graculus: (hero)
  • Not finish last in an open competition (November 2017)
  • Get points off every opponent in my poule in an open competition (November 2017)
  • Get at least 7 points in a DE fight in an open competition (November 2017)
  • Win a poule fight in an open competition (March 2018)
  • Win a DE fight in an open competition (November 2018)
  • Beat M, who has been my nemesis every time we've fought (January 2019)
  • Win a DE fight in an open competition by at least 5 points
  • National ranking top 200
  • Sweep the poule (win every fight)
  • Win two DE fights in an open competition
  • National ranking top 150
  • Finish top half of a competition with 16 or more entrants (April 2019)
  • National ranking top 100
  • Qualify for the GB Cup for my region
  • Get a medal in an open competition
  • graculus: (oh please)
    Yes, it's another one of those.

    Currently off work for the Easter holidays after a flurry of exams and enjoying the lovely weather - hopefully this will continue, as I'm off to Scotland in a few days and another boat-based survey. The forecast is mostly good and I have a new pair of wellies after my old ones split during the last trip. I'm spending a couple of days up there before we sail out, partly because I wanted to visit Kilmartin Glen, which is a massive collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age standing stones, stone circles and rock art. And there's also a site where beaver have been reintroduced in the same area, so I'm hoping to spot them too!

    Fencing continues to be very up and down but I've managed to tick off another of my wishlist - this weekend I fenced my first veterans competition and managed to come 6th out of 17. I missed out on getting a medal by one hit, as I lost my round of 8 fight 10-9. We have the national veterans championships in a few weeks, so I'm feeling like I won't be completely out of my depth in that competition after all.

    I've been offered a bit of a change for September, as I've been asked to teach an evening class twice a week. That means a move from two days teaching morning and afternoon to two teaching afternoon and evening - there's a few hours between the two and it doesn't interfere with the nights I fence, so it doesn't really make a great deal of difference to me (not having commitments around children and so on, like some of the other folks I work with). Anyway, we'll see how it all looks when the timetable gets finalised in a month or so.

    Lots to do before I head north, as I've spent an entire week being a sloth and it's been lovely. :)
    graculus: (Default)
    Sorry folks (the few who're still reading this), I'm not sure what happened to January at all as I'd been meaning to post an update but it just didn't happen. So, let's talk about life and all that...

    First off, I now am significantly poorer but also have central heating that actually works. This, along with a big fleecy jumper, has been a godsend on a few days here but so far the winter has been pretty mild in this part of the UK. A few miles further north, where it gets hilly, there was snow for a while but I've literally had just a sprinkling here and nothing more. Still, I'm completely sold on the concept of heated windscreens for cars, as by the time I've scraped the other windows, the screen is clear and I'm ready to go.

    I did some work for the local university but not as much as previously, due to my other commitments. We're reaching the tipping point there between 'this money is useful to pay for my expensive hobby' versus 'I hate getting up at the buttcrack of dawn' - the next big lot of exams isn't quite so bad because at least it would be daylight when I got up, but we'll see how I feel after that.

    Work trundles on as usual, except for the fact that I now have two job-sharing bosses instead of one single one. The single one has been talking for years about retirement anyway and the appointment was from inside the team, so someone who knows how we work and doesn't want to fix a system that's not broken. That seems to be the more senior management's job, which is one reason I didn't put myself forward for a minor job enhancement opportunity that came along recently - extra work and the hours to do it but otherwise just what looks like a lot of hassle. I'd rather spend my time and effort getting as good at what I'm doing now as possible than try and take on more, especially potentially-stressful more.

    I'm still fencing at two clubs, which is working out well even though I was so cold at one of them last week I had to give up early and throw on multiple layers instead. The epee coach is back, though there's still things she can't do, but I cooled down so much during the group lesson that I just couldn't get going again after and felt really rough. This week (tonight) is looking like being much warmer so I need to get my practice in, as I've got a competition coming up this weekend.

    I'm still creeping up the national rankings and am just outside the top 200 in the country, so a good performance at this would hit another target for me if I jump inside that bracket. I'm massively inconsistent, though - had another competition a few weeks back with 2 rounds of poules where I did quite well in round 1 but failed to stick the landing (to mix sports metaphors). However, even the worst competition performances tend to come with silver linings; I finally beat the woman who's been my nemesis for a while and who I often end up fighting in poules - we started fencing around the same time and she's at least 20 years younger than me but this time I absolutely thrashed her.

