Monday, 18 February 2019

Colds

I'm five days into a cold, which has quickly run through the sequence of sore throat, sneezing and a runny nose, thickening catarrh, and now, today, an irritating cough. The cough may linger for a few days more, but I think I'm well past the worst, and feel perfectly well enough to do most of the things I normally do at home.

In fact yesterday I emptied the caravan, which is going to the dealer tomorrow for some necessary remedial work - new window and side-hatch seals to stop damp getting in, and resin treatment to stiffen up the floor in front of the cooker, which has become soft with the pressure of my weight over the years. The caravan floor is a thick sandwich of insulating material and layers of plywood, and it eventually compresses, and then flexes. The resin will stiffen it up again. The work is labour-intensive and takes many hours, so will cost me hundreds. But it'll be worth it, if the caravan can then soldier on for several years longer. It currently costs me about £30 a night to take my holidays in my caravan - split £15 for running costs like bottled gas, insurance, Club membership, servicing, and remedial work like this; £15 a night for site fees. That's cheap for a compact and very comfortable mobile hotel room with a kitchen, bathroom and sunny view front and sideways! So my money is an investment in ongoing holidays, anywhere I fancy taking the caravan to.

But to get the caravan ready for the dealer, it had to be emptied out (yesterday's task), and then (this afternoon) given a bit of a vacuum and general wipe-down. So I'm glad my cold has all but passed. Hopefully the cough will disappear overnight.

I don't get many colds, which at age sixty-six I'm very thankful for. I began to note their duration in my diary a while back, and this is the record since the start of last year:

# A cold lasting six days from 10th to 15th February 2018
# A cold lasting six days from 19th to 24th May 2018
# A cold lasting five days (so far) from 14th to 18th February 2019

I know I did have at least two weekend sniffles during the summer and autumn, but they were quickly shrugged off and didn't make it into the diary. So: in the past year, only those three instances of a proper cold.

That seems to me more than simply good luck. What factors might be at play to keep me so cold-free? I can think of several.

First, I live alone. There's no other person in my home, and therefore nobody constantly near me, in my living space, who can infect me with whatever bug they may pick up.

Second, I generally travel alone. I hate buses, and rarely take trains. I'm nearly always driving my own car, and therefore to a large extent (there are sometimes passengers, of course) insulated from the germ-spreading rife on public transport.

Third, I eat well and wisely. That means a balanced and nutritious diet, with very little in it that could possibly undermine my general health. I am convinced that a good eating and drinking regime builds resilience to infection, and makes it easier for the body to fight off colds, or to recover quickly from them.

Fourth, if I do fall ill, I don't push myself. I do as nature tells me. It's full-on rest and recuperation. If that means things like keeping indoors in the warm, and sleeping much more than usual, and bowing out of social engagements - even postponing a holiday - then I will do it. I won't play ducks and drakes with my well-being. I'm not a superwoman.

Fifth, I've been careful with my general health all of my life. Not to the point of hypocondria, but I never went in for any kind of self-harm such as smoking, drugs or stressful pursuits. It must be paying dividends now.

Sixth, I don't do relationships, and haven't had one for many years. I know that many people need a relationship, and would be utterly lost without their partner. But, with the benefit of hindsight, I think they were all a mistake for me, giving me more stress and frustration than comfort or inspiration. Free of them, I have thrived. I conclude that I am a naturally solitary person, and should always have been left alone to make my way through life in glorious independence. I admit that decades ago I fell victim to the biological clock and sundry social pressures - often ignoring my conscious better judgement - and I reaped the consequences. The lesson has finally been learned, though: and surprise, surprise, my cheerfulness, well-being and state of general health are all very good.

So maybe it's not so much of a mystery why I get off lightly when colds go around. It's a combination of low chance of contact, high personal resistance, and proper recovery management. Nothing magical there.

I just hope that whatever keeps my colds to a minimum is keeping other, more serious, illness at bay as well. I don't fear an old age racked by unending minor but chronic ailments. But I do fear any one of several dire conditions that could strike at any moment. And self-congratulatory analyses won't be any shield against them.

Waking up on 30th March

Gosh, only six weeks to go before Brexit actually happens! And I rather think it will, bang on schedule, at 11.00pm on Friday 29th March.

