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.

the lockdown log 43

I am writing this from a very dark place, and no, that is no pun on the fact that it is barely getting light outside on a wet and windy Thursday. I am at a low ebb here.

What has brought this on I am not sure about, but, as sometimes happens, I went from fairly cheerful to the abyss at the flick of a switch yesterday. These things usually do not last too long and I will probably have it behind me tomorrow. How I get out of it I don’t know anymore that I know how I got into it; I’ve just learned to go with the flow and to try and not let a mood swing affect those around me too much. I am so deep into this one that I cannot even face going to my happy place (my music) as I do not want to taint anything with memories of where I am right now.

I have given up on trying to lose weight by the end of them month; for whatever reason I seem to be stuck at the same weight and have decided that I can do without getting stressed about it. As long as I can stay at that weight for now it will do and I can start trio think about starting again in a month or so. I am exercising though and will be through the 200 km mark by Saturday evening if not before.

Despite the weather I have been able to do a little gardening over the last week, mostly just tidying up. It looks as though I may have made a mistake with some of the snowdrop bulbs that I bought as a close inspection of the from lawn reveals a few very miniature snowdrops barley visible amid the grass. I shall have to check and see if I bought a pigmy version; if so it was a major mistake as there are around 100 of them planted out there. I made a similar mistake last Spring over the nicotiana that the Berkshire Belle wanted. I assumed that I was buying the same variety as I have bought many times before to put in the hanging baskets, but these ones grew to over a metre and a half tall (4-5 feet). More care in reading there catalogue is called for here.

One piece of unwanted excitement came last evening when I opened the back door Leo (our tomcat) to go out. He flattened himself on the doormat and, when I looked out, it was into the eyes of a fox. Outside our back door we have a plastic kennel for the cats to wait in if it is wet (we do not have a catflap) and Reynard had decided that this would be a great place to shelter fro the wind and rain. On seeing me it left, but was back about half an hour later when the Berkshire Belle checked so I went out and moved the kennel down to the bottom of the garden. The photo below is of one of our regular foxes sat in the back garden looking slightly pissed off, perhaps at the loss of its new house.

In other wildlife news we do seem to be getting a few garden birds back. There is at least on wren, a pair of robins and another of blackbirds. The wagtails are around out in the from garden along with some sparrows and bluebirds and a trio of starlings were feasting on the mealworms the other day. There is often birdsong out there again even if we can’t always see who is singing. Small pleasures.

The Berkshire Belle has had her first Covid vaccination today. All pretty efficient as a process and I was allowed to stay with her (I would have been happy to wait outside and watch the trains go by). We just have to wait for her to get the call for the second dose and for me to get my first. A little milestone done anyway.

It is getting colder again here and I will be off out to cover the car’s windscreen in a minute. The forecast is for it to be around freezing at 0500 tomorrow and one less thing to scrape will be appreciated at that time of the morning. At least we do not have the flooding that other parts of the country are enduring and I am grateful for that.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on the work time directive

News that we in the UK are to review the directive in the wake of leaving the EU is good news for it is one of the benefits that those of us in favour of leaving wanted. Predicatably there have been anguished cries from the left, but I have very different recollections from that quarter when we had to introduce the WTD.

At the time I had ti agree various changes to working agreements with the national executive of the union that represented many of my team. People were not happy as it meant an end to much of the overtime that we were offering and it was only the fact that we were simply implementing what was to become employment law that got us an agreement in the end.

It wasn’t that our wages were low; they were better than average so there was no need to do extra hours top make up a living wage. Nor was it any headcount fudge for I would have been happy to recruit extra people if it had have been possible, but unemployment locally was effectively zero and one of the town’s newer employers was bussing people in for 100 miles away. No, the overtime was on offer because we were able to pick up ad-hoc contracts and needed labour to complete them. Offering overtime kept people happy and made us money.

My predecessor had run these contracts on agency cassual labour and whilst I could have done that to a degree, there are always people who do not want long term employment or full time either, but that always brings quality issues and I was happier using my own people. The problem was that many had begun to rely on the extra pay and implementing the WTD spoilt that. The union claimed it was a 20% pay cut, but we could only find a few that got anywhere near that (18% was about the highest). Overall, for those who regularly volunteered, it took around 10% out of their gross pay and that was still a significant figure. As a consequence the WTD was very unpopular in these parts.

