The wait is over, time now to lose the weight

Dumbbells

Between 2006–2007 I lost six inches (15 cm) off my waist, through a combination of changing what I ate, lifting weights, and regular cycling. My motivation was to get fit in anticipation of our IVF treatment working and us having children; we now have three.

Fast forward seven years and sadly I’ve put it all back on again. A combination of being on the parent-of-twins’ sleep deprivation programme, two back injuries (from lifting babies and pushing buggies), two neck injuries (what happens when twins jump onto your head from behind), and last year’s episode of meningitis.

Back in September my GP told me not to push myself: meningitis takes it out of you. He predicted that my stamina might return in January or February of this year. Now we’re approaching the end of February I feel it’s time to start working myself a little harder. The fact that it’s Lent — traditionally a time of increased discipline — should also help.

My plan is that I’m going to start gently and gradually build up my level of fitness. My immediate ground rules are:

  • Drink more water
  • Go to bed earlier (sleep is really important)
  • No chocolate
  • No fizzy drinks
  • Lift weights (dumb bells) 2–3 times a week
  • Cycling 1–2 times a week

I have to admit to feeling a little nervous. I know that I’ve done this before, but back then I was younger and I didn’t so easily experience the back and neck pain that I can now. I’ve never really been good at pacing myself, it’s time for a crash course (I guess, without actually crashing).

I’ll report back with my progress.

The boys ‘helping’ me with my studies

Boys on the desk
Reuben, Joshua and Isaac ‘helping’ me with my studies

 

For the next few days I’m on a course at work looking at DSDM Atern agile project management. It’s certified, so I have exams on Wednesday morning (foundation) and Thursday afternoon (practitioner).

When I got home last night, after dinner, I decided to sneak upstairs and get about 45 minutes of study in before the boys had to go to bed.

It turns out Reuben, Joshua, Isaac and monkey had different ideas and came to ‘help’ me study.

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)
NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)

Last weekend I travelled down to Sheffield to meet up with about 40 other alumni of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain ()for a weekend of singing, reminiscing and a lot of laughter.

Last year we had our first get-together and concert in Spitalfields in London, and decided that this year we ought to meet in “the north”.

Friday

I arrived in Sheffield on Friday afternoon, after a five hours’ train journey south to reach the north; remarkably there was a direct, cross-country train from Cupar to Sheffield.

After buying a hat (to replace the one I accidentally left in my car in Cupar) and having been accosted by a couple of “chuggers” both on my way to and from Marks & Spencer, I made my way up the hill to Broomhill to check in at the Rutland Hotel on Glossop Road.

Rutland Weekend Wallpaper
Rutland Weekend wallpaper

The room was… interesting. A kind of modern, 70s retro with a photograph of a giant woman’s head on the wall behind the bed. Other friends staying there reported similar photographs in their rooms. I guess you can never really feel lonely in those rooms.

In the evening I met up with my friend Simon (aka Goose) and we took a walk over to the Ranmoor area of Sheffield to meet up with more friends (Mike and Rachel, Duncan, Simon W) at the Ranmoor Inn on Fulwood Road, and yet another friend (Sworrell) at the Ranmoor Tandoori a few doors down.

What fun and jolly japes we had. Although, the chicken dopiaza wasn’t nearly as good as from our local Indian restaurant (the signature onions were not cooked enough). I finally crawled into bed around 01:30.

Saturday

Rehearsals began shortly after noon, in St Mark’s church, Broomhill which was conveniently right next door to the hotel.

It was so good to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve not seen for 15 or 20 years. And yet we just picked up from where we left off, and soon the years disappeared and there we all were like teenagers again sitting in rehearsals… and misbehaving!

I sat on the back row (of course!) between my good friend Andy and a guy called Will who left the National Youth Training Choir last year. It was so good that we had alumni there from all eras of the choir, from when it started in 1983 right to last year.

Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal
Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal

There is something wonderful about creating music as a choir, creating something out of nothing using only our voices. There is something intimately personal about that because our voices are so unique to each of us, and in the choir we listen to one another and blend our voices together in music. And there is something magical about the sound that NYCGB makes.

We rehearsed for about four hours and I must have smiled and laughed through most of those 240 minutes. The small, informal concert that we put on at the end of the day (which I meant to record but erm… forgot that I needed to press record TWICE on the Zoom H2 digital recorder), even with so little rehearsal, still sounded better than every other choir that I’ve sung in… even when we busked elements of it (I’m looking at you, page 7 of “Butterfly”).

