Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Stay at home Dad

I imagine I get a bit boring and repetitive when I say, “Oh, a lovely weekend with the family.” Thing is, life with kids is slow, repetitive and yes, a touch boring. For all that, its life at a different pace, one where your immediate wants and desires get subjugated, yet with unanticipated rewards.

This long weekend I was effectively a single parent. It’s only a week before LL’s big exam, and she has disappeared. Metaphorically speaking only, of course, though I’ll be very glad when its all done. She came down for meals, but otherwise buried herself in books and practice questions for the entire time upstairs and invisible.

It’s interesting, the two of us have had various conversations about one of us staying at home. To be fair, we could live very comfortably on one of our salaries. Yet, every time we discuss it, we decide to carry on with two careers. Its not that we don’t love our kids or miss being with them, but that after analysis we think we can be better parents if we have stimulus outside the house as well.

Therefore, we bring in someone to look after them during the day. We have been very lucky with our nannies both have been brilliant. In particular, for the current incumbent, I think it hits her life needs as well. She is excellent with the kids, and there is no doubt in my mind that she loves them. She’s still in regular contact with her previous charges. Yet, at night and at the weekends, she gets to go home and have a different life.

Young kids can be fairly relentless in their calls on your life. When I have a weekend like the last one I think I could quite comfortably switch to staying at home. There is a pleasure in the pace of cooking a meal, cleaning up, playing a bit, doing the odd chore, then starting all over again. I have children with appetite, and it is immensely satisfying to see a meal get gobbled with gusto. Then I enjoy getting on the floor and building with lego, or playing dinosaur snap, or chasing small bodies around the garden.

Its not all perfection of course. Dealing with the moaning and squabbles of three very young kids can get on one’s nerves. Some chores are just that, a real chore. I do the washing up because I hate a dirty or untidy kitchen. The doing though, gives me little pleasure.

Still, after a weekend like the last, with its meals, child care and outings, does make me wonder…

Friday, May 26, 2006


In my last role I was responsible for a call centre down in Bristol. It meant a lot of travel to that not so fair city, and last year I had to decamp there for a month in the middle of summer. I was reorganising, and having asked the previous operations director to leave I had a gap before the new one I’d found could start. Meant I had to manage directly. I generally consider this a good thing, it gets me much more in touch with the organisations I oversee.

Spending the week living out of a hotel in Bristol? Not my idea of a holiday, especially as the timing meant we had to defer a family holiday we’d planned. LL was not well pleased, it was a dark moment in our marital history.

Still, it had its moments. One particularly balmy night I’d taken a book and had a rather delightful meal on a barge in the river. It meant sitting under the darkening skies, with the sound of water, a cool breeze, a good book, and a not so bad bottle of wine.

So, slightly sozzled I started to make my way back to the hotel. As I was walking past the castle a young man ran up to me, a look of panic on his face. This long rambling self absorbed story fell out of his mouth. He was a student in Bath, had come to meet some friends, but had parked his car in the wrong place. It had been towed, and with it went his wallet that he’d locked in the glove box. The kind men in the police depot needed ID to let him near the car, but his ID was in the car. He was really sorry, but could I lend him the cost of the train fare back to Bath? If I left him my details he’d be sure to mail it back.

I laughed and handed him a fiver. Either he really was in need, or it was one of the best cons I’d come across and it was worth it for the entertainment value. However, I didn’t give him my details… It’s a story I’ve frequently lunched on, so was worth every penny I gave him, regardless of his need.

So, still sozzled, but now quietly amused, I carried on my path. As I was walking along I noticed a man ahead of me. He was in track suit bottoms, sandals, but not top. It was a warm night, so I didn’t thing too much about it. Then I looked again, his walk was funny, his arms tight up against his body. I assumed he was high and quickened my pace. This one wouldn’t get any money out of me.

As I came abreast of him I looked over and stumbled. Sure enough his eyes were glazed, but not how I thought they should be?

“Want some?”

“Ah… not tonight thanks.” With a laugh I carried on. The offer wasn’t a tab of acid, but his cock in full display as he wanked while he walked.

Next day I was sympathetically informed by the women that such things are all too common in Bristol. The men where generally outraged and uncomfortable, such things aren’t supposed to happen to men. There’s naught so strange as folk.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


There are many things I don’t understand about the policies of our labour government. I can say our, as though an alien of foreign nationality, I am a citizen of her majesty the queen, am resident and therefore have the franchise. Lucky me. I, however, have never voted labour.

I should say I was raised in a red red household. Both my parents where active participants in whichever was our local socialist party committee. A lot of those views I keep with me, though they’re tempered these days with a healthy dose of libertarian and free market ideals.

Regardless, I think myself as a logical fellow, and can hold up my side of a political argument down at the pub. Which leads me to my continual confusion over labour policy. Most of it just does not make sense. It has the frequent feel of pushing through half-baked ideas because someone publicly voiced them.

Take gambling (please (just take it away)). This government has sat over the greatest relaxation of gambling law in literally centuries. They have expanded the lottery (though I can half understand the Gordon Brown greed over non tax taxation revenue), have allowed free market lottery competition, relaxed telecoms laws to the point where any tom, dick or alexi can set up a telephone lottery scam (with almost no regulatory control I might add), and completely loosened the ability for pubs to drop gambling machinery into their premises.

Now we’ve got the selection process for the new casino’s going on. This morning I listed to an almost surreal piece on Radio 4 about it. The bemused consultant who was running the selection process was discussing it. This is the man who’s being paid to objectively choose which city gets the honour of allowing in such monstrosities. He talked about the fact that not one of the cities who was bidding had a British owned operator as their chosen partner to run said casino. He then went on about how they were weighing the then limited social benefit (given all profits would be patriated outside the country) of the MacJobs being created vs the potential high social cost (extra policing, drunkenness, higher rates of gambling addiction in the local populous).

It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, here is a government that at every chance shouts about how it is improving the lot of the poorest of society, yet it’s allowing a relaxation, even proliferation in one of the most harmful industries to the socially deprived. The statistics are stark. The vast majority of income from gambling comes from the poorest 1/3 of society. Gambling addiction rates are statistically (and significantly) higher amongst lower income brackets.

