I completed this new straight-out-of-the-box jigsaw at the weekend.

Van Gogh – Sunflower jigsaw

I say completed but it’s clearly missing three pieces. Either, it was already missing three pieces when I opened it, or I’ve managed to lose three pieces.

I’ve had a quick look on the floor but I’ve not been able to see any obvious pieces. My living room is a bit of a mess (I’ve not had any visitors for over a year), so they could easily be underneath something. But I would have thought I would have found at least one of them.

If I have dropped them, I’m sure they’ll turn up sometime. But this jigsaw is taking up valuable real estate on top of my table. How long do I leave this mostly assembled jigsaw in place, hoping that these three pieces will turn up?


Travel 2020

Having returned to work after my week off, I took in some biscuits as is customary after being away. Normally this is some sort of local delicacy from where you’ve been away to, but in this case, as I had been at home all week, it was just something from the supermarket on the way into the office. Anyway, it started a conversation with a colleague about how no-one has really been away at all this year, and particularly not overseas.

Looking back through my calendar for 2020, I’ve surprisingly been away for around 33 nights, which at 10% of the year seems very high. But the majority of those were in three distinct chunks with a large proportion of those nights being work related, and about a third were staying with family or friends.

But none of those trips have been overseas, in fact I’ve not even left England this year. By my estimation, I should have travelled abroad 5 or 6 times this year, both for work and for fun. My travel has fluctuated over recent years, with a spike in 2015 and last year where I managed 5 trips abroad spending 45 days out of the country (although mostly for work). This is the first year in a long time where I’ve not been out of the country (I can’t remember what happened prior to 2013).

Number of days abroad (solid bars). Number of trips (line)

There’s still over a month of 2020 left, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be travelling abroad this year at all. Hopefully things will be back to normal for 2021…


Looking Forward

Next week I’m sitting some university exams. With the new lockdown rules in place, you might think they would be cancelled. But no, they’re still allowed within the rules so are still going ahead.

The week after that I was planning to take a week off work as a semi-reward, semi-recovery thing. With the new lockdown rules in place, of course that’s no longer going ahead as I hoped.

I was looking forward to having some time away from work and getting out of London and maybe doing something different. I was keeping it flexible as I knew things might change so fortunately I hadn’t booked anything but I had quite a few ideas. Now though, it looks like I’ll have to be at home the whole time without even being able to go out anywhere (other than for exercise/essential shopping).

I could go running everyday, but I’ve already done that. [Side note: Just seen that I’ve written one post titled Run Along and another one titled Running along. Not confusing at all. Sorry about that.] I could go walk all my local heritage trails, but I’ve already done that too.

So that’s my question for this week: what can I do in my week off that I can look forward to after the exams are done? Why is it all the fun stuff that’s cancelled? Is it too early to look forward to Christmas or should I expect that to be cancelled too?


Our survey says…

Whilst writing last week’s post, I was reminded of another similar thing.

Many years at university, I signed up for a survey website. It was a very simple premise, complete a survey and earn two points. When you get to 10 points you could trade them in for vouchers.

The system starts off by giving 6 points for signing up and proving that you’re a student, so after only 2 surveys you qualified for your first voucher (at least that’s how I remember it – it was several years ago).

All of the surveys started with a disclaimer that depending on your answers you could be selected out. The first questions were all about demographics. If they only wanted 10 males aged 18-24, and you happened to be the eleventh, you got kicked out of the survey and didn’t get any credits for taking part.

After receiving a lot of complaints (I may have done), they changed it so that if you got filtered out, you went into a prize draw. I don’t remember what the exact prize was (possibly an iPod) but I wasn’t particularly interested and the odds were so low that I probably wasn’t going to win.

Sometimes you could get even further through a survey before getting kicked out. One of the surveys I did was to do with gin-makers and their marketing campaigns. After various questions on drinking frequency, location etc, as soon as you answer that you didn’t drink gin, you got kicked out of the survey.

After a few times of being sent the same quiz, I realised that if I said “yes” to drinking gin, and a few thoughts on whether I had heard of their products, I could make it all the way through the survey.

Yes, it possibly skewed their survey results, but it’s their fault for designing such a terrible survey where the only way of getting a reward is to tell them the answers they want to hear. After spending several minutes of answering questions to only get a chance of winning a prize draw, who wouldn’t go for the more immediate reward? Particularly as I was simply trying to get to the next voucher qualification level so I could close my account down (which I did do eventually).

So what’s the moral of the story? If you’re going to have people filling in most of a survey (or going all the way to give blood), give them sort of actual reward for that, maybe just one point. But probably also don’t give them two points if they just answer “yes” to everything in your survey.


Giving blood

Today I could have been to give blood for the 25th time.

I say “could have”, because I don’t really know. Technically I *could* have given blood around 67 times if I had given the maximum possible number of times.

But, surely you know how many times you’ve given blood?

Yes, but this is how many times I’ve *been* to give blood. Today I went, but I didn’t actually give blood.

