Social Distance TWTW # 69

It’s probably impossible to write here and not to acknowledge what’s happening in the world, even though my experience is only limited to what is going on around me. It also seems that things are constantly changing and greater efforts are being made to contain the spread of the virus and pressure on the vital health services. However as I write this on Sunday things will have moved on by the time it’s published tomorrow, so bear with me.

On Monday things seemed to be more or less normal, with most businesses being open although we were being encouraged to work from home more and avoid unnecessary contact. By Friday the country was very different.

I won’t dwell on all the different restrictions or the various different announcements, but I do want to make a plea. Please be considerate, please don’t be selfish. Don’t be a dick.


It’s been easy to be distracted from work this week, I admit to be a little anxious about groceries and in particular making sure that my Mum has what she needs. She has Alzheimers and doesn’t understand what is going on, maybe that’s just as well.

More cancellations / postponements and suddenly my diary is looking very empty over the coming weeks. I still have a couple of reports to write / finish, I’m hoping that I won’t have a problem getting paid for them.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I gave Ruby a haircut this week, she was less than impressed. It’s something we try and do at the start of the spring and then again later in the summer to help reduce burs and snags in her coat, and also keep her cooler. I think I’ve been forgiven already, at least until she’s due her next cut. We hang the spring cut in an old bird feeder in the garden and the birds – particularly the blue tits – come and take it for their nests.


I finished reading East West Street by Phillippe Sands and got an Inspector Montalbano – Excursion To Tindari – in. I haven’t had a chance to start anything else yet.


I’m really grateful for podcasts this week, particularly those that have enabled me to escape the background noise of coronavirus. I’ve been listening to a few different ones in particular this week, including going back through their back catalogue to listen to ones that I’ve missed. A couple of picks for you:

99% Invisible – stories about all sorts of things, not everything is something that I would be naturally interested in but it’s presented in such a way that I’ve found out a lot about things that I’ve never have bothered with before.

We Have Ways of Making You Talk – very much about WWII, it’s history and stories.

Deep State Radio – American domestic and foreign policy podcast, and actually not one you want to listen to if you want to lower your anxiety levels, but good for staying informed on what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project – Adam Savage from Testd and Mythbusters fame podcasts, covering many different films, games, science fiction, toys and more.


My social media abstention has continued. I think to be honest absence from social media has helped lower anxiety levels, although there have been a couple of times when I wanted to go onto Twitter to have a complete rant about something but didn’t. I actually think posting less is probably a good thing, posting pictures of empty supermarket shelves often just prompts people to go out and panic buy because they think they are not going to be able to get what they need.


The week ahead, I’ll mostly be at home, apart from dog walks. I will need to try and get some groceries at some point, but otherwise I’m making sure I’m practicing social distancing and not putting myself or anyone else at increased risk.

Wherever you are – stay safe.


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.

Up, Up, and Away TWTW # 67

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How often do you look up? I was in Oxford last week, and while I was waiting for a bus looked up to see a Red Kite riding the thermals overhead. I was a little surprised but did manage to fumble my phone out of my pocket and snap the picture to the left (you’ll have to take my word for it that the little blob in the clouds is said bird). It got me thinking however that we perhaps don’t look up as much as we should. When I got home, and got out of the car to open the garage door I looked up again to see a cormorant flying overhead. I’ve never seen one over the garden before, so a first for the garden bird list, and if I hadn’t looked up I would have missed it.

Robert Macfarlane wrote in The Wild Places about tree climbing and being above people:

Thirty feet up, near the summit of the beech, where the bark is smoother and silver, I reached what I had come to call the observatory: a forked lateral branch set just below a curve in the trunk. I had found that if I set my back against the trunk and put my feet on either tine of the fork, I could stay comfortable there.If I remained still for a few minutes, people out walking would sometimes pass underneath without noticing me. People don’t generally expect to see men in trees. If I remained still for longer, the birds would return. Birds don’t generally expect to see men in trees, either.

Go outside and look up! Feel free to let me know if you see anything you wouldn’t have otherwise in the comments.


This week has been one of travels, work meetings, and talk bookings.

I’ve had a sudden flurry of requests for talk bookings, including my first one for 2021. These have proved to be quite popular and I enjoy doing them, but I am wondering whether the coronavirus might put pay to some of the bookings I have coming up?

The coronavirus has also led to some interesting interactions at some of my work meetings, individuals not sure whether a handshake is an acceptable greeting and what’s supposed to happen instead. Most people seem to have settled for a knowing nod of the head and a hello.


I’m pleased to say that I think my sunroof fix on the car has been a success. I’m not counting my chickens just yet, but I did have to use the car on Thursday when it was raining quite heavily and apparently there has been no sign of the leak. I’m glad it was worth the effort to do, particularly as I spent the first couple of days of the week swathed in tiger balm patches, popping paracetamol every four hours and doing stretching exercises because I managed to crook my neck during the fixing of the sunroof. Fortunately this wore off by midweek. I’m hopeful therefore that the fix is a good one and I won’t have to go through that again anytime soon.


