7th April 2006|
Received via email at exactly midday today:
"Never mind ranting on about ID cards, how about putting some of the garden photos of Millay on the website? You haven't put any Millay photos on there for ages, and they is well cute."
And there are some more on my Flickr photos page.
Wednesday 5th April 2006
OK, so you haven't done anything wrong, you've no reason to be scared of the police, the government, debt-collectors, immigration or the social security fraud squad; and you're not bothered about the endlessly exciting possibilities open to anyone who can hack the government ID card database and pretend to be you, and therefore the ID card idea is a good idea, yes?
Jolly good, so you won't mind in the least being forced by law to do all of the following, will you?
appointment to be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and iris
scanned, or be fined up to £2500. Additional fines of up to £2500 may
be levied each time you fail to comply until you submit to these
If you're quite happy with all
that, then well done, you! You're an awful lot more patient and
forgiving than I am.
You'll be allowed by the government to:
What a glittering array of bright, "new" opportunities await you!
Monday 24th April 2006
In the meantime... here are some photos from our Easter break in the Lake District.
And there are plenty more here.
Tuesday 25th April 2006
First of all, Millie.
Anyway, while we were on
holiday in the Lake District Millie manifested a new ability - that of
happily floating in a big bath completely unsupported! I'd always held
her head up in the little "baby bath" we had at home, (so that she
wouldn't drown, or something like that, which sounds a bit silly now,
really). But whilst in the Lake District (did I mention that we'd been
to the Lakes...?) there was no baby bath, there being no room to put it
in the little Vauxhall Astra we hired to get us up there, so we had to
bath Millie in the Big Bath, which we have done before and which has
always induced hysterical crying in Millie previously, so we were
understandably nervous about doing it in a strange place.
What else? Er, well, Millie was almost as good as gold on the journey to and from the Lake District (did I mention that we'd...? I did? OK.) The journey took us seven hours each way, which sounds horrendous, but a good two hours of that was spent in service stations feeding the fat baby, and the journey felt much much easier than the five hours it normally takes with just a single quick stop to take a piss.
While we were away (in the Lake
District...) a combined strike force of my parents and the Lovely
Melanie's parents invaded our house and, in a top-secret, hush-hush
operation of devastating effectiveness fitted lino in our kitchen and
bathroom. Fortunately, there were no civilian casualties, just a vastly
improved living environment for all of us (especially once I'd fitted
some blinds in the kitchen, which is now one of the three rooms in our
house that I regard as "completed").
Doubtless I'll remember
something else to add later but that'll have to do for now. Hope you're
all well and everything - I'm off to finish judging the Clarke Awards
tomorrow, and thence to the awards ceremony - and I'm reliably informed
that even the token "non-sf" writer up for an award, Kazuo Ishiguro, is
planning to attend.
Thursday 27th April 2006
I have to say, also, that the Clarke Award ceremony this year was quite a step from the last few - there was free booze, delicious free food and a fantastic venue (the Apollo West End cinema - so posh it has what looks like ice in the troughs in the gents' toilets!). All this is because the Clarke's have linked up with the Sci-Fi London film festival, which is going on till Sunday night, showing a wide range of new and new-ish sf films (I've been along to see a few films there over the last few years, and some of their fare is really good).
I also finally got to meet the very lovely Keith Brooke, the guy who gave me my first "big break" in book reviewing back in about 1998, I think it was, after I emailed to ask him if he had any tips on getting a job in sf publishing (he didn't, but he did ask me if I'd like to try writing some book reviews for his highly respected website, Infinity Plus). A pleasure to finally meet you, Keith. :-)
I had to stand up in front of everyone at the award, as one of the judges, and give a little wave. I chatted briefly with Charles Stross, Geoff "The Champ" Ryman and Alastair Reynolds - all nominees, all very very nice folks indeed. Isn't it nice when people you admire and respect turn out to be, well, not bastards? Then I drank a little more free beer, nibbled on a few more complementary cocktail sausages and, tired, a little bit tipsy, but happy, decided it was time to head home to the family.
