Achievement Unlocked

At lunchtime today I volunteered for a desperate mission to the corner shop – armed with a hand-written list of groceries, and “lady things” (a term coined by our youngest daughter – figure it out yourself).

I crossed paths with nobody en-route, and discovered an empty shop – which was quite curious, given that a lady was waiting outside with a dog on a lead. I’m still curious who she might have been waiting for. Inside the shop I half-expected everything to have doubled in price, given the various local citizen journalists posting ever-more fantastical stories on Facebook. Thankfully it appears their stories are somewhat fabricated.

I found almost everything on my list before making an enquiry with the shop-assistant.

“Do you have any eggs?”

He pointed to the opposite side of the shop.

I reached the shelf where they should have been at the same time the assistant did, and started laughing. It was a very nice shelf, but it had no eggs on it. It did have a price label for eggs though. I’ll give it that.

A few moments later – while arranging my treasure trove on the counter, the assistant snuck into the stock room, and re-appeared with a box of six eggs in his hand, smiling.

“I was going to keep these for myself. They are the last box. You can have them.”

We both smiled, and I didn’t quite know what to say. I might have said thank-you quite a few times in a row.

On the way home, I imagined a scene holding the eggs up in the shop, light bursting from them, and the “achievement unlocked” music from the Legend of Zelda video game bursting out of somewhere.


Board Game City

A remarkably quiet day in the Beckett household. I was joined in the junk room by my other half, while the children sat at the dining table and got on with school work via the internet.

I will admit to becoming curious mid-morning at just how quiet the house had become, so set off to investigate. I discovered our girls sitting on the patio in the sunshine with various craft kits they got for Christmas. I’m guessing this was the “creative” part of their improvised timetable.

Discovery of the day has to be Audible Stories. Search for it – they have created an audiobook website with no fees and no strings attached. Of course they would say that – in six months time – when the world has hopefully righted itself somewhat, I imagine people will be invited to subscribe… For the moment though – it’s very good.

For the record, I still prefer paper books.

While writing this I’m half watching the rest of the family play monopoly. I have NEVER seen monopoly end well. I still have memories of playing it with my family when I was young – and my Nan – my Dad’s Mum – being the banker, and cheating hilariously.

The only time I’ve ever seen a game end more explosively than monopoly was a game of Pictionary with relatives many years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown adult react so spectacularly to losing either before or since.

We won’t talk about the time my other half destroyed me at Scrabble, and I denounced it as “a rubbish game anyway”.


Finding Inspiration

While scrolling Facebook over the last few days, the mysterious algorithm decided to start sharing the posts of an ex-colleague with me. He has been absent from social media for quite some time, but in recent days – since the beginning of the Corona Virus lock-down, he has been posting humorous journal entries – his daily life and thoughts. And it’s been kind of wonderful.

I’m thinking about following his lead. If enough people join in, it might even make Facebook an entertaining and diverting destination, instead of a frustrating, and often depressing maelstrom of noise, fear, uncertainty and doubt.


Today was a pretty good day. We were all at home for the first time. My other half had a day off, the younger children did school work, our eldest daughter baked cakes, and I excavated a rather impressive hole in my knowledge about something to do with work.

While working from home I have been sitting in the relative quiet of the junk room, while the children have taken up station at the dining table with their laptops and books. Tomorrow I’ll be joined by my other half – she’s working from home on the new school website.

We had a delivery today from a local produce company. They started out a couple of years ago, encouraging people to re-fill existing containers instead of adding to the single-use-plastic idiocy. You would normally wander to their shop with your empty container (of rice, flour, washing liquid – whatever really), and they let you fill it back up from their various stocks. They have rapidly pivoted to a delivery model given the current lock-down rules – and arrived late this afternoon with a selection of paper bags. We might not be able to buy bread from the shops at the moment, but we can at least make it.

We’re currently wondering about acquiring some chickens from a local farm. We still have a chicken run at the end of the garden – it wouldn’t take much work to clean it out and make it good once again. We had chickens when the children were young, but they were eventually killed by foxes. If we’re careful, we could have an endless supply of eggs – probably more than we need, and could then help some of the “at risk” people in the neighborhood too.

So. The clock is ticking towards midnight. It’s probably time to put an end to this ever-so-slightly ridiculous post.

p.s. I still haven’t really got very far with the whole “read all the books” idea. Maybe the weekend might help with that.


Home Schooling Begins

Today was our first “proper” day at home as a family – or rather, we thought it was going to be. My other half got called into work, but really just to put plans in place – she works at an infant school. Schools are running on skeleton staff to cater for “key occupations” – looking after the children of healthcare and service staff. From tomorrow onwards she will visit once a week, and work from home on a reduced schedule.

