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november 2001 Pete's Letters (2001)
Open letters to friends and family
Letters from 2001:

January 2001
Well, another Christmas has come and gone, and another new year is upon us. Happy New Year to one and all! Indeed a happy new millennium, too! Debbie and I had a few quiet weeks at home over Christmas and the New Year, trying to recover from what became a pretty stressed-out end of 2000. One lucky escape, or near miss, came right at the end of the year when I crashed the car. I pulled out from a side road into traffic (literally) and did 4000 pounds worth of damage to the car, plus something similar to the other car I hit! What struck me hardest at the time, though, was not how bad it was to have been in a crash, but how great it was that nobody was hurt.  Having said that, the driver of the other car is now suing me for alleged whiplash trauma, which I think is a bit sad. I felt like sending him a Christmas card telling him that I hoped his Christmas would not be ruined by greed and avarice (but I didn’t).

debbie with camera The cold snappy weather we’ve had has really suited me: clear skies and temperatures below zero keeping the damp and mud at bay for a week or two. Lots of crisp and frosty walks through the country with the dogs. Debbie decided to give photography a go: here she is on the left wrapped up for the cold and snapping away! And on the right here she is struggling through the snowy stable yard with a load of straw! I took both these little photos with a tiny digital camera that I got through the department for use in fieldwork:  I discovered testing the camera out this month  that it doesn't cope well with the cold, which doesn't bode well for Greenland! May be I will have to start going somewhere warmer to look at my glaciers! Debbie with straw
In fact I have been getting really excited about the research in the last week or so, because I have come up with ideas for a new research project that I can do a bit nearer to home, as well as continuing with the more remote Greenland work. I've always had the long-term aim of relating my observations in Greenland  to landscapes in formerly glaciated areas like the UK, and I am beginning to find that I am nearly in a position to start doing that. During this next year I plan to scout out some sites in the Lake District that will enable me to do fieldwork in all those months and years inbetween trips to Greenland, as well as just during those expeditions. It is years since I was out and about in the hills in this country, and I am pretty excited about it.
My sister, Teresa, was in the news this week, featuring in the Sunday Times on-line. It was an article all about the Scottish Ancestral Research company she runs. The photo they used in the article was pretty scary (on the right, here). My nephew (her son) Matthew says it would have been ok if she'd held the book a little higher. Follow this link to see the complete article. Follow this link to get to her company's page and track down your Scottish ancestors!
Teresa behind book
Things have eased up a little bit at work compared with the end of last year. I have managed to shed some of the overload I had in administrative duties in the department. There is no system for distributing admin loads in the way that there is for teaching loads, and I reckoned I was getting way more than a fair share. I don't think the system has improved, but at least now I don't think I'm one of the ones getting the hardest time! I've still been a bit stressed at work, though. It turned out this week that one chap had actually put in for a big research grant right in my own area of research, and nobody told me about it until someone from outside Keele phoned me up to ask me about it!  Debbie suggested we move to another University: we both think New Zealand sounds nice, but I don't think Mom would like it if we went quite that far! But if anyone sees a nice job come up somewhere near the sea-side in the south of the UK, let me know! (Only kidding,  we quite like it around Keele really!)
me! Well, that's January pretty much done. February tomorrow, and a couple of weeks to my 40th birthday! I'd better figure out the meaning of life, quick. (Here are some notes). In fact a more pressing question is whether to keep the silly little goatee beard I've acquired. Debbie likes it, but I remain to be convinced. I don't think it really matters, though, in the grand scheme of things. Anyway, here's me right now, 31st Jan 2001.


