Household Thermostat Wars

January 23, 2022

This is the third blog in the trilogy about household heating. I covered the ubiquitous coal fire method, much fancied back in the 1940s and 1950s, in Parts 1 & 2. In the current blog, I shall address the more modern and widely used method of central heating. I hasten to add that I am not about to write an essay on this topic, nor am I able to provide a detailed analysis of its use and/or its forms of delivery. I shall, however, share with you something of my own experience.

In our house we have a system of radiators. The water that pulses around this circuit is heated by our gas boiler. Of course, compared with the messy chore of making up a new coal fire in the grate, every day, central heating seamlessly runs in the background, once installed and set up. However, if something goes wrong, it can be bad news. Our heating boiler packed up one New Year’s eve – try getting a heating engineer to come and sort that out! Our boiler does the hot water, too. Very chilly.

The thermostat control is positioned on one of the walls. The question arises as to what temperature the thermostat should be set.

I feel the cold; my partner does not. Her preferred thermostat setting is cold for me, whereas mine is too hot for her. The accepted view seems to be that it is easier to wear more layers when cold than it is to revert to summer clothing when hot. I think my own biological thermostat must be a tad wonky. I will attempt to illustrate what I mean by this.

As for sleep wear, I have not one but THREE woollen dressing gowns (small, medium & large sizes). The small size is my natural fit. However, as the weather gets colder, I can wear the medium over the small, and then the large over the medium. By that time my torso is looking veritably box-like.

It goes without saying that in the winter I wear the heavy, brushed cotton PJs. I believe the technical term for the material is ‘Wincyette‘ – rather a nice name for a little girl, I think. As for my feet, they may well find themselves snuggled into a pair of woolly hiking socks. You will doubtless be relieved to know that I do not actually wear my hiking boots under the duvet, although I have sometimes been tempted!

I will not infrequently wear a woollen beany hat to bed on cold nights. Years ago my grandma knitted me a tea cosy (before the invention of T-bags, that is). In order for it to fit over the teapot, it had a hole for the handle and a hole for the spout: I could put it on my head and pull my ears out through those holes – very cosy!

Over the Wincyettes I wear equivalent sweaters to those I wear about the house in winter. The main long-sleeved sweater is usually something serious with heavy knitted ribbing, possibly with a zipped front. The one I currently favour is lined with a layer of lambs wool. I should perhaps mention that underneath the long-sleeved sweater I also wear what used to be called a V-neck pullover or tank top (short-sleeved, in wool).

I now turn to the question of underwear, the same specifications work for both day and night. Of course, I make use of a thermal long-sleeved top and a pair of thermal Long Johns. Beneath the thermals I also wear a pair of briefs and a sleeveless vest. These are made of open-mesh cotton, and thus provide good insulation. The holes in the mesh act to provide many small pockets of air next to the skin. If I remember my ‘O’ Level physics (passed in 1960, btw), metals are great conductors of heat (hence metal saucepans). Although hot air can be blown around as an effective conveyor of heat (think of hair dryers and fan heaters), it has to be warmed up first. So the heat from my body does not easily travel from my skin into these little pockets of air which are not going anywhere.

As for pottering about in the house, I sometimes wear a flat cap. We lose a lot of heat through our heads! I’ve also got a pair of woollen gloves with half-length fingers, and they are great for changing channels on the TV remote control. Well, I think that just about covers everything I want to say on this topic. The trilogy is hereby closed. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Coal Fires – some further thoughts

January 17, 2022

My old school friend Dave Marshall reminds me that we used to have a pair of tongs and a poker hanging from a metal holder, kept on the hearth. The hearth in my old house was tiled. A long (extending) toasting fork was also left ready to hand, leaning up against the fire surround. This was used when the fire had died down; it was best with no flickering flames in evidence. A slice of bread would be speared with the toasting fork and somebody, usually perched on a small wood and raffia foot stool (I made my Mum one at woodwork classes in school), holding the bread to the hot coals. Of course it was not unusual for the odd slice or two to get burnt. A bad burn meant scraping the burnt bits off with a knife in short sharp strokes, almost with a flick of the wrist. In most families, there would usually be one person who had a preference for the burnt slices and they would be earmarked accordingly.

