Changing platforms

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I think that, in the manner of these things, the relationship was cooling for years. Me and Apple were an item, but when the relationship started Madame and me were both working full-time and we could (sort-of) afford it. There were moments I can remember when the chill started, like the day the Apple Store declared my laptop too old to mend, and I no longer fitted the customer profile they were after. They seemed to think I was too old and too hard up to bother with being polite to. A visit to the Apple Store started to seem like attending church, with young acolytes gliding effortlessly on an invisible field of moral superiority.  Uninvited updates to my phone would suddenly disable apps that I’d paid for; they fixed the software so that the phone would die, like one of the robots in Bladerunner, at the press of a button by the Tyrell Corporation, and they tried to charge me more than the phone was worth to replace the batteries. My laptop grew ever slower  as programmes grew more and more bloated with Bow bells and steamship whistles that I had no need of, and the desktop headed off into senility.  Indifference turned to hatred.  I wanted to stand in the middle of the store and shout “I just want an effing lead” so I could be escorted out by the ever smiling white robed security advisor. Then, in the summer – horror of horrors – I noticed that my son’s photos were much better than the ones I was taking on my iPhone 6. I had to do it secretly, but I started to back things up on the non-Apple cloud.

One thing led to another (how often have I heard that phrase as a parish priest!) and the parting began to be more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘whether?’ But it was the offer of my son’s old (not very old) Pixel phone that pushed me over the edge, and on Saturday we sat down together in Birmingham to seal the deal.

Normally I avoid platform changes because the idea scares me to death. That suits the major players who rather like scaring their captive customers to death at the thought of going somewhere else. And the scheming goes all the way down to street level – the Saturday handover failed to work due to some obscure security settings I could only access at home and so I naively brought the gift phone home and set out to buy a lead to connect it to my iPhone. However it seems that even independent phone repair shops have some kind of rule of ‘omerta’ going on regarding platform switching, and I’m still waiting for my son’s widget to arrive in the post.

I’m moving to Android – there, I’ve said it! I need a bail-out option as my Apple stuff gets older and the astronomical price of replacing them moves ever further out of reach  I’m moving because I’m hacked off with Apple products and I’m moving because the vast majority of writing I do lands up on this blog, and the Google products integrate almost seamlessly with WordPress as opposed to endless directory searches for photos. I’m content to have cut-down online versions of the clunky programmes whose features I never use. All that stands between me and the future is a mountain of accumulated data, contacts, emails and blather that I felt sure I might need ….  one day ……. maybe?

One of the surliest customers to deal with on the failed switch was contacts – way over 600 of them and so in the absence of the ‘moving-stuff-over’ widget, I thought I’d have a clear out after I moved them across manually.  This in itself had me frothing at the mouth with frustration as barriers were constantly thrust in my way.  This weeding is where it all gets a bit metaphysical, because although many contacts were no-brainers – like the suprisingly large number of deceased contacts – there were many others I remembered well, some even with affection. Highlighting them and pressing the ‘delete’ button became a much more serious, almost cathartic process. There was no hierarchy of usefulness or prospective gain in the selections.  Many of the names went back to activities that I was engaged in years ago – names and phone numbers of builders, suppliers of candles, BBC producers. Some were people who carved me up in some way – button pressing became a pleasure there; and some were left in because I remembered them fondly. Within a couple of hours I’d whittled them down to just over 200 in a list that looked like it truly belonged to me.  So I’m sorry Phil and all the rest, it was great but it’s over now and yes, it was Phil the funeral director I was dreaming about this morning when I woke up. He was running a wonderful butchers shop somewhere in France, and he invited us down to the local cafe for a drink. I couldn’t tell him that I’m not that person any more.  I can’t hack any more grief.

Next job will be to reduce my email providers down to one.  Now I’ve got the list of contacts sorted I’ll email them all and give them my one and only address. More clearing through the thickets, I think.  Big ticket programmes will have to go too, subscriptions ended so I can keep the ancient machines running for as long as possible – it’s all very exhilerating – this decluttering business.  And if you’re reading this you’re not among the fallen, I promise.

So tonight, I hope, will be switch-off day for the old phone. I’ll lie them together on the table – connected by the new lead – and with one click, the iPhone will say, in an electronic sort of way: –

All that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you.

And the Pixel will say “thanks mate” and after a few quiet moments the corridors of the iPhone, once hectic with malware, spyware and foreign security agents clogging up the arteries will fall silent and I shall remove the SIM in the reverential way that Phil the funeral director would adopt for the the removal of pacemakers and other explosive devices from the deceased, and the screen will go dark.  Well that’s the theory at least. I fully expect a bit of tooth gnashing as well, and then onwards and – well – onwards, I suppose. I just want to write about borlotti beans and when the equpment gets in the way it can only end in tears.

