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More Research, a Shock, and Some Really Good Soup

Wednesday 22 January 2020 23:30

It’s been a rather full on day, and my brain is buzzing as it is all the time at the moment.

Early this morning, sitting up in bed with my tea and porridge, I found myself thinking more about the ethics – for me – of joining the monetised YouTube creators, and this led on to all sorts of other thoughts, not all of them good, about the relentless march of technology and the desire for profit.

Checking for any relevant news online – there’s a lot of interesting stuff at the moment about mental health in the workplace – I got sidetracked a little into reports about the cost of time taken off sick, or not taken off but spent working less productively, especially by younger adults. This led to articles about older people having to work longer, and even the probability of the complete demise of the state pension system in not too many years’ time! It was all interesting, and all relevant, and all food for thought.

One item led me to revisit information about the growing movement over here for “Men’s Sheds”, and this led me to finding out about a space in a nearby town where there might very well be a chance of setting up some publicly accessible creative space. It’s in a garden run by a charity and they even have a wooden building that they referred to as their Big Shed! I shall take that as a sign and get in touch with them to float my idea.

Late afternoon I opened an envelope the postman had pushed through my letterbox, and reeled in shock. In it was a letter from my electricity provider, with headings in large bright red type, informing me that they were “preparing debt recovery action”, were about to “obtain a Right of Entry Warrant” and “Start legal proceedings against [me] in the County Court or Sheriff Court as appropriate”! This because I had apparently not paid an energy bill dated a month ago; an energy bill that I knew nothing about.

Almost an hour was wasted on the phone trying to get the energy company to admit their mistake and elicit an apology – at the end of which, although they did admit to a whole list of errors, they didn’t even see fit to offer a token M&S voucher as recompense for threatening me with the debtors prison and scaring the bejeebers out of me! Grrr.

So not a lot of progress with plans today, although before the little debacle with the energy company, quite a bit of food for thought. And talking of food, to save the day, I had some of Michael Nobbs’ “Magic Bowtie Soup” to make for supper. It’s perfect austerity food, cheap to make, full of good things, sustaining and delicious, and will now see me through to the end of the week.

The sort of food that leaves you replete and murmuring, “Come what may, life is good.”. 🙂 (Click on the link below for my version of Michael’s recipe.)

Michael’s Magic Bowtie Soup (slightly tweaked)

YouTube, Small Spaces and a Cream Egg – Part 1

Tuesday 21 January 2020 20:25

I’ve been looking at possible income streams today, focussing on YouTube. 

I spent many years teaching adults the basics of internet use, and from day one always stressed the importance of remembering that Google is an advertising company, and we, the users of its search engine, and nowadays other products, are not customers, we – or rather our habits and data – are the product they are selling. The same is true of YouTube viewers. You are allowed to watch free of charge, but don’t let that fool you. As with almost everything connected with Google, YouTube makes its money – both for their parent company Alphabet, and in the case of YouTube also for the creators of its videos – from advertising. The difference for me now is, I have to begrudgingly accept there are some benefits to be had if you work at it.

So what have I  gleaned from today’s research? I’ll try to keep it simple and have to stress this is simply my broad understanding of the situation from everything I’ve read today.

For a YouTube creator the first step in creating an income from their videos involves something called AdSense, whereby in simple terms the video’s creator sets in motion a process known as ‘monetising’ their channel, and accepts adverts that are selectively placed by Google’s algorithms to suit the viewers’ interests. Money is paid by the advertiser based on various things including how much of the advert is viewed, and whether the viewer subsequently ‘clicks through’ to the advertiser’s own website. Of the money paid by the advertiser, currently YouTube take 45% and the creator gets 55%. Although the precise amount can vary according to a variety of things, it’s generally reckoned that if an ad gets 1,000 views its creator can make as much as $10, although it could be nearer $7. In this way the video creators effectively become the employees – they create the product for YouTube to ‘sell’ to advertisers, and for doing so they earn a small return.

