Monday, April 30, 2007

Glorious Weekend

So, all my worries were for naught. My sister arrived Friday afternoon and left this morning, and we had just a marvelous weekend. She and my brother in law where demob happy. This is a once in 10 years trip for them and they are just so excited it was infectuous.

The weather certainly didn't hurt. Clear blue and warm every day made for an easy visit. The garden is in fine form, so we ate and talked and played with the kids outside. Speaking of my little angels, bar a couple of the normal childhood spats, they were on good behaviour. My sister continues to think they are wonderous beings (which, of course, they are).

Frankly, we didn't do much. There were a couple of vague conversations about going to see a castle or hit a museum, but my sister kept saying they were here to be with us, not see things. Seeing things is the rest of the trip. That was fine for us, being with kids in their own environment is just easier and less stressful. Having just been on a big holiday we were all very happy just to be at home.

We had some good talks about my mum, and there was less disagreement than I'd feared. I still have to tread a bit carefully, but it was some good conversation on things we have to do. There was also not some of the disagreement I feared, and I hope the disagreement just wasn't hidden by the holiday happy juices.

So, all in all, a glorious weekend. We had fun, talked a whole lot, played a whole lot, and just relaxed. It was what you hope a family visit would be.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sisterly Visits

So my sister arrives today. I am both excited and a little bit worried. The excitement is easy. We haven’t seen each other since my father’s funeral last year. We talk often enough on the phone, but its not the same as being together. She and I always talk easily, so the time will go quickly I know.

Yet still I am uneasy. I’m uneasy for no one thing either. First, LL and this particular sister have not always got on well. There was an incident when LL’s aunt died. My sister made an off the cuff comment about “How its probably for the best”. Said aunt had died of cancer, deteriorating quickly and very painfully. My father had said something similar and it just grated LL’s nerves. My wife has a quick temper and it set her off. My poor sister didn’t know what hit her, anger is a no no in my family. We just don’t do public displays of it. There have been other similar incidents and the two women are just that bit wary of each other.

I also know I have to speak to my sister about my mum. There is a legal case outstanding around the accident that in the end killed my father and caused brain damage in my mother. It hasn’t gone overly well, two years on and its still uncertain. I have to tread carefully as I don’t think the lawyer has been managed, but my sister is raw to any hinted criticism of her management of it. My fingers itch to take control, dealing with the law is a day to day part of my job. For family harmony though, I don’t, even though if it goes badly financial support of my mum will fall primarily to me.

Plus, this is my youngest sister, closest to me in age even if there’s a six years difference. There’s just that bit of sibling rivalry between us. I usurped her as the baby in the family and with some truth to the argument got rather spoiled being the youngest. It doesn’t get in the way really, but sometimes it still rears its ugly head.

Yet all those are risks, vapour in the wind that may never coalesce. I talked to her last night and she was happy and excited to be coming. I’m happy and excited she’s coming. LL is in a calm and happy frame of mind at the moment, the kids can’t wait and all should be good. Princess went and picked flowers for their bedroom, had arrayed her stuffed toys for inspection and put out books she wants her Auntie to read to her. This will, naturally, charm the sox of said auntie. All shall be good.

I hope…

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Moral Choice

We live in a difficult moral age. Questions arise that our forebears had no idea of, let answers to. One came up that’s been tugging at my mind. The question is this, currently, for in vitro fertilisation, embryos are allowed to be scanned for certain childhood congenital disorders. Perhaps the best example is down’s syndrome. This can know be fairly accurately identified, and such embryos rejected. The question now is, science has advanced to the point where other, more adult, disorders can be identified.

Here the case presented was identifying a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. The question being, if it can be identified, should it? The media spectre of “designer babies” looms. What gets played up is the fear of parents selecting the attributes and strengths they want a child to have.

To my mind this is really very simple. We’ve already made the prime moral choice. By accepting that the process of in vitro fertilisation means that more embryos will be fertilised than will be used successfully, everything after that point is somewhat moot. The real question, which is pivotal in the whole abortion debate, is what rights do an embryo have? The Christian right believes that a fertilised embryo has been quickened by god with a soul, and therefore a human life not to be extinguished. Oddly enough, this goes back to my first point. The bible mentions nothing about this, abortion really doesn’t have a single line devoted to it. All else is interpretation.