March 2001

I remember thinking a few months ago that although I am constantly surrounded by all sorts of books, I hadn't actually got any new books for me (except for work) for a while. Now, suddenly, I am swamped with new books! Partly it's thanks to my birthday, partly to a payment "in kind" by a publisher for a book-reviewing job I did, and partly to a few new purchases. At the moment I am primarily engrossed in three biographies of Mahler (the composer), and musical analyses of one of his symphonies (the 6th). (In fact the living room is littered with about 10 Mahler books and scores at the minute!) This is continuing a longstanding interest, but this time around I am finding special interest in a few issues surrounding Mahler that I didn't really appreciate when I first read about him when I was a student.  I have been interested for a long time in the idea of some kind of historical convergence and the "unity of everything": a bit like the search for a unified field theory but extending over cultural-historical as well as physical phenomena.  I am swilling around in my head an idea for a book provisionally called "Life, Everything, and Mahler's 6th Symphony." Catchy, don't you think? 
me juggling
learning to juggle
Another book I read in February was a "biography" of the equation e=mc2,  taking in the background to each of its components as well as the stories of Einstein, the Bomb, etc. I read the book in about 2 days (fast for me) and then found that the very last page had not been printed properly and was blank! So, I will have to traipse back to the shop and swap it for a properly printed one to read the end! Other new books on my desk include "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - a book I read a few years ago but never had my own copy of), "How to Juggle" (complete with a set of juggling balls!), and "The Photograph: a Strange Confined Space"  (which the back cover describes as a "serious, densely textured meditation on photography which is a study of meanings value and discourse as well." Hmmm.)  I also managed to fit all 9 Mahler symphonies (nearly 12-hours worth) as mp3 files onto one CD and had fun designing a CD-insert using that drawing of Mahler I did years ago. Doesn't look so good here, but looks neat in the little plastic case!
Mahler cd insert
CD insert
the lurcher
I don't know if it's the juggling or the hassle at work but my back has been playing up again, and I've got a nasty little tummy problem too, so I'm very much looking forward to Easter vacation and a bit of rest and recuperation. (Lurch (the lurcher) has a bit of a tummy problem at the minute, too, and gets me up at 3 o'clock every morning to let her out into the garden. I planned to train Dodd (the other dog) to let her in and out for me to save me having to get up, but he's wised up and isn't joining in.) My plans for Lake District fieldwork are on hold during the foot and mouth disease outbreak, as the countryside is pretty much "closed" at the moment, and walking around in the hills is restricted. Plans for new fieldwork in both Greenland and Iceland are in the pipeline, but neither of those are in the immediate future.  So it's sunny old Stoke for me, watching the crocuses come up and giving lectures about glaciers. My friend and old Greenland partner Robin keeps making me jealous by sending  postcards and photos from Los Alamos (New Mexico) where he is working for the year. I bet you're going to bring my God-daughter back with an American accent, aren't you, Robin!

Saw another old friend in the paper the other day: Andrew Dilnot was awarded a CBE! Here's a photo of him from the Jan.2001 issue of "Social Sciences", taking a masterclass at the ESRC's National Social Science Conference. Congratulations, Andrew! 

Andrew Dilnot
Andrew (CBE!)
And another old friend, Ingo from Germany, came to visit. We went out for a drink with a few folk from the department and between us we had geographers (?) from 5 European nations (including Debbie's Italian fraction!), so it was no surprise when our attempts to define geography remained inconclusive! Nice to see you again Ingo... here are those photos!!

Ingo etc....

I am giving an evening lecture-slideshow on my research (etc) to the Keele GeoSociety this month, so if anyone is in the area on 22nd March and wants to see me standing up and wittering, there's your chance! The title is "Long holidays, lovely countryside, and time to think: motivations for a career in research."  I've had some startling reminders lately of how people are motivated my different things, and how people differ in the extent to which they admit, or are aware of their motivations. Not just in research, but in life generally. Part of my preoccupation with the "unifying theory of life and everything" (see above) is focussing on how people prioritize differently: fame, integrity, an easy life, doing what's right or doing what keeps you out of trouble. And how can you tell them apart? A GeoSoc lecture isn't necessarily the place to delve too deeply into serious topics, but those are issues in my mind as I frame up what will eventually boil down to a slide-show of pretty pictures and a review of what I'm up to with the old glaciers!

Incidentally, the course web page for my final-year Glaciers class is now viewable from outside Keele, so if anyone is interested to see what I teach in that, here it is.

PS: still working on the meaning of life, but seem to have lost the beard.


May 2001
Well, one thing that stays the same is that I never seem to have time to get down to all the different things I want to do! So, sorry if you've been looking in vain for an update! (Hey Carrie!). It's also been a busy time with loads of exam marking, and I'm in the middle of a couple of heavy-work papers and a book proposal, too. Also had fun (?) as part of the team doing the University's internal quality audit of the German degree course. (And I have to keep up the juggling practice, of course...!) In fact, it's a miracle I ever update these pages at all inbetween work, the animals, writing stuff, messing in the garden, fiddling with the model railway, and periodically getting engrossed in some game or other (Settlers IV !). Here's a photo that Debbie took of me to prove that I'm not getting any prettier. me, may 2001, by Debbie!
harry the carry One bit of news since I last wrote is that we got a new van! The old one, Debbie's little red van, didn't make it through the MOT, so we gave him to a good home and got Harry, the Suzuki Carry. He's the up-to-date version of the same model we had before, but this one actually stops when you hit the brakes, steers when you turn the wheel, etc. Here's Harry just after we picked him up, with the dogs checking him out!
Cars have been a bit of a theme this month: the Corrado went in for his service and came back with a whole lot of work needing done. Bits I didn't even know he had are all worn out. As will my bank balance be. We debated changing him for something cheaper to run, but for now we can't bring ourselves to do it. I quite fancied one of those little "smart" cars. Well, may be not. Here's Debbie posing in the driving seat of the Corrado ( and proving that we have had some nice spring weather). Debbie in the Corrado
Dodd, May 2001
Taking the car to Crewe to get serviced is always a nice morning out for me:  I now use it as an opportunity and excuse to lurk around Crewe station with a thermos flask and a camera. No, I don't take a log book and write down numbers! In fact I get funny looks from the train spotters because while they are oohing and ahhing over the class 44s, I'm photographing rusty old dustbins and nice plays of light in the girders!