Another way in which YouTube can be used to make money is by directly promoting products or services within a video. In this case the video’s creator negotiates with the product or service company directly, and YouTube themselves don’t get a look in. Understandably it’s something YouTube don’t actively encourage, as they’re then providing the platform free of charge for others to make money from, but it’s not, yet, forbidden either. Of course it’s also used by companies themselves to publicise their own products and in that case it’s unusual for AdSense adverts to also be run as there would be a risk of a competitor being showcased, so again YouTube lose out. So far YouTube seem to regard product placement videos as a necessary evil to draw in more viewers to YouTube as a whole. Once there, those viewers can then be steered toward videos that do make money for YouTube themselves.

Once a video, and ideally a whole channel, is getting a large number (we’re talking hundreds of thousands, ideally millions) of views, it’s in YouTube’s interest to promote it within the site (remember they get 45% of the ad revenue). However, certainly at the start it’s up to the creators to promote their content like crazy, and that requires a lot work and ingenuity, and a goodly smattering of luck.

So, is this something I want to consider? Maybe.

I wouldn’t attempt to do anything revolving around drawing or indeed writing. My drawing skills are minimal in that respect, and although I am actually qualified to teach, I wouldn’t feel ‘qualified’ to teach something that I don’t have sufficient skill in doing myself. I could use it to create computer skills videos, returning to my previous role as an IT trainer; it’s an option, but it certainly doesn’t excite me (and I can’t see it exciting anybody else either for that matter!).

No, the thing that might be a possibility harks back to an idea I had, and a website I built way way back – I don’t honestly know without looking through ancient backup files, but it’s certainly over 15 years ago, maybe nearer 20. It was all about small living spaces. More of a ‘thing’ now than it was back then, and certainly far far easier to ‘monetise’ now. So I’m wondering… I’ve held on to several domain names for a good many years, not quite sure why I’m paying the renewal fees each year for something that I’m not using, but feeling at the back of my mind that I still want to, one day. Maybe that day is drawing near.

So, my reluctant dive into the world of YouTube monetising may yet happen as a matter of necessity, but for the moment let’s leave it as, ” Watch this (small) space”.


Oh, and where does the chocolate cream egg come in? Ah, you’ll have to read part 2 for that!

Outward Bound – Alone In The Middle of Nowhere

Monday 20 January 2020 22:45

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I went on an Outward Bound course in the Lake District.  As it happened it wasn’t quite the fun adventure I’d expected, not least because a couple of days in we were all told we were to be bundled into a minibus and driven out into the middle of nowhere, dropped off individually at a mile or so apart, with the most basic and minimal supplies, and left to fend for ourselves for 48 hours. 

As we’d paid a lot of money to stay in a beautiful old manor house make new friends and enjoy sustaining ‘home cooking’, spending 48 hours of the 5 day stay alone, with minimal provisions, in the middle of a field, felt like a complete con. At the last moment, on the understanding that I could do that, any time, under my own steam and at zero cost, I declined to take part, caught an early train home, and thought no more of it; until now.

Today it suddenly occurred to me that I feel like I’ve been dropped into the middle of nowhere now, utterly alone and with minimal provisions, and left to survive; and this time there’s no option of simply taking the train home.

I feel lost, cold, clueless, and as if I’m in way over my head. What am I doing?

The Outward Bound people who devised that original challenge did, I’ve no doubt, consider it a worthwhile one. Maybe if I had taken it then, and come through with flying colours, I wouldn’t feel suddenly so ill equipped for surviving it now. 


FOOTNOTE

I think I need to add a footnote to posts like this to emphasise that it’s simply to record how I’ve been feeling. I hope it doesn’t come across as a cry of “poor me” (I can’t promise there won’t be any of those over the coming year, but I do promise they’ll be rare, and you’ll know if a post fits that particular bill; in fact I may create a “poor me” category so at a glance you can avoid them!).

Getting through times of doubt, and momentary despairing that all is hopeless, is all part of the journey. I know that looking back on such times from a much better place shows them for the imposters that they are, which in turn helps to face up to them the next time they rear up.


