rambling blog entry

Just a rambling blog entry.

Workwise, things are really busy, but in that steady sort of way, where you work away, and make decent enough progress but certainly never run out of stuff to do. I'm still enjoying the new job, it is challenging, and makes you think, but that is good. I really like the people I am working with, so I'm keen to avoid getting too stressed and snarky and falling out with them.

I have accumulated a massive amount of annual leave and excess hours, so the current plan is to take three weeks leave. Nothing much planned, but just vegging out, catching up on some DIY, and some family time, sounds good. It may be necessary to eat into the leave, either heading in to work if anything super urgent appears, or family stuff, but the principle of me not being there for a few weeks seems to have been accepted. It will be the longest chunk of leave I have taken in years!

Computer wise, the new iPad is proving a big hit. I am hankering after a new laptop myself, my current white MacBook with only 80Gig of hard drive is a bit pokey. On the one hand I am tempted by something more powerful, on the other I might like a bigger screen, on the other I am tempted by a solid state drive so I can use it with impunity when travelling. However I really don't want to go above £1k for a laptop, so I'm not sure what I'll do. The smart thing to do might just be to get an iPod classic for watching the TED talks on the train, and get a MacBook in a year or two. I don't like the idea of not having FireWire but it is not worth paying hundreds extra just to get it.

The rest of the family have all upgraded their phones, but I like my old flip open phone and all I use it for is phoning, so apart from the battery running out every other day, there is nothing that bad about what I have now.

I have recently moved onto the paid version of Evernote, so I am trying to get my head round how it works and make better use of it. No substitute for actually using the thing of course.

Not much else being going on lately. Took eldest daughter in to work with me for a day, a few weeks ago. I was keen to show that I did not just sit at an office desk all day, so I took her to an event we were running. A lot of interesting people there, so some talks, and workshops, with a bit of networking thrown in. Probably useful for her to see me in a different environment, though her take on my networking was that I just spoke to all the pretty girls! Showed her our press room when we got back to the office, and she had a chat with a comms officer I've worked with on stuff before, so a pretty good day for her. Of course mostly I do just sit in the office, but if something interesting comes up, I'll see if I can bring her in again. It does make you look at your own day, and work, differently if you are showing it to a member of your family. I do actually like my job, and I think that I am pretty good at it!

The weather has gone to a perpetual cloudy/rain on google weather now. Seldom quite as alarming as the forecast, but I was rushing this weekend to get the grass mowed, and fill up the brown recycling bin with hedge trimmings before it gets emptied. There are so many shrubs and hedges, that I really cannot afford to miss a fortnightly uplift. In terms of harvesting we had a bumper redcurrent crop, what a useful fruit bush, had some gooseberries already, strawberries been good, but fading now. The red onions should be ready soon, and the courgettes are currently flowering so the courgettes should be ready soon. I've planted out some curly Kale. The apple trees are all fuller than I have ever seen them before. While the damson might manage a single damson this year, another record crop! Fruit trees and bushes just seem to get steadily better year on year, the first few years don't really tell you anything.

I just feel like one last push on with work stuff, and then flop into a well deserved rest.



9 basic principles of biomimicry


  
infotext_4

credited to
http://www.fontshop.com/blog/?p=2286

garden

The sun finally came out late afternoon, so I started off watering all my plants in pots, and ended up spending an hour or two in the garden. I really did not make too much impact on the garden last year, so there is a lot to be done this year. The usual garden stuff like weeding, a lot of outdoors maintenance like painting stuff, and putting some more felt on a shed roof. I'd also like to plant up some bits, some bits are still empty, or underused, and some are newly vacated due to winter fatalities or I've just got fed up with them.

After the winter, there does not seem much point in going for anything too exotic, and after a few years of gardening I am starting to get a feel for what will grow with thuggish vigour and what is far more delicate. I would like to get the garden to be as low maintenance as it can be, while offering plenty of edibles, while still being nature friendly and attractive.

Because the soil is such heavy clay, jobs that might be quite simple with a lighter soil, are an absolute fight with the clay. It also takes a long time to get the heavy clay broken up enough to give most plants much of a chance.

Managed a bit of weeding, ground elder is creeping in from one corner, and there is something with thick roots in the vegetable patch. The best defence against weeds just seems to be getting in, pulling them out, breaking up the soil and getting stuff planted. I might be tempted to take the nuclear option and put down some weedkiller and some membrane, both of which I have resisted to date.

I have a little hedge of sorts along one side, with a mix of different shrubs. This sounds like a good idea, but in practice some grow very quickly, like the laurel and broom, while others are more sedate. There was a poorly rhodendron at one end, and it failed completely leaving a gap. I've got a blackcurrent to fill the gap, so that went in this afternoon. Because of the lawn on one side, and tree stumps, the soil has never really been broken up properly, so it is always a bit of a lottery putting anything in. The risk being that it will just sit in a cold wet bucket of compost, surrounded on all sides by clammy clay that won't let it drain.

I've also been ripping out a little border at the front. It consists of a honeysuckle, some lavender, some bulbs, a dill that comes back every year and an awful lot of lesser celandine. It is really a woodland edge type of habitat, the lavender was not happy it was struggling to get out into the sun. I'll leave in the dill and honeysuckle and clear out everything else. Time to hit the books and figure out what would be happy there. Something scented would be nice, as it is under a window. Some ferns have seeded themselves, always a clue as to what wants to be there. I might go for some more ferns.

Part of the pleasure of occassional gardening is the sheer joy of pottering. Having a look round and seeing something you could do here, and something that you could do there. Doing something here or there. Nothing terribly organised or systematic. If I manage to spend some more time in my garden this year, and move it forward then this will be a good year.

not blogging

Just a rambling blog entry.

In a vague attempt to do something productive over the extended Christmas break, I moved all my computer passwords onto 1password, a password management software doohicky. This jinxed Rapidweaver that I use for updating my website, so that took a wee while to fix. Also it has been just unbelievably cold lately, so I have been feeling pretty lethargic. However starting to get back into a more productive routine now. Hence a quick rash of blog postings today.

Christmas now seems like an age ago, it was a fine chance to catch up with my reading, I now have four books on the go, which is really a couple too many, so I will try and slim things down to just reading the two books. Also caught up with my RSS feeds. The whole place was inches deep in ice, or on a bad day slush, so it was just the sort of time for sitting on the sofa not doing terribly much.

It does not actually feel much warmer now, but at least the inch thick layer of ice has finally gone. Getting back to work was a bit of a shock to the system, and suddenly the weekends seemed to last about a nanosecond. Finally feel like I am getting back into a bit of a routine.

Day off on Friday getting the central heating looked at, hopefully getting the central heating fixed. Being at home waiting was all the excuse I needed to watch the Apple Keynote. Steve Jobs looking skeletal explaining why the iPad is the future of computing, without full application of the reality distortion field. Part of the problem with the presentation was that the price was actually the killer, the iPad at £1000 is a duff product, at half that it is possible, at anything under that it is incredibly tempting, but a device like that really does rely on the "it just works" factor. If it does "just work" then it should sell by the shedload, if if has all sorts of glitchy annoying doohickery then it won't. Also a bit wary of the way you have to buy absolutely everything off iTunes. Might be looking at buying an iPad or two for the family when they come out.

