The (true) Story of Millie Harriet Carter
Part 3, things get back to "normal"

Read Part 1 - in hospital

Read Part 2 - at home

Read Part 4 - a year in the life

Read Part 5 - summer in the city

Read Part 6 - a second Christmas

Read Part 7 - a third year

Read Part 8 - Baby Amber cometh...

Read Part 9 - everything changes

Monday 21st November

You'll possibly be pleased to hear that a delightful - if occasionally rather "challenging" - weekend in Brighton was had by all. Millie was an absolute star throughout, especially loving her time in the Brighton Hilton (a very nice hotel indeed). She may actually have enjoyed it rather too much, because it's not like we can afford to stay there very often. Still, it's nice to go mad every now and again; and go mad we did, taking full advantage of room service and of the always useful "Oh-but-look-at-our-liddle-cute-baybeeeeee!" effect. ;-) Even discounting this powerful mind-altering effect, the people at the Hilton were very very helpful with Millie, and the walls were thick enough that nobody heard her on the odd occasion when she cried for more than a few seconds.

It all started rather badly though.
London at 8 o'clock Saturday morning was bitterly cold; looking beautiful, but bitterly cold. Still we buried Millie under a pile of blankets in her pram, put the Doris hat on her, and some gloves, and set off.
The train to Victoria was (almost) on time, but as I tilted the pram's front wheels up to get it on board then - calamity! - the expensive "coolbag" containing bottles with Millie's next four feeds dropped out the back of her pram and down the gap between the train and the platform.
Now, bless the Lovely Melanie and everything, but she can, frankly, be a bit of a non-starter in a "crisis" sometimes.
"What are we going to do? You'll have to get it!" she cried.
One, we couldn't miss this train to Victoria or we'd miss our connection to Brighton, and two, how am I supposed to get down onto the tracks in the first place to retrieve the coolbag and milks?
I manage to hustle a fretting Lovely Melanie onto the train, but she's obviously not at all happy about this whole business - you can almost see what she's thinking - "We've lost Millie's coolbag with her milk in it! This means Millie's feed could be late! Which could lead to her being undernourished! That means her brain might not develop exactly as it should! Then she might not get to study at Oxbridge! So she might not become the world's most famous scientist! And mght never develop an equation for everlasting world peace! And so the whole world will be destroyed! And we'll all die! Oh, no!!!!"
Or something similar.

Anyway, common sense (i.e. me) eventually prevails, and once at Victoria we buy some new bottles, plus some sterilisation bags. End result: Millie's none the wiser, or hungrier. And nobody dies.

Having settled his family into their spacious room at the Hilton, your intrepid reporter dons his "Press" pass and special coloured wristband and goes to report on the Brighton Comics Expo 2005 - conveniently located a 45-second walk away in the capacious conference/event facilities of the aforementioned Hilton. :-)
And jolly good fun it was, too. Lots of famous (well, famous to some - you might not recognise any names) people, plus loys of interesting stalls too. Not to mention some genuinely fascinating (and not-so-fascinating) panels, interviews and talks by writers and artists of all ages. I even got to see a new UK film called Soul Searcher, made for just 26,000. It wasn't the best film I've ever seen, but considering it had no major backing and was made for such a tiny amount of money it was a goddamn masterpiece. I've seen a couple of no-budget films being made and I happen to know that it's a lot harder than it looks.

Anyway, I've got to write up my experience at the Expo for Emerald City so I'd better not give too much away.

The two things I will say are this: I am crap at meeting new people - I really really hate being on my own somewhere that's full of people I don't know; it's one of my worst things, and I can't "network" to save my life; so that stopped me having quite as much fun at the Expo as I might have had, sadly, and I didn't make any new friends there. But it was a much friendlier event than I'd (for some reason) expected...which leads me on to the second thing - the lack of people with very bad BO at the Expo.

Sf and/or comic fandom seems to have a much higher ratio of people with rather poor personal hygiene relative to a standard sample of the population. It's a terrible generalisation to make of "my people" (as the Lovely Melanie calls them), I know, but it is something I've noticed - and one of the reasons I stopped going to Forbidden Planet for my comics, and switched to Gosh Comics, because the air at the latter was that bit fresher. It wasn't the only - or even the main reason (that would be the incompetence of the old reservation service at Forbidden Planet) - but it was a factor.
But at the Expo I caught of a whiff of unbathedness just once, and that was around a computer game stand, so it doesn't really count. This is a small and certainly rather petty observation, I know, but it was surprisingly important to me. It definitely raised the Expo in particular, and comics fans in general, in my estimation (except the ones in Forbidden Planet - and the staff in Forbidden Planet, actually - the last time I was in the London store there were some tills with noticeably shorter queues than others...)

As for the rest of the weekend, we took Millie for a pleasant walk along the prom very early on Sunday morning, after a mighty fine all-you-can eat Hilton breakfast (which, because they're classy, they don't call "all-you-can-eat", but it so was!). We got some great photos using my phone and had an all-round nice time. This idyllic ambience was somewhat spoilt by the journey home, when engineering works forced us to take a replacement bus service part of the way, and I had to stand up all the way, and the bus was late anyway so we missed our connection to Hayward's Heath and had to stand in the cold at East Croydon for 20 minutes, but, hey, you can't have everything.

***

Friday 25th November
Oh, the shame.
No, really. I can't believe I forgot to say a very very very big thank-you to my old friend Sasha over in the States, and his most excellent wife, Helen (and their two very cute kids, Spencer and James) for the tremendous box of baby clothes they sent us last week. I'm v.v. embarrassed; not least because Millie would have been a much colder baby during our weekend in Brighton - it was clothes from the big box from the States that Millie mostly wore over that weekend, and has largely worn ever since. Not that she's short of clothes of her own particularly, but she is kind of in-between sizes at the moment (being a big, bonny 8lb 10oz baby!) and the ones that fit best are - fortunately for us! - the generously gifted ones from the Zbitnoff family over the Atlantic.
So, sorry this has taken so long. I know we thanked you on email but such a fantastically generous action shouldn't go unnoticed!

***

Monday 28th November
This page really needs pruning again, doesn't it? ("Yes!!!" says everyone with a dial-up internet connection)

Things I am liking (a lot) and not liking (at all) this morning:
I am liking - the first track on the new My Morning Jacket album, Z. It's called Wordless Chorus, and sounds like angels breaking into the studios of Studio One in Jamaica. The rest of the album's none too shabby either.

I am not liking - women sat next to me on the bus who, when you say "Excuse me, please, would you mind if I could just get past?" (because you're sat in the window seat and need to get off the bus) look at you as though what you'd actually said was "Could I shit in your mouth?" I mean, honestly, what's the point of being polite with some people?

Now, with that unpleasantness aside, let's move onto nicer things, shall we?

First of all: good grief, do I ever ache this morning!
Played five-a-side football yesterday (the actual sides were anywhere between three, four and five-a-side, as stragglers turned up), and having had NO exercise whatsoever since Millie was born, I'm now paying for it. I walk about 40 minutes to and from various bus stops on a normal day and that's it, and - aye caramba! - am I aware of that today. Ooh...
Still, at least I scored a goal, which is almost unheard of for me; I'm more of a defensive player - which, if I'm honest, is an excuse to cover up the fact that I can't dribble or shoot. I can tackle, a bit, and pass, sometimes. Yesterday, however, I scored quite a good goal. I wouldn't quite say that the spirit of George Best entered my body, but it may have been somewhere in the vicinity - perhaps looking in the windows of a pub up the road. In fact, thinking about it, and flying off at a tangent, perhaps what finished George Best off was the prospect of the new licensing laws. Having fought the booze for so long, George saw that he couldn't fight 24-hour opening and just...gave up. Certainly the timing of his death and the introduction of so-called "24-hour drinking" is a little suspicious.

