Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Kilt

A conversation at work this morning has got me thinking about the kilt (which apparently is the correct plural of kilt not kilts).

Being part Scottish I feel that I have the right to wear one. In fact I’m pretty sure there’s a Blake tartan draped over a shop window display in Aviemore even as I type.

But I’ve never actually got round to donning one.

I mean, it’s pretty hard to find an appropriate occasion when you’re living and working in the English Midlands.

The perfect opportunity arose back in 1976 (or thereabouts) when my Auntie Josie married my Uncle Tam in Glasgow and all the men wore the kilt to the ceremony and the reception. I had the chance to experience the swirl of my own bagpipes amongst the impressive company of my whisky drinking peers... but alas being 7 years old and brought up a Sassenach I bottled it and stuck to ma troosers.

Now, some years later, I regret that youthful decision as opportunities to wrap up my nether regions in a nice rough bit of tartan are as scarce on the ground as tax rebates from Gordon Brown (Broon).

But maybe I should just think ‘outside the sporran’ and get a kilt to sate my own personal sense of satisfaction and actively engineer occasions to wear it? A work’s do? My mother’s birthday? Christmas? My son’s parent’s evening at school? All viable occasions I’m sure you’ll agree.

Life is too short to wait. Sometimes you’ve just got to give things a bit of a prod.

So. My questions are thus: is there an item of national dress (yours or another nation’s) that you’ve always had a secret hankering to wear? What is it and have you ever?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Birds

Just to prove that amongst all the financial angst and budgetary gloom it is possible to have a good time without spending too much money... Karen and I, as part of our 3rd wedding anniversary celebrations last Wednesday, took the kids to Moreton-in-Marsh and visited a lovely falconry centre and arboretum whose exact name and location (somewhere outside M-in-M) temporarily escape me.

If you’re a fan of birds of prey then this is the place to be. If talons and vicious beakery give you the heebie-jeebies then perhaps you’d be better of spending a day at ‘the mall’...

As for me, I was making like Alfred Hitchcock. And here are a few pics to prove it.

(Click on the pics to see a larger version...)

Bird of prey

Bird of prey

Bird of prey

The day was rounded off with a kindly babysitter to take care of the kids while Karen and I headed off to Warwick and The Saxon Mill for a gorgeous anniversary meal. Naturally, given the theme of the day, I selected yet another bird from the Mill’s superlative menu – not an endangered one I hasten to add (though I doubt it had felt particularly safe at the moment of termination) – a spit roasted chicken. It was very satisfying...

Please keep any filthy comment to yourselves. This is a family show.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Bigger Grindstone

Define poverty.

Living on the streets?

Starving, having to steal food to survive?

Dying, having to sell your body to live?

Or just not earning enough money to be able to live decently?

Karen and I don’t particularly lead a profligate lifestyle. We’re not out partying every night (in fact although we went out for a meal Wednesday night to celebrate out wedding anniversary it was the first time we’d been out together in over 5 months). We don’t hit the shops every weekend in wild shopping splurges.

And yet, doing some sums and some short range financial forecasts we discovered that we’re pretty close to being in the crap. Karen needs to return to work in September as we simply can’t afford to have only one of us working indefinitely. This means paying for child care for Tom. Even if Karen only works school hours to try and relieve the burden of this we still need to find an extra £400 a month to cover the nursery costs.

We just do not have this money.

It’s ridiculous. We can’t afford to work. But can’t afford not to work. What are we supposed to do?

We only have three options.

1) Give up the rat race, claim benefits and hope we don’t lose our house as a consequence. Neither of us fancies this kind of lifestyle. This option is definitely out.

2) Bite the bullet and accept that over the next 4 years or so until Tom starts school we are going to slide inexorably into debt. Well. Not so much slide as bullet-train into debt.

3) Bite a bigger bullet and do all we can do slow that inexorable slide right down to a more manageable level. This means me getting an extra part-time job to bring in extra money to cover some of the child care costs. A morning or evening cleaning job most likely.

