July 2022 Update

What two words would I use to describe July? Hot and busy.

The temperatures have been intense at times and we’ve not had the worst of it. We’ve escaped the really extreme temperatures and the fires. We’ve been lucky. Out leaders are asleep at the wheel when it comes to climate change, even if they acknowledge that it’s a thing at all, they can’t or perhaps won’t do anything about it for fear of upsetting a small right wing minority that refuse to accept that something has to must be done about it. Yes we have targets – net-zero carbon by 2050 – but there are few actions that will take us there. 2050 is far enough off (I’ll be 78 if I live that long), for the current crop of politicians to think of it as someone else’s problem. Of course we can’t wait that long because there’s already enough climate change locked into the system to make these years high temperatures feel quite mild.


In practical terms the hot weather has meant a change in the pattern of my day. I’ve been getting up early and taking Ruby for a walk before it gets too hot and then coming back to get on with work. Working until lunchtime when it was becoming too hot in my office to be able to think productively. I normally take a break at lunchtime for sustenance and another dog walk, but it was too hot to take any dog out in those temperatures. (If you’re in any doubt, take your shoes and socks off and go and stand on the tarmac. If you can’t stand there for more than a minute it’s too hot for them to be walking on that.) So our lunchtime walk was taken in the evening when the temperatures had dropped and the sun was much lower in the sky.

The days are getting noticeably shorter though so temperatures will start to drop a bit more with less sun.

I’ve also had a lot of work connected with the house move to do, including laying a carpet which I haven’t done for years, so it was good to refresh that skill set.


Work

It’s been a busy work month with multiple projects on the go for one client, they’re all strands of the same master project but need to be worked on separately. I’ve spread the work out a little more than I strictly needed to, but with the high temperatures I really needed to be able to maximise the cooler times of the day.

Allotment

We’ve had a good healthy crop of beetroot coming through which has meant it’s become a bit of a staple vegetable for us over the past month. I posted this public service message which you might want to read if you are similarly thinking of eating a lot of beetroot.

Books

I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this month, but I did finish a couple of books that I started a while ago and for some reason put to one side. I tend to do this occasionally, particularly if I’m not really enjoying the book because my mind isn’t really in the right place to be enjoying it. I’ll come back to them again later and normally finish them, on an odd occasion I might not but it doesn’t happen that often.

So I finished Pharmacopoeia: A Dungeness Notebook by Derek Jarman and The Book of the Raven: Corvids in Art and Legend by Angus Hyland, both very good and I’m unsure why they got sidelined but I’m glad I finished them. I also reread Call for the Dead by John le Carré, which is the first appearance of the character George Smiley and a very different character in some ways to the later books.

TV / Film

I’ve been particularly bad in the past about remember what I’ve watched over the month. So this month I’ve been making a conscious effort to write down what I’ve watched each day. It’s also been interesting to see how much TV we do watch. On average over the last month at least we’ve watched between two and two-and-a-half hours each night. A lot of repeats and a few other things.

We watched a series on Amazon call Totems which is a French (with subtitles) spy story set in the cold war. Really good and I’d recommend it. We also watched Trom which was on BBC4, set on the Faroe Isles and in Faroese and Danish with subtitles. It started out quite well but felt a bit contrived towards the end. Still worth a watch though. We also watched Murder in Provence which I quite enjoyed but you need to suspend your feelings about the lack of French accents. It’s basically English actors pretending to be French but without any trace of an accent or French mannerisms. If you can do that and get over the lead actors have played strong characters in other series it’s good. The accent thing seems to have upset a lot of people but I can think of other series where this hasn’t really been a problem. There have been at least three different adaptations of the Maigret novels with an all English cast and similarly an adaptation of the Zen novels which are set in Italy with and all English cast. I’m not sure why it’s so noticable in Murder in Provence, but it is.

I also watched Beau Miles latest YouTube video and recommend that you do too:


Well that’s about it for July. If I post this soon, it might even still be July wherever you’re reading it. In the meantime take care and stay safe:

June 2022 Update

I’m struggling a little bit with the fact that it’s past the middle of the year, we’re after the summer solstice and the days get shorter from here on out (at least until the winter solstice at any rate). As I look back over the first half of this year I wonder whether I could have progressed projects faster than I did and whether where I am is a true reflection of where I should / could be.

