Thursday, November 30, 2006


There is an interesting statistic out there (it is buried in this article, which is an excellent overview, can't find the original study again). That children in middle class households get, on average, 6 "encouragements" per "reprimand". Children in lower class households get less than 2, and in welfare families the ratio is reversed. That’s rather stark isn’t it? The inference from the study was that this was a prime determiner in adult self confidence. Children who are praised a lot make for adults that are independent and self motivated.

Perhaps its because I grew up in a middle class family I find the thought of not encouraging kids completely foreign. That 700 is completely true. If one of ours picks up their plate and cup and puts it in the dishwasher it gets noticed and mentioned positively with a quick, “Good Boy”.

It came to mind this morning because Pirate Pete got a 20/20 on his latest times tables quiz. His teacher is a bit anal, and doesn’t let them progress to the next set of tables until they get a perfect score on the previous one. At the start of the year he struggled. Got lots of 18/20’s and 19/20’s but he didn’t get that perfect score for the first five weeks.

LL got quite upset about it, and I was beginning to worry that had a negative effect. So I rolled in with big smiles and positive encouragement to counterbalance her strictness on it. Frankly, I think it was the two styles together that turned it around for him. We both were quiz masters, and spent time going over the tables with him. Clearly something in his growing brain clicked, and for the past few weeks he gets the latest tables sorted pretty quickly. This week was a bit of revision, and he started getting a bit muddled when the tables where mixed up.

Both our styles came forward, LL with sternness, me with laughs and encouragement (which doesn’t mean LL doesn’t encourage and I can’t be stern). We were both still a bit worried, but clearly shouldn’t have been. He aced it, and was very proud of himself this morning. He got a big hug and ruffled hair as a reward. I love it when they are rightfully proud of themselves.

Yet it brought me back to that statistic. Encouragement alone isn’t enough, parenting needs discipline and sternness (reminder to self, must make sure I don’t leave all the sternness to LL). The encouragement builds self belief, the sternness builds inner will power and discipline. You’ve got to have both to succeed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Whack a Mole

A bit of sunshine this morning, now isn’t that what we all needed? I certainly did. It was indeed a hell of a day yesterday. A real whack a mole day. Remember whack a mole? That fairground game where you have a nice mushy mallet? In front of you is a bunch of holes out of which appear cute little stuffed moles who’s heads you proceed to whack. I loved that game.

That was my day. Hardware supplier not delivering to promised timelines? Whack! Call my mate Louie in NY who runs the global contract and get him to raise a fuss. Someone call in ill? Whack! Have a quiet chat with the supervisor to make sure an important task gets reassigned. He’d forgotten. Another supplier saying they can’t get an engineer in to apply a patch and my manager is scratching his head? Whack! Call the European CEO and threaten dire things. Some training going wrong? Whack! Talk to the trainers and figure out where their briefing went wrong, and make sure it gets corrected. CFO complaining about some of the five year plan revenue numbers? Whack! Spend a half hour writing up a justification. All this wrapped around 6 meetings where I have to make sure everyone plays nice and talks to each other.

It is more than a job to me. I get immense satisfaction out of seeing things work, helping teams achieve their goals, watch things get built. Its intense at the moment as we’re in the final stages of a massive product launch, hence my “woe is me” moan. Yet the boy jumps up and down inside when he thinks of the result. We’re going to rock the world, or at least a small insignificant part of it.

Another half hour until I’m in the office. Now where’s that mallet…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grey days

Its wet, the sky is overcast and dark, I've got a to do list of 87 open items, 22 of which are urgent, I didn't get home last night until 10, and it all begins again. I'm not depressed, but it would be nice to have a brief moment to walk in a bit of sunshine and clear the brain. Tra la la...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Car Smarts

So, I’ve now got one, a Smart Car that is. Have poodled about, tested it limits, tried every knob and button (of which there are very few), and feel eminently confident at reviewing said car. My summary verdict? It’s not that bad.

For those who haven’t mat one, or can’t be bothered to look, let me describe the Smart Car. It is a tiny 2 seater full of pretensions (indeed, it could be argued it is a car for pretentious people, of which I must sadly include myself). It is tiny, a true noddy car. Between the driver's seat and the front and rear bumpers there is only a few feet. No long gliding bonnet, no boot big enough for two sets of golf clubs (and just why is it boots are measured in sets of gold clubs). It is two seats, sides, front and back with the bare minimum of controls to drive it.

