Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Thought Picnic: Realising there is more to do

I am tired

As I walked to the restaurant to retrieve part of the incomplete order that I discovered after returning home yesterday, I had a feeling wash over me in thoughts I strive not to entertain when they visit in moments that are not as good as they can be.

I am tired, it tells me, as weariness and fatigue creep in, like I have done all I need to do, and I am ready to rest from all of it. For, after all, the bother is rarely and never that of the departed but of those that remain.

To matter or not at all

Earlier in the day, I read of a farmer whose coffin-bearing hearse was driven past the farm he once owned to see his cows for the last time. I wondered, to whose particular benefit that was apart from the performative gesture that could be as emotional as it could be totally meaningless.

Then as I pondered on this and the fact that that there is much to live for, a lady walks into the restaurant to first thank the waiter for his kindness towards her sister some months before as she fell ill, that sister sadly has been in hospital for weeks with a yet to be confirmed cancer diagnosis. The lady was somewhat resigned to the situation as she was invited for a discussion with her sister’s consultant who was not a bearer of good news.

As beacons of hope

I found myself comforting the lady as she began to cry, the concern for her sister all too evident and the feeling that they are alone in this ordeal. Indeed, she needed some space and time to come to terms with what was ahead and also gather the kind of strength and support to give her sister in this very impossibly difficult time.

Then I, an example of a cancer survivor cannot afford to be tired when there are people to comfort and encourage as they walk through essentially their own valleys of the shadow of death or have to face death itself. We cannot then give up in ourselves where we can give some sense of hope beyond despair. We do not exist for ourselves alone and with that in mind, we need to hold firm and face what is ahead to get through to the other end.

Exhausted as I feel attending to issues for myself and others who at times feel we draw from inexhaustible reserves of resolve and determination even when we absorb what should be batted away. I guess I just need some time to be human and vulnerable, as it is a part of living or otherwise.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

In the journey to new green pastures and still waters

Catching myself on guard

Life is a journey, sometimes perilous and sometimes tranquil, but what is a given is that there is no steady state. The comfortable can so quickly turn and change is constantly pressing against the familiar and the mundane either to carry you along with your ability to adapt or leave you behind having been overtaken by circumstances.

For all the successes and adversity, I have experienced in my life, I cannot say I have found a formula that works best for each situation, much as I am not a tyro in the vicissitudes of life, I have to catch myself from the despair that threatens to upset me, or throw myself from the ease that allows me to settle without challenge or assertion into lassitude.

Embracing and enduring change

Yet, it is not lassitude in the very sense of the word, it is just that for the constancy of life day to day and for larger intervals of time from which certain milestones are measured, you need to be ready for change, know where you are in the change cycle and endure the process with dignity and fortitude to when things do bring a new relief.

I am reminded and I caught myself again that I should not despair, for have been through tough patches before and this too shall pass. For in Psalm 23, the reason why I have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death as one of the sheep of the Lord that is my shepherd is that we have exhausted the freshness of the green pastures we grazed earlier in the Psalm and need to find other cool still waters.

Eventually, new pastures and water must be found

The green pastures and still waters we need for sustenance so we can thrive and live in abundance are never in the same place nor are adjacent to each other, there are journeys and wanderings in treacherous landscapes where beast and predator might lie in wait of which I should not bother myself too much for the good shepherd is there to protect and lead, knowing the watering and feeding places in life as we roam as nomads in the changes and pursuits of life.

It is from this realisation just as a sense of foreboding tries to cloud my vision and lay grip on my hope that I begin to calm myself down and reflect on the goodness that has blessed my existence, favour and grace abound. The love of God consumes to show that I should neither care for nor fear for anything. It would come good and get better.

I comfort myself that before long even as He knows that I thirst and hunger, we would not tarry, the abundance the sheep needs to thrive again is not that far off, just stay the course trusting and following the shepherd.

Blog - The changing texts of religious meditation

Blog - Psalm 23 comes alive with new insight

Thursday, 25 August 2022

All preventative protections matter

Easy on the body

The day after I returned from Cape Town, I attended a walk-in vaccination centre for the spring booster I was invited for by my GP through a text message when I was away. I had taken the Pfizer/BioNTech Comirnaty mRNA vaccine for my first two jabs in February and May, then the first booster in November, but they only had the Moderna Spikevax mRNA vaccine, and I was fine with that.