We'll all go to bed divorced from the rest of Europe. And wake up next day, on Saturday 30th, wondering what immediate changes there will be. Will there be disturbing reports on the 7.00am BBC Radio 4 News?

I'll be off to Waitrose as usual. Will I see some of the things I usually buy marked up by 10%? Or indeed empty shelves, picked clean by panic-buyers? I'll want diesel for my trip to Scotland on the following Monday. Will I face queues, and a degree of fuel rationing?

Or will there be no discernible changes whatsoever? Just business as usual?

It's hard to tell. I suspect that it will all seem utterly normal and ordinary, the morning after our exit from the EU. And will go on that way for quite a while. Remember the transition from 1999 to 2000? All those Millennium warnings about computers crashing and civilisation falling apart? How the media wound us all up - but it didn't happen.

Do you in fact recall how it was the day after we became functioning members of the EU (then simply the 'Common Market')? No? Well, nothing changed immediately. Life just went on. And in the ensuing years of the 1970s, Utopia didn't arrive. Only rampant inflation that took a long time to bring under control.

Membership of the EU did mean some radical changes in the fullness of time. Almost the first, in 1973, was the introduction of VAT. Then sundry trade, workplace and travel regulations to harmonise the UK with the rest of the EU. Some of these EU-inspired laws made life easier, fairer, or safer for minorities in this country.

Then came the Euro. And - as a first step - membership of a currency scheme. It didn't work for us, and we backed out, never to return.

Back in the 1990s, I was quite a fan of the Euro. I wasn't an ardent supporter of the pound. So far as I was concerned, our traditional currency had already been done to death, brutally killed off when decimalisation took place in 1971. The 'pound' now in use wasn't the same animal. It was a soulless Orwellian currency introduced by a Labour government intent on change for change's sake (and still harping on about those years of 'Tory misrule'). A bastard fake currency that used strange coins (remember the ridiculous decimal half-penny?). Whereas the Euro looked sensibly-designed, fresh, entirely new, and free of sour historical baggage. A radical experiment that looked as if it would deliver, if only on convenience when travelling. And although it might be the first step in creating an eventual continental superpower, it seemed also to be the essential firm foundation for a bright, well-managed and co-operative future.

But we backed away from it. On the whole I feel happier now that we did, but the pound felt damaged, old, sick, and well past its retirement. It needed a Big Bang. A new name, perhaps. I remember some late-1960s debate concerning what to call our forthcoming decimalised currency. It didn't get far, and they kept the 'pound'. But I wanted something fancier: what about Royals, divided into 100 Doubloons? Or Guineas, divided into 100 Pieces? Something that smacked of piracy and swashbuckling and swordplay? As befitted a Maritime Nation. What fun it could have been!

Back to my theme: no likely change as we wake up on 30th March. And that will be true whether we have a 'no-deal' exit, or Mrs May somehow gets her negotiated deal passed with a slender majority, or she secures an extension to the exit date, or if there is a vote in Parliament that revokes Article 50 (our intention to leave the EU) and keeps us all inside the EU.

Of more interest are the seismic shifts and regroupings going on within the main political parties, and what effect those may have on the national decision-making processes. Again, no immediate effects. But if the government falls - or throws in its hand - and there is a summer General Election, the outcome is terribly hard to predict, apart from diminished Labour and Conservative parties and a lot more fragmentation.

In all of this, from beginning to end, there is the feeling that the bulk of us - 65 million people - are not going to be meaningfully consulted except in strictly-controlled ways that narrow our expression down to simplistic, carefully-formulated responses. Such as: voting for one or other party, but not being allowed to say exactly why, nor on what conditions one's vote may be counted. Such as: voting on a stark referendum question, without being able to give it any nuance.

I wonder why it isn't possible to just vote online, ticking not only the box for the candidate/party of one's choice, but also a series of 'opinion boxes' to indicate the direction one would like the winning party to take.

Indeed, why isn't this possible at all times, not just at elections, so that those in charge get continuous direct input from (potentially) the entire general public? And that constantly-changing expression of millions of interested persons could be studied in a website online, for all to see. If properly managed, a much more accurate measure of general opinion than any street poll, I reckon. And if a government wanted to make assertions about 'what the British public wants' it ought to base them on whatever this website reveals. We will all then be able to spot when a government is doing something that is against the weight of public opinion.

