2020 weeknote 22

This week I was mostly tied up with filming and then editing some video for work. This necessitated a trip into the office, which was surreal, and working alongside a colleague for a few hours, which was still pretty surreal, and exhausting.

It was a combination of the weather, the nature of the work, and the act of going to work and working alongside someone for a few hours that was just so totally shattering. The editing part has been no less of a headache, but at least I can do that from home.

I haven’t done any video editing for about a decade, but I have done some before. So that has helped. It’s been tricky even just finding out what software to use, though. And then how to use it.

I had success with Lightworks for the bulk of it, and VideoProc for stabilising the shaky footage.


This Friday evening M and I sat in the nearby park with some beers and I spoke to my mum on the phone. I caught myself saying to M, “so, what shall we do this weekend?” and then laughed out loud, reasoning that it’s impossible to make any plans or do anything interesting at the moment.

Wrong!

Saturday we woke before 5am and cycled to Hampstead Heath to see the sun come up and listen to birdsong. We took a breakfast picnic and spent a couple of hours there before riding home by 7.30.

I then managed to stay awake for the whole day, watching some films, doing some grocery shopping, sitting in the park, and hoovering up half of Jordan Mechner’s brilliant journals from when he was making Prince of Persia. Fantastic.

On Sunday I managed a run, and even squeezed in a socially-distanced ‘hello’ to a couple of friends on the Heath in the sunshine. It was a lovely weekend.

I can’t believe how much sunshine we’re having. Indeed, the Met Office have released figures to show that this has been by far the sunniest Spring on record – more than a hundred hours of sunshine than the previous record, and two hundred more than the average. Amazing.


This week I also tried to capture some of the Starlink satellites as they pass overhead in their uncanny linear orbits. I’ve only recently learned about these (thanks to a mention from Chris) and it’s quite novel to have something new in the night sky to see.

I grew up fascinated by watching stars, planets, meteors and satellites, and when the ISS was added to, boosting its brightness, it all felt new and exciting. Starlink feels a bit like that – they are ‘normal’ satellites in terms of what you see, but they travel in clusters, so once you’ve seen one you will shortly see another, and another, sometimes 10 or more, all travelling in roughly the same orbit in reasonably quick succession.

Anyway I failed to get shots of those, but I did focus my lens on the moon for a bit while setting up, and managed to grab this with a 200mm lens:

PS: Oh, I also moved my website from one host to another this week. If youre reading this, well… It worked. I guess? If you noticed any weirdness – RSS feeds not working or anything at all really, please do give me a shout: paulcapewell then gmail then com

2020 weeknote whenever

Right! Absolutely must start typing otherwise I’ll begin to fade away like Marty McFly’s family photographs.

The last few weeks have been basically fine. Despite some changes to the UK (England?) lockdown restrictions, my life has pootled along as normal. One major change means we can now go outside more than once a day, and even do weird Before All This things like have picnics in the park. So we did exactly that earlier this week, to celebrate my birthday. Oddly enough, the two groups nearest us, in a very busy urban park, were also celebrating birthdays. I suddenly wondered if perhaps everyone had come out purely to celebrate birthdays? Or maybe they were all lying about it being their birthdays as an excuse to meet in the park… Hmm.

The problem with lockdown here is, the weather has been unrelentingly lovely, pretty much since the outbreak started to get serious here, and the weather has both stayed sunny and got progressively warmer as the weeks have gone.

We’ve also had about seventeen bank holidays since lockdown began, and we’ve another next week. No wonder we’re all just out at the beach or bumbling around town or driving to national parks.

Anyway, the picnic was wonderful, with sandwiches, pork pie, crisps, birthday cake – and the most poignant item, a bottle of Delirium Nocturnum, a deliciously strong beer, the bottle of which we’d brought back from our trip to Bruges at the start of the year.

Back in early January, the idea of saving a single bottle of beer until May – May! – seemed, almost laughable. Of course I’d cave and drink it early. But I didn’t. And I was especially glad because – as I’d hoped – it tasted all the sweeter, particularly because we still haven’t found a UK source for it. (Even after discovering that M&S sells a non-branded Belgian beer which is actually made in the same brewery, but about a third of the strength.)

But the thing I dwelt upon for almost as long as how good the beer tasted was in me trying to imagine what me-back-in-January might have thought May 2020 would look like, and feel like. Certainly nothing like this.

