Monthly Archives: Jun 2020

Authors, Austen and AI

I’ve just been reading this. I’m now more convinced than ever that technology is not for me. Having just read an article that tells me future books are going to be written by Artificial Intelligence. This is depressing. However, it isn’t as depressing as reading the AI attempts at classic literature.

Even more depressing, I read that the average reading age in the UK is somewhere between nine and eleven. There are a number of statistics around this, with a variety of measurements and interpretations, but it means that a lot of adults struggle to get by with reading. A significant proportion can’t read simple notes or road signs. I am worried by this for a number of reasons. Not only will these people not be able to enjoy the pleasure of Wordsworth or Wodehouse, but there is a distinct possibility that they are a danger to other road users. That, I suppose, is why so many road signs have pictures on them.

The state of the nation’s education system was first revealed to me when I was recruiting school leavers to work on a poultry farm. I told the careers advisor we would need people within reasonable literacy and numeracy skills but after they sent several illiterate candidates (because it was only a poultry farm) we reverted to advertising in the local paper.

I won’t even mention my view of careers advisors because I think we covered that a few days ago, but I was shocked to find that it was possible to pass an entire school career without learning to read and write.

blur book stack books bookshelves

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So much depends on being able to read. In fact everything depends on it, including your academic results in other subjects, and your success (not necessarily monetary)  in life. Yes, you can be successful without being a great reader but it must be harder.

You can either believe me about this or you can search the internet. The only trouble with the internet is that there is so much information, often gathered and interpreted differently, that it’s hard work putting it all together. You read one list of the top ten nations for literacy and then you read another and only a couple of the countries are duplicated. Unfortunately they tend to agree that the UK is about 17th. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not very good either.

One of the sites I read had a question from a user asking if anyone out there had read 100 books. People were generally quite polite, but they did mention that they had read 100 by the time they left school or had read fifty or even a hundred in a year. It all depends on what you call a book. I’ve probably been going through three a week during lockdown, but we’re talking about Golden Age and modern cosy crime books, so they aren’t actually hard.

I really must start a better balanced reading programme, a few more classic novels and some non-fiction. That, however, is a diversion. We’re talking about literacy, not about me squandering my life on whodunnits.

I’ve tried various ways of reading a better selection over the years, but it always degenerates into a discussion of why I hate Don Quixote. I just re-read that post, from 23 April 2016, and found the sentence “I had muesli for breakfast as I wanted something smallish in case I set my socket off.”

No, I haven’t a clue what I meant to write.

I’ve just been reading the local literacy project website, and have decided to start volunteering once lockdown ends. Really, I should have been doing it for years.

The question is whether I volunteer to help adults or children.At least, by telling you all I am making sure I can’t back out.

boy in white and black school uniform reading book

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The Curmudgeon Chronicles (Pick a Number)

I had a text from the pharmacy ate 12.25 pm. I had tried to ring them in the morning but they were permanently engaged.

By 2.00 there was a queue of about twenty people. Or maybe ten, on reflection, but it felt like twenty. So I went to TESCO to use the cash machine. Two have been shut down due to social distancing, and the third wasn’t working. Next I tried Sainsbury’s, again the only working machine wasn’t working. If that makes sense you have, like me, been in lockdown too long.

Back to the pharmacy…

The queue was down to one person, with two in the shop. They only allow two in the shop at one time, presumably because the previous restriction of three was too efficient. At that time it was actually three in the queue and two sitting waiting, Today they actually had two sitting waiting and nobody being served. Not the best use of the four staff they had in the shop.

I waited outside for 25 minutes. I timed it especially for this post. The lady in front of me was finally admitted. I waited another ten minutes. They allowed me in. Then they made me wait again. The lady in front of me was told she would have to wait ten minutes for her prescription. Mine, when I was served, was ready for me as arranged. I heard the sound of celestial trumpets and felt warm rays of light fall upon my head.

Because I have learned from experience I checked the bag.

My Warfarin were missing. Another five minutes passed before they waved a slip of paper to prove I didn’t have a prescription for it. If only they’d been as keen to contact the doctor and sort it.

