Hair We Go

So, November (or as I’ll have to call it this year, Movember) is upon us, the world fulfilled its target of raising £500 for my Movember Challenge (and then some – £646 at present with at least a bit more still to come in, and that’s not counting any Gift Aid added to donations) and I too have upheld my end of the bargain.

Here’s the starting point, in a not particularly wonderful photo taken just before the shaving commenced:

The mechanics of shaving were accomplished relatively easily, after a first pass with hair clippers to reduce that lot to something more manageable. I was particularly impressed that, for my first shave in more than 20 years, I only needed one small application of a styptic pencil to stop a minor cut. As I recall, that’s significantly better than my average used to be when I shaved regularly. Perhaps the fact that tonight I was using a brand new razor (and a proper Gillette Mach 3 to boot) rather than a cheap disposable that I kept going for way longer than was sensible might have had something to do with that.

I did take the opportunity, while I was having the initial trim, to give myself a sneak preview of what I look like with just a moustache (not a style I’ve ever previously tried, and quite possibly not one I’ll ever try again after this month). Sadly, I’d forgotten to put my phone on the charger earlier in the day so it was busy charging in another room while I completed the shave and I didn’t get a chance to take any shots of the work in progress. Still, that gives you something to look forward to later this month.

Now, though, the moment you’ve all (or at least some of you) been waiting for… the first picture of me without a beard since the summer of 1995:

I don’t know what you make of that. My own reaction is that it’s not, I suppose, too gruesome but it definitely isn’t me.

Roll on December!

PS huge thanks once again to everyone who has contributed to the fundraising — which has been somewhat more successful than I had dared to hope — and to anyone else who is still going to donate a bit. As I mentioned before, the pot is still open. 🙂

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Challenge Accepted

Up until this morning, I was holding out hope of raising almost but not quite £500 for my Movember Challenge and thus being able to escape with my honour and my whiskers intact and still have raised a decent amount in aid of men’s health issues.

However, the donation total has now exceeded the target (it’s just shy of £600 at the moment and hopefully will go up even more) with still a week to spare. So, since you’ve managed to fulfil your bit of the challenge I will also do mine and, by round about this time next week (certainly sometime on 1st November, though it may not be until the evening) I will wield a razor for the first time in two decades and prepare the field for the cultivation of my Movember ‘tache.

In a way, I’m kind of glad because I had actually already gone out and bought myself a shiny new razor and watched a handful of youtube videos (a commodity that didn’t exist last time I shaved!) to remind myself how to use it.

Huge thanks to everyone who has donated, especially the two anonymous donors who each gave £150. I will be aiming to get some documentary evidence before and after (though probably not during) the big shave, as well as some kind of photographic record of the state of my facial hair throughout Movember, so I trust you’ll all feel that you got value for money (apart from the warm glow of supporting a good charitable cause).

If you haven’t donated yet, it’s not too late to do so and if you were intending to, or were just hoping to see me beardless for a bit and cheekily hoping that enough other people would cough up so you wouldn’t have to, or have only just learned about my challenge and would have chipped in if you’d heard about it earlier, I would especially encourage you to put a quid or two (or as much more as you want and can afford) into the pot. The preferred way to do this is still to donate directly via my MoSpace (which should be up and running well into November, if not beyond). Alternatively, if you’re able to get the money to me in person (cash or cheque preferable), I can pay it in myself. Or, now that the target has been reached, if neither of those alternatives is feasible you could just make your own donation to the Movember Foundation or some other charity supporting men’s health, or cancer research etc.

Magnus’ Movember Challenge (executive summary)

In case you missed my previous statement of my Movember challenge, or didn’t have the time or the stamina to get to the end of that rather long blog-post, here’s a restatement of the key information in somewhat more condensed form:

I have issued the challenge to myself and the rest of the world that if (and only if) I can raise £500 by the start of November, I will shave off my beloved beard of 20+ years and grow a moustache from scratch for the duration of the month. The money is for the Movember Foundation, which promotes men’s health, and the incentive is for you all to get to see what I look like without whiskers.

The shaving will only commence if the target has been met by the time I wake up on the morning of 1st November. At present, roughly half way between when I first issued the challenge and the moment of truth, I’ve raised slightly less than £200. Not a bad amount of money for a good charitable cause, but somewhat less than half way. So for the moment it appears that my beard is safe.