So, what should the measure be? In my youth I came across a small fact that still shapes my thinking. At around the 20th week, an embryo begins to have traceable alpha waves in its brain. Alpha waves are an accepted signal of consciousness. Only the higher life forms exhibit them. To me, that is the spark point, the feather on the scales that tips an embryo from animal to human. Before that, it is potential, after that it is conscious, even if in only the most rudimentary form. It is the only objective measure I can find that we can use.

Back to the question then, should we allow embryos to be scanned for genetic or congenital disorders? My only answer can be use, indeed the only moral answer can be yes. If the decision has been made that some embryos will be used, and some discarded, then we have an obligation to ensure the most fit embryos are chosen.

Of course disabled or ill children can love and be loved, of course they can add to the whole that is the human condition. I do not question that, but that does not mean that when we have a choice to not allow their suffering to come into being, we should not take it. If you can say that this embryo has a reasonable chance at illness or suffering, and this one has a much reduced chance, what other choice can you make?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Building Works

So, for those of you that have been around for awile, I’ve been having problems getting planning permission for an extension. A combination of a wiley not very friendly neighbour and a planning officer using his powers somewhat inappropriately in my view.

My architect and I have been working the issue for a while. I’ve had meetings with the mayor, who is oddly powerless under labours planning laws. We have John Prescott to thank for a situation where planning is essentially independent of local councils, though oddly somewhat independent of central government as well. Bureaucrats with too much independent power without oversight is not a good thing generally.

Finally, in the last month, our work bore fruit, though not exactly as planned. We put in two plans, both which had been pre-discussed and pre-agreed (as much as they can pre-agree) with the planners. We’d hoped both would get approved, expected one would get approved as one was a bit of a stalking horse.

Sure enough, one got approved, but it was the stalking horse plan. Its actually not a bad design, quite suitable for a 1930’s art deco house, but it means a rather large expanse of flat roof. We’re more than a little shocked as our local planning guidelines have strong objections to flat roves. The interior will be fab, its just that flat roof. Is that really what we want? We’ve been in an absolute quandary, but over the holiday, decided to go ahead so long as the build costs are not outrageous.

So now its all steam ahead. We’re looking to our green credentials and I’m busy investigating water treatment systems and geothermal heating and solar power. I will not put up a wind turbine, we just don’t get enough wind, so it would be silly. Every other option though, we will investigate fully. For the flat roof, I finally got LL excited by talking her though options for a roof top garden.

That’s all the exciting bit. On the rather daunting side is the build itself. This is going to be a big one. Part of the plans are replacing a rather aged septic tank, plus the sewage plumbing runs under the space being built on. We’ll have to move out of the house for a period of time, which is not a nice thought. Plus there will be the usual disruption of builders everywhere, walls being knocked through, floors dug up. Its going to be a messy summer I think.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Small Horses

I have a baby foal living in my house. We’re not exactly sure when she arrived, but she’s obstinately refusing to leave. She refuses to answer to answer to any other name than “baby foal”, and winnies and whickers her way around the house.

Oddly enough, my daughter, the princess, disappeared at about the same time. I don’t think we really noticed when it happened because the baby foal and my princess look identical. Mind you, the baby foal is just as obstinate as my daughter, so I suspect they’re related. She also likes many of the same things, like sitting on my lap to have a story read, or even having tea parties. I never knew horses liked imaginary tea and cakes, but there you go.

Having grown up with much older sisters, I am not used to the goings on of little girls. The boys I understand absolutely, and LL had younger brothers, so she generally gets them as well. My princess though? This resolute cuteness is almost more than my heart can bear at times. There is a difference between the sexes, no doubt. I can delight in having a baby foal in the house, just not quite understand it.

Other than the horsey invasion, it was a lovely weekend. Other than the requiste trips out of shopping and swimming practice and the like, we spent it almost entirely outdoors. Time to prepare the garden for summer. I ache today, all that scrubbing of tables and benches and washing down of terraces, and mulching of plants. Mind you, the garden is looking lovely this spring. It is a bit early though. The apple trees don’t usually bloom until Pirate Pete’s birthday in May, and they’re just coming on now.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy Families

Its funny, I would consider myself to have a very close family. The thing is, other than last year when my father died, we don’t see each other much. For reasons that I don’t understand my sisters just don’t travel much. We only see each other when I go back to Canada. They all profess to want to travel, but they just don’t really.

In the fourteen years I’ve been living in the UK, two came over for my wedding, the third has never been. Still, we natter on the phone and email continually, so I’d still say we are a close brood.

