Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tarnished Halo

Now, a veritable test of my techi blue peter badge. Can I explain enough about web architecture to answer Clarissa’s question of “Why aren't there any comments in the pop up box, when the link says there are three comments?” To do this properly I need a whiteboard and some non permanent markers, but I do a text blog, so I’ll just have to make do with words.

I can not answer explicitly about Haloscan, as I’ve never talked to the guy who built it. However, there are some fundamentals of web technology that would likely explain what’s going on when Clarissa sees a certain number beside the comment button, but then sees no comments.

First I’ll start with how a web delivery system is layered. The internet is a numbers game you see. Clunky old servers with slow hard drives are necessary, because you invariably have more information than you know what to do with. However, if you try to answer every request that comes in from the internet, you really can’t do it fast enough. So, you put what’s known as a proxy device on top of your server. This has lots of silicon memory, like in your mobile phone or ipod nano. Its fast, very fast, but expensive.

What you do, is keep your most commonly called elements up in the proxies. There are always bits of a web page, like the branded header or navigation bar, that never change. You keep these up in the ultra fast memory. Other changeable things, you keep up there, but put an expiry against them. Say, for a blog, you keep today’s post in the proxy. It will be called and read frequently, so you keep it up where its fast, but you give it an expiry of say, a day. It won’t get read so much tomorrow. Everything else, all the infrequently read stuff, you keep down in the slow clunky web server with hard drives. It gets called up as and when.

Generally this works very well. You keep the things you need fast or that will get frequently viewed, in fast memory. Things that don’t get used much, you call when needed. But… its all a numbers game. Sometimes you get it wrong, say you have a picture that hasn’t been viewed in days, but for some reason suddenly 1,000 people want to look at it, exactly at the same time. It happens. 1,000 requests for the same thing (or maybe 1,000 requests for completely different things) at the same time can queue up a web server, and to all the public out there the web page suddenly grinds to a halt. So you put in safe guards, and maybe deliver an empty packet of information or a little message saying “Sorry”.

So, in Clarissa’s case, everything worked as it should when Haloscan was asked for the number of comments on a post, it was supplied as needed. However, when she then clicked on the link, and asked for the comments themselves, something went wrong. Likely it was just too many people asking for different blog comments at once (much as I like to think I’m widely read, I highly doubt 1,000 people suddenly wanted the same comments). To protect itself, Haloscan delivered the pop up box, complete with template (because that will be in the proxy), but just couldn’t deal with the request for the comment text, and was delivered back nothing.

Not ideal. I’ve noticed Haloscan can be a bit flacky at times, but then its paid for by the advertising. Likely it’s a pretty mean gruel to live on, so the infrastructure is designed to cope by delivering nothing once in a while when its too busy. Sad, but necessary.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


A Japing Ape asked, "Would you rather sit on an ostrich egg or Captain Picard's head?"

This is a trick question I think. To be honest I would not like to sit on either an ostrich egg or Captain Picard's head. I think maybe perhaps it is one of those psycho exclusion questions where you show your deep dark inner self by choosing the lesser of two evils. As I must choose one or the other I would definitely choose Captain Picard's head.

An ostrich egg, you see, as well as being uncomfortable, and likely to break, making a mess, would also have a mummy ostrich near by. Ostriches are big and quite fearsome. They have spurs at the back of their feet which can disembowel a lion. Their beaks are quite strong, as are their necks, and I have seen a walnut cracked by a hungry Ostrich before. I would not want to sit on an Ostrich egg as I think the mummy Ostrich would very likely hurt me.

Captain Picard's head however, might be a little bit uncomfortable, and I suspect he wouldn't like me up there, but he is a very urbain captain. I'm sure I would be feed excellent Earl Grey tea and good French food. As well, I would get to fly about with him in the Starship Enterprise, which would be cool. I would quite fancy going where no man has gone before, even if the price is sitting on a man's head.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Peach asked, “Well, I wonder if you have any regrets?”

In a way this is simple to answer, but of course nothing is ever really simple. I am who I am today because of the life I lived. If I went back and changed anything I wouldn’t be who I am today, I would be someone different. If I changed some of those big life defining moments I would be possibly completely different. You know what? I like who I am today, so no I wouldn’t change anything.