Monday 1st May 2006
Tuesday 2nd May 2006
So that was Saturday daytime. Saturday night was a leaving party for the Marvellous Sam, who's moving to Australia in a few weeks to start a new job, and we'll all miss her terribly. So to try and blot out the pain a lot of us went and got very very drunk in Brixton, then went back to the house of Jim and Si (whom I used to live with) just off the Old Kent Road, and we carried on there until a very very wise lady (thank you, Liz!) suggested it might be best if I went home to my family and didn't drink any more.
Sunday - if only I'd taken Liz's advice about four hours earlier! Doh! A largely wasted day.
Monday - working VERY hard in the garden. The back garden this time, trying to level out our
back lawn ready to reseed the grass and plant some potatoes and onions.
Did I mention all the bricks
and glass and roof tiles and roots in the ground in our garden? I've
never seen anything like it: it's as though our house was perhaps much
bigger originally, but someone demolished half of it and then simply
left all the building rubble to sink into the ground. And an old pie
plate. God knows where that came from.
Oh, and if you're voting this
Thursday, have you ever thought about voting for the Green Party...?
Thursday 4th May 2006
Her new favourite things at the
moment are passing cars. I like to take her out in to the front garden
when I get home (because it's usually still warm and sunny when I get
home now) and Millie is flabbergasted time after time by cars driving
past. She'll hear them approaching in the distance and look in that
direction, then you can see her little face turn and follow them almost
out of sight; unless another turns up first, of course. Next on her
list of new favourite things are "remote controls" (down from #1) and
"string" - another new entry, in from nowhere.
Monday 8th May 2006
Tuesday 9th May 2006
Thames Water's "Sewer Open Week" is a six day event (it was only five last year, but is clearly proving popular). We went to the Abbey Mills Pumping Station in east London for Thames Water's Sewer Open Week. That particular stretch of east London is not one of the prettiest parts of the capital, by any means, but when you head up the driveway into the grounds of the pumping station (which aren't visible from the road) you might be slightly surprised to find a hodgepodge of widely-spaced buildings there which embrace most of the architectural styles of the last 100 years. This is because although the original station was built over a hundred years ago in the grand old Victorian style, it's had to be added to since then, and newer buildings with more up-to-date pumping technologies have arrived to bolster the original. One thing I was fascinated to find out was that all of the buildings do basically the same thing - pump sewage and excess rainwater - at about the same speed, but they've become smaller and smaller the more modern they are, until the latest pumping station is perhaps one-fifth the size of the original.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
There were three types of
people on the tour; basically, (i) people who work directly for Thames
Water, (ii) people who work for companies who work for Thames Water,
and, er, (iii) myself, Jimmy and Simon.
Yeah, so, anyway, around the
pumping station, all very nice. Then...a free lunch! And a really
really nice lunch, too! We couldn't quite believe just how nice it actually was, especially since the entire day was completely
And the trip down the sewer
After a very quick health and
safety chat by one of the sewer maintenance guys who would be coming
down with us I, as first in the line, was clipped to a line, handed an
emergency pack and descended a ladder six metres into the actual sewer.
The sewer was pretty much round, all made of brick, with sandy, stagnant water that reached about two feet at its deepest point. We had to shuffle along because it was fairly dark - although there was some daylight coming from drains above us - and you couldn't see what was on the bottom through the water, and what was on the bottom was mostly grit. There was more of less of it (which is what made the depth vary) but it was basically grit; and although the odd item floated past us we didn't actually see any poo either.
Once all 16 of us had climbed down into the sewer (plus four guides) which took about ten minutes, we set off along the tunnel. It was...something of an anti-climax, to be honest. I'd expected something like you'd see in the films, but here we were in a dark-ish tunnel, just shuffling along through muddy water and unseen gravel.
