jfs: (boy with cat)
I have come down with a cold; my first in a good year. I made it through the day of an offsite meeting on pseudopsuedopsuedoephadrine and chocolate eclairs (the cream filled rather than the Cadburys). Interesting conversations, though I think I may have banged on a little too much about building a brand internally and marketing for Security. That may have been the drugs talking.

I've been listening a lot to David Bowie recently, unsurprisingly. After I heard the news of his death I was surprised to find I didn't own any of his songs (bar Heroes on the London Olympics soundtrack album) but a quick trip to iTunes and 3 best of albums ranging from 1969 to 1987 appeared quickly. As always with a best of, there's the tracks you know, the tracks you like and the tracks that really stretch the definition of 'best of' to breaking point. Sometimes, the same track fits all three categories.

The week passed and I just spent 3 hours looking at 'travel systems' in Mothercare. A travel system, for those not in the know, is a transformer pram, that can be a carry cot, a buggy, a pram, a dalek, a climbing frame, a dessert and a floor topping!

I didn't find it too bad (though they cannily have a Costa in store, with lots of seating for when you need that mid-shop caffeine and sugar fix). We didn't buy anything - too many choices to process - but we have a list of our favourites. This afternoon will be at home, on my computer, shopping as an introverted God intended, over the internet.

Speaking of too many choices - Why Finnish babies sleep in boxes is a good read and a great idea. The number of choices I'm seeing as a new dad are frankly overwhelming and making me tharn. Being sent a box with the inherent reassurance that someone else has gone through and thought of everything you might need to get started is a great idea.

And if you're not going to get sent one by the Finnish Government, you can just order one over the internet. The €400 is pretty good - the contents bought separately from Amazon come close to €300 - I'm not so sure about the Moomin themed box though - €200 extra for some Moomin themed diapers and some other bits ...
jfs: (boy with cat)
Some people seem to know what they want to call their kid; I'm paralysed by indecision.

I'm not so worried about matching their name to their personality. At the point we're legally obliged to put something to paper, I'm fully expecting young babba's personality to manifest as either cute, vomiting, burping or pooing. Or all 4. Babba will grow into a name (or names - I'm a big fan of middle names for that reason.)

But names are important. So we're pouring through baby names books, one alphabetical chapter at a time. And each name has to be tried against our surnames to make sure it sounds okay when said aloud. It has to have the 'what do the initials make?' test, and pass the 'what's the worst nickname we can think of?' barrier - which, it has to be said, has lead to some hilarious and somewhat disgusting conversations in the car on the way to visit family. I'm so proud ...

One of the problems I've got at the moment is LRP - specifically, how does one tell a non-geek partner that calling the child 'Elspeth' would just be too weird? William, Benedict, Arthur - all have associations. (I've not suggested Jarane - it wouldn't be appreciated). Can't go for Alexander / Alexandra (my all time favourites), because, well, we're not having a Junior in the family. (Is it still Junior if the daughter is named after the mum?) Alix's male family name is 'John' and we've been roundly forbidden from that (her dad, her uncle, her cousin, her grandad, me. That's a whole lot of Johns for someone who only has 4 living male relatives ...).

So - at the point that a lot of the pregnant couples we know are saying 'We've narrowed it down to our top 5 for each sex' we're able to say 'We have a huge list of names we don't want the child to have, and a whole list of disagreements - she likes Reginald, I'd rather not have a Reggie. I like Mary (for family reasons) - Alix can only think of 'Of Scots' and given her love for Queen Elizabeth (both varieties) I'm not going to win that battle.

So what did you do?
jfs: (Default)
My niece reads as voraciously as I do. Those of you who have been to my house know what that means. So for a couple of years, I bought her the Swallows and Amazons hardbacks - a couple for birthdays, a few for Christmas. Even when she was desperate to find out what happened next, and her Mum said that she could go and buy the books with her own money, she didn't want to. Those were the books that I bought her, and this was a thing between us.

So you can imagine when I bought the last one for her, I knew I had a hard act to follow.

Come last April, I looked around the books that I thought she'd like, and that would mean something to her. And I found the 'Hunger Games' trilogy - strong female protagonist, sci fi, exciting. Perfect. But one of the reviews made me pause - I hadn't read the books and my niece is young for her age. So I ordered them for me and read them first; if they were great and appropriate, I'd buy my niece her own set. If they were either rubbish or not appropriate, then I wouldn't.


The books are fantastic.

There's no way I want my 13 year old niece reading them. Not yet.

