Wednesday, December 23, 2009

George and Ernest
George seems to have accepted Ernest without too much of a problem. He keeps cuddling him, and introducing him to anyone he meets. He’s basically being very sweet (if you ignore the occasional outbursts of “hit baby Ernie!” and “eat Ernie’s ears”).

George is having the occasional nightmare now – waking up screaming and crying – he usually settles quite quickly, but he’s taken to getting up and trying to get out of his bedroom while screaming his head off. He did that last night, and after trying to settle him, we had to force ourselves to just leave him crying until he went back to bed.

So how is it having two of them? Well, they’re a handful and obviously as Ernest gets more independent that will only get worse, but initially it doesn’t seem too bad As long as we remember to keep giving George attention so he doesn’t feel he needs to demand it, we seem to be able to cope (except on the occasional night when they’re both ill or restless).

Which is a bit of a surprise to be honest because we’d had heard that having two is a bit like having ten…. Still, there’s time…

Plans for Christmas
So, it’s Christmas eve tomorrow… and a sudden cold snap has turned everyone’s Christmas travel plans to sludge. My parents probably won’t get up to us from Cambridge, which is a shame. Lisa’s sister may or may not arrive from Swizzerland, and what will happen for new year is anyone’s guess.

We’ll probably end up with just local people – and we’ve hosting it at home. We’ve decided that Christmas is the ideal day to try out an experimental meal that we’ve never cooked before and lot’s of people don’t like – so we’re going for eel in red wine.

I’m not running quite so often as I have been. A combination of the cold, the dark and tiredness plus the fact that my hip seems to develop a pain every time I go running (probably because I don’t know how to warm up properly before I go) means I’m running slower, less distance and less often.

It’s a bit annoying actually – Just before Ernest, Lisa persuaded me to go to a running shop (there is, of course, a specialist triathlon shop at the end of Melbourne Grove) and get fitted for some trainers.

Buying running shoes isn’t like buying other shoes – you don’t sit in a shop trying to decide whether to go for the ones that make you look like a gnome or a teenager or a pimp. Instead the shopkeeper measures your feet in various places, makes you run on a jogging machine, and then disappears into the back of the shop.

When he returns, he’s carrying one pair of shoes.

“these are yours” he says.

Not “what colour do you want?” or “how do they feel?” or “how much do you want to pay?”

There are one pair of shoes in one colour and one style and they’re the ones for you.

It’s quite a refreshing change.

However, I also asked him about keeping warm while running in the winter. He recommended a kind of skin tight lycra body-stocking.

I don’t think either I, or the other residents of Dulwich, are quite ready for that.


Apologies for not updating this in a while – but now on Christmas eve eve, I’ve finally got a bit of time to get back up to date. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a fair idea of why it’s taken me so long.

Here’s the main reason:

The new boy

Ernest appeared on 22 oct at 9:50 in the morning. He was good enough to turn up at a reasonable hour, by caesarean section just like George but unlike George, I wasn’t actually allowed in to watch.

Lisa was in labour for a good few hours and had just reached the point of asking for an epidural (at one point, a midwife came in wanting to take the gas-and-air – assuming that Lisa had already had an epidural because she wasn’t making enough of a fuss) when it became obvious that Ernest’s heart rate was slowing. The decision to go for a caesarean was pretty much instant (after Lisa – high on gas and air – had to sign the release papers) and I just had time to don my surgical clothes and let Lisa know I was there in the operating theatre, when they suddenly realised things weren’t going well, and I was whisked out to wait for the results.

The problem was that Ernest’s heart rate wasn’t returning to normal, so instead of the normal epidural, they decided to go for the quick option – a general anaesthetic. And presumably a general is a lot less gentle than an epidural and they don’t want husbands cluttering up the place while they delve around looking for the baby.

In any case, it was a good couple of hours before Lisa had recovered enough for me to tell her she had a baby boy (I wouldn’t say anything until she was properly conscious because I knew she’d forget!).

Anyway, Ernest is here and making his presence felt. He’s learned to cry pretty loud and practices often. He’s also fairly good at eating and sleeping. He’s started off with a good nighttime routine, giving Lisa a few hours between feeds to get some rest. Although the last couple of days haven’t been great, we’re pretty convinced it’s a battle we can win, and he will eventually get into a good sleeping pattern.

Midwives talk a lot of crap. Throughout the entire process of having a baby, there seems to be a ban on anyone in the medical profession using the word “pain”. Childbirth is described as causing “discomfort” - whatever that means. Occasionally there’s “extreme discomfort” mentioned, but that apparently is rare. It’s usually just bog standard discomfort.

When we dropped in on my grandmother, Grace a few weeks before Ernest was born, she mentioned her experience of midwives.

When she went in to have my dad, she was a little naïve herself. She asked the midwife if she was going to cut her open to get the baby out.

“no” she was told. “it comes out the same way it went in”

“Oh” said my grandmother. “Won’t that hurt?”

The midwife looked at her. “oh, God, yes” she said.

Friday, October 9, 2009

If you hear something repeated often enough, it often starts to develop deeper meanings for you…. Whether that’s a catchy song that grows on you or a favourite film that seems to get better each time you see it.

There’s a lot of repetition involved in children’s entertainment. Especially 2 year olds. They never seem to get tired of hearing the same things over and over again. Whether that’s the story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the phrases of Mickey mouse coming from the aeroplane toy he rides around the kitchen.

It’s tempting to think these simple verses are all the same, and at first I thought they were… just simple words and phrases designed to hold kids interest.

But the more I hear it, the more respect I’ve got for the very hungry caterpillar… On the face of it, it’s just a few sentences about a caterpillar eating various fruit and then turning into a butterfly. But as you hear it more and more (and believe me, I have), you realise that on top of the simple repetition, there’s teaching about numbers and counting, about the days of the week, about change and the processes of nature, the sun and the moon, and there’s even a message about healthy eating.

But on top of that, it doesn’t talk down – it uses long words (butterfly, caterpillar), and difficult concepts (metamorphosis, getting ill from eating too much). And it doesn’t bypass things just because its audience won’t immediately understand them. It makes them work, and they respond to it- or at least George does – with enthusiasm and passion.

And it does all of this in a form that’s so economical with words and meanings that it’s a kind of poetry.

Contrast that with the Mickey mouse aeroplane toy - whose words are basically just sales pitches for disney’s empire. Constant mentions of the names of other characters in the Disney franchise are all you really get from it. The lyrics of his theme song are particularly good:

M-I-C-K-E-Y- M-O-U-S-E
Mickey mouse
Mickey mouse
Mickey mouse
Mickey mouse

…and so on.

All toddler’s literature is not the same.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I haven’t been sleeping too well this week. I keep waking up in the night, and I have to assume I’m worrying about the new baby. Not that I shouldn’t be – it’s within 2 weeks of its designated arrival date, and by all accounts it’s going to drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of our lives, changing everything in ways we can’t even imagine.

Except I’m not actually waking up thinking about that. The problem is, there’s nothing to think about – the baby’s not here yet, and what it will bring with it is beyond speculation… on a conscious level, it’s hardly entering my mind at all – because there’s really nothing I can do, forsee or plan for.

Instead I’m waking up thinking about when I can go and see Andrew’s new flat (which he finally got the keys to last week). I’m thinking about work and whether I need to hire a salesman to go out and get my work known to TV companies, and whether if I do, it’ll result in me spending all my working day doing pitches for work I don’t actually want and won’t get anyway. I’m going through the lyrics of songs I can’t remember (for some reason whenever I wake up I have a few lines of a random song running over and over through my head – and usually it’s not even a song I like).

I’m trying to solve a problem my friend Raoul (who turned up from Switzerland at the weekend because he was at a paleontological conference in Bristol) put to me over a Jamacan meal. He wanted to devise a way to work out when a fossil was found somewhere in the world, where that part of the world would have been 500 million years ago when the fossil was deposited. (I decided there was a way, and it involved the same kind of maths that’s used to morph one person’s face into another in special effects work – but I didn’t want to be deciding that at 2am).

Only rarely am I actually waking up for a good reason (like the fact on Monday at 2am that our next door neighbour’s new alarm system suddenly decided to ring for an hour).

So that’s what I’m thinking. In the meantime, Lisa is sleeping like a log. Partially, I think because she’s more and more tired all the time. It’s her last day at work on Friday and that won’t be a day too late.

I say only partially because I think her perception of the new baby is very different from mine. From my point of view, the new baby appears in the world in a couple of weeks, and that’s when everything changes.

For her, the new baby is already here. Every moment, it’s quite literally right in front of her. She’s been living with the new baby as a reality for months now, and if anything it’s actual delivery will mean it’s making less of an impact on her life than it is now…

Monday, September 21, 2009

There’s a saying that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person. I think I probably qualify.

So, for the last four years I’ve been looking after a flat for a friend who’s living abroad and wants to rent the place out. As time’s gone on it’s got harder and harder to deal with and (not helped by the fact that the tenant turned the place into a S&M dungeon and didn’t pay any of the bills), somewhere along the line it became less a job (my friend paid me a few pounds for looking after the flat) and more of a favour. An indicator, I suppose of just how much my life has changed in the last four years.

It’s got to the stage now where I have less and less time to devote to the place and need to hand it back to her… (to be honest, it was probably a mistake carrying on with it after the first year I agreed to manage it – I wouldn’t consider acting as agent for a property I owned, so what made me think I should do it for someone else’s I’m not sure). And it’s become a problem for me and for her.

Now, the actual business of acting as an agent shouldn’t be that hard – just a few phone calls here and there and the odd visit to make sure everything’s going OK – or so you’d think - so what is it that makes it impossible for me to find the time to do it?

I find time to do extra pieces of work when they come my way. I find time to do all kinds of things I don’t plan to do – and it seems to work. So what is it that transforms what should be a few easy tasks into something I just can’t find the time to do?

