Friday, June 03, 2005

Bowing Out

As any regular readers of mine will probably have already guessed, I have slowly been running out of steam when it comes to blogging. I'm now down to posting once a week, if that, and it is becoming a chore.

I could offer up any number of reasons for this; I have less time on my hands both at home and at work; I'm more tired than ever; I'm pre-occupied with other things. The simple truth is that I just don't have the enthusiasm for it any more. The skies may still be clear and blue but I don't seem to spend the time looking at them that I used to. Even when I do have an idea, I can't summon up the willpower to sit down and write it. The enthusiasm that infused my first few months has been tempered and diverted elsewhere online and there just isn't any left.

So I'm bowing out. I may prove this to be a hiatus at some point in the future but the way I feel at the moment, that isn't too likely.

Before I go I just want to thank everyone who has read, commented on and linked to this site over the last 21 months. I have made some great friends and have enjoyed it immensely. I will still be around in a reading and commenting basis, so I'm not dropping out completely. And if you're ever thinking of getting together in 'real-life', drop me a line and I'll probably turn up (when there's beer on offer I usually do ;-) ).

Once again, thank you all and see you around.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shared Equity

So, the government has started their third term with a couple of controversial ideas; ID cards and Shared Equity Schemes.

I don't think I've talked about ID cards before but I have to say I wouldn't mind having to carry one. I don't accept the argument that it will tackle terrorism but I can see that it would help to stop benefit fraud and the like. Having said that, I would not be happy about being forced into paying the best part of a hundred quid for one. You shouldn't have to pay for something you have no choice over, in my view.

Anyway, what I really want to write about is the announcement by the Chancellor that the government will be setting up Shared Equity Schemes to help first time buyers get onto the property ladder. On the face of it, it's a really good idea, taking some of the burden of debt away from homeowners, but when you get down to it the scheme doesn't look as fair as it should.

The key is that the government or mortgage lender who takes on a proportion of the debt then owns that proportion of the house and accordingly gets that share of the property value when you sell on, regardless of whether the price has gone up. That may not seem quite right but if you shared the cost with a friend that is exactly what would happen. But that is where it starts to get unfair.

Say you're in a shared equity scheme and that the government has a 50% stake in the property. When you move in, the kitchen is in real need of refurbishment and the garden needs some work. You spend a total of £3000 over a couple of years getting it done and that adds £5000 to the value of the house, on top of any increase due to the market. When you sell on, you realise only £2500 of that increase in value, a net loss of £500 on what you put into it. The government has made money from your hard work and spending. The same occurs when you're talking about necessary repairs, such as a leaking roof. You end up spending more money on the property than the other party and yet they still get half the resale value.

I'd love to see someone trying to explain how that can be fair.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Health Update

I was meant to be working at home yesterday so I dragged a laptop home with me on Wednesday. I sat down to work yesterday morning and connected to the work network, only to find something was wrong and I couldn't launch any applications. I spent an hour or so on the phone in total between then and 3.30 talking to our technical guys. They couldn't sort it out so I ended up with a day at home, doing very little, that wasn't counted as leave. Result!

Anyway, the reason I was working at home was that I had my next appointment at the endocrinology department at 11.30 (rescheduled from 8.45 the previous week). I had some blood tests a couple of weeks ago, to see how the drug has been working and, the long and the short of it is, it hasn't. My T3, T4 and TSH levels are about the same as they were 9 weeks ago. So, the consultant has told me to double my dosage and we'll see how it goes over the next nine weeks.

The odd thing is that I have been feeling better. Okay, I haven't been back to the old me, but I didn't expect to be, given that parenting Cirrus is hard work. Maybe I'm just sleeping better (when I'm allowed to, that is). Even more odd,yesterday afternoon and evening I felt worse than I have done in weeks. Perhaps it's all in the head.

The consultant was a little puzzled that the pills hadn't made any real inroads but he wasn't all that surprised. He stressed that, particularly in men, the condition is often not completely sorted out by the drugs but that we needed to get it under control before doing anything else. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that other treatments would be required anyway so what he said didn't bother me at all.

So, now I have to remember to take 2 little pills every morning instead of one and hope that they're going to do the trick. At least I'm exempt from prescription charges.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Unexpected Meeting

In the last carriage of a Northern Line train, a man is standing near the door, book in hand and white earphones in his ears. A woman with a distinctive lock of red hair is sitting down nearby and looking at him as if she knows him. A girl walks down the carriage and as the man moves out of her way he sees, from the corner of his eye, the woman watching him. He looks up and recognition blooms on his face. He steps over and they talk about his new baby for a few minutes before the woman gets off at her stop. The man starts reading again before getting off one stop later.

Friday, May 13, 2005

An Oily Character

So, George Galloway MP, who lives in Portugal (from where he can obviously represent the people of Bethnal Green and Bow adequately), is off to the States to rubbish the claims made by the US Senate that he was allocated a large amount of oil by Saddam Hussein. I can see how it will go.

US Senator: "So you see, Mr Galloway, these papers show that Saddam set aside this oil for you. Now we're not saying you have profited from this in any way (aside: mainly because we can't prove it) but you can at least see that Saddam allocated 20 million barrels of oil for you."

George Galloway (in a loud voice) "I did not make any money through oil from Saddam Hussein. I have answered these allegations already in my successful legal battle with the Daily Telegraph!"

US Senator: Sigh "We're not saying you profited from this, Mr Galloway, and we have already shown that these allegations are different for those made by the Daily Telegraph. Can you see that now?"

George Galloway: "You can't talk to me like that! Do you know who I am? I've just won an election! The people of Bow Green and Bethnal have chosen me, ME!, as their MP and now you're asking me these ridiculous questions. Why don't you ask me about what matters in Green and Bow Bethnal? They don't care about oil. Look, I've had enough of this. Either ask me something sensible or I'm off.

US Senator: "But..."

George Galloway: "Right, that's it." Storms out and hops back on a plane to Portugal.

Always good for a laugh, isn't he?

Prediction Results

Well, my predictions weren't too far off, were they? A 67 majority for Labour instead of my predicted 71 means I was pretty close on that one (though I messed up my calculation regarding the number of seats the other parties would gain). I was five minutes out on the first result but Peter Snow's swingometers and 'battleground' were definitely well used during the night.

As for the rest, the only thing I got significantly wrong was my own result. I wasn't sure whether Tony McWalter would keep the seat or not. I was pretty sure it would be close but in the end I went the wrong way. Whether or not my vote helped or hindered the result will remain a mystery.

It was an odd election, though, don't you think? Have you ever known an election result that can be described as good (but not great) for all the major parties? I mean, Labour may have lost a lot of seats but they came out of it with a decent majority and their first ever third term. However, there was a very obvious backlash against the party, and the PM in particular. The Tories gained seats and have brought in a lot of new, young MPs, which should be good for the party, but the downside for them is that they didn't make larger in-roads into Labour's majority. Then there are the Lib Dems, who made large gains (in swing if not seats) against Labour and have confirmed their place in UK politics but will be disappointed not to have made much showing in the Conservative seats they were targeting.

Everyone has something to boast about and something else to think about. Strange.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Election Prediction

It's the big day tomorrow so, despite still not knowing who to plump for, I thought I'd make a prediction of the results. If you want to do the same then leave it in the comments.

Fairly obviously, I think Labour will win it but not with the sort of majority they've enjoyed over the last eight years. I think it will be cut from 166 to around 70 (71, say, for precision's sake), with the Conservatives gaining 58 seats and the Lib Dems increasing their total by 30 (the others going to minor parties like the SNP).

The first result will be called by 10.38p.m. tomorrow. Peter Snow's new swingometer will get a really good workout and I will stay up watching bleary-eyed until well after midnight (I'm not working on Friday, thankfully), by which time the result should be clear.

Locally, I think it will be very close but that Tony McWalter will remain our MP for another few years, allbeit with a much reduced majority of around a thousand - definitely a target seat next time around.

I'll see how close I am next week.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Vote '05 - Any Ideas?

I was going to write a whole series of posts on the election but other events and a general apathy towards the whole campaign have conspired against that. Suffice it to say that I still have no idea who to vote for on Thursday. Here are a few points that have flitted through my mind over the last couple of weeks.

