the lockdown log 53


The Berkshire Belle has had her second Covid-19 vaccination and is showing no ill effects beyond a bit of fatigue. All being well I should get the call for my second one soon as I was about 3 weeks behind her for the first jab.

The greenhouse is built and in use. As with some many elements of these jobs I am going through the anti-climatic phase now and fighting the urge to stop working on all of the other little jobs that need doing. It was not an enjoyable construction job and I had to push hard to make myself get it done, but four afternoons over last weekend and into this week saw it finished apart from a couple of cosmetic touches that I will get around to at some point.

More jobs loom though and the spurt of growth amongst the vegetation brought on by the warm weather of the last few days will drive my next priorities. One thing that I want to get done before things get too advanced is to put in the cabling for some garden lighting. I can wire up the lights later, but need to get a new cable from the junction box on the house down to the bottom of the garden fairly soon. These little jobs help keep my mind active and distract me from other things that I would rather not have to consider.

My blood test results came back on Tuesday and I am at the same level as 6 months ago. I am waiting for a call from the surgery to discuss, but the bottom line for me is that I have maintained my blood sugar levels below the diabetic threshold and so would like to get off the Metformin if I can. At the test this time I was not weighed in and nor did they take my blood pressure so I assume that they are not too bothered about either factor and that that is another good sign.

I have not weighed myself this week either. Last weekend I decided to let myself off the leash as far as food and drink intake was concerned, not that that means that I gorged myself, far from it, But I was doing a lot of physical work both paid and any home and so I ate to support that effort. As far as alcohol is concerned we shared our weekend bottle of wine as usual making it last two days and I did, on Tuesday, down a 500ml bottle of beer as a reward for finishing the greenhouse. Hardly a blow out and I have not had to loosed my belt off; if anything I have thought that I might need to open top a new hole soon.

With the holiday weekend coming up we might be a bit more generous with the food and drink. A second bottle of wine is traditional for us so that we get a glass and a bit each Friday through Monday. I am working every day except Sunday so it is like any other weekend to us. We will not get any visitors nor we will we go visiting so it will be js=ust us and the cats as usual. I will have a check weigh next Thursday just to see where I am and I will take it from there. Next week looks to be very cold again and that is not conducive to light eating, but the better weather is not far away and I will soon be back on salads for lunch. We have already started a policy of sharing a pear or an apple for afters at lunchtime and will try to keep that us. If it fends off temptations for a mid-afternoon snack then that is a good thing.

It is Friday afternoon now and I want to get this finished and uploaded before I settle down to cook tea (spare ribs and stuff to go with them, but cooked indoors; it is too cold for firing up the barbecue).

Take care all and stay safe, wherever you are.

on the snowflake generation


I only have myself to blame; in fact pretty much all of us of my age do, for these are our children and grandchildren after all. I don’t really know where I went wrong, possibly I did not really see the warning signs, or did not realise their significance if I did, but we are stuck with what we have for the time being.

Maybe we were all too liberal in our thinking and in the way that we wanted to protect our loved ones against the less pleasant aspects of life, but the result seems to be that we have bred successive generations of people who seem much less able to cope with the realities that they will have to face up to.

I first became aware of this in the late eighties when a group of us in the office were making jokes about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. We were mostly male and aged from our thirties to fifties and some, not me, were ex services people including one of the ladies present. Black humour was a defence mechanism generally and was a standard part of our conversation in our open plan office. It applied to the minor frustrations of day to day work as we tried to cope with our myriad tasks, but on this morning one of the crew, a former merchant navy officer walked in to start work and asked what NASA stood for. After an someone had called out the correct answer he replied; “Need Another Seven Astronauts”. Poor taste maybe, but it got a huge guffaw from around the room to be followed by another question; “Where do astronauts go for their holidays? – All over the South Atlantic”, this greeted by groans, but also one of the two eighteen year old girls who had just joined the team rushing out of the room in obvious distress.

