Thursday, 30 June 2011

Aggravation and excitement

Today was aggravating.  Not particularly busy, but everything was... aggravating.   I could feel my frown lines deepening as the day went on and the headache lingering in the background. We missed our goal for this month by 8 boats which was mainly due to one person being off sick, and all my stuff being AGGRAVATINGLY time-consuming and confusing.  But never mind, 8 boats is ok, and we have caught up since last month so that is A Good Thing.

And tomorrow is a half day, Mr H is due back at lunchtime-ish, together with Django and a new colony of bees he is picking up on the way.  So I am only working in the morning, in the afternoon we will be sorting out the new home for said bees, I'm rather excited!

Mr H has kept bees for 29 years and carried on when he moved down here, but we've had bad luck losing them over the winters recently. So for the first time ever we have decided to buy a new colony, and start anew with them in a better location and within walking distance.  They are quite expensive to buy, so they will be molly-coddled for fear of losing them over the very first winter which would be Not A Good Thing At All.

So, a relaxed evening this evening is called for - easy supper and a good book should do it.

But before I go, here is a gratuitous photo of our local lighthouse which is next to the castle I walked out to the other evening.

Edit at 9pm.  So much for sitting with a good book, I couldn't. Having driven to work today I NEEDED to do something.  Went for a brisk walk exploring some new footpaths down the lane, 3 miles later...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


When I got home today some new sports shorts were waiting for me (eBay bargain, naturellement), they are just chuck-on for bumming around but designed for running which I thought would be useful later.  Anyway I tried them on, stood in front of the mirror and thought "I feel fat".

Oh well yes - what woman doesn't do that occasionally, whatever size she may be?   But in the next split second I thought "But so what.".  I know that at certain times I feel more fat/bloated/ugh than at others, all for the same poundage.

And I'm content.

Which means more to me than worrying about excess curves (is there such a thing?). I don't want to get on the (metaphorical) treadmill of forever striving to be however many inches / kg lighter.  Interestingly, I converted from knowing my weight in lbs/stone to kg when I started going to the gym many years ago. Now I hate the gym but am forever converted to kg; but measurements still have to be in feet/inches.  And in the States isn't it lbs and metres/centimetres?  how fickle we humans are.

So, getting back to the excess curves, it's not that I want to get any bigger, definitely not. Out of the females in my family I am still 'the slim one' but there is always the reminder it could all go wrong.  But I'm a healthy weight and as long as I'm maintaining that, or if I lose a bit Just Because, that's fine.  At least I know I'm getting exercise and I eat healthily - the calories aren't coming from alchohol and kebabs.

And I'm content.

If a physiotherapist ever tells me to go the gym, I will say No.   I used to enjoy it and know how satisfying the effects can be, but now I have developed a loathing for it. All sweat and no pleasure (ignoring the exercise endorphins). I'd rather get my exercise and strength from gardening, walking or cycling, or sailing once I get back into that, the view is so much better.  Not that I have anything against people who choose to go to the gym - each to their own, live and let live - and for some it is a choice of that or pounding city streets.  Not everyone has the countryside or garden that I am fortunate enough to enjoy on the doorstep.

So I ignored the fat-feeling, made a cup of tea and came out into the garden to write this and decide whether to mow the lawn this evening or wait until Thursday.

And I'm content.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Shorts: bed

... well today I feel just fine, yesterday must have been it so that's a Good Thing.

Last night I decided to chuck half the pillows off and sleep in the middle of the bed. Usually even when Mr H isn't home I sleep on My Side because it feels normal, so I felt a bit of a rebel.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A strange feeling day

Tomorrow is 27th June, a date that has been etched on mine and Mr H's brain forever now. A date that has been written over and over in statements, reports, forms, diaries and numerous other documents over the last year.

27 June 2010 was a Sunday, so today is the day that I feel strange.  It was warm and sunny, just as it is today.  If Mr H and Django were here instead of in Scotland, today is the sort of day we'd say 'let's go out and sit by a river with a picnic', just as we did last year.

