the lockdown log 25


This week we have had a red letter day in that the Berkshire Belle steeled herself and let me take her out shopping. Apart from an occasional potter around the front or back yard it was the first time that she had been out of the house since February.

Confidence is important and suddenly she has that back in spades and that, in turn, has done wonders for me. When you care about someone it can drag you down too when they are having problems and so I am really pleased that we have made a step forward.

The new shed is starting to assume mythical properties. It was supposed to arrive at the local supplier last week and then their carrier was going to call me with a date for getting it to me. So far I have not cashed it as it isn’t really that important; I have plenty of other things to do, but it is an irritant and poor customer service in terms of communication.

Another delivery related to the shed has arrived and I thought that I had two problems; one in terms of damaged goods and the other being the wrong size had been supplied. I contacted the supplier using the relevant page on their web site last Friday and got a response yesterday morning (Wednesday) asking for photos. As I stood by the item later in the day ready to photograph it my ‘phone rang; it was the supplier asking why I had not responded to their email. Fact checking showed that I did have the right item, but I had been mislead first by reading mm as cm and then by assuming that the quoted dimension was length as the items is used lengthways. Wrong; the dimension is the width and so I did have the right things, just not enough of them and I need to have another measure and a re-think.

These things are the drawback to on-line shopping in that You can’t see and feel the item before you buy, but in the current environment buying on-line has become our norm for so much. Today we are due six deliveries two of which have arrived; one from the butcher ad one from the greengrocer. The fishmonger’s parcel is about 15 minutes away as I write this and Amazon will be here with the rest anytime up until around 7pm.

Today is a special day in that we have been together for thirty one years. Not bad for what many who knew us assumed would be a six seek wonder. There will be no real celebration of this milestone though, just a Thai style fish curry for dinner tonight and, probably, no booze either. We are trying to stay healthy and squeeze in as many more years together as we can.

My weight still comes off. Half a kilo, half a kilo, half a kilo onwards to paraphrase Tennyson. At this rate it will take me to the end of this year to make the target of 108 kg, which is 17 stone in old money, that I set myself before I could have another bottle of beer. This week has not been a good one in dietary terms, but a lot of physical exercise has presumably helped offset that. Another target passed this week is that my exercise walks have totalled 100 miles since I started back at the end of June. Meanwhile there is a bottle of London Porter by the wine rack awaiting my loosing another six kilos.

Stay safe out there wherever you are.

the lockdown log 24


News that we can have gatherings of no more than six presents no problem here. Apart from tradespersons no-one has been near us for the duration and we are quite happy with that. The realisation that we are stuck with this plague for the Winter has struck the Berkshire Belle rather hard and she ended her birthday very upset.

I have been accepting that it would be at least next Spring before things might have a chance of getting better for a while now so, for me, not much has changed. Life is different and I have, and will continue to, try and adapt to it. I go to work five days out of seven, do the shopping and try to fill up the rest of my week with things that need doing along with things that don’t need doing other than to take my mind off everything else.

My lady and I have very different outlooks. My glass is always half full, hers half empty so we have a full glass between us and the fact that we recognise that somehow helps. Another key difference is that she has to know and will delve into things with a passion. I prefer the ostrich method and really don’t need to know until I am ready at which point I will do my own research, but I only do that when my head is in the right place to deal with what might be bad news.

One of the hard things at the moment is in dealing with each other and our respective moods that can change in seconds. You do this in any relationship, but in times like this when there is a considerable strain from an external source it gets hard. You are dealing with your own mental health as best as you can, but you cannot fail to be influenced by the people with whom you share your life.

Something that we both learned in trying to cope with our respective Mothers as they slipped into dementia was that you cannot expect logical thinking to work when dealing with people who are not rational. If you do you just exacerbate the problem that you are trying too solve. Things that work one day will not work the next (sometimes not even later the same day) and it can be like walking on eggshells in trying to be supportive.