If you want to change that situation, the best thing to do is to visit my MoSpace and donate directly; you can do it anonymously or privately if you don’t want to tell the whole world about it. Alternatively, if prefer not to donate electronically, but can get the money to me in person, I’ll pay it in to the Movember fund for you; so far about £50 has gone in this way and any money I’ve received will be counted towards the target even if I’ve not had a chance to pay it in before the deadline is reached. What I’m not accepting is just vague promises to pay up – if you want to see me without a beard, you’ve got to part with your cash before I part with my face-fungus (and probably a certain amount of blood, given how out-of-practice I am at shaving).

Massive thanks to everyone who has already contributed to this initiative. I truly hope that enough other people will cough up that you won’t be disappointed!

Mo is go, or no?!

For the past few years, I’ve been at least superficially aware of Movember – the annual growing of moustaches for fun and charity that takes place in the month of November. I have, however, generally not paid too much attention to it since I already have a perfectly good moustache as part of my full set of whiskers and had no intention of losing the rest of the beard.

A few weeks ago, one of my friends who has done Movember at least a couple of times in the past (though I’m not sure if he’s ever gone in for the fund-raising aspect of it) asked me, as he has done for the past few years, if I was going to do Movember this year. As usual, I just laughed at him (in my typical kindly fashion).

I expect you can see where this is heading…

Last week, I saw a poster which prominently featured the word November in a font with a very curly serif that, in conjunction with a bit of wire hanging in front of the poster, made me misread the ‘N’ as an ‘M’. A few days later I came very close to blowing a surprise birthday party that I was due to go to the following night by almost saying “see you tomorrow night” to the person whose birthday it was when he phoned me about something completely different just when I’d been making travel arrangements for the party with some other friends; I later remarked to them that I’d had a close shave, but felt the need to add that it wasn’t a literal one.

The following morning, when I woke up, all these various strands converged in my head to form a plan that I’m still undecided as to whether it’s a stroke of genius or just plain crazy. I suspect probably the latter.

As you will probably know if you’ve ever met me in the last 20 years or so, or seen any pictures of me taken in my adult life, I have a beard. I’m also very attached to it. In fact, the last time I shaved was in the summer of 1995, a month or so before I went off to university. I did come quite close the following year when I accidentally put the wrong guard on my beard trimmer and gave myself unintentional designer stubble, but that’s another story!

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few requests from people to see me without my beard (although to my own recollection I look even worse without it than I do with it), and if I’d had £1 for each of those times I’d probably have made quite a bit of money by now.

So, I had a closer look at the Movember website to see what it was actually raising funds for. I’m fairly sure that a lot of people do the Movember thing purely for fun, and others use it as a vehicle to raise money for other charities, but the Movember Foundation itself (which, incidentally is a registered charity in the UK – and I gather also across many other countries) is all about support for men’s health issues. To quote their own FAQ, their purpose is to raise “funds and awareness for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention.”

I have had at least two friends who had prostate cancer. One of them (Peter) survived but sadly the other (John) didn’t. It is, therefore in honour of them, as well as to support the general work of the Movember Foundation, that I have decided this year to do the Movember challenge.

To do it properly, one is supposed to start with a clean shaven face at the beginning of November. This would, obviously, require (at least temporarily) the sacrifice of my beloved beard. So I have decided to share the challenge.

Here’s the deal: I challenge you – the rest of the world (and especially anyone who’s ever pestered me to get rid of my beard – you know who you are!) – to collectively donate at least £500 to the Movember Foundation through my MoSpace (which is the rather charming name they have for an individual’s or group’s fundraising page on their website). If that target is reached, or preferably exceeded (the more the merrier) by the end of October, I will shave my beloved beard off on the morning of 1st November, grow a moustache for the rest of the month and hold off on growing the rest of my whiskers back until December rolls around. If the target isn’t reached, the money that has been raised will still be going to this excellent cause (men’s health – not the liberation of my face from its fuzzy cladding) and my chins will stay hidden. I can but hope, but I’m not telling you (largely because I’m not sure myself) in which direction!

Coming Soon

I was aware that it was a little while since I posted anything on my blog, but I was surprised to discover when I looked just now that my last post was way back in April.

