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the lockdown log 80


It has been a bit of a week. My dental works started last Friday with extracting the broken tooth and fitting a temporary bridge. After the anaesthetic wore off things were not too comfortable and, despite cutting food into tiny pieces and avoiding anything that needed a strong bite or chew the bridge fell out on my birthday, which was not the greatest present. However, with the bridge went most of the discomfort too. I am off to the fang puller again tomorrow for a review.

We have also, after more than a year of faffing about, ordered various bits of replacement furniture for upstairs and down. This, for me, is a bit like flicking over the first of a line of dominoes. The new will not be with us until February, but I need to start clearing space in the garage and my den so as to make the project work. I am thus sorted out for Winter jobs.

My diet has been reasonable in that I have not gone mad and have worked off a lot of calories, hopefully more going out than have gone in. I haven’t weighed myself, not from any deliberate avoidance, more from having buried the scales under a pile of stuff as part of the space clearance mentioned above. I usually weigh in when I get up around 5 am and have forgotten to get the scales out the night before. I only remember when I get up and that is not the time to be trying to heave stuff around in the dark. I do feel a little thinner, but I know that that means nothing.

Something else that we have been talking about for ages is a cremation plan. Possibly the fact that we have both had recent birthdays has brought home the advancing years, but whatever, we had taken the plunge and signed up. Neither of us wants any fuss and, for me at any rate, funerals are for the survivors not the dead. My thinking is that I cease to exist when I go so what anyone else gets up to to mark my departure is their business; I won’t be there to know.

We have been out to lunch again this week, slightly spoiled by fellow diners who firstly got in our way as we walked in from the car park, the concept of giving way to pedestrians being seemingly beyond them, and then, just as our food arrived, opened a window then complained about the draught and moved, leaving the window open. I got up and shut the window, but the temperature of our food had suffered as a result of their thoughlessness.

The furniture buying trip also took us to a big shopping mall, the first that we have visited for nearly two years now. Fortunately it was quiet, but is was another step for us in going out. Whether we do more remains to be seen, but there is one more item of furniture to be bought and, as it is for me, I have been out on a solo mission to see what is available. Furniture is something that I think I need to try out and not for just buying on-line.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 79


Another week vanishes without me having noticed it go by. Time seems to evaporate these days, much faster than it did back when I was suited, booted and into all the high-powered corporate stuff. Perhaps it is just a sign of getting old.

I should have kept quiet about fuel shortage rumours last week. The panic that resulted was human nature and I do not have the heart to blame any of the individuals who have sweated over being able to get fuel that they need. I am less charitable about the greedy, but I am in a fair old fury about the moronic media who put the story out. If I ruled the country there would be consequences for them. It was all so unnecessary, there would have been no problem if the panic had not been kicked off.

My desire to avoid too much human contact continues and I have inflicted what must be the ninth self-performed hair cut. I am getting better at it with the amount of practice and, for the first time, the Berkshire Belle did not have to point out one or more bits that I had missed. I do wish that she would do it for me, but have given up asking.

We are still shopping and getting out and about, but no lunches or breakfasts out this week. It has been a quiet week in general; I did a supermarket she at my local Aldi on Monday and today we hit M&S and a farm shop. We have a fruit and veg box due the afternoon and all that, plus what we have in the freezer will see us through nicely.

I had my ‘flu jab last weekend and another very well organised job down at the space the local health team have rented at Swindon’s Steam museum. Our doctor’s practice if part of a combine of about thirteen local surgeries and they have teamed up to run this vaccination centre. It is still doing Covid jabs, but has now moved into the ‘flu vaccination programme. I got a text with a web link to alert me that my number was up. Clicking on the link got me into the appointment diary where I selected my date and time. I was there about 5 minutes early as the traffic was not quite as bad as I expected, but was straight in and actually got jabbed 2 minutes before my appointed time. I think that the fact that it is a private enterprise running the surgery group makes a difference as many others in the town who are registered with NHS run surgeries have had all sorts of problems getting their Covid jabs and, in some cases, have faced a round trip of over 100 miles to get them.

No real change for me on the weight front. One kg lighter, but I have little confidence in my mindset delivering a sustained improvement at the moment. If I can just keep from allowing the weight to creep up it will help.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 78


No change in weight despite having tried to ration myself better and having slammed in a 30+km walk. Depressing to some degree, but life’s like that. I just have to keep my head down and not let things slide.