There are some empty pages in one of my notebooks with prompts that I was going to use for longer term planning but I am still thinking about that and really it makes no sense to do that planning until I’ve finished the thinking and come to some conclusions. Of course the longer I think the less gets planned and the less gets done. I really need to just get on with it, but some of it is new and unfamiliar and a little bit scary. I should also be doing a mid year review, and it seems odd to be doing that when I never really finished the planning. Sometimes I think you have to pivot a bit and not think too deeply about targets and just go with the flow.

I know I haven’t been idle, but I wonder whether I could have been more focussed. This month has been busy but more with non-work related projects. We’ve been having a bathroom refitted and have had quite a few problems with the supplier we chose to get the bath, sink etc. from. We have two sinks turn up broken and had to wait for a third. This meant a delay in starting and then having to start, not knowing whether we’d be able to finish the project with a sink properly fitted or not. We were lucky and the project is more or less finished. There are some final decisions to make over finishing touches but they can be made at leisure.


Work
A quiet month workwise. With a big push on one project at the end of last month, this one has been distinctly quieter. Just as well with the other things that have been going on. I wonder a lot whether I am going to continue with this “career” or whether it is time to move on.

Allotment

The allotment has been producing a lot of broad beans and lettuce. Soft fruit is now also coming into its own, with a lot of loganberries to harvest. I dug the first of my potatoes last weekend as a bit of a test to see how they were doing, the results were good so no more shop bought potatoes for a while. The garlic has been really good this year, possibly the best ever, but alongside them the onions have been some of the worst. I did have different varieties of both this year, so will probably be looking to get the same garlic again, but I think I’ll be reverting back to the onions I had in 2021 as they were good. Courgettes and climbing beans are slow to start this year. They’re just sitting there not doing much.

Books

I’ve read a few this month. The stand outs are the fifth and sixth volumes of Spike Milligan’s second world war diaries – Where Have All The Bullets Gone and Goodbye Soldier, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s first non-fiction work – The High Sierra: A Love Story. My aim of reading more is going fairly well, but sometimes I just run out of time during the day or am too tired by the time I get into bed to read more than a couple of pages, so fits and starts probably describes it best. The Spike Milligan’s diaries have been a really interesting read, both in terms of his war time experiences but also his experience with mental health. What we would probably call PTSD now, probably lead to his ongoing battles with mental health later in life.

TV / Film
Nothing really sticks in my memory for this month in terms of TV or films. We have been rewatching the first couple of seasons of Blackadder via BBC iPlayer, and I was given a dvd set of an old ’80’s series “Bulman” for Father’s Day which has bought back some memories. Other than that there hasn’t been anything particularly memorable.

Music / Radio / Podcasts
I thought I’d add this as I listen to quite a lot of podcasts in particular. A new show to me this month has been the Curiously Specific Book Club, which I’ve been enjoying. It’s also been AudioMo this month, so I’ve been putting out a short piece of audio via Twitter each day with the hashtag #AudioMo. If you want to find them, I’ve collected them so far in this post.


Well that’s about it I think for this month. At the moment July is looking quite empty. I was expecting work to pick up again, but at the time of writing I’m not sure that is going to happen. There are plenty of things that I can fill the time with though, so I won’t be idle. Whatever you are up to in the weeks ahead, stay safe and take care.

May 2022 Update

Dad – late 1940’s

I seem to have fallen into monthly updates here, whilst still posting my FiftyFromFifty newsletter over there.

It’s been a busy month work wise (see below), and also in a few other areas. I’ve had my film camera out again and have been working my way through a couple of rolls of film some of the results I’ve posted here and there are more to come. I’ve been looking at buying some more rolls of film as I’ve almost used up the small stock that I have. Unsurprisingly the prices have gone up quite a bit, but I have a couple of ideas of different things that I want to try so I don’t feel like I need to buy large quantities of film at the moment.

I’ve also been breathing new life into old photos and slides, scanning boxes and folders of them in fact. I’ve found quite a few that I’ve never seen before and many of relatives in their younger days. Some are obvious as to who they are, others I’m not 100% sure of, possibly because they died before I was born. Some are labelled, but they are in the minority.