A few days later, I was asked if I would like to queue up for the Monkeypox vaccine, but I was not up to it, I had probably overloaded my body that was first acclimatising from a southern hemisphere winter to a northern hemisphere summer along with the mild side effects of the other vaccine, it would have been quite unwise to then take on another vaccine, even if I could have coped well.

Public notices are hard

The next weekend had another queue for the Monkeypox vaccine, but the eligibility criteria on every reading failed the plain English test in my view as it seemed to exclude a critically vulnerable cohort that I belonged, and even at their third attempt after many remonstrations, it did not improve until I got a personal assurance on Twitter that our cohort was not excluded.

It would have just taken a slight modification of citing minimum eligibility that would have been inclusive rather than what seemed to be a narrowly defined set of criteria that gave more access to the less vulnerable just because they attend had attended the public health clinics in the last 12 months and they were on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PreP).

Not in the weather forecast

Anyway, for a 9:00 AM opening of the doors, I took a cab to the venue arriving at 8:10 AM and the queue was already about 150 deep. I had checked the weather and it suggested a clear day, but within 20 minutes, there was a turn, and it was raining. Many of us did not have any protection against the elements, I just opened a large Aldi shopping bag over my head, as a covering.

It did not seem it would let up, so I came to an agreement with the men ahead and behind me to rush home to get umbrellas for our protection. I called a cab and by then, there was a downpour, got home, picked up 4 umbrellas, a waterproof jacket, a poncho, some bottles of water and snacks, and then returned to the queue that had moved up about 30 places.

Come up hither

Giving the men umbrellas, though they refused the drinks, I was informed that they had all been given tickets in my absence. I went up to the coordinator to get a ticket afraid that I would now be put at the end of the queue that now had about 250 people, but on seeing my walking cane, he offered that I got straight in and take a seat instead. Much as I do use a walking cane, I do not consider myself having accessibility problems, and I do need the cane most of the time as I have used one for over 19 years.

I did remonstrate, but he insisted, so I had a chat with the men I left in the queue and went into the temporary premises to take a seat. Soon, I was offered forms to fill in and I found myself meeting much more than the minimum criteria, I was ticking 3 boxes of medical establishments where I got my care amongst other things. I point I made earlier stands; the communication was poorly written.

Having filled in the form, my answers were verified in a caller-response engagement and then I was given the Monkeypox vaccine. All done and out by 9:27 AM. The weather was looking better, and the men felt they did not need the umbrellas, gave them back and I walked back home.

Just allaying our concerns

Apart from a little soreness in the arm and maybe an incidence of the runs over 2 or so days, I am fine. Indeed, Monkeypox was a bit of a concern and that coming still in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic did not make for comfortable reading. The fact that the most affected demographic in Europe and over in the United States are gay men, exacerbated concerns. The supplies were usually exhausted before everyone in the queue was served apart from the last time.

I guess in all we were trying to avoid a situation where this advent of another communicable disease leads to labelling and stigmatisation. It just happens that the community and social constructs of the gay persona might well expose one to this situation more than in other settings.

Taking precautions and preventative measures are the options we have availed ourselves of. Then again, the other part of this narrative is how my desire to be of a little help offered the consideration by reason of my slight handicap to be seen earlier than would have been the case.

Then to the vulnerable, all preventative protections matter, be they vaccines or any other medical advice proffered that would give us a fighting chance against infection or disease. Some do suggest there is no need for another booster, I think I keep myself informed enough to know that when my doctor or consultant does suggest some precautions, that is most likely in my best interests.

Thought Picnic: The anchor of relative companionship

The power of real and virtual touch

It is quite unusual for anything to knock me sideways, as I try to regain focus on the important things and concentrate on matters of relevance and development. I guess what keeps me going is helped by the support and interaction I have with Brian, who though is far away always has the comforting words that buoy me when I am feeling listless.

It goes without saying that things would be much better with the human touch, a tight hug and a kiss, rubbing my back and soothing words as you feel the breath of closeness expressing love can go a much longer way. And whilst I am hardly the best to give any relationship advice, I can say without equivocation that having the stability of a partner in your life gives you more than an anchor to weather the storms of life.

In the bosom of knowing love

When surrounded by turmoil and uncertainty, you know there is a place you can go to where home provides safety and security, the shelter from where you can renew your strength and stand again to face the world. Our relationship though mostly spent apart than together even as we plan for when we can be together for longer provides a kind of enduring safe harbour that I cherish in my life.