It took maybe five or six
minutes to reach a kind of junction, where we could see over a wooden
dam into another sewer where the water was a bit higher and flowing
quite quickly. What looked like bits of manky old paper, cloth and
(possibly) rubber were stuck to the dam, and this was probably the
worst thing I smelt in my whole time down there.
And then, about 35 minutes after I'd entered the sewer I found myself back up top in the sunlight. The guides told us to step into a bucket of disinfectant and then helped us take off our waders and safety harnesses. Then we walked back into the changing rooms to take off our disposable boiler suits and those big, beige socks you can see in the photos.
And that was pretty much it, to be honest, except to pick up our certificates. It was undoubtedly a fascinating experience, and one that I feel quite privileged (and way cool!) to have been in on, but it was a little bit tamer than what we'd expected. Still, if you get a chance to do it - and we were very very lucky indeed, because even some of the Thames Water folk were saying they'd had to wait years to get on the tour! - then don't turn it down!
Wednesday 10th May 2006
What I'm talking about is a remarkable little scheme called FreeCycle, which is website that helps people to give away stuff they no longer need or want to people who do need or want it. And, of course, it works the other way, too - you can look or ask for stuff (for free - no money ever changes hands) that you might want.
Sounds very hippy, doesn't it? (hence the earlier patchouli reference) but unlike, say, a massive didgeridoo jam session, this is one hippy idea that works really well.
You have to sign up first, but
unless you specifically ask to receive lots of junk mail you won't get
any (and do remember to sign up to your local FreeCycle - there are sites for most parts of the country).
It's a beautifully simple idea
that works remarkably well. We just got a load of paving slabs for our
back garden, but we've also gotten a few bits and bobs for Millie, and
given away some fencing and all the strong removal boxes from when we
moved house (which saved us a trip to the local dump, helped out a lady
who was about to move house herself and made us
feel virtuous for "recycling" all that cardboard).
So the next time you're thinking of burning those ugly old dining room chairs or going down the tip to get rid of those unused bathroom tiles - or perhaps you're dreading going to B&Q to try and buy some paving slabs for the back garden - then why not give FreeCycle a try first? It don't cost nothin'... ;-)
Thursday 11th May 2006
Just thought I'd share with you
a milestone that I reached yesterday - "My Longest Ever
Journey Home From Work".
This'll be the last update for a few days because myself, the Lovely Melanie and Millie are going to Weymouth for a long weekend, to stay with my family in a caravan. I could do with a holiday, frankly...
Tuesday 16th May 2006
A bit more about Weymouth in a sec, but first, have I mentioned recently that Millie can now sit up (and, more importantly, stay sitting up) on her own? She's even learnt to compensate for overreaching for toys/shiny things/litter/cups/string/hair/etc. by putting a hand down, or just by shifting her weight slightly. So now we can sit her down on the floor or the bed and...walk away, and nine times out of ten she'll still be sat up - as opposed to face-down, licking the carpet - a couple of minutes later. Which unfortunately means our carpets are now not quite as clean as they were, but it's all swings and roundabouts, eh?
In other big Millie news, the
poor, poor girl was forced to experience, first-hand, the torturous and
unending fiery hell of damnation that is "The Sea" over our long
weekend in Weymouth.
It took her a while to come to terms with "The Beach" too, even though it was a truly lovely day in Weymouth. But she did eventually manage to grasp that sitting on warm golden sand probably wasn't going to kill her. Not yet, at any rate.
And it's probably best we don't
mention the "taking Millie swimming in the campsite swimming pool"
experience at all.
Ah, this all sounds perhaps a bit less enjoyable than it was, but throughout the holiday Millie was an absolute star - she was made a fuss of by all of my family, and seemed to love almost every minute of it (that wasn't spent in the sea or in a swimming pool). She was so busy looking around and playing with people and giggling that it was hardly surprising that she slept as well as she did at night - despite being in the room next to the toilet (the walls of the caravan were very thin).
