WEEK ONE. Exit silent wreck.

Now that I have attempted more than one crossword, I thought I’d provide a quick update! Four crosswords this week, as Monday was Dec 31 2012 and the challenge didn’t start until Tuesday. I solved 53 out of 119 clues this week, which puts me about a day ahead of where I should be! I have been quite enthusiastic about it this week – and I’m still blissfully denying that it’s a whole year long challenge at this point. It’ll sink in, oh help me when it does!

It’s a promising week ahead, I have a job interview with a company in London on Monday. I’m quite excited about this job actually. I’m yet to hear back about the job in Reading that I had an interview for before Christmas. They’re taking their time, I hope they can get back to me soon as I’ve a sneaking suspicion that the London job will nip in and hire me first! What I’m saying is, by the end of this week, I’d-like-a-job-please-thank-you-very-much-where’s-the-cheque-money-money-money-oh-you-want-me-to-work-for-it-ok-I-guess-I-will-then.

Half filled.

Today, I found that half of the filling from one of my teeth has gone missing. There’s now a nasty hole in one of my teeth on the left hand side of my mouth. So, new year, new filling, and open wallet surgery!

I’m actually in a bit of a pickle here. A lodger in my house also lost a filling recently, at the end of October he got too enthusiastic with a piece of crackling. It took him over a month to get a proper appointment at the local dentist, they insisted he had a check-up first (which is fair enough). The problem is, the check up was 2 weeks later and the appointment to fill the filling two three weeks after that, he was finally seen at the beginning of December to have the filling.

Now, I could go to a private dentist of course, but I can’t afford that. So, I’m anticipating about a four week wait in between going to the dentist tomorrow, and actually having the filling. Anyway, the reason I’m in a pickle is this: I’m hoping to get a job within the next few weeks. I should hear this week about a job I was interviewed for in mid-December. Essentially, I might be moving house within the next couple of weeks. So, if I do register with an NHS dentist here at home, I’ll have to reregister with another dentist and go through the whole rigmarole again if I move house.

So, what to do? I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and go to the dentist tomorrow. Incidentally, if you’re biting the bullet at a dentist, you really should consider going to a better one. If I get seen quickly, there’s a chance I’ll get my filling before I move. And the worst case scenario would only be paying for two check ups. The sooner I get the filling the better, as I am already starting to feel a few twinges in that tooth…

A personalised Christmas

It’s been a lean Christmas in the Peake household, we’ve all got very little money. As I can’t really afford to get the presents I’d like to for my family, I decided to personalise things for Christmas Day itself. It went spectacularly well!

Firstly, I stuffed my own crackers from a cracker making kit. I put very random things inside the crackers including bouncy balls, chocolate, bubble blowing solution and a bouncing spinning top. It’s surprisingly difficult to get interesting objects that fit within a Christmas cracker. Now I know why all crackers tend to have the same set of gifts inside. However, I was able to put my own jokes in. These included:

Who should you call to protect your farm? The Hay Team.
Have you heard about the glow in the dark encyclopedia? It’s volume-inous!
Why was Clifford the big red dog in jail? He was caught red hounded.
What is a vinegar loving dwarf’s favourite musical instrument? A piccolo.
What do mermaids use when wrapping Christmas presents? Shellotape.
What do you get if you cross a reindeer with the ocean? A rudolphin.

They went down… well, about as well as any Christmas cracker jokes did. I was pleased, at any rate.

The real highlight of the day was a surprise treasure hunt around the downstairs of my house that no-one knew about. It took about a day to plan and write the clues, and I hid all the clues just before midnight on Christmas Day (so I didn’t see Santa, naturally).  It was quite a treasure trail – an extra cracker was mysteriously laid out after Christmas dinner. Upon opening the cracker, the 30 minute time limit immediately started (as controlled by me on my PC). They were presented with a lock with a clue inside, but no key. Along with the lock was the following clue:

In these dark and gloomy days,
we really need some light.
Find seven sources made of ‘wax’
that don’t require a ‘light’.

Pretty quickly, they figured out that meant a candelabra of seven electric candles. When they looked behind it, they found:

If Tom Jones put some clothes on,
you could describe him thus.
Remove the middle of the three
to continue all this fuss.

It took a while to poke them towards working out that Tom Jones putting his clothes on could be a Welsh Dresser – and indeed the clue was behind the middle of the three drawers in the dresser, Of course, I made it so they had to take the entire drawer out to see the clue, didn’t I? Naughty Daniel. They then found this:

I reckon that the next clue
is one you’d need to find.
To discover your next CLUE,
see where it’s well defined.

