Friday, June 30, 2006


I’m tired today. Its been a long hard week. I’m trying to pull together my new organisation, and its in the final stages. There have been plenty of heated arguments, though thankfully the CEO has backed me up as well as the group MD. I’m pulling people out of other departments you see, that always creates dissent. On top of that I’ve been negotiating with a supplier. They’re already working, we’ve already agreed the price, its been all about the final wording in the contract. They have internal pressures which need the contract signed today. On top of that I’ve got two other, more standard, software contracts to sign. No argument, just time consuming.

So I’m tired. I meant to get home early last night. LL had a girls night out organised, so I was on child watch duty. I was looking forward to it, a chance to get things organised for the weekend and maybe even hit my bed early.

It was not to be. Someone decided to kill themselves on the train tracks. This always causes huge havoc. Grumbling crowds filling Waterloo, announcements that are often confused, always not informative enough. Normal trains cancelled or delayed, new routes opened, or stopping schedules changed. Its havoc, pure havoc.

I finally got on one, which promised a fast journey home, but halfway through it stopped for 15 minutes, then turned itself into a stopping train hitting all the small commuting stations rather than just punching through as originally promised. Its at times like that when I wish ill and no bonuses to the managers in charge. That’s just unnecessary.

But what really gets me is the suicide. I’ve had my moments of blackness in my life, when the question comes up if it would be better to just end it. The answer, no matter how depressed I’ve been, is always a fast no. So I struggle to understand people who off themselves.

I really struggle to understand those who off themselves in a way sure to cause the rest of the world ill. I mean, what was going through this person’s mind? If it was trying to be remembered, trying to make a mark, they failed. Sure, a lot of people like me where pissed off, or late going home, but life was hardly changed. His or her name is not mentioned, and this morning life is back to normal. A couple hours annoyance was the worst they caused the greater world.

It’s the people around them they hurt the most. Suicide in the end is a selfish thing. You may cease your own pain (or not if the religious are to be believed), but you cause immense pain to those around. I have a friend back in Canada whose mother suicided. It has left her marked and struggling throughout her life. Its just such a pointless thing to do.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


I’m quite excited, I get to go camping this weekend. The boy’s school has organised a father and son’s weekend, and I’ll be picking up the boys and heading off for two days and nights of manly adventure. I don’t know who’s more excited, the boys or me?

I used to do a lot of this, packing up and heading out to the wilds. There’s little of the Rockies, Coast Mountain ranges, and islands off Vancouver I haven’t hiked or canoed about. I’ve done it in the wet, dry and snow. Sometimes I’ve had a full set of gear and food, sometimes just a knife, flint and a bit of twine and fishing hooks. I’ve done it on foot, ski, canoe, small boat and horse back. There’s been years when just about every weekend I’d get myself out somewhere different.

Then life changed and I stopped. It really stopped when I came over to Europe (yes yes, I know, is England really part of Europe). Its just not the same here. Oh, I mean I get out walking, LL loves that too, but doing a days hike from pub to pub just isn’t quite the same thing (though a very nice way to end a day). And going to a camp ground that has flush toilets, tables and swimming pools lacks that certain… I don’t know, but its not very wild.

I’ve woken up to bears snuffling outside the tend, shared my fire with skunks (you have to be very nice to skunks), given my lunch to a moose (they like carrots you see), put the edge of my paddle through the bottom of a rainbow (sorry, no pot of gold (unless it was hidden under the water)), and generally seen the world before man invented concrete. I miss that.

This weekend won’t be like that. Its nice and tame, we’ll have access to showers and toilets. Yet it’s the first time I’ve taken the boys to sleep without a tiled roof over their heads. We’ll do lots of things together, cook and eat outside, be with lots of other men and boys (I am told a big flat screen and satellite dish has been arranged for the England match (like I said, not very wild)). It will be the first time of many.

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I am currently involved in the process of selling a bit of our company. These are always odd situations as they involve a fair bit of secret squirrel activity. Code names and half truths are the order of the day. Everyone is scared shitless that the staff in the bit being sold don’t find out. The fear is if they do, the staff will leave. Given they are usually the biggest asset in such sales, it is a real fear.

I’m joined in the process by the chap who runs the organisation in question, and a lass from finance who is coordinating the sale. I feel strongly for the man responsible for that part of the business. He has to keep it running, while maintaining an even keel with prospective buyers. All this when he has no idea of his own future. Some buyers will want to keep him, some won’t. I’m impressed by his professionalism, but then I’d do the same in similar straights.

I am not impressed by the women supposedly running the show. She clearly does not have a clue how to run a sale. Somehow she’s got herself into a strategic finance role, and is running about doing both this and a number of potential acquisitions. She is useless. I mean, in meetings with prospective buyers, where the other two of us are doing most of the talking, she does her emails, takes phone calls and dashes out of the room, and stairs at the ceiling. We’re using an external advisor to help with the paperwork, and they downed tools because the contract hadn’t been signed, nor a PO raised for them to bill against. Its criminal. One of the buyers is a close personal friend, and interested as he is, he’s been quite offended by her behaviour.

The question is, what do I do? I don’t know her relationship with the CFO very well. I could quietly complain, but it could backfire and slam back in my face. Alternatively, it could lead to her loosing, or at a minimum changing her job. Yet if I don’t, the sale will be compromised and at best we’ll get a poor price because this lady is supposed to be responsible for the price negotiation. Half of me wants to just leave it. If the CFO is so un bothered by the sale as to completely delegate with no checking up, he deserves the result. Yet my professional pride is pricked. I have no room for mediocrity around me, and this is worse than that.

What would you do?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Drink drink drink drink...

Surly Girl asked:

“What's the worst thing you've ever done while drunk?”

Mr Angry then asked:

“Who's the worst thing you've ever done while drunk”

Oh dear, my relationship with alcohol, put up for the world to see. I am fairly certain I’m not an alcoholic (despite an alcoholic father, a post for another day). I’ve had times of my lived tee totalled and dry. Stopping the drink is no hardship for me, but… having a drink is also very easy. There have been times in my life lived well and truly sozzled.

