Tag Archives: Blogging

St Thomas to Lord of the Dance

One of the features of previous National Blog Post Month series on this site has been the ‘six degrees of separation’ piece. This is where I start with a Wikipedia search on a current topic of interest, and then follow six links through the on-line encyclopaedia and see where I end up. As always, one shouldn’t place too much reliance on the facts that follow in this piece – they are as accurate and reliable as any crowd-sourced open access on-line encyclopaedia can hope to be!

Today’s starting point is St Thomas (being the eponymous hospital that is currently caring for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he seeks to overcome his covid-19 infection). Thomas was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus in the Christian tradition. Thomas is occasionally labelled “Doubting Thomas” as a result of his refusal to believe initial accounts of Christ’s resurrection until he had seen the crucifixion wounds with his own eyes. After Christ’s ascension, Thomas is reputed to have travelled beyond the limits of the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, eventually reaching the Malabar Coast in modern-day Kerala, in India. Some authorities state that Thomas is the Patron Saint of India.

The Malabar Coast refers to a part of south west India that runs from the Western Ghats to the Arabian Sea. It seems likely that the region acquired its name from the 6th Century town of Male, which was a major pepper trading emporium. Barr is the Arabic word for continent or country, and so Male Barr would have been the region or country around Male. During the British occupation of the Indian sub-continent, Malabar District was under the supervision and control of the British East India Company.

The East India Company received its Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I on 31st December 1600 as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East-Indies. Initially (and for the first hundred years of its existence) the Company was solely interested in trade between England and India. It was only during the 18th Century, as the power of influence of the Mughal Empire waned and was under threat of being superceded by French and Portuguese interests, that the East India Company became interested in territorial occupation and politics. At the height of its power and influence in 1803, the Company controlled a private army of 260,000 soldiers (twice the size of the British Army at that time) and effectively ruled directly or indirectly, the whole of the Indian sub-continent. It was only in 1858 that the Government of India Act abolished the East India Company and the British Government assumed direct responsibility for the management of the country through the establishment of the Raj.

The first Governor of the East India Company was Thomas Smythe, a position that he held only fleetingly initially, before returning in 1603 and remaining in post for some 18 years. As well as his interests in India, Smythe was also heavily involved in the settlement of Virginia in north America, having acquired the rights from Sir Walter Raleigh. Indeed, Smythe was heavily implicated in a scandal surrounding the management of the Virginia Settlement when he was charged with enriching himself at the expense of the company that he controlled to run the colony. Smythe effectively conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting indigenous people in Virginia, turning over their land to the production of tobacco. It appears that Smythe’s influence over King James was such that he was able to extricate himself from the scandal and retain his position as a personal adviser and confidante to the King. Smythe’s influence extended beyond Britain, India and America into Russia, where he was appointed as an advisor to Tsar Boris Godunov in 1604.

Boris Godunov’s rise to become Tsar of Russia is a story that is so Russian as to be almost a cliché, involving murder, intrigue, politicking, banishments to Siberia and even the flogging of a bell (yes – you read that right) that had been rung to draw attention to the death (at Godunov’s instigation) of a potential heir to the throne. It’s well worth a read on the relevant Wikipedia page. It will suffice for present purposes for us to note that dramatisations of Godunov’s life have inspired and opera by Mussorgsky and a play by Alexander Pushkin, the incidental music for which was composed by Sergei Prokofiev.

Prokofiev’s score for his ballet version of Romeo and Juliet is a staple of the Classic FM playlist, where the Dance of the Knights is a particular favourite. And if you’re not familiar with this piece, then “You’re Fired!”

Where there’s blame…

There are many advantages to working from home. Chief among these is the shortness of the commute, freeing up in the order two to two and a half hours a day typically for what would otherwise be our normal schlepp between Cardiff and Bristol. If my experience of the last couple of weeks is anything to go by, working in the kitchen of our house also means that I regularly get to enjoy the smell of new-baked bread (Mrs P. is becoming something of an expert); and I am saving a fortune each week in not having to purchase snacks, lunch and the occasional hot chocolate from the University’s excellent coffee shops liberally dotted around the campus.

