Sunday, 22 April 2018

Another Beautiful Day

We had thunder last night, a huge storm that got trapped over the Solent, as they sometimes do, confined between Portsdown Hill on the mainland, and the downs on the southern side of the Island. I went upstairs to check on the cat, who was fine, and sat on the table in our bedroom window, looking out at the flashes that lit the sky from East to West. I kept my eyes forward, in a meditative state, waiting for lightning bolts to appear within my view, and inside five minutes I saw several: beautiful, brutal, jagged lines of pure white, linking the night cloud to the horizon like ruptures in the sky.

This morning dawned clear. Last week had given us glorious summer weather, but Saturday had been dull and wet, culminating in the storm as night fell. Today is bright, summery, but with the fresh aftermath of the storm.

Amanda and I got up early enough to take Tia out before getting bogged down in the weekend obligations to family, house and friends. We decided to go to Compton Beach, on the south west of the Island. It’s a bit of a haul to get there, driving through Newport and then on out to the South Coast, but, at low tide, it is one of the glories of living here. Low tide was at 9:15 this morning: we got there at about 8:30, and the sand, peppered with seaweed, rocks and tide pools, and with the chalk cliffs of Freshwater as its backdrop, looked like a setting from a fantasy novel.

We walked eastwards, into the sun, the sound of a strong surf accompanying our lazy chat. Amanda has been taking dog training classes and Tia, despite her limitless capacity for excitement, is becoming more manageable. She sprinted ahead, but came back to us when Amanda called, and ran delighted rings around us when she had received a reward for her obedience. We went further than we had intended, because we met other walkers, and got talking, or Tia was playing with their dogs as we walked, but it didn’t matter. It was Sunday, the sun was out, and we live in a beautiful, beautiful place.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Under The Hammer

A hammer, under which I am.

I need to take stock.

I’m not sure I really have the time to maintain this blog anymore. The part of it that matters to me most, the book reviews, take a day to write, at least, and, lately, a spare day has not been available.

Work, like a noxious gas, expands to fill all space. My job is supposed to be part time – twenty-four hours per week – but it is not. I gave up the memory group work last month, so that I had more time to keep up with admin for my teaching job, but I seem to have even less time this year, with large classes and an enrolment and assessment system that demands huge amounts of repetitive paperwork.

Nevertheless, I am keeping up with that, and my learners seem, for the most part, happy. With the first half term over, my classes are making progress: we will be entering the English learners for reading exams for the end of term and I am optimistic that it will be a successful round of assessments. In maths, my classes are progressing well through the basic calculation material and we will be able to get on to application before Christmas.

Besides work, however, I have started an Open University course in Science, Technology and Maths. I am hoping to progress to a computing and IT degree next year. I wanted to improve my maths knowledge to underpin my teaching, but am also thinking ahead: I don’t want to be trapped in this job until I drop, as it is quite physically demanding. I have to cart large amounts of paperwork, books and a laptop around to different venues, put out tables, and am on my feet for two hours at a time as I teach. Even the act of crouching beside a desk as I guide a learner is something that I will not be able to do for many more years. I am fit enough, but my feet aren’t great and the aches and pains of middle age are beginning to catch up with me.

So, I thought that an IT degree, finished before I’m sixty, might offer me a few options. It is a sort of interest of mine: I am dubious about the mainstream methods of communication and would like to be able to set up my own channels. Not being on Facebook and Twitter is a major impediment to participation in some things, particularly politics and social events, but I sense that their high water marks may be about to pass. I would like to keep up with the tech, but not be dependent upon having to pay through the nose for new machines every time things change. For that, I need better skills in open source software, and for that, I need training.

So far, the OU course is only two weeks old and is, mostly, about study skills and a bit of environmental science. It’s an access course, so it’s about preparing learners for degree study. I’ve learnt a little bit, but not been seriously challenged yet. However, an upcoming task is to master a scientific calculator, which I am both dreading and looking forward to.

I intended to do that yesterday, but Ubuntu released its new version on Thursday and, like a fool, I set my desktop computer to upgrade on Friday. I should have remembered that every upgrade means I am dazzled into tinkering with my set-up.

Ubuntu with Unity and Buuf icon theme

That is particularly true of this upgrade, which is quite a fundamental change. Ubuntu has reverted to a Gnome Desktop, which is a shame in some ways. I have come to like the Unity desktop, but its rationale has been superseded by developments. The huge advantage of Gnome is its maturity and its integrated applications. Yesterday, I spent most of the day changing applications: I have, for instance, removed Evolution email and Calendar, because Gnome comes with a lovely calendar app and works beautifully with the simple but superb Geary email app.

