Getting used to life in Santa’s Grotto

Mon 7 – Sun 13 Dec 2020

Well, the world around us continues to be very bleak with Covid raging, the threat of London going into Tier 3, winter weather, and likely No Deal Brexit. But it’s nearly Christmas. Thus my beloved partner Dave has sprung into action and decked his flat out like Santa’s Grotto.

I’m never too worried about putting up loads of decorations and lights. There always seems to be something more important to do (like read books) and Santa will arrive whatever happens. But Dave loves this time of year and it’s fun to see him get so creative and excited in doing his decorations – plus making mince pies.

And who am I to stop him. So I write this blog in his flat sometimes using the writing desk I recently purchased (which Dave assumes is his) surrounded by signs of Santa everywhere. I’m not going to be scrooge; I realise it is nice to celebrate this time of the year and be imaginative. Especially as Jan and Feb are very likely to be bloody bleak. 🙁 But we must have hope for the future – sometimes it is all we can have. 🙂

Our Future is Greater than our Past

Personal Development

I wrote in my previous blog about the value of ‘Using Redundancy for Development’. Taking advantage of my unemployed period to focus on strengthening and enhancing my skills – you can read it here. And that trend has continued I am pleased to say.


I’m still enjoying my daily burst of internet language learning. Messing about with various languages on Duolingo but with a particular emphasis on Russian and Greek which feel so alternative and alien. Then ensuring I get particular focus on Spanish and German via Busuu and Drops respectively.


TBH, I haven’t been as observant in doing daily learning in this area as with languages. I can’t lie, I enjoy doing languages more. But I want to improve my tech skills not least as there is nothing worse than someone who is enthusiastic about something but doesn’t understand how it works. To this end, I have done lessons on Free Code Camp about 5 out of the last 7 days.

Worth also noting that WordPress has been upgraded to version 5.6. This is what my website runs on. And so I am trying to get my head around what is new and how I can use these differences.

Question mark

Even though it’s Santa time, I’m still looking for a new job. But I haven’t found anything yet that really excites me. I have seen a couple of interesting jobs with closing dates in Jan but they are full-time and I really only want to work part-time. There was another nice job but it was only open to apply for a very short period and no salary level indicated. I had forgotten the games that are played in recruitment. 🙁

There is actually part of me which is conditioned to the idea that I will be out of work for a while. I don’t want to compromise. So I may have to let the pandemic and Brexit run their course before I am back in employment i.e. after Easter. But I can only hope something comes along sooner.

Books and Reading

Two books completed last week and there’s definitely nothing Santa about either of them. 🙂

‘Cryptozoic!’ by Brian Aldiss


A sci-fi classic. Aldiss is a now deceased but his output was monumental. I read not too long ago his 1980s epic ‘Helliconia’ that chronicles the history of a planet. It was incredibly audacious and, fortunately, far more fun to read than Cryptozoic. All sci-fi reflects the time it was written in and that is very true of this book.

Written in 1967, it’s a story set firmly in the psychedelic late Sixties. I didn’t always understand it and I think the book is best appreciated as the story of someone’s drug trip. By 2090, humans have ‘rediscovered’ their innate ability to time travel. This leads to a chase across time including dealing with a military coup in London 2093 and a struggle in Buckingham Palace 1851.

Although there was one bit of the book that really resonated. The main protagonists travel back to the Cryptozoic period before life on Earth has begun. Here they discover that time flows backwards. It’s really complex and I don’t totally get it. But it reminded me of the side-effects of when I first started HIV meds. One thing was ‘vivid dreams’ (aka nightmares) and a particularly awful one was about being caught in a never-ending eternal cycle of dying and being reborn. 🙁

‘Jews Queers Germans’ by Martin Duberman

I’ve been reading this for several weeks. It’s on my kindle so I’ve grabbed opportunities to read it here and there especially when I am walking about.

Fundamentally the book illustrates a unique time and place in history when several different ideologies clashed: royalism, constitutionalism, communism, fascism, and gay rights. The period of the Kaiser, WWI, the Weimar Republic, and the rise of the Nazis.

Duberman is a historian specialising in LGBTQ+ history. Here he has written a novel based on historical fact: historical fiction. It is the story of four gay men who lived in German between c.1890 and c.1935. They were all part of the ruling class and all suffered though in their own ways. It’s not a story with a happy ending but it illustrates for me how we can build on the work of others and learn from their mistakes.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Audre Lord

New reading

‘False Values’ by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve started reading this book which is the next in the ‘Rivers of London’ series. This is a series I love going back to every time a new volume comes out. The story of a magician in the Met Police – wonderfully silly.

‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart

Treated myself to the 2020 Booker Prize winner which I am reading concurrently with False Values. I haven’t always got on well with prize-winning books, often finding them too ‘literary’. But this has had good reviews. I’m surprised at how chunky it is. I suspect it is going to be neither an easy nor quick read and I’ll still be with it up until the day Santa arrives.

Health and Efficiency


I don’t really like highlighting when I am doing well in losing weight because it then feels embarrassing when I have to report on relapse. And it is always hard at this time of year not to eat like Santa.

