Another Strange Anniversary : TWTW # 27

Another week that was supposed to go one way ended up taking a different direction, strange how despite all the planning things don’t seem to be turning out the way they were envisaged. It’s left me wondering how the week ahead will pan out, which looks like being another one at the moment, but could potentially change.


Four years ago I said goodbye to my last full time, paid job. Although at the time I didn’t really know how things were going to pan out, I’ve been asked a few times if I regret the decision to leave. Simply put the answer is no, although in the last four years combined, my income has probably been less than any of the years proceeding that, it allowed me to do many things. Although I didn’t know it at the time it allowed me to spend a lot more time with my Dad in the last year of his life. It allowed me to be present for some other difficult family things and possibly it reduced my stress levels and the chance I might have had a complete meltdown had I stayed where I was. Most of those things aren’t even tangible but they are most definitely real to me.

I’m still not quite sure where this freelance work is taking me or even if I can keep doing it at such a low level of income. There have been suggestions of offers of work, and I am always on the look out but it might not be sustainable in the long term. I still don’t regret that decision though.


A slightly unplanned trip to the library meant that I ended up with a couple of books, it was as a result of reading the latest newsletter from Joanne McNeil about Michael Seidenberg and the Brazenhead book store. It was the final paragraph of that newsletter:

Read an underread writer this summer in his honor. Any lonely and interesting-looking unfamiliar book at a used bookstore will do.

which prompted me to check-out In The Wet” by Nevil Shute and Uncommon Type” by Tom Hanks on my library card. Now I’m not sure that either of those two books technically qualifies but that paragraph was in my head when I was browsing the stacks and I knew that I hadn’t read a Nevil Shute book for probably close to 20 years, despite reading a lot of them in my late teens and early twenties. The Tom Hanks was one that I knew I would never buy new and possibly not even secondhand, so they both did kinda fit the bill.

Anyway the Nevil Shute was amazing and I remember why I liked him as an author. Probably not the best book of his I’ve read (A Town Like Alice & On The Beach are probably both better known and better books), but it did prompt me to go on a hunt in our loft to drag out some of his books that I have up there and now plan to read.

The Tom Hanks however was, well it was just a bit meh. It had some great blurbs on the cover and maybe it was just me but it just read a bit like it was one of his early movies. It’s a short story collection and I enjoyed a few of them, and there were some nice tricks with how the book is laid out, but just not my cup of tea.

I enjoy popping into the library every so often I seem to always find something that I’ve missed elsewhere or wanted to read, it’s a great resource that has suffered a lot from government austerity measures, so I’m pleased to support it.

I get to go back in the week ahead, return the books I have on loan and see what else they have for me.



After writing last week about reading the Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri I was a little surprised to read his obituary, but interesting comments about the translation of Sicilian.


I finally got around to pickling some of the gherkins from the allotment this week.


Well that’s about all I have for this week. Who knows what’s going to happen in the week ahead, it may even be that it pans out according to plan!

Fourth Quarter Review 2016

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; books I’ve read, films/tv programmes I’ve watched and other things related to work and the allotment. You can read the end of 2015 here, if you’re interested.

This year I’m trying something a little different, and am splitting my year into quarters and trying to do a review at the end of the quarter. It helps me remember stuff more easily, and is more up to the minute than waiting to until December and trying to do the whole year in one go, or at least that’s the theory. The first quarter review is here, the second quarter review here, and the third quarter review is here.


Work

This quarter has been very quiet, mostly due to things going on in my life outside of work (see below), I have however been thinking a lot about expanding my business and will be exploring this in the New Year. I’ll be talking about this more (I hope) in the coming months, but a couple of things need to happen first. I’m quite excited about this, and hope it will see things grow.


Allotment

This time of year is when things start to quieten down a bit on the plot. I still have quite a few things growing: parsnips, chard, leeks, Brussels sprouts – all of which I am harvesting still – and purple sprouting broccoli, regular broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, garlic and broad beans – all of which are crops for the early spring.

I’m going to try and keep track of things from a financial perspective a little more next year, I want to understand just how much money we’re saving by growing our own, compared to buying things in the supermarket. It feels like the difference is quite small, and being honest I’m doing this for more reasons than just saving money, but I’ve never really tried to quantify the benefits.


