Author: Gordon

Long time blogger, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense. Doing my best to find a balance.

The Recap: March 2020

Safe to say that March will be memorable for one thing and one thing only. Coronavirus and lockdown. It’s meant adjusting routines, and whilst I’m working the hours are dropping. We remain in good spirits though and if nothing else it’s given me time to crack on with some other things, including a revisit of my long neglected novel.

It also means I’ve newly invested interest – I’ve got an alarm set and everything – in Ken Bruce on Radio 2 and his Popmaster quiz.

Watched

  • I Am Mother – dystopian sci-fi, cleverly layered, and well worth a watch. The story of the first child born in a post-infectious world (ohhh how timely!).
  • Apollo 11 – Using digital remastered footage, this documentary covers the time from blast off to re-entry, and is a stunning testament to the moon landings. Gripping and vivid, I cannot recommend this enough.
  • Various episodes of nonsense TV – Friends, Brooklyn 99, The New Girl – purely as a coping mechanism.

Read

  • Things I Learned From Falling by Claire Nelson – A true story, which makes it all the more remarkable, this book set deeper in my brain than I expected, tackling so much of our modern habits and attitudes alongside the brutal life and death experience of the author who, whilst hiking alone, falls and breaks her pelvis. Already considering re-reading it.
  • How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch – an amiable saunter through some tales from behind the scenes. Self-effacing and funny, Crouch comes across as genuinely likeable amidst the sea of posing pretentiousness that is the modern day footballer.
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – a twisting tale of a murder, the accused remaining mute, until it all starts to unravel. File under ‘beach read’ (or maybe ‘lockdown read’?) as it’s a page turner for sure, with a wonderful twist or to keeping you on your toes.
  • Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Written magazine interview style, this is the story of a flamed-haired singer and her integration to an already established band. Set in the 70s, it’s a brilliant, lurid run through sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and may, or may not, have been inspired by Fleetwood Mac.

Listened

  • Gigaton by Pearl Jam – A new album by a favourite artist is always exciting, alas Pearl Jam continue to veer too wildly from their grunge roots to a middle-ground of bland AOR stylings. Some good songs on there but lacklustre for the most part.
  • City of Love by Deacon Blue – A new album by a favourite Scottish artist is always exciting, and this is a wonderful ode to the Deacon Blue of the past. I think this one will get a fair amount of airtime in the coming weeks.

Wrote

  • Chocolate Raisins – written because we laughed so much when I realised what I’d done, because it’s true, and because right now these silly moments are much needed.

My Favourite Photo

Posted for Mothering Sunday.

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Happy Mumsy Day 😍

A post shared by Gordon McLean (@gmclean) on

Chocolate Raisins

I’m guessing it all started with Sun-Maid Raisins.

If you are of a certain age (shut up at the back!) they were a staple part of your packed lunch, sitting right next to the tuna paste sandwich and, if you were really lucky, a carton of Ribena. Ahh yes that little red cardboard box that contained a small handful of such a sweet delicacy, the raisin.

As I’m sure you know, a raisin is simply a dried grape BUT, ahh yes, it’s not just any grape. Typically the word “raisin” is reserved for the dark-colored dried large grape, with “sultana” being a golden-colored dried grape, and “currant” being a dried small Black Corinth seedless grape. And you thought you weren’t going to learn anything today…

I love raisins, I love how they taste, I love how they feel in your mouth eaten raw, I love how they are just at home in a spicy curry or freshly baked cake.

As I got older I got my own pocket money and the temptation of the previously unknown chocolate coated raisin loomed into my world view. I’m pretty sure I kept the local shop in business the summer I discovered them; rarely was I happier than having a box of raisin Poppets in one hand, a (red) box of toffee Poppets in the other. It was a simple time; One raisin, one toffee, one after another, popped in my gob and chewed and savoured and swallowed. Repeat.

Somewhere along the way the toffee Poppets were replaced by chocolate coated peanuts, and I veered away from the brand names to the stores own-brand, I noticed no difference, plus it’s only £1 for a bag of chocolate raisins, heaven! If I was really well behaved I’d sometimes be able to make them last for a week or so, but most times that sneaky addition to my shopping cart were scoffed quick smart.

In fact it’s why I started buying the chocolate peanuts as well, to bulk things out a bit, to make the pleasure last that little bit longer.

So you can imagine my glee when, on returning from the supermarket the other day, Becca said she’d gotten me some treats.