Yesterday was one of those days when an anticipated threat failed to turn up and, despite assurances, we have been lied to. Today we have to try and resolve the problem and whilst, as experienced managers in the field concerned, we know exactly what should happen and what needs to be done to make that happen we have our doubts as to whether it will be resolved without much stress for us. Such things are of little import to many, but they are to us in the here and now.

Still, the sun is shining, we have food in the house for the weekend, I am another half kilo lighter than last week and I have my first exercise walk of the day logged (2.5k). I am already started on the day’s job list so let’s see how things go. It’s Friday so we can share half a bottle of wine tonight (saving the other half for tomorrow). A simple pleasure that will hopefully end a successful day.

My various project continue to progress. I wrote ion my Monday Musings blog the other day about the principle that the more you learn the less you know and the same thing goes for many DIY activities in that the more you do the more you have left to do. So many jobs that seem simple reveal other problems that need to go onto the list and then you get into trying to sequence these into everything else that you were planning.

Back in January when I started planning my major assault on the back garden I had no idea that were were going to get into a lockdown with all of the consequences that was to bring. I am a long way off on some of my objectives as I am still waiting for my new shed, but I am well ahead on some other things and have many other jobs completed early so overall things are not too bad. As long as I can keep up the ratio of good days to bad it will work out well. I am hoping for some good Autumn weather so that the last big job, sanding and repainting the deck, can by done before Winter sets in. There I am at the hands of Mother Nature.

Around and about my local supermarket has done away with their controlled access to the store and to the tills. There is the usual mix of people who observe social distancing and a few that do not as well as one or two that are not wearing masks correctly, but I do my best. I shop as often as possible at times when the stores are quiet and we order on-line as much as we can (as with the delivery above that failed yesterday). So far we have avoided the plague, but one of my niece’s and her partner were not so lucky. Fortunately they appear to have both recovered.

And so another week passes. Stay safe out there.

on life


The secret to a long life is to avoid dying. These things only become obvious later in life when you start to realise that the sands of your time seem to be slipping through the egg timer of life a little faster than they did when you were younger.

The Berkshire Belle and I both have birthdays coming up and whilst we don’t really do much to recognise such events these days they do tend to remind one of the end being closer; we are all dying one day at a time. I don’t mean to be maudlin here, just recognising a fact.

I don’t usually feel that I am nearing the end of my sixty eighth year of taking up space, but now and again bits of me do remind me that I am not eighteen any more. That, in turn, reminds me that over my years of working in business I replaced a lot of clapped out kit with newer and shinier stuff that worked better than its predecessor.

When I replaced anything I rarely gave any though to what would happen to it; I do not remember being sentimental about any of it and nature is like that with life. This is one of the things that I find abhorrent about modern life; the principle of not having losers. Nature is competitive. It rewards winners and casts aside losers. Yes it is hard, but that is the way of the world and to try and deny it is ridiculous.

For the time being I can still provide some useful function in life and contribute to society. I do not fear death. I know that it is coming (the Grim Reaper has had two or three tries already) and hope that it comes quietly when I am no longer any use. The one thing that I do fear is to become a drain on the community. If I can avoid that I will be very grateful.

Life is for living and I have not done too badly. I have certainly done things that I would now prefer not to have done, but everything that I did led me to the Berkshire Belle and, between our two birthdays, we celebrate thirty one years together this year. That is nearly half my life and I am very grateful that I walked a path that saw us come together.

Along the way I have done a few things that please or amuse me. Amongst these I have:

  • Driven a main line steam engine
  • Flown several aeroplanes
  • Sailed a landing craft
  • Driven a racing car
  • Worked my way from the shop floor to the board room (and back)
  • Had an armed escort to and from the office
  • Walked through the front door at 10 Downing Street
  • Worked in 9 countries across 4 continents
  • Advised departments in the governments of 6 countries
  • Had feature articles published by six magazines
  • Written three books (so far)
  • Lectured at an Oxford college

Very few of those things were on my mind as a boy and I doubt that anyone who knew me then expected me to have done much of that list. A good life so far and, hopefully, I can avoid dying for a few more productive and pleasurable years.