Maybe it’s more finding mental space rather than time. If I’ve got lots of things on my plate, I tend to make lists – when something comes in, I don’t necessarily do it immediately, but I do decide when I’m going to do it and leave a note for myself in my diary. Even if it’s something like “make a decision” or “send someone an email” That way, I can safely forget about it and it won’t be cluttering up my mind in the meantime. A lot of stuff that doesn’t go in the diary, I do forget about, or delay for months – sometimes forever… calling people, doing admin, birthdays, etc.

But on the other hand, a lot of stuff I don’t put in the diary does get done. I found the mental space to think up a new recipe for Lisa and I for dinner on Wednesday (king prawn bloody mary cocktail followed by spaghetti with beetroot and a watercress pesto – very nice actually). I manage to do this blog. I manage to find the time for all kinds of stuff...

On Monday, when I was out running, it was getting dark. I realised I was all alone in the park except for a fox, some bats and a woman out walking a weasel (no joke). I got half way round before I discovered that the part of the park I was in had been closed. The gates locked (I’ve no idea why – there are no gates at the other side, so locking the gates serves no purpose). I had to run all the way back round to get out.

The point being that despite spending five minutes or so stumbling about in the dark trying to find a way out, my running time was the same as usual and I got back in time for University challenge… Somehow, I found the time because I wanted to.

So perhaps that’s it. Perhaps the reason it’s impossible to find time to deal with my friend’s flat is quite simply that I don’t want to do it. And having lots and lots of other things on my plate just means I feel justified.

Then again, I don’t just do things I enjoy. Mostly, I grant you, but not exclusively – and a lot of things I really want to do I can’t find time for either.

I think the real reason is that I really resent jobs that overrun. When I can’t get the job done in the time I think it justifies, I really start to get annoyed with it. And renting a property is one of those jobs that never can be scheduled. Almost everything you have to do on it is unexpected and additional and everything is (to everyone but you) an emergency. Anything that’s not an emergency is trivial and ends up being put off (by everyone involved) until it becomes one.

Which, I suppose, answers my specific question about the flat, but not the general one of how I – as someone who undoubtedly has a busy life – manages to fit everything in that needs to be done.

And the answer to that, I’m afraid, is that I don’t. Things do go missing out of my mental and physical filing systems. Jobs do get postponed either because I don’t want to do them or sometimes because I do. A lot of stuff gets done, and a lot of stuff doesn’t. juggling lots of balls just means it’s more acceptable when you drop some.

So I suppose, if you want something done, ask a busy person. But make it something concrete and definable, not expanding and open ended. And try to have a plan “b”….

Friday, September 11, 2009

George had his first real full on tantrum last week – 12:30 in the morning he’d given up trying to sleep and decided to scream the place down. I took him to our room and sent Lisa to his because she had to work in the morning. It wasn’t the best timing as Sam was recovering upstairs from a tooth operation.

The restoration of Lisa’s “new” house in Worthing is slowly grinding on – despite Lisa’s mum’s valiant efforts, the refurbishment has now taken a year. The next door neighbour has been the main hold-up - complaining about problems Lisa is trying to fix which were actually caused by the previous owners, and making things more difficult for herself in the process.

Andrew is having completely different problems trying to buy his flat in Grimsby – with the vendor’s solicitor delaying things by not bothering to forward information at almost every stage, and Andrew’s own solicitor apparently deciding he knows what Andrew wants to do better than Andrew does, and refusing to carry out his instructions. In the meantime, Andrew is forced to live in a lorry in a car-park. Not ideal, but not unusual in house-buying.

We, on the other hand had last weekend away – staying at a B&B run by a friend of my Mum’s in Norfolk. It was actually our Christmas present from my parents – and it’s taken us this long to get around to going… but it was lovely. The owners looked after George so we could go out in the evening, and we had a really relaxing time. We even got to visit my parents on the way back…

I went to Russ’ Mum’s funeral this Monday. She died after a short stay in a hospice. Russ and Pietro came over later in the week. I think both of them are having a tough time right now…

Friday, August 14, 2009

Went to see the Walking With Dinosaurs live show at the Milenium dome at the weekend. Not for my own benefit, you understand – it was Ethan’s birthday present and as Lisa’s his Godmother…

It was basically robot dinosaurs running around an arena while an actor playing the part of a time travelling palaeontologist tried to enthuse the audience about footprints and fossil dung… But really good despite that. The dinosaurs were surprisingly well done – and were very nimble for remote controlled animatronics. We were a long way up, so didn’t get much of a feeling of scale, but Ethan enjoyed it.

The dome itself never ceases to disappoint – Ethan thought it could do with a bit of colour. I thought it could do with some transport links as we and 20,000 others tried to get on the only bus back to civilisation. We’d taken the boat on the way in, but it was chaos – an entire wedding party was left stranded on the quay. Having been told they had tickets booked, they arrived to find there was no room on any of the boats into the city. We eventually got home using a creative combination of bus, train and taxis…

Anyway – our 3rd wedding anniversary was this week – apparently the traditional way to mark this is with a gift of leather…. Though I’m not sure quite what’s intended by that.

We marked it with a meal in on the night, and we’re having a night out together on Saturday – which will be nice.

I’ve just heard today of the debate that’s sweeping America about the future of healthcare and how bad the NHS is. As far as I can see, free universal healthcare is what they call in the US, a no-brainer, but regardless of the rights and wrongs of the new plan, I’m frankly astounded by what passes for debate - how the kind of laughable inaccuracies I’ve heard today manage to replace proper argument in the US, I can’t imagine. Hearing the level and quality of argument over this issue, I really have to take my hat off to anyone who manages to remain thoughtful and level headed in that environment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

We took George to see his lion at the weekend. We sponsored a lion for him at safari park near Canterbury for his first birthday and this was our first chance to go and see the beast. George, of course loved it, going right up to the window onto the lion enclosure. As the lion followed him around throwing itself at the glass, leaping up trying to scrape its way through to eat him, George simply stood there giggling and roaring back at it.

We always tell children that animals are more scared of people than we are of them, but I can’t help feeling there should be exceptions.

But that wasn’t “his” lion. His lion was in another enclosure – it turns out to have had a birth defect and has a pronounced limp which means it can’t be kept with the others.

George can say lots of words now – and if you ask him whether he can say something he’ll usually give it a pretty good go.

Spent the rest of the weekend with Sarah in Canterbury – the first time we’d seen her new house - always good to see her.. As a dietician, she’s entertainingly incensed by everything that’s said about nutrition in the media. She’s also a breath of fresh air when it comes to the mess of conflicting advice on what you can and can’t eat when pregnant…

Went out with Russ, Pietro and Ellen on Monday – primarily to cheer Russ up as he’s going through a tough time with his Mum. We did our best, and I think he’s at least had a good night out… Sam’s flatmate is moving out – and it seems to have become acrimonious for no good reason… just one of those times when a combination of tiny things snowballs into something bigger… anyway, we’ll now discover whether Sam’s chickens are a plus point or a minus point for new tenants when she starts advertising the vacant room….

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve actually been running my running course for the first time – by which I mean, not breaking into a walk every so often. There’s a path up though Peckham rye park – used only by joggers and just wide enough for one. When I first started I struggled along it, constantly dodging out of the way of other joggers as they overtook me. I consoled myself that everyone has their own pace and they’re all running to their own (shorter) courses. It wasn’t that they were just much fitter than me.

Now, I’ve noticed I’m running with more confidence. The other joggers see me on the path from a long way ahead and some even get out of MY way… plus I’m overtaking people now… not on purpose, but they’re obviously running their own, (longer) courses…

The result is that I’ve knocked 5 minutes off my time – so that’s five minutes more I can spend gasping on the floor like a stranded fish.

Friday, July 31, 2009

the weekend before last we went to the Southwalk village fete in Herne Hill –much bigger than the village fetes I remember where the biggest attraction was trying to throw a wooden hoop around a 2nd hand china figurine…. Sally and Colin and the four boys came up for the event and I joked to Sally that the park was the ideal middle ground if the Peckham gangs and the Brixton gangs wanted to have a fight.

After we left, apparently that’s exactly what happened… there are lots of blurry phone-cam pictures on youtube of the police evacuating the park. However, I’m not sure the coverage of the event was accurate. The reports said the police commandeered a 37 bus to block the road, but I can’t believe that.

They’d have had to find one first.

Lisa got up last Tuesday morning and suddenly found she felt so weak she could hardly stand up. She did the sensible thing, of course and went to work anyway! The doctor diagnosed anaemia (apparently very common for pregnant women) due to a lack of iron.

I think we generally have a pretty good diet – considering I don’t eat meat so Lisa tends to eat it rarely (although, following government guidelines it has to be cooked through, so rarely but well done) – but I cooked her a steak for tea, and we’ve been having spinach with everything all week. My first time cooking steak, but it seemed to work!

Anyway, she’s much better now – and I have told her not to go to work if she’s ill. Of course, she’ll go anyway….

Lucinda’s new baby

Sam’s gone off to see Lucinda in Berne this week – leaving us to keep her chickens away from her cats – and it seems she went just in time. Lucinda gave birth last night (2 weeks early) to a baby girl. Giancarlo had just left for a wedding in Italy and ended up missing both the wedding and the birth…

We, on the other hand have a constant supply of eggs from what George calls the “chick chicks”

We went to a restaurant with George at the weekend and ordered him the kids meal. When it arrived, it was chicken. “chick chick” he happily said before tucking in.

I don’t think he’s going to be a vegetarian.

George is counting everything he sees now. Although nine appears to be his favourite number and can appear anywhere in a sequence. Often several times. He’s also developing sarcasm.

This week when Lisa was at work, he called me Mummy. When I pointed out that I was in fact Daddy, he simply repeated “Mummy” and then laughed. He then spent the rest of the day calling me Mummy.

I’ve lost weight through running. Last time I hopped on some scales (while waiting for Lisa being scanned at the hospital I was 90kg – which is about 14 stone in real money…. And I’m probably a bit less than that now – a quick check on google tells me that makes my body mass index 25.4 -which is still just overweight, but fine really… I’m not sure I trust the BMI thing completely – it seems a bit arbitrary to be a judge of anything to me.

