This morning I broke with tradition and took my opening walk of the day near Bontddu. Usually the dogs and I go around the lanes at the house and venture for a further walk in the afternoon. However, I was keen to try this walk as I pass by its parking site about twice a week and had never stopped to visit.
Farchynys is a small hill on the edge of the Mawddach Estuary, there is an old Manor House overlooking the coast, and Snowdonia National Park have developed the area to give public access. There are a number of walks through the woodland and down to the beach at the estuary’s edge. All the walks start at the car park. This is a well maintained space with a well-marked entrance just outside the village of Bontddu.
There are circular routes through the woodland and up the hill of Farchynys itself. These often give excellent views down towards Barmouth. Another route runs down to the beach at the estuary itself. This route like some of the others is suitable for wheelchair users (though with some rather steep runs) although access to the beach will not be possible as it requires crossing two tall styles and a water defence wall.
I hope that the pictures will give some idea of the area. Here you are only 10 minutes away from the village and the main road but the area is wild and unspoilt. The views up the estuary towards the mountains are superb as are the views of the bridge and Barmouth and Fairbourne in the distance.
Today started dreadfully. It was cold, but sunny, as I started my rounds to feed and water the animals. When I opened the door to the first henhouse I was stunned with what I saw. A brown hen was in the middle of the floor dead, her head bitten off and near her body. The partial corpses of three small chicks were scattered around the base of the hut more or less eaten completely. The turkeys were cowering in the corner as were some chickens and one solitary chick. Something had got in during the night and taken four of our birds in one attack.
I took this badly as I was very fond of the old brown hen. In human terms she was clearly geriatric and would have been drawing her pension. But she battled on and this year, well after spring had ended, took it upon herself to go broody and hatch out two late chickens. She was an excellent mother to these two, she never left their side and she shepherded them through the day to make sure the turkeys didn’t bully them out of their share of the food. Her surviving chick has looked lonely and scared today as she hangs around the edge of the, now paltry, flock.
This type of attack is usually the result of a weasel and we were troubled by these last winter. Sometimes a fox will do the same pattern of removing the heads but there was no way for a fox to get access into the henhouse. I scoured round the area to find out how this had happened and found, once I moved some chicken droppings, that the wall of the henhouse had bowed. This had created a gap, just big enough to poke my little finger through, but big enough for weasels to gain access.
I spent today fixing this gap and checking all the other henhouses for similar problems. As I worked away I remembered the old phrase of locking stable doors after horses had bolted and felt bad that I had missed this and let it happen. We usually loose a proportion of our stock to predation by hawks, foxes and the like. I take it as a fact of life, they need to live also. Though I must say that I find the ways hawks eat their prey alive very cruel, and the way foxes and weasels will slaughter all in a hutch, but eat only a few, very wasteful. But what was making me feel bad about this was that I had missed the gap developing. I should have seen it and fixed it before the weasels found it, I am meant to be the more intelligent animal.
This evening I have merged this small flock with another. We had one very pretty cockerel I didn’t feel we could send to the pot and he had hardly any wives. He would occasionally make unsuccessful forays into the other cockerels’ areas to try and lure hens away. Here, at least, was a solution to his problem. This evening he is tucked up with the turkeys and some new wives. Over the next few days they will have to spend their day in the hen-run associated with this house (rather than roam free) until we know that they see themselves as a family; as members of a small new flock.
This old hen has also done something very useful. She reminded me of a valuable lesson. Halloween is meant to be the time that we think of death and the departed but this has largely gone to be replaced by a another secular fun day for adults and children alike. A month after Halloween this old hen reminded me, because I felt ashamed, to think about death. To think that once people have died it is too late to go back and fix things. We should look around and recognise that now is the time to do things, not later on or tomorrow. If I am not careful the regrets I could have in the future could make todays’ sadness seem very minor. There are lots of gaps that need fixing and things which need checking and I shouldn’t wait until a calamity makes me realise this. For this reminder I thank her.
Our visitors have left and life has returned to its usual boring pattern. It was great to see the family, and to hear all the news, but it does break all the usual rhythms. It is more than worth it but it is also welcome to turn back to the plainer life again. Although I enjoy eating out and discussing politics into the small hours I can only do it in short bursts so it was pleasant to get back to the normal chores and activities this week.