She had been so upset by the comments that she flatly refused to work with us anymore and arrangements were made to swap her with another team, but before we had sorted that out the other teenager also asked to move. It was a chastening experience and caused a lot of debate amongst us. Some were in the good riddance camp; if you can’t take it, get out whilst others were much more sympathetic and felt that we should cut out at least the worst of the banter and, as always, there was a group in the middle who didn’t really care either way. Nothing much changed and I remember a similar clutch of jokes about the Zeebrugge ferry disaster a year later. Another teenager, this time male, who had joined us from school the previous Summer burst into tears at his desk. It was pointed out to him that one of the protagonists in the jocularity has seen colleagues killed on the streets of Belfast just a few years previously and that some of us dealt with our grief very differently.

I will talk specifically about some of my own experiences as a boy. I saw my first dead body when I was thirteen and I found a corpse in a ditch beside the road, a victim of a hit and run accident. The person had disappeared around three days earlier and this was in mi-Summer; the corpse was not an attractive sight to say the least. About three months later whilst out on my Sunday paper round I witnessed a serious road accident and, as the smallest person present, crawled into the crumpled wreck to try and stop the bleeding from the driver’s leg whilst an ambulance was summoned. I didn’t succeed in my endeavours, but was still trying when he died.

Yes, I did cry a little over the second incident, but I don’t feel that either trauma had any adverse effect on me. Instead, like my parents generation who had experienced WW2, it helped me learn to cope. It isn’t that I am unemotional, far from it, but I have an acceptance that the world can, at times, be a nasty place and bad things happen. I have no need to try and find someone to blame or otherwise justify what happened, I can just accept that it has happened and move on.

I feel sorry for those who do not seem able to cope with the slightest setback, let alone bereavement and I feel guilt for having been part of the cause. There is not a lot that I can do to help fix it either expect, perhaps, to try and raise debate as I am doing here. It has taken us about forty years, maybe more, to get to this point and, as the pendulum swings, at some point it will come back the other way. I will be long gone by them I suspect, but I hope that the world that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up in will see them better able to deal with life. I, and my generation, have not had it too bad as Harold Macmillan pointed out in my boyhood. I am sorry that my legacy is not even better.

the lockdown log 52


Well, that makes it a year and what a year it has been. Ignoring the plague, as best as I can, I am still working on the transformation of the back garden and am physically a different person. Mentally I am holding it together and do not think that I am any more, nor less, weird than I have ever been. Perhaps others should judge that though.

Tomorrow I go for my 6 monthly blood test and should know the outcome of that on Monday or Tuesday. I am hoping that my blood sugar results will still be down where they were last time and that I can reduce my Metformin dose or come off it altogether. I am not losing any more weight at the moment, but muscle build up may well be part of that. All of the heavy lifting and other activity that takes upon my afternoons is having a visible presence in the way some tee shirts are getting tight across the chest and shoulders (this time last year they were tight across the belly). I did have one moment of extreme hope earlier this week when I went for a weigh in before bed and the scales had me at 98.5 kg. I moved them to find an old fuse on the carpet beneath and they then gave me a more realistic 107 kg. Never mind.

My new greenhouse has the frame up, but I have found some other problems that need sorting before I finish it off. One of these is a couple of rotten deck boards that I will replace as soon as I can find the right sized timber and another is in dealing with my neighbour’s rotten fence that is now exposed. Project management was ever thus, but I will get there soon. Once the greenhouse is up and operational I can start work on some of the rest of what needs doing to get the deck functional again as a deck rather than a construction site. This time of year is one where planting starts and I am trying to get my head around the hanging baskets and what need to go into the areas that usually get planted with annuals.

Some of the management training and experience kicks in with this sort of thing and I find myself instinctively treating it all like work. I have a day book back in use for keeping To Do lists, sketching ideas, doing little for and against lists to help decide on problems and so on. I suppose that I did it for so many years it has just become second nature and I find that it does help me.

