Thanking God for everything

The Tokyo Olympics are on at the moment. Delayed from last year because of the plague, they have finally been all over the news and somewhere on the telly. I’m not that interested but each day I hear the reports on the World Service and, pick up bits and pieces on Twitter.

One such ‘bit’ was a tweet concerning American hurdler, Kendra Harrison and how her silver medal was because of the glory of god. A lot of sporty types generally do give credit to god rather than hard work and effort but, in Kendra’s case, I wonder why he only gave her second? Surely, if god really did love her, she’d have won the race.

I guess poor Kendra will need to pray harder next time she’s in church.

God, it would seem, prefers Sydney McLaughlin because he had her take gold in the 400m hurdles. Straight after the race, a microphone shoved in her face, an effervescent McLaughlin thanked god above everyone else who had a hand in her win.

I do find it odd when athletes work themselves super hard for years and years in an effort to be the best in the world – literally – then, having run the race of their life, decide it was all down to a non-existent entity.

And no-one ever blames god when they come last. Are they forever asking god why he has forsaken them? Do they resort to greater prayer length or louder singing?

Still, as I said, I’m not that interested. Rather than Olympic religious observance, I was working in the garden.

Yesterday, Mirinda was working in the Candy Bed (the one outside my office) but, before she planted the plants we’d bought at the garden centre on Sunday, I had to knock in a few metal sheets because the rats are still around.

This is very annoying because I thought we’d be rid of them after nine months of no bird food. But no, that bastard god has seen fit to keep them around.

I was sitting in my office the other day and a movement caught my eye. A rat slid up the onto the raised section in the photo above, gave me the finger and leisurely wandered across to the fence and popped into the Crazies’ place.

Looking at the Candy Bed, I spotted a new rat hole. And it was this I had to plug up with a metal sheet. I do this every time a new hole appears.

Of course, I thanked god for giving me the ability to work with metal.

We finished the day with Chinese leaf tacos: the lo-carb version.

I was going to buy a taco spice mix packet until I read the ingredients. Too much sugar and too many chemicals for my liking. I searched for and found an excellent recipe and I made my own. It was excellent. I’m fairly certain it was because of my prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexican spices.

Of course, I had to make the Chez Gaz guacamole, of which Mirinda is extremely fond.

And, naturally, I thanked god for giving me the ability to make excellent guacamole.

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Peaceful penetration

General Sir John Monash (1865-1931) was an intense kind of guy. In his photo, his eyes seem to immobilise the viewer, leaving them helpless to interrogation. His almost smile probably leading to misunderstanding. He was undoubtably, a lovely man, however, he has been proclaimed as the greatest Australian military commander of all time.

When the Great War broke out, he was keen to join up. He was a mechanical engineer in civilian life so, having connections and an education, he obviously started off as an officer. However, the powers that be wanted him riding a desk in Melbourne. He didn’t like that. He wanted to be in the field.

There was a bit of a problem as far as a lot of his contemporary military leaders were concerned. His parents were German and Jewish. Not a good mix, they said. However, his personal network of top brass brushed aside the xenophobic concerns and he was sent to Egypt.

He was at Gallipoli in 1915 and proved to be an extraordinary officer, being quickly promoted. Naturally, this annoyed a lot of the seething ‘true blue Aussies’. A rumour started in Cairo that he was, in fact, a German spy. In the meanwhilst, he ignored the nonsense and did what he did best, he won battles.

On 1 June 1918, Monash was promoted to Lieutenant General and was given the command of the complete Australian Corps. In the 1920’s he was generally considered to be the greatest Australian who had ever lived.

I’d never heard of him until tonight. Well, apart from the university named after him.

I attended the latest WFA webinar. It was called A fine feat of War: The taking of Mont St Quentin 1918 and was presented by Julian Whippy. Sir John was in charge and the action was all Australian.

Julian has an excellent skill at showing the battlefield both then and now. In this way, the viewer can almost experience the issues of the past, seeing the action through both sets of eyes. He also has some amazing photographs, something that always brings a presentation alive. Though, I always look at the smiling faces and wonder how many of them survived the next battle.