However, there is darker side to working from home that is less well documented. The articles that have appeared all over Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn rightly refer to the importance of setting up your workstation to ensure good posture. Lots of advice refers to the critical ratio of the distance between the edge of the desk to the keyboard and then to the screen. It goes without saying that regular breaks are essential to protect against eye strain, back ache or excessive tension in the shoulders. That’s all well and good. However, one thing that nobody warns about is ear rot.

Having spent a reasonable percentage of each of the last 13 working days with my head gripped between a set of earphones and a microphone on a succession of Skype, Zoom and BlueJeans meetings, my ears are starting to show the unmistakeable signs of what can only be the aural equivalent of trench foot! Thankfully, the meeting to total work time ratio declines sharply from tomorrow on, which is just as well. There was a real danger of me losing my lug-holes just at the point when they were likely to be called on to provide essential fixings for a face mask!

A walk in the countryside

During these difficult days of lock-down, I count myself incredibly fortunate to live in a place where it’s possible to enjoy long walks from the house whilst maintaining strict social distancing and with only a very small risk of meeting another soul. So it was this morning as Charlotte and I set out early on a circular walk that we have done a couple of times since moving to Old St Edeyrn’s, but not since the start of the current crisis.

River Rhymney at Bridge Road

Leaving the house we first made our way down Bridge Road to the point where is crosses over the River Rhymney as it approaches the final leg of its journey down from the eastern South Wales Valleys to join the Severn Estuary. Leaving Bridge Road we walked up through Ruperra Close to join Ty’r Winch Road close to the point where it crosses above the A48(M). This the main arterial route into Cardiff from the east, and it was eerie to find it deserted at 10am on a Sunday morning.

Turning back from the road bridge, we re-traced or steps along Ty’r Winch Road and took the right fork onto Druidstone Road towards Michaelstone-y-Fedw and Bassaleg. There are only a few small sections of pavement along Druidstone Road, and most of the single track lane is boarded by mature hedgerow and very large gates at the end of driveways leading to some of the most expensive property in Wales (average price £800,000 in July 2018). At this time of year, the flowers in the hedgerows are particularly vibrant, making the most of the spring sunshine before the leaf canopy from the trees and larger shrubs clothes the lane in shade.

Druidstone Road takes the form of a steady climb up onto a ridge with views south to Marshfield, the Severn, and on a good day (which today was) across to north Somerset. To the north is the Graig and the imposing Cefn Mabley estate. Cefn Mabley House (the centre-piece of the estate) stands on a site that has been occupied continuously since the 12th Century. It was largely re-built in the 16th Century by Edward Kemeys, then High Sheriff of Glamorgan, and was described in 1893 in the Cardiff Times as “one of the finest and most historic country seats in Wales”. Acquired by Viscount Tredegar in 1920, the estate was leased at preferential rates to the local health board and became a tuberculosis sanatorium capable of housing 112 patients. At the formation of the NHS in 1948, the hospital’s remit was broadened to accommodate geriatric patients, and it continued this role until 1980, when it closed. A period of abandonment followed, and the empty buildings were badly damaged by fire in 1994 and became virtually derelict. Thankfully, the estate was bought by property developers in early part of the 21st Century and was converted into a range of luxury apartments and stand-alone houses. Whilst vehicle access to the estate is restricted to residents, there is still a public right of way that allows walkers to stroll right through the estate – an opportunity to sneak a peak at how the other half lives!

Cefn Mabley estate – formerly the country seat of Viscount Tredegar, but now luxury apartments

After about 4 miles, Druidstone Rd leads into the hamlet of Michaelstone-y-Fedw, with its almost archetypal village centre comprising pub (Cefn Mabley Arms), church (St Michael’s) and village hall. On previous walks, the Cefn Mabley Arms has been a welcome oasis at this point, delivering a much needed beverage and excellent food. Alas, during the current crisis, the pub was closed and it was with a particular sense of ennui (possibly exacerbated by dehydration!) that we instead had a walk around the church yard before making our way back to the junction of Druidstone Road with Began Road, and starting the walk downhill towards St Edeyrn’s village.

At the point where Began Road joins Ty’r Winch Road, Cefn Mabley Farm Park can be seen through the hedge. All quiet now during the lock-down, but there is evidence of work progressing on a model railway around the park that will hopefully draw crowds of excited children (and possibly one or two of their parents and grandparents) once all this is over. For now, the geese have the run of the place, and noisily protested at having their photograph taken this morning. Attached to the park is a farm shop with possibly the best name ever. Regrettably, I couldn’t persuade Charlotte to stand to the right of the sign this morning; I can’t for the life of me understand why!