Anyway, running isn’t about weight anymore for me – I mean, OK – it’s good to be able to have puddings and tempura without worrying about it, but now it’s got more to do with redundancy:

A lot of the time, it’s really easy to end up living your life at fill speed. You feel as though you’re running flat out all the time – coping with things as they come up, but not having the extra capacity to cope with anything unexpected – either in terms of time, money or energy. It’s as though there’s a view at the moment that if you’re not working absolutely at the edges of your capacity all the time, there’s something wrong.

But, as the financial crash proved, that doesn’t work very well because you’re never prepared for things to change. I want to know that if I decide to step on the accelerator (or the break) in any area of my life that something will actually happen. Just as you need to have something in reserve in your savings account in case you get an unexpected bill, it’s worth having something in reserve in terms of energy for if your life suddenly gets more tiring…

As I’m expecting it to sometime in the middle of October.

I need to have some redundancy. When the new baby is making me so tired I don’t know who I am, I want to know that I’m just a little bit fitter. Plus, of course, I’ll know if I’m really tired I can make my life a bit easier by not going running.

All of which sounds a bit like saying it’s a good idea to hit yourself repeatedly over the head with a plank of wood because it’s nice when you stop.

Anyway, the result of running is that I’ve lost weight and I know that even though I don’t weigh myself very often because when Lisa and I went out to dinner on Wednesday, I realised that I’ve lost my wedding ring. It’s fallen off and I’ve no idea where.

Aside from the short trip to the restaurant (about 200 yards) I hadn’t left the house all day, so I’m fairly sure it’s somewhere in the house… but I’ve looked everywhere I can think of to no avail…

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Isle of Wight is a great place to take small children. It was a great holiday – not exactly relaxing, but you learn not to expect that with a young child – but the entire island seems to be perfectly set up.

We stayed in a little chalet – not much in the way of amenities, but that didn’t matter. We were staying in every night and making our own food, so it was fine. But the island itself has zoos, beaches, museums, and all kinds of child friendly entertainment. We even went to a farm to feed the lambs…

Nothing is more than a 20 minute drive away (go any further and things start to get wet), and although it’s not the world’s greatest shopping hub (our accommodation had a sign outside announcing the way to Tescos, but Tescos turned out to be on the other side of the island), it’s full of really good restaurants. We took full advantage going to nice places for lunch (even the posh restaurants were able to provide high-chairs) and eating great seafood all week. Even most of the pubs served lobster (at least most of the pubs we went in)!

So the whole holiday was great for both George and us..

We returned to find Sam’s new chickens have started laying already. Two fresh eggs were waiting for us on the dining room table… George ate them both, of course.

Andrew’s flat purchase looks to be going through – he and Dad feel as though they’re running into problems and hold-ups all the way along, but actually that’s how all property purchases feel. In reality, this one’s progressing quite quickly and smoothly.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Leather straightjackets and chickens

Phil’s 40th birthday on Saturday, which meant a meal in Hertford. I haven’t been back to my old home town in years… and it’s a bit of an odd feeling. I know the place, and yet I don’t. it’s not home to me, but whenever I go, I get the feeling I should do something, go somewhere to remind me of something, but I never quite know what.

Still, it was a good night. George was with us until his bed time, and we got a babysitter in to the hotel to look after him for the evening. I managed to speak to John for the first time in ages, but he’s still in the same position – basically waiting for his job to end and training the Indian call centre staff who will be replacing him.

I ended up taking most of this week off work. Monday for a hospital appointment to see about some mouth ulcers I had a couple of months ago – of course, this was the earliest appointment I could get, and of course they’re gone now. But they took some blood anyway and seemed awfully well informed about what might be wrong without actually committing themselves. Anyway, I was told it was probably something related to stress… can’t imagine why that would be...

Tuesday was my day with George anyway, but Wednesday I was off as well because Lisa had managed to get tickets to see Fedora and Andy Murry play matches at the Wimbledon quarter finals. It was the hottest day of the year, so far, and the 2nd hottest day at wimbledon ever (the hottest was the summer of 1976), but Lisa somehow managed not to faint or give birth, which surprised me.

I went for a run on Wednesday evening and throughout, I was constantly surprised by runners bursting out of the undergrowth, and sprinting off in odd directions carrying maps. Every so often one would grab hold of a randomly placed marker sticking out of the ground and then run off in a different direction. There must have been some kind of run/orienteering race going on. I wouldn’t usually describe it as an extreme sport, but in this heat, getting out of bed was an extreme sport.

Thursday I also took off work. This time it was because I’m supposed to be looking after my friend Mary’s flat for her while she’s living in China. I say supposed to be because for the last months the tenant has been un-contactable and when we went round to do an inspection we discovered that the place was kitted out as a gay S&M dungeon complete with whips, chains, Nazi memorabilia and unfeasibly large sex toys.

It appeared that the flat was being used as a professional premises. We also discovered that the tenant had neglected to pay any of his bills and was being pursued through the courts by every utility company imaginable.

All in all, a bit of a mess – and a good reason for not getting me to manage your property for you.

Anyway, eviction notices were issued and the deadline passed on Monday. I got no response from the tenant, so I was surprised and delighted to discover that he’d actually moved out this week leaving nothing but a load of unopened mail and a leather straightjacket. So Thursday was spent getting the place cleaned, the locks changed and the flat valued by agents who will be able to take over managing it from me.

…and the chickens? Sam had three chickens delivered this week. Not frozen ones – three live chickens to live in her back garden in an “eglu” – a chicken run designed to look as trendy as an ipod – and provide her with eggs. George was a bit nervous at first, but now loves the chickens. We’re awaiting our first egg with anticipation.

Meanwhile, George is definitely talking now. Cheers! Appears to have been his first word (predictably enough), but he’s moved on to keys, Mummy, yes and no.

He seems to understand a lot more than he says though – every time you ask him a question, he responds instantly and definitively with a “yes” or a “no” – and strangely, he seems to follow through his answers with actions even when you think he can’t possibly know what you’re talking about.

He’s also taken to offering the new baby in Lisa’s tummy some of his food or milk. Quite how much he understands about what’s going on in there, I’m not sure.

Anyway, next week we’re off on holiday

Friday, June 26, 2009

Last Friday we had dinner with Kate and Darren – Mum and Dad. It’s always a late night, but everyone – including Mum and Dad and Lisa managed to make it through pretty late into the evening. It was 2 before I got to bed.... which didn’t set me up well for Saturday….

Still, Sunday was father’s day, which we spent in the Herne Tavern - as well as being a great kids pub, it also has the surprising ability to produce a tuna Nicoise salad without opening lots of tins. (tuna nicoise is my test of a good restaurant – if they’re good, the tuna is real –and rare – the olives and anchovies are decent ones and the eggs are soft boiled…. If it’s bad, it’s a tin of rubbery olives, a tin of dried up tuna and a handful of iceberg lettice with no dressing!)

I can see us spending a lot of the summer in the Herne Tavern.

Pig Flu
After a dose of pig flu was diagnosed in one of the children in George’s nursery, the nursery were advised not to close. However, the East Dulwich fretful mothers’ club had other ideas. When I took him in on Monday morning, there were 3 children (out of about 15 usual visitors) present.

The thing is, all the advice we have says that pig flu will return in the winter when the symptoms are likely to be more severe and the NHS will be under seige… so in other words, if you’re going to catch it now would be the best time…

Oh well…

We met a stag beetle in the garden last week. Stag beetles are apparently quite rare, but they’re doing well in South East London for some reason. Apparently, the beetles are only beetles for about 6 weeks. The rest of their 7 year lives are spent as grubs in piles of rotten wood.– – and we’ve got one in which they lay their eggs at the bottom of our garden.

Our resident mouse – Lionel – seems to have given birth to a family. I found 2 baby mice (well, young adults – teenage mice) sitting on the stairs this week, and managed to catch them and re-introduce them to the wild. Hopefully, we can get Lionel himself soon, and deposit him (or her) somewhere else before the numbers grow any further….

We’re back down to two fish this week with the passing of recent addition, Martin… not sure why we’ve had such a spate of fish deaths, but still… the other two seem fine.

Gang war
Apparently, Goose green was the site of a gang war between Peckham and Brixton last week. Not sure why. I suppose it’s a nice spot. Anyway, lots of police tape, helicopters, and a couple of stabbings – but it was all over quite quickly.

Andrew’s suddenly decided – after years of living in a caravan that he’s looking at flats (in Grimsby – where his work is moving). Great news – but having put an offer in on a flat and had it accepted (prices are very low up there) he’s just been out-bid, so the deal’s off…. Hopefully he’ll find something else soon…

Friday, June 19, 2009

On Friday night, my ipod gave out half way round my run. I didn’t realise quite how much difference it makes - I barely struggled back home, making a mental note not to let it go without charging it up again.

The weekend was a fairly full one – why I even bother saying that, I don’t know. It always is… This time, it was Lisa’s birthday – which co-incided with Mons’ 40th, so it got a bit swamped. We started with a champagne Breakfast for Lisa, then moved on to the Herne Tavern for Mons. The Herne Tavern turns out to be a great kids pub with a huge enclosed garden full (today at least) with lots of Mons’ friends most of whom we hadn’t seen for ages.

Anyway, it was the hottest day of the year so far, and I tried to give Lisa as much of a chance to socialise as possible while I played with George (or actually, followed George around chatting to people and putting his sun hat back on every time he pulled it off – a job which I obviously failed in because he was sick in the night – a sure sign that he’s had too much sun).

On Sunday, we went to see Waiting for Godot. Patrick Stewart, Ian Mckellen, Simon Callow – an incredible cast and a play that most people are suspicious of because it’s Beckett and people think Beckett is obscure – rather than just funny. Actually it’s a fantastic play –and these actors made the play anything but obscure. And they’re right in saying it’s actually quite joyful – despite the nature of some of the subjects it covers. By creating a really simple world in which nothing really happens, Becket manages to explore what really drives people from day to day – and although it doesn’t come to any trite answers, it’s really powerful in a quiet sort of way.

