Washington Square Park

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While skimming updates posted to the social internet by far flung friends earlier this evening, I got sucked into reading a post recalling somebody's formative years - and how many of their favourite memories were attached to Washington Square Park. I stopped in my tracks, opened a chat window, and asked the author directly:

"Is that THE Washington Square Park, in New York ?"

"Yes!"

I then had to admit that my frame of reference doesn't come from hanging out with adolescent friends, meeting for coffee, or forging life long coming-of-age memories. My Washington Square Park exists in books, movies, and stories about chess players that once sat at the tables in the corner of the park.

For many people who become interested in chess, Washington Square Park is kind of hallowed ground. In recent years the park has become synonymous with the late Bobby Fischer, through the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (about the childhood of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin), and latterly when various Grandmasters have visited to play the various hustlers before posting their exploits to YouTube. There are so many other characters though - mostly lost in history, but some burning brightly among the stories told in old books. Hustlers, tramps, and vagrants who lost everything to their obsession with the game, and vanished into a world of drugs, alcohol, and a whirlpool of mental illnesses.

Thinking of Washington Square Park takes me back to a visit to Paris with my other half, several years before we had children. While wandering around the city we discovered the "Jardin de Luxembourg", which also has a corner filled with chess players. The memory has never left me of an old man agonising over his next move against an old friend - rocking back and forth, clutching the top of his head with his hand.

I can't remember the last time I played a half-serious game of chess. I have of course taught all of our children to play, and several friend's children - but haven't played competitively for many, many years. There was a time when I read books about the game, it's history, and it's historical characters. Truth be told, I always found the history more fascinating than the game itself - which perhaps explains why I never became that good. I guess being able to string a few moves together will forever remain something I can use to scare the life out of people who ever invite me to play them over a drink after dinner.

Swimming on Sunday Morning

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A little after waking up this morning a little voice called from the children's rooms. I grinned at my other half, and predicted the next sentence.

"Are we going swimming?"

I looked at the clock. Half past eight. There went the plan to get up before 7am again. Another empty square in the bullet journal - I really am doing fabulously badly at the whole "accountability" thing. I've eaten chocolate today too. Go me. Not.

An hour later we were all downstairs, I was out of the shower, freshly shaven, shorts and a scruffy t-shirt on, and a swim bag slung over my shoulder with a towel and underwear in it. Miss 12 had been wearing her swimsuit since the moment she got out of bed, and burst out laughing.

"Your swim bag is PINK Dad!"

"And? It's just a bag."

"BUT IT'S PINK!" (more laughter)

Three daughters, and a grown up lady in the house has kind of bashed any kind of gender stereotypes out of me. Where we might once have daydreamed about weekends watching ballet lessons, volleyball, and netball matches, instead we have always been stood on the touchlines of football and rugby fields - or at judo tournaments. We never pushed the kids in a particular direction. Apparently Dad's carrying pink swim bags are hilarious though.

An hour later we got off the train in a nearby town that has a much-more-fun swimming pool than any of the local ones. By "fun", I mean it isn't full of lane markers, and grumpy old arseholes swimming up and down. This pool is filled with families not unlike my own, with tired parents attempting to either make sure their young children don't drown, or having circles swam around them by pre-teen future olympians (me). Miss 12 recovers from a couple of lengths shifting thousands of gallons of water in less time than it takes me to take my goggles off and rub my eyes.

Oh yes - goggles. I bought some goggles today. Last time we visited this particular pool, I suspect somebody read the quantity on the chlorine bottle wrong, and almost burned everybody's eyeballs out. I therefore stopped on the way into the pool and picked up a pair of the most reasonable looking goggles I could find. Here's the thing about goggles though - surely if you wear them, that marks you out as a potential pervert - sitting on the bottom of the pool, oggling the young mums figures as they dance past distracted by their young charges. I therefore made damn sure I only put the goggles on to do Mark Spitz impersonations chasing after Miss 12.

The thing about swimming - apart from being absolutely knackering - is that it gives you a raging hunger. After an hour and a half, I caught up with Miss 12 and suggested we get out and go have some lunch somewhere. Before we even got out of the pool, she asked if we could go to McDonalds. I think perhaps swimming may have been secondary in her "real" itinerary - a Big Mac Meal was probably at the top of the list, underlined in rainbow colours, and decorated with stick-on stars.

At least the coffee in McDonalds is great though, right?

After feeding our faces, we wandered around the shops - killing time until the next train might appear to spirit us back towards home. A second hand game store was selling Pokemon cards. Apparently these are "the thing to collect" at the moment, according to Miss 12. While she salivated over them, much to the amusement of the shop staff, I spotted something else. Something from the past. If not for the store not having a later model Playstation 2 in stock, I would have had some explaining to do when I got home. I spotted "Jak and Daxter", and "Ratchet and Clank" on the shelf of used games. They were easily my favourite games about fifteen years ago. I'm tempted to look them up on E-Bay to see if I can get a PS2 with them. Somebody remind me I'm supposed to be saving money.

While writing this the rest of the family is out buying groceries for the week ahead. I suppose I should go and throw half the contents of the fridge away (you know - the stuff that is actually being held prisoner in the fridge, to stop it escaping to the rest of the house and evolving into new life-forms).

Back to work tomorrow. Waaaah.

Saturday Morning

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It's heading towards 9:30am on Saturday morning. The washing machine and tumble dryer are rumbling away in the background, the dishwasher has been emptied, the younger children are camped out in the lounge watching cartoons, and the same washing that has been hanging on the line for two days is still out there - hopefully I will be around to bring it in when it gets dry for the third time.

I'm hoping to do NOTHING today. Of course we know that won't happen. Miss 12 just wandered up to me in her pyjamas and asked if we are going out today. I shook my head, and explained that every day of the last four or five has cost us a lot of money - and that we just can't afford to keep spending money like that. She has now tiptoed upstairs to my other half (who will probably still be asleep), to no doubt try and play us off against one another. Give it half an hour and I'll receive my instructions for the day. And tomorrow.

I'm fighting the temptation to slip into my Mr Cranky Pants alter-ego today - my "stay-cation" is coming to an end. On Monday morning I'll get back on the bike (which needs to be cleaned), cycle the few miles to the office, and discover what horrors await in my work email account. Before that happens I'm going to bury my head in the sand. It's a skill.

I just took a look at the Bullet Journal, and discovered an unanticipated consequence of making myself accountable for doing things - I become accountable for doing things. I know that sounds funny, but when I started the damn thing I was having a good day, and thought of all these things I should be doing. Now of course I have to do them. They are all easy things - simple things - but when you're having a cranky day, even getting up out of a chair to retrieve the remote control for the television becomes a hassle.

The easiest list of things to do is an email out to friends and acquaintances I haven't been in touch with for a long time. I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people - I think we all are in one way or another. I've crossed paths with all sorts of people on the internet over the years, and have made some wonderful friends. I think because the sands of the internet shift like those in a fast flowing river, and are filled with so many interesting voices, it's easy to forget those we once knew well.

For some stupid reason I made a chart in the bullet journal to record various aspirational habits - getting up before a certain time, going to bed before a certain time - that kind of thing. I'm doing REALLY badly at it. What should have been a shaded block of achievements looks more like a sieve that was hit by a shotgun. It's not like any of it is hard either - well, except going to bed before a certain time. If nobody had ever invented the damn internet, this colossal rabbit hole wouldn't exist, and I'd have nothing to do but watch re-runs of NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Big Bang Theory.