Next, it almost doesn’t have an engine. In an age when motor manufacturers revel in hundreds of horse power and dripping litre upon litre of engine size, my little Smart car has an engine of 590cc. Most motorcycles have larger engines than that.

Yet some boffin has actually worked miracles with this. It will never win an F1 race, but it gives a modestly satisfactory kick. For city driving it gets off the start as good or better than your neighbour, and there’s just enough oomph to feel the car’s not slowing you in getting from point A to point B. With all that it turns in an average 60 mpg. This marvel of technology has only one real failing, it whines. To get that power it has to run at very high revs, and there’s no soundproofing, you hear this constant whinge as it struggles to keep up.

It has a rather odd not quite automatic not quite standard transmission. There’s no clutch, but it doesn’t change gears by itself. You’ve got to click the gear shift forward and back to change up and down (or in the case of mine, there are flappy paddles at the steering wheel, very F1, but a bit silly). I’m still getting used to that, but other than a fairly rough change from 1st to 2nd, its remarkably smooth.

That’s about it really. The interior is very unfussy, I quite like the styling in its minimalism. It has a big downside in that the stereo is awfully tinny (one thing I will have to change, I can’t stand not having good sound as I drive). Everything feels pretty plasticy but holds together (ie nothing is falling apart), and the heated seats are very nice. Mine has a soft top, which is a bit useless this time of year, but I’m quite looking forward to.

So, all in all, its not that bad (which is different from being very good). To get me to the station and back it will do, it will save a bit of cash, and its different enough that I don’t feel my pristine image is abused to drive it. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Friday, November 24, 2006


There are times when I think I work too hard. No, I know I work too hard. Yet its not all bad. In the current job I start a bit later so I can be with the kids in the morning. We’re not a shy family, so they barrel in and out of our bedroom as they wake up for a quick hug and a chat as we get ready. I had to pause for a moment to help my princess get dressed. Cloths are still a bit of a mystery for her, and she literally had her knickers in a twist. Then I had to spend time with Pirate Pete who’s having to contend with a real tie this term. I think he does actually get it, but it’s a little ritual we both like for me to help him get it right and straight

Once I got myself tidy I gather my ducklings up and herd them downstairs. They are still at the age when any spare minute is a time for play, and there was a small hurricane at the lego box as I got breakfast ready. We’re still gathering the last deadfall apples out from under the trees, so breakfast is a couple of scoops of stewed apple and some sort of semi healthy cereal (just why is it so hard to get cereals low in sugar).

Then I get to steal my few minutes sitting down with them, asking about their day before (its rare I’m home before they go to bed). Pirate Pete got a perfect score on his 7 times tables I was proudly informed, and Ali Baba told me all about a Christmas picture he’d drawn until his brother nudged him to remind him it was supposed to be secret. Princess talked about how she was going to her swimming lesson today and would prolly swim all the way across the pool. All of this talk is going on at once mind, not that I do mind.

Then I herd them into tidying up their breakfast bowls, give them each a kiss on the head and get knee hugs in return, grab a quick cuddle with LL with a quick chat with SN as she’s coming in the door and I’m going (she can’t wait to get her hands on the bmer… sigh…). Then I’m off. Its not much of a family interaction, but it sustains me through the day.

It’s the weekend tomorrow and I get them all to myself to make up for it

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Religion of Science

There’s a face of the boy that’s been a bit hidden. He’s there, in fact he’s a core part of the boy, but he doesn’t get out much. Let me introduce PreacherBoy. He’s the one that does most of the thinking, has been here from pretty early on. Preacher examines, cogitates and over the years has come to some pretty fundamental views of the world. I’ve been debating letting him out of his comfortable library in my mind, but really I’d always intended to let him out. From time to time he’ll take the pulpit and let you know some of what the boy believes.

Please understand, Preacher likes an argument. You don’t have to agree with him, in fact he kind of prefers it that way. Preacher wants to challenge, to make you think. Argue back, he’ll answer. Ask him questions even, he really likes that. So then, we start. Today’s sermon is on Religion, and on one Religion in particular. Science.