    I also need to get on with planning my holidays for this year. I've got an attending ticket for WorldCon in Dublin but haven't sorted anything else out yet - the hotels are fiendishly expensive, making Helsinki look quite cheap, which was a bit of a revelation. I also want to visit a few other places in the country (neolithic stuff, mostly) and would also love to get over to the west coast, but need to really sit and figure out what's realistic. If it weren't for WorldCon, I definitely wouldn't be there in August, which is crazy tourist time anyway. I'm also thinking about doing another survey at Easter but might run out of time to organise that, we'll see. It's half term soon, so I can do some proper planning then.

    The weasels are fat and healthy, with big winter coats and shiny eyes. I need to get some current pics of them and spam everyone as they are so pretty. Hard to believe they'll be two in April!
    graculus: (smirk)
    One of the things I didn't know, but probably should have realised, when I took up fencing was just how small the sport is. Which is a good thing at times, when I get to see people at different competitions and chat with them, but can also lead to all sorts of shenanigans where it's who you know that matters.

    This definitely goes on when it comes to picking teams for regional competitions - there's different age groups and it's fairly easy to guess just how non-transparent the process is for getting onto one of those teams. The only exception, to be honest, is the veterans where it ends up being 'are you over 40 and know which end of the weapon is which?'; I've already been head-hunted for the regional team for next time around (I did also get asked by someone else at a previous competition if there was any possibility I was Welsh, though sadly I'm not...)

    This kind of nepotism also sneaks into our regional training days, one of which happened today. I always roll up late because I work on Saturdays, then have to drive to a nearby city and when I got there today, I was wondering where some of the usual suspects were and discovered there'd been some cherry-picking about who got to do what. Turns out there were two of the regional cadet squad epeeists around and a while later their coach rolled up and was focussing very much on them.

    Cue the sparring part of the afternoon and I was okay but nothing exceptional - then came the highlight of the afternoon! Yes, I fenced one of the cadets and completely schooled him, to the point where his coach pulled him over mid-fight (which is completely Not Done) to give him advice. Not that this helped, as I subsequently caned him 5-2 and couldn't help seeing the sour look on his coach's face when I sauntered away. That's definitely one for us old fogies! :P
    graculus: (smirk)
    After the disaster of my last competition, I've been working hard at practice and also trying to be more positive, in preparation for the next one. Pleased to say that it went much better and I ended up with the best result I've had in a competition so far!

    I've been so used to being last, or next-to-last (or on one much celebrated occasion, next-to-next-to-last!) that I was absolutely stunned when I came out of the poule ranked 17 of 22. Yes, 5 people did worse than me in the first round - I had one really awful fight where I just couldn't land any hits and then the rest were much better, so I clawed some points back that way. That meant the top 10 fencers got to put their feet up while the rest of us fought to get into the last 16.

    I was lucky because I ended up fighting someone who I'd already had (and beaten) in the poule but it still was very close and went to 15-14 in my favour in the end. I was ahead all the time but could never quite shake her, she kept coming back at me all the way. Anyway, that's another target achieved (win a DE fight) off my list of fencing things!

    The 'prize' of getting into 16th was a fight against the number 1 seed, who was the fencer I'd had no luck with in the poule too, so I wasn't too surprised when she beat me 15-2. Towards the end, I started laughing and couldn't stop, which I still think is an improvement over frustrated annoyance, because I just couldn't quite get the right distance for hits. She went on to win the entire thing, so obviously I wasn't the only one who found her tricky!

    I was guaranteed at least 16th and then someone above me in the ranking got dumped out of the competition by someone lower ranked, so I finished 15th! There's a fencer I come across regularly who started around the same time as me and this was also the first time I finished above her in the rankings (she was 20th, think she had the nightmare time I had last time around), so that's a bonus.
    graculus: (Default)
    Plenty going on, most of it not particularly fannish. It kind of breaks into three categories: stuff to do with my house, work and fencing.