Stay safe and, at a suitable distance, have fun.

the lockdown log 23


The twenty-third in this series reminds me that we are almost six months into this plague. Despite the rantings of some about the way things have been handled here nowhere is doing that well overall and it seems that we are stuck with the bug until a vaccine becomes available.

Here in Swindon the sudden surge in Covid-19 cases has slowed again although we are still an area of concern to the authorities. Personally I feel no more or less vulnerable than I did back in March and plough on regardless. I have worked all the way through apart from a week off in May and will be taking another couple of weeks off from this weekend.

Some time off will help with a focussed effort on my various domestic projects and I am looking forward to making some good progress. I will so my best to get things done despite the weather.

My diet/exercise regime continues to prune off about half a kilo a week, or just over a pound in old measures. I am told that this is good and remember my first wife getting similar advice during her many diets. Loose slow and it stays off longer or something like that. Whatever, it is steady progress in the right direction, I am over a stone lighter than I was eight weeks ago and when I go back to see the medics at the end of the month hopefully they will be pleased with the results three months on.

One aspect of the weather interruptions to my outside projects is that I have dug out ukulele and guitar and started to practice a little each day. Not much, sometimes just five minutes here and there, but it brings both the pleasure of (occasionally), getting something right and the frustration of cocking it up. It is good for the grey cells apparently so I shall keep it up and, once it becomes safe to do so, will try and find some local gathering or other where I can get to play with others.

Stay safe out there wherever you are.

on local trading


There are a lot of posts on social media exhorting the benefits of trading locally and supporting small businesses near you. It is all very laudable and I do my bit, but I question the anti big business argument that is bandied around to support local trading.

I have run small businesses for almost twenty years, but none of these have been targeted on my local area. My horizons have always been much wider and I have traded internationally from the start as well as UK wide, but I have tried to support my local business community both professionally and as an individual.

My motive has been purely selfish in that I like, regardless of whether I have my business or personal hat on, to be able to deal face to face with suppliers and I can do that without travelling too far then I am much happier. It saves me time for one thing, but whilst I am happy to deal with local suppliers I have no issues with using the big chains and, especially when not on my own turf, prefer them because I know what I am getting.

I don’t care if large corporations pay very little in tax. It is not their fault if those opportunities are available to them. How many of us voluntarily pay extra tax? Certainly in the days when I was paying 40% tax I never felt any need to ring up the Revenue mob and ask them to round it upon to 50%. These big corporations employ thousands of people around the country who all pay their own income tax and spend what they have in whatever way they can. Some of that will be spent in the shops where they live so that money goes into the local community.

There is this implied fallacy that all money spend with a global brand somehow vanishes into offshore pockets. It doesn’t all go that way. Shopping, and spending, patterns have shifted radically over the last four months and many large brands are in trouble. If they fail there will be a lot more people out of work than if a few local shops close. It isn’t just the stores; there are the warehouses and distribution networks, manufacturers and packers and many more who make up the supply chains. They all provide employment that puts money into local communities.

What the world will lo0k like in another four months I have no idea. Some of my spending has shifted to local suppliers because it has been easier to deal with them than with big chains that are temporarily closed. I have gained a fruit and veg box supplier and a fishmonger that I buy from on-line and have the produced delivered. My butcher has also expanded his on-line business and so I use that rather than drive to browse and choose from his counter.

Other local businesses have lost my custom though, not through any fault of their own. The weekly pub lunches thinly disguised as business meetings have ceased as have the ones in coffee shops along with the casual spending in the shops in those nearby towns en-route from car park to venue. Much of the latter affects charity shops where I would inevitably emerge with a book or two if nothing else.

