Category Archives: Longform

I said that I would write something, and that is what I didn’t do. The circumstances were a little complicated, and it wasn’t as easy as it might seem at first, but I tried and I got there. Now, if you’ve been following this blog, or my efforts at writing, you’ll know that this is something I’ve struggled with, but dearly want to devote time and energy to, writing and playing with words. I read little, not nearly enough, and that would help me learn about the art of writing. You’re never too old to learn from observation and practice, and I’m never too old for anything. I did not write last week.

I said that I would write an email, and that is what I did. The circumstances were a little complicated, and it wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem at first, but I tried and I got there. Now, if you know the story about why I needed to write an email and what it was for, then this won’t be a very interesting story, because you’ll know the bones of it and that’s really all there is to the story. I wrote an email, and in my hubris I thought that it was a good one, but hubris blinds you like staring into the sun, and that is exactly what happened to me. No amount of flowery language or exposition or context can ever hold a candle to getting to the point, especially if, as I quickly discovered, your audience doesn’t appreciate it nearly as much as you do.

I was writing to the GAA club where my kid does training once a week, and the context was that I was in my car with my child, waiting to leave in the queue of cars, and the man organising the timely and efficient departure of everyone was standing by our car screaming at me, while I was trying to explain that I didn’t want to run over the woman trying to cross in front of my car on the pedestrian crossing. He continued to scream after that because I didn’t try to ram into back of a reversing SUV a minute later. He was screaming at everyone else too, so I didn’t feel singled out; it was democratic, at least. And there it is. I needed to speak to manager of volatile screaming carpark grandad. I think the lesson there is that brevity isn’t just the soul of wit, brevity is just more brief generally and people appreciate that. tl;dr: get to the point. The email did not hit home.

I said that I would get my fibre broadband, and that is what I did. The circumstances were a little complicated, and it wasn’t as easy as it might seem at first, but I tried and I got there. Now, if you know about me and my efforts at getting broadband, it’s not much of a story, but it has certainly dragged on for a while. Last year I decided that I should get fibre instead of cable broadband, the reports about fibre performance were good but the details were a little murky, and as it transpired, switching broadband provider (from Virgin Media) is not the same protected process as switching any other utility (and as it should be). I ordered new broadband, and after an interminable wait on the line got into a fight with the ‘saver’ who did everything he could to discourage me, primarily by being obnoxious. It worked, I abandoned my switch to try and figure out a new plan, and time slid by.

I came back to it recently due to the decreasing performance of Virgin Media, and the discovery that you can end your service in writing, so I ordered fibre from Pure Telecom, which looked like a better bet than the Big Three (and so far, I am finding that it was a good bet). In fact, I discovered accidentally that Virgin Media had a web form for disconnecting, which they took down immediately after I used it. An interesting approach. I then had to follow it up on Twitter to make sure that they weren’t going to ignore it. In the meantime, I proceeded to not get fibre broadband, until I had made a number of calls to explain why it had not been installed on the first attempt which eventually resulted in the fibre connection being installed. I was interested in how it was done (it is true ‘fibre to the home’) and who was doing it (a private consortium), and the mechanics of it, not being a ‘hardware person’, and knowing only a bit about networking technology. I have to say, it is astonishingly fast. It did not disappoint.

I said that I would get divorced, and that is what I did not do. The circumstances are a little complicated, and it isn’t as easy as it might seem at first, but I continue to try and I will surely get there. Now, if you know about the story of me trying to get divorced, it hasn’t been very dramatic lately, but it has certainly been in the background almost all of the time. I can’t write what I’d like to write about it because it’s an ongoing process with real and serious consequences for making mistakes (including writing about it), and if I thought that I get get off the leash on this topic I’d write and write and write, but there it is, a divorce is a serious business, and by the look of it, it’s going to continue being serious well into next year, and possibly the year after. Never have three pages of short words proven so difficult to get agreement on. I can only surmise that not everyone is in as much of a hurry to move on as they were a year ago. It’s not something that I understand.