Our programme:

  1. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land—Elgar
  2. L’amour de Moi—arr. Swingle
  3. Wie Liegt die stadt—Mauersberger
  4. Sourwood Mountain—Rutter
  5. Three Shakespeare Songs—Vaughan Williams
  6. And So It Goes—Billy Joel arr. The King’s Singers
  7. Butterfly—Makaroff
  8. The Bluebird—CV Stanford
  9. Shenandoah—arr. Erb

Songs rehearsed but not performed

  • Hymn to St Cecilia—Britten
  • Evening Song—Kodaly

In the evening we piled back to the Rutland for dinner, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but at the end of the day it wasn’t about the food but the company. We inevitably retired to the bar for more chat, memories, and laughter and I finally found my bed sometime after 02:00.

More photos are on the NYCGB alumni site.

Sunday

Survivors' breakfast
Survivors’ breakfast

The following morning the survivors’ met for a hearty breakfast before returning to our own particular corners of the UK.

Goose kindly dropped me at Sheffield station where I caught the train to Edinburgh… and stood most of the way due to a lack of seats. Or rather, it had a lot of seats—it’s just there were other people sitting in them.

Many thanks

A huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and such a success. Thanks to Ben Parry and the staff at NYCGB HQ, particularly Emily. Thanks to Mike Jeremiah for his local knowledge and helping finalise the venue. And finally thanks to all the alumni who gave up a weekend to relive their youth.

Next year…

Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again next year. I propose back in London. Maybe we could even get the Royal Albert Hall. It would be fun to perform there again.

Backpack hack

Cabin Max Tallinn
Cabin Max Tallinn – Flight Approved Backpack for EasyJet & BA hand luggage

About a year ago I bought myself a new backpack, the Cabin Max Tallinn, for about £25. The reviews were favourable (average of 4/5 stars) and when it arrived I was delighted with it: mainly because it was more compact than the large rucksack that I bought for a trip to California about a decade ago.

I packed it and headed off to Glasgow and then London to seek my fame and fortune attend the first NYCGB Alumni choir singing day. It was a timely opportunity to road test the bag.

That four day trip identified two main issues. This wasn’t quite the bag that I thought it was.

However, I don’t like throwing stuff away, and I don’t like sending stuff back because it’s not 100% what I want it to be. This bag was about 95% the way there. I like the whole computer hacker culture (not to be confused with the illegal ‘cracker’) so…

Open zipped pocket

Zipped pocket that I've now sewn up
Zipped pocket that I’ve now sewn up

The first issue was that in the middle compartment there was a small, meshed pocket with a zip. I looked at that and thought it was the perfect size to store a passport, for example.

There was one small snag: the top of the zip wasn’t sewn down. So even when the zip was closed you could still slide items into the meshed pocket beneath the zip.

Who designed that?! It was like a shirt pocket with a redundant zip sewn into the top seam.

I wrote to Cabin Max and asked if this was a fault or a feature. It turned out to be a feature. I told them this was ridiculous and whoever it was I corresponded with agreed and said that she would pass on my feedback.

So I got my sewing kit out and completed the job: I sewed the zip down so that when the zip was closed it was… well, closed.

No inner straps

Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps
Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps

It wasn’t until a later trip last year that I realised there was another problem: if I didn’t pack the back completely full (as I had done for the London trip) then my clothes and whatever else I put in the large, main compartment just rattles around in there.

What this bag was missing, that every other rucksack or suitcase I own has, were straps inside that would allow me to tie down whatever I place into the main compartment.

So today I added my own. Having bought a couple of quick release tie-down straps online last week—the kind that people use for strapping things to their golf caddies (I believe)—this evening I measured them up (using the straps in my giant rucksack as a template) glued them in and sewed them down. Job done.

This weekend I’m heading to Sheffield for the second NYCGB alumni concert. I’ll report back how I get on with my two alterations to my bag.

Migration complete… but where are the images?

Trello board tracking the migration of my websites
Trello board tracking the migration of my websites

For much of the last two weeks I’ve focussed on two things:

  1. Redesign my website (garethjmsaunders.co.uk)
  2. Migrate that site, this blog, my SEC digital calendar site, and the NYCGB alumni website to a new web host (SiteGround).

I’ve managed to complete the project three days early… well, kind of.

WordPress… we have a problem

One unforeseen snag has been to do with the media (images, PDFs, zip files, etc.) on this blog.

I’ve been using WordPress since version 0.7 in 2003. During that time I’ve been uploading image after image, and as WordPress changed the way that it stored images I’ve experimented with different ways of organising it—even simply uploading the images to my server via FTP. I must have tried about four or five different arrangements.

For the most part, though, I’ve been uploading files directly into /wp-content. Occasionally I’d switch on the “organise my uploads into month- and year-based folders” option.

In short the organisation of media on this blog has been a mess, and I’ve always shied away from addressing it because… well, it worked.

