Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

Signals.

Much of modern life depends on signals. Those received by mobile phones, Internet modems, Wi-Fi, 4G, and via satellites. As well as things like Internet surfing, receiving and sending texts, or using satellite navigation systems, we also depend on them to be able to watch television.

Living in Norfolk, you might expect that we wouldn’t have issues with signals of any kind. It is one of the flattest places in Europe, and outside of the two cities of Norwich and Kings Lynn, few buildings exist that can obstruct the passage of any signal. I certainly made that assumption, before I moved here. And I was wrong.

Despite the flat landscape, and absence of high buildings, this county is a notorious black spot for signals of all kinds. After years of getting ‘Emergency Only’ mobile phone signals, we had to threaten to leave our provider until they gave us a booster that enhances that signal. But that only works in the immediate area around the house. Make a short journey, and you will soon see the annoying ‘no bars’ appear on the screen of your phone. And you can forget about going online when out and about. The signal is rarely ever strong enough to connect to the Internet, when using a smartphone.

It used to be the same with the home broadband connection. Erratic at best, too slow at worst. I am relatively lucky, as my PC is connected via a direct cable into the modem. But using laptops or tablets on Wi-Fi was a cause of constant frustration. Then we got a fibre broadband connection. Speeds almost doubled, and the Wi-Fi was more stable, except at the times of peak usage. That meant we could connect the TV to the Internet, albeit through a monthly-fee smart box, from Now TV. Slowly but surely, Norfolk seemed to be dragging itself into the 21st century.

My idea that the flat landscape and small buildings helped proved to be well off the mark. All these signals depend on powerful transmitters, and booster masts that have to be close to the equipment you want to use. Because of the relatively small population of Norfolk, investment in such infrastructure has been sadly lacking. Some parts of the region still have 56 kps dial-up connections, and many more remote areas have no connections at all. Imagine that. Life in 2018 with no Internet, and an unusable mobile phone. They tell us things are improving. Churches are being paid to site masts on high spires, and new-build estates have underground cables already laid. But any retro-fitting is difficult, and no new transmitter towers are being built in the foreseeable future.

This has now begun to disrupt our TV signal. Often previously affected by the weather, and interfered with by short power cuts, it is unable to cope with the number of new channels arriving all the time, and the constantly changing frequencies sold off by a greedy government. Some of these frequencies are so close together, the TV receiver cannot differentiate between them, so picture break-up and interference is a daily part of our viewing (or not viewing) experience. We frequently have to resort to using online ‘catch-up’ services to watch anything, with the irony that the TV box connected to the Internet is one of the reasons why the picture breaks up in the first place, as signals clash, and fight each other for the dwindling space available.

Isn’t progress wonderful?

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Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

How did cave-men cut their toenails?

As my own toenails need a trim, I was thinking about this earlier. Before the widespread adoption of sturdy footwear, and the invention of sharp blades, the feet of the human population must have been in something of a state. Hard skin and cracked heels would have been everyday issues, as well as cuts, thorns, sharp stones, and splinters. I doubt it was very long before they started to wrap their poor abused feet in the skins of animals they had killed for food, to keep them warm, if for no other reason.

But then I wondered about their toenails. Those things grow fast, and given that ancient man had little but sharp shards of flint to work with, cutting their toenails must have been well-nigh impossible. It’s tricky enough using my ratchet-clippers designed for the purpose, forged in tempered steel. I can’t begin to imagine having to tackle that regular job with a sliver of sharp stone. Perhaps they waited until they were long enough, then somehow snapped them off? Maybe they kicked rocks to create weaknesses or cracks before attempting that? Any of the alternatives sound painful, and just letting them grow is not an option, as they would soon impede walking, or running after game. I came to the conclusion that they must have got another member of their clan to bite them off. That’s the only plausible answer. I think I would have been out hunter-gathering when that job came around. Yuk!

I confess that I often wonder about such random things, where cave-dwellers are concerned. Who first thought of collecting grains, mixing them together with water, and baking them in some form of oven or an open fire? That idea seems to have arrived to everyone at around the same time, as the remains of bread made like that are to be found in the archaeological digs of any country. What ancient genius decided to crush coffee beans, add hot water, and create a stimulant drink? Was it the long-forgotten ancestor of a certain Mr Starbuck perhaps?