I had to walk five yards and press doorbell to contact reception. I did this and waited. They were busy and it took a few minutes. They refused to discuss it with me as there were “people about” and they didn’t want me to have to discuss it with people listening. I don’t actually feel the need to hide the fact I have atrial fibrillation. If I’d contracted it in a brothel, or had to take my trousers off to explain it, I might feel a bit embarrassed, but I didn’t, and I don’t. I could actually have sorted it in five minutes but no, I had to ring.

So they sent me away with instructions to sort it out by ringing them.

After sorting a number of other things out, and calming myself down, I was able to ring the surgery and establish that they had missed the Warfarin off the prescription. As usual there is no explanation, no apology and, seemingly, no concern that they have cocked up yet again.

As a result, my careful planning has come to nothing. My exposure to the virus has been doubled by the need for a second visit. My attempt to avoid exposing pharmacy workers to the virus has been negated. Sometimes I wonder why I bother trying.

Other, more interesting things also happened, but they would merely cloud the issue.

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules

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Another Senior Moment

When I had a look at the last post, before going to bed, I realised it wasn’t there. I vaguely remembered that it had flashed up on the screen while I was doing something else and I think I probably deleted it at that point. I’m sure there should be a single button to restore it, but I couldn’t find it and had to reload it bit by bit. This is annoying.

It’s annoying because I had another senior moment, it’s annoying because I had better things to do with my time and it’s annoying because out there on WP there are probably people thinking “Does that idiot really think a picture of banknotes is a proper post?”

No. I don’t. And the worst bit of it is that the best I could do was American money. I live in a country where you can’t even get a decent banknote picture of my own currency. I do have a few somewhere, but there’s not enough money to be a suitable picture for an article about being  a millionaire. Or, in my case, not being a millionaire. Again.

The electronic prescription service, which I distrust, has failed me and I have had no text to tell me I have pills to pick up. It already takes two days longer than doing it manually, and now the system is even more delayed because it seems to have crashed. I will say no more, but I am very disappointed.

The pharmacy has a score of 2.7 out of 5 on Google, despite a few people giving it five with no further comment – looks like staff trying to boost the rating.One reviewer actually said he would have given it 0 out of 5 if he could have done. Thinking of it, that means it would score 1 out of 5 even if it was the worst place in the world.

If they think you order the pills too far in advance they won’t let you have them. If you order them just in time, the system breaks.

Of course, if they lose your paper prescription, as they did a few months ago, they ask if your memory is up to scratch. That’s why I’ve started keeping notes.

At this rate it looks like I might have to try keeping notes about how to work WordPress too.

Just two library shots for this one – a man writing and time passing. What sort of blogger can’t even be bothered to take his own photos?

brass pocket watches

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Money, Money, Money…

Sorry if you’ve previously been to this page and found just a photo and a title – I seem to have deleted the post, but I’ve found it again (eventually) and it’s back where it needs to be.

I won on Friday night’s lottery. Of course, things are never that simple and with great wealth comes the worry and responsibility of managing the cash. Fortunately the National Lottery realises this and they have a system to help you with the burden. In my case they have further decided to lighten the financial burden and have kept the prize manageable, sending me the sum of £1.60 electronically. In an ideal world they would also have provided me with a magnifying glass to ensure I could see the prize.

I’ve now won five times during lockdown, which is probably a sign I’ve been playing too much. As the total winnings have been £46.60 I’ve decide not to let it change my life. I’ve also decided to stop doing the lottery. There is an old joke, which can be used for many purposes. It goes:
“How do you make a small fortune from gambling/the antiques trade/farming/stocks and shares?”

Answer: “Start with a large one.”

It is useful for many industries and activities.

