Friday, March 30, 2007

School of Rock?

My brother bought his daughter a new guitar for her birthday - a lovely Peavey with a Floyd-Rose trem system. I popped over and sorted it out for her, having a good play to make sure it was OK :-)

Then we got talking about her guitar lessons and the fact that she is getting disillusioned with them. 2 years on and she has half learned a few songs and is still not sure how to tune her guitar! Hm. Maybe Uncle John can do some lessons. Well I have started to give some of my kids lessons, so why not?

Then I started thinking. We could start up a band. With a bit of tutoring, my kids and my neice could have 2 on guitar, a bass and keyboards, with the keyboard providing the drum track. Hm, wonder if I could pull it off? Even if they only manage one easy song together it would be a great experience for them, and they could play it at family barbeques this summer!


Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Slippers

Things are pretty laid back where I work - the Geography Department of a University. When I change from my cycling clothes into my work clothes I often pop on a pair of mocasin slippers, which have become something of a trademark over the years. They are getting pretty old and tatty now, but they are SO comfortable I just can't stand the idea of getting rid of them.

One year I took my them on a week long field trip. Some students got together and kidnapped my slippers and held them to ransom. On the last night I had to complete a set of tasks to secure their release. Getting a bra was the hardest... (Note: I did not do anything unethical!)

These same slippers were also responsible for me mentally scarring my eldest daughter. When she was at the college near where I work, we used to meet up for lunch every Thursday. One day I was running late and did not change out of my slippers. It was not until I got home that night that I found how mortified she had been. I was never, ever to meet her wearing those skanky slippers again. (Note, though, that she had not turned down lunch!) She never forgave me for that. Even when she was in hospital she ordered me not to wear them when visiting her!

I love my slippers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Being a Teenager

My older son will be 13 tomorrow, beginning his voyage into the dreaded teens.

He is very excited about what is really the first of that run of birthdays - 16, 18, 21, 30, 40, 65, (Grandpa Simpson voice on) erm, now let me see I was born in..., erm, Abraham Lincoln!! I truly hope that his teens are a wonderful time for him, and will do everything in my power to make them so.

My overriding memories of being a teenager are awful, I hated it all: School, other teenagers, life in general. I was a very miserable teenager who did not want anything to do with the rest of the world. Thinking about it, I only had one person who I thought of as a friend right through my teens. I only see him rarely now, he is a bit of a nomad, but each time we meet up it is like were never apart, seeming to pick up the conversation where we left off, maybe 5 years previously. I rapidly drove away the rest, picking up a few new ones, mainly centred around bands I was in and people I played Dungeons and Dragons with. By the end of my teens I was bordering on reclusive, I guess. Then it all changed as I entered my 20s, when the girl who became my wife dragged me back into the real world.

I would not relive my teens for a billion pounds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Extreme Cycling

Yesterday had been a wonderfully sunny day, but while I was out taking my dog, Custard, for his evening walk I noticed the fog closing in. I like a bit of fog and Custard seemed to like it too, finding lots of extra exciting sniffs along the ditches and hedgerows where we walk.

By this morning I had completely forgotten about the fog - until I opened the door to find that I could not see the houses across the street. A real 'Pea Souper' as we call it here.

The cycle ride to work was hellish - large vehicles emerging from the fog and disappearing just as quickly. I hoped and prayed that my reflective clothing and lights made me visible enough, but still hugged the edge of the road, dodging the pot holes, ready to take a dive into the ditch or hedge if things got nasty. Strangely, I soon realised that I was actually finding the trip rather exciting, whizzing into the unknown, having to suddenly swerve to avoid a fallen tree branch or the rear end of a car that had missed a corner in the fog.

Extreme Cycling.

Well, extreme for me, anyway.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Supermarket Checkouts...

Things were going so well. In my lunch break I had rushed out to Argos to buy my neice a guitar stand for her birthday, and this had gone perfectly. As I left I decided to pop into Asda to get her a card and also to grab something for lunch.

Zoom! In was in like Flynn, grabbed a card, some hot Southern Chicken fillets, a couple of bread rolls and off to the checkouts.

I cruised along looking for the shortest queue and found one with a couple who only had about 3 items left to be scanned. Aha!

Wham! I unpacked my 3 items onto the conveyer belt and waited. And waited. The couple were still packing items and it was what seemed like an eternity before one of them actually paid for their shopping.