It is a one size fits all regulation and working practices vary so much from country to country. The Dutch have a very short working week for example and whilst the UK does not have the highest weekly hours we are at the upper end of the spectrum. Ambitions to reduce the working week and allow more leisure time may sound like a nice thing, but in reality not that many people actually want it here,

Having introduced the WTD I moved on in my career and in my successor went back to using casually labour for the extra work. Times were changing locally and the influx of EU immigrant labour who would work for lower rates of pay made a significant difference. Had I wanted to use casuals they would have been paid £9.50 an hour; my successor could pay them £6.50…

There are good things about the WTD, for example the restrictions on hours for those driving commercial vehicles, even if in the UK we have not, so far, made adequate provision for drivers to take their breaks. It is not all bad, ut just needs looking at and tweaking to suit our needs rather than that of a composite regulation designed to placate the needs of a disparate group of nations spread across many degrees of latitude. Reviewing it is not sinister; merely sensible.

the lockdown log 42

Another week flies by and the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are still at it, claiming too know best. My Dad and I dod not have a great relationship and some of the advice he gave me would have been better ignored, but one of his pearls of wisdom was not to argue with strangers or drunks. Of course fifty years ago we did not have social media and any arguing would be done face to face so the potential for a smack in the mouth was very real (and often deserved).

Here in my corner of North Wilsthire the Berkshire Belle and I await word of a place in the vaccination queue. She has a little age advantage over me being older and will probably get called first, but as she is staying at home and I am a front line worker she is very willing to give up her place in the line to me as it makes more sense, to her, for me to be done first and reduce the risk of me brining it home. Hopefully we can get her done soon and that I will not be too far behind even if it does not mean that we can relax our regime, stop wearing masks or remove any of the other measures that we take to avoid this plague. Just reducing the risk a bit will be a help.

I think that it is the lack of a light at the end of the tunnel that is the hardest thing to deal with. This time last year we had just booked our flights and accommodation for our Autumn holiday and were planning one or two days out each month for the time before we went. Not only did all of that vanish, but the thoughts that we had consoled ourselves with about the possibility of maybe getting away for a week in May this year have also gone for now. We might not get away this year either and, at our age, are considering whether our days of the long haul holiday are passed. The fact that we are lucky to be able to have such a break when others can’t afford to is no consolation.

Our holidays are something that we have enjoyed over the time that we have been together and do us good. We are happier when we are off on these jaunts and they help re-charge our batteries so not getting one last year was a blow and the realisation that we might not get another is depressing. The time of year does not help either and whilst I have plenty off things to occupy my mind and divert the negative thoughts my lady is not so fortunate and tends to dwell on the negative. Hope is at the heart of spiritual wellbeing and she is struggling at the moment.

I have not been able to ruthlessly pursue my diet this last week as we keep finding things that need eating or throwing away. We chose the former course and so my weight is sticking at the moment. Better to stay the same than gain, but it is a little frustrating, I have not walked today, but have about 120 km in the book so far this year so I am getting the exercise. I just need to reduce the calorific intake a bit more and I should start to prune some more weight off, but my planned target of being back down to 104 kg by the end of January seems to be out of reach for now unless I do something drastic.

I have managed some time in the garden just keeping up with general seasonal maintenance. The are quite a few bulbs starting to show through and we should soon have a few in flower so that will cheer me a little. We have also seen a few garden birds about again; a wren has been active outside the window as I write this, clambering through the jasmine looking for insects. Many of our shrubs are showing new buds ready for the coming warmer weather and I am looking forward to seeing the fruits of last year’s work.

Stay safe weever you are.

on well meant hypocrisy

One of my female business acquaintances recently berated me for being the only one of her social media contacts not to forward on something that she posted about the plight of young girls in certain countries around the world. My failure to support her cause had obviously upset her, but I have strong feelings myself about issues like this and, whilst they trouble me, it is not for the same reason as my friend.

The lady concerned is a fervent Remainer and a self-confessed Leftie who has been very vocal about the British Imperial past whereby we, in her view, oppressed those whose countries we colonised by trying to, amongst other things, convert them to our religion and customs. She is also very critical of the way that we treat immigrants to the UK in not wanting them to bring their customs here; we should instead embrace them as what they bring enriches our society.

