Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas Wish

May your skies be clear and blue this Christmas.
May your days be filled with joy and your heart with peace.
May you wake to a whitened land and a roaring fire.
May your families bring you love,
May your gifts make you content.
May your skies be clear and blue this Christmas.

Have a very merry Christmas. I'll be back next week.

Monday, December 20, 2004

You know winter has arrived when... takes ten minutes for your cheeks to warm up once you're on the train.

It was gorgeously crisp and cold this morning. The grass crunched lightly underfoot and the mists of my breath billowed gently up above my head. The pre-dawn sky was a riot of salmon pink, orange and golden yellow against a backdrop of cool, azure blue as the high clouds caught the first rays from the rising sun and reflected them towards the dark earth below.

That short period of time before the sun broke over the horizon held the promise of a perfect winter's day. Since then the clouds have rolled in and it has become just another dull, overcast day, barely even worthy of mention.

Perhaps this morning was a promise of beauty yet to come, a presage of what we can expect later on this week. I hope so. I really do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


We have passed a couple of pregnancy landmarks in the last week or so.

Firstly, in the middle of last week I felt the baby kick for the first time. L's been feeling it for weeks but until now it hasn't been strong enough to be felt from outside. It was a lovely moment, happening just after we'd got into bed and I think I went to sleep with a great big grin on my face.

More importantly, we have now passed the point of no return (24 weeks). We can no longer suddenly change our minds and decide we don't want this baby any more and if the unthinkable were to occur and L went into labour prematurely, we would have the comforting thought that (theoretically, at least) the baby could now survive.

At times, it's hard to believe that we're still not quite two thirds of the way through it all. We're not counting the weeks quite as religiously as we were in the first three or four months but time still seems to be passing very slowly and we can hardly remember what life was like before we changed it so dramatically. At work, a three-month long project would be over in a flash (usually without being finished, of course ;-) ) but I've got a feeling that the next sixteen weeks are going to take forever.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Going Under

And all of a sudden a week has passed without a word from me. I didn't mean that to happen. I was going to post something on Friday but I was ill and this week so far, I just haven't had the energy or the inclination.

Thursday was a largely wasted day at work as I practically fell asleep at my desk. I wasn't just tired, my muscles were aching and it felt like I had no reserves of energy left - even walking around the office was taxing. I gave up and went home an hour early and promptly went to bed for a while. L pretty much forced me to agree not to go in on Friday and, although I felt well enough to do so in the morning, I'm glad I didn't. While it wasn't long enough to set me completely right, as a short-term fix it worked well.

I expected it to turn into a full-blown cold or even flu over the weekend but, apart from the odd sneeze here and there, no other symptoms have materialised. That may sound like good news but it's worrying me. If Thursday can't be explained by a cold then what was it? I haven't been sleeping badly recently, with between 7 and 8 hours sleep most nights, and I haven't been running many marathons either. Can it really be merely tiredness?

Before anyone says it, I know it's going to get worse once the baby is born but I'll worry about that then. What's concerning me is the way I'm feeling at the moment. The thought that I could suffer a more serious collapse than last week is starting to trouble me and I don't know what to do about it.

I can't take any more leave until the new year (even then I don't want to take too much because of time off I need later in the year) and I'm not going to take days off sick just because I'm tired - it's going to have to reach the serious stage before I'll do that. I'm not doing as much around the house as I was and that's limited to the necessary chores. The major projects and diy stuff are being left undone because I just don't have the energy to get started on them.

So, if a few days go by without anything new appearing on Clear Blue Skies, it's probably because I've been sleeping.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Cloyingly sweet

The air in our house is becoming steadily more blue at the moment. The normal household noise is being punctuated by soft utterings like "Oomph. You little bastard" as the baby uses L's insides as a punch bag.

This raises the question of ownership of our child-to-be. Whenever it's kicking hell out of L's bladder or something then it's always my baby. Said in the right tone, "Your baby is being a little sod" leaves absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fault for this is entirely mine. I'm sure this is a pattern that will continue well after birth.

Blame does have its lighter side, however. In that sickly cute way that we swore we would never stoop to, the slightest hiccough is blamed on the baby 'bouncing off the diaphragm'. It's the baby rather than L who is hungry or tired when she is snacking on biscuits or yawning her head off. If she feels a little off-colour then it's because the baby didn't like what we had for dinner. This feels like the most natural thing to be saying, even if it has long since ceased to be funny. How we have managed to avoid giving it a nickname like peanut or alien, I just don't know.

Bile-inducing as this behaviour is when viewed from the outside, I think it actually plays several important roles in our new lives. At the most basic level, even though we may be disguising the truth in what we say, we are at least talking to each other about what is happening and that's definitely a good thing.

It also allows me to feel more involved in the 'physical' side of the pregnancy. It's too early yet for me to be able to feel the baby kicking or anything so these comments give me an insight into what L is feeling at the moment.

The most important effect that it has, however, is that it helps to create a bond between us and the unborn baby. The human characteristics that we are bestowing upon it by talking in this way engender a feeling of affection for it that wouldn't otherwise (for me at least) exist yet. That in turn makes you feel more protective.

So if, when you next see me belch, you hear me say "bloody baby" under my breath, please understand that I do it for the best reasons. ;-)

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Inmates Running The Asylum?

In his post about Friday night, NiC had a moment of genius that seems to have gone unnoticed by everyone else.

"If the group continues to grow we'll be taking over a whole pub soon", he said.

Now that's a bloody brilliant idea and it got me thinking. What would the perfect blogpub be like?

Well, judging by Friday's example, it would either have to have quiet, background music or a pair of wirecutters on each table but that's probably applicable to any pub, not just one for bloggers, so what other features should it have?

Obviously, one corner of the building would have to be sited on the convergence of several different lay-lines so that Witchy could play at spinning polos with unsuspecting blogpunters and it wouldn't be a bad idea to site it next door to a shoe shop, either.

It would have to be staffed with barmen who don't look at you oddly when you ask for a straight vodka with no ice and to keep me happy it would need to have a wide range of ales, so that I wouldn't have to repeat the same drink twice within any one evening.

A shelf of books full of obscure facts about London to inspire DG is clearly a must, as is a registration system so that everyone knows who everyone else is as soon as they walk in the door.

It would never close, merely go on hiatus every few months. It would serve cocktails on a Friday afternoon and coffee on a Monday morning.

And, of course, there'd be a pc at the bar where the blogpunters could post without ever leaving the pub.

Any other requirements that I have overlooked? And does anyone know of a suitable location?


Friday night saw me attending my second blogmeet, this time at the Green Man by Great Portland Street. It's definitely not the best pub in the world but the company more than made up for it. I arrived just in time to find Harriet, Elsie and dave at the bar and rapidly had the first pint of the night in my hand.

We found a table in the corner underneath the world's loudest speaker and tried to work out whether, working for the mayor as she does, Elsie had the authority to chuck 2 guys off a much larger table. We were still undecided when other people started arriving and pretty soon our number had expanded to include Mr D., NiC (and his better half), Steve and Invisible Stranger, who must have been in the pub for a little while before anyone at the table had worked up the courage to call out his name on the off-chance that it might have been him.

As seems to be becoming the norm for these London Blogmeets, Blue Witch had a nightmare journey in from the sticks and turned up once everyone else was already half-cut. We were definitely the liveliest group of people in the pub, making more noise than the party downstairs despite only having half the numbers. There was much laughter and great chunks of the world were put to rights before we all tumbled out of the pub around closing time.

For those of you I hadn't met it was great to do so and for everyone I had it was good to see you all again.

Here's to the next one.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Winter Wonderland

Since I haven't got much else to say, I'm going to fall back on that great staple of English Conversation; the weather.

Boy, there was a chill in the air as we walked to the station this morning. It was wonderful. We may not have had the snow that others have but it felt like a wonderful prelude to the season to come. I mean, it's only the middle of November and we've had snowfall in the southern half of England. Is this a sign that the people who were forecasting a harsh winter were correct in doing so? I hope so.

It's a long time since we had a truly cold, snow-filled winter around these parts. Granted, over the last couple of years there have been sudden cold snaps and heavy snowfalls that have caused our roads and rail systems to grind to a halt but they were short-lived.

What I want to see is a prolonged spell of cold weather with a lot of snow falling over a longer period of time. That way our travel network shouldn't be disrupted too much and we get to enjoy some wintry beauty, the like of which has been rarely seen in recent years. It would be wonderful to wake up one morning and open the curtains to see white rooftops marching down the hill and snow-covered hills on the other side of the valley, to open the door and be greeted with perfect silence, to feel the crunch of snow underfoot when you go outside.

To reawaken the memories of what winter is really like.

Uncharitable Thought

I have a grumble to make about Children In Need.

Some people wouldn't read that sentence and instantly become outraged at such sacrilegious behaviour, so let me make it clear that I'm not complaining about the charity itself, or the work that it does, or how it raises money or, indeed, anything of any importance.