Oh… another thing that ADHD causes problems with is the ability, or rather lack of it, to control emotions. It’s a scientifically recognised wiring thing. But that’s for another post.

Building A Routine

Sunday 19 January 2020 13:20

- Preparation Post No.1

I can spend, well quite frankly most of my waking hours, panicking about forgetting things or about how and when I’m going to manage to get things done – and never actually DO anything! By setting up a couple of routines, the hope is that all the worry will be taken away, leaving me to focus on getting on with the work in hand.

For anyone who leads or has led a ‘normal’ working life, this might seem a no brainer, but for me, after five years of doing what I want when I want and being pretty much always available, I realise that I now have to set up strategies for myself to ensure I have a clear idea of what I need/want to be doing, and have a clearly defined time for doing it without interruptions or distractions. The danger for me is that I’ve got too used to just ‘rolling with the day’, and I know that, now there’s a huge amount of work to be done, with my distractible brain, that simply won’t work.

So I’m taking a two-pronged approach.

Firstly I know I have to define and set aside time for specific tasks – I don’t just mean the tasks involved in moving on with this journey, but more importantly the ordinary ‘day-to-day’ chores that need doing, when there’s no-one else to do them. The ADHD inability to focus to order doesn’t allow for a half hour here, or even half a day – that time can be spent pacing the floor or gazing fixedly into space as my mind does the pacing – so I’ve learned to accept that I need to specify whole days. Things WILL crop up of course, at any time, but I’ve realised there’s a huge benefit to being able to simply ‘park’ them and not get derailed from whatever I’m doing. I’ve chosen Friday as “Catch Up” day each week, at least for the next two or three months, and anything (other than dire emergencies) that crops up in between is simply parked on the next available catch up day, and put out of my mind until then. 

I’ve designated these first few months as “Retreat Months” too – using most of the time to work completely alone, as I would if I was literally away at a solitary retreat, but allowing the exception of Catch Up Fridays where I’m parking social catch ups too!

The only part of my life that, ironically, won’t be parked on just one day a week is my car. At this time of year it really needs to be driven a few times a week and for more than a couple of miles into town. So I’m designating two or three days a week as “Drive” days, with the intention of using them for trips to the coast and maybe (free!) places of interest, with the proviso that once there I sit for a while and get some work done. With my sketch kit and my iPad, a flask of tea and another of some hot food, I’m set up for a mobile work-away day anywhere!

The second part of this routine setting that is vitally important, is keeping track of the work itself – both what’s planned and what’s in progress.

My brain is currently firing out ideas and thoughts like a Gatling gun on speed, and in order to keep track of them I’m utilising a free Microsoft app that I have on my iPad called OneNote. I wouldn’t quite go so far as calling it a project management tool – no Gantt Charts or PERT Charts here! – but it allows the creation of sections and hierarchies of pages, and I’m using it to write down and track all the things I need to think about, and I’m also doing all my writing in there, both for the book and the blog.

So far (ok, it’s only been a week, but nevertheless…) these two strategies are working very well for me. I’d designated this past week or so to get the blog created, launched, and tweaked to my liking, and I’m on track with that, and I knew I had to make an exception yesterday to the 6 working days routine by getting my tax return done, and that too is completed.

ADHD, almost by definition, makes being organised extremely difficult. A degree of OCD counterbalances it, but that sometimes can feel more like they’re fighting each other. I don’t know if the two strategies I’ve set up will see me through the coming year, but it’s a very positive start.

I’ll take that win, and happily run with the advantage for now.

Taxing Times

Saturday 18 January 2020 12:35

I’m trying to fill in my Tax Return today. I don’t want to break away from working on the blog etc, but I set today aside back at the beginning of the year, knowing I need to do it on the Big Mac rather than on my iPad where I usually work, and that I’d be turning the big fella on today to record an online event. I was in the right frame of mind, but knew it wouldn’t go smoothly and that I’d be lucky to even get in to the portal where it all sits waiting for me. Two hour after my first attempt, I’m still waiting outside.

