Tag: Wales

I find comfort in strange names and it works

I’m currently sat writing this on a train, the 18.57 train from Banbury to Manchester Piccadilly. I’m getting off this train at Wolverhampton. I’m making the most of this opportunity (being sat on a train with a laptop and wifi) to do some work. I like working on the train. I find it easier to work on a train than at home (shame I just can’t travel on trains every day I’d be so productive). I ike the noise and commotion that a train provides: the people; the bags; the conversations; the tap, tap, tapping on nearby laptops and the smells of bacon butties and lager. If you’re interested in learning more about active travel in England, check out this helpful resources at https://active-travel.uk/blog/what-is-the-active-travel-act-in-england.

View from the Train

However, I was just sat here, working away, when something odd about my way of working occurred to me that I normally take for granted. There’s a chap sat next to me also tapping away on his own laptop and I tried to imagine what he would think if he were to glance at my screen. Imagining seeing my screen through another’s eyes gave me that uncanny feeling that things are strange when seen with fresh eyes.

The strange thing I am referring to is the fact that I give my documents, spreadsheets and folders odd names and I think that is normal. However, to the man sat next to me, this is surely not normal. Or, I assume that to be the case. I need to know now whether other people call their folders and documents odd names and organize them as haphazardly as I do. Here is an example of an oddly named spreadsheet.

My timekeeping spreadsheet is called: Copy of Time After Toes July 2017

It’s not called ‘Timesheet’ or even just ‘Time’. That would be sensible. The astute reader of this blog will notice that the word ‘time’ does appear in the name, giving some sense of normality, but the meaning of the rest of the spreadsheet’s name is rather ambiguous. The interested reader may want to know what, or who, is ‘Toes’ and why is it ‘time after Toes’ (what happened before Toes?)? There is a logic to it. After my youngest son was born (who I fondly call Toes) I started a new spreadsheet for my timekeeping for work and called it ‘Time After Toes’ as that is what it recorded: time spent working after the birth of the child called Toes. Subsequently, as I saved more versions of this spreadsheet I started to date them by month, hence the ‘July 2017’ part of the title (although I haven’t been consistent in renaming this every month given that it is now September). ‘Copy of’ I think just appears in the name of a spreadsheet when you save a spreadsheet after it crashes. Incidentally, Toes is now nearly 8 years old.

This is just one example. I could provide more (on request). This naming oddity doesn’t just apply to documents. It also applies to folders.

The folder I currently use for everything I’ve worked on since 2013 is called: VSIs for Edingburgh

That name won’t make much sense without some some context. A few years ago I worked on a project for Oxford University Press which involved creating short abstracts for titles in their Very Short Introduction series which were due to be launched online that same year. I then went to Edinburgh on holiday. I needed a folder for the work for this project while I was away. Hence the name. However, after creating that folder, I carried on using it as a general dumping ground for ALL work I did when away from home (so work not saved on the home server). The occupancy of VSI abstracts in this folder is minor.

A Very Short Introduction

At some point, this folder got a bit messy. So I created a subfolder called: OSO Stuff (OSO being Oxford Scholarship Online, a project I spend most of my time working on).

I then  started using this folder as a dumping ground for all away-from-home work (not just OSO – anything and including VSIs). This folder also gradually outgrew its usefulness.

So I subsequently created another subfolder to put new work in with a new name: General OSO

I then went on holiday to Wales.

The next folder within this folder was logically named: Wales October 2015

The same happened again, ‘Wales October 2015’ became my dumping ground. Everything was saved in here.

Wales where I did some work in October 2015 – when I had wifi

A year later I went to Wale again and so along came a fresh, new subfolder: Wales Oct 2016

I am currently still dumping into this folder but I am now already finding this folder really messy, following in the footsteps of its predecessors. I think I need a new folder (perhaps ‘Haddenham September 2017’ might be a good name as that is where I have been today?).

This is file path of all my away-from-home work at the moment:

C:\_Moved\Desktop\VSIs for Edinburgh\OSO Stuff\General OSO\Wales October 2015\Wales Oct 2016

That’s not great, is it? Anyone who is quite tidy will be quaking right now. It is messy, it is disorganzied, but I know where everything is. It works for me.

Organized chaos is a real thing. Long life folders and spreadsheets with weird names. I think life would be boring if things were named to describe exactly what they are.

Embracing future nostalgia

I am currently on my annual family holiday in Borth. We have had a holiday in Borth every year for the past few years as my dad and stepmum own a caravan here. Borth holds a very special place in my heart so I love coming here. Last year while we were here, I went through a period of sadness and melancholy which was about a perceived fear of future nostalgia. This year, I’ve had almost the opposite reaction.

