the lockdown log 48

With the better weather I have been so occupied in the garden that I am a bit behind on this week’s log and whilst the high winds of a week ago did not help I have got a lot done. It has been a good week.

A couple of weeks on from my Covid jab I have still had no further side effects since the thumper of a headache over the first 24 hours. Another week and I will be as resistant as I can be until the second jab comes along in May. I will be keeping contact with others to a minimum anyway, but hopefully the risk of suffering the worst effects should I catch it are diminishing. We are considering whether or not we might try to get a holiday towards the end of the year, but it is so hard to predict how the world will be by then. My gut feeling is that it will be another year before things are settled enough, but you never know.

On the diet front my lack of discipline has been shameful, albeit that I have not put much weight on. All of the physical work in the garden has had an effect that the Berkshire Belle has noted in that my upper body is showing signs of developing muscle and, as she has counselled, muscle weighs heavy. So a couple of kg up from where I want to be at the moment is, perhaps, not too bad under the circumstances, but it does not help when I eat three days’ ration of chocolate in 20 minutes as I did the other evening whilst cooking dinner. Yes I was very distracted thinking about what I was going to do next in the garden whilst trying to focus on cooking something that I had not attempted before, but I managed to eat three squares off a bar of chocolate despite having told myself that I could not have my usual one. Not a major catastrophe, but it does not help.

In exercise terms I am still walking at least 10 km per day on average and have passed 600 km for the year. In old measurement I am averaging 6.1 miles per day and am close to 375 miles for the year so far. With 2-3 hours an afternoon labouring in the garden in lieu of an afternoon exercise walk I should be during calories at a reasonable rate and, despite the slip(s) described above, I have not piled the weight back on. Working in the garden all afternoon does keep me away from the temptations of the cupboards as well so as long as I can avoid stupid consumption of treats I should have a fair chance of losing a bit more weight over the Spring and Summer. Roll on salad weather.

That’s it for this week I think. It is Sunday morning and I am part way through the weekly chores that we save up for today. Outside it is still freezing and foggy, although there is a sign that the sun will break through shortly and warm things up enough for me to get back outside and move some more things along there. So far my morning has not gone too well so I am hoping that the day will improve when the sun comes out.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 47

A week on from my Covid vaccination and I am feeling fine. About 2 hours after the jab I got a headache that got progtressively worse and so, after another couple of hours, I took 2 x 500mg paracetamol. That didn’t fix it, but it did take the edge off and I took another paracetamol before going to be at ten. The next morning there headache was still lingering and so I took another pill at 5 before going to work and the headache faded out over the course of the day. I had no other side effects as far as I can tell. Mine was the Pfizer job by the way.

Despite various extremes of weather I have been getting into the garden now and again. Just half an hour at a time does wonders both for the garden and my general wellbeing. It is also helping me get my mind back into ideas for how to get on with the work that I started last year. There is a lot to do and expectations from the Berkshire Belle are high so I do feel a little pressured. Still, I have a plan forming and if I can start to make visible progress she will be a little placated.

I am making a weekly trip out to do the supermarket shopping with the odd top up when I finish work; milk, bread and so on. Beyond that we are finding new suppliers on the web although not many of these are not too conducive to my diet. That said I am holding my weight static at the moment again having had a could of good weeks. Due to the weather I have not been taking my afternoon exercise and I think that the loss of that is compromising me a little, so if I can ease back into that it might help me. To get back to the half a kilo a week loss again will be nice and start me moving toward the 100 kg mark.

With outdoor work still curtailed somewhat I have been turning my attentions to indoors projects and have put up the new light inn my bedroom office, the one that I bought last year and then did not get around to using. I have to replace the four spot ceiling light in the kitchen now too as I have run out of spare bulbs and can no longer buy replacements as they are out of production. The new one should be available for click and collect on Monday so another electrical project beckons.

The days are drawing out and we have a lot of bulbs coming through. So far only the snowdrops are flowering, but the daffodils will soon be out too and, for me these signs of Spring are one of the things that I love about the seasons. Whilst OI have mentioned a lot about the weather disrupting my exercise and gardening we have had it very light compared to some and I am grateful for living far enough above sea level for flooding not to be an issue. We do have a heavy clay soil in these parts so there is some localised flooding, but only in small pockets and it in no ways causes me any problems.