No, my grumble is about all about dates and timing. This year's show is being touted as the 25th anniversary of the telethon. Everyone is saying that Children in Need has been going for twenty-five years and this just isn't true.

The first show was in November 1980. Twenty-four years ago. True, this is the 25th show but as such it is only the 24th anniversary of the first one. We haven't been celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of the gunpowder plot this year, have we? So why do it for Children in Need?

In the grand scheme of things, of course, this is totally irrelevant and it shouldn't in any way stop you from donating but when it comes to dates and numbers, things like that just get on my nerves.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

We have a winner!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Brain Jam

I can't seem to get beyond the first line in any post I try and write at the moment. I start it, thinking I know what I want to say, but then the words suddenly dry up and the idea behind it disappears in a cloud of smoke. This is more than a little disconcerting.

I'm unable to organise my thoughts well enough for them to make sense when transferred to the screen and consequently the process of writing them out breaks down pretty quickly. Subjects that would normally inspire posts are passing by with barely a glance from the creative part of my mind. I'm hoping that this is 'just a passing phase, one of my bad days' as the Pink Floyd song goes (funny, I seem to have done this before...) and that I'll be back to normal any time now. Until then I intend to struggle on.

And so, in lieu of anything better, I am giving you advance notice that following a period of consultation (which will probably take place on Friday evening in a pub somewhere) into its merits and viability, I shall next week be announcing the next Clear Blue Skies blogevent.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Well, there's definitely only one of them, which is a relief. Though it would have made us an instant nuclear family, it would have been a complication we just didn't want.

The scan went very well. The baby was being a little bit shy and wouldn't show us its face but everything else was very clear. We could see it moving around, though most of the time it was sitting crossed-legged and zen-like on L's bladder. Of course, we came away with a couple of prints of the baby in the classic kidney bean-shaped profile. I've never been very impressed when I've seen other people with their ultrasound photos but somehow it's different when it's your own.

It's a fascinating process to watch. There were a load of measurements to be taken, such as the size of the head and the lengths of the thighs, all of which are used to give a better estimated due date. As each measurement was taken a small string of characters would appear at the bottom of the screen: 22W0D and the like, giving the current position on the pregnancy timeline based on that measurement. The lowest date I saw was 21 weeks and no days and a few of them were over 22 weeks.

Given that by the initial reckoning we are only just over 20 weeks (and we know that it can't be longer than that), I think this shows the baby is larger than normal, which is not at all surprising given that I was 9lbs 7oz when I was born and L was getting on for a pound heavier than that. (Cue wincing from my female readers). I may well joke with L about going for a record-breaking birth weight but that's just me taking it to extremes. I'm hoping for a big baby for more prosaic reasons - that large babies tend to be healthier than small ones.

L's got to go back in a couple of weeks for another scan so that they can check all of the bits they couldn't today because of the baby's shyness but I can't get time off work to go to that one. I'll have to wait until the new year before I get to see it again, more's the pity.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Shit Shoveller

Why is it that being successful at work often means simply being able to shovel shit faster than anyone else?

Sorry, work has been hectic the last couple of weeks but there are times when it doesn't seem like I've actually achieved anything. It has meant that I haven't really had the energy to think about what I want to write about.

Things will get better, I promise. There may well be another CBS blogevent in the pipeline and there's always baby stuff to post. For now, though, you'll just have to make do with this because I've got some work to do...

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Well, we're just now reaching the half-way stage of the pregnancy - only another 20 weeks or so to go!

Being 20 weeks in means that the first scan is coming up and I'm a little nervous about what we might find out. I'm not worried that we'll find out something's wrong since I don't think there is but we may well discover that we need to come up with more than one name come the spring. Twins don't run in either family so the chances of us having them are reduced but from my (admittedly limited) experience, I think L is bigger than most four and a half month pregnant women so you never know. We'll find out on Monday morning.

I haven't yet had a truly emotional reaction to the fact that we're having a baby and the scan may be the first time I do. The uncertainty about exactly how I'll react (since I know in general terms how I feel about the whole idea) is probably also adding to the nerves a little. Will I feel like a father by lunchtime on Monday? What does that feel like, anyway? I'll just have to wait and see.

In other news, I am still pretty wrung out a lot of the time. The couple of days off this week have helped a little but they were never going to be enough to make any long-term difference. What I really need to do is force myself to go to bed earlier and try to get eight hours of sleep a night over several weeks. Of course, that's easier written than done.

Our house is feeling a little bit more like the home we want now that we have finally got a bed in the spare room. We can now offer our guests somewhere comfortable to sleep, rather than an airbed on the floor. Not that we're expecting any guests in the near future because we're pretty well booked up. Of the six weekends before Christmas, we are spending at least part of four of them seeing family and we're jealously guarding the other two to keep them for ourselves.

The list of jobs to be done around the house isn't growing any smaller, mainly because I haven't had the energy to do any of them recently. The big job that really needs doing is to paint the stairs and landings. Given that our stairwell goes up two floors, the total area of wall to be painted is something in the region of 75 square metres. That's not going to get done in an afternoon. Then there's the bathroom to be done, and the nursery and the loft needs boarding and... The list goes on and on.

All in all, it was very nice having a couple of days just for me. I was under strict instructions not to do anything at all (apart from sort dinner out) so I spent them watching TV and playing on the Playstation. Not enough to recharge my batteries completely but it was certainly a nice break.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Email Posting

One of the new features that Blogger introduced during the last revamp was the ability to post via email. All you have to do is send an email to a specific address (known only to you) and, providing you remember a few simple rules on how to set it out, your post should appear just as you want it.

Great, thought I, that will come in handy for posting while I'm at work.

Actually, it's not so great. Sure, the posts come out just how you want them to. They just don't appear when you want them to.

If I send an email to a friend who works in the States, I can get a reply back within minutes (assuming it's not the middle of the night over there. Why, then, when I sent the two posts below this one on Friday afternoon did one of them take 14 hours to be posted and the other take 26?

Not only that, they appeared in the wrong order. I deliberately left a few minutes between sending them so that hopefully they would be in the right order when they got published.

This isn't the first time I've had long delays when using the email system and that sort of performance just isn't good enough. If you use a system that automatically publishes the post you put into it, then you want the post to appear almost immediately. Certainly, you don't want them showing up over a day late.

Blogger, buck your ideas up!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Short Break

I'm sorry that posts have been a little infrequent the past week or so. I've been under increasing pressure at work, which has left me with less
time to think about writing anything.

I'm taking Monday and Tuesday off to try and recharge my batteries a little
(I'm so tired at the moment that I don't think two days is enough time for
a complete recovery, but every little helps, doesn't it?) and I'll probably
spend it on the sofa in front of the TV or playing computer games so it's
unlikely I'll post anything more until Wednesday.

Have a nice weekend.

Free Drinks

In the pub this lunchtime, I hit upon the perfect way to get free drinks.
All you need to do is follow these simple steps:

1. Go into a very busy pub that has too feww staff behind the bar.
2. Order whatever you want but make sure it includes one large glass of
red wine.
3. Watch as the barman catches the bottom of said glass of wine on the beer
pumps as he's trying to lift it over them.
4. Make sure that your arm is in the way of the ensuing wine spillage.
5. Put angry and exasperated look on your face.

And there you go, one round of drinks for nothing. To ensure the maximum
possible profitability from this strategy, wear a suit that you were going
to get cleaned the next day anyway.

I hope you have found this educational interlude helpful. Clear Blue Skies
will not be held responsible for any damage to persons or property through
following the above-outlined procedure.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

US Elections - An Analysis

So, that's that, then. Bush remains in the White House for a second term, another four years. The question that remains is whether the next four years will be the same as the last four or will Bush try and change the way he is running his country and treating the rest of the world?

Well, domestically at least, I think he probably will. If unemployment continues to rise and the budget deficit increases further, then I don't think the next Republican candidate (be it Dick Cheney or not) would have much chance of getting in in 2008, so he will need to do something about these (and other similar) issues.

However, US domestic policy doesn't have much direct impact on us (though if Bush happens to make the dollar strong again then I'm sure our export industries would be happy) so it's Bush's foreign policy that really concerns us.

Let's face it, The World Trade Centre attack was the making of George W Bush as president. Until that happened he had seemed a rather lacklustre guy, destined to be voted out after a single term. That Tuesday afternoon back in September 2001 changed all that. The resulting 'War on Terror' and the war in Iraq, which has been made to seem connected, have allowed Bush to fight this election by promising to keep Americans safe. That is a very powerful motivating argument and is a major reason why he came out victorious.

That's why I can't see his foreign policy changing that much. His tactics may change but the strategy remains the same and ultimately, I don't think that's good for the world.

So why didn't John Kerry win the election, then? I'm sure there are a myriad different reasons why he lost some states but I can see two reasons that probably apply everywhere. The first is his campaign focus. He always seemed to be talking about how bad Bush is for America rather than how good he would be. Negative politics like this can be effective but come with a hefty risk - people may not think that you are a good enough alternative and go down the 'better the devil you know' route. That may be what has happened with some of the new and swing voters that plumped for Bush over Kerry.

