Why I hate New Year's Eve

I wonder what the ratio of "I hate New Year" to "I love New Year" blog posts is.  I reckon both will be as common as sand at a beach around this time of year.  I find it a time of year that it is impossible to be ambivalent about.  Personally I dont go in for New Year's resolutions.  I find them a bit like declarations of love on Valentine's Day, the fact that we are "supposed" to make them renders them meaningless.  And who is actually going to keep a meaningless resolution!  

That said, New Year definitely makes me re-evaluate my life, and so I can see that spontaneous resolutions from that introspection might actually be more genuine.

There is also a benefit in stating ones goals to the world in that it makes you accountable (and hopefully therefore more motivated to achieve them).  Obviously the more concrete these goals are the better, though not all desires can necessarily be most accurately captured using measurable targets. 

So...my goals for 2011 are...

  1. Buy a van
  2. Begin the conversion
  3. Finish my Cognitive Psychology module without going insane
Hopefully none of those will prove too challenging.  I feel like there should be some additional goals on there, some which are more inspirational and demanding.  But that's a feeling I have about my life in general, and like I said, I dont do New Year's resolutions!  I find New Year the worst time of the year.  Partly because there is so little daylight and the whole world seems cold and grey.  Partly because it makes me think about the previous year, the mistakes I have made, and how far I am from where I would like to be in my life.  This year I have made a lot of mistakes.  Far too many.  Maybe goal number 4 should be to stop making mistakes.  If only that were achievable.  It would be nice to be one of those people who see New Year as a fresh start, a clean slate, a new opportunity.  Unfortunately I am not so good at releasing my hold on the past.

Sally fell yesterday and hurt her shoulder.  For the first time, she looked old, frail and horrifyingly mortal to me.  I cannot imagine life without that dog, it isnt a reality I want to face.

The joys of Christmas

Highlight of Christmas 2010...not quite what I expected if Im honest.  I was retuning my Grandma's Freeview box so that she could get Radio 4 to listen to The Archers...as she is about as technologically able as a blind ferret on acid - so I was trying to help her out.  Anyway I ran the autoscanner thing which brought up a list of all the new channels it found.  Grandma was watching intently to see if we had found Radio 4 yet, and this is how the conversation went...

Grandma -    "From where I'm sitting, it looks like that says 'ADULT Filth'!"

Me -               "That's because it does..."

...long pause...

Grandma -    "What's 'Gay Rabbit'?"

Me -               "......................................................................................................................................"

Priceless :)

The power of the human mind

The power of the placebo effect has intrigued me for some time.  As part of my Psychology studies I learnt about an (ethically dubious) experiment where they operated on people and told them they had had heart surgery, when in fact they had no procedure at all asides from the creation of an incision wound so the surgery would be believable.  In the first 6 months after the operations, they experienced as much benefits as those who had actually had the heart operation performed.  All those benefits were brought about through the expectations of the effects of surgery.  Wow.  How amazing is that.

On Wednesday, after a very long and traumatic hospital visit, I was given a new drug for my bad skin.  Now I have been on antibiotics for this for about 2 years now, and these had no effects either on my skin or my psyche.  But this new drug is a lot more powerful, and comes with an A4 book of side effects.  Now usually with the little leaflet of terrible side effects, I just flick through it and ignore most of them.  But as this one's side effects were worthy of an A4 booklet - I read them properly.  And got terrified.  I was really nervous about taking this drug, and sure enough, in less time than the drug could possibly have had all these effects, I was feeling sick, achey all over, my eyes and skin were dry and I had a headache.  Again, all through the power of expectation.

It makes me wonder - how far do these miraculous effects of expectation stretch beyond the physical, internal environment and into the wider aspects of our lives.  I mean we all know that we influence what happens to us through our attitude to a certain extent, but are we prepared to accept that what we expect actually determines the outcome.  What amazing things could we achieve using our minds when we expect good things to happen to us.  And how many times do we attain a worse outcome for ourselves by expecting only the negative.  I guess the moral of the story is, we all could use a little more faith in ourselves sometimes.

Mmmm its eclipse time...

I saw the lunar eclipse today.  It was very cool.  The moon looked spherical instead of flat like usual.  Almost as if you could reach out and touch it.  Its funny how you get so used to seeing things in an entirely different dimension to how they really are.  I suspect a lot of things in life are just waiting for you to see them in their true dimension.  There is a definite magic in seeing the ordinary in a new and extraordinary way.

