Battle of (t)wits (or possibly tweets)

I am currently engaged in a bitter war with an unseen opponent. It is in my back garden and as they say in rather poor war movies, failure is not an option.

Generally it has been a good year for me in the garden. The fruit trees and bushes are setting with plenty of fruit, so the huge piles of jam jars are already anticipating jam, jelly and chutney of various types. At least one of the Clematis I have planted is flowering (creating a good twin scenario with its evil twin that steadfastly refuses to do anything flower wise despite fair and equal treatment). And finally tackling the duckweed on the pond has resulted in almost immediate re-colonization by some of my favourite pond species with a host of baby pond skaters. I’m looking forward to the return of the water boatman. Actually I am pleased I finally got around to this as now you can see water rather than an expanse of green suddenly all the birds have noticed what a rare water source in the local area is so over the next few years I have high hopes to get some interesting new garden residents.

But the current challenge is the bird feeder and whatever beastie is capable of pecking (see, already drawing conclusions) through a mass of blue tack to flick the fat ball feeder off the hook and scoff the lot.

So, who are the likely culprits, assuming it is not the Lovely Wife executing a long term practical joke? Well, these are the usual suspects.

Squirrels: I can eliminate the furred tailed vermin I think. They cannot climb up the pole die to one of those clever plastic concave covers. One of the bolder (more insane?) ones did try – successfully – hurling itself onto the feed from the branches of nearby trees a couple of years ago, but after a period of experimentation the position of the bird feeder is now far enough away from any potential launch platforms to be outside the parameters of squirrel hurling for now at least. I suspect my bird feeder is not a strong enough selective pressure to drive the local population to become sugar gliders so I think, for once, I cannot blame the furry ones.

Magpies: Probably most likely. We have a resident pair, they do like the fat balls and they are very bright. That said, to be able to dislodge that amount of blue tack takes a lot of physical strength as well as intelligence. So while they have to be primary suspects I do think a cousin may be the real culprit.

Crow: There is at least one pair of Carrion Crows in the local area. They are magnificent birds, glossy black, healthy and not scared of anything. I’m a huge fan of the family more so because they are so maligned, when all of the crows are beautiful, intelligent birds when you look at them carefully (OK, I’m not convinced regarding rooks, but hey) One of the crows dive bombed the pigeons in our garden yesterday as far we can tell for fun – it just felt ‘I’m bored let’s scare some stupid birds’. Scarily human I think.

They have the intelligence, and they have the physical strength. Yes. I blame the crows. I know my enemy, and battle is joined.

Of course I love this. It is fun trying to out think a bird (it’s winning at the moment) and I will find a solution at some point. It is at times like these, with (for us) much watch Springwatch starting next week on the BBC that I desperately want to set up a camera to catch the thief in the act – it is so tempting – but I’m not sure night vision movement sensitive cameras fall within the current budget.

And anyway, isn’t it fun speculating?

The Lovely Wife had a plan this morning. We will be putting operation wire fastener into action soon.

See what you think about that, my Corvid friend.

(PS: This week’s learning: single gentlemen – apparently carrying around an unusual fruit tree in a shop invites ladies to start conversation with you – well, one was very interested in my Kiwi fruit bush.)


In a Relationship

This week I have been thinking about relationships – of any kind – and how they develop, are maintained and sometimes fail. I think it is an interesting area, especially now, as technology has changed and is changing so much that things we took for granted when I was a child seem like a different universe away.

Social networking in something which we will only really see the impact a generation or two down the line. The ability to stay in a touch with so many school and university friends, albeit in a shallow, often passive way, is something that did just not exist in my adolescence. If you wanted to stay in touch with people because they really mattered to you wrote to them, called them or made them top of the list to meet up with in the holidays. Then there were perhaps an extended group that you would meet up with once or twice a year, maybe at Christmas and the summer. But the rest, they would gradually fade until they became a part of your past and no longer part of the present, let alone the future.

Now the likes of Facebook seem to be there to keep that group from fading away by largely doing the work for you. In theory at least you do not need to have that odd contact to catch up, because you already know what they are up to – you read it in their news feed. Perhaps you ‘liked’ it when they got engaged. And of course if they have filled in the field you can wish them a jolly happy birthday on their wall every year.

I’m not mocking this. On the contrary I think it is fascinating and I enjoy and appreciate it as I do feel sorry that I am not in touch still with people I knew when I was younger and would be fascinated to know what they are up to now.

But they are not my best friends, the people I would trust most and who would be there for me in adversity. Social networking is not good enough to sustain these relationships. They need more work than that.

This is what was going through my head on this topic. Relationships that are important to you need to be worked at. They do not maintain their intimacy by exchanging the odd public comment on a wall, or timeline or whatever they decide to call it tomorrow. It needs regular communication and sharing, sharing that is not public but between a few individuals; and you need to meet up every so often, if only to laugh at each other’s increasing waistline and reducing hair. Just as quality time spent as a couple will put a strain on a marriage, the same goes to friendships, and perhaps even more so. Because, if you have so many ‘friends’ how do you know who are the ones who really love you from the other 500+? You need to see them in person, to share beer and/or cake and also share the confidences that you would never share publicly. I just hope that the current generation release this and put the effort in because the alternative is not a nice image for me; a host of people with hundreds of shallow acquaintances and a lack of what I have – a small number of intimate friends I can always have fun with and will be there when it all goes wrong. We are meant to be in relationships I think; and networking can facilitate that but it cannot and will not be a suitable replacement for engaging in the old fashioned meeting up, at least once in a while.

