Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Sunday – after a trip to the Rothco exhibition at Tate Modern (how many different ways can you draw a brown square?) We had our annual mulled wine and mince pies do – with the mincemeat made to my mum’s recipe, the pastry made to Sam’s and the mulled wine to Jamie Oliver’s. We didn’t have any cake baking tins so we cut the pastry into squares and made mince pie pasties – nobody seemed to notice.

It was a really good do – with lots of people having a really good time – and some surprising good news from Russ… which I can’t reveal until next year… Stay tuned.

After the party we watched A Wonderful Life and all cried!

Lisa’s parents were up for the weekend as Lisa’s Mum had to go and work for her brother today – she went over to his flat in Docklands late last night only to find he was in, but wasn’t answering the door – so she had to come all the way back alone at midnight.

He phoned this morning at about 8:30 am to ask where she was – but I told him he could wait until she got up. He’s not in anyone’s good books right now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nothing if not adventurous, we spent Friday night at a salsa class followed by a music-hall-hip-hop fusion review. The salsa class run by a mad couple in lurid green spandex took us through a few basic moves which I totally failed to master – or at least I managed to clomp through the steps by the end of the class in a John Sergent sort of way. When the class ended, we went on to the revue – a Christmas show by an Australian who took on the character of an elderly woman blending the likes of “doing the lamberth walk” with hardcore rap – actually quite successfully as it happens.

Sunday was the Mark and Debs’ Christmas mulled wine do. George made a lot of friends – mainly because Mark and Debs have daughters who all wanted to play with him. As a father, Mark is amazing to watch – he always manages to find time to give the children attention without seeming to be constantly distracted by them. It’s quite a skill.

Gearing up for Christmas, I took George to the nursery Christmas party while Lisa was at her work’s do. The party was basically a few of the mothers of the nursery’s children along with about a dozen babies. Actually, it was less stressful than it sounds. The babies were all well behaved, and played happily while we sat on the floor and ate ice-cream. George had his MMR vaccine this morning, along with an extra bonus pneumonia injection - but it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.

Earlier in the day I had wanted to get a bit of last minute shopping done, but failed totally because I couldn’t get George’s pram into any of the trendy, gifty overpriced shops I Lordship Lane. Not because they were full of people – they weren’t – but because they’d all ordered in extra quantities of pointless gifty nonsense which nobody was buying, so it was all crowding the shelves and isles, making the shops inaccessible.

Funny thing, this recession. I think retailers – or at least advertisers have got the wrong end of the stick over it. Just because the statistics are showing that spending overall is going down, there are lots of sales on – fair enough – but I don’t think that’s how it works. If overall spending goes down 5% that doesn’t mean anyone’s spending 5% less – it means most people have still got their jobs so they’ve got exactly the same amount to spend as they had before, but some people have lost their jobs and have no disposable income at all.

A sale means the first group buy the things they were going to buy anyway, but cheaper, and the second group couldn’t buy them if they weren’t on sale, and can’t buy them when they are. – so it may be counterintuitive (as the Americans say) but I’m not sure sales actually help the economy. Except, of course, if the shop down the road is having a sale, then you’ve got to have one too.

Another case of the free market shooting itself in the foot – which it seems to do more often than the political mood of recent times would like to admit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Crushed by the wheels of Industry

At the weekend, we went to a concert in Brighton featuring 3 of the best electronic bands of the 80’s: Heaven 17, ABC and the Human League (who I’ve seen before – just after sitting my A-levels 22 years ago!).

I never liked ABC much, but the other two had great music which sounded new and different then and now.

This kind of retro concert is a real winner. Want to see Britney spears, but don’t want to sit in a 50,000 seat stadium? – simply wait 20 years, and she’ll be playing on the same bill as Eminem and the cast of High School Musical. Believe it.

Plus you’ll be able to get to the front because there won’t be a massive crowd – and those that are there will be too mature and middle class to push.

We’d hoped to be able to meet up with Grace and Igor on the way home from Worthing, but both of us have very slight colds, so we thought it best not to risk it. We don’t want to pass anything on to them.

George is on his feet
George is now walking – well, tottering – well, standing for a few seconds and then pitching forwards. Every day he manages to stay on his feet for a second or so longer before tipping over, and he’s now quite controlled about how he does fall.

He’s very very close to being able to balance, and he’s happy going up stairs and increasingly confident going down. He’s also fast – very fast – at crawling.

He’s getting noisier too – constantly burbling to himself or to anyone who will listen. Not words yet, but a wide variety of sounds which he seems to have some control over.

Crushed by the wheels of Industry

At the weekend, we went to a concert in Brighton featuring 3 of the best electronic bands of the 80’s: Heaven 17, ABC and the Human League (who I’ve seen before – just after sitting my A-levels 22 years ago!).

I never liked ABC much, but the other two had great music which sounded new and different then and now.

This kind of retro concert is a real winner. Want to see Britney spears, but don’t want to sit in a 50,000 seat stadium? – simply wait 20 years, and she’ll be playing on the same bill as Eminem and the cast of High School Musical. Believe it.

Plus you’ll be able to get to the front because there won’t be a massive crowd – and those that are there will be too mature and middle class to push.

We’d hoped to be able to meet up with Grace and Igor on the way home from Worthing, but both of us have very slight colds, so we thought it best not to risk it. We don’t want to pass anything on to them.

George is on his feet
George is now walking – well, tottering – well, standing for a few seconds and then pitching forwards. Every day he manages to stay on his feet for a second or so longer before tipping over, and he’s now quite controlled about how he does fall.

He’s very very close to being able to balance, and he’s happy going up stairs and increasingly confident going down. He’s also fast – very fast – at crawling.

He’s getting noisier too – constantly burbling to himself or to anyone who will listen. Not words yet, but a wide variety of sounds which he seems to have some control over.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas meal
this weekend was basically about eating. I guess I won't be much of a surprise. Most of our weekends tend to feature eating on some scale or another. This one was a couple of what are becoming traditional Christmas dos having nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever.

The first, the Doctor Who fans Christmas meal (this year hosted by James in Guildford) steered us well away from Christmas into a local Indian restaurant. The same restaurant, in fact, which we ended up in on the evening of my stag night.

It was a really good night, marred only by the fact that I had somehow got the timing wrong, and the meal was taking place a lot earlier than I thought. Consequently we couldn't get a babysitter to cover it and so Lisa to stay at home and miss it.

It sounds like John and Cathy aren't having a terribly good time. John's work, seem to have decided to move his department, lock stock and barrel to India. They suggested there might be the opportunity for John to go out and help train the people replacing him. But he's not keen, not least because they're moving to Mumbai -- the scene this week of the biggest terrorist attack since 911.

Mind you, they have given John, about six months notice. So doesn't need to panic just yet.

Sunday's food fest was Nick's now traditional Christmas Mexican lunch. To which everybody was encouraged to bring their own home-made Mexican treats. Ours was Quorn Mole -- a sauce made from chillis bananas, tomato and chocolate. Sam bought along (as well as the obligatory margaritas) scallop seviche – or raw scallops in lemon juice. Scallops aren't cheap, though, so we all had to make do with an “amuse bouche” - Sam's favourite expression of the moment. An Amuse Bouche is the tiny mouthful of food you sometimes get offered in very posh pretentious restaurants while you wait for your starter to arrive. It's supposed to cleanse your palate - or some such nonsense

E-mail from Gareth.
I got an e-mail, this week from Gareth's e-mail address -- obviously purporting to be from him. Here is the text of it. Take a look at this and see if you think it comes from someone who works as a sub editor on a national magazine:

Hi friend: Introduce you a good website;* www.xmas-buy.com * My friend introduce me this website, it is a large wholesaler who trade mainly in all kinds of electronical products. To my surprise,their products are very low in price and high in quality. I bought an iphone from this website last month, and the iphone works very well! I think it is a shopping paradise which can bring you much benefit, so i want to share it with you!Christmas will come soon,won't you want to present your friends/family/colleague/ etc... the brilliant gifts ?It is really worthy to have a try.Their contact information is: Email: xmas_buy@vip.188.com MSN: xmas-buy@hotmail.com Merry Christmas in advance! best regards!

Hmm… I don't think it's really from him.

Peter’s Christmas drinks
Peter, Lisa's uncle, held his regular Christmas party last night. We took George along, and he spent most of the evening. Crawling around the floor giggling at people. He’s becoming a very sociable baby seems able to remain happy, right up to the point where it falls asleep. Peter's party is always full of characters. One regular there always repeatedly points out how much she loves Sam. Another never fails to miss an opportunity to call Zimbabwe “Rhodesia”. Among the party are always a few people wearing sharp pinstripe suits (Peter lives in an apartment block at Canary Wharf -- somewhere that never quite seems like anybody's home -- you have to sign in reception). I resisted the urge to take a poll in the room of who thought they'd still be in work this time next year -- or next month.

Friday, November 28, 2008

This weekend was another trip down to Worthing. We met friends of lisa’s, Suzanne and Richard, for dinner. It was a nice evening, and I always feel a bit sorry for them, because they don't really ever cook fish or vegetables -- they are committed carnivores, a so they are always a bit stuck when it comes to dealing with me.

Lisa's parents are away. They're having a couple of weeks of well earned rest, and spending Thanksgiving with Lisa's brother in America. This meant at least, we had a bed in Worthing. It was actually good to be able to spend a little bit of time with the children -- we went out shopping with Morgan -- I helped Ethan with his homework -- and Lisa was able to have a bit of a chat with Kieren on the way back from Scouts. It seems Kieren is really missing all his friends in Manchester, and that seems to be manifesting itself in him getting into trouble. Helping Ethan do his homework -- although it took about two hours for him to write a page -- was good fun. He was writing an essay, and since that's pretty much what I do for a living a lot of the time, it was interesting trying to explain the process and lead him through it without telling him what to write or how to structure it. What he came out with in the end, I think was imaginative and funny.

