Sunday, May 31, 2020

Weekend Diversion: On the air again

Welcome back to the new season of Weekend Diversion. That’s a joke, because these posts have no regular schedule whatsoever, and so, no “seasons”. But they’re about something broadcast—music videos on TV—so, why not extend the theme for this re-launch?

In March last year, I published a Weekend Diversion post called “Random songs I liked”. That was only a few months before the free to air music video channel I watched was taken off the air, but that channel has now returned, as I talked about yesterday, and I decided these “Weekend Diversion” posts would return, too, and that post in March was the inspiration for this one. However, since this is the last day of May, and May is “NZ Music Month”, I thought I may as well do a post about some recent New Zealand songs I liked.

First up, a group I’ve shared before, Six60 and their song “Never Enough”:

Since the band is mainly a New Zealand band—and a huge presence here—I have no information on chart performance, if any, overseas. However this song is their most recent single and reached Number 10 on the RIANZ chart, and was certified Gold. It’s from the group’s third eponymous album (often referred to as Six60 (3)). That album was released in November of last year, the single later, and the video this past January.

I’m not exactly a fan of the group, though I do like some of their songs, including this one. To me it has more of a pop feel to it than many of their earlier songs, something I obviously think is a good thing. I have no idea if this is an indication of where they’re headed, however, NZ groups that have success overseas usually are more pop and—sigh—"mainstream", so adding more pop influences could help them overseas—if that’s even what they want.

Next up is a group called eleven7four and their song “Where It Hurts ft. Tayla Parx”:

The group is twin brothers Muche and Shingi Murare, who were born in 1995 in Zimbabwe. The family moved to New Zealand around the turn of the century, and the brothers grew up in East Auckland. They met Tayla Parx (real name Taylor MonĂ©t Parks) at a music festival, and that’s where the story gets complicated.

When I first saw the video, I assumed they were American (the video was shot in Los Angeles). Not to put too fine a point on it, but New Zealand just doesn’t have that many black people living here, so it’s easy to make an erroneous assumption like that. I found out otherwise when the music video channel was playing one of its sponsored segments, and it was an interview with the brothers. I was doing something else at the time, but I noticed when they spoke that they had a Kiwi twang in their accents. They told the story of how they met Parx, mentioned growing up in East Auckland, and by then I wanted to know more. That added yet another layer to the story.

The interviewer, like some who have written about this song, breathlessly reported that Tayla Parx had “written” (their word) several US Top 10 songs, including “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani, “Thank U Next” by Ariana Grande (which was in one of these posts back in June of last year), and “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco, the latter of which I shared in that post in March I mentioned up top (see how symmetrical that makes everything?). In fact, Parx was co-writer of those songs, which is not to diminish her in any way—she’s clearly extremely talented. However, this is an example of something journalists often do to talented New Zealand performers: Make them and/or what they do seem like a much bigger deal than perhaps the evidence supports.

In any case, I like the sound of the song, the arrangement and sampling used. One thing, though, is that I’m not keen on vocals that have been electronically altered, mainly because it’s done far too much. Still, I liked the song and the performance by Tayla Parx.

I have no idea whether this charted in New Zealand or not (it’s not currently in the NZ charts), but it doesn’t seem to have charted anywhere else, either. The song was released last month from their upcoming debut album, What's The 1174? (Side 1), which has not yet been released.

Next a song by Benee, “Supalonely ft. Gus Dapperton”:

Benee (real name Stella Rose Bennett) is a 20 year old singer/songwriter from Grey Lynn, Auckland. Last year she won four NZ Music Awards, and—to be blunt—I thought she was insufferable every time she came up to accept an award: She came across as arrogant, self-centered, and otherwise annoying. Her music, on the other hand, is catchy and popular. Never judge a performer by their award acceptance speeches. Clearly.

The featured artist is Gus Dapperson (real name Brendan Patrick Rice), a singer, songwriter, and comedian from the USA. I know nothing about him, and hadn’t heard of him until this song.

She wrote the song to mock her own sadness when she and her then-boyfriend broke up. It was released in New Zealand and Australia last December, and in the USA and UK in March. The song hit Number 8 in Australia, 10 in Canada (Gold), 2 in New Zealand (Platinum), 18 in the UK (Silver), and 39 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100”. The song is currently Number 2 on the “Official Top 20 NZ Singles Chart” (which is for Kiwi performers only).