The skip has gone now so I am starting to get a pile of discarded or unwanted stuff that will had to go to the council tip soon. Most of the old shed is getting reused for various things and to such good effect that I might not have enough of it left to build the bench for the BBQ that I had planned on. I am a compulsive hoarder of things that might be useful though and may well have enough odd pieces of timber available. You’ll find out here in the coming weeks how I have got on.

I am writing this early on Thursday with the aim of getting the bulk of it written before nipping out on a shopping run around 0800 and then being able to get out into the garden for two or three hours before the rains that are forecast arrive around lunchtime. If I cannot work outside later then there are some inside jobs on the list that can take up my afternoon and then it will be time to cook dinner and another day off will be gone. I have some celeriac soup that I made last night for lunch today and tomorrow; just diced celeriac with a little garlic and about half an onion plus salt and pepper with water to make it liquid all whizzed up with the stick blender. I am not sure how it will taste, but it shouldn’t be too bad.

Stay safe out there wherever you are.

PS.

The promised rain not only arrived early, but we had a couple of showers through the morning so no power tools in use outside today. A very frustrating morning in that, in addition to weather delays, my plan for the greenhouse would not work. A re-think over lunch fixed that and good progress was being made when it chucked it down and I abandoned further work to come indoors and study the greenhouse assembly manual to get to grips with the next couple of stages.

I may have been an interrupted day, but I have got a significant part of the greenhouse build behind me now. The rain may be a benefit in that, sitting here, I realise how much the day has taken out of me. I have had to indulge in some serious contortions as well as using a lot of physical strength, things that I could have done easily even ten years ago, but which are a lot harder now. A paracetamol beckons I think and then half an hour with the Revitive before I start to cook dinner. Sole tonight – looking forward to that.

My labours have been helped a lot, at least mentally, by wearing my headphones and getting the old iPod into action. I do love my music and find that it keeps me in a good place when all about me is not going so well. It was a big factor in keeping me sane during my 6 weeks in hospital a few years back.

See you next week

on the ABC principle


I’ve joined a new Facebook group recently and have been sharing memories and catching up with people from a 30 year career. A lot of things have come flooding back including the ABC principle, although that was something that I had learned even earlier.

I’ll take you back to around 1975 and the East End of London. Much of the docklands area was abandoned and near derelict, but it made good space for some transport operators to use and these were amongst my customers as I plied my trade selling commercial vehicle parts and hydraulic fittings. I worked for a franchise operation and was asked to spend a couple of weeks with someone from the parent operation who would advise on credit control and debt management, not that I had much trouble in that direction as most of my customers paid cash and my only concern was to be sure that they were not dud notes I was accepting.

My new partner was ex Royal Navy and ex Kent Police and he looked it. I am not sure how much value our two weeks together were, but I hope that he, being new to this job, got an insight into what really went on at the sharp end rather than what those in the ivory tower thought. For my part I got little from it as his appearance, and the fact that we were running around in his dark blue Morris Marina rather than my usual van, meant that a lot of my customers that that we were the Old Bill when we drove into their yards and my orders plummeted. However, on the last day he gave me a nugget; the ABC principle.

I had taken him the he Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, Dan Farsons’ old pub, for lunch and he gave me that bit of advice which he claimed came from his days in CID. ABC: Accept nothing, Believe no-one, Challenge everything.

To me at first it sounded very cynical and, to a large degree, counter-productive for a salesman who was trying to build trust with customers, but as he explained it a degree of sense emerged.

Accept nothing, at least at face value. That isn’t the same as rejecting everything because it is all useful, but don’t trust anything until you can verify it.

Believe no-one. It is not because they are lying, rather that even if they believe what they are saying is true, it may not be. They may also be only telling you what they think that you want to know. If you ask ten eye witnesses what they saw you will get ten different answers, so listen, question, and file it all away until, as with the first point, you can verify it.

