Sunday, 28 February 2021

Gambling

I always say that I watch very little television, but that's not quite so true as it used to be. I've discovered the Yesterday channel, and I'm hooked on programmes like Abandoned Engineering, The Architecture the Railways Built and Murder Maps. I watch all these programmes on a live or catch-up basis throughout the month, but particularly in the week that starts on the 20th of the month, when I have the opportunity to binge. Why so? Because my monthly BT Mobile Data allowance of 40GB expires on the 26th and renews on the 27th. It makes sense to use up as much as possible of that 40GB in the week before it's wholly gone. So I am fairly sparing with it up to the 19th, then I take the brakes off for the final few days to the 26th. Assuming that I really do want to settle down and stare at a screen for hours. I usually want to do other things.  

Here's my data usage for the month to 26th February, to illustrate what I mean:


I'll watch live programmes on the steam age TV via the satellite dish and Freeview. But catch-up TV is watched on my laptop, tethered wirelessly to my phone, and therefore tapping into my monthly 4G Mobile Data allowance. Hence my need for a fairly hefty allowance! (If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I had my landline disconnected, and my Broadband stopped, some months ago. Using 4G instead has worked out very well, and it saves me money)  

The Yesterday channel is devoted to a wide range of historical topics of one kind or another. Abandoned Engineering, for instance, looks as various man-made structures and artefacts around the world and tells the story behind them, including why they are now abandoned. These programmes examine things like Cold War missile silos, model prisons, factories, ghost towns in the desert, Mulberry Harbours, tunnels, dams, bridges, and even a huge gun left high on a mountain ridge in the Alps. You don't have to be an engineer or some kind of scientist to be interested - I'm most certainly not. But I still find it compelling. The human stories that go with these cast-off endeavours are more than half the fascination. 

There's a slight downside, of course. There are ads. If watching the catch-up version of these programmes on UK Play, most of the ads are eliminated. But the live version will be full of them. In fact in an hour's viewing, a quarter of the time is spent feeding you advertisements for this and that.

As you'd expect, the type of ad varies with the time of day and the assumptions made about who might be watching. At any time, there are a lot of ads clearly aimed at people who are short of cash, and who aspire to a better life funded with money from gambling, or playing a lottery. These ads make passionate betting look normal. They also suggest that betting is exciting, slick and stylish, and very likely to produce a life-changing win. Whereas only heavy losses should be expected. 

I do not know why it isn't frankly admitted that it is the betting and lottery companies who make the real money, and not the hapless and exploited punters. 

I think gambling is addictive and should be severely discouraged. People are all too susceptible to suggestions that money, in the form of a big glamorous gambling win, will make their dreams come true. I was very struck with one ad that showed a group of young men watching a football match on TV. They were more concerned with getting their bets on, and watching to see whether they might have won, than appreciating the actual game. Well, football will die if it becomes merely a vehicle for another bet. Not that I actually give a monkey's about football, but even I would consider it a shame if a national pastime got ruined by gambling. 

Another series of ads caught my attention. Lottery ads. One showed a dazed but deliriously happy family holding up a huge cheque for £500,000 or so. It was plainly aimed at the kind of folk who yearn to magic away their grey lives by winning money, oblivious to the fact that they'd have to be fantastically lucky to secure a win large enough to make any difference. 

I think it's borderline fraudulent to give the impression that easy money can be had with so little effort and with so much certainty. If people reflected that (a) someone's big win is paid for by most people not winning, and that (b) the lottery company will in any case take a fat share and heartlessly not care who wins, then perhaps they wouldn't throw away their hard-earned cash. 

Sadder still was the lottery ad that showed a much larger amount being won - £20 million I think - and a couple (the winners of this huge sum) embracing themselves in glee. Oh dear! One hardly needs to speculate on the outcome. The win will destroy their marriage, and probably set everyone touched by it at odds with each other - children, friends, and neighbours all. Who can handle so much money, if not used to it? Even if you keep quiet about it, the need to strive will have gone, and so will the need to act wisely. For if a few thousand get wasted, how can that matter? From there it's very easy to slither into foolishness. 

There might be the odd winner who seeks proper advice and invests in future financial security. There might be the odd unselfish winner who ensures that their community benefits, and not them. But most people will splash out on expensive objects of desire - all too soon to be expensive white elephants, causing arguments and recriminations. And if the big win is instead shared out among the family, they will all face exactly the same issues, only with less remaining after the initial spending spree.     

It would be so much better to win a nice, tidy amount that wasn't too large - so that it could make some modest dreams come true, but without inflicting harm. 

I've thought about this, and to my mind £250,000 or so would be a good figure. I could handle that. It wouldn't change me, nor would it alter my circumstances so much that my life was fatally upset. How would I spend it, given that I'm already retired and don't need to build up a pension fund? 

I wouldn't buy a new car straight away; but at some stage, when the electric car I want is finally being made, I could spend £60,000 on it. 

A new caravan? £25,000. 

A new central heating system for the house, using ground heat? £20,000. 

A new larger kitchen with modern appliances, incorporating a rebuilt conservatory? £40,000. 

A new bathroom? £10,000. 

The garage converted into a proper utility and storage space, with a new door into the house? £10,000. 

New triple-glazed windows and modern thermal insulation? £30,000. 

Solar panels? £20,000. 

Redecorate throughout, including replastering? £30,000. 

That all comes to £245,000. So £5,000 left to add to my savings account. Or to spend on a fabulous week somewhere. 

Well, that was a really good plan! Except that I need to win £250,000! And I don't gamble, nor play lotteries. I knew there was a flaw.  

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Not quite what I thought, but not a problem

Hmm. I've now studied the detail of the government's four-stage Road Map out of the lockdown - you can download a long PDF document - and although caravanning is nowhere specifically mentioned, it does seem clear that staying away overnight on holiday will not be permitted before 12th April, even though travel away from home will be allowed from 29th March. So far as I can see, it'll be fine to drive off on a long day trip from 29th March to 11th April, but one must return home in the evening. 

I need to know what the Caravan and Motorhome Club have to say on this asap. But I expect I'll now have to drastically curtail my first bookings for 2021 - not just shift them back - pushing the away-from-home dates well into the second half of April. But I can't push them too far, because I want to have a clear two weeks at home before setting off for Scotland in early May. 

So it looks as if half my late March/early April trip to the West Country will have to be binned. This is disappointing, but I really can't complain. So many people will have to wait until the summer or even the autumn before getting the foreign holiday break they yearn for - if they can book anything at all. It would be extremely selfish of me to pout and moan. Besides, I am determined to support the government's plan. And in any case, my holiday activities in Scotland now look safe, following Nicola Sturgeon's statement today on how the lockdown in Scotland will be eased. That's actually a big consolation, as it is an important holiday.

Still, shifting the now cut-down West Country jaunt into the second half of April, and having only a short gap between that and the Scottish adventure, has consequences for other important things in my diary. 

Among them, the date for Fiona's annual service and MOT. That's definitely got to be before I go to Scotland. I'm confident - of course - that Fiona would have no problems; but wisdom demands that one should avoid spending a month far from home - with plenty of heavy-duty caravan-hauling thrown in - without first ensuring that one's locomotive device is in tip-top condition, and all potential faults identified and dealt with. So the service date will now have to be moved forward. In fact, to late March or early April. I'd better get on with booking that: 'late March' is only a month away!

All this is a great improvement on last year's situation. And there is the glorious prospect of that 'return to normality'. How nice that will be when it comes!