I continued working from home as I have in recent weeks, but was joined by Miss 14 and 16 – who were governed by Miss 19. They did several hours of school work, interspersed with creative, and fitness activities throughout the day.

We were held up for a time by our youngest choosing not to tell us her school uses Office 365 – so while I struggled to download an attachment from her teacher and get it into Google Docs, she could have just opened it in Word Online. That game will change tomorrow anyway – her computer was so painfully slow running Windows, I wiped it this evening and installed Manjaro Linux on it. She’s been using it all evening, and seems pleased.

Half-way through the morning the local dance teacher visited to borrow a webcam from us – as with many others, she is pivoting towards delivery of classes over the internet. It says something about the outright greed and idiocy going on that the same webcam we paid £25 for a few months ago now costs 10 times as much. I hope the government wades in and starts fining profiteers to destruction.

We’re slowly lining up delivery services at home – late tonight a delivery of milk and bread will arrive – tomorrow will hopefully see flour and rice. None of it is coming from the big supermarkets, because they have already directed their delivery services to those in most need. We’re going to try and only brave a visit to them every two weeks or so if we can help it – you never know – if we source enough things from elsewhere we might not need to.

At the moment it’s just about “getting on with it”. We’re all going to catch the virus sooner or later – it’s about making sure we are fit and well in the meantime.

When things calm down and routines fall into place, I’ll hopefully get a chance to catch up with a few friends via the internet. In the meantime I’m going to have an early night.

p.s. I’ve started making my way through the un-read books mountain.


Birthdays and LEGO Kits

It was both Mother’s Day, and my other half’s birthday today. After a panicked walk into town yesterday morning, I managed to buy a LEGO kit. This might sound like a terrible idea for a present, but my other half loves building LEGO kits – in recent years she has built the Millenium Falcon, and Poe Dameron’s X-Wing. I managed to get her the cafe from the TV show “Friends” – she’s been posting photos to Facebook of the kit under construction all evening. She was a HUGE Friends fan back in the day.

I will admit to gazing longingly at the LEGO Apollo 11 kit, but could never warrant spending the money on it. I think it’s perhaps the best kit LEGO have ever released though.

This morning we spent about six hours in the garden together, cutting the jungle back somewhat. We had not touched the garden since the end of last summer, and it showed. It didn’t help that the house that backs onto us had built an extension in the winter – we discovered several trees from their back garden thrown over the face into our garden. Without a chainsaw we have no way of removing them (and if you’re wondering – our garden is huge – which is why we didn’t see them until recently).

The garden is starting to look half-way decent again though – you know – just in time for builders to arrive the week after next to do the windows. Fingers crossed that will all go smoothly.

My fingers are tingling this evening – the result of being stung countless times by stinging nettles while clearing the garden. I spent most of my time cutting the grass – which sounds straightforward until I tell you we only have a push-along lawnmower. I tried to tell myself it was good for me as my arms and legs turned to rubber.

After finishing in the garden the LEGO project started in earnest, and our middle daughter stepped up to make dinner for everybody. She made a wonderful sausage casserole for everybody, served with penne pasta. I helped with washing up while she cooked.

This evening the kids have retreated to their rooms – I handed out chocolate bars. It’s amazing how a few chocolate bars can bring peace to the house.


Lock Down

The government is finally losing patience with the people – and by “the people”, I absolutely mean the privileged, ignorant, and thoughtless. As of today in the UK all the bars, restaurants, cafes, and so on are being asked to shut. That hasn’t stopped idiotic gangs of teenagers from roaming the streets together, flying in the face of advice and instruction.

I walked into town mid-morning on my own to see if I might find some basic groceries – fruit and vegetables to get us through the next few days. I found a supermarket struggling to re-stock, and wandered the aisles in disbelief.

I’ve always known I lived in a wealthy part of the world, but today really brought it into focus. All of the wine had gone. All of it. And all of the ready meals. Luckily, if you are prepared to actually – you know – COOK anything – then there was plenty to be found. I came home with potatoes, peppers, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, chicken – a huge bag stuffed with the basics that will last us for a little while.

I’ve also come to the realisation that the wealthy idiots don’t bother leaving the supermarket – unbeknown to them (or due to lack of effort), all of the independent shops in side-streets are fully stocked. I made a second journey out – to our local corner shops, and discovered their shelves brimming with everything you might need. I’ve heard second hand that the same is true of other small shops in the area.

To be honest, while the world is locked down over the next few months, I’m thinking we will use the smaller shops in preference. Yes, it might cost a little bit more than the supermarket, but it’s going to keep them afloat.

