Monday, 16 February 2009

Spectrum days


Some time after, according to my OH, the rest of the world became interconnected via the Interwebs, he is groping to join the world of geeks.* Now, for him to be in this position is grossly unfair, because back in the dark ages, he was the one who dragged the entire family into computing. It happened thus:

First, my great-auntie Marie left me a diamond ring. My grandma told me about it when I was 12 or so, but that she would look after it until I grew up. Well, I remembered the story, but I never entirely believed in the ring (I hadn’t seen it) so I was quite surprised when, after Grandma died in the early 80s, my father said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a ring for you. I’d sell it if I were you” and handed me something enormous with 3 diamonds set in white gold. I couldn’t really imagine wearing it, and it sat in a shop window in Carlisle for several months, so that I was completely staggered when we received an offer for it: I’d never really believed that it represented money, in the same way that I hadn’t really believed its existence. But we left the shop in Carlisle on a Saturday morning with a large roll of £50 notes, and a couple of hours later we were the proud owners of a ZX Spectrum with 48KB RAM, a tape cassette player, a television set and a large yellow teddybear for younger son, who was too small to get to grips with BASIC.


I think it became clear early on that I had no talent for coding, but OH and elder son took to it happily, and my proofreading years began as I waded my way through pages of machine code looking for a missing colon. Meanwhile, OH was writing his dissertation with the aid of Tasword, an early and primitive word processing programme, younger son was helping Paddington to transport small animals across rivers, and the entire family quickly became au fait with computerspeak. In fact, we even attended an early computer fair and drooled over such unlikely objects as microdrives and, oh wonder of wonders, an early mock-up of the Sam coupé, a computer mostly famous for barely existing. Later we upgraded to an Amstrad word processor and the fact that I had learnt to use it was largely responsible for getting me my first post-childcare job.


So it is ironic that a household which took enthusiastically to personal computing from its earliest days has for so long had one member who was barely literate. I had put my old iMac at OH’s disposal, but it was hardly practical to bring it out for occasional use, and pre-broadband, it was quicker for him to ask me to type a letter, so nothing really came of it. But for the past year or so he has been nagging me to hand over my retired laptop, and I kept putting off, partly because it meant clearing everything off it, partly because it meant making time to be helpful. With a deep intake of breath at Christmas (which brought on a coughing fit), I duly reinstalled the network card, plonked it on the dining table and announced it was ready to go. It’s at moments like these you realise how complex some of the repetitive tasks performed daily actually are. When it’s a struggle to remember how to save a Word file to My Documents, setting up Headers and Footers becomes considerably more time-consuming. “Where did Google go?” he said this morning. A perfectly good question, if you haven’t got into the habit of always opening links in new tabs. Just to add to confusion, sons and I all use the same browser, but in different ways, so three sets of advice are available. I foresee conversations which go thus –
OH: I don’t think that’s the way I did it last time.
Either son: well, that way won’t work very well, why were you doing it like that?

OH: because your mother told me to.

ES: well, she’s wrong.
Bloodshed may easily ensue.

*geek: if you want to find whether you qualify, you can try this quiz, which made me laugh.
My results?
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Many waters

Around us is the sound of many waters - trickling down drains, squelching underfoot, dripping from eaves. A thaw is underway, and suddenly it appears that spring is, too. The rooks are flying back and forth with an air of purpose, no longer searching out food in unlikely places, but making determined forays into the ash branches at the top of the garden, and then struggling out laden with ungainly twigs. The ivy is full of rustlings and twitterings as birds and other small creatures seek out possible homes and the hens are preening and stalking round their run looking plump and self-important. I hope that all this confidence isn't misplaced - the late afternoon sky is full of geese, and seven whooper swans have just flown over, a sign that for some it is still winter.

Today's view of the Cheviot shows just how much it has thawed in the last twenty-four hours, and I have only now got round to downloading these pictures taken on Thursday by my younger son. The first two tell the sad story of a fox and a pigeon (and show why our chickens live in a run):


And here the girls seem to have found someone's hiding place. Senior Dog is supervising, as befits her age.

But, as usual, she takes over. It needs an experienced nose, you know.


So The Bolter may as well enjoy the snow. This second fall was lovely and soft to run in.


A deer in the next field:


And a winter sunset.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

In the snow

I wanted to share some pictures of the Cheviot while it was still completely shrouded in white, it has been so beautiful. This was taken the other evening:
It's very hard to take good pictures in the evening; my camera isn't really good enough. Despite the difficulty, I'm trying to take pictures of it in all its moods.
And here it is this afternoon.

All the snow on the trees and hedges has gone, but there is still some lying on the ground. And here, from the sublime to the faintly ridiculous, is our resident pheasant, taken by my son on a miserable day last week. Actually, he is exceedingly well fed, picking up any corn the chickens have missed and a wide variety of snacks from the bird table.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Deer in flight



I know that the record numbers of deer in Britain are causing concern, and over the last 10 years I have become aware that, from being a rare sight on my train journeys, I now see them from the train almost every time I travel, and not only in the north. Last week it was dark, so I couldn't look out for them but, on turning the last corner of our track before we reached the cottage, there was a young roe deer in the headlights. We often see them on the edge of the woodland that borders the track, and I may have mentioned here how indignant I was when they trampled my baby cabbages! The necessity for some sort of control does nothing to alter my pleasure on seeing them at close quarters, however.


When I read this poem, I see the hinds poised for flight on the edge of the wood, or ofJapanese paintings.

They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek

THEY flee from me that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek
That are now wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown did from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.


Sir Thomas Wyatt

Monday, 2 February 2009

Adieu, sweet Amaryllis



For a couple of weeks this beauty has been gracing our sitting room. It catches the eye every time you enter the room, so huge and splendid is it. Although it's nearly over now, this is the fourth time this hippeastrum has flowered in the couple of years I've had it, and I think it deserves some loving care and attention during next summer, so I shall be feeding it assiduously, along with the two new bulbs which haven't yet started into growth. When they do start, they grow so fast you can practically watch it happening – there will be a perceptible increase in the length of the flower spike at the end of a good, sunny day, and then the bloom emerges, luscious and velvet-y, the richest colour imaginable. Next year I have promised myself one of the newer varieties, if I can find it – somewhere I am sure I've seen a deep plum coloured flower – and one of the multi-stemmed ones. You can be sure I'll post pictures if I'm successful.