Mission achieved

bigsave2015

Well, this year of the big save has not gone quite as smoothly as I would have liked. The financial vicissitudes of the past nine months have meant my new saving was rather short of the desired target. The main cause was a weakness, once again, for watches which caused resulted in financial recklessness, buying too many books, both electronic and physical also contributed. I suppose there are worse items to “waste” money on.

The good news however, is that enough has been saved with assistance from the long term savings to put a good dent in my mortgage, which comes to an end in September. Before I renew for another fixed term, I’ll be able to splat it. Whether it’s a wise use of savings or not, is an interesting question. One could retain them for a rainy day, one could head off and buy a lovely new watch with low depreciation or even moderate appreciation and possibly make some money when selling it in the future. Interest rates are the key consideration. Currently being so low but about to rise, so they say, it seems to me to be the best, most sensible, if incredibly dull option to pay off a chunk of my one debt.

mortgage

Seeing it visually helps. This line chart shows in the last three years, how the remaining balance on my outstanding mortgage has halved. That big leap downwards at the end is the effect of applying the big splat. This is the joy of a simple repayment mortgage, once you get over the interest hump at the beginning of the loan, the remainder quickly diminishes.

The ultimate intention is to get shot of the damned thing as quickly as possible, hopefully within 3 or 4 years which would mean that it’s paid about five years ahead of schedule. I dream, speaking entirely selfishly, that on the day after I make my final mortgage payment, the then Chancellor will regrettably announce a massive interest rate rise. One should have dreams, and if they’re based on a solid reality so much the better. Being mortgage or debt free “’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!”

Absence

Animated-Flag-Netherlands

Apologies to any readers who may have been disappointed by the lack of content on my blog over recent weeks. This may be simply explained by a lack of free time, I’m a lot busier at work and in the evenings, my time has been taken up by studying Dutch!

Why Dutch? I hear you ask – a good question! Well, I had a great time in Amsterdam and Den Haag last year and definitely want to return and perhaps venture away from the usual tourist haunts. When there I felt keenly the enduring British shame of knowing zero Dutch (or anything else,) relying on the perfect English of everyone I met. Next time will be different, despite several of my guide books saying not to bother learning anything beyond common pleasantries, as any Dutch English speakers will query your sanity attempting to speak “Nederlands.”

I’ve always liked languages, and being new to me, Dutch will help keep my brain active. It’s also a pleasure to learn a language closely related to English but different enough to prove a challenge. It’s also a pleasure not to worry too much about feminine and masculine word endings as in the Romance languages. Although finding there are two forms of the definite article and few guidelines as which should be used with which word did throw me a little. I’m sure more linguistic idiosyncrasies await me later in my studies.

I’ve equipped myself with a Hugo language course set, a dictionary and a grammar but have spent most time on the Duolingo site. Here there are many languages to learn, for free, at your own pace, with discussion groups to assist if you have a question or two. You set yourself goals and decide how many points you want to try to earn each day. So far, after a month in, it’s made learning fun and more than a little compulsive. However, I feel that their course needs the added rigour provided by a written grammar book which explains the language’s rules in more detail. But for the first time, I’ve decided to learn a language, rather than be compelled by teachers or expectation.

Pronunciation is of course the main problem. Most Gs are pronounced a bit like the CH sound in Loch or Och in Scottish – Vincent Van Hoch for example. I have an advantage there. Although not having studied German, one picks up the occasional word here and there and there are similarities. So the real trick, in these early days, is not to try to sound German when pronouncing some of the words. I find having a cider or two softens and slurs any harshness in my Dutch accent.

In an effort to increase my vocabulary, I’ve joined a Dutch watch forum, the idea being that if I read posts about a familiar subject in a familiar context, words will drop into place more easily and their idiomatic usage would become more apparent.

I hope to revisit The Nederlands (no, it’s not Holland) next year and by that time, I may be able to ask and say things without embarrassment.

Bedankt en welterusten!

Leith Festival – Monster!

The Leith Festival is nearly upon us. It’s far better than the Edinburgh Festival, more friendly, fun and festive. Best of all they have a great range of cute monsters helping advertise the festival.

The festival monster.

 

The theatre monster.

 

The dance monster.

 

The community monster.

 

The arts monster.

 

and finally my favourite, the film & literature monster.

