Friday, February 29, 2008

On Wednesday night we got a baby sitter and went out – only to the restaurant at the end of the road, but it was nice to leave George in capable hands. This baby sitting service is turning out to be really good.

On Thursday, Sam, Phil and I checked out (by which I mean spent the evening drinking at) the venue for our 40th birthday – the Ivy house in Nunhead. It’s a great pub with a strangely gaudy stage in the back room. It sounds like we’re having a masquerade/oscar night theme, a band and a couple of DJs… So get your best frocks at the ready. I’m not sure how it’s all going to fit together, but I’m sure it will – oh, and we’ve sorted the catering – when a local chip shop closes at the end of the night they’re bringing round 50 portions of chips and anything else they’ve got left over. Look out for week old savaloys and pukka pies….

While we were scoping out the joint, there was an experimental Jazz band on… and when I say experimental I mean it was so experimental even the audience couldn’t bear to be in the same room.

I don’t like Jazz at the best of times, but this was appauling. I’m right behind anyone who want’s to do off the wall experimental art, but come on! I thought they were tuning up for the first half hour. Jazz is generally a good tune ruined. This was no tune at all crucified.

Wedding photos

Amazingly our wedding photos have finally arrived. After our wedding photographer saw my complaint about him not giving us our pictures on this blog, he got in contact and eventually sent the pictures… 18 months, late, but we’re glad to have them.

I’m pleased that the blog ha succeeded where trying to email, phone write and visit failed….

Anyway the photos themselves are great – and as I wrote to him – it’s very easy when you’re primarily an artist – to drop the ball on the boring but essential work of making sure all your business affairs are in order. I know, I’ve done it myself. That doesn’t excuse the lack of contact, but at least it’s all sorted out and we’ve got the pictures…. If anyone wants copies – please get in touch!

Got a great piece of spam today – I’ve never seen this one before. Basically it claims to be from the tax office offering me a rebate – and telling me I face prosecution if I don’t give them all my bank details! Great stuff….

But not brilliantly researched. It describes itself as being from the IRS UK – I didn’t know UK tax was collected by the American government (although it seems fair since they control our foreign policy and our economy)….

we're probably going to try George on solid food in the next few weeks. in the meantime, he's coming on very strongly. he's trying to sit up and he's playing quite contentedly with toys - picking things up, pulling things and kicking about quite happily.

He's certainly teething because he's chewing a lot and dribbling almost as much. however, he seems to be sleeping a lot better and not crying as much as he was at the beginning of the week.
We've started keeping him hungry and then feeding him just before bed and doing that last night he slept all the way through until 6am. We'll have to see tonight if that works again!


Prince Harry, it seems has been fighting on the front line in the war on terror (if they're still calling it that) for 10 weeks. the amazing thing is that the press - all of them - have agreed to keep quiet about it.

Thousands of people must have known and they've all kept mum. That's a pretty impressive piece of media control and it's testemant to the royal family that they can still have that amount of power.

It's also completely at odds with what most people think the press are like. Contrary to popular belief, there is some thought put into what gets reported and when and it is possible for journalists to keep their mouths shut about huge pieces of news if they think it's the right thing to do.

They just don't do it very often.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nurserys, suicides and bulshit bingo

new book deal

Yesterday I went for a meeting with a publisher who wants me to write a very simple guide to making digital video. The company seems a pretty good one – producing 100 new titles a year (that’s pretty prolific) on all kinds of subjects from travel to lifestyles to natural history.

It was a good meeting. These practical guides are quite new to them, but the first one – on how to do very basic things with your PC (like opening and closing windows and writing word documents) proved increadibly successful, so they’ve branched out into titles like researching family trees, building websites, and of course, Digital Video.

The book will be aimed at the complete novice – and it sounds like many of their readers are older people who have missed the technological revolution. In other words, I’m writing a book aimed at my Dad.