But despite the weird, creeping horror of the actual pandemic and what it all means to those most affected by it, we get on with things. We have to.

So, work continues apace. The end of the financial year has brought with it a whole host of things both anticipated and unexpected. M’s school, much like most others, is making preparations for a selection of classes to return in just a week or so’s time. And we celebrate birthdays and bake things and make nice meals and talk to family on the phone and just do the stuff that we do. Because what else is there to do?

I find myself missing the coast a lot.

Despite (or because of) my proximity to London, I can’t say I’m hugely missing the museums, the pubs, the theatres, or even cinemas really. Maybe it’s because I know no-one can enjoy those things right now, so I don’t think I’m missing out.

I’d give my right arm to go to a solitary cinema screening – for better or worse, most of the ones I went to recently at the Kiln, there were only about five of us in the whole auditorium anyway!

But what I’m really missing is, I guess, something like this:

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I think I kinda just want to walk along a coastal path. Isle of Wight?

Or perhaps the Lizard? Or maybe a new place I’ve not been to yet? Just something like that. I want to see the sea, feel the breeze, and check out the interesting contours and strata, and stumble into a quiet country pub* for a pint and some crisps.

* I think this is the distinction – I don’t really miss London pubs but I do miss quiet country pubs

Other recent distractions:

Radio

I haven’t done a huge amount of radio listening in lockdown; reception conditions in my urban, electrically noisy flat are not great, and so I prefer to get out to a high, more remote point to do that. But I have to give praise to a workshop run by Hannah Kemp-Welch about shortwave radio for Reveil 2020.

Hannah used Zoom to give me and about fifteen others a breakdown of how radio waves work, how shortwave works, the kinds of things on it, and an introduction to web SDRs (software defined radios). The latter part was most revelatory (reveil-atory…?) for me as I’d never actually tried to use a webSDR before – I’d kind of written them off because, for me, the magic of radio is using your own equipment wherever you are, and capturing whatever signals pass by.

For me, radio listening is basically like catching butterflies.

The butterflies are the radio waves, and the net is whatever radio I use. I guess, to extend the metaphor, the different nets (radios, remember, keep up) have different fineness of mesh, and so can pick up different BUTTERFLIES like FM, shortwave, etc…

Anyway, web SDRs seemed kind of silly to me as you’re just using the web to listen to another radio somewhere else. And if I’m using the net to stream a fuzzy shortwave stream, why wouldn’t I use the net to stream a solid, full resolution stream of something instead?

But thanks to Hannah’s intro, I now *get* that using web SDRs is fun and informative, as it gives you training in using SDR software – which you can use on any computer and plug in your own, local, radio and see what you can pick up. But you get to use a really, really good radio, with a decent antenna, hopefully located somewhere isolated from electronic interference. And so you can pick up some really interesting stuff you wouldn’t normally hear.

So thanks to Hannah for that – and just in general for volunteering her time and expertise to deliver a free workshop like that. I was thrilled to see it advertised and went out for a run, timing it so that I could get home, grab some snacks, and settle in to watch and listen along.

Running

Speaking of running, I’ve tried to keep this up and have, in some weeks, run maybe 2-3 times? Nothing amazing, but not bad. More recently I suffered from what I wouldn’t say was shinsplints, but was certainly a tenderness in the front of my shins.

I think I’ve had shinsplints once, years ago when I was visiting home from uni and wanted to go for a run, but the nearest thing I had to trainers was a pair of walking boots. I was laid up for at least a few days after that, and had to use bags of frozen peas to take the edge off. Don’t run in walking boots, kids.

Anyway I’m very pleased to say that, having rested my legs for a few days (still going for short bike rides and walks, mind you), I was able to go for a perfectly comfortable 5k run this lunchtime. I’m so glad, especially as the longer I waited to ‘test’ my legs again, the more anxious I was getting that I’d just immediately feel the same aches and pains. But nope, not this time.

What definitely helped was that I got some nice running swag for my birthday, and today managed to wear my: new running hat, new running pants(!), new running belt, and even my new sunglasses. All these things, combined with already having decent kit, and shoes that are fine but will need replacing soon, meant that my run was smooth and comfortable, and I achieved some satisfyingly negative splits as I upped the effort the more I felt comfortable (and, presumably, ran downhill!)

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Not bad for a day of 27 degrees Celsius sunshine!