March walks

Despite promising to be more dedicated on my walks in March, apologies for the delay in posting this by the way, as you can see I started off well, had a break, remounted the wagon and then fell off it again at the end of the month, when vast quantities of cider were consumed when I fell off a different wagon.

My only excuse about the first gap was that I was slightly unwell, flummoxed by some sort of lethargy virus which predicated bed rest, reading Stig Larsson and not walking at pace round Inverleith Park.

April has seen March levels of dedication matched and soon to be surpassed. Roy Castle would be proud.

A history of the world in 100 objects

During my nightly walks, I have been listening in awe and wonder to the podcasts of  the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor’s, A History of the World in 100 objects. This series why I’m more than happy to pay my BBC licence fee. The 100 programs in the series have been played on Radio 4 and most are a delight, despite the sometimes irritatingly over-breathy flute playing in some versions of the opening theme.

The series begins two million years ago with a stone axe and concludes with a solar powered lamp and a refurbished mobile phone. If you’ve not visited the web site or downloaded the podcasts you’re definitely missing out of a fascinating series. The site encourages you to upload an object you own, which may be historically significant and I may oblige here, with a post of a couple of things for a history of dkpw.

Before that I thought I would select my top 10 from the series to give you a flavour of what is on offer. Here they are in chronological order.

Object 5: Clovis spear point

The razor sharp, flint spear head is 13,000 years old from North America. Still deadly, it’s over engineered for its purpose, deadly but beautiful.

Object 18: Minoan Bull Leaper

I picked this damaged but fascinating bronze statue from Minoan Crete (c.1700 BC) since I’ve been to Knossos, the home of King Minos, his son the Minotaur and seen the man and bull motifs still in evidence. During This programme included an interview with a Spaniard who does not fight bulls but leaps them, so the practice still continues to this day.

Object 25: Gold coin of Croesus

Who doesn’t like gold? Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “As rich as Croesus?” This coin is about 2,000 years old and formed part of his vast wealth. The source of which was his establishment of a state treasury which controlled and regulated  coin production and thereby the money supply. I also liked the fact that lower value coins were smaller  and would feature only part of the above design, for example the lion’s ear.

Object 33: Rosetta Stone

This famous stone enabled the translation of the hitherto unknown Egyptian hieroglyphs since it contains the same proclamation of priestly tax exemption in Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic. The final language carved on the stone is English, placed there after Nelson defeated Napoleon in 1801 and  took the stone from the French.

Object 35: Head of Augustus

“What have the Romans ever done for us?” As John Cleese found out, quite a lot actually. As the only boy in a class of 20 who at the age of 9 preferred to be a Roman rather than a Briton, I could not omit a Roman artefact, and what better than an official bust of the Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor. While a committed Republican, and I would have suffered the same fate as Cicero no doubt, I admire Augustus’ achievement of solidifying and extending the empire, while bringing peace to Rome and bringing about its “Golden Age” of Latin literature.

70: Hoa Hakananai’a Easter Island statue

The story of Easter Island is a mixture of marvel and tragedy. Almost certainly the last place on Earth to be settled by humans, we proceeded to wreck the place in about 400 years. Over population and an almost suicidal, ancestor-worshipping religious compulsion to construct, locate and then move these huge statues, Moai, around the island caused great periods of ecological damage leading to civil war, decline and disease. A history of the world on one island and a potent warning.

Object 71: Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

A Tughra is simply a cipher, a monogram, a signature. Suleiman The Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire was a contemporary of Henry VIII. His seal was placed at the beginning of a document to one of his generals, or governors, as an expression of favour and to remind the recipient who was the boss. Regardless, I enjoy it because of its beauty, design and artistic expression.

Object 75: Dürer’s ‘Rhinoceros

Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros was transported from India to Portugal as a tribute to the King, who felt that so unusual an animal should be given to The Pope (from whom the King hoped to gain support in a territorial dispute.) Sadly the animal and all the crew of the transport ship perished in a storm. Had the Rhino not been chained to the deck it may have been able to swim to shore. So Dürer never actually saw his rhino, which is why his drawing is not strictly anatomically correct. The magic of the print and the animal relate to the writings of Pliny the Elder who wrote about Rhinoceroses and so the veracity of classical literature was “proved.” It’s still fascinating today.

