Thinking Cap

In itself, writing is a straightforward activity. Pick up a writing instrument and put words onto a page. Alternatively, open an app and start typing. That’s it.
Not exactly rocket surgery, as TJ might say. By definition, the process is creative. It’s rare to have a novel, a chapter, or even a blog post fully-formed in the mind. The act of writing is forming the words to communicate that meaning one wishes to convey.

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Living the Dream – 31. BREXIT

The clock is ticking toward the end of March, which at the time of writing is B-day. Brexit. That said, fear not, tempting though it is to embark on a rant as to the principle or the process, I find there are enough people out there blessing us with their wisdom.

Assuming that the exit occurs to schedule, what will it mean for us? Who knows? I am not surprised that little is fixed. I never believed that there was any real prospect of the politicians agreeing a comprehensive in advance. The EU (UK included) has a long history of struggling to reach agreement on anything meaningful without a host of carve-outs and caveats. I never saw any incentive for the body of the EU to make any sort of realistic treaty in advance.

Real work will begin post-exit.

Residence

Therefore, on April the first, (insert April Fool’s day joke of choice here) Mags and I will wake up as non-EU citizens living the EU. At the risk of offending those on both sides of the argument that see this as a watershed moment, I doubt either of us will notice. As EU citizens we applied for our beautifully named Alien Registration Certificate, which is indistinguishable from the one that non-EU nationals apply for too. Our European registered car had to be re-registered (and a hefty additional tax paid). On a specific local level, the ARC is the key to accessing services, irrespective of nationality.

Work

Work-wise, there is little clarity either. Nero’s Notes purchases some stock from the EU and has customers in the EU. It may be that the EU or the UK applies tariffs and customs checks. Honestly, I doubt it. The default setting for a bureaucracy is ‘status quo’. Politics apart, I cannot see any customs agency ramping itself up for a battle over notebooks or anything else. I anticipate that behind the scenes, civil servants will put measures in place to change as little as possible on a practical level, while politicians, functionaries and Twitter continue to boil and rage at each other for effect.

Some tell me that I am an ostrich and that Brexit marks a nadir in international cooperation. Perhaps they are right. We will all know soon enough.

In the mean time, I’m going to have a cup of tea.

Working Tools – 7. Briefcase

I co-host a podcast, 1857. On episode 51, we inadvertently touched on one my neuroses. Bags. Backpacks, messengers, briefcases, holdalls and everything in between. I am constantly on the hunt for the perfect bag (or bags). Interest was huge! People coming back with questions, advice and suggestions. Many wanted to know what I plumped for – so here we are. For everyone’s sanity, I’ll limit this post to my work bag, nobody is interested in how I pack my shirts. Mostly, I work from my home office, which is directly below my living room. From time to time, I attend meetings, either here in Cyprus, or elsewhere. This might be in my guise as a compliance consultant, the notebook guy or possibly even both. So I need a bag that will sit comfortably with both of those personae. One that can come to a pen show or to a boardroom.

I love Messenger bags and backpacks. However – I don’t like either with a suit. I know that many suits use these types of bag daily, but I find that the bags do not sit right with the jacket. I don’t see the point of making an effort to look smart, then destroying that look with the bag. A specific and personal opinion, I know. Therefore, I am left with briefcases / shoulder bags (some of which can be worn across the body too). The specific trip that I am packing for is, 4 nights, 3 days. 1 day leisure, 1 day being the notebook guy at a pen show and 1 day as a compliance professional. I fly out on Friday evening and return home Tuesday.

Contents

This is what I’m taking:

Digital

Digital Tools
For a short trip

iPad Pro 10.5 (2017). Bose Comfort 35 Noise reducing headphones. Anker charger (4 x USB), Kodak battery pack, AirPods, Punkt M01 feature phone, some lightning cables, and an Apple Watch charging cable.

Analogue

Briefcase analogue contents
Paper, pens and pencils

My LT1917 Metallic A5 and pen. 2 Bellroy wallets. One for pocket carry and 1 for additional cards. Smythson business card holder and LT1917 business card holder. Pocket Notebook and Nock Tallulah mini pen case for a few writing instruments.

All of that will slot into my Tumi briefcase that I bought several years ago, in Helsinki, I think.

Briefcase in Black
Corporate Cobra!