Books

My reading has slowed down a bit this quarter, but there are two books that I particularly enjoyed:

Dogging Steinbeck by Bill Steigerwald [GoodReads] this is the author’s account of his retracing the steps of John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, and uncovering that the original may have been more of a work of fiction than non-fiction. It was an enjoyable read, and the author also kept a detailed blog, of this journey, including photos and videos. Around the same time that I was reading this I was also listening to the audiobook of “Travels with Charley” [GoodReads] in the car, so I was  able to track where Steigerwald had gotten to, compared to Steinbeck. It was a good way to “read” both books alongside one another. As things at the time weren’t going well with my Dad (see below) it was a welcome distraction to have Steinbeck and Charley with me in my car, and Steigerwald at home each evening.

Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs by Monty Don [GoodReads]The title of this book might not mean much to people outside of the UK or who don’t watch Gardeners’ World on TV, but Nigel – a Labrador retriever – belongs to Monty Don who is the presenter of the programme. The dog has become a little bit of a personality in his own right, and this book is about him, plus some of the other dogs that the author has owned over his lifetime. It’s a good read whether you get the references or not, and particularly if, like me, you are a dog person.


Films & TV

I don’t really recall anything much that stands out this quarter, probably because we haven’t actually been watching much. We have been watching (or rather recording and watching later) a few daytime series on BBC; The Coroner, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, and The Father Brown Mysteries. All very good.


Life In General

Not a great quarter. As you may already know my Dad passed away in November, and we have had to put my maternal Grandma into a nursing home. Many people have said how bad 2016 has been, and frankly I couldn’t agree more. For me though it will always have more personal bad memories than perhaps other years have had.


Finally

If you’ve read all four quarterly posts, what do you think? Does it work better than one end of year round up? Let me know in the comments.

I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year.

Third Quarter Review 2016

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; books I’ve read, films/tv programmes I’ve watched and other things related to work and the allotment. You can read the end of 2015 here, if you’re interested.

This year I’m trying something a little different, and am splitting my year into quarters and trying to do a review at the end of the quarter. It helps me remember stuff more easily, and is more up to the minute than waiting to until December and trying to do the whole year in one go, or at least that’s the theory. The first quarter review is here, and the second quarter review here.


Work

This quarter marks the anniversary in my change of employment, going from being and employee to self-employed. Looking across those 12 months I’d say it’s been pretty productive, although things have slowed down a bit over the summer. There are a couple of things on the horizon, but as ever they rely on things outside my control, so it’s a little difficult to say at this stage how things might pan out. Having said that I currently have a close family member in hospital, so having the time to be able to visit has been a bonus, and something I can’t ever see that I would have been allowed to do (quite rightly) when I was an employee, so things seem to work out.

I am hoping that things will pick up, as I do like being my own boss, but if they don’t I will have to look for alternatives.


Allotment

It’s been a very good year on the allotment so far, we’ve spent most of this quarter not having to buy any fresh produce from the supermarket, as we’ve been able to provide our own from the plot. This has started to ease off a little now, and I am having to buy odd things – either as crops have started to slow down their production with the shortening days or because things aren’t quite ready yet. In some areas though e.g. potatoes, onions, garlic, we have lots stored that will see us forward for many weeks yet.

I’ve also been trying to do regular update videos on my YouTube channel, and often embedding them here too.


Books

I’ve been reading pretty consistently and have gotten through a number of books this quarter including a couple of “biggies”. I’ve started adding a “currently reading” item to my Quick Links entry each week (when I remember too!).

There are a few that I’d like to mention specifically, and in no particular order they are:

“Normal” by Warren Ellis – This was actually a novella released in 4-parts, one a week over a month. What I liked about it the most was how it told the story in that weekly pattern and how well this worked. Whether or not that was intentional I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have worked as well as just a single book. It reminded me a lot of one of those weekly black and white serials that used to be shown in cinemas e.g. King of the Rocket Men, when I get time, I’m going to sit and reread all four – hopefully in a single sitting.

“Joyland” by Stephen King – I’ve had a copy of this for quite some time, but had never gotten around to reading it until recently. What I liked about it the most, was that it reminded me of some of the early Stephen King books, which I enjoyed far more than some of from the late ’90s / early 2000s. I’d stopped reading his books not long after Geralds Game and The Tommyknockers, so can’t speak for other ones he may have written more recently, but I did think that Joyland was more of the old King.

“Seveneves” – Neal Stephenson – This was one of the biggies and took me a while to get through, but it was worth it. Although it is a work of science fiction, it has a very believable story and characters and despite it’s size held my interest throughout.

