A walk in the woods

So spring sprung last week – at least for a couple of days.  The clouds rolled away, the sun came out into a fine blue sky, and the temperature reached the high ‘teens.  And about time too.  After a cold and damp winter with not a lot of snow, the view outside my windows improved and green grass instead of brown mud and puddles became the order of the day.  The trees scattered around the grassy spaces between the blocks across the road, that had been sprouting green shoots for a while, suddenly had leaves instead.  All very nice.

And time for a walk.  Somewhere other than the surrounding neighbourhoods, somewhere there is more greenery than grey concrete.

Las Kabacki then.


Rezerwat przyrody Las Kabacki im. Stefana Starzyńskiego – in English, the Stefan Starzyński Kabaty Woods Nature Reserve, more colloquially known as Kabaty Forest – is a sprawling woodland on the southern edge of Warsaw, its closest entrance perhaps 3km from my flat.  It sits close to the location of the pre-War village of the same name, swallowed by the city’s growth into the suburb of Ursynów, where I live.  It’s a lovely place that I’ve been to often, both biking and hiking, with a plentiful supply of rough-cut wooden benches, some with log shelters, kilometres of cycling and hiking paths, a picnic field with several bonfire pits for grilling, adjoining a sports and cultural centre and botanical gardens complex.  In summer, it’s a very popular day out. 

The park is no Ashdown Forest or Peak District, certainly no Joshua Tree, in size or scope, but it holds a wide variety of trees, including oak, pine, aspen and elm, some of them well over 100 years old, and an abundance of wild life. Birds include buzzards, kestrel, tawny owl, green and black woodpeckers, and animals number deer, wild boar, badgers and hedgehogs, as well as tree frogs and grass snakes – at least, according to the authority that is Wikipedia.  I’ve seen nothing myself, except vast numbers of dogs, most of them on leads, but heard plenty of different bird calls and scuffles in the thick undergrowth between the trees. 

I’ve checked a number of sources other than Wiki, and interestingly nowhere have I found any information about the size of the park. Walking from east to west, in no particular hurry, has taken me the best part of two hours, suggesting possibly 8km, while going north to south has taken me at the same kind of pace about half that – but of course the wood is not a regular shape and I don’t think I’ve used the longest axes either way.  In any case, given its proximity to suburban Warsaw – in many places there are blocks of apartments within 50 or 100m from the trees, and on other borders villas are under the eaves of the forest – it’s not a bad size.  The nearest Metro station, Kabaty at the southern end of the M1 line, is within sight of the forest, and about a 400m walk from the nearest entrance, skirting the train maintenance depot that at its southern side is overhung by the forest.


The park was once much bigger, a wild wood topping at its eastern edge an escarpment running down to the Wisła river, so once must have been most impressive, but the inevitable growth of Warsaw has swallowed a good portion.  What’s left was purchased on behalf of Warsaw from private ownership in 1938 by the city’s mayor, after whom the park was subsequently named.  When the Nazis took control after the 1939 conquest that sparked World War 2, Starzyński was captured and executed.  The Home Army used it as a hiding place for much of the conflict, but their oppressors conducted massacres and mass burials of Poles during late 1939/early 1940 as part of a brutal campaign to exterminate the Polish intelligentsia: over 200 victims were claimed. 

 As a result, when strolling carefree along the paths it’s not uncommon to come across a small plaque and cross marking a burial site, often to this day decorated with fresh flowers or candles in honour of the dead.  It’s the Polish way.  The majority of walkers or cyclists probably don’t even notice them: I had passed several by over the years on family walks or bike rides, but only discovered them on similar solo wanders over the past few years.  


The numerous entrances to the forest have a variety of barriers, or none at all, but the one nearest home is unique in having a single track railway line, complete with a red STOP sign, perhaps 10m from the usual red-and-white striped level crossing style pole. It runs from the direction of the Metro maintenance depot at Kabaty, then swings right just beyond the forest gate in the general direction of the main lines that run close to the aiport, but I have no idea whether it remains in operation. The tracks are in good repair, there is little in the way of grass and weeds growing between the sleepers, suggesting regulat traffic, but in the times I’ve been across the track or in its vicinity along the forest border where it runs I’ve never seen any sign of activity.

On this day, the sun shone on a swathe of green grass (there is a small meadow used for picnicking and playing frisbee or some other game next to the crossing on the forest side of the rails) and onto the broad path leading under the trees. Usually when I’ve been there it’s been quite crowded, but not this time. A couple of cyclists had passed me a few metres back, and I could see them both disappearing about a kilometre ahead, well into the wood, and a young mum was sitting on a bench a few metres in, feeding a baby. I ambled in, following the cyclists.

Within a few metres, all the city sounds, faint already since the entrance is perhaps a kilomtre from the nearest busy street, had faded completely away, and all I could hear was birdsong and the faint rustle of the leaves in the light breeze. Now and again, the muted roar of jet engines signalled an arrival or departure at the nearby Warsaw airport. Living, as I do, on a main road from Kabaty to the city centre, right next to one of the Metro stations and with a Park&Ride-cum-bus terminal next to the block, the traffic noise, even on quiet Sundays, is more or less constant from about 5a.m. to well past midnight, so I relish the silence in the forest. This day was exceptionally quiet, because there were so few people about.

I strolled through the woods, happy in my solitude, and in the whole hour or so the walk took me I encountered no more than about twenty other people. Three or four cyclists barrelled past at speed, in both directions (as I’ve done myself), and of the rest most were men and women, in pairs or solo, mostly my kind of age, and the majority with Nordic Walking poles, striding along in the approved manner. I’ve often wondered why the addition of ski poles should make such a difference to a hike, but apparently it does – swinging both arms to operate the poles forces you to keep your body more upright, and the arm movements flex the arm and shoulder muscles to make them work harder. In conjunction with your leg movements, you’re essentially giving yourself a full-body exercise rather than just the legs, building muscle, keeping the joints in legs and arms more supple, and burning more calories. Maybe I should invest in a set and give it a go……I don’t see it could do me any harm!


After perhaps an hour ambling along, I came across a particularly poignant monument. This one is not a simple small wooden cross with a couple of candles and a small commemorative plaque: it’s a full scale shrine, almost an open-air chapel, and has nothing to do with the War. It marks the site of Poland’s worst air disaster.

The crash happened on 9 May 1987, and claimed the lives of 172 passengers and 11 crew. The plane was a Russian Ilyushin IL-62M, the type that at that time, only a few years after Poland broke away from its Soviet domination after the Solidarity revolution, still formed the backbone of the LOT Polish Airlines’ international service. It was a lumbering narrow bodied jet, with four tail mounted engines, looking not unlike the British VC-10, and was en-route to New York JFK. The doomed flight suffered an uncontrolled fuel leak that led to an engine fire and catastrophic loss of all control. The fire broke out shortly after take off, and the flight was diverted back to Warsaw, rather than to the closer Modlin and Gdansk airports, because it offered better firefighting facilities as Poland’s main airport. The crew dumped fuel, but on its approach to the airport, all control was lost and the plane crashed to the ground on the edge of Kabaty Forest, perhaps 4km short of the runway – which must have been clearly visible from the flight deck – 25 minutes after take off.

The spot is now marked by a fenced off clearing perhaps 50m across, right next to a main foot- and cycle-path leading to one of the park’s entrances about 200m away. Right by the back fence stands a simple wooden cross, perhaps 15m high, with a stone plaque at the base. On this day there were seven or eight votive candles burning in ornate glass jars. A couple of metres to the right there is a larger stone plaque engraved with the names of all 183 victims – it too was surronded by candles in their glass jars. Another granite monument by the chapel entrance has a marble plaque engraved with the crash details. Within the site there are perhaps a dozen simple rough-cut wooden benches, allowing visitors somewhere to sit for a while in quiet contemplation.

I sat at one facing the block with the victims’ names, and it was incredibly peaceful. The birdsong was still there, but somehow muted, and the wind had dropped so the leaf rustling had stopped. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the poor souls sitting in the cabin of that airliner, and wondered what kind of message (if any) had been given by the crew: the passengers must have been aware something was wrong. And what of the pilots, wrestling to control the plane, and seeing the airport runway coming closer…… And then that headlong plunge into the trees…… But my imagination failed me completely: probably a good thing.

I don’t know whether the shrine has been built and funded by the Polish government or the city’s, or perhaps by public donation. But I do know that, especially in the summer when the sun is brightly shining and the trees are green and the birds in full song, it’s a beautiful and peaceful place and a fitting monument to the poor souls who lost their lives that early summer’s day. I hope the friends and relatives they left behind can take some comfort from that.

I sat there for perhaps 15 minutes, listening to the quiet, and munching a sandwich, thinking how transient life is, and how precious each day, and how fortunate I am to be still hale and hearty and surrounded by a loving family and good friends. Then I wiped away a tear or two, re-packed my bag, and headed happily home.

Six months in…..and how is it?

I started using Vivaldi back in September last year, nearly 7 months ago now. I chronicled my journey to the browser, its set up challenges and my early user experiences in some posts on this Community blog, and was quite active on the Forum (primarily asking broad brush questions about set up issues, switching to an alternative OS, what music I was listening to at random times and what book(s) I was reading). These were all interesting diversions, things I had never come across (before or since) on any other browser.

I’ve continued to post blogs from time to time, on assorted non-techie or non Vivaldi topics, and have enjoyed reading comments on them occasionally: a couple of Community members even subscribed. I have no idea how many people have actually subscribed, nor how many views an individual blog post has attained, and have so far found nowhere that such statistics are recorded. Seems a bit odd to me, as for any writer (whether an amateur hobbyist like me or a professional) surely has a keen interest in such things and welcomes any feedback, no matter how negative (or preferably positive!) it may be. One comment I received in fact suggested the entire Blog tool was a bit of an afterthought and not fully thought through by the Vivaldi team: I agree fully. It’s a great feature, in my view, but is nowhere near complete – in fact it can be decidedly clunky. But I still enjoy using it.

