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.