I really can't stand Michael Howard. I hate the way everything he says seems to have been scripted days beforehand. I don't want him to be PM and the Tories to be in government, which is odd, since I am probably more naturally conservative than anything else. Even if I could get past that dislike, I think the Tory intentions towards immigration are ludicrous.

On the other hand, I really don't want Tony Blair to be PM, either. I don't care that he can weasel his way out of the allegations that he lied over Iraq (he didn't - only bent the truth about as far as it was possible to and mislead parliament while doing so). No, what have really turned me from Labour (admittedly, it didn't need much), are the continual assertions that, whether there were WMDs in Iraq or not, it was right to go to war because otherwise Saddam Hussein would still be in power there. So, after the fact, it is suddenly all right for regime change to be the justification for war. I'm sorry, Mr Blair, but that simply isn't the case. Put that together with ID cards, trial without jury and imprisonment without charge and it doesn't matter how well Gordon Brown is handling the economy or how much Labour are doing to help young families - I just can't bring myself to vote that way.

So, then. The Liberal Democrats. In many ways, my current political leanings are most in line with Charles Kennedy's party and there is a bonus in that I don't actively dislike the man. However, there are two main stumbling blocks to me voting for them. The first is that there is no chance of them getting into power unless there is a hung parliament. While that could be interesting from an objective point of view, I don't want it to happen. The second, much larger problem is Proportional Representation. If the Liberal Democrats get into power, either with a majority or in a hung parliament, they will push for the electoral system to be changed from the current 'first past the post' system to a PR system, like they have in Germany, for example. While it seems a fairer way to elect a government, it has one major flaw in this country: we only have 3 major political parties and a PR system would hand the balance of power to the smallest of those parties, which, coincidentally, happens to be the Liberal Democrats.

I have exhausted myself of parties to vote for (I wouldn't consider voting for one of the smaller parties, e.g. UKIP) so how about looking simply at my local candidates instead and voting on their intentions on local issues? Well, I have met our current MP, Tony McWalter (Lab), who has a majority of 3,742, and I have to say that I like him a lot and agree with where he stands on a few key local issues (keeping Hemel Hempstead Hospital open and in its current location; the council trend for closing down youth schemes, which means kids hang around in residential areas disturbing those that live there; building on Green Belt land). However, the Conservative candidate stands for largely the same things. The Liberal Democrat candidate only talks about local issues in terms of how they would be affected by the polices of the party at a national level, rather than confronting the issues that are peculiar to Hemel Hempstead residents.

All of which makes it very difficult to work out who to vote for. Locally, a vote for the Lib Dems is next to useless, as they only got about 13% of the vote last time round, but I don't want to vote for either of the other parties. Maybe I'll just go along and spoil my ballot paper. That, at least, would be a fair representation of my views at the moment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Promised Update

Before I go into how the last couple of weeks have been, I thought I'd announce which of the blognamesI'll be using when I talk about N around here. Thank you all for the suggestions - they were all good but the one I like the best is dg's. So, from here on in, N will be referred to as Cirrus. It's nicely in keeping with the blogtitle and is a pretty good name all on its own. And, of course, it leaves plenty of choices for any other children we may have. ;-)

Anyway, here is a potted history of Cirrus' life so far:


What do you mean you want more? That's all that babies of his age do. Oh, all right, then.

Apart from the first couple of days (which are always difficult as parents and baby have to adjust to a new way of living), it hasn't been that difficult so far. Yes, it has been hard work and very tiring but when a baby is only capable of doing the four things listed above, there isn't all that much to learn.

Probably the most difficult bit so far was getting him to breastfeed properly. That took a few days but we got there eventually. I say we, but really I had nothing to do with it at all - it was all down to L and Cirrus. Since then he has been feeding very well and, when weighed yesterday, came in at 10lb 8oz - 9 ounces more than last Tuesday when he was back up to his birth weight having lost a few ounces in the first week (which is completely normal and not something I knew before). If he carries on like that he'll be growing out of his clothes in just a few weeks!

The realy difficulat part of the day is the late evening. Cirrus is starting to sleep for longer periods overnight, going up to six hours between feeds, but getting him to sleep before midnight is tricky. Over the last two weeks I was staying up with him, while L went to bed, and sleeping in later to catch up. Of course, now I'm back at work I can't do that and L isn't as comfortable doing it as I was.

What follows are a few observations I've made since Cirrus was born.

The first few weeks of parenthood are hard work with very little reward. When a baby's interaction with you is limited to feeding and crying, it can be difficult to find the joy in it. It is there but you have to search for it. You find it in the expressions on his face while he sleeps, the way he stretches as he wakes and the flicker of a smile he gives you every so often. Sometimes that's just wind but at other times it is because he is content.

People think about babies in a sort of anthropomorphic way. They ask you if the baby's behaviour is good. The answer they want to hear is "Yes, it is". They just stare at you blankly when you say a baby can be neither good nor bad, it just is.

When it comes to presents, the baby gets the most and the mother gets some but the father gets nothing (although that's not quite true - I have been given a present but that can wait for another post)

Babies are very funny when they have the hiccups or sneezes

Plus a whole load of others my tired brain is having trouble remembering right now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

New Arrival

Okay, then, time to put you all out of your misery.

Friday was a bit of a false start as the contractions, if that is indeed what they were died away on Saturday. Saturday night was a different matter entirely.

L's waters broke at 2.45 on Sunday morning, cutting the night's sleep drastically short, and we duly headed off to the hospital (it's very nice driving at that time of night - assuming you can stay awake, anyway). A minor (and quite common) complication saw us transferred from the Birth Centre to the Delivery Suite, where our son, N, was born at about 1.40 that afternoon. For those it will mean anything to, the labour was very short - L was in established labour for only 3-4 hours. I took some time out to get some lunch, thinking it was going to be some hours before anything happened and I almost missed it all! Thankfully, I got back in time to have my hand crushed and my eardrums abused by all the screams. ;-)

We've decided not to put his name online so I'm sorry if you made a guess as to what it was. Anyway, he weighed in at a hefty 9lbs 15ozs (long rather than fat) and is absolutely gorgeous. L stayed in overnight with him and they both came home yesterday afternoon. Now we just have to learn how to be parents!

I'm off work this week and next but I'll stop by from time to time. When I'm not looking after my new son, of course.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Here we go

Okay, then. This is it. L is now in labour (at least, we think so - neither of us have been through it before so we can't really be sure). She has been having regular twinges for over twenty-four hours now, and in the last few they seem to have become real contractions. The question now is whether or not we'll get a decent night's sleep tonight.

Either way, it won't be long now (compared to the last nine months, that is) until our baby makes its appearance and our lives change forever. It's getting very exciting.

While I'm off, feel free to amuse yourselves in the comments box trying to guess the name(s) we have picked and the weight the baby will be.

A couple of hints: The girl's name is in the first half of the alphabet and is reasonably popular and the boy's name is the opposite of that. As for weight, I was nine and a half pounds when I was born. L was more than that and (apparently) babies tend to follow their mothers, weight-wise.

I'll be back in a few days with news and maybe even a picture.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try and get a bit of sleep under my belt...

Monday, April 04, 2005

Future - The Environment

For the second of my series of future-prediction posts, I'm taking a look at the subject that has aroused the most confusion, anger and argument in recent years and is going to be the hot-topic of the next couple of decades, at least. The environment.

The next generation is likely to be the most environmentally clued-up of all and I aim to make sure that my daughter is one of them. I don't want to produce an anarchic eco-warrior, or anything, just a responsible person, who knows the value of recycling, energy efficiency etc and behaves accordingly.

That is where I think the biggest change with regard to the environment will take place over the next 25 years. In the mind. Whether you're talking about global warming, pollution or low levels of natural resources, it's unlikely there'll be a significant change in any of them in that time frame, assuming things carry on as they are currently. However, by the time we get to 2030, there may well be no way to stop massive climate change occurring. In order to stop that, there needs to be a complete change of attitude among the population of the world.

I'm trying to predict what will happen, though, not rant about what should so I'm going to leave that for another day. I think it's clear that, barring some sort of huge environmental disaster on the scale of The Day After Tomorrow, the arguments about global warming will continue while average temperatures creep up, winters become wetter and milder and hosepipe bans rule the summer. At the same time, incremental changes in public policy, retail economics and societal thinking will all do their bit to combat it. Below are some of what I think these small changes will be.