So you can imagine when I saw that a film was being made, I was slightly concerned. Even more so when I saw that it was going to get a 12A certificate.

I went to see it tonight.

It's everything that the books are; dark, melancholic, disturbing. It's a great film - it's a long time since a film has put my heart in my mouth for me and it happened several times tonight. The cuts they make to the book all make sense, and are few and far between.

It's a powerful story. And it's one I'll watch again. But not one that I'd suggest to my sister for my niece. Not just yet.

Even before I'd seen the film though, I'd heard ... not the soundtrack. I don't know if this is common but alongside the soundtrack album, there's this one - - The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. As best I can tell, these are largely songs that fit the theme, or that have been written to complement the film - certainly the lyrics in many cases are too apposite to not reflect the story.

And it's just beautiful.

I've been listening to it on repeat pretty much for the last week or so, and there's one track in particular that I've played over and over - I might as well, because when I'm not, I still hear the chorus. Friends call this an earworm. When you have a track that you just can't get out of your head. There's a way out - you need an emergency backup track that's even more tenacious, to drive the earworm out.

But I don't want this one to go, not yet.

jfs: (Default)
My dad is using Facebook - as he's got older, he's got more interested in keeping in touch with family, and with researching our family history, and Facebook facilitates both. He's already found a branch of our family in the States and been in touch with them, and he's been looking at geneologies using online tools, and he's even got our family tree going back to about 1840 up on some geneology website somewhere.

Last night, as I was cleaning and polishing some armour, he rang for a chat. Partly just to say hello, partly to get some tech support. So there I was, hands covered with oil and rust, phone cradled under one ear as I talked to my dad about image formats and uploading files using Picasa to Facebook. This mix of the ancient and the modern is very much a part of my life that I like.

Anyway, somewhat jokingly, I pointed out that he'd tagged a photo incorrectly; there's a shot on Facebook of some of my Uncles and Auntie Denise, and it says it's a photo of me. "You've mixed me up with Uncle Jack", I said.

"But he was John Scott too", my dad replied.

My Grandfather Scott was John, and one of his sons was named after him. Not at all uncommon, especially with a large family like my dads. But to ease confusion, John was called Jack, and that name stuck with him all his life. I never heard his brothers or sisters call him anything else (well, not in polite company) and to me and to all the children of my generation, he was Uncle Jack. I guess his parents called him John (and I'd love to know if he was Jack when he was good, and John when he was bad, and John Joseph Jack Alouisious Scott when he'd been awful - my dad must have got that from somewhere ...)

I have an Uncle Frank, on my mum's side. Short for Francis, of course, and named after his father. And I'm named for them both too. The names I've carried with me all my life are not just mine, but they're also a connection to the places and the people I am from.

One of my very first posts on and about LiveJournal made the point that this wasn't about technology, but about connections. I'm glad to see that Facebook has the same potential.
jfs: (Default)
In a good news / bad news stylee ....

Bad News:

My dad is working with his local Tory party as a canvasser and will be overseeing the elections / vote counting for them.

Good news:

He's lost 5 kilos with all the walking around.

So, it's official - The Tories - Bad for the Country, good for your waistline.
jfs: (Default)
I remember drilling for oil on the moon.

It was a summer play scheme, back in the 70s sometime. It was held at Madeley Court, which was both the local sports centre and a rubbish secondary school. When the high point of a school is that they have access to a dry ski slope, you know that their standards are low. (I am aware that some of my ski-ing friends will disagree). Madeley Court was also the source of the worst bruise that I've ever received that wasn't inflicted by the NHS and related to that, a slight fear of mixed hockey. But that was a couple of years later.

There were a lot of different activities going on at the play-scheme, and I've no idea how or why I chose the one I did; the memory I have starts when I walked into a room. A large, low table was set in a clear space, and an even larger lump of clay on it. I remember that the clay was brown, and smelt very different to dirt; a cleaner, almost clinical smell. Not quite the taste of a petit madeleine, but still easy to bring to mind after all these years. I must have been 8, I think; nearly 9 as it was the summer. The lump of clay was huge; I remember it being larger than I could reach around with both arms, and we were gathered around it by one of the two adults leading this activity.

What's this? she said.

I'm certain that after the requisite delay that occurs when you pose a question to a group of kids who don't know each other and haven't worked out the pecking order yet, and aren't certain that volunteering an answer will result in a duffing up later, someone said 'Clay'.

She smiled.

No, that's what it is. What is it?

