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Chronicle for 2017

These letters seem to tell a similar story each year, but I like to collect my thoughts and remind myself what I've been up to, and I might as well pass on the results to my friends, even though many who read this will already be familiar with parts of the story - some has appeared in my blog, and most of what I say here has been included in some message to someone. In any case writing this is a useful discipline, I'm finding it harder to concentrate these days so writing a coherent account of my activities may help to keep me organised.

Although I do much the same things each year, I find I'm gradually getting less energetic. I still manage to walk to the town centre almost very day, though sometimes I have to pause to rest my legs. That one outing usually exhausts my capacity for exercise. I potter about a bit in the garden, but my back soon rebels if I bend down for long so it helps to have plants in raised beds and pots, I still manage to grow some tomatoes from varieties not on the official list - I get the seeds from Garden Organic.

I still co-ordinate the activities of the U3A Science and Technology Group, though that too is gradually becoming harder. Although we have plenty of members not many are willing to prepare talks for us and I had to speak myself three times this year, though I did manage to delegate the arrangement of visits.

In the course of preparing a short talk on George Boole, I discovered that he did not invent what we now call 'Boolean Algebra' He did try to apply algebraic notation to logic, but had difficulty wih the notion of union of sets. He tried to treat it like addition, and thought that if 'S + T' was the logical sum of classes S and T, the number of members of S + T should equal the num of the numbers of members of S and of T. To get that result he had to restrict 'logical sum' to disjoint classes, so he didn't have the general concept of the union of any two classes.

This June the Group went to Derby for a conducted tour of the Crown Derby pottery factory.

I discovered quite a lot during our tour of the factory. Only a quarter of the china is made up of clay, half is bone ash and the remainder some sort of powdered mineral.

Designs are put on as transfers, moistened with water and eased into place by hand. Pots go into the kiln five times, twice to bake colours in place.

The last and shortest baking is to fix the gold - almost all Crown Derby wares are gilded somewhere or other. Our guide said that their annual consumption of 16 kg of gold costs them about 2 million pounds, a figure reflected in the prices of goods in the shop. The price still seemed high to me so I checked the price of gold. At the time of writing the metal is priced at about 31 000 per kilo, suggesting that the cost of 16kg would be about half a million pounds. Perhaps our guide was exaggerating the price or underestimating the quantity.

The visit to Derby was my first train journey for about a year. My walk to Harborough station takes about 25 minutes and is a bit of a challenge for my aging knees. As the buses to Leicester stop about a four minute walk from my house, and the buses, unlike the trains, are free and take me to the centre of Leicester, journeys to Leicester are by bus. I usually go to Leicester about twice per month, almost always for U3A meetings though I usually fit in a little shopping on the way.

Having walked from Derby station to the Crown Derby factory, then all round the factory, and then back to Derby station, I was quite exhausted by the time I got back to Market Harborough, and found that it was quite an effort to totter back home from the station. My travelling days are clearly numbered.

I met a number of old friends at the Wyvernians reunion in March, and met a smaller subset of those friends for lunch in Great Glen in November.

I still do some reading, but am getting slack in recording that on my website, in fact I'm getting generally slack in maintenance of my website.

I usually read a few pages of Mathematics straight after breakfast, to give myself something to meditate on for the rest of the day. Otherwise much of my reading is escapist fiction and science fiction.

Although I've never read a Harry Potter book, I find I quite like J. K. Rowling's detective stories published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. She has a delightfully bloodthirsty imagination. Bits of people keep turning up at the most inconvenient places and times, and one murderer who fed her victim's liver to her pet dog was caught after the victim's DNA was found in the dog's faeces, collected by the one legged private detective's bold lady assistant.

Each year for the past three years I've had a story to tell about building work. This year we replaced the old workshop at the end of the garden. It was originally built about 50 years ago by a plumber who used to live here, though the previous owners called it 'The Legless Arms' and used it for drinking parties so noisy that one neighbour secured a Noise Abatement Order.

The brave few who have visited these premises will be able to testify to the full horror of the old workshop, though Cliff and Bob are the only ones who have seen its replacement.

The original workshop was a wooden structure, with one wall made from old fence panels. It had sprung leaks over the years and been patched haphazardly, broken windows had been repaired with cardboard and the whole of the wall facing the garden was covered with roofing felt. One wall had been populated by mice, though the cats eliminated those quite quickly. The structure was so hideous that even after co-existing with it for years, we still winced every time we caught sight of it. This Summer it was removed in six skips - we have been such good customers that the skip company sometimes gives us discounts! There is now a tidy structure built with breeze blocks and insulated so that work can take place in it even in chilly weather.

That is the last substantial building job. All that remains to be done to the premises is to bring the spare room into commission. It was completely re plastered in the first stage of renovation, but only recently did we pin a plumber down to moving the radiator. Now we are waiting for a carpenter to rebuild the cupboard that is too small for the central heating boiler, and to put in a skirting board and a picture rail. Carpenters seem to be elusive around here at the moment.

I bought some bathroom scales recently and was alarmed at what they told me.

I used to have two bathroom scales until I moved house almost three years ago. I assumed that the scales were somewhere or other in one of the many boxes of chattels I brought with me, but eventually, when all visible boxes had been unpacked without revealing any scales, I concluded they'd been lost somehow or other.

Meanwhile I noticed it was getting harder to squeeze into trousers and eventually had to start buying trousers with larger waists.

Having weighed myself for the first time for about three years and been apalled at the result I resolved to eat less.

I hadn't been stuffing myself recklessly, and had avoided dreadfully fattening stuff like fried food and pastry, but I had started to allow myself an occasional cake or potato. Now I'm more careful. There was no Christmas cake or Chjristmas pudding this year nor were there any mince pies!

There is a mechanism of self deception behind weight gain.

A perverse sense of 'justice' bids us compare our eating with other people's 'He/she eats chips every day without gaining weight, so why shouldn't I?' Possible answers are that the lucky chip eater may have a different metabolism, may eat less of other things, or may take more exercise.

It is also tempting to cite one's own previous eating habits as a precedent. I used to eat a lot more than I do now, but my weight testifies that, for whatever reason, I can't afford to eat as much now.

If one weighs too much, one has eaten too much.

A sad event was the death of the eldest cat in mid December, though, aged over 20 she'd lived longer than most of her species. She was Jon's pet, or as he would have put it, he was her servant, but we all helped feed her, open doors for her, give her cat treats and administer her various medicines. She was the first non-human I've shared a house with and the experience has set me pondering our interactions with other animals and wondering how far the thoughts and feelings we are inclined to attribute to them may correspond with their mental processes. I sometimes put my hand on her head and asked 'what is going on in this head?' but she never told me ! If I reach any conclusion I may publish it on my blog.