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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.

the lockdown log 71


Life here in North Wiltshire continues pretty much the same. Most people are still masking up to go shopping and there is little sign of change. Some people have gone away now that the schools have broken up, but few amongst the people that we know are venturing abroad other than some of my colleagues from Eastern Europe who have gone back home to visit family. Most of these drive and aim to make the trip in around a day and a half driving pretty much non-stop with two or more drivers taking turns.

For those of us who live here most seem to have abandoned thoughts of a trip abroad on the grounds of risk and cost. We have too and gave up on our plans for a return to the US for a second year and are now starting to wonder if we will ever go back. Given our advancing years maybe we have seen the last of long distance travel, but maybe the world will start to get a grip on Covid and things will both open up and look safer. Time will tell, but we are running out of it.

On that note we are looking to organise our cremations so that all of that sort of thing is taken care of when the time comes. It is not a subject that is easy to deal with, although I seem to be more pragmatic than the Berkshire Belle on these things. It is also crossing my mind to have another look at living wills in case either of us does loose our marbles. We talked about this when we made our joint wills and were told that we had just missed the boat for doing them in an economical fashion so we let the idea pass. Maybe we should look at it again.

I have not lost weight for another week. I am trying to stay positive about this and am reading up on how the body processes food from the perspective of type 2 diabetes to try and see if there is something there that will help me break out of this impasse. It is possible that I do have a bit of muscle build up; The last two weeks have been very physical in many ways with more heavy lifting that usual and I am noticing a change in muscle tone around my upper arms, amongst other places.

Being stuck at 106.5 kg is not so bad in many ways and is a lot better than being 123 kg as I was back at the start. Maybe I just need to change diet again as that sometimes has worked in the past. It does seem as though I am getting my head back around the need to shift weight and the old target of 100 kg is calling me again.

Into August now and out weather is weird. As I sit here after lunch typing the wind is howling around the upstairs windows and rain showers are sweeping through at irregular intervals. Just as I typed those words the sun has come out and the temperature has climbed as it should, but there are more black clouds rolling in. The poor plants don’t know what to do with themselves.

Apart from the wind and rain keeping me away from the jobs I need to do up the ladder my last go at that work on Monday has brought me back out in a rash. I had this problem last year and have not yet worked out which of the climbing plants that I am clearing I am allergic to. I think that it is one of the varieties of ivy, but what I have been clearing includes three types of that plant plus a hop, a grape vine and another one that I have forgotten the name of. Between planting by my neighbour and I these things have grown together over the years and the rapid spells of wet and warm weather over the last 6 weeks have seen rampant growth that needs cutting back. Insects and dust abound within this undergrowth and something there does not like me. Even with arms covered and wearing gauntlets something has gotten through and, if last year is anything to go by, I face a couple of weeks of discomfort before it goes away.

Stay safe wherever you are and thanks for looking in.

the lockdown log 70


Another one of those weeks when the scales were unkind. I had been fairly good on food intake and Monday through Wednesday had been very physical days where I ought to have been burning off the calories. I was feeling good and had been boosted by getting into a pair of 42 waist trousers for the first time in probably 12 or more years. It was looking good for the weigh-in until I got on the scales and they tried hard to take back the half kilo that I had lost last week. In the end they timed out showing the same as last week.

I responded to this by having a silly day and eating things that I should not have had, but then remorse kicked in and I am going to have a sensible week. At least I am for now…

Work is still getting the best side of me and I try to do the best that I can there, but I have been goofing off a bit outside of work and need to get a grip on some of the things that need doing around the house and garden.

I am also still having technical issues with blogging and have not yet managed to sort out my preferred device despite having spent a couple of lengthy sessions trying to resolve things. Another frustration that I can do without at the moment, but never mind. I can still rely of the old beast that I am writing the on albeit that Jingles, one of our rescue cats, has taken to spending her afternoons sleeping on the keyboard.

Anyway, just a quick offering this week and I will try to do better next time.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 69


This time last year major progress was being made in the deck refurbishment and extension and so it is depressing me slightly that, having achieved so much in the last twelve months, I am not finishing off the last parts of that grand plan. It is all silly things; some days it has been so hot that the paint would have dried on the brush even if the blizzard of Silver Birch seeds had not been falling. It is frustrating to be so close, two or three afternoons should do it, but not being able to get on with it.

