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Frumious Brandysnaps

various mutterings

Ed Chivers




Skipped Back 10

February 4th, 2013

The last month or so

It's been a few weeks since I wrote anything on here - time getting away from me once again as happens far too often these days.

So what have I been up to?Collapse )

January 14th, 2013

I'd intended to write this at the end of 2012, but life got in the way as so often happens, so it's a little late. I didn't post as much as I'd wanted to last year, somehow it always seemed that when I wanted to I didn't have the time, and when I had the time I didn't have the inclination. I'll have to try and do better in 2013.

So anyway, here are my memories of the past twelve months. Although it didn't always seem so at the time, it was a busy and eventful year and on the whole one I enjoyed (perhaps more in some places than in others...)

2012...Collapse )

October 27th, 2012

I had an interesting conversation with K over lunch today, and wanted to share some of it on here, as well as a round-up of other thoughts I'd had over the course of the week but hadn't had time to write down.

K mentioned someone she'd seen on an internet forum (nobody you know, I'm sure) who had professed to being an atheist and who came across as quite firmly anti-religion. I have no problem at all with people being atheists, or religious of any culture or creed, but when they start proselytising that's when it begins to irritate me. There's a whole world of difference between "this is my personally held belief" and "this is my personally held belief - and you're wrong because you don't believe it too". There's an arrogance there that really annoys me.

That's by the by, really, though - the conversation that it lead on to was around to what extent religious beliefs are considered and thoughtfully held and to what extent they are informed by the traditions of the cultures we live in. I mentioned to K that my observances of Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter are purely cultural - I'm not a Christian but observe these because they're what everyone around me does. I said that if I moved to another country where different festivals were observed, I would just take part in whatever was going on with the host culture - I wouldn't bother taking things like Christmas with me. I don't know how other folks feel about that, I got a raised eyebrow from K but then my childhood experiences were different to hers and I don't feel nostalgic for magical childhood Christmases in the same way other folks do.

Nostalgia is another thing I've been ruminating over lately - I remember when I was an undergraduate student at Sheffield University in the late nineties, and how I would get incredibly nostalgic for lost places and memories, my life as it was when I was a boy, growing up in the South-West, especially one year I spent in rural Oxfordshire. I would remember exploring the woods and the fields with my dad and our dog, the old Victorian house we used to live in, and evenings sat in front of the open fire. It was a good time in my life.

Lately though, I realise that I have become nostalgic for my student days - the spare time, the comparative lack of responsibility, the late nights and parties, long afternoons in the pub with friends and time spent getting to know this city. How strange it is that I now feel nostalgic for a time that when I lived there, I considered perfectly humdrum and ordinary, and indeed when I lived there I felt nostalgia for yet another time entirely. Why must I always seem to be looking about fifteen years behind me? Will I, in the year 2025 or thereabouts look back on my life as it is now with a wistful longing for those simpler days? I suppose it doesn't really matter where you look from, on the whole you generally tend to remember the more positive times from the past and forget all of the mundane everyday parts of your life. Knowing that at some point I will feel nostalgic for now, some sort of "now-stalgia", makes me think that perhaps I should just stop pining for times gone by and just appreciate all that I have now. That'd be a nice change I think.

This Wednesday, I worked from home as I sometimes do, helped the goblin get ready for school then settled in to work with a cup of coffee. In the mid-afternoon, I went with K to the goblin's school, walking up the road with the bug in the pushchair, to pick her up and attend a school meeting. In the evening, Rich Jackson came around and ate dinner with us, then looked after the children while K and I went out to see Kathryn Tickell and her band play at the Library Theatre in town as part of the "Northumbrian Voices" tour. I remember I had been wondering what sort of things I would be getting nostalgic about in 2025 and while I sat with K in the theatre, watching one of the most stirring and magical evenings of music I've enjoyed in a long time, that it was simply "things like this". It was just a simple day, spent with my wife, my young children, friends and wonderful musicians. It was a good day, and one I'll remember for a very long time.

September 10th, 2012


Stopped by to see gourou in his workshop on my way home from the office tonight, so that I could pick up a "pibow", a laser-cut perspex case for the raspberry pi mini-computer. I'd seen a few things on twitter about the pibow, and thought it would be just the thing to keep the pi safe while the seven-year-old is playing around with it.