Finally, “In The Air” by L.A.B.:

I can’t remember ever having heard of this group before, and the truth is, this is another mistake of mine: When I first heard it, I thought it was by Six60 because the sound is very similar to that band's usual sound (I was listening to, not watching, the videos at the time). I then compounded that error by glancing at it and assuming they were American, which I wouldn’t have done if I’d watched it from the beginning: When they first appear on screen, there’s a shot of them in a righthand drive car with a Warrant of Fitness sticker clearly visible on one side, the vehicle registration on the other (it may be visible in the still for the video above). Just goes to show that multi-tasking isn’t a good idea when it intereferes with a blog post in the making. Not that I knew that then, though.

I like the song okay—it has an easy sound to it, though I’m not a fan of reggae/blues/etc. fusion songs. What do I know? The song is currently Number One on the “Official Top 20 NZ Singles Chart”, and Number Seven on the “Official NZ Top 40 Singles” chart (which is for all pop music).

And that's it for this first post returning to my "Weekend Diversion" series, which really ended because when the free to air music video channel ended I just never saw new music videos unless I went looking for them, which was complicated. Among other things, it was too time consuming to sit through the entire NZ Top 40 to find interesting new songs. That, however, might be a thing from time to time again, too.

That TV channel and these posts are on the air again. Sort of.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Weekend Diversion will return

I last published a Weekend Diversion post in August last year. They became much more difficult to do when the free to air music video channel I watched was taken off the air in July last year. I had to search out specific videos based on the NZ music chart, and that meant I seldom saw a video by accident. But now there’s been a twist in this story: The music video channel returned.

In February 2020, the company that owned it (and the radio station from which it gets its name) announced that the channel was returning, along with one playing “easy listening” music—usually music that’s often softer and, um, less challenging, but also including a lot of older hits of various kinds. The two channels were taking the place of channels the company ran that apparently “didn't find the audience it had hoped for relative to its cost base”. Okay, then. When the old music channel was axed, I wrote:
The Stuff article [about the axing] said the chief executive of the company that owns the radio station and the former music video channel (among many others) claimed that the move was “in line with audience trends, which show people primarily consume music videos online,” the article said. It then quoted him directly: "With the move to viewers consuming music videos online, it is a natural progression for [the former TV channel] to be available [only] via streaming." (edited to tell the real story and to avoid giving them any publicity; link was in the original post).
In announcing the relaunch, the CEO said, “We're a business that continues to refine, adapt and evolve our offerings to our viewers. We continue to try new approaches to deliver what people want." Uh huh. Okay, then—the audiences were moving to streaming only eight months earlier, and then BANG! They changed their minds and wanted the music video TV station again. Right…

The company that owns the TV channels and their related radio stations is up for sale, so a cynic might suggest that this was a cheap way of using (and keeping) the frequencies that a potential buyer of the business might want. Good thing I’m not cynical! Obviously New Zealanders completely changed their minds after a mere eight months without a TV music video channel. Obviously.

So: Here we are, then. For the time being, the free to air music video channel I used to watch is back, along with another, softer one. I noticed the change when I was channel surfing one night and saw “Hit Music Now” in the programme description for one of the channels, and “Take It Easy” for the other. I noticed that when it returned, the channel I used to watch the channel played a few songs (not necessarily new ones) in heavy rotation, including several I’d already shared on this blog. In recent weeks, there’s been more variety.

However, that wasn’t the first music channel to return to Freeview.

A music video channel called Juice TV retuned on Kordia-TV, a rentable channel of Kordia, which is the government-owned company that, among other things, runs the broadcasting of radio and TV in New Zealand. The channel had ended its run as a solo channel in 2015.

I have to admit that back in the day I seldom watched Juice TV because its focus was on non-mainstream music. That doesn’t mean I thought the music was bad, necessarily, or that I didn’t like any of it, necessarily, just that there was a lot that I didn’t like. That hadn’t changed when the channel started up again, but it may in the future. Stay tuned—so to speak.

All of which means I was glad to see the return of the music channel I used to watch, and I’ll again watch it from time to time, for however long it lasts (or have it on in the background for the music with fewer commercials than radio, something I only listen to in the car). This return means that my Weekend Diversion posts will return, too, starting tomorrow. They’ll continue to show up from time to time until—sometime or other, while the channel lasts. I guess you could say that I’ll continue to refine, adapt and evolve my offerings and try new approaches to deliver what people want.

