New Year, sucralose and an Apple Watch

CakeSo, now we have started 2016. I distinctly remember thinking that in the year 2000, I would be really old.


I’ve had a lazy summer and autumn (at least as regards physical exercise), and now it’s time to reverse the trend of gradually putting on weight. I’ve also caved in and bought myself an Apple Watch (second hand). I got it a couple of days ago, and so far, it’s pretty good fun. It’s also nice not to have to dig my phone out of my pocket every time I want to stop or start music, knock things off my to-do list, or set a timer. It’s also going to be a better activity tracker than the iPhone – especially since my work clothes have no pockets so I end up leaving my phone on my desk at work whenever I go to the loo.  I have to admit, the challenge of getting the little coloured activity circles to close is a spur to keep moving – which is, of course, pretty much the point.

Another development this month is that I’ve started to use Splenda (sucralose) for cooking, after coming across it at work (see Rubinstein E. et al, Comparison of 2 delivery vehicles for viscous budesonide to treat eosinophilic esophagitis in children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Sep;59(3):317-20). My husband and I tend to have chocolate-chip muffins for lunch, made with a Madeira cake recipe. Obviously, that’s pretty calorie-intense, and since one really good way of burning off calories is running up and down the Hill That Shall Not Be Described in the local park, I’m quite motivated to not consume the calories in the first place.

My first idea was to swap the chocolate chips for currants. After all, they look the same…

The second idea was to reduce the amount of sugar by a third – which, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to affect the taste much as long as you put in a good slug of vanilla essence.

Idea number 3 was to use Splenda to replace some more of the sugar, and the change wasn’t noticeable.

So the recipe for Madeira cake muffins is now:

  • 175g margarine
  • 60g golden caster sugar
  • 5g Splenda (sucralose)
  • 3 eggs
  • A slug of vanilla essence
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g currants

Mix it all up in the usual way for cake mix, put into muffin cases and bake at Gas Mark 3 (150 degrees C) for about an hour.

Next week’s bake, I’ll see if I can reduce the sugar content even further…

A change of direction

It’s been about three months since I’ve posted to this blog. The reason being a change of job.

My attempted career change has not worked out. Nine months or so of working in a law firm has made me realise that no matter how fascinating I find the law, practising it is not something I will ever be able to do.

Not because of the intellectual demands. Not because of the hours – or even because of the admittedly crappy pay.

No, it’s the having-to-deal-with-people part.

People stress me out. Even nice people. One client interview can ruin my whole day.

I now realise that I will never, ever be able to cope with a job that requires me to deal with people on a day-to-day basis. I’m an excellent technician. I know my stuff; I can apply it in the real world, and I can see a problem laid out like a diagram in my head (very useful for problem-solving). Unfortunately, I just can’t cope with people.

Luckily (being an excellent technician), I’ve now got a full-time job – back in pharmacy – that is mostly technical, and with minimal need to actually interact with real people except in the briefest of ways. Plus there are better doughnuts.

There is also even a law-y element, so my GDL won’t be wasted, and I’ll be carrying on with my LPC.

I don’t regret the experience, though. I’ve learned a lot (and not only that I can’t cope with people in any context), and no experience that teaches you something is wasted. I can now move forward, knowing that however much I love the law, practising law is not an option for me. Knowing that, too, is a good thing. It means I’ve tried it, it didn’t work out, and I can go on without hankering after it. Without wondering what if? I’ve done the what if, and come back to tell the tale.

So this blog is probably going to take a bit of a left turn. A bit more pharmacy, a bit less law. Or rather, the law quotient will have more of a pharmaceutical flavour. We’ll see.

Getting the urge to Tidy

Yesterday, I acquired a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo.

Today, I’m chucking stuff out.

The revolutionary Marie Kondo (or Konmari, is she is known) method boils down to, as far as I can tell, chuck out all the stuff you don’t need in your life, then put the rest away neatly. Plus optional Japanese metaphysical stuff.

This appeals to me, because (despite being lazy when it comes to tidying up) I really do prefer a clean, uncluttered space. Physical clutter around me seems to stop me thinking properly, and makes it even harder to get anything done.

I can see why Konmari’s method is hailed as revolutionary, even though it’s mostly common sense. After all, how can you be messy if you’ve just got rid of most of the possessions with which you could create mess? However, in today’s possession-focused society, it’s very easy to hang onto things ‘just because’. A mountain of possessions is a mark of success – a trail of things that mark where you have been, what you have achieved. It’s also, in some ways, a mark of insecurity: “I’m keeping it just in case.” In case of what, zombie apocalypse?

