Category Archives: Life

Default category and posts where I just talk about life in general

Pointing and Shooting for 32 years (warning – photo heavy)

I had a camera when I was a kid, or maybe I borrowed my mum’s or sister’s camera, I’m not sure.  I know that it used 110 film though, because that I remember very well.    At some point, we changed to a 35mm instant camera, and I remember finding the film depressingly complex compared to the 110, and blew a few trying to wind it onto the spools and failing (before any of that stuff was automated).

I enjoyed taking photographs, and remember one school trip to Warkworth Castle, or maybe it was somewhere in York, when I took lots of photographs, mainly of ducks.  One teacher had words with me, about wasting film on ducks, but I quite liked the idea of taking some wild life shots.

Continue reading Pointing and Shooting for 32 years (warning – photo heavy)

No Fear of 4 Wheels

I’ve been allowed to drive now, on my own, for 6 and a bit days, and I’ve done plenty of it.  I’ve driven myself to and from work (alone) a few times, driven to Tesco’s to pick up food, and done a lengthy trip back from Tamworth (with Greté in the car).  We also did a short section of M1 on the Tamworth drive on Saturday, and then J25 to J28 on the M1 and back on Sunday going to Alfreton.

Driving on my own wasn’t as weird as I expected it to be, or as scary as other folk suggested it might be.  I didn’t really feel nervous about it because I was already comfortable driving with Greté along (rather than my instructor), and it never felt like she was overseeing or watching my driving (although she was obviously aware of the road conditions).

It did feel very strange at work however, knowing that I could leave whenever I wanted without having to either wait for someone else or make someone else late.  That felt pretty damn good.  I’m also now officially a member of the ‘where the hell did I park my car this morning in that massive car park while I was half asleep’ club.

The motorway driving was a mixed bag, I’d already done some stretches of A road with 3 lanes at 70, but 4 lanes on the M1 was a little daunting.  To add to the excitement, while I was travelling at 70mph in the 3rd lane overtaking some stuff, someone undertook me.  Someone else sat on my shoulder while I was approaching a lorry (I was in the 2nd hand lane already), and despite my indication and speed changes they seemed intent on remaining glued to me, so I just had to move over and let them worry about it.  Lastly, we had a car towing a caravan make a very abrupt lane change a few cars ahead of us, and then slowly swerve across several lanes for half a mile while it corrected itself.

The drive back down the M1 was less eventful!

I wouldn’t say I was happy with how I’ve driven short journeys, and I definitely feel longer trips give me a chance to ‘warm up’.  Hopefully as I drive more and more though it’ll get smoother and easier.  I’m still too fast on some roundabouts, too slow starting from stopped, and prone to stalling when under pressure.  I’ll get there.

I wouldn’t say I feel some massive sense of liberation, or some huge feeling of freedom.  I do feel some increase in freedom, and definite feeling of being more liberated in terms of when and where I can go.  For me though, the most obvious sensations are relief, that I can help Greté out with driving duties, and an actual feeling of pleasure when I drive.  I like driving.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 18 – The End

IMAG0378I had my first ever driving lesson, and my first go behind the wheel of a car, on May 8th 2013.  Today, August 14th 2013 I passed my practical driving exam (at the age of 42), and am now allowed to drive a car on my own, including on the motorway.

Twenty six hours of formal lessons (mostly 2 hours at a time), over 16 weeks.  Don’t let anyone tell you that getting older means you can’t learn to do something new, or that it’s going to take much longer to learn to do it.

But if you are going to learn to drive, get insured in someone’s car (partner, parents, friends), and get out as much as you can between lessons.  In lessons, you want to be focussing on the high level stuff like handling traffic, manoeuvres, anticipation, planning, etc.  You don’t want to be worrying about what your feet and hands are doing with the actual controls – you want muscle memory doing that as quickly as possible, and that’s what practice outside of lessons will give you.  I drove almost every day between lessons, certainly as often as I could, because I have a patient and understanding wife who gave me all the support I needed.

I won’t insult people and say ‘if I can do it, anyone can’, because I hate that phrase.  But if you’re thinking of learning to drive but you’re worried you’ve left it too late – don’t worry, give it a shot, I’m glad I did.