I know that things would turn out right, they always do, blessings and favour encompass us to bring us not only to a good place but into the best and ever-improving pursuit and realisation of our goals. The obscure becomes more evident with each day as we press on diligently and hopefully hold each other and support each other. Just that smile and everything is alright with me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Customer support done so badly

I asked for help

I relate below a totally failed customer support activity that I requested from my DNS provider on Friday, because I was frustrated by their inertia, their exacerbation of the problem, and as a result, it put my week out that it is taking some time to get back on an even keel.

I logged a support ticket because a change the firm had done on the backend took away the presentation of my corporate Blogger website using a domain name, they had provided me. The change was implemented in mid-March, but I just did not seem to have the time to address it, so I removed all references to my corporate website on all published material until I could properly review the issue.

Asking with clear concerns

My support ticket was written thus:

I had my company blog at http://www.forakin.com/ which is a redirection for http://forakin.blogspot.com for years until a change was made to your back-end systems.

Since that change, anytime I visit my blog, I get the following error:

Welcome to www.forakin.com, a site recently created using our clustered Linux web hosting. If you’re seeing this page instead of your website, please replace or remove the default index.php from your public_html directory. (Screenshot attached.)

I have no idea what to do here because I did not have to create an index.php file when I created my website and the redirection from here, I believe it is a file in the TSOHost environment which I did find but still could not resolve the issue.

Note: Also, I use forakin.com as my Microsoft Azure domain with my email managed within Azure / Microsoft 365 and cannot afford for any changes to the domain to affect my email services.

Expectation: How do I get my Google Blogger website to show again when referenced as forakin.com?

The error I reported.

Think like your customer

The error I was getting when I visited my website, I could not fix even after I accessed the said file on the hosting service portal, this apart from the fact that I did nothing in Linux or with the service provider apart from entering a few DNS records to redirect my custom domain to my blog.

Fundamentally, the change had no guidance for users who do not normally tinker with Linux and all I wanted was for this issue to be fixed.

However, despite the narrative of my issue, the note attached was quite particular, whilst I wanted a problem solved, I had a core dependency on that domain name, the business email that I could not afford to lose, and I clearly stated that I do not want any changes made that would affect my email service.

Despite my expectation of a resolution, my thinking was my note would stay paramount in the mind of whoever took up the issue to help resolve it. I was wrong.

This matter goes to the heart of understanding what it is to give customer support in the Information Technology and Computing world. It is not enough to understand and comprehend the problem being stated with the wherewithal to resolve the issue. Much as a customer will have expectations, once a concern or requirement is raised, nothing whatsoever should be done to impair the quality of service the customer is trying to retain as the issue is being resolved.

A fix or a fudge?

On Saturday morning, I received an update from a customer support person, and this is what he said:

Thank you for getting in touch on that matter!

I checked your account, and it seems like the problem was coming from the DNS conflict, I fixed it, but could you clarify from where should the website load from?

Could you please confirm where you host your emails because it currently shows they are with Outlook?

If you have any further questions or concerns, we will remain available.

There is a lot in this response that might not be seen without carefully reading it. He said, “I fixed it.” No, it was not fixed, and his assessment that it was a DNS conflict was strange because no changes had been done to my custom DNS records for well over a year, and everything website and email was working until the change in mid-March when I lost access to my website.

I already stated where I was loading my website from in my support ticket, all he had to do was click on both URLs to see what results. He had somewhat attempted a quick fix, with no attention to detail or verification of the consequence of his action.

Indeed, my emails were hosted with Outlook, he would have seen the DNS records indicating that and that service was what I expressly said should not be affected by what they do.

Like I said, my website was not working after the fix, rather it was showing another error. However, what also happened was I was no longer able to receive emails on my business email account. Much as I was able to send from it with my email client, no emails were received.

Hey! I’ve lost my email service

I updated my support ticket with my new observations and concerns, this time asking that they either revert what was done or resolve everything and particularly the email service that was lost.

Another customer support agent, instead of reading what I had written, responded on Monday morning:

In terms for the emails related to forakin.com, you need to contact Microsoft as they are the email providers and not us.

They should be able to assist you a lot further into this as they will see any errors that appear.

If you need further assistance, feel free to contact us.