Birds

The local birds continue to delight us with their regular feeding activities. We’ve grown used to seeing the robins, young and old, coming and going. And we were extra thrilled to add the blue tits and great tits to the collection. The GIF at the top of this post is of once particularly greedy little blue tit. Actually we think he’s taking food back to the nest, such is the frequency of his visits.

The last few days have been exceptionally warm, and bird activity has dropped to almost zero. We’re hoping it’s just the heat, or maybe the pattern of their parenting, and that they’ll be back again soon.

The other wonderful sight – or more accurately, sound – has been that of the swifts which have now returned.

We see them wheeling over the road and above the roofs of the houses opposite most afternoons and evenings, and now actually most of the daytime generally. It’s so lovely to have that distant, high-pitched cry back, adding to the rich soundtrack we hear outside our windows. I actually got quite excited seeing other naturalists on Twitter reporting the return of the swifts to their locale. Only a few days later and I had my first sighting, with the sound being heard the very next day. Wonderful.

Bike rides

Finally, with the roads much clearer than usual, and a fairly palpable sense that cyclists are suddenly more welcome on London’s roads, I’ve enjoyed a few recent cycle rides that have taken me to places I’ve not been to by bike before.

One was all the way along cycleway CS3, which goes all the way from Hyde Park all the way out to Barking; we took it as far as just beyond Blackwall and headed back.

Another was out to the Hoover building, and a brief dip into Brentham Garden Suburb in Ealing, to see two very different buildings up close that I’d been meaning to check out for ages. I look forward to returning to Brentham for a better look around.

And then of course there was a nip up to the other Garden Suburb at Hampstead, to pick wild garlic and make delicious wild garlic and cheese scones. Recipe and more pictures of that little adventure can be found here.

Recipe: Wild garlic and cheese scones

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In recent years, whenever we’ve found wild garlic, we’ve tried to use it to make a few things, including a lovely pesto.

A recent visit to Hampstead Heath looking for wild garlic turned up just one single plant, which was utterly baffling. I’d previously found wild garlic in a particular spot in Big Wood in Hampstead Garden Suburb, so we cycled up there this morning – and fortunately there was tons of the stuff.

We picked a tupperwareful of green, fragrant leaves and then cycled home, not wanting to linger too long as the roads and footpaths started to get busier.

M found a recipe for wild garlic and cheese scones on the National Trust website which I’ve adapted here – I say ‘adapted’, but what I mean is that it is exactly the same recipe, it just makes sure to include the use of the baking powder in the method as the National Trust one does not, and I would definitely have accidentally left it out if I hadn’t already prepared the amount needed.

There are a few other wild garlic recipes on that page if you scroll down – including soup, pesto and a wild garlic and potato curry. They all sound amazing.

Onwards, to the scone recipe:

Ingredients:

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  • 500g self raising flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200g margarine (we used unsalted butter)
  • 250g grated cheddar cheese
  • 200 ml milk
  • 2 large handfuls chopped wild garlic leaves (make sure you give it a good wash first)

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 220c, or 200c for a fan oven, or gas mark 7. Having mixed the flour, salt and baking power in a mixing bowl as a dry mix, rub in the butter/margarine.

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2. Use your hands to mix in the grated cheese and chopped garlic, and then add the milk. Smoosh together into a smooth dough.

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(You may want to chop the wild garlic a bit finer than we did; ours turned out fine, but it’s an option.)


3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, knead a little, then work into a 2cm-thick round.


4. Cut out your scones from the round, ideally using a 5cm/2 inch cutter, but work with what you have to hand. Place on a baking tray – greased, or lined with parchment. Then brush with a little milk.


5. Stick them in the oven! This recipe is meant to make about 25 scones, so make sure you have enough baking trays ready. We baked in two batches. Pop the scones in the oven for 12-15 minutes.


6. After 12-15 minutes, have a look and see if they’re looking golden and risen. If so, get them out and pop on a wire rack. Your kitchen will instantly smell wonderful.


7. Give them time to cool, and then enjoy!

S’gone!

2020 weeknotes 16 and 17 – a load of old bobbins

I was really hoping not to start skipping these weeknotes because, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to take a minute to scribble down what’s going on – and I’ve not even been keeping my diary of late, so this is sort of it.