Well, I'm off to bonny Scotland first thing in April. It'll be very interesting to see how things shape up there, Scotland (when I last heard) being all against leaving the EU, but being dragged out along with the rest of the UK (which naturally wouldn't happen if Scotland were already independent). I expect to hear some heated remarks being expressed wherever I go. Mind you, I will be discreet, and will avoid discussing political matters with anyone. Safety first.

I'm rather glad that my car sports a Scottish number-plate and won't stand out.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Sleeping on tour, when it's very cold outside


Those four views look pretty bleak, don't they? They were taken on 20th April 2010, travelling north on the A836 between Crask and Tongue in the far north of Scotland. It was midday. The sun was in the sky, but big clouds were blotting it out every few minutes. The wind was bitingly cold. From time to time you drove into a sleet shower. Not weather to treat lightly.

I wasn't yet driving Fiona, my trusty Volvo. I was still waiting to take delivery of her. I was driving the Honda CR-V that came before, which had started to feel less reliable than it once was. Nursing it along, in fact. It would be no joke if the Honda faltered when out on a lonely road like this, in such inhospitable terrain. The caravan (and civilisation) was back at Brora. No sleet showers there, but a constant cold wind nevertheless. M--- had insisted on pitching as far as possible from the Brora site entrance, in order to be close to the beach. Here's the beach, a nice one to be sure, though a bit exposed:


But it meant that doing the ordinary daily chores was  a bind. Getting rid of waste water, and filling the containers up with fresh, and emptying the toilet cassette, were outdoor tasks I normally thought nothing of (and still don't, in 2019) but in a wind that cut through your clothing, and a longish trek to the taps and chemical waste disposal point, it was a minor ordeal. (I doubt if I complained much at the time, but I would now)

This is where I am going next April, except that it will be in early April, and those mountains will look somewhat whiter with snow and ice. And that wind will be keener.

I shall initially be pitched at Dunnet Bay for a few days (not far from John o'Groats) and then reprise Brora (further south) for a few days more. These will be my bases for some day trips along the coast and into the interior - taking emergency clothing, blankets, food and drink with me of course - in a bid to see as much as feasible of the Far North. It's mainly about the awesome photographic possibilities. But also about just being so far north, and seeing it in Fiona, whose furthest north so far has been Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth coast.

That car has served me so well, but she's middle-aged now, and I'm getting careful with her. I've no serious worries that she would falter in cold weather, but I'm not going to go anywhere that would test Fiona to the limit. So day trips using proper roads - as far as Durness and Ullapool certainly - will be fine. But a scary twenty-mile detour along rough interior tracks to (say) ultra-lonely Altnabreac station, just to see it, probably not. I imagine the chances of getting a rescue within six hours on such tracks, if I have a puncture, are pretty slim. No mobile phone reception, for one thing. Indeed, the possibility of at least occasional mobile phone reception is a prime reason for sticking to proper roads.

This is going to be a holiday that involves a lot of daily driving, and I'll need to get a good night's sleep every night. And that means a warm, cosy and comfortable night's sleep. But I know that nights so far north can get very chilly indeed, even on the coast. Naturally, the electric heating in the caravan will be left on, at its low setting, but this won't be sufficient. I'll need proper bedding.

Before 2014 I used sheets and a duvet. Then, for the sake of convenience, I started using a summer-weight sleeping bag, over which I'd spread extra coverings according to the season. Here it is. It featured in a post five years ago, in which I speculated on how old it was. You couldn't tell from the labels, but it must have dated from sometime in the 1990s.


As you can see, it's a straightforward rectangular bag, with a zip up the side. It's cotton with some kind of polyester filling, nothing very fancy. I like the jazzy bright blue colour, and the white interior. It washes up very well. Despite being at least twenty years old, it still looks almost new. It's perfect for the caravan. During the day, I fold it up and tidy it away. At night it comes out and gets used with my usual pillow, brought with me from home. I do like my familiar creature comforts while away!


With no extra covering, it's fine as it is for the warmest months. In spring and autumn, I might drape my fleecy dressing gown over it, for a little extra warmth. If it's a particularly cold night, a fleece blanket as well. That's been good enough for all my caravanning adventures so far. But I think I may need something better for those early-April nights in the far north!

