Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Books, and reading.

As I have started to read again, after a long break, and because I was reading a book in bed before I went to sleep last night, it is understandable that I woke up today thinking about that subject.

I am not getting on that well with electronic reading. On the plus side, it is great to be able to read an ‘illuminated page’, with no need for additional lighting. And I can store a lot of books on something the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The downside for me is that the page-turning feature can be over-sensitive, frequently flipping back to previously read pages without warning. It also freezes up more that I am happy with, leaving me having to restart, to return to the last page I was reading.

So many of you report no issues with this, I am beginning to wonder if I have a faulty Kindle Fire. But it may also have something to do with me, and my unfamiliarity with using Tablets.

When it comes to the books, I have now read five of them in one month. Considering I only finished one book during the whole of the previous year, then that is progress indeed, and definitely a result of having the new way of reading, as well as not having to further clutter diminishing space with large paperbacks or hardback copies. I have enjoyed the books written by other bloggers, and have been pleasantly surprised by the high quality, readability, and refreshing subjects and themes.

That has not been the case with the mainstream books though. Despite great reviews, and large sales on Amazon and elsewhere, I was disappointed to find that familiar ‘formula’ writing very much in evidence. Characters conceived so that they can be featured in sequels, or living in stylised, unrealistic situations that are hard to identify with. Many years ago, I regularly read at least one book a week. I used to follow authors, including Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and some more serious writers. When they had a new book out, I would buy it immediately, believing I would be sure to like it.

But then they started to feel ‘familiar’. The names were changed, but the plots similar. Things happened in those books as I had come to expect them to, and I became convinced that we were all reading much the same story, with just the locations and characters altered slightly. That was one of the main reasons I stopped reading novels, and switched to non-fiction instead. After almost twenty years, I have returned to fiction, in the hope that things had changed. In many respects they have, but in some cases, I can see it is just the same old story. Literally.

So I am not sure about reading again. I feel a little cheated by some writers, but refreshed and inspired by others. Maybe that has always been the case? Not sure.

I am still thinking about it.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Writing.

This is not like my usual Sunday posts, as I woke up thinking about my new fiction serial this morning. Because we went out last night, I didn’t have time to finish episode two, so have to do that now. For those of you who tell me you look forward to my regular Sunday thoughts, I apologise.

For anyone who has started to follow the new serial, part two should be posted sometime today.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Rubbish.
(Or if you are from America, ‘Garbage’.)

No idea why I woke up thinking about this today, though it might have had something to do with the ridiculous amount of packaging used by Amazon, for sending small items in the post.
I have written about recycling before on this blog, as long ago as 2013. But even that has changed dramatically since this. https://beetleypete.com/2013/01/08/recycling-my-arse/

Do you remember when fresh food produce was loose? When grapes were in a bunch, not a plastic box? How about when fish and meat were wrapped in white paper, then carried home in a non-plastic shopping bag? If you can answer “Yes” to all those, then you may also be thinking about the huge amount of rubbish generated by the average household, in the so-called ‘developed countries’. Time was when all we had was a metal dustbin, with a lid that you lifted off. Everything went in there, and it was collected and emptied by the local authority once a week. As I recall, it was almost never full, except perhaps at Christmas.

More recently, we have seen the imposition of large plastic wheelie bins. They hold much more than the old dustbins, and we have three of them, not one. One is for ‘general’ rubbish, one for ‘recyclables’, and the other for ‘garden waste’. They are no longer collected once a week, as that has now extended to fortnightly collections. And they are always full, sometimes so full that we have to hold back some items until they are emptied, as the waste removal operatives (no longer ‘dustmen’) will not take them if the lid isn’t flush.

Why is that? There are only two of us; three if you count Ollie, but he leaves no rubbish behind. The answer is staring us in the face. Everything is in a plastic box, or some other kind of container. We no longer use loose tea, so the tea bags go in the bin too. You would think that we could recycle all those plastic containers, but no. Most of them are the ‘wrong type’ of plastic. This applies to cellophane, any black or dark-coloured containers like microwaveable boxes, and even things such as the plastic tops of some bottles, which cannot be recycled along with the bottles themselves.