At this rate it’ll be a long time before I run out of money, but have been thinking about it and have decided that I really should give up. The chances of a proper win are small and the thought of becoming rich brings out the worst in me. Although I’d like to do some good with the money, I’m not sure it would be good for the kids to be assured of financial stability in life and I don’t think I have the required moral fibre to give it all to good causes.

sea sunset beach couple

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I also lack the enthusiasm to lead a millionaire lifestyle. I have no desire to pour money down the drain owning a football team or a racehorse, don’t like too much sun, prefer Fanta to Champagne, don’t want to buy an island, would have difficulty getting in and out of a sports car, and only need three bedrooms at most (one for us, one for guests and one for the computer). If you have too many bedrooms you end up with visitors, who will eat your food and you will have to be nice to them.

To be honest, it really ought to go to someone who would appreciate it.

I do have a couple of plans in case I win the lottery but they don’t reflect much credit on me. One is to annoy the neighbours on one side by engaging workmen to constantly hammer and drill (we had half an hour of hammering again today) and on the other by planting a tall shady tree.

The second is to buy a large number of second-hand cars and park them where they will cause the most annoyance to the people who have annoyed me by their inconsiderate parking over the years. I reckon forty cars should do it. Even with tax, insurance and paying a few drivers this will be considerably cheaper than owning a racehorse, and much more satisfying.

As you see, being rich would not be good for me.

It’s time I reviewed my charitable giving, but that is a different story, and will be the subject of another, more serious, post.

bank banking black and white budget

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The Ten Best Things About Lockdown

It’s not been all bad, by any means. I don’t know how it’s been for everyone else, but I’ve quite enjoyed some of the time.

One – being paid not to work. As far as I can see, there is no downside to this. I like my work, but I prefer being paid for nothing. This is different from my normal occupation where I have to go to the shop for six hours a day, where I am paid for doing very little work.

Two – spending more time with my wife. Again, what’s not to like? I know not everybody is as lucky as me in their choice of partner.  Julia, for instance, doesn’t seem as keen on this aspect of the lockdown.

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Bee in Cranesbill

Three – clean air. I have to take the Government’s word for this, but, unusually, they seem to be telling the truth. This has to be good.

Four – less traffic. I’ve been able to drive to hospital for blood tests and get a parking space. Luxury.

Five – free parking. I won’t lie to you, I am extremely mean and if I can save a couple of quid I will do. The hospital car park is free for the moment as they don’t want to handle all that dirty cash.

Six – I’m still on the same tank of fuel I had in March. I haven’t been able to go anywhere, but the money in the bank is handy. (See Five)

Seven – relaxation. The first couple of months made me feel years younger. After that, I have to admit, it began getting more stressful.

Eight – I did get some useful work done, though not enough. However, the bit that I did has been worth doing.

Pie, gravy and roasted veg

Pie, gravy and roasted veg

Nine – we ate lots of healthy vegetables and are feeling better as a result. Apart from one disastrous KFC we haven’t had a takeaway delivery all lockdown. We have been having fish and chips on Fridays since the shop reopened, but fish is good for you and I’ve been leaving half the batter and some of the chips, They give you too many chips. I’m pretty sure that complaining about having too many chips is a sign of age…

Ten – I haven’t needed to speak to anyone. Social interaction is, in my opinion, over-rated. I’ve texted a few people and been on WordPress to exchange a few views. That’s enough. Within that circle I have enough people and they are all sensible people. Mainly. One has been making films with Sooty, but there is always one. Talking to more people just involves me with being tactful to idiots. This isn’t at the top of my list of skills. That’s why I’m not often called to deal with customers these days.

That’s it. I’ve been lucky in lockdown and I intend to stay lucky by remaining in isolation for a while longer.

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A Letter to my 14-Year-Old Self

I looked at a writing website for some ideas and I quite liked this title. I’ve recently been thinking about the teenage me and this merges with it very nicely. It’s going to be ten point because I’m still practising ten point lists.

So, point one for the teenage me is – you are going to be a failure in life, so don’t worry about success. All it will do is add an extra level of disappointment to the failure.

Point two, Stand up for yourself. I don’t mean just making a token gesture of dissent, I mean really digging in and refusing to cooperate. People will give way in many cases just to get a quiet life. You see it all the time in life – the most selfish people, who shout the loudest are the ones who get their way.

