Desert Island Discs

I used to listed to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs quite a lot. In case you haven’t heard this program, the premise is quite simple: well-known (Mostly British) people are asked to list their favourite 10 records. At the end of the program, they select the one disc they would take with them to a fictional desert island. I think they also get to choose one luxury and one book.

Anyway, being that the BBC are unlikely ever to call me into the studios, I thought I might just as well list some of my favourite tracks here*. For the record, as it were:

10.  Kashmir / Led Zeppelin.

9. Closer to the Heart / Rush

8. House of Cards / Radiohead

7. September of my Years / Frank Sinatra

6. O Soave Fanciulla / Luciano Pavarotti

5. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) / Jimi Hendrix

4. Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow / Joni Mitchell

3. Human Touch / Bruce Springsteen

2. I Believe in You / Talk Talk

1. Powderfinger / Neil Young

*Since this little-read blog is my own personal fiefdom, I may take the liberty of rearranging / updating this list as the mood takes me.

Jagged

The appointment for my vaccination is too early. Too early for me, that is: being a man of leisure, I’m seldom up before eleven. However, there’s no avoiding this particular rendez-vous, so I get up and make my way to the bathroom, where I see in the mirror that the whites of my eyes are actually a light pink colour.

Breakfast is liquid: an espresso and a thimble of orange juice. (I’m keeping the volumes small since I don’t relish the prospect of having to use the virus-laden toilets at the vaccination centre.)

Driving through town, traffic seems lighter than usual — lots of people must be either working from home or not working at all, which suits me just fine this sunny spring morning. Eventually I locate the sports centre where the vaccination is taking place and discover to my surprise that the huge car park is almost full. This, it suddenly strikes me, really is a population-scale operation.

An official inspects my dog-eared appointment letter and directs me towards the entrance. I pretend not to notice the array of hand sanitiser bottles sitting outside. Once inside the building however, a larger bottle presents itself, with an accompanying notice instructing me to use it. So I do.

The floor in here is composed of some sort of high-tech plastic interlocking tile I’ve never seen before. It feels slightly springy underfoot. New developments in flooring technology have been happening all along and I have been oblivious.

This sports hall is massive: the total area could usefully be measured in acres. I reason that the huge volume of air it contains should help dilute the virus, if any should be present. This feels reassuring to the hypochondriac in me.

I follow some taped arrows on the floor until I reach the injection station, where a business-like woman wearing a face mask measures the temperature of my forehead. Her pistol-style digital thermometer emits a beep, telling her I don’t have a fever, so I step forward to the next masked woman. This one asks questions about allergies and tells me what to expect after the jag. I try to listen to her spiel but I’m distracted by trying to decide on the the correct amount of eye contact to make with this masked stranger.

A third masked woman looms into view. She instructs me to sit down and bare my preferred shoulder. As she (I was going to call her a nurse but she may well not have been a nurse) raises the syringe, I think I know what to expect, having been jabbed quite a lot recently. What I experience as the needle goes into my left deltoid is a little unexpected however: it feels as if someone has grabbed a little portion of deep muscle and twisted it quite hard. Being the trooper that I am though, I don’t wince.

I rearrange my clothing, thank the injector and leave. The whole process, from parking the car to exiting the building, has taken less than ten minutes. The efficiency is impressive and somewhat unexpected — the government doesn’t usually do things this well.

Back in the car, I decide not to wait the precautionary 15 minutes. About 10 minutes should be enough, I think to myself. A video call to my brother helps pass the time but he soon has to hang up, so I start the engine and try to find the way out. A young attendant sees me trundling along looking gormless in my daft little car and helpfully directs me to a vacant parking spot. I lower the window and ask where the exit is. She apologises and points me in the right direction. I belatedly realise I didn’t say ‘Please’ when I asked her for directions, which makes me feel slightly bad.

On the way back into town, a middle-aged man in a German prestige car refuses to let me merge. I decide that Andy, for that is his name according to his private number plate, is not going to heaven. I make myself stop thinking about Andy though, and turn instead to the fact that I’ll soon be able to stop worrying about catching this nasty disease.

Back home, I throw the documents the injection woman handed me onto the kitchen table and wash the sanitiser off my hands. All things considered, it hasn’t been a bad morning.

Micromorts

“A micromort (from micro- and mortality) is a unit of risk defined as one-in-a-million chance of death.” ~ Wikipedia

Yesterday I was reading John McPhee’s excellent book “Draft No. 4“.

Wanting to know more about him, I found a 2017 interview in the NYT, where they reported that he was cycling 15 miles every other day. This at the age of 86.

You have to be in good health to cycle 15 miles, even on the flat. I studied the photos of McPhee and decided he looks remarkably good for his age.

This led me to thinking about my own health — I realised that I need to be more active. Maybe cycling was the answer.

Looking at the Brompton Bicycles website (I’ve had Bromptons before and liked them), I saw that they have a new colour — Cloud Blue — that appeals to me:

As it turns out though, they’re not taking new orders due to high demand, so that was that for now.

