Life Stuff

Oh, no!

Sheesh! I hope I don’t live to regret it but I’ve accepted a bit of work, succumbing to a little flattery from those responsible. I find, when sat at a desk, working, I have more moments of inspiration for blogging but less time to write anything up. Still, with an hour’s commute at each end of the day, I’m listening to more music.

I can’t say too much about the job but It’s the usual “fools rush ahead” fiasco and something about it put me in mind of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke – that’s a levee thing for holding back the sea.

Googling it, I’m surprised to find it isn’t a Dutch story at all but an American myth. It’s a story within a story and features in the 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge.

The poor boy isn’t named but the story goes that when walking past a section of dyke, he discovers a hole and bungs a finger in thus saving the whole of Holland from a tragic flood. He remains there all night, freezing cold, until the grown-ups come looking for him, rescue him and fix the hole.

So, that was me this week, feeling like an unnamed boy with a finger in the hole. But nobody came to rescue me.


In my first week at work, I was invited to go “plogging” at lunchtime. This is, apparently, where you go jogging and pick up any litter and rubbish you see on the way.

What will they come up with next? “Blogging”, where you run along, thinking up daft things to post?

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Talking to Strangers

Thanks to umanbn (Mark Hodgson) – whose drawings blog I follow – for highlighting the Humans of New York project, which is fascinating. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who explains the project in his “About” page;

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.”

In essence, he takes someone’s portrait in the street and gets them to tell their story, a little bit about themselves, and transcribes it below their picture. I see some of those guys are really keen to talk. They must feel a need to tell their story. It’s probably a good deal.

What began in NY has now extended beyond the US; I’ve been reading a few pieces from within Europe. People from all over, happily talking to a stranger with a camera.

I don’t know if he’s approached any Londoners. It’s been a while since I thought about myself being a Londoner but casting my thoughts back, I’m not sure many would easily reveal their personal history to a complete stranger. We hardly dare make eye contact. London is a busy, crowded place and you have to create a kind of privacy within.

It reminded me of a time in my youth when I had to use the public bus to get to work. Normally, you’d look for two empty seats together so you sat alone; if there wasn’t any, you might prefer to stand in the aisle rather than take a seat beside a stranger. But sometimes you’d take a chance, especially if the journey was long.

So I sat down besides this guy, a very vocal, slightly drunk, probably, middle-aged Irishman, and he immediately began telling me his life story. When he felt he’d exhausted that subject, he went on to tell me my own life expectations – even though he didn’t know me from Adam! He invented all kinds of bollocks, all of it implausible. I mean, I ought to be famous by now, as rich as Croesus, and a great political statesman to boot. It was excruciating at the time – but funny afterwards.


I’ve just remembered, our BBC have done a similar thing with The Listening Project, a series of short interlude pieces recorded for radio. I think they set up a recording booth in a chosen place and people go in, often in pairs, to talk about themselves.

The whole world wants an opportunity to talk, it seems. They ought to start a blog.


Humans of New York

The Listening Project (BBC)

image of two people on bench in Osaka, Japan, by Andrew Leu via Unsplash.com

Ivory Towers

“I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.”

wrote the French writer, Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to the Russian author, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. Thanks to Lit.hub.com, a blog I follow, for this quote.

It’s a timely quote as it does reflect a sense of the world I see today.

I was interested in the term Ivory Tower. It isn’t literally a tower made from ivory but refers to the colour. A symbolic colour of noble purity, Wikipedia tells us. It is mentioned in The Song of Solomon, part of the Old Testament; “Your neck is like an ivory tower”. Quite a long neck, then, and in no literal sense being an abode.

But it probably didn’t originate in the O.T. and its use is found littered throughout time.

Modern usage has modified its sense to convey the idea of a person isolated from common experiences rather than, as Flaubert probably had it, simply striving to live a more virtuous or meaningful life. Of course, in his case, no doubt he sees the average person’s preferences as being part of the “shit”.

Social media has provided the platform for free speech and democratic expression from all quarters of the free world. People say what they want. Is it fair to regard any of it as “shit”? The trouble is, I suppose, this idea of “the will of the people”; is this today’s “shit” that’s beating at the walls, the utter certainty and determination of the plebiscite?


The picture is an altered image of Broadway Tower which is near here. It is actually built in Cotswold limestone which has turned a beautiful, deep and mellow honey colour with time, something which is peculiar to the Cotswold stone around about the county of Worcestershire, in the north west of the area.

”I’m too old for this sh*t”

The above phrase, or variations on it, is probably the worst line of film dialogue ever, but more on that later.

