Monday, 4 January 2010

End of 2009

My last blog entry finished by discussing my close encounter with a red fox while walking home from the train station in mid December. Mom wrote to me to comment on the fantastic picture I included, which I admit, was not my own. I found it online to show my readers (those not from England) what these glorious creatures look like.

The first half dozen pictures or so are what downtown Leicester looks like at Christmas time with the lights strung up throughout the streets.

During the week Nina was on her Tenerife trip I went out one morning to run some errands in her car. I came back home, pulled into the driveway and our parking spot. There is a small asphalt area in front of the house with room for 6 cars. Our spot is next to the house facing a hedge. As I pulled in I was shocked to discover a fox lying on the pavement along the edge of the hedge. I honked the horn to get him to move, but he didn’t. I inched into the spot, careful not to drive too close to him, and got out of the car. That is when he freaked out and started to get up, but it became apparent his hind legs were injured. Likely, he was hit by a car and had crawled over here. I backed away not to add any more stress to him and went inside. From my living room window I was able to keep an eye on him and called the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). They arrived an hour later to take him away and (hopefully) attend to his injuries. While watching him for that hour, it was an opportunity to see him in proper lighting and for a long period of time. Normally you catch a glimpse as they disappear into the shadows or skittle off into a park or bushes. My heart went out to him as he was frightened and hurt, but I did all I could.

In that week before Christmas I finished my two classes at the University of Derby and signed up for 2nd level courses in the same two subjects to build on this past semester. My last class of the semester was my Professional Writing class, which only 20% of the students arrived for as our final projects had already been handed in and most didn’t see the point. We had a short class and afterward Colin and I went for a drink at the pub. We briefly discussed my workshop project, as I was just about to embark on the daunting process of writing it. We had a drink, chatted and parted ways until next semester.

Nina arrived back from Tenerife and that same day she was off to Germany for Christmas. I was set to join her three days later. I thought her family and friends might appreciate some one-on-one time with her. In hindsight, I should have gone with her. She, luckily, arrived with her luggage. My flight didn’t. Not a single bag made it onto our plane less for our carry-on bags.

I reported it immediately and was reassured they were doing everything they could for my bag and the other 10,000 lost pieces of luggage in Europe! They eventually located it and kindly delivered it to me 4 days later and less than 24 hours before turning around to head home.

Lufthansa, who I flew with, have a policy where they reimburse 50% of all costs incurred after sending my bags to a different location than I. I would have thought they might give back 100% on the first €50 and then half of anything over that. But, their rationale is that I am able to keep everything I buy, therefore they don’t feel obliged to pay 100%. The massive flaw in this thinking is that I am buying things I already have. Granted, these things may be in Delhi, Dijon, Denver, Dartmouth or wherever it is my bag ended up. I still have no idea.

If you arrive for a flight where they have overbooked the plane, they take care of you quite nicely with a hotel room and meal vouchers. Why is the same hospitality denied simply because I arrived at my destination? The deal was that my bag and I would arrive. If my bag had arrived and I had been lost, I am quite sure they would have done better than a 50% reimbursement.

This, understandably, added some undue stress and hassle to my Christmas. Although once I was in Aachen at the Christmas market with Gl├╝hwein (spiced wine) in my hand, everything seemed better. I also did a fair bit of shopping as I desperately needed more than the clothes I arrived wearing.

We were invited to a friend’s house for a game’s night, which I had sorely missed since leaving mainland Europe. We have yet to amass a group for regular games nights. So to be with familiar people playing familiar games was welcomed.

We enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner at Nina’s parent’s home and then Christmas dinner at her grandmother’s house. Feeling well fed and having seen everyone, it was time to head back to England. Both Nina and I felt our respective trips (8 days and 5 days) were too short. I also had the real fear they would lose my bag again on the way back.

We arrived home on Boxing Day as Nina’s parents were leaving for Austria the following day. And, on the Sunday we were invited to Nina’s professor’s home in Syston; just outside of Leicester. They were having some friends and neighbours by in the afternoon for spiced wine and minced pies. They live in an old house (aren’t ALL British houses old?) with a coal burning stove in the kitchen and exposed wooden beams on the ceiling.

I met a neighbour in his 70’s who was an avid cyclist. He had been cycling the countryside of Leicestershire his whole life and was a wealth of knowledge. We exchanged Email addresses and he sent me the name of a good map as well as some suggestions on itineraries. I will likely try some of these out once the ground thaws. Who knew it snows in Leicester? Grey skies and rain, this I expected, but not snow.

The next three pictures were taken from the top of our home. I climbed to the top of the fire escape to get the vantage point behind the house looking at the surrounding neighbourhood. The picture of the sunset was taken from our living room. The houses you can see through the trees are on the road where mom's grandparent's used to live, but at the other end of the block.

With the freezing temperatures that have lasted the last couple of weeks, we have had to make some adjustments to the way we live. These old Victorian houses were not built to hold in the heat well and the windows are thin and single glazed. With the tall ceilings, heating the place appropriately is difficult and expensive. So I have moved to the living room and we have sealed up my office for the winter. We have a large dining room table (seats 6 comfortably) which we have been working at during the day (Nina has been working at home this past week as well).

