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 café 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.

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