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.

Tree’s Up TWTW # 154

Well it’s a little windy out there at the moment. I’ve just come back from my morning dog walk and we have a fair breeze blowing. I dare say it’s not the 100mph winds that have been reported for storm Arwen in other parts of the country. Although you can’t see it easily from the photo that blue dot is us, and we’re right on the edge of one of the weather warnings so hopefully will escape the worst. If you’re in one of the other areas then I hope you stay safe and take care if you have to venture outdoors, probably better to stay inside in the warm and dry though if you can.

This week has been mostly been about the work again, trying to move some things forward and finish off others. I’m aiming to take the Christmas and New Year period completely work free, so would like to tie things up before then.

Outside of that I’ve been booking booster jabs, which has proven to be quite a torturous process with the website insisting that the nearest centre with appointments available is on the Isle of Wight which is an expensive ferry ride away. Eventually we managed to get booked in a little closer to home and without the sea crossing.

We also put up our Christmas tree. I suspect we would have done it this weekend anyway so we were probably a few days early but it feels like we should make the most of having it up, rather than putting it up last minute and then taking it down a week later.

So we put on the original Now Christmas album (on vinyl) and decorated the tree. Just need to write Christmas cards now.

I’m also planning to make our Christmas pudding over the weekend at some point. A few years ago I made a video about it here:


Work

As mentioned above I’ve been busy on different projects this week. I was also supposed to be at a couple of workshops yesterday and today, but mysteriously they were cancelled without notice or explanation on Tuesday. My assumption is because of the bad weather but I haven’t been able to contact the organiser to find out the reason. I’m not disappointed that they were cancelled due to the rising Covid numbers, I wasn’t looking forward to being in a room of potentially hostile members of the public.


Allotment

Nothing to report today, I’ll pop down there once the storm has passed to see if there is any damage but it’s probably best to stay away while the wind is so strong.


Reading

I mentioned that I’d started The Small Heart of Things by Julian Hoffman last week, well I finished that in fairly short order. It was a quick but brilliant read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Given it’s been tucked up in my “to be read” pile for so long it was a delight to read it. I hope there are more of the same in that pile of books. Since then I’ve been reading March Violets by Phillip Kerr, which is a Bernie Gunther mystery novel.

During the week I read an article – which I now can’t find – that said men don’t read much fiction. I initially dismissed this thinking that I read a lot of fiction. Later in the week I was looking through a book list of mine and realised that it was almost entirely non-fiction, so I had a look at the books I’ve read so far this year on GoodReads, and it’s pretty much a fifty-fifty split between fiction and non-fiction at the moment, so maybe there is something to that article after all?


TV

Nothing much to report this week, a lot of the things we have been watching have come to the end of their run, and Shetland finished this week. So not sure whether there’ll be much to report over the coming weeks.


Well that’s it for this week. As mentioned I’m off to be boosted next week, otherwise I’ll probably be working on client things. Whatever you’re up to Stay Safe and Take Care.

All The Leaves Are Brown TWTW # 153

Welcome to Autumn

This week has been a mixture of many things. It started bright and early on Monday working remotely while a carpenter fitted a new external door. So many doors these days are known as engineered doors and are made at a standard size to fit a standard door frame, this frame wasn’t a standard size and you can’t cut an engineered door (because they’re basically a sandwich of wood with a pulp filler). Engineered doors are relatively cheap, but a door to fit this frame wasn’t and I didn’t want to risk trying to do it myself with my rudimentary skills. The chance of catastrophe would be high as would the length of time it would take me. While the carpenter sawed and chiselled, planed and sanded, I finished a report for a client. By the end of the day the door was fitted and my report was finished.

I came back a couple of days later and painted it, I can be trusted with a paintbrush. While the paint dried I went for a walk with my camera and took some autumn photos. The beech trees this year are pretty spectacular and were so inviting to the camera’s eye.

Later in the week I had to take Wilson to the vets for yet more tests. We’re trying to decide whether to change his treatment or persevere with what we’re doing at the moment which isn’t completely working. There’s no guarantee that something different will work any better, so it feels a bit like reaching into the dark for a solution that might not even be there.

On Friday I did something that I haven’t done since February 2020, and drew some cash out from a cash point. With the pandemic, the shift to contactless and card payments I’ve had very little need for cash but I was down to my last fiver from what I drew out 20 months ago. I wonder if I’ll have enough to take me to 2023 or perhaps 2024?


Reading

I finished Alistair Maclean’s Floodgate which was really hard going. Not his best work by a long way and if you’re thinking of reading something of his it’s not a good place to start. Instead try Puppet on a Chain, Where Eight Bells Toll, Golden Rendezvous or Ice Station Zebra. As a rule of thumb his older novels are better than the newer ones (although St Andreas which came straight after Floodgate is one of my favourites), the later ones are reported to mostly have been written by ghostwriters and then reviewed by Maclean. Not sure if this is true but it would explain the patchy quality of the later novels.