    First off, the house. When I bought it, I didn't quite realise the extent to which the previous owner was a devotee of the concept of bodge-it-yourself. I think people ought to do things themselves, if they know what they're doing, but in this case a) he didn't and b) he has caused further problems for me. A case in point has been my ongoing struggles with the central heating system and the discovery recently that the (plastic) overflow pipe from the cold water tank in the attic (whence comes all the water to feed the system, rather than from the mains) was held together by basically nothing. So when the ballcock started playing up and the tank overfilled, the water that was supposed to be diverted through a pipe to outside instead went into the ceiling of the room below. I've now fixed that problem myself but am well aware that it's just a temporary fix - in my near future is the expensive replacement of the heating boiler and the removal of all the tanks connected to it, which will doubtless end up costing me more as my plumber discovers all the other things that have been half-arsed along the way.

    Fortunately, at the same time, work is fine. I've had something new to do this term, which is assessing folks for placement and that's been interesting. We take people into classes until Easter usually, so I'm signed up to keep assessing till Christmas at least. I got tripped up by some paperwork issues at the end of last academic year, so I'm trying to keep on top of everything as I go this time around - so far, so good.

    I've had a very up and down time with fencing, having entered another competition and done the absolute worst I've ever done. I've finished last before but there's a difference between finishing last because everyone else was better than you and finishing last (like this time) because you sucked. I've been describing it as a 'frustration death spiral' - I fenced badly, so I got frustrated, then I fenced even worse. Then I had some really good fights in practice last week, as well as practice last night where I had two fights back-to-back at one point, the second of which I won against a woman who usually beats me fairly comfortably. After that competition, I was left wondering if I was kidding myself about how well I can fence but results like that one make my head spin again. Anyway, another competition in a couple of weeks, so we'll see if I can get my head together and actually fence as well as I think I can.

    To be honest, I had a bit of a mental health wobble the morning after the competition and felt very low. That seemed to lift as I was at work throughout the day, so it's probably a good thing I now work straight after the weekend and don't have yet more time to mope. ;)
    graculus: (coffee)
    I forgot to say, when I was posting about my holiday, how everyone at the place where the weasels were boarding fell in love with them. It's a side business for the local pet/hardware store (about 5 minutes walk from my house) and there were people coming in just to see them, apparently. The woman who runs it now, who'd never really had anything to do with ferrets before, was also smitten with them. This makes future holiday trips significantly easier!

    In fencing news, while my club was closed for a couple of weeks, I bit the bullet and drove to another nearby club to keep myself ticking over. I've now also joined that club, which means from last week I'll be fencing two nights running. The hope is that, since I don't have anything to do with the organising of things at Club B, I can just turn up and get some consistent epee coaching - I could have that at Club A but I have to remember to ask for it, then I get dragged into other stuff and it just doesn't happen. Clear evidence of my need to become more consistent was provided by my first competition of the season where I started off really well, almost getting into the top half of the list, but then blew it completely in round 2. I then lost my DE fight 15-10, dashing my hopes of hitting that particular unfulfilled target. My plan is to do roughly one competition a month this season.

    In support of that, I've also changed gyms as I hadn't been going and my brain just got worse and worse about the concept of going in when I've not been there for a while. The gym I was with was also attached to a local high school, so while it was convenient, they only opened after school hours during the week and for 6 hours a day at the weekend. The new one is a bit further away but it's also cheaper and has more stuff going on, as well as being somewhere I can go in the day if I'm not working.

    New term starts next week for us and my days have changed slightly - the first challenge is getting back into a routine after a few weeks of getting up whenever I feel like it and loafing around. I also want to get back into walking, though I've currently got a lovely planar wart on one foot which makes walking uncomfortable. It's better than it was, as I've been treating it, so hopefully I can get out this month.
    graculus: (Default)
    Well, that subject line's probably not completely fair because what I just experienced wasn't directly caused by me, but the concept still stands...

    In which my holiday gets affected by a Canadian who didn't live up to the stereotype )

    Apart from this, I enjoyed myself and got a bit sunburned, as well as seeing lots of minke whales, harbour porpoises and Risso's dolphins (a new species for me!). I also got to go back to Lunga and visit the puffins again, this time when there was literally just us there and not a boatload (or two) of tourists!
    graculus: (Default)
    Plenty going on, none of it fannish so...