Why can't there be a TV channel showing episodes of Community back-to-back ? Actually, that's probably a really bad idea, because they I might never sleep again.

Theme Park

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Today marked the last "day off work" of my staycation. We decided earlier in the week to gather all of our various coupons together, and spend the day at "Thorpe Park" - a theme park about an hour from home that has roller coasters, rides, stalls, and all the rest of the things you would expect of a sizeable theme park.

What we didn't expect was for half the rides to break down repeatedly during the day, or to be shut down altogether. I know luck plays a big part of it, but it seemed by the end of the day that any ride the kids got in the queue for had mechanical issues - not exactly confidence building, given the accidents at theme parks over the last year.

I only went on two things with them all day - a ridiculous water slide, and the dodgems. To be honest, I was looking forward to sitting down with my other half, having a drink, and relaxing while the children spent half an hour in the queue for each thing they went on.

We would probably have stayed in the park far longer had the weather not suddenly turned from hot sunshine to thunder and lightning late in the afternoon. You have never seen so many people run towards the covered concessions stalls and shops in your entire life. We watched the downpour from the relative safety of the "Angry Birds" shop, which was trying to sell people chocolate bars for three times their usual price, and rain ponchos for twice the price you can buy them in the high street. Even the kids were aghast about it. One young boy sprinted for the shop, lost his footing, and slid on his ass across it's polished floor - I didn't know if to laugh, or rush towards him to find out if he was OK. His siblings arrived, pointing and laughing.

The rain did eventually stop and we made our way out of the park. We were cold, wet, and the kids were getting fed up of being ripped off, so we decided to go home.

I got talked into having a go at one of the many games of chance (to win a massive pikachu) as we passed by - I caved, and failed miserably. I had to throw two balls into a bucket - I landed one of them, and realised there was perhaps a 10mm region of error. My other half went slightly nuts when she saw what it took to win, ranting about parks ripping off children - given that we had already paid a colossal amount to visit the park in the first place, it was wrong to continue ripping off visitors.

We saw another stall, inviting people to try and hang from a bar for two minutes to win a cuddly toy. Lots of teens and young men were trying it - throwing their money away in displays of bravado that all failed spectacularly. I pointed out to my other half that the bar was pretty thin, and that two minutes was a LONG time. I also noted there were no rules about lifting your legs over the bar, and hanging from the to give your hands a rest. One young guy, built like a stick insect, was doing particularly well and I hoped he might beat the beefy teenager alongside him, but after a minute his arms began trembling like electric pipe cleaners, and he fell like so many before and after him.

Anyway.

While leaving I posted a tweet, naming and shaming the park about the rides that were out of action. I doubt it will achieve anything, but it made me feel a bit better. Somehow I don't think we will be returning any time soon.

Maybe I'll go find the Jessie Eisenberg movie "Adventureland" this evening, to continue the dysfunctional park theme - or show it to the children to dissuade them from ever getting work helping on rides or stalls at a park.

Mobile Phone Madness

While sitting in Starbucks with Miss 16 this morning, taking the regulation photograph of my coffee cup that all people with Instagram accounts are required to by law, it occurred to my young assistant that she too has an Instagram account, and taking a photo of the wonderfully swirly pattern made by the barista in her coffee might also be a very good idea - so she fished her phone from her pocket.

"Um. Dad. What's wrong with my phone?"

I looked across at it. It appeared to be having some kind of internal dance party in it's head - bouncing the unlock label up and down to an unpredictable rhythm, and typing random sequences of numbers into the "emergency dial" dialog at a fearsome speed. If I didn't know better, I would have started wondering about the recent warnings given by Elon Musk about artificial intelligence. I told her to reboot it.

"How?"

I grabbed the phone, and held the power button in for some time. Eventually it went dark, and began it's reboot sequence - before repeating the discoteque antics, and adding random stripes of corrupted pixels up and down the screen. I pulled the battery, and tried again. Same results.

"I think it might be dead."

The look of horror on her face was unforgettable. She is 16 years old - the phone is (in her own words) "her life". I explained that all of her photos would have been migrated up to the cloud by Google, along with her contacts, conversations, and so on. She started to calm down a bit. I then picked up my own phone and called home.

"We're going to need to go phone shopping. Do you have a problem with that?"

Miss 16 only heard my side of the conversation - when I finished she asked if Mum had gone mad or not. I shook my head, and asked if she had finished her coffee yet. She shook her hed.

Ten minutes later - after downing her coffee, we marched along the high street to the local mobile phone mecca - "Carphone Warehouse". After perusing the latest, greatest handsets that didn't cost very much, we asked about one that took our fancy - the newly released "Nokia 3".

"Sorry - we don't have any of those in stock. Nobody does."

"What about the little Nokia - the new one that you have on display over there?" (the 3310)

"No - you can only order those from Nokia."

"So why are you advertising them then?" (I was getting ever so slightly annoyed)

Stunning silence. The sales guy tried to look at his sales terminal inquisitively - no doubt waiting for the ground to open up under me. I get it - he only works there - he probably has to tell countless customers each day that they only stock two or three phones. Given the town we live in, most ten year olds probably have the iPhone 7.

We said our goodbyes, bought sushi to console ourselves, and made our way home. Half an hour later we were on the bus to the nearest town to continue our search. Five minutes walk from the bus station took us to the sister shop in the same chain we had just visited.

"Oh yes, we have the Nokia 3 in stock. Would you like black, or silver white?"

I almost burst out laughing. I half expected Miss 16 to come out with the Batman line from the LEGO movie - "I only work in black, and very dark shades of grey". She didn't.

Ten minutes later we left with a shiny new phone. Of course Miss 16 hadn't thought to bring her SIM card with her, so it was a very dead shiny new phone - but it was a shiny new phone all the same.

An hour later we were home once again. The phone was still dead, because OF COURSE the SIM card was the wrong damn size. Most phone shops have the tools to modify SIM cards, and I knew the useless shop in town would have the very same tool, because they had done it for me in the past. We started walking for the second time into town.

"Hello - you might remember we were in earlier - we got a Nokia 3 from the store you checked the stock on earlier - they DID have them - but now we need to get the SIM card modified - it doesn't fit in the phone."

"Oh, we don't do that here - the shop three doors along does"

This is where I call bullshit. I'm guessing the shop along the road is run by friends of the staff in the chain store. It's a small independent that flashes phones, and sells 1001 cases, chargers, and various other accessories. Of course they could modify the SIM, and charge us for the privilege - which we did, because we had very little choice, other than me taking a scalpel to the SIM card, and probably buggering it up spectacularly.

A minute later, Miss 16 had her phone back, and it came to life - filling itself instantly with text messages - erupting every few seconds with everything she had missed in the previous few hours.

It's funny really, isn't it - today was supposed to be a quiet day. A lazy day. I had planned on sitting in the coffee shop with our eldest for an hour, then perhaps walking through the park, and just spending time together. We DID spent time together - but we spent it on a wild goose chase, and a money spending spree that took up much of the day. At least I'll be able to call on favours for the next few weeks though, right? Right ?

