Tonic Note

Quirks and quavers

Quincy June 25, 2011

Filed under: Cats — tonicnote @ 10:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Right. I’ve not updated this for a while. To be more precise, I’ve not written anything since August last year. Since then a lot has happened, but I haven’t blogged about it. Why? Because it means I have to mention what happened last winter: Our beloved cat Quincy had to be put to sleep. I’ve been avoiding writing about this for at least half a year because it still hurts so much.  He’s been the first cat I ever had and although he’s always been quite shy and anxious, he was also very cuddly and fluffy and social and vocal.

With all the ups and downs in my private life, Quincy was one of the anchors in my life. The last few years he usually slept in the bed, usually curled up between my arm. He’d come to sit on my lap while I was practising, and every now and then he’d bring a toy leather mouse as a gift for us, from him, the mighty hunter. He had a special kind of meouw that was reserved for bringing us the mouse. He was always trying to take care either of other cats, or us, and he knew when someone was feeling down, so he would come and keep company.

He had great vampire teeth:

He was very photogenic, though not often a willing victim:

Although he really *was* photogenic:

And had so much belly fluff! We called it flokati.

Shortly after getting Quincy we got Kira to keep him company:

When we lost Kira to some mystery heart attack, and got Maggie, they too got along well:

The mighty hunter had had some teeth issues in the last couple of years and at some point almost all of his teeth had to be pulled because of gingivitis. Only the vampire teeth remained. In summer 2010 he developed what we thought was an infection but turned out to be squamous mouth carcinoma, a very aggressive form of cancer. He underwent surgery and for a while it looked as if had worked and all the cancerous cells had been removed. Unfortunately, in September the cancer came back, more aggressive than before, giving him trouble breathing and also affecting his eye. We had to make one of the hardest decisions ever and so the vet come to our flat and put him to sleep.

Fluffy, beautiful, social, shy, loyal, flokati vampire cat – we miss you.


Living in Leicester, Part 71: Write. Practice. Knit. August 11, 2010

Filed under: Life,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 5:11 pm
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In case anyone was wondering what I’ve been doing for the last four weeks – there you have it. The heading comprehensively describes the extent of my current activities; I’ve excluded minor details such as eating and sleeping, or, more importantly, drinking coffee. Supplemented by practising studiously and knitting in any remaining spare minute. It’s good to have hobbies where progress is visible and occasionally even audible, as opposed to the thesis where progress seems to mean deleting previously written paragraphs in a futile attempt to be more concise.

On that note (hah!) I have now been taking and thoroughly enjoying piano lessons for a whole year, with no intention to stop anytime soon … or indeed ever.

Oh, and I did a talk at the Nottingham Skeptics in the Pub. I enjoyed that a lot even though we started with an hour delay because the room the presentation was supposed to be in was double-booked with a pole dancing class and much hilarity ensued. In the end the audience gathered around the pool billiard table and the fire place, and the slides were projected between the radiator and the ventilator. Fun times! *grins*

But apart from that my days currently consist mainly of writing and more writing. And worrying about finding a job. Feeling pressured to write up faster to find a job, and then feeling pressured to write slower so I don’t finish and lose funding before I have found a job. It’s all a matter of finding and maintaining the equilibrium … and if anyone has figured out to do so, please let me know urgently.

On the bright side, my sleeping patterns have definitely improved, which is a welcome relief. Denial and sticking your fingers in your ears and going “lalala” are such a much-maligned and under-appreciated strategy, which is unfair, because it seems to be working well for me. *whistles*

What’s up next? Next week I’ll be in Edinburgh from Tuesday to Sunday, attending to a number of events on the Fringe Festival, seeing the Military Tattoo (go on, mock me, I know you want to), and give a talk myself as part of the Fringe of Reason event series. I may or may not have a look at what K1 Yarn has to offer — okay, who am I kidding, I plan to visit them and drool all over their yarn.

When I return it will be time to … *gasps* … notify the uni of my “intent to submit”, which is a fancy way of saying I have to tell them I’m serious about this, and it means they’ll expect thesis submission from three months on.
Denial. Coffee. Denial. Ear plugs. Coffee.
Right, where was I? Yarn … yarn is good. There cannot be such a thing as too much yarn.

over and out


Living in Leicester, Part 70: Sleepless in Leicester July 2, 2010

Filed under: Life,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 8:09 pm

It appears I haven’t posted an update for a while. Odd really, considering that writing seems to be all I do these days. And revising. Deleting stuff. Writing more. Despairing of how much still needs to be written. Not liking what I’ve written so far. Writing more. Rinse and repeat.