One of the chief Australian tactics was known as ‘peaceful penetration’. The soldiers would take over as many enemy positions as possible, taking prisoners and not lives. They would approach, usually from behind, and take the position. This led to the German army being demoralised and gave the Australians a massive psychological edge.

It also meant a lot fewer meaningless deaths.

It was another excellent presentation which, as usual, attracted some equally excellent questions from the masses watching.

A highlight was when Julian showed a photograph of two army horses called Molly and Baldy. He made the off hand comment that Baldy shouldn’t be confused with David Tattersfield. It made me laugh. David, (the middle in the top row above) didn’t comment on it during the Q&A, which was a shame. He’d had an awful long time to come up with an appropriate response.

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All the predictability of Sharon’s birthday

You can get a decent latte pretty much anywhere. You can’t always get hazelnut syrup, but there’s usually some syrup or other. The thing you can’t get anywhere except in Farnham – or so has been my experience – is a latte with silky milk. And this morning, Sandra made me one. It was fantastic.

Being a Sunday, Sue wasn’t in. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see her but it was enough to taste a super smooth and creamy latte. I’ve missed them.

I’ve also missed Waitrose. Knowing where everything is, makes supermarket shopping far easier than wandering around lost all the time, confused by the language as well as product placement.

And here’s the odd thing: I found, this morning, that I’m not that keen on all the comfort. The things I’ve become accustomed to after living in Farnham for over a decade are all too easy and routine. I was a lot happier shopping in confusion in Trollbäcken ICA.

It’s so easy to just slip back into the world you know. But, I realised this morning as I walked into town, my last nine months have been so exciting, so unpredictable that I enjoyed them more than I’m enjoying my return. I also realise that I don’t enjoy the predictable quite as much as I pretend.

But here I am, back to the humdrum of the predictable.

It’s a bit like Sharon’s birthday. Without fail, every year on August 1, it turns up. She will probably never know but I’m sending her my wishes for a lovely day albeit one she’ll be spending in lockdown.


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The importance of German sausage

Germany has introduced a scheme for getting people to get jabbed. For everyone who goes for a vaccination, they are giving away a Bratwurst sausage in a roll. The uptake has been astounding. And why not? If I was in Germany, I’d be in the queue. A brilliant idea.

Another brilliant idea was one that Mirinda had quite a while ago.

She discovered that there was going to be an outside performance of Earnest at Chawton House Library today. She decided that we should aim to be home in order to attend. Then plans changed, for various reasons and the Earnest deadline was forgotten about.

Fast forward to Monday and we realised that, as long as we managed to pass the Covid test for a Day 5 Release, we could celebrate by going to see Earnest.

So, first thing this morning, I bought tickets.

The production is from a new group called Slapstick Picnic. They are a sister company to Handlebards. According to one of the actors, they felt restrained by Handlebards given they only do Shakespeare, so someone had the bright idea of outside versions of comedy with very small casts. The Importance of Being Earnest is their first production.

Back in 2018, we attended a two handed Earnest in Odiham. It was extraordinarily funny. The Slapstick version is also a two hander. Lucy Green and William Ross-Fawcett play all the roles. They are ably assisted by Charlotte Driessler, a remarkably enthusiastic stage manager. It is also extraordinarily funny. They are touring until September at lots of venues. They are well worth seeing.

We’ve seen both the women before in Handlebards productions so we know how good they are. The chap has also toured with Handlebards but we’ve not seen any of the all male productions, so he was new to us. And none of them disappointed. Earnest was great, a real slapstick tour de force.

I’ve seen many versions of Earnest over the years, as well as playing Jack more times than I can count, but this has to be the first slapstick version I’ve seen. (Though, to be fair, the opera version was pretty slapstick-y.) It was such fun. The performers were full of energy and the action was delightfully silly and riotous.

Of course, alongside the slapstick, a picnic is essential. We ordered the ploughman’s (delicious) but next time will bring a proper one of our own. Including wine.