Also rewatched the recent BBC Arena documentary about Brian Eno. He came across as a rather genial soul, incredibly smart, pottering about with his various interests. Despite being an Art School graduate I did not get the impression that he had a strong visual sense, if I had his money and time I would be living in something that looked like John Lautner's Scottish holiday home. Also more likeable in person than he might seem in the written interviews. I suspect that his interests and enthusiasms simply exhaust people, it did look like Paul Morley was stiffling a yawn at one point.

Other news, I've installed bumptop, a desktop interface thing. There was a TED talk about it years ago, and it has now finally come out on the Mac. Most people seem to think that it is pointless eye candy. I actually quite like it. It allows you to create a virtual 3D desktop, so there are various walls around your desktop. So you can pin things to the wall, or leave stuff in the middle to get done. It does seem to slow down loading, but I like it, and will probably stick with it. The various OSX interface tweaks like Expose, Spaces, etc left me cold, I never quite got my head round them, and Quicksilver is a bit too hardcore. I like simple visual metaphors, so I know where I am with Bumptop.

Back at work, getting busier and busier, but also starting to get the hang of what I am doing, so not so bothered wondering whether I am actually doing anything of any use. Enjoying the work, and getting to know and like my work colleagues even better. The extra travelling and extra hours just trying to make progress are slimming down the time that I have not at work, but I'll try and rationalise a few commitments over the year so that I find a decent balance.

Finally, been listening to the LSTN series on the Urban Outfitters websites (different UK and US versions) being particularly struck by the following which does stick in your head,



falling into place

After being focussed on getting a promotion, for what seems like forever, I have finally cracked it. I had an interview on Tuesday morning, before I went in I picked up a message on my Blackberry saying that I had been unsuccessful at interview for a post the previous week. This week's interview seemed to go okay, but there were vast areas where I did not have relevant experience, balanced with other areas where I was possibly overqualified or exceedingly impressive. Later that evening a message popped up on my Blackberry offering me the post.

So now I have moved from thinking long term strategic thoughts about my current post, to trying to figure out how to get it tidied up before I move on in a few weeks.

Similarly a lot of my emotional energy has been tied up in applying for posts, and moving over to not filling in endless application forms and heading along to regular interviews seems so odd all of a sudden.

This weekend I have been,
walking the dog - still waiting for my pedometer from Amazon, so the walking seems a bit pointless if I am not amassing some enormous stepcount

one afternoon tidying the garden - to the extent that the brown bin the council take away is full, and my compost bin is full

ordered the new Mac Box Set, with iLife 09, iWork 09 and Snow Leopard - I'll upgrade the whole housefull of computers at the same time so they are all on the same OS etc.

reading a Chris Hoy biography that I borrowed from a colleague/friend, so that I can give it back to him before I finish up.

starting to worry if I really have got the post, I don't suppose I will quite believe it until I sit down at my new desk.

morning out gathering brambles with the family, so that my wife can do a batch of bramble jam. I like to get at least one batch of bramble jam made each year.

So, I am waiting for my pedometer, snow leopard, new post, the council to empty my bins so I can fill them up again, ....

and I am happy, after an awful lot of hard work things are all falling into place.

gardens, red onions, job hunting and thinking of China

This weekend seems to have flown by, most pleasantly by and large.

Decent weather yesterday, a little warm for walking my dog, he was pecht getting back, I was too. Then worked on my garden in the afternoon, with number two daughter assisting.

Part of the joy of gardening is that it is all a bit of a playground. It really doesn't matter all that much what you do, it will all pretty much grow back anyway. So I just play about with what I think might be interesting or fun. In that spirit, I just gave number two daughter a quick tour of the garden, explaining what I thought needed done, and asked her to choose what to do. For some reason they always seem to want to trim the hedge, until they actually start wielding the shears and realise that it is hard work.

She concentrated on weeding out a little flower bed, and then transfered in a couple of box plants that I would like to shape into something geometric when they get big enough. I also got her to trim a box plant that I'm just trimming into a globe shape, it is surprisingly difficult trimming something to be round in three dimensions. I weeded the veg patch and lifted the red onions that I have been growing, they are now sitting in the cold frame to dry off. There is a certain quiet glory in harvested food. My damson tree, which clearly suffers vertigo as it is striving to avoid any great height, tying itself in bushy knots, has maybe a dozen gorgeous purple damsons growing. Not enough for jam, but good to see.

Otherwise, I've been playing around with a pedometer. There was a free pedometer in the house, so I gave that a go. And found out that :
I actually do more than 10,000 steps most days, without any particular effort.
I do less steps at the weekend, because I don't have to walk to catch public transport and everything in my house is closer to hand, obviously.
the most annoying thing about a cheap pedometer is when it resets itself, losing my awesome daily stepcount!!!

I've ordered one on Amazon, and once it arrives, I will try and develop some sort of exercise regime based on tracking my steps. Also ordered Cousin Basilio (book), which I seem to remember was good, and Coup de Torchon, the Bertrand Tavernier film, which I remember enjoying.

I'll try and build up a little stock of arty filmhouse type films that I remember being good. I've recently got State of Things (Wim Wenders) and the Saragossa Manuscript (Jan Potocki book, Wojciech Has film) and enjoyed watching them both.

I have been patiently adding the odd book or DVD onto my Amazon wishlist, but last time I looked half of them were unavailable, so clearly I need to go that extra step and actually buy some of these things, rather than leaving them skulking on my wishlist.

Otherwise, being playing about with Kuler, got a couple of awesome teeshirts from RedBubble. All is relatively quiet at work, so finding productive and sensible things to do with this largesse of time.

Autumn is here, keen to get out and get brambles, went out a few weeks ago and they were not yet ripe, but the back road where I usually do my brambling should be about ready now, so I'll need to get out.

Watched Benefits Busters, then chatted about it when getting my hair cut. All amazed at how much single mums can get in benefits and how well they seem to do without doing any work whatsoever. I suppose for society it makes more sense for a single mum with four children to bring her children up full time, rather than going out to earn the minimum wage. However being detached from the job market while the children grow up is not a great long term option. It is incredible just how unscientific getting jobs is. You can study all you like, getting a job still seems to be pot luck at the end of the day. In China the state decides what you are going to do before you even go to university, a system that does have something to recommend it!

There is a bit of a difference in how people think about work.

There is the view that work is basically unpleasant, and you only do it if you really have to, and get paid. And even then you are duty bound to do as little as you can possibly get away with. Doing more than that is breaking solidarity with other workers and is encouraging employers to take liberties, or raise the bar unacceptably on the level of effort they deem sufficient and appropriate.

Alternatively there is the view that work is part of who you are, how you define yourself and how the world sees you. Therefore you strive to work to the best of your abilities and take a pride in your work.

I was initially tempted to say that this was a class difference, but I don't think that it is so much to do with the person doing the work, as the type of work. A craftsman would always take a pride in his craft, someone bashing out widgets probably won't. I suppose that a lot of people have been stuck with a bad experience of work where there is no merit in working hard, where the culture is to do as little as possible. That attitude does not transfer well into more modern jobs where the worker is expected to constantly innovate and challenge themselves.