While I was in the workshop I got to see the industrial laser cutters working as they etched and sliced the layers of perspex that make up the pibow and felt a definite pang of geek envy - you guys have the best toys! It was fantastic to see the workshop in action and also wonderful to hear the news that the chaps behind the pibow have just taken on their first new employee, it's great to see that the buzz generated by the raspberry pi is leading to new expanding business in Sheffield.

Assembling the pibow took all of about ten minutes - the most fiddly part was peeling off the backing plastic from the perspex layers so you can tell it wasn't that difficult. All in all, a lovely little case for the raspberry pi.

June 27th, 2012

I'm playing catch-up at the moment, work and family life are eating 99.99999% of my time and there are lots of things I'd like to write about - I'm going to write this one first though, because I want to get my thoughts down before I start forgetting things!

We took a few days off last week to travel out to the Netherlands for a wedding - our friend Nico, who soul_rider and I have known for nearly fifteen years, was getting married, we'd been invited and there was absolutely no way we weren't going to be there. So on Thursday morning, we hopped on a train down to London, caught a Eurostar to Brussels and then made our way to Valkenburg, just outside of Maastricht, arriving around 7pm local time. We would have actually stayed in Maastricht, except that a world-renowned and very smug violinist was in town and the place was booked solid. When we checked into the hotel we were given a complimentary "welcome beer" (which is an idea I like very much indeed) and then we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant just across the road. T packed away an impressive amount of calzone, garlic bread and pizza on top of his regular bottle of milk and baby food. A very hungry bug!

Friday was the big day - after breakfast sat out in the sunshine on the patio behind the hotel, we put on our smart clothes and walked up to the station to catch the train for the ten minute ride into Maastricht before taking a quick walk across town to the cellebroederskapel, a 15th century chapel hidden through an archway and down a little side-alley off one of the main city streets. I must have walked past that archway dozens of times over the years, and I never had the slightest clue it was down there.

The wedding itself was really lovely, the service was (naturally) conducted in Dutch, soul_rider and I have been to enough weddings to know what to expect though, and I was able to translate just about enough to get a sense of what was being said so it didn't completely go over my head (phew). I'm not sure what the goblin made of it, but she seemed to enjoy herself. Afterwards we chatted with the newlyweds, family and friends, before making our way over to the reception where the goblin entertained the wedding guests, the bug charmed everyone and we all ate a staggering amount of utterly fantastic cake. The reception was held in the nearby Kruisheren hotel, a hotel built inside a church and cloisters in the city centre, and an amazing venue. Very well stocked wine selection. Around mid-evening we bade everyone our goodbyes and headed back to Valkenburg where we had dinner in a little place called De Kei. (Note to rich_jacko - if we're out that way around Christmas, they have a good beer selection and have a very cosy-looking stove in the restaurant. Might be a good place to stop off for a post-Christmas-market drink or three).

Saturday was our "free" day when we didn't have very much planned, so we took a walk up to the castle. Amazingly, I ran into someone from work while we were looking round and we had a quick chat, she and her husband were on their way back to the UK after a holiday in Bavaria, which is where we're off to next month. After the tour of the castle, we had lunch then went on a separate tour of the "velvet caves" underneath the castle, which feature artworks on the walls, enormous dinosaurs carved out of the soft stone, and an entire chapel carved out of the rock by the stone cutters who worked in the caves, dating from the late 1700s onwards with some staggeringly beautiful religious artworks. The townsfolk hid in the caves during WWII and there is a whole stretch of cave where the American soldiers who liberated the town in 1944 wrote their names and messages on the rock. Oh, and to top it off there are escape tunnnels from the castle above. I was really glad we took the tour, I would never have guessed that there was so much history just beneath our feet.

After the cave tour we met up with soul_rider's friend Erline and had cake (you might be spotting a theme here) followed by dinner and a bit of a catch-up, but before too long it was time to head back to the hotel and pack our bags to come back to the UK.

All in all, it was a great weekend and it was lovely to be back in Maastricht again - it's a city that holds a great many memories for soul_rider and I, back from when we first started going out *cough* *ahem* years ago and she was studying at Maastricht University. So many old haunts, and so many old memories - we must go back again soon!

