Monday, January 30, 2012

Wild Horses

You probably didn’t notice but I’ve been gone for a week. I withdrew somewhat from the online world. I didn’t feel much like writing if the truth be known. I’m not even sure if I want to write this but plainly some impetus, lurking deep within me, still holds sway and here I am.

Following on from my previous post things have not been going well for our youngest boy, Tom, at nursery. He has been – in common parlance – resisting arrest for various 4 year old type wrong doings. Tom’s always been a bit of a monkey. He is the Just William of his nursery group. If a window has been broken or a child hit in the eye, Tom will be the one standing with his hand over his mouth trying to stuff the catapult down the back of his trousers.

Tom is the wild horse that refuses to be broken. A couple of the nursery workers managed to get him all but saddle trained last year but they left at Christmas and since then Tom has been kicking down the boundary fences until last week nursery announced he was out of control and they needed help.

I must point out here (ready for when Tom as a teenager reads through my blog and sues me for misrepresentation) that Tom is not uncontrollable. At home he is biddable and lovely. Which is not to say he’s an angel because he’s not. He has his moments but Karen and I can sort it out within ten minutes and bring him back to heel.

So it was initially hard to believe nursery’s reports of gnashing teeth, scratching, biting and kicking, etc. They made him sound like a Tasmanian Devil. In the end Karen and I spent a day at nursery last week to observe and give the staff some pointers on how to corral our wild, young stallion.

Lunchtime saw a flashpoint – I won’t bore you with the details – but, suffice it to say, even mummy and daddy were granted no quarter from the wild thing that fought tooth and nail to not be put on the ‘naughty mat’. It seemed that home based loyalties were meaningless in the nursery environment. As far as Tom was concerned there were no boundaries at nursery. No boundaries at all.

Within 20 minutes though Karen and I had got him calm and biddable again. Proof that it could be done without the aid of tranquilizer darts. But we were both deeply shocked by the experience. And in tears. Was this really our adorable little boy? The same boy who comes home every afternoon and sits and watches Waybuloo so cutely?

Yes, it was. We had to get with the programme.

And so we’ve shed tears, sighed through sleepless nights and moped through stressful days but battle plans have been drawn up between us and the nursery. Tactics are in place. We are working in unison. Reward schemes have been set up to encourage positive social interaction. The importance of the naughty mat in the overall scheme of putting things right again has been explained. And a tent has been erected in the nursery hall to act as Tom’s chill-out room for when colouring-in causes his frayed temper to snap.

We’re not kidding ourselves that this is going to be an overnight fix. It is going to take weeks and weeks of sustained effort and a cohesive approach. Tom, of course, is still resisting – he’s trying diversionary tactics now; he’s not stupid – he is a horse who can feel the reigns being put over his head and (to quote a poet whose name I cannot remember) knows that once they are in place he will never run as freely again. Karen and I are “on call” should the nursery need us or find they cannot manage our bucking bronco. I was called there at lunchtime today but – on a positive note – Tom was calm again before I arrived. Nursery are seeing this as a success. His rampages are already shorter which means a quicker recovery time for everyone involved – including Tom. I daresay we will take two steps forward and one step back for a while yet.

None of us want to break Tom’s spirit. But he needs to learn to gallop safely and to know the edges of his own paddock. And nursery... well they need to re-establish themselves in the saddle and learn to stay there without assistance.

It’s going to be a long season on the range, folks. If anyone knows a good horse whisperer then please do send him my way.

Until then – hi-yo silver away!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Tough But Cautious Love

We had a letter from the nursery last week asking if we would grant permission for their staff to carefully restrain our youngest when he is in the midst of a huge mega-tantrum.

He is a very wilful, determined little boy, our youngest, and a refusal will always offend. But it’s all part of the learning curve and, if you imagine his behaviour as being on a spectrum, then I’d say he’s smack bang in the middle. I’ve seen better behaved boys and I’ve seen a lot worse.

Of course, any kind of bad behaviour, if left unchecked, will result in delinquency of some kind and nobody wants to see a 4 year old joyriding around town in a stolen BMW and selling crack to the local pool club so the rules have got to be laid down and laid down firm.