I suppose there is no uniqueness in drinking while I was at uni. Afterwards I went fairly sober, being in a new career made me all righteous and uptight. I drank, but not very much. Then life went off the rails (aaaanother post for another day), and though I still worked, I also lived in a fairly constant state of inebriation. I pulled myself back up, and dried up, met LL, and in trying for kids (and achieving kids) I went almost completely dry for a good number of years. Partially for health reasons (did you know alcohol is a major contributing factor to low sperm counts, not the only one mind, but one), partially in solidarity for LL who didn’t drink whilst pregnant or breast feeding. Now we drink again, but really only at the weekends (a bottle of wine can now disappear over diner).

When I’ve been in my heavy drink phases I’ve really hit the bottle. So the question of what’s the worst thing I’ve done while drunk is very easy. I’ve driven. I’ve never hurt anyone, thank god, but I’ve done it. When at university I used to ride a motorcycle, and remember more than a few unsteady rides late in the evening (or is that early in the morning).

That’s the serious answer, of course. There are many more foolish times. My first degree was in science, but I had a lot of friends doing engineering. It’s different in Canada, Engineering is a very proud profession. Here its associated with men in blue boiler suits and people sort of sneer at the title. Back home, engineers are a tight bunch, very full of themselves. Its starts at university where the students hang out in an unruly pack.

One of the rites of passage is the 40 beers club. You have 24 hours to drink 40 bottles of beer. No spillage allowed, though vomiting breaks are permitted. As I was considered an honorary engineer I was given the chance to perform. My memories of that 24 hours are more than a little hazy, though I have this badge on my varsity jacket (North Americans will understand that reference, I rowed) that says I did the task. I was hungover for days.

There are more than a few drunken dares in my past. I will choose discretion and leave out the more explicitly sexual ones for this post. However there was the drunken bungy jump in New Zealand that stands out, closely followed by the naked horse ride through a suburb of Calgary (that hurt). Are those the worst things, or just stupid?

As to the question of who, that’s a tricky question. I have had a few episodes where I have had enough alcohol for my memory to be impaired. I only need one handful of fingers to count the nights in question, but that’s enough. On two of those I awoke the next day to find evidence to be sure I’d had sex with a female (won’t go into the details, but there was enough for me to know). For one of those I have vague memories of drunken snogs with a fairly attractive brunette (beer bottle goggles not withstanding). I don’t remember much after that, but will assume any bedroom athletics (or likely alley way athletics in this case) were with her.

On the other occasion I have absolutely no memory of the evening before, in particular no memory of any females. She, whoever she may be, will remain a mystery in my life. A forever unknown lover that I shall just have to rely on fantasy to assure myself of perfect prowess…

Monday, June 26, 2006

Drawers of Chaos

Wendy asked:

“What's in that knick-knacky kitchen drawer and know - the drawer with all the bits and bobs..”

Now I have tendencies to procrastination and small organisational chaos that I am always fighting. Tends to drive LL around the bend occasionally. However, the kitchen is my kingdom. There is no chaos there (well, other than the pile of mail that lives in an ever unorganised and continually changing state). All of my implements are specialised and in their own space. So long as its LL or me putting things away, everything has its place (family and visitors “helping” is a nightmare scenario).

This is important, as when I’m cooking I am the surgeon of the cooker. I must be able to get that spatula or ladle to hand instantly. To not be able to do so risks ruin, and we can’t have that over a meal.

That is not to say there are no knicky knacky drawers in our abode. There are, but even these are categorised and semi organised boxes of chaos. There are many, and they are spread throughout the house. In so doing, they serve a purpose, as any good knicky knacky drawer is a harbour of usefulness, waiting to fulfil its purpose in life.

LL has her masses of makeup, hidden away in two thin drawers slid into an ultra modern dressing table in our bedroom. Curiously, she does not wear much makeup, believing subtly is key. That said, she has a lot of it, to be able to perfectly compose herself against whatever cloths she has decided upon for the day.

One of the most bizarre is our drawers of items useful to travel. This is a broad category, and that particular drawer contains a wealth of items. Here we can find a couple old hand wind travel alarms, our scuba masks, phone and power plug adapters for pretty well every country in the world, a small surgical kit for when we travel to climes less diagnostically capable, eye masks, ear plugs, small bottles of soap and shampoo, you name it. It is a well used drawer too, though only opened in anticipation of travel (which is always pleasurable).

Perhaps my favourite is my chaotic drawer of useful cables. Being a technophile, over the years I have collected a truly amazing set of cables. I’m sure many are for items sold or tossed in the bin, but a good cable is like a good book, it would be sinful to through it away. You never really know when you might need a good cable, and they do tend to recycle wonderfully. Last weekend I was tasked with charging up the video camera that had been gathering dust since the kids had now all learned to walk. It was a conundrum in that I could find the power adaptor, but not its cable. Out came my drawer of chaos and I was able to find one that fit well enough to suit the purpose.

So, there is not one, but many. Each suited to its own purpose or need. That’s as it should be.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Potentilla asked:

“Why did you end up doing the sort of job (managerial, responsible, commercial, long hours) you do? When do you think you might stop? What will you do instead? What would you choose to do with your life if you could go back to the age of (say) 20 but with all the knowledge you have now?”

For those new to the blog, I am what is colloquially called, “a boss”. I manage, and depending on how you count some hundreds of souls supposedly derive their direction and bread from me. In the ranking of such things I’m a middling manager, above the snow line, but not at the summit. I sit on the managing board, and am a non executive director in another smaller company. So…

Why oh why are any of us at this point in our lives? I could be flippant and say simply because I am genius (which I am (of course)), but that’s not all. This is a good question though, because the answer weaves many things together.

Partially its familial inclination. Though my father was a vicar, and my maternal grandfather was a vicar, around them on both sides of the family are inventors and business men. People who made built and ran things. Family legend is filled with stories of mercantile adventures, you soak it up and it runs in the blood.

