Thursday, June 28, 2007


So Imperatrix asked to know more about growing up in a commune. It wasn’t what most people imagine when they think of communes as it had both an urban base and a farm. At the time, the Canadian government supported social housing through subsidised mortgages to what where known as Co-ops. This was essentially a mutual society for housing. All residents would be members of the society which owned the housing. However, members did not own the equity, the society did. There were strict rules for what happened if a society failed, ownership would revert to the government who would recoup any mortgage amounts, and distribute any profits to charity. They didn't fail much though, as a means of social housing it actually worked very well, though a later conservative government stopped any new co-ops forming (which is a shame as it was an inexpensive means of social housing that worked).

That meant that alternative ideas had a means of funding. The particular idea my parents bought into was a rural-urban commune. There would be a base in the city, and a farm in the country. You could live at either, but have access to the other. The urban base was a wonder of greenness. It had (has, the place is still running) solar panels, the best in insulation, built in composting facilities, and the landscaping was all “edible”, ie it was all veg.

The units ranged from four bedroom to eight. Every resident had their own bedroom, but shared common living space, including bathrooms. There were also shared spaces like a library, a large common room, offices, a workshop and what was meant to be a gym but never really got kitted out. I lived there from the age of 12 to 18.

The farm had only 20 acres, but actually has been hugely profitable. It was organic before the word got coined. In its early days someone had the bright idea to grow specialised salad vegetables. All the top restaurants glommed onto it, and it still runs a good earner in selling premium organic carrots to the discerning gourmet.

As you can imagine, it collected a wide variety of souls from the fringes of society. There was at the core a stable set of liberal professionals. As well as my parents, there was a tenured genetics professor, a registered nurse, a manager high up in the public service and the like. There was also folk singers, workers in really off the wall charities, holistic healers, and a lot of people who didn’t seem to do anything at all.

When I bring this up I’m often asked what it was like to live in a house of people I wasn’t related to. Its kind of hard to answer, it was what it was. My parents where my parents (my three older sisters had left home at that point), and always there. Over the years the others moved in and out. Looking back it was quite itinerant. Other than my parents and the nurse, few people lived there more than a year or two. So I had both the stability of my family, but this constant change flowing around me.

As a teenager it had a lot of advantages. I had access to the common room, and as I was a nerd of the first degree, having a big space to have my mates over to play dungeons and dragons was a good thing. I also had to learn to be pretty independent (which oddly enough I thought was a good thing at the time, meant no one bothered me) . I washed my own cloths, had a few regular chores and from day not had to cook one evening meal pretty well every week (there was a rota of course (and even then I enjoyed cooking)).

I didn’t get involved in the community around me much, that was my parents thing. Other than interacting with those I lived with my life was school and my mates. In that way frankly, it was no different than any Canadian teenager.

Yet there where differences. I did have to interact with those I lived with, and some of those were pretty odd. The community, for many reason, seemed to attract people with mental illness. I suppose it was the supportive nature of it. My parents in particular had a habit of housing strays, even before we moved into the co-op. Over the years I seemed to have the bad luck of always being the first to come across people when they went into psychotic episodes. Nothing violent, thankfully, but pretty weird all the same. There were also a couple people I didn’t really like much, but still had to live with. I just did my best to avoid them.

For all that, it wasn’t bad. I had good friends at school, and even the occasional weirdness at home was by no means traumatic. I had a freedom in my teen years not a lot of kids get. Being the sort of stable responsible type I rather naturally am, I didn’t abuse that (much), so frankly I was pretty happy. Even occasional stints at the farm to do the chores wasn’t a bother. It was kind of fun.

However, having reached my age of maturity I moved out pretty fast. I had no wish to stay on, and I would not choose to live in that sort of lifestyle again. I think my parents, lovely people that they were, often were taken advantage of. Certainly they financially supported the co-op heavily when some of the residents couldn’t pay the rent. Doing that didn’t build them any equity, and their pension fund suffered as a result. They were emotionally taken advantage of too by the string of the needy that lived for a time with us.