General maintenance jobs keep me busy whilst trying to not spend more than about 30 minutes at a time out there in the heat. I do still have two foxes lurking around the neighbourhood, but they are not digging everything up now so what we have left in the way of plants are beginning to thrive. I have one cucumber and several tomatoes coming along in the greenhouse and we have had a few strawberries, tayberries and raspberries although those crops have been disappointing this year. We’ve also had a lot of salad leaves of varying sorts, but those are pretty much done now.

The scales gave me another half kilo off this week, so 106.5 and heading, slowly, the right way. I have gone past 1500 miles walked so far this year and am thinking about going back to afternoon exercise walks to supplement the calory burn. The target of 100 kg is still there taunting me, but can I get to, or beyond, it? This last week I have been feeling a bit weird each evening as I go to start organising dinner and have put this down to having had much less for lunch that usual. I have felt better once I have eaten my evening meal even if, for most of the last week, that has been a salad with some form of protein; blackened chicken one night, crab on another for example. What do I want most; to eat or to lose more weight? Only I can answer that one and I just need to channel my obsession down the right path.

With some dud weather coming up for the weekend I am trying to plan a few jobs that I can do under cover, but I have a feeling that I will end up lazing about doing nothing in particular. A couple of days of “I can’t be bothered” won’t do me any harm and might just allow me a bit of thinking time to plan a few things. It looks as though the salads will be off the menu and I might have to do a bit of cooking again. That will keep me amused, but proximity to food sources for an hour or so will test my will power.

At work we are still masked up and I am still wearing my mask when I go shopping as are most other people as far as my own observations are concerned. Despite what the media have been spouting about empty shelves I have not seen one myself and there seems to be plenty of stock about. I often wonder if the problem is actually a surplus and stories of shortages are spread to encourage overbuying…

I hope that you are not suffering shortages of supplies and that you can stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 68


I will start with the good news; the scales gave me 107 kg this week, so 4 kg down from last week and that makes it look even more like the 111kg was a spurious reading. What went wrong? Atmospheric pressure? Sun spots? I don’t know, but I am reassured that I am back on track.

The jolt that I got from the dodgy numbers last week did give me some motivation to try and focus. I have not gone into starvation mode, but have tried to cut back on intake and to be a little more thoughtful about what I am eating. The latter can be hard, especially when a certain voice calls through from the kitchen asking if I knew that such and such needs eating by today. Obviously not or I would have had that rather than what I have on my plate, but such circumstances tend to see me eating my share of the about to run out of date food in addition to what I had portioned out for myself. The difference is that a couple of weeks back I would probably have buttered some bread and made a sandwich whereas now I just eat whatever it is and cut out the extra carbs.

Out in the garden the foxes are still passing through and we get the odd signs of the passing, but the damage has largely stopped. Other pests have made an appearance though; blackfly, greenfly, caterpillars, slugs and snails to the fore and the constant battle has moved on. The wet, but warm, weather had seen growth rocket and with it the amount of time needed for basic maintenance is eating into getting projects done. The big Silver Birch in my neighbour’s garden is now shedding its seeds and, even with no real breeze, standing on the deck is like being in a minor blizzard which means that finishing the deck repaint is on hold for a week or two.

I am hoping to be able to get on with building a table for the barbeque in the coming week as that will mean that I have the table available and can get the barbeque off the floor and can also, perhaps, use the damn thing although I have never understood the attraction of standing out in the heat cooking on something that is even hotter. We are planning lots of things salad based for the coming week.

With the 19th approaching we have no plans to ditch our masks. Down in these parts we are also seeing a surge in C-19 cases and we will be staying safe to reduce the risk of being sorry. We are plotting going out for lunch one day soon though and one of the local pubs will be seeing us all being well.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on market research and advertising


Over my years of working I have worked in sales several times and, in my own businesses, I have had to rely on my own abilities in that area. Knowing what will sell and how to get it in front of those who will buy varies according to what it is you are selling, but the basic principles are the same whether you are standing at your stall in the market or pitching a multi-million pound deal in the boardroom. If you don’t grasp them you will not last long.