I feel however that the collective experience of the pandemic has altered perceptions, expectations, ways of thinking, and values, quite a bit. Everyone has been inconvenienced. Everyone has felt frustrated. But everyone has also had a chance to consider what is important to them, what matters the most. I would be surprised if there is a sustained return to blind spend-spend-spend mass-consumerism as a way of life. I have some catch-up spending on clothes and shoes to attend to, but beyond that I just want to see people and do things in their company. I have weathered this pandemic with ease; indeed, in many respects it has suited my temperament rather well; but I have missed the meetups and social get-togethers I used to have. Well, not for too much longer!


Footnote

Fiona is now booked in for her annual service and MOT. And I've just heard (today, 25th February) that the Caravan and Motorhome Club is reopening its sites in England from 12th April. And that all Scottish bookings from 25th April are safe. Excellent. Now do I take the High Road or the Low Road to Bonny Scotland? (The A1 from Berwick-upon Tweed, actually)

Monday, 22 February 2021

At last! The possibility of getting away!

The government have spoken! A four-stage unlocking of the lockdown!

It was always going to be a cautious, careful relaxation of the rules, and I can't blame the government one bit for taking that approach this time around. Previous lockdowns have indeed been abandoned in too much of a rush, for short-term gains, only to be regretted later. So it was no surprise that this time we would 'do it right' and not embrace normal living in a hurry. 

For me the big step forward comes on 29th March, when I can be one of six people barbecuing in a back garden. That could of course be a wet or chilly experience - but never mind, it will be lovely to have some face-to-face social life again! Emails, texts and video get-togethers are fine, but there's nothing like being with real-life human beings.

Also on 29th March, it appears that - at least in England - travel will become possible again, and with it the possibility of caravanning. 

Then, from 12th April, all shops can be open (just in time - I need new outfits and shoes so badly), and 'outdoor hospitality' (pub gardens, beach cafes, ice creams from kiosks) can be enjoyed. 

And finally, from 17th May, while I'm already on my way to Scotland (although still inside England) most restrictions will come to an end. That will allow celebratory indoor meals with the friends I see on my trips north.

Of course, social distancing will still be in force, and will no doubt continue in some form for months to come. And all those dates are subject to revision, depending on how the pandemic is going. That could work either way: the relaxations will slow if virulent new strains take hold; or could be accelerated if the vaccines genuinely prove to be the 'silver bullet'.

My main concern at this moment are my caravan holiday bookings. No deposits are payable, so rescheduling or cancellation won't mean wasted money, but I can see that my first bookings of the year will, at the very least, have to be shifted back one week. Meaning that they will now begin on 31st March. 

I'm watching the Caravan Club website for some definitive guidance. Their argument will be that a highly-regulated site - with well-spaced outdoor pitches, with most caravanners using their own on-board facilities, and all observing social distancing - is a low risk holiday facility. You can indeed be completely self-contained in your own caravan, coming and going with no close contact whatever with the other people there. And that's probably even more true of farm sites. Well, we'll see.

It would be very pleasant to get away on 31st March! 

I did manage to enjoy 58 nights' caravanning from July to November last year, which most people would regard as a lot of holidaying. This year I have 108 nights booked, and as things now stand I may be lucky and savour all of them. The overall site cost will be £1,858, roughly the value of two nice mobile phones, or one decent laptop, and not quite enough for a week at somewhere distinctly upmarket, like the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, a place I'd love to stay at - see my post The Gleneagles Hotel on 26th August 2019. (Though the much-closer George Hotel at Stamford would do nicely too - another place I know)

Taken as a whole, caravanning is not a poor person's game. The caravans, and the tow cars needed to haul them, cost an arm and a leg. But once you have those assets, you can travel around at comparatively little expense. This year's site fees of £1,858, when averaged over 108 nights, work out at just over £17 per night. Less than the typical pub lunch anywhere. Probably less than a gin and tonic at the Gleneagles!

Mind you, I might just treat myself to a posh hotel experience for my 70th birthday next year. It seems like a good idea.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

My first Covid-19 vaccination

I was booked in for 2.10pm at Clair Hall in Haywards Heath, but I arrived early and it was all over by 2.00pm. I then had to wait for 15 minutes in my car, and if nothing untoward had happened to me, I was free to drive home. Nothing untoward occurred, and I was soon home enjoying a post-vaccination cup of tea.

I had expected an efficient operation, but it was even slicker than I'd thought possible. 

I'd turned into the entrance to Clair Hall, and was stopped by a man who told me where to park and what to do next - which was to join a short queue at the entrance to the complex. There another man asked me a series of questions about my general health, and satisfactory replies got me an explanatory leaflet, a white information sheet about the AstraZeneca vaccination (the one I would be having), and a ticket with a number on it (it was '207'). I was then passed to a girl who squirted anti-bac onto my hands and directed me to the threshold of a large room containing a dozen or so well-separated seats that could easily be wiped as they were vacated. But first I had to go to a desk and confirm who I was, state my date of birth, and show the white sheet. A pre-printed sticker with my name, date of birth and NHS number was then put on that, and I was directed to one of the seats. 

Meanwhile numbers were being called out. As I sat down, 199 was called. I wouldn't have long to wait. (In fact only a few minutes had passed since I had got parked) 

With this post in mind, I was itching to take a photo or two of the proceedings. But it was clearly an inappropriate thing to do. So I just studied the other people waiting for their jab. They ought to be, as I was, from the '65 to 70' age group, plus any younger persons who were clinically vulnerable. But not many of them looked particularly old. It was hard to be very certain, as we were (of course) all wearing face masks, but surely most of the people around me seemed younger and sprightlier? Or had younger-looking hair?

Within five more minutes, '207' was called, and I then had to wait at the threshold of a big hall, full of screens that separated the positions where nurses were going to inject the vaccine. My nurse - who was from a Brighton practice - was called Nicky, and she was very pleasant. We ran though my recent medication, and I answered more questions about my health. Then the vaccination itself. Into my upper left arm - quick and virtually sensation-free. After this, a couple of minutes' chat - I think this was to allow time for any immediate allergic reaction to manifest itself - then I was given a vaccination card, told when I should expect the second jab, and shown the exit. It was by then 2.02pm. I duly waited in Fiona until 2.15pm then drove home.


Once home, I had a good look at my arm to see whether there was any skin reaction. I took a couple of photos in different kinds of light:


But as you can see, there was no mark. I couldn't even tell where the needle had gone in. And there was no sore spot, or growing stiffness, to indicate the approximate position. 

And nine hours later, as I type this, nothing has changed. Still no skin reaction; still no stiffness or soreness. Of course, by the time I wake up tomorrow morning, it may be different. But I've never had any trouble with past flu jabs, and since this one is basically similar, perhaps there will be no physical hardship to endure. 

I must wait three weeks before I can fully rely on whatever protection this vaccination will give me; and I'll need the second jab to gain maximum protection. But even so, I feel immensely relieved already. Indeed, it feels like winning a prize for something. Although I'm not quite sure what! 


24 hours later

Well, there's a very slight soreness in the muscle, if I put my left arm in a somewhat unnatural position. Otherwise, there's still no discomfort, and still no mark on the skin. I suppose the vaccine is quietly going about its business. I feel fine. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Mending a glove

I seem to be mending things every week nowadays. 

