Things To Do When You Can’t Go Out

So you might be on an extended spell of working from home or self-isolating due to the Coronavirus. If you’re not already used to the home working or hermit lifestyle it can be a bit of a shock to the system.

I thought therefore that I’d post a few links to books, tv shows, podcast and other things that I’ve enjoyed that might be new to you and perhaps give you some alternative options. I’ve tried to limit things to those that can be accessed electronically without having to leave the house.

I hope you’ll find the list useful and will give something on it a try, but do leave me some feedback on your recommendations in the comments.

Books

I like reading crime, natural history, travel and some science fiction, but here are a few things that you might enjoy.

Mick Herron – Slow Horses. This is the first book in a series, and although I’ve enjoyed the later books in the series more you probably should start at the first in the series. Slow Horses are MI5 agents who have screwed up in some way but can’t be sacked therefore they have been sidelined in the hope that they will quit. Good stuff and worth a read.

Lars Mytting – Sixteen Trees of the SommeA mystery but not really a crime novel per se. Family history, tragedy, intrigue blended to make a great story.

David Quammen – Spillover. If you want to know a bit more about how pandemics start this is worth a read, sobering and very relevant to the current situation but well researched and written without being sensationalist.

Pico Iyer – Autumn Light. This travel writers semi-autobiographical tale of his life in Japan during a year that has big changes for him and his family. Beautifully observed and written.

Films & TV

I rarely remember the things that I’ve watched or seen recently, so for something to stick in my head generally means I really enjoyed it. Here’s some of those suggestions:

Bosch – Based on the books by author Michael Connelly. Five seasons available with a sixth coming soon, so if you like it there’s a bit to binge watch.

Longmire – Another book to tv series this time Craig Johnsons Walt Longmire brought to life by Robert Taylor. Again several seasons available although I preferred the earlier seasons.

Good Omens – From the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (I sense a bit of a theme running in this section), and produced by Neil Gaiman. The tale of the end of the world – maybe – as an angel and a devil join forces to prevent armageddon.

Audio / Podcasts

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward & The Whisperer in Darkness – Written by Julian Simpson these are excellent blendings of HP Lovecraft for modern times. There’s a third season coming later this year.

99% Invisible – I love the stories in this podcast, different every week not all of them have been “my thing” but I’ve still enjoyed nearly every one and learnt things I never thought I would.

Nature Table – Everything you wanted to know about the natural world but were afraid to ask. The weird and wacky in nature bought to you by host Sue Perkins and a range of special guests.

They Move In Herds TWTW # 68

Well it’s been a funny old week – funny peculiar, not funny haha – I’ve had some more bookings for talks in 2021 and cancellations for ones coming up over the next few weeks. To be honest I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do given the current Coronavirus situation and the fact that often the average age of my audience is over 70.

As you probably know I mostly work from home anyway, but I’ve had several client meetings moved from face to face encounters to telephone or video calls. Again absolutely the right thing to do, although it meant that I didn’t finish the roll of film that’s still in my camera as I’d planned but that experiment isn’t one that’s time critical.

I do wonder about the wisdom of our proven liar Prime Minister however, who seems out of his depth and the questionable decisions he’s been making to give us “a herd immunity” which means that at least 60% of the population has to contract Coronavirus and in theory become immune (we don’t of course know whether catching Coronavirus confers any long term immunity – this is the reason you have an annual flu jab, because the immunity doesn’t last long). Nearly 30% of the UK population is in the “at risk” category by virtue of age, so that’s not a very large margin of error. Oh and of course we also know who else moved in herds, don’t we. I wonder what happened to them?

It seems that panic buying is still a thing, particularly toilet rolls, and any kind of disinfectant or hand sanitiser, dried pasta, and eggs; the empty shelves in the local supermarket testifying to this. In the hoarding stakes this is surely a step up from the Brexit supply stacking that went on several times and thankfully we’re not having to cope with a No-Deal Brexit and Coronavirus at the same time, even the Dunkirk spirit would probably crumble under that pressure.

Oh and wash your phone – but don’t forget to wash your hands.