I don’t get it. If you do, please tell me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Convulutions of Truth

Big business transactions are affairs of half truths and concealment. Each player concedes as little as they have to. It is a game of infinite subtlety mixed with displays of brute strength. People, who outside the room can be good friends, inside the room undergo a change of personality all related to gaining advantage. I was in a meeting yesterday that was a prime example.

The details are irrelevant, my side was in a position of selling, the other, of buying. The article for sale was deliberately concealed, though both sides in actuality knew full well the truth. The concealment was a commercial necessity, as what was for sale didn’t know it was for sale. If the item knew, or worse the market knew, its commercial value would drop. So it could be discussed only in round about terms, half references and financial conflagrations.

What I found most amusing was the way the other side for the first half of the meeting had to sell itself. A primary goal of the meeting was to determine if the suitor was suitable. Were they a worthy candidate to purchase such a fine and precious gem? So the lead of the opposing team spent a full half hour discussing his personal merits, and the financial stability and suitability of his firm.

Having spent the night before watching an episode of Attenborough’s “Life of Birds,” the comparison to a rare Amazonian bird, puffing up its crop, and strutting about its small patch of tree branch was inevitable. There are days when the boy has to stop himself from laughing out loud.

The second half of the meeting was even more curious. A colleague and I had the distinct pleasure of discussing our gem in only the most round about terms. We could talk in the abstract about the possible types of services it might offer, and hypothetically what sort of technology and IP it might possibly have. It was like trying to describe an elephant to a blind man.

“The tail, oh it is a most prodigious tale. Connected cleanly to the animal right above its rectal cavity, it is bunched to powerful, indeed multiply redundant muscles to ensure it may always swish, regardless of damage or failure. The tuft at the end is like the finest silk, and is known to be attractive in the extreme to other members of its tribe.”

“Is it a horse? Oh we so wish to buy a horse!”

“Ahhh, no good sir, unlike a horse’s tail it has a stretch covered in the softest skin rather than hair, but that in no way detracts from its purpose. As an implement of fly detraction it is most useful!”

And so on, and so forth. We spin enough information to intrigue, without giving enough information to identify (even though the buyer clearly knew the exactness of the item for sale). The meeting was concluded, we were satisfied that as a potential suitor we could let them continue (though that had been pre determined), and they walked away entranced with the vague knowledge of the gem for sale (though they had already known). Form was satisfied and the process moved ponderously on.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Vino, Plonk, Wine wine wine

I love the stuff. Not in exclusion mind. I’m rather fond of my beer, think there is little better than a good whiskey or port at the end of an evening, an my wife’s family has wisely taught me that a good gin and tonic is a fine way to begin an evening. Yet wine started as my favourite tipple, and so it remains.

I am not a heavy drinker, a week can go by with no alcohol passing my lips. Particularly when we were trying for kids, and following when LL was breast feeding, we drank little if any booze for months at a time. This wasn’t an attempt at new age neo male solidarity with my wife. I just have a rule, never drink alone. Its not something I follow religiously, if I’m away on business I may have a glass of something with a meal, its just one of those things formed through the living of a life.

My father was an alcoholic you see. Not an outrageous one, indeed I’m not even sure it was a true physical addiction like most alcoholics. Most of his life he either stayed a tee totaler, or drank in social moderation. There was just a couple episodes when he drank too much. He wasn’t a good drunk. Wouldn’t get physically violent, or even verbally abusive (much), he’d just get hugely argumentative. It ruined a number of family meals and events. So I keep to my rule, and have LL on a promise to tap me on the arm if I head that way.

Which lets me drink with ease and pleasure. I tend towards being a happy drunk like my mum any way. So to wine. As an overly self conscious method of differentiating me as a youth, I drank wine at the requisite sizzled parties. What can I say, I was a nerd. Yet it started me off on the road to Rome, and I’ve stayed the course ever since.

I’m not a French ponce when it comes to wine, though my store has its share of Francophone wines. I’ll take it from anywhere that produces it. I’ve been going through a bit of a Spanish / Italian phase at the moment, but I store and buy wines from around the world.

Can’t say I have any formal training, though I’ve been to more than my fair share of wine tastings. I don’t use the odd language of the wine critics. I just know what I like and am pretty good at finding it. I started putting wine down a long while ago. Its just so easy I don’t know why more people don’t do it. Often that cheap harsh wine at £3 a bottle, when stored for a few years, transforms into a mellow beauty.

Not all wines keep, in particular the mass produced “brand” wines are designed to be drunk young and few age very well. You have to look around, and I’ve learned on tasting a wine to know if it will keep. That has been learned through a few failures. There is little worse than tipping bottle after bottle of a case turned to vinegar down the sink to depress a man. Yet I do well.

And here’s the thing, you don’t need a temperature & humidity controlled space to store wine. Sure, it helps, if you don’t you may loose a few bottles which cork or age badly out of a case, but just keep it out of the way somewhere. It helps if its not in a room where the temperature changes too much every day, living rooms which go from very warm in the day to very cool at night are probably not best, but even then, it won’t hurt much.

The benefit is extreme. At the weekend I found in a forgotten corner a bottle of 1984 Rioja. It probably cost me about £2 when I bought it, but lord… it had the most smooth caramel taste, absolutely delicious with the roast leg of lamb we’d done for Sunday tea.

My father in law is my inspiration in this. They have a rambling old wreck of a house, and over the years he’s put cases and bottles in nooks and crannies. When you visit he’ll go hunting, and you’ll hear a cry of delight as he unearths something. Thing is, it might be last years Australian plonk, or it might be a 1963 Chateau Rothschild. You never know, and its always delightful. He proved to me a truth I’d known, but had rarely seen so vibrantly. Wine is meant to be drunk and enjoyed. Storing it isn’t for investment purposes, its for the delight in finding and drinking it.

