A Quiet Day

The lockdown continues, though in a much diluted form, and Nottingham’s uncut verges continue to be good for bees. I noticed this on the way to work, where the Gas Board continues to dig up our frontage and block access to the shop. I spent all day listing medals of Edward VIII and forgot to move so my legs seized up when I tried to get up.

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We had saag paneer last night using the spice kit Number One Son arranged for us. We didn’t quite have all the ingredients, so we used some kale in place of the spinach. It had a notably different texture but worked quite well. I checked up, and it seems that saag is not, as I thought, spinach, but, depending on who you believe, either a mix of spinach and mustard greens, or simply mixed greens.

Always so much to learn.

We still have three spice mixes to use and will reconfigure the week’s shopping to use them all this week. Unfortunately Julia can’t find out how to cancel the spice subscription. As with so many of these offers (£1 for four spice kits) they make it difficult to cancel. Even worse, if you don’t order your next lot in time you have to take what they send you. That’s how Number One Son ended up making moqueca. I had to look it up – it’s Brazilian Fish Stew. I think I can do without this.

Number Two Son, still in Canada, applied for, and was turned down for, a job as a dog groomer. As he has no experience of dogs or grooming this was not unexpected. However, he has had a call back and they want him to work in some sort of management capacity. He has an amazing capacity for getting strange jobs. If he ever writes a book he will not be short of material for his biographical notes.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. Dog grooming and fish stew is quite enough excitement for one day.

Some Pictures from Last Week

These are just a few photographs from our trip to Sherwood Forest last week – I’ve just got round to sorting them out. It’s amazing what you can see if you wait around for ten minutes on a roadside verge. Quite a lot of them were blurred, or featured the space where something interesting used to be. The bees were quite frisky in the sun, as were the Ringlet butterflies. I didn’t even manage to frame a Ringlet. They are always tricky to photograph, but I can usually get something, even if it is blurred.

Flowers are easier because they don’t move as much. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a breeze.

They aren’t the the most inspiring pictures, but they are a start. We couldn’t go to Clumber Park because you have to book now, and we couldn’t go to Arnot Hill Park because the car park always seems so full.

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A very light grasshopper

I’m not sure what sort of grasshopper it is, probably a common one with funny lighting rather than a pale one. I suppose a light one would soon be eaten. It really was at that angle when I took the photo, but was down near my feet and I didn’t really frame the shot properly. I would try to turn the photo round to make it look more normal, but I can’t get the rotate button to work.

When we arrived home I noticed we had a couple of grasshoppers amongst the weeds in the front garden, but they had gone before I could get the camera.

All that travel, and I could just have stayed at home. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

 

 

 

Monday, a Day of Promise

I rose at a moderate time, washed up and made breakfast. I tried to make Julia a heart-shaped fried egg but the egg didn’t quite spread inside the frame and then it started to stick to the pan and in the end it looked like three-quarters of an egg, as long as you knew it was supposed to be an heart. If you didn’t know what it was meant to be you wouldn’t have known what it was. My own egg was much more successful as I set out to produce an odd-shaped free-form fried egg with crispy bits, and that was exactly what I ended up with.

Once they were shoved into a cob with bacon and mushrooms it didn’t matter what shape they were. All that matters to me is that my yolk is hard. I don’t really like runny yolks at the best of times but they are a hazard to shirt fronts when used in a sandwich. Julia likes her yolk soft, but as my wife of thirty years, she is accustomed to disappointment.

 

I have read the comments on my posts, added the word ‘cyanosis’ to one and added a couple of lines to another.

My first post of the day is now done, my new medication has been delivered by a hospital volunteer and Julia is clinking with menace as she sorts jam jars and emanates expectations. She wants me to start filling the skip with bits of shed. She has dragged it to the driveway and it is now time for me to do my bit. I will potter out to offer support and supervision in a moment, then come back to this.

By the magic of WordPress I am now back.

