Unexpected Cambridge

May. 4th, 2015 02:23 pm[personal profile] kafj
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
I've been living in Cambridge for just on a year now. Here are some things I've discovered:

1. The wind. People do tell you about the wind, to be fair; it's just that one can't comprehend the sheer sideways chilling force of it until one's been there. 'Cambridge winds are lazy,' says my friend Helen. 'They can't be bothered going around you. They just go through you.' I understand that this has been a relatively mild winter; nonetheless, I got caught out last week and had to wait half an hour on the platform at Cambridge station without gloves. Following liberal daily applications of hand cream, my skin is just about returning to normal.

2. You start caring about the Boat Race. This was not a good year to start caring about the Boat Race. Thank goodness for University Challenge, that's all I can say.

3. You forget all about hills. Hills? What are they again?

4. You get very good at dodging bicycles, tourists with selfie sticks, and people trying to sell you punt trips.

5. You begin to believe that every conceivable object can be transported on a bicycle. Not just the obvious things like kegs of beer or small children. I myself have brought home on the back or the front of my bike a) an orchid in a pot; b) a daylight lamp; c) a herb planter. And I know someone who used to carry a folding bike on his cargo bike, so that he could meet his partner at the station and they could cycle back together. Now that's love.


May. 3rd, 2015 06:01 pm[personal profile] el_staplador
el_staplador: (Default)
[community profile] rarelywritten is open!

I received the most lovely Arthurian story centred on Brangaine and Iseult:

Knots of Brass and Gold (5850 words) by La Reine Noire
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Arthurian Mythology & Related Fandoms, Le Morte d'Arthur - Thomas Malory
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Isolde the Fair/Tristan (Arthurian)
Characters: Iseult of Ireland, Tristan (Arthurian), Brangaine (Arthurian), Palomides, Governail, Mark of Cornwall, Guinevere (Arthurian)
Additional Tags: Royalty in Compromising Positions, Agony Aunts, love potions, Female Friendship, Failtastic Knights, Canon-Appropriate Violence, Character(s) of Color

There are bonds of blood and bonds of magic, and then there are those even stronger than both.

And I wrote:

The Adventure of the Thunders of the Upper Deep (4329 words) by El Staplador
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Doctor Who (2005)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Jenny Flint/Madame Vastra
Characters: Jenny Flint, Madame Vastra, Original Character
Additional Tags: Trains, Case Fic, Tentacle Monsters, Sea Monsters, terrible science, Victorian detectives, railway geekery, mistress/maid relationship, macho idiocy, Handwavium

1892, and the famous consulting detective Madame Vastra is summoned to Devon to investigate a mysterious death. Her faithful companion Jenny Flint accompanies her. Sea air and sea bathing are said to be very good for the nerves. Perhaps that's just as well.

kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
I've been doing a fair bit of beading recently (though in the past couple of weeks have reverted to patchwork, as two of my ex-colleagues are pregnant and I'm trying to get a quilt made for each of them.

I've also been watching quite a lot of Thunderbirds. Therefore, I present the following, a present for my friend Bianca:

"But don't you find the acting a little... wooden, Lady Penelope?"

alee_grrl: Bruce Willis holding coffee cup.  Text reads: Coffee fail....caffiene levels dangeriously low (coffee fail)
My sister and nephew came up yesterday afternoon and helped me go pick up my new-to-me furniture and move it into my apartment. I then treated them to dinner because if someone helps you move stuff then you ought to at least feed them. :) Plus dinner gave me more time to visit, which is always fun. Lots of lively discussion happened, and I managed to make plans to go see the new Avengers movie on Sunday with nephew and maybe sister and brother-in-law (nephew is 16 and a lot of fun to hang out with).

I will note that it's been a long time since I've driven anything larger than a small SUV, so driving the U-haul cargo van was both terrifying and fun.

