Slightly better

A couple of weeks ago, The Guardian published an article on 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying, which is probably perfect for everyone who has already failed to keep up with their New Years resolutions, as well as the rest of us who didn’t even try.

The suggestions are all simple and very easy to implement. While not all of them will be appropriate for everyone, I was surprised at how many of these things I already do.

I particularly liked this one, though:

91 If in doubt, add cheese.

Lightly Seared in 2021

As the year draws to a close, now seems as good a time as any to look back over my most popular (more accurately: most read) post of the last twelve months. As ever, my most read posts overall are technical notes written the best part of a decade ago, but if people still find this stuff useful, it’s all to the good.

Of the posts that I actually wrote this year, the most popular (surprisingly enough) is COVID-related. Specifically, when I announced that I was fully jabbed. Of course, I’m even more jabbed now having recently received my booster.

Oddly enough, the second most popular post of the year is Jabbed: Part One, which goes back to when I received my first dose of Pfizer.

Brexit was mentioned on this blog a few times, even though it received a lot fewer mentions than in previous years. It seems fitting, therefore, that my third most popular post is also the last time I mentioned the B-word to mention that a crisis had been averted.

I am still watching the Brexit-related news but I find myself have much less to say. The reason, I think, is that even though a lot of stuff keeps happening, it’s the same stuff happening over and over again. There are only so many times that you can mention the sheer stupidity of leaving the EU, or the fact that now it’s done there’s no way back, without both feeling and sounding like a broken record.

On the subject of going around in circles, COVID. And in March, I mentioned that 2021 was starting to feel like 2020.

On a more positive note, we did take a step towards eating more sustainably with burgers for all. That’s insect burgers, which we can make using mealworm.

And I can’t go a year without mentioning the weather: Flooded. Fortunately, I wasn’t.

Way back in January, Donald Trump tried to organise a coup. In After the meltdown, the climbdown I made (or tried to make) the more general observation that authoritarian impulses exist everywhere — we all need to be paying attention.

Remember OS/2? I did: Digital Nostalgia

Then there is the ongoing discussion about green energy and why nuclear power plants are necessary. I still it’s insane that the Green parties in Belgium want to burn more gas in order to decommission the nuclear power stations we already have.

And last, but certainly not least, is what I said back in May: Don’t Panic!

And with that, all that remains is to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2022.

Seasons Greetings

It’s that time of year again, when COVID restrictions are tightened and we congratulate ourselves on having seen Spider-Man on Tuesday, before the cinemas were closed.

Today is my last day at work until next year. I have two weeks off which we will all be spending at home, around a table, playing games. The boys started expressing an interest in Dungeons & Dragons a few weeks ago and we have agreed to give it a try while we have plenty of time for a few lengthy sessions. I’m not sure who is most looking forward to this.

In other news, I had my COVID booster yesterday — Moderna this time. They really have the process working smoothly now: it’s literally a case of walk in register, get jabbed and go.

Life goes on, the freezer is full, and the presents are all wrapped and under the tree. We’re ready for the next two weeks, so all that remains is for me to wish anyone reading this a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the season.

Inspiration

I spent most of yesterday struggling with an application to which I needed to make a few small changes. And the changes were small, which is why I found it so incredibly frustrating that the end result didn’t work. I tested and tested and tested again and, while all of the individual components worked perfectly, it completely failed when I tried to put it all together.

Today, while out walking, I suddenly realised why it wasn’t working. I won’t bore you with the details, but it relates to the difference between Development, Test and Acceptance environments. What is more interesting is just how much I can solve when I let my mind wander.

I really need to get out more.

Jabbed: Part One

I had my first Pfizer jab yesterday and it all went remarkably smoothly — from turning up at the vaccination centre to sitting down in the post-jab waiting room, the whole process only took about ten minutes.

And, after the compulsory 15 minute wait, I went out for a drink, because of course I did.

And in five week’s time I have to do it all over again for the second jab.

Crisis averted

Long term readers of this blog may remember The Haggis Crisis of 2021 and the news that the British Store online had been forced to suspend taking orders due to Brexit related supply issues.

I have, of course, been watching the site ever since and am inappropriately happy to report that, when I returned home on Wednesday, I found that they had re-opened. Of course, I immediately ordered as much as I could and it all turned up today.

I now intend on spending the rest of the day overdosing on Treacle and Lemon Curd.