On Sunday, we came back and spent most of the afternoon at Sam’s. She decided, for reasons I'm not quite clear on, to prepare lunch in the style of the American deep South. I never had grits before, but it's actually very nice. Most of the food we had seemed to be made, mostly of corn.

where’s all the money?
Woolworths went into receivership today. So did MFI. For the first time in this whole financial crisis, the BBC's correspondent Robert Peston (a reporter who’s really come into his own during this crisis as the only person who seems to be able to not only understand what's going on, but also explain it in terms that most of us feel we can understand) sounded genuinely upset. At least it seemed that way. It is quite hard to tell because he has a very odd delivery, stressing apparently random words by drawing them out to four times their usual length.

You'd think that the Woolworths would do well, being a bargain hunter's paradise in this current climate. However, it seems that people are turning to supermarkets and the Internet instead. I wonder what all the empty stores will become. I can't think of any retailer who will want to buy up 800 odd stores, right now. So they could well end up simply empty. Big holes in the middle of every shopping high Street in the country.

And another set of government backed rescue plans have cropped up. Another few hundred billion dollars, thrown into the ring in an attempt to reverse the global economic slowdown. Which makes me wonder a couple of things: firstly, where is all this money actually coming from -- I mean, if the government has got to borrow stacks of money to give to the banks, isn't it borrowing it from the banks in the first place? The government does not have these huge piles of money just sitting there waiting to be spent. It's got to get it from somewhere, so somebody must have it. The idea is that there is supposed to be a shortage of money, but that can't really be true -- there always is the money out there and somebody must have it. The banks may not be lending each other money, but unless there’s some elaborate game of musical chairs going on, even with no lending between banks going on, the money still has to be there. It's a closed system - nothing in nothing out.

Secondly, the whole idea of refloating the economy with injections of cash presupposes that the boom we were experiencing before all this happened was the natural state of things. And that this downturn is some kind of blip that needs to be corrected. I'm not at all sure that's true. In fact, I don't think that the rabid spending, fuelled by debt. We've had over the past few years is something we should be attempting to get back to -- though we may have built our economy on it and though the end of it might cause a great deal of trouble, I think it probably has to happen. And just throwing in more money to artificially hold up the crumbling system isn't going to work.

Doing my taxes
I decided really quite responsibly to spend Friday getting all my accounts up to date. In preparation for doing my taxes. I managed to do some of the dull and irritating work in the morning, popped out to grab something for lunch, and returned to discover I'd locked myself out. Lisa had gone to IKEA, with Sam (the only other person with a set of keys), and I knew they'd be there most of the afternoon.

It was raining, far too hard to do any Christmas shopping. So reluctantly, I was forced to spend the afternoon, sitting in the pub reading a book I bought on Lordship Lane.

Its book called “bad science”, written by a guy named Ben Goldacre, who writes a column I always read in the weekend Guardian. Basically it's about the way people get intentionally or unintentionally hoodwinked by pseudoscience or badly done science. So, the column covers everything from how to fool fingerprint detectors using household jelly to why people end up dying unnecessarily because they abandon proper medicine in favour of homoeopathic nonsense.

I always find the columns entertaining, if a little shocking.

The first part of the book was concerned mainly with homoeopathy (apparently a really good homoeopathic “cure” is one where the active ingredient has been diluted to a level at which -- and this is no joke -- if the entire universe was filled with water, there would be one molecule of the ingredient in it) and the way clinical trials can be skewed by the researcher’s subconscious intentions.

It's fairly obvious that if in a trial, you don't take care to make sure that neither the doctor nor the patient knows who is taking a placebo and who is taking a real drug you’ll mess up your results. However, I was quite surprised by the degree to which this kind of mistake is made in real trials, and the degree to which the results are affected.

Apparently they've actually done analysis, to discover that simply by letting the person doing the testing know which patients are taking which drugs, even if they don't tell the patients, the results could end up being skewed by 40%.

The power of the subconscious is pretty impressive - which made me wonder how it was that I managed to lock myself out on the one day in the year when I was supposed to be doing my taxes, rather than a job I actually wanted to do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

George and his fear of floats.

George has developed some curious preferences. He seems to like lions a lot, but he is afraid of swimming floats. This doesn't seem to me to be a very good survival instinct.

I don't think he'd last a very long in the wild.

The final payment for the trilobites animation came through yesterday. My bank account is now in positive territory for the first time in years.

My latest new toy arrived yesterday. I'm having a go at replacing typing (I'm actually quite a good typist -- I took touch typing at school and that's one of the few things I learned there that I use regularly in my life now) with speech recognition. I've invested in Dragon dictate and the best microphone I can buy for that with £15. I'm actually quite amazed at how good it is. I can speak almost at normal speed and as long as I pronounce my words pretty well, it recognizes moral less everything I say.

I once say using it is instinctive, but it really is pretty good from the moment you install it. I've spent about 10 minutes training it (and all that means is reading a few paragraphs aloud), and it's spent a few minutes going through my “ my documents” folder getting used to my style of writing. It's probably been given a bit of a head start because I write a lot, and most of it I have to say is probably fairly formulaic -- after all, I write a lot of tutorials and reviews for similar kinds of magazine. There are also couple of books I've written in those folders, so there's a lot of material for it to do what it calls a collocational analysis on. Basically this means working out what words are unlikely to say given what's already in the sentence. As a writer, it's a bit dispiriting to realise that a computer can predict with a relatively high accuracy what you're going to write based entirely on how similar it is to what you've already written in the past. And there was I thinking I was being original.

And it said that the success rate is very high. I'm having to get used to saying the word comma and the word full stop, so this entry is probably lacking in punctuation. Dictating this sentence I realised that I don't know how to actually write the word comma -- I have decided with the keyboard because whenever I say it the computer adds a punctuation mark.

Not sure to what extent using voice recognition will change the way I write. The problem with typing is that however fast you type you tend to forget what you were writing before you get to the end of the sentence and that means you tend to rewrite as you go along. With voice recognition things go onto the page almost as quickly as you think them, so perhaps it's possible to be a bit more flowing. On the other hand, maybe that's not a good thing. Maybe you need the time it takes you to actually type to work out whether what you were going to say makes sense or not.

Probably, it's just about getting used to the system.

One problem I think and have is that the programme takes a lot of processing power so if I'm doing something else, which I usually am, it slows right down. Given that if I'm writing a tutorial I'm usually running the programme the tutorial is about in the background that might be a problem.

Andrew's back problem, which has been troubling him for a while, has got a lot worse. He's had to take several weeks off work (something he never does) and move back into my parents house. And with mum recovering from her operation and unable to bend down and him on painkillers and unable to stand up it sounds like things are a little difficult in the house. It's a lot for dad to cope with I imagine.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The weekend was a gentle one – relatively. Our only real event was our antenatal group’s first birthday re-union. We all met up without our babies for a dinner on Saturday night… at least most of us did. There was one no-show – from a couple who fall into the “fretful parents” camp. Who drop whatever they’re doing as soon as their baby sneezes and rush off to accident and emergency. This time, they cancelled because their baby had a temperature – despite the fact they live 10 minutes walk from where we were meeting and the babysitter could easily handle it….

Anyway, it was a fun evening comparing notes on babies, the potential chances of having more babies – and on the state the economy in the various lines of work we’re all in. The couple I was sitting next to are in graphic design for advertising – and although they’re both doing fine, it seems like the bottom has dropped out of various parts of the market.

I’m a bit concerned because just before the economy hit the rails, I had so much work that I turned off all the advertising I do on Google. I didn’t need more work at that point, so it seemed silly to advertise. However, I’m getting to the end of that work, and in a few weeks I’m going to switch the advertising back on. I have no idea what will happen when I do – maybe there’ll be no work out there. Maybe there’ll be loads…. I don’t know.

Still, at least it looks like I’ve got this job in vegas for the new year, so things shouldn’t be too difficult in the short term….

It looks like Lisa has found a tenant for one of her properties – which is good news because the work on the new one is (rather predictably) taking longer and costing more than we’d predicted.

Also, my tenant in Manchester has stopped paying rent. Apparently he’s lost his job and is applying for housing benefit. I’m inclined to give him the time he needs because I’ve been in the same situation and the councils tend to be so slow in processing housing benefit applications that people can easily get into problems. Lewisham council were six months behind in setting mine up when I had to claim and if I hadn’t had savings I’ve no idea what I’d have done.

In any case, even if the tenant moved out now, I doubt I’d get anyone else in before the new year, so there’s no point in making things difficult. I’m going to give him all the leeway I can…

More Decorating
Sam moved in with us for the week while her place was decorated so we moved into the spare room, turned the heating up to full and got some extra wine in…. the decorating was done by Eric. Eric is a really good decorator – but it’s difficult to get anything done in the house when he’s working as he tends to have plenty to say about almost every aspect of the job. He knows his way around the differences between the different makes of paint – even when they’re producing the same colour – and isn’t afraid to give you warnings about different finishes and different applications. When doing our hall, he praised our work on undercoating the woodwork – which was nice, except we’d thought we’d finished it!

Nevertheless, he put on a couple more coats and the results did look a lot better.

When he’s finished a job, he usually likes the result so much that he has to go home and re-paint his own house in the same colours. That is, after he’s done his paperwork, which always gets done in his “Office” – the pub across the road.

Wasting half the day
On Friday, I got a knock on the door at about 10am – it was a guy from the electricity company helpfully informing me there was a problem with the power and they’d have to turn it off for about 2 hours at about 12 oclock. A bit of a pain, but I was pleased I knew about it, so I could turn everything off before it all fused.

So I did – at half 11 I switched everything off, and took a long lunch break with Sam at the Bishop.

When I got back at 2, the electricity hadn’t gone off, so I’m left with a problem. Do I wait until they do turn it off, and not get any work done, or do I guess that they haven’t needed to and risk a power cut.

I took the risk and they never did cut the power.