Karen and I get that. Totally. Needless to say our little ‘un is far more aware of the boundaries at home than he is at nursery and pushes them less. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t push them at all because he does. Sometimes with the determination of a bulldozer.

But nursery... that’s a different story. Like any kid, if he senses weakness, he’ll go in for the kill.

So I totally get where the nursery is coming from with this consent form thing.

But I couldn’t help wondering if it was really necessary. Couldn’t help feeling that it’s necessity for the nursery owners belies a little of what is wrong with the world.

Years ago a nursery worker / care worker / teacher wouldn’t have thought twice about carefully restraining a flailing child – especially if he/she was in danger of hurting him/herself or even others.

But the world it so litigious these days that even an arm-grab can be considered GBH. Picking a child up and placing them on the naughty step can be considered an infringement of their human rights.

You gotta get permission to even give a child a stiff talking to lest you find yourself added to some government offenders’ register.

So what were they doing before they asked for our permission to handle our kid with kid gloves? Kettling him with cotton wool? Directing him into a safe corner with brightly coloured paddles like some kind of 1940’s aircraft landing officer? Or leaving a trail of Valium injected Smarties to the safe haven of the Wendy House?

I mean, it’s nice they’ve asked permission and everything. We don’t want him harming himself or others and likewise we don’t want others harming him. But have they asked permission of the other parents too? Or do they wait until one of the other kids goes off the rails with a Duplo brick and a quoit? I mean just what is the trigger for this “ramping” up of tough but gentle love? The kids are only 3 and 4 for Heaven’s sake!

Isn’t being hands-on with the kids part of the job description? I don’t remember them asking permission to change his nappy when he was 2.

I know the alternative is worse – kids beaten with rods and brutalized. But surely there must be some sensible middle ground?

Or do we want a generation of humans who shy away from any kind of physical contact at all?

No wait. We already have that...


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Black Country Gold

Warwick University would have been too obvious - it's literally just down the road from me (well, a bus ride away), plus I graduated from there myself a mere handful of years ago. The connection would have been too blatant. Too strong. I can see that. She didn't want to give the game away. Flag things up to the media about her true intentions.

So Birmingham was the next logical choice. Close geographically but not too close. The connection is less obvious. She's a canny lass, that Dr Alice. Plainly keeping things close. Playing things sharp.

And I can dig that. I don't, after all, relish the thought of having the press crowding themselves onto my doorstep. Well, not until I find an agent for my novel anyway.

So Dr Alice Roberts has accepted the position of Birmingham University's first Professor of Public Engagement in Science. You can hear what the superlative TV scientist has to say about the appointment here:

You can, I am sure, read between the lines. This isn't about science or even bringing science to the masses. It's not about the grandeur of Birmingham University or even picking up "Birmingum's loveloi ax-sent".

It's about me. About moving closer to me.

You can tell this from everything she doesn't say. The way she doesn't mention that Birmingham is just a simple train journey away from me here in Leamington Spa. That I can be there for coffee and an iced bun in under 45 minutes (unless, of course, I catch a Virgin train in which case I'm looking at about 5 hours provided there isn't a leaf on the track). But you can read it all in her eyes... The barely suppressed excitement at our close proximity. We are like two planets coming into alignment. It's been written in the stars. Even Dr Professor Brian Cox mentioned our coming together in his Stargazing Live programmes for the BBC this week. Don't worry if you missed all the references. You would have had to have been a real science head to have picked them up.

A real science head like me.

See, Professor of Public Engagement in Science is just a dead giveaway. It is a personal clarion call to me. Une Lettre d'amour addressed to yours truly. I can handle a petre dish. I can caress a test tube. I can get a bunsen burner to glow white hot with just a casual flick of my fingers.

I can do science, me, in every sense.

If I'm not around to blog much next week it's because I have taken the fast train to Birmingham.

I am going to be engaging in science. Deeply, madly, truly. I have the goggles and everything.

Dr Alice, I'll meet you in the university cafeteria (or as they say in Birmingham: the caff). You bring your white coat and I'll bring my pipette.

