Blog

20 Apr

Confined to Barracks: Day 35

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Pork Butt and Parcel Delivery

Wow, a week has passed since my previous ramblings. A week in which I took a break from work. Where did I go? you ask. I think we both know the answer to that one, but it was good to laze in the garden, do some gardening, and just tune out of work for a while. Seeds have been sown, weeds have been pulled, and garden waste has been piling up in the front garden in a little “out of the way” corner that won’t be out of the way for much longer.

It wouldn’t normally pile up of course, but green waste collections have been paused and we can’t take it to the tip. What’s that I hear you say? Have a bonfire? Great idea, except the village Facebook page is boiling over with people complaining about others having bonfires. Not wanting to upset people, let’s just see how it pans out – an untidy corner of a garden is hardly something to complain about at the moment.

Anyway, pork butt. I should say before I continue that I was not eating the back end of a pig, but the shoulder. Apparently, this popular BBQ joint, cut for long slow smoking, looks like the butt of a rifle and that’s where the name comes from. You’d never guess it was American in origin. Oh, you would?

Several weeks ago, in a fit of not quite panic buying, I had planned to do a mega-smoke, creating enough pulled pork for several meals and to stock the freezer up. To that end I ordered a 4Kg butt from a butchers in London. It was due for delivery 18th April which, fortuitously, I put in my diary.

Come the 18th I waited in all day for a delivery. Come 3 in the afternoon I was getting worried so emailed the butchers. They replied with a screenshot from the delivery companies website which reassured me that the parcel would be delivered within the hour. Come 4 in the afternoon still no sign, so I ring up the delivery company. Oh it’s been delivered sir came the cheery response from the customer services rep. Erm, no it hasn’t I reply. At which point I’m sent a photo of my parcel sitting on the pavement – outside the butchers shop I normally go to.

How on earth they mistook a farm shop 2 miles up the road for my house I will never know. However, I was then left in the odd position of having to ring the farm shop. Yeah, erm, I normally get my meat from you but I think you’ve received my meat order from a competitor in error. A bit awkward.

Anyway, the end of today’s ramblings. The pulled pork was lovely and I have 6 more double helping portions in the freezer now. That I’ve had nothing of substance to say for a week, other than a tale of minor loserage, is a good thing. Long may that continue.

Apart from the loserage.

13 Apr

Confined to Barracks: Day 28

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Virtual life and fondleslabs

So, pretty much 4 weeks into “work from home and social distancing”, although, not quite that long in terms of official lockdown. I’m pretty lucky – I live in a quiet East Devon village and I have a back garden to occupy my time in spring. I was talking to a colleague via Skype the other day who lives in a flat in Exeter with no outdoor space. That brought home to me the claustrophobic conditions some must be living in at the mo. In the bigger picture, in order to stay safe, staying at home in a flat is a small price to pay but I can understand, if not condone, why people are bending the rules.

Anyway, Skype. That meeting was on Skype and it reminded me that, since this situation blew up, my virtual work and social life has ballooned. While I am getting a bit fed up with spending all of my working day speaking into a headset – and I have taken a week off just to chill out and escape from that – my virtual social life has gone bananas. Every Wednesday is the Facebook village pub quiz which in the real world is every fortnight. Every Thursday is a catchup with some of my old Uni mates who I’d normally see 3-4 times a year. I’ve had 4-way family Zoom conversations and a Facebook video chat with an old school friend I’d not seen in over 20 years. I was a little apprehensive about that last one but we gassed on for about 90 minutes as if we’d last seen each other at Christmas. I’ve also been, briefly, to a virtual birthday party and had a catch up with my wife’s Uni crowd.

I am genuinely standing people up from 60 minute video conferences due to being double-booked. Weird.

Anyway, Fondleslabs. I have always resisted buying iPads. Not that they’re undesirable – quite the opposite – but the last time I tried to use one it was just so damn hard to get it to integrate with anything non-Apple. That last time I experienced one was using my parents’ device. It was given to them by my brother when he moved abroad about 10 years ago so they could keep in touch via Facetime. Could I get it to integrate with my Andoid phone or my Windows laptop? Could I heck. And that “walled garden” approach has kept me at arms length for the last decade or so.