OK, a slight blip on my progress, but hey I was next. Meanwhile, someone else who had been playing the same game as me (ie looking for a short queue) moved in behind me. My fate was sealed.

Bleep, bleep, bleep. My shopping went through. Then the girl paused and smiled sheepishly.

"That is not right, is it?"

I looked at the green numbers glowing, mockingly, on the till.


"No", I agreed.

So then we had to wait for a supervisor to come over and cancel the sale so we could start again.

Bleep, bleep, bleep.


"Now that isn't right either", I said. The card alone was £1.97! Curse my honesty!

Back comes the supervisor, eventually, who seemed to be having a very long private chat on her mobile phone. Sale cancelled. Items entered into the system manually, ie very slowly. The woman behind me rolls her eyes, while I shrug helplessly.

Finally I am asked for the correct amount and I am able to leave, already late for work!

Am I the only person to suffer from this? Is it tempting fate to look for the shortest queue? I see others joining stupidly long lines and getting out way ahead of me! Do they know something that I do not? Is that why some checkouts have very short queue - because those who know better are avoiding them like a half cooked chicken at a barbeque?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Photo, at last!

I just found this photo of myself on the web. It is from a few years ago, but I have not changed much.
The Accidental Diet

2 weeks ago everyone else in the house decided that they needed to lose a few pounds. My wife has always been a bit heavier than she should be, but that does not bother me (she calls me a "chubby chaser"), the boys have become aware that they have a bit of podge on their bellies that could go and my daughter has decided she wants to drop a bit of weight so she will look really good when she moves up to secondary school in the autumn.

The only one who did not want to lose weight was me - I have hovered around the 200 pound mark for the last 10 years, and at 6'2" this is about right, especially as most of it is muscle on my legs and butt from cycling (the best butt in town according to my wife).

So this morning it is weigh-in day. In the last 2 weeks, the boys lost a pound each, my daughter lost 3 pounds and my wife, who has been working out like a demon, lost 10 pounds!

I was still in bed while all this was going on and suddenly got the urge to weigh myself too. I guess I was feeling left out!

So, into the bathroom, onto the scales and wait for the numbers to settle down - I felt like a contestant on The Biggest Loser!

So guess how much I lost, without trying, just by eating the healthy meals that the others were eating.

Go on, have a guess!

10 pounds!

That makes me the lightest I have been since my mid-thirties!

My wife was furious! "Typical! I have been exercising myself to death to shift it, and you do it without thinking about it! You have probably been eating cream cakes at work too!"

Which was absolutely true, I had 2 yesterday...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Bends

I heard a wonderful line on the radio the other day, and I keep thinking about it so I thought I would share it.

We all know what "The Bends" is: it is what happens to divers when they come to the surface too quickly, resulting in bubbles of nitrogen in the blood. Not nice and often fatal if not treated quickly, I understand.

Anyway, back to the radio. The person talking had been involved in show business for many years and started by saying that, way back, people used to "pay their dues", ie spend time building up their career and experience so that when the finally achieved real fame they knew how to deal with it. These days, of course, we have over-night superstars who shoot to instant fame without doing all of the hard work. This rapid rise, we were told, can cause a type of "Bends", bubbles of nitrogen in the soul.

I really like that. A quick look at the gossip magazines shows you that it is true...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


We are often told that we are too protective of our children. We walk them to and from school, do not let them roam the streets, worry if they go to the local shop alone. Sometimes we start to feel this may be true. However, the last 2 times one of our kids was out on the streets alone he was attacked, once by 4 complete strangers, once by 2 kids he vaguely recognised from school. The Police and authorities eventually dealt with those responsible, but that does not alter the fact that it happened!

So what can you do? Let them go out and then follow along behind to keep watch? Some say that they need to go out as part of a group of friends, so they can become 'street-wise', but when does a group of friends become a gang?

We heard on the news this morning that someone that my eldest daughter went to school with has been arrested for being in a gang of teenagers who murdered a man. Had things been different for us, had our attitudes perhaps been less paranoid, could our daughter have been part of this gang? Is this what being 'street-wise' leads to?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Being snuck up on...

