In a few weeks time I turn 50. I’ve been toying with ideas of ways to mark it in some way and I thought I’d write about some of the things that I’ve learnt in my life, things that were important to me.
I wanted it to be a limited thing too, something that would be roughly 50 posts, done before I turn 51. So rather than post them here I’ve set up a separate newsletter that way if you’re interested you can sign up for it and if you’re not you don’t have to worry about it – although I can’t guarantee I won’t mention it again here.
So if you’re up for some reminiscence and nostalgia you can sign up here: Fifty From Fifty the sign up process might ask you if you want to pay, but ignore that all the posts will be free. I hope you’ll join me.
Coming to paperback on May 19th is one of my favourite nature books from last year.
You can read my original review here, but now is the perfect time to be picking up this book as Spring moves to Summer.
In his book Lev uses the Japanese system of 72 micro seasons rather than our much broader four, and at this time in the book as this post goes live, is when he first sees Swifts.
This year I’m still looking for my first Swift, I’ve seen Swallows and based on my records I should see Swifts any day, but not yet.
There is a lot of attention to detail in this book, only a naturalist with a keen eye would spot some of the things that Lev does, and he is able to translate those sightings/findings in such a way that you are in the moment with him.
This is a book of the minutiae of nature as well as the broad sweeps of the world around us, whether that be the arrival of the swifts or the beauty of another portion of the natural world.
About The Author
Lev Parikian is a birdwatcher, conductor and author of Into The Tangled Bank (2020) and Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (2018). He lives in West Norwood, London with his family, who are getting used to his increasing enthusiasm for nature. As a birdwatcher, his most prized sightings are a golden oriole in the Alpujurras and a black redstart at Dungeness Power Station.
Light Rains Sometimes Fall – A British Year Through Japan’s 72 Seasons by Lev Parikian is published by Elliott & Thompson and available in paperbackl from 19th May 2022
If you haven’t seen a Swift yet, keep a look out for the other micro seasons coming up:
The weather was forecast to be good over the long Easter weekend, so I decided that I would load one of my film cameras with a roll of film and restrict myself to shooting that roll over the four days. I was up early most days so had some really great morning light, particularly on the first day (Friday). Here are some of the images I took.
As an aside I used a new local (to me) laboratory to process and scan the film. They advertised a 3 day turnaround (from receipt of film) but actually took nearly ten days. By contrast I sent another roll to my usual processor and they turned it around in 2 days (they advertise a 7 day turnaround).
Well April has been a busy month for me, and mostly productive. My work has been focussed on a key project rolling forward and quite a bit of work to do to keep up with developments, it’s not something that I can say very much about but it has taken up quite a bit of work time. When I’ve not been doing that I’ve been sorting through some very large boxes of slides, negatives and photographs that I found while clearing my parents house. I’ve nearly worked my way through all of the slides, and have found lots of memories there (see above). I’ve been using the SlideScan and FilmBox apps to process as many as I can, although I’d say I’m actually digitising less than 10%, partly because they have no relevance to me now but also because they’re just not of sufficient quality e.g. underexposed, to enable the software to make a decent transfer. It’s been a fun project though and I’ve also been able to surprise a few members of the family with pictures of them or their relatives that they’d not seen before. I still have many more to do, so should keep me going for a number of weeks yet.
I’m still publishing my Fifty From Fifty Newsletter, which is why posts here have been less frequent and I’ve now passed the 20% mark in terms of the 50 posts. You can subscribe via the link above, new posts typically go out on Monday mornings UK time. One of my recent posts was about some of the music from 50 years of life and I created a playlist to reflect this:
I’ve also been picking up my film camera again, particularly as we’ve had some really good spells of weather and I’ve exposed a couple of rolls of film which I’ve sent off to be processed. One I’ve sent to a new lab which is even more local than the one that I’ve been using that I thought of as local. They have slightly let me down however as they advertise a three day turnaround (from receipt of film) however I had an email from them to say that it will be at least seven days before they’ll be able to process mine. It appears that they’ve updated their policy without updating the text on their website. It’s not a big deal, but it is a bit frustrating particularly when trying someone new for the first time.
I was hoping that I’d get them back in time for writing this post but alas not, so I’ll write up something else (assuming the photos are any good) when I get both rolls back.
I’ve been getting the plot going again properly. The potatoes are just peeking through from their ridges and some seeds – beetroot and lettuce – have been sown directly. I’m also bringing some squash, tomato and bean seeds indoors, to plant out later. As we’ll be moving somewhen soon, I’m being a little bit cautious with what I plant, as once the move happens we’ll have to give up the plot.