The second, more fundamental reason is that Kerry isn't a charismatic enough man. He doesn't naturally inspire other people to trust him. I don't think anyone would disagree that if the democrats had put forward a candidate more like Clinton than Kerry then the result of the election could have been very different indeed.

But it didn't happen like that and we will just have to see what happens next. There was one good thing about Bush getting re-elected, at least from a blogger's point of view - four more years for him in the White House mean four more years of easy material for us. We'd better start writing.

Monday, November 01, 2004

No Doubt

So far, I have refrained from posting anything about the US Election, mainly because it would just be one post among countless others on the subject and it probably wouldn't say anything new. However, I saw something yesterday that made me change my mind.

I was watching Jonathan Dimbleby on ITV at lunch time and he was interviewing all sorts of people from both sides of the election fight. One of the journalists Dimbleby talked to was Bob Woodward, who has had some exclusive access to the White House and the President over recent months or something. He talked about one conversation with Bush where he described how Tony Blair experienced doubt about what he was doing when he received hate mail. Woodward asked Bush whether he ever had any doubt and Bush immediately and vehemently replied that he didn't. Woodward said this as though it were a good thing. As if it showed Bush to be a strong, decisive leader.

I thought about it and it hit me that this was completely the wrong way round. There's a word for people who don't have any doubt whatsoever in their beliefs. They are called fanatics.

Far from being a negative feeling, doubt is one of the most important qualities that any leader can have. It changes your frame of mind and forces you to re-evaluate your position and question your judgment. Under that sort of self-examination, you have to persuade yourself all over again that you are doing the right thing. Therefore, it is a check and balance mechanism that is absolutely essential for good decision-making.

A leader who doesn't experience doubt isn't strong. Quite the opposite, in fact. It takes real strength to stick to something that you believe to be right despite grave doubts. Without doubt constantly forcing you to re-examine your motives and methods, you can easily end up following a path that will lead to trouble.

Quite simply, a man with no doubt at all is dangerous.

Poetic Justice

Seen this morning on the way to work: a man trying to start a white van. He tried starting it half a dozen times before we were out of earshot, all to no avail. What made it funny were the words written on the side of the van.

They said "24hr Recovery"

I wonder if he's got homestart cover...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Time to Think

Expecting your first baby makes you consider the future in ways you've really never done before. Suddenly, you can see the future more clearly than before (or one part of it, at least) and start thinking and making plans on all sorts of different timescales.

The shortest of those timescales is that of the pregnancy itself. Mapping out the significant moments in the next five months is quite easy with the scans and ante-natal classes etc but it is all complicated by the way that time seems to stretch when you're focusing on it quite a lot. Given that we're currently thinking about time in terms of weeks, rather than months, it is passing much more slowly than normal. The three months that we've actually been aware that this is happening have passed unbelievably slowly and I dread to think how long the next five will seem.

Then we jump to next summer, once we are actually parents. What on earth is that going to be like? What changes will having a baby make on our lives? I just don't know. We're already making plans for people to babysit while we are at a couple of weddings over the summer and I suppose that will be the way of it from now on; planning well in advance as much as possible.

And it carries on like that, in leaps of two or three years at a time, from extending the family, starting school, moving house all the way up to them leaving home and being left on our own again. That's probably 25 years away, at least.

That's a real long-term view, one that I can barely comprehend at the moment but I know it will come around, in some shape or other eventually and I can't help wondering about it now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Assassini

It's not often I offer up a book review for you to read but I thought I would on this occasion.

For the last six months it has seemed like everywhere you look, someone is reading The Da Vinci Code or another of Dan Brown's books. Me included. I've read all four of them and enjoyed them all, more or less. They've come under a lot of criticism, though, for being formulaic and clumsy, among other things, and it is true to say that you don't have to engage your brain to be able to read them. Brown's writing style is distinctly unchallenging and that means that the book can leave you somewhat dissatisfied.

However, if the general premise behind Angels And Demons and TDVC (a thriller about conspiracy within the catholic church) interests you then you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of The Assassini by Thomas Gifford, a story about the chase to uncover a conspiracy of murder that leads to the top of the church.

Billed as a thriller 'as shocking as The Da Vinci Code', I picked it up thinking it would be more of the same sort of stuff but I was wrong. For a start, it's older than Brown's books - first published in 1989 - and is now obviously enjoying a second moment in the limelight. More importantly, though, it's just a better book. By miles. The tale is more realistic, the characters deeper and troubled and the descriptive passages delightful. It's a book you have to think about as you read as the plot twists all over the place.

The difference between Gifford and Brown is most obvious in their writing styles. Gifford's prose flows along at an even pace, taking its time to build up a picture of what's going on in your mind. Brown races through the story from start to finish without really taking a breath. He also has an annoying tendency to plant great big signposts in the text telling you that something unexpected is about to happen, which Gifford mercifully does without (even though, since a large portion of the book is written in the first person, he could get away with it more).

If you took The Assassini and The Da Vinci Code and compared their different qualities, Gifford well outscores Brown on all but one; mass market appeal, and that's why I decided to write this post - to try and even it up a little.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Side Effects

One thing that you soon find out when you are pregnant is that there are often some pretty odd side effects. Some of them are entirely expected, such as morning sickness and putting on weight but others are quite surprising.

For example, to start with L was losing weight at a rate that most dieters would be happy with and it carried on for weeks. This is all perfectly normal but no one had told us it might happen. Her nails have become ridiculously strong, too. They used to break of their own accord now and again but L has had to resort to using the clippers to keep them under control because they refuse to break.

Then there's the forgetfulness. It's well documented that women's brains shrink slightly when they are pregnant and that this seems to affect their mental acuity a little. I've saw this in action a couple of weeks ago when L said "You know, pregnancy does two things to you; it makes you forgetful and, erm...". Try as she might, she couldn't remember what she was going to say next.

Some of the expected side effects have yet to materialise. L hasn't started craving weird things like charcoal or fishfinger and jam sandwiches but there's plenty of time for all of that since she's now four months in.

Does anyone know what else we can expect between now and the beginning of April?

Friday, October 22, 2004

CBS TV Week: Science & Nature

This week's theme is science and nature. Looking around the schedules, it is really only the BBC that gives us anything much to choose from. The only programme on any of the other three channels that fits the bill is 'Nigel Marven's Bull Shark: The Search for the Deadliest Shark' on Five (Tue 8 p.m.). Somehow I don't think I'll be watching that one. By contrast, the Beeb has over a dozen hours of programming devoted to science and nature across its two channels.

If it's nature you're after, then you can't get much better than The Blue Planet (BBC1 Sun 3.25 p.m.). Even if you saw it all when it was first on, it will still awe and delight you. An absolute masterpiece of documentary filming.

Later in the week, there's the current show de jour in the genre; British Isles: A Natural History (BBC1 Wed 9 p.m.). This has been a fascinating look at how this land of ours developed and next week's show takes us from the Stone Age right up to the Industrial Revolution. Definitely worth catching if you can. The only downside to the show so far has been the ten-minute segment at the end that comes from your local area. The problem is that my local BBC area is London and all the segments so far have been based within London and therefore don't really seem terribly relevant.

There rest of the schedule is peppered with nature programmes, from Countryfile on Sunday (BBC1 11.30 a.m.) to Gardener's World on Friday (BBC2 8.30 p.m.), stopping of at The Natural World (BBC2 Thu 8 p.m.) on the way.

If, on the other hand, you want a little bit of science to try and get your head around, you could do worse than to tune into the two showings of Horizon this week. The first, Making Millions The Easy Way is early on Wednesday morning (BBC1 1.45 a.m.) and tells the story of a mathematician who worked out that Blackjack odds work differently to other forms of gambling and could be turned to his advantage. Of course, he went off to Las Vegas to make his fortune. I'm definitely setting the video for that.

The second is on BBC2 - The Hunt for the Supertwister (Thu 9 p.m.) is about the search for a way to forecast when and where supertwisters (tornadoes with winds of 300 mph) will strike. Expect some spectacular shooting and some mind-numbing science.

This sort of programming is what the BBC, in particular, does best. It is informative, interesting and at times makes darn good television.

If you want me to look at a genre or type of TV show, then let me know in the comments and I'll look at doing it one week soon.

Sad News

Following on from the very interesting debate over at BW's yesterday about having children, we had a phone call last night from some friends of ours.

They have a three-month old girl and the last we'd heard from them a few weeks ago, she was ill and going in for hospital tests and things. The news last night wasn't good. She is very ill and on the critical list. Hopefully, her condition is treatable through surgery, though I think that is still unclear. I'm just hoping that they won't end up in the same position as the parents of Luke.

Neither of them read the site (I don't think) so they won't see this but I want them to know that they are in our thoughts and we wish their daughter a speedy and complete recovery.


