A Quick Review of 2019

I don’t usually review the past year but 2019 has brought a lot of changes into my life and I have the urge to write about some of them, so here goes.

After a period of separation from my wife I decided in January that it was time for me to start dating, so I joined Guardian Soulmates. I went on quite a few dates and met some very nice people but soon found that endless dating was taking its toll on me emotionally and so I took a break from about March or April, which helped enormously. Then, in July, I got back on the horse and very quickly met someone amazing and wonderful, and we’ve been together since. She’s everything I ever wanted in a partner and I’m incredibly lucky to have her.

My divorce came through in December. My ex-wife and I are still very good friends and will, I hope, continue to be. Not just for the sake of our son but because it’s much nicer and happier to be friends. We’re still sharing a home togther but I need to move out very soon. She’s getting married in April to her long-term partner, who’s a lovely guy. I’m very happy for her. The only fly in the ointment re moving is that my finances aren’t great and I’ll struggle to afford anything at all, so I need to work on that.

I’ve been to some wonderful gigs this year, most notably Bad Pollyanna at Nambucca in March and the Lovely Eggs as part of Manchester Psych Fest in August. My guitar playing has come on a bit, although I’m never going to be a great guitarist. For me, though, it’s about the huge enjoyment that playing brings, not about having to be superb.

I also got to see Ben Elton perform at Watford Colosseum in December, which was a delight. He’s as funny as ever. If you get a chance to see him, I strongly recommend that you take it.

Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client

Courtesy of my recent upgrade to MacOS Catalina, I’m currently testing version 4.8.00175 of Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client for MacOS. Before installing it I was warned that it might be buggy and possibly might even not work at all.

Having tried it for a short while, here are my initial impressions. Installation wasn’t a problem, but then it rarely is under MacOS. The software starts just fine, and connects without fuss. The connection, once made, seems solid but the connection indicator in the application’s dock and menu bar icons remains stubbornly set to an ‘X’, indicating that a connection has not been made, even though it has. Not a major problem, but a bit of an irritation, especially if one needs to check.

I also noticed that the application starts automatically after a system reboot, and there seems to be no way to disable this. Again, an irritation but not a deal-breaker.

It seems to me that Cisco have somehow managed to be caught out by Apple dropping support for 32-bit applications in MacOS, even though they must have known about it for some considerable time, and have rushed out an update that isn’t really ready for release. It works, at least for me, but that’s all that can really be said for it.

God Collar

I’ve just read God Collar by Marcus Brigstocke. It’s about his struggle with the concept of God, in particular the God of the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I’ve always liked Mr. Brigstocke and have enjoyed his appearances on the Now Show, Argumental and QI, to name a few. I think he’s funny, clever and, as much as any of us are, pretty sensible.

The book, unsurprisingly perhaps, utilises quite a few personal anecdotes, as well as quite long passages about his wife and children and his friend James, to whom the book is dedicated. The passages about how much he loves his kids and how wonderful he thinks they are really made me want to have some of my own. This is a man who really appreciates what’s important in life and is lucky to have found it.

There’s also a very interesting section about his early years, and how miserable he was. I can certainly relate to this, having struggled with depression and anxiety since I was very young.

All the above makes the book sound more like an autobiography, which it most certainly is not. The author merely uses some details from his life to illustrate points about what sort of God he would like there to be and what sort of God it seems many people actually believe in. I’ve wrestled with much the same difficulties and, again, felt a strong empathy towards Marcus Brigstocke.

All in all, a very funny, intelligent book and well worth reading, whether you believe in a God of some sort or not, or whether you’re undecided. Honest, charming and very hard to put down.

The Last Unicorn

I’ve just finished reading The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, as recommended by Juliet. I confess that I was a little sceptical about how good a book about a unicorn was likely to be. I was wrong – it’s absolutely delightful. The style reminds me a little of Japanese folk tales: beautiful, somewhat sparse and often a little odd but always charming, entertaining and an absolute joy to read.

The story itself sounds like fairly standard fare (a unicorn sets out to discover what became of all the other unicorns and picks up companions and adventures along the way) but there’s much more to it than that. There’s real beauty here, both in the prose and in the ideas and characters.

I haven’t yet seen the animated film of the book but I’m going to try to do so. In the meantime, I recommend this very highly indeed.

Unseen Academicals

This morning I finished Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett, having started it only a couple of days previously. It says something about how enjoyable this book was that I read it so quickly; it was just too good to put down.

This book is the usual blend of characters from Ankh-Morpork: the wizards of Unseen University, Lord Vetinari etc. – even a quick cameo from Death, my favourite. It also introduces some new ones, in particular Mister Nutt, a person of surprising ability given his lowly position as a candle dribbler at the University. This story revolves around football (that’s soccer to you Americans) and, while I have no interest at all in the game, that didn’t matter as what the book’s really about is people and a chance for Mr. Pratchett to philosophise once again.

If you like the other Discworld books, you’ll probably enjoy this one. If you haven’t tried any yet I think this would be a poor place to start as the assumption is that the reader is reasonably familiar with the location and major characters already.


Last night I watched Next, a film starring Nicolas Cage as a man who can see into his own future. The catch is that he can usually only see two minutes ahead, which is enough to allow him to run his own magic act and make a little money in the casino, as well as avoiding a certain amount of trouble, but not enough to allow for really big stuff.

The plot revolves around the search for a stolen nuclear device, and a government agent’s attempts to involve our hero in tracking it down and preventing a disaster. All Cage’s character really wants, however, is to pursue the girl of his dreams. The film is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, a science-fiction author of some note, and largely stands up well. I particularly liked the surprise ending, even though it left the story hanging a bit. I felt that the bad guys weren’t really sinister enough, and were completely one-dimensional, but they’re really almost incidental to the plot.