And why did they cook meat? This is also a proven fact, as most meat eaten by our forefathers was cooked to some degree, before being eaten. Animals don’t cook meat, they eat it raw. But ancient man cooked his dinner, whether it was a leg of mammoth, or the cannibalistic repast provided by some unfortunate neighbour. Perhaps it was so cold, they needed something warm inside them? Cooked meat may also have kept longer than raw meat, and perhaps not have attracted the attention of predatory animals once the blood was cooked. But the person who came up with the idea must have been popular indeed.

Living an existence based on keeping a fire going, and hoping the sun rises the next day is not to be envied. But that harsh life developed a lot of invention born out of necessity, that’s for sure. Scientists can pretty much date the evolution of mankind as we know it on this planet, and in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long. Progress has been rapid, that’s undeniable. Lots of things have been invented, most of them bad for us, and the planet. But we can take comfort in one fact.

We no longer have to bite off each other’s toenails.

Dogs In Beetley

As I sit here blogging, the only sound coming through the open windows today is that of dogs. They are barking, wailing, crying, yelping, and whining. Not Ollie of course, who is sitting next to me peacefully enjoying watching me at the keyboard. The sounds are coming from some of the houses nearby, with the dogs shut outside, living in dog-runs, or just lonely in the garden. Some are muffled sounds, those of dogs shut in the house, and barking at any passing car or pedestrian.

Most local dog owners love their pets. They look after them well, and walk them twice a day, in all weathers. But there are some who seem to have forgotten what having a dog is all about, and I am left wondering why they ever got one. (Or more than one) Leaving a dog shut outside or in the house all day when you go off to work is not acceptable to me. I don’t care whether or not you leave them adequate food to eat, or enough water to drink, it just isn’t right. And your dog barks or cries all day, even if you are not there to hear it, or have no concern about how this upsets your neighbours. This isn’t just an issue about noise, but about concern.

I worry about those lonely dogs. I picture them running around inside, or shut in a pen outside, wondering if and when their owner will ever return. Even those owners with more than one dog don’t seem to understand. Dogs raised by humans want human company. They want the presence of the ‘pack leader’, and often the other dogs are just annoying, a distraction at best. Leaving them to go shopping, to attend an appointment, or visit someone for a few hours is one thing. But leaving them home alone all day, every day, that’s simply not on.

If you don’t want the dog anymore, or just can’t be bothered to consider its feelings, then give it away. Someone will take it eventually. They will probably care for it better, and if nothing else, keep it company.

A Beetley Monday

For many of you, it is the start of the working week. Others might be about to go on holiday, heading off to airports, or packing up the car for a long drive. You may have appointments, a job interview, or be busy dealing with children already bored with the long summer break from school.

But for me in Beetley, it’s just another day. It might just as well be Friday, or Sunday. Days of the week have little or no relevance for me. Ollie has to be walked, dinner cooked later this evening, and if I get time, I might watch a foreign TV serial on catch-up, or maybe even a film I have recorded. Late afternoon on a Monday, I get in the car and go to the local supermarket to do the ‘big shop’. Some people hate shopping, but I don’t mind it at all. The huge air-conditioned shop is a pleasant place to while away an hour as I stock up for the week. I am also content to know that I won’t be back again, util next Monday.

Sometimes on a Monday, I might also do some housework, or even gardening, if it is absolutely necessary. But it is unusually hot here at the moment, so both of those are off my agenda. So it looks like another quiet day in rural Norfolk. Fingers crossed.

Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

Neighbours.

When I lived in London, neighbours could ruin your life, even though they may or may not have intended to. Selfish people might play loud music, and refuse to answer the door when you went to complain. The authorities were so inundated with such complaints, they just didn’t have enough staff to deal with them. Likewise the Police, overwhelmed by incidents, and no time for what they saw as a petty squabble. Live in a block of flats, as I did for twelve years before coming here, and you can magnify the problems greatly. I had people living above, either side, and below. Working shifts, and trying to sleep at ‘unusual times’ made it all worse, as very few people are considerate enough to turn down televisions, stop home improvement projects, or not have radios blaring at all hours. One next-door neighbour went away for a weekend leaving her smoke alarm blaring, until the battery ran out. I was on the verge of smashing down her door and ripping it off the ceiling, when it suddenly stopped.

