Friday, 31 December 2010

2010. MONTAGE!

2010 has been an eventful year. In January I was looking for a new job between trips to Scotland. Jack was going to Honeybuns nursery 3 days a week and Helen was well on her way to a managerial promotion. Now, Jack is in nursery school 5 mornings a week and a nursery 2 afternoons. I'm now a full time student and Helen is freshly unemployed. We spend a lot of time watching Ben 10 or Scooby Doo or going to soft play areas and lots of other childrens' activities.

I've lost count of how many times I've come to January and found little or no resemblance at all to it's predecessor. Once, a few years ago, I found myself in England. A few years later I had a 2 month old boy and was working in payroll and as a technical writer looking at a couple of very promising promotion opportunities. My mother once remarked on this aspect of my life when I was about 16. Since I was about 6 years old, my life has been nothing but continuous and dramatic changes. She wondered if I'd noticed and what I thought of it. I had noticed but didn't have an answer, I still don't have a good one. At least it's not boring.

Anyway, here's a quick pictorial montage of some of this years journey.

Jack had chicken pox. 10 days of itching and all that. It's certainly not the worst illness of the year, shortly afterward he had swine flu, which was fun. I don't have a picture of that... sadly.

X-rayed. Jack occasionally has very vivid dreams. He'll wakes up thinking things have happened, such as wetting the bed. This was the night he dreamed he swallowed a coin... That was a long night in hospital. To this day he still insists that he really swallowed that coin. While I'm writing this he's telling me I didn't dream it, it was real.

We made it to Utah, thanks to my being made redundant. Jack met much of my family for the first time during those two weeks of craziness. Looking back we really wish we'd stretched it for another week. There just wasn't enough time.

Jack talks continuously about returning to America, he misses all of his cousins and especially Grandma and Grandpa and Grandpa Bob. At least once a day he reminisces about the trip and begs us to go back soon... We're working on it.

While in America we took Jack out for his first cinema experience, Toy Story 3. We went all out and bought him his own popcorn, sweets and soda. He loved the movie and has now made going to the cinema a regular family activity.

Jack - center - also met his half-sister for the first time. Samatha - right - has not had virtually any contact with Jack, or me for that matter in nearly ten years. By some miracle my mother managed to arrange a trip to the aquarium for us. Jack loved meeting his sister, and her sister Austen - left. Samantha and Jack got along in no way like brother and sister normally do. They laughed and played together like best friends. So many aspects of their personalities are so similar it's was a little spooky.
Samantha and I now write each other as regular as we're able. It means so much to me I can't even tell you.

Jack's first attempt at a bubble beard. They're bubble mutton-chops really but the spirit is the same.

 Jack turned 4 this year, he's growing up.
This year Jack has had many different jobs.
He's been a fireman.

A drummer.

 A Pirate.

A Skeleton.

A Reindeer.

Buzz Lightyear.

 The skull on a pirate flag.

And a shepherd in his first school play.

So here we are now at the end of 2010. Jack is Ironman, Helen is looking for a new job and I'm just putting the finishing touches on my video game school assignment. We've had a lot of successes this year and a lot of firsts. We've fought illness and job loss, we've traveled, re-united family and re-established old connections. We've had good new and news so unbearably bad that I can't bear to even think about it.

In the new year we hope for more firsts and seconds and fifths (slight Monty Python reference there for those that may have missed it). We have 12 more potentially life altering months to get through, with the events of the last couple months we're already looking at a very windy road. God only knows if we'll end up in such an alien place this time?
- We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
  - T. S. Eliot


Saturday, 25 December 2010


Here is a message from Jack aka Ironman. As well as some footage of the unwrapping process.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

End of Term.

I made it through my first term. It's been a pretty steep learning curve over the last 13 weeks, some classes have been easier than others, some teachers have been better than others. All in all it's been a good experience and I'm looking forward to the next term.

So far I think I'm looking at distinctions all around. One of the classes is a little iffy and another hasn't been graded yet but I'm moderately confident in both cases.

