Peter Knight's Web Site
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Peter Peter's Letters:
Open letters to friends and family
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Previous years: 
2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 . 2005 . 2006 . 2007 . 200820092010


2011: Scroll down the page for the most recent posts. Last update: December - at bottom of page

January: Happy New Year (my 50th!)

So it's my 50th New Year, and it's now 10 years since I started these online diary letters! Time flies. Having put into last month's update my annual moan about how busy we are and how many stresses and worries we've had lately, let's see if I can start this new letter, for a change, without any moaning and in an entirely positive frame of mind (hem hem). Well, for a start, not having put up any Christmas decorations means that we don't have the job of taking then down, so that's a good thing!



The new cats Genghis Cooper (the cat with no name) and Mugly (the invisible cat) have settled in spectacularly well. We've had them about a month, now, and they are entirely integrated with the other cats (Kipper and The General) and with Gus. Debbie has already started paintings of them to go into the exhibition she has arranged at Newcastle library for the Spring. Actually the one she started of Cooper went half-finished into the dustbin, but the one of Mugly is coming along OK!

Meg, too is getting on fine in spite of the cold winter. Debbie has to put some "stuff" on Meg's ankles to stop them getting itchy, but apart from that she's not doing badly for a horse of her age. The weather has been so cold that we have rugged her up a bit over the last month even though she is still pretty hardy, and we've spent a lot of Christmas and New Year breaking ice on water buckets, carrying water around and over-stuffing haylage nets!

meg and deb
Meg and Debbie



Sketch of Venice


Over Christmas I've tried to take a bit of a break from doing too much academic work, and have done a little bit of painting using new-fangled water-soluble oil colours. They're a bit like a cross between acrylic and oils: work with water rather than turps but dry slowly and "feel" more like oil paint. My first effort (here on the left) turned out a bit watercolourish in fact, but I shall endeavour to persevere.

I've also decided (hey, it's almost like a New Year's resolution!) that I'm going to learn to play the piano properly. Well, more properly than I do now! I have a book, and everything, and it means I'm putting George's old keyboard to good regular daily use (thanks George!), since the actual piano is so out of tune and really needs a volume-down control if I am going to play it much!

Bedtime reading? I'm pausing for breath in the midst of Proust, and taking a break to re-read the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series again. Tony mentioned that he had just read it for the first time, and I couldn't resist doing it all again! What's on TV? Lots of our regulars have taken a Christmas break so we've used up our recorded stock of The Mentalist, Lie to Me, Bones, CSI Miami, NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, etc. We've been reduced to watching Criminal Minds.
What's been in the DVD player? It's Christmas, so we've been watching some light favourites: Music and Lyrics, McLintock, Pretty Woman, The Holiday, Legally Blonde... We thought it was just too soon to watch yet again Roman Holiday, How to Steal a Million, French Kiss, or Sabrina Fair, so that's another reason why perhaps it didn't feel like a real Christmas!

As the subtitle to this entry hinted, we have some birthdays coming up in the next couple of months: mine's a big round number, and Debbie's are always special, so we'll have to think of something special to celebrate... I see a Chinese evening meal in Debbie's near future and a Little Chef breakfast in mine!



April: Forward into Spring

Well the clocks have gone forward so it's officially Spring, and we're enjoying a nice sunny start to the Easter vacation period. Time to tidy up the garden, clear the decks at work, and catch up on this web site! We have some particularly interesting news this time: Debbie's trip to Rome.

  We have bluetits nesting in the box we put up in our hawthorn tree!

Debbie's trip to Rome

Debbie has always known that her grandmother came from Italy, but her English and Italian families had completely lost touch. Debbie managed to track down her Italian relations, get in touch, re-establish contact and now, finally, go and visit! So this month Debbie and her Mom have been to Rome to meet their long-lost relatives and we now have a whole great family of cousins, uncles, second cousins, etc etc that we never knew before. It was an amazing trip, and a great experience discovering a whole new family. Thanks very much to Tarquinio, Augusta, Stefano, Massimo, Bruna, Elia, Antonella and all the others for making it possible and for looking after Debbie and her Mum so well in Rome. Next time, I want to come! There are more photo's from the trip here (link).

rome 2011
rome 2011 rome 2011

rom 2011 rome 2011

rome 2011


In other news...  