Challenge everything. Look at it from every angle that you can think af and then think of some news angles. Test every theory and, you guessed it, verify it.

On that day I took the advice and did not believe it. It all sounded like it had come from an episode of The Sweeney, but I considered it and, in time, tried it. I found that it worked for me. I accept that it is a little extreme, but if you apply the ABC principle with a little common sense it works and will serve you well. For my own part I have applied it very strongly when considering disciplinary matters and accidents at work through to a more casual application pretty much every day when considering something that needs doing. It has kept me out of trouble more often than I can remember.

So don’t take my word here, but do challenge the thinking if you do nothing else. Think about it, work on it and see what you can do with it. You might find that it works for you too.

the lockdown log 51


Progress on the garden project is still picking up and, despite discovering a couple of things that need fixing that I had not anticipated, there is a lot of visible progress. All being well the greenhouse assembly will start any day now.

The exercise regime is slightly compromised by all this work in the garden, but over the last week I have gone through the 800 km (500 mile) mark for the year to date so I am looking god for over 3000 km for the full year if I can keep this pace up.

I have talked about some of my soup making in earlier posts and thought that a bit more on what I do might be off interest. I don’t pay too much attention to quantity as I am most often using up things rather than working to any recipe so I have put some photos below to show one of last week’s efforts.

The first photo shows a mixture of veg cut up ready for roasting. There is squash, onion and a white sweet potato ready for the oven and then the same tray after about 40 minutes on 160 in a fan oven. The final shot shows the results having been whizzed up with a stick blender. I allow the veg to cool before putting in a jug and adding water to about cover the veg before blending. I like my soups smooth and fairly thick, but you could just add more water or stock if you like a more liquid end product. I add salt and pepper before blending and then try the soup as it warms up before adding more seasoning if necessary.

The end product sometimes, as here, does not always look too appetising, but there is nothing in it by way of preservatives or additives; it is just veg and water and usually it is fairly tasty. A litre of soup lasts me a couple or three days. I make whatever I can with what I have; parsnip (usually with a dash of cumin or Garam Masala), red pepper with sweet potato or tomato, celery, leek. I try to avoid adding potato as I am trying to keep the carbs down, but eek and potato is a classic combo.

In the background of the middle photo is the start of a seafood risotto that was in production for dinner that night.

I don’t know what the calorific values are of my various soups, but they should not be too bad and they seem to work for me.

And so here I am one week away from a year of lockdown logs. There have been a good few times along the way when I wondered if I would get through this far. So much has been learned about this plague since we first encountered it and often what was first thought has proved not to be the case. As an asthmatic I was at ne time though to be more vulnerable, then evidence suggested that people like me have a better resistance to Covid-19 for example. There is still much to learn, but as the weeks pass science learns more. I feel much more comfortable, although nowhere near complacent.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on heroes and villains


Which are you, hero or villain? If you have made anything out of your life you will almost certainly be both and this is one of the things that leaders have to accept and learn how to deal with. How you deal with it will define you, so getting it right is important.

The hero thing mainly comes through results. If you are constantly delivering then you will be well regarded from above and, if you ensure that your team get the glory, or at least share the rewards, then flowers will be lain in your path. Or not, because any success you enjoy will bring about jealousy from some of your less enlightened peers and they, along with anyone above you in the hierarchy who is also none too secure will see you as a villain. They will feel threatened and it is no use trying to present that they won’t because it is a fact of life that in any organisation there will be some who react that way.

If you are at the top of the tree then you can set the agenda for your organisation and one of the first things that you should be doing as a leader is to establish the right kind of culture, but for most people they can only do that within their own team and hope that others see the benefit and follow your lead.

