Nest Building TWTW # 70

After last weeks posts the Prime Minister announced a full “lockdown” in the UK. Stay home, only go out for essential items. Our lockdown is not it seems as harsh as those in some other countries, but then our government has been doing it’s own thing with this pandemic from the start. The practicalities of these new rules don’t really bother me that much. It has meant curtailing my usual two dog walks to a single one in the morning, but otherwise I don’t think I’ve been outside of the boundaries of our property for anything since probably last Sunday.

I’ve spent my time mostly working in the mornings, although despite a request from a client for a short briefing note that wasn’t planned, this seems to be slowing down now. My diary is looking decidedly empty of even virtual meetings, and I suspect April will be the quietest month that I’ve had in a very long time.

My afternoons have become a time to do “stuff”. I’ve been cleaning windows, grooming the dog, making bookmarks (more on these two items below), editing video, all sorts of things that normally I’d save for a day off or the weekend. I’ve also been reading and catching up on a few movies.


Since we last spoke I’ve read a couple of books. Bay of Spirits by Farley Mowat and Denali by Ben Moon. The former was after listening to a podcast where the author was name checked for another book which then led me to this book and the latter was a Valentines present. Both were okay but I enjoyed Bay of Spirits more than Denali, probably because of the latter’s subject matter. Whilst I like a good story with a dog, this one’s a bit of a tear jerker and there are elements to it that were a bit too close to home, but don’t let me put you off, both are worth a read.


The best film I watched all week was Malta Story, starring Alec Guinness. As you might be able to guess it’s based on the siege of the island of Malta during WWII, and is an old black and white movie. Sometimes these old movies hold up much better than those made much more recently. Case in point is the other film we watched which was Hollow Man starring Kevin Bacon, this just didn’t hold up well.


I wrote about giving Ruby a groom last week. I don’t remember whether I mentioned that we put her cut hair into a bird feeder and hang it in the garden. We do this so that the birds can use it for nest material. I also set up the trail camera in the same tree and caught a few short clips of a Great Tit helping itself to the supply. I suspect they’re building their nest not too far away as he was back fairly frequently throughout the day on Friday.


This is an interesting snippet about the ephemera that you sometimes find in old books. I wrote about this not all that long ago, and I’m also a user of custom bookmarks. I frequently make my own – the picture left is of some that I made from wrapping paper that I had for my birthday – or use something that is to hand. I also frequently have a pencil tucked into a book (Austin Kleon wrote about reading with a pencil), or a pocket notebook in which I’m writing notes. This is one of the things I most love about the kindle is the ability to highlight and save your notations as you’re reading.


And yes electric cars really do produce less CO2 than petrol ones.


Takaya the wolf has been killed.


I managed to get to the allotment on Saturday and planted my potatoes, and did some weeding. There’s a list of jobs that I need to get done, fortunately it seems that going to the allotment is counted as exercise and included in permissible activities in the lockdown.


Well that’s about all I have to say for myself this week. Stay safe wherever you are.

It was Wilson’s 10th birthday this, so this being the internet I’ll leave you with a cute puppy photo.

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.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful – TWTW # 64

We’ve just had another weekend of weather warnings, more wind and rain. Again we seem to have escaped the worst – although it’s been pretty miserable and not very conducive to doing much outdoors – other parts of the country have been very badly affected.

I’ve been staying in, reading and making chutney – another batch of gooseberry and red onion, which went down really well last year, and gives me a bit of space in the freezer after I defrosted the gooseberries.

I’ve gotten through a couple of books this week, another Vivian Shaw Novel – Dreadful Company and an HP Lovecraft novella – The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I enjoyed both, I’m slowly rereading the HP Lovecraft stories but taking my time, no need to rush them. Not sure what’s up next, although I did get given Denali by Ben Moon last week, and have a copy of Mark Twain’s Notebooks that I want to get stuck into at some point. My problem of a never seemingly decreasing “to be read” pile, doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.


Works been pretty busy this week, mostly just moving various things forward for clients, and some discussions with an old client about doing something for them. The next couple of weeks are looking pretty busy with some travel coming up.


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I was contemplating going to the London Pen Show next month, it’s just before my birthday and I thought that it might be a nice treat. Then I looked at the cost of the rail ticket, and the accompanying weekend railway works and bus replacement services and decided instead to put the cost of the rail ticket towards a new fountain pen and some ink instead. I was contemplating getting the pen at the show, but I guess I’ve cut out the middle bit!




