Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Wednesday 3 June – Random Witterings from Home #21

I did something today that I haven’t done since the first week of March: I went to a shop unnecessarily. It feels frivolous and a touch reckless!

Since our visit to Ikea in Murcia on 5 March, I have only been into shops to buy food* and since returning home those supermarket excursions have been far fewer than is our norm.

Today, however, I decided that I was going out for some compost and weedkiller (and a few other items that I ended up not buying, either because they didn’t have them in stock or because I was dithering too much over the purchase) none of which could be considered essential**.

Not wanting to involve myself in any queuing (although with today’s rain, I’m sure that many people were put off from venturing out into retail settings), I set out early and as it was before 8am when I was passing one of the main supermarkets on my way to my compost mission, I nipped in to see if I could get the things we’ve been managing without, that aren’t available in Lidl. I came out with a couple of bags of shopping (yeast was amongst the items available, although I noted that their flour shelves were in a sorry state of emptiness) and proceeded further up the road to B&Q.

The entire excursion turned out to be surprisingly stress-free. Both shops are so big and (due to hour of day and weather) were so quiet as to make movement around the store easy and the customers seemed mainly to be courteous and to have got the ‘keep distant’ message, unlike those I’m generally encountering in Lidl.

(*Mick shopped with me three times during our remaining time in Spain, but has not been in a supermarket in the UK since the beginning of January!

**Not essential, but I’m sure my seedlings that have now been thinned and transplanted are heaving a sigh of relief as a result of the compost purchase.)

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Tuesday 2 June - Random Witterings from Home #20

I have to start today by sharing the latest Photoshop brilliance from Humphrey, for those who haven’t have seen the link in the comments on my last post. He asked, in relation to my chicken and mushroom pie, what was with the camel train:

If anyone has any tips for filling in camel footprints on a kitchen work-surface, please let me know!

I saw this and snorted. A call of “What is it?” came from Mick in the other room. I took my phone to show him. He joined me in my laughter, and we both uttered ‘brilliant’ again. Thank you Humphrey!

Mobile Data
For years I have been a Pay-As-You-Go mobile phone user, which has worked out to be cost effective (sometimes as low as £20 per year) by virtue of scant use. Then in September 2019 I was enticed by an offer on a Vodafone contract:  5GB data plus unlimited calls and texts for £6.66/month. It would give an all-in-one solution when away in Bertie (i.e. mobile phone for me, plus mobile internet for use in Bertie).

Part of the calculation in opting for the contract was how much use it would get but those calculations did not, of course, take into account the scenario in which we now find ourselves. Thus I find myself with 9 months through the contract period, having hammered the data allowance for 2.5 months, used it modestly for 1 month and having used it not at all the rest of the time. I suspect it will remain unused until I cancel it at the end of the initial contract period.

There are clearly far worse things that happen at sea, but what bad timing for me to have bought my first mobile contract in over 15 years!

Mobile Data Consumption
Tangentially related to the above, when I took out the contract 5GB of data per month seemed like a huge quantity when a 12GB internet-only Three SIM would previously last for a whole 12 months of use in Bertie. What I discovered in January this year is that when I think “I’ve got loads of data!” my usage increases accordingly. I’d expected it to be enough to download a few TV programmes a month as well as a newspaper each day; in reality I had to rein in what I was doing (travel related stuff and research has to take priority) and change some settings on my phone to stop myself going over my limit, and we never did use it to download a newspaper.

Misbehaving Technology
Whilst on the subject of my phone: last week it decided that it would stop podcasts from playing once my phone’s screen was locked. Podcasts are my entertainment/education of choice when I’m out running, so this was something of a disaster and the annoying thing was that I hadn’t touched any settings.

I duly checked the obvious culprit: the battery optimisation settings (and continued to check them a dozen times a day, just in case I’d overlooked something every other time); I consulted Google (“It’s your battery optimisation settings” was the universal answer); I uninstalled the App and reinstalled it; I established that Audible, BBC Sounds and Music would continue when the screen was locked; I downloaded a different Podcast App (also stopped when screen locked); I Googled some more; I seriously wondered whether crying would help; I dug my old phone out, switched my SIM over and resigned myself to having to take a technological step backwards for the time being. Finally yesterday yet another Google search turned up a post that didn’t directly apply to the operating system I’m running, but it gave me the idea that the problem wasn’t with the podcast App, but with some other App with which the podcast App interacts. I had no idea what that might be, but switched my battery optimisation settings to allow *EVERYTHING* to play in the background. Yay! Success! I did a happy dance.