June 2nd, 2012

This is something I've been mulling over in the back of my mind for a while now - I discussed it with a friend a few days ago and got an understanding, sympathetic reaction so I think I should be able to bring this up without getting too many strange looks from you lot...

The search...Collapse )

May 30th, 2012

It's been a few weeks since I last posted on here, things have been busy as ever both at home and at work. Our old television packed up last week and I was faced with a bit of a dilemma - we had a perfectly servicable CRT television (like they used to have in "the olden days") and now it was time to join the 21st century and get a flatscreen. For someone who works in technology, I can be quite Luddite at times. I did a little bit of research into different TV display technologies and I'd love to tell you that this sleuthing informed my purchasing decisions but in the end we just did what everyone else does - went down to Currys and picked up one that we liked.

I'm going to change the subject soon because I can sense some of you nodding off already, but in case anyone's interested, we bought a 32-inch end-of-line Sony Bravia LCD. Can't fault it really, though it does so damned much - apparently I can hook it up to the internet for "Smart TV" functions / iPlayer / 4OD etc etc. I still remember the days when we had a black and white telly and if you wanted to change the channel you needed to turn a dial on the front to tune it in...

Last Saturday we traveled across country to spend the weekend with tiggothy and purpletom at their house in North Wales - they moved out there from Oxfordshire a few years ago and we'd been making vague noises about visiting but had somehow never quite gotten around to it. It was a fairly easy drive, a little under three hours each way so I've got no excuse for not doing it more often.

It was really lovely spending proper time with tiggothy and purpletom, just sitting around catching up on old times, taking the kids to play in the park and going out for a walk in the woods (and some rather fantastic cooking). To be honest I really, really should have gone out to see them years ago - the village they live in is small, quiet, peaceful and surrounded by beautiful countryside. I slept better on the Saturday night than I had in months if not years. I kind of fell in love with the place a little bit - if I could find a way to square things with family and career I'd be tempted to up sticks and move out. There are little nagging voices in the back of my mind talking about fuel oil prices, and being snowed in over winter, and what would the kids do, but... still... very tempted. Probably the first place I've felt seriously tempted to leave Sheffield for in a while.

Anyway, that's it for now, and thanks to tiggothy and purpletom for a brilliant weekend - we shall have to do it again, and sometime soon!

May 9th, 2012

A little while ago, I mentioned a BBC article to friends on Facebook - "Granny army helps India's school children via the cloud", about Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University and his project to link up British grannies with school children in India, to teach them and encourage them to learn for themselves.

tanurai then mentioned a TED talk by Professor Mitra, which is well worth a look if you've got a spare 20 minutes - starting with the 1999 "Hole In The Wall" project, putting an internet-connected computer in a Delhi slum and seeing what the local children made of it, moving through to working with children across the world and yes, the Granny Cloud.

(If for some reason the embedded video doesn't work for you, the talk is on TED.com: Sugata Mitra: the child-driven education)

Seeing what a difference it makes to these children, being able to get online, learn about the world, teach themselves new things and connect with other people around the globe, puts a big old smile on my face.

May 7th, 2012

Dusting off the blog...

I've posted on this blog a grand total of ten times this year, which I've got to admit is pretty weak. Especially considering all kinds of exciting stuff has been going on. I've been updating pretty regularly on facebook and twitter, but LJ always tends to get left behind, mainly because it requires actual effort.

As many of you will know, I was lucky enough recently to spend a month in India with work - the project I'm working on at the moment is extremely complicated with many moving parts and so I got the chance to go work with our team in Pune ("the Oxford of the East") on the basis that I'd be able to make more of an impact in situ than I could from 6,000+ miles and four-and-a-half timezones away. Looking back on things now that I'm back in Blighty, I really really enjoyed my time out there and I'd go back in a heartbeat if I was asked. As for my impressions of the country, it's very hard to know where to even begin.

My memories of my time in India are of a country of unexpected contrasts - both exotic and familiar at the same time. I would walk home from work in the evenings in thirty-five degree heat under tamarind and palm trees, but passing by billboards advertising western products and services, all in English. Without exception, the people I met were friendly and welcoming and to my dismay I have to admit that as an uptight Brit it took me a long time to let my guard down and open up but once I did I had a whale of a time. I even ended up dancing at one point. Yes, me. Dancing. Thankfully I don't think anyone recorded it for posterity so we shall be spared that, at least.

