Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bare Balcony, Bad Back

I finally got back out on the balcony last Sunday, spurred on by weather forecasts that promised snow. Snow. In Milan. In November. Were they joking? As the temperature on the balcony was 18°C at the time, and I really didn't need the thick sweater I'd put on, it seemed unlikely. But it was a good excuse to get on with all the clearing up I'd been putting off for weeks, and to move the stuff that had to overwinter close to the walls of the house, where it would stay warmer.

So I pottered around for a few hours, by the end of which the balcony was starting to look remotely as if it was cared for again, if somewhat bare. My motivation crisis has meant few biennials this year. And some of what I did put in didn't come up - my pansies, hollyhocks and foxgloves were a total failure. Out of the lot, I got one pansy plant. The only success has been a little container full of wallflowers, which are coming on fine.

I was relieved to see that my ill-treated cyclamen had picked up again though. I moved them from individual pots into a single container, and they seem very happy there. All three plants are full of little buds just starting to come through.

And then I came in, and went back to work.

So there I am sitting at my computer half an hour later, when I decide I'd like a cup of tea. I go to get up - and can't. My back's just seized up completely - a classic case of what Italians call il colpo della strega - the witch's blow.

How had I done it? I was fine when I sat down, and it wasn't until I tried to get up again that I even realised that it hurt. I can only imagine that I made the usual mistake of lifting things badly as I was shifting the containers around - something have no excuse for because I know how you should do it, I know I have back problems, and I know I shouldn't risk it.

Two days and a lot of ibuprofen later, I was more or less back on my feet. But for any of you who don't know the "rules", here's a summary from the
Family Doctor site. When you have to lift something ....

  • Don't lift by bending over - OK, guess who put the containers on the balcony floor then bent straight over to pick them up again. Guilty.

  • Lift an object by bending your knees and squatting to pick up the object - Yeah, but my knees are in an even worse state than my back. Squat to pick up ? If I squat someone has to pick me up .... Guilty but I plead mitigating circumstances.

  • Keep your back straight and hold the object close to your body - And squash all the plants to death? Objection, your Honour.

  • Avoid twisting your body while lifting - OK, OK I twisted. But if you saw the size of my balcony ... What else was I supposed to do ? I throw myself on the mercy of the court.

But my protestations were to little avail and I was sentenced to two days flat on my back. I did consider an appeal based on the ruling I found on the Wellness site suggesting that following the the rules doesn't work at all, but I have to say the prison conditions were fairly comfy, and the time passed relatively pleasantly. The warder was very kind, and kept me supplied with plenty of reading matter and copious cups of tea. He was so kind in fact that I think the next time I have to shift containers, I might just ask for his help. Now there's a foolproof way to prevent back injury while lifting ...

Sorry ? Oh the snow. Well yes, it did arrive. There was a sprinkling that night, but it was more or less gone by the morning. And then on Friday it came back and snowed for five or six hours - just enough to send Milan into total chaos and cause havoc with the public transport system.

You know, I can hear you laughing all the way from Alaska ...

Friday, November 28, 2008

I've had an E-mail from Christopher Lloyd ...

So there I am, sat at the computer, and I decide to check my E-mail. A few messages from students, the usual collection of spam and phishing mails, and a message from Chris Lloyd. Chris Lloyd? Do I know anyone named Chris Lloyd? I trawl back through my memory but no-one springs to mind. Uh oh - is this more spam? I approach with caution .... and find a very chatty E-mail publicising a new book by Christopher Lloyd.

A book? Christopher Lloyd? Could it be ....? Now I'm not so daft as to start clicking on E-mail links unless I'm 100% sure where they've come from, so I copy the name of the book, toddle over to Amazon and paste it in. And sure enough ....

But wait a moment. Christopher Lloyd is dead - and anyway, this isn't a gardening book. Are we perhaps talking about the actor Christopher Lloyd - you know, the mad scientist from Back to the Future? Back to Google. But no. Cold trail there. Try googling the title. And ... bingo.

This Christopher Lloyd is a journalist and writer. But how did the E-mail get to me? I've never heard of the guy, and if he's stooping to Spam, then I'm not interested, however good the book is. But there's an end message with his address, the web address of the mail company who sent the message, and the usual message saying that I've received the mail because I've signed up for the service and can unsubscribe at any time. I have? I really can't remember when. Or where. So I check out the company on Google, and they seem bona fide - lots of assurances of their privacy policy etc. And I have to say it's the first time I've heard from them, and the product seems very clearly targeted. Sad though that we're all so harassed by spam that we're super suspicious even of publicity that turns out to be something we're happy to receive.

So Chris, (please excuse the familiarity, but that is how you signed yourself) I thought I'd make up for my nasty suspicions by giving you a plug. The E-mail does say to pass the message on, so this is how I'm doing it. The book looks fun, and if anyone would like it signed personally there was this offer in the message...

As a thank you, I am offering to write and send one (or more) personalised bookplate(s) free of charge to stick on the inside front cover of the book if it is to be a Christmas gift ...

You can get it by going to Chris' website, here . I noticed that the book is Amazon's 500th best seller though, so you may have to wait while he recovers from writer's cramp. Amazing what a mail shot can do.

So there you go. If, as the message says, you're looking for a Christmas gift for your 16-year old son / daughter, 45 year old mother/ father or 76 year old grandparents, this could just be it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm all blogged out... This is the first post for a month, when I've been averaging two a week all year. I just suddenly didn't have anything to say, and no motivation to even think about it.

I'm suffering from a bad attack of the blogging blues. They don't appear out of nowhere of course. They creep up on you insidiously over a period of time. In my case they were triggered by the recent problems at Blotanical (triggered you understand, not caused.) My already somewhat pathetic stats plunged, and I missed a goal I'd set myself by a mile. And at a certain point it didn't seem worth it any more ...

I ploughed on. But I wasn't just blogged out, I was balconied out too. Since the beginning of the autumn I've barely set foot out there. Whole containers got attacked by downy mildew and I just sat and watched. Plants wilted from lack of water and I just thought I'll do it tomorrow. Temperatures plunged and I just left plants out and uncovered. Whaat ??! This isn't like me. These are my babies ...

But if I wasn't working on the balcony, then there was nothing to write about it. My posts were getting more and more general. Where was the blog going? What was I trying to achieve?

The underlying cause was probably a nasty dose of overwork - when you're already spending twelve hours a day writing at the computer, and still missing deadlines, an hour spent blogging neither seems justified nor particularly appealing.

But it doesn't seem to be going away, so where do I go from here? I've been seriously thinking of closing down the blog all together. And I see I'm not the only one. Several blogs I follow have closed, or at least changed direction recently. Does there come a time when you've just been there, done that and it's time to move on? I've been blogging for over two years now,and the blogosphere has changed radically in that period. At the beginning it was cosy. Now it sometimes feels like a jungle ...

In the last couple of days one or two nice things have happened which have made me rethink. Should I try changing direction too? Go for more of a how-to approach and monetarise the blog? Broaden out and add a second topic? Redo the template and the layout ? Would that give me the impetus to start up again?

To those of you who do follow the Balcony Garden, whether regularly or occasionally, thank you. Without your comments I'd have stopped long ago. And I'd love some advice. Have you ever had the blogging blues? How did you get through it? What would you do with the Balcony Garden if you were me? How could I improve it, and make it more fun - both for me and for you ?

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