The Long And The Short Of It

30 October 2020

This is a phrase which fascinated me when I was quite young and first heard it. To my logical mind it made no sense. Something was either long, or short. As the years passed, I got to meet a few different people, some of whom were excessive in their verbosity whilst others were just naturally succinct in their responses. In fact I was accused of using long, maybe ‘complicated’ words and phrases! But I found that it really depended very much on who and what was being talked about. I once heard a great story, which is this.

Two priests are near a church and are standing by the side of the road, holding up a sign which reads: ‘The End is Near! Turn yourself around now, before it’s too late!’ A car speeds by and the driver yells out “Leave me alone, you religious nuts!” Suddenly, from around the next bend they hear screeching tyres and a big splash. “Do you think,” says one priest to the other, “we should just put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

But equally, there are times when a full and detailed explanation is not just needed, it is vital. This is why all good training is important. So many times, especially nowadays, I hear of folk who have come from school, college or university into a job and they think they know it all. Sadly that is rarely the case. They do have much to learn and this can only come from experience and really good training. When I passed my driving test (at the second attempt!) I was politely told “you have been taught to pass a driving test – now you must learn to drive”. After that I was then taught by a very skilled driver who had been in the army. He drove cars, buses, lorries, tanks – you name it, he drove it. He rode motor-bikes too. I learned road-craft, to anticipate, to be aware of what was going on around me. That person was my eldest brother. A few years later, circumstances meant I had to use a small motor-bike instead of a car. A good friend, with his huge Kawasaki 650cc bike, then taught me extra skills, like extra awareness of other road users, etc. My dear mother was just horrified at me riding my small 80cc bike, but our local vicar assured her I would be fine. I was, because I had been given proper training.

Where I am now, the Carers are dealing with people, some with conditions that are difficult to manage. These inmates are being cared for very well, but this requires specialist skills along with detailed training. I couldn’t do it, but the folk here do a really excellent job. But each to their own, as the saying goes. For example, I am not skilled with cooking food, but others are. A friend of mine made some lovely dish for a neighbour of theirs and is going to give them a training session on just how to create this particular meal. To do so though will require strict attention to detail regarding all of the ingredients, preparing and cooking etc. Just giving a brief outline on what is required simply will not do. It amazes me how some people can seemingly throw ingredients together and a while later there is this beautiful meal – it is magic!  

I have been told that whilst many can do, not everyone can teach. It requires patience and understanding, also the willingness to learn. That applies both to the learner and the teacher. When I was being taught to teach, I was shown a proper process, which is to firstly deliver the training, secondly sit down and review it by deciding what went well, what could have been done better and what needs changing. Thirdly make the changes. Then return to stage one, continuing to deliver, review and refine. This must be done every single time, over and over again. The worst teachers are the ones with a laminated lesson plan!

I have said quite a few times now about computers and how useful they can be. What helps us use them is basic training like turning them off properly, and most definitely not treating them like a light! I am also a great believer in keyboard short-cuts, they can make a difference in getting work done. Right now I am using a program (or app, if you prefer) to write and store notes. There are some occasions when I want to either make the text larger, make it bold, all of these things. These can be done with the aid of a computer mouse, but there are a range of keyboard shortcuts that can and do enable you to do these things without taking hands away from the keyboard.

But to begin with, I used this app just as it was, without bothering to learn about any keyboard short-cuts. I went the long way round to do what I wanted. So only now am I learning these quicker ways to achieve what I am after. I realise that a few folk can get annoyed, especially if they realise what time they might have saved themselves, but these days I try not to get annoyed when that happens. We all have to learn and often the best way is through making mistakes. They are not mistakes, you see. It does not matter if you get there by going the long way round to begin with and then take the quicker route later. A friend of mine, ex-RAF ground crew, believes the same. We go ‘by the book’ to start with and only when we understand what we are doing and how it can often impact on other things, do we learn and use a short-cut. But only when it is safe to do so. I am reminded that in the Microsoft Windows, deleting a file etc puts it into the Recycle Bin. The MacBook Pro by Apple has the same, but on their system it is called Trash. Without that in place, just deleting the file instantly can lead to a few tears! It’s a safety net, just in case we delete a file by mistake. But with the Recycle Bin or Trash there, a deleted item can be easily restored.