In other words, although it was helpful and well intentioned telling me what was going to happen, the fact that they didn’t tell me when they changed their minds meant that I wasted 2 hours and was worried for the rest of the day about loosing all my work.

The warning did more harm than good.

This weekend we prevailed upon Lisa’s parents, leaving George with them, Sally, Colin and their children and taking ourselves off for a break. We stayed over in a five star hotel in Southampton for a night and had dinner in their restaurant which was great.

We’ve come to the conclusion that a couple of days in a really nice hotel every so often is a better way to relax than a two week holiday once a year. You come back refreshed, and relaxed, but you don’t come back to a mountain of stuff that needs your attention!

We got back to Worthing in time for me to play a muddy game of football with Ethan and Morgan….

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Friday night my parents arrived, and later so did Giancarlo, Lucinda and little Livia. It's hard to remember George being as small as that, or as quiet, but Livia is a happy little soul.

We ended up chatting until about 3;30 am.

Although Friday was George's birthday, we celebrated on Saturday with a trip to the London aquarium

A trip out with Sally and coin’s 4 boys always feels a bit like a juggling act. There's always the feeling that however many adults there are, it's not enough and we're constantly on the brink of loosing one or two of the children. This Time Kieran provided a distraction by an unprovoked rugby tackle on Ethan. There's an ongoing primeval dispute between the two oldest boys. if they were any other species one of them would probably not survive. You can't really blame either for the natural competitiveness that's an essential instinctive part of survival, but it's certainly tiring. One day the wider competition of the world will kick in and they'll probably become an inseparable team.

In the meantime, the attack distracted everyone for long enough for Donavan to wander off into the crowds around the London Eye. Eventually we got to the more controlled environment of the aquarium and it was less of a problem. Kieran carried George around most of the tanks and he loved it, but in the melee I ended up rather neglecting Mum and Dad's needs.

After the aquarium it was back to ours for cake and champagne. I put George to bed, gave him his milk and waited for him to drift off to sleep - Saying goodbye to him on his first birthday knowing I'm not going to see him for a week (not a long time, but the longest I've been away from him in the last year). Lisa's feeling a lot less ill, but I didn't want to leave her either...

As I type this I'm somewhere over the Atlantic and it doesn't look like the journey I started in a taxi at 4:30am is going to be an easy one. The clerk at check in looked through my travel itinerary and shook his head "you should change your travel agent" he said.

Anyway, the flight information boards weren’t working so Heathrow was full of bleary eyed passengers wandering aimlessly about, but after a change of plain and some trouble with the doors, we finally left 2 hours late. Meaning the trek across Washington to get my connecting flight from a different airport is probably going to be in vain.

It looks like I'll miss my flight and I've no idea how I'll get t Cancun. Given that I'm supposed to have a meeting as soon as I arrive, things are looking a little tricky. Oh,, and the flights are with different airlines so my current carrier will probably wash their hands of me in Washington.

The airline as always forgot I was a vegetarian, but as always, they found something for me anyway. Consequently breakfast was a Muslim meal. Hurrah for religious inclusive.

I'm very impressed with United Airlines. They didn’t abandon me in Washington. As soon as I found their counter they looked for the first way to get me to Cancun, quickly realised it wouldn't be until tomorrow, put me up in a hotel, got me a meal voucher and organised a cab to get me back to the airport for my 6am flight the following morning.

I'd have expected this if I'd been flying United all the way, but my connection was with a different carrier in a different airport, so the fact that they just dealt with it without hassle was a welcome surprise.

Customs was a bit odd - the guy took my passport and papers made me scan my fingerprint and have my photo taken and then handed everything back to me. A few minutes later in the toilet while waiting for my bags, the same officer approached me and asked to see my passport again. I opened it and it was someone else’s. I checked my pockets and found I was carrying my passport as well.

The guy must have kept the previous visitor's passport and handed it to me along with my own... for all I know he's also registered my photo and fingerprint on her details or vice versa...

Anyway, I thought I might wander over to the Smithsonian while I was in town... but this is America and nobody wanders anywhere. The hotel was far from the centre and all I managed to do was have a nice dinner in the restaurant and go to bed at about 8pm in time for my 3:30 wake up call.

I did turn the news on for the latest on the election and saw an unsettled looking McCain protesting that his campaign was still viable... It looks like Obama will win - which looks like a surprisingly good choice by the voters... I flicked through a few other news channels - I think my hotel was for businessmen as it only seemed to have news (and pay per view porn).

I thought the Simpson's newsreader, Kent Brockman was a caricature, but he's pretty representative of US journalism from what I saw.

From Washington to a very cold Chicago on an early flight, and then a connection to Cancun. Chicago airport is huge - big enough to make a good home for a Brachiosaurus - the tallest, heaviest dinosaur known. I can say this with a fair degree of confidence because there's one - or at least the full size replica skeleton of one - standing in the arrivals hall. Very impressive. it's an advert for the museum which also houses Sue - the world's most complete (and expensive) Trex.

The epic scale is even more in evidence outside. On the way in, we seemed to taxi for ages. And because I had a window seat, I could see we made a complete circuit of the huge airport, joining a long traffic jam of planes. Eventually our sarcastic pilot gave us the reason. New contracts had meant all the air traffic control staff had left, so the airport was in the hands of trainees who didn't know their way around the place.

For miles outside Chigago. the landscape is gridded. Sliced by perfectly straight roads into identically sized squares. Each square is given over to something different - a farm, a housing area, a car park, but they're all identically sized and they extend out of Chicago for miles... there seems to be nothing truly wild in this landscape - even as the towns give way to countryside, it's still just squares of different crops all the way out until you reach the messy border between land and water that I assume is the Mississippi delta.

I was met at the airport by the brand new wife of enrico through who I've been mainly working on the animation and the very soon to be wife of Jake the American Fossil hunter. Their wedding will take place apparently at Carlo's new hotel complex in five days time.

We drove out of Cancun to the resort and trilobite museum and I quickly realised what a project Carlo was involved in. The resort is far from finished. In fact the main lobby is pretty much a building site.

As for the museum, it's being worked on constantly by Jake, Enrico and their partners - who seem to have been completely sucked into the project. Enrico I'm told has barely left the museum all week.

The museum itself is not huge. It would take about 2 minutes to walk through, or 15 if you stopped and read everything. Nevertheless, it contains probably the best collection of trilobite fossils in the world.

Enrico is tall, Italian and the intellectual of the group. Jake is a cross between Indiana Jones and a Hollywood dealmaker, who travels the world unearthing and selling fossils, working with museums and private collectors like Carlo.

Carlo soon put in an appearance. He's quite a character, who lives with both feet on the accelerator and everyone around him is sucked into the vortex of whatever project he thinks up next. When Carlo wants to do something, I'm told it gets done - and I don't doubt it.

I've got a lot of time for people like that, but I realise that they can be dangerous too... You have to be careful not to loose sight of your own needs in their enthusiasm. but it's hard not to respect someone who's seen an alligator infested swamp smelling of bad eggs and built paradise there.

It's not eco friendly but you've got to admire his vision.

This is his third hotel complex. I'm staying in his second - just down the beach - it's an all inclusive luxury resort with fine dining and free drinks served by "beach butlers" Nice.

what's Carlo got planned for me? well, he's got an idea for a documentary series which basically involves visiting the world's most significant fossil beds on a series of five day expeditions. The three of them certainly have the characters to turn this into an interesting series, but it's a big project and my part in it would be demanding....

In the evening we all went into Cancun town - about half an hour's drive through the foul smelling swamp. Carlo took us to a steak house (I don't think he'd understand vegetarianism) but they did tuna steaks (very well). As an initiation the men all had to eat whole chillies. Oh joy.

it’s clear to me that Jake, Enrico and Carlo's partners (who are all with us) have become very involved - they all seem to have been digging in deserts despite the fact that none have chosen palaeontology as their passion.

Later we had tequila back at the resort before finally falling into bed at 12~30... a long day which didn't stop me waking up at 3 next morning.


Carlo meets us for breakfast at 8 and we're taken back to the museum to talk more. Carlo is spending a lot of time with us considering he's got a wedding in his unfinished hotel in five days (he's not only hosting, he's also the padre)

He's as busy as you'd expect but seems to take it all in his stride. I don't think this is going to be a relaxing break....
Ok, it looks like this documentary is going ahead. 2 weeks in February we're heading for Vegas - or at least the desert around Vegas. "What Carlo wants, Carlo gets" is a phrase I hear a lot around here. Carlo is an Italian who turned up in Cancun 15 years ago to open a dive shop. He's certainly done well for himself.

At lunch we ordered a dish which wasn't on the menu - called, in typical style, pasta Kier (Carlo's surname). It’s actually a traditional Italian dish, only with far more chillies (because if you don't eat very hot food you're not a "real man").

In the meantime, Guests are starting to gather for the wedding. First, a surfer dude and his girlfriend appear. They fit the stereotype so well that it's hard to believe I'm not watching one of those Californian beach movies. When I say I've never skied they look at me as if I must be from another planet. Still, they're nice enough.

Later, Dave the preparer turns up. A retired teacher, Dave's the guy who turns the finds from marks in the rock into beautiful intricate fossils. He spends his time with a .1mm sandblaster carving away the rock to reveal the creature within it. It's somewhere between dentistry and sculpture. He lives next door to Alaska and smokes his own salmon.

I hope Dave can be in the film. He’ll bring some careful sanity to proceedings.

Enrico and his wife should have flown back to Belgium but their plane was delayed so they joined us for dinner. The restaurant we ate at had three different menus - one serving only lobster. Mine was a stew in which pieces of bacon appeared unannounced (I of course ate them anyway - out of a mixture of politeness and the fact that it tasted good).


I suggested a few ideas for the film to Carlo and one of them involved a pre-expedition meeting. Carlo decided instantly that today would be the best time to start filming... I guess that was predictable.

