Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

So, time to break for one of my favourite times of the year. Its only a so so break, as I’ll be working at home, watching over my herd as they work (mostly from home as well) throughout the holiday to meet our deadlines. Still, there is time off, time with family, friends, good food and a chance to kick back, just a bit.

In case I don’t get back to the blogsphere, from this boy to all of you, have a marvellous Christmas, a festive New Year and a happy and fulfilling 2007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why I Love Radio 4

For those of you not living in the UK, BBC Radio 4 is a fairly unique institution. I’ve heard Americans claim its just like NPR or its only talk radio, but that’s a weak comparison. Radio 4 has a budget most commercial radio stations would be jealous of. It can create audio programming that is a wonder.

Take the morning Today programme. This is a topical news programme that runs Monday to Saturday from 6am to 9am. It has an editorial team of about 50, and can call on the BBC journalist staff across the globe. Over the years I’ve heard interviews with world leaders from Putin, to Condalisa Rice to Mandella. As the BBC pumps the best of its news over shortwave, movers and shakers know that if you get on the BBC you reach an audience of over a billion.

So let me describe a piece this morning that I listen to as I was waking up. Its what made me realise how much I love this station. It was a piece on advertising junk food to children. There is a current piece of legislation going through the works to ban such ads during programmes aimed at children (cartoons and the like). A UK advisory body was making a fuss that most children actually watched adult programming more than cartoons (true), and that the ban needed widening.

They had one voice from the advisory group, one voice from an advertising body and the interviewer. All three were highly articulate and it was a concise intelligent debate. After five minutes I felt I’d heard both sides of the argument, and believe me, no punches were held back, understood the current status, and knew I’d go and read more background. The interviewer was talented and would turn a point one voice made into a barbed question for the other. It was great.

There was then a piece on buying peerages, one on environmental policy and this quirky bit on the recording of fish singing (who knew fish sang?). The today programme wakes me up, challenges my mind and gets me ready for the morning. If I get a chance to listen in the day I’ve heard superb drama, documentaries on everything from travelogues to remote locations to in-depth cultural studies in the Middle East. Radio 4 comedy make me laugh and relax on the way home, and in general fills in gaps in my day. I wouldn’t be without it.

For those of you poor souls who don’t live in the UK and can’t access the BBC easily, you have my sympathy. You can pick it up on the web though (

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Xmas Feasting

There has been much talk amongst bloggers of late about the Traditional Christmas Feast. Much of the talk has been quite disparaging, degrading even. There have been slurs against the older traditions, complaints that it is hidebound and moribund. I wish to set the record straight. In the boys house we follow orthodox English tradition, though with some slight blending between the boy’s and his wife’s slightly altered family mores.

Lets start with the starter. Gin and tonic.

As for the food, in the boys family this was always a prawn cocktail, in LL’s smoked salmon. We alternate now. It will be smoked salmon this year (the boy insists on wild Pacific Coho, or possibly xx, double smoked), on home made buttered brown bread, with fresh cracked pepper and a slice of lemon. On prawn years, it bears little resemblance to the much maligned 1960’s variety. You start with a bed of shredded lettuce, then a nice heap of cold peeled prawns and a got helping of the family secret recipe red sauce (starts with fresh tomatoes and chillies to give you an idea, it’s a family recipe that goes back at least 7 generations). The course is usually served with a nice chilled white, this year I’ve got a rather scrumptious bottle of 99 Sauterne put aside.

In the boys house is was always Turkey, in LL’s goose. Back at the boys grampa’s house the turkey was from a friend’s farm, usually spit roasted over an open fire (oh the memories that writing that brought back). I don’t know any good turkey farmers, and if you don’t know its origins, its probably tasteless and factory bred. I’ve been converted to goose. I’ve got a source up in Scotland who free ranges them on the moors, the depth of taste is exquisite. This gets stuffed with a mess of brown bread crumbs, sausage (the local butcher does his own traditional pork mix), chestnuts (from the tree at the bottom of the garden), and a healthy dose of rosemary and sage (fresh picked from just outside the door).

