There are worse things I could do

Hastily snapped this, as we went into the shop. But to be clear, the mystery shopper wanted the same number of fillets as en croute. Perhaps they were having coeliacs around?

An engineer’s or a computer programmer’s brain behind this list, I fancy. Or perhaps ex-military. Eggs, large*. Vanish, small. Tea, milk two sugars. I’m assuming the tin (large; cut) is bread. Purée, accent (approval).

I’m hesitant to forgive the ‘water’ though. Come on. This is England, and plastic is overrated. Won’t somebody please think of the oceans.

*But a strange inconsistency—I would have expected ‘Eggs, large, 6’.

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Town Called Malice

Charles and the Big Boys

I went to a gig on Friday night.

That in itself is probably worth a blog post, but this gig was a bit special because the Younger Pawn was playing bass in a band called Charles and the Big Boys, and they were supporting an apparently well-known act playing in Islington.

I’d managed to keep the date free from work trip commitments and childcare duties (which again is a post on its own), and with an eye on the fast trains to Gravesend, went along. The elder pawn was visiting from Southampton, and both boyfriends were there, so it was a real family affair. YP was especially pleased, having been trying to get me to one of their gigs for a good time now.

Set list

Given the ages of the C&tBB members—it actually Charles’ 19th birthday—I expected to be the oldest person in the room, but the crowd demographic was curious. It was mainly 50+ year-old men. There were a few women of similar age, a young cove in a parka … my kids, and the Big Boys.

The reason for this became apparent when the first act took the stage. Some middle-aged bloke in a trilby, backed by (presumably) his wife, two guitarists and a drummer (who, surprisingly, seemed to be about 15). The music was kind of mod/ska revival; decent enough tunes that you could jiggle along to, although the exhortation to skank did seem a little out of place. Obviously the crowd were their mates.

The second act I really enjoyed. Rock/punk: the lead singer (again, in his 40s) belted them out with passion and energy, and the lead guitarist (who remained from the first act) got a chance to shine with some screaming solos. And a harmonica.

Now, this was when C&tBB were supposed to be on, and then I could have made my exit, avoided the carnage of the last fast train of a Friday night. But sadly, the keyboard player had had a death in the family, and the headline act was a man down. So they shorted their set list, and played what they could. As a support act. And this was the band that all these middle-aged men (and their wives) had come along to see.

Even allowing for the lack of a keyboard, it was pretty staid, to be honest. Although these guys have been featured on national radio, even the crowd-pleaser at the end (with its call and response) felt flat. Less mod, more MOR. They went on a bit, and by this time I was getting seriously worried about that last train.


But finally, C&tBB came on, and we lost most of the middle-aged blokes in the crowd. It’s a small venue, and it did leave the back of the room feeling a bit empty. But I hope that those who did stick around appreciated it, for this was worth waiting for: young, energetic, passionate and original. I certainly did, and was buzzing as I hugged YP and headed for the last train to Kent.

And that, boys and girls, is how my daughter’s band headlined the Hope and Anchor.


Posted in London, Music, Personal, Science-less Sunday | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Rock Lobster

This list is written on a crumpled Post-It note.

I like it. Crisp, business-like, no nonsense. Actually scrunched up to be discarded when it had served its purpose.

A parent, with young children.

Tuna. Fine. Rock salt—not the sea flakes of someone who is really into cooking, but commendable. Busy parent probably has no time for salting her chicken the night before.

Baking powder. Bicarb and eggs. I see a cake in her children’s future.

Shapes… what kind of shapes? Family shorthand—fine.

No particular order, this; probably written down as the thoughts occurred, or as she surveyed her organized if slightly untidy kitchen (this is not a judgement: kitchens are always untidy if there are children in the house. Unless you’re some kind of psychopath).

Washing up liquid—any old brand will do, I guess. Suckies—those delicious yogurty things that it is actually against the law to eat if you’re over the age of about 7.

Sesame chicken… mmm, I’m liking this. Mayo, sure. Chicken again—wait, what’s this? A filing breakdown? Or maybe they do really like chicken.

Bananas, blue milk (of course—children again) and croissants for Sunday morning breakfast. Perhaps with home-made jam? We know she bakes, so perhaps.

Antibac wipes. Children, sure; fastidious, definitely—even if this list weren’t a dead giveaway.

Fabric softener, and then, way out on the right-hand side, almost less than an afterthought, ‘unstoppables‘. I had to look these up.

Not just children, but possibly very small, somewhat pungent children as well.

Whoever you are, I hope they enjoyed the sesame chicken.