Partially it is purely physical. I am a tall, white, non-ugly (that is, I would never be a model, but my face doesn’t break mirrors) male. In our society that matters. It most certainly shouldn’t, but its also self evident. If you disregard whiteness, which is an ugly, unspoken, but still massively significant factor in the board room, matters. Being tall makes life easier. You are assumed to be self confident, and in general I’ve found that allows most tall men to just relax and be self confident.

Its odd this one. I did an MBA, and we did a quick statistical study of the few hundred men in the various years of study at the school. It was a stark reverse bell curve. As ambition is a given in b-schools, it was interesting to note that there were almost no average height men. All where either short, and driven to prove themselves, or tall, and allowed by society to be driven.

A uniformity of face helps. I’m not so good looking as to be a threat, but I’m attractive enough that first impressions are generally good. So all these physical factors have helped to make opportunities easier. Its something I’ve been very aware of, and have allowed to help me along. In return I’ve consciously looked for talent and skill, no matter where the choice, and my teams are usually diverse (some day remind me to talk about a pre-op transsexual Project Manager I had some years ago (mad as a hatter, and a handful to manage, but one of the best PMs I’d seen)).

Then there is talent. The dice shot of genes gave me some base talents that in our age are advantageous. I have a good instinct for what makes people tick, and know how to massage them to make them more effective or understand an idea. A general geniality helps, I don’t crush under pressure, and help people stay calm and happy under that weight as well. My mind also balances detail and strategy sufficiently to make sure the right things happen along the road to an end point. As I always check these things, people like working for me. The feedback I get (which I actively seek to make sure I’m doing it right), it that I allow independence with a buffer of mentoring and protection.

Finally is training. Once I set my mind on management as a career, I’ve managed that career carefully. I’ve taken jobs that move me on, and both challenge me and let me succeed. There has been some luck in the jobs I’ve got, but I’ve also worked the system to get the jobs I look for.

Last but not least, I enjoy what I do. The timeframes I work to are generally years, but when I get a group of people humming in the same direction, pushed, but happy and effective, it is deeply satisfying. Occasionally my mind wrinkles at the fact I don’t make or produce anything, but I flatter myself that keeping others working well at making things is as important as the making.

So, family, society’s penchant for physical form, talent, skill and avocation, have all led me down the road to where I am. Where will I be next? Don’t know. I’m shooting for a time at the summit of the mountain. I may or may not get there. If I don’t, it won’t be crushing as I’ve enjoyed the climb. I’ll just change and do something different. We’re almost at the point where income is less important (though not quite, needs a few more years), so I’d likely change into something completely different, like architecture or history. Go back to school and learn a new trade.

As to the question of going back in my life and living differently, there have been times in my life when I’d say yes. Now? Emphatically, positively not. I would never, ever unwish my children and if my life was an iota different they would not be.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

At the end of a long bad day

Courtesy of Random Acts of Reality, a little joy to make your day. One of my favourite things transformed from beauty to beauty. It is mad, more than a little wild, but at the end of a long bad day, made me relax and smile.

Happy Aniverssary

A short break from the answering of questions. It was our ninth anniversary yesterday. Though we’ve lived together longer than that, the 21st marks another turn of time since we became official under the law and the eyes of god. I’m rather proud of it really.

I know many have been together longer. Up until my father died my parents had been married 52 years. My in laws are coming up on 45. So, we have a ways to go yet. Still, nine years is more than many, and I’m proud of it.

We’ve had our dark times. Last year was probably the worst when we spent a time just angry with each other. I won’t go into the details, and the anger had roots in other things. LL, having had three children rapidly, had hit a glass ceiling at work in a fairly overt way. I had a boss who was a bully. Essentially we were getting lost in not talking to each other, even the sex drained away.

Yet we overcame it, and though we have our spats and annoyances with each other, I can say quite honestly we’re happy with each other right now. Those annoyances are funny things, because they are very predictable. Discounting that hormonally driven time of the month when I batten down the hatches and just ride through whatever she takes in mind to use to vent those chemically driven emotions, there are times we frustrate each other (whew, what an ugly sentence (in more ways than one…)).

I can be very absent minded. I never forget things, I just don’t always remember in a timely fashion. I am also a professional domestic procrastinator. There are a host of little jobs I’d just rather leave for tomorrow in a vain hope the fairies will complete them for me. It never happens, but I do live in hope. I am also not particularly talented on the DIY front. Oddly she is, but though she is a thoroughly modern woman, there are things that are a man’s job, no matter how uselessly I do them.

For her part, my wife has a mercurial temper. Even when it isn’t that time of the month, she can explode over tiny things that clearly just finally get to her. I don’t always understand why they get to her. She also has the most amazing habit of just deciding something needs doing. No matter what other time pressures there may be, guests coming, children to get out the door, its time for bed, what ever, she’ll just suddenly decide that bookshelf needs reorganised. What particularly drives me batty is when she’s in that mood, she gets distracted and suddenly she’s trying to complete three impossible tasks at once. She just won’t stop until they’re done either.

Still, for all that I love her, and know I am loved. She is bright (very), articulate, and practical to a fault. Her sense of taste, loves of music and drama, and passions for history and politics match my own. She is beautiful, with deep green eyes I can loose myself in. Though we can both get intensely tired with work and kids, and don’t make love nearly so much as either of us would like, we do pretty well in bed too. There are many things we’ve tried sexually, many more we discretely talk about. Whether we do them or not, we know how to make each other burn.

So, here’s to the love of my life. Nine years, and with a bit of luck, a fair wind and a lot of talk, many, many more.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Couch Grass

Pixie first asked:

“Please talk more about cooch grass.”

Followed by Ellie enquiring:

“What is couch grass? What is the difference between couch grass and cooch grass (other than a typo)? What makes a weed a weed versus just another plant?”

I never knew gardening held such an interest! I shall have to inflict more on you all.

