The (true) Story of Millie Harriet Carter
Part 4, a year in the life

Read Part 1 - in hospital

Read Part 2 - at home

Read Part 3 - things get back to "normal"

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

Friday 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."

Yes, dear.

And there are some more on my Flickr photos page.

***

Wednesday 5th April 2006 (CONTINUED)
As a number of people have said to me over the past year when discussing the forcible introduction of ID cards into the UK,
"Why are you against them? Only people with something to hide will have anything to worry about."
In reply to which I post the following (a large part of which is shamelessly lifted from Charlie Stross's excellent blog)

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?

ATTEND an 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 procedures.
PROMPTLY INFORM the police or Home Office if you lose your card or it becomes defective, or face a fine of up to 1000. If you find someone else's card and do not immediately hand it in, you may have committed a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both.
PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of any change of address or face a fine of up to 1000 (you will supply evidence of your previous addresses, not just your current address).
PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of significant changes to your personal life or any errors they have made or face a fine of up to 1000. You may also be obliged to submit to being re-interviewed, re-photographed, re-fingerprinted and re-scanned, or face a fine.
PAY between 30 and 93 (Home Office estimates — every other body involved says it will be substantially more) to be registered, with further charges possible to change your details and to replace a lost or stolen card.

If you're quite happy with all that, then well done, you! You're an awful lot more patient and forgiving than I am.
And since you'll have an ID card you'll be eligible for all of the following "privileges":

You'll be allowed by the government to:
Rent or sell a home
Stay in a hotel
Buy or sell a car
Buy a mobile phone
Open or close a bank account
Travel overseas
Obtain medical care
Attend an institute of education
Work or run a business
Be declared dead (or alive)
Be registered to vote

What a glittering array of bright, "new" opportunities await you!

***

Monday 24th April 2006
Right, very quickly - a full and painfully in-depth update will hopefully follow quite soon...
All the stuff that was on this page has now migrated to the Millie archive section, which is why this page is now so slim and svelte.

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
Bah, I'm never going to get the time to do a full update on all the exciting stuff we've been up to for the past (cough) days, so let's just wipe the slate clean, have a very quick update and then try to get back to normal, eh?

First of all, Millie.
While we were on holiday in the Lake District (did I mention we'd been on holiday in the Lake District over Easter? For a week, sharing a cottage with 8 other adults and four very young children - of which Millie was the youngest, but not by much - we had a very nice time indeed, despite some initial trepidation about being trapped in a single house in the middle of nowhere with four babies - we were very scared about a domino effect with babies crying, i.e. one starts crying, which starts another one off, which starts them all off and the crying then goes on forever in a self-reinforcing cycle... Fortunately that didn't happen, as you can see in the photos from the holiday).

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.
But...no, Millie bobbed about on her back, was surprised to get water in her eyes a couple of times, but then learnt the rule that "While floating in a bath you will always get water in your eyes if you turn your head too far to the left or right". And so we've been bathing her since we got back in the big bath - she was getting a little bit big for the baby bath anyway, a fact that I still find startling, remembering how small she looked in it to begin with.

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").
Now, keep this under your hat - loose lips sink ships and all that - but, flushed with the success of "Operation Lino" the top brass are buzzing about plans to carpet Millie's room. Remember, mum's the word, eh?

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.
So there you go. ;-)

***

Thursday 27th April 2006
The Clarke Awards judging meeting and award ceremony was fun. Hard work at times, but fun. And in case you didn't know, I can now reveal that after the longest judges meeting ever (over three and a half hours!) we finally chose Geoff Ryman's wonderful novel Air, which I highly recommend you all go out and buy.
It was a terrifically hard-fought (but always congenial) judges meeting that really did come right down to the wire - the award and cheque are supposed to be given out just after seven o'clock, and we were still arguing at 5.45. And as Paul Kincaid, our superb adjudicator and Clarke Award "handyman" extraordinaire pointed out both in the meeting and at the awards ceremony: any of the six books would have been an entirely worthy winner this year, and all of them are very well worth a look.
But in the end we had to pick just one winner, and it was Air.
I only finished rereading it on the bus home the day before (and only seconds before I reached my stop, too!), and as much as I've been honoured to be a Clarke judge - and as much as I've enjoyed it, too - I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief that it was at last done with. I'm not a judge next year, although I may well be in 2008 or 2009 (you're only allowed to serve as a judge for two years), because Millie now occupies a lot of the time I would have spent reading before, plus, it did get a bit claustrophobic at times last year, having no choice about what you get to read; so I'm now going to spend most of the next few months on some non-genre fiction and a whole bunch of non-fiction books.