And what about Millie? Ah, yes, Millie; who has delighted us over the weekend with lots of chatter and smiles. Obviously she can't talk yet, but she's obviously testing out her vocal cords, making all the different sounds she'll need when she does start to talk. At one point this weekend, when it was just the two of us together, she said, "Hello". Now, obviously she didn't consciously plan to greet her father with a common salutation, and obviously it was just the accidental conjunction of two syllables to make a recognisable word, and obviously it sounded more like "heh-low", but it made me jump, I can tell you! And it earned Millie a kiss and a hug from her dad (as does pretty much anything she does). She's also been trying to suck her thumb, which is hilarious to watch, because it's currently just about beyond her abilities. She can get a finger or two, or occasionally the thumb, in her mouth, but mostly only by accident and for just a few seconds before they slip out again, and you can see this is really frustrating her. "Stupid fingers!" she's thinking.

The Lovely Melanie pointed out something rather interesting too: that Millie's not an evening person/baby. It's a crying shame because that's pretty much the only time I normally get to see her during the week, but during the day she's smiley and chatty, engaged with whoever's holding her and able to be left to amuse herself for a bit while Mel grabs a cup of coffee. In the evenings she's much less inclined to look at people and smile or laugh, and she absolutely will not be left by herself for a moment without wailing. Sigh. :-(

Still, it could be an awful lot worse. :-)

And finally, does anyone else out there with a baby love just smelling them? I don't mean the nappies, obviously, I mean, just sniffing the tops of their heads whenever they can? Millie's head has a wonderful (to me) smell to it. Nothing specific, nothing I can describe, just a sort of lovely human smell.
And then, of course, there's those chubby cheeks...

***

Wednesday 30th November
I am a lady with shoes.

***

Friday 2nd December
Every time we meet up with friends and family the first thing they inevitably ask is "How's Millie?" (except for "Uncle" Spud, who's true to his word of being completely uninterested in babies). And, of course, I have to respond with something like, "Oh, she's fine. Yeah, she's great," and possibly some extra details about weight or visits to the doctor's going well, "Yeah, she's 8lb 14oz; even the doctor said she was a pretty cute baby, and she sees cute babies all the time," etc.
And what I really want to say is something along the lines of, "Oh, my god! She's so f**king amazing it frightens me! I can't explain it! Are you mad?! How could I?! How could I possibly make you understand the sheer gale force of the love and devotion that howls through me whenever I think of my daughter?!"

People told me, before I became a dad, that fatherhood was something you had to experience, that you couldn't describe it to anyone, but that it was "great", but hard work. And that's true. It's easy to get across to someone the unpleasant smell of nappies, the occasional tedium of entertaining a very small child, the inability to just drop everything to go to the pub or the cinema. It's easy to get the less idyllic side of fatherhood across because people who don't have kids can relate to these things - they've smelt bad smells or been bored or been burdened with responsibilities, they can relate to these things.
What they can't imagine are the good factors that come into play to offset the more onerous duties. Honestly - until you've tried it you cannot even begin to imagine what being a dad is like. You simply cannot.

It's not like being in love, it's not like Christmas when you were a kid, it's not like winning a longed-for prize or award, it's like...well, it's like having a daughter (or son). It's a wonderful experience.
To be honest, though, I tend to see it as genuinely, gobsmackingly wonderful more often when I'm away from Millie, simply because there's more time and space to appreciate it away from all the things which always need to be done now or "soon" with a small baby. Away from these it's much easier to get some perspective (or lack of, really) on fatherhood and the sheer staggering wonder of having a daughter.

And obviously a lot of this is hormones clouding judgement, ancient genetic-level responses kicking in in order to ensure the next generation of human beings gets born and raised, programmed responses to the particular form and shape of a baby face (and in particular Millie's face). In my head I know that, I'm fully aware of my perceptions being quietly manipulated so that I can't help myself in the face of this primal urge that demands that I do almost anything for Millie.
But I don't care. Because the bunsen burner of love gets turned up to a roaring blue flame whenever I see a picture or bit of video of her, or - better still - Millie herself, and I can't help continually kissing those chubby cheeks of hers, or smelling her head, or trying to comfort her when she's unhappy, or simply grinning like a goon at her.
Really - it's very nearly impossible to stop myself doing it.

So forgive me if, perhaps the next time you ask me about how "being a dad" is going if I'm a touch vague, and mumble, "Oh, yeah, fine. It's great, you know. It's hard to explain, but, kind of, yeah, well, just amazing...yeah." Or if I suddenly go a bit mad and hysterical and over-the-top shouty. ;-)

And sorry if this reads a bit incoherently now, let alone when you next see me, but I'm a bit fuzzy from my company Christmas party last night.

***

Friday 9th December

Two are of Millie with my family in Bristol (visiting Uncle Trev and Auntie Conny, who live there), one's a bit "arty", but I just like it (that's Uncle Trev holding Millie up), and another is a gratuitous bath shot.

You might also notice that I've stripped the site down again, as it was getting a bit unwieldy. But all the old stff's still stored tidily away. The "new" old stuff is here, while the "old" old stuff remains, faithfully here. I should probably put a proper link to them somewhere near the top of the page really, shouldn't I? Sigh.
UPDATE: I have! I've added a link with the other "proper" links at the top!

***

Saturday 10th December
The Christmas tree is up. Millie is in absolute awe of it when the lights are on.
I think it's OK.

Hmm, looking again at that shot of Millie in the bath, it's not the best "Millie in the bath" photo. She was in a fantastically good mood tonight, and bathtime was an absolute joy. Sometimes bathtime is a bit tense, and there's a lot of crying when a certain young lady is taken out of the water, but tonight a certain young lady was chirping and smiling all the way through, gave a quick grizzle when she was initially brought out of the water, and then settled down quietly to watch the colour-changing lamp that we keep on her changing table and which always keeps her quiet, while we dressed her.

Interesting fact of the day: the Lovely Melanie thinks we'll probably try Millie on solid food in the new year. Although Millie will only technically be 3 months old (in reality she's 6 months, of course) she will have been taking milk for getting on for 5 months, so she should be ready for solid food.
And there was me just getting used to having milky vomit over myself...

***

Thursday 15th December
The Top 20 Geek Novels. And I've read them all (which surprised me, for some reason) :-)
Well, except for The Illuminatus Trilogy (and I once bought my brother a copy for Christmas - does that count?)

Meanwhile, back in the so-called real world, Millie's now 9lb 6oz, 8lbs heavier than when she was born - think of that... And the Moses basket that she currently sleeps in is becoming a bit small for her now, so we may be moving that out of the cot and just letting her sleep, au naturelle in the cot like a proper big girl.
There's still a lot of smiling going on, when she's not too tired, and she's just started reacting to toys being put in front of her, especially ones that make a noise. There's no grabbing or holding yet (she's still having trouble getting those stupid fingers into her mouth...) but where she only used to smile at faces Millie is now amused by a duck-duck or a moo-cow or a babbit being waved in front of her.
The Lovely Melanie was looking back at some video of Mille from over month ago, and it's startling to see the change in her. I mean, I thought Millie getting eyebrows had made quite a difference, but Millie paying attention to things around her, though perhaps a more subtle change is, with hindsight/video, much more impressive. The Millie of five weeks ago ignored you - she ignored you, she ignored the camera, she ignored toys; in fact, she ignored just about everything except her own immediate comfort, and knowing the Millie we have with us now, that boring old Millie is actually a bit disconcerting to watch (and no fun at all!)
I'm finding it continually surprising how fast babies develop, and how much of that development is in leaps and bounds, rather than a steady progression. One day Millie doesn't care about duck-ducks in the slightest, she doesn't even appear to know they're there, then the next she's spontaneously fascinated by them; it's as though switches are being thrown, as though her brain is booting up like a computer, so that the "face recognition" software comes online, then the "smile reaction" program. Not, as I'd expected, like an incremental learning process at all.

