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.

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.

All Work and No….Well You Know What I Mean TWTW # 57

I’ve tried to write this post several times. Each time I’ve wanted to rant about the General Election. I’ve  just tried to write about it again, but I can’t. I just can’t


So in more positive news, I’ve managed to secure client work, that if I’ve got my timetabling right will take me through to nearly the end of February. One item fell off of the list but was replaced by something else. So work looks like it’s going to be busy. It might mean that these posts also get a bit curtailed over the coming weeks, including this one.


Outside of work I’ve not done a tremendous amount else really. I did manage to read Past Tense by Lee Child over a couple of nights. It’s unusual for me to be able to stay awake long enough to read very much in the evenings, even more so as it just felt like the author was going through the motions. It did cross my mind that there were at least another 100-pages that might have been in an earlier manuscript that got ditched at some point during the editing process, a storyline that never played out. Who knows. It won’t be making my favourite books of the year (if I get around to writing about it this side of Easter 2020).

I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and read some of the books that have been on my shelves for a while, and to not buy too many “new” books. Partly this is to try and create some space but also it seems daft to have so many books sitting there that I haven’t read yet. I don’t mind having lots of books, but it would be nice to think that I’ve actually read some of them!


I’ve been continuing to listen to The Whisperer In Darkness this week. The next three episodes were released on Monday and the reminder are due to be released this Monday (today as far as the posting of this goes). I’ve been really enjoying it. The series writer Julian Simpson, posted a little bit about the research that sits behind the episodes this week which you can read here. You can also find an iTunes link to the episodes in that post, if you haven’t been able to make the BBC website work for you.


I’m also looking forward to some of the radio that’s on over the Christmas period. I picked up a copy of the Christmas Radio Times in the week, and I have to say that there is bugger-all on television over the Christmas period, but the radio section looks pretty good.


Right that’s it for this week. Off to Somerset for client meetings this coming week, but otherwise I’m at my desk, nose down for the remainder.

The Last Throes of Autumn TWTW # 44

Welcome to the last week of the meteorological autumn, Winter is but a few days away and it’s a month until Christmas!

It’s beginning to feel like it will never stop raining here. I’ve started monitoring the groundwater levels near my Mum’s house as if they rise too much then there is a possibility of flooding. I don’t think this has happened in the last five years but things were very different for her five years ago and she’d need much more help if it were to happen now. In the meantime I’m doing the anti-rain dance in the hope that might hold things down, or rather keep them in the clouds!


No long trips for me this week but I did finish listening to Edward Snowden’s autobiography, as I only had an hour or so left on the audiobook. It is a proper autobiography and starts in his childhood and goes right through to just past the events that made him infamous. If you don’t know much about the circumstances of his whistleblowing then this gives a good coverage of his side of the story, but ultimately although he is still technically a wanted criminal he did succeed in getting the laws around mass surveillance of US citizens changed.

I’ve started reading one of the “lost” Douglas Adams Doctor Who novels. Shada is a Tom Baker Doctor story with Romana and K-9 as companions. It’s taken me most of the week to read, and I’m about 100 pages to the end, so things are moving towards their climax and the Doctors showdown with the villain. It’s been an enjoyable read, if a little slow to get going, but it’s probably only the sort of book you’ll like if you’re a Doctor Who fan already.

 


Speaking of Doctor Who – this was released in the last week.


Continuing to watch His Dark Materials (and I got the books out of the loft for a read), The War of the Worlds and discovered a TV version of The Name of the Rose showing on the BBC. Not quite sure how we missed the latter as it’s six out of eight episodes in, but fortunately it’s available on i-Player and we blew through the first 3 episodes on Saturday and a couple more on Sunday, so we should catch up to it in real broadcast time soon. (Trailer below if you’re interested).


Workwise this last week has mostly been about ticking things off of my to-do list. There were a few things on there that had been on it for a while in various guises and I wanted to try and push more of them to completion.

I gave a talk on Tuesday evening, another edition of “An Allotment Year”, it seemed to go down well and there were a few questions and people coming up to me afterwards to ask my advice. I normally talk for about an hour and then answer questions until the audience stops asking them. I don’t think I have another one now until mid-January and that one’s a little odd because it’s a mid-afternoon booking whereas they’re almost always evening talks.

I’ve managed to progress client work quite a bit, and followed up on the enquiry about the new piece of work which might start in January.


