Some Sunday Musings

Unlike my frequent ‘Thinking Aloud On A Sunday’ posts, this is more by way of a collection of things I have been thinking about over the past week.

I have had to face the fact that I can no longer do many jobs around the house and garden. What with Vertigo, muscle weakness caused by Statins destroying my arm muscles, and the general onset of old age, I have let things go, to say the least.

I finally bit the bullet, and arranged for contractors to come and give estimates for clearing the shabby front driveway, and relaying the gravel that once covered the car parking area. With space to park up to four cars, depending how big they are, this is a considerable job. When I look back at old photos taken when I was regularly weeding and tidying the area, I hate that it now looks like nobody has bothered for a few years.

The first man who came was very local, living just a few streets away. He gave a fair price, and offered to start very soon. But when he was contacted to accept the quote, he wanted half the money up front.

This is a warning flag for home owners. NEVER pay any money up front for any work on your property, especially to someone you have never met before. He was told “Thanks but no thanks”, and the second man was contacted.

Fortunately, he was completely professional, and our attitude to him was helped by the fact that he had done some garden landscaping work for a neighbour earlier this year. Not only did he provide a fair (albeit more expensive) quote, he made us feel very confident with his grasp of what was required. In addition, his company can tackle other jobs we need doing next year, like sorting out the wonky patio at the back, fixing a fence and gate, and paving over some parts of the lawn.

Hopefully, we should have a fresh and smart driveway before Christmas, and arrangements in place to have the back garden sorted next Spring.

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A few houses in the village already have Christmas lights illuminated on their houses. Is it just me, or are people celebrating things earlier and earlier every year? We haven’t even got past Halloween, and some are beginning to celebrate Christmas in late October. My own opinion is that this actually diminishes the traditional enjoyment of any celebratory festivities, and I fully expect to be seeing Christmas lights in August soon.

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It has been nice to see Ollie chasing deer again this week. As he has been getting old so visibly, and not enjoying very long walks anymore, his sudden bursts of enthusiasm to chase random deer in the woodland are a delight. Of course, he has no hope of catching them, and he pays for it later with much longer sleeps, and stiff front legs by late evening. But I want him to enjoy life, even though he really is too old for such hunting exploits.

Sometimes, I think about life without Ollie, if he goes before me. I try to cut those thoughts short, as life without my constant companion and best friend is not something I enjoy contemplating.

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Covid-19 is still very much in the news. Despite all the government self-congratulation, infections are back on the rise, and deaths attributed to the virus account for around 100 reported every day. That means that 3,100 people in England will have died of Covid-19 by the end of October. Imagine the catastrophic impact on all those families.

Yet more and more people refuse to be vaccinated, and continue to assert that it is all just a conspiracy.

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Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

Best wishes, Pete.

My Latest Camera: First Impressions And Some Photos

As some readers may recall, I recently bought another camera, a secondhand Panasonic LX100 Compact.

It took me some time to actually remember to take the camera out on a walk, so with the benefit of a bright and windy afternoon yesterday, I put the camera into the pocket of my fleece jacket, and set off on the usual walk with Ollie. I took 50 photos, and these are the seven I have chosen to show you.

They have all been uploaded to Flickr, so clicking on them will take you to the photo on that site. Using the magnifier icon, you can enlarge them greatly on there, and move around them too. They are all standard j-pegs from the camera, with no post-processing applied.

An impressively large lone mushroom, spotted on Beetley Meadows.
P1000105

The cap of the same mushroom.
P1000110

A black and white version.
Black and White Mushroom

The river bend at Beetley Meadows.
P1000121

Ollie on the riverbank.
P1000124

Ollie standing in the river.
P1000135

A fallen Silver Birch, in the woodland area.
P1000139

My impressions of using the camera? Well, let’s say it has pros and cons, like anything.

