The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Visitors and Dogs

We have had Paul's parents, Alan and Lillian, staying for just under a week. They arrived last Thursday evening - slightly later than planned after being held up by a traffic accident near Newcastle. The weather was surprisingly good for their visit, which meant we had a few trips out around the locality.

On the Friday we all walked the dogs to the church at Edrom in the morning and then headed over to Kelso after lunch.

Saturday we went to Eyemouth in the morning where Paul bought some very nice honey glazed smoked salmon for lunch. In the afternoon we wandered around Coldingham and then drove down to the bay. Despite the cold wind there were still a lot of people walking their dogs there, and a fair number of surfers. We then continued on to St. Abbs, but stayed in the car there as it was far too cold and windy to get out for what little there is to see there.

On Sunday we went to a Christmas fair at Paxton house. We had been there last year, when it had not been very busy. This year, however, it required people to organise the parking. Also it seemed far better organised, with a route to go round to see the house before getting to the fair itself. Fortuitously for me there was a stand there manned by the wife of the man who made a bespoke iron-work banister and door for our neighbour Anne. I picked up a card and left my details, and in the evening the chap phoned to briefly determine what I was wanting. I am hoping to get some gates made for our new back garden when it eventually gets redeveloped - current estimates are March at the earliest. We had invited our neighbour, Margaret, around for dinner in the evening.

On Monday Paul, Alan and Lillian went to Edinburgh to visit Pam, the mother of their other daughter-in-law. I stayed behind to look after the dogs and wrap up the Christmas presents we want taken back down south.

Tuesday I drove Alan and Lillian to Dunbar, where I had never been before. We wandered down to the harbour where we were delighted to see a seal. At first I thought it was a rock sticking up out of the water, and then its head popped up out of the water. We then meandered back to the town and browsed in the shops before heading home for a late lunch.

I think all the fresh air and walking tired them out. Lillian said she has not felt so relaxed for ages. I think a good time was had by all. They set off back home on Wednesday morning. My scrabble study and diet suffered a little whilst they were here, but I am trying to get back into both now.

Margaret has a field near us where she had said we can walk our dogs as she is not planning on ploughing it until the spring. We have walked the dogs on their leads around it a few times. I mentioned on Sunday that we were considering driving into the field and letting the dogs off the lead in there if she didn't object. She said she thought that was a good idea. We decided to go for it today.

We drove a little way into the field, so that the dogs would have a focal point to head back to if needed. We were a little fearful as we opened the back door of the car. We weren't sure what would happen.

They both jumped out and went charging to the end of the field. They do look magnificent when running flat out. Jen then came bounding back to us, but Poncho carried on around the edge of the field and disappeared out of sight. This was a little worrying. He had run all the way to the other end of the field, but when he saw us coming over the brow of the hill he came running back which was a great relief.

We then walked around the field again, and both dogs stayed close to us. I think they had tired themselves out with their initial bursts of energy - both were panting quite heavily. When we said it was time to go home Poncho ran straight to the car and jumped in the back. Jen decided she didn't want to get in, so I drove Poncho home and Paul walked back with Jen.

All in all it was a very successful outing. Poncho has been hobbling a bit since on his right paw, which we think he has broken in the past, but not so badly that we won't do it again.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Eights - part 1

I hate doing eights - they are so much harder than sevens - but a certain amount of study is an unfortunate necessity.

I have started with the single solution sets in probability order. I was not impressed with my progress after completing the top 2500, but I was pleased to get quite a few of the ones that normally trip me up or take what seems like an eternity, so it is not all doom and gloom.

I started over again. The second time through is a lot better, but this is probably short term memory. I think the key to eights for me is repetition, repetition, repetition. This can be extremely boring and the danger is that I just switch off. However, the quicker I get the less time to get bored. My target is that a set of 500 should take up to 50 minutes - this is a good time for concentration as it is the length of a game.

In a game you do not have someone tapping you on your shoulder saying 'hey - you've got an 8 with that A on the board'. Unlike sevens, when all the tiles are sitting in front of you, with eights you have to mentally anagram your rack with what tiles are 'floating' (i.e. available to play around) on the board. This makes eights even harder to find and play.

According to the book 'How To Win at Scrabble', written by my friends Andrew Fisher and David Webb, 82% of eights will be played from the top 40% probability, 89% from the top 50% probability.

