Wednesday, 24 September 2014

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

Okay, so Clare nominated me to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way. I have to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way. The rules: Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the "right" or "great" works, just the ones that have touched you...

(copying this here from Facebook, to keep it for posterity)

Five Go Off in a Caravan (Enid Blyton) - Blyton was my first reading love, and I read basically everything she wrote. This was the first though, and the first 'proper' book I read all by myself. I distinctly remember my Nan buying it for me in Luton airport.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis)
- another of the books that really got me into reading. There are sequences from this I can remember verbatim, and having re-read it recently, I think there are whole sections of description, of characters and landscapes, that are just so evocative.

The Diary of Anne Frank - Excellent on two levels. Firstly as a study of a young girl and her emotions and feelings while in a total goldfish bowl, but also as a jumping-off point into further reading about the war and holocaust. Despite the vast differences in our situations, Anne was someone I really identified with as a teenager, and I imagine I'm far from the only one.

The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
- read it for school, and loved it then. I am intending to read it again soon, and see if it's still as good, or if it was just the angsty teen in me then.

Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
- I never expected to like this, when I read it at the age of about 18. From the title I expected a boring romance aimed at older women. I couldn't have been more wrong.

On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan) - very underrated, the honesty and awkwardness of youth, and the tragedy of a misunderstanding... I cried when I finished this.

The Man In the High Castle (Philip K Dick)
- perhaps an odd choice. I only read this a few months ago, and I didn't even enjoy reading it *that* much - but the characters and scenarios have really stayed with me.

Finding Myself (Toby Litt) - one of the first books I read and was able to analyse its structure and techniques (an excellent story within a story going on, for example) as an independent adult, rather than as part of a class, and thoroughly enjoy it at the same time.

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (Helen Castor)
- a non-fiction book that re-ignited my interest in the British history of the Middle Ages.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) - just plain wonderful, frankly.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

An honest evaluation of my progress in Norwegian

It's now been about 18 months since I started learning Norwegian. Some periods of that time have been quite intensive, others have been much more passive and slow (read: lazy). After this weekend's trip to Norway, I wanted to think through my progress and evaluate honestly - and I summarise my thoughts in Norwegian below.

My main weakness has always been in conversation, and specifically listening comprehension, something I've found particularly difficult in Norwegian compared to other languages due to the range of dialects and accents present. But even though I know I've improved, and often I can understand what's being said by others, I'm still not jumping in and having those conversations in Norwegian.

I really do still have a lack of confidence, and many conversations will switch or drift into English - sometimes that's my doing, while other times the Norwegian will change to English to make things easier.

And that's the right thing to be doing. While I want to learn Norwegian, and take advantage of the opportunities presented to me in a visit to Norway, my trips there are not language-learning expeditions - they're a holiday. And I'm there to have fun with friends old and new. And the problem is that me speaking Norwegian often isn't conducive to that kind of fun - it's difficult to keep up fun, sponteneous conversation and it also risks me getting stressed, confused and frustrated.

Whether it's dancing in a club, chatting about boys or throwing ice cubes down each other's clothes, these are all things that are best done in the language that most people speak best - and that's in English. The split second of waiting for me to form a witty comeback in Norwegian can be enough to shatter the mood, and I don't want that. I'd love to be doing these things in Norwegian, with Norwegians, but at the moment I just can't do that well enough.

I really hope that the people I met at the weekend didn't think I was lazy for reverting back to English so often. I want to have a good time, and I want you to have a good time with me. And I know I certainly did.

If you're Norwegian and reading this, please comment and let me know what you think (in Norwegian!). And do please keep helping me. If the opportunity presents itself, speak to me in Norwegian. Be helpful and clear. Tolerate me a little and help me along, especially if I actually seem to be doing well, forming real sentences and not getting nervous and stuttery about it. I love speaking Norwegian with you, and I want to do it more. But I want us all to have a fun time too.

På norsk:
Før meg, vanskeligste på norsk er å høre og forstå bra, og det er spesielt vanskelig på norsk. Mer og mer kan jeg forstå hva nordmenn sier, men jeg fremdeles ikke snakker med og tilbake. Jeg mangler selvtillit, og ofte snakker vi på engelsk.