We aren't very good at getting things done to the house, and most of it hasn't been touched since we moved in, so some parts are getting beyond a joke. All the upstairs windows at the back of the house were cracked and had leaky metal frames with single glazing... But take a last look at those mouldy old metal frames, condensation, and cracked glass. We got them replaced and even got the door onto the garage roof fixed, so no more howling gales down the stairs in winter.

old windows


blue cow mug Unfortunately it's also goodbye to Debbie's favourite mug. I bought it for her in Spain, years ago, but this year it developed a nasty-looking crack and started to sound very unsafe, so... hasta la vista, Blue Cow Mug :(


At work it's coming towards the end of another very busy teaching year, and getting into the summer season of doing my non-teaching work. I am starting to get down to work on my big book project (see blog entry here) now, and I anticipate that will be my main job through this summer. I'm also starting to develop some new themes in my research, involving both physical and cultural geography, so it's a very exciting time looking forward to some new challenges and some new kinds of research and writing... I may post more about that on my blog over the coming months.



my posterous blog


Another thing I've been spending some time on is writing little bits and pieces in response to online "prompts" such as Twitter's "HaikuChallenge". Some of these go straight onto various online sites, but I try to keep a record of them on my Posterous blog, too, so if you are interested you can see them there. You can even "subscribe" and get them fresh each time they appear if you want!
A late-April update  

The tulips are pretty much gone and the azalea is on the way in, and with the unseasonably warm weather the battle against encroaching jungle has begun again. The cats are exploring the local area, which is making Debbie a little tense. "Where's Cooper?".

As Debbie's first art exhibition approaches I have started to put together a little dot-com for her, which you can see in its infancy at It is nowhere near finished yet, but will eventually be a flagship notice board for Debbie's commissioned work painting horses, cats and dogs.

Cooper is out!
Cooper is out!

I've got a few new books in the last couple of weeks: I picked up a 2/- (that's 2 shillings, for my younger readers) 1953 Penguin of T.S.Eliot's "Selected Prose" at the new 2nd-hand bookshop in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I got "Sand ", "Invisible Cities" and "Atlas of Remote Islands " from Amazon. Yes, I'm STILL reading Proust (nearing the end of the 3rd of my 4-volume set now)... at the rate of about three pages a day.

In somewhat random turns of events Debbie got bitten by a mouse (which she was rescuing from a magpie) and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra offered me real money (well, Canadian dollars, which I guess are real in Canada) to use my painting of Mahler in their publicity (I don't think I'll be giving up the day job). Debbie got a jab, and lives on. The Saskatoon boys haven't paid up yet so my "professional" status is on hold. I signed the formal contract with SAGE to write "Big Ideas in Physical Geography", and I've started to work seriously on the "Glacier" book that I need to finish before I start "Big Ideas...".


And the bluebells are out...

bluebell woods April 2011
Bluebell woods at Keele.

June 2011


Well... There's been so much going on again that I haven't been keeping up with this page, and all I have time for now is a quick placeholder... I'll try to add details and some pictures later on. Debbie held a successful art exhibition in Newcastle Library and must now be a real artist as she has sold paintings to people she doesn't even know! I am ripping up the wood-wormy floorboards from our big back downstairs room, treating the joists and laying a new floor (I even invested in scary power tools to help me). Gus broke his toe running in the woods and we have had many visits to the vet getting him sorted out. Ingo came to stay. Lonnie came to stay. Debbie's Mum came to stay. Debbie went to Newmarket for the races. I redecorated my "study" (slapped white paint on the walls and ceiling) to celebrate it having nice new double glazed windows. My model railway system in the loft has been getting a bit of attention in my "spare time". I've been busy at work as usual and had my regular Spring surveying field course days.... I have tried out painting with a palette knife and I've just ordered my first ever pair of xuron track cutters! There are lots of other more important things going on, but at least this keeps you up to date with some of the trivia!

August... here are those photos!  

Here's Debbie at the opening of her exhibition in Newcastle Library

Here's Gus looking sorry for himself
with his broken toe all bandaged up in blue.

Here's the back room with the floor boards up and the joists being treated. This turned out to be a massive job for me!

Here's what the back room ended up like after I replaced all the floorboards (and had a trip to IKEA). We now call it "The Library"!


Here is my (first ever) attempt at painting with a palette knife.
I think I may need more practice!



November 2011  

Well, hello again! Long time no write, but there's nothing unusual about that; especially at this time of year which always seems to be one of my busiest. So... what have we missed?

Way back in September we had another expedition to Scilly this year and were once again very lucky with... well, with everything! Here are Gus and Debbie enjoying Bar Point with a view to the Eastern Isles.

We even saw an unusual bird to add to our collection: a spectacular bee eater!




Since then we've been based back at home, watching the autumn slowly progress with a lot of woodland walks, as usual. We discovered some new walks around Aqualate Mere, shown in this nice autumnal picture. I seem to be getting into a habit of sending pictures straight to Facebook or Twitter from my phone, so you can keep up with them there if you are so inclined.
Meg and all the other animals are fine. Even Angry, who is still pretty feisty! Debbie is trying to train Cooper not to hunt him, and so far no feathers have flown but there's been a lot of hard staring going on. Cooper is in love with Gus, and Gus is learning to put up with being licked by cats every time he comes back into the house from a walk. Meg is getting on a bit now but other than a bit of arthritis she's doing well, keeping up her weight and still looking impressive.


