Well Christmas has been and gone. Obviously with Covid restrictions it was a quiet one. Lots of folks saying Christmas would be very strange this time round given the restrictions but we'd assumed the worst and that we'd be under full lockdown for Christmas so hadn't made any plans to see family. Usually we're quite busy at this time of year visiting the various branches of our families for festivities but none of that this year. Christmas day itself was fine mainly thanks to the kids being excited for the presents and we sat down to a delicious meal. Boxing Day we went for a walk in the country and had a lovely lunch with cheese and cold cuts. It's now these days until New Year's that is the really odd ones. Off work until Jan 2021 but can't really go anywhere or do anything and Storm Bella making it so we don't want to go out at all anyway. It's like a week of crap Sundays.

Got some great gifts this year and lots of lovely books:

Just need to finish my current library book, The Sound, The Fury, and then I can crack on with them.

We did manage to take a family trip to the beach (it's a 10 minute walk from our house) on the morning after Storm Bella. We found loads of seaglass which my daughter has been obsessed with since lockdown started. This is just from that one trip:

And we've got loads more at home. I got a bit too obsessed with looking for it but the light yesterday was perfect for finding it as it was making it all sparkle wonderfully.

Lastly this is nothing to do with any of the above but a forum I check has new advertising but the code seems broken:

Some of those have my really intrigued: what's with the bottle to the ear? Graham Norton and Bitcoin? That said I'm still not intrigued enough to click-though!

Happy New Year all.

Thanks to the power of Twitter I've learnt a couple of interesting things.

First off was this thread talking about audio processing issues. As mentioned before I've got bad hearing and just thought when it took me a few moments to realise what someone has said it was part of that. However there are dozens and dozens of replies of people going “hang on, is this a thing? I thought it was just me”. Which is what I did too but turns out I'm one of them too. I have

Next up was this twitter post including a picture of how a woodpecker stores acorns for the winter – which is posted below. Looking at the picture set off a really strange tingle/goosebumps sensation on the back of my neck and head which I'm familiar with from looking at other similar images with irregular patterns of bumps (especially holes with bumps in, that's the worst!) Even writing this post and finding the picture to include has head my neck and head tingling like mad for several minutes now.

From reading through the thread I learnt I have tryophobia which I had no idea about. I didn't even know such a thing existed but posting on Mastodon and got a reply from Basil saying his friend can't even deal with crumpets due to the holes in them. (For the record I love crumpets and can eat them with no tingling!).

Last thing I learnt was due to my son learning God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen on trumpet for his school orchestra. I decided to look up the lyrics and ended up on the Wikipedia page for the song. Where I learnt it isn't about Merry Gentlemen and instead wishing some gentlemen get to 'rest you merry'. Rest you merry was a phrase meaning stay happy. Which makes a bit more sense.

My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay

What a good book. Think I read it in 36 hours as I couldn't put it down. Suppose it does help that it isn't a huge book.

Whilst some part of my brain would know or could guess most of how kids in care were treated to see it written down in official reports which are then juxtaposed with Lemn talking about the same incidents is really powerful. Ended up feeling really sorry for him and also happy he came through it all.

Back at the start of summer I'd booked tickets to go to an Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern in London in October. It was something to look forward to with the vague hope that covid worries would be receding by the time it came round. And come round it did but with no less covid worries unfortunately. This meant I had to weigh up if I would still go or not, seeing as it is an hour's train journey for me to get up there, and all the associated worries about covid. As I've mentioned before as a household we've been very covid cautious throughout all of this and this would be the first time on a train since March I think. In the end I decided to go but just make sure to take a couple of masks and hand gel etc.

The journey up was surreal enough as I got the first off-peak train which is usually rammed with daytrippers off to the Big Smoke so normally I'd have trouble finding a seat. However I think there were about 6 people in my carriage in total. This is prior to the current lockdown too! Was very easy to space out and keep a distance. I got to London and had 45 minutes to spare so went to Blackfriars and walked about the City a bit before heading over the wibbly-wobbly bridge to the Tate Modern. Was good to be back up in that area as I used to work very close to the Tate modern but that was about 16 years ago.