My parents eventually got disillusioned and moved out, though not for over 20 years. It even caused them to live apart for a while as my dad moved out before my mum (he’d had an irreconcilable argument with a couple other residents, I never quite understood the details). They still spent a lot of time together, but they lived apart until finally they couldn’t bare it any more and my mum moved out of the coop.

As an experiment its still running. The farm is arguably the more successful, and is self supporting financially. The urban coop still stutters on, but other than a few die hards its almost a transient hotel where people live for a year or so and move out again. Because of that its not well maintained, and looked a right mess last time I took my mum to visit.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Final Stretch

I am on the final stretch to leaving the current job. This week, the next, then I go on holiday and don’t come back. It has been a rough few weeks. A lot going on, and though I’m able to emotionally withdraw from a lot of it, I can’t from all of it.

The projects I shepherd continue to be tough old grinds. They’re moving along at pace, but it isn’t easy. Then there is the re-organisation my boss is taking everyone through. He’s using the toss everything up in the air and gets everyone to re-apply for their jobs technique.

I personally don’t like it, have never used it. I think its demeaning to make people interview for jobs they technically already hold. Its used though as it is faultlessly legal. You make it “open and transparent” and no one can complain of discrimination on any grounds. However, open and transparent doesn’t mean rigged. Interviews are always somewhat subjective, open to interpretation. The interviewer still, in the end, is doing the selection.

He got a shock though in that a lot of people didn’t play the game. Many of our senior managers didn’t apply for new positions. That’s the danger, because if you don’t apply what then? Technically, you’re redundant and the company has to pay you off. For people who’ve been there for many years that can be attractive, especially when the job market is nice and buoyant, which it is.

There was another shock. One of my senior colleagues, one whom I rated highly, had a stroke two weekends ago. Out of the blue, unexpected, just… wham. It’s a bad one, he was in a coma for over a week, and now that he’s conscious again he can’t speak and his right side is paralysed. Its horrific, one of those nightmare scenarios in life. Hard to say how much he’ll recover, though he will. He may not be able to work again, and though the company is being generous now, will it still be so in two years time? I really feel for both him and his family.

But soon I’m out of it. From one frying pan to another, but with three weeks off in between. Then the whirlwind will start and I’ll be spending a good few months living out of a suitcase. I’m looking forward to it though, it’s a company with challenges, but great people and a definite purpose.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A rather pleasent weekend

Once a year LL and I attempt to have a night away to ourselves. We don’t always succeed, but I think there’s only been one year we haven’t. A couple of times her parents have oblidged with the child care. Once our previous Nanny took the kids off to Norway for a long weekend to see her mum, other she or our current nanny stay a night.

That’s what happened last weekend. The kids generally have a blast as said Nanny’s treat them royally. This time they got to go to a BBQ social at Pirate Pete’s school, then got taken off to the sea side on Sunday to meet up with SN’s parents (who’ve bizarrely but utterly pleasantly have become third grandparents to the kids). The kids had a whale of a time.

So did we. It was a fine, romantic even bacchanalian weekend. We handed over the kids a bit after lunch and drove up into London. Probably should have taken the train. LL wanted to drive, but London traffic definitely put her nerves on edge. However, that eased away quickly as we drove up to the Savoy and handed over the keys to a nice man.

Once of the bizarre things about being nicely well off it when you hit the tipping point. I imagine I could mathematically calculate it, but there’s a point when your access to “stuff” just becomes easier. Things become available that you kind of thought existed, but didn’t really have a clue about. Take our hotel for the night, the Savoy. I have these nice people on the end of a phone who sort things, they sorted the hotel.