It was my birthday this week, although it seems like it was some time ago, it’s weird how time expands and contracts around different events to make them seem much more recent or much further in the past than they actually were. I took a day off, had some nice thoughtful gifts and generally didn’t do overly much apart from enjoy what was in fact a nice sunny day after so many that have been a bit blergh.

 

As it was my birthday I also treated myself to an e-bay bargain of the first 18 Inspector Montalbano books. Between these, Simenon’s Maigret and a few other things I should have plenty of reading material.

 

 

 


I read the next book in Mick Herron’s “Jackson Lamb” series – Real Tigers – I think these are getting better with each one, and I am trying to resist buying the next one in the series for the time being, as I have a tonne of books to read and more arrived for my birthday. I did notice that Gary Oldman has been pegged to play the character of Lamb in a new TV series. He’s probably a good pick for the character, but sadly as it’s going to be on Apple TV, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to watch it.

I started reading East West Street by Philippe Sands which deals with the early understanding of genocide and crimes against humanity, particularly in the Second World War.


I’ve often looked at different options to cover some of the costs of running this blog, and this article has some interesting ideas. Don’t worry I’m not about to put up a paywall but if you want to you can always Buy Me A Coffee.


It’s been nearly three weeks of my social media fasting, it actually feels like longer. Is that withdrawal, I don’t think so as I think I actually feel calmer without it.


We watched the latest Terminator film at the weekend. I have to say I’m a little confused as to the whole timeline of these films, I’m assuming that you’re just not supposed to worry about that. In theory it would probably have had to happen after the second film, but events in the latest film mean that the third film couldn’t have happened. I’m sure it’s just one of those time paradox things, it was never really explained in the film but I guess if you don’t worry about it and enjoy the film, that’s what matters. If you like the Terminator films you’ll probably like it too, and in my opinion it’s better that the last couple.


The allotment is still pretty much a wash out, the ground is too wet to do anything. I sowed some seeds this week in anticipation of improvements sometime in the near future. Some more broad beans as well as some broccoli and cauliflower seeds. Hopefully in a few weeks time I’ll be transplanting them out onto the plot and probably moaning about all the watering I’m having to do because it’s now so dry!


I’m not sure what the week ahead holds. I have to take my Mum for a medical appointment but I need to phone up and check that it’s still on. Otherwise I’m going to be continuing to work from home, I quite like the hermit lifestyle.

I hope that wherever you are in the world you stay healthy and Coronavirus free.

About The Birds TWTW # 65

I was on my travels this week, down to see a client in Somerset again, I made what is becoming a regular stop and a visit to a charity shop on my way back and picked up a couple of secondhand books. I think I’ve purchased something in there every time I’ve been there, and their stock turnover seems to be quite frequent so there always seems to be new stuff for me to look at.


On Monday I was walking the dogs and saw a Kingfisher flying along the little creek in one of the local patches of woodland. I was quite surprised to see it, as I’ve always considered that little patch to be a little too urbanised to attract such a bird, but then what do I know. I was able to watch it for a couple of minutes and then lost sight of it.

We’ve also had a one legged / one footed Grey Wagtail hanging about our garden. He’s obviously lost the lower half of one of his legs, whether this is due to a predator or getting it caught or tied up in something and then slowly losing it I’m not sure. He seems to be quite happy though and getting about without too much trouble, although I suspect why we’re seeing him in the garden so much is that he finds it easier to find food in our garden that he would elsewhere in the wild. We’ve always had the odd grey wagtail about so it’s not unusual to see one, but we’re seeing a lot of this one. We’ll keep up with the regular feeding of all of the birds, and he’s most welcome to take his fill.


I’ve been reading a couple of books this week. First up was Ellis Peter’s – A Virgin in the Ice, which is a Brother Cadfael mystery, it was an enjoyable read although one of the things that I’ve noticed with these is the slightly misleading data that I get from the kindle. I’ve noticed this before as I have several of these books on my kindle and each one has a chunk of the next book at the end and some other material which although is interesting is not part of the story. This means that the percentage reading on the kindle is out, and the actual book ends at around 60% to 70% and the remaining portion is the other stuff. It’s not a big deal, but does make for some confusion when a book you think you’re only about halfway through ends.