Queen Victoria Street deserted

The first thing that struck me was just how quiet it was. Normally at 11 on a Monday the City of London would be all hustle and bustle and lots of people coming and going. It was more like 8am on a Sunday morning. Pretty much any office buildings I could see inside were empty aside from bored looking security guards at reception desks.

The Tate Modern was still open but entry all had to be pre-booked in specific time slots. The exhibition itself was superb. So many original Warhol pieces there and a lot of insight into his life which I had no idea about. As it was paid entry there weren't loads of people in there and it didn't feel crowded at all.

Really I was just aware of the Pop Art stuff and the famous quote “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Had no idea he had been shot by Valerie Solanas (of SCUM manifesto fame) and had nearly died, for example. Also there was quite a bit of information about his artistic techniques and his films which I also knew nothing about.

I'd also booked to go into the general exhibition areas of the Tate but had a break for lunch which I ate sat out by the River Thames. Normally that would be heaving but I'd hazard a guess that Hove seafront (where I live) would have been busier than the Southbank at that moment.

The other exhibitions I'll talk about in my next blog post but all in all a good but surreal trip to London.

Whilst scrolling through Twitter yesterday I saw a few tweets informing the world that the TV show The Young Ones was first broadcast 38 years ago yesterday. When I was younger I LOVED The Young Ones. On 9 November 1982 I was been 10 years old so probably a bit too young to be watching it really as it was broadcast after the 9pm watershed and my mum certainly didn't let me watch it but I had a really crappy 70's 12' B&W TV in my bedroom. That TV felt like the height of luxury at the time. It looked a bit like this:

But very much doubt it was a Panasonic and more likely was a cheaper make like Alba or Sanyo.

By 9pm I was supposed to be asleep but I'd switch it on and watch it with the mono earpiece plugged into the TV to keep the noise down so my mum wouldn't know. If I watched it when it was first broadcast or if I watched the first repeats in 1983 I don't remember but I do distinctly remember talking about it at school (I'd be year 6/last year of juniors) and no one else had seen it which made me feel a bit different/special.

Looking back I'd say that The Young Ones had a big impression on my sense of humour but also my dad (my folks had divorced by then) and my older brother both loved Round the Horne and The Goon Show so we had some LPs of those that I listened to occasionally which certainly would have contributed to forming what I found amusing.

Unexpectedly at the start of last month I got a letter saying I'd been selected for a random antibody test as part of a study to see how prevalent antibodies were in the general population. How I got selected I have no idea. Anyway I signed up as I was very curious to find out if I had had Covid and been asymptomatic or what.

A couple of week later the test kit turned up in the post.

Antibody test paraphernalia

It was a case of pricking the skin on a fingertip and putting a drop of blood on the test. That proved harder than I thought and it looked a little messy!

Then wait 10 minutes. The C on the test is for Control and the line is there to show the test was working. If there was a line by either, or both, the G or the M then it would be positive.

negative test

And as you can see I'm negative for Covid antibodies.

Then there was a small online survey to complete while reporting back the results. Various questions about how cautious or not I'd been with regard to social distancing and the situations I had been in (public transport, shops, restaurants etc).

Happy to be part of the survey and intrigued to see I've not had it.

I'm currently reading The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. It's a fictionalisation of the life of the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The blurb I found online covers it better than I could:

In 1936, Shostakovitch, just thirty, fears for his livelihood and his life. Stalin, hitherto a distant figure, has taken a sudden interest in his work and denounced his latest opera. Now, certain he will be exiled to Siberia (or, more likely, executed on the spot), Shostakovitch reflects on his predicament, his personal history, his parents, various women and wives, his children—and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate. And though a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming yet another casualty of the Great Terror, for decades to come he will be held fast under the thumb of despotism: made to represent Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York City, forced into joining the Party and compelled, constantly, to weigh appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music.

Barnes elegantly guides us through the trajectory of Shostakovitch's career, at the same time illuminating the tumultuous evolution of the Soviet Union. The result is both a stunning portrait of a relentlessly fascinating man and a brilliant exploration of the meaning of art and its place in society.

Progress: page 129 of 184

Last night I went to see the film Shirley (a fictionalised depiction of author Shirley Jackson) at the Depot cinema in Lewes. This wasn't a last minute rush to get out before the new Covid lockdown comes into force as it was booked a while before BoJo's announcement on Saturday evening.