Conclusion

The briefcase is made for a laptop around the 13 inch mark. I can squeeze my 15 inch MBP in, if pushed. The dimensions in cm are 42 by 30 by 10 or so. The bag will fit comfortably under an airline seat, which is my preference. I like to be able to get to anything that I might need without doing the whole seat dance thing.

However, the briefcase is quite rigid and as such requires a ‘everything in its place’ approach. Rummaging around in this bag is uncomfortable. It hurts. It does unzip all the way open, making it TSA friendly. Of course, the rest of the world cares not a jot about the TSA, so don’t think you can leave your laptop in it for scanning at Heathrow.

Briefcase opened out
Only useful in the US

The shoulder strap is detachable and adjustable. It can be worn over the shoulder or across the body. It’s very high quality, and I suspect will last forever. The slim profile means that duty free shopping etc is not going to slot in this bag, but will either need to live in its own bag or be slipped into the wheelie with my clothes.

If I was slipping down to a coffee shop to prominently place my notebook and iPad and look the ‘hipster writer’, I’d want a softer, less corporate briefcase, but that is,
a: Because I’m a poseur
b: For another post

Overall, this is a high quality briefcase, well-designed and built. It sits between the minimalist “cool” size and the corporate road warrior “all bases covered” size. Yet still, I find myself drifting to bag websites…

Characters – The Antagonist

Last week I introduced you to the Protagonist, Sean. Locking him up in a cardboard folder has done him the world of good. He has emerged more likeable, balanced and fun to be around. Time now to meet Jana.

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Living the Dream – 30. Harvest

My mum always jokes that if you throw a rotten tomato into the garden in Cyprus, months later, you would have a tomato plant. The soil here is incredibly fertile. Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance and taste divine.

Winter is citrus season and we are fortunate to have some trees in the garden.

The harvest is grapefruit, clementine, mandarin, orange, lime and pomelo.

I was looking forward to a little fruit. A little fruit? I’m fond of understatement, but holy moly…what a harvest!

Mandarin Harvest
Masses of fruit

So much fruit, I’ve never seen. There is something very special about walking down the garden in the morning and picking breakfast from the tree.

The huge yellow things in the title picture are Pomelos. I now know,(thank you, Google), that the Pomelo pre-dates the Grapefruit, which is a hybrid of it and the orange. It’s a curious fruit. The bright yellow skin promises a super-grapefruit. Cut open, the fruit presents as a pale grapefruit wrapped in papier-mâché and a yellow leather jacket. The size comes from the protection that the fruit wears.

The papier-mâché, more properly called pith, is tough and as well as encasing the fruit, it acts as a skeleton. The flesh, which is the fruit, is lovely and sweet.

That said, its best not to be too hungry when choosing a pomelo for breakfast. Getting to that sweet flesh is hard work and the rewards seems scant in proportion to the effort.

Marmalade

However, it is alleged that one can make marmalade from pomelo, so even as I type, Mrs L is doing battle with pomelos.

Meanwhile, I’m having a grapefruit every morning and as many mandarins and clementines as I can. Visit the house in winter and you get force-fed citrus fruit.

In between writing and editing this post, Mags presented us with an honest to goodness, absolutely authentic, damn tasty, pomelo marmalade. My type of harvest.

The harvest, bottled
Pomelo Marmalade

Fame and fortune awaits!

Working Tools – 6. Writing Setup

Writing Setup

The photo is not staged. I got up from my chair, picked up my iPhone and took a picture. It’s 09:27 on a Friday morning. Mrs L has gone out to do the weekly grocery shop. Spice is in her crate, just to the right of this picture. Once this draft is written, I’ll wake and take her out into the garden for some play and some training.

I would like to be in my office – but I’m not for a couple of reasons.

  1. The office is a converted car port. As such, it has no heating and it’s cold today.
  2. Spice needs attention. We are crate-training her, which requires some supervision and some energy. She is not at the stage where she can be left alone for long periods. It’s easier to bring some work kit to the the kitchen than it would be to take her and the crate to the office.

I could equally have brought my laptop upstairs and used that. I chose, in fact always choose, to bring the ipad instead.

Why the ipad?

I’m not asking you, I’m asking myself.

