Visiting Hours

06 November 2020

A dear friend came to see me earlier this week, as it was a few days prior to ‘lockdown’. But it was just for half an hour. In some ways it was a bit like how I believe life can be in prison and given my general theme for this series of writings, it prompted me to compose the following:

Day 122: Today I was allowed outside into a different area here, they had put up a small structure in the gardens for folks to come and visit us. I thought it might be a chance for me to escape, but two warders (sorry, I mean ‘Carers’!) accompanied me and escorted me into the ‘pod’ as they have called it. A dear friend had come to see me before we all get this total ‘lockdown’! Then I saw that it was all set out like the old visiting rooms as shown in prisons on some tv series! This meant that I was on the ‘inmates’ side and my friend was on the ‘visitors’ side, with a Perspex screen in between. So we were able to see each other and talk using the speakers and microphones built in, but no exchange of goods or anything. I was kept on my side until the ‘Carers’ came to collect me, half an hour later. Still, it was really good to see my friend after so long.  She had brought a few items to me, but the bag was taken away and then left in my room. They probably checked all that was in it, too! I was hoping that I’d get that skeleton key to access the front door, but no such luck! Health & Safety, Security and all that I guess. I returned to my room as it was time for lunch and the smell of all the fresh paint in the nearby Tv room was too much to bear! Well, we are looked after. But it did cross my mind, wondering about what things we had done wrong. I’ve an idea about my life, but what about others – they’re not saying…

In truth though, all the staff at this Care Home are brilliant, they all do a really excellent job and I’m happy to be here for as long as I am meant to be. 

I’ll make no comment on the world outside, there is silliness all over the place as usual, including elections in the U.S.A. Perhaps I am in the best place right now. For some reason I was not at my best earlier this week, but the painters are decorating some of the rooms here and my sinuses have been playing up. I had an awful headache the other day, but that’s all cleared now I am glad to say. So I’ll keep this weeks writing a bit shorter than usual and look for a bit of inspiration for next week!

I finish this time with a quote:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!” ~ Vivian Greene

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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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Using Abbreviations

25 September 2020

Something I have always found annoying is the use of abbreviations without any explanation of their meaning. My favourite is itself a TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation). The company I used to work for had CSS, this being (for them) Customer Service System. Then later I learned much about how to create web pages for my business website and I was told about CSS, but in this instance these were Cascading Style Sheets! Another one from work, relating to the telephone service was NDT. So I knew this as meaning No Dial Tone, but chatting to an old RAF friend of mine I learned that to him it meant Non-Destructive Testing!

With all this Covid-19 business, I am now starting to see government statistics on Twitter and elsewhere and a mention was made of ‘MSOA data’. So we are now into four-letter abbreviations. Now you may be aware of this already, but Middle-layer Super Output Areas (MSOA) are part of a geographic hierarchy designed to improve the reporting of small area statistics in England and Wales. These are, from what my research has found, built from groups of contiguous Lower-layer Super Output Areas, so I guess that makes them LSOA. I have also found a web page that explains these delightful terms:

There’s also an awful lot more to this, all relating to Census data, which may be found on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website, all I will say is that as I’ve said in a previous blog, the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn! But I do wish the person writing the article mentioning the MSOA data had taken the trouble to either explain the term or put a link in to where an explanation could be found and not presume that we would know what it was all about!

It is my guess that the writer would think that we might not understand such terms and in true ‘Sir Humphrey Appleby’ style (as done in that excellent tv series ‘Yes, Minister’ & ‘ Yes, Prime Minister’) be so confused and not bother to find out. If we did, we might start asking questions, and that would not do at all!

As many of you know, I have more than a passing interest in photography as well as in computers. There are always people wanting to learn, but if we do not explain them, our use of abbreviations can make a person new to the subject feel like it is a ‘closed shop’ so they feel like they are not welcome. As a result, I try my best to say through the lens (TTL) metering, where light is measured directly through the lens of the camera as well as describing a single lens reflex (SLR) camera as one where the user can look through the viewfinder at the rear of the camera but typically uses a mirror and prism system (hence “reflex” from the mirror’s reflection) that permits the user to view through the lens and see exactly what will be captured. Folk hear the terms at the same time as their meanings.

It is just the same with computers, where you will probably know that CD refers to Compact Disc, CPU is Central Processing Unit and OS is Operating System, but there are so many, many more! If these terms are explained, newcomers may be more inclined to ask for more details and consider buying, rather than being put off.

Even so, I try not to feel embarrassed at not knowing! I am a fan of American Football and I have been for quite a few years, but I’m still very well aware as to how little I know about the game, the rules, player positions… The list of their abbreviations and codes seems endless! It is true that some of the terms we use are not timeless, one I can think of refers to the use of a hallucinogenic drug popular in the sixties and seventies, but the same term was also used to describe the currency of pounds, shillings & pence used here in the UK prior to the 15th of February 1971, when decimal currency was brought in.

I realise it depends who you are talking with, like knowing their knowledge level but a simple, polite question can save a great deal of misunderstanding. I try my best not to presume, but take the extra time to explain what an abbreviation means. I was taught to do this when the abbreviation was first used, as it would  make sense to the listener and would be  more likely that they would remember its meaning as well as its relevance.