Once the toast had been done on both sides, it was removed from the fork and put onto a plate for buttering. Yes, back then we used warmed full-fat butter, and lots of it. Absolutely gorgeous. Well, the bread was brilliant, too. We never ever bought sliced loaves; always white ‘tin’. They were so called because they took their shape from the baking tin in which they were cooked in the oven. Our baker’s shop was a short walk away at the end of the road. He got up early and baked for the day, each day. I grew up assuming that all bread was as delicious as what we routinely ate. It wasn’t until I moved away from home and started work that I realised that many people ate mass-produced sliced bread. By the way, our baker was called Mr. Shufflebottom and you can imagine what fun the young boys in the street had with that name!

My great aunt’s meat mincer

Before I leave the topic of toast, I have to say that occasionally my great aunt (who was a great cook in the old-fashioned English way) made a joint of roast beef for Sunday lunch. This was then sliced cold for the main meal on Monday. After this, the remaining scraps of meat were scraped off the bone and fed into her mincer. This was a strange metal object, made of steel, which had to be screwed to the wooden kitchen table. She would then feed the scraps of meat into the funnel at the top while turning the handle. As if by magic, mince-meat would emerge from an opening lower down. She would typically make a cottage pie which we ate with lashings of gravy and vegetables on Tuesday. Had the Sunday joint been a leg of lamb, she would have made a shepherd’s pie.

Things needed to be eaten fairly quickly since we, like most other folk, had no refrigerator (although we did have a shaded pantry with a cold tile floor, leading off from the kitchen at the back of the house).

Let me return to the topic of toast for a moment. On Sunday my great aunt would pour off the juices from the roasting pan into an earthen ware bowl and let it cool. The fat solidified into what effectively became an air-tight lid. This we would cut into and spread on our toast, taking a little of the browned juices from the roast lying beneath the fat. I have to say that this tasted heavenly. The only thing that might have surpassed such a delight would be her bread-and-butter pudding (to use up a stale loaf) into which she threw a liberal handful of sultanas.

My friend David also mentioned that he had a pot of wooden spills sitting atop the mantlepiece. His, like mine were multicoloured and were about 1/4 inch wide and 12 inches long (back then, that would have been abbreviated as 12″). And to return to weights and measures, there were 12 inches to one foot (typically written 1′ (with the single mark). Hence the spills were 1′ (or 12″) long. They were used by the cigarette smokers and any of the men who smoked a pipe (none of the women did so in my family). One simply took the spill, held it to a flame or a hot coal until it lighted, brought it up to the cigarette or pipe, and puffed away. There was no talk of cigarettes being linked to cancer. People coming back from overseas were allowed to bring 200 cigarettes through the English border customs free of tax duty and thus these cigarettes were very cheap indeed. I seem to remember my brother bringing the fiendishly strong Gauloises cigarettes back from France. Family get-togethers in the lounge sitting rooms quickly developed a dense fug of cigarette smoke. My mother did not smoke cigarettes and she did not drink alcohol. I sometimes wonder how she coped with it all. Well, I think this is enough on the topic of coal fires. In the next episode of these linked blogs, I shall come up-to-date and talk about central heating thermostats. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Coal Fires: a Personal Reminiscence

January 14, 2022

Let me start by saying that I regard myself as fortunate to live in a house that has central heating. However, this can be problematic when the occupants have ideal ambient temperatures that are discrepant. I live in a household thermostat war zone. I hope to deal with this in a series of subsequent blogs but, for now, I have decided to talk about my experience of coal fires when I was growing up as a boy in the 1940s-1950s. I suppose that this blog might be construed as a prequel, of sorts.

Back then I lived in an extended family household with three generations, in a semi-detached house. The primary sitting rooms (a small one upstairs, a larger one on the downstairs floor) were heated by coal fires. Bedrooms and other supplementary rooms were heated by one-bar or two-bar electric fires. In the drafty hallway there was an old-fashioned Paraffin heater which had its own special smell, not entirely unpleasant as I recall.

My sketch of the family home

If we needed heat in the kitchen, my mother would light the gas oven and wedge open the door. As a young boy, I was allowed to get washed and dressed in the kitchen during the icy months of winter. For hot water, we had to boil a kettle on the stove and mix in a bit of cold from the tap. All a bit basic. My bedroom was on the ground floor and I had to use the outdoor toilet. This was a tad breezy in the winter. There was no electricity out there and my mother left a candle in an enamel holder on the floor, together with a box of Swan Vesta matches, for trips after dark. I digress, let me get back to the main topic.