We pull up, hand over the keys and get lead up to our room after mentioning our name. It really is that simple. We freshen up, then head down to tea. If you haven’t had tea in one of the grand old hotels, it really is something you should do. Yes it’s a bit on the pretentious side, but that’s what makes it fun. You camp it up. We had a table by the river, and on sitting got handed glasses of champers (rather nice too, a ’02 Perrier-Laurent). You choose you tea (yes, there is a tea menu), then the tower arrives. This Edwardian folly is a thing to behold. A plate at the bottom is filled with sandwhiches (crusts trimmed, lots of variety but always includes a smoked salmon and a cucumber set). The middle plate has the pastries, the top plate has fresh warm scones. There will be large bowls of strawberry jam and clotted cream brought along as well. Then you sit and people watch and gossip as you stuff your gobs. The plates get refilled if you’re keen (which we were).

After that we went upstairs, and uhmmm had some fun before getting dressed. We went out to see Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” at the Colliseam. LL is the opera fan, I’m more into modern dance and symphonic music, but I greatly enjoy it. This was a first rate production. Opera in our age is a funny thing. You can’t really mess with the music, so all the artistic director can play with is the staging and the costumes. The music was superb, really sublime. We hit it lucky, it was the night they were taping to play on Radio 3, so everyone was on top form. The staging too was magnificent, real genius that enhanced the play perfect. Costumes though, those I didn’t get, a bit of a mismatch of things. Still, given it was over two hours of opera, it felt like little time had past. Mozart can do that to you, it just flows along, perfectly serene. This isn’t one of his better known opera’s, and as LL said afterwards there wasn’t as much of the music that’s distinctive, yet there were perfect moments of brilliance. Music that made me close my eyes and float.

With that behind us we walked out, turned right and went into Asia de Cuba. This place has been on the list for a while, thought not at the top. I chose it because it was convenient. I have to say, I’d go back. It’s a bit on the noisy side, we had to lean close across the table to talk, but the food was excellent. Asia de Cuba is officially a “Fusion” restaurant. A place that takes elements of different cuisine and mixes them together. In this case its Caribbean and Asian.

With good results. Be warned if you go, portions are huge. We had two starters and shared a main and a desert. Memorable was a Carpaccio with rocket salad and Thai dressing. The beef literally melted in your mouth, fantastic. The grilled rock prawns and pineapple in a butter pesto dressing went down well nicely too. The pudding was a spiced chocolate ice (ie no cream) with a coconut jelly. Trust me when I say it sent us both into raptures. Alcohol wise the place is known for its Mohitos, rightfully so, and we finished off a bottle of ’02 Stags Leap (which if you like your yank Merlots is one of my favourites, goes well with spicy food too).

We staggered back to the hotel way past our normal bedtime, amused our way to slumber, and actually slept in without the kids waking us up! A bit more amusement, then a truly bang up cooked breakfast served at our bedside and we had a lazy morning to remember. A couple of hours at the National Gallery and we finally drifted home to be re-united with a trio of happy kids, romanced up, with stuffed bellies and with a big dose of culture to keep us going.

Shame you can’t do that every weekend…

No, not really. It would get boring to do that every weekend, and we’d miss the kids. As a one off though, sensational!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Love Note

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve now been officially married 10 years. Wendz joked she felt like slinking off with all these long term couples around. She shouldn’t, absolutely shouldn’t, not even in jest. Some marriages just aren’t meant to be, the two individuals are better off apart, literally, than together. Some couples are naturals, two parts of the same whole. Then there’s the rest of us, that make compromises, struggle along, but find life together on the whole better.

That’s me and LL. We’ve had our problems, we’ve made our comprimises, and you know what? I can honestly say I love her more now, with all that history, than I did at the start when it was new and shiny. Oh sure, I know we have hurdles yet to jump over, there will be challenges and grief, but there is still that partnership to look forward to.

We do better together than alone. Luckily we’ve managed our work troubles and depressions to mostly not coincide. That’s important, it means one of us can help support the other. Heaven help us if we both get depressed at the same time. We’re also there for each other, if only to listen, at the end of a hard day.

