Stuff and Nonsense

Why do we sometimes just want something when we know we don’t really need it? Or is it just me?

Case in point is the sad case of the muffin warmer.

No I’m not trading euphemisms (although I could, the very odd coverage today of what some are claiming is the first example of sexual intercourse between prehistoric fish in a lake in Scotland is hysterically funny). I actually mean a dish to keep English muffins (just differentiating there from the fluffy coffee shop calorie explosion variety) snug and warm for the journey between the grill and the butter and assorted other delights that might be waiting in our Sunday morning ritual breakfast. A few weeks ago we were at a National Trust property where in the dining room my eye was taken by a silver domed vessel sitting on a patterned silver base. The information to hand indicated that this was in fact, a muffin warming dish. The base concealed a separate chamber into which boiling water could be poured, with a liner placed on top, and then the freshly toasted muffins. Finally, the ornamental dome would hide the muffins from the eyes until Sir and Madam were ready to eat their still warm bread related delights.

I suddenly thought,’ I want one of those. It would be so useful, for our Sunday morning muffin festival that forms breakfast for me and the Lovely Wife. Even the last one will still be gently warm, ‘and immediately I began to taste said warm muffin, with hot melted butter and maybe just a dash of Gentleman’s Relish.

I think the room guide was becoming a little nervous as I stood there looking intensely at a piece of 1920s silverware with a look that probably genuinely be described to have contained an element of ‘hunger’.
‘It’s a muffin dish,’ she said, cautiously.

The reality that I might be tackled by an over protective room guide (and probably as a result lose my Life Membership) shocked me back into reality and we moved onto the next room.

But the muffin dish had wormed its way into the back of my brain. I had never heard of a muffin dish. Now that I knew such things existed I knew it would not let me go until I at least looked into acquiring one of my very own.

I know. I do not need a muffin dish. I do not live in a huge country house where my time down to breakfast is uncertain (as I make breakfast) or there are miles between the kitchen and the breakfast room (they are next to each other). I do not need a muffin dish any more that the Lovely Wife thinks we need a Maid (she does not agree with Mr Sondheim on this point, cannot think why).

But I still looked it up on eBay.

Yes, there they were. A previously unknown race of 1920/30s silverware (mostly silver plate) designed primarily for the keeping warm of muffins and now being sold in various states of disrepair, some of the sellers desperate to convince any potential buyer that, actually, they could be used to keep other things warm, such as vegetables. As if. Muffins or vegetables… Not the hardest choice to go with. And not particularly expensive for a piece of historic tableware, my evil Shopping Pixie kept saying in my ear. ‘Look,’ it squeaked on,’ look, there’s one with that ‘buy it now’ option! You don’t have to do that annoying auction thing that means only the last few seconds of the auction actually matter and inevitably you’ll lose out anyway to someone much more practised that you are for anything that is actually desirable.’

But I resisted. The good Reality Pixie pointed out how much stuff we have and the complete waste of money this would be, and that the reason it was cheap was because it was a piece of junk best consigned to history.

But I bought it anyway. Bad Pixie sniggers, good Pixie sighs.

I regretted it, of course. Especially since then everything I have heard or read has gone on about people being tied to their stuff and how we should live more simply.

Still, I’ll have the warmest muffins in the street next Sunday. That’s something I suppose.


Be nice to each other (starting with yourself)

They were playing ‘I’m still standing’ by Elton John this morning on the radio, and I was reminded that for an old friend of mine (OK, kind of ex-girlfriend) this was one of anthems, one of the songs that made her feel better when not everything is going right. I think most people who are interested in listening to music have their smile inducing tracks, just as you if I am ever feeling down a good dose of The Princess Bride will inevitably perk me up. Quite often the Lovely Wife and I talk about Beachy Head songs at the other end of the spectrum, of which there are the tonally obvious (Sinead O’Connor warbling Nothing Compares 2U for example) to the annoyingly cheerful sounding tracks that are, on reflection, incredibly depressing (personal favourite – ‘Hello, this is Joannie’ by Paul Evans, where *Spoiler alert* the protagonist is left pathetically listening to his dead girlfriend’s answering machine message in a fit of guilt).