On second thought, that may explain my reluctance to Write. Even. More.
Yes, that means I’m currently writing up. *twitch* I’m officially in the writing up phase (since the beginning of April), I conducted all studies and now there’s only writing left – finishing literature review, finishing discussion, tying up all loose ends, and in the process somehow magically creating an intelligent, coherent structure that reads as if I knew what I was doing all along. Nothing easier than that.

To keep myself sane, I continue to knit and play the piano. And I drink copious amounts of coffee. *twitch* In case anyone was wondering – that strategy isn’t really working out right now. However, in the true spirit of my intention, I continue to pursue the same strategy, fully expecting to see a different result anytime soon. For now, I can proudly say that I am apparently capable of knitting a perfectly looking, well fitting sock, improvising (for myself) on the piano without dying of embarrassment while doing so and beautifully formatting a half (okay, three quarters)-written thesis in TeX — but sticking to a self-imposed deadline, getting shortlisted for a Research Associate position, finishing the literature review, or even getting to sleep at a decent hour, or for a longer uninterrupted period are skills that currently elude me.

The last point may be directly related to previously mentioned enormous amounts of coffee, but only because the stress of it all keeps me awake, hence I don’t get enough sleep, hence I am tired throughout the day and need to drink coffee to stay awake. Makes perfect sense to me. Also, coffee is my friend and saviour. No, I won’t give it up. It is mine and you can’t have it. Now gimme back my mug … yes, and the other one too.

Over and out, but not defeated,


Living in Leicester, Part 69: My Eight Stages of Learning to Play a New Piece of Music on the Piano. April 22, 2010

Filed under: Life,Music,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 8:40 am

In the interest of science, I have decided to detail the result of months of ruthless and highly scientific self-observation. I present to you my eight stages of learning to play a new piece of music on the piano.

1. Stage: Pride
If I’m starting a new piece it seems to mean that my piano teacher thinks I am making enough progress with the pieces I am currently working on to start on another one. Unless I’ve chosen a new piece to learn all by myself in which case instead of Pride the first stage can also take the form of Smugness: look at me, I’m a dedicated learner. I learn things on my own. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

2. Stage: Anticipation
New music! How will it sound? How long will it take me? There are new things to discover, new shapes and new sounds, new combinations, new melodies – the possibilities are endless!

3. Stage: Discovery
The possibilities are endless. However, the possible matches from notes on paper to keys on the keyboard are finite, as are the number of my fingers. Two or more evenings are spent deciphering the notes, repeatedly. You would think that once you know which note to play, you know which note to play, right? Wrong. Turns out that my brain forgets the note-to-key match faster than a politician forgets his promises right after he’s been elected. Still, it’s fun because this is all about trying to understand the piece and figuring out what the best fingering would be for the individual passages.

4. Stage: Bargaining
After the stage of Discovery, I will have a very rough, very theoretical notion of how the piece is supposed to be played. I will also have a very clear idea of the extent I will be able to play it. Thus I enter the stage of bargaining: What tempo is this piece in – allegretto? *faints* No way. I’m sure it will sound just as well in … Largo. Largo is good. We likes us Largo. And I can’t even begin to think about minor details such as, erm, dynamics, pedalling … phrasing. You know, only the stuff that helps express the piece’s individuality, its meaning and spirit. It will have to wait until my fingers have conquered Mount Improbable and are capable of making a smooth transition from C# to D#. Till then I am pleading with the notes that, for example, a joyful, exuberant melody can be played equally well at a slow tempo with no concernable phrases or indeed any emphasis at all.

5. Stage: Fear and Humility
It slowly sinks in just how many elements I need to master to make this sound beautifully. Deciphering the notes is a laughably small part of it. Combining the notes of the right and left hand together, at the right time is a whole other part. And reading the notes fast enough so it sounds like continuous music instead of a slow… laboured… sequence of fingering exercises. And if that’s not enough, the pedal has to be coordinated too. While observing the phrase marks. And the dynamics. And thermodynamics. (Okay, I made that one up.)