Because of COVID they’ve introduced some new precautions when giving blood. Primarily this is an additional person at the main door who asks whether you’ve had a persistent cough, a high fever or loss of taste/smell (you know, the classic symptoms). She was about to let me in, but then asked if I’d had a cold sore.

I had indeed recently had a cold sore. It’s almost healed now, but you can still see the mark. I had checked the cold sore guidance before I had gone: “If you are not taking any oral medication and have no other sexually transmitted disease or problems with your health you may give blood if the cold sore is dry and not tingling.” So that implies that I should be fine.

The woman checked her COVID sheet and told me that I needed to wait 28 days after cold sore symptoms before I donate. I hadn’t heard of that but I was happy to accept it was the new COVID rules. I checked this when I got home, and the coronavirus pages do indeed say: “In addition, currently have a cold sore, please do not attend.” Yes, it doesn’t mention the 28 days for cold sores here (which it does for the other symptoms), and that it’s not as detailed as the cold sore page, but I’m not blaming the woman on the desk as the rules appear to be complicated and it’s better to be safe than sorry. [Side note: This is the only place I’ve seen any link, albeit vague, between cold sores and coronavirus.] But the intention of this post wasn’t to talk about cold sores or coronavirus…

So you’ve *been* to give blood 24 times previously?

Well, as I said before, I don’t know, mainly because I’ve never counted. There was a long string of appointments that kept getting cancelled shortly before. On one of these occasions, I had already left work to get the train to the appointment before I got the text saying it was cancelled. Should that count as me *going* to the appointment? What about the time I went to give blood but had been abroad recently and so was ineligible? I could have probably checked that one before I got there, but I didn’t actually give blood and so it doesn’t actually count on my record.

So what does your record say?

It says I’ve given blood 18 times.

That wasn’t so hard was it?

Well actually, I’ve only given blood 17 times. Last time I went to give blood, my iron levels were low – still well within normal levels, but just not high enough to donate. This is one of the few criteria where it’s possible to turn up, not actually give blood, but still get credit for doing so (but with a three low iron strikes and you’re out for good). Would my iron levels have been high enough to donate this time? I don’t know because I didn’t get that far in the process. What I do know though is that today almost certainly won’t count as a donation credit in my blood donation record.


It’s not right

I spent a long time thinking about today’s post and drafted quite a few versions, but I decided that the straight-forward option would be the best.

I’m a white male who has grown up in a predominately white community. I’ve had certain opportunities which have not been open to every person in our society. Living in multi-cultural London has made me much more aware of the differences and the struggles that others have faced that I’ve never had to.

Last night I was talking to some friends who were telling me their stories of the racism they’ve experienced. A guy the same age as me has been stopped by the police over 50 times, including five times in the same day, just because he’s black. I’ve never been stopped by the police once. Yes, he grew up on a South London housing estate, but we now live in the same area. He still gets stopped. I don’t. His wife said that she’s been stopped too, even when just going to the newsagents to buy a paper for her parents. Again, it’s just never happened to me. Another friend told a story of how some people followed his car and tried to attack him, again just because he’s black. My friends went on to explain that they have to work three times harder at everything, just to get to the same position as a white person. I’ve vaguely been aware of these sort of stories, but it was certainly an eye-opening conversation for me to hear it directly from people I know.

Talking about it is a good first start, but we all need to do much more. I know that I haven’t always been the best at recognising the unfair advantages I’ve had, and this blog post doesn’t go nearly far enough, but I intend to do my best to rectify it where I can.


Discussion Money

Was it worth it?

The other day I received a nice letter from the Students Loans Company (or whatever they’re called these days) reminding me that I now owe £27,056.05 on my student loan.

And it got me thinking.

I spent this money on four years at university and the ability to put the letters “MEng(Hons)” after my name, but what else could I have spent it on? I had a quick look.

  • A second-hand armour plated jaguar (From £25k+VAT). I would love one purely to say that I owned a bullet-proof car. In fact, I might get this one anyway.

  • A meeting with Nick Clegg (£25k/year). This one I will pass on, and not just because it’s an annual fee.

  • A 1 bed house in Manchester (£25k). It’s already been reduced by £22k, but it’s quite possibly the ugliest house I’ve seen. (Does it have any windows?)

  • A lock of Justin Bieber’s hair (£25k). Too late for this one, it was sold last month and no doubt it’ll cost more when it’s back  on the market.

What have I missed? What would/could you have spent this money on?


Discussion: Phones on the table

Here’s the background:
I was out for a meal with my parents tonight and I saw a guy with his iphone lying out on his table [Note: I didn’t actually see him using his phone at all, it was just out]. I then saw another woman with a basic non-smartphone samsung phone out too and it got me thinking.

So here’s the discussion:

Is it permissible to have a phone out at a mealtime, especially if it’s at a restaurant?

My view:
I think it says that the person has more important things than the meal. On the other hand they may have been waiting for a very important message/phone call. Personally I kept my phone in my pocket and resisted the temptation to read the three emails I got until after my meal (they weren’t anything interesting anyway).

What are your views? Should it be acceptable? Is it wrong to pre-judge? Leave me a comment.