There is a third catagory beyond these two. It is not so much what you do, as what you say you do. If you can say with conviction that your job is critical to your employer, then if your job is unique, and it is vaguely plausible then people will probably believe you. So in differentiated, skills based roles, the ability to sell yourself arguably becomes more important than ability. This is because it is difficult to put any useful metric on a unique job. So the outward perception becomes reality. Part of this mentality is that every job is a stepping stone to another job.

For an employer the risk is that people move shamelessly into the third catagory.

Finally some more musings. China and India seem to be pursuing very different economic models. India is going for a service based economy, whereas China is going for a manufacturing based economy. On this basis, I suspect that India has made the better choice for the long term. Just a thought.

eyecandy works

Newton anglepoise lamp

My blogging has been much depleted of late. Of course this just means that I been off doing something more interesting.

There was the annual family holiday, which really was excellent. What with the tunnel vision to study for my paralegal qualification, everything else rather got shoved to one side, so there has also been catching up, with the garden and community work. At the same time work has shifted from mad deadlines, to a more measured pace, which is letting me get in about some of the more strategic thinking and longer term work.

I have also been ramping up the number of applications for promotion that I have been putting in. I suspect that my fate is forever to be a very creditable second choice, always getting pipped by someone who's experience is just a bit more relevant. Fortunately there is no danger of me ever running out of ideas for things to do, but it would be nice to rake in a bit more money doing it!

I have recently been enjoying MyTexts which is another bare bones word processor type thing, pretty much like WriteRoom, Voodoopad, Devonthink, all of which I have bought and use. I guess that having a whole stack of different word processors is like my vast pen collection. Not really about functionality. Anyway MyTexts is clean simple and elegant. Recommended.

Also been admiring the Kuler website which means you can tap into a zillion colour schemes, or create your own, and Mondrianum which allows these to be incorporated into the Mac colour picker.

There was an article recently about someone's house, an incedibly colourful house, mainly white, with splodges of fantastic bright colours. And the person said that colours gave them energy, and it made me think that I am sort of like that. Bright colours and attractive shapes, eye candy if you will, do give me energy. I like forming ideas into simple venn diagrams that explain how things are related to each other, I like using my lamy four colour pen to organise my notes into different types of stuff. I love the anglepoise lamp I recently got from Habitat because it is red and a nice shape.

Of course different things motivate different people, but if I like colour then I should use it to organise my world, and help me to engage with things. So for me, eye candy is tax deductible, eye candy works!!!

studying paralegal and the garden

This is my first blog post in quite a while. I have been studying for a criminal paralegal course this year, so that tiny element of time, that is laughingly called my "free time" has been spent on studying criminal law.

It is quite a while since I did any proper studying, so going back to a series of lectures and studying is a bit of a culture shock. Studying when you actually have a full time job is a world different from studying when you don't. Basically I now realise that full time studying was largely a case of mooching around, and if you actually did a couple of hours studying, you felt positively bathed in glory. With a full time job, any study time is quarried out of a packed day, and you just need to hit the books.

Hopefully I have done enough to pass, I am getting to the stage where it does all seem to be largely falling into place, with the exception of the stuff that is just too detailed and process related for me to pick up. I'm the sort of person who does not bother to learn my own phone number! Rote learning has never come easy. In fact it is probably a surprise to some people that I can manage to hold down a decent job.

It has been a surprise just how much work needs to go into the studying. I've been taking the odd day off to study, just to keep up. Unfortunately our text book is really poor, and criminal law is one of those subjects where you need to see the links between different areas, so it is really a case of putting in the hours getting the stuff into your head. I have however really enjoyed it. Not the studying/exams/worry stuff, but the subject is interesting and it does make you think. I've been reading a bit of criminology, which I have found rather abstract and theoretical, criminal law is much more to my taste.

The subject is of course huge, and a paralegal course merely scratches the surface, so I don't expect to know everything. I suppose part of the key to remaining sane when studying is accepting that you won't know everything at the end of it, and not beat yourself up too much on that count.



The garden has been getting distinctly unkempt, so I spent the latter part of the afternoon mowing the lawns (first cut of the year!), and a little bit of weeding and pruning. The lawn just needs cut. However there are plenty of other jobs that you can just dabble away at in a distracted fashion, as the mood takes you. I have plenty else to worry about, so I was more than happy to just dabble away at the garden in a distracted fashion. Doing a bit of weeding here, a bit of pruning there. I was getting worried that it was turning into a complete jungle, but actually there is enough stuff planted up now, that a lot of it more or less looks after itself, with only a little light weeding. In fact it has gone from jungle, to not too bad, in less than an afternoon. I am keen for future planting to be restful, attractive, nature friendly, and low maintenance. Accordingly, the banking that I have long struggled with, will just be allowed to grass over, and I can just run a mower down it every now an again, rather than trying to weed it.



new onions

From The Mountain Goats, Onions,

the last white slabs of snow melted off seven weeks ago. and the geese are headed north again through the tightening sky, and i can feel my heart in my throat again new onions growing in the ground.

Spring finally seems to be indisputably coming. The pluckiest of the snowdrops I planted appeared, and are starting to fade back to particularly chunky blades of grass, now that they are losing their distinctive white hats. Some daffodils are already up, some just have their flowers all bunched up ready. My lunchtime walks are now possible without a coat, and it is becoming enjoyable to just sit out in my garden.

I was out for the first time proper yesterday, emptying out a big green plastic composter, full of all our winter composting, and transferring it over to another composter. The worms just love old wet newspapers, but they are resilient souls and as long as there is not too much of anything, a big green plastic composter full of discarded fruit and veg peel, tea bags, coffee grounds, tissues, cardboard, newspaper, and weeds, is just a big pile of worm delight, on the way back to being soil. I dug over my vegetable patch, and put in sixty red onion sets. My wife likes to make red onion marmalade each year (it is a chutney, rather than something that you would put on toast) and it can be easier growing red onions than trying to buy them some years.

Last year my onions seemed pretty poor, but on discussing with other folk who grow veg, it seems more likely that the fault was mine in putting them into the soil too late, rather than any fault of the weather. So, they are now in the ground, new onions growing in the ground.

So much nowadays seems to be like the seasons changing. Something too big and inevitable to affect, we just need to change our garb, and our habits accordingly.

I've just finished Paul Krugman's book, The Return of Depression Economics. It is very high level macro economics, not something that I find particularly easy to understand. I did feel lost in points, but it was well worth reading. I feel that I need to get some sort of perspective on things, I'm not used to banks failing. Hence getting a copy of Depression Economics to just try and figure out what is going on.

I am clearly not alone in thinking along these lines, on Amazon Depression Economics is currently 169th in Books, with 5% of those purchasing going on to buy JK Galbraith on The Great Crash 1929 (I'm not so keen on his work with Jamiroquoi). 1929 is next on my shelf to read. Last year sales of The Great Crash 1929 leapt more than twelvefold to 12,642, so clearly I am not alone in my choice of books.
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article5834574.ece

I think that now is a time for consolidation and careful choices, avoiding unnecessary spending, and putting aside money for future challenges.