It was a shame Andrew couldn’t make it – he would have loved to have seen it and we wanted to get him a ticket – but his work is changing and it looks like he’s going to be moving to Grimsby….

Lisa’s parents came – for Lisa’s Dad’s birthday – and he’d seen the play before, in 1961. he said this performance concentrated more on the humour – I think that’s a trend actually. We tend to treat “classics” with a bit less somber reverence than we used to (which can’t be bad) – hopefully they’ll start to loose their reputation for stuffyness and elitism.

Doing my O level English Literature, I remember feeling quite releaved on discovering that the “classics” we’d been given were actually quite good. I thought I’d had a lucky escape.

It wasn’t until years afterwards that it occurred to me that this was the point - that the fact that they were quite good was why they were called “classics”.

…Anyway, I’ve decided not to go for the Action Aid half marathon. Simply because it’s going to be run at the end of September, so the question is not whether I can be prepared to run a half marathon… it’s whether I can be prepared to run a half marathon, then go straight to the hospital, hold Lisa in a stressed position for 8 hours, not sleep for the next six weeks and not complain about it.

and I can’t. not for Africa – not for anyone.

And, of course, if that’s the real reason, then I’ve no choice but to book in to do it next year…

This week we got our first crop of mushrooms from the DIY mushroom farming set I bought at B&Q a few weeks ago. Shiitake mushrooms are – well, mushrooming from the block of spore covered brick I keep in the bathroom.

The four small results are almost worth the foul smelling stagnant pond and clouds of tiny flies the mushroom farm also produces… almost, but not quite.

This week we also went for our scan for the new baby. As usual, everyone involved is trained to talk only to the mother, and ignore the fact that I even exist. Fair enough, really, I suppose. However, what really surprised us was that everything was fine. Every measurement, all the chambers of the heart, all the fluids and timings were perfect. No veins going in the wrong direction. Nothing. However hard they looked, they couldn’t find anything wrong.

This is profoundly at odds with our experience of scans… but it’s quite nice.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sunday before last, we had dinner in jane’s garden. The weather was lovely and it was nice to sit out and spend the day with George playing in the paddling pool. The only problem was one of the guests was taking ketamine (horse tranquilisers to you and me) and became slower and duller as the afternoon progressed. If there is any such thing as social etiquette for the 2000’s, this falls outside it.

Skipping on a week, the next Sunday was the South London Food club – for the first time in several months, and we all chose traditional Polish dishes. Everything contained cabbage and pickles, and it was all loaded with calories, but lots of nice food.

The beetroot soup was really good – and for pudding I made bread –which was actually more like cake and contained more butter and sugar than I’ve ever put into anything! Mind you, I’m not a great cake maker, so maybe slabs of butter and pounds of sugar is normal in patisserie…

Lucky I’m running really – now I can justify the occasional polish desert.
But it has bought me a dilemma… I just got an email from actionaid… it turns out they’re doing a sponsored run at the end of September – and it’s around Greenwich.

Trouble is, it’s a half marathon… I’m not sure I planned on getting that fit… hmm… I’ll have to think about this one.

Tuesday saw Russ’ birthday do – six of us at his favourite Victoria restaurant, Il Posto - Russ and Pietro always chat to the manager and the chef, and of course, we got to see Russ’ recently awarded MBE – along with proof – pictures of the Queen handing it to him. I’m sure this won’t be the last I see of that photo.

Seriously though – it’s good to see the honour’s list honouring achievements like Russ’ (he set up a gay society for members of the Department of the Environment)…

Wednesday night was for Lisa and I. We decided a few weeks ago that we were seeing far too little of each other, and that we should reserve every Wednesday night for ourselves. We’re developing quite a routine – trying to make sure we spend time together in the face of our busy lives… Wednesdays we stay in, and have a romantic meal – no TV, just some nice music and the chance to catch up with each other. Ahh..

So don’t phone on Wednesdays! – or if you do, do it between 7:15 and 7:45 when one of us is cooking!

I managed to loose my wedding ring today – I went out into Lordship Lane to pick up a few things (nothing useful, obviously – they don’t sell anything useful). When I got back, I realised my ring was missing.

I spent an hour re-tracing my steps and put the whole house into a panic.

I eventually found it –before I went out, I’d grabbed some cache from a jacket pocket and the ring had fallen off in the pocket, and through a hole into the lining….

George is really trying it on as a safety inspector now. He nearly gave me two heart attacks in 10 minutes on Tuesday. First, he was following me down the stairs – I was carrying a tray full of cups – and he suddenly let go of the banister and toppled from right at the top. I dropped the tray and caught him as he rolled down.

Once I’d calmed him down, I set to clearing up the mess, and when I went to find him, he was sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by small, red pills.

I grabbed him, forced him to spit out what he’d eaten and then tried one. They were breath fresheners.


What else? Oh, yes.

I’ve decided to sue Johnson’s baby products for false advertising. Specifically, Johnson’s “No more Tears” baby shampoo.

No more tears, my arse.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Plans for baby2 are well underway.. This week the drive was finished and for the first time we can actually park in our road. The insurance people even paid up for the damage done by our neighbour across the road when he backed over the wall a couple of months ago… We didn’t want to pave over the front garden, but we have got an eco-friendly surface (basically, bricks, but laid over a porous bed that allows water to drain through). That’s part of the planning regulations now – which is a good thing.

Anyway, the drive’s finished, and Lisa’s been told by the midwife that everything’s fine. The midwife probably isn’t the best person to ask actually – last time at this point, we’d just been for an ultrasound scan where we’d seen the baby, heard the heartbeat and had every conceivable dimension on the growing George measured to a fraction of a millimetre. When Lisa went to the Midwife, she produced a tailor’s tape measure and told her the baby was far too small. Nonsense, of course.

This time, it was a lot more positive – confirmation that everything they can tell you with a stethoscope and a tape measure is absolutely fine.

In celebration, we’ve bought a new pram 2nd hand on ebay. Not just any pram… this is it. – the ultimate in baby carrying technology. This is the pram all the yummy mummies in East Dulwich are clamouring for: The Phil & Teds Vibe… and surprising though it may seem, the competition between both pram designers and owners is every bit as sharp as it is in the car world… if you’re a baby, the Phil & Ted’s Vibe is the ultimate – on Lordship Lane, you daren’t be seen in anything else.

And it’s expensive too – around £600 new. In fact the only reason lisa went for it is because it was second hand and thus about the same price as a normal buggy…

So what makes the vibe so special? Well, two things: first, you can steer it with one hand – and that’s all you have most of the time if you’ve got a baby. Secondly, it manages through a clever series of zips and handles to carry 2 babies in the space you’d normally only get one – thus allowing you to get into the same doorways and annoy the same other shoppers you annoyed when you only had one child.

I can’t work out if George is talking or not. When do you say – “this is it he’s talking?” He says yeah! And “na” and something that might sound a bit like mummy but doesn’t seem to be applied to anyone in particular… he burbles all the time – but how do you decide that this or that is his first word?

George and I spent Tuesday together in Central London – Tuesday’s my new day for looking after him since Lisa shifted her working days around.. I had to deliver a hard drive with my latest documentary on to Stanleys in Central London so they can put it on tape for me…

For Lisa, doing 3 days per week instead of 2 is tiring, but it’ll help to cover us for her maternity when she won’t be paid at all… and anyway, having George for a day isn’t that much less tiring than going to work!

However, this Tuesday was more relaxing. After I’d delivered my disk, we went and sat in the park by embankment. It’s a lovely little park and full of London workers on their lunch breaks. There was a bandstand with a live band (Jazz, but then you can’t have everything) so we sat on the grass and ate a picnic lunch. I got some sushi from a little shop by the station and fed George the cooked bits – which he loved (especially those green soybean pods they sell)

All in all a lovely day – and I would have come away quite relaxed if it wasn’t for the fact that my 3 times weekly jogging regeme means I’m almost constantly tired…

I’ve upped the distance very slightly – instead of running through the jungle, I’m now running around it. almost getting to the badlands at the back of the park – out there pitches are marked out and running tracks… areas of long grass, and woodland – I’ve never dared to go that far…. Anyway, that takes my run up to about 2.8miles according to – oh yes… if you can do it, you can do it online...

Except voting. That’s still done with a stubby pencil in a grubby booth in a church hall. The European elections are taking place with the government falling apart – quite literally – the cabinet is looking more like a colander with people quitting left, right and centre.

We’re all supposed to be angry about the expenses scandal, but I can’t muster the energy to be outraged – I’ve never met anyone who didn’t stretch what was possible on their expenses and although it’s clearly something that needs sorting out, it’s a symptom of bad organisation and the fact that we don’t pay politicians enough rather than dishonesty, I think.

There are lots of things that were wrong with the culture to cause this and lots of people doing things they shouldn’t have, but it sounds as though all the civil servants were telling them it was all fine right up to the point where they all got told it wasn’t – and that’s a bit rubbish.

Strange though it may seem, I don’t think they’re a crooked lot – I think they generally try to use everything they get to it’s best advantage and they’re keen to push the limits they’re given, but then we wouldn’t want politicians that didn’t, would we?

Anyway – what’s interesting to me is that this whole thing has caused an explosion in little parties – maybe I should make a documentary following some of the no-hope candidates around before the election next year (or next week, which seems more likely)…. It’d be interesting to explore what democracy means when you’ve got no hope of being elected…

Mind you, I vote Lib Dem, so what does that tell you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

I recently picked up a fashion magazine which informed me in authoritative, but breathless tones that as a man in my 40s I can no longer go on dressing the same as I did in my 20s. I now have to project an air of quality and individual self assuredness rather than trying to ape the fashions of youth…

I’ve always had a tense relationship with fashion – as far as I’m concerned it’s a kind of circular dictatorship – run by nobody but with each link in the chain of command (designers, shops, customers, critics) kept so terrified of being out of step with everyone else that they have to keep the intimidation going. It’s only purpose is to keep people intimidating each other into buying stuff they don’t need at over inflated prices from idiot corporations.