Just before re-joining the river path and making our way finally home, there was just time to capture a couple of shots of the alpacas (or are they llamas – I never know) that somewhat randomly live on a small-holding just a couple of hundred metres from the M4 as it winds its way from Cardiff to Newport. I doubt that any of the drivers high up on the road have any idea of the exotic ruminants happily munching away beneath them!

I can’t believe how grumpy the one on the left looks!

In praise of… the garden shed

Today’s post is inspired by an interview on BBC’s Breakfast News programme this morning with Sandi Toksvig. Sandi is presenting a daily programme during the coronavirus crisis exploring relatively obscure historical events or people that ought to be more well known. You can link to the broadcasts here. However, it wasn’t the content of the interview that caught my attention (although it was typically insightful and funny), but rather the location. Sandi was being interviewed over a Skype link from her garden shed. To be fair, I suspect it’s less shed than garden office, and it did look to be larger than my living room. Nevertheless, it was all pine planks and just a bit sauna-like.

It was another beautiful day in Cardiff today, with bright blue skies, almost wall to wall sunshine and just a hint of breeze to encourage activity while outdoors. Just the perfect day, in fact, to take inspiration from Sandi and decide to give my own garden shed a coat of protective varnish ready for the summer. I really like my shed. It’s 2.4m by 1.2m (or 8 foot by 4 foot if you’re reading this and are of my vintage – which my daughter reliably informs me all my readers probably are!). It’s large enough to house all the essential things that a fifty-something male office worker needs to make him feel useful (jigsaw, drill, electric plane, flogging hammer) alongside all the things that are needed seasonally but can’t be stored in the house (Christmas decorations; outdoor furniture seat pads; gazebo). There’s also just enough room for a really comfy wicker chair. Somewhere to sit for a few moments and just be still.

I really empathise with people who have sought retreat in sheds and other similar buildings to focus on the creative process. Dylan Thomas’ writing-shed in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire is a great example. It’s not much bigger than my own shed, although is fairness, the views across the estuary and out to sea are absolutely amazing.

And Thomas was not alone. Other famous writers who sought inspiration in their sheds include Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw. Don Stratford wrote a poem about his shed which (I regret to say) is much nearer to the role that my shed plays in my life than the experiences of the literary greats.

A mans’ gotta have a shed y’know
A place he calls his own
Where he can go and lose himself
Like a king upon his throne

It can be neat and tidy
With everything in place
Or one unholy bloody mess
Where there isn’t any space

But you can rest assured old friend
No matter how it fares
It’s his domain and castle
Down to the worn out chairs

My shed may not lead to a great novel, play or poetry, but it has provided the inspiration for this blogpost, and that’s a start. Isn’t it?

Haiku, haiku, it’s home from work* we go

Coronavirus :
Just too many syllables
For viral haiku!

Self-isolation :
The perfect state of being
For the introvert

Social distancing :
Choosing when the signal 'fails'
On the FaceTime call...

Don't get antigen
Confused with antibody :
She doesn't like it!

* To clarify, this means moving from the kitchen to the living room!

That was the month that was

Post 30 out of 30 for November’s blogathon. It’s an early one because I’ve got a busy day ahead. As always, I want to start this post by thanking you, my reader, for putting up with the daily bombardment this November. Your likes and comments are hugely appreciated and encouraging. I think I’ve enjoyed this year’s challenge more than any previous one. It’s seemed somehow easier to find inspiration consistently for things to write about. I know that I break all the blogging rules with the random nature of posts here, but it’s really interesting to me to see what topics catch the reader’s attention. Inevitably, and quite rightly, C. has once again (and has she has for 30 plus years) left me completely in the shade by being the focus of the most-read post this month. Whilst (of course) I loved writing that one (and the bruising has gone down remarkably quickly!), the post I actually enjoyed preparing the most was one of the least read. It’s hard for me to understand, but apparently the mix of Jose Mourinho, football, leadership and management are just not as interesting to other people as they are to me. Weird!