Pros.
*It is very light. Despite metal parts, it sat easily in my jacket pocket, was unobtrusive, and the weight was hardly noticeable.
*All the main controls are set using dials and buttons, so no need to explore the electronic menu whilst taking photos.
*The electronic shutter is completely silent, very useful in some situations.
*Zoom action from the 24mm-75mm lens is smooth, especially using the lever around the shutter button.
*Buffering to load the image onto the Pro-spec memory card was almost immediate.
*The electronic viewfinder shows all the information I need, and gives a completely accurate representation of the final photo.
*The Leica lens renders true images as seen in the viewfinder.

Cons.
*Focusing is not perfect. I had 3 completely out of focus images from the 50 taken, and changing the setting around the lens to Macro focusing made very little difference to the close-ups of the mushroom.
*The small size of the camera can make it fiddly to hold and use. My hands are comparatively small, and I was still able to inadvertantly move dials or press buttons. This size also makes it potentially easy to drop, so I had bought a Paracord wrist strap and attached it before taking the camera out.
*The Panasonic 1-inch processor chip seems to favour browns and greens, with little colour ‘pop’ on brighter colours.

So, all in all, I am very happy. If you can find one of these old-model cameras for less than £250, I recommend you consider buying it.

Dog Language

We all know that dogs can’t talk, but instead have their ways to show us how they are feeling. Using posture, tail movements, and occasionally barking. We can often manage to translate a lot of that into understanding their moods or desires.

I found these three graphics on Pinterest, and they all seem to agree on what our best friends are trying to ‘say’. I recognise so much of this from Ollie, and if you have a pet dog, or have ever owned one, I am sure you will find it familiar too.

Nice Times (5)

Ollie was born in the bungalow next door, and since lives with us in a bungalow on one level. When he was less than one year old, we asked our next door neighbours the other side to look after him overnight, so we could go to a wedding in Hertfordshire. We took him into their two-storey house to make sure he would settle there, and he spotted the stairs. Although he had no idea what they were, he ran straight up them immediately, then stood on the landing looking down at us. Then he rushed back down, repeating the process numerous times until he was out of breath. He thought they were a game, like a child on a slide in the park. It was so delightful to see him discovering stairs.

A long weekend in Rome, a present for my 50th birthday and my first time in Italy. On the first morning, we walked from the hotel to see The Colosseum. It was so much better than I had expected, and just took my breath away with its grandeur and history. Standing inside, I pictured the gladiators fighting on the sand of the large arena, and the crowds watching. Some things are more wonderful than you can ever imagine they might be, and that was one of them.

After the break up of my first marriage, I had to basically learn from scratch how to fend for myself. Determined not to fall into bad eating habits like microwave meals and shop-bought pizzas, I bought a copy of Delia Smith’s book, ‘How To Cook’. Following her instructions to the letter, I cooked myself a small joint of pork with roast potatoes, accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apples and spices. I sat and ate it on my own, in the small house I had bought in London’s Docklands development. It was delicious!

In 2000, I had moved from Hertfordshire into my flat near Regent’s Park, in Camden. My (second) ex-wife contacted me and said she was going to be shopping in the west end that Saturday with a friend I knew well, and asked if I would like to meet up. I met them in Soho, at a coffee bar in Old Compton Street that was known for selling delicious cakes. (Amato, sadly since closed down) The late Spring weather was lovely, and I was feeling good. We had a nice chat over coffee and cakes, and when they left, I wandered over to Charing Cross Road to look in some of the second-hand bookshops that the area is famous for. I bought three hardback books, and strolled home to the flat, stopping at a pub in Tottenham Court Road. I sat outside drinking a glass of wine, and flicking through the books I had bought. Happy to be back in the heart of the city.

A year later, in 2001, I made the unexpected decision at the age of 49 to leave the Ambulance Service and go to work for the Metropolitan Police. I had to attend the Police Training Centre in Hendon, and complete an intensive 14-week course. It was a pass or fail course, and I knew that if I didn’t get through I would be out of a job for the first time since my youth. I found it hard, as I was the oldest one in the class, and had very little experience of using computers. But when we had the final crucial examination, I passed in the top half of the group. As I drove home that evening, I felt I had really achieved something.