The winds last week had taken a couple of smaller trees down in our upper wood so it was a good time to consider cutting and collecting these. These were quite a distance from the house so I decided that I’d do this the slow manual way with the bow saw as we have a rule that if I’m using the chainsaw there must be somebody else about at the same time. This means if I come to grief there is somebody to call for help. So doing the work manually meant my wife could stay at base and get on with the tasks she’d organised.
However, I also have ulterior motives for avoiding the chainsaw. If I use the bow saw I feel that I can skip one of my exercise sessions for the day. It is much more fun to be deep in the woods working up a sweat than to be wearing trainers and plodding round the lanes. Further, while working I can listen to a podcast or two (The chainsaw makes it impossible to hear anything) I have gotten a little behind with my listening so it was an opportunity to catch up.
There is little that can beat working in the woods for physical and mental relaxation. After a few hours of labour it felt as if life was back to normal again. After a period of fancy eating and dressing up it’s very nice to get back to wearing my usual working gear and having our regular simple fare – or to return to auld claes an parritch as we used to say in Scotland.
No one can say I didn’t try, almost a year I have tried to work with Windows 10 on my desktop machine. This has been, if nothing else, and interesting and valuable experience. In January of this year I decided to re-try windows after quite a considerable period of absence. Windows 10 looked robust and fairly secure and, at the time, there was a good deal for 1TB of cloud storage and Office 365.
Initially I found I was impressed. Windows 10 is the best version of windows I have seen and its security was fairly good. I enjoyed working with Office and particularly liked One-note, which I will miss now that I have left. However, after an initial pleasant surprise the problems started to show themselves again. To do many basic tasks you have to buy proprietary software and I found this a difficult step after years in the open source environment. This software often seemed determined to keep you stuck with it, your data locked into their programmes, and not at all keen to encourage sharing with other systems.
But, the biggest problem I had, by far, was how opaque the system is. If there is any problem it is difficult to get into the innards of the system and correct it. It seems to actively discourage you from tinkering. While the hand-holding is nice when you have a simple issue it is an impediment when you want to do any real work. This feeling is compounded when you try and search for any solutions to problems. I was used to the linux community and it was shock to find that any query (e.g. find printer driver, how to handle ebooks, etc) lead to one facing a slew of sites trying to sell you services and products. Many of these sites are also very keen to capture your personal details and seem to be a source for much malware. There is little active help. I was used to finding lots of “howto” articles or forum posts as to how to fix problems. I was also used to getting offers of assistance and help gratis from other users. I discovered that when I used linux I was part of an active cooperating community. When I had problems people would reach out to help rather than reach for your wallet.
The final straw came over the last two months.In October the annual upgrade by windows caused me problems and I lost some data. I had backed up most of my work but I did loose a little. There was quite a while until this upgrade was usable and safe. Then yesterday Microsoft’s activating servers started to run awry and my machine glibly informed me that my copy of windows was not activated and inauthentic. Microsoft hopes to have these glitches sorted out soon but it hardly inspires confidence. It is further unsettling as there is no escape route from Windows. If Ubuntu gives me problems I can flit sideways to Fedora or Suse with no negative consequence (apart for the loss of some time), with Windows I feel a hostage to Microsoft’s plans.
Therefore, after yesterday’s problems I switched my machine back to Ubuntu. I was pleased to find a simple installation that took less than an hour, needed less than half a dozen mouse clicks on my part, and ran flawlessly. After setting up my cloud services and installing my basic programs (free naturally) I was back to a fully functioning, fast and responsive, system by the end of the evening.
I must admit that I will still miss One-note; while I can use it via the web client this is not full-featured. Also, although I find google drive better than one-drive in how it handles syncing and files (especially photos) I still have reservations on being tied to Google. I worry that Google makes its money through advertising, as opposed to hardware, and therefore is more likely to see my data as an asset for itself than might any other company (for example Microsoft). Google’s actions this last year have also not inspired me that they are still living up to their old motto of “Don’t be evil“, or even their new one of “Do the right thing“, as they have taken some very suspect steps in recent months. So my next step is to explore alternative cloud providers. Now that I am back in the open-source world I want to free myself, and my data, as much as possible and not be caught up in proprietary chains.