So I buy, and I hide and I store. At my house, and friends cellars, and a few in professional storage (which is also a good way, doesn’t cost much more than £7/case/year) some 800 bottles. It ranges from the cheapest of the cheap to some stellar labels. Each of the kids has three cases from the year of their birth put aside for when they turn 18. Not a one of my bottles will ever be resold. I intend for each and every one to be drunk (mostly by me (and friends (and family (just drunk)))).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Birthing Pain

Life sometimes has strange congruencies. A memory came to mind yesterday as I was writing an entry, then the good Dr Crippen wrote a piece that entirely reflected it. It is not a moral memory, nor educational, it is just one of those moments of horror that drop into our lives, though unlike Dr Crippen’s tale, this one does end happily.

Despite our ages, we’d had zero fertility problems. Far from it, other than a humorous episode when we were first trying with Pirate Pete (we got the female cycle wrong and were having far too much fun a few days after when we should have), its been a case of “Try again dear? Oh, pregnant already? We can pretend and keep trying though, can’t we?”

Originally we thought we’d stop at two, but having had two boys thought we’d throw the dice again and try for a third. True to form having decided, LL fell pregnant immediately. Now, LL is not an earth mother, she has not revelled in being pregnant, its been a means to an end. None of her pregnancies were hard, though she suffered from back and hip pain that, particularly in the later stages, made sleeping difficult, both were pretty easy. The boys were long labours, my poor girl had to put up with almost 30 hours of toil and trouble in the hospital each time before birth, but LL being who she is, both came out without much bother or even pain relief (though I do remember a few apt names I was called during some rather hearty contractions).

The third time was no different, perhaps even easier. We’d had her on a slightly different diet & supplements that seemed to ease the back and hip pain. So, as we approached the due date we expected a perfectly normal birth. Yet that Sunday afternoon is one that is burned in my memory.

I was in the kitchen getting dinner ready, LL had just popped upstairs for a moment. Then I heard this shout, one of pure panic. Rushing upstairs I found her standing a look of horror on her face, holding something that shouldn’t be there between her legs. In my youth I’d worked as a life guard on the beeches of Vancouver, so I have a touch more first aid training than both, and I knew pretty fast what this was likely to be, an umbilical cord prolapse (where the cord comes out first). What I couldn’t remember was specifically what to do.

LL’s mind had gone into a stall, and all she could think of is my driving her into the hospital. Trying desperately to keep myself calm I lay her down and got her feet up, then immediately called 999. What happened next is why I will never ever complain about the NHS, and will fight for it with tooth and nail.

The kind operator on the other side clearly thought I was a panicked father. If you read Random Reality, you’ll know the baby taxi service is one of those milk runs the ambulance guys shrug their shoulders about and get on with. Yet, even so, even though we live halfway to no where, within five minutes I could hear the distant wail of the ambulance, and within ten it was pulled up outside. During that time I’d got the neighbours over to take the kids, and had somehow managed to turn the stove off as my potatoes started to boil dry.

The two attendants stepped out, and smiling asked if this was a first time. The look on my face and the quick answer of “No, its our third.” Wipped the humour off their faces and spured them into action. We ran upstairs and the minute they say LL, one’s face went pale as he turned to his partner and just said “Prolapse.” Ever so carefully, but quickly, they got LL down the stairs and into the ambulance. With a roar they were off. I had to follow just to make sure I could do a final check on the kids and take care of the house, and call the warning to various relations. I did, though I don’t know how.

LL has told me of her experience, so I’ll repeat it. From my point of view, it was a half hour of pure panic as I drove to the hospital. All I can remember is the mantra going through my mind “Not again… I can’t loose her, not LL… This can’t be happening again…” (which brings to the surface a whole other memory stream, but that’s for another day).

For LL, the tale now is one of guffaws and laughter, but in the quiet of night she admits its was terrifying. Now, in many of the blogs here about, the topic of fisting is discussed with some relish, but ladies, think of this. On your hands and knees in the back of a speeding ambulance, being braced by the bright and bonny ambulance attendant who has his hand shoved firmly up there to hold the baby’s head. When I talk of a speeding ambulance, they were going top speed around the narrow and twisty pot holed roads that constitute our local highways. Then, on getting to the hospital, to be rushed, again on hands and knees, on the gurney, through the front doors of the hospital so they can get you up to surgery.

The had LL to the hospital in less than 10 minutes, its normally a 20-25 minute drive. All the while the ambulance had an obstetrics consultant on the end of the phone. A specialist emergency maternity nurse was waiting at the front of the hospital to assist the ambulance attendants. They had her into surgery within 2 minutes, it was fully staffed and prepped with maternity specialists. From the point of entering the surgery, they had our baby girl cut out within 3 minutes.

Some minutes later I arrive at the hospital and run into A&E thinking that’s where you go. A busy and harassed admissions clerk said she had no record of a Ms LL, but suggested I try the maternity ward. I ran, as fast as I could. Halfway there a smiling nurse, stopped me. “Are you Mr LL? Don’t worry, they’re both OK.” I almost crumbled into a heap on the floor in relief.

She was the specialist maternity nurse that works shifts in the A&E ward. That kind woman took my elbow and guided me up to the ward. My care was taken over by another nurse who guided me into an empty room, went away and walked back to hand me my baby girl. LL was still in surgery, there were complications not pleasant to describe, plus the speed of the operation meant it hadn’t been fully sterile, so they were now taking the time to clean her up, before sewing her back together. My dear wife was also fully under anaesthetic, so it would be a while.

It’s a funny thing though. With the boys I freely admit I wasn’t immediately filled with love and bonding. It took time to develop for me (though it fully did). Not so with Princess, with her I was deeply, instantly, immediately filled with love and care. Never had a small bundle been so precious to me.

However, we do joke that Princess is the one of our children that neither of us was present for the birth of…

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Something old something new

When I first started this blog, the intent was a little bit of everything from domestic to politics to technology to sex. I've mostly kept up the first three, but the later I've shied away from the more I've done. I think that as I've virtually got to know people I haven't wanted to shove that in your faces. Still, its something I'm interested in writing about, and if you're interested in reading have put aside in a private place for private reading. It has its own RSS feed, but won't form part of the overall blog.