I can see exactly how the book should work and fleshing out the chapters and tutorials was very easy because it’s so clear what the novice needs to know about digital video. I’m also quite passionate about it – I think video is fast turning into a medium which is as natural to some people as writing. I also think that being video literate is soon going to be almost as important as being literate with words – if you can’t post to youtube, or carry on a video skype conversation or communicate your business online visually you’re likely to be left behind.

Strangely, I received a copy of the last book I wrote (or rather updated) this morning (you can see it here, if you’re interested - )

Anyway – writing a book for my Dad makes me a little nervous because although he’s the target market – he’s also almost impossible to reach with new ideas. He has (and I think it’s fairly common among the older generation) a view that you don’t just start playing with a piece of technology, you read the manual and understand it thoroughly before you start. You have to know what every button does.

So, for example, my Dad won’t use Word because there’s a whole row if icons at the top of the screen which he doesn’t understand. I, on the other hand, use word every day. looking along the row of icons at the top of the screen now – I still don’t understand most of them, but I know that it doesn’t matter. I’m not scared of any of them (except that mirrored P icon which does something very odd to my whole document).

I have to key into a mindset which says “unless I understand everything about how something works, I can’t start messing around with it” and that’s tough.

I guess the only way is to go step by step very slowly through everything and make every tutorial lead to something obviously and instantly useable.

I’ve also got the go-ahead to start work on another new venture – a newsletter for one of the main manufacturers of budget video editing software and hardware. It’s going to be a monthly email sent out to subscribers giving them tips and ideas on how to expand their use of the software…. So lots of small but highly focussed articles, and 30-40 word news items. Writing for the web is always an exercise in minimalism (apart from this blog – in which I frequently ramble on for ages!).

As usual, deadlines here are tight. Part I of the newsletter is to be in by the end of the week. The book needs to be finished by the end of April.

It’s all do-able – or appears so now!

We went to see another nursery today – this one in Dulwich Village, but run by the same people who run the Peckham one we went to a couple of weeks ago. There doesn’t seem to be much to choose between them (apart from one being £60 per day and one being £70). I guess it depends on which has room for us – I know there’s one in the area with a 2 year waiting list! – Quite how that works if you have to book in your child 12 months before they’re conceived, I’m not sure.

Anyway, they both seem pretty good – my only experience of nurseries is the one I went to as a baby and I remember very little about it except that they had a plastic telephone – or maybe it was a real one – I don’t recall being told off for using it…. I was expecting just a room full of kids and a frantic carer trying to keep them fed and quiet. Instead there are targets, assessments, a world of activities and protocols and every child gets notes taken every day so the parents know how they’ve behaved, what they’ve eaten and how many times they’ve urinated (I’m not joking).

Apparently each baby has to learn to be: “a strong child”, “a skilful communicator” “ a competent learner”, and “a healthy child”.

Although there’s some talk of this changing to a whole new system of government sponsored buzzwords.

I can tell I’m going to have to learn a whole new jargon language of management-speak techy words…

Speaking of which, if you’re in an environment where strange and stupid phrases get bunged about a lot, there’s a great game called “bulshit bingo”

Basically to play bulshit bingo, each player picks a selection of random, meaningless phrases (“blue sky thinking”, “singing from the same hymsheet” “child centered learning”, etc.) .

The next time you go into a meeting, you simply cross off the phrases as they come up. The first person to check off all their phrases wins.

Aren’t teenagers crazy?
A couple of weeks ago, in the US a gunman shot a lot of students at a lecture before shooting himself. The only reason I mention it is that the lecturer is someone on the palentologist’s mailing list I’m using to do a lot of my research. It’s a great list for finding people and information for my documentaries. The lecturer was shot in the shoulder but is OK.

This kind of shooting has happened several times this year – always in America – and every time it does there’s a wringing of hands and lots of Americans desperately asking why it happens.

Everyone outside America knows why it happens. To everyone outside America, it’s all blindingly obvious. I’ll spell it out anyway. It happens because teenagers aren’t emotionally adult. They haven’t learnt to deal with their emotions properly and they’re going through all kinds of crap. This happens all over the world and causes a thousand tiny tragedies every day. In America, they give them guns so the tragedies are bigger.

