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Friday, December 19th, 2014

Subject:I am baptised!
Time:6:53 pm.
Mood:Saved.
Well, it happened:

Full immersion

My baptism went according to plan last Sunday. In fact, far, far better than planned. It was a truly amazing experience.

Dale was being baptised with me. We had chatted several times and knew one another to some extent; once he began giving his testimony it became obvious to me that our stories were going to contrast powerfully.

I'm used to public speaking, but normally in a more rehearsed way. I'd decided to work without notes for the sake of spontaneity. After Daniel looked askance at this with slight nervousness, I wussed out and did prepare an outline on the Thursday evening in case I froze up. I didn't freeze up; my notes went unused. More than that, I'd prayed that God would guide my testimony and the result was quite unlike any other speech I've ever given. I've blogged about writing as a stream of consciousness; this was a verbal equivalent. Apart from anything else, with my subconscious doing the work, I was blessed with the freedom to enjoy and remember the experience more fully.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who were able to join me on the day. No less to those who couldn't make it, but whose prayers and best wishes were with me.

If you missed it, or wish to re-live the experience in a glorious online audiovisual extravaganza, the blogger formerly known as robhu took some photos which are here. The non-blogger known as Julian Hildersley took some more.

I've made our testimonies and the soundtrack of the baptisms themselves available here. My words run from 10m30s to 16m and my baptism from 20m50s to 21m30s, but I do commend the entire recording to you (23m09s) as Dale's testimony was very powerful.

As I'd requested in advance, we sang When I Survey The Wondrous Cross during worship. That hymn always stirs me deeply, and expresses the… well, the crux of our faith far more elegantly and succinctly than I ever could myself. Dwelling on the lines "My richest gain I count but loss, / And pour contempt on all my pride." I felt moved to read Philippians 3:7-11.

Then Julian brought me and Dale up on stage to be with him as he spoke of the contrast between our lives and the universal nature of God's love and saving grace, giving voice to what I'd perceived during our testimonies.

A few minutes earlier, I had bumped into Julian during communion.

"Today is a good day", I remarked.
He smiled broadly. "Yes", he said, with all due emphasis.

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Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Subject:YMMV
Time:11:56 am.
Mood:loved.
D'oh realisation of the day:

Different people experience God in different ways. Given my fairly strong phobia of surprises, it's pretty obvious why God waited until I prayed to reveal Himself to me, rather than leaping out from behind a cloud or a burning bush and shouting "boo!".

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Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Subject:I'm a mathematician
Time:11:20 am.
Mood:distressed.
Betweeen 1AD and 1BC there is no year zero. There ought to be one, but there isn't. I'm more mathematician than historian so this bugs me, but I've learned to cope.

Events BC are broadly so long ago that we don't pay much attention to day and month, only to year. Which is why I've only just spotted something else that bugs me just as much:

What should the last day of 1BC have been? Clearly, January 1st, with January 2nd before that, and so on. In the same way that -0.2<-0.1 .

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Subject:Biblical ancient history
Time:1:25 am.
Mood:pensive.
I was chatting with a Dominican Priest today, as you do, and a whole bunch of interesting topics cropped up.

Of them, this is perhaps the most frivolous in terms of its applicability to faith today: Who is the earliest historical, as opposed to mythological, human in the Bible?

Strict Biblical literalists presumably think Adam was a real person. At the other extreme, Cyrus the Great's historicity is basically indisputable. But what about Noah? Abraham? Moses? King David?

My own hunch is that the people from Abraham onwards were likely real. And something happened to Jericho!

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Subject:Taking a ducking
Time:1:10 am.
Mood:excited.
Many thanks for all the responses to my previous posting about baptism. With apologies to dougs, we're going ahead on the date first thought of: the next opportunity would be late February, and I feel the time for procrastination has passed.

So, I am (God willing) being baptised this coming Sunday, December 14th in the 11:30am service at City Church in Cambridge.