She had been struggling to dismantle a bookcase which had suffered from years of standing in a leaky shed and is therefore un-salvageable. This is the sad state of quite a lot of stuff, including things that had been safely stored in the dry garage last time I saw them. Married men will recognise the note of pain in my writing.

Anyway. the bookcase fell apart from a few taps with a rubber mallet. If I had been able to access a proper hammer it would have taken considerably fewer taps. With a proper Enoch I reckon one blow would have done it. That’s right, when I am in full swing, we are never far from a Luddite link.

Last night, whilst relaxing, I started to read WordPress. I haven’t really done that for years now. It was a very pleasant experience. I’m going to write another few posts to top my total up to two thousand then I’m going to cut back on posting and increase my reading.

Don’t get me wrong – I like all the blogs I read, but I’ve been limited in the last few years and have struggled even to keep up with sporadic reading of my regulars. Given a little more time I’m going to enjoy more reading, particularly as I was able to catch up with a few people I haven’t read for years.

Despite the weather, which features a cold breeze and a threatening low grey sky, I’m feeling quite sunny today, and am hoping that this frame of mind persists.

I’m going to throw in a few cheerful flower photographs from Harlow Carr Gardens and make beans on toast for lunch.

All photographs are irises in spring from our visits to Harlow Carr Garden, apart from the header which is Julia in the Mencap garden at Wilford.

Lockdown disagreements

I have just been watching an hysterical woman on a TV phone in, following closely on from a smug ex-politician and pictures of crowds out drinking in London at the weekend. I think the world would be better without either of them but as I don’t have the power of life and death vested in me, I merely switch the TV off. It’s not quite as satisfactory as the thought of obliterating them with a thunderbolt, but it’s better than listening to them.

The subject is, of course, the reopening of the pubs, which took place on Saturday. According the news reports there would be ID checks on the doors in Nottingham pubs to ensure that nobody from Leicester ignored the local Leicester lockdown and travelled out of town to drink.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this increased socialising will result in a second peak but there are also many good reasons for the reopening. There will, as usual, have been a calculation of acceptable losses by the Government.

Socialising, mental health, possible riots and the cost of lockdown are all factors in the calculation. They will have been compared to the cost of drunken rampages, police overtime and the deaths of several thousand people.

Cost to the brewing industry versus death of grandparents. For most people that would be a tough choice, but for a politician, with votes, political donations and the possibility of a non-executive directorship, it becomes much simpler.

man in coveralls drinking beer

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s unlikely that I’ll be doing much socialising until after I’ve been vaccinated against coronavirus. I don’t go out much anyway, so another twelve months of living quietly won’t kill me.

I really don’t want to end up as a number in the history books of 2020.

For a more cheerful look at Monday, try the second post of the day.

 

10 Good Things About Breathing

After the success of my recent post 10 Points about Writing Ten Point Lists and The Ten Best Things About Lockdown I decided to try another ten point list. You may have guessed this from the title. You may also have guessed that I define “success” in a slightly more flexible way than the rest of the world. Twenty views and ten comments are a success to me, even if five of the comments are me replying to the other five.

I did briefly think of writing Five Ways in which Breathing is Over-rated but I find people like the positive stuff. I suppose that’s why my light-hearted articles on modern life are so popular. I say “popular”, see above for “success”.

So, here goes, Ten Good Things about Breathing.

One, blue is an unbecoming colour. It doesn’t suit our modern ideas about healthy complexions and modern make-up ranges don’t cater for it. According to arlingwoman, the correct term for the blue colour is cyanosis, which is far too good a word not to use, so I have come back to add it.

Two, dum spero, spiro, as I remarked recently,. Hope is good, and you need to breathe to have hope.

Three, It is better than the alternative. I have no particular religious beliefs. I may end up as part of the choir eternal, singing hymns whilst dressed in vestments of blinding white. Or I may spend an eternity of regret in a lake of fire. In one scenario I wonder who does the laundry and in the other I can’t help thinking that there won’t be any cold to aggravate my arthritis. Swings and roundabouts…

I may even come back as a dung beetle. You can never tell, though I feel my afterlife is likely to end with a short trip up a crematorium chimney. Whatever happens, I prefer breathing to the alternative.