The dictionary definition of ‘the long and the short of it’ is “Used when making a statement that is brief and that tells someone only the most important parts of something.” We see this in action every day, when we read news articles. They will usually have a headline, giving us an idea as to what the article is about. So,I guess I could put down more on this subject, but the long and short of it is that I think I’ve written enough about that phrase!

I have already included a fun item earlier, so I’ll leave you with what I think is a lovely quote: “Make your life journey exciting, educational, entertaining and enlightening.” ~ Srinivas Arka

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Every Trick In The Book

23 October 2020

Following a certain football match, the manager of the losing team later made the comment that the opposing team “used every trick in the book”. He was clearly unhappy at the result of the game and the tactics that were used. In a similar way, in the realm of Formula One motor racing one particular team can sometimes dominate the sport for a while. This can lead some of the other teams to question how one team could be as successful as they have been. Of course it is recognised that some of the drivers are more skilful and perhaps more talented, also being able to drive a good car does help, but a few have at times questioned whether or not teams have been able to exploit aspects of the rules to their advantage.

American Football is a little like our own rugby. But it does differ, as it consists of a series of ‘plays’, where the ‘offence’ players of one team attempt to move the ball a minimum of ten yards down the field in four attempts, or ‘downs’. If they succeed, they retain control of the ball and can attempt to to move the ball at least another ten yards, the ultimate aim being to get the ball over the goal line for a ‘touchdown’. However, the ‘defence’ players of the opposing team try to stop them. If the defence players recognise or ‘read’ the offensive play and can prevent the ball being moved forward ten yards after four downs, then control of the ball switches to the other team. That team’s offence then take over and attempt to do the same. In our soccer, goals are scored by kicking the ball so that it crosses the goal line in between the goalposts of the opposing team. But in American Football the ball can be physically carried over the goal line and into the ‘end zone’, or a player from the offensive team can go into the end zone and another offensive player, who is usually the ‘quarterback’, will throw the ball to them and the ball must then be caught whilst that player is still in the end zone. Either way, it is then regarded as a  ‘touchdown’, scoring six points.

There is a great deal more to that game than described above, but certainly so much of the game is being able to first recognise the plays and if possible gain control of the ball and attempt to score a touchdown. Which means that any allowable trick or diversion to confuse the other team can & will be exploited, wherever possible! In all of these and in many other games too, anyone who does break the rules will be given some form of penalty and in many cases it is not just the player but the team as well that suffers by paying a fine or losing points. However, so long as the move, manoeuvre or tactic is allowable within the rules, there is no problem.

Computers have become a great deal more interactive and easier to use by people of all ages. They are designed to provide entertainment, to make our lives easier as well as providing the capability to share information between other people around the world.  

Sadly, some people do not feel that they have either the time, inclination or perhaps the capability to learn what to them seems a complicated process in using a computer, yet many of these same people have learned to drive a car and obey the rules of the road. Yes, unlike many other items, computers have a variety of uses. A kettle just boils water and enables you to make tea, coffee and other drinks. A washing machine cleans a variety of clothes, likewise a digital camera enables you to take pictures of different subjects and, with the aid of a simple connecting lead allows you to transfer those very same photographs from the camera directly to a computer. These photographs may then be sorted and if necessary edited before using the Internet to share with family and friends around the world, or stored safely on backup drives.

But a computer can do so much more, like storing information, researching family history, playing games, writing letters, keeping a diary, creating and listening to music & video and talking directly to family and friends around the world.