I was wondering about what lies for me at the positive end of the spectrum for me and immediately came up with ‘Thinking of You’ by the Colourfield and ‘Bluetonic’ by the Bluetones (love the cheeky second verse). But I am sure I can come up with others.

I think it is important we have things that can pick us up when we are down as being happy in the head is a something that we need to hold onto. When we cannot be cheerful about something then I think that we are in a slippery slope.

This musing all stemmed really from spending last week near Ashdown Forest and East Grinstead. I knew nothing about East Grinstead before booking a cottage nearby, but it is an odd little place, not spectacular in any way but interesting for me in two ways. Least interestingly is that having spent a number of visits to the Cincinnati in the US, which kind of sits at the border of three US States I think I have now found the English equivalent, as East Grinstead is at the border of four counties. More importantly, it has self-styled itself rather proudly as the ‘town that didn’t stare’.

During the Second World War the Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead was one of the places that a lot of injured servicemen were treated that had suffered burns or other disfiguring damage. The surgeon there, Archibald McIndoe, was one of the first to realise that skin grafts worked better if the skin still had connections to blood vessels etc. so managed a much greater success rate in treating such injuries. But it was not that which made things special here. They also realised that, in the end,’ not matter how successful the surgery there would still be extensive disfigurement, and the crucial insight was that the mental impact of this could be just as important on the patients as the clinical outcome. So he encouraged his staff to socialise with the patients in the town, to show openly that while people might look a bit odd, that they were perfectly normal people that should be treated normally with acceptance and warmth. The patients met at the self-styled ‘Guinea Pig Club’ in town, in a classic bit of British depreciation and by all accounts it was a huge success. The town not only accepted their guests but positively became proud to have them. And the condition of the patients improved as a result. For some more colour see,,1945108,00.html or

The hospital there still specialises in this kind of treatment, and although The Guinea Pig Club has gone in its physical form it continues to provide support. But it just brought home to me again just how sometimes someone thinking a little differently – and with a hefty dose of compassion to balance the technical skill, something scientists of all types should keep in mind – can make such a difference. More generally, we have a responsibility to be good to each other – and ourselves – because with a relatively low effort we can all have an important positive impact on our neighbours. And looking at the news every day we need that so much.

An Unhealthy Addiction?

I worry myself sometimes that I am becoming dependant on being connected. I’m writing this in a converted water tower on a farm in West Sussex with a manége on one side (as opposed to a ménage – à trois or otherwise – which is something entirely different and an unfortunate misunderstanding of some, going along with saying ‘J’ai plein’ when you really want to say that your host’s meal was particularly delicious and filling and not that you have some news your parents are probably not expecting – especially if you are a boy) and on the other side a field with three large goats that the Lovely wife and I have decided to refer to as the Marx brothers (OK, get over the fact they are obviously female, it’s a joke). We decided that calling them after Donald’s nephews was less appropriate giving the looks they gave us this morning when we did not have any food for them.

What is the point of the ramble? Well, we are out in the country and watching a day of unexpected October sun go down quite beautifully, and all I can be grumpy about is that the cottage has no wifi. I mean, really, do I need to be that connected? I have a phone signal after all (which is the only way this is going to be posted before Friday) and I’m hardly cut off. But no, I want full on, browse worthy internet.

When did that happen? I’m guessing this is a bit like a dive into alcoholism but with less damage to the liver, an insidious creeping of dependency that thinks that looking at Facebook on the generic phone device is not enough; you need it widescreen and faster. Full access all areas to those websites needed. Now, quicker and all the time, or I am just not satisfied.

I hang my head in shame and as with the alcohol promise to give it up for a while for the good of my (in this case mental) health. But will I follow through on the promise? Well, maybe. And a nice place in the country is by far the best place to do it, as the British countryside is one of the best places to cleanse myself from the stress my South East England busyness inevitable exerts on me. One of the reasons I love staying in Landmark Trust properties, for example, which include bits of castles, follies and generally unloved but quite wonderful historic and quirky buildings is that they do not have radios, TVs or DVD players, let alone an internet connection. They are places to go and rest, relax, go for walks and come back and cook some honest local produce. I have yet to stay in one and not find it a memorable (and from a writing point of view) inspiring experience.