Foil is recyclable, but only if it is clean. So forget that, unless you have enough free time to wash used foil. (Using hot water generated by electricity, thus increasing your carbon footprint) Paper is recyclable of course, we all know that. But is it? Certain kinds of paper and cardboard are not 100% recyclable, (shiny paper, for example) so that ends up in the main rubbish bin instead.

So we can be forgiven for being confused, surely? It even depends on what part of the country you live in, whether or not certain things can be placed in the recycling bin. Most of the population struggles with what can and can’t go in. In the effort to do the right thing, we plonk anything looking vaguely recyclable into the bin for that. Better than landfill, and it can be sorted by the waste removal people. They understand our confusion, they must do. But no, they don’t. They expect us to keep up to date with it all, and be aware of any changes or developments. We are supposed to read the tiny symbols on packaging, and to check online to see what has been added or removed from the ever-changing list.

Woe betide you make a mistake. The ‘Bin-checkers’ will be on you, and will leave a note. That note warns you that failure to recycle correctly could result in a fine. In extreme cases, they might even refuse to collect your wheelie bins at all.

Not only would this mean people dumping their rubbish locally, it also means that those of us who are unsure what counts as ‘good’ recycling no longer take any chances. If in doubt, it goes in a black plastic bin liner, and into the ‘general rubbish’ wheelie. That ‘good recycling’ changes like the weather, so I find myself unwilling to risk it more and more lately. The next time you are putting those carefully-washed yoghurt pots into your recyclables, be careful. Ask yourself, “Is this the right type of yoghurt pot?”

The answer lies with the supermarkets and manufacturers. Just stop. Stop putting grapes in boxes, asparagus into black plastic trays covered in cling-film. Stop putting potatoes into small plastic bags. Stop giving small plastic bags for us to put our produce in for weighing, and replace them with paper ones. Stop wrapping reams of bubble wrap around things that won’t break in the post, or stuffing out huge cartons with fifty feet of paper, just to send me something one-eighth of the size of the box it comes in.

And local authorities, you are picking on the wrong targets. Instead of threatening me over the inclusion of a plastic tray of the ‘wrong plastic’, get down to any of the four huge supermarkets in the town, and fine them for selling £1.30 worth of purple sprouting broccoli in a black plastic tray covered in a double-wrap of film.

Because if all this doesn’t stop, everyone knows how it will end.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Reputation.

I was chatting to a friend on the phone the other day. He also happens to be an ex-colleague from my days as an EMT in the London Ambulance Service. We worked at the same base for many years, and he also later worked with me in a police control room, before I retired.

He told me a story about how he had recently returned to his home on the south coast, and had been told that his elderly aunt was ill. He went round to see her, and took her into hospital for a check up. They discharged her, and recommended that her family doctor attend, to carry out checks at her home. The doctor didn’t come as requested. Instead, he sent a Paramedic Practitioner, to call at the home of the old lady. This is something fairly new here. To save the time of general practice doctors, and also to save the cost of employing additional doctors to help, they use former ambulance paramedics who have attended an extended training course, to work in the community.

As the man was examining her, he turned to my friend, and said, “I know you, you used to work at North Kensington Ambulance Station, in London”. My friend was surprised that this man should have encountered him after all those years, but confessed that he didn’t recognise him at all. It turned out that he had spent some time as a shift relief on the West London rota, and had worked with my friend on more than one occasion. He continued by saying, “You had a bloke there, Pete Johnson, a real militant he was”.

He was talking about me.