Last week it was my red ankle-length fleece dressing gown, an outstandingly warm and comfy garment in which I can feel really snug. But a seam had come apart beneath a sleeve, creating a hole that was rapidly getting larger. Well, I set to with needle and thread, and in no time the hole was closed up and the dressing gown good for a few more years' wear.  

This week, a hole appeared near the fingertip of one of my black leather gloves. 


As you can see, these gloves have done some duty over the years. But they are still presentable, still nice to wear. Well worth a careful mending job. 

However, gloves are tricky to do properly.  In this case, the ideal thing to do was to pull the finger with the hole in it inside out, and tackle the sewing repair from the inside. But then I saw that each finger had a very nice seamless lining still in fine condition - the gloves were from a good maker. It would clearly be unwise to cut into this lining in order to reach the leather and sew the hole up. So I put the finger back as it first was, and repaired it from the outside. Fortunately, the hole was on the underside of the fingertip, and my sewing wouldn't be visible in the ordinary way. 

Just as well. I made a half-decent job of it, and the glove will be fine for ongoing use, but my sewing efforts wouldn't pass muster in an expert sewing circle. Nor for that matter, if the Queen invited one to Buckingham Palace to confer an honour. 

Prudence rings - it's a voice call. Who can it be?

Lucy: Hello?
The Queen: Is that Miss Lucy Melford?
Lucy: It is.
The Queen: Good morning, Miss Melford. I am phoning personally to invite you to the Palace, so that I can make you Dame Lucy Melford. 
Lucy: Oh, thank you, Your Majesty! What a lovely surprise!
The Queen: It's for your services to photography. And blogging.
Lucy: Are you sure I deserve this?
The Queen: Quite sure. Your formal invitation will be sent this afternoon.
Lucy: And what will the dress code be, Your Majesty?
The Queen: Formal. With gloves. I'm very particular about ladies' gloves. 
Lucy: I see. In that case, Your Majesty, I will be wearing an impeccable pair of gloves.
The Queen: I expected nothing else. I look forward to meeting you, Miss Melford.
Lucy: Likewise. Well, pip-pip!
The Queen: Toodle-oo!

Hmm! My newly-fixed black leather gloves definitely wouldn't do for an occasion like that!

But I do possess a pair of expensive black silken gloves that go all the way to my elbows. Would they make me look like a Dame-in-waiting? Or an overdressed slapper on the prowl? I wouldn't want to raise an eyebrow. Let the reader judge. I last wore these long black gloves for a do in January 2012, nine years ago:


Personally, I don't think this is a look that The Queen would entirely approve of. Perhaps a spiked choker would help?

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Exposed to disaster by the end of the year

One problem is solved, another looms. 

I'm talking about a drastic and unwelcome change in my holiday arrangements.

I've just renewed my annual caravan insurance. But this year is different. The caravan will be fifteen years old in mid-December, and since the policy runs from February to February, the degree of cover will drop part-way through the year. In fact it will go off a cliff edge.

I should explain that I insure with the Caravan and Motorhome Club, and for years past I've had their Supercover policy. There are many benefits with Supercover, but the chief one, the one that makes it so attractive despite the cost, is that if anything drastic happens to my caravan, to write it off, the policy will meet the cost of a brand-new replacement caravan on a like-for-like basis. The sum insured is £20,500, this being the cost of the nearest current replacement for my Elddis Avanté 362 2-berth caravan, with all the basic equipment to get it legally on the road. 

Wow! £20,500 for a new small caravan that can squeeze in two people, but is really only suitable for one. It would of course be a comfortable hotel room on wheels, as my own continues to be. But even so...I mean, you can buy a pretty good two or three year old car for £20,500!

It just shows how new-caravan prices have risen. I paid £10,890 for my caravan back in December 2006. If it were a simple matter of uplifting the original price by the usual CPI measurement of inflation, that 2006 price would now (in 2021) be £14,500. But caravanning has become significantly more popular, and this has allowed manufacturers and dealers to charge more, way ahead of inflation. 

So you can see why, to protect my holiday asset, and - if calamity strikes - to have a brand-new replacement, I am happy to pay for Supercover. I'd definitely want that like-for-like replacement!

Well, it's done. I'm covered. But clearly, if Supercover will no longer apply from mid-December, I am overpaying for the final two months of the policy, when only Standard Cover can apply. 

Standard Cover offers a lot less. The insurer is far less exposed to a big payout, because if something dreadful happens to my caravan, I get only the current market value. What might that be? A quick look on the Internet turned up same-year examples of my caravan on various dealers' forecourts, priced around £6,000. And they looked rather less battle-scarred than mine. Still, based on this information, I reckoned that the theoretical open market value for my caravan in a private sale might be £4,000. That seemed a bit high, but it wouldn't be impossible to achieve, if the second-hand market for caravans gets even stronger than it is now. 

So I phoned the Club, and spoke to a nice man about my insurance policy. What were my options, given that Supercover could be in force only for the first ten months? This what I learned.

First off, I couldn't have a ten-month Supercover policy to mid-December, then a two-month Standard Cover policy to February, and then annually thereafter as usual. All policies had to be for twelve months.

I could switch to Standard Cover now, instead of Supercover, and then renew as usual every February. What would that cost, I asked, using a market value of £4,000? Dramatically less: only £87. Hmm! It was tempting to switch, and save myself a whopping £325 in the coming year! But if the government eased lockdown restrictions by the end of March, I would promptly commence a full programme of caravan holidays, Scotland included, aiming for 90 nights away up to November, with a lot of journeying. Towing-time is risky, and it would be madness not to be as well-insured as I could be. It made thumping good sense to keep Supercover for as long as possible.

But wasting money on those final two months...how could I avoid that?

The answer was to pay the full £412 premium up front for a year's Supercover. Then, in December, cancel that policy, and take out a new Standard Cover policy, running from December 2021 to December 2022, and to every December thereafter. I would get a refund of two months' Supercover premiums - it looked like £70 - to set against the Standard Cover policy premium of (by then) £95 or so. That seemed to be the best plan. I duly paid the £412, and got my Supercover. And created a reminder in my To Do app to contact the Club in early December. 

So it's sorted. I have a plan to follow. And I will be paying markedly less for my caravan insurance by the end of the year.

Now the downside. What happens if disaster befalls my caravan anytime from next December? Supposing some juggernaut clips my caravan on a motorway, and tears a jagged hole in its side? I've actually seen that happen to another car-and-caravan combo. Not a pretty sight. Possessions and other debris all over the road. A holiday stopped in its tracks. Immediate costs and trouble. 

Well, apart from the incident causing me all kinds of instant grief, I'd be deprived of my holiday asset. Having paid to have the remains taken to a dealer for appraisal by an insurance assessor, I would in due course get a bank credit for the market value. 

Let's say it is in fact £4,000. What should I do with that?

I could say to myself, 'Lucy, your caravanning days are over. Use comfortable country hotels and top-notch B&Bs henceforth!' I could. But when you consider the nightly expense of a room anywhere pleasant, it's obvious that I would enjoy far fewer nights away each year. And extended tours to remote parts of the country would become prohibitively expensive

Against that, I could save some money by using a smaller car, not needing a big, powerful car for towing any more. But you know what? I'm not ready to abandon caravanning, and the freedoms of caravanning. A time for snug country hotels will eventually come, but not yet. 

So I'd use that £4,000 as a deposit on another caravan, and see what I could do to juggle the finance on the balance. But a £20,000 replacement caravan would be unaffordable. It would almost certainly have to be a used one. (And I hope, a 'pre-loved' one) 

And if I couldn't find what I wanted at a price I could afford, what then? Resign myself to just three weeks' worth of expensive hotels each year?  