So I've been looking in outdoor shops in the High Street and online, to see what they have in the way of winter-weight sleeping bags.

It's been disappointing. Attractively-coloured rectangular bags for one adult person are hard to find. The offerings are mostly compact, close-fitting mummy-shaped bags with integral hoods, all in unexciting or frankly drab colours. These are obviously for the backpacking and music-festival markets. They may be sophisticated, lightweight and likely to stand up to rough conditions - but they are not what I want, which is basically what I've been using, only with a winter specification.

This is discouraging.

In fact I've now decided that my best plan is to take along my winter and summer duvets, and wrap these around my existing blue sleeping bag. Those duvets will take up space inside the caravan, but at least I will be warm. And this plan makes it unnecessary to buy another sleeping bag just for very occasional winter outings.

Goodness knows how I will stash the duvets away during the daytime. I can put them somewhere of course, but they will be very much on show, and frankly the front end of my little caravan will be dominated by bulky bedding. I will have to shift it around a lot, and it will be a nuisance, especially when once again back in England towards the end of April, when it will be distinctly warmer and these duvets won't be needed. There will be no room to entertain anyone in the caravan: where can they possibly sit?

But it will have to be like this. There's nothing worse than wanting to sleep, but being unable to because you're just not warm enough. It was at times like that in New Zealand in 2007, when in South Island, touring around in a campervan without insulation, and ,no adequate bedding. It takes the edge of a holiday if you're forced to sleep in your clothes night after night.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Ten years of Flickr today

The day after I set up a Blogger account, I set up a Flickr account too. That was ten years ago today.

At the very beginning, the blog posts got the most attention, but in 2012 the Flickr viewings took off. I suppose that a critical number had been posted by then, enough to bring my collection of pictures to the notice of viewers in general. Here are the key Flickr stats:

Photos uploaded in ten years: 25,904
Viewings in ten years: 2,545,419

Naturally, I'm rather proud of getting so many viewings, especially as nearly all my shots are of my day-to-day doings, enlivened now and then with my holiday snaps. I do very few 'arty' photos. There's an awful lot of church and cathedral interiors and other limited-appeal subjects. There's also quite a lot of shots of myself in various locations, or just myself; and rightly or wrongly pictures of me are easily the most popular kind of picture. This is weird, and possibly disturbing, but if that's what a lot of people want to see, then I will continue to oblige.

But as with the blog, I'm not deliberately aiming for high viewing totals, and indeed, compared to some, my viewing total is minute.

I have always had a 'Pro' account with Flickr, wanting (a) the extra cloud space, and (b) the statistics that are a Pro account exclusive. Flickr is my showcase for the kind of shot that can safely be shown to the general public. I never upload shots of friends and family that might compromise their personal security in any way, and I usually don't name them in the captions. The exceptions are friends who themselves have a Flickr account, and where first-name identification won't matter.

I've rarely had any objections made to any shot uploaded, but last year one lady with an award for past film and TV work, whom I ran into at a North Devon art centre, asked me to take down a particular picture that didn't flatter her. I complied. There's no point in standing on principles here, even though copyright in the shot was mine, she hadn't minded my taking it at the time, and I was entitled to refuse. But if she really didn't like the picture, then I didn't want to have it on display. Mind you, getting rid of it was a big task. Google had got hold of it, and I had to go through a complicated procedure to get Google to expunge it from their own collection of shots of this lady. So I'm now very careful not to publish pictures of anybody if that might lead to a later demand that they be removed. Life's too short for the trouble of getting it done.

Lately Flickr has gained a new owner, SmugMug, and this has inevitably led to certain changes. I can't blame SmugMug wanting to make a profit from their acquisiton. As an existing (and long-time) Pro member, I have enjoyed some privileges, and these will continue. But my annual subscription will be going up this year, to nearly £40. That's still less than £4 a month, and for me - to have such a showcase - it's well worth it.

But a lot of people who haven't got a Pro subscription are now going to find their total possible uploads capped at 1,000 shots. Well, I say let those shots be the very best, and if uploading new shots can only be achieved by replacing older ones, then so be it. There's a lot to be said for having a small but very good collection, one that includes only the very best of a person's photography. And that's what SmugMug want to have on Flickr - just very good photos, and no dross. That can only enhance Flickr as a source of well-composed, technically excellent, pictures of a huge variety of subjects.