Sorry I didn't put in an appearance here yesterday, I had too much work to catch up on and just didn't really have the time. Anyway, I'm sure you'll all be glad to hear that I survived my trip south of the river and even came back relatively unscathed from it. I was surprised I can tell you.

The course was very good, which was also a bit of a surprise. Project Management doesn't sound like a terribly fascinating subject but the tutor was very good and made it interesting and amusing and, most importantly, very relevant. Definitely not a waste of three days.

The hotel was a Toby Inn and was therefore pretty bog standard. Nothing exceptional but nothing poor, either. The only disappointment was the lack of freebies. The soap and shampoo/shower gel in the bathroom were in little dispensers, as though they expected people to nick them or something. Other than that, there was just the tea and coffee stuff, which I did help myself to while I was there, and the towels, which I wouldn't even use to dry off a dog (if I had one).

The were freebies from the course itself, though. It was being run in our offices but by an external company, so there things to be had. I came back with all the usual stationery bits and bobs; pen, pencil, triangular highlighter with a different colour at each corner, a great thick pad of notepaper etc. So I didn't do too badly out of it.

There should be a couple more posts today, to make up for the rest of the week, so keep your eyes open.

Friday, October 15, 2004


I'm off on a course early next week so I probably won't be posting again until next Thursday. The course is in Redhill in Surrey and there's no way I'm going to commute every day since it's a two-hour journey and the course isn't likely to finish until 6p.m., so I'll be spending two nights in a hotel down there.

What joy that's going to be.

The CBS TV Week

For this week's look at the next 168 hour's worth of televisual delights, I'm going to concentrate on a quintessentially British archetype; the eccentric Englishman. We seem to love people with a quirky side to their nature; bumbling inventors, nutty professors etc. You see them in all walks of life and the TV schedules are no exception, as we shall see.

Firstly, we have that most eccentric of actors, Stephen Fry. Highly educated, very intelligent and just a little bit odd. Even when he went off the rails a bit a few years ago, everyone still loved him. He seems like a modern day Oscar Wilde so it's probably no surprise that you can see him tomorrow night in Wilde (BBC2 10.10 p.m.). If that's not your cup of tea then there's also the excellent panel quiz show QI on Friday (BBC2 10 p.m.). Quite rightly at the top of the list.

Now, I'm not sure you'd necessarily call perma-tanned, antique David Dickinson eccentric (criminally insane seems to fit better) but he does have a certain something about him which qualifies him for this week's feature. Maybe it's his odd expressions ('Bobbydazzler' and the like) or his strange mannerisms. I'm not sure, but if you want to catch him, the Duke of Orange is in Bargain Hunt on Wednesday (BBC1 7 p.m.)

Sunday evening on Channel 4 gives us a double-header of peculiarity. At 5.30 p.m. there's the last of a four-part series fronted by Pete Waterman (he of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and, more latterly, Pop Idol fame). His would not be a name that sprang immediately to mind if you were to think of famous eccentrics. His fame and money have come from manufacturing highly successful pop acts. That alone is not enough. No, his quirky side can be found not in how he made his money but in how he's spent it. He's an absolute nut about trains. The term trainspotter doesn't quite cover it - he's a fanatic. He owns a company that refurbishes old steam trains. He even used to own one of the most famous trains of all time, The Flying Scotsman. That definitely qualifies him. His series, called 'Trains' is a fascinating look at the history of the railways in this country. Last week's programme was about the role the rail network played in the second world war and was packed full of stuff I had no idea about. This week's focuses on the post-war, Dr Beeching years and should be very good. If you like that sort of thing, of course.

Immediately after that, at 6.30 p.m., is the show that brings the picture of the bumbling inventor slap bang up to date, Scrapheap Challenge. Fronted by the undeniably quirky Robert Llewellyn, it's stars are the beer guzzling bikers and nutty engineers that form the teams tasked with creating strange machines from whatever they can find in the scrapyard. I've loved this show since it started years ago and it never fails to amuse me. Maybe this says more about me than it does the show but no matter. It is a celebration of English eccentricity.

If that's not enough for you then you could always tune in to An Audience With... Harry Hill (ITV 9.10 p.m.), Jonathan Ross in Film 2004 (BBC2 1.35 p.m.) or John McCririck in The Morning Line (C4 8.55 a.m.), all on Saturday. All of them eccentrics in their own little ways.

There you are, a week's worth of odd people on TV. What more could you want?

Driving (part 2)

We went out for a quick drive a couple of days after my last lesson and that went all right. It was mainly to get me used to the different controls and handling and I didn't do too badly, just stalled a couple of times. A few days after that we went out again for a slightly longer drive and that was okay, too. I was still quite nervy about doing it and if I got flustered I would suddenly lose all my coordination and start doing things in the wrong order and the car would stall or something. Of course, that would make me more flustered and everything would go. A vicious circle, that.

I didn't then drive again until we were going on holiday. I had meant to but hadn't got around to it. So it was that we were stopped at Watford Gap services and I was sliding behind the wheel again to take us most of the way to Manchester. I find that motorway driving is much easier than driving around town in that there's less to have to think about. To an experienced driver that can make it dangerous because it tends to make you switch off but at the moment that's not a problem for me. Up the M6 we went and along the M6 Toll (what a lovely road that is, even for £3) and I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Back on the M6 again, I decided to go past the services we had planned to stop at since I was feeling all right. We'd see when we got to the next services. Of course, before we got there we hit some heavy traffic and my heart sank. I could almost feel the panic setting in. But actually, it was okay. I stalled a couple of times but when you're in a motorway traffic jam people tend not to mind too much. It's not as if you're at a busy junction and you're holding a whole load of people up. On a motorway you just restart the car and catch up with the person in front - nobody loses anything. So I stayed pretty calm and got through it well. Of course, as soon as the next services appeared, we were off and I was back in the passenger seat and relaxing.

And that was pretty much that. I would still get flustered every now and then but my control of the car was getting better and I was growing more confident. Then, two weeks ago I had a complete mare getting out of a multi-storey car park in Watford. It was a Saturday and it was heaving and I allowed myself to be pressured by other drivers. Distracted, I made mistakes, just small ones but enough to get that familiar feeling rising in my throat. Panic set in and I made more mistakes. It was the worst attack I'd had since I started driving again and I think it was a minor miracle that I got out of the town without doing something really stupid. I was just about to pull off and let L take over when we hit the back of another traffic jam. With no option but to sit there, I calmed down and got on with it. I drove all the home without any problems at all and since then I have been absolutely fine.

Relearning to drive has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One with vertical drops and gut-wrenching bends. I think I'm now over the worst of it. I'm not yet a good driver, nor a completely confident one but at least the idea of doing it no longer sets butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Driving (part 1)

Sorry about not posting anything yesterday. I had a severe lack of inspiration and couldn't force myself to write anything. Anyway, here's the story of me relearning to drive over the summer.

I have mentioned my driving history a few times in the last year and a bit. How I learnt to drive when I was 17, passed my test after just ten lessons and a few extra hours with my parents and then drove every now and again over the next couple of years before stopping completely. I had probably been behind the wheel for less than thirty hours in total and had never really had the chance to make driving second nature for me, the way that riding a bike is.

Fast forward to this summer and, while driving didn't terrify me, I was more than a little apprehensive about starting up again. I booked three two-hour lessons with the AA, thinking that I'd probably need to book more after they had finished, and tried to get my nerves under control. I succeeded in that, largely by not thinking about the upcoming lesson too much, but it came around all too soon.

Initially, the instructor drove out to the industrial area of Hemel, which is largely deserted on a Sunday afternoon, and started me off right at the beginning; going round the block, left-hand turns only. I soon discovered that certain skills had indeed become second nature to me ten years ago. I wasn't having to look at the stick when changing gear, I was judging the size of the car well and signaling was pretty automatic but there were plenty of problems, too, particularly with my clutch control and steering. You know, the unimportant stuff. The lesson passed pretty quickly and, having graduated to some of the quieter residential areas of the town and practised some maneuvers, I was soon driving homewards again.

I got in, fixed myself a stiff drink and lay on the floor until the shaking died off.

At that point, L was worried that I might not be able to carry on with it and, to be honest, if I was going to have that sort of reaction every time then she was probably right. But the second lesson a week later went rather better and, more importantly, I didn't come out of it feeling like I'd had a dice with death. The third, and final, lesson was better yet and by the end of it I was feeling pretty good about it all. I decided that I didn't need any more lessons, that my time would be better spent driving around in my own car rather than the instructor's ( and paying £24 an hour to do so certainly helped in that decision). I hadn't stalled the car since the second lesson and thought I'd be just fine on my own.

And tomorrow I'll tell you whether I was or not.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Sex Question

One thing that people are often asking me at the moment is the sex question. Well, sex questions to be precise. There are three of them, two easy to answer and one that's altogether more difficult.

The first of the questions is 'Is it a boy or a girl?'. This is simply answered. We don't know. We can't know, yet, as we haven't been for a scan or had any tests that could tell us the sex of the baby. We don't even know that there's only one of them, yet.