The church has its own car park, but they ask you leave it for blue badge holders and those with young children. There is on-street parking, and you can park for up to three hours in the adjacent Tesco car park.

There are also bike racks, of course. (Don't forget the not-so-new-any-more cycle bridge between Chesterton and Riverside if coming from the North of the city - it drops you only 500 yards from the church.)

The service will finish a little after 1pm. If you're keen to be there for the baptism itself, but are tight for time, note that it's likely to be at about 11:40am.

No need to reply — just turn up on the day, if you wish. It would be great to see as many of you as possible. Otherwise, your thoughts and prayers would be very much appreciated.

[PS: Someone has asked the very reasonable question of what to wear. Basically, anything you like within reason. Certainly no level of formality is expected.]

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Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Subject:They fuck you up, your mum and dad
Time:5:51 pm.
Mood:Retrospective.
I don't want to be a parent, for a host of complicated, interlinked reasons of varying degrees of selfishness or nobility.

One of the big ones is that I've little idea how to raise a child to be emotionally and physically healthy. Like so many other people, I'm utterly determined I wouldn't raise a child the way my parents raised me; unlike some such people I avoid the trap of thinking either that I could put that determination into action or that there is one unique and obvious opposite way of raising children which I could adopt.

On the other hand, I've read what Peck has to say about raising children. And I've thought more about my own childhood, and I've considered more carefully exactly what various friends have said about their childhoods, and how they chose to express it.

And I have thought of a thing:

Children need love and security. Easily said; easy to agree with. But something specific that children really really need is attention and justice in times of conflict. Not only the love of that attention and justice but the security of being able to expect it, to rely on it.

Most of us had siblings growing up. Time and time again, friends who felt unloved when growing up complain that whenever they had a fight or an argument with a sibling their parents told them to stop it, shut up and behave. Or punished them both for fighting or arguing.

This sends two dreadful messages. The first is that the parent isn't interested in justice for their child. The second is that the parent isn't interested in being attentive to the child's needs, only to giving the child attention selfishly at times of the parent's choosing. What's worse, the messages may contain more than a grain of truth!

Actually sitting down calmly and listening to what happened, encouraging everyone to be open and honest both in their accusations but also their admissions, nurturing children's interpersonal relationships, emphasising that doing a bad thing to someone is bad even if the victim can't then prove it happened, emphasising that not being able to judge between two conflicting accounts is not the same thing as not caring, questioning what each party has invested in the situation and why, and whether that's healthy for them… all such good things that never happened when I was a child. I couldn't start to learn until I was thirteen and suddenly emerged blinking from a repressive prep school into a more humane and enlightened school environment. It's taken me decades to work through the damage with even partial success and reach some level of maturity about such issues.

Perhaps the time this is most important is in the "terrible twos" — the time at which an infant's ego boundaries begin to develop, at which the infant learns the difference between "my arm" and "that chair". It can be traumatic learning that chairs don't always do what one wants. And that other people don't always do what one wants, either — not strangers, not parents, not siblings. Thus, the child begins to learn the difference between objective justice and their selfish desires.

Or not, as the case may be. If the parents put their own selfish desires ahead of justice, why — the two-year-old's reasoning inevitably goes — should I not do so also?

And here's the thing: around my second birthday, my parents conceived my younger brother. When I was two years and eight months old, I suddenly had to interact with an infant. When I was five, I had to interact with a younger brother who was going through the "terrible twos". He and I are now in our forties and that's largely water under the bridge, but the way our parents handled those early and inevitable disputes soured relations between us for at least couple of decades. (Maybe that's an argument for a slightly longer gap between children?)

Now, as an adult, I watch parents interacting with children and am pained to see the same pattern repeating itself, generation after generation. Am I overstating the harm this pattern causes children? Did people like me merely suck at being the children of parents who in reality weren't so bad? Are parents aware of this problem and see it as a failing in themselves?

It would be easy to accuse me, as an outside observer, of being a harsh critic. It is, people might say, harder than it looks. Actually, I think being a parent looks really difficult. I fear I'd suck at it.