Still, we all like to look good, and since everyone else judges what that means by the rules they’ve been given, there’s not much point arguing. If you’re living in a dictatorship, you can either fight it or go along with it…but there’s not much mileage in pretending you live in a free society.

…. So anyway, I read this article and although most of it is mindless dribble designed to fill the four pages in the magazine that aren’t dedicated to arty photos of people standing around in demolished buildings in pin-striped suits and pants, they do have a point.

There are massive gaps in my wardrobe and despite the fact that I have by and large been buying the same kind of stuff for years, I don’t really like much of it.

Plus, it’s just been my birthday, so on Saturday I bought a whole lot of new clothes – actually choosing things rather than grabbing them as I passed the rails before George got bored….

I’m planning to buy more on ebay soon….

In the evening, Lisa took me out to dinner for my birthday – it was a little restaurant near Victoria which managed to take the strange, but tasty fashion for the “amuse bouche” (tiny snacks served in flash restaurants before the main dishes) to a tasty, but silly extreme.

They served four different minute add-ons to the menu randomly throughout the meal – even giving us an extra one to take home. On Saturday morning I served lisa’s breakfast with an amuse bouche of warm porridge served in a shot glass…

Gardening is a lie… Gardeners always like to think gardening is about caring for things and growing things and looking after things. The truth is that most of the time, it’s about destroying things – pulling them up, poisoning them, cutting them down or smothering them. That’s what we did on Sunday anyway – and that seems to be what everyone does when they do gardening…

On Monday, the weather forecasters warned of rain on bank holiday Monday – so we cancelled our planned trip to Osterly house – only to discover the weather was perfectly good… As it turns out a lot of people were fooled… the city of Bournemouth seem to have done very well by putting out a press release claiming that the met office are responsible for them loosing millions in tourist revenue… but they got lots of publicity out of it.

Running three times a week is tough, but getting less so. George falls over about 20 times a day, but you don’t hear him complaining. I tripped over once while jogging on Wednesday and I’ve got a feeling I’ll be suffering from it for weeks - that’s the difference between falling over when you’re 2 and when you’re 40.

Luckily the crows weren’t waiting on Peckham Rye park. They’d obviously been scared off by the football team and the two skidivers who’d touched down just before I arrived and were rolling up their chutes as I passed. I suppose you have to be quite a skilled skydiver to avoid landing in the middle of Peckham High street (which would be a very bad idea).

Kate Bush’s “hounds of love” kicked in on my ipod as I entered the jungle at the top of the park. It’s not a great running song, but I’ve got it on the playlist for sentimental reasons.

I first jogged in the summer of 1986 and that was one of the tracks on my Sony walkman (actually, my Alba walkman, to be pedantic). It juddered repeatedly as I pounded along the beach on the family summer holiday.

I was running because of a philosophical debate I’d had a few weeks earlier with Neil Davies in the sixth form common room. He insisted that some people were just naturally good at things and others weren’t – whereas I argued that hard work and dedication were what really made the difference between success and failure.

As it happened, every year, just after the summer holidays, there was a school cross country run which everyone had to take part in, and Neil was regularly up there with the front-runners. I on the other hand, along with a few friends competed over who could come last without actually stopping.

So, I thought the best way to prove my argument was to issue a challenge. This year, instead of loosing, I would win the race – or at least finish along side Neil.

All summer long, I ran every day, raising my fitness and improving my time. Wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I made time to run and by the end of the holidays, I was feeling fit and ready.

Two weeks before the cross country run, the teachers went on strike and cancelled the event, but I invited Neil over anyway to run my course.

We kept pretty good pace with each other until the final straight, where Neil effortlessly stepped up two gears and left me as though I wasn’t there, settling the Nature Vs Nurture debate once and for all.

Mind you, I still don’t believe him. I still think hard work is more important than innate skill… Or perhaps, I’ve just moved the debate on a little in the intervening years. Perhaps, my actual argument isn’t about being the best, it’s about not acknowledging your limits.

I guess my real argument with Neil isn’t that someone with natural skills can’t beat someone without them, but that if you accept that you’re good at some things and not at others, then you’re giving yourself the ceiling of your own self belief.

Before the 4 minute mile was run, nobody was GOOD at running a 4 minute mile because nobody thought it was possible. Once the 4 minute mile barrier was broken and people knew it was possible, it started being broken all over the world by lots of different athletes. Not because they were suddenly capable of something they couldn’t do before, but because somebody’s refusal to accept their limitations allowed everyone to stretch what was possible.

Before the first powered flight, nobody thought they were good at building flying machines because nobody had done it. Afterwards, there was a road-map to the sky.

It may be that people are naturally better at some things than they are at others, but believing that keeps you locked within the limits of normality….

Food fads
We’ve finally found a food George doesn’t like, but we persevered and got through it. It’s one of those things we thought he needed to learn to like, so we just kept patiently giving it to him until finally after a lot of fuss and a lot of mess and a lot of tantrums, he accepted it.


So what was it? Broccoli? Carrots? Liver? Nope. Jelly.

Lisa has been off some of her food too during this pregnancy… she’s fine with most things, but she can’t bear truffle oil. I don’t know – and she calls herself middle class!

We haven’t had a kick from the new baby yet, but it’s making it’s presence felt… and Lisa’s tummy sounds like a half filled hot water bottle, so there’s definitely something going on in there!

I went to check on George last night just before I went to bed. I opened the door expecting him to be sound asleep, but instead found him sitting up staring back at me. He froze as though being caught out and we stared at each other for a few seconds, agreeing non-verbaly that I wouldn’t say anything about the encounter if he didn’t. I shut the door and went to bed.

Ethan has been down this week staying with Sam and doing mosaics on the wall of her garage (which she is, of course turning into a cocktail bar). He’s a nice kid and loves playing with George, but he’s not as responsible as he’d like to be. It’s a shame because he thinks he can be left to look after George, but he doesn’t quite have the skills to do it yet.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I’ve managed to start running – this time ipod fuelled and believe me that makes a difference… having the right music seems to push you on a lot further and faster. Last year, I ran a course that took me along Peckham Rye park and back. The area of the park I ran through is a big, field over which crows scatter themselves throughout the day. Crows aren’t like other birds – they don’t live alone and the don’t flock. Instead, they spend their days staked out over the fields at 10 metre intervals just standing, watching. It’s as though they’re waiting for a corpse to drop – which is of course exactly what they are doing. Rumours from the highland farms say that when food is scarce, the crows don’t wait – they just get together and pick a victim.

The East Dulwich crows have never got that far, but you just know they could if they saw a weak enough victim.

Another good reason to get in shape.

Anyway, fuelled by the ipod, I pushed on through crow country into the jungle – an area of undergrowth through which a maze of winding paths are carved. The jungle is home to wild terrapins and parrots.

The wild parrots seem to have taken over South London – I now probably see more of them than pigeons. And they’re not secretive – they’re loud and bright green and they fly around in flocks of 10-20…. All of which means I’m rather surprised that so few people have actually noticed them.

I guess people just never look up.

Anyway, I managed, on my second run to get lost in the jungle – only escaping once I’d discovered a strange looking playground – which on closer inspection turned out to be a set of outdoor gym equipment provided for the use of Peckham and East Dulwich residents.

A nice idea, but I was too tired to give it a try….

We spent last weekend in Worthing for Lisa’s Dad’s birthday – no room to stay so we stayed at Ann’s instead.

On Monday, Lisa was out with some work friends – but luckily, Sam had picked up a seabass big enough for four in Worthing and had to find a way to eat it – so I invited her, Jane and Gareth over – great because I hadn’t seen Gareth since Christmas.

Tuesday, Sam came over to babysit so that we could go out… well, partially…. She came over to watch CSI and we snuck off for dinner. When we got back, we rather stupidly decided to watch a late movie, so we ended up being tired for the rest of the week.

With children, things become a little more rigid. Your catch-up times tend to vanish and when you loose just a couple of hours sleep, it’s a week before you get it back… Which is a little worrying since we’re expecting what we’re now affectionately calling “baby 2” in October…

As a result, Wednesday which was supposed to be a quiet night in for Lisa and I, ended up as a barely concealed attempt to go to sleep on the sofa…

My birthday was on Thursday – Russ came over and acted as cheerleader for Geroge’s swimming lesson – but I didn’t actually do much else (apart from an Indian with Lisa’s mum, Lisa and Sam. My birthday celebrations I’m postponing until June 5th because may is frankly too mad to celebrate anything… although I haven’t actually told anyone yet, so my celebrations may be a subdued affair.

East Dulwich
I had a great example of East Dulwich nonsense this week. Popping up to our local fish shop (which is a great fish shop – the owner always recognises us when we go in, and this time I wanted a dressed crab. They didn’t have any, but he offered to do the job for me – which is great because it’s a real pain) anyway – I happened to notice their latest sale item: seagulls eggs at £4 each.

Seagulls eggs? – why? What can they possibly be to justify a £4 price tag? Surely they must be just for showing off at dinner parties…

Also, it turns out that the up-market butchers on Lordship Land has just bought another shop down at the other end of the street to set up as an even more up-market butcher’s…. I’m not sure how that works, but having just heard that the dormouse population has become more healthy recently, perhaps they plan to revive some old Roman delicacies. Roast dormice (as well as starlings, and pretty much anything else) were popular with the Romans in England…

At the weekend, Mum held her first family party for years. Many of the guests I barely recognised, but it was good to see Ian and Brian and Frank and Vera (as well as Mum, Dad and Andrew). At one point I asked Brian whether anything had happened since I last saw him. “not much” he said.

It had been 20 years.

It’s looking as though Andrew is going to loose his job. Hardly surprising – the recession has hit lorry drivers harder than anyone in the real economy. The numbers of lories on the roads have plummeted and those still there are driven by imported staff. The papers are even reporting it – and you know it’s serious when the media describes the lack of traffic jams as bad news.

This week was George’s last swimming lesson. It’s a bit sad, but at least he’s started enjoying them again. I think we may be on the way to getting him to enjoy having his bath again, but that’s a tougher struggle involving us basically forcing him into the bath each time…

His sleep was a bit disrupted too this week – and for the first time in months we had to bring him into our bed to calm him down.