The reality is that we, the consumers, drive the market. Yes we respond to advertising and all that, but it is us who spend our cash in the way that we want to. If we don’t want to shop in the High Streets then we won’t and that is the way it is for now. This year has simply exacerbated things, but you cannot blame it alone. We are selfish people and will not pay higher prices locally when we can get stuff delivered for less. I am as guilty as any and, as I potter around doing something and an idea for a purchase flashes into my mind I am as likely as not to pull out my ‘phone and make the purchase.

Local trading was once the only way to buy, but the concept of the High Street is barley 200 years old. If it is going to die here it will as it has done in the USA and we need to accept that. Let’s move with the times and not waste government money, local or central, in trying to prop up something that is beyond help.

There will always be a place for the small business as much as there will always be a place for the big ones as long as both can offer us something that we want. It will be what we make it and we will live with what we get.

the lockdown log 22


The weather fluctuations continue to thwart me on the things that I need to do around the house and garden and so I find myself doing other things that I had planned to keep me busy over the Winter. I have long loathed the ToDo list, but I am starting to think that I do need to sit back and make a list of jobs to avoid losing focus.

Today I managed to get a few external chars out of the way before the rain set in, but am now sat by the front room window typing this as the rain steadily falls. The weather radar shows now sign of the rain stopping much before it gets dark, but from the kitchen I have the aromas of the curried carrot soup that is cooling on the hob and the belly pork joint that is slow cooking to provide tonight’s dinner. Cooking is always a pleasant distraction on days like this and it also provides some personal fulfilment; that primeval urge to provide for the family.

In will be ducking my afternoon exercise walk this afternoon too. There seems little point in getting cold and wet and, in anticipation of dud weather, I have almost walked my target for the week anyway so I shall skive off today and see what tomorrow brings. These walks are important in terms of my seeking to loose weight and, after losing around 7kg so far I have plateaued somewhat so I need to balance my reluctance to go out in inclement weather with the desire to beexpelled from the fat bastard’s club.

One of my side projects at the moment is putting together something of a personal history. I began to do this about 12 years ago when my Mother was slipping away and dementia had robbed me of chance to talk about some of the family background. She died without revealing the Mystery of the Bowens, but my son’s research into the family tree put us in contact with the half-brother that I suspected, but did n to have any proof of. It solved some of the mystery, but not all and so I felt that I should leave something for my children should they be interested.

I have been working my way through what I remember of our lives through from when I was born through until now. It is odd how memory is flawed, for some of the dates that I would have sworn were when events occurred have proved to be out. My efforts are not hampered by an industrial accident back in early 1972 that saw me rendered unconscious and unable to recall much of the previous 18 months. I do have some documents that give me key dates and from them I am trying to piece the rest together.

It has provided something else to use the grey matter on and that can only be good, especially at the moment. Research can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding. The internet has an astonishing range of opportunities and today I have, from the comfort of my dining chair here, visited the four houses that I lived in before I settled where I am now all via Google StreetView. It has also given me a 4 year old view of where I sit now and the improvements since are very noticeable.

Seeing the old houses has brought back a variety of memories and has also reminded me that I have lived almost half of my life here. There must be something in the water.

Stay safe one and all, wherever you may be.

on the paradox of knowledge


I vaguely recall being told when I was in my late teens that the more we know the less we know and thought then that this was ridiculous. Clearly I did not then know enough.

Over my professional career there have been many occasions when my team and I have been engaged in planning something and have gone through that stage where our researches have led us to a point where we have more questions than answers; every answer that we seek leads to more questions and it is an iterative process that all project teams go through.

At some point in one of these project team meetings someone gave that long forgotten answer again; the more we know the less we know and it struck me that, far from being nonsense, it was actually true. It is aligned to another old adage about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing and I have had moments where I have made a fool of myself trying to use a new piece of knowledge only to find that what I knew barely scratched the surface.

