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….