I drove to work and back today, without L plates, and it felt pretty good.  The drive home was rubbish of course, crunched the gears, stalled it once, and then stalled three times trying to put the car on the drive.  In all the time I’ve been learning, I’ve only stalled once getting the car on the drive.  Typical – but I don’t care, all that matters now is that I remain safe and considerate on the road and that my skill level can only increase going forward.

It’s been fun, terrifying, hard work, I hated the hours before the lessons, enjoyed the lessons for the most part, and then felt like an idiot for the hours after them, but it’s all over, and with luck, I’ll never have to do it again.

If you’re learning, or thinking of learning, good luck, try and enjoy it, and I’ll see you on the roads.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 17

In part 16 I wrote this, “I can drive.  I really can”.  In the lesson after that one, I proved to myself that actually, I couldn’t drive.  It was rubbish again.  I won’t list the full litany of mistakes, but let’s just say that it sucked.  I was over it by the following Thursday morning though, and with my nephew due to visit a few days after the lesson (i.e. for all of last week), I didn’t have time to dwell on it.

At the start of this week I drove to the station to collect my nephew, and drove home with him in the car.  That was freaky, seeing someone in the rear view mirror for the first time – every time I checked all I could see was his head, a fresh and startling reminder of his presence.

Then I had a lesson on the Wednesday, and it went really well overall.  There was a minor incident where I basically went through an amber light, then decided to stop, then decided it was too late, and then pulled away, but hey, who doesn’t do that.

The highlight of the week in terms of the car though, was driving back from Chester zoo (A roads only of course).  It should be a 2 hour drive, but the traffic was heavy for quite some time after leaving the zoo, so it took more like 2 hours 30 minutes.  That’s the longest I’ve driven in one go, even the lessons are only 2 hours, so it was a good test, and other than some roundabouts I probably took too quickly, it was a safe drive all the way.

My nephew managed to sleep for most of it, so it can’t have been that scary.

And so today is Tuesday, and tomorrow is Wednesday the 14th August.  Which means tomorrow is my driving test.

One more hour with the instructor, before the lesson, and then 40 minutes of pure terror, followed by either cheering or sobbing.

Whatever happens, it’s been an interesting journey to get to this point.  I’m sure I’ll post an update to Facebook or Twitter when I find out the result of the test.  See you all on the other side.

Pond – day 2

We popped to the local garden centre, marking us officially as ‘getting on a bit’, and bought some plants for the pond.  As it turns out, I think we bought marginals which are too big – I suspect the soil is going to wash away and they’ll die.  However, this kind of thing is a learning process, so we’ll see how it goes.

Here’s how it looks with a few pebbles and the new plants.

Close-up of pondPond with plants

Hopefully overnight the soil will settle and we’ll get to see how it looks without the water being a murky brown (moments before it goes murky green and fills with algae).

We also bought some ‘succulents’ for the house, in homage to our parents and grandparents who always seemed to have cacti around the house.

Like a rose Little bubbles Slightly purple Small hedge Like a fern

They look quite nice on the window sill, next to the orchid.

Lined up

Making a pond

Pond LinerI’ve been thinking about building a pond in our garden for ages.  After cutting the grass this morning, I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.  We can’t run electricity to anywhere in the garden, for three reasons.

  1. I don’t have the skill to do that
  2. I can’t afford to pay anyone to do that
  3. I dread the day we ask someone to look at our electrics, because I fear the previous owners’ skills and enthusiasm

As a result, any pond will have to keep itself clean (solar powered pumps just aren’t up to the job, apparently).  We’ve got an algae problem in the water bucket thing I put together earlier in the year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll end up with an algae problem in the pond.  However, I’m not planning on putting fish in it, and if the local wild life don’t use it, then so be it.

I still want to build one!

We decided to start small, and use a pre-formed pond container thing.  We almost bought quite a large one, but decided to start very conservatively initially.  If it works, and it’s fun, we might go bigger.  However, as it turned out I’m glad we started small.  The second choice was where to place it.  We knew we wanted it at the bottom end of the garden, and since you can’t really see that from the house, it didn’t matter if it was the left or right side.

Given that algae issues are worse when ponds are subjected to a lot of continuous direct sunlight, we wanted somewhere with a bit of shade.  It was either left side near the fence, right side in the corner between the fence and the shed, or right side between the shed, Zorblag the troll, and our willow tree.

Left Side Right Corner Zorblag

In the end, we went for the third option.  That area gets the most shade, but still gets plenty of light as well, and we like the idea of Zorblag looking out over a new water vista.