Nothing more complicated than that. Just don’t give kids guns or they’ll shoot each other. It’s not rocket science.

Over here, we don’t give children guns so they can only kill themselves.

They seem to be doing this in Bridgend more than anywhere else in the country. Something like 17 teenagers have killed themselves in or around there in the past year and nobody seems to know why.

There’s talk of suicide pacts and other strange societies and there’s even a suggestion by the local police that it’s all the media’s fault - but the most popular culprit appears to be Facebook.

It’s being suggested that teenagers are killing themselves so that they become famous in online communities.

Can that really be true? Is society so hung up with fame and celebrity that it’s now more important to be famous than to be alive?

Surely not.

Of course, there are two other possibilities. One is that this is just a “law of averages” thing. There are always “hotspots” in any statistical group. When the National lottery was introduced, there was one small town which produced more winners than anywhere else – not because the people there were luckier, but because there are thousands of small towns in the UK, so the law of averages said that one of them had to have a statistically unlikely number of winners.

Maybe Bridgend is just a statistical blip. There just happen to have been more than average numbers of suicides, and now the press has picked up on it so each time it happens there’s more significance attached to it.

The other possibility is that Bridgend is just a god-awful place to live.

In which case, I’d like to see the figures for Slough.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I spent the weekend in Worthing – meeting up with Lisa and George as well as Lisa’s parents, Sam and Dyke who was over for the weekend – for a thai meal out.

For the first time, we tried out our new babysitting service- “Sitters”. It’s great. You can book by email and what’s great is they’ll contact a local babysitter in your area – so we can get a babysitter in Worthing just as easily as we can at home! So we can have a night out while we’re on holiday – even in a hotel – Great!

Seemed to work fine (although George did require me to stay behind to settle him for a few minutes).

The following day, Sally Arrived with her children, so everything became a little chaotic. We went down to the seafront to play in Worthing’s arcade on the pier – one of those places where 20p can last an hour.

Later, Anne – a friend of the family joined us and put her scouting experience to full use training the children (and some of the adults) to play hand bells. She was, of course, well prepared with bells at every pitch, a flip chart and a series of ready written out songs. She even had a conducting stick.

It was a disciplined affair, but the children responded amazingly well to it. I’ve never seen such a harmonious bed-time for the four boys!

The house was full, so we stayed over in the Chatsworth – the hotel we had our wedding reception in. George decided to cry uncontrollably from 2 until 5 and then only go to sleep on the condition that I stayed awake and stuck my finger in his mouth.

Not a good night and something’s definitely bothering him. He’s teething I think – and he can’t be comforted.

Sally gave us some advice on this on Sunday and said it takes a few days that we just have to get through…. Well we’ll see.

Kieran also gave some good advice – that when he was teething he bit his dad hard enough to draw blood. Kieran is great with George and looks after him whenever he gets the opportunity. I’m happy to let him since he’s got three younger brothers and his dad has been away with the army a lot – so Kieran probably has more experience looking after children than I have.

We managed to skype Lucinda, Giancarlo and Livia – it’s great to have a video link-up so we could introduce George and Livia!

On Sunday we had a relaxed breakfast at the hotel (although Dyke had to leave at 7am for the airport). The hotel did manage to be a bit crap for me as a vegetarian – they produced a vegetarian cooked breakfast that was exactly the same as the meat one but without the meat! - no vegy sausages I can cope with – but you need to add something else to compensate – not just a big gap at the side of the plate.

Anyway it was Lisa’s Mum’s birthday and we’d booked her into a posh tea room in Brighton. When we got there, they were closed despite the booking so we ended up coming back to Worthing for tea….

We had a big lunch with all the kids during which we took Ethan through his English homework trying to explain that when they wanted words with the suffix “able”, table wouldn’t cover it….

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lisa and George went down to Worthing yesterday - I'm going down there at the weekend for Lisa's mum's birthday. right now, I'm on my own.