Or, something like that.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Friday will be a difficult day

No matter what I do, tomorrow, Friday, will be a very difficult day. If things go badly, it’ll be a very, very terrible day. If they go perfectly, I’ll probably still be a wreck at the end of it all.

Early tomorrow morning I take Sunny up to the vet to have a couple teeth removed and the rest cleaned. That means putting her under general anaesthetic, which is always risky, but she’s nearly 12 and has a heart murmur, so the risks are higher. As always, they’ll do a blood test first to see if she can tolerate anaesthetic, though I realised this evening they never told me what they’d do to treat her teeth if she can’t be anaesthetised.

This started a couple weeks ago when she would sometimes not eat her food. It was mostly her breakfast she wouldn’t eat, and she usually ate her dinner. Other than that, her behaviour was completely normal (including playing with Leo), and she seemed happy. But it wasn’t getting better, so last Friday I took her to the vet to get her checked out.

The vet looked at Sunny’s teeth and probably gasped. Well, probably not literally, but it felt like that to me. She told me, almost apologetically, that the procedure would cost somewhere between $600 and $1100. “It is what it is,” I said. She seemed pleased by that because some people won’t spend the money—more likely, they can’t. But as I’ve said many times over the years, I feel I have an obligation to give the furbabies the best possible life, even if that costs me.

When she told me the diagnosis, I instantly felt intensely guilty. I felt that I’d broken my promise to Nigel, because Sunny shouldn’t be going through that. When the vet stepped out for a minute, I was, very briefly, almost near crying, but I didn’t.

I realised that this problem didn’t suddenly appear over the past eight months: It’s been years in the making. Several years ago, the same thing happened to Jake, when he was younger than Sunny is now. That was a big message that we should be brushing the teeth of both of them, but we never did, and this is the result of that.

Thinking about all that interrupted my guilt: Both Nigel and I were negligent—neither of us wanted to do it, and neither of us insisted the other one do it. And, that’s not the sort of thing that was ever in the front of our minds. This means that it took both of us to get Sunny into this mess.

My brother in law reminded me that taking Sunny to the vet to get her checked out IS looking after her, and it is. I realised that after I remembered all the tooth brushing that didn’t happen. I share responsibility for the situation with Nigel, but now it’s up to me to do something about it.

Even so, it still makes me very sad that she has to go through that when it probably could have been prevented if—as Nigel would put it—we’d been better daddies. The worst thing is, obviously, that she may not survive the procedure, and if that happens—while I’m still grieving Nigel—it would be devastating.

So tomorrow morning I’ll get up early, have my shower, and then she and I will go off to the vet. Jake and Leo don’t understand why I leave them behind, and they won’t understand why when I’ve come back a little while later without her. They won’t understand why I’ll be distressed until I get the phone call from the vet, but they’ll sense it. At least they’ll get their breakfast when I get home; they’ll like that.

Tomorrow is 36 weeks since Nigel died. Having said that, there’s not a single say he’s not on my mind, and tomorrow will be no different. But it will add to my worry about Sunny.

And, if all that wasn’t enough, late this afternoon I got the estimate, and the original verbal one was a little bit off: Instead of costing $600 to $1100, the final estimate is $1036 to $2124. It is what it is.

At least I got the back lawn mowed today.

The photo up top is of Sunny and Leo playing tug-of-war with a stuffed toy last month. She's using her paws to try and pull it out of Leo's mouth.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Fronting with truth

The image at left is the from page of The New York Times for Sunday, May 24, 2020. The paper used the names and a brief part of the victim’s obituary as away to convey an idea of who the person was, what their life was like. It’s 1,000 snapshots of of the sort of vibrant people that the USA has lost.

1,000 is also a small fraction of how many people the USA will lose before this is all over. The front page was published just as the USA was closing in on 100,000 deaths. And with many, many more deaths coming after that, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact they’re people who were lost—not mere numbers.

The paper published a note about how the project came together, but the piece speaks for itself, really—and it speaks for 1,000 of those who were lost.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lockdown lessons

Lockdown was an ordeal for all New Zealanders, though how bad it was varied widely from not really bad through to horrible. But regardless of how it affected us personally, we all learned a lot, though maybe not what we thought we would learn (like a language). While the lessons we learned may seem specific so what we’ve been through, I know that the things I learned will prove useful in the future.