I stayed in an apartment in Koregaon Park and had my own kitchen, which was nice - sometimes I would get home quite late from work and I'd just fling something together before heading to bed, but a lot of times I'd go out in the evenings - I found a few places that in time became pretty regular haunts, for example the Shisha jazz cafe and of course The Ship, a bar on Central Avenue in Kalyani Nagar. Everyone ends up at The Ship sooner or later and I was no exception. Pretty much everyone in the office in Sheffield had recommended it and I think I must have spent at least four or five evenings there, after work, drinking Kingfisher and watching the cricket. Cricket is pretty much everywhere and although I'm really not usually that interested in sports of any kind I found myself getting drawn into the IPL and keeping half an eye on how the Warriors were doing.

When I first found out I'd be going to India, the first thing I did was a spot of googling, trying to find out as much as I could about Pune, and one of the first things I clocked was the climate. More or less every day I was out there the temperature was in the high 30s / low 40s, baking hot and blazingly sunny. The first few days I was there I felt pretty sure I was going to melt, but I adjusted pretty quickly. After a week or so I had acclimatised and the 40 degree heat of midday felt more like 25 or 30. Hot, but comfortably bearable. I've been back in the UK two weeks now and I've still not adjusted back, it's bloody freezing here and I wish summer would hurry up and get here.

Since I got back, work has continued apace, still complicated, still hectic, but I've also managed time to find time to head out on the Sheffield Folk Train to Edale at the end of last month with soul_rider and my friend Pat from work which was great fun, we've been out to Roberto's new restaurant in Barnsley with friends, been to (most of) a christening and we met up with sandra_lindsey for the first time in ages (lovely to see you again, hon!)

Today we decided to take advantage of the bank holiday and slept in, then wombled off down to London Road, where we had lunch at Noodle Inn and I managed to get in some quick shopping at the "Ozmen" supermarket for some more unusual bits and pieces before coming home. soul_rider took E swimming while I stayed home and looked after T. That's about it, really, and if you'll excuse me I have a rather nice-looking bottle of wine trying to get my attention so I shall be off. TTFN.

February 21st, 2012

There was a piece on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning -"Do you hug your children?" (audioboo link, 7 minute discussion) - I didn't hear it at the time since I'd already got to work by that point, but saw some follow-on chatter on twitter and thought I'd take a listen. It all stemmed from some comments made by John Prescott on Desert Island Discs where he'd said that despite the fact that he loved his sons, he'd never been able to hug them. The segment also included a cross-section of "men in the pub" talking about whether they would hug their children and whether their fathers had hugged them. Interestingly, the expected generational gaps failed to materialise and it really seemed to come down to the specifics of the home environment. What really interested me was the subsequent conversation with Tim Dowling and Julia Brannen about how men feel about hugging generally, whether it's with their family, friends or new acquaintances.

I've never thought of myself as a cold fish, but it does occur that I really don't demonstrate affection much with my friends. Don't get me wrong, folks, I like you a lot but thinking about it I don't do much hugging outside of family. For the record, I do hug my children, but they're still pretty small. Whether I will when they're old enough to be embarrassed and self-conscious about it, I don't know.

But other people? I might sometimes hug my female friends, because culturally that's ok, but I would very rarely hug my male friends. Can't honestly remember the last time I did so. If there's any physical contact it would normally be limited to a handshake or a pat on the shoulder, but not a hug. Work colleagues, despite the fact that I see them every day, could be incorporeal for all I know. I don't think I've ever hugged any of them (this does not bother me in the slightest).

And then, right at the end of the piece, came a subject to make me grimace. Social kissing, continental style. I've never experienced this and definitely, categorically never, ever want to. This seems to insidiously creeping into Britain, though perhaps more into the environs of Radio 4's London studios than the country in general.

Personally speaking, if I meet you for the first time, a handshake is just fine. Any more affection than that will be treated with surprise, possibly suspicion, and heaven help you if you try to kiss me.
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