I just don't ask people about work anymore, if they want to talk about what is going on at their work, then I am happy to listen, but I fully respect that many people won't want to talk about it. I don't think I know anyone that has been made redundant yet, mostly it seems to be a case of reduced hours for reduced pay, or lots of hours for not much pay, depending on whether you are at employee or partner level.

I know Paul Krugman does not think that this is a depression, but the term depression has a clarity of expression, this is more than just a bear market. This is a fundamental shift in the world economy.

At my work, I am just incredibly busy. Basically I took on someone else's entire job, on the basis that it was winding down, but instead it has increased dramatically. However recently it has all been very short term, urgent work, and I've not been able to do the longer term work. It has been a case of working flat out all day, till I'm too tired to think, going home, sleeping, coming back the next day, working flat out until I am too tired to think, ...

I suppose if I worried about it, I would go mad, but I'm just trying to do my best, be positive, and not worry about the stuff I cannot do. At the end of the day it is not my fault that there is only one of me, and it is not up to me to work insane hours either. At the moment it is exhausting, but generally things are busy but enjoyable.

I suppose a big chunk of it has to be not being too much of an asshole. Just because I am busy, does not give me the right to be an asshole in how I deal with other people. From a purely selfish point of view, if I can be courteous, deliver on commitments and respectful of other people, even when I am under pressure, then they are much more likely to treat me with respect and be helpful to me.

There is plenty else going on in the other aspects of my portfolio career. Unfortunately my 9-5 job is the only one that actually brings in any money, but in time that might change. To be honest I am motivated to do work that I think is worthwhile and interesting, rather than by money anyway.

[I will close this blog entry here, but I would like to explain that I use the word asshole advisedly, I don't swear in these blog postings, but I would like to flag up the book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
by Robert I. Sutton

it is about how people behave unacceptably at work, bullies and the like. In short, these people are assholes and should not be tolerated, admired, or excused.]




reality has once again reasserted itself

I have been relatively remiss with blogging recently.

After making vast in-roads into my plans to blitz the world of arts and ideas, with gazillions of pitches of every subject under the sun, things have rather slowed down to a more ponderous rate after the initial frenzy. That is not to say that there was anything wrong with my original thinking. However for the first couple of weeks, I was relatively quiet at work, had an extra day off each week, and was not doing much at the weekend. Accordingly it was relatively easy to find the time to do all this pitching and working up of creative ideas.

Reality has once again reasserted itself, in the various dimensions that it is prone to.

1 Work
2 Creativity
3 Blogging and web-siting

At work, things seem to have moved up to a rather hectic pace, so hectic that it all rather zen, just figure out what I need to do, then do it. Scant time to think, plan, wonder or worry. Hopefully things will slip down a notch or two, but things might conspire against this. I have taken on an entire other job, in addition to the admittedly light duties that I already had. I have been volunteered to do some work for senior management, which rather means that I have to do a good job of it, and I don't want to be making excuses about not getting stuff done. I don't mind, it is a chance to do some interesting stuff, and potentially get noticed. Though frankly I am a bit long in the tooth, for harbouring any great ambitions. Also I continue to come up with ideas to stretch myself, the idea that I pitched in a recent blog, for a staff seminar, will be taking place in April! and I have volunteered to take nightclasses in paralegal studies.

As ever, opportunity never comes in any planned manner, it just all arrives at once, when you are not expecting it. But with this sort of work, sometimes it it just the ability to seem calm and in control that counts, rather than actually doing anything terribly specific. I have been mindful of not working excessive hours, because at the moment I need to be productive, rather than just sitting there doing a lot. So the productive side of my brain gets burnt out after a while. Time to head home.

2 Creativity
as above, after an initial flurry, I have slowed down on the pitching like a maniac, and trying to drive up traffic to my website. Potentially you could easily spend over a day a week on those, and there just has not been the time lately. However I do think that the underlying principles of pitching broadly and keeping track of what happens are sound enough.

Of the initial pitches, the most productive to date seems to be the seminar idea, which has been accepted, and will be taking place. I do feel that my jokes are decent enough, but I've really not found an outlet that might take them yet. I might take a day off at the end of the week to catch up some of this creative stuff.

3 Blogging and web-siting
I suppose it would be easy enough to justify any amount of unproductive trawling around the web as being either research, or making comments in the hope of driving up traffic to your own website.

Accordingly the lack of huge amounts of time ambling the information superhighway probably won't set back civilisation unduly.

I have recognised that it is useful to have permanent links to my individual blogs, just in case I, or anyone else wants to put a link to them somewhere. I have accordingly been doing some of that boring behind the scenes stuff to set up permalinks on my blog. Nothing terribly noticeable, but useful to have.

I have also been a little remiss in blogging, but I do find it a useful way to straighten out my thoughts, and just keep in the habit of writing, so I'm doing a few blog entries this weekend, when there are bound to be other more productive things that I could be doing instead.

In conclusion, that is about that for the moment. I suppose getting somewhere is really about tempering what you want with what you are managing to do, and coming up with a decent compromise somewhere in between.

Punk jellyfish

This will probably be a rather rambling blog post. Words to strike terror into your very soul, and drive the casual browser, screaming and fleeing, never returning, into the gloaming.

I will however fill it chock full of random search words and watch as people come here looking for something insightful on punk jellyfish, or Britney dungarees.

First of all, shoutout for Dustin Wax and an exceptional series of postings on the Lifehack website about lifehacks and productivity.
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/author/dwax

They are so good, that I read one, then feel compelled to jot down something in my blog, only to find out that his next article anticipates and trumps this, with even greater insight, better written, etc etc. Not only does he write with insight, he also seems to walk the talk, by getting an awful lot done.

Anyway, I'll maybe post the odd comment to his articles, but I probably won't do a lot of blogging on productivity. I don't know, it does look like lifehacks are going out of fashion. We seem to be entering a post productivity landscape.

I have done a little tinkering on google and have set up a google analytics account, to get an idea whether anyone does ever access this site. I am not exactly strenuous in providing interesting content, or sticking to any particular topic, so I am certainly not expecting massive traffic.

At work, as usual, a couple of steps forward, and a step back. My workload has recently doubled, but I have taken on management of a member of staff. Fortunately no one else delegates any work, and I delegate plenty, so I it works well for both of us. However change afoot, and I'm worried that I might find myself trying to cover two jobs on my own!

In order to maintain sanity, I do find it useful to block out time on specific tasks, also just focus on the stage I'm at, so reading productively, planning effectively. Deliberately not worrying about the eventual outcome, just trusting to identify the relevant components, and do them all effectively.

It is also quite nice to treat tasks as a palette of things that I could do, rather than a shameful list of things that I should have done. So, stuff gets struck off within impunity. A bit of this is accepting that I can easily identify far more things to do, than I have time for. The skill is in selecting the best to do.

Not much else to report, I had a trip away from home, huge railway trip, had time to kill in a cavernous secondhand book shop. Bought a second hand book by Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe novels. The television adaptations were a family favourite. I've not read the book myself yet, but my wife was well impressed. I was also looking for Tschiffely's Ride, which is the sort of book that you ought to be able to find second hand. However the books defied order and beyond checking through thousands of books, it was impossible to find a copy. There is a town in Dumfries and Galloway that has a plethora of second hand book shops, we will maybe need to make a trip to stock up on unfashionable books. It does not get any greener than reading second hand or library books.

