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!

My Ten (15) Favourite “Natural History” Books

I thought I’d sit and scribble out a list of my favourite Natural History books of all time. It wasn’t an easy task. I wanted to keep it to 10 books, but have ended up with 15, it could easily have been 20 or 30 and several of the authors I could easily of included second and third entries. I’m also sure there are many that I’ve missed, and memory plays tricks, but I remember all of these books fondly as “natural history” but one or two stretch this definition a little.

I recommend all of them, but appreciate that natural history might not be everyone’s
cup-of-tea and that this list is in not in a particular order other than the one that I wrote them in.

(Please note the links are Amazon affiliate links, so should you click on a link and buy that book I’ll receive a small commission).

  • My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell This is probably well known to many but it is the biography of the young author on the island of Corfu where he moved with his family and how his time spent in the wilds of island shaped his life as a naturalist and conservationist.
  • The Island Within by Richard Nelson I discovered Richard Nelson through his podcast “Encounters” (which is sadly no longer being produced), this is his story of time spent on an uninhabited island near his home, the wildlife there and his exploration of it and the surrounding area.
  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens I remember reading this in my late teens and it evoked thoughts similar to those upon reading Born Free. Part adventure and part exploration log of the authors’ time in the Kalahari desert.
  • The Outermost House by Henry Beston Another well known classic written by the author from his time on Cape Cod in an off-grid shack.
  • Waterlog by Roger Deakin The classic wild swimming book and how the author seeks to swim in rivers, ponds, lakes all over the UK and beyond.
  • The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane Of all of Robert Macfarlane’s books this is still my favourite. When originally written the author stated that there are only four places in the UK where you can go and not hear the noise of traffic. I wonder if that is still true or whether now there are any left.
  • Common Ground by Rob Cowen If I had to pick one book to be on this list it would be this one. It will probably divide it’s readership between those who love it, and those who don’t like it or understand it. I think it is simply brilliant.
  • The Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell Another classic, the story of the author and his time with Mij, Edal and Teko who are otters on the west coast of Scotland.
  • The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass American author Rick Bass takes us through a year in his life in the Yak valley as an author, naturalist and conservation activist.
  • A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare The journey from southern Africa to the UK as the author follows the migration journey of swallows in real time.
  • Rising Tide Falling Star by Phillip Hoare Simply put these are stories of the sea, but that is underselling the mesmerising and truly brilliant narrative.
  • Guests of Summer by Theunis Piersma A wonderful story of housemartins in a small Dutch village as the author chronicles their lives and those of other similar avian visitors.
  • Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster Fiction author buys run down farmhouse and chronicles his first year on the steep sided valley.
  • Nature Cure by Richard Mabey How nature helps to cure the depression suffered by the author when he moves to Norfolk.
  • Deep Country by Neil Ansell The journal of the authors five years in the Welsh hills in an off-grid cabin and his surroundings.

Robins Will Perch on Anything – TWTW #24

I was wondering whether or not this last week was going to be hectic or very quiet, and in the end it was somewhere towards the latter.
The rush proposal that I was asked to do has been put on hold, so having to gear up quickly and get cracking with that didn’t happen and it allowed me to get on with some other work.

I’ve had to do quite a bit of weeding on the allotment in the last week or so, and there has been the usual ever present robin keeping an eye on me and also catching the insects that are disturbed as I work. I tried to get some video footage of this and was only really partly successful, as you can see the robin was happy to have his photo taken, but on his own terms.


This article is a healthy reminder that all those e-books you have on your devices are not actually yours, you just own a licence to them. I’ve written before about the power of companies like Amazon who licence you an e-book and can pretty much do whatever they want if they feel you have broken their terms and conditions (whether you have done so intentionally or not). Now I love my kindle, but there are the obvious vulnerabilities or loosing or breaking it (and having the cost of a replacement), and the issues around DRM that these two articles raise. In the former case at least it looks as though customers will bet their money back, but what if this was a company that went into bankruptcy and there was no cash left to pay for the severs or refund their customers. Amazon is pretty big, but is it too big to fall?