I Wanted to Be Someone Else

I have a confession to make. I sometimes play role playing games.
Now in my forties, I still sometimes get out my pencil, odd shaped dice and paper, and with some old like minded friends I pretend I am someone or something I am not.
A good friend of mine introduced me to role playing when I was at school in my early teens. As a self conscious teenager it was a big help to me in passing away the boring hours and when I went to University it provided the ‘in’ that allowed me to meet people and make friendships that I still treasure today. This is because, when you are attracted to the same activities you find some people who are on your wavelength.
I got so into it I ended up president of the society and had a first look at leadership, and this – and I am not joking – almost certainly got me the good job I still have now twenty odd years later. It was not the degree I had. That was, as we say in the business sometimes, the required ‘price of entry’ to the game. It was being involved with people in a constructive way that got me through the interviews (oh, and having a good knowledge of Star Trek. Come to think of it I am glad she never asked whether I thought Doctor Who or Star Trek was better, as in that case I would probably have not gotten the job).
So what is role playing? This is my personal view.
1. It is collective storytelling. When it works it is a handful of people making a story that never existed happen; a story that will never exist in quite the same way again. This is because although someone does run the game, and knows what is going on, and what is going to happen – if the players don’t interfere, see below – the fact that most of the major characters in the story are under the control of different individuals means that those people stamp their interpretation upon those characters. So they do things that the games master (the poor sucker who has to do all the preparation and work) didn’t expect, so even if someone tries the same game twice it is never the same.
2. Because each game is so different, it is special. It is a shared experience between that specific group of players, and like any real shared experience provides constant amusement after the fact. In really good games, years after the fact. We still joke about games played twenty years ago – how many games of Monopoly can you say that about? (By the way I am not knocking board games, a beautiful but different genre).
3. It makes you think. How does a forty year old man pretend – in virtual terms – to be a twenty year old woman who can talk to animals? There are so many numbers and ideas to crunch in the more complicated games that my maths – never my strong point – is often stretched. It makes me be creative and exercise my brain, and as a leisure activity that is a bonus to me.
Back in the 80s there was a lot of rubbish about role playing games being dangerous. Now let’s be clear – if you cannot differentiate fantasy and reality – whether that is related to a game, a book or the TV – you have a problem that is nothing to do with that media and all to do with something in you that needs help. In fact I think that the people who run the games I have played in would probably feel that I should take the game more seriously, because they have done so much work preparing. But then there would have been less silliness and laughter.
At the moment I am planning a game where my players will be young heroes in a fantastical version of Ancient Greece (think the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, the interesting one, rather than the recent rubbish CGI ridden remake). If they fail, I will destroy their world and all they hold dear. If they succeed they may go down in history. There will be monsters, fighting and intrigue and not of all of them will survive (probably). But it will be heroic and if I do my job properly there will be fun and laughter and maybe the true sign you had a good game when in years time that group reminisces just how they were able to take out Medusa with a flask of olive oil and a small glowing rock.
But it’s only a game.

Getting Clean Away with It

I was always a little disappointed that I did not have my own lost bank note story. This is the kind of happy tale that people have to relate when, perhaps as winter approaches, they reach inside the pocket of that coat that has slept the summer in the wardrobe. Instead of finding a sticky sweet or a tissue, they close their hands on a crisp, long forgotten ten pound note. A moment of pure delight goes through them; it is a gift from the universe to be cherished and quickly squandered on beer to celebrate. Or go towards that top in H&M you had your eye on.

I have never found a forgotten note in my clothing.

I have washed, twice, my iPod nano however, most recently last month. It came out of the cargo pocket of my trousers clean and fragrant as I reluctantly looked for it too late, its cold metal shape falling into my hands with dread inevitability. But do not despair. Although it takes more than the precedent three days, the iPod has managed resurrection twice now. It takes about four days to dry out enough that the computer will recognise it exists and another week before it decides that it is no longer corrupt – well, understandable, consorting with water must be one of the worst self destructive crimes among electronic device society (apart from declaring that silicone heaven does not exist, ah, had to get the Red Dwarf reference in there, sorry). But after that week and half, the thing seems largely unscathed. Maybe it has some cat related component. Although I am really not sure I would risk it a third time. So I will just have to check the contents of my trousers better.

But the washing of devices and the finding of long lost treasure in clothes did combine for me this weekend quite delightfully.

Back in November my laptop hard disk died a death suddenly and, no, my total system backup was not at all up to date. That did not seem too bad initially – I had backed up most of what I considered important onto a decent sized USB.

But could I find it? No. It was nowhere to be found. After a few weeks of tearing everywhere I could think of apart I had to admit defeat and begin the painful task of coming to terms with loss of some things forever, and worse, the reconstruction of the rest.

Months later, the pain had receded and I had forgotten all about it. You can probably see where this is going. We went walking in Dorset at the weekend with our usual group of friends and, the weather being suitable, out came my favourite walking shorts.

These shorts have lots of pockets, many of which are rarely visited.

I found a nice pheasant feather out n the walk and decided to put it in an empty pocket, for safe keeping.

The pocket was not empty. It contained an USB stick. That USB stick I spent so much time looking for.

I have absolutely no idea why it was there, and was well aware that it must have gone through a wash cycle at least once – possibly more times. But I was just happy, I’ll be honest, to have the mystery solved of where it had strayed to.

Emboldened with my miraculous and seemingly indestructible iPod experiences I had high hopes that the files may have survived, and glory be, they have. Nothing vital of course; I’ve lived without them for six months or so. But some useful stuff, some nostalgic stuff and like the ten pound note, not really all that important in the greater scheme of things; but all the nicer because it was something I’d forgotten about and accepted as lost forever.

Now, I’m just going to check the pockets of everything the wardrobe. Just in case.