I said that I would stop going to football, and that is what I did. The circumstances were a little complicated, and it wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem at first, but I put my shoulder to it and ended my participation. Now, if you’re familiar with me and my going to football, you’ll know that it’s something that’s been a while time coming. Friday Night Football (ostensibly a game of five-a-side in Ringsend, Dublin) has been a constant fixture in my life for almost two decades now, with a number of the same people involved for most of that time, until the past two years when, thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we stopped for periods of time as the sports complex was closed. I’ve had breaks inbetween caused by my now ex-wife demanding that I clean the house thoroughly on Friday nights after coming home from work, no matter what time I came back at, so I couldn’t go to football on Friday night, and then I had to make excuses for why I couldn’t make it and then eventually bail out altogether (thankfully, I got no sympathy, so if you think normalising spousal control at home is a problem only for women, think again! Men can be all alone in this too.). Luckily the relationship broke down in 2015 and I was able to start going to football again.

The Pandemic did make me reassess all sorts of things, however, and particularly the time I spend around other people, and my tolerance not so much for other people, but how other people made me feel; because the interactions we have with other people and what we take away from those experiences are what matters, not with who or what other people are. Friday Night Football was in some ways a complex dynamic; a group of people from which between eight and twelve would turn up to play, organised with furious energy over WhatsApp and with a Google Sheets spreadsheet every week, a renewal every quarter year, various personalities and to some degree varying personal objectives or views on how things should work. And the game itself, which I described last week as “as a having a hobby where I spend forty five minutes driving out to somewhere where I’ll be stuffed into a barrel and rolled down a bumpy hill for fifty minutes while intermittently getting kicked”, which is uncharitable and also frequently entirely accurate. I’m not very good at football, nor will I ever be. It can be both joyous and intensely frustrating, both a wonderful way to get exercise and physically risky with the potential for injury, but there’s always the chance for being involved in a great set-piece or a good move that delivers the emotional high. It also has the same pitfall as gambling, that you chase the good feelings of success, and you will tolerate a lot of the other, more frequent, negative feelings to get that high again.

Ultimately, if it stops being about the people (because that was always an element) then it has to be about the experience on the pitch, and if that doesn’t hold up, then what’s the physical pain, the frustration, the eighty minutes or so of driving on a Friday evening really about? That’s up to forty five minutes to get in from the outskirts of the city, usually less (rarely more) of driving in maddeningly slow peak time city traffic, which can be hard going (especially if it is wet; that attracts snails, slugs, and terrible drivers), and requires leaving the house at the right time. The pain the next morning from impacts, bruises, and the aches of age. It really has to be worth it. For me, it has been decreasingly less worth it in recent years, and I only really stuck out the last quarter season because the organisation process had dropped from three weeks notice for renewal to three days, and having decided to swallow that cost to avoid causing trouble, I wanted to get my money’s worth. But even that grace period has run its course. I will not be joining again soon.

I said that tonight, I would write something. Anything. I would overcome the writer’s block from the past… how long? I don’t know. A few months? No, more. Many months? Oh no, much more. A year and a half, like a Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate bar made of time, regret, missed opportunities, and the bitter but exciting cacao of mild adventure. I want to make this the new habit, an hour every Friday night of writing. Now, I did thwart myself somewhat this evening by promptly going to the shops and spending several hours buying an awful lot of food that I don’t really need. I needed tissues, cheese, and some ‘yellow food’, which is to say food that spends most of its existence in a freezer, and which a nutritionist would describe as ‘out of scope of their area of interest’.

Normally on a Friday I would have other things to do, and generally that’s a single thing, a thing that I would describe as a having a hobby where I spend forty five minutes driving out to somewhere where I’ll be stuffed into a barrel and rolled down a bumpy hill for fifty minutes while intermittently getting kicked. If you’re not sold on that idea, then there’s something wrong with you, because I’ve been doing this for years and apart from often promising myself to stop doing it forever, I’ve kept at it because the buzz of when it does work out is really quite acceptable. Gambling hours of my Friday night on the chance of an Endorphin hit.

So there it is, that’s why I’m writing again. I got straight into it, I didn’t first redesign the website first for several days like I usually do, I got straight into articulating excuses and burning my bridges. So that’s a welcome bit of growth over the past couple of years. Hopefully I’ll follow up with some searing commentary about my divorce, or getting up early, or life in a post-pandemic world.

I was going to tweet this nugget of meta, but I realised that, somewhat recursively, it would make something to write about in itself. I’ve actually written quite a bit this year compared to previously, driven I think mainly by photos with added narrative. If you’re kicking off blogging or getting back to it, it’s something to keep in mind – writing what you’d otherwise consign to a ‘Story’, using the photos to inspire narrative. I have something to write about that, the ‘Stories’, in my head, but that’s for another day.