Everything that you learn opens the door to more learning. I know now that this is what fuels my own passion for learning and it is so easy now. As a boy I had an old atlas of the world and a dictionary of similar vintage and these were my main sources of reference. No I have a tablet beside me for much of the time and, if not that, then a mobile (cell) ‘phone. With a few clicks I can check all sorts of facts and have been known to spend an entire evening digging through having started on one topic and been led to various threads from that.

The opportunity to learn is all around us these days and there is no excuse for not using it. Ignorance may be bliss, but I am a lot happier knowing things and seeking to know more. Hopefully I will never lose that urge to learn something new every day.

the lockdown log 21


Time rolls by and there seems no end to this plague as yet. Here in swindon we are making a bid for the nation’s top spot and, having been in the top ten for a couple of weeks or so, are closing in on the top five. Not that this is anything to be proud of.

Our problems seem to be in two areas where ethnic minorities have set up home. I can remember working with some of the immigrant community from this part of town and being shocked to hear them talk of their overcrowded conditions, not that they saw it as a problem. Different cultures and expectations; fitting twenty people into the sort of two bedroomed house that my mother had lived in seemed ridiculous to me, but my background was very different to theirs.

The irony that the EMEA peoples are more likely to suffer from Covid-19, and for it to have a more severe impact, when they live in multi generational and, by my standards, overcrowded homes where it will spread more quickly is not lost on me. It is sad that people who have come to the UK to escape troubles that I cannot imagine in their homelands are now under such threat from a new enemy.

In my corer of the town life goes on as the weeks roll past. The weather is thwarting some of my efforts, but it looks as though I will have a dry day today to treat the deck with stain ready for the new shed’s arrival in a couple of weeks or so. That will also need painting inside and out before assembly so I am hoping for about three days of dry weather then.

I am back on my head in the sand attitude and am not looking at the news (I only know about the Covid situation here because the Berkshire Belle delights in telling me these snippets) and am largely avoiding social media where the political ranting of my Leftie friends I find moronic rather than amusing me as it usually does. I take each day as it comes and try not to think too far ahead beyond my personal projects. It works for me and fends off the worst of the depression that is luring too close at hand for comfort.

I am off to do some work. Stay safe out there wherever you are.

on the joys of shopping


I’m going to look at this from the customer perspective. All management should do this anyway, but many seem to ignore it beyond what they see from market research and I will come on to that too in a moment.

Why do we shop? To buy stuff is the obvious, and correct answer, but how many of us go shopping and come back with more than we went for? The Berkshire Belle and I once worked with a chap who was, fortunately, married to a like minded lady. They went shopping with a list and bough only what was win the list. Things around the house had to fail completely before they were replaced; we remember that their cooker was down to one working ring on the hob before they bought a new one.

Our friends were not common though and most folks are like the double B and I in that shopping is about browsing, about buying things on impulse regardless of whether you need them or have an immediate use for them. You see, you like, you buy is how it works and that process involves not just the eyes, but touch. I will walk along a rack of golf shirts, for example, running my fingers across the fabric. I buy more by what feels nice than the colour or brand. Cutlery, glassware and crockery have all been bought by how they feel in the hand rather than anything else (except maybe how they look).

These pleasures are, if sort of allowed, not practical or desirable at the moment so, like many, we are not doing it. There is no fun anyway in visiting a shopping centre or high street and having to queue at almost every shop that you want to visit. Touching products, other than to put them into your basket or cart, is not something that is a good idea and just wandering around looking at things is not encouraged, or acceptable, when others are queuing to get in. Shopping is becoming more about necessity than a source of pleasure.

This is the dilemma for those in the retail trade and many are fighting for survival. The writing has perhaps been on the wall for a while with the impact of internet shopping and the evolving habits of each new generation, but this current plague has brought matters to a head. How they will get through it I don’t know. It seems unlikely that we will return to a world where we can shop without masks, social distancing or fear any time soon so which businesses will survive that long?