But… it is never that simple. Looking back through life there are clearly moments I am ashamed of, where I acted like an ass, or was a bastard to a woman. Things I did where I hurt someone else, yes, I would go back and change those. I regret those.

For example, I think back to my time with J. The woman I mentioned who died in my arms? We were together for four years, and the relationship had both highs and lows. During the lows there are many moments I regret. People in love can do the most hugely harmful things to each other. I was certainly on the receiving end of some emotionally killer moments, and I have to say I dished some out as well.

I’m not sure why I’m going to write this, perhaps it’s a way of laying my regret out. Of apologising to someone I can’t ever really apologise to. There is one moment that I would undo, an action I would take back. Forgive me for getting a bit rude, but there’s no other way to explain this.

J liked oral sex, a lot. It was kind of her thing. I can’t say I minded in the least. She was pretty good. Early on in our time together she relayed a story about how her ex husband (a bit of a bastard whom she left after he was violent) sometimes pushed her away when she offered the same. She always felt it was punishment and cruel.

One night later in our relationship, when she was well and truly ill, I was pissed off about something. I can’t honestly remember what I was pissed off about it. Frankly it doesn’t matter as that night I pushed her away when she was trying to be kind. I regretted it the second I did it, knew I’d hurt her, and at the same time did nothing about it. How stupid was that? Not only did I deny us both a bit of fun at a time when we both needed it, but I used a tactic I knew would cause her pain. One of those things done in the heat of a second that you can’t pull back.

Needless to say, our relationship went from bad to worse. That we patched the wounds, that we had made steps to reconcile before she died is something I am deeply grateful for. I was enough of a mess after she died, if we’d still been feuding it would have been immeasurably worse.

So no, I am now who I am and would not go back, but yes, there are things I regret that I have done.

Peach also asked, “What about things you would do differently knowing what you know now, specifically life things like children and timing and marriage and commitment and you know all that stuff?”

I married latish, in my mid thirties and LL and I immediately settled down to have kids. Having kids later means dealing with all the tiring stuff, midnight feeds and nappy changes and illness, when you’ve started the downward slope to decrepitude. Sleep deprivation is torture, pure and simple. We went through it through three kids, spaced closely together. It means dealing with it when your careers are peaking, and time is ultra precious. It means being old when they hit adulthood. I’ll be in my late fifties when Princess hits university.

Yet… I wouldn’t change it. When LL and I met we’d both had more than a few relationships. We both knew exactly what we were looking for. We’d also both travelled widely, and had lived a lot of life. Kids take focus and energy, they do change your life. I’m perfectly content living a monogamous life centred around work, wife and kids because I’ve already lived a lot. I don’t feel I’m missing anything.

Which doesn’t mean there aren’t things I still want to do, it just means I’m happy to be doing what I am doing now. I don’t think I would have been as good a husband and father if I’d done it earlier. I still had things to learn. Which is not the same as saying I’m perfect now, lord knows I’m not. I’m just better than I was, more ready, more… content.

Friday, January 25, 2008


A certain Boy who Does Life asked “Tell the group the story of losing your virginity.”

Now I came to sex fairly late in life. I was officially (just) out of my teens, at twenty. That wasn’t for lack of thinking about it, or wanting it, but just down to being painfully (very painfully) shy. Looking back with more experienced eyes I see more than a few women (OK, girls, but they felt like women at the time) coming close to throwing themselves at my feet. I just didn’t get it, didn’t do anything about it, and was a virgin far longer than I aught to have been. Or maybe not, because life is what it is.

Now I had just started going out with a Kiwi nanny, well au pair, but she called herself a nanny. She had slightly more experience than I, having had one long term relationship with an older man. At the time, this all sounded exotic and cool. Experienced ears now hear the story of a girl pretty screwed up who had run away across a whole ocean to get away from him. How I didn’t see the warning lights just makes me shake my head.