Where is the word CLUE well defined? In a dictionary, of course. They found that one quite quickly – there was about 24 minutes left on the clock. This is what faced them next:

After all the tasty turkey,
basted, cooked and greased,
you’ll kick yourselves when you find
a clue beneath your feast.

Within 60 seconds, they’d found the clue on the underneath of the table where we’d sat and eaten Christmas Dinner. Oh dear, did I make the time limit too long? There was still 23 minutes left! Luckily, the second half of the treasure hunt was more difficult than the first…

There is a thing about gazpacho
likely you have observed.
Find a recipe for the soup
on a place like it is served.

The family quite rightly latched onto the word “served”, and so the looked in and under all the things in which it could be served – tureens, plates, bowls, jugs, saucepans – the entire kitchen was turned inside out! But no clue. I had to prod them “LIKE it is served”, and “why gazpacho?”. Then they started to twig, gazpacho is served cold. A place “like it is served” is a cold place – a fridge! So, how to find a recipe? One of the fridge magnets is a “Tomato Cookbook”, which has recipes in it. One recipe is, you guessed it, for gazpacho soup. So the clue was within that fridge magnet, next to that recipe. That stumped them! Haha! There was about 15 minutes left on the clock, when they found the clue:

In this time of Christmas cheer,
what should we dance to?
___  ____’_  ____  _  ____  _____
Number 52.

Quick as a flash, they realised they needed to be looking for the CD of Now That’s What I Call Music #52 – but there were six draws and one CD rack through which they had to search to find it! Still, a very quick two minutes later, they found the clue. 13 minutes on the clock, and they were 3/4 through the hunt. However, this is where I was quite sneaky:

Now that you’re all dancing,
perhaps you’re “cutting” this.
Lift it up, look underneath,
and spot something amiss.

To ‘cut a rug’ means to dance, and we only have one rug. So did I place the clue underneath there? When I nodded that I had, they looked at me in astonishment. Why? The only rug we have is in the lounge and has two sofas and a very large coffee table underneath, three heavy items which they would have to move to get to the clue, which I had put under the middle of the rug! Very naughty Daniel. It took them ages to move the furniture and roll the rug up but there was the clue, slightly dusty, in the middle of the room. The family couldn’t believe I’d done that! So, then they had this, with seven minutes to go:

You’ve got this far, you’ve done so well,
you’re certainly perplexed.
You now have all that you require.
Be bold to find what’s next.

They quickly realised the bold letters all over the place spelt out the message. It was an entire clue! Written out in full, it was:

In order to undo the lock,
you need to find the key.
Take a look and poke around
deep inside the tree.

I can tell you, it was very very difficult to hide that clue in order amongst the other eight clues. The clue has plenty of unusual letters, four K’s, a few U’s and so on. But I’m very pleased with myself that I was able to do it. They decoded the message with ease… until they came to “inside the tree” where they consistently missed the R in tree. They started looking for a “tee”. I helped them out there – they realised their mistake and with three minutes to go they found the key within our Christmas tree. This allowed them to undo the lock and access their final clue:

Well done! You’ve found the key.
It’s time to cast your eyes
to find yourself and look beyond
to discover your prize.

This was going to be close. After reading out the clue, they had about 2 minutes left to find this “prize”. They realised quite quickly that to find yourself you look in a mirror. We have three mirrors downstairs, but they quite rightly focused on the largest one (more than three times the size of the next mirror). But they mistranslated “look beyond” as look in the mirror, see what you can see in the reflection, and go and look there. This took them to the already quite untidy kitchen. The time ran down very quickly, and as this was the last clue and time was tight, I wasn’t going to help them. Time ticked down… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… TIME UP. Sadly they hadn’t found the prize. I then told them think about the clue again, how could they “look beyond”? Then the penny dropped – they needed to look BEHIND the mirror. As soon as they did that, a bar of chocolate fell out from behind the mirror, which would have been their prize. Well, it still was I guess, as I shared a bit of it with them.

They had come SO CLOSE to finding the treasure. They got through 9 out of the 10 clues in the 30 minutes, and had thoroughly rearranged the lounge, downstairs bedroom and kitchen in the process. They did have a fantastic time however. Unwisely, I left the chocolate I hadn’t eaten downstairs on Christmas Day. I came downstairs on Boxing Day to find it was no longer there, instead a note replaced it, which said “When you find your chocolate, it will light up your day”. Took me five minutes or so, but I finally found the chocolate in a box of tissues which had touch activated fairly lights built in. I deserved that, I suppose.