Elymus repens, or as more commonly called: Couch, Cooch, Twitch, Quick, Quitch and Quack grass is a common, or course grass (it’s a weed, a nasty nasty weed). Curiously, the common names all derive from the middle English “Quitch Grass”. It is an insidious invasive plant, the bane of gardeners desiring a perfect stripy grass lawn or weed free border. It is also ugly, that (and unstoppable vigorousness) being the prime difference between a weed and a desired garden plant. It is also considered an invasive weed, in that, though originating in Europe, it has spread throughout the world. Most gardeners will recognize it, though it has a thousand names.

Left unchecked (or unmowed) it grows to a height of 10-15cm, with the corn flower growing to 20cm. A clump growing grass, it is identifiable by the rather ugly rings it forms. It is a very vigorous weed, and propagates via rhizomes growing in its root system. Thus, once a single plant is allowed to grow, it can spread rapidly outside of its flowering season via its roots.

As a gardener, it is particularly difficult to dislodge as a new plant can grow from just a scrap of root left in the ground. Just ripping the leaves off the top of the plant is not nearly sufficient to kill it. Modern varieties are increasingly becoming resistant to milder herbicides, making its control even harder. Recent European Union law restricting the strength of retail herbicides (for health reasons (seems children and suicides get a hold of it (nanny does know best))) exacerbates the situation wildly.

Not to be confused with Couch Grass, a fun filled herbivorous grazing activity performed by one consenting adult between the legs of another consenting adult in darkened living rooms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Embarrassed, Moi?

Elly asked

“What's your most embarrassing moment ever? And if you could do it over, would you?”

I’m going to dither a bit here and discuss the difference between embarrassment and humiliation. Embarrassment is shame caused by one’s own actions. Humiliation is brought about by a deliberate act of cruelty by another. Ellie specifically asked about embarrassment, so that’s what I’ll talk about. I have been humiliated in my life, I’ve been done over by a couple masters. I’d rather not talk about those episodes though, they are fairly painful.

So, embarrassment. To be honest I don’t embarrass easy. For the most part I either don’t care what others think, or see the humour in the situation and laugh along at whatever silliness I’ve done. My poor kids will likely have a time of dread of being seen with me, as I’m wont to break into song, or practice my silly walks in public. This brings delight to young kids, but will likely mortify them when teenagers. I can’t wait.

So, in some sense there is so much embarrassment in my life its hard to pick just one out. Instead I’ll highlight a couple episodes where the embarrassment lead to something else. The first one that sticks out in my mind is when I was a neophyte lifeguard working the beaches in Vancouver. This happened early on, one of the first shifts I did.

The guard shacks where not shacks, brick built and sturdy, but lacking anything remotely private. This particular one was just one big room, with wide glass doors that were normally open. It was the end of the day and I had to change. The first few times I’d scoped out who was around, and quickly changed when no one was looking.

This time, despite my precautions, just as I was pulling down my trunks a mixed crowd walked out front. Now, I wasn’t embarrassed being seen by other men, I did a lot of sports and changing in front of other guys was fully normal. However, at that stage of my life I’d only just lost my virginity, and the two girls I’d been with, I’d been with in dark rooms.

Yet what do you do? Without really thinking about it I turned and went into a strip tease act. It was awful, hoots of laughter and cheers spurring me on. I can still remember how hot my face felt from blushing (I blush easy (that time was a doosy)). I’m told my whole body turned pink. Yet I did it, and got changed, and when I went out a beer was thrust into my hands and people I didn’t know suddenly where my friends. I even pulled that night, an older girl who said she liked what she saw. We met up a few more times, but she got bored with me, which was humiliating rather than embarrassing! But to answer the question, yes I’d do it (did it) again. As I was doing it I was sure I’d never live it down. In a way I didn’t, but not in a negative sense I’d thought.

Another one I mentioned over at Greavsie’s. I had to do one of those awful conference presentations, doing the “blah blah” about a project my then company had done. For the most part I like presenting, it lets me put aside my natural shyness. I should have been an actor me, I’m sure I would have been marvellous (at least I would have been marvellous to me…). At that stage I used to practice, make sure I had my patter down pat. This particular one I practiced so that I wouldn’t look at the screen, just point accurately behind me while keeping eye contact with the vast audience (of 20).

The time came, I started, and some ten minutes in having talked and waved animatedly behind me I suddenly realised that something had gone wrong. The screen, which at the start had proudly shown my title slide, was a neat uniform white. The looks of the audience which I’d taken for awe, where in fact people holding back laughter. Which then broke out, of course. I still remember turning back to a crack about vapour ware.

So I cracked a joke in return, and just carried on, including the pantomime pointing, which I exaggerated for the laugh. It worked, and afterwards I got exactly two comments. One was about it being the best presentation he’d never seen. The second, from a woman (who I didn’t pull…) about a fine makeup to cover the unsightly blemish that had grown up from my shirt collar.

Life in the fire

Ally asked

“What five things would you save if your house was on fire? And why? (Assuming all your family and the boring stuff like passports was already safe ...).”

So, I have LL, the kids and any assorted friends and relations out of the house. I have my wallet and passport, so I “exist” in our modern world. Beyond that what would I absolutely save?

There’s a flippant answer, and that’s nothing. I mean, I’m lucky enough to have some nice things and over the years have accumulated a lot of stuff, but so long as I have my family I’m fine. I’ve lived with lots of things and I’ve lived poor as a church mouse without things and been happy in both states. That’s not saying I don’t enjoy my house and its contents, I do, but if I didn’t have them it wouldn’t ruin my life.

Saying that, on a deeper look inside my mind, so long as I wasn’t endangering my life, there are items I would try to recover. I’m going to caveat the list in knowing it isn’t LL’s list, she would save different things. Also, we have a fire proof safe, so there are some sentimental jewellery and small things that I know are safe. I have to restrict it to five, so here goes, in no particular order.