At work (this is my building on the left) I've taken on a new role as "Director of Learning and Teaching for Physical and Geographical Sciences", which gives me a few new things to keep my eye on (but no more pay, unfortunately), and I'm still Chair of the University Appeals Committee and Course Director for Physical Geography, so there's no shortage of work to do. I've also been making progress on my new book "Glacier". It is not due to be finished until more than a year from now, but it's a big job so I'm pleased to be getting on with it. I'm learning a lot that I didn't know before, which is always a nice position to be in!

After several years of reading a few pages of it each day I'm into the final volume of Proust now: but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to read it again! It's one of those books with which, not only through its sheer bulk, one becomes so involved that one doesn't want to think of leaving it behind. It certainly goes up near the top of my top ten.

Here's Gus posing outside my building at work, sitting on the hallowed erratic!



The last book I bought? "Gombrich on the Renaissance - Norm and Form" by E.H.Gombrich.

The last music I bought? "Every Time We Touch" by Cascada.

The last thing I ate? Extra-large Cadburys chocolate buttons!

The next thing I'm going to paint? I feel a new painting coming on, certainly, and I think it might be another Mahler, but a BIG one. Perhaps an oil or acrylic the size of my Big Mahler Sketch, or bigger: A2 or A1 size, perhaps. Watch this space!

December 2011

Happy Christmas!

After last winter's extreme cold, this winter has seemed very mild. We were actually sitting out on the bench in the garden one afternoon this week. It's been a bit wet and windy at times but so far almost record-breakingly mild. Debbie and I had a nice quiet Christmas, just as we like it, so I'm delighted to say there is nothing terribly exciting to report here. Except, of course...

Welcome to the family, Elsa

Congratulations to Iain and Emily, and welcome to little Elsa, the newest member of the family, and my (2nd) Great Neice.

Debbie Retires!

As usual, work was especially busy in December, but for Debbie that's an end to work: she has retired! After nearly two decades working in Keele University Library she has stamped her last book and called it a day. Here she is on her last night, swigging Champagne behind the counter!



One of the main reasons that Debbie has been wanting to retire, of course, is so that she can spend more time feeding all her birds! We've gone beyond feeding the birds in the garden and seem to have adopted bird-feeding rights to several hundred acres of local woodland. Unfortunately bird food is no longer "tuppence a bag", which is one of the reasons that I won't be retiring any time soon. The people call her "the bird woman", and when she stands in the woods little birdies come and sit in her hand. It's like something out of Walt Disney.



On the left is one of the little robins in the woods, who comes to Debbie's hand as soon as she calls.


And on the right is a typical view of one of the feeders in our garden.


Poems and Art

I am still dabbling with writing and drawing. Inspired by the work of artist Austin Kleon I've been messing about with "Blackout Poetry", which is where you make something new (but related) by scribbling out lots of the text on a printed page. I've been doing it to Geography textbooks! I wrote a blog entry here if you want to know more, and there's an example (from the front page of the core 1st-year text book) here on the left (click it to make it bigger).

Debbie has been painting more cats and horses, and is currently working on a new painting of the racehorse Kauto Star. Now that she has stopped working in the library Debbie will have more time to develop her painting, and we are thinking about having another exhibition in Newcastle next year. If you would like to commission Debbie to paint a pet or a famous horse contact her at - which reminds me... I need to update that website to show the latest paintings.




I guess it deserves a paragraph to itself even though I've not yet processed a response that is worth writing down, so I'll simply announce: I've finished reading Proust! I'll post up some kind of blog or review at some point when I've got my breath back. Perhaps I should start a Proust Blackout project: make a relevant blackout poem from each of the 3000+ pages. Perhaps not.

On a book-related note, I got a late Christmas present from a gift voucher to cover payment for advertising and referral fees that I've earned from this web site. Remember, if you are ever going to buy anything from Amazon, if you go to Amazon by following a link from this site I get a tiny fee. Over the year the tiny fees add up to a nice surprise. Thinking of going to Amazon? Go this way! Link to Amazon


Happy New Year

Finishing Proust seems like an appropriate point to take a natural break, and it's 2012 in a couple of days now, so I'll say Happy New Year. I'll see you all, I hope, on the 2012 letters page next year.

The General and Kipper curled up together on ths mantlepiece: their usual wintertime spot.



That's all for now, thanks for tuning in, please drop me a line!

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