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.

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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.

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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.

Hi de hi, Vivaldi people!

Well, here I am: a new user on a new (to me anyway) browser, one that offers me the chance to access a new audience for my blogging activities. So I figure the best place to start would be a quick heads up – who and what and where I am, what I love and hate, some interests…..what makes me tick. Here goes….

First up: personal details. I turn 70 early next year, and am happily retired after 50 years being ordered around by people I often didn’t really like, doing a job I frequently disliked intensely, for a salary that was mostly inadequate. So pretty much like most people. I’m British by birth, a Remainer rather than one of the Brexiter muppets currently running my country into the ground with their hair-brained ideas, but living in the lovely city of Warsaw (the Polish one, not the various American versions) with my second wife (a local beauty), and our two teenage kids, a soppy English bulldog named Lulu and a stately ragdoll cat (the real Queen of the Household) called Jazzy. I’ve been living here 20 years now but still struggle with the language…..a constant bone of contention between My Beloved and I…….

Back in Blighty I have three grown sons, one in his late 30s, the other two in their early 40s, that between them have blessed me with four grandkids (and counting) so far. I miss them all terribly, because I don’t get back to visit often enough, but I’m immensely proud of them all. I also have a couple of elder sisters, in their 80s now, who I constantly worry about and pester with sometimes unwanted phone calls – I don’t see them often enough either. Then there are assorted cousins and nieces and nephews, and overseas branches of the same in Canada and Australia. Thank God for the much-maligned (and deservedly so, IMO) Facebook, without which contact would have been lost long ago.

That’s the easy bit: now, then what comes next? Loves and hates (family aside): well, reading and writing. I usually have a couple of books on the go, and I write another blog on Google’s Blogger platform, that I’ve been publishing for 12 years now, in various guises and under various titles. Right now it’s called This World, This Life and you’ll find it at https//travellin-bob2.blogspot.com if you fancy a look. Go on: you’ll enjoy it because it’s good (says he, blowing his own trumpet). Then there is an unpublished novel about sex, booze and football (the proper and original version of the game, not its various bastard children) set in the early 1970s. Called The Match, it’s largely autobiographical but with names and places changed to protect the guilty. All I need is an agent or a publisher…..anyone got a recommend or two? And there’s a labour of love memoir, largely for my kids to read and know me better, probably after I’ve gone, and a growing collection of short stories (also seeking an agent or publisher). It all keeps me going through the long, cold northern European nights (and sometimes days).

I’m also a big music fan with something playing in the background whatever I’m doing at home. Mostly I favour late 60’s through to late 90s, and mainly prog rock and folk, with a smattering of jazz and swing thrown in for good measure. And you can’t beat a good classical piece: masters like Beethoven and Mozart, Chopin and – err – Vivaldi feature in my collection. The one thing missing is music by people of colour, Hendrix aside: I’m afraid I have never been able to find anything to like in rap or grime or hip-hop. I do have a soft spot for Stevie Wonder and 60s soul, and some classic old blues players like Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf but that’s about it I’m afraid. Sorry if that offends….

Hates? Politicians generally, especially those representing the Tory interest in Britain right now: they are all a bunch of talentless, dogmatic chancers who shouldn’t be allowed to run a bath, never mind a country. That said, the current administration in my adopted homeland is similarly incompetent. It seems to me that the more populist an administration is the less competent and downright dangerous it becomes – for other examples look at Orban’s Hungary, the right-lurching new Italian mob, and of course Lukaszenko’s Belarus. And don’t get me started on the psychos running Russia and North Korea – or for that matter the Orange Oaf, Trump: I shudder to think what could happen if he manages to get re-elected!

Anyway, I think that’s enough to be going along with! You’ll get to know me better as I add content – that’s provided you Follow it of course (and I hope you will!). My plan is to post at least weekly, though I have no idea what about. Ideas bubbling around include why do so many people like Linux rather than Windows? Is open source really the answer? What do I like about Vivaldi (the browser as opposed to the musical genius) and what would I like to change? Is dear Greta helping or hindering climate change activism? Should Cristiano Ronaldo have returned to United last year – and should he go now (and if so where to)?

For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this short confessional and it’s piqued your interest enough to keep your eyes open for the next scribbling. Any Comments, Likes and Upticks or other feedback will be greatly appreciated. My mail address is TravellinBob@vivaldi.net or you can reach my externally at travellinbob@gmail.com

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