Cold days in December

Today I added yet another sport to the list of sports I have tried. Today I tried curling.

Now, to be honest, when I woke this morning, I did not say “I must try curling”. I said “Where is all that bleeding snow MeteoLux has promised and why am I not seeing a blizzard”.  But life turns out interestingly, and somehow, I accidentally wound up trying curling.

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The new transport system went into operation in Luxembourg today – this means a brand new tram, a brand new funicular and all sorts of changes to the buses and rail system. The current changes don’t suit me at the moment – I’m moving from a direct bus to a bus and change to tram which is ludicrous for a 2km journey but sometime next year the tram will extend to where I live and I will have a direct tram journey to work which will be handy if somewhat sweaty for the height of summer. Today it was somewhere approximating the depths of winter as it snowed all morning and this evening, we’ve got gales to look forward to.

Anyway, here’s the funicular. It takes a minute to go from top to bottom and vice versa.

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And here’s a video of the trip up with some arty out of focus sections.

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I had trouble getting the video to work on the way down.

The tram was running, and to be frank, was packed but I suspect in part that’s because all of the useful buses have been re-routed.

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Tram in the winter sun.

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As part of their celebration stuff, they set up Luxembourg Curling club with a temporary (plastic) curling rink and you could have a go, if you were so inclined. I had a go. I had several goes. I have looked up the Olympic curling set up to see if I could like, compete for Ireland and it transpires I need four other Irish people with an interest in curling.

That might be a tall order. My options for Olympic greatness continue to be limited.

But curling is compelling.  It’s basically simple. Stand here, and give this circular stone thing an almighty shove up the rink and hope for the best that you get it into the circles. It took me 4 goes to shove it hard enough but so what. It was fun. In fact, I don’t know why it was fun given how simple it is. But it’s more fun than Candy Crush, that is for sure.

There is a curling club in Luxembourg. I’m going to join as the bunch who were there this afternoon were great fun, mad supportive and dead helpful. And they let me have quite a few goes.

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CFL, Luxembourg National Railways, also had an ice sculptor in.

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After all that excitement, I went off to Auchan (on the tram) (which was packed) to do my my grocery shopping in a shopping centre which was not that busy so I was in and out quickly. I also bought one Christmas present and looked at a watch which I want but will have to save up for.

I blame Google

I’ve found lately that social media – by which I mainly mean Twitter – has become unsufferable. The scale of insufferability has gone through the roof. In some respects, I blame Google. I particularly blame Google for the strength of Facebook and Twitter because Google did one thing which contributed more to centralising social media than anything else at all. They shut down Google Reader and…I’d argue they did some damage to the blog reading eco system. What was nice about the blog world was that it was basically decentralised. You didn’t have to be on Twitter. You didn’t have to be on Facebook. All you had to do was publish an RSS feed. I use Newsblur now but the whole blog world is also very different.

I edge towards switching Twitter out of my life. The apps are gone from both my mobile devices and access to twitter is purely via a webbrowser. Twitter keeps asking me if I want notifications. I don’t want notifications, no. I want the nice chatty atmosphere which allowed me to learn stuff quite quickly which Twitter used to be. Now, it’s just a place where people come to demand that I be outraged about stuff.

Be outraged about Trump. Be outraged about Clinton. Look I don’t even live in the US and I’m sick of finding out about which of their politicians is acting the maggot lately, for a given scale of maggot ranging from some mild corruption to dating 14 year olds. It is not that I don’t care, it’s just that in certain parts of my life, I don’t want to have to care. You don’t need to outrage me about rape culture. I know about it. Suicide rates, too, and homelessness. I have a neverending wall of despair coming at me from the newspapers and the radio. I’d like it if it wasn’t coming at me from twitter too. But it does because people retweet stuff and expect me to be outraged. I must be outraged all the time or I am not a worthy human being.

I mute. I block. I have muted people I considered friends because they were polluting their threads with stuff designed to make me feel angry, and annoyed, and outraged that I really couldn’t handle it. I like Pinterest and Instagram because they are not constantly haranguing me to be angry.

The reinforcement of Twitter and Facebook to some extent (I mute I block there too) has its roots in centralising social discourse on the internet on those sites and one of the things that drove that was Google shutting down Reader. You have a hugely decentralised social media ecosystem which was basically interoperable but which had one big reading central. In theory, I imagine they expected us to kind of get Google Plus to pick that up but they did it in the most stupid way possible. People now access blogs via assorted newsreaders, email newsletters and who knows what. Serendipity about finding out about blogs has died as well. And in the end, it’s not like Google Plus waltzed up and blew up the competition.

I’m torn with what to do about Twitter. I like the interesting stuff which crops up. Yesterday I read a fascinating piece which turned up on a Twitter link. These are the things Twitter is really good at (and blogs used to be too). I have friends that I interact with mainly through twitter. I’m filtering and muting to beat the band. But it’s getting close to a point where I’m starting to think…you know, what’s the point?

