Memories are made of this

I don’t remember life events very well.  When they happened, what year, where I was, or in many cases, that they happened at all.  Reading back over blog entries really helps.  So I’m going to try and keep writing them.  I never thought actually keeping a diary would be useful, but I guess it would have been given how bad my memory appears to be for this kind of thing.  I can probably recall  the command line parameters for AIX commands from 1998, but not much about my life in that year (except obviously, I got married).

Fizz is back home.  She was in the vet’s for one night, and was much brighter the next day.  She didn’t really eat while she was there (and judging by the poo this morning, she didn’t shit while she was there either), but they felt that was more because she was stressed and unhappy with them, rather than unwell.  So we agreed we’d bring her home.  She’s mildly anaemic, and seems to have sporadic bouts of sickness which trigger the lethargy.  So we’ve agreed to manage symptoms rather than put her through multiple tests which might not help anyway.  She’s 16, and overall she’s happier and more active these days than she was a year or so ago (we’ve introduced an anti-inflammatory for her arthritis, and a laxative to help with ‘regular movements’, both of which have had a visible and positive effect on her behaviour).  We’ll keep an eye on her, and manage any symptoms and ensure she’s got the best quality of life possible for however long she keeps going.  At the moment, we’ve got no reason to doubt that could be a lot of years yet.

No progress on the mains leak, Severn Trent haven’t been back in touch and we don’t know what that means.

No progress on the wood repairs, the guy is waiting for a dry day to come and do the final sanding and staining.

I’m three or four weeks in to a new photography project, documenting the area in which I live.  You can see the album of hundreds of photos so far on Flickr.

Dear Diary

Over two years since I last blogged anything. So long in fact that WordPress is completely different. There’s some kind of weird block editor that I don’t understand. Why can’t I just write text in a huge box like I used to? 

Aha, installed a plugin to turn that off, and back to normal simple text input in a dialog box.  I guess they think people will only blog tiny missives these days, but I’m here for the epic long hall and the block editor does not suit!

This will be a rambling blog post with compressed and confused timelines, missing information, out of sync actions, and no conclusion.  You’re welcome.

There are always grades of discomfort, I think I might have blogged that before, and my life is easy compared to very many people in the world.  I don’t think I really understood privilege when I was blogging a lot a few years ago, but over the last couple of years or so I’ve come to understand it a lot better.   So I’m privileged, but as should be obvious, it doesn’t mean that shit doesn’t cause anxiety.  And so September, October and now November are the months that just keep on giving.  I’m blogging because I want to rant partly about work, and that means I can’t use Facebook (too many work colleagues), and I can’t use Twitter (240 characters).  So I need somewhere I can vent sure in the knowledge no one will ever read it, and so my personal blog seems like the perfect choice.  This is not going to be one of those posts where I focus on 3 good things and how lucky I am.  That’s never the person I’ve been.  I can’t fight against it really, I’ve always looked at the problems and thought about the issues, and that includes my own life.  It’s what made me excellent at my job in technical support, but it comes with a burden that it’s hard to see the good things amongst the broken.

I am, as anyone who’s read this blog will know, terrible at owning a house.  The last few months have tested that to the limit and continue to do so.  We noticed some woodlice in the corner of the dining room, we knew what it was, rotten wood, we just weren’t sure why.  But dealing with that takes energy, and the last three months have been low energy periods for us for several reasons.  So we didn’t deal with it straight away, and then it started preying on our minds, making it harder to sleep, consuming more spoons, adding more to the cup, whatever metaphor you prefer.  Eventually, Greté found enough energy to contact a handyman on Facebook, and it’s being handled.  Never as bad as you fear, but never as easy as you hope.  It’s half fixed, but now we’re waiting for some dry weather for the guy to finish the job (for which he’s already been paid).