Both points are all very well, but I feel that there is some hypocrisy here in that her cause for young girls around the world is surely an example of us trying to “civilise” people in another country. Yes taking child brides and FGM are abhorrent to our society, but what right have we to tell someone else that their customs are wrong? To me it is one of the things that we used to do as a colonial power and if you think that we were wrong then how can you agree that it right to do it now?

Effectively the message is that other cultures are to be embraced, but not in their entirety. When I put this to my friend she could not see the conflict in her stance and that saddens me. I am not certain that I am right, but it seems to me to be wrong to go to another country and try to change their way of life. By the same standard here we have laws and standards and people who come to live in this country should abide by them.

For me it is one thing for the United Nations to decide that it is necessary to send in a force to stop, for example, genocide in another country, but it is entirely another thing to have private organisations, no matter how well meaning, trying to convert people in other countries to our way of thinking. It suggests that we hold ourselves better than them and I think that is wrong. In fact I see it as nothing less than one strand of white supremacist thinking.

I have no doubt that my friend and those who think like her have the right motives at heart. They do not mean to be hypocrites, but I think that they are. Maybe I am wrong on this and I leave it to you to make up your own minds. One of my more controversial posts, but It has been nagging at me since my friend brought it up, so there it is.

the lockdown log 41

The thought occurred to me as I tried to get to sleep on New Year’s Eve that Covid-19 might be the millennium bug, just that It was twenty years late. Certainly the levels of stupidity being displayed over the 2020 plague have their parallels in that of the later months of 1999, it’s just that we did not have social media to spread nonsense with back then.

When Last weighed myself I was 105 kg, 1kg up on the previous week, and my plan was to relax the diet over Christmas and New Year then to get back to 104 kg, my lowest weight so far, by the end of January. Last Friday I got the scales out again and weighed in at 106.5 kg which is a bit less than I expected. I have not binged during my time off, but I have not had my regular after lunch and that seems to be an integral part of me losing weight. So I have just 2.5 kg to lose in the next four weeks.

I am going to have to balance the post prandial exercise with getting back into the garden. I have lost all of the momentum from last year and need to start again. Neither the exercise walks nor the outside jobs are any great pleasure at this time of year and I will need to find some motivation instead of, as I am now, sitting on the sofa writing this, and other, blogs or watching TV. Last year, prior to Covid, I had started my projects off by making an effort to clear out the bedroom that I use as an office. Most of that initial clear out has been undone by the need to find room to store various things and so what I might do to kick start myself is to resume work there. It is, any least, in the warm and if I can finally sort that room out it will give me some satisfaction which, in turn, might be a catalyst to get me going again on the outdoor work.

Pepper soup

This time of year is soup weather and I am going to get back to knocking up my own as I was through much of the Autumn. The one pictured was a pepper soup made from white and yellow peppers that cam in my fortnightly veg box. With half an onion, a couple of garlic cloves and the last few cherry tomatoes. The dark swirl is balsamic glaze just to give an extra bite. In today’s box I have a massive cauliflower so there will be half of that going to make soup for early next week, I make about 2 day’s worth of soup in each batch and it is a good way of using up veg that I’m not going to be able to use with main meals. A bowl of soup for lunch when the heating is not on is very welcome.

We have placed our first order of the year for plants. We began to buy these on-line last year when there first lockdown mucked up our normal garden centre explorations and have started early this year. We have a range of herbs and veg coming over the period late February to late May and the earlier arrivals give me an incentive to get the old shed broken down and the new greenhouse put up. Some of the bulbs planted last year are starting to shoot and I always look forward to the start of the bulb season in Spring as portent of better weather to come.

I would like t be all fired up to get the jobs in motion and to get the weight off, but I’m not. So I have a bit of a battle on to both get some jobs done and to lose 2.5 kg, preferably 3 in just over two weeks. If I can get my head into the right place I will do both. Watch this space…

Meanwhile stay dafe wherever you are and I hope that 2021 brings you better times.

on blogging

I know that I am no longer very consistent in blogging here. I would like to get back to the days when I would write exactly 600 words to go out at 0600 every Monday, but my life now is very different to the one that I had back then.