The place I am writing this in is not a Landmark trust property, but is close. I need to relax and enjoy it for what it is and realise the one of the biggest pluses is that it does not have on tap internet, as rather than tapping this out and then trying to get it uploaded via a dial up connection (!) I would probably be doing work email, and trying to hide it from the Lovely Wife (work porn?).

Lucky escape, eh?

Waiting for the Bats

We were very happy to see the bats.

The last few years we have got used to seeing these lovely little creatures doing aerobatic displays over the garden or over the park, after the swifts, swallows and martins have finally given up on their shift and popped off to roost. Mostly the bats are pipestrelles, our commonest bat, a cute little pointy teethed mouse with wings (general point: if there is a choice between you sighting being something rare and exciting and normal and common the latter always wins – that big bird in the tree will turn out to be a pigeon. Inevitably, that peregrine falcon is actually a – still in my mind rather exciting – sparrow hawk).

But just because our little bats are common does not mean we cannot be excited sitting in the dusk of the evening on the decking at the back of the house and watch them sweep over, executing impossible looking turns in pursuit for a particularly juicy (and suddenly unlucky) bug.

But for most of this summer we have missed them. We thought that maybe we just were not being observant. But as time as gone on we have become fairly sure that the reality was there were actually not there, or at least that locally to us at least something bad has happened to the bat population.

I suspect it was the winter we have just had. It was so mild that many of the hibernating animals began to wake up. Unfortunately for the bats, who are insectivores and need to eat constantly when they are awake in order to get enough energy, there were just not enough bugs about; I suspect many of them starved. This may well explain why there seem to have been so few around this summer.

Hopefully, in some other areas it might be different, and I am hopeful that next year will be better for my furry friends. Certainly this fine summer has produced plenty of insects, so hopefully those that did make it through will have fed (and hopefully, bred) well. Now what we need is a proper winter. Well, we’ll see.

Actually it has been a slightly odd year for some other wildlife. Wasps, for instance, have been oddly absent from my life this year. They were all over the place last year – both the Lovely Wife and I were stung for the first time in over a decade by unprovoked wasps; they were strangely aggressive. This year I have had hardly seen one. They are around, as the nest in my dad’s loft shows; but mostly they seem to have kept themselves to themselves this year. Usually they get aggressive later in the year as they hunt for food having finished their communal breeding and have to fend for themselves and get, well a little desperate. I can only assume that the lack of aggressive attempts to steal food is down to abundance of fruit and other insects to prey on; another reason to enjoy what has been, on the whole, a good summer.

But it was good to see the bats were still around. As the smell of the summer jasmine fades and the leaves finally begin to change, there a few more moments of summer to savour before the weather finally changes.