There’s also a leak in our mains water supply.  A good few weeks back now we noticed that the cold water pipes were making a noise as if someone was running a tap.  Initially, I didn’t think much of it, but then I began to think about what it might imply before finally realising it probably meant a leak.  At first, I assumed it was in the house, and so I spent 3 hours one night, until 2am, because when else do you panic about this stuff than at 11pm before you go to bed, trying to find it.  There wasn’t anywhere in the house that obviously had any water leak.   I formed the view the leak was outside.  What followed was is rather frustrating.  We had a British Gas appointment to check the boiler anyway, and they provide plumbing repairs and quotes, so we asked them to also ‘check the plumbing’.  The guy who arrived thought he was only here to find a plumbing issue, Greté managed to get him to do the boiler service, and he agreed he thought the leak sounded like it was outside in the mains pipe.  He had another guy come the next day, from Dynorod (who I think British Gas own) to confirm that, and he did.  There was some confusion that included being told if we signed up to the extended home care agreement it would cover the problem.  So we signed up.  We them had an appointment scheduled for many weeks later for Dynorod to come and ‘find the leak’.  However, before that occurred, Dynorod called us to say it wouldn’t be covered because the cover only covered internal pipes.  Many furious conversations later didn’t provide any progress.  I then called our insurance company, but their ’emergency cover’ line told me because I’d already had a plumber look at it, they wouldn’t cover it, even though they literally just listened to a pipe.  Our regular buildings insurance doesn’t cover it (most likely) because it’s wear and tear.  But they advised us to ring Severn Trent first anyway, which we did.  About three weeks had passed now, with the sound of water leaking in to the ground present in the house all the time.  We also asked Dynorod to come and quote in case we needed them to do the repair.  A lovely lady at Dynorod rang us the day they were supposed to be here, to tell us they were running late and to berate us for getting them back when they said it wouldn’t be free.  I explained we were getting them back to quote, and that if they didn’t arrive soon we’d have to go out.  She told me she could quote and we never needed them to visit anyway, at which point I was pretty pissed off.  So, anything from £700 to £2000 depending on where the leak is, but that’s open ended if access proves hard.  Meanwhile, Severn Trent have now been twice, once to confirm it’s a leak (sounds like it), and once to put a boundary box outside the property, and a meter to measure the rate of loss.  Now however, upon ringing them today, they’re not sure what’s happened, who we may or may not be passed to, and what the status is.  So several weeks after first hearing the noise, we can still hear it, and there’s water leaking in to the ground somewhere between us and the mains.  It’s like water torture for real.

In Tesco car park, sometime in the last two months or so, it’s a blur, I was slowly reversing out of a parking bay when someone drove in to the back corner of the car.  Their passenger side front corner impacted my passenger side rear corner.  The insurance company didn’t even bother debating it, I was reversing so my fault.  I would maintain I checked, it was clear, I reversed slowly, and someone travelling too quickly drove in to the car.  However, I’m now £300 worse off (excess) and we’ll see what it does to the premium.  First insurance accident claim we’ve ever made, since Greté started driving in 1997ish.  Not a big deal, but I’ve never had to deal with car insurance companies, and my natural ‘must follow the rules to the letter’ behaviour gets in the way when those rules are fucking unclear and contradictory.  Just another spoon theft I don’t need.

Fizz has been unwell for a few months now.  She had full on heart failure a while back and we got to her to the vets and essentially saved her life.  Since then, we’ve been extra vigilant, as you might imagine, and are managing her thyroid issue, and several other conditions.  Over the past month though she’s had another serious health scare, and a couple of periods of extreme lethargy, including yesterday.  We felt we might lose her overnight, but this morning she seemed brighter.  We took her to the vets at 6pm today though, to be safe, and they’ve kept her in overnight for more tests.  She may be anaemic which has many possible causes.  She’s 16, and we’ll need to think carefully about how we manage her quality of life in the face of any new challenges.

Work is bitter-sweet.  There’s some good news coming for me personally, a new challenge, new opportunity, but it’s amid a complex, ego-driven, murky, cost-saving-focussed organisational battle.  People are burning out, and being burned out.  I look around and wonder if this is what failing organisations look like, but we refuse to believe it.  Or maybe I’m just more exposed to it now that I have an increased level of involvement in senior management.  Who knows.  I still manage to leave it behind when I get home, for the most part, which is a bonus over the job I had before, and some days it’s so terrible it’s truly funny and easy to rise above.  But I hate when people suffer, and I see a lot of suffering, and some days it saps energy I need to use to be taking care of Greté and the shit above.  When work consumes too many spoons, the balance is broken.

Greté continues to suffer at the hands of the DSS, in parallel to suffering at the hands of her health issues, one of which is literally suffering of her hands.  Around this time last year we got the regular invite to fill in the WCA form, which we duly did, and we waited.  We got an appointment in January for the face to face assessment,  and then last minute it was cancelled.  Apparently, they didn’t have ‘anyone with the specialist skill required to assess her’.  Okay, at least they were honest.  We waited for a new appointment.  And waited.  And waited.  And finally in September, we received this,

Your appointment at 2.45pm on Thursday 17th JANUARY has been rescheduled for Monday 16th of SEPTEMBER

Literally nine months.  Greté called them on the Friday before to ensure the recording equipment was available as instructed, to be told that it was being rescheduled because they’d got the booking wrong and hadn’t lined up a doctor.  For. Fucks. Sake.  They moved it to October 8th, making it nearer to ten months since the original invite and pretty much 11 months since we’d filled in the original WCA.  In that eleven months, Greté’s health has gotten worse, and medication has changed, and and and …

Anyway, we attended, the assessment went ahead, the audio recording equipment (actual C90 tapes) failed just over half way through but we got through it.  Ultimately, on October 24th Greté received the notice that she’d been placed (kept) in the ESA Support Group.  That’s the group that means you do not need to seek employment to continue receiving the ‘benefit’.  No indication of when that will be reviewed next, when we have to start that whole dehumanising process all over again, but it’s done for now.