City living is hard. And living in a five-storey block of sixty flats housing almost two hundred people makes it even harder.

So I retired to a quiet village in Norfolk. Peace at last. For a while.

Then someone opposite started to run a side business of cutting firewood, stacking it in the area in front of his house, and presumably selling it on. Chainsaws. On cutting days, the petrol-driven chainsaws start around 08:30, and continue relentlessly, often until dark. It is not illegal to make such noise of course, but it is completely inconsiderate. When we moved here six years ago, there were a lot of small children around, and a few houses owned dogs. We didn’t mind that. It was nice to see the children having fun, and we had a dog too. Now those children have noisy motor cycles, noisy souped-up cars, and friends who visit with even more noisy vehicles. And not only does every house but one now own a dog, the house next door has become a ‘dog-sitting’ business, with as many as eight dogs yapping and barking, just over the fence.

Then the boyfriend of the dog-sitter started working on cars, in the driveway close to the side window of our living room. Installing more powerful exhaust sytems, running engines, and constantly hammering parts too. Then he expanded, and friends and customers arrived, so he could make their cars run faster and sound louder too. Once again, it’s not illegal. It’s his hobby, and maybe he makes some spare cash from it, or helps his friends for nothing. But we now have at least four cars outside most days, sometimes six. And being young, just working on the cars in silence is not an option. They also have to have the car music system blaring, usually some sort of Rap, or Hip-Hop. They are not unpleasant people. They are a friendly young couple who will happily take in a parcel for you, and give you a happy greeting as you walk by.

But they are not considerate, and pursue their business and hobbies with scant regard for those of us who live close by. Yesterday, I had to go out and talk to some young men working on cars next door. After almost thirty minutes of revving engines accompanied by deafening pop music, enough was enough. I calmly explained to them that it was very hot, so we had all our windows open. I suggested that they turn the volume down, and remember that people are living a few feet away from their antics. The neighbour wasn’t even around, just letting his pals use his facilities in the garage. They did apologise, and turned off the music. Luckily, this is Beetley, and not London, where I could have risked being beaten up by asking the same thing. But they carried on fixing up the cars, making the most of the fine weather and good light, no doubt.

I was left regretting the move to what we thought was such a peaceful place. As new people move in, the area is bound to change for the worse. I mused over my ‘ideal’ residence, and made a mental check-list.

I would like to live where the nearest neighbour was not visible, even using binoculars.
A moat would be nice, with a drawbridge that can be raised.
Perhaps thicker walls, with the living accommodation higher up.
There would have to be surrounding land which I owned, so that nobody could build nearby.
I realised that I had the perfect solution.

A castle.

Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

Hair

I got up early today, and for some reason, I was thinking about my hair.
Well, remembering it at least.

When I wake up, I can guarantee that my hair will look the same as when I went to bed. The reason for that is that I don’t have a great deal of it left, and what there is is cropped short, in a fetching shade of silvery-white. Then again, I never had that much hair, except when I was a toddler, and it was platinum blonde, cascading in ringlets reminiscent of Shirley Temple’s coiffure. Once I was old enough that it had turned a boring shade of brown, I had it cut very short. It has never touched my ears, nor my shirt collar. For most of my life I saw as much of my barber as I did my closest friends.

I lived through the long-hair fashions of the late 60s and 1970s. Even though most of my friends had hair long enough for my Dad to describe them as ‘Girls’, including one best friend who could actually sit on his Rapunzel-like locks, I stayed short and trim. It wasn’t until my 40s when my barber mentioned I was developing male pattern baldness, that I ever concerned myself too much with it. That gave me a wake-up call though, as I imagined ending up like one of those TV vicars who has a head like an egg, with a fringe of hair running around just above his ears. That look is never cool, let’s face it. But I was spared the style of a man of God, and instead started to cut my own hair, shearing it like you would a sheep, with specialist cutters bought for the purpose. My old friend the barber should have kept quiet, as it cost him a good twenty years of custom.

