creativity, DIY, Gadgets, Home

Junk Shop Days

Milk Cans

Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

I like second-hand and charity shops, not only for the benefits to charity and the environment of recycling, or because I’m being fashionable but largely to get things I couldn’t afford years ago amazingly cheaply now. Of course the same is true of Ebay. I’m missing these shops at the moment, but when they reopen I’m on a mission to find garden planters.

Looking around my home much of what I own is pre-owned, or pre-loved to use the modern term. As I described in an earlier post my patchwork Sony stereo is still fantastic; my trio of Olympus DSLRs are used but still going strong, even if the power switch of one needs the occasional squirt of contact cleaner; my old Sony smartphone came pre-distressed so I wouldn’t be if I scratched it. To me even my second hand Citroen felt like a brand-new car, as I remarked at the time. Last year I even broke my usual rule of not buying second-hand shoes and got some lovely red Puma suede trainers. Unused £40 Sony headphones for £12 on Ebay without a box, lampshades, shirts and books from our many charity shops, as well as most of the vases and ornaments I own – including two blue tealight holders that I saw one evening in the window of a charity shop on the way home and had to wait four days to buy on the Saturday afterwards.  Just about every vase and ornament I have was a charity shop find and it’s a little joy to find a beautiful object that you weren’t even looking for.

Our society’s tendency of replacing something because it’s a couple of years old and there’s a new one so why not means there’s lots of stuff available with much life left in it. The phone couldn’t hold as many apps as a newer one and I have to update it manually to avoid the huge updates to built-in apps I don’t use and there are similar compromises with other older tech but if you can live with that then these things are bargains – I only replaced it when the touchscreen stopped working. The irony is that good condition old stuff can be bought cheaply, although much is becoming fashionable now and tatty old stuff can be sold in retro shops for a fortune because it’s “authentic” – I’ll return to this subject in another article. It seems that second-hand bookshops are increasing in number, whether due to the cost of new books, a backlash against ebooks or fashion – walls in trendy hipster loft apartments filled with “authentic” old books – I don’t know.

I’m writing this on my “new” desktop PC which I bought because my last desktop was finally showing signs of not being able to cope any more. No 1 was an HP Compaq “enterprise” PC, built in 2006 with a then state-of-the-art Pentium 4 processor and rescued from a skip a few years later. It languished in my apartment for a few more years until I put in a new graphics card, sound card, hard drive etc to make it capable of running flight sims and Windows 7. It’s been fine for many years but eventually it just couldn’t keep up with modern browsers, note apps and so on, finally a number of strange behaviours made me feel it was perhaps starting to fail. I looked at brand-new PCs but am out of touch with modern specs and didn’t feel that the software I use would need an absolutely new PC. I didn’t know where to start so searched Ebay for pre-owned HP pcs – why not stick to what you know. Eventually I narrowed it down to a particular model with a good spec and again it was a rock-solid Enterprise-spec machine and I could get a cleaned-up and reinstalled machine for £60, delivered next-day from a company thirty miles away. It arrived, not a spec of dust inside it. I installed the graphics card and sound card from the old machine, installed Windows 10 using the Windows 7 licence that came with it and it’s perfect, much faster, much quieter, much smaller. The way computer hardware is today older PCs can still have very much life left in them, my current laptop – another HP which originally cost over £400 but I bought second-hand for £70 – is similarly fantastic, fast, small and light, and only needed a new power adaptor shortly after I bought it, and a new battery eventually.

Then there are cameras – today DSLRs are in the twenty megapixel range, why would anyone want a ten megapixel one – someone who can accept that this size of sensor can produce images big enough to have printed and certainly detailed enough for Flickr. Someone who can’t afford the latest shiny thing. Me. Buying into discontinued product ranges can work out well too.

A couple of years ago I visited our branch of Cash Converters (a UK chain of second-hand stuff shops) and browsed as usual then nearly squealed with excitement on seeing a lens for my number 2 Olympus DSLR, or more to the point the price sticker on it. Alongside examples of the 14-42 short zoom and 40-150 telephoto lenses I already own was Olympus’ monster of a zoom, the 70-300 (equivalent to a 140-600mm in 35mm terms) that I had looked for on Ebay a few years back and given up on. It currently retails new for around £450 and on Ebay second-hand for around £200. The sticker said £59.99. I thought “I’ll just double check on Ebay” then after a few milliseconds my internal voice slapped me round the face and shouted “NO, JUST BUY IT”, it also helped that at that moment a member of staff unlocked the same cabinet to put something in it, “oh, while you’re in there…” I said. I bought it and it’s amazing, even if it did require some rearranging of my camera bag to accommodate it and the shorter zoom – needless to say much thought over which lens would be most usefully attached permanently to the second DSLR, and a helpful drawing to show the overlap of the focal lengths (a visual version of my friend Jane’s famed comparison spreadsheets), helped everything to fit nicely. The long, long lens really needed an Image Stabilised DSLR and No 2 Olympus had the dodgy power switch so turning to Ebay again I bought Olympus No 3 for a very cheap price and it’s been flawless for years since. No 2 still lingers as a backup body.