But I’ve missed a week, and the prospect of sitting down to write 1000+ words is partly what’s been putting me off, so here are some bullet points of the past fortnight:

  • we saw that our local Homebase was giving away dying houseplants, so we took 2-3 home and have rehabilitated them. One might not make it, but the other two look great
  • we also passed a local house which had put out some cuttings of a squash plant, and we decided to bring one home. It’s doing very well so far
  • all our other plants are doing nicely as well, including some cut-and-come-again salad leaves which we’ve had with a few meals so far, and I cut some parsley for the first time today
  • the main entertainment for me during my workdays of late has been the local robin family with its three adolescent children and two anxious parents. The babies are teenagers now, and are almost independent. They still squawk and scrap with their siblings, but they are happily feeding themselves. They still have non-adult plumage, and I wonder if or when we will see them gain their famous red breasts
  • the weather has continued to be warm and bright, and it’s been mostly enjoyable getting out for runs and bike rides. I washed my bike thoroughly this weekend, which was enjoyable in itself, and it rode beautifully afterwards, which was especially nice
  • about two weeks ago I very clumsily went to compress a pile of recycling and sliced into the palm of my hand in such a way that for twenty minutes or so I genuinely thought it might need stitches or at least some form of medical attention. Happily, it healed very quickly and wasn’t as bad as I thought. The prospect of having to go to hospital for doing something stupid and avoidable would have been very embarrassing
  • life just sort of… rumbles on. We continue to eat and drink well, and my daily work routine is fine. I hear from my colleagues often enough, and we all see that we are all putting in the hours and getting the job done. I start to worry that life really will never be the same again, but I guess that’s inevitable in some ways. Work will be the same but different. The idea of being in an office every day is, right now, very strange indeed
  • I have not kept up with a log of things I’ve watched and read – mainly because my consumption of writing, video and audio has – inevitably – increased to such an extent that I simply don’t have the time or energy to essentially liveblog my life. But there have been some especially good bits, so I won’t rule it out.
  • In lieu of more words, here is an assortment of photos from the last couple of weeks that capture some of it, whatever it is

2020 weeknote 15 – Zoom Meeting with a Jane Eyre on Lockdown (with added robin)

Okay, it’s actually getting hard to remember how many weeks we’ve done this for. And I know we (the lucky, privileged ones who are just sort of doing things differently but are basically fine) are all probably kind of grieving in a small way for our previous lives, work or otherwise. Maybe that’s too strong a word, but there must be something psychological going on when you suddenly stop doing the stuff you normally do, or seeing the people you normally do, or whatnot.

Anyway.

Here’s some stuff that I have been doing.

I had my first functional Zoom meeting with work colleagues, which actually worked once I sorted out the wifi my iPad was using. I had initially run my iPad over wifi to a router in not just a different room but on a different floor. Not ideal for low latency communications.

My top tip for anyone with precisely my own setup is this: if you are near a desktop computer with a wired connection to your router, you can use your desktop machine to share a wifi connection (much like tethering with a mobile phone to share your 4G connection to other wifi devices).

I hadn’t realised this was was possible, much less that you can just enable it in Windows 10’s Settings under Network & Internet > Mobile hotspot. Pretty sure I used to do something similar with my MacBook back in the day as well.

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Neat.

Once I got this set up, my Zoom connection seemed rock solid, and it was a strangely useful/pleasant exercise. It’s not something I want to do permanently, but it’s good to have the option.

TeamViewer has also been rock solid for our entire office for the past few weeks.

Some of our functions can be done through browser access to webmail and so on, but we need access to our shared files and some bespoke software that isn’t available outside our office machines in any easy way.

TeamViewer has made this very easy. I have found the connection very reliable, and as I am using the same OS at work and at home, with TeamViewer in fullscreen it really is just like I’m sat in front of my work machine.


Homewise, we have kept ourselves amused by rearranging the lounge furniture and keeping an eye on the local bird population.

We have a friendly local pair of robins who are either building a nest or feeding and housing young chicks, and they’ve taken to our selection of sunflower seeds and fat balls, visiting the patio (handily, also the view outside my wfh window) scores of times a day to collect food or nesting material. It’s been a real joy.

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I can often be found sat gazing out the window with my dSLR and 70-200mm lens in hand like some sort of Rear Window cosplayer.


We had a power cut on Monday night at almost exactly midnight. I wouldn’t normally notice a power cut until the next day when any old digital clocks might be found blinking 12:00* but we have a noticeably noisy extractor fan near our bedroom for the services in our building. We have naturally gotten used to the low hum it emits constantly 24/7 – so when it stops for whatever reason, it’s really quite noticeable.