Of course, it may turn out that my caravan continues to lead a charmed life, and survives to a ripe old age, never coming to grief. So that having reduced insurance cover never matters one bit

Wish me luck!

I bought two SSDs in the end

That imminent first Covid-19 jab will mean an escape from possible death for me. And I am now happy to report that my digital data is also - short of extreme circumstances - beyond the reach of catastrophe. I have carried out a General Backup for the first time in three years. And it will be routinely repeated every six months henceforth. 

Why is this such a big deal, and worth more than one post, you might ask. Here's why.

My digital Photo Archive, accumulating since 2000, but including scanned pictures back to 1965, is now immense. It would break my heart if it all got deleted. I need multiple copies, in different places, to spread the risk and eliminate the possibility of losing it all through some awful mishap. 

Similarly for my extensive array of digital documents and spreadsheets, many of them financial and therefore very important. Those go back to the 1990s, and include my entire canon of Blog posts - effectively my detailed autobiography, written as I go along. (Who knows, future family members may find it interesting reading). 

I also have less important stuff, that is nevertheless the product of many years' accumulation - such as my mp3 music collection, and my digital Ordnance Survey mapping - all of which could be replaced, but at the cost of significant download time, and fresh expense. 

In short, I have digital assets, valuable to me, and well worth taking care of.

I can reduce all this to just a few figures. 

The General Backup now done included, in round figures, 500GB of data. That's 215,000 files in 9,000 folders. Most of the gigabytes, and most of the files and folders, related to my Photo Archive

When you consider that I've personally processed and captioned 99% of the Photo Archive, you can appreciate the enormous investment in time and effort, and why I have been so eager to devise and execute a backup system that will not only keep the Archive safe from harm, but allow swift and easy access whenever I want it. 

The careful and consistent captioning means that all of it is easily searchable. I can pull out, very rapidly, all the pictures I have of a particular locality, or a particular person, or those taken on a particular date, or (with cunning use of search words) most subjects that I've taken pictures of through the years. I think that's a lot better than asking some Digital Assistant to find me 'shots of waterfalls' or 'pictures of Mum' and hoping for the best. 

A few days back, I posted about buying a 2TB Samsung T5 external SSD. Intended only for General Backups, it cost £243. But I quickly decided that to fully update and streamline all my non-Cloud manual backup arrangements, I needed to replace my eleven-year-old external Hard Drives with a 1TB Samsung T5 external SSD as well. That cost an additional £128. 

So I've now spent a total of £371 on external SSD storage. On the other hand, this allows me to postpone replacing my existing laptop for years to come. I no longer need to worry about its hitherto rather inadequate 256GB of on-board storage. Eventually, of course, its processor will be too lacking in oomph to handle super-large photo files, but that won't happen until I finally retire the little Leica and buy something new in the camera department. 

It will be some years ahead, then, before I'll be forced to get another Microsoft Surface Book (currently it would be the Surface Book 3). The one I have, the original Surface Book - with good but basic specs, all I could afford at the time - cost me £1,599 in 2016. I could still replace it (with the basic Surface Book 3) for the same amount. But if wanting a Surface Book 3 with a reasonable memory hike to 512GB, and a desirable processor upgrade to Intel Core i7, the outlay would be a purse-pulverising £2,499. That kind of money would have wiped me out a year ago. It would still blast a big gaping hole in my savings. But as time goes on, that hole will seem less and less. Getting the SSDs, and extending the life of my existing laptop, has bought me time to pile more gold and jewels in the Melford cellars. And meanwhile, I'll have shelved spending £2,499 on new laptop.

Buying the new SSDs has naturally simplified my Backup Diagram, and made it more elegant. The revised diagram is just below, and the previous one below that for comparison.


Simplicity generally means that things work better. Certainly I'd rather follow the upper diagram! 

Some mean-spirited folk may assert that it was dissatisfaction with the clunky appearance of the old diagram - an obsession with neatness and attractive design, perhaps - that spurred me into buying another SSD. Let them sneer if they will. They are wrong. 

Finally, a few shots to show how small and neat the new SDDs are, both in my hand and when compared to the much-older Hard Drives. For instance, in a picture below, Hard Drive A is plugged into my laptop, with the 1TB SSD next to it. What a difference in size! (And weight)


One snag with the old Hard Drives is that they drew their power supply from the laptop, and so hogged both of its two USB-A ports. That's why I could never plug in some other device when using one of these Hard Drives. But now I can, as in the next shot, where, at last, after three years, the General Backup is in progress and the files on the 1TB SSD (right) are being transferred to the 2TB SSD (left). 


The laptop is acting merely as a connecting device with a screen, its own memory capacity not involved in the process. And that is why the size of its own memory is no longer a big issue. 

Here is a wider shot of the General Backup proceeding. Sobering to think that it shows my entire remaining 'computer equipment'. I once had an extensive collection of major components, peripherals and storage media. Now it's just a slim laptop, the two diminuitive SSDs, the little Flash Drive, and a carrying bag. Plus the big, old, bulky scanner from 2007 that will one day be discarded, once no more scanning is necessary.


Although I had faith in those new SSDs, I didn't know how quickly the General Backup would go. The last General Backup in January 2018, using one of the Hard Drives, took 6 hours 15 minutes, and covered 139,000 files in 4,800 folders. Surely, with two SSDs speaking to each other, and all connections using USB 3.0 or better, things should be swifter?

They were. The transfer proceeded at a rate of slightly less than 1% per minute. And it did not falter. I watched it from time to time, fingers crossed. How could as many as 215,000 files copy from one device to another without a hitch?

But it was all right. After only one hour, the job was 74% done:


At 1 hour and 21 minutes it was 99% done, and seconds away from 100%. Then it was all over, and I finally relaxed.


It hadn't stopped at any point to tell me that some file name was too long. Nor that I was attempting to transfer something without its properties. Both hitherto common reasons for backups going awry.

500GB - 215,000 files - backed up in eighty-one minutes. No doubt there were ways to do it even faster, but compared to my previous backup experiences, this was lightning fast!

I was almost looking forward to the next General Backup in August! 

And I have to say, I'm pleased to enjoy the continued company of my present laptop (Verity) for a long time ahead. She has served me so well.    

Friday, 12 February 2021

Covid-19 vaccination appointment made! Yippee!

From noon today, for an hour, I was speaking to my four local girl friends on the Houseparty app. It's a regular Friday video get-together, Houseparty being easier to use - and a lot more fun - than, say, Zoom. We got onto having the first of the two Covid-19 jabs. I was starting to get anxious about getting mine, as it seemed that various people we knew had either been invited to make an appointment, or had actually been vaccinated already. And one or two of them were younger than me. Was I going to be overlooked? Had I somehow fallen through a hole in the system?

I need not have worried. While we were talking, a text message from the local doctors' surgery appeared on my phone. It was the eagerly-awaited invitation to make a booking! Hurrah!

After we parted, I got the message up and acted on it. I had to follow a link to a special page on the practice website. The following sequence of screen shots on my phone will reveal how straightforward it was to get a convenient booking fixed up.


So, with this jab under my belt - or rather in my arm - I can expect another message in twelve weeks' time, to have my second vaccination.  

Haywards Heath is not far away, and easy to get to. Valerie, one of my friends, who has already had her first vaccination, tells me that there is a large car park at Clair Hall. Excellent. I'll still allow plenty of time to drive there, get parked, and go through any preliminary formalities. 