Supermarkets will add a new dimension to food shopping. Alongside the normal and organic ranges of meat, fruit, vegetables and other staples, there will be a new range, called 'Locally Produced'. The products in the range may be organic or they may not, but they will have been produced and packaged locally (within, say, 10-20 miles) and should appeal to anyone who is concerned about the environmental damage caused by transporting food around the country in trucks. Aside from the green benefits, this could boost British agriculture and give my daughter some satisfaction at having helped out someone in their local area, rather than some faceless person a long way away. Who knows, it could be so successful that it becomes the dominant way to buy those sorts of goods.

My daughter's first car will probably not be fuelled by petrol. The average oil price will probably continue to rise, as stocks of easily attainable oil begin to run low, until it becomes more economical to use a different power source. The technology is already being developed to power cars using hydrogen and, given the better part of twenty years, there's no reason they won't be commercially viable by the time she sends off to the DVLA for her licence. A scaled up version of the process may even be used to generate electricity. What could be better? Getting energy from an extremely abundant fuel source and producing just steam as an emission.

That's still a bit pie in the sky, though. For some thing a bit more down to earth, waste management will change so that more and more of our rubbish is recycled, including that generated by commerce, and what is left will be disposed of responsibly. People will also start to change the way things are packaged as they begin to buy the products that do not come with unnecessary plastic bags, polystyrene and other harmful packaging.

Of course, ideas like this will not be the only way in which people are encouraged to make a difference. Whether it will all be enough, though, only time will tell.

Friday, April 01, 2005


I'm not one of those bloggers that likes to set up an April Fool's Day ruse for their readers (though I did wonder about writing a post saying that L had just had twins, despite us only ever seeing one baby on the scans). Others do, extremely funnily at times, but it's just not me, I'm afraid.

I do, however, have a couple of April Fool stories to tell you about this year's April 1st. One is a joke I feared may happen and hasn't, the other I wasn't expecting at all.

For more than eight months, now, we have known that April 1st 2005 was going to have more than the usual significance for us. You see, it is today that our baby is officially due. Of course, the chances of it being on time are not that great, but you never know and I really didn't want it to happen, especially before midday. Anyway, the joke I feared was that L would ring me up at work and tell me she was in labour so I'd rush off only to get another call a few minutes later telling me it was all just a laugh. That hasn't happened (yet, anyway).

Incidentally, I also wondered whether the baby might get in on the act and make L go into labour in the morning, only to stop at a minute after noon. ;-)

The joke I wasn't expecting was one I played on myself. Yes, you heard me right, I played it on myself. How can you not expect that, I hear you say? Well, let me explain.

My eyelids opened this morning to find it was a little lighter than it should have been. I looked at my alarm clock and it said 7.04. There was a brief moment of incomprehension before the panic set in and I leapt out of bed. You see, on a normal day, I leave the house to walk to the station at 7.10. My alarm should have gone off almost 45 minutes earlier. What on earth had happened? Did I sleep through it? Well, no, because the alarm turns the radio on, which then plays for two hours, and it was silent. Those thoughts raced through my head by the time I'd got round the bed and was heading for the door. It was at that moment that a memory floated up from the depths of my mind.

It was the early hours of this morning and, in a period of semi-consciousness, I looked over at my alarm clock and saw that the alarm was on. So, being of sound mind, I reached out and turned the damn thing off! Why I did that, I'll never know.

It turned out all right in the end. The act of leaping out of bed woke L up and after I'd showered and dressed she threw on some clothes and gave me a lift to the station so I could get my normal train. It was a 20 minute mad rush rather than the usual 50 minute leisurely stroll, though. Thank god it's Saturday tomorrow.

Take a pill - live longer!

It was with some disbelief that I saw this news story yesterday. Apparently, Professor John Speakman thinks that taking thyroxine could boost our lifespan by up to 25%, because that's what it has done in mice.

Thyroxine is the hormone, produced by the thyroid, that controls your metabolic rate. The professor's tests show that the mice with the highest metabolic rates lived longest and thinks that it could mean the same for humans.

Well ,I for one can tell him what it's like to have too much thyroxine in your body and it's not very pleasant. If you go too far you end up at risk of heart failure! That's not going to prolong your life very much, is it? Obviously, he isn't going to advocate taking that enough to put you into that sort of situation, but it's hard to see how much would have a benefit before it tips the scales in favour of harming you. My thyroid is only fairly mildly hyperactive but it has had a dramatic effect on my standard of life. I wouldn't want to intentionally take something that would do that to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Baby Update

L has now been off work for three weeks and is starting to get very bored. The baby is due on Friday week and we're effectively now just sitting and waiting for it to happen.

Two weeks ago I went along to the ante-natal class with L (I wasn't allowed to attend the other three). We had a look around the Birthing Centre in Hemel Hospital (very nice indeed but suffers from the lack of a maternity unit in the hospital so if anything went wrong you'd be in an ambulance heading for Watford) as well as a couple of talks on labour and pain relief.

The midwife also gave us a handout titled "Tips For Fathers To Be!" Most of the contents are very sensible, geared to making the labour as easy as possible, but some of them are ridiculous.

For example, during second stage, it advises you to 'Tell her to imagine "opening and giving", avoid using the word "push".' Opening and giving? What? That's a load of bollocks. I think I'd get my head ripped off If I said something like that. I have taken on board the tip about not using 'push'. I took out the thesaurus and dug out some alternatives: 'thrust' and 'shove' aren't too bad but my personal favourite is 'propel'. It conjures an image of a line of midwives in various positions on the other side of the room ready to catch the baby as it comes flying out of the womb. I shall definitely be trying to use it when the time comes.

Then there's the bit that tells you to 'Hold a mirror for her so she can see the baby's head crowning'. I can't imagine anything worse to do and neither can L, thankfully.

Last week we had a tour of the maternity unit in Watford and saw the delivery suite, post- and ante-natal wards and the birthing centre and we are booked into to go there when the baby decides to put in an appearance. All being well, we'll be in the birthing centre rather than the delivery suite because it's a much more relaxed atmosphere, where you can have your own music playing, go in the birthing pool, or lie around on bean bags. The whole idea of it is that it helps you to stay calm and relaxed, which makes labour much easier to handle. I'll let you know if it works.

The Specialist

Okay, as BW pretty much commanded me to do, here is what happened when I went to see the specialist a couple of weeks ago.

Having had my height and weight measured and handed over the urine sample I'd brought with me, I was waiting in the endocrinology clinic for my turn to see the doctor. When it finally came I went into the office and the doctor had me go through the history of the condition as I saw it. So I told him that I had started feeling like this back in August last year but thought nothing of it until October, after which I did my best to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. At that he laughed a little and I relaxed.

He then wanted to examine me. Most of that was the standard pulse, blood pressure and reactions but he also wanted to have a feel of my thyroid to see if was enlarged or had any lumps in it. That involved him wrapping his fingers round my neck from behind and probing at the bottom of my throat. I really don't like anyone touching my throat and that made for a very uncomfortable situation. I managed to get through it without freaking out but I'm not looking forward to going through it again.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is that my thyroid is slightly enlarged, but not too much. Of the three common causes of a hyperactive thyroid, one can be completely ruled out by the lack of lumps and another is very unlikely because it is relatively short-lived, lasting just two or three months at the most. So, for now I have been diagnosed with autoimmune thyrotoxicosis, or Grave's Disease as it is more commonly known. It's where your body produces antibodies that cause your thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones than it normally would.

For now the treatment is with the drug carbimazole. It's just one a day and I should feel better in a few weeks (just in time to be suffering from lack of sleep ;-) ). I'll be taking them for the next year or so at which point the treatment will be reviewed. In about half of cases, the drug doesn't put the condition into long-term remission and if I am in that 50% then we'll look at more permanent options (surgery or treatment with radioactive iodine). Those are not without problems, either because if too much of the thyroid is removed or killed off, then it can become hypoactive, in which case I'd be on drugs for life. Hypothyroidism is much easier to treat then hyperthyroidism, however, so that wouldn't be completely disastrous.

So, that's about it. There are some side-effects but I'm not likely to be affected by them so I'm not going to write about them for now.