Any way, we’d just started going out, had maybe had three dates. Please remember, these were frankly the first real dates I’d ever had. All previous experience with girls had been within the safety of large groups of friends or family. I’d never really dated before.

My then group of friends where planning a camping trip. At that point of my life this was something I did a lot. Well, you do in Canada, we’re like that. Pack up the car with what you need, head in a semi random direction (eg towards the mountains or away), find a place to stop. Load up a back pack and off you go. Dear LL shudders when she hears me talk of doing that. The concept of wild animals like bears and no toilets just isn’t her thing. She’s no shrinking violet my wife, but camping just doesn’t do it for her.

While discussing this plan said girl friend casually suggests we share a tent. I still remember the shock, excitement then sheer joy that sprang into my veins at the thought of it. I knew it, this was it, the time had come.

Roll on the weekend, which it did. Now camping in the wilds is fun (trust me, serious fun). Sex in the wild outdoors is fun (trust me, hugely fun, really stonkingly good fun). Sex, when you’re outdoors, and the weather turned mid afternoon, and it rained, and the temperature dropped, and everything is wet, and no one can be bothered to light a fire (which you can in the rain, you just have to know how (its still a pain though)) and the wind is blowing, and the ground is soggy and muddy and, and, and… it is your first time… Is Not Fun. Drunken fumbles in the back of a car are sheer unadulterated luxury in comparison.

Lets just say there where mistakes, and bumps, and things not as hard as they should be, and tears. It was a disaster really. Though I think we probably both deserved a tarnished bronze badge for dogged persistence. However, it is not a memory I look back at fondly with a twinkle in my eye. Well, OK, maybe with a laugh in my throat. It was kind of funny, in a car crash with a bouncy castle and clown sort of way. Thus was my first time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


In life I view things I do with four goggles. Things I love, but that don’t love me. Things that I love, and love me back. Things that I don’t love, but love me. And things that I hate, and hate me back. The trick to a happy life is to recognise the first, and sadly avoid. Jump with both feet into the second. Be careful with the third. Such things can be good for you or at a minimum provide a necessity, but deserve kindness if you avoid. Stay away from the fourth with all your might.

This goes for all facets of life, but is particularly true for work. Many people work, I know, for money. The job loves you, but you hate it. Sometimes a necessity, but if you can swing it, find the job you love that loves you in return. Heaven on earth is work you honestly like doing, are good at, and pays well.

I consider myself fairly blessed to have that. With the exception of a period of time under a boss I actively hated, I’ve enjoyed my career. I think I do well at it, and its been pretty lucrative. To be honest, it wasn’t the career I thought I’d be in when I was at school. I saw myself in academia once I got over the boyish infatuation with being a farmer or a pilot or a fireman. I’d always intended to go back to it, but in my last year of university got a job offer that was a bit too good. Once in, I found I liked the work.

Still, I had a chance to change course. I just posted the story of that time in my life when I lost someone. That’s life changing in many ways. After it happened, I took stock. I went travelling for a year and decided what to do with my life. Being a logical sort I took some time with an industrial psychologist and delved into what I was good at, as well as what I was temperamentally suited to. Sure enough I’d ended in a profession that was good for me. It loved me, and I’d found I loved it. So, bar going back for a graduate degree to hone my skills, I’ve stayed where I was.

This is a long preamble to answer Z’s question, “If you were to learn a new craft or skill, what would it be? And do you think you actually will give it a go, or is it a pipe dream?”

That time also allowed me to explore other options. Things I’d both thought about, and a few I hadn’t. Other than staying in what I was doing, three other careers where laid out before me; academia, law, and architecture. All where things I’d thought about.

Law I rejected as at that point I was almost 30 and that’s a bit late to make that jump. It would have taken a good number of years to retrain before I even started out at the bottom rung. That left academia and architecture. The thing was, neither paid particularly well unless you where very very lucky. So, the logician in me said stay with what I do. Oddly enough, this grated a bit at the time, it seemed the easy choice and I never was fond of easy choices.

Yet I did, and to reference another question I have no real regrets about it. That choice brought me to London, which I love, allowed me to meet a new woman in my life, whom I love, and start a family, which I have no choice but to love absolutely. My life is just fine at the moment.