Four, it gives me something to write about on a slow day.

Five, there are right ways to breathe and wrong ways to breathe, which gives rise to the possibility of controversy and more lists.

Six, breathing through the nose adds moisture, warms the air and allows better use of the oxygen you breathe. The presence of a nose also gives you somewhere convenient to perch your glasses and avoids an unsightly hole in the middle of the face. Breathing through the mouth gives rise to a huge list of problems and makes you look like an unlikely candidate for a top academic job.

Seven, deep breathing is another of those health subjects you can discuss at length. It will cure many of my health problems and improve my posture.

Eight, deep breathing is also bad for you . giving hope to editors who rely on sensational negative headlines for a living.

Nine, it’s something that is, on balance, good for you, and takes no effort. I shouldn’t have searched for more information, because I turned this up. Quite clearly, the person in question hasn’t lost the knack of breathing automatically, as one of the answers points out, or she would have died in her sleep on the first night, but it does show that it’s possible to worry too much.

Ten, it serves to fill a list, to swell a progress, to start a scene or two. See point 4, or for the more highbrow amongst you try this.

However, as you read the highbrow section, remember that T S Eliot is an anagram of Toilets – life has a habit of bringing things down to my level. Perhaps life would be better if all great men had names that were anagrams.

Bonus eleventh point – it’s free. The government can’t tax it, Sky TV can’t charge for it and breathable air is still widely available. Now I’ve said that just watch it all go wrong.

I couldn’t fit that into the ten point list without altering the structure, and there’s something unfinished about lists that have strange numbers of points. Five, ten and twelve seem fine, three seven and nine aren’t bad, but I’m vaguely unsettled by others.

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Fresh air – still free! Get yours while it lasts.

Sunlit Uplands

 

 

As my post count moves closer and closer to 2,000 I find my main feeling is not one of achievement, but one of wanting a rest. This is accompanied by a realisation that reaching 2,000 posts is just reaching a number, rather than finding enlightenment or suddenly breaching a barrier and breaking through into the sunlit uplands of quality blogging. Standards have in fact fallen so far that I am typing this without my glasses. It’s not as lax as blogging in my pyjamas, but I’d be doomed if I didn’t have a spell-checker.

Even with glasses my typing wouldn’t win any prizes, as I often see when reading the gobbledygook that passes as previous posts. I’m often amazed that despite my best efforts at composition and proof-reading there are still pockets of gibberish lurking to embarrass me on re-reading. I hate that.

I got two pointless answers on the final question of Pointless last night. For those of you who don’t watch the programme, this is pretty good, but does, in truth, not compare with a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.

Small Copper on castor oil plant

My answers were Duke of Burgundy and Adonis Blue. I would have scored the triple with Cryptic Wood White but I couldn’t remember the word “Cryptic” so settled for Black-Veined White, which wasn’t pointless. When I checked it for the link it would appear to be extinct in the UK, so that explains it. To be honest, I’m feeling more deflated at missing the triple than I am elated at nailing two of them, even though was two more than the real finalists. It’s a sign of ageing that I am finding it harder to access my full vocabulary. If I hate finding gibberish in past posts, I really hate not being able to find the right words.

My photos are of commoner butterflies, which are the best I can do.

Of course, another sign of ageing is attaching importance to answering questions on TV quiz shows. That’s one of the milder signs of encroaching old age.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

The butterfly photos are from  A Painted Lady Comes to Call, which indicates that in August 2017 we had crumble for tea. We had crumble for tea tonight – apple and rhubarb with ice cream. Some things don’t change much. Or, to look at it another way, some things are so good they can’t be improved.

Talking of age, I just deleted the entire post. This is the second time I’ve done this recently. Fortunately I managed to get it back without too much trouble, but it’s a worry that I keep doing it. I really must get a grip.

 

The New Dystopia

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

George Orwell – “1984”

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Here it is, as promised a few days ago.

