Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sunday and the food question

Lisa’s parents stayed over to look after George and we spent most of Sunday eating… not a bad thing – and most of it was pretty healthy for a Sunday Lunch (boiled potatoes, baked sea trout, salads).

The subject of diet came up as it very often does. Lisa and Sam are engaged in a long term campaign to change their parents’ eating patterns. To put it bluntly, they want them to buy less food more often. They want them to keep an empty fridge and freezer, and not go to the supermarket. Instead, they want them to walk to the grocers and the fishmongers and buy only the food they’re going to eat that day.

That way they hope to persuade them to get more exercise, eat more healthily and not end up with heaps of uneaten food which goes off – and then gets eaten anyway or thrown away.

It’s a good cause and Lisa (from the perspective of an OT) and Sam (from the perspective of a chef) have quite a weight of expertise behind them.

Whether it will work is another question. Changing the habits of a lifetime is difficult, even though Sam and Lisa are worried that those habits could be becoming dangerous.

People’s relationships with food are probably as complicated as their relationships with each other. It’s so fundamental to everyone that every aspect of it is bound to become tied up with everything that you are… trying to unpick that always involves more than just your diet.

George is starting his relationship with food basically by loving all of it. Which is fine by me. He’s happy to chomp on anything or anyone he can get close to and we’ve started giving him little bit of whatever we’re having.

We discovered this week that he’s very fond of curry (or dahl at least) and he’s happy with lumpy food and even things he has to bite.

We have bought a few pots of pre-made baby food, but even the best organic-no-preservative-colouring-free-natures-superfood-fair-trade-recycled-baby-megafood is absolute rubbish compared to mashing your own vegetables.

I wouldn’t eat it myself, and George doesn’t much care for it either.

We’re following the trendiest of the baby cookery books (Annabel Karmel’s). In fact I think you’d probably have your children taken into care if you didn’t own a copy of that particular book in East Dulwich.

It’s actually quite good and gives timetables for when to introduce different foods and how baby’s needs change over the months.

However, as with all cookery books, it’s precise measures and strict advice is only really for those people who feel reassured by being told exactly what to do. We interpret it quite broadly as we do with most cookery – which in practice means we look at the recipe title, think it sounds nice, close the book and make our own version.

In fact much of the time we just let him eat whatever he grabs as long as it doesn’t look too toxic. I gave him a piece of raw okra the other day to chew on. he dropped it on the pavement a couple of times, but I dusted it down and gave it back to him and he seemed to like the texture.

I’m sure he’ll pretty soon let me know if he doesn’t like something and although I’m avoiding wasabe and fish bones for now, I think human babies evolved to be quite robust – regardless of the volumes of threats that your little precious will die if he ingests the wrong kind of broccoli three weeks before the recommended broccoli introduction date.

You see – he’s only seven months old and I’m projecting my food politics onto him already. As I said. It’s a complex relationship.

It’s a well known clichĂ© that it always rains on bank holidays. Well, this one seemed to stand that up. After a week of sunny weather, the day quickly ruined any ideas we had about going out for walks and taking George to the park.

We ended up spending the day as though we were on a caravanning holiday: stuck in doors reading newspapers, and wondering whether to play scrabble or watch low quality movies.

Teaching the holocaust
Got an outraged email the other day about a supposed plan to stop teaching the holocaust to schoolchildren because it apparently upset the Muslim community who (quoting from the email) “don’t believe it happened”. The email went on about how we must never forget the atrocities so that it would never happen again.

Lisa’s sister Lucinda got the same email and apparently looked it up and actually it’s a load of rubbish – there was never a plan to stop teaching the holocaust. There never was a suggestion that any Muslim organisation claimed it didn’t happen.

In other words, the angry email - unwittingly passed on by lots of people who weren’t able to check its authenticity - was really just part of an attempt to stir up racial hatred.

Exactly the same kind of hate campaign that bit by bit persuaded the German people to back Hitler in the first place.

Getting rid of cars
We thought when we first had George that we’d need a small car for buzzing around London and a bigger car for taking all the baby stuff whenever we wanted to go away for more than an hour.

It now turns out that everything we need for George fits in the small car pretty comfortably and on the rare occasions we need a big car, there’s always Sam just around the corner.