It's almost 4.30pm now and I feel as though I'm waiting for something, almost as if it is some kind of premonition.  It feels as though the day is being repeated somewhere in a parallel universe; as if every day is going to go round again on the same cycle, but without us in it.

I know that feeling 'out of sorts' (that phrase makes it sound like a bit of indigestion) is normal on the anniversary of trauma.

I also know that I (and Mr H) have come a long way in the last 12 months, and many things in my life have changed for the better, that might not have done otherwise.

So after this discomfiting couple of days are over, I will be back on the track - onwards and upwards. I reckon that I'm currently about 75% towards my 'normality' (a subject for another blog post), so just another 25% to go...

Saturday, 25 June 2011


I just glanced through the Blogs of Note for the first time in months.

Is it me, or... well I just don't get them.  I find them either weird or uninteresting (compared with the ones in my favourites list anyway).   And one of them hasn't been posted on since 2010, I guess whoever chose it missed that little detail.  Or maybe the whole concept has just gone tits-up (as they say)

Stuff you kid.... 6WS

Stuff you kid, sticks and stones....
Six Word Saturday

I walked into town today in shorts and a t-shirt - it's overcast but warm and I have a dodgy thermostat and tend to overheat.   Halfway down the road a bunch of teenagers drove past and the passenger leant out of the window and pretended to retch in my direction.  Yes they are pleasant lads around here.

So, a few things went through my mind:

Oh my god, do I look that bad?

Why do teenagers feel the need to be hurtful to complete strangers, just to impress their friends?  there's no way he'd have done it if he'd been alone.

"I bet I look better than you will at 45, sunshine."

"One day you'll realise that real women aren't Photoshopped."

"Your legs wouldn't look that brilliant if they'd been crushed for 90 minutes - shall I show you...?"

Ok, my legs don't look the best - cellulite and not much muscle tone to speak of just now (but I'm working on that one). And they are odd, I mean not matching, not just 'odd'.

For about 10 seconds I thought "maybe I shouldn't wear shorts" - very rapidly followed by "Fuck them, I'll wear what I damn well like, if they don't like it, they don't have to look."

At a flick of the points, that of course took my train of thought off to how much we judge what other people wear, and we women are particularly bad at this.  "Oh my god look at her, she SO shouldn't wear that top, what does she think she looks like?"

Now there are some fashions which I personally don't like, but it usually isn't personal to the individual wearing them (except that they should perhaps think before following fashion so rigorously). At the moment it is black footless tights and skirts/dresses, and those stupid little pump shoes that no-one over the age of 10 ought to wear (in my ever so humble opinion).

I do think over the last few months I have become a lot more accepting of other people, maybe it is the studying that is making me think before I judge.  As soon as someone makes a 'Daily Mail'* type statement I will be considering the other viewpoint, and even - if I'm feeling brave - voicing it.    (*UK readers will understand what I mean).  But it still needs work, there is something inside us all that likes to make ourselves feel better by denigrating others, whether spoken or unspoken.

Anyway, by the time I was walking home I didn't care if people were looking at my legs, it makes a change to them looking at my breasts at least.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A challenge..

We all know, or have heard at some point in our lives, the Serenity prayer or some version of it:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference."

This evening I sat outside in the garden, thinking how incredibly calm and fulfilling life would be if we lived by that. I have read before about how a simple acceptance of things we cannot change can bring peace into uptight lives. 

But why do we find it so difficult?

There is always something to complain about - our jobs, our friends and family, the weather, 'the nights drawing in', the pile of ironing, bad drivers... I bet there are none of us immune to it.

Often when I am ranting, inwardly or outwardly about something, I realise the futility of it. And I don't often feel that much better afterwards either.

I challenge each and every one of us, next time we are about to open our mouths (or have thoughts which put more frown lines on our faces) and whine or rant about something, to remember the Serenity prayer and decide whether there is a better way of handling whatever it is winding us up...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tuesday's gone with the wind

So, that was Tuesday.

Monday was full of e-mails, it took me all day to get through them all. Today thank goodness I had only a few so managed to get some work done (yes I know e-mails are work, but you know what I mean).  I've been trying to work out how I feel - at one moment like I've been run over by a steam-roller, at another relaxed and happy.  Last week took it out of me, or rather the last few weeks of really busy work mixed with revision.