However, the way I dealt with not making the difficult choice was to very clearly set myself a goal. Do this career, the easy option, do it well and make a lot of money. Retire early and then switch tracks, go and do another thing I’d love. That is still the plan.

Assuming life carrys on as it is now, and I’ll get there. Things could go horribly wrong, life can’t be fully planned, but it could also go right. If it does, then sometime in my 50s I’ll step back. Walk away from the high powered career and do something completely different. I don’t know which I’ll chose yet, either retrain in architecture, or go back to uni and do a degree in something like history or philosophy. I’ll retire into gentle academia and the simple pleasure of learning for the sole benefit of learning. I may never actually design and build a building, or write the definitive history of something, but then again I just might. If I do, it will because I want to, not because I have to.

It is achievable, like any good goal should be, but not certain, like any good goal should be. We shall just have to see…

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Question Time

I was sitting, musing on what to post today and thought I haven't done this in a while. So, its time to re-open the Boy's Question Time. You can ask me anything, from the personal to the intellectual, the silly to the serious. No question too rude, no comment too impertinent. Ask and though shall be answered...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Marmal Aid

I attempted my very first batch of marmalade yesterday. Something I've been promising I'd do from years on end. I vaguely remember doing it with my mum as a boy, but we only did it once, most other years we did strawberry jam (we lived in an area that grew fantastic strawberries (I can still taste them just thinking about it)). Memory not being sufficient, and my mum being unreachable at the moment, it meant returning to a recipe.

Mostly it turned out all right. I've got a got soft set of the jelly and nice soft rind. The taste is a small shade too bitter, but I was told while buying the Seville oranges that it had been a bad growing year and that might be the outcome. However, being the experimental cook I am, I want to get the base recipe perfected, then experiment. So, a few questions to the expert marmalade artists I know read me out there.

For those unfamiliar with the ancient making or marmalade, a brief description. The whole point of marmalade is the mix of bitter and sweet. Not all oranges are suitable. The orange judged best is the Seville orange, which is, frankly, not far off a lemon in terms of tartness. Legend has it Marmalade was discovered when a cask of Seville oranges fermented on the journey, and the resulting gloop was decided to be edible and delicious.

To make it, you need to extract the juices and pips from the orange, then slice up the rind. Oddly enough, the pips contain natural pectin, the chemical which makes the juice turn into a jelly. So, you put all the pips and membranes into a muslin sack, then boil it along with the sliced rinds and a lot of water for a couple hours. Intent is to reduce the water in the pan by quite a bit. You take out your muslin bag, add a whole lot of sugar, and boil the bejesus out of it. Pot the resulting glutenous loveliness and you have your Marmalade. I did all this, and like I said, it mostly worked, but I am left with quite a few questions.
  1. Preparing the oranges. I tried a few methods, but which do you prefer, or do you have another way? I tried halving the oranges, juicing them, then cutting out the remaining pips and membranes. This seemed overly fussy, sooo... I tried quartering the oranges then cutting out the centre unjuiced. I then smashed the juices out of them and cut up the rind. Later, on talking to the Mother in Law, a long time marmalader, she cut the rind off a whole orange first, thus minimising the white pulp, then juiced the remainder.
  2. Muslin seems very hard to get your hands on these days, so I used a brand new washing rag, which worked very well. Do you have proper muslin or use something else?
  3. Do you boil the mixture after adding the sugar or not? If so, for how long. My recipe book said to boil for 15 minutes, the MiL said to not boil at all. I boiled just over 10 as the mix was pretty gelatinous. It seems to have set, but only just.
  4. As mentioned, mine turned out perhaps a shade too bitter. Perfectly edible, but perhaps a shade too far. Do you have any methods for cutting the bitterness?
Many thanks in advance for any helpful comments!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dark Days

Have you ever held someone you love in your arms as they die? It is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.

I met J in my mid twenties. There was an instant chemistry, though we were from opposite sides of the tracks. I was the good boy from an old family, she grew up with a single mother living up in the North of Canada. She was older than me, had been married and divorced, and that rough girl background was all part and parcel of the attraction. I was the nice boy, safe, a harbour in stormy waters.