* I tried to wrap this in blink tag HTML code but, no dice.**

** Apparently the'code' HTML tag works, though.

In this case, the power was out for about five minutes. Just long enough for me to stagger round to the window to check and see – yep – it had affected other properties in our street, and even the street lights, which I thought was unusual. Pleasingly, this was also the night of the April supermoon, and it was front and centre as I twitched at the curtains to look out into the street.

We basically don’t get power cuts any more. I remember them happening what felt like quite often when I grew up. But in the past decade or more I can’t remember a power cut lasting more than a few minutes, and more often they’re a brief flicker.

Rearranging the furniture seems to be very lockdown from what I’ve seen online. And even on the streets it’s been clear people have been having a clear out from the piles of unwanted stuff on garden walls.

The rearranged lounge has been especially pleasant as we now have a plethora of plants which rejoice in the sunshine that streams in most of the day, and our TV unit is now in a shadowy corner which makes it easier to watch, like vampires, while the aforementioned sunlight pours in, attempting to disturb our lockdown viewing.

Such viewing has this week included:

  • National Theatre Live’s Jane Eyre which was a very enjoyable and inventive production with real heart. It took me about half an hour to get over my initial feelings of not being able to fully get into it until I realised I was able to enjoy the production for what it was and how it made use of the set etc., and the story could come second. Unsure if this is how theatre is meant to be enjoyed, but sort of don’t care.
  • Jesus Christ, Superstar (which I spent the preceding days confusing with Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat – but apparently that was streamed the week earlier, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely my fault) – this was a weird one – a huge, vast, arena-sized production which mostly worked and made use of the giant stage, and benefitted massively from some good cameo performances and Tim Minchin absolutely bossing it as Judas.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I was *delighted* to see was added to Mubi this week (it’s on Mubi in the UK for the next few weeks – if you need a code for a free trial, why not use mine?), especially having missed it in the cinema not so long ago. It was as beautifully shot as I’d hoped, and I loved it. About two thirds of the way through I noticed how weird it was – sorry – how there hadn’t been a single man in the cast. This made it no less enjoyable. Actually probably made it even more enjoyable.
  • Race Across the World on BBC iPlayer, which I hadn’t seen before, but seems like a cross between maybe The Apprentice and Channel 4’s Hunted except with more realistic restrictions, and has been great fun. Watching people romp around South America while we’re stuck inside has definitely increased our wanderlust.

In non-viewing, I was delighted that Radio 3 re-broadcast the live performance of Max Richter’s Sleep from a few years ago at the Wellcome Collection. Sleep is an eight-hour(!) piece of music designed, as you might guess, to fall asleep to.

It was broadcast from 11pm to 7am, and I found myself stirring – as I often do during the night – and quickly finding the constant musical companion pleasant, before nodding off again. Really wonderful. That’s available on the BBC Sounds app/website for the next few weeks too – I really encourage anyone to stick it on at bedtime and give it a whirl.

It reminded me that I used to fall asleep to a pretty ace playlist consisting of Stars of the Lid, Jonsi & Alex, some Peter Broderick stuff… It was a good playlist.

In fact, Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline is something I stick on in times of anxietal need, including sleeplessness and on flights.

Finally, Easter was… weird. But, well, we made nice food and drank nice wine, and even ate and drank some of it sat outside on the patio – so it was a pretty great Easter, actually. We didn’t have much chocolate as, when we’ve been able to get out to the shops recently, it felt frivolous to stock up on essentials as well as the least efficient way to store and carry chocolate.

This isn’t just lockdown fever: in previous Easters I have been much happier buying a few Chocolate Oranges (by far the cheapest/best value chocolate by weight) and some bars of decent choccy rather than wanting any actual eggs.

Instead of chocolate eggs we drank nice red wine, and I ordered one of those home deliveries of craft beer that doesn’t work out very economical apart from the first box, and I liked a fair few of them. I’m not a craft beer lover, but it’s nice to try a few different ones selected by someone else from time to time.

I’ve also been managing to get out for a ride or run every 2-3 days which is keeping me sane. Most other days I get out for a stroll, and it’s been nice walking nearby roads I don’t know, remarking at some really quite interesting residential architecture.

On Good Friday I rode my bike down to the river and it was… Weird. Pleasant – what with the roads being clear enough – but eerie, what with the city being basically empty.