Anyway, the lunar eclipse reminded me of the last time I saw an eclipse.  It was the solar eclipse in 1999, I was 11.  My mum, grandparents, Aunt Jane and I all went down to Cornwall and stayed in a big static caravan up the top of a big hill.  The eclipse was amazing, and I saw the Red Arrows for the first time as well.  I remember wearing those ridiculous glasses things and being not allowed to look at the eclipse for too long.  I thought it was kind of silly that we had come all the way to see something that I wasnt even allowed to look at properly.  I remember long hot summer days, ice creams, and paddling in the freezing English sea.

Some days I miss being a kid, when the only responsibility you had was not to scorch your eyes out by gazing at the sun for too long :)

What it means to lose someone

My grandad recently passed away, he has left a hole in all our lives.  My grandparents were married for 57 years, the thought of even getting married terrifies me.  Growing and maintaining a love that lasts for 57 years is an incredible achievement which I am totally in awe of.  But even more unimaginable to me is how it must feel to lose that person after so long.  So much love, so many memories, so much time, so much of you that is tied up in them.  I cant imagine that your life would ever feel the same again.  And yet, to have something that is so precious must be worth the pain of losing it ten thousand times over.

I honestly believe that a lifetime of love is all we really desire.  We may deny it, reject it, hide from it...but it doesnt change how much we need it.  We can surround ourselves with other worldy objects or emotions, but it is the transcendent nature of pure love that we hunger for.  It is only necessarily to momentarily detach ourselves from the incessant clamour that is our everyday consumer-driven lives to realise what it is we truly need.

My biggest regret is that I didnt learn this lesson a little sooner.  Even with the beautiful and simple example of my grandparent's marriage right in front of me, I still couldnt see how important it is to strive for a lifetime of love.  As usual, I insist upon making my own mistakes though... one day I might even learn my lesson... who knows!

"You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance." ~Wallis Simpson

How to cheat death...or how not to go hiking in Cappadocia

Due to the arrival of the coursebooks for my next Psychology module, I am totally lacking in any form of goal-directed motivation or life-loving inspiration.  So instead of even attempting to look to the future or evaluate the present I am going to tell a story from the past today.

While I was in Turkey I was fortunate enough to visit the stunning region of Cappadocia - where there are loads of great but very confusing hiking trails for you to explore the gorgeous valleys on.  Downside is that not one of the trails is that well signed, and the map that the tourist info people can give you is only really good for helping you to work out which direction you should be vaguely attempting to find a path for.  That said I successfully managed to find me way both in and out of Rose Valley and Love Valley in about 3 hours - so was feeling pretty good about things when I hit Red Valley.

Having walked a really long way up a dry river bed into Red Valley (the valley in front of the far away hill in the photo), I ended up pretty high up on a plateau.  I kind of wanted to come back down into Goreme now as I had a bus to catch - but couldnt see any way down off this plateau that was anything remotely resembling safe except the way I had come.  And I have this thing about never going back - so I really wanted to find another way.  In the end I decided I would follow the massive "Exit" arrow painted onto the wall on the cliff behind me, even though I didnt really want to gain any more height and was kind of concerned that this route would be taking me away from Goreme.  But...I foolishly thought to myself - how bad can the waymarked exit from this valley really be!

I guess when I reached the sign and saw that I had to climb up these footholes carved into the vertical rock that I should have realised that it was probably a bad idea.  But I figured that as this was the signed route it would be ok - maybe once I had climbed the rock footholds it would be flat from there....wrong.  Very wrong.  So I climbed up the cliff - which was a little awkward but not too bad really, though I realised when I got too high up to go back that coming back down it would be a lot more difficult!  And then I looked down the other side, to see that this nicely signed route had led me to what literally looked like a death chute.  If I had been in a water park looking at a slide that narrow and at that angle I would have been scared!  But no, this was not a nice smiley plastic chute, this was a slippery smooth sandstone channel barely wider than my hips plummeting steeply down with no hint of when or where it might end.

So being the stubborn idiot that I am, I set off down the death chutes in a kind of spider pose like the Ninja Warrior guys use on the Jumping Spider obstacle.  Please note that I am not some muscle-bound crazy person who is used to such stunts so this was terrifying and also kind of impossible!  Obviously I did eventually make it down the twisting spiralling abyss to safe ground - but not without getting everything I was wearing covered in red mud and my entire body covered in grazes and bruises.  Also I was a nervous wreck - as the whole way down I was painfully aware of easily I could break an ankle or worse..and how long it was likely to be before anyone else came through that way to find me!  
And then to top it all off, on the way back to Goreme I met some old guy who proceeded to grope me and make me feel really uncomfortable.  And it was freezing cold! Not the best day of the trip, but definitely one to remember...

What did I learn from this experience then...well hiking in Cappadocia is TOTALLY worth the death risk - it is quite possibly the most awe-inspiring landscape I have ever seen in my life.  But also thatas usual my mother is right, you really should never go up something that you cant come back down - as the grass may not be greener on the other side!