The Forum – at least to me – is full of surprises too. Vivaldi is a browser that has been around for a good few years now, we know that, so the majority of its kit should be mature and stable and something you don’t have to think too much about (even given the extraordinary amount of customisation available). So the number of issues that pop up on the Forum, things not working properly, bugs, crashes and the rest, across a wide range of topic categories (and it is a very detailed and well thought out repository) seems ridiculously high. I generally dip into it every couple of days and there are rarely less than 100 “new” issues to be read. Maybe it’s me, but that does seem to be a lot – and they surely can’t all be from newbies wrestling with new concepts and unfamiliar Settings! So unless something catches my eye on the first batch, I tend to mark them all as Read and move on. That said, the Forum was a great help in my early days, when I wanted to make a couple of customizations and couldn’t see how: I asked the question, and within a day had the information I needed, made my changes and have touched nothing since. Match that, Google (or Firefox, or anyone else….)!

I set up the Mail Host, and linked my Yahoo and Gmail accounts quickly and easily, and it works fine. It reminds me of my old MS Outlook, which is no bad thing, so I got used to it very quickly, and with it living within the browser (meaning I don’t have to open another application) makes jumping from my browsing experience to check and answer mails very simple. That said, I do wish items would be “Marked as Read” automatically when I move on from them – perhaps there is a setting I’ve missed, but right-click, Mark as Read does the job well enough. Calendar too is fine, although it’s not something I use a lot – as a retiree I don’t have to track travel plans, meetings and so on: I spent an hour of Day One adding all my family birthdays and anniversaries and it’s done. If I need to add a trip or something I can do it in a couple of minutes. Suits me fine.

Do I use it every day? Pretty much, yes. But I still keep Edge there as a default because I’ve left some things there and not ported them to Vivaldi. No reason I shouldn’t, and I could happily do it today, but I prefer it the way it is. Primarily these are related to various quasi-work tools and activities that I’ve been using for years without issue in Edge so I see no reason to change it – as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” I also dip into Edge every now and then, and spend a couple of days using it instead of Vivaldi, especially when a new drop of Edge has come in. Just to keep my hand in, so to speak.

There are a lot of productivity tools coming through, in terms of tab management for instance, that seem to be quite similar to the tools Vivaldi carries. I don’t use them at all, in either browser because my, to use the buzz-word, workflow doesn’t need them now I’m retired. I use my browser to surf the web, listen to music via a range of internet radio stations and Spotify, look at videos on YouTube, send and receive emails……and that’s about it. Simple and straightforward, so I rarely have more than two or three tabs open at any given time. I don’t need to save a page in a folder to look at later on, or incorporate anything into a project (because I don’t do projects anymore) so I simply don’t need to do complex stuff. But if I wanted to, either Edge or Vivaldi could do it.

The look and feel – note: the one I’ve “built into” my Vivaldi – is similar: both Edge and Vivaldi can optionally set a sidebar to hold the open tabs, both have another sidebar giving access to baked in (or user defined) tools and apps – so Mail, Wiki, RSS feeds (whatever they are) and so on, and both support thumbnails (i.e. Speed-dials). Vivaldi allows a bit more flexibility with them, but the idea is the same. I haven’t really noticed much of a difference in the way of processing speeds: both seem blindingly fast, certainly for my needs anyway. They are both cleaner and nicer to look at than Firefox or Chrome (at least to my eyes) and don’t need shed-loads of Extensions to add functionality, change look-and-feel or otherwise clutter up my drive. The only Add-On I have in Edge is an Ad-blocker that works perfectly well – but of course I don’t need even that in Vivaldi – and the on-line security tools seem to work equally well in both without having to make tons of changes and additions. I stress again: that is correct for my simple retiree needs: someone using Vivaldi for complex work tasks may have different requirements – and I have no doubt they will find exactly what’s needed with a bit of digging round. In either browser…

So: to summarise and answer my headline question: after 6 months, how is it? Simply: Vivaldi is great. Having tried, at one time or another for a greater or shorter time, all the major alternatives, I can safely say it beats them all in terms of functionality, customisation options, look-and-feel, speed and efficiency, privacy and security hands down. Its support, whether in-house or via this Community, is unique and indeed outstanding. It’s not perfect – but then, no browser – hell, no software! -is, but it does what it says on the tin. It just works. Edge comes a very close these days, and I’m happy to keep using it as stated above, but for a daily driver Vivaldi will always be my first choice.

No question.

My birthday


Apparently, the day (a Wednesday) was quite warm, at least in Kent – temperatures around 21C (or in old money about 70F). Not bad for a late March day after a quite harsh winter.

But, at least historically, it was a quiet one. No-one famous died. Robert Fox, who later became a well-respected theatre producer, was born the younger brother of the more famous actors James and Edward.

In Pinner, Middlesex, young Reg Dwight celebrated his sixth birthday in a semi-detached council house, possibly by having a little tinkle on the ivories – he had been playing the piano for three years, and was a year away from starting proper piano lessons. In later years, he found fame, fortune and much else as Elton John. And in so doing provided much of the soundtrack to my own life.

Across the pond, in the Detroit suburb of New Bethel, Aretha Franklin turned 11. It was probably a muted affair, as her mother had died a year earlier. By this time she was already singing regularly at the local Baptist church founded by her father, and perhaps considering the musical career that would make her one of the best and most popular soul singers in the world – a career that spanned more than 60 years until her death from cancer in August 2018.

If you look at any of several historical web-sites, March 25 is shown as being the religious festival of Lady Day (amongst several others), and as Freedom Day for Belarus. Not Freedom from the now fragmented USSR, but celebrating the creation in 1918 of the Belarusian People’s Republic by the occupying Germans (the First World War was still raging). These days, under hard-line butcher, friend of Vladimir Putin and unapologetic Communist President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the day is only sparingly celebrated, on safety grounds.

It’s also (it says here on Wikipedia…) International Day of the Unborn Child, Mother’s Day in Slovenia, Struggle for Human Rights Day in Slovakia, and the wonderful sounding Waffle Day in Sweden. And it’s Tolkien Reading Day, launched in 2003 to celebrate and encourage the works of the good Professor, and of course (as anyone who has read his masterwork The Lord of the Rings will know) the day that Frodo’s Quest succeeded, the One Ring ended up in the fires of Mount Doom along with Gollum, and Sauron fell. Hurrah.

Beyond that, in years gone by, Venice had been founded in 421; Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland in 1306; Christian Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 1655; the Second Hellenic Republic was proclaimed in Athens in 1924; and a mere four years earlier in 1949, Uncle Joe Stalin’s minions started the forced deportation of over 92,000 people from the Baltic States to Siberia and all points East in another of his brutal collectivisation exercises. Fortunately, his own days were numbered.


None of which will have meant a thing to my poor mum, sweating and cursing to squirt me kicking and squalling into the world in the double-bedroom she slept in with my dad, in a three-bedroomed end-of-terrace council house in Church Street (possibly not unlike Reg Dwight’s home in Pinner, come to think of it). She had turned 38 exactly a week before, considered quite an advanced age to be having kids in the early ‘50s, so I was a bit of a belated birthday present for her. It set a kind of precedent – I have never been good at remembering birthdays, so late presents became par for the course from that day on as far as she and I were concerned.

My mum, once she had recovered from the effort (and probably stopped yelling abuse at whoever was in the vicinity) wanted to name me Gary, after her favourite actor. But her friend, May Crittenden, who I remember as being a typical country lady, short and very stout and prone to wearing aprons (as did mum), told her not to be so daft: I was just like Bob Moss (thus mispronouncing the name of my maternal grandad – who I never knew) – so Robert it was. With Ernest as my middle name, honouring dad, whose middle name was also Ernest.

I’m happy with that.

The above forms the opening section of my memoir, provisionally titled “Living: A Memoir” that I have been fiddling around with for the past several years and have yet to leave school. As this coming Saturday, I celebrate my 70th birthday I thought I’d let the piece see the light of day and get a first public airing. I do intend to finish the thing, so there are several hundred pages in a similar vein to spew out of my subconscious. Hopefully it will hit an Amazon website near you just in time for my 75th birthday. Or perhaps earlier: I never know when I’m going to write some more, forward planning not being a strong point of mine.

Anyway – 70. Not an age I ever expected to reach in my indestructible kamikaze youth. It seemed impossibly far away, then, and apart from my grandmothers, both born in the late Victorian age (the 1880s, perhaps?) I don’t remember knowing anybody of that age. So I had no reference point, nothing to show what to expect. I lost my dad when I was 19, he at a terribly young 56 as a result of cancers that developed after a lifetime of smoking and working in dusty environments as well as the war years fighting Germans in the Western Desert and the Japanese in the terrible Burma campaign. He survived with his body more or less intact (two small flesh wounds hardly count, I suppose) and his mind troubled like those of all veterans of that particular theatre but not to the point of illness or suicide, thank God.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, with my second family still aged in singe figures, 70 seemed an age away. For that matter it seemed distant only a couple of years ago when like millions of other people across the world I was stuck at home under Lockdown rules, lying on my bed suffering a second bout of Covid within six months and wondering (praying) that I would get through that terrible time.