Most of the time when we’re trying to decide what to get rid of (when cupboards are overflowing, and it’s either clear out or move to a bigger house), we ask ourselves “Why should I throw this away?” so our default is to keep it – whatever it is.

Konmari’s method is the other way around: only keep the things you have a reason to keep (for her, “does it spark joy?”). But having to find a reason to keep swaps the default around – the default is to get rid of absolutely everything you own unless you have a specific reason not to. The result: you end up getting rid of more clutter – the stuff that’s in the middle ground between “Yuck, why do I still have that?” and “I will defend this with my life”.

Do I really need to keep my ever-increasing collection of used jiffy bags? Surely, if I want to send something by post I could… I don’t know… do something really revolutionary and actually, you know… go out and buy one? Is the amount of money (or planet) I save on reusing jiffy bags justified by having to find storage space for thirty of them? Am I ever going to use thirty jiffy bags in varying states of preservation? And what on earth do I think I’m planning to do with nine empty coffee jars?

My old make-up bag got discarded today: I’ve had it nearly twenty years, but my mother made it, so it’s hung on even though it’s looking decidedly grey and sad. But, as Konmari says, the purpose of a gift is to be given, and to give pleasure at that time. Would the giver really be made happy to know that you either hide their gift in the back of a cupboard (cluttering up your house) because you can’t stand to look at it every day yet you feel too guilty to get rid of it, or that you use it out of a sense of grim duty?

I bet we’ve all got things like that. I don’t feel guilty (much) about getting rid of my make-up bag, because nearly twenty years is a good innings for a make-up bag, and did my mother really expect me to keep using it until I died of old age? I don’t think so.

At the other end of the scale are the things we buy and never use, like the pair of shoes with four-inch heels that I bought over the internet. I can hardly walk in them, and they don’t really go with any outfit I own. Konmari would say that the shoes have served their purpose for me: they have taught me something (that I shouldn’t buy shoes over the internet, and I definitely shouldn’t buy shoes with four-inch heels), and, that done, they can be discarded (after thanking them for a job well done – that’s the Japanese metaphysical part).

My interpretation is a bit different: to me, it’s also about giving yourself permission to screw up. I made a mistake buying those shoes, and I also wasted money. If I give myself permission to make mistakes, it means I don’t have to keep those shoes until I’ve got some wear out of them; I just accept that I made a mistake, and I get rid of the shoes – avoiding the additional mistake of cluttering up my house with things I don’t want.

In a way, too, the book is about the ephemeral nature of things, including money. You should keep only the things that make you happy (or, obviously, the things you really need). “It was really expensive” is not a reason for keeping something if that thing does not give you joy. You’ve already spent the money – it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. If you are not using the thing, then it’s cluttering up your life, gathering dust and making you miserable. Keeping it won’t make it better value, so just let it go.

I suppose, at bottom, the message of the book is that money and things do not make you happy through possession alone, and by getting rid of the excess stuff, you can uncover what really does make you happy, like cleaning away dirt to reveal a beautiful painting.

Traffic Priorities

When you learn to drive, your instructor tells you about who has priority over you, and over whom you – in turn – have priority. Stuff like, people coming from your left on roundabouts have priority. People already on a road have priority over people turning on to it. People going straight over a crossroads have priority over people turning right.

Then you actually start driving properly and realise this is a lot of… rather inaccurate.

The real Driving Priority list goes:

People Who Have Priority Over You

  • Anyone in a bigger vehicle than you.
  • Anyone in a more expensive vehicle than yours.
  • Anyone in a white van, regardless of make, model, age or rust quotient.
  • Anyone in a vehicle that is clearly held together by chewing gum, pieces of string, and rust.
  • Mad people (although this includes most drivers, so you can claim priority over some of the less-mad ones).

People Over Whom You Have Priority

  • People who think that 50mph is an appropriate speed for a motorway (except the M6, where if you can hit 15mph you’re doing well).
  • Anyone who doesn’t know which lane they’re supposed to be in, and appears to be trying them all out to see which has the best cosmic vibrations.
  • Everyone, if your alarm clock didn’t go off this morning.