This morning I turned the alarm off in my sleep and woke up at 8.27am - oh bugger - I had stayed up too late finishing a gripping police novel so it was my own fault. And then I lay awake worrying about psychos breaking in.  So then I had a mad rush for breakfast (can't face the day without some) but still cycled to work because I had promised myself not to use the car unless I have to. So I arrived at work a bit kerfuffled.

I felt a bit down this evening, I just felt limp and my leg was hurting which must be because yet again I've been considering cutting down on the DHC. I walked fast into town to catch the 6pm post with my letter to Mr H, and sat on a bench for a bit watching people before ambling home in the sunshine. I then cheered myself up by picking a pile of vegetables to go with the local sausages I got from the market.  It feels so good to eat fresh from the garden, it makes all the digging (thanks Mr H) and planting and hoe-ing and waiting worthwhile.   I even managed to mow the main lawn before it rains again.  'The main lawn' - that makes it sound as though we live on an estate with multiple lawns and water features and acres of vegetable garden.  Well we do have a fake stone bird bath.

My sister and her partner are coming down later this week, they stay at my parents' a couple of miles away.  So I'm going over on Thursday and we're all going out by the sounds of it; I'm not really in the mood but it will be good to see them.  Typically my great plans to start driving around visiting family has coincided with me deciding that I really need to cut down my expenditure.  But I do need to take a weekend trip soon, to see how I get on with the driving. I wish I had the van because I feel invincible in that... but will have to make do with the Golf for now.  One would think that I'd be more uncomfortable in the van because of the associations, but it's quite the opposite.

Now having rambled enough I am going to make a cup of tea and start reading "Zero Degrees of Empathy - a New Theory of Human Cruelty" which is a cheerful book by Simon Baron-Cohen.  Let's hope it doesn't give me nightmares....

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Peaceful interlude

What can I hear?

Django snoring,
The clock ticking
The tap of the laptop keyboard.
Birds trilling outside

Otherwise all is quiet.

Mr H has gone fly-fishing on the river, it's right outside the door so I will pop out and see him presently; maybe I will sneak up and take some photos before he sees me.

We've had a lovely few days - a long walk on the beach, a short but steep walk up to a local monument, and this morning a damp riverside walk.  My leg aches but it's worth it.

Tonight Mr H is playing a half-hour set at his local bar. It's threatened with closure and they have got 12 bands together to play a gig, it will be busy and full of chatter.

Tomorrow morning will be a walk by the river, cooked breakfast, then a drive to the station and tearful goodbyes.  By the time I get to Glasgow I will have recovered my composure and be looking forward to getting home... and hoping that there are no delays and missed connections as there were on the way up.

This week off work has seemed more like two, it will almost seem odd to be going to work on Monday morning...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Notes to self...

Well the exam's over .... for another year anyway!  (I'm assuming here that I have managed 40% and won't be re-sitting in October...).  It went ok, I could answer all the questions and I feel all right about it. Not 'that was easy' but not 'that was awful' either.  

I now have 3 1/2 months of summer holiday before my 3rd year starts at the beginning of October, which will be 'Welfare, Crime and Society'.

I have learned a few things this year about studying, when there's an exam at the end (we didn't have one in the first year):

1. write good, clear notes during the year, even though it makes the reading more time consuming. I did this and it was a godsend when it came to revision.

2. my revision schedule worked - a month of rotating subjects, but making sure I took really good breaks as well.

3. try not to stress - after all it's not a life and death situation, and stress hormones aren't productive.

3. at the exam - don't sit with stressed people while waiting to go in!   I and three of my friends were sitting together quite happily, talking about other things. Two of our tutor group turned up, both intelligent girls. One was totally stressed out, and they started talking about subjects and the other one even had her text book out!  It totally screwed with our minds, even with my fingers in my ears, and we ended up going out and standing in the corridor to escape them.  Interestingly, one of them finished half an hour early, and the other one muttered afterwards about having totally screwed it up. So I'm not sure what that tells me.