Now, my parents have made me buy an iPad. Yes, really.

Well, they didn’t quite make me but it was the only way out of a dilemma. They are now in their mid-eighties and not getting any younger. My new year resolution was therefore easy – to get to see them more this year. Family life had meant that a two-hour drive up the motorway for a weekend “at home” near Malvern was only being done about 4-5 times a year. I wanted to increase that by at least 2 and then Coronavirus came along. Lockdown. I’ll be lucky to get up there again this year. And I’m worried about them. Not only because of their age but because they are effectively cut off. Despite owning an iPad (probably an original or at least a Mk2 iteration) they are technophobes. They don’t do internet shopping or banking and, to date, I’ve been quite grateful for that as it’s protected them from the scams and scumbags of the internet.

So, I thought I’d at least reach out and Skype them from my Android phone. No luck as they can’t install the latest Skype on their prehistoric tablet. Same for Zoom. Same for anything else I tried. So, in a fit of desperation I bought an iPad so I could talk to them via Facetime. Me. The Church of Apple hating IT guy from Exeter. But, what the heck I figured it was about the same cost as 3 visits up the road in terms of fuel and other costs that a weekend away would attract and, well, if anything happened to them and I never saw them in the flesh again, at least seeing them by video link is better by miles than the phone.

Serious bit there. I don’t do serious in these blog posts. They are meant to be an escape for me and nothing more.

Anyway, I really quite like it. Yes I flipping do. The “walled garden” seems to have had a few gates built into it these days. My favourite Microsoft apps are installed and it integrates nicely with my Android phone and Windows PC. It will take something to make me transition the whole hog to Apple – not least the price of their kit – but it really is a nice device to use.

And it’s served its purpose. Seeing M&D is just a virtual button press away, just like my old Uni and school friends. I’m able to keep in touch and, even if it’s only psychological, feel somewhat more reassured about their situation.

08 Apr

Confined to Barracks: Day 23

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Meds and Seeds

So far this has been a relatively easy time. Yes, there are problems sourcing some foodstuffs, our Tesco delivery slots run out in 3 days time, and we’re not able to go to nice places in our time off. But the headlines about Boris Johnson this week bring it home that this is a bit of a bastard illness and staying at home watching TV isn’t that much of a hardship.

I’m going to go off at a bit of a tangent here. The amount of abuse the Prime Minister is getting on Twitter at the moment from people hoping he wont recover is disgusting. Whatever your political persuasion, and mine isn’t Conservative, you just don’t proclaim to the world that you hope someone will die due to something that is not their fault. Twitter really can be a cesspit at times.

Anyway, back to staying at home, watching TV – and gardening. The biggest personal pain in the butt so far has been the inability to source any seeds for the garden. And long may that stay the biggest personal pain anywhere. Everyone seems to be “digging for victory” this year and all of the seed and plant suppliers are overrun. They’re probably and understandably operating with skeleton staff as well, so compounding the supply/demand issues. I ordered some seeds from the internet two weeks ago. Ten days ago they were “dispatched” yet they are still to arrive. I couldn’t source any more from anywhere else – all of the big companies seemed out of stock or had suspended their websites. Friends on Twitter offered me some; people in the village offered me some. But I really wanted some specific seeds for things that a) I like eating and b) I am capable of growing with minimal supervision. Anyway, Marshalls seeds came up trumps in the end so I have order number 2 on the go but there is a 14-28 day lead time on delivery. Time will tell – I’ll probably get both deliveries come through on the same day.

I have got some going already of course. Chilli seedlings and tomatoes grown from supermarket stock are either well established or coming up in droves. Hopefully this will turn out to be a good growing summer after all.

