Sweeter Corn TWTW # 141

I’ve been bird sitting this week, or rather popping into one of our neighbours to check on their pet cockatiel, change his water and seed and have a ‘chat’ with him. Our conversations are pretty limited I think, and I’m not sure that he’s actually pleased to see me.

I was asked to take a Covid antibody test as part of the Zoe study this week. This test can tell whether you have actually been exposed to the coronavirus and developed natural antibodies to it, as opposed to ones you may have develop from immunisation. My test came back negative, which to be honest was what I was expecting.


Reading

I finished reading Roald Dahl’s Short Stories Volume 1 about middle way through this week and then picked up Len Deighton’s Mexico Set. I read Berlin Game by the same author earlier this year and was intending to read the trilogy – Game, Set, (London) Match at some point, and now feels like as good a time as any.


Watching

We sat down to watch a couple more Clint Eastwood westerns this week – Joe Kidd and Hang ’em High – again I don’t think I’ve watched either of these from start to finish in a very long time. We enjoyed them and I suspect we’ll end up watching some more.


Work

I have a meeting arranged for next week to discuss the proposal I submitted last week. Hopefully this is to discuss any refinements and give me the go ahead with the work. I doubt that they would have arranged a meeting just to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’. This is a reasonable piece of work in terms of the time and mental challenge that it presents so I’m hopeful that they want to proceed as that also means I get paid obviously.

It’s possible that I’ll also be returning to in-person allotment talks soon too. I’m trying to work out how this will actually happen and what changes there will be in order to be Covid-safe. I’m not sure whether I actually want to be back in a room with a group of people of unknown vaccination / negative test status at the moment given the high levels of the virus in the population. I’m waiting to hear back from the organisers of the first of these talks about their new arrangements, but they seem to think that this is down to the owners of the venue.


Allotment

Photograph shows some sweetcorn cobs on a tea towel

As the photograph evidences I’ve managed to harvest some sweetcorn this year. If you’re a regular reader here you’ll know that in previous years harvesting sweetcorn has always been a race against time with the local badger population or some serious fence construction to stop them getting to the plants. In previous years they have pushed over the plants to get at the ripe cobs, devastating the entire crop. Whilst I don’t begrudge them a feed, given how persecuted they are, I don’t intentionally grow the sweetcorn for them. This year I beat them to it.

I suspect the truth is that the set that was behind the allotment site is actually dormant at the moment and the badgers have moved on elsewhere. There’s no sign more generally that they have been about.

In addition to the sweetcorn, I got a good harvest of French beans, patti-pan squash and autumn raspberries.

It’s the time of year when I am thinking about whether or not I am going to continue with the allotment for another year – fees for the year ahead are due in October. This year has been a hard one, with more failures than successes and contaminated manure has lead to a lot of problems with weeds. I am honestly not sure what I am going to do.


Links

The All-Seeing “i”: Apple Just Declared War on Your Privacy – by Edward Snowden

Amazon’s older Kindles will start to lose their internet access in December (US only)


Well that’s it for this week. Have a good week ahead and take care and stay safe whatever you’re up to.

Rain Stops Play TWTW # 140

Well a slightly earlier post than I’d planned today.

I’m just back from the allotment where I’d planned to do a series of different jobs until it started to rain hard.

The forecast must have changed a bit overnight because I thought I’d at least have 2 to 3 hours before the rain arrived.

Anyhow I finished up what I was doing and then headed for home, I’ll try again tomorrow in the meantime I’ll just have to finish my flask of coffee at home in the dry.

You know I’ve had that flask the best part of 30 years. I got it when I was working in the woods all day and needed a warm drink, particularly in the winter. It’s served me well, and still keeps my drinks warm even today.

The outer green paint is flaking off on one side and it’s a little bit rusty underneath. I did look to replace it a while ago, but that was during the first lockdown and you couldn’t get them. They’re available again now, but I really don’t want to replace it now. I think I’ll just keep going until it doesn’t anymore. Maybe it will even outlive me?


Watching.

We seem to have watched a lot this week. We’ve been continuing to watch Ghosts which I think I’ve mentioned before and have finished series 3. We also watched a couple of movies; Green Book which we really enjoyed, even if it does make for some painful watching because of some of the historical treatment of people of colour; and Pale Rider which I don’t think I’ve sat and watched from beginning to end for a very long time. It still stands up well, and the finale with Eastwood taking on an overwhelming force has been repeated many a time in the western genre and it’s a great example of it. It’s made me want to watch a few more of the old Eastwood westerns too, and perhaps some others that I haven’t seen in a while.


Reading.

I’ve been reading Arthur C. Clarke’s The Lost Worlds of 2001. A bit like The Odyssey File which I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s more of a making of the movie, although it does contain some original stories that went into 2001.

I’ve also started on Volume One of Roald Dahl’s short stories, which are incredible pieces of work. Some I’ve read before – including Lamb to the Slaughter which has just the best telling of the the disposal of a murder weapon that I’ve ever read – but some are completely new to me. I’ve got the second volume to read as well so I could be reading these for a while.


Work.

I’ve been working on a proposal for a client at their request. It’s actually revisiting one that I worked on back in February that didn’t go anywhere due to budget cutbacks. However it seems like they now have some funding in place so I’m hopeful. They’ve also expanded the brief a bit, so it’s slightly more work than I bid for before. Fingers-crossed that it works out. It was submitted on Friday, so hopefully I’ll hear something in the next week or so.


That’s all I have for this week. It’s still raining outside, so I think I made the right decision about the allotment.

Whatever you’re up to in the week ahead, stay safe and take care.


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.


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.

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.

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.