Running Out of Days

It's Thursday morning, and the days of my "stay-cation" are slowly ebbing away. Just today, tomorrow, and the weekend left. After that I will be back to the old routine - making myself a packed lunch, dragging the bike from the shed, and doing battle with traffic in town. Thankfully the traffic will be light, because the children are still on summer vacation here for another few weeks, but after that the army of new school parents will appear - many of them with new cars purchased to make the school run (no, I'm not joking - many people around here appear to take the "who can piss the highest" competition to a ridiculous level).

There's nothing quite like seeing two gargantuan four wheel drive tanks meet each other on one of the old narrow victorian back streets of the town. There's also nothing like being five minutes late for work, and meeting the "returning from the school run" trophy mums, rushing towards a coffee morning and a first chance to both judge each other, and to see who has pissed the highest.

While wandering around the local stationers a few days ago, buying a pen for my bullet journal, I overheard somebody say "No Rupert, you cannot have a new iPhone for school".

So! How best to waste these remaining days. We have plans tomorrow, and the weekend is too far away to contemplate (no, really - two days in a household as chaotic as ours may as well be called "some day") - so today is really the only day I can really think about. I just knocked on Miss 16's door, and enquired if she might like to accompany me into town for a coffee.

"I need to wash my hair"

She's in the shower now. I'll see if I can coerce her into picking her camera up on the way out of the house - turn the morning into a wander around town, taking pictures of life unfolding around us. If not, we will sit in Starbucks or Costa and wonder what to do next. Maybe I should tell her to take her bullet journal.

The younger children are at a dance class today - part of a summer camp run by the local dance teacher (the very lady that our funfair goldfish "Wonderwoman" is named after (a long story that I might recount if and when the goldfish ever dies - we suspect it might be immortal though. When I was young we had a funfair goldfish that lived for years, named after the label on the fish food). Miss 13 was feigning illness to avoid going today - the third and final day - until she discovered the dance teacher had a present for her, and was relying on her attendance to help. It's amazing how a little flattery works - she left in a huge hurry about ten minutes ago.

I'm now waiting for Miss 16 to sort her life out. I imagine the national grid will dip for the next hour as a the sound of a thousand hair dryers erupts from her room. Ok - maybe one hair dryer.

 

Refusing to Play the Game

I have been writing a personal blog, and publishing it to the internet for somewhere in the region of fifteen years now. Throughout that time I have never "played the game". If you're wondering what I mean by that, I mean the incessant attention seeking, attempts to attract followers, and seeking of approval that seems so prevalent in the "social internet" space from those obsessing over the number of eyeballs they can possibly get their words or pictures in front of.

It's not the linking of posts to Tweets, or cross-posting into Facebook Pages that gets to me - it's the people that watch trending topics and write about them purely to ride on the coat-tails of whatever happens to be going viral at the time. The people that write "list-icles" (yes, that really has become a word), that sell-out to advertisers, or that write advertorial pieces while filling their back-pockets that annoy me. It's false, it's shallow, and I don't like it.

You might have noticed this blog has no advertising in it what-so-ever. It also has no posts that were paid for, and no links to anywhere that cause me to receive any sort of kick-back. You might label me a "leftie", "liberal", or "hippy", and you might be partially right. I can afford to pay for the hosting for the rubbish I pollute the internet with though - either by working like a lunatic, or by not spending the money I earn on frivolous things (the irony that I pay for this blog to exist is not lost on me, before you mention it).

I tend to choose who I follow not because they shout the loudest, but because their thoughts, ideas and opinions interest me, or entertain me. I enjoy reading about peoples lives - not about things they have bought. I do not expect those I follow, subscribe, circle, or "friend" to reciprocate either. If curiosity gets the better of them, and they decide to investigate who this slightly odd Englishman is who is reading and commenting on their posts, that's enough for me.

I guess it all comes down to a list of emotive words - originality, truth, honesty, independence. I hesitate to use the word "interesting" because I fail to see how anybody cannot be interesting in some way or another. I just know that things you can buy, or things you have been paid or told to talk about will never interest me in the slightest.

I'll climb down off my soap box now.

Victoria and Albert

The alarm on my mobile phone ripped into life at 6am this morning, and woke me with a start. I was in the middle of an intense dream about something or other - I remember wanting to go back to the dream, but can't remember what on earth the dream was about. I watched the clock tick for half an hour before eventually dragging myself out of bed, and rubbing my eyes before stumbling downstairs towards the shower, and knocking on our eldest daughter's bedroom door.

"Time to get up"

"Yeah"

She was already awake. I'm not entirely sure how. It could have had something to do with her hamster getting a new cage the night before, and pretty much partying all night - putting in a few miles on his wheel, kickingsand bath all over the place, and trashing the bedding. I'm pretty sure he would get banned from most hotel chains.

Half an hour later we stood in the kitchen munching toast, glugging coffee, and watching the minute hand on the clock slowly tick towards the moment we would need to leave to catch the train. Twenty minutes after that we stood in an orderly queue at the train station, waiting for the man with the ticket machine to sell tickets. I'm pretty sure he was going for the world record slowest sales of tickets - by my reckoning it took him ten minutes to sell four tickets.

We did get a ticket. Eventually.

An hour later - after almost forgetting to change trains en-route - we arrived at Paddington Railway Station in London, and jumped into the morass of people drifting through the station like an overflowing river. It hadn't occurred to me before that Miss 16 had not seen London on a typical week-day before. Even though we are in the depths of the school holidays, the armies of commuters marching purposefully, impatiently, and angrily this way and that was still an impressive sight to behold.

Thankfully the worst part of the morning rush had already passed by the time we descended into the Underground network, and our journey to South Kensington was uneventful. For the first time in recent memory we saw no buskers, and thankfully no lunatics spouting jibberish either (the drug addict talking to himself about necrophilia is still fresh in my mind from our last visit to London).

Minutes later we found ourselves following the crowd through the pedestrian tunnels that lead to the museums. Various walk-ways lead off to the Natural History, and Science Museums, but today we were heading for somewhere else entirely - somewhere I had never been - the Victoria and Albert, or as it is more commonly known, the "V&A".

I'm not entirely sure of the history of the museum, and can't quite be bothered to look it up right now (it's been a long day), but I can tell you that the V&A specialises in art, design, and culture - it's crammed to the rafters with collections illustrating the history of art and design from all over the world. After talking my daughter into walking the long way around the building to the front (purely to get good photos), I think it's fair to say she was blown away by the towering arches and columns that rose before us.

For the next two and a half hours - after submitting our remarkably empty bags to be searched - we wandered from room to room around the museum, and saw all manner of sculptures, paintings, textiles, and every-day items from the four corners of the world. The rooms covered regions of the world - Korea, China, Japan, Asia, India, and more. The Japanese collection was of particular interest because we had visited the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum earlier in the year - a special display case showed one of his original "Great Wave" prints alongside a plethora of everyday items that have copied it's image over the years. Everything from fans, to pencil cases, bottles, newspaper headlines, and more had been plastered in the famous wood-cut image.

There's only so many hours you can wander around a museum before your feet start to tire. It just so happened that we timed our walk through the early 20th century scultures to coincide with elevenses, the sun coming out, and the central atrium of the museum presenting itself to us through a side door. We quickly found a nice italian man making coffee, ordered a mocha and a cappuccino, and found a place to sit next to the shallow oval pool outside. We raced to eat the most expensive chocolate raisins in the known universe before the sun turned them into a puddle of goo, and tried not to be too annoyed by small children running past in the pond. When one of them fell on his ass and limped off towards his parents soaked to his underwear we struggled to keep our composure.