Nice Times (4)

Continuing my happy mood with more memories that make me feel good.

Taking my mum to The Ritz Hotel in London for the classic High Tea. A birthday treat for her 80th, and something she had never done. She was thrilled by the opulent surroundings, and the quality of the food served. Then some waiters brought a tiny birthday cake to the table, with one lit candle in it. They sung Happy Birthday to her, and the others in the restaurant gave her a round of applause. The look on her face was priceless. She treasured that cake, and kept it in its little box in her fridge for the next seven years. I found it still there, when I was clearing out her fridge after she had died.

Picking Ollie up from the Animal Hospital in Newmarket. He had just had his final eye operation for Entropion, and had been kept in for three nights after. His sheer delight at seeing us arrive to collect him brought happy tears to my eyes.

Standing on a hotel balcony in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Just across the street from that hotel was the splendour of the famous Registan temple complex. I had read about Samarkand and the silk route when I was very young. Now here I was, standing opposite that history. I felt every second of that moment, deep inside.

I was part of the ambulance crew that was first on scene at the Ladbroke Grove train crash in 1999, one of the biggest rail disasters in British history. Acting as incident officer, I had to request every available ambulance in London to attend the scene. As they started to arrive, I recognised one crew, a young man and woman from Fulham Ambulance Station. I asked them to help me triage the injured that were being brought to a central point, and for one of them to set up an aid station for walking wounded in a nearby school. At the debrief over six hours later, they approached me and said, “We were so nervous about going to that job, but when we saw you were there sorting things out, we knew we would be okay”. One of the best things anyone ever said to me, in my entire life.

Sitting in a lounge chair outside our cabin at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, in Kenya. I was drinking a gin and tonic before dinner, looking at the distant mountain as thousands of wildebeest crossed the horizon. My wife was inside showering and getting ready, and I sensed a movement next to me. I was amazed to see a huge male Mandrill had come and sat next to my chair. Not much smaller than me, with its distinctive coloured facial markings, and teeth as big as a wolf. I was really scared, yet fascinated. It watched me closely for a few moments before walking away. It was completely non threatening, and I felt the connection with a wild animal that meant me no harm. A simply unforgettable moment.

Ollie’s Ears (Again)

Just before we went on holiday in September, Ollie had a bad infection in his left ear. I took him to the Vet, and they tried a new gel treatment, administered directly into his ear. It worked so well, he was on the mend within 24 hours, and by the time of the second dose a week later, completely cured.

That was only a month ago, but Ollie started to shake his head again last Wednesday. By Thursday, he was hanging his head to the right, and that ear felt hot. Out on his walk, he started to rub the right ear against anything he could find, followed by frantic shaking of his whole head.

So I arranged to get him to the Vet last Friday, and another dose of the gel was given, into the right ear this time. That evening, he calmed down considerably, and by Saturday afternoon, he was even quite playful.

Next Thursday, I have to take him back for the second dose, as it can only be given by a qualified Vet. This is nothing short of miraculous though, as previous treatment involved 10 days of antibiotic and steroid tablets, which became increasingly difficult to get him to take.

If you have a dog that is prone to ear infections, ask your Vet about this product.
https://www.dechra.co.uk/search/search?q=Osurnia
(I gain nothing from this recommendation, just so you know.)

Nice Times (2)

After my first post in what looks like becoming a short series, I felt really happy for a long time after posting it.

Nice Times

So I decided to do another one.

A holiday to the Soviet Union, in the late 1970s. I had always wanted to go there, and to see it how I imagined it, in the snow. We went in February, and I hadn’t realised that they did a good job of clearing away the snow as soon as it has accumulated. But I stood in front of the gates of The Winter Palace in Leningrad, and didn’t care at all that it was -25 degrees.

My first full day with Ollie as a pup. He was too young to go out yet, and his wrinkled skin looked like a baby wearing adult clothes. Julie was working full-time then, so I was up and about early, to play with our new pup. He followed me everywhere, and was ready to play any time I sat down on the floor with him. His little teeth were like needles, and he loved to chew my fingers and the sides of my hands. Then he would collapse, tired from play, and I watched him sleep until the next time.