The black clouds threatened a bit but, apart from a sudden downpour at about 4pm, there wasn’t any rain to speak of during the performance. In fact, there were quite a few moments during the play that the sun shone like a million watt spotlight on the performers. And, of course, the South Lawn at Chawton looked fantastic.

We took the girls and were the only ones to do so. A few people expressed delight while regretting not bringing their own. Our two managed to garner quite a few affectionate pats.

Just in front of us was a woman who has recently adopted a Romanian orphan dog to go with her rescue Jack Russell. Like every good dog owner, she had photos on her phone which she showed us with delight.

Earlier in the day, our two had been spoiled with a sausage each from the Holly Bush where we had brunch. It’s one of the places we’ve missed. We’ve also missed the delightfully changeable amount of sausages that they give you when you ask for a side order. The dogs were quite happy with today’s offering, given a side order was two sausages.

Emma hates sharing when it’s just the one.

Then, of course, Mirinda took them on her Frensham country walk while I sat and read, waiting for the cricket to begin.

I managed to watch about half an hour of Frensham 1st XI v Headley 1st XI.

I’ve missed the cricket. I’ve also missed live theatre. It was an excellent day all round. Well, except for the lack of Bratwurst. I miss Bratwurst.

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At 8am this morning, I took samples from our throats and nostrils then sealed them in small bottles before packing them into mailing envelopes. At 9:19am a courier turned up and took charge of them. At 10:30am, I had a message from the courier company to say the samples had been delivered to the lab and, shortly afterwards, I had a message from the lab saying they’d received my samples and were starting testing on them.

All of the above convinced me that our negative tests results of our 5 Day Test to Release were merely moments away. I could have been more wrong, but it’s unlikely.

Obviously, for most of the day, I was glued to my notifications but I also found time to write my newest Letter for my podcast. It has had a bit of a name change though the focus is the same. Rather than Letter from Sweden, it’s now called Letter from Farnham.

Of course, lots of things had to change, including the artwork. This was how I discovered the startling fact that the flag of the County of Surrey is comprised of blue and yellow checks. This meant I spent the day creating a Swedish themed tablecloth on Photoshop.

If you click on the above image, it will take you to the podcast.

I also spent a large chunk of the day writing the actual podcast then reading it for Mirinda to criticise ahead of final amending.

Of course, I also needed a new intro and outro, so they had to be written and recorded as well.

As the day stretched on, the lack of any notifications following the initial flurry, was frustrating. By 5:30pm, I’d given up the hope of a result today. Mirinda was downhearted but was philosophical that they would arrive tomorrow.

Then, at 6:15pm, I received the notification that we were both negative and, therefore FREE!

Mirinda ran out into the street, threw her arms back and yelled the fact that we could now leave the house.

We then immediately made plans for what we’re doing tomorrow. Plans include brunch at the Holly Bush and a production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Chawton House Library.

From locked up to set free in five days. It feels very good.

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Well worth six hours

One of the few things I missed about being here while we were in Sweden, was my kitchen. Not just for the size, though that was something I thought about every time I ran out of counter space. And also not just for the tools I’ve gradually collected over the years. No, it was my herb and spice collection. In particular, the Persian bits and bobs.

Now that Chez Gaz is back up and running, I thought it only right that I should do something special for dinner tonight. And, given the fact that we’re stuck at home, I decided to make Sabrina Ghayour’s six hour pork belly.

I’ve made it before, but it wasn’t something I could do in our little falu red house. In Chez Gaz, however, it wasn’t a problem.

So, for six hours the oven did its thing while I did mine with regular checks.

I was mostly in my office working through more admin stuff. And the weather was perfect for it. Not too hot and no rain. The back of the house looked lovely though overgrown.

Mirinda spent quite a lot of the pre-work morning in the wildflower patch, freeing up my rue. While it’s fine, the rue was being crowded out. She must have ripped out a ton of tall stalks.

As well as working in the office, I also spent a bit of time upstairs, emptying another of the boxes. I’ve slowed down because I’m waiting for Mirinda to catch up with me in her clothing dispersal. It did occur to me that she seems to suddenly have a lot of clothes. She reminded me that a lot of them came from the flat.