  1. My main computer (there’s four scattered about the house). I do have back ups, but not anywhere that a fire wouldn’t get (note to self, fix that). My main computer has a lot of my life on it. I’ve kept my diary there, all my letters and emails from over 20 years are there, and it has copies of all my pictures since I went digital. I would truly morn its loss.
  2. Green Ted. Pirate Pete, as a baby, was given a lurid green teddy bear by one of my sisters as a joke. It is truly ugly, even has a red maple lead stitched on one foot. It is, naturally, his favourite thing. Even now, at seven, he sleeps with it every night, he whispers his anger and dreams to it. I had something similar as a boy, and I would not choose for him to loose it until he’s ready to put him aside. Curiously, the other two haven’t formed such an attachment with just one toy.
  3. Great Granny. As the eldest son of an eldest son (etc, etc, etc) I inherited a grand old portrait of my great great great grandmother. Its in this heavy gilded Victorian frame. I do not own her, I keep her in trust for the family and at some stage Pirate Pete will get her. Much of my identity is tied up in my family history, and she is the representation of that. Her loss would be mourned by more than I.
  4. Great Grampa’s sofa. My feelings about this are quite different to great granny’s picture. Its this great long Victorian sofa, and has a story I love behind it. My great grandfather was an inventor and business man. He and his brother built up an empire that still exists, though in a much changed form. When he hit middle age he was diagnosed with “heart troubles” so he cashed out, upped stakes and moved to Western Canada. His idea of relaxation was to buy and build up further one of the largest cattle ranches in the country. To relax he had made this sofa. Its comfortable enough to sit on, but comes into its own when lied upon. I get my height naturally, and its long, plus the arms are constructed to a perfect height to rest your head on and read. As a teen I spent many an hour on that sofa reading whatever I could get my hands on and listening to classical music (I was a strange lad).
  5. My library. This is a bit of a cheat, particularly as our books are spread in bookshelves all over the house (and in boxes in dusty corners), but how could I possibly save just one book? I am an obsessive reader, and still go through a novel a week (an advantage of the commute, time to read (about the only advantage really (but not a bad one for all that))), plus history texts, the odd political cant, textbooks, even biographies, plus all my cookbooks. The loss of books is a sin I’d rather not have on my conscience.

Friday, June 16, 2006

My mind is a blank canvas

I’m struggling today. My mind is filled with work and family and try as I might to think up something clever or humorous today, I’m flat. Nothing’s coming. So give me ideas. A one day offer, any idea put in the comment box will be written about. No question too rude, no topic too obscure. All requests responded too, just maybe not all tomorrow…

A history of green beans, you’ve got it. The boy’s favourite snail, 500 words minimum. Who was my first… ehemm. Here’s your chance to have a go and stump my mind.

By the way, if you’re horticultural minded, a few pics over here. The garden is looking lovely at the moment

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Grief for the Living

I had my mother on the phone last night. Nothing unusual in that, we talk regularly. Yet as I clicked off a wave of grief crashed over me. My dear mother is not the woman she was. She is entering a stage of life that I know all to well is a bit of a nightmare for her.

You see, my parents were in a car accident in the Autumn. Some idiot raced to catch a light (doing double the speed limit) and broadsided my parents as my dad started a cross traffic turn. Though the other driver walked away uninjured, both my parents where in a bad way. My dad cracked a rib, which in turn punctured a lung, his diaphragm, and his liver. My mum had her head bashed back and forth against the side of the car.

The Canadian Emergency services are superb (as are they here), but for a host of reasons they were taken to different hospitals. My dad had emergency surgery, my mum had to be resuscitated in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I’m not going to go into the next few months now, though I may inflict that on you at some point. It was bad.

The simple harsh result was that my mother physically recovered, my dad did not. He got infected with MRSA in his lungs, and despite the best medical science could offer, it overwhelmed him. Not surprising I suppose, he was 79.

That is another grief, and still hits me at the oddest times. Writing this I’ve had flashbacks to seeing him in the hospital, and those are memories I would gladly erase. My blackness last night had to do with my mother.

I know I am not unique in thinking I had the best of mothers. She was warm, generous to a fault, and I am not exaggerating to say to know her is to love her. On top of that she has achieved more in a life time that many. She’s started and run two businesses, and headed up three national charities to name but a few small things.

The accident though has changed her. Its her brain you see, it got knocked around more than a little. What is both wonderful, and enormously sad is that the changes are not huge. I suspect only those of us truly close to her can see them. She’s an intelligent woman, highly so, and can compensate brilliantly.

And yet… and yet… last night she didn’t remember her grandchildren, and I’m positive didn’t remember the name of my wife. I brushed over it, helped her remember again, told her little stories of our life to make it all fresh. She’ll forget again though, its her short term memory that got hit hardest.

The reason this is her nightmare is my grandfather. He had Alzheimers in a bad way. Went completely doolaly at the end, and it was my mum who cared for him. We’ve talked in the past of her fear of the same happening to her. She believes, rightly, that our memories are ourselves. To lose that is to have yourself slip away through your fingers. Now… its happening.

It’ll be years, decades even, she’s back to being physically strong (at 75 she ran a half marathon). We’ll help her remember, help her keep her mind hers.

But this morning I grieve for the living, it should not be this way.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When Tragedy is Bloody Annoying

So, I had an early meeting today, which meant leaving the house early, which meant not seeing the kids and only getting a fleeting hello from LL. This, on top of a late return last night due to a disaster at work coupled with sever train delays from a building fire next to the track I normally use. I didn't get home until after 10.

Such is life, hey ho, so off to work I go. I get there in plenty of time for the earlier train, get on the track... and its delayed 15 minutes. The nice man's recorded voice comes on, "I'm sorry to announce a delay to your journey of... 15 minutes... due to... a pasenger falling ill... near Hackoff. Useless Trains is sorry for the inconvenience to your journey."

Am I the only one who gets severely irritated by completely faux corporate hand wringing? I mean, recorded voice man probably has no idea my particular delayed train is delayed. The bloke in the control room who queued up corporate voice man is just waiting for his next break to go outside and have a fag. Mr. Director Sir is only concerned with ensuring his next performance review is good enough for the chairman to award him his bonus. If they care, its not very much. So why add on the false apology? Its good to know its delayed, but a recorded voice apologising won't make me feel better.

