The Birds Are Unrepresentative TWTW # 112

It’s been wet this week, really wet, full wet weather gear wet. Where other parts of the country have been having snow, we’ve just had rain. I’m not sure which I’d prefer, but at the moment a bit of a dry spell would be nice!


Last weekend was the Big Garden Birdwatch. As citizen science goes it’s a pretty big project and other the years I think I’ve contributed most years. I keep a running total for our garden anyway and over the last few weeks the birds have been pretty abundant with a couple of species present that aren’t around often. However I swear that the birds no what’s happening and stay away for the crucial hour when the count is taking place. It happens every year and the results are normally pretty low and boring and in my opinion not representative of our garden, but the standardisation of counting is important so once again our numbers were low. Of course the moment the hour was up I looked out again and there were more birds to be seen than had been present the whole of the preceding hour.


If you missed it I ran a giveaway earlier in the week for Matt Gaw’s book Under The Stars if you’re interested in being in with a chance to win a copy there’s still time. Follow the link above to enter.


Reading. I got back into the last two Inspector Morse books by Colin Dexter; reading Death is Now My Neighbour and then planning to leave a gap before reading the final one, The Remorseful Day, but realising that I couldn’t settle into something else I picked it up. It was a fitting end to the series and I felt a little bit lost after finishing it knowing that there wasn’t another one to follow. I’ll likely go back and read some of the earlier ones again, but in the meantime I’ve been reading Garden of Angels by David Hewson, which is possibly one of his best books and set in Second World War Venice and the modern day. Recommended.


Watching. I’ve finally been able to watch Greyhound which is the Tom Hanks dramatisation of C S Foresters book, The Good Shepherd. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good movie, but the book is better. I recommend both though. I watched it alone as Ann wasn’t interested but we’ve both been watching Long Way Up, Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor’s trip on prototype electric Harley Davidson’s from the tip of South America up through to Los Angeles. I admire them for doing this with both gear and infrastructure that isn’t quite there yet for this type of journey but then that’s probably the best reason to do it.


Listening. I caught a rerun of Stephen King on Desert Island Discs this week. I missed it first time around and it’s a good highlight reel of his career (up to about 2006 when it was recorded), and his choice of music is pretty good. You can listen here, but I don’t know if that link will work outside the UK, without a VPN.


Work. I’ve been sorting out some work related meetings for the coming week, as well as finalising my presentation for my allotment talk on the 12th.


That’s all I have for this week. Take care and stay safe!


Originally tweeted by CartoonRalph (@CartoonRalph) on 05/02/2021.

A Year Under the Stars (Book Giveaway)

A little over a year ago I reviewed Matt Gaw’s Under the Stars. It was one of those books that had more of an effect on me than perhaps I’d imagined at the time. With the pandemic; travel and just being outdoors much more restricted I took much more of an interest in the night sky.

I was spending evenings, nights and the early hours of mornings looking for all manner of stars, moons, planets, meteors and the comet Neowise. I wasn’t using anything sophisticated, just a pair of binoculars and a camera. I was also more aware of the nocturnal activity of the wildlife in my area, particularly the fox population and a couple of local tawny owls.

If you haven’t read this fantastic book, I’d recommend it. It might possibly have a similar effect on you.

It’s coming out in paperback today (Feb 4th 2021), and the publishers have kindly offered my followers an opportunity to win a copy.

If you’re interested here’s what you need to do:

Leave a comment on this post saying that you’d like to be entered. That’s it. You’ll need to leave your email address in the relevant box (don’t leave this in your comment), so that I can contact the winner. These will only be used for the purposes of this competition. NOTE: if this is your first time commenting or you haven’t commented in a while your comment will need to be approved by me first.

This particular draw is UK ONLY (sorry to those readers overseas) and is taking across my blog, instagram and twitter accounts. You can enter up to three times (i.e. once here, and on Instagram and twitter, but multiple entries on the same account will not be accepted and may disqualify you). On February 11th 2021, I’ll randomly draw one winner from all entries across all platforms. I’ll contact the winner and ask them for their details so that the publisher can send you a copy of Under the Stars directly. If the winner doesn’t respond within 5 days, an alternative winner will be drawn.