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Subject:Mid-life crisis
Time:4:16 pm.
Mood:Rutting.
I need to do the laundry again. And I realise I've now had to run over a thousand batches of laundry in my adult life.

I've also brushed my teeth over fifteen thousand times, shaved nearly ten thousand times, taken thousands of showers, paid a hundred gas bills…

I'm bored.

Peck has his detractors. The one person I recommended The Road Less Traveled to who really didn't like it countered by linking to this relatively unflattering article. It's clear he didn't in life live up to his own ideals. One question is whether it's better to have lofty ideals in sight and fall far short than to have unambitious goals and meet them. My tendency is towards the former, but, well, I don't know.

But here's a thing Peck doesn't talk about: in all the talk about work and courage to extend oneself, he doesn't mention how to handle the repetitive drudgery of life. And repetitive drudgery gradually accretes: the other month my dentist persuaded me to start using mouthwash and floss as well as toothbrush and, well, that's another ten hours a year of my life spoken for. The CPAP machine that helps me sleep better is a net win, in that I can lie down for a shorter amount of time and get a larger amount of quality sleep, but even though its benefits are far more unequivocal than those of more elaborate tooth-frobbling, after a year with the machine I'm already heartily sick of the three or four minutes a day of care and feeding the equipment takes.

I mused about this last year in response to an XKCD cartoon but, eighteen months on, see the issue much more starkly.

People talk about living in a post-scarcity society. Iain M. Banks riffs on it at length. But what about living in a post-repetitiveness society? That, I realise, has been my utopian ideal. And my entire attitude to engineering, innovation, invention has been driven by a feeling that doing anything once is fun, doing it twice is informative and lets me identify a pattern, doing it a third time is once too many and by now it ought to be possible to teach a machine how to do it for us.

I know I need to sort my diet out. It's possible aspects of that sorting-out will be a source of enduring joy to me: easier companionship, a greater palette of tastes, but at another level my aversion is to starting a repetitive, ongoing process. If sorting out my diet was something I could take a couple of days over and do once and for all, I'd have been sorted long ago. I'm seriously considering trying Soylent, though that tackles the problem of nutrition head-on instead while sidestepping my larger aversive issue.


But I'm not sure what to do about it. Part of me says that in my more low, depression-leaning moods, the problem is that the drudgery continues and the fun goes away; part of me says conversely that consciousness of accumulating drudgery leads to depression. Perhaps some of each.

Jerome K. Jerome offers one compelling view in Three Men in a Boat (starting here at "George comes out really quite sensible at times…"). Perhaps the solution is to pare down life, to get rid of unnecessary lumber.

Perhaps the solution is to embrace my instinct to strive for innovations and "life hacks" and to work harder at making the tedious necessities simpler, quicker and more fun.

Maybe I need a realistic level of self-discipline. After all, how much repetitive boredom is our due in life? How many hours each day are we supposed to spend doing pretty much exactly what we spent the same number of hours doing the day before?

Possibly, I should be more eager to pay people to take away my problems. I've already done that with gardening; perhaps I should also delegate housework? That feels uncomfortably Victorian middle-class, but perhaps it's a thing that can actually be done healthily and with dignity to everyone's advantage?

And then again, perhaps the real message is that I'm not really cut out for being single, or living alone. Not so much because much housework is less burdensome with two people to share it but because it takes two people not in the mood for it not to get done at all and because most things are more fun with company.


Food for thought…

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Subject:Compare and contrast
Time:3:11 am.
Mood:Comparative.
Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

— Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20


Has my capacity for elementary reading comprehension eluded me, or is C. S. Lewis directly contradicting Paul, there?

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Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Subject:Cry havoc
Time:5:15 pm.
Mood:Expectant.
Jeremy Thorpe has died, RIP.

Four years ago, I posted that various people might find themselves living in interesting times once his autobiography is published. If I were a jounalist, I'd be asking Jack Straw for an interview right now…

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Subject:Satan's power
Time:2:14 am.
Mood:Inquisitive.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis at one point says "One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe — a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the power behind death and disease, and sin."