I read Len Deighton’s Spy Sinker and with it finished the middle trilogy of the three trilogies. Faith; Hope and Charity are the next three books and the final trilogy, but I haven’t started them yet. You can also read my review of David Cranmer’s Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen which is an outstanding collection of poems and I thoroughly recommend. Other than that I am trying to read more and spend less time on social media which seems to be working and have now reached 29 books read this year. Considering how busy work has been that’s a pretty good achievement. I’m not doing it for the numbers but in many ways that is the only metric I have.
We watched the new version of The Ipcress File which we enjoyed but I’m not sure why they needed to make the Harry Palmer character look like Michael Caine. It wasn’t necessary and I found it quite distracting. I think it would have been better if they’d just let the actor play him how they wanted.
Also Slow Horses on Apple TV+ which is very good, and a shame it’s only six episodes, even though they have already completed the second season.
Well that’s about it for this month. Whatever you’re up to stay safe and take care.
David Cranmer is probably better known as an author and editor of hard boiled noir and as alter-ego Edward A. Grainger the creator of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. So although not unheard of as a poet – he’s had several pieces included in this collection published separately – this is the first full collection of his poems.
It is both bright and light and at times dark, very dark but these are poems written not from the heart but from the soul. These are life experiences that show through the words on the page and show David’s time in the military and civilian employment; his family – wife and daughter and nephew.
Each poem speaks loud with a softly written style, not afraid to experiment with pattern and tone.
This is a brief collection of brilliance, one to be read again and again.
About the Author Poet:
David Cranmer’s poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in publications such as Live Nude Poems, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, LitReactor, Punk Noir Magazine, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. He’s a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Disclosure: Although we’ve never met, I do consider David as a friend. I bought his book with my own money, and so should you.
One of my favourite books of last year is getting a much deserved paperback publication on Thursday (31/03/2022). The Heeding by Rob Cowen and illustrated by Nick Hayes was borne out of the weird Covid timewarp of 2020 and 2021 providing an anchoring point for some of the world passing by around us. In original poetry with amazing illustrations it helps us to look at the world around us and to heed what is going on. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes – To not just look but to observe.
You can reread my original review of The Heeding here. It’s original publication also coincided with the month of AudioMo, and I read an extract from the book, part of the poem “The Allotment” as one of my submissions:
The publishers of the book have very kindly given me a copy of the paperback edition to giveaway to a reader of this blog. If you would like to enter the giveaway all you have to do is leave a comment on this post before the 5th April 2022 (please leave a valid email address in the relevant box when submitting your comment, but not in the main body of the comment, that way your details won’t be shared but will be how I contact you if you are the winner). I’ll randomly draw a winner from those comments. Please note that due to rising postage costs this giveaway is for UK readers only.
We’ve nearly reached the end of the first quarter of 2022, seems to be going about as well as 2020 and 2021, although at least there was only the threat of virus in those two years and not the threat of a virus and nuclear war.
My Fifty from Fifty newsletter seems to be going well and another month has pretty much gone by where all my posts have been via that outlet rather than here.
So far this year I seem to have read 20 books. I’ve mentioned The Marmalade Diaries in a review post, but outside of that there weren’t really any stand out books. Some good ones like Len Deighton’s Spy Hook & Spy Line (I have the final book Spy Sinker in the trilogy to read) and Spike Milligan’s Monty: His Part in My Victory. The latter of this is probably a bit of an acquired taste but if you get the humour they are a great series too and laugh out loud funny at times.
We’ve been touched indirectly a few times now by Covid, with lots of friends and family members reporting that they are positive. My Mum has had it for a second time, and although now triple vaccinated she seemed worse this time than when she caught it the first time unvaccinated. The ring of protection that the government put around care homes is an utter joke. As is most of their Covid response now. Rising infections and just a ‘nothing to see here, move along’ mentality to appease a handful of Tory backbenchers who can’t possibly inconvenience themselves with a few simple measures like wearing a mask or a bit of physical distancing.
For our part we’re still being very cautious, and even more so now numbers are on such a rise.
The allotment is starting to take off again, I spent some time over the weekend getting my potato trenches dug, ready for planting probably next weekend. It should be late enough here now that by the time the shoots emerge from the ground the risk of a heavy frost is past. It is odd this year though because we are very much preparing for a house move that will mean I’ll have to give up the allotment, so whilst I want to make the most of the space and the lower cost of fruit and vegetables, I also don’t want to put in too much effort on sustaining the plot beyond the end of this years contract apart from making sure that whoever gets it after me does so in a reasonable state.
The weather is getting warmer and this coming weekend the clocks go forward, evenings become longer and we lose an hours sleep. Hopefully this means more time to be outside.