Time for me to go and warm up dinner. I have a chicken casserole ready to re-heat and add a bit of extra veg to. Good peasant food and just the thing for a Winter evening. I hope that you all have enough to eat. Stay safe out there wherever you are.

on standing up for a cause

I do try not to get into political issues here, but there is something bothering me and so I shall air it. There is a fashion for adopting causes these days and a new hostage will sweep the world faster than a pandemic. Fortunately, unlike pandemics, most of these fads get replaced by a new one fairly quickly and fade out, but therein lies a problem.

Most of these causes do have an important issue at their centre, but these get lost in the rush to join the bandwagon and that is a shame because, without the core issue being front and centre, there will never be enough real debate nor any resolution. I’ll take BlackLivesMatter as my example here because it’s the one that has been on my mind for a few weeks. Ask anyone what it is all about and, if you are lucky, they might say something along the lines of it being about that white cop in America who knelt on the black guy’s neck and killed him. If you then ask what was wrong about that then answers start to get a bit vague, but there is an important issue there that had nothing to do with skin colour: An officer of the law effectively executed a prisoner without trial or other judiciary process. That is wrong and if you then want to take up the cause of it being a white guy killing a black guy fair enough. I am with you as long as we keep our eyes on the prize of justice for all (ie; equality).

Now for a time you could barely move without seeing or hearing BLM in some form or other. Pressure was brought to bear along the lines of you are either with us or against us; neutrality was latent hostility and bullying was rampant. Celebrities were everywhere promoting BLM yet where are they now for there is another threat to darker skinned people that they are all curiously silent on.

Covid-19 seems to like people with darker skins. It appears to infect them more easily and have a more devastating impact on them. There is some generalisation here, but every time I read about the pandemic this problem comes up, usually accompanied by the news that the BAME communities are suspicious about the vaccination programme and take up amongst their ranks is significantly lower than it is for lighter skinned people. So if Black Lives Matter where are all of the celebrities now? Why are they not out there pushing for a greater take up? The only celebrities I see coming forward, and there are not that many, are the likes of Michael Caine and Elton John with their comic advert (for which I applaud them both; it is very well done).

I think that there is a big problem for genuine causes in that they get lost in the noise and so the real message disappears, watered down by all of the people jumping on to the bandwagon when they do not understand what the real problem is. People mean well and are usually in favour of a good cause. It is one of the nicer sides of human nature, but in these days of instant communication through social media something that is trending gets picked up and thrown around with gay abandon. Sadly that means that very little progress gets made on solving the problem that kicked things off.

If a cause means something to you then please do take it up, but do try to understand what it is about and look at ways that you can help that go beyond bunging our a few tweets with that hashtag. You never know, you might just make something happen.

the lockdown log 46

At home and back from having my first Covid-19 vaccination earlier this morning. A quick and efficient process over at Swindon’s steam museum saw me in and out in about 20 minutes, 15 of which was the required waiting period to make sure that there were no immediate ill effects. I mentioned to my boss that I was just going to chill out for the rest of the day and he suggested that, as I was having the Pfizer version of the jab, I should have a German beer so lunch was washed down with a bottle of Pilsner: no side effects so far.

I have a few chores to do around the house, but am otherwise taking it easy on the sofa. The weather here is cold and the wind chill is making it feel very cold. My neighbour left me use her treadmill (in her garage) this morning so I have got a couple of hours walking in without having too brave outdoors too much. My weight is coming down, another 1.5 kg lost since last Friday, so I am keen to keep the exercise up.

Not much else to report this week. The garden is frozen and there is not much that I can do for the moment beyond a bit of tidying here and there. Next week looks positively balmy by comparison and perhaps I can do more that just look at it all and plan what I can get up to in the coming weeks.

I shall have to drag myself into the kitchen later to knock up some soup for lunches tomorrow and Saturday. Probably pepper soup as I have three red ones available so they, with an onion and the last couple of garlic gloves, should make a tasty brew. Low in calories too and no additives so healthy as well as warming. I like cooking from scratch and tonight, for example, am making a Chinese chicken dish that the Berkshire Belle found in one of her magazines. We do still have cook chill food most weeks, but probably only once a week and everything else will be cooked from scratch. It takes a little longer, but not much.