For some reason, I decided doing this on one of the hottest days of the year, after having already been in the garden for a couple of hours cutting the grass would be sensible.  I started digging.  Well, I say digging, but really, it was more a case of excavating.  The turf layer was fine, but immediately below that was rubble.  Big pieces of rubble.

Rubble piling up Rubble with metal Final rubble

Hole in progressIt’s a mixture of reinforced concrete, bricks, and cement blocks from the looks of it.  All of that came out of quite a small hole.  I was going to take lots of pictures of the digging as it progressed, but frankly, it was too much hard work shifting the stuff to think about photographing it.  I started out with a spade, but ended up doing my impression of folk on Time Team and using a hand trowel.  I was literally digging around each piece of rubble to find out how big it was, and then removing it.  The hole ended up being bigger than necessary, because two or three of the biggest pieces were embedded in the side of the hole, which meant I had to dig under the turf layer.

In the photo with my foot, you can see the largest selection of the rubble.  I moved about 8 bags of soil as well as that rubble.  I am very glad we picked the smallest of the pond liners.

The PoolAfter about four hours, I had the hole lined with sand, and the pond inserted.  I filled the sides in as best as I could, and threw down some of the better looking pebbles that had come out of the hole.  Tomorrow I need to buy the plants, and get some proper gravel or pebbles for the edges.  Because the lawn isn’t flat, one edge of the pool is below the grass level, while another edge is at the grass level.  It’ll have to do!

The cats spent most of the day watching me working, and as usual, they refused to do anything useful like move some soil or get me a spirit level.

Bubbles is very interested in the new addition to her garden, and I’m hopeful it’ll be an interesting feature once we get some plants in it.  I really only care about it being useful for the wild life, I’m not too worried if it looks pretty.  Once I get some experience keeping it clean, we might get something bigger to go in the other corner.

Here’s Bubbles, with her first look at the pool.

Bubbles Pond

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 16

I can drive.  I really can.  For the most part, safely.  Sometimes I don’t respond early enough to stuff moving slowly ahead of me in time to change lanes (like a bus, or cyclist) when on dual carriageways, and my instructor thinks I take the odd corner a bit quick, but generally, I can drive.

There are 5 hours of lessons left until I take my test, so just over 2 weeks, and while, like all tests, being able to drive is not the only measure of success, it’s a good starting point surely?

I was really disheartened after last week’s lesson, but not for any good reason to be fair.  So between that and this week, after a small break, I made sure I once again drove everywhere I could with Greté, and I really tried to focus hard on checking mirrors before indicating, slowing or approaching traffic lights and it helped, in two ways.  Firstly, I forgot about the ‘controlling the car with your hands and feet bit’, I forced it to the back of my mind and allowed muscle memory to do it, rather than thinking about it all the time.  Secondly, I actually remembered to use the mirrors!

When I went out for the lesson yesterday it was pretty much just 2 hours of driving to places I’d never been, handling the traffic and junctions without any stupid mistakes.  Sure, I’m still missing 10 years of experience and finesse, sometimes I sit too long at a junction, sometimes I get stuck behind a bus on a dual carriageway, but my instructor was really pleased with the driving and admitted she was being picky over the 2 or 3 things she did bring up.

The only moment where control was an issue was right at the start, braking as we neared the end of our street.  Having driven our car for a week, I’d forgotten how aggressive the brakes are in the lesson car, so even though I was only doing about 5mph, when I stopped I put both our faces against the windscreen.  Other than that it was good.  As I realised half way through the lesson that my hands and feet had started working on their own, and that I never once doubted my ability to start, stop or pull away from a junction I started to enjoy it.

My instructor was trying really hard to get me driving around places I’d never been, but she needn’t have bothered.  I was concentrating so hard on checking the mirrors that I have no idea where we went.  My view was the road, and just about nothing else.  Only when I stopped at some lights for quite some time did I realise we were behind the Broadmarsh car park, having entered Nottingham on the east side somehow, and were now headed west towards Derby.  That was slightly worrying, since I know it’s quite a busy route, both in and out, but head out we did, and I handled everything quite well.