P.S. Note to Stephen Hawking: don't you be getting any funny ideas, matey - I know how to deactivate the disabled chair lifts.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sir Richard Branson Giveth And Sir Richard Branson Taketh Away

I had an email from Virgin Media on Friday. One of those “hey we’re your best mates, we are, and to illustrate this we’re going to give you an amazing deal to show how much we love you, bud, pal, matey, mucker, fellamelad”. I read the email with the kind of indifference that only a longstanding Virgin Media customer can muster and it transpired that dear Old Uncle Rich – Sir Richard Branson to you – was about to “more than double” my broadband speed but for less than the price I was currently paying. And he was going to do it because I was such a loyal longstanding customer. Because, let’s face it, me and Rich have been going steady ever since he took over NTL half a decade or so ago and renamed it Virgin Media.

Well, it was a nice start to the weekend if nothing else.

Cue Saturday morning. Another email from Sir Rich arrives. This one less chummy and rather more apologetic in tone. Turns out Friday’s email was a mistake. Mr B apologized profusely, nay cheesily. It was sent out by mistake. They were sorry. He was sorry. But there would be some good news for all loyal Virgin Media customers in the next 2 weeks. Honest. About something else. Something else equally as good. Probably.

Yeah right. Another Virgin mobile phone offer or extra sports channels on Virgin Media TV, I should think. I’m not a big fan of shot-put, Sir Richard, you can stick it.

But this whole debacle got me thinking. The poor sap who pressed Send on all those emails (because surely I wasn’t the only one who received such a missive) must be up to his neck in hot water right now. That’s assuming he still has a job, of course, and that Sir Rich didn’t drop-kick him out of a hot air balloon somewhere over the Atlantic. And someone – some graphics design geek – obviously created the email in the first place. Which says Virgin Media were planning this broadband upgrade thing for some time but then just decided to change their minds.

Was it something I said? Or didn’t say? Was I supposed to have replied to Sir Rich’s original email profusely oozing my thanks and attaching a tasty Polaroid of my freshly oiled up genitalia? Did he consider my lack of response to be a singular act of monstrous ingratitude and consequently cancel the broadband upgrade?

That’s rather petty, Richard.

Or was the whole email a scam? An act of in-house sabotage from a disgruntled employee? Sir Rich has banned his marketing team from downloading stuff from the SKY BSB web site and they’ve hit back with an email to drop Sir Richard in the shite?

Hmm. To be honest, that scenario doesn’t work for me. If you were a disgruntled employee you’d send out a far worse email than “we’re going to double our customer’s broadband speed for half the price”. It would be along the lines of “hey, did you know that Sir Richard Branson molests disabled baboons in his personalized spaceship paid for with your hard earned money?”

Now that’s the kind of email that would have made my weekend a good one.

But no.

So, a double-dip disappointment on the Virgin Media front, then.


Situation normal. Thanks Rich.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Organ For Hire

In these cash strapped times we are all looking for a little extra moolah. Opportunities for additional cash. A bit on the side. The ol’ financial boost.

So I’ve been considering my options:

1) Sell my body. Become a dirty hoo-er.
2) Sell my soul.
3) Sell my writing.

I have to be honest and say that number 1 is a no goer. I’m sure I’d have no shortage of offers but alas most of them would probably be from men and I am just not wired up that way. I know I should view it purely as a business transaction for the sake of my wife and kids but, really, I am just not psychologically / emotionally programmed for such intimate endeavours to take place with the one half of my species that I am just not sexually attracted to. The biggest tragedy is that the other half – the lady kind – would just laugh at the thought of paying me to show them a good time. There’s a sale on in Marks & Spencer and I just can’t compete with that kind of instant gratification.

Number 2 is also a no goer. I don’t consider myself overly religious but the thought of selling my soul sends me cold. I don’t care if it’s not legally binding, there is just something deeply fundamentally disturbing about the thought of selling one’s most essential life essence. I read somewhere that a load of students were surveyed recently to see how many would actually be willing to sell their souls and, surprisingly, even these beered up, coke brained, fashionably cynical young hooligans baulked at the idea of giving up ownership of their immortal soul (whether it actually existed or not).

As for number 3. I’m trying. I really am. Any pointers or snifters of chancy openings would be much appreciated.

One thing I have never considered though is selling my health.