My social media abstention has continued. FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out, hasn’t really been a thing for me, so far at least. Anxiety levels are definitely less as I’m not founding myself being wound up quite so much by the stupidity of government and others. It has given me a chance to reflect on if I’ll go back to it and if I do what I’ll do differently. I have a few ideas but right now I’m just enjoying not being constantly picking up my phone or mindlessly scrolling through pictures on instagram.


My travelling this week has given me a lot of time to catch up on podcasts and finish my current audiobook The Unexpected Truth About Animals. I’ve also read a couple of regular books. One of my Christmas presents last year was Anthony Daniels autobiography I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story. This is all about his time playing the metallic robot in the Star Wars movies, and gives an interesting insight on that role and also some of the things that I wouldn’t have been aware of during the production of the original three movies.

The other book I’ve read is The Roo by Alan Baxter. My copy came signed by the author all the way from Australia, and it’s just a perfect little b-movie of a book. You should read all about how this little book came about on Alan’s blog.


In the week ahead, I have a birthday (and a day off) on Monday, a trip down to Somerset for a client meeting, but otherwise I’m planning on cracking on with some work at home.

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.

From Inside The Headphones – TWTW #39

img_20191021_071806748Well as another weekend rolls past and we start another Monday, I’m back at my desk. I wrote this late on Sunday so that I could get a head start on some work for a client first thing on Monday, so by the time you read this I should be well underway with that. I hope this short missive finds you well, and that you find something of interest to you below.

This week I’m mostly working from home, with a couple of trips out to take my Mum for some appointments. One of the benefits of being freelance / working for myself is the flexibility to do things like that, I’d never have been allowed all the time off in my old job.

I’m really noticing the darker mornings, autumn already feels like winter but with the soft-reset of the return to GMT coming next weekend, the light will return to the mornings again, at least for a few weeks.


Stephen King’s House to Become Archive and Writers’ Retreat


I read another Maigret this week; A Man’s Head  by George Simenon. It’s one of the really good ones, although I’m not sure the plot is entirely believable – allow convicted killer to escape from jail to prove his innocence before he is executed.


We watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard on Friday evening (we’d recorded it a week or so ago). We had relatively low expectations of the film but in the end found it laugh out loud funny in places and enjoyed it.

Most of it was completely unbelievable and if you’re offended by swearing you most certainly won’t enjoy it.

Basic premise is that the bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) has to escort the hitman (Samuel L Jackson) to The Hauge to testify against a war criminal, and all of the war criminals associates are trying to stop them. Trailer below – contains swearing.

We also watched the most recent version of Pet Sematary [sic], well we watched the first 45 mins or so, and then lost interest and turned it off. I’m disappointed because I’d heard that this one was much better than the one that was made in the early 1990’s. Still some you win and some you don’t.


The weather has been pretty wet all week, but brightened up on Saturday to enable me to get onto the allotment. I’ve dug over the bed for the broad beans and sown them, so with luck they’ll over winter and we’ll have another good crop in late May next year. This just leaves me the main bed to dig over the coming months, but this is probably the biggest job due to the amount of creeping buttercup that is present. I’ll be doing a little bit at a time so that it doesn’t become an overwhelming prospect.


Podcasts: I mentioned last week that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. This is in part due to travelling more for work than I have for a while, and not wanting to listen to the 24hr Brexit news coverage that seems to have become just about every broadcast radio and tv station. That’s not to say I’m not following what’s going on, I just wanted to consume it at a sane dose and not be bombarded by it every thirty seconds. So between audiobooks and podcasts this has become my go to entertainment when travelling.

So here’s a list of podcasts that I listen to most regularly. By that I mean I’ll listen to most episodes as they are released. There are a few others, that I don’t listen to as faithfully but for brevity I’ve not included those. Links are for homepages or feeds, I’ll leave it to you as to how you listen to them.

Deep State Radio. A US current and foreign affairs podcast. Good for keeping up with just what the hell is going on in the White House and wider government. Posts several times a week with the main episodes being on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

SW945: A Walk in Japan. A binaural podcast of background noise from whereever the author is at 09:45 each morning (when walking). Best listened to with headphones. [On a hiatus at the moment, as the author isn’t walking, but there are nearly 40 episodes to catch up on].

Floating – Swimming Stories with Joe Minihane. From the author of the book with the same name, interviews and discussions with swimmers and others.

On Margins. By the same author as SW945, a podcast on writing, publishing and related topics.

The Tim Ferriss Show. Fairly well known podcast from Tim Ferriss, author of several books, entrepreneur and experimenter. Interviews with many well known and some less well know people.

The Kevin Rose Show. Fairly similar in content to Tim Ferriss above (and there are occasional overlap episodes).

The Drive. A podcast from doctor Peter Attia about all things medical and medical science.

As I said these are my main goto podcasts but there are a few others that I dip into occasionally. Mostly if they have a guest that I think I’ll like or topic that is relevant.

If you have any suggestions or recommendations for me based on the above or want to give a shout-out to your favourite show, then leave me a comment below.


A summation of the current Brexit fiasco from Charles Stross


I read Pico Iyer’s – Autumn Light  back in April, here’s a good summary of the book, with some extrapolation of some of the ideas it contains from the Brain Pickings website.


I think that’s it for this week, as always, be careful out there.