When I came to consider migrating this blog from Heart Internet to SiteGround I did think about the media: would it be a problem if I simply transferred everything over as is and sort it out there.

I was a fairly tight schedule (it had to be completed by 20 January so that my Heart Internet hosting account wasn’t renewed) and I reckoned that since it worked fine at Heart Internet then it should work at SiteGround.

I was wrong.

cPanel and the mystery of the 1,998 files

SiteGround uses cPanel. As Wikipedia explains, “cPanel is a Linux-based web hosting control panel that provides a graphical interface and automation tools designed to simplify the process of hosting a web site.”

cPanel uses Pure-FTPd, a free (BSD licence) FTP server which by default shows up to 2,000 files in each folder. I found that out after the event tucked away in the cPanel documentation.

I had 3,688 files plus 10 directories in my /wp-content folder and I couldn’t figure out why it would only display 1,998 files and the previously  visible directories, such as /plugins and /themes had disappeared.

So…

I am manually working my way through the media library. Uploading files into the appropriate /wp-content/uploads/<year>/<month> directories and updating the database to tell WordPress where the files are.

For those files that were uploaded before there was such a good media library I’m using the Add From Server plugin to quickly import media into the WordPress uploads manager.

This is going to take a while, so please bear with me.

Update

Monday 19 January 2015

I’m making good progress already. I’ve fixed 360/700 images in the media library. That’s 51%, just over the halfway mark.

I’m finding it strangely satisfying getting this sorted out. A bit of website gardening.

My albums of 2014

Album covers 2014
Album covers 2014

Since having children my album buying has decreased quite considerably—who would have thought.

Another factor is my 195 metal CDs project which sees me reviewing a different album every week—CDs that I got for free a few years ago on Freecycle. I did wonder if I was going to need to dip into that opus to make up my top 10 for 2014 but it turns out that I bought—or made,or obtained—more than enough.

Top 15 artists (Last.fm)

Before launching into my top 10 though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year and now that my Android phone can ‘scrobble’ tracks to Last.fm it’s much more accurate than ever before. I just need to get my car hooked up and the circle will be complete.

Top 15 artists over the last 12 months
Top 15 artists over the last 12 months

The chart is quite predictable, although I’m surprised that Iron Maiden are at #2, and I would have expected both Porcupine Tree and Lamb of God to rank higher, but perhaps I’ve played them more in the car than anywhere else.

  1. Opeth (356 tracks played)
  2. Iron Maiden (285)
  3. Testament (269)
  4. Exodus (236)
  5. Apocalyptica (231)
  6. Metallica (212)
  7. Mastodon (205)
  8. Slayer (199)
  9. Machine Head (173)
  10. Kyrbgrinder (164)
  11. Porcupine Tree (161)
  12. Lamb of God (160)
  13. Celtic Frost (159)
  14. Faith No More (155)
  15. Slipknot (154)

The notable artist there is Kyrbgrinder who were from my 195 metal CDs project. I knew that I’d played them a lot, but I would never have thought that they’d rank as my 10th most played artist of 2014.

But then take a look at this chart of the top 15 most-played tracks during 2014:

Top 15 tracks played during 2014
Top 15 tracks played during 2014

Kyrbgrinder features in seven of those 15 slots, as does Russian Circles (another of my favourite 195 metal CDs this year).

10. NYCGB Alumni—Live at Spitalfields, London

NYCGB Alumni—Spitalfields, London

I’m going to start my countdown remarkably with an album that I’m singing on. In January I travelled down to London for the inaugural NYCGB Alumni singing day at Christ Church, Spitalfields.

This was the first time that I’d sung properly since the choir’s 25th anniversary concert in Birmingham in 2008 and it was blissful to be with such dear friends again and to sing such fantastic music, particularly “O Magnum Mysterium” by Lauridsen. I wept when I heard the recording for the first time. (During the performance I was so focussed on sight reading the score that I didn’t appreciate the overall piece.

You can download the concert for free on the NYCGB alumni website.

9. Pink Floyd—The Endless River

Pink Floyd—The Endless River

I’ve listened to this album quite a few times and while I do appreciate what David Gilmour and Nick Mason have done, and have done very cleverly, there is a part of me that is still a little disappointed.

I loved The Division Bell (1994) and as many of these tracks came from the same sessions I was hoping for something… more. The lack of vocals though, except on the closing track “Louder than words” is probably what I’m missing.

It is lovely, lovely, lovely though to hear my friend Louise Marshall on backing vocals.

8. Triptykon—Melana Chasmata

Triptykon—Melana Chasmata

Celtic Frost were one of my favourite bands growing up in the 80s. Triptykon is latest project from Celtic Frost founder Tom G. Warrior. And it’s heavy; very heavy. And very dark.

