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.

Weekend Round-Up

Ruby keeping an eye on proceedings
Ruby keeping an eye on proceedings

We’ve been having a few issues with our broadband connection, which has meant limited internet time and speed, so although I was going to try and upload a video this weekend, I’ve not been able to. I will however try a few photographs.

It’s another bank holiday weekend so it’s meant an opportunity to spend more time than a regular weekend on the allotment. The weeds seem be growing exponentially, and are certainly growing faster than the food crops at the moment. I spent some time on Saturday just weeding. I’d planned to do some other things, but at the moment, it’s important to try and get ahead of the weeds, otherwise they’re going to crowd out the other plants. I feel like I made good progress, but there is always more to do!

Last weekend I planted some Cavolo Nero and Brussels Sprout plants which seem to have all taken well. These were followed this weekend with some Celeriac. The plot is looking quite full now, which is good. I harvested the first of the broad beans, which although were probably on the small side, were very sweet tasting.

Tomatoes Ready To Go
Tomatoes Ready To Go
Tomato Already Fruiting
Tomato Already Fruiting

Back in the garden I moved on the tomato plants that I’d been given, into their final growing spot. To do so, I had to move the last of the overwintering plants out of the potting shed to make room for them.

I wasn’t going to bother with tomatoes this year, having had such a bad season last year and I didn’t therefore grow any from seed, however as a fellow allotmenteer gave me some plants, I thought why not. One of the plants even has a small tomato on it already!

Monday is a Bank Holiday, so that’s given me more garden time. I’ve spent this morning clearing around the slabs in the back garden. I checked back through my notes and it’s only three weeks since I last did this, so I can see it’s going to be a regular occurrence if I want to keep the backyard pristine through the summer and not use any chemicals (which I don’t want to do).

I know the time span because I’ve been journalling more than I ever have done before. I’m finding that I’m quite enjoying recording my thoughts and observations, and I haven’t kept a proper paper journal for many years, probably since I took up blogging. I think it means that I remember far more when I come to sit down in front of the computer than I would otherwise.

I took a break from the gardening to finish a job application. My redundancy date isn’t that far away, so I’m taking more time to job hunt. I’m hoping to get a bit of a break over the summer, but don’t plan or want to be out of work for too long.

Anyway there’s still a lot of Monday left, and I’m intending to tackle the front garden this afternoon. I need to clear back some of the front border as it’s encroaching on the pavement a little, and again there is some clearing around paving slabs to be done as well as a few other tasks.

The Dogs Are Quite Content To Watch What's Going On.
The Dogs Are Quite Content To Watch What’s Going On.

Catch Up

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve managed to post here and there are a few things to catch up with.

Allotment

 It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the plot, with lots of the seeds I’ve sown germinating and coming along well. The potatoes have shot ahead, and are now earthed up in their final ridges. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we won’t have any hard frosts because they are a little exposed. I’m sowing and planting most weeks now, and by the end of May most things should be in, and then succession sowing can begin. It’s also been a great couple of weeks for seeing birds on the plot. Buzzards, heron and kestrel have been some of the highlights.

I’ve also written and submitted my first blog for Regatta. I won a competition to write for them, in return for the exposure and free kit. Writing for them stopped me from writing here last week as I was up against a deadline, but hopefully normal service can resume. I’ll post a link to that post when it’s live.

The last few weeks have also been pretty dry, with little rain, so it’s meant hand watering the plot. As most of the seedlings are under cover this takes a bit of time, as they have to be uncovered first. Yesterday we had a lot of rain though, which has even things out a bit. Not sure what the long range forecast predicts for the next few months but hopefully it won’t be too hot and dry, and although it’s an old wives tale the Oak was out before the Ash this year.

Work

Probably most significantly in the last two weeks is that I’ve found out I’m going to be made redundant at the end of July. This is partly voluntary, so I have at least been able to make some short term plans, but it means I’m going to be job hunting soon, which I’m not particularly looking forward too, having pretty much been continuously employed for the last twenty years!

Reading

Has been a pretty mixed bag. I finished reading “The Peregrine: The Hill of Summer and Diaries. The Complete Works of J. A. Baker” which was a fantastic read. It was an Easter present, and a book (The Peregrine) that I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I have another copy of the single book, but have never gotten around to reading it until now. I’d recommend if you like nature books.

No More Sock Puppets

The letter below first appeared on David Hewson’s Blog here. I wholeheartedly endorse it’s contents, and gladly sign the letter, by way of posting it here.

If you are a writer, reviewer or reader and wish to similarly show your support then please do so. You can copy the letter from David’s site or here. Alternatively please feel free to leave your support in the comments of this post.

These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.

These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.

We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,­ can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, ­ however devious, ­ can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?

Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Gordon Harries, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White, Laura Wilson.