A pound per day… is agonisingly slow

I would really quite like a tablet. No, not the little pill kind, although I’ll probably have a few of those too thanks. No, I mean the electronic computer kind. I’m not entirely sure whether I should get an iPad or not, I reckon I’m going to get the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 for a few reasons, including that it includes a styles, the Android operating system makes file management a little easier, and it’s £320 compared to the iPad’s £400.

So, I’ve been saving up. But, I currently don’t have a full time job, which makes saving up money a little tricky. Since the beginning of October, I’ve made it my aim to save £1 per day towards the ‘tablet fund’. I’m not able to do this every day, as I can’t afford it, but I’ve done it on the days when I can afford it. I’ve also had some part time work with the gracious people at QuizQuizQuiz, and I’ve also had a birthday. From each of these, I’ve skimmed off half of my birthday money and £10 per session I’ve worked for QQQ, and put that towards the tablet fund.

It’s now the middle of December, and my tablet fund stands at £196, which I’m very pleased with. I’ve also got £40 in amazon vouchers which I’ve saved up for the past six months, so that takes my total to £236. I’m also owed £40 from various sources for selling some of my old DVDs, of which £20 will go into the tablet fund, making the total £256. So, to get to the magical £320 mark, I need £64. I’m quite proud of myself for being patient so far… but that sixty four pounds equates to another two months and it thus won’t be until February that I get the tablet. My patience is wearing a little thin!

Of course, I might get a bit of money at Christmas, of which half will be put towards the tablet fund and the other half towards, well, rent and living and eating. So that could speed things along a few days. Fingers crossed that at the beginning of February, I’ll be the owner of a shiny new tablet. I will hopefully reward my patience! I’m also well aware that in other parts of the world, people live on less than £1 per day, so I am very thankful that I am able to put aside what is, to me, such a small sum of money towards a bigger goal.

A whopping €3.5m prize!

This evening I’ll be commentating live for (approximately) six hours from 7.15pm onwards on the German Gameshow Schlag Den Raab with a €3.5m prize! Absolutely amazing! You can find all the details at http://www.bothersbar.co.uk/?p=6651 . YOU COULD ALSO WIN €100! Please tune in and listen to us for game explanations, statistics, bad puns, and inane chat! It will make your evening, I promise.

The 2012 Soldier Challenge!

This past weekend, I was part of a team of three people who took part in The Soldiers Challenge – an orienteering challenge set across central London. You are given four hours to visit as many of the 35 checkpoints located around central London possible. This blog post is a small account of our challenge! So, without further ado, here is our team:

On the left we have Geoff, I’m in the middle, and Andy T is on the right. A proud Team 173 at the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo. In this image we still have energy. Things were to change… We knew about the prospect of potentially abseiling, kayaking and other fun activites in London. I gave Andy T a quick interview before we began to ask him what he was looking forward to.

 

With a very loud foghorn, the 4 hours started. We raced to collect a map, and scribbled on it the 35 checkpoint locations from a list we’d been given with instructions such as “Find the marshal to start the challenge”.

We then decided upon our route, staying roughly south of the River Thames for a few checkpoints, crossing at Tower Bridge, heading north, then west, then back to Waterloo to the finish line. Along this route we’d take part in the checkpoints as we came to them. The first one was a mini treasure hunt at the Imperial War Museum. One of the checkpoints was surprisingly difficult to find. We then headed to the River Thames for a checkpoint called “Cammo’d Up”. And, well….

You’re not sure what the checkpoint activities involve until you get there, but you can usually get an idea from its title. In this case “Cammo’d Up” meant all the team members had to put on camo face paint.

This was quite apt, being the Soldiers Challenge for the Soldiers Charity – now we’re running around looking like soldiers. Soon after this we found an inflatable It’s A Knockout style obstacle course that we had to complete in the moat (dry moat!) at the Tower of London. It was a fantastic little obstacle course that was over all too quickly – it was so much fun!

As we were in the former moat of the Tower of London, we were below street level – so hundreds of bemused tourists were watching us from above trying to complete this obstacle course and, in my case, nearly falling over the edge of it after a particularly unlucky bounce. After this we continued to head north of the river to ultimately get to a kayaking challenge, but on the way we passed a task called “Sumo Training”. This is what happened – Geoff is in the red, I am in the blue.

We finally reached the kayaking challenge which Geoff was slightly worried about as he can’t swim. Sadly, we gave him a lifejacket.