And, of course, Christmas is coming. Not only do we have a Millie in the house for the first time, but we're also - gasp - staying in London for the first time. Ordinarily we alternate our Christmas Days between families each year: one year Christmas Day and Boxing Day at my parents, then over to the Lovely Melanie's parents for the 27th and 28th; next year the other way round.
However this year sees a controversial break with tradition because we're staying at our house in London, albeit with most of Christmas Day round at friends' (how hard can it be to cook a Christmas dinner, eh...?)
We've always had to be absolutely scrupulously fair about the rotating family Christmas because, as much as we both like our in-laws (and we both genuinely do), the Lovely Melanie and I each really want to spend Christmas with our own families. So to be fair we tossed a coin the very first year (the Lovely Melanie won) and have alternated ever since, two days at one family's, two days at the other's.

Until this year.
This year we (well, mainly me) decided that carrying all our stuff, and Millie AND presents on the train up to Hatfield on Christmas Eve, then over to Swindon on the train on the 27th, then back to London for the 28th (I have to work that day) on the train with all our stuff and Millie AND accumulated presents, was a bad idea. The Lovely Melanie suggested "we" hire a car so that "we" can drive where "we" need to go, which sounds like a better idea, until you realise, the Lovely Melanie can't drive, and that I would spend most of my Christmas either actually driving or being about to drive, and so unable to drink.
And, hey, all our relatives (i) have cars, (ii) don't have babies, and (iii) want to see Millie, so we thought rather than us have to traipse about the country why not make them come to us?! Heh heh heh.
So ths year, for the first time, we're going to be spending Christmas in London with friends. Funnily enough, I'm rather looking forward to it - not to being without family, you understand, no, no, no, but rather to doing something different, and to having Millie there for Christmas, too.
Plus, I hear that London at Christmas is quite something to behold, being ever-so empty and quiet. Hopefully we can go for a walk on Christmas Day afternoon, perhaps around Burgess Park, near where our friends live.
It should be good anyway. :-)

***

Sunday 18th December
Just back from a very nice weekend in Swindon, during which Millie was very well behaved indeed, and charmed everybody she met. Unfortunately, she'd stored up all her bad behaviour ready for when she got home, till even the normally unflappable Lovely Melanie nearly lost her temper with such a badly-behaved baby. :-(

Anyway, she's gone to sleep now and here are a whole bunch of pictures from the weekend - the Carter Family Christmas Party 2005, Caroline and Princey's Christmas Party, not to mention pictures of the McGlone Family and the all-new May family (little Jack May, you may remember, was due to be born long before Millie, but Millie is actually older then him by a couple of weeks now).
Anyway, lots of photos.

Oh, and thanks to various people over the past week who've said they read and love my little old website - some more unexpected than others - and for the positive feedback about the little Millie link above; turns out a few people out there think it's rather sweet. Cos it took me, like, og god, hours and hours to get just right. Oh, yeah. Definitely hours and not just a few minutes. Oh, no.

Finally, a little bit of a "big up" to an American folky/bluegrass band I've discovered called The Everybodyfields, who are very very good. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I like their new album, Plague Dreams, a lot. Sadly, it's nigh-on impossible to get hold of in the UK, but I wrote to them asking how I could buy one and they very generously offered to post me a copy and pay for the international postage, which was most generous, I thought.
So I was quite glad to find that such a nice bunch of people had made such a very good album. :-)

***

Friday 16th December
Fact Of The Day - or of the Month, even! It sounds crazy, I know, but the word "penguin" is of Welsh origin!
In Welsh "pen gwyn" means "white head", which is where we get "penguin" from.
I find that really quite strange, given that penguins come from an entirely different hemisphere to Wales.

Today's amazing fact is courtesy of Dr Mike Bingham, F-Wit's keeper.

***

Wednesday 21st December (morning)
Is America going sane again?
As if it weren't cheering enough that all those fledgling democracies in South America are voting in more and more left-wing leaders, and that US senators (or whatever they're called) voted not to renew the scary, anti-freedom, Paranoia Act - sorry, Patriot Act - then we hear that a US judge has ruled that the loony religious nonsense known as "intelligent design" should not be taught in science lessons because...well, because it isn't science, basically!

The always readable New Scientist put it this way -
[Judge John Jones of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania] ..systematically dismantled the arguments of the proponents of intelligent design. Jones said that the history of intelligent design shows that it is essentially creationism with explicit references to God and the Bible removed.
Jones also said that language in the school board statement that evolution is only a "theory" is misleading. It confuses the scientific and colloquial meanings of "theory". And by singling out evolution from all other scientific theories it suggests that there is some special doubt about the truth of evolution.
The judge stated that intelligent design cannot be considered science for a number of reasons. By depending on a supernatural cause it violates the basic ground rules of science that have been in place since the 16th century.
He also found that intelligent design relies on the "false dualism" that if evolution can be disproven, then intelligent design is proven. In any case, he found that intelligent design's criticisms of evolution have been largely refuted.

And wasn't it so nice to see all-round God-type person Pat Robertson on TV saying afterwards that if Pennsylvania was hit by a terrible disaster anytime soon then it would be all their own fault and that they deserved it?
So much for 'loving thy neighbour' and 'turning the other cheek'...

***

Wednesday 21st December (evening)
I've been meaning to do this for ages...
Compare and contrast me (aged just one week) and Millie (around the same time)


Millie...


Me. ;-)

Almost spooky, eh?

***

Wednesday 28th December (morning)
Boo! Stupid work - fancy making me come in over the Christmas break!
It's nominally to "maintain a skeleton crew", so there's always someone there to answer the 'phones to clients (who are mostly away for the Christmas break!).
Here's how that works...
ME (answering phone): Good morning, Acme Subtitling Company.
CLIENT: Hello, can I speak to Charlie Farnsbarnes, please?
ME: No, sorry, he's not back in the office until January.
CLIENT: Oh. Well, can I speak to Julie Swahooli, then?
ME: No, sorry, she's not back until January either.
CLIENT: Blast. Well, perhaps you can help me? It's Constantinople Smith from the Ultimate Film Company. Do you know when the Kazikistan subtitles for King Kong will be ready?
ME: Whoa, cool! Are we subtitling King Kong?!?! Excellent! I love that film, dude!
CLIENT: Goodbye. (Hangs up)

On the more interesting Millie side of things, she's going to be trying solid food for the first time today - probably in about 40 minutes time. It's only going to be a single spoonful of "baby rice" (whatever that is) but, still, pretty exciting, eh? The Lovely Melanie's going to ring me up and let me know what happens, but, as they used to say on the start of Stingray - "Anything could happen in the next half-hour."

Millie also got A LOT of presents over Christmas, far too many to even begin to list here. Suffice to say, the Lovely Melanie had to order a toy-chest from Argos yesterday. So, many thanks from us to absolutely everyone who bought a present or sent a Christmas card for our little girl - and, I'd like to say, especially to those who've never even met her! Thank you.

We had a lovely Christmas, too - a great Christmas Day round "Uncle" Simon's house (by the Old Kent Road) with "Uncle" R Kelly, "Auntie" Sam and "Uncle" "Local Businessman" Shash Khan, during which we ate and drank rather more than was strictly necessary (or desirable), opened more presents, and completely failed to watch the Queen's Speech - although we did actually want to this year, because a friend of mine was subtitling it on Sky TV, and since he only had a couple more days left at work we thought he might "spice it up" a bit... (he didn't). Still, I'm reliably informed that the speech was as anodyne and pointless as usual, so no great loss there.
Millie was incredibly well behaved, even to the point of letting us eat a delicious Christmas dinner with all the trimmings in peace while she "played" with (or rather, dribbled over and manhandled) a new toy; she laughed and gurgled away to anyone who would listen almost all day long.

I then stayed up until 1.30am playing my new favourite computer game, which I got for Christmas, Darwinia. That was rather silly of me as Millie is always always always up at 7am (at the latest) every morning... But, hey, it was Christmas!
What else did I get? Hm, well, it was a pretty good year, present-wise - so muchos thanks to everyone for my presents! The Lovely Melanie bought me a training flight in a microlight (something I'm really looking forward to! Imagine, it's the closest thing to actually flying yourself - nothing but a small engine and what looks like a few pieces of tent put together wrong keeping you airborne!), plus some lovely Caribbean rum, a couple of CDs, socks, etc.
Good socks, too!