Telling an old lady that nothing could be done for her husband, who she had found collapsed in the bathroom that morning. I said we would put him into some pyjamas and get him back into bed, so he looked peaceful when her son and daughter-in-law arrived to see him. After that, I made her a cup of tea, and waited until the police arrived to report it as a sudden death. She hugged me with her bony little arms, and said that I had made everything so much better for her. At times like that, I knew why I had joined the Ambulance Service.

Sitting on a bench by the river at Beetley Meadows. Ollie is standing in the water to cool down, and I am watching huge dragonflies flying around close to the water. I looked up at the blue sky, listened to the sound of the river flowing, and knew I had made the right decision to move away from London.

The first time someone other than a friend or relative commented on one of my blog posts, in 2012. I had to approve the comment, and was excited to reply. I sat back on my old stool, (later replaced by a proper office chair) and felt like a ‘real’ blogger.

Ollie’s Holiday: The Porch

In our house in Beetley, Ollie cannot see outside. If I open the back door to let him out, he only has the familiar surroundings of our garden to look at. So being able to sit outside for a large part of the day, and most of the evening until bedtime, that’s a real treat for our beloved dog.

Because I spent so much of our holiday sittng happily on that covered porch of our cabin, Ollie was happy to be out there with me. When I got up each morning, I would carry his bed and toys out onto the porch, and leave them there until we closed up to go to bed for the night.

(All photos are full-frame, and can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

At various times, Ollie would take himself off down the ramp and explore the hotel beer garden. I was lucky enough to have the camera handy when he was ‘patrolling the porch’.

We love the fact that we can take Ollie on holiday with us, and that it is just as much a holiday for him as for us.

Ollie’s Holiday: Ice Cream For Dogs

On our recent holiday, we noticed that almost every cafe was selling a new formulation of ice cream for dogs. Ollie has enjoyed ‘human’ ice cream on a few occasions, as well as the residue of a few yoghurt pots. But we are aware that he is older, and less active now.

With that in mind, he was treated to a doggy ice cream on holiday, but just the one. It includes some crumbles of dog-biscuit, and Ollie devoured it, giving it his seal of approval on a warm afternoon.

(These are full-frame 35mm equivalent photos, reduced by 50%. But you can click on them twice to enlarge for detail.)

More to come of Ollie on his holidays!

Blog Stuff

As we come to the end of the month, and Autumn looms, I felt prompted to have a review of my blog once again. Regular readers will be aware that I cut back on my posts recently, and that has a significant effect on views and followers, just as I had expected. That isn’t a complaint, as that was my intention. And it worked.

On my Home page, WordPress now lists my follower total as 8,481. I am happy to report that I have had a reduction in ‘fake followers’ lately, and only a few companies trying hard to promote their goods by following my blog. There are also fewer followers without Gravatar links or posts on their own blogs. That’s great to see.

Including this one, I have posted 3,482 posts since 2012, and had 541,620 views of my blog. Even after posting less, I still get between 225-400 views a day, much easier to deal with than the 600+ I enjoyed previously.

I am currently following 114 other bloggers, and with six exceptions, they are all posting and active. If nothing arrives from those six bloggers by the end of 2021, I will follow six different ones after Christmas.

Guest Posts are still popular, and I would like to remind all my followers, old and new, that the offer remains open indefinitely. If you would like a guest post here, just send me an email to petejohnson50@yahoo.com

The latest series of fictional short stories has been well received, with views more than comparable to my usual serials. Each first line was suggested by a fellow blogger, and this is a good way to engage with others in the community. Using links to their blogs also helps make us all better known to each other, further developing the feeling that we are all in this together.

Any post about my dog Ollie guarantees a lot of interaction. As he gets older and slower his popularity never wanes, and he remains very much the heart and soul of my blog, with his many admirers and his ongoing adventures on our dog walks.

My blog trundles along in the same old way, and I still love being a blogger as much as I ever did.