People have been asking me if I feel relieved at now knowing what is wrong and how it can be treated. The answer to that question, somewhat surprisingly, is no. I don't feel relief at all, yet, mainly because I don't yet feel any better but also because the treatment is going to take so long and even then there is no guarantee that it is going to work completely. Maybe that will change in a couple of months when I find that can do things that I am unable to do at the moment, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blogger's Disco

I've been thinking hard for at least five minutes to come up with something suitable for mike's Blogger's Disco but I haven't had any ideas yet.

I mean, there's so much to choose from. Do I pick a thumping dance classic or some pop kitsch? Punk? Rock? No, it's impossible to narrow it down that way.

Okay, how else can I find the perfect track? What about by the effect it will have on the bloggers crowding the dancefloor? That sounds about right. Well then, I want a song that will get everyone singing along at the end of the night after several beers too many. A drunken cacophony of merriment and tunelessness. I want them to just stand there singing at the tops of their voices so it can't be a song you can dance to easily. Maybe an old, zippo-waving ballad?


*taps fingers on the desk*

Aha! I've got it. Altogether now...

Hey Jood!
Da da da daaa

Number Crunching

The rest of my Future posts will follow over the next few days but for now I have more pressing things on my mind.

I had another look at some of the online resources for thyroid problems and came across some numbers showing how likely you are to have them. Firstly, out of every eight people with some sort of thyroid condition, seven of them will be women. Up to 20% of women suffer from thyroid disease, but the number is only that high with older women, especially if they smoke. For a non-smoking women of my age the chances will be smaller, say fourteen percent. Already, that makes the chances of me suffering from it 1 in 50.

Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism (which I've got) - anecdotal evidence of that fact can be found even in Blogger itself. Of the two words, hypothyroidism is recognised by the spell-checker but hyperthyroidism is not. That brings the number down even further. Maybe it's now as low as 1 in 200.

Of course, that's all just speculation. Tomorrow I may find out for sure as I have an appointment with the specialist. At 11.00 I will start the process of finding out exactly what is wrong with me, what caused it and, hopefully, what can be done about it.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Friday night saw me in a pub in Holborn attending my third blogmeet; a surprise party for dg, who will be forty this week. I didn't stay terribly late - given the way I've been feeling lately I wasn't up for a big night - but before I left there was cake and chocolate and the inevitable BW game, this time to do with creme eggs. Of course, I played along with great enthusiasm, as always. ;-)

The strange thing is I'm now starting to think of my fellow bloggers differently. I've now met various of them in real-life two or three times in the last twelve months and I am now starting to think of them as real friends, not just online mates. I don't see some of my old friends any more often than that, so maybe it's not all that surprising, but I certainly wasn't expecting to make lots of new friends when I started writing here.

This raises uncomfortable questions. As friendships develop, there is often an impulse to introduce you friends to each other but how do you do that in this case? If you want to keep your blog private from your old friends, what do you say when one of them asks how we know each other? Not that I'm thinking of landing myself in that situation but you never know what might happen and it's good to be prepared. Any tips will be gratefully received.

Anyway,it was great to see you all again and we must meet up once more soon, when I shall try not to look too bleary-eyed.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Future - Technology

This is the first of a short series of posts in which I will try to predict what the first 25 years of my child's life will be like, particularly in comparison to mine. Predicting the future is notoriously hard to do, especially when you're talking about decades rather than months, but I'm not going to let that stop me. In writing these posts, I am going to borrow a trick from various books and publications and refer to my child as 'he' and 'she' alternately. We don't know which sex it will be but it doesn't matter much to what I want to write.

The obvious area to look at first is the fastest changing of all - technology. And where better to start than with the internet.

The internet is still relatively new to me. Yes, I may have been using it for years but I can clearly remember what life was like without it. The world seemed a lot bigger back then. My son will truly be part of the online generation; for him, using it will be as natural as watching the television is for me. Tad Williams' brilliant fantasy series 'Otherland' is set in the not too distant future and paints a picture of the internet as a fully virtual world, almost indistinguishable from reality. Okay, that may be taking it too far (at least for the next quarter of a century) but the internet will develop far beyond what it is today.

For example, it is likely that all forms of mass communication will converge until they are all online. Already, you can listen to the radio through your internet connection and watch news reports and make telephone calls, too. I can foresee a time when programmes are no longer beamed through the air on the back of radio waves. Once every home is connected to the internet and it has become faster and more stable, then why bother broadcasting in the traditional way when you can just stream it all online, giving people a level of access they have never had before? Successive generations of mobile phones will progressively give you more and more access to the online world until there is nothing left to differentiate between them.

The last couple of years has seen an explosion of portable data storage devices, which currently looks like a continuing trend. Already, you can carry about gigabytes of music, movies and other data in your ipod or equivalent. Who can say where that will end? Will we be carrying round vast amounts of data in our pockets in 20 years' time? Actually, I doubt that we will. I think the age of the portable digital storage devices will be really quite short. It's far more likely that in the future all our music will be stored online and we will simply be able to access it remotely from wherever we are, along with everything else. I can imagine my son being able to listen to one of thousands of albums that he owns or work on his doctoral thesis from anywhere in the world, using any device he comes across to access everything he needs.

Whether that particular vision comes true or not, the effect is still the same. My son will grow up able to manipulate large volumes of data without really thinking about it. Music, movies, online content, work - all of it will be held digitally and he will have to learn how to get the best out of it. The likelihood is, he will be playing with terabytes of digital files, whether he carries it all with him or not. In order to do that successfully he will have to develop smart new ways of searching to find what he wants quickly and easily, and be able to access it instantaneously and precis it intelligently to give him exactly what he needs.

Clearly, my son will feel much more at home with computers than I ever will, since he will be exposed to them from the very beginning of his life. In comparison, I didn't regularly use a pc for anything other than games until I went to university and I'm still not entirely comfortable when it comes to the administration side of it all. I give it between ten and fifteen years and I reckon he will put me to shame.

When it comes to the world of technology, my son's life will be nothing like my own. When I was young, I had very little interaction with technology. We only had a handful of television channels and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners Lee's eye. When the weather was good we used to play in the garden or kick a football about in the park down the road. When it was bad we played inside instead. We were active children and therefore pretty healthy. If there is one thing about the future that I am sure of, it's that my son will not miss out on real life in favour of a virtual one.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Cartoons Galore

We watched the countdown of the 'Top 100 Cartoons' on C4 on Sunday night (well, to be completely honest, we watched the last hour and a half of it last night because we weren't up to staying awake until gone midnight) and I was pleased to see that my favourite cartoon characters of all time, Tom and Jerry, were placed as highly as one could reasonably expect.

Second place behind The Simpsons is pretty good, if you ask me.

Much as these shows can be dull affairs, full of people you don't care about talking a whole load of crap about things you aren't bothered about, some of them are good, just because of the nostalgia they produce. The Top 100 Cartoons was one of those and it was great to be reminded about the shows I used to love as a child.

What's your favourite ever cartoon?


Hey, you know I mentioned a month ago that cows are actually more intelligent than we are and are just biding their time until they are ready to take over the world?

Well, if you didn't believe me, take a look at this. Convinced now?

Maternity Leave

This is quite a momentous day in our lives. For much of the last few years, L and I have travelled in to work together, at least as far as we could before going off in different directions. Today is the last time that will happen for at least a year and probably a lot longer than that (on a regular basis, anyway).

This is L's last day at work before she has a few days of holiday and starts maternity leave next week. It's all getting very close, now. There are just over 4 weeks until the baby is due and L is hoping that she does get at least most of that time to relax a little before the mania of parenthood begins. I'm hoping that she has enough time to rest and relax, but not so much that she's climbing the walls in frustration.

So, we're about to enter a period of financial leanness that will see our monthly income gradually decrease from the end of April until some point in September when it will bottom out at some ridiculously low level. We think we have enough reserves to last out the year without too many difficulties but there are definitely some hard times ahead.

I haven't written much about the pregnancy or anything recently so here's a brief update. L is now about 8 months pregnant and looks every bit of it. The baby continues to demonstrate that its most likely future career will be kickboxing or football. It is certainly one of the strangest sights seeing someone's belly distend outwards as it is pushed from the inside. We've now got most of the things we need, should the baby arrive earlier than expected, including a few bits and pieces of clothing (which would be far too big if it were to be born in the next few days but should be just about right if the baby is as big as we think it could be).