So, tomorrow I have an 8 1/2 hour train journey up to Scotland.  Mr H is currently at his parents in Wales and he and Django will be racing me north in the van!  I can't wait, I haven't been up there since February, can you believe it?

I feel a bit weird at the moment to be honest, not quite sure what to do with myself after 9 months of feeling as though I should be reading/writing study stuff.  Although I'm glad to relax, I expect by September I'll be pleased when the box of new text books arrives...

Things I've done and survived

O-Levels, A-Levels, driving test, piano exams, violin exams, motorbike test; unexpectedly having to stand up on a chair and tell a bunch of millionaires which sails they can legally use. Getting married!

All those stressful situations I've survived.

I had a pretty anxious morning yesterday, but now I'm ready for this pissy little exam.  And in 24 hours I'll be on a train to Scotland :-)

Here is a photo of a beautiful poppy which is growing in the corner of my vegetable patch, self-seeded.   Isn't it just the best de-stressing sight?

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Six Word Saturday

Six Word Saturday

Only three days until summer holidays!

What am I going to do with my time after Tuesday... no studying until October, and no dog until September!   Oh well yes there's the day-job, but I'm talking about all those other hours.

I am determined not to totally waste them (although there will be some sun-lounger + novel time involved) so had better start writing down ideas now...

Friday, 10 June 2011

It's elementary, my dear Watson

Learning about learning - it's a bit like being in a vortex of ever decreasing circles (or is that mixing metaphors?).

The behavourists had a nice simple idea about learning: cause and effect.    Watson (no relation to he of Sherlock Holmes fame, as far as I know), said that all the fluffy, cognitive and social psychological research was meaningless, and that one should only study things that can be counted or measured scientifically.   He was the pioneer of behavioural research, and famously created in a child called Little Albert a phobia of his white rat, by associating it with a loud noise - all in the name of psychological research.  The ethics of this are undeniably dodgy, and in a less controversial but just as well known study, Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.   He did this by creating an association between the bell and food, so that the dog eventually came to expect food when the bell was rung. In Django's case, the words "Are you hungry?" have the same effect!

These two studies concentrated on the learning or 'conditioning' of involuntary behaviour.  BF Skinner went a step further and did studies on how to change voluntary behaviour.  Using pigeons or rats in a box, he had a set up such that when they pecked a particular spot, or pressed a lever, they received a reward of food, thus reinforcing the behaviour. This type of learning is known as operant conditioning, because the association is between an action and a reward.  Operant conditioning introduced the theory of positive and negative reinforcement, which has been very influential in behaviour modification efforts.

Positive reinforcement is simple - if the behaviour is correct, there is a reward, while negative reinforcement means that if the behaviour is correct, then something unpleasant (such a loud noise or pain) is stopped. Over time, the behaviour is reinforced and gradually developed - a process known as shaping.   Skinner believed that these were the best ways to change people's behaviour, and was totally against punishment. He said that it doesn't work long term, and that it can lead to other unwanted behaviour.

In the above studies, the animals involved were reacting automatically to stimuli, known as 'stimulus-response' learning.  They took no account of conscious thought being involved - unlike cognitive psychologists, the behaviourists did not consider that anything went on between the ears.

However, one researcher following on from Skinner did find that there may be more to animals' behaviour than simple stimulus-response. Tolman did experiments with different routes and mazes, which suggested that rats were using knowledge flexibly to make inferences about where the food was, rather than reacting automatically.

Behavourists work on the premise that research on animals can be extended to humans, and indeed some of their studies have proved very useful in human applications, particularly in classroom situations, treating phobias and aversion therapy.

However, it's hard to say that animal learning as a whole can be generalised to humans, partly because animals learn some things better than others - ie. where food is involved.   Can you see a pigeon getting enthusiastic about pecking a button on the promise of a new pair of football boots...?


I know a person who is an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend, who is generally ok but on occasion is a bit overly flirtatious in a slightly uncomfortable way.

Sometimes he's funny, sometimes he gives me the creeps.