As I watched my three boys skimming stones today while we were on a walk somewhere in the middle of Wales (somewhere near Devil’s Bridge), I thought about how happy they were at that particular time. They really were. They would have stayed in that spot, skimming stones, for hours if we, the grownups, hadn’t decided it was time to continue our walk after about half an hour. They were content. They were enjoying themselves and enjoying the moment. I was too. We were searching for the prefect skimming stone, or, as my youngest son called it ‘skimming PERFECTION!’. We kept finding the opposite: ‘skimming PERFAILURE’ (another term coined by my youngest).

Watching them skim stones made me think of my brother, their Uncle Steve, who I wished I could transport to where we were at that moment. He loves skimming stones and did the same as they were doing as a boy, and  I thought about how he would have loved at that point in time to help my three boys perfect their skimming technique. The eldest, in particular, couldn’t quite get it. I had to educate him (I’m not a bad skimmer myself).

Skimming stones

Skimming stones

When I skimmed a ‘sixer’ my three boys were very impressed. They thought that was worthy of much adoration. They managed a ‘fourer’ but not more. Mummy rules of course!

This was half an hour in the day, a point in their long lives, that I hope they remember. I want to imagine them, in twenty years time, in a pub somewhere (probably London), nursing pints of larger, and remembering fondly skimming stones in a river on some random walk that ‘dad took us on’. I see the conversation as follows:

‘Where was it when we learnt how to skim stones, to perfection, as Toby would have said at the time?’

‘Much Wenloch?’

‘No, we were on holiday, I am sure of it.’

‘Oh was it one of dad’s walks?’

‘Yes, I think it was, it was a river somewhere, so I’m thinking Wales’.

‘Yes, Wales, the middle of Wales’.

‘Do you remember how mum skimmed a sixer?’

‘What was a sixer?’

‘You know, you came up with the word, it meant a stone that bounced six times.’

‘Did that mean six bounces or six hits of the water before going down?’

‘Don’t you remember? It was six bounces including the last plunge’.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, there’s no way she could have done six bounces then a plunge into water!’

‘Oh yes, and do you remember how on the way back mum talked about “nature’s carpet”, that moss stuff on the ground and Josh made that joke about spilling wine on “nature’s carpet”!’

‘You made that up!’

‘No, I didn’t!’

I hope this conversation does happen at some future point. I hope it is a happy occasion when they meet up and they are all grown up and handsome. My sister, my brother and I often fall into a similar banter of reminiscence when we meet up, the three of us, now: ‘Do you remember when dad used to take us to watch the cars at Keele Services, over the bridge?’ and so on.

That’s my hope for my boys. I am sure it will happen and knowing that, makes me feel happy, not sad.

It’s not just any old cats trying to take over the world, it is Welsh cats!

Disclaimer: I have nothing against Wales or the people who hale from it. I’m married to one. I’m not so sure about the cats from that part of the world though…

The idea of Welsh cats taking over the world is the weird thought I had yesterday when I found a balloon trapped under a police car at Shrewsbury train station. In my current art project, I am seeking out all of the lost and abandoned balloons of Britain and so when I find one, I take a photo of it. Yesterday I found this one:

The lost balloon caught by the police

The lost balloon caught by the police

I am sure you are wondering what this all has to do with cats taking over the world. There isn’t even a cat in this picture. Or indeed sign of feline intervention (cats don’t like balloons, everybody knows that). Let me ask you this: do you notice anything particularly Welsh about this police car? I imagine that the bright among you will have spotted the word Heddlu on the side of the police car. Heddlu is Welsh for police. Bilingual police cars are not an usual sight in Shrewsbury. In fact, they are the norm. As are bilingual bank machines, Ambulances and a few other random official objects are also floating around this town sporting instruction in two languages. However, the very bright among you will know that Shrewsbury is not in Wales (at least not at the moment). But it is very close to Wales and there is a Welshness about it in many ways. A lot of people travel from rural Wales to Shrewsbury to go shopping (particularly on a Wednesday I am told by my friend who used to work in a shop in town). There is a slight Welsh tinge to the accent (imagine Welsh plus West Midlands with a sprinkling of countryside and you have the Shrewsbury accent). It is surrounded by hills. It is probably one of the Welshest English towns I have been to (other contenders might be Hereford, Hay-on-Wye and Chester). Until yesterday, this wasn’t of any concern to me at all. In fact, I liked it.

Interestingly, you also will find Welsh as an option for bank machines in the further-inland town of Telford. The trains that run to and from Shrewsbury to Birmingham are bilingual. I now have my suspicions that these bilingual facilities are not for the benefit of the odd person from Wales who’s first language is Welsh who suddenly finds him- or herself strapped for cash in Telford or in need of an ambulance. I think this is for the cats. Or more specifically, the Welsh cats. They need bilingual bank machines so that they can get money out in Telford and they need to know who to run away from when they see a car with the word Heddlu on the side coming towards them when they are TAKING OVER THE WORLD!

An army marches on its stomach

An army marches on its stomach

I’m not sure how they have engineered this part of their plot. I need to do some further research.But when I find out, I will write about it here. I think it is more than just opposable thumbs that is the cause of this. So watch out, it isn’t just any old cats coming to get you, it is the army of Welsh cats!