We both fell hard and fast in love, and within months were living together. We even bought a house together. Well, I paid for it as well as helping finance her florist shop. The first years where great, happy even. The differences though, did start to wear through. Looking back I can’t say if we would have stayed together or not, but something happened that locked me in. She fell ill, Chrohn's disease. For those that don’t know it, the disease is not generally life threatening, but its ugly, painful, even humiliating.

I couldn’t leave, wouldn’t be the one to walk out on someone in the midst of a harsh illness. The relationship went through a hard dark place. We both did things that hurt each other, things I am deeply ashamed of and was equally harmed by. Only people in love can really damage each other in quite that way.

Yet love can also win through. We talked, and one weekend went away. Off to another city to visit some friends. I can’t say what changed, but that weekend our relationship healed. She was still ill, but she reached out a hand and I took it. From despair I hoped, thought we could get through this.

We came back home both really happy. That Monday will forever stand out in my mind. J had a troubled love hate relationship with her own mother. They bickered in a way that was both shocking and amusing. Said mother was also a florist and had watched the shop over the weekend we went away. J came back and found her mother had raided the till. I can’t remember why, I might not have ever found out. All I knew is this, I came home from work and J was in a towering rage.

I knew how to deal with these, help her, talked her down, got her to the point where she laughed at a joke. We ate, cuddled in front of the TV, where back to happy. J was a night owl, I an early bird. Our pattern was that I’d go to bed, she’d come in and lay beside me as I fell asleep (sometimes more than lay beside me, but that’s what couples do). This time though, I remember it like it just happened. She jerked like she’d fallen asleep and then suddenly woken up. I laughed and hugged her, but she didn’t respond.

Sometimes you just know that something is wrong, know it deep in your bones. I can’t tell you how I knew, but I jumped up and turned on the lights knowing she’d had a stroke. Sure enough she looked up at me with one eye, but couldn’t move enough to sit up. Couldn’t really talk other than shout “No,” when I said I was calling an ambulance.

I ran to the phone, called an ambulance and threw on some cloths. It arrived in minutes, though it felt like hours. The two men confirmed to me what I thought out in the hall away from her, and bundled her off. I had to jump in my car and follow.

The next days are odd memories. Some crystal clear vignettes, but all jumbled up. I can’t exactly remember the order things happened in, and there are patches of time I can’t account for. I remember sitting in Casualty with her mother and brothers waiting for news, but I can’t remember calling them. I remember being told she was settled and well, but not being told the diagnosis. I remember sitting by her bedside after she’d been admitted and saying good night, but don’t remember going into the room.

I remember by Dad suddenly appearing, but don’t remember how he got there. Given at that point we lived an hours flight apart, that was quite the achievement. He’d dropped everything to be at my side. To me that still defines being a loving parent. Just being there.

I especially remember getting the call early in the morning saying she’d had a second stroke and having my dad physically remove me from the driving seat of the car so he could drive. I remember the waiting, the god awful waiting. We had to get moved because J’s mother was wailing and moaning and disturbing the other patients.

I remember the madness of watching her struggling to breath, unconscious, not there. I remember the sirens going off, the mad rush of people in green running around us, removing us from the room. Another stroke, a third, had hit.

And oh, I remember the doctor telling us she was gone, her brain was dead, that only the machines sustained her and please could they have the organs. I remember her mother and brothers turning to me to make the decision to turn the machines off, her mother saying she could never be the one to decide that.

I remember walking to her bedside, shadowed by my father but not her family. They couldn’t bear it they said, but I couldn’t bear not to. I couldn’t let her go alone into the dark. So I sat there, crying, holding her hand, holding her as her last breath left her lips, as her heart pumped one last time. I remember… her.

There was a time in my life when I compulsively told everyone I met this story. When the need to remove it from my brain with words was all consuming. Yet you live, you put one foot in front of another, and you go on. All around you people are there, showering you with love in their need to help. Showering you with their need to not be you.