Coal Fires
On a winter’s evening there was nothing quite like a coal fire. I was thoroughly happy watching the flames leap and dance, while the smoke curled, wiggled, and wafted up the chimney. Although the coals started off jet black, as they burned they gave out the most wonderful palette of red and orange. Their flames added hints of blue, yellow and white. The ash provided a range of greys spanning from charcoal black to titanium white.

Perhaps it is worth saying that we had no television; my mother rented a radio from a company called Radio Rentals. On winter’s nights our coal fire provided us with a visual point of focus. We watched the coal fire as closely as youngsters nowadays watch the screens of their tablets, laptops, or smartphones. Occasionally, the radio might be switched on, although my mother, my great aunt and grandmother preferred to sit and read their library books. Often the sound of silence was only disturbed by the quiet ticking of the clock and the pops, snaps and crackles emanating from the fireplace.

The fire place in our sitting room (a sketch I made some time ago)

Before I go on, perhaps I should explain my duck-like signature at the bottom right of my sketch. I have a very common English name (John Smith). I also have a middle name (Lewis). The signature spells out Smith J L. The S starts at the top of the duck’s head, provides the curve of the neck and the outline of the body back to the tail. The ‘mith’ part of ‘S-mith’ represents the ducks back, maybe with some wind-ruffled feathers. The ‘J’ forms the basis of the duck’s head with the L providing its bill. 2011 dates the sketch.

During the winter, the coal fire was a source of endless impromptu games for us, based upon what we saw in the fire grate. “I can see a fish!” I might say. “That’s not a fish, it’s an elephant,” my brother might respond. There was no limit to the number of items that might be discerned in and amongst the coals of the fire: sometimes faces, sometimes objects. These shapes would occasionally trigger outlandish imaginative fantasies. Indeed, they might form the start of a story that we could make up and, as the evening drew on, the plot might be tweaked in response to yet new shapes as they emerged from the coals while they burned. For example, a reconfiguration of shapes might often occur whenever the fire was given a stir with the poker. In passing I should add that that the first time I was asked to give the fire a ‘poke‘ was tantamount to a rite of passage for me!

Decades later when I studied for my B.A. in Psychology I made a connection between the Rorsach Ink Blot test and these fireside pastimes. This psychological test was originally developed by Hermann Rorschach as a tool to be used in psychiatric diagnosis. The patient is invited to look at a series of inkblots, and to provide an interpretation of each blot. The rationale behind this is that any stories or descriptions produced by the patients had to come from within their own minds, as it were, since an ink blot is nothing but an ink blot, objectively speaking. In this way, it was hoped that glimpses might be gained of difficulties residing in the ‘unknowable’ unconscious mind of the individual. I make no comment on the veracity of all this; suffice it to say that it had some popularity in the early part of the 20th century amongst some clinicians and academics of a psychoanalytic persuasion, I believe.

Back home, we all had fire-related jobs and chores to do. My father had died when I was a baby so he does not feature in this account. My mother acted as the matriarch of the family. She used to clear out the ash from the burnt down fire of the previous evening, cleaning up the mess in the fireplace with brush and dustpan, keeping any coals not fully burned through for use in the next fire. She would then lay the fresh fire for the new day, before leaving for work.

As I grew up, I began to take on some of these duties. When needed I was sent round to the hardware store at the end of the street to buy some kindling wood to replenish our supply [these stores existed within a short walk or bicycle ride from most houses in any given town]. Later I learned how to use the previous day’s newspaper by rolling it up and twisting it around to help with the kindling. I was shown how to lay the new coals atop the kindling.

Of course, you needed to have a plentiful supply of coal, and most old-fashioned houses had either a coal cellar or a coal shed specifically for its storage. Coal was bought from the coal merchant (there were no supermarkets, of course). My family typically bought 20 cwt sacks at a time. That is twenty sacks weighing ‘one hundred weight’ of coal. To unpack the ‘cwt’ abbreviation, the ‘c’ is Latin for 100 and ‘wt’ stands for weight. I am tempted to explore British weights and measures a tad further, but I will restrain myself from getting too bogged down at this juncture. Briefly, then:
1 cwt = 8 stone (where 1 stone = 14 pounds) – thus 1 cwt = 112 pounds (8 x 14 = 112)

My great aunt had the job of standing with a piece of paper and counting the sacks in (I think she used the system of ‘five-bar gates’). My grandma had a small sweet and tobacco shop at the time and I think they saw this activity from the perspective of routine stock-taking.