He found me a tripod and two extra cameras, but then was so busy we couldn't actually have the meeting. I'm not unhappy because the museum is so noisy with all the building works and its acoustics so bad that with my one microphone, covering a meeting would be very tough.

Anyway, I now have to think of what I can shoot while I'm here without relying on Carlo - or at least by taking into account the fact that he's only ever around randomly (and at mealtimes).

It turns out Carlo 15 years ago bought up a whole strip of swamp along the coast at next to nothing. Now he owns a string of hotels. the new one has 500 rooms and there are 400 people working on site in the run-up to opening. However, his office contains two desks and a computer - and he's rarely there. He seems to run the whole show from an iphone. He's involved at every level from installing the lighting to putting the pictures up.

More guests are arriving for the wedding all the time. The free bar is taking its toll of most of them. Enrico and his wife made their way reluctantly to the airport last night. It's a shame I couldn't have done any filming of him, but it'll work out somehow.


The meeting still hasn't happened, and with the wedding approaching it's looking less likely. There are too many agendas around here already without me trying to have one too. I've abandoned trying to organise things for a policy of simply taking the camera everywhere and being prepared for whatever happens.

So I managed to film a little of Dave repairing some of the specimens that were damaged in the building site that is the hotel.

The hotel is pretty much finished now - the roof did cave in in the morning and there was water dripping from the light fittings, but by the afternoon it was all repaired and the wedding guests moved in.

Jake's business partner turned up too – Jason, another digger who will probably be on the expedition. He explained to me over dinner that he has very dense bones so needs to eat a lot. mind you, he'd drunk a lot too by then.

Dinner was in the brand new restaurant in the brand new resort, and the chef was doing his first service - 60 guests all appearing at once, so there was no menu - spaghetti carbonara for everyone. I ate it - after all, in Italian meat cut up small counts as vegetarian food... besides, I too have dense bones.

I also met Jake's Dad. I liked him a lot despite the fact that he's a rampant republican and supports America’s foreign policy. We had quite a political discussion - mainly about American healthcare (he's an anesthesiologist).

I'm missing Lisa and George a lot. Everyone here knows everyone else and although they're doing their best to include me, I end up as a spare part a lot of the time.


Went for a snorkel in the morning, but there wasn't much to see. Then I walked over to the new resort along the beach. Between the two complexes is a third which was built by Carlo and then sold to another company. It's now called Desire and is a naturist/swingers resort. The beach was lined with fat naked Americans.

Grabbed an interview with Carlo in the museum. There's still a lot of noise going on there but I think it may be usable. I also managed to interview Jake, but the meeting I really want to cover looks as unlikely as ever.

Later I was moved over to the newly opened complex. My new room has a hot tub and a large screen TV. However, the TV isn't connected yet and neither is the hot water. The restaurants here are just running in too so they don't have choices, just set meals, and there's nowhere else to go, the resort is surrounded by mangrove swamps. I've come to the conclusion that it's not viable to be vegetarian here. If I want to eat, I have to eat what I'm given.

The evening is Jake's stag night, which involves Jason, his digging partner ordering tequila and whiskey shots throughout the night. whilst watching a display of world dancing in the Mohita lounge and listening to a band of big hatted Mexicans playing La bomba around our table at the Tapas restaurant

I'm not 25 anymore and I can see where this is going and rather than argue, I quickly pour each tequila shot away before the toast is drunk. Consequently I remain relatively sober. Which is lucky because when most of the party disappear off to the Desire camp, I remain behind and help Dave and his wife get Jason who's completely drunk by now despite his dense bones back to his hotel room (where his key doesn't work, so I have to get him a new one.

The new resort is clearly having a few teething problems, but not any more than you'd expect. My alarm clock goes off at 3am and again hat half past. I eventually pull its plug out.

The day of the wedding. There's not a lot going on around the site today. The problems with the water have persisted and almost everyone seems to be having trouble.

I eventually get an interview with the dense boned Jason who comes from a family of trilobite diggers. The meeting with Carlo hasn't taken place and I'm loosing hope that it will.

The wedding itself takes place on the roof of one of the apartment blocks as the sun goes down. Carlo is the padre and Jake and Stacy are duly married. It's actually a sweet ceremony which seems to take place without anyone getting stressed or apparently organising anything.

Afterwards we have drinks on the beach accompanied by the Mexican band and for some reason a donkey which the Americans take turns in being photographed next to wearing big hats.

The tables at the reception were of course different trilobites. Carlo explains that the open area the reception was held in was going to be a garden until he went out and drew a large circle in the ground . I get the feeling that much of the architect's plans for the place were revised on the fly by Carlo. He tells me that by being involved in every level of the hotel he saved $27,000,000 on the price.

I grab video messages from thee guests for the couple - which I'll have to edit later, then grab a whiskey with Dave and his wife before going to bed.


At breakfast I meet Jake’s Dad, the Rampant republican again. It turns out that he's not too convinced by global warming. However. I'm surprised to find he does humanitarian work in Peru. He's an anesthesiologist and helps out in hospitals there every year.

I'm determined to make this planning meeting for the vegas trip happen before I leave. if the film is going to work it'll be a useful starting point. Carlo has said he'll make some time this morning, but there's a problem. The water is off again and it turns out there's something big wrong with the whole water system for the entire resort. The system can't handle the 150 guests here now, and they're booked for 400 by the end of the year. Carlo is in meetings with plumbers.

In the end I pretty much give up, and start grabbing interviews with people about how things seem to get done without prior planning. Carlo, it appears just says "let's go" and everyone goes.

That’s one thing about documentary making – there’s a conflict between shooting what you think is what’s happening and shooting what does actually happen. Part of me says that there must be planning for a trip like this, and I ought to film it. The other part says if they’re not organising a meeting, trying to set one up is false – maybe there is no plan and trying to create one is my doing…

Eventually with about half an hour to go before I leave, Carlo turns up and we have the meeting. However, it's a little forced - possibly because it’s not a meeting they’d normally have – possibly not…

I say my goodbyes and get a cab to the airport. When I get there I find my watch is wrong and Carlo's estimation of check in times is a little optimistic. Check-in is closed. I'm half an hour late and have to run for my plane. I'm less than surprised. Order is the Mexican word for Chaos.

I end up getting my holiday gifts from Chicago airport – I’ve gone the whole week without finding a shop that sells anything.

by the way, didn't all aeroplanes used to provide sick bags? They don't now – not that I need one, but did air sickness just disappear when everyone started taking regular flights? Was it a psychological thing that we all just got over suddenly when everyone stopped talking about it?

Back home

Back home, I arrive at the airport to meet Lisa and George. It’s lovely to see them both again. George seems pleased to see me – I’d wondered if he’d take a while to remember who I was, but he knows immediately.

Lisa has had a busy week, and she’s been feeling ill too. I’ve been busy, but it feels like time off – she needs some now.

The prospect of the Vegas trip seems to have gone down well – since while I’m breaking stones and sleeping in the freezing desert, she, George and Sam are going to live it up on the Vegas strip.

A couple of days later, and I’m back into the swing of work. I’ve got one big deadline – an animation of Stafford Castle – but there are another two or three waiting in the wings. That said, things aren’t nearly as busy as they were before I went and soon, I hope to have things a little more balanced.

When I heard the news that Obama had been elected, US president, it was mostly a feeling of relief – pretty much as I guess the rest of the world was feeling. But later on, watching the news, it was really quite moving. The general point of most of the coverage was that this is something even the republicans will eventually feel proud of – that America is a different country now. I think of Jake’s Dad. I don’t think he’ll be feeling proud just now. Maybe in a few years.

We take George to fireworks at Brockwell park on Wednesday, and he absolutely loves it. None of the explosions bother him. He just points and giggles through the whole thing.

We were going to light sparklers, but as we were lighting them, a security guard rushed up to us and stuck his face in the firework to blow out the match.

Apparently health and safety had decreed there be no sparklers. However, I can’t help thinking that his attempt to blow them out was more dangerous than anything I’ve ever seen anyone do with a firework.

While I was away, Mum had her operation – which has apparently worked out well – and she’s now back home. She’s got to spend 3 months in a cast – which I suppose was predictable, but not fun. Ironically, this means the shower room which was such a struggle to build in time, won’t now be used for months… oh, well…

Friday, October 24, 2008

it’s George’s birthday, and people are gathering for our trip to the aquarium tomorrow. Mum and Dad have arrived and Lucinda, Livia and GQ are expected later on. Lisa’s still not very well – don’t like to leave her, but the tickets are booked and she’s got Sam and others around her…

I’ve just found out that Andrew won’t be there for George’s birthday do tomorrow – he’s making a delivery in Spain. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. He just doesn’t seem to be able to tell the bosses that he’s not taking work – and that means he often misses out.
Ok – so the phone arrived on Wednesday and I’m actually quite pleased with it. It does do several things other than just make phonecalls and I’m sure I won’t end up using any of them. Most of them won’t work anyway as I’m on pay as you go. The “free” £10 voucher you had no choice but to buy with the phone didn’t of course work – it was tied to the sim card you also had to buy with it which I didn’t want. Still, it’s quite smart and I’m waiting for someone to call me on it…

Meanwhile, George has learned a new trick. I put him in his pram to take him swimming and nipped upstairs. When I returned, the pram was on its back and he was crawling up the stairs…I should have seen that coming!

He’s better from his most recent bug and has stopped throwing up after every meal. I too seem to be better. Lisa isn’t though and is off work – for the first time in years - today. Yesterday she went to pick up Lucinda from the airport where she and George met Livia for the first time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The shortest party ever
One of Lisa’s friends is moving to Saudi Arabia and invited us to a leaving party on Saturday night. We really wanted to go, but we’d also earmarked that evening for ourselves. We were determined to get some “US” time, so we booked in for a late dinner at a restaurant in Godalming (the Bel and Dragon – it’s a converted church which offers a really good menu).