We have a snack drawer at home, it’s mostly Nakd bars and the like (we do try and eat healthily) but in these current times it’s fair to say that I’m struggling a little more than usual to keep my inner ’emotional eater’ in-check. I knew I had treats waiting, and I’m proud that I lasted a couple of days before heading to the kitchen to raid the snack drawer and see what she’d bought me.

I was watching a movie, and fancied a little something to munch on. I kept the movie playing so I could watch from the kitchen (we have an open-plan layout downstairs), and went through and opened the snack drawer and, to my delight I could see TWO little bags of treats in the drawer, the top one of which read “Milk Chocolate Raisins”, YA BEAUTY!! Raisins and peanuts!

I quickly grabbed a small bowl so I could mix them up and, whilst I negotiated the usual hazards that living with a dog who likes to check what you are doing when you are in the ‘food room’, I grabbed the top bag, snipped it open and tipped a small (ok large!) handful into the bow, I grabbed the second bag and did the same.

I returned to my seat, engrossed in the movie, got comfortable and dipped my hand into the bowl. First item out, a chocolate raisin! Oh yes! I think it smiled a little as the chocolate gave way to the rich sweetness that lay with in.

Now, I’m an adult so I took my time, savouring each chew until it was all gone. I forced myself to wait a few seconds – again I’m an adult, honest – and dipped my hand into the bowl, enjoying the tiny silly suspense of guessing what I’d get next, raisin or peanut, raisin or peanut.

RAISIN!

Two in a row.

A few minutes later, I tried again… RAISIN AGAIN! This was wonderful but I gave the bowl a little shoogle to make sure the peanuts and raisins were properly mixed up.

Another try and, another raisin, what the … and then I realised, as I’m sure you already have.

She bought me two bags of raisins, didn’t she.

I’d only gone and opened both bags, tipping a little from one, then a little from the other, into the bowl thinking I was getting a mix of peanuts and raisins.

What. A. Numpty.

Still, I enjoyed the rest of the bowl, safe in the knowledge there were no chocolate peanuts waiting in disguise.

The new normal

My alarm goes off at 7:30am.

I get up and have breakfast.

At 8:00am I log in to my work laptop, check any tasks/calls for the coming day.

I take a break every 50 minutes to stand and stretch.

I write in my journal during a break.

At midday I stop for lunch.

After that I spend 10 minutes meditating.

Then back to work for the afternoon.

I am lucky to have this routine, it’s about to change from next week whilst the project I work on is scaled back to almost zero staff, but it’ll pick back up again in a few weeks, maybe a month.

So I’ll have a new routine from next week.

The routine is helping, having something to do, something to focus on is helping.

Isn’t it funny how quickly we get used to change, how quickly we adapt and accept that this is just how things are for now, how quickly I’ve started scanning the street ahead of me to see if anyone is going to walk past, crossing the road to avoid them. How quickly I’ve learnt to just make do with whatever food we have in the cupboards and fridge.

We are lucky. We are both healthy, able-bodied, and we have each other. Hearing news of friends, isolated, who may have contracted the virus, is heart-breaking. They will be fine, I tell myself, even though I’m not sure.

And to stop myself worrying too much I return to my routine.

My new normal is getting me through.

I hope you are getting through this as best you can.

Mac Apps

Like many I’m working from home, and whilst I have a worked supplied laptop (a Windows system, ugh), I also have a MacBook with a separate monitor which is more comfortable for me to use. An install of Office means I can do some of my work here on this lovely operating system.

Yet, like most operating systems it isn’t perfect and over the years I’ve discovered a few little apps that add to the experience and make using MY MacBook better for ME, in other words, YMMV with the following list of apps that I happily pay for as they make my day to day use all the better.

In no particular order…

  • Contexts – For those who also use Windows, this provides a smarter CMD+Tab app switcher, which includes sub windows too. So, if I have 3 draft emails, I can bring either one to the front. With standards MacOS functionality I can only switch to the app itself, which can sometimes leave the emails hidden behind the main window.
  • Stay – If you use more than one monitor, this is for you. Allows you to store your current window positions so at the end of the day, when you power down your monitor and close your laptop, you won’t need to drag windows around the next morning, Stay will move them for you.
  • Hazel – A powerful little tool for keeping your files organised. It’ll watch a folder (Desktop for example) and move files from there to another folder… also helps when removing applications as it’ll find all those other files left around and chuck them in the Trash for you (and it’ll empty the Trash every X days if you want it to).
  • Amphetamine – Want to keep your screens active when you are on a long video conference call, or watching a movie? This is for you!
  • Tot – A new addition, a simple little sticky note still app.
  • BetterTouchTool – Create custom swipe (and mouse button click) actions, the more you use it, the more powerful you realise it is, well worth a tinker!
  • Bartender – All of these apps add a little icon top left in the menu bar, so Bartender is the app you need to help clear up all that clutter!
  • Smart Countdown Timer – Useful countdown timer to stop you sitting staring at the screen for too long!