Anyway, on to “Meds”. Son #1 has a swollen toe and the doctors, via a phone appointment, prescribed some antibiotics. So, off to Cranbrook I went on an essential journey. As I left the house I expected to drive through a scene reminiscent of 28 Days Later with litter-strewn empty roads and feral goats chewing up anything edible in sight. It was more like a scene from 28 days ago when life was normal. I must have counted more then 90 cars and vans on the 8 mile round trip. Still, this is significantly fewer than I’d normally see I suppose, and many of those journeys will have been essential.

In the pharmacy, someone in the queue encroached to about 1.3 metres behind me. I felt like turning around and saying Piss off back to your marker you virus encrusted pariah! – while I could equally have said Would you mind awfully moving back. I might be infected myself you know.

In the end I said nothing. I’m English.

When I got back home I felt dirty. I’d been out of the house 20 minutes and spent most of that time in my car. I’d touched a shop door handle, been within 1.3m of a middle-aged man, and been handed a bag in a pharmacy. But I still needed to wash my hands for the full on 20 seconds and more. It will be a long time before I get out of that habit – even when thigns are back to “normal”.

04 Apr

Confined to Barracks: Day 19

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Beer.

The last two days have been beer heavy. Not drinking the stuff, but accumulating the stuff. Of course, that might lead to heavily drinking the stuff, but not yet.

When I “got home” from work yesterday, i.e. I left the home office and went into the garden, Helen told me that the village pub had posted on the local Facebook page that it was selling off a brand new barrel of Tribute at £1 a pint, takeaway. You just had to find your own container. Not being one to turn down an offer, I grabbed an empty gallon demijohn and nipped over the road. The village pub is great. The new landlords have toned down the food from gastropub to good honest, well-cooked, pub grub, and introduced things like music and quiz nights. It’s a real good local now.

And then coronavirus happens.

They’re still offering takeaway food on Friday to Sunday and we’re doing our bit to support them. I normally like cooking my own food to be honest, but we don’t want to lose the pub if trade goes through the floor. Therefore, once a week we’re getting a takeaway family meal. And so is everyone else, which is good news as the delivery slots are filling up every weekend. having had my demijohn filled, I order Saturday night’s takeaway and head home.

This morning was time to bottle up my home brew beer. Helen bought me a home brew kit for Christmas and the start of this “staying at home” period was the ideal time to kick it off. So, 40 pints of home brew was siphoned off to sit alongside 8 pints from the local. Might keep me going until Easter.

Today was a lovely day. The warmest of the year. Normally we would make a beeline for Dartmoor but stayed at home. I hope everyone else did. It’s been a gardening day. Seeds were sown, the lawn got scarified, the shed got painted, the dilapidated compost bin was emptied further. Once it’s empty I’m going to replace it with a twin bin arrangement so that I don’t have to keep adding new stuff on top of the well-rotted stuff and will work with year 1 / year 2 bins. Oh, the luxury!

Anyway, enough boring gardening talk. I’ve worked up a thirst. If only I had some beer …

02 Apr

Confined to Barracks: Day 17

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Work is a pain. Not generally but adjusting to life working from home is a pain, and not for the obvious reasons.

My primary concern was broadband bandwidth. Here in the rural beyond of East Devon, all of a day’s hike, a language barrier and a timezone from Exeter, I get about 2.5 Mb/s. Not great but not that bad compared to others. However, working from home has been OK in terms of connectivity, even when 2 of us have been online. The not so magic formula is in keeping the kids off the internet during the working day.

No, that’s not the problem. Spending all day with a headset on talking to colleagues is the problem. No sooner has one meeting ended than another begins, or someone Skypes me with a question. When I do get a free run at something I just want to go get a cup of tea and have some downtime.

However, the “new normal” is becoming just that. We’ll get used to this.

Our lunchtime activity today is some father and son time walking around the block with my youngest son. The block being an unmetalled back lane that, in parts, is nothing more than a narrow muddy path.