I don’t want to give the impression that Windows 10 was a poor operating system, it is very good in many, many ways but it still falls short compared to a modern linux system for ease of use, speed, usefulness and intuitiveness. It also lacks a supportive and helpful community which should have grown up around it. I don’t think I’ll be drawn back.
It is amazing what a difference a few volts can make. I bought new batteries for the bicycle lamp and it now functions fairly well. As the video shows I can actually see a fait bit of the road and don’t, therefore, have to rely on memory as to where the bridge and cliff are. This makes the cycle a good bit less anxiety provoking as you feel a little safer. Unfortunately it also throws up shadows that flit in the sides of your field of vision. These, accompanied by noises in the undergrowth, do help to make sure it never feels really relaxing. Perhaps my lights don’t light up the whole road but at least they won’t dazzle on-coming traffic.
Fortunately there is a lot of wind noise on this video (It is not my breathing I assure you, well not entirely my breathing) which gives a sense of speed to the cycle ride which is completely false. It sounds like the cresta run but is actually little more than stroll
Sometimes you only see something when you look at it through someone else’s eyes. We have got very used to living in the backwoods and generally prefer it to the city life that we previously knew. We know that out entertainment options are different and the cutting edges of fashion tend to be very blunt by the time it makes it to us. But otherwise we feel we live the modern life without some of the irritations of living hugger-mugger in a more densely populated area.
One of the ways we manage to keep up with the twentieth century is to run a small holiday let. This brings in an income which is very valuable for the luxuries we enjoy. The smallholding just about makes us self-sufficient, but with the holiday let we can afford exciting things like telephony and the internet. Our visitors today arrived after very long journeys; one had come from the capital and the other had flown from America. About two hours before their arrival we had started to receive telephone calls from them as they were finding things were not quite as they had anticipated.
As they had flown and taken trains from the major urban centres everything had been fine. They then took the bus, which worked well, which deposited them at the side of the road a few miles from the farm and three miles from the town. They started to realise that they were not in Kansas anymore. They had no mobile phone reception to make any calls. Even had they phone reception they would have found that they are in an Uber-free and virtually taxi-free area. They had planned to walk to the cottage but had not realized the walk would have been relentlessly uphill and their luggage would not have made the trek.
We had anticipated these problems and had gone to meet them at the bus stop. Their relief was tangible. Their first question was “where are the street lights ?”, they had just found themselves in the complete dark, miles from any houses or signs of habitation. I am used to walking in the dark but I think that they had seen, for the first time, what the dark is actually like. Living in the city you forget what pitch black is like. One of the strangest things I noticed when we moved here occurred when I lay in bed. It was so dark there was no appreciable difference whether I opened or closed my eyes. It was like being blind, there was no light whatsoever.
When we got them to the cottage they inquired about shops to be disappointed that they would now be shut as it was evening. No problem they thought, having wifi, they would be able to order food online. This lead the next discovery – that home deliveries don’t exist in this part of the world and that the one fish and chip shop in the town would be shut already. We had anticipated this in part and had ensured that they had enough basic staples to make a supper, and have a drink, until they found their bearings.
I never really think about these things now. I take it for granted that we don’t have them and I don’t feel that I miss them. I recall that when I lived in the city there were 24 hour supermarkets and I can also remember the feeling of ennui and alienation when I found myself trudging the aisles of these places late at night when I should have been at home in my bed. I now like walking outside in the night. Once your eyes have acclimatized it is amazing what you an see and the whole landscape looks different and slightly alien. Sometimes it is a little scary but it is always interesting. As we live in a dark skies area, if there is no cloud, it is fascinating to look up at the stars which had been hidden to me, by light pollution, when I lived in the city. I have grown used to my new rural life and didn’t see how different it is in many small ways to urban life until I saw it in the saucer-wide eyes of my visitors.