And finally….

I wrote here a few months back about the red vans with “man with a van - £15 per hour” scrawled on the side in badly painted emulsion… I’d noticed them all over South London and seen the 0800 number on the side, so I decided this must mean they were part of a huge corporation whose image consultants had told them to look a bit amateurish so they could project a friendlier image and avoid the need to have any proper systems of customer service.

It turns out it’s not far from the truth.

An article appeared in the papers this week about the vans. It turns out they’re never moved. They’re registered and taxed and then dumped in parking spaces on public roads for years at a time simply to provide cheap advertising.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Last weekend was a pretty full one. Sam’s birthday was a trip to Berkhamstead cinema a 1930’s art deko cinema beautifully renovated, but with the addition of a bar with tables and chairs at the front. So, you can sit in comfort and watch a movie without disturbing or being disturbed by other people, or being crushed into rows of tiny seats.

It’s great – and despite the fact that we had to watch “Marley and Me” or (“Marley and I” as it should more correctly be called), I don’t want to watch films in any other way now. In fact, given that most cinemas are half empty anyway most of the time, I can’t see why more don’t do it….

On Sunday, we went over to Adrian’s for a roast lunch – made from the fruits of Adrian’s garden… We managed to organise George for most of the day – by strategically keeping him awake so he slept through the meal, then by taking him to play outside (the flat isn’t really baby friendly)… however, he got a bit grouchy as it approached his bedtime.

As an offshoot, Adrian proposed that we always end up talking rubbish (which might have something to do with the amount of wine present) – and that we should have a dinner where we’re only allowed to talk about philosophy – and we each have to bring a philosopher (or at least their ideas) instead of a dish…. Well, we’ll see.

Bank holiday Monday saw us meeting up with Sarah and Chris at Kew gardens and picnicking in the rain. The gardens have a treetop walkway consisting of iron pylons with a gangway stretching between them in a circle. I took George up, but the structure was wobbling so much in the wind that he couldn’t stand up, and I couldn’t look at the view because I had to watch for people bumping into him. I’m sure it was fairly safe, but it didn’t give that impression to the stream of crying children who descended its staircase at the end of the walk.

Gillian came round on Thursday and came with George and I to the swimming class. For the first time in 3 weeks he didn’t cry – and actually loved swimming again.

He still hates his bath, though, and that shows no sign of abating.

My ipod has been mugged
I’ve decided to start jogging again. Now that the weather’s a bit better. And I thought I’d use my ipod with a few suitable songs.

Unfortunately, my ipod has been mugged by classical music. Since I downloaded Lisa’s Dad’s collection onto the ipod we got him for Christmas, and I put the music onto mine too, it’s completely swamped my rather modest collection of music, so if I hit Shuffle, I’m more likely to get one of the 18 CDs that comprise Wagner’s ring cycle than anything I might be able to run to.

I can’t even find the Electric Light Orchestra hidden among all the other orchestras now competing for room...

It’s not all bad, though. I’m making some good discoveries, and I’m really impressed with Flanders and Swann’s comic songs from the 1950’s . There’s a live album of theirs among the music now resident and at one point they stop in the middle to tell the audience they’re being recorded for posterity, and they stop to say hello to posterity (which I guess is me and my ipod) before going on to sing a song about the new concept of “high fidelity”.

It strikes me that people used to talk about music quality a lot – going on about how the amplifier was important and where you put the speakers was important and you had to have gold plated plugs and special equipment to get the best quality.

Now, all that’s gone. There is no hi-fi or lo-fi. Nobody says the amplifier matters anymore and people don’t spend anything like as much time and energy finding the right speakers or equipment.

Now there’s just one quality: IPOD – and one speaker : earplugs…

Anyway – as Ronnie Corbett used to say – I digress…. I was talking about jogging. And I’ve solved the problem of ipod mugging by using another ipod (given to me as a press freebe by adobe!) just for jogging music… will that get me out on the road?

Hmm… we’ll see. It won’t have the ring cycle on it. I’ll tell you that much.

I’ve now subscribed to the new UK version of Wired magazine. What’s great about Wired is that it’s got all the blokey stuff that makes GQ and the like popular – like style and gadgets and the like, but it also delivers some really well researched articles that aren’t afraid to be serious and complicated. There was an article last month about the maths behind the selling of sub-prime mortgages. This month, there was a piece asking (but not answering) whether the modern inability to concentrate on the same thing for more than a second actually had some advantages to it.

The idea (which is interesting, but I don’t entirely buy) being that we don’t often recognise that the most complex, mentally over-stimulating environment – i.e. nature itself is the most relaxing for us – so perhaps we’re designed to work best when we can keep changing our focus every five minutes. If we can set ourselves up to grab all the stray and irrelevant thoughts that occur to us while we’re concentrating on something else and file them without having to go off and deal with them right there and then, we should be able to come back later and make our lack of focus practical.

As I say, I don’t quite buy it – but the randomness of this blog is perhaps testament to the fact that there’s something in it….

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I updated this – not because of one massive reasons, but more because of lots of little ones…

Easter weekend George, Lisa and I spent together – we pottered about and did very little apart from relaxing. We didn’t see anyone, or go out or do anything particular. We just relaxed together – which was great.

Ok, we did a couple of things – we replaced one of our goldfish – Kieth who died last week. Our new goldfish is called Martin – for no good reason. We were asked to do a survey at the pet shop in which we were asked how long we’d had our fish. They seemed surprised they’d all lived as long as 2 and a half years…However another fish, (Kathy Rindhoops) bit the dust less than a week later, and the new replacement (Dave Thermos) is now swimming happily in its place.

Is there a mystery Goldfish killer on the loose?

We also managed to go clothes shopping in Croydon – where I speed-shopped (you have to with a baby) grabbing random garments and rushing them to the checkout before either George or I lost the will to shop. George is at that stage where he’s suddenly grown out of all his clothes and for the first time, we’re into an age range where we haven’t got a dustbin bag full of handmedowns for him to move into.

In addition (and I realise this is now sounding pretty full for a “free” weekend) we made a trip to Hampton court. It’s an excellent day out, and they’ve really brought it to life this year with a selection of actors wandering around in costume planning one of Henry VIII’s weddings, and trying to work out whether to invade France (similar conversations have gone on daily in the British establishment since they rather embarrassingly invaded us in 1066).

George loved it – he’s at the stage now where we just set him down and follow him around rather than trying to tell him where to go. This means we generally miss most of what’s going on, but it gives him a chance to explore….

The next weekend, Mum and Jan came up to stay – and seemed to have a good time pottering round London trying to track down ancestors (Mum’s latest project) and going to see theatre plays featuring puppet horses….

We went on the London Eye – George taking far more notice of it than he did last time (last time he was just a couple of months old). And we had lunch in Covent Garden.

After they’d left on Sunday, we went round to Mons and Abi’s (via the Peckham dog show – in which two enterprising youngsters entered a remote controlled k9 in one round). Mons and Abi have just bought the last part of their flat, so were celebrating with roast potatoes and prosseco.

Having run out of prosseco early on, we decided to make our own using cheap white wine and a soda-stream…. Mons decided the result couldn’t be called champagne because it came from Peckham, so Pec-va it is….

Lisa went to Krakow in Poland this week with Sam. Sam had decided she wanted to see the concentration camp at Auschwitz. I’ve been already, but I can’t say much about it. There isn’t much to say. It’s worth seeing. But you won’t want to go back.

Obviously it leaves you wondering how it could have happened and how we can safeguard against it in the future – and it’s tempting to talk about a charismatic madman taking over a country– to look at extremist groups and try to work out what makes some of them able to seize power. But I think that’s too easy. It’s like trying to create a contraceptive by trying to work out what made the sperm that fertilised the egg so special and how we can neutralise it.

The truth is that there are enough potential Hitlers in every town – and that all they’re waiting for is the right mixture of pride and desperation in the public – just waiting for the views of the Daily Mail and the Sun to become the centre ground. And the only thing that stops that happening is ordinary people keeping their eyes open for the erosion of civil liberties.

I don’t think we’re ever more than 10 years from Auschwitz re-opening. In 1929 we had the great depression and global financial crisis. By 1939 we had a world war.

As a side note - It’s strange how the London Dungeons – where similar atrocities were committed (not on such a scale, but nonetheless…) and that’s done up as some kind of gruesome theme park. Why? What makes torture fun in the London Dungeons? Just the time that’s passed since it happened? Doesn’t make any sense to me.

….anyway, Lisa’s trip left me on my own with George for the week – which was nice. We had days out in the park, and generally played. On Tuesday, I looked after Nathan as well (he’s acquired a broken arm in a dog-related biking accident and he’s great with George). And the weather’s been great, so we’ve had a nice week.

I even managed to file (or, at least pile) some of the paperwork that’s been forming in untidy heaps all over the living room over the past few months… essential recipts and warning letters are now separated from take away fliers and 3 month old copies of the Guardian Guide…

I’ve even made a special pile for all the greetings cards Lisa has bought. Lisa has a strange and uniquely female ability to buy greetings cards just because she likes them. Hence we’ve now got about 6 blank get well soon cards. I don’t know whether they had an intended target who got weller sooner than expected (or didn’t) but certainly, the next time someone gets sick, we’ll be well prepared on the sympathy front thanks to our teamwork (her work in buying the cards, and my work in retrieving them from the pages of Marie Claire so we stand a chance of actually finding them when we need them).

It’s good to have Lisa back now though. Although we haven’t really caught up – we’ve had Lisa’s Mum staying last night, and Anne staying over this weekend (she’s attending some kind of brownie conference – as a leader, not as a brownie).

George is learning all the time now. He’s suddenly decided he hates swimming though. He’s gone from loving every minute of it to screaming all the way through it in a matter of a couple of weeks. I’m not sure what the problem is. He also can’t bear having a bath – to the point that we have to push him into it. He’s gone from loving it to hating it in a week… perhaps he’s got hydrophobia…

It’s tempting to assume that something must have triggered it, but it’s possible it’s not something external, but something internal – in other words, he’s just simply thought about it and decided he doesn’t like being pushed underwater, and now he’s equipped to remember when it happens, he’s not best pleased with the whole experience.