That's… not the way I understood mainstream Christian theology to run. While Satan tempts and deceives us into sin, and the wages of sin are death, and Satan is often modelled as a fallen angel who has himself sinned, it seems perhaps a stretch to talk of him as the "power behind death". Genesis is fairly explicit that God Himself separated us from eternal life in reaction to original sin.

But that mention of disease bugs me a little more. I've tended to consider natural disasters, freak accidents, unfortunate diseases and afflictions as aspects of Creation, as "acts of God", not as things Satan has sneaked in and done after the fact. I've seen it stated explicitly that Satan's power lies entirely in his ability to tempt and deceive people — and that's plenty power enough! We may be tempted — literally — to talk of a tsunami as evil, but is it not just an especially stark example of the mundane challenges we face in this life?

This "feels right" to me, but despite what Lewis says, I'm not sure the Bible is especially forthcoming. Ignostically, I wonder if the question is terminological. As someone striving to do God's will I wonder how, and to what extent, the distinction matters.

Perhaps in this: it's possible to make a deal with the Devil but, outside of folklore, can the Devil deliver?

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Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Subject:The place of Damascus in the Syrian road network
Time:6:14 pm.
Mood:pensive.
It's always useful to understand other points of view; it's just not very easy.

I feel it's important to remember clearly how I thought before I was a Christian. Not only because when grasping towards truth much of what one finds along the way is useful wisdom that is not to be discarded, but also because some day I will meet someone who is as I was, and maybe it will be useful to be able to slip back into their shoes for a moment.

Except… it's very obvious that many Christians have found Christ in ways utterly different from the way God showed Himself to me. And it's equally obvious that a lot of non-Christians are not Christian in ways different from how I wasn't one.

Knowing that Eurostar is a very good way of getting from London to Paris is not much help when a friend in Geneva asks how to get to France.


Other ways of becoming a ChristianCollapse )

How not to be a ChristianCollapse )

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Subject:Talking arse
Time:5:05 pm.
Mood:Soothed.
How come none of you have ever recommended moist toilet paper to me?

Alternatively, if it's because none of you use it, how come I've never recommended moist toilet paper to you?

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Subject:One song to the tune of another
Time:3:56 pm.
Mood:Musica.
I've just realised that one of my favourite hymns, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross would work well with one of my favourite tunes, John Rutter's What Sweeter Music.

Now I'm trying to work out where I can find a suitably competent tame choir and how to persuade John Rutter to give permission…

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Subject:Wondermark strikes again
Time:1:33 am.
Mood:listless.
Yeah, this.

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Monday, December 1st, 2014

Subject:I saw the future turn right onto Regent Street
Time:12:24 pm.
Mood:impressed.
"Nice mover," said Ford in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the degree to which he had been impressed by what Slartibartfast's ship had just done.

It was the kind of moment when cliché met reality. A couple of weekends ago, I was standing on Lower Regent Street in London, waiting for my mother. A car emerged from Charles II Street — fairly sleek and new and shiny, but nothing special compared to all the diplomats' Mercedes S-classes. It's only because I'm interested in cars that I happened to recognise it as a Tesla Model S.

It saw a gap in the traffic and turned. And then… without fuss it was no longer where I expected it to be. It wafted past at perhaps a little above the speed limit as though it was propelled by magic rather than sufficiently advanced technology, as though physics was left staring at the empty space out of which the car had accelerated, scratching its head and wondering how it was done.

The Tesla's 0-60 time is 4.2 seconds, but it's all torque, and it all happens so uneventfully. There wasn't the guttural bubbling of an American muscle car, the purr of a traditional British tourer, the roar of an air-cooled boxer, the sewing-machine scream of a far-eastern engine tuned and turbocharged to within an inch of its life. There was silence.