That’s about it for this week. Stay safe out there wherever you are.

on masks

I had seen on film and TV clips people out East wearing masks in the streets before I first saw people from that part of the world wearing them here in the UK or over in the US. In both of the latter they stuck out like a sore thumb, but I did wonder whether or not they had a point regarding pollution in our cities. Having worked over in China and Thailand it was me who stuck out in the street for not wearing a mask (and being a lot taller and wider than most of the locals), but I did not at any time on those trips consider wearing a mask myself despite the very obvious air pollution, especially in China.

Now we have a different reason for wearing masks, or face coverings, here and I do admit that, at first, I did not bother. It was only as things moved forward that I felt that it would be a good idea and, shortly before it became a requirement, I started to wear a visor that I had originally bought for DIY jobs around the homestead. The visor I only wore at work; when shopping I wore a disposable mask and, despite trying as many of the possible remedies that I could find, I was not able to stop my glasses fogging up so I started to go without them. With mounting evidence that visors were not as effective as masks I stopped using the visor and went full time with masks. There are some disadvantages to a mask without my glasses, but I am OK most of the time and can work quite well in my myopic state.

At work there are only a small group of us there until around 0730 and as I have almost not contact with any of the others, not they with me, none of us wore a mask until about 0725 when we would mask up in preparation of everyone else turning up. But then it occurred to me that the Covid-19 bug does not know the time. It does not have a stretch and a yawn about 0725 and consider clocking on the get infecting people. So I started to put my mask on when I got in in the morning and then opted to mask up in the car before I walk over to the building in the morning. The rules have caught up with me now and we are required to wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking.

I do not enjoy wearing a mask. I am asthmatic for one thing, but I do not suffer from claustrophobia as some claim to. About two hours is a long as I can go without changing my mask as it gets wet with the condensation from breathing. In cold weather outdoors that steamy breath escaping from the top of my mask starts to develop icicles from my eyebrows too. I have a poorly formed ear one side so the elastic strap doesn’t fit too well and occasionally chafes behind that ear so generally mask wearing is a pain for me in a number of ways, but it is safer than not wearing one so I shut up and get on with it. Some things we should do for the common good and this is one of them.

the lockdown log 45

Another week rolls by and we are still OK. My turn for a Covid vaccination must be close as a local couple I know around my age, albeit registered at another surgery, got their call yesterday evening. My arm is ready and waiting.

I said a week or so back that I had given up on the diet for now, but it is hard not to try and whilst I have not been recording my weight, I have been weighing in each week and so I was a little dismayed to find that in two weeks of sort of trying not to eat too much I had put on 3 kg and was back up to 109 kg last week (from a best of 104 in early December). This week I have been a little more focused and this morning’s check weigh gave me 106.5 (it thought hard about 106, but kept flicking back up) so I am taking the higher figure and accepting that I am going the right way again.

Dieting is hard because I like the taste of food. I like the mouth feel of eating many things and I also enjoy cooking so denying myself these pleasures is the only way forward and saying nom is not easy. Cooking most of our meals does allow me to control what goes into our meals. We eat very little pre-prepared stuff these days and most of what we eat is either fresh or from the freezer so we don’t have too many additives, preservatives and suchlike in our diet and I can also control fat and sugar content. Things like fat and salt do contribute and enhance flavour though and so neither is eliminated. Having tasty food helps so much because it is satisfying and you can get away with smaller portions. It is when we have something that leaves us cold that we are both looking for more.

The Berkshire Belle is also dieting although she is not weighing herself, rather she works on what clothes fit and whether she can get into clothes that used to fit, but haven’t for a while. It works for her and that is all that matters. It does no good to beat yourself up over these things. If you can keep a positive attitude I think that you have a better chance in the long run.

Today is my day off as usual, along with Sunday, and I was up at my local Sainsbury’s just after it opened at 0700. An hour later I was home with three bags of shopping and a slab of money lighter just in time for the fortnightly fruit and veg box delivery. We have a full fridge and pantry and there should be no need to brave the shops again until early next week when we will need milk. Soup off the day for today, and tomorrow, is a curious mix of leek and cauliflower made last night from remnants having cleared the veg drawer of the ‘fridge ready for today’s delivery. I fried off the leeks with a little oil and added a couple of cloves of garlic for extra flavour then put the cauliflower in and covered with water. Some salt and pepper for seasoning and left to simmer for about ten minutes before leaving to cool and the blitzing it with a stick blender. It is not the most appetising colour, but it was hot and filling at lunchtime and there is nothing added beyond the seasoning. I have a celeriac in the veg box and that will be roast to make the next batch of soup.