Here in the UK we have a system whereby you are allowed (maybe nowadays it’s fair to say “encouraged”) to fill in and file your Tax Return online via the Government’s website. Certainly if you’re inclined to wait until the last minute – officially 31st January following the end of the tax year the previous April – rather than get it all sensibly out of the way by the end of October, you have no choice. If you have been doing this for a few years, when you first registered for the system you would have received, in the good old fashioned snail mail, something called a Government Gateway ID – a mix of about 12 letters and numbers – unique to you, that you enter together with a password each year when you want to submit your Return.

I think two years ago, the Government – for reasons best known to somebody who doubtless had absolutely no idea how it all worked, or indeed whether it all worked smoothly already, because they had someone to file their Tax Return for them – decided to Beta Test a new system, “GOV.UK Verify”. In theory, you had the option of continuing with the old Gateway system and, not being a fan of change, I intended to do just that for as long as possible.

Now, two years ago, despite saying thank you I’d like to carry on as normal, it nevertheless responded by bombarding me with questions so it could sign me up for the new system anyway, presumably something to do with ‘Targets’. At that time I apparently failed to answer these questions correctly – imagine questions along the lines of: “Have you recently taken out a mortgage?” Me: “No.” The Govt Bot: “That was not the correct answer. Let’s try another question.”! (Actually only now does the phrase “identity theft” occur to me. Oh good. Another thing to worry about.) Regardless of this I did eventually persuade it to go and bother somebody else, and it let me in through the old tried and trusted Gateway.

So, for the last two years I’ve carried on as usual. It’s all, eventually, gone pretty smoothly and I’ve been able to inform them via endless forms and tick boxes that I haven’t earned enough to keep a sparrow fed, let alone pay any tax. I’ve saved my copy as instructed, filed it away, heaved a sigh of relief and not given it another thought until, well, round about now.

Knowing I was yet to bite the bullet, a few days ago I had a call from a friend who’d tried getting through the dastardly Government Gateway to file his Return, and been confounded at every step. So today I wasn’t expecting smooth, and was surprised, but luckily not convinced, when it did begin to sail through all the log in steps without incident. I took a screenshot of every step as a record (an OCD thing that has helped me countless times and I would recommend to everybody), expecting the next time I hit “Continue” to be the one where the alarm sirens sounded and the portcullis slammed earthwards, skewering my feet to the ground!

It accepted my Gateway ID and password, told me who I was – it even said “Good morning” – and asked me to confirm my email address (which it told me and then asked me to type in, oh well). The necessary email popped up immediately in my Inbox, I copied and pasted the code it contained, took a screenshot, hit Continue again and cried “Oh heck where’s my phone!” as it got just a bit too competent and immediately told me it was at that very moment ringing me on the number it had stored for me to give me an “Access Code”. Momentary mad dash around the house, found the phone, “Where’s a pen!” – found a pen, couldn’t get the lid off, found a PENCIL, scribbled down the Access Code; pressed 1 to have it repeated twice more just in case, entered the Access Code, took a screenshot, hit Continue… found myself staring back at the very first Log In screen.

Now maybe I am not quite as cynical as I think I am, because I really did think by that time that everything would be fine. I could discern a degree of logic in it requesting I enter my Gateway ID and password again at this point, just a final, final, final confirmation that I’m not someone else who’s sat down in front of the screen while the real me has dashed off to the loo or been dragged away by the men in white coats. So I happily typed it all in again, and hit Submit…

And the screen reloaded looking exactly the same but blank, that is once again without my Gateway ID and password in the little boxes.

Of course I thought it was a real possibility that I was hallucinating by this time, so I typed them in again (again), hit Submit (again), and (again) found myself staring at “Enter your Gateway ID and Password and then click Submit”.