Five bar gate

By way of explanation, when counting, a horizontal line is drawn for each of the 4 four items as they are counted, with a diagonal line drawn to represent the 5th item. The 5 lines thus represent graphically a 5 bar gate. I think nowadays 6 bar gates are more common (having five horizontal pieces of wood with one diagonal across them for the 6th). Be that as it may, let me return to my account.

Once I had grown a bit and started at primary school, I was deemed strong enough to be sent down to the coal hole (in the basement) to fill the scuttle and bring it up to stand by the fire. I seem to remember our coal scuttle had a rather nice shape and was made of brass. Of course, in the 1940s there was no discussion of the possibility that coal fires might be contributing to global warming and climate change, at least, not in my house. I shall not be dealing with that issue in the presently evolving series of blogs.

Well, I have not said all that I want to say on the topic of coal fires, but I fear I must bring this blog to an end else you will get a dose of information overload and I would not wish that upon you. I shall continue with this introduction into the delights of coal fires in my next blog. At present I am merely inching closer to my planned analysis of Household Thermostat Wars in the context of controlling the central heating boiler.
Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Winter Morning Car Ritual

January 5, 2022

A few degrees below freezing and there is a crisp layer of frost on my car, parked outside. I went out to the car and used my key-press to unlock the doors. I heard the sound of the locks moving, yet when I reached for the driver’s door, I could not pull it open. I tried getting my finger round the top edge to give it a little pull, but that did not do the trick.

I therefore resorted to a technique sometimes used by one of my previous neighbours; I boiled a kettle of water and began to pour this over the outside of the door frames (see below). Hey presto! One by one, I was able to open them. I also sloshed a bit over the front windscreen and that worked, too.

Perhaps I should share a secret with you that will help you understand what is going on in the picture. I happen to be able to transmogrify myself into a giant, at a moment’s notice. Here you see my giant-sized hand pouring a giant’s kettle of water over the car doors.

Anyway, once inside the car, I was faced with loads of condensation on the inside of the windscreen. I fetched a roll of kitchen towel from the boot which I began to apply and mopped it off as best I could. I had the car engine running and aimed the blower to the screen. Usually it takes a good 10 minutes to dry out completely and to get a good clear screen through which to peer, once on the road.

Sometimes, I sit in my hat and coat and read a book. I recently bought a dehumidifier bag that can be placed on the dash board. To dry it out, when it has stopped working, you put it in the microwave for 3 minutes and that is supposed to revitalise it. I have to say that mine doesn’t seem to be coping with the huge amount of condensation that my car generates. So far, it is rather disappointing.

I think I have to think of a way to construe the kettle ritual as not being a hassle. I suppose reading the current novel or listening to music on the car radio does help. In future I could make a cup of coffee and take that out to the car with me. Why not munch my way through a slice of toast & marmalade, too? Turn the whole thing into a little breakfast.

Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

The Joy of Mask-Wearing

December 31, 2021

I recently bought a bog-standard supply of masks to use when out of the house, mainly on the occasional trip to the supermarket. Indeed, a few months ago I had started to venture onto the metro for visits to a nearby city (it has a half-decent bookshop) but omicron has pushed me firmly back into my shell on that score. Still, I wondered whether the addition of a piece of artwork might make the masks less bland. The above pic is my first attempt. It is possible that the red lips has rendered it to be a tad androgynous. I suppose I could counter that by imagining myself as one of the Three Masketeers!

Sorry for not posting on this blog since October 2020. My friends Aliumaura gave me for Christmas a delightful little book by the wonderful J.B. Priestley (illustrated by his great-granddaughter, Tabby Wykeham). I love her style of illustration and the book has inspired me to take up blogging, once more. Hopefully my illustrations will improve as time goes by.

Speaking of time, I realise that today is New Year’s Eve. May I wish y’all a Happy Hogmanay. I usually make a point of retiring to bed early with a good book (nothing too serious or literary in nature). The idea of going into the City of Drunken Revelry makes my flesh crawl! And I regret that I am no longer even tempted by ‘Jools Annual Hootenanny’ on English BBC TV Channel 2 (the thought of which, not to put too fine a point on it, has me wanting to barf up my cookies, as my dear, deceased friend Gerry from Toronto used to put it).

Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles!