Well, I did, though not without lasting effects: I still suffer from sleep problems, lack of concentration, and various aches and pains that may or may not be Long Covid. I’m learning to live with that reality and have adapted the way I live and my diet to cope better. I exercise as I have done for years, with daily multi-kilometre walks around my home city and my immediate surrounding neighbourhoods, and in season bike rides of 20 odd kilometres as well – it all keeps me fitter and healthier than I had expected during the early days of my recovery.

But I can’t disguise the fact that age is catching up with me, regardless of my Covid illnesses. My eyesight is nowhere as good as it was ten years ago (note to self: buy new glasses asap!), various joints, particularly those from the waist down, are stiffer and more painful every day, and I get tired much quicker and earlier. No amount of tablets and dietary supplements that I’ve tried so far, and continue to take as part of my breakfast, make a difference to this.

I’m ok. When I was younger (for which pick any number between say 15 and 65) hitting 70 seemed about as likely an outcome as winning a return ticket to the Moon in a lottery. It seemed to be Old Age. Now I’m reaching that milestone I no longer think that, because I really do not feel old (with either lower or upper case script). I’m also told that I neither look nor act my age, which is fine by me – for years it’s been my aim to grow old (dis)gracefully, and I seem to be manging that. My kids, those two from my second family (now teenagers) keep me young and thankfully still need me. Those from my first family, in their forties now, have blessed me with four grandchildren that because of distance I see not enough of but who mean the world to me. For their sake I have much to live for still.

I have journeys to make, places to visit and re-visit, now that life and travel have more or less returned to normal. I have a backlog of books building up to read, and stories and books to write and publish. Blogs to write, here and on my primary This World, This Life platform (https://travellin-bob2.blogspot.com). Music to discover and re-discover, movies to watch and re-watch. Politics to argue about, and global wars and catastrophes to survive.

So I intend to enjoy this birthday on Saturday, with my My Beloved and our kids, the dog and the cat, and celebrate quietly and contentedly reaching this milestone. There will be good food, my daughter will hopefully bake me a cake again (as she does every year: she’s a great little cook), and no doubt there will be a nice chilled white wine to wash it down.

I’m looking forward to it very much.

Fat Thursday

It’s a damp and chilly morning as I head off to my local branch of Warsaw’s excellent Cieślikowski bakery chain to pick up as many of their delicious pączki as I can lay my hands on. I am expecting a queue so I have a book with me to read while I wait patiently to be served. At home, my family is eagerly awaiting the goodies. But when I get to the store, surprise surprise – there is no queue. I am later than usual, and have missed the commuter rush, but the shelves are bare of pączki, so I may have to wait for another delivery, fresh from the off-site ovens. But no, one of the staff comes from the back room with three trays of the things and starts re-stacking the shelves. There are plenty for everyone. The one person ahead of me picks up her order, two trays with several wrapped packages that contain I estimate 100 pączki – for the office I assume. I am served next, and order my paltry – but still delicious – 10, pay for them and head home happily. Donut Day today has arrived again and my supplies are in.

Donut Day is the popular name for the delightful Polish festival known as TŁUSTY CZWARTEK – in English, Fat Thursday. It falls on the third Thursday in February, or the last Thursday before the start of the Lenten season, when the days are getting longer. It’s light before 7 a.m. and remains so until about 6 p.m. and the traditional long cold winter is coming to an end. Tradition says it’s time to celebrate this by eating as many pączki as possible, before having to give up all the good stuff for 40 days according to Catholic tenets, and with their usual enthusiasm Poles tuck in with gusto. The goodies are baked on an industrial scale in bakeries the length and breadth of the country rather than in your own kitchen, but it remains possibly the most popular feast day here. I heard from an English mate of mine this morning, telling me his wife (like mine, a Polish lady) had gone out early and bought 48 pączki for the family of four, and he was at that moment enjoying three, warmed, with his breakfast coffee. I like his style!

Pączki are Polish donuts. They are not the rings with a hole in the middle, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar powder or iced with a variety of flavours (mainly chocolate and vanilla) and sprinkled with chocolate chips, so beloved by Homer Simpson – although these are also available and widely enjoyed too. Nothing like Dunkin’ Donuts at all. Pączki are fat and filling and stuffed with jam or marmalade and baked in a hot oven, then lightly iced or covered in powdered sugar. Served warm, you bite into them and there is an exquisite explosion of sweetness in the mouth….truly scrumptious. I’ve eaten similar donuts in a variety of places from a number of bakeries and patisseries, and none can compare with Cieślikowski’s. They are just superb. Sold all the year round, they are a favourite treat for Polish families everywhere, and the Donut Day festival is a fitting tribute to Polish tradition. I love it.

So today – Happy Donut Day, everybody!

Whatever happened to Travellin’ Bob?

I’ve been a bit blocked lately. Not in the digestive-y way, you understand, but….well, in the head. Which is why there’s not been a lot posted so far this year. My Muse, always a bit hit and miss for me, has buggered off.  Again. Truth to tell, I’m out of ideas.  No inspiration.  Not for blogs, not for longer stuff like short stories. Or essays  And as for complete book length writing…….not a snowball in Hells chance!


I mean, it’s not as though is there is nothing going on in the world to bring a little inspiration. There’s Putin’s War for a start, but I’ve lost a little bit of, I suppose, focus as it drags on through the winter months. There are war crimes being committed on a daily basis by the Russian invaders, and heroic resistance by Ukrainian forces to counter them. Life goes on mostly, as people try to live as normally as possible amid the power cuts, lack of heating, food shortages, and the constant fear of being blown to bits. I should be able to write tons of stuff, full of righteous anger and frustration at the still patchy assistance and support being given by the West – the US, and EU and NATO are doing more than ever before, but it still seems insufficient somehow. But it’s all so sad and depressing, and I can’t bring myself to even follow closely the news coverage, never mind try to write anything to add my own spin to it.

There are other conflicts going on, of course, that perhaps understandably don’t get the coverage. In Yemen, for instance, where oil rich Saudi Arabia, armed with American and British weapons, is still trying to subdue a small, poorly armed but strategically important country that doesn’t agree with its views. Then of course American backed Israel, with a new Far Right coalition headed by the thug Bibi Netanyahu in government, continues its attempted genocide of the Palestinian Arabs (who admittedly are no shrinking violets when it comes to lobbing home made bombs, bricks and bottles around). Skirmishes as usual in Africa, in the Far East (Myanmar springs to mind) and of course the Butcher Assad’s civil war in Syria that has been dragging on for more than 10 years. And the poor sods in the northern province if Idlib now have to contend with the after effects of a massive earthquake that has killed nearly 20,000 people (and still counting) there and across the border in Turkey. God, what a world we live in!

That delusional oaf Trump, despite a lengthening list of court cases lined up against him and a shrinking list of loyal supporters, says he’s going to run again in 2024, against an ageing Joe Biden (assuming he decides at 80 to stand himself). What a choice America will have to make!  Back home in Britain the chaos caused by a combination of Brexit and Tory greed and incompetence continues to drag the country into the doldrums. Cost of living crises, the NHS, railways, postal workers, border control force officials and civil servants striking, beg for a change of government that isn’t likely to come for another year or more…. But, shit, I’m repeating myself: I’m sure I scribbled something about all that in December last or January this ……. The fact that not a thing has changed simply underlines the state of the nation (to borrow an American term).

But I can’t find anything to say about any of it (at least that I haven’t already said).

See what I mean about “blocked”?


As to stories and stuff…….well, that’s even worse.

The last new thing I wrote was in May/June last year, an addition to my short story collection, and I think it’s another pretty good one.  But since then, I’ve not had the glimmer of an idea. Nothing. Complete radio silence from My Muse. How I envy writers that can bash out a full length book or short story collection every year or so, and still find stuff to say! I’m buggered if I can. The Match remains unpublished, mainly because I don’t want to bung it out on Amazon without having something to follow it up with quite quickly, so this ancient saga of sex booze and football in the 1970s (originally written in the 1990s, for God’s sake!) remains a PDF on my hard drive. Another couple of shorts added to the collection would do the trick….. 

Where the hell are you, Muse, you tetchy and unreliable bitch? Come back, please (I’m asking nicely), and give me a nudge….

The memoir keeps it company. I re-worked a big chunk of it in the summer, but yet again I’ve become bogged down. That’s stupid, really, because I know what it’s about, the entire plot is my life. I don’t need to make anything up, just recount my memories. Perhaps I’ve just fallen out of love with it (or myself…) because I can’t see anyone except my close family having the slightest bit of interest in it and it just seems like a lot of work for basically nothing. But then that’s always been the point, not making any money out of it – just something for them to remember me by while they toast me on birthdays and Christmases when I’m gone and my ashes scattered to the four winds…. It’s a companion to The Match on my hard drive (but not even a PDF because it’s not finished yet).

But I dumped the travel book. Copying over all the travel pieces I’ve written for the blogs since 2010 (I know – that long!) and ordering them into some kind of logic gave me a first draft of well over 500 pages. I made some changes and expansions, filling in background about the places visited to add to my own experiences and thoughts that took it up closer to 600 pages – and I was still less than a quarter of the way through and I hadn’t started editing the essays themselves. It was too daunting for me. I deleted it – probably a mistake, but it seemed like a good idea at the (foggy, post Covid) time….


And here I am now, the start of a new year, struggling to find something new, preferably both interesting and entertaining, to say and bleating on about My (missing) Muse – again. And coming up with close to eleven hundred words in little more than an hour…… 

 That’s not bad, actually. When it comes, it flows, quickly and easily.


Muse? Are you there?

That Was The Year That Was

2022 has been a memorable year.