The first, and maybe biggest, lesson I learned is that I need to have people in my daily life—people I know, and I need to see them in person, not just over a phone or computer connection. I’ve never done well being all by myself all the time, but that’s something I’d forgotten until lockdown brutally reminded me. Of all the things I learned, this is the only one that I can’t necessarily adapt to future challenges.

It turned out that keeping busy—forcing myself, if necessary—played a big role in getting me through. I’d planned several projects for the time under lockdown, everything from trying new recipes to mowing the lawn, among many others. I also unpacked several dozen boxes. The only drawback was that in my rush to prepare for lockdown, I wasn’t fully prepared for some projects (like not having all the supplies I needed). Even so, my plans and preparation worked exactly as I intended: Not mere distraction, but productive distraction that both got things done and made me feel better because I got them done.

I also learned that it’s very important to have down time. Like many other people during lockdown, I often felt too tired and washed out to do anything, which, for me, was from a combination of factors: The depression from grief, of course, the fact that the enormity of the unpacking job I had (and still have) was daunting and often overwhelming, and that my prescriptions make me tired. When I got too tired, I just let myself do nothing at all. But there was also an odd feeling of boredom (shared by a lot of people, apparently), so despite having so much I could do, there was very little I wanted to do, and that was the main source of my “Lockdown Lethargy”, as I called it.

There will probably come a time I can use all that I’ve learned, though not necessarily all in one single crisis. When separation from the people in my life is unavoidable for whatever reason, there’s not much I can do about that. However, having some pre-planned projects on hand—and I pretty much always do—is a good way to fill time when there’s nothing else I can do—as long as the supplies for that project are adequate. At the same time, giving myself time off is invaluable to coping with a major disruption like a lockdown.

No one wants to see is a return to lockdown because of a “second wave” of infections. But even if we avoid that (and, so far, it looks like we may), there will be other pandemics in our near future. If we’re now experiencing “once a century” weather events with increasing frequency, it seems probable we’ll experience “once a century” disease pandemics from time to time, too. It’s best to be prepared, as best we can be.

At the moment, natural disasters—floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc—may all seem more likely to disrupt our lives than a new pandemic, and maybe they are. But pandemics will be a part of our future, and some may be as difficult to control as the current one is.

If we’re lucky, we learn something from every experience we go through, good and bad experiences alike. I’m sure that the things I learned will prove useful in the future. At least, I hope so.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Shop local-ish

The video above is an ad currently running on NZ television. It’s from an ad agency promoting the admonition that we “shop local”. I’ve heard a lot of people say they intend to do exactly that, but will they? Should they?

Many businesses did it tough during New Zealand’s lockdown, and many won’t survive all this. Even big retailers have announced closures of some of their locations, and eveb though at least some intended on doing that for other reasons, many small independent retailers don’t have the resources of the big guys. All of which means that business failures are inevitable.

Part of the problem that Kiwis have, despite their great intentions, is that we may not necessarily be aware of local small businesses that can provide whatever product or service we’re looking for. A web search won’t necessarily show them because the algorithms search engines use may very well ignore small businesses if they don’t get enough of the “right” traffic. Moreover, many small businesses don’t even maintain a website at all.

Another issue is price. With huge numbers of people on unemployment (it’s expected to be at or near double digits by June), a lot of Kiwis will be watching every cent. Small retailers usually can’t hope to match the prices of big retailers. That means that despite what Kiwis want to do (use small, independent businesses), their financial realities may prevent that.

We also have no idea what will happen to shopping habits. Will people return to their old ways, or have things really changed? Will online ordering really replace going to individual stores? It’ll be quite awhile before we’ll have enough data to make any sort of educated guess about that, but if people don’t deliberately choose small independent businesses (including for online ordering), it will probably increase the number that fail.

On the other side of all that is that fact the big businesses employ Kiwis. Chain stores run by corporations aren’t exactly small, independent, or even local, really (and may not even be New Zealand-owned), but they are employers. If we avoid the big guys altogether, that will cost jobs, too.

And, if we do turn to big, not necessarily local, strictly speaking, businesses, will we feel like we’ve “failed” in some sort of moral duty? Some who do feel that may then feel they may as well give up the effort entirely. People are weird like that.