Tragically, we won’t soon forget the date Greté got that news (which is bitter-sweet in and of itself).  It was also the day we found out that our dear friend, Lynda, had passed away overnight.

We’ve known Lynda for a long time, and I’ll keep personal details out of this entirely to maintain her dignity.  She lived with and in-spite of multiple serious medical conditions, she gave no quarter, she smiled and never stopped.  She didn’t fight her illness, nor lose to it, she rose above it in life knowing the inevitable conclusion.  We will miss her forever.

None of these issues individually are unmanageable.  Some are tragic and heart breaking, some are annoying, some are frustrating.  But at the same time, grouped together, with some of them being a constant nagging worry / fear, sapping energy and spoons, they’re impacting both mine and Greté’s mental health in ways neither of us need.

We’ll be okay, we’ll get through.  I have a good credit rating, there’s equity in the property, the vets are looking after Fizz, and we’ll be able to handle anything which transpires, but fuck me it feels hard sometimes.

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

16 days in

My first post of 2012 was a bit whiny, so I thought I’d give you a slightly less whiny update!

Grete’s glasses broke at the end of 2011

Grete got her second set of corrected new glasses on Friday, and she’s very happy with them.  They look great, are very lightweight and have super thin lenses.  She’s much happier!

Grete has a bad back.

And now it’s a lot better!  Still painful, but getting back to her ‘usual painful’ level which is as good as it gets I guess.

My hacked VPS

Tidied up and resolved so far.  Everyone gets hacked eventually, such is the way of things.



Bubbles going walkabout

Well you already know she came back as if nothing was wrong, and she’s maintained that stance.  She’s still being bullied by Fizz but that whole relationship is weird anyway.

New Stuff

So that’s all good.  For fun though, the little Atom PC I bought last year from Novatech decided to die at the end of last week (internal 2.5″ drive now making mechanical ‘I’m not happy’ sounds).  I mailed Novatech, and they’ve given me a returns number.  So, we’ll see if they continue to live up to my expectations of them.

First post …

… of 2012 anyway.  If the quality of your year to come is inversely proportional to the quality of the first 14 days, we’ve got a stonkingly awesome 2012 to come.  To be fair, as with all things, the ups and downs in life are all relative.

Grete’s glasses broke at the end of 2011, she can’t see much without them.  Although she had a spare pair, they were tinted and not really suitable in the house or driving in Winter!  Thanks to the holiday period it was pretty fraught trying to get to an optician, but we did.  Sadly, they messed up and the glasses she eventually got have the wrong prescription, so now she’s waiting for them to be redone.  The original glasses broke at the joint between the arm and the spring, so I was cello-taping them together every day and Grete was living with nightmarish headaches.  The opticians we went to, to get new glasses, said they couldn’t be fixed – however when she went in to the local one to see why the new glasses were terrible, an older optician there was able to temporarily put a new arm on the broken ones while the correct new ones are being delivered.  All-in-all, a pretty stressful start to the New Year, which you can appreciate if you have vision which absolutely requires glasses.

Grete has a bad back, has had for a long time, which she copes with day to day, but every now and again she’ll get a muscle spasm and be basically unable to stand-up.  She got one on Saturday night, worst one for a few years, so we’re dealing with that!  She managed to get to the doctor today and has some pretty impressive pain killers, and they’re starting to help.

Yesterday, the VPS I host these blogs on was not responding.  It happens sometimes, the server doesn’t have a huge deal of memory and every now and then the Linux OOM Killer will kill something unimportant like apache2 or mysql.  So I recycled it via’s control panel thing and it came back.  A cursory check suggested everything was fine, and I went about my business.  Today I logged on briefly and found a lot of weird mail.  Turns out the server was hacked a few days ago – using an exploit in a PHP module a slightly out of date template on WordPress was using.  Fortunately, they hadn’t done too much damage, and were mostly using this server to attack other servers.  I got a nice abuse report from Gandi (which was polite, but forceful) while I was actually cleaning up the mess, encouraging me to clean up and reminding me of my legal obligations.  Anyway, I think it’s sorted, but I feel kind of bad, somewhat violated, a little paranoid and sorry that something I manage was used to attack other sites.  But it’s the Internet, everyone gets hacked eventually.  My top tip?  If you’re not using a plugin or theme, delete it.  You’ll forget about it otherwise, it won’t get patched, and just because you’re not using it, doesn’t mean the file isn’t there to be presented by the web browser when the right attacker comes along.