Many moons ago, before the millennium even (yikes!), I found myself working alongside a fellow freelancing engineer called Dave. He was at that time, shall we say, mature in years but not old in mind. We got on very well. I remember this one time he told me how he still felt in spirit that he could run onto a football pitch and chase the ball around for forty-five minutes though, in reality, he knew this couldn’t be done. Being a lot younger, I didn’t really understand the feeling he was describing but I’m beginning to now.

The trouble in our job is that we spend our best years driving a desk, and worse now, working at a fixed gadget which holds everything you’re likely to need to do your job effectively without ever moving 97% of your muscles. Every day, nine hours back to back. Looking back, this is a cause of much regret to me. If I was in the business of offering careers advice to young people I would say, steer clear of office based work! We’re not made for it. (I have other reasons for advising this but that would be for another post.)

Since deciding to give up regular work last autumn, I find myself being a lot more physical. Naturally, I’m on my feet a lot more and only this past month I’ve dug over the vegetable plot, man-handled eight-foot six by eight railway sleepers into a raised border and, a couple of days ago, installed a new rotary clothes dryer. The dryer required the holding tube to be embedded in concrete to a depth of two feet, and I guessed the hole needed to be at least eighteen inches square. Surprisingly, this took five and a half loads of hand mixed concrete, in quick succession. Where it all disappeared to in that gluttonous void I can’t imagine but, together with it being an exceptionally hot day, it took its toll on the old bod, wasted by years of sedentary work.

One of my pleasures is cycling. I have a road bike but I’m mindful, if not slightly anxious, about my health and ability to ride up the many hills around us. I’ve read of a few cases here of cyclists found collapsed by the roadside in remoter places – it’s no joke. Fortunately, I think, I’m biased towards optimism though this may easily be my undoing, but I’m not ready to utter that most overused line in Hollywood quite yet.

Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.


I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁


Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Brain Kaputnik

I realise I am not posting that often lately. The new home seems to be taking up more of my time. I could post about that but I’m afraid it might be too boring. Instead, I’ll tell you about my dream…


I have on record said that I don’t remember my dreams much and it’s true, but I woke this morning in the middle of a dream. I say “middle” but it could’ve been the end; how would I know? An odd thing about this dream I remember is that what with the stress of moving ebbing away, I’m sleeping better and, therefore, I ought not to be aware of dreaming, which, as I say, is the normal way with me. But that’s irrelevant.

So, in this dream, I’m aware of walking amongst working men. Actually, I’m walking more against them in that they appear to be coming out of places, like factories or mines or something, and I’m pushing past to get inside whatever it is they’re coming out of.

It turns out to be some kind of washroom as I’m then inside looking in cubicles, and toilets and showers. I’m going around corner after corner until I enter a space which seems to be a refectory and I sense this is what I’m there for.

The refectory is laid out in a smorgasbord style with great dishes and plates holding all sorts of foods, nothing of which takes me fancy. I’m feeling disappointed when I spot a bowl of risotto. I’m not actually recognising it as risotto but it is clearly labelled as such; just “risotto” and no clue as to what ingredients have been cooked with the rice. I’m happy with the risotto as a man would be happy with an offer of an umbrella on a rainy day.

I pick up a clean plate for my meal and place it on the counter in front of the risotto container when a man walks to my left hand side and speaks to me. I don’t get what he’s saying, small talk possibly, but I notice out of the corner of my eye he’s sizing up my empty plate for his own food. I pick my still empty plate up; he carries on talking while I watch him, intently, spoon all kinds of food selections directly onto the clean, white table cloth where my plate once was. I feel like it’s one of those Laurel and Hardy moments, where I’m Laurel and he’s Hardy.

And at that point I woke up.


The main reason I’ve neglected blogging lately is a lot of my mind has been taken up with plans for our new home. The reason we moved was to get back into growing fruit and vegetables again. I’ve made a start at digging over the plot, about one of the three areas we’ll use in a rotational method. The fourth area will contain permanent planting.

There is nothing I enjoy more sometimes than a bit of mindless labour. Having been involved in employment where the brain is used disproportionately to the body, and mainly performed in a sedentary position, entirely indoors, I find wielding a spade in the fresh air very therapeutic. It’s probably healthy too. Certainly, there’s no discernible stress and providing I give it a break after three quarters of an hour, I don’t suffer any physical problems either. During the break, I drink a cup of tea and stand and look and dream.

If I were a businessman, I’d sell it on the internet. Mindless Therapy. It could be a perfect counter to all this Mindfulness Therapy I read about now.

Do you Think too much? Way too much Conscious Awareness in your life? Is this Stressing you out? Come over to my School of Mindless Therapy Garden, switch off and grab a fork and spade!

It might be a bit like Tom Sawyer and painting that fence…

Capsulized Wardrobe, Sir?