I am embarrassed to admit that I lived for many years, and )read many dystopian novels, without realising the word existed. However, I’m not so embarrassed that I won’t use the fact to start a blog post. That sort of blind-spot, I’m afraid, is the mark of a self-educated man. Looking on the bright side, though I lack a degree, I also lack the debt that goes with it in the modern world. Given the choice of being debt free or knowing the word ‘dystopian’ I’ll settle for ignorance.

However, after learning about it a few years ago I find it’s a useful word for our current circumstances.

During the recent lockdown we mainly behaved like sheep and obeyed the instructions of the government. It was quite disturbing, but far preferable to the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed.

Once the panic buying had subsided, I felt quite relaxed. The roads, when I had to use them, were empty, and the air quality improved.

Some police forces were, to be fair, a little too keen to use the extra powers that Government gave them, and supermarkets have seemed a little too keen on issuing instructions, particularly as their staff are some of the worst offenders when it comes to ignoring social distancing. Other police forces, such as Durham and Leicestershire, seemed unwilling to use their powers (see remarks on Dominic Cummings and Sir Petrer Soulsby below).

Shops have also used the virus as an excuse for refusing cash. They have wanted to go to a cashless society for a long time now, as cash handling incurs costs and security problems. The Government also wants to move away from cash as it wants to know all about your money so that only rich people with accountants are able to avoid paying tax. The “cash job” of the working man will no longer be an option.

Of course, when restrictions were relaxed, people reacted by flocking to the beach, holding raves and street parties, and even by rioting, in an exhibition of selfishness of staggering proportions.

Even before that, a number of high profile figures had been caught breaching regulations, and though several did the decent thing and resigned, some didn’t. It was a shame to see a number of scientists resigning for giving way to human weakness, particularly at a time when we needed scientific guidance. It was also a shame to see that a number of politicians, when caught out, didn’t resign. I include Dominic Cummings in this, despite him not being elected, and Sir Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester.

As far as my mental journey goes, I have lost the ability to mix with people. Strangers are no longer just friends I haven’t met, they are potential sources of infection. Even friends I have met are a potential source of infection.

The world has been spoilt and I may never feel the same about it again.

Whilst reading for this post (not that you would guess any scholarship actually goes into it), I enjoyed this article immensely. Especially Number 5.

 

 

Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks

This post started life as an attempt at a longer haibun. If you read modern haibun they are very often just a few lines of prose followed by a haiku. It’s not how they used to be, when they were often used for travelogues. Indeed, only about fifteen years ago, haibun, as a form, was originally explained to me as an essay with two or three haiku.

I wrote one. Fourteen years later I wrote another one. It doesn’t do to rush these things.

Recently I felt like having a go at something a bit longer, and thought I might try an autobiography. It earned two rejections, one in its original form and one in a cut down version. To be honest I wasn’t keen on cutting it down, but if an editor suggests trimming the prose I’m going to trim.

The altered version didn’t meet with approval, so I added “loss of integrity” to the sting of double rejection.

I decided that I would use it as a blog post. I have removed the haiku as I can use them later if they are unpublished (and because I struggle to write acceptable haiku). Apart from that, I have just about left it alone – I say “just about” because who can resist the temptation to tinker?

When I posted it, I added the news about my father, which was new since I “finished” the original. Later, I realised I had put in nothing about my mother, so I’m back again (on 6th July) to add more. A poem is never actually finished, you just get to a point where you give up and let it go. I don’t often go back to them, but this one, being an autobiography, just keeps on going. I’m hoping there will be a lot more to add before I consider it finished.

Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks

I am sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, contemplating the neglected door of our coal shed, which now serves as a utility room. A thought enters my freewheeling mind. Could I write my autobiography in haibun form?

Year One – I remember nothing.

Year Two – same again.

This is not, I feel, a promising start.

Year Three – I acquire a dog and a baby sister. I prefer the dog as it is better at fetching sticks. In this golden age there are butterflies the size of my hand and only two sorts of weather – sunshine or snowball  time. It is only with hindsight that I recognise it as a golden age.