Lets start with a basic definition of Religion. There are many, but I don’t think many would disagree with the following. That Religion is a set of beliefs that attempt to explain the world, our lives and, frankly, why. Within that definition, there is a word that needs further definition. Belief. Again, I don’t think many would argue with the statement that belief, in the end, is a knowledge that can’t be proven. By its very nature it is unknowable, and no amount of fact or investigation can prove it.

So, why do I say Science is a Religion? It is generally accepted that Science is based on truth, that the Scientific Method is about taking a Theorem and proving it through replicable experimentation and definable fact. Science is the antithesis of Belief. It understands reality by investigating and proving how it works.

However, this is perhaps less known, deep down in the bowels of Science there are these little known things called axioms. At its simplest an axiom is something so obviously true it needs no proof. Kind of sounds like a Belief, doesn’t it?

Let me explain. 1 + 1 = 2. We all know this don’t we? Its taught throughout the world from the earliest age. Do you know that you can not prove that 1 + 1 = 2? Whitehead and Russel, in their Principia Mathematica spent over 300 pages building up a proof of basic mathematics. I struggled my way throw it when young, it is pure genius (someday I will expound on math as the ultimate art form). Yet, even they, with their brilliance, still had to rely on some fundamental axioms.

I can here you laughing out there, scoffing even. Everyone knows 1 + 1 = 2. Take one apple, take another apple, you have 2 apples. Ask yourself, what do you have two of? They are in no way identical. Each apple has its own unique shape, different colouring, different numbers of seeds, texture, moisture, and taste. They are really only the same in a very general way. Even two hydrogen atoms, one of the fundamental items of our world (though read about quarks, fascinating stuff, and even now it is thought there may be even more fundamental elements), will not be identical. Their electrons will have different orbits, different shapes. No two atoms are identical.

1 + 1 = 2 is actually a simple example of something known as set theory. It is a way of identifying things that are a bit different, yet more the same, and classifying them as the same thing. One apple plus another apple makes two apples.

More interestingly, did you know it is possible to develop a whole mathematical structure where 1 + 1 does not equal 2? We're getting into wild thinking here, but genius has spent lifetimes on this. Such math can be used to explain things normal math can’t.

So, Science has under it Belief, and Science is used to explain our world. That sounds a lot like the definition of Religion we started with. Don’t get me wrong, it has done so better than any Belief system man has devised. We truly understand our world better than at any time in man’s history. It has given us massive benefit, and has allowed our species to dominate our environment through understanding it. Yet it is not infallible, it can’t be. Nothing defined by man is infallible. No Religion is certainly, and, do not doubt it, Science is a Religion.

In all of this I do not mean to undermine Science. I believe in it fervently. Yet I do think it is believed in a bit too unquestioningly. We should always understand our belief, make sure it is believed for the right reasons. So go forth and question my children. So ends today’s lesson.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Do you think it would be possible to do Christmas without the presents?

You see, in general I love Christmas. I love getting the family together, the food (oh yes, the food (mincemeat tart anyone?)), the pure anticipation of the kids, the way the house feels, going to the carol service, putting up the sparkly lights and getting the tree up. I just love Christmas.

Except for the presents. I don’t mean for the kids. Buying the toys and watching their sheer buzzy joy in opening them is wonderful (though I’d be happier if they got fewer toys (it does get a bit excessive)). I just hate having to try to figure out what presents to get friends and family, and its rare I get a present that means much.

For the most part, I don’t really need much more. Well, a Jag XJS would be nice, but other than that I can’t say I reeeealy need anything. Another jumper to pile up with the other ones I don’t wear (I’m Canadian, the blood runs hot, jumpers are for wimps), the book that doesn’t interest me (that says a lot, I read anything, for me to find a book boring means someone tried very hard), the tie to add to the other ones I don’t wear (I loved the fact the city went open collar, shame the trend seems to be reversing).

Plus, I know many of the gifts I’ve given have fallen flat. That perfect insightful book that never gets read, the plant that is not visible when you next visit, the wine glasses that seem to disappear, you know if it didn’t go right.

So what do you say we just scrap the presents except a few for the kids and let Christmas just be Christmas? Do you think anyone would notice?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Issues issues issues

Issues. Its what I do really. Issues are escalated (make that thrown) up to me. I have to judge if this fact or that fact is more relevant, and make sure the right people are involved doing the right thing. Oddly, the greater the pressure, the more issues are escalated.