After that I’ve started reading Julian Hoffman’s The Small Heart of Things which is a complete change of pace – non-fiction, natural history and place.


Watching

We watched the season finale of Foundation on Friday night. I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad my Apple TV subscription is a freebie. I’m pretty sure I won’t be renewing it, there just isn’t enough on there that can make me justify the cost.

We’re continuing to watch both Shetland and Adam Dalgliesh both of which are excellent, the season finale for the former next week and the latter ended this week.

I didn’t watch much of Children in Need but I did catch bit of the Drumathon:

An audience with Richard Mabey


Links

RIP Cedric Robinson – Queen’s Guide to the Sands

Key Outcomes Agreed at COP26: Summary

Everything You Thought You Knew About Hobo Code is Wrong

Net Zero / Not Zero/


Allotment

I harvested our Brussel Sprouts and some leeks on Saturday and converted them into a rather acceptable pasta, leek, sprout and onion dish in a rich cheese sauce. Probably not a cholesterol buster, but very tasty.


Well that’s it for this week. I’m expecting a fairly busy week ahead work wise, but not sure what else I’ll be up to, whatever you’re doing, stay safe and take care.

The Amethyst Deceiver TWTW # 152

This week has been has been focussed on work related things without much time for other things apart from dog walks, eating and sleeping. In part because I have less time for work in the week ahead but lots to do and want to be ahead if I can.

We did manage an afternoon walk in the woods this week and I spotted this bright purple mushroom. The app on my phone, confirmed by my field guide when I got home, told me that it was an Amethyst Deceiver. Despite the colour it is apparently edible, although known to absorb arsenic if it’s present in the surrounding environment, so maybe not totally safe. It’s quite late in the season for this particular mushroom, but a first for me as I don’t recall ever seeing one before.


Reading

I finished reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey this week, it’s the sort of book that you only dip into now and again, which to be honest has been just what I needed this week when I haven’t had space for extended reading. It did get me thinking about my own daily routine which has been pretty fixed for a while now, particularly when I have work on.

I’ve been reading Alistair MacLean’s Floodgate since, but haven’t made many pages of progress.


Allotment

Last week’s rain has left the plot pretty damp so I’ve been focussing on doing some tasks that don’t require me to be on the main beds. I’ve been cutting out last years old growth from the loganberries. As they are spring fruiting they’ll produce that fruit on this years new growth, which needs tying in.

I harvested some leeks which became leek and potato soup for supper on Saturday, with enough left for lunch today, homemade rolls to boot.


Watching

A bit more Apple TV this week (and I’m now pretty sure that I won’t be paying for it when my freebie membership comes to an end). As the first Season of Foundation comes to an end I’m quite glad I don’t remember the story from the books – although I think I will reread them once it’s done – as it’s really unclear as to just what is going on. The other show we’ve been watching, we’ve decided not to bother with from now on, Invasion, is just a mess.

We have been enjoying the BBC’s Shetland, based on the Ann Cleeves novels and also the adaptations of P D James’ Adam Dalgliesh series being shown on Channel 5. The latter I’m pleased to see has tried to stay faithful to the time period of the novels, which other versions haven’t. I’m hoping that it will get a second season, as we’ve really enjoyed the first.


Links

Neil Gaiman – Art and Climate

Honey and Co – The Food Sessions: Red Sands with Caroline Eden

The Accounting Trick That Could Wreck The Planet


Following on from that who doesn’t need to see a singing banana playing the guitar?


Well that’s all I have for this week. Next week I’m going to be hanging about waiting for a door to be fitted, and hopefully working while that’s taking place, and then probably painting the same door. Whatever you’re up to – Stay Safe and Take Care.

Boots Made for Walking TWTW # 151

I wear boots a lot of the time. Hiking boots, wellingtons, steel toe safety boots. In fact when I’m out of the house I’m most likely to be wearing a pair of boots rather than any other type of footwear.

This week has been a bit of a disaster when it comes to boot wearing. Firstly at the start of the week I noticed that my wellingtons had sprung a leak. In time honoured fashion I discovered this when I had to wade through a large puddle and realised that my foot was wet. They’d split on the seam and in an awkward place which made even a temporary repair impossible. Then on Friday I noticed that my hiking boots had also had a failure, this time the sole had split across not just on one boot but on both. I hadn’t realised but now suspect they might have been like this for a while and possibly explain why an old injury had been causing me problems.

So now I need to get replacement boots – two pairs. New wellingtons will be here on Monday, but I’m having trouble finding hiking boots in my size.

