Friday, 27 September 2013

The last few weeks...

Before blogging, I never took the time to keep a diary. That's all this is of course, and I'm no Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank.

For the last few days I've been staying in a large, gloomy and smelly madhouse. We're housesitting for someone who has 2 budgies, a finch, a canary, a pigeon, a cat and two dogs. The dogs, fortunately are staying elsewhere. The cat is placid, but it shits and vomits all over the place. None of the animals have been trained against pissing/shitting in the house, and when we first arrived, the smell was appalling. Febreze, and the absence of the dogs has improved matters, but while I normally go barefoot when at home, here I keep my shoes on in every room except our bedroom. Last night I trod in a pile of cat vomit. The girl who normally lives here generally goes barefoot, as she finds her feet easier to clean than her socks, when she steps in something unpleasant. We will be here for a few more days, then we can leave our sampling of her lifestyle, and return to our small, bright, quiet box. When we're quiet and still, the budgies shrill. When we move, the pigeon starts up. The pigeon is an aggressive but charismatic little bugger. The budgies are just plain irritating.

We got a new car. Bren's about to become a grandparent for the first time, and by extension, I am about to become a grandparent too. Step grandparent really, but while I've never really been "dad" to my stepchildren (they were already pretty well grown when I met them) the next generation will never know me as anything other than their grandad. I'm 45. That's the sort of age when you become a grandad I suppose, but blimey! I'm about to be a grandparent. I still feel sort of like an adolescent.

Anyway, we got a new car. Bren's old Suzuki Swift somehow got through last year's MOT without anything worse than a couple of advisaries, but it was clear that to get it through another year would require a lot of money. So we shelled out on a 2004 reg Renault Scenic. A people carrier, with room enough for babies, and their accoutrements. Three days after we bought it, I took it out for the first time, and blew the turbo while accelerating onto the motorway. When you blow a turbo, it sucks all the oil out of the engine, and blows it, in billowing clouds of thick smoke, through the exhaust. I got it home, and Bren is having to kick up a stink to make the dealership we bought it from do what they should do to make things right.

Workwise, my diary continues to be more or less full, six days out of every seven. The enquiries continue to come in, and I'm more and more certain that I will soon have to take on other instructors, as much to reduce my own workload as to make money from franchising. This has not been a good month in terms of test passes and the like. I am making errors, partly because I'm working too hard.

Finally, the allotment. I'm now officially gone from the site, although I've not gone out of my way to return the keys to the gate. It's been a hugely negative thing over the last few months, but while I'm so busy, it's hardly like we need to grow our own food for economic reasons. So it's time I suppose to put it behind me, and leave it to whoever comes after.

And that's me. That's where I am. Living in squalor, and bucking the trend of recession.


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Thursday, 12 September 2013

Parallel pissers

Bren's almost certainly got a gullible idiot hopeful entrepreneur to take over the lease on her shop. This shop is currently costing us around £600 a month, despite it never being a success and standing unoccupied for the last few months. - The landlord gets paid whether it's a goer or not - Bren was locked into a three year contract, but the landlord agreed that if she could find someone to take over the lease, he would release her.

Bren though, was not at all happy to find that the letting agent had already given the keys to the prospective new occupant, even before contracts had been signed.

Meanwhile, I've been down to the allotment this evening to take a look at what the situation was, and to pick up a few things. I have until the 22nd of September to vacate.

I found that my shed had been cleared out, and much of it's contents consigned to a fire. My apple tree has been dug up, and some seemingly petty vandalism has taken place.

I too am not happy.

Some of the things above could only have happened if other people knew I was leaving, and the only person that knew that was the site secretary. So he's consented to this, or at least informed other people that I was leaving. Either way, he's acted in a less than professional manner.

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Saturday, 7 September 2013

uh oh...

Towards the end of today, one of my pupils made a bit of an error. No contact was made with anything, but somehow there was a clunk, and the car suddenly sounded and felt wrong. We were only a few hundred yards away from our destination so we drove on, parked up, and I prepared to drive home.

Before leaving, I did a few visual checks. There were no branches trapped beneath the car or anything, and a look into the engine bay showed nothing amiss. Yet the car is definately behaving in an unsettling way.