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
Now that was what I call a busy weekend.
Saturday, we were up and in Croydon for 11am to help "Local Businessman" Shash Khan with his election campaign for the local council elections. He's standing as a Green, and they have precious few resources behind them - relying instead for help upon those people who believe that a Green government would be a good thing to actually get off their backsides and do something.
So we all did: me, Mel and Millie. I had thought we were going to be delivering leaflets again, as we did about six weeks ago, but was frankly terrified to discover that what was really needed was for us to go and knock on a few doors and say, "Have you ever thought about voting for the Green Party?"
But in for a penny, in for a pound, eh? (er, "No!" said the Lovely Melanie, with feeling).
So for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon yours truly, with Millie strapped to him and with the Lovely Melanie in tow, was to be found pounding the beat in sunny Upper Norwood, canvassing for the Green Party. Gulp.
And it was - surprisingly - almost fun!
Admittedly, the fact that we had Millie with us - probably the most blatant piece of electioneering since...well, since possibly ever - admittedly, that may have predisposed people to be nice to us, but even so, people were never less than polite; there were even a few who seemed pleased to see us. And there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party coupled with much talk of voting Green, so who knows - Upper Norwood may have its first ever Green councillor come Friday morning...

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.
I had thought it was a roughly two-hour job, and not a particularly arduous two hours at that. Which just goes to show how much I know about (a) gardening, and (b) project management.
The particularly non-horizontal part of our back garden, which had the profile of a high-frequency sound wave to begin with, is now (reasonably) flat.
There are potatoes and onions in it.
Most of the bricks and the glass and the roots and the broken tiles have now been removed from the soil and thrown over the back of our garden into the waste ground behind.
The bent prong on my garden fork will probably never be straight again.
However, I'm hoping to get the grass seed onto the bare earth within the next week or so, and hopefully we'll have a lovely lawn just about in time for the summer. Having practiced on the front garden, which now has a relatively respectable level of lawn coverage, I'm reasonably confident that sowing a lawn at the back shouldn't be too difficult.

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.
Still, that would be consistent with the way things had been done indoors, i.e. bodge after poorly-executed bodge after unbelievable bodge...

Oh, and if you're voting this Thursday, have you ever thought about voting for the Green Party...?
;-)

***

Thursday 4th May 2006
I had to feed Millie on Tuesday evening, while the Lovely Melanie went out for a well-deserved meal and drink with her friends.
The problem is, Millie, generally, doesn't really like drinking her milk - she never has. She's better at eating, but still picky. Only when she's very hungry will she eat and drink. As soon as she stops being very hungry and reverts to being just, say, "peckish", she pretty much stops trying to eat and has to be endlessly cajoled.
Now, the Lovely Melanie has to deal with this four times a day, every day, so she's good at it. Christ, she's absolutely bloody remarkable at it! I, on the other hand, stopped even trying to feed Millie her milk months ago, because it just wasn't worth all the hassle, and neither of us was going away with anything good from the experience. But if the Lovely Melanie is to retain a life then she wil go out occasionally and I will have to feed my daughter in her place.
Of course, I say "feed" but Tuesday night it wasn't so much "feed" as "sit there holding a bottle in Millie's mouth while she wails for 20 minutes, after which time she quietens down and drinks about a quarter of the feed - but only if her cheeks are continuously squeezed - and then falls fast asleep."
As much as I love my daughter she can be a real pain in the ass at times.

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.
And this morning she sang to us. She woke up about 15 minutes before she's due to be woken and changed and fed (about 6.30 normally), and didn't cry, didn't make a fuss, but we could hear her in the next room just sort of vocalising to herself; perfectly happy to lie there for a bit and make some cute noise. Which is as good a way as any to start the day, as far as I'm concerned - hearing your daughter singing happily.

***

Monday 8th May 2006
Finally went on my trip down the sewers today. Here are some pictures.
A great day, but I am terribly tired and am going to bed. I'll try and give some background to the whole experience tomorrow...

***

Tuesday 9th May 2006
There's been lots of interest in my sewer trip prior to it actually taking place so for all of you who've been fascinated by my plans (or simply by my desire to take such a trip!) here's what happened...

