Thursday, 2 April 2020

UPDATE: will your post be coming today?

Will your post be coming today? Possibly? Probably? Who knows?
The Royal Mail website has a nice coronavirus page full of bland statements about continuing to provide "the best delivery service for you and protect the health of our people, and our customers" but not really answering the basic question. As you might imagine, like everyone else, some staff are either ill or self-isolating for protection or care of a family member, so the Universal Service Obligation has gone right out the window. Royal Mail has neglected to make any public statements about what is happening, though I saw a brief article on Friday saying they may have to cut back services, hidden on the business pages. So, yes, you will get post. Not every day, but duties are being rotated so every address gets their turn.

2nd April update:
The 'changes to services' page on the Royal Mail website is finally admitting the shit has hit the fan. Still no apparent statement to the press yet but time will tell (not sure what they are worried about the shares are rock bottom anyway). Apparently there was a walk-out in the office yesterday morning with people complaining about the office being too crowded for proper social distancing, but mostly people are carrying on with good humour and mutual support.

Customer Service Points are still open, but as of Sunday 5th April the times are being drastically cut back, mostly 7am to 9am only (some larger offices are opening 7am to 11am) and closed completely Wednesdays and Sundays. If you do need your packet urgently please bring your P739 card and ID and keep the required social distance when in the office. Don't use the local office information on the website, it has not been updated.

The message is that everyone, not just people who are isolating or vulnerable, should please use of the redelivery service if you do happen to miss your package. 
Use the website or call 03456 021 021 

*We are now holding all packets for 30 days, not 18 as it states on the card.*

Special Delivery items will still arrive the next day but there is no longer a time guarantee on them.

If you are expecting an item you can check the tracking system to see where your package is. It will give you some idea though we are no longer scanning items into the office. Only items marked 'retention' or 'available for collection' can be picked up.

Businesses: If you are closing and have no delivery point (i.e. no accessible letterbox) please contact your local office or speak to your postie. If you are still at work but closed to the public please put a clear sign on the door so the postie knows to knock to make the delivery, or indicate where you would like the mail left. We are retaining mail for closed businesses. If you want to collect your mail please come to the Customer Service Point and bring ID that has your business name/address, such as a bill or bank card (business card is not ID). This is not normal practice but we are being flexible. If you would like your mail delivered somewhere else for the time being please set up an official redirection
Call 03457 950 950 to get advice or to arrange any of the above.

Students: Some halls of residence receptions have closed. We are retaining mail, some of which is personal items for students. If you are expecting something that has not arrived please bring your ID and the tracking number to the Customer Service Point and we will try and track it down for you.

While your mail is mostly handled by machine and there is little chance of it carrying virus I would recommend disposing of envelopes/packaging promptly and washing hands after handling anything arriving through the post.

Please be aware that the whole system is moving more slowly than usual and try to be patient. I am assuming that CV19 tests and medicine deliveries, mentioned on the website, will be prioritised. 

In this difficult isolating time perhaps people could revisit the notion of letters as a form of personal contact and reassurance for their friends and relatives. Send a card, just to say Hi and raise a smile. Post some of your kids drawings or a story to their grandparents. Stay on touch.

This advice/information is not an official Royal Mail statement but has been taken from their website and is based on what we are doing on our local office.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Decorating my butt off

As you can see I have never been very hot about covering stuff up while I paint. There are little smudges on the carpet in various corners, but mostly it all washes off in the end. I was determined to get to the end of the job so that I could actually enjoy being in the house, and maybe plant some stuff outside this year. Much debate has ensued about the kitchen. We had decided on yellow, but then my mind drifted to the pink spectrum and wanting something really bold. So we agreed on both (well to be honest not sure the girls cared that much)! But how to combine the two. Who wants just a plain old alternating walls thing? (It looks pretty messy but you get the idea):
Monkey suggested the diagonal lines (and we drew a plan of how to lay out the stripes), and I think it worked out fabulous. At the other end of the room I added the magnetic chalkboard paint, to create a notice board cum shopping list cum poetry collection (Monkey bought me revolutionary magnetic poetry for Christmas):
I am going to use the left overs to do the cupboard under the stairs, the only space currently unpainted.