My second read is Andrea Camilleri’s – The Treasure Hunt, which is an Inspector Montalbano mystery. I picked this up in the charity shop in town earlier in the week, and am reading it now because we’ve been watching the Inspector Montalbano mysteries on i-player and I know that this one is coming up soon, so I wanted to read it before we watch it. They’re quite gentle watching and we’re enjoying watching some of the earlier ones that we haven’t seen before. I hope that the tv adaptation sticks quite closely to the story in the book because I think it will make for an entertaining watch.


The allotment has been a bit of a wash out these last few weeks with the two storms we’ve had and this past weekend has been pretty wet and windy too, it’s not been too conducive to getting anything done. It’s looking a pretty desolate place, but it won’t be too much longer before things really start picking up.


It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks, and I asked for some 35mm film so that I could get one of my old film cameras out and use it. It’s not terribly expensive stuff and it provoked a little question as to why I’d want it. Anyway it was duly ordered and evidently arrived this week and was given to me as an early birthday present. I haven’t done anything with it yet, and will probably wait until my birthday before I load the camera up with it, but I am looking forward to experimenting again.


I’m on the road again a couple of days in the upcoming week, but otherwise I’ll be cracking on with work at home for clients. There are some deadlines for various things in the not too distant future, so it’s important to keep things moving on forwards.

Wherever you are I hope you have a great week.


Brave New World – TWTW # 62

Welcome back. The world doesn’t actually feel any different today than this time last week, but of course the UK has now officially left the EU. I think this is a mistake that we’ll come to regret but I hope to be proved wrong. Otherwise this week has been another busy work week (mostly).


If you’ve been reading these posts for a couple of months you’ll know that I was going through an upgrade of my work computer. I did do this towards the end of last year and have been using it for about six weeks or so. I had a lot of teething troubles, but to some extent I was expecting that, but things really haven’t settled down. I have significant problems with things like accessing my emails, printing and a few other fairly basic things. This came to a head at the start of the week when I couldn’t send emails, particularly emails with attachments.

I’ve spent a lot of time over this introductory phase in forums and other places online seeking solutions for the teething problems, but this really was the final straw. So for the remainder of this week I’ve put the new computer to one side and I’m back to my old machine to give myself some thinking space. I’m not sure what comes next. This was a big (and expensive) shift for me, and a move between operating systems (windows to mac), but I am regretting that decision somewhat at the moment.


When the above computer problems kicked off at the start of the week, I knew I needed a break and so went out to do some chores. Buy groceries, pick up a prescription and return my library book.

In the library they had a big display of  “classics”, including a big pile of Nevil Shute books. Some of them I have read before but there were a few there that I didn’t recognise the titles or the descriptions on the covers. So I picked up a few and a Julian Barnes.

I’ve already read An Old Captivity and enjoyed it, although felt the ending was a little weak.

I also finished listening to the audiobook of Andy Weir’s The Martian this week. It’s been my travelling companion for a few weeks, but I’d got down the the last hour of play, so I prioritised finishing it before my next longish journey so that I wouldn’t finish it mid-journey. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

I reviewed and posted that review for Matt Gaw’s Under the Stars which if you’re interested you can read the review here.


Yesterday’s date was a palindrome 02022020. That hasn’t happened for a while, and won’t be happening again any time soon.




End of an Era TWTW # 60

Welcome back, thanks for stopping by. It’s been a crazy week in my world but probably not as crazy as the world at large seems to be.

In the same week a poll is telling the government that the majority (70%) of people want a net-zero carbon target for the UK, the same government bails out a regional airline by offsetting some of the environmental tax that they were supposed to be collecting from their passengers and saves them from going bust (at least for the time being). It seems that nothing has changed.


I’ve been focussed on work mostly this week, with trips to see clients including one to Somerset during one of the wettest days of the week. I managed to make time for a stop in my usual favourite place and went for a walk in the rain to get a sandwich. I saw a notice for the village museum which happened to be open that day so went there for a quick look. I was probably gone about 30 minutes, but when I got back to the car I noticed a small damp patch on the drivers seat. The source was obvious when I looked, there was a corresponding damp match next to the sun roof.