Something else I had to keep doing today was checking if our Day 2 results were in yet. At around 7pm, Mirinda’s test result was in. She tested negative. Monday was day 1 which means we had her result for Day 2 on Day 4.

I’ve booked a courier to take our Day 5 Test to Release tests straight to the lab tomorrow so, hopefully those results will be a lot quicker. Maybe my Day 5 results will beat my Day 2s.

In the meanwhilst, the girls just watched us going in and out, up and down and wondering why we don’t take them walking any more.

Thank goodness for Sue who has taken them every day along with Pip and Maud. It’s been a total boon. Though she did say that if she lets Emma off her lead too soon, she tries to return home. I guess she was taught that by Day-z who was an expert at the unexpected return.

So the day passed with the house filling with Middle Eastern smells as the pork belly reached its completion. And, it was delicious.

I made my new roast aubergine to go with it, and we had a bottle of red from the wine store. I feel that Chez Gaz is finally open for business again.

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Dogs, cats and buckets

For quite a few years, I have kept the family files in a digital format. Rather than mountians of paper, I scan most things and store them securely on an external drive that is constantly being backed up. In order to access these files, I use Microsoft OneNote. It can be a bit of a pain sometimes but it works and it’s simple.

This week, given we have so much mail, I had a lot of scanning and virtual filing to do. Fortunately, being self-isolating, this is a good week to do it. Then, yesterday, OneNote decided to chuck a wobbly.

Apparently, if you change your default browser, it doesn’t like it. It refuses to let you view your own files. And no matter what you do, it just keeps chucking up an error message. And, of course, I changed my default browser last week. This was in order to keep my personal information to myself. I’d dumped Chrome and moved to Vivaldi.

And so, from yesterday morning, I started looking for an alternative for my filing system. And, after a couple of misses, I managed to hit on an excellent one. It’s called Notion and it’s way better than OneNote.

Not only does it allow me to file everything in a handy to access manner, but the software also takes copies of the documents, so I can then do whatever I want with the originals. This is a huge failing with OneNote, something I found out accidentally when I wanted to change my filing system once.

And Notion looks really good as well.

And so, most of today was spent playing with software then moving files around. And while I sat in my office beavering away, the weather gods went a bit mad.

There was sun then torrential rain then a bit more sun then back again. It kept this litany up all day. I wanted to trim my beard but every time I decided it was a good time, the rain suddenly appeared and put the kibosh on it. I should explain that the reason I couldn’t trim my beard is because I do it outside and I would have got drenched within seconds.

Here’s the view from my office during one particularly brutal downpour.

Definitely a good day to be inside. Though Mirinda did manage a bit of gardening between showers.

And to think, we swapped the beautiful continuous sunshine of Sweden for this.

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50 people at an illegal funeral

I am often surprised by the amount of mail that’s waiting for us at home after being away for our usual ten days. However, the six hefty piles waiting for us after nine months was staggering. It took me half a day to plough through them. It also created an awful lot of recycling.

Not that that was all I did. Today, being Day 2, was a time for cotton bud swabbing of our throats and packing tests off for the lab.

The girls, on the other hand, had the biggest surprise this morning. At about 7am, Sue knocked at the front door. I’d asked her if she’d mind taking them for a walk while we were in isolation or ‘iso’, as it appears to now be called in certain business circles.

At the knock, Emma, obviously, went mad, barking and carrying on. She quickly raced into the library and jumped onto the window sill. Then, when she saw who it was, Emma’s territorial instincts were instantly supplanted by the most intense squealing and shaking I think I’ve ever seen. It would be fair to say that she remembered Sue. I’m fairly sure she has never been as excited to see us.

Something else Emma hasn’t forgotten is the glory of an FSI. She managed to earn herself a bath when they returned home, something she didn’t like. Mind you, we both preferred the laundry sink to the shower stall we had to use in Vendelsö. But it didn’t stop her shivering in the dog bed.

