Sunday, 27 May 2018

Broken Shears

I woke a little before 8 this morning, and stared at the bedroom ceiling for a while before a switch of some kind flicked in my head. I hate that switch. Before I knew it I was downstairs with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in my hand, headed towards the shower. After exiting the shower and downing a coffee, I found myself stood in front of the house, garden shears in hand, contemplating the task ahead.

Two runs of privet hedge. 30ft long, 6ft high. Urgh.

You might think it some kind of madness - to trim such a ridiculously large privet hedge with garden shears, but if you just bought an electric hedge trimmer six months ago and only discovered last week that the previous owner had cut the cable in half by accident, you too would have been standing there with a pair of garden shears too (well, unless you're independently wealthy). I try to convince myself - while half-killing myself doing manual work - that it's good for me. I do a desk job, so pushing our manual lawnmower (yes, we have a push-along mower), or cutting the hedges with shears is probably good for me. I tell myself this to avoid giving up and getting ranted at for never doing anything.

I was doing SO Well. And then as the universe is so reliable about, while half-way through the first hedge, one of the handles came loose on the shears. That's strange, I thought, pushing it back on - they've never done that before. Then the other handle fell off. Hmmm. I started thinking. We've had these shears perhaps twenty years. We have never looked after them particularly - they get slung in the shed after being used. I wonder if the wooden handles might be completely and utterly rotten ?

My suspicions were answered an hour later, while half-way through the second hedge. There was a splintering sound while slamming the blades together again, and again, and again, and one of the handles shattered in my hand. I still had perhaps fifteen feet of hedge to cut. Dammit!

Luckily, a lady that lives several houses along wandered past with her dog, and distracted me from the temper tantrum before I could have it. While passing the time of day with her, I forgot all about the broken shears in my hand, and stood for quite some time making conversation. Normally I'm terrible at making conversation, but given the opportunity to avoid getting on with the hedge for a while, I became the most affable, interested, invested conversationalist I've ever known. Her husband wandered out after a while, remarking that he wondered why taking the dog for a walk had taken so long.

I finally made my excuses to exit the conversation, and wandered back to the half-cut hedge. It turns out if you're really determined, you can cut a hedge with broken shears - I know, because I did it. It was kind of precarious at times - with further bits of wood splintering from the handle as I valiantly tried to hold the pieces in my fist, but I got there in the end.

After another ten minutes with the broom, sweeping up the off-cuts and lifting them into the recycling bin, the drive looked almost as good as the gardening nazi's that live up and down the road from us. I tend to think they must spend every waking hour pruning their gardens with a magnifying glass. Our garden is more a case of "if you look from a distance, it's kind of ok!" - and that's good enough for me.

I did wonder why I bothered with a shower though, as I stood in the kitchen with a pint of blackcurrant squash, draped in a sweat-drenched t-shirt, picking bits of leaf from my hair.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Little or Nothing

After scraping myself out of bed a little after 9am this morning - perhaps the latest I have been up in many months - I busied myself with the usual round of chores for the first few hours of the day - washing up, tidying up, cutting the grass, and so on. I even cleaned the fridge out (read: threw almost it's entire contents into the wheelie bin outside). Beyond that, I really haven't done much at all - I'm struggling to think what I spent the rest of the day doing.

Tinkering. There was quite a bit of tinkering.

Both the old computer in the study, and the laptop I inherited from the children are running "Elementary OS" now - a distribution of Linux that promises to make an old computer fairly useable. After monkeying with it throughout the afternoon, I would have to agree. I'll also admit to messing around with the Amiga emulator again - I really do need to try it out as a distraction-free writing platform at some point. There's something about running a program on a computer that can do nothing but write words onto the screen - no tabbing to a web browser, and no endless scrolling of music tracks.

I fell into the vast spotify black hole for a time late this afternoon. It all started with the soundtrack from the movie "Country Strong", which I have never seen. Within minutes I had stumbled from Garret Hedlund, through to Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, and on to innumerable singers and songwriters I had not heard before. Somewhere along the way I spotted Bethany Joy Lenz, and spent a few minutes listening to "Leaving Town Alive". Go search for it - you'll like it. It's on Soundcloud.

I love songs that tell a story I can identify with - particularly when there are parallels with my own life. Songs like "Gravity Happens", by Kate Voegele, and "Human", by Christina Perri.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a musical rabbit hole to go jump down.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Making Friends

It's Friday night. I'm on my second glass of wine, and I have the prospect of a week off stretched ahead of me like a glorious savannah full of possibilities. Of course we know that by Tuesday I'll be writing a bitter account of cutting the lawn, the privet hedge, and making numerous trips to the rubbish dump, but that's not the point. At the moment, the immediate future involves wine, and unfounded optimism. Surely the best foundations for a few days off work.

I often see other people posting reviews of their week - looking back over the past several days, and re-telling the stories of note. I really only have one story of note worth telling (well, aside from a snore-inducing solution to a technical problem that had my trousers on fire this morning), but at least it's a happy story.

I made a friend.

I suppose in reality we've been friends for a while - commenting on each other's blogs, and firing the odd email back and forth. This last few weeks though, we have became more than strangers that occasionally comment on each other's blog posts.

I have very few "real" friends on the internet. I suspect the same is true of anybody else too. Interacting with people you don't really know involves the building of walls, and the imposition of filters. Some have higher walls, and some have more filters. Some seem to have none at all - oh how I wish I could do that.