I was going to walk this afternoon, but it is chucking it down here in Swindon and I really don’t feel up to going out to get soaked. I have walked for a mile and a half today according to my tracker and had planned on doing around 5-6 miles, but I will find some indoor jobs instead. So far this year I have racked up 205 miles of exercise walking (329 km) so a bit of slacking off is maybe permissible. Last week I mentioned the Teenage Cancer Trust challenge to walk at least 15,000 steps Monday through Friday. I managed that without too much trouble, but it dawned on me too late that if I had just walked for about another 10 minutes each day I could have turned in 20,000 steps per day for 100,000 for the five days and I would have been happier with that than the 93,000 that I did record.

The garden has had some of my attention this week and another bin full of garden waste went out for the green recycling collection this morning. The days are drawing out steadily and I am looking forward to being able to spend more time out there once the weather gets a little more clement.

That’s it for this week. Stay safe wherever you are.

tcb web site changes January 2021

Over the next 24 hours or so this WordPress site will become my web site. Those who follow my efforts elsewhere will be aware that I have been dissatisfied with my web hosting provider for a while now and have moved other web presence to WP. This one was part way through a paid period and so has had to wait until now to make the change, but buttons have been pressed this afternoon and the move is in train.

Hopefully all will go as smoothly with this one as has happened with the others, but there may be a slight glitch with emails as there always seems to be a small window in the transfer that something whistles through. If you have emailed and do not get a response within a day please resend or use one of my other contact methods.

The look of this site may change slightly as I work out how best to manage the change.

Thanks for looking in

on roadmaps

My loathing of management speak is well documented here and being asked, or more likely told, in any state of crisis to produce a “Roadmap” to recovery always made me seethe. Roadmap is a wonderful example of management speak; it is a great sound bite, short, snappy and seems to encapsulate a need in just the one word. Simple isn’t it?

The problem is that it is, in that sort of context, bollocks of the first order. A roadmap implies that someone has laid out all of the routes from where you are to where you need to be and all you have to do is choose one, but whilst you might know where you want to get to in a crisis you often don’t know exactly where you are starting from and that situation can change minute by minute let alone hour by hour and day by day. There are times when you can’t get your head out of the trench long for enough to see which direction the bullets are coming from.

You will have a crisis plan and another for disaster recovery and these should have been rehearsed and polished, but the real thing never perfectly matches the events that unfold and so you are working to stay on top of events as they unfold. It is a bit like finding your way out of a maze and there will be times when you have to back track, but if you think about it even a successful way out of a maze is full of u-turns. Information that points you one way today may well change to point you another way tomorrow and trying to get two experts to agree on something is a futile exercise. You need patience and tenacity along with the ability to react quickly to changes in circumstance.

At some point you will have come out the other side and there will always be a need for a drains up on what happened, but this should only be about learning not blaming. In all probability you will never face exactly the same situation again, but you can learn about what you did well and why and what you didn’t do well and why. Being able to improve your processes for gathering and managing information to aid the decision making process is crucial as is making sure that your communication channels work as well as they can.

Leaders need their people to believe in them and whilst the management speakers can sound good I have not yet met one who could actually deliver anything like as well as their words might imply. Most of them I would not have trusted to lead me out of a 50 metre cup-de-sac in broad daylight. Fine words might gain you some followers, but they will soon desert you for another you is actually delivering results. Ideas are great but actions are better. But someone on the sidelines spotting platitudes is a waste of space and the best thing that you can do is to not let them distract you.c

the lockdown log 44

The black cloud of last week evaporated on Friday and I was back to normal as quickly as I had left. Nothing happened either way as far as I could tell; there was certainly no special event that lifted my mood any mare than there had been one to plunge me into the abyss. Who knows how these things work?

It has been an eventful week with a blocked sink in the kitchen to start it off and my confidence in dealing with these things took a knock when my first two usual solutions both failed. In fact the second one seemed to make things worse, but a look at the internet showed me what I was doing wrong in applying my usual way of working to a double sink and once the logic of that had penetrated (it was blindingly obvious once I had been shown it) the blockage was cleared in seconds and the looming need to dismantle parts of the plumbing thus avoided.