Generally I am fed up with just about everything right now, but, again, that is life and I have been around doing enough to know that it will not change and that I just have to get on with it. Right now there do not seem to be enough hours in the day and that never helps. I need to get back on top of one or two things and all will be well. I am in one of those periods when as fast as I get something out of the way, three or four other things crop up that are unexpected, but need sorting.

One of the problems that I have got past is the one where technology was preventing me accessing these blogs. It looks as though it was just various bits of software being out of synch and causing conflicts. I try to keep everything updated, for security reasons if nothing else, but sometimes it just gets in the way. Today I have updated my laptop and that required me to re-enter passwords for about half a dozen sites (so far) most of which I do not know the passwords for. On one of the ones that I did I was then asked to respond first to an email too confirm that I was who I said I was, and then to a text message for the same purpose. Some of it drives you mad.

And then I did the equivalent OS update for my tablet and spent, on and off, the next hour getting rid on all of the whizzy bits that are supposed to make my life easier, but none of which I want. Now my home screen looks like it used to, organised how I like it except that, despite having selected the largest icon size offered, they are all about 20% smaller than they used to be. The Berkshire Belle has also done the update on her tablet and, although it is the larger version of mine, it works differently and trying to help her has led to some tensions where she is getting different results. We are still friends though…

Since the Covid outbreak I have changed my routine from sticking £10 of petrol into the car once or twice a week to filling up every 5 weeks or so. On our way back from Reading yesterday my fuel light came on as we came off the motorway. Having dropped off the shopping and had lunch I popped out and filled up, paying 131.7 per litre which is about the highest that I have paid for a long time, but better than the 138.9 that my nearest filling station are asking. At one point last year I only paid 99.8 if I recall, certainly just under the pound per litre. As I write this I am getting the news that there may be a shortage, but that is not what my industry friends tell me. Hopefully we will not get into any stupidity over the coming days. Panic buying just buggers up the supply chain.

This week we have not been out to lunch, but did go out for breakfast instead and I think that the last time we did that was in Florida back in 2019. It made a nice change and we will try and do it more often. It does seem to be helping us get more confident about going out. I have had the call to go for my ‘flu jab this Saturday and we are hopeful that we will get our Covid boosters fairly soon.

I have been trying to repossess my garage and clear out the clutter that accumulates, much of which is packaging from our mail order forays. With Winter approaching I would like to be able to have easy access to it as a workshop for some of the things that I can’t do outdoors. I am still not coming to any conclusions about what I want to do in the garden over the Winter, but maybe not having too many plans will be a blessing. Often just having a few ideas works out better as I can react to opportunities that arise.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on working from home


For me the current passion for working from home worries me and I have enough experience of it, going back as far as the early 1980s, to think that I might have a point.

My first experience of working from home as an employee of a large corporation was back in 1982. I worked in London which was a three hour round trip commute away, and, for six weeks, was assigned to work with a supplier based on stop up the railway line from home. Because of issues of commercial confidentiality the supplier did not want me on site more that necessary and so I worked from home.

It was a nightmare in many ways. My wife felt that my presence meant that she could just talk to me whenever a thought entered her head and the inevitable list of garden and household jobs was right there under my nose; “I’ll just take a break and mow the lawn” type of thing. Yes, I did get all of the work that I was being paid for done, but, in general, I hated it and the one lesson that I did learn was that I could use the opportunity to time shift, that is to take an hour off for some DIY during the day and make time up in the evening for example.

Of course that was pre-internet and mobile ‘phones. Im did have a portable typewriter that I used for some reports, but a lot of my written work was done longhand and forwarded to the typing pool (remember them anyone?) at the office.

Later I became an early adopter for working from home when office space was at a premium and I was working all over the UK. By then I was on my second marriage, there were no children at home and I had a wife who understood that there were times when I needed to be left alone. Again I often did personal stuff during the day and work at night, but y then I was a fully equipped road carrier with cell ‘phone and GPRS equipped laptop.

Around the mid 1990s some of the implications of remote working were coming to the fore as it became more common and a working party was set up to look at the pros and cons as well as to try and draft some good practice notes along with a company policy. One of the key issues that came out of that was the employer’s liability. There is a duty of care and whilst we had all of the necessary workstation and VDU stuff in place for employees in the workplace, how did you cope with people working, unsupervised, from home off the dining table or with the laptop on their lap as they sprawl on the sofa? You can moan all you like about jobsworth H&S people, and I do, but the law is the law and their are people queuing up for big scalps.