Freya, of course, was fine and perfectly normal. She was happy to see Sue and Pip and Maud and happily trotted away in her usual considered manner. Upon their return, she took up her usual position on a red chair behind me and was almost instantly asleep.

Poor Sue seems to be suffering from the so-called Long Covid. She had Covid over a year ago and has never really recovered. This is awful for someone so healthy. She now gets exhausted brushing her teeth, as holding her toothbrush is too tiring.

Speaking of Covid, I read a story today about a guy who was vehemently anti-vaccine. He believed it was a conspiracy and refused to have it. He didn’t believe in the plague and defiantly joined the mobs of the loony fringes of society in shouting about 5G and placebo.

Well, he caught Covid-19 and died. Almost his final words were, “I wish I could go back and do things differently.

There’s also the Los Angeles Hill Song member who was a proud, god fearing, anti-vaxxer who died. I’m not sure which is crazier, but he died in ICU and asked everyone to pray for him. I’m guessing it was the prayer that finished him off.

A study in 2006 showed that people in intensive care suffered greater mortality rates when they were prayed for than those who were not.

“Patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, researches have suggested.

Carey, Benedict, New York Times, March 31, 2006

In the meanwhilst, as the Sydney lockdown continues to grow apace, I heard a report on the radio this morning about an illegal funeral where, of the 50 people attending, 45 of them have been diagnosed with Covid-19. I’m assuming that didn’t include the guest of honour.

But enough Covid News, here’s a photo of the hydrangeas outside my office window instead.

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Back to the new normal

When you’re away from home for around nine months, and you have house minders in, things change. People always have different systems of location and, gradually, things just move about the house.

I spent some of today relocating various things. The rest was unpacking boxes either from Sweden or from before we left. I didn’t finish.

I also worked out what has to be done in order to release us from house arrest. I ordered our Covid test kits (day 2, day 5 test to release and day 8) and they were waiting for us. I registered them and now just have to carry out the tests.

What I don’t understand is why you have to do the ten days when you can test on day 5 and, if negative, you can mix with the rest of the world. Unless, of course, the test kits are being supplied by a Tory donor because, naturally, you have to pay twice for the early release.

Back in the house, Mirinda was busy working, her colleagues online all remarking at the change of scenery behind her. I spent some considerable time making my office useable.

It seems that our house sitters didn’t use my office as it was full of spider webs and the desk had things stored on it that would normally be inside. The greenhouse, too, has more web than glass at the moment.

Possibly the biggest reminder of the house sitters is the huge pile of takeaway plastic containers stored in various cupboards in the kitchen. It looks like they mostly didn’t use the kitchen though there are also quite a few carbs lurking on various shelves. It’s an odd kind of glimpse into someone else’s life.

As for my life, I unpacked and put away, unpacked and put away until there was nowhere left to put things and stopped.

We had Welsh lamb chops for dinner. It was the first time since last year. We only had lamb chops once in Sweden because lamb isn’t so widely available. I don’t know if it’s a Brexit thing, but I didn’t see any Welsh chops at our local butcher in Trollbäcken. And, I think you have to go a very long way to have better lamb than Welsh.

The other thing our house sitters didn’t do was potter about in the garden. In fact, the only thing they seemed to have looked after is a house plant we have unwittingly adopted. I hate house plants. Anyway, the garden looks a bit wild and woolly.

Still, it’s a great way to pass the time before our release from this decidedly luxurious prison we find ourselves in. I really can’t imagine having to spend ten days locked up in a hotel room. If that had been the case, we wouldn’t have left Sweden.

Damn it!

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The toilet woods and the pee deck

The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich has to go down as one of the best trips I have ever taken. Not because of anything that Stena did directly but because they don’t allow dogs in the cabins or the common areas of the ferry. This meant that we had a wonderful crossing with a group of dog lovers, sitting in the tiny dog area of the deck.

This was after a very long, non-stop drive from Germany through the Netherlands from quite early in the morning. I say ‘non-stop’ but we did have a couple of breaks for walking around, fending off the inevitable fatigue.

The drive was uneventful apart from two things.