I also set up back ups, for the first time. I have relied upon an external hard drive for keeping copies of things, but it is old and becoming more of a risk than a safeguard. Last year, in a fit of optimism, I bought a 1TB hard drive and a caddy in which to run it. It is now almost full with a full set of Deja-Dup files and, if my six-year-old desktop suffers a catastrophic failure, I should have some recourse. I’d like to set up a Nextcloud server to be a secondary backup, but that takes time, resources and knowledge: all in short supply. Without those qualities, it takes money, and I really can’t afford to rent a cloud service: I’m already paying nearly £200 per year to keep this site running.

So, work and computers are my main time suckers. What else?

Well, Amanda, very skillfully, has organised the renovation of our kitchen. We went over to Ikea in Southampton on a couple of beautiful days this summer, and bought nearly two grands worth of boxes, which are currently piled up in our dining room. Last week, a very nice electrician did the wiring of the kitchen, although I think he’s done one fewer sockets than we asked for, which could mean I will be stuck with making a choice between the kettle and music when I’m cooking.

So, this half term break has a task hanging over it: assembling and installing kitchen units, getting it finished off by various trades people who know what they’re doing, and decorating the kitchen. I loathe DIY.

The other time killer is the bloody dog. She is a sweet enough animal, and I do have moments of adoration, but, Oh God! What a fucking palaver owning a dog is! As dogs go, she’s not that noisy, but there’s just that constant inquisitive presence, demanding attention, whenever I move around the house. The house smells of dog, and the carpets all need deep cleaning because she whines so much in the morning that we don’t know when she’s whining to go out for a piss and when she’s just whining because we’re not in the same room as her.

Amanda and Tia in Firestone Copse, September 2017

Having said that, the walks are nice. We went to Firestone Copse on Friday and had a really good wander. She can be let off the lead now, which means Amanda and I can talk, when Amanda’s not trying to turn the whole thing into a ‘training session’. On days when long walks aren’t possible, we are lucky to have two recreation grounds within five minutes’ walk. Also, I have got into the practice of taking Tia up to Osborne House if Amanda wants a sleep in the afternoon and I’ve finished work. Dogs have to be kept on leads there, but Tia’s happy enough sniffing around. The grounds are beautiful and I get an hour of daydreaming. We wander along the valley walk path, through Prince Albert’s landscaped park, down to the beach, and then back up through the woods, past the cottage and along the top field. We have had quite a lot of good autumn weather this year, although it has been punctuated by extreme bizarreness, and it has been lovely to have a reason to get out and enjoy it.

So, yes, I am busy. Having laid it all out here, though, it sounds less awful than it has seemed. I have a lot to be grateful for, really, even if it does include a bloody dog. The cat’s adapted; so shall I.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Dogs Are Bullies.

When we were considering getting a dog, I repeatedly expressed concern about the cat and the response (from, as I now realise, mainly dog lovers) was invariably, “Don’t worry about it; they’ll work it out.”

This is a comforting lie. What has happened is that the cat’s indoor territory and his freedom of movement through the house has been drastically reduced. Tia, the dog, can be taught to sit, lie down, be quiet and wait, but only if the cat isn’t about. If he is, she will terrorise him, and the cat has had to confine himself to upstairs, beyond the incredibly inconvenient stairgate we’ve fitted to keep Tia downstairs. She is jealous of any attention he receives and will whine and yap as I pet him. She regards him as an intrusion to be driven out.

While I am enjoying the walks with Tia, despite the fact that they eat up huge chunks of time and fill up my already over-allotted days, making time to think, write or read even rarer than it was, I do not really like her. She is like a charming, beautiful, spoilt princess who has disrupted my life when it didn’t really have time for disruption.

Fortunately, Albee is a stoic, and has claws, so he gets in and out of the house with a little help and can find peace on our bed or in my study. However, I miss his presence in the sitting room or in the garden, from which the little princess has entirely driven him. He goes over the road now, to the garden opposite and no doubt annoys our neighbours’ cats, passing on the misery.

I’m sorry, Albee.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

An End to Peace

We have a dog.

The cat is not amused and I am bewildered, but Amanda wanted one, researched the whole process and procured Tia, a Cypriot refugee, from a rescue charity.

She is a sort of miniature labrador, spaniel-sized and very hectic, but gentle and sweet-natured with it. My cat lover’s heart has been somewhat won over, despite the destruction she has wrought. Amanda is besotted and very happy, and that’s good enough for me.