I’ve been able to visit my Mum – as opposed to only speaking to her on the phone – now that her care home is covid-free again. It’s strange that we’re now supposed to be “living with covid” and yet hundreds of people are still dying on a nearly daily basis. It really does feel like the government has failed this country in dealing with this killer virus and continues to do so on daily basis, preferring to pretend that there’s nothing to see. Their favourite phrase seems to be that we “just need to move on”.

We’re still planning our house move, and although it’s still a little way off, I’ve made some significant progress this month in making it happen and there’s more to come hopefully next month.

We’ve had a few issues with Wilson’s health which has resulted in more unplanned trips to the vet. He seems to be doing much better now, but he was a cause for a bit of concern earlier in the month.


Work

This month has been busy with a client project and also having to renegotiate a contract. There’s been an exchange of emails over the content of the contract which at the moment I cannot sign. I’m hopeful that we can reach some middle ground but I’ll have to wait and see what comes back from them by way of revisions before being able to make a decision. In the meantime I have delivered on what I have been doing for them and there’s is potentially more work in the pipeline.


Allotment

It feels very strange knowing that this is probably my last year on the plot with a potential house move imminent. It changes the way you think about things and what you’re going to plant where. At the moment we’re getting a good crop of broad beans and I’m hoping to be able to plant out squash and courgette this week, as well as some climbing beans. I’ve also got some bush tomatoes coming along that look like they are about ready for larger pots or potentially going into the soil.


Books

I’ve read a few books this month, including finally finishing Derek Jarman’s first volume of diariesModern Nature – evidently it has taken me nine months to read them and as they’re not very long I’m not sure why. I would definitely like to visit his gardens in Dungeness one day and see just what he was able to do in such an inhospitable space. I’ve since moved on and am reading his Pharmacopoeia: A Dungeness Notebook and a little of his second volume of diaries.

I’ve also read a couple of books that didn’t pass my fifty page rule (or 20% on a kindle if there are no page numbers), I don’t name and shame because I think this can sometimes be as much about personal taste or mood at the time of reading, and I have been known to go back to books that haven’t passed the test and reread and enjoyed them so it’s a rule of the moment rather than to be rigidly applied.


TV / Film

Really not much to report here at all, mostly we’ve been watching repeats, programmes from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, programming that fills the time but ultimately means that I spend more time reading with the telly switched off. I have been enjoying Bosch: Legacy which I think is the only bit of new content I’ve been watching but I think that only has 2 episodes left, so probably by the time this goes out will be finished.


Well I don’t think that there’s much more to say this month.

Stay safe and take care.

Update April 2022

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.


Allotment

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.


Reading

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.


Watching

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.

The Heeding by Rob Cowen Now In Paperback

The Dazzling Paperback Copy of The Heeding

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.

Update March 2022

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.


Digging Potato Trenches

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.

Stay safe and take care.

Reading Productively

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:

Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals
Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” & “Deep Work“,
Oliver Burkeman’s “Four Thousand Weeks” (as an audiobook),
James Clear’s “Atomic Habits

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.

2020 Take 3

A couple of different people have mentioned that this seems like the third attempt at 2020 after 2021 turned out to be the rerun. I’m not sure yet whether 2022 will fare any better but so far it’s starting out a little similar to 2021 with Covid-19 on the rise, a government that is focussed on its internal party politics rather than the betterment of the country, work being cancelled or changed as a result and life not being quite what anyone would wish for. It probably doesn’t help that the days are shorter and there’s not a great deal of sunlight at the best of times.

I’ve been taking a break from writing here and just about everywhere on social media for a few weeks. I needed the break, especially from Twitter and to a lesser extent YouTube and Instagram, and to be honest I’m not planning on going back anytime soon, and when I do it won’t be to the same extent. Inevitably I use social media a little by default, with things autoposting e.g. GoodReads and this blog, but that’s likely to be my limit of interaction for the time being at least.

One of my aims for this year is to read more and in doing so read more widely. The less time I spend doom scrolling the more time I’ll have for other things like that. I took the approach of looking at things I should: ‘stop doing, start doing, & keep doing’ the logic being that to start doing one thing you have to stop doing something else.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time reading at the end of December, partly in a conscious choice to have a break at the end of the year and also as ideas emerged about less social media and more reading to see what that felt like. Overall I read 83 books last year and so far this year I’ve read 4 (including one audiobook), like last year I have no target I just want to see where I go, no pressure and reading more doesn’t necessarily mean more books.