“The Book of Yaak” – Rick Bass – Rick Bass has had a mention in both of the previous quarter reviews, and I still have a number of his books that I haven’t read yet, so may well feature again. I really enjoy his writing, both fiction and non-fiction. This is a work of non-fiction and brings to the fore another area of this writers passions. As an environmental activist this book highlights the issues in the Yaak Valley in Montana and the tensions between preserving the old growth forest, the nature and wildlife that it supports and other areas that are important for their nature conservation and the pressures of development and modern intensive forestry. It’s a treatise to the area and the issues, and a fascinating read. It stirred the passion in me for some of the environmental issues that I feel are important.


Films & TV

It’s been a bit of a summer of sport with Euro football and the Olympics and Paralympics. I don’t generally watch much sport, so we’ve been watching a lot of reruns or turning it off. Outside of that there isn’t much to report. We’ve watched a few DVDs but nothing that really inspired me enough that I want to mention it here.


Life In General

Pretty good. As always there are areas I’d like to work on. I’d like to be writing more, and I’d like my business to grow a little, but for the reasons mentioned above I’ve been occupied in other areas and am grateful to have had the time to be able to do those things.


First Quarter Review 2016

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; books I’ve read, films/tv programmes I’ve watched and other things related to work and the allotment. You can read the end of 2015 here, if you’re interested.

The problem I have is trying to remember stuff (that might be an age thing). I guess that the things that were really good, tend to stick in my mind, as they should, but some of the things that were okay but not outstanding, tend to get forgotten.

So I thought I’d try doing a quick review of each quarter of the year, during 2016; rather than trying to remember everything in December. We’ll see how it goes, and hopefully I’ll remember to do ones at the end of June and September!

Work

Last year I went from being an employee to being self-employed. It was a significant moment for me, and started out well. Although the first three months of this year have been quieter than the tail end of last year, there’s still be a steady flow of work and this has also allowed me to think about goal setting for the year, and also work on some other projects. I don’t want to talk about those other projects at the moment, except to say that they focus more on the allotment / growing / fork-to-fork side of things, and although they are unlikely to make me rich (not that I ever particularly want to be rich), I hope that they might eventually generate some income, and perhaps give me a better quality more sustainable lifestyle. We’ll see.

I’ve also started much more consciously sharing my work side, posts on this blog like the Quick Links that are appearing on Tuesdays, and some new pages are a step in that direction. If anyone has any feedback on those things or any questions, then do please leave a comment below.

Allotment

As you might expect the tale end of winter is a quiet time on the allotment, and although we’ve been continuing to harvest brassicas, leeks and a few other small things, not much has really been happening, apart from the bits that link to work (see above), and I hope I’ll be able to share more on that in due course.

Things are starting to pick up now though, as the weather gets warmer and heats up the soil, the risk of frost decreases and the days get longer. Soon things will be in full swing. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a good, productive year.

Books

So far I seem to have managed to read 14 books in the past three months, which I am quite surprised about. You can see what I’ve been reading here. Of them, there are a couple that stand out for me. Colter by Rick Bass is one and The Road To Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson is the other. The latter speaks to me because it touches on some of the things that I feel are going wrong with this country, and without wishing to get too political here and now, it was refreshing to read that I am not alone with my thoughts and perceptions. The former of the two was by a new author to me, and I’ll say now if you have a problem with hunting for food, you might want to give this one a miss, as Colter is a German Short-haired Pointer that is the author’s hunting dog, and a lot of the book is devoted to hunts. With that caveat I’d recommend both.

Films & TV

A few things here. Firstly the second season of Bosch, has just aired on Amazon Prime. I mentioned the first season in my review of 2015, and I’m pleased it was commissioned for a second season, and hopefully there will be a third. Although it was only released at the beginning of the month, I have already managed to watch all ten episodes and loved it! I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes crime drama

I’ve also watched the most recent Bond film – Spectre when it went to DVD, although I enjoyed it, I don’t really want to rave about it as it was okay, but not that outstanding. If I was writing this in December I probably wouldn’t even mention it.

A final mention though for A Walk in the Woods, adapted from Bill Bryson’s novel of the same name. Again another DVD watch, but one that I really enjoyed. My only criticism is that it came to a somewhat abrupt end, and was over before I felt it really got going. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte were excellent.

Life In General

Is pretty good I think; we managed to have our first holiday in about three years in March, another benefit of being my own boss now and not having to worry about the threat of being made redundant. I’m enjoying working from home, and setting my own goals and timetables. I have lots planned for this year, and things I want to get achieved. So far so good though, looks like I’m on course.