Point three, see above. When the broken down hack of a metalwork teacher masquerading as a careers advisor shouts at you not to waste his time because “everybody says teaching when they can’t think of anything else to say” go straight to the Headmaster’s Office and complain like hell. He’s only a careers advisor because he was a crap metalwork teacher.

Point four – do stuff. Don’t just end up on the scrapheap as a sixty year-old-man with arthritis and a duff prostate. Buy bigger motorcycles, fall off more of them, at least you will have an excuse for arthritis. And beat that jerk of a metalwork teacher to within an inch of his miserable wasted life.

Point five – don’t regret not getting  a degree, beat the metalwork teacher to death and remember that a life sentence can be as little as 15 years. You can do an OU degree in that time and have time left over to write an autobiography in that time. It didn’t do John McVicar any harm.

Point six, don’t bottle up old grudges against metalwork teachers.

Point seven, don’t worry, it will work out alright. People generally don’t starve to death in the UK and the council won’t let you rot in the gutter when you die. Even if you end up going through the bins behind McDonald’s it’s still better than being a metalwork teacher.

Point eight, spots are transitory.

Point nine, so is hair, Get used to the idea.

Point ten, die during lockdown. That way people won’t notice you had no friends.

Time, Travel and Temporal Trickery

A few days ago I noted that the time on my computer was wrong. This seems to have corrected itself.

I reset the clock at work last week because it seemed to have slowed down during lockdown. We though the battery might be running down but it has now been keeping good time for over a week.

Then, last night, when I tried to set the alarm, using my phone as I do these days (look at me being all 21st Century), I realised that the time was wrong. All the world time was wrong. And the calendar was reading 17th June 2017. To be honest, I could do with going back in time three years and sorting a few bits out, so I wasn’t too upset.

It would be just far enough back in time to make a few improvements, but not far enough back to involve reliving the bad bits, like adolescence.

Obviously it was too good to be true, and as nothing else seemed to have changed, I checked the time on Julia’s phone, set a timer instead of the alarm, and went to sleep.

In the morning, with daylight and glasses, I reset the time and all seems back to normal.

black and yellow analog clock

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

I have no idea why this happened, or why any of the previous incidents happened. May be clocks are joining in with the rest of the world in a widespread campaign to hate me.

It was my day off yesterday. Julia allowed me to drive her to the laundrette. It is the first time since lockdown. We have nice clean laundry and it smells good because it dried on the line. She has done some things by hand, so standards have been preserved, though I have mainly just aired, rotated and relied on my large stock of shirts and underwear which almost fit. There’s been a certain amount of breathing in as I got to the older stuff, but no disasters so far.

After lunch she allowed me to drive her to the gardens so she could check they were still OK. The grass is growing. We saw a greenfinch.

On the way back we saw two rows of traffic stop as they allowed a lady cyclist to retrieve her hat, which had been blown off. It was a comfort to see that manners still exist, though there was a bit of me that wondered why she didn’t have a string to hold it on.

Tomorrow I have a blood test, followed by dropping Julia off at work and then going to work myself. In the afternoon I will reverse the process (apart from the blood test).

If it wasn’t for the time travel I would lead a very dull life.

brass pocket watches

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10 Points about Writing Ten Point Lists

I was looking at an article on generating ideas. When you search for “generating ideas” on Google, two trends emerge.

One is a big business theme about generating major strategic ideas to make millions and/or change the world. That’s probably a bit more than I need, though it has its charms.

How about lacing the new corona virus vaccines with fish DNA so that future generations can live in the sea? You could even breed groups of piscatorialy enhanced people specifically to pick plastic litter from the oceans.

Just a thought. But if it works I expect a Nobel Prize.

The other theme is about generating ideas for writing articles. That wasn’t quite what I was after either, though I did spend a few hours reading various sites and seeing how people reused the same information time after time to generate blog content.

Ten point lists seem to be  a favourite.

So here’s my list –

10 Points about Ways to Writing Ten Point Lists

Make sure you have ten points. People will notice if you only have nine.

Start with number one. Why re-invent the wheel?

Several of the points can be the same thing written in a different way.

Point four. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious.