End result, I show up 20 minutes late for my meeting and still didn't get enough sleep, or spend time with my loved ones. I feel sorry for the poor sod who probably had a heart attack on his way to work, but why did he have to have his heart attack on my time? Much as I normally love my job, there are times I hate being a commuting wage slave.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Shy Coconuts

A summer celebration of some sort or another has been going on in our village as long as its been a village. Nothing unique in that, there were at least six village fetes this weekend in a ten mile radius from our house. It just isn’t something I grew up with.

Sure, local schools would have fund raising fairs, and the circus would roll through once a year where ever I was at the time (we moved a lot when I was a kid (six houses before the age of 13 when we settled so I could stay at one for all of high school (like senior schools here (only different)))). Yet there was nothing remotely close to a village fete.

Ours has lost the competitive element (other than the annual tug of war with the next village), yet everything else is robustly traditional. Coconut shies, toss the sheep, the white elephant sale, horse shoes, a whole roast lamb, a Punch and Judy show, the tombola (where you stand the chance of winning back what you donate (which has happened to me twice (twice! (which is why I now donate good stuff (and have stopped winning it back)))), rows of home made preserve and cakes (and we don’t buy back what we donate (unless the kids made it (which they did this year (fairy cakes any one, I’ve got loads at home)))… It goes on, but its such a good simple afternoon.

I don’t know who enjoys it more, the kids or me, though LL looks on with a jaded county eye. Still, I know if pushed even she would admit she had fun. Its one of those things that helps keep me here. I miss home, oddly I miss it most when I’m visiting. Yet, I’m not sad to be living where I am. It’s a beautiful place, and there is a pace to village life I like. We’ve been there long enough that as we walk around an event like this one we stop and have a chat with loads of people. There’s a sense of belonging that’s very nice indeed. Bring on the coconut shy.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mad Science

This is one of the most fascinating scientific experiments of all time... if you need a Friday afternoon laugh that is...

Have a good weekend, looks like a scorcher...

The Boy

An interesting experience last night as I had a chance to meet up with a few of you lot out there. It was a jolly affair, lots of jokes, a few stories (and lots of eh? (the pub was very loud (pity))). It was also, for me anyway, slightly shy and restrained. These are people about which you have read intimate details of their lives, and also in the reverse. I had wondered if we’d be able to look each other in the eye, or would it just be too cringingly awful.

It wasn’t, far from it, and it was a deep pleasure to meet the people behind the words. That’s one thing about blogs, you only see the side of people they are willing to write about. In person, you get to see far more, and the whole makes the image more beautiful (ok ok ok, in one case more handsome, and young, right? Young…).

One of the discussions I found most interesting was also the most short. Why did people choose their nom de plumes. There was a real range, from basic care of privacy to one of interesting depth that explained much. I realised after I hadn’t, and so today, why not?

The one I choose has somewhat haunted me. It’s a bit bizarre, not quite to the normal standard of blogging rigueur. I’ve alternatively worried (I’m a worrier me) about it sounding derivative (there are a number of “girls” out there, but oddly I’ve never seen another “boy”), or worse poncy and intellectually self important.

The reasons though are personal. When number one son was born, we were, as are most new parents, completely absorbed in our son. We actually didn’t call him his name, but then you don’t need to when you only have one. However, we didn’t realise what we were doing until he started to speak. One of his first bits of joined up words was “Da Boy wan milk”. It was then we realised we’d been calling him “The Boy” to each other. So naturally he thought that was his name. For the next year he delighted us by calling himself “the boy”.

Every time he did I found myself hoping he always kept thinking of himself that way. That he kept some link with his childhood in his mind. Life gets serious awfully fast, but I wished for him a continuing wonder at the world, and an ability to forget everything and just play. I wished it for myself too, and realised I had forgotten some of it as I aged.

Having kids is good that way, if you’re lucky you get to regress and free up that child inside of you. I don’t mean in that self help, mumbo jumbo “inner child” malarkey, but just that you get to step back and look at the world with a bit of innocence and joy. So I started thinking of myself in my mind as the boy. I stole a little bit of his world to help make mine more balanced. A conceit perhaps, and yes, a little poncy and intellectually self important, but the boy on top of my brain is alive and well.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Surrounded by Sound

These days, when people talk consumer electronics, they are almost exclusively talking about things designed by the Japanese. Sure, the Americans still occasionally show brilliance with things like the iPod, and the Koreans and Chinese have pushed up under the Japanese for the stack them high and sell them cheap goods, but the Japanese generally rule the roast.

Except for the niche area of audiophilia. Here, the UK, with its quirky culture of boffins and techno geeks still retains a comfortable lead position alongside our Asian friends. If you’ve got a bit of dosh, and I’m not talking about remortgaging the house, you can buy British and buy the best in sound.

This was an important factor for me recently. Last year, we finally cracked a long-standing water leak in our house. We had done everything, rebuilt the chimneys, replaced guttering, took off and rerendered exterior walls, and finally, by a slow process of elimination made our house dry again. This was important as the primary leak manifested itself in our bedroom.

For years we had lived with walls in the room we slept that were blistered and mottled with various molds. I kid you not, it was really quite grim. Finally, on getting it sorted, we were confident enough to strip the walls back to the brick and replaster and redecorate and generally make it look nice.

Being the crafty sort of guy I am, and knowing my wife well, I casually suggested that it was a prime opportunity to wiring ducts if we ever wanted to put in surround sound speakers and a telly. Now we don’t watch much television, maybe a quick half hour of the news as we go to sleep, and once in a blue moon a movie. Thing is, when you watch a movie you want to be comfortable and relaxed and your bedroom is as good a place as any.

She bought it, and clearly the next step was to actually put in surround sound and a telly. This is where my strategy flowered in its brilliance. To put such things into our bedroom they had to be stylish and descrete. Plus, I was able to play the English card. My wife is not a rampant nationalist, but given her druthers she will definitely plump for home grown goods. As I was able to say that everything, bar the telly, would be from Jolly Old Blighty, it was the final straw that broke the camels back and let me indulge in a bit of boys toys shopping.