At the front of the house I used my week off to finally get down to the rest of the living room. The back half had been completed last summer, transformed from this:
to this, including the lovely new curtains:
I did have to paint over the previous family's hight chart, that showed the growth of their kids for the years that they lived here. It was kind of sad, so I photographed it for posterity:
There was yet more orange to cover in the front:
down to the last tiny bit:
and more red to add:
though I had to mess up the other room in the process:
Tish and I swapped over the two storage units. She now has the big one in her room and the smaller white one came downstairs. I have stashed a load of stuff in the loft so that we can actually use the room, have all the craft stuff tidied away:
and a nice space in the middle to exercise in:
with a cosy nook by the radiator for people who feel the cold:

All in all I am very pleased with the outcome. I am glad we decided to treat it as one room, even though I have fabric to make a dividing curtain. It is still a bit of a dumping ground as there is no other space for the hoover and airers, but we will work on that. Little jobs remain to be completed: I realised I had not painted the space around the window in the back room, and I have plans to put up the mass of fairy lights in the front room ... but whatever, one of us might get ill so we have to isolate and then I'll have all the time in the world.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Bookie Book Books

 'When I was Otherwise' by Stephen Benatar was a quirky little novel that I found in the charity shop. I am often attracted by the spines of books that very obviously have not been read (i.e. not creased). I found the book confusing as it jumped about in time and I was often not sure who was talking. The women, Daisy and Marsha, annoyed me and the men were just rather wet. The back cover sold it as a bit of a mystery but it wasn't. Not sure what to think really. Not someone I would bother with again.

'Weather' by Jenny Offill had something for the stream-of-consciousness thing going on; the narrator Lizzie relates her life through short paragraphs containing thoughts or events. I find I read 'The Department of Speculation' five years ago and liked it. Here I give you, aptly, thoughts in the coming chaos:

"And then somehow, it's about four drinks later, and I'm telling him about the coming chaos. 'What are you afraid of?' he asks me, and the answer, of course, is dentistry, humiliation, scarcity; then he says, 'What are your most useful skills?' 'People think I'm funny, I know how to tell a story in a brisk, winning way. I try not to go on much about my discarded ambitions or how I hate hippies and the rich.' 'But in terms  of skills,' he says, and I tell him I know a few poems by heart, I recently learned how to make a long-burning candle out of a can of tune (oil-packed, not water), I've learned how to recognise a black walnut tree and that you can live on the inner bark of a birch tree if need be, I know it is important to carry chewing gum at all times for post-collapse morale and also because it suppresses the appetite and you can supposedly fish with it, but only if it is a bright colour and has sugar" (p.160)

I had several other good quotes but this is not the time. Definitely give Jenny a try.

'Starve Acre' by Andrew Michael Hurley was recommended on Dove Grey Reader, which is always an excellent place for discovering new reads. This was a very gripping, and disconcerting, book. Set in a small rural community it is the story of Richard and Juliette, who's son Ewan has died, and the weird manifestations of their grief. I reject the notion of the supernatural but find myself enjoying books that include supernatural elements, and allow myself to just accept their part in the story. Here Richard releases a hare that has resurrected itself from a skeleton he unearthed:

"For a few minutes more, he looked to catch a last glimpse of the animal, but it had become one of the itinerant shadows that moved as the wind caught the trees. It has returned to patterns of living that were impossible to understand: where every movement and every sound meant something and nothing could be ignored; not the twitch of a leaf or the odour of the earth or the sound of birds conversing across the wood. But Richard wondered if the hare in some way felt as he did that spring was always bestowed. That it was an invitation to come and watch the world moving and be among its tremors. Here in the field, those first shocks of the season were starting now. He could feel them and hear them. Beneath the trills and whistles of the blackbirds he became aware of a rushing sound. It was the beck flowing again, released from its rictus of ice." (p.125-6)

So all the library books have been automatically extended until the end of June, but the libraries were closed before I could go and pick up two requests that had just arrived. University is shut and Monkey has no volleyball, Tish is still jobless, I get to leave the house every day and talk to other people, but my skin has dried out from all the washing. We live in strange times.  I hope everyone is staying safe, has enough to read, and always remember, don't lick strangers.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

It's ok, finally, to freak out

'The Uninhabitable Earth' by David Wallace-Wells is not a read for the faint-hearted.  Here we are floating in space. So alone. Our existence 'utterly improbable':

"This is among the things cosmologists mean when they talk about the utter improbability of anything as advanced as human intelligence evolving anywhere in a universe as inhospitable to life as this one: every uninhabitable planet out there is a reminder of just how unique a set of circumstances is required to produce a climate equilibrium supportive of life. No intelligent life that we know of ever evolved, anywhere in the universe, outside the narrow Goldilocks range of temperatures that enclose all of human evolution, and that we have now left behind, probably permanently." (p.42-3)

