Social Distance TWTW # 69

It’s probably impossible to write here and not to acknowledge what’s happening in the world, even though my experience is only limited to what is going on around me. It also seems that things are constantly changing and greater efforts are being made to contain the spread of the virus and pressure on the vital health services. However as I write this on Sunday things will have moved on by the time it’s published tomorrow, so bear with me.

On Monday things seemed to be more or less normal, with most businesses being open although we were being encouraged to work from home more and avoid unnecessary contact. By Friday the country was very different.

I won’t dwell on all the different restrictions or the various different announcements, but I do want to make a plea. Please be considerate, please don’t be selfish. Don’t be a dick.


It’s been easy to be distracted from work this week, I admit to be a little anxious about groceries and in particular making sure that my Mum has what she needs. She has Alzheimers and doesn’t understand what is going on, maybe that’s just as well.

More cancellations / postponements and suddenly my diary is looking very empty over the coming weeks. I still have a couple of reports to write / finish, I’m hoping that I won’t have a problem getting paid for them.


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I gave Ruby a haircut this week, she was less than impressed. It’s something we try and do at the start of the spring and then again later in the summer to help reduce burs and snags in her coat, and also keep her cooler. I think I’ve been forgiven already, at least until she’s due her next cut. We hang the spring cut in an old bird feeder in the garden and the birds – particularly the blue tits – come and take it for their nests.


I finished reading East West Street by Phillippe Sands and got an Inspector Montalbano – Excursion To Tindari – in. I haven’t had a chance to start anything else yet.


I’m really grateful for podcasts this week, particularly those that have enabled me to escape the background noise of coronavirus. I’ve been listening to a few different ones in particular this week, including going back through their back catalogue to listen to ones that I’ve missed. A couple of picks for you:

99% Invisible – stories about all sorts of things, not everything is something that I would be naturally interested in but it’s presented in such a way that I’ve found out a lot about things that I’ve never have bothered with before.

We Have Ways of Making You Talk – very much about WWII, it’s history and stories.

Deep State Radio – American domestic and foreign policy podcast, and actually not one you want to listen to if you want to lower your anxiety levels, but good for staying informed on what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project – Adam Savage from Testd and Mythbusters fame podcasts, covering many different films, games, science fiction, toys and more.


My social media abstention has continued. I think to be honest absence from social media has helped lower anxiety levels, although there have been a couple of times when I wanted to go onto Twitter to have a complete rant about something but didn’t. I actually think posting less is probably a good thing, posting pictures of empty supermarket shelves often just prompts people to go out and panic buy because they think they are not going to be able to get what they need.


The week ahead, I’ll mostly be at home, apart from dog walks. I will need to try and get some groceries at some point, but otherwise I’m making sure I’m practicing social distancing and not putting myself or anyone else at increased risk.

Wherever you are – stay safe.


Things To Do When You Can’t Go Out

So you might be on an extended spell of working from home or self-isolating due to the Coronavirus. If you’re not already used to the home working or hermit lifestyle it can be a bit of a shock to the system.

I thought therefore that I’d post a few links to books, tv shows, podcast and other things that I’ve enjoyed that might be new to you and perhaps give you some alternative options. I’ve tried to limit things to those that can be accessed electronically without having to leave the house.

I hope you’ll find the list useful and will give something on it a try, but do leave me some feedback on your recommendations in the comments.

Books

I like reading crime, natural history, travel and some science fiction, but here are a few things that you might enjoy.

Mick Herron – Slow Horses. This is the first book in a series, and although I’ve enjoyed the later books in the series more you probably should start at the first in the series. Slow Horses are MI5 agents who have screwed up in some way but can’t be sacked therefore they have been sidelined in the hope that they will quit. Good stuff and worth a read.

Lars Mytting – Sixteen Trees of the SommeA mystery but not really a crime novel per se. Family history, tragedy, intrigue blended to make a great story.

David Quammen – Spillover. If you want to know a bit more about how pandemics start this is worth a read, sobering and very relevant to the current situation but well researched and written without being sensationalist.

Pico Iyer – Autumn Light. This travel writers semi-autobiographical tale of his life in Japan during a year that has big changes for him and his family. Beautifully observed and written.

Films & TV

I rarely remember the things that I’ve watched or seen recently, so for something to stick in my head generally means I really enjoyed it. Here’s some of those suggestions:

Bosch – Based on the books by author Michael Connelly. Five seasons available with a sixth coming soon, so if you like it there’s a bit to binge watch.

Longmire – Another book to tv series this time Craig Johnsons Walt Longmire brought to life by Robert Taylor. Again several seasons available although I preferred the earlier seasons.

Good Omens – From the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (I sense a bit of a theme running in this section), and produced by Neil Gaiman. The tale of the end of the world – maybe – as an angel and a devil join forces to prevent armageddon.

Audio / Podcasts

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward & The Whisperer in Darkness – Written by Julian Simpson these are excellent blendings of HP Lovecraft for modern times. There’s a third season coming later this year.

99% Invisible – I love the stories in this podcast, different every week not all of them have been “my thing” but I’ve still enjoyed nearly every one and learnt things I never thought I would.