The next question follows on immediately from the first. 'Do you want to know what sex it is before it's born?' Again, this is easy to answer. No, we don't. That's not to say that if we go to the scan in five weeks time and the baby's waving its bits at us from inside the womb then we won't try and pretend we haven't seen it. We're just not going to go out of our way to find out.

Then comes the difficult one, usually after a short pause while the answers to 1 and 2 are processed. 'So, what do you want? A boy or a girl?' My heart sinks. Not this question again. How do I answer that? If they'd said 'do you want a little daddy's girl' the answer would have been yes. Ditto with 'do you want a son to play football with in the back garden?'. I would be over the moon with either a son or a daughter and have no preference at all over which I end up with.

Of course, the obvious solution would be to have one of each.


Monday, October 11, 2004

The albums you should have listened to before you die

From BW and others...

...copy the list on to your blog, put in bold the ones you have listened to (completely from begining to end) and then add three more albums that you think people should have heard before they turn into their parents - remember, it isn't necessarily your most favourite albums but the ones you think people should listen to... and when we say listen we mean from track one through to the end...

If you put a link to your follow-on post in the comments of the site where you found it, the chain will be trackable. Maybe!

1) Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
2) London Calling - The Clash
3) Blood Sugar Sex Magik - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
4) Think Tank - Blur
5) This is Hardcore - Pulp
6) Moon Safari - Air
7) Elastica - Elastica
8) Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols
9) OK Computer - Radiohead
10) The Kiss of Morning - Graham Coxon
11) Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars - David Bowie
12) The Wall - Pink Floyd
13) Setting Sons - The Jam
14) America Beauty - The Grateful Dead
15) Toxicity - System of a Down
16) Train a Comin' - Steve Earle
17) Folksinger - Phranc
18) Come From the Shadows - Joan Baez
19) Bat out of Hell - Meatloaf
20) The River - Bruce Springsteen
21) The Very Best of Joan Armatrading - Joan Armatrading
22) Copperhead Road - Steve Earle
23) Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
24) Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits
25) Outside - David Bowie


So, stories about how people are putting too little aside for old age are in the news again. Can't say I'm surprised. This morning's Breakfast had a feature on a builder in his mid-thirties who quite readily admits that he knows he should do something about a pension but never gets around to actually doing anything about it. He said he would be interested to talk to a financial adviser and see if what he was told could motivate him to start investing for his future.

Bloody fool. With an attitude like that he probably deserves to live on the poverty line when he retires. The problem is that his attitude is an all too common one. Complacency is rife amongst people in their twenties and thirties when it comes to ensuring adequate pension provision. They see pensions as unimportant, too complicated & something that can wait until tomorrow. All of a sudden, half their working lives have passed and it's too late to do anything about it.

I know the feeling very well. Having left university aged 22, it was almost three years before I started paying into a pension. I could have set one up before then but I couldn't be bothered with the hassle. And I knew far more than most about how pensions work having been employed by one of the countries biggest pension providers at various times during summer breaks and the like. Then I started the job I've now got and joined the Group Personal Pension Scheme that the company runs as soon as I could. I've been putting the maximum 17.5% of my salary into the scheme ever since (most of it contributed by my employer). My pension pot is growing very rapidly indeed.

It's difficult to see what can be done to change this situation. Stakeholder pensions were brought in as a kind of 'easy option', particularly for people who don't have access to company operated schemes but I don't think they have been that successful in encouraging people to really start planning for their future. Pensions are, by their very nature, complicated products and simplification would not be easy. Media scare stories also don't seem to do the trick. Workers are just too short-sighted to care.

Can it really be that the only way for the government to ensure that we make plans for retirement income is to put legislation in place to force us to do it? At times, I think that maybe that is indeed the only answer.

Friday, October 08, 2004

New Feature

This is the first of a new regular feature on Clear Blue Skies: "The CBS TV Week", taking a look at the gems (or dross) on our screens over the following seven days. I'll only be looking at the five basic channels and each week I'll pick a particular type of programme to concentrate on. If you want to suggest a theme for a particular week then feel free to do so in the comments. This week, to celebrate the return of Spooks to BBC1, the theme is British Dramas.

In recent years the BBC has produced a number of good quality new dramas - it's one of the things it does very well indeed, if you ask me. There have been slick shows like Trust and Hustle and more homely ones like Born or Bred and Down To Earth and a whole range in between. Spooks definitely belongs at the slick end of the spectrum, a show about the workings of MI5 that gets the mix between realism and fantasy just right, in a way that Bugs (that 90s show that had Craig McLachlan and that guy from Eldorado in it) never did. Everything, from the characters to the scenarios to the technology is just implausible enough to be entertaining without going so far that it becomes silly. Very good television. Spooks starts on Monday on BBC1 at 9p.m.

On Tuesday at the same time, BBC1 broadcasts a very different sort of drama. I wasn't going to bother watching A Thing Called Love but there was nothing else on on Tuesday night while I was doing the washing up so I did. And I was pleasantly surprised. It was well acted, thought-provoking and slightly irreverent. There was a nice touch of farce, at one point, too. I'll definitely be tuning in again next week.

Elsewhere on BBC1 there's the usual two trips to Holby for the weekly dose of medical dramas (Sat 8.20 p.m. and Tue 8 p.m.), a trip up to the Highlands for Monarch of the Glen (Sun 8 p.m.) and a repeat of the highly rated (though I didn't watch them) Canterbury Tales (Thu 9 p.m.). That quite a mixture.

On the other hand, the ITV schedule seems overfull with murder. There's Midsomer Murders on Sunday, Trial and Retribution on Monday and Tuesday and Rosemary on Thyme on Friday (all at 9 p.m.). Surely that's too much for anyone? Heartbeat (Sun 8 p.m.) and Steel River Blues (Wed 9 p.m.) complete the line up. Somehow, I think I'll be watching the Beeb.

And that's it. The other three channels don't show much in the way of British Drama but I'm sure they'll all get a mention as the theme changes.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Working Hard

I don't want this to sound bitter (because that wouldn't be true) but one thing you very quickly get used to as an expectant father is how much attention is given to the mother and how little you get. It's not that you suddenly matter any less (in fact I probably matter more now than ever), just that mother and baby are the star attraction while you are the supporting act as far as other people see it.

At the moment everyone is asking about how L is coping with everything but very few people have asked me the same question. This is perfectly understandable and I don't even mind that much but it would be nice every now and then for someone to enquire as to how I'm doing.

For the record, the last two months have been very hard on me. L has had it worse, of course, with the morning sickness, the tiredness and the physiological changes to cope with, but those have all had a knock on effect on me. While she was still suffering badly with nausea, L couldn't face actually cooking anything. About the best she could manage were meals that go straight from freezer to oven and we don't eat those very often. So, I have taken on the mantle of cook, which is fine - I like cooking. However, L has also been too tired after a long day at work to do much of anything in the evenings so I have also been doing the washing up, making lunch and all the other little bits of housework that need doing during the week. Some nights that means barely slowing down at all from the time I get home to the time I go to bed. I've also had to give L much more emotional support than normal, which is just as hard a job at times.

I'm more than willing to do all of these things. I see it is as me doing my bit. I can't take on the burdens that L has to so I'll do whatever I can to make it easier for her to shoulder them.

This reapportionment of duties has had two effects. Unsurprisingly, it has tired me out even more than normal. I really needed to rest and recuperate on holiday but that didn't really happen and I am bone-weary most of the time, now. It has also made L feel guilty that she's not able to do more, something I don't want her to feel in the slightest.

L is very aware of (and very grateful for) what I have been doing to help her and the effect it has been having on me and that's the important thing but a bit of recognition from other people might ease my burden a little.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


I'm off to Vinopolis for a business seminar this afternoon, including the tour and wine tasting session.

There are perks to this job every now and again.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Inclement Weather

Now that autumn is here to stay and the weather is beginning to take a wintry turn, it is time to look back at the season that has just passed.

Summer 2004 will probably always be remembered as a wet one, with storms and torrential rain in August causing flooding and landslides all over the country. But that wasn't quite the whole story. We may not have had the record-breaking temperatures of last year but it was only really the middle month of the summer that was really bad. The rest of it was pretty good: dry, warm & sunny.

It's funny how the human brain tends to become preoccupied with recent events, particularly where the weather is concerned. After a prolonged period of rain, we seem to forget what it is like to have the sun on our faces. It's the same with a refreshing shower after a dry spell. What we do tend to remember from further in the past are the extremes of weather, such as those really hot days last year or the very wet ones of the last couple of months. Because that's all we recall, we start to think they were the prevalent conditions for a much longer period of time than was actually the case.

This summer may have been wetter than normal but, thinking back, I can't actually remember getting wet very often, so it can't have been raining very much when I was outside. Certainly, I got far wetter yesterday on the way to work than I did at any point over the summer. That suggests it was actually drier than I thought

Incidentally, while on the subject of the summer's weather, I have a little tale to tell about luck. We wanted to host a barbeque at the end of June, a late house-warming sort of thing. The weather had been lovely in the weeks before hand but on the day of our party it became grey and cold and miserable. It stayed dry for a while but it wasn't nice so we gave up on being outside and had an indoor grill party instead. Of course, the weather soon cleared up again and July started nicely.