For thirty years or more science and business have understood the nature of what is happening to our planet. Businesses did not want to tell us, as their destruction of the planet is necessary for the generation of wealth. Science was reticent, they did not want to tell us because they did not think people could be trusted:

"The terms are slippery, like any good insult, but serve to circumscribe the scope of 'reasonable' perspective on climate. Which is why scientific reticence is another reason we don't see the threat so clearly - the experts signalling strongly that it is irresponsible to communicate openly about the more worrisome possibilities for global warming, as though they didn't trust the world with the information they themselves had, or at least didn't trust the public to interpret it and respond properly. Whatever that means: it has not been thirty years since Hansen's first testimony and the establishment of the IPCC, and climate concern has traversed the small peaks and small valleys but never meaningfully jumped upwards. In terms of public response, the results are even more dismal. Within the United States, climate denial took over one of the two major parties and essentially major legislative action. Abroad, we have had a series fo high-profile conferences, treaties, and accords, but they increasingly look like so many acts of climate kabuki; emissions are still growing, unabated." (p155-6)

The supposed progress some countries have made in reducing carbon emissions has been like gathering the low-hanging fruit. The move to renewable energy sources is just the tip of the iceberg where behaviour change is concerned for the human race:

"That task, he continues, is smaller than the challenge of reducing energy demand, which is smaller than that challenge of reinventing how good and services are provided - given that global supply chains are built with dirty infrastructure and labor markets everywhere are still powered with dirty energy. There is also the need to get to zero emissions from all other sources - deforestation, agriculture, livestock, landfills. And the need to protect all human systems from the coming onslaught of natural disasters and extreme weather. And the need to erect a system of global government, or at least international cooperation, to coordinate such a project. All of which is a smaller task, Steffen says, 'than the monumental cultural undertaking of imagining together a thriving, dynamic, sustainable future that feels not only possible, but worth fighting for'." (p178)

I found this hard to get my head around because it has become where I am personally. I cannot imagine a future, cannot imagine the human race capable of making the changes needed. I have always had a positive view of human nature, that cooperation is an innate part of our makeup, but the enormity of the situation subsumes reason and hope. The book works through chapters about water, air, heat, hunger, drowning, conflict, economic collapse and the morality of the end of the world. I sank a little deeper with each page. When I searched his name I did find this article outlining reactions from scientists to his original New Yorker article (that was developed into this book) which basically accuses him of scaremongering. If you bear in mind that even the moderate, best-case scenarios are pretty disastrous I think that maybe it is time, in Greta's words, for us all to panic:

"These are the disconcerting, contradictory lessons of global warming, which counsels both human humility and human grandiosity, each drawn from the same perception of peril. The climate system that gave rise to the human species, and to everything we know of as civilization, is so fragile that it has been brought to the brink of total instability by just one generation of human activity. But that instability is also a measure of the human power that engineered it, almost by accident, and which must now stop the damage, in only as much time. If humans are responsible for the problem, they must be capable of undoing it. We have an idiomatic name for those who hold the fate of the world in their hands, as we do: gods. But for the moment, at least, most of us seem more inclined to run from the responsibility than embrace it - or even admit we see it, though it sits in front of us as plainly as a steering wheel." (p.220)

I started reading the IPCC report 18 months ago and trying to write something concise about an incredibly complex document, and gave up because it was too overwhelming. The news is pretty bad, and I think that what David Wallace-Wells does in this book is take the ideas, and some of the science, and try and put them into something understandable; how it might impact real life without all the detailed statistics that just baffle most people. You can accuse him of sensationalising, but give me that over bland reassurances any day.

p.s. a stockpile of toilet rolls is not going to help.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

"the fact that you'll never know ...

... what sort of person you might have been if you'd read different stuff" (p.908) 
I have been reading articles recently about the importance of doing nothing amidst the busyness of modern life. 'Ducks, Newburyport' by Lucy Ellmann is as close as reading can get to doing nothing; 1000 pages of stream-of-consciousness without full stops or paragraph breaks or chapters. I struggled through the first 30 pages or so and wondered WTF. Then I relaxed into it and just read the words. I just read the words without expectation that things would happen, that the 'story' was 'heading' anywhere. And yet looking back it feels incredible well plotted (if that is the right word). The last two hundred pages or so I wondered if it would just stop when I got to the last page; how do you end something without an apparent narrative. One of the reviewers commented that you would miss it when it was over, and I certainly did; when I got into bed last night I wanted to read it and have seriously considered starting again (except it is already overdue at the library).