The other big issue about working from home, for the employee and employer, is the lack of dynamics that you get when people are collected in one place. There is a lot to be gained from teams being together and the interchanges with others in those water cooler moments. Scatter the buggers all around the country and you have lost that. I don’t know how you measure it, but, over time, you will miss it. As a team leader you get a lot from seeing your people in action, it speaks volumes and helps to pick the real stars from the poseurs. Yes, you can judge on results alone, but, if you do, you will promote the wrong people too often.

Looking at working from home from the customer perspective it is already apparent to me that there are times when it is just not working well enough. This may just be due to policies and procedures combined with technology issues, but it has been a lot harder to get problems solved since lockdown started. Take one of my clients who has three times had the wrong item picked and shipped. Every time the supplier has made exactly the same mistake, but each time customer service have been called the person responding has been working from home and unable to do anything other than to tell my client how to return the item for a credit. At no time have either of us been able to speak to anyone who is actually there to try and resolve the problem. In the end we bought the item direct from the US and they got it right first time.

For some sectors there is no excuse for continuing to allow working from home now. The Civil Service being one; that large chunks of them are apparently working from home still is a scandal. Remote working in various forms is a viable tool in this day and age for the right jobs, sales teams being a classic example, but for much of what used to go on in the office we need to see people back and their desks. Working in a mask is a pain, but I do it as do many others.

We are in a time of great change and need to adapt. It may be that some businesses will feel that they can allow more people to work from home and will come up with policies and practices that work for them. If they can make it work then fine, but I think that, for now, we need to see a lot more bums on their original office seats.

PS: If you are working from home have a search through the old posts here for my top tips for home workers.

the lockdown log 77


I failed to mention weight and diet last week, mainly because they were not on my mind. That alone should tell you about my state of mind on that topic. I have weighed myself once in the last month and I was 110 kg at the time; not too good, but not too bad either. Right now I can’t be bothered, although I know that I will need to start bothering soon. On the exercise front I am still at it and recently passed through 3000 km for the year. I may not be controlling my intake too well, but I am still burning off a lot.

Our trip out for a birthday lunch went so well that we did it again this week. A different venue, but very nice and something that could be habit forming. We used to do it every Saturday at one time, not always a pub or restaurant, but it was our weekly treat back when we both worked for Big Corporate. In these times it is nice to get out and about a bit; a touch of normality.

I have started my course of dental treatment and have a extraction to look forward to in a couple of weeks. I will get a temporary bridge at that point and then, once the gum has settled from the extraction, I will get the long term bridge fitted. Whether or not that can be done by Christmas or not I don’t know yet.

Having a couple of weeks off work I have tried not to be too busy. A break is a break and so I have done less around the house and garden than I would normally have done. If nothing else it has given me time to think a bit about what I want to do. The Summer is gone and the Autumn and Winter job list needs some attention.

The year does seem to have vanished and I am having problems believing that it is mid-September. Where did it go? Maybe it is something to do with withdrawing into myself, my Ostrich approach to shutting myself off from as much of the world as I can. Whatever, the calendar does not lie and we are where we are. I suppose that the months slip away whilst I have my head in the sand and, as it is my choice to hide, I have no cause for complaint.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on control


There is a lot of talk about loss of freedom at the moment. We are, globally, living in a time when there have to be restrictions and, for many people, we are just not used to that. There is a perception that we have lost control of our own destiny because we are being told what we can and can’t do.

I will keep my remarks here about life in the UK for no other reason than that, for obvious reasons, I have not been anywhere else since life changed back in March 2019. We have it pretty good here which is why so many people from other countries want to come here, and talking to a colleague from one of the former Soviet Bloc countries I was told how they had needed a permit to go from the side of town where they lived to the one that they worked in. Just imagine how that would have gone down here. Yet the Covid regulations (for want of a better term) have, in some ways, not been that far removed and there has been acceptance from some and howls of protest from others.

Over eighteen months we have had to have levels of control imposed and there has been a level of fear across us too. This is a silent and invisible killer, the stuff of science fiction. To all intents and purposes we are at war and it grinds you down. Mental health was an emergent problem in any case, but has become more of an issue as we face up to this modern day plague.

Something that I learned in my business life was that I needed to focus my attention on certain areas as a time management issue more than anything. To get the best out of the 60-70 hours I was putting in each week I had to focus on what I could deal with and one of the tools that I would use is the Eisenhower Matrix. I won’t go Ito that here, just run it through your search engine of choice if you are not familiar with it, but the basic principle is in prioritising tasks.

One of the benefits of this type of technique is that you get things done. I used to say that there were times when I couldn’t get my head out of the trench for long enough to see which way the bullets were coming from. Life could be like that and whilst that style of firefighting management can be good fun at times it is not a recipe for long term success: I needed to get things under control and, once I had, I found that I had time to think about preventing fires rather than having to keep putting them out. Life got easier.