I freely admit to being very lazy with eights at the board - if my tiles do not look promising (i.e. not high probability) I will often not even look to see if there is a possibility of one if I do not desperately need one. I may lose the occasional game from this strategy, but I think I may also win some by better general rack management to steer my tiles to what I have studied, and time saved in searching when there is none to be found.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Scrabble Revision Results: 7 letters 1 answer

I have just finished revising the top 8000 probability sevens with one anagram. I failed to get 194 of the answers. Embarrassingly some of what I missed a complete novice would get. It is not that I do not know the words (in many cases) but because of how I test myself - at least that is my excuse. I am trying to get to almost automatic recognition of the alphagrams and their solutions. There is no point staring at the alphagram for 5 minutes to get the answer - you will lose the game on time penalties...

One problem is I often see a non-word immediately that should then trigger the actual word. However, sometimes I do not recognise the phony as being a trigger. It does help if it is an obvious nonsense word but that is not always the case. A couple of examples where I failed to recognise the trigger for what it was:


And an example of a trigger that works:
CENRSTU - trigger very rude = ENCRUST

Another problem is that I can get into a mindset. If I have had a run of two or three words that follow a pattern, then frequently when the next alphagram pops up my brain just follows that pattern and comes up automatically with the wrong answer.


Hopefully this would not happen in a game situation...

I also find words that do not fit to the standard 'scrabble players' way of anagramming incredibly hard to solve. They can be 'everyday' words that just throw you completely. Amongst those I failed dismally on were ACHIRTU and BCEHIOR... HAIRCUT and BRIOCHE. Hopefully they will come screaming at me from now on.

Sometimes the problem is a muddling of known words: PECTATE SPECTATE SPECTATOR SECTATOR therefore logically SECTATE.... missing the everyday word CASETTE.

I also find it fascinating that changing just one letter can give amazingly different word structures. Take AAISTT? This rack yields the following nine very different solutions:

aBattis astatiC satiatE saGitta astatKi tataMis attaiNs stRiata and ataVist

The English language is a truly amazing thing...

Jen and Poncho in Disgrace

The weather is generally becoming a lot wetter and colder, but it is the days when we have strong winds that are the real killers. It is very difficult to hear cars when the wind is gusting through the trees. Getting ready for walks is taking longer - hats, coats, scarves and gloves for us, and coats and muzzles for Jen and Poncho. Our schedule has now changed to 'long' walks in the morning and afternoon, but the extended walks are less frequent now as they are less enjoyable. It is also getting dark quite early now - on grey/rainy days it can be getting dark at around 4 p.m. - so the start time of the afternoon walk is gradually being pulled back.

We had started undoing the dog's leads as we came up the drive, and they would bound up to the front door and wait for us. However, on Tuesday they obviously saw or smelt something up the high bank. Poncho stopped and started sniffing, and then Jen just jumped up quickly followed by Poncho. They spent five minutes running up and down and along the back of Margaret's barn, showing none of the trepidation and care that I had when working up there. They obviously didn't give a damn about the plants...

I was worried that they would run around the side of the barn to Margaret's - having seen the nettles, brambles and hogweed there they could have done themselves a lot of damage, not to mention what would happen if they saw Margaret's cats.

As it was lunch time I went and got their bowls and clanged them. This did the trick - the promise of food got them down. They had obviously thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but a severe telling off did make them look slightly abashed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Day in Edinburgh

I at last got round to filling in the visa application on Sunday for my trip to Bangalore.

Today, as the weather forecast was for dry and sunny, I went to the Indian Consulate in Edinburgh to get it processed. I drove to the park and ride at Newcraighall and got the train in - much less hassle than driving into Edinburgh itself, especially as I didn't know how long I would be.

I knew roughly where I had to go - it was in Rutland Square at the opposite end of Princes Street to Waverley station. I had a quick look at a bus route map, and saw I should turn left onto Lothian street, and it should be further up there on the right. I set off and wandered down Lothian street. I remembered that I had not dated my form - was not sure which day I would actually go to Edinburgh - and a quick check revealed I had no black pen in my handbag. I dived into a newsagents to buy one. I continued walking, but did not see the square. Luckily there was a traffic warden nearby, who very kindly directed me to an underpass under a building opposite which came out in the square.

It was about 11.15 when I found the consulate. As I was about to enter a man called out if I was enquiring about a visa to go to the basement. I enquired whether there was a ticket system, but no - everyone just shuffled along the chairs everytime someone was called to the counter. Just like the DHSS in Dundee as I recall, except the chairs weren't bolted to the floor...