By the time we got to the party, we only ended up having half an hour there before going on to the restaurant, and all the rushing around meant we arrived there so tired we could barely make it through the meal…

I guess we don’t just need to schedule “us time” we need to schedule it with big gaps around it…

From Saudi Arabia to Egypt
Sunday was the South London Food Club again – with Egypt as its destination. I’ve actually been to Egypt, but it was a bit of a package deal and we were very firmly discouraged from eating anything Egyptian throughout the trip. And we weren’t inclined to either after seeing a few Egyptian markets – where the backside of a donkey covered in flies seemed to be the display item of choice for most buchers.

Anyhow, the food we ended up cooking and eating was really good – we made falafels, humus and stuffed vine leaves (which went completely wrong – the recipe required wrapping the rice in the leaves uncooked – and of course we forgot that as the rice cooked it would expand, so we ended up with everything as a tasty but unattractive mush).

We spent the morning doing lots of cooking, and by 4:30 in the afternoon, I was so tired I fell asleep on Sam’s sofa and had to come home and go to bed. The work of the last few months has really got to me by the looks of it, and the mouth ulcers I acquired on holiday have been coming and going ever since. Mexico will hopefully be a break and I’m not taking on masses of work after I come back (it’s not just work of course, George is always there to make sure neither of us are ever off duty).

Still, Lisa seems to be bearing up well, and hopefully with a bit of rest, I’ll be back to normal by the end of the year.

Voiceovers and showreels
The trilobite animation is nearly done – and last night, the voiceover artist came over to record the narration. It was good to finally meet him – he’s narrated both my documentaries and we usually only speak by email.

This project was a bit of an exchange. He needed his acting showreel edited, so I spent the evening cutting that in exchange for the voiceover.

Editing somebody else’s work is actually quite relaxing – when everything’s working. You can immerse yourself in the finer details of getting cuts right knowing that somebody else is worrying about the bigger picture.

Somebody needs to explain growth to me
Somebody needs to explain economic growth to me. Everyone (even the lib dem leader on the Today programme this morning) seems to thing it’s essential, to a good economy, but I’ve got this nagging feeling that if that’s true then the whole system is some kind of a pyramid selling scheme…

See, the way I understand growth is in biological terms. You plant a seed and it grows into a plant – and that’s how people understood it for a long time. Then they realised that plants didn’t just grow, they had to take energy from somewhere to do it. And that somewhere was the Earth. if you kept planting plants and never put back the nutrient taken out by them then pretty soon, the soil was useless.

Ok – so the green analogy is pretty predictable, but it’s just the first one that occurred to me. This is actually a fundamental law of everything – it’s the law of thermodynamics. You can’t get more energy out of anything than you put in.

So if economic growth is what it seems to be then it’s not possible - the different parts of the world economy can grow – basically by nicking stuff off each other – but the whole – the global economy itself can’t grow except by taking something from outside. So what’s this economy thing (whatever that is) feeding on? The only things I can think of are people’s hard work and the resources of the Earth itself. Which is fair enough, but so long as its expanding, surely it’s needs have to expand too don’t they? In which case, it doesn’t matter how much we like the idea of an expanding economy, we can’t have one.

Maybe I just don’t understand what growth is – that’s quite possible – or maybe economists are just living in cloud cuckoo land. That again isn’t unlikely given recent events.

Meanwhile there seems to have been a lull in the economic crisis – a slowdown in the slowdown, but it’s not a lull, it’s just a gap between what you can call news and evidence. The news headlines aren’t full of people talking about calamity any more – which is good because as I said last week, they’ve run out of superlatives. And that means it’s easy to think it’s all gone away. But still in the background there’s the steady drip of figures coming out – each one pointing down further than the last. Nothing big enough to be Shock Horror headline news, and nothing on its own people weren’t expecting. Still, taken together, it’s not got any less momentous than last week…

As an economist said on the news this week “a few billion pounds here – a few billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money”

A survey out today says the gap between rich and poor has been narrowing since 2000. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t have got wide coverage if Gordon Brown had been on the ropes… it’ll be interesting to see if it gets buried now.

Don’t recycle
I learn from “Confessions of an eco sinner” that recycling isn’t quite as green often as it’s made out to be. Although aluminium can recycling produces massive savings over mining “fresh” ore, paper and cardboard seems to be being transported around the world so much and recycled with very little efficiency. At the same time, most “virgin” paper comes from sustainable forests in Scandinavia which actually help reduce global warming – so all in all, recycled paper takes twice as much energy to produce than fresh paper.

In addition, the treatment of sewage now means that many of our rivers and seas are now too clean to support the filter feeding creatures at the base of the food chain.

Mind you, as with all the problems with recycling, these things are only true because it’s not being done in a sophisticated enough way – and the only way it gets to be done in a sophisticated enough way is to keep on doing it… recycling is still the way to go in the future.

The mobile phone language
There’s a strange language understood only by mobile phone users. I’m not talking about txtspk – I’m talking about the language you have to learn to even buy a mobile. The language of roaming, tribands, tarrifs and 3g bandwith.

My mobile has been fading for some time, and I now have to assemble it from a sequence of shattered parts every time it rings before I can answer it. I also can’t hear anything anyone says to me since the speaker is now rattling about somewhere inside the casing.

In short, it’s failing to provide the only service I want from it, and since I’m going to Mexico, I figured I probably needed some way to keep in touch, so I went into sainsburys (I just couldn’t face the idea of talking to someone at carphone warehouse – five minutes of being told about price plans makes my brain begin to shut down).

I was surprised and pleased by the sainsburys assistant who quickly admitted she didn’t know the answers to any of my questions (for example, “what kind of phone works in Mexico?” and “why on Earth can’t I use any sim card in any phone?”) and said I should go to Carphone warehouse.

Anway, I’ve eventually ordered a phone (from carphone warehouses website).

What I want from a phone
I already have pockets full of techy devices -a palmtop PC for word processing, an ipod, a GPS, a phone (OK – not very often, but I should) a camcorder, a camera, etc. etc.

I either want a mobile that does all those things so I can dump all the excess techno crap, or I want one that just makes phonecalls (I specifically don’t want one that does texting – it’s a dreadful pointless habit. If I could find a phone that wouldn’t receive texts, I’d definitely go for it.

The phone I really want will give me instant access to my phone numbers, my email, my music, and videos. It will let me write word documents (on a proper keyboard), it will let me record HD video and take 6mp photos with a decent lens. It will let me browse the whole of the Internet with a perminant connection wherever I am in the world and it will know where I am and provide me with maps to wherever I want to go along with information about any service I want along the way.

But I don’t want it to have any of this information on it – It must allow me to access all my data, but not store any of it on the machine. I’m bound to loose it and when I do, I want to be able to pick up any other device and immediately treat it as my own with all my information available.

I don’t want to have to charge it up, I want it to charge using the motion of my body as I walk with it.

Oh, and by the way I want it to replace money – I want it to detect whatever I pick up in a shop and deduct the money automatically from my bank account when I walk out. Likewise, it needs to replace tickets to trains, busses, live events, and anything else.

And as for phonecalls, they need to be free – no reason why they can’t be – if someone can tell me why putting up a few transmitters costs more than the whole underground wired telephone network, then I’ll understand why land lines have lower call charges than mobiles.

The funny thing about this phone is that it’s perfectly possible – all the technology is there to do all these things, it’s just that nobody’s built one yet. Instead, we have to fill our pockets with devices, change and paper.

So in the meantime, the phone I’ve ordered is the most basic, cheapest one I could get with coverage of mexico (apparently that’s what “triband” means – although there’s some debate about whether I really needed to have “quadband”), and I’m going to continue using pay as you go because I really can’t face trying to understand the various insanely complex contracts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The credit crisis and the end of the dinosaurs

I haven’t updated this blog in a week or so – mainly because I’m right in the middle of a piece of work that’s difficult, complicated, large, and has a tight deadline. What’s more it’s something I really want to do well, so it’s a bit exhausting.

Last week, some of the rest of the financial world collapsed – that is, the bits that were still up after the week before’s crisis are now tumbling.

People are using words like “blind panic” and “historic” – in fact, I’m quite concerned that the economy has a long way further to fall and everybody’s run out of hyperbole already. I’m expecting some new words to be invented to describe what happens next week.

“polytasrophic” and “plumultuous” are my predictions.

Gordon Brown seems to be having fun, though – going from “Lame Duck within weeks of being toppled” to “global saviour and hero” in the time it takes to nationalise the banking system. And it’s because he’s suddenly done something brave – rather than cautious. Who knows, he might have got a taste for it.

I must admit a little sympathy for him there though, I quite like a good crisis. After all, when everything’s going pear shaped, you can get away with doing just about anything and whatever you achieve, people will be delighted that you managed to do anything. It’s easier to be a hero in a burning building than in a library.

I also must admit to being quite fascinated by it all. Rarely do we get to see the raw workings of the system that supports us quite so exposed. It’s only in a real crisis that you get to see what really makes our world tick. Not just money – although that’s part of it, but also a desperate fear of the unknown, the banding together of the people that make up “the system”, and the suspension of disbelief which allows us all to assume that those with money and power are somehow brighter than the average guy in the street.

Actually, it’s fascinating in the same way as watching sharks in a feeding frenzy – along with the same thrill of knowing your shark cage isn’t really that secure.

The credit crisis and the end of the dinosaurs

People seem to describe the credit crisis in apocalyptic terms, but there have been apocalypses in the past – at least five of them – which have wiped out most of the planet.

And there are some similarities.

When the meteor which destroyed the dinosaurs hit the earth, it wasn’t the meteor itself which killed the dinosaurs. What happened was that the sun was blotted out for some months and the plants stopped growing.

In other words, the energy which fed the base of the food chain dried up. The grass itself didn’t suffer much – as soon as the sun came out again, the seeds could regenerate, but for a time, there were no plants – and that’s pretty much what’s happened in the financial crisis. It’s not that there’s no money – it’s just not moving around the food chain.

So what’s the anatomy of an extinction?