However, the real reason for this post is that 0n my way to work, I have to drive through a Nature Zone (speed limit 20mph) with a lake. Today, there was a duck on the road. (Or possibly it was a Canada goose.) So we all waited, queueing, while the duck stood in the middle of the road and stared back at us.

This was obviously a waterfowl who knew the score, i.e., that he had Priority Over Everything.

Eventually he got bored with establishing dominance over an increasing line of traffic and, having made his point, wandered off the road and jumped in the lake.

So I added another item to my list of People Who Have Priority Over Me:

  • Ducks.


And the job continues…

Well, the new job continues – on a learning curve that’s a bit like the North Face of Everest, but without the snow. (“It’s only a Part 8″…. “What’s a Part 8?”) I haven’t had a learning curve this steep since… well… ever, really. Even during my first pharmacy job… ahem… years ago, my degree had given me some of the real-world professional skills to cope in the workplace. The same is not true of the Graduate Diploma in Law. I can quote a lot of case law, but I have no idea what a Part 8 is. (Part 8 of what? And what happened to Parts 1-7? Is there a Part 9?) Luckily, everyone in the office is nice and is willing to explain things in short words.

Then there was the problem of the Mobius T-shirt. You will, of course, be familiar with the Mobius strip – give a strip of paper a half-twist and join the ends together, and you’ve got a Mobius strip. It’s a mathematical curiosity, because it’s an object with only one side (the 3-D version is the Klein bottle). Sometimes, if you put a T-shirt in the wash, it comes out with a weird sort of tangle that looks a bit like it might be a Mobius relative – except of course it can’t be, because however you tangle a T-shirt it still has two sides and you can always untangle it. However, the Conveyancing Chap brought in one of his wife’s running singlets which, he said, had got itself tangled up in the washing machine and proved extraordinarily resistant to being untangled. He’d spent hours trying, and had brought it into the office to see if anyone else could figure it out.

Now, I’m usually pretty good at that sort of thing, and I enjoy it (as was demonstrated in the Budapest Palace of Miracles), but I couldn’t manage it. Despite considerable effort.

So Conveyancing Chap gave it to Accounts Lady when she arrived (as the next victim), who gave it one look and said “It’s meant to be like that.” We stared. Then Trainee Solicitor (Female) arrived, and agreed with Accounts Lady. Indeed, the running singlet was supposed to have twisted straps. Conveyancing Chap and I retired, discomfited, having demonstrated our complete lack of fashion knowledge.

What I want to know is, did Conveyancing Chap’s wife know the straps were supposed to be twisted? And if she did, was giving it to him to untangle some kind of devious marital tactic? And if so, what was it supposed to achieve? Just keep him quiet for a few hours (I think that was my father’s aim when he gave me a Mobius strip and recommended that I find the other side) or drive him to despair?

In addition to problems of non-Euclidean sportswear, it’s also Ramadan in the office (it being a Muslim firm – as far as I can tell, the non-Muslim workforce consists of me, Conveyancing Chap, the receptionist and the cleaning lady). Not being Muslim myself, I end up doing fasting by proxy (since it’s a bit rude to scarf cake and coffee in front of people who can’t share), which only means that I get the same dehydration headache as everyone else, but without the spiritual development. Apparently, if you’re fasting properly, it makes you want to watch cooking programs a lot. Who knew? Good job I’m not fasting properly, if that’s the case: we don’t have a TV at home.

So, there we go. The beginning of my career in Law. Let’s see what next week brings!

First legal job…

The next stage of my legal career begins on Monday. Having survived my GDL exams (seven 3-hour exams in 11 days, oh what fun we had), I start my job as a paralegal in a small high-street solicitor’s firm.

Several concerns spring to mind:

  1. How does one acquire clients? At least I’m doing Wills and probate, and a Will is something every adult should have. You can’t say the same about divorces, or personal injury.
  2. Am I going to gain weight or lose weight? In my current job, people bring in cake nearly every day. And cake is there to be eaten. I’ve gone from a size 8 to a size 10. I really don’t want to get any bigger… (Like Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation.)
  3. How much of an advantage would be a knowledge of Islamic law be? And how long would it take to acquire one?
  4. Am I going to break my neck before the end of my first week? Unfashionable flat shoes notwithstanding, I know where my desk is going to be, and it’s right at the top of the building up an extremely steep staircase.
  5. Why is it that it’s nearly impossible to find a smart blouse suitable for work nowadays? That is, one that doesn’t look as if it is more appropriately worn on a beach somewhere. I nearly ended up in the school uniform department.