I was never a hairy person overall in fact. My legs are relatively hair-free, and I can recall people seeing me in shorts, then asking if I shaved my legs. I wondered why they thought I would, to be honest. I had friends with body hair that would do justice to a lowland gorilla, yet I could not only count the few hairs on my chest, but named a few of the longer ones too. Like small pets. As I got even older, I became aware of some hair growing on my shoulders for the first time, and occasional hairs would appear on the outside of one of my ears, resembling the spindly antenna of a car radio, or the leg of a particularly thin spider. Then hairs began to sprout from my nostrils. These were dark and thick, like those on the legs of a tarantula. And how they grow! Faster and stronger than any hair growth I have ever experienced elsewhere on my body. I had to buy a special small device to trim them, and it has become a regular task.

I also never got that ‘grey-temples’ look that distinguished good-looking older men like Cary Grant and George Clooney seemed to carry off so well. I just went grey all over, within the space of a week. Not long after that, the grey became silvery, and that soon changed to white. What was left on top was quite nice, almost peach-fuzz in feel, with a defined clump of still strong hair at the front, that I like to call ‘hair island’. Those hair ‘pets’ on my chest turned white at the same time, as did my beard growth, which I fortunately never allow to grow.

Once I turned 50, I got used to being described as ‘bald’. At first, I would protest, and refer people to the fact that there was still a great deal of hair there, albeit cropped very short, and so light in colour it merged with my skin. But I soon stopped worrying about being bald, and looked at all the positives instead.

I don’t need a comb.
I have never used a hair drier.
I never have ‘morning hair’.
I can wash it in two minutes and it dries before the towel touches it.
It doesn’t get wet in the rain and stick to my face.
I don’t have to pay anyone to style it.
I don’t even know what a ‘tangle’ feels like.
I can’t catch it in machinery.
Nobody could ever pull it.

Then the celebrities came along, and made me feel so much better about it. Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Vin Diesel, and many more. They began to sport the ‘bald’ look with pride. Even Sean Connery ditched his fuzzy wigs and went ‘au naturel’. As far as their heads were concerned, I was in good company, at long last. So, all you men who do those awful comb-overs, comb-forwards, cover-ups (yes you, Mr Trump) or those who wear ill-advised toupees, hairpieces, or awfully obvious full wigs. (yes you, Elton John) Just cut it short; be a man, and work with what nature left you with.

You know it makes sense.

Quietly sweltering

The weather is big news everywhere at the moment.

Tragic fires in Greece.
People dying in Japan, after record high temperatures.
Fires in fields all over the UK.
People suffering from sunstroke, in Britain.

And a man and his dog quietly sweltering, in Beetley.

It is now officially the hottest summer since 1976. No rain of any note in Norfolk for six weeks, and constant daytime temperatures in excess of 32 C (90 F) every day. Last night, it didn’t drop below 21 C, and we woke up to another scorcher.

I’m still not complaining. I still haven’t forgotten that long dreary winter, or those years of almost constant rain. I am doing my best to enjoy this rare treat, making me feel as if I am living in a different country. Yes it can be hard to sleep, even using a large fan to cool the room. Yes being in a car is unpleasant, unless it has working air-conditioning, and yes it is hard for my poor dog, in his furry coat. But the alternative is worse, as far as I am concerned. Long wet days, tramping around in mud, wearing heavy coats and boots, carrying an umbrella. Windows closed against the torrents, and darkness by mid-afternoon. Did all the complainers forget so soon?

The TV News loves to see the black side too. Dire warnings about failed crops, and even a shortage of Christmas Trees, come December. Beaches closed for ‘public safety’, and blue-green algae contaminating open water. Hosepipe bans in the north-west, the wettest areas of the UK, a testament to the unpreparedness and inefficiency of those responsible for managing our water supplies. Gloomy predictions of more hot summers to come, and fears for a country totally unprepared to face them.

In a few weeks, the rain will have returned. It will start to get dark by 5 pm, and people will be having to heat their homes.

And not long after that, everyone will be complaining about the winter.