L started ante natal classes last week. She has four overall, only one of which I get to go to (the tour of the delivery suite and stuff). I reckon the thinking behind that is that it is the mothers who really need to know everything and they can pass it all on to their partners, so it is possible to run a single class for 16-18 mothers rather than two for 8-9 couples. Still, it means that I get to have a couple of hours at home on my own for the next few weeks - that is going to become a rare luxury soon enough.

For quite a while I've been meaning to write a series of posts that try to predict how my child's first 25 years of life will differ from mine. That's what will be coming up here over the next week or so. If you want to have your say on how our lives will be affected by technology, politics and the environment between now and 2030, then drop by and leave a comment.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Live Aid

I had Thursday and Friday off, because of the cold I developed on top of everything else - it wiped me out for a little while. I spent most of the time watching DVDs, including most of the Live Aid boxset, which I was given for Christmas but hadn't yet had time to watch.

On July 13th 1985, I was just 8 years old and I don't remember anything about Live Aid. Neither of my parents were really into popular music of any sort, so the all-day concert may not have been on in our house. Whether it was or not, isn't important, now.

So, when I put the first disc in, it was completely new to me. What I saw, though, made me wish I had been ten years older and in the middle of the pitch at Wembley. What a fantastic day it must have been.

It's hard to imagine, now, how difficult it must have been to organise the whole thing. Not just hosting the concerts and getting all of the featured acts to appear, either. No, the real miracle was getting it broadcast around the world (the reckoning was that it aired on 97% of the TVs in the world, or thereabouts) in a time when mass communication was still a pipe dream. Can you imagine doing it now without using a mobile phone, email, the internet, or even a fax machine? That's how a lot of it had to be done twenty years ago. Phenomenal!

What about the concerts themselves? Well, the Wembley one fits my musical taste much better than the Philadelphia one did (only to be expected, I suppose) but they were both very good. It was interesting to see artists and groups, that today seem like they have been around forever, back when they were at or near the beginning of their careers. People like Madonna and U2.

There were a few things I noted about the whole affair:

1. It surprised me that no one really seemed to be dressed outrageously. I mean, the eighties will always be remembered for its rather unrefined fashions but there wasn't much of it on show. For the most part it seemed that jeans and a shirt would make do. This was probably a good thing, for me, as it didn't give the impression that it was all a bit dated, which would have taken some of the gloss off it.

2. Queen (well, Freddie Mercury, really) stole the whole show, with seven songs where no-one else did more than four. They were one of the main reasons why I wish I'd been there.

3. It reinforced the fact that my musical taste is a decade or two earlier than my age might actually suggest. Everything from the sixties rock and roll, to the seventies punk and rock and the eighties pop was just brilliant.

4. The quality of the acts that appeared was very high. You probably couldn't put together a similar concert today without having to include a smattering of 'Get Me A Mediocre Music Career' reality TV show winners and second-rate girl- or boy-bands. Oh, well - such is life.

July 13th 1985 has been called a Day That Changed The World but, sadly, this just hasn't turned out to be true. It certainly raised a lot of money that was used to feed starving people in Africa and provide much needed medical aid. The problems that caused the Ethiopian famine, however, still exist and millions of people throughout Africa continue to lead their lives under the threat of starvation and disease. Events like Live Aid can only ever treat the symptoms of the problems in Africa - it is the causes that need to be tackled.

No amount of charity money will ultimately solve anything. It has to be down to the leaders of the world and their governments to put solutions in place. Solutions like writing off third world debt, undertaking fair trade practices and tackling the corruption that is rife in so many African governments.

Maybe the twentieth anniversary of Live Aid would be a good time to put some of it into practice.

Monday, February 21, 2005

At last!

I went back to the doctors' surgery this morning. This appointment was different to all the other's I've had in my life. That's because I didn't request it.

I came home on Thursday last week to a message asking me to call the surgery. When I did, the receptionist (or whoever) told me the GP wanted to see me for a routine appointment. I thought it was rather odd since they wouldn't need to give me a routine check-up since I was only in there a week earlier. Logically, it could only have been about the latest test results but if that were the case then why call it routine? Looking back it was probably because they didn't want to worry me unnecessarily over the weekend.

Anyway, I went and it was about the test results. They have given an answer to the problems I have been having. However, it is an answer that throws up yet more questions.

They showed that my white blood cell count was low again (it was probably just a blip in the second test, which showed it on the rise again) and, more importantly, that the levels of T3 and T4 hormones in my blood are quite high. That clinched it - I have a hyperactive thyroid.

It explains most of the symptoms I've been having - racing heart; breathlessness; weakness in the muscles; weight-loss while eating normally; sleeping problems and other symptoms I'd rather not discuss. There are also symptoms that I hadn't noticed because they weren't that unusual - being excessively thirsty, for example, and having clammy hands. The reason that it has taken this long to find out the cause is that the symptom that caused me to go to the doctor in the first place was the tiredness and lethargy, which are symptoms of an under-active thyroid and therefore don't fit with that list above.

So, what's next? Well, the drugs that the doctor would normally prescribe can sometimes lower the white blood cell count and given that mine is already low she is unwilling to do that in my case. Therefore, I'm being referred to a specialist for further investigation. That means more tests, to pin down what is causing the condition, followed by treatment, which, at the extreme, could mean an operation.

At least the answers are beginning to come out. I have a name for it and a definite direction for the next steps. That's a very good thing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bees - A Reply

Seeing the odd letter that BW received last week, I got to thinking about a suitable reply...

Dear Mr Bradley,

Thank you for your kind letter requesting help with your project to start keeping bees. I can see from what you wrote that you are indeed a novice when it comes to the art of beekeeping. I tried using a technique similar to the one you are proposing when I first set up a beehive. Unfortunately, I was destined for failure because I was unaware of a very important fact. When bees are happy, they become very lazy.

My bees were living in the very best apian luxury and they refused to come out of the hive to pollinate the flowers in my garden and make honey, preferring instead to spend their time in the gym and mini-cinema that I had built for them. It took months to work out where I had gone wrong. After that, though I corrected all my mistakes very quickly.

In order to get the most out of your bees, you must keep them unhappy. An unhappy bee will take his frustrations out on hte flowers around the hive and will pollinate them in the process. He will then go home and make you lots of delicious honey.

So, how do you make, and keep, your bees sad? There are a variety of ways to this but here are a few important steps:

1. Find a colony of bees that are happy in their freedom to come and go as they please and imprison them in your hive. They will remember the carefree days that are behind them and seeing the bleakness that is ahead of them will drag down their moods.

2. Don't allow them any freetime privileges. The only activities they must be allowed to do are pollination, honey making and sleeping (and if you limit the amount of this last one, they will be even more unhappy).

3. Don't allow them to eat any of the honey they produce. Doing this will ensure that they are aware they are working for a cruel tyrant and that there is no escape.

This is where your propaganda idea could come in especially useful. Use propaganda to show them how bleak their situation is and they will be your slaves for ever!

I hope that you find this information useful and that it helps you in your quest to become a beekeeper



Go on, BW, send it. You know you want to.

Friday, February 11, 2005

More Health Stuff

I went back to see the doctor yesterday. The results of the blood tests I had almost a month ago showed nothing obviously wrong (the white blood cell count, which was low in my first test, had picked up by the second a few days later) so diagnosis is very difficult. The symptoms have remained pretty much the same, though if anything the have grown a little worse. Some days are better than others. Today, for example has been pretty bad, so far.

Anyway, the doctor examined me but couldn't find anything unusual - my blood pressure was normal and my chest sounded fine. At the moment, her guess is that I am recovering from some sort of viral infection (that I may not have been aware of). She said that it can sometimes take a couple of months to get back up to strength. Personally, I don't subscribe to this theory as it has been going on for quite a lot longer than that. However, I only went to the doctor's for the first time a month ago so for know I'll go along with it. She also said that it could be stress related or maybe even a vitamin deficiency that the tests don't show up. Assuming the condition doesn't deteriorate too rapidly then I am prepared to see how it goes for a while.

Just to be absolutely sure, I went for another round of tests this morning, repeating some I've already had and adding a test for thyroid function, just to rule that out as well. I don't expect them to show anything but we'll see.