Karen isn’t happy about it (and I’m not exactly ecstatic) as she doesn’t want to see me flogging myself along the rocky road to a heart attack. But the alternative is a sizable debt that could totally destabilize us and take us decades to pay off. With the economy so shaky at the moment it seems to me some extra money coming into the house would not be a bad thing at all.

So. I am now officially looking for work. Even though I already have plenty. Full-time job. Part-time web design business. Novel on the go. One more year at University. Maintaining a wonderful home life.

Busy busy busy.

Sigh.

So does all this mean that I’m poor? Or just not poor enough?

Who knows? But at least I’m not sewing Nikes in a Kolkata sweat shop... or selling my body in an Essex lay-by.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WTF?

Maggie ThatcherIt’s been in the papers. It’s been referred to on TV. But I’m amazed that more people aren’t making a fuss about it.

Maggie Thatcher is to be given a state funeral when she dies.

No effing way!

Am I the only person to think this is an unspeakably horrendous idea? That woman deserves to be burnt at the state, hung, drawn and quartered and her head impaled on a spike outside the NHS HQ.

A state funeral? Utter grotesquery!

Churchill got a state funeral and deservedly so. He was a crap peace time PM but he unquestionably steered this country through the dark shadows of its biggest crisis. Maggie Thatcher on the other hand pushed this country into crisis and then kept us there... and we’re still trying to dig ourselves out of the hole her stiff-necked mismanagement got us into.

Thatcher crushed the unions to the detriment of all working citizens. I blame the entire UK privatization fiasco on Mrs Thatch. The money grabbing paranoia that still infects much of this country also started with the Thatcher administration.

We are still living under her shadow, still trying to dig ourselves out of the crap she sank us into.

This woman does not deserve a state funeral. Sorry. She just doesn’t.

Pickle her body for medical experimentation if you must. Bury her at sea if you want her out of the country for good. Chuck her in a landfill if you want to be green.

But don’t waste millions of pounds of OUR money carting her rotting skeleton through the streets of London in a horse drawn carriage, expecting us to throw rose petals beneath the wheels as she passes us by.

Possibly the only good thing about having her body lying in state for a few days is that it will enable (as better comedians have already pointed out) the average hoi polloi to view her corrupting remains and rejoice in the fact that she is at last finally dead.

But they better keep a mop and bucket handy too - cos there’s gonna be a helluva lot of spit flying about if I get anywhere near her.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Faces

Tom is now just over 10 months old and everybody who sees him says exactly the same thing.

My God, but he looks so like Karen.

Then as an after thought they look me up and down, frown a bit and add apologetically, oh but we can see a bit of you in him as well.

I’m actually becoming grateful for this small concession.

However, a recent visit to my granddad last week brought Karen into contact with some very old photographs of yours truly as a baby. There’s a particular one of me and my sister (also confusingly called Karen) when we were both wee toddlers, obviously taken in a photographer’s studio, where I’m holding a rubber duck with the kind of passion that only an 2 year old muster.

Tom and I could be identical twins. The likeness is uncanny. My first thought was to show this photograph to everybody obliquely mentioned above accompanied by the words: see, I did make a major contribution to the genetic make-up of this child!

My second thought was if everybody thinks Tom looks like Karen but he also looks the spit of me as a child... is the theory that people fall in love with partners who look most like them true?

I mean there are similarities between Karen and me but I don’t think they’re blazingly obvious... though Karen has commented before that we have many likenesses...

Is this true of everybody though?

Is there something secretly narcissistic going on that I don’t know about?

If there is I may have to stop dressing up in Karen’s clothes...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Who’s The Daddy?



The best thing since sliced bread...
The best thing since sliced bread...
As some of you will be aware, in addition to my full-time local authority job (which I’m currently underpaid for – see my previous post) I also run my own part-time web design business.

It’s just a small concern – hardly a global corporation or liable to give Bill Gates any sleepless nights – but it’s all mine.

When I started it three years ago I did so with a glad and excited heart. No more working for idiots and gits, I thought to myself. I’ll be my own boss. I can do what I like and tell the twats to get lost.