I joined the queue at the end of row three of three - 17 people ahead of me. Two Indians immediatley in front of me realised they were in the wrong queue, and left. 15 people ahead of me. I shuffled along. As I sat there I realised the form I had filled in was different to the one on display. Mine was a London form from the web, theirs was an Edinburgh form. I decided for safety sake to fill in an Edinburgh form as well - I had plenty of time and a new black pen. At 11.50 there were 7 people ahead of me - so, about 5 minutes per person. At this rate I should just about make the 12.30 cut-off. Didn't look good for those who had come in after me...

And then a new man took over at the counter. Suddenly we were shuffling along at break-neck speed, and it was my turn. I handed over my Edinburgh form (definitely a shrewd move as I observed people frantically filling them in when the web form had been rejected), passport and the £30.00 fee. The bottle-neck came waiting to get our receipts for our passports - man number one had taken over this task. I was out by 12.15, having to go back between 16.00 and 17.00 to collect passport and hopefully visa.

I headed back to Princes street. I had £30 of M&S vouchers that Paul had won in various bridge tourneys, and the nearest M&S to us was here. I managed to spend them and more without too much of a problem, and also managed a little more Christmas shopping. By 2 p.m. I was beginning to flag, and stopped for lunch.

I still had over an hour to fill, and continued trudging up and down and in and out of shops, but my enthusiasm for the task had long since lapsed. I decided to wander back to the consulate early and wait - and found there was already a queue. They eventually opened the doors about 5 minutes late, but the process of retrieving the passports was a lot quicker. I collected mine plus visa, and headed straight back to Waverley station.

As I waited on the platform I attracted the nutter, or maybe I am just paranoid. I was the only person there at the time, and then this youngish lad arrived and sat on the same bench as me. I thought it odd. He then asked if I had the time. I wasn't wearing a watch, but pointed out there was a clock not far from us. He then started muttering a bit and whistling. I felt slightly better as a few more people had arrived on the platform by now. Then he moved into the seat next to me. I was fastidiously ignoring him. I was very relieved when he then got up and wandered further up the platform, and I ensured I got into a different carriage to him when the train arrived.

Anyway, only 2 months until I go to Bangalore. Flights booked and visa sorted. Need to sort out typhoid jab at the start of December...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dogs, Scrabble, Gardening

Saturday night was a bit of trial for me. I think most people had decided to have their bonfire night a night early this year. Paul was away playing bridge again. Jen does not like bangs at the best of times, and she was absolutely terrified with the sounds of the fireworks going off. I think only one of our neighbours actually had a bonfire party, but sound travels amazingly far around here. She was shaking and panting, and for once when she climbed onto the sofa I let her stay there. Luckily Poncho did not seem to be bothered in the slightest, and all in all was a little angel with no signs of jealousy as I tried to keep Jen calm. Luckily there was a lull at around 7.30 p.m. and by 8 p.m. she was relaxed enough to go outside for a pee break. As we were out there were a few more loud bangs, and Jen pulled me back to the house.

Poncho is nowhere near as good at playing with squeaky toys as Jen. For him all the excitement is actually going to get them from the 'secret cupboard', grabbing one and racing back to the lounge. He is not as good as Jen at getting them to squeak and soon loses interest. Jen can keep up squeaking ad-infinitum. However, a yoghurt pot gets his full attention...

Now that I have less to do in the garden I have got back into the flow of word study. I am revising my sevens yet again. I have completed the couplets - alphagrams with two solutions (there are 3161 alphagrams in this list) , and am now doing the sevens with a unique solution (just under 21000 in total). I do them in probability order, and am currently on 4001-4500. I will not do them all - diminishing returns and all that. The theory is that the more often I do them the less time they should take. I am currently at a success rate of just under 99%.

I also discovered some time back that I cannot play for Scotland in the next WSC. Even though they changed the residency rules they decided this was not retrospective. However, there are two 'floating' U.K. places that I can go for - one for the highest ABSP rated player at the end of this year and one for the highest placed finisher in next years BMSC, who has not already been selected for a U.K. country. I am currently way ahead for the first floating place - keeping my fingers crossed...

The rest of my plant order has still not arrived. I have completed clearing out and digging over the small beds I used for annuals along the bottom of the long bank, and yesterday finished digging out the new bed along the trellis. I am now twiddling my thumbs...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A dreadful year for UK Scrabble

I at last got around to reading my scrabble magazine yesterday. Inside was an obituary of Karl Khoshnaw - best known around the scrabble world as the world record holder for playing CAZIQUE for 124 points on his opening move. I had first met Karl when he was a member of the Richmond club. I used to play in the East Berkshire team, and the Richmond v East Berks match almost always decided which of us would win the Southern Counties league for that year. He had died whilst awaiting a liver transplant when he contracted pneumonia and septicaemia, aged only 57.