The kayaking turned out to be about 800m in length, much longer than the hundred metres or so that we were expecting. It was a lengthy paddle, it took us about 20 minutes to complete it! Interestingly, the kayaks were built to be rowed in pairs, but we were a team of three. We put Andy T and Geoff together as Geoff absolutely wanted to be with someone as he’d never paddled before, which was fine. We figured that they’d pair me up with someone else to complete the kayaking with. WRONG! I had to row a two man kayak on my own, and whilst the kayaking was apparently “very tiring” with two people on the boat according to Geoff and Andy, I can confirm is was absolutely-sodding-knackering on your own! Kudos to the other singletons who did that challenge, that was a toughie. Amazingly, none of us fell in despite a few bumps with other kayaks and some non-moving boats, but we were pretty wet as the kayaks held some decent puddles inside them.

From the kayaking we headed towards a TA barracks where we had to identify 4 tanks (which we had to memorise by sight) from a selection of thirty or so on a wall. This was good fun and not easy for us civvies, but a further surprise awaited us after we successfully identified them. The marshal in charge of the task then said to us: “Well done guys, now go over to that girl with the razor and she’ll give you your points”. Did he just say razor? RAZOR?! One of us had to get some hair cut off, and thankfully they accepted leg hair. Geoff now has a strip of bare leg (see below) and probably looks like he’s wimped out after one attempt at waxing.

We took a bus along part of Oxford Street (until it became quicker to run!) and headed to Hyde Park collecting some more points as we went. Once there, Andy and Geoff had to withstand some beasting by a PT instructor. They were told to do a firemans lift (i.e. one person over the shoulder of another), but instead they did some piggybacks, as you’ll see below. What came next was far more masculine…

It’s a good thing we were in Hyde Park, a place where no-one ever goes so they didn’t make a fool of themselves in public… oh, wait. They were laughed at by dozens of people in deckchairs (and me!). Nice one guys! With about 30 minutes left, we started to head back, took the tube for the one and only time, and made it to two more tasks and crossed the finish line with 9 minutes to spare. Here is Andy T and myself, afterwards, lacking energy. You can see the size of the map we were given – it’s massive!

It turns out that Andy T is a fantastic navigator. He never got us lost once!

So – how did we do? There was a total of 500 points on offer if you completed all 35 of the checkpoints. I’m not entirely sure how many checkpoints we did, but we got a whopping 315 points and came 21st out of 242 teams!!! That’s in the top 10% – and there were some seriously fit guys on the course! I am immensely proud of our team and I, we really tried our hardest, never really stopped, and achieved a fantastic result. I’m not unfit, but I’m not very fit either. The longest distance I’d run before the challenge was 12km. Geoff had a GPS tracker so we could work out how far we’d gone. The map it produced is incredible:

The distances marked on the map are miles. You can see we travelled a heck of a long way, and if you ignore the tube journey (miles 15 to 17) and the bus journey (mile 11 and part of mile 12), we ran approximately 13 to 14 miles (20 to 21km) – i.e. a half marathon. I’ve never ran anywhere as far as that before. Thus the Soldier Challenge was a huge amount of fun and simultaneously the toughest thing (physically) I’ve ever done. I’d do it again. I will do it again. Both Andy T and Geoff want to do it again. We loved it – and if any of the organisers are reading this blog then I have a HUGE THANK YOU to say to you for organising such a brilliant event.

Why were we doing this? To raise money and awareness for ABF The Soldiers Charity which helps current and former soldiers and their families in their civilian lives. To find out more about the charity click here: http://www.soldierscharity.org/ , for more information on the Soldiers Challenge click here: http://www.soldierchallenge.co.uk/ . Finally, there is still time to donate to our team doing the Soldier Challenge – worth it as we game are all! – and you can do that at www.justgiving.com/danielpeake .

It was a fantastic day out. One that I’ll remember for ages to come, although in the immediate future I will be remembering muscles which got used for the first time in a while… I’m a bit achy today! It was totally worth it though. Bring on the Soldiers Challenge 2013!

Flood alert!

Here’s a few titbits from Day 3 of my Malta trip:

There’s a flood along my corridor from an unknown source. It rained inside and formed a puddle, and now it’s smelling quite mouldy.
I broke one of my flip-flops today. I guess you could say I broke my flip. Or I broke my flop. I don’t know precisely which one broke.
I ate so much watermelon today, I wouldn’t be surprised if I gave birth to a watermelon in a few months time.
Red jelly is not just for kids.
One of my dinner courses today consisted of watermelon and red jelly.

And in other news, I randomly met the grandparents of someone studying meteorology at Reading, that I probably taught as a masters student year before last.

