The Law of the Changing Room

Yesterday was my 21st birthday and (without wanting to put a downer on things) I pretty much feel the same, just one day older… The peril of a summer birthday struck once again though, in that very few friends were available to pop round. In spite of that, we had a pretty lovely few days! Sophie, my sister, is au pairing in Catterick at the minute, but was up for the weekend, so on Sunday we took a trip to the Forbidden Corner as a family.

The Forbidden Corner - strangest place in the world!

Bills itself as the strangest place in the world (and that was before this lot got there…)

If you’ve not been, I’d thoroughly recommend visiting! It’s basically a big garden with a network of mazes, paths and underground tunnels, where the aim is to tick off as many of the sights as possible in the guidebook. There are a few surprises along the way though (and quite a few naked statues…), so it’s a good few hours of fun for any age!

On my birthday itself we were just at home. Soph had been dropped off at work, so it was just mum, dad and me. Got some cracking presents, for which I’m very grateful (the ukulele will come in particularly handy in China), and spent the afternoon with a few more family members and some cake. Had a lovely meal out in the evening, including the requisite embarrassment of ice cream with sparklers and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the restaurant.

Another year over with, and life goes on…

I’ve been up to the gym this morning and over the past few years I’ve noticed something pretty spooky about the changing rooms there. I’d like to know whether this is a universal thing, just specific to my gym, or in fact a figment of my imagination. No matter which changing room you pick, and how small a corner you try to hide yourself away in, it is always the spot chosen by at least seven or eight other people on your return. That’s not all though; more people seem to be drawn to the same area, like bees to a honeypot, and join the throng of changing, showering and grooming males.

I mean, the benches are probably big enough for four, and to me, common sense would dictate that I’d choose the most quiet area. What, then, possesses someone to spread their towel (and thereby mark their territory) over the smallest corner of a bench, when there’s a completely empty room next door?! (See below picture…)

A completely empty changing room...

A completely empty changing room…

Anyway, you’ve probably seen my countdown timer ticking away on the right. Just over three weeks to go – excitement is building and plans are coming together! I’ve had most of my injections and I’ve been acclimatising to the Hainan climate with some unusually tropical days here in Sunderland. It’s still a daunting prospect, but once the timer reaches zero, it’ll be counting down from ten months again until I return… SCARY!

Until next time!


Nidd Hall

What a lovely place!

I had a great time being an old man. Pace of life was so steady here, yet I still managed to be really busy and get lots done. Some photos are below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Waiting Game

Those of you who know me well will know that I’m absolutely useless at doing nothing. With that in mind, being confined to the house waiting for two signed-for deliveries yesterday was my idea of hell. Especially when the delivery is reliant on the efficiency of the postal service… [Ed.: You may have guessed, they didn’t arrive yesterday, and nor have they done so as yet today. Oh, wait! Sod’s law that – they’ve just arrived!]

Some people may see this as a perfect excuse, an opportunity to do absolutely nothing for two days without having to find an excuse or reason to do so. Not I, though. My day looked somewhat like this:

Football Manager stint for half an hour, look out the window (still no postal van). Head to kitchen, kettle on, drink a coffee. Do a bit of work for an hour interspersed with two more glances between the blinds. Listen to some music. Look out the window again. Decide that I’ve had enough looking out the window, so go outside with the slackline (watching for a delivery like a hawk). Get bored of slacklining and legs begin to ache. Come inside. Start feeling a bit depressed. Stare at driveway for about ten minutes. Another coffee. Nope. Not happening. Get ready for going out at 6:30pm, resigned to a wasted day.

Unfortunately, Football Manager is quite addictive, so I’ve done a bit more of that today. But in the meantime I also made the mistake of telling mum I was bored; as a result, I was presented with a list as long as my arm of jobs to do in the garden. I’m not going to lie, I’m no Alan Titchmarsh, but I thought I did a marvellous job. No doubt there will be some fault that my untrained eye can’t spot, but I’m happy with my work…

Splendidly edged, strimmed and cut, with some trees chopped for good measure.