We then went to three separate barbeques in August, the month with all the rain. The first two were hot and sunny, the last one was dry up to the point where we went home. It's just not fair.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Head vs Heart

It's difficult to explain how I feel about becoming a father, largely because I can't work out what feelings I've got.

Obviously, I'm very happy. L and I made a very conscious decision that this was what we wanted so it would be odd not to be glad it's happening. Am I excited, though? Well, not really. There is a certain amount of excitement when telling people for the first time but that's probably just a reflection of the pleasure being expressed by those people.

I am understandably daunted - after all, this is not something you take on lightly - and worried (that I won't be a good father) but I recognise those as perfectly normal reactions. Do I also feel fear? Wonder? Panic? Joy? I haven't got a clue.

I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that with such a mix of emotions it can be difficult to distinguish between them all.

The second, more fundamental, reason is that the whole concept of becoming a father is rather abstract at the moment. On a purely intellectual level, I know what is happening and have done since I saw the little blue cross of the positive test. But emotions have little to do fact and I can't honestly say that my heart believes it is all happening. L has had similar problems believing and she's had the physical signs to help her. I can see the bump etc but that doesn't help me believe.

I have to wonder when it will truly hit me. Will it be when I see the scan in six week's time or when I can feel it kicking if I rest my hand on the bump? Or will it wait until the baby is born and there is no way to deny it any more?

Friday, October 01, 2004


They say that home is where the heart is. If that's so then I don't live at home for my heart definitely belongs in the Lake District. When I am there I am at peace; its beauty soothes me and its grandeur inspires me. It is where I would choose to be if I could.

Last year L and I spent a week in a B&B in Windermere. We had a great time and said we'd go back this year. When it came to booking it we had already decided to stay in a different area of the Lakes, as Windermere is just too much of a tourist trap, and wanted to stay in a holiday cottage rather than a B&B. So, we had a look at what English Country Cottages had to offer and booked a week in a village near Keswick in the Northern Lakes. The cottage was excellent and we settled in for a relaxing week.

The weather was just about what you'd expect up there in late September; cloudy, showers, moderate temperatures, but we were prepared so it didn't bother us at all. We spent a couple of days lazing around and visited a few of the tourist attractions in the area. Last year we went on a lovely walk around Grasmere but L isn't really up to that sort of thing in her current condition so we were limited to a few strolls this time around. It got me itching to do some proper walking in the area, though. It's a long time since I last did that.

I've been walking in all sorts of places, from the Brecon Beacons to the Highlands to the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain (which make the Highlands seem small) but none of them had the same effect on me that the Lake District does. There's something about the scale of Cumbria that resonates within me. Its hills are tall and majestic without being out of reach, its valleys stunning but not too broad, its lakes beautiful but not too vast to get around.

It is an area of stunning natural beauty that sings to me when ever I am there. Come rain or shine, mist or snow its effect on me is the same.

If money were no longer an object I would have no qualms about leaving London and the south behind and moving up there permanently. One day I might just do that.

It's where I belong.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Visit to the Dentist

This morning I went to the dentist for the first time in more than 12 years.
I only know it's at least that long because the last time I went I got
referred to an orthodontist who in turn referred me to the hospital to have
my wisdom teeth checked out and that appointment was on my 16th
birthday. I have never felt the urge to go back to the dentist since.

My teeth have always been fine and I haven't suffered any problems with
them so it just didn't seem worth it. I probably wouldn't have gone today
if L hadn't made appointments for both of us. And my position seems to
have been justified. Apart from my wisdom teeth no longer being there (I
finally had them removed when I was seventeen - just over ten years ago)
and a tiny spot on one of my second incisors where decay had started and
then stopped years ago, my teeth are all fine.

Naturally, there was quite a build up of plaque - a left over from the days
when I didn't clean my teeth properly - but that was fairly easily removed
and now it's gone the brushing and mouthwash should keep it from coming
back too quickly.

All in all, it was exactly what I'd expected. However, I don't think I'll
leave it as long before my next appointment.


A Change in Season

It's odd how being just a few hundred miles north makes such a difference to things like when the sun rises and sets. We only spent a week in the Lake District but when we got back sunset was noticeably earlier than it was when we left. We now have to put lights on almost as soon as we get home from work as dusk descends. It's also darker when the alarm goes off in the morning.

Autumn is definitely upon us and the gloominess isn't the only sign. Outside our house a couple of trees suffered an explosion of colour while we were away as they became covered in red berries and their leaves began to lose their green hue.

It won't be long before the grass will crackle underfoot on the way to the station in the morning and small clouds of steaming breath will mark my progress down the street. My summer jacket is heading for the wardrobe and my winter coat returning in the opposite direction. Gloves and hat will soon be joining it.

The world is slowing down, getting ready to sleep through winter, hibernating until spring comes and it is time to wake again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


The following is a taste of what is likely to appear here over the next
few days. It will also serve as a handy reminder for me when I wake up
in the morning.

Further expansion of my new-found theme.
Posts about our holiday and my love of the Lake District.
How late Summer suddenly appears to have turned into Autumn.
A new regular feature.
Me getting back behind the wheel again after so long.
Barbeques and weather.

Plus some other random stuff, probably.


The Basics

Okay, first of all the facts. I can attempt to put my feelings into words later but, for now, I'll limit myself to how, when etc. Though I doubt any of you really need me to explain the 'how' bit, do you? ;-)

L and I have been thinking of starting a family for some time. If I'm honest, it's always been what we wanted to do and it was only ever a matter of time before we got around to it.

We agreed that before we could start trying we wanted to have bought a house, own a car and be fairly financially stable. When we bought the car in June we worked out that we weren't spending anywhere near what we were earning and that there was no imminent prospect of that changing. With very little credit card debt and a couple of loans that will be paid off by early next year, it was obvious that we were as financially stable as we were likely to get. At that point the decision boiled down to a simple yes/no question: did we want children or not? The answer was a resounding yes.

Of course, we were prepared for the disappointment of it taking months, maybe even years - assuming we could have kids at all. What we weren't ready for was for it to take weeks. Two or three to be precise. All of a sudden, there was a positive test in the bin (Clear Blue, naturally) and we were faced with the realisation that we had changed our lives irrevocably. For the better, of course.

That was just over two months ago. By the way they work these things out, L is now almost 14 weeks gone, giving us a due date around the end of March / beginning of April. We always said we'd wait to tell anyone until after the first trimester and the only people to know earlier than that was the immediate family (and only then because our hand was pretty much forced by other circumstances).

And now, here we are. L had the first appointment with the midwife this morning and everything seems fine. We're into the second trimester and looking forward to the scan at 20 weeks (they don't do one at 12 in our health authority) and antenatal classes etc.

And, of course, looking forward to the day I can hold my own child in my arms. That will be a wonderful day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ready to go again

That's right, I have once again picked up my quill pen ready to transcribe my thoughts into this small corner of blogland. I hope you all had a nice summer. I certainly did, without the pressure of writing here every day (there were enough pressures elsewhere as it was).

L and I have just spent a week in the Lake District, trying to relax and rest and, while I don't feel particularly rejuvenated, I have come back with new inspiration and ideas for Clear Blue Skies.

More than that; for the first time I have a long-term theme for this blog. A theme that will, I'm sure, last as long as I feel like posting (and long after that, too). It is a theme that will quite naturally evolve as time goes by, with a fairly large-scale change in about six months or so.

So, what is this theme, you ask? Well, for the next six months or so I will be writing a lot about what impending fatherhood feels like. After that, I'll just drop the 'impending' bit.

I'm going to be a dad!


I'm back.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Taking a rest

Have you ever had something important to say only to find that you can't find the right words? I've been trying to come up with an eloquent way of putting this but I haven't come up with anything so I'm just going to say it.

I'm giving Clear Blue Skies a rest.

There. I've said it, now. That wasn't so hard, was it?

I said, two weeks ago, that I was cutting back a bit. That I would still be posting, if more erratically than before. Well, I simply can't do it. Not being able to post every day is putting pressure on me to post when I can and I don't like that. It's not as if I don't have any content - I had planned to be currently filling my backblog with my exploits as I travelled from New Orleans to San Francisco at this time five years ago. That, and the imminent saga of me having to relearn how to drive, would have have given me enough material to last through most of the summer.

No, to cut a long story short, I'm not enjoying it any more. What I do manage to write, I don't like, but I can't get myself to write anything better. It's starting to depress me so I'm going to stop.

I'm not going to get rid of Clear Blue Skies completely - I may find that I want to start writing again in a few months. Ever the optimist, eh? And there's no way I'm going to quit blogland altogether. I will still be reading (and commenting on) a few of the blogs I really enjoy.

