Friday, 30 September 2022

Customer satisfaction

'Tis the End of Days, lads. After a Summer of no rain at all, we got a Summer's worth of wet in 48 hours.  A couple of weeks after that, we had a deluge in daylight. Naturally, I stripped down to shorts and a tee-shirt to save the surface of the lane from being swept to buggery. There's no point in putting on Cape Horn foul-weather gear [even if I had it] because everything would be soaked anyway and it's easier to dry a single tee than a shirt and sweater and "rain" coat. Got a few tsk tsks from my roomies about silly old men courting a trip to the hospital; but the risk to me was minimal and the risk to my wallet considerable if I sat out the storm on my sofa.

But when the second waterbutt-filler happened at the beginning of September, I could not find my Javi = azada = fartanya = mattock [as R]. I have two, of different sizes with replacement handles and I had to use a long-handled shovel which is not the tool of choice for scraping crap out of a drain. Shag this, I said the following day, I R retire, I have four pensions dribbling in from two countries, I should really be giving back to the economy. Forthwith I ventured onto the broad reaches of the interwebs, to see who would sell me a new azada. Lenehans of Capel Street had a heavy-duty digging hoe in stock for €30 . . . free delivery for orders over €50. Having, like Mr Worthing, just lost both parents digging tools, I ordered two of them at €60 to qualify for free deliv.

Lenehans used to be an old fashioned city centre hardware store but they have embraced the internet: claiming to be what3words, as well as eircode, enabled andn taking my e-money with the least possible fuss. My brace of azadas came bundles up in cardboard and sticky tape less than 48 hours after I placed my order. Several e-mails came in parallel, tracking the delivery from warehouse to clearing to depot to van. And when the order was fulfilled, another e-mail directed me to Trustpilot to share the experience:

Lenehans had what I needed 14/Sep/2022
Lenehans had what I needed, at a competitive price, and shipped it quickly and reliably.
Q. What more could you want?
A. A ham and cheese toastie!
Date of experience: 08 September 2022

Reply from 20/Sep/2022

Thank you for your review. We appreciate you taking the time to respond and look forward to providing excellent service to you again in the future.
We can't help with the ham and cheese but we do stock sandwich toasters ;)
Kind regards,

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Pilgrim to Pontiff

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?"

Did I tell you about my Camino? I'm not boring you?  Did I mention how pilgrimage can be transformative? If I'm sure of anything on that subject, it is that nobody was ever transformed by reading about someone else's pilgrimage . . . or thinking about going . . . or putting mink oil on yer boots.

Nevertheless, books about pilgrimage can be interesting if the author has been changed by their journey and/or uses the story as a hook on which to hang their thoughts about life, the Universe and everything. It even works if the trudge takes the author to different places and they go deep or quirky on the local history. There is little value in the mundane description of beers and blisters and inconsequential chatter with other randos on the way. And I think we the reader should hold back the accolades when an established literate and literary person is making the journey cossetted by their publisher's advance. Like Bill Buford's Heat.

I'm finished audiobooking A Pilgrimage to Eternity: from Canterbury to Rome in search of a faith by Timothy Egan.[R at the Col du Grand St-Bernard where Switzerland cedes to Italy]. I live a sheltered life, so I've never 'eard of this Pulitzer Prize winning NYT columnist who has written 9 nine! full-length books and gets regularly reviewed in newspapers of record WaPo, NYT (of course), Guardian.

This book is longer than my 800,008 steps along the Camino an analysis of the process of pilgrimage and the Via Francigena from the tomb of Thomas à Becket to St. Peter's in Rome is 2x more steps. It's more discursive, too: Justin Welby, Martin Luther, Jean d'Arc, Victor Hugo, Savonarola, St Lucia Filippini, Dom Pérignon all lived or died close to the route of the V.F.

Egan grew up Catholic in Spokane and his pilgrimage seeks to reconcile some of the disconcerting aspects of belief. For followers of an all loving Christ, Catholics have a track record of killing a lot of people who couldn't squeeze through a rather narrow gate of faith. His community, including his youngest brother, was exposed to one of the many pedophile priests who were rotated through different parishes rather than sanctioned. His brother's bestie later killed himself from the shame of his abuse. How do you become a fan of Pope Francis with all that hurt in your bindle?

Despite being a best selling author and journalist; and despite having access to Jesuit back-channels to the [Jesuit] Pontiff, Mr Egan does not secure a personal interview with the head of his church and has to make do with a glimpse of Francis as he whizzes by on a golf-cart outside St.Peter's. I had a similar fleeing encounter in the drizzle with Pope JP II when he visited Boston in 1980: and bought the t-shirt! He's happy enough with that, because pilgrimage is a process not a destination.

If you've been on The Path, then you should enjoy this book. tl;dr? 25 minute interview with transcript.