Not our problem, dear

Well, no, I do not need to contact Microsoft when in fact it is what your customer support agent did that lost me the email service. I was incandescent with rage but had to keep my cool as I tried to assess the situation.

I visited the Microsoft 365 portal to check my domain configuration and what I could see on the Microsoft end was that it was expecting to read some DNS records from my DNS hosting provider, and it was getting something else. Their assessment of the issue was that some DNS entries were wrong.

Therefore, if a member of staff with my DNS hosting provider was tinkering with settings on my account and fixing a DNS conflict that until I received the first response was working, the responsibility for the issue lay with my DNS hosting provider, but what I was met with was lethargy, inertia, and a total lack of consideration. It was in all terms a total failure of change management and customer support.

Maybe it’s just the culture there

This was further complicated by the fact that no one could determine what the supposed DNS conflict was nor was there any documentation of exactly what was done that could be reverted.

The culture in the organisation was becoming evident.

  1. A lack of controls in the organisation that documents or considers customer engagement, apart from the fact that they had withdrawn telephone support for either live chat or support ticket registration.
  2. A lack of attention to detail where customer concerns are paramount, requiring the customer to be first informed of the consequences of any action to be taken before the action is implemented
  3. A poor grasp of comprehending and reading up on all the material and communication between the customer and any agent before acting or responding.
  4. No proper escalation processes where a poorly executed activity can be reviewed and remediation towards reversion or forward resolution.
  5. A tendency to engage in back-and-forth communication without any sense of responsibility for their actions.
  6. Any absence of enduring team cohesion that allows other agents to know what one agent has done, especially, when that action has caused other issues.
  7. In fact, I did also write to the head of the organisation about my issue, well, they just pay lip service to customer service and enablement, but the reality is far from the intentions expressed.

I provided additional information with screenshots and data that needed to be entered in my custom DNS records table, even though from my perspective on the DNS provider’s portal, everything seemed correct.

However, I could not persuade my DNS provider’s agents to enter these DNS records, they all were requiring me to clean up after the mess that one of their agents had created by totally ignoring my note.

By Tuesday morning, it became evident that whatever I was trying to do on the DNS provider’s portal was not working. This might have been because that part of the portal even though it was displaying my changes was not saving the same changes.

For all that time, Microsoft 365 was indicating to me that no changes were being observed from the entries on my DNS provider’s side to match the entries it was expecting.

Not all rotten apples

Eventually, I initiated a new Live Chat session where the very helpful agent said the DNS records were propagating, but when I checked, they were not the expected DNS records. I was then able to persuade the agent to enter the 5 records needed to restore my email service and device registration service in Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Once those were done on Tuesday afternoon, my email service was restored and by then I was no more interested to getting my corporate website back up on forakin.com, I could not go through another ordeal like that, I began the process of moving my corporate website to forakin.org that is hosted by another DNS provider.

Now that I think of it, I might well consider moving forakin.com to this other DNS provider.

It was all unnecessary

It must be said, this issue could have been resolved on Monday morning if any of the customer support team cared. I provided them with the full details of the DNS records that needed to be entered to be matched to what Microsoft 365 was expecting and each time, rather than act, they asked me to do it myself.

A few hours after my email service was restored, I got another update on my support ticket asking for the DNS entries I had already provided and this after the update that the issue had been resolved. What did I say earlier, they do not read the full thread of communication before they act, it is appalling.

This time I had to update the subject and state as the first line in my response, “Please, close this ticket.” After which I explained why it should be closed. It is evident that if an organisation cannot take responsibility for the actions they have undertaken, it is quite unnecessary waiting for an apology from them.

It is my hope that customer service in that organisation improves, however, if I have to face another technical support situation, I will rather take my custom elsewhere. No one should ever have to face the level of ineptitude I experience, and this is the case with someone who has been in the industry for over 3 decades. I hate to think of what people who have no IT experience have to face, it just does not bear thinking of.

Personal website

Business website – I hope to start putting more up there.

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Writing a miracle story

An odyssey at close

Ten years ago, I left the Netherlands to return to the UK with nothing more than a suitcase and a bag of hope. It was the end of my 13-year odyssey, everything I had enjoyed in life and means – a memory; as I had reached a turning point, to start all over again.

In the three years before my departure, my whole life had taken a big hit, what looked like Athlete’s foot in early 2009 was in fact, AIDS-defining cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma which at the complete diagnosis presented a dilemma of truth my consultant frankly shared, that if I did not respond to the treatment they knew worked, I only had 5 weeks left.