Jealousy and fear are emotions that are common throughout the animal world and is not just confined to us humans. It is unlikely that we can ever change so what needs to be done is to try and avoid the things that trigger them. You can’t hide success, and you shouldn’t, but don’t ram it down other people’s throats: A little humility goes a long way. Being open with your peers about how you do things can also help, not least because if they can use some of your methods to help themselves the the organisation that you all work for benefits too.

Fear is harder to cope with because it can be even less rational than jealousy. If you are more successful than a colleague then they may fear for their job. Again, sharing what you do and how you do it might help, if nothing else it shows that you want to be on their side and not a threat to them. The fear factor can also apply to your boss as I have found more than once. There is nothing wrong with having one of your team who can run rings around you in some aspect of work; you should want people who are better than you working for you, but not everyone can cope with that. My approach has been to always be open about what I am doing and, when I get the chance to talk to the next person up the line, to say how supportive my boss is and how much that contributes to any success coming my way. Taking the threat away as much as I can.

When all is said any done you can’t win them all and some people will not be won round. My consolation has always come from two sources; firstly in results. If my part of the empire is doing well then I am doing my job and I expect no less from myself. The other factor is through having a motivated team who are, because they are generally happy, delivering the results that are cheering me up. If I have these then it does not matter if some see me as a villain and, most of the time, I don’t care if I am a hero to anyone or not these days: I have been around long enough to become comfortable with who I am.

It wasn’t always that way though and I have had some hard times with self doubt and all the baggage that comes with that. If that is where you are then stick with it. Experience is everything and do not worry too much about the times when things go wrong, just learn from them and get better. Trust your team and work with them to make them better. Learn from your peers even when they don’t want to help you and encourage feedback on how you are doing. If you can believe in yourself through it all you will make it. One last though: it doesn’t matter whether others see you as hero or villain for if they think of you as one or the other then you have been noticed and people who are noticed have a tendency to get the opportunities to get on in life.

the lockdown log 50


It has been a big week for me in that I have got a huge amount done. That all helps me feel good in general even if it does still mean that I have bad days or parts of days. We all do. For me though the issue is about how I react to how I feel.

It is so easy to just drop into a funk and do nothing. I am not that keen on what’s on TV these days, but I can read or just play games on a tablet or even just gaze at the ceiling. The problem with any of those things is that I end up feeling guilty about having wasted time and so I end ups feeling worse. For me the answer is to just do something; there is always something that needs doing and, if I do something, it reduces the job list a bit and I feel a bit better even if it is only because I have knocked off a few of the things that are hanging over me.

The same applies on those mornings when I wake up and don’t feel like working. Maybe my sinuses are playing up or my digestion is out of sorts or my joints are a bit creaky or I just feel yuk. There are dozens of possible causes, but I just get up and go to work. Skiving off might be attractive, but that is not how I am wired or how I was brought up so I get on with it. I don’t like the alternative because it is about self respect and if I lose that then I am not going to feel too good.We have choices and it is up to us how we choose.

Today is my day off as usual and the weather is grim with high winds and occasional heavy rain for the second day in a row. Monday and Tuesday were spend largely securing the garden for this bout of weather and tying a tarp over the skip to stop the contents going walkabout. Yesterday and today I have been camping in the garage sorting that out and tidying up. The old shed is two thirds gone and I am keen to get that job done, but taking the rest apart is not a job for days like this and so a bit of time working indoors is a welcome diversion and it needs doing anyway.

One of the benefits of spending so much time out of the house is that it takes my mind off eating and removes me from the pantry, ‘fridge and cupboards. With no temptation and my mind on other things it helps the diet along even if I am not over bothering about it. I have the appointment for my 6 monthly blood test set for the last week of this month and am hoping that the results of that will confirm that I have moved out of the diabetic spectrum. If so perhaps I can come off, or reduce the dose of, Metformin. Fingers crossed. Although I am not taking especial notice of diet I am trying to stick to keeping my carb intake down and managing portions. My weight is fairly stable on my weekly weigh-in so I am achieving a balance between muscle development from all of the heavy DIY and taking off fat.