The weather has also been rubbish today – 30mph winds and not particularly warm, I had to put a top on when outside! Shocker! It turns out it is difficult to swim into the wind when waves and spray are being blown into your face by the wind. Especially when it turns out you’re in a pool and the spray is coming from waves crashing 6ft high over a wall!

Tomorrow things should calm down a bit, I hope so as I’m heading to Gozo (small island north of Malta) on a ferry and I hope the ride isn’t too rough. If my writing is sideways in tomorrow’s post, then you know I’m a bit seasick.

A Cracker of a Eurasia-vision Song Contest

This weekend saw the annual Eurovision Song Contest, where countries from across Europe (and Asia now really) have three minutes to each sing a song, everyone votes for their favourite country/political neighbough and we all go home comiserating how poorly the UK continue to do. It’s a tradition.

This year saw a group of us get together to have a cheesy party through the evening. We played ‘Buzz it’ before the Contest started, a game where you must mention things in a particular category within 8 seconds or you lose. I was disappointed to have “breathe” disallowed from “Things you do on public transport”, because I’m sure I don’t hold my breath when using the train. OK, given the state of the buses around here it might actually be a wise thing to hold your breath, but still.

Once the contest started, we were each given three countries randomly. The person whose country won would get a silly little prize worth 99p, the loser would have to do a forfeit. I had the UK, Switzerland and Estonia and, halfway through the voting Estonia was firmly at the bottom of the table. Boooooo. All of a sudden however, a few countries gave Estonia some points, and it lept to the penultimate place on the table! My joy turned to dispair when I realised the country it had overtaken was Switzerland, which was also mine.

The forfeit I had to perform was the rather irritating 3 cracker challenge, where you eat 3 dry crackers as quickly as possible. It can be done in under a minute if you don’t mind your throat becoming perforated. I’ve never tried the challenge before, and apparently my time of 3 minutes 46 seconds is “respectable” for a first ever go. Ot felt like the sheer dryness of the crackers sapped out any moisture anywhere in my body. I think if I drink another few hundred litres or so of water I’ll quench my thirst. Swimming pools in my local area are advised to be on the look out for anyone with a very large drinking straw…

Moving Season

It’s been nearly a year since I moved into my current house, a whopping 12 doors away from my old house, and that means either it’s time to renew or move house. I’ve chosen, mainly due to the landlord wanting to sell the house, to move. A good choice there, I thought.

So, I’ve found a decent house, about half a mile away from where I am now, with nice decor (taste permitting), good security (thief permitting), a low maintenance garden (gravel-raking permitting) and a room that faces west with LOTS of sunny shiney sunshiney stuff (nature permitting). The people I’ll be moving in with are also pretty nice (lack-of-naked-me permitting)

The catch: The move in date is one month after the move out date of my current contract. The solution: move home, get meals cooked and laundry done (although I may be completely wrong about that), and pay fewer bills. All told, not a bad solution – the commute to work is a bit strained though, so I’ll only be in work a couple of days a week. I’ll just have to work from home… oh the trials and tribulations of being a PhD student. I do realise how cushy I’ve got it, and the thought of joining the Real World and getting a Proper Job fills me with fear and turns my trousers a different colour.

Still, work is progressing well on the PhD. Results are plopping out of the super computer pleasingly frequently! I’ve just got to start writing up the results and present my work at some conferences. Ideally, I hope to submit before Christmas this year (2011) and then write up papers for the scientific commumity for three months in 2012. Then…. onwards, upwards, outwards, skywards and maybe even jobwards!

Polygon

My trip to hospital to remove Polly the Polyp has been and gone, and it’s been a success!

Last week, I went into hospital for the op. I wasn’t allowed to eat on the day of the operation and by 4pm op I was ravenous! Having the injection of anaesthetic was a very cool experience. If you’ve ever seen House or ER then you’ve probably seen what it looks like when they inject dye and see it go through the veins – it was similar thing when they injected the general anaesthetic. “It might tighten your chest a little” was what they said, and it did in a strange way. When it was injected it hurt in the vein up the arm, and then i could feel that spreading all the way up my arm and branching off like the dye, and by the time it reached my chest I was under.

Apparently when I was in recovery I was shouting to the world “I FEEL LOOPY” over and over. I don’t remember this… which is probably a good thing. I apologise to any of the hospital staff who I asked the same question to over and over again. My sister got asked “Well, how are you?” 3 times – I only remember asking once!

I only had one meal at the hospital, breakfast. Shredded wheat, toast, and a plate of marmite. That’s right, a PLATE. I didn’t eat it all, funnily enough.

Since the op, my nose and face has been quite sore. I’m resting as any activity makes my nose start to bleed. Hopefully that will subside soon.