Since we’re constantly swapping and borrowing cars between us anyway, we’ve decided to get rid of one estate and share the other one.

I’ve also been meaning to get around to dispensing with my little Citroen (which cost me £300 3 years ago – so it doesn’t owe me anything).

Gillian came round on Tuesday as I had George for the day, and I’ve given her my car. It’s the best solution all round, I think. She always ends up driving around in her theatre company van and as an eco-campaigner she’s constantly aware that this isn’t very environmentally friendly, so my little car should suit her fine.

Last night, Lisa and I took advantage of my mum’s visit (she’s here to look after George today so I can work) and went out with a friend of Lisa’s, Graham.

A night out with Graham usually follows the same pattern – drinks followed by a Pizza – usually in Clapham.

Unfortunately he demands that you keep up with him in alchohol, so the night usually leaves me feeling a little hung over the following day.

The government is running a big campaign trying to get people to take note of the points they drink and not to exceed 3 per day too often.

Ok – so that’s two bottles of cider and a bottle of wine…. Um 16 points.

Oh dear.

I need to try harder.

I am, after all, in that group they’re trying to reach – the people that end up having a glass of wine with dinner most nights.

I’ll have to cut down on that.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The orient express

Saturday night was my birthday present from Lisa – Dinner on the Orient Express no less!

It was a wonderful experience. Down at the end of platform 1 at Victoria station there’s a special waiting room and from the moment you enter you’re in a world that doesn’t seem to have changed for 80 years… except maybe for the food which was a 6 course Italian tasting menu with different wines for each course.

The train – which looked exactly as it does in all the Agatha Christie films – chugged through the English countryside for four hours, while the guests (dinner jackets for the men and long dresses for the ladies, of course) were served a great range of lovely food.

It wasn’t just a great (and extravagant) evening, it was immensely relaxing to be taken out of your world of work, babies and everything else, and placed – even briefly – in another, completely separate world.

The train in motion was somehow decoupled from the rest of the universe – the experience was of being in a bubble where nothing existed but the carriage and the two of us (and the waters, other passengers and food!). nothing could intrude.

Even just a few hours spent like that is a holiday. Perhaps better than a holiday since holidays have mobile phones, and are long enough in duration to allow thoughts of the outside world to permeate.

My suit
The event was a “black tie” do, and I wore the suit I had made on our Honeymoon in India (along with a self-tie bow-tie – I think there are times when, a ready made bow tie just won’t do!). The suit was made to measure in about 12 hours, and I’m afraid it’s beginning to show. The lapels weren’t strengthened in the way they needed to be and the whole suit feels as though it could disintegrate every time I wear it.

There’s always a feeling of pretension when you put on a dinner suit. You’re invariably on your way to a posh event where you’re going to pretend you’re the sort of person that normally spends their time hanging out in these kind of gatherings – you have to behave as if you’re in your element regardless of how unusual it is for you.

However, there has to come a point – and I think it may be when you realise that the dinner suit you bought less than 2 years ago is getting worn out because you actually wear it more than you wear your work suit – that you have to accept that the pretence is over. That you’re not pretending to be one of those people anymore, but that you actually are one.

Not quite sure how I feel about that.

Responsible, probably. Responsible for everything.

Sam’s dog show
Meanwhile, Sam had her own special dinner…. She and some friends got hold of the dog competition film “Best in show”. For the event, Sam prepared a delightful meal in which she decided that all the courses had to look like dog food…

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Guardian published a listing of B&Bs this weekend.
I think somebody should do a B&B&B website – letting people know the child and baby policies of B&bs all round the country. It would save a lot of time and effort – if you want a weekend away, it’s a big pain trying to find somewhere to stay that will allow you to bring your baby let alone provide facilities.

I guess that means I have to do it…. Well, maybe some other time – when I’m less busy – HA HA HA.

The residents
The residents of Ashbourne Grove have been energized by the prospect of planning being given to a pub at the end of the road to extend. The bar is turning (predictably enough) from a seedy student dive into a new cocktail bar – and since it backs onto the end of our road, residents were worried that there would be a beer garden and that it would cause noise late at night.

It turns out that it won’t – there won’t be a beer garden, but several of the road’s residents are very active complainers (somebody in our road – not sure who, and I don’t really care – complained that our loft extension was too big, so the council had to come and measure it – it wasn’t too big, of course) – so a group of us – me included went around to check out the plans last night.