Boxing Day saw my parents and my brother and his girlfriend come to visit for the day, and make a fuss of Millie, which was again very nice indeed. I took my parents and Millie for a walk round Honor Oak (and was surprised at how well my dad managed that, given that he's not been terribly well since he had his pacemaker fitted - there's been a lot of trouble with it). We went up One-Tree Hill and over to Blythe Hill Fields - both pretty big hills, for London, at least, and I was glad to get back home after a couple of hours of that. Still, at least I burned off some of the day before's excess.

And yesterday we had the Lovely Melanie's parents and her sister and her boyfriend come round in the afternoon, and even more fuss was made of Millie (and she still took it in her stride, bless her).
And now I'm back at work, tired and looking forward to New Year's Eve... Sigh.

***

Saturday 24th December

Happy Christmas everyone.

***

Thursday 29th December
I can't help but keep looking at that picture of Millie below, the one of her in her high chair (very very generously given to us by my old friend from Swindon, Mark Williams, and his wife Sara) just before she starts eating/spreading food around her face.
Please do tell me if you think I'm completely wrong, but that photo just seems to capture a certain essence of "baby": Millie sat on her own, dwarfed by a huge high chair that she can only just see over; dressed in a plastic bib that shows her parents are prepared for some real mess, and she's looking straight at the camera with a slightly uncertain face, one that has no idea what's going on, despite all the accoutrements of meal time in front of her.
It has a beautiful innocence and naivete to it, as well as an air of vulnerability.

I could look at that picture all day. :-)

***

Wednesday 28th December (afternoon)

***

Friday 30th December
Do you know, I genuinely didn't think it would bother me, selling all my collection of old indie cassettes, but I've just put them up for sale on eBay here, and only afterwards did I suddenly feel terribly sad about the whole business. I spent a decade collecting these tapes (I couldn't afford CDs and didn't much like vinyl; plus, I mostly listened to music on my Walkman), but since I got a job and could afford to buy CDs then these tapes have been gathering dust in a forgotten drawer. And now we need to clear out some stuff to make room for all the new stuff we/Millie are getting and it was just time for these old friends to go.
Most of them I've at least got mp3 copies of, if not actual replacement CDs, and the simple fact is that I never ever play cassettes any more - I'm not even sure we have a cassette player in the house!
Still, these tapes were carried around with me from sixth form in Swindon to uni in Wolverhampton, then from Wolverhampton down to London, then all around London; they've been around for some of the most formative years of my life...but I guess it's time to move on. It's going to be a brand-new year very soon, and maybe it's time to cast off some of that old history and make some new history, eh?

So bring it on 2006...I'm ready (although, could we have an easier year than 2005, perhaps, eh?)

***

Tuesday 3rd January 2006
It's turning out to be much much harder than I'd anticipated to maintain a dissolute rock'n'roll lifestyle when you're a dad.
Take New Year's, for example. We only went round a friend's - one local enough that we could walk between his house and ours - and I only drank white wine (and champagne, natch) because I don't normally get a hangover drinking white wine; or at least, not one of my famous all-day vomit-fests. We were back home by 2am (Millie had spent most of the night blissfully asleep in a towel-lined drawer in our friend's bedroom, except when all the ladies at the party piled in to watch the Lovely Melanie feed her), I had a cup of tea and went to bed, a bit drunk, I admit, but hardly rolling about on the floor singing Copacabana.

Suddenly it's 7am, the alarm goes off as usual: Millie needs feeding and changing. So I get up, a bit groggy, and change the nappy. Have a glass of water and a lovely cup of tea, then back to wonderful bed while the Lovely Melanie does the actual feeding.
Ten minutes later, I'm in the bathroom removing the cup of tea and glass of water from my gullet, and feel so awful that I don't surface again until about 1.30. Fortunately, the Lovely Melanie is made of sterner stuff (and drank less) so she's still able to function and take care of our daughter.
I am a terrible father.
But the thing is, I did feel like a terrible father; and not only a terrible father but really really guilty that the Lovely Melanie had to do everything for most of that day, even though she was feeling "a bit rough".
It's an awful feeling sometimes, to keep realising that this is never going to stop. There's no foreseeable point, really, when our lives will get back to how they were before. And as much as I love Millie and don't regret having her for one single moment, it's absolutely impossible to carry on going out anything like the way we did before we had her. Taking care of a very small child is quite difficult anyway, but if you've got even a mild hangover it very quickly becomes simply wretched. Wretched is definitely the word. Oh, yes.

So, I'm still going to go out and have a rare old time on my birthday in a couple of weeks, and the Lovely Melanie will have to take care of Millie on her own the next day, but that's only because it's my birthday. From now on, big nights out are going to be few and far between...

Which isn't actually as bad as it sounds for us since Millie's growing more attentive, chatty and interactive by the day now. She watches people come in and leave the room, looks around to see what that noise was behind her, and laughs and laughs and laughs - I had no idea babies laughed so much! And the lovely thing is that it's such uninhibited laughter, so full of innocent joy that it's frighteningly infectious, and we can all just sit around and laugh for, well, only for minutes really, but it feels like longer in retrospect.

Oh, and a very happy new year to everyone. :-)

***

Tuesday 10th January 2006
A picture is worth a thousand words...
Well, I've got a cold, and I'm very tired, so here's 4,000 words to be going on with.


***

Wednesday 18th January 2006
"Ooh, Stu, you haven't written anything here for ages, Stu." "Ooh, Stu, have you given up with the website, Stu?" "Ooh, call yourself a, um...man with...er...a website thingie, Stu...?"

Shut up.

It was my birthday three days ago, I've had a cold, a bad back and a small child at home being decidedly picky about her milk.
Of all of these, I think my birthday has taken longest to recover from. And to everyone who made it along to my Bloody Big Birthday Bazooka Bonanza on Saturday 14th (and there were almost 30 of you beautiful people - although less than 20 actually came clubbing after the pub - boo, lightweights!), thank you very much for coming and making me feel so very popular. :-D
I didn't actually feel too dreadful on Sunday morning, but it's taken me a few days to get back to normal, rather than the few hours it used to. It's a terrible paradox of being 34 that now you can afford financially to drink far more and stay out far later than ever before, physically it's becoming more and more expensive.

Thank goodness Millie went to her grandparents for the best part of 24 hours, I say - but what was the Lovely Melanie thinking, having not gotten to bed until 4am, getting back up at 8am to go to Hatfield to collect the girl from her grandparents??? It did no one any favours, this morning masochism, as she then had to have a sleep at her parents (who were managing quite admirably with Millie!) and thus ended up not getting back home till 6pm! Thanks again, though, to Millie's grandparents for taking care of her for the night and most of next day. It was either them or Social Services...

Anyway, I have to say, I'm beginning to think having your birthday on January 15th is definitely the way forward. It used to be that I thought it was a really really bum deal - coming so close after Christmas it meant you had to wait eleven and a half months till you got any more presents! I mean, good grief - eleven and a half months! Even at 34 that's a long time, as a child it's practically a life sentence!
Ah, but the wisdom of age...
It's a well-known fact that January's a depressing month. No-one has any money, the weather's rubbish, the bright lights of Christmas are disappearing in the rear-view mirror like a car-crash on a rainy motorway. So to have your birthday slap-bang in the middle of that period, especially if you deliberately make a big fuss about it the way I like to ("Bloody Big Birthday Bazooka Bonanza" anybody?), genuinely gives me, and hopefully a few other folks, something to cling onto.
The two weeks after New Year's are kind of the build-up to it (where are we going? what are we doing? who's coming? etc etc) whilst the two weeks after it that lead to the light at the end of the tunnel that is February are still lit by the warm rosy afterglow of the birthday itself (where did we go? what happened? who came? how drunk were you!! etc etc).