I think the gearbox has somehow come a bit loose or something. Being a Saturday evening, there's not much I can do about it beyond cancelling tomorrow's lessons and trying to get a replacement vehicle on Monday.

It means letting several people down unfortunately. Not good.

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Growing your own...

Going away gave me time to think.

I've decided not to fight the eviction decision. It's annoying given the money I spent on materials, and the time and effort I put in to getting the plot in order, but I can take many of those materials with me, and the work is now in the past. I'd rather look forward.

What we hope to do is either buy or rent a more local space. We live in a semi rural area, and there are many fields within a stone's throw of where we live now. Without the restrictions imposed by allotment officers, we would be freer and under less pressure to do things in any particular way. We could also construct a large shed on such a plot of land, and this could be used to ease some of the space/storage issues that come from living in a 38 foot long aluminium box.

So I intend to go to the allotment on Wednesday. My day off this week, and salvage what I can. The builders bags, membrane, flexibuckets and decking squares can all come back with me, and some of the things I planted, particularly the lettuces, might just be ready to harvest. It's now been a couple of weeks since I was last there. It will be interesting to see how things look there now.

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Audiobooks

Stories predate books by many thousands of years. Hundreds of thousands I suspect. Written language evolved from spoken language. I don't think it could have really happened the other way around. Before we got around to inventing alphabets and stuff, we had an oral tradition. It was all we had to pass on the wisdom of the past to those that needed the lessons it taught in the present.

Now, I don't know about you, but if someone tells me not to do something, I get a strong urge to go and do it. As a means of passing on information or advice, telling bald facts are not necessarily the best way of going about it. I don't suppose people were that different back then either.

So what better way to keep your children out of the woods? Tell them not to go in the woods? Or tell them some tale that scares the living shit out of them? Most of the fairy tales we're familiar with now were folk tales that were cleaned up by Charles Perrault 400 years or so ago. Those precursors were worse. Far worse.

So both the making of and the listening to of stories is one of the things that makes us humans what we are. If dolphins or chimps do it, we're not in on it. I'd also add that perhaps listening to stories is a little more natural than reading them. We're visual creatures. Our upright posture and binocular vision have been a massively important part of our survival and rise as a species. We couldn't watch out for lions and read a book at the same time. But we could watch for lions and listen to someone telling a story, just as today we can drive while listening to the radio, but we can't drive and read a book. Well, not with the same ease anyway.

Just as at one time, several millenia ago, we found methods of converting that same information into sequences of visual symbols, in the last century or so, we found the means to store audible information, as audble information. From wax disks to ipods; Mary had a little lamb to Gangnam.

The first stories I took in were taken in through my ears. The words came from my Mum's mouth. She read them from the pages of a book. Then, when I learned how to decode the symbols myself, I was able to take the visual information on the pages and convert them into first vocalised then subvocalised sound.

That's what you do when you read, isn't it? The words you read form silent sound shapes in your mind. As you're reading these lines, there's a voice somewhere inside you. Perhaps with a slight scouse accent.

Although I could now read the tales for myself, it was always nice to have someone do it for me. Whether it was Bernard Cribbins on Jackanory, or Mrs Veats in Junior School.  I also devoured children's literature voraciously. After going to bed, I would read. After a while, one or the other of my parents would proclaim lights out, and I would comply until they went back downstairs, at which point I would switch it back on and carry on reading. My dad would open the curtains downstairs and see the light, and would come and take the bulb out. So then I would continue by torchlight, as the theme music to the news at ten wafted up the stairs.

The first audiobook I ever bought was a 12 inch circle of vinyl containing "The Restaurant at the end of the Universe." I bought it from a record shop in Chester, second hand, and would have been in my early to mid teens. Mainly though, in my late teens and early twenties, I read.

Nowadays, I have little time to read, but I spend a lot of time travelling around in the car. Not the sort of situation where I could pull out a novel and read a few paragraphs. I suspect that a snatched sentence taken in at a red traffic light or level crossing would be deeply unsatisfying.

So thank goodness for ears! The soundtrack to my journeys is as likely to be Bill Bryson as The Beatles. Iain Banks rather than Ian McNabb. Since the information is already in audible form, I don't need to decode it, and can concentrate on the story, while simultaneously dealing with the primarily visual task of driving.

 

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