Today he thought he was being funny, but it made me wonder to what lengths his over-active imagination goes at night.  Which made me feel a bit sick.

So I vaporized him.

And it felt good.

The Ice Queen strikes again.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

In case you wonder where the nutter came from

You may have realised that I am using my blog as a revision tool .... normally meaningless (!) service will resume in a few days.

In the meantime, you may inwardly digest, swear at, laugh at, wonder about or completely ignore my posts.


No, I didn't mean it like that, honestly!

So, you think that language and talking and understanding what people are saying is simple?


Every time you open your mouth (or put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard) you are constructing what you want to mean, and entering into negotiation with the person listening to you or reading what you write. 

Mel for some reason I am thinking of you as I write this... haha!

Take a conversation.  The meaning of what is said is not merely a neutral interpretation of the words and sentences, taking into account context etc.  Oh no, the meaning is all about what the speaker wants to achieve from the conversation. Their goals, purposes, underlying intentions and other underhand-sounding ulterior motives.  These will vary depending on the other party(s) in the conversation, what you know about them, what you know they know about you, the context, the expectations, and the history of your relationship.

Obviously, for those on the receiving end the same applies, which can and does end up with 'what was meant' being contested.  "Just because I said 'are you ready to go out?' doesn't mean that I don't like your dress." or "I don't like the tone of voice of this e-mail!" when you and the writer are interpreting the same words in completely different ways, depending on your individual goals.

It is argued that the whole point of language is achieve a goal.  For instance relaying information, receiving information, giving a good impression of yourself, finding out about other people to decide whether you want to be friends, or sounding people out for business. Or just making small talk, the aim of which is to pass the time as quickly as possible.

Garfinkel (great name) looked at groups of people (or whole cultures) and how they arranged things to make life run smoothly.  He found that groups created their own 'Code' which consists of unwritten but understood rules about roles and conduct within the group which define the boundaries of behaviour.  I have not managed to infiltrate a group of teenagers (I think they'd be suspicious!) but I have no doubt that such 'Codes' exist amongst them. "No way! I can't believe so-and-so did that!" - whoever it was went against the unspoken rules.

As far as we individuals are concerned, we use language for our own devices.  We portray things (and ourselves) as we wish to be portrayed, we tailor what we say and write to achieve the ends we want.  We give our own particular version of events which suits our own goals.  That's not to say we aren't telling the truth, but there are lots of ways to say the same thing.

We also use language to create the identity which suits us best at the time, and which might serve a specific purpose. Each of us has many different identities or 'subject positions', which we create by comparing ourselves to popular descriptions. For instance we might think "I am a Caring Friend". But one person's idea what qualities a caring friend has will differ from another's, so we can pick out the one that fits us best, and pat ourselves on the back.  We keep all these available subject positions in a handy folder called our interpretative repertoire, from which we pick the most appropriate one for the situation.

If all this sounds very negative don't worry, we all do it, mostly without thinking, all the time.  The fact that we change the way we talk and vocabulary we use depending whether it is our mother or our best friend.  That we try and think of the best way to put something (even when writing a blog) so that we come across as the person we want to be today.

However, it's probably not particularly conducive to friendly relationships if every time you are talking to somebody, you look at them suspiciously wondering what their particular angle is....

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gregory was right

This morning I woke up and realised what it was all about.

MEANING.  We all need it.

I'm not talking about the deep 'what is the meaning of life, why are we here, what's it all about?' questions.  No, I'm talking on a day-to-day level.   Think about it.

We are constantly categorising things, either consciously or unconsciously, into - well, categories.   Everything we look at belongs in a category: clothes, furniture, colours, mine, theirs, good, bad.  There's no getting away from it.

If we come across something and don't know what it is, do we just put it down saying "I don't know what that is"?  No, we want to know.

While we're trying to work out what it is, we will call on our own resources - previous experience and prior knowledge of other items (known in psychology as 'top-down knowledge').  We will also look at things differently depending on the context if there is one, and our own background and history.  "It looks like a wine bottle stopper", for the above object, is not something a 10 year old child would suggest (hopefully!).