I’ve always wondered if I could bear to write this, to post it to the world. So far I’ve always stepped back. You don’t actually heal from that sort of thing, but the pain does ebb. You live, you put one foot in front of another, and you go on. You find new joy in life, even new love. Life continues to have meaning and purpose.

So, there’s another out there who just lost the one she loved. She may or may not read this, but I write it for her. It helped me to once be taken aside and told just that. That you live, you put one foot in front of another, and you go on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The saga continues

But with a possibly adequate ending. We interviewed a new nanny over the weekend and I think she's going to work out just fine. She's a younger mother who's looking for a more flexible job She'll do the morning school run and afternoon pick up and child care, sometimes with her child, sometimes not. Otherwise during term time she only be at our house to do the basics in housekeeping.

We'll have to see how it goes, an extra child in the house should prove interesting, but I'm hopeful. She seems like a bright motivated woman, and keen on the job. Where else do you get decently paying work that still allows you to be a hands on mother? For us it means we get more flexible care, and someone who seems willing to keep the house in order as well as the kids.

Time will tell, but it seems to be working itself out.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Compasion vs Justive

The two are not always synonymous. I've been following this case with interest since it was first reported. In short a Ghanaian woman, illegally in Britain, came down with bone marrow cancer while here. She has been under treatment receiving dialysis under the NHS, but full treatment would require a bone marrow transplant. Having determined she could receive this treatment in her home country, she has been deported. Britain covered the costs of transport home, and offered to cover the next three months of her treatment while she re-adjusted. She does not have the funds for any further treatment at home, and the likely outcome is that she will die.

Background is that she came here originally on a visitor visa, then tried to transfer to a student visa, but was unable to obtain a place in any training course due to poor English language skills. Her student visa was revoked on returning to Britain from a visit to Ghana. She does not contest to her being here illegally.

Clearly the compassionate thing to do would be to treat her. She is a widowed mother of two, her death will result in two orphans needing care (it is unclear from any reports where the children are). However, is it just? The simple truth is that we can not cure every ill person in the world. A bone marrow transplant is expensive, and also requires a donor. If she received it, another person would be delayed in getting the treatment, and possibly die. What of the compassion for them?

I struggle with this case, I really do. My heart tells me she should be treated, my brain says it is right she is now in her home country. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Do no evil

Time for a sermon children, a caution on the ills of our world. For those that have been known me for a while, you know I am on the inside of an industry that thirsts for knowledge of your person. Either at my finger tips, through my staff, or any of a number of acquaintances and business relationships I have access to pretty well all the commercial knowledge out there. From the littlest details I can find out a rather amazing array of information about you.

It really is quite astonishing, salaries, employers, addresses, hobbies, credit ratings, social status, purchase histories, even pschycographic profiles of what sort of person you are. Its all there, and not that hard to get at. Admittedly I'm inside the industry, but it doesn't take much to get access, any determined individual can go fish the see of data out there.

There are many culprits in this theft of privacy, but to me one of the most interesting is a small outfit called Google (next of course to our dear government, but that is a sermon for another day). They are amongst the most rapacious reapers of raw raw data. Curiously the two hip gentlemen who founded the company gave it a motto of "Do no evil". I can only think they have a very odd definition of what is evil.

For example, do you have the Google toolbar installed on your web browser? Not sure? Look up, is there a long bar on the header with various buttons and the google logo? Many people find this a very useful tool, and indeed it is well designed with lots of clever functions. Did you know though, that even when you don't actively use it, all of your web activity is sent in small packets to one of a number of rather massive data centres dotting the globe? Against your identifier all the web pages you've visited, all the ecommerce you've done is stored away. They don't pry into your finances, no, none of that, but they do know everything you've done.

The same goes for any of the google pages itself, plus blogger, plus YouTube, plus plus plus. Every little click you make, every thing you do is tracked and stored away.

To be fair to google, they did ask your permission to do this. Its all tucked away in the terms and conditions. Also, at the moment, they actually don't do much with this massive mountain of data. Yet.