But, for now at least, I'm going to shelve the ideas I've got for future blogevents, put my never-ending quest for MBWLA points on hold and let my first blogday pass unnoticed.

Starting now, Dave is officially on hiatus. See you around.

Monday, July 05, 2004


Talking of changing the way we treat the environment, there's quite a lot of discussion going on about these proposals to introduce special lanes on some parts of motorways for the exclusive use of cars with more than one person in them. This is an effort to get people to travel to and from work together and, if it can be made to work, could tremendously improve conditions on our most congested roads during rush hour. If congestion is reduced, then the amount of harmful gases released into the atmosphere by car exhausts would also reduce, which would be a fantastic outcome.

Now, I'm not going to write anything about the potential benefits/problems with this scheme beyond what I've said above. Instead, I'm going to start from the statement 'Car-sharing is a good thing and could help to reduce congestion (and, by extension, emissions)' and ask you how we can encourage people to do it more.

Could you give some sort of tax break to people who share journeys to work? Would a car-sharing scheme that could put people who live and work in the same area in contact help? If so, would you do it locally or nationally? Could companies be persuaded to set up schemes somehow?

Discussion of these and any other ideas is welcomed.

The Year After Next?

L and I went to see The Day After Tomorrow on Saturday afternoon. If you haven't seen it yet then I suggest you do before it leaves the big screen. Some of the effects are very good but would lose a lot of their impact if viewed on your average widescreen telly.

I really enjoyed it, not because of the special effects or the storylines of the characters in it, but because of the simplicity of the theme and the message that goes along with it. Quite simply, if we do not act now we could face catastrophic climate change.

The film depicts a worst-case scenario, where the shift is so sudden that most of the northern hemisphere is covered by ice within a couple of weeks. Critics have pointed this out and talked about scaremongering and in doing so seem to have completely missed the point. Anything less dramatic would not make people think any differently about the possible effects of climate change.

We need to start believing that change of this sort of magnitude is possible, even likely, if we continue to abuse the environment as we do now. It may not happen anywhere near as quickly as in the film (it wouldn't have been so dramatic if it had happened over a couple of years) but the key point is that once it starts to change, there would be very little we could do to stop and the civilised world would change beyond recognition.

It is possible that it is already too late for us to do anything about it but if we don't try to change our treatment of the environment, on both large and small scales, and waste whatever chance we may have then we will only have ourselves to blame.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Tube Strike

So, I see the RMT has hit upon a new strategy for combating obesity in Londoners. I could have tried to get on a bus, I suppose, or strolled to Kings Cross to get the Thameslink to Moorgate but in the end I decided to walk. All the way from Euston to the office.

The route, while not terribly direct, was pretty easy: straight down Woburn Place and Southampton Row to Holborn then turn left and continue straight on to Bank and beyond. Three miles (give or take) and less than 45 minutes, which is about what I thought it would take.

And there were a lot of other people doing exactly the same thing. Most of them not as far or as fast but they were out there, pounding the streets, losing a bit of weight on the way to work. I tell you, the RMT should do it more often - we'd all be fit in no time. I've forgotten what it's like to walk long distances regularly. I used to walk two miles to get to school and about the same to get in to university and that sort of regular exercise really does help you stay in shape.

I did get frustrated with my fellow hikers at times. Some of them just don't know how to walk properly, it seems. There are the people who walk three abreast and really slowly forcing you to lower your pace until you spot a chance to get around them. And those who just can't seem to walk in a straight line and keep blundering into you as you go past them. You've also got to keep an eye out for anyone carrying a big umbrella, jabbing the pointed end out behind them as they walk. If you're not careful you can end up with stab wounds to the gut. Bloody idiots. I'm just thankful no one was wheeling a suitcase behind them otherwise I think there would have been carnage.

My legs and back are now aching a bit, but in a good way, and I've got a little over six and a half hours to rest before doing it all over again.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Answers, answers

BW is asking for answers to those questions you never knew you wanted to ask and, having never seen a bandwagon I don't want to jump on, I've given it my own slant. So, if you know the answer but don't know the question (sort of like 42 being the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything) then leave it in the comments for the rest of us to guess.

Even if you do know the question but think it would be fun to let other people come up with improbable suggestions then put the answer in the comments.

Here are a few to get you started:

4 brown, 8 clear & 9 green
23 people
Fusilli, Green Pepper, Tomato, Edam, Eggs, Natural Yoghurt, Mayonnaise, Spring Onion
27 tonnes and 7,000 litres

Do you have any ideas what the questions could be? Do you have some answers of your own? You know what to do with them.

While on hiatus...

...I have mostly been:

Visiting The London Dungeon.
Wandering around Borough Market.
Coughing and spluttering.
Moving furniture.
Finishing the unpacking.
Working hard.
Buying a car.
Hosting an indoor barbeque.

If you want to know more about any of these, let me know. ;-)


Has it been too long now for a simple sorry?

Blimey! Almost three weeks. It appears I have been hiating. I didn't mean to, you know. It just sort of happened.

After my last post I became ill. I woke up on the Saturday morning with my eyes gummed shut and an urgent appointment at the doctor's (my first visit for over five years) landed me with some ointment to squeeze into my eyes four times a day. As well as that, over the weekend the cough that I'd had for three weeks by then started to get worse and I was wheezing and feeling pretty rough. So, another visit to the doctor was on the cards for Monday (the last day of our break). I actually saw a nurse but she couldn't work out what was wrong with me (typically, that was the first time in 24 hours the I wasn't wheezing) so she gave me some anti-biotics and told me to go back if it didn't clear up.

So it was that I came back to work two weeks ago looking like death warmed up (my boss said I was grey) It was all I could do to get through the day and blogging fell by the wayside. By the beginning of last week I was feeling much better but I still couldn't bring myself to write anything. I had even drastically curtailed the number of blogs I was reading and commenting on.

It's not that I haven't had anything to write about, just that I couldn't make myself do it. It was refreshing. I have been working better without the distraction and at the moment that's something that I really need to be doing.

I'm not giving it up, though. This isn't a long way of saying that Clear Blue Skies is clouding over. Just that I need to cut back a little bit. I'll still post, visit and comment but it will probably be more erratic than it used to be. I've yet got to finish off the backblog and dream up new blogevents for your delectation. There's also likely to be a series of posts in the near future about my attempts to relearn how to drive so look out for that.

So that's about it. Sorry I haven't been around but I haven't gone completely.

(BTW, we finally moved into the master bedroom a week ago - almost four months after we moved in)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


This break has been characterised by a couple of fairly major changes of heart.

Firstly, we changed our minds about going away. Originally, we had planned on going on a city break for three days at the end of this week. We wanted to go to Rome or Vienna but when we went into the travel agents in town at the beginning of last week the trips they had were just too expensive for us. We may have been able to get a cheaper deal online but I didn't really have the time to look. So, we changed our minds and decided to go away up to Edinburgh, instead. Then we talked about it a little more and came to the realisation that neither of us was really all that bothered about it so we changed our minds again and no we're not going away at all. Instead we decided to go into London for a couple of days out now that the trains are running again.

By a cunning piece of planning, we said we'd go to Kew Gardens yesterday and so it was we found ourselves, on the hottest day of the year so far, wandering amongst the trees in the sun rather than boiling ourselves by trying to work through the heat. We had a lovely day, despite trouble on the trains on the way in, and both thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, in fact, that we carried it on when we got back and went out for dinner in a little Italian Trattoria in Hemel. I wasn't expecting too much from it (it's only a small restaurant in the town centre, after all) but the food was fabulous and the service excellent so we'll definitely be going back there again.

This morning, I got up and put some primer on the new plaster that the electrician had done last week and then made preparations to start painting the room. Before we started that we wanted to check one last time that the wardrobes we bought were going to fit. One of them is obviously no problem at all but the other was meant to fit in the gap between the chimney and the outside wall. We'd measured it before and knew there was only going to be a couple of inches spare but what we hadn't recknoed on was the window being off-centre in the room and how that would affect it. The front of the wardrobe was going to be flush with the edge of the window and it was going to prove rather difficult to fix the curtain track up so that it would run down beside the wardrobe. It would have involved ripping out a bit of skirting board to give us another half-inch of room and then bodging the tracking so that it ran pretty close to the wall.

In short, the likelihood was that, even if it all worked, it would look awful and that's not what we want in this room. Therefore, our second major change of plan was to only have the one wardrobe in the main bedroom and put the other in the spare room. In doing that we not only save ourselves a lot of bother but we also gain space in the room and it won't feel anywhere near as crowded as it was going to.

Having finally made that decision, we opened the first tin of paint and got to work. Two of the walls now have a first coat of 'Soft Linen' (a very calm, soft cream colour) on them and will be finished off tomorrow. The same colour will be going on the third wall, once we've taken the radiator off, but the fourth wall is going to be different. Very different. We wanted to make a feature out of the colour of the wall opposite the window so we are going to paint it a very deep purple colour (called 'Damson Dream 1'). It's almost aubergine in shade and, with the bed against it, is going to look fabulous.