Anyway, I promised some photos when I got the chance. I haven't decorated much yet, so the walls are a bit bare. Both couch and chair will be getting slip covers. A dark red cover for the chair to make it look a little less retro, and a dark tan cover for the sofa to try to protect the pretty cream sofa from inevitable stains. I also got three small wooden bar stools as they make the best portable coffee tables/laptop stands (and are the perfect height for most chairs and couches).

pictures below the cut )

Expanding the Comfort Zone

Apr. 27th, 2015 09:12 pm[personal profile] kafj
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
I've been thinking a lot recently about the idea of expanding one's comfort zone from within, as opposed to stepping out of it (useful posts here from Havi Brooks and Jem Bloomfield), in the context of singing - purely because I spend a lot of my spare time doing it.

I estimated a couple of months ago that I've averaged two hours of choral singing a week over the past decade. There have, of course, been lighter patches (2007, of which I spent a third in Spain and Germany not singing much at all, and my second and third years at university, when I decided that the need of the serving team was greater than the need of the chapel choir), but they are balanced out by the five years I spent in the choir at Holy Trinity, Guildford. During term time we did two services every Sunday, with a half hour or forty-five minute rehearsal before each one, and an hour's practice every Thursday. As a result I know a lot of the standard church music repertoire inside out and back to front: if we assume that each piece was sung twice a year, once during a morning service and once at an evensong, then I've performed most of them ten times.

I was not at all confident when I joined. All my life I've been close to people who have more singing experience than I do and, while they have been nothing but supportive, I've always been able to see that their sightreading was better than mine, that they were more confident than I was, that they could hold a line against all comers and I couldn't. Fortunately, when I joined Holy Trinity, there were plenty of other altos to follow.

I've joined two new choirs over the past year, and I'm still singing less than I was at Holy Trinity. They have both proved the expansion of my comfort zone, in very different ways.

The first one was one of the several choirs that run out of my parish church. The workload is considerably less: we sing one, maybe two, services every month, with an hour's rehearsal beforehand, and a rehearsal on the preceding Friday. This is very much flying by the seat of the pants: a lot of sightreading, and no guarantee that there'll be anyone else on your part to prop you up.

And that doesn't scare me any more. Once upon a time I would have been too terrified even to consider joining this choir, but my comfort zone has expanded to encompass this method too.

Granted, some of this is stuff I already know from Holy Trinity. On Easter Sunday I was the only alto at evensong. That was fine: we did Blessed be the God and Father, which I have sung every Easter since 2008. On the other hand, I was the only alto at the previous evensong, and I was sightreading an anthem... I can't remember what it was, only that I'd never seen it before in my life, and that the alto line contained several top Gs. The very first piece that I did with the new choir was Herbert Howells' Requiem; that, thank goodness, had rather more rehearsal time dedicated to it.

The other choir is pretty much the complete opposite. In this choir, ten weeks to learn three pieces is presented as a frighteningly tight timescale. This is the workplace choir, set up by the social club and the excellent Workplace Choir Company. Its basic assumption is that nobody has sung anything since they were at school, when they were probably told by a teacher that they couldn't. This seemed to be about right at my workplace. There was a question early on: who was in a choir already? I was one of perhaps three people who raised their hands. Three out of sixty, and the only one in the first altos.

There was the solo. (But I've done solos before, in front of people who would know exactly where I'd gone wrong.) There was the fact that I was doing the solo with a microphone. (That was new territory.) There was the responsibility. At one point the Director of the Executive Office told me, 'You're our leader'. I'm not even sure that she was joking. (I have never before in my life been the most experienced member of a large choir.) There was the assuring of everybody that everything was going to be fine.

And somehow I was able to meet it all with a general attitude of 'Bring it on!' Solo? Bring it on! Microphone? Bring it on! Teaching a tricky snippet to the rest of my section without reference to a piano? Bring it on! It's being filmed? Wait, what? Er, bring it on! Thank you, comfort zone, expanding yourself while I wasn't even looking.

I managed to appear calm through the performance, although it wasn't until last week, when the high-quality video was made available, that I was able to see whether or not I'd cocked it up. I never know how a solo has gone after the event. I'd like to think that's because I'm so absorbed in the music that I've no space left in my head to remember it, but it's happened before when I've lost a bar in the middle of it.

Anyway, it turns out it wasn't too bad, all things considered. Here's the result. I'm the tallest soloist, in the green shirt, singing the alto part in the second verse. Me and my expanded comfort zone.