Steal it off another blog. That’s how they got theirs.

Don’t spend too much time over it, they don’t give Pulitzers for 10 Point Lists.

Make a general comment on the social,aspects of the list as in ‘I think we can all agree that this is particularly relevant in lockdown’. Hide it a little way down the list so people don’t notice you are being lazy.

Point nine. Add emphasis. Or, in other words, say the same thing again (see point 3). (Or point 4).

For a change, why not try a 13 point list for Halloween?

Simple.

For the autumn I will compile a 13 point list about writing 13 point lists for Halloween. I will use the ten point list, and add three more, change the order and if anyone queries it I will say that this is an example about getting the most out of your research. Or recycling my rubbish.

I think I’m getting the hang of this blogging stuff.

person writing on brown printer paper

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Random Thoughts III

Ford Escort 1

This looks a lot better than mine ever did. It also has four doors – mine was a two-door version. It might still be available if you fancy it. Try here.

As I said yesterday, a combination of factors led to me writing 400 words of digression. As promised, I have knocked them into shape and here they are, presented as a blog post.

Even as I write this, I am transported back to a time when I had a red Ford Escort (a Mark 1) with 160,000 miles on the clock, dodgy front suspension and side windows at the back which fell out from time to time because they were just glued to the hinges. And they wonder why the Japanese took over the world car market…

We had a metalwork teacher at school who had been a prisoner of the Japanese during the wore and still had the scars from being whipped. We knew this because it cropped up in nearly every lesson. We knew the war was over for him when he turned up in a Datsun – cheaper than a British car, with fabric seats and a radio as standard.

Someone at work bought a Japanese car shortly after that and came back to it one day to find a sticker on the windscreen – I can’t recall the actual wording after all these years but it was about him killing British industry. I had a Morris Ital.  It was supposedly a great British product (a Morris Marina) with a dash of Italian styling flair and more sprightly performance. It didn’t quite work out like that. The performance was achieved by reducing the weight of the bodywork by using something more like a thick foil than metal. The actual engine design was over 30 years old, and the major use of Itals these days, if you can find one, is providing spare parts for Morris Minors.

Ital

Mine was this colour and smelt of cigar smoke.

The heater burst in a multi-storey car park one day. It was interesting,  because the car filled with steam. I called out the AA and they connected the heater inlet to the heater outlet, by-passing it completely. There was no steam in the car, and no heat either. I was cold that winter…

Buying a new heater matrix would have definitely qualified as throwing good money after bad.

Whatever reason you put forward for the death of British industry – Japan, Mrs Thatcher or Trade Unions – it was, as I recall, a clear case of suicide. When the Japanese started building factories here we started building some good cars. Then we had Brexit, which probably means a second death for the car industry in the UK.

Meanwhile, back in my Escort, wondering why anyone would try to glue metal to glass (yes, I just can’t let it go), I managed to make it to Sheffield to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

The rotor arm shaft was, by this time, badly worn and it was difficult to get the car started. It was OK at home (I was living on a hill in Lincolnshire at the time) as coasting down the hill got it going. Sheffield was OK because it had car parks on slopes, which just about did the trick. But when I visited mum and dad in Peterborough there were no hills. That was a bit trickier.

Eventually I spent the money on getting the distributor replaced and the radiator disintegrated.

Distributor? Rotor arm? All gone the way of the Dodo. They have a box now. It does magic things, and and hardly ever goes wrong, but when it does go wrong you can’t start the car by rolling it down a hill.

I sold the car.

escort van

Mine smelt of mice, having been in a barn for a while. After I spilt a carton of milk in it, I used to yearn for the sweet smell of mice.

Bought an Escort van. I liked Escorts. It needed a bit of work. I did some of that work, which involved setting the electrics on fire one Sunday morning, burning my fingers and crossing a main road with it as I trotted by the side trying to control it.

Lesson number one – don’t use optimism as a substitute for skill, particularly with auto-electrics.

Lesson number two – when your van starts burning, put the brake on before you jump out.

The sub-title for this post is Memoirs of an Idiot.