My walking is closing in on 750 km for the year (over 460 miles) and so my thoughts of trying for over 3000 km walked by the end of 2021 is looking possible. That is just from exercise walking and does not include pottering about during the rest of the day. I am still finding that the Revitive works for me and have suffered a couple of time when I have forgotten to use it the day before.

Anyway, I have, as I said, had a good week overall and I can’t ask for more.

Stay safe wherever you are.covi

on freedom of speech


I was musing here the other week on standing up for causes and here I am standing up for one of my own; freedom of speech. I am, at this moment, fuming at the news that Piers Morgan has left the building over expressing his opinion on a certain interview. This is wrong!

I do not agree with Mr Morgan on many things. His views on the handling of the Covid problem I find appalling, but he has the right to hold and express such opinions. Just because I don’t hold the same views is immaterial: He should be allowed to speak his mind.

Rant over. Enjoy your evening.

the lockdown log 49


It has been a heavy week. The skip that I ordered on Tuesday arrived the next day and is now pretty much full. Three or four hours every day have seen a lot of progress and the garden, garage and my upstairs office all show signs of improvement and I am almost at the point where I can start to disassemble the old shed (some of it is already gone).

I am at one of those stages in a project where you move from one phase to another and there is a psychological effect. One the one hand you have the feeling that the one part is over and are thankful, but the next stage looms and can seem daunting. There is no respite, you have to keep going and it can be hard. That is possibly why I had something of a crash yesterday and was terminally depressed for most of it, l=almost on the verge of tears all afternoon and then feeling very ill just at the point where I needed to be cooking dinner.

The way that I deal with these things is twofold. Firstly I try to just get on with it; if I can do something that I can focus on I can lose myself in that task and, even if it is for only twenty minutes or so, it burns off the clock and moves me onwards. It also aids the other tactic which is my old faithful ostrich principle of burying my head in the sand. I just ignore anything that I don’t want to think about. Time passes and I get over these depressions.

It’s daft in so many ways because I should have been thrilled with the progress that I had made by yesterday afternoon, but I wasn’t. Things that I would normally brush off or treat as motivators just kept knocking the stuffing out of me. I could have packed up and just flopped on the sofa, but I felt that I would have felt worse if I did, not least that a sense of guilt would envelope me for skiving off and so I just kept going u til I was too tired to do any more and at that point the feeling of not being too well kicked in and as I though about how I was going to cook tea I just wanted to throw up. I told myself not to be an idiot and went into the kitchen to cook salmon trout fillets over a savoury rice and, by the time I was ready to dish up, I felt better. After eating I felt better still.

This coming week I shall have to get my finger out on the garden work as we have gale force winds forecast for Thursday/Friday and I do not want to leave anything too vulnerable. If the old shed is coming down I need to have it done quickly, but my neighbour’s fence is in a poor state and without my shed protecting it a high wind might see it fall down. That will be a problem for me even if it is their fence and so as soon as my shed is gone I will have to do a bit of reinforcement on my side so, again, I have to have all of that done by Wednesday or think about deferring it all until next weekend. Plands A, B and C are under consideration…

We are certainly doing better for garden birds at the moment. As I sit here at the dining table I have a blackbird quarrying the from lawn for worms, a pair of amorous wagtails chasing around the cherry and the hawthorn and a blue tit watching on. The starlings are back regularly through the day although their flock is around a dozen rather that the thirty or more that we used to have swarming around. The blackbird oil one of a pair and we also have a pair or robins that follow my earth moving operations with interest, They all provide enjoyment and I love to see and hear them whilst out and bout around the garden. My neighbour has tried to dislodge the fox that is camping under his shed without much success as it is still around and seen on a daily basis. It is not too bothered about me these days and will sometimes sit and watch me work for a while.

Stay safe wherever you are.lock

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.