So, what should we do? I won’t tell other people what to do, but I know that I’ll give first preference to New Zealand-owned companies, big or small. I’ll also turn to small, local NZ-owned businesses when I can, but not necessarily as a first choice—there are a lot of factors that will make that decision for me (that’s also true for whether I patronise New Zealand-owned businesses as a first choice, for that matter, because it’s not always possible). Here’s the thing about that, though: It’s exactly what I’ve always done—for many years.

Shop local? Sure, but maybe it’s more realistic to say, “shop local when you can”. That’s very easy to do, and even with something like shopping, we need to make it simple and easy for people to help. If everyone makes a point of shopping “local-ish”, it’ll still help. Isn’t that the whole point?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Back to (close enough to) normal

I stayed up to see in the Level 4 Lockdown, the move down to Level 3, and now, the move back down to Level 2. If this really a once in a century event, then I felt I needed to be a witness. Which is why I posted the photo above to Instagram at the moment the Lockdown ended.

It’s a topic in itself, but the Lockdown was the second most difficult thing I’ve ever been through, precisely because of the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. Still, I tried to stay positive. Nigel was my example for that, and the most positive person I’ve ever known. He ended up being both at the centre of, and my example for persevering through, a terribly difficult time.

I just hope we never repeat it.

Times Like These

It’s less than half a day until New Zealand enters Alert Level 2, the closest we’ve been to “normal” since the pandemic began. For many New Zealanders, including me, going to the next Alert Level has brought an odd mix of excitement and trepidation. We’ll know in the next couple of weeks which one was more justified.

The excitement is as obvious as it is palpable: We’ll all get to see friends and family that we haven’t seen in seven weeks, so “excitement” is for many of us a bit of an understatement. I think that’s especially true for people like me who have been in solitary confinement during that time.

The trepidation is similarly obvious and palpable. We’ve seen many countries begin to open up only to face a “second wave” of cases of Covid-19. Will we have that happen, too? Scientists still don’t fully understand how the virus is transmitted, so can we be sure that we’re avoiding exposure to the virus? On top of all that, after seven weeks of isolation, to varying degrees, the idea of going back out in public is terrifying for some, and a source of anxiety for many.

Excitement and trepidation abound.

Each of us has tried to get to this point as best we can, and some of those efforts have been shared publicly. The video above is among them.

It is Live Lounge Allstars’ cover of “Times Like These”, a song by Foo Fighters originally released January 14, 2003. The first version of their video for that song is at the bottom of this post. Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who co-wrote the song, appears in the cover version, too.

The Live Studio Allstars are a bunch of performers who are well known in the UK (regardless of where they’re actually from). It refers to BBC Radio One’s “Live Studio”, a programme that has performers to cover versions of songs. The video above premiered during BBC One’s “Big Night In” telethon broadcast on April 23. It raised funds for charities helping those affected by Covid-19.

While it seems almost petty to talk about chart performance for a charity single, but since I always talk about that when talking about pop music, here goes: In Australia, it didn’t chart, but in Canada in was at 8, New Zealand 5, the UK 1, and the USA 12. It was the first single produced by BBC Radio 1 to hit Number One in the UK since their cover version of “Perfect Day” in 1997.

I don’t normally share lyric videos, but sometimes they can be justifed, and this is one of those times. The lyric video for this cover version makes it clear who everyone is, something particularly useful for some of us. The version of the performance video broadcast in New Zealand has a chyron as each performer sings, showing their names. I’m familiar with a lot of the artists in the video, but I didn’t necessarily recognise all of them, so, without the chyrons in the performance video on YouTube, I found the lyric video useful.

This pandemic has a while to play out yet, so we may see more collaborative efforts like this. Much as I like this, and I do, and without meaning any offence to the participants, I nevertheless hope we don’t need many more of these sorts of things. I hope we really are turning a corner. The thought we we may be doing so is a cause for excitement, but that’s definitely comes with trepidation. Here in New Zealand, we’ll know in the next couple of weeks which one was more justified.

Nice cover version, though.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Last Lockdown adventures

At 11:59pm tomorrow, New Zealand leaves Lockdown Lite (Alert Level 3) and heads to Alert Level 2 (Normal Lite?). Lockdown has affected people in many different ways, but one of the most common is that people have taken on all sorts of projects. I have, too, and today was among my last Lockdown Projects.

