 'Hurrah' resounding round the world - from Glossop to Nova Scotia, from Liverpool to Ireland, and, perhaps the greatest distance of all, from Ontario to anywhere else. Perhaps people may crack open a bottle as we did, "Cheers", they may toast "The horrible extension has gone. Now, a thing of beauty can replace it??? Tis just a matter of removing the concrete base, and a georgeous construction can follow. Wowzah" they may continue " I can just picture meself sitting a beautiful warm new kitchen, well insulated, (constructed in accordance with strict environmental principals), under a living roof, enjoying my morning coffee. The aroma of warm croissants tickles my senses, and bread is baking in the carbon neutral oven as I recline in a Fairtrade armchair with a soft light massaging my skin. It's breakfast and all is well with the world in this oasis - birds sing, gentle wind chimes chime and I can see cats playfully dismembering mice in the beautiful garden through the French Doors leading to this Eden".

But despite this idyllic mental percept, all is not well in the state of Hull. The image, sadly, deceives because the minor detail of the base remains. As in the battle for meaningless Pacific Islands in '44 and '45, assaults on this cursed foundation have been mounted and repelled. Everything has been tried. Better men than you or I have foundered on its rocky shores, cats have been neglected and bad words have been uttered as we have struggled in vain to rid ourselves of the solidest block of concrete this side of the uncomfortably close French Nuclear power plants. It has been a war of attrition and has in fact broken Cheap Steve and Neil.

The job started well. When I mentioned to Cheap Steve, our building rubble removal expert that I wanted to get shut of the extension, Steve saw an opportunity for both profit and fun - no bad combination. We have, to date, removed about eight tons of debris from the building, from various chimney breasts that were incorrectly sealed, to plaster that had to be removed so we could insulate, to mounds of concrete from underneath some of the ground floor, to ceilings that had to be replaced. In all cases so far, I have done the 'graft' myself, dumped the debris in the back yard and called Steve so he can take it away. The extension though, is a bridge too far as solo projects go, so I asked Steve if he was interested in coming on board for the project.

We completed the first phase in two days of coarse jokes and tales of very different lives swapped. Cheap Steve and his boys are tough - tattoed, scarred and physical. They do not stop, ignored all the dust masks, eye protection and ear defenders I had bought for them and just went at the thing like it was a personal mission. I was seriously impressed, and a rapport was established. As day faded to dusk we contemplated the base.

"Do you guys want to come back and get rid of that ?" I asked Steve.

Next day, a pneumatic drill was delivered and, spirits riding high, we attacked the base. After about an hour, Steve looked worried. We had given ourselves a day to break the thing up, and half a day to remove the debris. The base was hardly touched. Steve made a phone call and at noon a bigger jack hammer turned up.

"This'll do the job" Steve noted.

We stopped for coffee at two pm. The bigger drill had not even scratched the concrete. Steve made another phone call and at three pm 'H' turned up. 'H's day with his regular employer had just finished and he was here as favour. 'H' regular job is to build motorways and he parked his truck outside our front door, fired up the biggest mobile generator I have ever seen and set about the base with his jack hammer, a tool that was normally used to demolish airport runways. AT five, fingers jingling with vibration, 'H' quit for the day having chipped two small pieces of stone from the base in two hours. We now had two jackhammers, clouds of dust and a conglomeration of the loudest noises I have ever heard attacking our Everest.

After the crew had left I examined the base. There is six inches of concrete. Under that there is metal reinforcing rods, called Rebar in North America. The another six inches of concrete. Then, more Rebar. Then a foot of concrete. Next day, Steve called me

"We wont be able to make it today, Mart. Got a small shed in Beverley to empty."

Enquiries about when Steve might be free reveal that he is suddenly hit with a glut of children's playrooms, garden sheds and garages to clear. He signs off with a slightly regretful "I'll call you when we're free, Scouse" that tells me the base has been, at least for him, a bridge too far.

Elsewhere, renovations are going well. RHB is still tiling, and is now a dab hand, demonstrating a steady hand and a keen eye. The bathroom floor that I represented so badly, has been ordered and Chris Phillips, our friend from the old Liverpool days (incredibly almost thirty years ago now) is coming next weekend to lend her incredible artistic talents to the mosaics and the floor we have planned for the bathrooms. RHB, heroically, comes to site most days after work and stays for more than a couple of hours, tiling, stripping paint, planning, and designing and six pm is, daily, a welcome time for me when she shows up.

Elsewhere, more original art is planned, as a photographer friend has promised two original prints for the house. Although the pictures still show a shell, the reality is that our idea for the place is coming together, and it is very exciting.

As I consider where we are, I realize that my often jocular comment that RHB and I are "Quite mad" is both entirely accurate and, if anything, a serious understatement. This has been, and remains a massive project, and reviewing the pictures for tonight's post, a lot has been accomplished in ten weeks.

Downstairs the floors on the ground floor have been torn out and replaced. The photo is out of date because the floor shown has now been completely replaced, and insulated, but the lower gropund floors are now in fact beautiful. Not because they are finished ( the bamboo is ordered, but on hold), but because I have reconstructed them the way I always wanted to do a floor. Effectively, our ground floors are now a six inch deep heat sink. This means that no heat will flow out, or incidentally in, and yet the floors have room to 'breathe'. Walking on the floors is a great experience - they feel immensely solid, yet not rigid like concrete. It is actually quite strange, because until I (re)built the things in this manner, it was only something I had read about as I have chosen a quite unusual method of construction. It is as if the floors are a plywood sandwich, with a layer of plywood top and bottom, and six inches of insulation inbetween.

As we move into October, the schedule gets more complicated as I start University. Balances between rent paid and mortgage owing become more important, as we had budgeted for a specific period of paying both. That period will be up in three weeks. More importantly, perhaps, the cats are showing signs of abandonment as we spend more and more time at the new house. We try to shuffle our schedule so that at least one person is home with the cats for a reasonable period each evening. I am quite aware that for most people, with what we have at stake, cats would be the last thing on their mind, but I am sentimental old bugger and Toshack, particularly, doesn'y understand why games have become thin on the ground recently. All his favourites, 'Pounce', 'Chase', 'Swipe', 'Hide' have become infrequent recently, and I feel guilty. I know that time must be made for the little guy. As I mentioned earlier, we are both "Quite, quite mad".