I only vaguely remember Clair Hall from my last previous visit in 2003. That was just before the Iraq War, when I was present to hear impassioned speeches from eloquent peace activists pleading for reason. Activism is not my thing, but friends of M---'s had a connection with one of the speakers, and M--- and I went along in support. I thought they made a very convincing case for staying out of the conflict, and stopping hostilities before it was too late, predicting dire long-term humanitarian catastrophe for the ordinary Iraqis, and general upset in the region. And it all came true. But of course it was too late to stop the inevitable.  

As you see, my Covid-19 appointment is only four days ahead. I shall take extra care to avoid other people during that time, so that I survive this last lap before salvation. And I'll have to take extra care for two weeks afterwards too. Never mind. It's genuinely the beginning of the end of all these restrictions. It can't come too soon. I want to set forth with my caravan! Scotland calls!

Monday, 8 February 2021

Don't use this diagram to navigate the London Underground

 


It does look a bit like a map of the London Underground system, doesn't it? All it needs is trains, signalling and a Fat Controller. 

It is in fact my revised Backups Diagram. Now that the Samsung T5 2TB SSD is on its way - Amazon have confirmed dispatch, and it's only got to come from Cheshire (I did check before buying). It's scheduled to arrive at Melford Hall - snow and ice permitting - sometime tomorrow. 

I can track it if I like. But do I dare, after that fiasco with the phone I ordered from Amazon on 15th January, which somehow got 'lost'? Well, quite possibly I won't have to speculate on the precise time of arrival. The courier will probably email me with the time of delivery - they seem to time it almost to the minute nowadays - and I won't have to tempt the gods by making my own enquiries.  

Back to the Backups Diagram. 

The new 2TB SSD is the red rectangle at the foot of the diagram, and every six months, starting with this month, I will comprehensively load it up with files and folders from my phone, laptop, and the two main hard drives. In between, other more specialised backups will be made, all according to a carefully worked out schedule. 

The various devices involved will all be kept in different places, two of them constantly with me, the rest elsewhere. So unless I am washed up naked and destitute on a desert island, after a shipwreck, I will always be able to revive most or all of my stuff from these offline backups. There is also a lot up in the Cloud. But I'm not going to pay for Cloud Storage, apart from my Pro subscription to Flickr, which is really for Showcase Space rather than for archiving. 

I admit that I did enjoy rejigging my Backups Diagram, and finding ways to make the colourful backup connections snake in and out in the clearest or most pleasing way. Even now I don't think it's perfect, but that just gives me an excuse to refine it further. 

It's another lockdown leisure activity! A creative one! No wonder I'm rarely bored.

Incidentally, I have no plans to voyage anywhere, except possibly a day visit to the Isle of Wight later this year. So the chances of a desert-island shipwreck scenario are only so-so.    

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Fixing a gaping hole in my backup arrangements

Ever since I decommissioned my aged desktop Dell PC in 2018, I've been unable to conduct a general offline backup of everything stored on my devices. 

Apart from my laptop and phone, I have four external hard drives of various capacities, plus a small flash drive. Between them, they store all my digital files with some space to spare, though no single device can handle it all. To some extent they can provide partial backups for each other, if I copy things around. But that's not a comprehensive backup in any genuine sense. I've really wanted to have a separate device that could genuinely backup all my stuff in one place. Now I've bought it.

I'm not on a spending spree. I've looked at replacing my laptop next year at a cost of £2,500+, and discovered that I need not. I've lately considered buying a new electric cooker, and having it wired in, for a cost of £1,000+, and decided that I will make do and wait. So actually that's £3,500 or more saved for now. 

What I have just done is to buy a 2TB external SSD from Amazon for £243.20 plus premium delivery - £248.19 altogether. 

It's a Samsung T5, lately superseded by the T7 as Samsung's SSD top dog, but still on sale. It will suit my 2016 laptop better. It should arrive in two days' time, and I can at once carry out a long-overdue General Backup. Then everything will be safe. And I'll repeat it at regular intervals thenceforth. Every six months will do.

I will still have my other kinds of backup, scheduled to be done daily, every three days, every week, every month, or every six months, depending on what it is. For instance, my documents are manually backed up every three days, even though most of them (being in Dropbox) are continuously backed up to the Cloud; my blog posts every month; and my music every six months. I use my various external drives, and keep them in different places.

I take it all very seriously. I know what it feels like to lose six months' worth of photos - as I did in 2000. That loss included the pictures of an entire recent holiday in France. M--- was not pleased. And I felt utterly foolish and incompetent. Not to say totally gutted. Never again! 

I hope to sleep a little better at night now.

Deprived of a grill

About a week ago, while cooking my evening meal, the electric grill on my otherwise all-gas kitchen cooker failed. The electric element seemed to give an odd spitting noise, and then the hood light (a separate component) went out. As did some other lights around my house. The gas jets burned on, but I immediately turned them off. I didn't want my vegetables ready before my steak. 

The circuit breaker in the consumer unit had detected a power fault, and had cut in. I reset it, and lights came on again. So did all the cooker electrics, apart from the grill. That stayed dead. I relit the gas burners, and popped the half-cooked steak into the frying pan with the mushrooms and tomatoes, and finished it off there. 

It was OK. The meal was saved. But I much preferred grilling my beef and gammon steaks, and my bacon rashers, so a kaput electric grill was bad news.

This was the Belling cooker I bought eight years ago. It was a mid-range model, with a four-burner gas hob, a main gas oven, and a smaller gas oven that also doubled as an electric grill. It had its irritations - the plastic control knobs tended to break - but it cooked well, and had never before given major trouble. Even now, it remained an excellent gas cooker - quite good enough for my needs, anyway - but the grill was now useless. 

So if cooking at home, and grilling something was an absolute necessity, I'd now have to do it using the gas grill in the caravan parked outside. In fact the best cooker I had, the one that could do it all, was now the gas cooker in the caravan! And if I wanted crispy bacon with my breakfast, or a beautifully flame-kissed steak, I'd have to enjoy it on my caravan holidays. I couldn't have the same thing anymore inside my house. 

Had the time come, then, to replace my old cooker? (Although eight years surely didn't make it all that ancient)

I thought about it. With combating Climate Change in mind, the replacement couldn't be a gas cooker. It would have to be some kind of electric cooker

Was I ready for that? 

I recalled my experiences with the ceramic hob and electric oven at the Cottage, when I lived there full-time for six months back in 2009. I'd certainly got used to it; I'd cooked good meals with it; but I'd badly missed the instant heat and fine control offered by a gas cooker. Cooking with electricity was clearly viable, it just needed a modified technique. Mind you, I didn't know how you stir-fried with a wok, using electricity. Maybe you couldn't. However, I did enjoy how easy it was to clean an electric cooker. 

What effect would a switch to cooking with electricity have on my household bills? I'd certainly use less gas, so the gas bills would be cut a bit. But on the other hand, my electricity bills would be higher. Overall, more to pay - but would it break the bank? No, of course not. And I'd be helping the planet.

What about installation? It would be a freestanding cooker. Just plug it in? Ah - was there an existing heavy-duty wire from the consumer unit? With the right fuse? 