The photo above is of a bacon and egg pie I made for tonight’s dinner (and probably two meals tomorrow). When I shared it to Instagram this evening, I said:
Tonight I made a bacon and egg pie, which I’ve made before, BUT this time I made the short crust pastry from scratch—for the first time ever! The pastry recipe I used made pastry that was a bit too small, but I can adjust that next time. This one turned out well, and a new Lockdown Achievement has been achieved, some 30 hours before we “Level Down”.
As is so often the case, there’s more to the story. First, the why: Previous failure.

I last made a bacon and egg pie on April 3, a little more than a week after Lockdown began. I used frozen pastry sheets I had on hand, as I have before, and thought nothing about it. But when it was nearly done baking, I thought it smelled “funny”. I then realised that I’d inadvertently used sweet shortcrust pastry, which is usually used for dessert pies. I said on my personal Facebook:
Tonight I learned that when you inadvertently use sweet shortcrust pastry to make a bacon and egg pie, it's not as awful as it may sound. That's not exactly an endorsement of the method, of course, but it also wasn't a total disaster. In other news, I've decided to learn how to make my own pie pastry.
And so, another project was added to my Lockdown List: Make my own shortcrust pastry. Today was the day, but the truth is that the Sweet Shortcrust Incident was only the spark: The actual origins of this story, and its significance to me, go much farther back.

Many (many!) years ago, Nigel and I went to our friend Annie’s place for dinner. As we sat and talked, Annie mixed the butter and flour for pie pastry for the dessert. She had a bowl in her lap, and mixed away, never missing out on the conversation. Nigel talked about that for YEARS afterward, always with awe and good humour.

Neither of us ever forgot that time, but we also never tried to make pastry from scratch. Never.

Tonight I finally ended that avoidance, and it turned out well. But I was also well aware that it was another thing I did for the first time only after Nigel died. I’ll eventually lose track of such firsts, of course, but right now I do wish he could have sampled my first pastry effort. I know he wouldn’t have talked about it for years afterward, but that’s not the kind of thing that drives me. If he’d liked it, he would have said to me, “Yum! You can make that again.” And that would be all I’d need to hear.

But he’s not here to say that to me, so I thought it to myself instead. It’s the closest I can get, and I’m surprisingly okay with that.

Besides, I did make a nice pie. I can make that again.

And that’s why this simple project was also an important one: I had something to prove to myself, to Nigel (kind of…), and to honour that good time we had with our friend all those years ago. It’s just a part of the process of figuring out who the hell I am now, and sometimes even something as simple as lowly shortcrust pastry can help that process.

I’m just glad it didn’t turn out to be a half-baked idea. You’re welcome.

The pie before I cut it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Honest Government Ad

The video above is part of a series of satirical “Honest Government Ads” by Australian outfit, The Juice Media. The “ads” are all brutal—and on point. They’re also full of “naughty words” (they put out what they call “PG Versions” of their ad videos, which includes a “PG Version” of this ad, too).

I wonder how many gullible people have been “fooled” by these videos and think they’re really from “the government”. After all, this is the era of low-information people without critical thinking skills, people who take pride in their ignorance and their hair-trigger outrage responses. Still, I’ve always believed that breaking through the dull haze of complacency is a good thing, and maybe a few of those sorts of people might even be compelled to try to “debunk” the video, thereby finding out that they have, in fact, been fooled: By the very politicians and media outlets they once screamed in defense of.

Many years ago, I saw a documentary that included an interview with actor Tom Fitzpatrick who said something I’ve never forgotten; Laughing is something we do when we’re surprised by the truth. That’s precisely why so many of us laugh at these videos: These days it’s surprising to see any presentation of truth, and satire and comedy seem to be among the few places where truth is still presented.

Friday, May 08, 2020

In dependence

The longer a couple is together, the more their lives become intertwined, and they may become quite dependent on one another, all without ever realising it—until it all ends. This has been the biggest thing I’ve come to realise over the past couple months.

Ever since Nigel died, I’ve needed to figure out how to do everything for myself, something that became a much bigger deal when I moved into this house. Technology was the main thing I was worried about because I thought it would be very difficult for me, and that I’d have to learn how to do things—or, at best, relearn them.

