The high: This morning I have the slightly swollen lips of a prize-fighter. However I’ve not been involved in any acts of violence – the very opposite. Yesterday, for five hours, I played first oboe in Manchester’s Cameo Orchestra as we rehearsed (for fun) Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Strangely, this was the first time I’d played this familar work, and it was great fun, despite a couple of minor lapses in concentration. I’ve always adhered to the musical principal that if you are going to play a wrong note, miss an entry or come in at the wrong place, one should do it with aplomb. Perhaps that is because playing the oboe, not a retiring instrument, means that everyone is going to hear whatever you do anyway. But the oboe can be hard work, hence my morning pout.

The low: Because I’m now pretty-well based in Manchester I’ve had to give up my much-loved allotment at Whitemoor, in Nottingham. Last week I handed it over to Louise, who is taking it over. Although I’d only worked the allotment for some six years (one of my fellow gardeners has been cultivating his plot for 50 years), it nevertheless involved a lot of hard work, successes and failures, as well as, of course, providing plenty of wonderful organic produce, despite competition from ravenous hordes of slugs, snails, whitefly, aphids, wireworms and pigeons. The plot sprouted a hearty jungle of weeds as soon as my back was turned, and bricks and lumps of concrete turned up like dragons’ teeth, but it was great fun, great exercise, and being on the allotment, whatever the time of year or whatever the weather, was a restorative experience. I shall miss it a lot, and already look forward to growing food again in the future.

The jolt: I learned this morning that a paper has just been published by a couple of authors well known to me that appears at first glance to preempt a significant chunk of my proposed PhD research. Hey, I’m just three weeks into my three years and someone is already chewing at my topic! I raced to download the paper, and gobbled up its 16 pages. It’s an interesting,  well-researched and well-written paper, and yes, I found some overlaps, commonalities and challenges (it even cites my MA dissertation). But I also found a number of references and sources I hadn’t yet discovered (thank you), support for several of my ideas and approaches (phew!) and some very useful pointers.

Perhaps I am experiencing for the first time something that may be familiar to all researchers – the discovery that others are exploring the same areas of scholarship, and the attendant anxiety that they might reach the buried treasure first! The paper is only about 2,000 words long, and when I calmed down I recognised that it is essentially a brief and useful introduction to just some of the ideas that I shall be covering and on which I’ll be expanding somewhere in my 80,000 words. I’ll be able to cite it, make use of the information and hopefully collaborate with its authors on future research and publications. Takes deep breaths…

Still, it woke me up, this Monday morning!