So, if you're interested, a new entry is here. If you'd rather not, something a bit more mundane over here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Phone Toys

Something a bit lighter today, another techy review. For the past few weeks I’ve been trialling a new Microsoft smart phone, the Qtek. Now, for many years I had a Blackberry welded to my hand. Though the UI was simplistic and it was essentially text only (though my second and subsequent ones had “colour”), the ease of use and push synchronisation with my email, calendar and contacts really did make a difference to my job.

At that point I had responsibility for all the technology services (internet development, marketing database management, call centres, etc.) across Europe for an ad agency. I was in a plane a couple times a week, and was dealing with staff mostly in seven different countries but with outposts in a further 15. With a PA based back in London, having a little pocket device that keep us in constant communication was a godsend.

Then I changed back into a UK only role, and it wasn’t so necessary anymore. I gave my Blackberry up (much to LL’s not so quiet satisfaction (she hated when I checked emails just before going to bed (there’s a reason the slang term for the damn things is Crackberries))). I did miss it, but the group I moved to didn’t use them, and was insistent Microsoft devices where the only way to go.

I hated the first MS phone I had and changed back to a Motorola V3 (which I loved other than the short battery life). However, I was given another to trial and another. Each one I hated. The UI was clunky, the phones frequently crashed, and the email and calendar synchronisation was time based, and often failed. I missed my blackberry.

So, time moves on, and Microsoft does and Microsoft does, and it couldn’t stand the fact there was a virtual monopoly out there in email devices it didn’t own. They poured money into a new version of MS Mobile. The QTek I’m now trialling is a first release of a device with the new OS.

Know what? Its pretty damn good. This particular device has a slide out keyboard, but you can still fall back on the old MS Mobile handwriting recognition (which I like). Plus, finally, at long last, MS has devised an encrypted secure push synchronisation between its new handheld OS and the latest versions of Exchange. The big advantage this new release has over Blackberries is that it removes the need for a separate server back in the computer room (for companies using Blackberries you were required to have a server sitting beside your email servers that pulled the data out, and securely transmitted it to the mobile service providers).

It works, its works seamlessly, and my handheld hasn’t crashed once. There is a minor annoyance in that if your handheld is synchronising when a call is coming in, sometimes (randomly), the call doesn’t ring or show on the screen. There is a promised patch for this coming out soon.

So, though a bit more bricklike than I’d prefer I’ve got a 2 inch x 4 inch x ¾ inch device that handles my calls with very good sound quality, maintains immediate synchronisation of my calendar, contacts and email, gives pretty fair internet browsing (the smaller screen is the limitation, the speed is adequate), plus has working versions of MS Office Word, Excell and PowerPoint (I actually used this in a lunch meeting to discuss a presentation with a couple colleagues, we could even make edits). On top of that there is a whole wealth of software out there that runs on the platform, its got a good version of Java to handle the latest mobile software, and the 1.5meg camera is fairly decent.

This is only going to get better as the hardware providers wake up to the Blackberry crushing properties of the MS Platform and a welter of devices come to market. Its going to be a fun year.


Update on our flood. It looks like most of the damage is superficial; we should get away with minor redecorating and a damn good rug cleaning service (the house reeks of wet wool). However, it looks like my stereo is a write off, and we’re waiting to see if the one sofa that got soaked will recover with cleaning or needs to be reupholstered. The kicker is our Builder who has owned up to the fault, has also owned up to the fact that the insurance he showed me when we booked many many months ago, expired before he started the job, and he didn’t renew. That’s going to be a fun call with my insurance company…

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Biblical Floods

I’m sitting in a meeting with our CEO and my phone, on mute, shows my home number ringing in. This is a little unusual, as it’s the end of the day, but I don’t think much of it. Thing is, it shows again a few minutes later. Now our Nanny is a responsible sort, this wouldn’t happen unless it was serious. The quandary, do I dodge out of the meeting to take the call, and likely deal with something serious that could wait, or sit?

The meeting is almost done, so I sit. At least I thought it was almost done until one of my fine colleagues thinks this is a fine time to bring up a completely trivial point. I feel like a kid at school needing to go to the loo. Disaster scenarios begin to run rampant through my mind. Thankfully the meeting wraps up and I dodge out into the executive lobby (and how funny is that, a separate executive lobby (not that I see it other than in meetings, I live down amongst the people who do things)) and make the call.

Poor SN is beside herself, almost unable to speak. I feel my whole body tense up as I imagine the worst, and try to talk her through it. When I work out what happened I feel both relief and a completely different sort of tension. We’d recently (just finished last Friday) redone the loo beside the guest room up in the attic. Through her rushed words I understand that one of the new pipes had burst and we now had a veritable waterfall running down our stairs.

The poor girl is completely panicked, but over the next ten minutes I’m able to talk her through finding the shut off valve so at least we stop more water pouring into the house. That under control I roll into disaster mode and after a brief call to LL (who was apoplectic, she had been dealing with this builder and I would not have wanted to be him), get on to our insurance to arrange an emergency plumber.

These things are never easy, but I get it sorted, then wrap up at work and start the long slog home. Its 9:30 by the time I get there. No lights of course, as we now need to keep the electrics off for at least 24 hours until an electrician can come by and certify us OK. LL and SN have done most of the clean up, but the house is still a mess. Most of the water had been towelled up, but both rugs and furniture are sopping, and there’s some worrisome patches of ceiling that may yet come down. Most distressingly (for a techno geek like me) my stereo equipment had its own small waterfall through it before the electrics got cut off.

After some depressed cuddles with LL, I manage to find an old travel alarm clock so at least we don’t oversleep, and off we go to bed. This morning was a sponge bath (we have an electric power shower), and no hot tea before I leave. I manage to find our emergency calor gas camping stove so SN can feed the kids, and off I go. Now begins the really fun bit, dealing with the insurance company and our builder to determine who pays…

We are somewhat cursed with water in this house. This is our fourth plumbing related flood (though by far the worst), and we’ve spent years and far to much money tracking down various leaks in the roofing. What next, that’s what I want to know, what next?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Convictions and Party Teas

It was Pirate Pete’s seventh birthday yesterday, but his party was Saturday (a friend had conveniently set their birthday party for Sunday before us). So, after much deliberation a bouncy castle called “Shark Attack” was ordered and the theme for the party set.