I had an email a while ago from a company called WEGO. I think they’re American. They wanted me to sign up for clinical trials. Clinical trials that could take place in my very own home. More, if I then blogged about the trials that I took part in there’d be additional cash remuneration. And it wasn’t just meds they wanted me to trial either. It was equipment.

My mind boggled. Just what kind of equipment would they want me to test?

An iron lung? A pacemaker? A new Hadron Collider sized kidney dialyses machine? Artificial testicles?

How much money would they pay me to trial some bionic bollocks? I mean, even a one off deal could set me and my family up for life. New car. Cruise in the Med (paid for by meds). And all for the price of a pair of Kevlar kahunas.

It’s got to be worth a gander surely?

But then I reconsidered. I mean, my luck has to be a major factor in this enterprise, right? I’d end up trialling colostomy bags or herpes cream or artificial testicles manufactured cheaply out of the melted down heads of old Action Man dolls. Or they’d be injecting me with weird bacterial concoctions that would just make me feel pants for days on end and not even give me Spidey powers or anything.

And then there’s the exchange rate. Given how things are right now, I’d probably end up compromising my health for a measly £7.54p.

So it’s just not worth it. It really isn’t.

My health is the only saleable commodity I have that I don’t actually want to sell.

That, of course, and my clearly illustrated good sense.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monitoring My Aggression

It’s not often I write about my computer hardware. I’m not a nerdy twenty-something anymore who obsesses over the size of my motherboard or the speed of my processor. I no longer care about the make, model or speed. I just want things to work. To let me do what I want to do. To surf, to write, to research. Whatever. And no, “whatever” does not equal “dodgy web sites”.

I wrote about my monitor a while ago (a Cibox if you must know). It keep switching itself off. I was close to committing acts of violence against its LCD display. I realized at the time how ridiculous such an act would be.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve now gone beyond seeing the ridiculousness of computer focused brutality. It has become my normal mode of operation.

I snatched 10 minutes of computer time this morning before leaving for work. The bloody monitor switched itself off no less than 8 times. The only remedy is to unplug the power cable and then ram it back home again.

This has now become a dangerous remedy. I can hear electricity buzzing and arcing around the back. I suspect the socket has taken such a beating it now resembles Pete Burns’ lips. I have also punched the monitor in the face more than once too. I mean, actually physically punched it. To the point where it hurt my knuckles.

I’ve searched on-line for a diagnosis (for the monitor problems not my sore knuckles – I’m well aware of what caused that). Some web sites speak of driver issues with Windows 7. They might be right. The sporadic shutting down isn’t as arbitrary as it should be. It feels like my own interactions with the internet are causing it. No, not dodgy web sites again. I click on a link or close down a web page and ping! The monitor dies. The timing it just too spot on. However, my constant stabbing away round the back with the power cable has probably caused additional damage to the monitor. It now can’t be trusted to be sold on safely. It will have to be ditched.

I will take great pleasure in doing this, believe me.

I am seriously considering buying a gun.

Anyway, the upshot is that, despite not being able to afford it, I have ordered a brand new spanking 21.5 inch Samsung monitor from Amazon. It was dispatched this morning. On the one hand it feels like an extravagant waste of money on what is – relatively speaking – a non-essential item.

On the other, it does mean I will save a fortune on no longer having to attend anger management classes.

Because let’s be honest, they weren’t working anyway.

Rather like my old monitor.


And breathe...


Monday, January 09, 2012

Credit Where Credit’s Due

I came to the Millennium trilogy unfashionably late. People at work had raved about it. My wife had raved about it. I found their raving off-putting. I am naturally rave averse.

But the wife sneaked under my rabbit proof fence of assumed taste and invested in the DVDs of all 3 movies – the original Swedish ones starring the magnificent Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. I was hooked. And further gratified when Karen bought me the books for my birthday last year.

And so it was that I came to add myself belatedly to the Stieg Larsson fan club. I can now see that my resistance was childish and ultimately self defeating. Sometimes when people rave about things it is for a very good reason: they are worth raving about.

Holding the Swedish films in such high esteem, then, it was with nervous apprehension that Karen and I went to see the new English speaking remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara last Friday. Would it live up the original? The cast was excellent but that’s not always a guarantee of a great film. Would they botch the whole thing and have Larsson turning in his eco-grave?