There are plans though. Ad words already targets based on content of the page, and some basic knowledge of the viewer. Google just bought a small company called DoubleClick last year. This little firm handles a vast majority of the on line advertising (you know, those annoying banners and boxes that flash and sing to you). Work is deeply underway to merge the workings so that advertising will become every more targeted and specific.

This is no easy thing, the amount of data is huge, truly massive, but technology is moving apace. And all of those details, all of those facts will be mined to figure out just what sort of person you are, and just what you'd like to buy.

So, maybe it will be useful to you. But maybe, just maybe you don't like it. It is, admittedly, hard to stop, deleting the tool bar will help, but its easy to track one on the web. Not storing cookies on your PC will help, but some websites just don't work well without them (try deleting your blogger cookie some day). Its hard to stay private on the web, very very hard.

Try though people, do try. I really don't want to know as much about you as I do. I'd far rather have you tell me in person, than mine and inviggle my way through your information history. We should have some privacy in the world, but we must also take responsibility for guarding it. So do, please. Watch what you do and which websites you visit. Take care of your data, because no one else will.

Thus endeth the day's lesson.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Of Birthdays and Households

Ali Baba had a fine fine weekend. Saturday was his actual 7th b-day and he ordered spaghetti and lots of Pokemon on the telly. He was a happy boy, and his sibling's went along for the ride. His birthday party was to take a bunch of friends for bowling and pizza. Go figure, but whatever makes him happy. It was actually a good event. 13 boys under the age of 8, all having a hoot throwing balls and arguing about the scores. Boys are boys. Pizza and ice cream were a perfectly acceptable finish, though we did have to intervene to stop a food fight. Today is the first day back at school for all three, so post holiday normality begins to resume.

The process of finding a new housekeeper has begun. LL, as expected was not surprised, and not exactly unhappy. The relationship had not broken, but had been deteriorating. SN says she's changing because, having looked at all her options, she wants to stay nannying, but misses taking care of a baby. Clearly a shift towards either part time work, or taking on more housekeeping just wasn't what she wanted. I suspect the tension between her and LL was part of it, but she's being good and not making that vocal. It means we can all part good company.

That's all I'm wanting. SN still does babysitting for her previous family, she spends quite a bit of time with those kids. I'm hoping she'll do the same with ours. I don't think the boys will be too upset, but Princess will be. We haven't told them yet. In a way, that's the toughest bit.

I've now been in touch with various agencies. Its a tricky transition. Finding a "live out" nanny (one who has her own accomidation), is fairly straightforward. Finding one that's willing to take on the odder position of kids at school is harder. Most housekeepers are "live in" (you have to provide a place to live in your home). Its not our first choice, though our house is a good size, we don't have a separate flat, so they would be actually living with us. That could work well or horribly.

Other options are finding a woman in the village wanting a part day job. There may be a someone like that, and we're carefully feeling a few people out. Its delicate, because you don't want to insult anyone by implying they are "staff" rather than "friend". Our society has become so odd about domestic positions.

Going down the childcare route just isn't going to work. We've talking it through to death, and we just don't have jobs with regular enough hours. Having to be in early and often stay late means we need to know the kids are in good hands. Clock watching just doesn't work. I know many families struggle through with this, but thankfully we're just that bit better off to be able to look at the more flexible options.

So, we'll see. The clock has started to tick, and though SN will be flexible if we have trouble finding someone, at the end its inevitable she'll look to her own career if we take too long. Sad, but true.

Now, in closing, a quick poll. Amongst our friends we are quite unusual in home baking birthday cakes. I have an opinion on what's going on in society, but I'll keep it to myself at the moment. If you have kids, I'm curious, do you bake or buy birthday cakes and why do you go down the route you do? Until next time...

Friday, January 04, 2008

A week ending

I could get used to these three day weeks. I've been very tired this week, having to recover from my holiday. Perhaps worry about my family has had a factor in the exhaustion as well. Still, its back to the weekend.

Its Ali Baba's birthday this weekend. We've got a bowling party lined up with 16 of his nearest and dearest friends. We keep wondering when the party's will drop down to reasonable sizes, but then get all soft when he keeps wanting to invites someone else. I like that he has so many friends he wants to invite. A bowling party is fairly easy too. All we have to organize is baking a cake, they'll be having pizza afterwards, so even that is easy.