As a fish of the species Carpio Minimalis, I’m a sure sucker for articles on streamlining life. This one on “capsule wardrobes” drew my attention. (I didn’t read it thoroughly, the site is one of those interrupted with irritating pop-pops which cut across my grain; I just read enough to grab the idea and run.)

I think it’s a great idea though not a novel one. Many of the good and great, and I dare say a few bad ones, have adopted an efficient wardrobe method, reducing the time wasted in choosing what to wear on any ordinary day and avoiding the meltdown when it comes to the special occasion.

In a nutshell, the concept with the capsule wardrobe is to throw out the crap and leave only that which is deemed beforehand to be desirable and wearable. In other words, a reasonable system of dressing.

I have made inroads to this core for several years now and for me it works. Let us have a peek into my wardrobe. Note, it is a man’s perspective only…

Socks. Some people, I know, don’t wear them and I’m a little envious, however, in England, I feel these are essential items, for general comfort and against the cold. Can I, though, be forgiven for regarding those who wear colourful and comical socks with a bit of derision? What are they trying to do?

My choice is to settle on a plain sock of a particular colour and wear only those. Honestly, nobody is watching your socks and nobody cares. Though black isn’t the perfect colour, I have chosen it because it is pretty ubiquitous in the socks department. Grey may be better but black is absolute and more available. The extra advantage is you’ll never have more than one odd sock.

Shoes. Honestly, if shoes were indestructible, I’d probably be happy with one pair. As they’re patently not, it’s prudent to have a reserve pair for when things go wrong. Three pairs is an extravagance but acceptable. Four or more is utterly insane. Normally, I reach for my favourite pair, always.

I am just talking about everyday shoes. Obviously, other footwear is necessary for different purposes like hiking, exercising, rough work and indoor wear.

Shirts. There is something simple which sets the polo shirt high above its poor relation, the common t-shirt: its collar. Yet it is equally as comfortable. I think the collar gives it more versatility. Subtle patterns or weaves are okay but I tend to avoid stripes. Stripes tend to suggest something which may be unintended; they can also play havoc with body shape. Again, when opting for plain shirts, nobody’s watching, nobody cares.

Polo shirts are so plentiful, you can pick them up in the sales. I tend to buy several colours at a time, which does cause a modicum of angst when choosing which to put on in the morning, but I usually go with the mood of the day or what I intend to get up to. Like, if I’m thinking of cooking a tomato ragu or a curry sauce, I’m not going to pick out the white shirt.

Navy and black are good colours for sombre and sober events, like funerals or interviews, worn under a suitable jacket or sweater. White carries off pretty well too, under the same outer clothes, for slightly less serious occasions, or on its own in hotter weather. I steer clear of colours under the jacket to avoid the holiday camp entertainments representative, or the slightly dodgy secondhand car salesman look. Consideration applies to suitability of colours to the complexion: I couldn’t pull off wearing yellow, for instance. Reds just about work but any shades of grey, brown, blue or green suit me like leaves on a tree, so I tend to go for those.

Trousers. Everyone lives in jeans, why fight it? A pair of smart trousers in reserve is all I need.

Underpants. Ha ha. Who cares? Who sees? Why should you care who sees? Pick a comfortable brand, pick a readily available colour, buy in bulk. Nobody cares!

Now the things I’ve decided I don’t want are suits and ties. Ties are utterly too useless and if I ever find I need a suit – probably by an invitation I can’t refuse – I will cross that bridge when I come to it, possibly by hiring an extremely decent suit rather than keeping a cheap chain store one in the cupboard. I don’t see it happening to be honest.

I hope that was a fun peek. Here’s that article I mentioned above, if you can stand the pop-ups,


How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

image by Andrej Lišakov via Unsplash.com

It’s Back!

We have reconnected. Yesterday, while the rain poured, two guys dug a slit trench and laid UltraSuperFast fibre optic broadband right into the house. None of this fibre optic up to the street cabinet and wet string from there onwards (cough British Telecom) – it is 2019, don’t you know?

It’s been a funny week of low tech retro entertainment. I finished some downloaded episodes from Walter Presents, played the iPad at Scrabble and watched a bit of ordinary telly.

The Scrabble was interesting. The iPad has the advantage of an immense dictionary at its disposal – some ridiculously dubious words were played earning at least 35 points a piece – but then it would often play a guileless move, opening up a potential triple word score. It was all lexicon and no tactic.

Qi was one of its favourites. (Noun. the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine). Yet, oddly, it rejected my use of the word Zen. There’s no level playing field when your competitor is also the referee.

Qi was a good example of words it played gaining 10 points for the Q tile without needing a companion U tile. They were all dubious looking to this average native English speaker but it had me thinking about the peculiarity of marrying Qs with Us. Wouldn’t just a Q do?