Our visitors want to have a time “away from it all” and I think we are going to be able to offer them that. Hopefully during their stay they will find that all the things that they think are missing are not that essential really. They may even start to think that some of the things they don’t have, such as mobile phone reception, may be a pleasant change. If they do then this may prove to be a very successful holiday. I must thank them for making me realize that I am already “away from it all”
It is now a week since the clocks went back an hour and I am gradually getting used to the new routines. The initial pleasure of that extra light in the morning has largely worn off to be replaced by the annoyance of the earlier darkness. Not only does night start an hour earlier it comes on much more quickly. No sooner have you noticed the gathering twilight than it is pitch black.
This alters the afternoon and evening routines as, regardless of what time it shows on the clock, it is still vital to get the birds into their coups before darkness falls. If we miss this deadline then we can be pretty much assured we will lose some of the birds to foxes. We lose enough to the hawks, who are brazen and steal during the day, and we can’t afford to supply the fox population also. Having said this, if the birds had a choice they might prefer the fox to the hawk as their ultimate nemesis as the fox kills much more quickly and humanely.
Now, instead of a leisurely task in the early evening, strolling coup to coup and checking everybody is tucked in for the night, there is a hurried dash rushing everyone indoors before the darkness falls. We have our poultry scattered about the farm in half a dozen or so small coups. It would be less work to keep them all together in one larger shed and take a lot less time at night. However, this way seems a lot more natural for the birds and we are able to keep more cockerels. Each cockerel lives with his 8 to 10 wives on his patch. They rarely stray into enemy territory and there are relatively few fights. The hens like this more natural family set up and it is clear that the cockerel sees his role as the guard of his harem. He wards of intruders and guards the doors at night. The hens seem happier when he is about.
We prefer it not only because it is more natural but also because, this way, we can keep more cockerels on the farm. If we are honest, cockerels are much prettier than chickens and exhibit a great deal more character. There is a surprising amount of pleasure that can be obtained from sitting, on a warm and dry afternoon, and watching the cockerels strut try and rule their roost. This system necessitates a bit more work for me in the daily opening and closing of the coups, but , it does repay itself in the pleasure I get from watching the small flocks of birds having their adventures all over the farm yard rather than just in one field or barn. Anyway, with the birds seem to have adjusted to the changed clocks and, after a fashion, so have I.
A further adaptation, that I didn’t expect, was that I have had to reschedule my daily exercise routine. Previously I would cycle in the afternoon. Before the nights started to draw in, it was a time when roads were quiet and there was a lull in the working day; it was an ideal time to go. With the shortened hours there is no afternoon lull and I don’t get my chance to cycle before the evening has started. Therefore, today I decided to try cycling at night. After I had scoured the garage for an old bicycle lamp I powered up the lamp and my podcast player and headed out. This did not work out as successfully as I had anticipated. As you will see from the video below this lamp was not really up to the job. I pedaled in the gloom only avoiding accident because I knew the road. My fear for my safety was augmented by the scariness of the dark forest so I did at least manage a good workout as my heart-rate certainly went up. My attempt to calm my fears by listening to the BBC’s “Moral Maze” debate on climate change did not entirely work. I think I’ll have to invest in a better lamp before I try this again. But, at least I now know what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.
I had a difficult conversation with my neighbour this morning. Each day I, and my neighbours, take our constitutionals with our dogs around the lanes of our valley. It is rare not to meet someone and usually the walk ends with a handful of folk and a reasonably sized pack of dogs doing the circuit. My immediate neighbour, and his two terriers, are my most frequent companion and my reliable source of local news. He has been very ill over the last few years and had become significantly disabled. However, fortunately he discovered the idea of a mobility scooter and his life has been transformed.
On his own he is able to walk, perhaps, 20 yards on a flat surface and over the past years he had to give up many of the activities he enjoyed. Now, with his scooter he walks the dogs daily again, visits friends, post letters, and the many other activities which allow him to have an independent life. But I have to confess that, at one level, it was his mobility scooter which made the conversation difficult this morning.
On his scooter there is a little dial. This dial can be turned from pointing at an icon of a tortoise through to a picture of a running hare. I think this dial is probably stuck solid through lack of use as he never switches it from the dashing hare. I believe he hates the idea that he might hold people up or slow down their walk. Unfortunately, this means our walks take the form of me jogging and running trying to keep up while he zips along with ease. To a passer-by I am sure it looks as if he is being chased by an elderly, wheezing asthmatic, but safely evading their clutches.