The guy running the new bar seemed very accommodating, although I’m sure he privately wondered why everyone was complaining about something that wasn’t going to happen. He just wanted to get the complaints removed so he didn’t have to go to community court – fair enough…

I agreed to go along, but by that time, it was clear there really wasn’t anything to complain about... still, it was interesting to see the way the dynamic of the street’s active members worked – good to observe who lead and who followed – and worth realizing that en-masse, the Ashbourne Grove mob is Quite an eloquent and reasonable mob as mobs go.

By the time the meeting had gone on for an hour, though, I was hoping it would finish so I could get home to put George to bed and make a cuttlefish salad:

1 cuttlefish cut into thin strips
1 bunch of fresh coriander
3 spring onions sliced
an inch of ginger, finely diced
a chilly de-seeded and sliced
a pack of salad leaves (I used watercress because it was reduced in summerfield)
the juice of a whole lime
a sprinkling of olive oil

Fry the cuttlefish for about 3 minutes in a hot wok – until they turn white, then combine all the ingredients. – it’s a lovely fresh, summery salad with lots and lots of flavour.

nationalism, football, and magic

George is teething again, and an unplanned weekend was what we needed. Not that he’s bothered. In the daytime at least he’s as happy as ever. But his nights are not easy, and he’s been either in our bed or with one of us in the spare room for the last few days. Either way we don’t get a good night.

Lisa mentioned in passing that although she’d only ever wanted two children, she’d started thinking recently that three wouldn’t be terrible… I’ve had the same thought.

I wonder if this is how it happens…. Starting as a certainty that you don’t want more than two… becoming slowly seduced into it by the joys of one… thinking “oh, well, we’ll see what happens”….


We’ll probably try for a second sometime in the summer.

Not much chance of that right now, though…We managed to get a little sleep this weekend - with George between us.

It’s a well documented but unsupportable idea that nobody can ever imagine that their parents ever had sex… As children, however, we don’t realize quite what an active role we play – emotionally and physically in preventing it.

We managed to get out on Saturday for the FA cup final – cheering on Portsmouth for some reason in a local pub – Fee, a local Portsmouth fan had co-opted everyone but her boyfriend who remained a Cardif supporter to the last. Again, not sure why since he lives in America.

Before the match, the National anthem was played… and as usual only one verse of the turgid ballad was trotted out – presumably, it was stopped before everyone got so bored they forgot there was a football match on…

But apparently there’s not just one verse, and not just two either…

In fact, the UK national anthem has 14 verses (here they are if you’re interested:

These include seven standard ones, two written for Queen Victoria’s Jubilie, three for the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra in 1863 and one penned especially for the Canadians.

The verse that caught my eye though, was this one:

Lord grant that Marshal WadeMay by thy mighty aidVictory bring.May he sedition hush,And like a torrent rush,Rebellious Scots to crush.God save the King.

Written about the Jacobite rebellion. It’s not very PC… and I can see why the Scots are a bit miffed.

It seems to be a bit of a theme that patriotism always eventually turns to nationalism, racism and eventually war – however well intentioned it might start out. You start off saying how great your country is and wind up six verses later trying to exterminate your nearest neighbors because they’ve got different coloured hair to yours.

But on Andrew Marr’s history of modern Britain on Sunday, he offered an alternative view – a quote from the man who set up Ealing Studios. “the only type of Nationalism worth a damn is cultural Nationalism”

And I suppose that’s where my nationalism comes from… it’s pretty pointless being proud of your country as a thing – because it’s nothing really – just a random hunk of land. But being proud of your culture is different – it means you celebrate not what Britain is, but what of value it does – you don’t think you’re better than everyone else and you don’t defend your state when it does something stupid (even culturally) - and most particularly you recognize that other people are a part of that culture just by wanting to be.

Your family don’t have to be born anywhere in particular, you don’t have to have lived in a country all your life to be a fan of its culture. In fact, you don’t even have to live there at all.

Your culture is what you want it to be and it’s constantly in flux, so it’s too amorphous to go to war over in and of itself.

Gillian once asked Sophia – then our cleaner where she came from. She said her mother was Serbian and her father’s family was Russian.