Last night was the pub quiz. It’s a little odd not being in the pub for it but it’s a little beacon of normality that it’s still carrying on in some form. The quizmaster runs a Facebook Live session and everyone from the pubs he usually travels to log in and have fun. There are no prizes and it’s just for fun, but it’s great. Each week the quizmaster makes a little plea for a donation, half of which goes to him and half to charity. It’s hard not to donate to be honest. Tonight is a virtual pub gathering with my Uni mates, which is becoming a Thursday regular. And it’s fancy dress tonight – “wear odd headwear”.

Of course, it’s Thursday. So the 8 o’clock hand clapping for key workers happens again. Other than showing appreciation for people who’s jobs I really wouldn’t want at this time, it’s a sign that the community spirit in the village is strong, which is reassuring in its own way.

Before dinner I wander around the garden with my camera looking for inspiration. I have a photographic itch to scratch. I find an appealing daffodil and take a handheld shot at f/2.8 and ISO 800. Not my normal thing at all and rather liberating to be without a tripod to be honest. It’s today’s featured image.

Every day I’ve written one of these I’ve signed off with what we had for dinner. I have noticed that we are being more frugal. Lack of supplies hasn’t hit us yet and we have a well-stocked freezer for now, but our food waste is going down to very little. Tonight was a plate of mediterranean roast vegetables, sourced from bits and bobs in the salad drawer, with home made flatbread, and some left over black pudding. Bizarrely nice.

30 Mar

Confined to Barracks: Day 14

Bruce Little / landscape / / 0 Comments

First world problems strike today. With first world solutions.

While working from home I’m drinking many more hot beverages than at work. At work I typically treat myself to one Costa coffee per day. At home I seem to gravitate towards the kettle every time I take a screen break.

Today the kettle caught fire!

My wife spotted it first, picking up on a strange noise from the kitchen. First I was aware of it were her crys of “Oh my God!” and a swift departure into the kitchen to rescue it. Or at least rescue us from it. It was ruined.

This is where Amazon Prime came to the rescue. No sooner was it cooling down, safely outside the back door, than its replacement had been ordered. Search / Buy Now / Confirm. Boom! new kettle ordered. Is it “essential” that we get a new one delivered? In the grand scheme of things if I had to be totally objective, probably not, but going without a hot cuppa for most of the summer seems unthinkable.

That was probably the biggest thing of note today. Other than me being knackered. I really tried to fit too much into the weekend and I feel exhausted now. Usual paranoia struck of course. But no cough, no fever, just me feeling tired.

Despite that, son #2 really wanted his lunchtime cycle ride again so it was up to the top of the village, where we took a short break and I stared wistfully at the dome of Cosdon Hill in the far distance (to the top left of the ivy-covered post in the phone snap), before returning to the house and an afternoon’s work.

Dinner tonight is stir fry chicken. Thanks for asking 🙂

29 Mar

Confined to barracks: Day 13

Bruce Little / landscape / / 0 Comments

I wake up knackered and look at my phone. How can I have slept in until almost 8? Ah yes, the clocks have gone forward. My body is on “almost 7” time. I wish the clocks could go forward to 2021 but that’s in the realms of sci-fi and the deep recesses of my wishful head. Here I am, yet two weeks into government-imposed exile and there’s a long way to go.

To be honest it’s not that bad. Yet. We spend a lot of time at home in LaU (Life as usual) and, when looking for fun at the weekends, only normally go out to wide open spaces, e.g. Dartmoor or the coast path. It’s not like we miss shopping, the cinema, or the nightlife. Yet I do miss social interaction. Work would normally provide that most days, the pub every other Wednesday for quiz night, and the twice weekly “taxi service” taking the boys to swimming and Scouts complete the picture. Perhaps the cheery “hello” and “goodbye” in the local shops of a weekend as well.

I wonder. When the boys have left home and I’ve retired, is this what life is going to be like? Is this what I’ve really longed for when work has got on top of me and I want it to all be over? Perhaps time to rethink.

The Tesco order arrives late morning. Only two more pre-booked ones before there are no more. The cheerful delivery man drops it in the drive, maintaining the requisite 2m distance, and we transport it to the house. Anything non-perishable gets put in the quarantine box in the garage for a few days. Anything perishable gets washed before storage. then we both wash our hands for the requisite 20 seconds.