Getting to that point took a lot of the stress out of work and I have tried to apply the same type of thinking too life under lockdown. There are lots of things that I cannot control right now, but if I focus on what I can control and take charge of those then it gives me some comfort, certainly more than I would get if I just sat in a heap complaining. Finding the things that I can manage myself might see me mired in trivia; often the things that a straight application of the Eisenhower Matrix would see me discard, but they are things that I can do without recourse to anyone else; I have control and it helps to keep me sane.

Control the things that you can. If nothing else you will be practising a good discipline that will help you in your career in the longer term.

the lockdown log 76


Finally I have managed to get a few words on paper (or VDU) after the worst bout of writer’s block that I can remember. It isn’t that I haven’t been able to think of things to write; there are part started blogs for all of the missing weeks and I have a host of audio files where I have thought of things whilst out walking plus some post-it notes. The problem has been getting any of this into some form of readable state. Day after day I have powered up and then stared at a blank screen with no concept of how to turn any of these jottings into sentences and paragraphs that add up to something worthwhile.

Today a corner has been turned and thoughts are flowing through my fingers and causing stuff to appear on the screen. Why I don’t know, nor do I know why I have had a problem. I am just glad that it is over. I will try and retrospectively fill in the gaps in the coming weeks, but, for now, a summary.

Since my last appearance here I have had a Covid scare and a fall, both of which rattled me a bit. The former came when there was a rumour that someone whom I had been in brief contact with was alleged to have been diagnosed as having Covid. This I was told just over a a week after I had been in their company and I still do not know whether or not the allegation is true, but although I did not contract the disease myself and that incident is past, It did give me a few days worry though.

The fall was at work where I was distracted just at the point where I got to a curb in the car park and tripped over it. The damage was mostly superficial, but I chipped a tooth which has begun to fall apart. The repairs are going to cost over £3000 and I am none too pleased about that. Fortunately I am not too bothered about dental work and so having it done will not trouble me too much, but paying for it will.

The weather has been variable enough to have kept me off most of my outside projects, although I have done a lot of garden maintenance and spent some to trying to work out what has gone well and what hasn’t from this year’s planting. I did manage to get the first coat of black paint on the final section of deck to be done that colour and am happy with the results. This deck paint, although a reputable brand, does not seem to cover as well as the stuff that I used 20 years ago and maybe there have been changes to the recipe along the way.

I have not yet built the BBQ station, but the new BBQ that we bought last year has still not been lit. It is likely that it will not be lit this year either the way things are going, but I would like to build the station for it before Winter sets in.

Much of my time in recent weeks has been spent in pursuit of a decent sourdough loaf. I am not quite sure why the Berkshire Belle has been pressing me to make these things when we have a good source of commercially baked sourdough, but she has and after she bought me yet another sourdough book in the Summer, I vowed to have another go. So far the score is 7 of which one was partially edible, two reasonable edible even if they had not risen enough, and four failures. I have, for now, given up and this week I made a good white loaf in the breadmaker just to cheer myself up. Having done that I am going to attempt a soda bread at the weekend. I haven’t had a go at one for a while and the last try was a failure, so I am none too confident. Onwards and upwards though; get back on the bike and try again.

The car tax reminder just dropped onto the doormat. It seems incredible that it is a year since I bought it, but time seems very telescoped in these strange times.

Anyway, time to get this onto the web and I will aim to be back again next week.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on ambition


A few weeks ago a professional journal for one of the sectors that I work in talked about attracting young people into the trade. It got me thinking about the young people that I currently work with and then my own career.

Asking around amongst some of the under-thirties I know there seemed to be a balance between probably sticking with their current sector, if not with the same employer, and those who would just see what came up. Of the former only one thought that they would definitely want to stay in the sector.

The general opinion was that things change and that there was no guarantee that the right opportunities would be there for them when they needed them. That got me thinking about how my working life had panned out.

In my later school years I looked at what would have been a long term career, but although there was a chance to go for it, there was a need for parental commitment that was not forthcoming. It left me with a desire to become a manager, but with no idea of what.

An opportunity to achieve that ambition came as I left school, but was screwed up when we moved elsewhere a few months later. Another long term opportunity sailed away with redundancy and I then spent the next six years or so drifting along with four distinct changes of sector before settling into a major corporation with which I was to stay with for over thirty years.