There was nothing I could do! No “If this isn’t working click here.”. There was an option of “Help” (oddly without several exclamation marks after it), so I clicked on that and it gave me a form (good oh, another form) to fill in with a place to comment and explain why I was about to throw my computer out of the window. I typed, deleted most of it judging that using bad language or personal threats to the Government perhaps wasn’t wise, certainly at this stage of my life, and retyped it politely, detailing exactly what had happened (as succinctly as I could, although – you may have already guessed this – I don’t find “succinct” easy; it’s an ADHD thing). I took a screenshot, I clicked on Submit, and was reduced to emitting a stream of very bad language as I read, “Thank you. We will be in touch within 2 days.”. Two days!!!

Now, after getting this all off my chest in here, having drunk a gallon or so of very strong black coffee, and fortified by about half a loaf’s worth of toast and jam, I’m heading back in to see, wisely or otherwise, whether I can sign up for the new “Beta Testing GOV.UK Verify” way of getting in instead.

If it asks me which school my 5-year old child goes to, I shall know I’m wasting my time.

Don’t wait up. I may be gone sometime…

Blowing The Cobwebs Away

Tuesday 14 January 2020 17:30

After three days of sitting indoors hunched over my iPad getting this all set up, I very much needed to get some air this morning.

We’re on the edge of the current UK storm, with very strong winds and lots of rain since late yesterday, but there was a bit of a lull mid morning, so I headed out.

I’m very lucky here to be less than five minutes’ walk from the woods, and just another five minutes through there to the canal. It was raining a little, and quite chilly and windy, so I didn’t want to pause for long, but I did clip my lapel mike inside my jacket just in case there was a chance to do a little video to test it out, and in order to see how well video can be added to the blog. (I thought it worked a treat directly uploaded to the site, but there have been reports of problems, so I’m trying again using Vimeo)

A swan came gliding up to me not long after I joined the towpath, but quickly realised I had no food for it, so paddled off again! It occurred to me this may very well be one of the tiny babies that I saw last summer.

Going for a fairly brisk walk along the canal, and across the adjacent fields, is going to be very important in the coming months. It’s a great way to clear my head and come up with ideas, especially for the story that’s based along its banks. I have several routes ranging from about half an hour to an hour, and I’m well equipped for all weathers. Winter walks are my favourite and as the saying goes: there’s no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes!

What’s It All About?

Sunday 12 January 2020, 12:30pm

Is it possible to start again at 61? 

Is it possible, to start a new career at an age when, in time gone by, you would already have been put out to grass?

Is it possible, at 61, to carve out a living doing something you’ve never done before, on your own, with no support at all and no money of your own to help you get started?

Is it possible to follow a dream you’ve had for most of your 61 years, when you need it to happen quickly enough to avoid plummeting into abject poverty, if not complete destitution?!

Is it possible to put in the work required to follow that dream, at an age when your reserves of energy and optimism have already taken a hammering from Life, and so the task seems at best perhaps a little absurd, and on a bad day, a mountain of completely insurmountable proportions?

Is it possible to hold firm in your resolve to pursue that dream, when everyone around you is urging “Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a little job?” (on the assumption that your creative spirit could ever be happy being crushed under the weight of nine to five mundanity for a minimum wage, that would anyway only allow you to Exist for the rest of your days, but never any more to Live)?

Is it possible to start again, following your life’s dream, with an urgency driven by no money and no plan B, when you already struggle to complete the most mundane tasks every day due to lifelong ADHD, regular migraines and intermittent bouts of anxiety, and depression?!

Is this going to be possible? Starting again? With nothing more than a dream and a need to eat? At 61!

Phew.

I guess if there’s no plan B, I’m just going to have to jump in and find out.

Wanna come with me?

When The Skin You’re In Fights Back

Saturday 11 January 2020, 11:00am

I think I have Shingles.

From the moment November arrived last year, heralding as it did just one year before all my money runs out and I’m in deep doodoo, my skin erupted in little blisters. They tingle, and hurt sometimes, and go red.

I’m 61 and I look like a teenager with acne.

A very wrinkly lined teenager, with acne.

It’s Stress.

Great.

This is not a good start.