The initial failure and ultimate success of the sink maintenance brought about a strangely satisfying feeling. The Berkshire Belle joked about me feeling all manly and I suspect that there was some primal thing about having faced a problem and beaten it. For some years whilst at the peak of my working life I sorted things out all of the time; “I like Bowen, he makes things happen.” was a comment from one of the directors of the group that I worked for for years and it is probably the part of my former life that I miss the most and so the sink issue had some significance: An easy problem that appeared to have become insurmountable, but which was then sorted made me feel good, especially so as I had learned something new about how to fix that problem in the future. I have long loved learning.

I don’t know how it affects others, but one mental health factor of lockdown is the amount of charity adverts that flood daytime TV commercial breaks. I appreciate that charities need funds, but the absolute barrage of misery that is pedalled is depressing beyond my comprehension. I have various defence mechanisms; I don’t watch too often, I do other things and, when all else fails, I resort to black humour. The Berkshire Belle absorbs it all and is often in tears to the point that she now records almost everything that she wants to watch so that she can view the recorded version and fast forward through the adverts. We are almost always watching yesterday’s TV these days.

Many years ago whenI was a suit I had funds to disburse to charities and used to consult my workforce about where to give help. Often the chosen charities were local ones and I hope that we were able to do some good. From a personal viewpoint I decided that I would adopt one charity and focus my donations and support there. I chose a charity that provided free mammograms for ladies in countries where such things had to be paid for. a link to that charity has appeared on my web sites and I have done what I can to keep that support up with my only deviation until recently being to support other breast cancer related appeals.

This Christmas, as I mentioned here in an earlier Lockdown Log, the BB and I decided to give what we would have spent on presents to charities that were supporting people here in the UK who were down on their luck and now I have, through work, signed up to support an exercise challenge for the Teenage Cancer Trust for whom I will be walking more that 15,000 steps each day Monday through Friday of this week. The first three days have gone well because IO have been at work and can do 15k without too much trouble there, but today is a day off and I need to walk for about two hours to get close. I will confess next week. I am not abandoning breast cancer as my chosen charity though.

Work in the garden is largely at a standstill as everywhere off the paths or deck is like a quagmire and I have pretty much tidied everything that I can reach. There are loads of new shoots and many bulbs are showing above ground now so the signs of Spring coming are all around. The days are drawing out too so there are signs of better times ahead.

Another week gone and we have survived. happy enough with that. Stay safe wherever you are.

on living through interesting times

My parents, and their peers, used to tell me how good I was having it not facing living through a war. With the generation gap in full swing I would reply that it wasn’t my fault that we didn’t have a war on and, more often than not, would get a clip around the ear for my pains. One’s elders could do that then with no fear of being charged with assault…

It did not occur to me that I would ever live through a war. Even in the darkest days of the Cuban missile crisis, although then we did not expect to live through what we seemed to be on the brink of; we were all going to die. But all of that faded away and life was generally fairly quiet on the home front and, having avoided National Service by dint of age, I had not expectations of facing too much strife here. Yes we have had various terrorist threats and I have twice found myself holding a ticking package in my increasingly sweaty palm, but nothing like the sustained threat of death that my parents generation went through.

When my mother and father talked about the war years it was more that often about the pulling together; they community spirit that a common danger brought to people, but if I was to dig a bit deeper there would be the stories of those who exploited or flouted the rules and regulations for their own benefit. Beneath the veneer of good there was always a a darker side.

It is almost a year now since the world was plunged into the Covid-19 crisis and we found ourselves at war with an invisible killer. I make no comparison with what my parents went through, but this is probably as close as I am ever likely to get. None of us know whether today is the day that the virus will infect us or, if it does, whether we will survive. Working on the front line as I do now I see first hand every day examples of how different people are affected and, in the people that I see regularly, how the accumulated strain of living through these times is taking its toll.

There is a lot of irresponsible behaviour and a lot of anger. Some of the latter is driven by fear and some by frustration, but the majority if people are just trying to live as normal a life as they can. The world is always changing and very now and again we get a period of accelerated change, Covid-19 is an extreme example and it has changed our lives forever. Personally I doubt that we will ever get back to what we had this time last year if for no other reason that too much has had to change. Shopping, leisure and working habits are good examples and I think that we need to be looking towards a very different future rather than longing for a “return to normal”.

Perhaps it is appropriate, given the source of this plague, to consider the old Chinese curse of “May you live through interesting times”. We certainly are.