I checked the archive photos of my kitchen, taken when installing my present cooker in 2013. I'd emptied and cleaned the space it would fit into. I might well have a clear shot of the electric socket. Yes, I did. It looked like an ordinary wall socket that you'd plug a kettle into - and not the substantial kind of socket for a full-blown electric cooker. Well, I could turn off the circuit, and check the wiring and fuse inside that existing socket. But if it was just ordinary wiring, with a standard 13 amp domestic fuse, then I'd have to get an electrician to upgrade my circuitry before buying a new electric cooker. At some expense, of course. 

And what kind of electric cooker? Well, a good make that would last. Otherwise, nothing too fancy. Even so, a quick look on the internet suggested that I'd certainly be paying more than £500. Let's say at least £1,000 altogether to buy and wire up a decent ceramic-hob electric cooker. It was manageable, but not something to approach too soon, nor without a good deal of thought. I'd consult my friends first, as well as carrying-out a lot of research on the internet. A pity the showrooms were all closed because of the current lockdown! I'd want to see shortlisted cookers in the flesh before buying, or at least similar models from the particular maker, to assess quality and ease of operation. This wasn't anything I could rush into then. (Perhaps just as well)

Meanwhile, anything I'd normally grill would have to be cooked some other way. No great hardship; but I'd be even more eager now to get away in the caravan, and use a proper gas grill! 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

A discovery! I don't need to buy a new laptop in 2022!

The Microsoft Surface Book I bought in 2016 - named Verity - is an excellent machine, and remains an upmarket device. Stylish, robust, fast and very pleasant to use, with a gorgeous touch-enabled screen. And despite a heavy daily workload, it still looks immaculate. It looks like a laptop you might buy today, in 2021.

It has only one issue. It has just 256GB of on-board storage, which isn't enough for my current purposes. I've always wanted more. But back in 2016 I simply couldn't find the money for more memory, such as 512GB. Even buying a 256GB version, which cost me a whopping £1,609 back then, was taking a gamble on running out of cash if a large car, caravan or household bill cropped up in the months ahead. (As indeed turned out to be the case)

I now have only 52GB of storage left on Verity, even after hiving off as much as possible to three external hard drives and an SSD Flash Drive. 

What is taking up the space?

It's mainly my 'most important photo' collection. These are my best or most personally-significant shots. The shots I look at most often, the ones most likely to illustrate a blog post on any subject I'm likely to write about. Presently there are nearly 41,000 of them, an identical collection on both the laptop and my phone, so that each device is a backup for the other. (NB: Large though 41,000 may seem, this isn't by any means my entire Photo Archive. That's stored elsewhere, and is five times larger) 

The 'most important photo' collection is steadily growing. I think it may - with the annual accumulation of new shots, plus the addition of scanned pictures from old photo prints - devour 10GB in 2021, and another 10GB in 2022. Then, with my scanning programme finished, the growth rate should slow to 7GB per year, which is the amount of space the 3,897 'most important shots' for 2020 have taken up. (I'm using that as a guide)

On the basis of these figures, and if I regard 15GB as the minimum working storage needed for the efficient functioning of the laptop, then I can just about stretch my ongoing use of Verity into 2025. 

I will definitely then need to buy a replacement. In 2025 Verity will be nine years old and even if still working well, and looking good, she will be distinctly outmoded. I will have to stump up the equivalent of £2,500 or more to replace her, if I want to buy a new laptop with significant on-board storage. In fact I'll be wanting 1TB at least, and to buy the best Surface Book 4 (or whatever) I may have to raid my savings to the tune of £3,000. Ouch! But then I should be able to afford that by 2025. 

There was however another reason for wanting a new laptop with a big SSD memory. I wanted to ramp up my backup arrangements

Ideally, I wanted to have a large-capacity SSD storage device - say 2TB, or even more, possibly powered - and use it not only as the prime offline location for my massive Photo Archive, brought together into one place, but also for regular routine backups for my laptop and phone. That seemed to imply having a new laptop with a lot more space on it, to accommodate everything included in the backup. I'd want to bring it all together into a single folder - say 'General Backup 2022 0901' - and just set the backup in motion while I got on with other stuff, like washing dishes. Then half an hour later - because everything would go so much faster than now - I would disconnect the SSD storage device from the laptop and get on with my day. Job done. And I could do this at home or on holiday. 

But it's just occurred to me that I don't need to buy a large-memory laptop to make such a backup work. I can leave my photos, music, maps and other files where they are, and just route the backup through the laptop, using it as a connecting device between, say, my phone and the SSD storage device. I have two USB sockets on the laptop. One can be used for the input, one for the output. 

As in this picture, where I was - as an experiment - transferring files directly from my phone (at the end of the cable) to a little USB Flash Drive. 


It worked! I didn't first have to transfer those files into the laptop's memory, temporarily filling it up, then (as a separate procedure) transfer them out and onto the Flash Drive. It could be done directly.


I had no idea that one could do this. I'd never tried doing it before. I could have been making backups this way for years past. It had never occurred to me that the laptop could deal with two plugged-in storage devices at the same time, and act merely as a go-between, its own memory not involved. And nothing slowed down - the process was rapid.

Given that nowadays there are several alternatives to USB-A, I'm now wondering whether a brick plugged into the laptop, with an array of sockets on it, some for USB-A, some for USB-C, and some for other things, would work in just the same way. Why wouldn't it?

Another thought: if I can view my 'most important photo' collection better than ever on my new phone's beautiful screen, is it really necessary to keep a duplicate collection on my laptop? Couldn't it be moved to that SSD storage device I've yet to buy? I could still easily view it on Verity's large screen - and add to it - just by connecting the storage device and the laptop. 

Then the laptop's 256GB memory would be ample for all future use.

Now and then, fog clears from my mind and I see a better way to use what I've already got. 

All I have to do is buy a large-capacity SSD storage device sometime in the next two years. Probably not this year - I hear that there is currently a worldwide shortage of SSD components, which is temporarily driving up prices. But maybe 2022 or 2023. It would surely cost me less than £500.

Meanwhile my savings can just accumulate. Although there is an important domestic purchase I might need to make - next post.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Twelve years of ranting

A friend's Mum has just died. I don't know the details yet, but the lady concerned was very elderly. 

It reminds me very strongly of my own Mum's death on 3rd February 2009, all of twelve years ago now. The nursing home phoned me after letting Dad know. I rushed back to the Cottage, then drove over to Dad's - where I live now - picked him up, and we went to see Mum laid out on her bed. It was the first of two dead bodies I was going to see that spring, Dad following Mum so quickly. 

My first thoughts were for Dad and the need to be practical. There were many things to do, and Dad would need a combination of company and solitude. As an outlet for myself, to ease the feelings surging within, I decided to start this blog. Not to weep and grieve online, but to talk about other things and take myself away from the reality of losing one parent and supporting the other. 

The opening post was published on 5th February 2009. Google says 'May 2011' but they are wrong - maybe that was the date of some major reorganisation, in which Blogger got reset. And yet the cumulative total of viewings didn't get reset. Anyway, I've been writing here for twelve years - 2,355 posts, 2,132,500 words, and 1,042,850 viewings. 

The blog became on ongoing autobiography almost from the start, chronicling the main events following my breakup with M---. Good things as well as bad. 

In fact, I'd say it was twelve years of necessary but life-enlarging change. I embraced the independent life and surely won out. Some might say grew up, although I'm not so sure about that! But certainly, I feel able to cope with most things now; and the ability to make big decisions, and act upon them without delay, has not ebbed away. Above all, I feel entirely responsible for whatever course my future life takes. There's no blaming anybody else if things ever go wrong. But I'm very comfortable with that. 