It's quiet.

Too quiet.

went to the cinema with Sam last night - to see the latest coen brothers film "no country for old men" and I still can't work out if I liked it or not. it was increadibly tense and well acted and the villain was scary as hell. but the end... well, I won't spoil it, but I'm not sure how I could - because I don't really know what happened.

coen brother's films always seem to have money as their driving force, but it's the pursut of it rather than the cash itself that's important in the films - the money never seems to materialise in the end and the people aren't any happier or less happy because of it. I think this latest film has something spiritual about it (as they mostly do) -the villain is somewhere beyond human - representing a wave of sensless crime that nobody's quite sure where it came from or whether it's new to the world or not...

Anyway, sam and I dicussed our joint 40th birthday plans. it looks like we may not be able to afford the costumier we'd planned to have, but we may be going for a holywood theme and we may be having masks.... not sure yet. we're looking for a band and a dj and we're hoping to get chips supplied by a local chip shop half way through the evening...

it should be a good night .

Monday, February 18, 2008

Friday night was John’s delayed birthday – postponed from last week because John was ill. Lisa had George out all day with the Antenatal group – looking at some plastic models of crowds of smiley people in the Tate Modern. We met up in the pub at around 5. Luckily everyone got there in time to see us before we had to shoot off around 8:30 – I know – it’s an early night, but we didn’t want George out till all hours since he’d already spent the day in the gallery.

As it was he stayed awake at the pub and when he got home, he didn’t sleep well.

Can’t blame him for that.

Anyway, John and Kathy met George finally and Evelyn even cuddled him – even though she’s not famous for her maternal feelings…

Russ’ mum has been taken into hospital – apparently the new knee she had put in four years ago has cracked – they’re trying to work out what to do about it, but it sounds like it will be straightforward once they do. Russ is worried though.

On Saturday, Suzanne – an old friend of Lisa’s came over for lunch – mainly because she didn’t want to be around when her husband and his dad talked through some issues… Anyway, she hadn’t seen George either and bought a toy dog – who George is delighted with.

We’ve decided to call the dog Richard III – because Suzanne has an obsession with the misunderstood regal dictator. Suzanne’s other obsession is Disney and she goes on holiday there every year (instead of having children). It’s an unusual mix.

In the evening, Sam came over to babysit – we toasted Lucinda and Giancarlo’s new baby and then went out for a meal out on our own.

On Sunday, we took George to a pottery café – where he had a great time imprinting his feet and hands onto cups and saucers which will then be fired and glazed…

In the evening, it was another South London Food club:

This time, the venue was Gareth’s flat – the first time he’s hosted so many people – and the theme was Spanish food.

Spanish food is simple, good to eat and great for sharing as you can pick at any of it in any order.

Recipe: Octopus salad
1 big octopus – they’re really cheap because people seem scared of them.
About a pound of potatoes
Paprika, olive oil and salt.

Boil a pan of water, dunk the octopus (whole) into it, cool it off and then dunk it again (I don’t know why, but all the recipes tell you to do this) – then boil the octopus for about an hour – or until it’s soft enough to cut up.

Drain it and slice it up – use just the tentacles and the bell shaped tube – disguard the eyes and anything else that falls out.

Meanwhile cube and cook the potatoes.

Mix the potatoes and octopus together and pour olive oil over them – add salt and paprika (I also add some lemon juice).

It’s as easy as that – and it tastes absolutely great.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lucinda, Lisa’s sister has had her baby – Livia born late on the 13th (or early on the 14th depending on whether she’s English or American) . They had to take her in to be induced because the baby wasn’t growing, but everything seems to have gone well.

Got a call in the early hours of Yesterday (Thursday) morning. Sounds like she went through the traditional phase of panicing about whether everything was ready for the new arrival.

You get caught by a wave of the same kind of panic you get as the plane takes off on a foreign holiday – wondering what you’ve forgotten and how you’re going to cope without it.