For a start, it’s the first one since pre-Pandemic times where I’ve managed to remain healthy. I had Covid in 2020 and again in 2021 (quite a bad turn the second time and came close to being hospitalised). Barely recovered from that, still physically weak and trying to do too much, I then managed to rupture a bicep – tore it clean away from the bone. It was comfortably the worst injury in my life (and I had a few in my old sporting days way back when), and I had a week in hospital, most of it waiting for the scheduled operation to take place. I had an implant fitted to re-attach the muscle (and no, it doesn’t beep when I go through airport security) and that took a good six months to fully heal. It’s left me with reduced mobility in my left arm and hand but even though I’m a leftie it hasn’t really made things any harder for me: I’ve taught myself to compensate and use the other arm more.

But it left me, towards the close of 2021 facing a daily battle with depression, and this is something I need to be aware of to this day. Thank God, it wasn’t too bad an attack, no suicidal thoughts, self-harming or all the other bad stuff that can manifest: but unpleasant for all that. I managed to get a couple of weeks in Switzerland in September 2021, when the weather was still hot and sunny, and flat-sat for a relation of My Beloved while he and his partner holidayed in Sardinia, and it was just what the doctor ordered. I bought rail rover tickets and spent a week touring the country, visiting cities like Zurich and Luzern and Basel that I thought I knew from past work visits but discovered many new things, and just thinking of….well, very little. It was a much needed tonic.

This year, 2022, has presented a different set of struggles, as I have battled financially to complete and pay for a new apartment (much needed now my kids are in their mid teens and needing their own spaces) in a time when prices of everything have sky-rocketed thanks to Vlad The Impaler v2.0 invading neighbouring Ukraine. Everyone has struggled with that atrocity, and my recent visit to my homeland highlighted that even there people are contending with prices and problems over and above those delivered by Brexit and successive incompetent Tory governments. Europe today is an unhappy place, it seems to me. My big hope for 2023 is that things improve and some measure of happiness and security return – but that is a BIG ask…….

But, to return to my personal story, I’ve survived more or less intact (more than can be said for my credit card balance it has to be said…). I’ve managed to keep my mental health positive, my elbow is fine, and the inoculations, despite their not being as effective as previously, have kept Covid at bay. I’ve managed a lot of hiking and a lot of cycling around my city, and have lost weight as a result – I feel much better for that. Admittedly I’ve overdone things a couple of time, and have now and again struggled with sciatica, but I have a cocktail of tablets I can take to manage it (thankfully, since October it’s been fine). Oh, and I discovered Vivaldi……

So all good then as we head in to a new year, 2023, It promises to be equally memorable. For a start, in March I turn 70, an age I never though I would reach, back in the days of my indestructible youth. With the bulk of the apartment costs now paid, I hope by early summer we will have moved in and rented our existing home out to provide an additional income, meaning we can start travelling again. My Beloved and I have a number of plans bubbling around, principally doing an airbnb rental in Croatia for the whole of August: a villa is the idea, with enough space to allow my sons and their families to visit with us for a week each (and split the cost with us). We also quite fancy a trip, just we two, to the Canaries or Greek islands in early spring, to jointly celebrate my 70th and her 50th birthday (from this year), unencumbered by kids and (hopefully) much in the way of clothes.

And I will try out this Mastodon thingy. And write more stuff, both on this blog and on This World, This Life over on Blogger. And I hope more short stories. And some more to the memoir for my kids. Hell, I might even bite the bullet and publish my novel and the stories on Amazon Kindle – I’ve been prepping for that the last four years but what with one thing and another haven’t done so yet – it really is long overdue!

So I wish everyone at Team Vivaldi, in whichever office, and Vivaldians the world over, both old hands and newbies like me, health, wealth and happiness and every success for 2023.

To paraphrase an old Irish comedian from 50 years ago, may your God be with you.

Cafe Society

My morning constitutional took me four kilometres or so today, through often ankle deep but everywhere melting snow and grubby slush, down the main road that runs past my apartment block to the Metro station at the end of the line (the line itself runs below this road, and connects my southern extremity suburb with the city centre and, beyond, ultimately the northern city limit). By the time I got there, I was chilled but refreshed: as ever, the exercise did me good. I crossed the path by the Metro entrance, past the little fruit and veg stall (now selling Christmas trees and mistletoe sprigs as well as potatoes, onions, apples and so on, with Christmas fast approaching), and entered the Costa Coffee franchise there.

The warmth inside promptly fogged up my glasses, but I had already seen the place, at 10:15 or so, was already packed, with few spare seats, so no chance of a table to myself. I ordered my large vanilla latte with almond milk and a small sprinkling of chocolate, and took it to a corner seat, just in from the window. There was an old boy, probably a few years older than me, nursing an espresso and half drunk Diet Coke and reading a magazine, and at my request grunted and gestured at the other chair, inviting me to sit, then returned to his reading, ignoring me from then on. I shrugged off my parka, took out my own book, and settled myself comfortably for an hour’s relaxation.

Cafe society is alive and well in Warsaw.

It’s one of the things I love about my adopted home town. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place with so many cafes and coffee bars and the archetypal bar mleczno (a relic from Poland’s Communist past, selling home made and very cheap traditional food and drink at cheap plastic tables and chairs that has in recent years gained a new cachet). Most apartment blocks have one or the other at the ground floor level, so as there are probably thousands of blocks scattered around the city residents are spoilt for choice. A lot of them are branches of the major franchises like Costa Coffee, Cafe Nero and, of course, Starbuck’s, and hence quite expensive, but some of the best are the local places, family businesses, with home cooked fresh cakes and salads and pastas, and a more limited choice of coffees and fruit teas. There are I think four of these within perhaps three minutes walk of my front door.

The bigger ones, the Costa’s and Nero’s, are usually packed, as mine was today, with young professionals tapping away on laptops and even doing Zoom calls, and groups of women on shopping expeditions having a quick top up between stores. There is a strong passing trade too of students picking up a latte-to-go to slurp on bus or Metro on the way to school or college. And there are people like me, with time on their hands, enjoying a breath of fresh air and a good book or magazine, sipping coffee someone else has made and munching a fresh roll or donut. Just chillin’.

I love it.

I could happily spend all day sitting at a window seat in one of these oases of calm, just watching the world go by, drinking a few cups of latte or maybe a fruit tea or two, and reading my book. Or writing something, like this. I’ve done so a few times: one of the bigger malls, a twenty five minute Metro and five minute tram ride from home, has a sizable Starbuck’s there, complete with a solid oak table about three metres long, with matching cushioned stools and plenty of power sockets (and of course free wi-fi) and I’ve spent time there, pre-retirement, prepping invoices and reviewing client documentation for four or five hours at a stretch.

My problem with that isn’t so much the thought of actually working, but the fact that my laptop is an old Lenovo ThinkPad that weighs a ton, once I’ve added in a power pack and cabling, so lugging it around with me is not something I feel much like doing. At some point, I need to get something newer and lighter that I can stuff into a shoulder bag and carry around without suffering a dislocated shoulder. But there is no rush.

In the meantime, I just take a book with me, stuffed in my overcoat pocket or a small shoulder bag or backpack, and I lose myself just as easily in that. I’ve been doing it for years now, because on the road I often had a lot of spare time and no-one to spend it with in Beirut or Tel Aviv or Almaty or some other outlandish place, and my time spent in those often unique coffee houses essentially sold this cafe society to me. All life is there, and half the fun is sitting there watching watching groups or pairs of people, talking animatedly or furtively in a strange and unintelligible tongue, and just wondering who they are and what they are doing. Sometimes it’s undoubtedly best not to know – but still: curiosity is still there, and the imagination is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, that will do for now. An hour in Costa sipping latte has worked its magic and provided me with a bit more grist for the mill, and led to this little insight into my world. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

A Solo Traveller – Back Home

So the trip went well. As usual, it was bittersweet. Seeing my kids and my grandkids was as ever a joy: the little ones hardly know me as Covid and cash (or the lack thereof) has severely limited our time together – one of them was not more than a year old when I last saw him in October 2021 and he of course had no recollection. His elder brother is 6 and autistic, and to experience the progress he has made in the 12 month separation brought tears to my eyes. He has gone from struggling to communicate to being a real chatterbox – and with a fabulous California accent. In common with many autistic children, he gains a lot of his language skills from watching tv, which these days is dominated by Disney, Netflix and the rest – hence the accent. Being woken by him at 7 one morning, by a whack over the head with a cushion and his excited voice: “Hey, guy! It’s morning time! You have to get up, it’s school time!” was a highlight of the entire trip.

Visiting my elderly sister, after a difficult few months, was tough. We put the issue (no need to go into detail) to bed, kissed and made up. But it is increasingly evident her health, especially mentally, is fading. I’ve alerted her doctor to my fears of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it’s up to him to do an assessment and go from there, but I don’t see anything happening until after the Christmas season. I will go back early next year and with one of my sons try to move things along to get her the best care we can – she deserves it at her age (81).

What of the travel itself? Well, using public transport instead of car hire had its moments, but I was by and large happy with it. The flights, once they got airborne, were fine and the airlines can’t be blamed for the snowy weather when I came home that caused their delays. But lack of efficiency in the Departure areas in both Heathrow and Zurich Airports was less acceptable. I was due home at about 6:30 in the evening but it was actually closer to 11:30 – and most of that extra 5 hours had been spent either wandering though an airport looking for Check In or Transfer Desks, or standing in huge queues waiting for service by the pair of harassed desk clerks struggling to cope. I honestly can’t remember anything quite like it in all may globetrotting years, and I went through some awful airports in terrible conditions regularly.