There are the practical things. Two incomes and one set of expenses mean we’re financially better off together than apart. It means a set of chores shared. It means being able to cover those times when someone absolutely needs to be there without both of us needing to be there. It means decisions shared, therefore risk shared, therefore failure shared (and most definitely the opposite, with success shared).

Then there is having a warm body to hold. Even if its just a quick cuddle and a kiss. Better if its some time together uninterrupted (which is not always easy with kids in the house…). Having someone you fancy, someone you know how to please and knows how to please you is wonderful. It may not always be heart thumping headboard banging rumpy pumpy, but its always good.

Last but by no means least, is the kids. Arguably the reason we got together. We met in our early thirties. Both of us knew, and said, we wanted a family. We were clearly looking for the same thing. There’s more to it of course, we not only wanted a partner for kids, but someone who liked the same things and was fanciable, but starting a family was at the core.

That’s in many ways the best bit, the kids. We’re both mad in love with our offspring. Not always the perfect parent perhaps. I’ve been known to be too tired to play, and LL’s temper can over react to small things. Yet I think we’re good parents. Our kids are happy, and seem to be growing up cheerful and learning. They react and behave well to those around them. We’ll give them the best we can, then sit back and delight in the people they become.

So, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, here’s to the woman I love, my LL.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Surprising Things

Imperatrix did this first, and as I'm idea blind at the moment, it seems like a fun post. So, eight things not everyone knows about me...
  1. I can touch the tip of my nose with my tongue. Greavsie thought this was quite surprising about Barbarella, but it feels perfectly normal to me. I've just done it again to prove that I can.
  2. Can you do the Vulcan "Live long and prosper" thing (hold your hand out and spread two fingers to either side making a "V")? Now, make both hands do it. Then, with one hand bring the two centre fingers together leaving the two outer ones spread making two "V"s. Finally, make each hand change to the other style at the same time. Its my party piece, and invevitably makes someone comment that I am freakish, which is, of course, true.
  3. I grew up in an urban commune. Really. My parents decided they wanted an alternative lifestyle, so at the tender age of 12 we moved into a large "co-operative". This was a purpose built structure where each "pod" had 8 bedrooms, two bathrooms and a shared kitchen and living room. Looking back it was a pretty odd teenage life, but at the time, felt fine. My parents, being a vicar and his wife, where the conservative stable ones with an income, and we lived with an odd assortment of quite eccentric individuals.
  4. Despite having quite green credentials I have two failings. Firstly, I'm a bit of a car nut. I have owned 15 vehicles over the years, including 4x4s and sports cars. My biggest petrol monster was a 5.6L V12 Jaguar XJS, that was pure pleasure on wheels to drive, but needed pushing into a garage if you frowned at it the wrong way. I am currently serving penance in a 0.6L inline 3 cylinder Smart car (with a soft top, heated leather seats and flappy paddle gear shifting! (A petrol head has to keep to certain standards)).
  5. I have been lucky enough over the years to drive pre-production prototypes of the Lotus Elise (my best ever most favourite drive), Jaguar XKR and X Type, and the last BMW M5 on their respective manufacturor test tracks.
  6. Our honeymoon was 2 weeks in a sail boat around the Galapagos. It was pure magic. Through various circumstances we had the boat to ourselves and five crew. Too many stories for one bullet point, but I did get to prove my manliness and scare off a curious hammerhead shark when we were scuba diving (which isn't hard actually, but it sounds good and impressed LL).
  7. People in Britain, including my dear wife, seem to think it odd that I like chips (or chunky Fries for you yanks) with gravy and cheese curds. I don't understand why, because its delish! LL has point blank refused my teaching this to the kids, even though she's got them hooked on Marmite!
  8. I once lost my wedding ring. I was walking along whilst on holiday, doing as I'd always done and twiddling with it (I'm an inveterate fiddler, me) and it dropped into a ravine. I didn't tell LL for days I was so embarressed (I don't embaress easily). Today is out 10th wedding aniversary, and I woke up to her putting a new ring on my finger. I was very very touched.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Corporate Speak

Corporate Speak. That misuse of the English language meant to convey that the corporation in question is really a caring sharing organisation. That its sole goal is its customers and perfect attention to their needs. Copywriters earn vast amounts ensuring the language has just the right emotional tone.