In a nice calm environment, most people feel capable of dealing with things amongst themselves. For someone like me, this has its own risks as you have to trust they would make the right judgement. Mostly they do, and a good manager relies on that. In times of pressure though, like I’m in at the moment, people stop trusting themselves. The stakes begin to feel too high, and even little questions that they should be perfectly capable of handling, are tossed away.

Sometimes what I have to do is stroke favoured brows and just talk through the situation until those involved answer it themselves. This is the hardest method, though often the most effective. It is always easier to just barrel in and start making decisions.

It felt like I did a lot of that yesterday. Too many time critical things that people weren’t acting on correctly. Or so my judgement was. I can be an angry bear, and I’ve had feedback in the past that in that mode I can be quite intimidating. Oddly, I’ve also had feedback that people find my angry bear mode quite comforting. I suppose it takes the pressure off themselves.

Experience has shown though, that patience and calm is more effective. A captain with an unsweaty brow, and a softly cracked joke before a smoothly delivered directive does more to encourage the troops than one that’s gallumping around shouting orders. So today its back to the cool and collected boy. Or so I promise myself…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kick Sids

So, last week Pirate Pete had a bought of a rather nasty vomiting illness. We assumed it was some mild food poisoning, and when the other two didn’t succumb within 48 hours, relaxed. It is a safe assumption that if something like that hasn’t passed on quickly, it won’t.

Relaxing and childhood illnesses are bad things. You can be certain that if you think everything is OK, it isn’t. Something is always lurking. Now, I admit a measure of luck, our kids are generally paragons of childhood health. So far (and I admit knocking on wood as I type), we’ve avoided anything really nasty. They’ve just had the range of sniffles, coughs, sneezes and tummy upsets that are frankly just a sign of a healthy immune system developing.

So, in this instance, we relaxed. Mistake, big big mistake. Friday night first Ali Baba, then my Princess both succumbed. At least, from the previous week, we’d worked out the routine. Any mess (and they were both tidier in their upchucks that Pirate Pete (he’d done his business from the top bunk of a bunk bed (it got everywhere))) was quickly tidied, towels were deployed, buckets placed conveniently.

Thing is, it’s a nasty one, lots of dry heaving. Both kids where stoic, but miserable. It also meant LL and I got little real sleep. Between the two of them, one was attempting to throw up the non-existent remains in their stomach about every half hour. Yes, we took turns, but you don’t really fall back asleep when you’re just waiting, listening for the sounds. I’m not sure I really understood the meaning of helplessness until I had kids. There are times that you can do nothing other than offer comfort.

All other plans for the weekend where duly changed. Guests deferred, todo lists re-evaluated to things that can be done around the house. I got a big (and nasty) DIY job done with only a few scrapes and bruises, more apples got processed and frozen, paperwork gone sorted. All in all, a quiet weekend with the family…

Friday, November 17, 2006

To drive or not to drive

There is a guilty secret in my life. Cars. Vehicular transport. Gas Guzzling monstrosities. I’ve owned more than a few, been a major contributor to the auto industry really. I've also done more than my fair share towards CO2 increases. In my teens and early twenties it was motorcycles, started with a moped, moved up to a scooter, then essentially got given an old Triumph that lasted all of six months before it fell apart (literally). When I got my first job out of uni my indulgence started.

Car number one was an aged but very sporty Toyota Celica. A hot hatch, or at least I thought. Since then there’s been twelve others that I can call my own. This doesn’t include my indulging the passion through LL (who’s only had three, three!) and a couple of cars bought for the nanny.

I’ve liked different cars for different reasons. At a rough time in my life I had a brand spanking new Jeep with a soft top. For those unfamiliar with North American cars think of a WWII movie where the US soldiers drive about in an open topped car, that’s a Jeep. I drove myself around North and Central America in that Jeep. There’s lots of fond memories of that car.

For a while I owned a venerable Jag XJS. There was this monster of a six litre, V12 engine that purred like, well… a jaguar. The least tap to the accelerator and it would roar to life and press you back into the seat. However, if you sneezed, something fell off. I spent double on maintenance that it cost to by the dear old thing.