Splendidly edged, strimmed and cut, with some trees chopped for good measure.

Another good time-passer for me is the gym. I headed there while The Ashes was on the TV last week, just when England took the eighth wicket in the first innings. I said to myself, “Right Jack. Do some exercise until the Aussies are bowled out.” Fatal error. We soon took the ninth, at which point I thought that I’d got away with a short session. 98 of Ashton Agar’s finest – and two hours – later, I crawled out and faced the rather sweaty cycle home (which seemed much longer than the journey there…)

I guess writing this blog was another method of passing time without looking out of the window. Now, though, there’s no need to write much more as the parcels have arrived. Sorry about that.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on my Photo-a-day album too, to see what I’m up to without having to read stuff like this…

Bowls Anonymous

Right, here goes. I’m Jack, and I play bowls.

Club Pairs 2012

Admission is the first step towards recovery.

That’s it – I’ve admitted it. Things have been a bit quiet here this week, which isn’t a bad thing – I was feeling absolutely shattered after about six weeks of non-stop stuff. So in the last ten days or so, I’ve returned to my old-man-in-a-young-man’s-body shell – I’ve spent more time on the bowling green than in the gym, and I’ve agreed to drive the grandparents to a hotel in Harrogate for a couple of days’ holiday next week. And yes, the hotel has a bowling green, driving range and free newspapers; I will be continuing my old-man-ness there…

I've even solidified my status as an immortal of the DIY world!

I’ve even solidified my status as an immortal of the DIY world!

Back to the bowls. I’m no longer afraid to admit that I absolutely love it. People think it’s an old man’s game, but no – the top players tend to be younger, and the Commonwealth Games ladies’ champion from 2010 was in the final year of her degree when she won it. Guess I’ve got a couple of years left in me then!

So I’ve been playing pretty well this year, making my way to the Club Championship final in a couple of weeks’ time. But, along with everything else in my life, consistency is proving a major obstacle. Example: last Monday, I had a competition game at 2pm. Bowled like a dream, and won 21-5 – a metaphorical greyhound out of the starting blocks, who never let up. Returned to the club at 6 for a team game, and couldn’t do a thing right. Getting the wrong bias was a particular lowlight…

Getting the wrong bias. Every bowler’s nightmare. It has no comparison in sport, I feel. Firstly, I should explain that a bowl has a biased side, marked by a small ring in the middle of it. It’s part of my ritual: right foot on mat, pick a line, crouch, focus on the line, visualise, check the bias (or not), backswing, and release. Anyhow, back to the point – scoring an own goal; getting a golden duck; putting your tee shot in the water on the first hole. All over in a flash. But no, getting the wrong bias is a slower death; the wood veers off steadily, in about 20 seconds of sheer, laborious embarrassment onto the next rink. The whispers can be heard: “How’s he in the final of the Championship?” The guy on the next rink kicks my bowl back to our patch, where it is duly placed on the wall off the green. My skip (captain) duly adds: “Wrong bias, mate”. Helpful.

More consistency required, I feel.

In other news, I’m playing some cricket, doing some proofreading, and spending some time in the gym – all pretty mundane stuff, as I’m winding down for six weeks before heading off to China. Slacklining provides another distraction, though: got my new kit last week and duly performed a near-perfect frontflip, caught on film by my darling sister for your enjoyment.

New kit!

New kit!

Injury caused by new kit...

Injury caused by new kit…

Field Report from Hannover

Henrike, my research supervisor, asked me to write a narrative, blog-style field report from my research trip for university and school documentation. Given that it was in a blog style, I thought it made sense to post a copy here too…

Name: Jack Deverson

Agent No.: B0031095

Mission: to research where, when and how Kurt Schwitters first learned English; also to ascertain how his language use developed over his lifetime 

On 9th June 2013, I was sent on a university research mission to Hannover with the brief as above. The first stage of my brief involved spending a fortnight at the Schwitters Archive in Hannover’s Sprengel Museum, after which I returned to Newcastle to continue my research for a further three weeks.