This truly is a wonderful book, but don’t just take my word for it:

“Matt Gaw shows once again that he is one of the most inspiring of our young nature writers, with a highly original journey into darkness and night.” Stephen Moss

“A beautiful and luminous love letter to the night sky” Julian Hoffman

“Gaw finds wonder in the dark … powerful and valiant” BBC Countryfile

“Enchanting, fascinating and written with real soul and sensitivity.  Under the Stars lifts the mind and the imagination” Rob Cowen

“Lyrical, warm, and suffused with the magic of the night, Under the Stars does what all the best books do – it changes the way we look at the world” Patrick Barkham

“Passionately argued and perfectly crafted … a timely and inspiring manifesto” The Countryman

“Gaw’s writing is always poised and beautiful, switching lightly between the concise, persuasive and dramatic and the elegiac, descriptive and lyrical” Kate Blincoe, Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine

“A nocturnal adventure … lyrical and lovely” The Simple Things

“Under the Stars falls within the genre of the new nature writing and imparts an ¬important political message while capturing in melodic prose the beauty and mystery of the night sky that can still be discovered today, if only we are prepared to look” New Statesman

“Poetically written but scientifically grounded study of darkness and its effect on humans and wildlife” Nature Magazine


Binary Seven TWTW # 111

Time passes slowly in lockdown but I’ll admit to a little surprise that it’s the end of January already. I suspect I have that same feeling each year but it’s a milestone that moves me closer to lighter mornings again, and that is always a good thing.

I’ve been paying attention to the silhouettes of trees on our morning dog walks this week. In that moment before sunrise when there is enough light to distinguish a tree from the background gloom but not enough to properly make out the details, the texture of the trunk etc.


Had a batch of cards delivered this week from Iain Welch. I’ve been trying to support more independent artists during the successive lockdown periods and I’d recommend Iain’s cards if you’re looking for something dognified. I used his Christmas cards this last year and wanted to restock some of the others that we’ve used up for various things. I’d recommend them and also following him on Instagram for a daily dose of cheer.


Reading. I’ve been dipping in and out of a lot of things this week, some Betjeman, some more Morse stories, but I haven’t stuck with any of them yet. I think in part that’s due to tiredness, having had a couple of sleepless nights I’ve not read in the afternoons or evenings when I often read because I’ve been too tired.


Watching. We’ve been dipping back into the old Inspector Morse’s a lot this past week, I think we’ve probably watched three or four of them as well as another couple of episodes of Endeavour.

I did enjoy watching the video below:


Allotment. Another mostly washed out week, I’ve harvested a few leeks for a stew, but haven’t been able to do much else. A bag of onion sets arrived in the post which I’ll be planting into modules and keeping indoors or in the potting shed until the weather improves a bit and the risk of frost is much lower.


George Orwell on food.


Well that’s about it for this week. As always stay safe and take care.

Long Tails TWTW # 110

Greetings! As I write this there are long-tailed tits in the tree outside my window again. They’ve been regular visitors, normally coming at the same time each day. Looking for insects in the tree and then checking out the bird feeders before getting on with their day. Love ’em.

We also had a buzzard fly-by – the local gulls were not impressed but the buzzard really couldn’t care less.


I filled in a “wellness” survey from my local council this week. It asked all sorts of questions about lockdown 3.0 and other things. It was a bit of an insight into what the council considers and doesn’t consider to be wellness.

Part of my mental wellness has been to massively shift what finds its way into my twitter and other social media feeds. On twitter I’ve been using lists much more, and have now curated an artists list so that I get some beautiful images to look at. If you’re interested in adding it you can find it here. I’ve printed out a few of these pictures and pasted them into my journal.


I watched a bit of the US Presidential Inauguration ceremony this week. The Bernie Sanders memes have been pretty much all over the internet this week but the poet Amanda Gorman was the show stealer for me. You can read / watch her here.


Reading. I read Colin Dexter’s Daughters of Cain this week. A good Inspector Morse mystery, and although I’d worked out what had happened there was a nice twist to story towards the end that I didn’t spot. This is one of the later Morse books, and Morse’s health is beginning to fail and the tv series is starting to show much more in the character of Morse than in the early books, pre-tv series. In those early books, Morse is a slightly different character to the later ones, not in a bad way and it doesn’t detract from the story but if you read the books and watch the tv shows it is noticeable. It’s also interesting how the “young Morse” tv show – Endeavour – is picking up on some of the interactions that appear in the books but again the character of the younger Morse is very different to how he appears in the books later in life.

