Monday, 15 August 2022

It's walking and it's working - XV

The numbers please me

Since I got back from Cape Town, I have not done any of my intensive walking exercises, though I might have hit the 10,000-step threshold on some days, because it just happened.

I started this walking exercise thing two years ago on the 30th of July 2020 just as the first lockdown of the pandemic was easing off. Progress has been slow, but I checked on the anniversary to see what I might have done.

Doing the tally for the 730 days from the day I started, I had put in 8,089,788 steps, averaging 11,081 steps a day. I felt quite pleased with myself that I had achieved that, though I am yet to complete a straight calendar year that averages at least 10,000 steps daily, I have the prospect of succeeding this year.

Just keep at it

In terms of gains, the going has been tough, as I have both reached my lowest weight in 12 years and highest weight ever in this timeframe, the work of bringing the weight down is progressing, I feel much fitter and healthier than I ever was. Though traversing the hilliness of Camps Bay was a testing experience of endurance that went to the core of everything you threw at each step you took.

Obviously, I hope to get back to the exercises, I am just hoping I have no new encounters with those out-of-control dogs. I suppose the very basic conclusion to this activity is, “It’s walking and it’s working.”

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Thought Picnic: Easing into ease

All bothered too much

Sometimes, it is that sense of idle listlessness that appears to consume every passing moment that you wonder what it is you might do to exit that morass of discomfort and melancholy that presents as a lack of productivity.

Then again, you do not need to be beavering away with work at every opportunity. We need to learn to break away and do something else, learn to play, find some enjoyment in something leisurely, even seek out the quiet, a place of solace and solitude, and relax.

Learning the art of ease

That probably is the least of the skills I have, the ability to relax without being caught away by expecting and expectation. I recognise this is something I need to develop better even amongst the many things I want to do, I need to allot time to not being exerted by anything, anyone, or any place.

Yet, I am my greatest critic, beating myself incessantly about aims or goals, worse still on issues like what could have or should have been done. That is spilt-milk territory that I need to accept is not redeemable and is gone.

I should stop suffering for the past that is gone, settle into the present that I should give the reins of ease and in that unburdened setting begin to see better ways of doing the things I have heretofore not been successful in doing as well as I might have thought possible.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Coronavirus streets in Manchester - LXVIX

One could not tell

He, I might have said as I wondered why he was walking in the middle of the lane of a busy road, then as it became clear, she was wearing heels you would expect to see on those modelling womenswear, but her top was hardly masculine, probably feminine and never really coming to terms of whether it should be classed as androgynous left me more confused that you might be left with the pronoun they.

Yes, they were drawing attention to themselves in clothes that could not be ignored once seen and a head shorn of hair quite redolent of male pattern baldness, that drivers in cars contributed to a needless cacophony of car horns get more people to look in the direction of the commotion.

When I thought I would see them for much longer, they disappeared into a whiskey bar and the chatter at the al fresco tables would have been given to a surmise or two before we all returned to what we were doing.

It is there to see

Whatever we were doing before a new distraction came along, body adornment in the form of tattoos that usually were discreet, but now they are all over the body down on the fingers with all the skin surfaces covered including on the face, and this is now on the ladies. I catch myself before I begin to question why, I guess they love and they do it, the appreciation of beauty by strangers is beside the point.

People do not moderate themselves into conformity if they can help it, and much as a lot is being accepted at face value and supported by laws to give protections against discrimination, being an outlier can still expose you to unwelcome ostracism. It would seem our prejudices are constantly challenged by changing norms and expressions we cannot avoid.

Our streets of education

We observe and document those observations in memory that what was at first chimeral, with more encounters of such rarities, we are eased to accepting these things are becoming commonplace.

Usually, we would not indulge and be inclined to have these situations are self-expression even as an example might provide guidance, we school ourselves into the knowledge that in all that diversity of expression with its extremes that we have difficulty understanding, there is a belonging we all have to share in learning of each other and becoming better people.

As it seems one pandemic is winding down, though not going away yet, we are presented with monkeypox and a threat that it is spreading fast that those of us in a cohort once stigmatised for infectious diseases are once again appearing more susceptible to it. A public announcement to drop-in by invitation totally failed the plain English test. We just have to be careful. [MEN: Monkeypox fears build as number of cases in Greater Manchester rise]

Thought Picnic: From overloaded to overcoming

Body in overload

Having been back from Cape Town for just over a week, it has been unsettling without the clear ability to concentrate on anything so functionally productive. For the last two nights in South Africa, I took time away for just myself, much as I have a quest for lasting and exciting companionship, I am quite essentially an introvert, desperately in need of just my own company and my own space, I love the outer quiet that allows the robust debates in my head to engage quite vigorously, almost to exhaustion.

Back at home, without due consideration for the change in environment and weather, I took my second COVID vaccine booster (the fourth jab), the next day. They did not have the Pfizer/BioNTech Comirnaty product on offer which I had for the first two vaccines and the booster, but I was offered the Moderna Spikevax instead, and it is based on the same mRNA technology.