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A year or more ago we were doing our weekly shop, and I found a shopping list in the trolley. Not ours—evidently somebody had been to the shop, got their stuff, and left their list behind (by design or accident is not recorded).

For some reason I was intrigued by the list, and kept it. Over the following months and regular shops I collected a few more such lists, for no other reason than it tickled me to think about what they said about the shopper. I thought it might be diverting to share them with you—as I re-find them in the garage, car, various piles of doom-laden paperwork…

This one is interesting first off because it’s written in fountain pen. It looks to be carefully collated with this particular trip in mind, perhaps the night before. (Quite unlike my own lists, which grow during the week as we think of things or run out of them.)

It’s written on the back of a carefully cut ‘Visit Canterbury’ postcard; the fragment I have has ‘Royal Museum and Free Library (Founded 1858)’ on the picture side. The edge is 4″, so if this is a 4″x6″ postcard we could hypothesize the shopper managed to get three shopping lists from this one card. I admire the thrift, and wonder where the other two are.

The list itself isn’t remarkable—cereal, coffee, peas (fresh or frozen though?), beans and fruit… ah! She (I think it’s a she, from the writing) wrote ‘peas’ twice and then scrubbed one out. If we were to categorize our shopping we might put peas with runner beans, although it’s that one that’s redacted.

Some, if I may be so bold, distinctly middle class fruit. A specific number of lemons. Four lamb chops… shopping for dinner with friends? A family of four Sunday lunch?

Milk, standing proudly alone (I never bother writing milk on my lists. We always need milk of a Saturday.)

Sourdough bread… just one, mind. Unit unspecified.

White wine, and red wine—1 bottle. How much white wine then? Multiple units? Is the ‘1 bottle’ an exhortation not to get carried away? What is it about the 1 bottle of red wine, an elegant sufficiency? And is our mystery shopper going to open it when they serve the lamb chops with peas and beans?

I do hope so, but I guess we’ll never know.

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I often, if not always, take my laptop with me on holiday. Ostensibly it’s to write (for pleasure, definitely not work), but always—but always—that never ends up happening and we just use it for looking at all the photos we’ve taken.

This time, on a hill in Tuscany, it’s been different. I’ve managed, over the last two or three nights, to finally finish a project that has been about 11 years in the making.

Coming to a near you soon.

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Pineapple Head

A little while ago I managed not only to photograph the Google StreetView car somewhere in Fitzrovia, but also to capture the picture it took of me doing it.

Earlier today I was on my way to Halfords and find myself peering at a more advanced model, in reverse gear at a traffic light.

It might be time to re-offer that drink to the first person to spot me tailing MK14 NWT.

Got the number of the getaway car, didn't get very far/Nosey as hell... (amended lyrics by Jenny.)

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To the end

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a Webstory. And that Webstory grew and prospered, at least for a time. And the Curator of the Webstory strove to breathe live into it, but with one thing and another the interval between updates grew longer and longer, until it languished around Chapter Fourteen, and all had given up hope.

Or so it seemed.

For lo, there is but one chapter left to write, and it shall appear on LabLit, and there shall be great rejoicing.

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Joshua is at that delightful age when he is yet too young to be able to reliably, unaided, clean and dress himself, yet old enough to resist getting ready to leave the house in the morning.

When he was younger, he might not have helped me when I was trying to get his coat and shoes on, but at last he wasn’t actively thwarting our attempts to catch the 7.44 from Gravesend, by throwing his other shoe across the hall or waiting until I’ve got him strapped into his buggy before deciding that now he needs a wee-wee. At least he’s toilet trained, so when he has to relieve himself of the previous day’s meals in the smelliest manner possible I’m not left trying to safely file everything into a slightly too-small nappy sack.

I have to admit that some mornings, when I had to sit on him to hold his hands away from his mouth so I could clean his teeth, my mood might sometimes have tended towards the intemperate. I’m fairly certain that most working parents have found themselves in similar situations, trying not to strangle a little bundle of destructive energy while at the same time wanting to hug it with every fibre of your being.

The other guilt trip is of course the iPad babysitter. Now I know that I should always be spending quality time with Joshua making scale model Nicaraguan quinoa farms or whatever*, but occasionally I have to make dinner or sort out a crisis at work or simply pour myself an industrial-strength G&T (“Why yes sweetheart, ethanol is daddy’s favourite backup carbon source”) and giving him screen time is—contrary to hysteria—not going to cause any lasting damage.

Jenny and I did make a dragon outfit for him to wear to a little friend’s fancy-dress birthday party last weekend. Which he wore for all of 3 seconds before making off with Captain Hook’s sword and setting about St George with extreme gusto. Some kind of poetic justice, there.

