Thursday, August 14, 2008

The olympics
The Olympics opened at the end of last week with what everyone seems to have called the greatest show ever staged – a massive emerging superpower throwing a hundred million pounds at stating its intent for the next hundred years to the world… which is fine, except London’s up next and has to match it.

Personally I’ve never really been a fan of massive spectacles – they tend to leave me thinking “so what?”. I mean, you can have 14,000 people holding up placards to form the shape of a logo, but all it really proves is that you can. 100,000 fireworks really just makes each firework less impressive. More is less.

They climaxed the whole thing with a bloke hanging from a piece of string pretending to run around an animated screen surrounding the entire stadium to finally light a huge torch. I mean, it’s clever – but the more cash you spend on being clever, the cleverer you have to be to stop it seeming pointless. It gets to a point where you just can’t be clever enough to avoid looking ridiculous.

Or maybe it’s just me.

In any case, it’s London’s turn in 4 years, and we can’t compete with that level of spectacle. Then again, maybe we don’t have to. To me (and I’m not a massive sports fan) the thing that makes British sport great – and actually one of the things the nation in general is most proud of is almost the opposite of the amazing exercise in formation organisation that China displayed.

It’s a more chaotic sort of mass action – where people spontaneously en-masse decide to join forces each for their own reasons and each bringing their own unique ideas and skills to the event. London’s great events aren’t formations of troops marching in step to somebody else’s beat– they’re a hundred thousand people all doing their own thing. Like the London Marathon or the naked cyclists that ride through London every year.

There’s something chaotically creative about this country at it’s best – something that inspires people to do something extraordinary not because they’ve been told to but because they just want to.

Maybe what our Olympic ceremony needs is more like a Flash-mob than a military parade…

I heard on the radio the other day that the last London Olympics just after the war were a little more low key – the cycling went on just down the road from us in Herne Hill – and apparently the British team stayed with the editor of the cycling magazine rather than in an Olympic village. Catering was provided by one of the competitor’s mothers.

Full House
Lisa completed on her house last week – so now all that has to be done is a total refurbishment on it…. It’s a sweet little house, but hasn’t been done up properly for 63 years. That means there’s probably a fair amount of problem lurking in the walls. Still, we’ve planned for re-plastering, new electrics and some work on the roof, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.

Hopefully it’ll be done in a couple of months – or at least nearly done. However, I’m not sure if Lisa will want to rent it out immediately. With Sally, Colin and the four children moving into Lisa’s parents’ house while they look for a place of their own, visiting them will probably be quite difficult and the idea of a “guest house” a couple of streets away will probably be quite attractive for visitors. Even if it doesn’t have a bathroom, a kitchen, walls or any electricity….

House prices are still falling – with the average estate agent selling about one property a week. And we all feel very sorry for them I’m sure….

People are trying to predict the end of the crash – and wondering if removing stamp duty would kick start the market.

Well, it wouldn’t.

Of course it wouldn’t.

Prices aren’t falling because of some mysterious magic curse – or even because of American Sub prime lending. They’re falling because they’re too high. They’re too high because people can’t afford to buy houses.

The only reason they didn’t fall before was that investors were buying instead. Investors will only buy if they think it’s a good investment – and that means only when prices are going up. The moment prices started dropping, all the investors stopped buying.

It’s not rocket science.

So where will it all end?

Well, surely the bottom line is that someone on a reasonable wage (say £35,000 per year) in London is going to think of a one bedroom flat as a first step on the housing ladder. At lending of 3 times earnings plus a reasonable deposit, that’s about £120,000.

In other words, I’d stick my neck out and say when you can get a one bedroom flat for £120,000 in the cheaper parts of London, the market will stop falling.

We’re not there yet.

Saturday we decided to take George to the London Aquarium – but it turned out that on a rainy school holiday, other people had the same idea. We abandoned the idea and went to the Natural History museum instead – which although we knew it would be crowded, we thought it was at least big enough to hold the numbers.

It was so busy we had to seek out one of the less popular halls to find a little room. George was completely rapt by the size and noise of the place (somewhere I’ve been fascinated by since I was only a few years older). He was especially intrigued by the giant stag beetle above the door of the bug room – and I’ve been told since that lots of other children have the same reaction to it… Not sure why – he’s never seen a real stag beetle…

Anyway, we came out with a bathtime book of dinosaurs (which George liked the first time he read it, but now seems to cry whenever it appears) and a “babyTV” DVD - a montage of shapes and colours from the natural world which he seems to love.

TV is very attractive to George and he watches (especially children’s programmes) with great attention. It’s so tempting to put the TV on to keep him amused, but we try not to do it too much. Even so, he’s already identified that corner of the room as a site of entertainment and loves to pull things off the TV table, wrench wires out of things, and stick his fingers in the DVD player.

He’s also developed a fascination with phones – having realised that we spend a lot of time talking to them. I’m not sure if he knows that remote controls are different devices, but he goes for them with equal vigour.

Sunday, we aimed to take George swimming, but failed to get up in time, so we pottered around drilling holes in the house to put up pictures with hooks we realised we hadn’t got.

It wasn’t a good day for going out, so he played in the living room most of the day. He’s started using the rocking horse my parents got him for Christmas to balance on – pushing it along as he learns to walk. At one point, he suddenly let go of it, and stood there in the middle of the floor swaying slightly for several seconds before collapsing.

Lisa and I just looked at him in amazement.

Work is distracting me. I’ve got these two big projects on right now – the safety video for the yacht and a trilobite display for a museum in Mexico. Both are big, complex jobs and both have deadlines in September.

The problem with having these long term projects is you’re never quite sure where you ought to be on them at any point and you need to set (and keep to) goals throughout the project.

There are so many different aspects to these animations (both are really like mini films – involving narration, music, characters and editing as well as animation) that are all both exciting and difficult – so I sometimes end up getting preoccupied by them.

Although, obviously I want interesting and challenging work, it’s hard to turn that off when it comes to the end of the day.

I end up getting distracted – as though the real world is happening somewhere else with me – or my mind not connecting fully with it, and I don’t like that about myself. It must be obvious to people around me sometimes that I’m not all there…

The only real solution is to be as organised as I can – to plan out what I’m doing on what days. For some reason when I know I’ve got a difficult problem to tackle, knowing WHEN I’m going to tackle what portions of it frees me up somehow – it allows me to forget the problem for the most part – knowing that even if I don’t have the answers, I’ve at least dedicated a time-slot to dealing with them.

On Saturday I scribbled a few notes on a scrap of paper, planning out the next couple of weeks. It helped a lot – and even if some of those plans don’t work out, I at least know I’ve got time for most of what I’ve got to do.

Hopefully that made me a little better company for the weekend….

Tuesday was our 2nd wedding anniversary. Sam came over to look after George and we went out to a lovely restaurant in Crystal Palace…

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