It's odd though - making friends across the vast reaches of the internet. While you never make eye contact, and never get to wander into town for coffee together, you share thoughts that you might not otherwise. Silly ideas, hopeless dreams, and petty annoyances. It turns out distance is useful sometimes.

A friend on the internet is an escape too. While writing an email to share the occasional day you can let go of the obligations and expectations you drag behind you for a little while, and remind yourself that somewhere in the middle of parenting, working, cleaning up, washing up, and so on, you're still there - still putting one foot in front of the other - and so are they.

I can't help thinking about Dumbledore's words though - that it doesn't do to dream and forget to live. Of course when you have a family surrounding you it's difficult to avoid living. My youngest daughter came running in earlier, breathlessly relating a complicated tale of woe at great speed, regardless of what I might have been doing before she turned the corner to prop herself at my shoulder.

Anyway. Regardless of what else has happened over the last few weeks, the most important thing is that I made a friend - and I've been sitting out here on my batman perch above the internet city long enough to know how rare and precious a thing that is.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Soaked to the Skin

I was going to write a long, meandering, nerdy post about my writing process - about markdown formatting, and version control, and compiling blog posts into e-books, but then realised I had a much better story to tell. You see - just as I was leaving the office to cycle home, I felt a drop of rain.

My journey home takes me through the depths of a country estate for the first mile - weaving through tree lined avenues. While turning the pedals, and growing more bitter with every passing moment about the gusting headwind, I squinted up at the sky overhead. The clouds were either about to empty themselves spectacularly, or the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind was about to land.

It didn't take long to find out what might happen next. An almighty crack of thunder rang out, and tumbled down the valley, bouncing off the river as it went, followed by the entire sky lighting up. I wondered if a giant Monty Python hand was up there somewhere, playing with the light-switch. Then came the rain. Lots of rain.

The rain arrived so quicky, so ferociously, and accompanied by such spectacular thunder, that I started looking at the trees as I passed beneath, wondering what the chances were of being hit by lightning. I know you're not supposed to stand under trees during lightning storms - and my rational thought processes were being turned inside out by the gala performance of "God Emptying his Wheelbarrow" going on right above my head.

I soon forgot about the music and light show of course - because within another minute or so I had been hit by so much rain I could have done a pretty good impersonation of Aquaman. Not quite Jason Momoa of course, and not feeling great about the feeling of rain running through my collar, down my back, and into my underwear. It occurred to me not long after that my feet felt heavy too. Of course my feet were heavy - my shoes were now full of water too (I tipped them out at the back door when I got home - pouring them like little watering cans onto nearby plants).

I think perhaps the worst part of cycling in torrential rain isn't the water falling from the sky, or the soaking underwear, or the squelching socks. It's the water the bike lifts off the tarmac, that flies through the air, and sprays you like a spray-tan booth - only in this one the spray tan is made of mud, tar, oil, and exhaust fumes, and some of it ends up in your mouth, in your eyes, and up your nose. It's quite difficult to describe the taste. Let's just say it's not something you would order off a menu.

So. I got home. As is usual, I walked into a scene of mayhem where dinner was half cooked, and I received telephone instructions - not unlike Charlie's Angels - of what to do next. Before setting about the half-prepared meal strewn across the kitchen worktops, I stripped off my sodden clothes, and threw them in the dirty washing.

Perhaps it says something about our family that nobody found it odd at all when they arrived home that Dad was standing in the kitchen in a soaked t-shirt and boxer shorts, pan-frying chicken to make fajitas.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Slowing Down

Two more days in the office, and then a week off. A week of working in the garden, tidying the hell hole of a house up, cleaning bathrooms, cutting trees down, and pretending to have a break. Because we all know it's not going to be a break. It's just an excuse to use up some of my leave really.

Because I have worked here longer than Methuselah, I have accrued holiday days year on year. I think I may have reached the maximum amount now - something like 25 days to be taken during the year, resetting at the end of September (don't ask me why).

Even taking into account an already booked summer holiday, and next week off, I will still have 8 days left to take. I'm thinking that as soon as another hole opens in the schedule, I should reserve another week off. I have no idea what I might do though. I can't afford to do anything expensive. No doubt I'll end up either decorating, hacking the garden to pieces, or travelling back and forth to the rubbish tip - because that's what everybody does on days off, right ?

In a few weeks time the children will break up for summer in the UK. I think their school year ends towards the end of July - returning in early September. I'm always surprised when I talk to friends in the United States, and discover their children get almost a month longer off in the summer. I've never quite understood how anybody can afford to send their children to summer camp each year - or college for that matter. Is everybody in collosal amounts of debt?

Anyway. A week off. A few days of waking up in the morning and panicking about the day ahead before realising that no, I don't have to get up immediately, and yes, I can make some toast and a cup of coffee, and yes, the kids have trashed the house, but no, they don't have to get ready for school.

Here's the bit where I wonder about reading a book or two. We know it's not going to happen, don't we. When was the last time I sat and read a book recently? There is always something else to do - somewhere to be, or something to fetch for somebody. I can't imagine the next week will be any different.

We also know that if I don't have to get up during the next week, not only will I stay up until all hours jumping down internet rabbit holes, I will also getup even earlier than on working days - because who's going to waste their day off, particularly if everybody else is still asleep and therefore not asking for help, giving orders, or complaining about anything for an hour or so.

When I was young, I always wondered why my grandfather got up so early in the morning. Now I get it. He could potter about during those first hours of the day and do whatever the hell he wanted, without having to explain himself. He could just be.