We shall see…

Bucket List

Bucket lists. Everyone’s got one, it seems, and it’s got nothing to do with useful household items. It’s a list of things you want to do before you die, and it originated with the film ‘The Bucket List‘, about two cancer patients who go on a world tour of doing all the things they really want to do before they die.

Now, there’s even a website where you can post your Bucket List and compare it to other people’s, and judging by what’s available on the internet, everybody and his brother wants to swim with dolphins (but do they want to swim with us?). Or take a balloon ride over the pyramids (personally, I don’t think I’d want to be in a hot-air balloon basket flying over anything pointy).

There’s discussion about whether bucket lists are a good thing or a bad thing. Do they give us goals in life, or do they fill life up with stuff that just turns into more and more things to rush through, ticking them off a list in a mad hurry to get to the end? Do you end up so focused on ticking things off your list that you forget to enjoy them? Or forget to pay attention to the people around you?

One thing about bucket lists, though, is that they seem to change – not just as you get older (and suddenly bungee jumping seems less attractive) but as death changes from an abstract concept – or something that only happens to other people (unless the elastic snaps) – to something that is real, imminent, and personal. Simon Mitchell, diagnosed with lymphoma, has a bucket list that is mostly about helping others. Stephen Sutton, who recently died of cancer at the age of 19, found his bucket list changing from things that he wanted to experience, to things that would help others.

I wonder, as we come to terms with our own mortality, do we realise that packing in more and more ‘experiences’ is ultimately pointless? If we wish to leave a lasting legacy, to leave our mark on the world in a good way, we should instead help others. Or is it not so much leaving a legacy, but that spending time rushing from dolphin-pool to pyramids is ultimately less satisfying than doing something useful to help others? Or that the whole point of a bucket list is to create memories – and if all you’re doing is going bungee jumping, the only memories are yours, which will shortly be extinguished when you die. But if you do something for someone else, their memory will carry on for years.

I don’t know. But I know my bucket list is completely dolphin-free. Not that I object to dolphins; I think they’re quite interesting. But I don’t think they’d be that interested in swimming with me, and I’m quite happy to let them get on with doing whatever it is dolphins do.

Because one thing I have figured out is that if you’re not careful, life gets in the way of actually living. You get caught up in work, eat, sleep, pay the mortgage, tax the car… and suddenly, your life is half-gone and you feel like you’ve achieved nothing. Since I’m now very nearly officially in my late thirties, and I have grey hair, I’m having that incipient-mortality feeling (already). So my bucket list is all the things that, when I’m really old (not just working up to it, like I am now) I don’t want to be thinking “I really wish I’d made time to do that.”

I find it’s the quieter things that I would regret the most. I don’t really want to swim with dolphins, or go skydiving. I wouldn’t object to going to Uluru, but not ever going wouldn’t upset me either. But I want to practice law. I want to learn Arabic. I want to publish. I want to be good enough to shoot competitively.

I may not ever achieve these things, or not as well as I would like. But at least I will have made the attempt – I will have tried. Because the worst thing of all – worse by far than failure – is never to have made the attempt.

If you try and fail, then at least you know you tried. If you never even try, you’ll always wonder: “If I’d just had the guts – the will – the determination – could I have succeeded?”

So now I’ve got a Bucket List – which I shall keep updated, both with new things and progress on existing entries. Let’s see how it goes. 🙂

Parlez vous Francais?

Unfortunately, I do not parle Francais. I got through my GSCE at school, and proceeded to never use it again. What with work and various things, my husband and I haven’t had a holiday since 2006 (going to Aigues-Mortes as van-driver for the UK team for Battle of the Nations 2013 does not count as a holiday), so the chances to use any foreign languages have been pretty limited.

But a couple of months ago, in the throes of applying for legal vacation work and getting nothing but flat rejections, I decided I wanted to do something that was just for me.

So I decided to revive my French (and, while I was at it, German too). It seemed like a good idea at the time. Not only is it rather a pity to let language skills waste away, but an ability to speak at least reasonably intelligible French (or any other language except, possibly, Klingon) looks good on a CV.