Boom and bust on the allotment

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In a perfect world – i.e. not the one we’re actually living in, crops would come along like parts in a car factory, perfect, exactly on time and in just the right quantities. The Potwell Inn allotment, on the other hand, is a boom and bust operation subject to the vagaries of weather, impulse buying and whatever pests happen to blow, creep or slither in. Therefore we are unable to impress anyone with photographs of complete gourmet meals straight off the allotment with no more than a rinse in our private springwater supply. The potatoes, which were worryingly slow to get going have now all flowered at once.  The strawberries are in the midst of producing a glut, as are the Hungarian hot wax chillies, and don’t even mention salad leaves, but the onions were a lost cause, the tomatoes grew leggy while we waited for it to warm up and most of the squashes died at the seed leaf stage. We are – categorically – not experts

Apart from the glamorous world of coffee table gardeners, this time of year is relentless in its demands. The ground, which was thick with bindweed three years ago, is still capable of growing a towering six foot specimen in a week even after we thought we had picked every tiny piece of root out. Couch grass is easier to tame – provided you conduct a vengeful campaign of uprooting every time it pokes a leaf out above ground. But the worst ones are the annuals that grow from seeds blown across from the unlet plots. Willowherb is a particular and common villain, but we have a problem with a much less common plant which, notwithstanding its name – “common ramping fumitory” is not at all common in our area and so uprooting it seems like a small crime except for the fact that it has secret plans to take over the world – hence the “ramping” bit of the name.

In the winter I was slaving over the ‘civil engineering’ of beds, paths and bins and longing for the summer. Now it’s almost the solstice and every day, it seems, we’re unable to complete all the jobs that need doing because there just isn’t time and so neither are we able to doze in the deckchairs and listen to the bees humming – which is what most people think gardening is for, although – to paraphrase Ghandi – it would be a good idea.

IMG_5520AND – I’ve also been trying to sort out my study which, as I’ve already written, involves getting rid of several hundred books that I’d been clinging to in case I forgot who I was. Consequently the twin planets of the allotment and the study have swung into malevolent alignment.  That said, though, the business of handing over boxes of books at the Oxfam shop and then rearranging the survivors in proper order on the shelves has had a very happy effect. I hadn’t realised how reproachful a shelf of unread books can be, and if – like me – you’re an olympian self-doubter, the constant look of unread-ness relating to a past enthusiasm can sap the will dreadfully. I’m sure this is the blindingly obvious core of the decluttering movement  – old stuff ties you down, keeps you looking backwards. I’ve had persistent images of my (suitably sad) children taking the exact same books to the same Oxfam shop after my death and, frankly, I’d rather spare them the pain and reward myself with the sense of release that comes from sitting at my desk and being surrounded by books I use constantly and love.

Of course there are many that I’ll hang on to – Edward Johnston’s “Writing Illuminating and Lettering” which I bought when I was about thirteen;  Bernard Leach’s “A Potter’s Book” which I chanced on accidentally when I was nineteen and which changed the course of my life – just two of the milestones that I could never part with. My Grandfather’s copy of “The History of Mr Polly” where I found the Potwell Inn, has been promoted to glory among the very special novels.

Back on the allotment it’s pleasing to be able to say that the seaweed mulch that we applied in the winter to the asparagus bed has had the most astounding effect, and it’s growing taller all the time – I mean over five feet tall and climbing!  We’ve been keeping a close eye on it because last year it was ravaged by asparagus beetles, but all we’ve been finding is lacewings which must have got there first. One painful lesson learned once and (hopefully) never forgotten is that asparagus beetles are not the same as lacewing larvae – so look before you squeeze. Luckily the presence of the adult lacewings and innumerable other pollinators working the flowers has prevented us from any spraying with soft soap, and so no harm was done by the misidentification.

A curate’s egg of a day – good in parts.

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We’ve planted five varieties of potato this year –

  • Jazzy (first early)
  • Arran Pilot (first early)
  • Pink fir apple – maincrop but we dig them early for the best potato salad ever
  • Red Duke of York – again a later potato and fabulous roaster, but also good early
  • Sarpo Mira – which, being highly blight resistant, we leave in the ground.

The reason we try to get the vulnerable varieties out of the ground early is because the allotment site is plagued with blight. The problem with doing it this way is that we can be overwhelmed with new potatoes early in the season – but then, better overwhelmed than stuck with tasteless supermarket potatoes.  But this season – need I say – has been very odd, with a dry early period followed by some pretty cold weather and now almost continuous rain for a couple of weeks. The rain has come just in time for the early potatoes which looked set to be a tiny crop, but they’ve plumped up nicely this week.  The photo shows Jazzy at the back, and a few Arran Pilots next to the beetroot. It’s only when you see them together that the whiteness of the Pilots shows up.  We’ve never grown them before but they’re the ones my grandfather and my parents always grew, and I remember what a wonderful flavour they had from my childhood, so I can’t wait to get them into a pan.