There are many things in politics that I feel like commenting on, but I’m afraid my commenting would probably lead to ranting in fairly short order. However it is leading to some great political cartoons, at least at the moment.


And on that note I’m out of here. Have a good week everyone!

Socks of the Cthulhu TWTW # 55

Greetings from a new computer. I bit the bullet this week and ordered the replacement laptop that will hopefully take me through the next few years of work and life related technology.

I’ve still got lots of setup to do with it and files to transfer but I’m in no hurry, I was planning to do most of that in the break between Christmas and New Year, but I’ve done the basics for now, so if there were to be a failure of my old machine I’d have this one ready to go. It does seem that whatever you buy though the newer machines never come with as much “stuff” as the older versions. Less ports, no CD drive, pushing you ever further away from the analogue and more towards the digital. I’m not sure I like that so much. I like having my music collection on a hard copy format, I still have a lot of CDs, audio cassettes and vinyl. My preferences has been the CD for many years now, and I’m not sure that I want to switch to anything else. It’s the same with books. I like my kindle but I like to have anything I want to keep and treasure as a real book; paper, card and ink that I can touch and feel.

Don’t get me wrong I like the form factor of this new machine, it’s small, light and compact, but in many ways I’d settle for a fountain pen and paper any day.


In addition to the new laptop I’ve also been doing a bit of Christmas shopping, about a 50:50 split between online and physically from the shops. I’ve still a bit to do but it’s early yet, I don’t think I’ve been this far advanced ever before, even though I’m not a last minute shopper at this time of year anyway.


Two greats passed away this week, Clive James and Johnathon Miller both lost to horrible illnesses. “Saturday Night Clive” was a bit of a staple of my teenage years, and the stories of his escapades in homemade go-karts from his “Unreliable Memoirs” still remain in my memory today.


Austin Kleon on healthcare


I’ve not been travelling much this week, so my listening time has been more suited to podcasts and other shorter form audio. Next week sees the launch of The Whisperer in Darkness, which is a follow up to The Mysterious Case of Charles Dexter Ward. These are both titles of stories from H P Lovecraft, but have been retold in a modern setting as radio plays written by Julian Simpson and broadcast on the BBC. You can listen to them here. I’ve been re-listening to The Mysterious Case of Charles Dexter Ward this week as The Whisperer in Darkness launches on December 2nd, so it should be available when you read this. I’ve listened to the trailer for The Whisperer and although you can probably listen to it as a standalone, it might be worth listening to Charles Dexter Ward first.


On the subject of radio, it looks as if Neil Gaiman’s Playing In The Dark which was recorded earlier this year will be broadcast just before Christmas on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. It’s scheduled for Radio 3 on December 23rd here, and Radio 4 on Christmas Day (although the latter is an edited version). I haven’t seen or heard any previews but the author has written about it on his blog here.

He has also written about the stage production of his book The Ocean At The End of The Lane here, which is also well worth a read if you haven’t already.


I stopped at the library this week with the intention of checking out some books to read, instead I ended up buying some books from their sale stock – books that have been withdrawn from their lending stock. It struck me that actually there was nothing wrong with the books that I bought and that they were very cheap (£1.60 for these four). As soon as the general election is over there is going to be a consultation on the future of our local libraries, and there is much talk about the savings that the council needs to achieve and that libraries are an obvious target for budget reductions. Not much detail is available yet, but we’ll see what the consultation brings when it’s available. I’m hoping that it doesn’t get buried under the seasonal festivities.


Speaking of H P Lovecraft, from a certain angle my Christmas socks seem to have a rather Cthulhu-esque look to them.

I’m on the road a bit more this week, with some trips to Somerset and other places, so until next week, have a good one.

The Last Throes of Autumn TWTW # 44

Welcome to the last week of the meteorological autumn, Winter is but a few days away and it’s a month until Christmas!

It’s beginning to feel like it will never stop raining here. I’ve started monitoring the groundwater levels near my Mum’s house as if they rise too much then there is a possibility of flooding. I don’t think this has happened in the last five years but things were very different for her five years ago and she’d need much more help if it were to happen now. In the meantime I’m doing the anti-rain dance in the hope that might hold things down, or rather keep them in the clouds!