Different Strokes

I had a weird timey-wimey university experience this weekend – thankfully I came through it OK without being ravaged too much (more) by the time winds and was left still wanting more to study more. Shame about the time and money – current and future students, and their parents, you have my sympathy – so another project is probably going to have to wait a while until I can locate some funding. But at least I can enjoy the achievement now and can perhaps claim to have accidentally pitched myself at both ends of the academic spectrum.
This was brought home to me with the Open University graduation ceremony at the Barbican in comparison to my previous Oxford experiences. I don’t recall those officiating making gags in the Sheldonian in Oxford (although considering a lot of it was in Latin, maybe they were slipping in a few one-liners). Secondly, dancing across the stage to be received by the Vice Chancellor (who was also more than happy to wave cheerfully at supports and be in at least one selfie) was most certainly not allowed. And finally, some of my fellow graduates were not even wearing the correct gown! You would not be allowed into the building if that was the case in the Oxford (and I am not joking – in my day at least if you turned up for your final exams without the entire correct academic dress you would not be able to take the examination.)
I would have said it was enjoyable if it had not been ridiculously long – bless the Lovely Wife whose poor hands were dropping off from all that polite clapping. It was certainly different. Was it better? No, I don’t think so. The ceremony on Friday fitted the institution – the Open University has an incredibly diverse collection of students and does not have the traditions that some of the physical and older universities have. It has to be sensitive to that. One thing for example that impressed me was that the Vice Chancellor while effusive in his handshakes with most people very carefully avoided any contact with the Muslim ladies who were graduating. Subtly but carefully done.
It is just as well the Open University does not have to carry the burden of tradition as it would drag it down. It is happy being its own thing. Oxford on the other hand carries its tradition stoically on aged shoulders, but at least it fits. Personally I like both; they both recognise and celebrate the study within two different contexts.
Having celebrated with some great steak and ale (sadly, in another difference from the Oxford ceremony, Friday’s graduation dinner was at my expense rather than the college) I then fell into a time warp as I attend the open day at my old haunt at the Oxford Department of Zoology (or Biological Sciences as it is now). Surprisingly interesting – I must blog about the nitrogen crisis at some point as I was completely unaware of that impending disaster – it was also nice to meet some current students and find out that some of the things I remember as a student – such as the time when a fellow student managed to shove a razor shell through his foot on a Pembrokeshire field trip (not one to try at the beach guys) have now slipped into department folklore.
But the weirdest point was walking into part of the building and looking around at all the computer screens with a dawning realisation something was wrong. And then it came to me. No library. With most journals online, there is no need to have and keep physical copies so the space where I sweated over essays hoping that having read the abstracts and the conclusions was enough to get the point and therefore avoid having to trying to read the impenetrable paper itself (goodness scientists are terrible writers when it comes to readability). It was very odd, and it was just as well that they had put out some rather nice New Zealand sauvignon to end the day to ease the pain of the loss of my student history (well, this is Oxford after all, what do you expect, Echo Falls?).

Schools Out: For now at least

Late last month I had an odd experience of walking through Camden Town in a dark suit, in the middle of the day. I say odd as normally walking around in London on a weekday in a suit means you blend in. In Camden, you are the only one in a suit, once you glance around at the host of eclectic fashion statements on one front and awkwardly attired tourist parties on the other. It is an odd place. It is also where you find the London building for the Open University. Which was where I was on my way to in order to have my Graduation photo taken – several weeks before the actual event – to save time ‘on the day’. It was a relatively painless exercise – apart from negotiating possibly the scariest receptionist I have come across outside the ranks of Oxford Porters – and I was glad to get it done, because I am rather proud to be collecting my degree this week, on Friday at the Barbican.

I had been toying with the idea of doing some more study for a number of years before I actually did anything about it, half heartedly looking at prospectuses and then just not getting around to applying. The main stimulus came from the youth work I was doing at the time; seeing the teenagers go off to university probably contributed to a nostalgic longing for the past and my Oxford Zoology days. Secondly, since I suspected that I would be involved in encouraging some of the young ones through their studies it seems appropriate to me to share some of their pain, if not the intensity.

So the last five years has been a bit of a journey which ends with a BA in Humanities (with Creative Writing and Religious Studies). And I have learned quite a lot about myself along the way too, which might reverberate with others.

  1. Be careful about what you are studying versus what you love. I knew that I wanted to explore the humanities and was initially attracted to heritage related studies, as it is an area I have always been passionate about. In the end that heritage module was the biggest struggle of all of them, and I hated it. It took something I had enthusiasm for and crushed it mercilessly in a torrent of figures, conflicting priorities and harsh reality. Interesting I am sure, but not when I realised that my interest in heritage was through the heart and not the head.
  2. What you might enjoys studying might not be what you expect and be prepared to change course. The flip side of this was creative writing. I was terrible at creative writing at school and approached this aspect of the earlier modules that covered a range of Arts topics in a poking your toe in kind of fashion) with much the same trepidation as I did music appreciation (another heart versus head conflict for me). But I found I enjoyed it immensely. I am not any good at it, but I enjoyed the act of creation as something in itself, of bringing into existence stories and characters that never existed until I created them. A couple of hundred short stories later I do want to get into writing longer form, but that may have to wait until I have a lot more time on my hands to give it the attention that they deserve. This has been the revelation for me in this course (though I am still not keen on poetry).
  3. In the end, be realistic with expectations. You can fake it up to a point but in the end the quality of the result will be impacted by how much time you put into it. As my University work had to be in the spare time of my spare time any thoughts of high grades should have been slaughtered on the cold alter of realism early on, but that did not stop me stressing about failing. This despite constant and unswerving support from those close to me reminding me that I was doing this ‘for fun’ so why should I get so stressed about it? Sigh. If only it were that easy.