My Review of 2015

As 2015 winds its way into 2016, I thought I would sit and review a few bits of my year.

Work

On the work front it’s been a significant year for me. About 12 months ago, I was working out numbers and calculating where I might end up if I accepted a voluntary redundancy offer. By the end of July I had gone from being an employee to being self-employed and my own boss. I wasn’t quite planning things that way, but so far my new business has been going well enough to keep me working and provide an income, as well as allow me to do some other development work, but there is still much more for me to do, and whilst I need to sit and do some planning for 2016 and how this is going to work for me, I don’t really know what next year will bring on the work front.

This change in my work, although probably one of the biggest steps I’ve taken in my life, and potentially very stressful, has given me a much better work / life balance than I had before and maybe have ever had. I don’t know how it’s going to work out in the longer term, but I feel like I’m generally moving in the right direction.

Allotment

This year has been one of my best years on the allotment. We’ve pretty much been self-sufficient for vegetables from late spring, all through the summer and into autumn, only have to buy things like mushrooms and peppers, which I didn’t grow. Next year, I’m planning on growing peppers, so that should change as well. I’ve also enjoyed my plot more than I ever have. I know that sounds a little odd, but I’ve really gotten engaged in what I’ve been doing and been keeping much better records than ever before in a pocket notebook, so that I can look back and see how things have been. As the winter has approached I’ve kept a few things going and we’ve had a supply of winter vegetables as well. I’m now looking forward to next year, with even bigger plans.

Books

Last year was a poor year for me, finding time to read, and at the start of this year, I set my sights relatively low, not anticipating reading many books. In the end I’ve ended up reading nearly 50 books (I might actually achieve 50 before the year is out), which has quite surprised me. You can see what I’ve been reading on GoodReads, here.

My book of the year has to be Common Ground by Rob Cowen it’s an incredible book, which I’ve now read twice, and still dip into again and again. It’s made me reconnect much more with urban wildlife, as Rob tells the story of his “edgelands” and the wildlife near Bilton in Harrogate. It’s full of vivid descriptions, and stories putting the reader in the place of the wildlife as well as being a really personal account. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

My other highlights are also all natural history books, including H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, The Peregrine by J A Baker, Claxton by Mark Cocker,  and Notes From Walnut Tree Farm & Wildwood by the late Roger Deakin. I could name more, and probably I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read this year. I just hope that 2016 brings more of the same. We’ll see.

Films & TV

I can’t say that I there was anything really memorable to write about here. I enjoyed the final Hobbit movie, but otherwise I don’t really remember what else I’ve watched this year. On the TV side there have been a few things, but the one that I really want to mention is Bosch which has been available on Amazon Video. This has bought Michael Connelly’s character from over 20 books to the small screen – Harry Bosch. It’s been a great series and I’m pleased that there is going to be a second season, probably early next year.

2016?

As for next year, I don’t know what I want from the year yet. I need to sit and do some planning, both professionally and personally. Set myself some targets and goals. I might come back and share this in due course.

Being Positive

Always Looking Up
Always Looking Up

Yesterday marked an unusual day for me, for the first time since 1994, I found myself technically unemployed. I took voluntary redundancy from my last employer, after 17 years with them, and yesterday was the first working day that I have been out of full time employment.

Now I’m hunting for jobs, I applied for three yesterday as well as preparing a proposal for some self-employed work that I’ve been asked to do. The latter needs finishing today to submit to the client. I must admit, if I could make a living self-employed, then that feels a better option but it could be a feast and famine existence.

One things for sure I need to remain positive. Today is only day two, so it’s a bit early to see where this will go and how it will turn out. I believe the phrase is that “I have  a few irons in the fire”, but they could all come to nothing. If they do, then I’m sure that something else will come along, but in the meantime, I have a proposal to finish; dogs to walk, washing to hang out to dry; and all other jobs to do around the home (& allotment)! I’m sure that I’m not going to be idle.

Deer Watch

Every morning as my train to work cuts through the countryside I look out of the window for sightings of deer. There are particular spots where they gather along the way, so often I know where to look.

In less than two weeks my redundancy happens and I will no longer be getting the train to work. At least not as far as I know at the moment. So I won’t have my daily deer sightings. I will miss these simple things in my day, even if I won’t miss that particular job. I know I’ll get my wildlife fix in another way, but deer have always held a special place.