Today the dreaded caller ID—Smart Start Day Nursery—flashed up on my phone. At the time, I was swotting up on a new (to me) therapy area so that I could sound learned and sensible in the kick-off meeting with the client later in the afternoon. My boss is at an event in the US and the only other senior writer capable of tackling such a project (or “bullshitting at extremely short notice” as it’s technically known round these parts) happens to be at the same event, so my mind began to race through all possible scenarios even as I answered, “Hello, Joshua’s dad.”

Turns out that he’d been playing outside, jumping across some stepping stones, but slipped and managed to bash his face on a concrete slab. Maria was calling to say it’s OK, he’s fine, but “I wanted to warn you because he looks a state”. Big bump on his forehead and a cut under his eye.

And indeed, when I went to collect him (after the client meeting, which actually seemed to go very well), it looked like he’d been ten rounds with the aforementioned St George, and I wanted to ask him what the other guy looked like.

Now he’s sleeping peacefully, and I think, once again, that I must be the most blessed man on the planet.

Posted in Me, Nonsense, Personal | Tagged | Comments Off on Days

Weather with you

I, for one, welcome our robot overlords

Even before we moved to Gravesend, we knew of its “dodgy thermometer” from the weather forecasts on TV and radio. Gravesend was consistently the warmest place in the country, bucking the nation’s trends by a degree Celsius or two.

In our first year here we realized that this was no meteorological fantasy; we soon came to recognize the “Gravesend Effect” as a real and tangible phenomenon. While the rest of the country—even London—shivers under grey clouds, the sun often puts in an unscheduled appearance here, despite all Met Office claims and forecasts to the contrary.

Last year we recorded the (first) hottest day in the UK. We are joint second for the hottest UK day ever. And the hottest September day since 1911 was recorded in Gravesend last year, leading to a chap in a natty dastar at Gravesend station saying to his companion the next day, “We broke the record again. It must be all those curries we’re making.”

And on top of all that, my mother before I came along was a meteorological assistant, providing weather forecasts from RAF Bawtry for Strike Command.

In a way, weather runs in my blood, even more so than for most Englishmen. Gratifyingly, then, Jenny bought me a weather station for my birthday last week.

Now, weather stations are funny things. They’re incredibly cool, and geeky, but quite soon you think, yeah, and forget about it. There’s an LCD screen on your desk or whatever but you can just look out the window or check the Met Office app or whatever, and you might be tempted to think what, actually, is the point? It might be fun to keep months and years worth of weather records, or compare the guesstiforecast that the control panel gives you with reality, but it’s always seemed to me that such joys might quickly run thin.


Except this little gadget connects to my Mac, and thence to the Met Office itself. There your data gets slotted into observations from all over the world (although it’s mostly the colonies and the honorary Brits in the Netherlands where stations tend to be clustered) and compare, contrast, forecast, and generally feel part of a great big crowd-sourced weather-geek community.

weather dots

And more than that, I had a chance to flex my rather atrophied PHP/HTML muscles today because I also figured out how to slurp the weather data from the program (WeatherCat) that’s talking to my hardware into a weather section of my own website. Which makes me inordinately happy. There’s more I want to do there, like document record-breaking days and have more interesting graphs and whatnot, but it’s a start.

Ain’t technology fun?

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Back in the USSR

Last time I was here, I made a comment about how I hoped things were going to get less busy.


Yeah… that didn’t work out too well.

Since January, I have been on six overseas work trips. The most recent was to some little out-of-the-way place in middle America.

I’m also doing the work of about four mortal men—on the one hand, working for an agency, this is good, because it means I get paid at the end of the month. On the other, bloody hell I’m knackered. Thankfully Jenny is off to a conference in Warwick on Sunday, which means I have to pick up Joshua, which means I can’t go to the big Brand Meeting in Prague that we’re running, which meant I had to sadly decline not only the meeting itself (trip #7) but also the two slide preview sessions held at #MAJORCLIENT_HQ (trips #8 and #9).

I’m still tired and a little stressed. But there is a bright golden haze on the meadow: the meeting (which I still have to support) is over on Thursday; my stupidly tight print deadline for a major materiel is in the past; I have two days in lieu next week and we’ve completed all the work we had to do to support a major phase 3 clinical trial presentation.


Back home the mercury hit 20°C today, the daffodils are in full show, the birds are coughing in the trees and the cherry blossom is out. I can see the bluebells starting to push their way up and the pool is warm enough (OK, not so testicle-crushingly cold) to dip in after a sauna. And I’ve just made chocolate ice cream.

Things are looking up.

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