This past week The White Door has been essentially dormant so I bogged down to get to work on writing my workshop. More specifically, writing the accompanying book that will go along with the class. I was very excited when I applied for, and received, the go ahead for this project. I have been writing it in my head over the past month or so, arranging my thoughts and ideas of how it should read. That was all well and good, but when the time came to sit down, on day 1, and start to write… I was lost. I didn’t know where to start!

I had already done the appropriate thing by writing an outline and designing a template in Word with all my stylistic decisions on how it should look. That was fine. But when I had run out of administrative duties and had to write content, I was overwhelmed by the scope of the project ahead of me. I started by writing the introduction and the summary, to book-end the project. They were both shit. But I collected steam and by the end of the first day, I was well on my way. I wrote every day last week and with each day it became easier and my content got better. By the weekend I had written over 30 pages of unedited text, amassed 2 dozen screen captures and built a momentum that will easily carry me through to the end of the project. I was just surprised at how difficult it was to start; I didn’t expect that at all.

From the dining room table we have a view out on the main street in front allowing us to view the world (or at least the small corner of it that travels through Leicester) as it passes by. Leicester, like many communities in Great Britain, still has a morning milk delivery service. Here the main company is Kirby and West who operate these little electric vehicles that put around the community. We see them passing by on their way back to the main depot and it got me curious about them. After a little research I found someone who had taken a tour of their depot and put together a fantastic picture album with captions and explanations. If you are interested you can view it here.

For New Year’s Eve Nina and I decided to do something a little different. All her friends from university had left town to go back to their respective homes, so we were all alone. Nina had been to Houghton on the Hill and noticed it sits a good 100 metres higher than Leicester with a great view down on the city. At 11:30pm, we drove up there and found a farmer’s field with an unobstructed view down on Leicester.

We parked on the field’s access road facing the twinkling lights of our city below. It was -2 degrees with a clear sky, stars and a full moon, both visible through the sun roof. We had a bottle of bubbly (reduced alcohol, 4%) to toast at midnight. As the clock ticked closer and closer to twelve, more and more fireworks were visible from the gardens and parks of Leicester. With out panoramic view, we were likely two of the only people seeing ALL the fireworks that evening. We were listening to one our of favourite radio stations in the car; Classic FM. It is a fantastic station for people gaining interest in classical music as they play a great array with a little bit of everything.

At around 10 minutes to midnight they played the last half of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. They timed it perfectly to finish at the stroke of midnight. Hearing this commanding piece of music with the cannon blasts while watching fireworks going off below us was a powerful experience. As the song ended, the bells of Big Ben rang out to signify the beginning of 2010. In the glow of the lit Leicester sky, we toasted the New Year, watched the fireworks for another 10 minutes then headed home.

I know to some people, like my parents, the idea of me listening to (and enjoying) classical music is novel. We have our clock radio set to Classic FM and that is what wakes us up and accompanies us as we get ready in the mornings. I have downloaded a bunch of classical music to see what jumps out at me and have found a piece I adore; Brahms’ Hungarian Danse #6.

New Year's day we drove to the town of Ashby Magna, 20 minutes south of Leicester. This small town is where Nina comes to ride a horse a few times a week. It was a sunny day with a perfect blue sky and my first time out there. The stables were small, which is to be expected in a town that is equally small.

I am within 15 pages of finished Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island about his farewell journey through the UK before moving his family to the US in the early 1990s (although it was short lived as they moved back to the UK 8 years later). Nina bought me another of his books; Mother’s Tongue. Bryson has written a few books on the English language and this is one of them, although written (like everything he pens) in his typical humorous fashion.

We have now lived in Leicester for 4 months. Meaning, we have now been living in the same city and home together, which was new in itself. Let alone, a fresh city and country. We have fallen into our domestic life and roles together quite well. Of course, we have our share of disagreements, like all couples. One such difference in perspective occurred this past week.

Nina asked me to clean the soap dish as it was full of soap residue. I didn’t see the point. Nina said it needed a good cleaning as it hadn’t been attended to in ages. I argued that since soap is a cleaning agent, by definition, it was already clean. How could something full of soap be in need of a cleaning? Surprisingly this argument didn’t fly, although she was unable to defy my perfect logic. I ended up cleaned the soap dish.

I have been writing this blog entry from a location I find immensely enjoyable; a train. Nina and I are on our way to Glasgow as she has a geology conference to attend and I have more writing to accomplish. I could have stayed home and worked on my project alone, but instead I decided to come along for a change of scenery. I will split my time between writing from our B&B and exploring Glasgow. Scotland in January is less than ideal for 4 days as it is notoriously damp and cold this time of the year. However, there are 3 or 4 museums and galleries close to our accommodations and the tube to the city centre isn’t far off either. So the next entry should be full of pictures of Glasgow!