To compliment there will be chipolata sausages (a thing from LL’s family, but our butcher does ones with a nice healthy dose of pepper, yum), roast potatoes (I prefer King Edwards, and they are roast in goose fat, obviously), baked sweet potatoes or bashed turnips (haven’t decided which yet, often both get done, but we’re only six at table this year), steamed carrots in butter and honey, steamed broccoli, and them there little cabbages (as my grandma always used to call sprouts). Now the latter must be cooked only lightly, just enough to heat them through. Ours will be fresh out of the garden (we managed to keep the slugs off this year), and with a little butter on top, they are one of the kings of the vegetable world. This all will be washed down with a 14 year old bottle of Aussie red (left over from our wedding no less).

This all gets finished off with Christmas pudding and pumpkin pie. Both families did Christmas pud, the boys always had pumpkin pie. The pud come’s from LL’s aunt, will be appropriately steamed for a few hours, then doused in brandy and flamed at the table. This will be served with unhealthy doses of brandy butter (made last weekend, and is liberally imbued with brandy), and heaps of whipped cream. There will be a pile of choclates and home made mince pies and a heap of little oranges if anyone can be bothered, plus the remains of a bottle of 1964 Armagnac for afters.

Now go on, tell me that is not a meal worth eating?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Poor Ali Baba had a fever yesterday. Not a really bad one, but bad enough he didn’t each much and slept most of the day. Last night was bad. Though it felt like his temperature had broken, the poor lad was restless and woke up a few times. Then he drifted into a dark sleep full of nightmares.

I went into find him at one point sitting up in his bed, shaking. His eyes were open but unfocused. He wasn’t talking, but let me cuddle and talk to him. Something got through because he did utter a stark “They’re trying to eat me,” before I finally got him relaxed and settled back in the bed. That hit one more time before the night was out.

Thankfully he was chipper and happy in the morning, though clearly tired. He didn’t seem to remember his nightmares, which is likely a good thing. If he was tired, LL and I were shattered. Neither of us has much in the way of energy reserves at the moment and a broken night just leaves you floored.

It makes me wonder about nightmares though. In general Ali Baba doesn’t seem to suffer them. This one was noticeable in its intensity. He was clearly lost in something horrific.

Pirate Pete, on the other hand, goes through phases of regular nightmares. Happens every couple of months where he’ll have a week or two of a nightmare every night. Usually happens between 11-12 o’clock. From the bits he mumbles in the middle of them, they appear to be fairly simple, his brother beating him up, one of us angry. It clearly his young psyche working something out. Still, its odd that they happen in waves.

This post has no real point other than a general musing on childhood nightmares. I don’t suffer from them much, never have other than a small handful of real doozies. Its just interesting how they hit and how they differ between children. It does raise a question for you parents out there. Do you comfort your children, try to wake them up, or let them sleep it through?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Why I hate commuting, Reason 2,343

So, I drove in to work today. Had too much to bring in on the train. Still took me 2 hours, plus I arrive with my blood preasure elevated. As someone who can take a lot of pleasure out of driving, I hate driving in congestion. The pure impoliteness of it all, people doing things in their car they would never do in a standing queue, it all just fires my brain. I had no chance to practive proper road politeness, though I am actively looking for the right opportunity.

Still, much as I hate SouthWest trains, I will stick to the train for the time being.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Thoughts

A seat on the train three mornings running! Funny the little things that give you pleasure. Came home to a very jolly household last night. With my mum, my inlaws and my wife there it was a very social atmosphere. Boy did I need that. LL and her mother are either thick as thieves, or ehemm, not as thick as thieves. Thankfully jokes were being stolen from the either.

Our night’s sleep wasn’t so good. Pirate Pete is prone to nightmares. Has been since a babe. He doesn’t seem to remember them, and from the snatched bits of garbled one sided conversation he blurts out in the middle of them, there seems no pattern. He’ll go for months with deep undisturbed sleep, then will have a couple weeks of thrashing and crying out. It usually happens in the first hour or two after we go to bed, so isn’t great for our sleep. Other than go and say calming things and brush his brow, not much we can do either.

A bit worse is my Princess coming down with a bit of a fevour. Poor thing was not happy last night, and very listless on waking this morning. Heaven help us if that washes through the house to the rest of us. Hopefully it will be a quick one. However, to live with small children is to live with every virus, cold and sniffle that roams the countryside.