I bought this box set secondhand in a charity shop back at the end of 2019, when I was still doing regular trips down to Somerset to visit a client. Those days seem like such a long time ago now. I hope that charity shop has managed to keep going during the pandemic, it was quite small but always had some interesting stock and fantastically friendly staff.


Watching. We finished our Game of Thrones binge with the final season. If you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil the plotlines, but I didn’t enjoy how it ended.

We’ve also been watching reruns of Endeavour (see reading above), although these are reruns they’re new to us, I’m not sure why we never watched these when they were originally broadcast.



Work. Another quiet week overall, although the allotment talk I mentioned last week has been confirmed and I had a second enquiry. It got me thinking that maybe groups are thinking that there won’t be much in-person speaking happening during the main part of the year for these things (Spring and early summer) so there might be mileage in online talks for at least part of their membership.


Allotment. We’ve had some shed break-ins on the allotment site this week. Last year the site management installed CCTV because there had been some thefts, and then they extended the system because the thieves simply moved to parts of the site that weren’t covered, and that’s exactly what has happened this time. I was skeptical about the installation of the CCTV and it’s one of those things that you can’t prove how many thieves it has deterred and how many have simply just worked around the placement of the cameras. I’ve been lucky and my shed has been left alone – not that there’s anything much in there worth stealing – but the plot below mine had the door removed from the shed but nothing taken.


That’s all I have for this week. Take care and stay safe.

Only Better and Better Lies TWTW # 109

My mornings start with a walk in the dark, and a sunrise.


It’s normally my practice to drop things into these posts during the week, but this week I don’t seem to have added anything other than the Star Wars fan video below (worth a watch if your a Star Wars fan).

That’s probably a good summary of my week as a whole, time has passed but there hasn’t particularly been much to show for it. I have had a few good rants about the Government and their lies; particularly around the provision of food parcels for school kids under the poverty line, the ongoing pandemic response, and the Prime Minister’s lies. I’ve written a good few thousand words about these things, but in honesty it doesn’t help me, I thought it might have been a bit cathartic but I can feel my blood pressure rising, so I’ve just deleted them without saving. I’d rather focus on some good things, I’m sure it’s been said that we should get angry and stay angry but does that really help? We control how we react to a given situation and anger isn’t exactly a helpful emotion. There are better ways.


Reading. I read Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly this week. In keeping with trying to read books that I already own rather than buying new. I found it quite hard going and nearly gave up on it a couple of times, although I think it’s probably a good book I think this was perhaps just not where my head was at. Haven’t picked up anything else since.


I am really enjoying Alastair Humphreys’ adventures around his OS map, it’s inspired me to do something similar myself. Here’s his latest post if you fancy a read, you can find a link to them all within that post.


Watching. We’ve been rewatching the penultimate season of Game of Thrones this week before watching the final season. We had some vouchers for Christmas and have used some of them to buy the final season now that it’s come down a bit in price. I was surprised by the things I didn’t remember being in this season and also by what I do remember but not the order things happened in. Looking forward to seeing how it all ends up and in the current political situation, this quote seemed quite apt:

When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies.

Jon Snow – Game of Thrones


Work. I’ve been talking to a couple of potential clients this week. I’m not sure that anything will come of these discussions but you never know. I’ve also been making sure that my expenses and other financial details are up to date as the year end approaches. It’s been a quiet year and I’ve not made very much money at all, but I’ll still have to go through the process of tax returns etc.

An enquiry about an online allotment talk might put something in my diary for the coming weeks though.


That’s all from me this week. Stay safe and take care.


The Revolving Door of Lockdown TWTW # 108

Back into Lockdown, thanks to an incompetent government that puts GDP and being popular above social values and doing the right thing.


The thing that I’ve missed the most this week is only being able to get out of the house for exercise once a day. I think Ruby has missed it just as much as me. I’ve been out each day first thing, for our daily dog walk, as it’s early it seems to make the day feel much longer, particularly by lunchtime.