Men kanskje det er bedre. Jeg vil lære norsk, men jeg er i Norge til å ha det gøy med vennene mine - det er ferie! Og noen ganger når jeg snakker norsk er det ikke egnet å ha det gøy, fordi jeg snakker ikke nok bra, og jeg vil ikke bli frustrert!

Og nå vi er ute, og danser på en bar eller prater om gutter eller kaste is i bukser, er det bedre å snakke engelsk sammen, og ikke norsk, fordi for alle er engelsk mer naturlig i denne situasjonen. Det går bedre for alle om vi snakker engelsk. Folk vil ikke vente på meg å tenke om noe på norsk, fordi det kan ødelegge kvelden for alle. Jeg vil at jeg kunne gjøre det på norsk, men for nå kan jeg ikke, så sikkert det er bedre at vi snakker engelsk sammen.

Jeg veldig liker å snakke norsk, og vil bli bedre. Så, nordmenn, hjelp meg! Snakk med meg og vær klart! Vent litt på meg, støtte meg, spesielt om det virker at jeg snakker bra uten mange feil eller uten å bli nervøs! Men på samme tid jeg vil at vi kan alle ha det gøy - og denne helgen helt sikkert hadde jeg det veldig gøy med dere!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Glass Mill leisure centre Lewisham - swimming review

Today was the second day that the new Glass Mill leisure centre on Loampit Vale in Lewisham has been open, and I went down this morning before work to have a swim. I was later than intended, so only got to do a few laps, but thought I'd write up on my experiences for others intending to head down.

Firstly, the changing rooms. They're very big, with lots of locker space, and I can't imagine there being a time when there isn't enough space for everyone, even in busy periods. Taking my shoes off presented a pleasant surprise, as I placed my feet down expecting a freezing floor, only to discover - the floor is heated. Very nice! And everything felt very clean, as you'd expect of a new facility. Some have complained about other centres managed by Fusion, so hopefully Glass Mill will keep up their early good standards.

There are about six showers in the men's changing room, including one for disabled access, and all of them have lockable cubicle doors. The only hooks are inside the cubicles, which means you either have to leave your towel in your locker, and drip your way back to it afterwards, or bring it into the shower with you. The water in the showers is nice and hot, perhaps even slightly too hot - after a tiring swim I would have quite liked the option to stand under a cool stream. The changing rooms themselves are pleasantly warm, though obviously this is June!

The lockers. Big, and plenty of them, with a £1 deposit returned at the end. Annoyingly though, they have the same horrible wristbands for the keys as the pool at Wavelengths. They're like plastic watch straps, and with the key attached are rather big and bulky, and quite difficult to get on without nicking the skin on your wrists. I actually struggled getting mine on at all, as they're clearly new and rather stiff!

The pool itself wasn't particularly crowded, I'd estimate there were about 15-20 people in the main pool. As an aside, I appeared to be the only man in the early morning lanes session to have opted for tight trunks rather than baggy shorts. Much more comfortable, and far less drag in the water, I find.

The lane swimming was organised differently to any other lane swimming I've been to. As expected, you swim clockwise or anti-clockwise in alternate lanes, but I've never been in a situation where all eight lanes are divided - in my experience it's normal to only use every other lane divider, making four 'big' lanes in effect, which people can use to swim clockwise or anti-clockwise as instructed. People were following the instructions this morning, for the most part, but there was a bit elbow knocking as you struggle to pass fellow swimmers in the narrow lanes. I eventually managed to get a lane to myself, but most won't be that lucky. There also didn't seem to be any differentiation between slow and fast lanes, which could potentially cause issues.

One development I did like was the huge clock on one of the longer walls of the building - this means that I can see what time it is from the pool without having to walk right up to it or bring my glasses in. A lifeline to a blind-as-a-bat late-riser like me, as I can calculate to the minute exactly how long I have until I need to run for my train.

The water in the pool wasn't breath-catchingly cold, and might be too warm for some. I found it pleasant, but anyone who uses swimming as a hard work-out might find themselves sweating after their session - and speaking of which, I couldn't find a water-fountain anywhere in the building. Bring a bottle! (edit: there's a water-fountain up in the gym.)