Despite being tired from yesterday, I do a bit more in the garden and son #2 wants his daily bike ride. We head up to the crossroads at the top of the village – further than yesterday, and then head back. This is great father & son time and I’m really happy that he’s enjoying cycling. It’s also an odd positive side effect of the current situation that there is very little traffic on the roads. This is therefore a great time to get him used to road cycling. He wants to do it again tomorrow, which is good but tricky. Tomorrow is a work day. Perhaps at lunchtime.

Dinner is Lancashire hotpot, made from some frozen roast lamb leftovers I found in the freezer yesterday.

28 Mar

Confined to barracks: Day 12

Bruce Little / family / / 0 Comments

Saturday. I wake up at 5 in the morning feeling hot and can’t get back to sleep. Is this a fever? Is this it? Paranoia strikes. However, it is accompanied by a heavy stomach feeling and is an old “friend” – a consequence of over indulgence of food and drink the night before and the pub’s generosity in portion size. The feeling passes and I doze off, to wake up at about 8.

Normally of course I’m getting up at 5-ish at this time of year and heading out for a spring sunrise. Teignmouth pier is good around about now.

After breakfast I head into the garden. The weather is still nice and there are things to do. A Gardener’s World “Job for the Weekend” is to trim back old fern leaves, so that gets done. The trimmings join other stuff in the green collection bin. No point filling this up really, as the council has paused collections, but I figure that it can dry off in here and one day I’ll have a good old fashioned bonfire to get rid of it.

I dig up my flower border to rid it of weeds and invading grass. I’ve tried to avoid doing this since we moved in as the previous owners left us with a plethora of bulbs and I’ve not wanted to disturb them. However, at this time of year I can see where they are ‘cos the leaves are up – old snowdrops past their best and daffodils in their prime. There is an awful lot of grass to pick out. When I’m finished the borders look much – much – tidier. Several perennials have been split and re-planted as several smaller ones. Plants for free – woohoo!

Before I’m finished I hit concrete. What the..? Turns out to be the mother of all lumps of concrete. Foundations for an old post or something? I don’t know, but out it comes. Bloody heavy. Can’t take it to the tip as it’s closed so it gets thrown in the “wasteland” behind the shed that I’ve been meaning to sort out since we moved in. Next year, hopefully.

Lunch is the remains of the obscenely-sized food from the pub last night. Ragu and tagliatelle with a little bit of hot garlic and chilli olive oil drizzled over to add my own touch, and the remaining fries. Does two of us handsomely for lunch, and that was 1/3 of the original meal! After we finish we put together the Tesco delivery order. 80 item limit is reached and staples such as pasta are in scarce supply. Worried that only two more deliveries are scheduled before we run out and no more are available. This is the biggest looming disruption to our weekly schedule. We’ve had home delivery for the past 3 years or so and it’s great. Now, by necessity, everyone else is in on it too and delivery slots are like hens teeth.

In the afternoon I decide to leave the house for my cycling “exercise”. It’s really son #2’s exercise and a pootle for me. It’s an ideal time to get him on his bike on the road with so little traffic. We go up the hill to the top of the village and turn around. Back down the hill past our house and to the church. Then back up the hill to the house. Plenty of stops but “can we do this again tomorrow Dad?” makes it all worth it.

More gardening. Two rows of spuds planted, and the chillies that turned up in the post are potted on. I ordered 4 plugs and the nice people at chilliworld gave me 2 free. Ironic really as I’d planned on scaling back the chilli production this year to give more space over to other greenhouse crops like peppers etc. But thanks anyway. I’ll be a return customer next year.

Five o’clock and I’m knackered. A bottle of home made cider is opened and I sit down to write this blog entry. Food supplies still good as I rescue a gurnard from the freezer to cook tonight with rosemary roasties, a spicy tomato sauce and a cool white Rioja. A leisurely evening in front of the telly awaits.

31 Mar

Confined to Barracks: Days 8/9

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

Lockdown.