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.
We were welcomed into the original pumping station, which is the grand old ornamental building you can see in most of my pictures; the kind of thing that would never ever get built today, because accountants and bureaucrats would take one look at it and ask if the decorative features are strictly necessary for the building to pump water, and whether the grounds needed to be so pleasant, and why the doors needed to be so large and beautiful ("couldn't B&Q do something almost as good for a fraction of the price?") et cetera, et cetera.
Because make no mistake, the original Abbey Mills Pumping Station is a lovely building both inside and out, both on a large scale and on a small scale. You can see in the pictures: all the walkways inside are some wonderful wrought iron work; there are little flourishes here, there and everywhere, outside has some nice patterns in the bricks, those very official-looking doors, not to mention some charming carvings around many of the edges which I didn't photograph (they're "The Plants of England", apparently). In short, although not a big architecture buff myself, I couldn't help but be charmed by Abbey Mills Pumping Station.
And that was before we got the tour by one of two archivists working at Abbey Mills.

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.
I think we were the only members of the public there, judging by the amount of times people asked us who we were "with" or where we were "from"; Jimmy's answer, "Scotland"; mine, "south-east London"; or Simon's, "New Zealand - originally" drew a few blank looks, until we realised people didn't mean geographically, they meant what company were we from, and we had to rather sheepishly admit we were just part of the great unwashed, with no other reason for being there other than that we thought it would be "really cool".
Another surprising thing was the number of ladies on the tour - there were all your usual suspects: older men with an unhealthily in-depth knowledge of the history of sewage, younger men aspiring to an unhealthily in-depth knowledge of the history of sewage...and some perfectly ordinary ladies and gents of all ages, which I personally found somewhat reassuring, given the questioning stares I'd gotten from some folk when I'd mentioned our prospective sewer trip in the past.

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 free!
So we filled up on mini-burgers, tiny little pizzas, delicious sausage rolls, miniature strawberry tarts, criossants filled with cream cheese and spinach, onion bhajis, kofti kebabs and cranberry juice, all in the confines of a working sewage pumping plant. It was a strange (but delicious) meal, I can tell you; and the dining area was a sunken section in the middle of the pumping station that looked very very much like the canteen in one of H.M. Prisons.
Except it was carpeted.

And the trip down the sewer itself...?
Myself, Jimmy and Si were in "Magenta Group", which meant we were the last group in the afternoon to go down, after "Green Group". There were about 16 of us in the group (and two groups in each of the three tours a day: in the morning, afternoon and evening). And it was about four o'clock we were taken by a mini-bus about a mile up the road to a Thames Water depot (the name of which temporarily and embarrassingly escapes me...). It took about five minutes to get into the protective gear you can see in the photos and then were taken outside to begin our tour.

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.
First thoughts were it was darker than I'd expected, which wasn't helped by the sewer guy in front of me shining his helmet torch into my eyes. It was also wider - it took a few seconds before I could see the opposite wall about two metres away.
Second thought was that it didn't smell particularly bad. It smelt like some dirty washing water, maybe from an old washing machine or something, but there was no smell of proper sewage. It wasn't a nice smell, but it wasn't a bad one either. Of course, we'd had a lot of rain that morning which had sluiced it a bit clear; plus, Thames Water had shut some of the gates leading to this particular sewer to make sure it was absolutely safe. Apparently, that morning, without the gates shut, the water had been running about eight feet deep!

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.
We hung around in here for about ten minutes while the guides lowered and raised one of the big metal gates for our amusement, then we set off up a tunnel running parallel to the one we'd come down. Still no poo, or especially unpleasant smells. No one even fell over! (the guides said no one ever had).

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
Let's try and get away from the smell of...you know what...and try to move towards the smell of...patchouli!
"What's he on about?" you say. "That sewer gas has gone to his head." you say.
But it hasn't.

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).
Then if you have something to get rid of you advertise it on the site: just about anything, provided it's legal; from computer bits to fence posts to baby clothes to books - even cars! - you put it on the site and see if there's somebody out there who wants it; and if they do you arrange a time for them to come and pick it up.
It's the same if you want/need something - you put a message on the site saying that you're looking for such-and-such, and with a little bit of luck someone will contact you to say they've been trying to get rid of such-and-such.

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).
But the best thing is that everyone on FreeCycle seems, without exception, to be absolutely lovely. Whether giving or taking, people are always really really nice. Honestly, it fair lifts my heart just thinking about it...

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
Cor, it's busy here these days, isn't it?

Just thought I'd share with you a milestone that I reached yesterday - "My Longest Ever Journey Home From Work".
Now, I love London, as you know; I wouldn't want to live anywhere else; but there are times here when you just think "For *%$#@'s sake!!!", and yesterday, when I finally arrived home after TWO HOURS AND FORTY GODDAMN MINUTES was one of them.
It would have taken even longer but for the fact that I finally got so fed up, and it was such a lovely afternoon/evening, that I decided to get off the bus and walk the last couple of miles down the Old Kent Road to where I could catch a different bus that wouldn't be stuck in some of the worst traffic I've ever seen (the roundabout near the Elephant & Castle was quite a sight to behold - solid with red buses as far as the eye could see...)