“oh” said Gillian without irony “how very British”.

Talking of football and possibly nationalism, this week there’s some big football match in Russia between two English teams. Thousands of fans are decending on the Russian capital for what will probably turn out to be the most expensive weekend away imaginable.

Russian hotels are hundreds of pounds a night, flights are terribly expensive too and you can’t apparently even get on one unless you can show your incredibly expensive ticket to the match (I don’t know how you get to Russia this week if you’re there on business or for a holiday).

All of which makes me wonder about why events like theatre and opera are said to be elitist because most people can’t afford the tickets when football is so much more expensive.

Surely theatre and opera should be thought of as mass entertainment and football should be called elitist….

Come to think of it, why when you go to a football ground (I’m basing this on memories of the Old Wembley stadium) do you get a choice of 1 type of cold beer and a few dry pasties? Surely half the crowd will be celebrating at the end of any match – so I’d expect a choice of at least three types of champagne to be available – after all, you get that at the Royal Opera House and by the end of most performances everyone on stage is dead.

Where’s the free market – surely there’s someone out there ready to reap the benefits of 20,000 celebrating (and judging by the ticket prices – extremely rich) supporters? Come to think of it, the average music festival offers a hundred stalls selling different types of food from kebabs to hog roasts to falafels, samosas and sushi – where’s that at a football match?

Do they actively want to discourage families from attending? Sounds like it.

House rental
I realized on Friday that the rent on my house in Manchester hasn’t been being paid for the last two months. I called the letting agents – who rather worryingly didn’t know. Apparently, the guy has now told them that it was his bank’s fault because although they’d set up his standing order, they didn’t pay it.

When asked how this was, he said “probably because there was no money in the account”.

Banks are so unreasonable.

He also mentioned in passing that he wondered if I’d consider selling the property to him. Somehow I don’t think he’s serious….

The new Magic word
Saw Derren Brown at the weekend with his new brand of “non-magic” – where he constantly admits to not being a magician at all and using the power of suggestion to create amazing illusions.

And he’s very good at it – this week, allowing David Tennant to travel backwards and forwards in time, recall an event that happened in the 30’s, and predict the contents of next week’s newspapers.

All very clever stuff, but I can’t help thinking that suggestion has become the new magic.

Often, he’s doing, effectively the same tricks as (say) Paul Daniels used to, but instead of saying “it’s magic” he’s saying “it’s suggestion”. The difference is that nobody believes in Paul Daniels because nobody believes in magic anymore, but in this enlightened era where the focus of the whole of society is on our own view of ourselves (people say “believe in yourself and you can do anything” and “the power to change your life is within yourself”) we all really believe that there’s this increadible power inside our own minds.

We all really do believe in that mysterious power of the mind – partially because it offers instant solutions to all our problems from getting a better job to curing disease – and partially because science has replaced magic and religion as our faith.

But I, as always, am a bit suspicious. Is there really any difference between Paul Daniels saying “I do it by magic” whilst slipping a playing card up his sleeve and Derren Brown saying “there’s no magic, it’s all the power of the mind” whilst doing exactly the same thing?

By the way, George loves plastic bags....

Friday, May 16, 2008

champagne supernova

Sam came round last night with my birthday present – a home champagne making kit which she’d made for me.

In fact, it consists of a bottle of cheap white wine and a soda-stream machine – a 1980’s device for making fizzy drinks at home by pumping compressed gas into them.

I put the wine into the device and pressed the button. The entire kitchen was immediately showered in flat white wine.


Chinese PR
Mary - working as a journalist in china is currently reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake. It sounds terrible.

But Rather bizarrely, the earthquake is playing in the media over here as good propaganda for China. After the dreadful, unconscionable response of Burma’s government to the typhoon, China suddenly looks like a model of open government – letting in aid workers, encouraging foreign help, responding with troops and as much organisation as they can put together – and allowing the story to be told globally.

After china’s PR disaster in running the Olympic torch through the world’s major cities – and being challenged every step of the way by protesters demanding a free Tibet, suddenly China is seen in a far better light when they’re just doing what comes naturally – not looking for PR at all.

Maybe there’s a lesson here in not trying to spin too hard.
Maybe the press here and the aid agencies are using the Earthquake in china to talk about Burma.