I thought that with 1000 pages it would inevitably get repetitive, but it doesn't. Some subjects come around again and again, but, while in some ways she lives a very small life, in others she is very aware of the world and thinks about a huge variety of subjects. She makes her living baking pies, and that, and the daily round of caring for the children, forms the basis for much of her thoughts, but things link together in that abstract way that thoughts have of running one from another and there is a strange kind of logical flow to the whole book. Words will pop up repeatedly, harping back to a previous thought or incident, almost as if she is checking you have been paying attention. She corrects her own thoughts for clarification, which I found irritating to begin with but then I found that it was part of her sense of humour, to be amused by potential misunderstanding. And then there is the lion story: interspersed every 50 to 100 or so pages the flow is interrupted by a page, sometimes two, about a mountain lion and her cubs. Gradually the two stories converge, until the lion arrives in their garden ... but that is not the denouement. 

Am just going to give you some tastes of the book now (for info, Leo is her husband, Stacey her older daughter). 

"the fact that Leo and I were talking about Stacy and how she's down on everything except vegans, and I said she had to sift through the world and decide for herself what's good about it and what's bad, the fact that so far she's better at deciding on the bad stuff, the fact that I said it's 'a process of acceptance and rejectance,' the fact that I didn't know how that came out but Leo liked it, the fact that I don't know if it's English but it's true, the fact that adolescence is a process of acceptance and rejectance," (p.100)

"the fact that even with Cathy I still worry about what we'll say to each other, every time we talk, or if she'll even want to speak to me,  and I'm so shy, sometimes I don't want to see her, just in case she's a little distant with me for some reason, even if it's nothing to do with me, which is kind of sad, since she's my best friend in Ohio" (p.244)

"the fact that the Muskingum's sluggish too, the fact that it just meanders slowly to Marietta where it merges with the Ohio, the fact that maybe that's why the Muskingum was important in the Underground Railroad, because it was easy to navigate, I don't know, the fact that the Big Bottom Massacre happened on the shores of the Muskingum, the fact that that was in retaliation for the Moravian Indian massacre in Gnadenhutten, which was about the worst thing that ever happened around here, worst thing ever period, ninety-two Lenapes, all Lenapes," (p.328)

"the fact that I've always gotten Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm mixed up with Anne of Green Gables, though I've never even read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, 'I do declare,' Sunnybrook, Atticus Finch, deductibles and co-pays, the fact that Morning Routine girls never forget to brush their hair, the fact that they never read a book, though they all have The Great Gatsby or Girl, Interrupted on their bedside table, the girl in Island of the Blue Dolphin making herself necklaces, even though nobody will ever see her, the fact that I learned nothing about life when I was a teenager except I can't do things, and that I'm a disappointment, to myself and others, the fact that high school was like a four-year training camp in how to be disappointed in myself," (p.383)

Purple Martin
"the fact that sometimes, in the middle of a long day, I look at a shadow and it seems like a little portion of nighttime, like envelopes of night that hang around in the day, and that comforts me somehow, because the time I like best is when the kids are asleep and Leo and I can go to bed, the fact that there's nighttime in clothing too, like pockets of darkness up a sleeve, or in your pants, or under your jacket, upskirting, secret nighttime, the fact that I dreamt it was night and I heard a strange crumpling sound, and in the dream I could fly, so I flew over to a dark hedge to see what was making the crumpling noise but I couldn't see anything except pure blackness, the fact that I kept peering into the blackness, hoping my eyes would adjust but they never did," (p.516)

"the fact that there is no way a newly opened poppy can't be thrilled to be alive, and trees, and waterfalls, the fact that waterfalls sure act thrilled, except when they dry to a trickle during a dry spell or something, the falls at Fallingwater, the fact that water must have a sense of itself, a real liking for itself, because bodies of water are always trying to meet up, the fact that it's hard to keep them apart, the fact that that's why oceans exist, they're big water get-togethers, Jacques Cousteau, the fact that maybe waves worry about getting separated from the rest of the water, the fact that they probably don't want to end up stuck in a tide pool, the fact that that's why dams seem so sad, because the water isn't being allowed to do what it wants, like to find new streams to join or something, new playmates, creeks and lakes and ponds and rivers, the fact that even droplets of water are attracted to each other, raindrops in tide pools, puddles, the fact that that's why a glass full of water has that curved top, a meniscus, because the water's trying to hold together as long as possible, the fact that it doesn't want to start dribbling over the edge, the fact that water likes to hold on to its integrity," (p795-6)