Things turned out to be quite a bit different, mostly.

Every time I’ve been faced with a technology problem I’ve eventually solved it. It turns out that I haven’t needed to learn much (yet), nor even re-learn things. Instead, I just needed a bit of a refresher so I could do things I haven’t had to do for decades.

I first realised that things were very different than I expected when I was unpacking boxes of Nigel’s stuff, including from the old garage. “That’s a SATA hard drive,” I said to myself, or “that tool is for putting connectors onto network cables,” or “that box is for VoIP” (Voice Over Internet Protocol, which is where the “landline” is hosted by a company that delivers the connection over the Internet, something we’ve had for years).

Some problems have been harder to overcome than others, but nothing has made me want to give up entirely, which is good because I can’t call in a professional to help until Alert Level 2. By then, I doubt I’ll need any help, unless something totally unexpected comes up, of course.

There’s one thing that’s been on my mind a lot: I wish Nigel had either told me how to do things or, at least, written down notes so I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again. But, really: Who actually does that? I never did that, either, but in my case there would have been very little that Nigel either needed to know or that he’d have trouble figuring out. That wasn’t just because he was so very clever, though he was, but also because of our division of duties.

Like a lot of couples, he did some things and I did other things. Among the things I did was editing documents for him—grammar, apostrophes, commas, yes, but also wording: Did it say what he meant to say? The more important a document was, the more likely he was to ask me to help him. And if it was a difficult situation, like responding to a difficult and demanding customer, he relied on me to package his response in as non-threatening a way as possible, something that was easier for me because I was an outsider to his work.

Among other interests, Nigel loved technology and was always coming up with new ways to use technology to make our lives better (like the solar powered gate I talked about back in October). He was often changing things so they’d be “better, faster, stronger”, as I sometimes put it to him. He smiled when I said that, with his little cheeky grin that showed me he was in on the joke.

Over the past few years, we had (at least…) five different digital cordless phone sets, most of which were used with our VOIP system, each set replaced as Nigel found ever better solutions. That’s why there was no point him in telling me how he’d set it all up, because he kept changing it. If he’d written down some notes he could have updated them and that would have made things much easier for me, but, like I said, who actually does that?

If I’d had any idea that I could have lost Nigel, let alone so fast, I’d have made it my business to know how everything worked so I could maintain it (and in this case, “it” can mean a lot of things). But I couldn’t know any of that, and I was happy to let Nigel tinker away with stuff as much as he wanted to because it made him happy. He enjoyed it so much, and if I’m honest, I felt it was kind of cute how passionate he got about things that many of us would’ve thought of as boring (like a phone system). Besides, I never knew what I needed to know until I needed to know.

So, here I am, refreshing my memory and updating my knowledge as needed, but not until I need to because technology stuff definitely takes me longer to figure out than it used to—it seems I only have so much room in my head these days, not just because of age, but because of everything.

I’d like to think that Nigel would be proud of how well I’ve done with figuring this stuff out, but as I said in the past, I actually think he’d be more surprised, shocked even. Sure, he knew I was smart enough to figure technology stuff out, but it’d surprise him that I actually did, especially because it meant I was paying attention when he talked about his latest technology passion. But, since I didn’t listen carefully enough (obviously), he’d probably find it surprising that I took in enough for it to help me do stuff. Actually, I’m kind of surprised, too.

There have been several times in recent weeks when I’ve talked to Nigel’s photo. “Why did you have to make things so complicated?” I’d ask him, or maybe, “there’s so damn much I’d like to ask you!” Which is where notes would’ve helped: I’d have a way to actually get my questions answered. And, I should have made notes for him, too, just in case.

But, really: Who actually does that?

I’m now dependent on myself, and I’m still learning how to BE independent. I get through each challenge, but every single day I wish so much that I didn’t have to. Independence, I’ve learned, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But learning a little self-reliance isn’t a bad thing. More people in a couple should probably actually do that.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Little work