As I left the ambulance service in 2001, it is always a surprise to me that anyone remembers me, unless they were close friends, or regular colleagues at the same base. This random man, now working over 80 miles away from where I might have met him, possibly worked with me once or twice, probably before 1990. I don’t remember him at all, but after almost 30 years, he certainly remembers me, and has strong opinions about what I was like too. I left a mark, undoubtedly, and half a lifetime later, my reputation continues, at least where this man is concerned.

That got me thinking. Yes, I was a militant. I was a union organiser, one of the first to go on strike in the 1989 National Dispute, and I voted for the Communist Party. I was around 36 years of age at the time, heavily involved in all aspects of the Trade Union, and politics outside of work too. But I never considered that I had a ‘reputation’, at least not in my day to day life as an EMT. I did the job to the best of my ability, and mostly played by the rules. I like to think that I got on well with 99% of my colleagues, and all the various medical departments and agencies we came into daily contact with. When I finally left to work for the Police, most people, outside of some senior managers, were sorry to see me go. At least I thought so.

Then 30 years later, a face from the past tells someone of my reputation. Not of my sense of humour, my kindness, or fairness. Nothing to do with my hard work, or the fight to get decent conditions for everyone in the Ambulance Service. Not a word about my years working on the committees to get better vehicles and equipment, or serviceable uniforms. No mention of 22 years serving the community of London in a low-paid, difficult, and often very stressful job. It all came down to one thing, a reputation based on perception.

“A real militant”.

On reflection, I don’t really mind that at all.

Saturday Stuff

I woke up this morning with my head full of stuff. Some days, I am left wondering where it all comes from. Memories, films, old TV shows. Snippets of decades-old conversations, faces of people that I recognise but can’t remember their names. It’s all tumbling around in my brain, like clothes in a washing machine.

I try to do things to focus on. Read a book on my Tablet, type up a couple of blog posts, and check emails. But it is to no avail, as those random thoughts and visions are refusing to go away. It is a very long time since I ever experimented with any hallucinogenic drugs, but it feels a lot like that uncontrollable experience. Perception of noise is increased, until everyday conversation and background sounds become like some sort of orchestral crescendo.

One way of coping is to try to compartmentalise all this ‘stuff’. Get it into categories, remove the ones easily dealt with, and confront the rest. Otherwise, the rest of the day is going to be lived in some strange dream-like state, looking at one thing, but seeing something else.

I am beginning to wonder if this is actually the true meaning of insanity.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Ollie In Winter.

Well, it’s about my dog, so not unusual that I woke up thinking about my much-loved companion today.

Ollie doesn’t know that it is winter. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold when we go out, and is still happy to plunge into the icy waters of the small river. Mud means nothing to him, except to give his paws something soft to walk on. He doesn’t seem to care that it gets dark earlier, or if he is occasionally soaked by freezing rain, or peppered with hailstones.

The piles of rotting leaves that carpet his walks are sources of more smells, and of no other interest to him besides that. The absence of those leaves on the trees makes it easier for him to spot the squirrels that scamper away as he approaches, and the fact that ‘fair-weather’ dog walkers appear less frequently means that he has to search harder to detect the signs of other dogs.

He is stocky and well-nourished, with a short-haired coat of fur that is nevertheless dense and protective. So he doesn’t shiver, and certainly has no need of one of the coats that adorn so many of the other dogs seen around. I suspect he wonders why they are sporting tartan woolens, or rain-resistant mackintoshes. They are dogs like him, after all. In the absence of human owners, there would be no ‘doggy coats’, and certainly no matching ‘doggy boots’.

The cold weather does seem to make him enjoy his food more, and to look for any extra treats that might be given. He sleeps better when it isn’t so hot, and drinks less too. In the evenings, he settles onto his rug in the living room, happy to not have to search out cool spots to lie on. He relaxes in the warmth of the house, perhaps knowing that the heat will eventually be switched off, and he will soon curl up on his comfy bed for the night.

I have no doubt that he prefers the cooler climes, after September has passed.

And I conclude that, unlike his owner, Ollie is a Winter Dog.