The whole week prior we had been holding our breath, would it or would it not rain? Saturday morning arrived with bright sunshine, and LL let a week’s minor tension ease away. Amazingly (or is that annoyingly (we’d just let the kids go downstairs (sigh))) the castle arrived at eight in the morning. It was a whopper, one of those two storey high bouncy slide thingies. Pirate Pete was literally a rubber ball of delight, bouncing off the walls in anticipation of getting out into the garden.

So, while LL finished off the cake (one of her motherly duties is making birthday cakes (this one was a masterpiece, a two foot long shark complete with mottled grey icing (I had, ehemmm, already tested the icing))) I got the kids fed and dressed and let them have a few quick bounces before dragging them off to their swimming class (which is usually not a chore, but usually there is not a two story bouncy castle in the garden). A quick turn around and we were back home for a fast lunch, after which LL and I turned into whirling dervishes of activity.

LL is in charge of tidying up. We long ago agreed that for guests and parties she does the clean up while I do the cooking. Reversal of those duties led to argument, I never got the house to the level of perfection she needed, she never did the food prep in the right sequence and it was always late. A good marriage is based on understanding each other’s strengths and levels of stress.

Yet I always struggle with party teas. I run a strict crunchy kitchen. We’re almost wholly organic, and experimental meals are understood. Its not always been easy, but we’ve got the kids to the point of a pretty varied palate. They know they have to at least taste what’s put on the plate, and more often than not they decide they like it (the way the rule has worked is they are allowed to not like it with no recrimination (sometimes they don’t like things for the sheer pleasure of not liking it)).

The organic bit is only partially green belief. I’m not entirely against the use of chemical fertilisers or medicines in farming, but I do think they get abused. We do have a duty of care to the world, and use of organic goods is a small part of that (if every person changed one bad habit, or used one different product, the result would be massive change). I don’t think organic goods taste better because they're organic. They allow me to know exactly what’s in what I eat, but more importantly organic farmers are far more likely to be better farmers, hence what they produce is superior quality.

Anyways, when it comes to a party tea I have to chuck a lot of that out. With 20 kids under the age of seven coming I have to produce large quantities fast, and it has to suit a wide range of tastes. That doesn’t mean stooping to turkey twizlers, but you can’t get organic white bread that comes in perfect square slices. I compromise my values somewhat to make a party tea the kids will eat.

This is based on experience. Early on I tried to make party food that was of the best ingredients and that would push their palates, but I failed. Only two stuffed mushrooms got eaten, by my kids, and the raft of open smoked wild salmon sandwiches on seeded whole wheat bread that were pushed to the sides of plates was depressing.

So, I make a party tea that I know will be eaten. I push it as far as I can dare, and use the best ingredients I can find, but… it’s a party tea. The kids love it, and I get to watch, satisfied, as 20 small faces shovel down large quantities of what I serve. There’s three types of sandwich, all in nice neat little triangles. Ham, cheese and strawberry jam. It’s for kids so the butter is slathered on nice and thick. Then there’s little cocktail sausages, not organic (why don’t any of my usual organic butchers produce those (I even asked one, he laughed down the phone)) but at least free range and herby (not a one left of those). Pizza, nothing fancy, just tomatoes and cheese, but I do them on muffins with a really good tomato sauce (anyone else use Seeds of Change, fantastic stuff), and a good buffalo mozzarella. Crisps, and here I have bowed to pressure and just serve Walkers, any thing else and most kids turn up their noses. However I do put out big bowls of fresh veg, lots of cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumber and sweet peppers (I know, lots of carbon debt).

It all came together at three with the arrival of the hordes. The weather, though a bit cloudy, had held off from raining. There was an immediate queue at the bouncy slide, and policing efforts had to be implemented. They were having a ball though. A treasure hunt was organised, an a few games such as Granny’s Footsteps. The tea went off as a picnic on the lawn, and I got my measures just right. A very little left over of everything. A bit more playing and ice cream and jelly was served (can’t get the latter organic no matter how much I search). Then the cake, replete with seven candles was brought out, and bits of grey iced chocolate orange cake were shoved into mouths.

We sent kids back to grateful parents well and truly exhausted, no injuries and only one small scuffle between two boys. Pirate Pete was happy and had a far too large mound of presents (I wish you could have the party and say no presents, but he’d hate me for it later in life… best not to give him too many reasons). It was good, and my convictions took control again.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Middle Class Confidential

I almost didn't write this post, it's so typically middle class. But I am middle class, irremediably and hopelessly so. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you about what public school your children are in, or brag about how much my house is now worth, but I am going to talk about property.

Some years ago it became clear our detached garage was at the end of its life. Wood worm and some wet rot had taken their toll. Now the garage is at an odd angle to the house (our plot is a very oddly shaped polygon). Thus it seemed a 'good idea' to rebuild it and fill in the space between with an extension to the house. We found what we thought was a local architect and plowed ahead.

We live in what is tweely called an area of 'Outstanding Natural Beauty' and so the planning regs are particularly strict. Our first plans were deemed to big and grand and were failed. We found that though our architect was local he was just on the other side of the borough boundary and had never worked with our council. That meant he had no relationships, no ability to negotiate.

We were desperate, and the way these things work its expensive to change architect mid stream. Wracking our brains we came up with smaller alternative plans. They went in and just before the deadline (labour has put all sorts of legislation around planning that, with the intention of efficiency and reducing waiting lists, actually remove useful time to negotiate and think) the planners came back with a host of small changes. With only a day left (otherwise they'd refuse the plans) we accepted them without really thinking it through. It passed but we were left with a scheme that was both ugly and left us with a smaller garage than before.

So we took a rest, rather depressed about it.

A few months ago we started again. This time we interviewed a number of architects to find one with good experience and relations with our local council. We came up with a number of new plans and he met with the planners to pre agree one that should sail through. We submitted, and even up until two weeks ago, the planner on our case was very positive.

Yesterday we met with the planner who, very embarrassed, said our plans will be turned down, and came up with a host of contradictory reasons as to why.