Monday, 26 September 2022

The Prostate of Marsh

My mother put me on to Henry Marsh [multibloboprevs], the literary neurosurgeon, when she gave me Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery nearly 10 years ago. Marsh is a little older than me and has lived through the transition from doctors being brusquely competent / confident [too often confused] to doctors being reined in by a stodgy sclerotic health service bureaucracy and the fear of litigation.

His latest and likely last book And Finally [2022] is available on Borrowbox audio read by himself. "Last" because he was diagnosed last year with late stage prostate cancer, was treated with hormones and radio therapy which got his PSA - prostate specific antigen - score down from 120 [!!] to 0.1 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). The 'normal range' is anything up to 4ng/mL and values higher that 10 will be a big red flag for your oncological urologist, or indeed your GP when your 'bloods' results come back. So Marsh is now officially in remission but having his PSA actively measured every six months. You might wonder at an actual brain surgeon being so stupid as to ignore the clear and present symptoms of problems down there for so long. But his reflections on denialism and his own feet of clay make for interesting and compassionate reading.

And being brought up all standing with a potentially fatal diagnosis induces some reflections on the rest of his life. How he neglected his family in the pursuit of surgical ambition; how he was betrayed by his friend and mentee in Ukraine; how he was cheese-paring of empathy and compassion for his patients and their families. Reflections are matched with projections - not good because his PSA was so high that resurgence is likely. But even if he dodges that bullet, it is likely given his age, he will be carried off by something else. And in any case, for a fit and active person, the multiple organ deficits of the aging body provide the opposite of solace.

And that provides a launch-pad for promoting and making more widely available the option of assisted dying. His gripe is that, so far, the British political establishment has conflated euthanasia [we fought against the Nazis in the war], which excludes consent and assisted death which embraces consent. For Marsh assisted suicide is an older, more direct and altogether better phrase. It is, of course, possible to off yourself without involving any part of medical palliative professional universe but the 'easy' options are violent or messy or uncertain. The arguments against legislation for assisted suicide are not evidence based; and in many cases righteously officious and paternalistic and often involve other people suffering.

Meanwhile, in remission, Marsh's most regular gig is inventing bedtime zoom-stories for his three grand-daughters and continuing to work on a monster dolls' house of his own construction.

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Pick n micks

 Wha's happenin' in the Interwebs?

Friday, 23 September 2022

Trees trees trees

The last Edge of the Plain [prev] investigated by James Crawford is The Great Green Wall of trees which is intended to snake across Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia delimiting the southward march of the Sahara. The edge biome between desert and forest is known locally as the Sahel. By some calculations this strip of savanna is the ideal Goldiloxian habitat for Homo sapiens. Not super-surprising because our best guess is that bipedal proto-humans came down from the trees in such an ecosystem in East Africa and evolved to fit the local conditions. Of course, human beings have spread to colonize every scrap of land on planet earth but to the nearest whole number nobody lives in Antarctica. Even in Yukon Territory 40,000 people have 474,391 km2 to roam across [too cold for comfort alert]. otoh 'nobody' want to live in Australia [too bloody hot, mate] where the density is about 3½ people per km2 or < 1 if you exclude the capital cities of each of the eight territories.

The Great Green Wall [propaganda] is not therefore a barrier against desertification for a bunch of bone poor black pastoralists and subsistence farmers. It is rather a recreation of Eden, even if it's a bit strung out. Crawford interviews Tabi Joda [L], the living force behind the project One Billion Trees for Africa. That's basically one for everyone in the audience, if the audience is Africans. There has been plenty of political grand-standing buy-in from the countries directly involved Senegal, Mauretania, Mali,  Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chap, Soudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and a lot of trees have been planted but the commitment to prevent those trees become an hors d'ouevre for the nearest goat is patchy. As with a lot of these grand projects, planting a whip takes 5 seconds, but someone has to commit to protecting, nurturing and watering that plant for 5 years before it starts to yield avocado. 

And it may be, as with my sister's tree-efforts in Scotland, that a stepped / staged protocol may be better in the long run. Plant islands of trees and ring-fence them . . . and use those established woodlet woodlots to anchor further adjacent growth. Hysterical urgency to get it all done Now before the planet conflagrates may result in nothing at all. Steady lads, it took decades before the trees of Ascension Island started to attract rain. But if it works, it works for us all. Creating an Eden in Africa will stop young men gambling all on a leaky Zodiak heading for Lampedusa. Some folk would prefer picking their own fruit at home, than picking fruit for Conglomerate Foods in Britain.

Same possibly true with Iceland re-foresting with

Wednesday, 21 September 2022


Vlogging cartoonist General Knowledge [R] has a recent post asking What are the World's oldest borders? which is, as always visually appealing and also informative . . . if you like your info as soundbytes. I was cruisin' Borrowbox at the beginning of the month and thought I'd have a punt with The Edge of the Plain: how Borders Make and Break Our World 2022 written and read by James Crawford "acclaimed historian, publisher and broadcaster". Now that is a chunk of a book, coursing all over the world and time, focusing on borders between one polity and its neighbours.