Instead of just living for the moment and enjoying it as 90% fun, he’s weighing up the experience and deciding there are bits of it he can do without, and that’s spoiling his enjoyment of the fun bits – I guess we all do that to some extent.

His transition from cot to bed has worked really well – except that he’s worked out how to get out of it. I’ve gone in a couple of mornings and found him curled up on the floor with his bottle of water beside him – so he must have climbed out of the top of the bed, made it over to the chair where the water is left on the arm, taken it back to the bed, drunk it, found a pillow and gone to sleep on it… all without waking us up in the next room.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

ok – I managed to rescue my Premiere file – I had to load it in with all the clips Offline and then re-link them one at a time from within the programme… not sure what happened there.

Anyway, this week saw the re-appearance of 10x10 ( – a great resource for (London based) documentary makers. It’s a meeting in which filmmakers can screen 10 minutes of their work in progress and get 10 minutes of feedback from an audience of (mostly) other filmmakers. It’s very useful if you can go along with very specific questions you need answering (rather than just because you want to show off your work).

This month, I got a slot for my trilobite movie – so I spent a day or so cutting together a 10 minute sampler. This was a great help in itself actually – just the process of creating something “finished” rather than just slogging through hours of footage picking out the odd usable clip without knowing quite how it will be used is a great tonic.

I got the edit finished at about 5pm on Tuesday and hit render – expecting it to take about 10 minutes on my quad core 8gb machine. In fact, it took close to 80 minutes to write the DVD and I had to get taxi through London in rush hour just to get to the venue minutes before the deadline.

The showing was very helpful – lots of constructive criticism – the characters need to be explored more deeply (probably a symptom of me trying to cram everything into 10 minutes – but it’s a bit of a worry that I haven’t really got all of them opening up about the roots of the passion for prehistoric bugs….) - and I need to watch the balance between emotional and scientific content closely.

There was also a consensus that there’s too much narration in the version I presented and I need to let the characters speak for themselves. However, people did set my mind at ease about the actual quality of my voiceover work.

Basically, I’ve been quite nervous about my ability to do a competent job as a narrator and so when I’m editing my own voice, I’ve always got a bad feeling about what I’m doing – this probably stems from about 10 years ago when I did a short radio package for radio 4.

The producer of the programme liked the interviews I’d done and the editing, but thought my voiceover work was awful – eventually I had to bring in a friend (Mary – a journalist with a great broadcast voice) to voice the piece for me.

Since then, I haven’t really been comfortable appearing at the pointed end of a microphone.

So, that’s given me a bit more confidence – apart from anything else because my next project (if I ever commit myself to doing such an ambitious project) is going to have to have me at the centre of it….

In the meantime, I’m now re-energised about the trilobite documentary and I can almost see it taking shape. I’ve realised that editing all day every day isn’t the way to go once you get to fine-editing. After about 3-4 hours of this kind of work, I tend to start slowing down – it’s so tiring. Doing regular half days rather than irregular whole days will get the job done faster.

In other news, my last documentary, “how to colonise the stars” is now in the hands of the distributors, Electric Sky
And they’re on their way to MipTV the TV market. Hopefully lots of TV channels will want to buy it!

We’ll see…

In the meantime, they’re still trying to track down the guys who stole my last documentary (Shark Story) and released it without permission as a DVD in WHSmiths. It turns out, the company got hold of a screener for the programme, duplicated it and put it out without permission.

They then promptly went into receivership, so the chances of me getting to know exactly how this happened and who’s responsible seems pretty low.

Still, I’ll get some money for it once the receivers cough up… As much as anything else, I’m looking forward to knowing what the sales were like!

Another plus is the story of my website’s popularity (with search engines at least).

Having removed my advertising on Google (because it was costing so much) I put a lot of effort into SEO (search engine optimisation) and had my site re-written with search engine keywords in mind.

This made my site appear on google, but, to be honest, not very highly.

However, I also wrote some articles about commissioning animation for film, documentaries, museums, etc. and put them up on the site, and employed a company from elance to go out and get other sites to link to the articles…. A process known as backlinking.

Now, the thing about backlinks are that they’re one way google uses to work out whether your site is useful and popular, so the idea is that the more other (relevant) sites that link to yours, the higher you’ll appear in searches.

Only a few of the 150 backlinks I’ve now got are showing up, but already the content from my site is figuring highly in searches (try looking for “cgi for documentary films” or something similar).

Is this permanent? Will it drive more traffic to my site? Will it be the right traffic and generate enquiries and work?.... only time will tell…
Another weekend – another Sunday lunch – this one not hosted by us! We went round to Mons and Abi’s for a lovely afternoon…

I’m looking forward to this coming weekend though– because we’ve got nothing planned. For the first time in ages, we’ve got the whole four day weekend to ourselves. We’re going out on Saturday night, and we’ll probably have a day out at Hampton court or somewhere on one of the days, but we’re not putting anything in the diary – which is pure luxury and well overdue.

Lisa and I are feeling like we don’t get to see each other much right now. We’ve had a lot of visitors (all welcome) and the next few months don’t look any less busy (we’ve even considered putting up an online diary so people know what’s already booked!). And Lisa’s work have just announced they’re going to try to catch up with their backlog by doing 18 months work in the next 9 – which means Lisa is having to work an extra day (Friday) right up until she starts her maternity leave.

All of which is fairly rubbish – especially with her being 3 months pregnant and tired most of the time.

And the recession for me has meant not getting the big jobs I was doing last year and instead doing lots of smaller ones (magazine articles, etc…). This in turn means lots more deadlines, admin and fiddly jobs.

Still, I managed to show a section from my latest documentary to a group of other filmmakers last night and the results were pretty positive.

George is getting closer and closer to speaking - lots of burbling and something which sounds a lot like bye-bye... or it could be baby.... or it could be David Hasslehoff....

Friday, April 3, 2009

New baby
So the big news this week is that Lisa is pregnant again… Of course we’ve known for a while, but Thursday was our first scan.

Scans haven’t been a particularly good experience for us up to now – with our first (before George) revealing that there was no baby, and our second (for George) giving us danger signs and making us believe George had a potentially very damaging genetic disorder…. which turned out later to be a false alarm.

Anyway, this one was better, revealing that everything was fine, and giving us our first pictures of the new baby…. The doctors measured its head, and it’s neck, and took lots of blood tests so they could give us a series of statistics involving how likely it was that our baby had downs, how likely it was to have chromosome deletions and how likely it was to fail geography at GCSE level….

To discover these things, we had to sit in a hopelessly overcrowded waiting room for four hours in front of a TV showing David Dickinson and a programme about autistic children while a succession of Nurses called our names using accents which would have been unintelligible even if they hadn’t been spoken in a low, embarrassed murmur…

My friend Mary stayed for a few days as part of a whirlwind trip from China, and we had a nice afternoon out on Wednesday. We then learnt some strange and deeply disturbing things about the London flat that she’s renting out and I’m looking after for her… this one will run and run, but I won’t say anything about it for now….

The wall
The saga of our wall being knocked down continues to roll on… George, our neighbor is knocking on our door every other day wanting to know if we’ve contacted the insurance – Which of course we haven’t because we haven’t got anything to tell them until the quotes for the repairs come in. And that’s at the mercy of the builders.

I’m pretty sure that trying to claim through George’s insurance is going to turn into a long running and pointless waste of time…. It’s never in an insurance company’s interest to pay up and while they delay, works are stopped, and it costs me time, money and energy….

All of which, I realise comes out sounding quite downbeat and weary considering I’m announcing our new pregnancy – but I’m a little tired right now….

Monday, March 30, 2009

George had the best few days he’s had for a long time, smiling and giggling for most of the week. Then on Thursday night, it all went wrong. He’s spent the last two days and nights throwing up. Not very nice.

We’d planned to go away on Saturday for a day trip to Brighton. It doesn’t look like this will happen – which is a bit of a shame, not least because last week, after Mum and Dad left to go and see Grace and Igor, we decided we’d take a day trip to Windsor Safari park - a jaunt which George would have absolutely loved – if it weren’t for the fact we discovered just before leaving that Windsor safari park closed 12 years ago.

The fact that neither of us realised this was a bit embarrassing until we discovered that everybody we’ve so far told didn’t know it had closed either….

In the event, we had a pretty low key weekend – although we still managed a roast dinner at Sam’s…

Jade Goody died last week. With newspapers and the TV news all trying to tell us that she wasn’t as stupid as she seemed – primarily I think because of a need to justify our fascination with her. I’ve never been much of a fan, but I still found her strangely fascinating.

In science class I remember an experiment. The idea was that atoms and molecules are far too small to see even under a microscope. However, if you look at large particles you can see them moving about under a microscope even though they’ve got no power of their own as the atoms of water bounced off them.

By watching the erratically moving particles, you could see the unseen engines of the universe. It was called Brownian motion.

That’s the way I think of Jade Goody – as a character with no means of propelling herself through the celebrity firmament, she bounced erratically without direction – but through her, you could see the action of the forces that shape the media…

But there’s something else too. For me, she’s who I think about whenever I hear a policy proposed on social inclusion, education, the unemployed or pretty much anything, I wonder how it would have affected someone like her.

It’s a tough test for any policy, but there are enough Jade Goodys around, and by and large they fall through pretty much every net put into place….

Friday, March 20, 2009

George, the neighbour who crashed into our house seems to have turned the exercise into an effort to make friends with everyone in the street. He’s been calling round regularly – sometimes up to 5 times a day – trying to sort out insurance and other stuff.

I admire the sentiment, but he seems to be able to choose the most inappropriate times (usually George’s bathtime, or when we’re eating). He’s also got the idea very firmly in his head that because his accident was important to him, it’s going to be just as important to us… which it wouldn’t be if we didn’t have him knocking on the door every five minutes asking why we haven’t phoned the insurance company for the 14 th time….