I do support the lockdown though, it’s needed, but I do wonder why our government can’t see it’s own mistakes and look to those countries who have managed to curb the virus and haven’t gone into a succession of rollercoaster lockdowns and restrictions.


Reading. Falling back on favourites I read The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter, which I enjoyed although couldn’t help thinking that he was writing this with a possible transfer to the small screen in mind (which happened). I also read A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough, which was a bit of a busman’s holiday and a little disappointing. Not because it wasn’t very well written and very truthful and accurate but because despite the profile of the author I think it will do very little to change the way the world is. I think I am increasingly becoming resigned to the fact that as a race we won’t do the things that we must do to prevent our own extinction as a species. Collectively we are too selfish, there are individuals who are living within their own means but overall I fear that we will continue to destroy the planet. I don’t want to turn this into a rant but there is no prospect that world governments can sort this out.


Watching. Not much really. A few repeats, and we’ve been enjoying Rick Stein’s new Cornwall series and Ann has binged watched the BBC series Traces (this one wasn’t really for me). Otherwise the TV’s not been on all that much.


Allotment. We’ve had a serious cold snap this week, parts of the country have had a good blanket of snow, and although we seem to have escaped that, we’ve had a good frost each night. I’m pleased because that is good for the garlic that I planted (cold weather is needed to help the garlic form cloves within the the bulb), and good for killing some of the bugs and other pests that will otherwise proliferate in the spring. It has meant that I’ve not been able to do much else on the plot itself however as the ground has been frozen most of the time. It looks like we might be in for some warmer weather in the coming week though.


Work. For me the working year has yet to take off. I’ve been looking through some reports that were published at the end of last year that I didn’t manage to read before Christmas but that are important documents in my line of work and I will have to understand for a couple of projects that I am due to be working on. I suspect that the new lockdown will once again disrupt much of this work though.


I spent some of my time this week sorting through a box of old family photos. I remember many of the times the images captured but not all, possibly because I was too young or just wasn’t present for them. I’ve still got a lot to go through, there are many boxes of slides to look through and that will undoubtedly be more time consuming. Many of the photos contain the ghosts of people who are no longer with us, and again some of whom I recognise and a few that I don’t (some have the names of subjects written on the back but many will probably be lost to time).


I seem to have picked up the “Week That Was” series again but I’m still struggling to write something sensible, so for now I will say until next time, but Stay Safe and I hope you remain fit and healthy.

The Weeks To Come 2021

I had planned to write and publish this yesterday, but I really didn’t feel up to it. Mentally I lurch from frustration to fear about the world outside my front door. I think that I am becoming more of a hermit each day.

I guess 2020 won’t be a hard act to follow, but then again 2021 probably has a lot to live up to. I’m not expecting much real change until at least the summer and honestly I am expecting our government to totally mess-up the vaccination programme or at the very least turn them into super-spreader events, particularly with the rise of a new variant.

This isn’t going to be a regular post, as not much has changed in the last week. I’ve been doing nothing of much consequence, although thinking a lot about the coming year and what I want from it. I talked about this a little in my end of year post and haven’t much to add to that.


Reading. I’ve read a couple of books this last week. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (if you’ve watched the BBC’s Shetland series, it’s based on these books, and this one a story in one of the early seasons). It took me over the new year period and meant that I have already hit my GoodReads target so absolutely no pressure now to read books. Of course that isn’t going to stop me and I’ve read Grace Dent’s memoir Hungry which I will say is very honest, at times very funny and at others completely heartbreaking. It covers Dent’s fathers dementia, and honestly was a little too close to some of my experiences, so was at time very hard going, but I did finish it.


Watching. We’ve been catching up on a lot of Christmas specials, but also watching series 2 of Endeavor as it’s been repeated in the week between Christmas and New Year. Despite being a fan of Inspector Morse and Lewis this has passed us by until quite recently. Enjoyable but has an annoying cliffhanger ending to the series, which doesn’t look like we’ll see the resolution to anytime soon as the next series doesn’t appear to be in the schedules yet.


Allotment. I went down to the allotment yesterday. It really is my happy place in terms of being able to clear my head. I did a little bit of digging and some weeding and had a good think about the coming seasons and what I’m going to plant where. I came away feeling much more level.