It had stopped raining by this point but there was nothing I could really do at that point, so I put a towel on the seat and tried to dry the roof as best as I could. Strangely although it rained a lot more that day, I didn’t have another problem.

The following day with the car in our garage and after watching a few YouTube videos I had a look at the drainage channels in the sunroof frame. One of them was actually blocked, but I managed to clear it with some wire. I’m not convinced that is the source of the problem as most of the videos I watched cite this as a common problem with this type of car, but they all say that this is the first thing to check. I’ll just have to wait now for it to rain again!


I did enjoy my visit though and the short time I spent in the village museum. I’m passing through there regularly at the moment, so I’ll probably stop there again at some point in the future. There are other things that I want to look at, if I have more time and if the weather is a little bit more cooperative!

 


I finally saw the latest Star Wars movie this week, although I won’t be posting spoilers as I’m sure that someone else might not have seen it yet, I have to say that I enjoyed it. Of all the nine movies, it’s not my favourite but I really did enjoy the way the story came together and some of the hat-tips to the other movies in the franchise. It does feel like the end of an era for me, which started when I was five years old and went to see Star Wars with my Dad (it wasn’t called A New Hope back then, just Star Wars).


I’ve been reading a few things this week, I touched on some of them in last weeks post, and one of the other books I can’t talk about just yet as it was a review copy from the publisher, but the review will be coming shortly. I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of The Martian by Andy Weir in the car, as well as trying to catch-up on some of the audio from the Christmas period that I haven’t listened to yet.


The allotment is still really too wet to do much, but I did pick up my seed potatoes from the allotment shop this week. Although they’re only seed potatoes they are large, and I’ve got about half what I normally would have for the same weight. I should be able to cut some of the really big ones in half, so should still get a reasonable number of plants.


Well that’s about all I have for this week. Hope you have a good one!


Selected Best Bits of 2019 (Books, TV, Films)

2019 has been a bit of a mixed bag for me, it’s had some great highs and some very low lows. This post is however about the books, tv and films that I’ve enjoyed this year.

Books

GoodReads tells me that I’ve read 71 “books” this year. There are a few short stories and novellas in there, as well as several Maigret novels which are quite short, and a few audiobooks, but I’d say I read more than my target of 30 books that I set at the start of the year. So what were the highlights? Well I’ve already mentioned the Maigret novels. That started out following a gift during Christmas 2018 and has run through the year, and will continue into 2020, there have been many Maigret’s and all are good – some better than others – and they very much became a staple part of my library. Beyond that those that stood out include:

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer – autobiographical and set mostly in Japan, this was a wonderful and melancholy look at the authors life.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane Many years in the writing this book is both claustrophobic and mind expanding and takes the reader on a tour of the places beneath our feet from the Mendips to the catacombs of Paris.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting Another present and originally written in Norwegian. This novel tells the story of Edvard as he tries to unravel the mystery of his dead parents, his grandfather’s brother.

Audiobooks

I’ve done quite a bit of travelling this year, and I’ve taken audiobooks with me on almost all of my longer journeys. The ones that I’ve enjoyed the most were:

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong – we’re full of microbes and probably wouldn’t be able to survive without some of them, this is just fascinating.

Darwin Comes to Town by Menno Schilthuizen – wonderful stories of the species that have become adapted to the presence of man and our encroachment on the natural world.

Jaguars Ripped My Flesh by Tim Cahill – hilarious stories of the authors travels around the world in pursuit of some of the stories he wrote for Outside magazine and other publications. Laugh out loud at times.

Movies / TV

I’ve made a couple of trips to the cinema this year, both for Marvel movies – Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. We’ve also made quite a bit of use of our Amazon Prime membership and in particular we’ve enjoyed Good Omens, Bosch Season 5 and Jack Ryan Season 2.

Beyond that it’s difficult to pick out anything that stands out, I’ve dissapointed with a number of things that looked like they were going to be good, even started well, but then went downhill rapidly.

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars movie (probably in the New Year, once the kids are safely back at school), and also Star Trek: Picard and Bosch Season 6.

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.