So I went back to Duolingo, which I encountered last year. It’s the brainchild of Luis von Ahn, who is the person who invented those nasty Captcha things and now feels guilty about it (so he invented ReCaptcha so that while we’re proving we’re human, we’re also digitising books and so on). Von Ahn’s particular hobby-horse is human computing: it’s sort of like the thing with the thousand monkeys and the typewriters, and if you leave them long enough they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Only rather more directed.

His idea is that:

a) If people are going to do something anyway, it ought to be made useful (like, if you are going to spend half an hour on an exercise bike, it ought to be connected up to generate electricity for the gym), and

b) If enough people who are marginally competent do something, you’ll get the right answer through sheer weight of numbers (a bit like Stalin saying that ‘quantity has a quality all its own).

He has turned his attention to language learning, and the fact that when people are learning a language, they like to translate things to practice. And there are another set of people who want to have things translated. Why not bring the two groups together?

And that’s what Duolingo does. It’s free to learn the language, and once you’ve learned enough you can – if you want to – translate articles. And it’s the translation of those articles that pays for the website and enables people to learn the language. It’s probably as near to perpetual motion as you can get.

The intial languages included French and German (and Spanish, which I’m playing with a bit) for English speakers, with the reverse courses (English for French and German speakers). Now, von Ahn has taken the model even further with the Language Incubator which is designed for volunteers to design new language courses to add to the website and its companion app.

Another of von Ahn’s hobby horses is gamification of pretty much anything useful: Duolingo is structured like a game, where you do quizzes to learn, completely with celebratory noises when you get all the way through without losing all your lives, and a sort of wah-wah-wah noise if you lose. It’s surprisingly addictive, and it works. I’d pretty much completely lost all my French, and now I’m back to reading novels (although I’m still struggling with the subjunctive, but then, doesn’t everyone?). It’s not enough to make you fluent, but it’s certainly enough to give you the tools you need to become fluent.

And I’m enjoying it, in a way I never enjoyed languages at school. I’m also discovering a new appreciation for grammar, and I finally understand what cases are for (grammatical, not legal).

In a way, I suppose I should be grateful to all those law firms for their rejections, because without the spirit-crushing despair of thinking that I was never, ever going to get a legal job (with the concomitant mental summation of all the money therefore wasted), I probably wouldn’t have discovered the pleasure of language learning.

On the other hand, I just don’t think I’m that nice a person. The subjunctive is one thing. Gratitude is quite another.

Learning Spanish with Duolingo – and some interesting thoughts to go with it.

Duo the Duolingo Owl

Duo the Duolingo Owl

This week, I decided (since I clearly do not have enough to do, what with finishing an MA dissertation, preparing to start the Graduate Diploma in Law, working two days a week etc) to start learning Spanish.

I did French and German at school, and while the French (which I did for five years) has stuck, sort of, at least to the level of being able to pick my way through reading simple phrases, the German (which I did for only three years) really hasn’t. And I regret that, because I have this guilty feeling that I am simply coasting on being an English speaker, relying on – should I go aboard – always being able to find someone who will speak enough English that I won’t have to make the effort, and risk the embarrassment, of trying to speak someone else’s language and getting it wrong.

Hence a search for a way to learn a new language that is cheap (because I have no money), flexible (because I don’t have much time) and effective (because I hate wasting the time I have).

Duolingo came up as pretty good for what I wanted: it’s free, it’s purely online, and lessons are delivered in handy bite-sized little chunks. Plus it’s all set up like a game so, it’s pretty addictive. Nothing like sitting in French lessons chanting the forms of irregular verbs!

So, what’s it like – after three days?

Well, it’s certainly addictive. Maybe I have a simple little mind, but I like the pretty user interface, and I like that you have three or four ‘lives’ – represented by red hearts at the top of the screen – for each lesson; every time you make a mistake, you lose a life. If you lose them all, you have to repeat the lesson. You can also take extra lessons to reinforce things you have already learned. The algorithm behind the program is supposed to deliver you extra lessons depending on things you got wrong, or things you haven’t practiced for a while, so the extra lessons should all be on things that you need to repeat.