My main challenge is still trying to avoid over-thinking stuff.  If you read the first post in this series, here, you’ll see that was my problem at the start as well.  However, the focus of the issue has shifted.  I’m no longer over-thinking the process of learning to drive and sorting out lessons, but I am spending a lot of time thinking about ‘should I pass that bus – oh too late’ or ‘should I indicate right to get around that cyclist – oh too late’ or ‘is there enough room for me and that other car between those parked vehicles – too late – breath in‘ for example.

I know I’ll get there, I’ve stopped over-thinking controlling the car with my feet, and I know I’ll get past the over-thinking the higher level stuff – the outstanding question is, will 5 more hours be enough to convince the examiner I’m safe to drive.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 15 (of 9 million, it would seem)

There was nothing majorly wrong with the driving in yesterday’s lesson, over and above the normal stuff.  My anticipation could be better, my roundabout handling could be better, my maneuvers were okay, but could be better.  However, I was still hugely despondent when I got home because why on earth would anyone enjoy spending 2 hours being told (even in a constructive and supportive manner) that they were making mistakes.

I spend the week driving and think I’m doing okay and then expend a lot of energy during the lesson, feel drained when I get in, and just frustrated at all the stupid little mistakes I’ve made.

I honestly think I drive better when I’m not in the lesson, because I’m less nervous and so I make better, longer term decisions.  But that’s not going to help when I’m taking the test which is only going to be even more high pressure.  In the back of my mind I sort of hope my instructor is being overly critical, trying to get me beyond the level needed to pass the test, so that I pass easily, but who knows.

I certainly don’t.

Houses, and sleeping and gardens and grass.

WillowTreeI am so tired all the time at the moment, it’s just insane.  I think I’m getting plenty of sleep, despite the heat, but the driving lessons are just screwing with our routine, and myself and Greté are all about the routine!  Driving seems to wear me out as well, even if it’s just the 30 minute drive home, so by the time I sort food and then settle down I’m knackered and just want to sleep.  Everything else is taking a back seat – including the garden which is now officially out of control again.

GrassWe’ve half managed to stay on top of the grass, and I actually did get rid of a patch of moss on the front lawn and get it replaced with grass (which now looks nothing like the rest of the lawn, obviously), but otherwise, the borders have gone crazy and the grass is patchy and full of weeds.

Despite that, we’re loving the wildlife in the garden – we’ve got pigeons nesting in our tree (which we were thinking of cutting down until we saw the nest), we’ve got dragonflies the size of small birds, and when I do cut the grass I’m often picking up and moving frogs out of the way.

FlowerSadly, the snails and the slugs eat just about anything we put in the ground, and they’ve worked out how to climb up the side of the water bucket thing and are eating the lilies and their flowers.  I can’t feel too angry at them, since they’re officially wildlife as well, but sometimes I wish they’ve give the stuff we plant a chance.

The sudden bout of insanely hot weather is doing the garden some good, drying it out after the first half of the year and the willow tree is really flourishing.  There are ants nests all over the bloody garden as well, and what used to be a flat lawn is now a small mountain range!

WoodBeforeOn the house, we noticed toward the end of March that the window sill on the outside of the bedroom window was warped, and we got a joiner to come and quote for a replacement.  He was great – except we had to chase him about 4 times for the quote, and then it took him 8 weeks to come and do the work (he kept pushing us back due to other stuff).  We got him to pull down the woodwork between the bedroom window and the downstairs window as well.  The brickwork behind it isn’t bad but it needs re-pointing.  £315 for the pleasure of replacing a single wooden window sill, and taking down the rest of the wood.  Could have done without it, considering how much I’m spending on driving lessons, but there you go.  The joiner also thinks we’ll need all the window frames treated, so we’ve asked a guy to come over and quote for that too.  That’s the royal we, obviously, since Greté actually sorts all this stuff out for us, I don’t.

WallAfter We’ll need to try and remember which bricklayer we used for the re-pointing last time and give him a call as well.  Looks like the previous owners did some ‘repair work’ with their normal quality.

I have a question, does anyone have any idea what the following bugs are?  They’re in the willow tree, and there’s loads of them.  Nearly every leaf has what looks like a tiny one underneath curled up, or larger ones moving around.  They’re black with a shock of red and they look spiky!

EDIT: They’re ladybird larvae.  Awesome.

Bug
Bug2
Bug3

And lastly, here’s Bubbles enjoying the shade offered by the willow tree (which made me very pleased we’d planted it).

WillowBubbles

And here’s our pigeon.

Pigeon