Of course that isn’t the case at all. You still end up working for idiots and gits. Anybody who’ll pay you for the work basically. And while you’re producing work on their behalf the idiots and gits are still, technically, your boss.

Sigh. I never did like Status Quo.

However, after a while you begin to sort out the good clients from the bad and you start to develop a long memory and good instincts.

How does that help?

Well, I had trouble about a year ago with a real a-hole who gave me months and months of grief and hassle and actually managed to make my life a complete misery. However, I persevered and managed to build him a tiptop web site. Once it went live, however, he started being awkward about paying my invoice and quibbled over the price we’d agreed upon months in advance. This was at a time when I just did not need the extra hassle – Karen was having a difficult pregnancy and I needed my time and energies to be directed elsewhere, not chasing welshers.

Things got nasty and I came within an inch of taking him to the small claims court. But in the end, he coughed up. He paid. And he even attempted a little humility.

Yeah like whatever.

Then this week, out of the blue, he got back in touch with me. A real begging email. Seems he has loads of updates that he needs putting onto his web site but nobody wants to do the work for him.

Oh really? I wonder why?

At last, being my own boss finally came into its own. I owed him nothing. I was holding all the cards (aces naturally). And there was only one barrel and it wasn’t me that was over it.

I told him no.

Effing marvellous!

It’s a sensation that can only be matched by being the filling in a Kirstie Allsopp* and Michelle Ryan* sandwich.

*Please feel free to insert the “bread” of your choice though I don’t recommend anything too crusty...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Strike!

Wolfie SmithI’m off work for the next two days. Not for reasons of illness or a need to swing the lead, you understand, but because I am throwing my weight behind a noble cause.

I am on strike.

I – along with my staunch union colleagues – have decided to take a stand against the appalling pay offer that the current Government has thrown at us like crumbs from their wine drenched table.

Pah! We laugh at your miserable 2.45% offer when the price of even the most basic of foods is slowly rocketing skywards!

We’ve essentially taken a pay cut for the last three years running and now enough is enough.

Do I think we’ll actually get the 6% demanded by our union executives?

Not a cat in hell’s chance.

But if we don’t ask (or in this case, demand) we don’t have a hope of getting any more.

I realize there are inflationary pressures holding the Government back – nobody wants to see the country spiralling into recession – but we’ve all got to be able to afford to live. And at the moment I’m as close to the wire as I’d like to come. And that’s even with taking in extra work at home.

I don’t even have a problem with food prices going up. Farmers have had a crap deal for years and years and most, despite the image most people have of them, have made loss after loss for so long that many have gone under. What we’re now seeing is a readjustment that has been a long time coming. Ironically if we’d valued our farmers more in the first place and had allowed them to make a decent living I’m sure these food price hikes would have been felt less sharply.

There are global readjustments too – the global economy is in a huge state of flux. This isn’t Gordon Brown’s fault by any means and I don’t hold him personally responsible.

But I do blame him for not allowing me to bring home a decent wage.

Don’t tell me how not to waste food, Gordon. Karen and I already make every meal stretch into two. Just throw some more moolah my way so I can pay the ruddy mortgage!

Monday, July 14, 2008

On The HP

Harry Potter and the gangThe definition of a good book: you don’t want it ever to end but you’re unable to stop yourself racing through at breakneck speed to the final page...

I completed Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows over the weekend and I feel quite bereft now that it’s all over.

It sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? It’s just a kid’s book for Christ’s sake! And years ago I was one of those people who steered myself away from the HP books with an avidity that now seems ridiculous. There’s too much hype, I thought. Too much hysteria. Too many people rave about it therefore the books can’t possibly be any good.

That kind of thing.

Then I got into the movies.

I confess, I love them. They get better and better and I’m already excited about the new one that is currently in production. I’m a HP movie devotee.

But even up until the last film – The Order Of The Phoenix – I still refused to read the books. In fact on this here very blog I proudly pronounced that I would not read the books until the film franchise was fully completed.

What rot!