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
Well, what a lovely long weekend that was. Tee hee. I can't tell you how refreshed I feel - no, honestly, I really needed a nice, relaxing holiday and that's exactly what we had.
Don't believe me? Just look at the evidence!

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.
She's a strange child sometimes.
I mean, we had a bloody awful journey down to Weymouth from London: what should have been a sedate and civilised two hours and fifty minutes train ride direct from Waterloo to Weymouth was, in actual fact, nearer six hours of unreserved seats on late trains with no luggage space at all (really - zero space for our three large bags, pushchair and baby); then power failures left us dragging pushchairs and large bags from trains onto replacement coaches then from replacement coaches onto more delayed trains, then from delayed trains onto the other end of delayed trains because nobody bothered to mention that the new delayed train was going to spilt in half and only one section would actually go to Weymouth.
But Millie took all of this in her stride and was as good as gold all the way there, thank heavens. The thought of all that with a screaming Millie makes me shudder just thinking about it...
It was only, as I say, when she was taken to the - to yours or my eyes - pleasant and enjoyable beach, but which in MillieWorld was actually the nightmarish brink of the pit of deepest hell, that her easygoing demeanour cracked. If you look at the photos, some of them are of Millie at the edge of the sea. First of all being a bit nervous. Then being more nervous. Then having her toes dipped into about five millimetres (literally) of seawater...and crying. Very loudly. Indeed. To be fair, the temperature of the Weymouth sea is more comparable with the Black Sea than the Mediterranean; even so, I thought Millie might have given it more of a chance. Sadly, my daughter is a lightweight. Sigh.

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.
She did quite enjoy Monkey World, but not especially because of the monkeys.
I really enjoyed Monkey World. :-)

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
Yes, it's the 30th already but you'll get no apologies from me for not updating more recently, as I've been a very busy little bee indeed.

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...
Well, let's start with Millie, shall we? I know that's why most people come here and read this stuff (sigh...)

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 she responds to her own name now, too - before, saying "Millie!" to her made very little impression and certainly didn't persuade her to look at you or pay attention, unless accompanied by a loud bang or similar surprising noise; but in the last week or so we've noticed that if you say "Millie" (or "Millay" as we've affectionately, if inexplicably, taken to calling her) then about eight times out of ten she'll now look at you. Oh, and she just does look at us a lot more, anyway, as if looking for approval or something - there's a lot more eye contact (I think) than before, and I've noticed that she watches the Lovely Melanie a great deal when the Lovely Melanie often isn't aware of it. Hopefully she does the same with me, too.

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.
It's been a pretty steep learning curve, I have to say - fortunately some other friends wanted to and have done the same and are a bit further along than I am; plus, my parents are up quite regularly and their knowledge of gardening knows almost no bounds. Even so, starting a garden basically from scratch has been hard work at times.

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 different story...
The people we bought our house from left the garden in pretty much the same state as they left the house, which is to say, it looked OK - not "great" but "OK". Then, if you looked a little closer, it obviously needed some proper and urgent attention. Then, if you took the time to actually investigate, you'd be left wondering what kind of complete ****ing moron would ever do something as stupid as this! I mean, really! Jesus! What were they thinking?!?!?
Those have consistently been our thoughts as we've gone through our property, and we weren't to be disappointed by the back garden either.

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.
That's my theory.
Quite apart from all the rubble, the - ahem - "lawn" above it was a bit scrappy, too, and was actually a solid mass of roots and weeds that had to be removed and thrown away.

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.

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Tuesday 30th May 2006 (later on)

Millie with Rhys, the son of the Lovely Melanie's best friend, Rhiannon (Rhys should have been older than Millie by a couple of months, but is actually about a month younger), and Millie enjoying being in a ball-pool.

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What sound looks like
It's a strange and beautiful world we live in and anyone (usually religious) who tells you that "Science" takes away some of the wonder of the universe by explaining it is both a liar and an idiot.
And you can tell any such lying idiot that I said that.

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Monday 5th June 2006
Er, I was going to put up a few pictures of Millie and the Lovely Melanie relaxing in the garden this weekend, but I usually update The Truth at work, after emailing myself new pictures from home. Unfortunately, erm, most of them haven't arrived this morning - apologies to someone on my email contacts list who's just received, from nowhere, two pictures of Millie and the Lovely Melanie; so there's just this one.
Fortunately, it's a good'un.