This is not about the mechanics of selling though, it’s about some of the stuff that goes on around it. Specifically understanding who will buy what, why and how to get their attention.

Starting with the back end of that, advertising, it has struck me how things have changed. Visual advertising, mainly in the form of TV commercials, but also including billboards and the like, used to have an element of wit and style, but these days they seem to have dumbed down to a point where many are just puerile. If they are intended to make me want to buy the product, they don’t, but worse, they put me off using the company altogether. I vote with my wallet and there are some places where I will no longer take my cash based on their advertising.

Perhaps these companies have researched and tested these adverts; they almost certainly have because the Berkshire Belle amuses herself by taking part in market research and will often warn me that her tablet is about to “make a noise”. Some of the questions that she will then be asked are so off the wall as to be worrying, for example she will often be asked to say what sort of person the advertiser is, and various other oblique questions that are almost impossible to answer with any credibility.

Not only is someone paying shed loads of money for this research, but they will also go on to spend much more on commissioning the commercial and getting it out there. But if the questions are ones that it is not possible to answer with any genuine accuracy then the results will be flawed so what is the point?

As stupid as it sounds people are using this stuff. Perhaps it is because they have paid a lot for it that they choose to believe it; I don’t know for sure, but I have certainly been on the inside of teams who have been using data from this sort of market research and cannot ever recall it being challenged by those making the decision.

I am not saying that all market research is wasted. You do need to know, but be careful with what you get back because people lie in at least some of their answers. Use such data as a guide rather than an absolute and do look carefully at the results that you get when you go to market.

Maybe my criticism of advertising is, in part, due to flaws in the research. I don’t know the answer to that either, but I suspect that, whilst it contributes, the biggest problem is a general dumbing down of society. Our expectations have been lowered so much that we get what we deserve. For me it means that, just as I will not buy from a cold call, I will buy very little that I see advertised on TV.

the lockdown log 67


Isn’t it odd how a week can change in a moment? I thought that it had been a decent week; I had got a few things done despite the weather, the foxes are causing less damage although they are still living next door, our tomatoes and cucumbers are flowering, I had been fairly good on my food intake, had had salads for lunch on a couple of days and was looking forward to some good news from the scales. I should have known better.

The first attempt came up with 110.5 kg, so 2.5 up from last week. What?! I tried not to make loud noises (it was just before 5 am) got dressed and went to work. Back home before lunch I tried again as I got changed out of my working gear: 111 kg. I tried swaying about a bit and was rewarded with 111.5 before the scales settled back to Nelson (as all the ones are known in cricket and darts).

Those of you who have been on diets will probably be familiar with the days when you feel either fat or thin. It was the former that pushed me to start getting weighed regularly again and when that first re-visit gave me 109 I was relieved. I was not good about my food intake, but was much better than bad, felt thinner and got the 108 next time around so was feeling comfortable that I was on the right track. My belt was back on the second new hole that I had punched in it and I could see my toes if I looked down. So where the heck did another 3 kg (almost half a stone) come from?

So, what to do now? Well, firstly have a rant as I have done here. It has a marginal effect, but I need to avoid despair because that will lead to eating for comfort and that is the wrong path. I have talked here before about a parallel with addiction and, like an addict, I am trying to take it a day at a time and hope that I can get through the next week knowing that there have been times when I have denied myself things to eat that I really do not need. I will also try to keep a tight reign on portion control as well as on content because one of my failings is often finishing off the odd slice left on the loaf, the odd bit of cheese or whatever rather than leave it for tomorrow when I already have what I need on the plate. I shall try to be positive and, who knows, this might be the kick up the arse that I needed to get my motivation back.

We have pretty much abandoned thoughts of a holiday this year, but will wait until the end of August to make a decision. If we are giving up on going away then I will change my holiday plans at work and take three separate weeks with the aim of putting in some serious garden and home maintenance as well as having a few days out. We are fortunate in living not too far from places to go and be back in time to look after the cats.

It’s been a bit a weight dominated blog this week, but that digital read-out on the scales did shake me to the core. I am still here though, and still healthy so I will be grateful for that. Stay safe wherever you are.