After elevenses we decided to search out one of the many flights of stairs around the building, in order to see what exactly the "metalwork" collections were. And that's how we discovered perhaps my favourite thing of the entire day - it turned out the stairwells were painted in much the same manner as the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I took endless photos of the ceilings, walls, and even the floor as other visitors wandered past, seemingly oblivious. I shook my head at their ignorance, and carried on taking photos. You might think one or two people might have looked up or down to see what I was taking photos of, but no.

Turns out "metalwork" really means "more gold and silver than Smaug the Dragon had collected" - except this gold and silver had been worked into ridiculous objects to be given as gifts between nations, statesmen, or politicians over the last few hundred years. A line of diamond and gold encrusted snuff boxes from the late Russian royal family explained exactly why there is no longer a Russian royal family.

It was now early afternoon, and my partner in crime (who is coeliac) was starting to complain about being hungry. She is often hungry - it's a side effect of the condition - her body doesn't absorb nutrients in the same way as the rest of us, meaning she tries to eat little and often to combat it. Of course trying to FIND gluten free food if you haven't brought any with you is another matter entirely. Except we have an ace hidden up our sleeve - Sushi. As long as she doesn't touch the soy sauce, she can eat nearly anything on a sushi restaurant menu.

Half an hour later - after another train journey - we arrived at "Itsu" - one of the various Japanese fast food restaurants dotted around central London. I didn't used to be a big fan of Sushi, but I have to admit - it's growing on me. While away with work earlier this summer I bought it most evenings from the nearby supermarkets because it's both healthy, and filling. There are only so many pizzas or burgers you can eat in a given week (I know you're laughing about that preposterous statement).

So what to do after our late lunch? Well it just so happens that we were in Covent Garden - and just down an adjoining road, you join Shaftesbury Avenue. Exactly opposite the road junction you come out on stands the biggest comic book store in the country - "Forbidden Planet". So that's what we did for the next hour - looked at figurines we can't afford, toys we have no reason to even think about, and perused thousands upon thousands of comic books, and graphic novels. I came away with a copy of "Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley - the guy that wrote the "Scott Pilgrim" books. Miss 16 came away with the first volume of "Rick and Morty". She snorted with laughter most of the way home while reading the opening chapters.

We both nearly fell asleep on the way home. Thankfully the trains all connected wonderfully, but the hours spent on our feet, allied with a late night last night, and an early start this morning had caught up with us. I fought off the tiredness while Miss 16 lost the battle, and slept soundly. I woke her with a start as we approached our home station, and told her I took a photo of her dribbling (I didn't really).

I sometimes wonder if the children will remember these days out in London when they are older - if they will do the same with their own children one day. I remember visiting the Natural History Museum when I can have been no older than six or seven years old - the memories of that day have always stayed with me. The clearest memory is of the Triceratops that stood in the main hall by the entrance once upon a time - and realising that the dinosaur I was so good at drawing was about the same size as a family car. It blew me away.

If you would like to see some photos captured during the day, rather than clog the blog up with them, feel free to visit my Instagram account. I busied myself with uploading a few to while away time on the journey home, while keeping half an eye on my sleeping accomplice.

The Bullet Journal

At the start of this year I gave serious consideration to ditching the Filofax I have been carrying around for the better part of the last decade, and using a "Bullet Journal" instead. I had been reading about them online for some time, and thought it might even be an alternative to the Moleskine notebook too (yes, I've been carrying a backpack full of paper notebooks around in some shape or form for years - and a smartphone - don't start). After getting as far as buying a new notebook specifically for the task - a new Moleskine - I never got around to actually doing anything with it.

Being completely honest, I always had reservations about bullet journalling - I watched the introductory videos on YouTube, and wondered how much of a mess my regularly changing schedule would make of a curated paper notebook. Here's the thing though (and I suspect this is common to many other people too) - my schedule doesn't change *that* much - it just feels like it does. I have carried on using the Filofax over the last seven months, and it's not filled with scribbled out plans - far from it.

Fast forward to this weekend, and you discover that our eldest daughter has taken it upon herself to start a bullet journal. I'm secretly overjoyed - not because she's writing a bullet journal - just because she's doing something - anything. That she is doing something involving writing, design, accountability, and introspection is all icing on the cake. While helping her come up with ideas for content last night I started looking at bullet journal guides on Pinterest. It was a slippery slope. This afternoon I headed into town to buy a new notebook for myself.

I suppose in some ways you could say I'm finally starting a bullet so I have something else to share with our eldest daughter. Of course it will also be useful for myself - from a personal development perspective - that very much depends on the way I use it though.

Anyway! I headed into town this afternoon and picked up a "Leuchtturm1917" bullet journal notebook from the stationers in the high street, along with a pack of new drawing pens (I massively prefer handwriting with drawing pens). After getting home I sat in front of YouTube for twenty minutes, and re-watched the various introductory tutorials about setting out the first few pages - the index, future log, monthly, and weekly pages. I've already figured out a few ways I will adapt the basics to better suit my needs - that seems to be a common thread among most people that write bullet journals - they make the format their own.

It's tempting to hit the ground running, and fill the book with endless lists, and useless information. I'm trying not to do that - for one thing, I haven't thought through how many pages will be needed for the monthly, and daily logs - how many that will leave for idiotic pages filled with lists of miscellaneous stuff like "books to read", and "movies to watch". I have to remind myself that it's not designed to be a written story of each day as I might have written in the moleskine, or this blog in the past - it's almost the opposite. It will be filled with tasks, events, aspirations, and perhaps reflection when closing down each week or month.

The only real "innovation" I have started already is a chart of aspirations alongside the days of the month - I will tick off the days I got up before 7am, went to bed before 11pm, didn't drink any alcohol, didn't eat chocolate, and did some kind of fitness. I imagine the various categories will change from month to month as I concentrate on different things, but it will be interesting to see how the numbers come out.

Maybe the first task I write down - in huge block lettering - will be "form the habit of writing this thing". The major benefit I see others derive from bullet journals is a level of accountability that just doesn't happen with a traditional journal or planner. Because each week and month are reviewed and "migrated" to future weeks and months, it causes a natural re-evaluation of the things that are really important in day-to-day life. That's the hope, anyway.

Unblogging

If you're doing a double take, and wondering where you've seen this post before, you might recall that I posted it back in February 2014. It's in the archive. While reading countless blogs over the last week or so in search of new and interesting writers, I became increasingly disheartened - and then this old post came to mind.

I'm going to start a movement on the internet. It's not going to be anything big, grand, or visionary. It's going to be about not doing things - not trying too hard, not trying to fit in, not conforming, not doing what people say.

It's going to be called "Unblogging".

I'm fed up of all the SEO experts, the "professional" bloggers, and the niche nutcases. I want to get back to people writing about their daily life, and just emptying their head. Honesty, bravery, brevity, and candid thoughts. I fell into the hipster blogging vortex myself for quite some time - worrying about the quality of photos, having something interesting to say, being creative, original, and unique.

It's all rubbish.

People want to know each other. The words and pictures are really just a conduit. The more finely crafted they are, the more you know they are bullshit. Finely crafted bullshit, but bullshit none the less.

It's the "Finding Forrester" maxim, isn't it - don't think - just write. Thinking comes later (or in our case, after hitting publish).

So there you have it. Unblogging. Get to it.