There are more apps out there that do lots of little niche things but these are my go to apps to solve all those little niggly things that don’t stop you using your computer, but are so so good to be able solve.

What a wonderful world

Wrote this a couple of days ago, still processing all this, still adjusting. We are ok. I am ok but my emotions are veering all over the place from ‘it’s horrible but we will get through it’ to utter fury and outrage at the reaction of a government I didn’t vote for, to a quiet calm as I take time to care for myself and my mental health.

I was in the local Co-op yesterday, we didn’t need anything urgent, I was really just seeing if they had any pizzas. The shelves were mostly stocked, plenty of fruit and veg, milk, butter, bread, even a few packets of toilet roll.

They had the pizzas I was after too, so I got those and grabbed a couple of cartons of oat milk because they were there, and some eggs, again because they were there.

As I turned to walk down an aisle and elderly woman with a fully laden basket was walking towards me, I stopped to let her step around one of the end of aisle displays and as she passed she smiled and said,

“Not even really sure what I’m buying!”

She had a twinkle in her eye, and half a laugh in her voice when she said it. I got the sense that she’s been through stuff like this before and isn’t sure what to do but knows she should do something and this is all she can think of.

I’m in the same boat.

I’ve not been through anything like this before, but I know I should be doing something I’m just not sure what.

I’ve had a weird feeling in my stomach a few days ago, roundabout the time the first confirmed patients were recorded in the UK, and it took me a couple of days to figure out that it was anxiety that was bubbling away. Last night, in the midst of eating my feelings from our snack drawer, I paused and thought, no this is not enough. I wasn’t talking about the volume of snacks (although are there ever enough snacks?) more reflecting on my attitude to the current pandemic.

Pandemic is an odd word. The stuff of movies, or zombie-led TV series, it’s not something that actually happens. Yet here we are.

And as world leaders stumble and bumble their way through this, displaying all their worst traits and more – hey if you voted Tory or Trump, some of this is on you you utterly selfish prick – and in the meantime so many people are going to suffer in so many ways, a lot of which we can’t even understand yet.

But enough ENOUGH of this negativity. I’m distancing myself (officially working at home now for… some time) and I’m lucky that is an option. My partner is self-employed and we know the time will come she can no longer go out to work. We will cope, we will get through this.

Meanwhile small businesses we use, small restaurants and cafes we frequent, are closing or closed. And yes, again the government has a hand to play in this – Tories will always look after the rich, if you voted from them, fuck you – and it’s horrifying and scary and oh hello anxiety.

But no, I will not get dragged into this.

I am finding my new normal, working from home, finding a routine, carving more time for self-care, meditate, breathe, write, read.

It’s time to look around and remember the good things in life. There are more people who care and love than those that hate, the news is the worst tip of a small iceberg, the majority of people are not like that. Amplify those messages please, focus on the good, on the small gestures that mean more at times like these.

Go outside, breathe in the air, get soaked in the rain, walk on the grass.

Do not give in to anger. Smile as you pass strangers in the street.

I don’t know what else to write. I have a journal but it’s all that is on my mind right now. There is no fiction, just a reality that seems so improbable that fiction feels false.

Surely this will pass in a couple of weeks. Right? That’s the optimist voice in my head, it’s a small voice, and usually hiding away from change and uncertainty. Everything will be ok, it says.

And it will, logically, scientifically, I know it will. I am relying on that part of my brain to process this, as the emotional part is bunkered down in a duvet fort, eating chocolate buttons and re-watching the West Wing.

But I know it will be ok. We will get through this.

Most of us at least. The fallout is unknown, and that’s the scariest part but we can’t deal with that today, we can plan and hope to stave it off and lessen the impact but today is always about today.

So I sit at home and count my blessings for they are many.