Once I spied the books on Amazon – the complete 7 in a nice embossed boxed set – I had to own them. And once I owned them... well. What’s the point of having books sitting around the house and not reading them?

So a number of weeks ago I pitched in with the first and kept at it until the final page of the final book...

And it’s been great. It’s been wonderful. Yes, they’re kid’s books but they’re not just kid’s books. They work on many different levels. I’m amazed at how deeply I was sucked into them. How intense the journey has been. Maybe I need to get out more but a series of books hasn’t gripped me like this since I was a teenager. I gave myself willingly to the entire HP world and was happy to lose myself there.

My respect for J.K. Rowling is immense. Speaking as someone who is three quarters of their way through their first novel I take my hat off to someone who can plot 7 so deftly and so completely and still keep the reader hanging on until the very end. It might not be Shakespeare. It might not be Rushdie. It might not be the stuff of a lot of “worthier”, more intellectual writers but you know what? I don’t care. There’s a lot to be said for a good story written so well that you actually wish it were real. For characters that you become emotionally attached to.

Harry Potter for kids? Pah! Why should kids get all the good stuff? It’s too good for ‘em I say.

For those of you who are still cynically resisting the lure of HP... give it a go. You will be surprised. For those of you who are already in the know. Well, just say hi and smile.

As for what I do now... well, I need to start prepping for my final Uni module next academic year. Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” is next on my reading list. Karen tells me it is excellent.

And I’m sure it is.

But my heart is still at Hogwarts...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Let’s Play Global Thermal Nuclear War

You can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing some C list celeb adding their twopenneth-worth to the National anti-knife campaign or some appropriately austere politician promising tougher sentencing for those caught carrying knives or other catering based weaponry on our streets.

And on the whole I’m not complaining. Something does need to be done. And yes tougher sentencing is the answer. For those caught carrying as well as those caught using knives. Cos it’s all the same in my book.

What worries me most though is the justification that these knife wielders frequently put forward in defence of their need to carry knives. Twice this week I’ve heard the phrases “self defence” and “deterrent” used by some hoodie when asked why he has to carry a knife.

Kind of reminds me of the justification that our politicians used years ago (and still use) whenever they were questioned about the massive stockpile of nuclear weapons that they were building up. Why do we need such weapons?

- Because they maintain the peace; they deter outbreaks of war, blah blah blah.

But did anyone ever believe that?

Isn’t it a case that possessing any kind of weapon is actually an unspoken threat of war not a deterrent to ensure everlasting peace? There’s a big difference.

Tooling yourself up as an act of self defence is a complete fallacy. Wearing body armour – that’s self defence. Carrying a can of mace or a personal alarm – that’s self defence.

Shoving a 12 inch carving knife down the front of your baggies is an act of war.

And there is no justification.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back To Grotwarts

I’m experiencing a harsh reality check today.

I have dragged myself out of Hogwarts, stuffed my pockets full of handkerchiefs and paracetymol and have returned to my place of work there to press my runny nose back to the grindstone.

In short I have swapped my wand and my invisibility cloak for a cheap biro and a clipboard. Swapped the ever present evil of Lord Voldermort and his murderous designs for my local authority boss and his complaints about the toilets.

*Sigh*

If only it were really possible to hit someone with a Bat Bogey Hex.

Friday, July 04, 2008

School’s Out For Summer

I had grand plans this week for a whole host of scintillating posts and internet based ribaldry but alas illness has laid me low. What started off as a nasty head-cold for me and Tom developed yesterday into an alarmingly debilitating fever which, I hasten to add, we have both now begun to recover from – Tom’s 9 month’s old immune system kicking in a lot harder than mine. He’s crawling around the floor this morning insinuating himself into as much mischief as possible.

I however am still moping around like a wet rag.

But there’s something quite nice about it today. I’m feeling better than I was – enough to actually enjoy being ill. I’m watching trashy TV and making my way through all 7 Harry Potter books. I haven’t got to return to work until Monday. I feel somehow like I’m skiving off from school.

It’s a great feeling.