Luxembourg International Motor show

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It’s been a while since I carried a real camera and now, if I want to take Photographs, I have to do so within the limits of my phone camera. I never cease to be amazed at how much they have to offer and with a little judicious Photoshop.

I kind of like taking photographs of cars, and I don’t get the opportunity to photograph supercars very often. If you’d asked me before today what supercar I’d buy if I ever had the choice, I’d have said, with a lot of regret, a McLaren F1. The car is more than 20 years old and there aren’t a whole lot of them around so that’s never going to be anything other than a pipe dreak.

But this Honda NSX is rather attractive. I wouldn’t buy it in white – it’s not really my colour. I think a car like this deserves a brooding grey metallic paint job.

I was marginally disappointed with the shortage of supercars on show. There were a couple of Lamborghinis, and some Ferraris but nothing which really excited me beyond this one Honda.

More pens

I decided a while ago – after I bought a brand new Pelikan M205 which of course I didn’t need but had fallen in love with and well – that I didn’t want any more pens…So it was entirely a bad idea to go to the Antiquités and Brocante yesterday and in particular, I really should not have been looking at pens.

I didn’t buy all around me. Specifically I left a few Montblancs behind me – they were priced above my Gamble On an Old Fountainpen limit which is 25E per fountain pen. But I rifled through a box of pens that were 3E each or 2 for a fiver and surfaced with a Pelikan and a pretty but probably originally dirt cheap English pen. For 2.50 each though, they were worth the gamble. Both take cartridges and both are writing okay.

The other two pens were more of a gamble. They came together at the top of my Gamble on an Old Fountainpen limit and necessitated some serious research when I got home. The Waterman, which is the hall of mirrors-esque one on the left turns out to be a Lady Patricia dating from the 1980s. I give the date because Waterman produced a model with a similar name in the 1930s also. This definitely dates from the 1980s. It takes international cartridges although having spent some time with it yesterday, it really only takes Pelikan 4001 cartridges and they slide into the barrel with a little difficulty. I will see if the barrel needs to be cleaned if I can. But the pen has a beautiful broad nib and writes rather nicely. It’s a slight challenge for my hand because I have quite fine handwriting which I need to scale up a bit for wider nibs.

The last pen I knew to be a Parker when I picked it up. I’m not certain why I bought it. I’d see the words Vacumatic on it when I examined it and I decided a long time ago that any Parker 51 that I bought would have to have an Aerometric filling system as they don’t give any trouble, even in pens 60 years old. I have a Parker 51 from the end of the 1950s which although it was battered a bit when I bought it, I love to pieces because it is just such a joy to use.

So I took the Parker with the Waterman and brought it home to examine it. It looks to be one of the entry level Vacumatics, and there’s a marking on the side of the pen which strongly indicates that it was manufactured in 1935. Its filling system aligns with a production date of pre 1937 as does the brand marking on the pen. So the pen is around 82 years old and is by some distance the oldest pen I own.

Other research says the ink filling internals have to be serviced as they have a habit of cracking and breaking.  I toyed with selling it on on eBay but made the emotionally unwise decision to try and write with it by dipping the nib into a bottle of Parker Quink black. And I fell in love.

I own a lot of pens and deep down, up to today I would have said that of all of them, my favourite to write with was my Parker 51. This is even better. Sufficiently better that it’s going to break my heart to send it to the UK for a service.

The down side of these older pens is that I tend to be very conservative about what ink goes in them. There are horror stories about modern inks destroying the insides of older pens. For this reason, the only ink that goes into my Parker 51 is black Parker ink and when this Vacumatic come back from hospital, it took will only get Parker ink although I might get a bottle of blue ink for it. This is one of the reasons I retain all my modern pens – I expect them to take pretty much any ink I put into them. I have one pre1993 Pelikan which I expect to take Pelikan on the ground that I expect a manufacturer to provide ink that doesn’t damage its own pens which gives a little more leeway. But the two Parkers…they will not be getting radical modern inks in them.

November Urban Sketching

November 5 was a cold, cold day in Luxembourg. This I know because I went urban sketching. ONe of the key contributors to “why did you go out drawing” question was we were around Limpertsberg, about 200m from chez Treasa to be honest. So I couldn’t “not” go. It’s not like I had any excuses.

We spent 90 minutes in the graveyard which as befits a graveyard with the graves of some fairly wealthy people, has some very attractive grave sculptures. I’ve seen a fair few of them. I was drawn to something different though because I knew there was some kind of a monument at the far end of the graveyard that I hadn’t been able to find out what it was. So I walked to it.

