Monthly Archives: August 2012

Artist in training – Part 2

This is the second post in the continuing series where I attempt to get better at art. I have another drawpaint* that I have done.

This is a view of our back garden. The first one of these that I did was completely from imagination. This is an attempt at real life which, it turns out, is a bit harder.

As before there is a video available here of how it was done:

*This is the best I can do for a name to describe these kind of paintings that are done by drawing on the iPad.

Museum of Me

When I was a small boy, I had a powder blue sweatshirt which had the face of Micky Mouse on it. I think it must have been from when I was around four years old. Because as a child it was my absolute favourite item of clothing, it was kept each time we moved.

When I was around sixteen or seventeen my brother and I were asked to put away our childish things. I can remember, and I am willing to admit to you now, that I decided to keep this item at that point because I thought it would be a good item to have for the museum about me that they would have when I was famous. I can remember this clearly, the certainty that this would be necessary.

Now we could dwell on my teenage lack of self awareness, or on how I was sure I would be famous but I had no idea how I was going to do this, or on how a branded sweatshirt rather than a handmade sweater from my Grandmother might not have been the best item. Or we could focus on another aspect, something that came to me as I thought about that sweatshirt.

What would you have to do to get a museum about you these days? There aren’t really museums about people. Exhibits happen I suppose. The US Presidents get a library, but only an exhibit in the library is about them and I guess they wouldn’t include a sweatshirt from when they were four there. I think there is a museum for the Formula One driver David Coulthard but he must be a rare exception and sports isn’t really my specialist subject.

And don’t be confused, it’s not that I’d like a museum of me these days. What I’m astounded by is not just that I wanted to be famous, but so famous that they would build a museum to me when most famous people I can think of don’t even have one. The worst part was that was I was seventeen when I was thinking this.

Maybe the only way to get the museum would be to build it myself and then I could be famous as the weird guy who built a museum about himself.

Ben stepped out

Ben stepped out of the cave. It was morning, but how early? The birds were still singing, he remembered that this meant that it was early. He had looked at his watch to check, but of course it was smashed. Lying on the floor was the rock he had used. He had placed his phone on the ground before slamming the rock into it, but somehow he hadn’t wanted to take his watch off to smash it. He thought he had been more attached to his phone, but actually it was his watch that was harder to destroy. Or was it that he wanted a clear reminder of what he had done? Was it that?

The ground had got colder than he had thought it would at night, and harder. It couldn’t have actually got harder, he must have just become less comfortable with it. He had always loved his bed, loved not just to sleep but to lie, turn and envelop himself in it. Would it continue to be the hardest thing to give up? Beth didn’t even come close.

He’d had woken up. Now he couldn’t remember if a noise had stirred him, but he was sure he was close to waking because of his realisation, his realisation that now that he had smashed his phone he had absolutely no way of contacting Beth again, or she him. He didn’t know her number, only his phone did. Those twenty years had been bonded together so fragilely by habit. The fact that he and she had kept turning up at the same house, the fact they kept their phones on. The fact they continued to behave how the other one had expected them to behave. But she had broken that, she hadn’t done that. And now neither had he.

On never throwing anything away

My Dad wrote an absolutely brilliant comment in response to yesterday’s blog post, so great in fact that I decided to add it as its own post. Enjoy…

I had a box, it was labelled H2 on the top in marker pen, it was the box that I packed my notebooks, notes and papers into when I left university. H2 had been my last room. I had used this box before in previous moves and it had survived the tumult of these wanderings. It came with me when I returned to my parent’s home, whilst there it was lodged in the attic.
After a bit my job took me to Bristol where I shared a flat, I was keeping my chattels light, so the box didn’t come with me. Some time later I moved back to work in London, then bought a house in Kent; it was time for the box to come home, I collected it from my parent’s attic and moved it to the corner of the room I used as an office, it sat there with the H2 on the top, but I don’t think that I ever opened it.
It wasn’t long after this that I moved to work in New York. The easiest thing to do in a relocation like this was to move absolutely everything to our new house in New Jersey, of course the box marked H2 came with us.