It's incredible how much we've all learned in just 13 weeks. Some of the lecturers have tried to point this out but I think largely it was lost on most the students. On one occasion around about week 5 we were shown a game engine that a student from another school had built, after class we all sat around in the SU for lunch and discussed (in depth) how each of us would go about building something similar, or how we thought certain effects had been implemented. Just 5 weeks before none of us would have even had the vocabulary for such a conversation let alone the know how. Similar discussions etc have taken place several times since then, it really is incredible how much we've learned already.

Generally I like most of my teachers, one in particular has really inspired me, sadly I have no classes with him next term. Most of the teachers got to know me pretty quickly, probably due to the lip ring, American accent and the fact I ask a lot of questions. I've found them all to be very helpful, however not always entirely knowledgeable on many of the subjects that I inquire about, and very approachable.

When it comes to my fellow students I'm generally at a loss. Being a student is great because you get loads of discounts and freebies. But going to school with them is a trial, I think in general they just puzzle me. Most of them are hungover at least twice a week. They don't sleep, some of them don't eat, many of them stink. The teachers use the term 'The Great Unwashed' when referring to the student body. I guess I just have a hard time remembering that they're just kids, still figuring it all out, I wasn't any different.

What gets me is all the students that don't take any of this seriously. Now this I get, I really disliked school and everything that came with it until... well... September this year. But lots of these kids are the same kids that miss two of three lectures, leave their work until the last minute and drink their student loans but then head out to London to protest the rise in tuition... I sat in a class test on the last day of term and looked around at the 80ish students, easily 50 of whom I'd never seen before and couldn't help but think that maybe there was more to the reason behind the change to a 9k limit and budget slash. I suppose it's just their level of maturity and experience when compared to mine... yup.

Things I've learned, outside of the curriculum.
  • There's great potential for ecological research in a University setting. Several of my teachers caught 'freshers flue' and catch it every year. Apparently this years was particularly bad.
  • The same strategy I use to relax before a gig works just as well when applied to presentation assignments and demos. Why mess with some superstitions?
  • When going to extra effort when creating a 3d animation, make sure that you have access to a PC that can actually render it when you're done.
  • Video games are surprisingly easy to make when you borrow a working framework.
  • The majority of academics, are nuts.
  • Always ask about student discounts, you'd be surprised what you can get. Free cheeseburgers for instance.
  • Universities should consider the resulting gender imbalance before moving all of their technical classes to their other site... or perhaps the did.
  • Always hand in your assignments the day before they're due. But have the finished long before that.

1 down, 5 (or 8 I'm not sure) to go.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Change back to the Dylan flag


Jack told me this morning.
I miss Dylan, I think I'm going to change my flag back to the Dylan flag.

Lately Dylan has been a little neglected. New toys and teddies have been hogging the spotlight.

Bagpuss in particular has been the main contender for the top slot. This is a pink and white striped cat that we got Jack due to his obsession with another Bagpuss at his day nursery. He's had Bagpuss since October and we were starting to think that Dylan had been usurped. It seems though that Dylan is not out of the game. This morning Jack expressed regret that he's been giving all of his attention to the other teddies and that from now on, the true hierarchy would be restored with Dylan on top.

Today Jack has taken Dylan everywhere with us, making up for lost time he says, it seems that Jack intends to repair the damage to their relationship.

Today Bagpuss has only managed to make it downstairs, while other new teddies remain in bed, Dylan made it to McDonald's and then all the way to Stafford.

Monday, 20 December 2010


I'm planning some changes to this site over the Christmas break, new pages and such. I'm pretty much just going to make them as I have time. So make sure you have a look around from time to time.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The School Play.

I'm finally one of those parents for whom the highlight of the month is a school play.

Jack's very first school play came around. Helen and I were really looking forward to it. We bought our tickets early and counted down the days. We both made efforts to keep the whole day clear and planned a trip to McDonalds as a reward for performing well. We acquired permission to film it, though they explicitly said we couldn't post it on the web, sorry, and we went armed with the camcorder.