I’ll still be using my kindle and buying books (licences for books) for it but I’ve never been completely happy about that relationship and I’m still not. I have my eyes wide open though.



I’ve been reading “Bloom” by Ruth Kassinger this week. It was sent to me by the publisher for a review, and if you want to read what I thought you can do so here. The short version is that it is an excellent book.

 

 

 

 

 


This week I’m mostly going to be working on a client project and trying to get some sensible thoughts into a report for them. Beyond that I doubt that I’ll be doing much else as my diary is relatively clear of other commitments.


 

 

Book Review: Bloom by Ruth Kassinger

“Bloom – From Food to Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World” by Ruth Kassinger.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.

From her own garden pond, back in time to when life began and fast forward to today where algae can be in soup, sushi and running shoes, Ruth Kassinger takes readers on a journey through the complexities, triumphs and tribulations of algae. Through many facets that most people won’t simply be aware of to those that could be fundamental to the future of the human race.

Now when I was asked to review this book, I had to confess that I already know a little about algae, I’ve been involved in microalgae projects that look to harness them to produce products of value. So this book for me is part Bus-man’s holiday but it was so much more than that. It is truly mind expanding, regardless of how much you already know – or think you know. Whether the author is talking about the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), microalgae, or macroalgae (seaweeds), there is just so much information you’ll probably end up wondering how you never heard of a lot of this before, and perhaps why.

It’s extremely well written, and in a style that is engaging from first page to last, and if you think the subtitle might be a little over-the-top, then prepare to have that illusion shattered. The author clearly knows her subject and her first hand research has taken her to many places that many people won’t know exist or perhaps won’t have even considered that they have a connection to algae, but as you read you’ll realise that some pretty well known brands are investing in algal technologies and that many others probably should be.

I particularly enjoyed the parts on food and fuel, expanding my culinary knowledge, and gaining a better understanding of why some projects and companies pivoted their business models the way they did. The untapped potential in some areas is still huge, but timing or political will can be everything

This is science writing at it’s most engaging and rewarding for the reader, whether scientist themselves or just plain interested in widening your knowledge.

The book also comes with some recipes at the end for algae (mostly seaweed) dishes, which is a really nice touch (although I haven’t had a chance to try any of them out yet, I’m planning to).

Bloom – From Food To Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World by Ruth Kassinger is published by Elliott & Thompson Books on 4th July 2019.
(Published as “Slime” in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

About The Author: Ruth Kassinger writes about the intersection of gardening, history and science. In addition to her several books, Ruth has written for the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Health, National Geographic Explorer and other publications. Find her online at: www.ruthkassinger.com

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book to review.

Ladybird Weather Bomb TWTW # 23

img_20190622_173753_897I’ve worn a tie more times in the last two weeks than I’ve worn all year. When I left full time employment I said that I would rarely wear one again and I’ve pretty much stuck to that, but two funerals in two weeks. If you’re interested there’s a quick tie origin story here.

Sadly it is funerals and weddings that bring families together these days. I realised this week that there are some members of my family that I’ve not seen since the last family funeral and some a little longer than that. It’s good however that we can all gather and pick up where we left off, it is sad though that there is always notably one person missing.


I harvested the last of the broad beans this week, now they are all either in the fridge, freezer or my stomach. I do like them and make sure that I grow more than enough to keep a supply of them for several weeks after they’ve been cleared from the allotment. I’m not sure what I’m going to be putting in that spot now that they’ve gone. Possibly some more salad crops or maybe next years purple sprouting or kale. Need to get it dug over first.


