January arrived more than two weeks ago, and, until now, I have not written anything for this noble medium. But, this indolent state of affairs will now change.
I decided that a decent break from all ‘brain activities’ must take place, coinciding with the Christmas closure of VUW from 23 December-9 January. During those two-and-a-bit weeks, I had a great time doing things around the house, doing some swimming and some running, and contorting myself back into a cello practise regime. These two weeks were thoroughly enjoyable. In addition to painting the French windows from my room to the garden, I used a circular saw for the first time, and thanks to Capital Sports Performance, conquered my distaste for swimming off Freyberg and Oriental Bay beaches. And, I read a lot of novels, and two autobiographies. With complete confidence, I now recommend to all PhD students this notion of taking a break: I didn’t stop thinking, and jotted down the occasional brilliant thought in my notebook, but otherwise, not opening my laptop for two weeks was bliss. By the 9th, I was willing, wanting, and waiting to work. Hurrah. As it happens, all I’ve done so far is a lot of admin, and leapt into this year’s London Handel Festival programme notes. After 8 days, these are almost done.

Having disliked and discarded for many years the idea of goal-setting as a practice, the six-monthly progress reports that VUW forces its research students to submit every … six months, have changed my mind. The form requires that you set three SMART goals. Verily, SMART is a nauseating acronym, but now I can see its value, not just for setting the goals, but then being able to enjoy achieving them, after a fashion.  The acronym I interpret as

greed upon

Leaving aside my research and thesis goals for this year, I felt that committing a few other goals to paper would be a valuable exercise. It’s much easier to do this stuff if somebody else knows about it. So …

The aim is to swim an average of 1km per day. Currently I try to do 2x3km sessions per week, and a technique session of about 1km every week. So, to achieve this goal comfortably I must do another 2km-2.5km session each week. Over the last year, it has become plain to me that while I can do 3km of mixed sets in an hour, it takes me 1.5km to become thoroughly ‘warmed up’. In sea swim races of 2km, and in the three recent sea sessions with CSP, I’ve felt myself becoming warm and flexible after the first km, during which I always feel stiff and cranky.  I could easily do at least 4km in a session. What I need is some other people to do this with. Before the end of the season, I will do two more Scorcher races (2km each, the Capital Classic 3.3km, and one of the Splash and Dash 2km events).

There is a lighthouse out there, somewhere.

The goal is to complete the couch-to-5km programme. On my previous attempts, various factors have stopped me: crunching my knee, developing peculiar lurching sensations after the November earthquakes, and – I have now discovered – trying to run too fast. I started again last week, on 8 January, not at the beginning, but at the 1.30 jog/1.30 walk 3.00 jog/3.00 walk stage. After completing the 25 minutes, I do a subsequent 10 minutes of alternating 1 minute running and 1 minute walking, but running at a faster pace.

More individual practise time. From 3 January, I have been aiming at 1 hour of cello every day. This I have achieved, only missing one day because I became bogged down in Handel Festival notes and didn’t notice that suddenly it was 11pm. I’ve been practising in the evenings, which is lovely, but once the term starts up this won’t be possible, so I will work out a better time to schedule it. There is a proper SMART goal for this: I have a recital in the Anglican Cathedral on 10 February.

And finally, if anybody has read this far, I applaud you wholeheartedly. Here is a little reward, in the form of nugget of information about Handel, his librettist Charles Jennens, and Saul. Handel composed the music in the summer of 1738, and the premiere took place in 1739. Despite the eventual success of Saul, Jennens had a fractious relationship with Handel during its creation referring to Handel’s musical ideas as ‘maggots’:

‘Mr. Handel’s head is more full of Maggots than ever: I found yesterday in His room a very queer Instrument which He calls Carillon (Anglice a Bell) & says some call it a Tubal-cain. I suppose because it is in the make and tone like a Hammer striking upon Anvils. ‘Tis played upon with Keys like a Harpsichord, & with this Cyclopean Instrument he designs to make poor Saul stark mad. His second Maggot is an Organ of 500£ price, which (because he is overstock’d with Money) he has bespoke of one Moss of Barnet …. I could tell you more of his Maggots: but it grows late, and I must defer the rest till I write next; by which time, I doubt not, more new ones will breed in his Brain.’


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