I logged in to the uk-s scrabble mailing list to write an email regarding the '5 minute challenge' inside the magazine. This is a regular feature, containing 4 sets of 10 anagrams, the first set supposedly for beginners, increasing in difficulty and the final set for experts. I had been thinking that David (who sets the challenges) was losing the plot. David has come into scrabble with an excellent and exotic word knowledge, and definitely not what most people would call a scrabble players vocabulary. Scrabble players tend to learn words in probability order of the tiles, but David's challenges do not seem to take that into account.

(answers at the end of this post)
Group 1 contained ABGLMOU
Group 2 contained AILMPRU
Group 3, which according to David should be known by players with ratings 151-175 (n.b. I have a rating of 193) contained the following: CCEEIOR, ENRSUY and BEIIMNNR
I won't even tell you what was in group 4...

I sent my email.

I checked half an hour later to see if it had arrived and whether there had been any response.

That was when I received the dreadful news. Graeme Thomas, a former chairman of the Association of British Scrabble Players, had been involved in a fatal car accident on the early hours of the morning. There had been a severe frost, and it was thought that his car failed to take a sharp bend and hit a tree.

As with Pete earlier in the year this news has been greeted with shock, great sadness and a sense of disbelief. Emails have been coming in from around the world expressing people's sorrow and passing on condolences to Graeme's family.

Graeme was a one-off, which is saying something for an identical twin.

With respect to Graeme, moderator of the uk-s scrabble mailing list
As is customary on uk-s there follows a spoiler space for the quiz answers
Graeme also had an exotic and extensive vocabulary, and was well known for berating us on our lack of education. I was wondering whether I should include the quiz in this post, but I think he would approve
LUMBAGO. Although a common word I would not expect the majority of low-rated players to get this.
PRIMULA. Again not an obscure word, but not high up on the probability stakes of scrabble.
CICOREE - certainly not a word on everyones lips and very low probability
SENRYU - 6-letter words are the least valuable to scrabble players and as this does not take an S would not have been learnt even as a lower-probability 7. Add to that it is an American import...
RENMINBI - enough said...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Plant Man Cometh - part 1

On Tuesday afternoon the doorbell went, and there was the man bearing a box from J Parker. I signed for it, thought it looked a little small considering all I had ordered. I was quite right, only part of the order was inside. Unfortunately, mainly the wrong part...

The tulips, hyacynths, alliums, erythronium and campanulas were enclosed. What I really wanted to do was plant up the shrubs/perennials and then plant the alliums and tulips around them.

There were still some things I could get on with, so on Tuesday afternoon when it had warmed up a little I planted ten of the tulips into the rockery and set about the five erythronium under the buddleia. And it started to rain... Back inside. Half an hour later it stopped, so I went back out and planted the remaining twenty grape hyacynths from my Aldi packs. I also decided to plant the hyacinths in the garden rather than pots. I have a small bed that I used for summer bedding which would be ideal for them.

This afternoon I ended back up at the side of the house. I sort of knew I would. The thought of leaving those brambles until the spring was beginning to knaw away at me. Armed with my gloves, secateurs and fork I worked my way back up and round. The ground up there was covered in conifer litter, last years autumn debris of sticks and many stones, which I cleared as best I could. I pulled out/cut down as many of the brambles as I could but attempts to dig out the roots were only partially successful due to their positions and the stony ground. It was too dangerous to dig/pull too much - I did not fancy losing my balance and falling into the alley. I think that area will be a matter to control rather than tame...

After bagging up all the rubbish I decided I deserved a cup of coffee and a ciggie on my bench, enjoying the late autumn sun and views. My bench is one of my pride and joys. I had a work colleague who did wood-work as a hobby, so I commissioned him to make me my bench - oak, seats three easily and the arms are wide enough to put your coffee cup on with room to spare. It weighs an absolute ton, and hopefully will last my lifetime.

Views from my bench:

The autumn colours are really looking glorious now, but after the strong wind on Tuesday a lot have already fallen.

The river is just becoming visible again from the garden.

I decided I had time to plant some of the campanulas. On opening the packet I found roots with small shoots, and no planting instructions. I knew roughly where I had planned to plant them - around the pampas grass. I planted four, eventually deciding they should be buried rather than the shoots poking out. No idea if this is right or not, but working on the principle that they are root cuttings therefore should be underground. If anyone knows if this is wrong please tell me what I should do - the good news is that I appear to have a lot more than the six I expected, so can try again...

Weather is supposed to remain good according to the five-day forecast, so I hope the rest of my order arrives soon.

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