Early in my blogging I was a road warrior and frequent business traveller. There would be time on trains and ‘planes (and waiting for them) to rough out blog posts and time in hotel rooms to polish them. Even whilst driving I could, if nothing else, capture Ideas for I used to have a voice activated digital recorder on a lanyard around my neck. I started using it when I first had a hands free ‘phone kit in my company car and could not always be relied upon to remember exactly what someone had told or asked me. Having the digital recorder was a help later in the day and I soon came to use it for recording ideas. It also captured my occasional thoughts on other motorists…

So I would have all of these ideas, many based on something that had happened that day and could be caught whilst fresh and then developed. Initially I wrote blogs as individual stories that were as long as they took; one might be 450 words and the next over 1000. It was a chance encounter in an airport that changed things for me and developed my approach as a writer.

I will call my mentor Janice for the sake on anonymity. She saw what I was writing one day and struck up a conversation that led to her following my Monday Musings and she contacted me later to suggest that I set a word count and tried to develop my blogs to fit it exactly. She gave me a framework to write to and encouraged me a lot. Through her tutelage I began to write things with a tight focus and the challenge of sharing a sentence here and a word there to get to the 600 word target was one that I began to enjoy. Janice died less than a year after we met, but I tried to keep up her standards for some time.

Later I became a professional writer in that I began to be paid for regular magazine features. I had written a few features and short pieces going back to the late seventies, but had stopped when I was not paid by two publishers, one of whom not only used my words, but also my photos. That soured my interest in writing for publication until I was approached for an article. That commission was used and paid for and led to a series followed by another series and for nearly three years I had an article out every month. Carefully reading what appeared in print against what I had submitted gave me a lot of respect for the skill of a good editor in making small and subtle changes to enhance what appeared on the pages.

The Summer of 2016 marked a turning point for me professionally and changed my lifestyle considerably. No longer did I have the periods on solitude to capture ideas nor the lonely periods in hotel rooms where I could work those ideas up into blog posts, each carefully sculpted to an exact length. The magazine for which I had been writing closed down and that took away one of the disciplines too; there is nothing like writing to a publishing deadline to focus the mind and a personal target is no substitute.

It is rare now for me to be in the position where I have had seven or eight weeks worth of blogs written and scheduled here. I did manage it briefly last Spring, but then personal projects took over my time and I lost impetus again. Can I get it back? I don’t know, but I do like to write and it is something that I want to try and get back into.

Thank you to those who have followed me so far. I hope that I can maintain your interest.

the lockdown log 40

It’s the last day of 2020, but just another day to me as will be tomorrow. The whole New Year’s Eve thing has long been an irrelevance to me and I blame that on my Mother’s obsession with it and its rituals. I shall; be in bed by around 10pm as usual and one of the advantages of being slightly deaf is that I can put my good ear to the pillow and not be disturbed by an revellers. Sadly my cats do not share my disadvantage and will be off to hide under the sofa.

Anyway, most folks will no doubt be glad to see the back of this year and will be hoping for a better one to come. I hope that we get it and am looking forward to the opportunity for the Berkshire Belle and I to get our Covid-19 vaccinations. As she is a little older than me she is a couple of levels ahead in terms of priority, but I am still classed as type 2 diabetic and th]at might advance my cause; I shall wait and see.

My diet will resume next week and so will my exercise programme. I am up to 1066 km so far and may add to that today. It is my regular day off and I have tomorrow off too so run the risk of another two days of couch potato lifestyle. It is cold out and not expected to get above freezing today, but I might try and get at least a couple of km into the books to round out the year. I have been looking for a virtual Lands end to John O’Groats (or vice versa) challenge and did find one yesterday, but it has to be completed by the end of March and that would require about 90 miles a week which is beyond me. I should be able to do it over a year though and am setting my sights on hitting the distance required even if I can’t do it through any recognised way.

I will weigh myself tomorrow morning to see what the damage is from the last two weeks, but will not resume the diet until Monday. I am not exactly going mad with eating because I recognise the health issues, but am not applying the rigid discipline that I have had in force since the end of June. We do eat well to try and stay healthy; most of our dinners are cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients and we try to get a decent amount of fruit and veg into our systems. Tonight I am trying something new in the shape of a Paella. I have not cooked one before and so I am not sure how it will turn out, but seafood, rice and veg are all things that I am familiar with cooking and so I am sure that it will turn out well.

So that’s it for the last lockdown log of 2020. Here in Swindon we have been promoted to Tier 4 so the Berkshire Belle will be staying at home, I will go to work and shop on my way back and we will await our vaccination appointments. In keeping with my “just another day” policy there will be no New Year resolutions and I will just play it a day at a time and home that we get through.