A few years later we returned to the UK and box H2 and all out other stuff was put into storage whilst we looked for a place to live. We bought a place in West Sussex and soon after were reunited with all the things that had been in storage… The box was back.

You accumulate things over time and make assessments as to whether they are of value and worth keeping, or are they things that just have to go as they take up too much space. Box H2 was opened, the contents inspected, the maths notes, which were very comprehensive and probably my best effort, looked at in amazement… I don’t remember how I did any of that stuff. It was obvious, after 25 years I didn’t need the box or its contents any more, it had to go.

We roll forward some years and I sign up to study Radio Astronomy at Manchester University, It s bonkers, I should have just gone to the visitors centre at Jodrell Bank for a look round, but no, I’m on a course. Naturally, the course has quite a high maths content and I find that I have forgotten what I used to know. Oh, if only I hadn’t jettisoned my H2 box with all its maths content, written in my own hand and in a style that I could understand.

I’m told that the best book that I could use to get back up to speed is Engineering Mathematics by K.A. Stroud. I get a copy and start to work through it. I get a very strange sensation, it’s like I’m reading the maths notes that I used to have in box H2, Stroud lays out his stuff just like I remember my notes were. I make good progress and things come back quite quickly. After some time and out of curiosity I turn to the Preface of the book just to see… Wham, oh my god, it’s Ken Stroud who taught me maths all those years ago that has written this book…

The notes in the box marked H2 are back, I threw them out years ago, but now have them back in a book. Ken did his trick again, I got a distinction.

When will it be time to throw the book out…? I can tell you, I’m not throwing my notes out again.

When’s the latest you’ve ever thrown anything out?

When’s the latest you’ve ever thrown anything out?

Oh, this is a shameful one. When is the latest you’ve ever thrown something out? There are food things way past their sell by date. Newspapers that I was sure I was going to read, and yes there are mementoes which perhaps I no longer need and have had forever. But the thing that comes to mind was once, many years ago, my housemate and I didn’t throw out our Christmas tree until Easter.

I am still ashamed. Now that I’ve unburdened myself, please feel free to use the comments to share yours.

Situational Creativity

In response to my question about what have you practiced the most we had some great comments from Lukeh and Nick.


I have been practising to be a good person. It’s an ongoing project that one.

I always practise swimming to get better but I just enjoy being in the water and relaxing with lengths anyway. Then there’s writing too, as I’ve said not too long ago as well as my drawing. General creativity is my biggest long-term practise I’d say.


Nick Ollivere

I think, as you can probably guess, writing is the thing I’ve practiced the longest too, although it comes close with playing guitar (which I no longer do as much). I think I actually started writing lyrics to songs before I learnt to play the guitar. I think LukehMuse has hit the nail on the head with creativity though – before writing I was always making up stories in my head etc. Gill would argue that she’s not creative and wouldn’t be able to write anything, but I think everyone is creative to a certain degree (in cookery, for example).


Nick’s comment about Gill got me thinking about another underrated form of creativity which I’m going to dub “Situational Creativity”. What do I mean by this?

Well, first of all, because I was talking about practicing stuff people immediately leapt to things like writing and drawing etc, and of course the thing people have been practicing for the longest is probably breathing or does that just happen to you? Speech? Language? Comprehension etc. But these are too basic, too broad. But people do understand a wider form of creativity than just the artistic creativity of making or producing something. There is of course creative problem solving, the infamous thinking outside the box. And much as it’s easy to scoff at the terms etc there is some truth to it. Some people are much better at problem solving than others and those people tend to practice problem solving a lot.

But I think people know about that really, what I am thinking of essentially is deciding what to do today. Some people do the same thing every day and get bored, other people do a large number of fixed things on a strict rotational basis and get bored. Other people do those things and don’t get bored I’m sure. But some people are really great at saying, “Ah I know what I’m going to do today, I’m going to call Molly and Simon and we’re going to go to the Zoo. They’ve never met, but they’d get on.”