But I have gotten through it, with a somewhat flattering 2:2 and while I do not intend to jump back into more studying just now, I am sure that at some point I will come back to it. I guess that the main reason will be that it was just fun learning new stuff –both about the topics I’ve read and about me as a student.

The awkward moment when you realise they’ve put you in the next age range bracket

You know what I mean. When you are filling in a survey and you are putting in the demographics, or looking at the results of your race. Suddenly you realise that you’ve crept into the next bracket up – with the really old people. This weekend was one of those (sadly increasing) moments in my life when I suddenly feel old. As I slogged around the 13.1 miles of the Great North Run this year I found myself looking at the usual places and not seeing much change. Then I looked around me and realised that everyone seemed at least ten years younger and in some cases much more. Either that or they were the grizzled veteran type runners, often with rather odd running gaits that look incredibly inefficient and/or painful and slow, but of course ’work for them’ (proven as they power past you unconcerned at the moment you are seriously beginning to flag). It was not so much that I felt physically old. That said I do have more aches than before and that last few miles are starting to be less and less fun. The battle against the waistline (always a struggle for me ever since childhood, which makes my heart break when I see a lot of the overweight kids these days, but that is a rant for another day) is becoming harder. I’ll never, ever get back to my half marathon best time of around an hour and a half (in fact, if I did not have the official results I probably would not believe now I could ever have run that fast) and struggle to keep it to two hours. Slowing down is inevitable without making the lovely Wife a complete running widow or being a lot more focussed; and anyone who knows me well will also know that focus is not my strong point and I am a lot more likely to waft around like a particularly chunky butterfly. No, I just start to feel the passage of time. This year the Great North Run was my 20th consecutive time, having first ran it in 1995. It is quite sobering. I have some younger friends who were not born when I first crossed the line in South Shields. Part of me is proud to reflect on that, part of me is shell shocked by what that means. For some reason it never seems as bad when I’m thinking of my 22 years with P&G, although that also causes some trauma when your memory goes past the number to think about the details of those years and the people and memories that time represents. I think coming to term with the passage of time for me is a matter of keeping as physically active as I can, while getting the mental state right – for me. Some things you have to cast off and let go. The place I grew up in is gradually being whittled away as I go home – areas that were open fields that I used to run in are turning into housing estates; the main reason I go back to the North is my dad, and beyond that really, much as there is much to recommend the city that is Newcastle these days, I do not think that I will be going up for any other reason. So I’m letting go, and this will be my last GNR. It’s been fun, I feel I’ve achieved all I can achieve (including the silly fancy dress option a few years back) and by not taking up my entry next year someone else will succeed in the ballot. Meanwhile I go out when it is my choice and before my knees give way and start something else. That is what I find most helpful in avoiding feeling old. Being blessed with young friends thanks to previous youth work emphasises the importance in me of starting new things and keeping something fresh in the portfolio because I see it in their freshness; whether it be something like a new volunteering post, or my Open university degree – or even just shaking up my work routine – if you can introduce something new you can recapture a little bit of the enthusiasm of being young. It is not the elixir of youth, and you cannot avoid getting older, but damn it, you don’t have to grow old gracefully. I’m going kicking and screaming with all the low animal cunning I can muster.

Terms of Engagement

Well the bucket challenge was more fun than expected – at least for the Lovely Wife who is now on photographic record of taking undue pleasure in dowsing me. Almost feral delight I think you might say. Maybe this is a new way of keeping marriages together; and annual opportunity to abuse your husband with cold water. Of course, I get my own back pretty much every day by being annoyingly awake and cheerful immediately after getting up, even at stupid times in the morning.

I note incidentally that it seems to be unspoken protocol not to nominate your other half. I can kind of understand that. I did not nominate anyone – that is probably cheating – and in some other cases where the result might be more interesting and insightful than how high you can scream I certainly wood and I did have a list; but in the end I was torn between not wanting to embarrass certain good friends and also offending by not nominating them. I think I’ve told my potential victims privately and they’ve been done by others already, with one notable exception.