It has been good to get back to playing around with words and sentence structures through the discipline of Haiku, and it’s these posts that have generated some of the most feedback. The discipline of creating stories within a strictly defined 5-7-5 syllable structure appeals to my love of ordered creativity. There is a place for radical free-thinking that proposes new paradigms and challenges existing orders and forms; but most lasting change occurs through thousands of incremental ‘nudges’ against the boundaries of the way things are now. For me, Haiku is a useful discipline for codifying those nudges, and for stripping back thoughts and feelings to their essential core.

And then there are the posts from years ago that continue to get hits for no obvious reason, but which must be featuring in the algorithms that drive internet search engines. That can be the only reason why this one about a trip that Dan and I took to watch a football match in West Bromwich in December 2015 keeps popping up in the readership stats on a regular basis.

Anyway, as this post (and this National Blog Post Month 2019) draws to a close, it seems only fitting to finish with a Haiku. Thanks for reading. I’ll try not to leave it another year before posting again! (And you can see that as either a threat or a promise!!)

A blog post a day
Finding something new to say
Keeps boredom at bay

Almost didn’t make it today

It’s been a close shave today. 27 days in and for the first time this November, I almost didn’t get round to publishing a post. An unexpected call earlier this evening meant that I spent two hours away from the house (and the laptop) doing something infinitely more important. I’m actually glad that I was able to respond to that call and to be there when I was needed. Blogging is quite a selfish thing to do : selfish in my case because quite a lot of what I write is about me; and also because (despite all appearances to the contrary) it does take some quiet time, away from everything else, to compose a daily blog. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted, and I know that I’m lucky to have the time and space to be able to do it. But it’s also important to keep things in perspective. I really do this for me – and I’m incredibly flattered that one or two others read this stuff and occasionally comment on it. But it’s really not that important in the great scheme of things, and this evening has reinforced for me the truth of statements like : enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. None of us know what’s around the corner, and living life as fully as we can, day by day, is a goal that we should all strive to achieve.

Normal inane drivel will return to this blog tomorrow. Keep smiling everybody!

Well – that came around quickly…

It’s fair to say that I am now a regular blogger. As long as your definition of “regular” is daily for thirty days in November each year. I’ll be honest, I came very close to not bothering this year. November is actually turning out to be a very busy month for me – personally and professionally. The paradox, of course, is that busy-ness is what makes blogging that much easier. The more I do, the more material there is to describe and reflect on. So, on balance, (and despite your groan of despair, dear reader!), I am going to embark on another monthly blogging marathon.

What is different this year, though, is that I am going to take some inspiration from the “New Things November 2019” action calendar that was sent to me by C. recently. To be clear, the message that went with the screenshot of the calendar was : “Not sure if you were thinking of blogging during November but this could be an alternative maybe? Something away from a screen – well mostly!” With my best interests at heart, the intention was to get me to NOT blog, but to do a load of different things instead.

My counter-suggestion of combining the two – trying a load of new things AND blogging about the experience, elicited the text equivalent of an exasperated sigh! Anyway, I’m committed now. And today’s task – to make a list of new things to try out this month – has been completed for me by the Calendar itself. Tomorrow, I will be “broadening my perspective and reading a new paper, magazine or website”. If you have any ideas on what I should have a look at, please comment below and let me know. As long as they are legal and accessible, I’m prepared to put aside my prejudices and have my horizons broadened!

Made it : 30 posts in 30 days

Well – that’s it then. Thirty posts in the thirty days of November. I’ll be honest, I’ve probably enjoyed this series more than any previous one. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past month : politics, surgery, book and TV reviews, unbelievably large animals and unbelievably cute kittens, my dad, my kids, and a few other things besides. There’s been some poetry, some satire, some serious comment and lots of less serious stuff. There’s rarely been a day when inspiration has been hard to come by, and there have been a few likes and comments along the way that have been encouraging and reassuring. At the end of every November daily post challenge, I invariably commit to continue regular posting as we move into December. And equally invariably, I fall out of the habit again. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. I have no doubt that some of you will already be fed up of me clogging up your Twitter feed and Facebook timeline. Whichever way it goes in the future, there will definitely be a short break now (at least for a couple of days) as I tackle the backlog of maintenance jobs that need to be sorted and (more importantly) as we put the decorations up around the house ready for Christmas. Thanks for reading this month; and see you again soon! In the meantime, a repeat of last year’s image that signed off the November 2017 blogathon, and that I suspect sums up the feelings of you, dear Reader, on this November 30th!