If a Mustang, a Bentley, a Porsche or a Skyline had done what that Tesla just did, it would have turned heads, but not in a good way. Sure, some could go faster, at a pinch, but not without breaking into a sweat. That Tesla simply took some of the electrical potential energy it's swept under the carpet and turned it, on demand, into kinetic energy. Then, at the next traffic lights, it turned quite a lot of it back.

For a long time, Rolls Royce was very coy about the performance of its vehicles. Famously, they listed engine power as "sufficient". The Tesla takes that ethos to its logical conclusion: more acceleration than you want or need, delivered precisely on demand, without discernible effort, is sufficient.

When I was younger, I used to covet nice cars. But for more than a decade I've been happy with the Lexus LS, which combines comfort, toys and performance with ridiculous reliability, longevity and bargain-basement prices on the secondhand market. So to see a car driving down the street and think "I want one of those" had become an unfamiliar experience.

I do want one of those. Not enough to get a second mortgage or put up with a range of 250 miles followed by protracted recharging, but I want one. Interestingly, the Tesla Model S costs £76,780 whereas the car I currently drive cost £50,015 in 1998 which is about £80,000 in today's money. I bought my current car for £1,450 earlier this year.

The driving range of electric cars will improve. Models will be released that have all the virtues of the Model S without also having the high residuals of a car that I sense will become as legendary on the vintage market as a Jaguar E-type. Give it another decade or two and they'll be cheap. I expect to own and drive one of those — maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of my life.

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Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Subject:Like a duck to water
Time:3:58 pm.
Mood:Elated.
For complicated reasons I still haven't posted about, this has taken a lot longer than I'd have liked, but…

I am going to be baptised! At City Church in Cambridge.

For as long as I've been a Christian, I've been mindful of the Scriptural examples of people being baptised without delay. So after somewhat over a year, I'm more ready and eager than ever. In that sense, it's good that they've offered me Sunday December 14th as a date.

On the other hand, I'd be delighted to have as many friends as possible present. Several of you have expressed an interest, but for obvious reasons have other commitments on Sunday mornings and I'm worried you probably need more than a fortnight's notice. They've said it's no trouble if I decide it would be better to wait until early in 2015.

Baptism

I'd like to be there when you're baptised
5(22.7%)
…I am close enough to Cambridge that this is plausible
4(18.2%)
…Sunday December 14th is good for me
3(13.6%)
…some Sunday early next year would be good for me, given enough notice
3(13.6%)
…assume I'm flexible about which Sunday you pick
2(9.1%)
…I'd be more likely able to make it if you were baptised on a saturday or a weekday evening, rather than as part of a service.
0(0.0%)
Not interested, thanks.
2(9.1%)
Ew — imaginary-friend cooties!
2(9.1%)
My grandparent drowned in a baptismal font, you insensitive clod.
1(4.5%)


(The practical and theological details are to be confirmed, but I expect it will be during or immediately after the 11:30am service. Full immersion. Charismatic Evangelical tradition. Disabled and parent-and-child parking available; Tesco car park a mere minute away for others. Childcare available during the service for those prepared to trust Evangelical Christians with their kids.)
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Subject:You may get stabbed in the head with a dagger or a sword
Time:12:52 am.
Mood:Resistant.
The Resistance is a superb game. One of the most well-conceived and interesting I've ever encountered. (Though, if you take this as a recommendation, please note firstly that it requires at least five players and secondly that it's worth considering the very similar Avalon instead.) It has an overall BoardGameGeek rank of 29, and is rated the best party game. BGG comes up with some very peculiar ratings once in a while, but even so The Resistance is in exalted company!

Rules summaryCollapse )
When perfect logicians playCollapse )
When real people playCollapse )
When AIs playCollapse )

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Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Subject:Dining philosophers
Time:3:40 pm.
Mood:Peckish.
Well, my posting about Magic: the Gathering certainly generated a lot of interest!

Buried down in the comments, I made an analogy with dining out. I've realised that dining out is a neat microcosm of my own approach to several ethical concerns. I think it's interesting (for me, perhaps also for you) to compare and contrast them, and see why I behave differently concerning each.