Maybe we’re just so used to the west being dominant in the world and so scared of China’s power, that we’re only prepared to acknowledge the positive side of China when it needs our help.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Last night, Lisa and I went out to the new Italian restaurant (something East Dulwich has been scandalously missing up until it opened a couple of weeks ago). For my birthday, she’s taking me for dinner on the Orient Express in a couple of weeks – which should be great.

Still waiting for my mid-life crisis to kick in. Nothing doing as yet – Harley Davidson’s aren’t suddenly looking attractive and I’m not tempted to re-capture my lost youth…. Actually, that’s probably because it was never lost. You can’t have a desire to re-live your childhood if you never grow up in the first place, I suppose.

I spent today drawing pictures of prehistoric animals… now OK, I’m being paid for it now, and I do it in a slightly more sophisticated way than when I was seven, but aside from that, I’m doing pretty much what I was doing three decades ago.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

George went on his first trip to a garage yesterday. Having called the AA out to tell us why the car hadn’t started, they promptly asked who had fitted the battery as it was clearly the wrong battery for the car.

It was, of course, the AA.

He turned up within a couple of minutes of another AA man there to tell us why the other car wouldn’t start (they couldn’t just send one AA man – that would be far too sensible). The reason the car wouldn’t start was of course that it needed a new battery.

I’m starting to think car maintenance might not be quite as complex as I’ve always thought.

The AA man was very helpful though and pointed me at a Kwikfit garage where I spent the next hour waiting with George while the slowest Kwikfit fitter in the world dragged himself around the car.

To be fair, it wasn’t his fault. He was hampered in his work by a lady trying to sell counterfit DVDs of the “night of the living dead” and the self evident fact that he was a member of the living dead himself.

A barbecue at Sam’s later presented an opportunity to eat more asparagrass, jersey royals and fish from Worthing beach…

Today is my actual 40th birthday, and I awoke to the rather disappointing news that a work project I thought was going particularly well, isn’t going to happen at all. I did a test for a children’s book illustration job which I’d way under-quoted for because it looked like a fun project. But it turns out that the book’s writer doesn’t like the illustration… here it is:

personally, I think the image works very well, but the author (who does a little sketching himself) would be better off doing the illustrations himself since he obviously has some picture in his head of exactly how he wants it to look, but doesn’t want to see somebody else’s interpretation of it.

I think the reality is that he’ll probably end up with the kind of hasty watercolour scribbles that most children’s books are illustrated with. Which is a bit of a shame, because I think doing it the way I was would have made the book into something unique.

Oh well, never mind.

At least it gives me a fighting chance of getting some of my other projects up and running…

Monday, May 12, 2008


The sun came out this weekend so we decided to grab it while we could… Lisa, Sam, George and I disappeared to Worthing for the weekend, bought fish from the stall on the beech and had a barbeque in the evening. We even got to have a paddle in the sea (it was too cold for George to join us).

The traffic jams on the way down heralded the start of the Brighton Festival – which in turn signals the start of the mackerel season – since it’s also the start of the Asparagrus season and the Jersey Royals season, there’s some really good simple food around right now…

George is teething again, and not sleeping well. He’s not settling well at night and it’s very tiring.

Lisa stayed up in Worthing on Sunday night for a meeting on Monday with her bank manager. That left me at home alone – and I thought I’d get a good night’s sleep without fear of interruption by George.

Not so. A car alarm directly outside the window went off every 10 minutes throughout the night.

At 1am I ended up in my dressing gown having a chat with James next door while he tried to call the police.

That, I could have done without.

My actual birthday is on Wednesday. Maybe I should spend it sleeping…

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The contract on Lisa’s uncle didn’t last long. By Friday night, his clients had apparently decided to bury the hatchet and re-employ him for more of their legal work.

Load of old nonsense, that was!

Friday was also Sam’s actual birthday and with my parents up and looking after George, Lisa, myself and lisa’s brother in law, Colin (who’d turned up ahead of his family) were all able to go out for cocktails with Sam.

Colin was a bit the worse for wear before he started – having spent the day at what was loosely described as a meeting at the Tower of London, but which actually involved a large amount of army-style socialising.