And the trains? Well by and large, comfortable enough, and a stress free way to travel. But being British Rail rather Swiss, German or Dutch – or for that matter pretty well anywhere else, at least in Europe – there were problems. Not the least was the two days’ of strike action that coincided with planned journeys, but in the event an unexpected heavy snowfall stopped me making those rides in any case, after re-booking tickets. I’m in agreement with the union’s actions anyway: years of under-investment have left the railways in a terrible state, with staff shortages and safety concerns that are not being addressed by rail management, and a government that refuses to accept its responsibilities and at least try to negotiate a settlement and provide proper funding.

The union concerns were laid bare on a ride into London from Norfolk, when engineering works meant I had to change trains a third of the way down, onto a 5 car train that had to serve ticket holders sold for a 12 car train. The overcrowding was dangerous, caused delays to the service and anger amongst the passengers – which, as tends to happen, is turned on station staff who were essentially blameless in this case.

On the other hand, it was nice to be able sit in a relatively comfortable seat, watching the countryside slip past on lovely sunny winters’ days, sipping a cup of coffee. No traffic jams, no dangerous drivers cutting you up at 80mph on an icy motorway in twilight – no stress. I will certainly do it next time I travel over, strikes or no strikes. Financially too it was a big win. I pre-booked half a dozen train tickets on various routes, using a Senior Railcard, off-peak fares and advance booking. Adding in the cost of the railcard itself and three nights in a hotel in Norfolk, plus spending money, and I still spent quite a bit less than the last time I booked a small car (including insurance, breakdown cover and fuel costs). I can also claim back the fares of the trains cancelled due to strike action – meaning my overall rail costs will be less than a tank of petrol. What’s not to like about that?

Each time I go to England and visit my family there, there is pressure on me to move back, and take my Beloved and my Second Family with me. “This is your home,” I’m told. “This is where you belong….” And each time I have to gently explain to them why it’s not possible to do that, and to explain it in such a way that I don’t upset anyone’s feelings. Don’t get me wrong: I miss them all terribly, and wish I could see more of them, much more, especially the grandkids. But England is no longer my home – it’s my homeland– which is something entirely different.

The country where I was born has changed so much over the time I have been away. I usually re-visit places from my youth and workdays, and they look by and large the same – until you look closely. The shops have changed, mostly, or closed down. Once bustling High Streets are now full of boarded up shop windows and To Let signs. Instead of grocery stores and butchers and bakeries there are supermarkets in various sizes, or thrift stores where nothing costs more than a pound, or charity stores. All of this points to the decline in the country as a whole.

There is also an anger there. There has always been division, a class system that has been in existence for centuries and still stubbornly refuses to go away, and the last 12 years or so under a Conservative government riven with its own internal divisions, especially over the demon Brexit, but still considering itself the natural party of government, have led to increased poverty, anger and frustration in an electorate that feels increasingly ignored. Society is polarised in a way I have never seen in all my years – even back in the last pre-Thatcher Labour days, and post-Thatcher New Labour resurgence under Blair. Simply put, the place no longer feels like home and I know, beyond a doubt, I can never be happy living there again.

But what, actually, makes a place home? For me, it’s simply somewhere I feel most comfortable, surrounded by my stuff – books, music, clothes, comfortable furniture. It doesn’t have to include other people as I have learned to feel comfortable in my own skin and with my own company in my globe-trotting professional life – but, thankfully, I am surrounded by love and warmth from my Beloved and kids, and my dog and my cat. I am surrounded by laughter, and conversation, and sometimes angry shouting and disagreements (typically around school homework and household chores not being done properly – or at all). To quote the Madness classic “Our House” – “there’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud”. This to me is what home should be, because despite all the noise and hubbub, there is love and mutual respect. Lots of both. And happiness. Good food. A warmth that has nothing to do with settings on the radiators but comes from within.

I’m glad I’m here.

A solo traveller

I’ve been lucky in my life. Couple of marriages, five great kids, 4 grandkids (so far), blessed (still) with pretty good health, and mostly well rewarded financially for my work. Mind you, I spent too much of that, which has left me less well off in retirement than I had expected or needed to be. Still, you can’t have everything, can you? No regrets.

I’ve also been lucky enough to travel a bit (well, a lot actually). For the last twenty years of my working life I was employed by a major banking software company, that had customers and offices worldwide. My job was to go to client sites and help them get the system working how they wanted it. It was not a technical job (as I’ve noted in a couple of other posts here), and focused on end-user functionality, but I learned and taught a hell of a lot in those years. I can honestly say it was the best job I ever had.

I probably averaged two flights week, so my carbon footprint doesn’t bear thinking about. One time I was working on a site in Zurich and doubling up with the client’s Frankfurt office, and for perhaps three months, shortly before the system go-live, I was shuttling between the two. I would fly from Warsaw to Zurich Monday morning, do a day’s work, then fly up to Frankfurt Tuesday morning, back down to Zurich typically Thursday lunchtime for weekly management and progress meetings, then back home to Warsaw Friday night. It was insane, but worthwhile when the go-live was successful and we all got drunk to celebrate. It was also the exception: most of the time it was only a couple of flights a week, sometimes long-haul. Warsaw to Santiago in Chile via London and Sao Paulo Brazil was the worst – a three flights each way journey: including transfer times it took over a day each way. I stayed there a month. Hotels and apartments were provided, some lousy, others superb, and an often over-generous per diem provided top spending power, all client funded. They were very happy days (mostly).

Those days taught me a lot about myself, too. Coming out of a once good but finally unhappy marriage, soon after I started the job, I was faced with an uncertain future, and the prospect of living alone and fending for myself for the first time in my life and for the rest of it. I could cook a bit, badly, and push a hoover around to keep the place clean. Ironing was ok, and sometimes relaxing, but things like dusting and scrubbing baths and showers and toilets, was new territory and not something I had much enthusiasm for. So being placed in an apartment on my own, on my first project (expected to take over a year) came at a good time – a chance to become a housekeeper and get comfortable with solitude while the legals went through and before I bought a little place of my own, as I planned to do eventually.

Apart from the housework, after a short while I found I had adjusted, and worked out a routine that suited my life. I spent increasing numbers of weekends in my new city, tried out the bars and nightclubs, enjoyed the touristy sites and museums, art galleries and cinemas. Sometimes it was with work colleagues (we had a big multi-national team on site) but often on my own, and I found myself, quite unexpectedly, being happier on those times. I had always been quite shy – I still am – and found it difficult to mix with strangers and make new friendships. It took me a while to realise I was a bit of an introvert (but with extrovert tendencies in the right – alcohol fuelled circumstances. That flash of recognition made me feel a lot happier about my lot. It was also more pronounced now, trying to mix freely in a new country with the attendant cultural and linguistic issues. It all changed suddenly and unexpectedly, but that’s a tale for another day.

After that project, I had found my feet in the role and my company started sending me all over the place, so I became adept at fending for myself, and mostly travelling alone.. For I was the only employee living permanently in Poland – after that initial gig I was placed on two other projects, another in Warsaw and the second in Gdynia on the Baltic coast, so I found an apartment of my own rather than the bigger, client funded one – which meant wherever I was being placed I had to make my own way and not travel with other team members.

I loved it. Warsaw’s airport is small and easy to navigate, but then serving a limited list of destinations, so a lot of the time I needed to transfer in Heathrow or Paris or Frankfurt, through the much bigger hubs. I had my loyalty cards that got me into Business Lounges even when travelling Economy, so was able to enjoy free food and drink, and time to relax before or after a busy week. If there was no lounge, I was equally happy just roaming around Departures, perhaps sitting at a bar enjoying a beer and people watching, my music soothing me. I had bought a selection of smart phones, when they became available, and quickly filled SD cards with a wide selection of my favourite albums (that also resided in files on my laptop hard-drive), ripped from my CD collection or downloaded, so that I always had something I liked to listen to, rather than what a local dj preferred. It still travels with me now and gets good use, though the headphones have been replaced multiple times.

I also make sure I always have at least one book and maybe a magazine in my hand baggage – depending on flight time – and at least one more book in my suitcase: that and my music takes care of my entertainment wherever I go. Instead of local tv, usually unwatchable for a variety of reasons, I have links to YouTube and a selection of British internet radio stations on my laptop. I want for nothing more, ever. Everywhere I can easily find food and drink a-plenty, both local and British(ish) so want for nothing there either.

The intention on retirement was to carry on this love affair with the road, but a couple of years of Covid and related health issues, to mention nothing of some property development problems, have taken care of that. Apart from a super couple of weeks in Switzerland last summer (2021), to help me get through a bout of depression, I’ve been nowhere really. The long weekend in England last October was good, but not the kind of selfish solitary amble somewhere new that I really want – it was too short, for a start.

But I’m off on Monday, again to visit family back in Blighty, for a pre-Christmas break, and I’m really looking forward to it. For the first time ever, I’m not hiring a car. Instead, I’ve invested in a Senior Railcard and booked a catalogue of trains to get me me where I need to be. Add in a hotel by the sea for a few days, and some bus rides through a wintery Norfolk, and it’s still costing me about half the hire-car would have set me back. It will also mean I can simply relax and look out of the train window as the world passes by, read my book (this time a rather fine history of the African independence movements from 1952 or thereabouts to the Millennium) and listen to some Mahler or Manic Street Preachers on my phone. I can travel at my own pace, go where I want, and simply….chill.

And enjoy being a solo traveller again…….

A tale about a prose poem

The following is a true story, originally posted on my This World., This Life blog. I want to share thus piece of my work with the Vivaldi Community as well.

I came back in from the doctor’s, satisfied with the news that the tests I had a couple of weeks ago have revealed nothing to worry about.  For an old geezer rapidly heading for his 70th birthday I’m not in bad shape (the selection of aches and pains in various leg joints, relics of my sporting days 40 and more years ago notwithstanding).  A little overweight, perhaps, and inevitably slowing up, suffering from fatigue (too much for my liking) and with vision not what it once was, but still……reasons to be cheerful.