We were so happy to find out that Jack was playing a shepherd, partly because we already had a shepherd costume that still fit him, but we didn't like the idea of him playing a cow, or a rock. I didn't know a lot, or anything at all, about the play and assumed that the cows were more or less scenery and that the shepherds were a somewhat bigger role. It didn't really occur to me that these kids were only three and four years old... so things like role differentiation were not likely.

The school play was a recorded narration speaking between group sing-a-longs that roughly resembled the nativity. The kids all sang along to 5 or so songs that were popular songs (Disney related mostly) that had been adapted lyrically to include nativity related subjects. Sometimes they danced, sometimes they played along with air-instruments.

Jack did none of this, I'm not sure if it's because we were there and distracting him or what but for the whole ten minutes Jack did his own thing while most of the other kids followed the routine as best they could.

He fidgeted, and giggled, and talked to his neighbor Conner. A nearby teacher very patiently tried to encourage him to play along but he paid her little mind. At one segment all the kids had to sway from side to side then spin around a couple of times. Jack missed this all together, was then reminded by one of the teachers and spend the next 2 minutes spinning around. When prompted to stop he struggled to stay on his feet.
Some of the other children had similar things going on as well. One child was was pulled out of the group very early on when he burst into a fit of tears. Some of the kids shouted when they were certain of the words and then barely hummed when they weren't.

Jack spent the second to last song with the flaps of his hat wrapped up on his head like a turban, the teacher tried discreetly to pull them back down but this of course just encouraged him.
The last song is when he pulled his hat down over his eyes, he thought it was very funny.
I sat in the audience with my camcorder held high and proudly pretended that mine was another child.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Here I am again with another battery powered bicycle trying to get to school for that fabled 12p per day.

I bumped into A.S. Bikes a couple weeks ago at the caravan and motorhome show, yes that's the type of thing that I do for fun... Anyway I had a long talk with one of the salesman/engineers that we running the thing. I told him about my experience with Batribike (I hadn't returned it at this point) and implied that I might be in the market for another one very soon.

So I called Friday to make a Wednesday, 1 hour, appointment, (as is their request) to see the bikes. Their showroom is only an hour or so away from me. I thought the appointment was a bit of a hassle at the time because they had very limited times available but in the end was glad to have done it that way.

The staff are very good, during my hour session I was given a complete run down of the bike including a training session on everything down to adjusting the derailleur cable. Booking the appointments lets them do all this for each customer on an individual basis.

The bike.

I've got the ElectroBike Plus which is basically their MK3 model with bigger wheels and wheel related things. I picked up the bike myself on Wednesday Oct, 10th.

It's a folding bike, which is great for me and I wish I'd given it more consideration the first time around. The bike folds down to something that you could sling over your shoulder and take on the bus, A.S. even sell a shoulder bag for this very purpose. It's great because it means if I ever get stuck somewhere and need to be retrieved via a combustion powered vehicle, it's not a problem, the bike will just fold up and go in the boot.

It's a dutch style bike which I've never riden before. The position of the handle bars to the front wheel is taking some getting used to but the seating position is much more comfortable. My shoulders and back don't ache at all after having ridden for over an hour.

On full assist the bikes is supposed to get up to 30 miles, this may very well be an under-rating. I've ridden the bike to Stafford and back (24 miles) using the throttle assist almost the whole way and still have over half power.

The specs:
It's got a 250W motor powered by a 36V lithuim battery. This is a pretty common spec I've found among the higher ranges. The bike weighs 24.75 kilos with battery, which surprisingly just a fraction lighter than the BatriBike. It's got 6 gears on a twist grip, meaning no buttons, you twist to change up and down. The power controls are a great deal more simplistic that many of these bikes, you've got a twisting handle throttle and a 3 position switch... that's it.
Further specs can be found on the website, those are just the ones I thought I'd mention.

The Ride:

The bike rides nicely, it's smooth and light. I mentioned that the steering is taking some getting used too. I can get all the way to Stafford and back having hardly broken a sweat if I want to and in good time as well.