6. Stage: Denial
It’s the only way. I continue to practice. I cannot face the enormity of what this piece demands of me. (This, obviously, is relative. We’re talking “Home on the Range”, not Beethoven’s piano sonatas.) Bit by beat, I mean, bar by bar. However, denial can only be maintained for so long. Once the fragile walls of self-defence break start crumbling, the crushing despair of Still.Not.Being.Able.To.Play.The.Damn.Thing. can only lead to one possible outcome:

7. Acceptance
More practice. Sensible, me? Oblivious to common sense, more like it. There is no way out. I will not give up. I will most certainly not take a break, take a deep breath, back down, or do any of the other things the more feeble minded less stubborn more sensible among us would do.

8. Cautious Relief
Eventually, a melody or a song emerges. Or rather, is forcefully pushed and dragged and shoved and coerced into existence. Feeling scarred, battered and bruised and ever so slightly victorious I will now proceed to play the piece ad nauseam just BECAUSE I CAN. Of course, once I mastered (in a relative sense) a piece of music, a new piece will appear on the horizon, ie. the page in front of me. Luckily learning a new piece is a bit like giving birth (or so I have been told) and the rush of endorphines of being able to finally play this piece in a not entirely atrocious nice way immediately make you forget the pain and suffering and fear and insanity … and look forward to learning the next piece. Fun and adventure awaits!

Note: In order to make it through all of the eight stages without significant loss of sanity, confidence, self-esteem or will to live, a good enabler teacher is essential. Without lessons I would be perpetually stuck between stage 4 (Bargaining) and 5 (Fear). I’m privileged for having found the perfect piano teacher who even in my most atrocious performances always finds something to praise (I don’t know how he does it!). He always manages to pick up and then rebuild the shattered remains of my confidence for which I will be eternally grateful.


Living in Leicester, Part 68: And Then There Was Music January 29, 2010

Filed under: Life,Music,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 11:30 am

The first month of 2010 is almost over and once again I ask myself, where the hell did all that time go, when am I ever going to finish, and what on earth will I be doing afterwards? Granted I did decide to relax and recover over the christmas holidays – a plan that was met with only partial success – but it’s still rather scary how fast January went by and how little I have been able to do for my PhD. That’s not to say I was lazy: there was marking, a talk to prepare, a teaching course portfolio to create, but all the while my PhD has been more or less in hibernation. Ah well, next Tuesday I’ll present another study during an internal seminar, finish the current marking batch (oh joy!) by Thursday and then I will hopefully be able to focus on writing up.

And now to something completely different. I may have mentioned before that I am learning to play the piano, and that I am rather enjoying the whole process. That may have been an understatement. I am officially obsessed and madly in love with music in general and the piano in particular. I am spending an obscene amount of time practising each day (an hour and a half by now), and when I’m not practising I’m listening to classical music wherever I can, learning music theory, and generally just obsessing over classical (piano) music. If I can’t listen to music or can’t practice I feel like something is almost painfully absent. Apparently there was a roughly piano-shaped hole in my life I hadn’t noticed up until now … and I am as much surprised by this as anyone else. Or maybe it was just a vaguely music-shaped hole and I was lucky enough to find the right instrument?

Whatever the reason, it’s quite an overwhelming experience – I practice for hours, and sometimes I will go back to the piano after having had a practice session earlier that day. I learn musical theory for fun even though I won’t be needing (i.e., being able to use for playing) some of that knowledge for quite a while. I even try to practice on an acoustic piano every now and then so I get used to the different feel of acoustic and digital pianos, though Sven is strangely reluctant to let me buy a second (acoustic) piano for practice, pffft.

Is the aforementioned obscene amount of practice somehow related to the also-aforementioned lack of work for my PhD? Quite possibly. The perceptive reader might be tempted to point out that I could cut down on piano time and work more on my PhD, at which point I would invite the perceptive reader to try and keep my from my piano practice, if they’re feeling brave. Or suicidal. And on that note – back to uni work. Need to work fast, so I have more time for practice later…


Living in Leicester, Part 67: So Long, 2009 December 17, 2009

Filed under: Life,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 1:56 pm

Spoiler Alert: this entry has been written under the influence of not enough sleep and too much coffee. Incoherent ramblings ahead. Also, when tired, html tags look a lot more interesting and fun than they used to. You have been warned.