Well, the first thing that happens is the biggest creatures which feed directly on the plants are the first to be hit. it’s those that need lots and lots of grass, 24 hours a day that will fall first.

And in the credit crisis, that’s the banks.

So far, so metaphorical. The thing that palaeontologists tell me about global catastrophes though is that when times are good, the specialists do well – that is, those who have found a specific niche that nobody else is covering and exploited it. When there’s a catastrophe, the niches vanish very quickly and unpredictably and it’s the generalists – those who can turn their hand to anything – that do well.

They tell me something else too. Just after the catastrophe, there’s invarably a huge blossoming of scavengers. When there are a lot of dead bodies lying around, the rats, the flies and the carrion feeders come out.

That’s the period we’re in for most immediately if the palaentologists are to be believed.

Who are the scavengers? Well, there’s obvious ones – asset strippers, pawn shops, debt collectors…

If Al qaida has any power left, it must have realised that right now is its best chance of bringing down the west and the fact that they haven’t done anything suggests they don’t really exist in any meaningful way anymore. The war on terror was always a bit of a sham - and if they don’t act now, it will be very obvious they’re not the threat they’re made out to be.

but there are bigger scavengers lurking too – When the Soiviet Union collapsed, the scavengers did very well – to the extent that they now control Russia and many have enough money to pick up anything they want from the falling stock markets… When the dust settles, will the Russian billionaires own more than just our football teams? Will they want to pull the same trick on the Western authorities they did on their own government?

As for effects closer to home – well, my advertising site is currently suspended because I’ve got too much work, so I can’t tell you if there’s been a drop off in enquiries. In fact I don’t know if I’m going to put the site back on when my current work comes to an end at the end of November – It’s been a bit rushed over the last few weeks and I might just slow things down a bit and get to work on a couple of my own projects…

It looks like Claudia, Sam’s flatmate is going to loose her job (she works for a German bank in the Gherkin) so while I’m in Mexico showing off my trilobite animation, Sam, Lisa and a few others are going to eat at the Gherkin restaurant (and presumably nick anything valuable before the repo-men get there and gut the place).

I, on the other hand have done rather well initially – what the credit crisis has meant to me is that I’ve made a profit.

The trilobite animation pricing was agreed before all this, and it was agreed in dollars – and it’s been paid in instalments. Last month I got $5,000 – which translated as £2,600. This month, I got $5,000 more – and that’s come in as £2,900 – so, the less the pound is worth against the dollar, the better I do.

Also, for future work, as the pound goes down, Americans are more likely to employ me because to them, I’m cheaper!

This weekend was fairly relaxed. On Saturday we took George to the zoo for the first time. He loved it – particularly the butterflies and the coloured birds. He’s also got a bit of a thing for lions (even though the ones at the zoo do little other than sleep).

His cuddly lion is his favourite toy – so much so that while at the zoo, we found another identical one so we can swap them over to wash them.

Because we don’t want to buy him any more toys right now (he’s got as many as he needs) we decided that for his first birthday we’d sponsor a lion cub at Howlet’s zoo (<http://www.totallywild.net/jaf/animal_bio_popup.php?id=28>


Work is frantic – trying to get the trilobite animation finished in time to take it to Mexico for the opening (I’m leaving on the 26th) is quite a job – mainly because I’m being very fussy about getting it right.

Well, actually it’s because it’s so long (10 minutes of animation) and complex (trilobites have many many animated legs!) and has to be scientifically accurate.

However, I’m getting there and I think it’s going to be really good.

I’ve had to down-size the rendering – even though I’ve now got 3 dual core pcs and 2 quad core machines working on the rendering. I’ve gone from HD to SD video – mainly because I know they’re not going to show it in HD and I was just doing HD to give them the option in the future.

SD feels very low resolution now, but it’s solved my rendering problems – what was going to take 20 days was done over a weekend!

I’m now at the stage of choosing music and writing the script – I’ve gone for the blue Danube which gives the whole thing a graceful, but unusual feel…

My Mum’s finally got a date for her hip operation. It’s while I’m away, but at least it’s getting done. I was beginning to worry that once winter set in, there’d be emergency operations to be done and Mum would end up at the back of the queue, but it sounds like it’s all going ahead.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My computers and poisoned baby milk

So on Friday my two new PCs arrived – fresh from (and I’m assuming here) a factory in China. Ordered, built, packed, transported and delivered in around 48 hours. They’ve already clocked up a good few thousand airmiles and are filled with rare and unpronounceable metals. Their mining “rucksack” is huge and as they’re purchased as render machines they’ll be running pretty much continuously day and night consuming electricity.

They and the components they contain have been assembled in Chinese factories by young women from rural villages. Apparently, the companies prefer to use young women because their fingers are faster on the production lines.

I’ve come across this idea myself. I once, when Britain still had manufacturing industries, worked as a temp in a factory putting bottles of peach schnaps into gift boxes. Crates of the stuff moved through a production line on which about 10 girls packed the boxes. Girls were said to be much faster. When there weren’t enough girls, they reluctantly bought boys in, and I was one.

It was indeed true that the girls small hands packed the boxes faster and more nimbly and I struggled to keep up.

However, as they days wore on, it became clear that I had an advantage in terms of body mass… The girls, being smaller got drunk faster, so in the afternoon, the boys caught up.

Anyway, back to China.

Because all the young women from the rural villages are working in factories in the towns, their babies are left with their grandparents. The grandparents obviously can’t provide breast milk, and that’s why so many Chinese babies are fed bottled milk. And that’s why, when a scandal blew up last week about chemicals being put into baby milk to artificially increase protean levels, it affected not just a few but tens of thousands.

Apparently, the chemicals affected milk from 20 or so companies – which I found odd, because why would they all start using this chemical at the same time. However, I’m told by Mary who works as a journalist out there, that stories don’t tend to break until they’re ready to – in other words, this has probably been going on for a long time – but the communication in China is such that the media hasn’t got hold of it. It’s not a sudden outbreak but a long term problem.

Sam – a friend of Lisa’s visited with her two children on Friday, and we spent the weekend at Sarah and Chris’ with their two, so George has had a good chance to play with other kids. There’s an age group, a few years older than himself, but still playing with similar toys – that he seems suddenly absolutely fascinated by. He can pretty much be left to his own devices with them, playing and laughing with them.

There really seems to be a level of communication between very young children that us adults just can’t key into.

Both Sarah and Chris have pretty high pressure jobs in management and the credit crisis isn’t doing them any favours. Constant reorganisation of management structures and changes of direction over the past few months are making everyone feel as though the ground is shifting.

They’re both under pressure, but when it comes to the weekend, children help to bring them both back to Earth. When we went for a walk in a local park on Sunday, they seemed as relaxed as ever.

Maintaining that division between work and home life is tough sometimes, and it doesn’t mean pretending there’s no crossover – sometimes I end up thinking about work stuff at weekends and sometimes I actually need to do work. Equally, sometimes, I have to stop work in the day to deal with home stuff. However, those boundaries need constant attention.

As usual, we returned with a boot full of Sarah and Chris’ old baby stuff for George’s age group. A set of new toys including a baby walker which he took to immediately. In fact, I think he’ll be walking any time now.

George has been feeling out of sorts over the weekend. He’s had gungy eyes, and today, his temperature suddenly shot up.

We called the Doctor, but because they’ve got a new system to allow them to meet government targets, it’s a lot harder to book appointments (because, if yo don’t have an appointment booked, the doctor can’t have a long waiting list). The nurse who saw us sent as to accident and emergency - which he didn't need to, but he obviously didn't have the confidence to treat George as normal because of his heart problems.

We've always been told that after the operation he wouldn't need any special consideration, and it seems to be true. However, everyone still uses a "better safe than sorry" approach so it looks like we can look forward to going to A&E for a couple of hours every time he has a cough only to be told to go home... still. Better safe than sorry.

By the time we got home, the world had colapsed.

George bush's plan to save us from the end of all banking failled to get through congress because althugh everyone agreed with it (not for any particularly good reason), their voters were a bit pissed off about having to bail out people who earned far more money than them.

Nobody was expecting the vote - which seems a bit odd in itself because noowadays we don't tend to have surprise votes.

The plan isn't dead yet, and will be voted on again, and again they expect it to pass. However the main reason for this expectation is the same as the reason for the confidence in the plan itself - it's that "this just has to work!".

That's never a particularly good arguement as it's based on the idea that people generally can't comprehend change on a huge revolutionary scale. Everyone's got so much invested in the status quo they can't imagine it falling.

However, history doesn't back up this belief. Empires do crumble and systems do fall. "because it just can't happen!" didn't stop the Roman Empire falling and it didn't prevent world war II (which was one of the results of the 1929 crash).

Everyone's talking about catastrophe but nobody has really explained what that means. What if the American plan doesn't work (and frankly why should it work?)? what happens if nobody can trust banks again? what happens if the suspention of monopolies law means that the world comes out of this undr the control of one or two massive organisations - or if states come out of it owning so many private companies that there's no difference between publicc and private companies?

The trouble is that the only people who know about the system are the people who are up to their necks in it. So when they say the world is ending they mean that their world is ending. Quite how their world is connected to ours we'll find out in the next months and years. Once the US plan has been passed and has failed.

having set up my new PCs, the render farm is having a few teething troubles. One or more computers in the network seem to be dropping off randomly so rendering isn't going as fast as it should.

I've also come to the conclusion that my schedule is impossibly tight for the trilobite animation. I've stripped it down a little. listing only those shots which are absolutely essential and concentrating on getting them rendering rather than working through the project scene by scene as I was doing.

hopefully there will be the chance to go back and finish off with some of my more interesting shots later, but I'm cutting it fine. I've just been contacted by the yacht people asking when the other project will be ready and I've proomised them something by early next week. in addition it's time to do the newsletter again and I've been given a small writing job by Computer Arts. This is something I can't turn down just now as I want to keep my hand in with the magazines.