To achieve these skills does require a little training, but they are easy to learn. These include useful tips and tricks, referred to by some as short-cuts, but they do speed up the time involved when using a computer. The more of these tricks you learn, the more adept you become and the more you find you can do. The old saying that “the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn” is one I have found to be so very true!

There are many publications nowadays to help us, as well as people who offer training, for example on getting the best from computers as well as taking photographs. It is what I used to do before I retired. At one time I would take photographs and then I’d send the film away to be developed. A week later the pictures would be returned to me, so I never knew if they were any good until they came back. But now, a digital camera shows instantly what picture has been taken by showing it via a display screen on the rear of the camera!

There is no doubt that using a modern computer is a great deal easier than it used to be, whether you are using a Windows-based one or an Apple computer, but learning even just the basics makes good sense. You may not learn every trick in the book, but the more you learn then the more skilled you will become!!! That applies to any job, hobby, skill or pastime you enjoy.

For now, I leave you with this.
During an inspection of a soldier’s locker, a dead fly was found inside. The soldier was given two punishments; one for keeping a pet, and the other for not feeding it…

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16 October 2020

In an earlier post here I referred to time as passing and things changing. But what is time? We use it as a measurement to help us control our lives, but it is something we have created. Plants & animals don’t use clocks or watches. Nature has its own time for things to occur, like in our own bodies a series of events occur, usually at the right and proper time as we grow up. Certain things occur as and when they must, like if a fire occurs in a forest, only then do some of the seed pods break open in the heat of the fire and these seeds grow, so creating new trees. It is very clever, but it will only happen at the right time. 

We generally measure time throughout our daily lives in terms of hours, minutes and seconds, then days, weeks and years. But at one time (that word again!) in the UK, clocks were set to various different times around the country and it was not until the mid-1850s that almost all public clocks in Britain were set to Greenwich Mean Time. It finally became Britain’s legal standard time in 1880, which made train travel very much easier, with proper time tables! I am saying nothing about the trains keeping to such schedules though…

For us, time passes at the same speed but so often it can seem that time either goes slowly or quickly. It seems to depend what we are doing. How often have we felt that time was dragging! When I was quite a bit younger, I made the mistake of saying to my parents that I was bored. They soon found me a job to do, cleaning the outside down-pipe to our house. I learned to keep myself busy, either making stick-together models or by reading. I found that my time passed more quickly that way and it made a big difference improving my hand & eye coordination as well as my vocabulary.

We are introduced to the concept of time at a very early age, with stories beginning ‘once upon a time’. I also really like the way the late Dave Allen, an observational comedian, did a sketch in which he introduces ‘time’ to a child. This is the sketch, on YouTube:

Back in March, when I was rushed into the hospital, after a day or so I woke up with no idea as to where I was or what had happened to me. With no windows in the room I was in, I had no concept of time. I could not tell when it was night or day, I thought some meals were breakfast when they were dinner, it was so very confusing. But gradually things began to make sense again. Right now I am in an excellent Care Home, recuperating, but I still keep myself busy. One way is by writing a daily diary, which is useful, as is writing this weekly blog – it certainly helps pass the time!

I have mentioned the Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, in which the Earth is apparently blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Mention is made of Alpha Centauri, our nearest star, being a mere five light-years away. But given that light travels at about 186,281 miles per second, that there are around 31,536,000 seconds in a year, also that a light year is a unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance which light travels in one year, that star is a very long way away! So at the best speeds that we can muster, it would take a very long time to get there. Will we ever achieve anything close to the speed of light? Or even manage to ‘warp’ ourselves across distances at fantastically fast speeds, as in Star Trek? Perhaps.

As the Earth spins around, throughout our year there are the seasons. It still makes me smile thinking of folks over in Australia and New Zealand who will be celebrating Christmas in the hot weather, whilst over in the UK we might have snow! Then it all changes again as time passes and Nature works its wonders. The regular cycle of life continues around the world, all at about the same speed. It does vary a little, but not by much. I am led to believe that in reality, time is not the same for everyone but I won’t go into such things as space-time and all that sort of thing here, like how the passage of time is different for those out in space to those on Earth. That I will leave to the scientists.