I gave My Beloved a quick call, just to let her know the worries she’s been carrying since the tests can be largely discounted, but please carry on with the better diet she’s insisted I follow, then settled down in my armchair for little R&R: not too long, as I had another medical appointment elsewhere, this one to help a recurring sciatica problem.  I placed my legs up comfortably on the adjacent settee, laid my head back and closed my eyes, relaxing my muscles and my mind.  It was peaceful…..

Unbidden, a few words came into my head, words I hadn’t thought about for a good 40 years.  “Go peacefully through all the trials and tribulations,” they said, “and remember how nice is the silence.” I remember smiling at them, and thinking, what silence? There is no silence.  And it’s true: there is no silence in my life.

Beside me, my dog lay snoring as only a snub-nosed English bulldog can snore – which is to say, loudly. From behind me, through my daughter’s room, I could hear the constant hum and roar of traffic on the road outside: nowadays it’s there virtually 24/7. In front, outside from the block’s courtyard garden, I could hear faintly a hoover in another apartment somewhere in another wing, and over that the engine noise of another flight taking off from the country’s main airport, six kilometres from me as the 737 Max flies.  All perfectly normal, the background sounds of my life, every day, every week – every waking hour (and some when I should be sleeping). Mostly my mind filters them out, but today I opened my eyes, my rest quickly over. Those words were still running through my head, and I remembered where they came from.


Many years ago, in a previous life, my then wife had a tea towel with them on, and many more besides.  It was a very hippy-ish set of verses that she absolutely adored, insisted they made her feel happy whenever she read them, which she did whenever she was feeling down.  With the arrogance of all my 25 years, indestructible, with the strength of youth, I had read them and they had made no impression on me at all….just words. For a while, the tea towel was pinned to the wall, and I countered it with a poster of The Lord of the Rings: a mountain landscape with the Fellowship standing before Minas Tirith, looking not at all like Peter Jackson’s imaginings (apart from Gandalf of course), all glaring balefully at you from whichever angle you viewed it.  The book was (still is) my favourite, read every couple of years, and always I find something I missed previously.  

Both that poster and the tea towel disappeared somewhen, probably during the divorce and separation of belongings, or perhaps during a prior house move or two.   But I remembered the verse on the tea towel was called “Desiderata”, so I Googled it (as you do…..) and read it for the first time in all those years.  My mind had played tricks on me, and I had remembered the words wrong, but the meaning at least was correct. I read it again, thinking. Here is the incantation, in full: 

 Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


Maybe my advancing years have something to do with it – certainly the arrogance of youth and invincibility are long gone, never to return – but the more I read it (thrice more while writing this), the more sense it makes to me. As well as the beauty of the language and composition, that for me are as good as anything I’ve ever read and better, far better, than most, I can see universal truths there. Rules for life if you prefer, expressed in clear terms that even the most idiotic reader should be able to understand (whether or not said idiot agrees with them or not). Without realising it, I believe I’ve tried to follow many of them myself, and mostly failed in the effort. But I continue to try, for all I really want is a quiet life now.

It was written by a guy called Max Ehrmann in 1927, according to Google, about whom I knew nothing, never heard the name before. Wikipedia says he was an American writer, poet and attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived between 1872 and 1945, and this prose poem (I still prefer “incantation”: it just seems a better description to me) seems to have been his crowning glory. As legacy’s go, it’s a pretty damned good one.

I can’t help thinking that if more people were aware of Desiderata (it was a very popular hippy text back in the days of my youth) and tried to follow its tenets, the world might be a little better place: but then again, perhaps not. Most people aren’t that way inclined – I haven’t been myself all these years when the verse was out of sight out of mind. Perhaps many millions of people are the same as me: knew it, ignored it, then forgot it for years without number.

Maybe when I finally get my own little office space, with my book shelves and a desk to work at, away from the hubbub going on all around me, I might have to invest in a poster of these words, and my LOTR one (both are still on sale if you go to the right shop or website) and put them up side by side above my desk, not competing for attention on different sides of the room. They would remind me, whenever I looked at them, I think, that for all the garbage in the world, all the bad stuff going on, that it’s really a place worth looking after and enjoying in the days and months and years left to us. It might make me pause and take thought when I’m about to blow my top over something that is really not that important, in the wider scheme of things.

I suspect that would be a good thing for me to do.

Linux: what’s the big deal?

When I retired, an astonishingly quick four years ago now, many things changed. For a start, my peripatetic travellin’ life, on the road pretty much 12 months a year, mostly for work but also for pleasure, hit the buffers. I no longer had to get up at 5 a.m. most Monday mornings, leave my Beloved and our kids and fly off somewhere for a week or two (and sometimes more), leaving home comforts like my own bed and my Beloved’s excellent cooking to slum it in mid-range (but sometimes 5-Star) hotels. I still miss that…… My income also fell off a cliff, as overnight it dropped from typically five figures a month to four – and a very low four at that. My own fault, that one: an over-generous divorce settlement twenty years ago that was not re-built during the following top-earning years left me more exposed than I had expected, with no way of making up the lost ground. But we’re ok, and we can manage…….but the luxuries are a thing of the past. Heigh – ho, such is life.

I had to look at my tech kit. I retained my laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad that was relatively new, but did a review of the software. It was then running Windows 7 Pro, complete with all the Outlook Mail and Calendar Tools and the productivity gubbins like Word and Excel, that I had been using for 20 years quite happily, through various iterations foisted on me, like it or not, by Microsoft. I took my free upgrade to W10 when it came out, and have had no issues with it at all. As I wrote in an earlier post I tried loads of different browsers before settling on the baked-in Chromium Edge and, latterly, Vivaldi. I kept Google around to manage my Gmail accounts, but shunted that to the Mail client on W10, added my ancient Yahoo Mail (typically as a back up emergency alternative) and that was all fine (as it is now on Vivaldi’s Mail client)

Security had me scratching my head. I had used Norton for a few years, and paid an annual subscription for the advanced business pack, but didn’t really need that any more: none of my stuff, from retirement on, is in any way sensitive. I looked at free alternatives like AVG, but ended up settling on Windows Defender – baked-in, very easy to set up and perfectly adequate for my needs. OK, I added a couple of extensions for ad-blocking and tracker protection – freebies, of course, being now very budget conscious, and all that worked fine. Of course, with Vivaldi those two extensions are no longer needed, but they’re sitting on the Edge browser for the odd time I use it.

But I did baulk at the price of Outlook and Office subscriptions that suddenly became mandatory – not to put too fine a point on it, Microsoft pissed me off a bit the way they snuck that in. When W11 came out and the whole lot became SaaS I was even less impressed, particularly as I can’t upgrade to W11 as my old laptop doesn’t have the technical grunt to do so. I know SaaS is the way the industry is moving, my old employer, one of the biggest banking system software providers on the planet, was moving its products away from one-off licencing to annual SaaS provision when I left, so I get it. It’s fine for a major corporate user like a bank, but less so for a retired pensioner end-user with limited needs in my humble opinion. So – time to look at productivity suites and operating systems.

Productivity was a doddle. I spent a few days trawling through Google Search, reading magazine pieces and stuff and looking at YouTube videos for all the alternatives, and tried some of them out. In the end it was a no brainer – I settled on LibreOffice and still use it daily. Not had any issues, and it’s improved with every iteration. The process also led me to DuckDuckGo, and that is now my search engine of choice – again, never had any issues and it too seems to be improving with each release.

The exercise also made me learn more about the privacy issues that I had previously heard of but not really thought too much about. Many of the browsers and tools I looked at, including Vivaldi and DDG, made big play in marketing materials about how they protected your privacy better than anyone else – which in itself must be nonsense: they can’t all be the best! But it seemed to me then, three or four years ago, that the entire issue was not something I could do a lot about. As someone who has used Google and Facebook and LinkedIn on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, for the last twenty years, all of these platforms have long had a detailed picture of me (I could see that by the ads that were pouring in) and no doubt sold my data off to Cambridge Analytica and similar sharks years ago. That Pandora’s Box can’t be closed. I still think that, and hence on-line privacy is not an overwhelming priority for me.

But still, I decided to at least consider finding an alternative OS to Windows, just for the hell of it. So back to YouTube and the magazines online to research. A couple of things very quickly became clear.

First: there really aren’t that many alternatives, and unless you have at least some understanding of how, technically, a computer or laptop works, and get the vocabulary, then none of them are – at least in my view – viable. I know, I know: I worked in the IT industry for 20 years, and worked on the best part of a hundred client sites all over the world, so I should be ok, right? Well, no, actually: as a business consultant, my job was to understand how the end user wanted the system to work (or at least the product line I specialised in), help him set the system up to do that, and write a spec for any new functionality that was needed. Then, once he’d signed off, the document went to our engineers to write the new code that was needed and integrate it into the parent software, then help my end user understand and test it. I did not write code, and didn’t need to.

Second, the choice seemed to come down to either Linux or ChromeOS. I discounted the second straight away because, well, it’s Google. That privacy nonsense again… So, Linux then. I dug into it in more detail, and watched loads of videos about it, which is the best distro, why LibreOffice and Firefox should be included in your installation etc etc….. But here’s the thing: nowhere could I find a single video or press article that did a blow by blow comparison of Windows and Linux, in the same way as you can find hundreds of videos comparing, say, Edge v Chrome, Firefox v Vivaldi, the top 10 browsers of 2022 ranked, and so on. I watched loads, but as interesting as they sometimes are, they tend to be about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

It was also noticeable that the only non-technical stuff I could find about Windows was the reams upon reams of marketing stuff provided by Microsoft on the Microsoft website, and was thus completely useless as an independent analysis. The nearest I came to what I wanted was a bunch of stuff that was basically criticising various new functionality and changes that came with W11 – not in the least relevant to me, now or in the future – and some tutorials, like how to get the best out of Excel, or PowerPoint tips and tricks, by an ex-Microsoft employee: so neither independent nor focused on the OS but instead on the core software.