However, at long last, my youngest sister (a meer six years older than I am (my mother regularly contends I was an unexpected but very happily welcomed accident)) is coming to Europe. She’s going to spend a weekend with us, then do a mini grand tour for the remaining two weeks.

I’m really looking forward to it. LL and I have been debating if we organise some day trips or not. My sis is spectacularly unbothered. She has no children (not by choice, things just didn’t work) and I think she’ll be very happy to just be around the kids. So, I expect we’ll just pile on some good food, break open some good bottles of wine (got a nice ’84 Rioja I’ve been keeping aside, and maybe crack one of the last bottles of the wine from our weeding (a ’94 Chateau Reynella (despite the name a stonker of a Aussie red))) and just talk. My brother in law is a wine merchant you see, so I have to keep the standards up.

I wish they were staying longer. I know they consider this an extraordinary trip and want to pack in as much as possible into two weeks. But because its an extraordinary trip I’m jelous of having as much time with them as possible. We always have a good time when we’re together (which is always initiated by us), so it’s a bit sad they don’t come more often.

Yet they’re coming, if only for a weekend. Time to slaughter the fatted calf (well, they don’t eat red meat, but you get the idea), break open the cellar, and celebrate. The rarity of it should make it all the happier.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flying Heck...

So we used a charter airline this trip. It wasn’t because it was cheap, it was because by the time we got around to booking the holiday it was all that was left. It was highway robbery prices too. The airline clearly had a policy of jacking up prices the closer to full a plane got.

Here’s the thing, I used a high class travel agent to do the booking. I’ve used them for years, generally they are very good, efficient and even get better than average prices. Often better than I can find on the internet (being a cheap sort of bloke I usually check). Their best skills failed this time, and the charter was all they could find.

I can only guess they weren’t used to dealing with charters. Before we left, the flight time changed three times. Something about charters never being absolutely sure when their take off windows are as they’re last in the queue and can often get bumped. My agent’s ability to confirm these changes was laughable. Right up to the day before flying they seemed incapable of getting me a piece of paper with the right times on it. Looking back it is *almost* funny. They call and leave a message, I call, get told a time and are assured something will be sent. Something is sent, but has a different time to the one I was told on it. I call, they call, more emails, the time changes again, more calls.

On top of all that I got told I couldn’t pre-book seats. A bit of a problem if you’re travelling with three kids under the age of seven. Thing was, I could have pre-booked seats if my agent had dealt with it back at the time of booking. Like I said, a farce.

Any road, we managed the flight out without too much difficulty. A bit of a delay, but nothing serious, plus it was a late afternoon flight, so easy on the kids. Everything at the other end worked fine, and we got to our villa without incident.

The flight back though was another farce. Again, the time I had on the bit of paper was apparently wrong. We got to the airport in time, but only just. The check in had almost closed and we were the last to check in. Even though my agent had promised on a stack of bibles to make sure we had pre-booked seats for the flight back, they weren’t. We ended up with seats all over the plane. The poor flustered greek check in clerk hadn’t a clue, and said we’d have to sort it on the plane.

Thankfully we did, but the plane was delayed. Didn’t take off until after 11. Not funny if you’re with small kids and it’s a four hour flight. Then, when we finally land, there’s something going on with the baggage handlers. We stood for an hour in the baggage hall just waiting. Didn’t get home until the wee hours in the morning.

The bit in the middle was fine, very fine, but lordy, the travelling bit at each end does its best to ruin it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Was I away?

Back home, back at work, and within 10 minutes it felt like all that good holiday vibe was a dream. Had a good time though, went to sunny Cyprus, and mostly had sun. One rainy day, but we were sightseeing, so it wasn't too much of a bother. Mostly we lazed around, swam, played games, and ate good food. I grew up living around Greeks, so its easily one of my favourite foods, even has comfort food status. Nothing like a big glass of white wine, bowls full of tarmasalata and tzatziki with a pile of toasted flat bread to make one chill out.

Reconnected with my kids, did a lot of talking (and other things, ehem) with my wife so as holidays go it definately qualified as a success. Was doing the resort thing, and had a few issues with that, which was not so fun, but the villa and location was supurb. Pity the pool was unheated, but that didn't deter the kids. Shivering with blue lips and they'd still refuse to come out unless tempted by a bit of Star Wars on the telly. They are Star Wars mad my kids, but then so was I when it first came out, so no great surprises there. LL doesn't get science fiction, but she humours us. I brought along the old BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, so she was happy too.

Now back to work...