Another side of this is buying things that are not of any use but you just want to own – you might only justify getting them if they’re cheap. My example of this is a camera I first saw on holiday in Guernsey in 1991, a camera I still have the brochure for, the brochure I just browsed regularly being unable to afford the camera itself. It was an Olympus OM101, one of the last of their film SLRs. After twenty-six years I bought a fully-working camera that cost hundreds new for a tenner on ebay. I could load it with film and use it but at the moment it’s taking pride of place on my bookshelf.

Back to the useful stuff though, when I moved to a house with a garden I needed a lawnmower, I looked at a few options and decided to wait a bit. Then I just happened to visit Cash Converters and saw a Bosch mower for £35, in its box. I didn’t get it immediately but went back for it later. When I opened the box I found that this mower that was £130 new in the Argos across the road from where I’d bought it was, in fact, brand new, never opened.

Earlier in Cash Converters I saw a compact camera, it had languished in the cabinet for months, I’d not really paid much attention to what it was but the price had steadily dropped, I took notice when I saw the price had dropped to £12.99. I looked more closely and noticed it was more than just a cheap compact, it had manual controls and was clearly made of metal. Turns out it was a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, a camera which was, when launched in 2008, a very well-reviewed, £400 piece of technology. It was described in glowing terms in magazine articles, a rare combination of compact size, solid build quality, and a lens that was unusual for a compact. It was brilliant and today, second-hand, they usually sell for over £100. Like my Olympus DSLRs the 10 megapixel sensor will still take great pictures. This particular LX3 had clearly had a hard life, it’s metal shell was dented at the bottom corner, the paint had rubbed off underneath, some of the lettering had worn off too but the screen was virtually unmarked, all the buttons were there and worked and the lens itself was spotless. You’d assume there was something wrong with it but the only reasons it was at that price were that it had no charger, it needed a new (£6, compatible) battery and it was a little worn around the edges. This camera had been ignored and unloved just because it wasn’t cutting-edge like it had been in 2008 and was tatty yet I knew that it still had the same professional features that made it stand out.
  So yes, dear readers, I bought it.
    Would have been rude not to.

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Health, Psychology, Society, Work

A Crisis Brings Out The Best in People

Flowers

Flowers

I originally wrote a piece about how it felt like our nation had lost our legendary stoicism and blitz spirit and become selfish and cynical in the face of a global pandemic, hence the title being ironically wrong, but thankfully the good has now far outweighed the bad so, the revised version.

We started March with a looming, glowering storm approaching called COVID-19 and numerous selfish individuals made grocery shopping look like an episode of Supermarket Sweep thinking that of course, and I quote, “there wouldn’t be any food in two weeks time”. Though food didn’t seem to be on most of their minds as across the world people hoarded toilet rolls – why they’d need them without food is anyone’s guess. in the U.S. of course people hoarded guns and ammo, presumably in case someone came to take away their bog rolls.

As we know, despite supermarkets telling us that they’d got warehouses full of everything we’d need while being locked away for six months, the hoarding soon extended to milk, pasta, bread and nappies. When the pubs closed down so the hoarders stockpiled beer too, then gin, rum and lastly cider. I drink cider so I’m ok with enough for my occasional can in the fridge. I’m alright Jack (Daniels).

After six weeks we got the queuing back but this time at reopened DIY stores and household waste centres as people were desperate to clear out the stuff they’d been, er, clearing out for six weeks.

I spoke to a woman on the till at the height of the panic buying, she looked exhausted and had had a bad day, it was worse than the pre-Christmas rush and she said she’d had enough of working in retail, it was the final straw. Then the hoarders left an NHS nurse in tears because after working all day to help people she couldn’t get food for her tea. Further it descended into the same people shouting at shop staff because they couldn’t get what they wanted and after limits were imposed on how much you could buy people tried going back with multiple trolleys – one man locally went back to the same till with a second trolley full and was refused, as was a man with a trolley full of toilet roll. It is a sad reflection on these parts of our society that the CEO of Asda had to go on TV adverts asking people not to abuse his staff.