But the big news is that a point during the week (I weigh myself each day) I went under 13 and a half stone! However, when I did my weigh-in at the weekend, I was slightly over what I weighed the previous weekend. However, I can identify mini-blowouts that stopped my weight decline. Removing those is part of the key to continue losing.

But, overall, what am I doing differently to get my weight down? Well more exercise but also reduced eating full-stop i.e. no breakfast on jog-run days. And I’m particularly reducing carbohydrate intake whilst increasing fruit and veg. A classic example of this is soup for lunch rather than a sandwich. Ultimately, sometimes you’ve just got to feel hungry and get through it.

Details of weekly weight and jog-runs are here.


lady going for jog-run in cold weather

I am still taking on board advice about the importance of having proper recovery time – that recovery is as vital as effort. So I only did two jog-runs again last week. Though hopefully it will get back up to three time in the near future.

First one on Wed saw a distance increase to 2.2 km and a pace of 6.37 mins per km. Should be a bit slower but it’s quite frustrating. I want to go faster even though slower and more comfortable running is ensuring I am not aggravating my injuries.

Second one on Sun morning. Another small increase to 2.3 km and, as intended, a slower pace of 6.55. Indeed, the jog (definitely less than a jog-run) felt nicely comfortable. I’m sure I saw Boris Johnson on a bike as I was stretching afterwards but Dave tells me he wouldn’t be allowed out with no security.

Walks and internet workouts

My jog-runs may currently only be happening twice per week. But they are being supplemented by long walks and workouts using Bloom Young video tutorials. The latter are quite basic but easy to follow and not too intensive lasting only for about 20 or 25 minutes. Long walks last week on Mon, Tues, and Sat. Total rest days on Thurs and Fri.



I live with chronic health problems. But it’s important to have good news. So last week it was great that my blood clotting results came in OK. Indeed, good enough that I don’t need to get rechecked till early January. 🙂

Friends and Family


No big news of catch-ups with friends last week. But I have lined up two very exciting ones for next week:

  • With my former Comic Relief colleague Irene. She’s a great bundle of energy and experience. The personal development she has been doing since redundancy puts me to shame.
  • An inevitably entertaining call to come with Phyllis in Andalucia. We can catch up on how we are both dealing with semi-lockdown and think about the future when he moves to Torremolinos.


Still all good – she hasn’t caught Covid! And neither thankfully has Dave’s mum despite her neighbour going down with it. Pleased to say said neighbour has recovered and has no idea how she contracted the illness.

My mum has been very concerned to get her hair done but also worried about going to the hairdresser’s. However, she has finally made an appointment for next week. Me and Dave are also doing Santa’s obstacle course explaining to the mums what will be happening for Christmas this year to fit in with pandemic guidelines.

Art and Culture

Turner’s Modern World

Tate Britain Turner exhibition painting

Big cultural event for last week was visiting the latest exhibition at Tate Britain: Turner’s Modern World. Perhaps I am a philistine but I’ve never been overwhelmed by Turner. And, unfortunately, this exhibition didn’t really change that. 🙁

Turner was clearly clever, prodigious, and talented. Plus he was ‘of his time’ reflecting some of the great events such as the Industrial Revolution. But his art doesn’t represent a new movement nor even a ‘light year’ different way of interpreting things. Indeed, we’ve all seen his famous pictures multiple times – seeing them ‘in the flesh’ sadly doesn’t make them more impressive. And in some way he is a forerunner of dreary Victorian art.

I was left feeling like I had seen a good British domestic artist but not an artist who changed history. I simply can’t think of Turner as a great master. There are clearly painters who were more varied, experimental, and influential. I would definitely rather see an exhibition by an old master such as Vermeer or a nineteenth / twentieth century revolutionary like Gauguin, Monet, or Picasso.

Unlike the Turner exhibition, I was pleasantly surprised by the outside of Tate Britain – all done up for Santa’s arrival. Yep, tacky and disposable but fun. 🙂

Getting ready for Santa


Want to live longer? Surround yourself with plants

No great news here. The usual emphasis on frugal living for the benefit of the planet and also because I can’t afford to live a profligate lifestyle. And a nice trip to the charity shop where I bought a £2 book. 🙂 But main thing I wanted to feature was a lovely article I came across on the value of having plants around you: ‘Want to live longer? Surround yourself with plants’. Read it here – highly recommended.

The Week Ahead

  • Santa is loading up his sleigh and I need to think about if I am sending any cards
  • Wed will also tell us if we are into Tier 3 which probably means me, Dave and my mum can’t go to a restaurant for Christmas day lunch as we planned 🙁
  • 2 great friend catch-ups as detailed above 🙂
  • Will carry on with my daily learning commitment and my job search
  • Looking forward to enjoying the two books I am reading 🙂
  • Couple of jog-runs supplemented by long walks and internet workouts
  • Perhaps weight loss will resume but I definitely won’t be putting on
  • Hopefully get a gallery or museum visit in next week especially if we are going into Tier 3 🙁

And Finally…

Time Person of the Year 2020

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