Firstly, there was the woods where Mirinda took the dogs for a walk. She had clearly discovered the woodland toilet. The white flecks in this photo are little bits of toilet paper. It was advisable to watch where you walked.

It was especially odd because there were toilets in the petrol station, though they did cost 50 cents a go.

The second notable event was the reappearance of Ms Cranky Pants. She hasn’t been around for quite some time, but she suddenly made her feelings known when we missed the turning on a huge roundabout and had to make a long detour to get back on track. She didn’t seem to understand that sometimes road networks change and in-car satnavs don’t always know about it.

However, once I’d left her alone with the dogs to think about her crankiness while I went and checked us in at the Stena desk, she was soon replaced by my slightly less cranky wife.

We went through the two passport controls, then boarded the ferry. The woman at the Netherlands border said that the ferry had opened an hour earlier than normal for boarding because of the sudden influx of people returning from France. This is because of the Amber Plus designation imposed by the UK government on France because of the Covid explosion on the island of Reunion.

It means that anyone returning from France has to go into isolation even if they have had both vaccine injections. So, a lot of people who had intended to return via Dover or the Eurotunnel, went to the Netherlands for a while instead then ferried across from there.

And I’d just like to mention how pleasant both passport control officers were. They are not the usual people you’d have a friendly chat with but the two we encountered were delightfully chatty and, well, just pleasant. Mind you, this was not the case for Helen (see below) who said the English chap who she encountered was rude and officious. I guess you just have to be lucky.

Once aboard, we grabbed the girls and our hand luggage and went upstairs. I plonked the protesting dogs in their cage and joined Mirinda in the cabin.

After a bit of a rest in the Captain’s Cabin (the Captain was busy), availing ourselves of the free mini-bar and watching the CCTV from the dog kennel, we went for a wander then, eventually, settled in the bar area for a drink.

We then went down to the kennel; to see the girls. They were a bit overjoyed to see us.

Shortly afterwards, we headed down to the tiny bit of deck designated as dog friendly, and it was there we met our North Sea Friends.

We were a mixed bunch. There was Helen and daughter Liv and their dogs Ninja the black Lab (mostly) and Cookie the King Charles spaniel. There was the young woman from Newcastle, studying medicine in Bulgaria and her tiny chihuahua, Simba. There was the Polish woman and her father and their Pomeranian Shatsi. There was the couple from Hong Kong who were escaping the tyranny for a better, safer life in the UK, and their gay dog that looked permanently startled. And, of course, us.

There was an awful lot of laughter. And dog pee. In fact, there was so much dog pee that Helen and her handy squeegee became known as Captain Peewash as she regularly moved the pools of dog urine back and forth over the deck, eventually finding the drain hole which we hoped emptied into the ferry designer’s cabin.

There was also a few people who drifted in and out, joining in the conversation for a while then replacing their dogs in their cages. The core group above, just stayed and talked, with our dogs, for almost five hours.

It made a bit of a joke about our having a Captain’s Cabin because we only used it for the first two hours, though it did afford us the view of the Woman from Newcastle kissing Simba and saying how much she loved him before putting him in the cage.

The cabins had TVs and the kennels are covered by CCTV. The funniest thing was that we weren’t the only ones who had seen this delightfully emotional parting. People would turn up and say, “Hey, weren’t you the one…” She was a tad embarrassed.

Interestingly, apart from the couple from Hong Kong, none of use wore masks. As Mirinda said, we’d all been tested and knew we weren’t infected. It made things a lot friendlier. Masks create such a barrier.

It was funny. A group of people who will probably never meet again and with nothing obvious in common (apart from a massive love for their dogs) meeting and thoroughly enjoying their company for such a long time. It was brilliant and, as I said, made a normally tedious journey wonderful.

Speaking of tedious, the final stretch of our trip, from Harwich to Farnham, was uneventful and without much traffic. A bonus. We reached home just after 10pm to be greeted by a huge bouquet of flowers from Kate and James as well as whisky and gin. Our house minders were very generous. And tidy. The house looked lovely.

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