And just as on a holiday, you realise when you touch down that things aren’t nearly as alien as you thought they’d be, that there are all the same shops that you left and as long as you’ve got a credit card with a high limit you’ll cope.

George is sleeping a lot better now he’s got over his cough (almost) although last night was a bit of an exception. He was obviously trying to stay awake to join us for valentine’s evening. Luckily we managed to get him to sleep before dinner.

Lisa made us a lovely Thai style dinner with spicey salad and whole red snapper in ginger and fennel with strawberries for pudding. We thought there’d be a lot of competition for going out on valentine’s day so we’ve booked a restaurant for Saturday night instead and Sam is going to baby sit.

It was (and will be) really good to spend some time with each other as the focus rather than George. You really have to work at doing that – there are so many distractions and it’s so easy to loose touch with each other. Luckily we both realise that and keep reminding each other of it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We went to see a nursery today. When Lisa goes back to work, we’ll need somewhere to take him for a day or possibly two days per week. We weren’t really sure, walking around what to ask, but the Peckham nursery seems like a fun place to be.

It’s bigger than we expected with lots of rooms – each dedicated to a different age group. It’s a purpose built place – not somebody’s house – and seems very well run. There’s an adult for every 3 or 4 children and each age group seems to have activities depending on their needs.

All the staff seem engaged and happy and the children do to – I guess that’s all you can ask for. We’re both happy with the place, but I think we should look at a couple more before we make a decision.

Afterwards I had to go to the dentist. My dentist isn’t sadistic, but I’m always a bit nervous going to her because the first time I went she had to do a filling. She gave me an injection, but it didn’t work. As soon as she hit the nerve it started to hurt…

She then gave me two more injections which paralysed one side of my face and made me look like a stroke victim.

Unfortunately this had no effect on the pain – and because she’d already started drilling there was no way she could stop. She had to do the filling effectively with no anaesthetic.

Lisa went to the same clinic but saw a different dentist. She had to have treatment too, but she got an anaesthetic and got to watch Friends on a high-tech set of video screen glasses.

I think I got the short straw.

Anyway, for some reason I haven’t asked to be swapped to the other dentist, but this time it was just a cleaning job – so no anaesthetic needed (apparently).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Friday evening turned out to be a bit busier than I thought. Lisa’s parents and Sam came round for dinner. I was almost asleep by 9…. I hope George gets over this cough soon.

Saturday we went to look at a flat in Honor Oak park. Lisa’s keen to invest the money she got from selling her flat in Chiswick, so we saw a 2 bedroom house which had clearly been done up by a developer (on the market for 310,000). We’d both usually shy away from a place that has already been done up – but right now we wouldn’t want to put too much effort into renovating a property. Something instantly ready to rent is a bit more attractive. Also, this is in Honor Oak Park – where the new line for the Olympics is due to be put in in the next few years.

I can’t help thinking it might be a good idea to wait a while – things are looking a little iffy on the property market. Also other places (like Worthing) might offer a better deal…

Still, we’ll see.


On the way back we saw another van from the “man with van” corporation. I noticed the phone number scrawled on the side of it. The number ended in 4567 – Now that’s a very memorable number. You don’t get a number like that without paying thousands for it. To my mind this just proves that this is not a bunch of independent blokes with vans. It’s a big company that’s trying to look small and local!

On Saturday night, Lisa went out for Nick’s birthday – combining karaoke with Chinese new year. I stayed at home to look after George – and although Lisa had a great time, I don’t think it would have been my thing. I’m not sure I could get drunk enough to take up the microphone, and in any case I think I’d have passed out.

Jane and Dan

Sunday, we had a bit more of a slow day, pottering round East Dulwich, booking George in with the local Photographer and the like… But we did find out that Jane (ex flatmate from the ubiquitous 4 pendrell rd) and Dan had returned from America and moved into a flat in Brockley.

We went round there and met up with Gareth, and the two of them for a few glasses of champagne (Jane virtually refuses to drink anything else these days).