As pre-reading to prepare myself for the field, I had been given a copy of Gwendolen Webster’s Schwitters biography. I gathered a few leads from this. Firstly, and possibly most importantly, I discovered that his family was “neither proletarian nor middle class” and sent the young Schwitters to the Realgymnasium in Hannover (equivalent of an English grammar school). There, less emphasis was placed on classics than in a traditional Gymnasium, but education was solid in other subjects – among which were foreign languages. Secondly, that Schwitters would reply to his critics’ questions in their own language, even if they had been asked in German. This was apparently a case of “adapting himself to the query” and “casting doubts in the questioner’s mind” (whatever that actually means…). There was also strong written evidence of his natural flair for languages, though, including a letter written to a contact in a “bewildering mixture of French, English, German and Dutch” (the latter of which he learned especially to recite his poems while on a tour of the Netherlands). As well as particular grammatical points that he seemingly found difficult, I finally read of the so-called Hutchinson University, which was a cultural and academic programme set up by the various ‘enemy aliens’ (or foreigners, specifically German-speakers) in the camp where Schwitters was interned on the Isle of Man.

As well-prepared as I could be, I left for Hannover, armed only with a packet of wine gums and an electric toothbrush, given to me by my research supervisor on the advice: “use them wisely”.

There, I begun by meeting Isabel Schulz on day one, who was to oversee my research in the Sprengel Museum’s Schwitters Archive. I was given a snazzy red card, which granted me access to the behind-the-scenes areas of the museum – very secret agent-like, I thought… But no, I was brought firmly back down to earth on day two, when I begun looking through all of Schwitters’ English letters for interesting language usage, and on day three, which saw me scanning potentially important secondary sources. Not all the excitement it’s cracked up to be, this detective-type work…

Anyhow, my trail began to warm up on the Thursday, when I looked to follow up on the lead about the Realgymnasium. It turns out this is now known as the Tellkampfschule, and much useful information that would have been was most likely destroyed during WWII. Fortunately, a nice chap called Detlef Kasten in the City Library was happy to help. I met him on the Friday, by which time he had dug out some school yearbooks from the early 1900s, covering just about the whole of the decade I needed, apart from the year Schwitters left – bummer. They were still of use, though, as they contained timetables and curriculums/curricula (delete as appropriate, depending on your level of pedantry) from each subject, divided according to year group. Useful. But was there any way of finding the source from the year I desperately needed?

After a couple of hours spent on the phone and email, and a few dead ends, at about 2pm on the following Tuesday I finally got in touch with the right person at the Town Archive. Yes! They had the yearbook I needed! Only one catch: they were only open to new readers every Tuesday, and only until 5pm. Running shoes and vest donned, I traversed the city centre and its perilous one-way streets and trams, making it to the archive in 25 minutes flat. That gave me roughly two hours to get through the box of books they’d prepared for me, which I duly did (finishing about six minutes before closure). All in a day’s research.

The next two days, I was somewhat under the radar, honing my own language skills through translating and transcribing all of the letters I’d scanned from the Schwitters Archive. This was a fruitful task, as I was able to get through about 16 letters in the day and a half I had available, and Isabel Schulz was pleased with my work.

Soon enough though, it was time to part from my host family (who had been ever so kind in their hospitality) and return to Newcastle, which is where I’m writing this report from now. My tasks will continue in the next two weeks, mainly centring around reading and scanning some more secondary literature, as well as hunting down the Gesenius-Regel book used at the Realgymnasium to teach English. Oh, and trying to figure out what the electric toothbrush was for. (The wine gums didn’t survive the field mission.)

Over and out.