However, I have also decided to become more pro-active about the whole thing. First of all, I have bought (at the doctor's suggestion) some vitamin supplements, just in case that is the problem - I doubt it is but you never know for sure. The doctor also said that getting some exercise may help. As perverse as the idea of exercising when you don't feel like you've got enough energy to walk up the stairs sounds, I'll give it a go. Lastly, and this idea is completely my own, I'm going to keep some sort of diary of symptoms to try and get a handle on when they affect me. That way I might be able to work out why.

Of course, time will tell whether any of this will make any difference. I don't think it will but it's worth doing just to eliminate some of the possible causes. In a few more weeks, if I'm not feeling better I'll go back and see what else it could be. Maybe I'll even look towards the alternative side of medicine. That'd be a turn up for an old cynic like me.

Human: Adaptability

For the last post of my 'Human' series, I'm going to write about the attribute that has helped make the human race the most successful species on the planet. Our adaptability.

As I mentioned in my introductory post, it is very easy to come up with examples of animals that can run faster, carry more weight, etc. But try thinking of an animal that can operate in the variety of ways that we can. That's much more difficult.

If you think about it for a moment, the range of relatively basic activities that we can do is quite astounding. Things we learn at a young age and never forget. We can walk; run; swim both underwater and on the surface; climb trees and mountains; jump; carry relatively large loads and throw things accurately.

With the possible exception of walking (which is the most basic and earliest learnt action of them all), we are by no means the best species at any of these activities. However, we are the only animal on this planet that can successfully do all of them. A global Jack-of-all-trades, if you like.

Way back in the mists of time, the fact that we could interact with so much of the world (apart from the deep sea and the highest peaks we could get pretty much everywhere) meant that we learnt more about how to use it to our advantage. As time went on and intelligence and communication skills began to develop, the human race became ever more successful across the whole world.

We put our adaptability to other uses as well. We can readily change the way we live to suit our environment, be it the cold of Antarctica, the heat of the Sahara or the humidity of the Amazon.

The ability to amend our behaviour to suit whatever situation we find ourselves in has allowed us to gain a level of understanding of (and control over) the Earth that is way beyond that of any other species. It has given us our position at the very top of the pecking order and we have been taking advantage of it ever since.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Human: Memory

Have you ever been sitting minding your own business when a smell suddenly transports you back in time to a place you'd almost forgotten and a scene from the past replays in your mind in amazing detail? Did you then stop to wonder just how you were able to recall so much from so long ago?

The human capacity for memory is immense. As I've already mentioned in this series, we can remember the key identifiers for thousands of faces and that's just one of the things we keep in our memories. We store images and events from the past in minute detail; vast amounts of information on a wide range of subjects we learnt at school or picked up through work; languages; songs; books - the list goes on and on. The average person stores memories over a period of sixty years or more. If you were to try to express that in terms of computer storage, the number of bytes required would blow your mind.

Of course, storing huge amounts of data isn't the whole story. It's worth nothing if you can't get at it and the data retrieval mechanism in the human mind makes Google look slow and horribly inaccurate.

The human memory works most effectively by association (i.e. attaching the whole event to a significant object or sense). That's how that smell triggered off a long forgotten memory. It works with songs, pictures, sounds, tastes - all sorts of things. This is also how you remember things with mnemonics. One of the techniques for improving your memory and recall is to think of a number of ordinary objects (rooms in your house, for example) and picture one of them with each thing you want to remember. Then, to later recall it, you only need think of the associated object.

That technique works very well and gives us some of our strongest memories but it certainly isn't the way we remember everything. For example, how is it that I know that the capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator? I've never been there and don't have any strong connections with the fact but, nevertheless, I can remember it easily. Having heard it repeated a few times, I now find it's one of those pieces of trivia that I simply know.

Memory is one of the most mysterious processes that goes on inside us but at the same time it is one of the most important. I happen to think it is also the basis for our intelligence and is therefore indispensable.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Human: Dexterity

What do a brick, a chocolate eclair, a tennis racket and a piece of tissue paper all have in common? The answer is that they are all things that can be picked up by one hand.

The human hand is a very highly sophisticated tool that has played a very large role in the development of the species from the time when we first came down from the trees. There are scarcely any tasks we routinely perform that do not need the use of our hands. From eating and dressing to getting out of the house, working and playing. All of them are much more difficult to do if you cannot use your hands.

Going back to the list of items above, what then are the differences between them? Well, if you think about it, you pick each of them up and hold them all in different ways. For the eclair and the tissue paper your grip has to be light, otherwise you risk tearing the paper or getting cream down your shirt. The brick, however, will fall out of your hand if your grip is too light. Try using the tennis racket with it gripped between thumb and forefinger, the way you might hold the paper. You won't get many aces if you do.

When you come across a familiar object you instinctively know how best to pick it up without damaging it and holding it so it can be used. When you come across something new, you approach the job carefully, using your fingers to investigate the object until you have worked out the best way to handle it.

Picking things up is just one of the jobs these tools perform. It is also one of the simpler jobs they do, where the thumbs and fingers all work together. The more complicated tasks, like playing the piano or typing involve each digit working independently of each other. That these jobs are more difficult is self-evident, because they have to be taught instead of coming naturally. Once learnt, however, then they do become instinctual.

We also use them to communicate with each other, on both a conscious and a subliminal level. Where would we be without a hand raised in greeting or a fist punching the air in triumph? How much more difficult would it be to exactly express those feelings verbally?

Is our dexterity better than any that of any other animal? Well, that our thumb is opposable (i.e. bends in the opposite direction to our fingers) gives us a big advantage over most animals, but what about those that also have opposable digits? Simply put, our hands are the tools that we use to interact with the objects that surround us. Given that these objects are more numerous, varied and (at times) complicated than those used by, say, chimps, it follows that our control over our hands must be that much more intricate.

Without that control, life would be very much harder.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Short Break

I'm off work for the next two days (it's my birthday tomorrow and I'm taking Friday as well to make it a long weekend) so I probably won't post anything more until next week.

Human: Facial Recognition

One of the most outstanding abilities of the human animal is the ability to recognise faces, or even just parts of faces. Facial recognition is something we mainly do unconsciously and it usually takes just a fraction of a second. But why is it such an amazing talent?

If you count up the number of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances that you know (and recognise with great ease) you would probably come up with hundreds. That's a lot of faces to remember. But wait, that's by no means all of them. How many different people that you don't know but see on a regular basis (on the TV, in magazines etc) whose faces you also know well? Hundreds more? Thousands? And it's not just a case of recognition, this skill allows you to identify the individual that owns that face.

Let's say that the average person in the developed world (i.e. has access to television and other media on a regular basis) can recognise three thousand different people with relative ease (I tend to think that number is probably higher). I can't think of any other animal in the world that lives in a community of that size where there is a need to be able to identify individuals. Other social animals, such as chimps or wolves, can do it, but none as well as we do.

And that's not the extent of the ability, either. How many times have you watched shows like A Question Of Sport, where you have to identify someone from a few oblique shots of different parts of their faces, or a picture that is made up of the eyes from one person, the mouth from another etc, and been able to do it? What about passing an old school-friend, who you haven't seen since you were 16, in the street and knowing who they are despite them having aged considerably? This is where the pattern-matching side of the ability comes into play.

Instead of storing the whole face in your memory, it seems the mind stores each bit (eyes, mouth, nose and so on) separately but linked together so that if you see a pair of eyes that you know, you can reconstruct the rest of the face and therefore identify who they belong to. All that done in a flash. It's pretty amazing, wouldn't you agree?

An extension of the talent is being able to recognise a friend walking towards you long before your eyes are able to pick out individual facial features. Height, weight, hair colour, the way they walk plus a whole host of other factors allow you to identify them.

As a highly social animal, this ability is key to us being able to get along. There are people who lack this ability and only through a huge amount of exposure to a face (or linking it to a strong emotion) are the able to recognise it. For them, it is exceedingly difficult to operate 'normally'.

Facial recognition is a talent we rarely think about and yet do all the time. We would be lost without it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

New series

It's 7.00 p.m. one weekday evening and you settle in front of the television to watch a wildlife programme. The whispering tones of David Attenborough tells you about some animal you've never heard of before and you watch the screen in rapt fascination until he says the following:

"The thigh muscle of the Three-toed Armadillo Antelope is four times as strong as that of a human."

At which point you switch over to Emmerdale instead.