I have asked him the speed that the ‘hare’ setting represents as a hint that perhaps this was a little too fast (As prior hints by wheezing, stumbling and falling behind were obviously too subtle). It seems at this setting we can manage a steady pace between 5 and 6 miles per hour. This is the pace that marks the change from jogging to running and it seems that this is good estimate of our progress. So our conversation was difficult: my replies obscured by wheezy breathing; his replies lost on the wind as he flew on.
However, this was not the main reason the conversation was difficult. The real difficulty came with the content of his news. He, and his wife, have been keen Rotarians all their adult life and done an enormous amount of charitable works. He sadly informed me that his, and possibly the other, branch of Rotary in our area might have to close down. We are unusual in our small town that we have two branches of this charity. It relates back to the great schism a decade or two ago. Arguments about the membership of women, and difficulties relating to important players personalities, split the Rotary into two groups.
Both groups were successful for a while but in the last years their membership has risen in age and fallen in numbers. Insufficient people attend to justify two groups continuing and if they merge back it is possible that there may not be enough interested people to even keep one branch functioning. As we talked about this it became clear that this type of charitable work is often maintained by older people. Younger people don’t seem to have the interest or enthusiasm to take part in this type of charitable activity. As members die there are not new recruits waiting in the wings to take their place.
This would not be a terrible situation were it simply reflecting a change in practice and new styles of charitable works were being brought forward by a younger population. This is not happening, we seem to be losing the interest in charity. Although charitable donations have increased, the number of people giving is less and fewer people report active involvement in any form of charity. I fear that some of this may be an unintended adverse effect from the larger welfare state we now enjoy. We pay our taxes and expect the state in return to look after us in our periods of misfortune. Ideas of self reliance and prudence for the future are less fashionable now.
Charity is a virtue, possibly the greatest virtue. But often now charity is seen a a poor or bad thing, something to be avoided. Public opinion often complains if charities provide a service rather than the state. The poor and the misfortunate will always be with us and we will always need to be able to do what we can to help our fellow men and women when they fall on hard times. The state will never cover every eventuality and nor should it.
If we don’t get the opportunity to undertake charitable actions we miss out on one of the most important aspects of being human. To knowingly and deliberately help, or forgo something, to help our fellow is what marks us as human. It is also, in most psychological research, the most potent source of our happiness. Material things can only give brief and transitory pleasure, while helping others does bring lasting happiness. It is in our nature. This may help explain the paradox that while the material wealth of the population has risen year on year unfortunately our happiness has not. Indeed, as we have become materially wealthier more of use are falling prey to depression and sadness.
It was difficult to hear about the possible loss of these local social groups. It sounded like a further sign that we are continuing on a path which distances us from our neighbours and making us less involved particularly when times are hard. No amount of money, no amount of taxation, can have the same effect of a helping hand from a friendly neighbour and we should be wary of seeing comfort as a substitute for happiness.
I spent another afternoon “On Call” today as a Community First Responder. I am either jinxed or blessed as today, like the three times before, no-one called and I got no chance to try out my newly aquired skills. I spent a week in the ambulance centre last month updating my practical skills in emergemcy situations and had spent some months before that on-line and in the classroom getting my general knowledge brought to current standards. At the start of each ‘on call’ session I checked my kit to make sure it is all present and ready . The defibrillator, the oxygen cylinder, airways and masks, the tourniquets and bandages; it was all there pristine in its packs at the start of my session ready for use, and it was still there virginal and unused at the end of my on call. As I said, in some ways I feel jinxed as each time I have not had a chance to use the kit and test my skills. I did get to check that I know how to log-on to the emergency response system but have not has a chance to check I know what to do when I get the call to respond. However, I also feel blessed as my inactivity thankfully means nobody actually needs my help. Nobody has had to call the emergency services because of accident or illness and I have to think that this is good news for my neighbours.