Questions on disorder

As I am in a vulnerable cohort, I will on the advice of my supervising medical personnel take whatever protections are offered, I do not have the requisite medical knowledge to make far-reaching decisions that can be quite impactful on my health and wellbeing, I would rather ask questions demanding satisfactory and convincing answers than unilaterally exclude myself from the purview of medical management.

I think both factors; the change in weather and the booster exacerbated a feeling of discomfort and unease, along with some weakness and tiredness. Much as I exercised will over capability, there was much I was not doing, including getting back to my walking exercises. To heap on that distress, my house sitter had rearranged my home, with things not being where I would have had a mental note of leaving them and other things not being in the order or way they should be left.

Patterns of mindfulness

I try to convince myself that I can handle a bit of chaos or bring some order to things, but it is more upsetting to realise that deliberate disorder has been introduced to a space that is usually exclusively yours. It might well be that I find myself somewhere on the autistic spectrum that once the patterns I expect to observe have been distorted, I am deep into stress management and countermeasures.

At one time, I could not find what I was looking for it had been secreted away somewhere else, I just went to bed trying not to bother myself until they were found the next day. Later, when I could not find the power adapter to one of the laptops, I could not be bothered with asking, I just ordered another and held off until the next day again, what I wanted to do.

Funnily, it is at these times that could trigger a mental breakdown in others that I just want some peace around me, refusing to socialise even when it can be beneficial, because I just want to be alone with my thoughts or go to sleep and let all the turmoil resolve itself in the subconscious.

Completing all material

It might seem quirky too that the rest of the material for the Microsoft test I passed two weeks ago that I could never have done in time for taking the test on the Microsoft Learn website needed going through. I completed the full curriculum on Monday and Tuesday over almost 20 hours. I had the feeling, that just because I had passed the test did not mean I should abandon the material. I did the same for the test I passed in early June.

I think over the next few days, I would get back to myself to be more full of what I like to do, I am taking each day at a time, thankful for all the blessings and goodwill that surround me.

I do miss Brian, he is everything that exudes the joy and fun I enjoy in a person as much as he can infuriate and frustrate, you learn to manage these things in a relationship, and for all the apparent togetherness I portray, I am just as imperfect, hoping to be a better man and lover – it is a work in progress.

I am a dreamer and my dreams have come truer and better than I ever could dare to imagine, it comes to a point that I am sometimes afraid to live in the reality of extraordinary dreams coming true, for that I might just need some help because there are exciting lives to live and stories to tell.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Backsberg: Not what it was

Setting standards of view

Backsberg Estate Cellars was the very first wine estate we visited in the Cape Winelands as we began our discovery of places and things to do around Cape Town in April 2019. We were greeted with a full tour of the estate, a visit to the cellars, and a well-arranged wine tasting in a beautiful dining room with cheese and chocolate pairings. It became the benchmark for what to expect from wine estates.

We returned in October and December of the same year, though in December 2020, the pandemic alcohol ban meant we could not visit and by December 2021 as excited as we were to be on the Franschhoek Wine Trams, we found that Backsberg had been taken off the itinerary because it had been acquired and so were moving from the farm Backsberg generations had occupied since 1916.

Not what it was

We have visited almost 30 wine estates and that nostalgic Backsberg experience endeared us to the place and the people. Having moved to a new location, the acquisition has changed what we knew of Backsberg. The farm the family bought from the neighbouring Babylonstoren wine estate over a century ago was sold back to Babylonstoren necessitating the relocation.

At the new estate as a part of other acquisitions, we can see the relics of generational providence and provenance, but that is what remains, a modern museum of memories, history, past achievements, laurels, and prizes. We were the first guests to try the tapas at the new location and another group after us, the wine tasting. The Backsberg Cape Ruby that I liked, which is the equivalent of a Portuguese port wine has been discontinued, amongst others in the range, maybe, the shadow it has become of itself might yet materialise into something substantially redolent of our cherished memories.

On this, the new Backsberg Family Wines is what it is, however, it is not what it was.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Tested by many things

Just doing it

I decided not to beat myself up for the fact that July presented no prolific blogging activity even as I split the month between celebrating my partner’s birthday and holidaying, out of which I took the time for intensive study to do a Microsoft test.

After I did the AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals entry-level test which I had been putting off for so long until early June, I began studying for the AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator test, though this was not until I had completed all the course work on the Microsoft Learn website, even though I had handsomely passed the test. I did initially think I would finish that track before I travelled to Cape Town at the end of June.

Recovering self and purpose

Events and issues scuppered that plan, I lost my uncle, my contract was ending, and I was preparing for the trip to Cape Town to celebrate Brian’s birthday and spend the month together. The first few days left me slightly indisposed even as I discreetly planned for his birthday. Visiting Cape Town in the southern hemisphere’s winter might have me considering if I need the flu jab as we do take it for the winter in the northern hemisphere. Winter in Cape Town is like a mild spring to a summer day in Manchester, they are closer to the tropics than we are.