Hopefully this will be a nice relaxing weekend. Most of the usual taxi activities are suspended for Xmas, and there’s only one birthday party to run the shuttle to. We may actually get away with putting our feet up a bit. Then again, there’s some painting to do, a light fixture to fix, a mirror to replace, the drape across the front door to refit, a rogue tree in the hedge to poison, meals to cook, cloths to wash. Feet up may just have to remain a pleasant wish…

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bloggers Block

I’ve sat and stared at this screen for the past ten minutes wondering what to type. I suppose its bloggers block. Normally I have a list of things to write, indeed I’ve got my backlog still sitting there in my mind. I just can’t seem to stir up the motivation. I’ve been a bit gloomy lately haven’t I?

I wouldn’t actually say I’m depressed, but my usual cheerfulness is strained. Work, though stressful, is going well. The kids are in fine form, and it’s a pleasure having my mum in the house. All is not perfect in the marriage department at the moment, but two stressful jobs sometimes collide and friction occurs. Its not a permanent heat, we have good days and bad days. Last night was good, this morning some friction.

Mostly its just tiredness. I think I could sleep for a week. The relentlessness at work and the potential for angst at home just pile up. I wish I could pack the family up and just go somewhere for a while. I need some time out, a bit of room in the space time continuum. Not going to happen soon, but it needs to get planned i

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Me Mum

So do I start with the accident, or start with the woman? The accident I suppose. It’s the easy bit, ugly and short. My parents where driving a friend to visit her father in hospital. The sort of thing they did every day, little things for other people. They were turning across traffic late in the day, it was dusky. The lights were on, my dad had flipped the turning signal, the road obviously looked clear and he started a turn. What he misjudged was the oncoming car in the far distance wasn’t going a normal speed, which would have given him plenty of time to turn, but at twice the speed limit.

Wham, my parents car was spun. It was an old car, because it wasn’t a head on collision the one air bag in the steering wheel didn’t deploy. My dad cracked a rib, puncturing his diaphragm and a lung. My mum, in the backseat, got slammed against the side of car. The passenger was essentially unharmed.

Ambulances appeared, my parents taken to different hospitals to spread the load. Dad was shunted into emergency surgery for the punctured lung, mum had to be resuscitated in the ambulance and was immediately put on life support. Thus began a very long few months of my life, one of the reasons I started blogging actually, though I didn’t blog much about what was happening, that was too painful.

We actually thought my mum was in the worse condition. Dad’s injuries, though harsh, were survivable. Mum was in a coma, on life support. What we didn’t count on was a little bug called MRSA. It got into dad’s lungs, picked up from something in the hospital (he’d been tested on admission and hadn’t had it). They tried every antibiotic available. Each would slow things down for a while, then it would creep back. In the end the pneumonia overwhelmed him.

Mum, however, went to recover strongly. First out came the breathing apparatus, then the drips, then she regained consciousness, then her health improved, then she went home. None of us where that surprised, she was fit as a horse. This is a woman who ran a half marathon at the age of 76 (not fast mind, but she still did it).

Dad died, and we all surrounded my mum to support her. She came through it remarkably well. Then time passes, as it does, and life goes on. Though I talked to her frequently on the phone, I hadn’t seen her since the funeral. I’ve had updates from my sisters, so intellectually I knew what to expect, but it still hits hard. In so many ways she’s still my mum. It’s a cliché, but to know my mum is to love her. She’s one of those ever optimistic and essentially happy personalities that its hard not to warm too. That personality was backed up with a fearsome intelligence, and a very high emotional IQ.

Now though, she’s subtly changed. Her short term memory is damaged. Some things she remembers, some things she doesn’t You hear the same story again and again now. Her singing voice, a strong alto, is damaged. One of the things that’s hit her hardest really. However, her hands remember how to play the piano, and she can still sight read music. But hardest for me is her judgement has collapsed. That fearsome intelligence that questioned everything, is dimmer. My sister back in Vancouver is having to fend off salemen with a stick. She just falls for every line. Plus, some of the conversations we used to have, questioning the world, they just can’t happen now. I’ve tried. She wants to be engaged, but struggled. It almost made me cry the other day.