I've also become used to living without a safety net - although to be fair, I am not short of friends who will offer a helping hand. Surely, concerned and benevolent eyes are constantly upon me. And that must come out in the general tone of my posts, which I think is upbeat and optimistic, even if I do express occasional exasperation and frustration, and sigh rather a lot!

Blogs do not go on for twelve years without a reason. In my own case, the need to divert my mind from Mum's death, and then - soon enough - Dad's as well, evaporated within months. There was so much else happening. I wanted to record it while it was going on. I wanted to state what I thought at the time. And, as fresh experiences made their mark, and I did things I'd never done before, and encountered people I'd never met before, I wanted to discuss my many shifts of perception and how these were modifying my self-view, and my priorities. 

I also discovered that what might seem reasonable to me could irritate or offend other people. And that any public platform is a magnet for trolls. I made mistakes in dealing with such wreckers. But I learned which topics were provocative, and therefore best avoided. Eventually I came around to the present type of post, which sticks to my unfolding life, and whatever attracts my attention, but doesn't go into places where sneering or abusive trolls might lie in wait.

I retain a copy of all the posts I've ever written. But all those published before 2015 were removed from the blog three years ago. I decided that the early posts were either too trivial, or too contentious, or not well enough written, or did not reflect my life as it had become. I wanted the blog to appeal to a general readership. A remit to write posts that might cover a very wide range of subjects would assure the blog's survival. If you confine yourself to just one thing, it's much more likely that 'writer's block' will set in. 

Mind you, there may be those who wish I would pack it all in! But that's not going to happen. I like writing; it can feel very creative; and of course, I can illustrate what I'm talking about with my own photographs. It's very satisfying to produce a lavishly-pictured post about some interesting place I've been to, or some new purchase. 

Would I have ever blogged if Mum hadn't died when she did? 

Its hard to say. Blogging is one of those activities you hear about, but may never personally take part in. I think people in general think it's for 'computer enthusiasts' who own their own website, and are keen on 'computing'. Which used to mean they had programming ability. Of course, the existence of platforms like Blogger and WordPress, and a number of others, meant that you needed no particular 'computer skills' at all. 

But the error in perception persists. I have one friend who is an avid lover of Facebook - a social media platform I will have absolutely nothing to do with - but has never got round to clicking on my blog to see what it's like and what I write about. And I've known her for thirteen years. I believe she thinks that most blog posts are long, boring rants. Some most certainly are! And some of my early ones might have been. But I wish she would give me a try.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Happier news

Things have turned out well for once! 

On the Amazon front, I have had a conversation about the phone I ordered on 15th January still not arriving, and a full refund of the £805.41 is now on its way. That's a great relief. I'm expecting it to reach my credit card account early next week. 

Amazon had in the end acknowledged the likely situation, that the phone had gone AWOL and would never reach me. So, for instance, the delivery status changed to this on 31st January:


As you can see, the definite promise of an eventual refund.

By yesterday morning, that is, 3rd February, the delivery status of my order was this:


It may be lost! I didn't think I would actually see Amazon admitting to that. But now there was the absolute assurance of a refund. So that conversation I'd booked for yesterday morning was actually an easy one, although I still felt a release of tension afterwards. 

It reminded me strongly of how it had been after any difficult but successful meeting with the Other Side, when I'd worked for the Inland Revenue. Especially a meeting to finalise a substantial contract settlement to include tax, interest and penalties, at the end of an important but confrontational investigation. I can think of two big ones in 1990 and 2005 where the modern equivalents of £430,000 and £460,000 were at stake, and things had to go absolutely right at the settlement meeting. I always felt a little light-headed with relief, when sitting back afterwards - the director or proprietor gone, and the contract left behind on the table, signed and dated. Watertight and enforceable. 

I often speculated whether the director or proprietor was laughing or crying as they left the building. If we hadn't found out everything, and their main nest egg was still intact, they'd be laughing. If we'd got lucky, and taken away their retirement pot - their dream of a sunny sunset - they'd be crying, possibly suicidal. The accountant might also be glum: inevitably such a financial catastrophe meant the loss of the client, even if - as was often the way - the client's own pig-headed refusal to come clean had inflated the penalty into a sum that really hurt.  

Sixteen years later, in my own sunny retirement, £805.41 meant every bit as much. I was very glad to get this email from Amazon:


Turning now to the Envirofone front, a quite different but still-satisfactory outcome. 

I was faced with making a choice between accepting a very low revised offer, based on a screen fault I had never noticed and didn't really think was there, or having the phone back to sell on eBay for no guaranteed amount. 

But then, a development! A friend said she'd like to have Tigerlily if I could get her back. The perfect solution. I have now turned down Envirofone's low offer, and Tigerlily is on her way back home. I'll repack her on receipt and post her to the friend, who is looking forward to having a flagship Samsung phone from 2017, plus the main accessories that came in the box, and a spare memory card. 

I'm really cheered by this outcome. Tigerlily will go to a good home, and may enjoy many years of future use. It's like placing a favourite pet you can't keep with a new but caring owner. 

Sequel on Amazon
Gosh, they repaid the money immediately! The £805.41 was credited to my credit card account on the very same day a refund was authorised. Well done, Amazon! My faith in you is restored. (I suppose it would have taken longer to reach a bank account)

Sequel on Envirofone
That came right too. They did the right thing. Tigerlily arrived back as promised, and after checking her over - she was still immaculate - I popped her gently in her original Samsung box, swathed that in bubblewrap, sealed it all in a stout box for posting, and went hotfoot to the local Post Office. The friend will have her very shortly. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Screenburn

You can count on it, can't you? Things will never go quite as you expect. There's now a glitch in the sale of my old phone to Envirofone. 

Up to yesterday, all looked fine. Their initial offer, subject to inspecting the phone, was £95. I posted it off to them on Thursday 28th January, and today, the following Tuesday, they have sent me an email containing an unexpected surprise.

They say that my old phone, a Samsung Galaxy S8+ bought in April 2017, exhibits something called screenburn. They explain that means icons or images have been burned into the screen. Consequently their offer has been reduced to only £23.75. 

The email invited me to discuss the issue with their Customer Service Department, and so, after reading an online article about screenburn, and studying the many screenshots I'd taken on that phone right up to the moment of its factory reset (all neatly filed away for reference), I phoned them up for more details. 

I had a conversation. I mentioned those many screenshots of mine, and the absence in them of any ghost images that I could see. I was careful to be cautious in what I said, and how I said it. 

The upshot of this is that the person I spoke to offered to email me a picture of what they had discovered. Then we would speak again, very likely tomorrow. 

He seemed to imply that there was perhaps a little room for manoeuvre on the revised offer now made. If there is, then I don't suppose it will be very significant. But you never know. At the moment they are really offering me only basic scrap value. They could come up a bit, and still make a profit. I am prepared to speak very sweetly to get some movement.

I could if I wish have the phone back. If I chose that option, I could then attempt to sell it on eBay. But then honesty would compel me to mention a defect like this, so that the phone might not sell for much. And possibly not at all. 

That on-screen article was on a website called Android Authority - see https://www.androidauthority.com/screen-burn-in-801760/

See also the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_burn-in#:~:text=Screen%20burn%2Din%2C%20image%20burn,uniform%20use%20of%20the%20pixels

It appears that, given enough time, a modern phone - especially one with an OLED screen - may develop a kind of shadow on its screen caused by pixels needing a high electrical current to light them up, and then not being able to revert to a pure white afterwards. I vaguely knew about this, but now I know a little more. 