Oh the joy, the bliss as I was able to freely look up reviews and go into shops guilt free and trial the various options. A bit disappointingly plasma flat screens are still dominated by the Japanese. Yes, there’s Philips and Thompson, but they can’t seem to produce anything to match. It was actually the hardest item to source, as LL’s design constraints outlawed most options.

I have to admit, many of the current flat screens really are over done. There’s lots of fiddly chromed bits and wide expanses of plastic. I had to finally hit the corporate market to find something descrete and clean. Thing is, this was an advantage as the item of choice, a Panasonic corporate 42” model (TH42PHD8BS), actually had a smaller footprint than most 37” domestic models. It was quite astonishing, plus it was built to a higher standard as it was designed to be used in brightly lit board rooms.

Next was the examination for the sound. This was actually the more important bit. I’ve got a wonky ear, its yet to prove itself a definite blessing or curse to have perfect pitch. I cringe any time I hear music that’s off pitch, or is unharmonic. Plus, I have bad white noise filters. In normal life it makes being in crowded places hell, as all the extra noise makes it hard to concentrate. It also means that, poor sensitive petal that I am, I can’t stand bad audio.

The good news is, I don’t have to. There is such a wide range of choice of really top notch kit that produces brilliant clean sound, all of it British designed and manufactured (most don’t even outsource the build to China, they build right here at home). Both speakers and amps, all can be found right here at home.

After a long search I settled on two key manufacturers. B&W for the speakers, their low profile bookshelf range are astonishing. Perfect clean sound with a depth of base that for everything but the big booming special effects, is sublime. Then, for the audio and DVD I went Arcam. The AVR300 amp and surround sound unit really is remarkable. With 100 watts per channel, firing up to seven speakers, it’s a real all rounder. Most surround sound units fall down a bit playing basic audio, and few audiophile amps can do good surround sound. This one can do both.

The DV97 DVD player falls into the same camp. It has a versatile range doing audiophile quality CD playback, and top of the range DVD conversion. It outputs in HDMI format, so with the plasma accepting HDMI, means I get pure digital to digital transmission and a cut crystal image. I’d highly recommend both units, though the DVD may have to be swapped out when the high def DVD wars settle into a clear winner.

We do actually use it a lot. Of an evening we’ll either watch the news, and war reports in full surround sound are more than a bit daunting. Or, we’ll slip in a CD and do a bit of reading. Last night I had on some Bach solo violin that almost made me weep. If I closed my eyes I could hear the violinist about 10 feet in front of me, there was the scrape of his chair, his almost silent humming to the music, an occasional shift of his foot. Remarkable.

So, if you’re in the market for audio, or are putting together that home cinema, put aside just a little bit more and go British. None of the choices are bad, and there are many affordable options that beat the pants off the Japanese. You won’t regret it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Carbon Sinner

I have sinned in many ways in my life, and to be clear I mean things I regret, rather than having sinned in others eyes. The one I most regret is also perversely the one I regret least. I’ve done a lot of airtime, so much I couldn’t honestly tell you how many flights I’ve been on. At best guess I’d hover one or the other side of five hundred. My first flight was age two and I’ve been at it regularly every since.

Here’s the thing. I love travelling. I love the process of getting yourself there, love being there, love the pure joy of getting back home. It is one of my deep joys to pack up and go somewhere, especially enhanced if I’ve never been there before. I am quite unashamed of craning my neck to check the sites out, generally loose my natural introversion so I can talk to people, and just get into the swing of where ever I am.

So, despite probably going to hell, or consigning my great grandchildren to an ecological nightmare I don’t think I’ll be able to give it up. Its just too important a part of my life.

That is, until I have days like yesterday. A lot of this travel has been for work. I can’t really complain about that too much. It’s a privilege to have been able to see what I’ve seen, stayed in fantastic hotels, and have locals take me to the really really good restaurants. There are trips that have been bloody fantastic.

But its not all that way. One of my worst nightmares was a journey that started in London, took me to Stockholm for a day, then to rural Illinois via Paris and Chicago, then on to Tokyo via LA, around the other way to Milan via Singapore, then finally, only 6 days later, back to London. I honestly didn’t know which way was up, and slept for 20 hours flat.

Probably worse are the days like yesterday. Up at “oh my god it can’t be that time” o’clock. So early even the birds aren’t chirping yet. Off on a jolly jaunt to the airport with a poor taxi driver who had to get up an hour before me. A long wait to get through security (and just why do I have to take off my belt and shoes, let alone get my laptop out, and empty my pockets), then a very bad cup of tea (and just why can’t airport lounges provide good tea, its all the same stuff, but I just can’t get it to taste right). A boring (if on time flight), then a god awful long drive to get to a remote factory site. The meeting was good, productive even, but was in a windowless room with bad open sandwiches. Then back in the cab, back to the airport, back on the plane, back into another taxi and finally home even later than is the usual late I get home.

On days like that I am convinced I should just stay at home and play with my kids. But the siren’s will sing eventually and I’ll be lured away to yet another far off local. Just hopefully not like yesterday.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Religious War

A three point beginning divergence:

  1. Could there have been a better weekend to stay at home and play with the kids?
  2. I have my wife back! Her exam is done, she was happy (enough) about it, and last night we sat in the garden after the kids were abed with G&Ts and just talked! Bliss.
  3. I have a stonking headcold (for the second time this year (this is unusual (I am obviously near death))), this did its best to divert points one and two, but failed

Now, I’m a Canadian, in case anyone was in doubt. That means I worship the holy grill. BBQing is both an avocation and a holy requirement. Other nationalities believe they are amongst the blessed, but clearly are not. Now I might concede Aussies and Kiwis as being within the righteous, as I have partaken of the blessed sacrament in both lands which do justice to the holy rights. Yanks, forget it. They THINK they believe in the holy grill, but… they put things like hot dogs and preformed meat patties down and think that buys them into the chosen people (or they go to excess, like the Texans and grill anything that moves (heathens)). Just because they are the world’s only remaining super power does not mean they are always right.

