The Dead Drummer

The Dead Drummer, Thomas Hardy (1899)


They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.


Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –
Fresh from his Wessex home –
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.


Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow up a Southern tree.
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.


House Project at 12 Months

IMG_0723 I moved into my house exactly 12 months ago – boy, time flies! I’ve been busy renovating it so that I can eventually rent out rooms and then go off working in Nepal or Cambodia – it involves replastering, new wiring, plumbing, bathroom and kitchen – in fact pretty much everything! Time might fly but unfortunately, progress crawls. I wish I was a lot further along the road than I am but there’s still much to do. It’s a big project and I’m slower than I used to be.

It isn’t easy when there’s just one of you. I admit that I’ve had occasional help from my son and daughter and from friends, for which I’m hugely grateful, but most of the time it’s just little, old me. For a while, my friend Gabor came round a couple of evenings a week. He was keen and not only did he help with sanding down and painting but his visits encouraged ME to be productive too. But he’s moved away now and so not much gets done in the evenings. Weekends are when work tends to happen but it’s hard to keep focus and maintain enthusiasm for such a length of time… I’m struggling but I won’t give up. Writing blogs? Social life? Pah! That’ll have to wait.

So, what stage am I at? Well, there’s still no bathroom but I have at least now got bath, basin, loo, shower and taps on order, and it should all arrive in a couple of weeks’ time. I still I haven’t chosen the wall tiles though, and they have to go on before the bathroom can be fitted. I’m hopeless at choosing things – whatever it is it seems to take me forever. Friends tell me they simply visit the showrooms, make a selection, and load up! For me, with no car, just visiting the showrooms is an ordeal. And once I’m there I seem to lack the imagination to picture things into my home.

However, the upstairs is nearly complete, decoration-wise. I’ve finished painting the stairs and landing which was quite an ordeal due to the height of the stair-well. A lot of ladder moving and precarious balancing. It’s not the colour I expected it to be – I thought it would be a kind of muted dusky-pink but it’s turned out a lot brighter than I expected. A LOT brighter! Friends have described it as “Gay Cerise” and “Camp Pink”! It certainly didn’t look so bright on the colour chart. Perhaps I should have bought a sample pot to try out but I’d already tried too many and rejected them all. It’ll have to do. It’s durable paint so it’s quite expensive and the cost to change it, and the effort too, would be just too much, so “Camp Pink” it remains. Perhaps I’ll grow to like it!

I painted the bedrooms a very light greyish-creamy-white paint called “Snowdrop White”. The colour is OK but the quality isn’t. Retail paint is dreadful these days – it contains very little pigment so you need more coats to get a decent depth of colour. With “trade paint” you only need two coats at most. Obviously I only learnt this after a bulk-buy of the shop stuff! And then I discovered that it marks very easily, so I ended putting a coat of trade paint over the lot – all three rooms. Maddeningly I then found that the trade paint was just as bad! Aaaarrrggghhh!! This particular paint is flat matt, and looks fine until you rub against it when it kind of polishes up and goes shiny. Well, tough (or rather, not).

I’ve gone through several iterations with the paint on the woodwork too. I won’t bore you with the details. I don’t think I’m being over-fussy, I can accept less-than-perfect, but so many things have turned out not as good as I’d hoped. I know that everything will get knocked and bumped as soon as the place is lived in but I’d like it to start out looking good at least.

I employed a plumber for a few days and now have radiators installed throughout, but no gas boiler yet. There’s no point putting one in yet because there are no hot water taps or shower to test it on. Not having water in the radiators does at least mean that I can easily take them off the wall to paint behind. I’ve also had the gas meter moved from the kitchen to an outside wall – a right palaver to organise and expensive too, but it gives me a bit more flexibility in kitchen layout. The gas will have to be re-connected when the boiler goes in. The kitchen, needless to say, hasn’t been started yet.