Week #32 of Shielding from Covid-19

October 20, 2020

I understand that the English government now requires me to think of myself as ‘shielding‘. The term ”Self-Isolation’ is to be deployed only in cases where symptoms of Covid-19 exist. I don’t like the term ‘shielding‘. It conjures up the image of knights in shining armour. Incidentally, when I first heard the hit song ‘Nights in White Satin‘ by The Moody Blues (circa 1967), the image of ‘knights’ in white satin came to mind. Having made this step I was irrevocably drawn to the conclusion that, at a deep level, the song was somehow about contraception. From that moment on, I couldn’t help laughing whenever I heard it or, even worse, heard it playing in my head. Thus folk would stare at me quizzically when, in social situations, my face betrayed amusement; this was especially the case where things were otherwise serious and demanded a certain measure of gravitas.

Be that as it may [and what a handy literarary gobbet that is for bloggers manqué], I shall retain the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) of VSI for what I call Voluntary Self-Isolation. VSI is laden with meaning and has every right to be regarded as a phrase of the highest rank within the pale of the Covid-19 language game (thank you, Mr. Wittgenstein).

I am pissed off with the October update Microsoft recently imposed on Windows 10 users. I am now unable to use my Wacom tablet for my digital graphics drawing either on my desktop PC or on my laptop. Furthermore, I think it is more than a coincidence that my PC now seldom completes its start-up procedure. Sometimes it takes me around 15-20 minutes dancing on the starter button. Occasionally it almost starts, only to freeze at the last moment. I have devined no logical rule to the start presses that will guarantee success.

I am pissed off with Steinberg, the company that makes the CUBASE digital audio workstation software. They did an update about 6 months ago and my program has stopped working properly. I can no longer use the music notation part of the package to compose my song tunes and arrangements. I put in a ticket and all I have got back from them is an email telling me that they have been inundated with queries.

One way or another I have been feeling very fed-up lately. However, it seems to me that being fed up is something that is best kept to oneself in these times of VSI. Other people really do not want to know about it, especially if they are higher in the entitlement to fed-upness rank order. Perhaps one should self apply the hackneyed addage: ‘suck it up, buttercup’. By the way, I believe ‘buttercup’ does bugger-all here, other than to provide a rhyme to the preceding phrase; it is an example of lyrical laziness.

Fed-upness should perhaps be recast as ‘feduppity’. Perhaps one has to possess the right to express feelings of fed-upness. So, this particular emotion should not only be distinguished from that of depression but also admitted to the domain of ethics. Let me proclaim:
Feelings of fed-upness may only be expressed by those possessing the right to such expression, within the given time and place of the situation.

Alone and out of earshot anything can be said, howled or shouted in whatever manner gives satisfaction. Examples of ideal locations abound: alone on a beach (with an off-shore wind prevailing); alone while driving one’s car (with windows shut) on an empty highway; to oneself within the privacy of one’s own mind ~ anywhere you like. Lest the latter example provide the reader with an ideal get out, one must remember that in such situations the individual may become so caught up in the process that his or her caterwauling might inadvertently slip out into public domain. Anyway, my point is that a person in solitude has the right to express fed-upness.

Within small social groups (such as the conventional family or, perhaps, a small platoon in the army), there may be a pecking order in terms of the right to express fed-upness. Particular individuals may collar this right for their own exclusive use. If they do this without good reason they risk the chance that they will be automatically defined as the local moaner in situ. In other words, there is a correlation between one’s rank in the pecking order to express fed-upness and the likelihood of being crowned the King/Queen Moaner in situ. It may be noted that the person occupying Rank #1 in Feduppityness cannot avoid the Moaner crown; it comes with the territory.

Of course, where the members of the small group are dispersed separately across a variety of other groups on a day-to-day basis, the impact of any one of these groups will be diluted in proportion to its general importance. The implications of this for the Covid-19 situation hardly need to be spelled out. Under VSI/Shielding virtually all face-to-face social interaction takes place within the household bubble. My analysis is therefore highly pertinent to those inhabiting bubbles of this nature.

I now move on to say a few words about individuals who might habitually fall to the bottom of the Feduppity rank order. Indeed, they may even collar that position as others may collar Rank #1. Such individuals will automatically be crowned as the bubble’s Saint. One will seldom hear a negative word pass the Saint’s lips. The Saint will arise early and, in a dish-washer-less kitchen, sort out the clumsily stacked mound of dirty dishes precariously balanced atop the washing-up bowl, in unstable equilibrium. Once washed, dried and put away, cups of tea will be brewed on demand and sandwiches made, if requested. The Saint, as domestic servant will serve without complaint. An everlasting smile lies beneath his or her skin to be switched on in a trice. And upon his or her gravestone will be inscribed the epitaph: ‘Never Knowingly Complained‘.