A bit of digging and it seems a neighbor we thought we were friendly with asked his good friend the lead planner, to kill it. Seems he looses a bit of view.

I thought this was a country of law. I try to play by the rules and I loose. That more than anything is what’s aggravating.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

10 Words

This meme game came from Pixie. The idea is simple. She, having done the game, asked for volunteers. I did, she gave me a letter, and now I have to come up with ten words starting with that letter that have personal meaning. So, if you want to play, leave a comment.

Daddy – The first one that came to mind. I love being a dad. From an early age I knew it was something I wanted, and though I started late (LL and I were in our mid thirties when we had number one son), its been worth it. I have travelled a lot, done many things, made one or two accomplishments, but the thing I am most proud of is my children. Mushy, I know, but true.

Darling – LL and I have what can be safely called a good marriage. Not perfect, we’ve had our black times, and raising kids while holding down two careers is anything but easy. Still, we’ve hit our tenth year together, and I fully expect many more. I know many things will yet change, and we may experiment with our sexuality, but I know we’ll only do it in a way that keeps us together.

Daisy – I suppose I’d call myself a reluctant gardener. My father kept lots of plants in the house, and we had an allotment when I was younger, but I was city bred. We didn’t have a garden, so though I got my finger’s dirty as a child, it was an occasional thing. LL is an ardent gardener, it is one of her passions. We have a house with a biggish plot, and its been landscaped, nurtured and filled with plants of all varieties, and I love it. I can’t say it will ever be the passion for me it is for LL, but I like getting my hands dirty, and I love, really love, taking a cup of tea and walking outside or sitting on the terrace and looking at all the green loveliness.

Dry – An autonym now, as I can’t think up the right word (this is tougher than it looks). I love getting wet, my mum used to joke that I have gills. I swam competitively when young, worked as a life guard on the beeches in Vancouver, have scuba dove the oceans (and lakes, a couple rivers, some caves…) of the world. I’ve taught both swimming and diving, and like nothing better to be in the water

Dredge – a good piece of beef through some spiced flour. Only do this after having marinade it in wine & worchester overnight. Have your pan spitting hot, then fry quickly so that the dusting doesn’t burn, but the meat gets that layer of dark crustiness mixed with its own juices. Cooking, one of my passions. I like nothing better than to be in my kitchen making a meal for those I love.

Drink – I do love my tipple. There can be little to compare to a good aged red, a fine whisky or a little top up of port. I’m not a daily drinker, I can go weeks without touching the stuff. The situation has to be right, and preferably with family or friends, but when the time is right. Ahhh… I collect and store it. Come to mine and you’ll get something that’s been put down and kept for 5-20 years. It really doesn’t take much money, or even space to keep wine, don’t know why more people do it.

Dali Lama – Religion, I haven’t touched on this yet, but will. Don’t worry I won’t knock on your door and ask if you’ve found Jesus, nor do I believe that he was aught but a man, but my beliefs run deep.

Disturbing – Another reversal, which is I suppose a cheat, but too bad. I have, what has been quaintly called, an even personality. I inherited this from my mum, who just sails through life loving even the hardships. I can get depressed or angry or sad, but never for long. Soon enough something outside of me will grab my interest, or peek my emotions and I’ll slip back into my calm centre.

Dirty – I’ve got a filthy mind, always thinking about sex. There’s a running porn channel in my mind, can’t shut it off (unless I’ve got the flu). Good thing is I’ve got a wife who’s got an equally dirty mind. We have fun.

Drive – Drat, at my tenth word, so this one will do double duty. I love to travel, twice I’ve packed up and gone travelling (pre LL and kids). LL loves it as well, so Pirate Pete has clocked up an impressive amount of air miles. I’m not adverse to a bit of 5 star treatment, but I’m perfectly happy sleeping on bare ground under the stars. Then my weakness, cars. I liberal at heart, the two things I spend money on are vehicles and techy toys. I have done more than my fair share keeping the worlds automotive blue collar workers employed!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New recipe, new home

At Julie's request I've hacked together a recipe for my Sourdough Bread. I have not posted it in the normal place. Getting somewhat tired of Blogger's many and frequent limitations I am in the process of absconding to someplace else. It is only half built, but for my trial run I'll put the recipes there. It does not yet have all the bell's and whistles I want, nor the look and feel I'll settle on, but it'll do for now. Let me know of any problems you encounter, please... Click below to find it.

BoysBits New Home

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Media Boys Toy

As a rule I’m technologically agnostic. I don’t give in to the religious wars that wage through the IT Industry. Java vs PHP vs dot Net, Oracle vs SQL Server vs MySQL, Unix vs Linux, vs Apple, its all the same to me. I look for the best tool, or the one already owned by the company I work for, and leverage it to hell and back. I don’t even hate Microsoft, which seems to be a pre-requisite to earn an Internet Scouts Badge.

But neither do I favour it (I spent a lot of time consulting over in Seattle with dear MS, and its hard to hate a company that’s so earnestly incompetent), so I find myself in the odd position of recommending some of its products. I first looked at a Beta release of Microsoft Media PC OS prior to its first release. It really just wasn’t there, I couldn’t see the value to it as a consumer (though the value to Microsoft in extending its monopoly is crystal clear). Recently I saw the most updated release, then an Alpha version of Media based on the new Vista operating system.

Microsoft has done it again. They always come out with almost barely usable software, then they pour more money into its further development, actually listening to the murmurs of the internetigencia. Though I may wait for the new Vista drop early next year, I will be getting one for our home. Don’t know which one yet, what’s really exciting is the way the hardware manufacturers are coming out with wildly different versions.

So, what have they done? Basically put a digital TV tuner (or satellite in some hardware I’ve seen) in the same box as a network port (preferably two tuners), then layered a user interface that can operate easily with (what Microsoft cutely calls) the 10 foot UI. Underneath you have all the normal Windows capability, but its hidden and reconfigured. Throw in a DVD burner and it’s a mouth watering package.