It is an unusual feeling being “on call“. It reminds me of when I was in work. There is all the excitement of waiting for the alarm to ring. The hours of mental preparation of what to do when it does. Checking the alarm to check that it is still working and its silence is not a sign that it has broken and the rereading the text books to make sure that the information in my head is accurate and not a figment of my imagination. All these emotions are generally pleasant but there is also a background fear that accompanies them. The fear that one will be called to something beyound my abilities, or called to deal with something with which I have no experience. In sum, just the fear of finding that you fail somebody in a time of need. That when they needed help, and called you, were found wanting. I was surprised to find these memories coming back.
I recalled with pleasure the recollections of emergency sessions when I was a young medic. The rush of high intensity work and the pleasure of managing to deal with a crisis and pull someone back from the edge. Working against the clock, in a team that was functioning well, is one of the greatest pleasaures there is. Even on occasions when illness ot accident prevailed, as long as you and your team pushed everything to the limit and gave every chance to the patient, the sadness could be tempered by the knowledge that everything possible was done. I could understand why emergency medicine gave its practitioners such rewards. My skill set was not well matched to A&E (I have never been very dextrous) and I moved into psychological medicine but still enjoyed my emergency sessions even if these were less hands on.
But although I recalled “the buzz” I also recalled the “dread“. In my latter years working, and partially one of the reasons why I retired, I came to dread being on call. Over the decades the general drift of mental health services had lead to a general over-reach. Rather then being limited to mental illnees, mental health services had suggested that they could answer many personal and social problems. This increasingly lead to crises, which were largely social in nature, being presented to mental health services for resolution. Distress that arose from poverty, or spousal abuse, violence or drug abuse was presented to the emergency doctor for solution. While we did what we could, there was always the awareness that there was little we could do. There was also the recognition that others, a social worker or policeman, may have been able to help more and the bigger fear that sometimes we were making things worse. Pretending the problem was depression rather than the poverty or poor housing never seemed helpful. Suggesting that the battered wife had mental health issues didn’t empower her in her marital problems and possibly weakened her position. The recognition that you would face crises, you were not equipped to solve, lead to this growing feeling dread when on call came around.
I encountered a little bit of that feeling of dread again today. However, this in itself was valuable as it reminded me why I retired and made me happier with my lot.
I have decided to try and post every day. This will have a number of consequences. The quality of the posts on average will fall. If I post on days when I have been vacuous and my day has been empty then there may be little more than a photograph and a few words (Such as today). If nothing has angered, cheered or aroused me then the content will be rather sparse. A further consequence may be that, the content there is may be more often concerned with sheep, goats and the movement of timber and dung as these seem to be the mainstay of my life. A personal consequence of this will be that I will have a record of my quotidian activities. This may not be riveting to anyone else, but as I age might become increasingly interesting to me if for nothing other than reminiscence.
In essence, I intend to use this blog as my journal. When I have kept a journal before I have usually abandoned the project after a few weeks as I have found myself becoming increasingly self-indulgent. The absence of any reader seems to have encourage me to see myself in a good light and I never truly criticize my own thoughts. Though I feel I am, to a degree, anonymous when I write here there is still the possibility of being read and criticized and this will force a degree of inspection of my words. Simply documenting my thoughts is not examining them, hopefully making them public will force me to consider them a little more carefully.
Socrates felt that the “unexamined life is not worth living” (ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ). However, any examination must surely be more than simply recording one’s ideas, errors, prejudices, hopes and the like, alone and uncontested. It is easy to examine others, it is incredibly hard to examine oneself. I think we need a sounding board to do this and people who are not friends and family are more likely to help in this endeavour. They have no shared history that they can use to excuse our failings, no reasons to give us an easy passage and no vested interest in keeping us happy. Many people complain about the relative anonymity of the internet but in this regard I feel it may be helpful.
To start off this new project let’s document today’s banal occurences. My day today has been largely unremarkable. I pared hooves and shifted logs and decided to move my paper journal online. I continued reading my novel “Gwylliaid Glendwr” and downloaded a copy of Seneca’s “On the shortness of life” to start after I finish “Unauthorized Freud“. In between, the dogs and I took our walks in the increasingly cold air and remained impressed by the colours that autumn has brought to the trees. An unremarkable day but surprisingly a pleasant one.