Happiness is a kitchen sink that drains.

October 20, 2020

On Sunday night, the sink in the kitchen finally stopped draining. It’s been draining slowly for weeks, on and off for months. Caustic soda and boiling water has kept it more or less usable. But on Sunday it finally gave up. So under the sink I went, and dismantled the fittings there – a bit complicated, as there’s a dishwasher as well. But I took it all to bits: but the under-sink piping was all in working order: the problem was further down.

Now that’s happened before: I put some concentrated drain cleaner (nasty stuff) down the pipe at the very bottom, and that resulted in cracking and popping sounds, along with a very nasty smell. But I didn’t have any so I tried pushing down with a piece of cable. It went about 1 metre, and stopped. No dice. Time to call in the experts.

Monday morning, called the plumber. I was really pleased when he turned up an hour or two later. He tried the acid technique: no dice. He tried his pipe rods. Nothing. So it was time to go under the floor. Fortunately, there’s a hatch in the kitchen, so after removing all the furniture and the flooring under he went. It was nasty down there: the pipe was leaking, including all the acid that the plumber had tried. The drain pipe itself has come partly loose, and the result was that water was flowing (or rather not flowing) downhill and then up before it reached the main drainage.

After more attempts at unblocking the pipe, the plumber eventually decided on replacing it: a nasty job, because the under-floor area was wet with a mixture of acid and waste. But that worked, and the new pipe now slopes all the way downwards. The old pipe was blocked for a long way. All this took the plumber till mid-afternoon, and even he described it as a bit of a nightmare!

But at last we had a usable kitchen again.

Happiness is a kitchen sink that drains!

Velasquez’s “Las Meninas”

July 14, 2020

In my last post, I mentioned completing a jigsaw: it was of Velasquez’s Las Meninas, that my wife had bought when we visited the Prado in Madrid a few years ago. She had given it to her sister, but her sister and husband had never managed to complete it. So when they heard I’d broken a finger, and couldn’t play music or ride my bicycle, they sent it to us.

This was a difficult jigsaw, with 1000 pieces: so many parts of it are similar in colour, and often a piece shows just a little image, and it is very hard to tell where it might go. So we started it, found the corners and edge pieces, and assembled the frame, Then we went for parts that we were reasonably sure we could identify, and then tried the bits between. This took a long time – and we went away for a short holiday when we were near the end (and I was near the end of my tether – quite happy to give up).

But returning to it after a week away, I finished it quite easily. We are fortunate that we had space in the conservatory, where there’s a lot of light: it would have been even harder by artificial light. Still it’s done.

I found that getting it right in the end meant looking for anything that seemed not quite right, and then swapping pieces (or even sets of pieces) so that it did look right. It seemed to me to have something in common with debugging a computer program, looking for bugs, and fixing them, but within a very constrained environment.

I enjoyed it a lot: and I really learned to appreciate Velasquez’s art at the same time. Still, perhaps the next jigsaw will have slightly fewer pieces!

Back from holiday in Alnmouth.

July 12, 2020

Way back in January in what seems to have been a different world we booked a week’s holiday in Alnmouth, Northumberland.

It took us a little while to adjust, having been under lockdown – or near lockdown – for about three months. But we managed. We spent as much time as possible on the beach, where the 2 metre social distancing was very straightforward. Lussa (the dog) loved the beach, where there were lots of other dogs as well as a few people. The pubs were not really open – just the beer gardens and then only in good weather and not for very long. But our son and his fiancĂ© came to see jus staying in their own camping van a few miles down the coast, and bicycling to our little apartment.

The highlight was actually eating a meal out! In Craster at the Jolly Fisherman which specialises in crab, in their garden where it was almost too hot. Not something we were used to at all. Our cottage was small but had a nice little courtyard which was both dog-secure and entirely out of the wind.

Now we’re back: here in Scotland outdoor bars are open, and shops too, though one must wear a mask in shops (not in bars: that would make drinking a little difficult). We’ve managed a coffee across the road at the Riverside, and I finished a very tricky jigsaw we started not long after I broke my finger.

One day we’ll go further field, but for now we’ll simply stay here. Back to practising music, playing with Jamulus, learning Ivrit and generally living.

Broken finger

June 7, 2020
The dog that broke my finger.

The Airedate Terrier

Last Tuesday, I tried to catch our Airedale Terrier (terror?) who has become unhappy about coming back at the end of her outings. Unfortunately, I caught the middle finger of my left hand in her collar, and when she ran, she broke the bone above the top joint. It’s been x-rayed, and it has a splint: the medics reckon 6 weeks to repair.

It’s not sore now, and the swelling has come down. I’m treating it with comfrey poultices from time time (nearly daily), and that does seem to help. It’s a better colour now, though still a long way from better.