I’ve sown some sweet peas this week. They’re seeds that I saved from the plants in my Mum’s garden. They’re a very constant memory of growing up in that house. They were always there, on a particular wall, just along from a passion flower bush. Mum used to describe them as everlasting sweet peas. I’m not sure whether that’s because they are a particular variety (there are plenty of varieties with that name) or whether it’s simply because she just used to let them self-seed in the same place each year.



Well that’s it for now. I’m not sure whether I’m going back to posting weekly or not, so there may or may not be something coming in a weeks time. In the meantime, however long that might be; Take Care and Stay Safe.

The Weeks That Were 2020

I normally write an end of the year post, with a bit of a look into the abyss that is the year to come.

if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee

Nietzsche

What a year it’s been, the recurring theme of a global pandemic has meant that much of what I might “normally” do has kind of been thrown into a cocked hat. But let’s give this review a go, and try and have a look towards 2021.


Reading.
I started out this year thinking that I wouldn’t read many books, thinking that I would be busy with work and wanted to concentrate on that. That held true for the first couple of months and then we went into lockdown. Again I didn’t read very much initially, my head being in a space that wasn’t conducive to much turning of pages, but as the year progressed I was drawn back to my love of reading and consumed book after book. At last count I’d read over 90 of them, and will probably get through at least one more before the year is out. Given the number of new ones that I was gifted for Christmas I have plenty to keep me going for the early part of 2021 too.

I’ve realised however that I don’t want to be driven by a target any more. I use GoodReads to track my reading and I will probably continue to do so, but for 2021 I’m setting the target to one. That way there’s no pressure and it doesn’t matter where I end up.

Trying to pick some favourites is difficult but there are some standout authors: Georges Simenon, Ellis Peters, Colin Dexter, Mick Herron; to name a few of them who I’ve gone back to repeatedly through the year.

I’ve also been consuming a lot of newsletters, my recommendations for you: Documentally, Pandemic Kitchen, Commonplace, David Charles and Austin Kleon.


Watching.
I saw my only film in the cinema in January, the final Star Wars film of the recent series. I’m not a great cinema goer but I had planned to see at least one more film (probably the new Bond film). So the pandemic put pay to that too.

So did we start watching a lot more on streaming services? No not really, in fact I’d say that we’ve watched a lot more repeats and reruns of older series and films than before. A lot of “Talking Pictures TV” for old series such as Hannay, Quatermass, Dick Barton: Special Agent and many other things.

We enjoyed the new series of Ghosts, alongside watching repeats of The Detectorists. Also series such as Inspector Morse, Inspector Montalbano, and The Wave.

Not sure where 2021 will take us, maybe back to the cinema in the latter part of the year? Who knows.


Listening.
I’ve spent a lot of hours in podcasts of all sorts. I’d particularly recommend: We Have Ways of Making You Talk, The Tim Ferris Show, Field Recordings, Coastal Stories, and 1857. A few other of my regulars have stopped recording, hopefully only temporarily and there’ll be back in 2021 along with my mainstays.


Working.
The year of Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, Google Chat, Facetime etc. Working from home is nothing new for me, I’ve been doing it full time for the last five years, but now so is everyone else. It’s been a bumpy year. 12 months ago I was breaking my usual rule and working between Christmas and New Year to complete some work for a client as it was needed early in the New Year. There were some other delays on that project which meant that timings were pushed back and then the pandemic hit and it got kicked into the long grass. Just recently it’s picked up again, but I’m not sure whether that is still on the revised timetable anymore either.

I managed to give one allotment talk in person in January but the rest were all cancelled, I did give one by Zoom, but that’s it, it seems the average age profile of my audience don’t do Zoom. All my talks for the first half of 2021 have similarly been cancelled. Not sure whether I’ll be in a position to deliver those booked for the second half of the year or not but I’m hopeful that I can. I can’t help thinking it will feel a bit odd stepping out in front of a live audience again.

I normally set an income target for my business, I’ve missed that for 2020 by some margin, I’m not eligible for any government support (long story) and so, like my book reading there’s not going to be a target for 2021.