Now to many of you the person I just described sounds like a nightmare. But this is just an example. An example where Molly loves animals and has been wanting to practice her photography (and doesn’t really know anyone good to teach her). And Simon who just got a new DSLR, is actually pretty good at snapping photos and likes to show off a bit so will be happy to give her some pointers.

This is that friend who phones you and says, “so that was crap, do you want to come over and not talk about it?”.

Creating the situations that we live in, and being creative about them is a skill. It can be something that you do for yourself or others. But there is a skill to it and it is creative, and I think people don’t notice it because the only thing it produces is annoying Facebook wall photos, and lasting friendships.

The Ambient Appreciation society of Stoke Newington

Time to visit the Ambient Appreciation Society of Stoke Newington. Or AASSN.

As Veronica adjusts the aircon in the “Non Denomination Shared Community Space in association with PepsiMax” main room, she can hear the whoosh swoosh of Malcolm’s hover roller skates*.

“Always first,” she thinks, “so keen, goody bloody twoshoes”. She thought this without being aware of herself always being first.

There’s a noise of a creek, thump, creeeeek, thump, creeek, crash.

“What has he found now?”

Malcolm enters dragging a bit of wood that is carved to look like a rectangle with another rectangle inside it.

“What,” Veronica asks, “is that?”

“Oh, hello to you too Veronica.”
“Hello Malc”
“Thank you”, says Malcolm without a side to his comment, Veronica isn’t sure that Malcolm has a side to anything.

Malcolm starts busying himself with something in his bag.

Veronica makes a noise with her throat, “Ah, hem”.
“What’s up V?”
“That,” she pointed hopelessly, “what is that?”
“Oh this? This is a door. It creeks when you open it.”
“A door?”
“Yeah it’s crazy isn’t it. These doors are impossible to find, well they are with the door hole attached.”
“And we need this why?”
“Well for door creeks of course, lots of Ambient music has it in. I mean if we can get a swing, a well and a sheep we can do Virginia Astley live.”
“Sheep are extinct.”
“Hey, a boy can dream.”
“I hear Tom has been practicing making a new noise.”
“I’ve heard that too, but…”
“But what?”, said Veronica.
“I mean, it’s great that Tom is doing that, is filling in the gaps, but I want it all to be real.”
“I know you do, Malc.”

* Malcolm used to have a hover board, but felt it was way too mainstream. His hover roller skates were in fact some roller skates from the 21st Century fused to a hover board which he’d painted with invisiblity paint.

Reasons to be cheerful – Part 8

I’m not kidding, this is a fun moment.

Take nothing for granted especially not an article which includes the line, “Want to mess with your mind? Without the man in the photo, the photo of this man wouldn’t exist.”

Lessons learned

So here it is, the ill-advised parenting post. I say ill-advised because it is, perhaps, unusual for the fathers to write anything. It’s all a bit risky us getting involved in writing about this stuff, which I think actually pretty accurately maps to the experience of a lot of fathers. In many ways, there is a bit of a feeling that somebody is going to respond to one of your opinions with, “that’s nice dear, but the professionals are here now”.

And I mean this well. Fathers shouldn’t be the centre of attention in the process, this isn’t something that needs correcting. Many men do need to be more involved and supportive, and there are lots of good programmes to help encourage this, but men need to remember that becoming more involved does not mean driving the process. I can still remember overhearing a man from the other side of the maternity ward telling his partner, “No, no, that’s wrong, how is he supposed to feed like that? You’re supposed to hold your breast more like this.” That is not being helpful, quite the opposite in fact.

Dilbert Cartoon

So with all of those caveats in place here goes.

1) You will be so tired and stressed at times you will actually consciously re-evaluate all previous points of tiredness and stress and move them down a rung. I know you’ve been tired and stressed before, but not like this. The only thing that can sustain you through this is knowing that it will pass, it will get better. It doesn’t seem like it will, but it will.