There is an early version of the Audi A4 Quattro in the list. Not the most inspiring of cars to look at, but it was a real pleasure to drive. I had a horrible experience with a Ford Explorer, one of Ford’s 4x4’s. It was a company car I agreed to take for a year on the remaining lease. There was nothing pleasurable about driving that car. It drank petrol like you wouldn’t believe, I think it maybe got 10-15 miles to the gallon. Handled like a wallowing hippo.

Now though, I’ve got a quandary. The nanny currently has a Ford Focus. Great car really, handles well, top marks in the crash tests, good fuel economy, nice little engine under the bonnet. Thing is, the kids have outgrown it, or more the laws have forced it to be outgrown. Can’t fit three car seat along the back, and you can’t turn off the airbag to allow one to go in the front.

My current car is a nice big chufty BMW. One of my top three cars. Handles better than the Jag, and its engine is nearly as good (despite being a diesel and getting amazing milage (does better mileage than one of those Prius thingies)). We’ve figured out a safe way to deal with the car seats in the back, and in a pinch a child can be allowed in the front seat. So, that means we don’t have to get people carrier (hurrah!).

But that means the nanny gets the bmer during the week. I have self examined and cogitated, and turned myself around 20 times. Though my ego in most things is a rather robust and strong one, I just can’t quite bring myself to trade the bmer for a focus. Sad, isn’t it?

So, I’m going to trade it in for a Smart car instead. If I’m going to have to downsize I’m going to completely downsize. Thing is, it will save heaps of money. Seriously. Smart cars get parking for 50% off at my station. Plus it positively sips petrol, does 60 miles per gallon. On top of that its insurance class 1, so you pay next to nothing. I get a car that’s cute even if it doesn’t handle particularly well, and I can assuage my sore ego by all that lovely dosh I’m saving.

However, LL had to promise I could get a Porche or Jag when the mortgage is paid off…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Of Weekends and Families

Last weekend we went up to the cottage to go to one of LL’s Aunt’s birthday. Big event, all the family, food groaning off the edge of the table. It had LL tied up in knots. Her family gatherings can be happy affairs, or they can be underlaid with all that angst only family gatherings can had. She dealt with this by baking, doing up the birthday cake, doing up a big pear tart, making a summer pudding. Puddings are my wife’s speciality, she’s good at them, very good.

However, it isn’t something that gives her pleasure at the time. Puddings are “hard work”, a chore, something to be slaved over. When its mixed with worry about a family event, tensions run high. Even so, with a couple of baking disasters mixed in (a blind baked pastry case was left too long in the oven), everything got made in time.

The event itself was fine. No family arguments, no sniping, just happy people having a happy time. LL got a few compliments on the pudding, which she does enjoy, and the kids got a got long time playing with their cousins. It’s a shame that doesn’t happen more often, they all seem to enjoy each other.

As the younger generation we were shuffled off to spend the night at the farm next door. Not a hardship really. Problem was I’ve been suffering with a cold for a couple weeks now, just haven’t shifted it. Then, that night, in a foreign bed and different house I had a bout of revenge of Dehli. Not a fun night, and not a fun drive home the next day.

Life can be a real pain sometimes…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Causing Offence

My short blog yesterday caused a bit of a tempest. Some mildly miffed comments, and some not so mildly angry email. I’ve never received hate mail before, quite the experience really.

In reading back over my words, I was needlessly confrontational. As Imperatrix rightly pointed out, this is not a problem unique to the US. Natalia, again rightly, raised that this is not always a personal problem, but a societal one. MattMan just contentedly burped, the best reaction to a slur possible (btw the kids loved the loose meat sarni’s I fed em last week). I won’t repeat the few hate mails received. Lets just say they vociferously defended the US and claimed I suffered from a few societal ills.

So, if I caused offence, I apologise.

However, the reactions where interesting in the extreme. Part of this blog for me is an exploration of what people respond to, which they enjoy commenting on. I’m not sure enjoy is the right word in this context, but it certainly raised comment. I don’t intend to continue down a path of gratuitous US bashing, its not polite more than anything else (though often quite easy (big brother is always an easy target (my second son knows this very very well)))

So, a question. If you responded, why did you respond? If you didn’t (and none of my UK and only one European readers did) why not? A curious mind would like to know.