How old it sounds to be talking about "green" now.

what is the point of blogging?

Well, what is the point of blogging? I've been writing these blog entries for quite a while now, erraticaly of late, admitedly.

I suppose, at its most basic, I like writing stuff down, I find it a useful way to order my thoughts. It also helps to lodge ideas in my head, so that I can come back to them later.

It is also useful to keep myself in the habit of writing, just putting one word after another, is something of an art. Like most art, the art is in making it look easy and effortless.

I've mentioned before, for blogs, I stick strictly to the rule that they are written at one sitting, and once checked, they are uploaded and are immune from subsequent revision.

Looking back, I have worried away at some topics. I don't feel that I have really arrived anywhere useful thinking about criminology, maybe it is a topic for exploration through some short science-fiction stories. Crime and punishment seem quite straightforward, with issues in black and white, and right and wrong, but once you start to delve it becomes clear that substantial castles are built on insubstantial sand. Crime is what we want it to be, as a society, punishment is there to make society feel good about itself, more than to make criminals feel bad about themselves, or fit for re-entry into society.

Similarly I have worried away at investing in shares. In parallel I have thought about decision making. There is a strong link between the two. In order to invest in shares you need to make all sorts of decisions, on a constant basis. You need to balance competing priorities. You need to re-prioritise sometimes, or even reappraise your underlying strategy as the market changes.

If you had perfect foresight, you would invest completely in the share that would offer the best rate of return. However you do not have perfect foresight, so you need to adopt strategies that balance risk and reward. It is like going to a horse race and betting on a wide variety of horses in the same race, in order to make a return. In order to really understand what you are doing, you need to step back, and look at your decisions not as single decisions, but as components within a strategy of decision making. You are constantly trying to find fault with your underlying theories and strategics.

To elaborate my strategies,
I have an underlying belief that across economic cycles money invested in shares will continue to offer a worthwhile return.
However the economic cycle follows a sine curve, so if you buy at the top of one wave, you will not make a real return again until the top of the next wave.
It is difficult to know where you are exactly, but it is possible to get a gut feeling. For example for many businesses it was clear that the rate of acceleration was slowing a year ago. There was a frenzy and over-extension of credit, that felt unsustainable even then. We are now past the peak, and descending down. It is likely to be years before we reach the next peak, the absolute trough could even be a couple of years away.
As a small investor, you need to reduce dealing costs to a bare minimum, through not paying much commission, and not selling often. As long as commission is low, it is okay to buy often, as it gives you the benefit of pound cost averaging.
The only time you actually make money is when you sell, similarly the only time you lose money is when you sell at a loss, or the share is wiped out.
As a small investor your other disadvantage is that it is difficult to get a sufficiently diverse portfolio. You should have six or more different shares, but it is only worthwhile selling a thousand plus pounds worth of shares. The maths is easy enough, unless you have thousands you cannot invest effectively. You are just playing at it, and are excessively exposed to risk.
I tackled this by aiming for a thousand pound target in chosen shares, starting with a few. Each month I invest a hundred pounds, and this goes to whatever is short of the thousand pound target and looks to be a sound bet at the time.
I very seldom need to chose new shares to invest in, about once a year at my current rate of investment. I therefore have time to think about shares that I am interested in.

In order to be interesting, the following are essential
the business needs to be basically well run - if I don't have confidence in the business, if I feel they are making mistakes, then I don't touch them.
the business needs to be one that has a long term future, that will respond well, and take advantage of the changes to the world economy that I foresee.
the business needs to be totally unlike anything else I already have.

I do not look at the financial details in any detail. If it is getting to the stage where the business has failed and is getting broken up, I'm not likely to come away with any money anyway, whatever the accounts said.
I don't pay much attention to short term predictions. I cannot trade at that level.
I don't worry much about the PE ratio, I reinvest dividends, so whether I get capital growth, or dividend return, makes no difference anyway.

I do keep an eye on the following
large rises and falls across the market - daily
value of shares - weekly
general media coverage - ongoing
specific coverage of that particular business - when other factors suggest that I ought to.

Because all shares in the portfolio are monitored each week, from the purchase of the first hundred, by the time I have a thousand pounds worth of shares, I have been looking at the share weekly for a good year. Within that phase of the economic cycle, I therefore have a good understanding of the degree of volatility and return that the share is offering.

To date my biggest success has been British Energy, I always felt that basically it was well run, it had too big a share of an energy market, which was short on supply, and long on demand. Takeovers were always a possibility, which makes me feel that there is a quick return option available. Also it was overly volatile, rising or falling with great vigour. Clearly the market was taking an excessively short term view, so there were always opportunities to pick up cheap shares.

My biggest loss, Bradford and Bingley. Fortunately my gut feeling was that the business had no long term future, and I sold half my flotation shares for a decent amount, particularly as they had cost me nothing initially. However as they fell, I bought more, and bought into the rights issue. They are currently wiped out, and although the government might offer some return, it is far from certain.

There are clearly lessons here, I should have trusted my instincts and sold the lot. I should have either stopped buying or sold out as they fell, to retrieve something. However in fairness, the truly dire state of affairs was never really public knowledge, and the bank would never have been technically insolvent anyway, it was a cash flow issue, not a fundamental balance sheet one. Also in truth, Bradford and Bingley were less aggressive than some of the banks that have now been bailed out by the government. They were small enough to get nationalised, but too big to be allowed to fail. Also logically, the buy to let market could be more resilient than the usual mortgage market, as people lose their houses, they still need somewhere to stay, so buy to let could benefit over the next few years, for those who got in early.

However they clearly failed the basic tests, they were badly run, they had no long term future. They should not have been in my portfolio at all.

For the future, basically, I have what I already have, I am content with my current shares. My most recent addition was a European investment trust, to add diversity, but the pound -euro exchange rate is nosediving, so any purchase of European shares would currently be very expensive.

It is clearer what I would not touch. I never liked the banks, largely on the basis that I did not understand how they made money. Additionally, any business that the government has a stake in, is bound to be unpredictable, and they do have a poor record of respecting shareholder's rights. Retail is uncertain, they are all suffering, but obviously some will survive.

I suppose big infrastructure type businesses, that are immune to the downturn, so energy, water, transport, telecoms, outsourcing, ports, things that have an innate value whatever happens, and that you cannot particularly defer spending on.

Ideally now is the time to invest broadly, a third of the shares could be wiped out, a third might do nothing much, a third could do very well. So the more broad the portfolio, and the sounder the underlying businesses the better your chances. But clearly it is not a nil risk option.

Investing in shares is an interesting mix of disciplines, you need to appraise qualitative and quantitative data, and make decisions based on both. My instinct is to rely on qualitative data more than most.

We are constantly faced with making decisions based on conflicting disciplines. For example, a lot of my initial blogging was about different prioritisation techniques, for example the Get Things Done methodology.

Over time, I have come to realise that I actually like to alter my approach slightly. Some of this is just down to boredom, but some of it is down to the changing external environment.