It’s one of two major monuments (that I found) in the graveyard. It is a memorial to members of the Resistance in Luxembourg during the second world war. There are two primary features; a plain cross with no adornment. Before you reach the cross, to your right there is a sculpture. I didn’t see a name for it but as I was describing it to someone later, it’s like a supplicant with their hands bound behind their back. It is a very modern piece of sculpture, totally at odds with the ornamental angels and virgins which litter some of the other graves. At its base someone had placed a white rose.

I didn’t have a particularly successful day drawing and painting. For one thing, it was so freezing cold and damp, I just couldn’t get paint to dry and wrecked the ink drawing of the cross with undried paint from the entirely separate piece I did of the statue. I drew a section of a wall which I assume is set aside for ashes.

And then I went for a walk and found the second monument, which I hadn’t known existed. It is where the tomb of the unknown Luxembourg Legionary lies, and it is more specifically, a monument in memory of the men of France who died on Luxembourg soil during the period 1915-1918. All of the named soldiers on it had died in the last quarter of 1914, One of them had come from Ajaccio in Corsica and one of them from Douarnenez in the west of Brittany. It seemed an awful long way to come to die for the folly of greater men.

BR: Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

I had a couple of broken nights lately and a deep desire to wander around travel literature and the net result was I bought this for my kindle. In theory it should tick one or two boxes – it’s about trail running and is a piece of travel writing. The blurb and reviews were highly promising with words like “possibly the best book on running in years” and similar littered around the place. Another bout of lying awake at times I didn’t intend to be awake saw me reading. The book dates from 2010 apparently. The only reason this matters is that it referred to Lance Armstrong as being one of the best endurance athletes in the world. Not certain people would say this any more

Anyway I read the book in two shifts, mostly late on Saturday night and finished off the following morning. It’s not a difficult book to read.

It is hard to say just what kind of book it is. I’m not sure it fits into the travel genre (thanks Amazon), and while the central subject – ultra distance running – was absolutely in your face while reading it didn’t really strike me like a sports book either.

The characters featuring split mostly between American and Mexican. You got a sense the writer never really got to know that Mexican runners much, and whether it’s cultural or what, I never warmed to any of the American runners. There are various reasons why.

I’m not a runner in the way these people run. I don’t do 100 mile races. I will never want to. I like running in nature and not on asphalt but I don’t want to do it for 13 hours at a time. I really don’t give a toss if someone knocked hours off a record for some long distance race up a mountain in America because to be absolutely frank, when I run, that’s not why I run. You could argue the book was perhaps never targetted at someone like me and that’s fine; it’s just sure, at the end, there was a long race between some top America ultra runners, most of whom really did not come across as people I wanted to have a drink with, and some Mexican runners, whose sole role in the book, it appeared to me, was to be opposition. Occasionally you got a glimpse into how they felt about things, but only occasionally. Mostly what mattered is that they were there to be run against. I questioned whether it was even in the interest of their way of life for this whole shenanigan to happen.

So here’s the point: can I recommend the book or not. Typically, it’s well written. I’m also (occasionally) a fan of reading books from outside your reading home, and which may challenge you to consider matters that you don’t address on a day to day basis. I seriously hope it’s not the best book about trail running ever and if I were to say one thing, it left me wondering about the value of organising a race like the race at the centre of this book, a sort of clash of civilisations.

It’s not a straight out Avoid but I’m hard pressed to call it a must read too.

I don’t like the term “digital detox” per se but

I have to confess I took Twitter off my phone and my iPad.

The iPad was the first to fall but I questioned whether I could live without it on my phone. I’ve a lot of friends on Twitter, I’ve tended to get a lot of my news from there and lately, I seem to have found it causes me to feel angry a lot. I don’t think I’m alone here.

I also started reading books recently and on balance, I seem to feel a greater sense of achievement for reading a book, even if its on a kindle, than I do for reading 8000 tweets. For one, some tweet will turn up at least 30 times (cf, NYT piece on Tuam or the Irish Times piece on the Gate Theatre last Saturday – and no, I am not linking them). I don’t need to be told to read the same article that often.

I was kind of busy yesterday – it was Urban Sketching day in Luxembourg – so today is really the first day that I’ve had time but no twitter. I can’t be bothered retrieving the password so that I can sign into it on the browser and anyway, that’s not the point. What is the point is that I got a spectacular amount of things done around the house (I’m on my holidays) today up to and including 3 trips to the recycling centre, mostly paper it must be said as I had accumulated many magazines and newspapers. I got laundry done. I went out to lunch and browsed pinterest and tried to find out how much a pair of pointe shoes would cost me on the Repetto website.