"What did I get for my birthday?" Oh, you don't want to know.
No, really, you...
OK. Sigh. But do try and remember that I'm 34, eh?
I got a new office chair and a big cooking pot for making stews and casseroles and things in (both of which I asked for, and both of which I'm well chuffed with).
Oh, and a few CDs (Architecture In Helsinki and Baxter Dury), some books (not science fiction - all ready for when I get a break from the seemingly endless Clarke Award reading). And a small toy car with very big wheels(?).

Oh, and in Millie news (which is of course why most people are reading this), we're trying solid food again. So far so good...
Plus, we're due to be weighed again this week; and after the disappointing weight gain of a fortnight ago, when we put on just a few ounces to reach 10lbs 2ozs, hopes are high that we'll be more than halfway to 11lbs.

***

Friday 20th January 2006
Gah! What's going on?! You turn your back for one minute to have a baby and the whole world goes to pot!
Right, well, I'm back in town now, so it's time to set the world to rights - starting with tax evasion!

But seriously, here's something interesting, given the current fuss being made about how much unemployment benefits cost the UK and the efforts being made to get those lazy, shiftless, workshy, scrounging - probably asylum-seeking - unemployed to pull their fingers out, get on their bike and get a job.
Tax evasion (using loopholes and scams to avoid paying tax) by the very rich and by major companies costs the UK 20 billion (more details here, here and here, among others) - quite a bit less than the 12 billion spent on unemployment benefits in total. No doubt some of that 12 billion of unemployment benefit is being wasted, no doubt there are some illegal claimants, but if the government's real aim was to save us some money then they'd do a lot better chasing that 20 billion lost by tax evasion, because all of it - every single shiny new penny - is basically being stolen from you and from me by big companies and the very rich.

So what's being done to try and stop this massive haemorrhage of money from the government coffers? Is there a massive government crackdown on corporate and millionaire tax dodgers? Is there a reemphasis on the responsibility these institutions and individuals have to the country as a whole? Is there even, perhaps, a plan to get their neighbours to grass them up for non-payment or breaking the law?

No, there isn't. Instead, they sacked a load of people at the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

So the next time the Sun or the Daily Mail has a crackdown on benefit cheats (precious few of whom are living in any kind of idyllic luxury at our expense) you might want to point out to them that there are much bigger savings to be made elsewhere...

***

Monday 23rd January 2006
Blimey, all kinds of great and unusual things happening over the weekend (although not for the Lovely Melanie who's currently into her sixth day of flu - and proper flu, too, not just a bit of a cold).
Let's go through them all in reverse levels of greatness, shall we?
First (or, by level of greatness, last) is my not feeling the least bit hungover on Sunday morning. I went for a quiet drink down my local with some friends on Saturday night; had one of those really nice nights down the pub, just chatting away for a few hours, and had four pints (and a tinnie). Ordinarily I'd feel at best a bit "dry" next morning, and at worst I've had a full-blown hangover, but Sunday saw me up with the lark and playing five-a-side football by midday...

Which segues neatly in to the second great thing, which was me scoring a hat-trick of goals, and setting up a couple of other good ones, too. This is so great because I'm rubbish at football - rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish. In fact, let's be honest, I'm rubbish at all sports (except swimming - I'm quite a good swimmer). And this is not me being modest about my sporting prowess, oh, no; I genuinely suck at anything involving physical co-ordination, far more so than any normal person. I've always sucked: I can't catch, can't throw, can't control a ball with my feet, can't hit things with a stick... so it was nice (not to say "unheard of"!) to genuinely play "quite well" on Sunday, if only to see the amazed looks on other people's faces!

And so onto the third great thing, which is that I've managed to wangle a place on Thames Water's annual sewer tour!
I've always been inexplicably fascinated with underground tunnels, hidden places and the like, and it was always my dream to go on a tour of a bit of the London Underground at night when the trains had stopped (obviously!). In 2004 we managed to get on the Open House tour of the abandoned underground tram tunnel/station on Kingsway in Holborn, which was pretty cool, but this is much much cooler than that. This is even cooler than a tour of the Underground, and that's pretty cool - on a scale of one to 17 it comes in at around a 15 (17 being "living on the moon").
Thames Water don't advertise the existence of these tours anywhere, as far as I'm aware, don't make any kind of fuss about it and certainly don't encourage people to actually come on the tour. However, a little fact like that never stopped an intrepid fact-hound like yours truly, and I've been following the trail of the mythical sewer tour for a couple of years now.
It may seem like a pretty weird thing to want to do, but I'm SO excited by the whole prospect of seeing somewhere you never ever normally get to see: a whole strange new world just under your feet. And, trust me, it's usually very very very difficult for members of the public to get down into the sewers for a guided tour of Bazalgette's remarkable creation. I just hope the smell isn't too awful.
And you know what'd be good? It would be if I could do the sewer tour AND use my voucher for a microlight training flight in the same week! To see a different view of above and below within hours of each other...

OK, that's all of the really great and unusual things. Elsewhere, I've now seen a list of the Clarke Award books that the other five judges liked...and in some ways it's very different to what I'd expected. There's a meeting at the Science Museum this coming Saturday to narrow the list down to just six books, which we then have to re-read before we meet again in April, and choose a final winner. Personally, I think we'll be able to pick about four books for the shortlist fairly easily, but the other two may turn out to be more difficult. It does at least mean the meeting on Saturday should be interesting. :-)

And what of Millie...? She's very well, thank you for asking. Still coping with the solid food (the Lovely Melanie's already making noises about trying carrots and apples, as well as rice). She also seems to have made one of those quatum leaps in her development that she periodically does. It's quite a subtle change this time, but she now relates to the outside world more than she did, or more enthusiastically, I should say. She's beginning to want to touch things she sees, and although this may not sound like a big thing I think it's quite important because it means she's conscious that she can move herself and can influence the world. That awareness of yourself as a being who isn't passive, but can do things and interact with your environment, that's quite a radical change of viewpoint, if you think about it. And that seems to be what Millie's just realised.

And my god does she talk! Not words, of course, but endless streams of syllables and sounds punctuated with laughter. On and on and on and on! It's lovely to hear... :-)

***

Monday 30th January 2006
This is rapidly turning into "Stu's Monday morning What-I-Did-At-The-Weekend site", isn't it?

Well, it was a very busy weekend (even without babies to take care of - babies who, you may be interested to know, are now eating rice, pears and carrots, although not all at once).

But the big event was on Saturday, of course, with the Clarke Award shortlist meeting at the Science Museum; when myself and the other five judges had to choose a scant six books out of almost 50 for the shortlist. It was a genuinely fascinating afternoon of polite, well-reasoned debate, with some really interesting points made by some very clever people (not me) and discussed by some less clever people (me), and I'm really looking forward to the finals in April now, when we whittle that final six down to a single, undoubted winner. There's no second place or special mention in the Clarke Award - much like Russian Roulette, you either win or you lose.
Confidentiality forbids me to tell you much about what went on in the meeting itself, but I can give you a list of the finalists and say, cryptically, that I had to be persuaded about the merits of only one of them, and I'm glad that I was.
The finalists are:

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Learning The World- Ken MacLeod

Pushing Ice - Alastair Reynolds

Air - Geoff Ryman

Accelerando - Charles Stross

Banner Of Souls - Liz Williams

More info about these books is available here.
If you know anything about recent sf and its authors I hope you'll agree that there's a remarkable range of both content and form displayed in this list; from the hyper-fast bleeding edge tech-head to the gentle near-pastoral; from squids in space to calamari on the plate; spaceships to child-bearing hips.
It wasn't something we planned, or even expected, but it does go to show the great depth of field that modern science fiction embraces: I honestly think there's a book on the list that anyone, regardless of their literary tastes, could enjoy - even the Lovely Melanie! The choosing of the final winner in April is going to be a long and possibly brutal, er, discussion, I suspect...
***

Tuesday 31st January 2006
Did you know that as soon as babies start eating anything but milk (Millie's now eating rice, pears, apples and carrots) their sick starts smelling like adult sick? No, neither did I until last night, when Millie threw up on my chest just after a feed.
Then on my legs.
Then all over everything, when a towel placed in front of her to try and stem the flow only succeeded in deflecting it in a wide arc.
And so I had to change all my clothes, we had to wash the towels, wipe down the sofa, mop the floor and wipe down Millie.