All in all, I'm going to be doing overtime for the next couple of weeks. I'm not happy about that. but doing a couple of nights should make things more doable. Once my current projects are done I can relax the schedule a little, finish my documentary and look into developing the children's tv show I've just had an idea for....

Today I had to take most of the day out to go to the Avid offices in Pinewood studios for a meeting about the newsletter I'm writing. Most of it was stuff I already knew well, but it's always good to go to these things because it's the only chance you get to meet the people you're working for.

Pinewood seems to be about the only place in the UK you can still see people building things. There are carpenters, metalworkers, plaster of paris moulders, all busy building sets and props. In fact the site isn’t just a studio, it’s everything you need to make a movie – including the post production which is why I was there.

Our part of the complex was named Broccoli road – and went right past the Bond soundstage. You couldn’t see in though…

On the way back, my taxi driver gave out some free tips on the benefits of declaring yourself bankrupt… how to have £100,000 on credit cards and have them all wiped clean. He spoke from experience apparently.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friday, Lisa took George to Worthing to do some decorating on her flat and rather than join her in the evening to impose on Lisa’s parents in their already crowded house only to return the following morning, I stayed at home.

Actually I went to Pietro and Russ’ for dinner and ended up staying over. They’ve been through a bit of a rough time in the last year, but we had a good evening

Sunday was the South London Food Club – this time the Philippines were the destination, and Jane’s Garden, the venue. This was the first time this summer we’ve actually been able to eat outside – it’s been such a cold summer.

Everyone made different dishes and they were all really good. When we pick a nation at random and all try to cook food from it, the results can be mixed. This time the foot was great – even though my mouth ulcers are just about clearing up and my taste buds don’t seem to be working (everything tastes strongly of salt and I can’t taste sweet food for some reason) – anyway, here are a couple of recipes:

Baked fish

6 Red Snapper fillets
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup olive oil (we used about half as much oil)
1 whole onion minced
1 cup fresh tomatoes with skin and seeds
½ cup pimentos cut into strips
1 tablespoon parsley finely chopped
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

Preheat oven 350 degrees
Season the fillets in the lime, salt and pepper and leave in a dish to marinade
Medium frying pan with the oil and sauté the onions, tomatoes and pimentos until a sauce-like consistency is obtained
Pour the sauce on the fish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parsley
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, serve hot

Aubergine (Adobo)

5 cups diced aubergines (1-1.5 inch cubes)
1 pinch of salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup red wine vinegar
6 cloves crushed garlic
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Spread aubergine with salt put on paper towel to drain for 30 mins, rinse and pat dry
In a non stick pan – fry with small amount of oil, brown and set to one side
In a small saucepan simmer soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper for 5 mins
Add aubergines, cover and cook on a low heat for approx 7 minutes, stirring occasionally
Serve hot

Monday Lisa and I both had dentists appointments. Lisa has always had a good dentist – she got to watch films on a pair of futuristic glasses while they did her work – but now that dentist has gone private so she’s got a new one.

Not mine though, and a good job too. My dentist ended up giving me a filling without anaesthetic the first time I met her – or rather she gave me three anaesthetic injections none of which had any effect beyond paralysing my face.

I haven’t had a filling since, but this time, she decided that although there was nothing wrong with it, one of my fillings needs replacing – at a cost of £200. I suppose it’s good in a way – hopefully this one will be less painful and I won’t have to dread dentists so much….

Footprints and rucksacks
Reading more of my new book, the author has moved onto talking about mining – basically calculating (and I love a good formula) his rucksack.

Rucksack isn’t a term I’d heard before, but basically a product’s rucksack is the amount of mining that’s done to produce it – so for an aluminium can, there’s something like 2kg of material mined out of the Earth to produce it (unless it’s recycled) but for a gold ring, there’s something like 2 tonnes of rock that’s had to be taken out and crushed to create enough gold to fashion it (with all the pollution, wasted water, and other environmental damage that this means – not to mention the danger faced by the miners).

Apparently we all carry round an annual rucksack of about 50 tonnes… in other words 50 tonnes of rock get taken out of the earth and ground down every year to give us our stuff – 15 tonnes of coal and oil provide the electricity we use, 9 tonnes go into the buildings we inhabit… and so it goes on.

Anything to be done about that?.... hmmm… not sure.

The Myth of quality
Everything we own is made in China – but apparently there’s one city Yiwu – which is just one enormous market – selling the majority of the stuff we buy. And by that I mean 300,000 product lines, supplied from factories in towns all around it – each specialising in one or two products. 60% of the world’s zips come from one town. 80% of our Christmas decorations from another. And for each product Yiwu has a street. Stalls selling nothing but fake Mona Lisa’s or combs, beads, or artificial flowers.

One of the things that really comes across to me from reading this is that whatever you buy, the idea of quality means very little because wherever you got your products from – the pound shop or Harrods, they will have got them from the same markets in Yiwu and those markets will have got them from the same factories in neighbouring towns. Even if there are resellers who are determined to provide only the highest quality items, those items will have been put together from component parts which in turn have been assembled from smaller parts in a long and untraceable chain leading back to the factories of China.

Not that I’m saying those factories produce poor quality goods – only that they produce similar quality goods because the supply line is so long and complex that it must be impossible and pointless for a producer of the individual components to make themselves known beyond their ability to produce goods at speed and volume. Even if the idea of quality is what’s sold to us, it’s really only about speed of turnover by the time it gets back to the source.

Anyway, today I bought 2 new computers for rendering this trilobite animation. Basically these machines will run day and night while I’m doing this project, drawing out the frames of animation without me needing to be there.

I went looking through ebay, pcworld, and all the other options all of which offered widely different prices.

A lot of the companies talked a lot about build quality, and said how their competitors used “sub-standard” components.

The thing is, I’m as sure as I can be that whether I pay top dollar to Dell, or buy from a bloke on ebay, my computer will have been assembled on a production line in China in about 10 minutes from components bought somewhere round Yiwu from the same factories.

I can’t get a more reliable or better product by paying more, so perhaps I shouldn’t expect to.

In the end, I shopped around and paid about £1,200 for my two PCs. Buying them from PC world would have cost me about £1600. have I saved money or wasted it? No idea, but I do know that paying more wouldn’t have lightended my rucksack. There’s no such thing as a PC PC. Yet.

Friday, September 19, 2008

One of the pieces of post we discovered on getting home was our wedding video – Ok, we’ve celebrated our 2nd anniversary already, but the video was delayed by the fact that one of the cameras malfunctioned, so it was hell to edit.

The company producing it did an excellent job though and we’re really pleased with the result.

We can now take orders for copies….

Hide and seek
George is very close to being able to walk now, I think. Sally has offered to get him a walker for his birthday, but I think he’ll be up and about by then.

At swimming this week, he also worked out how to hold onto the side of the pool. I let go of him and he just clung on. I think if I’d got out of the pool, he wouldn’t have minded.

He’s started playing hide and seek too. He holds a towel over his head, and then leaps out to surprise you and giggle – which is very cute. It’s not a game I think he’ll ever tire of.

Tonight Lisa’s taken him down to Worthing again – mainly because she’s got to do a bit of painting on her flat. I did offer to help, but she thinks she can do it all in one day, so instead I’m going to have tea with Russ and Pietro…

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Woke at 2:30 and again at 6. Sleeping is something we all do every day , but when you actually thing about it, nobody has any idea how to do it. We both have mouth ulcers – a good sign of being run down – but since we’re half way through our holiday now we should really be feeling less tired.

Undeterred, today we went on an Arthurian quest. Armed with a leaflet detailing the Cornish trail of the fictional king, we went to Tintagel – one of the five castles around the country that claim to be Arthur’s. We discovered that it was actually built about the time the Arthurian legend was being first written down – i.e. some 500 years after Arthur was supposed to have been king.

The road to the bottom of the hill the castle’s built on was so steep, and the climb ahead contained a hundred stairs, so we opted to quit and search for the grail instead.

That quest took us to the scene of Arthur’s last battle, and the Arthurian centre in Slaughterbridge. The Arthurian centre turns out to be a small shack, the walls of which are covered with wordy explanations of the legend’s history along with a few pictures and photocopies of wood cuttings. It resembled the kind of display you see in detective dramas – where the police cover the walls with unreadable scribbles, photos and documents which don’t appear to have any connection with each other.

They did have a lot of toys for George, on the floor though and a video which allowed us to rest our legs before the long tramp carrying him to Arthur’s Stone – a stone with some words on it, but no obvious connection with Arthur whatsoever.

Beside the viewing platform there’s a sign - can't remember the exact words but the sentiment was, why does it matter whether the legends are true as long as the myth gives you the inspiration to take on your own barbarian hordes – and I guess that’s the point. The tintagel ruin is younger than Arthur and built of the strongest materials known at the time. And yet it’s nothing but a pile of rocks now – whilst the Arthurian legend is even now being re-written brand new as a BBC series. Stories are so much stronger than stones.

Carrying george the distance to the castle foot and the carved stone tired me for the rest of the day, but it was worth it. Not least because even though I didn’t run this week, when I went to tighten my belt, I discovered there were no more notches to tighten it to…

But our quest wasn’t over… it became a quest for lunch. And turned out to be a tough one. We toured the county looking for someone who would serve food. Most restaurants here seem to close for lunch and those that don't were either missing chefs or were directed to by signs which in true Holy Grail style disappeared before we found their source.

Eventually we tried driving to the nearest 'big town' Bodmin. Here after touring a few closed restaurants we found a pub who told us they weren't serving (even though a sign on the door said they were) but who directed us to another pub who were. I wanted to ask if there was anyone in this god forsaken county whose idea of food didn't involve chucking a rat in a deep fat fryer, but I didn't and we eventually found a pub with food.

I say food - I ordered the only thing I could have "catch of the day in lemonade batter" no joke. I didn't ask what today’s catch was but it could well have been rat.

Beside us some girls were discussing the difficulties involved in getting broadband... My this is a primitive land.