I heard a stonker this morning. “Please Note, ticket barriers have been installed at this station to assist you in your entry and exit. For your convenience please ensure you have your ticket ready.”

For those unfamiliar with the British train system, ticket barriers are these machines of the devil that one must stick one’s ticket into before they shudder open to let you through and return your ticket (hopefully). They are not efficient, and they do not assist me in entering and exiting the station. They are there to ensure the train company that no one without a ticket gets in or out.

Frankly, they are a bloody pain in the ass. Inevitably I have to fumble in my pocket to get my ruddy ticket out of its little folder. Equally inevitable, someone in front of me will have got into the barrier without getting their ticket out, or having the wrong ticket, or or or.

For some reason the train company thinks its necessary to tell us that it would be better if we got our tickets out before the ticket barriers. Or better yet to make sure we’ve got a ticket. This is, frankly, self evident. It does not need explanation. It does not need some trumped up misuse of the English language to convince me that its really for my own good. Why can’t they just leave the air unfilled with this extra noise?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pet ills continued

Thank you for your solicitous concern about Tommy the Guinea Pig. I am sure you will all be rapturous to know that he has responded well to his (outrageously expensive) treatment. His breathing has returned to normal, he is obviously out of pain, and is eating well.

Too well actually. The vet also informed us that he is an overweight (ie fat) Guinea Pig. Fresh grass is still allowed, but we’re to cut out the cucumber and beans. Poor thing doesn’t know what’s coming. He also now does his best to nip when being picked up. He’s not very good at it, so it only tickles. Clearly he now associated being picked up with having noxious nasty tasty liquids being forced into his mouth.

I have begun to threaten him with the market in Ecuador, where Guinea Pig is a delicacy (tastes like chicken actually (doesn’t everything odd taste like chicken…)) unless he stops the nipping thing. It is an idle threat, as the kids threatened me with the same…

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pet ills

For a long time we just hadn’t done pets. LL is quite badly allergic to cat dandruff, and she is concerned about reports of blindness caused by dog poo. So, we didn’t until last year. Then, at the tender age of seven, we fell to Pirate Pete’s repeated requests, and got him a guinea pig. Appropriately named Tommy (don’t ask, long story), he lives in a cage in the house and has kind of become part of the family.

He’s a rather social little thing. When we sit down to table, he comes out and nibbles at his food. If we’re sitting reading in the room, he comes out of his enclosed hutch and sits there companionably with us. According to the children he’s rather fond of star wars, or at least he chirrups when held in their laps as they watch star wars.

Thing is, he’s ill. Has been for a couple weeks. He had a day of vomiting a while back, but seemed to recover, or at least kept eating. The problem was he developed a rather laboured breathing. Then, last couple days, he’s gone off his food. This is an animal who seemingly never stops eating. If you brought a chunk of cucumber over he would snatch it from your hands and gobble it down in seconds. For him not to eat is serious.

So, we’ve been using the opportunity to talk to the kids about life and death. Much to our shock Pirate Pete has taken to saying prayers. That will teach us for putting him into a conservative Church of England school. I’d been fairly clear about not doing the vet thing. A single visit would likely cost two or three times his purchase price, but I’ve relented. Well, actually I don’t think I had much say in the matter. LL has laid down the law (she’s a soft touch when it comes to animals and children), so into the vet he goes today. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done, but we shall see.

I shall keep you informed of his progress.

Addendum: Our Tommy has pneumonia! Has been given a large jab, and needs drops but should fully recover. Fancy that…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Taxes unto Death

There are times, many times, when I am certain this government is not fond of parents and families. Both LL and I work. This is not different from countless other families out there. We’re fortunate that our dual careers are fairly well recompensed. That means we have been able to pick and choose how our childcare works. Not every family has that option.