There’s some work related stress, which I won’t talk about, because I try not to on my blog, but it’s there, lurking.

Then finally for the first 9 days of 2012, there’s Bubbles.  She went out at around 11am yesterday.  As you know, it’s been Super Mild other than the wind here.  Yesterday was the first fully dry day for ages, and Bubbles has been stuck indoors.  I think she must have decided it was Spring.  By 22:15 there was still no sign of her which is normal in Spring but not Winter.  So we did the concerned cat owner thing where you shout like an idiot at your back door for an hour.  After that didn’t help, I walked the streets for another hour.  I got back, shone my torch down to the bottom of the garden ((I was waiting to get arrested, walking the streets around here, at 11pm, with a torch in my hand, up and down dead end roads, but it never happened)), and I could see her eyes glaring back balefully.  Even then she didn’t come in, and we got to spend the rest of the night wondering if I’d mistakenly seen another cat ((second tip, don’t watch Sherlock’s The Hounds of Baskerville before you walk the streets in the dark looking for animals)).

I was pretty sure it was her, but if you love your pets there’s always doubt.

Anyway, she’s always there in the morning when she does this – ready to come in and eat – except not this morning.  So we’d started thinking the worst.  Grete was in pain, trying to organise a GP appointment, we left the house wondering where she was ((yes, I made Grete drive me to work when she can barely stand)).  When Grete got back from the docs, initially there was still no sign, but as she got to the kitchen door, Bubbles came running up from the garden, her flabby little tummy swinging from side to side.  Grete swears she could hear Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background.  Bubbles then promptly ate half a bowl of dried food, drank half a bowl of water, and has been sleeping all day since.  Little shit.

So, all in all a pretty stressful start to 2012, which is a shame because 2011 finished pretty fucking well to be fair.  Sorry it’s a bit of a whiny start to what I hope is going to be a year blogging more than last year.  Twitter really has sucked the blogging desire from me, just because I end up writing down what I was thinking in a couple of 140 character tweets instead of a 1000 word blog post.  I suppose the world is actually better off as a result.

Anyway, here’s to the rest of 2012, may it improve for us, and be awesome for you.

Grete’s typing ..

If you ever wonder why Grete stops talking to you while you’re on the phone, or maybe some online chat or game.

Here’s why.

Fizz on Grete's head

Fizz climbs onto the back of Grete’s chair and then onto her head.

Fast Fizz!

Fizz hates the snow, she doesn’t like how it falls on her head without warning and how it looks on the ground.  I’m not sure she’s that bothered about the cold but the snow itself is a real issue.  She’s been out a few times, but she comes running back in.  I wanted a few shots of the garden (see previous post) and she wandered out.  While she was staring intently at the snow on the grass wondering if it was worth checking out, I managed to sneak up behind her.  These 5 shots are taken in the space of about 1.2 seconds.  She was a bit surprised, I love how in the fourth shot, her tail telegraphs the direction she’s about the head.

I was playing with the Picasa ‘movie’ stuff, because Grete suggested making an animated image, and as usual, it makes it too easy!  Here’s the youtube vid 😉


Grete’s dad stayed over last night after a semi-surprise visit.  He brings his little dog so we didn’t see Fizz all evening (she doesn’t like the dog) but Bubbles just tends to do her own thing, trying to pretend the dog doesn’t exist.

Once Grete’s dad left, it took us a couple of hours to convince Fizz the house was safe, but she finally came downstairs on her own.

We’d noticed Bubbles was keeping her tail down yesterday, but that’s a pretty natural pose for cats which are a bit spooked and just trying to go under the radar, but we were less happy when she kept doing it today, and then when we tried to investigate she made some pretty unhappy noises.

So 5pm visit to the vets, and I guess we both knew something was up when we got her into the cat box without any major struggling.  The good news is that it’s just a couple of small wounds on her back, near the base of her tail.  Either from Fizz or from some other creature in the neighbourhood, that had gotten a little infected and swolen.  The vet (and the vet we use is superb, Ashfield House Vetenary Hospital in Long Eaton, I really recommend them) had her cleaned up and gave her some painkillers.  We could tell almost immediately before we left she was happier because she was standing up in the cat box demanding to be out.  She’s got more painkillers and a course of anti-biotics to get through over the next few days.

Which means a lot of tuna.

We didn’t get into Tesco until 7:30pm to buy food for ourselves and the weekend, and haven’t been back in the house very long.

So a hectic two days.  Hopefully Bubble’s will heal up nicely and she won’t need a return visit.  This is her finishing up Fizz’s share of the tuna.