No long trips for me this week but I did finish listening to Edward Snowden’s autobiography, as I only had an hour or so left on the audiobook. It is a proper autobiography and starts in his childhood and goes right through to just past the events that made him infamous. If you don’t know much about the circumstances of his whistleblowing then this gives a good coverage of his side of the story, but ultimately although he is still technically a wanted criminal he did succeed in getting the laws around mass surveillance of US citizens changed.

I’ve started reading one of the “lost” Douglas Adams Doctor Who novels. Shada is a Tom Baker Doctor story with Romana and K-9 as companions. It’s taken me most of the week to read, and I’m about 100 pages to the end, so things are moving towards their climax and the Doctors showdown with the villain. It’s been an enjoyable read, if a little slow to get going, but it’s probably only the sort of book you’ll like if you’re a Doctor Who fan already.

 


Speaking of Doctor Who – this was released in the last week.


Continuing to watch His Dark Materials (and I got the books out of the loft for a read), The War of the Worlds and discovered a TV version of The Name of the Rose showing on the BBC. Not quite sure how we missed the latter as it’s six out of eight episodes in, but fortunately it’s available on i-Player and we blew through the first 3 episodes on Saturday and a couple more on Sunday, so we should catch up to it in real broadcast time soon. (Trailer below if you’re interested).


Workwise this last week has mostly been about ticking things off of my to-do list. There were a few things on there that had been on it for a while in various guises and I wanted to try and push more of them to completion.

I gave a talk on Tuesday evening, another edition of “An Allotment Year”, it seemed to go down well and there were a few questions and people coming up to me afterwards to ask my advice. I normally talk for about an hour and then answer questions until the audience stops asking them. I don’t think I have another one now until mid-January and that one’s a little odd because it’s a mid-afternoon booking whereas they’re almost always evening talks.

I’ve managed to progress client work quite a bit, and followed up on the enquiry about the new piece of work which might start in January.


I’ve been looking at laptops a lot this week, with a view to progressing my plans to replace my existing one in the next few weeks. I’ll be running them in parallel for a bit and doing most of the changeover between the Christmas and New Year period, but I need to do something about migrating a lot of the data between the old machine and the new one. Most of it’s in the cloud anyway, but there’s enough on the actual machine that I’ll still need to do a physical transfer. I’m thinking about a portable hard drive and moving it across that way as it’s probably faster than trying to connect across my Wi-Fi .


That’s about it for this week. I’m mostly repeating last week in terms of commitments and work this coming week, although I do have some travel on Friday, although not too far away. I’ll also be hoping for a drier week if that’s possible. Whatever you’re doing this week, have a good one.

On The Road Again TWTW # 42

img_0008I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, as I have a meeting on Monday morning and if I don’t do this now it’s likely that it won’t happen at all. I’ve had a week with quite a bit of travel and I’ve got another week of the same coming up.

Work’s been keeping me pretty busy so I’ve been relishing the other things, like early morning dog walks that take up a smaller part of the day.


img_0005On a return trip from Somerset last week I stopped in the village where I often take a break from the road. The shops were still open and I had a browse in one of the charity shops. I mostly only ever look at the books, and found a complete box-set of Colin Dexter’s, Inspector Morse novels. I’ve read some before but never all of them, and it was probably nearly twenty years ago that I last read one. An opportunity too good to miss I thought.

As I was going to pay I also noticed something else that will make a perfect Christmas present so I got that too. A great break from travelling.


img_0002This week I’ve mostly been reading listening to The Dog Went Over The Mountain: Travels with Albie, An American Journey by Peter Zheutlin. In between chapters of that I’ve been reading the first of the Inspector Morse novels –  Last Bus To Woodstock.

I reckon I’ll finish both this week,but I’m not sure what will be up next. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the number of books in my “To Be Read” pile and wanting to make some serious inroads into it before I add too many more books to it. It’s been growing a little bit out of control this year. Even though I’ve read a lot of books this year I’ve not made a noticeable dent as the pile has grown at a greater rate.


I did a bit of a “What’s In My Bag” post earlier last week after my Somerset trip.


I’ve started working on the main bed on the allotment, trying to get it dug. It’s quite weedy so I’m going to break it up over several weeks and not rush it so that I get all of the weeds out. Weather depending it should take a few visits but there’s not rush it just needs to be done by Spring.


Well that’s about it for this  week. As I mentioned I’m on the road again a bit this week and working on client project work in between trips.