This has put paid to me playing the clarinet for now altogether: you can’t play it with one hand. I can still play some piano – I have full use of the right hand, but I need to be really careful with what I do with the left. I can play single notes, or even octaves, but once I start playing, I tend to get carried away, and forget that I can’t use the middle finger at all. Still, better than nothing.

I”ve been using Jamulus in this lockdown, and have put up a server on the Google cloud in London. They allow one to rack up US$300 of usage for free, presumably hoping that by the time yo’ve done that, you’ll need the system. I may well… meanwhile, I do use it to jam with people both locally and in this part of Europe. Further away, the latency gets too long, and it becomes impossible to interact properly. Still, better than nothing.

And for the Dunblane Folk Club, we use the Facebook watch party facility on the Dunblane Folk Club Facebook page: people upload videos of them singing or storytelling or playing a tune, and then someone (often John Symon, sometimes me) puts these videos together in a sequence. At the same time, there’s a chat going on between this listening. It’s quite fun, better than nothing….

Anyway: I have to run it tonight, in an hour or so….. The finger will, I suppose, get better: not handy, I was enjoying getting on with the clarinet. I’ll just have to cope, like with the lockdown.

Why falling into the river is sometimes a good thing…

April 12, 2020

Yesterday (lockdown day 12, Saturday), I got up, and did my yoga stretches as usual. Except it wasn’t as usual: I did something that hurt my back, and between that and being a bit miserable and self-pitying with the lockdown, I was not in a good mood. So when I read Facebook about the five stages of a pandemic, and looked at people’s postings about how they were coping, without a trace of miserableness, my mood was not exactly positive.

It was nonetheless a lovely morning, and out we went with the dog, Lussa. We were just arriving at the park, when to maintain social distancing, I decided to go down to the river Allan, which is quite low just now, so that the rocks near the bank are sticking out. To help convince Lussa to come to me I went on to a rock a little further out. On came Lussa, which was good, because she’s been a little afraid of water. Then it was time to come back onto terra firma but the rocks were very slippy, and down I sat into the water.

Now, you might think this would make my mood even worse, but it had exactly the opposite effect. I realised that there’s enjoyment to be had in any sensation, the sensation of being very much alive (and in this case, very wet too). So on my wife went with the dog, and I went home to change, much cheered up by falling into the river.

A life without risk?

April 4, 2020

No life is without risk. Everything has risk, and we accept the risk every day when we get out of bed.

We don’t take unnecessary risks, at least as we get older.

But are we now striving for minimising the risk too far? We all die: many of us have lived much longer than we could have expected to in past centuries: look at any old graveyard, look at the births and deaths of the artists and composers.

Covid 19 isn’t the plague. The mortality is about 1% with good hospital treatment, perhaps 3 or 4% without it. The social distancing we are doing won’t of itself change the numbers getting the disease in the longer term, not unless we create new treatments or vaccines, neither of which seems a prospect in the short term. Certainly social distancing slows down the progress of the disease through the population, and this has allowed health services to expand their capabilities.

But the cost is large. Churches are closed, as are all performances and gatherings. All except food shops are closed here. Outings are strictly limited to household groups.

It feels as though we are simply waiting for the grim reaper to get round to us.

Would it be better to confront death more directly, and simply accept that something between 1 and 4% of the population will die of this disease? Just let life (and death) continue? Take the risk, and live, rather than try to temporarily avoid the risk and exist in this miserable demi-monde!

Of Covid 19, Social distancing and herd immunity.

March 29, 2020

I’m practising social distancing, as prescribed in Scotland: out of the house only for food, exercise, and emergencies, which here translates as one of us walking the dog once each day, plus occasional food shopping, always maintaining the 2 metres distancing.

But what’s the aim? Clearly, slowing down the infection rate to a point where the health service (NHS) can have some hope of coping, and can have time to build up considerable extra capacity for those who require hospitalisation. But can we think just a little longer term?

While the measures taken here (and elsewhere in Europe, for example), are practical, there are many countries tries where these types of measures are simply impossible, or where the government of these countries do not wish to take such measures. At the same time, there are countries which are very organised, and manage to trace infected people effectively, reducing infection. But still, let’s take a longer view.

The UK 1957 flu epidemic had a much lower mortality rate, and while attempts were made to reduce the infection rate, it is reckoned about 9 million people in the UK had the disease (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2714797/). Taking a 1% mortality rate (which is realistic only if the NHS can cope effectively), that would give about 90,000 deaths. More realistically, if more than 9 million people caught Covid19, nd the NHS couldn’t cope the figure would (I suspect) be more like 3 or 4%, taking the deaths to about 300,000 to 400,000, possibly quite a lot more depending on how many people actually caught the disease. That’s a lot: but in a country of 60 million people with mean death age of 80 (say), one would expect about (60,000,000/80 = 750,000) deaths per year, which puts the figure in some context. But the aim at the moment appears to be to stop the infection before it gets to this level.