Sometimes a little work deserves a little reward, and today was one of those days. When I shared the photo above on Instagram, I said:
Just finished mowing the back lawn (not the front because I wasn’t into it today). So, now a little treat: The last piece of fudge I made TWO WEEKS ago. I clearly have self-restraint. Don’t worry, this little snack isn’t as bad as it looks: The espresso is decaffeinated, so it’s healthy.
I’d planned on mowing the lawns today, but kept getting distracted—as I have most days during Lockdown, actually. By the time I got to it, it was mid-afternoon, so I only did the back lawn. By the time I finished, the shadows were getting longer, and it was a good time to stop. But, I wasn’t quite done, as I added in a comment:
I *could* add that I also cleaned the underside of the mower when I finished, because the grass is long and pretty damp (and I haven't done it in the previous three mows). It was good I did because the moisture made the cuttings clump into sort of grass turds. I could've mentioned that, too, but I didn't want to imply I'm industrious or anything. Lockdown has put that myth to bed!
The lawn is definitely thickening up, but it’s a long way from being a proper lawn. I figure if I keep at it, and don’t get too impatient, I’ll get it there eventually. It gives me something to do and a small amount of exercise, too.

Below is one more photo from today, showing the lawn as it looked when I was done mowing it (except doing the edges). For comparison, there are progress photos in my post “Terraforming”, however, this is a sort of “bonus photo”: Later this month, I plan on posting progress photos taken over four months. This photo is actually between two of them. Bonus!

Sadly, though, there won’t be more fudge any time soon. That’s for the best.

Related: “Lockdown activities”, my post about making the fudge.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Venturing forth

Yesterday I left the house. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but now, under Covid-19 Lockdown Alert Level 3, we can go and collect stuff from stores, so for the first time in some five weeks, I had a reason to go out.

This past Tuesday, I mentioned placing online orders, and while the one from the supermarket arrived a little early, there was no word on the other one. They sent me an email Thursday evening, after I’d already shut down my laptop for the night.

When I saw the email the next morning, I followed the link to set up a collection time and chose between 2 and 2.30pm the same day, yesterday. I will admit that I had a little trouble working out where to go, and for a brief time I contemplated giving up, going home and re-scheduling, but I stopped, breathed, thought more carefully and rationally, and went back and put my car in the queue.

As it turned out, there’s a shift change at 2pm, and it took awhile for them to resume bringing orders out the waiting cars. Still, it was only a half hour, and I figured my car could use a little more running time, anyway, since I’d only started it a couple times since lockdown began. In fact, when I left the house to go get the order, I noticed there were cobwebs all around my car’s driver side tire; they were probably on the other wheels, too.

One of the main things I’d ordered was stones to complete the project out front that I’d started last weekend. The left side of the photo up above shows the spot I’d stopped (the base course is also visible), and the right side shows it after I was done. I ordered four bags of stones, and at first thought I’d only need two: I used all four. Despite all that, I’m still only just finished with the project.

Next, I’ll wait for it all to settle a bit and then I’ll top it all off using the next size up of river stones to add some texture and visual interest. It’s supposed to rain in the next couple days, and that’ll help the stones settle, so maybe next weekend I’ll put out the final stones. I have two bags of those stones. Will I need them all? This story will need another update when the dust—well, the stones—all settle.

Today, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law picked up some takeaway coffee and brought me one. We stood outside—them near the bottom of the drive, me at the top—and visited a bit (and they could see the stones in person, which is always different than photos). Having no interaction with other human beings is the worst thing about being under lockdown while living alone, so I appreciated the chance to have an appropriately physically distanced visit with family.

Speaking of which, under Alert Level 3, we can now form an "expanded bubble" as long as we keep it small, so my "cousin-in-law" and I are forming an expanded bubble so we can hang out. Because we both live alone, the rules permit us to make this expanded bubble, but I have to admit: It'll be kinda weird spending actual time with another person, let alone someone in the family, when it's been nearly six weeks since I last did that! It also kind of feels naughty.

Actually, it felt weird just to be driving yesterday after all that time at home. As it happens, the very last place I drove to before lockdown was that same home centre, but that day there was a long queue waiting to get into the store, so I didn’t stop.

Alert Level 2, which will hopefully begin within a couple weeks, will ease things even more, and we should be able to get together for family again (rules for Level 2 haven't been announced yet). I probably still won’t be allowed to see my mother in law, but I won’t worry about that now, before the rules are announced.

I know that this lockdown has been hard on everyone, but I really do think it’s been particularly difficult for those of us living alone. It’s good to get the chance to have some human interaction, however limited and proscribed it may be.

It’s also good to (nearly) finish projects.

"Oh what a tangled web we cleave when at first we start to drive again". Or, something like that.