Finally, I should say a little about myself in regard to all this. Although I do have a side that aspires to Sainthood, I have to acknowledge that I can sometimes be moody; some might even say that I am a Grumpy Old Man (as epitomised by the character of Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave, played by the actor Richard Wilson). I would say that I yo-yo up and down the scale in bipolar fashion, falling short of Sainthood by quite some distance.

On this note, I will sign off. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Week 30 of Self-Isolation in Covid-19

October 7, 2020

Blogging Through Covid-19

For one reason or another I have been in Voluntary Self-Isolation (VSI) since the start of the pandemic. In part this is due to my age; I am over 75. Members of my household are also self-isolating (either we all do it or nobody does). I have recently had the feeling that somehow I am becoming different to what I think of as my usual self, although I have found it difficult to articulate precisely how so. Today I recalled some of the books I read, back in the 1970s/80s, I think, written by the Oxford philosopher Rom Harré. Perhaps I should say that I retired from academic life back in 2006 and have not read much psychology or philosophy since then. I may have misremembered this material or otherwise have gotten it wrong, but I shall let my mind wander back to that time to see if that helps me understand what is happening to me now, in my 30th week of VSI.

At one time I think Harré defined the concept of person as the sum total of his or her speech acts. A speech act is something that occurs in the here and now of the present moment and, generally speaking, will have been directed to other persons present. I would roll with that and introduce the notion of Quasi-Speech-Acts (QSA) to include things said on the phone, words written in letters (and latterly emails), and so forth. If the consumption of fictional material is included and if I, the viewer or reader of said material, manage to achieve the suspension of disbelief, it is possible that these speech acts may even count as Wobbly QSAs (if you will forgive my using ‘Wobbly‘ as a highly technical term in this context). In other words, when reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, shades of Sherlock Holmes might glue themselves into my persona, notwithstanding that they do so with the fragility of a gossamer thread. I had better quit before this flight of fancy gets totally out of hand. Let me return to a consideration of my VSI during the past 30 weeks.

The first thing to say is that the range and frequency of person-to-person interactions has been greatly reduced. Actually, the same was true when I retired from university teaching in 2006. Another way of putting this is to say that my world has shrunk. Apart from a few pedestrian interactions, such as paying the milkman when he calls (yes, we still have a milkman to deliver our milk), I have conversations with the two members of my self-isolating household. Many of these conversational moments are mundane: ‘Have you put the recycling bin out for tomorrow’s collection?‘; ‘Can you take your stuff out of the washing machine? I need to do some laundry‘. Occasionally, like ships that pass in the kitchen, there will be a short flurry of deeply meaningful conversation sparkling in the splendour that members of the liberal elite are able to bestow with such eloquent ease.

To pass the time, I have watched a lot of Crap Cable Movies (CCMs). I like stuff that requires the minimum of thought and is well endowed with a pleasant variety of televisual eye-candy, including the scenery as well as the male and female actors. I am not particularly proud of this; in fact I feel too embarrassed to watch this fare if the family are present. I try to record a good supply of worthy political discussion programmes for when others are in the room. Anyway, turning to my persona, if any of this material leaches into my persona as Wobbly QSAs, if feel that the effect will be a dumbing-down. As an antidote to that, I have been reading a stack of Highly Worthy Tomes (HWTs) to fill out my knowledge of relatively recent world history and economics covering the decline of the British Empire and occasionally going back to the 18th century. Regrettably, the effectiveness of the HWTs to stick stuff onto my persona is less, if anything, than that of the Wobbly QSAs from the CCMs.

Let me turn now to Meaningful Telephone Conversations (MTCs). I have endeavoured to maintain three MTCs per week and have regarded this as being important, given that I am no longer having a social life in the real world. One of these is with my brother, and the other two are with too good friends who I have know for many years since moving to the city where I currently live, in the mid-1970s. I would say that these telephone conversations have become increasingly important to me over the weeks of VSI. I have managed to space them through my week: Sunday – Brother; Tuesday – One Friend; Friday – T’other Friend. Sometimes one or other of this trio is unable to do the weekly phone call and I do feel a tad adrift on those weeks.