Larsson can rest easy. It was a superb adaption – in many ways superior than the original. More of the story is covered. Admittedly parts are compressed or various elements brought together into a single composite, but on the whole it was all there. The settings were excellent – weirdly this version seems to capture my idea of Sweden so much more than the original. Sometimes it takes a foreigner's eyes to see how things really are, I guess.

There were naturally a few bug bears: the Millennium magazine offices and team are a lot more plush and populated than those of the books. Sometimes newspaper headline appeared in English (the ones we needed to understand) and others in Swedish. I would rather there was consistency here. But these are small complaints against the backdrop of an excellent film.

It is an intelligent and sensitive adaption. It pays much homage to the original and yet remains truer to the book than the first film. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the True Grit remake in this respect. The cast are excellent. I can’t really fault anyone. Does Rooney Mara match up to Noomi Rapace? It’s a close run thing. Rooney was stunning and carries the film seemingly without effort. For me Noomi will always edge it – “edge” being the operative word; Rooney wasn’t quite edgy enough – but Karen thought that Rooney’s rendition of Salander was much more closer to Larsson’s original literary creation. So there you go: each to his or her own. Either way – whichever film you choose to see – Larsson’s metaphor and symbol for the abused woman getting her own back on male dominated authority is magnificently represented and portrayed.

Daniel Craig gives good service as Blomkvist. Laid back, intelligent, approachable and yet also a little cold. That old Swedish charm. His relationship with Salander is somehow more fully realized in this version than in the Swedish. Robin Wright is excellent as Erica Berger and, for me, encapsulated Larsson’s character perfectly. Just as I’d imagined her in fact. Joely Richardson didn’t quite work for me as Harriet Vanger but appears only twice in the film: I can let it go. Everybody else steps up the plate and delivers faultless performances.

My only complaint – and it’s possibly a petty one – is that the opening credits are wholly, monstrously inappropriate. Music by Trent Reznor, slick CGI animation that is overblown and overly sexualized in a way that does the film and Larsson’s story a huge disservice. It was like a rock video or the opening to a James Bond film. I actually thought we’d ended up at the wrong screen it was that bad. Imagine Downton Abbey with an anthem by Lady Ga-Ga. Or Wallander with The B52’s providing the incidental music. It was that incongruous. Reznor you’re an arse. Did you even read the book? Or did you just look at the title and think “girl with a dragon tattoo? Yeah! Let’s rawk!”?

Go see this film. It’s set the bar high for the rest of the year. Just make sure you buy your popcorn while the opening credits are rolling through...


Friday, January 06, 2012


I nearly lost it, I confess.

It kind of dropped away over December, went into a steep decline. A double dip vitality loss. I couldn’t even summon up the enthusiasm to feel unhappy about the prospect of losing it forever.

Was it worth the energy outlay? The continual dredging up of vigour? Why not just let it go? Take the path of least resistance? Learn to live without it?

Make do with it in absentia.

I mean, other people cope without it. Other people seem happy enough without it in their lives. Not everyone needs that particular spark in their continued existence. Other people don’t seem to see its absence as a loss at all.

But maybe they just don’t miss what they’ve never had?

See, that’s the problem with me. The stumbling block to letting go. I have had it in my life. Three times a week for the last 6 years. Sometimes it’s been a collaborative effort, other times I’ve gone solo. But regardless of the how and the why, I have indulged. I have pushed myself to indulge. It’s healthy apparently. It keeps things flowing. Keeps the pipes clean.

But this Christmas... I don’t know what it was. The culmination of a heavy year at work, money worries, the fresh completion of a novel that drove me too hard... I just lost my blogging mojo. Big time.

And other bloggers seemed to be dropping away. Dropping like flies. Output all over the blogosphere was falling away like share prices on the Ftse 100. It was like blogging had become yesterday’s news. Today’s kebab wrapping. It was like it didn’t matter anymore.

And so I thought why shouldn’t I join them? Why not go along with the zeitgeist? Who the hell would miss me? 15, maybe 16 people. I’ve hardly set the world alight. Why not snuff out my sarcastically whinging voice along with the dying of the light?