    I'm in the final part of my course, which involves doing some research where I work and am currently buried alive under the related literature review reading. I only have 5,000 words and that's a big problem when my bibliography is already pages and pages, all of it due in about 4 weeks from now! As a result, I am not outside enjoying the lovely (unexpected) Bank Holiday sunshine but trying to get all the reading done so I can start writing. Next couple of weeks I need to do some interviews and get the rest of the writing done, so I fully anticipate my house will be very clean. ;)

    The other part of my course was observations, the final one of which took place last week. In the first year, I'd been consistently graded as Good and this year I managed to push that up to a consistent Outstanding, which wasn't really something I was working for but it's nice to get anyway. Once I've uploaded everything relating to my observations and submitted the research, the next thing is to make a formal request for regrading as a qualified teacher.

    I'm also organising my summer at the moment, booking ferries and stuff for the return to Mull and also keeping an eye out for when the cheap London rail-fares become available for Nine Worlds. What seemed like months away is coming soon and I have loads to do before then!

    As for fencing, it's not so much a learning curve as a learning roller-coaster - after a few good weeks and feeling like I knew what I was doing, the most recent practice was just dire. I was consistently a fraction slower than my opponents (getting good hits but getting locked out by the scoring equipment) or falling a fraction short and not registering, to the point where I was so close to just throwing everything on the floor and walking off. It's hard to make a dramatic exit when you're clipped to the equivalent of an extendable dog lead and need to unplug yourself first, so that didn't happen.

    No practice last week because the hall we use also gets used as a polling station, so back this week and we'll see how awful I am. The inconsistency is massively annoying and unfortunately I know the only way past is through - since I've been doing competitions I've met other folks from local clubs and have a standing invitation to go and fence with them too, so after the summer I'm planning to increase my fencing time by joining their club's practice as well and hope that helps with the inconsistency.

    That's it, I think. So exciting. I'm sure fannish stuff will roll around again some time, I still have WiP I would like to finish and appreciate that I'm regularly getting kudos emails (and the occasional comment!) from my stuff on AO3. Nothing new has sparked my interest, though. *shrugs*
    graculus: (Default)
    Brief fencing-related update - at last week's practice I achieved yet another of my ongoing set of goals, this one around beating one of my regular teenage opponents.

    There are 4 lads I've fenced fairly regularly for the past year or so and every week they beat me, the next week I come back and fence whichever of them are around, they beat me again, rinse and repeat. We usually fight up to 15, which is standard for competition fights, and on a good day I get into double figures. They're good to practice with because they all have very different styles, though I could do with a left-hander as well (though we're possibly getting one back in the summer, a woman who was with us because of an internship and is probably coming back because of a job in the same place when she finishes her post-grad course).

    Last week, I beat one of them for the first time. This was the lad I'd almost beaten before Christmas and I just managed to scrape the victory 15-14. Needless to say, he was not pleased. ;)
    graculus: (Default)
    Whoops, where did January and February go?

    So, an update on a few things, first off the current situation around fencing. A quick explanation of how competitions work, for those folks who don't know (as this will be pertinent to the title of this post) - you usually start off with a poule round (or rounds), where you fence 5 or 6 other people for 3 minutes or first to 5 hits to decide your ranking for the direct elimination (DE) fights which are up to 15 hits, over three 3 minute periods with a minute break between them. The better you do in the poule(s), the lower ranked person you fight next. Some competitions are closed, meaning you have to meet certain criteria to fence in them (e.g. regionals or beginners) and some are open, meaning literally anyone can enter them if they have the right licence.

    Since I started doing competitions, I've been setting myself realistic goals, in increasing levels of difficulty:
  • Not finish last in an open competition
  • Get points off every opponent in my poule in an open competition
  • Get at least 7 points in a DE fight in an open competition
  • Win a poule fight in an open competition
  • Win a DE fight in an open competition

    After this weekend, I now have only the last (and most difficult) to achieve. I was in a competition where, because of the weather, only 9 fencers made it so our second round was what we call a poule unique - I fenced all 8, having already fenced 4 of them in the first round. One of the fencers is in the top 30 in the country and she absolutely slaughtered me 5-0 in the first round but I beat her 5-4 in the second! Achievement unlocked! I also beat two other people but they'd both not been fencing long so I was feeling a bit uncertain as to whether I'd actually achieved my goal or not till this particular fight...