So abbreviations have their place but they can add humour too. I am an avid fan of Star Trek and one character goes by the name of Spock. At one time, my job meant that I was the person others called on if they wanted to know about or had a problem with a certain computer system. I was therefore a Single Point Of Contact – I was SPOC! Entirely logical, in my view…

I’ll stop at this point with a question:
Can wearing an open-necked shirt be considered as a tie-break?

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Do I Need A…

18 September 2020

Some time ago a friend of mine wanted to buy a computer and they asked me for my advice on what they should get. I asked them what they would use it for, but sadly they had no idea, it was because they had been told by a younger member of their family that they ought to get one! That to me was not a good enough reason. I got them to learn a bit about computers and maybe get that younger person practicing their teaching skills by showing what they used their own computer for. It is a truism that we don’t know what we don’t know!

As part of a training course I went on some years ago, I learned of something called ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs’, which graphically displays the levels of our needs, from basic needs to feeling self-fulfilled. What I have found through my personal experience (and what I find fascinating) is how Maslow’s definition is so accurate.

In all, these needs are as follows:

Belongingness and love

The first two, Physiological and Safety, are basic ones – food, water, warmth & rest, then safety & security. We need these to survive. Belongingness & love are all on intimate relationships and friends. This, along with Esteem, regarding prestige and the feeling of accomplishment, relate to our psychology. But the top one, which is Self-actualisation, is all on fulfilment, like achieving our full potential, including our creative activities.

As a child I was given a simple camera, a Kodak Instamatic – it really was ‘point & click’! When I started work I bought a new camera that enabled different lenses to be fitted to it. A while later I got to do all the official photos at the wedding of a friend and they were delighted with the results, so that pleased me! I have continued to take the photos I like, mainly outdoor ones of sunsets, landscapes, holidays, but a few family ones and special events too. Did I need to have and know how to use a camera? Yes, most certainly!

When I was younger, in my late twenties, I wanted a particular car, in my case a Ford Capri. I got myself a good one, it served me well, it kept me all good and safe, even when I accidentally crashed it! I’d had a busy week working so I was tired, it was a Sunday morning, it had been a fairly long journey, the roads were quiet and I was about two miles from the place I lived. I made a wrong decision. The car could not be repaired, but I wasn’t even a little bit scratched. I had wanted that car, but did I need it? I did that day!

A little while later I put my name down to buy a house. I was seeing someone and she thought it was a good idea too, but in the end it didn’t work between us. Then I got a call from the builder, asking if I still wanted the house. I said yes, went to see the plot of land where the place was still being built and happened to meet an RAF guy whose house had been finished and he was just moving in. We became friends and still are, over thirty years later! When I have needed help he has been there and I have helped him. Did I need that house? I am glad I made the right decision!

A few years later my work moved me once more, this time to Nottingham. I bought a place near Chesterfield, I bought my first proper computer and taught myself how to use it, in some cases program it! Then work moved me around the Midlands, I enjoyed the work, learning all the time. As before, others asked me what value it was in me knowing about computers. Then it was all change, I was off again, this time to Sheffield and for a while Manchester!

By now I was a qualified trainer, standing up there in front of folk, telling them what to do and how to use some new computer software. It was fun. At least, I thought so. Finally it was time to move again, this time down to sunny Leicester, to a job where I continued training folk. The firm that I’d  worked for were cutting back on staff, so after 38 years it was goodbye. After a great deal of help and encouragement (you know who you are and I thank you very much!) I started my own business, but what in, you may ask? Photography and Computer Training! Did I need that camera? Did I need that computer? If you’ve read all of this, then you know my answer!!!

But surely, I hear you say, it couldn’t have always worked out well? In truth you are right. Whilst first on my travels by train to work, I met and actually ‘chatted up’ a pretty female. (My dear mother didn’t believe me – her shy, youngest son had been chatting up a female whilst on a train???) As it happened, around the same time I had by chance bumped into another female who I found very attractive, but I didn’t go with my gut instinct, I stayed with the the girl from the train. Ever the old romantic I guess… Anyway, we settled down for a while together, married then divorced as I found she was seeing another and didn’t want me. But that’s how life is sometimes.

So what we perceive to be a need isn’t always. We can however try to trust our own instincts. If we ‘feel’ it is right, then we should do it in my view. If it becomes hard work, when you are really struggling and nothing is working for you, then perhaps consider doing what I do. I take a step back, look objectively, then do what I know is right. I try and trust my instincts.

In the last few weeks and months I have had to do exactly that. There are some things I have had to make adjustments to in my life and it ain’t easy, but I have got some good and lovely people around me. I appreciate them all. Actually a few of my friends have asked how I am coping, now that I am surrounded by these inmates in this Care Home, but they’re not so bad and as I’ve said, the ‘guards’ are lovely and the food is good, but I will still moan just a tiny little bit if I get cold toast of a morning…

I am also reminded of a lovely line from an episode of Star Trek (the original series) by Spock. He had expected to get married but found his fiancée did not want him, so he turned to the new man in this girl’s life and said “She is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” Since first hearing that I have always done my best to remember.

