The end of the road

I’ve lived in my current house for almost 10 years. It’s in the middle of a housing estate which, like many others, consists of a main road with several side roads branching off it. In my case the main road drops down a hill and I live on one of the side roads near the bottom. A little bit further down, another side road off to the right connects with another estate and then back out into the town, while the main road around which my estate is built heads off to the left.

Usually I get in and out of the estate either via this side road to the right or going down an alley that provides a convenient short cut out of the estate if you’re on foot or a bike (as I usually am), or sometimes I go up the hill to the top. I have no real occasion to follow the main road round to the left past the turn-off, although I did once drop round to visit someone on another side road a bit further down. I’d never actually gone all the way to the end of the road!

Last week I had a letter delivered to me by accident that was actually supposed to go to a house on a similarly named road in town. I was intending to write a note on the envelope and stick it back in the post box, but when I looked up the location of the other road (to satisfy my own curiosity) I discovered it was actually slightly closer to my house than the postbox is (going up the hill instead of down), so I decided it was better just to pop round and post it directly through the door.

Apart from a weekly bike ride to go shopping and check the post at my office, I’d not actually got round to leaving my house / garden since the lockdown started. I felt quite invigorated by this brief walk and decided that it’s probably a good idea to go for at least a short walk (allowed under the daily exercise provision) on any day when the weather’s not too awful and I’m not going out on my bike. I may get this year’s running season off to a start soon (though I realise I probably haven’t mentioned running yet on my blog as I only got into that after my final post of last year and I’ve been having a winter break since mid-October).

The first couple of days I stuck to a couple of my fairly well-trod routes, but on Saturday I decided the time had finally come to walk to the end of the road. It turns out that it’s slightly less than half a kilometre from my front door, and the road ends at a gate leading into a field. I think it’s a public right of way so I may go back soon and investigate further.

Another, more figurative, end of the road almost happened today as well.

A few days I ordered a couple of bits I needed for my computer from Amazon. I know they are one of the big, bad corporate giants but they are a very convenient one-stop shopping location for so many things, and generally give a pretty reliable service. I was pleasantly surprised when I had an email this morning to say that my parcel, which I was expecting on Wednesday, was now due for delivery this afternoon. I was pleased (though not surprised) when it turned up. I was less pleased when I found that the end of the box was open and only one of the two items I’d ordered was actually inside. The one which actually turned up, in case you’re wondering, was an external CD player for my new office laptop; the missing one was an external hard drive,intended for backup purposes.

My guess is that the box was probably not securely fastened during the packing process and the hard drive fell out somewhere in transit, though it’s possible that somebody may have helped it out, or even that it was never put in there in the first place. In any case, since my Amazon orders page quite clearly showed both items being included in the package, and the package having been delivered, and since I had received the package with a loose end and just about enough empty space in the box for the missing item (which wouldn’t be labelled with any delivery information), I figured it would be best to alert Amazon immediately rather than waiting to see if it would turn up separately.

Cue much frustration as I searched in vain for a means to flag up delivery problems other than a package which hadn’t arrived at all (basically – contact the courier and ask them about it) or to return items which had arrived but were somehow defective (I tried using that approach but it wanted to put me in touch with the manufacturer who in this instance can’t be held to blame!). I was just on the verge of giving up, and beginning to seriously consider cancelling my Amazon account by way of protest (and also concern that they didn’t seem to provide any mechanism to contact them in case of snafus such as this one), when I finally spotted a “Contact Us” link tucked away in submenu at the bottom of their Customer Service page (itself only accessible, as far as I could see, via a link hidden at the very bottom of the page footer).

This link led me to a chat setup which started with a chatbot to establish the nature of the help request before putting me through to a human assistant (who went by the name of Luv – not sure if that’s their real name). While I was deeply unimpressed by the difficulty of locating this avenue of help, I was very satisfied by the service I got from Luv. Within 5 minutes of hooking up to the chat, I had briefly explained the problem and accepted the offer of a replacement item to be sent to me as soon as possible (an offer that was made without quibble – I was offered a refund as an alternative, but since the item is something I need I figured a replacement would be the better option). It’s not due to arrive until early next week, but that’s fair enough in the circumstances (and if my recent orders which have actually arrived are anything to go by I may get it a bit sooner).

Anyway, that’s quite enough rambling for now. It is time for me to nip out into the early evening sunshine and take my daily walk.

A Welshman’s Shed is his Castle?

Over the past few months I’ve slowly been working my way through the Scottish Gaelic lessons on Duolingo. The one I did this morning contained two sentences that gave me a blast of nostalgia for my Welsh classes nearly 20 years ago.