It’s been a good week work wise. Something got in the way of a site visit last week that was postponed to this one, and then it looked like thunderstorms might put pay to it for a second time. It went ahead however as the predicted weather didn’t come to pass, and so it satisfies one aspect of some work for a client. It also lead to an interesting conversation that lead to a request for a proposal. Which if it is agreed will be a new client. I didn’t have a lot of time to complete it in but managed to get it done and submitted by the deadline of Friday. They say they want to make a decision on who they are going to instruct for the work early this coming week, so fingers-crossed!


img_20190622_205000841This arrived from Elliott & Thompson books on Saturday for a review. I have a little bit of a professional interest in algae, so I’m looking forward to reading it. The full review will follow in due course.

 

 

 

 


Speaking of weather, you’d better make sure that it’s not ladybirds on the weather radar.


And then there were two. The disaster prone buffoon and the moron who tried to destroy the NHS. Oh joy.


Inside Neil Gaiman’s rural writing retreat.

Posting the link above reminds me that I haven’t written about watching the Amazon adaptation of Good Omens. It is so good, and I thoroughly recommend it. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the original book, but if you have it’s a joy to see how some of it translates to the screen. It is very much a fitting tribute to the late Terry Pratchett. Go watch it.

Oh but just to be clear it’s on Amazon and not Netflix as these people thought.


Well that’s about enough from me for these week. Be careful out there.

Black Swan Smackdown – TWTW # 21

img_20190605_134016-animation

I feel a little like I’ve been running around a lot this last week. Ruled to some extent by the timings of appointments with my Mum’s doctor and with our vet, for Wilson. Just one of those weeks, and the upcoming one is looking like being a little similar, although with a different set of appointments and people to see and places to be.


On Tuesday I walked down to the creek to see if the Mute Swans that nest there had hatched any cygnets yet, and I was treated to a bit of a surprise. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram:

This Black Swan got a little too close to the nesting Mute Swan pair, and kept coming back despite being chased off by the Cob a couple of times previously.

The Cob eventually went all in and pursued the Black Swan up on to the mud where he pinned it to the ground and then proceeded to attack, pecking at the back, neck and head of the Black Swan. It was brutal to watch and went on for several minutes. Here’s the last 30 seconds where the Black Swan managed to escape and appears to be okay.

Nesting Mute Swans are very territorial and won’t tolerate other swans on their “patch”. The female is still sitting on the nest, no sign of chicks yet.

The video is below, it’s a bit blurry because I was so far away, but you get the gist of what was going on.


I’ve been watching Jo and Michael’s travels on their narrowboat on YouTube for a while. They posted this video yesterday of their crossing of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (best watched full screen).


img_20190607_160403_429

I’ve been reading “The Sixteen Trees of the Somme” by Lars Mytting this week. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read this year so far and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a little different to my normal fair, and although there is a mystery at the heart of the story it is much more about the characters and the people.

 

 

 


img_20190607_155746699I also got sent some surprise back-catalogue books from my friends at Elliott & Thompson Books. I haven’t had a chance to properly look at them yet but hope to get to them later this coming week.

 

 

 

 


How do authors earn a living


Six Weeks, One Hundred Miles of Walking in Japan


That’s about it for this week, I’m hoping to get my tomatoes set-up in the potting shed this week at some point, and there are several other things that I’d like to get done in the gaps in my diary. We’ll see how that goes!

 

Jellyfish Endgame – TWTW # 19

This weeks missive is a little late as I took advantage of the Bank Holiday weather i.e. overcast; to go and do some digging on the allotment. Although most of the plot has been dug over the winter, there are a couple of spots (were the overwintering veg was) that could do with turning over, as could a couple of spots where I want to direct sow some seeds.

Over the weekend I’ve also been putting in some runner beans, and sowing some more lettuce and beetroot seeds. I’m having trouble getting lettuce seeds to germinate for some reason, but I’m hoping this later sowing into properly prepared soil will do the trick.


img_20190521_101629_318I was walking the dogs along the creek on Tuesday morning when I noticed a stranded Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) on the shoreline, it’s been a little while since I’ve seen one even though they are relatively common at this time of the year. Sadly this one had been stranded by the tide, but may have been able to last until the next rising tide as it was in a relatively sheltered spot so might not dry out.