The flat is built on the site of an old house which had been on the verge of falling down for years – and which Gareth once suggested buying and renovating (although Lisa quickly assessed that it was structurally very dicey). The house was there when we left Pendrell Rd (two years ago) and so the flats have gone up very quickly.

So, we got the story on Jane and Dan’s quick return from the Big Apple. It turns out that Jane was made redundant from a top HR job in an insurance company just before Christmas. She’d been working there (in London, New York and India) for 9 years. She put out feelers to try to find another job and was almost instantly offered one by the company’s main competitor.

In other words, not only have the company lost her – they’ve also allowed their main rival to get hold of one of their top HR managers – who knows all about the internal structure of their business and who their key personnel are. Not only that, but when anyone from their company feels like a move, they’ll now have a familiar contact they can phone up and get a little friendly advice on what would suit them in the new organization.

When you poach a human resources manager, I think you get a good deal.

Anyway, it'll be good to have them back in the area.

Friday, February 8, 2008

How to have a great time

We’ve entertained or been out every day this week – Lisa’s Dad on Wednesday, out at Sam’s last night and Lisa’s Mum is coming for tea today. We were going to be out tonight at John’s birthday, but he’s ill and has cancelled – a pity because it would have been nice for he and Kathy to meet George.

George is sleeping less and less well. He’s been waking up every night inconsolable and his breathing sounds awful.

And, yes, we only lasted two days after being told we didn’t need to go to the hospital before we panicked and took him to the Doctor’s yesterday. We were told he was fine, of course and that there’s nothing they could do.

However, that doesn’t get us any sleep. Lisa’s up most of the time but I’m taking over from her sometimes. It’ll be my turn to take most of the burden over the weekend – which I’m not looking forward to.

Anyway, hopefully, he’ll sort himself out soon and we can all get some rest.

How to have a great time
I’m editing my latest documentary right now. It’s about the science behind travel between the stars and you’d think the subject would be pretty free of philosophy and have nothing to do with our lives on Earth.

However, what’s striking about the people I’ve interviewed is it’s not true. What comes through in the interviews is a real sense that there’s a higher purpose – a noble idea that there’s more to life than our petty day-to-day concerns.

There’s a quote by Osca Wilde: “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” and the people I’ve interviewed are quite definitely looking at the stars.

This seems odd when the main criticism leveled at astronomers, space mission workers and theoretical physicists is that what they do is not a benefit to the world. “why are we spending all this money looking for life on Mars when we can’t even feed our people on Earth?”.

And it’s a fair point.

However, as a defender of theoretical physics and the space race, I have to disagree…

The most common defense is that blue-sky research does throw up real benefits to mankind – penecilin was discovered by accident and without the space programme we wouldn’t even know about the greenhouse effect.

However, I think that’s not why I defend it.

We could all devote our energies to ending hunger – to stopping global warming – to the huge problems that face our world – and it’s hard to escape the argument that we have a duty to do that.

Of course if we did – if everyone dropped everything to deal with the biggest problem on our planet (whatever that turned out to be) then it would probably be solved – and then tomorrow, all the things that got dropped would have turned into crises at least as big as the problem we solved.

However, even that’s not my real defense.

You see, I don’t believe the problem with the world is that our positive energies are focused on the wrong things. I don’t think it’s the fact that we’re all spending time and money building spaceships or playing football or making art instead of saving the world that’s the problem.

I think the problem is that our positive energies aren’t doing anything.

There’s a saying that if you want something done you should ask a busy person. And I think it’s true – people who see great purposes and think of themselves as playing a part in them don’t tend to just work on one – their enthusiasm allows them to apply themselves to many.

You could argue that it was because DaVinci saw art as a noble purpose that he had the energy to see science as one as well. That it was because Bill Gates dealt with the big themes of the world in his business life that he had the vision to give it all away to charity.

Likewise, you don’t get periods in our history where humanity is just great at art or literature or just great at science or even just great at politics or humanity. When we’re great we’re great – all around.