The sentences in question were Is toil leam seadaichean gu mòr (“I really like sheds”) and Latha sgoinneil ann an seada beag (“A brilliant day in a small shed”). While perhaps not quite as intrinsically exciting as Òbh òbh, tha leòmhann anns an taigh agad a-rithhist (“Oh dear, there is a lion in your house again”; a phrase that cropped up in a lesson I did a couple of weeks ago) — although admittedly the brilliant day one leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation — these reminded me of my first Welsh tutor, Siân.

As well as having bright red hair and a very vivacious personality, not to mention a lovely Llanelli accent (slightly at odds with the North Wales variety of Welsh she was teaching us), Siân had a slightly wicked sense of humour. For instance, during group oral exercises she would take great delight in asking somebody (usually me) to translate phrases such as “her party” into Welsh, where it becomes ei pharti. Suffice it to say that the ‘ph’ in Welsh is the same sound that it generally is in English — think pheasant or pharmacy — and the word as a whole rhymes with the English version. (Incidentally, modern Welsh also uses ‘ff’ for the same sound as ‘ph’, albeit not interchangeably, but uses a single ‘f’ to represent the sound that we’d write in English with a ‘v’; this also crops up with an ‘f’ in the English word “of” and as I recall that sound / letter combo used to be much more common in Old English).

She also had a fixation for garden sheds and would regularly mention them in pretty much every lesson, usually with an observation along the lines that every married man needed one as his special domain, while the wife ruled the rest of the house. I don’t think I ever had the pleasure of meeting Siân’s husband.

Mind you, I too had a bit of a fixation in those Welsh lessons, as I’d mention ironing almost as often as Siân mentioned sheds. Not that I was ever a fan of ironing itself, but the Welsh word for it (smwddio, pronounced a bit like “smoothie” with an ‘o’ on the end) is so delightfully onomatopoeic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it (the word, not the activity). As a result, any time we were assembling a list of words with which to practice whatever grammatical constructions we were working on at the time, you could pretty much guarantee that both sied (that’s how you write “shed” in Welsh; it’s pronounced the same as in English) and smwddio would appear — at least until I was banned from using the latter. I always thought that was a bit unfair, since Siân still got to talk about sheds regularly. Perk of being the teacher, I suppose.

Anyway, while I only had Siân as my Welsh tutor (or rather one of them, as we had her on Mondays, Jim on Tuesdays and Rhiannon on Thursdays) for one year, and then had two further years of Welsh lessons (with tutors Angela and Nia) before gaining my A-level and stopping my formal Welsh education, I have recently been working my way through the Duolingo Welsh course by way of revision of the basics (and extending my grasp of South Wales Welsh, to which the course is slightly biased). And today’s Gaelic lesson wasn’t the only one to provide noteworthy sentences. The Welsh one contained this little gem, which I’ve never before needed to utter and probably never will, although I think I can totally get behind the sentiment: Noson carioci? Basai’n well gyda fi fwyta malwod byw! (“Karaoke night? I’d rather eat live snails!”, though up here in the North we’d actually say Basai’n well gen i fwyta…, which means exactly the same thing).

Soldering on

I mentioned yesterday that I’d been listening to the radio and promised to say more about that.

Now, listening to the radio is perhaps not all that unusual, although it’s not something I do very often these days. What was notable, or at least a source of great satisfaction to me, was the fact that I was able to listen to this particular radio, which I’d managed to break several days earlier.

The radio in question is a fairly cheap little portable DAB radio that I picked up a couple of years ago in order to be able to listen to my favourite stations (mostly that’s Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio Cymru, with occasional forays elsewhere) without all the extraneous noise that tends to happen with analogue radios, especially if (like me) you live in an area with not particularly good reception. In fact, I think they are due to be turning off analogue broadcasting sometime soon if they haven’t done so already (or maybe that was just TV – I’ve not had one of those for several years but I’m fairly sure they are digital-only by now).

I didn’t actually use this radio all that often but recently I’d started tuning in again a bit more frequently (mostly the other week when I was working in my shiny new home “office” – aka my sitting room but had my music collection on the PC in my bedroom and hadn’t yet succeeded in setting up my Raspberry Pi as a music server from which I can access my music anywhere in the house; that is now up and running pretty well, and I may even get round at some point to tweaking it so I can access it from outside the house – not that there’s a lot of point in that just now; anyway, I digress!).

All was good until a few days ago when I moved a trailing extension cable, completely forgetting that the radio was plugged into it and sitting precariously balanced on a shelf at just about the extent of its power cord’s range. The radio came crashing down on to the floor. I picked it up and put it back, admonishing myself to be more careful next time, and then proceeded to get on with playing music on my Pi (controlled via ssh from my laptop), which I had by this time managed to get working.

I didn’t discover the problem until a couple of days later when I decided that, since I no longer needed the radio to listen to music while I worked, I’d put it in the kitchen to enjoy music while I cooked or washed up. I then discovered that the radio was not working, or at least it started ok and then stopped with a message about low power despite clearly being plugged in and turned on at the wall. A brief inspection revealed that the power connector was wobbly (to use a technical term).