We had a great chat – he’s leaving the army soon and for the first time will be exposed to the job market… it’s a big culture shift and I wouldn’t blame him for being nervous.

By the end of the evening, he and I wandered into a kebab house on the way home. The first time I’ve ever visited a kebab shop in Dulwich (as a non-meat eater, they don’t have much to offer me – even when drunk!).

I was surprised to find that the gentrification of the area had reached even here. The menu included skewered Quail and swordfish.


I learn the following morning that Boris Johnson has won the London mayoral election. The news frankly amazes me. I thought that despite the polls, when it actually came down to it, Londoners would shy away from someone who’s so obviously out of his depth.

Mind you, you could have said the same of George Bush…

Setting up
The first part of the day is quite calm – and even setting up the party (the first time Sam and Phil have seen each other since the argument) goes incredibly well. The venue looks good and more importantly, everyone is getting on.

Oscar parties are common enough for party companies to have mass produced everything you need, and I’d ordered enough camera shaped balloons, novelty table cloths, banners, red carpets and full sized Marylyn Monroe stickers to give the place a convincingly tacky makeover. We didn’t have much to do on that score, as the venue already possessed a gold curtained stage….

For some reason, I was so tired I needed an hour’s sleep when I got home… probably because with Sam and Phil now getting on, my main worry for the event was now solved.

The party
The party itself, was of course a glittering affair. Lisa provided free cava for everyone, Balbir and Leon, the DJs were great, as were the bands (Kid Carpet played late at night and was an acquired taste – but I liked him).

The Oscar ceremony was fun… and the chips bought in from a local chip shop were a very popular addition…

Most people dressed up and there were ballgowns and tuxedos aplenty. As well as at least one catwoman and a gorilla. Lisa looked stunning as usual. Sam came as Audrey Hepburn…. And left as Amy Winehouse.

Perhaps the story is best told in pictures…. Here are a couple.

Sunday is a day of food…
George wakes me up at 4 ( I got to bed at 2:30) but Lisa grabs him quickly (she left the party early so that I didn’t have to worry about George) and I get back to sleep until about 7- not a great night’s sleep, but I stopped drinking at about midnight and started drinking water, so I don’t feel too bad.

Which is lucky – because by 9:30, the day is in full swing – I’ve seen my parents off home (Dad has to work) and we have Sally’s kids as well as Nathan ( Jane’s son) running around competing for the trampoline and wanting to play with George.

Breakfast for 11 is replaced by a full roast dinner for 11 – celebrating Lisa’s Dad’s birthday - and although everything is pretty relaxed, there’s a lot of children to cope with.

Tribal wars and the specialist

Kieran and Ethan are the two eldest and there seems to be a constant fight going on between them. Ethan generally gets the worst of it and seems to be fighting back with a mixture of sulking and acts of random viciousness.

But I can see his point. It’s a tribal thing, and there’s no real solution for him. His brother is older, and because of that can beat any of his brothers at any game. Ethan is the closest in age and when Kieran feels his leadership being threatened, he has to assert his authority.

The only way for Ethan to win is to break the rules – be more badly behaved than his brother and win by playing dirty. So he gets caught and punished and his brother wins again.

As we get older, the same rules apply, and if you’re not careful you end up getting trapped in the same competitive games.

But there’s a way out (luckily because it’s doubtful civilisation would live very long otherwise). The field of human experience is big and you don’t have to be the king of all of it. You don’t have to be the world’s best brain surgeon and the worlds fastest bricklayer… you can specialise. You can pick your fights… and if you need to you can change them too.

By being able to choose your field as narrowly as you like you can always be the best in it. And the narrower your specialisms, the more you can feel you personally excel. And the happier you’ll be.

It’s one of the secrets of being a nerd… if you think you have to win at everything, then you’re destined to fail all the time. If you can choose your battles, then you stand a good chance of winning them.

Because there are so many of us in the house, we end up getting a lot of newspapers over the weekend – all the Sunday supplements end up strewn and mixed over the living room floor so that when you pick up something to read, you don’t know if it’s from the Times, the Guardian or the Mail… there’s a wide range of views on the floor.

The one thing they all seem agreed on is Boris Johnson. Whether the papers like or dislike him, there’s the same tone – the overwhelming worry comes across between the lines that everyone’s holding their breath waiting for the first major gaff.