Our nanny called me up this afternoon in tears. She wants to move on. The half housekeeper / half nanny just didn't feel right to her. I suspect some of the tension with LL is playing a factor in all this, but we did know that the move from a little one at home all the time to three in school might not work. Her biggest worry was my not thinking she was being disloyal. She doesn't have a new job yet, so we can figure out together what the transition will be like.

Now we have to figure out what's next. Ideally we hire a housekeeper who's willing to do school runs and afternoons with the kids. The trick is going to be finding someone like that. They are supposed to exist! The weekend will be spent talking it all through, as well as sorting out a young boy's party.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year

Certain members in my family are watched over by a guardian angel. Amazingly I am one, the other is my mother. This holiday just proved it again. It was, despite my pre-holiday gloom, pretty good. We had a really relaxing happy time staying with my brother in law. All the kids just got along famously. The house is pretty big, and they just rambled about playing together or alone as the mood suited. There were almost no arguments and only a couple strops.

We ate a lot of good food. Very good food, and some rather nice alcohol. Take Xmas dinner. This kind of defines how my in laws get along in the world. Everything is from someone known, a friend or family. The starter was smoked salmon from an old family friend up in Scotland on brown bread done by my modest self. This was begun with a champagne shipped over by an Uncle living in France, and finished with a tasty French Vin de Table supplied by moi (the French sometimes do themselves injustice by calling the absolute best wines Vin de Table (an old appellation system doesn’t keep up with the times (but it means I can get fantastic wines for a snip so I don’t complain much))).

The main was a pair of gooses from the farm down the road. Stuffed with Chestnuts from our tree and Rosemary from the garden. Along with this is sprouts from the garden, braised red cabbage (old family recipe, you cook it in the oven with apple cider, cooking apples, sultanas and bacon), roasted potatoes and parsnips, bread sauce and giblet gravy. This was served with a Chilean red, 9 years old, but done by those peasants the Rothchilds, absolute yum).

First pudding is Christmas pud (made by an Aunty) with brandy butter (made by my BIL, very alcoholic). Second pudding is Chocolates. Washed down with 14 year old Tokaji. Then a cheese course with a 38 year old Port, and once the kids are rounded up and put to bed, a 38 year old Amagnac. Filter in a day long even of present opening with a trip to Church and it was a very very good day. There were also no arguments. Every one, even the other brother in law who is usually miserable and argumentative, kept the peace. A nice nice day.

So it was a fine fine Christmas with happy children and happier adults. We played tag in a gale in a mountain top, went swimming, road horses, played various family games and generally relaxed. It was just a good week.

But not perfect. Back to the guardian angel. Boxing day I get an email from one of my sisters. My mother had a stroke. Talk about your heart dropping down to your feet. This is so not what she needed. Years on from the car accident and she’d been well on the road to independence. She’s a fighter, albeit a happy one, and life was looking good. What a disaster.

Yet that angel held back the worst. A week on and despite having been found paralysed down her left hand side (which means a right brain stroke so no speech impediment), she’s regained used of her left arm and can now take her weight and walk short distances. That’s a remarkable recovery.

On top of that two Aunts got hospitalised, one for a heart dysfunction, the other with a horrid virus. So I had a great holiday personally, but the news that kept coming in was not good.

Then, just yesterday I needed intervention from that angel. I was up the ladder cleaning the gutters when the ladder slid out from under me. Fool that I was I just got on with it without a spotter. Won’t make that mistake again. I fell a full story. Despite (or perhaps because of) destroying a small Olive tree and another pot I walked away. I’ve broken nothing (other than my pride for being an idiot). Bruises are the worst I’ve had, despite accident after accident, I've never broken a bone. I'm covered in scars, but that's it, just scars. That's what I mean about a Guardian Angel. Bad things happen, but not so bad. You get up, you walk on, you find the good in life.

Really, I can’t complain. It was a good holiday and though there were some worries, it was good. So tell me, how was yours? Are you rested and jolly?