PS, not that I want to become an enviro-blogger, but just ask if you want a deeper exploration of societal waste. It’s a fascinating subject! Honest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Eat less and save the planet

I do not normally fall for easy US bashing. However... this was an utterly bizarre statistic that needs almost no comentary. An acedemic has determined that the extra weight of US Citizens in their cars has increased consumption of petrol in that fine country by about 1 billion gallons (like for like since 1960 factoring in more effecient cars, etc etc). So, not only does that society eat more per capita than any other country in the world, in eating more and putting on more weight it consumes more energy.

Go figure...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Influence and Currant Buns

Another case study for you. As mentioned before I’m involved in the sale of a subsidiary. The wide list became a short list of potential suitors. Then recently the shortlist narrowed to one. We’ve been in negotiations with the final suitor for a bit now. Its complicated because the sub we’re selling provides quite a lot of services to the parent company. That means not only are we selling a company, we’re selling a contract.

To be honest, that’s the primary reason the sub is so attractive. There is a nice fat revenue stream that will be guaranteed as part of the purchase. The buyer has been very cany, I personally think we’ve been out negotiated (and I stress I haven’t been leading the negotiations, just throwing tomatoes at what gets agreed). They’ve gained concessions on a number of fronts. For us, indeed the CFO, the key is getting the sale. This sub has long been a bit of a problem, its had losses and issues. Its not in a core area of business, so no one at the top tier really has understood it. A sale has been promised so a sale will be delivered.

Which leads to the current conundrum. The potential buyer wants the fees charged to be raised to what it considers a market rate. To be perfectly honest, the parent company has got away with robbery. The sub has only been able to charge far below market rates because that’s what it was told to do. Frankly, that’s part of the reason it suffered losses.

What gets difficult is the buyer of these services doesn’t see why he should have to pay increased rates. This is made worse as he’s my Peter proof, a fine example of the Peter Principle in action. He doesn’t really have a clue about what he’s buying, or what constitutes a fair market rate.

So I get rolled in by the CFO. This is a market I used to work in, understand intimately. I’m recognised in the company as knowing this stuff and being a hard negotiator on getting the best rates for services. The CFO has decreed that we have to issue a joint statement saying the new rates are fair market value.

The problem is, other than the CFO’s request I have no official authority in this. Its my Peter Proof who has the fairy dust of responsibility. Though he knows he has to do this sale, thinks that maybe out the far side it actually might be better for him. You can deal with a vendor differently to how you deal with a wholly owned subsidiary. Yet he still squirms when the question of market rates comes up. Its his budget that gets hit by the increase, even though the CFO has promised to cover the difference. He also doesn’t report into the CFO, so can somewhat hide from the requests. His boss isn’t entirely approving of the sale, which makes it all the more interesting.

The question is, how do you bring about what the CFO wants? Jack boots or gentle persuasion? Who indeed do you persuade? If this doesn’t get sorted the deal won’t get done, and that’s a whole different story.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Car Seats

How many of you have noticed a new bit of legislation on car seats hit the books recently? Don't have kids under the age of 12? No surprise you haven't then. Suffice it to say the EU, and its doggedly loyal puppy the UK Parliament, have enacted a law that any child under the age of 12 or height of 135cm must be on a car saftey seat that has passed certain saftey codes.

Sounds reasonable doesn't it? Do you know how many children's lives the government statisticians have reluctantly admited this saftey measure might save? Less than one. I don't know how you save less than one child, but I suppose that means maybe one every two years. Across the whole county.

Now, admitadely if its my child's life that has been saved I shall be eternally grateful. However, what that statistic says is that these seats are essentially useless. A child using a normal seat belt may get a bit more scraped up in a car accident, but it will live.

Still, children's lives are precious aren't they? So no one has peeped at this legislation. Do you know that those same goverment statisticians have deemed that this will likely cost the UK economy somewhere in the region of £100m? Thats a lot of dosh.

I know this personally. You see, I have three kids. LL has jokingly stated that we stopped at three kids so we wouldn't have to buy an MPV. Though there are lots of other reasons we stopped at three (age and a tricky birth of our third being primary), there is an iota of truth in her joke.

Thing is, we might have to! Three child booster seats just don't fit across the back seat of your average modern vehicle. I have a nice big saloon, and it just doesn't work. We have Pirate Pete boosted up on some soft cusions, but technically that's illegal. We've actually gone out and test driven a number of MPVs. This will cost money, plus I might have to trade in my nice big chufty bmer.