2) It will change everything in your life, but in a weird way. Do you remember how you seemed to be really busy at uni or 6th form but always had time for Countdown, Blue Peter, Neighbours, Home and Away and going out to the pub and a gig and the movies when you had the money? And now you realise that no, you were never really that busy before. You could go back to that life right now if you wanted, but you don’t because going and getting a job is better really. For fleeting and not so fleeting moments you dream about your past life and think wouldn’t that be great to be able to sit around drinking lots of tea and watching TV and not having to worry about much, but then you remember living with 6 other smelly students who kept drinking your milk and never washing up and you remember why you left, got a job, and never want to go back really. Same here in a lot of ways. You do sometimes wish you could go back, but you would have to give up the person you’ve made, and that seems impossible now.

3) The hardest thing to get over is the lack of choices you have about everything, which is also the easiest thing in a way. I used to like to be able to say, yeah I’ll do that tomorrow, or perhaps tonight we should… But you can’t do that anymore. Having a baby does take some of the spontaneity out of life, but on the other hand, it does mean much less dithering. You do end up just getting on with stuff. You will almost certainly feel a little out of control about things though.

4) Relax. I am reminded here of the moment in the Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges is shouting at John Goodman to calm down and he’s replying, “calmer than you are dude, calmer than you are”. Telling a stressed person to relax is likely to, quite rightly, get you a poke in the eye. What I mean is this, figure out what the small number of key things are for you. Eg. feed baby, get sleep yourself, change baby, have a plan to get food for yourself, know what feet to foot means, watch out for choking and drowning, have a way of knowing what the temperature in the room is. And then everything else is secondary. Didn’t do the dishes, forget it, you’ll either get to it or you won’t. Is your baby putting on enough weight? The only thing you can directly do anything about this if you are breastfeeding is be less stressed which is not going to happen if you are stressed about the weight of your baby. Seriously… Less smart, less able and people with fewer resources have brought up and kept alive lots of people. In fact people have more than one baby! It will be ok.

5) Nappy bags. Everyone will tell you about getting nappies, taking a car seat to the hospital, blankets, a pillow from home for mum etc, all good advice. But somehow people don’t mention nappy bags in all of this. You put the nappies in these small plastic bags before you put them in the main bin so the smell doesn’t get out. They are very handy.

I hope this doesn’t sound like me complaining, it might change your life… but it’s totally worth it.


The invariably poor advice of Isaac Newton – Part 1

It is little known that Isaac Newton, in addition to discovering Gravity and describing the laws of motion, worked for the Cambridge Advertiser as an agony uncle. His column was feared lost until recent research discovered this trove of material in Steven Hawking’s fridge.

March 1721

Dear Sir Isaac,

I am writing to you for your most revered advice. My wife has noticed that I am beginning to go quite bald, only 20 years ago I had a full luxurious head of hair and now I have but six hairs left on my scalp. My wife has taken to mentioning this to me on a regular basis and find this is affecting my stature around the home. My wife has the most foul breath, should I mention this to her to try and strike a balance? Or is there a way, using your science, to restore my bonce to it’s earlier state?


Jeremiah Killkerry


I read with despair the report of the calamitous situation you find yourself in. In fact when I read your missive, I fell into a reverie so deep that I was 20 minutes late to luncheon.

My first thought was to utilise the hairs that remain on your scalp, I engaged a young man who works in the kitchen in a practical experiment. I first bade him capture 6 bats from the clock tower of the college, we then fastened the bats to six of the hairs on his head and then frightened them. The hope was that the bats would pull more hair out from within the head thus enabling the production of a hair weave. However the bats merely broke free, and one of them also bit him, and thus I do not recommend this solution except in extremis.

I have since asked the lad to hang upside down for the last 6 weeks. I have discovered this wonderful life force which I call gravity, I was hoping that this will pull hair out of his head, however it does seem to have killed him, so again I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this treatment.

However this did lead me to thinking about a solution to all of your problems. If you suggest to your wife that she clean her foul mouth out with drain cleaner it will likely freshen her breath and permanently end her complaining. Although my editor insists that you consult with your physician before “cleaning” your wife.