Object 91: Ship’s chronometer from HMS Beagle

How could an admirer of watches and Darwin’s theory of Evolution, not include one of the ship’s chronometers used on the voyage of HMS Beagle in 1831. Marine Chronometers, are highly accurate, mechanical, time pieces used to reference GMT on naval vessels thereby acting as a longitudinal navigational aid. This clock was one of many on the Beagle and based on one of John Harrison’s famous chronometers, accurate despite the ship’s movement, temperature and humidity. Clocks like these were accurate to better than one second deviation a month! A Rolex chronometer is considered accurate with a variation between -4 or +6 seconds a day. Non-atomic controlled digital watches, typically have an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds a month, or 0.5 seconds per day, still not a patch on this clock built in about 1800.
Object 93: Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave
Finally,  Hokusai’s Great Wave.  I like it simply for it’s colour and drama.
And in true BBC tradition, if I had to pick one object, it would of course be the chronometer.

Summer Road Trip #11

I left Denis and Norwich behind, and headed back onto the road. My destination was across country to Gloucester via my old alma mater, The University of Warwick whose campus sits between Coventry and Kenilworth. I hadn’t been back for about 15 or 20 years and was keen to see how the place looked.

The answer is still recognisable and improved since my time there.

I parked near the swimming pool and walked past the humanities building which had not changed in the slightest. Oh the happy hours of lectures I missed in that building.

I travelled round past what used to be the Senate house (and scene of many a confrontation between the University’s governing body and militant (spoilt) students) towards the Students’ Union building which had clearly been massively refurnished. I had a quick detour as I helped a blind lady to the number 12 bus stop. She’d been in the gym but had become slightly lost as this was only the second time she’d been on campus. It was good to hear a local Coventry accent again, which is a strange mixture of a soft West Midlands accent with a little bit of West Country.

The amenities were excellent, and although it was summer holidays, the campus was busy with foreign students and conference delegates. These shops were not here when I attended.

The Union was familiar but had been completely refurbished. The Milk and Cholo bars had gone, as the had the ground floor stage on which I saw the Waterboys, Gary Glitter and many others.

Inside. where there had been pinball machines, was an entire suite of pool tables and on the wall a digital juxe box. The coffee shops, eateries and bars were incredibly swish. The only place which still looked like it belonged to the 80s was the NatWest bank, or “NaziWest” as I have called them, ever since their officious manager reprimanded me for an unauthorised overdraft.

I had a very pleasant lunch from Costa Coffee in the summer sunshine, spoilt only by a persistent wasp which I managed to kill with my netbook back, when it foolishly gave in to temptation and landed on a spare chair baited with a piece of granola bar.

After lunch I wandered round some of the residential halls, none of which had changed. Rootes, Tocil, Cryfield. It was like being back in time. Names of people I had not seen or thought of for decades came swimming up from the deep recesses of my memory. Nostalgia is a two edged sword.

Onwards and westward! Gloucester beckoned and was reached in the early afternoon, just in time for it to begin raining. I had a very quick look in the city and went to find my hotel which was in Twigworth on the outskirts of Gloucester. It had a very pleasant bar and restaurant attached and so I felt obliged to settle down with The Times, some cider and a juicy steak.

Summer Road Trip #6

Today was a travelling day, rather than a do very much day. The drive from Leeds to Norwich was aided by the trusty sat-nav which took me to the city centre Premier Inn in one easy go, timed on the G-Shock at a mere 3 hours – 31 minutes 17 seconds 58 hundredths. If you’re ever in Norwich, I can recommend the hotel which is a short walk from the city’s shopping area, market and historical centre. If you’re driving you’ll love the fact that the adjacent city multi-story is FREE for hotel residents. It’s normally £5 for the whole day, compare that to the prices charged by the man with a pot-holed bomb site in Leeds for value!

After settling in I had a very pleasant wander round the very pleasant city centre and made my way up to Norwich Castle, which of course had just closed.  Norwich is a nice place. On my wanders I spotted a burger joint called Captain America and thought that would do nicely for my evening repast. I headed back to the hotel, had a wash and made contact with Mr. King of the CPS. We agreed to meet up the next evening with his lads Jake King and Max King – I’m sorry but I cannot resist an old joke of Mr. Polycarpou’s – “Lucky he didn’t name his son Wayne.”

After a most refreshing cider in the Golden Star, again handily placed for the hotel, I had enjoyable burger in Captain America and headed for Bedfordshire with the Times.

Not an eventful day, but a good one.