Since then I’ve done some exciting things such as visiting Canada (my first transatlantic expedition, complete with a very short stop in Iceland), acquiring a lute, having a successful summer of competitions with the Menai Bridge Brass Band, brewing my first batch of homebrew beer from scratch (actually that was done before my last post, but I was waiting to see how the results were before I blogged about it, and somehow never got round to it, although they were more than satisfactory), coming up with one or two other minor culinary innovations, upgrading my phone and re-reading both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. There have also been a few less joyous experiences, such as another spoke-related bike fail.

I will probably get round to blogging about some (though certainly not all) of that stuff sooner or later. First, though, is an exciting (and, for me, slightly scary) announcement that, all being well, will appear round about this time tomorrow on the blog…

Dragon Pie

Tonight was one of those nights when I indulged in my passion for experimental cookery.

As seems to happen more often than not, I came up with something that was not only edible but actually quite enjoyable to eat. This one felt like something that’s worth trying again and there’s definitely room for improvement in the basic recipe so I decided to record it here (mainly for my own future reference, though the recipe idea isn’t copyrighted, so you’re welcome to try it — if you come up with some good variations, feel free to let me know).

The starting point was a whole load of leeks, potatoes and onions that I bought on special offer (a bag of each for a total of £1) in my local supermarket last week, and which are getting to the point of needing to be used up before they get too far past their best. Initially I had planned to do a leek and potato soup but I wasn’t feeling particularly in the mood for soup this evening and, after a bit of thought, I came up with an alternative plan.

Essentially, my idea was to make a kind of vegetarian shepherd’s pie (a leek-herd’s pie, I suppose, if leeks needed herding in the same way as sheep), with a base of leek and onion topped with mashed potato. I had one or two ideas to make the dish a bit more interesting…

I started by chopping up a leek and couple of onions (fairly finely) and sautéeing them gently in olive oil for a few minutes, adding a roughly minced clove of garlic shortly before transferring them to a lightly oiled casserole dish and mixing in a bit of chopped parsley and thyme from my windowsill herb garden. I would probably have added sage and rosemary too, in honour of Scarborough Fair, but my sage (which I’m growing from seed) isn’t yet quite big enough for harvesting and I couldn’t be bothered to go out and harvest the rosemary that, unlike my other herbs, is growing in my back garden. I also added around 100ml of red wine and then stuck it in the oven (around gas mark 5) for 15 minutes while I steamed some potatoes (prepared, with a little bit of mint, also from my herb garden, while I was sautéeing the leek and onion) ready for mashing.

Once the potatoes were steamed, I mashed them with a little milk and black pepper (not from my herb garden, and alas I don’t have space, time or money to keep a cow), then removed the casserole from the oven and put a layer of mashed potato on top of the leek/onion mixture. After grating a bit of cheese (gran padano, as that’s what I had in the fridge) on top, I returned it to the oven on a higher heat (up to gas 8, I think) while I fried an egg to go along with it.

The resulting pie was rather tasty, though the filling was perhaps slightly on the al dente side (not too much of a problem as I like a bit of crunch, and the vegetables certainly weren’t raw) and the topping could have done with being browned a bit more. I’m not sure if the best thing would be just to cook it for somewhat longer once assembled or to sautée the leeks and onions for a bit longer and then stick the assembled pie under the grill for a few minutes.

It occurred to me that the ingredients were mostly red, white and green, the colours of the Welsh flag. Since leeks, in particular, are an emblem of Wales, and potatoes (not to mention cheese-on-toast, which bears a certain resemblance to cheese-on-pie) are also a pretty staple part of our national cuisine, I decided to name my new dish “dragon pie”, although the wine seemed to turn from red to purple in the process of cooking so the chromatic effect was slightly lost in the final product.

Apart from the aforementioned tweaks to cooking times/methods, I’d be inclined to use a Welsh cheese (perhaps a local cheddar) next time round, although the gran padano worked fine. The wine was a fairly non-descript, though pleasant enough, cheapish Spanish merlot/cabernet sauvignon from one of my local supermarkets (not, as it happens, the one from which I got the veg) and, since there’s not a huge range of Welsh wines on the market (in fact, I can’t recall seeing any and if there are some I suspect they are quite expensive), I don’t think I’d be too worried about locally sourcing that ingredient; in fact, I think pretty much any reasonable red plonk would do the job ok.

I’ve got about half the pie left over, so it will be interesting to see how it tastes when cold. That, I suppose, I will find out tomorrow.