The Tow Path
Martin commented on my last post about the narrowness of our canal tow-path. The photo in that post showed one of the wider bits on that section of canal; much of it is more like this:

There are better sections of path both to the north and south, but they are also nearer to civilisation and thus are busier (which translates to ‘too busy for current times’).

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Sunday 31 May – Random Witterings From Home #19

I’ve started occasionally running along a short section of the canal tow-path again. I almost never used to encounter others there, but these days it’s a lot more popular. The cost of going that way is having to stop and step-off when anyone approaches, as it’s not a wide path and is currently bounded by tall grasses*.

It’s particularly attractive along the canal at the moment and the tow path, which is seasonally either a mudfest or horribly rutted, is currently worn into a friendly track (still need to be careful of roots, mind).

So green!

Ignoring my mug in this shot (not my best in-action selfie as I’d accidentally left a 10-second self-timer on!), what’s notable are the worn parallel lines behind me; neither Mick nor I have ever seen such wear before – testament to the increased footfall.

I only took one ‘photo’ on Tuesday: a screenshot of the most bizarre sentence that DuoLingo has given me to date:

As useful as being able to express that my hovercraft is full of eels?

I discovered that our favourite Thai restaurant had opened again, for take-aways. Somehow I failed to take a snap of any part of the resultant feast, but we thoroughly pigged out and enjoyed every mouthful. The ‘eating out’ portion of our monthly budget is looking (unsurprisingly) healthy at the moment, so I think there may be a repeat visit soon.

I thought the Thai was going to be the absolute highlight of the week…

…but the highlight came unexpectedly in the middle of Thursday afternoon, when there was a knock at the door and I answered it to see Postie just running away. I quick look around revealed this just to the side of the door:

We weren’t expecting anything, but immediately on picking it up I knew what was in it, and the return address told me the rest:

Thanks go to Conrad for thinking of us, sourcing and sending.

Who would have thought at the turn of the year that receiving a gift of a bag of bread flour through the post would be so grin-inducing?

Friday’s parcel was expected:

White! I feel like I've slipped back in time by 15 years.

My running shoe collection is now such that I could wear a different pair every day of the week, but some of them are getting a bit long in the tooth (having covered more than double the manufacturers’ recommended mileage).

Completely unrelated to Thursday’s delivery (different type of flour involved), I also made Mick a rather good (even if I do say so myself!) chicken and mushroom pie:

I needed the room being taken up by the chicken carcass in the freezer and having boiled it up for stock was able to salvage plenty enough pickings of meat for a pie.

Another mid-run snap

I’m getting a bit worried out the current run of weather. After such a prolonged dry spell, quite how much is it going to rain when it breaks?!

That brings us to today, when I’ve not taken a single photo. I did however go for my 31st run of the month, bringing my mileage up to just over 151 – my third consecutive personal-record breaking month. I know I said the same last month, but I *really* don’t intend to run so many times, or so far in June.

(*a walker stopped for me the other day and I felt bad in case they thought I expected them to give way; I’d eyed up a place in between us where I could get off the path, but they acted before I reached it)

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Sunday 24 May – Random Witterings from Home #18

On 12 April, in one of my more random witterings, I talked about this lamp:

Mick wanted to remove it, but the end decision was that it had to stay because it was easier than trying to find out (in the absence of ever having found a switch) where the wires ran so as to disconnect it.

That position was changed by fate this week; or rather, by an electrical fault that tripped the breaker for the upstairs lighting circuit. I could, perhaps, have forgiven a single trip, but the fact that it tripped repeatedly told me it was an unignorable fault.

I didn’t much fancy the tedious process of trying to find the fault, but neither could we live without upstairs lights (although easier at this time of year than in winter!). After ruling out the most obvious (and also easiest) cause, further investigations* revealed a few things:

1)      Our ‘upstairs lighting’ breaker on the consumer unit also covers the utility room and the outside lights;

2)      Our bedside lights are not directly connected to the upstairs lighting circuit, but are wired via the utility room spur (particularly bizarre given those lights and the utility room lie at diagonally opposite corners of the house);

3)      The wires for all of the later additions to this breaker are connected via two stuffed-full junction boxes in a confined area of loft space;

4)      The switch for the outside lights was a light (not movement) sensor mounted on the roof;

5)      I’m now pretty sure that a small electrical box behind a radiator is where the armoured cable from the garden lamp meets the wiring from the house, however, we cannot access that box without removing the radiator.