There is a world of difference between prioritising a variety of large tasks that often don't need to be done quickly, or small tasks that need done quickly, or a mixture of both.

Additionally there is also the situation where there are more tasks than time available, and the return on doing tasks can vary dramatically, so something that was important yesterday might be irrelevant today.

Factor in that you have different energy levels, and different opportunities at different times. This is not a single list of discrete items, but a nuanced proposed strategy to maximise benefit from a finite resource, namely your limited time and energy.

There are considerable similarities between how you might approach these two problems, getting a return on investments of money, and getting a return on investments of personal work time.

Part of the point is that there is no optimum solution, there are strategies that are more likely to succeed, but that is certainly no guarantee.

This blog has really not ended up where I expected it to, that is probably the point of blogging, you don't end up where you expect to. But you can have a rant along the way, and maybe even learn something about yourself, and how you think about things.



Dear rambling blog entry,

This weekend, I have been mostly, reading

Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks,

accordingly my head feels a little tight, probably because with increased age and decrepitude, my eyes are getting a little wonky. I'm certainly overdue to get my eyes tested, and I'm quietly confident that it will entail a change of prescription. Bifocal bottle bottoms - I think that is the technical term.
Anyway, it is not exactly kitchen sink drama, it does read rather like Evelyn Waugh called upon to portray the working classes, with decidedly limited success. Not entirely sure I could do much better, but I remember enough of the seventies to list huge numbers of annoying discrepancies in the book. However if you do just discount the idea that it is intended to accurately portray an era you lived through, it is an entertaining read. It is not obvious where it is going, it did rather look like it would do a John Le Carre Perfect Spy sort of thing, but that fizzled out. The protaginist is not exactly likeable, nor particularly unlikeable. I'll probably write a real review when I get the book finished. Not like the proper reviewers who can write a review without even reading the book.

While I've been busy with the obvious stuff the past few weekends, I have been remiss in failing to blog in sufficient volume.

Starting to get geared up for Christmas, work has been getting pretty busy, also doing some odds and ends of things too.

I was at a conference last week, and it got me thinking how much academics seem to fall into a particular type. They seem to see the world in terms of theories and references. A name forms a short-hand for a set of theories. Of course reality exists out there, but for the academic it is mediated through the lens of theory. It would be wrong to be too critical of the academic, because we all mediate our view of reality through our own particular lens. I realise in myself that I seek to construct a narrative explanation for things. I will then attempt to arrange the evidence to conform to that narrative. However I feel myself seeking to quietly omit the evidence that does not conform to the narrative, reality is forced into a mean little strait-jacket to conform to my optimistic, or pessimistic frame of mind.

The narrative then becomes a strait-jacket, failing to inform understanding, merely marshalling like facts together.

Perhaps there is some way to force a greater neutrality, an ambivalance, allowing the evidence to speak for itself.

We tend to create false dichotomies. Things are this, or they are not. Reality forced down into binary choices.

I am rather drawn to the wisdom of children, just playing about with things.

Come Dine With Me

If this blog seems a little more distracted than usual, it is because I am typing it out while listening to Come Dine With Me, which I must confess is just about all I watch on tv these days. The commentary is delightfully catty, which saves me all the trouble of supplying a catty commentary to keep my family amused with. It does have the desperate air of a car crash some nights, when the guests really fail to gel. I had always thought that dinner parties sounded quite jolly and sophisticated, but Come Dine With Me, has helpfully disabused me of this notion, and I really don't think that I am missing out on much, sitting at home sucking on my frozen ready-meal.

All this credit crunch stuff hasn't half made the wall to wall property tosh tv seem a little bit irrelevant. Inexplicably rich people look at some houses, and then don't buy any of them. Or inexplicably rich people buy houses, and then sell them to make even more money. Or inexplicably rich people neglect their children to build a hideous piece of unliveable modernism in the middle of nowhere. Now that thousands are losing their jobs every week, all this gleeful conspicuous consumption just feels a little inappropriate.

At work, there was an interview themed week, carrying out five interviews on the Tuesday, and having an interview myself on the Wednesday. Enjoyable but gruelling. My energy levels do just go after a while. The interview that I was sitting was for a decent post, but they were interviewing over two days, so that could be as many as twelve candidates. I am not holding my breath waiting for someone to phone and offer me the post ! Though colleagues have all been rather sweet, asking about it, as if I was virtually a shoo in. I've applied for a run of promotions recently, this is the fourth, and the third interview, one post I did not get to interview. My performance at interview has improved hugely over the time, so in that respect it is not a wasted effort.


And it is Sunday evening, and tomorrow, I am back to work, for another day of interviewing staff. It is all getting very busy at work, and I am starting to regret volunteering for just so many things recently.

And, so, to bed, ....

long rambling blog entry


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one big pyramid scheme

I have not written a blog entry about the recent financial upheavals, although I have been meaning to.

At first things had the grim logic of a horror film, of course the clues had been there, we had been cocky and arrogant, and now was the time of our come-uppance. Every morning the news seemed to be reporting something that was impossible, Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley, and most shocking to me Halifax Bank of Scotland. You had dealt with these businesses all your life, you knew people that worked for them.

Then the news got a bit boring, basically the same sort of story every day, generally without any real insight or understanding.

Now the news media have turned the page, and are starting to do the human interest type stories, there is talk of JK Galbraith, 1929, and Keynesian economics. The latter on Radio Four granted.

We have started to hunker down for the long term.

I work to the assumption that markets following a gently rolling sine curve, with a general tendency to move upwards. However you can easily lose money by buying high, and selling low. The opportunities to make real money, rather than just trade on a rising market, require quite particular insight and opportunities.

With hindsight it is obvious that the rate of acceleration was diminishing, we were nearing the peak. Now we have even more obviously reached the peak, and like a cartoon character, after running fruitlessly on the spot for a second, we are now starting to plunge down.

The statistics are slow coming, but the old model, of borrow, spend, borrow to buy on a rising market, dinner parties and an end to the economic cycle, are now clearly gone.

More telling is the attitude, I can see it in myself, I have weaned myself off the desire to spend. Spending is a transitory pleasure, but in uncertain times it is safer to just leave that money unspent. We have that sort of extreme nervousness that means we don't know what to do, in uncertain times, often doing nothing is a pretty good option. Indecision reigns.

Suddenly we all feel poor.

We are all starting to re-balance our attitudes to spending, to having, to what we want. Perhaps we might begin to see more clearly that money is not an end in itself, and that we are capable of more than simply accumulating and passing on money. Strangely that score does not seem to count for so much now.

The test of any theoretical model is just how long it lasts. I have been patiently buying shares for a few years now, and sensed that we were at the top of the market, but still could not quite believe it. The recent upheavals have totally wiped out some of my shares, and left others worth vastly less. Generally you have not lost the money until you actually sell, or in the case of bank shares, till they get nationalised. Therefore there is some degree of theoretical comfort there. However my portfolio will never be quite the same again, and moving back into profit territory will need to await shares reaching rock bottom then climbing back up to current valuations. My older purchases will be in loss for a long long time, however anything that I buy now will hopefully turn a profit much sooner.