A true improvement

My trusty mountain bike has served me well for about 14 years. It has, however, been increasingly showing signs of wear and tear. Perhaps the most serious problem is that about 3 years ago I accidentally stripped the thread on the bottom bracket shell and since then I’ve had to rely on threadless bottom brackets. These are a handy invention but don’t seem to be quite as robust as the more traditional kind and, in consequence, I’ve had to replace the unit at least once per year since I started using them. At around £20 a pop, it would take a few years to amount to the cost of a new bike but it’s certainly quite frustrating and potentially takes the bike off the road for several days at a time (and necessitates a fairly long walk home pushing my suddenly non-functional bike if the component fails suddenly mid-ride).

Therefore, when the bracket went again a couple of weeks ago as I was cycling up a steep hill (fortunately within half a mile of home) I decided the time had come to get myself a new bike. This is actually a move I’ve been considering for at least a year and I had more or less decided to go for a hybrid bike this time. These are, as the name suggests, somewhere between a mountain bike and a racing/touring bike in style, generally with a relatively heavy non-suspension frame (the lack of suspension is actually a good thing if you’re sticking mostly to road riding, as suspension tends to soak up a lot of energy that would otherwise be translated into forward motion), fairly large, narrow wheels (again, more efficient on-road, though tough enough to withstand light off-road use), mudguards, a luggage rack, straight handlebars (positioned relatively high) and a wide, comfortable saddle.

I found a reasonable looking bike for a reasonable looking price on eBay, ordered it and was excited when it arrived a few days later. Putting it together was fairly straightforward and all seemed to be well.

I was somewhat less impressed the next morning when I set off to ride to work and discovered that the front tyre, which I’d pumped up the previous evening, was pancake flat. With no time to fix it, I leapt on my trusty reserve bike and headed in to the office. On my return, I checked out the inner tube and concluded that it had a faulty valve, so I threw it away and installed a spare.

For the next couple of days the bike functioned fine but I did notice that the front wheel had a very pronounced wobble. The hub and rim both appeared to be fine, so this was evidently a truing problem caused by improperly tensioned spokes, although a quick inspection didn’t turn up any that were obviously significantly tighter or looser than the rest. A quick google search indicated that this is not an uncommon problem on new bikes. One helpful video I watched (along the lines of “Top 5 maintenance tasks required on almost all new bikes” – which listed truing the wheels at no. 1) suggested that if a wheel was out of true it should be taken back to the seller to have them put it right; however, the video’s presenter conceded that this isn’t necessarily practical when you’ve bought the bike by mail order so this left me with the alternative of doing it myself.

In the past I’ve occasionally tried truing the wheels on my other bikes, with limited success (and only based on trying to understand written descriptions of the process rather than watching videos on how to do it). This time I watched a handful of videos and quickly came to the conclusion that the job should be reasonably straightforward and I wouldn’t need to invest in a wheel truing stand but probably would benefit from getting a reasonably sturdy bike maintenance stand (another purchase, like the new bike, which I’ve been considering for some time). I returned to eBay and found a decent looking one within my budget, so I ordered that (and a new spoke key for good measure, as my old one’s one of those cheap circular ones with about 8 different slots and it’s a real pain to try and get the right one – for the new one I went for a triangular thing with only the 3 sizes I’m likely to actually find on any bike in the wild) and sat back to wait for it to arrive (well, obviously I did other stuff while I was waiting, but none of it involving my new bike).

The spoke wrench arrived within a couple of days and the stand was here by this Monday, so I quickly assembled it, clamped up the bike and had a go at truing the front wheel following the advice in the videos I’d watched (supplemented by a quick glance in my bike maintenance book to check I’d correctly understood which way to turn the spoke nipples in order to tighten them). I won’t go into details here – if you want to true your own wheels (or just understand the process) you can easily google instructional materials for yourself. Suffice it to say that, within about half an hour, I’d got the wheel running more or less true. It’s not quite within the half millimetre that professional wheel builders apparently strive for, but considerably better than it was.

For the last couple of days I’ ve been riding the new bike again and so far it’s been working fine. Having a more or less true front wheel definitely seems to make quite a big difference, and I’m hoping it won’t require too regular adjustment (the back wheel seemed fine as it was, and again I hope that won’t need tweaking for a good long while yet).

Now I can concentrate on getting used to the slightly different riding position and gearing that my new bike has from the old one.