In the aftermath of what I call the long tail of cancer, for those who have a story after surviving it, everything I owned, I had lost, including my home of ten and a half years which I sold at a loss. All attempts to restart my life in the Netherlands fell through, I was in a prodigal spiral in need of a change.

A trial of the times

Making the decision to return to the UK, which to me was my home country was met with opposition and against other counsel, I knew for my own sake, it was time to close that chapter. I wrote to six of my closest friends who I envisioned in my mind would be my pallbearers, I just did not know what time I had left.

In the last paragraph, I wrote, “I am hopeful that things will turn however without intending to sound morbid, if anything does happen to me by reason of the circumstances I have encountered, I will want to be seen by friends and be rested in the land of my birth.” I was not giving up; I was being as realistic as I could be without making assumptions about my future. [My eyes welled up as I read that letter again, I have come a long way, indeed.]

Writing a miracle story

I have been exceedingly blessed because goodness, mercy, and favour followed me. I got a UK mobile number, updated my CV, and started looking for jobs. Within 6 days of my return to the UK, I had secured a contract and a rate hike during negotiations to travel around Europe as an implementation lead. It was to last 6 months, but due to issues with the company in the US, it was canned within 6 weeks, maybe a misfortune of sorts, but I was getting back in my stride.

Looking back 10 years, I have lived a miracle, for with the condition I had, apparently, some medical studies suggested survivors did not live beyond a decade after the disease and we are in the baker’s dozen years, I am here, doing well, keeping well, living well, full of hope and prospects, truly, deeply, and madly in love with the most extraordinary man who swept into my life in December 2018, Brian is my joy.

There is so much to write about, but I want to celebrate life, the power of hope, the showers of blessing, the mercy of God, the love of the heart, the pursuit of happiness, the support and candour of friends, my wonderful parents who have travelled incredibly unimaginable journeys of my experiences, my siblings, siblings (nieces and nephews), and cousins, sadly departed uncles and friends, and the spirit that never gives up.

Thank you all for being part of my story.

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.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Deep inside the reality of period insomnia

Menses on television

My lack of education or knowledge about these matters would soon be evident even as I dumped the change I collected after a purchase at a pharmacy in Cape Town into a collection can for the support of girls who might need such materials as they reach puberty.

Have we not been regaled with adverts of feminine products short of demonstrating how they can be applied or utilised? I have been distracted by much and learnt a few life lessons from the stories of the women asked to share the sense of freedom and autonomy gained when using these personal hygiene products.

Music to my distraction

Recently, it was a Bodyform advert with the background music I could remember from a distant past but could not place it. This apart from the fact that what I thought was skatting or scatting, which is to sing without words, was a mondegreen as I misheard and never really knew the words of the song.

My situation was not helped because the voiceover was much louder than the music and hence nigh on impossible to get a music identifier app to distinguish the different sounds and produce a result. My searches for ‘Bodyform advert 2022’ which would have worked for many other adverts failed to yield the result I was seeking.

That was until I took a phrase out of the advert and modified my search accordingly to ‘Sleep fearless Bodyform advert 2022’. Then I got a hit, with the music loud enough to run by Soundhound, my favourite music discovery app and then my search for information that had been on for just about a month was over.

Deep down inside

Now, the song by Little Louie Vega, released in 1993 as I remember from my nightclubbing youth, has the genius of repetition in the genre of house music that the other words in the lyrics of the song might well be expended with.

Deep deep down inside
Deep deep deep inside

This is punctuated somewhere with ‘All we need is love’, said four times and we are back to Deep Inside.

Towelling insomnia

Now, hear me out, I thought Bodyform was marketing tampons rather than sanitary towels, panty liners, and sanitary towels like I would know the distinct differences or benefits of any, but hey!

Then I wondered, how the advert agency, on receiving the commission to create an advertisement thought Deep Inside was the appropriate encouragement to apply these products.

However, there is a very important point being made in this Bodyform advert that I should not ignore for my levity, Period or Menstrual Insomnia, an issue that is probably taboo but needs to be discussed as I was until now unaware of it. Even with nature, there is discomfort, inconvenience, and distress. [Sleep Foundation: PMS and Insomnia]

I conclude by letting it all tail off here before I say something I cannot take back.

Hardrive ‎– Deep Inside [1993]