Hypertension

I’ve been a bit quiet over the past week or so, both online and off, and there’s a reason for this. On Sunday 9th May — Mother’s Day in Belgium — I discovered, quite spectacularly, that I suffer from hypertension and have just spent the last week and a half in hospital.

This proved to be quite a surprise to me because I never get ill. Over the course of my career I have take a grand total of one day off ill, so I was slightly shocked to be told that I have been suffering from this for the past ten years. The doctors were surprised, too, and I have found myself having to answer several slightly incredulous questions.

The main challenge for the hospital has been finding a combination of drugs that can safely keep my blood pressure withing reasonable levels. Having concluded that the best combination for me is all of them, they have finally let me go.

Not surprisingly, I’ve done very little — well, nothing — while in hospital and have a bit of catching up to do. So if you suddenly see me popping up on week-old blog posts, now you know why.

Take care of yourselves, folks, and make sure you see a doctor more regularly than I do (did). You never know what might be lurking.

On speaking too soon

While rambling yesterday about the Coronavirus, I suggested (not as directly as I thought I had) that the availability of vaccines provided a way out of this pandemic. They do, but there are still delays.

The biggest coronavirus vaccination centre in Belgium, Heysel, did not open its doors on Monday after the delay in deliveries of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines resulted in hundreds of appointments being cancelled.

AstraZeneca announced last week that it would only be able to deliver 500,000 coronavirus vaccines to Belgium, 200,000 fewer than promised, and Moderna said it would be delivering just 94,800 doses this week, leaving centres with reduced supply.

Then again, this is why any plans we make are very provisional.

365 Days Later

It was on Monday 16th March 2020 that I turned up to work to find a company-wide email telling me that I should start working from home. The mail had been sent on the Sunday which is why I hadn’t seen it before I reached the office. It was surprising, though, just how many people had been looking at their email over the weekend and, consequently, had known to stay at home. The following day, Belgium formed a temporary government which promptly placed the country in lockdown.

That Monday was, for me, the moment that the Coronavirus became real. Obviously, I had been aware of it and had been following the news but, until this point, the crisis had not had any direct impact on me or those around me so it had all felt a bit abstract.

I have been intending to post something to mark the date for a few days, but when I came to write this I found that I really didn’t have much to say. There are several reasons for this, but a major one is that being stuck at home hasn’t really been too hard on me.

It helps of course that I am something of an introvert and am quite happy to see no-one but my immediate family for, well, for a year. Living in the middle of nowhere has also been surprisingly helpful as I have been able, throughout the pandemic, to find some very pleasant places to walk all of which are very close to home. This has extended to the kids as well and, even with various activities cancelled, local clubs and groups have managed to both organise online activities and provide relevant resources and suggestions.

Financially, we are among the 71% of Belgians that are doing fine. Luxuries are largely reduced to pizza and DVDs and, while I do miss meals out and trips to the cinema, the absence of these is not much of a hardship. And this sums up much of the lockdown period for me; there have been plenty of minor irritations, but nothing devastating.

I realise that we have been lucky, and that many people have had a far harder time of this pandemic than we have, and I am certainly looking forward to receiving the vaccine and finally seeing an end to the crisis. It’s going to be a while yet, though, with the Flemish Health Minister promising 11th July as the date by which everyone in Flanders having received their first jab. As long as the ordered vaccines all turn up on time. Being neither a front-line worker or in any risk group I imagine I will be close to the back of that particular queue so we’re not making any summer holiday commitments just yet.

I haven’t renewed my rail pass either. I don’t need it if I’m working from home and have seen no indication from my employer that they have any plan to reopen the office any time soon. I can’t say I’m at all unhappy about this; working from home has freed up a huge amount of time for me and it has become very apparent to all just how unnecessary a physical office actually is. Ideally, I would go into work for one or two days a week and stay at home for the rest. We shall have to see how things go.

It’s not over yet, but the end is in sight and we can start looking forward again to a post-pandemic world. Hang in there, wherever you are, and here’s looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unflooded

At the start of this month, I mentioned that the daily walk I usually take was a bit flooded. Things got worse after that and, shortly after I had decided I should look for a different route, the footpath was closed. So, for the past couple of weeks I have been taking my walks around the town. It’s not the same.

Now that the snow has melted and the sun is out (it almost feels like Spring), I thought I would take another look.

The river water is still a bit high, but not too high, and the bridge is accessible again.

It’s also been warm enough for me to spend some time chopping wood for the next cold snap.

Things are looking up.