The simple set up of the power assist works very well. The bike has three settings, Off, Economy and Assist. On the Economy setting the bike only gives assistance when you twist the throttle. The idea is that you pedal along until you want a little help and then twist. The assist mode I'm struggling with a little bit, only in that I can't actually feel it working. When the bike is set to assist mode the motor is going all the time, it's calculating how fast you're pedaling (not how hard) and then helping you along. I can get this to work when the bike it stationary and I can hear the motor engaging when I'm riding but I genuinely can't feel any assistance, I should note that in assist mode it's supposed to only assist up to 15ish mph so it may just be because I tend to drive around in the highest gear and am typically moving 12 mph+ everywhere I dunno...

Good looking, comfortable ride.
Great performance.
Fold-able which means cheaper insurance and more portability.
The amount of information you get when you purchase one of these, on things such as use, care, setup and maintenance is really nice.

Clearance. It's proving quite difficult keeping the pedals in a position where they won't scrape on the ground when I take a sharp bend at any speed... I'm really having a hard time with this because every time the pedals hit the ground I lose my balance, I've nearly come off twice.

I think I preferred the torque sensors on the Batribike, measure how hard your pedaling rather than how fast just seems more logical.

A.S. Bikes are only open 1 day a week. This is for a very practical reason though. A.S. Bikes are actually A.S. Toys, they run two businesses at once and simply have to balance their workload. When I arrived for my appointment I was greeted by about 100 or so puppets hanging around one side of the showroom, the other side had all of their display bikes neatly lined up.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Cuddly Room.

I've gone on an on about Jack's love for teddies in the past, but I feel compelled to write a little about it again.

Recently Jack has almost doubled his roster of plush toys and he couldn't be any happier with himself. But it also meant that his bedroom is a tad on the crowded side at night. One night while getting Jack ready for bed Helen noticed that she literally couldn't see the floor for the teddies. So Jack picked his favorites, Dyan, Bagpuss and a couple others and Helen moved the rest into the spare bedroom.

A couple days later Jack wandered into the spare bedroom after spying one of his teddies. He immediately started relocating every teddy he could find into the room so they could all have a great big cuddle in the newly declared 'Cuddle Room'.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Y? Because we gotta?.. Really?

This time of year is what I've come to think of as the party season. Nearly all of Jack's friends from the play group, and many from school it would seem, were born within four months of each other. The result being a birthday party of some description virtually every weekend between October and December.
Last year I'd personally had enough after about the first three. I'm not hugely social and since we were seeing the same people in the same setting each week I quickly ran out of things to speak to them about.
We all hosted our respective parties in different locations. Some were at soft play areas where the were usually hundreds of children, parents, chaos and noise everywhere you looked. The organisation was weak and the food overpriced. The amount of money some paid for these parties was cringe-worthy when you got right down to it.
Some were held at homes where the only real problem was crowding. None of us have very big homes and once all 30 of us are there it gets hard to move about.
Generally the kids seemed to have had a good time which really is the whole point but I was glad when it was over. Evidence that I wasn't the only one has come through a little bit this year as much more effort seems to have gone into keeping the costs down and such and the parties short.
With that in mind this year has been quite different so far. The parties have been much more uniform mostly in that they've all been held at the same place, Fuzzy Ed's. Basically it's a wacky warehouse around the back of a pub but the kids like it and the parties are ok. One by one we all succumbed to the lure of Fuzzy Ed, mostly due to price, but the food is good, the parties are consistent, limited to two hours and the kids like it.
So far we're about three quarters through party season. We've had even more parties this year due to Jack receiving a few invited from some of his new friends from school, by some extraordinary coincidence they've also been at Fuzzy Ed's. It's an even better scenario for me as since I don't know anyone I have to get through it by being friendly, speaking when I'm spoken to and otherwise sitting in the corner writing my blog on my phone. I bet they're just thrilled that I came along. Helen does much better which makes up for it I think.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device. Amazing.