I have previously mentioned my love of music and that too is governed by time, as the speed at which music is played is its tempo, the Italian word for time. We also use the word in our daily lives, like ‘this needs to be done in good time’, also when interacting with people, as in ‘I have no time for you’ or ‘can’t you make the time?’. In truth, we cannot make time. If we sit and listen to music, it can be said by some that we are sitting back and relaxing, but by others as simply wasting time. But that time still carries on, ticking away. Some feel that they must fill their waking hours with activity, but I have found it vital just to calm the mind, body and spirit, allowing a portion of our waking hours spent letting ourselves be at peace. I can assure you, it is not wasting time in doing this, it really is something I recommend, especially at the moment.

Right now we are all coping with a range of restrictions and changes, for quite how long I have no idea. So let us try and make the best of how things are, I have no doubt that there will be a few ups and as well as a few downs to deal with – all in the time to come!

This week:
There are 10 types of people – those who understand binary and those who don’t.

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Language And Communication

09 October 2020

If you have seen the film “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, you will know that at the start of the film, apes communicate with each other by making noises, along with body movements. Now we use more defined spoken languages, but whenever we can see the person in direct communication with us, we still rely on body language to fully understand what message they are sending us. There are folks I have known who wave their hands around whilst they talk, in fact it has been said that the only way to shut them up is by tying both their hands behind their backs! 

That is why some people don’t like using a telephone, as they cannot see the person they are communicating with. So it means they must rely on the tone of voice and perhaps such things as hesitation, maybe stuttering, all of which could be natural to the person talking but only realised by the listener if the person was in fact visible. It may also help to recognise an untruth if the person can actually be seen! But now we have video calls, which makes it easier to get a message across and with modern technology we can have a large number of people from all around the world seeing and listening to us, all at the same time. 

When I was a fair bit younger than I am now, there was a children’s tv series called The Clangers, which featured a family of mouse-like creatures who lived on, and inside, a small moon-like planet. They spoke only in a whistled language and only ate green soup (supplied by the Soup Dragon) and blue string pudding. It used a narrator to ‘fill in the gaps’, but all of the sounds these creatures made did make a lot of sense! If you have no idea what I’m on about, then might I suggest that you do have a look on YouTube or Wikipedia…

I believe there are around 195 countries in this world, but within those countries there are over 7,000 different languages. Except the vast majority of the world’s population use just 23 languages between them. It is fascinating that so many of them have a very similar structure or base and many words are quite similar. For example, in the French language ‘window’ is fenêtre, and in Welsh it is ffenestr. In Italian it is finestra whilst in German it is fenster. All are similar words. But equally, some languages are so very different. When I was young and learning English, “The cat sat on the mat” was taught as it rhymes and is easy to learn. But Spanish is very different, as that same phrase is “El gato se sentó en la alfombra” and just does not rhyme in the least!

When learning a new language, at first it can be difficult but then, once the basic structure becomes clearer and also more words are learned, generally things do get a bit easier. Though a friend is learning Hebrew and says it is unlike any other language in terms of structure. I shudder to think what Russian or perhaps Chinese is like, though the latter seems to be very much a ‘pictorial’ language. I’ll not try my hand at that, as my artwork in school was atrocious! Being left-handed also meant I ended up with blue ink along the side of my hand – so I turned the piece of paper I was writing on to an angle and wrote that way! It meant I wasn’t smudging the paper and I could see what I was writing. Result!

But an essential reason for language is of course communication. However, that can on odd occasions cause unfortunate events, like when an elder brother of mine was, with his wife, trying to teach their young twin daughters a few new words. Having bought them a light, folding chair to carry them around in, they taught them to say “buggy” – except the children didn’t quite get the pronunciation right, putting an ‘a’ at the end of the word instead of the ‘y’. It was an error that was quickly corrected!