As for the rest of the vegetables, the weather is causing a mixed bag of results right across the site. Only the overwintered broad beans have survived the aphid onslaught, but at least the ladybirds peaked at exactly the right time and we’re seeing six plus larvae on a single plant.  It’s the larvae, not the hatched ladybirds with the prodigious appetite for blackfly.

Tender plants have all suffered stress in the cool wet conditions, and the onion crop has been hit hard everywhere, but the cabbages have enjoyed every moment of the weather and made steady growth.  So I suppose that’s the whole challenge of allotmenteering – no season is ever the same as the last one and with global heating playing the wild card, we just have to duck and dive and ride the weather.

However that was only a part of the day because this morning I took the first car-load of books down to the Oxfam shop.  This is turning into a bittersweet time as I declutter my study to make space for new projects. Today’s books weren’t just old novels, some of them had been very important at the time for all sorts of reasons, and I could almost remember where and why each one was bought. When I came home I made a start on the serious collection of music books, which seemed more unsettling and painful than ever. I’ve been flunking this moment for four years – I knew I should have sorted through them when we moved here, but we ended up only letting the painless ones go.  These latest ones represent a huge investment of time and money during the period I was deeply involved in music, and I had to summon up every ounce of resolve to pass them on to new owners. Music kept me sane for a very long time, especially during the most stressful periods. Anyway that’s enough, and I’m saying to myself that I was really using them as a comfort blanket – something I could define myself by during the period of introspection and loss of role after I retired.

By lunchtime we’d cooked soup for supper and then went for a second look at the Bath Society of Artists show. Julia Trickey – who taught me – has sold a magnificent painting of leaves found in the Bath Botanical Garden.  Among the leaves was a Harts Tongue fern, and when I looked carefully there was even dry brush detail in the sporangia.  Epic stuff. In the photo below the horizontal pile of books in the foreground has been resting on the lightbox for months now and that’s why I’m clearing up.

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Is this what I’m supposed to do?

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My favourite shed on the allotment site.  I’ve been photographing it regularly as it slowly collapses and it occurred to me that perhaps this is what I’m supposed to do.  Well I’m not!

My study is a tip; it’s been that way for ages (for ever as my friends know) and I realized that it’s becoming alarmingly like that shed – full of memories but gradually sinking into senescence.  I’ve already posted about getting rid of my piano which I can’t play anyway because we live in a concrete biscuit tin and you can hear someone opening a can of beans four floors up. Sound carries alarmingly well and soon after we moved here I played it just once and our downstairs neighbour was kind enough to say he’d heard me playing and it was rather nice. How typically English to use kind words to send a warning, and so I’ve never played it since.

In fact my room was becoming a kind of memorial to what I’d done in the past. When we moved here we got rid of hundreds of books, we even burned masses of old radio scripts that I knew I’d never read again.  Years of bank statements, receipts, correspondence all went into the incinerator, and I wore a car out driving back and forth to the recycling centre.  I burned thirty years worth of diaries – full of meetings that seemed important at the time, but full of the pain of illnesses and bereavements as well as weddings and baptisms  I’d taken.

But there were many things I brought to Bath, not least yet more books.  So many books, in fact, that they were stacked two deep on the shelves.  The question is – was I ever going to read them again? They were comforting, they reminded me of times and enthusiasms past and yet they began to feel like a load that was cluttering up my future, and so today they started to go down to the Oxfam shop in order to make way for new books, new projects and enable me to open the shutters and let the light in.  So first thing we walked down with two bags of books and the women at the Oxfam shop said they’d be delighted to take as many more as I’d like to bring.

All this all involved a division of labour at the Potwell Inn and Madame went up to the allotment to pick four and a half kilos of broad beans and two kilos of garden peas, the first strawberries, a tiny taste of very sour blackcurrants and some new season garlic, while I battled with my instincts to cling on to the books to the point where I reliquished another five boxes. Naturally my room looks worse than ever now, but when the piano goes I’ll have space to set up my botanical painting worktable.  Lest this all sounds terribly worthy, I have to confess that I also ditched five boxes of absolute junk including a lifetime collection of old mains connectors and several heritage satellite TV boxes and broadband routers – oh and some power tools that died years ago and a load of rusty screws and bolts that I have no recollection of acquiring.

I think I’m supposed to say that I experienced some kind of catharsis and suddenly felt energised. Well no, as I took the last load of books down to the car, I had to fight the urge to go through them all again and my back ached.  Yesterday we had a horrible drive back from RHS Rosemoor, with standing rain on the motorway reducing visibility so much one van driver had somehow managed to drive up a bank on the inside of the crash barrier.  I don’t think they were much damaged, except in the pride department, but it was suprising how many drivers were ploughing up the outside lane at over 70mph.

Does any of this matter to anyone else? I truly don’t know except I do know that I’ve no intention of going quietly.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.