The politics of this, the rules of polite engagement interest me. In this social media world that I did not grow up in and is constantly developing, there is not much in the way of accepted rules – bar those imposed by laws and the service providers which are mostly obvious. But there are certain aspects of cultural interaction which are unspoken and unwritten but impactful. The awkward moment when someone at party says or does something that is followed by silence and the nervous checking of watches/suddenly everyone wishing they were somewhere else and had not actually heard or seen what just happened. Fill in your own buttock clenching moments, most of us have them.

But with social media, I don’t know what the rules are and I suspect most people not only do not know what they are but even if they do develop an etiquette I often feel things move on a pace so much that even those who know the game now might be lost to the next evolution.

Is it a bad thing? I am not sure. I think that this is mostly nuances but when you start talking about cyber bullying etc it does start to matter. Sometimes it is obvious and no different from the bullying in the school yard that I and many others experienced. But I am more concerned about the bullying that is within the new rules, the ones I do not understand and if I am looking out for young friends I may not pick up. If I do not pick it up and they do not ask for help, I worry that just by being out of the new cultural loop I am hamstrung from offering the help and support I might be otherwise able to offer.

That said, there is much wrong with existing culture, and the nature of global and constant connectivity will undoubtedly change some things for the better. Communication is an absolute key to allowing us to live together in anything approaching peace. But it is still and will always be a double edged sword. And in this case, if I’m to understand it I need to listen and be prepared to be taught by people much younger than me, because then I can find the space we can work with to make it as positive a set of interactions as possible.

Finally, going back to the ice buckets, in terms of water wastage I think it is a good time to remember we can all contribute a lot more to this by turning the taps off when we are brushing our teeth and spending a little less time in the shower. The latter case even more since as well as the water usage you are using less energy, and while it may feel sometimes that water issues are more local – although, in some senses, they are not – the effects of energy usage are and will be global.

But please do spend long enough in the shower to warm up in the warm water after all that ice…

There’s a hole in my bucket

One of the less depressing things around at the moment – and between the weather and the multiple international crises there is plenty to depress – is laughing at this odd thing about ice buckets. It seems pretty much everyone in the public eye is involved and it is quite fascinating to see what has basically become a giant public game of dare.

The fact it is all wrapped up in a charity drive gives the silliness some authenticity, but in the end it is all rather silly. I feel I can say that considering my own charity based recent endeavours (potentially even sillier) but what interests me this week is not so much what or why but the very fact the thing exists at all and more worryingly, what might be next.

I guess it is partly an artefact of the social media age. Nothing could spread quite this fast without the likes of Facebook and Twitter to propagate it. I guess also I should expect it to become wall to wall – by its nature this nomination process means an exponential growth for the period it is still trendy, which my spider sense suggests is just coming to an end.

Even within the current fad there has been a natural push to stand out and to perhaps be funnier, or more extreme. I don’t think this is a problem if we are talking about people in the celebrity eye because most of them have agents and the like who will be quite interested to make sure it is properly staged and not too stupid or dangerous. The less well advised among us though may not have those checks and balances and while the risk from pouring a bucket of cold water over your head is probably pretty low (another reason for popularity?), people can come up with some surprisingly weird and wacky variations.

There is a dark side to this – individuals can have their arms twisted by the threat of peer pressure and whacked by the velvet glove of ‘it’s for charity’. Not everyone is strong enough to ignore it/say no and not feel bad about it. It can get out of hand and people can get hurt – if not physically then the mental strain of either being forced to do something they do not want to do or face accusations of being a stick in the mud or a coward.

But, as I say, I’m more worried about the next phase, because there will be one. This whole thing appears to have been so successful in fund raising that I’m sure the next phase is already percolating somewhere. The bandwagon is rolling along and people will still continue to jump on it or take inspiration (if that is the right word) from it.

It reminds me of the whole nude/nearly nude calendar craze. The original Calendar Girls story is funny and innovative and rightly caught attention. But I don’t honestly think we need the endless supply of copycats that still limp on today (mostly involving fit students which kind of unfortunately make them increasingly look like exercises in objectification). It is well past the sell buy date as an idea and it is not funny anymore (although I am sure there is a spectrum between class and crass). Also, I am not sure everyone persuaded to take part realised the legacy for themselves – those pictures are always going to be out there, thank you again dear internet. My recent unclothed activity did have to be done through the filter of acknowledging that something I would not like might turn up out there. If I did not accept that then I would not have done it – but I am old and ugly so I do not care too much (well, mostly).