At the weekend, we had a couple of Lisa’s friends around for Sunday lunch – which was nice. I tried out my breadmaking, and it seemed to work – although I’ve still got a long way to go before I get the technique right.

My mum and Dad came up for the end of the week – and it’s lovely to see them. Mum’s leg is much better – and she even went out for a walk around London today (trying to track down our family tree), so that can’t be bad. She’s getting back to her old self which is great. And Dad is such an amazing hit with George who seems to think he’s the funniest person on the planet.

…Even if Lisa and I are both a little tired right now, so not very good hosts!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Over the weekend, we went to Bristol for a break. I had a breadmaking course in Bath which Lisa got me for Christmas. It was run by a French baker who has a serious objection to, among other things, sliced bread and kneading.

The first objection is mainly due to the huge ingredients list you get on shop-brought bread – when all you really need in it is flour, water, salt and yeast.

The second objection has a lot to do with getting the right amount of flour and the right amount of air into your bread. The technique he taught is difficult – and I’m planning to try it on my own this weekend – but it was very successful.

We managed to make (using one recipe) bread sticks, fougassi, ciabatta and a tin loaf… there was even a bread-based quiche…

A really good course… although I’ll see on Sunday whether I manage to pull it off.

However, it was hard work, and what with that and Lisa’s day looking after George in Bristol (and the fact that we hadn’t got much sleep on Thursday night), we were both a bit tired. A pity really because we had a baby sitter booked to come to the hotel room so we could go out and have dinner. We could barely keep our eyes open.

Having returned from Bristol, and met up with our next door neighbour who’s wall was also demolished last week, he showed me what his CCTV camera (which he’s got pointed at the street – partially as a sign of the times, and partially because he suspected that this would happen sooner or later).

It shows quite clearly what happened as the car from across the road sped backwards into our front garden, paused for a couple of seconds, then screamed off into the road to crash again.

What surprised me was how quick it all was. From the time he started out of his drive to the time he left our garden was only about 5 seconds – and yet, although I was asleep when I heard the crash, I was at the window to see him drive out…. It must have been loud because I’m not out of bed that quickly when George cries!

Met up with Russ in town on Thursday, which was nice. We went to an itallian restaurant next to the Silver Cross pub on Whitehall… a rather bizarre experience as its management has changed since I was last there. It’s now done out like a Greek temple, but filled with full sized knights in armour for some reason. The menus are huge laminated books with what pretends to be a photo of each dish – only the photos are of generic pastas with other ingredients badly photoshopped into them so that the whole thing looks like a child’s collage….

Anyway, it turns out at the end of the meal (while they were hoovering up the floor around us) that they no longer take cards – only cash. Helpfully they accept euros, although we didn’t have any – so we had to simply give them all the cash and bits of fluff from our pockets and hope it was enough… it wasn’t, but they let us off.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lisa’s Mum’s Birthday
Last week was Lisa’s Mum’s 70th and we had a house full. Sally came up (without Colin or the kids because their dog was having its leg amputated due to a tumour). Lucinda, Giancarlo and Livia came over from Switzerland, and Lisa’s parents, of course, joined us.

Friday night was a bit frantic – but luckily we also had Jane’s Son, Nathan round as we were babysitting him, so he was able to help me make dinner.

Saturday, we went out for Wendy’s birthday to Beauberry house - in Dulwich for dinner. It’s a great place which serves a strange fusion of Japanese and European cooking – you can have a sushi starter, a pork hock main course and a sticky toffee pudding for afters.

They were also offering everything half price, which was nice. A small problem with Lisa’s Uncle didn’t dampen the evening too much, but we were both ready to sleep when the weekend was over…

It was also my mum's birthday this week. Her leg seems to be improving and she's getting out a bit more. I'm looking forward to seeing her in a couple of weeks when she comes up to London...

The recession has hit

Ok – there’s no getting around it. The recession has well and truly hit me. Having decided at the beginning of the year to plough money and effort into advertising my work in an attempt to grow my business, I find myself at the beginning of March with little to show for it.

By putting a huge amount (£40 per day) into advertising on google (my best source of business so far), I’ve got one job, and a few positive enquiries from January, but nothing at all of any use in February.

I can’t keep up that level of spending, so I’ve taken the decision cut it right back. Which in turn means no chance of getting the work that is out there.

The other strands of my advertising are more positive, but not any more promising. I’ve now had two email mailing lists compiled:

One of 2,000 museums to which I’ve sent a note letting them know I’ve written a guide to commissioning animation. This is a very “soft sell” – I’ve offered them a feature they might find interesting along with a note that they can contact me if they need any animation done for future displays. From this, I’ve got lots of people saying how much they like my work, and that they’ll keep my details for the future – but no actual work right now.

The other, of 500 aquariums to which I’ve offered a very specific animation idea – to create a “virtual fishtank” containing animations of extinct, or un-exhibitable sea creatures. It’s a much more direct offer (albeit one at quite a high value), but the response was pretty similar “love your work, but haven’t got any money” was the overwhelming view.

Although the responses I’ve received have all thanked me for sending my email - I also did a little checking, and am worried by the legalities of sending out mail unsolicited – (something I hate doing – but running I’m a little short on ways to make people aware of my work). It turns out that generally, you can send out emails to companies as long as you give them a valid email address to respond to and tell you if they don’t want your emails. You also have to not disguise who you are.

The one problem is that you can’t send emails to named individuals. Only there’s no way of knowing whether you’re talking to a company or one individual trading as a company, so it’s all a bit confused.

Anyway, this means I have to worry about the legal side of emailing, but it doesn’t mean I can practically do anything about it.

In addition, the company I’ve employed to build up my website traffic by writing a couple of articles about my work and putting them on sites which link to mine have come back to me with the articles to check – and they’re awful! They’re really badly written and say absolutely nothing of any value. I wouldn’t be happy having my work associated with them at all, so it doesn’t look as though that avenue is going to work either.

To make matters worse, my website stopped working this week – somehow it’s code became corrupted (possibly as a result of someone hacking into it), and it’s taken 3 days to get it working again and I’ve changed all my passwords.

All in all, I’ve been a bit despondent - there’s not a lot of work out there. By the looks of it, there isn’t going to be for a while, and I have to re-think my strategy. And this is not going to be a cheap year – either professionally or personally…

I’ve worked out that if I finish the documentary project I’m on now, and manage to keep the monthly newsletter I write for Pinnacle (there seems no likelihood of that going under – in fact it may expand) and I get a few more pieces from magazine articles, then as long as the images I’ve got on stock libraries keep generating income, I’ll make enough to survive.

This also depends on the tenant in my property in Manchester starting to pay his rent again (he hasn’t been able to pay for 6 months now and the council are being scandalously slow in processing his benefit claim. I may have to evict him.

So what else can I do? –well, my new plan is to develop a series of emails making different offers every month to different sets of people… the next one will be a very low-cost offer (just a few dollars for giving video footage a certain “look”). It’s not something I can make a lot of money at – more of a “loss leader” but my thought is if people aren’t buying high-cost projects, might they go for something much lower cost initially?

There are a few other low cost, small projects I can pursue – like writing articles and doing one off illustrations… but I still need to get the work.

Relentlessly optimistic
Ok, so to be optimistic about it. The good thing about having no paid work is that it means I should have the time to work on some of my own projects that nobody’s going to pay me for anyway. Having no other work means working on personal projects isn’t taking time away from paying ones, so if I’m organised, I should be able to do some of the things I’ve really wanted to do:

A feature film documentary idea about something I think is really important… and a children’s animated series. Both, huge undertakings, but if other work is short… I’ll do a breakdown of just what it would take to get these projects off the ground…


New drive
We started work on our new driveway this morning… or more specifically somebody else started work on it at 1am this morning.

George, the guy from across the road who I picked up the other week when he fell over outside his house and broke his ribs, has been getting more unsteady on his feet over the last couple of weeks. The ambulance has been outside his house a few times, and he’s been put on medication.

He still spends a lot of his time standing outside his house, chatting to passers by during the day and feeding the foxes at night. In fact, he’s out there almost constantly.

He’s never been a particularly careful driver – bumping various cars on the way into our out of his driveway in the past few years. He hit Lisa’s car a couple of years ago, as well as running into a big yellow skp a few weeks later.

However, since his falls, he’s been on heavy medication, and last night at about 1am, he decided to go for a drive. I was woken by a crash and rushed to the window to see his car had skidded across the road in reverse, knocked over two walls and ended up in our garden. As I watched, he revved the engine, screamed off over the wall, smashed into our neighbour’s mini opposite, and accelerated into someone’s garden three doors down…

Some of the neighbours came out, and by the time I got there, he’d decided (against most people’s advice) to climb out of his car.

I always find, at the scene of road accidents that there are a few common responses:

The victims always want to get out of their cars – despite the danger of injuries being made worse if they do. They then invariably decide they need to go somewhere else or do something they clearly can’t do.

Anyone peripherally involved but not central tends to initially try to start an argument – but pretty soon realises it’s going to do more harm than good…

And most people tend to assume, having watched lots of movies, that the biggest danger is of the car exploding into a fireball (in reality, cars – even ones packed with explosives – rarely explode).

On this occasion, I managed to stop George from wandering off in shock, and tried to focus people on sorting out the mess rather than arguing about it (which as a polite middle class bunch, they seemed to do pretty easily). George seemed pretty un-harmed, but there’s a lot of damage in the street.

I made a cup of tea for his wife (who wasn’t in the car, but was mortified by it all), took his keys, and pointed the ambulance men and police in the right direction.

Hopefully, this will stop George from driving (I’m sure the police, his doctors and the lack of a car will also help), because it could have been a lot more serious. As it was, we had been wondering over the past week how we were going to get the wall taken down to make way for our new drive. It seems, that’s not going to be a problem.

He’s done us a favour.

Our neighbours, Jo and James were not in when the car ploughed through their wall as well as ours. They’ll be quite glad too – because if they had been at home, their brand new Porsche would have been parked directly in George’s path…