  • Footprint. I like just having the magic keyboard in front of me and the screen separate. It means I can put the screen off-centre, which I enjoy. Why? Search me.
  • Footprint II. As my workflow changes, this writing setup works with me. I push the keyboard to one side and pick up my notebook. Everything is much easier to move around.
  • The keyboard. I enjoy the magic keyboard, and it is seldom taken down by a speck of dust or a crumb. The MacBook Pro? Well…
  • Focus. I know there is a split-screen mode on the iPad Pro. Periodically, I learn it, then forget it again. The singular focus of one task / one app, is a huge plus for me. I have no notifications on the ipad, and I will remain on the Ulysses edit screen until I’m finished with the post.

Environmental

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but not when I’m writing. Writing, I need some music. Spice and I have settled on some chilled jazz. I asked Siri to play some mellow jazz on the homepod, and, brace yourself, she did. As you can see, it has had the desired effect on Spice, and I’m enjoying it too.

Dog in my writing setup
Spice enjoying the jazz

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is great. So is my laptop. Both run my favourite software for writing (Ulysses). Not surprisingly, I have a top quality range of notebooks to choose from.

For the first time in a long time, none of my Apple kit is the latest and greatest. There is a new generation of ipad pros out. A new Apple Watch. An improved MBP. iPhone X with letters appended. There is a reasonable chance that I will soon be in an Apple Store, unsupervised. Of all the goodies there, I will sneak a look at the new iPads, but I imagine will leave, empty-handed.

The writing setup doesn’t do the work. I use a mix of the analogue and the digital, and I am absolutely certain that my workflows will continue to evolve, but when push comes to shove, there is no substitute for sitting down and getting on with it.

Characters – The Protagonist

Notebook II is filling up fast.

Several times, I have resisted diving into the manuscript and re-drafting. That’s what happened last time, and see where that got me.

I’m determined to put more effort into the outline, so that the characters don’t end up wandering off on tangents.

More importantly, I need to get to know my characters. They’re already much changed over the last couple of years. Their time in the cardboard folders has had radical effects.

—————————————————————My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Living the Dream – 29. Winter

Winter

Winter is here. Cyprus has one. No, I didn’t know either.

Many rejoice.

“The dams need filling.”

Recent arrivals look at each other, glum. Doubt wafts about. Nobody came for this.

Winter has got out of the blocks early, and with alacrity. The news reports that yesterday, we had a mini-hurricane. I doubt meteorologists would use such a term, but I find it accurate.

Soaked

We are house-training our puppy, and her bathroom is on the terrace outside the kitchen. The floor is lined with “puppy pads” and we have a fence around it. At relevant moments, we lift her into place. Though open on three sides, the terrace does have a roof.

So it is, that several times, both day and night, we can be heard exhorting and encouraging a bemused canine:

“Go pee-pee. Good girl. Good pee-pee.”

Early in the morning, I stood in my dressing-gown sleepily observing that the post-dawn air was on the decidedly fresh side, that the last brandy of the previous evening may have been a tad unnecessary.

The sky darkened. Both Spice and I looked up, puzzled.  From bone dry to sopping wet, in half a heartbeat. Rain hit from two sides. No. Three sides. On reflection, from four sides. Dog and human were unanimous in utter mystification.

“What the …. was that?” I queried, not unreasonably.

Spice perceived the rhetorical nature of the question and intensified her stare.

With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect that she may have been hoping to communicate that we might more comfortably speculate upon the nature of the weather from the warm, dry kitchen, not two feet away, rather than in the midst of the spray.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The squall, or whatever it was, passed in ten minutes or less and no more than thirty minutes later, the sky was a dappled blue and the sun shone.

Either this is an unusual winter, or our luck continues to be poor. Wave upon wave of storm has rolled over the house. Thunder, lightning, hail and now, it would seem, a mini-hurricane. Weather is extremely localised on the island, but this wet, stormy spell appears more a general theme.

I have spent enough time in this part of the world to know that soon enough, we will miss the rain, and will be referring to the sun as relentless, rather than the storms.

Victim

However, I do feel for my sister-in-law. She is here for an extended break, hoping for warm, dry weather. Every morning, she comes into the kitchen where she is enthusiastically greeted by her new best friend, Spice, and looks through the window at the back-end of the latest storm system heading out to sea.

I’m not sure she believes me any more when I say,

“It’s usually much nicer.”

I’m not sure I believe me either.