We had some good news as well - the Lovely Melanie's work have agreed to let her go back part-time from the end of July. Her generous maternity package means that she's had a year off (mostly paid) and only had to go back part-time for the first couple of months (but on full pay), and now she's going to be permanently part-time (but on part-time pay, sadly). Which means Millie will be going to nursery for three days a week and at home with her lovely mum for two days. Plus, we get to eat and pay the mortgage, too!
It'll be interesting to see how the coming weekend goes - I'm going to the All Tomorrow's Parties weekend at Pontins holiday camp in beautiful Camber Sands, as I do most years. It'll be interesting in a particular sense because neither the Lovely Melanie nor Millie are coming and it'll be the longest time I will have spent away from them since Millie was born (not to mention the contrast between the relaxing, wholesome family weekend just gone, and the out-of-control immoral mayhem that is inevitably All Tomorrow's Parties!)
Tuesday 30th May 2006
God, I don't know where to
start - ATP, birthday parties, meeting James Dean Bradfield (and his
wife) from the Manic Street Preachers, the garden, Millie...
Millie is an absolute grade-A joy to be around at the moment. It's been another couple of weeks of very fast development, so that she's a very different baby to the one we had in say, April. First of all, despite being technically 11 months old today (!) Millie had her standard eight-month check-up at the doctor's last week...and she's absolutely 100% fine. Despite all the dire warnings we were given when she was born (three whole months premature, lest we forget) that even if she survived there was a very significant chance that there would be other problems later on - e.g. respiratory problems or developmental (i.e. mental) issues.
And there are none that they can detect; Millie is a happy, smiling, clever nearly-one-year old. She passed all the tests with, quote, flying colours, unquote. We're getting a bit blase about the whole thing now, but it's worth remembering that this is quite remarkable - really, genuinely, beautifully, quite remarkable.
And Millie's learnt to play
peek-a-boo, too (well, kind of...) Which is obviously very sweet. And
Saturday showed us just how far she'd come because we taught her to
clap her hands, and it only took her a couple of minutes to figure it
out - she watched us clap our hands slowly and obviously in front of
her, looked a bit puzzled, then tried doing the same. And that was it!
There were big smiles and giggles all round and Millie's been clapping
her hands ever since. She can't actually make a round of applause on
her own because she can't yet clap hard enough to make the noise (and
still tends to clap with one open hand and one fist at times) but the
movement and the idea are both there.
And so, yeah, it's just an absolute joy to be with her at the moment - she still cries, still gets a bit stroppy for no apparent reason, still refuses to eat her food sometimes, and all the other things; now, though, it's like falling in love with her all over again almost, since she's become a proper little person now, who communicates with you in a more meaningful way and makes it clear that she likes us, her parents. And just that bit of acknowledgement has made an enormous difference in the way we in turn relate to her. What can I say, it's fantastic. We're very much looking forward to her 1st birthday in exactly a month's time. What a milestone that will be, eh?
And speaking of baby birthdays, we went to the 2nd birthday of Mr Oscar Day at the weekend. A long way to trval for us (from south-east London to the extreme reaches of west London - almost two hours travel, door to door) but entirely worth it, as we all of us had a really nice time. I've never ever ever been in the presence of quite so many babies and toddlers (and once-more-pregnant women!) It was a bit unnerving to begin with, frankly; once you realise, however, that most of the children aren't actually terribly interested in you or what you have to say, and that a Wildean wit is completely superfluous in their presence then it becomes a lot easier. Very...not bizarre, but something like that...to realise how different all children's personalities already are by the age of two though. Seeing them running about and yelling and god knows what else all together in a big "pack" it becomes immediately obvious that there are quiet ones, busy ones, cheeky ones, polite ones, very active ones, thoughtful ones. Hard to tell which Millie is yet. She smiles at adults a lot and now deigns to acknowledge the existence of other children...but it's hard to pick out any real immediate personality in such a crowd. She's not definitely one thing or another yet. I think she's going to be quite thoughtful, judging by the way she's already fascinated by tiny details on her toys. She'll - for example - spend minutes very very carefully poking and pulling at a piece of string sticking out of the top of a toy wooden penguin; minutes that she'd never waste on a more colourful and obvious part of a toy.