There is an event that I try to get to each year. It is a meeting where a group of wargamers (ie grown men who still play with toy soldiers) get together to recreate a particular battle using as many different sets of rules as possible. Unlike most games/sports where there is a set of standard rules, us wargamers are much more fragmented and play with a wide range of different styles of rules. The event is great fun as we can wander around and look at other games, chat to people about the games and battles and compare our results.

So I knew it was coming, I was even involved in some of the organisation this year, but I have been caught on the hop! The event is now about 8 weeks away and I now have to face the fact that I have been putting off painting the mass of soldiers that I need to fight the battle and must get on with it. I also have to build the scenary for the battle, which will be great fun to do once I get started.

The question is: why is it always like this? Why didn't I start the work before Christmas when I knew what had to be done and had loads of time to do it? Maybe I will do better next year...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday on my mind

Where has the week gone? It is Friday again, our traditional pizza day. (Sorry Ali!)

Pizza day started off a long time ago, when I discovered the pizza counter at Asda. I would pop in on the way home, grab 3 pizzas, wedge them into my rucksack and head home. Mmm, a nice, easy, tasty meal to end the week.

Then, one day, I had the bright idea of making my own bases. It was very easy, and the result was delicious. That evening, the kids got together and banned me from buying pizza ever again. From now on, pizza would be home made. And it has been ever since.

Of course, the beauty of it is that each of us can personalise our own pizza - my youngest started off having only cheese with a thin base, but has now added salami, sausage and bacon, while I can add jalopinoes and a sprinkling of tabasco sauce and the girls pile up the vegitables. Everyone is happy.

Except, perhaps, the neighbours, as I have to have music on while I do the cooking: Foo Fighters, Gary Moore or AC/DC are current favourites, and of course, there are the days when The Rock Chef joins in...

"Monday I have Friday on my mind..."

Thursday, March 15, 2007


What a day! It started off really quiet, enabling me to merrily tidy my desk area. Then the flood started, a constant stream of requests for help, printing, tasks to be done. I just about managed to slip out and grab some lunch (a bacon, cheese and jalopino baguette - mmmm) only to come back to notes on my desk and emails with more to do!

Still, in the end it has been a productive day, I learned a new trick on the PC and everyone else has gone home happy.

Now I must go and find me wonderful, newly restored bike and head for home. It seems that my 10 year old daughter has been asking for sex education lessons...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We have the technology...

It was not long ago that she was bright, fresh and new. She was beautiful and a pleasure to be with. There would be envious glances as we went along together, the occasional teenage boy would be unable to prevent sighing and staring open mouthed.

Now the ravages of daily life have taken their toll, and I was faced with the choice of getting rid of her and looking for a replacement or paying to have some serious work done on her. I spent a few days looking around, checking out the options, the size, and feel of the alternatives, even testing out a couple of particularly attractive models. In the end I decided that none were quite as good as what I had already.

So my bicycle is now in the workshop having new gears, chain, cables, etc, fitted.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Neighbours I Have Known Part 2

I have just started to read Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, what promises to be a great book about the men who planted the flag on Okinawa in 1945. It has stirred a distant memory...

In my teens I developed the knack of walking my dog and reading a book at the same time. This caused many to think of me as a nutter (not far from the truth I guess) and was the starting point of many a conversation. One man that I chatted to a lot was an old family friend. He once saw me reading a book about the Battle of Monte Casino in Italy, 1944. We got talking and he told me that he had been in Italy during the war, driving trucks. The only Germans he had seen were either dead or prisoners, and the only time he got shot at was when he had been ordered to take some boats up to the front line for a river crossing. Some random German shells landed close by and he had unloaded with record speed and headed back to the rear.

Over the next few years we chatted, or merely waved and said our hellos, commenting on the weather as the British do. Sometimes I would catch him sitting in his garden in the sun. On these occasions he would share biscuits with me and my dog and he would always make sure I had a few spare biscuits to take on my way.

It was only after he had died that I heard the truth of his time in World War 2. His wife had made a comment that he was very lucky to live to the age that he did, considering how he had been when he came home after the war. His Italy story had been just that, a story. It allowed him to hide the truth, to avoid reliving what he had really been doing. He had been in Burma in 1942 when the Japanese invaded. Like many of his comrades, he had not been able to escape from the Japanese advance and had spent the next 3 years as a prisoner of war. He had seen most of his friends die slow deaths from hunger and exhaustion. The biscuits and his pretend war in Italy suddenly made painful sense.

I really miss this guy.