It seems clear there is no community supporting Windows OS in the same way as there are communities singing the praises of Linux, or various browsers, or even ChromeOS. There is no independent source out there that provides no nonsense, simple to understand reviews of Windows and its associated software, at least that I’ve been able to find. Even the MS Community pages are clearly designed for techies rather than end-users – and I would suggest there are far more of the latter, unsupported, than of the former. I do wonder why that is: I know Microsoft has been roundly criticised over the years for its near monopoly and arguably sharp business practices, but I would suggest the company is no worse than Google and probably more open than Apple – both of whom seem to have legions of fanboys willing to sing their praises in one form or another online. I asked a buddy of mine, a computer service engineer and Linux fan, if he could advise me how to install the system, maybe give me a hand to do so, and he sent me a detailed mail explaining how to install – it may as well have been written in hieroglyphics or Martian for all it meant to me. That was when I decided the hell with it, I’ll stick with Windows.

So……I’m throwing this open to this Community, since I’ve seen enough videos and articles from Linux users to suggest that Vivaldi is extremely popular with the Linux user base. Just what is so good about Linux? Why is it so much better than Windows? If it is such a good OS, why is it not provided as the default on new hardware (that still is dominated by iOS on Apple tech or Windows on everything else)? With Windows, even in the old days, installing a new release – Vista, say – was easy enough: buy the program on a CD, shove it the disc-drive and run Install, and there you go: even I managed to do it a couple of times without any disasters: perhaps Linux should do something similar if it want to gain market share? Or perhaps it likes being a niche tool, only used by “those in the know” (i.e. techies – and I have the greatest respect for them!)…..

Over to you, folks!

Mikołajki – a lakeland jewel

The restaurant, Bella Italia 2.0, is in a prime position, right on the promenade running along the waterfront past the rows of sail- and motor-boats moored in the hot August summer sunshine.  The prom was thronged with people, strolling and laughing and talking, looking at the many stalls selling the usual gifts: hippy beads and leather bracelets, assorted fridge magnets, coffee cups in blues and whites adorned with representations of yachts and seagulls and the resort’s name, and piles of stuffed toys, genuine fake Ray-Ban sunglasses and cheap straw sunhats.  Many were enjoying delicious ice-creams, less delicious hot-dogs and kebabs and pink candy floss.  Young girls paused by stalls where teenage girls platted fluorescent green and yellow, blue and purple hair extensions, the youngsters tearfully trying to persuade parents to let them have some too.  At others, equally youthful stallholders sold henna tattoos of dragons and scorpions, and tribal marks like Justin Bieber.  Everything was, of course, at inflated prices, but what the hell – it’s a holiday place, closed for six months a year.  

It was a good restaurant, and we were given a perfect corner table for 8, by the open full-height window to enjoy the views as well as the food.  I took some photos of the panorama of bobbing boats and whizzing jet-skis and the chugging replica pirate ship that, despite the three masts, bowsprit and fake cannon, was diesel powered as it headed into its berth further along the prom, its day of pleasure cruises over. 

The place was packed, to be expected given its position, and our host had secured us the best table: she was a favoured and fairly regular customer in its parent establishment in a street further back from the promenade, so knew the owner well.  2.0 hadn’t been open too long, but had clearly gained a good reputation already – and as it turned out with good reason. The food, as our friend had promised, was excellent, well-cooked traditional Italian fare, good wine and locally brewed ice-cold beer, served quickly and efficiently by friendly smiling staff.  We stayed there well over an hour, eating and drinking, chatting and laughing, before settling the very reasonable bill and heading off for a further stroll around town.

As I watched the beautiful red sunset, I decided I liked this place very much.


We were in Mikołajki, the holiday capital (if not the administrative one) of Poland’s Mazurian lake district in the north east corner of the country. It had been a hot sunny day, so we had stayed at our friend’s house in a town some 100 kilometres away until late afternoon, still recovering from the previous day’s extensive and tiring canoeing expedition elsewhere in Mazury, before driving back to this area as the temperatures cooled.

I had been to the town once before, the best part of 20 years ago, when I had a long weekend sailing with a group of friends.  We had come into port on the Saturday morning to pick up some much needed supplies (not all of them alcoholic), and I had managed to slip getting off the yacht, much to everyone’s amusement.  But not mine: I had landed flat on my face, my full weight on one arm under which was the unforgiving concrete promenade.  I was in a lot of pain and discomfort, but did my best to hide the fact. I got through the rest of the weekend with the help of Tyskie beer and aspirin, then we went home as I was off to work the next day.  I flew to Zurich, the pain still throbbing in my elbow, and when I finally got to the office excused myself and headed to the nearest hospital.   The x-ray showed I had fractured my elbow, a lovely clean crack in the ball joint of my lower left arm.  They plastered me up and told me to come back in a month to have the cast removed, further x-rays, and hopefully physio. It all went well and in a very short six weeks all was healed.  But it was not a good memory of Mikołajki, and I still haven’t lived the incident down.

The place lies at the centre of a channel linking two of the area’s larger lakes, to the north west Tatry, to the south east Mikołajskie which in turn connects to Lake Sniardwy, the biggest of them all. The town has thus been a tourist destination for pretty much as long as there has been a tourist industry, and remains one of the most popular destinations, not only in Mazury but in the whole of Poland.  

It’s a well deserved reputation, because it’s a lovely place, full of night life, good restaurants and bars, shops and plenty of accommodation at all price ranges. There is a constant stream of vessels arriving and leaving the port, because many of the lakes that comprise Mazury are linked to form a navigable network, including feeder streams for canoes.  It’s a quite wonderful area for a holiday, come rain or shine: given its location, the weather is not always the hot and sunny conditions we enjoyed this year on our visit.  On my original trip, all those years ago, we had hot sunshine, windy overcast and pouring rain, all within the same week, and enjoyed the sailing through it all.


The town has changed somewhat since then, and now boasts more of everything.  Most eye-catching is a new pedestrian bridge, Most wiszący Mikołajki, that spans the channel, towering over the water and the surrounding streets and buildings.  Floodlit at night, it is spectacular and offers panoramic views across the town and the channel out to the lakes at either end.  I snapped away, trying to do the view justice: the picture at the header of this piece, looking towards Tatry, is probably the best of them.

At either end of the bridge are more souvenir and fast-food stalls, and a cobbled footpath led us back into the old town square. We were in time, in full darkness now, illuminated by dull street lights and the neon signs of bars and pubs and open store doorways, to catch the end of a live concert by what I believe was a local group – and very good it was, too.  I can’t remember their name, but we looked them up on Spotify on the drive home and enjoyed more of their music than the couple of songs we had caught live.

There was also a local beer festival with stalls selling a variety of local beers, but I gave that a miss – way too inviting for my own good!  We checked out a few gift shops and my daughter bought me a new hippy-bead necklace to replace the one I broke at sometime in the past – I can’t remember exactly when, but I think during the Pandemic on a rare trip out. I love ’em.

Then we strolled back to the car, and headed back to our lodgings after a lovely day out.  It’s a place that I liked first time around, and like even more after this visit.  I really is a lakeland jewel, and I can’t recommend it enough.  I must return for a proper look around at some point, to see more of the town and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it – perhaps next year.

Vivaldi: Part 2 – and what do I think?

In my previous post, I described in some (perhaps too much) detail how I came to this browser. Was the journey worth it? Well – yes, but with a couple of reservations. Let me explain.

My initial view, taken on my first encounter a few months ago, was that it offered much more than I really needed. To be clear: I’m what is known as an End User, which is to say I want my system, or browser, or email, or whatever, as simple to set up and use as possible. For me it’s a bit like choosing a car: I want it to look decent, be easy to drive and maintain, and comfortable. I neither know nor care nor even understand most of what goes on under the bonnet to make it run, and I don’t really see a need to. As long as I can find the dip-stick to check if my oil needs topping up, find the cap where the stuff goes if I need to top it up, ditto anti-freeze and screen-wash, and know whether to fill up with Unleaded or Diesel fuel, plus what the right tyre pressures are, then I’m good to go. I expect to turn the key, hear that satisfying growl as the engine sparks up first time, and I’m good to go.

That, essentially, is how I want my computer to work. I switch it on and everything boots up automatically and works……my operating system (good old Windows 10) does just that, with no fuss or frills, in perhaps 30 seconds. I know the thing has been criticised ad infinitum in tech journals and forums ever since it dropped to replace W7, but I have to say I have never had a day’s trouble with it. Updates drop, I install, and carry on as before. I can’t upgrade to 11, but that’s because it’s an old-ish laptop so lacks the technical grunt to upgrade, but I’m not bothered – it still works fine and I think will do for a while yet – I’ll just get 11 when I replace The Beat at some point in the future. No rush.

So I want my browser to do that, too. Just open when I launch, and do what it’s supposed to, with the minimum of fuss, extensions or add-on’s.