On the whole, then, a thoroughly entertaining movie, and well worth renting. I’d buy it if it was suitably cheap (as it is at Amazon right now) but not at full price.

Bill Bailey – Dandelion Mind

For Xmas my lovely girlfriend Juliet bought me Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker (review to follow, once I’ve actually read it) and Dandelion Mind by Bill Bailey, who I’m very fond of.

The DVD is of the quality we’ve come to expect from Bill Bailey, with the usual verbal nonsense interspersed with musical items utilising a large variety of instruments, both ancient and  modern, notably the oud, a middle-eastern instrument similar in appearance to the lute. I won’t spoil your fun by listing all the musical treats on the DVD, but I will say that we’re treated to the usual blending of genres. If you really must know, I’m sure you’ll find clips on YouTube. Personally, I’d just buy the DVD and enjoy the experience on a proper-sized screen.

If I had to level any criticism of the show at all, it would have to be that it’s way too short. This is not to say that you don’t get your money’s worth – you most certainly do – but only that however long the thing is, it’s not enough.

Sherlock Holmes

I’m currently reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which I got as an ebook from Amazon, and I have to say that although I’m only halfway through I can already highly recommend it. I expected it to be fairly tough going for some reason, probably because of the era in which it was written, but it’s actually a really easy read and thoroughly compelling.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle manages to bring the characters of Holmes and his sidekick Watson out beautifully, even though he tends to avoid long descriptive passages. Perhaps that’s because we’re fed little titbits of information in each story, or perhaps it’s simply that the characters are so well-known that we already have a good idea of who they are before we even pick up the book.

I confess that a part of me was dreading reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, simply because I’d seen the screen adaptations and somehow doubted that the book would live up to them. Odd, because I almost always prefer the book to the film when it comes to stories. However, I’m delighted to be able to say that the book is, as it should be, much better than any movie or TV version. Read it for yourself and you’ll see.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying the book and would very happily recommend it to anybody.

Camden Coffee House

For a little while now I’ve been trying to find a good place to go at lunchtime to have a coffee and read. Today’s candidate is the Camden Coffee House. The website looked promising but I have to say that I’m somewhat disappointed. It’s so small that there’s nowhere to sit at a table and I’m forced to type this while sitting on a very uncomfortable bar stool.

I have a full-length coat, so somewhere to hang it would have been appreciated. The staff seemed friendly enough but they told me to take a seat and they’d bring my drink over to me, which they then failed to do.

The drink itself was fine, but it’s quite hard to ruin a hot chocolate. Maybe I should come back and try a tea or coffee. So far, though, I don’t think this is the place for me.

Update 14/12/10: I went back today and was much better pleased. The new coat rack was in place and very useful, my coffee was brought to my table and I was generally much more comfortable and happy.

Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne

I watched the first episode of Gareth Malone‘s latest exploits on BBC2 last night. In Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne, the ever-charming and delightfully enthusiastic Gareth follows the now-familiar pattern of taking a bunch of ordinary working-class kids and introducing them to a whole new world of music and singing, in this case by getting them to perform in a specially written opera at the world-renowned Glyndebourne opera house.

Yes, we’ve seen similar stuff before, and in the hands of almost anyone else it’d be quite boring by now, but somehow Gareth Malone manages to keep our interest. A great deal of this has to be due to his infectious passion for singing and his refusal to give up in the face of the kids’ initial indifference. It really is lovely to watch, despite a certain predictability. I’ll be glued to the remaining two episodes and to whatever Mr. Malone comes up with next.

Roomba 505

Roomba 505I recently took delivery of an iRobot Roomba 505 robot vacuum cleaner. It’s the most basic model in the range, coming in at 1p shy of £200, which I grant is a lot of money for a vacuum cleaner. Having said that, it’s cheaper than a Dyson.

In the box were the Roomba itself, a mains charger, a spare filter and a brush cleaner. The higher-end models come with a base station, to which the robot will return automatically for charging. Some models also include scheduling, but while I’d have liked that I just couldn’t justify the additional expense.

After a couple of hours’ charging the Roomba, which I have named Wanda, was ready to go. Cleaning the floor is a simple matter of placing the cleaner in the middle of the room, switching it on and pressing the big, glowing ‘Clean’ button in the centre of the device, at which point it plays a few notes and starts to move. I was initially impressed by how quiet it is, although I still needed to turn the TV up a bit. Ordinarily, of course, you’d set the Roomba off when you go out, so this isn’t an issue. As well as the brushes on the underside of the machine, there’s a rotating brush which protrudes from the side and does a good job of cleaning right up to the wall.

Initially, the Roomba moves in an outward spiral but this quickly changes to seemingly random motion. I noted a few spots on the floor and was pleased that the Roomba covered them all at some point. Obstacle avoidance is also very good; as the machine approaches table legs, walls and other fixed objects it slows down and gently bumps against them, ensuring that it cleans right up to them.

Roomba 505 with bin removedOnce the Roomba judges that it has cleaned everywhere it switches itself off, ready for emptying and recharging. The bagless design is good and the bin, although not huge, is large enough (especially as you’ll be vacuuming more often). It’s easily removed and emptied, important in an appliance whose entire purpose is to save labour. Although it takes longer to clean a room than you would, the whole point is that you don’t have to do it at all.

Overall I’m very impressed and pleased with my Roomba and would happily recommend it to anyone, especially those who live in single-floor accommodation since the one place it can’t clean is stairs. The sheer pleasure involved in coming home to a freshly-vacuumed home can’t be overstated.