Getting back to John McPhee, I discovered that he tore a rotator cuff after falling off his bike. Various other well-known people have been in the press recently having had bicycle accidents.

Being a cautious person, I wanted to quantify the risks of cycling: according to Wikipedia, cycling 10 miles incurs the same risk — one micromort — as travelling 230 miles by car.

However, everything you do has a risk attached to it. I can sit here in my office chair all day today and probably nothing bad will happen. Long-term though, being as inert as I currently am greatly increases my risk of vascular disease, diabetes and other horrors.

Work

“You never think of problems when you work. If I had my nephews here, I would put them to work. They wouldn’t get in trouble. Work is the best medicine for everything.”

~ Prenta Ljucovic / NYT

SpaceX

The NROL-108 Mission’s Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad this morning.

SpaceX launched another rocket from the Kennedy Space Center today. It was the 102nd launch of their Falcon 9 ship.

The first-stage booster landing safely at Kennedy Space Center today.

The first-stage booster on this mission was making its fifth landing — the booster is apparently the most expensive part of the rocket.

Watching these launches live on YouTube is something that’s always interesting.

The payload for this mission was a ‘Spy’ satellite of some sort — the customer (The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office) asked SpaceX not to broadcast its deployment.

Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, has set his sights on getting to Mars. The Falcon 9 can deliver about 4,000 Kg to Mars. The far larger StarShip, which is in part designed to get humans to Mars, made a test flight last week which Musk described as a success. (It exploded on landing but they got good data.)

Typography

Fonts interest me. Not to the point where I can identify different typefaces at a glance, but I like messing about with them now and then.

This blog is built on WordPress’s Twenty Seventeen theme, which comes out of the box with one font only (Some sans-serif or other). Whilst the default font is reasonably easy on the eye, I wanted a serif one.

There’s a plug-in for WordPress that lets you change the typeface to one of many offered by Google, so now this blog is set in Times New Roman, (Edit 29th December: it’s now in Garamond) which I prefer. Google offers hundreds of fonts, including classics like Palatino, which I tried but found lacking.

The world of typefaces is huge — there are websites from tiny to giant where you can browse innumerable fonts.

There are also various degrees of font creator out there, from lone designers working out of a bedroom to big corporations like Adobe.

I might play around with the fonts here again when I get bored or decide I want something better.

(There’s a great documentary by Gary Hustwit about Helvetica, the typeface designed by Max Miedinger.)

 

Currently Reading

Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall.

Update, 19th December 2020.
This book was quite enjoyable for me. He writes well (Hall was a poet and journalist for most of his life). It’s a brief read at 144 pages and the price is pretty steep (£9.39 for the Kindle edition) but I didn’t feel short-changed. Full of sharp-eyed observations, unusually frank, and good on the problems that come with ageing.

Dementia

A few years ago my mum’s brother, who’s 83, was diagnosed with dementia.

Dementia is quite widespread — it affects about 7% of over-65’s in the UK. It’s definitely on my list of Diseases I Never Want to Get.

Thinking about Alzheimer’s today, I remembered a recent study that found a link between Alzheimer’s and a bacterium called Porphyromonas Gingivalis.

I was thinking that if one half of a married couple developed Alzheimer’s, the other should be at higher risk if the disease is in fact caused by a bug.

A quick Google search turned up this piece of research from 2010. It says that if one half of a married couple develops dementia, the other half is 6 times more likely to develop it than the average person.

Talking about dementia, today I watched a documentary called ‘Dick Johnson is Dead’. It’s about an ageing psychiatrist whose memory is fading.

I found it quite moving: he’s an engaging character who seems to have a cheerful nature. There are many poignant moments.

The piece as a whole is a little quirky: she throws in some fantasy scenes which break up the sad reality of what’s happening to Mister Johnson.

Here’s the trailer:

Mending

A couple of years ago, I needed something warm to wear for the winter.

I decided that I wanted a natural fibre, specifically wool.

I found a shop selling knitwear made from Donegal yarn. I selected one that I liked and paid up.

Over the course of the following two years, I found myself wearing this jumper almost all the time, regardless of the weather.  I liked the look and the feel of it, so why not?

Last week I noticed a hole in the left elbow. Luckily, my mother offered to mend it. The jumper is now once more wearable in public.

I hadn’t had to spend money on a replacement and I had helped preserve the planet’s finite resources.

With this in mind I was pleased to read about the EU’s ‘Right to Repair‘ legislation — a giant step in the right direction.

Apex, 2018

The metadata says this picture is from August 2018.

I might have been trying to catch some of the House Martins in flight over the rooftop. August 2018 is a little over two years ago. Two years passes in the blink of an eye, or so it seems to me now.

In a recent YouTube interview, Nan Goldin said that she no longer takes photographs of people. She prefers instead to make pictures of landscapes, the sky and interiors — areas that interest me too.

This photo is one of many I’ve taken of the house I live in. Perhaps the reason for my focus on it is that, as a home-worker with a narrow social life, I spend a lot of time here.

I haven’t yet become bored with this house as a photographic subject — to quote Seneca,  “Just as one of small stature can be a perfect man, so a life of small compass can be a perfect life.”