We scratch our heads, we ask other people, and when (if) we find out then we have a sense of relief.  If we can't find out, it bugs us. We have no category to which to allocate it.   If we can't work out what it is, then we may just say 'well it's beautiful' - but even that is categorising it, into a piece of Art.

Gregory and Gibson had differing ideas about perception - Gibson thought that the world around us is rich enough in sensory information that no previous knowledge was needed to make sense of it.  Gregory, on the other hand, said that how we perceive things requires constant interaction between sensory information and 'top-down knowledge'.  I'm with Gregory on this one.

On the subject of needing to give things meaning, take the picture above - what do you see?    I could not see anything but black and white ink until I was given some hints. However, now the picture has a meaning, it is impossible for me to revert it back to a series of meaningless blobs and blurs.  

Another example is language and words.  Some cognitive psychologists take our recognition of words very scientifically, looking at the individual features and matching them with the database in our brains to recognise words.  But when it comes to sentences and conversations, things get a lot more complicated, and again we need to allocate meaning.

If we come across a word we don't know, we will again use our prior knowledge and more importantly, the context of the sentence, to work out what it means.  We may go back and re-read the sentence or paragraph, and if the meaning is ambiguous, some of us will need to look up the word to satisfy ourselves of the meaning. Like strange objects, an English word we don't understand leaves a little niggle of dissatisfaction.  If we see foreign words we can still make sense of them by simply categorising them as 'French' or 'Dutch' or 'Italian' or whatever, and that is sufficient.

"Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" is a phrase a chap called Chomsky came up with, to illustrate how a grammatically correct sentence does not necessarily make sense. It's an oddly irritating sentence, because it has no meaning.  On the other hand, "skid crash hospital" is totally ungrammatical, but we all understand exactly what it means, because of our 'top-down knowledge'. We can fill in the gaps to make it meaningful.

To get deeper into the meaning of conversations takes a social constructionist approach, which is too much to go into here.  Maybe I'll come back to that another day!

All through my revision I have kept coming up with the phrase "Humans Crave Meaning", and this morning it all fell into place.  I can go to work satisfied, now that I understand why I find it so unsettling when 'something doesn't look right' or doesn't make sense. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Putting things in perspective

I quite often find that the more other people panic about things, or get flustered or cross, or suffer from road rage, the calmer I feel.   I would have thought that heightened emotions would be catching, but with me it's the opposite.

I think the same is happening about the exam. Although I have been revising, I am not panicking. One of the girls in my group said that when she took an exam on another course this year, she tried to learn absolutely everything, got totally stressed and was in tears on exam day.  Her telling us that story reinforced for me the realisation that although I want to do well, it's not a life and death situation, and it's not worth getting that worked up about. Also, stress is not conducive to learning. So, the more friends on the course tell me they are worried about the exam, the less worried I seem to get.  Also, from my experience of assignments, the ones I think aren't that good and 'that'll do', get the best marks!

Today I sat myself half a mock exam first thing. I decided to try two essays from one of the past papers we have, 45 minutes per question. I did have a bit of a blank to start with but overall it was better than I thought. It pointed out to me a couple of weak points to work on too.


I was done at 10am, so I walked down (via the shop for biscuits) to see our good friends who are just starting up a cherry orchard down the road. After a coffee break and a play with their dog, I offered to help them put some netting up over the cherry trees, the kind of job where an extra pair of hands always comes in handy.

I really enjoyed it, and while we were doing it I thought 'you know what, I really don't care a bit about the exam right now - what will be will be'.   I didn't get home until 3pm, and it was 5 hours well spent.

I will do some more revising now, but I feel as though everything is in perspective.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Spot's Spot: hard at work

The life of a forester's dog....

Thank goodness it's the weekend!

D x

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

1st June 1966

June 1966

Today is Juniper's birthday.
She is 45
But feels more like 33.

It feels like an age since her last birthday -
Her attitude is different,
Her priorities have changed.

(How often has she written or confirmed that date of birth
Over the last few months?)

She's in a place she couldn't imagine a few years ago.
Kicking the steps up out of that rut.

Life is different.
But good.