At page 645 there starts a nearly 30 page list of 'certainties' in an uncertain world, which was one of my favourite passages and pretty much in itself summed up the state of the world. It starts with "the sun will rise and set every day" and "leaves will still turn red in the autumn" through to "the police with shoot citizens" "I will say the wrong thing sometimes" "pasta will reach the al dente stage" "people will insist on putting unsustainable palm oil into everything" until "dialects will be lost ditto languages along with the art of lace-making basketry quilting embroidery traditional recipes and probably pomanders"

I feel like I want to go out and persuade people to read this book. In fact I have hidden a little encouraging note inside for the next reader, in the hope that it helps them stick it out. I liked her so much and felt like I knew her in ways that you don't usually know a character. I wanted to tell her not to beat herself up about stuff. It's so unlike anything else you will read, even more so that Girl is a half-formed thing, because it is concentrated in such a small space of time, and so is much more intense, and the length means you get so much more absorbed into it. I am not sure what else to say. The human mind is an amazing place.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

How to Make a Cat Tree

I was so excited when the bathroom lino arrived on this massive cardboard tube, and the plan emerged to create a cat tree for Lyra. Then I got a second tube, slightly slimmer, that had carpet edging strip in.
 I made a base using the last of the shelves we had taken down from Tish's room and the living room, and played around the how the whole thing might fit together and support itself. I cut slots (with the saw, the cardboard was too think for just the stanley knife) so that the landing stages could wedge into the neighbouring tube.
Monkey's young man suggested a block of wood screwed in place to provide stability for the tallest tube, I just shaved the corners from a chunk of scrap wood and it fits nice and snugly, and it worked really well. Other than that everything is fastened in place with the hot glue gun:
The only money I spent was on wood glue and three packs of jute rope to make the scratching post (though Lyra has yet to figure this out and is still using the sofa)
 We used some paint sample pots to paint the tubes and the base, added fabric covering to each of the landing stages, steps to get up to the top (which she has figured out) and some dangling toys, and voila! We coaxed her up a few times but now she seems to get the idea. 

Monday, 30 December 2019

Crimbo and all that

If you ever wondered what happened to that Christmas card that never arrived ... well it is probably adorning a Royal Mail office somewhere. We always have a nice little display of cards that have become irreparably separated from their envelopes and have zero hope of ever reaching their intended recipient. The thing about my job is that mainly we're just glad when Christmas is over, so we have to get our fun where we can. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the last few weeks looking up postcodes for people who couldn't be bothered to address their cards properly; some cards made it that might not otherwise have done so, and in the end the karma is balanced.

I have had an appalling blogging year with a pitiful 30 (including this one) posts. This does not reflect the amount of actual reading done since there have been several multi-review catch-up posts. It has been an eventful year on the home front with our momentous house acquisition and subsequent months of hard graft with the paint roller. I think I knitted a baby cardigan for a friend at work six months ago, and Claire and I made a granny square blanket for Auntie Ann but other creative output has been negligible. I did discover a new love, orange polenta cake:

It is made to this recipe by Jamie Oliver but without the fancy stuff. The first one I made was vegan as well as gluten-free and had stewed apples instead of the eggs. It was pretty yummy for a thing that I would barely allow the title 'cake'. The non-vegan version has a much better texture and, considering that it has no icing (a prerequisite for cake usually), it is my new favourite treat.

Quick scan down this year's posts reveals a moderately pitiful 30 books. It didn't get a proper review but the best read of the year was definitely 'All The Light We Cannot See' by Anthony Doeer.

On the plus side I have successfully kept my new year's resolution. Last new year I resolved not to beat myself up about stuff; it has been remarkably freeing to just let go of things that I might otherwise have brooded over. It has been a regular topic of conversation when things in life have not gone quite as smoothly as I might intend, and I have encouraged the girls to take the same approach when things don't go to plan. I have also gone another year without buying any new clothes. I did this a few years ago without too much hardship and then when XR started a pledge thing to get people to stop buying clothes for a year I found I had already not bought anything for six months anyway. 

2020 offers some interesting new prospects: Tish quit her job so we are going to pitch in and help her find a new one. Lewis and Rachel are getting married in August, which will be lovely. And I intend to apply to join the natural build course with Harwyn this summer; things have conspired against the last two summers, but maybe ...


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