In a way, I think Twitter has lost its way (well I would, and then you could also ask, did it ever really have a way). It’s hard for users to tune although at least you can be allowed to get tweets more or less in chronological order except the execrable decision to allow you to see when other people like other tweets, which is how I regularly get to see links to the same articles in the mass media ALL the time). They make a big deal of features people don’t want, like 280 character messages, which they then give to people like Julian Assange for who knows what reason. I don’t have 280 characters and I dislike the feeling of it being used as a class marker in Twitter like the blue tick mark is.

But the problem is, the noise to signal ratio has gotten more noisy and when it boils down to it, is my life going to be noticeably worse off if I get my news through the BBC website rather than retweeted five dozen times on Twitter? I’m not staying out of it completely but an interesting change in my life once I stopped being a developer is that I spent significantly less time at my home desktop writing code for no real reason. The net result is I will be spending less time on Twitter for the foreseeable future. I can occasionally be found on Facebook if you’re badly stuck to contact me.

St Nicolas is coming.

I arrived in Luxembourg at the start of December and got side tracked by the Christmas markets. This means I missed the Christmas section in Auchan where I do about half my grocery shopping. Also I was living in Bonnevoie at the time and did all my shopping in the Cactus over there. No recollection at all of whether they had much chocolate at all but then I was dealing with sleepless nights caused by endless drum and base from one of my then housemates.

As Halloween is gone, the supermarkets have decided The Time Has Come. I walked into Chocolate Wonderland today.

I have never seen ANYthing like it. I didn’t know Lindt had so many product lines. I cannot tell you how many different brands of marron glacées are to be acquired. There are selection boxes the like of which would put our paltry options to shame.

The only thing they really didn’t have was a tin of Roses.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I recently started cleaning out my twitter feed which means roughly that the signal to noise ratio has improved a little and the amount of Trump and Brexit has fallen somewhat. This makes me happier, and more likely to wash the ware

This also means that sometimes I see stuff that I might not have seen in the array of automated messages about weather, tides, news and you name it. Today, it was a reference to Swedish Death Cleaning. Initially I wondered was this anything like a Swedish equivalent of Rammstein getting involved in hoovering but apparently not. Per google, Swedish death cleaning is when you start clearing out your belongings before you die so your relatives don’t have to do it. It seems morbid. One of the very few people I know who live in Sweden says it does not exist.

I think myself there’s a PhD to be written about the need for native English speakers around the world to sign up for mystical foreign things like tidying (Kondo, Japan) and, well I still haven’t worked out where to put hygge (Denmark).

I sometimes wonder how much of it is linked to people not being very happy and also, wonder how happy applying the techniques described in these things will make people.

Whether it’s displacement, in other words.

I’m going to be honest and say I tend to need order in my life but I’ve suspect that comes less from reading Kondo (because I haven’t) and more from having spent nearly 15 years as a developer and still working in IT. It causes you to start thinking about things in discrete units which can be controlled.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at organisational videos, blogs and stuff over the last 3-4 years and I’ve concluded that the only motivation for that is that I didn’t feel in control of much but at least I could control that. (I thought).

I’m not sure looking at my life through the focus of considering what’ll be left for people to look for when I’m dead is all that healthy in that context. My focus lately has been on structuring a life that I enjoy rather than being regimentedly organised about everything and anything.

Addicted to a feeling

I’m attempting (with some difficulty it must be admitted) to get addicted to a couple of feelings. Just two. They are

  1. the feeling of relief that comes with having a tidy kitchen before you go to bed; and
  2. the feeling of sanctimoniousness that comes with going swimming.

My kitchen has been in chaos for two days. It’s quite impressive because I don’t have much in my kitchen at the moment. Well over 90% of what I own by way of household kitcheny goodness is in storage in Ireland and that was about 50% of what was left after I went donating and recycling before leaving Dublin. But I’ve had broken nights so things…accumulated.

It’s all tidy now and I feel FANTASTIC. If I could bottle that feeling – but you know, I could get it every night if I only ensured that every night, instead of 5 out of 7 or 2 out of 7 on a really bad week, the ware was washed and the kitchen was basically ready for use the next morning.

It’s the same with the swimming. Mostly I attempt to have a swimming bag ready to go so I can decide to go at the drop of a hat. Currently that’s not the case here because after the last swim, which was basically fantastic, I discovered that the goggles were no longer keeping out water (bad goggles – they haven’t been used so often), and I need to replace a noseclip from the kitbag too.

I don’t want to wax on about how great swimming makes me feel because actually, I am swapping up to a 50m pool at the moment so there are moments of abject failure, and near drowning, usually around 45 minutes in, but in general, I feel better for having gone swimming than for not having gone swimming. There is no point in trying to bottle that feeling either; I can get it simply by going swimming.

So I’m trying to train my brain into getting addicted to those feelings so that I automatically clear the kitchen at some point before I go to bed, and that I have literally no way of talking my way out of picking up the kitbag and leaving the house. It is still better than most things that people get addicted to all the same.