    To be honest, I haven't been working as hard as I could have - I've been dodging going to the gym and haven't got around to asking for lessons yet either. It's about 5 weeks to my next competition so I will get on with that properly, as I really want to make a go of this, or at least as far as is possible given my age starting.

    In other news, I'm now just one observation and one module away from my course being over, so the finishing line is in sight. I can't wait. I don't have my teaching schedule for next academic year yet but I hope to be able to continue to have some flexibility around competing and teaching, like this year, assuming I'm even working Saturdays again. It's been a real mixture this year, with one very good class, one not quite so good (nothing like as confident as the previous class at the same level, which was a learning experience) and one where both attendance and numbers have been an issue. That one's closing at Easter so I'll be picking up other stuff to complete my hours for the year and trying not to take it personally.

    I also unexpectedly got 2 days off this past week, as we had a lot of snow (for UK definitions of 'a lot of') and the centres where I teach were closed - to be honest, we could have gone in on Saturday as the extra snow which was forecast didn't arrive after all, but I can understand why they didn't take the risk. That just means I have to tack on that missed class to the end before we finish, as I already got paid for it.
  • graculus: (Default)
    Yes, I survived Christmas, the space between Christmas and New Year, and have now made it into 2018. Happy New Year to everyone (if there's still anyone out there, anyway?) and here's hoping 2018 treats you kindly.

    My plans for the year are pretty simple at the moment - finish the course I'm doing, carry on working, take some épée lessons in the hope of getting through the first round of a competition at some point, get to the gym at least once a week, get out walking at least once a month, finish off the long-standing fic WiP. In the summer, I'm signed up to do a boat-based whale and dolphin survey with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, which I'm looking forward to very much indeed! Then, in August, I'm planning to go to Nine Worlds again, after missing it last year because I was in Finland for WorldCon.

    Back in December the weasels were spayed and seem absolutely fine afterwards, even though they still have nice rectangular bald patches on their bellies which meant no frolicking in the snow, just in case. Their winter coats are really good otherwise and one of them also has a lot more dark hair, which means I can tell them apart now (this was a problem when I first got them). They are also much less bitey, good manners cost nothing! ;)

    We've had two weeks off fencing over the holiday period and I really missed it, just like last year. I got to play with all the electric weapons last weekend, as we were doing the kit audit and needed to check everything, but it wasn't the same as actually stabbing someone. We start back on Thursday, with my next competition in about a month, so I need to get into the habit of actually asking for one-on-one lessons - they're not a problem, I've just not asked before.

    Anyway, onwards into 2018! Alas, I have an assignment to finish for next Monday, as well as schemes of work to review, so must stop binge-watching TV shows and actually get on with something...
    graculus: (oh please)
    Last summer we got a new head of service, after our old one retired, and found out at the (mandatory) start of year meetings that she Has Plans. Firstly, that she wanted us to have a staff conference that everyone was going to need to attend and that would 'bring us together' and also help point us in the direction of getting a better grade next time we get inspected.

    Because the timetables for the academic year had already been organised, when she chose a date for said conference (one day next week), there was some annoyance as that meant those classes had to be cancelled and then added in at the end of the spring or summer terms. We always try and leave some leeway just in case of bad weather or teacher sickness that can't be covered, so folks get the teaching hours they've paid for when they enrol on a course and everyone's happy.

    What hasn't been mentioned, however, is whether teachers (most of whom work part-time and get paid on the basis of teaching so many hours over the year) would get paid for attending the staff conference since it's not part of their assigned hours any more. When we attend other meetings that are mandatory, we get paid, but there has been an ominous silence over whether this will also be the case for the staff conference. Not helped, of course, by the fact that the managers and admin staff will all get paid because they work regular hours over the year. There's been a few universal emails flying around about this but none of them have been responded to, which makes us cynics realists think they were planning to try it on...