Birthdays, Friends, Beer and Video Games

I'm amazed I don't have a hangover this morning. I visited a friend last night to help celebrate his birthday - he had organised a "boy's night", complete with beer, pizza, a number of current and past co-workers, and video games. I say "games", but it really just came down to taking turns playing a car racing game - driving ridiculous cars at speed around Monaca, Monza, and the Nurburgring Nordschlief (is that how you spell it?).

It was the first time I had played any sort of video game since we arranged a similar evening perhaps 18 months ago. I surprised myself at how quickly I picked the old skills back up. It struck me during the evening just how much alcohol affects judgement and reaction times - even in a video game. I remember years ago playing games, and knowing I would play better after a cup of coffee - of course beer has the opposite effect. It isn't so much the lack of judgement - it's the lack of accuracy it introduces. Where Monaco might usually be a finely judged dance, drifting the car between the barriers - into and out of corner apexes, after two or three beers it became an unpredictable wrecking yard.

Enough about video games.

It was lovely to see some faces I used to work with. One of them had worked with me on the London project I often talk about - that happened A DECADE AGO now. Once upon a time we were all single - little by little we are all either engaged, married, divorced, have children, or have babies on the way. It's funny how life creeps up on you like that.

I got to about my fourth beer by about midnight, and some kind of safety switch flicked in my head - the "you really shouldn't drink any more" safety switch - it's probably the reason I have no hangover this morning. It was probably installed during my mid 20s after one too many nights out where the majority of next day was wasted as a result. We said our goodbyes a short while after, and scattered into the night. While walking home on my own I ate a chocolate bar I discovered in the pocket of my shorts, and smiled while replaying conversations from the evening in my head.

After getting home, I sobered up while clearing the kitchen up, made tea and coffee for myself and my other half, and joined her to watch late night TV together for a little while. I remember looking at my watch, and realising it far more than "half past my bedtime", so headed to bed - falling asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Beer kind of does that to me.

This morning has been what you might call a "slow start". The children woke me at first 7am - asking if I might make them pancakes for breakfast - and then 8am to tell me the cat had peed indoors. I scraped myself out of bed a few minutes later, had a wash, dug clean clothes out of the ironing pile (that will never get ironed), and started clearing the decks once again. I have another week at home before returning to the office. Let's try not to start counting the days down and becoming increasingly anxious or depressed.

The Junk Room

This morning I took it upon myself to clear up the "junk room". We are fortunate enough in our ramshackle house to have a room that isn't really used for anything - and somehow I appropriated it many years ago as "my room". I have shared it from time to time, and it has been re-purposed on occasion, but by and large the room that would have been a sitting room in the 1930s has become mine.

In the far corner of the room stands an old filing cabinet full of paperwork that we've long since forgotten about. I think the birth certificates, marriage certificate, and various other important pieces of paper might be in there. On top of the filing cabinet stands perhaps the newest addition to the room - a networked inkjet printer. I very rarely print anything at all, but the children seem to find reasons to print gargantuan quantities of nonsense on a weekly basis - mostly for school during term time because apparently schools can't afford to print anything themselves any more.

Adjacent to the filing cabinet stands a semi-transparent drawer unit filled with wires, and bits of old electronic devices - chargers, adapters - that kind of thing. It probably contains enough hardware to gain sentience and ensnare a human, much as happened to Richard Prior's character in Superman 3. If we ever need a USB cable, a VGA cable, or a kettle lead, we can usually be sure of finding one or two within the drawers. Once upon a time I sorted the entire contents of the drawers out, but then my other half and the children needed to find something, and it all turned to hell in minutes. I've never bothered again.

Next we have the desk - one of the few pieces of furniture that came with me from my apartment before we got married. It's not so much a "desk", as a huge piece of wood on some metal legs. In the corner there in angle-poise lamp - perhaps the fifth we have bought in as many years because they always seem to either fail completely, or have bulbs in them that nobody on earth has ever heard of before. Beneath the lamp is an 8 port ethernet router - almost filled to capacity because we have the most insane network throughout the house that I have ever seen (and I invented it). The rest of the desk is pretty mundane really - the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse (all cheap and/or hand-me-downs), a cork board filled with postcards from friends on the internet, a huge teddy the kids bought me for my birthday a few years ago (he's called "Geek Boy" in reference to his Star Wars t-shirt), and a number of desk organiser pots filled with pins, staples, and pens that haven't been stolen yet.

Underneath the desk my old PC hums away. By modern standards it's positively neanderthal. I've written about it numerous times in the past - about the varied parentage of it's innards. I think the only thing that might be original any more is the motherboard, and the case. It's just about good enough to run Windows 7 and Google Chrome, so that's what it gets used for most of the time. I can't remember the last time I played a video game, which is kind of sad really.

Alongside the desk sits an old unit that used to sit in my bedroom when I lived with my parents. It is filled with old CD-ROM discs, and a random selection of ZIP Disks. Who remembers ZIP disks ? Each stored about 100 times as much as a floppy disk, although not appreciably faster. They became obsolete around the same time CD-RW drives became prevalent, as far as I remember.

Sitting on top of the unit is an obsolete network laser printer. I should really throw it away, but I can't quite bring myself to consign it to the rubbish tip just yet. We've had it for perhaps a decade, and it's been fantastic. I started to act up about two years ago - printing a blue stripe down the edge of everything. I looked up the cost of getting it serviced, and it comes to more than buying a new printer.

To my right - under the window from where I can spy on people walking up the drive to deliver parcels to the front door, is a second desk, with a second angle-poise lamp sitting on it. There is a sewing machine tucked away underneath the desk that tends to get dragged out by my other half to make costumes for the local dance teacher each year when show-time comes around. Above the desk are a number of shelves - creaking and groaning under the weight of several hundred sewing and knitting pattern books.

Behind me stands a towering bookcase, filled to the gunnels with row upon row of books - mostly my books, but randomly mixed in with other books that people dumped in here. There's everything from books about chess, to physics, UFOs, mathematics, biographies of film stars, comics, and a huge number classics. Just looking now, I can see "Stranger in a Strange Land" alongside "Snow Crash", "Neverwhere", and "Stig of the Dump". There's also a number of comic books books tucked in the shelves - among them "Death Note", "Neon Genesis Evangelion", and of course "Watchmen". Finally, a number of DVDs seem to have collected on the shelves over the years - box sets that have been half watched, such as "Melrose Place", and "Ghost in the Shell".

I nearly forgot. To my far left stands a dolls house, on the floor. It is one of two dolls houses belonging to my other half. The better dolls house is in our bedroom - this one was made for her by her Grandfather when she was young - it's by far the stronger of the two, obviously made to survive a younger child playing with it. One day we will renovate it - re-decorate it, and fix the wiring that runs to various lights throughout the rooms. At the moment the rooms are filled with old ADSL routers, shoe boxes, and random collections of brick-a-brack.

So there you have it. The junk room. I'm sitting in the middle of the described miscellany in one of two office chairs, typing on the old PC that continues to whir and crunch under the desk. If I'm not writing from distant hotel rooms, this is the place the blog posts usually eminate from. Now you know.

A Nice Day for a Walk

For the first few days of our self-imposed "staycation", we have been knocking around the house, or wandering into town for one thing or another. Today we decided to actually do something "holiday worthy". After getting up and getting the chores out of the way this morning we looked at the weather forecast, and figured a walk along the river might be a good idea.