SmugMug have also said that maintaining free cloud storage for zillions of mediocre pictures makes no commercial sense. I'd heartily agree. Did I mention dross just now? There's an awful lot of it lurking in many non-Pro Flickr accounts. Not all accounts, but a lot of them. And it would be good for the quality of the platform if all mediocrity were weeded out. But anybody who makes the choice, and pays for a Pro account, can upload as much stuff as they wish, whatever its quality or intrinsic interest.

Nevertheless, there must be quite a number of impecunious non-Pro members who are, at this very moment, frantically trying to find another free platform, or having to make very difficult choices about which 1,000 favourite shots to leave on display. Very awkward for them.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Ten years of blogging today

A series of ten-year anniversaries is now going to feature in my posts. Mum's death on 3rd February 2009 (see my last post, two days ago) was the first one in 2019 that I wanted to write about.

Now another, hot on its heels: the tenth anniversary of my starting up this blog on 5th February 2009.

Incidentally, Google have for some reason amended my start-up date to 'May 2011' (see my full profile), but I have copies of all the posts I've ever published, and they really did begin on this date ten years ago.

I admit to being a prolific (and at times verbose) blogger. Here are the stats.

Posts published in the last ten years: 2,029
Words written in the last ten years: 1,794,247

That's an awful lot of keyboard-strokes! I wonder that my PC and laptop keyboards could take it. It's also a lot of posts for anybody to produce, even though I have never confined myself to just one topic.

If you haven't been with me from the start, you may not have seen the posts I published up to 2014. I took them all down in June and July last year, and somewhat thinned-out the collection from 2015 to mid-2018. That's why, if you glance at the 'Blog Archive' on the right-hand edge of this web page, the number of posts doesn't match what I say above.

I had that purge so that posts that didn't connect with my present life, and present ways of seeing the world, were removed from view. They have historical interest of course, so are preserved in my private records. But I wanted any reader who was inclined to explore the blog to find stuff that reflected me as I am now, and not as the limited-horizon person I used to be.

At the beginning, the blog was certainly a kind of therapy - a way of coping with Mum's death and my fraught personal situation. Then it was a way of exploring the many changes in my life, and expressing a view on them. That didn't go down well with some people in the same boat as myself, who had their own very definite ideas on the Right Way for a woman to live - one or two being very forthright in correcting what they thought were my misconceptions, misunderstandings, delusions and disqualifications to exist. As if I'd insulted some holy writ on How To Live and What To Think. All rather scary.

Where are they now? What happened to them? Did they make out as well as I have? I hope they did find a way. There was never any universally 'right' or 'wrong' path to take, only the particular path that was best suited to the person concerned, the one that led to the most contentment.

Gradually the blog became a chronicle of what I did - my travels, my interests, the things that caught my attention. Some of that has been popular with readers, some less so.

The blog was most popular (and most relevant to other people) up to 2014. Since then, since I let old themes go and began writing about all kinds of general subjects, readership has been distinctly less. I don't mind. The blog is a useful outlet for an ongoing impulse to write, especially as I can illustrate the posts with my own photography. It's developed into a (selective) online personal diary as much as anything else, and I am not interested in playing a numbers game.

Nevertheless in ten years I've garnered almost 946,000 viewings, and the total is slowly but steadily heading for one million. It'll be nice to get there. Sometimes bloggers stop when that milestone is reached, having run out of things to say, or wanting to draw a line. I don't think I will. Once those car loans (to replace bits of Fiona's worn-out transmission back in 2015 and 2016) are out of the way in August this year, my caravanning (and my travelling) will go to a new level. That may mean Ireland and forays onto continental Europe. Plenty to write about if I do a fraction of what I will be able to afford.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Sound and vision gone - on an important anniversary

Today was the tenth anniversary of Mum's death at midday on 3rd February 2009. I planned to take time out today to think about her.

At one point, with a West Country indoor show also in mind, I was actually considering a weekend away in the caravan. But the cold and snowy weather made me change my mind.

So instead I settled on an afternoon at Hindhead Common, where twenty-five years ago I would have accompanied Mum on long walks around the Devil's Punch Bowl. An appropriate place to ponder my relationship with her when she was alive, and what she means to me now.