As well as in my own home and the homes of others, I like to eat meals in pubs and restaurants. I'll assert without proof that, in and of itself, this is a morally neutral preference.

But I can think of seven prominent traits I have that interact with it:
  • I am gregarious; I prefer to dine with others.
  • I am vegetarian; I think it is immoral to eat meat.
  • I am teetotal; I am concerned about the effects alcohol would have on me, and have never acquired a taste for it.
  • I am wealthy; I have more disposable income than some people I know.
  • My tastes are cheap; I appreciate good food, but the good food I appreciate costs less than what others might choose.
  • My diet is restricted. It's hard for me to find stuff I can eat in a restaurant.
  • I am informed; I've read books like Fast Food Nation and all the stuff about sugar that mathew links to.

This is certainly not to say I'm more vegetarian than you (please don't mention gelatine and animal rennet) or more conscientious than you (please don't compare waistlines). I'm deliberately painting a broad-brushstroke picture (please don't mention Rolf Harris).

I'm also trying to pretend those issues are separate, when really they're highly interrelated.

So… what are the moral implications of each of them?

GregariousCollapse )
VegetarianCollapse )
TeetotalCollapse )
WealthyCollapse )
CheapCollapse )
RestrictedCollapse )
InformedCollapse )

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Friday, November 28th, 2014

Subject:Yea, for thy sake I have suffered the loss of referential transparency
Time:10:45 pm.
Mood:amused.
In case you've not seen it already, this is what happens when you feed the King James Bible, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, and Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby to a Markov chain, attach the crocodile clips and wait for a thunderstorm.

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Subject:Poor sleep quality considered harmful
Time:4:39 pm.
Mood:Alert.
One of those stupid things about the human body is that how well rested one feels after sleep is only loosely correlated with actual sleep quality.

I learned this the hard way: intermittently feeling like shit for days on end, without any clear idea of why. Sure, I snored, but lots of people snore. It turned out I had sleep apnœa, but am good at not falling asleep when I don't want to so scored zero on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. The consultant claims this puts me in a 10% minority of sleep apnœa sufferers, so it's perhaps forgivable that it took two years of worrying about testosterone levels and vitamin D and such before we worked it out.

Since then, for reasons I realise I've still not posted about, life has been complicated. For many months, sleep was complicated. But it's pretty clear I'd have been completely poleaxed without the CPAP face mask I got somewhat over a year ago.

For obvious reasons, the CPAP mask needs to make a good seal against the face. I've discovered I need to wash my face a little more often than before (though also because it gets sweaty under the seal) and it often helps to give the contact areas a once-over with the shaver before bed…

…shaver!

To continue the saga of the shaver, I returned to Boots on Tuesday, only to discover both that the AT941 is no longer available and that the pleasant-but-incompetent shop assistant on Sunday had failed to give me back my original receipt along with the receipt for the exchange. So I no longer had a proof of when my warranty started, a subject dear to my heart in current circumstances!

After talking nicely to the store manager for a while on Tuesday, we agreed they'd give me a refund for the AT941 and order me an AT918. This seemed to be an identical specification even though when I collected it yesterday, it came in a worryingly smaller box. On opening it up I was delighted to see that everything I'd expected was there, tesselated slightly more cunningly than in days of yore. At the expense of two more visits to Boots, I've now got a £1 refund and a warranty reset; I guess I'm happy.

So I charged it. And shaved last night before bed.

Today, I woke up and opened the curtains. "What a gloomy day!", I thought. Then I looked at the time.

It was dusk.

I knew I was feeling a bit grouchy and out of sorts on occasion these past few days, but had failed to put two and two together. I seem to have just cleared a sleep deficit of about six hours.

So it turns out the ability to shave well is no longer cosmetic for me, which is an interesting state of affairs. It also turns out I need to correct a sleep cycle as out of kilter as if I'd just flown in from California, which is another interesting state of affairs.

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