Allotment.
All I will say that through 2020 this has been my happy place. I hope that will continue into 2021. I still have lots to do to get the plot ready for the new season but I still look forward to it.


Other Stuff.
At the start of this year, I was intending to get back into film photography and although I’ve not quite managed to do everything that I’d planned I have managed to spend a lot more time behind a camera than I might otherwise. I’ve been supported by a generous friend who gave me two of his old film cameras and I’ve enjoyed experimenting, trying new types of film and all sorts of other things. I’m intending to keep this going in 2021 and in general trying to explore my creative side more. Not sure what that actually means; but probably more photography, more growing, more cooking, more writing. Watch this space.

Probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with this year is my Mum’s Alzheimer’s and the gradual decline that it causes. We had a very different Christmas last year because of it and this year was different again. She’s now in a care home which has helped her and me. Although this has been affected by the pandemic, and the times that I’ve been able to see her greatly reduced, I think the overall outcome would have been the same.


That’s it. My 2020. It’s been a year hasn’t it! I’m not sure whether I’m going to resume my weekly Week That Was posts next week or at all, it feels like I need to mix that up a bit to, but then again…



I wish you all the very best for 2021 and hope that you stay safe and well.


TWTW # 107

I’m taking the next few Sundays off writing these posts. At the moment I feel like all I want to write about it is how badly the government is handling the response to coronavirus and Brexit. Frankly it’s making me feel a bit shouty and sweary and a bit fed up. Anyway I’m going to take a break from writing here and also from looking at Twitter until after Christmas.

Whatever you celebrate, if anything, over the next couple of weeks I hope you have a great time.

Stay safe and take care.

Tiers to the Eyes TWTW # 106

Our Christmas tree is up. We caved and put it up this week. Like many people it seems that with everything shitty that is going on in the world having a bit of joy is worth every penny and so enjoying the Christmas tree for a week or two more than we might normally? Yeah why not.

Like many our Christmas will be different this year, and we’re going to embrace that rather than try to
shoe-horn our “traditional” celebrations into a pandemic. We won’t be mixing and potentially spreading covid amongst our loved ones.

Thinking about this has got me thinking about Christmases of old. There were a number of years where we had a very fixed format. At the time my Great Grandmother had had a number of strokes and was quite severely disabled by them, she wasn’t mobile and couldn’t speak. She was in a nursing home and we would visit her through the year but on Christmas morning my Mum and Grandma would go and see her, while my Dad and I would go and pick up my Great Auntie. We’d collect her mid-morning and kill some time playing Monopoly until we were ready to gather for our Christmas lunch, meeting up with my Mum, Grandma and her partner Bill. Six of us for Christmas lunch, occasionally with my Mum’s sister joining us. Lunch was timed so that we could finish in time to watch The Queen’s Christmas address, and was always delicious.
After lunch and The Queen, most of us would fall asleep, as a youngster then I’d sit and watch whatever the BBC or ITV had to offer as their Christmas afternoon film.

I’m not sure how many years this carried on for, but I can remember going from being at primary school to being able to drive and chauffeuring the various members of the family about. Latterly my Great Grandmother had passed on and arrangements changed slightly.

Over the years since the arrangements have changed further, as has the member of the family taking the lead. Nowadays that tends to be me but of course this year will be different again.


So how have you been doing this week? We’ve come out of the second lockdown and now depending on where you live we’re in tiers, or perhaps that should be tears? News of vaccines seems very promising but it will still take a little time before we are able to relax our precautions.

Fortunately we haven’t had to have any further trips to the vets and Ruby seems to have returned to normal. So our dog walks and other arrangements seem to be normalised too.


I’ve been reading some more Inspector Morse this week – The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter – I think the rest of this year is going to be seen out by continuing with Morse, Maigret, Cadfael and the characters of Alistair Maclean.


I’ve been enjoying my tea advent calendar, making a bit of a morning ritual about seeing what each new days tea is. I’ve been posting each days tea on my Instagram stories.


Austin Kleon – How To Break in a Sharpie





Not much more to add this week. I’m winding up my work for the year and starting to think about goals, targets and some personal development things for next year over the next couple of weeks. I want to invest some proper time in this given how much of an impact coronavirus has had this year now seems to be a good time to be having a hard think about future direction.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, stay safe and well.