And what about me? Well, I'm having a few weeks of not drinking alcohol. Not least because of the massive excesses of All Tomorrow's Parties, and then a big night out at a solo gig by James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers. My old partner in crime Mr JimmyMac had some crew passes for the gig (he's a big name in the "roadie" business) and is a friend of James, so we went along to see the gig. I got very drunk and made a (minor) fool of myself on at least two occasions, and felt so ill the next day that I decided to have a few weeks sans booze, which I haven't done since I was about 18 - a l-o-n-g time ago. To be honest, the main reason I felt so awful after that gig was because it was just a couple of days after I got back from ATP, and I was just barely beginning to get over that three days of sustained intoxicatory punishment. Drinking to excess so soon after set my body right back to the start again. :-( So despite/because of having an absolutely fantastic time at ATP, probably the best time ever, I'm going temporarily teetotal. We'll see how that goes over the next few weeks...
The garden. I can't believe I
haven't mentioned the garden here before. I may be crap at DIY but I'm
not nearly as crap at gardening, thanks largely to a childhood spent
helping/hindering my dad in matters horticultural, picking and eating
strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries straight off the plants. So
in the last few months I've been spending more and more time sorting
out our garden. This is partly because the Lovely Melanie and I haven't
had a garden in London before, and partly because I want Millie to have
similar memories of growing up with a garden, and eating fruit and veg
from the garden, and not being scared of "dirt" or insects or anything
silly like that.
The front garden wasn't too bad - it had been covered with wood chippings, had a couple of scraggy flowers put in and then was just left to its own devices, so all I had to do was turn over all of the (very heavy clay) soil, leave it throughout winter to break down into a more conducive soil for plants, put some grass seed down, and - hey presto! - we now have rather a nice lawn and flower bed out front.
The back garden was rather a
I've dug up great slabs of
concrete from our little strip of back lawn (honestly - slabs!), not to
mention an awful lot of builder's rubble. There's a growing suspicion
in my mind that our house used to be a bit bigger out the back, but the
last occupants demolished a bit of it...and simply buried all the
tiles, bricks, pipe, cement, et cetera, about an inch below the surface
of the lawn.
I'm glad I've managed to get all that off my chest.
Now we have some recovering lawn out the back, a flower bed that is struggling a little bit (to be honest) but which looks OK; but my pride and joy now are my fruit and vegtable patches. :-) Bear in mind that our back lawn is about 10 metres long by 2.5 wide. On one side of it is a flower bed, except for the far end (towards the shed and compost bin) where we're successfully growing some rhubarb and some mint. The mint is a favourite of Millie's - she loves to chew on a leaf from it (which surprised me, I can tell you) and the rhubarb is a favourite of the Lovely Melanie's. On the other side we're growing potatoes, radishes, carrots, gooseberries, onions, raspberries and strawberries, all of which seem to be doing OK, despite the regular D-Day landings of slugs that I'm just barely holding at bay with very very liberal applications of slug pellets.
Right, that's going to have to do for now. I'll try and put up a couple of pictures of Millie in the next couple of days (she has more hair now, but basically looks the same) and, er...yes. I've got a few pieces of writing to do this week, plus I'm becoming addicted to City Of Heroes, but I'll do my best.
Tuesday 30th May 2006 (later on)
Monday 5th June 2006
Got lots and lots and done in
the garden at the weekend, so much, in fact, that Millie and I had to
go to the garden centre Sunday morning to buy more stuff.