So far, Vivaldi is doing just that – but then, as I wrote in the last post, so does my Chromium Edge browser, that I’ve been firmly wedded to, and singing the praises of, for these last two or three years. Slight caveat: the Windows Defender suite, while doing pretty much what I expect in terms of cookie protection and stuff, there is no ad-blocking so I had to download an extension: the Windows shop has loads of ad-blockers and I went for AdBlock Plus, simply because it was first on the list. It’s worked fine, no issues – though whether as effectively as Vivaldi’s built in tool I can’t judge as there are no stats to tell me, at least that I can find. By contrast, as I write, and bearing in mind that neither the laptop nor browser are active 24/7, the count on my home page shows that well over 38,000 trackers and close to 18,000 ads have been blocked in the month or so I’ve been using Vivaldi. I am truly astonished by those numbers! But it’s very much a BIG PLUS for Vivaldi….

What else? Well, the look and feel is good, I made some set up changes to get close to how I’ve been using Edge but nothing major. I was already using vertical tabs, so the open ones showing on the panel at the left of my screen is no big surprise, but there is a little difference. In Edge I’ve set a selection of sites I use pretty much daily to open up automatically, with one particular showing as my Home. Their icons are what show in that left side panel. They sleep when I’m not looking at them but open immediately I click on an icon. I like that. By contrast, in Vivaldi I’ve set that same set of websites as speed dials and I have to say I’m not convinced. Although in the Settings I’ve defined the tile size as Tiny, they are a good 3cm X 2.5cm – which, sorry, is not tiny in my book! – and instead of just showing, for instance, the icon of Facebook, or the BBC or whatever (as I get in Edge) I get a picture of the current web-page, very tiny indeed, in the tile with the icon and URL underneath the tile. It works fine and I’m kind of used to it, but with 16 Speed Dials defined it takes up a lot of screen real estate. I’ve played around in settings, but can’t see any way of changing that appearance.

It’s a shame, because Vivaldi has a great selection of themes to choose from but all of them are largely obscured by the Speed Dial tiles. For that reason, I’ve gone for a fairly random patterned theme rather than one of the lovely landscapes and so on that are on offer. Again, as a contrast, on Edge when I launch a new tab I get a picture of my own picture choice as my background (currently a rather lovely photo I took in a local forest on a mushroom foraging trip a few weeks back: I have others to choose from) unencumbered by the Quick Link (i.e. Speed Dial) tiles that I defined there. Much nicer. Incidentally, the Edge tiles are just 1.5cm squares containing only the site icon, with the site name (not URL) below, and can be hidden to open up the entire background (theme) picture. That is what I want from Vivaldi, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know!

Beyond that small niggle I’m very happy. Navigation is simple, sites open very quickly and videos on You Tube and elsewhere play well and look good. I rarely use the Panel to the right of my screen, with the various system short-cuts, except to open the Mail and Calendar tools, and now and then Wiki, so I’ve hidden it.

The newer additions (I believe) like Mail and Calendar I’ve set up, and I like them a lot. They’re not that different, in terms of set up and functionality, to others mail clients I’ve tried, and pretty much identical to the same apps on Edge. The big difference and advantage to me is that they are baked into the browser rather than separate apps that need to be launched individually – everything is in one place and I can get at them from a single icon on my W10 taskbar rather from multiple icons.

So all in all, I’m very happy with it. I’ve not tried some of the productivity tools, like Tab Stacks etc, because to be honest I don’t really see a use them. Now I’m retired I really don’t need all these tools: I have LibreOffice for my writing, I rarely have more than two or three tabs open at any given time, so for me there is no real benefit. Remember the KISS principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) – it is my basis for what I do and how I do it these days.

Oh……and I nearly forgot: loving the Community ethic that comes with using Vivaldi and setting up an account, I think it’s a great idea, and a great way to see what other people are doing and thinking via the user blogs…….as you can see! But I would like to see tweaks to that, too. First, I don’t quite understand why I have to view and approve a Comment that someone has made in response to a post before anyone can see it: in my view blogging is all about feedback and conversation, and I can’t think of a better way of stifling that than having to approve a Comment. Sure, keep the option to Delete something if you don’t like it but just post the Comment! I’m a big boy already, been blogging for 12 years elsewhere and really welcome any feedback or criticism, good and bad, I won’t be offended. Second, I’m still not quite sure how I can invite someone to Like or Follow me – I’ve done so with a few blogs I’ve looked at so far, but for me it’s a little clumsy and needs simplifying (or explaining how I can prompt or invite).

Will I keep Vivaldi this time, and more pertinently use it as my daily driver? Yes and yes…..but I’d still love to be able to do something about those damned Speed Dial tiles!

Vivaldi: Part 1 – the road to Vivaldi

So. I’ve been using Vivaldi as my daily driver for about a month now. What is my verdict? In a nutshell, I like it – and there’s a lot to like. But, like everything in life, it’s not perfect.

First up, a little background. I’ve been haunting the interweb thingy since the Millennium, when my then employer provided me with my first laptop: as a Consultant I was on the road constantly so I needed it to stay in touch. Like most machines probably in late 1999/early 2000, its OS was Windows and hence IE the browser. It was clunky, but so was the internet itself: to get online I had to commandeer a phone line at whatever location, home or office, plug it into the slot and use a flaky dial-up connection. At work there were generally a dozen or more people trying to do the same thing, so sometimes we had to adopt a rota system and limit ourselves to half an hour each – barely enough time to send and receive emails, submit time sheets and expense claims. Browsing? Forget it!

Things improved rapidly and before I knew it network connections were much better and I didn’t need to block a phone line to do my stuff. So I had time to browse a bit and discover things, mostly at home – my project managers tended to have eyes like hawks and an infallible spy system that kept them abreast of who was doing what when they were out of the office, whether in a meeting, on vacation, a smoke break or taking a leak. Those were happy days, believe it or not!

IE was ok, slow, a bit bland and lacking decent picture content and not a film in sight (at least initially: it, too, improved of course). Then someone recommended Chrome (I think it was a client) so I gave it a go, and it was, by comparison, great. It still is I suppose, but I haven’t used it in years, and since I could get at their Search, and Gmail and Maps and all the other stuff, from any browser, when it became an obvious and annoying resource hog I moved on to Firefox. That was probably the first time the issue of privacy invaded my brain as Firefox made a big thing about being more private that Chrome or IE or anything else – which was why I tried it. To be frank, I didn’t notice anything really different or revolutionary about it (unless you consider the fiddly set up and endless customisation options that didn’t always work to be different and/or revolutionary. I didn’t: I found it a pain). I persevered with it for maybe six months, then on a whim had another bash at Chrome’s latest release. That set a template for regular veering between Chrome and Firefox every year or so, and never being fully satisfied.

When I upgraded, finally, to Windows 10 – this was after I’d left my employer and started my own consultancy, and bought my own laptop – I got Edge and gave it a try (with Chrome still my default). I found it ok, better than IE for sure, as good or perhaps better than Firefox but still not as good as Chrome. That remained the case until Chromium Edge dropped onto my machine, and I found it so much better – simpler and cleaner looking than Chrome (which surprised me) and way less fiddly to customise than Firefox. It’d been my default ever since, and has in my view improved with each iteration.

But this piece is about Vivaldi. How did I get here? Well, after I retired, four years ago now, I started looking at alternatives to Microsoft for my computing needs – stuff like productivity suites and anti-virus software was now a licence cost to me personally rather than provided by my employer or claimable against my tax. Since my income had fallen through a trapdoor (pensions rarely match final salary, especially when said salary is based on a quite ridiculous daily rate plus expenses and per diem, as had been the case for nearly ten years) savings had to be found. Enter Libre Office and a reliance on the security functionality built into Defender in W10, and both have been perfectly ok: for me at least, they do what it says on the box. But while researching all of the alternatives for that – and my word, I was surprised at just how many there were! – I, naturally enough, came across loads of other browsers. You Tube is good like that.

I started test driving them, jut for fun and as a knowledge broadening exercise. I gave Firefox another (probably final) go, but it just didn’t float my boat: I found it even more frustrating to set up, had to rely on too many add-on’s, and never did manage to get their Dark Mode to work. I gave Opera a try, basically to benefit from the built in VPN – apart from that it didn’t differ much from the new Edge or Chrome: just another Chromium fork, really. And the VPN was not at all what I wanted or indeed expected. At that time (late 2019) all the spoof locations seemed to be Russian, so that cookie setting requests all came to me in Cyrillic script (even for English websites like the BBC or my local football club back home) and were hence meaningless to me. Besides, since Crimea and MH17 the country is not on my list of countries to visit or do business with, and never will be until there are huge changes in its leadership. So I uninstalled it after about two hours. No regrets.

I gave Brave a try. Like Opera, for me it wasn’t a huge change to Edge, but was again a bit fiddly. I didn’t get the all the stuff about cryptocurrencies and wallets and things like that, and I found it all an unnecessary distraction. I played around for a week or so, then dumped it too. I didn’t bother to even look at Safari, since I’m not an Apple fanboy and it doesn’t work very well or at all on Windows (so I understand anyway). Samsung’s browser is fine on my Galaxy mobile but there is no desktop version.

I wasn’t too bothered, frankly: Edge is fine. Then I stumbled across several videos and articles singing Vivaldi’s praises, so I downloaded it. I took a couple of hours to set it up, and I played around for a couple of days. In particular, as a long time Blogger user, I liked the look of the blogging tool, but couldn’t get it to work and besides it seemed to be quite limited: I got the idea it was essentially for Vivaldi users on the Community, rather than public. Beyond that, it was ok…..but I couldn’t decide what the fuss was all about. It seemed no better than Edge. I gave it a week, then Uninstalled it.

Edge continued to serve me well through the Covid years, when through my own experience with the virus I was not doing anything much of anything – Long Covid and the resulting bout of depression saw to that – but when things looked up this year and I got more active (though still with relatively minor issues that I continue to battle) I found that Vivaldi was still highly regarded. I decided to give it another go, a more serious go…….and that yarn will follow as Part 2 of this epistle.