I’ve asked the excellent Romanian guys who did my plastering to come back in a month’s time to do some non-plastering jobs – like the tiling and the bathroom installation. I can do all that stuff myself but I’m just too slow. I’ll get them to put up a fence on the boundary too even though it’s my neighbours’ responsibility, and have them cut back the neighbours’ ridiculously-huge over-hanging trees which dominate my garden, create near-permanent shade and draw all the goodness out of the soil. It’s not as if I can sit under the trees either – they’re filled with generously-shitting pigeons! Pigeons love to empty their bowels in dense, dark, hideous, inconsiderate, insensitive, thuggish Leylandii, or so it seems.

I had hoped that the house would be finished by the end of this year but there is still the downstairs and kitchen to do. Unless I get myself more organised, that prospect is looking increasingly remote. I’d better get those tiles chosen…

IMG_0705 IMG_0707 IMG_0713 IMG_0714 IMG_0715 IMG_0716 IMG_0717 IMG_0720 IMG_0721 IMG_0724 IMG_0725 IMG_0727 IMG_0728 IMG_0730




I have in front of me a photo of a little girl from El Salvador, a real little cutie. She’s eight years old and Plan-uk are suggesting I sponsor her now that my previous little girl is eighteen. Plan is a children’s charity, working with some of the world’s poorest, and not connected to any religious organisation, political party or extreme ideology. Just protection and ‘building a better future’: health, education, equality, empowerment.

When I sponsor her my money goes to her community, not directly to her family, so there’s no bitterness or rivalry between sponsored and not. I get a personal connection with her – we’ll exchange a few photos, drawings and letters which, I can tell you, are absolutely wonderful to receive.

The details tell me that she is one of three girls, living in a house made of adobe with a shingle roof and an earth floor. Water comes from a river, they use a pit latrine and the nearest health clinic is thirty minutes away. But she doesn’t go to school “because she has an impairment”. “She is suffering an impairment that affects communication”.

I look at her smiley face, hands thrust into pockets of her skirt, skinny legs ending in shoes much too big, and just think “how could I not?”


Winter Song

Winter Song, sung by Zee Avi and Kina Grannis (a Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson cover)

This is my winter song to you
The storm is coming soon
It rolls in from the sea

My voice, a beacon in the night
My words will be your light
To carry you to me

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love…

They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow
Or so I have been told

They say we’re buried far
Just like a distant star
I simply cannot hold

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song
December never felt so wrong
‘Cause you’re not where you belong
Inside my arms

I still believe in summer days
The seasons always change
And life will find a way

I’ll be your harvester of light
And send it out tonight
So we can start again

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song
December never felt so wrong
‘Cause you’re not where you belong
Inside my arms

This is my winter song to you
The storm is coming soon
It rolls in from the sea

My love, a beacon in the night
My words will be your light
To carry you to me

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

House Project at End of Year

It’s been a while since I wrote about my house project but now, the 31st December, it seems as good a time as any to give an update. I moved in on the 25th of May so this is seven months down the road.

Lounge with part-stack of skirtings

Lounge with stack of skirtings and totally legal lighting!

To say that the house occupies my every waking hour would be a gross exaggeration but it’s a big part of my life. It feels a bit of a millstone round my neck, to be honest. I have so much to do, organise or decide upon that it sometimes gets me down. Often I have to force myself to make an effort to get going and distraction comes really easily.

First bedroom to be painted

First bedroom to be painted

It’s cold now but thankfully the winter here in middle-England has been mild to date. Very wet, cold, windy, but not often below zero. Fingers-crossed it continues. I still have no central heating but cope by taking a couple of portable heaters from room to room, depending on where I’m working. It takes time to warm things up and some forethought, and the cold air between rooms is uninviting. I can think of plenty of excuses!

So, what progress? The biggest thing is that I’ve had all the rooms, bar the kitchen and dining room (my room), re-plastered. The two guys, Viktor and Claudiu (from Romania), did a very good and careful job. They embedded a fibreglass mesh everywhere so any future cracking should be minimal. The finish is very smooth and straight. They completed late November after being here three months on-and-off. I will admit, though, that I was relieved to have the place back to myself again after so much upheaval and dust.