Right now I’m better off than a few folk I know or am hearing about and I am truly thankful to be alive for as long as I am meant to be. I will give what help I can as, where and when I am able to. Do I need a walking frame? Right now, you bet I do – but that will change. I already have that walking stick to support me when the time arrives…

To end this week I’ve chosen the following:
A car driver is in his car. He stops a pedestrian and the two of them start a conversation.
Car driver: Excuse me, can you tell me the quickest way to get to the nearest town?
Pedestrian: Are you walking, or driving?
Car driver: I’m driving…
Pedestrian: Well, that’s the quickest way, then…

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Covid-19 Update

11 September 2020

Following on from last week’s blog I must report that us inmates are still in lockdown and confined to quarters. I learned that it was a member of staff who had tested as positive for Covid-19. So they have had to bring in staff from other places to cope. It has meant us being checked regularly for our temperature and no doubt we are also being watched for any adverse signs. In addition, last Saturday morning I was so bitterly disappointed to be told that I couldn’t be given my normal medication at my usual time as they did not have stock of them. This included the tablets I take to control my epilepsy. I’ve been on regular medication for this since my first epileptic fit in 1973 and I’ve made sure to keep a good supply of tablets so I would never run out.

So in this Care Home, where medication is kept in a central location and where they surely must have a system for monitoring minimum stock as well as ordering well in advance and ‘chasing up’ on orders, I do not know how this oversight could have occurred. I appreciate that I have recently had to change from one surgery over to another as a result of being in this Care Home, so maybe that is why the problem occurred. I was most unhappy, but the extra tablets were obtained. I know the staff here were and are doing their best, but it still stressed me out. In addition, it has meant some staff coming in on their days off and that cannot be easy for them at all.

I fully expect that I, along with all the other inmates here, will be kept confined as far as is possible until at least fourteen days has elapsed. They will probably do a check on us all as well as the Carers. This is right and proper, I have no problem with any of this. Well, apart from perhaps one thing – of a morning, I have a lovely mug of tea along with toast & marmalade, but at the moment there are rare times when the toast is almost cold!!!

However, if that’s all I can find to complain about, it’s not so bad really. So I will be a patient patient as I am sure that things will be back to ‘normal’ before too long and my toast will be warm again! I had a really lovely fried egg sandwich for my breakfast one morning, it was hot and so tasty! Thank you!!!

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Seasonal Changes

04 September 2020

I know that for some people the winter-time causes changes in behaviour, this is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is then characterised by a loss of pleasure or interest in one’s normal every-day activities along with irritability as well as feelings of despair, guilt, also a feeling of worthlessness. In addition, there might be a degree of lethargy (lacking in energy) as well as feeling sleepy during the day.

An added problem can be that with all the restrictions around Covid-19, only now are people getting very limited access to their family and friends. This will be having an effect on, for example, the inmates and all the staff where I am at present as well as everywhere else.

Recently we have had a few cooler days,  of little sunshine and periods of grey skies.  I know that for me personally I am at my best when it is neither too hot or too cold. I have been invited to spend a holiday over in India, but when I can go it will have to be as and when it is almost their coolest and probably wettest of times!

It is well known that those who climb high mountains have to be careful because the higher they go, the thinner the air due to the reduced air pressure. But changes in our weather bring high or low pressure to us at ground level, so I have an idea that these changes can also affect our mood, how we feel and how we cope from day to day. Also many people really enjoy bright days and look forward to all the sunshine they can, hence the reason that holidays abroad are so popular. Bright days in the sunshine will be what they all look forward to. Most people, anyway.

But what of the moon? It has an effect on the earth, we know from the way the tides change during the year. I  was talking to a friend of mine and I was reminded that there would be a full moon on the second of September. I know it can affect some, I wondered though what effect that might have on the people in this place, given the problems they have. So I decided to watch the behaviour of the other inmates as best I could here over the few days prior to and afterwards.

Then on the day of the full moon, changes occurred. I had my tablets slightly late but also all of us inmates were kept in our own rooms. This was due to a person testing positive for Covid-19, apparently. All our meals were brought to us and I wondered if this situation would remain for fourteen days, just as I had been isolated when I first got here. Time would, literally, tell. I could only presume that someone, my guess a Carer, had tested positive, unless an inmate had showed any signs.

As a result, any effects that the full moon might or might not have were not now so easy to identify because inmates were not able to meet or at the very least be in the same room as each other. They might not talk very much, but being with others can have a really comforting effect. It seems to me, at least.

Consequently I was unable to determine with any degree of certainty as to whether the full moon had affected anyone here, inmates or Carers etc, in this Care Home. I have made a note on when a full moon will occur again and if possible I will note any effects at that time!

Finally this week I couldn’t end without mentioning the following, as it made me chuckle. Normally my supper is a tasty sandwich and perhaps a cake which are served on a proper plate, along with a nice mug of tea. But one night the food items were served on a pad of paper napkins. I did wonder if perhaps they were trying to save on washing up??? Just a thought…

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