How practical is this, in the long term? Let’s assume that there’s continuing outbreaks internationally. Let’s also assume that perhaps 2-3 million people in the UK get affected (with 20,000 deaths which seems to be one current estimate). Then there will be a large majority of the population with no immunity, at least until an effective vaccine is created. That would mean that travelling abroad would have new dangers, and people coming in from abroad would be likely to start off new outbreaks. If an effective vaccine existed, the former could be checked (rather like yellow fever is checked), but we might need quarantine for unvaccinated people arriving from abroad.

Of course, we may also find better treatments which might reduce mortality: I know there is research on this, but I have no idea of the timescale here. Viral diseases do mutate faster than bacterial ones, which makes (long-term) vaccination difficult – think of the annual influenza vaccination programme. We don’t really have medication agains influenza, as far as I know, except some anti-virals, some of which have side-effects – and anyway, influenza recovery rates are such that anti-virals seem inappropriate mostly. But that might not be the case for Covid19.

Conclusions? I don’t have any, but we do need to look forward. Are we aiming to cut the infection rate to where we can trace and isolate (like South Korea, and China), or are we aiming for slowly building uop herd immunity at a rate that the health service can cope? Or has this country not decided yet quite what it is aiming for?

My hearing aid journey continued

March 26, 2020

I’ve now had my hearing aids for a few months, and am getting really used to them. They are really good for speech, particularly in noise, and I really do appreciate the birdsong this Spring. Particularly in these difficult days of self-isolation, the sound of the birdsong round here is reassuring: Covid 19 is a problem for humans, not animals or nature. And they are so small and light, I hardly notice that I’m wearing them.

But back to the hearing aids: I’ve learned to take them off/turn them off before I start to play either the clarinet or the piano. The instruments sound different with them on, and they just don’t sound right! For purely listening to music, the sound isn’t quite right either, with a tremolo added that shouldn’t be there. When the music is really quiet, it’s less annoying, but when it’s louder (when will I hear a full orchestra live again?) it’s not so good, so I sometimes have to turn them off again.

However, for listening to speech in a room with lots of speakers, the aids make a huge difference. I can make out what people are saying much, much more easily, and hat has allowed me to take part in meetings in a way that simply otherwise couldn’t.

Of course, I worry about further deterioration in my hearing (I have expensive and powerful glasses too, multifocals as well), part of the gradual deterioration of senses that’s part of the gradual and natural deterioration of the body inevitable as I get well into my seventh decade. And the enforced walking well into the countryside near here mens yet more birdsong. But there is one downside: when Lussa (the dog) barks, particularly indoors, it’s very loud, very LOUD indeed!

[Deleted: depressing reference to CV19]

Still, given all things, it’s been a definite improvement in quality of life, and I’m very happy I went for these hearing aids.

My hearing aid journey, part 2

November 26, 2019

I now have (and am wearing) my hearing aids. I got them yesterday, and so far my experience is definitely positive.

My initial thoughts were “how loud my clothes are swishing, and how loud this traffic is”, and I really noticed a difference in how my own voice sounded. But I could make speech out better, I think. Going for dinner in a reasonably loud restaurant today was good, and I could make out what my wife was saying easily – and I could listen to the conversation at nearby tables as well.

The effect on musical sounds its a little strange. For some time now, I had thought the top octave of my piano (which is nearly new) was a bit dead, but with the aids in it sounded much better. Indeed, the (real) piano sounded altogether better, with a very strong presence. Oddly, the electric one sounded just the same, which does seem strange. The aids do appear to introduce an artefact: even a pure tone at 2kHz sounds amplitude modulated at about 8Hz, and the exact sound changes depending on the angle of my head. (But a 1 kHz tone sounds much as it did).

I also noticed that listening to a weir on the local river, the sound of it – both the quality and the level – depended on the direction my head was pointing in.

But so far, I think they do make a difference, and my wife thinks so too. I need to test them in a more difficult environment, like a committee meeting or a relatively noisy public location…watch this space.

(A little later on) Playing my clarinet with the hearing aids in was a strange experience. Each note – particularly higher notes – seemed to have a bit of amplitude modulation, a little like vibrato, even though I definitely wasn’t putting any in. I had to take the hearing aids off to practice. Oh well: but if that’s the only problem, I’ll cope. I did hear something a little like this on piano – and more so when I tried playing a MIDI keyboard through a saxophone VST plug-in, but it wasn’t as annoying then!

I am be-grandfather-ed

November 26, 2019

On Thursday November 21st, my daughter’s partner, Katy, had a daughter, Avery Skye. I’m really pleased to say that I am now a grandfather, and look forward to meeting her (they live in the USA, so I can’t just pop over with soup and meet her, unfortunately).