We finally watched the most recent Bond film over Christmas. I enjoyed it and it was worth the wait. Would I have liked to have seen it in the cinema? Yes, but then I still think that was just too great a risk at the time. Other than that Christmas television was pretty disappointing and there hasn’t been much better so far this year. We’re watching quite a few repeats or just not bothering.


We had a quiet Christmas, restrictions on care homes meant that I saw my Mum before Christmas and spoke to her on the phone on the day itself. Her Alzheimer’s meant that she didn’t actually know that it was Christmas as such. We don’t have what I would consider to be family Christmases anymore.


Related to reading I’ve been cataloguing my kindle highlights using my.clippings.io and my Evernote account. I’ve wanted to be able to make better use of my kindle highlights for writing and making them more searchable has been my aim. They’re now all uploaded to Evernote and I’m working my way through adding tags to each one. I have a couple of hundred books left to do this for so I’m doing them in batches.

I already add my handwritten notes on real books into Evernote when I finish a book so finally all my reading notes will be together in one database.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog at the moment. I want to write, but I think I’ll be posting on a more ad-hoc basis than a regular timetable.

Whatever you’re up to, stay safe and take care.

My Best Books of 2021

At the time of writing GoodReads says that I’ve read 75 books this year. I suspect I’ll get at least a couple more in before the end of the year but I’m not sure whether I’ll read something that would displace a book from this list so I feel fairly safe posting this now. Here are my top 5 that I’ve read this year. Only two of them were actually published this year and three of them are second world war military history – but although this is an interest of mine, they are there on merit of being very good books and I would recommend them even if this is something that isn’t of a particular interest to you.

Brothers in Arms – James Holland

This is the story of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and their journey from D-Day to VE-Day in the second world war. As a regiment they’ve been in the war from the start, originally as a mounted – on horses – cavalry regiment before moving into tanks. It’s incredibly well written and as well as the “back story” of what is going on generally it focuses on a handful of the men of the regiment. It shows the true horror of war and the sheer loss of life and attrition that happens, even to what is ultimately being the “victorious” side. It will make you stop and think and question what you think you already know about the second world war.

Diary of a War Artist – Edward Ardizzone

This is exactly what it says it is, and follows the artist through the invasion of Sicily and onto D-Day and towards the end of the European war during 1943 to 1945. You might think that you’ve never heard of Edward Ardizzone, but after the war he was a very well known illustrator and in particular of children’s books. If you’ve ever read Stig of the Dump you’ve probably seen his illustrations.

These are illustrated notebooks/diaries and again show what is going on generally as well as to the individual.

Brave Men – Ernie Pyle

My final second world war pick and again covering the war from 1943 to 1945 from Sicily to Normandy, Ernie Pyle was an American war correspondent who reported from the front line (and was ultimately killed in the Pacific towards the end of the war). These are in effect another diary type reportage, although not written explicitly at such and providing a day to day account of the progression and the individual units and men concerned. Pyle would attach himself to different units; Naval, engineers, artillery, infantry and report from being alongside them. As above it shows what the war was truly like and not the version that we have perhaps taught ourselves over the intervening period.

Together – Luke Adam Hawker

This is an illustrated tale of the artist author’s Grandfather and his dog. It’s set through the first lockdown period of 2020 and tells a tale that is both human and encapsulating what many of us went through in one way or another. It’s both heartwarming and heart pulling, but it is beautifully illustrated and well worth a look.

The Small Heart of Things – Julian Hoffman

I read this relatively recently and it’s a collection of essays, primarily about or linked to the natural world. It’s beautifully written and covers quite a wide range of topics from a natural point of view.

Currently Reading / Read

I’ve finished reading March Violets by Philip Kerr, which was quite an enjoyable read. A skillful blend of history (pre-war Nazi Germany, the Berlin Olympics in 1936) with fiction. This is the second book in this series that I’ve read, and the first book in the series, the other one that I’ve read comes much later in the sequence. I think I’ll be returning to read more of these, and have the next couple on my kindle as they are part of an omnibus. At the moment though I’m reading Chasing Arizona by Ken Lamberton which is both interesting but also totally irrelevant to me having never visited the US state which the book is all about.