Nature Table – Everything you wanted to know about the natural world but were afraid to ask. The weird and wacky in nature bought to you by host Sue Perkins and a range of special guests.

Up, Up, and Away TWTW # 67

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How often do you look up? I was in Oxford last week, and while I was waiting for a bus looked up to see a Red Kite riding the thermals overhead. I was a little surprised but did manage to fumble my phone out of my pocket and snap the picture to the left (you’ll have to take my word for it that the little blob in the clouds is said bird). It got me thinking however that we perhaps don’t look up as much as we should. When I got home, and got out of the car to open the garage door I looked up again to see a cormorant flying overhead. I’ve never seen one over the garden before, so a first for the garden bird list, and if I hadn’t looked up I would have missed it.

Robert Macfarlane wrote in The Wild Places about tree climbing and being above people:

Thirty feet up, near the summit of the beech, where the bark is smoother and silver, I reached what I had come to call the observatory: a forked lateral branch set just below a curve in the trunk. I had found that if I set my back against the trunk and put my feet on either tine of the fork, I could stay comfortable there.If I remained still for a few minutes, people out walking would sometimes pass underneath without noticing me. People don’t generally expect to see men in trees. If I remained still for longer, the birds would return. Birds don’t generally expect to see men in trees, either.

Go outside and look up! Feel free to let me know if you see anything you wouldn’t have otherwise in the comments.


This week has been one of travels, work meetings, and talk bookings.

I’ve had a sudden flurry of requests for talk bookings, including my first one for 2021. These have proved to be quite popular and I enjoy doing them, but I am wondering whether the coronavirus might put pay to some of the bookings I have coming up?

The coronavirus has also led to some interesting interactions at some of my work meetings, individuals not sure whether a handshake is an acceptable greeting and what’s supposed to happen instead. Most people seem to have settled for a knowing nod of the head and a hello.


I’m pleased to say that I think my sunroof fix on the car has been a success. I’m not counting my chickens just yet, but I did have to use the car on Thursday when it was raining quite heavily and apparently there has been no sign of the leak. I’m glad it was worth the effort to do, particularly as I spent the first couple of days of the week swathed in tiger balm patches, popping paracetamol every four hours and doing stretching exercises because I managed to crook my neck during the fixing of the sunroof. Fortunately this wore off by midweek. I’m hopeful therefore that the fix is a good one and I won’t have to go through that again anytime soon.


My social media abstention has continued. FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out, hasn’t really been a thing for me, so far at least. Anxiety levels are definitely less as I’m not founding myself being wound up quite so much by the stupidity of government and others. It has given me a chance to reflect on if I’ll go back to it and if I do what I’ll do differently. I have a few ideas but right now I’m just enjoying not being constantly picking up my phone or mindlessly scrolling through pictures on instagram.


My travelling this week has given me a lot of time to catch up on podcasts and finish my current audiobook The Unexpected Truth About Animals. I’ve also read a couple of regular books. One of my Christmas presents last year was Anthony Daniels autobiography I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story. This is all about his time playing the metallic robot in the Star Wars movies, and gives an interesting insight on that role and also some of the things that I wouldn’t have been aware of during the production of the original three movies.

The other book I’ve read is The Roo by Alan Baxter. My copy came signed by the author all the way from Australia, and it’s just a perfect little b-movie of a book. You should read all about how this little book came about on Alan’s blog.


In the week ahead, I have a birthday (and a day off) on Monday, a trip down to Somerset for a client meeting, but otherwise I’m planning on cracking on with some work at home.

Of Mice & Men TWTW # 66

Well this was a week that didn’t turn out how I’d thought it was going to at the start. The best laid plans and all that…

I had a meeting booked for Tuesday, followed by a lunch with a friend. The meeting was cancelled the day before but the lunch went ahead (see below).

Then on Thursday I had another meeting, and had made it to the railway station and purchased my ticket, when I got a text cancelling the meeting I was going to. Fortunately I was able to get my money back on the ticket. The week ahead has also been rearranged with meetings already in the diary being cancelled. I guess it just goes that way sometimes.


Lent started this week, and although it has some religious significance and a period of fasting (one of the reasons for pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was to use up stocks of eggs, flour etc), it’s also a time when people give something up. I’ve been struggling a bit with social media for a while and thought I would give that up for Lent. So at least until the 9th April, I’m not using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. So far so good and I haven’t cheated. I posted my intentions on Shrove Tuesday, put all the apps on my various devices into a separate folder and then deleted them on Wednesday morning.

I’m conscious that there are a few things that auto-post in various places e.g. this blog and my kindle, but hopefully I’ve disabled those too.

So far I’ve found it quite easy but then it’s only been a few days. Time will tell whether or not I can stick to my intentions, and the impact it has. I suspect it will also make these posts a little different, as it’s often a source of information for my writing. What happens after the 9th April also remains to be seen.