And still the Lovely Melanie and I both smelt of sick all night - and not the old, milky, fairly innocuous baby sick, either.

Isn't it amazing the things you find out when you become a dad?

Here's the guilty party, pre-vomit...

***

Thursday 2nd February 2006

Wisdom for the day
And lo, he did preach to the parental, saying unto them, "Never feedeth to the babies that are small a foodstuff that stains bright orange while they dost wear anything white or light-coloured. Never weareth anything yourself that is white or light-coloured whilst feeding the babies that are small a foodstuff that dost stain bright orange - like butternut squash, for instance. For they that choose thus are doomed to become as of the colour of the butternut squash themselves."
Here endeth the lesson.

***

Friday 3rd February 2006
An excellent Guardian article evoking everything that I remember being good about Smash Hits...

***

Monday 6th February 2006

This photo, taken over the weekend when my parents came up to stay with us, doesn't actually look much like Millie, but the Lovely Melanie can't stop looking at it, and I burst out laughing every time I see it, so we figured it was a good'un.

Millie also, it turns out, doesn't much care for bananas, but does love all kinds of awful vegetable mush - which is the opposite of her dad, so maybe physically she's mine but mentally she's her mother's daughter. My parents brought us up some rhubarb this weekend to plant in our garden; the Lovely Melanie likes rhubarb and we're hoping Millie will, too, particularly since rhubarb is just about indestructible and grows remarkably quickly... Better get eating, girls!

And finally, with my parents around to make me feel vaguely guilty I got some gardening done this weekend, and we got a load of coving put up in Millie's room and in the living room. It was a bigger job that took longer than I'd expected (and wasn't helped by the Lovely Melanie and I feeling a bit ropey on Saturday, having been able to go out clubbing together on Friday night because my parents babysat for us) but now it's done our house unaccountably feels more like a home and less like a very badly fitted and maintained habitation unit. Which is nice.

That's a bit of a boring entry, isn't it? Sorry. We had a lovely weekend, but not an earth-shattering one, and I'm just a bit too busy at work at the moment to add anything much else.

***

Thursday 9th February 2006
Crumbs, is it Thursday already?
The Millster and I were flying solo again last night while her mum went out boozing in Waterloo.
One strange thing we've noticed she's started doing (that Millie's doing, not her mum) is getting confused while laughing. She'll have an hysterical laughing fit, during which she'll do the Millie "happy dance", which consists of standing up, flapping her arms about like a frightened chicken, and sort of bouncing from side to side, then collapse in hysterics at anything (literally collapse - she can't stand up whilst laughing too hard). At this point, everything you do is just brilliant - you're the best-ever episode of Father Ted starring Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy (when he was funny) and Eddie Izzard. But then obviously this level of comedy genius can't be maintained indefinitely and we start to get a bit confused - the laughter is just as loud but starts to sound more like crying, then back to laughter, then crying, then laughter and then...you can't actually tell which it is, and then it becomes proper crying - it's bathos in the truest sense of the word.
Either that or incipient schizophrenia.

I'm probably going to say something about cost/provision of nursery care in this country at some point soon, too - I can feel it building up inside me...

But not just yet - I'm more looking forward to going to see Belle & Sebastian play live tomorrow night. I've only heard the new album just the once so far (I bought/downloaded it on Tuesday from Karma Download) and I'm really not sure if I like it all that much yet - but I thought I didn't like Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant for quite a few listens, but I love that now.
Can't get too drunk though, as Saturday we're off to see the in-laws in Hatfield and I've got to set up their webcam and sort out their MP3 players (I'm kind of their IT support...)

In fact, I'm actually going to TWO gigs tomorrow - that's the kind of rock'n'roll dad I am - because there's some kind of concert at LSE during lunchtime tomorrow (a sitar is involved in it somewhere, and I've always been a sucker for the sitar!). Can't get drunk there either because, a, it's in the LSE library, which (foolish oversight!) doesn't have a bar, and b I've got to come back to work and do some subtitling afterwards. We're very, very busy at the moment, since our parent company in the USA sacked all but one of their subtitlers during a dispute with the union, and are now desperately trying to get us to do all their subtitling for them (they do most of the TV subtitles in the USA!)
It's - almost - hilarious that not a single person in their management thought to ask at any point before the official "please vacate the premises" letters were sent out, "Er, if we sack all our subtitlers who's going to do all the actual subtitling - WHICH IS 99% OF OUR ENTIRE BUSINESS?!?!?"
The business mind (especially the "upper management" business mind) never ever ever ceases to amaze me. They really don't think in the same way as the rest of humanity does, do they? Maybe I'll write a short science fiction story about that one day (ah - almost forgot - I already did!)

***

Tuesday 14th February 2006
So far this week Millie has learnt how to roll over from her back to her front. It's a great new trick and she's practicing it at every possible opportunity.
Unfortunately the clever one not yet properly mastered rolling the other way, from her front to her back; and she doesn't like being left on her front, so has to cry to get one of her parents to turn her over again.
And again.
And again.

Fortunately, she's also getting even more interested in touching and grabbing things with her hands (although her sense of perspective is still a bit wonky and she'll often try to touch things she can't reach - to paraphrase Father Ted's explanation to Dougal about this kind of thing - these are close, but those are far away). This is particularly nice as it gives us yet more of a sense of interaction with her.

We went to a first birthday party for a certain Jasper Hudson on Sunday afternoon, which was very nice, if a bit weird at times - I've never seen so many babies and toddlers and young children concentrated into such a small area since...well, since I was a baby/toddler/young child. Millie took the opportunity to sit in a ball pool (which she quite liked, for a few minutes), to get told how cute she was by every adult within a five-mile radius and to drool over everything within a three-mile radius.
Young Master Hudson's not actually one year until tomorrow, so happy birthday for Wednesday, young man - I definitely think mum and dad will like your present, although you may be a bit young to fully appreciate its genius. ;-)

Belle & Sebastian were very good on Friday, by the way. And even the Hammersmith Apollo being the most unpleasantly corporate concentration camp I've been to in a long while couldn't quite take away from their brilliance.
And what a journey home - I know it's on the other side of London but it took nearly two hours! Our friends who'd driven up from Swindon (75 miles away) were almost certainly home before we were! And I bet they didn't have the unnerving experience of continually arriving at tube/railway stations to an announcement of "This is the last train of the evening. The station will be closing once this train has departed." That message followed us all the way home, like a wolf nipping at our heels!

And a quick question for Gordon Brown - why are you trying to be more like Tony Blair than Tony Blair is in a bid to gain the leadership of the Labour Party? The reason Tony Blair is losing popularity at the moment is because he's Tony Blair (and his policies are largely crap). Why the hell would we want to replace Tony Blair with someone exactly like him?? But, oh, no, we get the usual bollocks about needing to be tougher on crime, tougher on security, more money for police, fewer civil liberties, bringing back the birch, etc etc etc.
Sigh. We really seem to be heading the way of the US, where the difference between the policies of the two parties needs a magnifying glass to spot it. And I was only more depressed when Menzies Campbell (the senior Lib-Dem leadership candidate) said pretty much exactly the same thing - that they need more ties to business, to be tougher on security, etc. etc.
It's almost* enough to make you respect the BNP for at least having some "different" policies...

*no, it isn't, but you get what I'm trying to say

***

Tuesday 14th February 2006 (continued)
Excuse my language but - holy fucking shit! Millie's picture on my desktop here at work just caught my eye a moment ago, and it suddenly hit me again - "I'm her dad! I am a dad! I have fathered a child!"

Does this ever stop happening??