I was rather proud that, having taken a guess as to what each wire was for, based on where it appeared to be headed, my further investigations proved me right in all cases. All of those wires are now numbered and my back-of-a-scrap-envelope sketch has now been written more neatly and lives up in the loft by those junction boxes so as to make any future maintenance easier.

As for the fault, it was the light sensor up on the roof. It is now disconnected and thus it would now be a straightforward job to either remove the offending lamppost or to install a switch so that we can use both of the outside lights, however, given that we’ve managed for eight years without those lights I think we can easily convince ourselves that they’re not needed.

Yep, more cakes. Coconut sponge this time. Far yummier than they look.


(*In my experience it’s best not to trace the wiring in your house as doing so tends to lead to the uncovering of things you’d rather not know about. There was an incident a few houses ago when, in removing plaster** to install a damp-proof course, I cut straight through the wire to the socket into which my SDS drill was plugged (yep, I’d marked the relevant channel in red and hatched it through to denote that I wasn’t to go near that area… then managed to overlook the markings). In putting it right I started by tracing all wires and creating a wiring diagram for the entire house and in so doing uncovered some absolute horrors of bad practice. Then there was a house we bought thinking it needed nothing doing to it and on the first day we were there I discovered that five sockets and three lights in an outbuilding had all been spurred from a single socket in the kitchen. I could go on…

**Mick knew nothing about this activity until he got home from work and found we had no plaster on the bottom 1m of the downstairs walls. He hadn't even known I'd been at home that day. The reason I was at home was a little ironic: two weeks previously a contractor had accidentally cut through the electric supply cable for the entire manufacturing site at which I was working; whilst discussions went on as to who was liable to put it right, the supply was re-routed; on the morning in question a different contractor accidentally cut through the rerouted supply; there wasn’t another supply cable so no further re-routing was possible thus the site got closed whilst an impressive number of industrial generators was brought in to provide temporary power pending restoration of the mains supply.)

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Thursday 21 May – Random Witterings from Home #17

British Loaf Bouldering Championships

My last post included a photo of a not-entirely-successful loaf of bread and Conrad commented that it looked like there could be some good bouldering routes on that loaf. When I examined the photo again, I could see exactly what he meant and responded to the effect that it was a shame that I don’t have any photo manipulation software (nor the knowledge as to how to use it).

Humphrey has the tools and the ability, and this morning sent a link to this photo:

What a good laugh that gave us, as we uttered our assessment of ‘Brilliant!’. Thank you Humphrey!

Spot the Difference

The background Humphrey has used for the Loaf Bouldering was our latest ‘Spot the Difference’, as put together for the Virtual TGO Challenge. There are twelve intentional differences between these two photos (plus at least a couple of minor accidental variations), eleven of which are easy to find:


Spot the Difference (Howard & Hilda edition)

When we parkrun abroad, Mick usually wears his official ‘parkrun’ apricot t-shirt. Most people have these personalised with the name of their home parkrun and thus it’s normal for others to look at Mick’s chest to find out where we’re from. However, Mick’s shirt isn’t personalised, because being uncertain as to the most appropriate size, I played it safe and got him a plain one (which could have been returned for an exchange, if needed).

When parkruns got suspended back in March, parkrunners all over the world continued to go out for solo/family runs every Saturday morning, and lots of reports hit social media and podcasts of various ‘new’ parkruns – like “Ben’s back yard parkrun” – some courses requiring hundreds of circuits to achieve the required distance. parkrun HQ responded by lifting the restrictions on what you could have printed on the apricot t-shirts (previously only the name of an official parkrun was allowed).

I tussled with the purchase for weeks, on the basis that I couldn’t justify spending so much on a t-shirt. Then I remembered my birthday, ignored the fact that it’s not this month (nor next, nor the one after…) and announced to Mick that I knew what he was getting me for my birthday. As I didn’t get him a present back in February, he decided to join me in the frivolous t-shirt purchases.

I think our choice of personalised wording describes perfectly where we’re from:

His-and-hers matching! 

More cakes?!

I won’t share yet another cake photo, but this week’s baking was better justified than most as Mick nipped up to Halifax to help his mum out with a few things on Tuesday and, as I couldn’t go with him, I sent her some cakes instead. She’s been completely isolated since the beginning of March, so she was understandably excited to see one of her boys. It was a nice enough day (although not overly warm and a bit breezy) so they got to spend some time sitting (distanced, of course) in the garden whilst he did the necessary admin.