Even the conservative press office damned him with feint praise “if he developes a great strength it will be in the people he surrounds himself with”!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken is back in power by the end of the year.

The crowds in the house thin out. Sally, Coin and the Children leave and everything becomes much more peaceful.

It’s Abi’s birthday and we join her in the cafĂ© in Peckham park. Balbir comes along too – and it turns out, that the party didn’t end quite as peacefully as we all thought. A group of gatecrashers turned up late and made trouble – one of the girls was flirting with Balbir in an obvious attempt to set him up for her boyfriend to pick a fight… when that failed, they resorted to shouting “bin Larden” at him. The bouncers had to help Balbir out with his DJ equipment…

Apparently the same group were responsible for jeering the band and harassing various other people at the party.

Balbir handled it all with classic good grace.

When you’ve got a big event coming up – like a 40th birthday party – it somehow turns into a kind of watershed. You start thinking not in terms of “this week” and “next week” but in terms of “before the party” and “after the party”.

Things you plan for “before” take on an immediacy – you have to get them done and quickly. Deadlines become firm and pressing and you focus yourself only on what can be practically done.

But there’s another effect, because the “after” is invisible. It becomes obscured by the event itself and the planning for that and it turns into a dumping ground for all those aspirational ideas – the things you’d really like to do, but never quite get around to.

Having a watershed event allows you to commit yourself to actually doing some of the things you’ve been putting off. Instead of saying “I’ll do that someday” you can say “I’ll do that after the party” - and it feels safe to say that because the party is such a landmark that you can’t imagine anything beyond it.

But of course, there is something beyond it. When the watershed is passed, you can suddenly see the landscape strewn with whatever you’ve thrown over the horizon – now no longer vague statements about what you’d like to happen, but concrete plans you now have to commit to or throw out.

And that’s not a bad thing. There in front of you, and no longer on the “think about that when I get a chance” list, your feeling for the tasks change. They’re no longer mythical destinations, but actual placees – you can see how your journey towards them would begin and start to glimpse the practical reality of getting there.

Friday, May 2, 2008

my birthday

My 40th birthday party approaches, and I’m not at all sure I’m ready for it. Not that I’m not ready to be 40 – that’s the least of my worries - it’s the party that worries me. (I don’t think I’m planning to have a mid-life crisis – but I could give it a go, I suppose)

Like all overarching enterprises, as its denouement approaches, it takes on the aspect of a snowball, and then presently a steam locomotive. (for some reason, the previous sentence seems to have dropped in from the 1800’s)… people are beginning to arrive – my parents yesterday, Lisa’s family today and tomorrow – and our house is slowly filling up.

From now on, our time will not be our own until Tuesday when everyone leaves. My two co-partiers, Sam and Phil have fallen out, and I’ve taken on all the organisation. I’m not able to look forward to it or get excited about it– I’m just trying to avert various kinds of disasters.

I’m sure everything will be fine and I and everyone else will have a great time, but crisis management is what it’s about at the moment, and right now, what I’m really looking forward to is a quiet evening without phonecalls to make and people to entertain… and that’s looking a long way off. Which is odd because out of the three of us, I’m the only one who hasn’t threatened to call the event off yet.

Currently, party=stress and the most appealing thing I can think of doing is going for a long walk on my own.

It’s not going to happen.

This is quite a good stress reliever, though:

Lisa’s flat
Lisa has pulled out of the flat she was going to buy – the fact that it was above a shop turns out to mean all kinds of problems with the freehold that she doesn’t want to deal with.

On a lighter note, her uncle is claiming that someone’s put a contract out on him…. Apparently he was defending someone with a VAT dispute. He told the court under their instructions that they’d pay £30,000 off their VAT bill, but then on the day, they didn’t turn up with the cash, so they got sent to prison. They see this as his fault and they’ve hired someone to make that point…

Personaly, I think it’s just an attempt to get attention because he knows Lisa’s parents are supposed to be coming to the party and he wants to make them look after him instead…. If they really have the money to put a contract out on someone, wouldn’t they have been better spending it on paying their tax bill and avoiding prison?

Sorry if I sound harsh, but that's the kind of life Lisa's uncle chooses - and by all accounts he's not very good at keeping the effects of it to himself.