But of course it wasn’t just shop staff, at first a number of Asians in Britain were verbally or physically attacked with comments such as “take your coronavirus home” being spat at them by the idiots, then the shop staff trying to make sure everyone has food, some staff of non-essential businesses had been abused for cancelling work and closing, and then after shops prioritised NHS staff in stores other shoppers had been heard to abuse them too just for being prioritised, commenting “so what” and so on. These people would be the first crying for NHS help should they fall ill, and would be demanding priority treatment.

We had people stealing milk bottles from doorsteps. A pub in Scotland delivering free meals to NHS staff received a torrent of online abuse for doing it. And the people who think this is just a free holiday and restrictions don’t apply to them, because they’re special or too “badass” to catch, carry and transmit the virus so they continue to gather together. And as for the people caught licking a phonebox in our town, well in addition to being made to clean it it would be ironic if they caught the virus from the phonebox wouldn’t it.

The latest thing is people believing conspiracy theories that 5G mobile is to blame for coronavirus and destroying the phone masts that ultimately our emergency services also rely on. It doesn’t help that these theories are being peddled by ill-informed celebrities on social media, because of course they’d be an expert on the subject so they must be right, right? As for the other conspiracy theories, well, it’d take the rest of the lockdown period to read them all.

But then the good in our country started to show. I’ve noticed most people being polite and considerate, saying thankyou, saying “morning” when you pass them while getting your government authorised exercise and smiling. Hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to help the NHS, delivering prescriptions, taking patients to appointments, calling vulnerable people on the phone just to chat. Local groups have launched to help people, do shopping for them, walk dogs. Individuals and supermarkets have helped foodbanks. Pubs have become corner shops, restaurants became takeaways. Private healthcare companies are helping support the NHS, St John’s Ambulance volunteers are operating their ambulances alongside the NHS’ own service, and even Formula 1 teams have offered to build ventilators for hospitals. Airbus have deployed test aircraft to transport supplies. Passenger aircraft have been turned into cargo planes for medical supplies. A McDonald’s has become a drive-through testing station. The response has been amazing.

Like in wartime when car manufacturers made tanks and aircraft fashion clothes factories have started making medical gowns for the hospitals. Individual companies and even schools have donated PPE to hospitals.

The Queen has given speeches to rally the country in unison, invoking the wartime spirit, saying “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.” As a nation we are showing that we do indeed still have that spirit in abundance.

Every Thursday night we clap for carers, round here it has expanded to honk for hospitals, fireworks for frontliners too. We see rainbows painted by kids in house windows and attached to fences, even out in the countryside where I ride my bike. My parents saw, the other night, two dinosaurs walking along their street to give people a smile. Whole streets are singing outside their front doors.

People have raised huge sums for the NHS and charities via social media, including a Notts man who raised over £150,000 by camping in the garden, and Captain Tom, the 99 year old Army veteren who voluntarily raised over £30million by completing 100 laps of his garden, then gets a song to number one, the oldest person ever to achieve that. We’ve had improvised comedy nights, adverts encouraging working together.
Organisations supporting the vulnerable and desperately in need of help in this situation have continued to support everyone they can.  Communities have been helping each other to get through the crisis.

Internet services providers have beefed up their services and prioritised users to provide for remote working. Facebook has just announced that they’ll be flagging whether you’ve looked at any misleading information about coronavirus on their platform. The technology companies are enabling communications that enable the world to carry on better than we could otherwise have done, and allowed many who would otherwise be isolated to not be.

Shortly before we were Furloughed I spoke to a delivery driver who was moved because of people thanking him for carrying on and doing a wonderful job in enabling the country to carry on, which extends to posties and lorry drivers, shop staff, bin men and other key workers who we all should be grateful to and thank sincerely.
So yes we have seen we still have a strong community spirit, and judging by the Coronavirus jokes on Facebook, our sense of humour.

I think this characterises us, when times are tough we suddenly stand up and make things brighter, whether it’s a war, or a economic downturn or a pandemic we do what we can to make our country bright – in the landscape of flowerbeds or painted rainbows and our spirits through smiling and joking about it, dancing and singing in the street – whatever we need to do to try to keep each other going.

As Winston Churchill once said “makes you proud to be British.”

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