Why a week in a caravan in West Wales reminds me of Japan

This is the weird thought I had this morning. Being in a caravan in West Wales for a week reminds me of life in Japan for a number of reasons. I wanted to think of ten but I could only come up with six.

1. It is cold in the morning.

Caravans have very thin walls, as do Japanese apartments. So when I am in a caravan, as when I lived in Japan, it is always cool in the mornings. Actually, now I have just typed that I realise that that isn’t at all true. It was always cool in the mornings in Japan except during the months of June to September when it was hot in Japan 24-hours a day. Japanese summers are intense with temperatures of the mid-30s in the height of summer and little respite during the night.

This is how cold it was most mornings in Japan

This is how cold it was most mornings in Japan

2. Vibrations.

A caravan vibrates and rattles as did my Japanese apartment. In a caravan this is caused by children moving around at the other end of the dwelling. In Japan this was caused by small earth tremours. At first I found these quite alarming. By the second year in Japan being woken up by rattling books at 3am was rather annoying.

3. Rooms have more than one purpose.

Some caravans have a living room that doubles up as a bedroom. In the caravan I am in at the moment my youngest child is being transferred from the master bedroom to the sitting room at night to sleep. She was  bit obstinate about shifting to the other room, but a little bit of wheedling about getting her a telescope from https://skytechlasers.com/telescope-under-200/ worked. So every night before I go to bed I have to turn the sitting room into a bedroom and every morning I have to return it to a sitting room. When I lived in Japan my apartment consisted of three rooms: kitchen, bathroom with toilet and main room. I lived and slept on a futon in the main room so every morning I had to fold up my futon and turn my bedroom into a sitting room.

This is not my apartment but looks scarily similar

This is not my apartment but looks scarily similar

4. Sound travels.

Caravans have thin walls (see above), so sound from outside (and inside no doubt) travels. The same applies to Japanese apartments. I tried to be quiet when I lived in Japan. The cicadars outside of my apartment were not so considerate.

This is twice as big as my Japanese apartment

This is twice as big as my Japanese apartment

5. Space is precious.

Caravans are not houses. They aren’t designed to be lived in long term. This caravan I am in right now is twice as big as my Japanese apartment. But despite that, the similarity between the two is that space is precious. I didn’t have much space in my Japanese apartment. I think many people who haven’t lived or visited Japan would be quite shocked at how little space I had. In fact, when I first arrived at my apartment in Japan I opened the patio doors in the main room (which I thought was the sitting room) expecting to find another room (a bedroom) only to find that I was back outside. I had to be a master at clever storage and also good at resisting new purchases. The kitchen was tiny so any cooking I did in my kitchen was simple (toast). I went food shopping daily  rather than weekly.

6. Japan looks like Wales.

This isn’t at all caravan related but I will sneak this one in because this is my blog entry. The first time I travelled out of urban Japan and towards the countryside I was reminded of family holidays in Wales. This similarity was bizarre. Much of Japan is mountainous and rural. It really does look like Wales.

Is this Japan or Wales?

Is this Japan or Wales?

So if you can’t afford to go to Japan, just book yourself a week in a caravan in West Wales. It isn’t that dissimilar.

No weird thoughts – is it the water?

At the moment I am in West Wales and I’ve had very few opportunities for weird thoughts. I blame the water as whenever I come to Wales, I spend a less-than-usual amount of time having weird thoughts. So this has led to me to wonder: is the water here hard or soft? How does it compare to water at home? And since we’re on the subject of water differences, how come I need to use more washing up liquid here than at home?

Where we are

Where we are

The Dwir Cymru Welsh Water website tells me that the water quality where we currently are is considered ‘soft’. Severn Trent’s website tells me, in an equally useful way, that the water quality where we live is considered ‘moderately hard’. So therein lies a difference and perhaps an explanation.


A water quality map - blue is hard, green is soft

A water quality map – blue is hard, green is soft

The Internet has surprisingly little to offer on the subject of the effect of the quality of water and the number of weird thoughts to be had. I’ve known ever since I was a child that coming to Wales often necessitates a dose of Milk of Magnesium so therefore there must be a link between water quality and regularity. A trip to Devon has the opposite effect on me. So why doesn’t the Internet confirm this? Or at least help me understand this?

The Internet explains what hard water and soft water are, which is fairly interesting. However, in terms of amount of washing up liquid needed, the information the Internet offers completely contradicts my experience in West Wales vs Shropshire.

There shouldn't be more  bubbles in Shropshire compared to Wales but there are

There shouldn’t be more bubbles in Shropshire compared to Wales but there are

So perhaps I should consider the teeny tiny possibility that my 35-year old belief that water quality correlates to my weird thoughts is psychological rather than medical. Perhaps this knowledge will help me have a weird thought tomorrow.