When there’s an atmosphere of greatness, when they’re living in a Great Time, people look around and see opportunities to be great. They find them in every corner of life and they rise to them. We raise or lower our eyes depending on where the rest of the world is looking.

So it’s not a choice between funding and working towards space and funding and working towards the end of hunger.

It’s a choice between seeing a bigger purpose and going for it – whatever it is – raising yourself – or not using your energy, not looking at the stars, but focusing only on getting through the day and collapsing in front of the TV at the end of it.

The problem is not that we don’t have the resources – that we’re so strapped for time, energy and cash that we have to choose between competing great purposes – it’s that we can’t muster the enthusiasm for ANYTHING. Once we do – we can take on everything.

Don’t fret, then that you don’t devote yourself all day every day to solving global warming or world poverty. As long as you’re looking at the stars you’ll find a way to make a great time.

If I can convey some of the enthusiasm of the people I’ve interviewed in this documentary – as well as trying to get the physics across – I’ll think I’ve done a good job.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

pancakes and hospitals

Hospital trip
George had a hospital check up today. Everything’s good three weeks on from his operation. He’s healing well and they don’t want to see him for another four or five months. St Thomas' has been great, but I'm glad not to have to go there again soon - not to have to see the sick children and worried parents - or pass the fat smokers on drips who hover at the entrance in the rain.

He now weighs 4.96kg

They’ve also told us to reduce his medication over the next week and take him off it completely next week.

Great news although George himself doesn’t seem to be reacting brilliantly. He kept Lisa up last night and has cried for much of the day. It’s mainly due to having this chesty cough I think- he sounds like he smokes 40 a day at the moment.

Still we’ve been told it’s nothing to worry about. The up-side of constantly having to go to the hospital is that we’ve always known that he’s being thouroughly checked and if there’s anything wrong, someone will spot it.

How we’ll cope when there’s nobody there to assuage our parental neuroses I don’t know.

Pancake day
Last night was pancake day and in another ritual we seem to have inherrited from Sam, we had a few people over (Russ, Pietro, Sam, Billy, Jane and Nathan) for pancakes. We asked everyone to bring a filling and made piles of pancakes (I tried making one, but it was a disaster).

The result was fillings ranging from lentil dahl to blue cheese and spinach. Billy bought a selection of sweets along, so we had fillings made from melted fruit salad sweets, fake chewy bananas and other sundry confectionaries – surprisingly nice.

Anyway, a few bottles of wine were followed by a selection of after dinner drinks (port, lemoncello, or crème-de-menthe – depending on how sophisticated you were feeling)…

Monday, February 4, 2008

buying things and the man and van corporation

Saturday, we bought a car. I’m afraid I know no more about it than that. It’s silver… could be a pergeot… slopey front… four wheels… doors into the back seats… Oh, and it’s an automatic. After we decided against one of those hybrid electric ones (because they’re hugely more expensive –even after you take into account the fuel savings) I kind of lost interest.

Once you’ve got a baby in tow, you can’t really mess about trying out lots of different cars, working out whether heated window frames are more important than blue-tooth cup holders. You just have to decide what you’re after and buy it there and then before the next feed. (OK – so I have to admit I’d never have been THAT interested in what car I drive – but I’m even less so now – see I’m boring myself already).

I think this attitude to shopping extends beyond cars. We went into John Lewis last week and bought a couple of bits for George – a changing table, etc… We just went in and said – “I’ll have that” no messing about.

Afterwards I bought some clothes – having been through my wardrobe and worked out I needed clothes, I just walked through and picked them up – “I’ll have that, that and that!”

I didn’t chase round a dozen shops only to return to the shop I went to first to buy what I’d seen on a failed trip three weeks earlier. I just saw what I needed, bought it and left.

The funny thing is, you’d expect to be less pleased with your purchases when you make your decisions like that. However, it’s not the case. I’m just as happy with the clothes, the baby stuff is just as good as any other stuff we’ve agonized over. The car will, I’m certain be just as useful as if we’d test-driven a whole fleet.