The method of learning is also very different to classroom learning (at least, as it was when I was at school). There is no opportunity to just coast along and let your mind go to sleep. Every lesson, you either have to translate from English into Spanish, Spanish into English, or repeat words and phrases through the microphone. So you get to read, write, speak and listen. The one thing that Duolingo can’t do, of course (as far as I know) is have a conversation with you. But, hey, it’s free software. What do you expect? From what I remember from school, the Duolingo method is more interesting, more challenging, and possibly more effective, than the way I was taught in school. It doesn’t spend time explaining rules of grammar – it just teaches you the words and expects you to learn to use them in sentences. Thinking about it, this seems to mimic how babies learn their first language. As far as I know, parents do not sit down with their one-year-old and try to get it to recite all the forms of the verb to be. Instead, they concentrate on teaching the child to say short, simple phrases – and the kid pretty soon picks up which words go together (I + am, not I + are) by being corrected when they get it wrong and praised when they get it right. Thus Duolingo.

It will be interesting to see how far I can get with learning Spanish with Duolingo, although I think the lack of having a conversation facility will be a limiting factor. However, as I mentioned above, it is free. Looking around the web for reviews, I’ve come across quite a few that criticise it for not including conversation practice, and not being nearly as good as one-to-one tuition, or tuition with a professional teacher, or going to live in the relevant country…. well, hello? Free software! What do people expect? Duolingo is not designed to entirely replace human interaction in language-learning. What it is intended to do – and seems to do quite well – is give people a running start in a language. If anyone wants to get beyond quite a basic level, I imagine it will be necessary to find additional materials. There does seem to be an attitude that if a product isn’t perfect, then it’s automatically rubbish. Duolingo isn’t perfect, and I highly doubt that – as it is at the moment – it is capable of turning someone into a fluent speaker of any of the five languages it offers. But if it’s free, and it gets you to a level where you can have a simple conversation in a foreign language, what’s not to like? Not everyone can afford to pay for lessons, or to go and live in a foreign country for a few weeks or months. This is language-learning for the rest of us.

However, starting learning Spanish with Duolingo has led to some rather interesting developments. One of these was a discussion with my husband about the way we see and hear things. When someone speaks, I always see their words in my head, as if they are printed on tickertape (usually black print on white, if you’re interested). And I find it very hard to remember a new word if I haven’t ever seen it written down. It’s almost as if, until it shows on the tickertape (for which I need to know how to spell it), the word doesn’t really exist as communication – it’s just noise. My husband says it’s not the same for him at all. While I see the person, and their words appear on the tickertape, he just sees the person talking. So if a person is saying something very complicated, I tend to look away, or shut my eyes, so I can concentrate on the tickertape. He doesn’t – he concentrates on the person.

Another thing is that we have solved the DVD problem. We don’t have a huge collection of DVDs, but most of them we’ve watched what feels like thousands of times. To the level that – for some – we can quote whole passages. We’d actually stopped watching DVDs together because we didn’t have anything to watch that we hadn’t alread watched to death. However, the Spanish-learning project (which I’ve roped husband into) has given our DVDs a new lease of life! Instead of just watching the DVD, we have the sound in English but with Spanish subtitles. When we know more Spanish, we’ll do it the other way around. The idea is that we’ll learn some new Spanish vocabulary and get used to sentence structures. Last night we watched Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Tonight, we’ll watch Down Periscope. (You can see we have highbrow taste in films.) We both think it works (although you have to read pretty quick before the subtitles disappear) – and it’s a useful counterpoint to Duolingo. Another plan we have is to get Spanish translations of some books that we’ve already read in English; that way, we can compare the English version to the Spanish version, and learn Spanish vocabulary and idiomatic structure at the same time.

Since motivation is the key to learning a new language, the main thing is going to be to keep devoting even just a few minutes a day to Spanish. And we have promised ourselves a trip to Seville as a reward!

Where have I been?

Well… here, actually. Sitting at the same keyboard that is attached to the same internet where this blog lives. No excuses.

But I’ve been writing my MA dissertation, which is now grown to a decent size and is in need of trimming into a more pleasing shape, like the academic equivalent of topiary. For this sort of thing, I tend to be a collector of everything. I stick it all together into one big long document, and then chop the useless bits off. And hopefully, what’s left should look like a rooster, or maybe a squirrel.

But – World – Take heed! Today is the first day of the rest of this blog’s life. I promise to actually add things to it at regular intervals. Interesting things. But this blog is not topiary. I keep wondering whether it ought to be, but no – this blog’s mission in life is to be a monkey puzzle tree. It’s not just one thing (like a large privet teapot) – it’s a place where all sorts of branches go off in all directions.

So, there we are. A public promise. Got to do it now…