Aaaaanyway, I am certainly not procrastinating by writing yet another blog entry. Oh no! I am, um, dutifully following my obligations as a *cough* regular blog writer *cough* to keep you, my dear readers – yes, all four of you! – uptodate. Or up to quarter, as it were.

Christmas is only a week away, and that means in another two weeks we’ll have reached the year 2010. This seems to be a good time for me to gather my thoughts, take a deep breath and ask the really important questions, such as “When the heck did this happen, what happened to the last year, and do they really expect me to finish my PhD in half a year from now?!”

Well, as far as I can see last year happened mostly during the last 350 odd days, so that’s that question out of the way. What happened to last year was *takes a deep breath*…  going on vacation in the States to see New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Dragon*Con;  TAMLondon; presenting a poster at a conference in Edinburgh; conducting three studies for my PhD; discovering my obsession for learning and playing the piano; holding a talk at the Leicester Skeptics in the Pub; reconnecting with a dear old friend only to be disconnected again after just a handful of email exchanges; walking 17 miles in one day at the Samaritans Annual Conference; losing a stone in weight; knitting an estimated half a dozen of scarves, none of which I kept; spending way too much time on Ravelry; holding two lectures on research methods; attending a teaching course; and spending an estimated month’s salary on yarn;.
Not bad for a year’s work, eh?

Now, for next year a few smaller tasks have lined themselves up already. One of those minor, inconsequential, err, tasks is the completion of my PhD. Ahem. Excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and go “Lalalala” …

Where was I? Finishing, right. The experimental side of it is nearly finished at this point – I will test about 20 more students at the beginning of next term because students couldn’t be bothered to turn up, causing a minor nervous breakdown on my side I didn’t manage to get quite as many participants this side of the year as I was planning to. Barring any nasty comments in the viva leading to a request for major amendments, this recent study then was the last study for my PhD. The studies themselves are mostly written up, though some parts of the results and discussion need to be written in a more thorough, structured and precised way revised. Also I still need to write revise my introduction and literature overview, write the overall discussion and then take care that everything looks like I knew what I was doing all along lines up nicely and forms a coherent structure.

Apart from that my plans for next year currently include two scheduled talks for the Edinburgh and Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub; hopefully losing another stone or two?; increasing the knitting output; continue feeding the obsession playing and learning the piano; attending TAM Las Vegas; and trying to spend more less money on yarn.


Living in Leicester, Part 66: Playing the Piano, or: Practice, Practice, Practice December 9, 2009

Filed under: Life,PhD in Leicester,Uncategorized — tonicnote @ 11:06 pm

It’s now a good four months since I started a great new adventure into a world hitherto unknown to me – I started learning to play the piano. My previous experience in playing an instrument was limited to playing the recorder (german: “Blockfloete”) from the tender age of 10 to 12, without reaching any level of acceptable proficiency.

However, for probably decades I had always *wanted* to learn the piano. Embarassingly enough, this was mostly based on wanting to be able to play one particular song – for those who are interested, “Neverland” by Suzanne Ciani – and … err, nothing else, really. This was the full extent of my motivation. I did say, it was kinda embarassing… When a friend – *waves to Iris* – started talking about learning to play the violin this decade-old dream of thought of mine popped up again, followed by the thought, “oh, what the heck, why not give it a try” and I went to look for piano teachers in Leicester and had my first lesson at the start of August.

To say it’s been a revelation would be an understatement. After the first lesson I was excited, after the second lesson I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and after the third I was completely hooked. Whatever I was expecting when I started taking lessons, I certainly did not expect to be completely blown away like this by the sheer enjoyment of learning and playing the piano. In the first three or four weeks I tried to practice half an hour a day, but for the past couple of months I’ve consistently practiced a good hour a day. Okay, so maybe I am developing an obsession … never mind the hours and hours – alright, make that days – I’ve spent on listening to classical music and catching up with what I’ve missed out so far.

A good part of the credit for enjoying this so much goes to my piano teacher, who is very nice, extremely patient, and terrifyingly knowledgeable. He’s making a point of mistakes being a natural part of the learning process, which admittedly is a very alien concept to me. *grins sheepishly* I really like that I don’t only learn about the technicalities of sightreading and playing, but also how to enjoy and appreciate music. On a side note, I’m fascinated by the fact that I don’t mind much talking and teaching in front of 12 or even 120 students, but playing a piece I practiced at home during the lesson reduces me to a nervous wreck. Go figure!