For those who know Tivo or Sky+ it has all those capabilities. Using an internet connection it pulls down the TV listings from the web (depending on the hardware digital TV tuner, it can also pull this from the airwaves). You can then browse the listings and choose what you want to watch or record with a few remote clicks. The limitations of the Sky+ box are that you can’t upgrade the hard disk for more space. Remember, this is a standard PC, you can push in as much memory as you want. Plus, with a DVD burner, you can strip off as much as you want onto a nice hard portable media.

Then, mix in a web browser that works with the 10’UI (remember, the cute name for a standard remote control). It means companies such as mine have to provide a modified version of websites with easier navigation, but we will, as will all the big providers. So you can now browse the net and watch TV simultaneously.

Oh… but it’s a PC remember? That means its also a full media device. So, you can store all your MP3s or ripped CDs. Now you can watch TV, surf the web and listen to your favs (so long as you hook the PC to your stereo, make sure you buy one with a quality sound card).

Then, and here’s the really fun bit, do you have an Xbox in the house? Make sure its on the same wired or wireless network as the media PC, and guess what? It can use all the Media PC functions remotely (without taking over, the media PC can still operate independently). So the kids in the other room with the Xbox can watch any recorded shows, or play any MP3s.

Impressed yet? Well, for the final time, remember it’s a PC still. Hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse, click a switch and it turns back to a regular PC, so you can do email, do work, whatever you want all on the normal TV screen (though I’d recommend a high def flat screen monitor), and still listen to your music and have a small window with the TV on. Serious work damaging stuff, and the price point is not much more than a good PVR for the basic versions.

In another post I’ll go into the advantages of the new Vista operating system, but trust me that again Microsoft has done a lot right (I’ll also trash the new Microsoft Office version, oh how they’ve got that wrong). Of course, any Media PC bought now will be upgradeable to the new version, its just a PC remember. So, convergence is finally upon us, and dear old Microsoft has got a market buster again.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Slow Living

I’ve always relished the thought of slow food. That to properly enjoy a meal, it needs time to prepare, and more importantly, time to savour. Food shouldn’t be rushed, it’s the experience and company that makes it memorable.

The same is true for life. Big grand event, a crowd of people, music and laughter can make the blood rush, and give a momentary high, but then its gone. Life works best at a slow pace, when the little things can be enjoyed and a moment of pleasure can fill a century.

Yesterday was like that. We didn’t do anything exciting, all of it was spent at home or close by. Yet it has a glow in my memory. I look back this morning and can savour every slow second.

It started with one of those slow waking ups, when you know you’ve had a good nights sleep, and know you don’t have to rush anywhere or do anything much. It was the kids who woke me, they were whispering loudly and giggling in the next room (despite a big ol house, we have all three sleeping in the same room). They were playing at something, so LL and I rolled up against each other and just cuddled sleepily.

Sure enough, in a little while all three tumbled into our room and into our bed. No lie ins at ours, the kids, when awake, demand attention. Its easy to acquiesce, and a little bouncing dance takes place as we both have to give all three big hugs. We talk a bit, a book is pulled out for one of us to read to them, then they tumble out of bed and downstairs to play or watch a little telly (they know that on Sunday mornings they’ll never be refused if they ask to watch TV). LL and I are left with a little private time for some languid morning loving.

Too soon, but in other ways soon enough, we break up, one to shower, one to go downstairs. Its my turn on the early shift so I ask the kids what they want, already knowing the answer. “Canadian” Pancakes it is (Canadian because I refuse to call them “drop scones” and LL refuses for them to just be called “pancakes”, one of those little compromises of married life). I don’t cook them every week, but a plateful of them, slathered with butter and drenched with Maple Syrup (Quebecois only, from my “dealer” in Montreal (my oldest sis (she has a friend who’s a maple farmer (high quality ultra addictive stuff)))).

Then a bit of playtime, while I wash up and brew some dough to rise and we all get dressed. Its not raining, there’s even a little sunshine, so its off to the climbing tree. We live on the Southern Banks of the North Downs. There is this ancient beech near by, its trunk a good 20 foot thick, branches bowed down to the ground. Every family that knows it calls it a different name, “Neverland”, “The Pirate Ship”, “That Tree”, to us its just the “Climbing Tree”. Its an easy hike for small legs, then you get a good play at the end. Walk home and its time for lunch.

We get home to bright sunshine, so the terrace sees its first use this year as our dinning room. In summer we live outside, and have a big terrace overlooking the garden for a big round table. Lunch is some fresh sour dough bread, various meats and cheeses, and a big bowl of fresh veg. Slow food indeed.

LL is a month away from a big professional exam. Not something she has to take at her point in her career, but something she wanted to do for herself. If her young whippersnapper traders have to do it, so will she. So, with a sorrowful look at her sun drenched garden she repaired upstairs to her books. That leaves me to play with the kids. Sure, I do a few chores in and around the house, but that’s just filler between games of “It” and “Wild Dogs” (don’t ask, I don’t know the rules (it just seems to involve me being chased or chasing). It’s a very slow, very happy afternoon. LL even comes down for a game of “It” before going back up to the books.

Though some clouds roll through, it doesn’t rain (much) and is clear and warm in the late afternoon. Rubbing my hands together I wheel the BBQ out (a Canadian Calor Gas wonder of modern science (of course)). With a big of time to whip up pudding, I sauté some mushrooms and courgette in butter and garlic, chop up two types of spring cabbage to steam, and put some rice on. Then… oh then… I quickly grill some Pork Loin I’d set to marinade earlier in the day. It all comes together nicely, the house and garden full of good cooking smells.

We all wash up and sit down to eat. Its still just a little spring chilly, but pullovers take care of that. We sit and chat and sing (the kids love singing songs at table (so do I)) and most importantly eat. It disappears, then I go and get pudding. I’d experimented with a Rhubarb Tart, warm with a little Crème Fraiche, it was heaven.

After dinner, LL actually managed to convince the kids that scrubbing the outdoor pots to get the algae off was a game. I did the washing up to escape that particular chore, but the laughter and giggles from outside made me wish I hadn’t. Soon enough then all come in, drenched and happy, and I scoot them upstairs for a quick shower. Three stories later (they all have to have their own), its in to bed. LL goes back to her books and I do the “Sunday Night”. Its amazing how many things have to get done to prep a family for a new week. I don’t mind really, it nicer if two do it, but I’ll get my pay back later. I just bliss out remembering a good slow lived day, and soon its all done.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Value of Money

Now to the vast majority of mankind, a million quid is an awful lot of money. The thing is, to a large corporate like the one I work for, its pocket money, a rounding error. It is such a relatively small amount that the big beasts who run finance can loose track of it.