On another baking-related note, if we weren’t social distancing I might have hugged our next door neighbour this week when he came around with flowers flour (a bag of plain) for me. Yay! Woop woop!

If I can just get hold of some more bread flour (I’m about to put a loaf on and it’s going to wipe us out again), then all of my flour desires will be met.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Sunday 17 May - Random Witterings from Home #16

In a parallel world, where our year proceeded as originally planned, we would have been in Scotland at the moment*. Specifically, we would be at the end of our tenth day of sitting in the Kinnaird Room in the Park Hotel, Montrose, manning Challenge Control as 350-ish people walked across Scotland as part of the TGO Challenge. That said, we would have nipped away from Montrose this weekend and zipped up to Elgin to attend the annual RAF CXX Squadron dinner.

Same dinner, same hotel, two years ago

In the real world we are, of course, still at home, at the end of a week that positively flew by. I’ve been out precisely 10 times this week (7 runs; 2 walks; 1 shopping trip) but even with all of the rest of the time being spent at home there just aren’t enough hours in the day! The daily crossword habit has been neglected, for two consecutive days my knitting went untouched and although I keep recording things on TV to watch, they’re mainly piling up.

I’ve not got much to report for all the activity that’s been going on (Mick’s doing some work; I’m doing some reviewing of that work), but here are the bits for which I have illustrations:

Are you fed up of seeing cake photos yet? I probably need to ease up on my cake consumption (in my defence, I don’t know what’s going on with carrots at the moment, but they’re going off far faster than I’ve ever experienced before, so I had no choice but to make more carrot cakes).

This week’s loaf of bread didn’t come out well. Not sure what went wrong, but it still tasted fine:

This is not representative of what our bread machine usually produces! 

My proudest make of the week was a TGO Challenge themed face mask, as prettily modelled by Mick in this trio of photos:

There’s a virtual-TGO Challenge in progress on line; the maps are part of virtual-Challenge Control (Southern Division)

Otherwise there has been more cleaning out of cupboards (an activity that went by the wayside a few weeks back but I’ve started attacking again this week; I do have photos of this activity but am too ashamed of the mess to share them!), and a small amount of gardening. The courgettes in the garden are now all officially dead, but the ones indoors are growing well and hopefully it’s now warm enough for them to thrive when I plant them out next week. Meanwhile the runner beans and the potatoes are all looking good and there’s a reasonable crop (considering the small size of the bush) of gooseberries just begging to become a crumble in due course.


(*Had we, for some unfathomable reason, decided to stay in Spain and not even come home in April when we were due to, then we would have got all excited a week or so ago when it was announced that Spain was moving into Phase 1 of their lockdown, with businesses, including bars and restaurants (subject to certain restrictions) being allowed to reopen. Then it was announced that not every region was moving into Phase 1. The region we were in at the point we decided to come home (Castellon) is one of those that is being kept in Phase 0. Whilst the State of Alarm has been extended, permanent residents of other EU countries (which for the time being can be read as including the UK) are still permitted to transit across the country in order to return home.)

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Wednesday 13 May - Random Witterings from Home #15

An exciting day today: Mick and I have been for a walk together! The last time we did that (or indeed went out in public anywhere together*) was on 16 March when we walked around the ramparts at Montreuil-sur-Mer.

Since then we have abided by the Government’s request that we only exercise once per day and have opted to do that separately (at the outset because it was easier to pass other people at a safe distance when alone, since then because I’ve been running and Mick, with a poorly achilles, has been walking). However, today was the day when Boris declared that he was happy for us to go out, for the purpose of exercise, as many times as we wanted. Thus, I ran this morning then was joined by Mick this afternoon for a turn through a local patch of forest. I’ve run on the road around the outside edge of the bit of forest in question countless times over the last eight weeks, but have been put off from straying onto its paths due to the knowledge of how overgrown and uneven they are (taken at a run I’d likely fall and possibly injure myself).

I’ve visited just about every pond in the area on various runs over the last two months, but felt this one was off limits due to the nature of the paths surrounding it.

The view I’ve been unaccustomed to seeing: Mick a few paces ahead of me!

Today is also the day on which the reason for my current running streak (standing at 53 days**) came to an end. I should probably, therefore, break the streak…

(*I suppose you could say we were out in public together on the 17 March, when we drove home from Montrueil-sur-Mer, but as we were in Bertie the whole time it feels like we were ‘at home’.

**minimum of 2.5 miles per day, longest 11.1 miles, average of 4.55 miles per day)