I reckon that the current recession will last around five years. Not exactly five years, but that sort of ball park figure. In the meantime the best strategy seems to be just buy big blue chip type shares. Now boring is good. Not every business will still be around in five years, but many of them will and they will be making profits. So diversity is good, boring is good, blue chip is good. Volatility is there for a reason. Volatility reflects uncertainty and ignorance. Small investors are simply not nimble enough to make money on volatile markets, they make money through pound cost averaging, buying shares when they are low, and out of favour.

We live in uncertain times, where once risk brought reward with little likelihood of failure, now risk simply means exposure to catastrophic consequences.

If we are not buying things because they are cheap, or they will make us a profit, then we need to think more carefully about what things are actually worth to us, and have the courage to continue to make those choices.

We were all caught up in a glorious pyramid scheme, we all bought in, and as long as more and more people kept on buying in, we all made money. But it was all bound to end. We had abandonned common sense. More and more people bought houses thinking that it was a one way bet, until house prices reached insane multiples of income, and traditional first time buyers were priced out of the market, replaced by highly leveraged buy to let investors. As with property, so with so many other things. We were caught up in a frenzy, thinking the old rules no longer applied. Buying into things we did not understand, thinking that investment was a one way bet, that credit was good, and capital was bad.

Looking back it seems so quaint now. Maybe it all will be different next time. Or maybe it will just take us a longer time to forget the lessons we have learnt.

the price of peace

I am just back from a short visit to Belfast. It is fair to say that it is a city of huge contrasts. I cannot think of anywhere else where I have been made to feel more welcome, or where I have been more apprehensive. Driving round the streets tells you one story, huge bridge shaped cranes at the docks, big enough to lift a ship, the loss of shipbuilding must have ripped the heart out of the place. Sectarian murals on the walls and gable ends, beautiful but deeply disconcerting. From the air it looked leafy and beautiful, on the ground much of it had an air of staunch working class-ness.

The taxi drivers, when asked, could tell you about when no one dared drive a taxi, when not knowing the name of a pub meant you came from the wrong side of the divide and could be fatal. There was still a wariness, but the more usual concerns of drunken students, and stag parties were starting to rear their head. The papers had a sense of heightened reality, there was an edge to disputes, government seemed to hang by a thread, but then it had hung by a thread for so long now, it was not alarming.

Speaking to people there was a lot of talk about growing maturity, recognising that a process might take decades. At first the opposing sides sit round a table, mainly trying to provoke each other, or rehearsing familiar arguments for the benefit of their electors. And in fairness that might never quite end. But as politicians are given real things to debate, and engage with, they have to start to work with each other.

Perhaps the price of peace is sitting round a table with people you have every reason to hate.

Perhaps the price of peace is the cost of regenerating areas, expensively creating hotels and attractions.

Perhaps the price of peace is the cost of early retirement for vast numbers of public servants to allow for the recruitment of staff better reflecting their community.

Extremism can only really flourish where people feel no other way of making their voice heard. When people stand by, in favour of a lesser evil. When people feel so completely disenfranchised that they feel no part of society.

I am sure that the lessons learnt in Northern Ireland could equally be applied across the world, patiently working towards a form of peace, re-establishing democracy as something with meaning, letting those who want to speak for their people do it through the ballot box and the husting. Putting opponents round the same table, and letting them start to shape their own future.

It was easy for the West to operate gun boat diplomacy, it will be harder, but ultimately more rewarding to try and create the sort of social change that puts democracy back in the hands of the people, brings people round tables, patiently rebuilding society. The strongest of men are those quietly and patiently working for peace, even when it does take generations.

Diary type entry

I'll just tuck this sort of diary stuff into a separate blog entry, to try and keep things a little neater. After last weekend, the working week has felt a bit of a struggle. Not in a bad way, just that it took me a fair while catching up on my sleep and getting back into a routine after being out on the Saturday night.

Not an incredibly busy week, but pretty steady, I tend to measure these things by meetings, so there were a couple of meetings where I was simply attending/supporting, which was fine. A couple of pretty informal ones where I was just meeting people. And one where I ended up sorting out the agenda and chairing.

This last meeting was our branch meeting, there have been quite a few changes lately, and a few more coming up, so there was a feeling in the air that we needed to get together to discuss. That said, I was not convinced that an informal structure would work, so I pushed for an agenda, and was offered the chance to chair, which I took up. I tend to chair a meeting, in pretty much the same way that I facilitate a meeting. That is, I like everyone to get a chance to speak, and I see it as my role to ensure that the quieter voices get heard, and the louder voices let them. Actually it went pretty well.

I also had a meeting with my mentor, something that has been arranged through work, and had been in the planning stage for ages, but now that it has got going is really excellent. I suppose every mentoring arrangement is different, but I find this a useful sounding board, and having discussed approaches, I then feel committed to actually do what I promised to do. So in terms of personal development, it is a useful motor to get me to try and push myself. The chairing the branch meeting was one of those things, I could have simply sat back, but there was that little voice saying, this is the sort of developmental thing that it would be good to do. If you think you are promotion material, you need to be demonstrating the skills.

I'm applying for another job, which actually looks pretty good, though challenging. However I am not going to die in a ditch if I don't get it. Simply get some feedback on my performance, and try and do better the next time. To be honest I am more focussed on extra salary as something that will impact on my pension, than as take home pay at the moment. Although, like everyone else, money is starting to get pretty tight.

Yesterday, went quickly. By the time you get through the big pile of chores, and walk the dog, and relax a bit, it is time for bed.

Trying to find things that we can watch together with the girls, which currently covers upto a 12 certificate. So yesterday we saw an Outer Limits episode, Demon with the Glass Hand, and Terminator 3. A bit of an opportunity to compare and contrast classic science fiction with a more modern version. For those that have not seen the Outer Limits episode, it is an absolute classic, it won awards, and was written by Harlan Ellison. I think it is even credited in Terminator, and used the same building that much of Bladerunner is set in.

Spent the afternoon in the garden, a bit iffy for mowing the lawn, but plenty of trimming and weeding to do. This year just seems to be a year of trimming and weeding and not much time for anything else. That said, when the weather is fine, there is no better place to be than pottering in the garden. I have grown a pair of wormwood bushes from seed, and one is full of bugs. Gratifying to see that it also has a few very happy ladybirds, getting all lethargic from a constant diet of aphids. I suppose we need to offer the habitat if we want to keep the nature.

the weather is the best of policemen

I am probably a bit more distracted than usual, as I was out with the Strathclyde police last night, seeing how they police the Glasgow night time economy. They do quite a lot of these tours for people, letting them see at first hand how to police a major British city.

It is only fair to say that I have been apprehensive about the trip for some time, but on the night it was hugely informing and I would recommend it to anyone. The police have been working with various partners to ensure that the city is well lit, well covered by CCTV, safe zones exist with orderly taxi queues and paramedics on hand.

Of course with all the technology and police in the world, the weather can still be the best of policemen, the night was cool and wet, so folk drifted off home steadily, rather that waiting for the mass mayhem of all exiting clubs at 3am in the morning.

By the time that you had seen the initial briefing, seen people watching vast concave walls of CCTVs, control staff directing the troops on the ground, you could not help feeling that this was a well ordered process, with people knowing their roles and very effectively keeping control of what could be mayhem. It was also clear that the police themselves relished the work, they were on the front line, perhaps getting overtime, they knew what they had to do, and that if required their back up would be with them within a minute, in that sense they were the biggest and best organised gang on the street.