I will not succumb to negativity. I will be kind to myself and to others, I will come out of this changed, as will the wider world. New values will be established, and I hope they hold fast. Maybe this is the radical action that will shift the world away from the right-wing governments that hold power?

But no, enough of that. Enough of this.

I am ok. We are ok.

How are you? Reach out if you need to, together we will prevail.

The Recap: February 2020

I think I will remember February for mostly being wet and windy. Was there a time when there wasn’t a new storm landing on our shores to decimate a weekend? Elsewhere, Sasha has recovered well from her operation and is now happily ensconced back on the sofa (or on my lap) where she should be, and welcoming us on our return home with her usual mixture of fervent joy and toys. We’ve missed that.

My knee rehab has stalled a little as I had a tendinitis flare up in my right foot but I’m on still on track to do a Parkrun before the end of the year. Ohh and I got a new tattoo.

Watched

  • The Morning Show – Challenging many things that are wrong in society, particularly focused on the #metoo movement. Smart writing, Aniston is brilliantly on the edge, Carell plays with good/bad a little too easily(?), Witherspoon is consistently good, with Crudup intriguingly watchable whenever he’s on screen.
  • The West Wing – STILL (re)watching.

Read

  • The Nest – Is money the root of all evil? A story about a family of siblings who are promised funds later in their life and the impact that has on them and their lives.
  • The One – a simple idea that quickly takes a dark turn, this went from emotional intrigue to deadly thriller really quickly, a proper page turner by the end.
  • The Other Half of August Hope – best of the month, wonderfully written, and it’s not often that I cry reading a book but cry I did.

My GoodReads profile

Listened

  • Supergrass – In preparation for their joyful return tour at the Barrowlands.

My Favourite Post

  • Februarius – because when I take time to consider what I’m writing, and edit it properly, I can read it back a month later and find myself surprised that *I* wrote that

My Favourite Photo

Bronze

This post is written in response to a prompt from Genre Scribes: Friday Fiction Writing Challenge #35 — Bronze.


We all laughed as we watched the episode of a long forgotten television show.

It seemed like such a silly notion, to everyone else at least, that someone would colour themselves that way. But not to me, even back then I knew I wanted, no, needed it, craved it.

I don’t remember a single day when I’ve been happy with my skin. The dull white has always marked me out as different, as something other. All around me were bodies deemed more acceptable, vibrant colours and shades everywhere you looked, yet when I’d walk from the commune to the working fields I could feel their eyes crawling over me, while my own remained cast down as my alabaster feet kicked up dust.

It’s just a colour, my parents told me over and over, everyone has one and this is yours.

White isn’t a colour, I looked it up once. White is the absence of colour, it reflects everything, absorbs nothing.

Was my pale epidermis why I felt so empty, so disconnected from everything, as a child?

When the others have gone to sleep I watch the episode over and over, learning how to count Mississippi-ly, dreaming of being able to change colour so easily, a few quick sprays and no-one would stare anymore; bronzed.

I looked it up too. Bronze was a metal or a medal for third place.

I could be third place, it’s better than no place at all.

I’d be bronze and I’d be anonymous just like everyone else.

Tracking my aims

tldr; I set myself some aims at the start of the year and, by and large, I’ve been mostly successful at sticking to them. Yay!

I wrote a few weeks ago about some aims I had for the coming months, all of which were built from one core resolution, and I’m happy to say that it’s been going well. I’m spending a little more time writing, meditating, and exercising, and conversely have less time and inclination to spend on social media; it’s almost like I planned it that way (oh wait, I did).

I should admit that I have been gaming myself a little on this, or more specifically I’ve been tracking each activity to help build them into habits. This way I can lean on the Don’t Break the Chain thinking (often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, yes THAT Jerry Seinfeld) and see my habits build which further re-enforces the habit itself.

To do this, because I am a geek, I’ve resorted to using apps. I have apps specific to each of the three aims I laid out, and one more to track the activity when it’s complete so I can see how I’m doing. Here’s how I’m doing it.

First things first, my eagle eyed reader (hello you!) will spot that I’ve changed the aims I originally wrote about. The thinking was to give myself some breathing room, I mean who wants to commit to doing something every single day, especially when experience dictates that ‘life’ will get in the way now and then.

Primary aim: Write in my journal most days.