I think I’ve solved one mystery though. The fabled “Beast of Bodmin” is a creature said to roam the moors devouring the local livestock. Its origins are clear to me now. After a few days sampling the culinary delights of the down, I think I’d find a raw sheep pretty appealing.

On the way home we had what we both decided was the worst mineral water we'd ever tasted (and neither of us had ever noticed the taste of mineral water before)... I looked on the label and it was bottled in Bodmin.

At home I read a little of my new book. The author is tracing the ethical footprint of everything in his life and this chapter was on coffee, booze and cheese.

One of his favourites was cathedral city. when he looked into it Cheddar wasn't involved and nor were any cathedrals. It turns out to be made by one of the biggest daries in the country... who made cathedral city the best selling cheese in the world then used their power to cut the price they paid farmers for their milk. It turns out Cathedral city is in fact made exclusively - you've guessed it - in Bodmin.

The author then went on to trace his favourite whiskey lagavulin... which turns out to be made by the same people as bailies... which won't please my father in law. still, the company doesn't seem to have ruined the local nature of the brand...

George continues not to eat his meals... he seems to want to choose them for himself and this is a well known phase for babies.... and a messy one. we just have to give him things he can pick at as he wants to because if he doesn't want to eat. you can't force him.

This doesn't really matter as most of the world's babies do perfectly well on less protein than George puts in his nappy.


A relaxed day today. trampolines and swimming pools being the only action.

I read some more of my book - learning amongst other things that king prawns from Bangladesh -and that includes at least half of those you get in Asian restaurants are farmed by very poor farmers who get virtually nothing for destroying their environments while the profits are taken by a series of virtually criminal middlemen. The author won't eat them after what he's learned and I think he's probably right.

He also has a lot to say about palm oil (the commonest product we don't know we use - featuring in a huge number of products from meals to soap and toothpaste).

By the way did you know bananas are seedless sterile mutants - so there can never be any variety in the species - each variety (and their are very few) is created from cuttings from a single plant so a disease affecting one will wipe out the global crop forever. This has already happened once, so they've nothing to replace the plantations with if the current variety fails...

The biggest problem seems to be mass production. we can't be allowed to all eat different things s production is forced into huge country sized plantations of single crops or farms. The result is that the vast majority of our agriculture is dedicated to just four crops. with the resulting dangers of destruction of the environment and lack of resistance to disease… Eat variety - that's got to be the only solution. At least that’s my plan.

Holiday over, we made our way back via Grace and Igor’s new home in Bognor. It’s a great improvement on the last home (they even get wine with dinner) – and their both a lot happier there. Although Igor continues to insist on being miserable anyway.

I’m so glad they’re in a nicer place, though.

We met up with my aunt Carole and introduced her to George for the first time, then we sat out on the lawn outside before making the final leg of the journey to Lisa’s parents.

To break the journey home, and to have Sunday lunch we decided to stay over in their crowded house. They’ve got Sally, Colin, their dog, and four boys living with them while the look for a house and it’s a bit chaotic.

No – it’s completely chaotic. I think Lisa’s parents need a break, already and since Sally and Colin have got to find and buy a house before they can move out, it’ll probably be a while.

Lisa’s parents in the meantime are putting a room into the garage… which is seaming like quite a good idea suddenly…

After Sunday lunch we leave for the journey back to London.

The holiday has been a good one – but I’m annoyed with myself for not ending up as rested as I’d have liked.

When I get stressed I tend to get mouth ulcers. Usually one – just to let me know I’m run down. Today I have 10 – and can barely eat…
We haven’t had a holiday for over a year and both badly needed one, the news of “extreme weather” from north Cornwall didn’t really put us off. However, George throwing up in the car wasn’t so good and the GPS gave us the strangest detour I’ve ever had (we were directed onto 100 meters of road parallel to the road we were on and then back onto the original road – there seemed to be no reason for it).

By the time we got there, we were both very tired. I hadn’t done any of the driving, but I think I’d let the last year’s work catch up with me and was ready to collapse. So tired I wanted to burst into tears…
Instead, we watched King Kong – or at least the first hour of it (being an “epic” meant the film had to be 14 hours long). At the point where the girl and the monkey were sitting together looking out over the sunset, we decided things weren’t going to get any more cheerful if we watched the rest, so as far as I’m concerned, it was a fun action story with a happy ending.

Actually there are lots of films that are best off abandoned at bed time – I’ve got very fond memories of “the deer hunter” – after retiring just as the main characters enlistined in the army. To me, it’s a feelgood buddy movie.

The thing you can guarantee with all Hollywood movies is that if it’s going to be happy, it will need to be bloody miserable just before everything goes right, and if it’s going to be sad, there will be a moment of happiness somewhere near the end. That’s the optimum time to leave if you don’t need things to change. Try leaving a bond film just when the main villain walks out on Bond who’s about to be executed – that way you can be fairly sure the smug secret agent has been sawn in half and you don’t need to endure his absurd quips as he drifts off into the sunset.

Anyway, George wasn’t so keen on us having a peaceful night. He decided to scream until we took him into our bed and stayed awake all night with him…

The next morning we had a bit of a look around our accommodation – a sweet little cottage in a tiny village and directly opposite what appeared to be the only decent place to eat within 50 miles. The farmhouse around which all the holiday cottages were arranged also provided an indoor swimming pool and a lot of child friendly stuff….

Bude – the nearest “town” wasn’t impressive. It’s major feature was a castle – or at least it was called a castle, but it was made of red brick, positioned on a flat instead of a hill, and had large sashcord windows through which any attacking horde would have made an easy entry.

In the grounds, a brass band was playing “I want to break free” by Queen…

George got a good night’s sleep and we began to unwind. The next day we went to the Big Sheep – a sheep-related theme park created on the cheap by an enterprising farmer. It’s actually a great day out with tractor and train rides, sheep racing, lamb feeding and some slides and ball pits. It’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds and George had a great time (apart from throwing up at lunch – which he seems to be doing every day). I’d have sent a postcard, only I don’t. If there’s one thing I hate more than clearing up baby sick, it’s writing postcards. I mean I write every day at work. My days are an endless stream of articles and emails. Why would I spend my holiday telling people who aren’t on holiday how great it is? Postcards are such a rubbish idea. It’s like having homework – and it’s no better being on the receiving end. “wish you were here?” well clearly you don’t or you wouldn’t have left me at home.

When we got back from the pub, we ordered a take-away from the pub over the road. It arrived on china plates – which was a nice touch.

My unwinding stopped when I woke at 4am. I spent the next day feeling generally rubbish. Lisa was left looking after me and George and I barely made it from the bed to the sofa without feeling sick. Maybe I’d got a version of what put Sam in hospital the previous week – but whatever it was, the real reason was that despite the fact that George is an easy baby as babies go, I have been working hard trying to fit 5 days work (or 6) into four days, having a new baby isn’t easy and we have been 15 months without a break. We work hard to get time to ourselves, but there are still a lot of demands. It’s not that surprising I suppose that I should collapse at the first opportunity. The only real surprise is that Lisa hasn’t. Yet.

Despite not leaving the cottage, we somehow managed to spend £203 in Gabon – we got a call from the bank to say that someone had cloned our card. They spotted the error (you can’t spend money in Cornwall and Africa on the same day) and refused the payment, but it’s a hastle.

Funny – at least 3 other people in our road have also had their cards cloned, so we have to suspect one of the local businesses. Suspicion falls on Summerfield – but that might be just snobbery.

The new chip and pin system doesn’t seem from my reckoning to have reduced fraud. In fact I’ve heard of it happening more since the change than before. And I’m not surprised. Rather than revealing our pin number once a week or so, we now do it every day and rather than doing so in trusted locations (bank machines) we now do it everywhere we spend money – with no security what so ever. What’s more we now have to have so many pin numbers that the only way to manage them is to either write them down (which the banks tell you not to do) or to change them all to the same number (which the banks tell you not to do). In other works, chip and pin isn’t designed to make transactions safer. It’s designed to make the fraud our fault rather than the banks. It’s not about safety it’s about blame.

Of course, most of the fraud is done without any cards changing hands – it’s all on the bank side – but the banks don’t like to talk about that, they just take the hit and keep it secret. After all, it’s much better to blame their customers than to let anyone know that their security is the equivalent of writing your pin number on the back of your bank card and leaving it on the bus.

The first day George isn’t sick and I’m back to normal too. We decide to go to the Eden project. I was expecting it to be good, but it was not just a big greenhouse, it was actually a very intelligent, non-patronising, optimistic campaign. It’s really obvious when old hippies have created something – there’s this lack of limitations – this idea that you can think on a huge scale and be completely unashamed about wanting to change the world – and it’s infectious. All that’s needed is that attitude and you can create things of real value and real change… or so it seems.

George loved the place too – especially the rainforest – although he wouldn’t eat anything all day. We’d run out of home made food and bought a jar of baby food with us. He doesn’t seem to be at all interested in anything except home cooked food. However, that wasn’t all it was – he wouldn’t even eat Eden’s home cooked organic fair trade non biological nutritionally balanced gluten free unbleached free range pasta… he wasn’t interested in his tea either – until in desperation we tried making him a sandwich… it turned out all he really wanted was something he could eat for himself. He’s not being fussy – he just wants to do it himself.

We came out of the Eden project with a pile of eco friendly stuff – including a solar ipod charger (I’m not sure what my ipod’s footprint is, but it’s invaluable to me – not because it’s got music on it, but because I’ve rather sadly uploaded about half of the Doctor Who video back catalogue onto it – which is great for long train journeys).

I bought a book which I can highly recommend – “confessions of an eco sinner” by Fred Pearce. Basically he’s a journalist who decided to go around the world trying to work out where all his stuff came from – and what his environmental footprint really meant. He’s actually surprisingly like me in what he does and what he consumes, and as I’m trying to work out my footprint (not just carbon- but everything else too) it’ll be an interesting read.