Which brings me to the English. There is this quaint notion here that BBQing may only be performed upon charcoal. I mean, get with the future people. A proper (Canadian I might add) gas grill, with lava stone, or cast iron coals to catch the drips and turn them into smoke is far superior. If one believes in the wood smoke effect, then small chips can be cast under the grill to the same effect (Apple Wood is the best, I might add). Plus, its instant. Twist a knob, punch a button and away you go. I will happily waste time preparing the food, taking time out to ensure your cooking utensil is ready is just a waste.

Then… and this proves the catholic taint, they put poor quality sausages on the grill. This is apothecia of the highest order, worse than the American hot dog taint. A edible plastic tube filled with a bit of pork fat and vast quantities of sawdust rusk does not make one a BBQing nation. In this, I am willing to except pubs which roast whole suckling pigs or lambs. This small plots of reason are amongst the holy, but in my experience are the only exceptions.

It does sadden me to say that there is schism amongst the chosen people. Take my brother in law, he believes that the dry rub is superior to the marinade. Imagine! For those of you uninitiated, the dry rub method involved a mix of dried herbs and vegetables being rubbed into the meat and left for some time before grilling. Though I will concede it is not inedible, a properly prepared marinade is by far the most holy preparation.

I prefer a good red wine, such as an aged rioja. There are those (fools) who think only cheap wine should be use. This is foly! If it is not good enough to drink, you should not use it to cook with. Then, with the wine mix a bit of Soy Sauce, either Worchester or Mushroom Ketchup, with a large handful of sage and rosemary and a good grating of pepper. The meat should soak for at least 4 hours, and overnight is better.

I’ve had friends over who’ve complimented me on my “Mediterranean” cooking when they partake of a steak so prepared. Such friends are seldom welcomed back. Rosemary in particular has been used English cuisine as long as recipes have been written down. Though my use of Soy is a but suspect, the rest of the ingredients and quantities I found in a medieval recipe book a friend was translating (from middle French (it was an English recipe, just written by a Norman cook (I’ve had some odd friends in my life, but he was a keeper))).

The best quality of meat must be used mind. I source my steak carefully, and in the case of two of my dealers, the name of the cow is supplied with the meat (which is as it should be, a man should be introduced to what he eats). Good meat, prepared so will be so tender that a knife will cut it as if it where butter (and a knob of herb butter on top of a good steak does not go remiss as well).

However, to keep the family peace I recently gave in and experimented with a dry rub my Brother in Law had sent. It was a mix of dried garlic, tomato, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Not very authentic with the tomato in the mix, but acceptable. I rubbed it into the steaks (a rump cut for superior flavour, but aged and very very tender) a number of hours before dinner. Then, grilled quickly to medium rare and served with a potato and carrot mash, corn on the cob and some steamed spring cabbage (straight from the garden).

My experimental subjects ate it with far too much enthusiasm, but number one son wormed himself a little further into my heart (if such a thing is possible), when he turned to me and said “Very nice dad, but I liked it better last week” (marinaded lamb chops). The fact I had been grumbling about using a dry rub for the entire day I’m sure had nothing to do with it (nor the fact it was pocket money day). He’s a chip off the old block.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


There's some more content I'm not going to post on this site. I spend a lot of time in our garden. Its a passion I didn't expect. My father was a bit of a gardener, but it wasn't a focus for the family as we usually lived in places without much of garden around us. He used pots and planters to grow his possies, and we often had an alotment for growing veg.

So, having married a passionate gardener, I found myself pulled outside to help. The doing doesn't do much for me. Its occasionaly enjoyable to get my fingers dirty, and a few times a year I tear into the weeds, but mostly its just a chore. However, I love the garden itself. Every morning I'll spend a few minutes looking out at it. When the weather is better we always eat outside. I play with the kids in it, and there is nothing better than a good cup of tea, or better yet something stronger, while sitting under the pergola just looking around.

I'm a moderately keen taker of pictures, so if you go here you'll find the start of a picture log of our garden in its many seasons.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Sureal

So the sun is blazing down for the first time in weeks and I’m at home. SN needed a day off, so I’m officially on a working holiday. My mobile rings every half hour, I’ve had 43 emails come in, but mostly I’m managing to focus on my little princess. We’re having lunch out on the terrace, and its gorgeously warm. I’m surrounded by flowering plants (the first strawberries will be ripe soon). Beside me is princess, and on my plate I’ve slices of fresh baked bread made this morning, two types of ham, three types of cheese, a pile of my father in law’s green bean relish, and a pile of fresh veg. Life is not so bad. The mix of office and home is a weird mix, and adds to my second day of uber reality.

Yesterday was one of those puffed out chest, proud moments. The boys where in their annual school amateur dramatics. Very amateur I might add, and with a wiff of the surreal. Seeing your son in a grass skirt as king of the islanders, sway his hips and sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is one of those moments when you don’t know whether to cheer wildly or laugh uproariously (I cheer of course). He even got the whistle right.

These things always get to me. So much effort goes into the costumes, the set (the cardboard palm trees and “realistic” pirate ship were works of art), the lines, singing and dancing must have had the teachers at it for days. All for a bunch of under sevens their moment in the foot lights. Then the way they stand proudly when there is the obligatory standing ovation at the end is a delight.

I’m sure one but a relation of the children in question could really enjoy a child’s play. They, in terms of art, are atrocious. However, yesterday, over the period of an hour, I turned off my adult sensibility and delighted in my children being children.


PS. More rude stuff over here. Its a departure in being a fantasy written one night when I was downstairs and alone doing the washing up while LL was upstairs head burried in books. It is very rude, so you are warned. Got LL excited when I whispered it in her ear later though...

PPS. Ignore the look of the other website. I'm upgrading and playing and and and... New look soon, though tell me if you have any problems with it (P. the safari thing should be fixed)