I come now to another aspect of my persona: I sing, accompanying myself on guitar and piano. I stream one-hour concerts to the Internet and do this in the guise of my Avatar (Fyrm Fouroux), mainly in the virtual community known as Second Life and also in that known as the 3rd Rock Grid. I have streamed just over 1800 one-hour gigs since 2008. Currently, I play two per week (one on Monday and the other on Thursday). So, I have events to look forward to on Monday (gig), Tuesday (phone call), Thursday (gig), Friday (phone call), and Sunday (phone call). In this way I have built a weekly scaffold into the temporal sea that constitutes my Covid-19 VSI.

So, I am experiencing the gradual shrinking of the social space that consitutes the world in which my speech acts take place. My mother (who lived to be 103) told me that she felt alone when she realised that all her friends and relatives (of her generation) had passed on. I am starting to get a glimpse of how that might be. A very old school friend of mine died last summer and a cousin with whom I had a lot of fun when I was younger passed on very recently.

Of course, people do manage in conditions of voluntary or contractual isolation; one only has to think of hermits, monks, nuns and submariners (I set aside the inmates of prisons, who are hardly there out of personal choice). Perhaps I should read about hermits.

With regard to my own situation, I could regard my persona as shifting like a pendulum swinging from the extravert pole in the direction of the introvert pole of the conventional personality dimension of Extroversion-Introversion. Such a journey is not something I signed up for. Rather, it has been imposed upon me partly through the occurrence of the Covid-19 virus and partly through my own progress along the stepping stones of the life span. Whilst I have little control over this I do, however, have some control over how I experience the days, within these existing micro-constraints of what is practically possible. Within these imposed boundaries I believe that there is still enough room for the imagination to leap and bound in moments of extraordinary delight. Glimpsing such moments, from time to time, should not be beyond my ken. Note to self: must try harder!

Triadic Autodidactic Polymorphism

July 19, 2020

Recently I have been pondering the nature of my existential creativity during the English lock-down. I am coming into my 19th week of voluntary self-isolation and as my external world shrinks, my in-house creative activity appears to be expanding in an exponential fashion. I have come up with a home-made syndrome that seems to cover my plight: Triadic Autodidactic Polymorphism (TAP, for short). I have attempted to provide a diagrammatic definition of this state of affairs. I started to do this with a pencil on the back of an envelope, as one does, but soon gravitated to a sheet of an A3  layout pad that I had lying around. I thought I would share the final outcome with y’all…

Triadic Creativity

If feels good to have got this out of my system but was it really just a displacement activity instead of getting on with the novel, the new songs, the artwork, bla, bla, bla! Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles!

Autocue for Vlogging

July 3, 2020

My friend Tony watched the first Vlog I made in the persona of Percival Bright. He gave me the feedback that his wife, Alison, has been making a conscious attempt to look directly into the webcam when speaking, as opposed to constantly glancing down at her notes. I can see, on reviewing my relatively newbie status as a vlogger that I have much to learn in that regard.

I therefore searched around online and discovered that this is a widespread problem for many vloggers. Professional autocue systems are expensive. As might be expected, many people have found inexpensive work-arounds. I tried using one which involved writing notes on a laptop, converting the text to white and the background page to black and then scrolling with the laptop’s mouse. It worked fine, except for the fact that I got an image reflection exactly where my eyes were on my spectacles. 

I have moved on to construct what might be regarded as a Heath Robinson frame from which to hang a sheet of pen on paper notes behind the webcam. It took some while messing about with rubber bands and scraps of wood I had laying about my little workshop. In the end I have built something which acts as an extension rising perpendicular to my desktop. I think it epitomises the meaning of the term ‘unstable equilibrium‘.

Boiling Potatoes

June 5, 2020

Have you ever been fed up with the way the steam condenses onto the stove around the place where you have opened up the lid to let out the steam when boiling a pan of potatoes? I have and I decided to think of a way to avoid it. What I needed was a widget that would cause the steam condensate to fall back down into the pan. Well, folks, I think I found it: a long-handled wooden spoon, no less! The spoon supports the arc of the pan lid and the weight of the pan lid keeps the spoon steady. I give you the photographic evidence, below.

Steam to Extractor

So, I feel moderately pleased with myself!

Wooden Spoon Technique

Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles 🙂