Debbie has had a few days out too, going to the races at Newmarket with her friend (also a Debbie - here she is on the right with Lurch). They came back flushed with excitment and panting just a little after they managed to get Kieron Fallon's autograph on their race-card. And they think I'm sad with my train-set. Dodd says if Lurch gets her photo in the letter he wants to be in too. Both these photos were in the latest batch we just got done.

Debbie D and Lurch
And here are couple to show that Meg's OK too... vicious brute that she is!
My friend Robin and his family are still all in the states, so greetings to them and HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lucy!


August 2001
Whoops... long time no letter! I've been so busy I haven't had time to keep up with everything. Just time for a quick note to tide us over. Very busy at work with various different projects, and busy with lots of things at home too. 
Sold the Corrado, so we're back to being a one-vehicle family. First time in about 10 years I haven't been a Corrado-owner! Still, now that a couple of other folk around the department at work have old Corrados, I guess it's time to move on! I quite fancy the Bentley Turbo. Tony came to visit with his new Leon Cupra... not bad, but... not quite like the old VR6!

Got 2 new contracts with Blackwells and Nelson Thornes to do new books, so it looks like I'll have 3 book projects on the go by the end of the year! Have seen (so far!) 3 different doctors plus assorted nurses and fluid-collection technicians about the mystery ailment that started back in March: I'm booked in for a scan next month so watch this space! No trips to Greenland or Iceland for me this summer, but I did my first fieldwork in the Lake District on the new project, and had a nice day wandering around the hills and valleys around Coniston. I am delaying further visits until they actually send through the promised grant cheque! Went to Leicester races with Debbie, and did the looking-after-of-menagerie while Debbie also went off on various other racing excursions with her friend.  Failed miserably to live up to my promise to fix a time for a "reunion" with Lizzie and Mandy. Missed several people's birthdays and haven't managed to write letters to anyone. Spent a small fortune (Corrado money!) on the model railway, beginning a whole new level of modelling (for me) with electric point control! Put a bulb in the landing light that has needed changing since last christmas, and got some dinky little garden lights that look pretty at night. Spent huge amounts of time working on Programme Specifications and Learning and Teaching Strategy documents for Earth Sciences and Geography, and seem mysteriously to have lost 2 Frank Sinatra CDs (did I lend them to anybody out there?). Continued to be lucky to have Debbie as my wonderful wife! Continued to be a bit stressed and disappointed not to be getting round to writing or painting. More later, and hopefully some photos to bring us up to date. Bye for now!


November 2001
scary! November 3rd Hello again! Well the first news this time is the new! Richard says it's just vanity (isn't everything?) but really it's so that I can get rid of those pop-up adverts that geocities started putting onto the old site. Anyway, it's an easier address to remember and type in. I spent a bit of time transferring stuff onto the new server and making some more additions here and there. 
where are you now? Check out the new pages of family photos and old snapshots. If anyone out there from way back when looks at the old photos and says "why aren't I on there?"  the answer is probably I don't have a photo of you! Let me know if you miss yourself! On that note, JB, are you EVER going to come back and claim your Proust and Kundera?  teresa and me!

People sometimes wonder why I put all this stuff on the web but I got a nice illustration of why recently: Some guy I had never heared of e-mailed to thank me for putting the old school song on the web. He and a pal (old Edwardians both) had been searcing for it and a Google-search came up with my site (bizarre) as a source! Also the person to whom I'd loaned Sinatra read my last message and reminded me (thanks Elaine!).

Another big item this month has to be the runaway success of Debbie's new Kieren Fallon site

Debbie only started it this summer and already it has become the definitive internet resource for Kieren Fallon, with hits from as far afield as the USA, Japan and Hong Kong and visitors including Reuters News! If you type "Kieren Fallon" into the major search engines Debbie's site is usually given as the top site! So if you can't get us on the phone it is probably because Debbie is working on her site!

We've had a few trips out since I last wrote, including a trip to Barmouth for a breath of sea air, and a trip to Doncaster Races for Debbie to see her hero! Debbie, of course, has had LOTS of trips to the races. At least, that's where she says she goes! 

Current bed-time reading? I've just finished "Pictures from an Institution" by Randall Jarrell.