The same theme though is that childcare is a cost of taxed income. It is not subsidised by the state in any meaningful way. The assumption is that if you have kids, its your financial responsibility. To be fair, I don’t deny that. I want to raise my kids, I want that responsibility.

Yet it would be nice if there was some recognition that raising children is a benefit to society. If there was at least some casual link between childcare and taxation. This government has removed all that, taken away any tax benefit to being married or raising children (unless you’re a single parent on the doll).

For families with a stay at home mother, the ability for spouses to share tax benefit (ie to shift the minimum unpaid tax level from the spouse with no income to the spouse with income) was removed. I think that’s mad. Families who choose to keep one spouse at home, who loose that income benefit and give their children good care deserve support.

Equally, for those that have both parents working, there is no recognition that there is a cost attached to that. Childcare is paid out of taxed income, then is taxed again. Many families don’t have a choice about both parents working. Two incomes are necessary to maintain an adequate quality of life. Two workers are a net benefit to our society and productivity. That means childcare, and that means cost. There is precious little tax relief or benefit to help cover the cost of childcare.

For us, we’re able to have a full time nanny. We have to pay all of her income and tax out of our already taxed salaries (I've been doing the government reporting and writing the cheques recently, hence the rant). In any business, the cost of an employee is tax deductible (ie you take that cost away from income earned before you calculate any tax payable on the remainder). Not so for domestic employees. Those are considered a luxury.

Thing is, its not. We couldn’t do the jobs we do with any other type of childcare. Frankly, home childcare should be the norm, not considered a perk for the well off. Yet that would mean less tax for the exchequer, and that would mean likely fewer foreign endeavours. Goodness knows we need more investments in Iraq and Afghanistan...

Children are not a luxury. They are a societal necessity. Without a next generation our society would crumble. Ensuring, even encouraging people to raise children should be at the core of government, not something to ignore or even tax further. That doesn’t mean everyone should have children, that must remain a personal choice. Yet we’re making it more and more difficult to raise children, when we should be doing the opposite.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Extend the pain

So we’ve got the pricing on doing the extension. Its all within budget, at least until we start looking at all the extras we want. Its just a little bit here, a bit more there, and suddenly the costs aren’t quite within budget any more…

Still, we want to do some interesting things. I’ve got a wine cellar to get built. With cases spread all over the shop, I need to get it back with me so I can actually drink the stuff!

I’ve also started looking into geothermal heating. This is really quite cool. Because we’re on a hill, and close to bedrock, we only have to drill a short way down. Various piping is sunk down the hole, then for very little electric cost we get 24 hour heating in winter and cooling of the main rooms in summer. The beauty of it is no change to the pipework and radiators we already have. No more heating fuel, and so long as I stay on a green electric tarrif (ie all the electricity comes from renewable sources) very little eco guilt.

I did look at solar, but for the British Isles there’s this little problem of a lack of regular sunlight. We’re also just in the lee of the hill we live on, so there’s not quite enough wind to make a turbine effective. Geothermal it is.

Next is replacing the septic tank. We’re operating on an 80 year old one. Its full of tree roots, and though not smelly, it does overrun regularly. A decent septic system just isn’t cheap. I’m still looking at the different options. Thing is, a lot of them require electrics to run aeration pumps and the like. Very fussy, they seem prone to breakdown, plus you’ve got to pay to run them. The advantage is clean water out the back end, and nice digested waste. I’m still not sure which way to go on that.

There are some very good grey water systems. These take all the water out of your bath and showers, and do a simple three stage filtration. Not necessarily safe to drink, but its fine for running the toilets, or more importantly giving LL water for the garden, drought or no drought. She’s rather keen on that. I’m pretty certain we’ll go for one of those.