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.
That's the one major unexpected consequence of not drinking alcohol: you have a lot more time to do stuff in. I went to a party in Bow on Saturday night, stopping first at my friends Mike and Inge's in nearby West Ham for some barbecued food, but - since I wasn't drinking - Sunday morning saw me up and ready to go!

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.
My dad found the bike at the back of our garden when we moved in, and I kind of meant to get it fixed up, but realised a month or so ago that (i) this was just never going to happen, regardless of my good intentions, and (ii) that it would probably be cheaper to buy a new bike; the lawn mower was given to us free by some friends, but it tended to plough my lovely new lawn rather than mow it, which was no use at all, so we gave it away and bought a shiny shiny new hover mower.

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 more difficult...
But she has done a lovely job on the back lawn. :-)

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.
Actually, while I'm here, well done to her husband, the irrepressible Mr Martin Cate, whose new business venture, the Forbidden Island tiki bar in Alameda, is going great guns. It's been a dream of his for years to own a tiki bar and well done to him for actually getting off his arse and doing it. But more well done to Rebecca because that's more recent. Not that I'm putting Martin down, but, you know, you've had your congratulations, give Rebecca a moment to shine, eh?
Yeah, so well done Dr and Mr Cate.

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Tuesday 6th June 2006
Another Millie picture from the garden, as promised.

You can even see a bit of the back garden in this one. :-)

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Wednesday 7th June 2006
A very minor thing set me thinking last night.
I was sat in a pretty grotty pub in "beautiful" Tufnell Park waiting for some friends (we were all going to see Harry Hill and The Caterers), and at the table opposite me was quite an old couple with a severely disabled girl in a wheelchair. And her parents just casually took care of her - wiping her mouth, moving her about occasionally, smiling at her, et cetera. The girl didn't move or say a word and seemed to have very little awareness of what was going on around her, but now having a child myself I was suddenly struck by how I'd feel if this was my daughter, and was really quite surprised to realise how much she would mean to me, disabled or not, and quite how fiercely protective I'd be.
Actually, no, "protective" isn't the word I'm looking for; I think I mean how much I would still love my daughter, irrespective of any problems she might have.

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.
Before we had Millie I considered myself a pragmatist: a practical, fairly logical person, one who could look at problems and think them through quite dispassionately.
I had thought that I'd want a child who was the very best, who was going to be smart and pretty and popular...and just perfect. Just what every parent hopes for with their children, I'm sure. But now, to be honest, I'm not so sure. Now I think I just want Millie to grow up to be happy and to feel loved all the time. All the time.
And if she's not the cleverest girl or the prettiest or the most outgoing, well, I don't care; she's my daughter and I'll love her whatever she's like. And I've realised that I'll always be proud of her, whatever she does (or doesn't) do.

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.
Disaster struck when the rocket flew sideways out of the bottle and hit me.
Now, what I always remember about this is my dad reaching me in what seemed like just two massive steps, grabbing me in one arm and whisking me away from the rogue rocket (which then span about and shot off somewhere else). But the point is, it felt like my dad was there in a fraction of a second to rescue me, with no thought for his own safety at all.
Since then, my measure of being a dad has always been: would I have done exactly the same? Would I have moved that quickly and carelessly to help my child?
And my (already high) respect for my dad has always been boosted by that one incident, not least because I've never been sure that I would have been able to do the same thing.

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.
And not to in any way diminish what my dad did that night, but all parents would, too.

Oh, and I was fine after the rocket attack. Shoocked and shaking, with a small melted patch on my blue nylon anorak, but fine. :-)

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Saturday 10th June 2006
The first is Millie waking up on Saturday afternoon, when we hadn't realised quite how warm it was in her bedroom. The poor little thing was covered in sweat and her hair had gone like this...

The Lovely Melanie swears this was how Millie looked when she went in. And you can see, Millie was clapping - she now claps at everything, which is a nice ego boost for us, her parents. Walking into the living room - round of applause. Sitting down - round of applause. Getting up - round of applause. Watching TV - round of applause...


The first fruit from our garden (not including the rhubarb that the Lovely Melanie enjoys and the mint leaves Millie loves to chew on).
I am very proud. The Lovely Melanie and I split it on Sunday evening, and it was very nice.

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Wednesday 14th June 2006
Did you know, it's exactly one year ago today that the Lovely Melanie and I made our midnight dash to Lewisham Hospital?
That means it's only two weeks and two days till Millie's birthday!

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.

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