Perhaps the whole product “experience” is just a big con. The comparing of slightly different products with slightly different looks, features or styles to find out which one is best for YOU as a discerning individual is all nonsense – after all, I don’t feel less individual having chosen my shirts on gut instinct than I would have if I’d spent a week comparing them.

Or maybe the truth is that it’s the shopping experience that’s the con. Maybe you actually decide what you want within a second and the myriad of different products out there in the shopping world is just there to delay and confuse your decision – to keep you wasting your time going round and round the isles on the off chance that you’ll pick up something else or loose track of what you want entirely – or just have to buy more coffees to keep you awake through the long drawn out shopping process.

Maybe if we all just bought the thing we came for the moment we first saw it and then went home, the whole of capitalism would collapse in on itself.

It’s a nice thought.

After buying the car, we went to visit Russ and Pietro – a spontaneous visit of the kind we’re making more and more. George is making us more spontaneous and making us prepare ahead more at the same time.

On one hand we can’t just drop everything and go off to the pub or to a restaurant like we did before. On the other hand, our schedule isn’t booked up months in advance, so we can just drop in if we’re in the area. We can just get in the car or on the train in a way we couldn’t before because now we’ve had to be so organized about having everything we need in a bag ready to just pick up and go.

Anyway, we ended up staying over (travel cot and spare nappies are in the car – of course). Russ and Pietro are great hosts of course – always making sure there are fairy cakes for breakfast!

We got back home on Sunday and decided to go for a Sunday lunch, but for some reason ended up going to a thai instead – and I’m afraid, however nice it was, if you’re expecting a Sunday roast, nothing else is going to do.

By the time we got home with George, the weekend had caught up with him and he balls his head off uncontrollably until bed time.

I hope he starts to get used to being in his own room soon – he’s getting tired and so are we.

Oh- I forgot - On the way home from Russ and Pietro’s we pass a van.

It’s one of those lorries with “£15 per hour man and van” scrawled on the side in running white paint along with a phone number.

A little further on we pass another.

These are clearly meant to look like one-man operations – some guy with a bucket of paint who’ll come and move house for you on the cheap. But I don’t believe a word of it. I think these are part of a massive multinational conglomerate. They have thousands of vans in 103 countries around the world and are, in fact bigger by turnover than Microsoft.

The “man and van” corporation has employed an advertising guru and spent millions on their image. They have created the ultimate trademark. A brand which is instantly recognizable to everyone, and yet, which is utterly invisible and thus utterly unaccountable.

Who would you sue if the “man and van” corporation ripped you off? Where would you complain to if the man and van you hired broke your valuable possessions or simply drove off with them? Nobody! You’d just sigh and go out and hire another “man with a van” – the corporation is not perceived to exist, so it can never get a bad name. And yet it has such a stranglehold on the van rental market that everyone ends up using them – even if they’ve had a bad experience before.

It’s pure corporate genius.

When you phone the number on the side of any of these lories, you’re immediately put through to a call centre in which banks of low-paid wage slaves in Indonesia have been trained to say nothing but “hang on – I’ll just get Dave” in a cockney accent.

You’re then transferred to a local sales representative in your area.

Friday, February 1, 2008

George seems to have picked up a bit of a cough – and I’m not sure if it’s that or the fact that he’s now sleeping in his own room that’s made him wake up for the last few nights. Lisa’s having trouble with him and getting tired. I seem to sleep through him crying – and I know that’s not fair on Lisa.

Over the weekend I hope I can look after George a bit more and let Lisa get some rest – although she’s not very good at stopping when she does get the chance…

While I was out getting drunk with Raoul, I got a call from Lisa saying Andrew, my brother was popping by. This is typical Andrew – to not be heard of for months on end, then to turn up out of the blue for about 3 hours before rushing off to the other side of the country.

I rushed back (rather the worse for wear, I’m afraid) but Andrew seemed in good spirits. His articulated lorry was parked in a nearby street. It was good to see him, and I wish he’d be around a bit more often….