Making a virtue out of a necessity we’ve got a big expanse of flat roof to plant up. I managed to turn LL’s thinking around by getting her excited about how we’d deal with it. She’s been busy looking at what sort of plants work best in a roof system. I’m rather impressed, we’ll have a regular wild flower garden out there by the time she’s done

Then there’s all the interior to think through. That’s a fun bit, and thankfully LL’s sense of taste and design well matches my own. We rarely disagree, and both get excited about ideas. Since getting the planning permission there has been a lot of brainstorming. Its fun stuff, and we’re gaining some great new space to the house.

The biggest downside? The estimates have come back with a 25 – 30 week build time. Half a year of builders tumbling around the house. Half a year of disruption and stress. There’s probably at least a month of moving out of the house while the septic system gets sorted out. Ah well, we’ve lived through it before. Back into the fray we go…

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weekend Social

That was a very social weekend. Friday night was LL’s summer work’s do. A very refined affair, what else would you expect from a hedge fund? A jazz band hidden behind a curtain, champagne cocktails (lethal, champers mixed with brandy and fresh strawberries), unlimited little starters circulated amongst the crowd (a crab and cucumber thingy will be added to the boys list of experiments, yum), then a bang up meal and a bit of dancing afterwards.

Poor LL worked herself into a bit of a state. As with any human endeavour, hierarchy matters, and we were sat at a table of misfits (not emotionally, just people who don’t have a natural group). Her problem is not having a direct team around her, but she works with people in offices around the world. Her boss was obviously nervous about it (I know my wife well, she can have a rather… direct way of making her displeasures known), and came by with big smiles to assure her she’d really enjoy the people she was with rather than sitting next to him like she does all day.

Funny thing office politics, and this instance really bothered her. I personally think it was fairly innocent, he didn’t read like a man doing a deliberate put down. Not an easy thing to convince LL of though. Still, we had a lovely evening in the end. Despite being misfits we enjoyed the people we were sitting with.

Next day was one of errands and birthday party trips in the morning, and our village fete in the afternoon. LL and I quite guiltily don’t involve ourselves in the running of the fete (in our defence we do do other things locally), but we always go. It was a good one this year, and the kids really enjoyed themselves. They also did brilliantly in the kids sporty things, winning both the wheelbarrow race and the sprint, and even came second in the three legged race. Child prodigies my boys.

Sunday was a very relaxed afternoon having lunch over at a friends. Lots of pims, far too much BBQ’d food as they’d just bought an all singing and dancing gas BBQ and wanted to put it through its paces. Still the kids had fun, and the parents got nicely sozzled in the sunshine. I felt relaxed enough to tackle washing the conservatory roof when we got home (another chore I’m not fond of). Perhaps a mistake in my state of inebriation, but it worked.

So, all in all, I quite liked that weekend.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Unexpected Love

As you grow older, there are things in life you expect, and things that completely catch you by surprise. I never, ever expected in my youth to be quite so taken by plants. Its not a passion for me the way it is for LL. For her gardening is almost a mediation. She can loose herself outside, just keep moving about, planting, pruning, weeding. In our early days together it sometimes upset me the way I’d have to go out time and time again to pull her away from her other world.

Now I know better, but she’s also got a bit better at listening. Its rare I have to remind her more than three times that dinner is ready (trust me when I say this is a vast improvement). She frets about all the things yet to do in the garden, sometimes I think her fingers actually itch to get out there and run dirt through them.

For me its different. I think I could quite happily leave the actual gardening stuff to others (wrong, I know I could). There are things I enjoy, certainly. The roses are my domain, I do most of the trimming, feeding, and they are the one plant that is “non-organic”. I use a chemical fungicide to keep black spot and a particularly vicious white leaf mould we have in our parts at bay. There are other duties I’d quite do without. Turning the compost over comes to mind, and I absolutely loathe having to get the fruit cages up over the various berry plants we have (necessary though, else the birds would strip them clean).

No, for me the enjoyment just is the garden. I was out watering the pots on the terrace last night (we have over 30 pots of all shapes and sizes, from an eight foot high jasmine, to olive trees, to tomatoes), and I just paused and breathed. This is one of my favourite times, both the peonies and roses are in bloom, plus countless other flowers, and the air is heavy with scent. Man made perfume just can’t compare to a mature garden in bloom. It just fills you up with contentment.