I know it's only natural for us to compare other animals to ourselves but why are the comparisons always in favour of them rather than us? We are told that a hawk can see better than us, a dog can smell better than us and a cat can hear better than us. Then there's the weight that an ant can carry, the height a flea can jump and the speed a cheetah can run. All of them better than us, size for size. I don't ever recall being told that humans are great because we can cook better eggs than sheep can.

Why is that you rarely see programmes about the special talents of the human being? (Yes, alright, I'm conveniently ignoring all the programmes do deal with just that subject, for the purpose of this series.)

To right this wrong I am going to write a few posts about the stuff that we can do that no animal can do better than us (disclaimer: as far as I know ;-) ). And I'm not talking about the obvious things, like how I'm able to sit here composing posts for my blog when man's best friend can only sit and lick his bollocks (although having seen some of the blogs out there, I'm not so sure).

Nor will I write specifically about intelligence, though we are clearly more intelligent than all other animals, with the exception of cows, who are just lulling us into a false sense of security with they're stupid mooing and cud chewing until the moment is right for them to take over the world. I mean, have you seen what they get up to in the Dairylea ads?

Anyway, it's the innate abilities that I'm more interested in, the things we do by instinct rather than logical thought. So, starting here tomorrow will be my 'Human' series.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Coffee Morning

In the end, I did go along to the coffee morning to meet Tony McWalter, the Labour MP for Hemel Hempstead. He gave a brief talk about what his job entails, focusing much more on the dealings he has in the town and how he represents us in Westminster rather than the jobs he has had in the Government. He then took questions for over an hour.

I was probably the youngest person in the room and certainly two or three decades below the average age. I almost turned round when I got to the door and saw that but in the end I went in and sat down and I am glad that I did.

I have met several MPs in the past; mostly high-profile and all of them Tories (my grandmother used to be heavily involved with the Conservatives where she lives and I went along to a few events), but I wasn't sure what to expect on Saturday. While the others were all a little bit removed from me, because they were either pushing a new policy or firing up the troops before an election or because they were simply aloof, Tony McWalter was nothing of the sort.

He spoke intelligently and honestly and was passionate about the things that affect life in the borough, like the proposals to close the hospital (which he is set against). When he didn't know something he admitted it rather than blustered his way through it.

The questions people asked were all about local issues, with the exception of one (slightly ill-informed) rant against the Mental Capacity Bill, and it was very interesting to find out more about the area we moved into almost a year ago.

The impression I took away from the meeting was that our MP is just the sort of person you want to represent you in Parliament, ready to help you regardless of your or his political leanings. And that creates a bit of a problem for me in the upcoming election. There is very little chance I would choose to vote for the Labour party in an election but there is now a very real chance I would want to keep the MP we already have. A bit of a quandary, that.

The other thing I gained from the meeting was more content for Clear Blue Skies. I had planned to write a series of posts before the election taking a look at what the Government has or has not achieved in the last few years and to help me in this, I have got a great handout called '50 government achievements since 1997' upon which to base it. Fantastic. That will come along in the near future but first I've got another short series of posts I want to write.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Common invitation

I got home from work last week to find a letter waiting for me with the House of Commons stamp on the back of it.

"What on earth is this?", thought I.

Inside the envelope was a letter from my MP inviting me to a coffee morning being held locally this Saturday to discuss 'local issues and concerns'.

Could it be that I was picked at random or did someone in the local Labour party ranks think to themselves "Here's someone new to the area, let's see if we can persuade him to vote for us in a few months' time"? Hmm.

As yet, I'm still undecided whether I will go or not but it's likely laziness will take hold and I'll just stay in bed instead. It has, however, made me think about the local issues that I would want to bring to the attention of my MP. The fact that there's not enough residential parking around our place? The kids that cause havoc on the green in front of the house? I doubt he'd do anything about them so what's the point?

Anyway, if you had been invited to see your MP, what local issues would you want to bring up?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cause and Effect

Well, more effect than cause, to be honest. Cause will follow later in the week, if I'm lucky.

The symptoms I described yesterday are having quite an effect on my life at the moment. Feeling weak and tired means that you tend not to get around to all those non-essential jobs you've been meaning to do for ages. Like painting the stairs, for example. I started that a few months ago but haven't been up to doing any more of it since then. The list just keeps on growing.

That's probably the most obvious effect this is having but there are others, too. I'm finding it difficult to concentrate at work for long periods of time so my productivity is down. That is only going to be exacerbated when the other guy at my level in the team leaves in less than four weeks' time. After that I will have even more stuff to do and be under greater stress than currently. We were already one person short so we know need to recruit two and it will be at least six months until they have both been recruited and trained and are up to speed with our systems and projects. Six months of me being the senior programmer in the team. Not what I need.

My mood is getting progressively bluer, too. Normally, I am very stable, emotionally-speaking, but the defences that keep me upbeat are slowly failing and with an unknown illness or problem hanging over me, I'm slowly sinking into depression. The situation at work won't help that, either.

I don't surrender to it easily, which can be a problem. If L was fully fit and capable of picking up the stuff I'm having trouble with, then maybe I would just give in and do less but her physical condition is not much better than mine and sitting in front of the TV while she is struggling in the kitchen just makes me feel worse. Maybe the couple of days off I've booked for next week will help.

What will definitely help is finding out what is wrong with me. I've got my suspicions but to know for sure would be a great relief. The problem is, I just don't know when that is going to happen.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I've said more than once in the last few months that I've been feeling tired and run-down and, now that things may be coming to a head, I thought I'd write a little bit more about what has been going on. This will probably take a few posts so bear with me.

Two weeks ago, I was finally talked into going to see the doctor about why I'd been feeling so crap for so long. Until that point I'd been happily (well, not so happily, actually) ignoring it and hoping that it would just go away. Head in the sand - that was me. Anyway, the appointment was made for the 13th and I had to start thinking about how to describe what was wrong with me.

Before I go into that, a bit of background. In the first couple of months after we found out that L was pregnant, she suffered quite badly with morning sickness. With her, though, it occurred mostly in the evening and meant that she wasn't up to doing much around the house. So, for I was spending at least a couple of hours on my feet every night, doing all the jobs we normally share. Quite naturally, this made me pretty tired. After our holiday in September, L started to feel better and to do her share of the jobs. The problem was I didn't begin to feel any better and eventually I felt worse. For this reason, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when this all started.

So, what is actually wrong with me? Mainly, it's just the tiredness. It's a physical tiredness, felt in the muscles and bones, rather than a mental or emotional one (though it does have a knock-on effect in those areas). There are times when my legs feel like they could give way beneath me at any moment. The slightest exercise (like going up and down the stairs a couple of times) leaves me feeling hot, a little breathless and causes my heart to pound. I get up in the morning and feel like I've just been out for a run or come back from a hard work-out in the gym. Having remained feeling roughly the same for several months, in the last week I have felt much more tired than I had been, though this may be as a result of having to concentrate all week in a training course. My energy levels are consistently low.#

What else? There have been other symptoms that have popped up occasionally and may be merely incidental. Headaches; a little nausea; some quite bad heartburn; gradual weight loss despite me eating a lot (of course, that could be due to the fact that I'm not drinking anywhere near as much).

The doctor sent me for some blood tests: U&E, FBC, Glucose, LFT - the usual Casualty terms. Then last week I got a call telling me to pick up another blood test form as there was something they wanted to check out further. This time it was FBC and ESR and the form said I had a low white blood cell count (from the FBC test). I still don't know what the results of the other tests were.

Tomorrow, I'm going to write about the effects this has been having.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Trip to the Circus

Last night L and I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Dralion, the Cirque du Soleil show that is currently touring Europe.

The critics haven't been terribly kind to the show and it is true that there isn't much flow between the different acts - no obvious story that ties everything together. However, that's the only thing I can find fault with. Of those shown on the website, the only acts that didn't perform last night were the Double Trapeze and the Foot Juggling.

The other acts were extremely good and my jaw spent most of the performance hanging open in amazement. The juggling routine, especially sticks in my mind because I can juggle and know just how difficult it is to do so to watch this guy use his feet, head, back and legs in a free-flowing routine with three, four and then five balls was spellbinding. For a few brief seconds at the end he even had seven balls going round in the conventional style.