You see, there's a pub about 3 miles along the river from the town we live - a pub that can only be reached on foot, or by boat - called "The Bounty". I've heard about it repeatedly over the years I have lived here, but never visited it. I wasn't entirely sure how accurate half the stories are about the place - some of them mentioned an old landlord with a hook for a hand. Turns out that was true - there was a photo of him alongside the bar. I'll get back to that though.

We set off about an hour before lunchtime, and massively over-prepared. Given the unpredictable nature of the weather recently, I had a backpack filled with waterproofs for everybody, and a couple of fleeces. I also had binoculars, a first aid kit, and the swiss army knife that usually lives in the depths of my work bag (you would be surprised how often co-workers have asked to borrow it over the years). We didn't need any of it - which I suppose is a good thing.

The binoculars came in handy after a couple of miles, when my other half noticed a tall bird in the distance watching us. It was a heron. As we approached and aimed cameras at it, it took to the air, appearing for all the world like a ragged overcoat flapping along the edge of the fields.

Another half a mile on, and we met a herd of cows. At first I thought we might have to pick our way through them, but they obviously saw the younger children approaching (or rather HEARD the younger children approaching), and slowly moved away from our path. A couple of calves got left behind, and we were upon them before they realised - stumbling to their feet and staring at us in the curious way calves do before sprinting off to join the rest of the herd. I noticed one of the mothers hanging back to keep an eye on them.

Another half a mile brought the old railway bridge I have crossed countless times on trains into view, and after crossing it, our destination - "The Bounty". A pub that can only be reached by foot, or by boat. I'm tempted to draw parallels with the Cantina Bar at Mos Eisley, but that wouldn't be fair.

I couldn't help smiling - The Bounty was a perfect recreation of many of the pubs I remember from my childhood. Festooned with photos of patrons over the years, souvenirs from all over the world, flags of the world, and all sorts of nautical memorabilia. I almost expected to find the man in the photo alongside the bar with a hook for a hand serving, but instead ordered drinks from a disinterested student who had to put his phone down to pour our drinks.

We sat outside in the sunshine, drank rather a lot, and then ate ourselves to a standstill on a variety of burgers, and various other stodgy food that seems like a great idea when you've just walked for an hour and a half to the pub.

The journey home was an altogether quieter afair until we hit the first incline of the day - climbing over "Winter Hill", which borders the town. After answering endless ridiculous questions from the children about "which way to go next" - answered countless times with "whichever way the sign says!", we descended back towards the famous bridge over the river Thames, and Higginson Park.

I counted up my remaining cash on the half-mile walk through the corn-fields back towards the park. Just enough to buy everybody an ice-cream - so that's exactly what we did. While other families sat out on picnic rugs in the sunshine, we trudged towards the ice cream van in walking boots, with backpacks on our back, and then sat on a bench in the shade to eat them. We somehow all managed to fit on ONE bench, and then giggled hilariously about the thought of trying to get up again - and maybe wrenching the bench from the ground and having to walk home in a line with the bench still attached.

We did manage to extracate ourselves (thankfully), and picked our way through the back streets of town towards home in pretty good humor - all except for one of the children, who somehow decided that our choice of route was not to her liking. We did our best to ignore her mini meltdown.

Today was a good day. A day spent together for the first time in ages. A day of simple pleasures - walking along the river, looking at wildlife, laughing about idiots posing on the river in plastic cruising boats with Radar (why!?), and admiring traditional paintwork on some of the canal boats we saw.

We must do it all again soon.

Beer Music and Rain

Yesterday evening I was invited out to the "members evening" at the local brewery. If you become a member of the brewery - which costs an annual amount - you get discount off beer from the shop on-site, and you get to attend members nights throughout the year. I think they are every few months. Perhaps I should have mentioned that the beer is free and unlimited at members nights.

You might think offering people free and unlimited beer would be a recipe for disaster, but almost astoundingly I have never seen any trouble at the brewery over the years when I have been invited along. I had my own membership for a time years ago, but of course have more important things to spend the money on these days - socks, pants, school shoes, food, and so on.

I think the reason so little trouble erupts at the brewery can be explained by the demographic that walk the mile or so out of town to drink themselves silly. They are largely of a certain age, and more of the "rugby" than "football" supporter stereotype. What do I mean by that? I have been to many football (soccer for those in the US) and rugby matches - both large and small. Unfortunately the brush that tars many football fans appears to be absolutely true - a small minority become violent, obnoxious, abusive maniacs when gathered together, or combined with alcohol. They are the reason football grounds have to segregate the crowd, and often accompany travelling fans to and from the ground with mounted police. Rugby fans on the other hand will happily sit next to opposing fans in the same stand, drink beer with them (at the game - shock horror), and commiserate or congratulate each other on winning or losing.

You never hear rugby crowds singing "The Referee's a Wanker". That might possibly be because they are too drunk to care of course - or because they have been poisoned by half-cooked chips they bought for their children, while missing half the game.

So yes - we stood among the crowd last night, partook of several beverages, listened to a live jazz band, and put the world to rights at some length. Between my third and fourth pints of beer, I decided a beef burger was a very good idea. While standing in the queue, cheese and bacon also became very good ideas - it's funny how that happens. After a couple of hours standing in the cold, trying to convince ourselves that free beer was great, we wandered home again - not before stopping at the brewery shop to buy guilt offerings to take home though.

Who knew there would be such a thing as "Marmalade Vodka" ? I do now, because they lined the miniature bottles up on the checkout, in the perfect place for you to notice them. I had only planned on buying a bottle of wine and some "artisan crisps". The wine was chosen purely based upon the label being interesting - a painted 1920s style coastal scene, similar to those used by transport companies before the war. Oh, and I checked the label to make sure it wasn't desert wine - I'm not quite that stupid.

Somehow a bag of pork scratchins fell into my bag too. It's funny how you'll pretty much eat anything after you've had a few beers.

After getting home, handing over the guilt offerings, and telling stories of the night, I collapsed into the chair in the junk room and discovered Glen Campbell had died.

This morning I found sitting alone in the study room once again, digging through old albums. I suppose in many ways Glen Campbell was a part of my childhood - along with the likes of Don Williams, Merle Haggard, John Denver, and so many more. My Uncle was in the merchant navy when I was young, and would return home several times a year with armfuls of vinyl albums that had accompanied him on his travels. Music from all over the world - music we had never heard before.

My first ever record player was a "Radiogram" - a not inconsiderable piece of furniture handed down from my Grandfather. It combined a vinyl record player, a radio, and a sideboard in one piece of (gigantic) furniture. For several of my early teenage years I would listen to the radio on it, and play the few vinyl records that had been stowed inside it for decades. One of them was the 45 single of "Rinestone Cowboy", by Glen Campbell. When you first switched the record player on, it wouldn't hold a constant speed for the first few moments - we (myself and my brother) would laugh hilariously as Glen Campbell varied between the laughing policeman, and shades of a Benny Hill chase scene.

I inherited lots of vinyl records from family during those years. Everything from old musicals, to a quite bizarre selection of novelty singles from the 1950s and 60s. Oh how we laughed at "Mad Passionate Love" by Bernard Breslaw (and the b-side "You Need Feet"). Looking back, listening to "Alvin's Harmonica", "Sparkie's Magic Piano" and various other idiocy probably explains a lot about the way I turned out. I also listened to the songs from "West Side Story", "Oklahoma", and "Seven Bridges for Seven Brothers" too though.