Year Four – we move into town, the dog is hit by a car and my parents tell me they have arranged for him to live somewhere safe in the country. I start school – they teach me to read and insist I have a nap every afternoon.

Show me the boy, as they say, and I will show you the man – the reading habit is still with me and I still like a nap in the afternoon, despite complaints from my employer.

Year Five – I go fishing for sticklebacks in the canal. Nobody would let a five-year-old fish in a canal on his own these days. We have destroyed childhood as it used to be. It is, however, possible that we have prevented a few drownings and relieved the pressure on the stickleback population.

Some dogs, according to Disney, make their way back home from hundreds of miles away. Mine doesn’t. In fact, when we visit my uncle, where the dog is now living, he pretends not to know me. I like to think this was because of the head injury, but it might just be that he doesn’t like me.

Eventually I give up trying to teach my sister to fetch sticks and lose my interest in sticklebacks.

At the age of 11 I hit my academic peak, coming top of the class, and am given a book as a prize. I opt for a book on birds, an interest which is still with me.

The dog successfully avoids cars for another eighteen years and dies of old age.

Nothing much of note happens for the rest of my life. I find that sisters do have some redeeming features and are, in the end, better than dogs. I accumulate a wife, a family, and arthritis, which I have inherited from my mother. From my father I have inherited a tendency to offer unwanted advice to other road users.

My parents, after sixty years of marriage, get a telegram from the Queen and we have a party. Gradually, my mother fades away.

And so, fifty years after hitting my academic peak I am sitting in the garden thinking of writing an autobiography in haibun form.

I leave this haibun to mature. Six months later the world changes and I spend a my life in lockdown.

My father dies, and we are not allowed to sing at his funeral.

Getting Better

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This isn’t the post I said I was going to write, you’ll have to wait for that. This is the post that covers what I did today after posting the previous post and making breakfast.

We had people in on Monday to dismantle the sheds and associated ivy/brambles/honeysuckle at the back of the garden. It has been a great aid to security, privacy and wildlife over the last thirty years, including highlights such as the fox cubs and breeding blackcaps. There’s never a year goes by without at least one nest in it and this year it is great tits. It’s difficult getting anyone at the moment as everyone wants work doing after lockdown and it’s two or three weeks before they can get back to finish off. This fits in well with the great tit family which should be fledged and away by the time we destroy their habitat.

When it’s all done I’m going to plant a mixed hawthorn and blackthorn hedge, which should provide a good habitat over the coming years.

For the moment it’s left a bit of  a hole in the fence and though we’ve plugged it, it isn’t very elegant. As the house is home to a curious beagle I was going to make a better job of it today, so after breakfast I set off. I’ve just been told to increase my dose of Methatrexate to the maximum level. It seems to be working as I have use of my hands and my feet are a lot better too. However, it does mean that I worry about the effect of suppressing my immune system.

When I got to my first call in search of stout stakes and chicken wire I was presented with a queue of people which was positively festering in a shopping centre with the micro-climate of a tropical butterfly house. To be honest, it’s just the atmosphere a virus needs to spread, so I left.

The next shop I tried had a longish queue and I tried two builder’s merchants too. The queue at one of them contained more people than I’d ever seen in the shop before (I used to be in regularly when I was a jobbing gardener and it rarely had more than six people in. There were 18 in the queue. All these queues were outdoors, but after my activity on Monday when we took the shed down my knee is still a bit tender and doesn’t respond well to a lot of standing.

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Water Lily

Before returning home I went to Aldi where the usual bunch of idiots managed to get into my social exclusion zone, including one of the managers who entered via the exit as I was leaving and was so close I could feel their slipstream. I bought ripe avocados, which were made an excellent lunch.

After that I emailed the lady behind us to say I’d be a day or two later than planned with the fence, clipped the front hedge (I said my hands were better – I couldn’t have done this two weeks ago) and dead headed the poppies.

I tried to order the posts and wire I wanted online but, just like a supermarket, they take the order and then, as you pay, tell you that two items are out of stock. I was only ordering three items, so I wasn’t impressed.