I have concentrated mainly on the spoken language here, only mentioning the written part in passing. But there is also another form of beautiful communication that is known throughout the world and which does not necessarily need to be taught or learned for it to be at least appreciated. That language is music. As with any form of language there are many differences, with Western styles being very different to Eastern ones. But whatever our musical tastes are, whether they be classical, jazz, pop or whatever, music can quickly alter our mood. When I was driving my car, I’d a few different CD’s I could listen to but only certain ones were conducive to good and steady driving. Some music could make for aggressive driving! The same is for the spoken word, in that a tone of voice can convey how we feel. I remember going on holiday to Portugal and being pestered by street urchins who were begging for a bit of money. At first they didn’t know what language I spoke, so they tried greeting me in different languages. So, knowing a very few words of Welsh, I spoke to them (but in an extremely aggressive tone) in that language. The tone I used was as we would say “Go away, don’t bother me!”, but what I’d actually said was “Excuse me, may I sit down here please?”. The words meant nothing to them, but my aggressive tone conveyed a message and they went away.

I mentioned about me singing in different choirs and for a while I was a member of Leicester Bach Choir. It was fun, but hard work and sight-reading music was a must. But staying as I am in this Care Home at the moment reminds me of an event many years ago, it was at or around Christmas time and we sang at a place near Leicester. Before the concert started we were told about a man from a nearby Care Home who would be there and most likely sit at the front, near the stage. He would quietly listen, but if he didn’t like the music, he would politely get up and walk out. Then, when a different piece was sung, if he liked it he’d come back in and sit down to listen. It wasn’t considered the ‘right thing to do’, but I’ve often wondered – was he wrong in what he did? He didn’t like the music, so he left! He definitely communicated his feelings with his body language then, of that we can be sure. 

The art of good communication though is, in my view, remembering that we have two ears and two eyes, but only one mouth. It seems to me therefore that we should use them appropriately, looking and listening twice as hard as we talk. Sadly there are some who never seem to look or listen. They are also often quite selfish, always wanting things done their way and never considering others but sadly ‘using’ folk for their own ends. Interestingly, it seems that such people try to blame others when they don’t get their own way. It takes all sorts to make a world, but sometimes (as I have mentioned in a previous blog) they do not see any need to change their ways. 

All one can do is try and guide them, but if they will not see sense then one can either accept them for who and what they are, or walk away. I have known folk who seem to think everything said to them must have a deeper meaning. It may be that’s how their minds work, but often the question being put to them is simply that – just a simple question, requiring a just simple answer. 

Language and communication is a very complicated business. Will we ever get to the point of ‘instant’ translation, as found in the Star Trek series, or find something like the Babel fish, a fictional species of fish invented by Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, where putting this fish in your ear means that you can instantly understand whatever is said to you in any language…

It might happen, one day – and if my dear old grandfather were still alive, he would not believe the capability we now have of instant communication around the world compared to a hundred years ago! I guess he might also question how good this now is for us…

I shall finish with a thought:

If someone could have foreseen what was going to happen around the world this year, could it be said that they’d had a 2020 vision?

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Better Living

02 October 2020

Time passes and lifestyles change, many as a result of shortages. I was brought up at a time when food was limited, in fact some rationing was still in force the year I was born. It ended the following year. With all that is occurring now, rationing might very well return. 

Back in the 1950’s, here in the UK the ‘traditional’ meal consisted of meat and two different vegetables. My father was a keen gardener, had a separate vegetable patch, he grew a whole range of fruits like gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries and the like. But in time he found it was cheaper to buy all of those than to grow them. That too may change in time to come.

