My Favourite Waste of Time

My friend Kacha got nominated for an award. She just did a general shout out with some questions. I usually steer as clear as possible from anything with the merest whiff of an award, but I thought that since I am not actually being nominated, I might answer her questions just because I have some time today.

She asks:

Are there any laws or social rules that completely baffle you?

Yes, there are some, I wouldn’t say they baffle me, but I have always railed against them. I can quite easily put this down to my politics, where I very much support equal opportunity. So traditions such as a man having to ask a woman out, or a man having to be the one to propose, are simply bollocks. Conversely, I would have no problem holding a door open for anyone – but would expect them to do the same for me.

Are you useful in a crisis?

I was good at solving crises, I guess I still am. So, as far as that goes, I suppose I am. I was never particularly popular in crises, just because people would tend to go into headless chicken mode, and I refused to join in.

Do you believe in magic? When have you felt it?

Not really, sort of. I’ve watched soccer players, say, who I’ve thought have produced magic on the field, but that is all subjective. Lots of people who maybe didn’t care about soccer would not agree it even came close. The best players I ever saw were guys called Peter Reid and Neville Southall, plus a French guy, Eric Cantona. All have long since hung up their boots, but everyhing was better back then, wasn’t it?

There’s no feeling, for me, quite like listening to some deep, meaningful reggae – that can be quite a magical feeling, but again it is subjective. Other people might feel the same way about other genres of music, which will leave me cold.

If you could have tea with one fictional character, who would it be?

Billy Bunter. Because there would be sure to be lots of cake!

Seriously, I preferred biography to fiction, though at a push I liked Dumas and Dostoyevsky. More recent authors have included Tom Clancy and Harlan Coben, but their stories tended to be a bit samey and I lost interest. I guess that’s deliberate because readers like a formula.

Arthur Dent, there you go. Hitchhiker’s was an excellent read and Douglas Adams was one switched-on guy. Or Dilbert.

What’s one dream that you’ve tucked away for the moment? How come?

We loved to go on off-the-beaten-track holidays. I have lovely memories of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, some places which even their own public transport systems hardly touch. Car is really the only way to get to them. I’d like to visit some of them again.

But the stroke has meant two things, (i) I don’t drive at the moment. My wife can drive, but she won’t drive in mainland Europe. Also, (ii) I haven’t earned since the stroke. Whilst before, I earned enough to travel wherever I wanted, now travel seems a very frivolous way to spend money. Politics again – state benefits are designed to push people into poverty, pure and simple. Yet we can afford nuclear missiles. I bet people feel that they are protected at the moment.

When was the last time you astonished yourself?

Normally it is the other way these days, I disappoint myself. I can even get tired walking through to the kitchen!

Last summer I managed a 1-mile sponsored walk, which I suppose was a pretty decent achievement. Most of my time in hospital, I was not walking at all and even as I came out, it was less than ten yards before I needed to rest. There was a flip-side to this sponsored walk, though. Everybody saw the mile, but nobody saw the 3-hour sleep I needed afterwards to recover some energy.

What’s your favorite way to waste time?

WordPress, Football Manager (a soccer management sim)

What’s your favorite season and why?

Used to be all of them, for different reasons. Now, it is summer because I don’t feel as cold. I used to photograph things and winter sunlight is unbeatable.

What do you bring with you everywhere you go?

Okay, my going-out checklist is: wallet (mainly for my bus pass these days), my purse (coins), phone, watch and glasses. Everything else has always been thus, but the glasses are the killer. The number of times I am walking down the street and have to come back home…

I got into using a purse when I was a cyclist. I put my loose coins into my pocket, over time it would get a tiny hole in it, and I would be riding along and losing coins one by one! A purse is much harder to slip out.

Where is the worst place you have been stuck for a long time?

I remember I couldn’t wait to get out of Liverpool pre-18.

In its defence, I spent prolonged periods up there again after my parents died, 2012-14. It had improved a lot since childhood. That might have been because I now had money and a car. Living anywhere and being stranded and skint is no fun.

How do you feel at the moment about blogging?

I try deliberately to post once daily, at least, just as a ping that I am still around. This is Post #3 today. Because I deliberately upped the frequency, I think the quality has dropped.

I am deliberately trying not to schedule stuff either, same reason. Most of my content goes live as soon as I hit Publish. The one exception to this are my Tick-tock posts, which are scheduled through to July or August.

There you go, a bit pathetic, eh? But if anyone can do better, go for it!

Do Not Adjust Your Screen

for Fandango’s One Word Clallenge (FOWC), screen.

The Skype’s the Limit

Just before the lockdown we were advised (here) to avoid unnecessary contact, which people duly ignored. Except me. I said to Age UK that I was happy to do the calls [the voluntary work I do each week is calls to about 10 clients, any subjects, just to help combat lonliness], but I wanted to do them from home rather than from their office. A phone is a phone is a phone, after all.

When the lockdown came, we embarked on reassurance calls, too, specifically as a result of the crisis. Do you have groceries? Do you have meds? in particular. So, my calls jumped to 20 per week. In an email to someone, I jokily said that rather than just picking up the phone, I should put the computer to work and make use of my always-on internet connection.

Afterwards I thought about it more seriously. Why not? So I started looking for a program to do it.

The first link I hit told me I could use Gmail. Great, I don’t really use Gmail, but I have an account, so I logged on. Sure enough, I could place a call but when I tried calling my wife (on her mobile, in the next room) she couldn’t hear me.

So I assumed that the microphone on the PC was not really clear enough, and ordered a headset off eBay. That’s a good idea anyway, because it allows me to make calls handsfree, useful when only one arm works since it allows me to type, if I need to write something down.

That headset finally arrived Saturday. Just an unbranded one – I figured that a brand like Logitech will just take an unbranded Chinese item and stamp its name, so didn’t see the point in paying more (a Logitech headset was 50% more). So I plugged this thing in and … same result! No can hear me.

I fiddled with the settings for a while. But Audacity could hear me just fine. Microsoft’s voice control software could hear me just fine. But my wife couldn’t when I tried to call her through gmail.

So I decided to explore other programs. Microsoft bought Skype a few years back and there it was, already installed on the PC. So I set it up. Hey presto, I was making calls within minutes! I had to take out a cheap subscription, just to be able to call old-fashioned landlines, but it should work out cheaper than just using my house phone.

I’m still not too familiar with the Microsoft flavour of Skype. Last time I remember it was years ago, when communication through the computer was a new thing (and poor quality). I thought I got a phone number, so internet geeks across the world could call and say Hi, but it looks like I need to pay extra for that. Hmmmm…. Microsoft Marketing at work, no doubt. No matter, I only really need the calls to go one way, anyway.

As it happens, I can claim any of my call expenses back from the charity, so I didn’t really need to do any of this, but I’m sure they have better things to spend their money on than my phone bill, so it makes sense if I can minimise everything. And I can now listen to posts without disturbing anyone else!