I had to take Julia to hospital for a scan as a follow-up to the pre-lockdown episode and, when I returned there were two emails and a brown envelope for me (marked as being from the Tax Office).

The news is that the lady behind us has offered to do the patching of the fence, which will save me a lot of hassle because I’m working Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They could find no immediate fault with Julia, though they may find fault later after properly examining the results. The Tax Office want to give me £16 back, as I have over-paid.

This is all good, and a welcome lifting of the gloom that has been gathering around me over the last few months.

The second email was from a local literacy project (I emailed them last night to make sure I actually volunteered  instead of just intending to volunteer, as I so often do). They  aren’t doing much at the moment, but will be in touch when they are ready for more interviews and training.

Then, just to settle myself down after all this happiness, I spent an hour on the computer arranging tomorrow’s grocery delivery. This is an improvement on last week when I actually forgot to do it. Fortunately we had plenty in to last an extra week.

Only a few repeated photos, I have no new photos to share.

Pepys, Posterity and Parmesan

Here’s another of those posts I sometimes write so that history will be able to compare my blog with the Diary of Samuel Pepys. It would probably help if I was a senior civil servant but at least I have now lived through some interesting times. He had the Great Fire of London, where he distinguished himself with the efforts he made on behalf of his Parmesan. I have lived through lockdown and I ordered processed cheese slices by accident when shopping online. The horror of processed cheese slices will stay with me for years to come. Whenever I think of the global pandemic I will think of rubbery orange cheese.

In years to come, I wonder if scholars will discuss me alongside Pepys when talk turns to amusing cheese anecdotes in times of National Emergency.

This is assuming that blog posts will still be available in a hundred years from now. The survival of a paper diary for several hundred years is remarkable, but will a random series of pixels, or whatever they are, survive any better? It all seems so fragile when you stop and think about it. While I dream of immortality for my anecdotes of 21st century life, should I actually be printing my blog posts for preservation. Probably, bearing in mind the poor quality of paper, I should be sharpening a quill and writing the whole thing on vellum.

If I did write it on vellum will vegan academics of the 22nd century refuse to acknowledge me, and pull down any statues of me that may have been erected in the meantime? Aiming for posthumous fame has many pitfalls and although you can try to imagine the future, who can really tell.

open pages on brown wooden table

Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

I really don’t know whether the UK of 2120 will even have vegans. As we move the limits of our diet, will we all have become vegans by default? Or even, as we live on a diet of bugs and Soylent Green will vegans have become irrelevant and be in the waste bin of history alongside farm animals.

Another parallel between our stories is our bladders. Pepys, at the age of 25 had a bladder stone the size of a tennis ball removed without the aid of anaesthetic or antiseptic (which is the reason that if I ever do perfect my Time Machine, I won’t be travelling further back than the late 19th Century. I’d rather not travel back to a time before antibiotics, but that’s within living memory and seems a bit unambitious as time travel goes.

My own bladder stones were discovered during one of the several camera insertions performed a few years ago. As a twentieth century man I actually had anaesthetic just for that, without any cutting. They were going to remove the bladder stones as part of the second part of the procedure but in the months between the two procedures (supposedly seven weeks but after two cancellations it took eleven weeks) I self-medicated with lots of drinking and a large amount of lemon juice. There were no stones by the time they went back to look for them.

My current challenge is pollen. Levels are high and my eyes have been watery and itching for two weeks now, accompanied by random attacks of runny nose. Fortunately I haven’t been sneezing much as this is currently frowned on, being a well-publicised way of spreading disease. It does mean that I am rubbing my eyes more than I should be, as that is also a way of spreading the virus. However, it’s only  away of spreading it to me, rather than other people so that isn’t so bad.

We went for a drive in the country yesterday as our personal way of marking the start of a less rigorous phase of lockdown. It looks like everyone else had decided the same thing as it seemed to be as busy as it was before lockdown. How soon we forget…

That will be the subject of the next post.

close up of open book

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com