The electrical wiring, which I’m installing myself, is coming along. I’ll get it checked and certified by a professional – have no fear! I’ve painted the ceilings of the first two bedrooms and have put in lighting fittings. Like the heating, the electrics can only really be finished once the decorating has been done and that’s a long way off.

"Bathroom, sort-of"

“Bathroom, sort-of”

I’ve been fitting skirting boards – there was a stack of over 100 metres of them in my lounge at one point! I’ve only done two rooms so far so the pile is still big. They have to stay in that room because, until I cut them to length, at five-and-a-half metres they’re way too long to get up the stairs!

In one of my better decisions I got the guys to halve the depth of the airing cupboard. A lot of hammering and rubble, but there’s now more room in the bathroom for a radiator and perhaps the heating boiler. The tiles have been hacked off and the walls re-plastered, but the old bath, basin and toilet are yet to be removed.

Painting – I’ve finally chosen a colour for the bedroom walls – “Snowdrop White” by Crown, which is a very pale gold-white shade. Now that I’ve painted the first bedroom with one coat I’m not sure that pure white is right for the woodwork – another dilemma!

There are three big jobs coming up – redoing the bathroom, refitting the kitchen and installing the heating. They all involve plumbing and a lot of disruption. The jobs are all inter-related in some way and need design choices to be made. I won’t do the work myself – I have more than enough work with the electrics and especially the redecorating – I’ll have to get tradespeople in. It all needs careful organising and, without a car, it’s not easy getting to places to choose fittings. But, I suppose, I’m making steady progress. Onwards and upwards!

Bedroom Two - replastered but that's all. 120 metres of copper pipe waiting to be installed.

Bedroom Two – replastered but that’s all. 120 metres of copper pipe waiting to be installed.

 Bedroom 3, primed walls, skirtings going on

Bedroom 3, primed walls, skirtings going on

Hall, Stairs and Landing - two rooms' equivalent of plastering

Hall, Stairs and Landing – two rooms’ equivalent of plastering

Curiosity, Experimentation and Cogitation. And some more Cogitation.

David Truss writes an excellent blog (David Truss :: Pair-a-dimes for Your Thoughts). In a recent post he supports the Keep It Simple principle. He takes Ramsey Musallam’s “three rules to spark learning” and proposes his own Rule #4:

Rule #1 – Curiosity comes first.

Rule #2 – Embrace the mess. (It’s ok to try and fail, spend time in beta.)

Rule #3 – Practice reflection.

Rule #4 – Remember that learning should be a fun!

What do you think? Do you need fun?

My knee-jerk reaction was of total agreement but hang on, wait a second…

We’ve strayed from the path of “simplicity” and “sparking learning”.

To spark learning you actually need only one thing: Curiosity.

Curiosity drives the messiness of experimentation which feeds the cogitation of reflection from which we learn. The mess and the reflection are the process but only curiosity is the spark.

As for fun, that’s in the process. I’m wary of adding extra fun; sometimes all it does is get in the way.

Of course this is only my observation – I have no research for this opinion, but I wonder what YOU think?

Bitcoin Enquiry

All educators know that Enquiry (sic) is a “jolly good thing”. They also know that teachers must model the attributes they want to encourage in their students, else the kids will think it’s just some kind of “do as I say, not as I do” mumbo jumbo game. Like advice on not smoking from Fag-Ash Lil, or sex education from Syphilitic Sid. I made those up, in case you’re wondering, but you get the picture: you need to exemplify the virtues you’re trying to instil.