I’ve been looking at laptops a lot this week, with a view to progressing my plans to replace my existing one in the next few weeks. I’ll be running them in parallel for a bit and doing most of the changeover between the Christmas and New Year period, but I need to do something about migrating a lot of the data between the old machine and the new one. Most of it’s in the cloud anyway, but there’s enough on the actual machine that I’ll still need to do a physical transfer. I’m thinking about a portable hard drive and moving it across that way as it’s probably faster than trying to connect across my Wi-Fi .


That’s about it for this week. I’m mostly repeating last week in terms of commitments and work this coming week, although I do have some travel on Friday, although not too far away. I’ll also be hoping for a drier week if that’s possible. Whatever you’re doing this week, have a good one.

Late For a Very Important Date! TWTW # 43

I’m late this week, despite my best efforts to get these posts out at a consistent time each week, I’ve kind of blown it and it’s not work related but just me losing complete track of time whilst I was doing something else. What was I doing, well I was editing some audio (see below) and getting it uploaded and posted. It’s a binaural recording from our dog walk this morning.

I’ve been wanting to explore this medium for a while. Binaural basically means with both ears, so this is just 360° sound. If you listen to the player below with headphones, you will essentially be listening to what I was. I’d love to know what you think, so if you can stomach 10 mins of me talking (not the whole time), please join us on our dog walk and let me know what you think in the comments below.


Last week was a busy one, lots of different work related things going on and travelling. The week ahead looks like being a little quieter on the travel front, but plenty to keep me occupied otherwise. I’ve had some enquiries for work in the New Year too, which looks promising but isn’t confirmed yet and at the moment it looks like I’m busy right through to that point.


I finished reading Last Bus To Woodstock and listening to The Dog Went Over The Mountain: Travels with Albie, An American Journey. I’ve also read Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night and have been listening to Edward Snowden’s autobiography, Permanent Record in the car on my travels. The latter is interesting, I was inspired to “read” it after listening to his appearance on the Joe Rogen podcast which I posted a link to a couple of weeks ago. This is a proper autobiography and doesn’t just focus on the events that made him infamous. It also perhaps goes someway to explaining why he did what he did and how there has been the reaction to it that there has been (from both sides). It’s worth a listen, and I say that having not yet finished it.


The Final Frontier by Michael Chabon


Cornish homes take part in trial to supply clean power to grid


Never knowingly undersoiled – John Lewis trucks to run on cow manure

 


We’ve been enjoying His Dark Materials on TV, I’ve never read the books but this is shaping up to be a good series, even if I’m still on 100% sure what’s going on, but then I guess that might just be the point. The latest adaptation of War of the Worlds also started last night, I haven’t had a chance to watch all of the first episode yet but it looks promising.


Okay I need to stop typing this now and hit post otherwise it will never happen. Hope you have a great week, and hopefully normal service will be resumed next Monday (or maybe not).

A Warm & Damp Sensation (TWTW # 3)

It’s been a cold week and we’ve seen a little bit of snow, although we seem to have escaped the worst of it there have been some quite significant falls just a few miles up the road, so very localised. Fortunately I’ve not really had to go anywhere too far or when I have it was before the snow fall.


We took our dog Wilson to the vet this week, nothing serious we think but it did necessitate gathering a wee sample the next morning. As with human samples this had to be collected from the first “wee of the day” mid stream. When I’ve had to do this in the past I’ve just improvised but the vet provided a collection kit this time. It was nothing glamorous, effectively a sample tube with a scoop attached to it. The only downfall with it, is the ability to see whether the sample tube is full. The warm and damp sensation on the back of your hand is a good indicator though.


I found this interesting infographic on the daily routines of creative people.


In this series of online articles the author has been cutting out one of the big 5 tech companies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple) from her life each week, with some fairly scary results (particularly with Google), she’s yet to do the final week when she cuts out all of them at the same time but they all make interesting reading.


I was given a copy of Maigret at Christmas for a Christmas present, and thoroughly enjoyed it having not really read any Maigret novels and only really coming across him through TV adaptations (Michael Gambon and more recently Rowan Atkinson). I thought I’d get another one and I’ve been reading that this week.

It was another good read and Georges Simenon has a really smooth and economic writing style.

 

 


I also watched a couple of episodes of the series “The Last Resort”. It’s a simple premise – nuclear submarine is order to launch a warhead via a recognised back-up system, but questions order as it appears there is no war / conflict going on. It is then attacked by it’s own side and goes on the run.

There’s some interesting parallels to it and what else is happening in the world (even though it appears to have been made over five years ago). I’m not sure how well it will stand up as a series, but I’m likely to watch a couple more just to see.


It seems that the US government shut down was good for the elephant seals.