By now you're probably wondering why I mentioned the rain in the title of this post. It's piddling down outside. It has been all day. It was forecast, therefore we consigned the entire day to quiet activities like watching TV, playing video games, eating cheese and pickle sandwiches, and emptying our head into blog posts.

Haircuts, Bowling, and Bad Movies

While the other occupants of the house sat around sipping tea and watching breakfast television shows this morning, I jumped in the shower, had a shave, got dressed, and headed into town to get my hair cut.

Normally getting my hair cut would result in some kind of spectacularly entertaining conversation with the girl cutting my hair. That didn't happen this morning, on account of the salon being closed for building work. I continued on to the place I used to get my hair cut - the place co-workers talked about a decade ago because it was staffed with pretty young things. They obviously grew up, and moved on - leaving a grizzled fifty-something guy, and a lady that tells you her woes if you give her the opportunity. I got fifty-something guy.

"Are you still coaching the football team?"

"No. Not for years."

Ok. That's the end of that conversation then. I can fake a "sporty mc sporto" Dad conversation with the best of them. All you really have to do is get them started, then you can sit back and switch off while they get increasingly uppety about something or other that only gets sporty people uppety.

After completing my "zero maintainance" haircut, and telling me about the political shenanigans of the local cricket club, he waved a mirror around my head. I thanked him, paid my money, and walked.

I think I had been in the house perhaps 10 seconds when Miss 12 ambushed me.

"Are we going swimming?"

"I just got back!"

"But are we?"

My other half looked at me, and raised an eyebrow.

"How about bowling?"

"Yes!!"

There is a bowling alley about fifteen minutes away by bus, and our youngest daughter has a bus pass. I had planned on taking all the kids with me, but that plan went out the window when we challenged Miss 13 on her choice of clothes.

"Are you going to get changed? You wore that to bed last night." (she was wearing rugby kit - best not to ask why).

"I didn't wear it to bed!"

"You did - we saw you."

"RIGHT! THAT'S IT! I'M NOT GOING! SEE YOU LATER!" (she stamped off through the house, shouting unintelligible rants over her shoulder as she went)

And that's how me, Miss 12, and Miss 16 ended up at the bowling alley 20 minutes later, looking at the few empty lanes, and the humungous queue ahead of us, and decided that maybe Bowling was going to be a total and utter waste of time. Given that the cinema is next door, an alternative plan formed.

We could see "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" in 40 minutes time. Maybe we should get some lunch. There was a "Yo Sushi" next door.

I've never been to Yo Sushi, and I think it's fair to surmise that I will never go to one ever again - not when you have two eating machines in tow that rapidly ate their way through the same amount of money you might normally spend on food for a week. For the first time ever, I stopped eating because I was in fear of my credit card bursting into flames there and then.

Next stop - movie theatre. I managed to crash the first self-service kiosk we tried to use, so moved on to the next one. "Valerian" had nobody at all booked to see it. That's odd, I thought - but a couple of hours later I realised why.

Let's preface this by saying that I love movies, and I've loved a lot of Luc Besson movies in the past. The Fifth Element is one of my favourite movies, for all sorts of reasons. Valerian looked amazing, and sounded amazing, but there was something odd that I couldn't put my finger on for the longest time.

Here's the thing - if you lead a huge movie with two angsty millenials who either frown their way from scene to scene, or don't appear to care about anybody or anything - then you don't care what they are doing, or what happens to them either.

I almost fell asleep towards the end of the movie.

Let's summarise the day. I got my hair cut, then I set a colossal amount of money on fire on forgettable food, and a forgettable movie. I'm wondering if we can spend several days spending no money what-so-ever in response. Board games. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so perhaps a day of playing board games isn't such a bad idea at all.

Oh, and I'll look up the comic book that "Valerian" is based upon - it's not going to have to try very hard at all to be more entertaining than the car-crash of a movie.

Putting Pen to Paper

Over the last ten years I have emptied my head from time to time into the pages of a paper notebook. I remember buying the first one - a Moleskine, because that's what everybody seemed to be raving about at the time. I had recently bought my first Macbook, and was actually putting effort into the whole "blogging" escapade.

Ten years ago I was working in London for four days each week - commuting four hours each way aboard a succession of trains. I read books, listened to podcasts, and wrote vast quantities of forgettable nonsense in the pages of journals. I would arrive at Paddington Station in central London half an hour earlier than I really needed to, buy a coffee from the cafe looking out over the station concourse, and record the succession of strangers passing by.

I still can't believe that was ten years ago. A decade. Everybody I worked with will most probably have moved on to different jobs. Some of them will have families now. I wonder what became of a few of them - the perpetually grumpy project lead, the predatory girl at the Christmas party, and the quiet young lad that looked like a magazine cover model. I guess life has probably happened for them too.

There is a line of moleskine notebooks on the shelf - filled with introspective drivel. I have never picked any of them up to re-read their contents - I can't imagine they will be at all insightful or interesting. Many of the better fragments were written into blog posts at the time - stories about people dragging trolleys through underground stations, or the sea of perfect people in the city, led by stepford girls working in the financial institutions.

I'm not sure how I fell off the "writing in a journal" horse. I just did. I suppose the blog took over entirely. Even though the blog is far more filtered and processed than the paper journal, it still tells largely the same story - just without the incendiary rants, or the soporific contemplation of the mundane. Ok. Strike that. That's kind of all this blog consists of - the soporific contemplation of the mundane.

Achieving Nothing

In many ways today was the first day of my vacation. The first day when I wasn't racing through chores in the usual breakneck effort to achieve something approaching normality. What do I mean by normality? Maybe I mean making sure there is something to eat for dinner, making sure the clothes are washed, and making sure the house and garden don't look like a minor war didn't just happen within them.

Hang on a moment.

My other half is attempting to watch the one TV show she watches each week in the living room. The attempt obviously triggered a subliminal "must be a pain in the arse" switch in our youngest daughter's head, because she's now sitting behind me in the junk room as I write this. She has been barred from the living room, and now doesn't know what to do with herself. There's at least another 15 minutes until bedtime and nobody will drop what they're doing to entertain her. She's spinning slowly around on an office chair in the dark behind me, whispering words into her phone.

I spin around.

"You're bored, aren't you."

She grins at me.

I'm surprised I'm managing to write this. The "Favourite Coffee House" playlist on Spotify is being periodically drowned out by the sound effects from some idiotic game she just installed. I dare not take any interest, because she will use that as a delaying tactic when I turn around in ten minutes and tell her to get ready for bed. She's a ninja at delaying tactics.

Where was I? Oh yes - being on vacation.

The only event of note today was a visit to the garden centre half a mile up the road. The children have been growing tomatoes in the back garden, and the plants had crossed the line from "cute little things" into "mangrove jungle hell". This was all fine until half the contents of the ocean fell on town earlier this week, and turned the tomato jungle into a twisted and broken mess. Who knew you could buy scaffolding for tomato plants? We now have a 6ft tall recreation of the John Hancock Centre in Chicago, built around the remains of the afore mentioned plants. We also have a huge quantity of green tomatoes lined up along the kitchen window, in the hope they will turn red. Apparently this is entirely possible - my other half says so.