UNISON CHOIR - Sound of Silence from The Workplace Choir Company on Vimeo.

alee_grrl: Illustration of the Shire (shire)
So the local Habitat ReStore was having a grand re-opening sale/event today. I decided to wander over to see if they had any good furniture (as I still have only a table, some temporary chairs, a bed and 2 standing lamps). I was in luck as they had lots of furniture in good condition. I finally settled on a comfy rocking chair (looks like a recliner but does not recline) that could have come from my grandmother's furniture collection (avacado-ish green floral), an elegant off-white sofa that also happened to be very comfortable and will be good for naps and guests, two oak or other light wood bedside tables, and a dresser. Not a bad haul at all. I wasn't able to bring them home just yet, as the sofa is too large to fit in most vehicles. I have arranged to rent a U-haul cargo van Wednesday afternoon and my heart-sister and nephew will come up and help me move the stuff. I will likely end up buying slip-covers for the couch and chair, but haven't decided yet. I will try to remember to post pictures when I have things set up. :)

Getting Around

Apr. 25th, 2015 08:57 pm[personal profile] kafj
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
I've been doing a lot of walking these last few days. This is partly because my bike has been in for a service (now reclaimed, complete with a new front mech shifter that actually works!), and partly because I'm planning to walk St James' Way from Reading to Winchester in July, and I need to get some practice in.

I've walked from home to the station; I've walked from the station to home. I've walked as far round Regent's Park as I could get in my lunch hour. I've walked from town to the station after I'd dropped my bike off, and from home to town to pick it up again.

I've been walking. I've been cycling. I spent twenty-five agonising minutes on a bus that was progressing down Station Road five metres at a time. I would almost swear that I could feel my blood pressure rising the longer I sat there. Stepping onto that bus, I'd relinquished control and surrendered to the rush hour. Cars are meant to give you control, but of course they don't. There were plenty of cars stuck in that queue along with me.

I wanted my bike back. That was the reason I'd got on that bus in the first place: I had twenty minutes to get to the repair shop before it closed. I knew that I couldn't make it on foot. I thought there was just a chance on the bus...

No. Twenty-five minutes of jerking, teeth-grinding, stop-starting creepy-crawling down Station Road and Hills Road. I ran from the bus station, but I didn't have a hope of making it before the shop shut, and I knew it.

On the bright side, I had an excellent excuse to buy an ice cream and walk home, and it was a glorious evening in which to walk alongside the Cam, over Jesus Green and Midsummer Common, with the college rowing teams hauling themselves down the river and the trees very green with their new leaves.

I love walking. I love the freedom, the chance to turn aside and look properly at things that catch my eye, to go another way entirely. I love the gentle ache in my legs, reminding me that I've been out and seen things. I'm less keen on the blister; that's from wearing the wrong shoes.

I'm so glad I don't have to sit in that queue every day. I'm so glad I don't drive. I'm so glad I don't need to drive. I'm grateful that I'm well enough to walk long distances. I'm thankful for my own pig-headedness and determination that allowed me to relearn how to cycle in my late twenties. I'm glad that I've lived in towns and cities with good public transport links.

(And I do like a bus ride. But not in rush hour. Never again in rush hour. Not when I've got somewhere to be.)

I'm going to try and post every day for the next three weeks as part of [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw - do let me know if there's anything you'd particularly like me to talk about.


Apr. 25th, 2015 02:41 pm[personal profile] el_staplador
el_staplador: (Default)
The Shame of the Strofzins is done, and, more to the point, posted!

The Shame of the Strofzins (32299 words) by El Staplador
Chapters: 14/14
Fandom: Zenda Novels - Anthony Hope
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: OFC/OFC
Characters: Elisabeth von Tarlenheim (OFC), Theresa von Strofzin (OFC), Helga von Tarlenheim (Helga von Strofzin), Colonel Sapt, Princess Osra
Series: Part 2 of Daughters of Ruritania

Two years have passed since the events of The Blood of the Hentzaus. Maria Hentzau is dead. Georg is on the throne of Ruritania. And Elisabeth von Tarlenheim is bored.


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