Reasons to be Cheerful

If you are of a certain age you will already be running a set of Ian Dury lyrics through your head. If you aren’t, you’ll be wondering what I’m talking about. It’s amazing what a few words can bring back to you. They have just taken me on a 400 word digression, which I have removed and repackaged. They will appear in my next post where I will pretend that I always meant to write a post on nostalgia and British cars.

Blame Charliecountryboyfor this, he mentioned the smell of vinyl seats in a recent post and that came together with thoughts on Ian Dury to form a post that took me back to the age of 19 and the late 70s. As the two thoughts came together the words flowed like automatic writing. Unfortunately they wren’t words about reasons to be cheerful, which was what the post is supposed to be about.

Anyway, back to the subject. I rose from my bed a little before eight, feeling relaxed, reinvigorated and ready for a day of hard work and creativity.

This is not usual.

After catching up on my blog reading (which is still weak and sporadic, I’m afraid) I made breakfast as I heard Julia stirring. Monday is currently a day off for me under the new shop rota, so we take a relaxed view of mornings). After bacon cobs and tea I decided what to do. I decided to watch TV for a while. Then I fell asleep. I have no ideas why, because I wasn’t tired, but I think TV might have switched my brain off.

The I read, made Welsh Rarebit for lunch and wrote and edited. The reason for the editing was that I managed to write 400 words of digression, as mentioned above.

Welsh Rarebit on sourdough toast – the bits are from the Dijon mustard – I use one spoonful to add texture then a couple of spoonfuls of English to add a bit of flavour. 

Reason to be cheerful number one is a blog post from Laurie Graves. Actually it could be one of several, but I selected this one because it cheered me up. It has pictures of raindrops on leaves and an iris. If you don’t cheer up when you see them you probably don’t like pictures of kittens, and there is no hope for you.

Reason to be cheerful, number two. I am breathing and “dum spiro, spero”, as the Romans used to say. They were very big on mottoes. This one, for those of you who weren’t condemned to do Latin at school, means “while I breathe, I hope”. It is an appropriate motto for a man who is approaching a stage in his life where he has to beat his trousers into submission and take a breather between socks when dressing in the morning.

I had been considering writing one of those lightweight humour books you see in charity shops, taking old age as my subject. Unfortunately, the more I looked at old age, the less funny I found it. Probably the worst bit is that I think I’m getting old, but the literature on age thinks I have years to go before I reach that state. I have turned into one of those crabby old gits who is old long before his time. I probably ought to dislike myself, as I have always said I will never become one of those people.

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Summer’s Day – looking over rooftops

Reason number three. It’s sunny. I like it when it’s sunny at this time of year as it’s generally quite pleasant. Though I often say I’d like to live in Arizona when I’m having trouble with arthritis, the reality is that I’m English and in times of great heat I am genetically programmed to turn pink, sweat and complain. Actually, the English are genetically programmed to moan about any weather, only the degree of sweating and the colour of the visible flesh varies. The Scots (I don’t want Tootlepedal to feel left out) are genetically programmed to complain about the weather, and to blame it on the English. He has some first class irises on his blog too.

Reason number four. I’m not losing my dress sense. I’ve noticed that as people get older some of them find it tricky to strike the right balance between fashion, age-suitability and taste. So far, I have not had that problem. The fact that I have always looked like I selected my clothes by a random rummage in a crepuscular charity shop means that it’s unlikely that declining sartorial standards will be noticed.

Reason number five. The Magic Rabbit. I only discovered this creature existed due to a quiz question answer this afternoon. It is a cheery thing just to see, and the name just makes it better. It really is adorable, and that is a word I hardly ever use.

magic rabbit

Magic Rabbit

They are already dying out, even though they were only discovered in 1983. Scientists blame climate change, though I think the fact that (a) they live on barren rocky mountains and (b) the Chinese will eat anything that breathes might have something to do with it. In terms of China and rare animals, the likelihood of extinction merely puts the price up. See the stories of the Passenger Pigeon and the Great Auk for proof of that in Europe and America. See my post Hitler and the Avocets for links to the stories of those fine, but extinct, birds.