Who’s going to care?

I am.

Because I realized I’d miss being able to moan to a captive (if small) audience. I’d miss the camaraderie of my comments box. I’d miss exasperating and annoying people. Being the anally retentive bad penny blogger who just keeps turning up (even when no one has asked him to) and sending stuff out into the blogosphere.

Because basically, I just love getting on other people’s tit’s.

And once I realized that... well, the old mojo came back again with a vengeance.

Thank you all for your help.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Biggest Killer Is The New Year

Me and my family were nearly involved in a collision this morning.

Thankfully the speed we were going and the speed of the other vehicle were sufficiently low that there would have been no serious injuries. Just some whiplash and possibly a new car. Some dozy oldster pulled out of his drive straight onto the main road and managed to only see us in front of him after Karen has swerved out of the way. Thankfully there was no on-coming traffic or we’d have been starring in our very own version of the pinball wizard.

Without breathalysing the guy I can’t say for certain but given his slow reactions and bleary eyed look at me as I contemplated giving him the finger I’d say there’s a high probability that alcohol was involved. Either that or imminent coma.

And then to top it all, mere minutes after dropping me off at work, my wife then had a pedestrian leap out into the road in front of her. Cue yet more evasive action to save both his ass and the asses of my wife and kids.

And that’s a lot of asses.

And it got me thinking that this is a truly miserable time of year for most people. Downright despairing.

Now, I’m not saying these encounters were in anyway part of some suicide sideshow but, dammit, people don’t seem to care so much at this time of year. About themselves or each other. Everyone is so darn miserable and deflated and weary and cheesed off and oh-God-another-whole-year-to-get-through. Everybody has their eyes down and their thoughts in their shoes.

You can taste the disenchantment in the air like a spent firework.

A work colleague also told me that New Year is the busiest time of year for divorce lawyers. So, there you go. Maybe the two wannabe lemmings this morning had just had big fat divorce nisis placed into their mitts by ignorant postmen and genuinely wanted to (a) end it all or (b) just give their ex-wives a guilt trip to the nearest therapist?

Whatever. I just want to reach out to all those who are feeling sad and miserable and New Year blue and say that, whilst nearly everyone else around you at this time of year doesn’t care, I do. I care enough to press my foot down harder on the accelerator pedal should you be of a mind to top yourself under the wheels of my car.

Because a day off work with “shock” or “helping the police with their enquiries” would suit me right down to the ground right about now.

So please do consider it.

After all, you scratch my back...


Monday, January 02, 2012

The First Step To Becoming

I love my family.

I love my house.

My relationship with my wife is good.

None of the important stuff is broken.

It's important that I state this.

Because I am not happy. And (I'm sure she won't mind me saying) neither is Karen.

We are tired. We are stressed. We are poor. We both work damned hard - both in terms of our official employment and our "work from home" activities that we undertake to try and bring extra money / success to the household. We've spent the last 4 years trying to break even. Instead it just feels like we've busted our balls to continually fall short. We go out to work, undertake jobs that take away more than they give just to earn not enough money to make it all worthwhile.

We've both reached the point where our minds and emotions are flagging up that, Houston, we have a problem. We can't go on like this. Or rather we could. But we don't want to. We need to pull the nose up before we cream ourselves into the tarmac.

I'm not a big fan of New Year's Eve. In fact some of you will be aware of how much I loathe the enforced optimism, the Bacchanalian positivity that seems to go viral for one night only and rarely changes a damned thing. I don't go a bundle on New Year Resolutions. They're all gas and no solid.

But this year, right now, I want a sea-change. I want a sea-change for me, Karen and my family. I want us to be happier, breathing easier, Heaven forbid actually having some enjoyable downtime instead of having time off only to recuperate from the ravages of toil. I don't want us to be doing jobs that make us so continually unhappy that the unhappiness itself becomes normalized and a component of the four walls that surround us.

I don't know how we do this. I don't know where we go to even start. I'm aware that the global economic climate isn't geared up to facilitate such a move right now. But there has got to be a better way for us to do things. Other paths. Other routes.

I'm looking for the signposts.

I'm looking for the Way Out.

And if we fail to find it, we may have to redraw the map ourselves...