Still, mostly she’s there. The happy personality is still there, stable and persistent. She still delights in so many things, and loves watching and playing with the kids. We can still talk about many things, though, not unnaturally for her age, its often conversations about the past. It’s a real pleasure to have her in the house, and given how fit she is, will likely be with us for a good long time yet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


A very thin piece of string am I. Work has me stretched, then last week me mum flew over from Canada for a month. Throw in standing room only on the train and it means a non blogging boy.

I am both exstatic about having my mum here, and tremendously sad. Haven't seen her since my dad's funeral 10 months ago, and now the reality of an old lady with accidental brain damage is overtly clear. More soon, but the boy is morose and buried in work.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I am famous you know

Following in the footsteps of Wendz, I've done an piece over at ExpatInterviews. You can read it here, but more interestingly you can find nuggets of interestingness of expats all over the world via the home page. Its a good site, take a look.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why I hate commuting, Reason 2,342

At the risk of sounding repetative, can I just re-iterate how much I hate commuting? Its bad enough having to spend the time getting from point A to point B when it all works fine. Today I had my first delay because a train was cancelled because of the "lack of a driver". When the next one showed up, five minutes late, it was already standing room only.

Finally, on getting to Waterloo and switching trains I just miss one. Then proceed to have to sit and wait 15 minutes for the next as they cancelled three trains in a row. Apperently it was raining too much.

2 3/4 hours to get from my house to my office.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Of Backs and Monkeys

Meet Fred. He’s not particularly big, a mere gibbon of a monkey, but he’s almost the oldest. Every so often he clambers over the others to whisper and giggle in my ear about that tap I bought. The one that was a wall mount when I meant to get a tub mount? That one, the one I bought three years ago and have ever since been meaning to replace? Doubt they’ll take it back now, probably discontinued. Won’t be able to get one which matches the one of the basin now. Not that anyone notices, well except for LL who dramatically sigh’s about it every so often.

Then there’s George, he’s a bit hefty, takes a lot of feeding George. George is definitely a chimpanzee. He’s not there all the time, but has been coming and going for a long long time. He’s back at the moment, chortling about that annual insurance renewal. The one that’s gone up 30%. Definitely time to get some alternative quotes says George. Then he pounds my back and has a good old laugh when I don’t have the time.

Good old Henry though. Henry’s been there longer than any of them. He’s so tiny he probably constitutes a lemur, but he causes a lot of guilt does Henry. He doesn’t come out much, probably because the job he’s there to laugh about is in the back room. The one where we store all the junk. There’s a bit of rising damp back there and I know I have to figure out what the cause is and sort it. I have a nasty suspicion about that, which is probably why I don’t check it out. If its what I think I don’t want to imagine what the cost to sort it would be. Henry whispered about it this weekend when I was cleaning a gutter near there (that’s a clue by the way). Didn’t check it out though, that would take a specialist with all sorts of gear.

I think I’m going to get to say goodbye to Bob though.. He’s a big old primate, a gorilla that guffaws every morning when I leave the house. See, we’ve got this porch over the front door. We’d had it replaced shortly after moving in and that particular builder was of the conscientious type. The porch was well built and the ceiling over the door had been finished in a lovely varnished hardwood marine ply. Looked really nice it did.

Some years ago we had the gutters replaced and for reasons I never could get to the bottom of, that builder painted the ceiling white. I almost don’t want to know why as he’d only have done that to hide something (he was that sort of builder, a story for another day). Problem was, he didn’t use a proper outdoor paint (we think anyway). It very quickly began to grow a rather ugly black mould. I’ve known I had to go out there, clean it off and repaint it. Bob shouted at me every morning I went out the door and pointed up at the ceiling.

This weekend I washed it off, got it prepped for painting it next weekend. Bob’s in a sulk, he didn’t do anything this morning. Not even a little chortle. I hate to think what he’ll get up to if I don’t get the job done next weekend though. Mind you, I'll barely notice he's gone there's so many others up there clambering for attention.

So, what monkey’s are there on your back? Do you have so many, as I do, that you name and categorise them? It’s a nice displacement activity to do rather than actually finish off that list of jobs.