Given the amount I wear them I’m not surprised that they wear out, they cover a lot of miles in a week.


Reading

I’ve been reading and finished Diary of a War Artist by Edward Ardizzone and The Potter’s Field by Ellis Peters this week. I often pick up an Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mystery when I’m between books and don’t know what to read next. I’ve only got a couple more in the series to read and then I’ll have to find something else that fills that role. I don’t have any idea what that might be. For now I’ve pivoted back to non-fiction and am reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey – all about the daily habits of famous figures across history. There’s some interesting habits in there, some quite curious and others that aren’t all that unusual and are the sort of thing that many people do today.

There’s lots of discussion on the internet about the new kindle paperwhite this week. I’ve been looking at some of it even though I certainly don’t need a new kindle. I’ve had my current one, which is the previous generation, for nearly two-and-a-half years. It’s been a workhorse for me, but the new version doesn’t look like a significant step forward to justify a purchase I don’t really need. I’ll be sticking with what I’ve got.


Watching

More Foundation and Invasion watching this week, I’m really not sure where the former series is going, and there’s only two episodes left (I think) in this season and I can’t see how they’re going to bring it all together in a satisfying way – then I suppose they don’t need to if they’re going to be making more. As for the latter, I feel like I could stop watching it now and not miss it. I did read a review that said it didn’t get going until episode 5, and we’re only at episode 4, so I might watch one more, but if it doesn’t then I can’t see that we’ll watch the rest of it.

We also watched the new Tom Hanks movie – Finch which was okay but didn’t really do much more than that. All of these are Apple TV+ which I got a free subscription for when I upgraded my iPad earlier this year, however I can’t see that we’ll stick with the paid version when my freebie runs out.


Work

I’ve mostly been focussed on one client’s work this week. When I can working on something in a concentrated way works best for me, so to be able to spend some extended time in this way has delivered real dividends both for me and hopefully also the client. I’ve only got a few more days allocated to this particular piece of work and it looks like I’ll complete it on time and budget.


Allotment

It looks like my onion sets are starting to germinate but no sign of my broad beans as yet. I harvested some leeks this week and we’ve had a lovely leek, brussel sprout, cheese and mashed potato pie over a couple of nights.


Links

Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagne recipe

Do Not Eat, Touch, Or Even Inhale the Air Around the Manchineel Tree

Ridley Scott Films – Ranked


Well that’s it for this week, there’s nothing much in my diary for the week ahead, so I’ll be cracking on with client work and trying to get things finished perhaps a little earlier than I might otherwise. Whatever you’re up to stay safe and take care.


An Englishman Planted Roses TWTW # 150

The clocks change this weekend. I have to say that I am looking forward to having lighter mornings again for a while, I find lighter mornings make so much more difference to me than having darker evenings. Of course role on Spring when the weather also improves more generally.

I’ve been busy with work this week, and I also had a visit with my Mum. She seems to be doing well, although only having such a short time with her each visit it’s difficult to say. I think maintaining the restrictions in care homes is the right thing to do, but I am surprised that where everywhere else the government seems to think Covid is over, including the NHS, it’s a little surprising that they also haven’t relaxed much more in this area. Perhaps they should be looking at those other areas and asking question about why numbers are so high?


Allotment

Not much to report this week, the weather has been pretty wet and so I haven’t had much chance to do anything of consequence on the plot. I have been enjoying some of our apples this week though. I deliberately left some of them on the tree to allow to ripen a bit more. The tree is a hybrid and so the earlier you pick (September) the more like a cooking apple they are and the longer you leave them (ideally into November) the more like an eater. I’ve never had any success leaving them into November, inevitably some strong winds come along and dislodge them onto the ground, but this year I picked them right at the end of this month and they’re pretty good.


Reading

I’ve mostly been reading Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses this week. I’ve read a lot of different books about George Orwell (Eric Blair) but this one comes at it from a different angle in terms of his garden and love of nature. It looks at his homes in Wallington and on the Isle of Jura in particular and takes in some fairly wide ranging topics including workers rights, climate change and politics generally. It’s a nice interweaving of an aspect of Orwell that I’ve barely seen covered before.

I’m not quite sure how I’d rate it though. It was clearly written during the pandemic and I think as such some of the research for the book was cut a little short and I suspect the author had to deliver the book before she’d completed all the research that she would have liked.

I did enjoy it, just suspect there’s more to the story than she was able to tell.


Links

Revisiting the 4 Hour Work Week

The Magic of the Brush

Latest figures reveal how the pandemic shaped radio listening

The Craziest (but best) decision we’ve ever made


Well that’s it for this week, whatever you’re up to in the week ahead, stay safe and take care.