***

Friday 17th February 2006
The scene: Millie has just been fed, but is plainly unhappy about something as she is crying quite loudly. Her dad is sat on the sofa holding her to his chest trying to settle her down ready for bed. Dad is in something of a hurry as, having recently discovered he is now officially "overweight", he wants to do half an hour on his exercise bike before dinner.

MILLIE: Waah! (Coughs) Waaaaaaah!
DAD: (Gently) Come on, poppet, calm down, calm down. All right, all right...
MILLIE: (Even louder) WAAAAAAAH!
DAD: (Gently) No, no, no, no, no, love. Easy now...
MILLIE: (Coughs, looks alarmed)
DAD: Umm...
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad's front for about two seconds)
DAD: Melanie!
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad's front for about two seconds)
DAD: Melanieeeeee! Melanie!!
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad's front for a further three seconds)
DAD: MELANIE!!!! MELANIE!!!
(Millie briefly vomits a small amount of thick white substance down Dad's front)
LOVELY MELANIE: (From offstage) What?
DAD: Can you come in here, please. Quickly!
LOVELY MELANIE: (Entering the room) What?
(Millie vomits a thick white substance down Dad's front)
DAD: Quickly!!
LOVELY MELANIE: Oh. Hold on a sec. (She leaves the room)
(Dad sniffs, grimaces. He notices Millie's face is covered in sick where it's soaked into his top. He sighs)
(Millie coughs, then vomits a thick white substance down Dad's front)

DAD: Melanie!
LOVELY MELANIE: (Re-entering the room) Stop making such a fuss. I have to deal with this on my own when you're not here. I think she's finished now. (To Millie) Have you finished, munchkin?
(Millie coughs, then vomits a thick white substance onto a towel held by Melanie. Millie begins to cry)
LOVELY MELANIE: (Sympathetically, to Millie) You should stop eating if you're full, Millie-moo. (Briskly, to Dad) Give her to me.
(Dad hands her over to Lovely Melanie, then looks down at his vomit-covered top and jeans; he is unsure how to get the top over his head and off without getting vomit on his face)
(Millie begins to cry, loudly)

But despite all this, Millie still weighed in at a hefty 11lb 14oz earlier in the week.
Quite an increase from 1lb 70z, eh?

***

Tuesday 21st February 2006
No, there haven't been any pictures for a while, have there?
Yes, I should probably rectify that.


I love that second one of Millie on the phone, it makes me laugh every time I see it - I can just imagine her shouting "What the...?!?!?"

***

Friday 24th February 2006
Stupid government, not only selling off the family silver, but selling off the family silver for bugger all!
Here's a letter I've just faxed to my MP (using FaxYourMP.com - which is very very easy to use and FREE!)
Why not send it - or a similar one - to your MP? ;-)

Dear [MY MP],

I wonder if you can help me - I've been very concerned to read about the privatisation of 'defence research' group QinetiQ, which was recently floated on the stock exchange.

I note that the Carlyle Group (which bought the company) paid just 42 million for a third of QinetiQ and management control in the privatisation deal - a deal that cost the taxpayer double that amount in legal and advisory fees. How can this be justified?

Carlyle also managed to avoid any responsibility for expensive environmental liabilities, and immediately started selling off thousands of acres of former military training grounds, target sites, tank lands and air strips for housing, the sale of which has already netted them a cool 227 million.
Can you tell me how it was then that the government was so lax as to sell QinetiQ for such a paltry amount?

But it seems to get worse - QinetiQ's chairman, Sir John Chisholm, has a potential windfall of 25m and chief executive Graham Love stands to make 22m from shares they awarded themselves, thus making a tidy 42 million profit, at the taxpayer's expense.
Can you tell me how and why were they allowed to get away with such a blatant rip-off of public funds?

To add to this (and I'm sorry to go on, but this issue is really bugging me) there are the consultants, advisers and other service providers, who between them had also made more than 100m by the time the flotation was completed.

So it seems to me that all the sale of QinetiQ has done is make a VERY small number of individuals and institutions VERY rich VERY quickly at the expense of myself and other taxpayers.

Finally, given the government's obsession with "terrorists" and "security", I note that QinetiQ itself has warned that it may not be able to "deter misappropriation of its confidential information". So it would seem we are not only out of pocket but also more vulnerable to attacks from the products of our own defence research.

Can you possibly confirm that this is the case, or is there some extremely well-hidden benefit to the sale that everyone outside the government is unaware of?

Yours sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

***

Wednesday 1st March 2006 (afternoon)
Outside it's a glorious sunny day - and it's snowing hard.
What's that all about??

Wednesday 1st March 2006
Cooked pancakes. Yum. Very nice, thank you. One piece of cooking I excel at. Saw Walk The Line at the cinema. Disappointing. A lightweight skim of a film, and nothing that hasn't been done (better) before. Reese Witherspoon "funnier looking" than I remember. Millie still alive - still small, but still well. Very grabby. And apt to roll over at any moment. Very tired. But still going to see A Cock And Bull Story at cinema tonight. I'm playing cinema catch-up.

***

Thursday 2nd March 2006
Possibly the least convincing piece of spam ever.

"We cure any desease!"

We can't spell it, but we can cure it.
I particularly like the use of the exclamation mark on the end of the title; it just adds that little bit of assurance, that little bit of emphasis - the doctor's fist bangs down on the table - we can, damn it! We can cure anything! Deseases, duseases, doseases, daseases...

***

Sunday 5th March 2006

Some remarkably cute pictures taken by my dad when they were up on Saturday.
Four good examples of why, despite the vomit and crying and the lack of sleep, we can't help but love that little girl (that's her nan/my mum with her in the pictures).

Went to see The Go! Team on Thursday, and they were bloody brilliant - I'd kind of been meaning to get tickets for months and completely failed to get off my arse and actually go that extra yard and buy some. Fortunately (for me!) my boss and his wife had got off their arses and bought some. Desperately unfortunate (for them) Mrs Boss came down ill a couple of days before and couldn't go, and when he offered them round the office for cost price the day before the gig I jumped at the chance.

And, as I said, they were very good.

So good, in fact, that I stayed out till stupid o'clock drinking afterwards (with my lovely friend Sam, and she's very good indeed at drinking!) and had to take the next day off work. God bless my boss at work who said, when I emailed in on Friday morning to say "I'm too ill/hungover to come in! I'm really sorry! Please let me take today as impromptu holiday! Pleasepleaseplease!" he said, "If you're sick then surely that's sick leave, not holiday??" (wink wink, nudge nudge).
I'm so glad I went out of my way to buy him a t-shirt at the gig now. ;-)

***

Tuesday 14th March 2006
We tried letting Millie swim at the weekend.
With...mixed results.

We filled the bath up on Sunday afternoon (not too hot, but not too chilly neither!), then we put Millie's "water nappy" and swimming costume on, then tried to blow up her baby armbands. Then we sat down because we were dizzy from blowing so hard into the baby armbands.
Then we tried again.
Then the Lovely Melanie and I both had to stop again because the nozzle on the armbands had gone too far into our mouths and made us gag.
Then we tried again. And finally we got the armbands blown up (they're so small each section only takes one puff to fill it - once you've mastered the technique, that is).
So at last we were ready to take Millie for her first swim! Although, first obviously we had to take some pictures of this epoch-making event.
And then, finally, we were ready...

And the whole thing was over in about five minutes. Meh.
We plopped Millie into the bath lying on her back and let her float about for a bit - the Lovely Melanie hovered about nervously overhead, just in case... well, I don't really know, to be honest. Just in case the plug should come out and Millie would be sucked down the plughole and washed out to sea or something.

But Millie really enjoyed it for a couple of minutes; she floated about on her back, smiling and gurgling, apparently having a whale of a time until...the plug came out and she was sucked down it and out to sea!
No, actually until she happened to turn her head to one side to see what was going on around her - and of course turned her face UNDERWATER!
The Lovely Melanie had Millie out of the bath within about 0.00023 seconds of this catastrophe taking place, but tragically it was too late to save her - Millie already had a wet face...