So, I look at myself and wonder how I could model enquiry. If I had a class of kids, how would I do that? What interests me? What gets MY juices going? And the answer comes back: … or rather it doesn’t. There’s silence. I can’t really think of anything. And so I have this conversation with myself:
Surely there must be something? Something you could find out about? Research? Enquire?
No. I’m too old, too forgetful, too disinterested, disillusioned, couldn’t really give a toss, stupid, thick.
That can’t be right!
It is. I can’t think of anything.
Go on, make some effort, try…
Hmm. Umm. (Five minutes later) I suppose there’s Bitcoins.
Bitcoins? Are you serious?
Yes! How do they work? What’s the advantage of them? Can you make money from them? I’ve always wondered.
OK, so on a scale of one to ten, how interesting would it be to find out about Bitcoins?
… well, about four. Maybe two. OK, not very interesting but I could find out and it would be “Enquiry”.
And you would know about it for five minutes then forget whatever you learnt.
So what’s the point?

And there’s the point. It has to be a self-motivated enquiry for it to be at all meaningful. You can’t just “do enquiry”. Enquiry on its own is half the picture. Not even half. It is meaningless without self-motivation. I could go through the motions but would I really care? Nope.

I used to be curious as a kid, making things, trying things out, experimenting, asking questions, wondering. I remember a book I had: “10 Things Every Good Boy Can Make” or “The Everyday Boy’s Book of Hazardous Popular Hobbies” or some equally captivating title. Didn’t matter – a red hardback with gold writing. I pored over those pages! Boy, did I? But not all pages were equal – the ones thumbed the most were of radios, triode valves, dipole aerials, variable condensers, cat’s whiskers, 90-volt dry cells, 6-volt lead-acid accumulators … exciting stuff to a farm kid in the early 60’s. And planes and kites… Nothing in school compared, except perhaps the projects I did on Canada and Australia. The fact that I can still remember those and little else must mean something.

Where did all that curiosity go? Did familiarity breed contempt? Can I blame my mother? Has mundane life simply smothered it? Was it unrecognised, unloved and unfed? Something you grow out of? Is it possible to rekindle it? Rejuvenate it? Resuscitate it? Bring back that sense of childhood wonderment? So many unanswered questions …

… so much irony.

RSCON4, October 11-13, 2013

Well, I had told Shelly Terrell that I have no time to be involved in this year’s RSCON conference but, now that it’s getting close and the excitement is beginning to build, I find that I can’t not help out! It’s going to be HUGE this year! Something like 115 presenters and 10 keynote speakers will be there, and the audience will be massive now that Steve Hargadon is involved. Just have to hope it doesn’t slow my house renovation work too much!

I helped out at RSCON3 in August 2011. I worked on the scheduling and other behind-the-scenes stuff. I reckon I put in about 300 hours but who knows how many more hours Shelly put in! This time Shelly is using Steve Hargadon’s tried-and-tested procedures which will help hugely – he is an old hand at organising big online events. People will be able to schedule themselves which will cut a big part of the effort, hopefully.

If you’d like to know more, please read some reflections from RSCON3 and check out for the latest on RSCON4.

House Project at Eight Weeks

My house renovation is coming along slowly. It’s unbelievable that eight weeks have passed already – there doesn’t seem to be a lot to show for all the time I’ve been spending on the place. The biggest task has been the removal of the paint from the walls in preparation for plastering. I’m not wholly convinced that it’s as necessary as the plasterer tells me it is but he’s the expert and should know better than me. It’s very time-consuming and I’ve tried to apply a bit of technology to speed things up. My belt sander works but eats belts at an alarming rate and produces so much dust so quickly that my vacuum cleaner simply can’t cope. My friend’s Dyson overheated and stopped working after ten minutes… not a good sign! I’ve tried loads of things including blowing the dust into a dustbin full of soapy water. The bubbles would trap the dust… or so I thought. Okay, okay, I should have seen it coming… a roomful of bubbles and just as much dust! You learn from failures they tell me.

In the end I’ve just had to resort to scraper, wire brush, wet and dry sandpaper, abrasive sanding pads, industrial “Scotch Brite” and lots and lots of water. Very messy. Very slow. Hard work, but no dust!