My social media retreat has given me more time for other things, including reading, and this week I’ve been reading Dead Lions by Mick Herron. This is book 2 in the Slow Horses series. I read book one – Slow Horses – last year and didn’t actually enjoy it all that much, but Dead Lions is much better. A bit of a good old spy story with a twist. The “Slow Horses” are all secret service agents who’ve screwed up at some point – left secret documents on a train; caused a mass panic; have a gambling problem; that sort of thing – but can’t actually be fired so have been sidelined in the hope that they’ll resign. Dead Lions involves a former agent dying in mysterious circumstances and a possible Russian plot, which the slow horses are the only ones to notice.

On my travels I’ve been listening to The Unexpected Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke. This followed listening to the Nature Table on Radio 4, which given that this is radio is a show and tell programme that my inner 8 year old loved, and so may not be for everyone. It is however lighthearted enough that you don’t really need to concentrate too hard on the content, just enjoy the bad puns and facts about the natural world. There are about 4 episodes of (I think) 12 planned in total.

 


My Tuesday lunch was with good friend Christian (he’s @documentally on Twitter, and writes an excellent weekly newsletter which you should all go and subscribe to [full disclosure: the newsletter is only weekly for paid subscribers, of which I’m one, but otherwise you can subscribe for free and receive it every other week]).

He very kindly bought me some old camera equipment after hearing about my starting to dabble again with film cameras, and I was dropping off some amateur radio equipment that used to belong to my Dad for him.

The pub we chose to meet at was done so completely at random, it’s location more because of its proximity to my aborted meeting, but it turned out to have an interesting segway for us.

The table we ate our lunch at was overlooked by a picture of an elderly man with a beard who appeared to be asleep. When Christian enquired as to who he was, he received the answer that it was Freddie Jones an actor, and a one time regular of the pub until he passed away. As the conversation progressed it turned out the Freddie Jones’ children were also actors, including a certain Toby Jones. We both exchanged a look and enquired if that was Toby Jones of The Detectorists. Turns out it is, and we’re both fans of that show.

Off all the pubs….


If you’re a regular here, you’ll know I talk about climate change a bit. Here’s a link to Carbon Brief’s explainer on Climate Tipping Points, which is pretty frightening. Climate records are not things that should necessarily be broken.


The allotment is looking pretty desolate at the moment. We’ve had another winter storm sweep through this weekend, so nothing much was done down there again beyond a quick visit to check everything was okay, and there’d been no damage to the shed or anything else. The shed will probably need a new roof this year, it’s starting to rot at the edges and the felt is also starting to fail. The shed has been there for over ten years, but was secondhand when we got it so in reality it’s much older than that. Hopefully a little tlc on the roof should keep it going for a little bit longer, without needing to be totally replaced.


On the subject of roofs, the bits I needed to replace the seal on my car’s leaking sunroof arrived in the week, and I spent Saturday morning taking the sunroof out of the car, replacing the seal and putting it back in again.

I’ve watched a few videos where I’ve seen it done, and it really was as straightforward as it was on YouTube. It took me about 3 hours from start to finish and although I’ll have to wait and see whether it has worked and the leak has gone, I do feel a sense of accomplishment for having done it and not ended up with a car with a big hole in the roof and the sunroof that was in that hole in pieces on the floor!


Well that’s about all I have for now. My upcoming week has changed a bit already, but I’m hoping to get out with some film in a camera at some point, and I have a number of work commitments.

All Work and No….Well You Know What I Mean TWTW # 57

I’ve tried to write this post several times. Each time I’ve wanted to rant about the General Election. I’ve  just tried to write about it again, but I can’t. I just can’t


So in more positive news, I’ve managed to secure client work, that if I’ve got my timetabling right will take me through to nearly the end of February. One item fell off of the list but was replaced by something else. So work looks like it’s going to be busy. It might mean that these posts also get a bit curtailed over the coming weeks, including this one.


Outside of work I’ve not done a tremendous amount else really. I did manage to read Past Tense by Lee Child over a couple of nights. It’s unusual for me to be able to stay awake long enough to read very much in the evenings, even more so as it just felt like the author was going through the motions. It did cross my mind that there were at least another 100-pages that might have been in an earlier manuscript that got ditched at some point during the editing process, a storyline that never played out. Who knows. It won’t be making my favourite books of the year (if I get around to writing about it this side of Easter 2020).

I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and read some of the books that have been on my shelves for a while, and to not buy too many “new” books. Partly this is to try and create some space but also it seems daft to have so many books sitting there that I haven’t read yet. I don’t mind having lots of books, but it would be nice to think that I’ve actually read some of them!


I’ve been continuing to listen to The Whisperer In Darkness this week. The next three episodes were released on Monday and the reminder are due to be released this Monday (today as far as the posting of this goes). I’ve been really enjoying it. The series writer Julian Simpson, posted a little bit about the research that sits behind the episodes this week which you can read here. You can also find an iTunes link to the episodes in that post, if you haven’t been able to make the BBC website work for you.


I’m also looking forward to some of the radio that’s on over the Christmas period. I picked up a copy of the Christmas Radio Times in the week, and I have to say that there is bugger-all on television over the Christmas period, but the radio section looks pretty good.


Right that’s it for this week. Off to Somerset for client meetings this coming week, but otherwise I’m at my desk, nose down for the remainder.