As a household we've been very cautious about going out and socialising or going into situations that might be risky Covid-wise. If 3 months ago you'd suggested going to the cinema we'd probably reply asking if you were trying to kill us! However I think just a certain weariness and boredom has overcome my wife and I so we were both keen to go to this. For me I really enjoy Shirley Jackson's books (if you've not read them you should, she is criminally underrated) and also had wanted to go to the Depot for a while. It's a fairly new independent cinema and creative space in the next town over from us that people had said good things about. Now I've visited I can see why. Lovely comfy seats, not too big or small, great food beforehand. There were 12 people in our showing and everyone was spaced well apart from each other and we had to keep our masks on the entire time. Which as far as I could tell everyone did. Felt safe enough.

Poster for the film

The film itself was great and managed to somehow capture the sense of unease her books usually hold for me. It was only very loosely based on Jackson's life; in the film she is shown as childless and mean alcoholic but at that time in her actual life she had 3 kids. Definitely not one to watch to learn historical facts! However superb performances from Elisabeth Moss and Odessa Young make this a compelling if slightly unsettling film. Not sure how unusual this is but I did notice that both the director and screenwriter were women. Not sure why I'm sharing that but it seemed significant to me at the time.

We've lived in our house for about 15 years now. During that time whenever we've gone to do any DIY or have any building work done we discover some absolute balls-up that was perpetrated by a previous owner in the name of DIY. From the time we were having the bathroom refitted and discovered the false ceiling had no insulation above it and a hole in the roof (which explains why it was so cold!). Also in the bathroom they'd knocked a hole in the wall for the wastepipe and done so by just removing 3 bricks and leaving it like that. Or when we went to have our kitchen extension done and discovered that someone had filled the whole of the kitchen floor in with concrete, which encased a load of the pipes, rather than try to properly put down a floor. Or the ventilation brick at the front of the house was just for display and not ventilating anything. The list goes on and on.

The last room left in the house to do any work on was our bedroom. We'd had the plaster skimmed and decorated then the next thing was getting new flooring put down. The guys came on Friday and started ripping up the old soundproofing boards that was nailed to the floorboards. However whoever had fitted them hadn't used tacks and had used full length nails. Which shouldn't be a problem but when one board came up suddenly there was a wet patch and water on the floorboards. Turns out a nail had been hammered into a water pipe for the heating system and sat there for all those years. We ripped the floorboards up there and grabbed towels and bowls to stem the flow then dashed to a neighbour that used to be a plumber but is now on furlough. He quickly got the radiators drained and the replaced the damaged section of pipe. God knows what we would have done without him. Well I do know: spend a fortune on an emergency plumber and have had to wait ages for them to arrive. Astoundingly during the time the nail was in there there had been no leak (as the there were no signs below where it was of water damage) but the floorboards there were really rotten so it seems some moisture had been escaping.

The flooring guys left for the day as they laid lino and didn't replace floorboards. Which left us in a pickle as we'd completely cleared our bedroom but putting everything into our son's room so both those rooms were out of action. We'd gone from a 3 bed to a 1 bed house! My wife decided she'd sort the floorboards out (we have an agreement not to do DIY together due to too many past arguments). Off she went to the local timber merchants with one of the removed floorboards. They were great, worked out what we needed and confirmed delivery for 7 days time. 7 DAYS?? To her credit she didn't burst into tears but almost did and they took pity and delivered the wood within 20 hours of ordering it. The next day (Saturday) my wife and a good friend of ours spent the day cutting and fitting new floorboards (using a circular saw borrowed from another neighbour). I was general gopher and made tea, tidied up, carried things up and downs stairs etc.

Job is a good'un but sadly the flooring people can't come until Wednesday to put the new floor down. So the sofabed for us for a few more nights. So grateful to have friends and neighbours that came through and helped us out; we also had various other offers of help we didn't take up.

Tomorrow my son's school is taking part in “Show Racism the Red Card” day and as such the kids don't wear uniform and instead wear something red. As he doesn't have anything red to wear he asked his teacher if he could wear 2 yellows. 😂.

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