I’ve probably not given this album enough time, it’s definitely one I need to listen to more in 2015.

7. Godflesh—Decline and Fall

Godflesh—Decline and Fall

This was the year that I was supposed to see Godflesh live. They are one of my all-time favourite bands and their album Streetcleaner (1989) is one of the best albums to code to.

Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Justin Broadrick disbanded Godflesh in 2002 to focus on his new shoegazing/ambient outfit Jesu. But he and G.C. Green (bass) are back together and as Godflesh is on my ‘bucket list’ this was the year to see them. They even played Glasgow twice! But marital difficulties and then viral meningitis got in the way… so it will need to be next year.

Decline and Fall (2014) is a return to form for Godflesh, and this EP was designed as taster for the full album A World Lit Only by Fire (2014) released in October. I have still to buy that one.

6. Machine Head—Bloodstones and Diamonds

Machine Head—Bloodstone and Diamonds

This is a late addition to my MP3 ranks given that I only bought it on Boxing Day. But at #9 in my top artists of 2014 I’ve been listening to a lot of Machine Head this year, and this is a rocking album.

I don’t think it’s as good as Unto the Locust (2011) or The Blackening (2007) but with tracks like “And now we die” and “Night of long knives” there are certainly some cracking tunes on that platter.

5. Exodus—Blood In, Blood Out

EXODUS—BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT

This year Exodus parted company with their vocalist of the last 11 years, which is a shame as I really liked Rob Dukes’ voice—to be honest I think Exodus recorded their best work with him.

This album, with the ‘classic line-up’ vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza back on the microphone isn’t their greatest, but it’s still pretty darned good.

With guitarist Gary Holt now splitting his time between Exodus and Slayer (following the sad death of founding Slayer member Jeff Hanneman in 2013) it will be interesting to see how that influences the output and activity of both bands.

4. Slipknot— .5: The Gray Chapter

Slipknot—.5: The Gray Chapter

Following the death of founding member, bassist, Paul Gray in 2010 there was some doubt whether Slipknot would ever record and release another album; a doubt that was reinforced again when drummer Joey Jordison was ejected from the band in 2013.

But here it is, dedicated to Paul Gray and it’s a crushing album of riffs and delicate melodies.

3. Opeth—Pale Communion

Opeth—Pale Communion

Following Heritage (2011) which saw Opeth move away from their death metal roots and embrace a more 1970s prog rock path, Pale Communion (2014) follows a similar mellow and retro route.

I know that Opeth have come under fire for their dramatic change of style, compared by some to Spinal Tap’s middle-life-crisis “Jazz Odyssey”, but I rather love it. It still contains the light-and-dark twists and turns of any other Opeth album.

This album is heavy in a different way to Blackwater Park (2001) or Ghost Reveries (2006) but if on their next one Mikael Åkerfeldt happened to stomp on his distortion pedal once or twice then I’m sure it would propel that album to the number one slot that year.

2. Mastodon—Once More ‘Round the Sun

Mastodon—Once More 'Round the Sun (2014)
Mastodon—Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)

This has been in many ways my go-to album of 2014. It’s the album that I’ve gone to sleep listening to more than any other, and it features my most-listened to song of the year: the opening track ‘Tread lightly’.

This isn’t the Mastodon of Remission (2002) or Leviathan (2004). This is a more laid back and melodic Mastodon, more progressive rock than metal throughout but it is still great music. (Even if the album cover is freaky and gives my children nightmares!)

1. Johnny Flynn—Detectorists

Johnny Flynn-Detectorists

This folk-song theme-tune from the BBC Four mini drama Detectorists written by Mackenzie Crook rather took me by surprise. The writing and acting was exquisite, the theme song was short but sublime.

I wish there had been more—an album—rather than a single song but I’ve listened to this one track over and over again. Last.fm ranks it as joint #14 this year.

In what has been a generally very difficult year, it’s nice to have this gentle, romantic song as its counterpoint.

Bonus: Reuben Saunders—Oh I am a spaceman!

Reuben Saunders—Oh I am a spaceman!

A special word must be given to the song “Oh I am a spaceman!” that my eldest son Reuben and I wrote back in May.

My wife Jane was away and while his younger brothers played a LEGO game on my PC Reuben asked if we could write a song.

Unsure about what we’d produce I said yes: at least it could be great fun. I had no idea that we’d produce something so fun. Most of the ideas were Reuben’s, I just shaped them into a song format and gave it a simple tune.

I’m in the process of illustrating the song to turn it into a self-published book for Reuben. But don’t tell him: shhhh! That’ll be a nice surprise for him next year.

You can hear our demo of the song (featuring Reuben on vocals and percussion) on SoundCloud.