Miss 12 just gave up on delaying tactics for the evening and went to bed. Her last throw of the dice was an announcement of several ailments - one of which was a bad stomach because she ate too much for dinner (two hours ago). Nice try.

I expect I'll be rather euphoric in the morning - waking up with the radio alarm clock, and then remembering that I don't have to go to work. I'll get up of course - for some reason getting up is easier when you're on vacation. I'll listen to the local breakfast radio show over a coffee and some toast while the rest of the house carries on snoring. The cats will arrive in the kitchen in talkative mood until I feed them, and the fish will gather in the nearest corner of their tank doing a song and dance act until I feed them too.

I have no idea what the rest of the day might bring. I promised a trip to the local coffee shop with our eldest, but that has somehow grown to include the younger children too. Suddenly a quiet coffee with Miss 16 and a newspaper or magazine will be turned into ordering whatever cream/ice/strawberry monstrosity that takes at least three times longer than anything else to make. I will apologise to the staff for ordering the damn things, while the children look on clueslessly. Five minutes after arriving they will be bored, and want to do something else. I will look across at Miss 16, and she will roll her eyes.

Anyway. Let's try not to predict the future. Let's hope that the coffee shop will be quiet, that the coffee will be lovely, the magazine interesting, and the passers by as strange or weird as possible.

Unexpected Compliments

While catching up with a distant friend on Friday, I got told that my blog was "GREAT". I of course questioned what she had been drinking or smoking, and immediately dismissed her appraisal. I suppose self deprecation is a way of life for me - in the real world I'm one of the quiet people that makes things happen for others - I'm not a social butterfly, a blow-hard, or an attention seeker. It therefore comes as something of a surprise when anything I do is noticed or liked.

Receiving a compliment got me thinking - about the amount of effort I (don't) put into writing this rubbish. Sometimes I look back at old posts, and realise that now and again I do seem to be able to string a few words together, and sometimes it's even entertaining. I read a few of the more famous blogs from time to time, and can draw parallels between the way I write and they way they do. Of course the major reason I'm not famous is because I was never fired for writing the blog - and of course I have also moved the blog between every damn blogging platform in the known universe over the years. I think the only people left that still know where to find my words are those that I've either told, or those that harassed me into telling them where to look.

I suppose it would help if I had any clue why I write any more. I really don't - it's just something I do. A hobby. Somebody pulled me up a few weeks ago, and said "you're such an idiot - you're a WRITER!". Maybe writers don't really choose to write - they just do it? Does the simple act of writing make you a writer? I very much doubt it - but then again, is that the self-deprecating "nothing to see here" gene kicking in? When I think of writers, I think of Earnest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Anyway. I'm trying to embrace the compliment for a change, and forging ahead with this idiotic hobby of writing one word after another, and occasionally standing back to see what I've written. It will surprise nobody to learn that I often publish posts before proof reading them, and then return three or four times to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. When you write something, and then post it, it feels like you're being spontaneous, raw, and true - and then you read what you've unleashed on the world and think "oh God no - let me just change this, and that, and that".

I wonder how many times I'll have edited this post before you read it?

Two Weeks Off

Watching the clock tick down this afternoon at work was interminable. It reminded of countless begging sessions with grandparents when I was little, when they would promise to take me somewhere, get something, or do something "presently". Presently was this undetermined, and seeminly infinite quantity of time that only grandparents used or understood.

Needless to say, the end of the day arrived precisely when it should have - not a minute earlier, and not a minute later. I didn't escape "Woody on Bullseye" fashion as the work day came to an end though - because I wasn't heading home.

Each summer our children take part in a huge summer activity club in the middle of town called "Lighthouse". It's run by an army of helpers, and involves the local churches to provide the children with a week of fun, education, and hopefully constructive thoughts that they might carry with them when they leave. This year's mayhem was drawing to a close with a family picnic, and I was invited along. It amused me greatly that as I grew closer on my bike, dark clouds congregated in the sky above like the scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Given my absolute lack of belief in any creators wearing bed sheets with long flowing beards and lightning bolts from their fingers, I did wonder for a moment if I might be wrong. Was this The Almighty coming to make an example of me in front of the believers?

It didn't rain. Well - not much.

I always find it difficult to mix in large groups. After arriving on the field and saying hello to one or two people, I quickly realised that I was surrounded by people I knew. I wandered from family to family, making conversation, and doing my best to defeat a natural propensity to sit quietly in the corner and wonder how long until we could go home.

After faking the social butterfly thing for a couple of hours, drinking several cans of fruit cider, and debating endlessly about the hidden preservatives in a bag of chopped apples, the sky finally fell on our heads and everybody scattered like so many ants. Twenty minutes later we were home.

So - I have two weeks ahead of me filled with nothing. Of course "nothing" is a relative term. We know there will be washing up, tidying up, gardening, ironing, cleaning, and so on. The usual things. There will not be any work though, and I'm kind of relieved about that. Perhaps I'll find time to read a book or two - or find time to write endless blog posts about very little (no change there then).

Here's to the days to come, whatever they might bring.

Counting Down the Hours

I have a little over seven hours left in the office tomorrow before two weeks vacation. To say I'm looking forward to it would be a colossal understatement. We are not going anywhere - we can't afford it this year - so we're doing a "staycation". That's code for "fight to keep the house tidy for two weeks", along with "do gardening non stop", and "go to the rubbish tip every other day".

Anything feels preferrable to work at the moment. I'm usually pretty resilient, but  recent projects have chipped away at me - I need a break. I could write at length about my frustrations, but am choosing not to.

I have found myself wondering about moving on in recent months - I've been working as a consultant software and web developer for the last sixteen years. I'm something of a unicorn among my peers, because I didn't always do this - I was once the lead developer at a manufacturing company - building and evolving systems without a budget, or a project plan. I miss working on a small number of projects, and improving them over time.

I've also been involved in a number of open source projects in the past - some of which are available at GitHub. I suppose the most significant were a blogging platform, a content management system, and a Tumblr-like social writing platform. I always found it amusing when people realised I designed and built them single-handed. Yes, developers like me do exist. There are lots of us out here.

I guess in some ways I'm stuck. I need to provide for my family, I don't particulary enjoy what I do any more (even though I'm good at it), and I have no idea what I might do instead. Why can some wealthy benefactor not fall in love with my writing and fund me to sit in boutique coffee shops recording the world going by? Isn't that what the niche blog hipsters do (when not buying clothes and photographing their try-on sessions).

I'm SO not a hipster, or a "millenial". I'm not even a Generation X-er. Most of my year at college studied law, and yet nobody I recall went on to jobs in the legal profession. I had no clue what I wanted to do for years, and drifted into being a software developer completely by accident. I started writing up my story for "National Novel Writing Month" a couple of years ago. Perhaps one day I'll carry it on.

Maybe during the time off I'll coerce the children into some damn-fool adventures with me - adventures worth writing about. Maybe a trip to the museums in London, or a bike ride or two. Miss 16 loves coffee shops, so maybe I'll talk her into setting up camp with me in town - sipping cappuccino while live-blogging the clientelle. If you see a long rambling post about strangers sitting near me, you'll know why and how it came about.

Before any of that I need to survive tomorrow without jumping from any windows, headbutting any walls, or smashing any keyboards through monitors. Perhaps I could fall off my bicycle on purpose on the way to work, and feign injury? Actually, that's too much like tempting fate - some trophy mum en-route for a yoga class or coffee morning will probably run me over now.