2020 weeknote 23 – biking and birdsong

The longer I leave not writing these weeknotes, the less likely it is that they’ll ever happen.

I tried to write something well-formed about the recent black lives matter stuff and failed miserably. I think, like Phil said, it can come across somewhat insincere and really, I don’t have much I can add to the discourse.

It’s been extremely gratifying seeing the universal torrent of support in my ‘circle’ though. I didn’t think my friends or family harboured any racists, but it’s also nice to have that confirmed so vociferously.

Meanwhile, I had a week of work stuff which culminated in me actually getting something unusual done and to a quality or standard that I hadn’t anticipated being able to achieve. This came after two weeks of anxiety about said task, so that was extremely gratifying.

Tasks like these (particularly the unexpected ones) are made much harder by this working from home lark. In an office, it can be a lot easier to just bumble around supporting each other and nudging each other along in things. It’s much harder to be given a seemingly quite large task and feeling as though you’re on your own – even if you’re not, really.

It’s just another little stepping stone along working from home journey, I guess. I don’t see us changing our working practices any time soon – touching all the wood I can, our WFH arrangements have worked out pretty well for the most part. We might need, mostly on an individual basis, to pop into the office now and then to get something done, but most of what we do can be done remotely.


My normal commute to work is just under an hour’s walk, and recently I decided to start incorporating such a walk into my day. A week in, I can say it has been very good for my body and mind to set out for an hour before and after my usual working day to stretch my legs.

I also decided to walk a different way each time and I used this nifty little web app to show me, roughly, how far I can walk in 30 minutes.

I’ve used it before – oddly enough, to show me how far I can walk on my lunch break – and it’s pretty accurate. I have a feeling, due to the fuzzy edges, that it is doing something clever by seeing what roads are straighter and how far you can actually get in a particular direction – a simple circle plot would be helpful enough, but there’s something reassuringly accurate about the fuzzy edges.

To show (hopefully) what I mean, here’s how far the Queen can walk in 30 minutes from Buckingham Palace:

The fuzzy edges on the other side of bridges imply that there is some actual routefinding going on – although I’m not sure what it means when the lines extend out into the river itself. Either way, it’s a useful app.


The weekend before, M and I headed up to Hampstead Heath at dawn on a Saturday to have a picnic and listen to the birds while the sun came up. The conditions for this were perfect and, as we’re now in a period of cooler, wetter weather, I am especially glad we made the effort.

As well as snapping some pictures, I also set my Tascam sound recorder up in a small glade and left it for an hour. This is by far the longest and most remote recording I’ve made (in terms of leaving the recorder to return to later). It picked up some really nice birdsong – not quite a full, rapturous dawn chorus as it’s a bit late in Spring for that – as well as the odd inquisitive bird and some distant sounds.

Having spent a bit of time recently tinkering with both audio and video editing software – Reaper and Lightworks, respectively – I managed to make a little video of the sound file. Just a still image, and the audio playing in the background.

To go one step further though, I really wanted a way to visualise the audio and provide just a hint of movement on the still image as the audio plays – so three cheers for Headliner which has enabled me to achieve exactly what I wanted, with really smart, intuitive tools, for free, through a nice web interface. Amazing!

Headliner is predominantly for podcasters to promote their shows via more video-based platforms, and more usually for shorter clips to be turned into short video clips on Twitter or Instagram. But for whatever reason, the platform also allows you to upload what they describe as a ‘full show’ and still embed a waveform. I guess it’s so that podcasters can stick a whole episode on a video platform with the same effects. Either way, it’s a great service and (for now?) has a very generous free tier.

And here’s the result of my Hampstead Heath field recording:


Finally, this weekend I was in the mood for a bike ride, so I headed south and west, past Holland Park and down just beyond Hammersmith Bridge. The bridge is actually currently closed to road traffic, which I hadn’t realised. It made the road on the other side (delightfully named Castelnau) very quiet and a joy to ride down for a bit, until it was time for me to head back.

It was a fairly unorganised little meander, but nice to still get out on the bike while the roads are still kinda quiet. They’re getting back to normal very quickly though, so those days are numbered.

Likewise, some of the roads through Kensington and Hammersmith have had crash barriers added to the bus lane to make them much more cycle friendly. It remains to be seen if these will give way to more permanent solutions, but it’s a nice gesture for now, and makes for very pleasant riding.

I really hope those who have gotten out onto busy city streets by bike more, or possibly even for the first time, find themselves able to after *waves hands* all this is over. But we’ll see.


And finally, as well as moving my website from one host to another recently, this has also meant I’ve moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

This means I’m now back using webspace that I can control, and means I can now do more things with it.

I think I flipflop between wanting the level of control (and responsibility) that comes with running webspace and self-hosted WordPress every few years. Sometimes when renewal is approaching I decide I just cannot be arsed and want nothing more than an easy life and a simple blog. Other times, like now, I decide actually I do want a bit more breathing room and control, and don’t mind the extra complexity involved.

This time around, what really sealed the deal was that I could get hosting and my domain name renewed for less than it was going to cost to renew my domain and the domain referral WordPress.com offered.

I also want the opportunity to muck around with HTML and CSS just like I used to, and a place to either experiment with little single-purpose websites, or investigate static site generators or whatnot.

I also want a space where I can put a tiny handful of web projects from my past, along with little standalone essays, photographic portfolios, or similar.

The long and short of all this is that I’ve chucked together a little subdomain where I can start flinging folders and files and just basically play around with web design without worrying about it impacting/breaking my actual blog (which is never not a pain in the arse to fix).

This has been in part brought about by all the stuff I’ve been recently reading about the resurgent interest in personal websites and non-mainstream platforms for personal web content. It’s nice to finally have a place to play with this stuff again.

Going into an HTML file, making an edit, and then refreshing the page in the browser is just such a delightfully enjoyable process – and believe me when I say I feel this more than ever as my blog is now running WordPress’ bizarre, modern Gutenberg post editor and it is taking me a while to get used to. I want to learn to use it, but god it feels unintuitive so far.

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