If you’re reading this then you’re at least somewhat aware of my blog, the site that you’re reading this on right now, and you know that I after many years of hardly writing anything I suddenly came back to this playpen and set about two massive posts about dating and dating apps, and a whole pile of small waffly bits and photos. I wonder sometimes if those pieces (and an earlier one which was about autism, or not) have intimidated me into not attempting another of that scale, or if it’s just the effort involved and perhaps I’m lazy. I’m not shy of ideas (well, for topics; writing something interesting, witty, and amusing is a whole other problem. But I think it would come to me with my usual process.).

Anyway, that’s my meta. I should start chipping away again and deliver something that people would like to read that isn’t about bread or clamped lampposts.

Last Friday, which feels like… Well, I was going to write ‘a week ago’ and that’s pretty close to being true, but actually it feels like much more. Every week that passes feels both like more and less at the same time right now.

Anyway, the morning walks are still a highlight (no, it’s not always like that; this morning, for example, it was grey, wet, and miserable, but without the commitment to truly bad weather), no matter what the weather. If the current situation of having to stay at home is a lot for you, I can recommend a morning walk, not for the exercise, but just for the routine of getting out. It’s good to get out for yourself, if even a little bit.

I know, another sunrise. We take the vistas where and when we can get them. The second image is a tree full of Long-tailed Tits, although I don’t know if you can make them out. They’re tiny. They move from tree to tree in a cloud of endless excitable chirping and twittering, it’s amazing and very joyful to hear. This is only the second time that I’ve ever seen them, and there’s every chance that it’s the same flock as before.

I’m still getting the hang of this new bird photography technique; my problem at the moment is getting the shutter speed, depth of field and angle right. Obviously, since it is by remote, I have to plan it ahead. Birds being birds, they’re never quite where you want them to be for a photo, and some – but not all – species get frightened by the shutter, so they scarper as soon as they hear something.

A Chaffinch
A Robin

So that’s why the remote images are not so sharp. I had this suspicion that perhaps my lens needs calibrating, but other things are sharp, so it probably means that my shutter speed is too low for the rapid movements of birds, or the point of focus isn’t quite where it needs to be in any given photo relative to the subject (the bird in the photo).

I got a new remote for my camera, so that I can operate it from a distance, from any angle. It also means that I can get the camera right up to the birds, and from interesting angles. I’m still figuring out what works; for example, the shutter noise bothers some birds. Magpies don’t like that the camera is there at all (no bad thing – they’ll probably try to steal it).

At last, a photo of a Dunnock. Next up, I’ll try and get a photo of squabbling Goldfinches.

The cheap remote. It sits on top of the camera.

Haha, yes indeed, the biscuit mountain that I’ve been posting photos of recently, it was great, and then I felt that maybe it deserves an explanation. I was reorganising my kitchen and then I discovered that…

A poorly-judged investment in Biscuit Futures I strongly suspect that ‘futures’ is a word only really understood in North America. And Canadia.

I discovered that I have acquired in my kitchen a very large amount of almost non-perishable foods in the form of biscuits, crackers and snacks, things that I like but don’t really eat a lot of, especially now that during most of the week I don’t eat after 3 in the afternoon (I’ll get back to this another time). And this is the sort of thing that creeps up on you; you buy some here, get another of those there, are you running out of this, and so on, until after three and a half years, I have… an awful lot of biscuits and crackers.

I had set out to rearrange where everything is in the kitchen, because stuff (such as flour, which you’ll recall featured heavily in the posts on baking recently) was starting to spread out, to get put into various places. Things were illogically placed. There were boxes of things that I started thinking about, haven’t they been there for a while? A very long while? Aren’t there a lot of these things here? Isn’t that cupboard very full? Is it possible that for a single, middle-aged man, regularly feeding a child, occasionally baking, not eating a huge amount (although probably still slightly too much, but he’s working on it), that this kitchen is stocked for a family of 6 ravenous Baboons?

Kevin, when the snacks fell.
That’s a solid Star Trek: The Next Generation reference, and I’m not sure too many people got it, which is a shame.