And she was laughing, but she was one of those people who knew how to laugh so that you got the joke, rather than thinking that you're being laughed at. I remember her being an adult, i.e. old, and dressed strangely; now I'm certain that she was in her late teens or early twenties, and dressed in that hippy / bohemian style that I really find quite attractive. Who needs psycho-analysis when you have LiveJournal?

But I digress. Eventually, one kid piped up;

It looks like the moon.

And she laughed out loud, and said Yes! That's it! It's the moon! What does the moon look like?

It has craters?
one child suggested.

This doesn't have craters, does it? Then she pointed at three of us. Why don't you make some craters on the moon?

It really didn't take a lot more encouragement for three young children to get dirty, so they jumped forward and started digging holes in the clay with their bare hands.

What else does the moon have? she asked.

Rockets!  said one boy, with great enthusiasm, and she pointed at the spoil heaps that were appearing next to the crater-excavators. Show me, she said.

And that was the rest of the afternoon.

We took the clay and we told stories with it - bases were built and occupied by every nation we'd ever heard of, whether they had a space programme or not. Flags were raised and rockets erected. She kept asking us questions, and we answered, and everything we said, we built. I noticed that rockets needed fuel so started building oil rigs and wells and piles of oil drums, heedless of any envionmental consequences - but this was 1977 and I was eight; I'm not sure the environment had made it to Telford by then.

We ended the afternoon covered in splats of clay, with the world our storytelling had built in front of us.

My niece, who is 10, emailed me yesterday, and as part of the conversation said that she preferred English to Crafts at school. She didn't like "making things", she said, but she really liked writing. I can't blame her. In secondry school, I detested Woodwork;  I think my parents still have the fish statue that we all had to carve somewhere. My sisters (my niece's mum) is lithe and graceful - you can imagine it dropping off of its stand and into the water, darting away. Mine is ugly and solid; the sort of fish that we'll only eat when all the pretty ones have become extinct. So I do understand my niece; I hated not being able to transfer what was in my head into solid form. The things I made were never as sleek or graceful as how I could describe them. Never as alive. I never managed it.

Well, except once. The time I built oil wells on the moon.
jfs: (Default)
Candles are such a transitory memorial. They're part of my family
tradition, born out of long years of Catholicism; the response to bad news
is to light a candle or two in front of an appropriate saint.

My Dad's family are Marian; most of them, male and female, took Mary as a
Confirmation name. I didn't. When you're 11 and standing in the middle
of a packed cathedral with all of your friends around, it's a difficult
thing to do - instead I chose Patrick out of a sense of connection with
the land that all my family come from. Sometimes I regret that, but in
truth, I know I didn't have the strength at 11 to put up with the jibes
that would have haunted me through my teenage years. I'm not sure I'd
have the strength now, but I would have the ferocity to fight back and to
defend my decision. Is that growth? Perhaps.

This morning, on the way to work, I stepped in to the local Catholic
church - it's about 100 feet away from my office. We're actually
bracketed by two churches - one Catholic, one CofE. Like Liverpool, the
Catholic church is a squat, 60's building, a church almost in the round.
The CofE church is of an older style, with a steeple and bells. But the
Catholic church has a peace within it, a chill that comes from the stone
and a quiet that muffles the sound of the traffic mere feet away.

Because of repeated arson and vandalism attacks, the Catholic church is
not open all hours. The front doors swing wide a half hour before each
service, and shut a half hour after each finishes. Other than that, if
you wish entrance to pray, you negotiate with the owner of a small cafe
whose premises back on to the church and if he considers your motives
pure, you are let in.

Actually, that's overstating the case - I merely asked if I could light a
candle and he showed me the door. When I returned because there were no
matches available in the church and it being early in the morning, no
other candles other than the Sanctuary light lit, he lent me his own
lighter. When I returned his lighter and left, he wished me a good day,
and God speed in an Irish accent.

I knelt, and I prayed, two decades of the rosary, and I lit two candles.
One for Uncle Jack and one for the rest of us.

Candles provide a focus. A sharp clear light in the darkness. I remember
a Roald Dahl story where a man learnt to see through playing cards by
studying intently the borders of light and darkness within the candle
flame. The light redeemed him; he started using his ability to win money
from casinos and fund orphanages.

Candles are transitory, though. No graven memorial, no stone to last the
ages, no marker that will last beyond the flickering of the flame and the
guttering of the wax. In a philosophical mood, I could wax lyrical about
the candle as a metaphor for life. But I won't.

All I will say is this - that the candle will inevitably burn out, and the
darkness will overcome it. But we can always light another candle, even
if it is only for a while.

January 2017

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