I got back home after 3am, and slept soundly in my bed.

dealing with the world the way that it is, while managing to subtly move it in the direction of where we think that it ought to be

Things have been all very busy lately, with much that is strange and new. So I have fallen out of my normal routine, spending more time on things than I normally might, and doing things that I normally might not.

I set myself a sort of target to do a blog entry a week, but seeing as I have missed a couple of Saturday's, I posted a short story that I wrote a while back by way of recompense. I'm not sure what anyone else will think about it, but reading it now, with enough time elapsed for me to have forgotten the detail of it, I still think that it reads very well. It is so difficult to get perspective on what you write, it is easy to be over-critical, and as soon as you are familiar with something, it is impossible to be objective. You really need to be able to look at something with a stranger's eyes. So with my stranger's eyes, I still like it, so content to upload it here.

Part of the point of writing a weekly blog is that it rather forces me to loosen up on what I write, my self imposed target is to write something every week, and that just forces you to write something/anything. My other stipulation is that I write it, check it, then upload it. So it is not something that is considered and redrafted and reconsidered and redrafted, just something done and up there. Quite refreshing to do something with such low expectations.

We are coming to the end of the holiday season, so the girls go back to school, a couple of colleagues are off on a final week of leave, but all will be back to normal before too long. I've not really made much of the holidays, there was the stay-cation, which was all very nice, and plenty of ad hoc days off, but all very low key. Once again, I have failed to sort out all the problems of the world. But modest progress has been made. There has been a major push clearing junk out of the loft and now the long hard slog of making best use of it. I'm buying storage boxes from IKEA, and thinking about how best to store all sorts of things. I want to find ways of storing things such that they are accessible, but reasonably compact. So there are all manner of processes in hand,

1 work through stuff to get rid of the third to half that is actually rubbish

2 source better storage options for the remainder

3 put like with like, so that it becomes obvious when enough of something tips over into too much

I am used to jobs that you can actually split into tasks and project plan, but sorting out the loft is not really like that, you can identify near future stuff to do, but as you work on, it creates opportunities, and demands new solutions, so you never quite know where you are going, but you do have a direction of travel. I guess that a lot of stuff is like that really, more a direction of travel, than a clear project.

Other stuff, I was helping out at a couple of events that someone else was running. This meant reading up on a new policy area, meeting some new folk, and working with some new stakeholders. All positive stuff. However I am part of a pool of volunteers that help out with events, and despite there being something like a hundred people in the pool, only two of us volunteered! I guess that most people don't enjoy these things the same way that I do. Anyway, a chance to work with some bright sparky people, and do something different for a couple of days. The downside is being shattered by all the travel, but hey ho.

Also trying to get my head round what I need to do this week, when various colleagues are off. After being distinctly not busy, a gradual head of work has been piling up, and I now have ample stuff to get on with, some of which is even getting worryingly old and needs pretty urgent action. I would like to see a bit more structure to things, but with luck I can start to push things along in that direction. It would be wonderful to deal with the world the way that we think that it ought to be, but the real trick is in dealing with the world the way that it is, while managing to subtly move it in the direction of where we think that it ought to be. This is self effacing stuff, less about you, than quietly and gently achieving your vision.

The garden progresses, a wet year, so beyond keeping on top of the weeding, and the mowing, there has not been much terribly dramatic this year. I could easily spend a week out there, and really get the garden more how I would like it to be. However there is probably another solid week of work in sorting out the loft, as well as a week of painting and fixing stuff round the house exterior. Giving myself credit, I have felted the shed roof, painted the bathroom, pushed on the loft vastly, and over the past year made a step change in the household IT set up. I'm never exactly idle!

week off


This week has been my long awaited week off work, though as ever, nothing is quite what it seems, or says on the tin.

I did end up going into work on Wednesday for a job interview, which I suspect I was not successful in, although the interview went okay, there is a lot of tough competition these days.

While most people have moved over to stay-cations, where they don't leave the country, we have barely left the house. It has given us a chance to catch up on things, though the nature of the things you catch up on, is that they still never get entirely finished! There are just too many things, and big things beget small things and perspective means that ever bigger things can hide behind the visible things, so that when you deal with the visible things, other equally big things, though slightly more distant things, hove into view.

So, I have been dealing with things, but having got some of the great looming / depressing things done, it is at least possible to see the landscape of things more clearly, and get a better grasp of the lay of the land, thing-wise

We have -
  • painted the bathroom
  • found a skip load of what can only really be described as rubbish, in the loft. I think when you cannot be bothered to get rid of things, you just kind of think, ohh, it might come in handy, lets just stick it up the loft. Still a work in progress, but it is like finding a whole new room up there, now that the big indeterminate piles of stuff have got sorted through and in part, thrown out.
  • put mdf panels on the back of a couple of cheap shelves, so that they don't wobble about all over the place, and they now hold all my wife's jams, chutneys, and associated paraphanalia.
  • emptied out one of my composters, and blitzed the garden, trimming hedges, pulling out weeds, and regaining control of some of the bits that were getting totally lost beneath weeds. My fruit trees and bushes and now looking much happier, now they can get some light and air in about them.
  • We have modestly cropped the garden, using redcurrents for a crumble, volunteer potatoes, as well as dill and parsley. A bumper crop of apples is not far off, I've also foraged for Billberries, as per my last blog.
  • Number two daughter has been appointed soux chef, to my wife, and has been spending afternoons in the kitchen helping her to prepare some really splendid meals,
  • we have been buying the odd copy of the Mail for the free DVDs, and the girls have been getting into costume dramas, Pride and Prejudice was a huge hit, they have also seen Emma, and are all now half way through Rebecca.
  • I've sorted through the bulk of my clothes, getting rid of stuff that I have not worn since University, with all my stuff now sorted into neat piles, weekend tee shirts, polo shirts, smart jerseys, not so smart jerseys, trousers for the garden (the biggest pile), smart casual trousers (ie trousers that I have not yet spilt paint on) and office trousers.
  • I've made major in roads into a foot tall pile of old newspapers, and recent magazines,
  • the dog has had plenty of good walks
  • I have also been setting the girls little projects, to try and get their imaginations working, building robots from Lego, recording music on Garageband, researching how to use crops from the garden, mini projects on a garden plant of their choice,
All in all, it has been very pleasant to have a bit of time together with a modicum of purpose.

Finally I'll include some Chic Murray jokes that were in the Sunday Times found in that big foot high pile, because,

(a) I think that he is just hilarious, and;
(b) they make me smile

Doctor, I've got butterflies in my stomach
Oh, what have you been eating?
Butterflies.

Sergeant, get those screaming women into my tent this minute.
But they're not screaming, sir.
They're not in my tent yet.

Good evening madam, I'm from the environmental health department pest control division,
Aye well, you'd better come in, he's not home from the pub yet.

Colour television, whatever next? I won't believe it till I see it in black and white.

It was so boring six empty seats walked out.

For years, I've admired you from afar.
Mmmm, that's about the right distance.