    Anyway, it's all turned out to be moot, since the staff conference has now been postponed supposedly as a result of the recent death of one of the management team. It's supposed to be next term some time, when we'll have the same issue yet again if classes are cancelled and added on later. I wasn't teaching anyway next week, it's all exams for my folks, but I bet some people are really vexed by all of this!

    So close...

    Dec. 1st, 2017 10:05 am
    graculus: (smirk)
    On a Thursday I get a couple of hours of fencing, though not continuously because I would die, but the last session of the month is always fight night. The coaches are still around and we still warm up and do a bit of footwork practice before we spar, and a few folks also had lessons during this (when there was space!) but mostly it's about getting as much actual fighting done as possible. So I ended up fighting 4 epee bouts last night, which has me aching all over this morning. I also discovered that the muscle I pulled in my thigh a couple of weeks ago is still not completely recovered, which is another story and part of the general suckage of being an old.

    Anyway, I regularly fence the teenage lads to 15 points and usually, on a good day, I get 7-8 points off them. They've all been fencing for a couple of years and I'm also old enough to be their grandma (yes, I did the maths!), which means they're also usually going to be quicker than me most of the time. For them it means I give them a bit of practice but it's pretty comfortable because they know they're going to beat me; for me it means I can try particular things out and not worry about losing because I always lose, then come back next week and try again!

    So last night I was fencing one of the lads and everything just seemed to click (for me, at least!) - I started off with a couple of good hits on him and went ahead from the outset, then he pulled back, then I went ahead again. Since it's not a competition, we do talk to each other during the bout - between points, not during the actual fighting - and towards the end he was going 'I don't know what to do!'. In the end, I lost 15-13, which is my best result to date in epee. Of course, next week he may absolutely slaughter me, but it's good evidence that I have improved even though sometimes it's not always obvious week in and week out.

    In other news, the ferrets now have names (Hoshi and Yuki) which they needed in order to go to the vet and be spayed yesterday. Jill ferrets have to have something done to them if you're not going to breed them, otherwise if they come into heat and aren't bred, they will literally die. I was quite pleased that the vet called me to check I was aware of the non-surgical options, which I was, before just going ahead and doing it. They both came home in the afternoon and seem fine so far.

    Dethroned!

    Nov. 21st, 2017 10:50 pm
    graculus: (Default)
    I've always thought of myself as the queen of not wanting to be told what to do but I've recently met my match, in fact I may have been replaced!

    One of the places where I work, there's a particular teacher who always does too much, all the time. She's absolutely outdone herself this time around though, as she was in hospital last week for an operation, following which she came back to work yesterday. Not only that, but because she's been told she can't drive, she caught the bus from her house to the central bus station and then walked from there to our centre (2 miles) and from there to another place for a meeting (at least another mile). Oh, and she's back in for another operation next week!

    When asked why she'd come back to work, she said she was bored at home. When asked why she'd walked all over the place instead of a) catching the bus that stops right next to our centre, or b) getting a lift off someone, she said she had to keep up with her steps. WTAF?

    *head desk*

    Not last!

    Nov. 13th, 2017 09:48 am
    graculus: (smirk)
    This weekend was my first proper epee competition and, as the title suggests, I did not come last! I may have come next to last by one point but the point still stands... ;)

    I'm not sure what the overall level was like compared to normal, since there was also a massive competition elsewhere in the country that literally had ten times the women epeeists at, but I'll take it. The folks I fenced were better than me but not ridiculously so. I'd set myself targets for hits in both the poule round and the direct elimination and exceeded all of them, as well as keeping my concentration - in fact, one poule match I might have gone on to win if I hadn't been sporting and admitted that I'd hit the table holding the scoring equipment (don't ask) before I hit my opponent.

    In the DE round, I was beaten by the teenager who went on to win the entire thing. She was just quicker and more accurate than me a lot of the time but I did get 7 points off her, a lot of them double hits (meaning I hit her as she hit me, within 40 milliseconds).

    Next competition is our club internal competition, then I'm off to fight other folks again next month. Still lots to work with and I'm pretty happy how I got on. :)
    graculus: (coffee)
    You'd be forgiven for thinking I didn't go on holiday this year, since I may have mentioned it in the run-up to actually going but then haven't posted anything about it over here - folks who follow me on Twitter will have seen some flailing about the trip, for reasons I'll detail in due course, but that's it.