I prefer using a light theme on my phones, but I have immediately adopted the Dark Theme on my new phone Prudence. This will prevent a lot of pixels needing to be lit, because they will be switched off and entirely black. I used Light Theme all the time on my old phone. 

I have also reduced the Screen Timeout from five minutes to two, so that the whole screen goes blank sooner, if I don't touch it. 

These measures should help protect Prudence's screen in the future.  

Meanwhile, I'll be most interested to see where the screen burn was on my old phone. I'm guessing the top edge, where the Status Bar was; although if that was so, I never noticed it. I don't think it could have been the bottom edge - I didn't use any virtual navigation buttons, preferring gestures. Nor did I use the Always On facility, which would display a clock and other things at all times (although it would shift by a few pixels now and then, to avoid lighting-up a distinct group of pixels for any length of time). 

I can now see a good reason not to hang on to a new phone for too long! Might it be best sell it on while it's still worth something, and before any screenburn becomes apparent? After only two years, say? 

But then that puts paying top whack for the latest phone into a very different light. Getting the latest and greatest, and then keeping it for only two short years, looks like a sure recipe for wasting money. High-end smartphones are so expensive nowadays.

A more sensible notion is to do what I've done this time, and buy last year's phone. And then be prepared to write it off entirely after four or five years, so that a tiny scrap value is of no concern.

Of course, I could go back to a phone-and-SIM contract. But I don't want to be tied again to any mobile service provider, stuck in a series of two-year contracts. I was with Vodafone for a long time, but very glad to escape. I'm now with BT Mobile, on a SIM-only basis: they own the SIM card, but not my phone, and once my SIM-only contract is up in May, I am free to go elsewhere anytime I please. I do like complete freedom. 

Two young men on a path

I have to admit I got quite excited when I heard on the radio this morning (BBC Radio 4) that the anti-coronavirus vaccination programme is going so well that the first cohort of over-65s may get their invitations to be vaccinated as soon as next week. Yippee! That will be me!

Of course, I am taking that tasty bit of good news with a big pinch of salt. They may be talking about those parts of the country where the programme has got well ahead, and not my part. Even so, that letter may come through my front door sometime in the next three weeks, and it will be most welcome when it arrives. I will happily drive a hundred miles, if need be, to get the first of those vital jabs. 

I really wonder why you still hear about people who intend to refuse vaccination. Why? Why would you place yourself at risk of catching an infection with possibly dire consequences? Or if your job is (say) to look after vulnerable patients in care homes? 

I suppose there might be some who can't, on good medical grounds, have the vaccination. But the rest? 

Now that there are several vaccines available, originating in more than one country, and produced by commercial companies not regimes, the theory that it's all part of some US or British government population-control plot seems absurd. And although all these vaccines are the product of just a few months development, they build on long-existing coronavirus research and have been tested on mass population samples: years of testing condensed into a few months. I'm content to risk suffering from some long-term effect, one yet not apparent, in order to have a high degree of safety in the present. If I catch the virus now, in early 2021, I may suffer so badly that I am never the same again. Or I could die. In either case, not getting vaccinated is going to be worse than any likely after-effect. The rational course is clear. 

Meanwhile, it becomes even more essential to take care, and avoid all circumstances in which I could get infected. It would be galling - and potentially tragic - to become infected when so close to vaccination.

But many people I encounter when out and about seem intent on harming me. They are all strangers. They are people who seem oblivious to the ongoing need to practice social distancing. 

You would have thought that after almost of year living with the virus, everyone would know the right thing to do. But no. There are idiots aplenty around who plainly do not know. If I take a walk in any urban area (just now, wet but firm town pavements are preferable to sticky mud on country footpaths) I have to be on my guard against a range of other people who clearly don't care about protecting an obviously older person, who are not going to inconvenience themselves in any way whatever. Family groups coming towards me are the worst. They force me off the pavement and into the road, where I might be hit by a cyclist or a car. The same with a group of teenagers. 

In general, only people on their own show any concern where social distancing is concerned. Some of them do step aside for me. If they do, I make sure to thank them. I am truly grateful. 

Joggers continue to be a hazard. They run fast along the pavement, some of them breathing heavily, spreading whatever infection they may have. I can avoid the ones coming towards me by stepping into the road. But the ones that come up from behind are past me and gone before I can do anything about it. I usually find myself freezing in terror as they pass. An over-reaction? Well, I don't think so. 

It seems to be a thing with jogging that you must never slacken your pace, not for anything. So joggers won't stop to let anyone get by. They clearly think their need to move at an even pace trumps your safety. If you can't get out of their way, they might conceivably barge into you.  

The most considerate joggers are female - they do tend to pass at a safe distance, if necessary by running into the road. For which I thank them. 

Male joggers on the other hand, especially those in their teens or twenties, invariably behave like unstoppable juggernauts. What arrogance! I do not accept that jogging is important, and overrides courtesy and consideration for another person's welfare and peace of mind. A pair of men with a young-professional look to them forced me into the road only yesterday. I gave them a hard stare as they came towards me, and made it quite clear that I was taking evasive action against my will. They took no notice. Bastards.

Ordinary male pedestrians, especially young men, can be just as crass. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking my daily exercise walk in Lewes, and at one point found myself on the riverside path between the Tesco superstore and the Phoenix Causeway river bridge. The path is about six feet wide here. On one side, a hedge. On the other, a grassy slope down to the river's edge. 

Two young men were walking towards me. They saw me all right, but made not the slightest move to walk in single file on one side of the path. When they were only a few yards away, and still walking side by side, I had to make a quick decision. I suppose I could have retreated ten yards, and let them pass at a wider point on that path. But it seemed more reasonable to cut off to one side, down that grassy slope. So I did. But it was slippery, and I fell onto my bottom, getting muddy hands and boots. 

The two young men had stopped, astonished. I got up - thankfully uninjured - and climbed up to the path again. As I did so, one of the young men offered his hand to haul me up. What? Was he completely crazy? I said to him, 'You keep your distance! I can manage.' He seemed hurt. 'Only trying to help, love,' he said. 'Well, I wish you had stepped to one side on the path, and let me pass safely,' I snapped back. 

No doubt he and his friend, now walking away, were agreeing that older people were daft, bad-tempered and ungrateful. And would then wipe the incident from their minds. I felt a bit empty, momentarily willing to think that there was no point bothering with anything. If, after so many months, young men like this remained unconcerned and unaware about social distancing - to the extent of actually risking hand-to-hand contact - what could be done? The government messages, the news of infections and deaths - none of it had sunk in. Perhaps they laughed at those things. Perhaps they preferred to look cool above all else. No wonder the number of infections remained stubbornly high. There was a rump of stupid people who were ignorant of the risks, or chose to ignore them. 

And I felt, in a sense, personally assaulted. They had made me feel afraid enough to slither down a slope rather than squeeze between them. Couldn't they see how frightening they had appeared to anybody who felt vulnerable? Why hadn't they automatically signalled that they recognised the need for social distancing, and were immediately taking clear and obvious steps to make our passing encounter a safe one?  

Well, I don't want to regard all young men as arrogant fools or pig-ignorant twits. But experiences like this certainly push me down that path. 

And this was in a small, pleasant town in Sussex, that has hitherto seemed a safe place for a walk. What can it be like in a big city, teeming with people one can't avoid so easily?