Tomorrow I need to sneak out and get a birthday present for my other half. Given the idiocy going on, I’m thinking a book, some chocolates, and something nice to drink might be just the thing – bought from the independent book shop, the old-fashioned sweet shop, and the corner shop. Two miles on-foot. What the hell – I haven’t been out all week anyway.


Another Day in the Junk Room

At lunchtime today I walked up to the local pharmacy with my eldest daughter to pick up a prescription – and joined the remarkably patient queue of people standing in the rain outside. So this was social distancing and safeguarding in action. It’s shame some people completely disregarded it.

While quietly waiting, an elderly woman walked towards the health centre, emblazoned with bright red “DO NOT ENTER UNLESS YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT” signs, and spotted an acquaintance in the queue. Completely disregarding that everybody in the queue was stood a couple of meters apart, she walked straight to her friend and began talking in her face – loud enough for the entire queue to hear her many and varied complaints about anything and everything.

She was an exception though – on the whole people seem to be trying to follow the guidance they have been given. We passed two women talking in the street – having a conversation with raised voices, several metres away from each other. I might have smiled a little as we passed by.

In other news, work is going well. I’m working on a significant piece of software development at the moment, and having the chance to cut myself off and really focus has helped enormously.

I tend to work a lot better on my own – I suspect most people do, unless they don’t know what they’re doing. That works both ways though – sometimes working in a team helps you learn new skills, but that also slows everybody else down. It’s chicken-and-egg, isn’t it – because without mentoring and sharing, skills transfer doesn’t happen.

Knowledge is a curious thing though – there’s only so much you can learn from books or courses. Certainly in my field of work, experience and rigour count for perhaps more than “knowing things”. The internet has made it possible for anybody to find out how to do pretty much anything incredibly quickly – and we all take advantage of that. Being able to write neat tidy code that’s easy to read, easy to maintain, efficient, and consistent is a whole other ball-game though. It crosses over from “toolmaker” to “artist” pretty quickly – but in this case a really pedantic artist that suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder about anything and everything.

I’m doing a great job of selling software development as a career, aren’t I. I won’t even get started about a huge proportion of your knowledge becoming obselete every four or five years. I suppose that’s no different than doctors and nurses though – where the drugs, procedures, and practices they work with change year-on-year.

Anyway. Somehow it’s already 11pm. Time for a quiet coffee, some rubbish TV, and then bed. Tomorrow is another day in the junk room.


Begin Again

Well this is all very exciting. After months experimenting with a variety of blogging platforms, I have retreated back to my own small island in the middle of the internet ocean. A self imposed reclusion from the world at large.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how these posts are now making it to the web – I push plain text files in “markdown” format to a source code repository at GitHub, who then automatically run a static site generator called “Jekyll” that creates the pages you’re looking at. The comments are provided by Disqus, the photos all come from Unsplash, and the domain is managed by CloudFlare.

Running my own site means I can do all sorts of clever things that were impossible before – like automagically pulling in the RSS feed of the podcast on the Podcast page – go take a look – it’s got all the show-notes and everything!

I suppose now I really need to get back to writing about daily life, instead of boring the pants off everybody.

Half an hour ago the Prime Minister announced the schools will be closed for all except the children of “key professions” from Friday until “further notice”. We told the children a few minutes ago – I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so excited about anything. Bizarrely, they are already making plans to help with chores, and to do online courses (if their schools don’t issue homework via the internet).

Our middle daughter was a month away from starting to take her exams – I imagine her grades will now be projected based on her mock exams. Thankfully she has worked her arse off in recent months – attending breakfast and evening study sessions, and putting a huge amount of work in. She’s almost guaranteed a place on the course she had hoped for in the autumn as a result.

Have I ever written about her chosen occupation? She wants to join the police. In the autumn she will start a uniformed services course at college, which covers everything from citizenship, to psychology, sociology, and of course square bashing. You never know – perhaps they will teach her how to put things away too.

Anyway. Dinner is about to arrive on the table in the lounge, accompanied by shouts through the house of “DINNER’S READY!”.


Look for the Helpers

Somebody I have known for years and respect enormously blocked me today, and I feel kind of awful about it. I wrote a comment on one of their blog posts about the media reporting distorted statistics about Novel Coronavirus fatalities, and apparently that was the wrong thing to do.

The media ARE reporting distorted statistics though – if you spin the numbers it sounds more dramatic – which of course attracts eyeballs, which increases advertising revenue. It’s an insidious game, and it needs to stop.

I am heartened however that so many people are pulling together and helping one-another. So many differences no longer seem particularly important. If anything good comes of this, it might be the return of community spirit. In recent days our local Facebook groups have been filled with people volunteering their time for others – to help those less able.

I’m reminded of the famous observation by Mr Rogers – “Look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping”.