    A couple of years ago, I went to WorldCon in London (that's the World Science Fiction Convention, in case anyone reading this was unaware) and at the time there was a bid in to host a future WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland. In its lengthy history, the majority of WorldCons have been in the US and I was keen to support the idea of it being this side of the Atlantic again, so bought a supporting membership. The bid was successful and 2017 was therefore when it was due to happen - in 2014, it seemed like a long way away! Anyway, I felt I should support this plan in person and, if I was going to go to Finland, it seemed like a good idea to have other things to do...

    Which is how I ended up with this year's holiday - first off, a week's hiking in a National Park near the Finnish-Russian before heading back to the Baltic, a few days in Turku (medieval capital of the country) and then back to Helsinki for the con and whatever else I felt like doing. That was also how I ended up getting up at 4am to drive to the airport to get a flight to Amsterdam, then to Helsinki and then another flight north, to Kuusamo. Or at least that was the plan, until Finnair overbooked my third flight and I got stuck in Helsinki for 18 hours.

    I've travelled quite a bit and this is the first time that I've ever been caught by overbooking. I think I've been lucky in that I once got stuck in Paris on the way back from a trip to Canada, but that was because the flight in was delayed and I missed the connection, not the airline selling something it didn't actually have. What other business is allowed to work that way? The only positive thing I can say about Finnair was that as well as organising a hotel & meals, they gave me compensation there and then, while other airlines have a bad reputation for expecting you to claim later and then, oddly enough, taking forever to pay you back for what you've spent.

    My main concern was that I was due to join a group and knew that they'd already left the Kuusamo area and travelled into the middle of nowhere, as well as being due to go bear-watching that afternoon and that was one of the main reasons why I'd chosen that particular trip! In the end, I spent the majority of my compensation on a very long taxi ride from the airport (200km, to be precise!) and arrived just in time to bolt down a cup of coffee, run to the loo and then go bear-watching. The bears were awesome and I'll post some pics at the weekend.

    The rest of the week was spent hiking 10-15km a day, with our luggage being taken to the next place we were staying, then sauna and a swim in the lake if you felt so inclined (which I did, in two different lakes, while others in the group younger than me chickened out). I also had a go at canoeing for the first time - I've kayaked before, but this whole thing with one paddle and switching hands is far too much work! The only downsides to the trip were the mosquitoes, which loved me greatly despite bug spray, and that it was too early in the season for cloudberries by about a week! They were everywhere in the bogs we were crossing and I only found one that was ripe the entire trip. :(

    Then it was a flight back to Helsinki and a train to Turku for a couple of days. It's a nice, compact little city and I liked it very much, though one of the main attractions was being able to go kayaking in the Baltic for the day. The trains in Finland are significantly cheaper than in the UK (though this isn't difficult) and I definitely recommend them.

    Once back in Helsinki, we had a complementary travel card for the bus and tram system as part of being a WorldCon member and this got used a lot - I was staying in the city centre, near the train station, and could either get a commuter train (10 mins) or a tram (25-30 mins), usually depending on whether I could be bothered to walk to and from the respective train stations, since the trams were also frequent. I only managed to get a bit lost once, waiting for a bus that never arrived and then deciding to walk (and walk and walk) before spotting my hotel from a distance and navigating towards it by guesswork. That was also partly caused by my not trusting my instincts, as partway through this journey I'd got on a tram that was actually going the right way then second-guessed myself and got off a couple of stops later.

    I was also pleasantly surprised by how easy Finland was for me as a vegetarian, though I think being a vegan might be significantly more difficult. Helsinki in particular seems to have embraced soy as an alternative to meat - the local burger chain, Hesburger, was doing soy burgers and tortillas, for example - while I ate a lot of potatoes and vegetables, it wasn't anything like as one-dimensional as my trip to Newfoundland a few years back where I pretty much lived on grilled cheese sandwiches for most of my time there.