Oh the shame of it...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why I hate commuting, Reason 2,341

Today was the third morning in three I haven't got a seat on the train.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Up the hoover

We employ “domestic staff” (funny how those have almost become a swearword that must be prefaced with a sniff).

There, I’ve said it. Its out in the open. We’re about as profoundly middle class as it gets. It’s a funny thing though. Both LL and I come from relatively well off families, but we inherited nothing in terms of cash or material wealth (a couple of antiques a few pictures and a painting of my great great great granny not withstanding). All we own we’ve earned off our own backs, educating ourselves at our own cost, taking risks, working hard.

It’s the last the does it. We both work in the region of 50-60 hours a week, and on occasion, more. Plus I have 3-4 hours of commuting a day (some of which is additive to the working week as I take calls and work the emails on the train). Though we both are pretty good at keeping work to the office day, I’m on call 24, and LL has to keep up on the markets and financial trends.

If our kids are to be well raised and loved, and the house to be kept in any sort of order, we need help. So we have a various passle of people who work all or some of their time for us. There’s the Nanny, who’s full time, indispensable and part of the family really. We’ve got both a housekeeper and gardener part time, and there are various others who do odd jobs around the place.

For the most part, this works well. Our housekeeper’s been with us for over eight years. She’s a single mum who works for us and part time cleaning at a school. That hard work has kept her off the dole, and she’s raised her daughter, a delightful girl, single handed. She’s been both loyal and trustworthy over the years.

Problem is, there is discord in the house. We’ve sort of been aware of it, but its been burbling below the surface. Super Nanny and the Housekeeper have fallen out, big time. We’ve had tearful phone calls from one of the parties, who is insistent she’s maligned and bossed about. She refuses to be in the house when the other one is there. I try hard not to judge people as being too sensitive, as there is always background and reasons. In this case though, we have one person frankly being a bit silly.

A bit of a problem really.

I’ve been managing people for over 25 year now. Things like this occasionally happen. Two or more people just rub each other up the wrong way. There often is no justifiable cause, its just personality and perception. In a nice big office environment, solutions can be found. Move them apart, have one or both change roles, mix things up a bit. As a final resort, sit them down and read the riot act. On a couple occasions I’ve had to make the judgement of Solomon, choose one over the other and manage an exit of one of the participants (in one case both, as they’d both got completely doolally).

Some of the techniques I’d normally use just don’t apply. This is family and home, not work, and though employment and common sense should be there, its also more emotional. I am also in the odd position of being the man in this relationship. Though SN quite sensibly sees herself as working for both LL and I, our housekeeper sees herself as working solely for LL. I am a nice chap she chats with, but has no oversight of things household.

So we’re trying to find a happy medium. Times when the house can be cleaned without children and nanny present and some work time on the weekend. Frankly I don’t think the compromises will work, but it must be tried. It will likely mean ending a long term relationship, and possibly there will be hard feelings. However, life goes on…

Monday, November 06, 2006

Remember remember the 5th of November...

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

There are many many things that bring out the boy in me. Fireworks are very definitely one of them. As a lad I had a bunch of mates with whom I experimented. Not with drugs or sex but with explosives. We started simple, firecrackers stuffed into redundant Action Man figures (well, GI Joe really, but most of you lot are Brits, so I’ll use the equivalent (nice, aren’t I?)) and filming them as they blew apart.

We then moved on to disembowelling the firecrackers to make bigger devices. Then, to making our own explosive mixtures. We trialed on making gunpowder. Pretty easy stuff really, then various mixtures using simple household ingredients. I suppose these days we’d end up getting nicked as budding terrorists, but then we were just kids. The whole experiment ended when we made a mortar and managed to quite seriously damage a neighbours garage roof. Took a while to pay that off I tell you.

The fascination continues. Given the chance to see things explode, I’m there. I miss making my own, and a dream job would be the designer in a fireworks factory, but watching is pretty good too.

One of our local villages puts on a bonfire night that checks all the right boxes for me. Saturday night was perfect for it too. First they start off with the bonfire. Not just any bonfire, but a four story affair made up of 55 tons of scrap wood. Plus they fill it with bangers, so not only does it crackle, but every few minutes it pops loud enough to make everyone jump.