Or as near as damn it. This is the day that the government announces that we should all stay at home; only leave for essential reasons; and take one hour exercise per day withing walking or cycling distance of home. Not surprising really given the scenes the previous weekend. I must admit we had considered a pleasant Sunday afternoon socially distancing ourselves in a distant part of Dartmoor as the weather was great. Then we thought better of it. Not that we’d have headed for the hotspots of Hay or Hound anyway, but apparently the good weather brought the crowds out in droves more typical of snowy days. The internet was also full of pictures of people thronging to similar beauty spots all over the country.

Not really practising “social distancing” and therefore the announcement wasn’t really a surprise. For what it’s worth, our weekend’s walk was a family stroll in the field behind our house after the owners said they didn’t mind.

My first thought after the announcement was irrational. “The lawn!”. I was out of petrol for the lawnmower. The thought of a whole summer’s unchecked grass growth kept me awake for a chunk of the night and, at 07:00 the next morning, I drove the car, jerry can in boot, the mile to the nearest garage to fill up. Yes, a totally irrational thought but, safely back at home 15 minutes later I prepped for a spring (a summer?) hunkering down at home somewhat more relaxed than I was the night before.

My second thought was almost as irrational. “Wine!”. I’d ordered sufficient from our local wine shop to see us through to June (no – not 13 cases. Stop it!) on the basis that we’d not be going out anywhere. I’d yet to pick it up. but the warehouse was en-route to the local supermarket and the pick up procedure was social distancing at its most efficient: Pull up, pop boot, wind window down, state name, order gets loaded, drive off.

So, four waking hours into the first full day of lockdown and I’d left the house twice. My guilt was slightly assuaged by the later announcement that off licences had been listed as “essential” shops.

We’ve been confined to barracks according to the rules ever since. My only forays out of the garden being cycle trips up the hill with my sons for exercise, and a trip to the pub. Yes, the pub. It’s doing food takeaways at weekends. Strict timeslots to pickup. Prepayment only. All within the rules. We have a great village pub and I don’t want to see it close as a result of this crisis.

I haven’t got a clue what I had for dinner on days 8 & 9. Thanks for asking anyway.

(This has been a “fill the gaps” blog entry of events from a week ago. I wanted to write it while things were still fresh in my mind)

29 Mar

Confined to barracks: Day 1

Bruce Little / diary / / 0 Comments

I went to Dartmoor yesterday. As it turns out my last visit for some time. I left after work and headed to Nuns Cross, south of Princetown. My plan was to get out to Fox Tor for sunset and then head back. However, I realised I had left work about 30 minutes too late to achieve that, so I headed to Hingston Hill instead. This is the site of the famous stone row, often called Down Tor stone row despite being some distance from Down Tor.

When I got to the hill, the light had gone. The sun had set behind a cloud bank. But I enjoyed sitting overlooking Sheeps Tor and Burrator reservoir, composing a pleasant little photo that will not set the world alight, but which will always remind me of these times.

At work,my team had been preaparing for a mass “work from home” exercise on the Wednesday. This was in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Providing remote IT capability for over 2000 people was a challenge but a source of quite some pride as well, and I was getting ready to finalise things when the phone rang. It was son #1’s school. He was ill – could I pick him up. “Not coronavirus!” I thought – not that it would necessarily hurt him – young and strong and all that, but the disruption it would cause us all no, just an upset stomach. Phew. I left work early and picked him up. It was weird leaving site for the last time in a long while. I don’t expect to return to the place I’ve been 5 days a week for the last 17 years any time soon.

I’ve decided to blog about these times. Why? Not for the audience but for a good old fashioned historical diary record. What will the tone of these posts be like in three months time? How will life have changed beyond the odd scenario of being stuck at home? Will the recent pasta and toilet roll panic buying spill over into other areas of life? Let’s wait and see and hope that I’m not writing a “Confined to Barracks: Day 365” entry next year.

These are unprecedented times. I though of registering a domain name along those lines to do a daily blog, but then thought I’d just add it to my regular website. Why waste money on a site no-one will read?