Later that night I had the weirdest dream that the dog and I were being pursued by Portuguese Man-o-war jellyfish, who in a rather Doctor Who-esque scene had been able to rise from the sea and chase us up a cobbled street.

I’m not sure whether this was related to seeing the Moon Jellyfish that morning or the fact that I saw Avengers: Engame in that same afternoon.


So yes, finally went to see Avengers: Endgame. Nearly had my own private showing, although three other people turned up just before the last of the adverts were rolling. I know I may be one of the last people to see this, and having successfully avoided all spoilers myself to this point, I’m not going to say anything about the plot. Suffice to say I enjoyed it, thought it was a worthy addition to the MCU. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend it.


Great little radio documentary about Roger Deakin and wild swimming and the legacy of his book “Waterlog” – listen here

 


The best writing tips from 150 writers – read here


I seem to have been on Twitter for 12 years (@tontowilliams). It’s a very different place now to what it was when I first joined. I can even remember that I had to keep quiet at work that I had a twitter account, as it was in someway considered a bit subversive (I think basically my employer was paranoid that I might be tweeting bad things about them), as a public sector body they now use it to great effect, having multiple accounts to cover all the different things that they do.

I’m not sure whether I want to continue with it though. As I say, today it is a different place, and it is definitely a more angry and hate-filled place than it was in 2007. I am seriously considering taking a break from it completely while the conservative leadership contest is on. Whilst I am interested in politics, the amount of bile and vitriol that has been thrown around over Brexit and the EU elections, makes for some very unhappy reading, and I suspect the same will be true of the leadership election. Given that 100k Tory party members get to decide who the new PM of the UK will be rather than the Country as a whole, I really could care less who will eventually be chosen. From all of those who have declared an intention to stand so far, none of them are fit to lead the Country as far as I can see, so perhaps I am better just staying out of it altogether.


I’ve been reading a few different things this week, including what is considered to be the first of the Maigret books – Peitr the Latvian – I have to say I think if I’d started here I might not have bothered reading anymore of the Maigret books. It’s not that it’s a bad story or that the style is significantly different to the others I’ve read, but it is just different. So I guess my top tip for reading this series is not to start at the first in the series.


The Seafarers: A Journey Among BirdsThe Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last week I was sent a copy of Stephen Rutt’s first book – “The Seafarers – A Journey Among Birds”, by the publishers, Elliott & Thompson.

It was an unexpected surprise and “The Seafarers” is one of those great joys of a book that is part autobiographical of the author, biographical of the birds he writes about and full of information and detail of those birds. Be they the charismatic Puffin or the extinct Great Auk the author writes a treatise on each and every bird he sees on his journey, and their homes and habitats.

Stephen Rutt has written a lyrical and delightful story, it is a book written from the heart and takes the reader to the homes of the birds where the author has been as part of his career and where he has escaped to, away from a more hectic life. He writes delightfully about each of the species he encounters, some that will be very familiar to the reader, but possibly many that won’t be and in each case he writes so that we all become familiar with each one. He makes the facts and details of those species accessible to the reader in such a way that it is easy to loose oneself in the story and picture each bird for it’s own character.

The book is also full of references and sources so that the reader can also look further for those species that capture their imagination or want to know more about – I found myself tapping in urls to look at other details of species. I know that I’ll be returning to this great book to reread the sections on those species that are close to my heart, but also as a point of wider reference to other species.

I look forward to reading the next book from this author, although I acknowledge that he has set his own bar very high.


I’m getting pretty close to completing my GoodReads reading challenge too. I think I’m only one book away from my target of 30 books


Workwise things have been quite quiet this week, waiting for things to happen elsewhere. Also it’s half-term next week, so I suspect the calm will continue. Maybe get some plants out onto the allotment if it looks like being a very quiet week.


So going out on a high note (see below) I’ll catch you next week.