However, even there I did not settle into any specific discipline. I worked for them in retail, finance, IT, policy, procurement, logistics, sales and marketing, training and facilities management working all around the UK. If I had any ambition it was to move up the ladder, but around half of my moves were because of reorganisation rather than me actively seeking them.

In the end I did achieve that rather vague ambition to be a manager. I worked my way up from the bottom to the board room and have served as both executive and non-executive director, but I cannot claim to have been focused on a career. More that I just took my chances and played whatever hand I got dealt as best as I could.

Following that example is perhaps the best advice that I could give.

on food on the road


I say on the road, but mean food whilst travelling in general, regardless of mode of transport. My first experiences of having to find food whilst out and about came back in the mid 1970s when I was a salesman flogging lorry parts and hydraulic fittings around London’s East End and the North bank of the Thames. It was there that I learned my first and second important lessons in finding decent, affordable food; firstly, ask the locals and secondly, learn who to trust for advice.

There were some dreadful “greasy spoons” about, but there we also some gems, all of which I would have driven past if I had not been told to stop. It was around that time that I was introduced to salt beef bagels for example and these are something that I will still look for one the rare occasions I get the chance. Pub grub was not a big thing back then, but the Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, whilst a little more expensive than I might usually want to got to, became a regular spot for a treat when I was having a good week.

Jobs changed and I found myself working in offices with canteens (sorry, staff restaurants) for a few years before heading out and about again some ten years later. Motorways were the quick way to get around, but their service areas by then were pretty awful places and to be avoided so I began to search out other options. One of my early successes was to find garden centres not too far off the motorway. They often had a cafe and, in those days of mostly independent operations, you got good, home cooked, food. There were also some good pubs around where lunch, or even breakfast on days with early starts, could be found.

My aim was usually to try and eat more healthy food than the convenient locations offered and the sorts of places that I sought out often offered seasonal food. One favourite stop for lunch in the Spring was a country town cafe where I could get a poached egg on top of a crumpet with local asparagus; much nicer, and better for me, than a Big Mac and fries. I have no problem with the big chains and do use them even now, but trying something different is important for me even if it does cost a little more.

After a time travelling the UK I started to get the odd trip overseas and there even more opportunities to move away from regular fare arise. On a holiday there is an tendency to get trapped in the tourist fare that is on offer, but if you are working then talking to colleagues from the area will almost always find you something interesting. I have experienced dive bars on the waterfront in China, a home cooked meal in Libya and been taken to eateries in many places that I found never have found had one of the locals not guided me. In Thailand the ladies in the office would offer me fruit and curries and, for the ones that I liked, write out the names of them, or similar dishes, so that I could buy them in the street market behind my hotel for my evening meals.

My waistline did suffer over the dirty odd years that I travelled regularly and I have lost 20 or so Kg over the lockdown period. My main business travelling days are now over, but I have many happy memories of places that I have been fed at, from dive bars to Michelin stars they all have given me pleasure.

the lockdown log 72


My weight loss efforts just can’t get traction. I have a couple of good days and then there will be something that needs eating, or throwing, and I can’t abide waste. The other problem at the moment is bread. Both add calories.

The Berkshire Belle loves sourdough and, whilst we have good, local, source in Hobbs House, she wants me to bake it. Now I enjoy making bread. Twenty odd years ago she bought me a one day bread baking course and I have baked regularly since, albeit that I often resort to our Panasonic bread machine. Homemade bread is great, but I am trying to keep my carb intake down…

So far my first couple of sourdough loaves have not been good. They have been edible, but would not have won me any plaudits. I will keep trying and see what I can do, but I am finding it very frustrating, especially as we could just buy one.

As I know that I am not doing well enough on losing weight I have stopped weighing in. abject cowardice perhaps, but that is my decision for now. I really have too many other things to worry about right now.

Bread making has been eating into my time and so I have spent less in the garden. On the other hand I have been trying to put in about half an hour each day in de-cluttering. It is all necessary work and there is a bit of a feel good factor in doing it. There is just so much to do.

This week we have been out to celebrate thirty years of marriage. Our first lunch expedition for a while and we found ourselves the only customers. The food was good although it took a long time to arrive. We suspect that someone had to go out and buy the bread, but it was good enough when it arrived although it was one of those meals where the idea behind the dish could have been better. Still, we have been out, and the next few weeks see a run of special days; two birthdays and thirty two years together fall between now and early October so we are looking forward to a few more lunches.

I also have four weeks holiday booked in two lots of two weeks each. We will not do a lot, but hope to try and do something a bit different. A day out to the Isle of Wight is one that we will look at.

Stay safe wherever you are.