When I started work and later began living on my own, I got used to eating my main meals in the office canteen (sorry, staff restaurant!) so I was having quick meals at night when I arrived home. Cooking was not something I did much of, I admit. I also found eating proper meals at regularly spaced intervals suited me, so I rarely ate late at night. I would go out with friends a couple of nights a week, but I usually had just two or three pints of real ale over the whole evening, as did my friends. We went out to socialise, to chat, sometimes have differences of opinion but generally we got on well and we put the world to rights. We learned from each other, too. I had a very strict limit of one, perhaps two pints if I was driving. (As things are for me now, especially with the medication, I do not have any alcohol at all and I have been like that for a quite a few years now.) Back then I was in a team at the local ten-pin bowling alley, I played cornet in a local brass band, I also sang bass in a couple of mixed-voice choirs.

But circumstances do change. A few job moves meant I was travelling a great deal, meaning early starts and returning home late so I wasn’t socialising or even meeting my colleagues outside of work. It meant I wasn’t eating properly, so as a result I put on weight. Now, some years before I had developed Psoriasis, probably brought on by the stress of the job I was doing and me not managing the stress. I used to bottle it up inside me! But that changed after some good advice from a doctor. Thankfully the medication I was on kept my epilepsy well under control, but the Psoriasis was sadly getting worse and that worried me, which of course exacerbated the problem!

I did some research and slowly adjusted my diet, cutting out red meat. It was also around this time that I was told about the relaxation therapy that I have mentioned in earlier posts. Job changes meant that I wasn’t travelling as much, I was eating a bit more sensibly but not always. Then my job meant me moving house and starting a new job, still with the same firm though. I found it quite stressful at times, as some of the people I was working with weren’t the easiest to manage! Thankfully the Arka Dhyana relaxation therapy helped and in time the Psoriasis began to clear. In addition, I found that a more vegetarian diet, along with a bit of pescatarian, made a really big, positive difference in me.

For a few years the firm had been cutting back on staff and eventually I was given a choice, so I left. That change was a great deal more stressful than I had expected. I was helped by some good friends and so I eventually began my own business.

Over the years I’d had regular check-ups on my epilepsy as my body got used to the medication I was on. All seemed fine, but then about five years ago I started to have epileptic fits, so I was put on different medication and that controlled things. But these fits had come on without warning, on one occasion when I was driving but I somehow managed to stop the car, half on the pavement apparently as I do not remember the event at all. A policeman was driving by, realised something was wrong and called for assistance. That put me in hospital and I stopped driving for medical reasons, but I then chose to stop completely and I sold my car. I’d not hurt myself or anyone else whilst driving and I didn’t want to risk doing so in the future. 

Time passed and on reaching the age of 65 I retired, closing my business. I was now having to walk with a stick and sadly I wasn’t looking after myself as well as I should have done, hence the problems mentioned in an earlier blog entry. For that reason this year I ended up first in a local hospital, then various Care Homes. Now I feel happier, I am eating properly and I am getting regular exercise. I have been able to change my lifestyle, it can be done. I needed people around me to support me in this change and I thank them very much for all they have and are doing. We need a bit of positive support sometimes, to have that person say “You’re doing the right thing”. That is true in every way, be it mentally, physically or spiritually, in all ways of life.

But following a truly healthy lifestyle can bring more than just better health, it can bring happiness. It might mean just a few changes at times, so I say yet again – sometimes it ain’t easy, but from what I’ve seen with others and what I’ve done in the last few months, it is worth the effort – even if it doesn’t go down too well with everyone we know! We should surely all live our lives as best we can, in ways that make us as happy and content as we can possibly be. That’s my view, for what it’s worth. Living better can also be a real bit of encouragement to others. We are living in difficult times and we do not know quite how quickly things will settle down. But it won’t go back to how things were perhaps a year ago. As I have said before, ‘change is the one constant in this universe!’

No jokes to finish with this week, but a delightful memory to share with you. I was about to have my morning tea and toast last Saturday when I looked out of the window and saw a squirrel bounding across the lawns where I am! It was such a lovely thing to see and a delightful start to the day…

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