The first chapter is about a Mesopotamian stele currently in the British Museum that was erected 45 centuries ago to delimit the boundary between Umma and Lagash over a disputed, agriculturally valuable, territory called Gu’edina aka The Edge of the Plain. The symbols were deciphered by Irvine "WedgeReader" Finkel [prev] and include the 1st use of the phrase No Man's Land as a buffer state between the warring polities. Much later Crawford investigates the virtual wall which attempts, rather successfully, to insulate the People's Republic of China from many destabilising aspects of Western economics and politics. It might give you pause to consider the grim norms of late stage capitalism, which form the invisible unconsidered background to our daily lives. Could someone protect me from that shite?

Two back-to-back chapters about modern border walls reflect on the desperate measures some governments will take to exclude The Other form their territories even if it means that fruit don't get picked, elders don't get cared and toilets don't get cleaned. One technique employed in Morocco is to gather hundreds of would-be residents of Europe to simultaneously assault the the razor-wire and concrete house-tall wall that surround the Spanish exclave of Melilla. It is like the assault on Badajoz [Ben Battle etc.] in the Peninsula War, banking that the border patrol doesn't have enough batons and hand-cuffs to secure all the immigrants. The scalers of the wall drop down on the Spanish side slippery with blood from the wire and many of them have healed scars from previous attempts. Unlike at Badajoz in 1812, the defenders don't use guns; the sanction is a duffing up and ejection through the gate back to Morocco at first light.

Bio-aside: [The strategy of prey to overwhelm predators by numbers is found widely in biology. Ecologists and evolutionists talk about r-selection vs K-selection. Humans are very much in the K-selection camp - we have one offspring at a time and invest our futures in that scion. Modern Western human youngsters are sucking at the parental teat well into their 20s. You have to go all Attenborough to find cases of r-selection: turtle-babies vs skua - periodical cicadas - Alaskan salmon]

In the Sonoran Desert, a super fragile ecosystem shared by Mexico and the USA, the human victims number in the hundreds. They have been forced to trek through a desert at night because the US border patrol acts performatively in El Paso to show that it will be impossible to cross the border there where you can almost spit across the Rio Grande. Walls across the desert and relentless roving Border Patrol ATVs, not to mention a USAF bombing range, have more or less driven the Sonora pronghorn antelope Antilocapra americana sonoriensis to extinction. And it's not just the glamorous large mammal that is affected by this illegal assault on a protected environment.

In Europe, there is a border between Norway and Russia [R, with added tourist stickers] far north of the Arctic circle where foot traffic is illegal but cyclists were, by Norwegian statute, allowed. There was a brisk trade in bicycles in Murmansk, which were then abandoned in Sør-Varange, NO where there is a heap of discarded bicycles. Many of them are children's bikes because they are cheaper even if unsuitably small. It is hard to shake the image of a Syrian dentist tottering across the border on trainer wheels. The heap matches a similar pile of discarded unsuitably small boats piled in a chain-fenced lot on Lampedusa, IT in the Mediterranean. 

I could go on, but I'll leave that to you. It's great. I've returned the audiobook to Borrowbox and recommend that you snag it before any more people read the review in the Guardian

Monday, 19 September 2022

Resource limitation.

Pat the Salt my venerable FiL, now has an electric all-angles recliner / ejector chair since the beginning of June. There is debate in the family, not always vocalized, about the trade-offs between having an easy life by lending Pat a helping hand vs encouraging him to do a little bit more work for himself. The argument is that work keeps things limber and stronger and will result in a longer, fitter, happier life. Sounds a bit Protestant, if you ask me, and so I'm inclined to buy into it. One potent metaphor from Pat's OT team was that getting out of a chair for a 90yo is equivalent to running 100m for a 20-something. I've moved a bit towards Team Cut-him-some-slack since hearing that. Everyone agrees that there is not a lot to be said for living as long as possible, without concomitant fitness, autonomy, and, well, joie de vivre. Then again, life (however compromised and diminished) is sweet if you don't believe in heaven.

I had a three day session, batching it up with Pat, at the end of August. I thought that I was to be there as emergency bail-out for the afternoon and only at the last minute packed a toothbrush and pyjamas, but half a week is the same as half a day once you're in the zone. I plenty of chances to test out the capabilities of the recliner chair both for myself <weeeeee!> and using pat as a proxy.

20-something Dau.II gave me another angle on the tough-love vs take-it-easy conundrum last week. If the elder expends all those calories on physical exercise, there will be less available [decision fatigue etc.] for cognitive work: leading to more confusion, which will adversely affect quality of life . . . for everybody. It is interesting that make-him-work arguments tend to come from physio- and occupational therapists: people whose care and expertise is in the body corporeal. The calculations are difficult but surely a more holistic view - including cognitive, sensory and spiritual - well being is appropriate.