I use Day One and whilst I don’t always write directly in that app (I mostly use S.Notes which syncs across web and iOS) it’s where I store my diary/journal style thoughts. It also gets any photos I post to Instagram but that’s by the by. I write as and when I find any spare time, the time I’d typically be turning to idly scroll social media.

Progress so far: Managed this almost every day, definitely been good for my mental health.

Primary goal: Meditate for 10 mins a few times a week.
I use Calm for this, in fact the 10 mins is specifically derived from the fact that the ‘Daily Calm’ is 10 mins long. I mostly use it around lunchtime during the week as it forces me to move away from my desk, with weekend usage varying around whatever plans we have.

Progress so far: Managed this almost as often as planned, not quite managed to carve out dedicated time for it, it’s still a bit hit and miss. But that’s ok, every little helps.

Primary aim: Stretch almost every day.
I use Seven for this, an app I’ve used on and off for a while. I am trying to make this a morning activity but no matter how I try I just can’t get my brain into gear, I’ve spent far too many years viewing morning as the time to get up, wash, dress, and leave the house ASAP to get to work, so despite my best efforts, this is more of an evening activity.

At present those stretches include rehab focused ones from my physio appointment which naturally gave me an added incentive to make sure I didn’t skip too many days.

Progress so far: On and off. Whilst I’m managing it almost every day, it’s not found a place in my morning routine. So I’ve adapted. The main thing is, I’m doing it more often than not.

Tracking my progress
I’ve been using an app called Streaks. It’s simple enough to use, just add an activity you want to track, set how often you want it to happen (daily, 3 times a week, on specific days, etc, there are many options), then mark each activity when it’s complete.

For example, whilst I’m trying to do stretching exercises every day, I’ve not committed to meditating every single day, but four times a week instead.

It’s a simple way to track progress, and because you can see the tracked number rise it very quickly helps to make sure you aren’t breaking the streak for any of the activities, re-enforcing the habit more and more.

Of course, as I’m a geek, and I’m already using apps to help me, I’m also using iOS Shortcut Automations to automatically mark each activity in Streaks as complete as soon as I open the relevant app (details here).

And here are the results so far.

(The Weigh and B.P. trackers are for my weekly ‘stat’ check and, as I use apps for those too (EufyLife scales, and iHealth Blood Pressure cuff) I also have automated shortcuts that log when I’ve done those).

Like I said, so far so good and whilst it’s only February it does feel like these things are sticking and the habits are building, which in turn makes me all the more determined to stay the course and keep those streaks going. That and I’m feeling the difference both physical and mentally which, after all, is the real aim here.

I won’t lie, I have had a few days where doing any of these was a struggle; writing only one sentence for my daily journal entry more than once, and limiting my stretches to a one set rather than three, that kind of thing. But I expected this to happen so it hasn’t deterred me; sometimes you need a day spent doing fuck all!

There has also been a nice knock-on effect too:

I hope you are getting on ok with any resolutions or goals (aims?) you set yourself, and if not, I hope you give yourself the ability to falter or fail. Remember, you are not the sum of your resolutions.

For me, I’m just glad that a few things have stuck, and I know this will change over the course of the year, and that’s ok too, in fact it’s half the fun.

Celebration

The post is written in response to a prompt from Genre Scribes: Friday Fiction Writing Challenge #34 — Celebration.


The radio breaks their early morning silence as they drive.

“Next up, Kool & The Gang wi…” the announcer is cutoff as the ignition is killed.

They step out of the car and pause to savour the coolness of the dawn air before they head inside. Stop and smell the roses, is what they might say if they were prone to speak.

Past banners and balloons in the corridor they enter the main room. Above their heads the ceiling fan spins, the curls of party popped paper caught there trails spirals in the sky, cutting through fake smoke and still flashing lights. Tables are strewn with half-empty glasses, champagne corks, congealing finger food, bedecked with streamers. The walls are festooned with multi-coloured balloons and banners, chairs still hold jackets, and the edges of the dance floor glow LED bright. It’s warm and the aromas of spilled wine and vodka bear a stale metallic edge.

Close your eyes and picture it, the scene played out a thousand times before in this very room. Cram it full, turn the volume up, lower the bar prices, sit back and wait. Glasses will tumble from hands, chairs will rock over, and dancing will win out in the end. Conversations will be shouted back and forth, verbal tennis punctuated with screams and laughter.

Except now there is only silence.

The partners slowly turn their gaze from the room, to each other, and then back to the room to face the bodies lying there, lying everywhere.

It had been a celebration.