Another example is charity singles – in the mid to late 80s you could not move for the things and for every ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ there were several versions of ‘Doctor in Distress’ (and yes, I maybe one of the few people who bought that – indeed I have the true horror that is the twelve inch version of that. If you don’t know what I mean, then but honestly, folks, just say no. Oh hang on, that’s a different cringe inducing experience, isn’t it? ).

So I am waiting for the depressing and inevitable slide into mediocrity of the current craze and hope fervently that what replaces it is well thought out and witty. I’m not holding my breath though (and that’s not a suggestion either). And no, I haven’t been nominated for the ice bucket challenge. Yes, I would do it (going running in the UK about guarantees at some point an identical effect). What I am not sure about is who I would then nominate and whether I would do that at all. People should not need to be challenged to be charitable.

Birthday Suits and Songs

Well the weather held off, I did the streak wound London zoo but cannot say that regular nudity outside of the bathroom is ever going to be my thing, at least not without substantially less beer and much more time in the gym. I did find it amusing that it was clear who the naturists were and who were there to do it for a laugh/dare/good cause/never going to do this again people largely to do with just how aggressively undressed some people can be.
Should anyone feel the urge to sponsor me then the link is below for the last time and therefore I will draw a veil over the whole thing (as I would say if I was going for a cheap pun).
I will warn people that I did not completely manage to avoid being on the internet, but thankfully with the exception of three seconds in a video post I am only seen half wrapped in foil, a bit like a strange looking oven bound turkey. I look about as comfortable as said bird would probably do, and I have not even been stuffed.
So your internet surfing is probably safe.

So from moving quickly on, I thought I’d go from nakedness, to birthday suit to births and songs about people’s kids – a link I think anyone should be proud of. I was listening to the radio this week and they mentioned that Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’ was a song about his baby daughter (obvious in retrospect, as it contains the line ‘only one minute old’) and it set me wondering whether it was compulsory for songwriters/artists to write a song about their offspring at some point. For example, after having an early hit about one daughter, Josephine, did Chris Rea feel indebted to write ‘Julia’ for his younger girl? I guess that it was a cathartic act for Joel Pott of Athlete to write something about the plight of his prematurely born daughter (the marvellous ‘Wires’). They’ve all been at it – Barenaked Ladies (‘when you dream’), Neil Hannon’s ‘Charmed Life’… They are mostly sweet, emotional outpourings about the new life that they have helped to bring into the world. It is not a sub genre I had thought of before but the more you think about it the more you can come up with. Knowing what a song is about – if anything – always rather puts me in a different place of reference to the song which can be positive (as in this case) or perhaps negative to. For instance, ‘Everything I own’ by David Gates, for the band Bread back in the 70s and covered many times by all sorts of people, was written in response to the death of his father (that is a whole different genre, come to think of it, stand up Mike & the Mechanics ‘The Living Years’ to get the tears going). Additionally it can make it just a bit creepy when someone reuses the song or uses it in a context unaware of the connotations that the lyrics may bring. That said, I’m a lyric motivated person and I know many people that pay no attention to lyrics at all, so I guess that is the defence of causing a bit of a, um, ‘let’s just overlook that line’ moment or two.
The other sub-genre that the Lovely Wife came up with is a slightly different one which we thought was quite fun is love songs written for wives/girlfriends who subsequently became ex. For example, John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’; Billy Joel’s ‘Just the way you are’; ‘Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’. Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ almost qualifies but not quite; despite a high profile affair he is still married to the said Lady apparently.
So what is my favourite song that someone has written about their own child? My first thought was that ‘Wires’ was the front runner, but in the end I’m going for the Lightning Seeds ‘Life of Riley’. It’s just so full of joy, looking forward to a life stretching out ahead of a new person in the world – I think it is impossible not to be carried along by that spirit, wherever it takes.
Unless your name happens to be Riley, in which case you probably hate it.