We hope.

The first coat of that will go on tomorrow, too, so we'll soon know if it's going to work.

Monday, June 07, 2004

New Backblog Entry

It's been some time since I last made a new entry to my backblog so I thought I'd do another one, this time back in September 2001.

Hopefully, a few more will follow soon.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Chainblogging: Vintage English Motorcycles

This is the chainblogging post I promised last weekend and never delivered. Oh well, it's still quicker than sending it by Royal Mail. ;-)

In my first year at secondary school, one of the things we concentrated on in history was that of the school itself. At that time, the school was over 430 years old so there was quite a lot of history to go through; from the very beginning when what is now the headmaster's study was the only schoolroom through various stages of growth and expansion to the present day.

One of the periods that was touched upon was the early to mid-twentieth century when one of England's top motorcycle manufacturers built their bikes in some of the school's outbuildings.

The Vincent Motorcycle Company is famous all over the world for it's motorbikes even now, decades after the last one was produced. And I used to have RE lessons in those same outbuildings.

Since those lessons I've been aware of Vincent bikes but it wasn't until about four years ago, when L and I were on holiday in Tuscany that I finally realised how important that part of the school's history was. We were staying in a complex of villas that had been converted (or built) as separate self-catering apartments. It was a lovely place but it was full of French, German and Dutch people, so we didn't mix too much with anyone else for the first week.

In the second week, an American family was also staying there and during a meal that the management put on for all the guests we got chatting to them. They were doing the typical 'European Grand Tour' thing and we over for something like three months or more. We got around to talking about England and the father said that he owned a vintage English motorcycle, a Vincent. You can imagine the look on his face when I told him where I'd been taught!

It really can be a small world at times.

This is part of a chain of posts linked together by word association. The previous link in the chain was here. If you want to write another link here's what to do: Find a word, phrase or theme from this post to inspire your own and go and write it. It's that simple. Try not to write something that's similar to this post. That way the subject of the posts along the chain will vary. E.g. if I write about going to the doctor's, then don't talk about the last time you were ill, instead describe how you used to play Doctors and Nurses with the girl next door. Get the idea? Your post can be in any style you want. Copy this paragraph and tack it onto the end of your post, updating the link to point here, then leave a comment here that points to your new post.

This Week

Okay then, maybe hoping to post over the weekend was a little over-ambitious...

My parents came to stay Saturday night so most of the day was spent tidying and cleaning, with a couple of hours spent outside trimming the hedge aroiund the front garden. I cooked roast beef for the four of us and we spent the evening demolishing several bottles of wine. I had suggested they come and visit so we could all go the Herts County Show, which was being held just the other side of the M1 and that's what we did on Sunday. It was a good day out with a variety of attractions (e.g. flower tent, steam traction engines, livestock) and displays (showjumping, motorcycle stunt display). Plus a mass of stalls selling all sorts of goods; from locally made foods through clothing to garden furniture and beyond. There was even a stalling selling loft ladders! Mercifully, there was enough cloud around to stop us from burning too much and we all enjoyed it. Spent too much money, though. ;-)

On Monday, we went to help clear out L's grandmother's old flat and claimed a few unwanted bits and pieces (like some gardening tools and a set of new pans that she doesn't need any more). L's father stayed with us on Monday and Tuesday nights while the final clear out was happening.

So it was that Tuesday morning came around and we hadn't got any work done in the bedroom, which we want to pretty much finish decorating before we go back to work. I put that right by sanding down the woodwork and some of the filling that I'd already done. I didn't do as much as I wanted but it's a start.

Yesterday I had to help out a bit more on the flat clearance, taking a few bits to the dump and stuff and then spent the afternoon using the hedge trimmers that my father had left with us at the weekend to trim the hedge properly. The difference was very noticeable. A few more goes at it over the next month or so should get it looking great.

Today we finally had the electricians in to rewire the bedroom so I couldn't do any more work in there. So we sat and watched videos and daytime television all day instead. Amazingly, I don't feel at all guilty about it. I've been so tired for so long that a day spent doing very little was indeed welcome. That won't last, though, since there is now no excuse for us not getting the room finished off.

Hopefully we'll be spending our first night in the master bedroom soon. We ripped off the first scrap of wallpaper four months ago today when we completed so we've got about two and a half weeks now if we want to be in there within four months of moving in.

Back to the sanding tomorrow, then...

Friday, May 28, 2004


Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday. Today is my last day at work until June 15th and I've been trying to get things finished off before I go home tonight. Add to that the fact that I've battling through a cold and you'll understand that blogging has been done my list of priorities a little. It hasn't helped the cause that it took twice as long to get to work as normal this morning. All in all, a bit of a nightmare.

Although I won't be at work for the next two weeks, I will still be blogging since we're not going away (apart from a weekend break somewhere, hopefully).

I have just about managed to keep up with how the chain has developed; there are now at least twenty posts in ten separate strands and it continues to grow. I'm going to be adding to one of the strands when I can find a spare five minutes (probably tomorrow, then) so look out for that. I hope you're all enjoying following the links into unknown areas of blogland and seeing how the theme mutates along the way. Hopefully, you'll find your blogroll expanding as a result of reading someone new through chainblogging.

I think the ultimate sign that this latest venture of mine has been successful will be if when I come back to work there are still new posts being added to the chain. That would be absolutely fantastic.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Chainblogging Update

Chainblogging has been going for a day now and we already have at least eleven posts across six strands. The longest strand has five posts in it and from here goes via Blue Witch , Headcleaner, and Santiago Dreaming to Lost Pilgrim.

So far we have had posts on a variety of subjects, including weddings, photography, music and living in the country. I think it's fantastic to see it working so well.

However, I don't think we've reached critical mass yet. Maybe a few more strands reaching out into parts of the blogworld that aren't normally seen from here and this could really become huge. So if you haven't participated, yet, then why not do so? Add to an existing strand or start a new one from somewhere.

BTW, I've noticed that when some of you are writing your posts, you're only linking back to the blog that came before yours in the chain instead of the specific post. While this is okay for now, before long the posts will start disappearing into archives and the chain will become much harder to trace backwards. If you use the permalink to the previous post then the chain will last for ever.

Keep up the good work and watch as this thing grows...

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Chainblogging: Tube Adverts

Have you ever noticed how the adverts at London tube stations vary depending on where you are? Like any other sort of advertising medium, it's most effective when it's tailored to the audience and that is the reason for these differences.

Adverts for West End shows are prolific everywhere but especially so at the major railway termini, like Euston and Waterloo, where tourists entering the city are most likely to see them. Of course, in Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square you see little else.

Along the shopping corridor of Oxford Street you start to see ads for department stores and exclusive boutiques, trying to tempt you as you travel up the escalator. In particular, Tottenham Court Road is full of adverts for electrical goods, in light of the plethora of electronics stores just up the road.

Quite naturally, you'll see ads for major tourist attractions in the local tube stations; London Zoo at Camden Town; the museums at South Ken; the London Dungeon at London Bridge.

The widest range of all can be found in the heart of the financial city. At Bank station you'll see posters for shows, job opportunities, holidays, personal finance, alcohol, newspapers, books and all sorts of other products. It looks like an odd mix to start with until you see that the advertising is targeted at two different sets of people; those who want to further their careers and those who want to escape from them.

So, next time you're underground, staring blankly at the posters as you go past, why not take a little more interest in them and see if you can work out why that advert in front of you is there and who is meant to see it.

This is part of a chain of posts linked together by word association. The previous link in the chain was here. If you want to write another link here's what to do: Find a word, phrase or theme from this post to inspire your own and go and write it. It's that simple. Try not to write something that's similar to this post. That way the subject of the posts along the chain will vary. E.g. if I write about going to the doctor's, then don't talk about the last time you were ill, instead describe how you used to play Doctors and Nurses with the girl next door. Get the idea? Your post can be in any style you want. Copy this paragraph and tack it onto the end of your post, updating the link to point here, then leave a comment here that points to your new post.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Post Association

You may remember, and indeed have taken part in, the word association games the Blue Witch played a few weeks ago. Well, that sort of gave me an idea for another CBS Blogevent. Not word association but Post Association.

Tomorrow I am going to write a post and I want you to pick out something I from it; a word or phrase or something; and use that to inspire a post on your own blog. You will in turn ask your readers to do the same and hopefully we'll have a chain of connected posts in a few days or so.

There won't be many rules to follow or anything; just a simple explanatory note to put at the top of your post and to leave a comment on the post you've just been inspired by so people can follow the chain from beginning to end.

I think the best resuls will come out of this if you try and go off at a bit of a tangent from the last post in the chain. For example, if I write about going to the doctors, then instead of you writing about the last time you were ill, talk about how you played Doctors and Nurses with the girl next-door when you were kids or something. Get the idea?

Also, whatever you write about, try and allow plenty of points of inspiration for anyone who might want to follow on from your post.

That's about it really. The first post in the chain will appear here tomorrow lunchtime.