This is really a story of the current age, we’ve all been through the same period(s) of lockdowns and restrictions and have our own tales to tell but The Marmalade Diaries presents quite a heartwarming story of a rather eccentric odd couple.
I was worried starting out, that this book might become a bit repetitive given that it was written under Covid conditions when many of us were living very limited and repetitive lives ourselves. But that is not the case, sure there are the daily tasks that Ben completes for Winnie, like lighting the fire but these are a unique perspective to a wider discourse at the time.
As Winnie’s and Ben’s relationship develops this becomes a much more heartwarming story. If you’ve ever had an elderly relative living alone like Winnie I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to some of the diary entries. Winnie’s memory issues and her love for her family, particularly her disabled son is clear but you can’t help think as the diary entries unfold that time is not on Winnie or Ben’s side.
This is a great story told over a relatively short period of time of two people stuck together in unlikely conditions. Ultimately Winnie has a very quick wit and really steals the show from Ben but the ‘odd couple’ appeal and interactions between them are a bit of soul food for the pandemic age.
I’d recommend reading this, but I think would advise that if you have an elderly relative in a similar situation then you might want to have a box of tissues handy for some of the more touching moments.
From The Publisher
From the author of The Gran Tour, a portrait of an intergenerational friendship.
Recently widowed, Winnie, 84, was in need of some companionship. Someone to help with the weekly food shop and offer tips on the crossword. Ben, 34, was looking for a new housemate.
As the UK was locked down in 2020, Ben and Winnie’s lives interwove, forming an unlikely friendship, where lessons were learnt (heat the red wine in the oven with the plates; preserve or pickle whatever you can; never throw anything away) and grief, both personal and that of a nation, was explored.
Charting both their time together, and the details of Winnie’s life that are shared with Ben in fragments, The Marmalade Diaries, from the author of The Gran Tour, is a very human exploration of home, of the passage time, of the growing relationship between an odd couple, told with warmth, wit and candour.
About The Author
Ben Aitken was born under Thatcher, grew to six foot then stopped, and is an Aquarius. He is the author of Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island (2015) and A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland (2019), ‘one of the funniest books of the year’ (Paul Ross, talkRadio).
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.
I’ve just come on here to write up a book review (it’s embargoed until 6th March, so pop back then to read it) and realised that the weeds have been growing a bit in my absence.
This is mostly due to concentrating on my Fifty From Fifty newsletter which has been going for a few weeks now. I’m not cross-posting those entries to the blog as I wanted it to be a stand alone venture which ultimately will come to an end. If you’re interested in reading it you can do so at the link above and you can also subscribe there to have it delivered directly to your email inbox. I’ve also had a couple of busy weeks with work, trips to the vet and sorting things out for my Mum which has left me little time to write or at least write coherently (if I ever do).
I am hoping that perhaps I can free up some time to write a little more here going forward but I guess we’ll just have to see how that pans out.
At the end of last year and for the first couple of weeks of this year I seem to have been reading a lot of books that could broadly be classed as “productivity self-help”. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
All of these have been recommended to me via a variety of difference sources; friends, podcasts, etc, and some of these books reference each other. All of them were worth reading in their own way, just after I’d decided to take a break from social media I read Digital Minimalism. Interestingly most of what the author was suggesting in terms of reducing digital consumption were steps that I’d already been taking. In fact in most cases you could make the argument that most of what was being suggested anyone could probably come up with by themselves with enough thought and time. I would say however that these books save you that time but only work if you are prepared to put the thought in about how you might implement things for yourself.
Accepting that we are all unique and our personal circumstances are different there is no one-size fits all approach, did I learn anything? Yes, I did. I’d say that I’ve tweaked some of my work patterns to better fit me. For example I know that mornings work best for me to really get things done. So I’m blocking my mornings much more for writing and thinking and trying wherever I can to push admin type work e.g. raising client invoices, to afternoons. That doesn’t mean that I won’t do other things in my mornings, because I also need to be responsive to clients needs, but my preference is to try and keep them for when I really need to focus on things.
I’m still on a bit of a social media break, but I have allowed it to creep back into my life a bit more than it was. However this is much more on a set of “rules” that mean that I don’t end up doom scrolling or wasting time. I am now spending more time reading which is one of my aims for this year (not necessarily more self-help books though). I enjoy this lower level of interaction, although it isn’t the perfect balance yet so will need a bit more refinement.
Do I recommend any of the above books? Well that depends on whether this is something that you want to read about. All are good, but I’ve had a couple of them languishing on my kindle for quite some time (purchased when they were 99p specials), so I’m not sure I’d have bought them (at full price) if I weren’t already thinking about this sort of thing. I don’t think they’re the sort of book you’d read without a reason to.