So that’s when I got into it, digging everything out and sorting through it. I actually planned to do this earlier in the year when I started baking and realised that the kitchen is a bit full for a one-man operation, and not very tidy. If you’re going to have people over in the middle of a Europe-wide pandemic lockdown, you’d want your kitchen to be tidy.

Look, there’s a silver lining here, which is that while it’s clearly and painfully wasteful that I’ve somehow managed to store two crates of biscuits and crackers and whatnot for no good reason, and I can’t just give people half a pack of two year-old biscuits as an act of bone-headed charity, I also… didn’t eat them. That’s right, I am sort of a hero, because I didn’t eat two crates of biscuits, which is amazing. I had that power and used it for good, I didn’t eat them. I just left them to accumulate around my kitchen until now.

And now I have to eat them.

So I bought some new mountain bike tyres, an exercise into which I put the usual amount of effort that I do into buying something like this; I started many months ago, I researched, I compared, I agonised, I procrastinated, I reasoned, I weighed, I balanced, I came up with a business case, I came up with a counter-case, I researched, I compared, I agonised all over again, and finally the tyres went out of stock because time moves on and Schwalbe had enough time to rotate their product line and had no fucks to give for my careful research process. But it is coming into Winter now, and the tyres that came with my bike are more suitable for dry conditions. They grip the mud dearly and don’t let go of it, and it makes for interesting times in the mud. And they’re a pain to clean afterwards, for the little cycling that I do (especially now in lockdown, because once again, that is where we are).

They arrived on Thursday. The bike is a ’29er’ which means that it has the great bike road bike-sized wheels that the young people like, and I much prefer folding tyres, which are lighter but also more awkward to work with, especially when they’re new and they’re ‘tubeless ready’ which means a snugger fit in anticipation of using sealant and no inner tube. Anyway, long story short, after an hour and a half I had not succeeded in fitting them. I went back and forth, I tried this and that, nothing. It wasn’t helped by me using a 26″ latex inner tube, which is fine once fitted but doesn’t really want to coöperate, especially if fitting the tyre isn’t going well.

So I watched some YouTube videos before bed, and found out some of the (with the benefit of hindsight, obvious) tricks for getting tyres on, especially here and here and also here, which isn’t a video. I also watch some other stuff and was religiously radicalised. I’ve decided that the Raëlian Church is where it’s at, and I’ll be calling each and every one of you about the Message from the Designers. Presumably, something about not using Comic Sans, and good leading practices. I’ve only just started.

Friday? 5 SECONDS. 5 FUCKING SECONDS BY DOING IT PROPERLY ACCORDING TO A SMUG GUY IN A YOUTUBE HOW-TO. Just like that. Easy. By making sure that the part I seated first was in the dip in the rim and then pulling down towards the last part to go on, I could do it easily with not a lot of effort. It was a little trickier with the tube admittedly; I use latex tubes for 26” wheels, so they’re a bit too small. It’s my compromise between tubes and going tubeless, which involves filling your tyres with liquid latex soup that instantly seals punctures.

The upshot was that I got my tyres on quickly, and I could’ve spent my lunch on Friday thinking about mountain biking instead of thinking about tyres.

As an aside, the new tyres are Schwalbe Rocket Rons (Evo Speed), replacing Racing Ray and Racing Ralph. Those tyres are good, but suited to dry conditions, and clog up quickly in mud. These are from the better range and are 150 to 200 grammes lighter per tyre. That might not seem like much, but for rotating weight, that’s a lot.

Shortbread is the purity of cake; just flour, butter, sugar, heat and long-term cardiovascular trouble requiring medication and surgical intervention.

I set myself an admittedly silly challenge yesterday as a response to an enormously stressful Tuesday, by applying the sane type of approach that gave the world USA President Donald J. Trump and outsourcing my challenge to Twitter. Anyway, the upshot was to get the divorce process moving and bake a cake of some sort, and somewhat surprisingly keeping my job.

It’s a Jaime Oliver recipe, from his Big Book, so I have no link. He probably has it on his website, or a variation of it. It’s lovely, but heavier than depleted Uranium. A small piece of this could sustain an adult for weeks (and that’s what it was originally supposed to do).

In conclusion, by way of outrageous statement, I’m pretty much an incredible guy. If you met me you would be all “wow, this is pretty much an incredible guy” and I would say ”Well, hey” because I already knew it but enjoyed your realisation of it.