At first she was fine about it, there was no fuss, just a little bit of confusion on Millie's face, as if to say, "What just happened there??" The Lovely Melanie dried off Millie's wet face and we put her back in the bath. But the fickle seeds of discontent had already been sown; Millie never really recovered from the now-infamous "wet face incident of 2006" and cried to be let out of the bath.
We tried turning her on her front, we tried cooing at her, we tried distracting her, but it was clear the brave experiment was at an end, and a distraught Millie was snatched, like Beebe's bathysphere back in 1934, from the depths of the undersea kingdom.

Here are some pics - before, during and after (grr, angry fist!)

Did you notice I currently have a beard. :-) Isn't it great? Quite the niceest beard I've seen since Brian Blessed was last on TV. Not much else to say about it really. It wasn't a really conscious decision - I didn't get a chance to shave properly for a week, and now I kind of like having one - only temporarily, but a change is as good as a rest, isn't it?

***

Sunday 19th March 2006
I finally shaved off the beard tonight. Having a beard feels very odd (trust me on this, ladies and younger chaps, I'd forgotten quite how odd it feels), so after three weeks I've decided to call it a day.
However...not before I decided to mess with the Lovely Melanie's tiny little mind, and did this:

She hated it even more than the full-on Grizzly Adams; but for about a minute there, at least a minute, I was thinking, "You know, that's not half bad..." and was genuinely almost tempted to keep it. Then the Lovely Melanie put on her Serious voice and told me to get rid of it.
So I tried down-sizing to a relatively inoffensive Magnum... Still a big fat negative.
I thought I'd give her one last chance, shrink it even further down to - you know what it is - the ever-popular "Hitler"!
Which didn't even merit a reply.

So I'm now once more bald of face, as well as (increasingly) of cranium.

***

Friday 24th March 2006
Guess who took their first faltering steps yesterday?
Nope, not me.
No, not the Lovely Melanie.
No, it wasn't Jesus either. Sigh.
You blithering idiot: it was Millie!
Millie, with a little bit of help from her mum in the balancing department, walked across most of the living room yesterday!
I am a very proud dad at the moment. :-)
It wasn't the kind of walk that would have her wowing the catwalks of Milan or Paris, but by the simple expedient of putting one leg in front of the other and holding tightly onto mum's hands Millie walked yesterday!

[Sits and proudly waits for applause to die down]

Does anyone know if this is unusual or not? Only, Millie can't balance on her own yet, she hasn't even figured out how to lift herself up on all fours as a prelude to crawling, and yet she seems to be taking tentative first steps across the living room!

Having children is a constantly changing experience - just when you think you've gotten used to them being one way they learn to do something new. And it's a much subtler process than I ever imagined it would be. Before we had Millie I had a vague idea that there were some big milestones with your children every few months: they'd crawl, walk, talk, go to nursery, etc. and that was probably about it. But it's not like that at all; there are all kinds of minor milestones popping up almost every few days. Things like, getting more hair on the side of her head (she has a fine head on top, but looks as though we've given her a "short back'n'sides"); there's watching people leave the room and turning her head when she hears (but doesn't see) them coming back; there's playing with her feet; learning - almost - how to roll over onto her front; and, second only to the walking, there's Millie's new laugh, which we're hearing an awful lot of these past couple of days, which sounds like just about the happiest, most joyous laugh I've ever heard (and I've heard some happy, joyous laughs in my time, I can tell you).

***

Tuesday 4th April 2006
Ahh... Morning. Wait a minute, let me just get a cup of tea and then we can have a good old chinwag.

...

Doh, the kettle's taking ages to boil!
Well, anyway, so how have you been? What have you been up to? Oh, yeah, really? Yeah, we're cool, great, you know; been pretty busy what with one thing and another. The garden's coming along a treat - you should come and see it, and...
There's no need to shout, I was going to mention Millie in a moment.
Yes, I'm sorry it's been so long, but...
Oh, hold on: the kettle's boiled now.

...

Ooh, lovely tea. Slurp.
Sluuuuurrrrrrrrrp.

Yeah, so, um, anyway, been very busy, or resting between bouts of busy-ness. We were in Swindon for one weekend, Hertford for another; I had a night out with the boys (and girls) this last weekend. I've also been working very hard in the garden. And the computer broke for quite a few days - screen went all funny so we bought a cheap new one from eBay. Turns out it wasn't the screen, but the graphics card, so we had to get a new graphics card (a GeCube Radeon x800GTO 128Mb, for those of you making notes).

Millie remains just fine. We were, perhaps, a little premature with the walking announcement. She's still making some sterling progress on that walking action, but it's very much a work in progress, and has been somewhat sidelined by her newfound interest in the whole Michael Flatley, Lord Of The Dance-type phenomenon. If she's in the right mood and if she's held up with her feet just above the floor then Millie will do a very respectable imitation of all that fiddly-diddley Oirish dancing malarkey.

She's also had her first taste of dead animal flesh - so far some fish and some chicken; as with most new experiences (e.g. mirrors, cats, plants, outdoors, her grandparents talking to her on Skype, etc...) she was absolutely gobsmacked by it to begin with, but soon recovered and quite enjoyed it. Which is a terribly good thing as the main problem we have with Millie these days is getting her to eat. Unless she's absolutely starving Millie doesn't enjoy eating: she finds it tiring and boring and long-winded - and so do her parents, quite frankly, because she takes so bloomin' long at it. The first time we saw another baby drink a bottle of milk in less than 10 minutes it was we who were gobsmacked! The Lovely Melanie and I both assumed that all babies took about an hour to drink a bottle of milk, and that they all usually left at least a quarter of it.
(actually, I say "to drink", but I really mean "forced to drink through a combination of cheek squeezing, raised voices, shaking of the bottle and - peculiarly - imitation fart noises, which Millie finds terribly distressing")
It's the one thing that makes life with Millie difficult; because mealtimes are such a drawn-out exhausting process we're loath to try and feed her in public. On the plus side, she still sleeps very very well, for the most part. The same baby that we saw drink a bottle in ten minutes apparently leads his parents a bit of a merry dance at nights, so it's all swings and roundabouts...

What else has happened...? Hm. Let me get some tea a second... Mmmm.

Not strictly Millie news, but I went up in a microlight the weekend before last. Only for 15 minutes, mind, as a heavy rainstorm was coming in so we had to land pretty sharpish. I'm going to go back probably sometime in June to finish off my lesson. If you get a chance to do a microlight flight I highly recommend it - microlights these days look more like very very very small ordinary planes, rather than the hang-glider with a lawnmower engine tied on the back that I was expecting, but they're still very small and truly amazing to fly in. With a large passenger aircraft (which is all I'd flown in before) it's not unlike being on a train, except for the remarkable scenery out the window; in a microlight you're definitely not on solid ground any more, and I was very much aware of there being only a thin sheet of metal under my feet. I can't wait to get up there again for a full 45 minutes! ;-)

I could also mention flooring in our house, but I won't.
I will mention that the Clarke Award final judging panel is on the 26th. And just add that I'm going to take a sabbatical from science fiction for a few months once that's done. I desperately want to read some non-fiction and some non-science fiction.

And one other thing... What was the other thing...? Other thing...other thing...
Ah, of course: the sewer trip!
No, we haven't done it yet, but did get confirmation from Thames Water the other day about it. Apparently there's a finger buffet beforehand (yes, it is "a good job it's before and not after!" as almost nobody has said to me...) and a presentation, and then we descend into the depths of the sewers at West Ham for just over an hour... And I promise to try to get some photographs.

OK, now my cup of tea is empty, and I really have to get on with some work before my boss notices I'm not really subtitling, just typing this!

***

Wednesday 5th April 2006
Millie now weighs 13lb 8oz.
And she loves chicken.
And it's becoming increasingly difficult to change her nappies, what with all the rolling about, straining to look around her and grabbing hold of her feet all the time.

***