I winced as girl in the Hand Balancing contorted herself around the arm she was balancing on and the Aerial Pas De Deux was passionate and incredible. Other highlights were the Hoop Diving and the Aerial Hoop. The clowns came on between many of the acts and brought a little comic relief to the proceedings but they did seem a little out of place amongst everything else.

The music was very good, if a little strange at times (try marrying a Spanish guitar with oriental singing and see what you get), and there was a great little percussion track, which was played softly on a loop before the performance and during the interval, that had some excellent improvisation around the basic beat. It got into my head and stayed there all night, I think.

Overall, despite the guy in front of leaning forward so I couldn't see part of the stage, I enjoyed it immensely. I could say more but I'd run out of superlatives long before I could do it justice so I'll stop here. If you can get hold of tickets then I would definitely recommend going to see it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Links

Today's post by BW has reminded me of a couple of links I've been meaning to add to my sidebar. You can see them over there in their own section called Language.

World Wide Words is a brilliant site, written by Michael Quinion, 'about international English from a British viewpoint. It is full of articles on the origins of words and phrases (from up to the moment new phrases to archaic words that are no longer used). Plus there are longer articles on more general linguistic themes and reviews of books about the English language. He writes a few new articles every week, usually published on a Saturday and there is also a weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to, if you want.

It is well worth a trawl through the various sections as they give fascinating insights into the development of English. For instance, you might want to know where the phrase 'At sixes and sevens' comes from. Or maybe you get really riled by the misuse of apostrophes in greengrocer's signs. If you are at all interested in the language then pay it a visit.

The second of the two links is the sort of collaborative project that the internet was made for. The OEDILF, or Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, is exactly what it says in the title - an attempt to write limericks to define every word in the dictionary, starting at A and ending at Z. It has been going for almost six months and has hundreds of contributors around the world.

So far, they are up to At- words and it could take decades to finish it, but the enthusiasm for the project is very refreshing. Go over there, have a look around at everything and see if you want to join in.

I'm off to the circus tonight, so that's tomorrow's content sorted already...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Nobel Prize, perhaps?

I made a startling discovery last night. One that could amaze physicists across the world.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which shows that time slows as you near the speed of light, and it is fitting, therefore, that my discovery should expand a little upon that most famous of papers.

In a nutshell, my new addendum to Einstein's work is this:

"The closer you are in relation to a pregnant woman, the slower time becomes."

The only difference between them is that in my case, you actually notice that time is running slowly whereas in Einstein's you don't. It is therefore clear that time only slows down around you, leaving you completely unaffected.

My proof is taken from my own senses. I mean, nine months has never passed so slowly before, I swear. Further, I am certain that the following nine months, once I am no longer in close proximity to a pregnant woman, will pass much faster than I would expect and, indeed, want. What further proof do you need?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Customer Service

On Sunday, BW wrote a post about how customer service at John Lewis is worse than it used to be. She also recounted the adage that someone who receives good service will tell one person about it whereas someone who receives bad service will tell twenty.

Well, I was in John Lewis on Saturday and got some very satisfactory service and if I only tell one person, then it because I only have the one reader. ;-)

About two and a half years ago, we bought a BT cordless phone in the Oxford Street John Lewis. Over the last year or so, the buttons have slowly stopped working. First it was the 1 and the 9, then the 2 went and now only a couple of the others still work. We had kept the receipt, because whoever served us when we bought it had written on it that it had a five year guarantee. At the time that had seemed like far too long but I wasn't going to question it.

So, we took the phone back to the Watford branch, went to the service desk and were told that it should only have had a one year guarantee. Then the guy went into his office to check it out. We were preparing to argue our case when he came out and said that, although the number on the receipt was a mistake, they would honour it and gave us a debit note for the value of the phone.

We then picked out a new digital cordless, with an extra handset, and paid just £25 for it. Bargain.

Looking at the receipt for the new phone, the space for the guarantee period has been left blank...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Random Thoughts

Isn't it odd how a room looks bare after the Christmas decorations have come down?

Why did I feel guilty about walking past the Underground staff collecting for the tsunami appeal fund when I've already given plenty of money to it?

It's very annoying that the Silverlink County trains don't have about two inches more space between the seats as it makes it difficult to avoid touching knees with the person opposite.

When are we going to get some snow?

You can't do your job properly when the objective keeps shifting.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Back The Bid tube trains

Coming up through Monument station this morning, I saw one of the Circle Line trains that has been repainted in support of the Back The Bid campaign. The rear carriage was red and going forward from there the next was green, then black and yellow. I assume blue followed that but it was round the corner so I couldn't see it. Does anyone know what colour the front carriage is? Is it a mix of the five Olympic colours? White? Something completely different?

Anyway, given that London's tube trains are mostly a standard dull grey (apart from coloured doors etc.), it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted with a feast of colour alongside the platform. I say, keep them painted this way even after the bid has been won or lost. They could really brighten the tube up.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Thoughts on the Tsunami

I have spent much of the last week wondering how to broach the subject of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the resulting disaster. It doesn't seem right to ignore it completely but where do you start with something like that?

The scale of the whole thing just beggars belief. You can try to make some sense of the numbers involved by giving them 'understandable' equivalents, such as the population of Bedford having died or everyone in London being made homeless, but that won't give any sense of the anguish and suffering that has been afflicted on so many. Even the images we see in the news reports aren't enough for us to grasp it as we are unable to imagine the same level of destruction along thousands of miles of coastline

In fact, the only thing that matches the scale of the disaster is the scale of the response from the rest of the world. The amount of money pledged for aid from governments, corporations and the public is truly astounding. Billions of pounds have already been given and there is no sign yet of the supply tailing off. Applied efficiently and correctly, that sort of money could work miracles.

For once, there is a sense that everyone is aware that long-term investment is needed and that many are prepared to give it. Attention will ultimately pass from the affected areas as the media circus moves on and the events of the last two weeks fade into memory but hopefully enough momentum will have swung behind the efforts to rebuild the devastated towns and villages by then for it to carry on long after the reporters have gone home. With sustained investment and help the rebuilt communities could be stronger than they were before. Who can deny that that is the right thing to do?

If you want to contribute anything substantial and you are a UK taxpayer, then don't drop it into a collecting bucket outside the supermarket or anything. Go to the DEC website and donate online instead, remembering to tick the 'Make my donation Gift Aid?' box. Doing this means the government will pay back the tax on your donation, giving an extra 28p for every pound you pledge. Make your money go further.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


In the spirit of the god for which January is named, what follows takes a brief look at what the past year held for me and what 2005 may have in store...

2004 turned out to be quite a momentous year, all in all. Buying our first house, getting a car and relearning to drive were all fairly major milestones in my life. Then, of course, there's the decision we made to start a family at which point our lives started to develop in a completely new direction. This year, of course, will always be the year our first child was born and that alone makes 2005 a pretty big year before we're much more than a quarter of the way through it. Everything else that we've got planned pales into insignificance besides that one moment.

Physically, I have had more time off work for sickness in the last twelve months than I think I ever have had before and I finished the year still feeling out of sorts. Hopefully, this year will see me get to the bottom of this general malaise and work my way towards recovery. Of course, given the sleepless nights due to us over the spring and summer, that may be a hope too far.

From a professional point of view the last few years have all been good and it's unlikely that I'll find 2005 to be any different, though in many ways it will be harder. The year may even bring a return to study and exams as I begin to work towards a professional qualification. Then there's the new role that I'm taking on, which will require me to master a whole set of skills that I've never encountered before; changing nappies without throwing up, singing lullabies and understanding a language made up of nonsensical sounds. That will certainly be the hardest thing I have to do this year.

And what about Clear Blue Skies? Well, I'm afraid the baby is set to dominate my thoughts for much of this year, just as it has done for the last few months, but I hope 2005 will see a return to the sort of stuff I was writing and organising early last year. That would make it a good year, indeed.

New Year, New Me?

New Year Resolutions have never been my thing. I don't think that simply entering into a new year is motivation enough to change the way you live. And, if there is enough other motivation to do something different, then why wait until the beginning of January to do it?

Having said that, I do want to write here more regularly than I have been doing over the last six months or more. There have been times recently when I have deleted half-written posts for no reason at all and spent my lunch hour with my nose in a book rather than think about writing something else instead. I can't see that I will be able to post something every day - that would be asking too much, I feel - but two or three times a week would be better than it has been.

So, I'm making a resolution to write more. Not because it's New Year. Because I want to.