Actually, that's not quite true - I was a bit grouchy Sunday morning because despite drinking nothing but ginger ale and bitter lemon at the party I still felt unpleasantly rough the next morning, which kind of defeats the whole object of not drinking - fortunately, though, that walk in the sun with Millie to the garden centre sorted me out soon enough.
But, yeah, the whole not
drinking experience - because you're not hungover you almost have a
whole extra day to play with at the weekend! I got absolutely bloody
loads of stuff done this weekend: wrote a book review and a short piece for the British Science
Fiction Association, caught up on some reading, spent loads
and loads of quality time with my daughter, got rid of a bike and a
lawn mower on FreeCycle.
I taught the Lovely Melanie how
to use the shiny shiny new hover mower last night, which was quite
amusing. There's so many things that I take it for granted everyone
knows how to do simply because I learnt how to do them as a child, and
mow a lawn with a hover mower was one of them. The Lovely Melanie...was
never taught how to use a hover mower as a child, and didn't at first
realise it could move from side-to-side, backwards as well as forwards
- even diagonally! Or that if you want to move a hover mower the best
way to do it is to turn it on (so it's hovering) and then move it; simply dragging it across the lawn when switched off is far
Millie woke us up again this morning by "singing" - not crying, not talking, but just "singing" some very long notes at random. It's not an unpleasant sound at all, and always makes us laugh when we hear her doing it. She also spent most of the weekend in the garden with us, and was fascinated by the whole experience. She (unlike us) was usually naked, because of some very bad nappy rash, so we thought we'd "air" her bottom, and that seems to have done the trick.
Just time to quickly say
"congratulations" to a friend of ours in California. Mrs Rebecca Cate -
or Dr Rebecca Cate, as she is now, having just
completed her PhD. Well done, Rebecca, jolly good show, old girl.
Tuesday 6th June 2006
Wednesday 7th June 2006
I remember the Lovely Melanie and I having a small chat when she was first rushed into hospital (51 weeks ago today), about what we'd do if Millie - although we didn't know she was "Millie" then - turned out to have significant problems, as was entirely likely. Would we want everything possible done to keep her alive, or would we want to leave it in the lap of the gods? Not take any negative action, obviously (because that's called "murder") but to not take any aggressive life-sustaining action to help Millie. And at the time we both agreed, not without some soul-searching, that we probably would want to leave it to fate.
Fortunately, that decision
remained hypothetical, as Millie came out fighting and as well as could
possibly be hoped for a 1lb 7oz, three-month premature baby; but seeing
that girl and her parents last night made me rethink somewhat.
One last thing. When I was
about eight years old, I think it was, we had a fireworks display at
home (I say "display", we had a box of fireworks that my dad would
carefully let off one at a time). Unfortunately, the stick on one of
the rockets had snapped almost completely off, but my dad was convinced
it would fly OK if carefully balanced. So he (carefully) put it in the
top of a bottle, as you did then, and lit the blue touchpaper. We'd
been watching the display for an hour or so and I'd gotten a bit blase
about the whole business so I was now watching from the top of the
garden, rather than the patio where my mum and brother were stood.
However, somehow, just seeing
that girl with her parents last night has made me realise that, yes, I
would do that, without a second thought; no question.
Oh, and I was fine after the rocket attack. Shoocked and shaking, with a small melted patch on my blue nylon anorak, but fine. :-)
Saturday 10th June 2006
Wednesday 14th June 2006
And by the way, thanks to all those folks who've been saying such nice things about the piece I wrote on being a dad. If I was a singer I'd dedicate the next song to you - Uh-huh, thankyouverymuch, as Elvis might have said.
And thankyouverymuch to the Lovely Melanie, who used four more strawberries from the garden to decorate some delicious iced sponge cakes last night. Mmm...iced sponge cakes...
And finally if you're not already sick of Millie photos, there are some new ones up on Flickr.