Stay safe wherever you are and I hope that, if you are making New Year wishes or resolutions that they all work out for you.

on leaving the EU

So it looks as though we are finally out of the EU and that pleases me up to a point, but this is not a time for celebration for me. Yes we have finally ended our membership of the EU, but the real work is just beginning. The important thing now is to use the opportunity that freedom from EU regulations gives us.

When people talk about the costs of EU membership they rarely account for the cost of compliance that we all bear as part of what we consume and that affect us all in our daily lives. The effect of complying with the EU’s labyrinthian rule book will take time to undo and whilst we still need compliance in terms of what we want to sell into the EU there are still opportunities for us. A good place to start is in public procurement.

The procurement regulations that we have been subject to are a supplier’s charter. They provide no real benefit to the public purse, often just the opposite and the illusion of driving down price through ensuring competition usually results in a mechanical process followed by rote. Hopefully we can replace the current process with something that allows freedom for buyers to make best use of the market.

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about us losing our biggest market. The EU is not our biggest market for everything, but we have not lost it; we will just be dealing with it on different terms (as will it with us) and I think that various significant commercial interests have lobbied hard to get the politicians to wake up and forget the dogma. Trade with other European Union countries will continue despite a change in customs status, but we can now work with the other markets that we buy and sell through on terms that suit us.

Whether it was right or wrong to leave the EU is no longer relevant. Yes it had some good things, but it also had many that were wrong, the European Council for one, and now we need to grasp the opportunity to move on or the last four years will have been wasted.

the lockdown log 39

It now looks inevotable that this lock will go past 52 weeks now. I had a feeling back at the start that it might take more than a year to get things at least under control and get no satisfaction from probably being right. At least with a vaccination now available we have a chance on moving on.

Boxing Day today and a day off for me, the middle one of three days and I am taking advantage of the break to do as little as possible, especially as I worked oil Thursday when I would normally have been off. My diet has been abandoned for a couple of weeks and I am spending much of this leisure time reading. I still get up at 5 am as my body clock is attuned to it and so get a couple or three hours to myself to spend as I like.

I am also relaxing my exercise regime for a few days as I passed the 1020 km target on Christmas Eve with a 13 km effort. Next year IU should be able to double that and will be starting the year with that target on my mind. I am sure to have gained little weight during this break (I am not weighing myself until the first Friday in January), but a return to the diet and resuming exercise should get me back on track.

Something else that I am taking a break from over the holiday is social media. I try hard not to rise to the bait, but the EU exit agreement brought out the wqorst of the Remain camp with some very puerile comment and I duo not want to block people just because I do not agree with them. Instead I just take a break from their assault on my timelines: The ostrich approach again.

It has not all been slacking off though for on Christmas Eve I did my corporation tax return and annual report and accounts, all on-line through the HMRC web site. This is a relatively easy process now and I applaud the advances that have been made. It is about 15 years since I fired my accountant and started doing these things myself and it has got progressively easier as the systems have been improved. On Thursday it took me less than an hour from start to finish including pulling the required figures together from my Excel spreadsheet into a format that suited the input requirements and sequence.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I did not get the usual email acknowledgements to my submissions and initially thought that not might be due to the proximity of the holidays plus Covid-19 effects on staffing, but it dawned on me today that I had not had any other emails into my business address for a couple of days. On checking I had been subjected to one of those occasional spam attacks and my mailbox was full so today I have had to do some complex file editing on line to undo the logjam and things are now working again.I did not get the usual email acknowledgements to my submissions and initially thought that not might be due to the proximity of the holidays plus Covid-19 effects on staffing, but it dawned on me today that I had not had any other emails into my business address for a couple of days. On checking I had been subjected to one of those occasional spam attacks and my mailbox was full so today I have had to do some complex file editing on line to undo the logjam and things are now working again.

Out in the garden I have had a walk around to make sure that everything isa secure ready for the high winds that are forecast. The first of the two water butts on the new shed is almost full to the connecting tube with the second butt and so, with the heavy rain forecast for tomorrow, I should be well on the way to having both butts full and available for when the watering season starts.There are some bulbs showing shoots above the ground already and some of the new leaves on shrubs are starting to burst early. I hope that we do not have to severe a Winter now.

I hope that you have all had a successful Christmas, if you celebrate it, and are all safe and sound. See you agin next week.