Whilst this is a problem for government in that it impacts on the economy in so many ways it is not a problem that is in their gift to solve. Market research is too often flawed and there is a lot of nonsense out there in terms of customers surveys; just sigh up to do a few of these on-line and you will see what I mean. The questions are often nonsensical and there is no way that meaningful answers can be gleaned from it, certainly not in terms of allowing management to make realistic decisions.

What we get over the next twelve months or so is going to come from innovative thinking, from people who have a vision that they can translate into actions that work and that will generate income for their businesses. As always the ones that can take advantage of the changing environment will be the survivors.

I don’t think that we will see the world that we had sic months ago again. What we emerge into will look and feel different. I don’t know that I will like it, but I will have to lump it if that is all I have.

the lockdown log 20


Weather extremes are messing with my efforts to keep my various projects on track, the extreme heat not being conducive to labouring outside nor for some of the indoor jobs and now heavy rain has further complicated things; traipsing mud around is not popular and I have to wait for things that I could not paint because it was too hot to dry out before I can paint them.

These are the sort of buggerment factors that all project manage to face up to and I will manage somehow. The year is slipping by and it is now barely light when I get up at five in the morning and darkness is falling by around nine in the evening. There is still much to do if I am to meet my self-imposed plans, but if I look back there is a huge amount completed. I have written in my Monday Musings blogs about the need to occasionally stop and look back to see how far you have come and it is an important psychological boost when you start to feel that you are losing momentum.

Having written my last Monday Musing on crisis management I had to put my abilities into practice last week when one of the local foxes wandered into the house and then went berserk trying to get back out. Fortunately keeping calm and being patient Reynard was persuaded to leave, but in its blind panic it took a while for it to realise that it was rushing past an open door in its attempts to get out of a window. No damage was done in the house and the fox seems to have recovered as it has been several times since.

Such diversions are not always welcome, especially when, as happened here, I had just got everything ready to start a job when I was called shift our furry visitor. By the time that I had got rid of it, helped to restore order in the house and discussed with the Berkshire Belle (who had taken it all very calmly) how we could prevent further incursions I had largely gone off the idea of what I had gone out to do. Certainly it took me so long to get my head back into the game that I didn’t get the job finished.

With the Law of Sod in full swing it appears that my deck stain sill be delivered today or tomorrow. I will re-check the directions, but given that the weather has broken (after the thunder storm of last night it has already rained three times this morning in the two and a half hours that I have been up. Looking at the forecast my chances of getting the new decking fry enough to stain look bleak for the next ten days or so. Ho hum; Plan M I think I am up to now.

I cut my hair again this week, the fourth self-haircut of this Summer. My usual barber has apparently reopened, but I am a little twitchy about going there as we have a significant upsurge on the Covid-19 front here. So another sit in the back garden with the clippers and using my ‘phone camera as a substitute mirror has, at least, tidied me up again. In the process of using the ‘phone to check my work I inadvertently took a selfie; who is this old git I see before me? Small wonder that they want me to wear a mask when out; it must make me look less frightening. Age creeps up…

One of the biggest problems we face at the moment is that hope is being drained. I can only speak from a personal perspective, but the little things that we enjoy as a couple; going out to shop, to eat or to visit places is lost for the foreseeable future. An end to the pandemic is not in sight and we are trying to adapt, but many of the things that brought us joy are out of reach. Yes I know that there are millions worse off than we are and that we have many privileges that others crave, but that is where we have to try and get our mindset changed. We have become used to being free to do what we can afford to do and now we can’t much of that and, because we think that is is sensible, are choosing not to do other things.

This week we have learned that one of my nieces and her partner have bought Covid-19. Fortunately they seem to have been only mildly affected, but they are the first people that we know that have caught it and even though they live an hour’s drive away it somehow brings it closer.

At the end of the day we have each other and that matters enough to keep us fairly sane in these weird times. We hope that you are all staying safe too.