That changes people’s attitudes. They know its meaningless to the company as a whole, and so it becomes something else. Those big numbers become mere status symbols, bragging rights and are used for metaphorical willy waving. People who wouldn’t dream of spending their own money in extravagant fashions, throw caution to the breeze and flaunt it when it’s the company’s money.

Yesterday I saw another example of it. It was a small meeting, two directors, two senior managers. All there to discuss one of the managers pet projects. Roughly speaking the cost of the project was a million pounds. Three of us had met separately and had generally agreed that it was not the right time for this particular project. Though it had merits, in the grander scheme of things doing it now would almost certainly mean we would do some or the entire project over when other works finished.

That is the nature of corporate life, there can be a necessary sequence of things. Do it in the wrong order and it inevitably means redoing one of the earlier segments. Think of baking a cake, one you want to decorate with cherries and raisons. If you put the ornaments in the pan prior to mixing and pouring in the batter, you will almost certainly ruin your lovely arrangement of tasty bits. Far better to bake the cake and put on the ornaments after.

Therefore, this little project was discussed. It was to build an ecommerce site that could be used by all our digital properties. Thing is, our dear company was not yet entirely sure what its retail aspirations where. We publish, and know very well how to sell newspapers, magazines, books and the like. Re-using some of our brands to sell related items has an attraction. Its easy money, you rent your brand and someone else does all the hard work taking the orders, delivering the good and just sends you a cheque once in a while. Brand extensions can be highly profitably things, think of all the things Branson sells with the Virgin label, many of them just rent the brand from him.

There was another project about to be kicked off to really look at this area. Maybe it would be better to have tighter relations with some of the vendors, even manage the sale and customer service of the goods to ensure the customer experience of our brand was uniform and safe. These are big questions, and could substantially alter what sort of ecommerce site we built.

But no, it has to be now, waiting isn’t possible. The site has been talked about and talked about and how would it look if we delayed it? So a decision taken in a dynamic of three managers, changes when the fourth is added to the mix. Frankly, I think my fellow director may fancy the manager with the plan, and so he wavers. We haggle and compromise and come up with a solution that only spends some of the money now. I’m certain its money down the drain as we’ll re-spend it when the strategic project is done, but I’ve done my bit to protect the company’s interests. I can’t completely say no as I’ve got my own projects to protect, my own willy waving to do, and being the nay sayer here, means a potential loss of support over there. The value of money has changed, and another day is done.

Besides, its not my money, is it?


I love technology and I hate it in equal measures

Please excuse the polling failure, it was working last night, honest!

Normal service will return shortly...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What to do, what to do...

Blogging fascinates me on a number of levels. There is the pure visceral pleasure of twitching the curtain, of seeing into someone else’s life. Many show a humour that gets lost in hectic lives. Some are a method of releasing angst, shouting to the world the dark secrets inside that can’t be shared in normal society. A few lift the lid on secrets of work that a known correspondent would lose his job in sharing. Then there’s the political blogs, the frustrated journalists who try to live a life they wouldn’t otherwise have. The funny thing is, almost every one falls neatly into one category or another. Humanity loves structure and norms, and bloggers, despite the truths they speak, aren’t revolutionaries. Yet I love them all, its a million monkeys banging away at the keyboards and delivering pure gold.

This blog was a bit of an experiment for me. I’ve got a higgledy piggledy mind; it jumps around on so many levels. So, in my own chaotic fashion I wanted to try to bust some of the norms, write on different things and see where it lead. It won’t make me millions in a book deal, but its been fun. The question bouncing about in my mind over the weekend though was where was it leading?

I looked back over the past ten or so posts and found more and more domestic blogging with a dash of politics. I was drifting into a norm without realising; shying away from some of the racy and work stuff I started with. So, in the spirit of democracy I espouse, a poll! If you are my one loyal reader (assuming I have one that is), vote, vote often, tell this monkey where to head next…


In the interests of my sanity, this poll has been removed. Hung by my own petard really. One of those things I always warn my staff about is clever ideas poorly executed. Ooops. I have had enough of Blogger, wilst I continue posting for the moment, I shall remove to another place shortly

Monday, May 01, 2006


The oddest things stick in my mind. One day on Radio 4 I heard a man talk of being an “Accidental Twitcher” and it just hit me as right. The thought of sitting out in a bird blind for hours on end on the off chance of maybe possibly catching a glimpse of some rare bird just leaves me cold. However… catch sight of a hawk while out walking, or look for bats (I know, they’re not really birds, so sue me) swooping about from the terrace, or watch the queue of tits line up at the bird feeder and I’m a happy man.

To sit and much my toast (occasionally even with Marmite (LL made it a condition of getting married (it took a while…))) and watch the birds at our feeder is almost a zen meditation. Don’t ask me to explain it, I can’t, but watching the wee birds go after their bit of peanut just makes me happy. We get a lot of them too, you can see 8 or 9 varieties in a single breakfast sitting.

Which brings me to my personal nemesis, his name be Squirrel. You see, the little birds aren’t the only ones who like peanut. So does he, and he’s a crafty bugger. Completely fearless too. Chase him away, and he’s back as soon as your back is turned. I’ve tried spraying him with water and I swear he stuck his tongue out. Throw a stone and he dodges and give you back the finger.

He’s got teeth of steel too. In the ten years we’ve been living where we live, we have been through no less than 15 bird feeders. I’ve tried everything, wood, metal, ceramics, every shape size and design. He has gnawed through them, unscrewed them, shaken them off their hooks, and every single one he has broken to gain his prize.

Until this, welded stainless steel and tough as an old boot.. One week on and he has no luck what so ever. I have watched gleefully as he has swung helplessly trying to get a paw or his mouth at our nuts. To no avail! It gives such great pleasure, and yet, and yet… What will he do next?