Then there’s the fireworks, good ones. The setting couldn’t be better as it’s a glade in the middle of a forest. They set them off from various points, and seeing a forest lit up from the middle by fireworks is really quite something.

But they also make a lot of their own. First there are mammoth St Katherine’s Wheels. Some where quite spectacular, wizzing and fizzing in an array of colours. One didn’t turn, which was grand in itself as it blew up quite nicely. They also do skits. They get flairs in various colours, and string them on frames to make shapes. We had a nursery rhyme, Winnie the Poo’s 80th birthday, and a skit to celebrate the retirement of the local wood ranger (tongue firmly in cheek, of course).

Given the fact that there’s a whole roast pig and bambi, hot dogs, mulled wine hot chocolate on offer, its not a night to be missed. Now all I need to find out is how I can join up for next year. I have this great idea for an entirely different St Katherine’s Wheel…

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hard Blood

So I did one of those “well man” clinics every middle aged executive is expected to do these days. Lets us think we’re being a caring coping company, when really, as the bosses, we should set the example and work not quite so hard. I enjoyed the experience really. You get a complete top to bottom run through, blood tests, every sense checked, heart beat monitored, cardiovascular fitness evaluated, a complete head to toe by the doctor. The works really.

Mostly I came out fine, average fitness, excellent hearing, diet OK, eyes fine so long as I wear my glasses, nothing disturbing in the exotic disease indicators. But a couple things to work on. Though not overweight I had the doctor wagging his finger that I need more regular exercise and could do to loose a few pounds to make sure I don’t get overweight. I know this, its just finding the time to take care of myself between taking care of my family and my company.

Then the ones that do disturb me. First was a high cholesterol level. I generally eat a good diet, high in fibre and organics, lots of fruit and veg, yet my cholesterol levels where high and the ratio between “good” and “bad” cholesterol was the wrong way by a long margin. I was given a fact sheet, and told to cut out most of the things that make food tasty. I mean, no butter, no cheese, eat less red meat, stay away from those poached eggs at the weekend? How’s a man to survive? I’ll make some changes, but the thought of life without some of those things isn’t entirely worth living.

That aside, which is manageable and a balance can be found, I had high blood pressure. Just over the marker from the normal range, but high. I’ve never had high blood pressure, have lived through some horrific times in my life and the ticker kept its slow steady beat. Both my father and grandfather had heart attacks in their 60’s so it’s a bit frightening really. I wouldn’t have said I was overly stressed at the moment, indeed life is for the most part good.

So, I guess that exercise bike beacons. Time to make a bit of time for keeping myself fit. Sigh…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Planning Hell

I mentioned some time ago we’d been trying to get plans for an extension to the house approved, and failed. Its been a long arduous road since then. We’ve involved the mayor, negotiated, cajoled, and tried to find something that would get approved.

Though there is still a formal process to go through, and we could still fall over, I think we have something. Thing is, LL hates it. She has convinced herself it will make the house look ugly, and that we’ve been forced to accept a compromise that is worthless.

I don’t entirely agree. I like these plans less than the previous ones we submitted, but don’t think they are horrible. The worst aspect is having to accept a large flat room on one section instead of a pitch (to save a neighbours view), but as our house is very Art Deco with an existing section of flat roof, that’s not a bad thing. The architect has also come up with a plan that, for a flat roof, is quite elegant. It’s a sympathetic design. The interior space will be fantastic, a good use of space and light.

However, last night, on seeing the final plans my dear LL flew into a storm of rage. Literally shouting and cursing the situation, the architect, the neighbour and the council. She calmed down, as she does, and it wasn’t directed at me. Still, when she gets like that I retract, don’t know how to respond otherwise. She was depressed and I was withdrawn. Not a good situation.

Now I’m puzzling what to do. If she really hates the design we shouldn’t do it. That would be such a shame though. The alternative is either living with what we have (which to be fair, is not bad), or move. We just won’t get the plans we want through, won’t happen. The system, and the people in the system, just won’t let it.

I argue for the design and I run the risk of the rage turning on me. I’m being a bit unfair, but this is one of those things beyond the logical. A rational argument to LL just won’t hold any weight. I argue against it, and we definitely won’t do it. I really don’t want to move, we’ve put too much into this house. What to do, what to do?