I have a rather bad habit of wandering the garden and counting the number of different plants in bloom at any one time. As of the weekend we had 22 species of flower in bloom, and 53 different varieties (for example we have 12 types of rose,a nd eight types of peonie). I don’t know why this gives me pleasure, other than noting it here, its not something I tell anyone else about. I think its just the act, the rather compulsive mantra of counting as I slowly walk.

Sometimes, especially right now, I go sit under the pergola and let myself shut down. The pergola is a set of large wood beams done in an open frame. We’ve built a fairly large one, some 12m x 6m, with a framed walkway up to it. Its covered in rose, whisteria and a grape vine grown from a cutting taken from LL’s parents house (which is of unknown vintage, having been ancient already when they bought the place 40 years ago). On a sunny day, its shady, on a overcast day, its sheltered, right now its covered in flowers. There’s a full view of the house and garden, so I can take in LL pottering around, or the kids playing.

So, I got caught by surprise. It’s a very middle aged thing I suppose, to enjoy the garden. Yet, having now lived with one I really wouldn’t be without it. Having grown to love the one we have now I think I’d be heartbroken to ever move. Life just throws these things are you, and this love is so very welcome.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cutie Pie

“I’m baby flower picture book horsey.”

“Yes dear. Good night baby flower picture book horsey!”

This is one of our current streams of good nights with my princess. The name after "baby flower" changes every night. I’m not sure if its possible for her to be more cute. This is a girl with a rather unrivalled imagination. She currently has a menagerie of invisible friends, including two rabbits, a baby foal, a naughty goat and a stream of casuals who come and go. She herself can be herself or any one of these characters at a point in time. Woe betide the parent who incorrectly recognises who she is just then.

Its things like this that make parenting the mysterious wonder it is. I didn’t have imaginary friends, not a nonce. I may have played in a myriad of made up worlds, but always either on my own or with friends. Yet to princess her friends are very real. We get told regularly what they’ve been up to over at her treehouse (she even knows exactly where that is, not that any of us are allowed to visit, that might ruin its existance).

Some mysteries are just meant to be enjoyed. So I play along, ask how the menagerie is doing, make up a few stories of my own, and she and I get along just fine. I had air tea, a piece of wood pizza and plastic carrots laid out for me this morning (by baby foal). All part and parcel normal for a girl of almost four.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


On such a bright sunny day its funny to have death on the mind, but I do. Its been two years since my father passed away. I now have days when I don’t think of him, even in passing. Given that I had days when I didn’t think of him while alive, that’s life returning to normal.

Perhaps my greatest regret is that my children will not really remember him. They were too little. Pirate Pete will have the most memories, my Princess almost none. One of my grandfathers died before I was born, the other when I was about 10. I have very strong memories of him, and really regret he didn’t live another five years or so to get to know each other.

Like most sons I had a mixed relationship with my own dad. A lot of good in later years, some good some bad in earlier ones. He went through an alcoholic phase in my teens. Not fall down drunk every day, but would get boisterously argumentative most. It was a tough time. I coped by having a good group of friends to disappear with. In turn, he’d had a difficult relationship with his own dad.

I hope to break that cycle. I am definitely a father, not a friend at the moment. I suspect we’ll have our own tough moments in their teens (though I am no alchoholic). That’s part of the reason I regret my own dad’s death. I have older nephews that had strong relationships with my dad during their teens. Mine won’t have that outlet. Their maternal granddad is a great guy, but not one to form close relationships. So I will try to not repeat history and be the father to my sons mine sometimes wasn’t.

And so I think of death, of its necessity, but of the pain and distance it brings. My dad still lives in my mind, but is not there to talk to anymore. He influences me hugely, both in how I behave and how I choose not to behave. Yet he is not there anymore, and he is missed.