on projects and slippage


I started a series of projects on home and garden back in January and, when lockdown hit us, these became something of a primary focus for me. I said at that point that I would hit my overall objectives in terms of time and money, but, as so often happens in professional life, things have changed.

Taking my personal goals as a microcosm of business workings I have seen a familiar progression in that now, around seventy percent of the ay through my personal programme, the needs have changed and so what I had planned on in therms of certain specific objectives are no longer necessary.

Part of the problem has been in delays from external suppliers; the new shed is still not here and is now four weeks behind schedule and the new greenhouse is unlikely to arrive before next Spring. Both of these issues are primarily due to Covid-19 firstly because demand for garden products shot up during lockdown and then because the production facilities were not working at capacity having had to deal with the impact of lockdown, social distancing and the like. These things happen.

Then there were the things that were uncovered as work progressed; the bae for the new shed required digging out of some significant root systems and even the had to be raised about 10cm. Clearance of waste was affected by Covid-19 restrictions and instead of a daily trip to the tip I could not go for about a month and then was restricted to two trips a month.

If I were to be sitting with an employer discussing how well I had performed in terms of meeting the objectives set nine months ago I would not be doing too well I suspect, but therein lies another story and one that I have visited here before. The bottom line is that the world changes around us and we need to be able to recognise that.

Looking at where I am now against where I was in January the difference is huge and whilst I have not sone some of what I set out to, because of external forces, we are in a much better place than we were at the start of the year. My main aim of having the deck sorted out so that we could enjoy some of the Summer sitting out has gone because Summer is past. That is a shame, but the bulk of the hard work is done and come next Spring it will al be there for us to enjoy.

In business we often become so focussed on getting to an objective that we miss the fact that we do not need to get to that place any more. Time and money are expended on things that have become obsolete or for which the immediate need has passed. Plans should always be flexible because, to quote the old military adage, no plan survives past first contact with the enemy. Your strategy may still be current, but the tactics have to adapt to what is going on around you.

Hang loose and take advantage of what you can do as long as it helps you prgress

Oops


I have just noticed that I am about three posts short here. For some reason those that I created on my iPad have not some through and, whilst they exist on that device, they show a marked reluctance to leave it for the wider world. Perhaps they are self isolating.

I will see if I can move them by other means than re-typing them, but please accept my apologies for this unexpected, and until now, unnoticed absence. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

the lockdown log 26


Well, here we are on a bright, if cold, Thursday morning six months on from my first Lockdown Log. How time flies, but we could be in for another six months yet if not longer.

I have had my first three month review since being diagnosed as Diabetic type 2 and the first results are OK. I get the rest of the news next week when the blood test data comes through. The only negative for me so far is that my knackered kidneys are showing a fractional potassium deficiency, but I have been there before and will get back on the daily bananas. My feet have been examined and found acceptable and I go for my eye assessment tomorrow, fortunately the centre is a ten minute walk away so I have no transport problems for getting home.

On the project front my new shed is not coming until next month according to the latest estimate. Not great news, but I have plans, F, G and H ready to deploy as necessary. Hopefully the rain will hold off today and I can get a decent day’s work done out there.

Somewhere in the timetable I will try and fit in another exercise walk. Since I restarted doing these at the end of June I have racked up just over 200 km (125 miles) and am going to try and double that by the end of the year. Next year I am going to go for 1000 km in the full year just in exercise walking (I also do over 10 km a day at work five days a week, but that doesn’t count). At the moment I am contemplating trying a 10 km exercise walk. Accepting that I do that easily in four hours whilst getting paid for it and that I have been told to stop power walking on tarmac because of aging joints I reckon that 10 km is going to take me over two hours and my real reluctance is in investing that amount of time. Watch this space…

The Berkshire Belle is over her fears of going out and we have made a couple more shopping trips plus one to the doctor’s for her ‘flu jab (I had mine when I went for my diabetic tests). She loathes wearing a mask like many do, but it is one of the things that we have to put up with. At least she is past that dread of going out and that has to be good.

Autumn seems to be upon us and I am trying to remember that there are various annual jobs that need to be plugged into my assorted projects. The gutters need maintenance, bulbs need planting, leaves need clearing up and the Hawthorn is dropping a large quantity of its fruit all over the front lawn just to list a few. All of this keeps me busy and stops me thinking too much about the bad things going on around in the world. Ignorance is bliss and I am happy to maintain my own degree of oblivion.

I hope that you are all doing as well as you can, so stay safe out there wherever you are.

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.