It was a bright and quite mild day in my part of Sussex, and there was no reason to think it wouldn't be equally pleasant at Hindhead Common, in the south-west corner of Surrey. Of course, being a National Trust property, it was a Sunday-afternoon magnet for hoards of green-wellied Londoners and their children; but it was easy to avoid such people, and just enjoy the tranquillity, crisp air, and the views. And I expected to see a pretty good sunset there as the afternoon went on.

It was already past noon as I left home. I went first to Burgess Hill, to pick up a light lunch. Some sushi would do nicely. Back at Fiona, and still parked by Waitrose, I opened the pack of sushi and switched on the radio.

The radio display panel briefly flickered, then died. A bit odd, that!

Even odder when I'd finished my meal, and started the engine. I expected the radio (and that panel) to spring into life. It lit up, yes, but stayed resolutely blank. And no sound to be heard, not from the radio, nor from the parking sensors. Oh dear...

Normally the radio panel also told me the temperature on each side of the car interior (you can control them separately). And when the parking sensors bleeped, this panel would show me which part of the car was getting close to touching something. But I was getting none of that.

The larger panel below it, the one for the SatNav screen also stayed blank. Actually, not even lighting up. Which meant that when reversing I couldn't see whatever the rear-view camera could tell me. Another manoeuvring aid gone.

I had little doubt that there was in fact good DAB radio reception, that the parking sensors were alive and kicking, and that the camera was fixing whatever lay behind me with a basilisk-like gaze. But I'd lost sound and vision, and was now driving blind and deaf. Or at least without Fiona's indispensable visual and audio assistance. It's tricky driving a big car without the aids I've got used to over the last nine years!

The other instruments, whether analogue or digital, were working correctly. And all those buttons that lit up when switched to 'on' were shining brightly. Indeed, apart from these two central display panels, everything else seemed to be working as it should, and Fiona was completely drivable.

Still, I didn't fancy driving to Hindhead Common and back, an hour away, not without all my instrumentation!

I abandoned the afternoon's plans, and went home. Sorry, Mum.

I think I can guess what the trouble is. For some time there has been a buzzing or rattling noise coming from somewhere behind these two central console display panels. The source is hidden: there's nothing to see. I haven't yet wanted the dealer to investigate. But it sounds as if something has been working loose and vibrating against other bits. And now this. Well, I can easily imagine some wiring that had been plugged in - but gradually coming out of its socket - now finally coming adrift and making the display panels go blank. The vibration of a diesel engine when first starting up would be enough to accomplish this if the wiring was in any way loose.

If I'm right, this will be simple to correct - by plugging the wiring back in. That ought to cure the buzzing and rattling too. It's now time to let the dealer look at it.

So tomorrow I'll get Fiona booked in.

A pity that this has intruded into a day that I wanted to devote to Mum!

Sequel - same day
Even odder! I went out to the car, got in, and on impulse turned on the radio - it worked! I started the engine, and lo, both centre console panels came to life. Was it all just a temporary glitch? I'll keep an eye on this. I don't want to lose the sound and vision on those panels at some critical future moment, and would rather the dealer check it over anyway, not necessarily tomorrow, but definitely before I set off for Scotland in April!

Sequel - two days later
I dropped by at the dealer's and had a word with the Service Manager. He explained that if the ignition was off, my car would cut the radio and other equipment after a short while, to protect the charge level in the battery. This might lead to a situation where anything affected would need a reboot before it functioned again, just as a computer might. Not using the car for a while would reset the car's electrical systems, and that was why the screens and the sounds had come back later that afternoon. He really thought that was all it was, and that I could expect no further glitches. But of course, if there was a recurrence, then I should phone him and the car could then be looked at.

Well, this seemed fair enough to me. And so far, so good. Certainly, I'd discovered years ago that some sensors could malfunction without warning if forced to operate abnormally. Such as the sensor that warned me of a car in the blind spots on Fiona, which was apt to get confused at night, or if driving away from a sunset - in which case, it would flash at me in distress, and would have to be switched off until it recovered from its fit.

And yet that radio conked out almost as soon as I switched it on! Well, perhaps a lot of cold start-ups recently had been draining the battery, and there wasn't any juice spare for listening to the radio without the engine running. Maybe.