This week I have been learning a lot... I have learnt the various things I will need to do to my van to store it while tryingto avoid letting it end up like the bus I went on in Tanzania in the picture.  This is my list:

put something in to soak up moisture
open windows a little
HVAC system off
warm up right before storage
oil change (right before)
filter change
antifreeze change
power steering fluid change
transmission fluid change
brake fluid change
remove battery
fill with fresh fuel
add fuel preservative
tyres at right pressures
lift at outermoist points of suspension
insulate garage floor
add antifreeze to cooling system
coat engine metal with lubricant
lubricate distributor contact points
wash and wax
Remove wiper blades and wrap wiper arms
Oil spark plug cylinders
Spark plug antiseize lubricant
handbrake off
lube hoses with rubber protectant
drain radiator
detach radiator hoses

I also learnt that even if I want to take the van straight off the road when I get it, I still have to complete the full import process first which kinda sucks.  But in a way it is also good as I means that I can drive the van to get the roof done which will save money.  I also get the peace of mind that it can actually pass an MOT!

I discovered that it is not really much difference in price to get some second hand properly finished furniture board compared to regular unfinished plywood - so that will save me many hours of sanding and varnishing.

And finally I discovered that my van will not fit through the door of the garage.  This is a pretty annoying setback - but I am not giving up on keeping it indoors.  This weekend I will be visiting the local farms to see whether any of them would be kind enough to give me some suitable barn space to put the van in.  I would ideally like to keep it as local as possible so that it is easy for me to work on - but even more important than that is to get a suitable environment for storing it in.

My next set of coursebooks came today.  Its like opening the door to find a letterbomb on the doormat.  Ugh.

People Who Love

Sometimes in this life we meet people who seem inexplicably and magnetically attractive to everyone around them.  Physically they look ok...but nothing special.  They are intelligent...but not geniuses.  Competent...but without incredible talent.  Good personalities...but no outstanding traits.  Funny...but not comedians.  So what is it that makes these essentially average people into individuals that others gravitate too like moths to a flame?

My Psychology studies would point me towards the answer that they possess outstanding social skills.  They are attractive simply because they are so rewarding to interact with.  This might be true up to a point, but the more romantic side of me believes there is more to it than that.  I met one of these rare and wonderful people while I was in Istanbul, and that has brought me back to thinking about this subject.  My conclusion was...these people stand out like an oasis in the desert because they genuinely love people.  Their passion is life and everything in it.  And their passion is so strong that they cannot help but overflow with love for those around them.  I am aware I am at risk of sounding overly sentimental here, but I dont mean the wishy-washy kind of love that is wheeled out at Valentine's Day.  They simply delight in existence, and while you are part of the world in which they find themselves then you are automatically included in that joy.  And I have yet to meet anyone who manages to avoid getting caught up in that emotional connection.

As a Christian we are called to love mankind, and I think that these people who love are the living definition of what this means, regardless of their faith.  Love is not charity, or projects, or good deeds.  Love is the unconditional offering of an emotional bond, and those who can offer it in this form make the world a far better place.

I hope that one day I might become the kind of person who lights up rooms with love.

The picture is me in the vortex tunnel in Edinburgh's Camera Obscura - you can take the coolest light pictures in that thing and the whole centre is well worth a visit if you are in Edinburgh!

Field Report!

I made it (eventually) through snowy England to visit the van on Sunday - it was definitely worth the trip as I am now super inspired!  I have made a few modifications to my design plans based on my visit, and got a few good ideas like having various holes to put the table leg into so you can change its position depending on what you want to use it for.  I am also feeling a lot better about the whole sleeping in the roof idea - that thing is spacious!

So this is my rough draft of my design.  Obviously its not to scale and massively open to influence from the positioning of doors and windows (none of which I will be changing).  I know its a little unorthodox in that I have the kitchen bit at the back - and there may be a good reason why the kitchen is usually in the middle which Im not aware of yet!  But I want to get a seat in sideways if at all possible - and it will feel way more cramped if its opposite the full height cupboards.

Ill probably change all this once I have the van and can measure up etc, but I just wanted to get some ideas down so I dont forget.

I have ordered a vehicle import information pack from the DVLA.  None of the vehicle import companies I have emailed seem keen on answering me, so it looks like I will have to do it myself!  Its a scary thought if Im honest.  As is trying to find decent websites to source European vans from!  The German ebay is the best I have found so far.  Although I would ideally like to buy from Southern Europe so there are less rust issues etc.  Maybe Im just too picky.  Either way, the search continues!

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