Undaunted, I dug out a screwdriver and took the back off the radio (after unplugging it from the mains, of course, and being very careful to avoid going near any capacitors inside. It turned out that the power connector (a micro-USB socket) is surface-mounted to a PCB and held on by four fairly flimsy solder connections, all of which had got disconnected as a result of the radio being yanked off the shelf by its power cable.

Still undaunted, I figured that it was worth a shot at resoldering the thing since the worst that would be likely to happen would be a non-functional radio, which I already had, and there was at least a chance I might manage to get it working again, which would obviously be better than consigning it to landfill and having to either buy a new one or do without. I’d say my soldering skills are fairly rudimentary (and quite out of practice) but just about up to a relatively simple task like this.

Actually the hardest, or at least the slowest, part of the task was probably digging my soldering iron and related equipment out of the garage, where I’d left them after my latest burst of enthusiasm for electronics waned a few months (or years?) ago. The soldering itself went pretty well and I soon had the connector more or less firmly attached to the PCB once again. After that it was a simple matter to put everything back together and find out whether it would actually work.

It did, and so far is still doing so (well, not right at the moment as I’ve got it switched off, but I’m confident it will work next time I switch it on unless I’ve managed to pull it off the kitchen windowsill and break it again by then). And now I’ve dug out my soldering iron, along with several boxes of components and a handful of books, I may just have another go at getting back into electronics.

(In unrelated news, today is the anniversary – 33rd, or thereabouts – of the violin grade 1 exam that remains the pinnacle of my qualifications, if not my actual achievements, in practical music-making. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever played my violin on the radio, though I have apparently played it on Romanian national television!)

How to self-isolate in Welsh

I realised with some shock the other day that it’s getting on for a year since I last wrote anything on my blog. I have no aspirations to be a daily blogger unlike, for example, my brother Wulf, but even by my standards it’s quite a long gap.

The world right now seems quite a different place from when I last wrote. I certainly had no idea at that point that we’d be in the grip of a pandemic at the moment and I’d be stuck at home almost full-time, with only occasional brief forays into town (roughly once per week) to do some shopping, while many people are fighting for their own or other people’s lives and nobody knows when it’s all going to end and we’ll return to normality (though many people, myself included, incline to the view that our definition of normality will have changed somewhat by the time we get there).

There are several words that, while perhaps not entirely new, are now pretty much on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The one I’m particularly thinking about at the moment is self-isolation, except that I’m thinking about it not in English but in Welsh and there’s not one word for it but at least three. More accurately, I’m thinking mostly in English (in so far as my thoughts clothe themselves in language – which tends to be pretty far most of the time) but about Welsh words.

Shortly before the UK lockdown started, I was talking (in Welsh) to a translator I know and, since the subject of self-isolation came up and I didn’t know how to say it in Welsh, I asked him. He told me that the official Welsh word for it is ymneilltuo. This makes sense, as neilltuol is an adjective meaning “separate”, ym- is a prefix that tends to give verbs a reflexive sense (for example diswyddo is “to dismiss” and ymddiswyddo is “to resign”, literally “to dismiss oneself”), and Welsh is a language that loves to build up words logically in this fashion.

Since then, I’ve been speaking (or more strictly accurately, writing) quite a lot of Welsh but haven’t actually had any need to refer to self-isolation. However, a couple of days of go a friend mentioned the word he’d heard for it, which is hunanynysu. This is another one that’s built up from a couple of simple building blocks; in this case, hunan (“self”, not too far removed in sense from ym-, though it also functions as a standalone word) and ynys (“island”). So literally it is “to self-island” or (slightly less poetically, but not much) “to make oneself into an island”. It was a new one on me, but I immediately fell in love with it.

I’m reminded of the John Donne quote in which he says that “no man is an island” (I can’t remember whereabouts it crops up in his writing but it’s in the same passage as the equally famous “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!”, or words to that effect). Donne’s point is that we are all fundamentally interconnected (eat your heart out, Dirk Gently!) and in a sense the self-islanding that has been forced on us in recent weeks perhaps serves to make that more, rather than less apparent. I’ll leave you to muse (if you so wish) on the philosophical implications of that statement while I return to the lexicographic theme of my discourse.

I was listening to the radio last night (more about that soon – possibly tomorrow!) and I heard someone use the word hunanynysu (at least three times). I was, incidentally, listening to Radio Cymru (the Welsh language BBC radio station) so it was less of a surprise to hear it there than it would have been on, say, Radio 4. Still, I was delighted to hear the word in the wild, so to speak, as it means I now feel I can legitimately add it to my own word-hoard.

I mentioned earlier that there were three Welsh words for self-isolation. The third, which admittedly I haven’t yet heard used in this context, is encilio, which literally means to retreat. It’s a nice enough sounding word, I suppose, but to me it doesn’t have quite the same vigour about it as hunanynysu.