After his birthday, we did a few things, and moved accommodations and I found that I had some free time to do some study which required discipline and concentration as there was a lot of material to cover. Beyond the theory, there are the hands-on labs and then getting used to doing requisite tasks towards achieving goals or requirements borne out of typical case studies.

As I learnt and understood much more, I believed I had gained enough confidence, maybe folly to book the AZ-104 test in cape Town, a few days before my return to the UK. The more I thought I had covered everything, there was much more to do. A YouTube video signified the test in its current format with its current syllabus would change on the 28th of July. I was now running against the clock to get it done.

Upset to messed up

I found some practice tests and subscribed to an annual membership of Whizlabs, this exposed some areas of serious weakness in my grasp of the concepts and the detail, that needed urgent addressing if I had any hope of scraping through the test. Progress in gaining the requisite understanding of the weak areas was slow.

The test was booked for Tuesday, the 26th of July at the Prometric office in Cape Town, I checked in the shared workspace and was working towards taking the test at noon, when at 9:38 AM, I received an email from Prometric Vue, the test provider that they could not offer the test and I had to reschedule. Their scheduling system lagged the reality of what they intended, as I spent the next hour with an agent trying to sort it out. In the end, I had the test cancelled and booked a new test date for the next day at another Prometric test centre of the 4 in Cape Town.

The morning’s nonsense left me a bit messed up, I did a walk from the shared workspace home and back to clear my head before I could pore over the material towards the test the next day. Meanwhile, my Whizlabs profile got corrupted that I could not review test attempts and it was not working on my Android devices at all. Thankfully, the CEO contacted me to connect on LinkedIn and that gave me access to the technical team to provide a temporary account whilst they fixed the issue.

Facing up to it

On Wednesday morning, I had a niggling thought that I was about to undertake the test with the barest minimum grasp of the material. Yet, the truth is I had put in over 4 weeks of work along with my experience, and my confidence was taking a hit as Brian assured me that I will do well. At the test centre, I was met with both nonchalance and officialdom, both of which I put down to getting what you pay for in a different kind of setting. The test costs $55 in South Africa, £113 in the United Kingdom, and $165 in the United States. It would appear South Africa has the lowest cost, as most other African domains pay $80.

I was stripped of everything including my walking cane I had to ask if I would have been allowed to use a wheelchair. Then short of being patted down, I was asked to upturn my sleeves to see if I had secreted away cheat sheets of something. Heck! I have been doing vendor certifications since 1994 and this was the first time I was so violated. I surmised, it came with the territory and calmly went into the test room to begin the test some 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Tested by the test

I did not get a hang of the interface when I was presented from the first question with case studies. I could click on the case study body and requirements but did not realise I had to click on the Question box at the top to return context to what I was to answer. I was close to panicking mode. When I eventually worked out how to do things, I had two case studies, with 9 questions and 32 minutes gone out of 90, with 45 questions to do.

Halfway through I scared myself into thinking I had already failed the test. With 10 minutes left, I had 12 questions to do, they were point-and-click multiple choice questions that I got done with 2 minutes to spare. I marked one question for review, answered that and could not wait to end my ordeal that when presented with the 54 questions to individually comment on each, I passed on the opportunity and closed the test.

The relief of passing

My heart beating at rates it should never reach, the test result came up and I had passed, not glowingly, one section required work, others were rated at average understanding and one at the level of very good. I would not deceive myself into thinking having passed by the skin of my teeth, I was through, I am going to study the material fully again and this would be necessary for the next stage AZ-305: Designing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions for the Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification.

However, after this, I did give myself the time to do other things, especially with Brian and time to myself. There is a good feeling and sense of achievement, the quest to challenge oneself to ascertain, validate, and certify the knowledge and expertise one has gained. I suppose that is the pleasure one has in the work one does.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

A walk of Cape Town angst

A camp of distress

Except when tired or lazy, getting around Cape Town is quite easily done as a pedestrian as we usually stay close to the city centre. The first part of our stay was at Camps Bay, a rather well-to-do area that attracts menace and crime like flies to rotten meat, that each night was as uneasy and unsettling as it could be, we were regaled with stories of rather determined burglars and incidents of home invasions.

That the walls had an electric fence, or we had reinforced gates to our doors did not seem to present the idea that we were safe, especially when the burglars hulled out a wall to gain entrance into the compound. We were glad to leave when our time was up.

Camps Bay is also hilly, the inclines are so steep that every view I had of being fit was soon abandoned to the challenge faced. The beauty and aura of wealth, ostentation, and sometimes gaudy architecture in the display of means did not once endear the place to us.

Gone when they are going

Back to walking though, it can be frustrating, if it appears those walking around you have no purposeful destination that a saunter looking like deliberate loitering is what one observes. This apart from the no consideration of others, people who just stop suddenly in the doorways, gateways or on pavements without allowances made for others, not to talk of those who walk abreast oblivious of space or having no spatial awareness.

At times, I seem impatient as my stride is broken by the impediment of sloth, that I have to call out to be given way to pass. Our sedentary existence did not mean we slacked, but eventually, I did get an average of over 10,000 steps done for the month. Whether that is helped my weight management goals, I won’t be able to tell until I get home.