I enjoyed swimming at Glass Mill, and will be back. It's a good pool, and not too busy (yet!) - there was plenty of room to swim freely, even with people of different abilities in the pool. The changing rooms are also a good size, with plenty of locker space. I imagine it'll get crowded in the pool at busy times as popularity grows, particularly at weekends, and it remains to be seen how well the space copes with potential demand.

I'll be at the gym later this week.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Weekend Norwegian challenge

Since I'm alone at home this weekend, I figured I'd use the time to set myself a little language-learning challenge.

So, by Sunday evening, my challenge is to know THREE Norwegian language songs by heart.

The rules:
  • the lyrics must be available online. I'm not good enough yet to understand all the lyrics by listening only, and if I do it that way I'll only end up mimicking sounds.
  • I must be able to understand what I'm singing. Understanding will make the memorisation much easier though, so this part shouldn't be an issue.
  • by Sunday, I must be able to sing the three songs from beginning to end without listening to them at the same time.

I already did this a while back with the brilliant 'Oj oj oj så glad jeg skal bli', by Kirsti Sparboe, so that can't be one of the three on the list. However, I will be trying to choose relatively easy songs I think, and will probably select ones that I already know a bit.

So, keep an eye on this post - I'll be updating it with my progress throughout the weekend! And do post suggestions!

I've chosen two of the three songs and have done a bit of work on them.

Adieu, from Eurovision 1982, is a song I already know quite well, in two different versions, the original and the cover by Kurt Nilsen. It's actually been very interesting for me to hear both, because of Kurt Nilsen's distinctive dialect differences, but I shall be trying to learn the original!

The second song is Intet er nytt under solen from Eurovision 1966. A bit of a cheat, as it's pretty short, but it has great lyrics, which I really want to learn.

I've done it! Learned those two songs! I can sing them both without looking at the lyrics - and I recorded it to prove it! Listen below. You'll have to take my word that I'm not reading the lyrics though!

And finally, the third song is done:

This one was much harder in a way - I know it less, but also Britt sings with quite a strong dialect. I didn't want to just copy her pronunciation, and would rather fit it with the way I speak Norwegian, which is much closer to the bokmål standard. I've tried that here, but it's much harder without a model to copy, so there may be more pronunciation slips this time.

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Save Lewisham Hospital - but don't politicise it

Yesterday I took part in the march to Save Lewisham Hospital. It was a great occasion, with around 20,000 members of the local community walking from Lewisham town centre, down past the hospital to a rally point at Mountsfield Park, where numerous speakers took the stage to speak about the campaign.

It was so good to see so many people in the demonstration, many of whom were so passionate about the hospital that has formed a central part of the community for many years. Particularly inspiring were the children born at the hospital, and the people whose lives had been saved by this vital facility. It was such an inspiring feeling to be marching with thousands of ordinary people who all felt the same way, singing songs to get behind this hospital and to save the NHS that so many of us hold dear.

What I didn't enjoy was the political co-opting of the protest by some groups and individuals. Early in the march I got stuck near one man who insisted on telling everyone in the vicinity "you all voted for Boris Johnson back in May, and where is he now??" Er, no, we really didn't. I quickly moved as far away from him as possible. I similarly tried to stay away from another loud man with a loudhailer who kept trying to turn chants of 'Save the NHS' and 'It Must Not Close' into some kind of Occupy movement. Happily, he didn't seem to getting a huge amount of response.

There was also, as might be expected, a Socialist Worker Party contingent present, and many of the banners bore their logos and slogans. This is something I'm particularly not a fan of, partly because it feels like a larger organisation co-opting something local for their own purposes, but also because it gives those against the campaign more fuel. Politicians including Nadine Dorries have already used their presence as a reason to dismiss the campaign, and it's not something we can afford to have happen.

That said, the demo was fully peaceful. For all there was a small number of people who clearly wanted to make it political, there was nobody being aggressive or rude, and the majority of attendees were there simply because the hospital is a part of their local community they care passionately about. It was so good to see a local community coming together in this way, and walking down the middle of Lewisham High Street with a mass of people chanting "Save Lewisham Hospital, Save the NHS", while cars going the other way sounded their horns in support, is something I will remember for a very, very long time.