    Anyway, back to WorldCon. I think my main criticism would be about the panels, but that's probably because I've been spoiled by other conventions, NineWorlds in particular. The panels were short, scheduled for an hour but really limited to 45 minutes to allow for people to get to the next panel, which then turns into 30 minutes plus time for questions. There was a problem on the first day about getting in to some of the panels as well, with the convention having to organise some additional panel rooms for subsequent days, which meant that even then people were leaving panels early - I don't really see the point of going in the first place if you're going to do that. As a result, most of the panels I went to felt a bit lightweight and at least one suffered from a lack of robust moderation, or a moderator who wouldn't shut up and let the panellists talk. It was ever thus, I guess!

    I knew a few people at the con but felt the lack of people to chew stuff over with, which I've become used to. Anyway, the next European WorldCon is going to be Dublin in 2019, so I guess I'm going to Ireland again in 2 years time! Hopefully more folks I know will go and help keep me entertained.

    In general though, I'm glad I went and Finland is a very beautiful but expensive country. I ate a lot of chocolate and licorice, although the salty licorice they love so much (salmiakki) is vile and I don't know how anyone can eat more than one piece. I wish I'd been there for cloudberry season and also that the mosquitoes didn't love me so much. And yes, I did sauna naked - it's traditional, you know! - but put on a swimming costume for the lake because we weren't the only people there. I highly recommend the sauna + lake combination if you ever visit...
    graculus: (edna)
    I was tagged by [personal profile] xochiquetzl...

    5 things you’ll find in my bag: pens (always lots of pens!), ibuprofen, mobile phone, wallet, hand sanitiser
    5 things you’ll find in my bedroom: books, hot water bottle, a silk wall hanging from Uzbekistan with hoopooes on it, pairs of shoes I should put away, a bag of fencing gear
    5 things I’ve always wanted to do: go to the Galapagos islands, sea kayaking in Scotland, try cycling on an indoor track, become a better/stronger swimmer, sand-yachting
    5 things that make me happy: students who do their homework, whenever I can get off my arse and go to the gym, the perfect parry-riposte, pizza, finding a parking space at the supermarket straight away
    5 things I’m currently into: fencing, books, passing my course without dying of boredom, prevarication about lots of things, not being able to think about a fifth thing for this list
    5 things on my to-do list: get more organised in terms of meals, buy a new carpet for my hallway, buy a new pair of walking shoes (since my last ones fell apart under warranty), paint my bathroom ceiling, get all my paperwork done for work

    I'm actually hoping to get one of my 'always wanted to do' ticked off next summer - I need to look at the dates for something else I want to do in Scotland in July or August, as well as Nine Worlds, and then it's either kayaking or sand-yachting too, depending on how it all falls together.

    I'm not so into the whole tagging thing, so anyone who's interested...
    graculus: (oh shit)
    Jesus, critters, you've only been in my house a little over 24 hours!

    Yes, we've just had the first weasel-related drama for these particular goobers, currently still unnamed. I'd put them in the carrier I've been using for about 10 years while I sorted out their hutch only to come back after a few minutes and discover that one of them had stuck its head right through the solid mesh that made up the carrier's door and was now, naturally, completely stuck. The holes in the door are 2.5cm x 3.5cm, in case you're wondering.

    Fortunately, I had a pair of wire-cutters in the house and was able to cut through and then bend the wire in question to get the little fathead out no worse for wear. If not, I'd probably be at the local fire station right about now.

    Guess I'm in the market for a new pet carrier...
    graculus: (Default)
    Well, after thinking about the issues raised in my previous post, I decided to go ahead and get some more ferrets anyway - I've just got back from picking up a pair of silver jills, age approximately 6 months, so hopefully there won't be too much trauma for a while. Famous last words, I know!

    Now I just need to think about names. My previous lot were the hobs with no name right till I needed to register them with the vet and these girls will need naming by Christmas, when they're due to be spayed.

    Other than that, I'm just trying to get back into some semblance of a routine for work starting again properly next week. I'd been quite lazy before I went away, in terms of going (or not going!) to the gym, and I really felt it when I was fencing this week, since I was puffing a bit when I really shouldn't have been.

    I also need to go and enrol for my course on Monday, reconciling myself to the thought that I am halfway through it now and also that a good chunk of this academic year is independent research, so if it's dull the only person I can blame is myself!

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